Category: Writing Life

#AMMConnect – Author Mentor Match

I never fail to be in awe of the generosity of the writing community. Author Mentor Match is yet another example: an exciting program designed to help aspiring authors realize their dreams of traditional publication. If selected, a mentee is paired with an experienced author/mentor who has already been through the trenches and has come out the other side, victorious. Yes, I just made it sound like a battle, but like every writer aspiring to traditional publication knows, it is. You have to be prepared to be fully committed, to put in lots and lots of hard work, and when you get rejected or obstacles occur, to keep pushing forward towards your goal. Having help along the way is priceless, and that is where the wonderful folks at Author Mentor Match come in. You can learn more at AuthorMentorMatch and join in yourself if you have a completed manuscript in the genres/age groups they offer – I hope you do!

headshot_lakeI write because it is a part of who I am. It is a natural response to the thoughts rolling around inside of my head, having the potential to become a story that could touch the lives of others in a positive way. I love the quote by Toni Morrison, “If there’s a book that you want to read, but it hasn’t been written yet, then you must write it.” I write the stories I would want to read. I write because I want to share those stories with the world. There are other reasons but for me, those are some of the most compelling. Stories are precious gifts celebrating what it means to be human: exploring every aspect of life in ways that are meaningful to the reader. I am grateful I get to be a part of that. I hope to have a mentor for my 92,000 word science fiction novel for adults. It has been through multiple revisions and beta reading, and lightly queried (I have had 2 requests for first fifty pages from conferences and 1 full from a twitter event). I am not sure I am querying effectively and I am seeking experienced advice, especially about some concerns I have about my first fifty.

headshot_meand horseI wear lots of different hats – I am a wife and mom, I am an engineer, I am a small business owner, I am a teacher and I am a writer. I am also the director of a writing group – we can be found at Carrollton League of Writers and we are a warm and welcoming bunch! I have a passion for learning about people and cultures from around the world and often host international students in our home. I camp and hike, ride bicycles and horses, and create web pages. I enjoy model rocketry and playing table tennis. I have been a Trekkie for as long as I can remember and I always wanted to impress a dragon and fight thread. I am a follower of Jesus Christ.

I also have a great sense of humor – my husband and I created this video when I started receiving phone calls because some of our writers group members were being less than diplomatic when we were critiquing the short stories for our group anthology (something I required for inclusion into the anthology, along with professional editing). Rather than pointing fingers, we decided to make this video (Click on red text below) so people could laugh at themselves and us, and modify their behavior accordingly. I hope it makes you laugh!

CRITIQUING BLUNDERS

CLWbiggroupOne of the greatest joys in my life is also one of my greatest obstacles. As the director of the Carrollton League of Writers, I have been able to nurture and encourage our members, and provide them (and me) with many learning opportunities through guest speakers. I had the privilege of coordinating our effort to publish an anthology for our group which helped many of our members attain their “bucket-list” goal of being published, something they may not have been able to achieve otherwise. Knowing the joy it brought our members made the labor of love deeply satisfying. You can get a feel for our group and see what we have accomplished in our first year by watching this short video at Carrollton League of Writers, but when I originally put out that post in Next Door that started our group, my goal had been to find critique partners that wanted to join me on the road to traditional publication. Regarding our writers group, my main goal has always been to be inclusive and to meet the needs of our group. As it turns out, their goals while extremely worthwhile, are very different from my own. We all enjoy the learning opportunities immensely and love meeting weekly – but while a few engage in critiques, very few share my passionate desire to be working towards traditional publication and those that do, are not able to dedicate time enough to their own writing. Which is why I would be very grateful to have a mentor who understands and shares my writing goals and has the wisdom and experience to help me forward in the process.

I believe I would make a great mentee. I am a hard worker, I am dedicated to improving my craft, I value feedback (even when it hurts) and I am willing to do the work needed in order to get my story traditionally published. I also value relationships and desire to help those around me to be successful. You can see a blog post book review I wrote (I met Kathleen because she was a guest speaker for our writers group and she happens to be a fabulous author) – A School For Unusual Girls. I believe we are all part of the same writing community regardless of genre and should be generous, kind, and helpful to each other.

Back to my manuscript – I call it Alien Neighbors. Here is the text of a query I have written for it:

Neil Armstrong took the first steps on the Moon on July 21, 1969, capturing the imagination of the entire world. As a test engineer for a major semiconductor company and a life-long astronomy enthusiast, I have dreamed of NASA’s return. The Artemis program aims to do just that in 2024, including plans for the first female moonwalker. The quest for extraterrestrial intelligence has long been a preoccupation of the American public. Carl Sagan’s book Contact is an example of the fascination we have for alien life, and the SETI Institute has brought the search to desktops across America. This led me to write Alien Neighbors, a first novel of 92,000 words that brings us back to the Moon in search of helium 3, but finds aliens along with the isotope we need to solve the world’s energy crisis.

All scientist Tom Whitaker wants to do is hide in his lab and work on creating a nuclear fusion reactor to process helium 3 from the Moon into limitless clean energy. When a First Contact occurs, aliens from a planet in the Cygnus constellation reveal they possess the technology Earth needs for working nuclear fusion. At the urging of the White House, Tom very reluctantly agrees to become the liaison between the two races. He finds himself risking his career, custody of his daughter, and possibly his life, in an effort to save Lanjo, his new alien friend, while also attempting to prevent the annihilation of Earth.

My Favorite Martian collides with Armageddon in this human/alien friendship where an introverted human nerd and an alien college professor with an irrepressible sense of humor form an unlikely alliance in an effort to save both their worlds and, ultimately, each other.

Alien Neighbors is set in the near future. It has enough science for geeks like me, yet not so much that the average person feels lost. Subtle themes are intrinsically interwoven into the story, including looking beyond appearance and overcoming bias, second chances, and choosing to do the right thing even though it has high personal cost. With strong female characters including a kick-ass NASA mission commander and Tom’s brave, spunky twelve-year old daughter, Alien Neighbors appeals to a broad audience.

 

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All that said, if you would like to meet my main character alien, Lanjo, from a planet in the Cygnus Constellation 500 light years from Earth, you can see a graphic artist’s rendition of what I thought he would look like. This was not created with any intent towards self-publishing but rather, a fun exercise that served to inspire me as I worked on my revisions. If you look closely, you’ll see the extra digit on each hand and the friendship bracelet he receives as part of the story 🙂

I am looking forward to make friends with others who share the grand passion of writing. It is my desire to be an encouragement to all I meet on their writing journeys. Mentors – I sincerely hope you will consider helping me on my journey. Best wishes to all involved with #AMMconnect – May all of your literary dreams come true!

Carrollton League of Writers One Year Anniversary Celebration

It all started with a post on Next Door and Carrollton Chatter – Anyone interested in joining a writers group? The response was huge! The next step: getting permission from the Carrollton Church of the Nazarene to use their fellowship hall. And then: Marshall’s Bar-B-Que allowing us to reserve their backroom the second Thursday of every month for guest speakers. We had our inaugural meeting on August 9, 2018. The video below chronicles our first year:

From our description:

Carrollton League of Writers exists to help writers in all genres and experience levels to improve their writing skills and to move towards publication if desired. We provide working writing sessions that include read and critique sessions and creative writing exercises. We also provide guest speakers to educate and inform from various facets of the writing industry, networking opportunities, and a chance to socialize and hang out with others who share the grand passion of writing.

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The first few meetings we learned about each other and started with a structure that has since evolved to meet the needs of our members. Some of us took on leadership roles in order to facilitate the different interests among our group. Alice heads up our informal table – where anything can happen from creative writing prompts to lively discussions. Tom has taken leadership of our critique group, making sure everyone has a Slack account and keeps the group informed of who is in the queue, as well as moderating each week.

Before breaking into groups, we start with an Info-Talk – as a way to learn something new every meeting. Our members have done a great job taking turns presenting them every week. Our topics have ranged from Backing Up Your Data to Secondary Character Development, Show Not Tell to Guns of the Old West, and everything in-between.

When we first started meeting, everyone was a little bit shy and nervous. It was scary not only meeting new people – but also sharing our writing with each other. Weeks became months, allowing trust to be built and friendships formed. One year later we are now a family and Thursdays are a time to get together to encourage and inspire one another. For many of us, it’s the highlight of our week and we can’t imagine it otherwise.

Early on we decided that improving our craft was important to our culture and to that end we have been blessed with a guest speaker each month when we meet at Marshall’s Barbecue. We owe a special thanks to Blake Kimzey of Writers Workshop Dallas for facilitating contact with so many amazing industry professionals that have been willing to speak to our group. Guest speakers have included:

Tex Thompson, Amber Royer, Blake Atwood, David Eric Tomlinson, Blake Kimzey, Kathleen Baldwin, Amber Helt, Ashley Mag Gabbert, Kathryn McClatchy, William Ledbetter, Becka Oliver, Andra Leigh Watkins, Michelle Schusterman, Keith Goodnight, Jan Morrill Vanek, Ann Rose, and Suzanne Frank.

Our Accomplishments over the last year have been many. In no particular order:

Three day writing retreat at Lake Texoma

Attended Roanoke writers conference

Halloween potluck costume party

NaNoWriMo Weekly Write-Ins at IHOP

Two Group Write-Ins: Phil and Nancy’s house and Scott’s house

Valentine’s Day party/poetry contest

Monthly Newsletter

Monthly member spotlights

Field trip to UTD to visit physics professor for science fiction writers

Facebook Group with 157 members

Twitter Account

Attended Writers in the Field

WORDfest table and panel participation

Ross got his MFA/ published articles

Critique blunders video

Hosted Summer Writers conference: speakers and literary agent pitches

First Annual Arianne “TEX” Thompson Flash Fiction Contest (Judge Amber Royer) Winners – Jennifer, Artis, Lauren and Tom

Christmas party

Logo Contest – Jackie O’Connor winner

Carrollton League of Writers T-shirts

Birthday celebrations

Board of Directors began in January

Bylaws are in process of being drafted

Attended Comic-con in Arlington

Numerous Info-talks

Featured in article in on Pastor Resources.com

Anthology (professionally edited) and will launch this Fall

Hosted our Anthology editor – Christi Martin

Attended Amber Royer’s book launch: Free Chocolate

Literary Agent Ann Rose requested chapters and manuscripts

WORDworks leadership workshop (2) – Attended by Nancy and Jennifer

WORD Historian – Jennifer Crippen

We also wanted to give back to our community, and during our first year we found several ways to do so:

Food pantry donations

Hosted Young Writers Workshop

Rwandan orphan educational fundraising – paid one trimester for five children to attend school

Participated in School Supply Drive

Phil – presented Asssault and Battery class at WORDfest

Solar panels/fans installation for Camp Tonkawa (Phil and Bud)

English Conversation Practice volunteers/Texas Party for class

Carrollton Complete Automotive Community Recognition Award

Wordfest Southwest – Phil, Nancy, Jennifer, Jackie, and John worked as volunteers

Most importantly, we have created a culture of compassion and caring for not only our group members, but for the people around us. Not just in regards to writing, we take a holistic approach, meeting any needs that we can. This fundamental value is integral to what it means to be a part of the Carrollton League of Writers.

We were very excited (and shocked) to receive the WORD Condike award at WORDfest 2019: For Their Extraordinary Contributions to the North Texas Literary Community

I THINK IT’S SAFE TO SAY – WE DID A LOT FOR OUR FIRST YEAR!!!

The criteria for being a founding member is to either have been with us from the beginning or nearly so, or someone having come in later during our inaugural year, but showing a dedication to our group through their participation and contributing to our success through their actions. I want to recognize our founding members by presenting them with a very special commemorative coin.

Team Spirit Recipients:

Scott Taylor

Ross Irvin

Trish Smallwood

Jessica Torres

Steve McCluer

Bessie Gregg

Peggy Wilson

Donna

Artis Hayes

Andrea Amosson

Above and Beyond Recipients:

John Lemond

Ed Wooten

Jackie O’Connor

Amy Garman

Phil Golden

Leadership Recipients:

Jennifer Crippen (Board Member/Associate Director)

Alice Wooten (Board Member/Secretary)

Tom Smallwood (Board Member/Treasurer)

Sandy Paty (Board Member/Social Event Coordinator)

Nancy Golden (Board Member/Director)

I also want to recognize some of our guest speakers. They have not only poured into Carrollton League of Writers, they are constantly giving of themselves to the writing community at large.

Tex Thompson

Kathleen Baldwin

Amber Royer

Bud Humble

And a special thanks to the folks at Carrollton Church of the Nazarene for allowing us to use their fellowship hall – they have blessed us beyond measure with their generosity.

It’s been a great year and I’m looking forward to another one as we travel this writing journey together – I wouldn’t want to do it anywhere else than with the Carrolllton League of Writers!

Friends are the Family You Choose!

We Are Writers

In a sense, I felt like I lost one of my wheels today. As a bicyclist, I think this metaphor is particularly appropriate. I have been prepping for DFWCon for weeks (a writers conference billed as the largest one in Texas, with lots of wonderful industry professionals and fellow writers in attendance). I was looking forward to being a part of the conference, going to the classes, making new friends, and pitching my science fiction novel, Alien Neighbors. To my frustration, I developed a minor (although thank God, easily treatable) medical issue, but it was enough to stop me from attending. I think there is an important lesson here. There are NO career breaking moments. My writing career was not dependent on this conference. What it is dependent on, is that I stay the course. I must admit today was a bit rough, but I will pick myself up, dust myself off, and continue the journey. We are writers – that is what we do. disappointment-3151237_1920

Revisioners

I am learning what it truly means to be a writer. Perhaps we should be called “revisioners.” Writing excellence typically requires rewrites. While it may seem like a painful and tedious process – it can actually be fun. Seeing your story improve is like watching your child practice something and start to get really good at it. Remember, it’s all in your perspective. When you find yourself needing to rewrite something – view it as a wondrous opportunity, rather than a chore. You’ll be so glad to see the results when you are done!

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Starting a Writing Group

I have had several folks ask me why I decided to take on such a complicated and time-consuming endeavor, with all of the work involved that forming a community writing group entails. A moment of insanity perhaps? Like the time I decided to coordinate a district science fair for my son’s charter school? Or start an ESL ministry at our church with four levels of classes? Actually, it is very satisfying to be operating in the areas that God has gifted me with, while helping others to be successful; it’s a “win-win” even if it’s exhausting at times.

To further my explanation, we have some tremendous writing groups in the DFW area of Texas, but none in Carrollton, a suburb of Dallas. I personally don’t want to drive twenty miles to Euless fighting traffic on a weekday evening every week, even though I am aware of a fantastic critique group that has met there for years. I thought perhaps there may be some like-minded writers in my area. I posted in our city’s community Facebook page and on Nextdoor to see if anyone was interested, and the response I received was HUGE! I created a Facebook group and now, in less than six weeks, we have had our inaugural meeting with twenty writers in attendance and have had forty members join our Facebook group so far!

The paradox for me is that in committing to this venture, I have actually reduced the time I have to write.  However, the payoffs have already been enormous. To see the excitement and enthusiasm our group is creating among our members is wonderful. To experience the generosity of Marshall’s Bar-B-Q and Carrollton Church of the Nazarene in providing free space for us to meet is gratifying. To reach out to established members of the writing industry in search of guest speakers and to receive an overwhelmingly positive response is marvelous.

So here we go – at the start of a grand adventure. I am learning as I go along, but we are blessed to belong to an industry that is known for giving back, so I know I am not going it alone. I am finding that starting a writing group is not easy, but it is also extremely satisfying to know that a real need is being filled:

Carrollton League of Writers exists to help writers in all genres and experience levels to improve their writing skills and to move towards publication if desired. We provide working writing sessions that include read and critique sessions and creative writing exercises. We also provide guest speakers to educate and inform from various facets of the writing industry, networking opportunities, and a chance to socialize and hang out with others who share the grand passion of writing.

If you are ever in the Carrollton area on a Thursday night – I hope you’ll join us. If you are thinking of starting a writing group in your own area – I hope you’ll go for it. It won’t be easy, but it will be well-worth it! Feel free to comment if you need help getting started. I am fairly new at this, but I can share my own experiences and perhaps help point you in the right direction.

Book Review: A School for Unusual Girls by Kathleen Baldwin

book2I have always had a hard time slowing down and just relaxing when there is always so much to do, but between a WONDERFUL book to read on a cold rainy day and the perfect reading companion – I just couldn’t resist. Kathleen Baldwin has managed to win me over to the historical fiction genre in a big way with her novel, A School for Unusual Girls. I must admit I initially purchased the book for my fifteen year old granddaughter who I was sure would enjoy it, both for her love of history and for her strong and intelligent personality, which seemed to me at first glance to also be an apt description of the main character. As I scanned the book before giving it to her, I realized that it had also grabbed my own interest and I ordered a second copy, both coming from Amazon. I’m so glad I did! There is so much fun stuff, I don’t want to give it away – but just know to settle in for a captivating read filled with strong and spunky heroines, handsome heroes, scientific experiments that sometimes go awry with lethal consequences, and ultimately a journey of maturation and finding one’s place; all back-dropped by an unstable and inflammatory time in European history where the individual decisions of the residents of Stranje House are pivotal in influencing the events swirling chaotically at a rapid pace around them.

The author takes the reader on a journey that leaves one reluctant to stop. Not only does she transport us to another time and place, she manages to make us identify with these unusual girls who have troubled pasts and to root for them. A wonderful message of redemption for those who do not feel compelled to follow the established rules of society but seek to remain true to their own calling, is woven through the story’s themes of transformation, love, and responsibility. Kathleen Baldwin writes with a masterful grasp of plot and pacing, keeping the reader thoroughly enticed with just enough mystery and intrigue (and the occasional breathtaking hint of romance). She strikes that amazing balance of fully satisfying at quintessential moments, yet leaving us yearning for the story to continue. Fortunately it does, in the next novel in the Stranje House series: Exiles for Dreamers. I have already purchased my copy and I’m looking forward to immersing myself in the next adventure that the Stranje House has in store!

You can learn more (including reading chapter excerpts), discover lots of cool extras, and check out Kathleen’s other writing endeavors, as well as find out additional places where A School for Unusual Girls is available for purchase, at KathleenBaldwin.com

 

 

Our Need for Community

write-2930023_1920As writers, we often find ourselves working in a solitary place. For some of us, that is the only way we can unleash the thoughts in our head in a coherent fashion. It is time that many of us have to work hard to obtain – perhaps by shutting ourselves away from our busy and boisterous families by sneaking into the back bedroom for thirty minutes. For others it might look like a trip to the local library or Starbucks with our laptop in tow, hoping we don’t bump into someone we know, so we can use the precious minutes we have carved out of our busy schedules to actually write. Our understandable predisposition to gain solitary time in order to respond to our calling may become an obsession if we aren’t careful. It can become quite easy to duck out of social activities when our work-in-progress is tugging at our hearts. But many famous writers were notable as recluses, so what’s the harm?

lonestarActually, it can be harmful. I think it is important to recognize that God created us to be in community. Not only is it good as a writer to enter the social sphere, it is good for our souls. Writers are observers of life, and our writings reflect the truths we have found through our observations and experiences. You can’t observe or experience if you keep yourself segregated from the rest of humanity. Being in community also satisfies the yearning we all have to be part of something greater than ourselves, whether we recognize it or not. That is why I am so excited about the upcoming writing conference I am attending: Lonestar.Ink in Dallas this February. I have been a writer for many years, yet I have never made the time to attend one. I am not sure what to expect, but I am very excited about the possibilities. Sure, I expect to leat-grandmaearn some good stuff from some successful authors and editors who are willing to communicate their knowledge with others. I am also anticipating that this will be an opportunity to network. But I also see it as something else – as an opportunity to break out of my solitude and connect with other people that have similar dreams and goals. People who will get my grammar puns and appreciate them without rolling their eyes (well, maybe…) and of course enjoy the conversations and debates that arise as writers compare notes on both technique and content.

Another strong reason to get out into the community (and attend a writers conference) is explained by developmental psychologist Susan Pinker. She reveals how in-person social interactions are not only necessary for human happiness, but could also be key to health and long life in an intriguing TED Talk where she explains that social interaction is the number one predictor for longevity. She explains that this isTED not limited to close acquaintances, but includes everyone that we interact with as we move through our day. Further, “Face to face contact releases a whole cascade of neurotransmitters and, like vaccines, they protect you now in the present and well into the future.” As a matter of fact, her entire speech made me really glad I signed up for the conference. Her research shows that brain activity becomes much more engaged with a live partner. Recruiters from Fortune 500 companies thought the candidates were smarter if they heard their voices, compared to when they read their pitches from a text, email or letter. So theoretically, pitching an agent or publisher at a writing conference makes me smarter then sending a query letter…quaking knees and all.

Pinker says, “It’s a biological imperative to know we belong.” She points out the benefits of social contact, “Building inter-person interhyperboleaction into our cities, into our workplaces, into our agendas, bolsters the immune system, sends feel good hormones surging through the blood stream and brain, and helps us live longer. I call this building your village, and building it and sustaining it is a matter of life and death.” So now I can extrapolate from this information that attending the Lonestar.ink writing conference is a matter of life and death. Okay, I might be slightly exaggerating, but hey, it’s still a great idea and what’s a little hyperbole among friends?