Guest Posts

June 3, 2014

What do historical fiction, fantasy, and science fiction have in common? Whether it's ancient Rome, a land filled with gnomes and fairies, or a distant planet, the writer must create a believable world for readers.

A.R. Silverberry writes fantasy and has recently created and released a new world into the universe in his novel, The Stream. I asked A.R. to write a post about world building, and I hope you find the process as interesting as I do.

A.R. Silverberry

World Building

Every novel needs a world, a ground on which the action unfolds. When I started working on The Stream, I thought creating that ground, what authors call world building, would be a fairly simple process. I had a five-year-old boy, Wend. I had boats. I had a waterway. I knew he would face the hardships of nature, but it all seemed like it would flow like a fairy tale, so how much detail did I need? I found out quickly just how much!

First, I knew almost nothing about boats and sailing. My knowledge of surviving in nature was just as scant. And the trick to writing is that the world, whether it’s a mythic world, such as that of The Stream, or the real world, such as found in thrillers, romances, or historical novels, in fact, any novel, must feel real. You must feel certain it exists, somewhere. You want to live there. Or not. (Who would want to live in the world of Katniss Everdeen?) If it doesn’t feel real, the reader is thrown out of the story. Worse, the characters won’t feel real. No matter how convincingly they’re portrayed, if they’re prancing around on a set with painted sheets, the book will feel shallow, unsatisfying, and unbelievable. There’s a good chance the book might get thrown across the room or deleted from the e-reader faster than you can say Kindle.

Here’s a short list of some of the things I needed to learn and integrate into the novel: the flora and fauna of the riparian wilderness; the technology available to the primitive people occupying the stream; knife making, basketry; boatbuilding; the myths, legends, rituals, and beliefs of the culture; and the mainstays of their diet and how it was prepared. Plus, if I haven’t visited an actual location for a scene I’m writing, I try to find a photo reference. Fortunately, I was within walking distance of a beautiful stream, which I was able to study during every conceivable weather condition.

Having established the details of the world, the next order of business was to establish its laws; how it worked. Defenseless and alone, Wend needed a world that would test him and the others he encountered, a world that was both harsh and beautiful, that distilled and concentrated the existential dilemmas of life. I needed the reader to quickly learn and accept the laws of this world. There’s a rule I learned from novelist Elizabeth George: if you want the reader to get something, you have to repeat it at least nine times through out the novel. Once you’ve established how things work, you must be consistent. If you violate how the world works, you’ve killed the magic, that fragile glue that binds the story.

Here’s a brief bit of prose I wrote to establish the world of the stream. I love the prose, but I ended up not using it because I found others ways to convey what I wanted.

If Wend had stopped to think about it, he would have realized that his family, searching for fruit, nuts, and roots, never ventured far from either shore, that travelers never sailed upstream to tell tales of what lay ahead. Except for tacking and voyages of a few miles, his family never ventured upstream either. When he’d asked his father why, he was told, “It’s a law.” Wend must have looked blank because his father told him to jump as high as he could. Wend jumped, and after his feet landed on the ground his father said, “Now jump as high as the top of the mast.” Wend had laughed, but declared that no one could do that.

“Why not?” his father asked.

“We come down first,” Wend replied.

“It’s a law,” said his father. “And it’s a law that we go that way.”

His father pointed downstream.

If Wend had thought of these things, he would have understood that everyone was tethered to the stream and could only go in one direction. People stopped from time to time, working at abandoned foundries to smelt metal for anchors, chains, and knives, cutting trees to build or repair boats, living in villages, taking over deserted houses like creatures that move into another animal’s shell. They never stayed long, always returning to their boats, always going with the current, always traveling downstream.

 A final note. From the above sample, you can see that the world I created isn’t just a fantasy world formed from random elements. The world is integrally bound up with the story’s theme, plot, and characters. Sauron and Gandalf can only exist in Middle Earth. The Red Queen and Madhatter can only exist in Wonderland. Wend could only exist in the world of the Stream.

Synopsis of The Stream:

What if your world was six miles wide and endlessly long?

After a devastating storm kills his parents, five-year-old Wend awakens to the strange world of the Stream. He discovers he can only travel downstream, and dangers lurk at every turn: deadly rapids, ruthless pirates, a mysterious pavilion that lures him into intoxicating fantasies, and rumor of a giant waterfall at the edge of the world. Defenseless, alone, with only courage and his will to survive, Wend begins his quest to become a man. Will tragic loss trap him in a shadow world, or will he enter the Stream, with all its passion and peril?

Part coming-of-age tale, part adventure, part spiritual journey, The Stream is a fable about life, impermanence, and the gifts found in each moment.

Purchase The Stream:


iTunes: Coming Soon!


Follow A. R. Silverberry:

About A. R. Silverberry:

A. R. Silverberry writes fiction for adults and children. His novel, WYNDANO’S CLOAK, won multiple awards, including the Benjamin Franklin Award gold medal for Juvenile/Young Adult Fiction. He lives in California, where the majestic coastline, trees, and mountains inspire his writing. THE STREAM is his second novel.

November, 2013

Today I'm pleased to welcome author JJ Toner. I met JJ through HFAC, Historical Fiction Authors Cooperative. It's a great place to visit if you enjoy all types of historical fiction. Historical fiction is a broad category encompassing fictionalized history, romance set in specific time periods, mysteries, suspense.

Today, JJ poses the question: What exactly is historical fiction? I know he'd love to hear from you, so please leave a comment.

What is Historical Fiction?

I have written 2 historical fiction books and I’m nearly finished editing a third, and yet I’m not at all  sure how to define the genre. The book I’m reading at the moment, The Executioner’s Heir by Susanne Alleyn is firmly rooted in French history leading up to the Revolution. At the front of the book Ms Alleyn provides a list of characters, and only a few minor characters — a street urchin and some servants — are fictional; all the others are real historical figures. H/F = 80/20

On the other hand, Mary Louisa Locke’s mysteries set in late 19th century San Fransisco, are populated entirely by fictional characters. Her research of the period and the location are impeccable, of course, giving the reader a fully-rounded historical fiction experience. H/F = 40/60

Clearly, there is a difference between these two books. The first, I would call Fictionalized History, the second, perhaps Mysteries set in a Historical Context.

Phillipa Gregory’s books are all about real life people, kings and queens of history. Her books, though fiction, must be considered perilously close to pure history. I would class these books Fictionalized History. H/F = 90/10

My own book, The Black Orchestra, is set in Berlin during World War 2. I have followed the progress of the war from 1939-1942 with care, weaving the fictional story into the fabric of the historical record, and there are one or two historical characters included in the story, notably, Hans Oster and Reinhard Heydrich. I think the term Historical Fiction fits my book well. H/F = 45/55

Consider Fatherland by Robert Harris. In this book every minute detail of life in Nazi Germany has been meticulously researched, and yet the book is based on an alternative (fictional) version of history, where Germany has won the war. Still it qualifies as Historical Fiction in my view. H/F = 30/70

Philip Kerr’s Bernie Gunther novels are set firmly in and around Germany before, during and after the war. The books feature a number of historical characters and yet are fictional through and through. H/F = 25/75

Karen Perkins’ wonderful book, Thores-Cross contains two intertwined stories of the north of England, one a contemporary story, the other a haunting tale of social history from the 18th century. No real life characters are featured. Indisputably Historical Fiction, this one, with strong paranormal elements. H/F = 50/50

My new book, The Wings of the Eagle, is set in 1943 Germany, but I’m not confident that I could call it Historical Fiction. It’s more of an action adventure story with the Second World War as a backdrop. H/F = 10/90

Perhaps we should categorize Historical Fiction on a sliding scale (as above) depending on the historical content versus the fictional.

JJ Toner was discovered under a cabbage patch in Ireland with a pen in his hand. He finally started writing again in 1996, after half a lifetime of procrastination. Not that he was ever short of good excuses. For 35 years he worked with computers as a petroleum geophysicist, with medical and veterinarian scientists, accountants, engineers, and in a variety of industries, from health care through manufacturing to shipping. His work took him all over Europe and USA, and yet he somehow found the time to marry, built a home, father three kids, and get his golf handicap down to a respectable figure. A Maths graduate, he has been a full-time writer since 2007. He lives in Ireland with his wife and his youngest son. So far, JJ has self-published a book of short stories and three thrillers. The latest of these, The Black Orchestra, is set in Germany during the early years of the Second World War.

January 25, 2013
Most writers have had the experience of writer's block: the words don't flow, the story is stuck, you stare at the page, do almost anything to procrastinate. Waiting for the muse to move you is not the answer--especially if you've got a deadline.

Writer Ken Myers has some great tips to jump-start your writing when you hit a wall.

What do you do when you don’t feel like writing? When you stare and stare at a page, hoping something will come to mind but nothing does? What do you do when inspiration does not seem to poke, not to mention strike? I am having one of those days today. It just seems like I have spent most of today staring at the blank screen, hoping for something to hit me upside the head and make me start writing. Well, here are some of the ways that I get writing anyway, even without inspiration:
      1. Just start – I find that if I just start writing (like I have today) I will get into the flow and actually accomplish something. Now this does not always work. Sometimes all I get out of it is a bunch of gobbled gook, but most of the time it works out okay for me. Just try not to force your brain into something it does not want to write about. Instead, let your fingers do the talking and write what comes.
     2. Edit later – A bad habit I have is when I am tired or uninspired I tend to pick at things. Maybe it is that zit on my face or that misspelled word, either way it will waste my time and just make things worse. Instead of editing as you write when you are barely inspired, wait until you finish to get rid of all those pesky red lines. If you stop now you will completely lose what flow you had and be even worse off than before.
         3. Get off social media – I admit, I do this a lot. When I don’t feel like writing I waste my time like crazy. I hang out on Facebook, Twitter and Pinterest. Nothing like a few billion photos to waste some time, right? Well, stop it! Shut down the social media and get back to your writing. You are in control of it, so use some will power and get back to work.
     4. Crank up the tunes – To inspire myself to write I often put on my favorite tunes and crank it up loud. It blocks out the defeatist vibes and gest me in a better frame of mind to write. Once I get going, however, I switch to instrumental or nature sounds to keep my attention on my work. Keep in mind not to waste your time with a playlist either. Have it ready to go and just keep writing.
     5. Shut off distractions – The phone is ringing, the texts are coming in, kids are screaming, coworkers want to chat and you have work to do. Turn it off! No one will have a hernia if your phone is off for an hour or two. Instead of chatting it up, tell them you are busy. No is a valid response.
         6. Have writing time – If I do not set aside writing time I get caught up in other junk. It is just as simple as that. Like saving money, you have to save time. Make writing a part of your schedule, like eating or bathing. If everyone knows it is writing time then they are more likely to leave you alone. Also your brain will get used to cranking things out at that time, making it easier to get into writing mode when it comes time.
     7. Keep an inspiration notebook – I am not inspired by my computer screen or my desk. I see that every day. Instead I am inspired by things I see when I am out and about and people I talk to. That is why I have started carrying a notebook with me to write down inspiration. Then when I get back to my desk I can sit down, open my notebook, and have tons of inspiration ready to go.
        8. Write stream of conscious – Instead of censoring yourself and trying to make your writing fit some kind of mould, why not just write. Some of the best things I have ever written were written fast and without thinking. I then look back on it and think how impressive it is that all that was inside of me. Don’t think. Just write.
     9. Take a nap – Sometimes you are just too tired to think clearly. Take a nap. Yes, I know you are not three years old or ninety, but that does not mean naptime is out. Curl up in your car, take a snooze on the couch or just find a quiet corner and rest your eyes. Even if you don’t sleep your brain will still get a much needed break. After all, how much quiet time do you really get to unwind and process your thinking?

     10. Take a break – Beyond just a nap, sometimes I am anxious. Not sleepy at all, a nap would send me to the moon. Instead I go for a walk; gets the blood pumping and my eyes focused on something beyond the end of my nose. A brisk walk, a jaunt down the stairs or even a few jumping jacks will get your blood to your brain and make you feel like you can sit and get things on paper.
     11. Drink water – Dehydration is a big deal. I know it sounds silly, but when I start getting that tired headache feeling I chug a glass or two of water. Sometimes that is all it takes to get me back on track. A little lubrication for the brain, right?
     12. Talk to someone – When I am really stuck for ideas it helps to talk it out. Now I am not a big talker. I’d rather write a letter any day, but talking is sometimes what it takes. Find a friend, find a pet, or heck talk to yourself. Just get the words out and your ideas flowing and you’ll be sure to find inspiration.

     13. Write outside your style – If you are still stick try thinking outside of the box. If you write fiction write nonfiction and vice versa. Try poetry or metered verse. Sometimes changing up your writing style can open your eyes to new ideas and get you inspired once again.

     14. Make an outline – The opposite of uninspired is sometimes just as hard to deal with. Have you ever had so many ideas that you didn’t know what to do first, so nothing came out? Yeah, we have all had those days. Instead of keeping that all trapped in your head write it down. Make an outline of what you want to write. A list works well too. Do not worry about order right now. Just get it out and then organize yourself later.

     15. Set time limits – When I am short of ideas and want to really motivate myself I set a timer. I give myself a few minutes or maybe an hour to get x amount of words written. I tell you, that is a great way to stress yourself out but it also helps me to get things done. Setting goals and limits helps to keep you on track even if they are just self-imposed.
These are just a few of the ways I get over writing uninspired. Not that inspiration always comes after all this, but at least I get something accomplished. Take it one step at a time and don’t worry about writing something worthy of Shakespeare. Instead, be thankful for what you get out and wait until you are in a better frame of mind to decide if it is good or not. Good luck and happy writing!

Author Bio:

Ken Myers is the founder of & has learned over the years the importance of focusing on what the customer is looking for and literally serving it to them. He doesn’t try to create a need, instead he tries to satisfy the existing demand for information on products and services.

December 4, 2012

Please welcome one of my favorite writers: Thea Atkinson

I can't wait to read her new release!

Thea is always full of surprises, and this post is no exception. 
From Thea: 

I'm a history addict--so much so that my hubby has on occasion said to me when I grab the TV remote, "Oh, God, not another Egypt thing."

I'm also a big reader. And I LOVE Suzanne's books. Grabbed and read and LOVED Vestal Virgin and Hetaera. (Did I just write Love twice in one paragraph and cap it both times?)

So imagine my delight when Suzanne invited me to guest post. No. Really.  Imagine it--you wouldn't be far off if you believed I did a little jig--except you'd have to also imagine Elaine on Seinfeld to get it to something accurate. I'm a very poor dancer.

I considered using this opportunity to hock my wares--I have a new novella just released (Theron's Tale) but I thought how cheesy that would be when this gracious writer I admire offers me such a gift. So I'm not going to do that. Instead I'll mention the series that has recently captivated me.

Mankind: The Story of All of Us has production values that are out of this world. More than that, the images feed my habit in ways that speak to me as a writer.

You see, I've always been one to gravitate to odd bits of history. I love the underdog, so much so that I always loved the peculiar pieces of history that didn't get taught in school--or church.

I remember reading the King James Version of story of Judas's betrayal and saying to my mom--a devout Evangelical Christian, mind you--that I couldn't believe God would be so heartless that He'd condemn poor Judas when the poor disciple was obviously just doing his part in 'The Plan." That he was just obeying what the big J told him to do.

Phew. The tongue lashing.

Then about eleven years later I read about the Dead Sea Scrolls and all the Gnostic teachings and got this chilly sense of recognition.

What that has to do with how small bits of images form Mankind feed my writer essence is simple. It's these types of things: flashes of imagery, sound bytes of words that get the psyche-deep synapse-firing effect in me that forces me to narrative. I like to tell myself a story I'd like to read.

And I always fail.

Nothing I write ever comes close to the visceral response I get to the possibility of a story. It falls woefully short of the drive and potential I foresee. I get this sense of magnitude and emotion and satisfaction even before I've put pen to digital paper. It's when the potential is at its fullest bloat and I sense the power of the escape I want to create.

If only my talent and skill matched that quivering swell. Oh. The story I could tell.

And that's why I love Suzanne's work. It promises and delivers. You wouldn't be here reading my paltry words if you weren't too a fan. So I'd like to thank you for letting me have some of that time you would normally have reserved for her; I appreciate it more than you can know.

You could try out my work, I suppose, if you like. Some is plain and some is edgy. Depends on where the images or words took me. Just remember if you do that you'll find odd things in there everywhere, because nothing speaks to me quite so much as peculiar.


November 21, 2012

I'm not sure how Nancy Parker stumbled onto my blog, but I'm always delighted to meet new readers and writers. How did a woman majoring in Biomedical Sciences veer off the scientific path and chose the rocky road of writing? Please read Nancy's story.


How I became A Writer

Writing was never a profession that I thought I would end up in. I grew up in a home full of engineers and sales reps and if anything, I thought I would have a job in Human Resources or sales. However in high school I had this idea I wanted to work with people and make them feel better. I wanted to be a doctor despite what my GPA was; I wasn’t a bad student but I wasn’t a stellar student. I think it was more of a desperate attempt to impress my parents who seemed more caught up in their divorce lawyers than me.  

So I went off to the university and chose Biomedical Sciences as my major. I was surrounded with studious students and perfectionists. I felt so left out and it was after the first semester that I realized, ‘oh crap, I have to actually attend every class and study everything’. I didn’t feel creative and I was bored. So I was kind of stuck and not sure what I wanted to do, all I knew was my GPA was pretty low and I wanted a major that didn’t require a math or language course.

I sat down in a counselor’s office and looked at a list; my eye was immediately attracted to the word ‘Journalism’. For the first time in my life, I actually got excited about something. I thought about one day writing for a magazine, writing a book or reporting for a newspaper, the ideas were endless. So I chose Journalism. I went into it blindly and not knowing what I was getting myself into, I mean I loved reading and writing in high school and in fact scored higher in those classes than any other class but never gave it a thought. Fast forward a few years, I graduated with a bachelor’s degree in Journalism. 

Who knew I would enjoy writing this much? There is something about getting my ideas, feelings, thoughts, emotions and stories out on paper that I can’t get over. It turns out that I am a pretty decent writer and people like my work. I like the idea of talking and interacting with people- I immediately start writing things in my head, little jokes or short stories. I listen to strangers, friends, family and keep mental notes of their words, reactions, facial expressions for inspiration. 

I keep my words simple and short, no fluff. I want my work to be read like you are talking with that person. I like my stories to be funny and relatable. I may not be a prolific writer or even a great one, but that is okay with me. I like to write and will always write. 

Author Bio
Nancy Parker was a professional nanny and she loves to write about wide range of subjects like health, Parenting, Child Care, Babysitting, nanny, etc. You can reach her @ nancy.parker015 @

4 Free Writing Courses that can Improve Your Craft:
Lauren Baily, a freelance education writer, contacted me about posting on my blog, and she's posting on a topic close to my heart: improving the craft of writing. I'm incredibly grateful to the wonderful teachers I've had. Over the years, I've spent thousands of dollars attending workshops and conferences, taking courses at my local college, pursuing any avenue I could find to hone my craft. Now, instead of traveling hundreds of miles to find the right teachers, we have instant access to masters of the craft through the internet. 
Amazingly, some excellent online writing courses are free. Check out what Lauren has to say:
Some writers are just naturally-gifted and need little or no training to get their work published and read. Others, like myself, occasionally need some assistance from a few experts in the field to help guide them in the right direction and improve their overall writing skills. While there are exceptionally qualified English and Literature professors scattered across the nation to help students develop and nurture their craft, attending college can be a bit pricey.
Thankfully, there are some online courses offered for free that can do the trick as well. Some of the most prestigious institutions in the country like MIT and Harvard publish old coursework material as a gift to the community—granted you may have to purchase appropriate textbooks or readings to get the full experience and there are no professors to give you feedback or grant you credit, but completing some of the writing exercises and workshops outlined in the syllabi can help improve your skills for an array of various writers. 
If your main struggle with the whole writing process is finding your muse and uncovering that much needed "creative spark" within, then this appropriately titled undergraduate course can really help you establish some methods to help you unleash your creativity using various techniques. [MIT]
Fiction writing is one of the more popular ways to express one self, but it's also sometimes one of the more difficult—after all, there are several different genres within fiction writing an it can be quite daunting developing characters and choosing the appropriate setting for your piece of work. This class, the title suggests, is specifically designed to help you start writing fiction. It will teach you how to brainstorm as well as bring your ideas to life on paper. [The Open University]
If you're interested in learning how to master writing short stories, then this undergraduate course is perfect for you. Students will learn the tricks of the trade by not only completing various workshops that the professor has created, but will also learn from the "Greats"—the course heavily requires the analysis of different well-known short stories. [MIT]
Lastly, is the "video-lecture" course Modern Poetry. In this 9-part series, students will learn all there is to know about modern poetry including how to include the best techniques in your own writing as well as how to resolves various concerns by discussing some of the best poets in the industry including Yeats, Eliot and Frost. [Yale University]
Lauren Bailey is a freelance education writer for, an alternative learning website. She welcomes your comments.

posted September 11, 2012

This guest post from dating expert Mary Edwards is bound to make you smile.

10 Perks To Being Single During The Holidays

Despite what your Grinch-like married sister tells you, spending the holidays alone isn’t all that bad. Here are a few good reasons this season to sip eggnog solo:
1. Don’t have to shave your legs.

It’s a woman’s best magic trick. You shave and step out of the shower into the artic chill and supernaturally the hair instantly reappears. Well good news, that pesky task we all dread is no longer needed.

2. Party Hop.

The party scene is your oyster, your time to shine. Company holiday party lacking the eye candy needed to get you through the evening? Easy, just say next. Party hop from one lame party to the next, plus you can wear the same outfit and no one is the wiser.

3. Money Saver.

Simple math equation: The cost of two football tickets for him is equivalent to one spa treatment at a high end salon and a pair of the must have designer boots for you. Which has greater value?

4. Movie Control.

Home Alone 3 wasn’t that bad was it? Does it matter? You have full control of the remote. This applies to music as well, so continue to blast Wham’s “Last Christmas” without shame.

5. No in laws.

The number one holiday fight: Where to spend the holidays. With your parents who are convinced you will never give them grandchildren or with his back handed comment making mom? Easy choice this year, neither.

6. Christmas Decorations.

Time to take out the cheesy snowman and the glittering tree, the only one suffering from your over the top decorations is your cat who is sitting in the corner of your one bedroom wishing he wasn’t wearing a blinking elf hat.

7. Food Consumption.

This is the time to stuff your face. Have not one, two but three cookies, heck, have the whole batch. Who’s counting?

8. Mistletoe.

Now ladies this is your best friend. Place yourself under the mistletoe, pucker up and make sure that breath is minty fresh. Play it right and you may be getting more than a pair of socks for Christmas.

9. Holiday ‘Spirits’.

Get in the holiday spirit with eggnog or gram’s spiked cider. Bottoms up! More is always the merrier and make sure you safely cab it home.

10. Fewer Dishes.

A table for one means less time in the kitchen. Feel free to eat from the severing bowl and burn a dinner roll or two. No judgment here.
Be glad you are avoiding that awkward gift exchange and snuggle up next to a warm fire with a box of holiday cookies. Finally, a singles holiday that has never felt so good.

Mary Edwards is one of the contributors and editors for dating sites. She is passionate about thought leadership writing, regularly contributes to various career, social media, public relations, branding, and parenting and online dating community. She can be reached at edwardsmary936 AT


May 16, 2011

I met poet, Renee Podunovich, when we both participated in a series of readings sponsored by Arts Perspective Magazine. Renee is a lovely person, and a beautiful poet. Here's one of her latest poems:

Behind the Wind

Seems like I've known him
forever. the years are stacked up like pancakes
and the stack has become so tall that the ones
on the bottom can't even be seen anymore.
are just vague, reconstructed or falsified memories.
but they are there at the bottom of the pile
holding the whole thing up.
that's how long I've known him.
but today at the beach. seeing him from behind.
the wind sifted through his graying hair.
it appears something magnificent is moving
and blowing him along the shore.
he leans over. gathering. looking.
paying attention to the world
and the moment before him
and I wonder, Who is this man?
the one running up smiling.
Look at these, he says of a handful of shells.
broken. fragments. remains. rubble mostly.
some are whole and a few are quite extraordinary.
but he is holding them like they are the most amazing
gift in the world. like someone would hold the fork
loaded with the first bite of pancakes
dripping with maple syrup and butter
before they know enough to care about the calories.
Aren't these amazing? and so I look again. more closely.
this is a man who cares about the bits and pieces.
the shards. the cast offs. the broken things of the world.
he spends the days visiting dying patients
and lately, he wonders if he's made any difference at all.
he sees first hand that people have nothing in the end.
except the time they spent doing what they loved
and loving the world the best they could.
all the rest of it. shells.
rubbed and eroded by the sea.
Yes, these are amazing, I say.
and into my cupped hands he places
this treasure.


If you'd like to read more of Renee's poetry, check out her chapbook, If There is No Center, No One Knows Where it Begins

I asked Renee to talk about the process of writing. Here's what she has to say:

Being a poet is like being Vanna White turning the letters on Wheel of Fortune— always chasing the mystery that exists behind those big black squares. Writing poetry is like big black squares of my inner process appearing all the time over the landscape of the outer world. Actually, this metaphor does not really work too well. The only good part of it is the Vanna White part and it is only because I would like to dress up as her sometime for a costume party and only because I want a fantastic blond wig to add to my collection.

The truth is, whenever someone asks me to describe my creative process, I cringe and think to myself, “I have no idea how I do it!” To me, writers write just like musicians play music or tennis players play tennis. It’s a natural proficiency and interest combined with discipline, practice and more practice.

Now being picked up by the outrageous tornado of the muse and spun out of your mind so that you are left in awe of the unbelievable power of creativity— that is a different story. I am currently in a writing group and we have several members that are brand new to creative writing. In my heart, they are the joy of the group. For the first few weeks, the writing prompts are like jumping off a cliff for them and they can’t quite make themselves leap. They stand near the edge and look over, put the pen to paper and tentatively make a few marks on the page. Asking them to share what they just wrote is like asking if they would like to be electrocuted. But they find the courage and they read and we all clap and reflect what moved us in the piece and maybe suggest this or that.

Around the fourth or fifth week, something shifts. When the writing prompt is given, they pick up the pen right away and instead of using it to gnaw on, they start frantically writing. You see, they have forgotten that they are on a precipice and that there is a jump involved. By the end of the prompt they look up, eyes a bit glazed-over as if something had overcome them. As they look back to the page their mouths drop open at the sheer quantity of words written there. They can’t believe that they jumped and something, some exquisite, numinous, fantastic thing carried them to the bottom. “Where did this come from?” they say, perplexed, disbelieving, enchanted. And that’s when I know they have fallen in love with the art of writing. They are hooked and their newfound delight at losing the self momentarily, of opening to the wide expanses of consciousness and connecting to a larger voice than they have known, is contagious. 

If they continue to write, someday someone will ask them, “How do you do that?” But the proper question to ask is, “Why?” The poet David Whyte says, “The poet lives and writes at the frontier between deep internal experience and the revelations of the outer world. There is no going back for the poet once this frontier has been reached; a new territory is visible and what has been said cannot be unsaid.” I’ve been writing for a long time and sometimes I find myself in a dark mood of jaded disdain that comes from interacting with the pomp and circumstance of the business of writing! The new writers enliven me and I find fresh eyes and an open heart as I jump off the cliff with them each week. I twirl and my skirt flows around my ankles as I spin letters around and around, smiling and smiling.

April 16, 2011

     For the month of April, fellow author, Thea Atkinson is streaking through 30 blogs and flashing us a piece of fiction. Please read the story she brings to us today, An August Day in Pompeii.  

     And be sure to follow the links at the end of the story to see who Thea flashed yesterday and who she will flash tomorrow. Feel free to leave a comment to let me know if you enjoyed the streak, and you are welcome to tweet it or share it on Facebook.

An August Day in Pompeii

     Herculaneum is only a day's ride from here, and yet I don't visit. My father refuses me entry into the home I grew up in. He says I could have been an artist in my own right, laid tiles of obsidian for pupils, marble pebbles for the glint in Bacchus' eye. I could have been something—but for the unfortunate happenstance of being born a girl.

     Instead I ply the art of the flesh, and he thinks it has no value that in ten years, 10 months, 10 days, the beauty I weave will have no meaning. But he had false hopes anyway. What woman could be accepted in the art he values? None. Mosaic making is for men, while we ladies merely act as muse or mother--sometimes whore. Never artist. And so I dance and dress in gold, my face painted to mirror Venus, my legs strong as Diana's, ready to wrap themselves around torsos and hips. My mind as quick as Minerva's. And it's an art to be certain, to allow a soldier weary of dusty roads and battle to forget for moment he is a man, and think for a spell that he is a god in company of a goddess.

     It is an art to be sure, but not one as fine as my father's. He paints the gods, pieces them together from the stones they forged, while I merely become a god, if only for a while.

     But Father's right in a way, I suppose, his tiled floors and mosaic walls will undoubtedly outlast time, while I, humble daughter of an artistan, will be gone in a moment, my dust mingling with the earth and disappearing forever.

For more stories visit:

And be sure to check out Thea's books: psychological and historical fiction


April 1, 2011

Katrina Parker Williams

Steps for Organizing a Literary Contest

I invited educator and author, Katrina Parker Williams to guest post about how to organize a literary contest. She had plenty of experience, and I'm sure much of what she says can apply to internet writing contests as well. 

Katrina says:

I work at a community college, and for the last three years I have coordinated a literary contest for students on the campus. It has been rewarding, mainly because students who have never thought of themselves as writers are winning the contests and having their works published.
If you want to organize a literary contest at your college, it can be done with relative ease because you have a built-in audience—the students. It will require some planning, some of your time, and some creativity.
Follow these steps to organize your literary contest.
  1. Consider funding for the contest, especially if cash prizes will be awarded. Check with the college’s Foundation Department responsible for raising funds for campus projects. Or you can solicit donations from local businesses and community organizations.
  2. Establish the guidelines for the contest. You can decide to accept poetry, short fiction, personal essays, cover artwork, etc. Make sure to determine the length guidelines, especially if these submissions will be published in a magazine to ensure it will be cost effective to publish the magazine.
  3. If you will be the editor of the magazine, you may want someone other than yourself judging the contest. Choose people with writing experience: authors, teachers, journalists. Students will be more willing to enter the contest if they know their works are going to be judged by people with writing experience.
  4. Determine the prizes that will be awarded. They can be cash prizes, trophies, plaques, or publication of the winning entries in the campus literary magazine.
  5. Announce the contest. Again, on college campuses you have a built-in audience—the students. You can send the contest guidelines to the students via their student email accounts. You can also request that faculty inform students of the literary contest. Sometimes their input can be very influential in getting students to enter the contest.
  6. Once the judges select the winners of the literary contest, organize an awards ceremony to announce the winners and award the prizes.
These steps can help you get started with organizing a literary contest on your campus. It will take some time and effort to be successful, but the rewards in the end are well worth it.
Katrina has written a collection of short stories Trouble Down South and Other Stories
Enslavement, murder, abuse, illness: there’s real trouble for the characters in Trouble Down South and Other Stories. The short stories take the reader on a journey to the past through a collection of interestingly crafted pieces of flawed humanness, social injustice, and redemption, and even humor.

Learn more about Katrina:
Email: stepartdesigns at hotmail dot com


                                                   March 23, 2011

I'm fascinated by women's roles throughout history, and today I'm delighted to have author, Sarah Woodbury posting about women in Celtic Society. This topic is Sarah's passion, and that passion comes through in her post. Please read what she has to say. And also, check out her book Daughter of Time a time travel Romance.

Thank you Sarah!

Women in Celtic Society

It is a stereotype that women in the Middle Ages had two career options:  mother or holy woman, with prostitute or chattel filling in the gaps between those two. Whether we like it or not, for the most part this stereotype is accurate and the status and role of women in that era revolved around these categories.

This is one reason that when an author sets fiction in this time, it is difficult to write a self-actualized female character who has any kind of autonomy or authority over her own life.  Thus, it is common practice to make fictional characters either healers of some sort (thus opening up a whole array of narrative possibilities for travel and interaction with interesting people) or to focus on high status women. Such women may or may not actually have had more autonomy, but their lives didn’t consist of drudgery and child care from morning until night.

This is not to say that men in the Middle Ages weren’t equally restricted in their ‘careers’.  A serf is a serf after all, of whatever gender.  Men as a whole, however, did have control of women, of finances, of government, and of the Church, and thus organized and ruled the world.  Literally.

There are obvious exceptions—Eleanor of Aquitaine, anyone—but women such as she were one out of thousands upon thousands who were born, worked, and died within five miles of their home.

At the same time, within Celtic cultures, women at least had the possibility of greater personal autonomy.  In Ireland, where the Roman Church had less influence, women had a viable place both within the Druid religion and within the Celtic/Irish Church. Wales too was less subject to the restrictions of the Church.  There, women had a higher status than in Christendom as a whole, including the right to divorce her husband and societal acceptance of illegitimate children. 

The Laws of Women (part of the Laws of Hywel Dda) included rules that governed marriage and the division of property if a married couple should separate. Women usually married through contract, but elopement was allowed, with the provision that if the relationship lasted seven years, a woman had the same entitlements as if she’d been given to her husband by her kin.

My book, Daughter of Time, tells the story a young widow, Meg, who falls through time into the Middle Ages—and into the arms of Llywelyn ap Gruffydd, the last Prince of Wales. One aspect of the book that I found very interesting to write was her reaction to the status and role of women in medieval Wales, and how a modern woman might deal with it.

Daughter of Time is available at and Amazon UK and is coming soon to Barnes and Noble and elsewhere to which Smashwords distributes. For more information about Wales in the Middle Ages, please see my web page: