The Writing Life

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 |2019-07-04T09:42:48-04:00July 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 |2019-01-30T14:18:55-04:00January 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 |2018-06-26T14:06:45-04:00June 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 |2018-06-03T10:16:10-04:00June 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 |2018-05-26T15:17:45-04:00May 26th, 2018|The Writing Life|3 Comments

Ask an Author! Inquiring Minds Want to Know

One of the things I hadn’t fully anticipated about becoming a novelist is the frequency with which folks ask me questions—not only about the work itself, but about where I get my ideas, what my writing process is like, and what a typical writing day is like. This past week, I learned I would be included in the next edition of Contemporary Authors, published by Gale Cengage. The editor asked me to respond to several thought-provoking questions. Here’s what I wrote: What first got you interested in writing? Like so many writers, I started out as a voracious reader. The joy I derived from books and libraries inspired me to want to write, as well as the encouragement of some early teachers. In seventh grade, for example, a wonderful teacher named Mr. Menna assigned our class to do a report on an author. I wrote to John Tunis, whose baseball-themed books I adored. I was thrilled to get a personal reply, and even more excited when Mr. Menna wrote on my report: “The only thing this paper lacks is publication.” I loved to write, and even as a twelve year old, his vote of confidence in my work meant a lot to me. My early career, however, was in my other passion, dance, which I combined with freelance magazine and newspaper feature writing. I delved into fiction writing when I retired from dance. Who or what particularly influences your work? I’ve read YA fiction all my life and my first [...]

By |2018-05-19T15:48:40-04:00May 19th, 2018|The Writing Life|0 Comments

Thinking about Endings, Beginnings, and Balancing Twin Passions

    I know January 1st is supposed to be the beginning of a new year, but as a long-time teacher, my year has always started when school begins in the late summer or fall and ends when school gets out.             As the end of the semester draws close, I have my usual set of mixed feelings. On the one hand, I’m eager for a break from endless papers and grading and hungry for uninterrupted days to work on my new novel. I actually had a few of those last week before the deluge of my students’ final projects came in, and those hours holed up in my home office were heavenly! Creative work is… well, work, but it’s so engaging and gratifying.    On the other hand, I feel sad saying goodbye to students I’ve grown attached to. I have amazing students who inspire me and make me laugh—and sometimes cry.  In truth, I’m genuinely passionate about teaching. Having these two passions of teaching and writing has greatly enriched my life, but it’s also complicated it. Teaching writing is labor intensive. When I’m awash in lesson plans and my students’ drafts and rewrites of their papers, my own writing can easily fall by the wayside. Yet I’ve never been one of those writers who can’t wait to quit my day job. As I’ve often said, I am a teacher at heart, as well as a writer. I once attended a talk by a mystery writer who divided his [...]

By |2018-04-25T09:18:05-04:00April 25th, 2018|The Writing Life|0 Comments

Sometimes You Just Have to Ask

Folks often don’t believe me when I tell them I’m an introvert. After all, I’m a lively pistol of a teacher. I love to laugh, and I’m a good listener and empathetic friend. But like all introverts, I need my alone time to fill up my tank. This is a handy quality to have for a writer, because we need lots of solitude to get our work done. But when it comes to the other part of the job involved in being a writer, engaging in marketing and self-promotion, I’m actually fairly shy. However, I’m slowly learning that sometimes you just have to put yourself out there and ask. Yesterday, for example, I visited my local branch of the public library.  Two of my books are in the system, including my newly released YA novel, It Should Have Been You. But there was no copy of my new release at my branch. So, I approached the checkout clerk and inquired as to who orders the books for our branch. “Oh,” he said, “that’s all done centrally by the system’s Content Manager.” I explained my dilemma, and he guided me over to the branch manager. I pulled my novel out of my book bag and told him that while I was delighted my novel was available in the system, it would mean a lot to me to have a copy at my local branch. He immediately asked the clerk to contact the Content Manager and order a copy. But that wasn’t [...]

By |2018-04-17T10:32:20-04:00April 17th, 2018|The Writing Life|0 Comments

What Really Matters

            I’ve yet to meet a writer who says, “Yippee! Another rejection!” While rejection is an inevitable part of putting our work out there, it’s never fun. When I got one of those dreaded “No’s” last week, I went through my usual three bags of Oreos during two days of total dejection. Who in their right minds, I wondered, would volunteer to get their work shot down over and over like this?              But a few people and experiences helped remind me what really matters— the adventure of doing the work.  Creative work can be in any field, but for me, it’s been in the arts—in dance, writing, and music.             A friend and fellow writer in my Sisters in Crime group made a wonderful comment at our last meeting: “I write because I love to—not because I think I’m going to write a best seller.” When she made that comment, I was all caught up in anxiety about whether my newly published novel would sell well. I’d almost forgotten that wasn’t really the point. I’d written IT SHOULD HAVE BEEN YOU because I loved to write, I believed in the book, and there were wonderful folks out there who let me know they’d been touched by reading it.             Then the other night, my husband and I participated in an open Mic event at my church. A handful of folks of all ages and experience levels got up and sang songs and played instruments. It was wonderful! I loved [...]

By |2018-03-06T08:04:00-04:00March 6th, 2018|The Writing Life|0 Comments

Ghosts from Our Past

Deb Shapiro, the publicist for Page Street, arranged to offer a giveaway on  KidsBuzz/Shelf Awareness for my newly released novel, IT SHOULD HAVE BEEN YOU. She decided to have the entries sent directly to me, presumably so that I could begin building an email list of readers who were interested in my work.             This seemed like a great idea—until the entries started pouring in! On the one hand, it was lovely to hear from all of these folks who were enthusiastic about the premise of the novel and wanted to win a signed copy. On the other hand, I lamented having only ten copies from the publisher to give out. Readers wrote such lovely notes—I wanted to give all of them copies! It was almost painful to have to write the non-winners that they hadn’t lucked into a copy.             It wasn’t that I’d never done a giveaway. I’d offered one for my first novel, WHILE I DANCED.  But in that case, I’d done the giveaway through Goodreads, and they’d handled the selection. My job was simply to send books to the winners, which I happily did. In this latest giveaway, however, I actually had to be the one to notify folks that they hadn’t won.             I’ve thought about why this was so hard for me, and I realized that it wasn’t just that I wanted to share my book with all of these readers who’d made the effort to enter the contest. My reaction was also about [...]

By |2018-02-26T09:24:46-04:00February 26th, 2018|The Writing Life|0 Comments