Peevish Pen

Ruminations on reading, writing, rural living, retirement, aging—and sometimes cats. And maybe a border collie or other critters.

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Location: Rural Virginia, United States

I'm an elderly retired teacher who writes. Among my books are Ferradiddledumday (Appalachian version of the Rumpelstiltskin story), Stuck (middle grade paranormal novel), Patches on the Same Quilt (novel set in Franklin County, VA), Them That Go (an Appalachian novel), and several Kindle ebooks.

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

Slinging Ink


Last night, I ventured out of rural America and into the big city to participate in Roanoke County Library’s Ink Slinger Series for writers. A couple of my fellow Valley Writers were supposed to be there, but they didn’t show. Consequently, I shared the panelist’s table with Rod Belcher, writer for Blue Ridge Business Journal and and grand prize winner in the Strange New Worlds Contest (so his short story “Orphans” was published—by Simon and Schuster, no less!—in a Star Trek anthology.

We talked to—or more accurately with—a dozen enthusiastic aspiring writers who have been attending this series. I was glad I had taken my folder of scam stuff, namely my deceased dog Jack’s dreadful poetry manuscript, Swimming Across the Stream of Consciousness and the resulting PublishAmerica contract as well as his Editor’s Choice certificate from the International Library of Poetry . It seems that the Travis Tea/Atlanta Nights scam had been discussed the previous week. It’s refreshing to talk to a group that’s already aware of literary scams and not have someone bemoan, “But—but they gave my book the chance it deserves!” or “You mean my poem really isn’t a winner?!”

The day before, I’d been emailed some possible questions that I might have been asked, but some weren't asked and I didn’t get to use my answers that I'd written in advance, just in case I was at a lose of words (yeah, right). I don’t want to waste my words, so here they are:

—How did you get started writing?
I wrote dreadful poems when I was a kid. College lit mag published some really bad poems I wrote. I got scammed by a couple of contests as an adult (National Library of Poetry; Iliad Press). I started writing fiction after I’d been a prereader for the MMT new play contest. Some of those scripts were so horrible, I knew I could do better. (Plus I was writing little plays for my drama students). I wrote a sort story, “Forced Blossoms,” sent it to the Lonesome Pine Short Story Contest and won second place. Got nationwide publicity for the 1996 Bulwer-Lytton contest.

—What are your writing habits?
Think, mull, then put it in computer. Usually cats and a dog are with me. See my story on p. 199 in Cup of Comfort for Writers—that covers it. I write mainly write on my eMac in MS-Word, Times New Roman 12, double-spaced.

At the presentation there was discussion about a “writing space.” I confessed that I write with at least one cat on the desk and a border collie under the desk.

That black blob is Eddie-Puss.


Maggie is too big to fit all the way under the desk.

—How did you break into publishing?
I haven’t exactly broken in yet. I’m mainly self-pubbed. In August 1993, I picked up a little four-page magazine called Blue Ridge Traditions. I thought maybe the editor (Peggy Sloan Conklin) would take fiction, so I sent in my story, which was set in Franklin County. She used it in the October 1993 issue and asked if I had more. At the time, I didn’t. Then I wrote a horse story and also set it in Franklin County. She published it, too. That story, “Last Wish,” eventually became Chapter 1 of my novel, Patches on the Same Quilt.

—How did you find out about the contest you entered?
I found a info about the Lonesome Pine short Story Contest and the Sherwood Anderson in the newspaper; other writers have told me about other contests.

—Any advice for newbie Roanoke writers?
Being badly published is worse than not being published. Don’t spend a fortune to get published. Get an agent. Do your homework and perfect your craft. Hang out with writers who are more experienced than you. Go to conferences. Read a lot. Study the markets. Blog. Read blogs. If you POD, don’t get all the bells & whistles—just the basic package. Be skeptical. Plus—I’d prepared my advice on a handout, which I’d emailed in the day before. Here’s the info from my handout:

Use the Internet to research possible publishers and agents. Three good resources to help new writers not get scammed:


Read books about writing and style
. My favorites:

  • The First Five Pages, by literary agent Noah Lukeman. Agents often decide about a book based on its first five pages. If you get the first five right, the others are likely to be right also.
  • Sin and Syntax, by Constance Hale. A fun way to learn grammar and style!
  • On Writing Well, by William Zinsser. While this book’s focus is writing non-fiction, it’s also helpful for writing ficition.
  • Bird by Bird, by Anne Lamott. Writing philosophy and helpful hints.

Attend conferences and network with professional writers.

  • The James River Writers Festival Conference is the Virginia conference to attend. Oct. 10-11, 2008, at the Library of Virginia in Richmond. Many pros attend, including agents and editors. JRW also has an informative e-mail newsletter, Get Your Word On.
  • The Roanoke Regional Writers Conference is very helpful if you aspire to write for magazines and newspapers. January 23-24, 2009, at Hollins University. For details, contact susan.cousins@bizjopurnal.com.
  • The CNU annual conference (usually in March) in Newport News has much helpful information for new writers.
  • The Hollins Literary Festival is held annually (usually in March) at Hollins University.

Join reputable writing organizations and participate in their events:


Update your blog regularly and read blogs by writing professionals.
Many professional agents, editors, and writers blog. Blogging shows the world your writing ability. Your blog is your column. If you don’t already have a blog, one source for a free blog is http://www.blogger.com. That's what I'm using to write this blog.
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The Roanoke County Library has a great program going here. Thanks to Laura Carruba and Sarah Haley for offering this wonderful resource to Roanoke area writers..

Last Tuesday, I’d attended the “death recipes” author presentation at the library, during which a tornado touched down about a mile away. While I could see plenty of lightning in the distance on my way home last night, I encountered no bad weather last night.

A good night indeed.
~

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6 Comments:

Blogger Amy Hanek said...

Spreading your good word across the Roanoke Valley and then some! Great advice! I am proud to be one of the recipients of such great advice!!

Thank you.

12:55 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Though I should say in defense of our panel that the one who is dyslexic should not be the one posting dates.

I told Sarah last night that we were like the Princesses of Rhyme and Reason from Norman Juster's Phantom Tollbooth, and the more I think about it today, the better that fits us. Sarah's the beauty behind the operation. I think I'm the brains--at least most of the time!

I'm glad you had a good time last night.

--Laura Carruba

1:06 PM  
Blogger Amy Tate said...

Great post. I too was a victim of the Int'l Library of Poetry at the young age of 17. I remember taking the acceptance letter to the head of the English Dept. at Liberty University where he read it and simultaneously shook his head. I was crushed, but at least I didn't waste my money on their so-called anthology.

4:29 PM  
Blogger Roanoke RnR said...

I tried to attend both sessions at the library but was informed that there was no room at the inn. Next time I'm going to make sure I'm one of the first to sign up!

10:15 AM  
Blogger Claudia Condiff said...

Thanks for all your info..
I am doing what you said to do...I am getting to know good writers..you for one!

10:48 PM  
Blogger CountryDew said...

Sounds like a good time! Good for you.

7:09 PM  

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