Monday, October 29, 2012



SNARKY RESPONSE:  Awww, I didn't realize Hallmark owned stock in fortune cookie companies. You know, they've got a card for that!

Let someone know how special they are to you.

It's amazing how many people touch our lives and how those touches, no matter how small, contribute to our experience. Don't miss any opportunity to let folks know how much you appreciate them. It makes them feel good and it makes you feel good. Win/Win

So, here's my attempt to do just that - say a little "Thank You" to some of the folks who have helped my along my writing path!

JRW Contingent & Local NaNoWriMo Liaison
As an aspiring writer, I was fortunate to become involved in several wonderful groups which led to friendships that have become stronger with time.  As a member of the James River Writers, I've met (and continue to meet) such a wonderful diverse group. Some of them were at the NaNoWriMo Kick Off Party last night and posed for a little group shot.

My W3 Avatar
Virginia Romance Writers has brought me into contact with a great group of women. In fact, I've joined with seven of them to create a fun group blog entitled, Words, Women, Wisdom (W3 for short). You can visit us through the link. We're a diverse group of writers and I think we offer something for everyone. Please drop in and then come back to visit, often!

Most influential on my growth as a writer have been the two critique groups I was blessed to find and join - RichWriters and Writers Endeavor. These two groups have done more to help nurture my craft and my confidence in my writing than I can every repay. The members, ranging from aspiring to published, non-fiction to popular fiction, have given so freely of their time and thoughtful consideration and I never fail to thank my lucky stars for every one of them.

This is FAR from a complete list and I hope those I didn't include in this post will understand. It would take pages and pages, but these are the ones I felt driven to THANK today.

As John Donne said, no (wo)man is an island and for me, this is my opportunity to show exactly how true that has been for me.

Now I encourage you to take a moment to recognize and thank those who have helped you along your path. None of us can do this alone.

Friday, October 26, 2012

JRWC12 Tidbit #4 - Priceless Website Insights

Every author is told to develop their web presence as soon as possible. Join social media and set up a website. But if you're new to the whole shebang, what are the basics? How do you pull together the best web presence you can before you've even sold your first book/story?

JRW's session, Insight Into Your Site: Website 101,  offered attendees plenty of helpful points and information. The panel consisted of Erin Blakemore (author, The Heroine's Bookshelf), Colleen Lindsay (community manager, Penguin's,  and Anna Sproul (agent, Ross Yoon Agency) and was moderated by JRW's Maya Payne Smart.

Suggestions, hints, and advice flew around the panel like bees around honey. Or perhaps it was my own desperation to absorb every possible tidbit that made it seem like this session was a motherload of good stuff.

The most valuable thing for me was a list of Basic Website components:
  • Keep the design simple and clean. No music. No crazy dancing graphics. No "Enter Here" preliminary page.
  • All content should be your best writing and carefully edited by yourself and at least one other pair of eyes
  • The Home Page needs to be constantly updated/refreshed with new information - it was suggested (strongly) that your blog be the Home Page/blog frequency 1X per week minimum
  • Contact Me tab/button/page should not be a form to be filled out by the visitor but contain a professional email address, your name, any current projects, and a professionally taken photo
  • Social Media links should be prominent and link to an ACTIVE social media presence. If you don't use twitter, don't put it on the website (yet)
  • If you're published, make sure you have a Call to Action on every page - Buy The Book - with links to your book
This led to some discussion about social media. Again, if you don't like facebook, don't link to it, don't promote it. Only link to those media platforms you intend to maintain properly.

Something I'd forgotten to do - Your Twitter Home Page should also be nicely worked up with a photo for your handle and appropriate personalization. No one likes or trusts the anonymous little eggheads. I came home and spent a little time personalizing my own Twitter Home Page. You Like? Well, it's a WIP.

Oh, and speaking of Twitter, be sure that you don't tweet "Buy my book! Buy my book!" but that you DO tweet good content. Links to articles you think would be interesting. Tweets by people you follow and respect. Tweets that you feel inform, entertain, and/or relate to your passion. And try to make sure you keep the character count low enough that it can be successfully RETWEETED.

Whew! See what I mean? Now, get crackin'!

Thursday, October 25, 2012

JRWC12 Tidbit #3 - The Value of Critiques & Self-Editing

When looking back at my choices of what panels to attend at the 2012 James River Writers Conference, I began to see patterns and one of them was on editing/critique.

My first session selection - Don't Fight the Feedback: Making the Most of Critiques and Self-Editing - made that point clear. The panel consisted of Cherise Fisher (The Scribe's Window), Lana Krumwiede (author, Freakling), and J.M. Tyree (writer), and moderated by JRW's own Constance Costas.

Wield Thoughtfully The Powerful Red Pen
Critiques are like advice--easy to give, hard to accept. However, when you receive a honest, insightful, and constructive critique, it would be foolish to ignore. The trick to giving and receiving critiques is to remember to be CONSTRUCTIVE. These pages/words were labored over by the author and are as dear as a beloved child. Treat them and the writer with respect, giving them your best in both content and delivery.

The panel offered so much valuable advice that I'm certain to have missed many points, but these made it onto paper:
  • Don't self-edit while composing that first draft. Pour it all out and then go back to edit
  • Be a developmental editor - evaluating character, pacing, plot, and voice - not just grammar
  • Don't skimp on the fact checking (was there really a full moon on January 6, 1995?) and don't rely strictly on the web (unvetted and notoriously unreliable). Librarians are priceless resources.
  • When considering a professional editor, especially for those going the route of self-publishing, carefully vet your choice. Some resources suggested: The Editorial Freelancers Association and Professional Editors Network
Sadly, I had to leave before the session was finished (hosting duties), but I was very happy I sat in on this one for as long as I could. Those editor association links alone will be invaluable IMHO.

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

JRWC12 Tidbit #2 - That Crucial First Page

All writers are taught that the first page is crucial to hooking the agent, the editor, and the reader. Getting that opening scene right takes serious crafting.

It is a much loved and equally terrifying tradition at the James River Writers Writing Conferences to offer intrepid writers the opportunity to have their first page randomly selected, read aloud, and critiqued in a Plenary Session.

Preparing for First Pages
The 2012 First Pages session this year featured a panel of Liz Bicknell (editorial director, Candlewick Press), Ayesha Pande (Ayesha Pende Literary agency), and Alec Shane (agent, Writers House), moderated by JRW's own David L. RobbinsThis year's first pages were gleaned from a wide range of genres - general fiction to YA and everything in between.

The JRW First Pages panels have been known to be instructive and sometimes, brutally honest, so submitting is not for the faint-hearted. Nothing less than the writer's absolute BEST EFFORT should be  offered. Anything less will be spotted right off the bat and the experience about as pleasant as being struck by that bat. However, the advice is given to help improve the work and not to "make friends," so be warned.

This year's panel was no less instructive than prior years and perhaps a little harsher than some, but far from the harshest to grace the stage.

Here are some of my notes in the hopes that you'll find some of them as insightful and helpful as I did:

  • First page has to set place, person or plot - as many as possible if not all
  • "Disputation is key"
  • Grammatical errors are unacceptable - these pages are your key to the kingdom and lack of attention to detail here speak poorly of your skill
  • Pacing should be immediately evident and appropriate to your genre
  • The much lauded "hook" MUST be presented immediately or the agent/editor will become the one that got away
  • Voice - give the agent/editor the full impact of your character's unique voice as well as your own
  • Don't introduce too many characters in that first scene overwhelming the agent/editor/reader
While none of these points are news to a serious writer of any level, seeing them actively illustrated is priceless. Rules handed out in a vacuum are sometimes poorly implemented, however, being offered concrete examples never fails to nail them down.

This is the purpose of the First Pages session - to educate, to illustrate, and to assist. For the fortunate souls whose pages were read and critiqued, the lesson may not have been painless, but there's no way they could be discounted as anything less than golden.

My thanks to the panel who offered their best advice and comments.

My congratulations to the folks whose pages were read - go forth, revise, and conquer!

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

JRWC12 Tidbit #1 - The Power & The Glory of The Pitch

First, friends, don't faint, I'll be posting quite a bit this week because I've got a lot of good stuff to share from the James River Writers 2012 Writers Conference. Today - The Pitch

For writers, there is nothing so exciting and terrifying as the pitch session. For non-writers, the term will generate a "huh?" so a moment to describe.

"The Pitch" - Writers need to approach agents and/or editors with their writing and any good writing conference offers short little interview-type sessions for authors. These can range from five to fifteen minutes (times vary from conference to conference) however, the level of terror does not.

At conference Pitch Sessions, authors select the agent/editor that they hope will be most interested in their current brainchild. Then, at the appointed time, heart in throat, notes in hand, they sit down across the table and offer their most concise and eloquent summary of their story.

Think Job Interview distilled down to its most intense moments.

The James River Writers 2012 Writers Conference provided not only Pitch Sessions of seven precious minutes, but also hosted their Second Pitchapalooza with The Book Doctors and this year's guest agent, Alec Shane of Writers House.

Writers signed up and names were drawn randomly. The fortunate stepped up to the mikes and were given ONE MINUTE to pitch their book. In front of a full auditorium, no less. Afterwards, The Book Doctors, David Henry Sterry and Arielle Eckstut, and Alec Shane would offer critiques on the pitch.

Every year, I sit in awe and breathless support of the brave pitchers and gobble up all the helpful advice offered in a kind & generous manner by the panel. Here are a few things that I gleaned and need to apply to my own pitch:

  • Lead with action
  • Your Protagonist must be named and their stakes explained.
  • Your Antagonist should be uniquely identified
  • Tease us with the worst thing that could happen/what's at stake
  • Give a solid example of your "fabulous voice and particular story"
  • Offer comparative titles to help identify your genre/audience
There were far more nuggets of gold scattered at our feet by the panel, but these were the ones I managed to scoop up.

If you're interested in learning more about The Book Doctors follow the links I've embedded and consider their book - The Essential Guide to Getting Your Book Published

Thank you, James River Writers, for producing yet another spectacular event and I look forward to sharing more tidbits over the course of this week.

Monday, October 22, 2012


Romance is likely; strike up a conversation!

SNARKY REPONSE: Just hope no one decides to strike you back! Fresh!

Romance is likely; strike up a conversation!

In a way, that's exactly what I've been doing all week-end at the James River Writers Writing Conference. This three-day event was held at the Richmond Convention Center and featured a diverse cast of talented speakers on a plethora of informative panels. And everyone from feature speakers to first-time attendees are in the throes of a serious romance with the written word in all her glorious forms.

From the welcome session to the closing 10th Anniversary Celebration, I was surrounded by writers seeking better ways to woo their chosen muse. Conversations always included the key question: "What do you write?" offering everyone the opportunity to share their love affair with writing openly with others who could understand and share the attraction.

View of the Conference Marketplace
Some of my takeaways were:
  • Poetry Warm Up provided by author and performance poet, Allan Wolf, challenged us to consider where we were going to place our "pea of truth"
  • Our First Page HAS to set place, person, and plot
  • Resist the urge to edit while writing that "shitty first draft" - something that's often easier said than done
  • Your blog should be the home page of your website to provide fresh renewed content for visitors with suggested updates of once a week at least, though daily (a concept that boggled my mind) would possibly annoy your readers - as Sabrina tells Linus in one my favorite movie quotes "sometimes more is just more"
  • Your website "Contact Me" should not be a form but an actual "professional" email address - visitors are put off by the impersonal form
  • Successful agent/editor queries are based on careful research - know who they are and why your book would fit their niche
While there were many wonderful pieces to the event, I felt it was beautifully book-ended by the Saturday First Pages critique, an always insightful though oft painful reading & critique of anonymous first pages and the Sunday Pitchapalooza where we listened to brave souls give a one-minute pitch in front of the entire assembly for critique by The Book Doctors and Alec Shane, agent.

If you've never been to the JRW Writers Conference, please be sure to put it on your short list for 2013.

Monday, October 15, 2012


Never judge a work of art by it's defects.

SNARKY RESPONSE:  Hah! Tell that to all the folks who make a professional living out of judging art.

Never judge a work of art by it's defects.

I think today's fortune cookie is about self-criticism as much as it is about external criticism. Most beginning writers, and even experienced writers, can be their own worst critics. We will nitpick and second-guess ourselves into a muddle or a self-induced case of writers block.

Now, I'm not saying that judicious self-editing doesn't have it's place, but it should not become a bludgeon with which we beat our WIP and ourselves into oblivion. Be constructive with that criticism, not destructive. 

It's said that challenges should be considered opportunities and discovering issues with your own writing should be treated the same way. Look at ways to strengthen, tighten, and enliven your work not ways to delay, postpone, or just plain give up.

We have to be fearless. We have to be determined. And we have to be willing to face the good, the bad, and the ugly of our process in order to produce something that we know will be all that is powerful, beautiful, and  worthy of ourselves.

After all, we're doing something a lot of folks just talk about. We're committing ourselves to our dream, putting our visions on paper, and doing the work to reach our goals.

Keep writing and growing!

Monday, October 8, 2012


You will maintain good health and enjoy life.


You will maintain good health and enjoy life.

I sure wish I'd drawn this one out of my fortunes collection before last Saturday. Why you ask? Last Saturday, I tripped and fell, resulting in bruising and general unhappiness all over my body. Luckily nothing was broken and I'm much better now.

However, this fortune does bring to mind a point. Writing is a sedentary career. We do all the heavy lifting in our minds and the only parts of our bodies that get a real work-out are our fingers. Okay, I should acknowledge that there are genres of writing that require physical involvement – outdoors writers, travel writers, sports writers, etc. – but most of us spend the majority of our time at a desk, seated, for hours on end. If that's won't contribute to a bit of spread and gradual flabbiness, nothing will.

So, what's a dedicated writer to do? Get up and move around regularly.

The First Wives Club
One of my favorite scenes in The First Wives Club was when the three "first wives" Diane Keaton, Bette Midler, and Goldie Hawn were brainstorming ways to get back at one of their husbands. Goldie Hawn was up on their office treadmill and said she got her best ideas there. True to her word, she came up with an excellent observation and Bette Midler exclaimed "She does get her best ideas on there." (or something to that effect)

It's an often cited piece of advice that when you're blocked, you get up and do something else. But don't let that be the only time you get up. Aside from going in search of the obligatory caffeine or treats to stimulate and/or lure the muse. Exercise! Take a walk. Get on a rebounder. Switch on the exercise channel and follow along. No one cares if you don't do all the exercises with the grace and aplomb of those way perky exercise divas. The point is that you're moving and the more you move the easier it will become.

Oh, you say, that's easy to say from way over there. So, what are you doing? Admittedly, I've not been doing much, but I am posting this as a formal Declaration of Intent.

I will begin to include more exercise in my routine beginning today. How about you? Are you game?

Together we WILL maintain good health and enjoy life!

Monday, October 1, 2012


Infinite patience produces immediate results.

SNARKY RESPONSE: Talk about an oxymoron! Infinite patience produces immediate results? Patience infers passage of time. And Immediate, well, now, I'm hearing that old joke about someone shouting at their microwave – Hurry!

Infinite patience produces immediate results.

Attempting a career of any kind requires a huge helping of patience. No one becomes successful alone. It takes time to build a groundswell of any size. Not to mention the patience it takes to produce a finished product like, say, a book.

To my knowledge, no successful writer has ever written a publishable book in one sitting. Certainly, there have been instances where a completed manuscript is highly satisfactory, but it is far from polished. After the story has been set down, there is editing for grammar and plot, fine-tuning of continuity and dialogue, filling in setting and character, to name a few. These steps are crucial and must not be skimped on if you hope to produce a polished work. Of course, if you're not interested in craft and just want to see you name in print in a self-published book, you might skip those steps, but skip them at your own peril.

Like words spoken in haste, a reader's experience with your book is something you can't erase.

Make sure that you've gone over every chapter/paragraph/word to make sure it was necessary, succinct, and factually/grammatically correct. Readers have enough books stacked up on their TBR pile that if they become disillusioned with your book for any reason, they can just shunt you aside for someone who did the work. Don't be That Writer.

All that work and patience may not result in immediate results, but it will guarantee consistent results—positive reviews and most importantly, Sales!

My enovella, The Festival of The Flowers: The Courtesan and The Scholar, took several years to finish and polish to the point where I could actually submit it to publishers. It found a home at The Wild Rose Press. And I'd like to think that all my work and then the work I did with my TWRP editor comes through to the reader.

Now, my second enovella, Collector's Item, is in the final stages of edits with my editor at The Wild Rose Press and once more I am glad that I have taken the time and practiced the patience required to produce what I hope will be a quality result.

As they say, anything worth being done is worth being done well! Or at least to the best of your ability. Short cuts only cut you short. Be patient with yourself, your writing, and your career and you will see positive results. I'm certain of it.