Category Archives: Writing

Finding Community at the SCBWIOK Spring Conference

The 2018 Spring conference for SCBWI Oklahoma, “Striking at the Reader’s Heart,” will be held on April 6-7 at the OKC Embassy Suites on S. Meridian. If you write/illustrate for children and young adults, I highly recommend you check it out. You’ll certainly gain useful information about the craft and business of writing, but perhaps even more importantly, you’ll find community.


Attending a writing conference is a great way to connect with other writers who are working in the same genre and/or looking for a critique group. I met my writing group at an OWFI conference well over a decade ago, and it didn’t take long for three of our group to realize we were particularly interested in writing for children. We knew that SCBWI was the best organization for kidlit writers, and thus in 2007 we made a trip to the national conference that takes place every winter in NYC. What an eye-opening experience!


It was only after attending a national conference that I attended our Oklahoma regional events. (I do things backwards sometimes.) Since these local meetings and conferences were a little smaller, the prospect of “networking” was much less daunting, especially for a somewhat socially anxious person like me. The above photo actually was taken at the 2008 SCBWI summer conference in Los Angeles, but how nice it was to find my Oklahoma tribe whilst there. The national conferences can be a bit overwhelming, but connecting with affiliate members makes everything more manageable.


And when, after countless rejections and heartbreaks, I finally got a book deal, my Oklahoma SCBWI buddies celebrated right along with me. No matter where you are in the process, there’s always someone in your regional affiliate who has been there, too. A conference like SCBWI can help you connect with people who understand the particular challenges of this path.


More often than not, these new connections help boost mood and confidence, sometimes even leading to DELIGHTFUL SHENANIGANS. (Writers are weird in the most wonderful ways!)

Hope to see you in April!

Darkly Gothic Poems for Halloween

Welcome to my new WordPress blog!

My Blogger blog is now an archive, but you will find all my old posts dating back to 2010 here as well as there. As a reader, I find WordPress blog posts so much easier to read and comment upon — I hope you enjoy this new interface. Now, on to a little “warm up” for Halloween. . .

Way back in 2006 I found the Goth-O-Matic Poetry Generator and created a Feeling Very Sorry for Yourself Darkly Gothic poem entitled “Alone in Darkness.” With Halloween just around the corner, this seemed the perfect activity to resurrect from the past, especially because the link still works. I’d love to see your Goth-o-Matic poem!

Here’s my new poem of Supernatural Horror & Violence:

Dark Betrayal

Around, all around, the shadows gather.
My dread grows as the Dark One’s touch falls against my neck.
It smites me, and darkly my
essence drips
to the broken ground.
In horror I call your name
while Death’s shadow looms.
Now alone, my cry of mercy falls upon darkened eyes.

This is my doom

So fun! Do try it yourself and post in the comments if you like. Teachers, I think this activity would be great fun to use in the classroom.

STAY TUNED — my 2017 edition of Spooky Film Recommendations is coming soon.

The PAPER HEARTS blog tour: Some Marketing Advice


I am so excited to be a part of the Paper Hearts blog tour! And it’s not only because Beth Revis is a friend and a wonderful human. She’s also a NYT best selling author and a font of information about the business of publishing.

A few months ago I read Beth’s first Paper Hearts book, Some Writing Advice, and I found it wise and reassuring. I’ve published three novels, but there’s always SCADS more to learn, right? Beth has a brilliant way of cutting to the heart of matters and waving off the “noise” that is distracting rather than helpful.

Of course I was eager to read her book on marketing strategies, since this is something that brings me a great deal of stress. To my relief and amazement, Beth has broken it all down and provided reasonable options for getting the word out. So writers, whether you want to be traditionally published or you’re taking the reins to self-publish, you really need to be reading this book ASAP.

***And now . . . a marketing tip from Beth!

Beth says: Work with friends.

No matter what you do in promotion, it’s better to do it with friends.
Holding a giveaway? Grab other author friends, get signed copies of their
books, and add them to the giveaway. Better yet, cross promote and do join
giveaways with several authors. Doing a live event? You could stand up
there and be boring, or you could invite other authors to come talk with
you and make it into a fun conversation about books. Chatting online? Get
other authors to help host a Twitter chat or Facebook party.

Doing things with other authors is not only more fun, but it brings your
audience to theirs and vice versa. It lowers expenses—if you each provide
one signed book to a winner, then the winner could get five books, but
your personal expense is only one. If you’re doing live events with
others, you can get varied responses and also have a break from being
“on.”

The key here: don’t think of other authors as your competition. People
will buy more than one book. Other authors are your colleagues, and, if
you’re lucky, your friends.

***Also, Beth and I answer a couple of questions about marketing:

1. How did you decide which social media platforms to use and which to avoid?

Beth’s answer: Use the ones you enjoy. Avoid the ones you don’t. That’s all.

My answer: I agree 100% with Beth. Don’t force yourself to use a social media platform just because it’s supposedly cool or the new thing. If it’s fun for you, great — people will recognize that and want to interact with you. If it’s a drag for you, or if you’re only using it to constantly remind people of your book, please stop. I, for one, have given up particular platforms because they just weren’t a good fit for me and it felt like work to keep them up to date.

2. Does promoting your own books get any easier over time?

Beth’s answer: I think it does actually–one of the few things that does! Because it’s
not until you’ve self promo’ed for awhile that you start to realize how
much of it you can let go. How much the advice to just write the next book
really is the best advice. Of course I feel like I always have to do so
much to sell my books–I always feel that pressure. But I give it up
quicker now. Because there’s only so much you can do. And the longer I’m
in this game, the more I know that the only thing I can really do to make
a difference is write the next book. So it’s easier, because I’m able to
let go more and write.

My answer: Again, have to agree with Beth here, particularly about learning what to let go. Keep in mind that Beth is a very creative person and has pretty much investigated every option before choosing what works well for her. I’ve just locked on to a few marketing tricks that are comfortable (if not entirely effective) for me. However, now that I have her book, I might try a few new options. She’s done a lot of the work for us, folks!

***Finally, enter to win signed books!

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Learn more at BethRevis.com
Paper Hearts, Volume 1: Some Writing Advice on Goodreads

Purchase Paper Hearts, Volume 3: Some Marketing Advice
AmazonKoboBarnes & NobleThe Book Depository

Follow along with the rest of the tour at the Paper Hearts Tour Headquarters, or follow Beth Revis on Twitter!

Setting in fiction


Recently I participated in my first Twitter chat! One of the questions I barely had time to answer properly was “Any tips for setting in a historical novel?” (Thanks, Abigail!)

Well, I love to talk about setting, because all my stories start with place. As soon as I encounter an intriguing setting, I am eager to know more about its history. An exploration of this history often makes me wonder what sort of people might have inhabited that place and time. Then I wonder what conflicts the setting might create for a character. At this point a story begins to take shape in my imagination.

So, YES, I have tips! And they are very straightforward.

Tip #1: If at all possible, spend time in your setting. This is true for contemporary and historical fiction. For historicals in particular, be sure to visit historic buildings, museums, and historical societies. Living history sites are the best! Take photos and video footage (so easy with a phone these days), grab maps and brochures, and maybe even talk to the locals (especially if it’s recent history). Very often the physical experience of a place will spark all sorts of story ideas. On the other hand, actually being there might lead you to realize that a potential plot point is not realistic after all.

Tip #2: Know your setting so well that you could write a detailed pamphlet or give a tour. Along with visiting the setting, read nonfiction accounts of that place and time. Read other fiction with the same setting—I promise it won’t “pollute” your own story. If you can find diaries of people who lived in that place/time, you’ve struck gold. Take notes as you read—I find that handwritten notes stick in my brain much longer than typed ones. Pretty soon you’ll have quite a stack of information. However, keep in mind that 95% of that information, awesome as it is, won’t show up in the pages of your story. And none of it should show up in passive description. Instead . . .

Tip #3: Treat your setting like a character in the story, and show your protagonist interacting with it. For example, some ideal moments to describe your setting might be:

— when your protagonist encounters it for the first time. It’s just like meeting another human character for the first time. Is this setting welcoming or hostile? Beautiful or depressing? Familiar or alien? We learn about a character by his or her reaction to a new location.

— when your protagonist is in conflict with it. Does the character feel contained or smothered by the setting? Does it give her the heebie jeebies? Is your character battling the elements? Corralling cats or small children? A setting that creates conflict can be a source of horror or humor.

— when it is teaching/inspiring/soothing your protagonist. (This is one of my favorites!) Is there a place that inspires or comforts your character—a place of escape? A place to dream or cogitate? What if that place is under threat somehow? What would your character do?

Above all, don’t just tell us how this setting affects your protagonist—show the character’s awe/alienation/inspiration/comfort through a scene. (See this blog post from Writer’s Digest for examples of showing vs. telling.)

PLEASE feel free to comment with more suggestions about setting in fiction!

Friday Favorites: Writing Retreats


A couple of days ago I returned from a seven night Kindling Words West retreat in Marble Falls, TX. The Retreat at Balcones Springs offered cozy cabins and beautiful scenery, and our workshop leaders Nancy Werlin and Karen Romano Young provided guidance on how to find “unseen visuals” in our stories that could help transform our writing.


The goal for our morning workshops was to work on visual poems and other graphic representations of our stories, but Nancy and Karen encouraged us to follow our own path as much as we liked. As it turned out, I got caught up in this (not great) watercolor painting. I started with a random tree, added to it each day, and ended up understanding so much more about my protagonist and her relationship with nature. (Also, I got to live inside her brain in a new way, for she is an artist who works with pencil and watercolor.)


The bulk of each day was spent in silent retreat, and this was my main work station from 10am-5pm. Working on a bed is a little unorthodox, I know, but it turned out to be a good shift for my brain and body. (And strangely enough, I never napped!)


We didn’t spend all our time working. Each morning we had the option of yoga, and during the day there were always opportunities for long walks. We encountered bluebonnets and other wildflowers, live oak and mesquite trees, insects, snakes, lizards, and for one group, a herd of wild boars! I really, really need to remember that when I’m blocked, a good walk can shake things up nicely. (I’ll steer clear of the boars, however.)

I so appreciated all the time for writing (without the usual distractions), and I treasured the opportunities for communion with other writers. You artistic types out there — give yourself the gift of a retreat! It doesn’t have to be Kindling Words (though I strongly recommend it). You could take a day alone, or gather with friends for a weekend or longer. No matter how or with whom you arrange it, I really urge you to set aside silent work time.

For those who make a regular habit of retreating, what sort of activities, formats, locations, etc., inspired you?