Monday, February 28, 2011

And the Oscar Goes to...

By Pamela

Last night I stayed up late to watch the Academy Awards. I'd prerecorded it and enjoyed the luxury of skimming through commercials and the less-than-thrilling portions of the show.

While many movies start out as books and some are brilliantly adapted to the big screen, others stay beloved stories that remain relegated to the pages--and imprinted on our hearts and minds.

Recent (in the past ten years or so) book-to-film major success stories include the Harry Potter series, The Jason Bourne stories, and the Twilight saga. Other stand-alone titles have gone on to be made and remade such as True Grit, Pride and Prejudice and Emma.

This year quite a few book-to-movie adaptations are slated to appear at a theater near you. Which one(s) are you most eager to see? I've added a little poll to the right of the blog. Please vote for as many as you'd like or just vote for the one you're mostly likely to see. Feel free to comment here if I've missed any that you are planning to see.

Friday, February 25, 2011


Pam Cope and I greet George Achibra at DFW Airport.
By Susan

Today, I had the privilege of greeting my comrade George Achibra at the airport for his first visit to America.

George is Ghanaian, and has dedicated his life to rescuing children sold into slavery in his own backyard-- the vast and open waters of Lake Volta in West Africa. These children are slaves to fishing masters who work on the the largest man-made lake in the world. Children sold by their own parents out of the dire circumstances of poverty and ignorance. Children that I have come to love, children that we fight for every day at Touch A Life Foundation, where I have the blessing and honor to speak for every day.

Raul on the day of his rescue in 2008.
I will tell you only a little bit about George because I do not have the words inside me to describe him. We sat together this afternoon and discussed his work. While I am here, in Texas, building marketing plans and developing strategies for website development to further the cause for child trafficking, he is there--on a boat in the middle of the night--listening to the cries of children in the darkness, children who are still enslaved, children who do not know the meaning of freedom, children who do not know that they are loved, and that as they cry, we fight for them. He is there, watching Raul, one of the boys rescued from the lake, grow into a young boy with a beautiful voice. He is there, educating children and communities about the evils of slavery. George has made mistakes that he acknowledges. And he has also had great successes in his work as a champion for the trafficked child.

Raul and me in 2010 in Kete Krachi, Ghana.
Today in our conversations he explained to me a new concept he was learning in his Master's program at university in Ghana where he is taking classes. It is a concept called feedback. He described in great detail how you can tell someone the good and the bad of things, the right and wrong of what they are doing, with the intention of making them wiser. Stronger. Better. There is no word for it in Twe, the language of his people. In Ghana, to critique is only seen as a vehicle to tear someone down: to hurt, to show your own power, or to belittle. But the concept of feedback, this amazing way of telling someone something to improve their situation, and to help them, is a new idea to George. He was thrilled with it, this ability to give someone something like this as a gift. The light is his eyes was bright at the idea of it. Feedback.

Today, I challenge you to look at feedback in this same light. As though it is a blessing to you, in your writing and in your life. How can your peers make you better? How can their words shape your choices going forward?

Like George, I am seeing feedback as something new. I was blessed by a writing colleague this week who gave me some very positive feedback on my manuscript. Yet in other aspects of my life recently, I also experienced the frustration of negative feedback, and my ego was checked, my spirit was quieted. I am learning from both of these conversations. And I am choosing humility in both situations.

The choice is ours, you know. To either bask in the positive or to take the negative like a grown up and change what we have been doing, to make ourselves better.

I'm choosing, like George, to make myself better. To learn from mistakes and to take the path of new beginnings. To become a better writer, a stronger voice, and to be a positive influence going forward. Understanding the concept of feedback requires courage, and active decisions. George is one of those guys who gets it--even before he knew the word for it.

As a writer, my heart is open. And as a person? I am taking it all in. Accepting the feedback and working to make myself better.

Are you?

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Once Upon a Time, in a Land Far, Far Away...

by Elizabeth

Does any story really begin that way? "Once upon a time, in a land far, far away..." The writers of Shrek named the kingdom for that phrase, but other than a Disney import, I'm not sure that it ever really appears in actual literature. Then again, I'm not sure it doesn't.

But what it does do, every time, for me anyway, is conjure a mood. An idea. A place in space that is not here, and it sets up the story. Places do that. A Room with a View. Mansfield Park. House of Sand and Fog. Vinegar Hill. A Tale of Two Cities. A Hotel Is a Place... All of these, each a title and a location, were found in a quick perusal of a single shelf of my wall of bookshelves. Each sets up the story if not the mood itself.

Susan has blogged about trips to Kentucky in researching her work-in-progress, as has Kim. I know Pamela has hit the road at least a few times to learn more about the characters and places in her works, and Joan's travels through England have served as inspiration for more than one novel. And a key element in Julie's latest is a road trip, something I know she's undertaken aplenty in her life.

My own travels, from short jaunts about the state to treks across the country to flights halfway around the world not only inform what I write, but what I intend to as well. My critique partners know there's a project I am not quite ready to undertake, but that has been hanging out in my back pocket for the last few years, a story that I want to tell right. I'm not ready yet, but when I am, I hope to revisit the location of its spark, both to refresh my memory of the place and also to pay homage to the characters who will inhabit the space that sets my imagination aflutter.

I'm getting on a plane again in a couple of days and, in visiting this new place, I hope to find fresh inspiration. One reason I love to travel is the same reason I am passionate about reading and writing: It opens new worlds to me in a way that nothing else can. It's once upon a time, but the time is now, and far far away is suddenly here with the flip of a passport. Talk about happily ever after.

Monday, February 21, 2011


by Joan

Recently Pamela blogged about beginnings. Also recently I was talking with Susan about endings. I’ve been critiquing her manuscript, The Angels’ Share, and she made a comment about not being entirely certain how the story was going to end, even though she was very close to being finished. It got me thinking about the promises writers make to readers, and how we’ve all read books that started out beautifully and didn’t end up where we thought they would or, rather, where we thought they should. Just as every book doesn’t grab every reader, it’s hard to please all readers once you’ve nabbed them at the beginning!

I told Susan I’d changed the conclusion to The Bodley Girl at least four times and, even though The Architect at Highgate is 99 percent finished, I’m still tweaking the last scene. I advised her to play around with a few possible endings, by writing down several alternatives to see if one spoke to her more than the others.

I recently finished Elizabeth Berg’s Dream When You’re Feeling Blue. I enjoyed the book, a WWII-era story featuring three very different sisters, who embark on letter-writing campaigns to soldiers, including two of their recently-deployed fiancés. Berg weaves the tight narrative with touching emotion and believable wartime observation. It was a fast read and when I breezed toward the end, I did a double take at the twist. The story forwarded about thirty years, which was a little unexpected in itself. But I hadn't anticipated the outcome, filled with sacrifice and love. There were subtle hints along the way that I later recognized as key. Not liking my endings pink and neatly-tied, the more I thought about it, the more I liked the conclusion. There might have been other ways to end the book, maybe Berg wrote a list of her own possibilities, but this one felt perfect.

At the conclusion of the 944-page Crimson Petal and the White, Michel Faber’s bawdy Victorian tale of love, lust, greed, and sorrow, I actually thought the dance stopped too abruptly and wondered why he’d jilted free the reader. There again, after some contemplation, I wondered how I would have ended it differently? Here I am, years later, pondering the story. And I haven't even mentioned Sarah Waters’ Little Stranger and Poppy Adams’ Sister! I’m still reeling from those endings!

Just as beginnings must entice the reader into a long and winding dance, endings must release the reader, satiated and somewhat spinning. As writers, we need to deliver what we’ve promised, whether it be a ballet, hip-hop, salsa or, yes, the twist.

A perfectly crafted last line can sear a book into our memory. Here’s a list, originally from the American Book Review.

And from the lovely novel, The Distant Hours, by Kate Morton (who will in two weeks stop by WWW!):

“The door closes behind her, leaving the ghostly lovers alone once more in the quiet and the warm.”

If you have a favorite ending or last line, tell us about it.

Friday, February 18, 2011

Seeing it all

By Pamela

I'm a very visual person. I can remember names and dates pretty well if I hear them, but when I write something down, I can recall it even better.

I know some of us at What Women Write depend on visual cues to help with our writings.

Kim is neck-deep in writing her great-grandparents' life story, and since her great-grandfather Carl Ahrens was a painter, she has some pretty powerful images to inspire her with her writings. As she describes a painting Madonna (her great-grandmother) inspects over the shoulder of her future husband, I know Kim is most likely studying the painting herself as she writes--either viewing it on her website or staring at it as it hangs on her wall.

About this particular Carl Ahrens painting, she writes: 

I grew up with this painting hanging on my living room wall. The canvas was filthy, web cracking everywhere. The colors were drab, the frame beat-up, but when my parents offered to give me one of Carl’s paintings for my 21st birthday, this was the one I chose, the largest oil they owned at the time. The sticker on the back of the frame indicated that the title was Summer, and it was at an exhibition in 1931 priced at $450. That was a lot of money back then and, each time I looked at it, I sensed there was something special under decades worth of dirt. In 1999 I took it to a conservator recommended by the Dallas Museum of Art and got it cleaned and restored. The photograph actually does it no justice at all. This is the first of his canvasses that I ever saw in the state Carl painted them—grime yellows the varnish and dulls the pigments over time. There are over fifty distinct colors, including purple. Other cleaned paintings have revealed shocking dabs of hot pink, which I certainly didn’t expect to see in such masculine paintings. A hint at Carl’s sense of humor?
I stood in front of the painting and cried. It made me re-examine my life and the lack of creativity in it at the time. Looking at it made me itch to write his story. It also made me pick up my own sketchbook again.
An interesting thing I learned while researching for The Oak Lovers is that the real Summer doesn’t hang on my wall. In 1934, Carl promised his friend Prime Minister Mackenzie-King a painting in exchange for his help in securing passage to England. Carl was too sick to paint anything he deemed worthy of sending, so he changed the date on Summer and put it in a new frame. The painting that now sits in a vault in the National Archives was once in the frame currently hanging on my wall!

As Susan weaves the multi-generational story that revolves around a Kentucky bootlegger, she draws visual inspiration from a nearby bookcase. About it she writes:

This bookcase houses my collection of a few books from Thomas Merton, Silas House and some poetry from Wendell Berry. I also have a stack of research books including The Kentucky Encyclopedia, A New History of Kentucky, and some short works written by people I know from home. There are a couple of books on bourbon there, too. I have books on writing by Lamott, Hemingway and Stephen King on the second shelf. It has two bourbon bottles from Maker's Mark Distillery (one that I dipped in wax myself and one with a personalized label that was a gift from a friend), my rosary from the Abbey of Gethsemanie, and coffee cups from The Bourbon Trail. In there somewhere is a coaster with the recipe for the perfect mint julep, some pottery from Louisville Stoneware, and pebbles from a Kentucky creek that I know.

I have a photo of my grandparents together from a political fundraiser in the 1970s, another more recent shot of my grandmother (now 90), photos of me with my mother and sisters, and pics of my children. You might also find the photos of us gals from our two retreats. It looks rather cluttered but everything there is significant (to me).

This is right next to my monitor, so the reference books are invaluable when I need a quick answer on a timeline or date (example: When was the last reporting lynching in Kentucky?). Books by Kentucky authors are inspirational. The pictures of my family keep me going... and the bourbon bottles remind me that when the book is completed I will have something to celebrate!

My current WIP has been ignored for far too long. So this week, after seeing some amazing new releases by new-found friends and drooling over their covers, I decided I needed some visual inspiration. While the bookshelves in my office hold similar trinkets--pictures of family and sister-friends, books I adore--what I needed this week was to visualize my story as a book. If I could see the final product (hold it in my mind, if not my hands), then possibly I would begin to see the potential that putting the final words on the pages will bring. While I'm realistic enough to know that most authors have minimal input when it comes to their cover art--and many titles are changed during the publishing process--for today this is how I see my book.

What inspires you?

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

A visit with Sara J. Henry, author of Learning to Swim

By Julie

Today, we welcome Sara J. Henry, author of Learning to Swim (Random House/2-22-11). Sara is getting lots of good buzz and great placement for her debut novel. It's a featured alternate of Doubleday Book Club, Literary Guild, Book of the Month Club, Mystery Guild, and Doubleday Large Print.

I’ve “known” Sara from the Backspace writers’ forum for a few years and have watched her journey from posting first chapters for critique to posting cover art and links to thrilling reviews and interviews for Learning to Swim. Sara was also the thread that connected me with Quinn Cummings, providing us with our very first author interview at What Women Write back in 2009.

From the publisher:
When she witnesses a small child tumbling from a ferry into Lake Champlain, Troy Chance dives in without thinking. Harrowing moments later, she bobs to the surface, pulling a terrified little boy with her. As the ferry disappears into the distance, she begins a bone-chilling swim nearly a mile to shore with a tiny passenger on her back.

Surprisingly, he speaks only French. He’ll acknowledge that his name is Paul; otherwise, he’s resolutely mute.

Troy assumes that Paul’s frantic parents will be in touch with the police or the press. But what follows is a shocking and deafening silence. And Troy, a freelance writer, finds herself as fiercely determined to protect Paul as she is to find out what happened to him. What she uncovers will take her into a world of wealth and privilege and heedless self-indulgence – a world in which the murder of a child is not unthinkable. She’ll need skill and courage to survive and protect her charge and herself.

Sara J. Henry’s powerful and compelling Learning to Swim will move and disturb readers right up to its shattering conclusion.

About Sara:
Sara J. Henry has been a columnist, soil scientist, book and magazine editor, Web designer, writing instructor, and bicycle mechanic. Learning to Swim is her first novel.

JK: Welcome, Sara, to What Women Write! The inciting incident in Learning to Swim happens in the very first few paragraphs:

If I’d blinked, I would have missed it.

But I didn’t, and I saw something fall from the rear deck of the other ferry. It could have been a bundle of trash; it could have been a child-size doll. Either was more likely than what I thought I saw: a small wide‑eyed human face, in one tiny frozen moment as it plummeted toward the water.

What I did next was a visceral reaction to those small eyes I thought I saw. Without conscious thought I vaulted onto the railing I was leaning against, took a deep breath, and dived. It’s amazing what you can do if you don’t stop to think.

(Hooked? Read the rest of chapter 1 here!)

Talk about a heart-pounding dive into the story. Readers often want to know where writers get their ideas in general, but I’d love to know how, specifically, this idea was born.

SJH: I had lived in the Adirondacks for four years, and was on a return visit, driving along Lake Champlain, the huge lake that separates New York state and Vermont, on a misty, overcast day. For some reason I imagined a woman on one of the big ferries that crosses the lake at its widest part, seeing a child fall in from the opposite ferry and making the split-second decision to dive in after him.

Then I had to build an entire novel around that one scene, which wasn’t particularly easy, I’ll admit.

JK: Learning to Swim crosses genre lines in ways. It’s generally classified as suspense, but it’s also a good old-fashioned whodunit with a bit of a literary feel and a love story at its heart. This could sound like a novel with a split personality, but never fear, readers, it works and works well.

How did you and your veteran agent, Barney Karpfinger (who also represents author John Lescroart and for decades represented Jonathan and Faye Kellerman – not bad company, Sara!) decide to pitch it to editors when it went out on submission?

SJH: I grew up reading old suspense novels by Mary Stewart (Nine Coaches Waiting; This Rough Magic; The Ivy Tree; Madam, Will You Talk?) as well as my father’s Travis McGee books by John D. MacDonald, and they definitely shaped my writing. The two of them were masters at blending genres – Stewart is considered one of the founders of romantic suspense and MacDonald was an extraordinary storyteller with a deeply introspective hero and gritty plots.

I never wanted to write a run-of-the-mill mystery or thriller, although I certainly enjoy reading them. And I wanted a heroine who could be any woman, an ordinary woman thrust into extraordinary circumstances. One agent who read the first forty or so pages told me I needed to cut out anything that wasn’t suspense, but I thought that agent was wrong – that all the additional elements were what made this novel work and would make it resonate for readers, and I stuck to my guns.

One advantage of well-established and greatly respected agents is that they don’t need to pitch hard, because editors know them well and know the type of authors and projects they represent. (They pitch well, but not hard, if that makes sense.) Barney told editors over the phone how the book opens, and the gist of his cover letter was this one sentence: By turns disturbing and moving—and always compelling—this novel of suspense marks the beginning of a significant new career. I had discussions with editors from three houses and no one had a problem with the blurring of genres – or if they did, they didn’t mention it!

JK: In one of your first blog interviews with Dawn Kurtagich, you tell the interesting story of writing and then rewriting Learning to Swim, stating that the rewriting is when the story really came together. We have lots of aspiring writers in our reader audience, and many of us have heard that famous mantra: “Writing is rewriting.” But that can be a bit of a mysterious concept. In your situation, what did rewriting really mean? Did you throw away the manuscript and start from scratch? Or …?

SJH: Definitely not from scratch. In fact the first chapter is pretty much how I wrote it originally, as are other key chapters. I’ll answer this question in two parts, because I really rewrote in two basic ways. The first was straightening out a very muddled middle part of the book: characters were thin, the pacing was slow, and the plot needed a lot of work. I’d written the book very quickly, because I knew if I’d slowed down I would have convinced myself I couldn’t do it.

But then I had to work out an involved plotline and re-engineer it into a book that was already written. As I’ve said elsewhere, I thought my brain would break, and I’ll never again do it that way. I also had to improve the pacing – at one point the characters go off to Home Depot, and there the book slowed to a crawl. (Going to Home Depot is now code for pace slowing down.) But at the end of this, I had a book that worked.

What I did next – and this was in several passes – was a complete relayering. Some scenes remained untouched, but others needed life breathed into them. In places I’d done what I call “cheating” – skipping over details or how a character felt, sometimes because the scene made me uncomfortable or was difficult to write. I reworked each of these scenes, imagining it from each character’s perspective. And along the way I truly learned to write. I learned the power that one word has to change the impact or flow of a scene, and I learned how moving a paragraph from one place to another can alter readers’ perception entirely. And I’d say I fell in love with writing all over again.

Finally – and this was well after the manuscript was accepted – I took a good look at the last four chapters, in which I’d crammed in every possible detail of explanation. (
Reed Farrel Coleman told me, “I’m surprised you didn’t explain nuclear fission while you were at it.”) I told my editor I had to redo them, and he didn’t object. I rewrote those chapters, condensed them to three, and read them aloud over the phone to Reed – who is the best critique partner imaginable – and kept honing them until they worked.

Never underestimate the value of reading aloud, even if just to yourself.

JK: I know a little about your own world from interacting with you on Facebook and reading your blog posts on occasion. Would you share with our readers how your own unique world reflects that of Troy’s?

Like Troy, I rented a big house on Main Street in Lake Placid, New York, and rented out rooms to a batch of mostly athlete roommates. And like Troy, I was the sports editor at the local daily newspaper, and had a wonderful golden retriever/German shepherd mix dog named Tiger.

Troy likes computers and likes to work on bicycles, as I do - and she likes being able to do a lot of things. My dad gave me a fully stocked toolbox when I was 11 – but also gave me a sewing box and showed me how to knit. So while I can darn socks and cut hair, I also know how to roof a house, because my father showed me how to snap a chalk line, lay shingles, and pound in roofing nails. He was a nuclear physicist, not a roofer – but he strongly believed that people ought to know how to do all sorts of things.

JK: From that photo, I think it's obvious Tiger has been one of a long line of well-loved dogs!

Sara, when we try to define that mysterious quality known as writer’s voice, we know it has something to do with who we are and where we’ve been. How have other aspects of your own history informed your writing in general and also in writing Learning to Swim?

In one way or another, just about everything I’ve ever done and every person I’ve met has informed my writing. I can’t explain it any better than that. Clearly I never dived off a ferry after a small child, but I’ve experienced many of the emotions my characters have, and knowing a wide variety of people certainly helps you develop believable characters.

I’ve pitched Backspace to our readers at What Women Write many times over the last few years. I’ve witnessed the value of being involved in an active community of writers, both online and at a local level. Of course you need to be a fantastic writer with a lot of good ideas and a lot of perseverance to become a published author, but what has being an active member of the Backspace forum meant for you on your journey to publication?

SJH: I followed my friend Jamie Ford to Backspace, but because my novel was in the final stages of polishing when I joined and I acquired an agent soon thereafter, my experience there isn’t quite that of some other unpublished writers (and because I’d written and cowritten several nonfiction books, I wasn’t technically unpublished).

What Backspace has given me is friendships, and an enormous amount of support from the people I’ve met there. Backspacers have been marvelous to respond to posts and generous in their praise. Writing is a solitary occupation and Backspace has made it markedly less so.

JK: Finally, what’s up next for you?

SJH: I am finishing up the sequel to Learning to Swim, and then I’ll be polishing that and doing some publicity and book touring for the first novel. And I have Books 3 and 4 roughed out in my head, and I’m eager to start writing those.

JK: Sara, thanks so much for being our guest on What Women Write. We wish you great things as a fiction author, and I can't wait to read the sequel to Learning to Swim.

Learning to Swim is available for preorder at all major and independent booksellers, and will be available to buy next Tuesday, February 22.

Disclosure of Material Connection: I received an advanced copy of the book mentioned above gratis. Regardless, I only recommend books I've read and believe will appeal to our readers. I am making this statement in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

Monday, February 14, 2011

From Sixteen Candles to (edited to prevent embarrasment to the author)

by Elizabeth

Allison Pearson got me thinking. Her latest novel, I Think I Love You, was released last week, paying homage to her own teenage crush on David Cassidy. (For you young 'uns, he was in a show called The Partridge Family, about a family band that traveled around in a semi-psychedelic converted school bus--oh, never mind.) I myself was too young for him, and the younger brother Danny was hardly heartthrob material (then or now). Instead, I simply wished to be the triangle-tapping younger daughter. At least until the actress who played her appeared in a teenage pregnancy warning film when I was in tenth grade. Oh, Tracy.

But crushes. Oh, crushes! Especially those early ones. I watched Hairspray with my daughter this past weekend, and when Tracy Turnblad sings "I hear the bells," I felt all tingly myself. The lyricist did a knock-down job of tapping into his own adolescence. Nikki Blonsky, playing Tracy, flapped her lashes so convincingly, she must secretly have harbored the hots for Zac Effron. And if she didn't, she deserved every dime she made just for reviving the bubble of infatuation I once felt when David and Darren (real people, last names edited to prevent the embarrassment of the author) bumped past me in the high school hallways.

But celebrity crushes especially. Like with Pearson's book (and to an extent, Tracy Turnblad's love interest, Link, as well--he is on local daytime television, after all), there is something about those crushes that sticks with us. We believe, fiercely, that we are different, that if only the object of our desire could meet us, he would see it too. He would realize we are The One for Him.

Or maybe not.

Nonetheless, those celebrity crushes--early ones, and maybe even contemporary ones, because our taste improves with age, right?--stick with us. And even if I never write a novel titled Better Off Dead, my early (ahem) crush on John Cusack surely informs my work, at least obliquely. There's a scene in one of my novels in which the character's heart does a flip, and I can tell you this: writing it wasn't just Serendipity.

Okay, so my taste is still the same. I have a fantasy that if I were ever widowed due to a tragic accident, I could write a memoir based on the tragedy, and John Cusack would play my husband in the movie. I'd be a consultant, of course, and then we'd finally meet, and he'd fall madly in love with me, and I'd have his babies, and...

Or not. Still, it's fun to pretend, fun to remember, and since my husband is smart enough to rent a Cusack movie just for me every now and again, no harm or foul. I guess there have been other celebrity crushes along the way (my first, and I can't believe I'm admitting this, was on Richard Dawson. When I was about six. Which was before Family Feud--I adored him on Match Game, before he started demanding liplocks with every female he encountered. Forget that, you lost me at hello.) (So much for sparing the author embarrassment.) A little Eric Stoltz, maybe--do you remember how he gripped his friend Watts' hips when she practiced kissing with him?! And get in line, ladies: I'll take a little Colin Firth, you betcha.

In honor of Valentine's Day, I asked the other ladies here at What Women Write what celebrities had rocked their worlds, now and then. And not surprisingly, their choices reflect their writing tastes to a certain extent. Pamela's number one choice, for instance, is a master of romantic comedy. As is she.

Okay, this is so easy. Hugh Grant. I even forgave him of his brush with The Law and the androgynous drag queen/hooker years ago. It's the accent. It's the sense of humor. It's the crinkles around his eyes--his blue, blue eyes.

I'd follow him to
Notting Hill and back, let him write the Music and Lyrics of my life and, with less than Two Weeks' Notice even attend Four Weddings and a Funeral if he were present. It's Love, Actually that allowed me to forgive him films such as Did You Hear About the Morgans? and Mickey Blue Eyes. It's all About a Boy who grew up on the screen before me and captured my heart.

I don't remember a teenage crush. No
Tiger Beat or other mags either. Couldn't afford them. I do remember liking Peter Frampton--probably The Hair. :) And then in high school, after seeing Richard Gere in American, my. But I'm sticking with Hugh.

I was hardly surprised to learn that Joan, who can't write a book without a ghost in it, includes someone who died too young.

My list is way too long. Let's see, teenage crushes: Donny Osmond and Bobby Sherman (how embarrassing, not to mention I just gave away my age). Celebrity crush(es), narrowing the list: Javier Bardem, Colin Firth, and the late Heath Ledger. Even in ghost form.

Susan, a classic herself, goes for the classics of the day, now and then. Just as her work captures the essence of the time she writes, so do her celebrity crushes:

Hmm... Teenage? Totally Scott Baio. Modern day? George Clooney. I could go on and on about my boyfriend George.

Kim, whose work in progress is a love story featuring a Canadian protagonist and a much younger woman, didn't have a single American on her list. (But she's got nothing against them! Her marriage license is proof.)

My celebrity crush would be Colin Firth. I adored him even before he was Mr. Darcy. It's not that he's drop-dead gorgeous, but there's just something about him. The accent, the smile...sigh. He comes across as a romantic in interviews as well.

I never had 'pinups' on my wall in the typical sense, but I had a subscription to
GQ at 15. I liked men, not boys! My teenage crush was Rupert Everett--glad I didn't know he was gay then! I actually have quite a list now--Colin Firth, Alex O'Loughlin, Matthew Good, Antonio Banderas and Stephen Moyer.

And Julie, who left our first retreat early to get to a concert, and who has more than one character who struggles with "being good" surely reflected on her own past in conjuring dilemmas for her novels.

I'm sad to say I never owned a copy of Teen Beat or Tiger Beat. I was into British Invasion music, so the mainstream music heartthrobs never caught my eye. A few movie stars popped up here and there and show an interesting pattern. I was a preacher's daughter, and guess what? They were the teen bad boys or the ones getting the girls in trouble even if they weren't actually bad. Matt Dillon was my first big Hollywood crush. I fell long and hard, and was ever so jealous of Kristy McNichol playing opposite him in Little Darlings.

Now? Any folk rock singer or movie star with a British/Scottish/Irish accent gets my vote. I'm right there with Pamela and Kim on Hugh Grant and Colin Firth, but I can even be won over with a decently faked accent, so I'll add Jeffrey Dean Morgan to the list.

So Hugh, if you are listening...or Colin or George or especially John...

Or your crush. Readers, care to chime in? It's Valentine's Day. Share the love.

Friday, February 11, 2011

It Was a Dark and Stormy Night

By Susan
Let's admit it: we've all been knocked out by the recent weather. Regardless of where you are--the Midwest, Northeast, the South, and even us here in The United States of Texas, Mother Nature has iced us, snowed us in, and dropped temperatures to places that well, they just shouldn't go if you live in Dallas.
As much as I'd hoped that snow days would be conducive to writing, I freely admit that no new words of mine hit the page in the past two weeks of our wintry mayhem. With children home from school, a full work load that waited for no weather, and my own inability to focus during the chaos, I did little besides some late night edits. But looking out across the icy expanse did get me thinking about setting the scene and using weather as an important placeholder in my writing.

"Remember to get the weather in your damn book--it's very important," says Papa Hemingway. And he's right. With that said, the original opening scene of my novel spent two full pages on the rain that was blowing over the mountain and into the scene. Was it important? Yes. Was it interesting? No. Good uses of weather set the tone without taking over the scene. Bad uses of weather take the focus away from the characters, plot, and action.
Then again, too little mention of weather warrants another perspective. In a writer's critique group I once frequented, a peer's novel took place during a hurricane. Yet he hardly mentioned the fact that every moment of his dialog was taking place in such a storm. "I didn't want to overdo it on the weather thing," he'd said. Yet by not giving the storm enough credit, he'd forgotten an important thing: if you are using the weather as character, it better well have something to say.

It's a balance, like everything else in writing. Paint the picture in watercolor for your reader--let them fill in the details with their own imagination. Allow the reader to feel the humid blast of summer storm blowing in when your write about the churning sea that sharply breaks on muddy sand. Wrap yourself in autumn, showing your readers the bright October sky. Let them hear the rustle of the crisp leaves under your feet. Give them spring like a gift: wrapped in the blossoms and budding of the earth spilling open.
And if you must make it snow, please leave out the ice- it makes the roads treacherous here in ill-equipped Texas. Instead, chill your reader with the plush powder of Colorado and warm them with cocoa by the fire.
Don't leave the weather out. It makes life like cardboard. But don't overdo it either (ahem, Mother Nature? You overdid Superbowl week juuuust a little bit.)
Remember the weather, as Hemingway says--and create a richer manuscript. What would we do without it?

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Let's start at the very beginning

By Pamela

It's a very good place to start. But what is the beginning of your story? Chapter one? A prologue? An introduction? A foreword?

Not long ago a friend showed me a new book she was reading that her family friend had written. As she held up the hardcover book with the attractive cover, I asked, "Did he self-publish?"

"I don't know," she said, handing me the book. "How can you tell?"

I opened the cover and on the first printed page, I read: "Forward."

"Yep, he did," I said, handing it back.

"Really? How can you tell?" she asked.

Very politely, I said, "Because there's a typo on the first page." (I don't think I was that blunt or rude because she still talks to me but, in a nutshell, that was my response.)

Not only was the word 'forward' used when it should have been spelled 'foreword' (as in the word that comes before), the true definition of a foreword is, as I understand it: a work that comes at the beginning of a book that is typically written by someone other than an author. In the case of my friend's friend's book, his should have been either an introduction or a preface. But certainly not a forward.

If you're writing a book and submitting the completed work to a literary agent in hopes of landing a publishing contract, you have to be professional. Just as you'd never pitch a 'fiction novel,' you also don't want to mention that you're including the 'forward' in your submission.

I cruised around the Web and found some sites here and here that helped me relay the difference between them. Here's my version of my findings, in a nutshell. If you disagree or want to investigate further, a Google search should keep you busy for some time.


Typically written by someone other than the author. Sometimes used to lend credibility to the work (e.g. by a person more famous than the author), at times this person's name will also appear on the book's cover.


Can be written by the author or by someone else. The introduction might be used to update information not made available in a previous version of the work (as in a paperback version updated from a hardcover), or it might give the reader some instructions on how the material that follows should be viewed. If it's a self-help book, the introduction might tell the reader how the book has changed the lives of those who have read it so far, thus giving the reader some expectations.

Two examples I found on my shelves were: The Punch by John Feinstein and Secret Windows by Stephen King. Feinstein wrote his own introduction, outlining how a newspaper article about a career-altering fight between two professional basketball players led him to write The Punch. King's introduction was written by his longtime friend Peter Straub and plays homage to King's career and their friendship.


Very similar to an introduction, a preface differs slightly in that it's more about why the book was written and allows the author a chance to explain why he or she is the best one to write it. Typically written by the author, and not a famous friend or celebrity, the preface allows the author a platform of 'apology,' if you will--an explanation to the reader as to why the author was so led to write the chapters he or she is about to spend hours reading. In the case of The Punch (mentioned above), in my opinion, the introduction could have been called a preface. Po-ta-to, po-tah-to.


A prologue is most often seen in a work of fiction or narrative non-fiction. A prologue might start the story from a point of view not used anywhere else in the book or from a time much earlier than the rest of the book's setting. It can also be used to show a scene that takes place right in the middle of the story as a way to pull the reader into the book.

Some advise that if you use a prologue, you must use an epilogue at the end of your book. Others say one is fine without the other.

Regardless of where your book begins, make sure you include information that is helpful, engaging and mesmerizing to your readership. Don't add in more than is necessary to tell your story. Time is precious to your reader (and to an agent who is looking for only the best in her inbox), so don't write an introduction, foreword, preface or prologue unless it adds to your book. And for heaven's sake, don't write a forward, unless you're willing to take your work two steps backward.

Monday, February 7, 2011

Joanna Penn's blog tour stop at WWW

by Joan

Our friend Tony Eldridge, whose novel, The Samson Effect is heading to Hollywood, suggested I read Joanna Penn’s novel, Pentecost, and get on board her blog tour. Tony, being the marketing wonder that he is, had me jumping at the chance.

Joanna Penn is the author of Pentecost, a thriller novel, out now on
Joanna is also a blogger at Adventures in Writing, Publishing and Book Marketing. Connect with her on Twitter.

JM: I’m excited to be part of your blog tour! How many “stops” will you be making?

JP: Thanks so much for having me! I'm actually launching the book over one week, 7-12 Feb., so my tour will be promoting on multiple sites at the same time. I have articles and reviews on around 20 sites at the moment, as well as some advertising so I intend to be everywhere at once. This is a more traditional Internet marketing style launch instead of a book tour, and I’ll definitely be blogging about how it went so others can learn from the experience.

JM: I’ve just finished reading your thriller, Pentecost, which I found engaging and rich in detail and atmosphere. The novel takes place in some of the most interesting locales—Israel, Italy, Iran, Spain, England, to name a few. Did you visit all of these places for research?

JP: I'm English myself so the London and Oxford scenes were easy to write and, although I now live In Australia, I've done a lot of traveling. I’ve been to Italy, Israel and America, and the places described stick vividly in my mind. For example, my description of the Church of the Holy Sepulchre is from one of my trips there. The Coptics really do live on the roof! When I was plotting the book, the Biosphere in Arizona stood out for me as somewhere dramatic that could be used for a brilliant climax scene. But I haven’t been to Tunisia, Iran, or Santiago de Compostela in Spain. I love to travel though and always want my books to feature interesting locations.

JM: Your travel experiences have definitely added to the novel's depth. I found the pacing and chapter hooks really well done. Did this take you a while to get right?

JP: It’s interesting you said this as many people find the book almost too fast-paced and wanted it to be longer. It’s my natural writing style and also my personality to want everything to move fast. I’m one of those writers who needs to add words, not cut them in the editing stage! I also deconstructed some thrillers and looked at how chapters were ended and how the hook kept people reading, then I made sure I followed that structure to ensure the book kept moving. There’s no saggy middle!

JM: No, there isn't! That's a good thing, especially in a thriller! (Even the book trailer was thrilling)
Many people, including myself, are fascinated by the supernatural. Did you come across something like your fictional ARKANE Institute (Arcane Religious Knowledge And Numinous Experience Institute) during your research?

JP: You probably realize that the supernatural is my fascination as well! The idea for ARKANE came to me while watching the British TV show Torchwood which is about a secret British agency investigating aliens. They are affiliated to the government but operate above the law. I also wanted to make sure the book would be the first in a series, so I needed a way to fund all Morgan’s future adventures. It means there are no real boundaries around what I can investigate next. The ARKANE crypt under Trafalgar Square holds many secrets!

JM: I love the details you wove in about the Bodleian. Especially the contraption Martin created, an interface connecting vast libraries of digital data and its own virtual librarian. A far cry from their pneumatic tube system! Will we see more of Martin’s creation in the next novel?

JP: I studied at Mansfield College, Oxford and the Radcliffe Camera at the Bodleian was my library. I have many fond memories of studying there, but the archaic system of book stacks was crazy! So Martin’s device was a way to keep the atmosphere of the Bodleian but make it easy to use in a digital age. It will definitely be featuring in other adventures, because it’s a way for the team to find information quickly, even from diverse sources. Martin will also stay as a central character. He’s a kind of sidekick, the geeky guy who stays in the office surrounded by computers. Even in the realm of the supernatural, you need that kind of character to keep the logistics moving!

JM: Yes, and Martin's a great character! You’ve now written both non-fiction and fiction. Do you have a preference?

JP: I enjoyed writing Pentecost and I’m now definitely a fiction author, although I will dabble again in non-fiction. I’d actually like to do a spiritual travel book as non-fiction at some point, perhaps based on the travel I’ll do to research the fiction series. But I have the next two Morgan Sierra/ARKANE books shaping up as well. Lots to write!

JM: We'll be looking forward to the next in the series! Let's talk about —your website. Wow, it's quite impressive, as is your journey over the last several years. Blogger, speaker, author, consultant—you must keep very busy. How do you fit in time to write?

JP: Basically, you have to give something up if you want to write and create a decent author platform. Several years ago I gave up one day a week of my day job and also ditched the TV. These two actions freed up a lot of extra time. I also get up at 5 a.m. most days and do interviews before work for the blog, and I write at the weekends. It’s about focus and determination. This is important to me but it’s also fun. My blog, social networking, writing, podcasting – these are all pleasure and a hobby so I am not forcing myself to give anything up, I actually want to do this.

JM: You’ve made quite a contribution to the writing community by sharing all that you’ve learned. Can you tell our readers a bit about your podcasts? I am looking forward to downloading a few to my iPod.

JP: A podcast is basically an audio program you can download from the Internet and listen to on your computer or iPod/other device. You can also subscribe on iTunes and other services so the latest episode is delivered to you. The Creative Penn podcast is a weekly program where I interview experts on writing, publishing and book marketing. I started it so I could learn from people, and that aspect is still an important theme. I want this information to be available for free so people can listen and learn, then apply to their own lives. I’m now up to 84 episodes. On a personal level, it also means I connect with people from all over the world which also expands my own profile and means I’m not always working alone!

Subscribe on iTunes:
Backlist for review and download:

JM: What’s the best writing advice you’ve received?

JP: Write a really bad first draft. Just get it down on the page and then you’ll have something to edit. You can’t edit a blank page. This is a combination of advice from Anne Lamott’s Bird by Bird and Mur Lafferty from I Should Be Writing, an excellent podcast for writers.

JM: Bird by Bird is a great inspiration-- I try to read it at least once a year. I'm not familiar with the Mur Lafferty podcast; I'll have to check it out. Which authors do you read for pleasure?

JP: For fiction, I enjoy fast-paced thrillers with supernatural themes (which is why I wrote one!). I like James Rollins, Matthew Reilly, Douglas Preston & Lincoln Child, Lee Child. I also read a wide range of other fiction, browsing the Kindle store weekly for new books to read! I do have a review blog ( which I keep separate as not everyone likes mysteries and thrillers. I also read business and marketing books for entrepreneurs, travel memoir, pop science and psychology books as well as anything to do with religion. I’m a biblioholic so my writing and the blogs help feed the passion!

JM: Thanks for taking the time to stop by! Enjoy this week of your blog tour and we wish you much success with Pentecost!

JP: Thanks so much for having me!

Pentecost is available now

Readers, don't forget to stop by our Facebook page to check out the covers our author friends have shared!

Friday, February 4, 2011

Good Editor + Receptive Writer = Potential Magic

By Kim

As some of you know, my last post detailed the inner workings of my critique group (a.k.a. the ladies of What Women Write). I would like to continue on with that theme this time, not by offering advice or generalities about the power of a good critique partnership, but by showing you a concrete example of the magic that can result. In order to include things such as my critique partner's comments and my thoughts during the rewriting process, things that you may find helpful, this post is much longer than usual.

For those of you anxious for a sneak peek at the beginning of The Oak Lovers, you’re in luck. Take # 1 will only live on in this post. Take # 2, while perhaps not the absolute final draft, is close. The only similarity between them is the very last line.

The Oak Lovers – Take # 1

Martha Niles glanced at the stack of afternoon mail, still untouched on the table. The top envelope, identical to several others she had received over the past few months, bore the signature orb and cross logo of the Roycroft Shop in East Aurora. This one was addressed to Sarah Wainwright, her mother. As promised, Sammy timed its arrival a few days into Martha’s spring holiday; she would have the remaining time to convince her family of the wisdom of their plan.

Helen Niles Dardess
She smiled faintly, returning to her drawing. “I’m nearly finished, Helen,” she said, pondering the assortment of pencils scattered across the dining room table. “Try not to blink so much.” The gray rims around her older sister’s irises were pronounced; if she used too soft a pencil the result would appear inhuman, too hard and it would not resemble Helen at all.

“You haven’t finished my eyes yet?”

Martha shook her head. “They’re all I’m drawing.”

“What a pointless exercise.”

“Not at all. A portrait’s ruined if the eyes are wrong.” She added a touch more shading to Helen’s upper lids, and frowned, wishing she were back at her art school in Boston, where she was blessed with a constant stream of light. Here at home, it changed by the minute. Her grip tightened on the pencil, white knuckles of anticipation. She glanced again at the mail. “Is there a letter for me, Mother?”

“I’m not sure.” Mother shifted her shawl, revealing Martha’s baby sister, who had dozed off while nursing. She reached for the stack. “Sammy sent something, but it’s for me. That’s odd.”

Martha shrugged, feigning complete absorption in her sketch as Mother read. When she refolded the letter and opened the next without comment, Martha dropped her pencil. “Well, what did it say?”

Samuel Warner (left) with Carl Ahrens in 1900
“He’s the new art director at Roycroft. No wonder you improved so much under his guidance. He sends his regards.”

“Surely that’s not all. He could have said as much to me directly.”

“I sense a conspiracy.” Mother sighed. “Whose idea was this apprenticeship?”

“His, I swear. Please consent. I want so very much to go.”

“This time last year you wanted ‘so very much’ to go to art school.”

Martha knelt before her mother’s chair. “Yes, but I’d learn much more at Roycroft. You’ve seen their beautiful books. I could paint the illustrations.”

Mother raised one eyebrow. “And?”

Pamela’s response

When Pamela initially returned the opening chapter to me, she said nothing at all about this section other than suggesting I let readers know who Sammy is. About an hour later she called. “There’s nothing wrong with the first scene,” she said. “It’s written well, but it’s not as compelling as what I know you’re capable of. I always picture the opening of a book like the first scene of a movie, and what I visualize here is just a young girl drawing a portrait of her sister and glancing at the mail from time to time. I don’t have much sense of who she is or have any emotional connection with her until she argues with her mother. Could you maybe start somewhere more interesting and work that part in?”

My thoughts

Pamela genuinely wants me to succeed and believes in this book. She knows what I can do and cares enough to push me to my full potential. With that in mind, when she throws down a challenge, I take it.

I re-read the opening and saw at once that she was right. At the end of page one the reader knows more about the anatomy of Helen’s eyes than the voice of the female protagonist. After that, Martha shows a little spunk, but much of what she says could be the words of any young girl angling for something she wants.

I saw a checklist of facts, remnants of the days when this book was narrative nonfiction. Martha’s invitation to work in the Roycroft book shop came by way of a letter from Samuel Warner, her former drawing instructor. Martha went to art school in Boston. Most members of her family are introduced. There is some mystery surrounding the letter and its contents, but it's quickly solved. If someone read only the first page of this novel in a bookstore, would they be compelled enough to buy it?

What I did

I opened a blank Word document and started over.

The Oak Lovers – Take # 2

Martha Niles bought the sketchbook only last week, yet its leather cover already bore a permanent crease and the pages within offered glimpses of a life no longer hers. The lake view from her former bedroom window took up a whole leaf, as did the whitewashed saltbox-style rectory, where she lived, and a rubbing from her father’s tombstone. Portraits of family, friends, and servants alike graced the next few pages, though she would not linger over these until she could do so without tears.

On the train from Albany to Buffalo, gentlemen stared at Martha, likely wondering why a proper young lady traveled unchaperoned. Wearing a corset and a crown braid pinned under her hat must imply a fragility she had not possessed last year, when her hair still fell in auburn waves down her back. No one had paid her the slightest attention then, though she often commuted to and from her Boston art school alone. She felt vulnerable without a pencil in her hand now, and sketched absently until hunger dictated she cease. A doughy man in a threadbare suit watched her take her lunch in a manner that made swallowing difficult. Annoyed, she bestowed on him her most haughty glare, and prayed it would deem her unapproachable.

This tactic worked on him but not on the persnickety matron seated to Martha’s left. Her hat contained such an abundance of black feathers it appeared a whole crow nested on her head, and her thin lips pursed in a permanent frown. She glanced at Martha’s sketch of the platform at the Utica train station, their last stop. “You’re wasting your time with that idle hobby, dear,” she said in a clipped tone. “Only men can be true artists.”

“The same was once said of writers. How tragic it would be had Jane Austen and the Bronte sisters listened.” Martha signed her name, and added an orb and cross symbol beside it. Inside the orb she wrote a capital R with an exaggerated tail.

As expected, her companion gasped. “You’re a Roycrofter!”

“I start tomorrow as an illuminator in the book shop.”

“Oh dear, Lord, no,” the matron said. “That place is not for a young woman of class. It’s nothing but an enclave of sin and depravity.”

Martha sighed. She had already heard this argument from her step-father, but thankfully Mother felt otherwise. “I’m to apprentice under Samuel Warner, a respectable gentleman my family’s known for years. My virtue could not be safer.”

“Don’t be so sure. That Mr. Hubbard who runs the place is the devil incarnate, encouraging boys and girls to both work and play together. Why, when I visited there, a brazen woman walked up to a group of men playing baseball and asked to join them.”

“Did they let her?”

“Yes, and she made a frightful spectacle of herself by hitting the ball clear across the park. She later had the gall to try to hand me the bat to ‘give it a go’. Can you imagine? It’s not dignified to perspire in such a manner.”

Martha doubted that the baseball player perspired any more than she did at the moment. The July air filtering in the open windows of the crowded train car felt like a slap from a wet wool blanket. “If you disapprove of Mr. Hubbard, I’m curious as to why you went to Roycroft at all?”

She huffed. “Because everyone who’s anyone eventually does.”  

Pamela’s response (to the entire scene)

Oh, my. Fabulous, madam. I am so much more emotionally tied to this scene than I was the previous one. Love, love, love it.

My thoughts

Martha Niles in 1900
While I still show a girl drawing, the reader learns a lot about both Martha through the act. Martha’s respectable middle class background is apparent. We know Martha's young, adventurous, independent, and a bit blunt. We know she has enough talent to be a professional, and that she's about to go someplace controversial, a place that's already caused a rift in her family. She's anxious to leave, yet starts her new life with images of what she’s leaving behind. There's also some sense of the time period even for readers unfamiliar with the Arts and Crafts Movement of the early 20th century. (Roycroft was an important part of that.)

Read a little further and you'll see that while she's always been as sensible as her name, being at Roycroft immediately sparks the first flames of rebellion.

This is the voice of my great-grandmother at seventeen, mere hours before meeting a married, crippled, and penniless painter named Carl Ahrens. Hopefully readers will hear her as clearly as I do now.

Carl Ahrens at Roycroft - 1900

Please feel free to weigh in with questions or comments. We’d love to hear any stories about your experience with critique and how it has enhanced the quality of your own writing.

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Social WHAT?

By Julie

Recently, at our What Women Write presentation to the Writer’s Guild of Texas, I spoke on the topic of social media, first in general, then specifically as it relates to how our group functions. I thought I’d share some of the highlights with you here.

You may say, “What is this new thing, Social Media, of which you speak? I’m a writer! I like to be alone. Sounds scary.”

Well, if you think social media is a new thing, you’ve got another think coming. Some of my earliest memories are of sitting on my grandpa’s lap while he contacted people all around the world on his HAM radio. I can still hear him clearly in my mind reciting his call letters and hoping for a ping from someone else. Years later, my dad travelled frequently in desolate stretches of Wyoming and Colorado for his job. My stepmother felt more comfortable knowing if he got in trouble, he could contact another driver on his CB radio. As a minister, he developed a persona with his handle, “Reverend Blue Jeans.”

But think back even earlier. Smoke signals, anyone?

Nope, social media is nothing new. The only difference now is it happens so much faster. Technology simply advances more quickly all the time, which can make it scary when we become used to something and someone wants us to change.

I swore I’d never Facebook. I was a dyed-in-the-wool blogger. Then I had teenagers. And I needed to “check up” on them. :) And I discovered how much fun Facebook was. Soon, I abandoned my personal blog (and joined forces with the women here!). I moved on.

Though my teenagers might be snickering behind my back because they’re already onto the latest, greatest thing their parents haven’t discovered yet, three social media avenues seem to be the most popular right now. Here’s how I like to define them:

Whispering in the midst of a noisy crowd and wondering if anyone will hear you … or even notice that your mouth moved.

Delivering a speech in the middle of the forest and wondering if anyone will hear you—the most important question, of course, being, “If nobody leaves a comment, did you really blog?”

Shouting to 400 of your closest friends and wondering if anyone will hear you. Then hoping they will answer, or at the very least, “like” what you said. When you’re really lucky, a friend may scribble an unrelated message on your wall. That means they actually came looking for you.

It can be a little intimidating to choose not only what social media to use as a writer, but how. It might be helpful to think about the following when decided what will work best for you. (Please note the cute way I use words that start with P to give you a mnemonic device. I like mnemonic devices!)

First, be passionate and purposeful, not passive or plodding. In other words, don’t keep using a social media avenue that doesn’t interest you. It will likely die a slow, stinky death. Have a plan, make goals, and enjoy it! If you don’t enjoy it, what’s the point?

Second, be persistent, but not pushy. Be regular, be interesting, but don’t hog the road. (Cough, cough … fingers pointing back at me. Always working on that brevity thing that eludes me.)

Finally, be personal, not just a plugger. Do you know any social media dive bombers? I do. Please don’t simply plug yourself (your latest blog post, your latest book, your latest speaking engagement) then run away—you have to interact to gain loyalty. On the other hand there is such a thing as TMI … or, as we say in writing lessons, no “walking the dog!” We don’t mind knowing that your dog did the most amazing trick ever, and if you have photos, that’s even better. But we don’t need to know every time you leash her and head out the door.

Bringing it back to What Women Write …

I evaluated our use of social media over the last few years in preparation for our presentation. I wanted to keep it real. What I concluded is this:

The six of us are pretty passionate about the What Women Write blog. We write consistently and try to mix it up. We actually keep a schedule, though you might not notice so much on the surface as we subsitute or pinch hit for one another as needed. We attempt to include personal essays as well as musings on craft, industry news as well as interviews with authors or industry personnel. We don’t succeed one hundred percent of the time on consistency or variety, but it’s not for lack of trying. BUT ... we are not very good about interacting with our readers. Sometimes we wander over to a reader’s blog and leave a comment, but not very often. We are not intentional about it, and we know that blog traffic is usually driven best by … networking! We've decided to make a concerted effort to be more diligent about this.

We also use Facebook. We are a little guilty about plugging on Facebook—dive bombing just to let our followers know a new blog post is up. So over the last few weeks, we’ve been attempting to be a little more interesting—sending the folks who have “liked” our page to other interesting articles about writing, congratulating our writer friends on new releases, and so on. We hope you notice the difference and that it doesn’t seem so much like it’s “all about us” in the future.

And Twitter? As my teenagers would say:

Epic fail.

That photo of me to the right? (Apparently the only presentable solo shot of me captured by Rick Mora that night because I'm such a fidgeter!) I was probably talking about Twitter. Our blog posts automatically feed from Facebook to Twitter. There is nothing intentional or human about it. If it weren’t so easy, our Twitter page would be dying that sad, slow, stinky death. (Maybe it is. Has anyone checked lately?!) And the sad news? We probably won’t change there. None of us are faithful Twitterers, so we have decided for the time being to leave it on auto pilot. We’ve made a decision to not excel at Twitter.

One last thought about social media. We’ve learned by experience there’s a huge difference between using social media as a published author or industry expert and using it as a group of unpublished writers. (Or … “I used to think blogging would make me famous.” Ha.)

Bear these things in mind:

As an unpublished writer, it’s all about building an audience (very, very slowly) versus reaching out to a built-in audience. When you’re published, the audience frequently comes looking for you. When you’re unpublished, you’re looking for an audience. Our highest traffic days are usually when we feature published authors, agents, or publishers. The day we had former child actor and newly published author Quinn Cummings as our guest, our stats skyrocketed. We likely won’t be able to replicate that until one of us hits the big time (aka, gets an announced deal on Publisher’s Lunch at the very least!).

Published authors use social media to let their readers get to know them better so they keep buying their books. An unpublished writer hopes her readers will know her well enough to remember her name and buy the book when it’s finally published.

And now, how about you? As an author, an aspiring writer, a reader, or in whatever capacity you come to our blog: What scares the pants off you about social media? What gives you the warm fuzzies?

In other words, how has social media helped or hindered you? Please discuss!

(And … as a bonus, we promise if you leave a comment on here or on our Facebook page, we’re gonna come looking for you! Don’t get too excited. For now, we’re just six women who write, but we sure hope when the time comes, you remember our names.)

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