Monday, November 16, 2015

Loree Lough, Smart Plotting

Author Loree Lough shared information recently on Smart Plotting (or how to avoid the dreaded sagging middle) at a writers’ meeting I attended recently.

She is a bestselling and award winning author of 105 books and more than 5,000.000 fiction and non-fiction books in circulation, as well as 72 short stories and more than 2,500 articles in print.

The main suggestion I found helpful was that to fill in the middle, you want to start the ending. Give readers hints as to what is coming. Since I am more of a pantser, (writing without a detailed outline), I sometimes do not have a clear picture of the ending so get hung up in the middle of my story. So I found her approach interesting.
Sophia Prunty had a chance to speak to author Loree Lough
at a recent writers' meeting.

Cliffhangers are important, she said, because you want at the end of each chapter to have the reader ask “And then what happens?”

She gave everyone copies of a blank Plot Timeline. You can add to it or change it as needed, she said. Using a similar timeline will help you keep track of important details about your hero and heroine, your theme, the season, setting and time period of your story. The Plot Timeline is useful for short stories, scripts and even non-fiction, as well as novels.

The timeline has spaces for chapter information and scenes within each chapter. Plus, she uses tags or symbols to indicate if a scene is a happy one, sad, spiritual, love or exciting. This gives you the opportunity to see if you are including enough of what you planned at a quick glance. As you are reviewing, you can make sure you did not leave something important out.

She gave an example of one of her earlier stories where she had introduced the people who had raised an orphaned girl, but forget to have them later at the girl’s wedding or explain why they weren’t there. So she had to rework the ending.

In Scene One, you want to introduce the character, the season and setting and start the action. You do not want to put everything into that first chapter.

“Jerk their chain. Pump it up,” she said. Readers want more than just a good story. You must have emotion in everything. They want to feel, to understand. Stories are a form of entertainment.

Think of your reader when you are writing, she said. Inform and entertain the reader. In a mystery, there should be sufficient clues that the mystery could be solved but also red herrings to throw people off the track.

If you have writer’s block, do some freestyle writing, Loree suggested. Prompts are good for this. A short period of just writing quickly will help you get back to your novel or short story. We often offer a writing prompt for our critique group and it amazing how many different approaches there are to the same prompt.

This is an early book by
Loree Lough who has had
more than 100 books published
Teen Sophia Prunty, who came to the meeting with her grandmother Betty Houck, was pleased with the presentation. “It was fun and very informative. She knew what she was talking about,” she said. “She used examples from her own stories and showed how the process worked for her.”

Sophia is writing a coming-of-age story about teenagers and discussed some of it with Loree, who asked questions and mentioned how the story could go in different directions and how she could give information about her characters by what they did or their reaction to events instead of just saying it.

“It was really good. She used the timeline as a skeleton. Filled that in first and then worked around it.” Sophia said. “She went to the second step in the planning process.”

Sophia said she is trying the National Novel Writing Month challenge (Nanowrimo) for the first time, but is behind because of school and other activities. “But at least I have some of the writing done, more than I would have if I had not tried to do this. I will continue to write more.”

Joelle Jarvis, who is president of the Carroll County Chapter Maryland Writers’ Association, is also participating in Nanowrimo, along with several of the other 17 writers at the meeting. For more information about this annual writing challenge check out

Loree’s blog can be found at and she can be found on Facebook, Twitter and Pinterest.

Wednesday, October 21, 2015

Nanowrimo 2015

November is Nanowrimo

The goal of Nanowrimo (National Novel Writing Month) is to write 50,000 words in 30 days.
No Plot? No Problem!, A Low-stress, High-velocity Guide to Writing A Novel in 30 Days was written by Chris Baty, founder of Nanowrimo. He started the program in 1999 with 21 people. By 2004 it was up to 25,000 participants and in 2014 it increased to 325,142 participants.

“Writing for quantity rather than quality, I discovered, had the strange effect of bringing about both,” Baty wrote. “The roar of adrenaline drowned out the self-critical voices.”

What you need is a deadline, he said. Writing 50,000 words in 30 days means you write an average of 1,667 words a day. This gives you permission to make mistakes. First drafts are always rough.

Through Nanowrimo, he found four revelations:

     1. Enlightenment is overrated. Write sooner rather than later. You don’t have to wait until you are          older.

     2. Being busy is good for your writing.

     3. Plot happens. “Plot is simply the movement of your characters through time and over the course          of your book.”

     4. Writing for its own sake has surprising rewards.

He recommends keeping setting simple in the beginning. You can add more detail later. Also, don’t judge while you are writing, nor self-edit. Write all you can while you are excited. Don’t worry about getting it right…” he said. “That will come in the revisions…your goal is just to get it written.”

Another book that may help determined writers is Book in a Month, the fool-proof system for writing a novel in 30 days, by Victoria Lynn Schmidt, Ph.D.

Besides giving tips, he also provides worksheets for you to use as you, such as story tracker, Writing Time Tracker, At a Glance Outline Sheet and Character Story Sketch.

Like Baty, she stresses that “You cannot write and rewrite at the same time if you want to finish a book in 30 days.”

Participating in Nanowrimo is a great incentive to write that novel you’ve been dreaming about. It gives you a goal, a deadline and at the end of the month, you will have a rough draft of a novel. That is a huge accomplishment.

Even if you don’t write 50,000 words, you have the start of a book, plus you have practiced your writing skills which will help you in the future. After the 30 days, take a break. Let life get back to normal before you start editing.

For those who feel they need a little more time, but are serious about writing a novel, I recommend The Extreme Novelist: The No-Time-to-Write Method for Drafting Your Novel in 8 Weeks  By Kathryn Johnson. Check out my blog about this book under January 2015.

Besides becoming part of the Nanowrimo community, you can receive writing tips, a format to keep track of your accomplishments and encouragement from published writers. How much you want to participate is up to you.

For more information check out the website,

Monday, October 5, 2015

The Immortal Detective, Sherlock Holmes

I recently enjoyed The Great Detective, The Amazing Rise and Immortal Life of Sherlock Holmes by journalist Zach Dundas.

He writes about the many incarnations of Sherlock Holmes through the years including as a mouse and pig. The great detective is as popular today as he was in the 1800s.

An avid Sherlockian, the author often mentions how so many people treat Sherlock Holmes as a real person, living in a real place.

Of course he, and we know that the stories were fiction, sprung from the mind of Arthur Conan Doyle and that there really wasn’t a 22B Baker Street. However, Dundas often treats the stories as being real as he searches for places mentioned in the mysteries. He definitely seemed to enjoy his research, often taking his family along with him.

Dundas writes about movies and actors who brought the characters to life. There were many more than the ones we are familiar with: Basil Rathbone, Jeremy Brett, Robert Downey Jr., Benedict Cumberbatch and Jonny Lee Miller.

Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s life was exciting and he often used the methods of observation he had  used by his consulting detective. He was a physician in the Boar War, he sailed on a whaling ship while in college, later was a ship’s physician to Africa, had a medical practice, pursued advanced degrees and he was a writer. 

Most people remember him as a writer, as the creator of the great detective Sherlock Holmes and his sidekick Watson. But he also wrote numerous non-fiction books which he felt were far better than his mysteries.

Sherlock says “my mind rebels at stagnation… I abhor the dull routine of existence,” so did Sir Arthur's mind. He had trouble sitting still.

Even early parodies only increased the popularity of the famous sleuth and his friend, assistant and chronicler Doctor John Watson.

Dundas write “The moral of A Study in Scarlet may be that sometimes we John Watsons of the world just need to let life’s brilliant chaos do its work.”

He writes of Sherlockian sub-cultures, and fan clubs. One of the earliest was started in Baltimore by Rhodes Scholar Christopher Morley. He wrote everything – novels, essays, and poems. By the time he was 36, he’d written more than 20 books. He worked for newspapers, started magazines, staged plays, edited anthologies and later became a radio personality.

He also started The Baker Street Irregulars in 1934. That organization continues today, along with many others. He gives references to other books on Sherlock Holmes, movies, illustrators and fan groups.

Holmes and Watson were fictional characters, but the stories captured the world’s imagination. Sir Arthur's stories are known for their great characters and settings. I had read most of the stories years ago. Today I find no problem with watching an old Sherlock Holmes movie, then moving on to “Elementary” or (my favorite) “Sherlock.”

“The mass media made this discovery in the 19th century...,” Dundas quotes Judith Flanders. “The great discovery is that crime is fun. If it’s not happening to you, it can be wildly entertaining and it sells. Most importantly, it sells.”

Wednesday, September 16, 2015

The Boys in the Boat

Recently I read the One Maryland One Book for 2015, The Boys in the Boat by Daniel James Brown. After a slightly slow start, I couldn’t put it down.

One Maryland One Book (OMOB) is a program of the Maryland Humanities Council, designed to encourage people to read and discuss the same book. I ‘ve read all of them except the first. I will list them near the end of this blog.

As the cover of The Boys in the Boat states, it’s about “Nine Americans and Their Epic Quest for Gold at the 1936 Berlin Olympics.” This is interesting, but it’s about so much more.

These nine Americans are young college students, mostly poor working-class-boys living in the state of Washington during the depression. They stunned the world by beating the best of the world’s rowing teams.

At the beginning of the book, Brown went into the impact of the depression on the northwest and growing unrest around the world. This did help me understand what the boys and the universities were going through at that time. We also see what is happening in Germany, as Adolph Hitler arms his nation, gains control of the press and tries to wipe the Jewish population off the face of the earth.

Brown takes us through the boy’s live before and during the four years at the University of Washington. He also helps us get to know their coaches and the boat builder. all dedicated to doing their best.

He moves us back and forth between these people and events, from the boys freshman year to their victory, and a little beyond. He explores the adversity, determination, friendship, and developing trust of the boys that gradually leads to their working so well together that they could defeat the wealthier schools in the East and England, and eventually Hitler’s special team and boat.

Hitler planned to use the Olympics to portray Germany as a civilized, modern state. This illusion would give him more time to prepare his military and squelch rumors of what was really happening in his country.

This victory was a beacon of hope during the depression and Brown gives us plenty of detail to help us understand the training and dedication that led up to this event and what this victory meant to America.

Throughout the state there are many discussions and programs planned around this book at various libraries, high schools, colleges, museums, bookstores, and community and senior centers.
Brown also will be at the Baltimore Book Festival on Sunday, September 27 from 2:30 to 3:30 pm at the Literary Salon.

For more information about Brown or the book, check out and the OMOB Facebook page.

OMOB 2008A Hope In the Unseen by Ron Suskind,

OMOB 2009Song Yet Sung by James McBride

OMOB 2010Outcasts United by Warren St. John

OMOB 2011The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian by Sherman Alexie

OMOB 2012The Cellist of Sarajevo by Steven Galloway

OMOB 2013:   King Peggy: An American Secretary, Her Royal Destiny, and the Inspiring Story of How She Changed an African Village 

Sunday, August 30, 2015

History and fiction combined

Award-winning author Lucia St. Clair Robson recommended that when you start writing a book, start with a pivotal event. “Think ‘the trouble started when…..”

Robson wrote her first historical novel, Ride the Wind, while working as a public librarian in Anne Arundel County, MD. It earned The Western Writers’ Golden Spur Award for best historical western and made the NY Times and Washington Post bestseller lists.

I heard her speak recently at a meeting of the Carroll County Chapter of the Maryland Writers' Association (MWA). She stressed the importance of thorough research and accuracy throughout her presentation.

You hope your sources are correct. You want to come to a greater truth – to create a reality. You try recreating their whole world, language, clothing, and what is happening around them. She likes to make a map of the area and use pushpins as her characters move.  Moving with them, seeing what they are seeing.

“We put words into dead people’s mouths,” she said, emphasizing the need for empathy, as well as accuracy.
Lucia St. Clair Robson signs a
book  for Lois Halley

Robson learned the importance of organizing your research material early in the process. She has developed a detailed system. Each of her projects has a letter. Each source has a number, allowing her to show where she found the information for each book.

However, everyone has to do what works for them, she said.

You may have everything planned and outlined and then a side character may take over or your research may reveal something you didn’t expect. You may be surprised by new information you find. She often is.

Ride the Wind is the story of Cynthia Ann Parker’s life after she was captured at 9 years old during a Comanche raid. 

She's also written eight more historical novels. They are:

Walk in my Soul  includes Cherokee Indians, a young Sam Houston and the Trail of Tears.

Light a Distant Fire - explores the Seminole and Miccosukee Indians as they take up arms against forced removal from their Florida homeland in the mid 19th century.

Tokaido Road is set in feudal Japan.

Mary's Land is takes place on the Maryland frontier of 1638.

Fearless is about Sarah Bowman who joined Zachary Taylor's forces as a laundress in 1846 and went with them into Mexico. Standing almost six feet tall, she became a familiar figure, riding through the smoke and gunfire of battle to retrieve the wounded.

Ghost Warrior is about Lozen, sometimes called the Apache Joan of Arc, warrior and shaman. It is set in the last half of the nineteenth century.

Shadow Patriots, a Novel of the Revolution. In the American colonies 1776 is a time of critical confrontation on the battlefield and off as people must choose between their king and a new country.

Lona Queen and Lucia St. Clair Robson
talk about writing techniques
Last Train from Cuernavaca includes the 1913 Mexican society and rebel leader, Emiliano Zapata.

Her books also include romance, but she stresses that since love is a vital part of history, she always includes it in her stories, but it’s not the focus of the story.

Besides doing thorough research, Robson said most importantly, write the best story you can to please yourself.

Historical fiction varies widely and includes such books as:
Elizabeth Wein’s Code Name Verity, Kathryn Stockett’s The Help, Christina Baker Kline’s The Orphan  Train, David Laskin’s The Children’s Blizzard, Khaled Hosseini’s The Kite Runner, Anita Diamant’s The Red Tent, Ellis Peters's Cadfael Chronicles, Daniel James Brown’s The Boys in the Boat (2015 Maryland One Book), Melanie Benjamin’s The Aviator’s Wife and Mary Ann Shaffer’s The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society.

I’ve read most of those listed above and others. Historical figures and events become much more real in these books, even knowing that the book is fiction. The author’s imagination lets me think more closely about what people might have been feeling. The details help put me in that time and place.

Historical fiction uses setting as a backdrop to the story, surrounding characters with social conditions and period details. As seen in the short list above, they can focus on war, a specific place during a certain time-period, a murder mystery, special event or historical figure. But all show how society of the time and place affected the characters.

Historic fiction brings facts to life and Lucia St. Clair Robson does this well.

You can learn more about her at and more about her books at

Thursday, July 30, 2015

Writing can make a difference

Bestselling author by Debbie Macomber wrapped her recent story about family, forgiveness and love in Last One Home, around difficult social issues such as domestic abuse and homelessness.

Published in 2015, the book begins with a quick look back at ten-year-old Cassie playing with her two sisters. Then we move to a courtroom, where she is helping a victim of domestic abuse and begin to learn about her life of abuse until fear for her life and that of her seven-year-old daughter had her flee out the window of her home and seek assistance at a women’s shelter. There she received help and job training.

Throughout the book, we learn the difficult life Cassie lived after running off with her boyfriend when she was 18 and pregnant. As is often with people who want to control someone else, he moved her away from her family and friends. Besides losing her college scholarship and family support, gradually she lost her confidence and self-respect.

Trying to get her life back together, one of her sisters contacts Cassie about some of their parent’s furniture they had stored, if she would come get it. Thrilled to hear from her sisters and needing the furniture, she still faced the problem of picking it up with no truck and no extra money to rent one.

Living in a tiny, cheap apartment, she is thrilled when she accepted as a candidate by Habitat for Humanity. We learn about the stringent requirements as well as the need to volunteer hundreds of hours of work to be eligible for a Habitat home.

We also get glimpses into the minds of her daughter, now 12, her sisters and a possible romantic interest during her constant struggle for a better life.

For more information about the author and her books, check out

On a more personal note, Maryland author B. Morrison, tells about a life that was similarly sidetracked in Innocent, Confessions of a Welfare Mother.

She was raised in a prosperous Baltimore neighborhood and a college graduate, but when her marriage failed, Morrison found herself an impoverished single mother of two small sons. She found herself “…forced to accept the handout so disdained by her parents and their world: welfare. This dramatic memoir tells how one woman finds and grasps the lifeline that ultimately enables her to become independent.” (The last two sentences are from the back cover of her book).

For more information, check out

Whether a true story or fiction, books such as these help us understand the need for various social programs and the people who must temporarily depend on them. I would recommend both books and congratulate the authors for tackling such difficult subjects.

Sunday, June 21, 2015

Why We Write

Why We Write, I saw this book in the library and took it out, curious to find out what other writers said about why they chose this career.

I had so many other books I wanted to read that I kept putting it aside. I almost decided to return it unread, but for some reason I renewed it. I decided to read one or two of my favorite writers in the book and then return it, but once I started, I couldn’t stop.

I first read what Sue Grafton had to say. I’ve read all of her Kinsey Millhone series so far and even related books such as Kinsey and Me and G is for Grafton. One of her comments under “Wisdom for Writers” is “There are no secrets and there are no shortcuts.”

Then I decided to keep reading since next was Sara Gruen. I had enjoyed reading Water for Elephants. “Planning and plotting and research are all fine. But don’t just think about writing. Write!”

Sara Gruen said that reporting was like being the new kid in school. It’s like being a detective. “Emotionally, it put you in the place that everybody dreads. You’re the outsider.”

That hit home since I was a reporter for years, writing for both dailies and weekly newspapers. I even wrote a short story years ago, that I titled The Outsider. It was about a child, out in the cold, looking in a picture window at a family enjoying Christmas
I felt that way a good part of my life. like I was just observing life instead of living it. Now I am doing both, hence the name of this blog

Again I thought of returning the book, but, you probably guessed from the title of this blog that I didn’t. Once I started at the beginning,. I couldn’t put it down. I read while eating breakfast, during lunch at work, in the evening when I should have been writing and even after going to bed.

As I neared the end, I thought about writing a blog to let others know about the book and share some of the bits of wisdom shared by some of the authors. Why We Write, which was edited by Meredith Maran and published in 2013, includes comments and hints from 20 acclaimed authors on how and why they do what they do. 

Joan Didion said the writing is an aggressive act. “There’s no getting around the fact that setting words on paper is the tactic of a secret bully, an invasion, an imposition of the writer’s sensibility on the reader’s most private space.”

Maran writes “As for me: I write books to answer my own questions.” The writers in her book give a wide variety of reasons for why they write. I could identify with what some of the writers said, and at least understand where others were coming from.

Walter Mosley said that once a reviewer in Publishers Weekly said his characters weren’t even strong cardboard.  “If you keep writing what you want to write, you’re going to get a lot of rejection,” he said.

Sebastian Junger said good writing has a rhythm to the writing. If the rhythm’s off, it’s hard to read.

Like many of the writers in the book, I have been reading and writing most of my life, as well as practically driving my parents crazy with questions about everything. It was encouraging to read that the reasons for writing are so different.  Hey, maybe I need more discipline, but there are successful authors who do things the same way I do.

Michael Lewis said that maybe he made the decision to become a writer in a state of self-delusion. “When you’re trying to create a career as a writer, a little delusional thinking goes a long way.”
The 20 writers Maran chose to include in this book represent “a mix of genres, genders, ages and experiences.”

I only mention a few hints and interesting facts from the book. To learn more, you just have to buy it. A portion of the proceeds go to 826 National, an innovative youth program with a network of writing and tutoring centers.

I started reading and writing poetry when I was a kid, giving my masterpieces as gifts to relatives. I was the second page editor in high school and had already decided I wanted to write for a living.

I was lucky to get a job with a newspaper during and after college. For a while I worked in the human resources field to pay the bills, but then going back to writing for a daily paper, the Cumberland Times-News and later writing tourism articles for Garrett County, especially the Deep Creek Lake area.

As Susan Orlean said, I met people I never would have met if that wasn’t my job. I often felt “the exhilaration of stepping into an alternate universe.”

There is a part of me that continually wants to learn and then to share with others. Writing was the best way for me to do this.

If you want to share why you write, please leave a comment.

Friday, June 5, 2015

Trying to be perfect

Katherine Pickett recently spoke on"Editor’s, Who They are, What They Do and How they Can Help You" at the Carroll County Chapter of the Maryland Writers' Association. She also discussed how writers can make it easier for their editors and help smooth the road to publication.

Katherine Pickett is the owner of POP Editorial Services, so she knows what she is talking about when she talks about editing. She also is the author of Perfect Bound: How to Navigate the Book Publishing Process Like a Pro, published in 2014.

Her keys to success: educate yourself, be flexible and work only with people you trust. Everyone needs an editor, Katherine said. But a well prepared manuscript can save you time and money. She shared lots of information about what to look for when searching for an editor, such as rates, time factors and their track record. You also need to feel comfortable with them.

I enjoyed hearing about self-editing, since I am at that stage now with my YA novel. It seems I can go over it again and again and still find minor errors. To a writer, although there are different levels of problems, but no error is minor. Even after all this rereading, I was still dissatisfied. I was looking for more ideas about how to edit my work and Katherine delivered.
Katherine Pickett talks with Kerry Peresta,
 President of Carroll County Chapter MWA

She stressed that self-editing can save money and time. First take some time off, create some distance from your work. Then as you approach it again try different methods. Read it aloud and pay attention to places where you pause. Look for punctuation, spelling and grammatical errors.

Change to a larger font. It’s easier to find punctuation errors. Print your work and read it on hard copy. Run your fingers under the words as you read. Then go deeper.

Move to a new location while you review your work or try a different time of the day. Check facts, the timeline, characters and consistency. Is the tone consistent? Everything has to be in there for a reason.

Some people even edit it backwards, starting at the end and moving back to the beginning.  Approach your writing from different angles. Think of your audience. Are you speaking to your ideal reader.
Too often we see what we expect to see, not what is actually there. Question motives. Then again, question everything. The idea is to trick your brain. See what is actually there and how you might be able to make it better.

Revise, revise, revise!

Katherine explained that there are developmental and substantive editors. A substantive editor ensures appropriate and consistent tone and smooth transitions, checks for consistency in point-of-view, eliminates ambiguity, and ensures that dialog sounds natural.

More editing follows as a book is prepared for publication. A proofreader goes through a book's layout and tries to catch anything the copy-editor missed. After receiving a manuscript proof, the author should evaluate the editing, answer any queries as completely as possible, make necessary changes and return the manuscript on time.

The better you have prepared your manuscript, the less time editors will need to spend on it and the less it will cost you. The better your manuscript, the more chance it has of publication and becoming popular.

Pickett’s company provides copy-editing, proofreading, and developmental editing to authors and publishers across the country. She has been involved in the publishing industry since 1999, including five years as an in-house production editor with McGraw-Hill Professional and two years with Elsevier Inc. Although the majority of her experience lies in nonfiction trade books, she also has edited children’s, young adult, and adult fiction, memoirs and more.

Her book Perfect Bound was a silver award winner, 2015, IBPA Benjamin Franklin Awards and a Finalist, 2014 Foreword Reviews' INDIEFAB Book of the Year Awards.

More information is available at or at

Wednesday, April 22, 2015

Writing Craftsmanship

Recently I heard author Tom Glenn speak about “The Forgotten Discipline: Fiction Craftsmanship” at the Carroll County Branch of the Maryland Writers’ Association.

Craftsmanship is seldom stressed in writing classes, he said. yet it may be key to getting published, Creativity is innate and probably can’t be learned, but craftsmanship can. People think, we all learned to write as children. What else is there to learn?

Professional writers know there is so much more to learn. This program focused on the mechanics of fiction—formatting, copy editing, wording/structure, and dialogue.

He quoted Ursula K. LeGuin: “How can a reader trust a writer who seems to be ignorant of the medium she works in?”

Tom Glenn is well versed in his craft. Besides his published books, he won several writing contests, published 16 short stories and interviews authors for the Washington Independent Review of Books.

His Vietnam novel-in-stories, Friendly Casualties and novel, No Accounts are available on His newest novel, The Trion Syndrome, will be published by Apprentice House this year.

Although formatting can be dull it is important to let agents and editors see that you are serious about your business and can abide by their guidelines. Agents and editors are busy people and often discard a manuscript because of minor problems. It is important for your writing to stand out. Don’t give them any reason to discard it.

Some basic copy editing rules he discussed included using 12-point serifed point, a single space at the end of sentences and flush-left alignment of text. All make it easier to read your text.

Look for repeated words and beware of adverbs. Use italics to show internal thought. Under dialogue he recommended keeping conversations clipped and brisk.

When you finish your manuscript put it away to cool, possibly for several months. Run spell check at the end, even if you ran it periodically during the writing. Read your work aloud to check for hesitations and awkward phrasing. Also, make sure you vary sentence structure using simple, compound, and complex sentences and even non-sentences, such as short phrases. Non-sentences are especially useful in tense situations.

“Get someone who doesn’t love you to critique the manuscript,” he suggested. It doesn't help that Mom, Dad or your best friend thinks you are the world's best writer. Make sure it is ready for other eyes to view.

Besides being a writer, Tom Glenn also worked as an undercover agent, musician, linguist (seven languages), cryptologist, government executive, and caregiver for the dying. With a doctorate in public administration, he toured the country lecturing on leadership and was dean of the Management Department at the National Cryptologic School.

He is available for other presentations including:

“Healing Through Writing: Survival and Craft.” Tom Glenn joins poet Shirley J. Brewer to explore the dark world of trauma: PTSI (Post Traumatic Stress Injury), accidental death, murder, violence. Healing takes place when the writer faces the trauma and orders chaos through writing. The presentation offers techniques to address personal traumatic experiences through writing.

“Uncertain Origins: The Battle of Dak To,” a lecture with slides on one of the largest battles of the Vietnam War. Glenn was there on the ground collecting intelligence. He warned U.S. military commanders of the forthcoming attack and wasn’t believed.

“Bitter Memories: The Fall of Saigon,” a lecture with slides. A speaker of Vietnamese, Chinese, and French, Glenn spent thirteen years as a National Security Agency operative trundling between the U.S. and South Vietnam, working under cover with army and Marine units on the battlefield in the collection and exploitation of North Vietnamese communications.

Readings from his Vietnam novel-in-stories, Friendly Casualties. The book relates the effects of the Vietnam war on men and women, Vietnamese and American, soldiers and civilians. Some are destroyed; others survive, however imperfectly. All are friendly casualties.

Readings from his novel published by Apprentice House of Baltimore in spring, 2014, No-Accounts. A straight college professor volunteers to take care of a gay man dying of AIDS in Washington, D.C. in the mid-1980s. The caretaker promises to be with his patient at the moment of death without knowing what lies in the dying man’s past.

For more information check out If you’d like him to speak at a gathering, email him at

Tuesday, March 31, 2015

Prepare for Publication

Bethany House author Dani Pettrey spoke recently at the Carroll County Chapter,  Maryland Writer’s Association on “I Finished my Manuscript. What Now?”

Pettrey is the author of the Alaskan Courage series, which so far includes: Submerged, Shattered, Stranded, Silenced, and Submerged. She described her novels as inspirational, romantic suspense. They are about strong, determined women willing to face danger to right what is wrong.

Her books have been awarded the Daphne du Maurier award, two HOLT Medallions, a Christy Award nomination, two National Readers’ Choice Awards, the Gail Wilson Award of Excellence, and Christian Retailing’s Best Award.
Dani Pettrey

She shared her experience along the road to publication, saying it was easier for her than for many writers. However, she wrote well, edited, studied her craft and was prepared when an opportunity was presented.

There is so much advice for writers out there, she said, recommending that you only take advice that resonates with you. There is so much variety and so many voices.

After fine-tuning their manuscript, most writers should start looking for an agent. You can research agents online, through writing organizations and by reading the front of books. Look for agents who are interested in your genre. Do not send a book of erotica or adult an agent who specializes in children’s books.

Also, writers should not send samples of their writing to editors and agents at the same time. Most agents have access to publishers they think may be interested in your book. However, if you already sent it to an editor and it was rejected, they cannot go back to that editor.

She agrees with the advice that attending writing conferences is helpful, not only for learning, but for meeting agents and editors. She always took to conferences a “one sheet” with a synopsis of her story and a short bio. Also, be prepared to give an elevator pitch if asked. This is a very condensed version of you book, like a movie description.

You submission package should Include a query letter, synopsis, two links and sample chapters. It helps to have your polished book (not rough copy) read by critique partners or by a freelance editor or paid critiquer.

Membership in writing organizations can be helpful. Most organizations have a newsletter or blog, provide content that can be helpful in your genre, include contact industry details and provide other benefits.

Writing can be a lonely business. Learn to enjoy the process. It helps to keep an encouragement file and reward yourself periodically.

While waiting for replies from agents or editors, begin to write your next book.

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Saturday, March 14, 2015

Tolstoy and the Purple Chair

Tolstoy and the Purple Chair, My year of Magical Reading by Tina Sankovitch was one of those memorable reads, inspiring, motivating, heart breaking and life affirming. The unusual title first caught my attention, but once I started reading, I couldn't stop.

After the death of her older sister, she (I am not being disrespectful or too familiar, but it is easier to use a first name then the last or full name), she tries to run from her sadness, both literally and by filling her life so full, she could barely think. 

When the running didn’t help, she decided to read a book a day for a year, since a love of reading was something she shared with her sister.

For 365 days, she read, often until late at night. Often sitting in her comfortable old purple chair. All the books she read from 10/28/2008 to 10/28/2009 are listed at the end of the book. She also decided to review the books online and found  a new satisfaction in books by talking about them on her blog. She’s written 1001 book reviews.

Reading how much she enjoyed discussing these books with others, inspired me to include more book reviews or discussions in my blog. I don’t have a sister, but I am lucky to have a good friend who loves reading as much as I do and we recommend books to each other. Also, this sharing is a large part of the popularity of book clubs.

Tolstoy and the Purple Chair starts with a quote from Thomas A. Kempis, “Everywhere I have sought rest and not found it, except sitting in a corner by myself with a little book.”

Sankovitch feels she has to forgive herself for living while her sister was dead. I could understand with that since I lost my oldest brother years ago, but still weep for him, want to talk with him again.  Is guilt for not being there near the end of his life part of my unwillingness to let go of my grief? I was interested to see if the books she read helped her.

“Books were my time machine, my vehicles of recovery and reignited bliss from childhood and beyond,” she wrote. She felt connections to others reading the same book in different places and times.

Reading in my beige chair
During the year after my mother died, I read 146 books. I found them to be more therapeutic than watching mindless shows on television. Sometimes we just need to escape and there is always time for reading.

As Sankovitch wrote, “My year of magical reading was proving to be a fitting ending to my overwhelming sorrow and a solid beginning to the rest of my life.”

She found something meaningful in every book she read, both fiction and non-fiction. In mysteries, the sense of satisfaction is huge when a solution is found. We want our world to have order and mysteries often provide this. However, sometimes it is important to accept that there may be no real solution.

Some books we breeze through, but others have us searching for more. Sankovitch quoted author Elizabeth Maguire -  “Have you ever been heartbroken to finish a book? Has a writer kept whispering in your ear long after the last page is turned?” Yes. Some books we can't forget.

I enjoyed reading this book and loved the ending, “So many books waiting to be read, so much happiness to be found, so much wonder to be revealed.”

She had a new book published by Simon & Schuster in 2014, Signed, Sealed, Delivered: Celebrating the Joys of Letterwriting. I think I’ll read that one soon. I have so many books on my “to read" list, but I still would welcome hearing about books that you enjoyed.

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