SWA Presenter Spotlight: David L. Robbins

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

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

Next up is historical fiction author David L. Robbins.


This born-and-raised Virginian is another lawyer-turned-author success story—although, unlike John Grisham or Steve Berry, Robbins only practiced law for one year.  Actually, even less than that.

Robbins. (Photo by Adam Ewing)

According to his Web site, the College of William and Mary alum quit practicing law two weeks before his one-year anniversary of becoming a lawyer.  His father had stipulated that Robbins would have to pay him back for law school if he quit before one year; however, in a final act of negotiation, Robbins got his father to allow for the equivalent of a two-week vacation.  Well done!

Currently, his fast-paced novels include: Souls to Keep (HarperCollins) as well as War of the Rats, The End of the War, Scorched Earth, Last Citadel, Liberation Road, The Betrayal Game, The Assassins Gallery, and Broken Jewel (all Bantam).  His current work-in-progress is called The Devil’s Waters.

In addition to being an accomplished novelist and Latin classical guitar enthusiast, Robbins is the founder of James River Writers, a writing organization based in Richmond, Va.  He also teaches creative writing at the College of William and Mary—his alma mater—and will be this year’s Advanced Fiction instructor at the 35th annual Southeastern Writers Association conference.


Although Robbins and I were unable to coordinate our schedules for an interview, here is an excerpt from an interview he did for James River Writers, which may offer a bit of insight in terms of what Robbins will be highlighting in Advanced Fiction at SWA in June.

JRW:You mentioned at your book release event that although you are adamant about not using back story, you did this anyway. When is it necessary for an established writer to break the rules and what caused you to do it here?

DLR: I’m adamant about pacing. Back story, dream sequences, narration, flashbacks, all of these and more are devices which exist on a plane not concomitant with the story itself. While the reader is ensconced in them, nothing happens to the characters in real time. No jeopardy, no progress, no action. No pace. So I recoil—usually. In Broken Jewel, I used a lengthy recollection—and I believe it is some of the most beautiful prose in the novel, to be honest—to express a father’s checkered history with his son. The entire passage is a bad idea that worked. This demonstrates that there are no rules in art, only default settings. It is necessary simply for a writer to have a working knowledge of the “rules,” so when they are broken, this is done with control and intent. I did it on purpose. That’s my only explanation.

JRW: When writing historical fiction, how do you keep history from controlling the plot so that the protagonist can do his or her job which is to instigate the action rather than react to events?

DLR: Design active protagonists instead of victims. Immature writers often rely on plots where their characters are buffeted by events, villains, heartless nature, or bad mojo. The key is to write a tale from the perspective of main characters who drive the action, not merely survive it. Do this, and you’ll never have the problem of a character being overwhelmed by history. In fact, if you’re clever, you can even invent characters who actually explain some bits of heretofore veiled history. So that’s how it happened! See?

For more information about Robbins, please visit his Web site.


Join us at the Southeastern Writers Association conference in June in beautiful St. Simons Island, Ga.  For the 4-1-1, please see their registration page as well as my post.  Reserve your spot today!

*To learn 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: 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.


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.


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.


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.


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.

Surprises in South Carolina, Coming Down off My Conference High

I spent the weekend in beautiful Myrtle Beach at the South Carolina Writers Workshop.


Being around writer folk for the first time since June made it pretty darn difficult to return to writing all by my lonesome today.  However, I’m dealing with it by mad networking, blogging, querying—oh yeah—and editing.

Here are some highlights/surprises of the weekend:


First of all, Janet Reid of FinePrint Literary Management is awesome.  Actually, I figured she would be, considering her blogs on agenting and query letters, but I was pleasantly surprised by her as an instructor.

Miss Query Shark herself really cares about writers.  See this blog post if you don’t believe me.  This hit me the most during her session “To Whom It May Concern: Effective Query Letters.”

Where most other agents say to narrow your querying pool to a select few, Janet says to query widely because it’s in the best interest of the writer to do so.

“What does it hurt you to query?” she asks.  “If it’s not right, you’ll just get a rejection.”

She also stresses not to beg in your query (e.g., “I know your time is exquisitely valuable…”).

“We’re all busy,” she says.  “Some of you have jobs and husbands and children to take care of.  Your time is exquisitely valuable.  We’re just sitting around reading.”

She even empowers writers—albeit realistically.

“Don’t demean yourself.  Remember: Agents and publishing cannot exist without writers—though, no one’s going to treat you like that.”

Another helpful hint?  To increase marketability, she says you might consider changing the sex of your main character, as this can make it stand out against other books like it.

Most importantly, however, she stressed that a query letter is the foundation upon which your publishing career rests.

“You can query too soon; you cannot query too late.”

For more of Janet’s query tips, see my guest post on Chuck Sambuchino’s Guide to Literary Agents blog.


  • Despite their busy schedules, they are approachable and willing to answer any questions at writers’ conferences.
  • They know how to party.  No elaboration necessary.
  • If you’re slightly dressed up, people might think you are one.  (Even though I look nothing like the fabulous Joanna Stampfel-Volpe of Nancy Coffey Literary, I still enjoyed being mistaken for her.)
  • They are curious creatures.  They vary in submission guidelines as well as personal preferences, but check out their Web sites, blogs, and interviews to gain insight.


  • It behooves writers to be somewhat ADD.  As far as I can tell, the more active your mind is, the more ideas you’ll have for books and articles.  I gotsta get me some of that!
  • According to one faculty member, stealing ideas is okay, as long as you make them your own.
  • Pitching is scary, but just get over it and do it…because the agent might just request pages. 🙂
  • New York Times bestselling author Steve Berry is a down-to-earth guy.  It took him 12 years and eight finished manuscripts before he ever sold anything.  Keep at it, he says.
  • Your first novel may not be publishable.  And that’s OK.  Put it away and start the second.

Thanks to everyone who helped make this weekend such a success.  I had a great time and am rejuvenated to continue my work.

Bring on the next conference!