Tag Archives: interview by Mary Jo Campbell

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.

Website: www.amyandjoanne.com

Blog: www.wickedgoodthebook.blogspot.com

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. http://muffin.wow-womenonwriting.com/2011/09/wicked-good-by-amy-lewis-faircloth-and.html


Filed under Author Interviews, books, contests

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

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  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 :  www.tracyseeley.com

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

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!


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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 (www.linkbylink.org) 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: The Espressologist

Surprise readers! Today we have a local YA author, Kristina Springer, in a Writers Inspired exclusive interview (and book giveaway!) Doesn’t that just sound tweet-worthy? Well, go ahead and Tweet it, baby! But be sure to add your comments or questions here – one lucky winner will be randomly selected to win Kristina’s hot YA book The Espressologist.

Interview by: Mary Jo Campbell

  • On YA themes:  What are your thoughts on relationships and issues teens face today and how do you incorporate theses themes into your books?

I think they are similar to the relationships and issues I had as a teen only a lot more intense. It’s way harder to be a teen now with all of the technology we have. When I was a teen no one carried cell phones and the Internet wasn’t as big as it is now. Geez, I could only make one phone call a day for a max of 30 min (sounds like prison huh? J ). But now if you’re having any trouble at school it follows you home on facebook and twitter and texting etc. It seems a whole lot harder to navigate through the teen years today. I try to stay really aware to what teens are dealing with now and reflect it in my writing.

  • On YA Characters: How do you research and stay current on teen-speak, dress and gestures when writing a realistic teen character?

I never grew up and I watch way too much reality TV (I love The Hills and can’t believe it’s over.) and teen dramas. I obsessively read magazines like STAR and I’m online constantly so it’s easy to research what’s hot right now. Oh, and since I do most of my writing in coffee shops I occasionally eavesdrop so beware! J

  • On YA feedback: What has been the response from your readers on your books (any ARC’s out on My Fake Boyfriend is Better Than Yours?) How do your readers relate to your stories? What about parents/teachers?

It’s been really great! Reviews are rolling in now on My Fake Boyfriend is Better Than Yours and so far it’s been all good. So I’m very happy about that! And there have been lots of awesome reviews of The Espressologist and I’ve gotten really great letters from readers (both teens and adults). Most fans tell me about their coffee drink preferences and how they match up with their boyfriends/husbands. There are a lot of Espressology believers!

  • On Writing: Your website says you drafted your first book in FOUR MONTHS, not to mention your role as wife and mother of four!) Did your experience as a technical writer prepare you for writing quickly? Can you tell us about your writing process from idea stage through rough draft, revision and querying agents?

Wow, great question! No, technical writing is pretty different from fiction writing. Although, I learned to type really fast as a technical writer. And all of my great grammar skills came from that time in my life. Of course, I’ve since learned my grammar skills aren’t quite as awesome as I thought they were. J Actually I think being a mom has helped me to write so quickly. Lots of writers work full-time at writing and my kids are little so I’m with them full-time. So whenever I do get a break, like late in the evening or someone else is taking care of the kids for a bit, I need to make the most of my time.

As for my writing process, I love to just sit down and let the book fly out of me without any hesitation or worrying about structure etc. With The Espressologist I wrote the entire book from the same table at my local Starbucks. Then I revised it as much as possible and sent it off to my critique partners. Then I revised more based on their notes and when I felt the book was ready I started querying agents to see if they wanted to read it.

  • On Deals: Tell us how you got a two-book deal! Are the two books related? Was the second book drafted or completed when the first book went to auction?

My agent sent out the submission to a bunch of publishers. Four publishers wanted The Espressologist so my agent then set up an auction and each publisher offered their best deal. I went with Farrar, Straus, and Giroux and they bought The Espressologist and a second unnamed book. I had no idea what the book would be at the time of sale so no, they weren’t related. I wrote My Fake Boyfriend is Better Than Yours last year and that became the second book in the deal.

  • On Experience: What has been the best part of this whole writing, publishing, promoting experience for you so far and why?

Oooh, that’s hard. It’s been a lot of good! It might be a tie between first selling the books and seeing my first book on a shelf in a bookstore. As for why they’re the best, well, both were dreams that seemed so far out there and reaching them was amazing.

  • On Teaching: Can you offer some tips for young writers starting out?

Don’t give up! There will be a lot of rejection but you have to keep plowing ahead. And get critique partners who write in the same genre as you. You want people who will tell you the truth and rip your stuff apart and offer advice. Not the kind that say “oh it’s so good, you’re brilliant!” That’s your mom’s job. J

  • On Tomorrow & Beyond: Tell us what’s next for you and your books!

I’m busily promoting My Fake Boyfriend is Better Than Yours (release 8/31/10) and finishing edits on my Fall 2011 book, Pumpkin Princess.

THE ESPRESSOLOGIST, *In stores now* from Farrar, Straus and Giroux

MY FAKE BOYFRIEND IS BETTER THAN YOURS, 8/31/10, Farrar, Straus and Giroux

PUMPKIN PRINCESS, Fall 2011, Farrar, Straus and Giroux


Leave a comment or question to be entered! (Winner announced tomorrow, Aug 3. US residents only, please.)


Are YOU local? Sign up for the Young Writers’ Summer Studio-  workshops begin August 9th! Kristina Springer is making a special guest appearance to discuss writing and publishing with young writers. Email me for info today!


Filed under Advice, Author Interviews, books, Get Published, Give Aways, writers, Young Adults

Author Interview and Book Giveaway: Sandra Lopez

Today, please welcome young author, Sandra Lopez, as she offers advice to fellow young writers on the process of writing a novel, the work of revision and the perseverance of landing an agent and a book deal (all while attending college!)

Sandra C. López was born and raised in Hawaiian Gardens, California. She learned to read at two and strived to achieve the best grades in school. Her free time was spent reading, writing, and drawing. Sandra managed to be the first in her family to graduate from high school and enter college. Her first novel, Esperanza: A Latina story, was published in March 2008 while she was still in college. Now, this young writer is a graduate of Cal State University Fullerton with a BFA in Animation and Illustration, and she is anticipating a promising career as a writer and an artist. Beyond The Gardens is the follow up sequel to “Esperanza.”

Brief Synopsis:

At the age of 18, Esperanza Ignacio begins her college years at an upscale Los Angeles art school, where she studies to fulfill her long-term dream in Animation. But she soon learns the truth to the old folktale: “you can take the girl out of the barrio, but you can’t take the barrio out of the girl.” Even though she’s getting financial aid, Esperanza works a part-time job during her break from classes just to make ends meet. Her roommate, Anna, is what she calls a “chicana from Beverly Hills” because of the rich daddy and the new car she got for her quinceañera.

Things get a little confusing for Esperanza when an old friend comes looking for her, hoping to start a meaningful relationship. But is Carlos the right guy for her? She never even considered him to be anything more than a friend since high school. Then comes Jake, a gorgeous mechanic, who shares her passion for books and loves her for who she is.
What’s a girl to do?

Interview by  Mary Jo Campbell

Tell us about your writing background: when did you realize you wanted to be a writer? Who is your biggest influence?

SL: For me, being a writer was not part of the plan. I’ve always had a deep admiration for writers since I was two, and I always thought you had to have been born with a natural talent for it. I never thought that I could be a writer. It was just impossible and unthinkable. So I kept on reading instead. I didn’t discover the works of Latino writing until I read Sandra Cisnero’s The House on Mango Street (one of my favorite books, BTW) in college. Then I went to on to the works of Luis Rodriguez and Gary Soto and many others. It was at that time that I realized I was only reading about Latinos that were either assimilating to American life as an illegal immigrant or trying to survive in a Los Angeles gang. What about the young Latina that just wants to go to school? That’s how I came to writing Esperanza. Of course, my intention was not to get it published. I was just going to leave it on the shelf and let it collect dust forever. But I thought: Why not? Send out some letters and see what happens. After about 30 rejection letters, I was about to give up on the whole thing; then I got a call from the editor at Floricanto Press. “Send us your manuscript,” they said. So I did. Then four months later, I was offered a contract. Two and half years later, Esperanza: A Latina Story was a published paperback. And all this happened WHILE I was still in college.

I guess my biggest influence was…..ME. Other writers may have floated my dormant aspiration to the surface; but I was ultimately the one that made that flying leap over the water and allowed my bursting creativity to breathe.

Let’s talk about your writing process. Beyond the Gardens is the sequel to Esperanza, a Latina Story. Did you know there would be a sequel when writing your first book? When working on the first draft, do you pre-write or outline or just freewrite without a plan? Do you revise as you go, or get the whole rough draft completed, and then go back for revisions?

SL: I realized Esperanza’s story would continue right after the publication of my first book. Esperanza is a precocious and intelligent young kid, who is blind to her own potential. However, she is very ambitious in her studies. All she wants to do is go to school and learn everything she can. Her dream is to be an animator and “work for Bugs Bunny,” as she describes. But she figures that because she is a Latina coming from a poor Mexican barrio, her destiny lies in the fast-food industry. To her own surprise, she gets accepted to the Atkins Art Institute in Los Angeles. And that’s pretty much where Beyond the Gardens begins.

When I first started planning it, I began with an outline to organize my thoughts on the story (something that progressed and changed as time went on.) Then I used what a fellow writer calls, “throwing up on a page.” I just allowed myself to write freely without worrying about spelling, grammar, or any of that. The ironic is that the free writing stage sometimes deviated from the outline as I suspected it would; but it still worked for me because writing is like starting a painting—you almost always begin with a light sketch in pencil before covering the canvas with brush strokes.

When you get to the revision stage, you begin the real but fun work. For me, revising is like putting together a jigsaw puzzle. I added a piece here, took out a piece there, chiseled this one to make it fit here, and so on. I worked from middle, beginning, and end (I say it like this because I didn’t revise from A to Z; I worked in sections, tweaking the parts I like and wanted to keep.

Having a novel published at a young age gives hope to other young writers out there. How long did the whole process take, from idea to publication for your novel, Beyond the Gardens?

SL: At first, I started writing the novel right after the publication of Esperanza. I worked on it for about a year, then I stopped to go back to my studies. Then, as graduation approached, I came back to the manuscript, referring to my old college notes as frequently as I could; and then I worked on revisions for another year and half. Publication took about another year.

What steps did you take in finding an agent for your first novel and how do you work with your agent to promote your books?

SL: I published my two books without the help of an agent. I’ve actually received more support from my fellow writers and devoted readers than I have from my editor. I have been the only sales person for my books. I am my own agent and marketing specialist; I book the events and handle author fees; I organize the panels and help new writers get some exposure; I do it all.

What advice could you offer a struggling young writer?

SL: Don’t give up and don’t get discouraged. Finding an agent or editor is like finding a job—you will have plenty of rejections before finally convincing someone to hire you. Also, don’t write what you think will sell. A lot of editors and agents will turn down a good manuscript because they feel there is not a market out there for it. Don’t worry about the market. Writer the stories that you want to read. Write want interests you not an agent or editor. Another thing I tell aspiring writers is to write because they love it. If it makes you feel good, then do it. Life is too short not to do what you want. Don’t wait ‘til retirement, you might not live that long. Do it now!

From your viewpoint as a student, what tips can you offer teachers trying to share the love of creative writing with their class?

SL: I’d say encourage your students read books outside the class syllabus and allow them to express themselves through creative writing and share it with everyone.

For more information, please visit the official website of Sandra C. Lopez

You can order Sandra’s books here:

Dulce Bread & Book Shop

ISBN-13: 9781432746988
Published: Outskirts Press

OR, take a shot at winning a copy!

One copy of Beyond the Gardens will be given away at the end of the tour to the blog reader who visits the most blogs hosting Sandra Lopez throughout her tour and leaves a question or comment for Sandra at each blog.

Virtual Book Tour for Beyond the Gardens by Sandra Lopez:

Monday     April 26     Bonnie S. Mata     http://authoroffaith.blogspot.com/
Tuesday    April 27     Mayra Calvani     http://www.examiner.com/x-6309-Latino-Books-Examiner
Wednesday     April 28     Christina Rodriguez   http://www.christinarodriguez.com/
Thursday     April 29     Lori Calabrese     http://loricalabrese.com/blog/
Friday     April 30     Mary Jo     https://writerinspired.wordpress.com/
Monday     May 3     Erin O’Riordan     http://www.erinoriordan.blogspot.com/
Tuesday    May 4     Joylene Nowell Butler     http://cluculzwriter.blogspot.com/
Wednesday     May 5     Terri Lee-Johnson     http://www.browngirlspeaks.com/book-speak.html
Thursday     May 6     Romina Tybitt     http://www.mamaxxi.blogspot.com/
Friday     May 7     Leslie Toledo     http://thatchickthatreads.blogspot.com/

“Readers can’t help but cheer Esperanza on as she

finds out what life is like Beyond the Gardens. Funny, smart,

and heartfelt—all that you want in an inspiring story.”

—Margo Candela – Author of Underneath it all and

More than this

“An emerging Latina voice, Sandra Lopez continues

to inspire with her latest work, Beyond the Gardens. Her

words are soulful and her images resonate with passion

and humor.”

—Ray Michael Baca – Author of Brotherhood of the



Filed under Author Interviews, books, Give Aways

Author Interview & TRIPLE Book Giveaway: Hazel Dixon-Cooper

Author and astrologer, Hazel Dixon-Cooper, visits Writers Inspired today bearing gifts! Three times the prizes and three times the fun, Hazel is graciously donating  three books from her ROTTEN DAY series Work on a Rotten Day, Born on a Rotten Day and Love on a Rotten Day.

Hazel Dixon-Cooper

Hazel Dixon-Cooper has been a professional astrologer for more than twenty-five years, and is the author of the internationally bestselling Rotten Day astrology book series.

She writes the daily horoscopes for Cosmopolitan.com, Cosmo Mobile for your cell phone, and a weekly horoscope for Cosmo Radio: Sirius channel 111 and XM channel 162.

She is a research member of the American Federation of Astrologers and teaches astrology workshops. She can be reached by email by clicking here

Win this Book!!

Interview by:  Mary Jo Campbell

MJC:  Tell us about your background in astrology: when did you get your “sign” that this was the career for you? Any formal training/classes?

HDC:  Thank you, Mary Jo, for asking me to visit Writers Inspired.

I’ve been interested in astrology since I was a teen. I read every astrology how-to book I could find and began to cast charts for friends and relatives. Later, I studied astrology through the American Federation of Astrologers.

MJC:  You write the horoscopes for the Magazine Motherload for women: Cosmopolitan! How did you hook up with Cosmo? And did this job lead you to writing and publishing your Rotten Day series books?

Win this Book!

HDC:  Actually, it was the other way around. My publicist at Simon & Schuster sent a copy of my first book, BORN ON A ROTTEN DAY, to Cosmo’s book editor for a possible review in the magazine. I didn’t get the review. However, he was looking for a new astrology writer, liked my writing style, and invited me to audition for the column. It was perfect timing. And, yes, it was in my stars. My chart for that time period indicated a huge turning point in my career.

My first column was May, 2003 and my final print column was in the January, 2010 issue. I will continue to write the online daily horoscopes for Cosmopolitan.com, which are also available through Cosmo Mobile, their cell phone product. I also write a weekly horoscope for Cosmo Radio, Sirius/XM.

MJC:  Your Rotten Day series books are known for no holds-barred advice and a heaping dose of humor. Can you share with us the stages of your writing project? Take us through the idea and planning, drafting and revising and, finally, the publishing and promoting stages.

Win this Book!!

HDC:  The idea for BORN ON A ROTTEN DAY grew out of a weekly horoscope I was writing for a local news magazine. It had the same humorously skewed perspective and had received good feedback from readers. One day, my friend Bonnie Hearn Hill and I were brainstorming and the idea popped into my head. What if I wrote an astrology book? But instead of from the usual naval-gazing, “you’re so great,” perspective, it would be from the “you’re rotten and so is everyone you know” angle? I was attending Bonnie’s writing workshop at the time and she helped me put together a killer proposal that landed my first two-book deal.

From idea to published book is a long process. On average it takes 12 to 18 months from the time the deal’s made until the book reaches the book stores. The Rotten Day series books are approximately 55,000 words each and a typical timeframe begins with a four-to-six month deadline to write the manuscript. Each editor is different. Some want to see chapters as the work progresses and some let you write the entire manuscript first. I’ve written both ways.

After it’s delivered to the acquiring editor, he or she makes edits and suggestions then returns the manuscript to the author for revisions and/or comments. Next, the copyeditor line edits it for grammar, punctuation, and also checks the accuracy of quotes, and various facts. Then it’s back to the author for a final look to approve the corrections.

While this process is going on, sales, marketing, and publicity kick into gear, cover art is designed, and a release date is set. Each step has a deadline. It’s like being on a conveyor belt and each area has to do its part to get the finished book out on time. It’s critical that the author meets every deadline. Turning in a late manuscript or revisions can delay publication by months. You have to remember that yours is one of many books in this process and you don’t want to be sent to the end of the publishing line by missing a deadline.

In today’s economy, publishers have smaller PR budgets and fewer staff. Authors must be willing to self-promote to help their books succeed. The blog tour is becoming hot. This is a faster and easier way to reach potentially huge audiences than hitting the road on an old fashioned book tour. Social networking is crucial. Author websites, FaceBook fan pages, and Twitter, are a few examples. My publishers have set up radio tours for me, which are my favorite. I love to talk to people and radio is easy and fun.

MJC:  How can writers benefit from knowing and following their astrological sign?

HDC:  Knowing your Sun sign is helpful in understanding how your creative processes work, plus any possible obstacles you’d face during the creative process. I’m a Pisces and I can be a procrastinator, which is a challenging trait of a Pisces Sun. I know I work better on a deadline so I try to set daily goals to keep myself on track. Learning about your astrological sign can help you be aware of its common strengths and weaknesses.

Of course not every Fish procrastinates, just as not every Aries Ram is wildly impulsive, or Taurus Bull, judgmental. You are much more than your Sun sign and the best way to learn about you is to have a professional consultation. Your natal chart is a map of your unique individuality. Astrology is a wonderful self-knowledge tool that helps you discover your hidden potential and understand your specific talents and challenges.

In fiction, knowing the signs of your characters can help bring them to life. I think Scarlett O’Hara was an Aries, maybe with a Leo Moon. She was hot-tempered, loved the spotlight, and had the inner strength and bad-girl traits of both of those signs.

When Bonnie developed her idea for her wildly popular new YA series, Star-Crossed, the first thing she did was figure out each character’s Sun sign. Plus, she’s a multi-tasking and multi-talented double Gemini, who’s always eager to try something new as she’s proven by writing in several genres as well as nonfiction.

MJC:  I’m intrigued by how other writers and creative souls organize their space. Can you describe your work area for us?

HDC:  My desk is glass, L-shaped and sits next to a large window that overlooks my rose garden. At the moment, it’s crowded with papers, notes, assorted astrology books, and my cat who is sleeping on his corner.

MJC:  You teach astrology classes. What tips can you offer teachers trying to make a connection with their students?

HDC:  Remember their names. Remember what it felt like when you were a student. Smile. Make it fun. As long as you’re half an I.Q. point ahead of the group, you’re doing okay.

MJC:  Tell us what’s next in your writing projects and events!

HDC:  I’ve just finished a proposal for another astrology book, my first one outside the Rotten Day series. I’m setting up a blog tour and recently launched my new website www.hazeldixoncooper.com.

Thank you, Hazel, for visiting with us today! Remember to leave your comment or question for Hazel for a chance to win one of her three latest books!

To learn more about Hazel Dixon-Cooper and her books, please visit her site and Facebook page:

Hazel Dixon-Cooper


Filed under Author Interviews, books, Give Aways

Author interview and DOUBLE book giveaway: Bob Yehling

Another treat for my readers, cause I love you all so! Today’s guest, Bob Yehling, will share his path of writing, teaching and publishing, as well as give away two books! One commenter will be randomly selected to win The Write Time: 366 Exercises to Fulfill Your Writing Life and another will win a copy of The Hummingbird Review.

So, sit back, grab a cuppa joe and a notepad to take down some juicy tidbits and enjoy the interview!

Bob Yehling

Bob Yehling is the author of eight books, including The Write Time: 366 Exercises to Fulfill Your Writing Life and Writes of Life: Using Personal Experiences in Everything You Write, which won the 2007 Independent Publishers Book Award. He teaches fiction, poetry and non-fiction writing workshops at colleges, universities and writers conferences throughout the country. He is also a book and magazine editor, author’s consultant, three-time Boston Marathon participant, a ghostwriter of five titles, and the author of Full Flight, Shades of Green, Coyotes in Broad Daylight and The River-Fed Stone. His novel, The Voice, will be published in 2011. Bob grew up in Carlsbad, CA, and was a writer for the Blade-Tribune (now North County Times) for six years in the late ‘70s and early ‘80s.

The creative brainchild of bestselling author Luis Alberto Urrea and publisher Charlie Redner, the Hummingbird Review http://www.thehummingbirdreview.com) is America’s newest literary journal. It brings together some of the nation’s finest poetry, essays, short fiction and commentary. It features contributors known and unknown; the emphasis is on clarity of voice. The Hummingbird Review launches online shortly before each print issue. The Spring-Summer issue will be released in late May 2010.

Interview by Mary Jo Campbell:

1) Tell us about your writing background: when did you realize you wanted to be a writer? Any formal training/classes?

I’ve been writing stories since I was five years old. I attended elementary school during the 1960s, which was an incredibly imaginative and creative time – astronauts flying to the Moon, the psychedelic rock scene in San Francisco, schoolteachers who could teach us possibility and vision as well as subjects. I even had a social studies teacher who was a Disney animator for 20 years, and who would spend the last 15 minutes of each class drawing with us! It was the perfect environment for a kid like me, who wanted to create. I wrote stories of up to 100 pages all through grade school.

My formal training took place in the real world – and through reading voraciously, in all genres, from the time I was very young. In 1976, when I was 16, I was hired as a sportswriter by the Blade-Tribune (now North County Times) in Oceanside, CA. My editors, Bill Missett and Steve Scholfield, were true old-schoolers: get in and out of the story, get quotes, get two independent sources to verify every fact. Accuracy and unique angles meant everything to them. And making deadlines. I use that training every day. Also, they let me write for all sections of the paper, which enabled me to become a versatile writer.

After seven years at the paper, I moved into the magazine business, where I spent the next 15 years as a writer and editor of some great periodical and commemorative titles. One was NASA’s official 25th anniversary salute to Apollo 11, One Giant Leap for Mankind, which allowed me to work with all of living moonwalkers, who told me their stories of walking on another heavenly body. One, my late friend Pete Conrad, the Apollo 12 commander, the subject of the epochal Chapter 1 of Tom Wolfe’s The Right Stuff and class clown among that elite club (only 12 people walked on the moon), played catch with me – with a moon rock! I went right back to the being the little kid who wrote stories about flying in space. That was a great experience … but that’s what writing can afford us.

For the last 12 years, I’ve been a book author, editor, and writing workshop teacher. I get as much of a thrill in seeing someone connect to their deeper voice and rhythm as a writer and storyteller as I do in seeing my own books get into print. I think it is vital, especially now when education is in crisis, for professional writers to get into the classrooms (whether with children or adults) and uncork the magical genie that is the story-driven writer. Groups like Dave Eggers’ 8-2-6 Valencia, George Lucas’ Edutopia and Capitol City Young Writers are really good at this.

2) What a fun learning environment you had, Bob. Now, can you please describe your writing style and process: do you begin with a prompt? A character? A setting? Do you pre-write or outline before writing the first draft? Do you revise as you go, or get the whole rough draft completed, then go back for revisions?


I always mentally percolate the idea first. Then I journal it out. I use my journal as a chemistry lab, to figure out which combinations of settings and characters will work. Then I listen for whichever character wants to come through first, and write from that point of view. Once I’ve “warmed up” in that way, I storyboard my books – both fiction and non-fiction. I’m a visual writer, so it works to borrow that approach from the film world. With fiction, I just write the first draft, sinking deeply into the story and letting the characters tell it. With non-fiction, I outline fairly extensively, making sure the major points are down and in order, while leaving room for inspiration or ideas that will visit – especially anecdotes, the little true mini-stories that, I believe, are vital to the quality and success of any good non-fiction book.

As for my process, I do not look back once I start each day. I write for four or five hours, then touch up what I wrote. The next day, I repeat this process. I find it incredibly self-defeating to continually self-edit in the middle of a writing session. It’s like giving the inner censor license to kill – which it will. It will kill your creative process. But for me, it’s important to look over what I wrote after the day is complete. When a draft is done, I rewrite it once from scratch, then move into revision and polishing edits.

3) I think many of us can agree about the creative process being killed if we edit while writing. I’m guilty of that! Share with us the stages of your writing project: “The Write Time: 366 Writing Exercises to Fulfill Your Daily Writing Life.” Take us through the idea and planning, drafting and revising and, finally, the publishing and promoting stages.


I’m a fast writer, and very impatient, so it surprised both my friends and me that I would take 10 years to compile a book. The Write Time never started as a book idea. It started as writing exercises I cooked up for the workshops that I teach around the country. One day in 2007, I sat down and realized that there were more than 250 of these exercises, all created for workshops – and, more importantly, all field-tested by the workshop participants. They liked the story-telling aspect to the exercises and the content very much, so I thought, “Why not add 116 exercises and make a one-a-day book about it?” Those last 116 exercises were by far the hardest to write.

However, they finished off a writing exercise book that simply did not exist in the marketplace – one that moves through all genres, works for writers of all abilities, presents exercises as mini-stories, and promotes both technical excellence and creative versatility. That is how we will make it as writers in this day and age; the era of the one-subject or one-genre specialist is coming to an end.

As for all the goodies on each page, I’ve always loved inspirational quotes – so I used quotes from readings, workshops, presentations and discussions, as well as some classic comments from deceased authors and thinkers in the public domain. Everyone loves sun signs, so they’re included – in the Celtic and Native American traditions as well. And everyone loves birthdays, so my assistant, Melissa Jenkins, and I gathered the most extensive author birthday list that I know of among published books.

My publisher, Paul Burt of Pen & Publish, brought out The Write Time in conjunction with a young authors’ conference of the same name – The Write Time Teens ‘N Twenties Conference. What an honor to have a book of mine associated with a conference, especially one for young authors! Now, I’m teaching workshops and appearing at writers conferences, promoting the book, guest-teaching in classrooms, and getting this new batch of exercises to as many writers as possible. Promotion is happening both online and in print.

4) The book is wonderful! I’m a  fan of inspirational quotes, as well as the sun signs of other writers and you add these to offer a book brimming with inspiration and creativity! Speaking of finding inspiration, I’m intrigued by how other writers organize their space. Can you describe your work area for us?

Sure. It’s pretty simple: I have my computer, outline or notes, and music ready to go. Files are nearby, but I rarely access them when writing drafts; the material should be in my head and heart when I write for keeps. I’ll get to the files later, during fact-checking and revision stage. I’m surrounded by my library, a couple of my Boston Marathon medals, and meaningful photos and memorabilia. Plus a lot of plants and light.

5) What tips can you offer teachers trying to share the love of creative writing with their students?

Tip numbers 1 through 10: Let them read about and write about what interests them, even if it seems dark or objectionable to you.

Tip numbers 11 through 20: Guide them into all different literatures, genres, voices and styles of authors and poets – and encourage them to embrace what speaks to them.

Young people are inherently inquisitive, curious playful and creative; in my opinion, we strip that out of them with the rigid and linear educational process, then by the time they’re in high school, a few astute teachers re-discover these falling stars and try mightily to bring them back. However, if we let them read freely, and write freely, and teachers introduce them to all genres and all forms of the genre – for example, all forms of contemporary poetry, like the works of the great Joy Harjo, Jimmy Santiago Baca, Taylor Mali, haiku master Don Eulert or the exquisite San Diego-based young poet Maggi DeRosa, and not just dead Romantic Era poets– then they will not only do better with the required course work, but will emerge with a lifelong love of learning. And writing. It’s the greatest gift we can offer kids. I know. Many of my schoolteachers did that for me – and they still hear my thanks when I talk with them on Facebook.

Sometimes, I find it best to tell kids about the experiences that writing affords, rather than the nuts and bolts of writing paragraphs and pages. One time many years ago, a middle-school student asked me, “Why do you do something as stupid as writing?” The teacher told me not to bother answering the question, but I thanked the student for asking it. Writers must be non-judgmental and open-minded. Then I gave him the answer: because of writing, I have met two Presidents, known a dozen Olympians, traveled all over the world, spent two seasons on the American Idol set, gone on adventures I never would’ve tried otherwise (like exploring the Amazon with a shaman), met many of the student’s sports heroes (and watching Shaun White finish second in a World Cup of Snowboarding event when he was 13), befriended some of the brightest and most beautiful people alive, and learned how to see and experience the greatest pleasures of the simplest things. In my answer, I never used the word “writing”. It worked; I later heard he got a B+ in his writing class.

But this is hard to pull off today, especially in the public school system. I have a friend who is an outstanding creative writing teacher in a Midwestern high school. She’s also a novelist who loves everything about the written word. She told me that she cannot introduce anything other than a tightly prescribed reading list to her kids – a list that is made up primarily of old classics, the same books I read in school 35 years ago. She also cannot assign papers other than those prescribed by a tightly written curriculum adopted by the district and school board. This is part of what is wrong with public education – they don’t educate. They don’t inspire new learning. They kill the desire to learn something new. It’s way too political and controlled by money. As I mentioned earlier, the greatest gift any adult can give a kid, besides love and respect, is the lifelong love of learning.

However, this Midwestern teacher is crafty and determined; her desire to impart her love of learning, and her knowledge, is a light that will not be turned off. She has figured out how to inspire her kids, and now, they have an after-school creative writing club. And, I predict, they will be Facebooking her (or whatever is the medium) in 35 years.

6) I work with teachers in traditional classrooms and they struggle with these issues, as well. These are valuable tips you offer. Tell us what is next in your writing and promotion projects!


I’m getting ready to co-write a book with fellow author, Verna Dreisbach, entitled The Hybrid Writer. It’s about combining more than one genre in everything from novels to magazine articles. It gets back to what I shared earlier – the more versatile we are these days, the better. When done well, it shows storytelling at its best. I just edited a novel, The Secret of Moonshine, in which author Denise Lyon Followill combined romance, suspense/thriller and fantasy. It’s brilliant. She’ll be off to the races with publishers pretty soon.

I’m also developing a series of online and video products around The Write Time and my other writing book, Writes of Life. Finally, I’m out there in the trenches, teaching workshops, talking to kids, coaching and editing writers of all genres, presenting at conferences and libraries  … whatever it takes to bring out the deepest wisest voices in each and every person with whom I come in contact, encourage them to open up their computers, journals or a pad of paper, and write their stories.

As I see it, writing, drawing, painting, sculpting, dancing and playing music are heavenly gifts that we, as humans, are uniquely privileged to possess. By expressing ourselves, we enliven and illuminate the world – one day at a time. We express the lifelong love of learning, which to me is the driving force behind a purposeful life.

Learn more about Bob and his projects:

Home Site: www.wordjourneys.com

Writing Blog: bobyehling.wordpress.com

Exercise Blog: 366writing.wordpress.com

Book Orders: www.penandpublish.com or www.amazon.com

Don’t forget to leave Bob a comment or question – you may walk away with one of his books! (Deadline to enter: Tuesday, March 23, midnight. US shipping addresses only.)


Filed under Advice, books, contests, Give Aways

Author Interview & Book Giveaway: Linda Joy Myers

Linda Joy Myers, PhD

Today, we welcome Linda Joy Myers, PhD, author of the newly released: The Power of Memoir: How to Write Your Healing Story.

Linda Joy Myers, Ph.D. is the president of the National Association of Memoir Writers and the author of the prize-winning memoir Don’t Call Me Mother: Breaking the Chain of Mother Daughter Abandonment. Her new book The Power of Memoir: How to Write Your Healing Story was released in January 2010 through Jossey-Bass publishers.

Linda has been a therapist in Berkeley for the last thirty years, and received her MFA at Mills College.

Through her workshops, online coaching, and speaking engagements, Linda integrates the principles of healing and creativity in presenting the powerful healing process of writing true stories. Her first book Becoming Whole: Writing Your Healing Story was used as a text by therapists, ministers, and writing coaches, and was a finalist in the ForeWord magazine’s 2008 Book of the Year Award. Linda’s prize-winning nonfiction and poetry has been published in various literary journals. Her novel excerpt, Secret Music, a novel about the Kindertransport, music, and redemption was a finalist in the San Francisco Writing Conference contest.

Linda is past-president of The California Writers Club, Marin branch, and former Vice-President of the Women’s National Book Association, and has served on the board of Story Circle Network.

Do you want to win this book?

Please leave a comment or question for a chance to win a copy of her book: The Power of Memoir. (winner announced tomorrow!)

Interview by: Mary Jo Campbell

MJC: Thank you for visiting today, Linda Joy! Can you tell us about your experience as a writer and how it relates to your background as a therapist?

LJM: For awhile, I trained therapists to use writing with clients, and in those all day workshops, I discovered how quickly “non-writers” produced interesting and meaningful stories. I saw that anyone could find the stories within if they had the time and support. I became quite passionate about spreading the word about writing—that anyone could learn to do it if they wished, and that it was a powerful tool for change and transformation. Therapists, after all, are always in the middle of people’s stories—finding out how they experienced the world, how they became who they are, the same territory that memoirists encounter. But as it turns out, writing is different than telling. We create a relationship with ourselves as we become both the narrator of the story and the character—the “I” voice in the story. This dual consciousness is part of the healing process, as the narrator helps us to develop a perspective on what happened, and the character I gets close to and inside who we were then. When we write in scene, we take a small hypnotic trip to the past and live in our own skin for a while, then come back out to “now.” The process of writing and telling stories, especially if they are shared helps to heal and to change our perceptions of who we were and who we are now.

MJC: Someone’s embarrassing moment can be captured on an iphone, uploaded to youtube with comments posted on Facebook and Twitter before the victim’s face even turns to blush. Our culture is fascinated with “real life.”  Do you think today’s technology helps or hinders memoir writers, and why?

LJM: Exposure might help memoirists because the fact that because memoirists reveal secrets an inner life that otherwise would be unknown is not as shocking an idea as it used to be. But on the other hand, if you are out in the open, people can judge more harshly the willingness to reveal personal details in a memoir as mere narcissism, or the need to “air the dirty laundry.”

One way that technology might be helping memoir writers is to see social network posts as tiny memoirs, or slices of life. Some are real stories, and we can all feel more connected when we read them.

Also writers are now encouraged to “blog their book.” This means that a writer can try out the ideas for the book on an audience and get feedback that will help in the publishing process. And agents and editors are out there looking for new exciting content and ideas.

We know that it won’t go away, so we need to figure out how it can help us.

MJC: “Exposing all” in memoirs can be tricky, especially if you plan to visit home for the holidays. What tips can you offer us who feel the need to write the truth, even if the truth is ugly?

LJM: The best advice I can give is to create a safe, sacred space where you can write without worrying about being judged or silenced—even by your inner critic. Be sure to keep your early drafts private—or at least protect them the way you would a tender young plant in spring. This means: don’t tell anyone you are writing a memoir!

It takes emotional effort to write the truth, especially if it is ugly, frightening, or traumatic, but it has been proven to be healing, allowing you to get to another stage of your life. Most of us have emotional issues that plague us, but we intuitively know with whom we can share these issues safely. If you are angry at someone, it’s fine to write an unsent letter, for instance, to clarify your feelings and come to another place with the person. Each person has a certain capacity for bearing witness to the various truths in a family, and it’s important to know where your limits are to protect yourself. The voices that chime in your head about who you will hurt or who will roll over in their grave if you write that piece are not helpful to getting your work done.

After you have finished your first draft, you can think then about what you want to do. By then, you will have gone through layers of emotional healing, and see if you have a story you want or need to share. Perhaps by writing it for yourself, you are complete.

If you decide to publish, that is the time to think about vetting the book with others, changing names or locations, or contacting a literary attorney to help you with any thorny problems you may have with what you revealed about others. Every author has to decide how to handle the living and the dead that are written about in their book. It is often an ethical decision more than legal.

MJC: Can you explain the difference between personal narratives or essays and the memoir? How does a writer narrow the focus and pick a theme?

LJM: The terms personal essay, personal narrative, and memoir are often used interchangeably. Personal essay focuses on a universal theme, but of course in a memoir and personal narrative, the themes become woven throughout as the personal story begins to reveal deeper universal truths. I think it’s more the idea that a memoir is written in ever revealing layers, moving from the inside out whereas a personal essay might begin with a theme and move inward toward the details that support it. There is no one way to approach any kind of writing, but most memoir stories are focused on the very personal, and sometimes they should move toward the universal. This will happen if the person keeps writing and exploring metaphor and layers of meaning. Pure reminiscence is pleasant to read, and many times the reader will identify with the time, place, and memories if they are of that same era, but others will not connect necessarily unless the theme becomes universal and can apply to others.

MJC: What tips can you offer teachers who introduce memoir writing in the classroom?

LJM: Make storytelling and writing fun. Allow free writes to develop voice, role plays to demonstrate dialogue and characters, dressing up in different costumes to show color and description. Researching the day they were born on Google can bring together history, news, and their personal lives in surprising and interesting ways. Allow writing that is non-standard for early drafts, and have them keep reading books about young people that make them want to share their own story. The Freedom Writer movie and book are very inspiring about the work that young people can do and what a difference it can make.

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

LJM: In my therapy life, I used to work with youth at risk, and learned how important it was for young people to be listened to and taken seriously. My next project is to focus on the YA—the Young Adult audience. Young people are writing and expressing themselves in amazing and refreshing ways, but as with everyone else, writing personal material means having to deal with the same family issues of guilt, shame, and silence as adults. My hope is that a book focused on their particular ways of thinking and self-expression can free them from fear and silence, and help them to move forward in their lives in a powerful way.

Author’s Websites:

Website: http://thepowerofmemoir.com
National Association of Memoir Writers: http://www.namw.org/

Leave a comment or question today, March9, for a chance at winning a copy of Linda Joy’s book!

Want to learn more about Memoir Writing or Linda Joy Myers, PhD? Follow her book blog tour with WOW! Women on Writing


Filed under Author Interviews, books, contests

Book Blog Tour & Interview: Sara Morgan of “No Limits…”

OK, let’s be real here. Who of us is writing with the real hopes of turning these query letters, source interviews, “keeping under the word count limit” articles into a full-fledged 100% writing career?

Well, you’re in for a treat! Sara Morgan, author of No Limits: How I Escaped the Clutches of Corporate America to Live the Self-Employed Life of My Dreams answered my questions on how to actually go about making that transition. Join me in welcoming her and please share your questions or comments; Sara will be popping in to respond.

As always, one lucky person will be selected to receive a free copy of No Limits. Check back tomorrow to see if you’ve won! (US residents only, please)


About Sara:

Sara would never have had a successful life in the computer industry if it hadn’t been for THAT WOMAN. THAT WOMAN, the college guidance counselor, told Sara her Math skills were horrendous (OK, maybe she was a bit more tactful) and she shouldn’t go into any Math-related majors. So what did Sara major in? Quantitative Business Analysis, with a minor in computer science, natch.

After college she used her computer knowledge in several industries including retail, health care, finance, government, and information technology. She’s also written several technical books for the computer industry.

But it soon became apparent to Sara that Corporate America, and its complicated office politics, was not for her. She became a consultant, an experience that led to No Limits: How I escaped the clutches of Corporate America to live the Self-employed life of my dreams.

Sara and her children live in Louisiana’s version of small-town America where she still pursues her first love–Artificial Intelligence. In the shadow of historical plantations, Sara works on developing robotic assistance to help senior citizens.

Find out more about Sara by visiting her website, www.nolimitsthebook.com, and the No Limits Ning community, http://nolimitsthebook.ning.com/.


Interview by Mary Jo Campbell:

Was there a breaking point in your rat-race career that you decided you had enough and needed to be your own boss?

I had been realizing I was unhappy for many years, but the final straw came when the owner of the company I was working for decided he wanted to be more “hands on”. The guy was a complete jerk and he came in to the office, firing people and moving them around. Just to give you an idea what this guy was like, he came into the office once wearing a gun strapped to his belt. He said it was accident and that he just happened to be coming from the gun range, but I think it was just his sick way of scaring us all.

Anyway, what he was doing was very wrong and another co-worker and I decided to quit on the same day in protest. Unfortunately, my co-worker never actually quit and I think she was just using me to get her way. In the end it worked out best for me, so I do not harbor any bad feelings towards her.

This all happened 4 years ago and since then I have been able to realize the kind of fulfillment that I could have never gotten as a corporate employee. Back then, I was a nervous wreck all the time and I never handled disappointing situations well. I was always in a state of panic. But not anymore. Now, I live very happily and quietly in the country and my only connection to the rest of the world is through my Internet connection. I LOVE IT and my children and I could not be happier. No money in the world could get me to go back to that unhealthy way of life. I would rather be homeless than work in Corporate America again.

Did you get outside resistance from family, friends and/or co-workers when you made this career change?  If so, how did you cope?

First off, let me say that I am lucky to have very supportive parents who have only encouraged me to do my own thing all my life. I think that is why I have had the courage to make the changes I have made. Their positive influence has been the most important factor in my success, I believe.

I did not get too much resistance when I became an independent software consultant because everyone knew I could make a good living doing that. It made sense. But, I have gotten a bit of resistance lately since for the past 6 months I have been writing and promoting this book full-time, which means money has been going out, but not coming in.

It has been even harder to convince them that I am doing the right thing recently, since my book has yet to sell many copies. I am getting terrific reviews and everyone who reads it loves it, but no one is buying it yet. But, I am still VERY hopeful and I KNOW this book is good and that people will eventually start buying it. I have complete confidence in myself and I think that is the key element for success. If you do not believe in yourself, than no one else will.

In such an unstable economy, do you think now is a better or a worse time to take that leap into self-employment and why?

I think now is the perfect time. In fact, I think anyone thinking about it should just drain all their IRA’s and mutual funds (as I have) and live off that money until whatever business you start begins to earn money. It may take a while for your efforts to be realized, but I think it is far better to invest in yourself, rather than the poorly performing and unstable stock market. As long as you believe in yourself, anything is possible, so just go for it.

How much planning and saving (reserve) should one have before starting a company?  Is there such a thing as too much preparation where one would essentially procrastinate forever?

Yes, I think you can put it off too long. I know this guy who is just brilliant. He always has a thousand good ideas. For years he kept telling me he had this great idea for software that would revolutionize the industry he was in. He wanted me to help him out with it. I agreed, but he never made the jump and now he is stuck and the opportunity has passed. The software he dreamed of writing has now been done and it is too late. He waited too long and I feel very sorry for him because he must just be miserable. I would much rather fail, than never even try.

Who are the business/marketing influences you admire and why?

Well, I did not know that much about marketing until recently when I started promoting this book. But, I love all the people associated with this idea of selling yourself and not your soul. I only associate myself with good people that I know are just trying to do good and not take advantage of others. I refuse to just buy my way in and I am just slowly working leads from PRLeads.com and HelpAReporterOut.com. I know one day my efforts will be rewarded.

To learn more and join a community of like-minded individuals,  check out: No Limits Ning community, http://nolimitsthebook.ning.com/.

And remember to leave a comment on today’s post (before midnight CST) for a chance to win!


Filed under Advice, Author Interviews, Believe, books, Give Aways, Inspiration