Show Somebody Your Work, for Crying Out Loud!

I recently listened to a Louise Penny book about Chief Inspector Armand Gamache of the Surêté du Québec. It’s exactly the type of mystery that I love, so I searched out the first book in the series so I could read from the beginning. In the beginning of Still Life, one of the characters, Jane, decides to enter a painting in a juried art exhibit. The detail of the story explains that Jane has been painting for years and has never shown anyone anything she’s painted. Ever.

I was dumbfounded.

How can she expect to improve?

Many years ago I took a studio art class at Boca High. It was one of those evening classes for adults that only cost around $40 for six weeks. The teacher gave us a blank sheet of paper and asked us to draw a face. Most of us, including me, didn’t make use of the entire page. In looking at my drawing in particular, he explained that the eyes aren’t really that close to the top of the head. They are actually more in the center. In five minutes I was already a better artist!

So who’s looking at your work?

Your mother, spouse, children, and students don’t count.

So now what’s your answer?

A critique group is a great place to start.  Most writing organizations have lists of critique groups. Search Meetup groups. Find one that meets at a time and place convenient to you and try it out. My first critique group was not a fit for me. I kept at it and have been in several that worked!

Get a professional critique. Most conferences give an opportunity for such a critique at a nominal fee. If you’ve got an entire book, there are professional editors who charge by the page.

Here’s the bottom line. Whatever they say, use it to grow into a better writer.

Best Concert

Cathy Castelli

Cathy: Barry Manilow – Copacabana Tour. I’d actually forgotten about it, but I was trying to remember a concert I really looked forward to–and it was this one! I was a freshman in college. My friend Melody (not our Tuesday’s Melody) and I had tickets. We went to the University of Illinois for the concert. It was a real happening!

Melody Maysonet

Melody: The best concert I’ve ever been to was Paul McCartney back in the mid-1990s. My then-boyfriend won tickets from a radio station (he was a HUGE Beatles and McCartney fan), and we drove three hours to St. Louis to see him. That was the first concert I’d ever been to, and no concert since can compare in terms of pure fan comraderie and excitement.

Jonathan Rosen

Jonathan: Tough one, since I’ve seen so many concerts where I’ve thought, This is the best! But two stand out above the rest. Bruce Springsteen and Barry Manilow both put on epic shows. Yes, they are two very different types of performers, but for their fans, they both give long shows, which cover a ton of their songs. Not that I didn’t love the other concerts I went to, but these two ranked among the best.

Faran Fagen

Faran: Best concert has to be Billy Joel on New Year’s Eve. He sounds so authentic live, and I sang along with every song. His concerts are always amazing because he has so may hits, and you never know which ones will be played. I also went with my wife and close friends, which made it more special. Billy even brought on some special guests, Howard Stern and Jimmy Kimmel, just before midnight.

Stacie Ramey

Stacie: I’ve attended many concerts over the years and all of them have been unique and wonderful experiences. I’ve been lucky. From Bruce Springsteen to Peter Gabriel to REM to The Who, I’ve loved them all. But my favorite all-time concert, even surpassing the two times I saw Eric Clapton or Tom Petty, my favorite concert was David Bowie. He brought so much magic to the stage. Man, he was something.

Amping Up the Emotion in Your Writing

Well, I wasn’t able to attend Writer’s Group on Tuesday, so my wrap up is going to be more about my writing week than about what actually went on in group.

I took a workshop a few months ago, taught by the fabulous Lorin Oberweger, where she asked us to identify our protagonist’s predominant emotion in chapter one. Then she told us to start writing chapter one again with that emotion in mind, but this time, try to make the emotion over the top. She suggested that what we think might be over-the-top is actually exactly what the chapter needs.

So I tried it. I decided that my fifteen-year-old protagonist’s predominant emotion in chapter one was desperation. The book starts off with her living in a homeless shelter with her mom and she’s desperate to get out of there, to have her life return to the way it was before her mom started drinking. In my previous draft, her desperation was there, but it wasn’t over-the-top by any means. So instead of merely implying the emotion, I let it seep into everything—her narrative voice, her thought processes, her dialogue—so the whole chapter was dripping with it. And can I just say? Lorin was right. At first it felt like I was going overboard, but it actually makes her more relatable—and more likeable.

If you’re concerned that your first chapter needs more oopmph, I would totally try this. Identify your protagonist’s predominant emotion and then amplify that emotion to the point where you think it’s too much. You might decide that you don’t like it, but so much of writing is trial and error (at least for me) and if I didn’t try to stretch myself, I’d never get better.


Get your Writing Seen by Agents and Editors

I’ve learned that writers have a wonderful sense of community. Most all of the writers I’ve met are supportive and willing to share things they’ve discovered. Today’s Tuesday Tip for writers is to enter as many contests as possible once you’ve finished all those layers of revision. This Thursday, December 7th, at 8am, PitMad starts. It’s a great opportunity to pitch your manuscript to multiple agents.

#PitMad is a pitch party on Twitter where writers tweet a pitch of their completed, polished, unpublished manuscripts. You can only tweet three (3) pitches. They can be different pitches or the same pitch per project for the day. You’re allowed to pitch more than one project. Pitches can be 280 characters or less but a brief, concise pitch is best and will help the agents read through the Twitter feed more easily.

The agents and editors tweet their submission preferences then favorite your tweet if they want to see your work. If you get a favorite from an agent or publisher, check their submission preferences on their twitter site and send their request promptly. If they haven’t listed their preferences, follow the submission guidelines on their websites. Putting “PitMad Request: TITLE (of your manuscript)” in the subject line of your email when sending to the agent or editor.

Don’t tweet agents and publishers directly unless they tweet you first. Make sure you research each requesting agent or publisher so you know you are compatible. You do not have to send requests to those requesting if you don’t want to work with them.

The pitch needs to include the hashtag #PitMad and the category (#A, #NA, #YA etc.) in the tweet as well as the genre (#S, #T, #R etc.) The “#” is critical. It sorts the categories for the agents and editors. More on categories and genres at

Don’t favorite friends tweets. The agents will be requesting by favoriting tweets.  They allow Retweeting of your friends tweets. Use Quote-RT and add a comment to the retweet to mention your support. If you have any questions contact @HeatherCashman or one of the other hosts monitoring the feed.

I’ve just finished the revision of my manuscript. Here’s my pitch.   RAGER: a college freshman who parties like he’s possessed meets the girl next door exorcist.

What do you think? If you see it go by on Twitter this Thursday give it a retweet. PitMad is a great opportunity to get the pitch of your completed manuscript out there. Have fun with your own pitch. I wish you luck!


Shhh: Tuesday Stacie is #amreading


Where do you read? Wanna know my (imagined) perfect reading space?

One of the best things about being a writer is that I get to make things up. Pretty cool, right?

When I’m spending time in my head Imagining the type of world in which my character lives, every detail from the house to the bedroom  to the mementos in the room matter.

You want to know a secret? I don’t only fantasize about building worlds for my characters, I also do it for myself.

Yup! Summers in Florida are brutal, so by August, when I’m totally over it, I fantasize about moving up north. Every single year. I’ll go online, pick a place to live, look at houses for sale, check out jobs and schools, and, of course, book stores. You know the important things.

And then I started thinking, not just about houses and rooms, but also about spaces. The perfect kind of spaces, you know? The ones that are specific. Planned. Designed. Reading spaces, in particular.

I was a reader well before I was a writer. Reading was my first and has been my most trusted boyfriend (don’t tell the hubs! Lol)

So if I was going to design a reading space, I wanted to do it right. But I was having the hardest time choosing just one type of space. And seriously, why sweat that kind of decision? The way I see it, if I can have anything I like (which I can since it’s my dream), I’m going high-end. And I’m also not limiting myself to just ONE reading space. Nope. And suddenly that felt sort of brilliant. Why not design a perfect reading space specifically suited to the book you are currently reading.

So…if I’m reading an emotionally loaded book about a high school junior who is the survivor of a sister suicide pact, I’m going to need a soft, soft, chair, and a very pretty lamp. All of the pieces should reflect the sensibilities of my main character, Allie, who is an artist.

I think I would like to read about Allie while sitting in a big overstuffed chair with major flare. Maybe a bold checked pattern like this:



Now… when I want to get in John Strickland’s head, I’m going to need strong and architecturally appealing pieces. So for my The Homecoming reading space, see below:



Doesn’t that just look like John?

This next reading space has me REALLY excited. Why you ask? Well, I’ll tell you. My newest book will be released in March 2018. The pre-order links are already up on all the sites. Yay! So now I’m visualizing a reading space for The Secrets We Bury and I think it will have to have a vintage inspired piece like this.  I could totally see #Dylan in a coffee shop with something like this in it. And when I’m reading about him, that’s where I’d like to be also.

But all of this talking about books has me wanting to curl up and start … know….


So, kindly comment below and tell me about your ideal reading spaces and


then let yourselves out and shhhh. ….because I #amreading.






Newest First 

SCBWI’s 2017 programming a real page-turner

By Faran Fagen

For Fun Friday, thought I’d share an article I recently wrote about all the great things the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators does for lovers of childrens books in South Florida. Some familiar Tuesday folks you might recognize. Enjoy!

The characters in books should feel like authentic walk-off the page people. They exist before your story takes place, and endure long after you close the book, at least in the minds of your readers.

This was the message relayed by Wellington author Stacie Ramey as part of a monthly series of writing workshops at the West Boca Raton Library in partnership with the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators (SCBWI).

Ramey’s October lecture on character development encouraged the 40 writers in attendance to put themselves in the shoes of their characters and to discover more about their characters’ backstories and possible futures.

The workshop was the eighth of 2017 in a series created by SCBWI to promote the written word throughout South Florida. The classes are offered the third Saturday of the month, and culminate with a short trip to Panera Bread for casual follow-up conversation with food, coffee and friends.

“These workshops have helped me hone my craft in so many ways,” said Ramey, whose third young adult novel, The Secrets We Bury, debuts in March of 2018. “Lorin Oberweger’s workshop on iconic characters was fantastic and taught me how to write epic characters.”

Oberweger, of Tampa, is an editor, ghost writer, and literary agent. One of the aspects she touched on in her workshop, one of the first of the year, was getting to know your characters and their good traits by “how they battle adversity”.
For Cathy Castelli, an aspiring children’s book author from Delray Beach, her top “Aha moment” came during a workshop taught by author/illustrator Fred Koehler, of Lakeland.

“He asked us to write a death scene without using all the words generally associated with death. It was certainly a way to avoid the cliché,” said Castelli, who attended several of the library events. “The workshops are important because I can get into too much of a routine with my writing. Attending a workshop stirs up my work in the best way possible.”

Castelli also attended an SCBWI Boot Camp in October. The Boot Camps, offered in Wellington, Davie and in various cities throughout the state, offered a full day of writing craft and helpful hints. SCBWI expanded its activities this year for those who can’t attend the annual SCBWI conference in Miami in January.

This year’s SCBWI Miami conference, Jan. 12-14, features Greenacres resident Shutta Crum, one of the guest speakers and author of 16 children’s books.

“We have some great speakers coming to the conference,” said Davie’s Dorian Cirrone, SCBWI Florida Co-Regional Adviser. “I’ve always wanted to meet Melissa Manlove, who is a senior editor at Chronicle Books. She discovered the best-selling picture book, Goodnight, Goodnight Construction Site in the slush pile. We also have Sylvie Frank from Paula Wiseman Books/Simon and Schuster and Amy Fitzgerald from Carolrhoda.”

Literary agents attending the conference include Oberweger, Jennie Dunham, Nicole Resciniti and Marcia Wernick.

Author Jonathan Rosen of Tamarac will be speaking on the first book’s panel at the conference. His debut book, Night of the Living Cuddle Bunnies, was released over the summer.

In the monthly library series, Cirrone’s teachings pushed Boca Raton author Debbie Reid Fischer to rethink how to write a modern-day version of an old classic novel.

“I’m already outlining a new novel based on her excellent tips,” said Fischer, whose middle grade novel, This is Not the Abby Show, received three book awards last month. “Now I have a new book in the works and I’m so excited.”

Fischer, known for her sharp wit in her young adult and middle grade novels, was a library speaker on the topic: Humor, Pacing and Plot.

“It’s always worth it to show up to these workshops,” Fischer said. “You never know what the result will be from a nugget of inspiration or instruction. If you come away with just one thing you can use, it’s time well-spent.”

On Nov. 18, author and writing coach Joyce Sweeney, of Coral Springs, gave the West Boca Library workshop: From Image to Inspiration, from noon – 2 p.m. Sweeney shared the story of her poetry collection, WAKE UP, and read selected poems.
South Florida SCBWI Meeting Volunteers Mindy Weiss of Delray Beach and Marjetta Geerling of Hollywood run the monthly library workshops. Contact Weiss to RSVP, if you have questions, or want more information:

For more information on either local events or the upcoming SCBWI Miami conference, visit

Books That Made Us Cry

Faran Fagen

FaranThe Giving Tree by Shel Silverstein. I read it often to my kids. Every time I get to the end where the “boy” sits upon the tree, I feel like I’m about to cry.

Cathy Castelli

Cathy: Don’t You Dare Read This, Mrs. Dunfrey by Margaret Petersen Haddix. It’s one of those books where I wasn’t sure I could read it straight through and maybe I had to peek at the end just to make sure everything was going to be okay. The main character, Tish, is left to care for her little brother when their mother abandons them. Tish’s English teacher has assigned a journal which Tish usually marks that her teacher shouldn’t read it. I felt so much anxiety for Tish and her little brother. It really got to me.

Melody Maysonet

Melody: I have two books that I’d like to mention. War and Rembrance by Herman Wouk, which is set during World War II (I re-read it every few years), and Far From the Tree by Robin Benway, which won this year’s National Book Award for Young Adult fiction.

Joanne Butcher

Joanne: The story that made me cry the most was a movie called The Mission. In it a Jesuit priest is sent over a waterfall tied to a cross by the “savages” he was sent to tame. It turns out the people weren’t really savage at all. I cried for the priest who was convinced by his church this was the right thing to do, and I cried for the native people whose lives were ruined by the intrusion into their way of life. At one point I was sobbing so loudly that my husband closed the windows because he was worried the neighbors would think there was something wrong.

Jonathan: I have a feeling that I’m not the only one with this, but I can’t and won’t, ever read Bridge to Terabithia again. Made the mistake of seeing the movie years ago, and it had the same result. That is it for me. No more visits to Terabithia.

Wrap-It-Up Wednesday for the Tuesday Writers

The Tuesdays had a nice post-holiday meeting yesterday, with everyone contented from time with family and friends. Stacie was back from her out of town travels for her MFA work. We missed Melody, who was helping to run the book fair at her son’s school.

Faran had a great rewrite of a chapter in his novel about the struggles of two high school boys that plays out alongside their favorite sport of baseball. Faran really tightened up the chapter. He was able to bring out a lot of emotion in his characters with a scene on the pitcher’s mound.

Cathy is working on a rewrite of her novel about a girl in the circus. Cathy is meticulously reworking her plot and reduced it to a synopsis to submit at an upcoming conference. This helped her get a better idea of the plot’s overall flow. Cathy wanted to compact her synopsis so that it was only one page. Faran had a great suggestion to “sell the sizzle, not the steak.” He suggested keeping the juiciest parts to make it easy for an agent to read.

I brought in a chapter I had reworked. We usually read our work out loud to the group since it brings a different dimension than just seeing it on the page. I made copies of my chapter because I had included a lot of italics and wanted to see how that all played out.  Cathy offered to read so that I could get a different perspective. Hearing the chapter definitely helped me catch places where the pace slowed as well as phrases and word choices that needed to change.

Stacie is working on a new novel with two point of view characters. She’s is working out their voices in first person and third person. Stacie’s writing is always very fluid. It’s interesting to see how she’s incorporating the knowledge she’s gained from her MFA classes.

Our anchor, Jonathan, did not disappoint with the hilarity of his current story. The only critique was a question about where an object fell when thrown into the back seat of a car. That was all we could find to critique in his entire read.

I can’t wait for next Tuesday!

Tuesday’s Tips

Writing Career Playlist X’s Two


I’ve seen people post playlists for specific books so I thought for my blog today I’d create a playlist of the perfect songs to get you through your publishing journey.  Then I asked my husband, JKR, to weigh in on his choices, so you’re essentially getting two-for-one. Here’s to helping you through the tough times, the good times, and the even better ones.

For when you are writing:

My pick: Take Me to Church by Hozier

JKR’s pick: Guitar and Pen by the Who


For when you are stuck:

My pick: Running to Stand Still by U2

JKR’s pick: You Really Got me by the Kinks


                                                                            For when you are plotting:

My pick: Ripple by the Grateful Dead

JKR’s pick: Child of Vision by Supertramp


For when your first draft is done:

My pick: Strange Magic by ELO

JKR’s pick: Tempus Fugit by Yes


For when you are revising:

My pick: For You by Bruce Springsteen

JKR’s pick: Right Place, Wrong Time by Dr. John


For while you wait for that agent or editor to get back to you:

My pick: The Waiting is the Hardest Part by Tom Petty

JKR’s pick: 22,000 Days by The Moody Blues


For when you are rejected by said agent or editor:

My Pick: Try by Pink

JKR’s Pick: When the Levee Breaks by Led Zeplin


For when you sell:

My Pick: See What Love Can Do by Eric Clapton

JKR’s: Rosalita By Bruce Springsteen


Now you are all set for every stage of your writing career.

You’re welcome!







Creativity for Writers

Are you participating in Nanowrimo or PiBoldMo this month? Confession time – I didn’t this year, but it is really fun to write fast. In a recent SCBWI Boot Camp event, Dorian Cirrone worked with us on the concept of writing fast. Working for say ten minutes and just seeing how many words you can get down on the page. It can be very freeing to allow yourself to let the words out without second guessing all of them.

So while participating in writing events like Nano or PiBo are a great way to connect the collective consciousness of everyone else going for fifty thousand words, it has the possibility to quash your creativity. Here are some ways to consider stirring up the creativity that may be dormant.

  1. Participate in a FaceBook challenge like sharing seven black and white pictures – a different one for each day – without any explanation. No writing involved, but taking pictures activates a different part of your brain.
  2. Cut pictures out of magazines to represent your characters. It makes them more real and looking for them is half the fun!
  3. Meme your characters! There are meme generators all over the internet. For this one, you might want to set a time limit because you really could get sucked into the vortex of wasting time on the internet.
  4. Haiku! Boil a crucial scene down into 17 syllables. (It’s fun!) (And revealing!)
  5. Blackout poetry – my students love this. Take a page from your book and create a poem by selecting words from the page. You can then create art around the poem you’ve created.         Remember that sometimes you have to step away from the project to see what it’s all about.