I Know Mystery Writers Are Regular People, too, but this still happens

Today is the day after my favorite 3-day conference for mystery writers, New England Crime Bake. It’s the day after I reconnected with far-away friends, and made new friends.

Like past years, and attending any writing workshops or conferences, my brain is bursting with new tips, tricks, and inspiration for getting words onto the page.

But my big takeaway is thoughts of the people and conversations.

So many of my friends are now published authors. On Friday night, we got to celebrate the ‘debut’ mystery novelists. It’s such a thrill and honor to be able to congratulate others on their accomplishments. (If they can do it, so can I, right?)

The celebration was called “Death, Desserts, and Debutants.” The only thing that died was our will power to resist chocolate – the desserts buffet was simply decadent.

I ended up at a table with a debut mystery novelist I hadn’t met before. She was a so funny. I recognized her name and thought she was a panelist or presenter. She wasn’t. I knew I’d never met her before, but there was something so familiar that I had to keep staring at her and talking to her. I couldn’t write it off as simply recognizing her name from the attendees roster.

And then it happened. She mentioned the name of her book. Idyll Threats. And I swear I became a teenager barely able to contain a Squee of excitement. Yes! Of course! Stephanie Gayle! I became all “OMG,” and “Stephanie, I loved your book,” and “Stephanie, when’s the next one coming out?” Such a star-struck fan. I laughed at my behavior, but couldn’t help myself.

My fan status started a few months back when Stephanie’s publicist contacted me about Stephanie and her novel. I ended up interviewing Stephanie and reviewing her novel on my blog, and then even interviewed her for a couple of hours at The Writer’s Chatroom one Sunday evening. I loved the book, loved the fresh writing, the protagonist, all of it. It was a treat to get to know more about the author behind the story.

On Friday night, it took a while for all the pieces to click into place. But then, there I was, with the author, and, wow, like everyone else I’ve met at this conference, she was a normal person. She even has a full-time day job and has to find/make time to write. (She’s 3rd from the left in the 2nd row in the pic).

DebutMysteryNovelists

2015 Debut Mystery Novelists at New England Crime Bake

Several ‘big names’ always attend the conference (this year’s guest of honor was Elizabeth George, others include Craig Johnson, Joe Finder, Lee Child, Charlaine Harris) and guess what? They are people too!

I love being part of the community of mystery writers. And I love this particular conference for the wonderful conversations and long-lasting friendships that develop.

Two of my fellow NHWN bloggers, Diane, and Julie (aka Julianne Holmes, debut mystery novelist – 3rd from left in last row in pic) were there, too, celebrating and meeting their fave authors, getting star-struck, and striking up conversations with new friends.

What author(s) turn you into a (giggly) star-struck fan?

Lisa_2015Lisa J. Jackson is an independent writer and editor who enjoys working with manufacturing, software, and technology businesses of all sizes. She loves researching topics, interviewing experts, and helping companies tell their stories. You can connect with her on Twitter, Facebook, and LinkedIn.

Writing & Yoga Workshop

Deb Luskin & Jen Frey are offering a Writing & Yoga Workshop, Writing to the Light, on Friday, November 13, 2014, at Newfane Village Yoga, Newfane, VT

Deb Luskin & Jen Frey are offering a Writing & Yoga Workshop, Writing to the Light, on Friday, November 13, 2014, at Newfane Village Yoga, Newfane, VT

Over the past few years I’ve found a remedy for the writing hazards of poor posture, stiff joints and loneliness through the practice of yoga.

My yoga practice began as a strictly physical endeavor: a way to exercise with others and regain the flexibility that’s hard to maintain after spending most of a day in a chair. But I quickly learned that elements of yoga, like breathing and staying present, were good for opening my writer’s mind. Now, I combine yoga and writing all the time.

My yoga practice includes difficult stretches, challenging balances, and killer core strengtheners. These help me build the flexibility, grace and strength to write from my heart with a still mind.

I know a lot of people turn to journals to plumb their emotional and spiritual depths; journal writing is good for that. I also know people who say they’d like to write more, but don’t have the time; and others who say they’d like to exercise more, but don’t have the will-power. That used to be me – and it’s what lead me to practice yoga, which helps me find my breath, balance and words.

We'll be writing about finding ways to maintain our light through the dark of the year.

We’ll be writing about finding ways to maintain our light through the dark of the year. (Deborah Lee Luskin, photo)

So, I’m delighted to be teaming up with my yoga instructor, Jenny Frey, to lead Writing to the Light, a workshop designed to nurture our internal light as the earth tilts toward the dark.

We’ll use yoga and breath to ground ourselves, and writing to illuminate a path through the coming dark. Jen’s gentle yoga practice will prepare us for timed writing to inspiring prompts. Using our deepest breath, we will then make our words audible and find strength in our collective ideas.

No prior experience necessary, just comfortable clothes, pen, paper, and a willingness to be still and discover.

The workshop will take place at Newfane Village Yoga on Friday, November 13, from 6-9 PM. The cost is $30. Register here.

M. Shafer, Photo

M. Shafer, Photo

Deborah Lee Luskin is an author, blogger, and writing consultant with over thirty years experience teaching writing and literature to a wide variety of learners throughout Vermont. She’s been practicing yoga for a several years.

 

Jen’s core philosophy is that yoga should be available and accessible to all. She creates a comfortable and relaxed atmosphere in which a challenging flow is punctuated with warmth and giggles. Her goal is always to get you to try something new with a sense of humor. She embraces a versatile Vinyasa flow and modifies to suit all levels. Mindfulness and breath work are fundamental ingredients in her approach.
Jen began practicing yoga in 1998. What started out as a purely physical endeavor evolved into a pathway for life. Jen is a 500 RYT, she studied Fluid Yoga with Kevan Gale at Stil Studio, Boston.

The D-I-Y Writing Residency

My brother, a videographer by day and a playwright by night.

My brother, a videographer by day and a playwright by night.

For creative types with demanding day jobs and hectic lives, a writing residency can offer much needed sustained quiet in which to work. My brother, a videographer by day and a playwright by night, is just such a creative who’s ceaselessly busy, if not with work or writing, then with some other demanding pursuit, like supporting his friends’ creative endeavors, cooking with intense focus, or sea-kayaking in San Francisco Bay.

My brother is also tremendously generous, and as soon as he learned he’d

Jonathan, writing.

Jonathan, writing.

been awarded a month-long writing residency at Djerassi, he called me up and said, “Hey, Deb, do you want to use my apartment for your own writer’s retreat?” And so the Do-It-Yourself Writing Residency was born.

When I had two jobs and three kids under four, I applied and attended formal writing residencies. Both RopeWalk and the Vermont Studio Center gave me weeklong escapes from the chaos at home, These residencies were terrific – until I returned home and had to play catch-up. It was after a second residency at the Vermont Studio Center, where I was given a ten-by-twelve studio with a window overlooking a river, that I wondered if I could recreate that kind of physical and psychic space at home.

Deborah Lee Luskin writing studio

The desk in my writing studio.

In 2011, my husband built me a ten-by-twelve cabin, where I’ve worked hard to maintain a retreat-like writing practice. But life happens. Writing assignments pile up. I don’t even have time to apply for residencies, even if I were interested in them.

But one of my children recently moved to California; I haven’t seen her since May. I started to imagine a retreat where I could write by day while she worked, then meet to talk, walk, sightsee and dine. The clincher is that I’ve been gathering steam on a new book for which I’ve done a lot of groundwork, but I’ve been too busy with my day-to-day writing to give it the concentrated, uninterrupted attention it requires at this point.

So, I’m going! I’m even writing and scheduling this post before I leave. It feels great to clear my desk ahead of my departure – something to keep in mind for when I return. I’m taking just the one project with me, to give it my full attention. [Check out Diane’s recent post about The Joy of Focusing on One Thing.]

This is my cousin's cabin in Maine where I wrote this summer, sidelined by my broken ankle.

This is my cousin’s cabin in Maine where I wrote this summer, sidelined by my broken ankle.

Meanwhile, why not try a Do-It-Yourself residency? Use a friend’s house or apartment on weekends they’re away, or during designated hours they’re at work. Check into a motel for a weekend – or a week. Locate a rustic cabin with a wood stove before it gets too cold, or use someone’s beach house before it’s closed for the winter.

These DIY residencies provide work time and solitude. Some artist colonies do the same, and some provide communal meals and social hours – which can be fun and/or distracting. If going off solo is too lonely, there’s always the possibility of finding a few writing buddies and renting a place together, with a plan for meals, solitude, and social time worked out in advance.

Writing residencies can be extremely helpful in providing the time and space for unfettered creativity. Established ones can be found online: Amazing Writing Residencies and Poets & Writers Conferences and Residencies are just two lists of the many established residencies available. But you can also Do-It-Yourself.

Have you ever borrowed a house, apartment, or private space in which to create your own writer’s retreat?

Entering Contests

In 2005, I won a local writing contest; as a result, I’ve frequently been asked to judge it. (image: www.pixabay.com)

In 2005, I won a local writing contest; as a result, I’ve frequently been asked to judge it. (image: http://www.pixabay.com)

Like many writers, I’ve submitted short stories to contests, hoping that my work would win and fearing that my entry would be far outclassed. But I’ve not entered many contests, mostly because I figured if I had to pay someone to read my work, I’d do better investing in an editorial reader to give me meaningful feedback.

I have submitted work to contests with no entry fee – and I’ve won prizes: both money and recognition, but neither fortune nor fame. In 2005, I won a local writing contest; since then, I’ve frequently been asked to judge it. This has given me a new perspective on contests and how winners are picked.

At first, I was one of five judges. We all read all the entries, then met to decide the winners. Some years, the winning entrance was obvious – not always because it was so good, but because the competition was weak. Other years were more contentious. Several stories were prize-worthy, and we each argued for the one we liked best. The final result was a compromise amongst the judges, and not necessarily about the work.

Write Action sponsors an annual writing contest. www.writeaction.org

Write Action sponsors an annual writing contest.
www.writeaction.org

This year, I’m judging the prose entries myself. The responsibility is large, and I’m taking my time. Happily, this year’s entries are the best I’ve ever read and a big change from the last time I served, when the writing was poor and the presentation worse. Manuscript Matters. Submitting a story to a contest or agent or editor is like sending it on a job interview, and it should go out looking its best. This year’s submissions all arrived as clean copy in black ink on white paper in twelve-point type. They’re easy to read, and I’ve been able to get lost in the stories without having to fight my way through fancy fonts, blue and/or bold ink, and other typographical devices that detract from the words.

The words are good, the stories touching, entertaining, imaginative, and varied. I’ve enjoyed reading them, and I’ve read them all twice. I’ve read my favorites several times more.

These submissions are so good, that picking a winner is hard. So I reread them, arrange them in my order of preference and let them rest. I’ve been doing this every few days for over two weeks, and the winners are starting to emerge. I keep placing the same story on top of the stack; that’s the one I’ll call First. Another week of reading and rearranging has helped me settle which stories will come in Second and Third. Of the other four, I’ll recommend one for Honorable Mention.

I’m taking my time because judging a contest is entirely subjective, especially with stories that are both well-told and well-written. Rereading has allowed me to attend to the finer elements of craft: voice, point-of-view, use of language, development of suspense, narrative arc, metaphor, and meaning.

But that’s me. Another judge might choose differently.

Based on my experience judging, here’s my advice for entering contests:

  • A writer can control craft, so submitting absolutely excellent work is key – but still no guarantee. How your work fares depends both on the quality of the other entries and on the subjectivity of the judge. Neither are elements a writer can control.
  • Follow the contest guidelines precisely; this is an element a writer can control. A smart writer does this with all submissions, not just contests. Everything else is a crapshoot.
  • Consider submitting to journals during their open reading periods instead. Most contests cost money, and most open-reading periods accept submissions for free.
  • It bears repeating: send only your best work.

Good luck!

photo: M. Shafer

photo: M. Shafer

The 2005 prize-winning story Marlboro Music became a chapter in Deborah Lee Luskin’s award-winning novel, Into The Wilderness. Learn more at www.deborahleeluskin.com

What Do You Want from a Writer’s Retreat?

I’d like to talk with you about retreats for writers. The immediate answer to any of these questions can easily be ‘well, it depends’, but overall, I’m curious to learn what type of writing retreat you’d benefit from most within the next 12 months.

View from kitchen table of Maine cabin for retreat - many seating options!

View from kitchen table of Maine cabin for retreat – many seating options!

When you hear “writer’s retreat” what time frame leaps to mind? A few hours, an overnight somewhere, two or three nights, a week or more…

  • If your answer is ‘a few hours’, there are “write ins” popping up now where space is reserved for up to half a day, and you can show up for as much of that time as you like — it’s more for camaraderie in being with other writers at the same time than anything else — I like doing these during November (National Novel Writing Month)

How do you feel when you think about a writer’s retreat? Calm, happy, anxious, dread, excited, bummed, inspired, scared…

  • my feelings can run the gamut depending on what type of project leaps to mind — most generally, though, thinking about being around other writers makes me smile and outweighs any anxiety — if I had to pick 1 word, it would be ‘bliss’

Where do you search for information on writer’s retreats? Social media, ShawGuides, writing groups/organizations you belong to, libraries, book stores, general Internet searches…

  • sometimes too many choices result in choosing to not even look around at options — my favorite type of writing retreat is one combined with an adventure vacation (like rafting down the Colorado River [did it], or spending a week at a Wyoming dude ranch [did it], or learning to cook in Italy [on my bucket list], or camping in New Zealand [not sure if that one exists yet!]

What is important to you in a retreat? time alone to write, a group setting, critiques/feedback, sharing your work, instruction, mentorship, everyone working in same or multiple genres…

  •  All of the above, please! When working on fiction, a mix of genres works well for me. But when I’m focused on non-fiction I prefer everyone to be the same — there’s something different for me when crafting imaginative stories than truth-based stories/articles/essays/manuscripts.
Water view seating for same Maine cabin getaway. Variety is good!

Water view seating for same Maine cabin getaway. Variety is good!

If you’re new to writing, is it a feature to have experienced writers in the group, or a deterrent? And likewise, if you’re multipublished, does a retreat with newbie writers attract you?

  • As long as expectations for the group are stated and agreed to up front, a mix of experience levels can benefit all attendees.

I’m looking forward to hearing your thoughts on writer’s retreats.

LisaJJackson_2014Lisa J. Jackson is an independent writer and editor who enjoys working with businesses of all sizes. She loves researching topics, interviewing experts, and helping companies tell their stories. You can connect with her on TwitterFacebook, and LinkedIn.

When Opportunity Knocks . . .

Open the DoorWhen opportunity knocks – open the door!

As a direct result of Speaking in Public, I’ve been offered the opportunity to teach a graduate-level writing course at Marlboro College Graduate School. While open to any graduate student, the course is aimed at educators from across the curriculum who want to improve their own writing as a step toward inspiring and instructing their students to improve theirs.

Expository Writing for the 21st Century will teach the elements of good writing in all fields: science, social studies, history and literature. We will study methods of discourse, rhetorical strategies and argumentative logic while attending to diction, syntax and structure. We will also cover rules of evidence and citation, using the style sheet for each discipline for the writing of research papers. We will explore how to chose and control voice and point-of-view; we will learn how to address different audiences in different formats, from broadsides to journals to editorials and blogs. We will write our hearts out, and we will have fun.

The class will meet in-person four times, when we will model workshop methods that increase confidence, skills and understanding of what makes writing good and what makes a writing class spectacular. All other work will take place on-line, so we’ll also be learning effective uses of technology in education.

You can tell I’m excited. I love teaching, I love writing, and I’ve spent a lifetime caring for the caregiver. In this case, that’s you, the teachers who work so hard educating others; this class is an opportunity for you to be renewed, refreshed, challenged and inspired – as well as a chance to learn about language and craft.

I’ve taught writing for thirty years. I’ve taught writing in the Ivy League and in Vermont’s prisons – and just about every population in between. And I’m a professional writer, practicing and honing my craft daily. I use language to tell stories, convey information and change opinions. Language is how we think; the better we learn to control language, the clearer we can think.

I have to confess there’s a catch: We need ten students to open the door to this class. So here are the details:

  • Four in-person meetings at the Marlboro College Graduate Center in Brattleboro, Vermont to be held on either Saturday or Sunday September 19 or 20; October 10 or 11; November 14 or 15; and December 12 or 13;
  • 3 graduate credits;
  • A chance to read, write and talk about writing;
  • A chance to develop a personal writing practice;
  • A chance to complete a personal writing project of your own design;
  • An opportunity to develop a personal pedagogy that will translate into enthusiasm for writing and writing skills for your students.

What you can do to help open this door:

  • Let me know if you’re interested by saying so in the comments below
  • Or contact me through my website
  • Spread the word about this class! Tell all your friends who want to bring their writing to the next level and/or learn new techniques for teaching great writing.

This isn’t just my great opportunity; it’s also yours.

I’m ready. Are you?

Deborah Lee LuskinDeborah Lee Luskin is an award-winning novelist, a Vermont Public Radio commentator, an editorial columnist & blogger, a pen-for-hire, and an experienced and enthusiastic educator.

Need Help with Social Media or WordPress? Meet Barb Drozdowich

If you’re in need of help getting started with promotion through social media, and/or help in setting up a WordPress author page, I’d like you to meet Barb Drozdowich, a social media and WordPress consultant who *loves* working with and helping writers at whatever stage they are at in creating their writer’s platform.

You can meet her at a free online event this Sunday night.

Barb has taught at colleges and universities, trained technical personnel in the banking industry and, most recently, used her expertise to help authors develop the social media platform needed to succeed in today’s fast evolving publishing world.

Barb owns Bakerview Consulting and manages the popular romance book blog, Sugarbeat’s Books.

Her Building Blocks to Author Success series, currently containing 6 books, was born out of her work with authors once she realized there weren’t a lot of non-technical how-to books slanted towards the needs of authors.

AuthorsGuidetoWorkingwithBookBloggers BookBlogTours FacebookForAuthors GoodReadsGuideforAuthors WhatsYourAuthorPlatform

 

 

 

 

 

BookBloggerPlatform

She also has several free WordPress and blogger-related tutorials on her Website you can check out.

 

You are quite welcome to stop in for the live chat and conversation with Barb this Sunday night, April 26, from 7-9pm EST at The Writer’s Chatroom: http://writerschatroom.com/Enter.htm. No password or registration is needed. I’ll be moderating. We’ll even have virtual drinks of all kinds, chocolate, and other goodies.

–>During the chat, Barb will be raffling off a free 1-hour consultation on any of the topics covered by her books or her blogs.

If you have questions for Barb in advance of the chat, feel free to send them to me at lisa@writerschatroom.com, and I’ll make sure they get asked and answered!

LisaJJackson_2014Lisa J. Jackson is an independent writer and editor who enjoys working with businesses of all sizes. She loves researching topics, interviewing experts, and helping companies tell their stories. You can connect with her on TwitterFacebook, and LinkedIn.