About Me

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I'm a published author of short fiction for kids and adults. I have an MFA in Creative Writing from Spalding University. I'm a former content writer for Spirit and Truth publishing on their Living the Word series. I've also worked as a paid book reviewer and as a student editor for The Louisville Review literary magazine. I'm a wife and mom to two great kids, three dogs, and a cat. I love books, movies, gardening, kids, and animals.

Wednesday, September 25, 2013

Interview Tomorrow with Joanne Lewis

photo courtesy of author Joanne Lewis

Interview with author Joanne Lewis tomorrow on her book The Lantern: A Renaissance Mystery.

Tuesday, September 24, 2013

Top 10 Impressions/Things I Learned at My 1st Ever Writing Conference

This past weekend I attended the SCBWI Midsouth Conference in Franklin, TN. It was a fun if overwhelming experience. I'm still processing a lot of the information I gleaned from it. But I have tried to narrow down some of what I learned or some of my impressions to ten things.

10. Do Not wear opened toed shoes to a conference. In fact, you should probably pack socks to wear. Even if the rest of you is dressed warmly your toes will thank you if they are properly covered in those cold conference rooms.

9. Be prepared to spend some money on books. But limit yourself only to books you know you will read, even if you do have the chance to get them all autographed. Those of you who saw my earlier post with my to-be-read pile will be proud of me.

I only came away from this conference with 6 new books (The League of Delphi by Chris Everheart, The Unwanteds by Lisa McMann, the first two books in Tracy Barrett's Sherlock Files series, The 100-Year-Old Secret, and The Beast of Blackslope, along with Breadcrumbs by Anne Ursu, and Crystal Kite Winning novel, The Dark Unwinding by Sharon Cameron). For me that was quite an achievement.

8. If you are shy and have a hard time approaching people here are two, almost, sure ways you can strike up a conversation with a stranger. First, always smile and start with a simple hello. Second, if you aren't comfortable talking about your own writing ask them about theirs. Most writers love talking about their work. Once you know what genre they write in, it is usually easy to ask a few specific questions that will get them really talking. And voila you have an instant friend you can smile and chat with the rest of your time there.

7. Business cards are a great and easy way to exchange contact information with people. You don't have to limit handing them out to agents or editors either. If you find another writer that you really click with, give them your card. After the conference the two of you will be able to keep in touch via email or social media. It never hurts to have too many friends who know what this creative path is like to help you along it.

6. One of the things I really liked about this conference was the limits they put on # of people for each breakout session. Each one was limited to 25 people. It was just enough to make you feel you weren't sitting in a room with the presenter and a bunch of crickets, but not so many that there wasn't time for Q&A's after they finished talking. I loved the Q&A parts. Someone always thinks of a good question about the material you never even considered. It makes those breakout sessions that much more informative. So keep that in mind when you think of signing up for a conference.

5. Familiarize yourself with the faculty who are attending the conference. Look up the books they've published or the authors they represent. It will help you not feel so lost when they reference these books during their talks. Goodreads is a great place to look for some of this info.

4. I'd heard about keynote speaker Jay Asher's book Thirteen Reasons Why before coming to the conference. But I never expected him to be so funny. He gave a great talk to open the event. It was entitled How to Publish a Book in Twelve Years of Less. He freely admitted he didn't really know how to publish a book in less than twelve years.

Me with keynote speaker and author Jay Asher

 I found him to be very open, and his story to publication inspirational. I've been at this 3 or 4 years now. HOORAY! Only 8 or 9 years left to go. SIGH. Hopefully, not.

3. I made a lifelong friend at this conference. A writer I'd gotten to know online was there with me attending her very first conference too. It was really great meeting you Jocelyn Kasper, you made this whole experience so much less scary.

Me with author friend Jocelyn Kasper

2. Don't listen to that inner 'doubter' voice that tells you that you're not good enough to approach editors and agents at these conferences. My friend Jocelyn helped me with this. She bravely talked to the presenters and faculty at the end of each session. Even if you aren't ready to submit to some of these people, or they don't represent something you're working on now, talk to them. You never know when that one connection might help you later on. Remember, they are there because they want to connect with authors, and they are just people. You might be surprised at how easy they are to talk to even if all you say is--thank you--for sharing their wisdom about publishing with you. Everyone likes to feel appreciated and kindness is contagious.

1. It isn't necessary to go to conferences like this to get published. A lot of the information you hear could be gathered from a good writing newsletter, writing blogs, or even participation in a great critique group. But conferences are one of the few places you can actually meet the gatekeepers to publishing face-to-face. If you are serious about wanting to get published, and there is a good conference offered in an area relatively close to you, why not take advantage of this? You never know, you might meet your ideal agent or editor there. Or if you already have someone in mind you'd like to submit to, maybe think of going to a conference they're going to be at. You aren't stalking them by doing that. You're just carrying out important research. :)

Tuesday, September 17, 2013

Best Birthday Ever!

My son turns nine years old today. In honor of his birthday I'd like to you hear from you. What is your best birthday memory or present you've ever received?

For my son, one of his best birthdays would probably be his 5th. That was the first year he ever got to celebrate it with a party and presents. He got his very own bicycle that year.

One of the best birthdays I ever had was my 10th birthday. I not only hit a milestone of having been alive for a decade, and entered double digits for the first time, it was also the year my parents got me my own horse. A half-Arabian mare named Stergo. I was truly blessed to receive such a gift and such an amazing and wonderful horse and friend.

What about you? What was your best birthday ever?

Tuesday, September 10, 2013

Check Out My Book Review of Melissa Foster's Latest Novel SISTERS IN LOVE

Photo courtesy of Melissa Foster

SISTERS IN LOVE, is a contemporary romance that delves into the issues of family and their impact on our life choices on so many levels. The story revolves around Danica Snow, an older sister and successful therapist, who has always stuck to what was expected of her. Never encouraged to be creative like her younger sister, Kaylie, Danica was always told she was the smart sister, and expected to be the practical and responsible child. But an encounter with the town’s local lothario, Blake Carter, sends her into a lust-filled tailspin. Danica begins to question if she’s chosen the path she wanted to follow in her career and life, or the one she was expected to follow. Blake is left with his own questions when he loses his best friend and business partner, Dave, in a tragic accident. He wonders if he’d been less selfish over the years if he could have prevented his friend’s death. He seeks help from a therapist determined to change his ways. Danica is forced into a position of choosing her career over her own wants and needs when Blake comes to her for help. A cast of supporting characters adds depth to this romance about the choices we make as individuals and the insecurities we all face about our own self- worth.

Once I got started reading this book I was sucked into this world and its characters. The chapters weren’t overly long, which made it an easy read. But they were just long enough to tantalize me into turning the page to the next one to find out what happens next. The love scene between the main characters doesn’t happen until the end of the book, but the chemistry between them crackles out at you from their first meet, making the culmination of that final scene gratifying and well worth the wait. I don't want to give away too much. But I highly recommend this book as a fun and enjoyable read. If you love well-written characters who deal with real-life issues and challenges with great romance and even a bit of mystery added in this is the kind of book for you.

SISTERS IN LOVE, available for sale right now at Amazon (author's page), and Barnes and Noble. This week in honor of its launch take advantage of its discounted price for e-readers at both websites. For more information on Melissa Foster  and her books check out her website at http://www.melissafoster.com/ or follow her via Facebook or TwitterStay tuned for SISTERS IN BLOOM, the sequel to SISTERS IN LOVE, which comes out this October.

*Note I received an Advanced Readers Copy of this book in exchange for honest reviews

Thursday, September 5, 2013

What's Your Method? Critique Group or 'Ideal Reader'?

Image courtesy of freedigitalphotos.net

My interview with Margo earlier this week generated an interesting discussion on what method she used to revise her novel. One of my followers, Gila Green, asked if Margo was part of a writing group or if she used Stephen King's 'ideal reader' (IR) method of writing and revising her work.

I must admit that I had to look up what Gila was talking about concerning Stephen King. I know, I know, I'm really out of the loop on this one. I did know that he'd written a memoir a few years ago, but I never really paid much attention beyond that. I had my reasons. First, I don't read Stephen King except in excerpts. Before you gasp in horror and turn away you have to understand something. While I greatly admire him as a writer, I honestly can't read his books. They scare me! and I like being able to sleep without nightmares. I have a very vivid imagination. Second, I am leery of books written by celebrities, even writing ones. That said, I did find a great link to an article on Stephen King's memoir On Writing. It was a guest review post on Jane Friedman's blog written by Jason Kong. Here's the link: The Stephen King Guide to Marketing.

The post raises some interesting ideas on marketing and how writing and marketing aren't mutually exclusive. This is a topic that I discuss quite often with one of my critique groups. I am actively involved with two critique groups. One for each novel I'm in the process of revising and rewriting. Did I mention I get easily bored? Well I do. That means that I am constantly working on more than one thing at a time. Anyway, one of my critique groups I meet with in person and one I 'meet' with online. We exchange chapters and give each other feedback on them once a month. I love being part of my critique groups. Being able to exchange ideas and get someone's take on what I've written from people I trust is invaluable to me. But in an age where social media and self-marketing your work grows more crucial everyday, my critique partners and I constantly question the importance of platform. Some still believe that building a platform even before publication is crucial for writers. Others feel that investing too much time in this can lessen the quality of your work because it means less time spent writing.

Image courtesy of freedigitalphotos.net

The article I listed above, by Jason Kong, did bring up several interesting points about author Stephen King's writing method (King's IR is his wife, Tabitha). The one that resonated with me is that when you sit down to write you always have an audience in mind. Sometimes that audience evolves as the story does. But ultimately, you are writing that story for someone. It may be that one IR or it may be a whole group i.e. middle graders or young adults, or mystery suspense lovers. Either way this audience is who you are selling that story too. In other words, you are marketing that book even as you write it, even if unconsciously.

So how about you? What is your method? Are you part of a writing or critique group or do you write for one trusted 'ideal reader' (IR) and why does either work best for you?

Tuesday, September 3, 2013

An Interview with Author Margo Dill on her book, FINDING MY PLACE

Picture courtesy of Margo Dill

Ann: I’m pleased to welcome author Margo Dill to my blog today. Margo is a busy mom, freelance writer, editor and teacher. Her work has been published in, Grit, Pockets, Missouri Life, ByLine Magazine, The Chicago Tribune, True Love, On the Line, Fun for Kidz, and The News-Gazette. She is here today to discuss her debut novel, Finding My Place: One Girl’s Strength at Vicksburg, which is a Civil War adventure geared toward middle grade readers. It was published by White Mane Kids in fall of 2012.

Cover photo courtesy of Margo Dill
Finding My Place is the story of 13-year-old Anna Green and her family's struggles during the Siege of Vicksburg, MS in 1863 in the midst of the American Civil War. For three long months that summer the Union Army bombs Vicksburg day and night. Anna and her family live in caves and eat rats to survive. When a terrible tragedy strikes, Anna must find a way to hold her family together despite the overwhelming danger and hardship. In the process she discovers her place and a courage she never thought herself capable of.

Hello Margo and Welcome! For those of us who still aspire to be published authors could you share a little bit of what your journey was like getting Finding My Place published?

Margo: It wasn’t easy! J I wrote several versions of this book, and then I received some useful feedback from a literary agent who rejected me. She said I wasn’t focused enough on my character and had too much history in there. So, I rewrote it with that advice in mind, and then sent it off again. (Each revision went before my critique group, too.) When I sent it to an editor in New York, she asked to see the whole thing. Then she rejected me also and said that a school and library market might be better for my book. I found White Mane Kids in the “Children’s Insiders” newsletter, and sent them my submission! They, obviously, offered me a contract.

Ann: So this novel did have quite an evolution. Thank you for sharing this process with us. I think as writers we get so focused on the rejection we can’t always see the light at the end of the tunnel. Sometimes we just need to keep revising and believing in our story to get that one Yes! it takes to get published.

What led you to write a historical novel about the Siege of Vicksburg? Have you always had a particular interest in history and the Civil War period?

Margo: Yes, I do love the Civil War and historical fiction in general. But what led me to the topic of Vicksburg was one paragraph in a fifth grade social studies book about the Siege. In the book, the authors wrote about the strength of the citizens, how they lived in caves, and that they ate rats. It sounded so interesting to me, and so I decided to do more research. Then I couldn’t stop finding out about this battle, which lasted for 47 days and mostly focused on the citizens instead of the soldiers.

Ann: Did you find it hard to write from a white southerner’s point of view?

Margo: No, not really. Because I taught the Civil War and knew a lot about the facts behind the war, I know that both sides had good and bad people—honest and dishonest. Obviously, I don’t agree with the South’s view on slavery, but I tried to put myself in the shoes of my main character, Anna. How would a 13-year-old girl with kind parents who lived in the town feel about the slaves that worked for her family? What would she be thinking about and hearing? I tried to see the world through her eyes, which was made easier when I did research, too.

Ann: In the story you have your main character refer to her family’s slaves as servants even though they had no human rights. Did you do this to be historically accurate or more because this is a book geared toward children?

Margo: Many of the citizens called their slaves “servants.” So, it was more because it was historically accurate.

Ann: What an interesting distinction, a telling fact on the mindset of the white southerners during this time period. How did you go about researching your book? You do such a good job of portraying through your character what life was like for her and the people of Vicksburg, MS during this time period.

Margo: I actually went to Vicksburg—that was great. I toured houses that were standing during the Siege. I visited the national park, which is the site of the battlefield. I found old newspaper clippings in the vertical files at the library. But the best thing was talking to someone at a museum in Vicksburg, and he told me about a couple books written by women who lived through the Siege. Reading these primary sources were the best research I could do.

Ann: Wow! How fun that you were able to actually visit Vicksburg. Margo I have a question for you from one of my writing friends, Margit Henry.

Margit: Research Methods: How do you organize your material so that you can access it when you need to remember of confirm it? Do you write of research first?

Margo: Organization of material is VERY, important of course. With this book, I had an idea to write about the Siege of Vicksburg and make it for kids, but I didn't know enough about the time period to write without researching first. So, I immersed myself in research FIRST, and then the idea for the plot and characters just came to me. But the whole time I was writing, I had to research bits and pieces.

As for organizing, I did this in 2001, so I wrote all my notes by hand. I had a 5-subject notebook labeled with different categories, such as daily life/slavery, the battle, caves, general Civil War info, miscellaneous. In the misc section, I kept a bibliography of a book or website I used. I would read information, take notes and write down important points in the correct section of the notebook with the title I got the info from. After I used specific facts in my book, I put a check mark of highlighted them in yellow.

Ann: Great question Margit. Margo, what a clever way to keep organized, with a sectioned notebook. I especially liked your idea for keeping track of your sources in a bibliography as you’re researching. Any advice you could give to writers on how to get into the mindset of your character when writing a historical novel for children?

Margo:  I think the research is what helps you get in your character’s mind. If you have an understanding of the time period and the people, then it’s easy to imagine yourself as that person living during that time. I also had two amazing critique groups (because I moved while writing this!) who helped me with characterization. If Anna or any of my characters acted too modern, my critique group members called me on it!

Ann: As a former teacher yourself, what can you tell us about this book in particular and how educators or home-schoolers could use it in their classrooms or as a teaching tool?

Margo: Great question! It is the perfect book to go along with a Civil War unit—you can use it to start discussions on the two armies, slavery, economic issues, living during the war and more. You can also use Finding My Place for reading and language arts skills. For reading, you can discuss how each character grows and changes during the war as well as use prediction skills to figure out some of the events in the novel. For language skills, students can actually write a persuasive paper, taking a side on whether Anna should stay with Mrs. Franklin or take her brother and sister back to their own cave.

Ann: Sounds like you gave the uses for your book as a teaching tool a good deal of careful thought and planning. I think that is so important for juvenile readers to help them want to delve into history even more and understand it.

So, what new books do you have coming out that we can look forward to?

Margo: I have three books under contract, and I think two will be out in the next year. The one that is supposed to be out this fall is a picture book about Red Ribbon Week (drug prevention week) titled Lucy and the Red Ribbon Week Adventure (High Hill Press). Then I have a YA light paranormal novel coming out from Rocking Horse Publishing in the Spring 2014 titled, Caught Between Two Curses, which has a little bit to do with the Chicago Cubs billy goat curse!

Ann: Those all sound like fun reads! Thank you so much Margo, for spending some time chatting with me today. For those of you who would like to know more about Margo and her books check out her website at http://margodill.com/A copy of Margo’s book, Finding My Place: One Girl’s Strength at Vicksburg, can be purchased at Amazon (author's page), Barnes and Noble, or directly from Margo on her website.