Sunday, October 30, 2016

Guest author Cyndi Pauwels: Writing Workshops

C.L. (Cyndi) Pauwels
Author of  Forty & Out
I’ve been to any number of writing conferences and workshops over the years, and I’ve learned there are certain gatherings that will send me home with a renewed confidence in my work. Others simply drain my enthusiasm, leaving me tired and discouraged. And like any new experience, a conference can be intimidating. What should I look for? How do I choose? Will I fit in? Granted, I’m a confirmed introvert (like many writers I know), so after the initial adrenaline rush, large gatherings exhaust me quickly.

My favorite writing conference in both size and format is the venerable Antioch Writers’ Workshop (31 years and counting!*). I dreamed of it from afar for many years before finally attending in 2009, and the 120-150 person week-long summer session is perfect for me. AWW also offers a fall retreat, a spring one-day craft seminar, and free monthly mini-seminars at the local Books & Co. September through May.

While smaller, more intimate getaways are wonderful, too, they can be fraught with their own peril (I have to share what I’ve written?!). But they can be a good start for novice writers in other respects. I was reminded of that just two weeks when I had the pleasure of staffing the fifth annual AWW fall retreat – an intensive weekend with fifteen writers and two dedicated faculty members. We gathered in a lovely secluded environment with three great meals a day, comfy beds, lots of wine (we are writers!), iffy wifi (which can be a good thing) – and writing time. No interruptions from children, dogs, chores…what bliss!

Several of the participants were new to the world of writing workshops, and their apprehension took a bit of time to ease. But as they realized they were surrounded by like-minded individuals, by people who really understood their struggles with characters and plots and language, who didn’t think they were odd to talk about the voices in their head, their relaxation was visible. They’d found their tribe. It was such a joy for the veterans among us to welcome these enthusiastic newbies to the fold, and after three days of small group discussion, writing prompts, and time to work on our own projects, we all went home energized and motivated.

That’s what a good writing workshop should offer: time together, with fellow writers who understand the journey we’ve chosen; and time alone, to ponder, and imagine, and refill that creative reservoir. We can debate the finer points of class settings versus panels, public readings versus quiet writing time, but ultimately, it’s about community.

Writing is such a solitary endeavor that any time we can find that place to gather with those who understand us, to share thoughts and craft and ideas and encouragement, we need to take advantage of that. A good conference/workshop isn’t about competition and showmanship and sales numbers. It’s about supporting the world of books and writing that we all hold dear, and helping each of us to find our niche, to be successful writers in whatever definition of that term we choose.

After my seven-year relationship with AWW, I continue to be awed and humbled by the camaraderie and warmth offered from the talented and generous faculty as well as from the eager participants. The relationships forged during those sessions carry on into the world beyond AWW, creating ripples in the Dayton, Ohio, literary community and beyond for a long, long time. The “Antioch magic” so many alums speak of is very real.

And at whichever writing event you choose to attend, I hope you find that same magic.

The core of my writing community: the hardworking behind-the-scenes
folks of the 2016 Antioch Writers’ Workshop
(front: Dara Cosby; back, left to right: Matt Garrett, Executive Director
Sharon Short, Jan Irvin, Cyndi Pauwels (that’s me!), and Lori Fetters-Lopez). 
Guides to writing conferences:

*Disclosure: after four years as a workfellow, I was appointed Assistant Director of AWW in 2014

Friday, October 28, 2016

Once Upon a Time

Dakota Fanning in the
2007 movie version of
Charlotte's Web

“Where’s Papa going with that ax?” said Fern...

This line, the first in Charlotte's Webb is one of the most famous children's book first lines.

We immediately are interested in what is coming next, we connect with Fern's concern, and get a sense of the urgency of Wilbur's plight. You can probably assign varying intonations to it. Fern might be asking the question innocently, curiously, or with full knowledge of what it means when papa picks up that ax and goes outside. Where IS "...papa going with that ax" indeed.

Fern was almost not in the book. We are told that E.B. White struggled with how to start Charlotte's Web, unsure whether to begin with Wilbur or Charlotte. Then at the last minute, he added Fern, the little girl who pleads with her father not to kill a runt piglet. Although her role in the story does not endure to the end, she adds humanity to the book in an important way.

That first line is so crucial to your writing, especially if you are not yet a well-established author. Readers often come to your work with a dose of skepticism, waiting for you to prove yourself, and that first line will stay with them and could make or break you. It must grab the reader's interest, hint at the meat of the story, the tone of the story, and give them an idea of the sort of trip they are about to take.

Sometimes finding the right first line just means a little rearranging. I recently submitted a short story to be work-shopped by a group of writers. It was a piece that I had been sitting on for quite some time and I felt pleased with the first half of it--endings are usually my biggest challenge. One of the most useful comments I received was from one author who pointed out that I had buried a particularly moving observation in the middle of the second paragraph. "That should be the first line," he wrote in large print. It was obvious once he said it.

Moving a particularly effective line to the beginning might be the best thing you can do for your piece. Other times you may need to move the point of audience engagement completely. Instead of writing a 'Once upon a time' type of opening and setting the scene, jump into the action and let the characters fill in the details of the world in which they live as they live it.

How much time do you spend crafting the first few lines of your novel, short story, poem? What approach works best for you?

Tuesday, October 25, 2016


This morning, as my husband and I mowed, trimmed, and watered our yard, I started thinking about how much more people accomplish when they work together. A couple of weeks ago, my husband rented and ran a verticutter, I bought and laid grass seed and starter fertilizer, and we both kept the lawn moist for ten days. As a result, we have a lush, green carpet surrounding our house. And I don’t think either of us would have done as well all alone.

“No one can whistle a symphony. It takes a whole orchestra…” wrote H.E. Luccock.

Ken Blanchard said, “None of us is as smart as all of us.”

“In union there is strength,” Aesop contended.

John Donne, of course, wrote, “No man is an island.”

I like this one, credited to Chuck Page: “A single leaf working alone provides no shade.”

One leaf affords a tiny spot of shade, you might argue, and that’s enough for an ant. Some writers want to do it all alone. “Oh, no,” they say, “A critique group will try to change my style.” I’ve found, however, that collaborating with other writers improves my work as well as my promotional efforts. When I wrote my first book, the vision dancing in my head was my lone self, working in a lonely room, editing and formatting over and over and over, with no input from anyone else. (The term dark garret comes to mind.)

That first book, CATastrophic Connections: A Psycho Cat and the Landlady Mystery, was born with many flaws that I later revised with the help of many others.
Since then, I’ve joined a critique group. Its members have provided invaluable suggestions and proofreading expertise. I belong to mystery writers’ groups, book promotion groups, and several online author groups that share tips and answer questions. I post on blogs that help me promote my identity as an author.
FURtive Investigation, the second book (for which I used a photo of my attic garret for the cover) turned out better because I collaborated. Nine LiFelines, my most recent book, turned out even better from the start because of all the unselfish writers I’ve encountered in these groups.

Sharing promotions is a great way for authors to help one another. Book signing events, Facebook promotions, and giveaways are more fun and often more successful with fellow authors. Read what Olga Núñez Miret had to say about multi-author promotions. Authors can collaborate in blog tours, such as those arranged by Great Escapes Book Tours, or host other authors on blogs like James R. Callan’s Authors Blog or Chris the Story Reading Ape’s Authors Hall of Fame. “It takes a village” may have been an old African proverb, or it may have come from a Native American tribe. Those old folks knew.

Saturday, October 22, 2016

Give Yourself a Promotion!

            Whether you love promotion or you hate it, let’s face it: you have to do it if you want to sell books. For some people, it’s the most dreaded part of being a writer. But it doesn’t have to be. I’ve come up with some fun ideas that you can put into practice quite easily. Give one or more of them a try, and let me know how they work!

1.      Have a three-ring notebook for people to sign up for your newsletter. Take the notebook with you wherever you have a book event and encourage people to sign up even if they don’t buy your book. All they generally need to do is provide you with their name and email address. Make sure you have a pen for them to write with, and use a ribbon or string to attach the pen to the rings in the notebook so it doesn’t disappear.

2.      When you design promotional materials, stay away from the usual. I’ve noticed at conventions that the swag tables have a huge array of different promotional items and it’s interesting to see which swag readers—and other writers—reach for first. For example, one author I know of staples a package of two Pepperidge Farm cookies to each of her postcards. These postcards are among the first to disappear at conferences. Another author has pens specially printed with her name and website. One of the coolest things I’ve seen is from author Wendy Tyson, who writes the Greenhouse Mystery Series. The first book in the series is out and Wendy takes the book cover and prints it onto a seed packet with seeds you can plant in your garden. Inspired!!

But what if your budget doesn’t allow for giveaways? There are still things you can do to make your swag interesting. Here are a few ideas, but you can brainstorm and come up with so many more. Each one assumes you are using a postcard with your book cover on one side, so put one of these ideas to use on the back side:

·         Print a recipe from the place where one of your books is set.
·         Provide readers with a list of interesting facts about the setting of your book.
·         Travel tips for people visiting the setting—these can be funny or serious, but make them fun to read.
·         If you write non-fiction, make a list of reasons people should read the book.
·         Print a crossword puzzle using character names or fun facts about your setting.

3.      For little to no extra cost, you can design a business card or postcard that reminds people of your brand. The font you choose is one of the most important elements of this. If you write thrillers, use a font that suggests speed or movement. If you write cozies, use a font that suggests warmth and charm. And beyond font, choose your background carefully. Are you a mystery writer? Make it shaded (but not too dark—you want readers to be able to see everything on the card clearly) and eerie. Do you write sweet romance? Swirls and curlicues might be appropriate. Do you write horror? Think about incorporating black, white, and red into your background. If you use a symbol as part of your brand, make sure that ends up on your card.

4.      I put candy in a basket when I go to a signing. I always have two kinds—chocolate and hard candy. This attracts people who might otherwise have passed me by (the old “feed them and they will come…”) and it gives me a chance to engage them in conversation—maybe about my books, but not necessarily. When people feel they’re getting to know an author, they are more likely to think favorably about that person’s books.

5.      This is one of my favorite ideas: I’ve begun auctioning off the right to name a character in one of my upcoming books at local charity auctions. This comes with my promise to put the winner’s name in the acknowledgements of the upcoming book, too, to thank them for naming such-and-such a character. This is fun for me and fun for the person who wins, and it generates a great deal of interest from people who attend the auction. This has the added benefit of helping the charity, too, because people are spending money for a chance to name a character.

Note, there are a couple of caveats that come with this promotional tool: first, you must make clear that you, as the author, have the right to choose the character you want named. Second, you must make clear that you have the right to reject names if necessary (does anyone remember the recent Boaty McBoatface hubbub in naming a British research vessel?). Third, give your winner some guidelines. For example, the person who named a character in my current work-in-progress had a few parameters: I needed a contemporary name that wasn’t too outlandish and that had Celtic or Welsh origins. My auction winner came up with a great name for me.

Do you have any other ideas that have worked for you? By all means, share them in the comments below!

Wednesday, October 19, 2016

One page at a time...

Gosh, I can't believe how quickly these post dates come around! And I have been boxing my brain and willing the topic to come to me. And so it did! Last night I came across an article about John Steinbeck, which included his sis tips for writing. Steinbeck is one of my favourite authors. I just love Grapes of Wrath, the book and the movie. This reminds me, I must replace my hard copy. Perhaps today I will even watch the movie.

I chose tip #one. 
  1. Abandon the idea that you are ever going to finish. Lose track of the 400 pages and write just one page for each day, it helps. Then when it gets finished, you are always surprised.
I have been battling with getting the pages written - and I am not going to call it writer's block- I am too afraid I will start indulging, find more excuses! And it is not so much worrying about the time it will take me to complete my second novel, (my first took fourteen years to publication), but the structure, the tone it's going to take, and mostly about writing my truth. Brenda Ueland said, in her book, If You Want To Write, "Everybody is original, if he tells the truth, if he speaks from himself. But it must be from his true self and not from the self he thinks he should be." 

I have started. I keep opening the few chapters I had cut off from my first novel Force Ripe. I started drafting out ideas for the themes I want to focus on and how I can incorporate them into the story. But now I am also concerned about the people I will hurt if I tell my truth.  You know, I think that should have been for another blog, the "Telling your truth and hurting people",  so I must get back to the issue here. Losing track of the 400 pages.....writing just one page at a time. That must be the most sure way of getting that book written. Just getting the writing down, one page at a time.

These past few months, because life happens, I have had to force myself to literally take one day at a time. Take each day as it came and go with it. I chose not to clutter my head with stuff which is unnecessary. So much so that I didn't even listen to the news, answer my phone - most times I forgot to change the silent setting, so I missed my calls, messages were unanswered. I guess this would be labelled as "depression". In the world in which I grew up, that is not a word I knew. Not at all. Never knew that word until I met my husband,so I try not to entertain it. I guess that would be one of the reasons I am unable to move on with my writing. And it doesn't matter how many articles one reads on the topic or how many workshops one attends, it is down to the individual. I have to get this book completed. As Steinbeck goes on to say, "If there is a magic in story writing, and I am convinced there is, no one has ever been able to reduce it to a recipe that can be passed from one person to another. The formula seems to lie solely in the aching urge of the writer to convey something he feels important to the reader. If the writer has that urge, he may sometimes, but by no means always, find the way to do it. You must perceive the excellence that makes a good story good or the errors that make a bad story. For a bad story is only an ineffective story"

There is no sure formula, but one page at a time sounds doable enough. As the saying goes, "one one cocoa full a basket". One page at a time. Write on!

Monday, October 17, 2016

From Bouchercon to Fall Fest

By Linda Thorne

Just finished up today with the Southern Festival of Books in Nashville, Tennessee. Great annual local event, but I'll talk about that next month. As far as the recent Bouchercon in New Orleans, Amy Reade did such a good job covering it last month on her post, I'm only going to mention it in passing.

I do want to invite every one of you to join me when I talk about the convention in its New Orleans setting in more detail on another blogspot, Make Mine Mystery, this coming Thursday.

My next gig after returning from Bouchercon was to share a tent with about eleven other authors at Fall Fest, right here in Hermitage, the little suburb of Nashville, Tennessee where I live

Fall Fest was a weekend (October 1st and 2nd) of spectacular presentations from artisans of all varieties. Art, music, history, craftsmanship. The event was held at the well-known Presidential Site of ex-president, Andrew Jackson, his home and the acres of vintage farm land and structures. It's a must-see for tourists to the Nashville area.

Here I am below with some other local (middle Tennessee) authors. From left to right is Bryce Thunder King, me, Blake Fontenay, Tom Wood, Ken Vanderpool, Dr. Sally Burbank, Jaden (Beth) Terrell, and Nikki Nelson-Hicks. We had a tent and met lots of readers. Many bought our books. 

Here are a few more photos:


Thousands showed up. Local people and folks from all over. I found myself humming a very old Neil Diamond song, "Pack up the babies and grab the old ladies and ev'ryone goes."

Perfect weather. Cool, dry, and lots of fun. I plan to be there again next year representing local authors at Fall Fest at the Hermitage.

Monday, October 10, 2016

Uber Steps Out

In September, Pittsburgh, PA became the first U.S. city to have driverless cars used to transport people from one place to another. (Just one month earlier, nuTonomy offered such a service in Singapore.) Uber, is the world's largest taxi company, Pittsburgh is significant because it is the home of Carnegie Mellon University, the leading university in robotics. Both the head of the Uber's driverless auto endeavor and the head of Google's division for driverless cars (considered the leader in the field) came from the CMU robotics department.

So, a customers in Pittsburgh can call and order a driverless car to come to wherever they are and take them to any other place in the area. For the present, there will be a qualified, human driver sitting in the driver's seat, ready to take control at any moment should the need arise. For the early part of this experiment, there will also be a second person in the front seat who will have a computer and will take notes on every aspect of the trip.

There is also a computer tablet in the back seat where the customer can offer any comments on the experience.

Initially, Uber will use modified Volvo XC90 sport-utilities outfitted with dozens of sensors, including cameras, lasers, radar, and GPS receivers. And while GPS is generally accurate to within ten feet, Uber systems strive for accuracy down to an inch.

Many experts in the autonomous car arena claim that self-driving cars will ultimately save lives. For now, the efforts in this area are under close scrutiny. Last July, a driver using Tesla's Autopilot service was killed when the car collided with a tractor-trailer. The crash is still under investigation by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. Google has seen a few minor accidents. At present, Google limits its cars to a maximum of 25 miles per hour. Uber has not sustained any accidents since road testing in Pittsburg began in May.

Uber is so committed to this endeavor that it plans to open two additional R&D centers. Uber is also acquiring Otto, a company working on driverless trucks.

Ford is also working to produce cars that would meet Uber's demands. In a talk several months ago, the head of General Motors predicted they would have completely autonomous cars in production by 2021.

Before too many years, you will be able to order a car to pick you up and drive you to your agent's office while you put the finishing touches on your manuscript. The car will drop you at the door and go away. When you have signed the contract and are ready to leave, another call will bring a car to the building and take you home.

Now, if they would only make a robot that will make the bed and clean the bathroom, we'd be set. In my August Novel Space blog, I mentioned that we already have a robotic vacuum - that actually works.

Life just gets better.

James Callan, October 2016

Friday, October 7, 2016

Preparing for Writing Retreats

I am actually heading to my second writing retreat of the year! Last March I attended the Rainforest Writer's Village and later this month I am headed to the Oregon SCBWI Fall Retreat. The aim of each retreat is different and I'll be taking different tools with me.

The Rainforest Writer's Retreat had no (or at least terrible) internet and little to no cell service. I went there with the intent to start my next Middle Grade novel in a distraction free zone with other writers. I brought with me pencil, paper, a 3-ring binder, and the reference material I needed to get a start on the first draft. I've probably mentioned this before, but I hand write all my first drafts. So while most of the other authors there were on their computers I was writing away on my loose-leaf binder paper.

But my plan for the SCBWI Annual Retreat is very different. The novel I started in March is done-- well, the hot mess of a first draft is done. But now I need to edit that book! So I'm going to take my shiny new laptop to the SCBWI Fall Retreat. And because the retreat facility has wi-fi I'll be able to look things up on the internet *coughplayFacebookgames*.

If you go to a retreat of any kind, it helps to plan ahead. Here are some things to ask yourself before you go.

-- What are my goals? Figure out your writing goals before you go. Depending on how social the retreat is and how much you feel like participating you may or may not achieve those goals. But at least you'll have an idea of what to pack writing-wise.

-- What amenities does the facility have? Will you have access to wi-fi? Cell service? Do you WANT access to these things? It will help you determine if you bring your technology with you or not. You may be looking for a distraction free zone, or you may need to the internet for fun and help. 

--Bring back up! Don't forget the back up if you take a computer! A thumb-drive if  you don't have internet. If you do have internet, email yourself your awesome manuscript. If you are like me and like to hand write then bring lots of pens, pencils, and paper.

--Bring something to take notes on. Computer, notebook, whatever. There will be presentations that you'll want to take notes in. At least that's me :) I take notes on everything.

So wish me luck and I'll report back to you next month!

Tuesday, October 4, 2016

Guest Blogger LaShaunda Hoffman - Are Your Social Media Platforms Ready For Promotion?

Greetings! Our guest blogger for today, standing in for me this month, is LaShaunda Hoffman. I've known LaShaunda for many years and while she initially was introduced to me as the owner of the online magazine, Shades of Romance - SOR, she now wears not only the hat of a magazine publisher, but she is also a literary advocate and author, whose mission is to help promote writers by introducing them to readers. And so I introduce to you, LaShaunda Hoffman. Her information on social media promotion is very timely in this day and age. 

Are your social media platforms ready for promotion?

When I stop by some writer social media pages, they don’t look like a writer’s page.  Most don’t showcase their writing or their books.  How will a reader know you are a writer?

Most writers are on social media, but they aren't doing much promotion because they don't want to overwhelm their readers with promotion.  However if you don't promote you aren't selling books.

Below are a few questions to answer to see if your social media platforms are ready for you to promote on them.
  • Are you using a book cover or your picture as your profile picture?
  • Do you have a FB cover, Twitter Header page that is geared toward your books or writing?
  • Can your audience tell what you write from your platform pages?
  • Can your audience contact you from your platform pages?
  • If you have a website, is the link included on your platform pages?
  • Do you have a link to join your mailing list?
  • Do you have a call to action on your platform pages?
  • Do your social media platforms show you as an expert in your field?
  • Are your social media platforms updated daily with fresh content?
  • Do you share what your books are about?
  • Do you engage with your audience when they leave comments?
  • Are you building relationships on your platforms?
If you answered yes to all these questions, your social media platforms are ready for you and your promotion.

If you answered no to a few of them, it is time for you to sit down and update your social media platforms.

You want your social media platforms to showcase the best image of you and your books. You want your audience to know what your books are all about, that you know what you're talking about, how to get in contact with you and where to purchase your books if they're ready to buy.

Social media is a great place to promote your books.  If you're not putting your best effort forward you will sabotage your promotion.

Promotion is all about staying consistent. You can download your copy of the Promotion Kit checklist to see if you are ready to stay consistent with your promotion. Link to Promotion Kit Checklist

Bio: LaShaunda Hoffman is a online promotion strategist.  She teaches writers and business owners how to be consistent with their promotion by helping them create an actionable promotion plan to build online relationships.  She published her first book Building Online Relationships - One Reader At A Time.  You can find her online at -