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Connecting at Writing Conferences

by Chris Eboch


Writers mainly work alone, so a conference can be a great chance to meet peers, feel connected to the industry, learn more about the craft and business, and maybe even develop a relationship with an editor or agent. So let’s talk about making the most of your conference time.

When people hear the word “networking,” most imagine trying to impress bigwigs who could help their career. But many writers don’t feel comfortable selling themselves. If your goal at a conference is to grab an editor and convince her you’re wonderful, you’ll feel anxious. And if you fail to wow—or even meet—the editor, you may feel like a failure.

Instead, think of networking as making friends. During her first major conference, children’s book writer and illustrator Holly Cupala decided to “think about making connections with people who share a love of children’s literature—future friends rather than future contacts.” During the four-day conference, she talked with dozens of people, including many of the famous speakers. She says, “I chatted with people I never would have dreamed of walking up to if I was in ‘networking’ mode. I connected with people by being open and letting go of expectations.”

Talk to everyone, from beginners to the pros. You never know who might be fascinating—or helpful in the future. Today’s “nobody” may be tomorrow’s success story, on a first-name basis with top editors and agents. Even better, he or she may be interesting and fun.

Ready, Set …
Armed with the proper attitude, you’re sure to have a good time. Get even more out of the conference by planning ahead.

Read books to learn the basics—how the publishing industry works, standard submission guidelines, the genres—so you won’t be confused when speakers throw around industry terms. You can also direct your questions better, to take advantage of a particular speaker’s expertise.

Next, investigate the conference speakers. Review editors’ submission guidelines and study the books they’ve edited. Read books by the other speakers. Be prepared to offer honest compliments of their work or to ask intelligent questions. Then you won’t go blank when you’re suddenly faced with your idol. The web is a great place to find articles by or about the speakers.

Prepare for opportunities by practicing one-sentence synopses of your manuscripts. You don’t want to ramble and stammer when someone—especially an agent or editor—asks what you’re working on. If they don’t ask, don’t be pushy, but try asking them what they want. According to children’s book author Shirley Raye Redmond, “I sold my very first juvenile novel (Grampa and the Ghost) by simply asking the editor what she was looking for. She told me and I said, ‘I think I have something you might like.’”

When you meet someone, it’s nice to have an official way to exchange information, so get business cards (you can order them online inexpensively).

On conference day, arrive early and practice your networking—or friendship—skills. Smile, say hello, and ask a simple question. Take an interest in people. Ask what they write. Offer compliments, ask questions, and listen. When I’m feeling shy and alone, I find someone who looks even more shy and alone. I walk up to them, smile, and say, “How are you enjoying the conference?” They are always delighted to talk.

It can be easier to pair up with a friend for the conference, but be careful not to spend your whole time with just one person. After all, your goal is to make new connections, so work together to meet people. Go to different workshops and share notes.

When you exchange business cards, jot notes about the giver on the ones you get. You might write something like, “2011 SWW. 40s, short brown hair. Writing sci fi.” Then when you get back from the conference with a handful of cards, you’ll find it much easier to remember who gave them to you.

The Finish Line
All that hard work only pays off if you follow-up. Write “nice to meet you” notes to people who gave you their business cards. Thank anyone who gave you advice. Type up your notes while they’re fresh in your mind. A few jotted phrases that made perfect sense during an inspiring talk can read like hieroglyphics a month later.

Then set some goals based on what you learned. A good conference may provide you with dozens of pages of advice and ideas. Don’t try to do everything at once, or worse, ignore it all because you feel overwhelmed. Instead, choose three things to focus on. They might involve craft, research, or marketing. Review your notes in a few months and set new goals.

Finally, critique the conference. Think about the workshops, speakers, events, other attendees, and your own behavior. Was it worth your time? How can you prepare better for next time? Make notes to review before your next conference, so that one will be even better.

BanditsPeak150Chris Eboch writes fiction and nonfiction for all ages. In Bandits Peak, a teenage boy meets strangers hiding on the mountains and gets drawn into their crimes, until he risks his life to expose them. The Eyes of Pharaoh is an action-packed mystery set in ancient Egypt. The Genie’s Gift is an Arabian Nights-inspired fantasy adventure. In The Well of Sacrifice, a Mayan girl in ninth-century Guatemala rebels against the High Priest who sacrifices anyone challenging his power. Her writing craft books include You Can Write for Children: How to Write Great Stories, Articles, and Books for Kids and Teenagers and Advanced Plotting.

Learn more at or her Amazon page, or check out her writing tips at her Write Like a Pro! blog. Sign up for her Workshop newsletter for classes and critique offers.

Chris also writes novels of suspense and romance for adults under the name Kris Bock; read excerpts at

This article was originally published in the September 2011 issue of SouthWest Sage and is reprinted here by permission of the author.

An Interview with Corrales Writing Group: On Group Structure and Indie Publishing

Corrales Writing Group is a closed group of six members who encourage each other in their individual writing journeys and together produce an annual anthology of essays and short pieces of fiction and memoir. The current group is made up of authors Christina Allen, Maureen Cooke, Sandi Hoover, Thomas NeimanJim Tritten, and Patricia Walkow. Their third anthology, Currents, was published in 2015. You can visit Corrales Writing Group on Facebook. For part two of this interview, go to “On Writing.”

Currents Corrales Writing Group 2015 Anthology200If you were pitching your anthology to an agent, how would you describe Currents?
Currents is an anthology to which six writers have contributed. All contributors live in the Village of Corrales, on the western flank of the Rio Grande in New Mexico. The members of the group share a love for New Mexico, and in particular, a love for the Village. Currents is the third anthology the group has produced, and over time, the constant flow of ideas and critically valuable suggestions has enriched not only our writing, but also our lives.

It’s typical for works in an anthology to share a common theme, but this isn’t true of your anthologies. Why did you decide not to write to a theme?
While it is true most anthologies share a common theme, the only common theme in ours is the place where the writers live—Corrales. One of the benefits to this approach is that the anthology may offer something for everyone. Another is that the book’s targeted audience does not expect a single-topic theme.

The members of your group do all the work necessary to bring your books to market. What kind of learning curve did you go through to accomplish this? What was your most helpful resource?
Although all members of the group are comfortable using a computer, there are varying degrees of computer literacy within the group. Three of the members spent many years working with computers and applications in their chosen professions. These were the first editors, and they found the process quite straightforward, without specific training needed. The other members of the group are learning from their experience, as the first three editors have prepared guidelines and processes for the subsequent editors to follow. We explored various independent publishing options and selected CreateSpace and Kindle Direct Publishing based upon ease of use. Frankly, anyone can master their templates.

Each year your group rotates the duties necessary to publish your books. Why did you decide to do this?
We decided to rotate the duties so that: (1) every member of the group gains the knowledge necessary to do each task required to publish a book, and (2) the same task does not fall on one or two people all the time. Editing is quite time-consuming and involves not only the technicalities of grammar and punctuation, but also the layout of the book, developing back and front cover options, the assignment of work, and the development and management of a schedule with a publication date at the end. The editor manages the work to meet the scheduled publication date. The members of the group meet their due dates on their tasks. It’s a project, and the editor is the project manager.

How long does it take to put the anthologies together after the stories are complete? What is your typical editing/publishing timeline?
The writing and review process for the coming year’s anthology begins in December, right after the current year’s anthology is published in November. So the timeframe to write all the pieces and review them runs from December of one year through mid-July/early August of the following year. The editing process begins in August, and involves not only the editor, but each member of the group who is given specific editing assignments managed by the editor.

Each piece in the anthology will be critiqued a minimum of two times within the group before the piece is considered for publication in the anthology. During the creation of the book itself, each submission is reviewed probably another four times to include thorough reviews for formatting, grammar, and consistency with other chapters.

Usually at the end of all the editing, proof copies are produced and another round of editing is done. A second proof is always produced, and sometimes a third. Kindle editions are not produced until the final paper version is ready. Proofs for Kindle editions are handled online. Members share the responsibility of reviewing the final product in all the different Kindle platforms offered. The final paper version is not published until the Kindle edition is approved since we have learned that many formatting issues are not seen until reviewers look at the various Kindle platforms.

Corrales Writing Group 2014 Anthology150What marketing strategies have brought your anthologies the most success?
Our business plan was to establish an LLC (Limited Liability Company). We market our products through Amazon, Kindle, local retail sales, Facebook, Goodreads, newspapers, local media and launch parties. Since we have remained financially solvent every year, the group’s plan is to continue independently publishing our books (paperback and Ebooks) into the future.

What are the goals of your writing group? How do you ensure potential members are a good fit?
Individual members of the group have their own goals, but as a cohesive entity, the group seeks to achieve recognition in the writing community, as well as win awards; awards, however, are not the primary focus. Developing our craft of writing is very important to our members. In addition, in order to continue operations, the group needs to maintain fiscal solvency. Costs are constrained to permit continued annual self-sustained publication within realistic expectations of annual sales.

We have learned it is best to have potential members of the group attend a meeting and decide if what we do and how we do it is something they might be willing to commit to, long-term. Commitment is a key success factor for our group. We review each other’s work before a meeting, come prepared with each piece critiqued and commented. On the rare occasion members can’t attend a meeting, they’re still expected to send their comments to the writer. Common computer literacy is another requirement of being a part of the group. It includes the use of Microsoft Word not only to write, but also review and critique. Electronic file organization is required as is the ability to effectively use websites, such as CreateSpace and Kindle Direct Publishing. Although reviews are done face-to-face at our meetings, the actual comments and critiques are sent to each other electronically.

We are a closed group and no longer accept beginning writers. As a group we have come far from those early days, and we’ve learned it’s not productive for our members to be teaching a new writer all the time. Nor is it fair or healthy for a prospective writer to be overwhelmed. However, we do encourage new writers to form a group of their own, and will help them with what we have learned along the way. We have taught writing classes in New Mexico at the Corrales and Meadowlark Senior Centers.

Take us through a typical group meeting. How are your meetings structured?
We meet every two weeks, usually at a restaurant. Sometimes we rotate our meetings in members’ homes. One person is the facilitator of each meeting. Another person is the scribe who keeps the notes. We start by doing our reviews of new and 2nd review work. Usually we do about three to four reviews at each meeting. We use a structured process we adopted with the assistance of Rachel Hillier (associated with Central New Mexico Community College), who the original group hired to help with some aspects of writing. From our six weeks with Rachel, we have a set of standard questions we consider each time we review a piece. Writers are free to have each reviewer answer additional questions, also. Once the reviews are completed, we begin the business meeting. The Corrales Writing Group is an LLC, and we review old business and discuss new business. We assign dates for people to present their work and make any other assignments necessary for the group to function.

Corrales Writing Group 2013 Anthology150What makes a good critique group member?
Adhering to our process is a great help to the writer. We expect our members to use our standard critique questions. Not that those questions stop a reviewer from making other comments. The reviewer needs to critique the writer’s work in a way that makes it clear what is working well in the story, as well as what is unclear or repetitive, and to let the writer know what the reviewer thinks the story really is all about. The objective is not to tear anyone down, but to build up the writer. The writer always retains the right to make or not make changes based on the critiques. In general, if two or three reviewers find the same problem, the writer really should pay attention to it.

For those who might want to organize their own writing group with the goal of publishing, what steps do you suggest they take?
Hire or consult with someone who leaves you with a viable critique process. Make sure everyone understands being a member of the group is a commitment. Learn from those who have already independently published. Consider hiring a publishing entity, if necessary.

One of the strengths of your group is how well you get along—you even socialize and travel together. What do you attribute this to?
The members of the group respect our different backgrounds, opinions and experiences. It is key to our getting along…along with wine and lots of laughter. The process we use helps. Nothing is personal—it’s about the writing. We know each other’s strengths and use them effectively.

KLWagoner150_2KL Wagoner (writing as Cate Macabe) is the author of This New Mountain: a memoir of AJ Jackson, private investigator, repossessor, and grandmother. She has a new speculative fiction blog at and writes about memoir at

An Interview with Author Jasmine Tritten

Jasmine Tritten is an author and artist whose grand adventure from her native Denmark to the Americas was decided by the flip of a coin. She now makes her home in Corrales, New Mexico with her husband, her very own Prince Charming. The memoir Journey of an Adventuresome Dane (2015) is Jasmine’s debut book. You can find her on Facebook and LinkedIn, and see examples of her oil paintings at New Mexico Artists’ Market. For a complete listing of Jasmine’s published work, go to her SWW Author Page.

Journey of an Adventuresome Dane200What is your elevator pitch for The Journey of an Adventuresome Dane?
I left my home country Denmark at age twenty-one seeking adventure. I took chances and overcame fears and obstacles. My memoir depicts my evolution—an odyssey across time and space.

When readers turn the last page of your book, what do you hope they will take away from it?
Inspiration to write about their own lives. Maybe the courage to take the risk of changing their lives for the better.

What unique challenges did this work pose for you?
I had to decide how vulnerable I wanted to be and dig deep into my memory bank to find the most life-changing incidents.

What was the most rewarding aspect of writing your memoir?
Getting an overview and perspective of my life, processing emotionally charged episodes by reliving them.

Tell us about your process in putting the book together.
It took me about three years to write the book. I already had most of the stories in my head. The details came from two sources: journals I had written since I was a teenager and letters I had written to my mother every two weeks since I left Denmark in 1964. She kept all the letters in an old oak trunk. Each time I visited my mother in Copenhagen during the last four years, I brought some of the letters back with me to New Mexico. For the editing cycle, I belonged to a critique group for one and a half years. Also several times I put my writing away for six months, then looked at the work again with new eyes and revised it over and over again.

What makes this book unique in the memoir market?
There are not many written immigration stories except for the obvious Roots. Also, I am the first person in my Danish family, going back hundreds of years, who immigrated.

When did you know you wanted to write your story? What prompted the final push to begin?
Just before my 70th birthday, I waited to zip-line in Angel Fire at 10,600 feet. When I looked down, I saw my life in front of my eyes and decided to sum together those highlights in a book.

What did writing your memoir teach you about yourself?
I am a strong, optimistic, creative person with a positive outlook and a zest for living life to the fullest. I am not afraid of tackling what life has to offer.

How has your artistic nature helped you in your writing journey?
Some people tell me I paint pictures with words. I am an ultra-sensitive soul. Maybe because of that it is easier for me to describe what I see and feel.

What part do beta readers or critique groups play in your writing process?
Both are extremely valuable to my writing process, and I am grateful for each person who volunteers to critique my writing. I try to help other writers in a similar way and learn a lot from each person.

What is your writing routine like?
I don’t have a schedule. Since I am both a writer and an artist, I switch between the two. Many times I wake up at four in the morning with great ideas. Quickly I put them down on paper to be typed later. In 2014, I participated in National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo) as a Rebel [choosing to write other than a novel] and wrote over 50,000 words toward my memoir.

If you suffer from writer’s block, how do you break through?
By journaling.

Who are your favorite authors, and what do you admire most about their writing?
I greatly admire fellow Dane Karen Blixen (also known as Isak Dinesen) who wrote Out of Africa, for her strength and adventuresome spirit. She wrote such wonderful descriptions. I identify with her in many ways. Also, Elizabeth Gilbert in Eat-Pray-Love for her sense of humor, and Wayne Dyer for his honest, spiritual, and inspirational approach in all of his books.

What do you think draws readers to memoirs and biographies?
Personally, I am interested in other people’s lives, how they got to where they are, and how they overcame their obstacles or fulfilled their dreams.

KLWagoner150_2KL Wagoner (writing as Cate Macabe) is the author of This New Mountain: a memoir of AJ Jackson, private investigator, repossessor, and grandmother. She has a new speculative fiction blog at and writes about memoir at

Riding a New Roller Coaster

rose headshot 5What can I say? This is my first attempt to do anything at all with a blog on a website. I’ve always wanted to, but haven’t had the time to learn. Suddenly I find I’ve accepted the challenge to learn how to make this work. My biggest fear is hitting the wrong button and screwing up entirely

Writing a blog is the easy part, just putting words down about whatever is on my mind. Whether someone wants to read it or not kind of depends on whether or not they find you amusing, droll, informative, deep, creative or just plain nuts.

This is made very difficult because I am wearing my old glasses—the ones that don’t work really well anymore. The “new” ones developed a scratch so they are back at the optical shop getting the lenses replaced. Whenever you change spectacles you go through an adjustment period where the floor looks slanted or things are not as in focus as you are accustomed to. With this old pair my left eye can see the computer screen just fine but the right eye reminds me of the aftereffects of a New Year’s eve party—fuzzy and colorful. So as I sit here I am typing with one eye closed.

But if I want to relax for a moment I close the left eye and open the right one and look at the Christmas lights…glowy balls dancing across the dark background. How fun!

I did not get glasses until I was about 12 years old—neither my parents or I realized that I was legally blind…I made do pretty well and was the bookish sort anyway. I could see really well 2 inches from my nose. Then the nun who taught 7th grade called Mom and raised hell because I told her I could not see the blackboard from the back of the room. The eye doctor confirmed I had 700/20 vision. About a week later Dad drove up in the old tan station wagon with the fake wood siding. I ran down the hill in front of our house and he handed me the glasses.

To this day thrills expand my soul outwards when I remember putting them on for the first time. I could see individual blades of grass…while standing up! I could see leaves on the trees way over in the neighbor’s yard! That night for the first time I saw that there were hundreds of stars in the sky, not just a few blurry white spots. Wow.

Of course, I had already fallen deeply in love with the written word by that time, something that has never changed even though I could now see what other people wrote about. So I write.

And now I blog.

And now I get to figure out how to make these words appear on a screen for you to see. As my old friend Bob used to say, “It’s a piss poor day when you don’t learn something new.”

An Interview with Author Susan C. Cooper

Author and artist Susan C. Cooper worked as an environmental engineer for 17 years after earning a BS in biology, MS degrees in physiology and geological engineering, and a Ph.D. in physiology and biochemistry. Born and raised in Milwaukee, she now makes her home in Albuquerque. Her first book, The Truth About Mold, is in its third edition. Football Facts for Females, published in 2014, is her second book. You can find Susan on Facebook and her website

FootballFactsForFemalesWhat is your elevator pitch for Football Facts for Females or If You Can’t Beat ‘Em, Join ‘Em?
Starting with the basics and merging into more complex details such as strategy, this book combines information about football with humor to make it fun to read. It also includes a chapter about the importance of choosing a favorite team and players and how to do that.

What inspired you to write it?
I wanted to improve my relationship with my husband Randy, a relationship that was really quite good—except for football season. Many years ago, Randy was willing to learn about classical music for me; why couldn’t I do the same thing for him with respect to football?

What unique challenges did this work pose for you?
I started writing the book nearly 20 years ago, when there was no Internet, only newspapers, magazines, and books—and all of which were written without humor and assumed the reader already spoke footballese.

I found an agent, who took all the humor out of the book (except for the glossary), and he found a publisher. But when Football for Dummies was published, my publisher lost interest. I shelved the manuscript temporarily, but it was always at the back of my mind. Then Randy and I went to Craig Duswalt’s RockStar Marketing Bootcamp—which has its own publishing house. I started working on the manuscript again, revising and updating it. My last hurdle was my own fault caused by my perfectionism. I didn’t want to send the manuscript in to be published until it was perfect. One of my new friends from the bootcamp pushed me to go ahead and publish it. I did.

One of the endorsements on the back cover is from football legend Joe Theisman. How did that come about?
Craig Duswalt is distantly related to Joe. He suggested it. So I sent Craig a copy of the manuscript, and he sent it to Joe. I also have a testimonial from sports newscaster Jim Nantz who wrote, “Super job, Susan! Kudos!” That came about because an elderly man at my church bought a copy for his daughter—and fell in love with it. He bought another copy to send to Jim Nantz with whom he sometimes corresponds. (I received this testimonial after the book had already been published, so it doesn’t appear in the book itself.)

I have received a couple of other testimonials that are important to me. One was from one of my reviewers who worked at the House of Football. Levi Doporto has played the game, coached it, and refereed games. He was amazed that a woman could write a book about football—and not sound like a woman. He learned a number of new facts about football, and every time he questioned something I wrote, he looked it up and found I was right. (How cool is that?!) The other important testimonial was from James Malinchak, a motivational speaker known as the “big-money speaker.” He’s friends with Joe Theismann and was also impressed with Football Facts for Females. He told me how much Joe loves the book.

What inspired you to become a writer?
I’m afraid I’m not the typical writer who just has to write or she will die. But I’ve been writing (and editing) for many years—grant proposals, a chapter of a book on rickettsial diseases as a ghost writer, translations of several scientific papers, two theses and a dissertation, articles for publication, reports and other documents as an environmental engineer, etc. Later, I wrote articles about restaurants for PrimeTime and articles about art and photography for The Pastel Journal. When I worked for the board of REALTORS in Albuquerque, I wrote two articles every week for the local real estate magazine, helped develop a course on mold, and wrote the first edition of my book about mold (The Truth about Mold), along with an online course for continuing education for REALTORS®. Writing was just something I did.

You’ve been a member of Toastmasters for about 30 years. How has participating in that organization helped you in your writing and publishing journey?
Toastmasters has helped me develop confidence and given me a better insight into using humor effectively (which I couldn’t use in any of the three editions of my mold book, but I certainly did use in my football book).

Who are your favorite authors and what do you admire most about their writing?
Janet Evanovich for her humor. James Patterson—I love any author who writes well enough to keep me from putting the book down. I love his short chapters and his ability to keep me reading because of the tension he puts into his chapters. And his productivity? Holy cow! Even though he has so many co-authors working with him, his novels are all consistent with those characteristics and interesting plots. And they’re never boring, even though he obviously uses a pattern for his novels.

Why did you decide to take the indie route to publication?
Opportunity led me to publish The Truth about Mold with Dearborn/Kaplan, a standard publisher that focuses primarily on books dealing with real estate and finances. For my book about football, I tried the whole mess of looking for an agent nearly 20 years ago, and I just didn’t have the energy to do that again. Football Facts was actually published by RockStar Publishing House, a kind of hybrid of indie and traditional publishing. They have everything available in house—you just have to decide what you want done, and then pay for it. It turned out to be an expensive proposition because the book was longer than what they usually publish, and has a lot of illustrations, an index, and a glossary. I am pleased with the overall product, but I’m looking forward to publishing at least one book via CreateSpace and not having to pay an arm and a leg for it.

TruthAboutMold180And now to The Truth About Mold, your 2013 book full of important facts about…mold. There’s a running joke at many SWW meetings where many writers (especially Jon Miller) make reference to mold when they’re plugging their own books. Many visitors to SWW meetings probably don’t understand the reference. Would you like to explain?
Somehow, I am able to make mold funny, even though mold really isn’t funny but can be a serious problem. I’ve done that enough at SWW meetings that a number of our members (like Jon) have picked up on it and embellish it. And I absolutely love that feedback, which they all seem to know and appreciate!

So far you have published only nonfiction books. Do you have plans for fiction projects? What are you working on now?
Randy and I are working together on a novel titled Moment of Death based on an idea he had years ago. Randy has been a sculptor for about 20 years. The main character in Moment of Death is—big surprise—a sculptor! One of his clients dies because of a freakish set of circumstances, teaching him a valuable lesson to use in his sculpting. We’ve been working on this novel for a long time and are hoping to finish it this year. I also want to write a book about mold for the public—one with humor in it but covering some important information that is often not talked about. After taking one of Betsy James’ courses, I discovered the snark in myself and that writing fiction is even more fun than writing nonfiction. Last year I wrote a science fiction novel. It’s something I still want to get back to and publish. I have also written other stories I’d like to develop; there are a couple of them I think have a lot of potential.

What advice do you have for writers still striving for publication?
“Don’t wait until it’s perfect, because it’ll never happen.” Obviously, it’s necessary to do a thorough job editing, but it’s too easy to get hung up on minor things and never get the job done, especially for someone anal with perfectionist tendencies, like me.

Also, beware of critique groups and how you deal with them. Yes, they can give you invaluable insights into your book, but remember it’s YOUR book and your ideas, not theirs. You have to make the decision as to what you want to say instead of allowing yourself to be led astray by the ideas of other members of your group.

And if you’re a writer who gets discouraged, like I do, I find it helps to read. I have books I’m reading on each of my two Kindles, my cell phone, my iPad, and my Galaxy tablet. (And I always have at least one “real” book going.) I’ve read good books and really bad ones through my Bookbub subscription, but even the bad ones are useful—”this is what a writer shouldn’t do, and here’s a good example of why.” Or “here’s something that works really well. Great idea.”

KLWagoner150_2KL Wagoner (writing as Cate Macabe) is the author of This New Mountain: a memoir of AJ Jackson, private investigator, repossessor, and grandmother. She has a new speculative fiction blog at and writes about memoir at

An Interview with Author Joyce Hertzoff, Part 1

Joyce Hertzoff retired from a profession grounded in fact and science and now uses the power of the pen to write mystery and fantasy stories. Her first novel The Crimson Orb was published in 2014 by Phantasm Books, an imprint of Assent Publishing. Under Two Moons, her second in the series, is forthcoming. Read a complete list of Joyce’s published work on her SWW Author Page. You can also find her on Facebook and Twitter, and visit her at and

TheCrimsonOrbWhat is the elevator pitch for your fantasy novel The Crimson Orb?
Searching for her mysteriously missing magic teacher, teenage Nissa’s adventures reveal how little she knows about her world, and how resourceful she can be.

Who is your favorite character in the book?
It has to be Nissa, because she’s the one who grows the most from her experiences. I particularly love the fact that she achieves her dream of learning to sword fight, but also learns that the lessons she disdained—cooking and sewing—could be useful skills as well. In the second book, Under Two Moons, her sewing skills become even more important.

Looking back to the beginning of your writing journey, what do you know now that you wish you’d known then?
One of the things I learned is to stay in the same point of view, at least throughout a chapter. Related to that, I tend to write in first person. There are both advantages and disadvantages to that. The disadvantage is you can’t show anything your first-person protagonist hasn’t experienced themselves. Sometimes someone else has to tell them about it. But the advantage is the writer can take the reader into the thoughts of their protagonist; I don’t always use this as well as I should, especially when it comes to showing emotions and reactions.

You write in both the fantasy and mystery genres for adults and young adults. Which genre presents the most challenges?
The challenges are different. For fantasies, I have to develop a clearly defined new world, while for murder mysteries, I have to decide “whodunit” and find ways to throw suspicion on many of the other characters. And each audience has its expectations that I have to meet. That’s not always easy. The language/words I pick when writing for adults is slightly different for young adults, too.

FortuneCupcakes2Tell us about some of the marketing tie-ins you used for The Crimson Orb. Did you plan these or were they more of an afterthought?
All of my marketing tie-ins were afterthoughts. The fortune cupcakes in the book were created in response to an online prompt. When I looked for a place to launch my book, though, the obvious choice was a bakery that agreed to make fortune cupcakes for me. I also want to fill my book website with more than the usual book synopses and articles about writing. I found photos online that are similar to how I picture my characters, so I added those with brief bios for each. And I have a couple of recipes for some of the strange foods Nissa and her friends found in their travels. I hope to add more in the future.

What is your writing process like?
When I get an idea, I sometimes outline the first few chapters, but once I start writing, and especially after the characters and world are developed, I let my characters lead me where they want. I might do some minor revision as I’m writing, especially if I’m submitting chapters to others to critique, but most of my editing is done after I’ve typed “THE END.” I’ve taken many writing classes in the past few years, including ones on craft, and I apply what I learned as I edit.

What part do beta readers or critique partners play in perfecting your manuscripts?
I love having beta readers and critique partners. Most give me a readers perspective so I know if what I intended is how the story actually comes out. It is important, of course, to know the abilities of the readers and critiquers. Some provide more insight than others.

What advice do you have for writers who are still striving for publication?
Don’t give up. Find publishers who’ve issued books similar to yours. Develop a great query to send them, one that will get their interest enough that they’ll even read your submission. Create a first page that grabs them.

For Part 2 of this interview, published on KL Wagoner’s website, click here.

KLWagoner150_2KL Wagoner (writing as Cate Macabe) is the author of This New Mountain: a memoir of AJ Jackson, private investigator, repossessor, and grandmother. She has a new speculative fiction blog at and writes about memoir at

An Interview with Author Elizabeth Ann Galligan

Elizabeth Ann Galligan, Ph.D, is a poet and retired educator from Eastern New Mexico University who completed her first novel Secrets of the Plumed Saint (ABQ Press, 2012) at the age of 73. She has also co-authored the early childhood book Count on African Animals (2014), a precocious child’s introduction to counting and reading with photographs by Florence H. Kubota. Elizabeth’s poems and essays have appeared in Voices of New Mexico, Too (2013) and More Voices of New Mexico (2015, Rio Grande Books in collaboration with New Mexico Book Co-op), and in the Fixed and Free Poetry Anthology 2015. Visit her website at

Secrets of the Plumed SaintWhat is your elevator pitch for Secrets of the Plumed Saint?
Secrets of the Plumed Saint is a cozy mystery, a tale of intrigue, set in a high mountain valley in a small village in northern New Mexico in the 1970s. When the 100-year-old hand-carved statue of the Santo Niño de Atocha disappears from their chapel, the villagers are so embarrassed they decide to hide the secret from the Church hierarchy and try to find the culprits and discover their motives themselves.

What do you hope readers will take away from the book?
I hope readers gain respect for the people of northern New Mexico who honor their traditions and survive in a difficult environment through hard work, mutual support, wits, and religious faith. I wanted to explore the effects of major demographic changes that occurred in the 1970s which brought in outsiders who disturbed the equilibrium of the village.

What unique challenges did your first novel pose for you?
Never having the notion to write a novel, as well as not having time to devote to writing, I had to wait until I retired in 2007 to pursue various forms. I had always thought I might try to write about a holy man, a hermit, who lived in the area where Secrets of the Plumed Saint is set. I thought I could write a biography, perhaps, but certainly not a mystery. Once I decided to start writing, I found friends, family, and other authors who encouraged me. Incredible serendipitous events started. The right people came along just when I needed their expertise and help. I believe the Santo Niño de Atocha had a hand in it, too.

What was the most rewarding aspect of writing Secrets of the Plumed Saint?
People often tell me they pass the book along to family and friends. They frequently buy multiple copies. One day a woman of 80 years bought 11 copies and sent them to all her family. She told me, “Your book gave me back my roots.” Her comment made all the effort, confusion, and insecurity about my first novel worthwhile.

What do you struggle with most in your writing? What are your strong points?
I write a lot of words just to get my ideas down. Some call it wordiness—not a good trait, especially in mysteries. The trick is to go back and force myself to be more concise and make better word choices. I try not to use the first trite phrase that comes easily. We all develop habits in our writing that include certain patterns which we must overcome. Two of my bad habits are using too many adjectives and too many commas. I count finishing the Plumed Saint manuscript at age 73 as one of my best achievements. During the process, I learned I could write dialogue and poetic prose. Since I love New Mexico, I have a strong sense of place which I try to evoke in my writing. Plotting the story and sequence are still challenges.

Has writing nonfiction helped you write better fiction?
In academic or expository prose accuracy matters, so I learned how to research topics. But academic writing is often dry and of interest to only a few scholars. The pickiness of academic writing now annoys me. Writers of either persuasion have to overcome the ingrained editorial angel (devil?) that sits on their shoulder and says their writing is not good enough.

How has your work as a poet influenced your fiction writing? What can other writers learn from poetry?
Just because I had written poetry, I did not assume I knew how to write fiction. My own style in the Plumed Saint tends toward the use of metaphors and similes tied to the setting of the story. Fast-moving stories are not for me. I like to meander through the words. Luckily, so do some readers. Most poetry emphasizes concise language forms. In that sense, other writers can learn from poets to make careful word choices. Poetry also invites symbolic language and encompasses suggestions of the mystical and other-worldly realms. In short, any writer can benefit from reading good poetry.

What are you working on now?
A historical novel is in progress, again set in northern New Mexico, a sequel to Secrets of the Plumed Saint. I also intend to write the fictionalized account of a portion of the life of holy man and preacher Giovanni Maria di Agostini, the Hermit of Hermit’s Peak in northern New Mexico. It will be based partially on recent scholarship from the Brazilian scholar Dr. Alexandre Karsburg who made the link between the “holy monk,” as he was known in Brazil, and “our” New Mexican sojourner. Some amazing new research by David G. Thomas adds depth to Dr. Karsburg’s research. My book in progress (working title Holy Enigma) is a novelization of the effects of the Hermit on the people of the time who came in contact with the itinerant Italian preacher. Memories and stories passed on orally (some documented) indicate the holy man’s impact in the northern New Mexico Territory around Las Vegas and in the southern part near Mesilla. The Hermit inhabited a cave near Dripping Springs in the foothills of the Organ Mountains from about 1867 until his murder in 1869. Who killed him and why remains a mystery to this day.

What advice do you have for other writers?
Just begin. Trust yourself and your words. Forget many of the things you learned about “rules.” As Mark David Gerson suggests in The Voice of the Muse, there are 13 rules. The first is: There are no rules. The story exists and you are the vehicle which carries it. However, your publisher will have rules you need to follow.

KLWagoner150_2KL Wagoner (writing as Cate Macabe) is the author of This New Mountain: a memoir of AJ Jackson, private investigator, repossessor, and grandmother. She has a new speculative fiction blog at and writes about memoir at

Whack-a-Mole Writing

by Olive Balla

Olive Balla245Telling stories is great fun. But writing those stories in a way that will attract readers is a whole different stratum of the art. It’s a bit like the old arcade game Whack-a-Mole. The mole pops up and invitingly taunts the player. But just as the player takes aim, the mole disappears and the player’s mallet smacks air. It’s the same with writing. Just as the writer thinks he has a lock on what the reader wants, the reader moves on.

What can a writer do to set his work apart from that of the hundreds of thousands of other wannabes striving for recognition? What strategies, what tricks make one story shine brighter than the tales of all the rest of those yearning to become well-paid, or even moderately-paid authors? The problem of capturing the attention of today’s reader is a tough one, and the blame may not rest solely with the writer’s commitment and level of skill. It may boil down, in part, to recognizing and capitalizing on the continual metamorphosis of today’s reader.

Only since about 1840 has public education as we know it been available to the children of the poor as well as to the scions of the wealthy. As a result, the skills of reading and writing have become common to not only society’s scribes, but to the hoi polloi. And that’s a tremendous thing. It enhances the quality of life no end. But it doesn’t end there.

Thanks to the explosion of technology, thousands of storytellers are investing in laptops, blogging their pithy reflections on life, Facebooking, Tweeting, and working through their choices of hundreds of social networking sites. Tens of thousands of Baby Boomers are clacking out memoirs and novels of every description and genre. Websites dedicated solely to the preparation and presentation of self-published works are blossoming like my mom’s lilacs in May. We’re witnessing a supernova in the numbers of storytellers demanding our attention. So why is it that such a statistically few of us make it to press?

The answer to that question isn’t merely a matter of the writer’s aptitude for showing rather than telling, or his ability to resist the urge to explain everything, or his deft crafting of supercharged, vibrant dialogue. Nor is it a matter of simply offering a great three-arc plot and tightly-edited, attention-grabbing first five pages (thank you, Kirt Hickman). Of course, those are important precursors to publication. But today’s writer must do more—he must appeal to two generations of children raised on television shows of the Sesame Street ilk. And he must find a path to the growing numbers of readers with Attention Deficit Disorder (ADD) or Attention Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD).

Today’s reader is more sophisticated, more world wise than her seventeenth or eighteenth century counterpart. And as a result of the growing numbers afflicted with ADD and ADHD, the same reader has a short attention span.

But beyond the increasing ADD and ADHD phenomenon, the research literature indicates the passive act of watching television actually rewires the brain, especially of those under 5 years of age. Since Sesame Street’s first showing in November of 1969, countless millions of children-now-adults have spent hours each day passively watching television. And that means there are tens of millions of folks with altered thinking processes out there trying to find something interesting to read.

A suggestion: Spend a day at Barnes & Noble scanning the bestsellers in various genres. Take a pad and pencil, and jot down your reactions to what’s hot in today’s market. Read the first two or three chapters. Open the book to the middle and read a couple of chapters there, and then read the last two. What immediately catches your attention? How many paragraphs must you read before action kicks in? Is the dialogue always grammatically correct? Is word usage up to par with your high school English teacher’s expectations, or does the author douse the pages with artistic license? How long do the sentences tend to be? Are there lots of words longer than two syllables, or few to none? How much backstory do you see in one place?

Although the answers to those questions depend entirely upon the author and his genre, paying attention to these details might help zero in on a few techniques to grab the target reader.

I’ve heard more than one published author intone the benefits of never giving up. But I’ve heard just as many admit that success is a mixture of hard work, persistence, and dumb luck. The latter is kismet, but the former two are up to the writer.

According to Andy Griffith, “Ain’t nothing easy.” Hang in there.

AnArmAndALeg72Olive Balla, author of suspense novel An Arm and a Leg, is mother of 3, grandmother to 13, great-grandmother of 4, a retired educator, and part-time professional musician. Having been everything from secretary at a used car dealership, a university student, and a high school Spanish teacher, Balla states her characters are, in part, amalgamations of people she’s met. Living with her husband Victor in the Albuquerque area, she spends her spare time in a small woodworking shop designing and building everything from breadboxes and wine racks, to a porch bench. Visit her website at

This article was originally published in the March 2013 issue of SouthWest Sage and is reprinted here by permission of the author.

The Writing Life: Having it All

by Sherri Burr

SherriBurrWhen Anne-Marie Slaughter wrote “Why Women Still Can’t Have it All” in the July/August 2012 issues of The Atlantic, she caused quite a debate among women nationwide. Anne-Marie, a colleague from International Law circles, discussed her challenges of trying to balance being the first woman director of policy planning at the State Department in Washington, D.C., while her husband and 12- and 14-year-old sons remained in Princeton, New Jersey. Taking a government job proved so much more difficult for her work-family balance than her Princeton academic job of teaching, writing books, and giving speeches.

The work-family balance can challenge all of us, both women and men, whether we are married or single and whether we have children or not. It is of particular concern to anyone responsible for the bulk of the house chores necessary to keep families functional. What tipped Anne-Marie over the edge was when she took a job described as “typical for the vast majority of working women (and men), working long hours on someone else’s schedule.” From reading Anne-Marie’s article, the challenges of balancing work and family life seem to boil down to an issue of how much control you have over your time.

Unlike government, corporate or many traditional jobs, the writing life has the advantage that writers completely schedule their own hours. Even when they are on a deadline, writers decide how and when to meet the deadline.

Lucky writers can produce full time and earn a living from it, or a sufficient living combined with other income. They have the flexibility to write in the early mornings, get kids off to school, write while the kids are gone, and do household chores. If a writer has a part-time job, he or she still has a great deal of flexibility to set their own schedule.

Writers with full-time jobs where the hours are set on someone else’s schedule face a more difficult situation. They often have to rise early in the morning or stay up late to produce their work. They have to accept that producing an article or book is going to take much longer than if they could write full time. This requires discipline to write on the fringes of the day when you may be thoroughly exhausted. This kind of commitment demands a project that the writer feels called to produce. Nothing short of a feeling of a calling, and the accompanying stick-to-itiveness, will get a project done for those writers with full-time jobs and families.

I had to face this challenge head-on when my nephew Terrance moved in with me for two years to attend middle school, at a time when I had received a contract for my first book. About a month into his stay, he looked at me over dinner one day and said, “You look like you need a vacation.” From you were the words that immediately surfaced in my head. I was completely exhausted.

Soon thereafter, I spotted an ad for two seminars by parenting guru John Rosemond. I signed up for both of them, and bought his book. After listening to Rosemond extol the virtues of 1950s parenting for several hours, I came home and announced to Nephew that he would now have chores. I made a list of everything it took to keep the house running, including cleaning the house, car, and yards. I explained to Nephew that since he now lived with me he would be responsible for half of all the chores. He protested initially, but agreed after I said I would pay him a weekly allowance.

After Nephew forgot a chore, I just deducted an appropriate amount from his allowance and did the chore myself. Once his paycheck shrunk, Nephew became more careful about his responsibilities. I also taught Nephew how to cook and made him responsible for preparing several meals a week. If I got really busy, I offered to pay Nephew more if he would do some of my chores. He gladly accepted. Nephew’s help proved invaluable, and I ended up publishing two books during his stay.

Can women have it all? Can any parent have it all? It depends on how much control you have over your work and family life. A writer with a full-time job who is also the maid, cook, nanny, and gardener for the family is in for a challenge. The more help you can get both internally (by giving all able-bodied occupants chores) or externally (by hiring help), the more likely you can produce great works.

A Short and Happy Guide to Financial Well BeingSherri Burr is the Regents’ Professor of Law at the University of New Mexico School of Law where she teaches Entertainment Law, Intellectual Property Law, and Art Law. A graduate of Mount Holyoke College, Princeton University, and the Yale Law School, she has authored or co-authored 20 books, including A Short and Happy Guide to Financial Well-Being (West Academic, 2014). Sherri is also a long-time member of SouthWest Writers and a regular contributor to the organization’s newsletter SouthWest Sage.

This article was originally published in the September 2012 issue of SouthWest Sage and is reprinted here by permission of the author.

An Interview with Author Elizabeth Rose

Elizabeth Rose was born in the foothills of the Himalaya’s during the last decade of the British Raj, but she makes her home on the other side of the world in Galisteo, New Mexico. Once a sculptor, she now funnels her creative passions into her writing. Elizabeth has received more than a dozen awards for her first book—her father’s story—Poet Under A Soldier’s Hat: An Unwilling Officer’s Adventures in the Last Years of the British Raj. Visit her website at

PoetUnderASoldiersHat200What is your elevator pitch for Poet Under a Soldier’s Hat?
Based on my father’s biographical notes, Poet Under a Soldier’s Hat illustrates 100 years of British colonial Rule from 1850s to Partition in 1947 through the personal stories of one family…mine.

What do you hope readers will take away from the book?
I hope readers will see a broader picture of the British Raj than the one portrayed by Hollywood. Its people weren’t all from traditional military upper class backgrounds, but from all classes with diverse motives, who chose to devote their lives to India and her people.

What unique challenges did this work pose for you?
My father being deceased, and not knowing any of his living peers, I had no person to question or check if I had correctly portrayed the facts and his sentiments or those of the other characters. Another challenge was writing authentic sounding dialogue.

Tell us how the project came together.
About 30 years ago my father gave a typewritten copy of what he called Memoirs of an Eccentric Colonel to each of his three children. When I finally got round to reading it about 20 years later, I realized, although not publishable in that form, the historical facts, people, and places of whom we’ve all heard (but perhaps don’t know much about) were too important/fascinating not to preserve and share. Step one was to change the format from 8”x 5” English writing paper to standard format, and to edit gross typos—laborious conversion work over two years in spare moments using Omni-page on an ancient computer. I had no thought then of writing myself, just editing and perhaps publishing his notes as he had written them.

In 2009, when a writer friend suggested we should write together and critique each other’s work, we began with poems of first memories, and short stories. I found writing them so satisfying, it was then I decided to turn my father’s notes into a readable and expanded form, not a novel but as readable as one. I rearranged, cut, and embroidered the material into a logical and arced story line, and added descriptions from my own experiences of India and the Middle East. I used artistic license to weave description, dialogue, and interpretive thoughts around the actual events and people, and came up with a strong hook.

Not having written before, I joined SouthWest Writers to learn the craft through monthly morning meetings, afternoon sessions, and by entering their competitions to both build a resume and get the judges’ critiques, then rewrite as per their suggested improvements. I even resubmitted the same piece but with a different title. (As Hugh’s Footprint, the book won 3rd place in the Historical Fiction category of the 2010 SWW annual contest, and in 2012, Poet Under a Soldier’s Hat won 1st place in the Historical Novel category.)

What was the most rewarding aspect of writing Poet Under a Soldier’s Hat?
For me, the most important aspect of my writing journey was rewriting, editing, and learning little by little how to improve—person and tense use, make each chapter stand alone, show not tell, no clichés, reduce adjectives, get rid of as many “thats,” “likes,” and exclamation marks as I could. Until I joined SWW I’d never heard of a protagonist, let alone point of view, reversal, or an arc.

What was it about your father’s life that made you want to share it with the world?
The most important thing I wanted to share about my father’s life was how an unremarkable and repressed child can turn difficult, deprived circumstances into a successful, rewarding, and colorful, if unconventional, life. A sort of goal for not only me but others to never give up passion.

What did you learn about yourself from writing this book?
Despite what my repressive English boarding school taught me to believe, I was surprised to find I could write a passable sentence and how much I enjoyed the creativity of writing. So much so, I put down my chisel with a-been-there, done-that attitude never more to make sculpture, and took to writing. Not as strange as it sounds—verbal communication/non-verbal communication—two sides of the same coin to my mind.

How has your artistic nature helped you in your writing journey?
In my sculpture I deliberately avoided detail, so leaving the observer room to add their own interpretation. I’d like to bring the same respect to my writing by learning how to suggest images and situations strongly enough that I never need to tell. To me it’s as important as avoiding information dumping, something else I picked up from SWW. The other crossover I see between the arts is the freedom to create something from nothing—a bag of clay, a block of wood, canvas, and words on paper. I’ve found each medium equally satisfying.

What can fiction writers learn from nonfiction writers (or vice versa)?
Like a good fiction writer, I think a nonfiction writer has to present factual information in a riveting form, make every sentence and word choice interesting and unique. Not that I have this skill yet, but that is my goal for the prequel of Poet Under a Soldier’s Hat and all future work.

What would you do differently if you were starting your writing/publishing journey today?
I’d collected more information before choosing an editor. Weigh the options regarding self-publishing and the traditional route. In my case, being in my seventies, I decided I hadn’t the time it might take, so I went with self-publishing. My goal was not to make a million, but to get the information out there as a historical record. Again thanks to a SWW presentation, I discovered Ingram Spark and reprinted my book in a more professional way than the first edition with new format, cover, back cover, bio, etc. (having learned their importance).

If you had an unlimited budget, how would you spend your money for marketing and promotion of your book?
Money no object, I’d find a scriptwriter to convert Poet Under a Soldier’s Hat to a film script.

What writing projects are you working on now?
I am about 30,000 words into a memoir reflecting the last decade of the British Raj in India and recording my memories of that historical period. I also take mini-breaks; perhaps write a flash fiction piece, poem, or short story.

What advice do you have for discouraged writers?
I’m not one to give advice. We are all at different points in our writing journey. My advice to myself is, “Be like a Buddhist, focus on the process of the doing not the end product.” I try to write for myself, the best I can but without attachment, such as listening to critique and acting on it. I’ve found chopping a larger piece to flash fiction length and submitting to competitions, and paying for the critiques, is a great way to tighten a piece and get feedback.

KLWagoner150_2KL Wagoner (writing as Cate Macabe) is the author of This New Mountain: a memoir of AJ Jackson, private investigator, repossessor, and grandmother. She has a new speculative fiction blog at and writes about memoir at

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