Author experiences, Book Marketing, Conferences, Education, Embracing Creativity, Fiction, Getting Published, Nonfiction, Writing Tips

Spring writers’ conferences in NC

With the weather heating up (at least in the southeastern USA!) and the flowers starting to bloom, it’s a great time to think about upcoming writers’ events! In North Carolina, we’re fortunate to have lots of creative writers — of both fiction and non-fiction — who are really motivated and ready to learn.

Please share any upcoming conferences you know of (wherever you live) in the comments section!

NC events coming up …

JoCo Writers Conference 2020

March 28 — the Johnston County Writers Workshop in Selma looks fun and very affordable! If you are in the area, I’m sure it will be well worth the visit — but sign up soon, as seating is limited!

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April 17 – 19 — Asheville Word Fest offers a whole weekend of speakers and workshops with a spiritual and cultural slant. Prices for tickets start at $25 and are based on what you can afford. Presenters get 80% of funds, so be generous if you can!

April 18Charlotte hosts the 2020 North Carolina Writing Workshop, a full day of classes with the theme “How To Get Published.” Literary agents will be on-site! Seating is limited, so call head to make sure there are still places available.

April 27 — the NC Writers’ Network have their one-day spring conference at UNCG (Greensboro). I’ve been to this before, and their workshops are in-depth and focused on improving your creative writing. Limited scholarships are available.

May 2Write Now! is an excellent one-day conference hosted by the Triangle Association of Freelancers in Raleigh. I try to attend every year — the classes are very practical and are geared for writers who want to sell their articles and creative work.

So, that’s just a taste of upcoming events — there are sure to be many more! Keep writing and reading, y’all!

 

Book Marketing, Getting Published, Writing Tips

Improve your odds and get published!

paperback-books-background (1)For the past few years, I’ve been attending a great writers’ conference in Raleigh, NC, hosted by the Triangle Association of Freelancers called Write Now! It’s a day-long event and includes an exceptional keynote speaker, great sessions, and lunch (not to mention a raffle) — all for only $69. These people really understand the concept of the “starving artist”!

Last year, the keynote speaker at Write Now! was author David Morrell (you can see my write-up here), author of countless thrillers and a fabulous speaker. This year, Brian Klems, the online editor of WritersDigest.com, gave us all great advice to help win over literary agents. He gave us a whole list of practical tips to help stack the deck in our favor. As well as working for Writer’s Digest, Klems also edits books for a living and has had his own book published (Oh Boy, You’re Having a Girl: A Dad’s Survival Guide to Raising Daughters), so he knows a thing or two…

Here are a few of my favorite tips that Klems shared in his keynote speech and also in his workshop about “writing like a pro”:

  • Make sure your manuscript is typo-free. This sounds obvious, right? But according to Brian, spelling your character’s name three different ways and getting “they’re, their, and there” mixed up are signs to an agent that you’re unprofessional, lazy, and not in it for the long haul. Yikes!
  • Get to know agents by doing your research first. Before he started pitching his book, Klems first made a list of traits he wanted in an agent. He or she would have to have children because the book was about being a parent, the ability to purchase TV rights, represent his book’s genre, and have a similar sense of humor as Klems. He thoroughly researched three agents (THREE!!), getting to know their interests and who their clients were. The third one he queried took on his book. The moral of the story? Quality not quantity!
  • Have more than one idea. Agents love lots of ideas, Klems said. If you get the opportunity to talk to an agent or editor, make the most of it. If he or she doesn’t like your first pitch, try another. Come prepared to pitch any ideas you have when you have the chance.
  • Hire an editor to help you with your query letter. You only get one chance to impress an agent, so give the query everything you’ve got, Klems said. (Especially if you only send out three!)

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  • Be kind, useful, and network. Never badmouth an agent or author online; the publishing world isn’t that big, and who wants to work with a writer they perceive as being negative? Be useful by following agents and authors on social networks like Twitter and sharing their Tweets and other valuable information. Be an advocate for writers you admire — write positive reviews for them — and network with other writers. You may find your next beta readers, and maybe they’ll have a connection with magazines or agents.

I’ll post more great tips I learned at the conference in the next couple of weeks, so stay tuned! And feel free to share any advice you’ve learned about improving your odds of getting published.

 

The Rain Catcher

The editing power of blogging!

For some reason, it is easier for me to edit on my novel on my blog than anywhere else! Is this because I know I have an audience and so toss out boring, redundant words out of consideration for the readers? I hope so! Does anyone else find that they write differently on their blog? Anyway, I’m posting another snippet from The Rain Catcher… feel free to comment if you want to!

Recap: Katy’s staying in Scotland with her estranged mother for the summer, but she’s starting to notice some flaws in the woman she only knows through letters…

Snippet Four

After dinner (or “tea” as they call it in Scotland), Mom and I walked to her apartment, about a block from Aunt Claire’s. Mom also stayed in a tall stone building, pressed right up to the busy street, but she lived on the ground floor.

“I have my own garden!”

“Wow!” I tried to sound impressed at the square of land the size of our dining room table, surrounded by black iron railings. Mom looked so proud of the gravel and lone rosebush, withered and crooked from the sharp wind. But all I could think was, “This is it?”

Mom’s flat was even smaller than Aunt Claire’s. Her bedroom contained one twin bed and a rickety bookshelf filled with pottery jugs and vases full of dried flowers. The bathroom had a shower but no bath. On top of every surface in the living room sat tiny brown bottles and glass jars of what looked like sea salt. Bunches of herbs hung drying upside down on the walls. The place smelled like an explosion of Yankee Candle.

“What is all this stuff?”

“My aromatherapy business.” Mom threw her yoga bag onto the couch. “I make bath salts and lotions, that sort of thing, and sell them at car boot sales and at the chemist’s on the corner.”

“What’s a car boot sale?” And what was a “chemist”?

But Mom was already on her way out the room. “I could murder a cup of tea,” she called over her shoulder. I dashed after her.

“Murder?”

Mom’s kitchen was the size of my closet. She’d stacked boxes of cereal and pasta on top of the short refrigerator. A loaf of bread and jars of jam and peanut butter balanced on the windowsill above the sink, and pots hung from a contraption on the ceiling light. Mom ducked her head to avoid a frying pan as she filled an electric kettle with water. How did she live like this?

“Didn’t you get enough tea at Aunt Claire’s place?”

“If there’s one thing you should know about the Scots, Katy, it’s that there is no such thing as too much tea.”

Back in the living room with our tea, Mom laid her head against the couch and closed her eyes. I looked around for a TV but couldn’t see one. Come to think of it, where was my 7th-grade school photo? I’d been proud of that one – caught off guard by a joke the photographer had cracked, I’d smiled with my mouth open, instead of clamped shut, and had actually looked pretty.

“Um… So, what will we do this summer?”

“Hmm?”

“What’s on the agenda, as Dad would say.”

“Och, we’ll decide that another day, Katy.”

“Dad said you wanted to show me around Edinburgh. Can we visit the castle? And where you guys used to live? And can we have fish ‘n’ chips in newspaper and eat them on the street?” Dad had told me about waiting for buses in the rain with Mom, their hands warm and tummies happy from the greasy fish and chips. I’d always wanted to try it.

“Yes, yes. We’ll do all that, Katy.” Mom sounded impatient.

My stomach began to ache. It didn’t feel right; Mom had invited me to stay with her for the summer. Didn’t she have an idea of what we were going to do for the next four weeks?

“Dad didn’t give you an itinerary?” I fake-laughed.

Mom sighed. “I suppose we could visit Chamber Street Museum. That’s got a nice tea room. And the Botanics are always nice…”

I had no idea what she was talking about but nodded keenly. “I’m happy with anything,” I said. “It’s fun just to be with you.”

Mom blushed and took a gulp of her tea.

“Did you get those photos I sent you?”

“Em… Oh, right! Yes, they’re lovely! I’ve put them up at work.”

“Good!”

We sat for a few moments, and I tried to think of what to say. On the plane, I’d had tons of questions to ask Mom, but now we were together, my mind was blank. All I could think of was that she hadn’t been at the airport. It wasn’t that big of a deal, I told myself. Work was work, that’s what Dad always said. But when I tried to imagine Dad not meeting me at the airport, I couldn’t.

At 2:15 a.m. I woke up dying of thirst. I got up from the couch and tiptoed into the kitchen to get a cup of water. As I was gulping it down, I heard the front door close. I froze. Floorboards creaked in the hallway.

Suddenly, I imagined Ewan creeping toward the kitchen, an empty beer bottle raised above his head like a caveman’s club. I swallowed and tried to breathe, looking around for a possible weapon. I could block the door with the burlap sack of flour or crash the plant pot by the sink over his head…

But then a door creaked; it had to be Mom’s bedroom because I could see the bathroom from where I stood. I waited a few seconds and, not hearing any other noises, crept toward Mom’s room. Her door stood halfway open. From the dim light of the clock radio, I saw Mom huddled under her blankets.

I hurried back to the couch, my feet freezing cold. Why had Mom gone out at this time of night? Had she stepped outside to get a breath of fresh air? Or had she gone somewhere and left me all alone in the apartment? My stomach churned.

The Rain Catcher

The Rain Catcher, snippet 3

Well, here’s another nugget from my on-going Young Adult novel in progress, The Rain Catcher. I’m taking it slowly, as you can tell — whenever I rush things, I realize I’m getting away from the characters and the story. So, for now, I’m backtracking and am concentrating on making sure each chapter stays in the same style and voice, instead of rushing off to nowhere fast!

A quick recap: Katy has arrived in Edinburgh from North Carolina to stay with her mother for the summer. Her parents split up when she was three. But her mother didn’t show up at the airport; now, she’s at her Aunt Claire’s apartment (“flat”) and is about to be introduced to her aunt’s creepy boyfriend, Ewan.

Snippet Three

The man sat with his legs propped on the coffee table, eyes glued to the TV. He licked his lips like a lizard. I waited for Aunt Claire to yell at him to get his dirty boots off her table, but she just stared at him.

Finally, she said, “Erm… Katy, this is Ewan. Ewan, this is Katy.”

Ewan slithered his eyes to mine; they were the color of empty Coke bottles.

“American, eh?” He sneered as though being American was something only idiots did.

“Yeah, from Mebane, North Carolina.” Why had I said that? He didn’t know where Mebane was and didn’t care. When on earth was Mom going to get there?

“Do ye watch American football?”

“No.”

“Basketball?”

“Not really.” Dad and I were more into star gazing with the telescope Granddad had gotten him for his 40th birthday. We’d set it up on the back porch and look for meteors.

“Hmmph.” Ewan went back to watching cricket on T.V.

I followed Aunt Claire into a kitchen the size of Dad’s walk-in closet. She switched on an electric kettle (like the one Dad and I take camping if the campsite has electricity) and opened a tin box with a picture of Prince William and Princess Kate on it. I smiled.

Do you like the Royal Family?”

Aunt Claire snorted. “It was a present from Auntie Fiona. She loves them!”

She took out two tea bags and stuck them into mugs on the counter. We stood awkwardly, waiting for the kettle to boil. I studied her kitchen. On the refrigerator (which was shorter than me!) were postcards of beaches. One said, “Florida’s Calling!”

“Have you ever been to Florida?”

“No, but your mum went last Christmas…” her voice faded as she saw my face. “She wanted to fly up to North Carolina to see you, but it was a super cheap flight. Half price London to Miami.”

The kettle started to whistle and switched itself off. My aunt quickly poured hot water into our mugs, not looking at me. My face burned. Mom had been in the States and hadn’t even phoned to let us know? Dad could’ve gotten us cheap tickets to fly down to Miami, or we could have driven. Even if it took all night, it would have been worth it to see Mom again.

“Milk? Sugar?”

“Umm…” I’d never had hot tea, only iced and soaked in sugar, but right then I didn’t feel like drinking. I just wanted to talk to Dad.

“I bet you like it milky and sweet, like me,” my aunt said, stirring three teaspoons of sugar into each mug. “They don’t drink tea in America, do they? Heathens!” She smiled, trying to cheer me up.

“Can I use your phone. I need to call Dad to let him know I’m here. I have a phone card,” I added, figuring Aunt Claire probably didn’t have a long-distance phone plan.

“Oh, right. Follow me.” She darted through the living room, as though hoping Ewan wouldn’t notice us, and led me to a bedroom with a full-sized bed and orange knitted curtains.

“Don’t ask,” Aunt Claire said, waving at the curtains. “Your mum’s idea.”

She reached under the bed and pulled out a cordless phone. I didn’t have the energy to ask why she kept the telephone hidden under the bed.

“When you’re finished, come and have a cup of tea and a biscuit. You must be famished.”

“Um…yeah.” What on earth did “famished” mean?

I dialed the number on my phone card. After one ring, Dad picked up.

“Hey!” Dad was at work; the coffee maker gurgled comfortingly in the background, reminding me of mornings at home, and his co-workers laughed at something funny. “I was starting to get worried. Everything okay? You’re at your mom’s place?”

“I’m at Aunt Claire’s apartment.” I swallowed and tried to keep the tears out of my voice. “Mom’s not here. She’s teaching a yoga class.” Keep it together, Katy.

“Oh.” Dad didn’t speak for a couple of seconds. “I’m sorry, Katie. Your mom has a habit of getting her times mixed up. She’s got a brain like a bag of tennis balls, you know?”

That was his favorite expression, “a brain like a bag of tennis balls”; I had no idea where he got it from.

“Mom can’t wait to see you.”

“Sure.” My voice trembled and I sucked in a breath, trying to stop my hands from shaking. “Did you know Mom was in Miami last Christmas?”

“Miami? What was she doing there?”

“Vacation, I guess.” I breathed slowly and wiped my eyes with my sleeve.

“Huh,” he said again. “Well, don’t worry about it, Kiddo. Just have a good time and get me some of that great Scottish shortbread!”

Really? Mom had been in the U.S. and hadn’t even called us? And Dad was okay with it? Maybe Mom had been embarrassed because she couldn’t afford to visit us. Maybe she’d worried that Dad would offer her money, and she was too proud to take it.

“And call me if you need anything.”

“Okay.”

“Anything at all.”

“I WILL!” Jeez!

When I got back to the living room, Aunt Claire was sitting on the couch with a photo album open on her lap. She beckoned me to sit beside her. Ewan sat at the other end of the couch drinking a beer.

“Do you remember Auntie Fiona’s flat, where you and your mum and dad used to live?”

I shook my head, hoping she didn’t notice my puffy eyes. I’d been three when my parents split up, and Dad had taken me to live with him in North Carolina. He said he wanted me to grow up with grandparents and aunts and uncles and cousins. Mom and Aunt Claire’s parents were dead, and they didn’t keep in touch with any other family members, except Auntie Fiona, who’d taken care of them when they were kids.

“Oh, for goodness’ sake! Look at my hair!” Aunt Claire pointed to a photo of herself with blue hair. “Liz dyed it for me. Can you tell?”

I smiled and pointed to another photo, one of Mom with half straight and half frizzy hair. “What happened in that one?”

“I tried to perm your mum’s hair but ran out of the chemicals halfway!”

Just then the living room door opened, and in walked a big woman in a brown coat. I just about jumped out of my skin, thinking she was going to rob the place!

“Mavis! Since when do you have a key?” Aunt Claire shot up off the couch.

Mavis ignored her and stomped past us. “Ewan, I brought ye some lamb for dinner,” she yelled from the kitchen.

Ewan dragged himself off the couch. “Aye, Mum.”

So, Mavis was his mother!

Aunt Claire stormed over to the kitchen. I followed behind, peeking over her shoulder. Mavis stood by the refrigerator, clutching a packet of frozen peas to her chest.

“Put down those peas!” Aunt Claire shrieked. “Those are my bloody peas. I bought them at Morrisons!”

“Aye, it’s all you bought!” Mavis snarled. “You’ve been starving my only child!”

Aunt Claire picked up a phone book waved it in the air. “If you don’t leave right now, I’ll drag you out by your hair!” I grinned. The fiery Aunt Claire was back!

The doorbell rang, and my stomach did a flip. Aunt Claire didn’t take her eyes off Mavis. The doorbell rang again. Nobody moved. Come on! I squeezed my hands together. What if it was Mom?

Someone called out behind us, “Hellooo! Anybody ho-oome?”

“Mom!” I dashed into the living room.

“Katy!” Mom wrapped me up in a hug. She smelled like dried flowers and wore her hair in a ponytail tied with purple ribbon. She looked like a birthday present. Her hair tickled my nose as she rocked me. I held on tight, afraid to let go in case she disappeared.

Mavis barged past us. “Cow!” she hissed before slamming the living room door. Ewan dashed after her. “Mum! Come back!”

“Och, what a woman!” Mom bustled over to the couch and sank onto the cushions.

“She’s not a woman; she’s a monster!” Aunt Claire came into the living room carrying a tray of cookies and a pot of hot tea. As we sat, “blethering,” I watched the way Mom moved her lips around words and tucked the hair behind her ears. She had my long forehead and thin lips. I touched her denim jacket to make sure I wasn’t dreaming.

“I don’t know how you put up with that man,” Mom said, finally.

“You should change the locks, now that he’s gone, Aunt Claire. Is there a hardware store around here?”

They both looked at me for a second and then burst out laughing.

“You’re not as meek and shy as you make out!” Mom said. My cheeks burned.

“Katy, that’s the best idea I’ve heard all year,” Aunt Claire said, and I felt a lot better.