Monday, May 30th, 2011

Remembering the Fallen…

Graves at Arlington Cemetery on Memorial Day - 2008
Friday, May 27th, 2011

Writing Prompt – Going Somewhere?

Map of Inner Harbor BaltimoreI never drive anywhere new without a map.

I think I’ve mentioned before that sometimes I have a map and a GPS, and I still manage to get lost. That’s just me.

Lately, I’ve been looking at maps, deciding where I might like to take some day trips this summer. I’m looking at museums, hiking trails, adventure stuff.

(Some decisions will be made by the apparent ease of getting there. Too many turns, and I’m not going…or I’ll take a navigator. Who’s up for a road trip this summer?)

The Yahoo map to the right has a star marking St. Michael’s Church in Baltimore. I might take trip there to investigate more family genealogy.

Here’s Your Prompt:

In honor of spring and planning summer and fall trips, here are some prompts about maps. You can write a poem, a story, a scene, anything that comes to mind inspired by these:

  • Lost again!
  • You’re in uncharted territory…
  • “Far, far across the crimsoned map the impassioned armies sweep.” – (from ‘The Superman’ by Robert Grant)
  • A secret location…
  • “A barnyard and fifteen Holstein cows, dabs of white on a black wall map, never blink an eye.” – (from Still Life’ by Carl Sandburg)
  • He had never passed this way before…
  • “Because he had no map, he followed…” – (from Sandy Star and Willie Gee by William Stanley Braithwaite)
  • Here’s a map to my heart.
  • He was mapping a sentence when…
  • …is only to be considered as a general map of Man, marking out no more than the greater parts, their extent, their limits, and their connection, but leaving… (from An Essay on Man by Alexander Pope)
  • Following the map of your desires…
  • A mile and a half beyond the yellow barn…
  • She opened the tattered envelope and pulled out a map to…

Have fun!

Thursday, May 26th, 2011

Eight Tips to Make Your Next Writers Conference Awesome

I stumbled across this article today from Penny C. Sansevieri, editor of The Book Marketing Expert newsletter.

Since I’ve talked many times before about writing conferences, and recently hosted interviews with conference planners and coordinators, I decided to share Penny’s wisdom.

If you missed the 3-part interview series on attending and planning writers’ conferences, you can catch up here:

Guest Post by Penny C. Sansevieri:

I love going to writers conferences, and it’s really awesome when I’m speaking there as well. But as wonderful as the networking is, if you don’t show up with a plan or a set of action items for the conference, you can get sucked up into the vibe of the event without being very productive. Here are some tips to help you maximize your event!

Goals: Before you go to a writers conference, be clear on your goals. If it’s just networking, that’s great, but if you want to get more than networking out of the event, make sure you establish your specific objectives in advance.

Start networking before the event starts: Now that you’ve gone through the conference website, it’s time to identify the folks you’d like to get to know better and start your networking early. Send them an email and tell them you are looking forward to seeing them at the event, or hearing them speak. Follow them on Twitter and begin to network with them there. Early networking is a great way to get in front of agents and publishers you might not otherwise have access to.

Make appointments early: The conference website should be your new best friend. Comb through it to find names of publishers and agents who are going to be there. Most conferences will offer you publisher or agent appointments so you can present your work, but if you want to coordinate a meeting with someone for any other reason dig through the website to find out who will be there and see if you can get on their calendar. I have shown up at conferences hoping to make appointments there and found that they’re not only difficult to schedule, but often confusing as well. Once you hit the conference floor the momentum of the event takes over, and any appointments that haven’t been confirmed prior to event generally won’t happen.

Take business cards: Make sure you bring a lot of business cards, running out at an event is never good.

Stay organized: I will generally bring some letter-sized envelopes with me to the event and then file cards by session or event so I can keep track of where I collected them. For example, let’s say I went to a big awards dinner and did some networking. If I file all of these in the “Awards dinner” envelope, I can add a personal element to the follow up email like “It was nice to meet you at the awards dinner, wasn’t Marci’s acceptance speech great?”

Easy follow-up: Ok, so you’ve had a great meeting with a publisher and they want to see a chapter of your book. Great! Now what? Take their card, flip it over and jot down a few important notes on the back such as: follow-up steps, short meeting details (“met for lunch”), and anything else you can fit onto the card such as any personal details they shared – like having a daughter who went to the same school as your kids or something like that.

Never eat alone: There’s a great networking book by the same name (Never Eat Alone by Keith Ferrazzi, Crown Books) and the statement is true. At a writers conference be sure to grab a table packed with people and even better, don’t sit with the same folks over and over again. Mix it up and meet new people!

Action items: At the end of each conference day, I find it helpful to gather my notes and go through and highlight the important items from the day. I have often waited until I’m on the plane back home, or worse, the Monday following the conference and I generally can’t make heads or tails out of who I am supposed to follow up with at that point. Lesson: do it early while the information is still fresh.

And finally, our bonus tip:

Plan B: If you can’t afford to attend the writers conference that’s in your town here’s an idea for you. When a big conference rolls into town, an author friend of mine will sometimes hang out in the downstairs coffee shop or restaurant at the hotel where the event is being held and network with people there. You never know who you might meet.

Conference follow-up: This is a biggie. Make sure you always follow up with everyone you connected with, especially if you committed to them that you would send them more information, sample chapters, whatever.

Keep the networking going: Relationships take time. Don’t expect miracles when you land at a writers conference. Sometimes great stuff will happen right away, and other times it’s a process. Don’t let the networking end when the function is over. You’re now networking with them online via Twitter and Facebook, and perhaps you have some follow-up to do. Keep on their radar screen and then be on the lookout for future events you can attend!

Writers conferences are a great way to get out there and network, meet your peers and meet agents, publishers, and marketing professionals who can help you publish or market your book. Here are a few for you to consider!

Romantic Times

Unicorn Writers Conference

Romance Writers of America

Book Expo America


Reprinted from “The Book Marketing Expert newsletter,” a free ezine offering book promotion and publicity tips and techniques.

Tuesday, May 24th, 2011

Two Cool Sites: Kindle Nation Daily and BookLending.Com

I found two very cool sites recently and I wanted to share.

Kindle Nation Daily features free books, tips, news and commentaries all related to Kindle. The site is jam-packed with info.

Kindle Nation Daily hosted Blood Soup yesterday, and I’m just tickled with the way it appeared. I just love the look and feel of that Web site.

But don’t visit just to check out the Blood Soup page, there’s A TON of things to look at and download.

In conjunction with the KND “spread,” Blood Soup was hosted over at This site connects readers who want to read books with book owners who want to lend them. It allows folks to share kindle books.

Neat concept!

Friday, May 20th, 2011

Writing Prompt: What’s Happening Here?

I’ve hesitated to toss up a photo to use as a prompt because it’s just too easy to get into the habit of doing something lazy, but I just couldn’t pass this up.

The most recent edition of Imker Freunde Magazin (Bee Keeper’s Friend) from Germany wafted pass my day-job desk this week and the cover photo caught my eye.

The object on the right in the photo is some kind of beekeeper’s post, covered all over in bees. The swarm is so large, that the bees have even pooled on the ground around the post. The little girl on the left has attracted the bees’ attention, and some have come to investigate her. One looks like it’s trying to crawl into her pocket. A few are close to landing on her.

The second photo is from inside the magazine, taken from another point of view. The bees are closer, and the child looks…excited? Frightened?

Here’s your prompt: What’s happening in this picture? Write a poem, a song, an essay, a news story. Anything. Just tell us what’s happening.

Bee Keeper's Friend Magazine Cover
Bee Keeper's Friend Magazine  - Inside Photo
Thursday, May 19th, 2011

Sale! And Received Hellebore and Rue Contributor Copy

Cover of the 2010 Issue of The Gunpowder ReviewI recently sold my flash fiction piece, “To Bead or Not to Bead” to The Gunpowder Review.

The Gunpowder Review is a literary magazine which publishes the creative work of women writers, artists, and photographers with a Harford County or Maryland connection.

Since I grew up in Harford County (Go Hawks!) I qualify.

“To Bead or Not To Bead” is a pun-y little piece about the Greek Fates — those women who spin, weave and cut the threads of life. You can probably guess what kind of direction the story takes, judging by its title.

Cover of Hellebore and Rue AnthologyI’ll let you know when it’s available.

In other writerly goodness, I’ve received my paperback copy of Hellebore and Rue.

::: Exciting! :::

I don’t know what magic was used to print the cover of the anthology, but it’s wonderful!

The cover feels like a very soft suede, smooth and — almost — warm to the touch. (And, yes, it’s made of paper.) I like handling it very much.

Hellebore and Rue has received a wonderful review, in which the reviewer mentioned that she’d like to see a sequel or longer work with my characters (which totally makes my day).

How cool is it that a reader wants to know more after the story is over?

Food for thought…

Monday, May 16th, 2011

Many Genres, One Craft: Writing Conferences Part III

This is the last of a 3-part interview series of authors from the book Many Genres, One Craft recently published by Headline Books. Many Genres, One Craft is an anthology of instructional articles for fiction writers looking for advice on how to improve their writing and better navigate the mass market for genre novels.

While the book encompasses many aspects of writing, this series of interviews is all about coordinating and attending writing conferences.

Venessa Giunta Venessa Giunta is a senior editor for Loose Id, LLC, and edits fiction freelance. She wrote bad short stories and angsty poetry off and on through high school then took a very long hiatus. It was probably because of the poetry. When she turned thirty-five, she realized that what she really wanted to do was write.

After many short story rejections, it occurred to her that some sort of writing classes might be beneficial. She subsequently worked toward and was awarded her Master of Fine Arts in Writing Popular Fiction from Seton Hill University.

Venessa lives in the metro Atlanta area and is lucky enough to reside with her muse who masquerades as her husband. And she no longer writes poetry. It’s better for everyone that way.

Why should a person attend a conference/convention?

For the professional networking opportunities, primarily. Agents and editors (like most people) tend to connect better face-to-face than through an e-mailed query letter. However, the entire ability to convene with your fellow writers is not something to discount either. Even if no worthwhile connections are made with agents or editors, there’s really something to be said for being with people who “get” you to some extent.

How can you decide (before you put your money down) if a conference is right for you?

Do some research on the guests. Are they people you’d be interested in seeing/meeting/learning from? Does the con welcome the sorts of things you write? Weigh the possible benefit against the cost of attending. Sometimes the cost of travel, accommodations, registration and food do not make the conference beneficial even if there are agents or editors you’re interested in.

What can you get out of attending a writing conference?
Learning about the business of writing. Some conferences offer classes on how to pitch, or how to query an agent or editor. These things require a skill set that is entirely different from the skill set needed to write a book. And they’re things most writers need. Also, conferences afford an opportunity to network, not only with other writers, but with other publishing professionals too. And simply being in the company of your tribe — writers — should not be downplayed. Schmoozing with other writers is one of the best things to get your creativity pumping, to get your enthusiasm going. And those things get your butt in the chair.

Many Genres Book CoverIf you’re pitching at a conference, what do you need to do?

First, breathe. Pitching is intimidating. Remember that agents and editors really are looking for someone new to work with, otherwise, they wouldn’t be taking pitches. So they want you to do well. Prior to the conference, study everything you can about creating good pitches. Not just 30 second elevator pitches, but three minute pitches and five minute pitches. Practice and speak naturally. If you try to memorize something word for word it will sound like you tried to memorize something word for word, especially the longer pitches.

Research the agents and editors before you go to the conference, so you know what they represent, whether you would be a good fit, and whether they prefer a certain style of pitches. Some prefer more formal pitches, some prefer a conversation rather than an actual pitch. If you can’t find this information out though, don’t worry. Simply do your best. When it comes time to pitch, take a deep breath and remember that they really are just people and they’re looking for great stories.

What are some conference dos and don’ts?


  • be professional
  • have a good time
  • step out of your comfort zone and socialize if you are not a social person
  • attend several panels and classes
  • listen — both to industry pros and to other writers
  • be professional


  • be unprofessional
  • get hammered in the bar (a few drinks over the evening is fine — too much and you may not want to hear about your antics in the morning)
  • pitch your book to an agent/editor at inappropriate times (bathrooms, while they are teaching, etc) How do you know when is appropriate? You can ask. “May I tell you about my novel?”

What if you get there, and find it’s not right? How can you make lemonade from the lemon?

It really depends on what’s “not right.” At the least, you can recognize what sort of due diligence that should have been done beforehand. But I think that even if there’s something that is not a right fit about the conference, that doesn’t mean nothing worthwhile can come out. If you are doing pitch sessions, it’s an opportunity to practice your pitch and get feedback for improvement. Networking is a big reason to go to a conference and I can’t imagine any conference being so bad that no networking is possible. Sometimes, that’s all you get out of a conference, but you never know when that one person you had coffee with is going to pass your work on to his or her agent. And then the next thing you know, you’ve got an agent and a book deal. Sometimes it works that way.

When should a person consider NOT going to a conference?

When the cost outweighs the benefits. Especially right now, with the struggling economy, it’s very important not to overspend for a conference. If the guests and programming of a conference don’t excite you, then it’s probably not worth the money. Look for conferences that are close to home. If you’re in a metro area, chances are there’s at least one conference in your back yard. Work out what is within your budget to spend and stay in that budget. Decide whether the offerings of the conference are worth exceeding that budget if it’s more costly (i..e – your dream agent is only attending one conference this year and this is IT!).

Coordinating Conferences

What’s it like being a conference/convention coordinator?

It can be hectic and stressful at times, but it is more fun than anything, to me. I love writers and the environment created when a big group of us get together and so I feel privileged to be able to help in providing an opportunity to do that every year.

What are top 3 knowledge/top 3 skills for coordinators?

I think negotiation, compromise and the ability to work with others are probably the things most necessary when putting on a conference. Once a con gets to be larger than just a few friends getting together, no one person can do everything, so being able to work with others is very important. Compromise is an aspect that comes in with working with other people and also in most aspects of organization. Sometimes the guests you want aren’t available, or won’t do something you’d really like to offer attendees. Sometimes the facilities can’t accommodate something, so a work-around is necessary. Like any organized event, compromise is necessary sometimes to get things done. And negotiation is important from dealing with hotels/venues to securing good guests to getting good deals on PR items.

What’s the best thing that’s ever come out of a conference for you?

Actually, I think the best thing that’s come out for me is that I’ve learned that agents and editors aren’t as intimidating as I had them all made out to be in my head. At least, the one’s I’ve met. That has really made me realize that a good portion of my stress as a writer had to do with being wary — perhaps afraid? — of the gatekeepers.

Are you paid as a coordinator?

I’m not paid, per se, though I get admittance to the workshop for free. I really do it for the love. And the opportunity to schmooze. 🙂

What’s exciting about running a conference?
I think when it’s all come together and everyone, from attendees to guests, give glowing praise about how great it was — this is the most exciting thing. Aside from that, seeing the year’s worth of planning all coming together is very rewarding as well. As far as the not-exciting bits, some of the organizational stuff can be tedious, but that goes for just about anything. The exciting far outweighs the non-exciting.

Many thanks to Venessa Giunta for answering a few questions about attending writing conferences and coordinating them. If you have others, please post in the comments. Venessa will be happy to answer them!

More information about Many Genres, including author information and other interviews is available on the Many Genres blog.

Order information for Many Genres, One Craft.

Other Parts of this Interview Series:

Part 1: author K.J. Howe
Part 2: author Lucy A. Snyder

Sunday, May 15th, 2011

M3 Concert: Proving Once Again What a Small, Small World Earth Is

I went to the M3 Concert last night.

It was a last-minute decision, since the concert date snuck up on me: I thought I still had a few weeks to decide.

For the uninitiated, the M3 is an all-day festival featuring a slew of metal bands that play from 11 a.m. until 11 p.m. There are two stages, with the A bands playing on one, and the B bands playing on the second: alternating slightly so that there’s always a band playing while one stage is breaking down and setting up for the next.

Since I went alone, I brought my latest manuscript with me to edit between sets. (I am soooooo behind my self-imposed deadline to finish these edits!)

While checking my bag, the ticketer noticed I’d brought work with in me, and told me I wasn’t the only one: some guy had brought in a huge book to study for an exam.

“You gotta do what you gotta do,” I told her in perfect English. She said, “That’s what he said, too!”

Um, yeah.

I’d arrived late, and the outdoor arena was PACKED. I had to wade through crowds of people to get to the pavilion and take my AWESOME seat: 14th row, front and center.

And what do I find when I get there? Study-guy, with his book propped open on my seat. (Hi, Bill!)

That’s not the small world part of all this. It turns out that he graduated the same year I did, in the same county, only he went to the Vo-Tech school, and I went to the local high. AND, it turns out he knew well my (high school) boyfriend’s best friend.

It took a concert (a decade or so) later for us to meet. If not for the vagaries of fate, we might have met way back when.

Small world, eh?

As for the concert (if you’re interested) Sebastian Bach — formerly of the band Skid Row — played far too loud. The sound reverberated in the arena too much and muddied the music. The band played some Skid Row hits and some new music, and had tons of energy, but you could tell they hadn’t been playing together long. The lead guitarist for the band couldn’t have been 18 years old, but he could jam. That kid’s going places.

Tesla stole the show. They’re a mature band, and it showed: they worked around each other on stage like they’d been doing it for years and the music was tight. They’d also turned down the music-level when they started and you could hear all the notes in the music: everything was clean. Quite impressive. They’ve got a new album coming out soon. I plan to add it to my collection.

Lita Ford played lame. Her sound was good, the music was tight, but noticeably slower on the pieces I sat in on. Also: she tried for too much control with her voice, less screaming, and she sounded more like a folk singer than a rocker. She looked good though.

Whitesnake headlined, and closed down the night. They started out with some (literally) screaming tune I couldn’t put a name to. Like Bach, the speakers were turned up way too loud. There was so much distortion I couldn’t hear a thing. Luckily, someone else noticed (I’ve been to concerts where they haven’t!) and potted the speakers down. It got better after that.

They, too, played all the old favorites, as well as some new ones. I’ll be adding their new album to my collection, too. David Coverdale looked fit, and sounded great (when he wasn’t screaming).

I’m already looking forward to next year’s M3.

Friday, May 13th, 2011

Writing Prompt: Attack of the Phobias!

Calendar Page with Friday the 13th CircledIn honor of Friday the 13th, I think a writing prompt on phobia is in order.

Fear of this day is so large it’s got TWO Greek names. You may refer to it as either Friggatriskaidekaphobia or Paraskevidekatriaphobia.

A few of my favorites from the wikipedia list of phobias:

  • Halitophobia – fear of bad breath
  • Ablutophobia – fear of bathing, washing, or cleaning
  • Agyrophobia – fear of crossing roads

The wikipedia entry also contains a list of phobias related to animals (such as Ichthyophobia, the fear of fish) and biological instances (such as Hydrophobia, the fear of water, which is a a symptom of rabies). Very informative.

It’s fun to joke about phobias, but for some, they’re true fears which interfere with a way of life, often for the worse.

In college, I had a friend who developed a pervasive fear of social situations (Sociophobia), so bad, that by the end of the semester she could not leave her dorm room. She had to be medicated to be removed, and never completed her degree.

George Lucas’ famous character Indiana Jones has a near-paralyzing fear of snakes (Ophidiophobia) which often hinders his heroic exploits. It’s a great plot device: his fear has a tendency to get in the way of the action, causing tension and raising the stakes, as well as adding depth to the character.

Keep this in mind while you’re working through this exercise.

Here’s Your Prompt: Today’s prompt is an exercise in character building/story planning which is a large part of writing. Choose a plausible phobia from the wikipedia list (or any other resource, or even make up your own) and apply it to a character your currently writing about, or one you’re thinking of starring in your next story or novel.

Think of the possibilities that phobia has for influencing your character’s actions, both within the framework of a tale, and as backstory. Is it possible that an entire story can be created from the fear?

Make a list of how your chosen phobia can interfere with every day life, make is plausible, but stretch.

For example, what if your character, like Indiana, suffers from ophidiophobia, but she lives in New York City?

There aren’t many snakes to be found in the city, so how can her fear affect her? Maybe she walks to her job every day, but the zoo has erected a tremendous billboard on her route with the photo of a large, striking rattle snake. She can’t even look at it.

Her fear is so strong that she needs to find another route. And taking that route starts your story in motion. What happens when she has to find another way to work?

After you’ve made your list, determine which items or situations can be used as scenes. Then, get to work writing them!


* Photo by W.J.Pilsak found at Wikipedia.

Thursday, May 12th, 2011

A Goose on a Foggy Pond: Using Real-Life Settings in Fiction

Lone Goose on a Foggy Pond
Not the pond I talk about below.

It was 54 degrees outside when I left my house this morning: a 30-degree drop in temperature from the afternoon before. There was a bit of a chill in the air, and condensation covered a large expanse of the outdoors.

As I wound my way down the narrow, hilly, and curvy road, I kept my eye out for a view of the pond located at the edge of a nearby farmer’s property.

At 5:30 a.m., I often see wildlife making use of the pond, and today I was looking forward to what I might find.

Brought on by the cool morning, a thin layer of fog hovered over the slowly cooling pond. A single goose swam in the water, partially hidden in the rising tendrils of fog.


And great fodder for detail in my working — and future — novels.

I thought about this single goose all the way to work, and when I arrived, I jotted down a few of the more striking details:

– cool morning
– condensation on nearly everything outside
– wispy fog over the pond
– details of the pond lost in the fog
– a single goose
– very quiet
– sun hadn’t risen yet

The beauty of a scene like this is that the detail can be used over and over again in different stories and novels, and never has to be used the same way twice. It doesn’t even have to be used as it is!

For instance, why a goose? Why not a deer, if your story takes place in a wooded glade; or a bobcat, if the story takes place in a desert setting?

The same fog could rise in the evening after a warm day.

Perhaps the sun has risen in your story.

(And, by changing details among the details, you’ve not only grown the body of items you can choose from, you increase the possibilities of stories you could write.)

The key to using detail — especially striking detail — is not to overload the reader. Pick only one or two items that stand out, and save the others for another time.

This approach offers three advantages:

  1. using fewer details allows the reader to imagine the rest of the scene, giving them some “ownership” of the story, allowing them to be absorbed, rather than dictated to.
  2. it leaves you with several more details to mix and match in other stories you may write in the future, without suggesting to your astute readers that you’re taking shortcuts by writing the same thing over and over.
  3. the remaining details might be used as story-starters — rather than just scenes or details – for future works.

How have you used real-life incidents or settings in your stories? How do you note them or keep track of them? Do you find yourself using those details in multiple stories?