Category Archives: Author Interviews

Wicked Good : An Interview and TWO Contests!

As part of the WOW! Women on Writing Book Blog Tour, please welcome authors (and sisters!) Joanne Lewis and Amy Lewis Faircloth as they share the journey of researching and writing a beautiful novel about a mother and her son with Asperger’s syndrome.

After the interview, please leave a comment or question for  Joanne or Amy for a chance to win a Kindle version of Wicked Good.

Details of the second contest (to win $100) follow the interview, as well.

Amy & Joanne


It was a chilly day in Maine when Amy received the call from her sister, Joanne, “Wanna write a book together?” Amy said yes and the journey began.

Amy is the older sister who loves her 2 sons and nephew, dogs, volunteering at the Bangor Humane Society, running, hiking, snowshoeing, surfing the web, her brown poodle Teddy, Lola, writing, reading, cycling, going to bed early, spending time with her friends and family, being outdoors when it’s nice outside and indoors when it’s not, and editing Joanne’s writing. She is a pescatarian and a lawyer in Maine.

Joanne is the younger sister who loves her 3 nephews, her grey poodle Frisco, writing, hiking, snowshoeing, kayaking, cooking, traveling, Florence, Italy, anything to do with the Italian Renaissance, Michelangelo, spending time with her friends and family, and being edited by Amy. She a vegetarian and a lawyer in Florida.

Two sisters, both attorneys; as sisters, Amy and Joanne have learned to play to each others strengths—an important lesson for any co-authors.



Interview by Mary Jo Campbell

1.     How did the idea of this story emerge and develop?

Joanne had written several novels and was between books. Amy had never written a book nor even thought about writing one. One day, on a whim, we decided to write a novel together for no other reason than we figured it would be a fun thing to do. The initial idea was about a mad scientist who seeks to extract DNA from a boy with Asperger’s syndrome in order to cure cancer. It didn’t take long before we realized that was a dumb idea. Over time and through many drafts, the story of a mother (Archer) and her adopted son (Rory) who has Asperger’s syndrome and searches for his birth parents began to emerge.

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2.     What was the research process like? Please share how you began, who you reached out to and how many notes were “left on the cutting room floor?”

As we developed the plot, we researched the issues that came up. We don’t out-line since we like the writing process to be organic. As we plotted if there was something we needed more information on we would stop writing and do the research until we felt comfortable continuing. Also, after we finished a draft that we felt good about, we would fill in gaps with additional research. To research, we used different processes. We used the Internet and books. For example, Rory loves lawn mowers and gas globes in Wicked Good. We knew very little about both. We learned a lot about them by researching on the Internet and reading books. We visited actual locations for the novel such as Bangor, Maine and Salem and Gloucester, Massachusetts. We asked questions of people who might have first-hand information. We also do a lot of research just by being aware of our surroundings, watching and listening. Amy’s son (Joanne’s nephew) has Asperger’s syndrome so her life is filled with experiences that could be used in Wicked Good. Just watching and listening to her son gave her information as to how Rory might act in a situation. We are both keenly aware of our surroundings and the people we come into contact with. For example, in the novel, Archer gives Rory the candy Skittles that she calls his feel-good pills. Amy got that idea from a friend who had done the same thing with her son. It’s these real life touches that make the fiction world of Wicked Good appear very real. As far as reaching out to people, there is a police officer in the novel so we contacted a friend of ours who is a former police officer to make sure we got the character of Campbell correct. It took us 3 years to go from inception to completion of Wicked Good with maybe 20 different drafts of the novel. Not a lot of research was left on the cutting room floor since our research is narrowly targeted. However, a lot of the novel was left on the cutting room floor. We did a lot of editing of Wicked Good. And when we thought we were done editing, we edited some more!

3.     You’re both lawyers with families. Please give us a glimpse into your writing routine/schedule. How do you fit it all in? And, more importantly, how do you get your family onboard?

Amy: I not only work as an attorney but I am on the Board of the Bangor Humane Society and volunteer there too. I write after work, Sunday afternoons and in bed before I go to sleep if I’m not too tired. I have two teenage boys who are quite happy when I am out of their hairs! Jo: I work as an attorney and volunteer as well. I write when I’m not working. Before work, after work, evening, weekends, sometimes until the wee hours of the morning. I don’t like a definite schedule. It’s not easy juggling a full-time job as an attorney with being a novelist but our family knows how important this is to us so they are completely on-board. Amy: We have also learned when not to write. Many times, it’s important to shut off the computer and spend quality time with our families. That’s why I always try and have dinner with my sons. Jo: I completely agree.

4.     Like I mentioned, I was pulled into Archer and Rory’s world from page one. The dialogue and setting are so strong. The emotion is tense, yet fragile. I’m always curious how many drafts writers go through from 1st to finished. Can you share your revision process? (i.e. Do you revise while writing; revise by hand, on computer; use a special technique, etc.?)

We do all our writing on the computer. Amy lives in Maine and Joanne lives in Florida so we e-mail drafts back and forth. We went through about 20 drafts of Wicked Good. After we got a handle on what the plot was going to be, we wrote it straight through without any major editing. We just wanted to get a first full draft done that was starting to look like the novel we wanted to write. Eventually, when we felt we had completed a decent draft, we gave a copy to each member of our mother’s book group. They took it very seriously, which we really appreciate. We went to the meeting when they discussed Wicked Good and they ripped it apart! While it was painful then, looking back it was an amazing experience. We dusted ourselves off and got back to work. We revise on the computer. When we make a lot of revisions and the draft starts to look significantly different, we save it under another name so we have all our drafts on our computers. And we back up everything on an external hard drive. Thank you for enjoying Wicked Good. There is nothing we want more than for people to get lost in Archer and Rory’s world as we did.

5.     What were the highs and lows of co-authoring a book? Do you think these were intensified because you’re sisters? 

The highs of writing the book feel endless. We know that sounds hokey but it really is true. Everything about writing Wicked Good is better because we are sisters. From day one, we decided to have fun writing Wicked Good. We both have good jobs so while we love writing we do not approach it with an expectation to make livings as full-time authors. That takes a lot of pressure off of us. The highs were speaking and e-mailing each other every day and learning about each other’s lives in a way we had never known before. The biggest high now is looking back and realizing what we have accomplished together. While we were great friends before we began writing Wicked Good, we are now the best of friends. We guess it could have gone the other way but are glad it didn’t. We’ve never had a fight over Wicked Good. If we have a disagreement over the plot, we discuss it and usually reach a compromise very quickly. However, if Amy is adamant about plotting or characterization, she usually prevails since she is the one who lives with a child on the autism spectrum and is most qualified to keep Wicked Good realistic in that regard. And she is the older sister too! The lows have really involved post-publication and marketing. The reviews have been great and Wicked Good has won an award and is up for another award (to be announced in October) but getting Wicked Good out there has been difficult. We know it takes one reader at a time. We are hoping as more people read Wicked Good and they tell their friends who tell their friends…so please, if you enjoy Wicked Good, please tell your friends and family.

6.     Do you have any future writing projects planned together or individually?

Yes, to both. We are working on the second book in the Wicked series called Wicked Wise. In Wicked Good, Rory is fifteen years old. In Wicked Wise, he is nineteen and graduating high school. We are planning on following Rory into old age. We are hoping to have Wicked Wise released in 2012. Individually, Joanne is in the final editing process of a historical fiction novel called The Lantern that will be released by the end of this year, or early 2012.

Please leave a comment or question for the authors to be entered to win a Kindle version of Wicked Good! Winner will be randomly selected and announced tomorrow, Wed. Sept 21

And, now the deets on the $100 contest:

Have you ever said something that totally stopped conversation? Maybe it was insightful. Maybe it was weird. Maybe it was the thing everyone was thinking but was afraid to say. Rory, the teenage character in Wicked Good, is the master of conversation stoppers—his family calls them “Roryisms”.

WOW! is hosting a “Roryism” contest; the winner will receive a $100 prepaid Visa card and their Roryism will be published in the next book in the Wicked series. Full details can be found on The Muffin.


Filed under Author Interviews, books, contests

Interview & Book Giveaway: Amira Aly, Egypt: The Uprising

Amira Aly

Please welcome, Amira Aly, author of the YA novel, Egypt: The Uprising. Amira answers my questions on the timeliness of her novel, being a doctor and a novelist, writing against the regime without fear and her secret writing weapon. Enjoy this fascinating interview and be entered in the ebook giveaway drawing by leaving  a comment or question for our author. Entries will be randomly selected on Wednesday, August 10.

Interview by Mary Jo Campbell

Welcome, Amira! Thank you for taking the time to answer my interview questions. I’m sure my readers will glean much from your responses.   In your unofficial bio on your site, you say “Oh, {I’m} also a full-time writer and part-time doctor.”  I Love that irony! It’s unique to see those who study medicine/science also having a passion for creativity and art. How does one help the other in your life?

Thank you Mary Jo. It’s funny because there is a long line of doctors-turned-writers in Egypt. I guess it stems from the pressures Egyptian society exerts on us. We, ‘artsy’ types with scientific potential, are usually cajoled into pursuing a more traditional career. I think we end up studying medicine because deep down in every writer there’s a romanticism that lends itself nicely to medicine.

Studying medicine, and practicing it in the setting of a developing country among the poor of the nation, has enriched my understanding of human beings and exposed me to the most interesting characters one can come across. I also think that seeing and experiencing suffering first hand taught me a lot about human nature and how people react to trauma–things that I would not have otherwise been exposed to in my otherwise sheltered life.

Post-apocalyptic stories seem the new trend, but your book has a slight edge, as Egypt has already been dealing with political uprisings, the most recent being broadcast world-wide in January, 2011.  First off, when did you begin writing the ideas of this book and how long was the publication process, from brainstorming to finished product in hand? It seemed perfectly timed with the riots.

I had been fiddling around with the idea of a book set in post-apocalyptic Egypt where the goddess of justice, Maat, meets up with a young Egyptian girl to help her on the quest to “set things right.”

When the uprising broke out, I felt like this was a perfect opportunity for Maat’s intervention in modern history–after all justice and equality were the demands of the protestors.

I had all the Egyptian mythology research ready (approximately two years worth) and various character notes. I wrote the book in a little under three months.


Have you had any political resistance to the release of your book? I’m thinking back to the internet being shut down during the uprising in January and how scary that must have been for the citizens.  Were /Are you concerned for your safety while writing and/or releasing this book?

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When I started writing the book, I had no idea that we would “win” and that Mubarak will be ousted.

Being politically active on the internet through social media, I’d made it abundantly clear that I was anti-regime. So I suppose that I would’ve been rounded up with the rest of the “virtual” activists had Mubarak stayed in power.

But I was not concerned about that. There was so much more at stake that my safety somehow just felt of secondary importance. The young innocent lives taken by the security forces and regime thugs left a bitterness and aching in me that superseded any other feeling.



Can you tell us a bit about your writing practice – any routines, quirks, rules you follow?

I, unfortunately, am very peculiar when it comes to my writing habits. I can only write when it’s cool (my AC bill always speaks for how much writing I get done in the summer.)

When working on my novels, my best writing comes when I am in the “twilight zone,” not fully awake and alert, usually late at night or just after I wake up and before my morning coffee. Sure, the writing is usually full of typos, but I feel like this is when I best access my creativity.

I also have a secret writing weapon–my husband! Without him, I’d be totally lost.

He takes my toddler and 7-year-old daughter out whenever I need some alone time to concentrate on my writing.


Can you share your tips for research?

After extensively researching Egyptian mythology I thought I had everything figured out. But when I started writing, this turned out to be far from true. I heard some writers talk about a research-as-you-write process, and I think it is an excellent idea which can significantly cut novel writing prep time.


Anything unusual you found while researching for this book?  Can you give us an example of how you merged factual data with your fictional world?


Many unusual things came my way during researching the ancient Egyptian mythology and culture. Most interesting was that the known ‘myths’ or accounts of the relationships between the Neteru, or gods, are not ‘set in stone’ (pun not intended.) They vary depending on where in Egypt the information was found and during which dynasty. Some like Seth, god of the underworld, for instance was not vilified until later in ancient Egypt’s history. Earlier accounts of him talk about him being an ally of the sun god Ra.

There is a lot of room for interpretation of Egyptian myths. And I had a pretty set idea about which bits and pieces I was going to mix together.

Fact meets fiction many times in my book, starting with the Egyptian revolution of January 25th 2011 of course.  The looting of the Egyptian Museum of Antiquities in Tahrir Square is the quintessential fact upon which I build my world.  The museum was in fact looted by pro-government thugs during the uprising; I  fictionalize why that happened and present an interesting theory about the onset of the revolution.

One key artifact in my story is the gilded Trumpet of Tutankhamen, a trumpet which was dubbed “the trumpet of war” and postulated to possess a magical ability to start war. Egyptian Minister of Antiquity, Dr. Zahi Hawass, had even issued a statement about some Japanese delegation sounding the trumpet one week before the revolution started!

I’d chosen to include that trumpet in my story ever since I saw that it was on the list of the missing artifacts from the museum, even before Hawass had made that statement, but when he did I decided to add a Japanese element to my mix.

I also have a fact or fiction section on my website to specifically address all questions I receive about sorting out the factual from the fictional.


What’s next for Amira? Are you staying on the writerly path or devoting your time to medicine?

The writerly path it is! Being a novelist is an addiction I cannot cure myself of I am afraid.  I want to tell my stories to the world. Now that I’ve started, there is no stopping me.

About the Author…

Amira Aly lived in Canada up until her first year in university when she moved to Egypt to study medicine at the University of Cairo. It seemed she was on the traditional route of a medical career working as an intern and teaching assistant in the surgical pathology department. But then she discovered the wonderful world of freelance medical writing. And who could resist its charms?

Egypt: The Uprising isn’t Amira’s first book. There was that picture book she wrote when she was five years old. Sadly, publishers didn’t recognize its brilliance but it was the first step on a life filled with a love of writing.

When she isn’t writing Amira likes to read her favorite authors Anne Rice, Stephen King, and F. Scott Fizgerald. She also spends time dancing, playing video games, and eating her favorite food Molokheya (an Egyptian green soup). She’d like to squeeze in time to learn a fourth language. She already speaks English, Arabic, and French. Amira lives in Cairo with her husband, 7 year old daughter and 17 month year old son. Her children would like to add a dog to that list but Amira, still traumatized by the loss of a pet turtle, has sworn off pets. That, and she knows she’ll be the one walking the dog even though everyone promises they will.

About the book…

Aya is a teenage girl trying to live through the Egyptian Revolution of January 2011 with her brother and aunt without getting swept up into the demonstrations and violence. But fate has something else in mind for Aya. What starts out as an attempt by Aya to drag her brother and is friends away from the demonstrations transforms into a battle with ancient Egyptian figures who have returned from the past to take control of modern Egypt. Can Aya learn enough about her mysterious past and powers in time to save her world from the evil threatening it?

Egypt: The Uprising is a fascinating combination of modern events, historical figures, secret organizations with magical powers, and adventure that keeps readers on the edge of their seats.

“Reminiscent of National Treasure, this young adult book has a little of everything for reader – sibling rivalry and love, family dynamics, young crushes, loyalty, magic,fabled creatures and beings, strange worlds and journeys.”

Shaeeza Hanif, Amazon Review

“Very few people could have pulled this off and created a story with such layering, a story that reads like a credible Hollywood screenplay in the mold of Raiders of the Lost Ark with the scholarly underpinning of a National Geographic documentary.” – Amazon Review

Egypt: The Uprising is available for purchase in print and e-book formats at Amazon and Barnes and Noble, in various e-book formats at eBookIt!, and for the iPad, iPhone, or iPod Touch at the Apple iBookstore.


Filed under Author Interviews, books, Fiction, Give Aways

And the Winner Is…

The lucky winner* of Tracy Seeley’s book, My Ruby Slippers, The Road Back to Kansas  is..

Carol Wong!

Congratulations Carol! Please send me your snail mail address via email to mjcwriter”at”comcast”dot net.

Thanks to all who visited and left comments and a special thank you to Tracy for the insightful interview and book donation!

Stay tuned for more guest posts, interviews and book giveaways coming in the next weeks.

*I use when selecting a random winner


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Interview & Book Giveaway: Tracy Seeley: My Ruby Slippers, The Road Back to Kansas

Win this Book!!

  A special treat today! Tracy Seeley, author of My Ruby Slippers: The Road Back to Kansas, answers my questions on reliving her childhood, positioning a new memoir and creating a writing community. Plus! A chance to win a copy of her book! See details at end of the interview…

Watch the book trailer now >> The My Ruby Slippers book trailer 

Tracy Seeley

About the Author: A bout with breast cancer and a betrayal by a loved one encouraged Tracy Seeley to search for her past in what she had believed to be a long forgotten childhood in Kansas. A plan for just one trip back to the past evolved into several trips to the Midwest that revealed her hidden feelings about the meaning of family.

Along with beautiful descriptions of a state most of us know little about and associate with…flatness and cornfields, Seeley paints for us an inner map. The map from the interactions of her childhood family to her present day relationships with the men in her life. Seeley has put away her wandering shoes long enough to join us for a WOW Blog Tour featuring her memoir My Ruby Slippers: The Road Back to Kansas.

What inspired the idea to write My Ruby Slippers: The Road Back to Kansas?

My first inspiration came from a list of 13 addresses my mother had written in my baby book—all the places I’d lived by the time I was 9.  I was curious.  I didn’t remember the first 7 places, and had long thought I’d go back and follow my family’s wanderings and just see what turned up.  It took me a long time to finally make that trip.  When I did, my parents had recently died, I’d been diagnosed with breast cancer, and the man I’d lived with for a long time had left me for someone else.  So inspiration also came from those events.  The childhood moving and the more recent dramatic changes in my life all uprooted me in different ways.  In my books, I wanted to explore rootlessness and change and my own desire for a deep-rooted sense of place.  I’d never had one before.

With all the memoirs out there, especially from big-name rock stars, how did you angle your memoir to get it picked up by an agent/publisher?

I actually couldn’t find an agent—and I think you’ve put your finger on the challenge there.  I had a signing event at a Barnes & Noble recently, and while I sat at my little signing table chatting quietly with customers and signing a few books, across the lobby from me was a huge rack filled with Steve Tyler’s new memoir, Does the Noise in My Head Bother You?  It cracked me up.  Me and Steve Tyler at the bookstore together.

But it also reminded me of how tough it is to get an agent or big publishing house interested in a memoir if you’re not already well-known or your memoir doesn’t touch on a controversial, dramatic or currently newsworthy subject.  It’s very, very tough out there. 

So after the agent search didn’t work, I started looking for small presses that supported literary nonfiction.  I knew about the University of Nebraska Press and their trade list, which includes a lot of strong, literary nonfiction, including their ‘American Lives’ series.  They also publish books with Midwestern connections.  All of that made them a good fit for my particular book. 

So I pitched My Ruby Slippers to them as a memoir of place, a genre with a long and revered tradition.  Writers I admire, like Wallace Stegner, Joan Didion, Gretel Erhlich, Kathleen Norris and Terry Tempest Williams have all published memoirs about place.  At the same time, as I’m sure you know, the trick is to fit a genre with a track record, and yet add a new and different voice.  So my pitch focused on what was old and familiar as well as new and different about My Ruby Slippers

Ultimately, the writing had to be good, too.  But getting the pitch in the door was my first victory.

What was the most interesting discovery you made on your trip back to your childhood “homes?”

My most interesting discovery was how much I didn’t know! I learned so many interesting things about Kansas that I’d never learned growing up—like the story of Nicodemus, the farming town that was settled by African-Americans after the Civil War.  It’s a dying small town now, like so many in rural America.  But I visited there during their annual Homecoming celebration, talked to people who’d grown up there, and really loved the deep loyalty so many people felt for the town.  A lot of them have moved away but still come back every year for Homecoming.  There’s a nice little museum there—so if you’re anywhere near Nicodemus, go!

I also discovered the story of Sadie, a Pawnee girl whose parents died in the 19th century.  It really resonated with me because it’s a story of family loss and having to leave a place you love—so I tell her story alongside mine in My Ruby Slippers.

Did the research conjure up any strong emotions, good or bad, and how did you decide what to include and what to exclude during the drafting phase?

Writing about my childhood and family stirred up a lot of feelings—both good and bad.  The many times we moved created a lot of emotional havoc, and coming to terms with what that rootlessness and family chaos had cost us all was hard.  At the same time, writing is an art.  It’s about taking raw material and raw emotion and creating something new.  It helps give a meaning and shape to experience, which finally  helped me let a lot of the past go.    

Deciding what to include and what to exclude was always a balancing act.  What memories and stories had the strongest pull on me?  What parts of the story really fit the book and its preoccupations as it took shape?  Those are two different kinds of questions.  One is emotional or psychological, the other is aesthetic.  So I began writing about the material that just wouldn’t let me go.  I knew it was important for some reason.  The more I wrote, the more I understood what fit the book’s shape and focus would be.  And then decisions became more about the art of the book. 

A lot of pages ended up in a drawer.  Not because I didn’t feel strongly about them, but because in the end, they didn’t really fit the book.  But as you know, those excluded bits are never lost.  Some will emerge in other forms, others will be valuable because they got me where I wanted to go.

It seems your childhood relocating inspired many more travels throughout your life. Are you thinking of writing another travel memoir? If not, what else is in your writing well?

I’ve just started in on a new long-term project, and it’s not a travel memoir.  I don’t think.  It will do some of the same things that My Ruby Slippers does, like interweave personal stories with other, bigger stories.  This one’s rooted in 1918, so it entails earlier generations of my family, but also includes stories from around the world.  That’s all I want to say for now.  It’s just beginning to take shape and I want it to build up some steam before I say more.  Though I know the general subject, I’m not sure what kind of book it will be.  So we’ll all be surprised when the time comes.

I hear you teach writing courses to faculty as well as encourage more writing in the community. Tell us more about your teaching projects! (I also teach creative writing workshops independently in my community and always welcome new ideas to grow!)

I actually don’t teach writing to faculty, though that would be fun!  And several have asked.  Instead, I started a college Faculty Writing Initiative program.  The aim is to build a writing community that supports faculty writing, including mine.  The great thing is, what we do there would work for any kind of writing.

Our first activity is a once-a-month salon where we socialize, have wine and cheese, and hear other faculty talk about and read from their newly-published work.   We also have monthly all-day writing retreats, which give us a big block of time to make real progress on whatever projects we’ve got going. 

But the centerpiece of the Faculty Writing Initiative is writing groups, and I’d encourage everyone out there to create one.  We don’t share and critique work, because everyone’s working in a different discipline.  But writers sign up for a block of hours at the same time and day every week.  We have a beautiful writing room with a long, antique writing table in the middle and work stations around the edges.  When it’s someone’s scheduled time, they join their group in the writing room—and away they go. 

During the writing blocks, we write for 45 minutes then take a 15 minute break.  That seems like a lot of break time, but it really works.  No one enters or leaves the room during that 45 minutes, so it’s focused, concentrated time.  During the breaks, we relax, talk about our work, and get to know each other.  And because of the breaks, we’re actually more productive.  People get enormous amounts of writing done, even if they can only come to a group two hours a week. 

The process creates real community—and because we feel obligated to show up at our appointed time to support other writers, we show up for ourselves, too. 

As all writers know, it’s hard to make writing time when you have a full-time job doing other things.  Teaching and service work at my university can crowd out everything else.  Any job can.  As head cheerleader for the Writing Initiative, I encourage everyone to put their writing time into their calendars just as they would a dentist appointment.  Then if some possible conflict comes up, they can say, “Oh, I have something else at that time—and I can’t miss it.”

We have groups meeting during all work hours, five days a week.  Depending on the day and time, groups range from two writers to twelve.  Fridays are jammed.  As many as 25 people come then, and many spend the entire day.  Fridays are exciting!

I wrote most of My Ruby Slippers in my Friday writing group, so I know that writing in groups works for me.  It’s also given me some close friends and relationships with colleagues I wouldn’t know otherwise.  I really encourage writers of all kinds to create a work group.  It’s the best combination of carrot and stick I know.  And it’s fun.

To learn more about Tracy and My Ruby Slippers, visit:

website :

twitter: @tracy_seeley

Facebook page:  My Ruby Slippers: the Road Back to Kansas

 OK, interested in getting your own FREE! copy of My Ruby Slippers? Just leave a comment and/or question for our guest author by midnight tonight, July 19, and be entered in a random drawing. US residents, only, please!  Winner will be announced Wed., July 20  


Filed under Author Interviews, books, Give Aways

5 prompt Friday

         Here we go again…

  1. The empty feeling in my stomach spread to my chest and head, threatening to pull me inside out.
  2. How do I say this to you?
  3. On her wrist was a bracelet made from multi-colored paperclips.
  4. His voice crackled through the walkie-talkie, “The Eagle Has Landed.”
  5. Are you ready to do this?

Have a story or prompt to share? Post it here : ) Happy writing!


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Tuesdays with…Mari L. McCarthy: JOURNALING


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Journal: Write: Reflect

By Mari L. McCarthy

If the world seems to be off its rocker, your friends turn on you, everybody’s pressuring you, and your mother is obviously out to ruin your life, it’s time you took up journaling.

Keeping a journal is like having a secret garden or hideaway that is always available to you. You can go there anytime, and you always come back from there with a better grip on life.

It seems like a simple thing, and it is. You just get hold of a small notebook and keep a pen with it, and have it always in your purse or back pocket. Whip it out at the mall, on the bus, between classes, at the basketball game, in the middle of the night. Make note. Observe. Reflect. Notice what you notice.

Or you can do it more formally, of course, with a nice big notebook, a selection of pens by your cozy chair at home, and an ingrained daily habit of writing every evening at 9. Whatever works. Whatever system best encourages you to reflect on your experiences and articulate your reflections.

The more you become accustomed to reflecting like this, the more you appreciate the enormity of your awareness, and the infinite number of possibilities that are open to you.

Here are a few ideas to write about, just to kickstart your practice.

  • Write about what makes your best friend special to you.
  • Recollect the best vacation you ever took. 
  • Describe your immediate family and what makes each person unique. 
  • Write about your proudest accomplishment. 
  • Describe your favorite activity or sport to do in your spare time.


Or try this: make a scrapbook snapshot. Create a mini time capsule of your life by filling a page or two with photos, magazine cutouts, drawings and writing about what you love at the moment. Include your favorite foods, books, toys, movies, hobbies, songs, hangouts and friends, and go into detail about why you like these things.

Another idea: think back to a time when you were younger. Doesn’t matter how much younger, just some event that occurred when you were appreciably less experienced than you are now. What would it be like to have a conversation with your younger self? What would you say as encouragement? How would your younger self view the person that you are now?

I love coming up with prompts for journaling, but the soul of journaling is You and Your practice and Your understanding and joy. Interacting in a friendly way with your experiences, especially your younger self, can turn up a ton of good stuff, including making you feel happier and more confident in the here and now.

Mari L. McCarthy

By Mari L. McCarthy – The Journaling Therapy Specialist, founder of Journaling for the Health of It™.  Please visit Mari’s blog at In 27 Days of Journaling to Health and Happiness (—27-days-of-journaling-to-health–happiness/), Mari walks you through an easy process for accessing your natural inner strengths. Mari’s latest publication is titled, Who Are You? How to Use Journaling Therapy to Know and Grow Your Life. See for details.

 *For a chance to win a FREE copy of the ebook 27 Days of Journaling to Health and Happiness, leave a comment under this post before MIDNIGHT. Winner will be randomly selected and announced Wednesday, May 18


Filed under Advice, Author Interviews, books, Give Aways

Tuesday with…author, Nava Atlas

Follow the tour to win this book!

Ever wonder what hurdles women writers in history had to endure? And what might we learn from them? Today I’m sharing my  interview with Nava Atlas, author of The Literary Ladies’ Guide to the Writing Life, a book of first person accounts from women writers in history who broke the mold and paved the way for us.  Enjoy the interview – and please, leave a question or comment for our guest. Nava will be popping in to respond throughout the day!

Don’t forget to follow the rest of Nava’s book tour sponsored by Wow! Women on Writing, for a chance to win a free copy of The Literary Ladies’ Guide to the Writing Life!

Interview by: Mary Jo Campbell

I’m so excited to read The Literary Ladies’ Guide to the Writing Life! What gave you the idea for this book?

As both a writer and a visual artist, I’ve long been fascinated with the creative process and love to read artists’ and writers’ biographies. A few years ago, when my sons had hit their teens, I had the crazy notion to go back to grad school for a Master’s degree in Art Studio so I could update my rusty design skills, study theory, and learn how to make limited edition hand-made books.

One of my classes was called Printed Books and I worked on making a little book of brief passages on the writing life that I’d started to collect. The book, a rudimentary version of the one we’re discussing now was also called The Literary Ladies’ Guide to the Writing Life. and how it ended up being published is a story unto itself, but it goes to show that if you believe in an idea, and are willing to persevere and go deeper with it, it can grow in surprising ways.

After researching for this book and undoubtedly learning about the struggles these ladies had to endure in their writing careers, what can the modern woman writer learn?

That’s a great question and truly the point of the book. We look at our favorite literary icons and think that with their talent and achievements, they must have burst forth from the womb fully destined for their successful outcomes. In truth, most of the twelve authors I focus on in the book (as well as other classic women authors) each had particular obstacles and struggles to overcome.

One of the great lessons learned from this book is that no one had success handed to them; all these authors worked incredibly hard and kept going despite setbacks, and life’s large or mundane problems. Even someone like Edith Wharton, a wealthy heiress, struggled with a crippling lack of self-confidence and a whopping inferiority complex. We see in these classic authors a mirror of our own experience, and that’s quite comforting.

Do you see any parallels with the writing process and life balance between the Literary Ladies and modern women writers?

Striving to find one’s voice (as well as the confidence to use it), learning to be disciplined, facing rejection, finding time to write, dealing with self-doubt—these are amazingly universal experiences. The contemporary woman writer reading the Literary Ladies’ first-person narratives on these very issues and others will take courage from the fact that she’s not the only writer struggling with them. Of course, what’s more important is to overcome issues and obstacles, which the twelve Literary Ladies did gloriously; and that’s where the inspiration kicks in!

Fewer women writers of the past were also mothers than I think is true today. Only four of the Literary Ladies had children, and that’s pretty representative of female authors of the past. Madeleine L’Engle and Harriet Beecher Stowe were two of them, and they directly addresses their balance issues in the chapter titled The Writer Mother. Stowe was burning to write what ultimately became Uncle Tom’s Cabin, and lamented, “As long as the baby sleeps with me nights, I can’t do much at anything, but I will do it at last.” Sound familiar? Others who didn’t have children, like Louisa May Alcott, still had to work to support themselves or their families. Alcott did a lot of anonymous hack writing to support her mothers and sisters. Perhaps she felt a bit compromised by it, but on the other hand, doing nothing but writing for a living helped sharpen her writing skills and voice.

Writing to me means thinking, digging, pondering, creating, shattering. It means getting at the meaning of all things; it means reaching climaxes; it means moral and spiritual and physical life all in one.

— Anais Nin

How do you think we’ve changed as a society to help or hinder women writers today?

Women authors had greater odds and prejudices to overcome in the nineteenth century; and by this I mean white women authors. Because of the way things were, women of color as well as women of other ethnic descent didn’t gain much traction until after the civil rights movement, with the exception of a small number of  pioneers like Zora Neale Hurston (who I wish I could have made one of the Literary Ladies, but couldn’t find enough in her first-person narratives about her writing life). So that has been one positive development.

I wish I could say that women writers have made huge strides since the earlier part of the 20th century, but surprisingly that isn’t true. I compared the best-seller list of the 1930s with today’s and it was such an eye-opener. Women—including some of those in this book, like Willa Cather, Edna Ferber, and even Virginia Woolf (plus other renowned authors like Pearl Buck and Margaret Mitchell were not only topping the best-sellers lists, but reaping Pulitzers like crazy. According to a National Endowment for the Arts survey, professional women writers are making 80% of their male counterparts’ earnings, which is pretty much what it is across the board these days.

One other change that’s not so positive is that in the age of proliferating media and the internet, sources of paid writing have shrunk dramatically. While it’s great that the internet has fostered the democratization of writing, there is also a sense that everyone who writes is a provider of free content, for the glory of promotion or a link. Several of the Literary Ladies worked as journalists, others editors, and still other cut their teeth by writing sketches, articles, column-fillers—print media, after all, was all their was. This allowed them to sharpen their writing skills with the very same effort as making a living.

Which Literary Lady’s story inspired you the most and why? Which of these ladies do you most resonate with?

Though I’m no heiress like she was, I really appreciated Edith Wharton’s  honesty about her struggle to overcome lack of self-confidence. I’ve had to face that as well. And when you do experience that moment of revelation that others do appreciate and respect your creative efforts, it’s really liberating and gives you the courage to do much more than you ever imagined. I haven’t received a Pulitzer or gotten an honorary doctorate like she did, but I can dare to dream now! And I also really like Charlotte Brontë. She was self-described as “small and plain” (like her heroine, Jane Eyre) but she seemed so formidable. She was the ringleader of the trio of talented sisters which included herself, Emily (Wuthering Heights) and Anne (Agnes Grey). She seemed like the kind who wouldn’t take flak from anyone.

“At last I had groped my way through to my vocation, and thereafter I never questioned that story-telling was my job … I felt like some homeless waif who, after trying for years to take out naturalization papers, and being rejected by every country, has finally acquired a nationality. The Land of Letters was henceforth to be my country and I gloried in my new citizenship.”

— Edith Wharton, From A Backward Glance, 1934

Tell us what is next in your writing and promotion projects!

Aside from the WOW blog tour, I’m connecting with others in the vast writing community to do guest posts and interviews; this week I’ll also be doing an interview on the BlogTalk radio show Feisty Side of Fifty (, readings, library events, and I hope in the fall to speak to college classes on my travels. I hope I can participate in literary festivals and book fairs. There are so many ways to go with a book about writing and classic authors!

To keep up with events please visit the book’s site, and click on Events. Or connect with me on Facebook ( for up-to-the-minute Literary Ladies sightings and events!

In one of my other two lives (aside from writing, there’s visual art, and vegan food), I have a vegan cookbook coming along this fall, Vegan Holiday Kitchen (late Oct., sorry, no link yet). Years ago, I tried twice to write novels but gave up when it started to feel too hard. I put it out publicly in the preface to The Literary Ladies’ Guide to the Writing Life that I want to do a graphic novel. Now that I understand that even for the true giants of writing, the effort often felt arduous and lonely, I’ll be less likely to give up! Even if nothing comes of it, I’m going to see the project through. Check back with me in a couple of years on that!

Mary Jo, thanks for these thought-provoking questions, and for hosting me on your site today.

You are very welcome, Nava! Thank you for visiting Writers Inspired!

About the Book:

In this celebration of twelve remarkable “literary ladies,” Nava Atlas reveals how such pioneering authors as Louisa May Alcott, Jane Austen, Charlotte Bronte, Willa Cather, Edna Ferber, Madeleine L’Engle, L.M. Montgomery, Anais Nin, George Sand, Harriet Beecher Stowe, Edith Wharton, and Virginia Woolf pursued their dreams of becoming a writer–and how the lessons of their lives can inspire today’s writers. Drawing on the personal journals, diaries, memoirs, and letters of these brilliant, unique women, Atlas explores how they balanced their own individual literary voices, dealt with rejection, struggled with their own inner demons, and basked in the triumphs of success.

The Literary Ladies’ Guide to the Writing Life is a lively and incisive look at what it takes to be a writer and to hold onto belief in one’s own talent, sometimes despite enormous obstacles. Sumptuously illustrated, this book brings to life these twelve classic authors in their own vividly compelling words. Nava Atlas accompanies their quotations with fascinating biographical details and her own insightful reflections on the writing life. As she says in her introduction, this book is “a treasury of intimate glimpses into the unfolding creative process across twelve brilliant careers.” Atlas includes the voices of other female writers as well, ranging from Zora Neale Hurston to Colette to Anne Lamott, to capture a spectrum of literary wisdom. For all who dream of living the writing life, this is a book to treasure.

About the Author:

Nava Atlas Nava Atlas is the author and illustrator of many well-known vegetarian and vegan cookbooks, including Vegan Express, Vegan Soups and Hearty Stews for All Seasons, The Vegetarian Family Cookbook, and The Vegetarian 5-Ingredient Gourmet. Her first book was Vegetariana, now considered a classic in its field. In addition, she has published two books on humor, Expect the Unexpected When You’re Expecting! (A parody), and Secret Recipes for the Modern Wife.

Nava is also a visual artist, specializing in limited edition artist’s books and text-driven objects and installations. Her work has been shown nationally in museums, galleries, and alternative art spaces. Her limited edition books are housed in numerous collections of artist’s books, including the special collections libraries of The Museum of Modern Art (NY), National Museum of Women in the Arts (Washington, DC), National Library of Fine Arts, and dozens of academic collections.

Learn more about Nava’s work at and, in addition to, and connect with her on Facebook and Twitter.


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Filed under Advice, Author Interviews, books, Inspiration

Guest Post and Book Giveaway: Heart With Joy

Please welcome our guest today, Steve Cushman, as he talks about the sneaky ways authors can get their books into readers’ hands!  Also – leave a comment or question for a chance to win his latest release: Heart With Joy.*

*Scroll down to read a summary of Heart With Joy

Guerilla Marketing

by: Steve Cushman

As writers we are always looking for ways to get the word out about our work and to get our writing into the hands of readers.  This is particularly true if you are being published by a small press, like my latest novel Heart With Joy, which was published in September by Canterbury House Publishing out of Boo

ne, North Carolina.

One day, a fellow writer and I decided to do something he called Guerilla Marking to try to generate a buzz about my novel.  This is how it would work:  we would go around and drop copies of my novel off at various public places with the idea that people would pick it up, read it, and it might spark some interest.  Perhaps even someone who picked one up would happen to be cousins with Francis Ford Coppola or Judd Apatow.  They’d love the book and pass it on to their famous cousin and then I’d be a rich and famous writer.  Well, you get the idea.

So we had done this around our hometown of Greensboro, North Carolina, and I’d gone to New York in September for work and left a couple of copies in Manhattan, Times Square, my hotel, etc..

At the end of October, I was traveling for work to Wisconsin with a layover in Chicago.  I thought okay, I’ll drop one at O’hare and one in the airplane.  So as we landed I slid a copy of Heart With Joy into the seat back in front of me and walked off the plane.  Mission accomplished.  Well, sort of.  After an hour layover, I actually boarded the same plane again.

I was one of the last people on and as I walked in the flight attendant was standing at the door holding my novel.  She smiled at me and asked, “Is this yours?  I think you may have left it.”

I didn’t know what to say and wasn’t about to explain to her why I’d left a copy of my novel.  If that wasn’t bad enough, as I walked back to my seat I passed a half-dozen co-workers and each one asked, as if they were part of some comedy script, “Steve did you see your books?”  And each time I nodded, embarrassed.

Later, over drinks at the hotel, I admitted why I had left my book on the plane, joking that I couldn’t even give it away.  They laughed, probably figuring I was crazy.

When we flew home, four days later, I left another copy of Heart With Joy in the seat back pocket in front of me, but this time I waited until we reached our final destination.  I moved through the airport as quickly as I could, ever fearful of another well-meaning flight attendant chasing after me with a copy of my novel in her hand.  It wasn’t until I was in my car, driving home, already plotting where I’d leave the next copy, that I was able to finally relax.  Mission accomplished.

Heart With Joy 

Win This Book!


In Heart With Joy, fifteen year old JulianHale’s life is turned upside down when his mother suddenly moves from North Carolina to Florida under the pretense of running her parents’ motel and finishing the novel she has been working on for years. While Julian has always been closer to his mother and wants to go with her, she tells him he

has to stay with his father until the end of the school year.

Six weeks after his mother leaves, Julian’s father decides to run a marathon. This surprises Julian because he has never seen his father exercise, but once he agrees to help him train the two develop the sort of close relationship they’ve never had before. Also, with the help of an elderly neighbor, Julian learns that the most important thing in life is to follow your heart. And Julian’s

heart leads him to a passion for cooking and a young cashier at the local grocery store even as his parents drift apart. By the end of the novel, Julian is forced to choose between staying with his father and going to live with his mother.

Heart With Joy is an uplifting coming of age novel about cooking and bird watching, about writing and pottery, and about falling in love and the sacrifices we all make. But ultimately, it’s about following your heart and trusting that it will take you where you need to go.

Leave a comment to enter the drawing!!



Filed under Advice, Author Interviews, books, Give Aways

Young Author Interview & Book Giveaway: Riley Carney


Riley Carney


Imagine being only 17-years-old and having landed a 5-book series! Welcome our young guest, Riley Carney, today as she talks about her love of writing and helping combat to world-wide illiteracy with her nonprofit organization: Breaking the Chain.

Riley Carney writes for tweens and teens from a unique perspective – she is a teenager!  Riley tries to make her stories exciting and filled with action and humor, and make her characters relatable to teens.

She was fifteen when she wrote The Fire Stone. She also wrote the next two books in The Reign of the Elements series, The Water Stone and The Wind Stone when she was fifteen, but she wrote the last two books in the five-book series, The Immortality Scroll and The Final Alliance when she was sixteen.

About Book One:

The Fire Stone: Book One of The Reign of the Elements, is a Middle Grade high fantasy adventure story brought to life by memorable, vibrant characters.

The story is about Matt, who knows how to shovel hay, dig trenches, and dodge his father’s whip, but when three terrifying creatures attack him, and he is rescued by a wizard, kidnaps a baby alorath, and is befriended by elves, Matt’s life transforms overnight from dreary to astonishing. When he unwittingly joins a quest to find the Fire Stone, one of the elusive Stones of the Elements which have the power to destroy the world, Matt is thrust into a string of perilous adventures. He soon discovers that magic does existand that he has extraordinary powers that can change his destiny and determine the fate of Mundaria.

Find out more about this fascinating teen and then leave a comment or question for Riley to be entered in the book giveaway (The Fire Stone)drawing before the clock strikes midnight tonight!


Win This Book!


Interview by: Mary Jo Campbell

Tell us about your love of writing! Which stage of writing do you love best (idea, rough draft, revision, etc.)? When did you decide you wanted to be a published novelist?

My favorite stage of writing is the rough draft. I follow my outline so I know where I’m going, but otherwise I just let myself write and I love it! I usually write my first draft in 1-2 months because I have such a buttoned-up plan before I start, and because I don’t worry about grammar or typos. Later, I edit, but for the first draft, I just write.

I decided I wanted to be published after I finished my first novel. It was important to me to try to get published for a number of reasons. First, I think I wrote a great fantasy adventure story, which I loved writing and which I loved reading enough to edit it repeatedly, and I’d really like to share that story with other kids. Second, I am very involved in children’s literacy and I think a lot of kids stop reading between the ages of eight and fifteen, especially boys, and I think the fantasy genre keeps those readers interested and engaged in reading. It was important to me to publish because I hope that a boy or girl somewhere enjoys my stories enough to keep on reading. Third, some of the proceeds from my books sales go to my nonprofit for children’s literacy, Breaking the Chain.

Taking the step to publish your novels is huge! Can you tell us how you prepared your manuscripts for publication and how you found an agent?

The most important steps toward getting your novel published are: to edit it again and again, to let people whom you trust read your manuscript, and to listen to constructive criticism from people who know about writing. Remember that writing is very subjective, so you’re not going to please everybody, but do listen to people who can help you become a better writer. Once your manuscript has been edited to perfection, you can begin submitting it. Things have changed a lot in the publishing industry. You used to be able to submit directly to publishers, but none of the large publishers will take unsolicited manuscripts any more. You have to get an agent first, and then the agent finds a publisher for you. Unfortunately, obtaining an agent is very difficult, especially as a teenager. The best solution for me was a small, independent publisher.

Being an author has its ups and downs. I imagine your young age has its own set of unique roadblocks. What setbacks have you come across and how would you advise a fellow teen author to push through?

As teens, we face a lot of obstacles, so persistence is important. Also, always be open to improving your work and trying new types of writing. Every writer has things to learn, especially teens, so stay open-minded. As for publication, a teen author faces the same obstacles to publication that any other author does, but they are amplified because of their age and their short and/or insignificant biographies. Often, independent publishers are more willing to look at young authors. I would say the main way that a teen gets published is to make sure that your work is the best that it can be before you start submitting it, and then be persistent, and don’t get discouraged. Many adult authors, many who are now very successful, have been rejected, frequently dozens or even hundreds of times.

Most importantly, write because you love to write. A lot of aspiring writers, especially teens, focus too much on the end goal of getting published. Publishing is an admirable goal to have and a great achievement, but if you write for the sole reason of getting published, it will show in your writing. If you write for enjoyment and for the sake of sharing a story, your writing will be drastically better and publication will likely be the pleasant result.

Being a published author is more than just writing. Can you share the different hats an author must wear to get the word out and connect with readers?

Well, there are the obvious things that an author must do like find an agent/publisher, and all the research and steps that go into that process, and then there’s more rounds of editing with the publisher, but after all that, is the book marketing process. Publishers really expect authors to do the majority of the marketing for their book these days. I conduct interviews all the time, speak at schools, libraries and writer conferences, spend a little time each day on Twitter and other social media vehicles, and anything else I can do to let my audience know that my book and I are here. It’s time consuming and sometimes exhausting, but I really enjoy most of it, especially speaking to kids at schools, which has been very rewarding.

I think it’s really important to remember that while all of these processes are important, the most important thing is to keep writing. You’ll be doing what you love, you’ll be a better writer, and you’ll have the next book ready if things don’t work out with the book that just came out.

Let’s talk about the struggles a writer faces. Many of my students complain that they can’t come up with ideas and when they do, they write themselves into a corner and have a difficult time finishing their story. Can you offer any tips on how to generate ideas and take those ideas through to a powerful conclusion?

First, reading is a great way to prime your imagination. Also, I get ideas from everything! People or things or circumstances can all give me ideas. For example, the man with the plaid pants standing three people ahead of me in line – I wonder what he might have had for breakfast, why he picked those pants, why he keeps looking at his watch?  I ask myself questions about him until I begin to create a whole imaginary world involving him. Or sometimes, I’ll look at an object and try to imagine something happening to it. I write down all of my ideas – big or little. Once I start to get the inkling of an idea (and write it down!) I’ll take my time thinking about it, usually by doing something mindless like bouncing a ball, or playing with silly putty, and while I’m doing that mindless thing, I’m actually consciously and subconsciously thinking about those ideas. And then I write the ideas down! I have a notebook that is filled with jotted down notes, and I go back to it all the time when I’m actually developing an outline.

I begin with a few notes about my story, explore my characters a bit, maybe even write a page or two. Once my idea has begun to grow, I’ll construct the basic plot points. I start with a very bare-bones sketch of what I think might happen. Then, I begin to add to that skeleton. Eventually, I outline the story chapter by chapter, allowing up to a page of prose to describe each chapter. I begin to put in details so that everything fits together, but also so that I can remember important things that I want to add to certain scenes. Often, I’ll even add snippets of dialogue, humor, or emotion into certain scenes in the outline.

When my outline is complete, I begin to write, giving myself as much freedom as I need to add, delete, or change directions. I have changed major characters and added whole chapters to my story that weren’t in my original outline. I always have the option to let my characters alter the story, but using an outline ensures that the story actually gets written.

After the story is written, it can be edited and tweaked until it feels right. The editing process is easier, if less fun, than the creative process, so, my writing motto is: “just get it on the page,” and the only way the writing will always get on the page is with an outline.

Beginning every book with an outline has been the reason that I’ve been able to write eight books in the past two years.

Another struggle many young writers face is “lack of time.” What would you tell writers who say they just don’t have time to write (or revise?)

I think everybody has time to write if they want to badly enough. Right now, I am taking six AP courses, applying to colleges, speaking at schools, running my non-profit, working out every day, doing interviews and social media, spending time with family and friends, reading, AND writing every day. I put it on my schedule, and I make sure it happens. Look at it this way: even if you only wrote for about twenty minutes each day and generated 250 words (approximately a page per day), you would have a book in less than a year. Pretty much everybody can find twenty minutes that they waste each day, so it just comes down to how important it is to you.

Support for the craft: How does your family support your goals?  Can you offer advice for parents and teachers who wish to encourage their young writers in the craft?

My family has been supportive in a variety of ways. We read all the time growing up, the television was rarely on, and we rarely played video games. My older brother and I played with Legos, had light saber battles, built hideouts, and had grand adventures with action figures and stuffed animals – anything that involved creating imaginary worlds. My parents have always encouraged us to go after our dreams. They never told us we were too young or that it was impossible to do the things that we wanted to do. After I wrote my first book, my mom read it and offered grammatical advice and occasional plot advice, and my brother always has a few helpful pointers. I never felt like they were criticizing my writing. The most important advice I could give parents and teachers is to let their children/students know that they should go after their dreams, and that even though they’re young they can do anything they put their mind to. And then, offer constructive advice rather than criticism!

What are your favorite books and/or websites on writing?

Spilling Ink: A Young Writer’s Handbook by Anne Mazer and Ellen Potter

Bird by Bird: Some Instructions on Writing and Life by Anne Lamott

Writing the Breakout Novel by Donald Maass

The websites all have links to numerous author, agent, publisher sites that are helpful.

Not only do you write and publish books, you are passionate about literacy. Tell us about your organization, Breaking the Chain, and how we can help!
When I was fourteen, the summer before going into high school, I learned that over 120 million kids around the world are denied access to a basic education, and that over 126 million kids, ages 5-17, work in hazardous conditions. In the United States, 1.2 million kids drop out of school annually. These statistics are heartbreaking, especially since there is a direct correlation between poverty and literacy.

I wanted to do whatever I could to change those statistics, so I created Breaking the Chain that summer three years ago, with the goal of breaking the chains of poverty for children by creating literacy opportunities.

Breaking the Chain has built three schools in Africa and provided water purification systems and alternative income for two of those villages. In the United States, we created a children’s literacy center at a Women in Crisis shelter in Colorado and bought thousands of books for different reading programs around the country.

Now, we are focusing on our program called Bookin’It which has put more than 18,000 new books into classrooms in low-literacy/high-need elementary schools in the U.S. I am very excited about this program because it can have such a significant influence on children’s literacy. Many children in economically disadvantaged neighborhoods don’t have books in their homes, so it is imperative that they have books at school or they will never learn to read.

We focus on elementary schools because that is the most critical time for literacy; if a child does not learn to read by the fourth or fifth grade, he/she will probably remain illiterate. Three billion people around the world live in extreme poverty. I hope that we can expand to affect as many children as possible, since literacy is one of the most crucial components of breaking the cycle of poverty.

The main way to help Breaking the Chain right now is to donate. A small amount of money makes a difference in a lot of children’s lives. Only $2.50 buys a book and $250 buys an entire classroom of books, and those books will be in those classrooms for 5-10 years. Another way to help is that kids can start a 2500 Dollar Club at their school ( which will put books in 10 classrooms.

What’s next for Riley Carney?

College is next, but I will continue to write while I’m in college. I definitely see myself as a career author, but I plan to have another career, too. Right now I only spend 2-3 hours per day writing and I’ve written eight books in the past two and a half years, so I think I would get bored only being a writer. I am very interested in history, political science, international relations, and languages, so I’ll have to see what evolves as I go through college. I also hope to continue my work with Breaking the Chain and continue to promote education opportunities for at-risk children.

Don’t forget to leave a comment to be entered in the book giveaway! Winner will be randomly chosen and announced tomorrow, Oct 19


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Filed under Advice, Author Interviews, books, Give Aways, Young Adults

Author Interview & Book Giveaway: Joe Dungan

Joe Dungan

Joe Dungan has run into some characters in his travels, especially while living in L.A. So “nutty” are these characters, they inspired an entire book of humorous essays. Welcome Joe as he shares his method of madness and even some quips when he’s wearing his “editor’s hat.”

A native of Los Angeles, Joe Dungan has been a writer and editor for over a decade. He has written articles for publications including Games, Written By, and SkyWest Magazine. He’s acted in a number of really good plays, including “Critic’s Pick” honors from Backstage West for the one-man show White Whine with Roman Blanco, and has done improv comedy all over town. He also directed a short film that won an award at a film festival and co-wrote a feature film that didn’t.

L.A. Nuts began as a regular column for before being reedited and published in trade paperback. It is his first book.

He lives in the San Fernando Valley, but talks about moving elsewhere someday.

Win this book!

Leave a comment or question to be entered in the giveaway of L.A Nuts. (US addresses only, pls!)


Interview by : Mary Jo Campbell

  • Tell us about your writing background: when did you realize your sense of humor could lend to a career in writing? Do you follow a certain process for creating and developing your humor essays?


I think I was in college when I started to take the idea of a writing career seriously. But it’s been hell trying to get other people to take it seriously. In an attempt to bang down the door of the entertainment industry, I’ve written a number of scripts for film and TV. Hasn’t worked. Maybe I haven’t tried hard enough, maybe I don’t know the right people, or maybe my earlier works weren’t that good. But L.A. Nuts is actually in the hands of a few industry players at the moment.

As far as me having a career as a humorist, I’m all for it.

For creating an essay, either there is a premise that occurs to me, or I’ll just start out with something I heard, saw, or read and see where it takes me. Sometimes, I can form a point from that and back it up with similar examples or at least explain the circumstances around it. Sometimes I can’t. There were a number of L.A. Nuts essays that I started that never went anywhere. I don’t know how true that kind of wheel-spinning is for other writers, but it’s true for me.

  • L.A. Nuts proves you’ve come across some weird and wild characters in your life. Give us a typical day in the life of Joe Dungan – do you run in to these “nuts” or deliberately put yourself in situations that may result in hilarious conversations?


I kind of just run into them. There have been instances of me following someone or waiting for someone, but by and large, all I have to do is show up in life and they seek me out. I think part of it is because of my capacity for listening to people prattle away, no matter how inane or absurd they are. I’m sure eccentrics go around trying to indulge people in conversations all the time, but most people walk away.

I do believe that on a subconscious level, though, we do seek out certain people and situations in a way that can’t possibly be an accident. But that’s a conversation for Wayne Dyer’s blog.

  • L.A. Nuts is a combination of multiple essays you’ve written. Had you placed any of these essays in other publications as stand alones, prior to collecting them in this book?


It all began as an email exchange with my neighbor. We’d traded complaints and observations about a guy in our building—whom I’ve named Clyde Langtry in the book—whose monologues about UFOs and conspiracies were too rich to be believed. After my neighbor’s encouragement, I started a blog. Then the editors of contacted me. I’d written essays for them before, and they said they thought this would make a great column. So I wrote the column for for two years. After that, I decided to reedit and resequence the essays for a book, along with a few original photos.

  • It’s impressive that your self-published book has won awards and received some big name reviews! What’s your secret?


Thank you. I just did the best I could with the book until I reached a point where I didn’t know how I could improve it anymore. Then I asked everyone I knew for a prepublication review. A lot of those names were people I’d met over the years at jobs, coffeehouses, etc. and stayed in touch with them. And some were people I’d never met. One of the most enormous mistakes you can make in life is not asking for stuff. You’ll either get what you want—or more—or people will say no. No one’s going to call the cops or beat you up for asking for something.

As for the awards, here is my secret: I entered.

I don’t mean to dismiss the question with a flippant answer, but in order to get solid quotes and win awards, I had to write for a long time. There are plenty of things I’ve written over the years that will never win awards, believe me.

It’s also worth noting that when I entered L.A. Nuts in contests and asked for reviews, I had absolutely no idea what the response would be. Same with the next thing I write. I’d hope it will do as well or better, but it might be crap. There’s no surefire formula for success. That’s why I’ve learned it’s important to do something you like. If it tanks, at least you’ve enjoyed yourself while you created it.

  • Besides being an author, you’re also an editor. What is your biggest pet peeve as an editor? Are there any writing taboos you’re willing to overlook (or help the author with) if the writing itself demonstrates talent?


I think my biggest pet peeve is when people half-ass their way through a piece of work and then show it off to everyone they can find, waiting for the praise to roll in. For example, I volunteered for an organization for years as a screenplay reader for their competitions. Most of the entries were downright terrible: boring stories and characters; rambling, pointless dialogue and scenes…. It was clear they didn’t get any feedback from anyone before they decided they could win a contest. Some even violated basic technical things that anyone can learn before they even start, like the wrong font, poor formatting, etc. I don’t mean to focus on screenwriting, but I’m sure that applies to other kinds of writing. If a person does something in a vacuum, then he risks mistaking his work for genius.

Ultimately, the more compelling or original a piece is, the more taboos a writer can break. I’d like to think that’s true for all editors and other gatekeepers in the publishing industry, but no writer can rely on that! So leaning on the answer to the previous question, make your work as good as possible before you show it to the world: Run it by other writers for honest opinions, do extensive rewrites, and trust your instincts regarding which notes to take and which ones not to take.

  • Tell us what’s next in your writing and promotion projects!

I don’t have anything coming up immediately, but I’m sticking my fingers in a number of things, including a serialized stage play and collaborating with a friend on another book, one that isn’t very copy-heavy. It might be a pretty quick thing to write. Above all, I doubt my next project will be like L.A. Nuts. A younger, different version of me wrote L.A. Nuts, and it took a lot out of me.

I also have this urge to perform again. I’ve permanently retired from acting twice now, but my brain keeps coming up with material that begs to be spoken, not written. As it is, I’ve done “semi-readings” where I read some from L.A. Nuts and perform original material not in the book. I’d like to take that to a more theatrical level.

As for promotion, same as before: anything I can think of! For instance, doing an interview on this blog and asking readers if they know ANYONE with a blog or podcast, or works at a TV show, radio show, or magazine who’d be interested in an interview with an engaging author. Or asking readers to become a fan of me and/or join the L.A. Nuts group page on Facebook.

Or asking readers to visit:

• the book’s site:

• or its amazon page

• or the blog:

• or, or to write a review

Like I said, always ask.

So, ask away, or just leave a comment and you will be entered to win L.A. Nuts – deadline midnight CST, 9/27/10


OK, I’ll ask: Will you please SUBSCRIBE to this blog? You’ll be alerted via email every time a new post appears – giving you the advantage in giveaways ; )


Win this book!


Filed under Advice, Author Interviews, books, Give Aways