A Writer’s Mea Culpa

I have a confession to make. I joined the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators (aka SCBWI) for nefarious reasons: it looked good on a query letter. And the official badge on my website would show I was a SERIOUS writer.

I wasn’t totally using SCBWI for its clout. I did check out the website, made the obligatory member profile then told myself that organizations like this were for published writers, not unknowns like me. I was okay with that because after a few years of living the writing-is-a-lonely-endeavor cliché, I’d joined a few writers’ groups, attended seminars, classes and conferences, and made writing friends. I didn’t need SCBWI. I just needed the membership.

There’s a difference between being alone and being lonely. Writers know that. I have never met a writer who does not crave to be alone. We have to be alone to do what we do.

But I began to sense that something was missing in my writing life. I belonged to a great critique group, but I was the only YA writer, and I was the only person actively pursuing traditional publishing. It was lonely being the only one.

So, I went back to the SCBWI website and found a group of members that met monthly in my area. I started attending their meetings and getting involved. It has made all the difference. Getting to know so many other children’s writers has been an exhilarating experience—there are others like me!

It’s not just about getting to know other writers, though. I’ve learned  so much about the craft and the different avenues of publishing. And I’ve gotten invaluable insight from other writers sharing the ups and downs of their journeys. I’ve learned that crafting picture books is an art. And that PB writers are louder than YA writers (in southeastern Michigan, at least.)

No matter what genre you write, or where you are in your writing journey, there is a group, association or organization that’s right for you. You deserve to be a part of it.

Writer Author Organizations

Here’s a list of a few organizations (for people whose passion involves words, writers are extremely fond of acronyms):

American Christian Fiction Writers (AFCW)
American Society of Journalists and Authors (ASJA)
Historical Novel Society  (HNS)
Mystery Writers of America (MWA)
National Association of Memoir Writers (NAMW)
Nonfiction Authors Association  (NFAA)
Romance Writers of America (RWA)
Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America (SFWA)
Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators  (SCBWI)

For a more comprehensive list, go to Writer’s Relief.

Be sure to stop by next week. I’ll be confabulating with literary agent Brent Taylor of the Triada Agency.


He’s the Man

If you’ve been writing for any length of time, chances are you’ve heard of Chuck Sambuchino. You know, Writer’s Digest dude, Guide to Literary Agents blogger, editor of the tome The Guide to Literary Agents, and author of numerous books including When Clowns Attack which will be released on September 29.

A man of many hats.

A man of many hats.

Even though we’d never met, Chuck was the guy who taught me to ride a two-wheeler through the maze of getting a book published. So when I was presented with the opportunity to volunteer at the Michigan Writing Workshop I jumped at the chance (excuse the cliche but it’s pretty much what I did). Chuck was scheduled to give a series of workshops throughout the day and seven agents (more on them later) would be hearing pitches from attendees during the conference.

I arrived early the day of the workshop to help set up. Chuck was easily recognized—he’s one of the few people that actually looks like his photo. We introduced ourselves and I was finally able to ask the question. “How exactly do you pronounce your last name?”

For the record, it’s Sam-boo-CHINO (like the pants) or\ˈchē-(ˌ)nō\ for those of you who are phonetically inclined. Now I can stop referring to him as, “Chuck Sambu-you-know, the Writer’s Digest guy.”

Let me just say, he was amazing. He greeted people, helped with registration, handled a few small crises (one initiated, unfortunately, by yours truly) and that was all before the conference began. Then he spent the next 2 ½ hours enlightening a room of silent writers (an amazing feat because writers love to talk) on the complicated, confusing, daunting task of getting their book babies published.

Michigan Writing Workshop, writer's conference

My critique group, Matt, Randy, Marirose snagged the front row. Ken’s there somewhere.

After an hour lunch break, he got right back into catechizing the masses. For the record, I didn’t get to attend any sessions, but from the excited comments and energized writers I knew it was going well.

It was after 5 p.m. when the last writer strolled from the conference room. The other volunteer and I (shout out to Jen Rumberger, who kept the pitch sessions on track) helped him pack up and cart his luggage to his car.

I was exhausted, and all I’d done was registration in the morning (kind of harrowing), make lunch reservations, and help Jen manage pitch sessions. I couldn’t wait to get home and veg-out for the rest of the evening but first I had to make the forty-minute drive home. Ugh.

Chuck, on the other hand, had to drive to Cincinnati before he could unwind. And the guy seemed just as “on” as he had at the beginning of the day. It was eye-opening to learn that the guy who’s helping writers all over the internet is a real person. And an awesome, energetic one at that.

Chuck, thanks for bringing the Writing Workshop to Michigan. You gave Michigan writers, myself included, a much needed shot of encouragement and sent us away tired but enthusiastic about our craft.

Don’t be a stranger to Michigan.

Links to some great resources at Guide to Literary Agents:

Eight Articles on Synopsis Writing
Writing the Tight Synopsis (Awesome post)
New Agent Alerts


Connecting With That Guy You Don’t Really Know

I thought I knew him pretty well. We’d spent quite a bit of time together the past few years. He was good looking, quiet, confident in some ways, but unsure of his ability to do anything more than put tops on bottoms at the local factory. The problem was he didn’t want to follow in his dad’s footsteps and spend the rest of his life there. He wanted more.

His voice needed work though. So I went back and read through his dialogue. That’s when it struck me. He was flat. He had no voice. Nothing distinctive. I’d spent years writing him, but I didn’t know him at all. And the revisions I’d promised to my agent were due in a week. I did what any writer would do. Panic.

I took a deep breath, got a heavy-duty dose of caffeine (another thing any writer would do), and  pondered this guy who just so happened to be the second most important character in the story. And I pondered, and imagined. Nothing…

Then I recalled my new writing mantra:

‘All you have to do is write one true sentence. Write the truest sentence that you know.’
Ernest Hemingway

I got out my handy-dandy notebook because writing longhand can really spur the creative juices, and I let him talk to me, in first person (not Hemingway, the character). Wow, he was deeper than I imagined. And funnier.

I went over the story to polish up his dialogue—make it more him. There wasn’t much to go through because he hadn’t said much. His presence had been more of a shadow than the dynamic force it should have been. And damn, he was such an interesting guy now that I’d gotten to know him, he deserved a lot more of the word count.

So I started from the beginning and gave him some of the spotlight that he deserved. And the story is all the better for it.

Ask Me to Wait



People “Against YA”?

Dawne Webber:

I write young adult fiction and I read a great deal of the same because YA offers something that’s difficult to find in “Grown-up” fiction these days.

Upmarket fiction


YA fiction

Originally posted on All The Way YA:

Adults reading YA literature. A point of controversy in literary circles. “Against YA” an article by Ruth Graham in Slate was quite a flashpoint. The New York Times, The Guardian, and The Washington Post are among the erudite institutions that also weighed in on the “problem.” But I wouldn’t say the problem is with adults reading novels written for young adults. I think the problem is the fiction written for adults.

When I wrote a women’s novel, I delved into the world of women’s upmarket/bookclub fiction. Some of it I absolutely loved. Yet the majority of it I disliked so intensely, I’d throw the book down and refuse to pick it up again. The novel describing the position of a fly in a salad as “the insect’s supine and slightly sensual posture” ended up in the trash. There is nothing sensual about a fly in a salad.

I started reading…

View original 381 more words


Point of Inspiration

Inspiration, the spark, nudge or lightning bolt that spurs creativity, is fickle. It zaps you at anytime or place. You seize it while it’s fresh and breathe into it to keep it alive. How many songs, stories, plays, ideas have been sketched out on cocktail napkins because there was nothing else to write on? Or, as in my case, the receipts stuffed in my wallet.


In My Life by John Lennon


After the spark that turned into a flame and drove your imagination fades into a lukewarm ember, you can either let it turn to ash or you can give it a swift kick in the schlatz (as my mother-in-law used to say) with some intentional inspiration. Since I read Inspiration Point over at Sensibility & Sense, I’ve been mulling over the concept of inspiration.

I call an inspiration point a place or moment in time where a writer’s muse seems to jump into overdrive. Ideas for new stories flow like water, and we can’t seem to get the words down fast enough. I’ve had many “inspiration points” on this journey. Some are obvious, and others more subtle. But learning to recognize and remember them is important. 

-Patti Richards

Actually, I started mulling on it after I got over my envy of Patti’s inspiration point. Why didn’t my grandparents live some place cool so I could use it for writing inspiration when I grew up?

When I got over the momentary envy, I thought back to my childhood. There had to be some inspiring place there. Well, I suppose Port Austin could be a writerly point of inspiration. For non-Michiganders, Port Austin is a little tourist town located on the tip of Michigan’s thumb. My mom was related to half the town, in fact her cousin was the mayor for years. I had memories of summer vacations and winter breaks spent visiting aunts and uncles. I’d hang out with my cousins and we’d wander unsupervised through town, having fun and getting into trouble.

I soon realized that the inspiration wasn’t Port Austin, the place.  My family—my huge, tight, Polish family—was. There was a freaking fount of inspiration in easy reach that I’d never consciously considered.  I’ve blogged about how close my thirty cousins and dozen aunts and uncles were. But when I got stuck at places in my writing, I’d try to imagine my way out of the brain lock, instead of looking into my past. Now, I don’t have to imagine my way out of the tough spots. Inspiration is already right there in my head.

Me and the cousins aka The Roy Orbison Stalkers

Me and the cousins aka The Roy Orbison Stalkers

It’s all there: love, jealousy, misunderstanding, forgiveness, anger, compassion, faithfulness, pain, and joy. And because it’s family and our lives twine together, all of these things are deeper, longer and more defined than the transient friendships of my childhood. Thanks, Patti, for helping me find my inspiration point.



Dear John, It’s Been Ten Years.

Dear John (aka Uncle Zed),

I’ve been thinking about writing to you for days. How I’d tell you that ten years without you has been a long, long time and no time at all. When you died, I wanted to hurt about it forever. Even though it was unbearable, hurting meant that I remembered you clearly and I didn’t want those memories to dim. I wanted you to be always fresh in my mind. Well, they have dimmed and the pain isn’t as sharp, but it’s still there. And I still miss you as much as I did ten years ago.

Since you died, I’ve never cried at another funeral. I’ve attended too many the past few years, for toddlers and babies, and young men who didn’t want to live anymore, and someone I was very close to. It bothers me that I can’t cry, but I think maybe I didn’t have any tears left after you. How maudlin this sounds. I’m sure you’re rolling your eyes. Actually, you’re probably hanging out with Elmore Leonard and you’re both rolling your eyes.

I worried that the kids would forget about you. Well, the younger three, anyway. They were so young. But today, Dan wrote a post about you on Facebook. It’s bittersweet to know you haven’t been forgotten but aren’t here to see them grow-up, and hang out with us, and make us laugh, and annoy us when you’re late, and let the kids do things they’re not allowed to, and tell me about the books you’ve read. By the way, I finally read Get Shorty. We’ll talk about it one day. Maybe we’ll ask Elmore to join us.

Uncle Zed and the boys

Uncle Zed teaching the Padawans.

From Dan’s Facebook-

Ten years ago today, I woke up early at my grandparents house. Seemed like a normal morning. Then I saw my mom. We talked for a few minutes, and then she told me that my uncle, who had left the night before for work (he had the night shift), got in an accident and died. At first I didn’t believe her, but she told me to look outside and see if the van was there. (For some reason, I can’t remember why, he took our van to work that night.) And it wasn’t in the driveway. (It had been snowing, and he slipped at a red light, and a truck hit him. Luckily, the truck driver survived the crash.) Everyone in the house just cried that day. We cried for days. Some of us cried for weeks, or even months.

It changed a lot of things. It turned me sour. He was my godfather, and my best friend. I was only 7 when he died and I still miss him like hell. I can’t imagine what his siblings felt, or what they feel. I always pray for him though, and for all of the people that knew him. As much as it hurts, knowing that I can’t see him for what feels like a very long time, I know I’ll see him again eventually. And the most important thing is that he’s happy now. Much happier than he could ever be here. And me and him still talk. I can remember him now and not get upset. I actually enjoy remembering some of the things we did, like staying up later than anyone else so he would let me play rated M videogames with him.

No matter how long goes by, twenty years, thirty years, forty years, I’ll still remember him. When he died, it messed me up. But talking to him now helps so much. I’m always gonna miss seeing him, but I’m never gonna miss talking to him. I can’t wait till I can do both at once.

Uncle Zed, It’s been ten years. I can’t wait to see you again.


Beyond the Book-Queries


peanuts, snoopy, rejection, query,

Too bad Snoopy didn’t read my post, Beyond the Book, on the SCBWI blog, The Mitten.



Interpreting a Malady

Charles M. Schultz, Snoopy, Peanuts

Writer’s block is a malady experienced not only by writers, but by anyone who has ever put quill to parchment, pen to paper, fingers to keyboard, stylus to clay tablet or iPad.

I’ve done extensive research on the subject while I was supposed to be writing this blog post. The word block, it turns out, is the appropriate word for this affliction.

block noun \ˈbläk\

a stump or wooden structure on which a condemned person is beheaded (The visualization of writer’s block.)

ban obstacle, obstruction, or hindrance the state or condition of being obstructed (such as the beckoning internet, interruptions by children, spouses, co-workers, and pets, or a screwed up computer.)

c : interruption or cessation especially of train of thought by competing thoughts or psychological suppression (“I got the kids dinner last night. Do they really need to eat again tonight?” or “I cannot miss this episode of Dancing With the Stars” or “Avoid the adverbs. Avoid the adverbs.”)

d :  interruption of normal physiological function (as of a tissue or organ) (“I need to stop writing. My bladder is going to burst.”)

e : local anesthesia (as by injection) produced by interruption of the flow of impulses along a nerve (The sensation produced when the “Write drunk, edit sober” technique is employed.)

Writer’s block can be overcome. The secret spell can be found in a oft-repeated and oft-overlooked quote by Ernest Hemingway:

 ‘All you have to do is write one true sentence. Write the truest sentence that you know.’
Ernest Hemingway

I was wrestling with writer’s block (it was winning) when that quote came to mind. Couldn’t hurt, I decided. And without thinking, ruminating, or procrastinating, I jotted down the truest sentence I knew. It was like an ice block had melted, liberating the words that had been hidden behind it. Wow, that Hemingway guy knew what he was talking about.

Those true sentences aren’t solely for the writer. They’re for the reader as well because they reach inside and echo through the soul. If a sentence jumps off the page at me, I know something from the heart of the writer has touched me. Twice in my life, sentences that rang true have brought me to tears. Not the emotional tears that good writing can evoke from sadness, happiness, or rage. These tears were for the beauty of the words themselves.

This line from Jhumpa Lahiri’s short story, “A Temporary Matter,” struck me as the truest thing I’d ever read:

The doctor explained that these things happen. He smiled in the kindest way it was possible to smile at people known only professionally.

Looking at it now, it seems such a simple sentence of mundane words, yet it made me cry. Simplicity makes truth easier to grasp.

The dedication below still brings tears to my eyes. I can’t explain why, even to myself, except to say maybe it’s a love letter from a writer to his craft.  It’s John Steinbeck’s East of Eden dedication to his editor, Pascal Covici:

John Steinbeck, East of Eden dedication


The Familiarity That Devours

Monster That Devours 2

Yesterday, my husband and I, along with our five kids, celebrated our 30th wedding anniversary. Thirty years of marriage. Thirty years of blog post fodder for rumination. I think I’ll write about sex.

You may be thinking:

  • You’ve been married for 30 years. Do you remember what sex is?
  • You have five kids. Why should I listen to anything you have to say about sex?
  • You must be really old.

I’ve been asked occasionally (by other women, of course) if sex after so many years with the same guy gets boring. In my younger days, I wondered/worried myself about that happening. Let’s be honest, no matter how long you’ve been with someone, sometimes it’s boring. For my husband and me, it’s much better (seriously) than it was when we got married for a few reasons: maturity, intimacy, imagination, and  Natural Family Planning.

Before I continue, let’s get passed the roadblocks that may have appeared:

  1. This post is about my sex life, not my religious beliefs, lifestyle, or the way I fold my socks.
  2. NFP is not your mother’s fallible rhythm method. This is the new scientifically improved sympto-thermo method. We’ve been practicing it for twelve years and have never experienced an unexpected pregnancy. Believe it or not, we planned those five kids.
  3. This isn’t going to be a graphic blog post. I write only fictional sex scenes.

Back to Natural Family Planning and the Familiarity That Devours Everything. I’m going to add Cheez-Its to the mix. Trust me. This will work.


Give me a box of Cheez-Its and chances are I’ll eat the entire thing. At first, I savor every gloriously cheesy square. Soon, I’m enjoying handfuls but not paying much attention to them. I can’t stop eating them until it hits me that I’m ready to vomit. Here’s the sad thing—the box must be stashed far away from me, or I’ll keep eating them. I put them away, but a few hours later I’m thinking about them again. I get the box, nestle it on my lap, and dig in. But I’m not really paying attention to the crunchy goodness anymore. I’m just eating them because I crave them. When Cheez-Its are in the cupboard, it’s easy to take them for granted.

Sex can be like that.

An endless supply of instant gratification isn’t always gratifying. Or enjoyable. But think of the anticipation and excitement you feel at the approach of pumpkin spice latte season, or the Superbowl, or the new season of Downton Abbey, or baseball’s opening day. YOU CAN’T WAIT. But you have to.

Pumpkin Spice Latte

When you practice Natural Family Planning, there is an eight to twelve day period when pregnancy may occur. If you want to get pregnant that’s the time to go for it, but if you don’t want to get pregnant then sex is off-limits.

Taking a break from sex is difficult, but it has some positive effects:

  • You learn to be creative during the abstinence.
  • It gives you time to recharge. You’d be amazed the effect this has.
  • You anticipate spending intimate time with your partner. It doesn’t have to be scheduled, penciled in, blocked off. It becomes a priority.
  • It’s less likely that sex will become stale and mundane.
  • You see beyond sex. As a couple, you’re able to focus on each other and not what you want to happen later.

My husband and I were skeptical when we heard that practicing NFP would improve our marriage, especially our sex life. It’s not the only reason familiarity hasn’t devoured us, but it’s a great weapon to have in our arsenal.



The Importance of Reading Ernest

After reading The Paris Wife, the novel about Ernest Hemingway’s first marriage, I become intrigued and somewhat obsessed with the Hemingway legacy. I have an endearing habit (I think it’s endearing; my family has other words for it) of becoming obsessed by details of things that interest me.

I decide to read his first novel, The Sun Also Rises, because the characters are thinly veiled sketches of his real life friends (ex-friends would be more accurate) that appeared in The Paris Wife. And because Ernest is a big gun. He literally changed the soul of writing. What better ammo to put in my writing arsenal?

I buy the book, eager to read this minimalist style I keep hearing about– the lean, taut prose of Hemingway. On the very first page, (It wasn’t even an entire page. It began 2/3 of the way down) I encounter these words: painfully, thoroughly (twice no less), really very, promptly, permanently, certainly.

EIGHT adverbs. What’s up with that? Aren’t adverbs those awful beasts that pave the road to hell? Isn’t Hemingway himself the icon of  lean, kill-the-adverbs prose?

The Road To Hell

I read on, a deep furrow between my brows. After a few pages, I have the feeling that I’ve read this type of writing before. Then it hits me. It sounds like something my thirteen-year-old had written. And the shallow characters bewilder me. I’m confused and disappointed. Lest you think I’m  also arrogant, let me say that I knew the problem was with me. I try dissecting each sentence, phrase and word to better understand it. My confusion only gets worse.

My brother, a huge Hemingway fan, comes to visit and notices the book right away, drawn to it by invisible tentacles. He picks it up, and after telling me how brilliant it is, he asks how I like it.

“I don’t,” I whine. “He uses ‘then’ and ‘and’ way too much and he’s so wordy. Blah, blah blah. Where’s all that lean prose?”

My brother puts on his patient, let-me-explain-this-in-a-way-you’ll-be-able-to-understand face. “Before Hemingway, prose was very wordy, descriptive and long. You need to be familiar with what came before so you can see the differences.”

The dim light bulb went off somewhere in my head. “And after Hemingway, writers imitated his style. That’s why it sounds so ordinary to me.”

My brother nods, already immersed in the book.

“But what about the adverbs and the thens and ands?” I ask in a slightly less whiny voice.

My brother and my oldest daughter say in unison, “You’re over analyzing it. Just read it and enjoy it.”

My daughter is compelled to continue because she loves analyzing me. “You have this bad habit of over-analyzing everything. Remember when we watched The Prestige and Inception? You ruin it when you analyze so much.”

So, I confiscate the book from my brother and start over— just reading it and not paying attention to mechanics like adverbs or length. That makes all the difference. Funny how brilliance is more obvious when you’re not looking for it. I couldn’t put it down; thank God it’s not that long. I even find myself imitating it, saying things like, “I rather like that song,” or “Oh, rather.” instead of plain “Yes.”

Now, if you’ll excuse me, I have a date with Steinbeck’s East of Eden. I rather think I’ll enjoy it.

Hemingway's Muses

Muses for The Sun Also Rises.

First posted in 8/2011


Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 904 other followers

%d bloggers like this: