Archive for October, 2009

Writer Mama Success Rhythms: October Thoughts

By Christina KatzChristina Katz and daughter
Last month I drew tips from positive examples I’ve seen lately from people I know pretty well, namely, my former students. This month, I’m going to (carefully) point out some of the mistakes I see other writers making that none of us want to repeat.
Craft: A person I really like recently wrote a book that I cannot read because it’s not well written. I have tried on several uninterrupted occasions to plow through this book and I just can’t get through it even though I am genuinely interested in the topic. What a disappointment for both of us.
Would you tell your friends a book was well-written if it wasn’t? I’m sure you wouldn’t. There is no question that I want to support people I know and like who accomplish a task as huge as writing a book and getting it published. But when a person produces a poorly written book, I have a conflict. I can’t put my name behind this person’s book as a “well-written book” if I can’t even force myself to finish it.
So, here’s a lesson for all of us about professional responsibility. If you are going to write a book, don’t expect the editors at the publishing house to make it a well-written book. It’s the writer’s responsibility. Always.
Are there any exceptions? I can’t think of any. The quality of your writing should always come first. High quality writing should be your most important priority, no matter what genre you are writing.
Pitching: This may seem obvious, but I’m going to say it anyway: different genres of writing are pitched in different ways. For example, nonfiction and fiction books are not written or pitched in the same way. A nonfiction book is pre-planned to fill a niche and then a proposal is written to sell the (future) book. Whereas a (first) novel is written in advance and the pitch is fashioned around selling the completed manuscript with the assumption that changes can be made, if needed.
So, it stands to reason that if you want to become skillful at any one genre, you should plan to stick with that genre for a period of time. I’ve been focusing on nonfiction writing for over a decade now and I feel happy with what I’ve been able to accomplish in this genre. Nonfiction is a lot more creative than most people realize, not to mention all the creativity that goes into the work of nonfiction platform development.
The moral of this story is: if you want to succeed, stick with one genre and stay with it for the long haul and THEN branch out after you have achieved success in one groove. You’ll learn valuable lessons about yourself as a writer that will carry over into other genres of writing as well.
Platform Building:
When it comes to platform building, only one type of writer is in big trouble. And that’s the kind of writer who thinks that he or she is exempt or too good for self-promotion. I feel sad when I encounter this attitude (but don’t think it stops me from telling that person that they are not exempt) because really what the person is saying is, “I am the exception.” That kind of thinking never got anybody anywhere and it’s certainly counter-productive for writers. The message is getting out: writers need to learn basic self-promotion. Believe it.
Professional Development: One of the primary thrusts of professional development for writers, in my mind, is to get them out of isolation, away from dreams of grandeur and beyond fantasies of being discovered. There’s nothing like a little dose of reality to put a writer’s feet back on the ground where actual concrete steps can then be taken. Because writing careers are not “dreams that come true” (with all due respect to Walt Disney). Successful writing careers are the hard-won result of years of sustained hard work. And that’s good news because it means that success is available to anyone who is willing to put herself through the paces, find her success rhythms, and keep reaching those concrete goals.
Christina Katz is the author of Get Known Before the Book Deal, Use Your Personal Strengths to Build an Author Platform and Writer Mama, How to Raise a Writing Career Alongside Your Kids (both for Writer’s Digest Books). A platform development coach and consultant, she started her platform “for fun” seven years ago and ended up on Good Morning America. She teaches writing career development, hosts the Northwest Author Series, and is the publisher of several e-zines including Writers on the Rise. Christina blogs at The Writer Mama Riffs and Get Known Before the Book Deal, and speaks at MFA programs, literary events, and conferences around the country.

Blog Tour Interview with Kristin Bair O’Keeffe, Author of Thirsty, A Novel

Okay, so this is really, really fun!

Thirsty by Kristin Bair O'KeeffeYou may already have heard me mention (about a hundred times) how happy I am to see my friend and former Columbia College Chicago classmate, Kristin Bair O’Keeffe, out on tour with her newly-published hardcover debut novel, Thirsty.

But here are few things you may not know…I’m being mysterious now.

Kristin and I have known each other for a wicked long time. Like since 1992. That’s seventeen years, people!

Kristin drafted one of the scenes for Thirsty, all those years ago in a class on writing historical fiction we took at CCC taught by Wade Roberts. (That class was a blast by the way. Thanks, Wade.)

I played a role in helping to get Thirsty into print. You can read the story in Kristin’s words over at Editor Unleashed, if you like.

I think Thirsty is a terrific book. In fact, if you examine the cover, you’ll see that I have high praise for the book. But don’t take my word for it (clearly I am biased), check out what Meryl K. Evans has to say about the book instead. She writes a darn good review, too.

Or, you can find recommendations in the November/December issue of Writer’s Digest from Jordan Rosenfeld (on stands now), read the opening line over at Poet’s & Writers, read the first chapter in The Pittsburgh Post Gazette, or watch the book trailer.

And now, without further ado, here’s some of Kristin’s thoughts on the writing process:

What inspired you to write Thirsty?

As a writer, I’m deeply inspired by place so I wasn’t surprised that Thirsty, the town, came to me first. I grew up in Pittsburgh’s steel-making milieu. My maternal grandparents lived in Clairton, Pennsylvania, and my grandfather worked in U.S. Steel’s Clairton Works. This was in the late 1960s and early 1970s, and steel was everything in Pittsburgh. We talked about steel over dinner. My sisters and I chanted, “Rotten eggs, rotten eggs,” every time we took the twenty-five-minute drive from our house to our grandparents’ house and got close enough to smell the mills on the Monongahela River. And from my grandparents’ back porch, we watched flames and big puffs of steam rise from the smokestacks. Later we watched the demise of the steel industry.

Not long after I clearly saw the town of Thirsty in my head, Klara began to appear. Right away I saw the awful marriage she was in. I’m especially sensitive to women in abusive situations. When I began to see Klara both as a young girl and an old woman, I knew I was going to be writing a story with a long arc.

What was the most challenging aspect of writing the novel?

I faced two big challenges while writing Thirsty:

1)    I started my writing life as a poet so language and rhythm are important to me. I read everything I write (even emails) out loud…over and over again…until the language and rhythm of every sentence feels right. I must have read Thirsty a thousand times out loud before I felt I could let go of it. And even then…even now…given a few minutes to read out loud and rewrite…I’d probably change a few more words.

2)    Telling Klara’s story as fully as possible—including the scene in which Drago cuts off her hair—wasn’t easy. But I knew I had to. It was only fair to see the abuse as vividly as Klara lived it. Domestic violence is an experience shared by many, many women. Too many women. And it’s too easy to turn away from it in fear and shame…too easy to gloss over the most crucial, heartbreaking brutality. No woman escapes domestic violence on her own; Klara has Katherine, BenJo, and Old Man Rupert. I believe if we face it together, there’s hope.

How long did it take you to write Thirsty?

A total of about seven years. I started it in 1992 and completed a full draft as my graduate school thesis in 1996. I worked on it off and on for another three years.

How long did it take you to have it accepted for publication?

I took a circuitous, scenic route to publication. It took sixteen years from the day I wrote the first scene to the day I got the email from David Sanders at Swallow Press that said, yep, we want to publish this book. I’m a big believer in right time, right place. I always knew Thirsty would find its home; I just didn’t know when or where.

Describe your writing habits.

I do a lot of work in my head: subconsciously in my dreams and consciously when I’m walking around the world, taking care of the mundane responsibilities of life. When I write, I am very disciplined. Before I became a mom, I got up every morning before dawn and wrote (for hours and hours). Now that I have a little one, I have to be more flexible. I write before my daughter wakes up, when she naps, and after she goes to bed.

You live in Shanghai, China. What is it like promoting your first novel from halfway around the world?

Creatively cool: The fact that I live in China gets people’s attention, and attention when promoting a novel is (almost) always good.

Logistically difficult: Shanghai is twelve hours ahead of Eastern Standard Time in the U.S. (except during Daily Savings Time when it is thirteen hours ahead). In some ways this is good because I work when folks in the U.S. are sleeping. That means that I don’t get a lot of emails during my work hours (they pour in during U.S. daylight hours when I am sleeping), thus often I can write without too much distraction. But it works the other way as well. When I’m ready to Twitter about Thirsty (or anything else), many U.S. Twitterers are asleep. If I need to talk to my publicist or the events coordinator at a bookstore, I have to stay up until ten o’clock or eleven o’clock at night to catch them during their morning hours (and often I have to call them back around my midnight or one o’clock a.m.). Not conducive to a good night’s sleep.

You teach writing. Three things you tell students?

1)    Sit your butt down. Write.

2)    Writing begets writing.

3)    Read your work out loud.

4)    Sit your butt down. Write. (Did I say that already?)

Note: Obviously there’s more, but this is a strong first draft.

What advice can you offer to writers?

My mantra: Tell the best story you can…believe in your writing…work your arse off.

Favorite authors?

Here’s a sampling, though there are many more:

  • for language, rhythm, and soul: Toni Morrison and Gabriel García Márquez
  • for writing about women’s lives in significant ways: Alice Walker and Toni Morrison
  • for thinking like me: Dr. Seuss and Amy Krouse Rosenthal
  • for keeping me centered: Thich Nhat Han and Pema Chodron
  • for writing inspiration: Natalie Goldberg and Anne Lamott
  • for writing craft: Christina Katz, Wendy Burt, Sage Cohen

Favorite books?

This list changes and grows all the time, but here are a few I love: Anaïs Nin’s diaries, The Time Traveler’s Wife, The Book Thief, Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close, The Odyssey, The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian, One Hundred Years of Solitude, Sula

What’s next?

A memoir about my path to love, marriage, and mamahood (definitely not the usual path). And a second novel (mum’s the word).

Learn More!

Writing Conference Success: Create High-Impact Bios & Cover Letters

Mary Andonian and kids

By Mary Andonian
Many people will go into a conference empty-handed, but not you. I have two good reasons why you should walk into the conference armed with business cards and proposal packages (thinly disguised as inexpensive paper folders). First, these items will build your credibility and boost your professional demeanor. Second, at best you’ll get your proposal in the hands of editors and agents for their long flight home, and at worst you’ll be in the enviable position to immediately mail follow-up materials.
Two important elements that will go into your proposal package are your bio and cover letter.
Your bio page can be made up in any number of ways. You can use a more traditional resume approach, listing all of your writing credits in chronological order, along with relevant educational background, and so on.
Or you may opt for the author’s book flap approach, where you write your bio the way you would like it to be seen on the back cover of your book.
One author I know lists her writing credits, but includes next to each credit a full color photo representing each credit. I used her approach for my last proposal package and ended up using visual icons representing the Contra Costa Times Newspapers (two of my essays were printed in this newspaper) and both an Institute of Children’s Literature logo and a Willamette Writers logo (for my education and involvement in these institutions, respectively).
When it was all said and done, my bio page looked pretty impressive.
Cover Letter
Your cover letter is really a one-page query letter you would send in lieu of meeting your agent or editor. It should be addressed to the agent or editor to whom you’ll pitch, along with her complete (and accurate) company title/imprint, address and phone number.
Your salutation should be addressed to Ms. [Last Name], unless you have met the person before.
The first paragraph should be a one-sentence summary of the book you’re trying to pitch.
The second and possibly third paragraphs should describe your book by first stating the need for such a book and then by telling why your book is the perfect solution to that need.
The last few paragraphs talk about you.
Why are you the perfect person to write this book?
What have you done that’s note-worthy, and why would people buy from you?
This is where you will talk about your platform, if you have one. If you don’t have paid writing credits, then highlight other achievements, such as (relevant) degrees completed or awards won.
Even non-relevant degrees might work if you spin them right: “I have an M.B.A. with an emphasis in Marketing, a skill set that will come in handy after my book has sold.”
Remember: Every interaction should close the sale or advance the sale, so close your letter with an offer to send more: “May I send you the entire manuscript? Thanks, and I look forward to hearing from you.”

Mary Andonian is former agents and editors coordinator for the Willamette Writers conference, one of the largest writing events in North America. In past years, she was also program coordinator and co-chair. Mary is represented by the Reece Halsey North Literary Agency and is a monthly columnist for the hit e-zines, Writers on the Rise and The Writer Mama. She has completed two book: Mind Chatter: Stories from the Squirrel Cage and Bitsy’s Labyrinth and is currently at work on her first screenplay, a romantic comedy. Mary is the mother of two girls and is the Brownie Girl Scouts leader for Troop 1102. Please visit her at:

Fit To Write Tips: Remember the Good Stuff

By Kelly James-EngerKelly James Enger and son
Remember when that story you worked so hard on got killed? When an editor rejected your pitch after you spent hours on it? I bet you do. But what about the high notes of your writing career? They may be harder to recall.
That’s why I suggest you start an Inspiration File. Mine includes notes, cards, letters, and emails I’ve collected over nine years. There’s a note from an editor thanking me for a “great job” on one of my first stories, fan letters from readers of my novel, and a congratulations card from my husband when I sold my first book.
If I’m struggling with freelancing or having doubts about my choice of career, I take a look through my Inspiration File to focus on my accomplishments instead of my rejections. I suggest you do the same.
Don’t focus on how far you have to go-instead, celebrate the distance you’ve already come.
Author, speaker, and consultant Kelly James-Enger is a certified personal trainer and the author of books including Small Changes, Big Results: A 12-Week Action Plan to a Better Life (with Ellie Krieger, R.D.). Her book, Ready, Aim, Specialize! Create your own Writing Specialty and Make More Money, is aimed at novice freelancers; Six-Figure Freelancing: The Writer’s Guide to Making More Money helps experienced writers boost their bottom lines. Visit for free articles about freelancing and more information about her.

News Writer Mamas Can Use: A Roundup From My Inbox

Hiya mamas,

I’ve been a bit scarce since the conclusion of The Writer Mama Back-to-School Giveaway. But never fear because I’m gearing up for our second annual December Sell-a-bration! Not to mention all this other cool stuff that has landed in my Inbox lately that I’d like to share with you. Please feel free to grab and share any news in this post!

Sell-A-Brate Your Year Right Here In December 2009

Remember last year? I invited my students to share their success stories each day in December. Talk about inspirational! So, naturally, we’re doing it again.

If you missed the good stuff last year, click here to bring up all the posts. Happy getting inspired!

I hope you’ll start thinking about your 2009 success stories for this year’s round-up. More to come…

Wendy Burt Thomas Offers Inexpensive Query Feedback for Aspiring Authors

Trying to get your book published?

I offer flat-rate query letter consulting. For $50, you receive:

1. A review of your first-draft, one-page query letter with suggestions/edits

2. A review of a second draft with suggestions/edits

3. Five suggestions for agents/agencies that represent your type of manuscript

Wendy Burt-Thomas is the author of two books for McGraw-Hill and The Writer’s Digest Guide to Query Letters (January 2009, Writer’s Digest Books). Her credentials include more than 1,000 published articles, short stories, personal essays and greeting cards. She has worked as a magazine, newspaper and book editor. Learn more at Ask Wendy – The Query Queen

Call for Submissions for upcoming Anthology

Is your child easy to love, but hard to parent?  DRT Press is seeking personal essays written by parents of children with ADD, ADHD and/or other mental, emotional, and behavioral disorders for a book about the experience of parenting children with such conditions, for publication (expected) in January 2011.  Compensation includes 10 copies of the completed book and unlimited discounted copies.  Payment may be offered.  The book will be co-edited by author/editor/publisher Adrienne Ehlert Bashista, Publisher, DRT Press and Kay Marner, a freelance writer who contributes regularly to ADDitude magazine, and blogs for  Soft deadline for submissions is March 1, 2010.  For more information visit Questions may be directed to


Destination: Book Deal
Advanced Student Discussion Group
With Christina Katz
Prerequisites: 3 Previous Classes with Christina
Destination: Book Deal is a monthly 90 minute accountability group that guides members towards landing a book deal sooner rather than later. Members will check in each month and set monthly goals. Christina Katz facilitates this group by phone as a way to stay in touch with her former students and point out the shortcuts, pitfalls, and career building opportunities available to experienced writers aiming for a traditional nonfiction book deal.
Cost: $150.00 (Intro price)
Dates: January – June 2010
Days & Times of monthly calls TBA
Space is limited to 12 participants
More/register: E-mail Christina

Article Accountability Dream Team For Former Writing & Publishing the Short Stuff Students
With Christina Katz
Prerequisites: WPSS
The Article Accountability Dream Team is a monthly 90 minute accountability group that guides members towards getting more articles in print in less time than it might otherwise take going it alone. Members will check in each month and set monthly goals. Christina Katz facilitates this group by phone as a way to stay in touch with her former students and point out the shortcuts, pitfalls, and career building opportunities available to article writers, who wish to get published and profit from their writing.
Cost: $150.00 quarterly (Intro price)
Dates: January – June 2010
Days & Times of monthly calls TBA
Space is limited to 12 participants
More/register: E-mail Christina

Invest In Your Writing Career Today
& Reap Greater Rewards Tomorrow.

Busy Parent Writer: Harvest Great Ideas During Hectic Holiday Seasons

Sharon Cindrich and kids

By Sharon Miller Cindrich
Boo! No sooner have you nestled into a fall routine when the pressure of the holidays begin to creep closer — and the thought of juggling the responsibilities of seasonal family activities with your own writing deadlines can really give you the willies.
The real treat as this crescendo of activity begins to build is the season’s rich writing material that can be turned into lucrative story ideas and land you lots of juicy assignments. The trick? Be ready to harvest the ideas, experiences and tips you discover in the midst of the holiday chaos by following these simple steps.
Be ready. Carry extra pens and notebooks to the apple dunking, costume parade and pilgrim feast. Jot down your ideas or impressions before you forget them and store them in an easy-to-reference spot.
Take photos.
Despite your incredible writing style, a picture is worth a thousand words and might get you some extra attention with an editor when coupled with a query. Use the snapshots of your family’s apple picking adventure or pumpkin patch visit as credentials for your pitch.
Have fun in the name of research. Use the season as an excuse to do something you’ve always wanted to in the name of researching a story, such as: “How to throw a not-so-scary Halloween party” or “Leaf-pile jumping and other free outdoor fun for kids” or “Planning a family feast for fifty dollars or less.” Save receipts to write off expenses if you land an assignment based on your activities.
Take time to reflect. If you’re a die-hard journal-keeper, you already know the cathartic benefits of scribbling down the day’s events. But as a writer, the exercise will serve not only as release of the day’s stress, but also as a reference tool for essays, ideas and anecdotes for future assignments.  

A Smart Girl's Guide to the Internet By Sharon CindrichSharon Miller Cindrich is the mom of two, a columnist and author of E-Parenting: Keeping Up With Your Tech-Savvy Kids (Random House, 2007). Her next book, A Smart Girl’s Guide to the Internet (American Girl) debuts in September 2009. Packed with tips, quizzes, and “What would you do?” scenarios, this book helps girls become smart and safe Internet users. Learn more at


Comic by Debbie Ridpath Ohi       Get Known Before the Book Deal by Christina Katz
Writer's Digest Guide to Query Letters  Writing the Life Poetic By Sage Cohen

The Articulate Conception: Outgrowing the Glass Slipper

Sage Cohen and Theo

By Sage Cohen
I’ll bet no one ever told Cinderella that once she was on the other side of pregnancy and birth, her foot would no longer fit the glass slipper. Like the rest of her body (and her life, for that matter), that elegant foot would be stretched out, flattened, varicose-veined and otherwise rendered entirely unrecognizable.

I, on the other hand, was fortunate. My friend Jenn Lalime broke the news to me over my first drink on my first night out at my first literary event since giving birth: “Don’t expect to accomplish much at work for the next six months. And expect the quality of what you do accomplish to be about 40 percent of what you were previously capable.”

I was just emerging from my three-month maternity leave where I was (supposedly) not working (but had proofed and polished my book in layout and secured permissions for nearly 40 poems), and getting ready to face my desk and my clients again. I was sleeping two, maybe three hours at a pop, for a total of five, maybe six hours in any given 24-hour period, which transformed my daily existence into a perpetual out-of-body experience.

Grateful to be leaving my son downstairs in the care of an endearing and trustworthy nanny, yet wrenched at being more than a few feet away from him, I trudged up to my office intent on establishing a sustainable rhythm for my three, full-time jobs: mother, writer/business owner and author/book promoter.

My office was not exempt from the baby bomb that had exploded through our house. The pristine calm and order I had cultivated for more than a decade was papered over with stacks of bills, hospital propaganda, health insurance documentation and all manner of outgrown or not-yet-needed baby paraphernalia. In three short months, my office had become a holding pen for my rapidly expanding life.

As I sat down at my desk, the elegant evening gown of my mind now plain and staid as a pumpkin, I started small-first sorting and organizing the piles. Then came the five-page to-do list. Next, a schedule detailing how everything was going to get done in far less time than I’d ever done it before. As I went through the old, familiar, getting-things-done motions, the pilot light of “professional Sage” flickered on behind my eyes.

I couldn’t be trusted to know what day or time it was, or to send a single email that made sense. And yet, as they days and weeks went on and my professional paralysis gave way to a slow momentum, my work was getting done. Client deadlines were being met. I was giving lectures and readings some evenings, attending a literary event or two and hosting my reading series once again.

While I felt like a fragmented imposter standing in for the previous, more cohesive version of me, no one seemed to notice that the glass slippers of this former perfectionista had been retired the back of the closet. I plodded along on flat feet, graceless and imprecise, doing the best I could. And remarkably, that seemed to be enough.

Next month: striking a balance between private and public life.

Sage Cohen is the author of Writing the Life Poetic: An Invitation to Read and Write Poetry (Writers Digest Books, 2009) and the poetry collection Like the Heart, the World. An award-winning poet, she writes three monthly columns about the craft and business of writing and serves as Poetry Editor for VoiceCatcher 4. Her poetry and essays appear in journals and anthologies including Cup of Comfort for Writers, The Oregonian, Oregon Literary Review, Greater Good and VoiceCatcher. Sage holds an MA in creative writing from New York University, co-hosts a monthly reading series at Barnes & Noble and teaches the online class Poetry for the People. She has been nominated for a Pushcart Prize and awarded a Soapstone residency. To learn more, visit


Destination: Book Deal
Advanced Student Discussion Group
With Christina Katz
Prerequisites: 3 Previous Classes with Christina
Destination: Book Deal is a monthly 90 minute accountability group that guides members towards landing a book deal sooner rather than later. Members will check in each month and set monthly goals. Christina Katz facilitates this group by phone as a way to stay in touch with her former students and point out the shortcuts, pitfalls, and career building opportunities available to experienced writers aiming for a traditional nonfiction book deal.
Cost: $150.00 (Intro price)
Dates: January – June 2010
Days & Times of monthly calls TBA
Space is limited to 12 participants
More/register: E-mail Christina

Article Accountability Dream Team For Former Writing & Publishing the Short Stuff Students
With Christina Katz
Prerequisites: WPSS
The Article Accountability Dream Team is a monthly 90 minute accountability group that guides members towards getting more articles in print in less time than it might otherwise take going it alone. Members will check in each month and set monthly goals. Christina Katz facilitates this group by phone as a way to stay in touch with her former students and point out the shortcuts, pitfalls, and career building opportunities available to article writers, who wish to get published and profit from their writing.
Cost: $150.00 quarterly (Intro price)
Dates: January – June 2010
Days & Times of monthly calls TBA
Space is limited to 12 participants
More/register: E-mail Christina

Invest In Your Writing Career Today
& Reap Greater Rewards Tomorrow.

Did You Read It? Writer Mama Book Club Interview: Therese Walsh’s The Last Will of Moira Leahy


I did! And I enjoyed every moment.

I’m going to kick off the discussion tomorrow with some questions, but today, I’d just like to know who read the book and what your initial impressions were?

Did you love it? Please comment below.

I want to link to Meryl K. Evans book review in her blog, as well. (I can finally read it now that I’m done with the book!)

And if you haven’t read the book yet, hurry! So you can join us as we talk about it all month long.

Therese Walsh’s The Last Will of Moira Leahy is such an luscious presentation, I can only imagine that the story itself is going to blow us all away. If you are looking for books to add to your holiday wish list: add this one. And add it fast because I know the smell of success when I crack open a book. And I predict this one is going to fly off the shelves. I can’t wait to be one of the first readers.

Want to join me? Why don’t we start a book club? A Writer Mama Book Club. I’m often so busy writing, I rarely get to read for pleasure. And reading is so much better when shared with others (I witnessed this last night at Cindy Hudson’s talk at Powell’s).

You game? It won’t be too hard for me. We all know that I’m good at giving deadlines, so let’s say we all have until November 30th to finish reading and then we’ll start the discussion on December 1st. (P.S. Therese doesn’t know I’m doing this. But you can tell her now. It’s okay.)

Once I had the book in my hands, I caught up with Therese over e-mail and begged her to answer some questions about the book for me. Here’s her answers. Tell me if you can resist the book even for one second. I’m thinking you can’t. And feel free to spread the word far and wide. In fact, grab this blog interview and re-post it if you want. Invite your writer mama readers to join us. It’ll be fun!

95716_walsh_thereseQ: What is The Last Will of Moira Leahy about?

TW: At its simplest, The Last Will is a women’s fiction novel about a professor of languages, Maeve Leahy, coming to terms with the loss of her twin, Moira.

But it’s never been that easy to explain. It taps into the magic of twins through a second narrative, called Out of Time, which introduces you to the girls when young, and eventually explains what happened to Moira and why Maeve changed as she did. It’s also about how Maeve’s present-day life is altered after winning a Javanese dagger called a keris one night at auction, and her journey—including a trip to Rome—to better understand both the blade and herself. So even though it has a women’s fiction heart, it borrows heavily from other genres, including psychological suspense, mystery, family saga, romance and mythical realism.

Q: What kind of research went into writing The Last Will?

TW: I have file folders—real and virtual—full of information on musical prodigies, foreign languages, twin phenomena, Maine, Rome, Trastevere, the keris, Javanese culture, wayang shadow puppets, empus, resident physicians, post-traumatic stress disorder, survival guilt, art, antiques, sailing, pop culture, university schedules, card tricks, cabbies, how to talk like a guy, and more! I have travel guides, maps, and plenty of books—including a few obscure ones, like Old Gypsy Madge’s Fortune Teller and the Witches Key to Lucky Dreams, published by M. Young in 1880, and The Keris and other Malay Weapons, published by the Council of the Malaysian Branch of the Royal Asiatic Society.

I traveled to Castine, Maine—a coastal community—to get a feel for the place, talk with the people who live there and ride on the Penobscot. I felt truly inspired by the story of the drummer boy ghost.

Rome was even more critical to the story, because specific aspects of the city shaped the plot and revealed character. I learned a lot about it by reading guidebooks, but the best information came from Adam Nixon at He was terrific, explaining obscure details of the city, including the types of happenings you’d find in Rome around the holidays.

Q: Can you give a synopsis of how you got your deal? Is it a good story?

TW: I’d been working on my manuscript since 2002, in one form or another. Last Will started as a traditional romance and then morphed into something Other—but not before I finished it and had it rejected as a romance, after two years worth of work. One agent, Deidre Knight, gave me some advice: “You should be writing women’s fiction.”

After much deep thought, I realized she was right, so in 2005, I started over. In 2006, after realizing I *still* hadn’t gotten it right, I scrapped most of a full third of the novel and began again.

I finished in early 2008, wrote my query and started submitting. A Big Time Agent asked for a partial, then rejected, but not before passing along the name of a coworker who might connect with the work. I queried her, and soon after was asked by her assistant for the full. And then, strangely, Big Time Agent contacted me again.

“You’ve made our assistant cry with your story,” he said. “I’m going to reconsider. Stay tuned.” Later we spoke on the phone. “I’m probably not going to tell you what you’re hoping for,” he said. “Really, I have a lot of questions.” The bottom line was that he just didn’t get certain aspects of the story, key components that I’d believed in wholeheartedly. But if I wanted to revise—drastically—he would look at it again.

If ever there was a time I wanted to quit trying, toss my manuscript in the trash and pretend I’d never dreamed a dream, it was then. But something inside me rebelled against his opinion. Big Time Agent was wrong. The book was ready. I believed it.

So I wrote a new query, printed a new synopsis, mailed a new submission to another agent—Elisabeth Weed. And she asked for the partial and then the full, and later called to tell me she loved the book. She became my agent, and sold my book to Random House a few weeks later in a preemptive two-book deal.

Q: This book took you years to finish. How did that lengthy writing process affect the story? And what kept you sticking with the story for such a long time?

TW: The story became richer and revealed more of itself with every draft, even during the final edit once the deal came through with Shaye Areheart Books. Over time, I understood more about writing and became more confident in my abilities.

Little things kept me going over the years. A rejection letter was taped beside my desk for the longest time. Other snippets from other positive rejections were there, too:

You’re a luscious writer, with loads of vivid details and language.
There is something about your prose that it unique and captivating.
You have great potential.

When you’re an unpublished writer, not sure if you’re “wasting” your time or not on your work, it’s important to hang on to all the positives, even to surround yourself with them as I did. But I think the most important thing that kept me committed to this story was the story itself; it just wouldn’t let go. It haunted me, in a way. I had to write it.

Q: Many families encounter guilt, deception, and loss. Were you interested in these themes before you began working on the book? What interested you in them?

TW: When I first sat down to write this story in 2002, I didn’t have a single thing planned regarding theme, but by the time I started the big rewrite in 2005, I understood that this book was about acceptance. To fully explore acceptance, I had to explore its opposite; denial can and does lead to things like deception, loss, guilt and more.

I don’t know why acceptance became the main theme. Maybe because I’m an introvert and somewhat of a social nerd. Or maybe it’s just what the book needed.

Q: What’s next for you?

TW: I have a two-book deal with Shaye Areheart and am working on the second book now. It’s a story I’m excited about—similar to The Last Will in some important ways (e.g. involving intertwined narratives that dovetail, a rich body of mythology, travels in order to find oneself, themes of acceptance, and more), but it’s different, too. The characters in this second book are, in a word, quirky. And quirky can be a lot of fun to write.

Come back on December 1st and I’ll see if I can’t get Therese back on over here to share some book group questions.

Writing for the Web: Advantages of Work For Hire

By Jennifer ApplinJennifer Applin

Bylines give writers their bragging rights. So naturally you want your name attached to each and every piece of work you produce. Unfortunately this isn’t always possible, especially if you’re offered a Work-For-Hire (WFH) contract. This type of contract seems to be a growing trend and is fairly common with online publications.
In fact, if you’re soliciting your services only to sites that give freelancers a byline then you may be missing out on a lot of potential work. While it would be nice to always have your name associated with your work, I don’t suggest turning down work just because you won’t get a byline.
If you’d like to highlight your WFH work as a sample on your website, I suggest checking with your editor first. It usually isn’t a problem. Also, just because you aren’t getting a byline now doesn’t mean that’ll always be the case. Some of my editors have added my byline for specific projects even though the assignments were WFH contracts.
So if there are other reasons a specific WFH assignment is beneficial to you, such as pay rate, ease of assignment, or speed of payment then don’t let a lack of a byline stop you.
Business-Boosting Tip
It looks like the Internet is here to stay. The same is true for online content. Is this a problem? Well, not if everything you’ve ever posted online only represents your professional side. Uh-oh, are you thinking about that post you wrote a few years ago on a personal blog where you discussed your funniest drunken college moments?
Even if you’ve deleted that information it may still be out there somewhere, accessible to any editor who searches your name. You can’t turn back time and fix the past, but you can make a vow to only post information online that won’t hurt you professionally. You can still “keep it real.” Just remember that everything you say may be “keeping” for a really long time.

Jennifer Applin is a freelance writer living in Ohio with her husband and four young children. Aside from writing for many regional publications, she is regular contributor to and She spends her days cooking, cleaning and caring for little ones; and her nights writing about pregnancy, parenting and the quest for peace (as in peace and quiet). You can also find her at Managing the MotherLoad.

Winners in the “Most Inspirational” Category: 2009 Writer Mama Back-to-School Giveaway

writer mama back to school giveaway badgeConsistency is what inspired me most this year. Our winners were the most consistent commenters in the giveaway this year—maybe ever!

I found myself moved by their commitment, not just to the giveaway, but to getting as much as they could from participating. Thank you for asking yourself the questions and sharing what you learned. :)

Bravo, winners! Your names are:

Mar Junge

Meryl Evans

Carrie Ure

Take a bow! You earned it.

Thank you for inspiring us with your willingness to reflect on writing and your writing career choices. I learned a lot from you all. And I look forward to learning from you all again next year.

You’ve won copies of:

Get Known Before the Book Deal by Christina Katz (Learn More)

Writer Mama by Christina Katz (Learn More)

Book By Book by Cindy Hudson (Learn More)

Thirsty by Kristin Bair O’Keeffe (Learn More)

Enjoy your books, ladies! And if you already own them, I am sure you will pass them on to other writers as gifts. Thanks for sending me your snail mail at writer mama at earthlink dot net.

Come to Wordstock in Portland, Oregon This Weekend: I’d love to see you there!

Wordstock Festival of the Book
Get Known Before the Book Deal: A Platform Development Checklist
October 11, 2009
4:30 – 5:45 p.m.
Location: Oregon Convention Center
More Info

All About October!

For me, back-to-school marks the beginning of my new work year. I’ve decided (after working a bit less this past summer) to work more during the school year and less during the summer from here on out. So next summer, I plan to attend some writing conferences and that’s pretty much going to be it so I can enjoy quality time with my immediate and extended families.

And there are more changes in the works. Soon, I will only be offering four e-mail classes (instead of six) and will convert my platform classes into audio or video courses.

In January, I will launch two “Dream Teams” for former students who are interested in more support, encouragement and guidance on an ongoing basis. These Dream Teams will be linked up by a monthly conference call, weekly accountability assignments, and a group interface for sharing among participants. I was going to switch up the groups every three months but now I’m thinking that six months will be best for everyone.

I’m going to be working with Judy Miller, my intern/assistant over the holidays to create some e-books. Topics you might be interested include: “Author Mama,” “Write An E-book & Build a Following,” and “Grassroots Self-promotion for Authors.” I’d love for you to meet Judy, if you don’t already know her. You can read more here.

There’s going to be more news to come as the New Year gets closer, but suffice it to say that I am streamlining and focusing all of my online efforts to make room for book number three, which I’d like to start in January.

I wonder if there are classes, services or products you wish I would offer that I don’t currently offer. I’d love to hear your feedback on this via e-mail. Please write to me at writer mama dot earthlink dot net and let me know your thoughts.

The Writer Mama Back-to-School Giveaway is now over. I consider it a huge success. Big thanks go out to Judy Miller, for her help creating the posts, to Jane Friedman for providing many books, and to all of the authors who participated. The giveaway continues to be a popular opportunity for self-reflection and self-discovery for those who participate. It is always so gratifying for me to hear what everyone have to say about the process. You can read more on that here.

Harvest time is here in earnest, mamas. And it’s time to separate the wheat from the chafe. What will you keep? What will you let go of? How will you streamline your time to be as successful as you can be while safeguarding your quality time with your family?

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