Sunday, March 31, 2019

Brain to Bookshelf Conference

This past weekend I attended the Maryland Writers’ Association’s conference from Brain to Bookshelf 2019. It was wonderful with good resources, a variety of speakers and a bookstore featuring Maryland writers.

I primarily became interested in the conference when I learned that Chuck Sambuchino would be one of the keynote speakers. I always enjoyed his columns in Writer’s Digest and knew he would have much to share. I wasn’t disappointed.

I didn’t think I would be able to sit through a four-hour intensive session on agents, submissions, queries and first pages, but I did. Others had expressed worry about sitting for so long but I didn’t see any one leave. Also, Sambuchino's other speeches and panels were popular.

Crystal Wilkinson, the other keynote speaker, who spoke on The Thin Line: Writing Memorable Characters.  Unfortunately I wasn’t able to attend her special session on writing poetry, but hope to be able to hear her again and enjoy her writing in the meantime.

My favorite workshop was “Creating a Reputation as a Local History or Niche Writer” with  James Rada. Besides being interested in writing local history, this workshop appealed to me because I worked with James Rada on the staff of the Cumberland Times-News. I had enjoyed his columns then and later read some of his books. Again, I was not disappointed. He gave an interesting presentation and was willing to discuss ideas and answer questions later in the day.

I really enjoyed “Reverse Engineering the Cozy Mystery” with Lane Stone, as she had us work with her to build a cozy mystery. Other workshops, including “Write Outside the Box and Stay Within the Room” with Linda Rondeau.

I didn’t schedule to meet with an agent since I felt it was too early in my current writing project to share it. Quite a few new books came home with me. Some of my books sold also and I left pleased with new writing friends as well as lots of inspiration and motivation.

I came home with books from some of the writers I met and information about others I hope to purchase in the future. Still processing information I learned, I am looking forward to 2020's conference to hear Jane Friedman speak. She is an award-winning blogger on all aspects of writing and publishing who will speak at the 2020 conference.

You can learn more about Maryland Writers’ Association at The nonprofit, voluntary organization is dedicated to the art, craft and business of writing.

Monday, March 11, 2019

Author Jamie Ford Speaks

After spending the first two months of 2019 reading, I am back to writing my blog and hope you enjoy it.

I recently heard author Jamie Ford speak to a sold-out audience about his award-winning book Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet. We each received a copy of the Special Edition 10th Anniversary Edition, which included a new short story, “Only Keiko,” an interview, a map of 1940s Seattle and an excerpt of his newest novel, Love and Other Consolation Prizes.

Ford is a New York Times Bestseller. He also has been awarded best "Adult Fiction" book at the 2010 Asian/Pacific American Awards for Literature. The book was also named the #1 Book Club Pick for Fall 2009/Winter 2010 by the American Booksellers Association.

The book continued to sell over the years and began to be included on school summer reading lists. The father of several teens, Ford found it humorous when he realized he had become homework.

It was as a teenager that he realized he wanted to write love stories after watching the movie “James at 15.” Love and history were his main interests.

Ford participated in writing sessions with Orson Scott Card, author of Ender’s Game and Speaker for the Dead.  Card recommended his students buy three out-of-print books at yard sales. Read them to look for errors and other things that seem wrong and may have led to the book being out of print, Card said. 

“Be true to reality,” he told us as he mentioned his characters, setting and story. This effort may help you realize when something is not right with your writing. It will help you be more aware of various errors and pitfalls. 

When he writes, Ford makes a timeline of what was happening during the time of his story, such as news events, music, cars, fashion, and songs. 

A question and answer period followed his talk. I found it interesting that the Panama Hotel (mentioned in the story) is still there. You can look down a glass panel in the floor and see the suitcases and other items stored there by the Japanese before they were taken to internment camps.

I had learned about these camps but had given little thought to the effects the Pearl Harbor attack had on the lives of Japanese and Chinese people in this country. Ford captures the confusion and fear in this story of two young people in Seattle in the 1940s and then one in the 1980s.

His novel Love and Other Consolation Prizes was supposedly inspired by a true story of a twelve-year-old boy raffled off as a prize at the 1909 Seattle World Fair. Like Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet, it offers interesting characters, historical details, and insights about morality, race, and culture, as does his novel Songs of Willow Frost.

I now have some more books to add to my “To Read” list. You can learn more about Ford’s books at

Monday, December 24, 2018

Christmas blogs

I have been a little lax with my blogs in recent months since I spent so much time on my two books – Storm on Savage Mountain and Haunted Station. However, I am back at the keyboard and planning to blog more often during 2019. To end this busy year, I am going to refer to back to Christmas blogs I wrote in the past.

2012 - I had just started writing this blog in February of that year. For December, I decided to write something light around Christmas and chose to discuss Funny Christmas Songs.

 “All I want for Christmas are my two front teeth” had special meaning to my family since it was appropriate for my daughter who knocked her baby teeth up into her gums when she was a toddler. We bought her a red-headed Cabbage Patch doll that was missing its two front teeth.

I still love to listen to David DeBoy’s humorous Christmas album, which includes “The Aluminum Christmas” Tree.” One of my aunts had one. A special light shining on it made it look like it was changing colors. This song brings back those memories of that tree “you might see on Mars.”

One of my favorites on that album is “Crabs for Christmas.” A big fella from Maryland, in his bowling league coat and Orioles cap, tells a Houston Santa that he wants crabs for Christmas. Steamed crabs and a beer “would be like a trip back to ole Balt-i-more.”

2014 - I titled my blog, A Christmas Gift. It was about the anthology Christmas Carroll, published that year by my local writing group. It includes various types of stories, poems and photos from people who live (or previously lived) in Carroll County, Maryland. Brief biographies and photos of the authors and artists make this book special. As it says on the back cover, “…this anthology written by our writing family for yours.” It is still available at Eclecticity in Westminster and on

2016 - Books for Christmas was the subject of a blog based on the annual “Books Sandwiched In” event at McDaniel College, Westminster, MD.  The bookish event celebrated its 25th anniversary that year.

I have gone to McDaniel Books Sandwiched In for years, but a sudden snowstorm closed the college for part of the day this year and the event was cancelled.  Happily the local newspaper, the Carroll County Times, ran an article about the presenter, Jane Sharpe, a retired college librarian who reads many books during the year to choose her favorite 25 to 35 books. The article included the list of her recommended books this year. It was helpful, but I missed her comments about why she chose the books and who may find them interesting.

I love to give books as gifts. Besides books for children (often given with a small toy) I have given books about sports, famous people, history, crafts, “How-to’s” and books by local authors.

2017 - In My Christmas Tree, I mentioned sentimental items that decorate my tree each year. Yes, they are hanging on my tree again this year, joined by some made by my young grandson. Lasr year, I wrote “Birds sing on my Christmas tree, stars twinkle, friends and family members live on. While decorating my Christmas tree I realized how much my collection of ornaments reflects my life.”

I enjoy going to garden centers and visiting the homes of family members and friends during the holiday season to enjoy the wide variety of decorated Christmas trees. However, I love my personal tree. Like my writing, it helps keep family and friends alive.

I hope you enjoyed this little step down memory lane. These full blogs are still available at if you want to read more.

Enjoy your special holiday traditions and have a wonderful Christmas season.

Tuesday, October 30, 2018

Plotting your book. There is help.

I recently heard author Jeanne Adams speak about Plotting for Success!  How to Plot, even if you hate it. She admitted that she often had trouble in the middle of her books and realized it would help if she developed some sort of plot.

Plotting can keep you from painting yourself into a corner or running into dead ends. It can help you finish your current book instead of moving on to a new one.

Some people told her to use sticky notes. That method did not work for her, so she sought other plotting ideas. She stressed that you have to do it your way. It must feel comfortable or you will not do it.

Plotting helps you know where you are going. It’s like a map. Even if you write by the seat of your pants, a plot can help fill in the gaps. With an outline you can start anywhere in your book, then go back and fill in things you have to do to get there.

The W Plot sounded the easiest to me. You start drawing a line from your inciting incident down to the first black moment, then back up to the midpoint of the story. Then you go back down to the big black moment and then rapidly up to the conclusion and wrap-up.

We worked with a few different stories using this method, choosing events to list along the sides and top of the W, creating a basic plot. You gradually can add more plot points.

If this method doesn’t work for you, Adams suggested Michael Hauge’s Six Stage Plot Structure with Five Turning Points. More details about that are available at

She also discussed Kurt Vonnegut’s method, the Snowflake method and working backward. Think - If you are stuck, what has to happen before you get to the end?

I have never liked outlining, but the W plot sounds like something I can do. With the basic story pictured, I could make an outline when the W becomes cluttered with my ideas.
Jeanne Adams, front center, with Carroll County writers and guests
She stressed to use whatever method works for you. For more information, check out or

Tuesday, October 9, 2018

Promoting books

As I mentioned in a previous blog, I recently self-published my first novel through Kindle Direct Publishing. KDP. Storm on Savage Mountain has been selling and I have been getting royalties, even though I haven't don't too much to promote it yet.

I wouldn't recommend self-publishing to everyone. It takes a lot of learning and a lot of effort, but it worked for me.

I have been  furiously writing a second book that takes place in the same area in the summer instead of in the mountain winter. Since it is titled The Haunted Train Station, I was trying to get it out before Halloween. Time is running out but I am still working hard.

Recently I sold a few of my books at the Open House held by the Carroll County Chapter of Maryland Writers' Association. Below is a photo of me signing one of my books.

I will be selling my books at Author Day, at the Carroll County Agricultural Center on Saturday, November 3rd, Westminster, MD, near the Farm Museum.

Because so much of this is new to me, I may not be doing things the best way to promote my books. I do have a lot more ideas, but worry I am neglecting my blog and duties I have with my writing group and my family.

I was thrilled to have my son and daughter-in-law visiting us from California recently. Writing had to be put on hold.

 It was a good time for a family picnic and other chances to get together.
We even have my son-in-law's parents visiting from Scotland.

So many wonderful things are happening, it is hard to spend as much time as I should at my computer. So I hope you will forgive me for missing a few of my blogs.

I have enjoyed writing my blogs, experimenting and changing as I went along. I am planning to continue to write them. Now, they may have a bit more personal information included, as well as continued advice about writing (from people more expert then I am) and about books worth reading. There are so many wonderful books, just waiting for us.

So if you are in the Westminster area on November 3rd, maybe take a few minutes to visit me and other area writers at Author Day.

If you aren't nearby, see if there is a similar event close to you.

Have fun reading and writing.

Wednesday, September 26, 2018

Books Change Lives

I have often felt that books had the power to change lives. I know when I read, I often feel a connection to what the author is writing about. Sometimes I learn something new that may help change my mind about a certain subject or person.
This spring I read The Books that Changed My Life, Reflections by 100 Authors, Actors, Musicians, and other Remarkable People, edited by Bethanne Patrick. It was just published in 2016. This book gives us insight into why books mean so much to people.

A few responses are generic, such as “I love all books,” but often still mention a few special books. It includes readers of cookbooks, classics, memoirs, business, poetry, children’s books and more.
It was interesting to see how books I read affected others and what information or insight I may have missed or not have needed at the time. Some are not surprising, others were. It also made me want to read some books I hadn’t read yet.
 It was interesting to see what types of books these people liked and a brief why.
The Story of Ferdinand by Munro Leaf shows it’s OK to be different.
The Andy Warhol Diaries shows that words can be art supplies.
Steve JobsTommy Hilfiger chose Steve Jobs by Walter Jacobson. He likes to read books about successful individuals, how they think, what makes them think, and show that even brilliant mind like Jobs make a lot of mistakes along the way. Mistakes are almost gifts, a challenge. Jobs was passionate about what he was doing.
For Lisi Lampanetti it was Solemate: Master the art of aloneness and transform your life by Lauren Mackler  “…I learn these life lessons thru books in a way that doesn’t happen with anything else; reading forces you to slow down and focus”

Peter Straub chose Look Homeward Angel by Thomas Wolfe “You’re not the same person when you reread a book, he said.”
Al Roker, who said he likes figuring things out, chose The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle..
For Susan Orlean it was The Sound & the Fury,  by Faulkner, “Feeling the transformational power of a book was world changing for me.”

Harriet, the spyLouise Fitzhugh’s Harriet the Spy was about an eleven-year-old girl who was called a spy. What she was really doing as she scribbled in her notebook was learning how to become a writer.
Tony P Hall, who was in congress for 20 years, became U.S. Ambassador to the UN Agencies for Food and Agriculture and director of the Alliance to End Hunger, chose The Bible. “The Bible is clear about how we are meant to deal with the issues of poverty and hunger.”
As Patrick says in the introduction, “Reading has power.”

I agree with her. Books can just be enjoyable diversions or entertainment, but they also make me think, learn, and empathize with others. I would recommend this book to people who love to read, especially if they like variety and are interested in what others enjoy reading. It’s a book you can go back to again and again.

Thursday, July 19, 2018

Murder at a Maryland Newspaper

I couldn’t believe what I was hearing and reading about on my computer. A gunman had killed five staff members at the Capital Gazette in Annapolis.

It wasn’t long before we were hearing about the dead, average men and women who were only doing their job that day as usual. I didn’t know any of them, but I cried for their families, their community and the loss to the newspaper world.

The murdered included Girl Scout leader and mother of four, Wendi Winters, 65, who kept the community informed with columns such as Teen of the Week and Home of the Week.

Gerald Fischman, 61, editorial writers who had been at the paper for 25 years and had worked at the Carroll County Times during the 1980s,

John McNanamara, 56, who had written two books on the university of Maryland during his 20 years at the Gazette. A graduate of UM he also loved to write about the university’s sports.

Rob Hiaasen, 59, assistant editor and features columnist. An article in the July 16 issue of People magazine mentioned that Hiaasen’s wife was celebrating her 58th birthday. She was waiting for him to come home before opening the present he had left for her. Now he would never come home again.

The youngest, Rebecca Smith, 34, was just hired last fall as a sales assistant and was engaged to be married. Little details like this that help us see these are just average people.

Each with their own story, each with a future that was cut short because of a man who hated and saw nothing wrong with taking a weapon and killing whoever he met, at what he considered his enemy, the community newspaper.

News media is our lifeline to what is happening in our world, letting us know things we need to know. Especially community newspapers, who not only let you know if your zoning may be changed, your taxes raised or your school closed (before these things happen so maybe you can do something).  They also run articles on fundraisers for charities, sports groups, medical emergencies, veteran programs, fairs, carnivals and other local events. They cover the graduations, the plays and the games of our children.

I had worked on my high school newspaper and went to work for the Carroll County Times soon after graduation. Since then I have written for other newspapers in Carroll and Alleghany counties and still write articles for non-profit groups.
I’ve always thought of journalism as an honorable profession with such writers as Mark Twain, Rudyard Kipling, Charles Dickens, Ernest Hemingway, Thomas Hardy, Edgar Allen Poe, Ken Follet, and even Winston Churchill.

Newspapers have been part of American life since before we became a country. Benjamin Franklin, a writer and a newspaper printer, was one of the leaders of American democracy. The Annapolis newspaper reportedly had been published since 1727.

A small way for to help something good come from this tragedy, go to

Donations to the Capital Gazette Families Fund will provide help for the families, victims and survivors of the mass shooting. Also, a Capital Gazette Memorial Scholarship Fund was created to provide an annual award for select students pursuing a degree in Journalism at the University of Maryland, College Park.

I am proud to have been a journalist and hope young people today continue to want to report the truth to the American people, whether through the written word, radio, television, computers or whatever else might be in our future.