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.