Wednesday, May 31, 2017

Why join a writing group

Writing books and magazines encourage those interested in writing to join a writing or critique group. But what type of group should you join and where can you find one?
There are various types of writing groups just as there are a wide variety of writers.  You can find online, national, state and local writing groups, as well as genre groups such as Sisters in Crime, Romance Writers of America, Horror Writing Association, National Association of Writers, American Society of Journalists and Authors, and the Society for Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators.
Garrett County writers

Each can be a help and I have been, and am still in some. On a more personal level, a local writing group can help you fine tune your writing and get you used to having people read it and comment.
I was in a writing group in Garrett County, Maryland, called the Wednesday Writer’s Guild. We generally met on Wednesday evenings. We were amateurs interested in writing. We learned from each other and had fun.

Each writer, who wanted to participate, brought copies of a short piece to the meeting. Someone else read the piece, so the writer could hear how it sounded. If the reader paused or stumbled while reading, there might be a problem. When we read our own work, we tend to see words that aren’t there. We know they should be, so we automatically “read” them.
During the discussion, the author was not to speak or defend their work. Members offered suggestions, mentioned where they may have been confused, pointed out errors and asked questions. After the discussion was over, it was okay for the author to explain. Then we returned the papers, with comments and suggestions  to the writer.
Joelle Jarvis, Kerry Peresta, Lona
Queen at Balto. Book Festival
At monthly meetings, we critiqued partial chapters of novels, newspaper articles, short stories and poetry. One member introduced graphic novels to the group. Occasionally a topic or prompt was suggested for the next meeting. I enjoyed writing a short piece about a different topic. It was surprising the number of ideas that would come from the same sentence.
Many members were published in the area literary magazine, Ginseng, newspapers and in other media. Some also have published books.

Now I am with the Carroll County Chapter of Maryland Writers’ Association,  (CCMWA) which focuses on education and socialization.  Writing can be a lonely profession. It is encouraging to meet with others of like mind. We have speakers at most of our MWA meetings, but also encourage writers to attend other writing events, book festivals and conferences. Members also participate in write-ins such as National Novel Writing Month (Nanowrimo).
Betsy Riley at Gaithersburg
Book Festival
The CCMWA supports the Carroll County Critique Group. Participants can bring in what they want to read, but need to keep it short, depending on how many people attend. Again, prompts are occasionally suggested to encourage writers to try something new.

The Carroll County Novel and Short Story Writing Group published an anthology, Christmas Carroll, in 2015. It featured area writers and artists. Also, member Betsy Riley of Blue Dragon Press published the anthology, One Left Shoe, which included local writers.

The CCMWA is currently hosting a contest for Flash Fiction, which is a story of less than 500 words that includes a beginning, middle and end. If you are interested, email for details.

Writing groups encourage each other to write and publish. Each one can be unique, so look for one that meets your needs. You can check out to find a group in your area and contact information.

Saturday, May 6, 2017

Children's authors reveal secrets

In one week, I listened to three different authors of children’s books and decided to share some of the information each presented.

The first two authors spoke as part of the celebration of the 10th anniversary of Carroll County’s Battle of the Books, which is supported by the Learning Advantage partnership between the Carroll County Public Schools and the Carroll County Public Library. More than 300 people (primarily children) attended this event.
Kate Hannigan wrote The Detective’s Assistant, an historical novel about the first female detective. Pinkerton detective, which is a Black-Eyed Susan Award nominee.

Alan Pinkerton hired Kate Warne when he realized that she could worm secrets out of the wives and friends of those he was investigating. Her fictional niece, Cornelia, is the kid on the doorstep, who wants to belong somewhere. Eleven-year-old Nell Warne starts helping her aunt solve mysteries, one involving a plot to assassinate President Abraham Lincoln.

Hannigan spoke about the dark underbelly of children’s literature. – the parents have to be out of the picture, so the child can solve the problem. She handled the family problem all at once on page 6 of the book.

It took her two years to write this book that includes "history, mystery, fact and fiction.” She wanted to get it right for the real Kate Warne, who was buried near Pinkerton, along with other agents.

Hannigan ended her presentation dramatically, as volunteers from the audience helped unroll 65 feet of taped together rejection letters.

“That’s 65 feet of pain,” she said. You don’t give up if you want to succeed. Hannigan also is the author of the Cupcake Cousins series.
The next author to speak was Dave Roman, of the Astronaut Academy series. Drawing as he talked, he admitted he has always been a doodler. When thinking of writing a book, he thought about things he liked, such as outer space and a special school like Hogwarts. These led to his idea of the Astronaut Academy.

For him, the images and words come together at the same time. He enjoys puns, such as a sketch of the students “putting their heads together.”

He chose children to draw suggestions from the audience on a blank paper to demonstrate how he writes his books with graphics (or doodles).

Astronaut Academy: Zero Gravity was the 2015 winner of the Black-Eyed Susan Award and Astronaut Academy: Re-Entry is a current nominee. Roman also is a writer of graphic novels Teen Boot! and Agnes Quill: An Anthology of Mystery.

Moderator for the evening was Ted Zeleski, who asked questions of the authors. Later there were more questions from the audience.  lined up at the microphones. One child’s question led to Dave Roman revealing that he was already writing a third Astronaut Academy book.

This was an interesting and informative evening. I was impressed with the confidence and knowledge of the students who participate in the Battle of the Books program. I hope my young grandson is part of something like this when he is old enough.

The Carroll County Chapter of the Maryland Writers Association also hosted a children’s author that week. Sue Reifsnider, writes as Wendi Hartman. She talked about what she knew and how she used that knowledge in her books, such as in The Amish Impact from City to Farm, A New Season and The Letters.
“Start with what you know,” she said, but  additional research can add depth to your story. Whatever you do, pull your life into your books.

Raised in a rural area, she went to a small Christian college, worked on farms in Amish country, was a teacher, has a nursing background and strong ties with fire departments. She uses this information in her books.
During her talk, she used puppets and balloons. Kids are hurting, she said. It is important to get them to read and write.

I was impressed with her sense of humor and the knowledge she shared. You can find out more at Wendi’s Works & Writings.