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If you’re a mystery writer or reader, there’s a wonderful (I may be biased) small conference held each November in the Boston area.

2014 marks the 13th Annual New England Crime Bake Conference.

CrimeBake banner

 

We (I’m part of the conference committee) have a wonderful GOH (guest of honor) this year. Well, we always have a great GOH — Meg Gardiner, Lee Child, Charlaine Harris, Harlan Coben, and Sue Grafton, to name a few.

This year’s GOH is Craig Johnson. If you’re a fan of the Walt Longmire mystery series or the Longmire A&E TV series (3rd season starts June 2!), the name is familiar.

I met Craig last year at a local independent book store. It was the most unique book event I’ve ever been to. The author lives in tiny town in Wyoming (population 25) and he was here, in NH, in his cowboy boots and hat. He brought a few six packs of beer to share with drinking-age audience members – I had ice water – and had a 2+ hour conversation with us. We could have been sitting in his living room for how comfortable the evening felt.

This year’s Crime Bake conference is going to be loads of fun with him around. The banquet is featuring line dancing (with lessons) as well as cowboy poetry (from participants on the spot). But that’s not all the fun!

Several agents and editors will be around all weekend to listen to pitches (from cozies to thrillers to noirs) and share their expertise.

We’re going to have professionals set up a crime scene and participants get to make their own deductions and determinations — and find out how right we are on Sunday morning.

There are several panels and seminars covering everything from writing cozies to selecting the best publishing option to talking about detectives from Sherlock Holmes to television’s Richard Castle. Check out the full conference schedule. There’s something for everyone who loves the mystery genre.

I personally love this conference because it’s small (250 people) and everyone I meet there (whether unpublished writer or multipublished novelist) is friendly, encouraging, and loves talking about all things mystery. It’s a guilty pleasure to hang out with other writers, but there’s something extra special about hanging out with mystery writers.

I invite ya’ll to come on along with us (at least 3 NHWN bloggers will be there) and “Saddle Up for Murder” on November 7, 8, and 9. The conference’s Facebook Page will keep you updated on activities and if you’re on Twitter, we’re slinging words using #crimebake.

Boy howdy, this is going to be a fun time!

Lisa J. JacksonLisa J. Jackson is an independent writer and editor who enjoys working with businesses of all sizes. In her other life, she writes and reads mysteries and is a fan of the New England Crime Bake conference. Her cowboy hat and boots are ready to go. You can connect with her on FacebookTwitterGoogle+, and LinkedIn.

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Yesterday was the second to the last session for my Technical Writing class.

A-Plus-StudentBack on the first day of class, I asked the students if any of them thought they would be learning something useful out of this class.

No one, not a single student raised their hand. Technical Writing was a required course. They were in the class because they had to be not because they wanted to be.

The first day of class, I asked them to write a short paper. No one wrote more than 2 paragraphs and there was no rhyme or reason to what they wrote. It was nearly impossible for them.

This is good, I thought, I can work with this.

I’ve spent the semester teaching them how to organize their writing, how to identify the audience, tone, topic and purpose (ATTP.)

We’ve talked about brainstorming ideas on a topic and then grouping those ideas under appropriate headers.

We’ve talked about starting with an introduction and ending with a conclusion.

Week by week, through the use of examples and stories, I tried to get my students to understand how important organization of information was when writing. How easy it made writing.

Yesterday in class, I passed out a handout with instructions on “How to phone an elected official.” Outline a paper for me on this topic, I told them.

Initially I heard groans, but then I saw them get to work. They underlined and made notations on the handout.

On the white board, I took them through the steps listed below. They first identified the ATTP.

Then using the handout they brainstormed topics. Once they did that, they grouped the topics and realizing that some information was missing in the “order of events” (they added a section on how to find a representative’s phone number) they added additional topics.

Finally they put the topics into an order that made sense (they decided that chronological sequence was most effective) and surrounded that list with an introduction and conclusion.

Within an hour, I had these students, who had thought they wouldn’t learn anything devise a solid outline for a short paper. All they needed to do was to write 2-3 paragraphs under each identified topic and they would have a first draft.

If they then added quotes and stories, they would have written a “how-to article.”

I told them that there was not one student in the class who couldn’t take this outline and give me a draft the next day. Through organization of information, we had turned what early in the semester has seemed like an impossible task into one that was bite-sized and very doable.

It was the look on their faces when I pointed this out, that has made all of my work this past semester worth the time and effort it has taken.

My class of students, none of whom had wanted to be there, have learned.

***

This is an organizational handout I gave my students.

***

The 6 Steps for Reader Centered Writing
KEEP THIS HANDOUT FOR ALL TIME

Step 1: Analyze your readers. Determine ATTP
Step 2: Outline your information. Brainstorm your ideas. Write them down, use post-its, or draw them out in a web outline.
Step 3: Group like information under headlines.
Step 4: Sequence your ideas. Figure out the order in which you present information based on your ATTP. Include abstract, introduction, and conclusion.
Step 5: Write the first draft. Write at least 2-3 paragraphs under each header
Step 6: Edit for clarity, conciseness, and accuracy. Check facts, spelling, definitions, and if you have missed information that you assumed your reader knew. Make sure the document matches your ATTP (if the purpose is to convince have you done that? If it’s to ask for action is that clear?)

***

Wendy Thomas is an award winning journalist, columnist, and blogger who believes that taking challenges in life will always lead to goodness. She is the mother of 6 funny and creative kids and it is her goal to teach them through stories and lessons.

Wendy’s current project involves writing about her family’s experiences with chickens (yes, chickens). (www.simplethrift.wordpress.com) She writes about her chickens for GRIT, Backyard Poultry, Chicken Community, and Mother Earth News.

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dll2013           I’ve retired from teaching countless times, and always find myself drawn back to the classroom, sometimes for the money, sometimes for the professional association, and always for the love of language.

I think and learn in language; I discover what I think with words; and I love helping others use language to discover and hone thought and story. And while I’m committed to staying home and finishing Ellen, I miss teaching. So I’m going to try something new: facilitating a Writing Circle in anticipation of Mother’s Day for people who have lost their mothers.

A Writing Circle is a safe place where the synergy of writing with others loosens the tongue of memory, allowing words to fly onto the page. The theme-based prompts will allow participants to tap into the reservoir of emotion and memory stored in our hearts and offer us a chance to imagine further and/or unfinished conversations with a parent no longer in the world but still in our universe. The power of our stories is amplified when we read and listen to each other’s words.

hamptonbays            My mother died in September of 2012, and I’ve been writing through grief ever since, making sense of the new world order without my mother in it. I believe that personal writing and story telling help us navigate the landscapes of our lives. Those who want to join me for this workshop are asked to bring both a photograph of their mother and a favorite dish of their mom’s to share for the potluck lunch, as well as writing materials (pen, paper, laptop).

This workshop is for anyone who wants to remember her/his mother through writing. The workshop will take place on Saturday, April 26, from 8:45 – 3 at a private home near Brattleboro, Vermont. The cost for the day is $75. Participation is limited to twelve and preregistration is required. (Directions to the venue will be sent upon registration.) Download a registration form at www.deborahleeluskin.com or request a form by email at info@deborahleeluskin.com.IMG_1102

Deborah Lee Luskin has been making sense of the world by writing it down since she was nine. She’s the author of the award-winning novel, Into the Wilderness, a regular commentator on Vermont Public Radio, an essayist and blogger, a developmental editor and a pen-for-hire. Luskin is also a veteran educator who has taught a variety of populations, from gifted elementary school students to inmates in Vermont’s prisons. She has lived in Vermont for thirty years and can be found on the web at www.deborahleeluskin.com

 

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A train! A train!

A train! A train!

Could you, would you

on a train?

Green Eggs and Ham, by Dr. Seuss

With apologies to Dr. Seuss, would you write on a train? Could you write on a train? You could if you applied for an #AmtrakResidency. Amtrak is now offering the opportunity for creative professionals to enjoy a long train ride to focus on their work.

'Amtrak, Train' photo (c) 2013, Massachusetts Office of Travel & Tourism - license: http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nd/2.0/

It started with an off hand comment by Alexander Chee in an interview in a PEN Ten Interview. When asked where he likes to write, Chee said “I still like a train best for this kind of thing. I wish Amtrak had residencies for writers.” Writer Jessica Gross read that and loved the idea so much she took to Twitter and asked for what she wanted.

Behold the power of social media, @Amtrak was listening and created a test residency. Gross took a 44 hour trip from New York city to Chicago and back again via the Lake Shore Limited and wrote about the experience. Once the story of her adventure went live, Twitter lit up with the hashtag #AmtrakResidency. I even added my voice to the conversation. Again, Amtrak was still listening and the Amtrak Residency Program is now live.

#AmtrakResidency was designed to allow creative professionals who are passionate about train travel and writing to work on their craft in an inspiring environment. Round-trip train travel will be provided on an Amtrak long-distance route. Each resident will be given a private sleeper car, equipped with a desk, a bed and a window to watch the American countryside roll by for inspiration. Routes will be determined based on availability.

Of course in the age of the Internet nothing is without controversy. Some have complained about the rights Amtrak asks for in the application. My take is that they are asking to use the brief application statement in their marketing materials others agree, your mileage may vary. Either way, read the fine print and if necessary consult a lawyer.

Some have complained that the government funded program shouldn’t be giving away free rides until it is self sustaining. To that I say “wake up and smell the marketing coffee”. No, not everyone can afford to pay their way across the country, but really, even if a small percentage of the interested parties, decide to pony up the bucks for a train ride (even a few hours long), that equals increased ridership. Increased ridership means higher revenues. Higher revenues mean closer to solvency. Will creative types taking to the rails solve all of Amtrak’s money woes? Hell no, but every little bit helps. Right?

One of the articles reported that more than 7,000 applications have been received. According to that author’s calculations, the chances of landing one of these prized Amtrak Residencies is less than the chances of being admitted to Harvard. Still, the buzz got me thinking. Even 2-5 days would be a struggle for me but, I could take a day and ride the rails.

I love riding the train. I don’t think there is any more convenient way to get from Boston to New York City and points South. Last year, I took the train from Boston to Philadelphia and I was thrilled with my level of productivity I wrote, both on my iPad and in longhand. I even read a book from start to finish. Trains in the Northeast, are cool, but the stops are frequent so the speeds are lowered. I can only imagine what it would be like to be on a long distance train ride.

I’ve read about other writer’s residency programs and they sound like a dream come true, but I am not at a point in my life where I can just disappear into my writing for weeks at a time. Two to five days? It would be a stretch, but I’d probably be able to figure out a way to make it work.

The Downeaster looks like it has a decent run from Boston, MA to Brunswick, ME. I was thinking of taking a day and departing from Boston and riding up to Freeport. Maybe in November during NaNoWriMo? Combine it with a lunch and little Christmas shopping at L.L. Bean then hop on the train to get back to work? The scenery would be different but my guess is the line would be less crowded. That means more seats in the quiet car.

Who’s with me? Can you write on a train? Have you? Are you going to apply for an #AmtrakResidency?

Lee Laughlin is a writer, wife, and mom, frequently all of those things at once. She blogs at Livefearlesslee.com. She is currently a member of the Concord Monitor Board of Contributors.  Her words have also appeared in a broad range of publications from community newspapers to the Boston Globe. She is a member of the New Hampshire Chapter of Romance Writers of America and is currently at work on her first novel.

There is still room in the Deb Dixon “Book-In-A-Day Workshop”being held May 10th in Nashua, NH Sign up today!

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Debra Dixon is coming! Debra Dixon is coming!

Debra Dixon is a popular writer, speaker and publisher and she’s bringing her “Book-In-A Day” Workshop to Nashua, New Hampshire on May 10, 2014. Dixon’s Goal, Motivation and Conflict is required reading for anyone who is hoping to have their book published.

Debra Dixon Book-In-A Day May 10, 2014

I read Goal, Motivation and Conflict at the recommendation of several fellow writers. I started with a borrowed copy but the book was packed with such great information I had to restrain myself from using a highlighter. I knew I had to purchase my own copy. I wrote a review for L2W W2L.

The Book-In-A Day Workshop uses the 12 step Hero’s Journey to help you plan the character driven plots that make readers and publisher’s stand up at take notice. You’ll leave the workshop with an outline that will advance your book idea from concept to finished plan. You will:

  • 

Understand Hero and Villain motivation in crafting a tension-filled story.
  • Understand the difference between internal and external motivation, and why it is important to goal-setting and plot.
  • Understand the difference between hero long- and short-term goal setting.
  • Chart your Hero’s emotional journey in counterpoint to his physical journey.
  • Put the Hero’s goals in direct emotional conflict with the villain and the Emotional Obstacle.
  • Let your book unfold in stages, maintaining tension and increasing suspense, until the very end.

The workshop is sponsored by the New Hampshire Chapter of Romance Writer’s of America, but is open to writer’s of all genre’s. It will be held at the Radisson in Nashua from 9am to 4pm. The cost is $80 and includes a lunch buffet.

Stay overnight at the Radisson Friday night, and meet fellow authors that evening from 8-11 pm in the lounge. For more information and to sign up, please visit http://www.nhrwa.com/events.html
 I hope to see you there!

Will you be attending? What books have you read on writing have drastically altered how you write?

Lee Laughlin is a writer, wife, and mom, frequently all of those things at once. She blogs at Livefearlesslee.com. She is currently a member of the Concord Monitor Board of Contributors.  Her words have also appeared in a broad range of publications from community newspapers to the Boston Globe. She is a member of the New Hampshire Chapter of Romance Writers of America and is currently at work on her first novel.

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ODYSSEY WRITING WORKSHOPS CHARITABLE TRUSTANNOUNCES WINTER 2014 ONLINE CLASSES

Odyssey, a 501(c)(3) nonprofit with the mission of helping writers improve their work, is offering three exciting, new online courses this winter. 

All Odyssey Online courses involve live online class meetings, so students can ask questions and participate in the class.  Each course is designed to provide intensive focus on a particular aspect of fiction writing and challenging homework assignments to help students improve their skills.  Feedback from the instructor and from classmates allows students to make strong improvements.  Each student also has an individual meeting with the instructor.  Courses provide a supportive yet challenging, energizing atmosphere, with class size limited to fourteen students.  While courses are designed for adult writers of fantasy, science fiction, and horror, interested writers of all genres are welcome to apply. 

Last winter, a total of 42 hard-working writers from the US, Canada, India, New Zealand, Australia, and Japan, participated in Odyssey’s three online courses.  One student, a lawyer and published writer from Indiana, commented, “Although I have taken online classes and workshops before, I have not worked so hard on class assignments since I was in college.”  Odyssey instructors pack as much useful content into each course as possible, and with our live class sessions, instructors can reach across the miles to students, fostering energetic discussions and making strong connections. 

Odyssey’s winter 2014 courses focus on key issues for writers – dialogue, emotions, and the short story: 

Powerful Dialogue in Fantastic Fiction

Course Meets:  January 2 – 30, 2014
Instructor:  Jeanne Cavelos
Application Deadline:  December 7, 2013

Graduates of Jeanne Cavelos’s previous Odyssey Online courses have been clamoring for her to offer a new subject, and they’ve also been requesting a course on dialogue, so Odyssey is excited to offer Powerful Dialogue in Fantastic Fiction.  Dialogue is one of the major components of most works of fiction, yet few writers give it much thought beyond trying to make it sound realistic and trying to make each character have a distinct manner of speaking.  But a writer needs to do much more than that to create powerful dialogue.

Powerful dialogue can leave readers hanging on every word. It can delight and surprise readers. It can resonate long after the book is closed. It can drive the story forward, reveal character, show the nuances in relationships, develop internal or external conflict, provide a powerful contrast with action, convey subtext, alter pace, build atmosphere, carry cultural or educational differences, increase tension, and reveal setting and other information.  This course will help students to write layered, powerful dialogue that accomplishes multiple goals and resonates with readers long after they finish the story.

The Heart of the Matter:  Bringing Emotional Resonance to Your Storytelling

Course Meets:  January 6 – February 3, 2014
Instructor:  Barbara Ashford
Application Deadline:  December 10, 2013

Barbara Ashford’s online class last year was one of the most popular we’ve ever had; every student who filled out an evaluation rated it “excellent”! So we asked Barbara to teach again this year. Her new course deals with one of the issues writers struggle with most: evoking strong emotions in the reader.  This course will offer breakthrough insights to students.

Award-winning novelist Barbara Ashford believes in storytelling that takes readers on a journey that satisfies their hearts as well as their minds.  Readers love stories that force characters to confront their darkest fears, expose their shameful secrets, survive their most wrenching confrontations. But just having your character cry or laugh or scream will never get readers to share the emotions behind those actions.  It requires careful crafting–from conception to execution–to achieve that.  This course will take you from “setting the stage”–exploring and understanding the emotions inherent in a story idea–to “getting it on the page” by showing complex emotions through your writing.

The Secrets of a Satisfying Short Story

Course Meets:  January 23 – February 20, 2014
Instructor:  Nancy Holder
Application Deadline:  December 27, 2013

At last summer’s Odyssey Writing Workshop, Nancy Holder spent a week with students as writer-in-residence. Students were so thrilled with that week–with the one-on-one work Nancy did with them, the critiques she provided, and the insights they received–that we asked Nancy to teach an online class. She’s adapting and radically expanding one of her Odyssey lectures to create The Secrets of a Satisfying Short Story.

The short story is a very demanding form, and it provides no margin for error. Many writers don’t understand the bedrock principles that make for a successful short story.  They write without a clear sense of what they want to achieve, and without sufficiently developing the key ingredients that will help them achieve it.  This course will start by discussing Edgar Allan Poe’s criteria for a short story, which offer powerful, clarifying principles.  We’ll then explore the key concepts of idea, premise, and plot, and how to make sure you aren’t writing from an idea but have made the journey from idea to premise to plot.  We’ll study how the beginning of the story leads to the surprising but inevitable end.  We’ll discuss why weak endings are the most common problem among writers and how to make your ending strong. We’ll work on connecting internal and external conflicts; developing your conflicts through cause and effect; distinguishing between presenting and representing; identifying and remaining focused on your story; and revising your work.

More information about Odyssey’s online classes can be found here:  http://www.sff.net/odyssey/online.html or by emailing jcavelos@sff.net.

PLEASE NOTE:  Those application deadlines are coming up soon!  If you would like to apply for more than one course, you must apply separately for each one.

Odyssey’s Online Classes provide the tools you need to improve your writing, along with feedback on your work that reveals whether you are successfully using those tools.  If you’re ready to hear about the weaknesses in your writing and ready to work to overcome them, you’d be welcome to apply to our online classes.

In addition, the Odyssey site, http://www.odysseyworkshop.org, offers many resources for writers, including free podcasts, writing and publishing tips, a writing blog, a critique service, and information about the six-week in-person workshop.

Spend the winter taking your writing to the next level!

—-

I received this notice in my e-mail this week and find the courses compelling and interesting. I can’t fit any of them into my schedule, however! I’ve heard wonderful things about Odyssey courses (have never taken any myself), so wanted to share and hope someone can take advantage of one of the classes. If you do, I’d love to hear your experience with it!

Lisa J. Jackson is an independent writer and editor who enjoys working with businesses of all sizes. She loves writing about NH people, places, and activities. You can connect with her on FacebookTwitter, and LinkedIn.

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SONY DSC           Last week I had the good fortune to teach a writing workshop at The Writers’ Barn, in Shelburne, Vermont.

The barn is just that – a barn, but it’s been renovated into a light, airy space with all the modern amenities for that particular breed: writers. There are tables, chairs of several varieties, light, heat, wi-fi and coffee and tea on demand. The mission of The Writers’ Barn is to build a supportive space for writers of all ages to develop writing skills, whether for pleasure or profession, and to build communities that share and celebrate the written or spoken word. They pursue this mission two ways: through workshops and through space.

The Writers’ Barn has offered workshops in writing memoir, children’s picture books, manuscript revision, sports writing, poetry, and craft. I taught a workshop on craft, detailing techniques for writing short. Eight people attended, including the editorial staff from a national magazine, a memoirist, a free-lance magazine writer, and an eighth-grader who wants to be a professional writer. We had a lot of fun – and enjoyed the cider donuts provided to fuel us through the afternoon.

I was particularly pleased to be able to hook my laptop up to a huge, flat-screen TV, so that I could project my materials for all to see without having to inhale marker fumes on a white board or kill a lot of trees. It’s times like this that I love technology. And I’m looking forward to a return visit later this month to lead a Holiday Writing Retreat.

The Writers’ Barn is also a space available for use as a meeting venue and as a workspace. The Writers’ Barn has hosted special events, including poetry readings and literary salons. The Writers’ Barn is also available as shared workspace for writers who don’t have a room of their own. For a monthly fee, writers can use the barn to write. They are free to come and go at all hours except those blacked out for workshops or events, and they are provided with cubby space in which to store any materials they don’t want to schlepp.

I’ve heard about shared office space before, and know of several published authors who rent offices where they can treat their writing with the seriousness of a job – and have access to a water-cooler, where they can hydrate and sip office gossip. There’s one such space in Northampton Massachusetts called Click, where writers, entrepreneurs, freelancers and frazzled parents can go to get work done. Click offers professional office space, complete with comfortable work stations, wireless internet, power, conference rooms, printers, kitchenette, and the requisite free tea & OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAcoffee.

I work alone, in a studio in the woods, which is absolutely great – most of the time. When it’s not, I wish I could walk down a hall and find a colleague to help me out of a slump, or tell me a joke, read me a poem, or remind me that having a bad day is no reason to quit.

Does anybody use or know of other shared office spaces? Has anybody attended a great workshop on craft lately? Does anyone know of another place like The Writers’ Barn?

I’m looking forward to your comments.

dll2013Deborah Lee Luskin is a novelist, essayist and educator who lives in southern Vermont.

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