Sunday, December 28, 2008

What I Learned from National Novel Writing Month

By Vikki Perry

I’m exhausted and invigorated at the same time. November, the National Novel Writing Month, is complete and I have a good start to what I think could be a great manuscript someday.
Here are a few of the things that I learned this year.

1. The first time around wasn’t a fluke. In November 2007, I “won” Nanowrimo and completed my first manuscript, a 52,000 word opus that is unlikely to see the light of day. Even still, I was so proud of myself for writing the words “The End.” While I haven’t written the words “The End” for this manuscript, I am proud that I wrote over 50,000 words in the month of November.

2. This time, I’m not writing a 50,000 word novel. I knew this when I was plotting the book, but it was still a surprise when I reached my first turning point at 25,000 words.

3. That I love being around writers. At one of the first write-ins, we introduced ourselves by name and body count. I’m not sure of the total number of characters killed, but it was at least 20 people and one earthworm.

4. That there are young writers. Before I participated in NaNoWriMo 2007 and 2008, I wondered if there were any younger people writing books. Through NaNoWriMo, I have met a ton of young and talented writers. As a reader, I am relieved about the future of publishing.

5. That seven month old babies and eyeglasses do not mix well. OK, so I didn’t learn this one from Nanowrimo, but I learned that not being able to see adds an unwelcome layer of complexity to the challenge.

6. That I will miss having a daily goal and people to cheer me on to the finish line. The best thing about Nanowrimo is the community of people. Everyone is working towards the same goal and doing everything they can to drag each other across the finish line. At the write-ins, we do timed word wars (everyone writing as many words as they can in 15 minutes). We set word goals and then reward ourselves. This year one of the participants offered to buy movie tickets for the first four people to reach 30,000 words by November 21. In addition to this, one of the other participants offered to buy candy at the movies for the people that reached the 30K if they also reached 40K. We had three people reach 40,000 words by November 21st. I was amazed and delighted to be a part of such a supportive group. I’m already looking forward to next year.

Sunday, December 21, 2008

Creating a Website

Laura P. Valtorta

At the 2008 South Carolina Writers Workshop Conference I heard from 457 different agents and publishers that a writer needs a website. She needs it now. And it must be cool, creative, and expressive.

The website should be changeable and interactive, offering the reader insight into the writer's personality. Photos, newsletters, and blogs can be accessible from the home page. The website should be easy for the writer to update.

For years I've had a website and a newsletter, but then AOL dropped their hosting services. For one long week I was in a pickle, testing alternate services, chasing down my domain register, and bothering my programmer friend. Then it all came together.

There are two ways for a lawyer to create a website. I used both of them.

UTILIZE A FRIEND. Beverly Huntsberger, who lives in California, created my main website at Bev is an engineer, a programmer, and photographer. Above all, a fantastic friend. Bev charged me a couple hundred dollars to create the page, and nothing to update it with my second book. I like it because it's bright and graphic.

PURCHASE A WEB SERVICE. After examining the various options, I settled on Yahoo web hosting for, my monthly newsletter. This is the section I changed from AOL to Yahoo. I chose Yahoo because they answered the phone immediately. Their sales number is 866-781-9246. The technical support number is 866-800-8092. The service costs me $11.95 per month. I got the first three months at a discount. Other services might be free.

What I like about Yahoo (besides the yodeling) is that I can change the text and the photos very easily. All I do is log onto Yahoo Web Hosting (using my Yahoo email address and password) and click on “edit.” My newsletter appears. I can edit the text and the photographs, and change the entire layout whenever I want.

The difficult part was moving Tennisphile from AOL to Yahoo. Yahoo will register a domain name for you if you start from scratch. My domain name ( was already registered at I had a username and password for this service, which I had forgotten. I called, and they emailed the information to me. Next I had to switch my web hosting from AOL to Yahoo. For a lawyer, this was tough work.

Now I keep a notebook entitled “Web Hosting,” with phone numbers, usernames, and passwords.

Sunday, December 14, 2008

My First Writing Conference

By Meredith Kaiser

In October, I went to my first writing conference and I learned the same lesson I learn every time I dive into a new environment: I didn’t know what I didn’t know.

In an editor’s class, I learned how to name the strengths and weaknesses of my writing and to study the specific reasons why I turn each page as I read my favorite novels. "In learning why I read, I will learn why I write," said Charlotte Cook, president of KOMENAR Publishing. And in a novelist’s class, I learned how important character conflict is in moving a story along and how the conflict within each character can drive a story.

The amorphous questions about my writing I’d never formed were clarified for me, then answered again and again throughout the weekend. An aimless wondering about how to write my novel was distilled into specific problems and then solved, theoretically anyway, before my watering eyes. I absorbed every word as writers and other professionals revealed their hard-won truths about the beautiful, perplexing, humbling struggle to share our hearts, through our words, with the world.

Sunday, December 7, 2008

My First Editor

By Ilmars Birznieks

Fresh from academia, I was as naive about agents as a teenager is about sex. My first agent, a lady in Atlanta, sounded super on the telephone, all $400 worth she required for her services.

Because she convinced me that within a year my book would have a New York publisher, I considered the $400 well spent. A year went by but nothing happened. Since I could not reach her on the phone, I went to see her in Atlanta. Her office in the basement of her house appeared impressively busy. It had many shelves stacked with manuscripts, boxes filled with books, and a secretary typing letters.

I found my agent sick in bed. However, with her husband by her side, I was allowed to see her. I listened to her, between complaints how her back was killing her, why my novel did not sell yet, but was close to getting a publisher. She practically begged me to give her another year (of course, another $400) to sell it.

How could I possibly deny a sick agent another year? I wrote a check for the $400 and left, filled again with empty promises.

When another year went by and nothing happened, I began to wonder what I had gotten into. Was she really trying to sell my book, or was she just making a living from the $400 she collected from each customer? After the second year, I gave up on her, although it was not easy. She tried to persuade me to stay with her another year.

Oh, yes, she looked very legitimate, contract and all, but to tell you the truth, I later felt that she had glibly charmed me, to put it mildly.

The lesson for all aspiring writers is this. Never, ever sign a contract with an agent who requires any kind of payment before your book is sold. I learned my lesson the hard way.

Sunday, November 30, 2008

Writer's Block

By Ginny Padgett

Writer’s block is the result of exposure to literary kryptonite. Apparently the walls of my den are lined with it!

I love words! I love the way they look on a page. I love the way they feel in your mouth. I love the way they sound in different combinations. I love painting pictures using words as my preferred medium. Nothing gives me the same feeling as writing. So, what’s the impediment to writing if I have this great love affair with words?

I’m afraid I have nothing to say that is of interest to anyone else. I submitted an entry to a writing contest in the novel-in-progress category. The components required were a detailed synopsis and a writing sample up to 50 pages. I figured out every plot detail for my eight-page synopsis. I finished the first chapter and epilog of my thriller. I sent it off with pride. Of course, it didn’t win; I really didn’t think it would. However, I didn’t expect what happened next.

I began to finish the second chapter, and I couldn’t. My story had been told in the synopsis, and it seemed to me that any more words on this project would be a waste. Not only that, but when I reread my shining example of literature, my thriller no longer thrilled me. Additionally, I have a couple short stories in various states of completion. I was excited about them when I wrote them, but now they seem lackluster. And my poetry is for my eyes only!

I suppose one of the only bits of my own writing I have ever been pleased with consists of five lines from a diary. I happened across it a while back and wondered about the origin of this prose. I was struck by its vision, its wisdom, its unsentimental emotion, its beauty. Then in a flash of memory, I was transported back to the time when I wrote this passage. I had experienced abject disappointment and felt disillusioned. This writing still had legs, and I could scarcely believe I had been the writer!

I have also been pleased with some technical writing I’ve done. I liked the clarity and efficiency I found there. I have been pleased with some 30-second advertising spots I used to write. I have been pleased with thank-you notes and letters of condolence. So what can I learn from these experiences? I have a short attention span? I’m easily bored? I’m a lousy storyteller? I require terrible emotional upheaval as my muse?

Gee. I don’t know. I am beginning to think fiction may not be the canvas for my art (“art” being another way of saying creative self-expression). Maybe I’m a much better reader than writer. Maybe…but I only enjoy reading. I love writing. So I guess I’ll pull up my big-girl panties, find a kryptonite-proof suit and keep trying.

Sunday, November 23, 2008

Dialogue Sets the Pace

By Beth Cotton

Writers must use dialogue to advance the story and develop character. Without successful dialogue, neither of these things happens, and soon the reader loses interest and closes the book. If the dialogue does not set the pace, it is simply taking up space on the page and does not belong there and/or it keeps the story from moving forward.

What, then, is "good" dialogue? It must contribute to the telling of the story and provide dramatic impact to move the story and its characters forward. Dialogue should promote action which shows rather than tells the reader what is happening on each page. Good dialogue causes the reader to get immediately involved, and the reader then begins to develop a kinship with the characters. If done well, the writer can make the characters become real to the reader with dialogue. The reader can get inside the characters’ heads by what is being said.

For example:

"Tommy, answer the door, will you? I have to finish putting the cheese on the casserole and get it back into the oven." She hears the door open and Tommy talking to another child. Tommy comes running back into the kitchen with a big smile on his face.

"I’m sorry Tommy, but you can’t go outside to play because you haven’t finished your homework."

"Please, can’t I finish it later, Mom? This is the first time Johnny has asked me to play since we moved here."

"How much of your math assignment do you have left to do?"

"Only two problems. And they are easy. I can do them really fast."

"All right, go to the door and ask Johnny to come in while you finish those problems and then you can go with him, but you can’t be gone a long time because dinner will be ready shortly. Maybe Johnny can call his mom when the two of you get back and ask if he can stay for dinner."

"Thanks Mom, you are so cool!"

What can the reader surmise about these two characters by the dialogue? Each line tells us something about the person speaking; the mother is a homemaker and cooks economical family meals, Tommy is a child who is polite and obedient to his mother, he does not have many friends because they have recently moved to town, the mom wants to help her son socialize with other children so that he will make new friends and will soon adjust to living in a different neighborhood. It shows her love and concern for her son. It shows Tommy is excited about the chance to make a new friend.

Is the reader curious? Does the reader want to know if the mother is single or divorced? Or widowed? Why is she not working? Who is Johnny, and how does he fit into the future story?

Their conversation is real, but it is not just conversation, it is dialogue which has a purpose in developing the characters and advancing the story.

Monday, November 17, 2008

An Interview with Kalayna Price

By Vikki Perry

Tell us about your book, Once Bitten.

Once Bitten is my first book and the beginning of a series following Kita Nekai, a calico cat shifter stranded in a city full of hunters--hunters who are after her. A rogue shapeshifter has been littering the city, Haven, with bodies, and Kita has a serious case of wrong place, wrong time. Accused of creating the rogue, her life is forfeited if she doesn’t find and stop him in two days. Helping her in her search is a vampire with a little too much curiosity, particularly about her, a mage who thinks she is guilty, and her ex-lover who is determined to drag her back home.

I know you write urban fantasy. What is urban fantasy?

My favorite genre. Oh, you want a technical answer. Urban fantasy is a subgenre of fantasy because it deals with fantastical elements (like elves, werewolves, vampires, magic, etc.) but unlike, say, high fantasy, UF places these fantasy elements in a contemporary (typically city) setting. Usually UF is told from first person and includes a healthy dose of mystery and a helping of romance. Some of the superstars of the genre include Kim Harrison, Charlaine Harris, and Karen Chance.

You're being published by Bellebridge Books in Atlanta, how did that happen and what do they publish?

Bellebridge Books is the new fantasy imprint of Belle Books. The parent line specializes in Southern fiction, but the new line, which launched this past August at Dragon*Con, is focusing primarily on Urban Fantasy and YA. I’m biased, but I think the line has a lot of attitude, and I can’t wait to see the spring line up. If you’d like to check out BelleBridge Books, you can find out more information at

Your book was a product of Nanowrimo 2005. How did Nanowrimo help you finish your book? Does the book resemble that first draft?

I’ll answer the last half of that first. No, the first draft and the published draft look nothing alike. I think at this point, my scrap file of what has been cut out of the book or completely rewritten is longer than the actual book, and the book is 100k words. That said, if I hadn’t written that (awful) first draft during NaNo, I would probably still be sitting around with another story that puttered out after a couple thousand words. After all, that is what I did for years. I wrote for over ten years without finishing anything. Mostly because I suffered from two problems: I only wrote when ‘struck by the muse’ (which was typically only once or twice a month), and I always edited and fretted over every word, every sentence. So, I never finished. NaNo forced me to sit down every day and write. I put the internal editor in her box and dragged myself to the computer day after day even if I didn’t have a clue what to say, and lo and behold, at the end of thirty days, I had a first draft completed. “Butt in Chair, Write” is now my writing philosophy whenever I am working on a new draft, and I really do owe that to NaNoWriMo.

What do you have planned next?

Well, the next book in the Haven series will probably be out in late 2009 or early 2010, but I don’t have a firm date on that yet. I also have another series I am just starting to shop around. I’ve received a couple requests so far, so we will see. Hopefully I’ll have good news to report on that front soon.

Visit Kalayna at

Sunday, November 9, 2008

A Submission Service

By Bonnie Stanard

Last week I received three rejections from literary magazines. I compared the rejection slips with my record of submissions. I had a rejection without having submitted a manuscript. Huh? What did I send to them? As meticulous as I try to be in keeping records, I’ve been forced to make a file of “mystery rejections.”

That’s one reason I contracted with a submission service. Writers Relief does the paperwork for me. As a client, I can go to their web site and see exactly what I’ve submitted and when; the responses (including personal comments from editors); and the dates these responses came to me.

The service has a schedule of six cycles per year, each of which produces about 27 submissions. This is an inflexible schedule, and I have to pay even if I don’t use a cycle. Writers Relief provides some editing, primarily punctuation, spelling, and capitalization. They have not identified things like clichés, misquotes, inaccurate information, or illogical passages, in my submissions.

Their label lists are more generic than targeted to genre or subject matter. Many publications on my lists are literary magazines, often published by colleges. In particular, I’ve found that their labels for children’s stories and historic short stories don’t do enough to target publishers with those interests. Obviously, some markets are hard to find, but that’s one reason for going to a service for help.

At the end of each cycle, they mail me a final draft of my manuscript, cover letters addressed to 27 literary magazines, and corresponding labels. When their packet arrives, I go to Kinko’s to make 27 copies of my story (or poems), sign the cover letters and put labels on large white envelopes, which I provide. I then prepare the mailing by placing the cover letter, a copy of my manuscript, and an SASE in each labeled envelope.

When the responses come in (“not right for us,” “we get hundreds of submissions,” “try us again”), I mail them to Writers Relief and forget about them. If there’s an acceptance, I sign the agreement and mail it to the magazine.

Writers Relief comes at a cost, usually about $387 a cycle, or about $2,340 per year. I’ve never figured out how much it has cost to get my work published. I don’t want to know, for it’s in the hundreds of dollars per story/poem, not counting postage and Kinko’s charges. The service even charges clients for their office supplies—postage stamps (priority mail) and copies. My last invoice included $15 for copies. My suggestion that they keep computer copies instead of hard copies wasn’t appreciated.

In addition to being expensive they are surprisingly inflexible. I asked that they delete a couple sentences from my cover letter, and they agreed to do it to the tune of $25.

They send out cheery notes to their many clients about what their office staff is doing, as if we’re one big happy family. I wish some of that friendliness came across in email exchanges when I have a question or complaint.

As far as I can tell, we writers have this one choice if we want help making submissions. Two other writers in Columbia II have used this service, one was satisfied and the other wasn’t.

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

Conference Thoughts

By Janie Kronk

The SCWW conference was great again this year. I attended mostly sessions on craft, my three favorites being Jeanne Leiby on "The Art of the Short Story," Irene Goodman's session on "Narrative Drive," and Forrest Gander's session on "Eco-Poetics."

Leiby crammed "an entire graduate semester into an hour-and-a-half," focusing mostly on that construct commonly known as the story arc. What I took away from Leiby's presentation was what she called "the crisis," the moment that occurs just before the climax. She says this element is often missing in much of what she sees come across her desk at the Southern Review--as well as in most contemporary, mainstream movies. This is the "no-turning-back" moment, when the character must make a decision that leads to the climax. As she said, "When Hamlet is preparing for a duel with Laertes, he has to make the decision to fight. What can't happen is that Hamlet puts down his sword and says, 'You know, I don't really feel like doing this right now. Let's go have a beer.'"

Goodman took us line by line through the openings of Gone With the Wind and Rosemary's Baby, explaining why, in her opinion, each phrase, each paragraph, pulls us along to the next. The session was an interesting dissection of what creates suspense, and how the reader can be pulled along even by planting small questions in their minds: "If she's not beautiful, then what makes Scarlett so charming?" and "What will the inside of Guy and Rosemary's new apartment look like?"

Gander's session satisfied my need to be a geek, listening to theoretical discussions on philosophy, geology, and poetry, all wrapped up into one session. We even translated an ancient Chinese poem, starting with the Chinese characters. He emphasized the writer's need to create awareness of the environment we live in, the importance of our connections between each other, and the places we live. This was a great message to end the weekend on.

By the way, Laura, Bonnie, and Beth made great roommates during the conference and were also great sources of information and inspiration.

Sunday, November 2, 2008

Conferencing Is Fun and Helpful

By Alex Raley

Great conference. Well organized. Good presenters. Wonderful critiquers.

Jeanne Leiby is a certifiable personality, vivacious, but to the point. She critiqued my short story from a fully edited manuscript. I knew she had read every cotton-picking word. Leiby even googled some information to check on the year I used for an event. She thought I used a wrong year. Of course, she was correct. Her remarks were helpful, and she did all of this without making me feel I was not a writer.

Forrest Gander pulled no punches within his calm personality. One is immediately relaxed with him. He had copious notes on all six of the poems I sent him. Again, I knew he had read and considered every word. He occasionally put a line beside a passage and wrote simply, “Alex.” I can still hear him say, "Alex, Alex, do you really think we will let you get away with this after those two strong opening verses?" This was a nice way to point out what he thought was strong and what he thought was weak. I definitely will be working to create those stronger images.

I must say that my day was made when someone walked up to me and told me how much a poem I read on open mike had meant to him. The catcher? I read the poem three or four years ago.

Conferencing is fun and helpful. I highly recommend it.

Friday, October 31, 2008

Inquiring Minds Want to Know…

“ I must know! How was the conference?”

Vikki Perry asked this of our google group regarding the 2008 SCWW Conference.

“I had a blast. Learned a lot! I definitely know for next time which sessions to go to and which to avoid. There were a couple I wish I would have attended and a couple I wish I hadn’t, but for the most part it was very enlightening. I got to hang out with James O. Born at the bar Saturday night and got hit on by Michael Connolly's publicist. Can't expect much more than that, right?”

Brian Butler

“Great. You would have loved it.”

Bonnie Stanard

“It was fantastic! And Meredith had orange cupcakes. We missed you!”

Leigh Stevenson

"Meredith and I worked the conference (free registration), so we missed some of the presenters and sessions, but at the same time we got a chance to mingle a little with agents and authors who we checked in at the registration desk, helped at the silent auction, or helped with their session.As for me, I had a chance to get to know Jeanne Leiby, editor of The Southern Review. She is a hoot! She also gave great tips on how to make your stories compelling and what she is looking for. Agent Jennifer Jackson gave some pointers on what to look for in finding the agent that's right for you -- very helpful! I saved extra handouts from her session for our next group gathering. A small press publisher, Charlotte Cook, who is looking for first-time authors/emerging writers did some fun interactive role playing to illustrate how to make your writing sing (she also told us only 2.75 percent of people who read also want to write, so 97.25% of readers do not want to write). I got some great feedback from an agent on my first three chapters -- she wants to see more!Meredith & I also had a chance to get to know folks from the other SCWW chapters -- what a fun group! Carrie McCullough will chair next year's program. They'll be looking for more volunteers (you get free registration, the complete package but not free room).”

Lisa Lopez

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Impressions of the 2008 SCWW Conference

By Laura P. Valtorta

Leaving the 2008 SC Writers Workshop conference, after downing the last glass of iced tea and listening to another New York agent, I felt inspired. The inspiration came first from my fellow writers at the conference. Bonnie, Janie, Beth, Lisa, Meredith, Mike, Ilmars, Alex, Leigh, and Jody. Compared to us, the keynote speakers were all little people. Rock on. Write on. And keep laughing it up.

Some of us think that Meredith could have a lucrative career as a stand-up comic.

The conference at the Hilton Plantation Inn was even better than last year. With succinct speakers and more meeting space for the 420 odd attendees. And I do mean odd. Michael Connelly had a point. We need to write like sharks. Keep moving forward.

Two highlights for me were agents Dave Forrer and Alexandra Machinist. They gave informative lectures and gentle critiques. Bonnie, Mike, Beth and I ate dinner on Saturday evening with Dave Forrer, who was generous enough to answer hundreds of questions and treat everyone at the table with interest and respect.

The tribute to Carrie Allen McCray, from one of the little people, made us wish Carrie was still with us.

As for Lee Goldberg: I don't believe he really has a French wife.

Sunday, October 26, 2008

T.I.N.A The Challengers

By Bryce H. Smith

Taurus Research Systems, Inc., a specialty aero mapping company that is just getting by is owned by two brothers, ‘Safari’ and Jack Smith. For years while in college, these two sought the ‘Holy Grail’ of computing, a truly uncrackable computer encryption code. Safari receives a degree in computer science, just as they make their breakthrough, and heads to Japan for active duty as an officer in the United States Air Force where he works alongside National Security Administration (NSA) employees.

Meanwhile, Jack marries Sue, who graduated at the same time as Safari having earned a business degree. Together with Jack, she makes the mapping business thrive. With Jack’s somewhat suspect death in an automobile, Sue becomes president.

Alerted by his contacts in the FBI, NSA, CIA, KGB, and others of the uncrackable communications between Taurus and Japan, Roland Dees suddenly starts giving Taurus Research more mapping contracts than they can handle, to get his foot in their door.

Mr. Dees, a well known international arms dealer, wants a fool proof system to communicate business transactions between all his friendly contacts, buyers, and of course terrorists.

When Safari returns with his active service time complete, he is faced with the dilemma of having his sister-in-law, Sue, as CEO of the company he was the driving force in founding. Before the pending showdown between these two over control of Taurus, Roland Dees summons both of them to his Rocky Mountain retreat, a secret presidential cavern complex under construction.

In true gangster style he makes the two an offer they cannot refuse, and introduces them to the Wizard, his enforcer. He is sure Sue is lying to him when she claims no knowledge of a secret code. Safari however smiles and says, “Let’s talk about it.” Sue sees the company she had spent so much time building with her deceased husband slipping like sand through her fingers.

Roland Dees ends up marketing the resulting T.I.N.A. system to his best customers; politicians, heads of state, CEOs and stock manipulators eager to own these notebook computers. Little does he know that one group Americans he sold 50 T.I.N.A. computers to is planning the “Mother of All Terrorist Attacks.”

If not stopped, their assault on the core of American political and business leadership will result in the death of 3 million Americans and the splitting of the United States into three separate countries. The only thing standing between them and success is a deeply embedded undercover agent of the NSA, Safari Smith.

Sunday, October 19, 2008


By DiAna DiAna and Vikki Perry

The Question
I'm revising a slave's story and recently read in the NYT's Book Review about the maelstrom that surrounded William Styron's publishing The Confessions of Nat Turner (1968). What I got from the article is that whites can't understand the slave's life, and for one to try to write about it is insulting African Americans. I don't know what to think about that. —Bonnie Stanard

I agree that it would be almost impossible to write as a black person without living the black experience and being black. Maybe a focus group on cultural sensitivity would help people to understand the "other side." This could also help in writing and style and connecting with your audience.

One person who pulled this off was James Patterson with his Alex Cross character. In reading his books, I was impressed that he “got it." But, I don't know how he got it, but he did.

If you say that a white author can't write well from an African American perspective, does that mean conversely that an African American can't write well from a white perspective? I think writers can cross the cultural divide successfully if they navigate the waters very carefully.

There are a number of authors (in addition to Patterson) who have crossed the cultural divide and seemed to do it well. Three that I can think of are: Suzanne Brockmann, a New York Times bestselling author who is white and has written from an African American perspective; Brenda Jackson, a bestselling author and African American, who has written from a white perspective; and I don't remember the name of the white writer at the SC Book Festival last year who won a Newberry Prize for her children's book about an African American Little League team in the Jim Crow South.

I write from the male perspective occasionally, and when I bring my stuff to workshop for critique, I hope the group tells me where I'm going wrong and how to make my character more real. With one story, you told me that my 13 year-old boy should be a 13 year-old girl. That is honest and exactly the type of critique I look for.

Perhaps the same applies to writing from a different culture's perspective. Find people from that culture who will react honestly and tell you how to improve. Maybe this is where cultural sensitivity training comes in. Understanding how and what other groups think can only improve our writing.

I want my writing to reflect the real world (at least somewhat, since I like to write about supernatural beings) and it can’t do that unless I include people of other cultures. When I was writing my paranormal for the first time (I'm on my second version), a sexy male immortal witch, who happened to be African American, appeared unexpectedly in my story. I had to cut him because he was subverting my heroine, the vampire queen (she liked him too much), and she had to be the vampire hunter for the purposes of my story. I'm thinking that he is going to hook up with a merperson, but I'm not sure yet. I would be disappointed if I couldn't attempt to write his story.

My comments were based on past experiences with other groups where individuals spoke up for people they knew little or nothing about. For instance, in an AIDS focus group, a white woman volunteered to represent the black, gay male perspective. I asked her what part of the black, gay male experience she could relate to. Was she black? Well, no. Was she a gay male? Well, no. And I asked her, "What part of the experience are you comfortable identifying with?” Naturally the discussion was wide open since the group had several white people who wanted to represent not only black, gay males, but Asians and Hispanics, with no point of reference to their experience or culture. We found this offensive and insensitive and presumptuous.

If Patterson can write about blacks, so can others. My point is that when you bridge cultures, you can not judge your success with your own peers. Since this is a writer's group, it might be nice to give yourself an edge and expose yourself to how others feel. My comments are for blacks who write as whites, as well as whites who write about being black.

I am of mixed cultures, but even with this birthright, I will never be black enough or Hispanic enough to fully speak up for either. And since I was raised in a town that was mostly white, my cultural exposure is very mixed and limited. I can probably relate to whites more than my own races.

Since my grandfather came to this country unwillingly, my thoughts may be different from those who owned him. You can't see something from another person's point of view and live through what they lived through. You can only write about what you think it was like, and that is what some people might find offensive.

Sunday, October 12, 2008

Moonlight and Magnolias

By Vikki Perry

I know that I need to learn more about writing. I know that I will never learn all there is to know about writing. I know that my work will never be perfect.

I just used a rhetoric device called anaphora. Anaphora is emphasizing words by repeating them at the beginning of neighboring clauses; and I discovered it at Moonlight and Magnolias, a writers conference in Atlanta that is put on by the Georgia Romance Writers. I learned so much this weekend.

Friday Morning: Pitch Workshop – The pitch workshop was designed to allow you to practice your pitch before the agent and editor appointments begin.

Friday Afternoon: Intensive Workshop with Margie Lawson – Margie has created the most awesome system for analyzing and editing your own fiction.

Friday Evening: Plotting workshop – This may have been my favorite workshop of the conference. Three wonderful members of GRW showed us three different plotting techniques: collaging, clustering, and storyboarding. Collaging is taking pictures and words from magazines and arranging them on a large piece of paper until you have an idea. This would be great to use during those times when the idea well has run dry. The second method is clustering. Clustering is writing an idea in the middle of a page and webbing out from that idea, never letting your writing utensil stop moving. This is what I do, and it works! The third method is storyboarding and is borrowed from the moviemakers. By drawing pictures of key scenes and writing a short blurb underneath each one, you are able to write and visualize your story.

Saturday Morning Workshop: Deep Edits with Margie Lawson – Margie talked about using rhetoric devices to punch up your fiction.

Saturday Morning Workshop: The Hero’s Journey – This class was based heavily on the book, The Writer’s Journey by Christopher Vogler. It outlined a 12-stage framework that can be used when creating any story.

Saturday Morning Workshop: Why Gone with the Wind Wasn’t Set in Poughkeepsie. (What a great title!) The instructors talked about how sensory details can add to your story and how where you set the story can impact the plot.

Saturday Luncheon: The keynote speaker was Teresa Medieros, one of my all time favorite writers. I don’t remember the exact title of the speech, but I remember that it was really funny.

Saturday Afternoon Workshop: Revisions –The speaker reminded us that the goal is to get published and that it is ok to make changes to your story based on editor’s comments.

Saturday Afternoon Workshop: Backstory – The presenter talked about how information dumps were bad and how to “show” your backstory instead of “tell” your backstory.

Saturday Evening: The Maggies – Moonlight and Magnolias invited unpublished RWA members to submit manuscripts to be judged by agents and editors. On Saturday evening, they held an awards ceremony. It was fun, and I will submit next year.

Sunday Morning: Cold Reads – Two of the most informative hours of the conference because agents and editors gave their unfiltered reaction to query letters, synopsizes, and the first few pages of novels. Their comments were somewhat brutal, but we got insight into the brains of the people that we want to buy our novels and that is priceless.

Next year, I plan to return to M & M and take full advantage of all the opportunities that are offered.

Thursday, October 9, 2008


Meet A New Writer


Deborah is the Director of Turning Pages (, a non-profit program that helps adults improve their reading skills. She serves on the National Governance Council of ProLiteracy, the world's largest literacy organization ( She has been published in Reach Out Columbia and in a number of professional journals related to adult literacy.


Meet A New Writer


I'm Tiem (pronounced “T.M.”). I am a Children's/Young Adult author, specializing in picture books and middle grade novels. In my other life, I am a lab rat. While I have always enjoyed my career in the field of biology, writing has been a long slumbering passion just waiting to be awakened. Now, my life is like a sponge, soaking up all the sights, sounds, & smells and digging for exciting plots. To add to the excitement, I also host a youth book club. The group offers very fascinating and insighful discussions. Our first book was Heaven by Angela Johnson.

But my life doesn't stop there. As a single mom of two (one boy, one girl - a complete set) I also wear the hat of storyteller. Every Friday I spend the morning reading books with my daughter's class. Their absolute favorite: Precious and the Boo Hag by Patricia McKissack & Onawumi Jean Moss.

And even after all that…I still try to find any unused time to complete at least one page of scrapbooking. Finally finished the “ABC's of a Grandma” scrapbook in under three years. Hooray!!!

LivLuvLaf & Write

P.S. check out my website:

Monday, October 6, 2008

My Memoir

By Deborah Wright Yoho

Why would somebody like me want to write a memoir? After all, I don’t have any progeny who might be interested in the details of my life story. Neither am I ready, at age 57, to succumb to the luxury of spending hours in blissful nostalgia for the good ‘ol days.

My good ‘ol days weren’t so great anyway. Yet after forty years, my mind still ponders the significance of just 24 months.

In 1967, I found myself living in the closest proximity to the Vietnam War that was possible for an American of my age and gender. I was sixteen, the daughter of a military career man, a baby boomer whose brothers were slightly too young for the draft. Not that Dad spent any time in Vietnam. Instead we were stationed at a huge Air Force base in the Philippines.

The memories are disturbingly vivid: a roaring flight line clogged 24/7 with screaming jets; the coffins loaded each day onto the C-141 Starlifters; the time I was in the emergency room at the hospital with a North Vietnamese prisoner under heavy guard on the gurney next to me; the nurses who came to our school weekly to line up anyone over 17 they could coax into giving blood; the painful cholera shots we endured every six months.

Most of all, I remember the young, lonely airmen who hung out at the base swimming pool when they were off duty to talk to any American girls willing to listen to them. Eventually, I married one of those airman.

These were the years I learned about sex, death, the power of unquestioned authority, and the disconcerting embarrassment of living in an underdeveloped country. By the time I returned to the States to attend college, I was no longer an American teenager but a citizen of the world.

Perhaps the experience seems worth writing about because I believe this country has never come to terms with the shadow of 50,000 lives squandered in a lost cause. Not only I, but an entire country seems confused, struggling to identify and affirm basic values we once held to be uniquely American. Vietnam was the watershed.

Much has been offered about those days by politicians, retired generals, disillusioned veterans, Hollywood producers and cynical professors on college campuses. What might be learned through the eyes of a 16-year-old girl?

Sunday, September 28, 2008

National Novel Writing Month

By Vikki Perry

Can you write a 50,000 word novel in a single month?

Last November, I did.

I participated in the ninth annual National Novel Writing Month (otherwise known as Nanowrimo) for the first time. Nanowrimo’s mix of peer support, “let’s finish it” philosophy, and my own desire to succeed allowed me to complete a 52,000 word novel in 30 days.


You see, even though I’ve written short stories and poems galore, the ability to finish a novel eluded me. Nanowrimo changed that. I can now call myself a novelist. Yea again!

Nanowrimo was a learning experience. The “let’s finish it” philosophy is revolutionary to a writer like me who worries about getting each word right the first time around.

Here are some tips to having a successful Nanowrimo:
  • Turn off the internal editor. Do not worry about making it perfect. Get it down on paper now. You can fix it next month.
  • Write. Do not read over what you’ve already written. Look over the last sentence or two (without changing anything) to get a feel for where you stopped and then start writing again.
  • If you get stuck, stop writing that scene and move on to another scene. One of my fellow participants titled one of her chapters “Chapter 4 – A chapter in which the author has no idea what happens.” She moved on to Chapter 5 and finished the book.
  • Affiliate with your region if you have one and participate in the group activities. Last year, the Columbia, SC region held a plotting bash, a kickoff, several write-ins, a lock-in (at my house), and a thank-god-it's-over party. We held each other accountable, and we also had lots of fun!
This year I’m serving as the co-Municipal Liaison (ML) for the Columbia region. This means that I will be assisting the other ML in planning and hosting events.

Some of the events that we are planning:
  • Noveling 101 – (October) On the basic structure of novels and how to use this structure when writing.
  • Creativity Kicker – (October) Exercises to kickstart our creativity and get ready to write.
  • Plotting Bash – (October) Different ways that we can plot out our novels and then talking about our ideas. Both Plotters and Pantsers (those who write by the seat of their pants) are welcome!
  • Kickoff – (November 1) We’ll have a few word wars and we’ll socialize.
  • Write-ins – (November) Held in various places all over the Columbia area at various times. Last year, we held them at the IHOP in Lexington, the Richland County main library, the USC campus, and the Sandhills mall. The area message boards on provide information throughout the month of November.
  • Lock-in – (November) A tremendous success last year. For one whole day (from 8:00 am until midnight), we “locked” ourselves in and wrote. Some participants wrote over 10,000 words.
  • Thank-God-It’s-Over Party – (early December) The final event of Nano. We’ll celebrate the success of completing 50,000 word novels.
Nanowrimo is a lot of work, but it can be lots of fun. I’m ticking the days off on my calendar until it starts. I’ll be blogging my journey on my blog and on the Modern Mythmakers blog

For more information on the National Novel Writing Month, visit The boards will open up on October 1. If you have questions, email me at I hope that some of you guys will join us.

Sunday, September 21, 2008

How Do You Find the Time to Write?

By Tiem Wilson

You’ve probably heard the saying, “Writers write.” Or, you’ve heard the advice that you should write everyday. Well, how do you find time to do that? Take a schoolteacher, for example. After teaching three or four classes a day and then grading homework, exams, etc., where is the time to flesh out the next chapter of your thriller? Suppose you live in a large city with a sixty-minute commute to work. You are fighting traffic to and fro (struggling with road rage), finally get home and the kids are screaming for attention. After helping the kids with their homework and spending quality time with the spouse, how much character development can you get through before falling asleep atop the keyboard?

I have tried several time management tips to become more organized. At first, I set aside time in the mornings. I attempted to awake before the rest of the house to give myself some quiet, uninterrupted time at the computer. The problem with this was, I’m not a morning person. Getting out of bed that early consumed the energy I needed to focus on my writing. So, I switched to writing at night.

I waited until the kids were in bed and the house was quiet again. You can already tell how that worked out, right? After homework, after-school activities, cooking dinner, and preparing for the next workday, I was too exhausted to concentrate.

I tried writing while traveling on a couple of family vacations this summer. I figured a six-hour drive to Disney World would yield some great make-up time. Unfortunately, I suffered from motion sickness. Needless to say, a long ride in the backseat was not pleasant for me. It definitely was not the creative juices that were flowing!

My next attempt was writing during my lunch hour. This worked a little better because I was able to focus enough to flesh out maybe a page or two, at the most. A downside was the limited time frame itself. Just when I was on a roll and my fingers were flying across the keyboard, “the bell rings.” Creativity is interrupted, and it's not always easy to pick up again the next day.

So, how do I find the time to write? I use a combination of timesaving techniques. During the commute between dropping the kids off to school and pulling into a parking space at work, I sometimes record my thoughts with a mini recorder. I listen to it during a break to keep the idea fresh in my head for when I sit down during lunch. I also keep a small notebook with me at all times. I use it to jot down any brainstorming ideas as I’m waiting for the kids during their extra-curricular activities. Before, I would use the children’s reading time to fold laundry. Now, I use it to sneak in some writing. Yes, the clothes are piling higher. But, I feel better sacrificing the chores at night for a little extra writing time. Any slice of time is gobbled up in the name of fiction.

Sunday, September 14, 2008

Eat Spicy Food Before Going to Bed

And 7 Other Ways to Work on a Story
When You Aren’t Actually Writing

by Janie Kronk

Don’t call it procrastination.

We read stories, and we write stories. Even when we aren’t technically at work, we are busy watching, noticing, and remembering details of the world around us. We are busy enjoying elements of story in everyday life. Often these elements creep up in our own work over time.

Jack Kerouac’s Book of Dreams is exactly what it sounds like -- a record of each night’s dreams, meticulously recorded for mood and detail. A table in the front of the book lists the characters from his dreams, alongside the names of characters in The Dharma Bums, On the Road, and other works that originated from these nocturnal personas.

Aside from enjoying some spicy food at bedtime and keeping a pen handy to record the vivid dreams that ensue, here are my seven favorite ventures (mostly) unrelated to writing that help me better understand the art of storytelling:

1) TAKE AN ACTING CLASS (backstory, character)
This activity encourages thinking about a character’s objectives and motivations; it promotes thinking with your body, to explore a character’s actions and expressions
Everyone has a story to tell: the homeless woman who believes she was used by the government for 25 years; the guy from Chicago who has been driving in circles for hours and can’t seem to find the museum; the old man walking a pot-bellied pig through the park, hoping to be noticed.
3) MAKE THINGS (detail, craft)
Creativity yields creativity. Working in a visual medium is another way to stretch the right side of your brain. Visual arts communicate ideas using many of the same devices found in the writer’s toolbox: metaphor, evocative details, pattern and motif, form and structure.
4) READ WRITING LIFE STORIES by Bill Roorbach (remedies for writer’s block)
Wait…wasn’t this supposed to be a list of activities unrelated to reading and writing? Several exercises in this book actually fit that criteria: drawing maps, making diagrams, and other unconventional ways of finding stories which are important to us.
Simply put, it’s a treat. And while on the topic of stories being read and told aloud, I highly recommend the following:,, Listen enough and you may unleash an inner narrator that travels with you throughout your day.
I’m being facetious, yes. Still, any time you find yourself a little too close for comfort, just consider yourself an impartial observer of human behavior.
7) TRAVEL (plot, setting)
Some sources say that all stories adhere to one of seven basic plots. Other sources say there are ten. Even others say, “There are two basic plots: A man goes on a journey… or A stranger comes to town…” So if you think about it, travel plans are stories waiting to happen. The journey can take on many forms. A friend of mine applied to live in a Mennonite boarding house outside Manhattan, even though she is a Catholic-raised agnostic from Pittsburgh. Another friend once ran with the bulls in Pamplona.

In the end, it is curiosity--about people, places, and experiences--that is the crux of what storytelling is all about. Why else would we keep turning the pages?

Sunday, September 7, 2008

The History of a 5,000-Word Story

by Ilmars Birznieks

CadillacCicatrix is a semi-annual journal for writers, poets, and artists.

My story, The Long Journey to Freedom (over 5000 words), just happened to have the kind of plot the editor was looking for--adaptation.

The Long Journey to Freedom was born from my first novel, Baltic Amber, that's been gathering dust on the shelf since 1987.

The story tells the plight of a young American woman who was unjustly accused of espionage in communist Hungary and sentenced to hard labor in Siberia. I describe her return from the Gulag to East Germany.

If you want to read the whole story, all you have to do is click www. CadillacCicatrix. com or .org on the Internet and you will have it in the features.

Sunday, August 31, 2008


by DiAna DiAna

I try to write about something I am familiar with. It makes research much easier. My first book was about how I started doing AIDS education in my beauty salon. I was the first hairstylist to do outreach on what they call a “grassroots level.” I tried to make it informative by giving advice on how to replicate my prevention programs. I tried to entertain people at the same time with how my work in the salon crossed over to educating people.

I was at a conference years ago and had done interviews on TV and radio and had been misquoted many times. I met a woman who said that I should tell my own story instead of having reporters and interviewers do their take on it. She went on to say that many times history was one person’s take on what happened, and that was all that people had to go on. I thought about it for a long time and, after reading another incorrect story about my work, started to write.

I purchased an ibook computer so I could take it on the road with me and I added to the story as things unfolded. It took me eight years to write the book. Every time I thought I had an ending something in the world of AIDS would unfold and pull me back into it.

At the time, I worked in my salon and did my writing on weekends or at night, usually after 12:00 am, but not after 2:00 am. I would start to get a little sleepy by then.

End Result

Looking for a publisher for a few years was getting annoying, so I looked into self-publishing. My biggest problem was that the company charged me to professionally edit my work and then announced that they had a hard time translating from my ibook to their PC. I did not see that as my problem after paying them $1,000.00. The book got published, but there were errors in it. I am not sure how to warn people about this process, but editing is just as important as the book itself. The company was bought out and went out of business.

If you're interested in writing, I suggest that you find something that is of interest to you and enjoy what you write about.

Sunday, August 24, 2008

Thoughts on Writing

By Alex Raley

Faced with the frustrations of writing, I ask myself, "Why write?" Does anyone care that I write; aren't there legions who write better; is there anything new to say; shouldn't craft be perfected before writing is attempted; and what will become of all those printed words anyway? Shouldn't trees be saved and this nonsense of words on paper be stopped? The simple answer is that I cannot stop. My writing is not an addiction. Writing is my sustenance. I write to sustain life, to assure myself that I am here, that something in my life has meaning, if only for me.

My writing comes primarily from my own experiences or observed experiences, though one soon learns that writing stalls if it only retells the facts. Even memoirs need the emotional impact of the writer's imagination in pulling facts together in an interesting, cohesive manner. This is clearly demonstrated in Antoine de Saint-Exupery's Wind, Sand and Stars and Francine du Plessix Gray's Them. These authors' imaginations construct such powerful words that we flip pages as much for the writing as for the story.

Fictional writing is not so much a retelling of experiences as it is the creative reconstruction of experiences, often experiences not related in any way. Recently, I began a story with a prompt given to workshop participants. The prompt related to nothing other than the dialogue that arose from working it out. Later I tied the prompt dialogue to a fictional situation, one all of us have experienced or witnessed many times, in which the protagonist angers his wife by flirting with a beautiful female at a party.

When the wife reacts negatively, the protagonist decides he will do the walk if he is going to get all the talk, but then I was stuck. Where would the story go from that point? A visit with friends caused me to remember a situation in which the wife of a guy we knew left him for a woman. So I finished my story by having the beautiful girl take off with the protagonist's best friend's wife. In some manner, each element of the story is from my experiences. I tried to bring them together in a new way.

Writing poetry comes from my love of word sounds. From the time I was old enough to remember, there has been a word of nonsense syllables that rings in my ears. The word, if it is a word, seems to have no origin, except in my head, but I love the sounds. They excite me.

Poetry wants to clip along with interesting sounds, creating rhythms and cadences of their own, but poetry also wants to speak to that indefinable something deep within us that makes us who we are. I struggle to bring these elements together, most often without success, but the need for sustenance is strong. I cannot stop writing.

Sunday, August 17, 2008

A Joke

From Ilmars Birnieks

Why do agents whine and complain about the volume of queries they receive? It's their work. If they didn't receive any, they would be out of work.

Sunday, August 10, 2008

Virtual Pitch Fest

by Laura Valtorta

People who have a finished screenplay should try out Virtual Pitch Fest. It's a way to send your pitches (2-3 paragraphs about the screenplay) to producers in Hollywood and New York. Having done this for about 4 months, I can testify that it works, and it's legitimate. The writer chooses her target producers, agents, or managers from a list describing who they are and what they want to read. I advise writers to buy the Hollywood Creative Directory to double check who these people are. In about 3-5 days the writer gets a response. "No, thanks," or "Yes, email me the screenplay right away!" From about 30 pitches I have sent in, 12 or so asked to read the entire screenplay. Each pitch costs about $10. This pitching is fun and it's fast, and it beats flying to LA to make your pitches. Well, maybe not.

Sunday, August 3, 2008


by Bonnie Stanard

Only in the last several years have I thought of myself as a writer. Somehow it always seemed pretentious to admit to writing, especially in the fields of fiction and poetry. In the past when working with newspapers or magazines (albeit small, regional ones), I could own up to being an editor—after all, my name was printed on the masthead. But as a writer, I’ve yet to see a book with my name as author.


For several years, I’ve been working on my third manuscript for a novel. My fascination with the Old South and Civil War began, I suppose, with the family legend of my father’s grandfather. A photo shows him to be a distinguished, white haired man with a vibrant mustache and a missing arm. The tale goes that in returning home after losing his arm in the Civil War, he was on a train robbed by the James gang. The robbers stole everybody’s valuables, except those of the Confederate soldiers.

Apart from that, years ago I read Tombee, the diary of Thomas Chaplin, who inherited a plantation on St. Helena Island in the 1840s. He described the crops he planted, his slaves and their work, talked of disputes with his sickly wife, castigated himself for drinking too much, and grieved over the death of his young daughter to marsh fever. The tone and detail make it apparent that he wrote the diary for himself. Theodore Rosengarten, who edited Tombee, provides an introduction that goes into the nooks and crannies of Chaplin’s life.

About five years ago, I reread Tombee. More recently, I went to Beaufort and found the plantation house, now privately owned. Looking on it and the landscape that was once Chaplin’s fields where his slaves tilled the soil was a near religious experience. Thomas Chaplin wasn’t a literary man and was undistinguished in his day. Yet he lives on in his house. His day-to-day existence persists in his diary. That it survived the War and was saved from oblivion seems more than serendipity. Maybe it was fate. I can’t seem to escape the notion that his fate and mine are connected some way. So I’m writing a story about a plantation owner on St. Helena Island, one who would have known Thomas Chaplin.

Sunday, July 27, 2008


By Ginny Padgett

Recently I was asked, “Who is your favorite writer?”

“William Faulkner,” was my quick, word-association answer. I do think that is always the most accurate answer.

Afterwards, I asked myself if that answer was really accurate. After a brief mental review I came up with my three favorite authors: William Faulkner, Lillian Hellman and John Cheever.

Then I asked myself if that list was accurate. (I guess I talk to myself quite a lot!) After all, it had been quite a while since I had read any of them. So I embarked on a reading adventure.

I began with what I thought to be my all-time favorite book by my all-time favorite writer, Faulkner’s The Sound and the Fury. Yes, it still tops my list. His writing and characters are as rich and fecund as the Mississippi land he immortalized.

I read The Sound and the Fury for the first time in my late teens. It was the experience that dropped me to my knees to worship at the feet of the novelist and his calling. The skill of transporting a reader through space and time to that of the writer’s choosing via a bit of ink and moldy paper seemed like alchemy. That first reading impelled me toward writing.

Next I read Pentimento: A Book of Portraits, by renowned playwright Lillian Hellman. Superb! Probably my all-time favorite passage comes from this book. It’s a description of what the word pentimento means, which is an artist’s alteration in a painting. If you’re not familiar with this beautiful language, I urge you to seek out this book to see for yourself what a prose poet Hellman is!

Then, I read all of John Cheever’s short stories, for which he is most famous. I began with a slim volume entitled Thirteen Uncollected Stories by John Cheever. I discovered the reason they had remained uncollected for so long! I next launched into The Stories of John Cheever, a 700-page tome of beautifully crafted, laser-sharp commentaries of post-WWII middle-class America.

The adage about the power of the pen is as true as ever. In my opinion, the exigency to write should be the eighth addition to Abraham Maslow’s Hierarchy of Seven Basic Needs. Man has been compelled to record his experiences and their impact on the world around him since prehistoric times. Writing is what makes us human; that’s why we have opposable thumbs, for goodness sake…to hold a writing tool!

Writers hold up a mirror for self-examination. Writers grind the lens to sharpen our myopic vision. Writers have the power to change lives. Writers are gods among mortals.

So, now I’ll ask the question of you, “Who is your favorite writer?”

Sunday, July 20, 2008

On Being a Hack

By Vikki Perry

I’m a hack: a writer of poorly formed sentences, underdeveloped characters, and plots that make very little, if any, sense. I admit it and accept it. This is a problem I face each time I put pen to paper or open a document on my laptop.

What does it mean to be a hack? I think being a hack is a little like being an addict--you can’t do anything about it until you admit you have a problem. Unfortunately, there are no “Hacks Anonymous” groups to help writers overcome this problem. The good news is that there are some things a writer can do to conquer this issue.

Write and revise. Accept yourself as you are, and let yourself write a really bad first draft. Spending a lot of time trying to write a perfect first draft is counterproductive for me. I find that I never complete anything if I worry about getting it right the first time around. Revision is the place where I fix the bad writing. I bet it will work for you, too.

Read books about craft. There are many books on craft out there and each one has a nugget or two of wisdom to impart. I’ve learned things from those books that I would have never learned on my own.

Join a professional organization. I joined RWA (Romance Writers of America) back in March, but if you’re not a romance writer, there is probably another organization out there for you. RWA offers online courses on craft and a monthly seminar at their meetings. I’m sure other professional organizations offer similar things.

Join a critique group. Last, but certainly not least, join a critique group like the South Carolina Writers Workshop. I have learned so much from bringing my work to be critiqued and from listening to others being critiqued. Everybody in the group brings something different to the table, and I’ve found the diverse opinions to be valuable when trying to improve my own writing.

What do you guys do to improve your writing?

Sunday, July 13, 2008

Who Am I to Write Fiction?

By Mike Long
Columbia II Writers Workshop

I don't think I've ever felt that just anyone could write fiction. It seemed to me (still does) that a writer should have impeccable credentials to be taken seriously, either through training or experience. Therefore, an English professor running a creative writing course has a shot, but so does an ex-detective, even if he isn't as polished or articulate as the academician, and especially if he'd been involved in a few sensational cases.

Likewise, survivors of multiple marriages, shipwrecks, combat, and mind-altering drugs might be able to write well about love, hopelessness, fear and science fiction--not necessarily in that order. A twenty-five year old certified public accountant from East Bayonne, N.J., however, is probably going to struggle doing a bi-racial love triangle in Savannah in the 1870s, especially if he flunked U.S. history and never traveled. The same CPA easily could have a runaway hit on growing up on the fringe of The Mob. The lesson seems to be that drawing on one's own experiences is a step in the right direction.

That being the case, what the heck is a South Carolina stockbroker doing writing about Confederate soldiers going home to Texas? I'm not sure. Sometimes I feel like that CPA, and wonder if I will be taken seriously. On the other hand, I don't feel that I ever had much choice about writing this. You see, I'm a history buff, a gun collector, and I spent a couple of years in Vietnam. This started when I began to fantasize about what weapons I'd have carried if I'd lived in the 1860s, and then wondered what would have caused me to upgrade as the technology changed, and then figured how I could have afforded the upgrades. As possibilities presented themselves at all the wrong times, I found myself jotting down notes while driving, or at two in the morning, or, more often, at six a.m. on Saturdays and Sundays. As it became more than a gun book, it really "cooked," and I finished it, 400 pages double-spaced, in about six months.

Afterward, I bought books on writing fiction, joined the South Carolina Writers Workshop, and have spent the last year polishing it and reading form reject letters from agents. One of the "How To" books suggested paying for a formal editorial review, so I contracted with an editor in Charleston, S.C. For about one penny per word, the editor allegedly cleans up your grammar/spelling and points up your manuscript's strengths and weaknesses. My review isn't finished, but in the meantime my editor has been hired as the acquisitions editor for a small publisher in Charleston. She's asked if she can "submit" my manuscript to the publisher for possible publication in 2009, and of course I agreed.

More recently, she said the publisher "loved the premise" but has not read the manuscript, and that if it's accepted, I'll need an agent (the publisher will help with that), and I'll have to agree to a book-signing tour.

So, I still don't know if I'm being taken seriously. That line, "loved the premise," appears in several form letter rejection notices.

Guess I'll keep my day job.

Sunday, July 6, 2008

A Few Words on Writing Them

By Meredith H. Kaiser
Columbia II Writers Workshop

One of my favorite books on writing is Parting the Curtains: Voices of the Great Southern Writers. Through Dannye Romine Powell's interviews with 22 writers, the rich variety of writing experience is revealed and celebrated. I read it every couple of years and underline newly recognized wisdom each time. Here are a few excerpts.

Shelby Foote, Civil War historian and novelist, recommended reading works of a great writer chronologically to watch him or her grow. He also said that writers who want to write better (who doesn't?) should read and reread the great writers of the past. "When you know where he's going, you can better perceive how he went about getting there. And that's what can teach you really about writing."

Novelist and short story writer Doris Betts said writers must be observant. "It's like being a child, because children can't tell what's important and what's unimportant, so they have to pay attention to everything. Well, writers are like that, I think. They are always just kind of -- I don't know -- watching and listening, and you just can't tell what you are going to use."

Essayist and novelist Walker Percy said, "The best thing about writing is to repeat the ordinary experience, and by putting that experience into language, it makes it available to the person who reads it in a way that hasn't been available before."

T. R. Pearson, author of humorous novels, said, "I don't have any inclination to hang around with people who write books. I know how I am, and I wouldn't want to hang around with me." He also said, "I'm sorry to say that I think writing is a semi-sick compulsion. An itch. It's not very healthy. I feel guilty when I don't write. I can remember, even as a twelve- or thirteen-year-old, sitting down and writing, and I can't even begin to tell you why. There was no prospect that I was going to win the Pulitzer Prize when I was thirteen. I don't know what I was doing."

I love this book because I recognize myself in many of its passages. And if someone interviewed me -- a wild-eyed woman, breathing through labor pains as I birth my first novel (I'm sweaty and scared to push, though I know out is the only direction this thing can possibly go!) -- I would say this: Writing expands my heart and it terrifies me. It's like that relationship you know is good for you, but tests you in all the ways you've avoided for so long. I've decided to say yes to it. What choice do I have?

Sunday, June 29, 2008


By Beth Cotten
Columbia II Writers Workshop

Most of the following books were written in the 1980s and 1990s; a paperback edition of The Weekend Novelist was released in April, 2005. No doubt there are newer books on the market, but I think you will find these to be useful and easy to read. I have read some chapters of each of them, but I still have yet to read them completely. I think my summer will be taken up by checking out these resources again. Enjoy!

Writing the Block Buster Novel: Author - Albert Zuckerman
Albert Zuckerman is a former novelist, TV writer, and teacher of playwriting at Yale and is the founder of Writers House. This book is a comprehensive look at all phases of writing a best-selling novel, from "Getting Started" to "Getting it Published and onto the best-seller lists." The book is excellent and should be read by anyone interested in publishing fiction. Currently available at Amazon.Com Be sure to check out the Writers House web site.

The Writer’s Digest Handbook of Novel Writing: Edited by Tom Clark, William Brohaugh, Bruce Woods and Bill Strickland.
A compilation of 37 writings by 30 authors, agents, editors, teachers and publishers. All of the material first appeared in Writer’s Digest Magazine and were compiled into this book with permission. The book is excellent and is also available, new and used, at Amazon.Com.

Show Don’t Tell-A Writer’s Guide: Author - William Noble
For those of us who stray into lecturing our readers instead of entertaining them, this is another very useful book. Currently available in paperback at Amazon.Com. Noble has written other writing guides, Steal This Plot, “Shut Up!” He Explained, and Make That Scene. All are also available through Amazon.Com. Check under used or textbooks by title.

The Weekend Novelist: Author - Robert J. Ray.
This is an interesting book, in that it is a 52-week program designed to help a writer produce a finished novel in a year, one weekend at a time. Some of us are very busy and at least I am inclined to use the excuse of not having time to write. The author says you can become a "real writer" if you only have time on the weekends. In 1994, when this book was published, the author had very successfully published eight "highly acclaimed books." The book is touted as a step-by-step program, the one Ray uses himself to produce a book from "the blank page to a completed novel." The book is also available at Amazon.Com, as is his 1998 book The Weekend Novelist Writes a Mystery.

Saturday, June 21, 2008


By Lisa Lopez Snyder
Columbia II Writers Workshop

Lately I’ve been focusing on exercises to help me show rather than tell something about a character, conflict or anything else in a particular scene. Here are a couple ideas I found useful:

1. First, write a sentence or two that describes the scene (and use action verbs). The sentences should answer the question, “What’s happening in this scene?”

For example:
John discovers his wife is having an affair with his best friend.

Then write this scene with dialogue, description, etc., as if you were watching it on film. Visualize it. Write without stopping. Look it over, then revise and revise.

For example:
Joan looked up from her book as John entered.
He slammed the door behind him. “What’s this?” he demanded. His hand shook as he held up the crumpled letter, his face red and feverish.
Joan let the tattered book fall from her lap. She felt her body freeze. “I--I can explain.” Her voice was thick and slow.

2. Another idea: Visualize your scene, then, without stopping, write down all the visuals and textures that make up the scene.

For example: tattered curtain, blue couch, crumpled letter, face turning red, open door, light rain, dark clouds, narrow hallway, steamed dumplings, rusted teapot, etc.

Then write a scene that connects these elements with your characters, using action and dialogue, and see where it takes you. Don’t feel you need to use everything you wrote down.

Sunday, June 15, 2008


By Janie Kronk
Columbia II Writers Workshop

It was the first time walking into a library ever made me feel afraid. The feeling was incongruous with the stillness, the patterned order of the shelves, the delicious book-smell. Still, my heart pounded. It wasn’t nerves exactly. There was another fear at work as I walked into the room where the writers’ group met and asked, “Can I just observe?”

See, I was not a writer, and I was certain I would be found out.

Although I wrote frequently, the bulk of this writing consisted of opening paragraphs of abandoned stories. Each time I started a piece, I quickly became disgusted with my flat characters, childish tone, eventless plots. I’d look at the paragraph, think, “Can’t I write better?” and lay it aside. I was afraid of the mess I would make if I continued.

I’d forgotten my writing professor, who always gave as his first assignment: “Write a crappy story.” i.e., Get over yourself and just write, or you’ll never get better. I also ignored such advice as, “Don’t be afraid to make mistakes—mistakes are how we learn.” Or, if important to learn quickly, “Make mistakes faster.”

The advice was sound, but thinking of joining a writers’ group and revealing my literary shortcomings gave me the willies. My concern was a grown up version of, “But what if the other kids are mean to me?” I expected frowns at my presence, and jeers at my audacity in wasting their time. In one of my nightmarish speculations, someone actually threw a tomato.

Fortunately, none of this occurred. At the meeting, I relaxed upon finding a group of talented, welcoming individuals. They didn’t seem to mind my coming. No one threw anything.

The next time I went, I would have to read. I assumed there were only so many times I could show up without any writing before my intentions were questioned. Spy from another workshop? Literary voyeur? Not wanting to appear suspicious, I compiled a pastiche of story-beginnings found on my hard drive. I hoped their juxtaposition would evoke some meaning, like images in a surrealist film.

This tactic proved unsuccessful. “It seems like a couple different stories,” someone said. “It’s interesting, but I’m wondering—where is it going?”

It took several more pastiches with similar feedback before it clicked: these weren’t problems with the pieces, but with my writing in general. I analyzed other things I had written. In all instances, my compositional structure was inexplicable, my plot lines often absent. Aha! How had I not seen the obvious? While I’d known the pieces were riddled with mistakes, the mistakes had been like shadows to me, impossible to pinpoint and wrestle with. With the groups’ feedback, I could suddenly see the bodies these shadows indicated. I had a goal.

Sharing work is intimidating, but also fulfilling when there are people interested in listening, and helping. It’s also necessary at times, getting us past current mistakes and on to the next—and the next, and the next. The good news about the process is twofold: we get better, and no tomatoes get thrown.

Sunday, June 8, 2008

Laura Valtorta

Laura Puccia Valtorta works as an attorney in Columbia, South Carolina. She specializes in Social Security disability, employment law, and family law. Her books Family Meal and Start Your Own Law Practice are available through and She has published travel material for the Rough Guides, and short stories in Aethlon and The Distillery. Her husband, Marco, is a professor of computer science at the University of South Carolina. She has a daughter, Clara, and a son, Dante

Bonnie Stanard

When I was in college a professor encouraged me to write fiction, but I was so dense I didn’t realize it until years later. Career choices at the time didn’t include “writer.” Even today, I’m surprised at the number of colleges offering majors in creative writing. (How are those graduates supporting themselves?) I’ve been published in literary magazines for the last five years and have made $5.
There’s no rhyme or reason to my writing habits. On some days I’ll work at the computer for 10 hours. Other days I compose long emails, shop eBay, clean the garage, scan photos, and otherwise fizz away my time instead of writing.

The intellectual and emotional capacity of some writers inspires me with awe. How could Charles Dickens have a head big enough to hold all that information? Or more recently, Saul Bellow? Or Jeffrey Eugenides today? I like movies almost as much as books and admire well-written screenplays—Pan’s Labyrinth, Crash, Short Cuts, Miller’s Crossing, and Memento to name a few.

I’m working on an antebellum story inspired by Naguib Mahfouz’s Palace Walk, a book that illustrates how cultures can brutalize people.

Leigh Stevenson

I have been writing long enough to recognize a cliché, but not as long as some of the other writers in Columbia II. When we are discussing a work, I take my time and try to make comments that will be helpful. There’s a quote by C. Day-Lewis that sums up why we write. “We do not write in order to be understood, we write in order to understand.”

Lisa Lopez Snyder

From the Midwest to the Midlands

The smell of freshly-cut grass always evokes stark memories for me—mornings nudging thick brown earthworms with small sticks as they ooze their way across sidewalks after a hard summer rain, afternoons zipping around the neighborhood streets on my bike under the shady arms of red oak and maple sugar trees, evenings playing kickball in the cul-de-sac down the street from my house.

Those are some of the hallmarks of my Midwest childhood summers. But there is another one: it is my 12-year-old self sprawled on a creaky lawn chair on the back patio, notebook in lap, scrawling stories prompted by the tales of Tom Joad and his family as they loaded their meager possessions on a rickety car, leaving drought-stricken Oklahoma behind for the promise of jobs in California. Or writing poetry that mimics the same excitement that Robert Frost described when he passed the Mortenson's pasture – “Blueberries as big as the end of your thumb.”

Today what the smell of freshly-cut grass arouses is no different, except yes, the setting is different, and occasionally, it’s a notebook computer rather than the paper kind, in hand.

Bryce Smith

I’m writing a spy novel, rather rewriting. How many times do we have to rewrite before a story is ready to go? My plot is a complicated one. Sometimes the workshop tells me that I’ve explained too much. The next meeting, I hear that I haven’t explained enough. It’s not easy to figure out how much information has to be in the story.

Alex Raley

Alex is a retired educator living in Columbia, SC. He earned degrees from Troy University, University of South Carolina, and Columbia University. His wife, Arletta, shares his passion for family, friends, church, and literature.

Alex’s poem, “Boxes,” was selected as Best of Issue for Catfish Stew, 2006. His poem, “The Cocked Hat,” was published in The Petigru Review, 2007 “These Old Hands” in 2008 and “Expectation” and “The Encounter” in 2010. In 2010, his poem, “Choices,” received Honorable Mention in the Carrie McCray Memorial Literary Awards. His short stories have also been published in Catfish Stew and The Petigru Review.

Vikki Perry

If I didn’t write, I would probably be in a padded cell.

My name is Vikki Perry and I was seven the first time that I was bitten by the fiction bug. It was a short fiction, mystery story with a surprise ending involving red Kool-Aid instead of blood. I still remember the joy that I felt when I put that twist in at the end and I knew that I wanted to write more. From that moment on, characters, plots, and scenes have lived in my head and the only way to exorcise them is to put them on paper. I’ve done it with varying degrees of success, but hey, it beats the padded cell.

Ginny Padgett

I’m a 58-year-old South Carolina native, married with two grown sons and have a degree in advertising and public relations from USC. I’ve worked as a copywriter for a television station in Savannah, several ad agencies in South Carolina and Georgia, as well as doing some free-lance work here and there. Recently, I’ve done a little technical writing on a free-lance basis. I’ve taught piano lessons and worked as a pre-school teacher when my boys were small. The largest part of my adult life has been spent in the nurture of my children, the most important job I’ve ever had.

I wrote my first play when I was 12 years old. It received poor reviews from my cousins. “She’s dead in the garden!” is an infamous line from a scene that is still remembered at family reunions. I started a TV screenplay right after college, but I didn’t develop my idea. A few years later, I was astounded when The Golden Girls debuted. That was the premise of my screenplay. Over the years, I’ve started several novels and dismissed them as rubbish.

2010 was a big year for me. I had an essay read at "The Devine Art of Survival," a dance performance by UNBOUND Dance Company (seen in Columbia and in Charleston at the Piccolo Art Festival). I also had an essay and short story published in The Petigru Review.

George William Newport

I was born in Windsor, Vermont hospital on 15 July 1952
the place that I consider my home is my girlfriends house at 75 Truesdell Avenue
what I should do with my life is to complete some of the many things that I have started and not finished
my obsession has to be my writing
a story I'll never write has not occcured to me yet
what I believe is not clear there are many things that I believe in and it is not possible to list them all
worst/best sentence I ever read is not clear right now I have no idea if I have a worst and best sentence in mind
the best years of my life so far have been the two years that I have spent with my girlfriend Carol
a person who has influenced my writing would be Al Burke, my friend, an editor, and a warrior, who got me a long way down the literary highway. Choo Choo Chuck Lipe, my friend, an air force jet transport jockey, he cheered me on from the sidelines when others would not. Bill Cleveland and his good friend Kat, my friend, my dentist, the only one I will alllow to put implements of destruction inside my mouth, a warrior, and a writer, Bill tolerated my erratic ramblings that I committed to paper and kept me going mostly forward in my writings.

Mike Long

Mike Long is a former soldier with two tours in Vietnam as an advisor to South Vietnamese Army units. His awards include the Parachutist Badge and the Combat Infantryman’s Badge. Since retiring from the Army in 1980, he has been a financial advisor with a major investment firm. Married in 1960, he and his wife have two married daughters and four grandchildren. He is a gun enthusiast, a life member of the NRA and the VFW, and is active in Sertoma. He is often found on Seabrook Island, SC. He admires storekeepers, and usually travels with one. His first novel is entitled “Dobey and the Boss,” and is a winding tale of violence and tolerance. In it, two hardbitten Confederate cavalrymen struggle home at the end of the war and through the post-war years as Texas Rangers and merchants. This rowdy historical fiction is filled with rich characters, both real and should-have-been. Mike is working with an editor and publisher on it, while working on the sequel, “What Goes Round.”

Meredith Kaiser

Writing is what I’ve always wanted to do. I’m not a comedian, but sometimes when I bring my writing to the workshop, the group gets rowdy with laughter. We have to close the door to keep from disturbing others. To me that’s a highlight of being part of the group.

Doris Fields

I’ve written a novel about a Southern family that has two endings, neither of which is the right one. All my characters have secrets. What they don’t know about each other causes problems, but if they knew everything, there’d still be problems, just different ones.

DiAna DiAna

I published my first book, Curlers & Condoms . I am a cosmetologist and writer, therefore I write about funny things in my salon and the AIDS work that I did for 20 years. My next book will be a collection of strange stories, a non fiction this time. I love my writer's group, wonderful people with great stories to tell. Come join us.

Beth Cotten

My true name is Elizabeth Cotten. My pen name is Liza Spencer; derived from my first name and my husband’s first name. I was born in Pine Bluff, Arkansas, but from the age of four I lived in California until I retired and moved to Columbia, South Carolina in January of 2003. I now consider Columbia my home. The best years of my life thus far were the 49 years I spent married to my husband who passed away in October of 2007. Approximately 17 of those years were spent as a defense investigator; 11 as a licensed private investigator and six as criminal investigator for the San Diego Public Defenders Department. I hold a Ph.D. in Clinical Psychology that promoted my employment in the field. I found it to be a very rewarding career.

I was influenced to write because I have a love for the written word and because I have always been successful throughout my life with written assignments- in both my education and career. Writing my doctoral dissertation provided excellent experience in the areas of research and writing skill. From the time of my childhood, I have been an avid reader of both fiction and non-fiction. My preferred choice of genre is the fictional novel, but I am also interested in learning about short story writing.

My weaknesses in writing include procrastination and discipline. I do not write daily, as many writers do and I seem to write more easily when I am under pressure and have a deadline to meet. I took a course in novel writing about 12 years ago which helped me to write the first three chapters of a novel. Life circumstances interrupted that endeavor and I now have the time and desire to pursue writing again.