Friday, August 31, 2012

Good News for Fans of The Writer Magazine

To follow up on an earlier post, my favorite writing magazine, The Writer, has been purchased by Madavor Media and will continue to be published. No news yet about the staff's future.

Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Calling Ourselves Writers

by Deren Hansen

Last week I said there are no writers--at least not in the sense that there are doctors, medical schools, and a well defined course of preparation and practice in order to become one.

Have I now committed political suicide by flip-flopping? 

No. This is another example of the contradictions inherent to the writing life that you must wrap your head around.

My earlier point was that aside, perhaps, from becoming a tenured writing professor there are no established and accepted career paths that will, if followed, make you a nationally-acclaimed novelist. The only common denominator among the handful of people we would generally recognize as writers is that they wrote a lot for a long time. Schooling, jobs, writing habits--everything else was incidental from a predictive perspective.

And yet there is a time when it is important to call yourself a writer.

Sarah Callender, at Write it Sideways said,
"I don’t know about you, but for a long time, whenever a well-intentioned someone asked what I did professionally, I instantly became a mammering, mealy-mouthed mugwump. It just felt so audacious, not to mention goofy, to utter the sentence, “I’m a writer!’"

"Until one day it hit me. My under-confidence was far more damaging to my own work, to my own creativity, than [a friend's] over-confidence was to his dreams.

"We writers need to see ourselves as writers so that others will see us as writers.

"But ... we writers need to do the very, very hard work that will give us the knowledge, the certainty, that even if we are still unpublished, even if agents aren’t wooing us, even if we’ve submitted to seventeen thousand contests and publications yet have no acceptances or prizes, we are writers because we put our tush in the chair and get words on the page every day."
How do you take the idea of yourself as a writer seriously when publication and public acknowledgement of you as a writer is years away?

By calling yourself a writer, you have both the permission and the obligation to make a dedicated effort. If you're serious, for example,  about keeping a job, you'll do what's necessary to get yourself out of bed, make yourself presentable, and arrive at work on time--and you'll do it every day of the work week. When other demands or distractions arise, you say, "I'm sorry, but I have to go to work." Thinking of writing as your job (or second job) may seem like a sure-fire way to leach all the joy out of it, but if you treat it as an indulgence you'll either feel guilty or succumb to the temptation when another good thing comes along to occupy your writing time.

Calling yourself a writer means adopting the discipline of a writer. Discipline is more than simply writing each day (thought that's certainly a good start). The discipline that makes a difference means a focus not just on doing the job each day but on getting better at the job each day.

The key point, as Callender says, is that calling yourself a writer means you accept the "very, very hard work," that comes with the title. Writer isn't an entitlement, it's something you live up to.

Monday, August 27, 2012

What Do People Want: Good Writing or Good Story?

By Julie Daines

There has been a lot of buzz lately about whether the publishing industry sets the bar on writing too high, and that what people really want is just a good story.

So which is it? Writing or Story?

Do readers only care about easy entertainment? Do they like the familiarity of the same stories told over and over again with only minor plot changes? Is real life so stressful that all we want is to lose ourselves in a simple, predictable form of entertainment?

I have a friend who said she didn't want to read books that challenged her way of thinking. She said she already finished college and didn't want her reading to feel like homework. Is that how everyone feels?

Some people worry that really great works of fiction will be overlooked as more and more readers get caught up in the commercial, no-brainer stories, and then all we'll have left is the slush pile.

Is there still room for good writing and thought provoking works of fiction? Years from now, who will we be quoting?

Is this surge of mediocrity in fiction only a phase brought on by poor economic times? Or is society lowering its standards?

What place does the indy and self-publishing industry hold in all this turmoil?

Which is more important to a work of fiction, good story or good writing?

Sunday, August 26, 2012

2012 HWG FAll Conference

Hello Writers!

As the president for this year’s HWG Fall Conference for writers in St. George, Utah, I want to encourage all of you to join us at this exciting event! Regardless of your level of writing experience—from the published author to the uninitiated, never-before-published authors!—this conference has something significant for every participant!

This year, because of the diversity of topics, the number of speakers we were able to procure, and trying to fit everything in during the two days of the event, we have break-out sessions during each day’s programming. I think we have prepared the sessions in such a way that everyone will be able to attend speakers who will be most helpful and informative.

The Lexington Hotel, the site of the conference, has reserved a block of rooms for those traveling from afar at rates lower than their normal rates for this time of year. 

Be sure to call the hotel at: (435) 628-4235 to take advantage of these limited available rooms.

In addition to the great list of speakers scheduled, this conference will be a two-day event for everyone to network with fellow authors and industry leaders. Be sure to bring your personal business cards and book info!

Finally, we look forward to our first-ever FREE community lecture on writing each night. The goal of this portion of the conference is two-fold: We want to give members of our community a chance to learn about the basics of writing. Second, we wanted to have a significant audience for our “Authorpalooza” event that will highlight authors who have books published. The Authorpalooza will follow each night’s free community lecture giving authors who have books to sell not only potential customers but also the opportunity to share their experiences with these interested folks!

Thank you for taking part in this conference and we look forward to spending two days of inspiration, motivation and information with you in St. George, Utah!

Virginia S Grenier
2012 HWG President
David W. Smith
2012 HWG Conference Chairman

Who We Are!

The Heritage Writers Guild (HWG) is a St. George chapter of the League of Utah Writers (LUW), a non-profit organization dedicated to offering friendship, education and encouragement to the writers, poets and illustrators of Utah. New members are always welcome.

Our organization is dedicated to the encouragement and improvement of all writers and illustrators in their various skills. Members are writers, poets and illustrators with various interests at all levels of skill and professionalism. We meet monthly to write, read and discuss our work. We share ideas and expertise on the art of writing or illustrating.

Learn more and download the registration packet at

Saturday, August 25, 2012

Voice or characters

I just read another great book, and this was the second time I read it. Gary D. Schmidt’s Okay for Now I first read as a reader. The next I did so as a writer.

In a nutshell, Doug is a tough kid hardened by an abusive father and two older brothers. His father’s obnoxious behavior gets him fired, forcing the family to move to stupid Marysville in upstate New York where the small town people target him as a hoodlum. But Doug is not the ruffian the town perceives him to be. There is a another side to this survivor kid who, by reaching out to others, allows himself to transcend the prejudice against him and the family he’s a product of.

This book is fantastic on many levels. The voice is striking and Schmidt absolutely nails this kid. He maintains Doug’s tough-guy persona, yet allows him to shed it and for the character to grow. The voice is true throughout and does not waver. Another thing Schmidt does nicely is to allow Doug to talk to directly to readers, as if he and they were all chatting in the same room.

Schmidt provides a strong cast of characters and the amiable Doug is willing to reach out to them. Lil is the first person to notice the skinny thug and he follows her into the public library. She is in most of his middle school classes. Her father runs the market and hires Doug to be a Saturday morning delivery boy. On his rounds, he befriends his regular customers, including a playwright and a policeman’s family. Saturday afternoons Doug is fascinated by a large book of Audubon’s drawings under glass in the library. An elderly library worker introduces Doug to art techniques, such as composition and movement in a picture, lessons that play out in various aspects of Doug’s life. And Schmidt give us teachers, some who provoke him to be the hoodlum they see him as, others who see his softer side.

I don’t know what’s more critical to craft a good story, voice or character. I suppose it should have both.

Friday, August 24, 2012

Quickly turn it upside down and simile that frown away

by Scott Rhoades

I'm reading The Yiddish Policeman's Union by Michael Chabon. Chabon, in case you haven't read him, is known for his flowing, rhythmic sentences and often beautiful writing. More than that, he's known for similes. He uses them more than most writers, sometimes piling on similes like five year olds around a soccer ball. For some reviewers, he uses too many, and I can see that. Most writers could not get away with writing so many. Then again, most writers aren't nearly so good at it.

As a quick reminder for those of you who need a refresher course on similes and metaphors, a simile compares two unlike things, usually using like or as, to create an image that would be difficult to create without such figurative language. For example, "Life is like a box of chocolates." A metaphor, on the other hand, creates an image for the reader by equating something with something else, not merely a comparison. For example, when Paul Simon sings "I am a rock, I am an island," he's using two metaphors to show that the character of the song is isolated. Of course he is not literally a rock or an island, but the figurative language is meant to create an analogy that says more than the actual words.

Figurative language is less popular in our straight-forward world, but it goes back to the very earliest English writing. The Anglo-Saxons made heavy use of this kind of language, usually in the form of kennings, such as referring to the ocean as the "whale road" or to a warrior as a "sword tree."

In the 64 pages I've read in the Chabon book, there have been several similes I wish I had written. My favorite so far is "Bina accepts a compliment as if it’s a can of soda that she suspects him of having shaken." This simile works because it creates an image that could not have been presented without a whole bunch of words, and even then not as well. It shows fear, mistrust, and anxiety, revealing a great deal about Bina's character and her relationship with the lead character. All in just a few words. And, it's funny.

Another one I really like, although it's much less concise, is contained in the following:

Brennan studied German in college and learned his Yiddish from some pompous old German at the Institute, and he talks, somebody once remarked, "like a sausage recipe with footnotes."
This one works for me for different reasons. It requires a little more thought to figure out, which is why some readers don't like a lot of similes. It actually does two things that go against what writers are often taught: don't pull the reader out of the story, and don't call attention to the author. And yet, because of the great image it creates of the the character (and the narrator), it adds a great deal to the story.

Similes don't always work. The famous bad example is, "Her eyes were like two brown circles with black dots in the center." For a simile to work, it should do most of the following:
  • Compare two unlike things
  • Say in a few entertaining words what would otherwise take an entire paragraph
  • Be simple, so they don't require mental gymnastics on the part of the reader
  • Be original and interesting, not obvious or cliched
  • Does not need to be explained (Forrest Gump nearly destroys the box of chocolates simile by explaining that you never know what you're going to get)
  • Be visually resonant, painting a picture for the reader that creates an impression that non-figurative language would have trouble painting
Similes and their harder-edged cousin, metaphor, should be used with care. They are hard to do well, and a poor simile can be a disaster. Whoever wrote the following probably meant well, most likely intending to create mood and romantic intrigue, but instead created unintended humor: "He fell for her like his heart was a mob informant and she was the East River." But, used well, they add brilliant color to your writing palette. (That palette thing was a metaphor, by the way).

Do you have any favorite similes?

Thursday, August 23, 2012

Making Sense of the Nonsense

The other day, during lunch, my seven year-old son was unusually quiet. 
“What are you thinking?” I asked him.
He didn’t answer right away. After several seconds, he asked, “What happened to the parents in Madagascar?”
Madagascar? My train of thought snaked through the archives in my mind as I tried to figure out what he was talking about. It was the movie, Madagascar 3, which we watched months ago.
“Oh, Alex’s parents?” I asked.
He chewed his sandwich and said, “How come in the second movie they’re so happy to be together and then in the next one they’re not even there. And then, Alex wants to go back to the zoo? It just doesn’t make any sense.”

Keep in mind that we were talking about a cartoon about zoo animals--talking zoo animals I should add--that miss New York so bad they make their way from Africa to their beloved city as members of a traveling circus, all the while a vicious French detective woman with more animal traits than the animals themselves tries to capture them.

And he said the fact that the parents aren’t even in the story doesn’t make any sense? What about the whole traveling circus thing, or the part in which the giraffe is in love with the hippo?
Still, the thing that stood out the most to him was the inconsistencies in the story and the characters’ motivations. 

Where am I going with all of this? 

That even if we’re writing the most outlandish fantasy, there has to be a connection to reality for the reader to empathize with the characters and their goals. 

I’ve never been a gigantic blue alien, but I could totally identify with Avatar’s character as they tried to save their civilization from greedy people.
I’ve never been to Neverland, but in my happiest moments as a child, I wished I could stay little forever.
My father wasn’t a soldier for the Union army during the Civil War, but how I wished I had three sisters and a best friend, just like in Little Women.

You get the point.

 In fiction, the writer creates a world where the reader can lose track of time and space for as long as the story lasts. Character traits, dialog, plot, and voice are all tools to give credibility to the story.
If I’m reading a YA book and the main character doesn’t sound like a teenager at all, the spell of the story is broken and the reader is pulled away from it. The same thing happens if the characters’ actions aren’t congruent with their motivations. 

What are some things that pull you out of the story as a reader? As a writer, how do you keep reality in your story?

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

There are No Writers

by Deren Hansen

With many occupations, you can say, "I'm a ____," because you received some certification. Indeed, the most important professions require rigorous training and state-level licensing.

Not so with writers. (Or literary agents.) Anyone can hang out the proverbial shingle and declare, "I am a writer." Perversely, there are few milestones that unambiguously identify one as a writer: even hitting the New York Times Bestsellers List only proves that you have written.

I'm beginning to believe there are no writers.

If you've been patient to this point, you might now object that there are obviously a great many writers. Millions of books are published each year. Millions of people are employed in jobs whose practical output is words on paper (or screens). Beyond that, nearly every citizen of the literate world strings at least a few words into sentences each day.

All true. And yet most of this vast army of writers write in the service of some other purpose. Just as nearly every scientist uses mathematics to do their work but they don't call themselves mathematicians, the majority of people who write don't call themselves, "writers."

So what does it mean to be a writer?

In the world of commercial publishing, the only writers who matter are the ones who have enough of a following that every book they release is a guaranteed bestseller.

In the world of the literati, the only writers who matter are the ones (usually dead) who have produced the masterworks that they endlessly discuss.

It's pretty slim pickings if you're looking for a role model.

Which is precisely the point.

Writers are like curry: it's an approach to preparing the food, not a particular dish. There is no single approved model of success or failure as a writer. Rather, like an entrepreneur, there's a world of opportunity and any number of creative ways to take advantage of those opportunities.

Unlike other professions, where the pathway to achievement is clearly marked, writers have a blank page.

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Picture the Details

Details that bring a novel to life can be tricky to write when you aren’t sure of the setting. Sometimes we as writers may know the general setting, but are still fuzzy on the bits and pieces; the heavy oak door that takes a child’s two hands to push it open because it is so heavy or the slimy moss that gets stuck between the characters toes when they wade into the pond.

I recently read Matthew J. Kirby’s Clockwork Three and was impressed with what I could visualize in the pages of the story and feel of the character's plights. I wouldn’t have noticed the words themselves if I hadn’t been paying attention because they were crafted so well. But the details sucked me into that world and let me see it, as the action reeled me forward through the book.

How do you create those kinds of details?

One scene in my novel involves two boys traveling down a cave-like tunnel. They climb over a boulder, wade through an underground river and make a story-changing discovery. It’s an exciting scene and the details were mostly formed from information researched about caves and underground rivers.
A couple weeks ago I walked through Timpanogos Cave for the first time in my life and realized how much I was missing in my scene with these two boys. Bending and twisting around cave formations to get to the next open area, I couldn’t help but picture these two boys on their own adventure. We heard stories and observed crevices and tunnels that had my mind reeling with ideas for how to make my character’s exploration even more exciting.

It doesn’t make research any less important. But finding a way to see a situation, or experience it, can open your mind to the possibilities. Re-writing my scene will bring details that will intensify the situation I was trying to create with these boys. They will be dodging more stalagmites and wondering about the small tunnel they can't quite fit into. Experiencing Timpanogos will make this scene stronger in the end. Maybe we as writers cannot experience everything our characters do, but it’s worth looking for the opportunity to experience what we can.

We may still have to make up the rest.

What tricks do you have for experiencing life as your character sees it?

Monday, August 20, 2012

Procrastination~Don't do it!

"Procrastination is the fear of success. People procrastinate because they are afraid of the success that they know will result if they move ahead now. Because success is heavy, carries a responsibility with it, it is much easier to procrastinate and live on the "someday I'll" philosophy." Denis Waitley

 There is quote I love from Marianne Williamson: "Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure."

Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond What if we do become successful? What if we do have a responsibility to our success? Don't we have responsibilities to something in our lives right now? Do we fear we will fail? And what if we do? Does anyone care?

Writers are powerful. We know this tidbit of truth. We've read their books/essays/speeches. They've urged us to look within and outside ourselves, to stretch and learn and live. Who can honestly say they've never changed because of reading?  

This is where our fear comes in because that is a big responsibility. Every reader is touched by a writer. There is a writer for every reader. If that is true, why do we, the writers, procrastinate? If we know someone will read our words and change, why wouldn't we want those writings out in the universe?

Don't think tomorrow you'll start or next week is better or "someday I'll" because you are stopping me from reading something that will affect my life. Give me your words! I need them. We need each other to work now.

Don't give into your fear.

You are powerful.

Sunday, August 19, 2012

How Do You Come Up with the Title of Your Books with Author Alyce Joy

I try to find what I think is the most interesting words in the book, to draw the attention of the child. In my first book, the very first word and the last word is KA-BOOM! It seemed obvious to me the title should be KA-BOOM!

My next book is called, “The Snookered Snookerdoodles”. The Snookerdoodles are the bad guys and Sprout helps Kalynn, a frail challenged girl, have enough faith and trust in herself to single handedly foil the Snookerdoodles attempt to ruin the land of Bippenpook and its people.

To the Bippenpookers, Kalynn becomes a heroine because she snookered the Snookerdoodles. This all happens because of Sprout. To me, the title stood out like a beacon.

I try to make my titles and first page reach out to the child and grab his or her imagination right then. KA-BOOM! could have been called, “Sprout the Fairy” or “The Queen’s Favorite Fairy”. I don’t feel it is fair to Sprout to send her story out with a lukewarm title and beginning.

The lessons from these stories are as good for me as they are for the children. KA-BOOM! has a lesson for everybody. Never give up. The lesson in “The Snookered Snookerdoodles” is also one we all can use. Have faith and believe in yourself.

I actually don’t have a lesson in mind when I’m writing my story. When my story is finished and I’m reading it over, the lesson pops out at me and I say, “yes-s-s, that’s what I mean.”


Alyce Joy was blessed with four children for whom she composed bedtime verses every night. That inspired her to publish a children’s book of prayers, entitled, “Priceless Gems.” When her children were grown, she began to write stories for her grandchildren.
Always fascinated with arts and crafts, she taught herself the art of pyrography. This fired her imagination, and she started burning life-sized pictures of wildlife onto all the doors of her home. Her wood burnings are scattered through the U.S. and Canada.
After deciding to put away her burning tools and torches, she enrolled in, and graduated from the Institute of Children’s Literature.
Alyce Joy hopes every child who reads her stories will look forward to each new adventure, as her favorite fairy becomes entangled into many, outrageous happenstances.
Follow Alyce Joy at

Alyce Joy's book KA-BOOM! is about a little fairy named Sprout that runs into trouble quite often. She has a shoe fetish, but is one of the queen’s favorites because in the end she gets the job done.
Get a sneak peek of the book at  

Available wherever books are sold and online.
The World of Ink Network & Halo Publishing, Int. is touring author Alyce Joy’s fantasy adventure children’s chapter book, Ka-Boom! throughout August 2012. You can find out more about Alyce Joy’s World of Ink Author/Book Tour at 

Saturday, August 18, 2012

Christmas is coming

by Bruce Luck

I’ve been looking at writing lately from a bunch of points of view, subscribing to various blogs and whatnot. An interesting article appeared on bookbaby, a source I think for writers thinking of e-publishing.

The author is Beth Hayden from this site:

She says when an editor asked her how quickly she could finish a project, she considered then gave her most aggressive timetable: four months. The editor asked if she could complete it in six weeks. Ms. Hayden thought it impossible yet set a deadline and then her sights on finishing by then.

I set deadlines. I’ll get it done by Christmas. I’ll finish before schools out because I won’t get any writing done with kids being home. The problem is I don’t set a goal, but name a time period when I would like to have it done. Or maybe I set the goal, but haven’t figured out a way to get there.

So when I read Beth’s article, I looked at my goal: the 1st draft of my current project done by the time school starts. There are two sides to kids being off for vacation. Mom and Dad can hardly wait for school to start again, but writers with teaching day jobs see it differently. Done by end of summer vacation: a lofty goal. I’ll settle for it to be done by Christmas.

The article inspired and I decided to actually work toward making it happen. It was/is a lofty goal and time is running out. Hayden offered time management ideas, but the key to success basically involves plopping yourself in front of a keyboard and banging something out. Just write. At a WIFYR breakout a few years ago, Claudia Mills advised writing a minimum of one hour a day. I took that to heart and set it as mantra. It works most of the time. Your other life still must be dealt with and there are days/weeks when it forces writing to the back burner.

Some of you are looking forward to writing time when the kiddies head off to school. Maybe you can finish something by Christmas break. But me? I’ve got two more days and I just might finish my rough draft.

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

The Zen of Taking it Personally

by Deren Hansen

With all the frustrations endemic to publishing, we generally do well to remember that it is a business and, whatever happens, we shouldn't take it personally. The form rejection your query received doesn't mean you're a bad person who should never be allowed to put pen to paper again. It only means that the agent wasn't compelled by your query.

But as with many things in the world that are more nuanced than black and white, there is another level at which you should take it personally. Howard Yoon, in an interview at the Guide to Literary Agents blog, said:
Take everything personally. If you get rejected, take it personally. Do better. Find out ways to improve yourself so that you don’t get rejected again. Fix your cover letter or your proposal or your writing. Trash your concept and start over. Don’t blame the industry or the market or the system. Take it upon yourself to improve YOUR chances.
He also said:
And when you get accepted, take it personally. Congratulate yourself. Treat yourself to a celebration. You earned it. You deserve it.
"But," you may ask, "isn't that completely contradictory? How can you both take rejection personally and not take it personally?"

Ah, herein lies another Zen riddle.

You must not take it personally in any debilitating sense: don't allow a rejection to make you query your worth as a writer--or a person. Don't let the agonizing lack of response dampen your dream.

At the same time, you must take it personally in a constructive sense. Don't comfort yourself with the thought that a rejection is evidence of an agent's lack of vision. Instead, take responsibility for the fact that your query didn't work and ask what you can do to make it better, or to do a better job of finding agents who are likely to be interested. Or perhaps your story isn't as compelling as it could be (or another might be more compelling). In the end, the only question that matters--and the only aspect of the process over which you have control--is the question, "What can you do?"

[And sometimes the answer--perhaps the most difficult answer--is, "stay the course and be more patient."]

Monday, August 13, 2012

Can You Judge a Book by its Cover?

By Julie Daines

We've all heard this saying a million times: You can't judge a book by its cover.

But I really wish you could.

Some of my favorite books in the world have unattractive covers. Granted that's just my opinion and someone else probably loves the covers I hate.

How many times have you recommended a book and added the caveat to ignore the hideous cover.

Cover styles come and go. But lately, there has been a huge surge of nearly identical covers--especially in Young Adult fiction. Just click on this link and check out the covers of the 2012 YA debut novels.

Luckily, I think/hope the random girl in a flowing prom dress (which usually has NOTHING to do with the story) is going out. Now we're seeing the close-up of a face with a haunted look.

We all know that as authors we have no say (or in come cases very little say) about our covers. Each book is marketed to a specific audience, so if a prom-dress is what's selling, then I guess it makes sense for every book to have one.

What do I prefer? I like covers that set the tone of the story, that give us a hint of what to expect. I like covers that leave the looks of the main characters up to my imagination. The character in my mind never matches the one on the cover.

What covers do you love? What covers do you hate?

If you are already published, what was your experience regarding the cover of your book?

Sunday, August 12, 2012

Inside the Mind of Sands Hetherington, author of the Night Buddies

Sands Hetherington credits his son John for being his principal motivator. Sands raised his son as a single parent from the time John was six. He read to him every night during those formative years. He and young John developed the Crosley crocodile character in the series during months of bedtime story give-and-take. Sands majored in history at the University of North Carolina (Chapel Hill) and has an M.F.A. in creative writing and an M.A. in English from UNC-Greensboro. 

 Interview with Author Sands Hetherington

Q: Sands, thank you for taking the time to answer some questions today for our readers. Can you share some writing experiences with us?

A: Gosh, I wish I could, but do you really want to hear about the old chaise and the green clipboard I use?  And the Cross ballpoint pens?

Q: Like all authors, you have had your fair share of rejection letters. You obviously did not let the letters deter you. How did you keep your determination without getting discouraged?

A: I did get discouraged, but I guess I always thought I was good enough, and when the John-and-Crosley idea presented itself to me, I couldn't resist.

Q: Do you consider yourself a born writer?

A: No. I was put together step by step from spare parts.

Q: Have you had any training to become a writer?

A: I have an M.A. in English and an M.F.A. in creative writing. That, and I've been around for a lot of years.

Q: What inspired you to write?

A: It was in tenth grade. I handed in a sappy poetical piece in English class and this very cute student teacher gushed over it. Her name was Ellen and she was spoken for, but that did it for me right there.

Q: Who is your favorite author and what is your favorite genre to read?

A: That's like asking me my favorite movie. There must be thirty-five movies in my top ten. My list of favorite writers is eclectic and includes a lot of the usual suspects, starting with Homer, skipping two millennia to Shakespeare, then Fielding, and then a whole bunch of 19th and 20th Century Brits and Americans.

But I'm old now and rarely even read fiction. I like ancient history these days, and the American Civil War.

Q: Have you ever suffered from writer’s block? If yes, how did you ‘cure’ it?

A: Not full-blown "writer's block" where you sit there and stare at the paper and nothing comes for days.  But I've gotten into plenty of plot situations that I didn't know how to squirm out of, and I've come to places and just not known what to say next. When this happened to Dickens, he took late night walks around London.  I do think walking helps.
Q: Does your family and friends inspire any of your books, characters, or plots?

A: Actually my six-year-old son came up with the whole idea. We always did bedtime stories, and one night John presented me with Crosley, a red crocodile he had cooked up for an after-lights-out companion. All I needed to do was figure out why Crosley was red, and then sneak the two of them out of the house on an adventure.

Q: Can you share with us a little about your current book?

A: It's called Night Buddies and the Pineapple Cheesecake Scare. Young John Degraffenreidt isn't ready to go to sleep yet, and Crosley, a zany red crocodile, crawls out from under the bed to take him on an adventure. Crosley is a complete fanatic for pineapple cheesecakes, and it seems the world's supply of this item is vanishing. Something definitely needs to be done, so the two Night Buddies sneak out of the house and take the subway to the great (and only) pineapple cheesecake factory. Crosley discovers who's behind the business, and that's when the scare and the excitement start.

Q: What do you like most about writing?

A: Mark Twain said it: "I hate writing. I love having written."

Q: Please describe to us your relationship between you and your editor. What makes an author/editor relationship a success?

A: My editor is very competent and usually correct. (She isn't correct when we squabble over my freewheeling punctuation.) She keeps a lid on my flights of dialect and has made any number of detail textual improvements.

Q: Tell us about your writing space?

A: It's an old chaise in my living room with a little table on one side. I prop my knees up and use an old green clipboard that I found thrown out on the ground when I was at college.

Q: Is there anything you'd go back and do differently now that you have been published, in regards to your writing career?

A: Get there sooner. 

Q: Is there any particular book that, when you read it, you thought, "I wish I had written that!"?

A: Oh my, there must be hundreds. Any of them that I thought were very good. What admirer wouldn't wish that? My most vivid recollection in this regard is running into Holden Caulfield when I was sixteen.

Q: What is your creative process like? What happens before sitting down to write?

A: I try to do what Hemingway suggested. He said stop for the day at a place it will be easy to start from the next day. Then the next day read over what's already there so everything will be of a piece.

Q: When they write your obituary, what do you hope they will say about your books and writing? What do you hope they will say about you?

A: That he made little folks merry.

Q: What advice would you give to a new writer?

A: Set up a schedule and stick to it religiously. Don't try to write all day or you probably won't last. Two or three hours may be plenty. (Have something else to do.) Also: READ.

Q: Do you have any book signings, tours or special events planned to promote your book that readers might be interested in attending? If so, when and where?

A: The World of Ink Network is currently touring my nighttime adventure book for kids, Night Buddies and the Pineapple Cheesecake Scare published by Dune Buggy Press all through July and August 2012. You can find out more about my World of Ink Author/Book Tour at

About the Book:
Night Buddies and the Pineapple Cheesecake Scare is the first in a series featuring John, a young city kid who isn't ready for bed yet, and Crosley, a bright-red crocodile who shows up in his room to rescue him and take him on an adventure.

Night Buddies is an astonishing and inventive adventure with unforgettable cast of characters that will make you laugh and win over your heart. The book has lots of thoughtful, multi-layered twists, giggles, and perils -- things kids can relate to and enjoy. 

Publisher: Dune Buggy Press; One edition (June 1, 2012)
ISBN-10: 0984741712
ISBN-13: 978-0984741717

Get a sneak peek of the book at

Saturday, August 11, 2012

Something new

I just did a rare thing. I read two dystopia books, back-to-back.  Worthy of note is I don’t often read two books that quickly and that close together. Credit summer vacation, friend to many a teacher.

Every writer needs to read, and in copious amounts. I’m aware. I wasn’t a kid naturally drawn to reading as a way to spend time. It wasn’t hard. I just didn’t love reading. Since the writing bug struck, I have been reading more. Nowadays, however, it’s kid’s lit rather than adult fiction. I have a lot of catching up to do.

Unusual, too, is the fact that dystopia is not my kind of read. I am appreciating fantasy more than I used to. But dystopia to me is disturbing and that makes it depressing.

On the other hand, dystopia can be exciting and a fast ride. As in all fiction there must be story. The two I read involve teen characters, one a boy and the other a girl – and no, it wasn’t Katniss. Both characters are thrust into worlds new to them and only through sheer perseverance by the main character will they get through.

From a craft point of view, one was very well written, the other good. I’m trying to understand why, or what makes one a better story.  It seems it has something to do with the connection the author has with their main character. They have to know that person and understand them and know exactly how that mc is going to respond to situations.

In one of the dystopias, the voice of the mc is true. The author knows her character. She responds logically to situations. In the good story, the mc isn’t as focused. He’s in a tough situation but doesn’t seem to be concerned. The mc is not true to himself. Plus a writing no-no is committed. The mc has to explain to readers that he is in danger or feeling confused, and too many times. Writers must trust the reader to figure those things out on their own. Let the reader connect with your character, too.

So, what is an MG writer to take from such an exercise? You need to read. To be a better writer, you have to read. If you want to improve your writing, pull out of your comfort zone take a serious look at a genre foreign to you. And if you’re writing fiction, you better know your character, make them true.

Bruce Luck 

Wednesday, August 8, 2012

Fuel for the "But They Broke the Rules" Fire

by Deren Hansen

Annette Lyons discussed, "The 2 Sides of a Good Writer" in a post at the Writing on the Wall blog, and identified the writing versions of the Hatfields and McCoys: the storytellers and the word smiths.

If we peel away the petty jealousy for those who collect royalties when we collect rejections, the complaint that someone broke the "rules" and still succeeded often comes down to storytellers and wordsmiths complaining about each other.

How often have you heard writers complain that a best-selling author tells a good story but is a terrible writer? How about critiques that someone writes beautiful prose but the story doesn't go anywhere?

You might say that storytelling vs.word smithing simply echos the distinction between commercial and literary fiction, where the former is all about the story and the latter is about how the story is told. But that observation only speaks to the stereotypes.

The deeper point is that storytelling and word smithing represent two fundamental approaches to the way we share narrative information. Storytelling is about selecting and presenting the best bits. Word smithing is about telling a bit well enough that it's interesting in its own right.

So, does this mean we have to choose sides?

Those of you who have been following for a while know that I don't like dichotomies unless they lead to a synthesis. The real answer is to make peace between the Hatfields and McCoys and strive for a good story, well told.

Monday, August 6, 2012

Keep your mountain in sight

“Over every mountain there is a path, although it may not be seen from the valley.” James Rogers

The above quote reminds me of Neil Gaiman's graduation speech at the University of Arts.

"Something that worked for me was imagining that where I wanted to be – an author, primarily of fiction, making good books, making good comics and supporting myself through my words – was a mountain. A distant mountain. My goal.
And I knew that as long as I kept walking towards the mountain I would be all right. And when I truly was not sure what to do, I could stop, and think about whether it was taking me towards or away from the mountain.
I said no to editorial jobs on magazines, proper jobs that would have paid proper money because I knew that, attractive though they were, for me they would have been walking away from the mountain. And if those job offers had come along earlier I might have taken them, because they still would have been closer to the mountain than I was at the time."

I love that analogy! Keep your mountain in sight and keep walking towards it. Don't let anything distract you off the path, even if you can't see that path from the valley, keep walking toward your goal. You. Will. Make. It.

Sunday, August 5, 2012

Spotlight: Author Maggie Lyons

Interview with Maggie Lyons

Maggie Lyons was born in Wales and brought up in England before gravitating west to Virginia’s coast. She zigzagged her way through a motley variety of careers from orchestral management to law-firm media relations to academic editing. Writing and editing nonfiction for adults brought plenty of satisfaction but nothing like the magic she discovered in writing fiction and nonfiction for children. Several of her articles, poetry, and a chapter book have been published in the children’s magazines Stories for Children Magazine and knowonder! 

What inspired you to write?
I’ve always loved words. My parents read stories to me when I was small and I became an avid reader. Language has always been a great love of mine, including learning how to read, write, and speak foreign languages, and read, interpret, and play music.

Have you had any training to become a writer?
In terms of formal training, one summer, centuries ago, I attended a short creative writing course at Georgetown University. Informally, all those years of writing business-related nonfiction certainly helped, as have countless pieces of advice from members of my critique group and articles on writing, and reading the works of master writers. 

Have you ever suffered from writer’s block? If yes, how did you ‘cure’ it?
I suffer from writer’s block whenever I try to write something worth reading. My “cure” is a walk down a country lane, or through a quiet field, or if it’s really bad, I move to another country.

Can you share some writing experiences with us?
One experience rockets to mind even though it happened decades ago, when Paul Hume was music critic at The Washington Post. For several years, I was the program annotator for the National Symphony Orchestra, which has its home in Washington, DC. Program annotators contribute notes on the music that can be found in concert program booklets. It’s that stuff most people in the audience don’t read because they’re too busy trying to find their names in the list of donors. Mr. Hume decided my notes were too frivolous and said so in the newspaper three weeks in a row. Since I prefer to avoid aspersions cast against me in newspapers, or wherever, I began including technical musical analyses in my notes, even though I suspected many, perhaps most, of the few who read the program notes would bypass even a whiff of technical analysis. That dried up the flow of invective from the Post, but more people fell asleep during the concerts.

Like all authors, you have had your fair share of rejection letters. You obviously did not let the letters deter you. How did you keep your determination without getting discouraged?
My characters were screaming their heads off to be released from their files. I couldn’t let them down and I was tired of all the noise in my writing space.

Please describe to us your relationship between you and your editor. What makes an author/editor relationship a success?
My relationship with my editors can be slightly tense at times because I’m a professional editor and therefore quite opinionated about editorial matters. When I manage to get off my high horse about editorial style, I find my editors have some amazingly wise advice about writing style. The two things are not necessarily related. While my nonfiction writing experience helped improve the fluency of my fiction writing, it didn’t do much to hone the stylistic techniques that distinguish the highest levels of that particular art.

How do you see the future of book publishing, both traditional, electronic, and print on demand?
I doubt that electronic publishing will wipe out old-fashioned print books for a very long time, if ever. But the new developments in interactive electronic books for children are truly exciting. I’d certainly love to see my books published in an interactive format some day. 

What advice would you give to a new writer?
Write, read, read, write—everything you can, not just on the art of writing and promoting your work. Study the work of great writers. Join a critique group and online writers’ groups. You can’t have too much input from others.

Thank you Maggie for taking some time to share with us about writing. For those who want to know more about Maggie Lyons you can follower her at

Twitter @maggielyons66

You can find out more about Maggie Lyons’s World of Ink Author/Book Tour at

Title: Vin and the Dorky Duet
Publisher: Halo Publishing Int. & MuseItUp Publishing (Canadian e-book publisher)

ISBN: 978-1-61244-091-0 (paperback)
ISBN: 978-1-77127-073-1 (eBook)

Genre of Book: Children’s Chapter Book Adventure

About the Book:
A twelve-year-old boy named Vin, goes on a mission—reluctantly. He doesn’t share the optimism of the knights of old who embarked on impossible missions without a doubt they’d succeed. When magnetic compost heaps, man-eating bubble baths and other disasters erupt, Vin comes close to packing in the whole ridiculous business. He calls it Operation BS, his code name for a mission to introduce his sister to a boy she has a crush on. He doesn’t want to play matchmaker, but Meg’s promise to reward him with a David Beckham autographed soccer jersey is a decisive incentive.

Get a sneak peek of the book at
Available wherever books are sold and online.
To learn more about the World of Ink Tours visit  

Saturday, August 4, 2012


by Scott Rhoades

A couple weeks ago I got a heart-crushing e-mail, announcing to contributors that The Writer magazine would go on hiatus following their October issue while their parent company, Kalmbach Publishing, seeks a buyer for the magazine.

I wanted to post something here right away, but didn't know if we were supposed to keep it quiet. It's been all over the blogosphere, though, so I guess I'm letting out any secrets.

This makes me incredibly sad. The Writer is my favorite magazine. It's been handing out excellent advice since 1887. It's the only magazine I subscribe to now. I've also subscribed to Writer's Digest, another great writing magazine, but I let that one lapse (although reluctantly--it was hard to fit two magazines a month into my reading time) and kept The Writer.

The Writer also had the impeccable taste to publish an article I wrote a couple years ago. I'll always be grateful to them for that.

I hope hope hope that they find a new owner. Even after several years of subscribing, I still get a happy little jolt when the new issue arrives. It's almost as much fun as when the Scholastic book orders arrived back at Louis B. Ruschin Elementary. OK, not really that close, but in the same ZIP code at least.

This isn't only a loss for writers who want to improve their craft. It also means the loss of an excellent, decent-paying market. Too many of those are disappearing. When they accepted my article, I learned that The Writer has a friendly editorial staff who are pleasant to work with and pay promptly. They kept me informed of scheduling changes, and they sent me not only the galleys to review but also a copy of the article in its final layout so I'd have the chance to give it a final OK. Since having that one little article published, The Writer has included me on e-mails to contributors. They've even sent me Christmas cards. So, for me, this is not merely the loss of my favorite magazine. I'm also concerned for the editorial staff and other employees. They are good, friendly people.

I believe that this may be the tragic end predicted by the Mayan calendar. But, since 2012 is also the year of the zombie apocalypse, here's hoping that this wonderful publication will rise again, seeking the brains of several writers each month, including some of the top names in the industry, so they can enlighten the rest of us.

More sad news (8/5/2012):  Scholastic Books has decided to stop publishing its Weekly Reader newspaper, distributed to school children for 84 years. Scholastic purchased The Weekly Reader back in February, and have now announced that it will cease publication. Neal Goff, president of The Weekly Reader from 2005 to 2010, believes that the newspaper is a victim of a reduced emphasis on current events in the typical curriculum. I remember looking forward to reading this publication back in my school days in The Long Long Ago. I believe it broadened my world and increased my curiosity about the way the world works and how people live. I'm truly sorry to see this wonderful publication die.

Wednesday, August 1, 2012

Writing is an Exercise in Delayed Gratification

by Deren Hansen

Writing can be protected in the U.S. with a copyright but not with a patent.

What's the difference?

Patents protect ideas. Copyrights protect the expression of ideas.

This means there's nothing to stop you from writing a story about a boy wizard who falls for a sparkly vampire while they're trying to survive as contestants in a blood-sport arena. The fact that other writers have already expressed those ideas in books that achieved commercial success doesn't necessarily stop you from expressing the same ideas. (As long as it is a new expression and not plagiarism or a cheap knock-off.) What matters, both in the eyes of the law and in the marketplace, is the quality of the expression of the idea.

Like the experiment in Plato's Republic, where Socrates examined states in order to understand personal virtue, there's an analogy between copyright law and the delicious ideas that spring up as you imagine the story you'll write. 

In your enthusiasm for those ideas, you'll be tempted to share. There's nothing so heady as cornering someone who will listen to you and explaining how great the story will be. It's all present and vibrant for you. Of course, what you really want is the validation that comes when someone else acknowledges your ideas.

But the fact of the matter is that great ideas about what could happen in your story are meaningless until you express them (i.e., write them down). Put another way, if, like the tree that falls in the forest, no one else can appreciate the idea in its expressed form, then for all practical purposes, it didn't happen.

At a personal level, this means that the satisfaction of someone saying, "Yes, that's a great idea," must be delayed until you've found a compelling way to express that idea. And if you're looking for acknowledgment from a circle larger than critique partners, beta readers, agents, and editors, you'd better be prepared to wait years between the idea and its publication.