A Writing Weekend: Philadelphia Writers Conference and BooksNJ

PWC - part of my writing weekendMy writing weekend kicks off on Friday, when I make my annual pilgrimage to the Philadelphia Writers Conference, my home away from home. I’m looking forward to the classes, the camaraderie, and the energy I always get from the conference.

I find it electrifying to be with so many other writers. Okay, so maybe the electricity doesn’t really start crackling until after the coffee stations open, but the energy ramps up as the day goes on. The confined spaces of the conference rooms trap inspiration and send it ricocheting until some of it inevitably hits me.

I will probably pitch at the conference (I usually do), but I haven’t decided yet. I have two manuscripts ready to go, so I certainly have something to talk about. Oddly enough, I have found that I pitch better if I don’t think about it too much beforehand. That seems counter-intuitive for an anxiety-beset introvert, but it works—provided I know my story well enough to speak fluidly about it (which I do). I think it’s because if I don’t admit to myself that I am going to pitch, it tricks my anxiety into staying calm until it’s too late to paralyze me with fear.

While I love the Philadelphia Writers Conference, I will miss Day 3 because I have a book event. On Sunday, I will be in Paramus, NJ, for the BooksNJ festival. This is my first time at this event, so it is a new adventure for me. I am even on a panel—Worlds Beyond Reality: Fantasy and Science Fiction with fellow authors J.R. Bale, Kristina Garlick, and Stephen S. Power, moderated by Laurie Meeske. It should be fun—just pray for sun, please!

I have quite the busy 3-day writing weekend ahead, chock full of adventure and fun. As is tradition, I will be reporting on the Philadelphia Writers Conference each night on the Author Chronicles blog, although I will not have a post for Sunday’s session. And come back here next week when I’ll tell you about my BooksNJ experience.


Inspiration: From Fish Tank to Think Tank

People are always asking writers where they get their ideas. Truth is, inspiration can come from anywhere. A song, a person, a place, even just mashing two disparate ideas together. Anywhere you look in the world, you can find inspiration.

Even in a fish tank.

My daughter has been begging for a pet for years. She finally realized we were not getting a dog, or a cat, so she settled on fish. She wanted fish. We acquired a free fish tank, so we decided to give it to her for Christmas. Glee!

On January 7th, we got two fish to start with. Now, anyone who knows me knows that I cannot do something as simple as buy fish without it becoming an anxiety-producing drama. So we got two fish, which my daughter named Sparkleshine and Seashell.

Sparkleshine, the inspiration for the fish Mafia


Seashell, victim of Sparkleshine







She fell in love. Even ate dinner in her room so she could watch them in the tank. Went on and on about how they were friends and seemed happy in the tank. She went to bed glowing.

And the first thing I heard the next morning was, “Mom, Seashell is missing!”

Great. The fish WAS missing. Not floating at the top, not out of the tank (we have a cover, but I looked anyway). I picked up and wiggled all the in-tank decorations in case she was stuck. Nothing. Could only reach one conclusion:

Sparkleshine ate Seashell.

To my daughter’s credit, she didn’t get that upset. She fake-cried a little bit—you know that cry when you think you should cry but can’t really work up to it. Then she seemed to take it in stride. “Well, Sparkleshine does look a little fatter than yesterday.”

She took it well, but I didn’t, because I could picture exactly what had happened in the morning. My daughter woke up, remembered she had fish, hopped out of bed beaming her smile of joy that illuminates her whole face, ran eagerly to her tank…and found only one fish. The smile wiped away. The joy doused.

I hated that stupid cannibal fish.

But, after losing sleep obsessing over this hurt to my daughter, I carried on. My friends and I joked about it on Facebook. One suggested that Sparkleshine had always secretly hated Seashell, but didn’t have an opportunity to off her until she had her alone in my daughter’s tank. Too many witnesses before. A fish assassination.

My husband bought 3 more fish to add to the one remaining. So we welcomed Seashell 2, Flower, and Gem. Sparkleshine did not seem happy with the new company, although my daughter’s face lit up and she hugged her dad over and over. I went to bed that night expecting to wake up to a bloodbath.

Seashell 2, replacement for the first victim

Seashell 2

Flower, a new fish


Gem, a new fish











Thankfully, four fish still inhabited the tank the next day. But now I watch as Sparkleshine and Seashell 2 seem at odds, constantly harassing each other. Is this how fish play? Do fish play? I don’t know. But as I watch them scuffle, I now hear a dialogue in my head. Two Mafia members joust for top position in the fish Mafia. Back and forth. A battle of wills. Who will win? And will any byswimmers become casualties?

“If you cross me, you’ll sleep with the humans.”

Inspiration can come from anywhere.

Even a fish tank.


* While I know the fish we have are male, my daughter insists she wants them to be female, so they are all “her”.

** As of this posting, all four fish are still alive.

***Sparkleshine leaped out of the tank and died about a week after this posting.

****Seashell 2 and Flower died within two days of each other in December 2017.

*****Gem died May 12th, 2018.









Philadelphia Writers’ Conference 2014 Precap

I suppose, being a writer, I should call this post a prologue, rather than a precap, but my many years in the video business have conditioned me to say precap and recap! And really, this is more of a precap than a prologue, so it’s all good.

I will be attending the Philadelphia Writers’ Conference (PWC) this year, as I have since 2011. It’s my hometown conference, so I can commute daily instead of paying for a room, and I can secure babysitting for my child. I cannot stress enough how much I enjoy this conference. I always leave with tons of information, a handful of new friends, and a boatload of inspiration!

It is odd to think how different my position this year is compared to last year. I have 4 publishing credentials to my name. My first short story, To Light and Guard, was published just days before the 2013 PWC. Since then, I have added a poem, The Towers Stood, in the World Healing, World Peace 2014 anthology and the short story Dying Breath published just a few weeks ago in Youth Imagination magazine. I have also self-published a genealogy book on my father’s side of the family, The Warren Family of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, and Their Ancestors.

Added to that, my middle grade novel Ozcillation has been picked up by the independent publisher Evil Jester Press, and will be released in 2015.

So my experience of this year’s PWC will be from a very different perspective than last year.

I do have a book deal, but I still do not have an agent. Since you don’t have to have the book finished when pitching to agents at a conference, I may pitch a second middle grade book I’m working on, since I have the other middle grade coming out next year. I do have a YA novel making the rounds in the agent query world, but I keep hearing that the genre is not selling well, so maybe it’s time to put that one on the back burner for a few months (genres always cycle back around).

I’m excited for this year’s conference, because I am looking forward to seeing old friends and friends I have only ever “met” online. And this conference really does feel like home to me. As a person with anxiety disorder, feeling comfortable at a conference is a big deal. I know I will still be totally exhausted by the end of the three days, but it will be a “good” exhausted.

As I have done for the past 3 years, I will be doing a nightly report on the PWC each day of the conference over on The Author Chronicles. Come over each day and see what’s going on at the oldest writers’ conference with open registration in America! We’ll also have a recap on Tuesday, and I usually do a personal “biggest takeaway” post back here on Thursday.

If you’re going to the PWC, I hope to see you there!

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A Creative Spring Blooms

This has been a rough winter in my area—lots of snowstorms and unusually deep cold spells. So it’s not surprising that I have spring on my mind!

Spring is a time of renewal, and renewal is on my mind right now, too. I seem to be having something of a personal Renaissance. My Muse is coming out to play.

I’ve been lost in a creative desert for more than 4 years—ever since my daughter was born. When I say this, people look at me in surprise, because I have been turning out a lot of work during the past 4 years. Lots of words. But not much has been in creative fiction. Most has been blogging, working on a family non-fiction genealogy book, and revising of fiction works whose early drafts pre-dated my child. So a lot of words, but not a lot of new creative ideas.

Not only weren’t new ideas coming, I didn’t even FEEL creative. Nothing stirred in my brain or soul. I worried that I would never again feel the elation of a new idea, the exhilaration of writing in a flow state, the thrill of hearing a character talk to me. But then things started to change.

First, at the 2013 Philadelphia Writer’s Conference, I felt stirrings of creativity. Then, a short-lived but bright fire burst forth in August. But these spurts didn’t last, and I ended up feeling depressed all over again, as if they had been nothing more than mirages in my creative desert.

But over the past few cold, snowy, wintry weeks, I have experienced hints of a creative spring. For the first time in years, a character is speaking to me. For the first time in years, I reached a flow state while writing fiction. And for the first time in years, I woke up with a new novel idea in my head—half-formed, incomplete, but intriguing.

Unlike my earlier mirages, I think this Renaissance might stick. I’m not sure what has changed to revive my Muse. Perhaps because I am sleeping more regularly and reliably (although still not enough). Perhaps because I am getting a little more exercise. Perhaps because my child is in preschool for a few hours a day (barring snow days!) and I have more time to devote to writing. Perhaps it simply took 4 years to recover from the utter exhaustion that comes with a newborn.

Whatever the reason, this resurgence feels new. Different from the other stirrings. It’s almost too good to believe.

But I will believe, and hold on tight.

Because as a writer, it is in my nature to believe in miracles.

Have you ever experienced a personal Renaissance?

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Inspiration for the Muse…and for the Journey

At the Writer’s Coffeehouse last month, we discussed inspiration—where we find it and how we hang on to it. What I found is that there are two different types of inspiration: the Muse kind and the long-term kind.

We are used to thinking of inspiration as “how do I get my Muse to talk to me?” or how to get into your flow state as a writer. We all do need something to move us from the mundane brain to the creative brain, so we all have our inspirations, whether it be a saying or a magic pencil or a Lego figure.

But writers who are in this for the long haul also need inspiration to keep us going through the rough patches. Like when the words aren’t flowing, but the rejections are. Or when the day job takes over your life and squeezes your writing time to nil. Or when your family demands more of your time than usual. Or when health concerns crop up. Or even when things are going well but you have more things to juggle than you can fit in a 24-hour period.

What inspires you for the long haul? Is it still your quote or magic pencil or Lego figure? Do you trade up to a unicorn or a favorite book or a person who inspires you? Or do you have some other way of getting through the rough times?

I’ll be honest—when I looked for things that inspired my Muse, I was a little stumped. Which may explain why (in spite of turning out a lot of work) I have felt lost in a creative desert for the past 4 years. I did eventually remember a bookmark that I still have (and of course cannot find at the moment) from childhood. A unicorn glitters on the front, and it says, “Some things have to be believed to be seen.” Which I believed as a child, and still believe today.

As for my long-term inspirations…well, I found three. The first are the Coffeehouses and workshops and conferences I attend. They always fire me up and get the juices flowing. But they are like booster shots—temporary pick-me-ups that don’t last very long.

The second is something Lois Duncan once said. I have a preschooler at home, and she has sucked energy and time from me (as small children will). Sometimes I despair of ever getting any writing done. Then I remember that Lois Duncan wrote most of her most popular books while raising FIVE small children. She talked once about typing a manuscript (on a typewriter) with a baby in her lap. So I figure if she could do it with five, I can find a way to manage with one!

The third inspiration is not so much inspiration as sheer stubbornness. When things get rough, I simply put my head down and plow ahead. I try to learn more craft along the way, so I am at least plowing in the right direction. Some call it tenacity or endurance, but I think I’m just too pig-headed to quit. I’ve come so far, I refuse to simply walk away. I also think my life-long anxiety disorder has shaped this method of coping. There are so many things in my daily life that spark my anxiety, I long ago found that the only way through was to grit my teeth and just plunge ahead. So I do. Every day. For all sorts of things. It is no surprise, then, that when faced with obstacles in my writing life, I do the same thing.

So those are some of the things that I find inspiring. How about you? What drives you when things get tough?

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Brainstorming: Inspiring odd connections

I have never been one for brainstorming—just sitting down and pouring out ideas and random thoughts and then looking back to see what interesting connections my brain made. I don’t know why I haven’t done more of this in my writing life. I guess it doesn’t feel natural to me. It was never part of my writing process.

Not to say I have not done unconscious brainstorming. All writers do, because our brains never stop chewing over the details of the story we are working on. Once, while working on a novel, I struggled to explain why a character was acting the way she was. Suddenly, I said, “Well, of course, it’s because she’s his daughter.” Of course, she hadn’t been his daughter until that very second—or had she? Had my brain always known that, and it had only just then come to the surface? Looking back at the WIP, certainly all the hints and details were there to support her “new” parentage.

So I do appreciate the value of brainstorming, even though it is not something I find I can do well on my own. While I do not brainstorm alone, I love to brainstorm in a group or with another writer. My own ideas usually come at a slower pace, but when I have someone else to toss ideas at me willy-nilly my mind leaps to connect all the ideas. New ideas spring to my brain much faster than when I try to brainstorm on my own, and the conflation of two seemingly unconnectable ideas is a challenge I love to conquer.

The way the brain works is absolutely amazing. It fits seemingly random ideas and data together and forms flashes of brilliance, ideas that never seemed possible. I am currently reading Isaac Asimov’s short story Sucker Bait, where they have people called Mnemonics who are trained from childhood to remember everything, to gather any and all data they come across, with the idea that the human brain can and will make connections between data when computers will not–because no sane person would ever ask the computer to pair those particular pieces of data. This is what brainstorming does.

We did a brainstorming exercise in Jonathan Maberry’s Advanced Novel class last week, and my brain hurt afterward. Stretching my mind, breaking out of my comfort zones by thinking up ideas for genres I don’t usually write, and integrating numerous ideas from my fellow workshoppers exhilarated and exhausted me.

Of course, turning on the creativity spigot in class inevitably means my brain will be in overdrive my whole way home. I can’t just turn it off, and my 50-minute drive lends itself to a lot of thinking. This is why I continue to take this Advanced Novel class after all these years – the people stir my creativity, push me to go farther, higher, to be better than I was when I walked in the door.

It’s useful to know that brainstorming works for me in a collaborative setting. I get a thrill, a physical high, from bandying ideas about with people. It can be a tool I use when I need to break writer’s block.

And even better, fellow Author Chronicler Nancy Keim Comley and I are toying with the idea of writing a novel based on one of the ideas we brainstormed in class. We’re at the very start of the idea, and it may come to nothing, or may need to wait until other projects we’re working on are completed, but the energy generated by the brainstorming session will carry me through many hours of work—whether collaborative or alone.

Some people swear by brainstorming – how does it fit into your writing process?

Inspiration: The Paths Taken

Two roads diverged in a wood…
–Robert Frost,
The Road Not Taken

I find paths winding through the wood irresistible. Not that I go charging down every one I see on a whim, mind you, but the image of that path stays with me for a long time. They call to me with the voice of the past, luring me away from the loud, crowded, connected present to the quiet, expansive solitude of a time long gone.

Paths like this appeal to my sense of adventure. (My husband is now snorting water out his nose as he reads this, because I am, shall we say, less than adventurous in my travels.) But the adventure of wooded paths is one of the imagination, not just geography. As my feet follow the pathway, I wonder about those who have gone before. Who were they? Why were they here? What were their lives like? What trials did they face? What triumphs did they celebrate? What were their stories?

Paths like this inspire me; they fire my imagination. They bring me a welcome release from the hectic pace of the normal world. They allow me to breathe, to be quiet, to think—to feel. Where they lead me to physically is almost irrelevant. But most times, I get the added gift of vistas like these: 

How can I pass up a path when it leads to a reward like that? And how can I as a writer help but get new ideas when a path leads to a house like this:

What’s it like to live in a house only accessible via water? It must cut down on unwanted visitors, that’s for certain!

The other day I drove past a wooded area. At one point two pillars stood. Once a gate—I picture wrought iron—had stood between them, but now one pillar lay half-toppled and a large branch blocked the way between them. Beyond the pillars stretched a path between the trees. Yellow and orange leaves lay thick on it, covering it and reclaiming it for the woods that surrounded it.

It called to me, but I could not follow it…that day.

I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference.

–Robert Frost, The Road Not Taken

Trifecta: L.A. Banks; David Roth; and Where Ideas Come From

A bit of writing community business before we begin:

Author L.A. Banks is still fighting hard against her illness, and her fellow Liars Club members are throwing a Writers Rave bash on 8/6 at Smokey Joe’s, 40th Street in University City in Philly for her benefit! Fantastic silent auctions are in the works, including full ms. read and phone crit from lit agent Jennifer DeChiara, and two tix to Jersey Boys on Broadway plus backstage tour and signed poster. Come join this massive meetup and have a blast for a great cause!

In other news, don’t miss David Roth’s blog tour when he stops in at The Author Chronicles on Friday, July 22!

Now for the fun stuff:

Finally, I have an answer to the question writers get asked all the time: Where do you get your ideas?

My latest idea came when I was in a shower that had a glass front. I quite suddenly felt like an animal in a zoo. So then I started wondering why I would be in a zoo. What kind of zoo, and where was it located? What was the story behind my being there? Forcibly captured, or born in captivity?

By the time all the hot water was gone, I knew why I was in a zoo. Someday, if I ever have time to write that story (I have so many on my list!), you will know why I was in a zoo, too.

Where has inspiration struck for you?

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