An Interview with Lynn Goodwin: Author of Talent

November 17, 2015


  1. Can you give us some highlights from your new book, Talent?

Fifteen-and-half-year-old Sandee Mason wants to find her talent, get her driver’s license, and stop living in the shadow of her big brother, Bri, who disappeared while serving in Afghanistan. You can read the first chapter at

It’s a good book for teens, parents, military families, and those who love shows and drama. There’s no crowd like the drama crowd. I know because I used to teach drama in high school and college.

  1. Describe your most memorable moment as an author.

Just one? Every time I make a scene work or create a moment that rings true or read a compliment from a reader or a client, I store it away and all of those moments have formed a collage in my head.

  1. What authors have most influenced your writing?

I’m often influenced by whomever I’m reading. Today that would be Travis Hugh Culley, author of A Comedy and A Tragedy, who is telling a story I wish I had heard beforeI taught high school. Earlier it was Mary Karr, or Elizabeth Gilbert or David Arnold, whose wonderful debut, Mosquitoland, reinforced my love of the YA genre and of teens discovering themselves.

  1. Describe your path to publication. The music for “A long and winding road” just came up in my head. Followed by “To dream the impossible dream…” Followed by a line Cicely Tyson said at the beginning of The Autobiography of Miss Jane Pittman. “Where to start? Where to start? So here are 9 Steps Toward Publication:
  2. Long ago I directed a high school production of Oklahoma!
  3. A few years later I created Sandee, Diego, and maybe Jenn as characters in a series of 9 articles describing warm up and improvisation activities for a high school drama class. It was called “Dear Diary” and published in Dramatics Magazine.
  4. I decided to use those characters in a novel about a high school production of Oklahoma! I used the format of a rehearsal schedule to help me build plot and tension and thought it was good until the rejections came in.
  5. I put it aside while I worked on Writer Advice,, interviewed authors, reviewed books, and later used my draft for submissions to an online critique group.
  6. Later still I took a Media Bistro class called “Writing the Young Adult Novel” where I learned the plot of TALENT was thin. I remember typing that the narrator, Sandee, needed to prove that she was as good as her big brother, and as I wrote the words they rang true. The instructor loved the idea.
  7. I put it aside again while I wrote You Want Me to Do WHAT? Journaling for Caregivers, which had some agent interest.
  8. Went back to TALENT after I blogged for Caregiver Village and Inspire Me Today and continued with Writer Advice. I decided that Sandee’s older brother, Bri, disappeared while serving in Afghanistan. The stakes around sibling rivalry and loss escalated.
  9. Eventually I decided I wanted this published before I died and resolved to put it out to anyone who read YA. I told myself I would take the first offer from either an agent or publisher, so when Eternal Press, now an imprint of Caliburn Press, which is part of Spero Press, sent me a two-sentence acceptance, I took it. A year and a half later, I have a whole new appreciation for the challenges small publishers face today.
  10. What are the biggest mistakes you see as an editor?

It’s hard to find my own mistakes because I’m reading what I think I wrote instead of seeing what’s actually on the page. In other people’s writing, I frequently find description for its own sake and erratic pacing. Sometimes characters want nothing. Sometimes I feel indifferent towards them. Sometimes the writing is passionless. Sometimes grammar and spelling are either “creative” or optional.

  1. Do you think a social media presence is necessary for authors?

Only if you want to increase your sales by letting people know about your book. <g>

  1. What is favorite writing prompt?

“Today I want…” or “I am proud to say…” or “If only…” or “As we join our story today…” I’ve probably written over a thousand prompt over the last 12 years for a free-writing group I am in. I should do something with them besides keeping them in a file on my computer.

  1. What is your greatest writing weakness?

I get incredibly tired sometimes, but I’d call that a condition rather than a weakness. Maybe I’m spread too thin, but it’s exciting to have lots to do. I don’t like to focus on my weaknesses. I’d rather not give them any more space, focus, or spotlight-time than they already have.           

I hope you’ve enjoyed learning about B. Lynn Goodwin. To learn more visit her websites: and, where you can find the opening chapter of TALENT.

TALENT is available at “Amazon, Scribd, Sony, Kobo, B&N, and a lot of others” according to her publisher. The Amazon URL is

You Want Me to Do WHAT? Journaling for Caregivers is available at

Lynn is open to all invitations for guest blogging and invites those who’ve published a YA, NA, or MG to contact her about guest blogging opportunities on She’ll open the field to more genres in February. She also runs a Manuscript Consultation Service,


Meet David Congalton: Screenwriter and Radio Talk Show Host

October 10, 2015

Bloggers Note: David Congalton, author, screenwriter, and radio talk show host, will be speaking on the topic of Chasing a Creative Dream at the November 14th meeting of the Mt. Diablo branch of the California Writers Club.  The meeting will be held at Zio Fraedo’s Restaurant at 611 Gregory Lane, Pleasant Hill.  Cost is $25 members and $30 for guests.  Sign-in is at 11:15 am–12 pm, luncheon at 12–12:45, and program at 1:00 –2:00 pm.  Reservations required:  Please RVSP to Robin by November 11th.

  1. You wrote the screenplay for the feature film comedy Authors Anonymous. Sounds like it’s about writers. Can you share a few highlights?

You are correct! Authors Anonymous is about a dysfunctional critique group of unpublished writers who meet weekly to provide support and feedback on each other’s work. The stability of the group is threatened when one member (played by Kaley Cuoco of TV’s Big Bang Theory) scores an agent, a book deal, and a movie deal in quick succession. The storyline was inspired by what happened to a friend of mine after she became a bestselling novelist. Authors Anonymous asks the question of how much success one writer is allowed to have and pulls the curtain back on that ugly notion of envy that all too many writers wrestle with. I ran a writers conference in Central California for twelve years, so believe me when I tell you that I know these characters, these emotions, all too well. Authors Anonymous is currently available on Netflix, Amazon, and other Video on Demand services if people want to check it out prior to my presentation.

  1. What is the best marketing tip you can provide to new writers.

The best marketing tip for any writer is the reminder that you have to learn to market yourself. Writing is only half the job, regardless of genre or ability. I have been a professional for-pay writer since 1989. Every single writing assignment, every job I’ve had for nearly 30 years, is a direct result of contacts I’ve made by networking. The newly-minted writer labors under the antiquated delusion that if he or she sells a novel, then the job is done. More and more, the writer is responsible for marketing. So mastering the craft is certainly important, but getting your name and face out there is equally important. Only 1 in 5000 scripts is currently produced in Hollywood. I beat the odds because I made a personal connection to people who could get my movie made. You have to sell yourself, promote yourself, and establish a deep network of professional contacts. You never know when one will open a door for you.

  1. What artists have most influenced your writing?  

For nonfiction, I’ve always been drawn to the writing of Joan Didion, Bill Bryson, and the late film critic Roger Ebert. I am amazed by both what they write, and how quickly they produce. With fiction, I’m drawn to humor, so I tend to go with writers like Christopher Buckley, Christopher Moore, and the San Francisco beat poet Richard Brautigan, who taught me that there are no rules to writing. I’m also a huge fan of Dorothy Parker, whose creative mantra breathes within me: “Write five words, rewrite seven.” My interest is screenwriting, so let’s give a tip of the hat to those I particularly admire: Robert Towne, Alexander Payne, Quentin Tarantino, Christopher Guest, and Nora Ephron.

  1. Describe your path to the big screen. What was it like on the set of Authors Anonymous?

How much time do you have? I could write a book on the experience, and perhaps I shall, but here’s the short story: I wrote the first draft of a script called Scribble in 2005. During the next eight years, the movie was scheduled for production twice, but fell out both times. We had four different directors and chased money around the world before finally going into production in 2012 as Authors Anonymous (don’t ask). The film was finally released in 2014, nine years later. Reread that number: nine years. In terms of being on the movie set, I tell people that “there is no greater feeling in the world than catching a dream.” Those three weeks in Los Angeles were the most satisfying of my professional career. I got to meet and work with actors I admired like Kaley Cuoco, Dennis Farina, and Jonathan Banks. I had the satisfaction of bating the odds and having a script produced. Most importantly, because I was on set and available, I was introduced to a visiting producer who inquired about other scripts I might have. I did. She read it. Bought an Option and we’re gearing up for Seven Sisters to go into production in the coming months.

  1. What was the biggest mistake you made as a writer?

I gave up too soon on my dream of being a screenwriter. I first started in 1987 and wrote about seven truly awful “spec” scripts, falling completely on my face and failing miserably. I stopped in 1993, convinced by repeated failure that this was not going to happen. Some writers are the hare, others are the tortoise. I wish I had stuck with screenwriting. Instead, I waited 1-2-3-4-5-6-7-8-9-10-11-12 years before being coaxed back into the water. You have to believe in yourself and keep plugging, keep writing, keep trying.

  1. Do you think a social media presence is necessary for authors?

Yes, but I also caution writers to maintain a healthy balance between social media and their own writing. Does the world really need yet another blog about writing? That two hours you spent commenting on other blogs might have been more wisely used editing your own material. I use Facebook and Twitter regularly, though I am still searching for the meaning of LinkedIn. I set up a simple (and free!) one page web site just so folks could have a basic idea of who I am, but I don’t see the need to spend thousands of dollars on a web site unless you’re on the national stage or you’re in search of speaking engagements. So, yes, develop social media savvy, but don’t let it distract from your main goal of writing.

  1. What makes the difference between success and failure?

I certainly don’t claim this to be original, but there are five main factors that determine the degree of success a writer will enjoy: (1) TALENT – How much raw talent does the beginning writer have? You can take classes, attend conferences, and study published authors to learn technique, but there has to be a degree of talent to begin with, something that can’t always be taught; (2) AMBITION – Why do you write? Do you dream of being on National Public Radio, or do you merely wish to write the family memoir? What is your professional goal? How high up that publishing ladder are you trying to reach? My elusive personal goal remains full-time writing, but I’m not quitting my day job yet; (3) DISCIPLINE – We all dream of creative success, but how many of us are willing to commit, to do the work? How many of us write every, single day? Is writing your passion, or just an interesting hobby? If you crave the national spotlight, buckle down, cut back on all your other obligations and focus on the work; (4) NETWORKING – This echoes my point from a previous question. If a tree falls in the forest and nobody hears it, does it make a sound? If an author writes a book, and nobody knows the author or the book, will it make a splash? No! Most writers tend to be shy, including me. Too bad. Get over it. Force yourself to go meet that agent, to introduce yourself to that teacher, to get your name and work out there, however you need to do it. Opportunity knocks once. Be ready; and (5) PLAIN DUMB LUCK – You can be talented, ambitious, disciplined, and well-known—and still not succeed. You may have the best novel ever written about vampires or the best Western screenplay in history, but nobody will bite because no one is interested in the genre. Sometimes success comes strictly from luck: Being in the right place, at the right time, with the right story.

  1. Have any of your six dogs ever inspired your writing?

When I do my presentations, I like to remind writers that sometimes life gets in the way of writing, or life ends up changing what you write about. In December 1997, my wife Charlotte and I suffered a horrific house fire and the lost of our five beloved animals in San Luis Obispo. For roughly the next six years, I ended up putting all of my other writing on hold and I wrote specifically about animals. My first book, Three Cats, Two Dogs, One Journey Through Multiple Pet Loss, was published by a small press up in Portland and went on to win a national award for writing. Then I wrote a second nonfiction book about animals and dozens of magazine articles. I had to deal with our loss. I had a new purpose to my writing. By around 2004, I pretty much had said everything I had to say and no longer wished to limit myself to just pet writing. That began the journey that eventually put me back on the path to Hollywood. So, yes, animals have clearly inspired my writing, so the reason why continues to haunt me.


I hope you’ve enjoyed learning about David Congalton. To learn more visit his website:

Amanda McTigue: On Writing

September 5, 2015

Bloggers Note:  Amanda will be leading a workshop for the Mt. Diablo California Writers Club on the topic of writing emotion on Saturday October 10, 2015.   Sign-in begins at 8:30 am at Zio Fraedo’s Restaurant, 611 Gregory Lane, Pleasant Hill. Full breakfast included   9-9:30. General meeting 9:30. Workshop 9:45 – 12:45. $40 members, $50 non-members. Reservation deadline: noon, Wednesday Oct 8. Contact Robin at or leave a message at: 925-933-9670 for reservations

  1. In one paragraph, summarize your book Going to Solace.

My debut novel, Going to Solace, offers stories to live by—literally. It’s Thanksgiving week, 1989. We’re in the Pineys, two hollows just outside Garnet in the Blue Ridge Mountains. Life may be going along for some, but for others, somebody’s sick, real sick, dying sick. Through interwoven narratives, we track a handful of characters whose paths cross at a local hospice called Solace. Some are country people. Some are far-flung, fancy people. All are helpers—resourceful family members, improvising professionals—each one determined to beat back death, or hurry him on about his business. In the end, they must find a way to stand up from the bedside and walk back into life after the dying is done. Neither grim nor roseate, it’s a book whose tone is bracing: often funny, sometimes wrenching, ultimately comforting. 

  1. What advice do you have for aspiring writers?

What matters to me is that we all keep at it with gusto, with more joy than pain. I’m all for prying those two words apart, “aspiring” and “writer.” By saying, “I aspire to write,” I’m already telling the story of someone who’s not writing when, in fact, we can always choose to write. Hey, I’m someone who squeezed her writing in over decades of paying the rent and taking care of loved ones. I’m not saying it’s easy, but I am saying it’s simple. I don’t aspire to write, I write. It’s on my calendar. Fifteen minutes a week or fifteen hours a day. Two words on the page or two thousand or none, zero. Those days count too. I chalk that silence up to the percolating we need before words appear. Bottom line, writing is a Just-Do-It opportunity we all share. The great news? The astonishing news? Guaranteed, if we keep at it, the work accrues. It takes shape. Eventually, we get good at it.

And then there’s aspiration, but it’s usually not writing to which we aspire (even when—especially when—we’re avoiding it!). For most of us, aspiration has to do with other things. Publication or adoring readers. The imprimatur of a hot agent or a mega-bucks movie deal. Or maybe we dream of creating a classic that lives on for centuries. We need our aspirations. They provide jet-fuel to our daily practice of writing. But we mustn’t confuse putting gas in the tank with the adventure of travel itself. The writing is the point. For me, that’s both an accurate and sustaining truth. To keep going, I have to love keeping going, even through the wanderings-in-the-wilderness of hollow drafts and demoralized edits. I aspire on walks, in the shower, as I drift off to sleep. But when it’s time to write, I just write.

  1. What authors have most influenced your writing?

Oh, my goodness, the flood your question triggers. There are some writers whose work so slays me that I’ve found myself closing a book or finishing a story or poem with a deep conviction that there’s no reason for me to write another word. I’m a Southern gal. The deities to whom return are Cormac McCarthy, Flannery O’Connor, Eudora Welty and William Faulkner. I bow to Mark Twain and Anton Chekhov. And then there’s my man, Shakespeare. As Woody Allen says (in Annie Hall? Manhattan?), “Well, I’ve got to model myself on someone…” More recently, I’m knocked out by the work of all kinds of contemporary writers: Elizabeth McCracken, Frederick Busch, George Saunders, Michael Ondaatje, Karen Russell, to name way too few. I’m a slow reader. I like tale tellers. I also like writerly writers whose stories sing through exquisite language.

  1. What has been the biggest challenge on your path to publication?

The only important challenge has been and continues to be writing work that is so damn good it makes your teeth hurt. The rest of it is dogged determination. I’m a thin-skinned person who taught herself to go for the long haul, to submit and submit, weathering the endless No’s for that eventual Yes. It’s also been hard for me to find my editor(s), that is to say, professional readers who both resonate to what I’m up to and have an ability to send me farther, faster. That’s an ongoing search.

  1. What is your writing routine?

Writing is my favorite thing to do, even on bad days. It took me years to realize this, to drop my fear of inadequacy enough to feel that pull toward the page. I write pretty much daily. I’m a morning person. My husband and I get up early and read the papers—you know, real newspapers that smell of ink and ink your hands—big photos, gorgeous, large type. Old-school stuff. Then he’s off to work and I’m upstairs “in harness.” These days I have to set a timer reminding me get out of the chair and onto the treadmill. That’s not to say it’s all one happy flow; it’s not. But here’s a tip: before I abandon the desk each night, I leave myself a task, written on a Post It. I set it right here on my keyboard for the morning, so I won’t have any blank-page paralysis. If I’m in the middle of drafting, I leave myself a prompt. If I’m editing, I leave a next step or focus for the coming session. That helps enormously.

  1. Your range of writing is amazing – playwright, short stories, novels, and children books. What is your favorite form?

At the moment, prose fiction, long or short, feels wonderful in comparison to writing for performance. On stage, the rich world I’m imagining can only be hinted at through dialogue. What a pleasure to be free to capture any and everything running through me more fully. It’s daunting but liberating.

  1. If you were to describe yourself as a children’s book character who would that be?

Aspirationally? Wilbur. I’d love for someone to weave over my head “SOME PIG.” More seriously—well, Scout lives in my mind. That’s an adult book about a girl, but her relationship with Atticus—I love the way she loves her daddy. Oh, and one more. This one for little kids. I really love Little Bear in A Kiss for Little Bear, a book that serves as my model for the perfect picaresque story.

  1. What is your greatest writing weakness?

No question, it’s the weakness I can’t see yet. It’s the flaw in the writing I can’t recognize because I don’t know enough. I hate that moment (and it happens all the time) when I’m reading stuff back and I see a blunder, a hole, a stretch of boring or confusing or just plain unreadable junk. It’s suddenly so obvious. It’s been there all along. Why didn’t I see it before? Those are not good moments. But, of course, that’s the literal experience of learning.

  1. Tell us about your DreamTime series.

I haven’t thought about that in a while. Thanks for asking. The material for DreamTime grew out of a musical project. I had written the text for a children’s cantata with a composer I often work with, Jeff Langley. At the same time, I was considering migrating from the stage to the page. Going to Solace was in draft. So it occurred to me to adapt the cantata into a children’s book and self publish it in order to learn about publishing from the ground up. That’s so me. I come from DIY stock. It was one of the great decisions of my life. I taught myself book design. I studied the publishing business. I partnered with my niece; her childhood drawings became the illustrations (after much adjusting through Photoshop). Then I registered as a publisher with Lightning Source and learned the whole distribution and marketing routine. Phew.

I learned a lot in ways that have stood me in good stead with traditional publishers. Meanwhile, those books live in my heart. They present bedtime as an adventure—great for boys, for rambunctious kids and for children who are afraid of the dark. I published different read-out-loud versions customized for different kinds of caretakers, all with a sensitivity to the needs of same-sex parents, and an awareness that families come in all shapes and sizes.

    10. How do you balance writing with life?

You know what? I don’t. At this age, with my stepson all grown up and a husband who loves to work as much as I do, I get to go overboard. What a privilege. As long as I have a little brain power left and the sheer good fortune of relative health, it’s all about go-go-go on the page. I find that very happy-making.

I hope you’ve enjoyed learning about Amanda McTigue. To learn more, visit her website at Ask your local bookstore to order Going to Solace for you or order it online at Amazon. It’s available in hardcover, paperback and all e-book formats.

Blogger’s Post Meeting Note:   Amanda also presented a workshop on what voice can do for your writing at the Mount Diablo California Writer’s Club meeting on October 11th 2014.  The response from attendees was overwhelmingly positive.  Here’s what one member had to say:

Amanda exceeded our greatest expectations – she was fabulous – vivacious, engaging, interesting, versatile, authentic  and prepared. She used lots of visuals to engage us in writing different voices.  Lyn Roberts


August 20, 2015

Bloggers Note: Grant Faulkner, Executive Director of National Novel Writing Month, co-founder of the lit journal 100 Word Story, and cooperative co-founder of the Flash Fiction Collective, will be speaking on the topic of The Power of Writing with Abandon at the September 12th meeting of the Mt. Diablo branch of the California Writers Club. The meeting will be held at Zio Fraedo’s Restaurant at 611 Gregory Lane, Pleasant Hill. Cost is $25 members and $30 for guests. Sign-in is at 11:15 am–12 pm, luncheon at 12–12:45, and program at 1:00 –2:00 pm.  Reservations are required:  RSVP to  Robin at or leave a message at: 925-933-9670 for reservations by Wednesday 9/9/15. 

Here are some noteworthy quotes on topics ranging from National Novel Writing Month, to writing with brevity, to how writing can change the world. I hope these interview excerpts will inspire you to want to learn more on September 12th:


I think writers are generally taught to write more rather than less—from the first time a teacher tells a student in elementary school to add detail to a sentence, to include more supporting evidence, etc. That’s good to begin with, but at a certain point, a writer needs to realize how writing less, whether leaving things out or writing more succinctly, serves a story. A writer needs to learn how a story moves best through the whorls of mystery and suspense created by the gaps of a story.

Writers naturally try to prove themselves through their words, through florid descriptions, curlicues of syntax. Our words can sometimes resemble a body builder’s muscles, which cover up the true person inside, so a writer has to find the balance of words and the textures that serve the story.


National Novel Writing Month is a rollicking rollercoaster ride of creativity that happens every November. By nature it’s excessive and extreme, encouraging people to aim higher, to write more, to accomplish bigger and bigger things. It also encourages people to dare to experiment and break all sorts of boundaries. So it can’t possibly be described in one sentence. At its simplest, though, it’s a challenge to write 50,000 words of a novel in a month.


Writing is thinking. We discover our thoughts in all of their nuances and counterpoints through language. We also open up new pathways and new possibilities—we imagine new worlds—when we allow ourselves to channel language and riff through the concepts and images it delivers.
Stories also connect us with others, and help us see life through others’ viewpoints. Writing heightens your sense of the world around you and within yourself. You’ll notice things, you’ll notice yourself, you’ll seek new experiences, just by writing stories.


I posit that our stories connect us as humans like nothing else. We are all, at the most fundamental level, the stories we tell ourselves. The way we see other people and the world is a story. Every shift in a narrative, whether personal or cultural, changes us and how we interact with others.

I read that one of the things that truly changed our culture’s perception of women was the stories of women on TV shows. Think about the difference between June Cleaver in the 50s and Clare Huxtable in the 80s, and then all of the strong, dynamic, independent women on TV shows now. Those stories weren’t the symptoms, but the agents of cultural change.

Stories existed before societies formed themselves. Stories come soon after our first breath. They’re our first step out of the reptilian brain. I can write a million sentences on this subject, but I guess I’ll just ask how could creative expression not change the world?

TO LEARN MORE ABOUT GRANT FAULKNER AND HIS BOOKS, Fissures: One Hundred 100-Word Stories and The Names of All Things –  Visit Grant’s Website:

An Interview with Eric Elfman

April 4, 2015

ericcoverBloggers Note: Eric Elfman will be speaking on the topic of How to Hook Them From The First Page  at the April 11th meeting of the Mt. Diablo branch of the California Writers Club.  The meeting will be at Zio Fraedo’s Restaurant at 611 Gregory Lane, Pleasant Hill.  Cost is $20 members and $25 for guests.  Sign-in is at 11:15 am–12 pm, luncheon at 12–12:45, and program at 1:00 –2:00 pm.  Reservations required: Reservations are required, and must be received no later than noon on Wednesday, April 8. Contact Barbara Bentley at, or by phone at (925) 212-4727.

1. Can you give us some highlights from your new book: Edison Alley?

Neal Shusterman and I are having a lot of fun writing this series of novels about Nick and his friends trying to retrieve the last inventions of Nikola Tesla, which our protagonist inadvertently sold at a garage sale in Tesla’s Attic (the first book of our series). Each of Tesla’s objects has a power that, in the wrong hands, could destroy the world. And, as it happens, the wrong hands are trying to get ahold of the inventions: the Accelerati, a secret society of sinister scientists founded a hundred years ago by Thomas Edison.

Our goal was to fill the books with laughter along with the fantasy and fast-paced action. One of my favorite moments in the second novel, Edison’s Alley, is the scene illustrated on the cover. A small team of Accelerati agents, led by Dr. Jorgenson, raids Nick’s house to steal the objects he has recovered so far. To stop them, Nick grabs something that looks like an ordinary household fan—but actually has the power to generate an ice storm. Nick points the fan at Dr. Jorgenson and shouts “Freeze!” But the scientist doesn’t listen to him because he doesn’t know that Nick means it literally!

2. What are the advantages and disadvantages of having a writing partner?

As every writer knows, writing can be a solitary pursuit—many hours spent alone in a room with nothing but the blank page (or screen) and your thoughts. So the first advantage: it’s simply more fun to write with a partner! (Of course, it has to be the right partner!) Neal and I have a similar sense of story, and a similar sense of humor, too. We will toss ideas and lines back and forth, trying to make each other laugh, and sometimes at the end of the day it feels like we’ve just spent six hours goofing off, then we look down and twelve pages have been written.

Another advantage is being able to find out right away if something is funny or not. When I’m working on a project alone and I write something that I think is funny, well, it might only be me who thinks it’s funny! But if I say something that makes Neal laugh, I can extrapolate outward that if one other person laughed then it’s likely many other people will find it funny too!

Unlike some writing partners who exchange and edit each other’s chapters, Neal and I usually try to get in the same room together to write. And that’s another advantage: it keeps us working! If one of us doesn’t feel like writing that day, but the other has made the effort to get there, we feel a powerful obligation to write.

As far as potential disadvantages, one thing I’m often asked is what happens when we disagree. This can be a major downside in a writing partnership, and is the reason many dissolve. Neal and I sidestep this problem because each of us has total veto power over any idea or element the other comes up with, and so we never argue. If I come up with an idea that I love and Neal hates it, or vice versa, we don’t argue. We simply let that idea go, and say, “Let’s come up with something better.” And we always do!

3. What are the biggest mistakes you see in an author’s first pages?

Many new authors don’t appreciate the importance of the first page. As a writing coach, I have read manuscripts by good writers that begin with lengthy scenic description, or obscure backstory, or a random conversation that leads nowhere. Sometimes I get the feeling that these writers are, in effect, treading water before their story begins.
By the bottom of the first page the reader should have a sense of where the story is going, and the tension that comes from knowing that something is about to happen or be revealed. Many first pages simply provide information when the opening page needs to be compelling. There has to be a reason for the reader to turn the page. Put another way, the author has one page to grab the reader by creating a living, breathing, three-dimensional character we care about, with a hint of the story to come, and a narrative voice the reader connects to. That’s all!

4. Do you think a social media presence is necessary for authors?

While a social media presence seems, increasingly, to be a requirement for an established writer (and I have to admit that my own is woefully inadequate!), I don’t feel it’s as important for writers at or near the beginning of their careers.
While a “platform” of some kind can’t hurt a writer hoping to sell their first book to a publisher (and having tens of thousands of followers will certainly help!), the one thing a new writer needs more than anything is an incredibly good, page-turner of a manuscript. The advice I heard an agent at a conference give to a room full of first time writers still rings true: instead of spending time on Twitter or Facebook or your website, devote that time to polishing your manuscript.

5. Describe your most memorable moment as an author.

The thing I get the most joy from, on an on-going basis, is speaking at schools. When I appear in front of a group of youngsters—whether a small gathering or several classes in an auditorium—and I get to see their enthusiasm about reading and writing, and they get to see that writers are real people, it helps remind me why I am doing this. And kids are honest, too—they will ask you anything and really tell you what they think! I occasionally lead writing workshops for small groups of students at the schools I visit, and I feel privileged to see the passion and energy and talent they bring to their work.

But the single moment from my career that meant the most to me came shortly after my first book was published — The Very Scary Almanac, an offbeat almanac from Random House. I can still vividly remember the first time I walked into a bookstore and there it was, my book, on the shelf, where anyone could buy it. That’s a a feeling I will never forget.

I hope you’ve enjoyed learning about Eric Elfman. To learn more visit his website:

An Interview with Jordan Rosenfeld

February 20, 2015

1. Can you give us some highlights from your book: Making a Scene?

I consider the scene the “essential DNA” of any good story—if you learn how to balance and wield the ingredients of a scene, you have the most fundamental pieces of story. My forthcoming book with Martha Alderson, Writing Deep Scenes” will go further and show you how to stack your scenes, and what kinds, to build a strong plot.

2. What do you think is the best technique to create tension?

The greatest technique may be uncertainty; creating a“push-pull” energy in every scene. That means nothing comes easy—dialogue is never flat or simple, the reader is always wondering what is coming next. You never “give” the reader exactly what s/he wants, but keep something up in the air, keep yearning alive. This also means paying attention to your language.

3. What authors have most influenced your writing?

I just wrote a piece about the “awkward female heroines” of my youth for DAME [] and I’d have to say that I was strongly influenced as a child by writers like Madeleine L’Engle, Zilpha Keatly Snyder, Louisa May Alcott, and when I grew up I gravitated to Margaret Atwood, Joyce Carol Oates, Donna Tartt. I like strong female writers with a propensity toward darkness.

4. Describe your path to publication.

I often call it my “stumble and bumble” path to success. I have a BA in Liberal Arts and an MFA in Creative Writing—not exactly highly employable degrees. I’ve always just thrown myself in the path of what I loved. Did a lot of volunteer gigs that put me close to writers: led a literary salon, hosted and recorded a literary radio show (in which I got to interview some of my literary heroes like Louise Erdrich and TC Boyle). I tend to ignore advice that says “you should” or “you can’t” and go my own way. When I sold Make a Scene to Writer’s Digest Books, I had no platform, not much name for myself and no agent. If I listened to the advice I should not have been able to do that. My motto is “practice, polish, persist.” And also: “Say yes to new opportunities even if they scare you.”

5. What are the biggest mistakes you see in the manuscripts that you edit?

Lack of craft. People rush their stories out and don’t take the time to care about their sentences, their character development, grounding a reader in a scene, working on dialogue. To me, this is the one downside of the speed by which self-publishing moves—people have begun to sacrifice the work needed to revise and get feedback.

6. Do you think a social media presence is necessary to get a book deal?

In this day and age, it certainly helps. I don’t know if it’s necessary as much for fiction, but for non-fiction, yes.

7. If you were to describe yourself as a breed of cat what would it be?

Siamese. Because they are alternately graceful and annoying. They are the “snobs” of the cat world, but when you actually get to know them, they’re quite cuddly.

8. What is your greatest writing weakness?

Over-writing. I have to work on my own wordiness, over-use of adjectives, and imagery.

9. In this changing industry, do you think self-publication is a good career path for an author?

If by “career” you mean is self-publishing a good way to make money, the answer is: sometimes. But I can’t, in good faith say: quit your day job. Amazon, which is in many ways the overlord of self-publishing, no matter what service you use, since they do everything better, faster and cheaper, and ultimately control the price points, and the search algorithms, is making it harder for self-publishers to make as much money as they did when it all blew up several years ago. But like any aspect of publishing, if you find a niche and you’re good at it, sure, you can make some income off of it.

10. How do you handle rejection and what advice do you have for authors facing their 10th, 20th, 50th rejection?

The very basis of my forthcoming book A Writer’s Guide to Persistence is that you must find the joy and the meaning in your work so that you can weather the rejection and discouragement. It has to matter to you beyond approval, publication and praise or you will fall prey to discouragement. I also say that if you’re facing more rejection than anything else, it’s probably a good idea to revisit the work and go deeper into it. Otherwise, maybe look at the places you’re choosing to submit, and rethink them, as well. I’ve been pursuing a writing career for twenty years and most of my biggest success has come in the last year. There has been plenty of small success along the way, but this year, something shifted. So, above all: persist!

I hope you’ve enjoyed learning about Jordan Rosenfeld. To learn more visit her website):

An Interview with Mystery Writer Susan Shea

February 7, 2015

1. In one paragraph, summarize your book, The King’s Jar.

When an anthropologist she had just met in San Francisco is killed in his lab and a priceless artifact he was studying is stolen, Dani O’Rourke is drawn into the hunt for the thief and killer. She is the chief fundraiser for the museum that was about to receive the King’s Jar, and an exhibit and black tie dinner in Manhattan to honor the billionaire donor are up in the air. As she juggles imperious donors, flustered volunteers, a charismatic TV host, a nervous boss, and her impulsive ex-husband who seems to show up everywhere, she edges closer – too close – to identifying the real villain.

2. What advice do you have for aspiring writers?

It’s the same advice we all get, but that doesn’t make it less important: Keep writing. Don’t give up the first time it doesn’t come easy or the first time you get feedback that says you have further to go. We all start at the beginning – all of us. It’s the ones who grit their teeth, chain themselves to the chair, and gut it through to “The End” who learn and grow into really good writers.

3. Who inspired your character Dani O’Rourke?

Dani’s a combination of real women I know or read about, with something of me in her voice, and a lot of the professional skills I have admired in my colleagues over the years. One big difference between me and Dani is her failed marriage to a charming but highly impulsive man with $450 million, two Porsches, and a pied a terre in Paris!

4. What has been the biggest challenge on your path to publication?

The first one was finding the time, energy, and focus to finish a full length novel while holding down a demanding job that also required writing. The second was finding a publisher (I got lucky and found a great agent early on) in the dark days of 2008 after the market crash, when a lot of imprints were temporarily suspending their buying.

5. How did you find your agent?

Kimberley Cameron was on the faculty at the Book Passage Mystery Writing Conference – a first-rate program, by the way – and was among the faculty willing to read our first 20 pages. By that time, Murder in the Abstract had gone through lots of revisions and a writing group’s crits, so it was pretty polished. She signed me on the spot. I was speechless!

6. What authors have most influenced your writing?

Start with Jane Austen, whose character portraits, romantic tensions, and funny bits delight me again and again. Anthony Trollope’s wicked satire, Agatha Christie’s devilish plots, Janet Evanovitch’s breezy first person prose, Sue Grafton’s modern woman… the list goes on and on.

7. If you were to describe yourself as a character in a murder mystery (e.g., sleuth, police investigator, etc.) who would that be?

Well, I guess it would be what I did with the series: I’d be a fundraiser who works with the uber rich (entitled), artists (also entitled) and fascinating, creative people, but whose slightly cynical interior commentary is best kept to herself.

8. What is your greatest writing weakness?

The discipline to do rewriting and to work every day even when the garden beckons.

9. What is your writing routine?

See above. Sketchy at best. I’m not a morning person, so the best time is usually from about 2 p.m. until 7 or 7:30. My study gets messier and messier until things begin slipping onto the floor when one of my cats marches across the desk, and then I have to set aside a day to get rid of paper.

10. What drew you to writing crime fiction?

I like crime fiction. I love series. Rex Stout’s Nero Wolfe series delighted me and gave me an idea that I could at least try it. Mysteries have a format, a structure on which to build, and for me coming into fiction after a long career writing other kinds of prose, it was a real help and confidence builder.

I hope you’ve enjoyed learning about Susan Shea. To learn more visit her website ( or follow her on Criminal Minds ( Her print and e-books and the Audible version of The King’s Jar are available on Amazon and at some indie bookstores.


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