SWA Presenter Spotlight: Susan Meyers

As I announced in December, I will be teaching a workshop on journalistic writing* at the 35th annual Southeastern Writers Association conference in June 2010.

To gear up for that, I am featuring interviews and spotlights with this year’s presenters.**

Next up is poet Susan Meyers.

ABOUT THE PRESENTER

Past president of both the North Carolina Poetry Society and The Poetry Society of South Carolina, Meyers mentors creative writing students at the Charleston County School of the Arts.  Her poetry book, Keep and Give Away (University of South Carolina Press) has earned the SC Poetry Book Prize, the Brockman-Campbell Book Award and the SIBA (Southern Independent Booksellers Alliance) Book Award for Poetry.

In addition to being a writing instructor, the award-winning poet also received the South Carolina Academy of Authors’ Poetry Fellowship and served as the 2005 Poet-in-Residence at the Gibbes Museum of Art in Charleston and for County School of the Arts.  She has been published in several literary journals such as The Southern Review, Crazyhorse and Tar River Poetry as well as the Web sites Verse Daily and Poetry Daily.

For more information about her work, please visit her blog.

Meyers

THE INTERVIEW

RS:  How did you get into writing?

SM: I’ve always written, but I began to write poetry seriously about 22 years ago, when I took my first poetry workshop with Paul Rice at Coastal Carolina University. I was hooked.

RS:  What keeps you writing?

SM: At first, it was the pleasure of it—the fascination of creating something. Before long, though, it became a part of my life, and now I feel the genuine need to write.

A number of my favorite activities also egg me on: reading poems I fall in love with, going to poetry readings, observing nature and the world around me.

RS:  What do you do when you’re not writing?

SM: Birding, biking (as well as spin classes at the Y), reading, teaching, going to poetry events and daydreaming—I’ve always been a big daydreamer.

RS:  What draws you to poetry?

SM: Poetry helps me to make meaning of life. I’m drawn to its compression—the engagement with language, rhythm and sound.

RS:  What are you currently working on?

SM: I just finished a brief set of poems based on lines from Sappho. So now I’m back to writing poem by poem; plus, I’m in the process of circulating a new book manuscript.

RS:  What’s one genre or type of writing in which you’d like to dabble but haven’t yet—and why?

SM: I’m not much of a dabbler—I tend to leap into something with both feet—so I’m pretty immersed in poetry writing. I also do book reviews and enjoy that when I have time. I love to read creative nonfiction, so that would probably be the next genre if I were to tackle another.

RS:  What book(s) currently adorn your nightstand?

SM: Poetry by Li-Young Lee, T.S. Eliot,  Joshua Poteat, Atsuro Riley, Malena Morling, Lucille Clifton. Poet’s Work, Poet’s Play: Essays on the Practice and the Art (edited by Daniel Tobin and Pimone Triplett). Indiana Review, Poetry, Cave Wall and other literary journals.

RS:  Name an author that helped shape who you are as a writer and how he or she had that effect on you.

SM: When I first started taking poetry seriously, I’d go to the library and check out a set of six audio tapes of James Dickey reading his poems, and I’d play them over and over.  This was back when you could see who had checked out library materials before you.

Week after week, my name was the only one on the library card. The strong rhythms and intensity of Dickey’s early work made a huge impression on me.

Years before I had studied—and greatly admired—the work of the Romantic poets Byron, Shelley and Keats; and Dickey’s work had a similar effect on me. I wanted to write with that same passion.

Do YOU remember the library card catalog?

RS:  Can you give us a quick teaser about the course you’ll be teaching at Southeastern Writers Association?

SM: I’ll be teaching four sessions of a poetry workshop on craft. I’m calling it “Which Words, What Order?” The classes will basically turn to diction and syntax as two means of surprise.

My goal is for those of us in the workshop to stretch ourselves by moving beyond the expected, by surprising ourselves—and our readers—with what we say and how we say it.

We’ll work some with tag clouds, and we’ll look at the variety that poets/writers can gain by paying closer attention to syntax.

Those are just two of the activities planned. I’m planning it so that it should be helpful to poets and prose writers alike, and I’ll be sure to include handouts.

THE PLUG

For more information about the Southeastern Writers Association conference in June, please see their registration page as well as my recent post.

*To learn more about the workshop I’m teaching, click here.

**For more SWA Presenter Spotlights, click the appropriately-named category in the right-hand sidebar.

SWA Presenter Spotlight: Author & Lit Agent Katharine Sands

As I announced in December, I will be teaching a workshop on journalistic writing* at the 35th annual Southeastern Writers Association conference in June 2010.

To gear up for that, I am featuring interviews and spotlights with this year’s presenters.**

Next up is author and literary agent Katharine Sands.

ABOUT THE PRESENTER

Each year, the Southeastern Writers Association conference hosts one agent in residence; this year, Katharine Sands of Sarah Jane Freymann Literary Agency will hold that spot.

Sands

As an agent, Sands represents authors in a variety of areas, including: literary and commercial fiction as well as nonfiction projects dealing with food/lifestyle, self-help, cooking, travel, spirituality, pop culture, film/entertainment, humor and home/design.

In addition to taking on and working with clients, Sands wrote Making the Perfect Pitch: Advice from 45 Top Book Agents (Kalmbach), which compiles pitching advice from several of the industry’s top agents.

At the conference in June, Sands will be teaching a class called “Pitchcraft . . . and Querial Killers: How Not to Get an Agent, Even If You Are a Talented Writer.” As well, she will hear pitches in one-on-one sessions and work with writers in group critique classes during the latter half of the program.

THE INTERVIEW

One of last year’s SWA presenters, editor Chuck Sambuchino of Writer’s Digest Books, posted a great interview with Sands on his Guide to Literary Agents blog.

Here is an excerpt:

GLA: Speaking of meeting writers at conferences, what do you think is the most common mistake writers make when they give a short in-person pitch to an agent?

KS: One of the things I believe people do wrong is to speak to agents as they would a tax professional or lawyer – somebody for hire who is there to listen to their process and backstory and get involved with their case in that way. Agents are listening in for a reason to be interested, first and foremost, and they’re not going to be interested in the writer’s (process), the word count, what is impeding, or why the writer doesn’t want to do extra work.

See the full interview here.

THE PLUG

For more information about the Southeastern Writers Association conference in June, please see their registration page as well as my recent post.  Don’t wait to sign up—you only have until April 1 to participate in contests and manuscript evaluations, so reserve your spot today!

*To learn more about the workshop I’m teaching, click here.

**For more SWA Presenter Spotlights, click the appropriately-named category in the right-hand sidebar.

Conference Corner: Southeastern Writers Association

Interested in writing?  Want to come see me?  I’ve got just to conference for you: the Southeastern Writers Association conference.

THE 4-1-1

The 35th annual Southeastern Writers Association conference will be held June 20-24 in scenic St. Simons Island, Ga.

The full conference fee is $395, and it includes:

  • Up to three manuscript evaluations
  • One-on-one critiques with instructors
  • Entry into up to 15 contests (in fiction, poetry, nonfiction, inspiration, humor, romance, juvenile writing—children’s through young adult—science fiction and fantasy)—cash prizes for winners!
  • Access to all workshops, evening speeches, and open mic night
  • A one-year membership to SWA

WHY YOU NEED TO REGISTER NOW

While registration is open until the conference takes place, you’ve got just one more week to take advantage of the manuscript evaluations and contest entries—the deadline is April 1.

WHY SWA?

Held at the beautiful Epworth by the Sea in St. Simons Island, Ga., SWA’s annual conference is the perfect place to soak up some rays along with some writing knowledge from seasoned professionals.

As well, at $395 for a four-day conference, SWA is a steal.  Check around; most other conferences and writers’ retreats charge extra for manuscript critiques and contests.

ADDED BONUS

Did I mention I will be teaching a workshop on journalistic writing?  Come heckle me!**  To learn more about my workshop, click here.

Go easy on me!

I LIKE YOU AND EVERYTHING, BUT WHO ELSE WILL BE THERE?

This year’s presenters include:

To learn more about these presenters, click here or click on the presenters’ names above to see my interview series featuring several of them.

For more information about the Southeastern Writers Association conference, please see their registration page as well as my recent post.

Again, you must be registered by April 1 in order to gain full access to all this conference has to offer, so reserve your spot today!

**Actually, while I would love to see you, I’d rather you didn’t heckle me!

SWA Presenter Spotlight: Sheila Hudson

As I announced in December, I will be teaching a workshop on journalistic writing at the 35th annual Southeastern Writers Association conference in June 2010.

To gear up for that, I am featuring some interviews and spotlights with this year’s presentersFor more SWA Presenter Spotlights, click the appropriately-named category in the right-hand sidebar.

Next up is freelance writer and short fiction expert Sheila Hudson.

ABOUT THE PRESENTER

Long-time board member of the Southeastern Writers Association, Sheila Hudson is published in the Chicken Soup for the Soul series, Chocolates for Women series, God Allows U-Turns series, Stories from the Heart series, Taking Education Higher, Stories from the Border, and God’s Vitamin C.

Not only is Hudson a correspondent for Athens Banner-Herald, but she also contributes profiles, features, essays, humorous takes on life, how-to, and travel articles to several print and online publications such as The Christian Standard, Lookout Magazine, Athens Magazine, and Athens Parent.

For more information about Hudson or to see samples of her work, please visit her Web site.

THE INTERVIEW

RS:  How did you get into writing?

SH: I was recovering from surgery and writing in my journal when I decided to write about a significant family event.  It was very personal, so it took me some time to write it and submit to a magazine.  I had had a few publications before coming to SWA in 1993.

Hudson

RS:  What keeps you writing?

SH: I think the most significant thing is that I want to share thoughts and experiences with others.  I write primarily nonfiction, so I use my own experiences to hopefully benefit others, such as “how to coupon” and “travel tips.”

I also write for newspapers, women’s magazines, and Christian periodicals.

RS:  What do you do when you’re not writing?

SH: I live 45 minutes from my seven grandsons—the magnificent seven.  Whenever possible, I am with them.

My husband is a certified meeting planner, so I travel with him on business to seek out sites that he is responsible for.  We enjoy traveling for business and/or pleasure.

I knit, crochet, and sew.  We collect movies and enjoy serving on the Southeastern Writers Association board.  I became a member of SWA in 1993 and a board member in 2003.

Hudson, her husband Tim, and the "Magnificent Seven."

RS:  What draws you to writing for anthologies?

SH: The anthologies are popular because of their brevity, which is a strong suit for me.  Also, these essays tend to be inspirational and/or humorous, which is my favorite way to write.

RS:  What are you currently working on?

SH: My writing partner, Amy Munnell, and I are working on a nonfiction book titled 13 Decisions That Will Change Your Life.

Our agent is Joyce Hart of Hartline Literary Agency.  I am also a contributor to Athens Magazine, Christian Standard, and Athens Parent.

RS:  What’s one genre or type of writing in which you’d like to dabble but haven’t yet—and why?

SH: I have written a few children’s stories and poems, which, sadly, are not published, but I would like to write a cozy mystery.  I have started a few of them and ran out of steam.

Mysteries are my favorite books to read, so I would like to write one.

RS:  What book(s) currently adorn your nightstand?

SH: Just finished Dan Brown’s The Lost Symbol and Steve Berry’s The Romanov Prophecy.

I like to read adventuresome mysteries and marvel at the research details.

Dan Brown's latest Robert Langdon novel

RS: Name an author that helped shape who you are as a writer and how he or she had that effect on you.

SH: Amy Munnell, my writing partner, has had a profound impact on my writing. She was my first contact with SWA; we have served on boards together and complement each other’s style.  She is a valued editor, confidant, writing partner, and friend.

Cec Murphey was one of my first writing instructors.  His encouragement kept me going in the early days.

RS:  Can you give us a quick teaser about the course you’ll be teaching at Southeastern Writers Association?

SH: Amy and I are teaching four days on Bright Ideas: Tips to Make Your Writing Shine.

Monday is B&E: Beginnings and Endings, Tuesday is Shiny Tools, Wednesday is the Five Rs, Thursday is critique day for the students.

THE PLUG

For more information about the Southeastern Writers Association conference in June, please see their registration page as well as my recent post.  Don’t wait to sign up—and you must be registered by April 1 in order to participate in contests and manuscript evaluations, so reserve your spot today!

To learn more about the workshop I’m teaching, click here.

SWA Presenter Spotlight: Bud Hearn

As I announced in December, I will be teaching a workshop on journalistic writing at the 35th annual Southeastern Writers Association conference in June 2010.

To gear up for that, I am featuring some interviews and spotlights with this year’s presentersFor more SWA Presenter Spotlights, click the appropriately-named category in the right-hand sidebar.

Next up is inspirational writer Bud Hearn.

ABOUT THE PRESENTER

This Georgia-born-and-bred athletic enthusiast pursues real estate investments and developments by day . . . and writes by night.  Well, sort of.  He writes whenever he can find a spare minute.

To check out the University of Georgia graduate’s blog, Ask Mr. Irrelevant, where you can see samples of his writing as well as what he calls “flash fiction vignettes of inanity,” click here.

THE INTERVIEW

RS:  How did you get into writing?

BH: I lacked five hours of English in having a double major at the University of Georgia. My degree was a Bachelor of Business Administration in Real Estate in 1964. You guessed it . . . 68 in a couple months.  But family, mortgages and other requirements of money confined my writing to contracts and prospectuses in hopes of writing deposit tickets.

When we moved from Atlanta to Sea Island, Ga., in 2004, a friend and I began hosting a “community lunch” for friends, which has grown from a few to hundreds, every Friday (now for over five years!). I would send out the menu every Thursday and began to add my mental musings along with it . . . some call it my mental flush.

A couple magazines picked up on it and asked me to contribute. I write monthly for one and sporadically for the pet magazine (in the voice of my dog). So, every week I have to come up with another idea or subject, all of which have been different.

My son published two books anthologizing some of my work.  I use [them] as … “business card[s],” which [have] been very helpful in getting more real estate business.

RS:  What keeps you writing?

BH: I guess, as long as I do the free lunches, I’ll have to do writing. But truthfully, and beyond that, it is like a “well of water, springing up” that keeps me going.

I have always been obsessive … if you consider such foolishness as running 50 miles at a time obsessive, although I refer to it as a passion, or “an enemy within, attempting to get out.”

[Writing is] fun, and ideas and words flow. I think when it becomes a burden, or a struggle or a chore, I’ll quit and find something else to do that juices me. After all, life consists not in the end result, which is a grave or urn of ashes, but in the “process of living,” and it’s the process that gives me life! I’m sure somebody quoted that somewhere, but I lay claim to it here.

Hearn and my husband have more than running in common: they're both former Bulldogs!

RS:  What do you do when you’re not writing?

BH: Search for time to read more, more, more. But mainly I work on real estate deals . . . creative ways to add value to a lifeless asset in hopes of continuing to write deposit tickets.

I enjoy physical exercise . . . brings out the best in me. Now, mostly the gym and yoga. Running is no longer fun, with a bad hip.

I enjoy playing the piano—reminds me of the bands I had in high school and college.

My life is pretty balanced and disciplined. I’m real comfortable in my own skin, and I must admit, weather permitting, walking the dogs on the beach across from my home is about as nirvanic (if there’s such a word) as it gets!!!

Hearn and his beach pals.

RS:  What draws you to the Inspirational category?

BH: I think it’s a natural temperament. But more than that, natural temperaments must be used or they’re wasted . . . and life is too short to waste any of it!

One can’t sell real estate without being inspirational. And Life gives us only one absolute: the right of choice.

So, one can choose to be negative, or one can choose to be positive. I choose to be inspirational. I think the Latin for this is de datur tertium—“there is no third choice.”

RS:  What are you currently working on?

BH: Struggling with everybody else on real estate deals . . . that’s what I’m working on.  Money needs transcend about everything else.

Insofar as writing is concerned, I just continue the flash fiction pieces and attempt to add creativity to my thoughts and ideas.

Since I’m a little ADD (some say a lot), I get bored with things that drag on and on, so flash fiction suits my temperament well. At least now it does. Besides, at my age, what “future” do I have in writing, or about anything else for that matter?

As my wife reminds me, “You’re not Faulkner.” So I just create and move on to the next thing.

William Faulkner - not Hearn. Although, I can see a slight resemblance . . . 🙂

RS:  What’s one genre or type of writing in which you’d like to dabble but haven’t yet—and why?

BH: Well, for years when I was in my 30s, I wrote volumes of legal pads of my internal introspection. Their residence was in boxes in the basement, and when we moved, I took a few out and read them.

Not bad, I thought, but of what use were they, now that I was well beyond those years?  So I dumped them, along with the hundreds of “sermons” I wrote in my 40s and 50s (I taught Bible classes for about 25 years).

I’ve always been drawn to poetry, and lately, haiku is interesting to me. It’s short, concise to a fault and easy to write on about any subject one wants.  Fits my ADD temperament.

I tried to lengthen some of my flash fiction into bona fide short stories, but the detail got boring, and I saw no future in it.

I also ran across, a couple years ago, Hemmingway’s take on “a book in six words.” He wrote,  “Baby shoes, for sale, never used.” Wow, I thought.  So, I tried some of that.  I like it.

RS:  What book(s) currently adorn your nightstand?

BH: I find it hard to read at night. Morning is my best time of day. But I read several books at one time . . . currently, it’s Born to Run by [Christopher] McDougall, [Long Story Short: Flash Fiction by Sixty-five of North Carolina’s Finest Writers] … edited by Marianne Gingher and the early novels of Cormac McCarthy, which will complete my reading of all 11 novels by him.

RS:  Name an author that helped shape who you are as a writer and how he or she had that effect on you.

BH: What, name just one author that shaped me? Who can do that, you fool? Where would the starting line be?

But if I must, my beginning was at age 13 when I began to read the Bible. The epistles of the apostle Paul have, and continue to, influence me in a very deep spiritual sense.  They drill down to the core of things for me, and I never tire of reading them.

But in the carnal sense, in the “real world,” as we call it, I really like [Truman] Capote, [Cormac] McCarthy, O. Henry and Ambrose Bierce.

Truman Capote. Photograph by Irving Penn, 1965.

RS:  Can you give us a quick teaser about the course you’ll be teaching at Southeastern Writers Association?

BH: I like the idea of “getting inside of the metaphor” concept (i.e., putting ourselves “into” the situation or event, and letting it draw from us our own conclusions, far from editorializations of others). Being present inside of a metaphor or event, arouses all sorts of ideas, passions and possibilities. It all goes with my idea of “Believing is seeing, not seeing is believing.” I always conclude with a discussion on the idea of “Imagine the Possibilities” (think: Lewis Carroll here).

All my classes are interactive, not lecture. Who wants to hear someone else pontificate? They’re like “gesture drawing,” quick sketches of the subject matter. And classes where nothing is wrong—except a blank sheet of paper!

Goals? What other goals are there except one: That of allowing the spirit within find a place to express itself outwardly. That’s my goal—for each participant to be able to transcend fear and worry and let their spirits express [themselves] unhindered.

Get some words down - pronto!

THE PLUG

For more information about the Southeastern Writers Association conference in June, please see their registration page as well as my recent post.  Don’t wait to sign up—and you must be registered by April 1 in order to participate in contests and manuscript evaluations, so reserve your spot today!

To learn more about the workshop I’m teaching, click here.

SWA Presenter Spotlight: Charlotte Babb

As I announced in December, I will be teaching a workshop on journalistic writing at the 35th annual Southeastern Writers Association conference in June 2010.

To gear up for that, I am featuring some interviews and spotlights with this year’s presentersFor more SWA Presenter Spotlights, click the appropriately-named category in the right-hand sidebar.

Next up is science fiction writer Charlotte Babb.

ABOUT THE PRESENTER

This writer/Web designer/teacher has most recently published two science fiction story cycles in a collection called Port Nowhere. Eppie-winner Babb also writes poetry for children, including her anthology, The Thing in the Tub, and she has various short story and article credits, such as “Fairy Frogmother.”

She runs two blogs, Maven Fairy Godmother and Be Your Own Fairy Godmother. For more information about her work, please visit her Web site.

THE INTERVIEW

RS:  How did you get into writing?

CB: I have always wanted to write, and [I] wrote stories in elementary school for myself.

I wanted to grow up to be Jo March [of Louisa May Alcott’s Little Women], and did to some extent, going into teaching instead of writing for a career.

RS:  What keeps you writing?

CB: I need to write. I use writing to find out what I think. I use it to build worlds where the good guys win and where people can do magic.

It gives me a sense of personal power to shape the words—when I can get them lined up like I want them.

RS:  What do you do when you’re not writing?

CB: I am a web designer for Sherman College of Chiropractic, and I teach college writing for the University of Phoenix online.

When I am not writing or reading, I am grading papers, studying web analytics or watching movies from Netflix.

RS:  What draws you to the science fiction category?

CB: I am fascinated by other cultures, other ways of looking at the world.

I grew up during the space race—my first grade teacher actually brought a TV to school so we could watch Alan Shepard fly into the sky and fall back down in 1957—and when I was a senior in high school, Neil Armstrong took that one small step onto the moon.

I fell in love with Spock Prime. Along with Louisa Alcott and Lucy Maude Montgomery’s Anne of Green Gables, I was reading Robert Heinlein’s Starship Troopers and eventually, Stranger in a Strange Land.

The feeling is mutual, Charlotte. 😉

The golden age of science fiction was about “know how” and using science to solve problems, most of which were caused by people who were ignorant and thought that physical laws could be repealed. Like many people, I felt like an alien in my own land, so it was comforting to know that there were other places, other times, other ways. I find historical novels interesting for the same reasons, but history lacks the sense of wonder that is necessary for good science fiction.

I also love fantasy, but I am weary of vampires, which to my way of thinking is just the Gen-X reversal of the James Dean syndrome: Die first and live long as a beautiful corpse.

RS:  What are you currently working on?

CB: I am plotting out the sequel to my first novel, wherein my fairy godmother has to deal with the repercussions of her first week on the job.

I have some other stories in mind, and they are clamoring for my attention. I have a lot of research for a science fiction novel, but the characters have not shown up yet.

I am also doing some research for content pages for my day job, which will promote the college where I work. I teach online, so a good bit of my writing is explanation and conversation with my students, teaching them the finer points of writing for college.

Bibbity bobbity boo! Babb encourages you to be your own fairy godmother.

RS:  What’s one genre or type of writing in which you’d like to dabble but haven’t yet?

CB: I’d love to learn better copywriting, compelling sales copy for my day job.

I miss the academic work that I did for my master’s and the pulling together of information about myth and folktales to make analysis of popular culture and re-tellings of those stories.

RS:  What book(s) currently adorn your nightstand?

CB: I’m reading Jodi Picoult’s Second Glance, and my Facebook book club has started Sherman Alexie’s [The Absolutely True Diary of a Part Time Indian].

I’m looking forward to the second book in Kate Elliott’s Spirit Gate trilogy, when my chiropractic intern finishes it.

I have the most recent copies of [Analog: Science Fiction and Fact] and [Asimov’s Science Fiction] for research on the current science fiction market.

RS:  Name an author that helped shape who you are as a writer and how he or she had that effect on you.

CB: Robert Heinlein’s books [and] YAs written for boys in the late ’40s and early ’50s showed me a world where it was assumed that girls make better pilots than boys because they understood math better.

Heinlein’s characters believed that anyone should be able to cook, diaper a baby, pilot a starship or do any other task that might be needed. I started reading Heinlein in third grade, just after graduating from Dr. Seuss. While his female characters were always beautiful and sexy, especially in his adult novels, they were also smart and independent.

I was also reading Alcott and Montgomery, who had a strong feminist thread in their books (which were written as the women’s suffrage movement was getting started), and I was reading during the Civil Rights movement and the beginning of Vietnam.  These two influences showed me worlds equally alien to my rural North Carolina home, but told me that it was all right to be different, to see my own road and to follow it.

I like Anne McCaffrey and Andre Norton, whose work has one foot in science and one in fantasy.

RS:  Can you give us a quick teaser about the course you’ll be teaching at Southeastern Writers Association?

CB: I’m teaching a four-hour course called “Science Fiction,” with a look at the elements that group those books on the shelf together, although vampires, zombies and werewolves are crowding out the science fiction.

I plan to explore why that is, and how the market is changing.

THE PLUG

For more information about the Southeastern Writers Association conference in June, please see their registration page as well as my recent post.  Don’t wait to sign up—and you must be registered by April 1 in order to participate in contests and manuscript evaluations, so reserve your spot today!

To learn more about the workshop I’m teaching, click here.

SWA Presenter Spotlight: Berta Platas

As I announced in December, I will be teaching a workshop on journalistic writing at the 35th annual Southeastern Writers Association conference in June 2010.

To gear up for that, I am featuring some interviews and spotlights with this year’s presentersFor more SWA Presenter Spotlights, click the appropriately-named category in the right-hand sidebar.

Next up is romance author Berta Platas.

ABOUT THE PRESENTER

Havana-born Berta Platas writes what she refers to as “fun, sexy romance.”

The martini-loving mother of four is the author of several chica-lit novels, including To Catch a Dream, All of Me, Miami Heat, Livewire, Cinderella Lopez and her latest, Lucky Chica.  She has also co-authored a few titles, including Names I Call My Sister, Friday Night Chicas: Sexy Stories from La Noche and Blessings of Mossy Creek as well as published essays in Everything I Needed to Know about Being a Girl I Learned from Judy Blume and Fifteen Candles: 15 Tales of Taffeta, Hairspray and Drunken Uncles.

Every month on her blog, Straight Up and a Little Dirty, Platas hosts a contest, where she awards a $10 Amazon gift certificate.  Please visit her Web site for more details on how to win.

THE INTERVIEW

RS:  How did you get into writing?

BP: I think I decided to write a book in the same way many authors do.  I read a book which had an unsatisfactory ending, and kept thinking of different and better ways it could have been concluded.  Finally, one of the options spawned an idea for an entirely different book. I pitched the idea to my husband, who was also a writer, and he encouraged me to write it myself.

RS: What keeps you writing?

BP: Right now, nothing motivates me more than a contract and a deadline. I’m the world’s worst procrastinator; however, if I didn’t have a contract, I think I would still write, just much more slowly. Writing is like a chronic condition, and one for which I seek no cure.

RS: What do you do when you’re not writing?

BP: I love to spend time with my family, help my husband build an HO-scale railroad empire in the basement and watch television. I try to stay away from the TV because it’s so darned addictive, and it really bites into my writing time.

I also enjoy building period costumes, with a particular love for the late eighteenth century and mid-to-late- nineteenth century, and love to make miniature room boxes—little stage sets in one inch scale.

I used to plunge into these hobbies after finishing a book, but now I have back to back commitments and don’t have the time.

Perhaps these 19th century shoes would fit Platas's fancy.

RS: What draws you to the romance category?

BP: I love happy endings. And it helps that the romance market is enormous, even in these tough economic times.

RS: What are you currently working on?

BP: I’ve got a young adult manuscript due on March 1, which is finished, but I’m cleaning it up.

After that, I have three more projects to finish and get to their various destinations. One is women’s fiction, another is a young adult novel and one is a paranormal, a genre I love to read but had never attempted.

RS: Speaking of dabbling in new writing genres, what’s another type of writing you’d like to attempt but haven’t yet?

BP: I adore murder mysteries, but I don’t think I’ll ever write one.  I’ve got enough to do right now, and it’s nice to have a genre that I can read without dissecting the plot. I love following the clues and being surprised at the end.

RS: What book(s) currently adorn your nightstand?

BP: That’s sort of a trick question, since I have 250 books on my nightstand, all on my Sony eReader!

I also have a few good old-fashioned paper tomes: James Howard Kunstler’s World Made by Hand, Patricia Brigg’s The Hob’s Bargain, Edith Wharton’s The Bunner Sisters, and Nora Roberts’s Bed of Roses, Linda Fairstein’s Lethal Legacy.

The eReader holds mostly my favorite authors, which include many classics, including Dickens and Twain, as well as modern authors such as Patricia Briggs, Charlaine Harris, Nora Roberts, James Patterson and Susan Elizabeth Phillips.

Platas embraces e-books, the future of publishing, with her Sony e-Reader.

RS: Name an author that helped shape who you are as a writer and how he or she had that effect on you.

BP: Wow. There are too many to name them all.

As a child, I read a lot of Vonnegut, Asimov and Poul Anderson. Science fiction and fantasy were my favorites.

Then I spent a rainy week at the beach reading a long shelf of Barbara Cartland’s Regency romances. It was like too much candy, but I’d never read romance novels before and enjoyed the light-hearted tone.

Soon after, I read every Agatha Christie book I could get my hands on and got hooked on murder.

So there are a lot of influences, but all have one thing in common: a good story.

RS: Can you give us a quick teaser about the course you’ll be teaching at Southeastern Writers Association?

BP: I’ll teach novel-writing at Southeastern Writers Association, with classes devoted to creating memorable characters, determining point of view, plotting a story, different ways to plot (including planning a trilogy or series), worldbuilding and tools for organizing a book.

I’ll have handouts that give an overview of each class, as well as a short one on formatting a novel and writing a query letter, in case anyone needs it. I hope I can fit all of that in!

My goal is for each student to have an understanding of what their strengths are, and I’ll try to tailor the class for the type of book the students are writing or want to write.

THE PLUG

For more information about the Southeastern Writers Association conference in June, please see their registration page as well as my recent post.  Don’t wait to sign up—and you must be registered by April 1 in order to participate in contests and manuscript evaluations, so reserve your spot today!

To learn more about the workshop I’m teaching, click here.

One Reason I Love Writing for Kids

One of my faves, YA author Lauren Myracle, posted a video on her Web site  of her son’s school doing a reading promo video, using a book-related rewrite of the Black-Eyed Peas‘s “I Gotta Feeling.”

It’s called “Gotta Keep Reading.” 🙂

Myracle.

Here’s a link to the video.

Besides because of its general adorableness, I got psyched because, at the end, one kid holds up a book – QUAKE! Disaster in San Francisco, 1906 – which was written by children’s lit author and fellow Southeastern Writers Association conference presenter Gail Langer Karwoski.

Click here to see my recent Karwoski interview.

I don’t know why (because it essentially has nothing to do with me), but it made me feel really awesome to have made that connection!  It’s just so cool to have interviewed both these women.

Do check out both the interview and the video if you haven't already. You'll feel all gooey inside - I promise!

SWA Presenter Spotlight: J.M. Lacey

As I announced in December, I will be teaching a workshop on journalistic writing at the 35th annual Southeastern Writers Association conference in June 2010.

To gear up for that, I am featuring some interviews and spotlights with this year’s presentersFor more SWA Presenter Spotlights, click the appropriately-named category in the right-hand sidebar.

Next up is professional freelancer J.M. Lacey.


ABOUT THE PRESENTER

Professional freelancer and former news reporter J.M. Lacey has over 14 years of experience working for both corporate and non-profit organizations, which includes serving as past Marketing and Public Relations Director for the Bangor Symphony for over four years.

The classically-trained (in music and dance) former actress writes literary and women’s fiction, poetry and articles focusing on education and music, women’s issues, business, human interest, social development, the arts, health, fashion and Victorian homes and lifestyle.

For more about Lacey, please visit her Web site.

THE INTERVIEW

RS:  How did you get into writing?

JML: I can’t say for sure if I discovered writing or if writing discovered me. I started writing at age six and haven’t stopped since.

After several poems, short stories and a few novels over the years, I’m still writing. I expanded into the commercial writing field a year-and-a-half ago, which commands talent for superb writing and creativity. I’ve been very successful at this latest endeavor.

RS: What keeps you writing?

JML: Hunger. But not for food, even though I love food. I can’t stop writing.

As every writer understands, writing is like breathing. If I don’t write, I cannot live. I’ve had gaps in my life where I wasn’t writing so much, and I felt like I was always gasping for air.

Once I realized this, I had no choice. I have so many ideas, characters and plots that burn through my brain that I have to get them out in the open on paper so my head doesn’t explode.

I know that probably sounds funny, but I’m inspired daily. There is so much inspiration in people—who they are, what they do, what they talk about—and so much inspiration in things I see in the world around me, that it practically begs to be written in some form. I can quickly and easily form someone’s entire life story as I see it simply by the way he smiled.

A couple of other things [that keep me writing] are encouragement and disappointment.

I am encouraged when I’ve written something that others see in print and they give me a thumbs up. But I’m also encouraged by disappointment. Yes, I might argue with a rejection letter or an e-mail from someone who clearly doesn’t see a great writer when she’s in front of him!

No, in all seriousness, rejection and disappointment pushes me to be better than I am. I am always exerting myself to be the best I can be and, then, to exceed that.

I’m not perfect, but I strive for it and learn from my mistakes along the way. I’ve become a better writer for it.

RS: What do you do when you’re not writing?

JML: Feed the cat. Laundry. Feed the cat again. Think. Study people for ideas. Think some more. And then I go out with my girlfriends and go shopping, eat food, catch up on all the latest newsy stuff. I like old movies and might watch one or two on a rainy Saturday afternoon. And naturally, I read a lot.

I attend the symphony frequently and take two of my nephews (ages 10 and 11) with me, since they still like the symphony. I play the piano and sing a bit of Italian opera. I have another nephew that’s too young for the symphony, but he’s intrigued by the piano, so we’re working on teaching him that for now.

J.M. Lacey

RS: What draws you to literary fiction?

JML: Just about everything I read as a teenager was among the great classics in literature. Jane Austen, the Brontë sisters, Henry James, Louisa May Alcott and Thomas Hardy, to name a few. Then there’s the poetry of Emily Dickenson, Shakespeare and my favorite, Tennyson.

This is what I absorbed in my brain growing up.  Sure, I read some teen stuff like Nancy Drew, but it was the classics that stuck with me. I have always been drawn to in-depth thinking.

I enjoy the drama of the lives in literary novels. The stories are pure and told well. I’ve always felt that a good story should involve the reader, not move so fast and give away so much that the reader feels he went on an overpriced ride at the fair only to throw up at the end.

The reader needs time to absorb the story, fall in love with (or distrust) the characters and go on this mindful journey with the characters. Literary fiction allows for deeper thought, like meditation. And when one turns the last page in such fiction and reads the last few words, it should make you sad to leave that world behind, and yet it will remain with you.

Love the story or hate it, great literary fiction stays with you.

RS: What are you currently working on?

JML: I’m working on the revisions for my current novel that I will seek representation for within the next few months, pending any dangling modifiers and misplaced commas. All I’ll say about the story: A LOT of music adorns the pages.

I have also recently completed some short stories and entered contests, but I plan to pitch other stories to literary magazines for publication. Some nonfiction articles have been published in a local magazine, and I’m pitching national magazines with other ideas as well.

RS: What’s one genre or type of writing in which you’d like to dabble but haven’t yet—and why?

JML: Science fiction. Mostly because such a genre would shock everyone that knows my writing.

But seriously, I am, I admit, a Star Trek and Star Wars fan, and I also love The Twilight Zone. I know nothing about writing science fiction, but I’m not afraid of risks, so it might be a risk I decide to take some day. Stay tuned!

RS: What book(s) currently adorn your nightstand?

JML: What book doesn’t? I read so much now I can’t keep up. I just finished Marrying Mozart by Stephanie Cowell, and that was a very interesting fictional take on Mozart’s life just before he married. It really read like an opera to me.

Right now I’m reading Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet by Jamie Ford. I’m impressed with his knowledge of the Chinese and Japanese cultures, and his background has a lot to do with this. I enjoy how the main character looks back to his childhood while he searches for what he lost and revisits his moral dilemmas he faced at that time. This is a book that draws me in to the story and the characters. I’ve felt anger, laughed and sighed as I continue to read through this. I have a feeling that when I get to the end, the story will stay with me.

RS: Name an author that helped shape who you are as a writer and how he or she had that effect on you.

JML: L.M. Montgomery. She wrote all of the Anne of Green Gables books and Emily series, among others. My favorite book of hers is The Blue Castle. I was so enraptured by her books that I visited Prince Edward Island several times (the setting for most of her books). I have also read Montgomery’s published journals.

I am drawn to her struggles and determination. She wrote like she breathed. Her difficult life was artfully expressed in her novels. And she was very passionate. Not just as a novelist, but as a woman. She made a lot of sacrifices in her life and that shaped her writing.

Her first novel, the first Anne book, was published in 1908, when Montgomery was 34 (I’m a year behind her, which inspires me to push for my deadline). When I think about her struggles, her passion, her determination—in a lot of ways, I feel I’m very much like her. She lived by her motto: “never give up,” and she was a successful author. I’m determined to not give up either, and, eventually, that will pay off for me.

No wonder Montgomery set most of her novels here!

RS:  Can you give us a quick teaser about the course you’ll be teaching at Southeastern Writers Association?

JML: I’m teaching one class called: “Writing for Businesses.”

Want to get paid a lot for a small amount of your time? Sounds like one of those “sounds too good to be true” ads, doesn’t it? But it isn’t.

Commercial writing is very lucrative and a great avenue to venture into, especially for someone who really loves to write and wants to get paid a lot of money. You learn a lot working for different companies with a variety of needs, so your knowledge expands.

Commercial writing is different from, say, magazine writing, because the wait isn’t as long, the competition is not as tight and the pay is much higher. You can negotiate with the corporate world, unlike the magazine world. You can establish longer-term relationships with businesses, too, assuring frequent paychecks.

In this course, we’ll touch on the basics—how to get started, how to market yourself, what to write and for whom, what to charge and ethics. If we have time, I’ll talk about the business of business writing, such as negotiations, contracts and copyright.

This course is designed for ones who are currently writing for businesses or have played with the idea, but haven’t yet taken the leap. The course is also for ones who want to keep an open mind about other writing possibilities. Even if it’s not THE path a writer wishes to take, at least he/she will walk away with some new ideas.

THE PLUG

For more information about the Southeastern Writers Association conference in June, please see their registration page as well as my recent post.  Don’t wait to sign up—and you must be registered by April 1 in order to participate in contests and manuscript evaluations, so reserve your spot today!


To learn more about the workshop I’m teaching, click here.

SWA Presenter Spotlight: Gail Langer Karwoski

As I announced in December, I will be teaching a workshop on journalistic writing at the 35th annual Southeastern Writers Association conference in June 2010.

To gear up for that, I am featuring some interviews and spotlights with this year’s presentersFor more SWA Presenter Spotlights, click the appropriately-named category in the right-hand sidebar.

Next up is award-winning children’s author Gail Langer Karwoski.

ABOUT THE PRESENTER

Karwoski’s historical novels, short stories, nonfiction and picture books for young readers have been Junior Library Guild Selections, Mom’s Choice award winners and have received attention in Parade magazine as well as an endorsement by SeaWorld.

Her latest novel, Quake!  Disaster in San Francisco, 1906 (Peachtree Publishers, 2004) appeared on eight state award lists, and she has been named Georgia Author of the Year for Juvenile Literature three times—most recently for River Beds: Sleeping in the World’s Rivers (Sylvan Dell Publishing, 2008).

For more information on her books and ideas for how to use them in the classroom, please visit her Web site.

THE INTERVIEW

RS:  How did you get into writing?

GK: I love a good story!

I love swapping them with friends and acquaintances. I love reading them. I loved telling stories to my daughters and my students. I loved listening to my dad tell me stories about the imaginary kitties and mice that outwitted each other in the storeroom behind his hardware store.

Writing is a form of storytelling. I’ve always been into it!

RS: What keeps you writing?

GK: My readers!

I also love the process of writing: I like delving into a subject, looking at it from every side, turning it inside and out. I like the poetic parade of words—seeking the memorable turn of phrase, discovering the image that lays bare the essence.

RS: What do you do when you’re not writing?

GK: Cook (and eat)

Go for walks (and talks)

Read (and listen to books on CD)

Chat with our grownup daughters (and shop)

Snuggle my favorite cat (and my husband)

Watch movies (and whatever is my current favorite TV program—lately, I’m stuck on the PBS historical soap, Lark Rise to Candleford—maybe because of the British accents?)

Do crosswords (and Sudokus)

Look for humor in this nutsy world (and try to remember it long enough to get the punchline right when I share it!)

RS: What draws you to children’s literature?

GK: I’m a mom. For many years, I was a teacher. Plus, I view the world in a child-like way. (I’m never gonna grow up!) Writing for kids feels like my natural place.

As I craft a story, I think of my reader. I like thinking of a child skipping into the world that I am creating and having an epiphany: “Maybe I could do that . . . maybe there is another path for me . . . maybe I could be happier if . . . .”

Writing for kids is all about possibility, optimism, innovation.

RS: What are you currently working on?

GK: I have two novels for middle grades kids that I’ve been tweaking toward the finish line. They are quite different than my published work and very different from each other.

I have one historical picture storybook under contract, and I’ve got a few picture book scripts that I’ve been “sculpting.”

RS: What’s one genre or type of writing in which you’d like to dabble but haven’t yet—and why?

GK: I think it might be fun to try a sci-fi book—just for the sheer delight of going off in some wacky direction and ending up who-knows-where.

RS: What book(s) currently adorn your nightstand?

GK: I’m reading Phil Lee Williams’s latest novel, The Campfire Boys.

I recently, I finished The Help—talk about delightful characterization!—by Kathryn Stockett. But it’s not on my nightstand because I borrowed my friend’s Kindle to read it—to see how I liked reading this new way. (I have mixed feelings about the electronic reader, BTW. I liked the screen display much better than I anticipated, and, to my surprise, I did like the ease of holding it with one hand. But it was a real pain to scroll back to find a scene that I wanted to reread. No, I’m not going to buy an e-reader anytime soon. But if I was taking a long trip overseas, I probably would.)

My favorite read in the last year was Suzanne Collins’s YA, The Hunger Games, because it was heart-pounding, mind-bending, and the writing was so powerful, intense and invisible that I forgot that I was reading—I was there!

RS: Name an author that helped shape who you are as a writer and how he or she had that effect on you.

GK: Well, I read Scott O’Dell as a youngster, and he inspired me to try to make history come alive for a reader.

I shared the work of Phyllis Reynolds Naylor—who wrote a perfect fourth grade novel starring a dog (Shiloh)—with my students.

I met Roland Smith at a Florida book festival a few years ago, and he reminded me that this is a job that we got into because it’s fun.

And I’m continuously inspired by my friend, Lola Schaefer, who is optimistic and energetic and sensible, as well as prolific and successful.

RS: Can you give us a quick teaser about the course you’ll be teaching at Southeastern Writers Association?

GK: The Art, Business and Craft (ABC’s) of Writing for Young Readers

We’ll begin with a consideration of the art: Why do grownups write for kids? Are we writing to instruct, inform or entertain? Do we write to relive and share our own childhood experiences? Do children’s books need a “message”?

There are as many genres in juvenile as in adult writing. What are the different types of books for children? How old are the kids who will read or listen to each type? What are the requirements of each genre—word length, content, organization? What kinds of characters and topics are appropriate for kids?

What are your options for establishing a readership? The “gate-keepers” of children’s books are adults: How do you connect with readers through publishers and educators?

Focus on the Picture Book: We’ll take a hands-on look at this special form, where less is more. (Some have described the picture book as War and Peace in a haiku!) Picture books can be grouped into concept books and picture storybooks, and each has specific requirements. Today’s picture books reflect today’s culture, so we’ll examine the current picture book scene. What role do author and illustrator play in developing these books?

Focus on the Novel: We’ll take a hands-on look at fiction for “middle grades” and “young adult” readers (ages 8-16). Today’s reader is faced with a world of hi-tech distractions, so how do you keep ‘em down on the page after they’ve seen TV? What’s the difference between novels for adults and kids? What’s the difference between contemporary novels and the books you savored when you were a kid?

THE PLUG

For more information about the Southeastern Writers Association conference in June, please see their registration page as well as my recent post.  Don’t wait to sign up—and you must be registered by April 1 in order to participate in contests and manuscript evaluations, so reserve your spot today!

To learn more about the workshop I’m teaching, click here.

ADDED BONUS

Here’s a link to a short interview another SWA presenter, Amy Munnell, did with Karwoski in 2008 on her blog/zine 3 Questions . . . and Answers.