Thursday, October 29, 2009

Guest Post: Will These Books Really Help Me Get that Book Deal? by Priscilla Y. Huff

I was writing this spring and listening to NPR’s “All Things Considered,” when I heard a piece by Sarah Pekkanen who credited three, how-to writing books that did indeed help her get her first book contract. Most writers have read numerous writers’ magazines and how-to writing books, but Pekkanen’s piece piqued my interest in that I have been writing a couple of children’s fiction books over the past several months and have found it more difficult than the non-fiction business writing I usually do. Going a completely different direction in my writing career has been a bit daunting, so I ordered the three books Pekkanen recommended:

On Writing, by Stephen King. I read this one first and loved how Stephen King described how he started his writing career. The second half of the book provides his frank comments about what makes a good novel. It was also interesting to me to read how many words a day King recommends a writer should write a day (1,000…six days a week).

Plot & Structure, by James Scott Bell. I like the structure (or not, if you choose) Bell provides you to construct a novel. I made many notes, and am already using his “LOCK system”: “Lead, Objective, Confrontation, and Knock-Out Ending,” and am sure I will keep his book handy to review his tips as I continue to write my fiction books.

Writing the Breakout Novel, by Donald Maass. I have not read this book yet, but am looking forward to it as Pekkanen commented about it, “Maass wants me to bring it (conflict) to every page.” When you think about it, conflict is present in some form of our lives on a daily basis, and how we deal with these conflicts are indicative of who we are and how we live our lives. If we want believable characters, then they too will have to overcome (or be overcome) each story’s conflicts.There are many other excellent books, CDs, and web sites that provide writers with information about how to write and be better writers; but I’ll finish reading these three books first. I’ll let you know if their authors’ advice helps land me a book contract, too.

Happy Writing!

Source: “Get That Book Deal: Three Books Tell You How” by Sarah Pekkanen

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Blogs I'm Loving

A few fellow bloggers have been nice enough to either mention my little spot in cyberspace as a blog worth reading, or they've been gracious enough to provide me with the opportunity to write a guest post for them. So I think it's only fair that I put together a short list of those blogs that I make a point to read regularly, and I think you should, too:

The Urban Muse. I started reading this blog earlier this year, and it's now on my daily "to do" list. This is one of the most helpful blogs that I've seen, especially for those fledgling scribes like myself. The author, Susan Johnston, offers some great tips and insight into the writing world. She also has a free monthly e-newsletter (titled, appropriately, The Urban Museletter) that readers can sign up to receive. It's full of Rockin' Freelance Resources, updates on her writing projects, and other fun info.

The Writer Today. Writer Ana Rios regularly features guest bloggers talking about anything and everything writing-related. Her blog is a nice mix of information from all genres, so no matter what you write, you can find some helpful information here. Thursday offers practical, straightforward tips and words of wisdom on the business side of freelance writing. During the month of July she ran a "Market Your Writing in 31 Days" series of posts, which she's since turned into an ebook.

Freelance Switch. This site should be called a freelance extravaganza, since this site lists literally anything and everything related to the freelance life. The site is not just for writers--the articles and blog posts are for web designers, photographers, graphic artists, and virtually any type of freelance professional imaginable. As an added reason to check out FS, some of the bloggers I've listed here are regular contributors. I've barely scratched the surface of all of the information available on the site.

Hell or High Water Writer. Must give credit where it's due--I learned about this site from reading The Urban Muse. Dublin, Ireland-based writer Beth Morrissey posts great info about the craft of writing, and also regularly posts calls for anthology submissions, writing contests, and other markets for various genres.

Anti-9-5 Guide. I'm currently reading (and loving) Michelle Goodman's latest book, My So-Called Freelance Life, but it's her first book, The Anti-9-5 Guide: Practical Career Advice for Women Who Think Outside the Cube, that inspired the blog's title. Michelle offers some kick-ass advice about both freelancing and pursuing alternative careers, no matter what your interest. I love her straightforward and conversational writing style. It gives me a boost of confidence, like maybe there is something to this crazy freelance writing life after all. I kinda think she's one of my new heroes.

Now it's your turn--which writing-related blogs should we be reading?

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Author Q&A with Sara Morgan

I'm very excited to speak with Sara Morgan (just love the name!), author and former member of the corporate rat race who gave it all up four years ago in order to pursue her own dreams. Although she says that the road was difficult, she wouldn't trade it for the world. She says that her latest book, No Limits: How I Escaped the Clutches of Corporate America To Live the Self-Employed Life of My Dreams is not a "how to get rich quick story" It is a "how do I maximize my potential and feel satisfied and happy with what I am doing in life" story that is sure to kickstart anyone who isn't quite "there" yet. Sara was nice enough to answer a few questions about writing and living one's passion.

AITWL: Sara, you’ve done what so many of us hope to do one day—leave the corporate world behind and become your own boss! What made you take the leap?
SM: Well, my jump was not exactly planned. In fact, I ended up quitting my high-paying corporate job as a web developer without having another job or a significant savings lined up. While that did make things a tad difficult at first, I still do not regret doing it and think it was the best thing I ever did for myself. I am now living an authentic and purposeful life and I leap out of bed every day to get to it.

AITWL: Why don’t more of us take the risk and follow our passions?

SM: Fear of the unknown, plain and simple. While some fears are good (like a fear of snakes), most of our fears are wrapped up in other emotions, like insecurity, and they are just holding us back. The funny thing is that the person that will hurt you most in life is you. I am trying to encourage people to get out of their own way and start living the life they deserve.

AITWL: Switching gears a bit, how did your book No Limits come about? What was your writing process like?

SM: Well, this was not my first book. I had written and published six other technical books with traditional publishers. While I liked doing that, I preferred writing this book, since I think it will appeal to more people and can potentially help them live better lives. Writing this book was very easy and I was able to do it in less than 3 months. Of course, it was easy because I was writing about something I knew a lot about - my life and the life of someone that is self-employed.

AITWL: Since this blog is geared toward writing and writers, what advice can you offer to those of us who may be thinking about pursuing writing full-time?

SM: Write about what you know and write as often as possible. Like everything you do in life, the more you do it, the faster and better you will become. You also need to get a thick skin and accept criticism as a good thing and something that will make you grow as a writer. I have seen too many writers get defensive about editors comments and I don’t think they are doing themselves any favors. Just accept the criticism as potentially useful feedback and don’t take it personally.

AITWL: What other project(s) do you have in the works?

SM: Unfortunately, getting the word out about this book has been harder than I thought. Even though every reviewer that has read the book loves it (I mean, they really, really love it), no one is buying the book yet. I know this stuff just takes time and so I am being patient. In the mean time, I have to start paying the bills since for the past 6 months I have been doing this (writing and promoting the book full time). This means that money has been going out, but not coming in. I cannot do that forever.

So, I am now starting a new business as an independent garden consultant for The Happy Gardener. I found out about the company when I interviewed the owner for the No Limits book. I was so impressed with what the company is doing for the environment that I no longer want to be a web developer. I now want to do my part to make the planet a better place and I think The Happy Gardener is one company that can do that. It feels good doing the right thing. Oh, and if anyone wants a catalog, email me at Their stuff is all organically-based and chemical free.

Thanks, Sara!

Monday, October 19, 2009

Do You Know NaNo?

For those of you prolific writers out there, don't forget that NaNoWriMo is just around the corner!

November is National Novel Writing Month. NaNo poses the writerly challenge of producing 50,000 words of a novel in 30 days. Last year was my first time as a participant, and although I didn't quite make my goal (a small thing called "paying assignments" took top priority), it was a great exercise in productivity and self-discipline!

Though I have an idea for this year's NaNo, I haven't decided if I want to put myself through the paces this year. Everything has sort of been put on the back burner with this teaching gig--which I still find challenging, but I think I'm learning to take back some control--and I haven't had time for much else since the end of August!

But for those of you who are debating, I highly recommend giving NaNo a try. It helps to get you on a regular, daily writing schedule and who knows? You might just keep going and finish that long-stagnant masterpiece!

Want to learn more about NaNo? Visit

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Author Q&A With Carrie Host

I recently had the great pleasure of reading and reviewing Carrie Host's memoir, Between Me and the River: Living Beyond Cancer, for a site that I contribute to every few months. Her story is an amazing account of how the power of love and positive thinking can help anyone through the worst possible ordeals. Carrie agreed to do the first author interview for Adventures in the Writing Life, and was nice enough to answer a few of the many questions I had for her:

AITWL: You talk about a lot of deeply personal experiences in your book. What was the writing process like for you?

CH: I love writing as a fish loves water. I don’t know more than while I am swimming I am free of all thought and burden. I belong there in that water. Also, I am breathing and seeing like never before. Writing is less like a project, but more like a part of what I must do to be who I am.
While I was writing this book however I had unique moments where I knew that what I was capturing was going to deliver deep emotional rescue to the reader. I was healed in the process of trying to be there in my pages for each person who would eventually hold my book.

AITWL: In your book, you talked at length about how writing short stories with happy endings in your head helped you get through your illness. Did you keep a journal throughout your treatment and recovery?

CH: No. I did not keep a journal. Never have. Well, that’s a lie. I did keep one single journal and that was as a seventeen year-old, as part of a required piece of an “Outward Bound” experience in the Mexican Desert, the Sonoran Desert to be precise. We did what was called a “Solo” where we spent three days and two nights alone, with a sleeping bag, a book of matches (very generous) and three quarts of water. No tent. No lie. Anyway, I still have that journal. I wrote about the non-stop flies that attacked me endlessly and the piece of cherry pie I couldn’t wait to eat when I returned to civilization.

That said, isn’t it curious that I can tell you what I wrote in that journal some thirty years ago? That answers the memory piece of this. I have an excruciatingly accurate memory. I think the nuns slapped that into me.

AITWL: What was the most challenging part of writing a memoir? What was the easiest?

CH: Letting go of the idea that my description of someone might hurt their feelings, was the most challenging. I knew that I was revealing the personalities of others which is a little bit like talking behind someone’s back, but on a microphone. I got over it. Especially when that person would read something where they were featured and say, “Well you nailed me there.”
“Sorry.” I always answer with a smile.
The easiest part was the pure joy of writing itself.

AITWL: I can imagine that your book has helped a number of cancer patients, families, and medical professionals as they go through their own challenges. What kind of response have you gotten?

CH: I have gotten the most incredible responses from all of the above. I have cried as I have read some of the individual letters. I can only say that it is one thing to write a book it is entirely another to read a letter from a mother in New Jersey, saying that my book “saved her 35 year-old daughters’ life.” That is beyond any “review” that I will ever garner for my work. It doesn’t get more profound than that. She was serious. Her daughter has the same cancer as I have and was struggling with depression and wanting to give up. Then she read my book. What?
So I cried.

AITWL: How is your health these days?

CH: Very good, I think. See? I always have to have a question in my own mind after I answer that. But I continue to have a monthly treatment for which I am grateful. Three tumors on my lung. More than I feel like counting on my liver. But I love living life so I guess I’m hard to kill, try as the cancer might.

AITWL: Writing-wise, what’s next for you?

CH: I am planning to do some magazine writing of the essay nature and also travel related. But I definitely have some book ideas. What writer doesn’t? Also, I secretly desire to co-write a screen-play. I’ll need some screen-play writing workshops under my belt for that. See, I am always finding excuses to continue to learn a new angle of the craft, mainly because it can be quite entertaining to be around a bunch of other writers. We are all slightly insane. At least we speak the same language.

Many thanks, Carrie! Learn more about Carrie Host at

Author photo by Sue Drinker

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

WOW Blogging Buddy: Family Ties

Today I'm participating in a mass blogging! WOW! Women on Writing has gathered a group of blogging buddies to write about family relationships. Why family relationships? We're celebrating the release of Therese Walsh's debut novel today. The Last Will of Moira Leahy (Random House, October 13, 2009) is about a mysterious journey that helps a woman learn more about herself and her twin, whom she lost they were teenagers. Visit the Muffin to read what Therese has to say about family relationships and view the list of all my blogging buddies. And make sure you visit to find out more about the author.

Every family faces their own unique challenges. Some have a family member battling addiction. Others have members with fidelity issues, financial issues, and the like.

With my family, it's health issues.

My family has been touched by two illnesses in particular. My mother and a cousin have suffered with multiple sclerosis for well over 20 years; my great-grandmother and now my grandmother were both diagnosed with Alzheimer's disease. As my mother has lived with MS for most of my life, I've come to accept her condition as my "normal", though she has deteriorated steadily over the past two decades. Her condition has prevented her from participating in many of the "milestones" throughout my childhood and adolescence--her last venture out of the house was to attend my high school graduation in 1998. She has been living in a long-term care facility for the past 7 years.

In that time, the rest of us have watched my once vibrant, active, Superwoman of a grandmother revert back to childhood, and I'm not exaggerating by much. The faces of her grandchildren are vaguely familiar, though our names have been long forgotten. Now she needs to be coaxed through the regular activities that most of us don't give a thought to--things like getting dressed (in matching clothes), brushing teeth, and household chores. As my mother's health declined, my grandmother filled in for many of the things that my mother wasn't physically able to do. Seeing my grandmother's memory and comprehension skills disintegrate in front of us has not been easy.

As I watch both my mother and my grandmother live their lives as best they can in their current states, many thoughts go through my mind. I wonder what they are thinking. Do they realize what is happening to them? Do they worry about themselves as much as the rest of us worry about them? Will these challenges and hardships bring the rest of our family closer together, or will we drift apart because it's simply too painful to remember them as they "used to be"? Each time I see them, I'm reminded of how truly fleeting life can be, and how honestly precious every moment is. I had my mom and my grandmother for a good twenty years, and though they're still physically with me, needless to say the dynamics of these relationships have changed considerably. I often wish that I had more time with both of them, but a force far stronger than my wishes is working at a much faster pace. So I do what I can as a sort of tribute--by writing posts such as this, and essays where I can, to remind them that I haven't forgotten them as they used to be.

For more information on the Alzheimer's Association, visit

For more information on multiple sclerosis, visit the MS Society at

Thursday, October 8, 2009

New Clip!

Where is this year going?!? It seems like summer was just a few weeks ago, and now I'm already seeing Christmas-themed commercials on TV and specials in the stores! Yikes!

The last of the articles I completed over the summer is finally live. Check out my interesting interview with author and forensic psychologist Dr. Katherine Ramsland here. This is my first piece for WOW Women on Writing (look for more about WOW here next week), and I'm definitely hoping to contribute again. The editor is great to work with, and I think the publication itself is excellent. So nice to see such an outlet for women writers, readers, agents, editors, etc.

Back to my interview with Katherine. I'm fascinated by all of the scary and dangerous topics she writes about--ghost hunting, serial killers, vampires, and cold case files, to name just a few--and she has more than a few stories about some of her experiences, as you can probably imagine. I had the pleasure of meeting Katherine this summer at a literary awards ceremony. We sat at the same table, and I just listened in on a conversation she was having about ghost hunting in Italy over the summer! Fascinating stuff, no? And how appropriate that the interview went live just in time for Halloween!

Enjoy the clip!

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

What's the Best Writing Advice You've Ever Received?

I have shelves and shelves of an ever-growing collection of writing books, with no end in sight. Some I've read, most I haven't, but I think of them all as an investment and most of them have come in handy for the classes I'm teaching this fall.

Yet on the other hand, it's silly because out of all of these books that I own, I remember the best writing advice I've ever received. My freshman English teacher constantly reminded us to "Say the most in the least amount of words", always striving for brevity and clarity. Those words have always stuck with me, and I find myself saying the same thing to my students (for some, it hasn't sunken in yet). I have no patience for the old "Write what you know" philosophy, because if writers just stuck to that, we'd be out of ideas in a few minutes. Out of all of the tips I've received over the years, that short piece of advice has always stood out above the rest.

What's the best writing advice you've ever received?

Thursday, October 1, 2009

What's Your Biggest Writing Goal?

All writers have their own short-term and long-term career goals. It's easy to let other commitments or projects sidetrack us, and it might seem as if we're never going to get there (there is different for all writers).

So if a freelance writing career is a bit of a "forest for the trees" sort of lifestyle (especially for us part-timers who are just trying to snag any job we can!), how do we know when we're there?

Right now my biggest goal is to get to a place where I'm financially secure enough to at least give full-time freelancing a try for a few months. Of course, in our current economic climate, it's beyond risky to take that chance and hope that a job might be waiting for me if I decide to go back after 6 months or a year (and I'm not a risk-taker by nature!)

Any other writing-related accomplishments I earn after going full-time are just extra. I have a few book ideas stewing (what writer doesn't?), but right now that's where I'm trying to get--the flexibility, artistic freedom to explore the many topics that interest me, experimenting in different genres, and oh yeah, did I mention the flexibility? all just seem too tempting to pass up. I went through a period of unemployment for 6 months a few years ago and it was torture--I'm hoping I would have enough work to keep me from going stir crazy! I have a lot more going on in my life (personally and professionally) now, though, so I don't think I'd have that problem!

What's your biggest writing goal?