The Writing Life

Finding Your Tribe Helps In Surviving the Ups and Downs of the Writing Life

Monday morning did not start out well for me. I opened my email to discover a publisher’s rejection of a writing project close to my heart. As rejections go, it was a very nice one. The acquisitions editor pointed out some strengths of my manuscript and encouraged me to submit more work in the future. Still, it was a rejection. As a working writer, I should be used to them by now—but they’re never fun. I limped through the day, feeling discouraged and in need of chocolate. Lots of it. And then lo and behold, that night another email arrived in my inbox with good news. “Missed Cue,” the short story I’d submitted to Malice Domestic for inclusion in their 2020 anthology, Murder Most Theatrical, had been accepted. This felt especially miraculous to me because: 1. I’ve never written fiction for adults; and 2. The last time I wrote a short story, “Woman in the Dugout,” I was in seventh grade. My fiction writing ideas always seem to arrive in novel form. I am especially grateful to my friend, middle grade fiction writer and columnist Beth Schmelzer, who encouraged me to try writing a story for the anthology and organized an online critique group to work on drafts of our stories. Our little group also included the wonderful middle grade writer, Cynthia Surrisi. It was such a positive experience to work with these delightful women. There is nothing quite like “finding your tribe” as a writer. Beth Schmelzer with [...]

By |2019-10-18T12:11:25-05:00October 18th, 2019|The Writing Life|1 Comment

What John Lennon Said

On the wall of our music studio at home, my husband hung up a plaque with one of our all-time favorite quotes by John Lennon: “Life is what happens while you are busy making other plans.” That certainly has been the case in my own life. For example, years ago, in the wake of a painful divorce, I quickly wearied of my abrupt descent into dire financial straits as the single parent of a young son. I loved my job dancing in a small modern dance company, but I wasn’t exactly rolling in the dough. I announced to my friends that if I ever got married again, I’d certainly pick a well-off man who’d chosen a career that actually paid the bills. No sooner had I made my pronouncement than I met the new guy in our dance company, who was every bit as broke as I was. He was hilarious, sweet, and utterly irresistible. We fell madly in love and were married within the year. My writing life has worked out much the same way. Prior to beginning a novel, I spend long hours creating bios for my characters and outlining what I anticipate happening, chapter by chapter. No writing by the seat of my pants for me! I’m one of those determined planner types. The thing is, though, my plans and characters have this mysterious way of bending and changing. In my latest work in progress, for example, I recently passed the 150 page mark of my first [...]

By |2019-10-07T09:36:59-05:00October 7th, 2019|The Writing Life|0 Comments

The Two Most Common Questions Writers Get Asked

If readers have enjoyed a writer’s book, I’ve noticed that there are two questions they repeatedly ask. The first is usually some variation of, “So what’s your next book about?” and the second is, “Where do you get your ideas?” Recently, I decided to redo my website (currently in progress) and took a stab at responding to these two questions for a new “In the Works” section. Here’s a brief description of Leisha’s Song: On scholarship at Stonefield Academy, a prestigious New England boarding school, academically gifted seventeen-year-old Leisha has fallen in love with singing and become close to Ms. Wells, her vocal coach and mentor. So, when Ms. Wells suddenly resigns and disappears with no warning or even a forwarding address, Leisha is shocked. And worried. She needs to track her teacher down, make sure she’s okay. Cody, a sensitive cellist from an ultra-wealthy conservative white family, insists on helping her. Sparks fly, clues multiply, and romance blossoms, despite the disapproval of their families. Leisha’s desire to be with Cody and pursue music rather than medicine puts her on a direct collision course with her African-American grandfather, the only parent she’s ever had. But an even more immediate threat looms—because as Leisha draws closer to the truth about her teacher’s disappearance, she puts her own life in grave danger. Like many writers, the kids in my life inspire me! And now here’s what I wrote about where I got the idea and inspiration for this story: Years [...]

By |2019-09-12T16:59:15-05:00September 12th, 2019|The Writing Life|0 Comments

Killer Nashville’s Distinctive Brand

  At the Coming of Age Panel with Alison McMahan and Sheila Sobel Every professional author on the planet hears the consistent message that publishing has changed. Gone are the days when we can spend all our time doing that writing thing. Nope, we have to get out there and market our babies. Promote, promote, promote! A big part of that is creating and publicizing what makes our work special, unique, and worth paying for—what marketing specialists call “developing our brand.” I have to admit that I never really thought about writing conferences as having “brands” as well. But after attending my first Killer Nashville conference, I’ve come to appreciate that they really do. Founded by Clay Stafford, Killer Nashville, now in its 14th year, is devoted to supporting and nurturing writers of mystery, suspense, and thrillers at all stages of their careers. This year’s honored guests were Alexandra Ivy, David Morrell, and Joyce Carol Oates—not exactly shabby literary company. All three were thoughtful, down-to-earth, and much more interested in talking about writing than how to sell lots of books. And that in a nutshell is what I loved about this conference. The emphasis was on the work, not on sales, awards, number of reviews, or likes on Facebook. As Stafford pointed out, “Write because you love it… if you love what you are doing, then that sustains and nourishes you no matter your career highs or lows.” He advised all of us to support and encourage one [...]

By |2019-08-30T10:45:14-05:00August 30th, 2019|The Writing Life, Uncategorized|0 Comments

Why Gayle Forman Inspires Me

This past week, I read Gayle Forman’s latest young adult novel, I Have Lost My Way. Like her previous YA novels, it’s a beautifully written and deeply moving work. Three teenagers from markedly different backgrounds are each suffering from devastating losses. Freya, a budding pop star, has lost her voice while recording her debut album, while Harun, a closeted gay Muslim, has lost his lover and is about to be sent to India for an arranged marriage. Meantime, Nathaniel has come to New York City after losing his father and feels he has nothing left to live for. Accidentally drawn together in the course of one tumultuous day, the three teens become a family of choice committed to helping one another cope and heal from their respective losses. As Freya discovers, “To be the holder of other people’s loss is to be the keeper of their love. To share your loss with people is another way of giving your love.” Forman’s compelling novels are beloved by millions. What particularly resonates for me is her hopeful theme of the redemptive power of love. While the families we are born into may not always be there for us, we can create intentional families of mutual support and caring, as well as work to repair existing relationships. This has also been a major theme in my own work, inspired not only by my own life but by the lives of so many brave teens I’ve worked with. Beyond her impressive body of work, [...]

By |2019-07-27T18:01:13-05:00July 27th, 2019|The Writing Life|0 Comments

Writing Out of Our Comfort Zone

“Whether you think you can, or you think you can’t, you’re right.” -Henry Ford My late writer friend Thelma Wyland used to tell me, “I was born without the poetry gene.” Of course, I knew that wasn’t really true. Despite her preference for short story writing, she created such evocative Haiku that musician and composer Frank Richmond was inspired to create a deeply moving original composition. Still, I’ve always felt I lacked the “short story gene.” Ever since I’d written “Woman in the Dugout” in seventh grade, all my ideas for fiction seemed to naturally gravitate toward novel length. So when Beth Schmelzer, who was kind enough to adopt me at my first Malice Domestic convention this spring, invited me to join with middle grade author Cynthia Surrisi and her in working on short stories to be considered for an upcoming Malice Domestic anthology, my initial thought was “No way! I’m not a short story writer—I write novels for young adults.” Of course, the theme of “Mystery Most Theatrical” intrigued me, since my background is in dance. And then an idea lodged its way into my pea brain, and I actually wrote a rough draft of a short story. It needs tons of work, but I know I’ll get helpful critical feedback for revision from Beth and Cynthia. Plus, I get to read their stories (which are really good) and enjoy this emerging tiny online writing community. Writing short forced me to be economical in a way that’s different from [...]

By |2019-07-04T09:42:48-05:00July 4th, 2019|The Writing Life|1 Comment

Celebrating One Year Book Anniversary!

It’s hard to believe that it was one year ago today that my YA novel, It Should Have Been You, was released by Page Street! What a journey this has been. I’ve done readings at Flying Out Loud and as part of a SWAN (“Support Women Artists Now”) celebration, signed books at Barnes and Noble, the MidSouth SCBWI conference, Seton Hill, and at the Kentucky Festival Book Fair where I was thrilled to be a panelist on “Fierce Females in YA Literature.” This spring, I’ll be a participating author at the SOKY Book Festival and Malice Domestic.          Absolutely the best part of this experience has been the love, encouragement, and support I’ve received from readers, family, friends, and fellow writers, especially Ellen Birkett Morris and Mary Lou Northern and the Derby Rotten Scoundrels, our local chapter of Sisters in Crime. Like so many authors, I’ve encountered my share of bumps on the writing road this past year as well, but I never forget how fortunate I am to be able to go to my public library and see my book on the shelf. Books have meant so much to me all my life, and it’s a thrill to have actually sent books I’ve written out into the world. I look forward to another year of writing, teaching, and savoring the work I get to do!    

By |2019-01-30T14:18:55-05:00January 30th, 2019|The Writing Life|0 Comments

My Favorite Part about Writer’s Conferences

  I just got back from an amazing writer’s conference, In Your Write Mind, at Seton Hill University. It happens every June, and is not only for alums of their MFA program but for any interested writer.  Not only was it chock full of great workshops, panels, opportunities to pitch to agents and an editor, but it was a lovely opportunity to reconnect with old classmates and fellow writers, and get to know new folks. I do have to put in a plug for my alma mater, Seton Hill. I have never encountered a more supportive writing community for popular fiction folks, and that wonderful sense of community continues way past graduation. For me, my favorite part of attending conferences is sharing stories and listening to the stories of other working writers. Writing can be a lonely business and almost every career has its ups and downs. It’s very encouraging to hear from folks who’ve recovered from down periods and gone on to solid publishing careers. This year’s guest of honor, for example, was award-winning horror writer Paul Tremblay. He was delightfully honest in sharing that his first two published novels weren’t well received, and he ended up splitting from his publisher. It was five years before he published his next novel and got his career back on track. I also loved that he was a husband, dad, and school teacher who’d taught for 23 years and was managing to keep writing, despite a very full life! His self-deprecating humor [...]

By |2018-06-26T14:06:45-05:00June 26th, 2018|The Writing Life, Uncategorized|0 Comments

Antidotes to Making Yourself Miserable as a Writer

  Last week, I wrote about ways to make yourself miserable as a writer and received some excellent additions to my list from two author friends, Katie Kenyhercz and Patti Kurtz. I’m including their suggestions on my updated list: Spend hours each day lurking on social media and reading about the sweet publishing deals your writer friends have gotten while you count your rejection slips. Visit Goodreads often and re-read the awful reviews on your last book; ignore the good ones. Obsess over those writers you secretly don’t think are very good but whose careers are going way better than yours. Make a list of authors whose work is so good you know you’ll never measure up. If you don’t have an agent, lament that you’ll never get one; if you do have an agent, convince yourself that you’re about to be dumped when he doesn’t immediately respond to your last email. Katie: “The way I most often beat myself up is to wallow in how slowly I write and the gaps in my publications that seem to get longer and longer when I have a ton of writer friends who keep nose to the grindstone pumping out book after book. I feel like a bad writer and that I’m letting my readers down/risking losing them.” Patti: “How about, read your fellow writers’ posts about how they wrote 10,000 words in one day while you can barely manage 500 words in the same time period? Or even: read about author [...]

By |2018-06-03T10:16:10-05:00June 3rd, 2018|The Writing Life, Uncategorized|0 Comments

Six Surefire Ways to Make Yourself Miserable as a Writer

In honor of one of my all-time favorite books, Dan Greenburg’s How to Make Yourself Miserable, I offer these six surefire ways to torture yourself as a writer and insure continuous misery: Spend hours each day lurking on social media and reading about the sweet publishing deals your writer friends have gotten while you count your rejection slips. Visit Goodreads often and re-read the awful reviews on your last book; ignore the good ones. Obsess over those writers you secretly don’t think are very good but whose careers are going way better than yours. Make a list of authors whose work is so good you know you’ll never measure up. If you don’t have an agent, lament that you’ll never get one; if you do have an agent, convince yourself that you’re about to be dumped when he doesn’t immediately respond to your last email. To insure continued misery, repeat all of the above as needed.   So there you have it. If you are determined to be miserable, these are amazingly effective strategies. If you’re a writer, I’d love to hear from you. What strategies have you found work well? All additions to my list are welcome! And if you’re not a writer, I’m eager to hear about the strategies you use either at school or in your field to insure misery. Of course, there is a limit to how much misery I can wallow in, so next week, I’ll talk about the antidotes to making yourself miserable.   [...]

By |2018-05-26T15:17:45-05:00May 26th, 2018|The Writing Life|3 Comments