Fellowship Interview

DDoA 2016 banner

Each year, the Delaware Division of the Arts creates a page to highlight the 16 artists who are granted Individual Artist Fellowships. The IAF page features interviews with each artist by Christopher Yasiejko as well as work samples. You can read my interview with Christopher as well as the opening pages of my (then) work in progress, LEST I FORGET.

As always, I am grateful to the Delaware Division of the Arts, the State of Delaware, and the National Endowment for the Arts for their support of my work and the arts community.

On Sunday, April 3, 2016, fellow IAF recipient and poet Maggie Rowe and I will share our work with the public at the Judge Morris Estate, White Clay Creek Park, in Newark, Delaware. Built in the 1790s by the , it was the  home of distinguished federal judge Hugh Morris and is now a showcase in the 600-acre estate. Our reading will begin at 1:00 and will be followed by a reception for our friends and kind listeners.

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Goodbye to the Working Stiffs

Today  I posted my last guest post at the wonderful, Pittsburgh-based group blog known as the Working Stiffs.

My post today discussed writers as artists. You, the Artist asks writers to accept that the words they piece together into stories is indeed art, and we should all band together to encourage the next generation as they enter the wacky world of writing and publishing.

I’ve had a lot of fun as a Working Stiffs contributor. Posting there allowed me to touch on a range of subjects–some light, some dark–but I hope all thought provoking in some way. It was a great pleasure to work with such fine writers, who amused, challenged and entertained me with their posts, and honored me with their friendship.

Here’s a summary of my contributions to the Working Stiffs:

The Gift of Time and a Boxed Lunch. (Yay! I’ve been accepted to an artists’ colony!)

Over There. (A Veterans Day history lesson on the War to End All Wars—ha—and the little known Bonus Army of 1932.)

Paging the Lorax. (I speak for the Hwy.  50 Shoe Tree and the Spirit Oaks at Toomer’s Corner.)

Twelve Average Citizens. (On a quiet Tuesday night in Georgetown, Delaware, a Patrolman named Chad Spicer was killed in the line of duty.)  

Who Do You Love?  (The story of Charles:  the love of my life—and how he wooed me when I was five.)

Double Dating a Killer. (Have you ever known a murderer?)  

A Position of Trust. (On Dr. Earl Bradley, the worst pedophile you’ve never heard of, and how he was able to abuse so many children, for so long.)

Are You Intrepid?  (On being brave, and trying something new in life.)

Beggars Can’t Be Writers. (Is it okay to ask for something for nothing? If so, tell me where to put the DONATE button.)

In With the Old. (A recipe for My Favorite Cake, and why a vintage cake cover is necessary for success.)

Three Questions for Two New Authors. (A couple of new mystery writers to watch.)

I’m a Big Girl Now. (Will your parents ever stop treating you like a child? No, probably not, but you gotta love ‘em for boldly not trying.)

I Bought the Book, It’s Mine Now, So….(Is it a sacrilege to write in a published book?)

To Have and To Hold…A Grudge. (A post-election look at Delaware’s Return Day tradition, and a question about how long you hang onto hard feelings.)

Three Travel Adventures (Embarrassing moments on the road.) 

I’m Not a Believer. (Goblins, ghosts, woo woo and voodoo—what rattles your chains?)  

First Draft–Teacher’s Edition interview

The following interview appeared in the October, 2010, issue of First Draft, the newsletter put out by the Sisters in Crime Guppies Chapter. Special thanks to my interviewer, Ann Charles, and the First Draft editor, Susan Evans, for allowing me to reprint the piece in full here.


After-School Sessions with Our Favorite Teachers—by Ann Charles

Hello, everybody. I’ve set out to interview some of my favorite writing teachers and learn more about them as teachers, not just as authors.

Today, I’m staying after class to talk with: Ramona Long

Ramona works as an independent editor, specializing in mystery novels and short stories, and teaches workshops on all aspects of writing. She’s a member of Sisters in Crime, the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators, the Delaware Literary Connection, the Hillendale Farm Critique Group and is an honorary member of The Written Remains writing group.

Ramona is a native of south Louisiana and a graduate of LSU. She’s lived in Delaware for nearly 12 years but finds much of her fiction goes back to her wild and wacky roots in Cajun land.


Okay, let’s get down to business.

ANN: From an editor’s point of view, what do you believe is the biggest problem for writers when it comes to creating a sellable manuscript?

RAMONA: First off, my philosophy as an editor is to help writers create readable stories, not sellable ones. I never try to tell a writer what to write. That being said, I will state this: Both readers and publishers want stories that are different and special. I see many manuscripts that are technically perfect, but without the “it” factor that makes it unique. There is nothing overtly wrong with the story, but nothing jumps out from the page and screams, “You MUST read me!”

Uniqueness is hard to define. Sometimes it comes through voice; sometimes it’s a memorable character; sometimes it’s a situation. This is difficult to teach, because it’s esoteric. I’d advise a writer to look at a WIP and ask, What about my story is different from every other story? What different perspective can I, and only I, bring to the table? How can I highlight and promote the “it” of my story?

I will also point out that a strong voice is probably the greatest hook in any story. Create an engaging narrative voice, and you are one foot in the reader’s door.

ANN: What clues show that a manuscript is unpolished and/or amateur?

RAMONA: It’s said over and over again, because it is true, that what often kills a story is backstory. An author’s need to explain the protagonist’s entire life in chapter one reeks of inexperience. Background gives depth and meaning to a story, but it can come in good time. “Move it, don’t lose it” is the way to think about backstory in opening pages.  When the urge hits to stop the narrative flow and explain the past, ask yourself if the reader must know this NOW. If not, save it for later, when it doesn’t interrupt action.

Problems with the writing itself include overuse of adverbs; not trusting “said” to do the job in dialogue tags; passive voice; overwriting or repetitive writing. These are common errors that demonstrate a lack of trust in the reader to interpret and/or a writer’s lack of confidence in his ability to convey what he means with a simple, straightforward narrative.

ANN: When asked to edit a novel for a mystery writer, explain your editing process after receiving the novel. Do you read it through once just to get a general feel for the story? Or do you line edit right out of the gate? Do you ask an author what he/she wants from you, or do you deliver a content edit as well as a line edit automatically?

RAMONA: There are different types of edits: line editing, copy editing, developmental (or content) editing. Most of what I do is developmental editing. That means a manuscript comes to me either as a full draft or a work in progress, and I tackle everything that should make the story work. This is the most intensive type of edit—and the most fun (for me) because I get to see the story grow. With line and/or copy edits, the goal is to make a manuscript technically clean and ready for submission.

I do ask for feedback from an author. I want to know their concerns and if they have some goal they’d like to achieve. If there’s a request from an agent or editor, I’d like to know that, too.

With a new client, I usually suggest we start with the first three chapters. I critique it, and we both decide if we will pursue a full project together. Having a novel edited is a big commitment, both financially and emotionally. Seeing what I do with three chapters prepares the writer for the full assault, if you will, of a fully edited manuscript.

My process is this: I read chapter by chapter, reading each chapter twice. First read is for content; in the second read, I insert comments. At the end of each chapter, I note what the chapter did, or did not, accomplish. My comments question story logic, point out what character’s actions tell me, or suggest additions or cuts. With mysteries, I’ll often guess at the killer or motive as I read. I do this because, if I can figure out the plot or whodunit by chapter 5, that’s a problem.

It’s important to note that, the story remains the author’s, not mine. My goal is to help make the story the best that it can be, but the authorial decisions ultimately fall in the writer’s hands. It’s your name on it, so I don’t try to change things to what I like or think should happen; I suggest changes to make YOUR story better.

ANN: Do you work with authors who plan to self publish, publish with a small press, or publish through an e-publisher?

I’m not tied to a publisher or agency, so I can work with anyone. Where a story goes after I have edited it is the author’s decision.

ANN: You now write once a week for a blog called Writers Who Kill. Lately, you posted an article which discussed the classic three act structure. Later, on your own website’s blog, you commented that you believe the three parts of the three act structure–Set-up, Conflict, Resolution–could be applied to the writing process, as well as to drama itself. How can these three parts be applied to the writing process?

RAMONA: For a lot of writers, the dramatic structure mirrors the writing and rewriting process. I often hear authors talk about their writing experience in this way: The beginning pages fly by. It’s great fun, there is little planning, everything falls into place and then around 100 pages, they hit a wall. That’s a reflection of Act I. The author is setting up the story. It’s full of promise and mystery, and no one (often including the author) is quite sure where it is headed.

The 100 page stop happens because, now that the set-up is complete, story logic kicks in. The story can’t just be entertaining; it also has to make sense. This is Act II, the Conflict. Things get more complex. The past and side characters become important. The momentum of the book slows down. This is the meat of the tale, and where authors get bogged down. The writing feels more like work than the free writing feeling of Act I. A lot of “pantser” authors break down and write an outline or note cards after the 100 page rush.

When the final part of the book is approaching, the Climax or Resolution, authors see the light at the end of the writing tunnel. Enthusiasm returns—sometimes too much. It’s easy for an Act III to feel rushed, because authors rush to the finish line. A quick denouement is not as satisfying as one that is paced and thoughtful, so an author has to make sure all the narrative loose ends are resolved.

Each writer has his own process; I like to use the Three Act Structure as a writing analogy because it’s familiar and comfortable. And because it works.

ANN: A short time ago, you taught a workshop at the Pennwriters Conference on the Basics of Mystery Writing with a subtitle of Decisions, Decisions. On your blog, you mentioned that your premise for that workshop is that a crime novel is, basically, a series of bad decisions. Please explain what you mean by this.

RAMONA: Pennwriters was a great conference. The premise of Decisions, Decisions is, as you noted, that a crime novel hinges on bad choices made by the major players in the story. First, the Bad Guy makes the decision to kill, kidnap, rob, maim. The motivation for that decision may seem like a good idea to the BG, be it revenge, desire, greed, or whatever—but the decision is going to be bad for the victim. Hopefully, by the end of the story, the BG will come to regret this decision and get his.

Bad decisions by the victim can be participating in the crime and ending up dead; foolishly or naively getting involved with a dangerous character (the BG); or being in the wrong place at the wrong time. Sometime the only bad decision made by a victim is getting out of bed in the morning.

In a cozy, the protagonist gets involved in murder and mayhem, which is not natural—or a good idea. Who in their right mind goes about solving crimes without training or a paycheck? The sleuth is often driven by the desire to help someone, but to drive the plot forward, this well-meaning choice results in all sorts of nasty complications: physical danger; angry boyfriend/ex-husband/mother/cat; threats from the police for interfering. Nevertheless, the sleuth carries on with this foolish resolve because, if she doesn’t, we don’t have a story.

Finally, the investigating agencies in mysteries need to screw up. If all goes well too soon, the crime would be solved in chapter 2. This is why cops in mystery novels fall in love with suspects, arrest the wrong person, drink too much, misplace evidence, fall for obvious red herrings, and ignore the superior investigatory skills of the amateur sleuth—if the fictional police did their jobs perfectly and efficiently, we’d have no books to read.

ANN: When is the next workshop you are offering and what is the topic and location?

RAMONA: At this time, I don’t have any workshops on my schedule. (Ack! How did that happen?) I do have a public reading on the horizon, and I’d like to pitch a flash fiction class to the local arts alliance. In March of this year, I was the guest speaker at the Pittsburgh SinC Chapter’s weekend retreat. I would love to do another group retreat.

ANN: List three of your favorite writing self-help books—can be craft- or promotion-related. (For example, Chris Roerden’s book, Don’t Sabotage Your Submission; or J.A. Konrath’s free book, A Newbie’s Guide to Publishing.)

RAMONA: Three? Seriously, only three? If you’d see my reference bookcase, you’d understand the difficulty of this! For craft, I like the “Write Great Fiction” series from Writer’s Digest Books, particularly Revision and Self-Editing by James Scott Bell. For looking at story through a writer’s POV, I loved Francine Prose’s personable and thought-provoking Reading Like a Writer. For promotion, I am finding Booklife by Jeff VanderMeer to be helpful in understanding the changing landscape of marketing.

ANN: You have recently started a Facebook page called How Many Pages Did You Write Today? What prompted you to start this page and what is your mission or goal you hope to accomplish?

RAMONA: I started How Many Pages Did You Write Today? because my personal page was overrun by my cousins! I joined Facebook with the intention of networking with other writers. But I’m from south Louisiana and have a bazillion relatives. Many of them found and Friended me. (This is not a complaint. As long as I have cousins, I’ll have story material.) But one of my favorite things about being an editor is working with and encouraging new writers. There is so much about publishing that is hard and discouraging, and writers spend a lot of solo time. I decided to start HMPDYWT to help dispel some of the isolation. I chose to focus on productivity because it’s a common denominator. It doesn’t matter if you write fiction or non-fiction, for adults or juveniles, a word count or page count is something your fellow writers can understand and appreciate. I’d like to see everyone post daily and rejoice in what they’ve accomplished, or ask for support when they’re stuck. If you are reading this, please join!

ANN: You have been awarded a 2009 Individual Artist Fellowship as an Established Professional from the Delaware Division of the Arts in the Literature-Fiction category. What is this? What are the benefits of winning the literary grant award for you and your career? Can you use it in marketing and promoting yourself?

RAMONA: The IAF I received last year was actually my fourth grant; I received one in 2002 from the DDOA, plus grants from the Pennsylvania State Arts Council and the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators. (How’s that for promoting myself?)  The IAF program is meant to highlight and promote the work of artists within a state or region. In Delaware, the award includes cash support at various levels. My 2002 award of $2,000 was as an Emerging Artist; last year, I was acknowledged as an Established Artist in Fiction, and my grant was $6,000. The award included opportunities to give workshops and public readings, be listed on artist registries and participate in art events statewide.  In addition to the support for my project—a collection of connected short stories I plan to market to a small literary press—the award is a public validation from an agency whose purpose is to advance art and artists.

I consider a fellowship as a combination of opportunity and obligation. In Delaware, we are required to give a public performance of our work. To fulfill this requirement, I and two other IAF recipients gave a joint reading at a local tavern said to be haunted by the ghost of Edgar Allan Poe. After we read from our grant projects, we invited guests to share their work through an open mic session.  It was a terrific reading with an eclectic audience: Delaware’s poet laureate attended, high school students and college kids read, area writers and personal friends showed up.

For promotion, the DDOA has set up a website with pages for each IAF recipient.  I use this as a reference for clients and when I submit my work, I include the award in my credits. It’s a meaningful addition to my professional resume.

The obligation part means I support the mission of the DDOA and promote the work of other Delaware artists in every way that I can. I attend and post info on readings on my Facebook page and website.  I have written blog posts about how to write an effective Artist Statement and grant application. I give testimonials to arts groups about what grants have meant to my career.  I encourage artists to apply for grants because the process alone—crafting an artistic statement that defines your personal goals as a writer, developing a professional bio, polishing a submission for the judge—is beneficial and worthwhile.

ANN: In addition to editing writers’ work, you are a writer yourself with some books already published. What would you say has been the most beneficial promotion or marketing tool you have used to build your name recognition to both fellow professionals and readers?

RAMONA: I’m in the unique position of living and writing in a very small state, with an active community of artists. I attend public readings and open mics, and like to participate. I think my recognition factor goes up every time I read in public, and I get invited to read because I obviously enjoy it. The instant response from the audience is both educational and gratifying. If you are ever unsure if a section of writing is becoming dry, read it aloud to an audience. Rapturous attention tells you the pacing is working; squirming and glazed looks tells you to cut!

That being said, for someone who needs to draw in both readers and editing clients, I’m not wholly comfortable with aggressive BSP. For that reason, a website and Facebook are good tools for me, because there is the divide of the screen. I belong to professional organizations and participate in their Yahoo groups. I created a Facebook group. I bring postcards to workshops. I comment on blogs and quid pro quo with guest bloggers.

I think the artist and the promoter are two different personas, but one can’t survive without the other, can they? I’ve learned to expand my comfort zone to reach out to readers and clients, and try not to be obnoxious about it.


Ramona enjoys hearing from readers, writers, and everyone in between. Feel free to contact her at ramonad@comcast.net. You can also read more about Ramona on her website: https://ramonadef.wordpress.com/.

Thank you, Ramona, for sharing your time with all of us Guppies; and thanks to all of you Guppies for reading along! If any of you have a particular “teacher” you would like me to interview, please email me with his or her name and any other helpful information.

Until the next after-school session…

Ann Charles

2010 Daphne du Maurier Award Winner

Ann Charles is an award-winning author who writes romantic mysteries that are splashed with humor. She recently won the 2010 Daphne du Maurier for Excellence in Mystery/Suspense. A member of Sisters in Crime, the Guppies, and Romance Writers of America for many moons, she has a B.A. in English with an emphasis on creative writing from the University of Washington. She is currently toiling away on her next book while her agent works on selling her manuscripts. When she is not dabbling in fiction, she is penning writing-related articles or standing on her workshop soapbox, sharing what she has learned over the years about the craft and self-promotion. Visit her at www.anncharles.com, or read her weekly mom-related antics at www.plotmammas.com.

You can also find her at http://www.1stturningpoint.com, where she and over two dozen other authors, reviewers, and PR consultants have joined together to teach and share (and learn from each other) all sorts of great information about promotion for both unpublished and published authors.

She lives near Seattle with her clever husband, charming children, and one incredibly sassy cat.

Email: ann@anncharles.com

Q & A with Kimberly Gray

Last September at the Seascape Writers Retreat, I had the pleasure of meeting Kimberly Gray, who had been awarded a major grant for aspiring mystery authors. Kim has graciously agreed to answer a few questions about her work and what winning the grant has meant to her career.

First, about the grant she won: The William F. Deeck – Malice Domestic Grants for Unpublished Writers. Founded in 1993 and sponsored by Malice Domestic, Ltd., the grants are presented annually at the May conference. The grants recognize promising works in fiction and nonfiction which demonstrate commitment to  the “traditional mystery” style (no excessive gore, gratuitous violence, or explicit sex—think Dame Agatha) that is known as malice domestic.

The awards consist of $1,500 to allow recipients to attend a writers’ conference or workshop. For nonfiction, the grant may be used to offset research expenses. It also comps the recipients’ attendance and lodging at the annual conference in Bethesda. The grant period is currently in progress; the deadline is November 15. More details may be found at the MD site.

Kim Gray was awarded the grant in May, 2009. She’s here to share a bit about herself and to help promote the  Malice Domestic grant program by encouraging other writers to apply.

RDL: Kim, what is your writing background?

KG: I love mysteries! About 12 years ago I took a writing workshop with author Barbara Lee. She encouraged me to write what I loved to read. Up until that point I was writing essays and poetry. I had a few poems and essays published in college and high school magazines

RDL:  Tell us about your grant-winning project.

KG: My project that won the grant has the working title of Ghost Of A Chance. It is a paranormal mystery set in Baltimore City. The story revolves around Lottie Gershwin and her mother-in-law, Margot. Together they need to solve a murder… Margot’s.

RDL: What’s the status of the story now?

KG: The book is finished and is in the process of revision now.

RDL: How did you use the Malice grant?

KG: The grant gave me the means to attend a few workshops I would never have been able to afford. One in particular was Seascape, where I had the opportunity to work with many talented published and non-published writers.

RDL:  How did winning the grant affect your career?

KG: Winning the grant has opened doors to editors and agents a little easier. It has helped to give me faith in my talent and encouraged me not to give up on my dream.

RDL: Thanks, Kim! Best of luck with Ghost of a Chance.

Kim Gray is a writer and artist. In addition to her promising new work in the mystery genre, Kim also writes essays and poetry. When she’s not writing, cooking, traveling or listening to local bands, she’s working at Studio C .

You may (try to) follow her on Facebook–if you can keep up with her.

The X Talk

…wherein Nancy Martin graciously discusses the special something that separates one piece of work from all the others.

The French (of course) have a phrase to describe the intangible whatever that makes a thing special or appealing or distinctive. To be told you have an air of je ne sais quoi is a lovely compliment. The indefinable but unmistakable allure may be difficult to articulate, but to possess it is a good thing.

I don’t usually take issue with the French in matters of allure and appeal, but for a writer speaking about a novel, je ne sais quoi is not the way to go. If you are writing a query or planning a pitch, clearly understanding what makes your book stand out from every other is a must. Being able to express that with ease and finesse is an art.

Nancy Martin calls that special something the X-Factor. She has graciously agreed to a Q&A on how to banish the je ne sais from a story description.

Ramona:  What is your concept of the X-factor?

Nancy: I think an X-factor is some special element that sets one piece of work above the rest. It’s the thing that turns an ordinary story into an extraordinary book. It may not appeal to everyone, but it does have appeal for a specific audience. Yes, the concept is hard to express, but what’s the old definition of pornography?  You know it when you see it. A unique setting might be a book’s X-factor.  (Donna Leon’s wonderful Venice mysteries.  Cara Black’s Paris setting. Alexander McCall Smith’s Africa.) Or a special “world” for the story—such as the world of vampires.  Or a terrific story element.  (THE HELP by Kathryn Stockett.) Or a truly fresh and exciting writerly voice. (Janet Evanovich.) An often overlooked X-factor is simply beautiful writing.  But I’ll be interested in hearing what your readers think might be other categories of X-factors. I bet they recognize it when they see it.

Ramona: Can you give us some examples of X in your work?

Nancy: What set my romances apart from the many that were published every month was that mine were funny.  Wit is also prized in murder mysteries, and I think that’s the part of my reputation as a writer that made me appealing to mystery editors.  My Blackbird books were set in the world of Philadelphia high society—and that’s what the marketing department focused on.  The Blackbirds were also more romantic than most mysteries—a quality that wasn’t around much when the books were first published. All those things might be considered X-factors.

I think every writer needs to think about her best writing skills or her background (do you live in Bermuda?) or her unique line of work (do you tame lions? Perform autopsies?) and translate that into an X-factor.  For me, I combined my ability to write in an amusing way with my background in romance to create Roxy Abruzzo—a tough, sexy, smart-mouthed Pittsburgh girl.  Roxy became my X-factor—a character like none other in the mystery world right now. She’s compared to Stephanie Plum a lot, but Roxy is very different—much darker than Stephanie, and she really kicks butt.

Ramona: Why is X important, to editors/agents and to readers?

Nancy: Some agents notice read  fifty email queries every morning.  What a tiresome chore, right?  Of course they’re looking for something that makes one query more exciting than the next.

An editor, though, is going to take the X-factor and transform it into a marketing hook.  She’ll use it when talking to the art department about the cover art and to the sales department so they can succinctly and effectively explain the book to distributors and booksellers. And booksellers will use the X-factor to sell your book to readers.  Reviewers will choose a book to review based upon its X-factor and will no doubt use that component when explaining the story in a review. With all that riding on the X-factor, coming up with such an important element must surely be at the top of the writer’s to-do list.

Q. How does a writer use the X-factor to pitch a story?

Nancy: Well, don’t bury your lead.  Skip the long explanation of your plot in favor of: “My book is a story about alien clone paratroopers, who drop into Nazi Germany in 1941.”  If the editor isn’t interested in clone stories, she’ll pass.  But if you’ve done all the right research and know clones are exactly what your editor is looking for—bingo!

Ramona: How would a writer use X to market/promote book?

Nancy: If you’re an author sitting at a card table in  your local Barnes & Noble trying to sell your mystery  about, say, knitting, chances are the customers are avoiding you because they’re afraid you’re going to urge them to buy a boring book.  So hit ‘em where it makes the most sense. Say, on Mother’s Day weekend:  “Does your mom read murder mysteries?  Do you think she’d like one about knitting?” (Or raising cobras? NASCAR?)  Use the X-factor in the design of your website and all promotional materials you send to booksellers or readers.  If you write about knitting, it makes sense to contact stores that sell wool and knitting supplies to do events.  Contact knitting list-serves.  Use your X-factor any way you can.

Ramona: How much (if at all) does a book’s X-factor tie it to branding?

Nancy: I think it definitely ties in.  When I wrote about the Blackbird sisters, I wore pearls and sweaters that matched the book covers.  My website featured Main Line mansions and polo ponies. I spoke at elegant lunches and teas. Now that I’m writing about Roxy, I’ve put all my pastel sweaters in a drawer, and I wear black leather.  My website features rock & roll, and we’re soon going to run photos of pit bulls that their owners send in. If you can make your X-factor work in many ways—all the better.

Ramona: New writers are often stumped by “What’s your story about?”  Advice?

Nancy: You know what?  I think less is more.  Talk about the high points. If you start rambling about the plot points of your story, though, you’re in the weeds.  When I talk about OUR LADY OF IMMACULATE DECEPTION, I don’t talk about missing statues or describe a lot of the secondary characters. I say: Roxy Abruzzo is a tough Pittsburgh girl with sticky fingers and a heart of gold. I might say she’s a fixer for her mobbed-up uncle Carmine. But Roxy’s the thing that either turns readers on or off. She’s the X-factor.

Nancy Martin is the author of nearly fifty popular fiction novels in three genres—romance, historical and mystery.  She received the 2009 Romantic Times award for career achievement in mystery writing.  Her current release is OUR LADY OF IMMACULATE DECEPTION, a mystery published by St. Martin’s Minotaur. Visit her website: www.NancyMartinMysteries.com

DLC Interview with Elizabeth Mosier, part 2

Continued below is an interview with Elizabeth Mosier,

author of  My Life as a Girl. Libby’s full bio can be found at the start of the interview, posted yesterday, with more about her and her work at her website.

This interview was conducted for the Delaware Literary Connection. For more information about the DLC, contact me at ramonadef@yahoo.com

Part 2

RL: Do you belong to a writers or critique group? Do you share your work with anyone for review before sending it out to an agent/editor/publisher?

EM: As I tell my students, it’s not a draft until you’ve shared it with a reader and learned from their reaction.  Though I’m not currently in a writing group, I’m lucky to have several trusted readers, including my husband and colleagues from Warren Wilson College (where I completed my MFA) and SCBWI.

RL: As a writer, are you a planner or a pantser? (Definitions for the uncertain: Planner is a writer who maps out or outlines a story in advance or during the writing process. Pantser is one who sits at the keyboard and lets whatever happens, happen.)

EM: How about a plantser?  I have a general sense of where I’m going — an idea I’m trying to illustrate, or a picture I’m trying to understand.  But I never know what I’m really writing about until I’ve completed a draft.  I spend most of my writing time in revision:  reorganizing what’s emerged, burying what I’ve learned so the reader can have the pleasure of discovering it as the story unspools.

RL: Part 2 of the above question: In your daily, non-writing life, are you a planner or a pantser?

EM: I’m a planner!  I shop with a list, make weekly meal plans, schedule exercise, send birthday cards on time, plan family vacations six months in advance.  To me, a schedule is like a good syllabus: a framework that supports your goals (for the semester, for your family, for your novel), allowing you to relax and experience, to think and dream.  I’m an excellent and cheerful administrator, often tapped to be in charge.  Which is why I had to wean myself from work I’ve enjoyed in the past — directing Bryn Mawr’s summer writing program for high school students, filling in as Acting Director of Creative Writing and Acting Director of Admissions, running concessions for community theater, chairing the school craft night and science fair – so that I can get my writing done!


RL: You do a lot of outreach (book talks, signings, school visits) in the Philadelphia literary scene. Do you have a favorite or pet event that’s the most fun or has special meaning to you?

EM: I love to teach, probably too much for my own literary health!  But nothing compares to the experience of visiting a class of students (as I did recently at Country Day School of the Sacred Heart in Bryn Mawr) who’ve read your work and prepared questions for you.  Connecting with readers is what every writer wants.  Despite rumors to the contrary, writing isn’t about fame or fortune – it’s about communicating something and being understood.

RL: How does conducting workshops for young writers help you as a writer for young readers?

EM: When you work with young children and teenagers, it’s more difficult to underestimate them in your work.  But most importantly, kids remind you that writing is a form of play – and that, under the best circumstances, it’s supposed to be fun.

DLC Interview with Elizabeth Mosier

I recently had the pleasure of interviewing author Elizabeth (Libby) Mosier on behalf of the Delaware Literary Connection.  Because the interview is long, I am posting in two parts. Today, the Q&A delves into Libby’s background, writing about the paranormal, and some thoughts about the young adult market/genre. Tomorrow, there will be more on writing habits and outreach in the Philadelphia area.

About the author:

Elizabeth Mosier is the author of the novel, My Life as a Girl (Random House) and numerous short stories and essays that have appeared in literary and commercial magazines including Seventeen, Cimarron Review, Child, the Philadelphia Inquirer and Poets and Writers.  A graduate of Bryn Mawr College and the MFA Program for Writers at Warren Wilson College, she has taught fiction and nonfiction writing to audiences from elementary school to adult, in a variety of settings including Bryn Mawr, the Bennington College July Program and at area elementary and middle schools as part of the Young Writers Day program.

Libby led a YA Workshop at the DLC’s 2009 Writer’s Conference at Wesley College in Dover and will be conducting another in February, 2010. She is currently working on a Young Adult novel with a paranormal twist. She blogs about writing, teaching and life at her website.

The interview:

 Ramona Long (RL): Your first novel, My Life as a Girl, featured a college age protagonist who grew up in Arizona (as you did) and attended Bryn Mawr (as you did.) You discuss on your website those similarities, so we’ll and move on to the novel you are currently revising. It’s called Ghost Signs, and my razor-sharp journalistic skills lead me to ask if you are delving into the paranormal with this story?

Elizabeth Mosier (EM): Very perceptive, Ramona – even psychic! Seriously, I’ve always been fascinated by ghost stories, which I think of as one way we make sense of death.  What –and where– is the soul?  Is there life after death?  Ghosts seem to offer answers – and the “mediums” who communicate with spirits appear to be conduits to otherwise imperceptible truth.  But are such powers really paranormal?  What if the medium (in Ghost Signs, 17-year-old Cassie Schulz) is faking?  To pursue these questions, I researched fraudulent mediums and created a skeptical narrator (Cassie’s 15-year-old brother Jack).  The fun in writing fiction is that I don’t have to prove or disprove the existence of a spirit world.  Instead, I’m free to tell the story through the lens of adolescent psychology, and to suggest a connection between psychics and artists, in terms of the way they “see.”

The Schulzes are, in Jack’s words, “the neighborhood Bohemians” — Mr. Schulz restores houses and Mrs. Schulz paints murals.  In this unconventional family, the present resonates with the past, the dead communicate with the living, and coming of age means finding your artistic voice and vision.  Cassie finds hers through poetry, and Jack by photographing the faded images that often reappear on old buildings after renovation or heavy rain – the “ghost signs” of the book’s title.  Even in a “normal” town like Wayne, Pennsylvania, secrets are revealed everywhere you look.

RL: YA seems to be a fluid, ever-changing genre. Over the past few decades, it has splintered from the broad “teen reader” category to include Tween, Teen, Young Adult, and now New Adult. What do you think this says about this general age of readers and the authors who want to write for them?

EM: The YA category is a marketing invention, and the current segmentation of the category into Tween/Teen/Young Adult/New Adult is less a reflection of reader preference than of bookselling strategy.  Though the publishers’ decision to target a particular reader determines to some extent the content, cover and media interest in a book, I advise my students to focus on what they can control:  that is, writing the best book they can write for the audience they envision.  For young adult writers, this means attempting to render an adolescent sensibility – authenticity, immediacy, heightened sensitivity and emotion, narcissism (!) — through technical choices that will shape the reader’s perception of the story as “true.” For assistance, I go to Sylvia Plath, whose ironic tone in The Bell Jar signals truth telling; to Laurie Halse Anderson, whose present-tense narration in Speak keeps the reader riveted; to Beth Kephart, whose lyrical prose in Undercover perfectly captures the time in young adulthood when we awake to the world.  Better to learn about writing from the masters than to try to anticipate the next marketing trend.

RL: Is there anything about the current state of YA literature that disturbs or dismays you? Anything that you find particularly encouraging or exciting?

EM: I’m encouraged by the relative health of children’s book publishing in this economy, and excited about the variety of YA fiction being published today.  But on a deeper level, the level at which I am the parent of two teenage girls, I worry about the proliferation of series fiction inspired by The Clique and Gossip Girl. The world these books depict – in which adults are cardboard credit-card holders and girls solve their problems by shopping — is not only cynical, but also false.  Why not dispense with the parents altogether, cut these alienated girls loose from the tether of their parents’ social and financial aspirations, and send them on a real adventure, where they might learn something about themselves and how to live?

RL: You have joined the blogosphere.   Why do you think writers are so drawn to blogging? Do you have any particular theme or focus in your blog posts?

EM: I think writers are drawn to blogging because we’re hard-wired for narrative and newly enabled by technology.  Though blogging can be a way of avoiding writing — the literary equivalent of hanging out in a café talking about your novel instead of writing it — for me, it’s a way to keep writing something, even when I’m mired in an unwieldy novel revision.  I find that having a blog makes me alert to the world as I gather material; my blog is a place to put the pieces that aren’t quite stories, aren’t quite essays, that don’t belong in my novel — but which I have selected and shaped in the same careful way.  Several of my posts are about my volunteer work at the Living History Archaeology Laboratory in Philadelphia.  As I write about the lab, I am working out an idea that might, eventually, find longer memoir form.  In the meantime, I’ve come to think of writers as archaeologists — digging, processing, and repairing the glittering and inscrutable relics to find meaning in experience.

RL: One post (“My Mother’s List”) tells  a personal, touching story about a book list your mother gave you shortly before you left home for Bryn Mawr. It was a list of books she thought you should have read by that point in your life. The post describes how you found her list later, filed in your “Resume” file. Now that you are a mother, if you had a daughter leaving for college and wanted to recommend a couple of titles she should have read at this point in her life, what would they be? And why?

EM: I’m glad you asked.  I’ve been composing this list all my life – but as a writer and teacher, I approach the task differently from my mother.  In the classroom, I try to lead my students to great literature, but also to guide each student’s unique exploration of her writing’s content and style. Though I always assign touchstone texts that model technical excellence, the most meaningful exercise I give students is to ask them to prepare (and annotate) a list of the books that have most influenced what they read and write – in essence, who they are. My “personal syllabus” includes:   I Can Fly by Ruth Krauss (illustrated by Mary Blair), a picture book that was my first introduction to simile; Nibble Nibble Mousekin by Joan Walsh Auglund, a version of the Hansel and Gretel tale that demonstrated irony with eerie illustrations that mismatched the sweet-sounding text; Charlotte’s Web by E.B. White, which promised that a perfectly chosen word could save somebody’s life; The Adventures of Tom Sawyer by Mark Twain and Anne of Green Gables by L.M. Montgomery, both of which taught me that well-drawn characters could seem so real they’d live outside the page.

As for my daughters, I’ve tried to help them make their own lists by reading alongside them in two separate mother-daughter book groups begun when each girl was in third grade.  There, we mothers introduce our daughters to books with resourceful heroines — classic and contemporary tales that we believe will save their lives:  Charlotte’s Web and Anne of Green Gables, of course, but also A Tree Grows in Brooklyn by Betty Smith, A Wrinkle in Time by Madeleine L’Engle, Chasing Vermeer by Blue Balliet, Because of Winn-Dixie by Kate DiCamillo, From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler by E.L. Konigsburg, Kiki Strike: Inside the Shadow City by Kirsten Miller, The Golden Compass by Philip Pullman, A Year Down Yonder by Richard Peck, I Capture the Castle by Dodie Smith.  I was surprised and delighted when my younger daughter’s group – 8th graders now — chose to discuss My Life As a Girl by Elizabeth Mosier for our January, 2010 meeting.


Part 2 comes tomorrow. Stay tuned!

For information about the Delaware Literary Connection, please contact me at ramonadef@yahoo.com.