Saturday, December 31, 2011

Happy 2012!

I always love the new year-- a blank calendar of fresh starts, new opportunities, and renewed motivation to live the life you dream of! The new year is the perfect time to reflect on the past year and also look ahead to the future.

The past year has been a great one! I'm into my second year at Purdue and am really loving teaching, and I was honored with an Excellence in Teaching Award based on the end-of-semester evaluations from my students. I've written every day and made substantial progress on two novel manuscripts as well as nearly a dozen short stories. My play "The Stars in Illinois" won the Brian Mexicott Playwriting Award and my short play "love (lower case)" was produced as part of the Quills & Keys play festival in Santa Paula, California. My story "Jared Sampson's Mom" was published in the Valparaiso Fiction Review and nominated for a Pushcart Prize, and my story "Woman, Running Late, in a Dress" won first place out of more than 600 entries in the Ninth Glass Woman Prize. I also had some flash fiction published this year: "Wednesday Afternoon" in Concisely; "Wedding Day" in Dr. Hurley's Snake-Oil Cure; and "Ten Reasons" in Women in REDzine.

It was also an exciting year with Write On! For Literacy. Dancing With The Pen: a collection of today's best youth writing was released in February and rose to a #2 ranking on Amazon in the "literature anthologies" category and has received rave reviews from kids, teenagers, parents and teachers. The Write On! Summer Writing Camp was a great success, so much so that for the first time ever I held a one-day Winter Writing Camp over the holiday break from school. I am also now doing Guided Mentorships for young writers, something I really enjoy as it allows me to work individually with them on their writing projects. And the Tenth Annual Holiday Book Drive collected and donated more than 500 books this year, bringing the grand total to 12,290 books!

In my personal life, I met a truly amazing guy when we both volunteered teaching writing workshops for senior citizens. I love him very much and we will be celebrating our one-year anniversary in February. This past summer I traveled to Ireland with my brother and researched our family history, and I also traveled to London and Paris and visited my friend Celine, who I hadn't seen since college. I went to the Taylor Swift concert with my friend Holly; my dad came out to visit me at Purdue for October break; my mom, aunts, and cousins met up with me in Chicago for a fun "girls weekend." My boyfriend and I went to nearly a dozen plays and concerts, including "War Horse" and "Phantom of the Opera." And I got to spend wonderful time with my grandparents when I was home for summer and winter breaks. I am one lucky, lucky girl!

Here's a sampling of my goals for 2012:
  • Write! 400 words. Every day. No excuses. A great website I use to track my daily progress is Joe's Goals:
  • Submit to a literary magazine every other week.
  • Submit a query for a freelance article every month.
  • Read a short story every day & 40 books by end of year.
  • Send out a Write On! newsletter every month.
  • Teach a summer & winter youth writing camp.
  • Write a blog post twice a week.
  • Exercise 3 days a week.
  • Learn to cook 10 new healthy recipes. 
  • Call my grandparents every weekend. 
  • Volunteer at a nursing home or food bank.
  • Do at least one act of kindness every day.
  • Count my blessings every night.
What are your goals for the new year? Carpe diem -- seize the day!

Thursday, December 29, 2011

Opportunity for young writers in Georgia

Pegasus, the literary magazine at Abraham Baldwin Agricultural College in Tifton, Georgia, invites submissions of poetry, short fiction (flash fiction welcome), creative nonfiction, artwork and photography for the upcoming spring 2012 issue. The submission deadline is February 29, 2012.

Pegasus is an award-winning regional journal that publishes writers enrolled in Georgia high schools or Georgia colleges and universities. Submissions by other writers will be ignored.

Pegasus accepts electronic submissions only. Please see for full submission guidelines.

Submissions not following stated guidelines will be ignored.

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Nominations Open for the "Write to Done" Top 10 Blogs for Writers Contest

The website Write to Done is having their 6th Annual Top 10 Blogs for Writers Contest. If you like my blog, and have a moment to spare, it would mean a lot if you could pop on over to their site and nominate this blog! The deadline is fast approaching-- December 10th. I've pasted below the info from Write to Done:
How to Nominate Your Favorite Writing Blog:
→ Visit
→ Nominate your favorite blog in the comment section.
→ You have only one vote (only your first will be counted).
→ Please include the web address of the blog.
→ Explain why you think the blog is worthy of winning this year’s award.

To make the cut, a blog must be nominated more than once. (So it would be great if you could spread the word!)

Nominations must be received by 10 December 2011.

Thursday, December 1, 2011

Story Published!

Exciting news! My short story "Ten Reasons" has been published in the latest issue of Women in REDzine, a multicultural literature and art magazine out of the University of Wisconsin-Madison. Here is the beginning of the story to (hopefully!) whet your appetite:

Ten Reasons
by Dallas Woodburn

1. The lacy red panties she discovers wedged between the back left and middle seats of the Jeep Grand Cherokee while reaching down to yank out the seatbelt that always disappears into the crack between the seats. Abe usually drives the Jeep, but this is LeAnn's week to drive Miles and his friends to soccer practice, so he took the Prius instead.

Her breath catches at the feel of the cheap silk lewdness between her fingers. What a silly, stupid cliché. She manages to ball up the panties inside her clenched fist and slip them into her purse without Miles or his friends seeing them.

2. When she buys a new dress on sale at Macy's, with a low-cut neckline and a flattering belt that cinches at the waist, and she puts it on and saunters up to her husband, stretched out across the couch reading the newspaper, and asks, “How do I look?” with a coy smile on her lips, Abe glances up for only a moment before muttering, “Fine,” and turning back to the newspaper.

3. “What's wrong?” she asks on a Tuesday night during dinner, noticing how he picks at his food like a child.

He sighs. “Nothing.”

“Don't lie to me.”

“Your mashed potatoes,” Abe says. “They're too lumpy.”

“I made them the same way I've always made them.”

“Maybe you should add more milk,” he says. “Next time.”

* * *

You can read the rest here:

This story stemmed from a writing exercise I was given in my undergraduate workshop with Aimee Bender to write a narrative using a list format. It's a fun prompt to try -- I challenge you to do so!

Monday, November 28, 2011

10th Annual Holiday Book Drive to benefit underprivileged children!

Last year Write On! For Literacy collected nearly 1,000 books (bringing our grand total to more than 12,000 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!

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 more.

Want to get involved?
  • You can 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.)
  • You can 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 Dallas the total number of books donated which will then be added to our grand-total.

Friday, November 25, 2011

Use Competition to Boost Your Writing

This Saturday is the big rivalry football game for my alma mater, USC, versus UCLA. Amidst the playful trash-talking and revelrous build-up to the big game, I have been thinking about how rivalry and competition are a part of our lives in many ways, not just in the realm of sports.

In writing, for example, contests are forms of competition. Perhaps there is a "big game" of a contest that you enter every year, hoping to win the big prize. Or perhaps there is a writer you admire and consider a rival of sorts. While the green-eyed monster of jealousy is never something to court-- it can be paralyzing to your creativity and toxic to your happiness-- there are ways to use rivalry and competition as good motivators to get your writing in gear and your butt in the writing chair. Here are some ideas:
  • Pair up with a writing friend and use each other to make headway on your goals. Perhaps you want to finally hammer out an outline for your novel, or send out more queries, or simply get more words on the page. Pick a goal and turn it into a competition with your friend. Whoever writes more words, sends out more queries, etc., is the winner for the week; the loser buys the winner lunch or coffee at your next get-together.  
  • What writers do you admire? Search out their work. Read it; study it; learn from it. What do they do to create such compelling characters? How do they build such intricate and gripping plots? How does their writing build from words to sentences to paragraphs on the line level? 
  • Even better, look up the websites of writers you admire and find their contact information. Send them a direct email or an old-fashioned letter in care of their publisher. Tell them what you admire about their work. Strike up a conversation and build a relationship. Get involved in the writing community!
  • Annual competitions are great ways to mark your own progress. Perhaps you enter the same big-prize writing competition every year and have not won (yet!) ... You don't need to depend on a panel of judges to get something out of the contest. Use it as a catalyst to reflect on your writing and how your work has grown and changed in the last year. Are you pushing yourself? Are you putting in the time you want to be putting in? What goals can you set for yourself to focus on until the next contest comes around?
Rivalry week is always fun, and you can use competition as a positive source of motivation in your writing life. But when it comes down to it, remember that the only person you should really be in competition with is yourself!

Happy writing -- and, this Saturday, FIGHT ON TROJANS! Beat the Bruins! :)

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Winter Writing Camp -- You Are Invited!

Due to some very sweet emails from parents and young writers, I am excited to share with you that I will be holding a special one-day Winter Writing Camp when I am home for winter break this year!
  • Who: Young writers ages 7-18.
  • When: Saturday, December 17 from 10am to noon 
  • Where: Jensen Design & Survey at 1672 Donlon Street in Ventura, California.
In the spirit of the season, the Special Holiday Rate for this session is $20, half the price of a day of writing camp during the summer. You can sign up on my website: or you can email me at and I will send you a PDF of the registration form.

Hope to see you then! Happy holidays! 

Saturday, October 15, 2011

Guest Post by Beth Erickson

Not in the Mood to Write? Do this.
by Beth Ann Erickson

It's inevitable. You'll come to a point in your career when you don't feel like writing. You sit down, you try to force the words to come but they don't. What do you do?

Here are a few ideas:

1. If you can't write, it's likely you haven't been "filling your cup." This means you've been pouring words through your fingertips without pouring words into yourself. This means it's time to read. If you're not reading daily, you'll run the risk of hitting more dry spells than if you balance the two activities.

2. Perhaps you have nothing to say. If you have nothing to say, you'll either have to come up with something to say, or ditch the project. Passion is a vital part of this profession. Discovering you have nothing to say is a clue that perhaps you've selected an unsuitable topic.

3. You need a break. Perhaps you're facing a bit of burnout. Again, read. Go for a walk. Rediscover life outside your writing studio. Give yourself a little time, then approach the topic with fresh eyes.

4. Look at the topic through a newbie's eyes. Capture the excitement, amazement, the freshness. If you can do this, you'll inject life into not only your writing, but also your career.

When your primary stock and trade is the exchange of ideas, it's imperative to keep on top of the newest thoughts in your area of expertise. Funny thing is, when you do this, you automatically
always find something to say.

This article is courtesy of Filbert Publishing. Make your writing sparkle, write killer queries, get published. Subscribe to Writing Etc., the free e-mag for freelancers and receive the e-book "Power Queries."

Monday, October 10, 2011

Guest Post by Mariana Ashley

Hearing Voices: A Brief Guide to Writing
by Mariana Ashley

We writers are a strange breed. Often idealistic, we also have to realists; often introverted, we are “people-people,” fascinated with everything outside ourselves. We also tend to classify ourselves as writers before we have written anything—this at least is my vice.

I am fortunate enough to write for a living, but that only makes days when I don’t write all the more hypocritical. In all my years of writing, there is one question that I am still unable, no matter how deeply I research it, how frequently I ponder it, or how desperately I agonize over it, to answer: Why is it so hard to write?

The search for an answer to that question has produced several conclusions, mostly about psychology, anthropology, and whether or not I should seek professional counseling for wanting to write in the first place.

What asking that question has not done, however, is force me to write.

If I have learned anything from my pursuit of the writing craft, it is that second-guessing the pursuit gets us nowhere. Anyone with enough courage to call herself an artist of any sort will also inevitably contend with self-doubt; art is an unconventional career path, and one that does not provide easy answers.

To be a successful writer, you only have to do one thing—write. Take your dream seriously. This advice is certainly easier said than done, but if you follow it, you’ll be writing your way to fame faster than you ever thought possible (I’m assuming here that, like me, you sometimes feel like it will never be possible, therefore any time frame will be faster).

There’s nothing easier to listen and/or give in to the many voices in your head telling you not to write, for whatever reason—don’t worry, those voices are normal, I looked into it. Half of the challenge of being a writer is finding ways to outsmart and out-connive those voices. But there are some devices that have helped me when all I could see was the vast emptiness of a blank page, and all I could hear was the belittling voices of my subconscious.

Write like clockwork. You’ll hear a lot of talk about your “creative times” and some crazy theories about when you are most attuned to the Muse’s song—don’t listen to it. Pick a time to write, and write for an hour. Every day. Wake up at 7am and write for an hour before work; write for an hour right when you get home; write for an hour before you go to sleep. It doesn’t matter when you write, just make writing a consistent thing in your life.

Set goals. During your one hour writing slot, have a goal to meet, no matter how absurd. In fact, sometimes crazier goals make for more productive writing sessions. Tell yourself you’re going to write one full page, two full pages, a new character, a synopsis of your story, an outline, anything. It’s easier to break your art down in to pieces than it is to sit down once every six months and try to write the next great American novel.

Just do something. You won’t be inspired every time you sit down to write, so don’t expect yourself to be. And don’t just write when you’re inspired either. If you’re stuck, paralyzed, bored, beaten down, just take the pressure off yourself by writing something unrelated to your current project. Do a character sketch, try to recall a conversation you heard during the day, write a haiku, imagine an alternate ending to your day, make up a fairy tale, call a friend and talk non-sense. It is more the act and process of creating than the final product that inspires.

You’ll never get anywhere by questioning your abilities or lamenting your creative block. Learn to tune out the voices that would impede you, and you will have learned your secret to success. And always remember: if you’re writing, you’re on the right track.

Bio: Mariana Ashley is a freelance writer who particularly enjoys writing about online colleges. She loves receiving reader feedback, which can be directed to

Sunday, August 28, 2011

I'm now offering "Guided Mentorships" for young writers!

I have received emails from parents asking if I do any writing workshops during the school year. Thanks to the Internet, I am now offering "Guided Mentorships" for young writers across the country!

If you would like to sign up for a Guided Mentorship with me, you will receive:
  •  a creative writing exercise/prompt emailed to you once a week
  • a market to submit your writing to once a month
  • a 20-minute individual phone call or Skype session with me every month for you to discuss your writing and get personal feedback on your work
You can sign up on a month-by-month basis (for example, while some of my mentees want to sign up for every month, others prefer to sign up for every other month or perhaps do two months, skip one, and come back again -- which is perfectly all right!) ... I typically charge $30 per month, but I'm currently doing a back-to-school discount for new mentees to receive a $20-per-month rate.

If you're interested in signing up for a Guided Mentorship with me, send me an email at I'd love to work with you!

With a few young writer friends at this year's Summer Writing Camp

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Guest Post by Holli Dawson: How to Write Vivid Characters

Finding People: Writing Characters That Feel Real

by Holli Dawson

Sometimes when you start a new story or writing project, the actual story starts to emerge as fully realized and solid, but the people inhabiting your imaginary world are somehow not quite as clear. Reading a novel with poor characterization is like ordering an ice cream sundae and only getting a scoop of ice cream and a banana on the side, without all the other ingredients that make it taste special. Imagine if Charles Dickens had left out any description or characteristics of Oliver in Oliver Twist. Would anyone have cared about his story or the book in general? What if Dorothy Gale had been written as some rather average girl with no discernable personality? Would we still be fascinated with The Wizard of Oz, and all the books in L. Frank Baum’s series?

Without interesting characters, a short story or book can feel unfinished and unsatisfying. Writing strong characters is vital to creating a great story. So, what do you when you are stuck? Below are some quick and easy suggestions to help you create three-dimensional people on two-dimensional paper.

1. Buy a Notebook and Carry It With You… Everywhere

If you love writing, you may already do this. However, set aside a few pages of your notebook for notes about people. On these special pages, instead of jotting ideas for your next series of short stories, or lines from poems that pop into your head, plan to write about what you see around you. Particularly the people you see around you. You can even draw sketches of them to jog your memory later.

2. Go to “The Source”

What’s “The Source”, you ask? “The Source” is any place where lots of people gather. Find a mall and sit in the food court. Go to your local community, fitness, or religious center and watch the people pass. Make notes about what you see, paying particular attention to those habits or actions that make each person unique. Maybe you see a child on the merry-go-round at the playground who giggles uncontrollably on the swing set, or a man at the truck rental counter who licks the end of his pen every time he is about to sign something. Look for the little things that make the people around you individuals.

3. Observe, Write, Repeat

When possible, go back to the same places, around the same time, each week. You may get lucky and see some of the same people. Seeing a person buy the newspaper at the same stand four or five times in a row makes it possible to notice little things like how they fold their money, or what they do with their coffee while they are trying to juggle their change, the paper, and the hot cup. Observe, write, and then go back and do it again.

4. Mix It Up

Once you have a couple of pages of observations, cut up the pages and drop the pieces on the floor face down. Mix them up and then turn a few over. Look at the combinations of habits and traits that you have selected. Maybe you chose “always wears baggy clothes”, “only eats apples”, and “buys two copies of the newspaper each morning.” These are all characteristics that can be added to the people who inhabit your story, and if used properly, can also inform and affect the action of your tale as well.

5. Remember Who You Are Observing

Remember, these are real people you are observing, so try to remain objective in your observations and simply observe rather than judge. Even if you see someone very interesting, do not simply recreate the person on paper. It is very disturbing to recognize yourself in someone else’s writing. Mix up your observations and create new people, rather than simply “borrowing” the personality of someone you observe. The more creative you are in the development of your characters, the more successful your story.

Saturday, August 20, 2011

Call for Submissions from Young Writers: Crashtest

If you are a teenager currently enrolled in high school, grades 9-12, Crashtest, the new online literary magazine for high school writers, would like to hear from you!

Crashtest publishes poetry, stories and creative non-fiction in the form of personal essays, imaginative investigation, experimental interviews, or whatever else you would like to call it. We’re looking for writing that has both a perspective and a personality. We’re looking for authors who have something to say. Check us out at

Guidelines: Crashtest only accepts email submissions. Send submissions, in the form of a .doc or .rtf attachment only, and any queries to (replace (at) with @ when sending e-mail.)

Poetry: 3-5 poems at a time.

Fiction: 1 piece at a time (no word or page limit)

Creative Non-Fiction: 1 piece at a time (no word or page limit)

Please go to for complete guidelines.

Friday, August 19, 2011

Interview with Young Author Corinne Fombelle

At just thirteen years old, Corinne Fombelle published her 245-page novel Below the Surface, which she describes as "a novel about a girl and her best friend who wind up in a wild ocean adventure full of sharks, dolphins, fun, and surprises." The book is available as a Kindle download. Read on for Corinne's inspirational interview!

How did you get the idea for Below the Surface?

I decided I wanted to write a book, and I was trying to come up with something. I remember looking around the room trying to come up with a random idea. I saw a picture of a boat on the water and imagined something big going on underwater. That's when I first got the basic idea, and it just snowballed from there.

What made you first interested in writing?

In the fifth grade, when I was ten years old, my teacher Mrs. O'Brien gave us a creative writing assignment. It wasn't anything crazy, just a few short pages would do. So I wrote my little story for class and ended up really enjoying it. After I had turned it in, I decided to write a longer story, more like a book.

What is your writing routine? 

When I was writing Below the Surface, I would go on our desktop computer in the basement about every day and type. My family didn't even really realize the extent of my project until I told them it was finished. I asked my mom if she would print it for me. I would always just call it "my story" so they assumed that it wasn't much longer than the one I had written for class. She told me that when she went to print it, the printer ran out of paper, and she was so surprised. That was when she realized that I had really written a book at the age of ten. I just liked writing so much that I would go and work on it nearly every day.

What do you like about writing?

My favorite thing about writing is probably that there aren't really any restrictions. You can take it wherever you want and think of anything that pops into your head and weave it into an entire plot.

How do you deal with disappointment and rejection?

As a writer, there are many times you get turned down. The biggest problem I faced was my age. To get a book published with a real company, you need to get an agent or they won't listen to you regardless. But I also think it's hard to make agents pay attention if you're under eighteen. When I finally realized that there wasn't a way to get agents to read my manuscript, I tried to find another way to get my book published, which was my ultimate goal from the time I finished it. I did many revisions and tweaked lots of things, just to get it that much better while I was trying to find another way to get the public to read my work. Finally, my uncle sent me an email about Kindle publishing, and how it was a great opportunity. I looked into it, and found out that there was no down side, and went through with it. Basically, I just always try to find a way to make things work out.

What is your biggest advice for a young person going after their dreams?

I would tell anyone who wants to get into writing or anything else that they should do the best they can to perfect their skills at whatever it is they're doing, and then things will just work out. If you're put a lot of work into something, people will notice and try to help you reach your goal.

Is there anything else you'd like to add?

I finished Below the Surface when I was ten and didn't get it published until I was thirteen. I never gave up on it. I didn't quit. I still was working on it even further and fixing little things in the story. I was still trying to find a way to make it happen, and finally my uncle gave me the last boost I needed, the information about Kindle publishing. If I hadn't still been editing the book and trying to make it better yet, I wouldn't have been told about Kindle publishing because I would have probably stopped writing. So, even if you face disappointments that seem to stop you, keep trying and always keep the things in your life that make you happy, and they will someday benefit you because of your passion for it.

Friday, August 12, 2011

Interview with Robert-Harry Rovin, writing teacher to the homeless

A few weeks ago I was introduced to an amazing fellow writer, writing teacher, and literacy advocate named Robert-Harry Rovin. (Thanks to the wonderful Ilene Dillon, host of the Emotional Pro radio show, for making the introduction.) Robert-Harry leads a writing workshop for the homeless, coincidentally also called W R I T E O N, which proves that great minds do think alike! :) He was kind enough to visit the blog today to speak about the empowerment and hope that writing can bring into people's lives.

What would you like readers to know about you as an introduction?

I have a background of professional acting, singing and dancing in New York City and studies in Continuum with Emile Conrad, then teaching her work. I practiced Rosen Method Bodywork for twenty years and was a member of an Authentic Movement group for many years. Also for many years I’ve offered a program of the lyric poetry of nature as Green Man Alive as well as Yertl the Turtle and The Lorax for children portraying this archetypal character. Eleven years ago I enrolled as a student in Ridhwan’s Diamond Approach, a somatically based inquiry and meditation practice of self realization, which continues to be a strong foundation for my life.

Tell us about how the Write On! Workshops began.

Eight years ago I started a creative writing program for homeless people called W R I T E O N ! I had been working in a homeless shelter for years and felt that the depersonalization that results from people being enmeshed in the social service system was not being dealt with. I started offering creative writing classes to support people’s connection to their deeper selves and to nourish their well-being through self-expression. I combined the inquiry and meditation methods of the Diamond Approach with creative writing.

What have you learned through creating this program?

The creative work that has come forward also helps shift social perceptions: through the eyes of those more comfortably ensconced, the homeless can now be seen as creative individuals of worth rather than faceless abstractions; and in turn these souls without homes are supported in their ability to relate to the more affluent on a level where creativity and truth of expression are a shared experience.

I've been so moved watching people come alive as they discover and articulate their personal truth through prose and poetry. This aliveness has translated into all of us finding our deeper, more authentic voices as well as homeless people having more confidence and more success in advocating for a home, good health and work.

In your opinion, why is writing so important?

Writing provides an opportunity to give language to sensation, feeling and thought. Once articulated onto the page, this material is available for reflection and makes room for the next wave of truth telling to appear. Additionally, in W R I T E O N ! workshops the writers have the opportunity to read what they've written, then to receive only positive reflection of their writing, which further affirms the validity of their expression.

What is your writing process like?

In the workshops as well as at home or around and about, I write in a composition book with a black and white marbleized cardboard cover. Writings I wish to preserve I copy into my laptop. Occasionally I draw illustrations or elaborate doodles to accompany my poems, stories and essays.

Does teaching these workshops influence your own writing?

Extending unconditional acceptance to the writers in the workshops has had the affect of extending that affirming support to my own creative process, including writing.

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

For young people, I would advise them to feel what part of their dream is most alive to them and to focus on following that aspect first; the rest will follow.

What are some of your favorite books?

Favorite books include Mary Oliver’s New and Selected Poems and Writing Alone or With Others by Pat Schneider. Right now I’m enjoying Speak Peace in a World of Conflict by Marshall B. Rosenberg, Ph.D; Wisdom Jesus by Cynthia Bourgeault; and Working in the Dark by Jimmy Santiago Boca.

Is there anything else you would like to add?

W R I T E O N ! presents public readings of creative writing and also has an internet radio program ( where people share their creative work. Type in robert-harryrovin at their web site to select an archived episode; or Google "Robert-Harry Rovin" to arrive at the W R I T E O N ! page on the same web site. Check out some of our participant’s writings on the blog at

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Part II: Interview with Alan Sitomer, award-winning author of NERD GIRLS

Today I am delighted to continue our Write On! interview with award-winning author and California 2007 Teacher of the Year Alan Sitomer. His latest book, Nerd Girls, is available on Amazon here

Besides being an author, you are an award-winning teacher. How does teaching influence your writing and the creation of your material?

I show all of my books to real kids first. My students, former students, fans I have gotten to know from around the country, they all get to check out my books hot off the press before anyone else gets a chance to see them. That means before my literary agent. That means before my editor. That means before anyone in the adult world who works in “the publishing industry.” Real kids are my readers and if they don’t like something – if they don’t laugh, if they don’t cry, if they don’t approve – then it doesn’t really matter what the adults think.

Kids are my best, and toughest audience. If my books flies with them, then I know I am good and I’ll go ahead and take it to the next level and begin to show it to the people in the publishing industry. But if I do not get their seal of approval, I stop, listen to their feedback and go back into the piece to go make it work. It’s probably why my fans are so loyal; they know that I respect them and I listen to them and I like them.

Kids who read my books can know that other kids have read them first and given the “Thumbs Up!” sign. I really think that is an important element to my work.

You often talk about “puttin’ the fun” in reading, writing and school. Why?

Let’s be honest: sometimes school can get SO BORING! And there’s no reason for it. But still, grumpy adults sometimes send the message to kids that life is to be serious, serious, serious and humorless, humorless, humorless.

To them I say BLAAAAHHH!

Students are at their best when they are enjoying what they are doing. Students will read more books when they like what they are reading. Students will learn more about a subject when they like what they are learning. Students will try harder to do a good job on the work they are being asked to do if they like the work that they are doing.

That’s my belief and I am sticking with it. (Besides, I was named California Teacher of the Year so ya might think I know just a wee little bit about this stuff, huh?)

Of course, there is a time to be serious. But being serious does not mean that you can’t enjoy yourself. Of course kids have to realize that there are some things in life you just have to do - and do well - even if they are not “fun.” I get that. It’s called reality and the bigger point of school is not to be entertaining. But for the most part I’ve found it’s actually quite satisfying to work really, really hard on something that challenges you deeply. Finding the joy in the challenge is what brings out the best in us.

However, sad to say, it seems as if some schools have forgotten this. Not all – and if you have a teacher that tries hard to make learning fun and meaningful and exciting and interesting – consider yourself lucky. Why? Because I’d venture to say that teachers like this eventually end up teaching you a great deal. School is not a comedy club, but it’s not a funeral home, either, and I believe that a classroom without laughter is a classroom that is not operating at its highest possible potential. Before kids are students, they are people and people need to laugh much like they need to eat and breathe and love.

Just to be clear, I believe that working hard is important. In my classroom, I have little patience for goof-offs but I have a lotta love for kids who put good ol’ fashioned positive energy into their efforts. My belief is that you are not enjoying the work, you probably aren’t going to learn as much as you would if you were enjoying the work. Plus, you are much more likely to try harder when you care about and enjoy what you are doing. Making reading enjoyable and making writing enjoyable makes better readers and writers.

Fun is my secret sauce. It works!

What else can we expect from Nerds Girls beyond this first book?

There is all kinds of crazy, fun stuff right now. I’ve built a game. I’ve created some author videos. There’s a Nerd Girls comic.

All free for anyone who wants them.

Of course, there’s already Hollywood talk of a movie and a TV show and clothes and merchandise and blah, blah, blah. ( is the home base for information about all of this stuff.)

But for me, it’s all about the core material right now. Nerd Girls Book II is on its way and beyond that there are a few more surprises in the works.

All in all, I guess it’s just about making sure to have fun, work hard and continue enjoying all the great kids I get to meet who have become fans of my writing. Of course, the teachers and the librarians are great, too, but it’s all about the kids. Their approval means the most to me.

And really, how ridiculously lucky am I to have it? As I tell folks all the time, it’s quite healthy to channel your inner nerd. That’s all I am doing right now. It’s good for the soul.

If you missed Part I of my interview with Alan, check it out here.


Monday, August 8, 2011

Part I: Interview with Alan Sitomer, award-winning author of NERD GIRLS

Alan Sitomer is California’s 2007 Teacher of the Year. In addition to being an inner-city high school English teacher and former professor in the Graduate School of Education at Loyola Marymount University, Mr. Sitomer is a nationally renowned speaker specializing in engaging reluctant readers who received the 2004 award for Classroom Excellence from the Southern California Teachers of English and the 2003 Teacher of the Year honor from California Literacy. In 2007, Alan was named Educator of the Year by Loyola Marymount University and in 2008 The Insight Education Group named him Innovative Educator of the Year.

Mr. Sitomer has also authored 11 books to date for esteemed publishers such as Disney, Scholastic, Penguin/Putnam, and RB Education. These include six young adult novels, three children’s picture books, two teacher methodology books, and a classroom curriculum series for secondary English Language Arts instruction called The Alan Sitomer BookJam. In the past he’s been honored by the American Library Association (the A.L.A. named Homeboyz a Top Ten Book of the Year 2008, receiving the prestigious ALA Quick Pick Recognition for young adult novel which best engages reluctant readers) and within the next 18 months Alan will have four new titles hitting the shelves.

Mr. Sitomer is currently on sabbatical from the classroom as he works to re-shape literacy education through policy dialogue, professional development workshops, and authoring new materials for classroom use. He was kind enough to fit an interview with Write On! into his very busy schedule to talk about his newest release, NERD GIRLS, released last month from Disney books.

Alan, it is truly an honor to have you here today! What inspired you to write Nerd Girls?

There are a variety of reasons why I wrote Nerd Girls. Number one, I’m sorta a dork. I mean, I like reading, I like writing, I like learning about things that interest me and I love teachers and librarians.

Plus, I’ve been known to embarrass myself now and then. For example, I once gave an oral report in front of an entire class with my fly unzipped. I thought people were laughing at my ingenious use of comedy. Instead they could see my tightie-whities.

Oy vey!

Of course, when I was a kid in school this made my life kinda tough but once I realized that I am what I am the world got a lot easier for me. I wasn’t cool, sexy, the class president, or voted most likely to conquer the planet. I was awkward with members of the opposite sex, laughed like a goofball, and there were times when I felt like the loneliest person on the planet.

Add it all up and I was a nerd.

Then I realized, once I got older, that there are more of “us” than there are of “them” anyway so I decided to channel my inner nerd and put some smiles on paper. The result was this book and it’s been received really, really well. (Hey, people like to laugh.) I’m very proud of the work and plan to do more.

Nerd Girls is your first comedy. How is writing comedy different than writing in other genres?

Writing comedy is very different in some regards and yet, writing comedy is very much the same as all other genres of writing. For example, when you write action adventure, you have chase scenes where the bad guy hotly pursues the hero in fast paced, breathless action. In comedy, somebody farts. Or bonks their head. Or farts while bonking their head while being hotly pursued by a bad guy in fast paced-breathless action.

As you can see, it’s an art.

However, the rules of good writing still apply. You must have a protagonist with a goal who wants something. And that protagonist must have stuff that gets in their way which prevents them from obtaining that which they want.

Stories are all about protagonists taking meaningful journeys. And we love stories so because all of us are taking our own journeys right now. We identify with people who get into trouble, people who have a crush, people who screw up BIG TIME and people who pull a rabbit out of their butt at the very last minute and save the day in a way that proves, “Ya know what, I actually have something good to offer this world after all. So NAH!”

And then they fart and then we smile and then we realize that the characters in the books we read and love are actually our true friends. They are people who understand us, people who inspire us and people who make us realize that doing good things and living in a good way makes us feel good on the inside.

Really, what beats that?

Where did the kooky characters in this book come from?

The first kooky character is probably me. I just love to laugh. Basically, my rule is, if the book doesn’t make me laugh, then why in the world should I expect that it’s going to make anyone else laugh, either? This means that while I was writing Nerd Girls, I was laughing a lot.

Out loud.

All by myself.

In a room with no other human beings. Just me sitting behind a desk laughing out loud with no one else around.

They lock people up for that kind of stuff.

Also, some parts of the book were written when I was sitting on airplanes on my way to go visit a school and talk with the kids. (I do that a lot.) This means I’m the loony guy chuckling out loud to himself on a crowded airplane where no one else ever gets to see the joke or learns what’s so funny.

I’m used to people staring. But hey, whatever works, right?

Of course I draw my inspiration from other people, too. Lots of real people. Real kids especially. Here’s a practice test.

1) Think of a dork you know.

2) Now think of that person doing something dorky.

3) Now think of that person doing something dorky while thinking to themselves that what they are doing is not dorky at all but rather totally normal behavior.

That right there is how my characters are born. Some people are just downright funny. I put those people in my books. See… simple.

I gotta admit though, I think I was born with a weirdo magnet in my body because kooky, nutty, dorky, oddballs just seem to find me. When I was a kid in middle school, I knew people who smelled their belly button lint. When I went to college, I knew a person that ate their cereal with Coca-Cola instead of milk. Now, as an adult, people who own hairless dogs sit next to me and just start conversations for no reason at all.

Like I said, it must be a magnet. But when you are a writer, it comes in handy.

Indeed, all of my characters are fiction. But really, they’re not. They’re just people I know or see or meet with a few name changes. After all, why invent dorks and nerds and doofuses when there are dorks and nerds and doofuses all around us?

In Nerd Girls the good guys win but also, they don’t. Why write a book for kids that is layered with complexity like this?

Look, kids today are smart. Wicked smart. And writing neat little sweet stories that wrap up like perfect little fairy tales is hardly the way the real world works.

Now, I don’t want to give anything away about the book for those that have not yet read it but are planning to, but twists are important to good books. It’s part of the magic that makes them memorable and while I wanted to write an LOL comedy – which I kinda believe I have – I also wanted to make sure today’s young readers didn’t feel as if I was writing down to them or not respecting their cerebral abilities. Like I said, kids today are smart and sure, they want to laugh, but they also want to be challenged and appreciated for being more intelligent than so many adults often believe they are.

Nerd Girls is layered and complex because today’s young people are layered and complex. But today’s young people also have a wonderful sense of humor. They love to laugh.

And so do I.

In a way, this laughter is where we all get to meet.

# # #

Check back tomorrow for PART II of my interview with Alan Sitomer!

And in the meantime, for more information about Alan, please visit his official website at

Friday, August 5, 2011

Interview with Anna Geare

Anna Geare is an 18-year-old recent graduate of Foothill Technology High School in Ventura, California. She has been writing poetry since the 7th grade and is also in love with the theatre -- she has written a one-act play and multiple scenes and monologues for her acting class, and is currently working on her second one-act play. In addition to theatre, she has an interest in science and engineering. At Foothill she was on the school robotics team and is planning to major in chemistry in college. She plans to become a chemical engineer while continuing to be involved in acting and writing.

Anna's poem "Through Open Eyes" is featured in Dancing With The Pen: a collection of today's best youth writing, available on Amazon here.

How did you get your idea for "Through Open Eyes"?

"Through Open Eyes" is a poem about the different problems that the world is facing and how so few people seem to really care or are passionate about helping. They include, among other things: Global Warming, child soldiers in Africa, terrorism, and poverty. I volunteer for a variety of different organizations and grew up with social worker parents. I’ve become real passionate about helping the world in as many ways as I can. This poem was a way for me to express my message and hopefully inspire others to help the world as well. My personal inspiration for the poem was the Black Eyed Peas' song “Where is the Love?” I wrote my poem with a rhyme scheme and beat that reminds me of rap and comes off as a little angry. I was inspired by the idea and just sat down and wrote a bunch of different couplets, each about a different problem, then rearranged them in a multitude of different ways until it just felt right.

Have you been writing for a long time? What do you like about writing?

I wrote some as a kid, but not much. When I truly took on writing as a hobby was in the 7th grade when we had a huge unit on poetry that I loved. I entered a local poetry contest that year with a poem I wrote entitled “The Color of Peace.” I went to the Santa Barbara Writers Conference the summer after 8th grade where I was inspired to pursue writing a bit more. My love of theatre then lead me to playwriting, which seemed to come fairly naturally to me. When I see a story, I naturally see it on the stage. Writing, especially poetry, gives me a way to express myself, but only when I write personally. Then there are times when I write from a view completely different from my own, about things I may have never even experienced. This type of writing attracts me the same way acting does. It gives me an opportunity to take on a character completely different from myself and explore emotions I don’t feel on a daily basis. This fascinates me.

What does it mean to you to have your piece included in this book?

When I think about being published in this book, I’m reminded of my first attendance to the Santa Barbara Writers’ Conference. I talked to an agent, simply for the experience, knowing very well I was not going to get far with the poems I had written at 13. The agent told me poetry was incredibly hard to get published, and others have also been discouraging. Well, here I am, with a poem published in a book! I was ecstatic when I was notified that my poem was chosen to win honorable mention and be published in Dancing With The Pen.

Do you have any advice for other writers, or for other young people going after their dreams?

Don’t give up and don’t put your true dreams aside for more “practical” ones. Especially with writing, it’s easy to put your more artsy or impractical dreams aside to concentrate on school or related interests. I didn’t always spend much time on writing, or even acting for that matter. Science was my more practical interest, so once I got into high school, that pursuit came first. I can tell you that I have never once regretted taking the time to attend a writers conference or write a play, but I do sometimes regret not putting time aside each week to work on my play or write a poem. Life is just going to get more and more busy as you get older. Take advantage of the time you have and follow any dreams you may have.

Can you share a few of your favorite books or authors?

I will give the “cliché” answer of J.K. Rowling and Tolkien. Growing up, those were definitely my favorites as well as Lewis’s Chronicles of Narnia. As I’ve gotten older, I’ve become a pretty big Ray Bradbury fan. I’ve had the opportunity to hear him speak at the Santa Barbara Writers Conference a few times, which were priceless experiences. Ishmael Beah’s A Long Way Gone has also been a very inspirational book for me. The autobiographical story of a child soldier from Africa is what inspired my senior project to build a school in Sierra Leone, which has lead to my desire to join the Peace Corps after I get my Bachelor's degree.

What inspires you?

Lots of things actually. I have an array of interests, so I find interesting things to write about from many different places. I’ve written about my family, about problems in the world that interest me, about my emotions, and about experiences I have never had. In fact, the original poem I won Honorable Mention for was not suitable for a book for young students, but was inspired by a random set of words pulled from a magazine. The play I’m currently writing was inspired by a lesson on WWI I learned in school. The world is full of inspiration, it just takes someone to recognize it and write it down.

What are you working on now? What’s next for you?

I haven’t been working on as much poetry lately, but I have been doing more stage writing. It can be pretty hard finding scenes and monologues for youth to perform, so I’ve been writing some stuff for my acting class. I just wrote a scene that everyone seemed to love. I’m also trying to work on my one-act play. It’s still in the planning stages, but I’m getting pretty close to being ready to write it out.

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Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Interview with Lucia Chen

Today we continue our Dancing With The Pen blog tour with an interview with young writer Lucia Chen, whose story "Take My Hand" is featured in the book. Order your copy of Dancing With The Pen: a collection of today's youth writing on Amazon here.

What would you like readers to know about you as an introduction?

My name is Lucia (pronounced Lu-See-Ah…the Spanish way, not the Italian way!) and I’m a 17-year-old girl from Beijing. Now I live in the suburbs of Detroit, where I run cross country, watch soccer matches religiously, and read way too many historical romances. (They’re my guilty pleasure!)

Describe your story that were published in Dancing With The Pen. How did you get your idea for the piece? Take us through your writing process.

More often than not, I write what I read. When I wrote my short story Take My Hand, I had been going through a medieval phase, devouring novels about knights and battles and grisly conflicts between the English and the Scots. One day I asked myself, “What if an Englishman and a Scotman became friends…and then were pitted against each other?” The idea just lodged in my brain and refused to leave until it became a full-fledged story.

Have you been writing for a long time? What do you like about writing?

My writing career “officially” began with a memorable 6th grade assignment – a pourquoi story about how the pig got its curly tail. Since then, my pencil (and now, keyboard) has been an extension of my hand. What I love most about writing is that wonderful moment after you sit and stare at a awkward sentence for ages, and then – from out of the blue – you find a word that fits perfectly.

What does it mean to you to have your piece included in this book?

I am ecstatic! Deliriously happy! Eternally grateful! It just means so much to me that people across the nation – perhaps even across the world – are reading and enjoying what I wrote.

Do you have any advice for other writers, or for other young people going after their dreams?

To steal the words of Henry David Thoreau: “Go confidently in the direction of your dreams.” A writer’s life may be rife with rejection and disappointment, but it is also bursting with satisfaction and success. And if you truly enjoy the act of putting pen to paper, then that is a victory in itself.

Can you share a few of your favorite books or authors?

An absolute favorite of mine (as in, I reread it every few months or so) is Ella Enchanted by Gail Carlson Levine…which says something, because I’m not even a fantasy fan. Just a snapshot of my other favorites: The Juliet Club by Suzanne Harper, The Truth about Forever by Sarah Dessen, The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins, and Pride and Prejudice (Mr. Darcy!!! Enough said) by the incomparable Jane Austen.

What inspires you?

The World Cup. No, seriously! As K’naan sang in the 2010 World Cup anthem, it’s a time when “every nation is around us,” when souls from every corner of the world “sing forever young…sing songs underneath the sun.” When you think about it, every one of those souls has his or her own story to tell. A world of stories coming together under one sun…there is nothing more inspiring to me than that.

What are you working on now? What’s next for you?

Other than really bad poetry and cheesy stories? My first novel, actually! To put it concisely, it’s a time-travel romance set in Napoleonic Europe…complete with villainous French agents and hot British spies. ☺ The manuscript is complete and in the editing stages, and I hope to one day publish it.

Anything else you’d like to add?

How about two truths and a lie?
1. I am an excellent seamstress.
2. When I was little, I was allergic to sand.
3. I have a passionate hatred of cheese.

(Just for the record, I can’t sew to save my life).

  • Order Dancing With The Pen on Amazon. (It rose to a #2 ranking on in the "literature anthologies" category in its first week of release!
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Monday, August 1, 2011

Summer Writing Camp a Great Success!

The first weekend of Summer Writing Camp was a huge success! I feel so privileged to work with such amazing, talented, imaginative young writers. They inspire me to no end with their creativity and, even more important, their respect and kindness to each other. Here are some pictures:

The wonderful morning session
The delightful afternoon session.

Camp will be held next weekend as well -- there are still spots available if any young writers in the Ventura County area would like to join us! Learn more at

Sunday, July 31, 2011

Interview with debut YA author Emily Hendricks Jensen

Emily, thank you so much for being a guest on the blog today! What would you like readers to know about you as an introduction?

I have a pretty uninteresting bio. I was born in Missouri and was an only child until I was 12 and now I have 8 siblings (halves and steps.) I majored in Journalism and I loved it, though I don’t use the degree in the conventional sense of working for a newspaper. I do, however, use all the courses I took on researching and investigating to find information for my writing. I moved to Wyoming in mid-July and will be getting married in mid-August. I’m already writing under my future married name. I love that.

Tell us about Fault. What was your inspiration/motivation behind this book?

The plot came from a writing prompt I saw on a website when I was in high school. It was started it as a short story, but before I knew it I had written one young adult novel that I eventually split up into five different novellas. The story is about Cecelia, a 15 year old drug addict who will do anything for acceptance, love and drugs. Her parents send her to a facility to help her with her drug problems, but they won’t acknowledge the abuse she had in her past that started all of her drug problems in the first place. It is written in verse.

What have you learned through writing this book?

How cathartic writing can really be and the what all the things you write can tell you about yourself as a person. I didn’t realize how much of myself I poured into the story until my fiance told me he saw certain people in the characters. I’m not a drug addict and I’ve never been to a rehabilitation facility, but I’m the only child of a bitter divorce and I understand what it feels like to be shuttled from house to house. I know what trying too hard to be perfect feels like.

How did you get started writing?

I’ve always been some sort of writer. Short stories when I was younger, then poems (that were awful) in high school. I never had the confidence to write a book, but one day I sat down and started one. Finished that one, tried to get an agent. Didn’t happen. Tried again with my second book. Nothing. At first I felt like a terrible writer, then I realized that those two books were absolutely not my best pieces of work. After that I wrote Fault. I sent it around to agents and small presses, and everyone who read it “loved the concept” but said it would be a hard book to market. That is why I went through the self-publishing process.

What is your writing process like? Do you write on a computer? In a spiral notebook? Do you draw illustrations?

I write everything on either my computer or my iPhone. I do a lot of traveling (both in the US and internationally) and I think I do my best work on planes and trains. My books don’t have illustrations, probably because I can barely draw a stick figure.

How do you get ideas for what you write?

Mostly the news. I’m a huge news junkie, especially entertainment news.

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

Never ever give up. I know that’s what everyone says, but it’s so true. If you give up, all you will have is regrets and regrets get you nowhere.

What are some of your favorite books?

My two favorite books ever are The Saving Graces by Patricia Gaffney and Wish You Well by David Baldacci. I also love anything by Ellen Hopkins, Melissa Senate, and Maureen Johnson.

Is there anything else you would like to add?

I am so excited about my novella series! A new novella will come out every two months. Next summer I intend to publish a full length young adult novel. I have other things in the works as well, so stay tuned!

Contact Emily:

Friday, July 29, 2011

Guest Post by Barbara Jolie

Outlining to Move Your Story Forward
by Barbara Jolie

Ever since high school, I've dreamed of writing a teen fiction book that would excite and inspire young people as much as my favorite authors excited and inspired me. Before, during and after college, I started the book numerous times and had even gotten several chapters deep before losing focus and giving up only to start over again.

After speaking with other writers, I think I've finally figured out why I'm having trouble keeping my book on track: I lack an outline. Like trying to reach a destination without a map, writing a book without an outline can lead to writing that meanders and rambles in a stream of consciousness and never forms a coherent whole. I've decided that before my next attempt at my book, my first step will be to write an outline, and I'm in the middle of that process right now. Here's what I've learned about the outlining process so far.

1. Outlines Are Adaptable
I used to be afraid of outlines because I thought using them would box me in to a formulaic, pre-packaged storyline with no room for my own creative liberties. In reality, all an outline is doing is keeping me walking forward in a straight line with my book. In the past, I've known how I want my story to begin, I've known how I want it to end, and I've known the key conflicts that must take place, but so far I have had trouble putting them all together into a whole. With an outline, how the characters "get there" is up to me, but I do know I have certain chapters that I must devote to arriving at the conflicts, dealing with them, and overcoming them if I'm to write a good book. I can change and adapt my outline all I want to suit the changing whims of my mind, as long as I still stay on track and push the story forward.

2. Outlines Give You More Manageable Goals
Writing an entire book is an intimidating task, but breaking it down into outline form section by section and then chapter by chapter gives you more manageable goals for writing your book. Establishing that I'm going to finish this book in a year may or may not get me there. But by establishing a set number of chapters in my outline that I will finish each month, I have given myself a more do-able goal, and a step-by-step plan for completing the entire work.

3. Outlining Is an Opportunity for Brainstorming
While creating my outline, I've started asking myself questions like, "Ok, so how does the main character actually GET herself in this tough situation?" and "Does it actually make sense for her to make that climactic decision, given her personality and past behavior?" The outlining process has forced me to get creative in the way I push my story forward and has led me to flesh out my characters in greater detail based on the major events in their lives and how they respond to them. So the outlining process is actually leading to a better overall book!

Has outlining helped you in the past? How could it help your writing process in the future?

* * *

By-line: This guest post was contributed by Barbara Jolie, who writes for online classes. She welcomes your comments at her email:

Thursday, July 28, 2011

Flash Fiction Story Published

Exciting news! My flash fiction piece "Wedding Day" is featured today on the wonderfully zany new lit zine Dr. Hurley's Snake-Oil Cure. The goal of this literary journal is to "attack tedium in all its forms" and it is meant to be a "course of healing that will lead [readers] back to vitality, interest, health and youth." I am honored to have my story published by them!

Here is the opening of my story:

A bride, dressed in white gown and flowing veil, totters in high heels down the uneven pavement past Simone's Café. She holds a bouquet of red and orange chrysanthemums. Three men, wearing black tuxes, accompany her; one of them holds up the hem of her dress so it doesn't drag on the ground. 

"Congratulations!" I call out, raising my paper cup of coffee in a toast.

They stare at me, confused. Maybe they don't speak English? They are Asian, all of them, perhaps not born in America, perhaps immigrants from Japan or China, Taiwan or Korea. Or Thailand, maybe? Is Thailand an Asian country, or is it South American? My wife always had a thing for Thailand. Some friend of hers traveled there in college, for spring break or something, and wouldn't stop gushing about how beautiful it was, and ever since then Molly got it into her head that she wanted to go there...

# # #

You can read the rest at I'd love to hear your comments!

Monday, July 25, 2011

Interview with April Ball

Today we are delighted to continue our Dancing With The Pen blog tour with an interview with young writer April Ball. April is an eleven-year-old sixth grader from Thousand Oaks, California. In addition to writing, she loves to sing and act. She has three cats, who she says she "absolutely adores." Order your copy of Dancing With The Pen: a collection of today's best youth writing on Amazon here.

April reads her story at the Dancing With The Pen 
panel at last summer's Ventura Book Festival.

Can you tell us a bit about your piece that appears in the book?

My piece is a short story titled "The Explosion." I actually wrote it in the 4th grade. I had just finished reading The Series of Unfortunate Events and I was inspired by its plot and theme.

What do you love about writing?

I have been writing since the 4th grade. So, in some words, yes, I have been writing a long time. I like being able to make up the characters and what they do. They are all my invention. I love being able to do what I want with them.

What does it feel like to have your piece published in the book?

It's very exciting to have my piece included. When I got the news I was so surprised! I didn't think I had a chance because I was up against people much older (I was only 9 at the time). To celebrate, I called my Grandpa. He's my biggest supporter.

What is your advice to other young writers?

My advice is to never stop. Personally, when I start writing the ideas just spill out. Take something ordinary, like an "F" on a science test, and turn it into a maze of ideas to write about. That way you're able to create your own realities and escape the real world.

What are some of your favorite books?

Harry Potter (JK Rowling). Wanderer (Sharon Creech). Bloomability (Sharon Creech). Year of the Hangman (Gary Blackwood). The Giver (Lois Lowry). Anything by Jerry Spinelli, Patricia Polacco, and Sharon Creech.

What are you up to now?

Working on finishing a story. I always seem to write a strong beginning, but I fizzle out by the end.

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Sunday, July 3, 2011

Writing to Please Yourself

A couple weeks ago, I was delighted to be the keynote speaker for the June meeting of the Ventura County Writers Club. I had an absolutely wonderful time and met so many fun, friendly, creative and driven people! I focused my talk on "writing to please yourself," which was inspired by a piece of advice I received from novelist Elizabeth Berg, who I met a few years back at the Santa Barbara Writers Conference. My brother Greg was kind enough to record the first part of my talk, so now I can share it with you! Please spread the link to anyone you think would enjoy it!

Friday, July 1, 2011

Interview with Daniel Williams

Today we continue our Dancing With The Pen blog tour with an interview with young writer Daniel Williams. Daniel is an eighteen-year-old 12th grader from Fort Wayne, Indiana. In addition to writing, his hobbies include reading, dancing, singing, and riding his bike. He is passionate about giving back to his community and is very active within the youth antiviolence movement. He is a featured young writer in Dancing With The Pen: a collection of today's best youth writing. 

Your piece "Water-Bio Poem" was published in Dancing With The Pen. How did you get your idea for this poem?

It is a sort of autobiography poem I wrote about water where I describe what water is like. It comes naturally to me and I write how I feel. I write mostly about my life.

Have you been writing for a long time?

Yes, I have been writing for eight years. One thing I like about writing is that I can express myself the way I write and feel.

What books do you enjoy reading?

Sharon M Draper, Walter Dean Myers and the late E. Lynn Harris are a few of my favorite authors.

What are you working on now?

I’m publishing my first book titled Brothers Stand Strong. I will continue writing short stories. I plan to down the road do my own writing reality show on YouTube.

Do you have any advice for other writers, or for other young people going after their dreams?

Write what you know and write from your heart. In general, follow your heart with what you want out of life.

Anything else you’d like to add?

Thank you for giving young writers like myself a chance to share our works with the world.

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Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Part II: Interview with Randy Robertson

Randy Robertson is the author of Finding Mary: One Family's Journey on the Road to Autism Recovery. He was kind enough to stop by the blog to share more about the book, as well as his words of advice and encouragement for other writers! Read Part I of the interview here.

Can you tell us a bit about your writing process?

My writing process goes back to my journalism training in that I write in a really structured manner. For Finding Mary I wrote a high-level outline first, basically writing what would become the chapter heads. This enabled me to see how the book would flow. I typed this directly into a Microsoft Word file on my computer. I then went through the outline and for each chapter head, I added anywhere from 2 to 6 sub-heads with more detailed information about what to include in that chapter. Finally, I left the chapter head and sub-heads for each chapter and started writing the contents of the book right into the outline. It grew from a 2-page chapter head list into a 200-page book over the course of a year!

I really don’t write much on paper or in notebooks. I’m so used to using the computer at work that I’m very comfortable writing outlines and jotting notes in Word files. One trick that helped me tremendously was to write myself a note each time I was done for the day. As I said, I only wrote on Tuesday nights, so when the juices were flowing and the words were streaming easily I often wrote well into the middle of the night. When I just couldn’t keep my eyes open any longer, I would write a few sentences to myself describing what the next few paragraphs would be about and what topics were next on my mind to discuss. Then I would shut down the computer and go to bed. The following Tuesday, instead of having to scroll through a dozen or more pages to get back up to speed on where I was at in the book, I could just read the last paragraph or two and the note to myself and pick right back up with my train of thought. It took me a few weeks to get into that habit but I found once I did it, I was able to get back into writing mode much more quickly and avoid writer’s block and keep the narrative going.

What's next for you?

Since competing Finding Mary, I also wrote a fiction book called The Sports Locker about some kids that time travel back to see famous sports events. The book hasn’t been published yet as I’ve been focusing on promoting Finding Mary for the past year. The idea for The Sports Locker came from watching my oldest son Charlie attend sports camps and seeing the camaraderie amongst the boys at the camp. I’ve also written quite a few poems and short stories. The writing subjects are almost always about my immediate family and the myriad of activities we experience together day after day. I do keep a notebook by my bed to write down ideas that come to me in the middle of the night. I heard many authors say they do this, so I started doing it too, and every so often I’ll flip through the notebook and see if one of my ideas sparks an interest to hunker down and develop the story.

Do you have any advice for other writers, especially young writers?

My biggest advice to young writers is to keep moving forward little steps at a time. You can’t expect to realistically sit down and in a few days write the next Harry Potter. It’s not like that. Writing takes time, but it’s a fun and rewarding time! It’s like when I ran my first marathon in 2000. At first I could barely run 3 miles, but I kept to a strict running schedule and gradually improved my speed and added distance to my runs. Six months later I crossed the finish line successfully. Writing should likewise be accomplished in a progression. Writing short stories and poems is a wonderful way to develop skills and techniques. You can write a short story and work on a particular technique, such as describing a character’s physical description, explaining the sounds and textures in a particular setting, or learning to incorporate appropriate metaphors. Once you have some of those basic skills mastered you should think about writing a book. Start with an outline, then sub-heads…

What are some of your favorite books?

For almost my whole life I’ve heard people talk about what a great book the Bible is, but I never really considered reading the whole thing. I mean, it’s thicker than a phone book! Also, I thought it was a cliché, that someone who said the Bible is the best book is just saying that to sound good. Then three years ago I decided to read the Bible from cover to cover. I made it a New Year’s resolution and just started on it. I determined that my goal each day would be to read enough to turn the page once. That’s it…just to turn the page once daily. I stuck with it and it took me almost two full years, but I read the entire Bible! And it turns out that the book is actually amazing! There are stories of heroism, power, great battles, geography, history of course, tremendous character development, well-known quotations and many inspirational tales. You don’t need to be Catholic or any specific religious affiliation to thoroughly enjoy the Bible. My other favorites include The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, The Pelican Brief (talk about a page-turner!), and The Da Vinci Code. I also loved The Secret by Rhonda Byrne, a book that truly encourages big ideas and the concept that anyone can accomplish anything if they are determined and focused.

Thank you so much for taking time out of your busy schedule to be a guest on the blog! Do you have any final words you'd like to add?

I am really amazed and pleased with how well Finding Mary was received. I continue to get positive feedback from people. Recently a special education teacher in Illinois read the book and liked it so much she bought copies for the parents of each of her students! And a few weeks ago I was playing golf in a tournament and one of the people in our foursome commented how much he liked the book. I had never even met the guy before, but he knew about me and Mary and my book and had read it. Knowing that I’ve helped people understand what autism is like on a daily basis, and helped share some success secrets with people going through the challenges of autism in their own homes, has been incredibly rewarding and amazing to me.