I’m thrilled to announce my short story, “Wishful Thinking,” about three teenagers in the 1930s in rural Virginia, has been accepted for publication in the Virginia Writers Club Centennial Anthology, The Best of Virginia. Publication will be later in 2017, for the 2018 centennial of the Virginia Writers Club.
One Contest Win; One Second Place
I learned last week that my short story, “Reset,” about a father and daughter who set out to prove the Warren Commission wrong, had won first place in the Blue Ridge Writers Golden Nib Fiction Contest. “Reset” is one of those stories, which in the writing, becomes something close to you, and I was so proud it won this contest.
I’d always said I wasn’t going to be one of those writers who milks her dysfunctional family for material, but almost every story I’ve written that’s won a contest or been published has had some aspect of my family in it. The best laid plans…
“Reset” now goes into the state-wide Golden Nib contest, and I have my fingers crossed. It’s a good story. It will also appear in the ongoing anthology, Skyline 2017, which should be out in December. (I’ll be on a Virginia Festival of the Book panel in 2017 about the anthology–if the panel proposal is accepted. I have my fingers crossed for that, too.)
The poem I wrote about here a few weeks ago, “Verses for Orlando,” won second place (second-freaking-place!) in the Blue Ridge Writers Golden Nib Poetry Contest. I. Had. A. Poem. Come. In. Second!
It won’t go to the state-wide contest, but it will also appear in Skyline 2017. I. Will. Have. A. Poem. Published!
I’m very excited. You may have noticed.
How about you? Do you use things from your life and background in your writing? Are they some of your best stories or not?
Eight months or so ago, a friend from UU bought my novella, My Noble Enemy. Her husband was about to have surgery, and she wanted something to read in the waiting room. I warned her it was about a man dying of cancer, but she said that was okay. A week later, I learned her husband had unexpectedly died of complications from the surgery, and I was worried that my novella was the worst possible thing she could have read. I figured she probably hated it and me for writing it.
When she returned to UU the week after her husband’s funeral, she sought me out and told me reading My Noble Enemy had helped her through her husband’s last hours and that it had given her comfort because the character in it who died was surrounded by the people he loved and who loved him. I was stunned and humbled.
Yesterday, all these months later, she told me the story still resonated with her as she continues to undergo her grief process, that she still needed the message of loyalty and compassion I wrote.
I am still stunned and humbled by such praise, and it’s the best thing anyone has ever said about my work. I’ve always said I don’t write for money or acknowledgement but because I have stories I want to tell, that need to be told. That story was the right one at the right time for at least one person, and that’s all I need.
How has something you’ve written resonated in an unexpected way? I’d love to know.
Whenever I had to plan an event at work, e.g., a three-day training session for a few thousand supervisors and managers, I always treated it as if these were people coming to my house. The food and accommodations had to be top-notch, the content of the training well worth coming for, and the opportunities for networking plentiful.
Needless to say, for me that meant weeks of obsessing over the minutia, loss of sleep, and constant fretting that it wouldn’t be good enough. Back then, I had a staff and usually a contractor working on the event. All I had to say was, “I want this,” and it happened. Boy, was I spoiled.
Last year, when I accepted the nomination to be the first vice president of the Virginia Writers Club, I knew one of my duties would be to plan and execute the annual one-day symposium, Navigating Your Writing Life. I’d attended three of those events, I’d put on symposia for thousands (see above), so this should be easy-peasy.
It should have been.
I took on the role of 1st VEEP in early November last year and started cogitating on the kind of symposium I wanted to put on. My vision was big, huge; then, by the end of December I was sick with the flu. As in hospitalized twice and down for the count for a solid two months, woozy and confused for another couple of weeks, and lacking energy to do much of anything through the middle of March.
Two and a half months of key planning time gone by the wayside. I was already way behind the power curve, but when I had a dozen volunteers sign up to be on the symposium planning committee, I felt much better about the loss of time. This was going to be the best symposium ever!
Because we were so spread around the Commonwealth, I opted to use telephone conferencing to hash over most of the details. Before every telcon, I’d email an agenda, a list of tasks from the previous telcon, and an update on accomplishments–pretty standard stuff for me. The government paid for a lot of good management training for me, and why not put it to use?
Long story short, by the third telcon, the committee had dwindled from a dozen to three, including myself.
In the ensuing months, I’ve reflected on this. A lot. Obsessively. I’ve been seeking some fault in my behavior that made people drop out. (I’m the child of an alcoholic; others like me will understand that in addition to trying to make everything right, we’re also right up front to take the blame for anything.)
I’m an organized, focused person who has high expectations of myself, first, and people who work with me. Work being the operative word. It’s very, very, very, very different with volunteers. Though I stuck to my guiding management principle, which is basically do unto others, etc., it doesn’t always work with volunteers. Likely I forgot that people have lives and obligations and not the same level of enthusiasm and drive (i.e., obsession) I have when given a task to accomplish.
What this meant was three of us, and a fourth who came in toward the end, had to do everything: contact and manage presenters (and OMG, writers are such divas, self included), arrange catering, put together a schedule, design and have printed a conference booklet, do name tags, do tent cards, do… You get the picture. It’s a lot of work for a one-day conference, and we got it done.
But things can and did slip through the cracks. At 1030 on the morning before the conference, I realized no one had done an evaluation form. No big deal, you say. Really big deal because feedback is crucial. I ginned one up in about a half-hour, stopped by Staples on my way to the hotel, and, voila!, evaluation forms. (I’ve yet to read the completed ones. I’m waiting for a good time to have my image of success dashed.)
And it all went off perfectly! I had seen or anticipated so many opportunities for failure, but the buzz around the venue was good and positive, people stopped me on their way out the door to tell me how much they’d learned, I’m getting emails and Facebook posts that make my heart swell with pride, and, oh joy, I get to do this again next year!
(Psst! I can’t wait.)
At least nobody found out about the snake who decided navigating its writing life was something it needed to attend, albeit briefly.
(Note to self: Next year, assign someone to snake duty.)
If you’re in Virginia this week for the Virginia Festival of the Book, stop by the book fair on Saturday, March 22, 2014, at 1000. I’ll be selling copies of Fences, Blood Vengeance, Spy Flash, and 1x50x100 (an anthology featuring one of my stories) at the Virginia Writers Club book table. Here’s the information:
March 22, 2014, at 1000
Book Sales and Signing
VA Festival of the Book Book Fair
212 Ridge McIntire Road
Virginia Writer Club table
I hope to see lots of writer friends there!
I wasn’t supposed to be home this past weekend. I was supposed to be at my great niece’s first birthday party in Preston, CT. My cold had other ideas, so cancelled airline reservations, rental car, and hotel later, I sat at home with a box of tissues at hand. By Saturday, I woke feeling at about sixty percent of normal and thought a trip “over the mountain” to Charlottesville might be in order.
Last year I wrote about the Virginia Writers Club‘s Navigating Your 2012 Writing Life, and when I saw that my weekend in Connecticut coincided with this year’s symposium, I was dismayed. The one-day symposium provided some excellent information, and this year’s promised to build on that. However, the choice was easy–cute, adorable one-year-old wins out over a writers conference every time.
After a day or so of bemoaning the inconvenience of a cold’s preventing me from attending a significant family event, I learned someone sicker than I had cancelled for the 2013 conference, so I had an opening. Off I went.
In three time slots, the symposium offered nine workshops, and choosing was particularly difficult: (The ones in red are the ones I attended.)
Websites, Blogs, and Social Media
Poetry and Its Markets
Nuts and Bolts of E-Booking
Placing Nonfiction in Newspapers, Magazines, and on Radio
Join the Cool Crowd: Write Young Adult Fiction
Self-Review and Preparing Submissions
Publishing Scams to Avoid
Contests and Submissions: Getting Your Work Out There
Kathleen Grissom, author of The Kitchen House, was the keynote speaker. I’ve heard her speak about how she came to write her New York Times best-seller on several other occasions, but I learn something new about the writing process every time.
In our social media era, an Internet presence is essential for an emerging author, and “Websites, Blogs, and Social Media” provided practical tips for improving your Internet footprint–or establishing it. The format for workshops this year was excellent–the moderator asked the panel a few (a very few) pre-arranged (but good) questions, which the panel discussed, then the workshop opened to questions from the floor. I’ve long had a web presence, but I learned some things to improve it and make it reflect my writing better. For example, the name I use for writing appears nowhere on my home page. Duh. Had to fix that.
The same was true of “Nuts and Bolts of E-Booking.” I’ve published three e-books, but this was a good review of the various ways to publish your work independently. However, I would have liked to have heard the panelists emphasize pre-publication preparation (editing, proofreading, good grammar, etc.) more than they did. The panel was a good mix of an established, traditionally published author who switched to independent publishing, an author who tried the agent route and didn’t get one then went indie, and an author who went directly for independent publishing.
Since I’ve entered several contests this year, I wanted to see what I could learn in terms of improving my chances of winning or placing from “Contests and Submissions.” Again, a well-staffed panel of contest managers, judges, and winners provided timely and cogent information. However, my afternoon coughing jag started up and escalated to the point where I had to leave.
That meant I missed the networking session that afternoon. Networking with other writers, editors, and publishers is often the best part of a conference, and I was sorry to miss it. However, I’d spread enough germs.
Last year’s symposium was good. This year’s was excellent–very professional and well-organized. One great change from last year is that each participant got a symposium notebook, filled with presentations, handouts, and additional information for each panel–so I can benefit from the ones I was unable to attend. Betsy Ashton, author of Mad Max: Unintended Consequences and President of the Virginia Writers Club, told me, “We want this symposium to be the premier event for Virginia Writers Club–and for Virginia writers.” It’s well on its way to being just that.
The Virginia Writers Club held its second annual writing conference on August 4 in Charlottesville, VA, and the aptly named conference (see the post title above) was a lot of opportunity packed into one day.
Just a little aside here. I’m ever-so-grateful that my commonwealth, Virginia, which occasionally makes me SMH over its backwardness, invested taxpayer money in our community college system. It’s second to none, in my opinion, in the nation. The VWC conference was held on the campus of Piedmont Virginia Community College in Charlottesville in the Dickinson Fine and Performing Arts Center. As writers we know setting is important, but it’s also conducive to learning to be in a comfortable, modern building surrounded by an appealing, well-maintained campus. Thank you, Virginia. ‘Nuff said.
Subtitled “A Symposium for Writers of All Ages and All Stages,” the conference had two morning sessions, one afternoon session, and a keynote speaker to end the day. After the keynote, several authors who had served as panelists or presenters had a book sale and signing. From each session you could choose from three presentations. Here is what the conference offered:
1000 – 1045:
Show AND Tell – Presented by Cliff Garstang
Writing Mysteries – Presented by Alan Orloff
Contemporary Women Poets – Presented by Sara Robinson
1100 – 1145:
From Page to Screen: Turning your Book into a Movie – Presented by John Gilstrap
Charming the Gatekeeper: How to Land that Perfect Agent and Why You Will Need To – Presented by Brad Parks
Why We Chose E-Book Publishing – Brooke McGlothlin, Bill Blume, and Wayne L. White
1300 – 1345:
Publication’s First Heartbeat: Critique Groups – Presented by Tracy S. Dietz
A Way With Words: Hook Your Reader with the First 100 Words – Presented by Lauvonda Lynn Young and Linda Levokove
eBook Marketing: Strategies and More – Presented by Mary Montague Sikes
Keynote Speaker: Charles J. Shields
As you can see, quite a packed agenda for a single-day conference. I sorely wished I could defy physics and be in more than one place at a time. I started the morning with Garstang’s “Show AND Tell,” the premise of which is that the creative writing course maxim “show, don’t tell” isn’t quite right. I won’t go into much detail here because Garstang covered the presentation in one of his own blog posts, which you can see by clicking here. Of the three presentations I attended this was far and away the best, and I say that not because Cliff is a writer friend; but because he’s an incredibly good instructor.
Next I went to “Why We Chose E-Book Publishing,” the title of which shows there’s still confusion about the difference between e-book publishing and self-publishing. Not all e-books are self-published and vice versa, but this was a good insight into why three people who write different things opted to publish electronically. For Bill Blume, the choice was obvious: he publishes a comic. E-publishing is the perfect medium for graphic novels, animation, and comic strips. Brooke McGlothlin had already established a large following on her blog about being the mother of boys and heeded her fans’ call to assemble her posts into a book that might reach others. I must say her record is impressive–three book, 8,000 sales. She did, however and much to my gratitude, stress the importance of hiring people to do the things you don’t have a talent for, e.g., creating a cover, editing and proofreading. Wayne White had retired and wanted to participate in something other than the “honey-do” list his wife had made throughout their marriage. He’d been told he was a good story-teller, so he began to write, tried the agent route, got frustrated, and opted for Kindle Publishing.
In all, they covered the typical reasons why someone opts for self-publishing, including writing in a genre or a mash-up that’s not easily classifiable and the fact that traditional publishing is difficult for a new author to crack.
eBook Marketing focused heavily on social media, including several aspects I’d either never heard of (Triberr) or never looked into (Digg). There were some great tips on how to use your web site and blog to highlight your work–some of which I went home and put into place–and how to connect what you write to a specific kind of art work, which you can then use for drawing attention to your books. The presenter, Mary Montague Sikes, is writing a romance/thriller series about archeology in some fictional Mayan ruins, so she uses her personal collection of Mayan art as a marketing tool. And you got a free book, Published! Now $ell It! A “How to” Book, as well as a handout of links you can use for developing marketing materials.
As for the keynote speaker, Charles J. Shields, I’ve gushed about him before as the biographer of Harper Lee and Kurt Vonnegut, but he gave an inspiring talk about how he walked away from a teaching career to become a writer/biographer. His key point was when you tell people you’re a writer, don’t qualify it. You’re a writer; be a writer. Shields took questions from the audience, and when I asked who would be the subject of his next biography, Shields indicated he was now trying his hand at fiction. He’s an incredibly thorough biographer, so that was disappointing news in a way (He’d been thinking about taking on Maurice Sendak next.), but Shields’ fiction is something I’m definitely looking forward to reading.
It’s always a great day when you spend it among writer types, and I’ll certainly sign up to navigate my writing life next year.
At the beginning of 2012, I vowed to make regular attendance at writers conferences and workshops part of my writing life for the new year. So far, I’m on a roll.
March was AWP in Chicago, IL. Very intimate. Just me and 10,000 other writers. But it was an energizing experience, and I got to hear Margaret Atwood speak–one of my inspirations. I went to amazing panels and heard amazing writers read from their works. I came away thrilled that I was a minor character in such a life-affirming play.
March also brought the Virginia Festival of the Book in Charlottesville, VA. It’s a bit disingenuous to call this a local conference because, though it highlights Virginia writers, the reach goes beyond the Commonwealth. The panels here are not entirely craft-focused, but they are practical. Where else would I have learned how to use Pinterest to market books?
In June there was Tinker Mountain Writers Workshop in Roanoke, VA. I blogged a great deal about that week, so I won’t belabor any points previously made. I’ll just say I’m still aloft on that cloud of euphoria. And I’ll be back for more next year and not just for the strength of the workshops and the quality of the instructors but also for the friends I made there.
Upcoming is the Virginia Writers Club’s “Navigating the Writing Life” on August 4 in Charlottesville, VA. This is a one-day conference packed with useful workshops, and if you’re within a few states of Virginia, I encourage you to make the trip.
Also in August on the 18th, is a one-day “Gathering of Writers” sponsored by Press 53 and held in Winston-Salem, NC. I’m making a weekend of it and am looking forward to a packed day of craft workshops and meeting great writers.
And last, thus far, and certainly not least is the James River Writers Conference in Richmond, VA. Last year I only went for the day and missed out on a lot. This year because the conference has grown in attendance, it’s moving to the Richmond Civic Center. Friday will be two intensive workshops, then Saturday and Sunday craft panels and readings by Virginia writers. I haven’t yet worked up the nerve for First Pages or the five-minute agent pitches. There’s always next year.
Has it been worth it? Oh, yes. There’s always something more to learn about writing, about yourself as a writer, and the writing life. And writers network, too. There’s nothing like shared experiences to bond people, and it’s always great to know you’re not the only one being rejected by publications.
The only problem is, once you starting going to writing conferences, you keep going back! In this case, that’s a good thing.