Return to Writing Camp

VCCA Blue RidgeI began this final month of 2013 by driving to the foothills of the Blue Ridge Mountains, to begin a two-week residency at the Virginia Center for the Creative Arts. VCCA is a year round working artist colony that provides work time and space for writers, visual artists, and musicians. Resident artists, called Fellows, are granted a private studio, private bedrooms, meals, and the camaraderie of two dozen other Fellows who have also rearranged their home, work, and family lives to devote a few weeks to creating their art.

This was my second time as a Fellow. I chronicled my first experience at my blog here in posts called Postcards from Writing Camp, Part I and Part 2.

 My first residency was nearly two years ago. I arrived with no clear idea of what to expect. I spent my two weeks there writing in a converted chicken coop, which I fondly called The Ark. I arrived with an idea for a novel, but nothing written. I left with a lot of pages written, and a vow to return.VCCA installation path

This time, as a veteran, I had a better idea of what to expect. I packed a favorite pillow, more shoes, my own big cushy bath towel, and a coffee maker.  Every writing experience teaches me something new. This one taught me, among other things, I needed access 24/7 to a coffee maker.

The reason for the coffee is, when you are charged with doing nothing but writing 24/7, you don’t have to adhere to a 9:00 to 5:00 schedule. Although I am self-employed and work at home (sometimes in my pajamas), I stick to a schedule. This, I have learned as an adult, is how one successfully makes mortgage payments.

But at an artist colony, the schedule went kaput. The three meals in the dining room grounded me, sure, but my studio was in a self-contained cottage: two bedrooms, two studios, a shared bath. The cottage is separate from the converted barn where the other studios are situated, past the fields and the two permanent resident horses.

I was a little sad to be separated from the barn area, but the cottage had perks. I could wake up in the middle of the night in the upstairs bedroom and, quietly so I didn’t wake my cottage mate, sneak downstairs at 3:00 a.m., or 5:00 a.m., or any other a.m., and write in my studio. After about three days, it was bliss.

VCCA cottageWhy after three days? Well, I had a little problem at first. I had the opportunity to write about it in a guest post at Jordan Rosenfeld’s blog. Panic at the Artist Colony exposes a side many writers share, but don’t often discuss: feeling like a fraud. Most of the time, I’m relatively confident of what I’m doing and where I’m going as a writer, but from time to time, I’m not. This time, the uncertainty hit like a truck.

Thank you to Jordan for generously allowing me the space to write about overcoming the fraud feeling, and thank you to the writers who commented at the blog or emailed me personally about your own experiences.

We are not alone. Even in a private studio, at an artist colony in the foothills of the Blue Ridge Mountains, writers are a community.

In keeping with this theme, I returned to Delaware to the wonderful news that a collection of work created during the Delaware Division of the Arts’ 2012 Cape Henlopen Retreat is now in print! Thanks to the spectacular editorial team of Phil Linz, Maria Masington, and Beth Evans, the collection of work by 8 poets and 7 prose writers, plus introductions by our retreat mentors JoAnn Balingit and Alice Elliot Dark, was gathered and became Wanderings: Cape Henlopen 2012.


Over Here*

November 11 is Veterans Day–known as Armistice Day or Remembrance Day in other countries. November 11 has been celebrated since 1918 to commemorate the Armistice that brought an end to the War to End All Wars. Continue reading “Over Here*”

Kick-Starting Your Writing in November, A Guest Post by Gigi Pandian

Note: November is a month for giving thanks. I have been the fortunate recipient of of writing grants and fellowships, and for this, I am grateful. Today, I am happy to welcome another writing grant recipient, Gigi Pandian, as she discusses what can make a writer thankful in November. 


by Gigi Pandian

The month of November is a great month for writers—especially mystery writers. Continue reading “Kick-Starting Your Writing in November, A Guest Post by Gigi Pandian”

How To Give a Public Reading

Because I am away at a conference today, I am going to cheat and repost a guest blog I wrote for the Sisters in Crime National website.

It’s a two-part series on How to Give a Public Reading.

Part 1 is called  Four Tips for the Performance Author

Part 2 is called Four Tips for the Performance Author, part 2.

All you need now is an audience or an open mic!


Tomorrow’s topic: Sunday is a day of rest. Monday’s topic will be How To Follow Up a Conference.

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?)  

9 Ways to Open a Blog Post

The reports of my death have been greatly exaggerated – Mark Twain

If you have spent any time blogging, you’ve heard the news that blogging is dead. It was dead five years ago, and three years ago, and is dead now. Despite the death of blogging, people keeping posting on blogs and other people keep reading them.

I think Mark Twain had the right idea.

What do you do if you’re invited to write a guest post but you never have before? Where do you begin? Here are 9 ways to  open a blog post:

1- The Anecdote – Begin by relating a personal experience–yours or someone else’s. Use real names to make it real and personal. After the short scenario, segue into the broader topic. In this case, the topic is disenfranchised grief.

When my friend Jill’s ex-husband was killed in a car accident, she cried–for a month. This was the man who’d dumped her, who’d destroyed her credit rating and put a permanent dent in her self-esteem. She hadn’t seen him in years. She’d moved on. So why was she bawling in the shower and dreaming about him at night–this person who had ruined her life?

When your heart is broken by the loss of someone you are supposed to hate–or not supposed to love–it can be as confusing as it is painful. Disenfranchised Grief—grieving for an ex-spouse, extra marital affair partner, a lover kept secret because of sexual orientation, or any relationship that is kept private–prevents the person left behind from openly expressing the pain of loss. That makes recovery harder.

2 – Breaking News – Begin with a news story and move into commentary. This works for mysterious disappearances or cold cases that make good fodder for crime  novels. It can  also address real life concerns that aren’t always obvious or comfortable. In this case, a pedophile in a position of trust:

In a small courtroom in Delaware, a one-day trial decided the fate of a man accused of numerous shocking, heinous crimes. Despite the lengthy list of charges against Dr. Earl Bradley, only two Delaware State Police officers testified for the prosecution. No one testified in Dr. Bradley’s defense. No one spoke up to explain why a popular pediatrician would molest his young patients—or how he managed to get away with it for so many years.

3 – Addressing an Issue – Begin with a social or political issue. Briefly give enough background so the reader understands the issue. This one is good for personal opinion/editorial. Here, the topic is forced charitable giving:

There’s been some interesting PR lately about the group of billionaires who’ve pledged to give away at least half of their personal fortunes before they die. The list of pledges includes names like Gates, Rockefeller, Bloomberg, Vanderbilt. I followed this story because I think it’s an admirable and interesting concept. If I had a personal fortune, I think I’d like to see the bulk of it put to good use before I kick the bucket. But, big fortune or small, should I be forced to be generous? Should anyone?

4 – Opening Questions – Start with a list of questions. The queries should be both specific and accessible, so set them in real life. Below, the question lead to the topic of early onset dementia:

We’re all friends here, but pardon me if I get personal for a while and ask: When’s the last time you slept through the night? Do you walk into a room and forget why you’re there? Did you leave your purse right there on that chair, you are positively sure you did, but now it’s nowhere in sight? Do you seem to misplace your car keys all the time? Do you forget a few things—or maybe more than a few things—every day? Several times a day? Do you wonder if this is natural aging, or does some disturbing voice ask if these are really early signs of dementia?

5 – Drama or ConversationOpen with a pretend scene. It can be humorous or not, but the short scene leads up to a punch line that leads into the topic. This one is, does your promise to drive a drunk friend home anytime, any night, make you a real pal–or an enabler?

Ring, ring, ring!

Me: (knocking around bedside table because I’m dead asleep): Um, hello?

Maria: Hey, girl! Did I wake you up? Never mind, guess where I am?

Me: (struggling to sit up) Um, where?

Maria: On the phone with you! (cackles hysterically)

Me: Very funny. (wide awake now) So, how many have you had?

6 – The Surprise/Shocker – A true confession or a surprising fact as an opening. It works best if what follows is unusual and not a cheap hook. This one is about a personal connection to a killer:

I went to my high school Prom with a murderer. He wasn’t a murderer then, of course. Then, he was the cute guy who sat across from me in Chemistry, the second string tailback on the football team who worked at the Piggly Wiggly on weekends. Ten years later, this guy who posed next to me on Prom Night in his baby blue tuxedo, his head tipped down to touch mine as we smiled at the camera, was put away for life.

7 – The Spoof  – A fake letter or news story. Good for something outrageous or humorous, because bloggers want to have fun, too. I used this one to express my undying support for my pretend boyfriend, Blond Bond:

Dear Daniel Craig: I apologize for contacting you via this impersonal public format. There’s been some communication glitch, as my letters to you are returned unopened, my emails bounce back as undeliverable, my texts don’t land, my flowers don’t arrive, and you don’t respond to telepathic messages. Even the wind blows away my smoke signals…

 8 – Survey – A vote or poll on some issue (real, imagined, or joking) is the start. You are opening the floor for return opinions, so be prepared. In this one, you’d get to tell me what you think about reality television.

Let’s take a vote. If you HAD to choose one of the following, would you prefer to be:

A} Trampled to death by elephants; B} Mauled to death by a bear; C} Eaten to bits by piranhas; D} Forced to watch Jersey Shore 20 hours out of every day for the rest of your life.

The first three made me cringe in horror, but D’s the one that’s really scary–to me. Obviously, there are fans of the nutty crew out of Jersey, but I don’t get it. Do you?

9 – The Quote – Look above. Mark Twain fired off this zinger after his obituary appeared in the newspaper. Using a quote, particularly a zingy one, can set the tone and the topic for what’s to follow.

So, here are nine ways to get started. Maybe next time I’ll come up with ways to end them.


It’s Been a Ball, TLC!

On Saturday, my little world was rocked by the announcement that the Lipstick Chronicles blog will be closing its doors on January 1.

I’ve been along for the TLC ride since its inception in 2005. Back then, the bloggers–all  mystery writers–focused the posts on their books and the craft of writing. Then the posts broadened to families and social issues and world affairs.  Not many subjects were skipped over by TLC–or the cadre of daily commentors, the back-bloggers, who happily provided opinions and insights from outside perspectives.

This announcement will change up my morning routine of enjoying the daily post with my opening cup of coffee. A true community evolved among the bloggers and the back-bloggers. I will miss them all.

I had the pleasure of guest blogging at TLC on several occasions. To preserve my own little spot in TLC history, here are some of my contributions to the Lipstick discussion:

The Vending Machine is about language, food, and sensuous art:

The Bad Boyfriend Talk  discusses a mother’s attempt to teach her son how to treat girls right:

Who Would You Voodoo?  ponders the lure of black, or white, magic:

An Open Letter to Craig, Daniel Craig invites you into the Blond Bond sisterhood:

Everybody’s Doing It  is my helpful (and yes, self-serving) testimonial in support of independent editors:

To my friends at the Lipstick Chronicles: It was a pleasure. Every darn minute of it.