Friday, December 31, 2010

Happy New Year!

Wow, it is crazy how fast this year has flown by. I can't believe we're welcoming in 2011 in a matter of hours!

For me, New Year's Eve is always a time to reflect on the old year and prepare for the new one. I love this quote from Jim Rohn: "Discipline is the bridge between goals and accomplishment." That is so true, and great motivation when striving after your goals day by day.

Here are some of my highlights from 2010:
  • Thanks to the generous support of many people who cast their votes for Write On, I was named one of four national winners in the Glamour Magazine/Sally Hansen "Best of You" contest. The prize included a trip to NYC, a makeover and a photo shoot for the magazine! I felt like Cinderella at the ball. This truly was a once-in-a-lifetime experience. Thank you again for making it happen!
  • I took a cross-country road trip with my mom as part of my big move to Indiana to pursue my M.F.A. in Fiction at Purdue University. In addition to taking my own classes I also teach freshman composition and serve as Editorial Assistant of Sycamore Review. My first semester was a whirlwind of activity, and I feel I have already learned a great deal. Teaching was especially rewarding! I love my new life in Indiana, but it has also made me appreciate my California roots (and our glorious warm weather!) a lot more. 
  • I started my youth publishing company, Write On! Books: The first Write On! Books anthology, Dancing With The Pen, will be released in early 2011 and features stories, essays, and poetry by more than 60 young writers from all across the U.S. and even abroad. It has been such a pleasure to work with these talented, creative, insightful kids and teens, and I could not be more excited or proud of this book. 
  • My one-act play "The Stars in Illinois" was produced by Brand New Theater at the University of Southern California. 
  • My short story "DING!" was published on Bartleby-Snopes and subsequently nominated for a Pushcart Prize and the Dzanc Books "Best of the Web" anthology.
  • More than two dozen of my stories and essays appeared in a variety of online and in-print publications, including two Chicken Soup for the Soul books. My short stories are archived here:
  • I organized and taught the third-annual Write On! Summer Writing Camp for young writers in Ventura, and had a blast as always. This year I also taught a series of creative writing workshops to senior citizens at Cypress Place Senior Living Center, which was wonderful. 
  • I was a featured guest speaker at the Ventura Book Festival, the Southern Expressions Writers Conference in Mississippi, the USC Associates 50th Anniversary Gala, and the American Association of University Women Spring Luncheon. I met so many fantastic people who became new friends. I was also a guest on a variety of radio shows and spoke to community organizations and schools.

Another thing to keep in mind when setting goals is to be cognizant of all areas of your life. As Coach Wooden said, "The two most important words in the English language are love and balance." With that in mind, I like to break up my goals into different sections. Here are some of my goals for 2011:

Writing Goals
  • Write every day.
  • Complete new novel manuscript.
  • Submit to a literary magazine every other week.
  • Write a three-act play.
  • Read at least half an hour every day.
  • Write a blog post twice a week.
Write On! Goals
  • Send out a newsletter every month.
  • Promote Dancing With The Pen.
  • Be a guest speaker at 8 schools/organizations.
  • Create a Write On! DVD. 
  • Start a Holiday Book Drive at Purdue.
Healthy Life Goals
  • Exercise three days a week. 
  • Learn to cook 10 new healthy recipes.
  • Plant a garden.
  • Do at least one act of kindness every day.
  • Study the Pyramid of Success and keep a journal of inspiring quotes.
  • Count my blessings every night.

Something I am trying for the first time this year is breaking down my year-long goals into month-by-month goals. It helps me get a handle on more daunting projects by planning out how I want to move forward month by month. For example, one of my writing goals is to finish the current novel manuscript I am working on. I have a goal of writing a certain number of pages every month. I am also a believer in daily to-do lists -- it feels so good to cross things off my list! -- but I think month-by-month goals are more flexible for those inevitable times when life gets crazy. For example, maybe I won't be able to write much for a few days during midterms, but then I can make up for it the next week and still be on track for my monthly writing goal.

What are your goals for 2011? How will you make them happen?

I'll close with another of my favorite quotes from Coach Wooden: "The journey is better than the inn." Here's wishing you a masterpiece of a journey in 2011!

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Writing is Like Rock-Climbing

A few weeks ago, I went rock-climbing for the first time. I am a tad scared of heights, so I was nervous as I gazed up at the rock-climbing walls around the gym. I slipped on the harness and learned the basics of belaying. When it was my turn to climb, nerves made my legs shaky. But I hoisted myself up onto the wall, and made it to the top. What elation! I was hooked.

In many ways, rock-climbing reminded me a lot of writing. Here are some things writers could learn from climbers:

1. For me, the first step up onto the wall was the hardest. I had to force myself onward. But once I did, it wasn't so bad. The same goes for writing. Often getting started is the hardest part. Force yourself to close out your email, open up that Word document, place your fingers on the keyboard, and just start writing.

2. Don't let the size of your project intimidate you; focus on one step at the time. The first wall I climbed, I didn't make it all the way to the top. A little more than half-way up, my arm muscles already burning, I made the mistake of looking up at how much farther I had to go. I felt I had gone so far already -- yet there was still such a long ways to climb! I defeated myself. Similarly, if I think about the entirety of the novel I am working on, I quickly feel overwhelmed. "Another 200 pages?" I'll think. "There's no way I can do it!" Instead, I focus on writing three pages a day. I have an idea of the novel's broader scope, but I don't let myself worry about the immensity of the task I've undertaken. On a single day, if I write my three pages, I'm good to go. Three pages, three pages, three pages. Little by little, they add up into a book.

3. When rock-climbing, you're strapped into a harness, and someone below is your belayer, whose job is to make sure you don't fall. Trust is essential. As a writer, it's crucial to have a trusted group of readers who give you honest feedback on your work. And it's equally important to have a support system of people you can count on to cheer you on and buoy you up -- because everyone slips and falls sometimes. The important thing is to brush yourself off and attack that wall again.

4. Venture beyond your self-imposed limits. With my fear of heights, I never thought I would be someone who liked rock-climbing -- but if I had let my fear stop me, I would have missed out on a really fun experience! Pushing yourself is how you grow, both as a person and as a writer. Challenge yourself to write about something that scares you. Write something that makes you uncomfortable. Write something raw and real. Refuse to confine or label yourself.

5. Enjoy the journey. For me, the most rewarding part of climbing was not when I reached the top, but rather the actual act of stretching for new holds, feeling my muscles strain as I pushed myself to climb higher and higher up the wall. Now, I try more than ever to savor the act of writing. Losing myself in a story, spending hours exploring the crevices of my imagination, spilling my thoughts and emotions onto the page, and then being able to share what I've written with others -- what a gift!

Best wishes on all your writing and climbing journeys! 

Saturday, December 18, 2010

Guest Post by Garasamo Maccagnone: Promote Your Book With Video!

Today we have the pleasure of hosting the book trailer for Garasamo Maccagnone’s recently released novel, St. John of the Midfield. Along with Garasamo’s trailer, this article by Maccagnone offers some suggestions for how to use YouTube for marketing your book.

Are you looking to create video to us in marketing your book? Or, are you looking for a way to get the video you already have in front of viewers? YouTubing is a form of social networking where people share their interests as well as create and post their own videos. Once posted, a video clip is keyword searchable and eligible to be placed in the playlist of anyone who finds the clip enjoyable. This is very helpful as you can use video to attract viewers and place your book trailer or video clip where it can be seen by your audience.

Playlists also appear in keyword searches with YouTube ranking keyword search results for playlists based in part on the number of clips in a list. Viewers who are searching on a theme are likely to run through an entire playlist and will save clips they like best to their own lists. They also have the option of emailing clips they like to a friend or of capturing and imbedding clips into their own site.

Take advantage of YouTube and attract readers interested in your book themes by creating a playlist of clips that will capitalize on theme-based keyword searches. Once you have a playlist created you are ready to place your own video or book trailer in front of the searching public.

Consider creating and/or posting:
  • Author video blogs
  • A slideshow video clip with an audio excerpt from your book
  • Video book reviews from a professional reviewer
  • Book Trailers

Tips for creating YouTube video clips and book trailers:

  • Ideally, a clip should run from one to three minutes in length. 
  • Avoid defining what the characters look like as most readers prefer to visualize what they are reading as they imagine it, placing themselves as the hero or heroine.
  • Incorporate audio in the form of music to add emotion and depth.
  • Use video comprised of still images or a mixture of stills and video.
  • Insert written stills or scrolling written teasers.
  • Images and content should directly relate to the content of your book.
  • Content should convey a sense of what the book is about without spoilers.
  • Keep in mind that the goal of your video clip is to capture the interest of the viewer, to create excitement about the book, and to encourage people to buy.
  • Make sure you have set appropriate keyword tags on your video playlist, and have links to your author Web page in your YouTube channel profile settings. 
With your video or book trailer created and your playlist set up, the social networking aspect of your promotional efforts are set in motion. The YouTube channel and playlist you have set up are now ready to redirect traffic to your home page and the links to purchase your book.

Have fun and enjoy the creative process.

Tomorrow, Vonnie Faroqui will post a review of St. John of the Midfield, at her blog Follow Vonnie on Twitter: @inkslngrswhmz. For the full tour schedule be sure to visit

Friday, December 17, 2010

"Oil and Water... and Other Things That Don't Mix" Anthology to Benefit the Gulf Oil Crisis

The disaster facing the Gulf Coast has been on the minds of millions of people and the ladies of the She Writes™- Southern Writers group expressed many feelings of anger, sadness, and disgust. We are not helpless, but what can we do?

She Writes™ members Zetta Brown and Nicky Wheeler-Nicholson Brown decided that something needed to be done where people can put their talents together and help make a difference. What better way than to produce an anthology where the proceeds will go where it is needed most?

Oil and Water...and Other Things That Don’t Mix contains stories, poems, and recollections from 27 authors, women and men all dealing with the theme: “Conflict... Resolution Optional.” These selections will make you laugh, cry, think, and some may even get you angry.

I am extremely honored to have my story "A Litany of Bruises" included in this anthology. There are also stories from award-winning authors and journalists, newly published authors, as well as from talented new authors who make their debut in this volume:

Jenne’ R. Andrews - Shonell Bacon - Lissa Brown - Mollie Cox Bryan

Maureen E. Doallas - Mylène Dressler - Nicole Easterwood

Angela Elson - Melanie Eversley - Kimeko Farrar - L B Gschwandtner

John Klawitter - Mary Larkin - Linda Lou - Kelly Martineau

Patricia Anne McGoldrick - Ginger McKnight-Chavers - Carl Palmer

Karen Pickell - Dania Rajendra - Cherie Reich - Jarvis Slacks

Tynia Thomassie - Amy Wise - Zetta Brown - Nicky Wheeler-Nicholson Brown

All proceeds from Oil and Water... and Other Things That Don’t Mix will go to directly benefit Mobile Baykeeper and Bay Area Food Bank, two charities helping to combat the effects of the spill and help the communities affected.

Find out more information and order the book at

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Contests for Young Writers

* Seventeen Magazine short fiction contest:

* The Poetry Society of Virginia Student Contest (open to everyone, not just Virginia residents):

* Two great writing contests from Weekly Reader:

Good luck!

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Guest post by Edward Stern

The Write Stuff: 8 Reasons You Should Have a Writing Journal

To be a writer, one needs to write. Bringing a laptop everywhere is not always feasible, especially for jotting down quick thoughts on the go. Many writers prefer to write consistently at designated writing times, but with a busy schedule, this can be hard to squeeze in.

The solution? Keep a writing journal. You'll be amazed at how helpful it will be for getting your creative juices flowing and capturing inspiration when it strikes. Here are eight reasons why you should have a writing journal.

1. Take it anywhere: A writing journal is a great companion for travel, whether it be by car, bus, train, plane, whatever moves. Make the most of your time commuting to work or traveling for business by taking those often wasted hours and making them productive writing time spent in your journal.

2. Capture inspiration when it strikes: You never know where you'll be when that one little phrase, plot twist, sentence fragment, anything strikes you. Be prepared, and don't lose the moment. Bring your writing journal and a pen or pencil with you everywhere to make your genius turn of phrase does not escape you.

3. Play around with your words: With a writing journal, you can bring past work with you. Oftentimes, it's important to take a step back from your work to be able to evaluate it objectively and to hone your prose. Play with your phrasing until you get it perfect while on your lunch break or whenever it hits you.

4. Record observations: As a good writing exercise, go for a walk downtown or through a park and record observations. Jot down notes on the people you see and the events taking place. Later, sit down and imagine back stories for what you saw. You never know when these could turn into a key character or the plot for your next piece.

5. Make yourself write: To be a better writer, you need to write, obviously. Having a designated journal time keeps you writing even if it's not while working on a specific poem, novel, or other project. Keep your skills sharp by keeping a journal.

6. Keep it informal: If you are writing for a living or investing your heart and soul in a passion project, write in a journal informally about the process of writing, your personal happenings, or just silly fun side efforts. Keep your writing journal a fun place, one where you can relieve stress and where writing is always fun. It will keep you fresh and determined for your other work.

7. Play games: Give yourself prompts, write from other perspectives, write letters you'll never send -- play quick, casual writing games to keep your skills sharp and to try out new things. A little intellectual stimulation will help make you a better, more versatile writer, and may also inspire new directions for your more formal work.

8. Good writers write frequently: To be good at anything, you have to practice, and practice consistently. Keeping a writing journal forces you to do so, especially around a busy schedule.

Edward Stern is a guest blogger for Pounding the Pavement and a writer on online career training for the Guide to Career Education.

Thursday, December 9, 2010

Think P.I.N.K.: An interview with author and businesswoman Erica Moore-Burton

Erica Moore-Burton moved to the United States in her early twenties with $800 in her pocket and, she says, "a whole lot of faith that I was going to do well as a professional here." She didn't know anyone in the state she moved to, didn't have a job, a permanent place to live or any contacts. Moreover, she admits, she didn't really know what she wanted to do with her life. "I had a myriad of things that I was interested in, but wasn't ever been that person that knew at eight years old that I wanted to be a doctor, lawyer, accountant," Erica says.

Today, she has a successful career as an executive director for a national placement firm, professional speaker/coach, and author. Her book, The Little Professional P.I.N.K. Book of Success, tells her full story, and introduces readers to the P.I.N.K. Principles, which she used to build her career: Passion, Integrity, No Limits and Knowledge.

We caught up with Erica to discuss the book, her life as a writer, and her advice for all of us striving for our dreams!

Tell us about The Little Professional P.I.N.K. Book of Success. What was your inspiration behind this book?

I read an article written by Michelle Obama the other day, and loved when she said, "When you reach any level of success in life, it's not just enough to sit back and enjoy it. You must reach back and help others." Essentially, this book is about me giving back and helping others through my experiences, and my successes and failures in life (both big and small). It started when I worked for a Fortune 500 company and managed an office with over 60 individuals, many of whom were young women just starting out in their careers. I was a mentor to a few of them and was really surprised at the many questions that they would ask, that I thought were basic knowledge. In turn, I thought that an attractive, yet concise handbook would be great to help them navigate their careers.

There is a scary statistic that I reference in the book about individuals not reading when they finish college, so I wanted it to be a quick read, yet really valuable and packed with tools to help women. For those who want more, I have a book list at the end for further reading. My book is a short, yet informative read and has been endorsed by many human resources managers and women that are more senior in their careers too. Most have commented that they wish they had the book when they first started their career, and they also found golden nuggets that helped them in their roles today.

I start the book with talking about finding your passion, and there are exercises to help individuals find their passion from looking at their past. The book goes on to talk about networking, guarding your reputation and using it to help you get to the next level, how to use failure as a tool for success, how to conduct a 360 review with your peer group, finding mentors and getting the best from the relationship and other success principles!

What have you learned through writing this book?

Patience was the biggest thing. Also I learned how to handle being vulnerable. You are very vulnerable to criticism when you put information out there, and through writing this book I had to learn to be comfortable with that. Some people will like it, others won't, which is okay. As long as my message is heard by the right audience and my intention in helping women is met, then I have accomplished what I set out to do. I have been using this mantra lately: "Some will, some won't ... so what next!"

What is your writing routine? Do you write every day? Do you have a certain time or place you write?

It's funny, I don't really have a routine per se. I have to be in the mood to write, and when I am in the mood, I write in spurts. For this book, I wrote every day for a few months. It was typically at the same time of day. There were many days when I didn't feel like writing, but thank God my husband is a motivational speaker, and he helped me on many days with his "work 5" technique. Just write and commit to 5 minutes, that 5 minutes always leads to more. In my case (most of the time) it lead to a few hours! I write in my home office which has brightly colored orange walls and a huge painting of a Caribbean setting -- I kind of feel like I'm on an island when I'm in there, which is very relaxing and conducive to writing. Other places, the usual... Starbucks with a nice latte!

What was your path to publication like? 

Long and as I referred to it earlier, a lot of patience was required. I worked with a couple of different editors which at times was frustrating! Things went wrong along the way, which was frustrating. There were days I was tired of writing, which was frustrating! There were days when I doubted myself... which was frustrating. With all the frustration around me, I kept my eyes on the prize and used some of the visualization techniques that I disclose in the book, and just knew that I would be holding a copy of the book in my hand when it was all said and done!

You are not only a successful writer, you are also a professional speaker and career coach. How do the different components of your life enrich each other, and how do you stay balanced?

I wear a lot of different hats in my life and I think that they all compliment each other well. I love speaking because I think I can really effect change in people's lives by telling my personal stories live. I actually fancied myself as an actress many years ago, and when I'm on stage, I really feel alive and genuinely enjoy teaching others. The personal coaching is really great because I get to work one on one with individuals and build a relationship. When I can see changes before my eyes in their lives and general mindsets, there is an immense sense of gratification. Again, I love helping and connecting others, it feeds me.

How do I stay balanced? Meditation and an attitude of gratitude. I am so grateful for my life, the opportunities that I have had and continue to have; to be living in this country; to have fresh food every day; to the warm water coming out of my shower. Gratitude exudes through every pore of my being for both the big and small things, and with that, it helps me to remain very balanced.

What is your biggest advice for young people reaching for their dreams? 

While you're young, take risks and go for it. When I was younger, the biggest risk I took was coming to America. A lot people talked to me about what I didn't have. I often think about what would have happened if I stayed, and am again grateful that I didn't... even though I was scared. So, my advice is to take lots of calculated risks while you're young and really take advantage of all the wonderful resources that we have available to us.

In the book, you speak about the importance of finding a mentor. Can you speak a bit about what you have learned from the mentors in your life? 

I have had so many mentors that have helped me in so many different ways. I suppose the biggest thing is to use mentors as an additional resource, most of my mentors have suggested efficient ways to get things done. Other mentors have shown me how to really appreciate life and live it to the fullest.

Is there anything else you would like to add? 

I would like to add that it's important not only to read the book, but also to do the exercises at the end of each chapter. In most cases, experience is the best teacher, so by going through the exercises you will really learn a lot about yourself and will be able to use the information to help you in specific areas of growth.

Connect with Erica:

Order the book:

Monday, December 6, 2010

Write On's Holiday Book Drive is Underway!

Toys are broken and clothes are outgrown ... 
but the impact of books lasts a lifetime.

“Write On! For Literacy” is holding its Ninth Annual Holiday Book Drive to benefit underprivileged children! Last year we collected nearly 1,000 books (bringing our grand total to more than 11,000 books!) that were distributed to various schools and charities including the Boys & Girls Club, Casa Pacifica, and Project Understanding. Please do your part to help children have a better holiday season. Help beat illiteracy and give the gift that lasts forever: the gift of reading!

Want to get involved?
  • Mail book donations to the Write On! chapter headquarters: 400 Roosevelt Court, Ventura, CA, 93003
  • You can also mail monetary donations that will be used to purchase books to the above address. (Checks made out to Dallas Woodburn.)
  • Start a chapter in your area! Donate books to a local charity -- Boys & Girls Clubs are usually very grateful for donations -- and then e-mail me the total number of books donated which will be added to our grand-total. 

Many thanks to our recent generous contributors!

* Barry Kibrick, host of the Emmy-award-winning PBS television show "Between the Lines," annually donates 400-500 books to charity.

* Raeanne Alliapoulos donated 30 books to the Boys & Girls Club in Pomona, California.

* A. William Benitez and his company Positive Imaging, LLC, shipped out 20 copies of Lottie's Adventure, a marvelous and imaginative book for kids and middle-graders:

About Write On!

“Write On! For Literacy” is a volunteer-run organization founded by author Dallas Woodburn in 2001. The goal is to encourage kids to discover confidence, happiness, a means of self-expression, and connection to others through reading and writing. The Write On! website features writing contests, book reviews, author interviews, writing tips and ideas, and ways for everyone to get involved. 

The past eight years, Write On's Holiday Book Drive has donated 11,206 books to disadvantaged children across the nation.

Monday, November 22, 2010

Interview with Aggie Villanueva

For decades peers have described Aggie Villanueva as a whirlwind who draws others into her vortex. And no wonder. She was a published author at Thomas Nelson before she was 30, and has founded many local writers’ groups including the Mid-America Fellowship of Christian Writers three–day conference. She has also taught at nationwide writing conferences and published numerous writing newsletters for various organizations.

Writing since the late 70s, bestselling author Aggie Villanueva’s first novel, Chase the Wind, was published by Thomas Nelson 1983; Rightfully Mine, also Thomas Nelson, was published in 1986. She is also a critically acclaimed photographic artist represented by galleries nationwide, including Xanadu Gallery in Scottsdale, AZ. Aggie freelanced throughout the 80s and 90s, also writing three craft columns and three software review columns for national magazines, and was featured on the cover of The Christian Writer Magazine in October 1983.

Aggie founded Visual Arts Junction blog February 2009 and by the end of the same year it was voted #5 at Predators & Editors in the category “Writers’ Resource, Information & News Source” for 2009.

Her non-fiction writing includes the handbook The Rewritten Word: Sculpting Literary Art No Matter The Genre, numerous marketing white paper reports, and professional blogging at Visual Arts Junction. She is a regular writer at the BookBuzzr Blog and Orange Soda, a prestigious SEO marketing company. Authors called on her so often for marketing guidance that in the summer of 2010 she founded her own company, Promotion a la Carte.

Aggie is generously offering a free ebook of her latest release, The Rewritten Word, which we discuss later in this interview. To enter the contest, all you have to do is comment on this post! 

Welcome, Aggie! What a treat for us to have you here today sharing your wisdom! What would you like readers to know about you as an introduction?

Thanks so much for having me, Dallas. I'm excited to be here. Let's see. I've always taken tons of photos of things I love. Most of my adult life that was my beloved children. Now they live states away so it's become my beloved mountains. I guess that's why I became a professional photographer, so I could share the beauty.

And I recently served as wedding photographer for my daughter’s wedding. But I’m a landscapist—I don’t even own any indoor lighting equipment, proper filters, etc. I was honored beyond words that she asked me, but talk about one nervous photographer!

Tell us about The Rewritten Word. What was your inspiration/motivation behind this book?

Wanting to share what I’ve discovered, but I have to laugh because I didn't write it because I'm an Editor or English professor or any such expected reason. I wrote it because I'm a terrible writer. I had already figured that out by looking at any first draft. I'm just an average Joe who had to figure out what rewriting is all about in order to produce quality writing, whether fact or fiction.

When I first started writing I learned the admonishment "write, write and rewrite." And I obeyed, but my fourth drafts were no better than my first. The reason was simply that I didn't know what I was doing. I didn't understand what rewriting meant.

So then I read books on editing your work, but they were lofty, using grammar terms that college level grammar students would have a hard time following.

So I did exactly what I do with the examples in The Rewritten Word--I took the sentences and paragraphs that were unclear and clarified and simplified and shortened.

I rewrote each sentence and word, translating into ones I could understand and eliminating what didn’t relate. At times that meant searching grammar books to find out what the heck the author had said. What I didn't realize at the time was that I was inadvertently learning the craft of rewriting, and with advanced applications.

Here’s an example from the book:

Have you ever read a sentence like this?

Humanity is conceived here exclusively in terms of ritual function—man is made in order to offer sacrifices to the gods—and so the highly differentiated realms of history and moral action are not intimated in the account of man’s creation.

Wouldn’t it make more sense like this?

According to this account of man’s creation, our only function is to sacrifice to the gods. The many facets of our purpose, such as our varied history and morality, are not even hinted at.

My edit may not impress the intelligentsia, but I understood it.

What have you learned through writing this book?

I think I re-learned what I've noticed most writers seem to automatically do. We like to share what we've learned. And writing it into books and articles comes natural for us. We seem to all share a love of learning and then sharing that knowledge.

What is your writing routine? Do you write every day? Do you have a certain time or place you write?

I always write on my laptop, and write continually. It takes daily writing for everything: my blog teaching authors to promote their own work, Visual Arts Junction, my job as an author publicist at Promotion a la Carte, being a regular contributor for the SEO marketing blog Orange Soda and BookBuzzr Blog, and then always there are industry reports we sell at Promotion a la Carte and free reports for our clients, not to mention ongoing book projects. Unfortunately I haven't time for fiction nowadays. Hopefully someday soon.

How did you first begin writing? What was your path to publication?

Like most writers I wrote from the time I could create stories and get them from my head into words on paper, which was about five years old.

But I started writing for publication at about 27, a biblical novel that I asked a friend, Deborah Lawrence, to co-author with me. It was published by Thomas Nelson when I was 28 or 29 and I was hooked. My next historical novel was written solo, and Thomas Nelson published it too.

That was Rightfully Mine which I re-published myself July of 2009 as Rightfully Mine: God's Equal Rights Amendment. With lots of hard promotional work it became a top-ten best seller about 8 months later in three small categories on Amazon. I was so thrilled I took screen shots to prove it!

You are not only a successful writer, you are also an acclaimed photographic artist. How does art enrich your writing, and visa versa?

Photography helped my rewriting tremendously. With a photographed picture you create a story, but that story is set in stone once it’s finished just as a published manuscript. You can’t allow too little or too much into it, ONLY that which clearly communicates.

You don't show too much by allowing an overhead electric line to detract from the story your scene tells (verbosity). You may allow some objects to remain in shadow if they advance the whole of the story (nuances). You can’t allow colors or textures that unintentionally infer things opposite to your message. Composition is everything to a photograph, just as it is to writing.

With writing (as is evident in The Rewritten Word) you must create not only clear and concise written images that communicate ONLY what you wish, but every aspect of your words and sentences and structure must tell that same story, and no other story.

To obtain that you carefully compose your written image, distill each kernel, matching the rhythm and nuances of each word with the scene’s essence. Unless you are utterly engrossed with your composition it won't emerge as a relevant whole. You would include things in the written picture that actually take away from it, or use words with nuances that are opposite to your message/scene.

The similarities of the arts are amazing. That's why Visual Arts Junction (my teaching blog) has a subtitle, The Invisible Visual Arts, because that's exactly how I see writing.

What is your biggest advice for aspiring writers?

Give it your all. Invest your heart and soul, but don't forget the mind. It’s important to study our craft, to understand the depths as well as the finished heights.

In your opinion, why is REwriting such an important part of the writing process?

I talked about that quite a bit above in my comparison to photography. I honestly don't know a writer whose first draft isn't horrible. But the first step is just to get our thoughts on paper. That's when the true writing craft begins.

Rewriting allows us to correct the composition errors of the first draft. In the rewrites we can carve away those aspects that are irrelevant, smooth out the curves that segue ideas together, gouge areas of light and shadow where all aspects infer ONLY what we wish to convey.

Is there anything else you would like to add?

Thank you so much for having me Dallas. I'd like to offer a free ebook version of The Rewritten Word to your readers, the winner to be your choice in the drawing. My way of saying thanks to everyone for allowing me to ramble on about the things I love.

Thank you so much! To enter the contest to win a free ebook of The Rewritten Word, all you need to do is write a comment on this post. 

Contact Aggie!

Facebook Profile:
Facebook Fan Page:
Promotion a la Carte:

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Guest Post by Jill Shure: Reading Should be an Adventure!

Why do Americans believe that reading a novel is like taking toxic smelling medicine? Is it because we were often forced to read extremely boring texts throughout high school and college? Did reading Beowulf and Paradise Lost forever kill your ability to enjoy a good book? I, too, did my time reading books which were supposedly good for me. Like spinach, they were meant to nourish me. But my personal belief is that the pretensions of educators and certain factions of the public make reading less of an adventure and more like a tedious journey.

I personally grew up devouring Nancy Drew books. My older sister handed me down the original versions published before 1959. And though my grade school teacher discouraged me from reading these mysteries, I read the entire series. Yes, I was also forced to read the classics. But those early reading pleasures of curling up with Nancy Drew inspired me to go on to enjoy all sorts of adult fiction. I finished high school having read works by Tolstoy, Joseph Conrad, and Dostoyevsky. In college I read most of William Faulkner, Hemingway, Eugene O'Neil, Tennessee Williams, and F. Scott Fitzgerald.

Fitzgerald, now regarded as a literary genius, actually wrote popular fiction in his day, achieving early fame with his first novel, This Side of Paradise. This bestseller was not praised for its high literary appeal but for how well it depicted the post World War I generation. It was Fitzgerald's 1920s view of wild youth indulging in outlawed whiskey, sexual misconduct, and what we would call excessive "partying" today.

I just wish the public would accept that reading should be pleasurable. Because books can improve your imagination, your vocabulary, and educate you about the world. And kids will read if they're inspired to. Just think of those Harry Potter books and those vampire novels kids are devouring.

So if your eleven-year-old son hates reading, try finding a biography of a sports hero he admires. Or the autobiography of a musician he's wild about. And if children see you reading for pleasure, they might get the idea that sitting on their beds with a good book is fun.

Don't worry about someone else's idea of what literature is. Read whatever you like. And if you hate a book, put it down. There are too many wonderful books out there to bore yourself.

Because reading encourages more reading. It certainly did wonders for me. I enjoyed it so much I became a writer. In fact I wrote a mystery called A CLAUSE FOR MURDER thanks to those hours spent with Nancy Drew. It's a cozy mystery which will give you hours of pleasure and make you laugh. Because I also believe that laughter is one of the greatest pleasures on earth.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Ten Rules to Keep in Mind When Writing for Teens

1. Spend time with teens.
  • Volunteer at a high school.
  • People-watch at the mall.
  • Ask questions.
  • Build relationships.
2. Read YA lit.
  • Some of my favorite authors: Ellen Hopkins, Sarah Dessen, Laurie Stolarz, Joan Bauer, Mike Lupica, Ann Brashares, Libba Bray, Randy Powell, John Green, Carl Hiaasen, Ann Rinaldi, Sonya Sones, Markus Zusak
3. Recruit a “teen advisory board” of readers.
  • Many teens will be happy to help you.
  • Ask them to be honest above all else!
4. Avoid being “preachy.”
  • Nothing turns off a teen reader more quickly than a condescending tone.
5. Be authentic.
  • Inhabit your characters. Learn their details and quirks.
  • What do your characters love? Hate? Fear? Yearn for? Dream about?

6. If you use slang, use it correctly. 
  • Same goes for technology references.
  • Be sure to consider: what is new and popular today is tomorrow’s “old news.” Do you want to date your material?

7. Grab ’em from the first sentence.
  • Have teens read the first page of your manuscript, and then ask them if they would keep reading.

8. Don’t be afraid to be dark!
  • You don’t have to hold back. Teens can take what you want to throw at them.
  • Many of our adult “classics” such as Catcher in the Rye and To Kill a Mockingbird would be considered YA if published today.
9. Create active, vibrant characters who have something at stake.
  • Teens want to read about characters who are doing things, rather than just having things done to them.
10. Read your old diaries – they’re treasure troves!
  • Reconnect with your teen self.
  • Some of my most well-received YA lit has been based off my own persona experiences!

Monday, November 15, 2010

Interview with Award-Winning Children's Author Donna McDine

Donna McDine writes both fiction and nonfiction. Her articles have appeared in numerous publications including Writers' Journal, Parenting Universe, and Diet Trends Review. She is also the author of a children's book, The Golden Pathway, released by Guardian Angel Publishing this past August. She was kind enough to stop by today to answer a few questions about her new book and her writing life!

To begin, share a little with us about us about your book, The Golden Pathway

Be transported through time to the Underground Railroad, where high-pitched screams echo each night. David’s cruel Pa always chooses the same victim. Despite the circumstances during slavery, David uncovers the courage to defy his Pa.

Raised in a hostile environment where abuse occurs daily, David attempts to break the mold and befriends the slave, Jenkins, owned by his Pa. Fighting against extraordinary times and beliefs, David leads Jenkins to freedom with no regard for his own safety and possible consequences dealt out by his Pa.

How did you come to write about the Underground Railroad?

History has always fascinated me, even as a young child. And when I found myself taking up residence (as an adult) in the historical hamlet of Tappan, NY (Rockland County) I became even more enthralled. Coupled with my father’s involvement with the Rockland County Historical Society in creating artist replicas of the numerous historical locations throughout the county I found myself further drawn into the past. Then as a student at the Institute of Children’s Literature I jumped at the chance to develop a historical fiction story about a young southern boy against slavery.

Is there a lesson you want to impart to today's kids from the Underground Railroad?

Overcoming adversity against immeasurable odds and that with determination success in achieving your dreams is possible.

That is beautiful. How did you go about doing your research?

Initially online, then visiting the Tappan Library and thoroughly researching the Underground Railroad.

What are you working on now?

As to no surprise another historical fiction manuscript based around the USS Constitution and how boys (as young as 11) were kidnapped by the Press Gangs and forced into hard labor on ships.

Wow, that sounds fascinating! Do you have advice for aspiring writers?

Get involved in a writer’s critique group, whether at your local library, community center, or online. Several resources online:

Who is your favorite author?

This has changed dramatically since I began writing in 2007. My past favorite authors were always the big names, Danielle Steele, James Paterson, Stephen King…you get my drift. Now I tend to gravitate to the lesser known authors who have as much talent and to be fair for those of you who’ve I enjoyed over the last several years I’m not going to name names in fear of missing someone. Especially since my list is ever growing.

Is there anything else you would like to add?

I want to take the opportunity to thank all who have helped me along the way in achieving my dream as an author. Of course beginning with my loving and supportive husband, Tom and daughter’s Nicole and Hayley, my parents, in-laws, extended family and friends, and the dear writing communities I’m involved with both online and in person. Just like it takes a village to raise a child, it takes a nurturing personal and writing community to birth an author. Thank you!

Contact Donna:

Tomorrow, November 16, my writing friend Maggie Ball is featuring an interview with Dianne Sagan on her wonderful blog. Check it out!

Saturday, November 13, 2010

Southern Expressions Writers Conference

Last weekend, I was honored and delighted to be a presenter at the Southern Expressions Writers Conference in Gulfport, Mississippi, hosted by the Gulf Coast Writers Association. Major thanks to my writing buddy, the tireless, fearless author and organizer Philip Levin, for inviting me! I spoke about writing for teenagers in today's growing YA market. (Come back next week -- I'm posting my hand-out from the conference, 10 Ten Rules to Keep in Mind When Writing for Teens!)

If you ever get a chance to go to a writers conference, I highly encourage you to take advantage and go. Simply being in a room full of other writers gets your inspiration wheels churning and the energy buzzing. I met so many lovely, encouraging, creative people at the Southern Expressions Conference. All around you are people who also struggle with writer's block and rejection, who understand what it's like to have a character come alive in your mind, who know the exhilaration of writing until three in the morning because you just can't get the words down fast enough. You will meet writers from all over the map, with a variety of experiences and stories to share. And, with today's technology, keeping in touch after the conference is easier than ever.

All set to pack your bags for a writers conference? AWP (the Association of Writers & Writing Programs) has a wonderful database of writers conferences here: It's a great excuse to travel to a place you've always wanted to visit! Hawaii, anyone? :)

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Markets for Young Writers

Poetic Monthly Magazine

Accepts submissions by writers of all ages. In the October issue, PM featured a 10-year-old writer/ illustrator. PM features the top 25 poems of the month's submissions, plus articles about writing, one-page short stories and visual arts. All content in the magazine is family-friendly.


An online magazine for teens and young adults ages 14–20. The magazine covers transportation from all angles, from the infrastructure to the vehicles to the people behind the wheel—whether that “wheel” is on a car, truck, train, plane, or ship. They encourage people ages 14 to 20 to submit personal essays or opinion pieces for the Teen POV column. Possible topics might be graduated drivers licenses, using a cell phone while driving, or anything else that affects young people and is related to transportation. Teen POV columns are accepted at any time. Length should be about 500 words. Submit your piece as a Word attachment to They'll pay $50 for each piece we publish and will also give you a Go! t-shirt.

Monday, November 1, 2010

Patricia Grodd Poetry Prize for Young Writers

The seventh annual Patricia Grodd Poetry Prize for Young Writers is now accepting entries! The prize, which is open to high school sophomores and juniors throughout the world, is juried by David Baker, poetry editor of the Kenyon Review.

Close to 600 entries were received last year, with the winner, Anna Faison of Aiken, South Carolina, receiving a full scholarship to the Kenyon Review’s popular Young Writers summer workshop. The top two runners-up received partial scholarships to attend the summer workshop, and all three poets will be published in the Fall issue of The Kenyon Review.

Students are invited to submit one poem via an online submission system beginning November 1. Visit the Kenyon Review's website for a link to the contest submission page. The contest will close on November 30.

High school teachers are encouraged to pass along this information to sophomores and juniors.

Monday, October 18, 2010

Essay Contest Announced

7th Annual Essay Contest from Be the Star You Are!®

Be the Star You Are!® literacy charity is pleased to announce its 7th Annual Essay Contest sponsored by US Bank running from October 18, 2010-January 18, 2011. Win $100 plus a guest appearance on the nationally syndicated radio program, Be the Star You Are!®, publication in our Star Searcher Express newsletter and at, and an autographed copy of Be the Star You Are!®.

Topic: "How do we create more happiness and abundance in our lives through service to others?"

Tax deductible entry fee donation is $10. For guidelines, visit

Friday, October 15, 2010

Interview with Martha Swirzinski

The holder of a Bachelor’s degree in therapeutic recreation from Clemson University and a master’s from the University of Maryland in Kinesiology, Martha Swirzinski has more than 15 years of experience working in the field of movement with children. She is also a certified personal fitness trainer. She currently lives in Virginia Beach, Virginia with her husband and two daughters.

You have three books. Leap…Laugh…Plop, Guess…Giggle…Wiggle and Kick…Catch…Buzzz. Can you tell me a bit about them?

These three books offer the ultimate mind/body connection. When children move both their bodies and minds are strengthened. Using entertaining rhymes and charming pictures, these fun and creative books offer multiple ways for your child to move. They also provide mind stimulating activities on each page. Each book brings the joy of movement together with the joy of reading. The pages of these books are filled with laughter, learning, movement and more.

More specifically: Leap…Laugh…Plop works on all of the locomotor skills Guess…Giggle…Wiggle has the children doing creative movement Kick…Catch…Buzzzz addresses the manipulative skills.

Will there be any more in the series?

Yes, as a matter of fact we are working on the fourth now, which will be specifically on the non locomotor skills.

How did you come up with this idea for a series of books?

I teach in a preschool and have my Master’s degree in Kinesiology, so I’ve been involved with children and movement for over 15 years now. I wanted to come up with a way that parents, and teachers could incorporate the specific movement skills necessary for motor and brain development in an easy and fun way. Doing an activity isn’t always easy. Sometimes space, equipment or time may not be available. However, reading a book is fun, easy and doesn’t require much planning.

Tell me about the title of the series and what that means to readers?

The title Movement and More suggests that within the pages of our books I offer not just fantastic rhymes and great pictures but moving, interacting, thinking and socializing. Our books engage the whole child, all of the domains of child development.

You mention "our" books. Who is the other author?

I co-wrote these with Dr. Anita Tieman, a psychologist, who has spent many years working with children. She brings her expertise into the social and emotional aspect of these books.

What is the best way to engage children in storytime?

I believe in getting them to be part of the story. My books get children engaged by moving along to the rhymes but moving can be done with any book.

What is your favorite word and why?

"Serendipitous" because I believe we should all be open to these kinds of moments.

What is your least favorite word and why?

"Can't" because I believe the moment that it comes out of your mouth you are defeated.

What is your personal motto?

"A little Consideration, a little Thought for Others, makes all the difference." -Winnie the Pooh

I love that! Lastly, where can readers find your books?

Our website is

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Interview with Harriet Tramer

Harriet Tramer has worked for more than three decades as both a journalist and an instructor. Her latest book, Rounding the Circle of Love, was recently released from Ladybug Press. Read on for Harriet's insights about writing, caregiving, getting published, and more!

What have you learned through your years as a journalist and instructor?

During that period of time, one thing became increasingly more obvious to me. These professions have much in common as they both demand communication skills, something I have long struggled to hone. If you want to succeed in either of these fields, you must deliver a message that resonates with you. But that is only part of the picture. You must also learn to intuit what others are ready to hear. Otherwise, your words might "fall on deaf ears."

Tell us about Rounding the Circle of Love. What was the impetus to write this book?

I was a caregiver for my mother (now deceased) who drew the picture on the cover of my book. And that experience taught me that handling these "responsibilities" can prove very stressful. So, I wanted to write a book that would offer caregivers some guidelines There are no easy answers when it comes to caregiving or anything else in life. But I tried to present suggestions that would make their challenges more manageable.

In writing the book, I relied not only upon my background as a caregiver. I also brought into play my journalistic "skills" as I interviewed people with expertise in different fields and molded their comments into an approachable document.

How did you first discover your love for writing?

I could point to any eureka moment when I first discovered my love for writing. It is just something that has always been part of me. I am not driven to write by some inner compulsion. Rather, I do it as a matter of course like I get up in the morning and get dressed.

What is your writing routine? Do you write every day? Do you have a certain time or place you write?

When I am being disciplined, I write early in the morning, starting at 4 am. But I must confess that more often than not, the Internet wins out over my best intentions. Turning it on, I become lost in a tumble of on line newspapers that somehow seem more welcoming than the empty page I would face if I started writing, for example, an essay.

Is there anything you wish you could tell your younger self about your writing life? What is your biggest advice for kids and teens just starting out?

If I could magically go into a time machine and tell my younger self what I have learned over the years about writing, my advise would be sorely outdated. These days everything must be crisp and concise. Eloquence and erudition often lose out in the race to make every word count. And things are moving more and more in that direction, with Twitter and other means of communicating demanding you say more with less. A sign of the times: There are even novels weaved together from text messages.

What do you hope readers take away from Rounding the Circle of Love?

My major message to caregivers: You can accomplish things you had always figured were out of your realm. Caregivers have to be a jack of all trades - companion, nurse, financial adviser. And more often than not, they rise to the occasion by excelling at things at a broad breadth of things.

What was the journey to publication like for you?

It was much easier than I ever expected it would be. The internet worked its wonders and I found a publisher - Ladybug Press of Sonora, California - in no time.

Is there anything else you would like to add?

Caregiving can be a positive experience that helps you gain self-confidence as you see yourself making a major difference in somebody else's life and discover your hidden talents. But it can also be very depleting if you do not become your own caregiver along the way.

Sunday, October 3, 2010

How to Convince Your Parents That Your "Worthless" Major is Worth Something

Guest Post by Tim Handorf

When I was an undergraduate, I knew from the very beginning I wanted to study English. Most of my friends were tepid in their own choices, and changed majors several times before settling with subjects like Economics or Psychology. Others wanted to study something else but were influenced by their parents to study a major that would provide more immediate material gains.

When I told my parents my intentions to study English, my father deadpanned, "That's all?" I asked him what he meant by that, and he responded, "Why not minor in English and study something else more useful, like Business?" I was taken aback. I didn't know how, exactly, to respond to his question.

Of course, in a way, he was absolutely right. Studying literature or creative writing for its own sake doesn't result in obvious job prospects. Eventually, however, I formed a coherent enough argument favoring my choice of study, that even my parents -- a very traditional bunch -- eventually supported me wholeheartedly.

One thing to remember when you decide to throw your lot in with literature or writing is that chances are, you won't become a world-famous novelist. At the same time, however, no one goes or should go into a university literature or writing program with the idea that pursuing fame and fortune is our natural next step.

We do it because we do care about the written word. We understand that taking in the world and its details and expressing it clearly, thoughtfully, even creatively, using our own signature mark, is meaningful, even if we don't eventually do it to earn our daily bread. That is not to say that we cannot always dream. And the carefully study of letters is a necessary first step in finding our own voice. We cannot, after all, pen something extraordinary without knowing what has come before.

To counter the old folks' assumptions that paying a lot of money for a college degree only to end up as a starving artist is quite easy. What I did was throw at them some of the latest research. Parents love research. For example, take Daniel H. Pink's book A Whole New Mind: Why Right-Brainers Will Rule the Future. Pink, a former speechwriter for Al Gore, who now writes for several leading publications analyzing future trends in business and technology, argues that we are now moving beyond the Information Age to the Conceptual Age. By this he means that those who have developed the capacities for empathy, creativity, and are able to take information and discern some meaning from it will be most successful. And are these tasks not exactly what a degree in English or Creative Writing prepares us for?

So if your parents, friends, or even you yourself are struggling to figure out the purpose behind a course of study in literature, rest assured that you will have a host of opportunities, even if you don't end up writing fiction or poetry for a living. If you can synthesize information, if you can communicate it clearly and inventively, then the future is yours.

By-line: This guest post is contributed by Tim Handorf, who writes on the topics of online colleges and universities. He welcomes your comments at his email:

Saturday, September 18, 2010

Call for Submissions: Chicken Soup for the Preteen Soul

Chicken Soup for the Soul: Preteens
101 Stories of Inspiration and Support for Preteens

Chicken Soup has extended the deadline for their preteens book until October 31! And they need great stories. Act fast and you could be published in Chicken Soup for the Soul's newest book for preteens, scheduled for publication in August 2011.

Here is info from the Chicken Soup editors:

What was your experience like as a preteen? We want to know. We're still collecting true stories and poems about your preteen years, written in the first person, of no more than 1,200 words. Stories should not have been previously published by Chicken Soup for the Soul or other major publications. These must be your personal stories - things that happened to you or someone you were close to.

Your stories or poems need to be true and about your personal experiences or those of someone close to you. We prefer stories written in the first person and no more than 1,200 words. This book will be published in English so please submit stories in English. Stories should not have been previously published by Chicken Soup for the Soul or other major publications.

Here are some suggested topics, but we know you can think of many more:

* Dealing with tough stuff
* Bullies
* Doing the right thing
* Teachers and coaches
* Family and sibling stories
* Parents' divorce
* Illness and death
* Crushes
* Best friends and changing best friends
* Body image
* Embarrassing moments
* Mean girls
* Making new friends
* People you admire
* Being kind to others
* Church and faith
* How someone helped you or you helped someone else

If your story is chosen, you will be a published author and your bio will be printed in the book if you so choose. You will also receive a check for $200 and 10 free copies of your book, worth more than $100. You will retain the copyright for your story and you will retain the right to resell it.


Select the Submit Your Story link on the left tool bar and follow the directions.


Thursday, September 16, 2010

Interview with Gary Murning

Gary Murning is a novelist living in the northeast of England. His work, largely mainstream fiction, focuses on themes that touch us all — love, death, loss and aspiration — but always with an eye to finding an unusual angle or viewpoint. Quirky and highly readable, his writing aims to entertain first and foremost. If he can also offer a previously unfamiliar perspective or insight, all the better.

Gary was born with a form of Spinal Muscular Atrophy, and whilst he has never thought of himself as a "disabled writer" it is nevertheless fair to say that his disability has in many ways contributed to his fairly unique perspective. If you'd like to know more about Spinal Muscular Atrophy, please click here.

Gary's first novel, If I Never, was published by Legend Press and is now available from all major bookstores. Click here to buy If I Never. You can also read two sample chapters of If I Never at Gary's website.

Amazon description: "If I Never centers on the growing love between two 'social misfits.' Clearly 'meant for each other' in a most unusual way, the world and those around them threaten to pull them apart. . . the two are drawn into the complicated lives of friends, consumed by unfolding mysteries and dangers."

How did you get started as a writer? Is If I Never your first novel?

I started writing novels "seriously" when I was about 20. I'd finished sixth form college a couple of years earlier due to ill-health - exacerbated by my disability. I had time to fill and since I loved reading and writing, this seemed the ideal solution. My early attempts, of course, were complete rubbish, but I quickly started to see improvement.

No, If I Never is... well, actually, I've lost count - but it's probably about my 21st novel. It is, however, the first to be published, which sounds terrible, I know, but that's the nature of the business today. I've had years of encouraging comments and close calls and, if I'm truthful, I was probably close to resigning myself to the fact that it might never happen. And, then, quite unexpectedly, I get the email I've been looking forward to for, quite literally, decades!

How would you categorize If I Never? What was the inspiration behind it?

I always have trouble categorizing my own work. My publisher uses the word "mainstream" -- occasionally "light literary" -- which feels about right.

I am finding, however, that some are describing it as a thriller. They all acknowledge that there is rather more to it than that, but that also feels about right, too.

As for the inspiration behind it, I'm still not entirely sure! It was one of those novels that came together piece by piece over a period of time. There was no Epiphany, just a steady drip drip of ideas. I wanted to explore a relationship that existed in some way on the fringes of society - two people who were very much meant for each other but who, nonetheless, had to contend with considerable external influences. Much of it came in the writing. It was very much a roll your sleeves up and get on with it kind of novel!

The narrator of If I Never and his girlfriend both have unusual medical conditions, which you are clearly quite knowledgeable about. I wondered if you have had medical training, or if medicine is a particular interest of yours?

Thanks to the Internet, it's incredibly easy to appear knowledgeable about just about anything, these days! I actually have no medical training - but whilst medicine and medical conditions aren't really particular interests, I do quite often find myself reading about them. I'm a bit of an intellectual magpie, I suppose. I flit from one subject - particle physics, biology, Renaissance art - to another - who's going to win win Strictly Come Dancing or X Factor - collecting anything shiny! And every now and then, it finds a place in my writing!

Are there any particular times of the day you like to write best? Do you have any unusual working habits or routines?

I always like to write first thing on a morning. I try not to do anything else prior to starting on my 1000 words. Looking at news websites etc can be pretty fatal, so I avoid at all costs. It usually takes me about an hour to get 1000 words down (I use voice recognition software, so work quite quickly.) Once I've done this, I read through what I've written, making the odd correction here and there (no major edits at this stage!) and then get on with related work - answering emails, taking care of promotional stuff, annoying people on Twitter, that kind of thing!

What is the one most important piece of advice you would like to pass on to other writers?

Really, I think it's simply a case of reading as much as you can, writing as much as you can and keeping at it. This is a pretty tough business to get into, but the more work you submit the more the odds stack in your favour. Don't expect it to happen overnight, though. It can be a long haul and if you don't love writing for the sake of it I'd seriously consider trying something else.

Gary and I are part of the Virtual Book Tour group. Continue on with the VBT by visiting Maggie Ball’s blog tomorrow, September 17, for an interview with author Brigitte Thompson!

Sunday, September 5, 2010

Anna Quindlen and Book Love

Years ago, Anna Quindlen wrote a small book entitled How Reading Changed My Life. I just came across this gem of a book for the first time, and I feel I have found my own personal manifesto in Quindlen's beautiful homage to books and reading.

Quindlen writes: "Those of us who comprise the real clan of the book [are those] who read not to judge the reading of others but to take the measure of ourselves. Who read because we love it more than anything, who feel about bookstores the way some people feel about jewelers."

I read this passage and thought, Here is someone who understands! I don't know about you, but I have had to put myself on "book buying probation" many times due to the stack of waiting-to-be read books beside my bed, even though it is so difficult for me to leave a bookstore without buying anything!

Throughout the book, Quindlen includes quotes about literature from a variety of people and time periods. Here are some of my favorites:

"When I am reading a book, whether wise or silly, it seems to me to be alive and talking to me." -- Montaigne

"My best friend is a person who will give me a book I have not read." -- Abraham Lincoln

"Reading makes immigrants of us all. It takes us away from home, but, more important, it finds homes for us everywhere." -- Hazel Rochman

"A room without books is like a body without a soul." -- Cicero

"Book love: it will make your hours pleasant to you as long as you live." -- Trollope

What are some of your favorite books and quotes about books?

Thursday, August 19, 2010

Markets for Young Writers

* Wet Ink Magazine

Open and happy to accept all genres of literature, visual art and multimedia from youth aged 13 to 19 residing in Canada. At present, they only accept submissions electronically; they do not want to take responsibility for your original artwork. Please send reproductions only; if your work is three dimensional, a good photograph will be fine.

Please include with your submission a cover letter with your name, age, city or town of residence and e-mail address so that editors can contact you. Please also include any information they might find interesting, such as, for example, lists of publications or exhibits or biographical material.

Wet Ink does not ask for first North American publishing rights to your work; whatever you send them can be submitted again to another publication. If you do send a piece that has already been published or exhibited elsewhere, please include the name of the venue and the date of your publication/exhibit so that they can post the appropriate credits. However, they do ask that you not send any simultaneous submissions.

* Frodo's Notebook

Editors actively seek five types of submissions from teens. Send your very best work, and read the guidelines thoroughly and completely before sending anything:

1. Poetry. They definitely prefer poems of under 36 lines, but they will always consider excellent exceptions. Address to poetry editor Julia Shields and send in the body of an email to

2. Creative/Personal Essays. Creative nonfiction, preferably narrative-driving and reflective; not journalism or opinion. Address to editor in chief Daniel Klotz and send as a .doc (Word), .rtf, or .txt attachment to

3. Fiction. Almost exclusively short-short stories of under 1200 words, though they will "gladly look at longer pieces that promise to blow us away." Editors mostly want "literary" fiction, but send your fantasy or sci-fi if it's "really good and not fan fic." Address to fiction editor Timothy Rezendes and send to

4. Articles. Reviews of current books, movies, and art, as well as cultural critique, op-ed, and original journalistic reportage, as long as it has a literary/artistic subject or slant. Usually under 1200 words. If you're interested in writing this kind of prose for them, send a writing sample or two to editor at large Ben Carr at

5. Visual art. Not yet accepting submissions of visual art.

See site for full guidelines:

Monday, August 16, 2010

Settling in at Purdue! My Tips for Embracing Changes in Your Life

Sorry I've been a bit MIA on this blog the past week. I moved cross-country from my beachside California hometown of Ventura to Lafayette, Indiana -- my new home for the next three years while I pursue my M.F.A. in Fiction Writing at Purdue.

I live in a one-bedroom apartment in an old Victorian house on a beautiful tree-lined street about ten minutes from campus. (There's even a trolley I can catch a few blocks away that runs to campus and back -- how cute is that? A trolley!) I had a fun time decorating my new place with my mom, who helped me move out here and get settled. The weather has been much warmer and more humid than I was used to in Ventura, but I am adjusting. I love the lightning bugs, sweet tea, and Midwestern tomatoes. And everyone has been very friendly and welcoming. Today was my first day of Orientation for my new program -- in addition to taking fiction-writing classes, I'll also be teaching freshman composition to Purdue undergraduates starting (gulp!) next week. I'm a bit nervous, but I've always loved teaching and I'm excited for the new challenge of teaching college students.

Despite all the excitement, a big move is full of changes, and change can be stressful! I also miss my family and friends from home a lot. Here are some tips that have helped me keep smiling and embracing the changes:

1. If you feel sad or homesick, recognize that these feelings are expected and perfectly normal. Everyone feels this way sometimes. That said, try not to wallow in sadness. Instead, do something to brighten your spirits -- bake some brownies, buy some flowers for your room, put on your favorite CD.

2. Call your friends, family and loved ones -- even for just a few minutes, even just to say hi. Hearing a familiar voice can be a huge comfort. Also, remind yourself how many people care about you and are supporting you in your new adventure.

3. Reach out to new people. Invite your neighbor over for dinner. Ask a classmate if she'd like to grab coffee after class. Smile at a stranger you pass on the street. Potential friends are everywhere!

4. Get involved. Join a club. Take a class. Find out about events -- a poetry reading, a street festival, a concert -- and go!

5. It's okay to miss things from home, but focus on being present in your new surroundings. What do you like about your new place? What is there to explore around you? Get to know your neighborhood and your community. Instead of dwelling on what you miss from home, try to focus on being present in the moment and making new memories. Someday, you are going to look back on your life now and miss it!