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Guest Post by Debra Johnson

Art With Books 

by Debra Johnson

You know what? I was going to write about all the art that people physically do with books. You know what I am talking about. Those cool sculptures created with bound together used books, or the photographs of falling books, or even the entire rooms built with books. While those are very cool and worth talking about, I have changed my mind.

You see, when I think about art and books I do not think of impressionist and modern artwork. I do not think of book roses or book butterflies. I think of the words on those pages: the words that represent hours and hours and even years and years of an author’s hopes, dreams and efforts to produce. You know, there are so many readers out there today that forget that real people, just like them, write books. We are not fabulous figures from the past like Mark Twain or William Shakespeare. We are not rich or famous or even super talented. What we are, us authors, is real people with real things they need to share.

The only thing that differentiates us from your average Joe is that instead of talking about things or singing about things or drinking about things, we write about things. Those written words are a reflection of our own souls; our fears and desires and experiences. Those books you casually walk by, priced and printed and ignored, are parts of real people displayed for public view. When you think about it that way, writers are actually extremely brave.

The thing I love about books is how much of the author you can see shining through. It is kind of like acting. How much is the character and how much is the actor playing the character? Like with some actors, some writers have a unique voice that comes through no matter what they write. That unique voice helps them to have a following of readers that either love their work or despise it, no in between. 

However, some writers seem to actually become the characters. Their voice is so well hidden that you can read two separate books of theirs and never realize it is written by the same person. Some authors even write characters that are from entirely different cultures, backgrounds or sexes and do such a good job with them that when you discover who the author really is you can only gape in wonder at their talent.

It does not really matter which kind of author you are though. Many of the most popular authors are ones that do not have a particular talent but instead tap into what is going on in society at the time. Those authors seem to have a finger on society’s pulse and are able to express what the average person is going through. Even if they do not write true stores, or even if they do not write realistic fiction, they can still create characters that speak to us.

Another thing that most people forget is that every movie and television show that touches your heart started out by someone writing it down. Now, I am not talking about reality television here, but authentic stories are just books put into motion. Screenwriters are no less writers than fiction, history, or fantasy writers are. They just have a different style and you can see their writing visually, which I think is often a great benefit to them.

A writer’s life can be a lonely life. No one can see the words as you write them. Even if you have people to edit your work it is not the same as say an audience clapping or a person crying at the beauty of a song. Writers very rarely get much attention, and even the best writers see only moments in the limelight before people turn to other sources of entertainment. Is it any wonder that writing is sometimes not considered an “art”? The closest we writers come to being considered artists is the poets out there, or maybe a songwriter. Other than that we are a job, and not a very profitable one. There are always exceptions, of course, but in general writers have to be okay with living solitary lives. There are not many writers who can work together to successfully create a book or story. Team writing is not something you see very often outside of text books.

What was my point? Oh, yes. I think that we writers should strive to show the world that writing is art. It is a beautiful, difficult and sometimes dangerous art. Like graffiti on the walls protesting government, writing can often be a catalyst for change. Think 1984 or Animal Farm or Huckleberry Finn. Simple stories written by normal men who changed the world. Not only that, but I think that writers are ignored in favor of more visual arts. Yes, a painting or sculpture is art, but so is a compelling story. I know that when I write I see entire worlds in my mind. If only I could wield a paint brush or computer mouse with the same clarity as I do my thoughts! I could create works of art so beautiful and realistic that you could swear you were looking at a photograph of another world. I could tell you every brick on the wall, every cloud in the sky, every animal and bit of hay, the smell of grass, the light breeze, the warmth of the sun, the chill of the fog, the clatter of horses hooves, the howling yip of a coyote, the chirping of frogs, the clatter of raindrops against the window.

Are these not arts? Wouldn’t you pay to see a movie or play a game so detailed? Wouldn’t you look around in wonder at a world created so carefully that you could walk into every room and expect it to amaze you? And yet, when we read books and stories of these carefully created worlds we often take them for granted.

Writing is art. Books are art. Words are art. Writers should get just as much appreciation for their work as painters do, as photographers and sculptors, dancers and actors, graphic designers and videographers. Just because you cannot see the worlds and people we create does not mean they are not there. They are there; they are real, as real as any other work of art. Carefully preserved in a way that others can understand and picture within their own minds. And isn’t that the more difficult task? To translate something so personal to yourself into something that everyone can see. Using no colors, no shadows, no careful shaping, just word after word poured out onto the page until entire world and galaxies and races and languages exist between the printed, creased pages of a simple paperback book. Is this not art?

About the Author: This guest post is contributed by Debra Johnson, blogger and editor of She welcomes your comments at her email Id: – jdebra84 @

Dallas Woodburn
author, speaker, freelance writer
founder of Write On! Books and Write On! For Literacy
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NYWC Ten Under Ten

I’m really delighted to be sharing these poems with you all today as part of Write On’s partnership with NYWC and their Ten Under Ten Series. I know you will enjoy these amazing poems written by kids under ten years old:

Ears Everywhere
by Amaraa F. Harris, Age 8

My dad’s ears are like eggs
that’s alive. My mommy’s ears are
as beautiful as a tree blowing in
the winter. My grandma’s ears are
as silky as grass.
But my ears are
weird. They feel like
elf ears. They hurt when the
wind blows. But when I move
my mouth
my ears move too.

When the wind blows
it’s like they try to tell me

But ears

My sister’s ears
Are an oval that will never stop.

That’s special.

This poem was contributed in 2005 by Amaraa F. Harris when she was eight years old and appears in Making the Trees Shiver: An Anthology of the First Six Years of the Fort Greene Summer Literary Festival. You’ll find this and other poems from the Fort Greene Summer Literary Festival in the NYWC Bookstore.

* * *

A Stringy Coconut
by Maya Kushnick, Age 7

This coconut looks like a hairball from a cat. (Even though I never saw one before.) It is an asteroid with rings on it. Is it heavy? Is it light? Don’t know! Bumpy, lumpy it hurts a lot. Mmmmm. Yummy, milky. Why did it fall on my head, off a tree? This someone has a big Mustache! What a nice hairdo. What a stringy coconut.

Maya Kushnick is a member of the NY Writers Coalition youth workshop Ridge Kids, which meets every Thursday at Brooklyn Public Library, Bay Ridge Branch. Click here for more information on NYWC youth programming.

* * *

Dead Rat Hamburgers 
by Tiffany Wong, Age 8

1. 18 dead rats
2. 2 hairy tomatoes
3. Bleu cheese
4. Moldy bread
5. Blood (optional: shoot a person with a bazooka gun to get the blood.)
6. Grater
 7. Bowl
8. Spoon
9. Hair

1. Grate bleu cheese and drop 3 gallons of blood into the bowl
2. Dice tomato
3. Wash dead mice or rat in blood*
4. Cook rats
5. Put everything together
Stink up and enjoy!
*Do not dry

“Dead Rat Hamburgers” was contributed in 2006 by Tiffany Wong when she was eight years old and appears in If These Streets Could Talk: Fiction & Poetry from the NY Writers Coalition. You’ll find this and other writing from our youth program in the NYWC Bookstore. 

* * *

by Cindy Lei, Age 7

I am from New York City
I am from brushes with daisies
I am from big white dumplings with things inside
I am from long pink dresses that I wear for dances.
I feel excited when I am wearing the pink dress.
I am from fudge
I am from congratulations and happy birthday.
I am from presents, medium-sized in a blue box with a pink
I am from fresh air.

I am from quickly-spoken Chinese.
I am from the stories I write, stories with problems.
I am from little and big sisters.
I am from Chinatown where there are interesting signs
and English-speaking people can’t understand.

“Pretty” was contributed in 2006 by Cindy Lei when she was seven years old and appears in If These Streets Could Talk: Fiction & Poetry from the NY Writers Coalition. You’ll find this and other writing from our youth program in the NYWC Bookstore.

Dallas Woodburn
author, speaker, freelance writer
founder of Write On! Books and Write On! For Literacy
Posted in fundraiser, kids, new york, NYWC, poems, poetry, Ten Under Ten, workshops, Writers Coalition, young writers | Leave a comment

Interview with Tracy Krauss to celebrate the launch of her new book WIND OVER MARSHDALE

Tracy Krauss is an author, artist, playwright, director, worship leader, and teacher. Originally from a small prairie town, she received her Bachelor’s Degree at the University of Saskatchewan. She has lived in many places in northern Canada with her husband, a pastor, and their children. They currently live in Tumbler Ridge, BC. Published works include four romantic suspense novels: And The Beat On, where archeological evidence for creation comes at a heavy cost; My Mother The Man-Eater, the story of a ‘cougar’ who takes on more than she bargained for; Play It Again, about an unlikely match during the 1980s rock n’ roll scene; and Wind Over Marshdale, where strong spiritual forces rock a seemingly peaceful prairie town. She also has several stage plays in print. Visit her website for more details. 

Who is Tracy Krauss? 

Besides an author, I am an artist, drama director, worship leader and teacher. I’m all about the creative process, so everything I do has that bent to it. When I’m ‘making’ something – be it a painting, directing my vision for a play on the stage, playing an instrument, or writing a book – I feel energized. Sometimes I tend to burn myself out because I don’t rest much, but I like to be busy and I love all my creative pursuits, so it’s hard to drop anything. I currently live in beautiful Tumbler Ridge, British Columbia, Canada, known for its many waterfalls. However, my husband and I have moved around a lot in our nearly thirty years of marriage, and many of the places we’ve lived have been in the far north. Places like Churchill, Manitoba – the ‘polar bear capital of the world’; the Yukon, which is next door to Alaska; and the North West Territories – all north of the 60th parallel. This has given me lots of fodder for my stories.

When did you start writing? 

I first started writing when my eldest was just a baby. I could hardly wait for her to go down for her nap so that I could pound away at my mother’s old typewriter. That was more than a quarter century ago. Four kids, plus homeschooling for nine years, plus going back to work as a public school teacher full time, and I finally signed my first contract in 2008. (This was after many, many rejections and a lot of hard work revising, querying, and revising some more.) My first book was released in 2009, followed by My Mother the Man-Eater in 2010, Play it Again in 2011, and now, Wind Over Marshdale in 2012. I’ve also had five plays published or contracted in that time with various play publishing houses.

What authors have inspired your own writing? 

Frank Peretti is still my favourite author. To me he is a groundbreaker. He’s tackled subjects that were previously considered taboo within Christian circles in such a compelling and thought provoking way that his writing is almost revered as truth. For instance, This Present Darkness has almost become a manual on spiritual warfare, even though it’s fiction. I try to include some of this ‘edge’ in my own writing. Francine Rivers is another that comes to mind. She has written about some pretty controversial topics as well, and her characters are always believable; they aren’t perfect in other words. Again, this is what I strive for with my characters.

Tell us about your new novel. 

Wind Over Marshdale takes place in a small prairie town where, on the surface, everything seems quaint and happy. Underneath there are some serious issues, especially with racism, sexual promiscuity, and the occult. Thomas Lone Wolf is a Cree man on a mission to build a heritage site near the town based on some ancient archaeological evidence. He and his children aren’t prepared for the level of prejudice they begin to face. Rachel Bosworth is the new Kindergarten teacher, fresh from the big city and running away from a hurtful past. Con McKinley is a local farmer, who also happens to be single and good looking. A love triangle of sorts develops, with the two men unwitting participants. As well, eccentric twin sisters bombard the town; one with her legalistic religious views and the other as a practicing witch. The local pastor has little effect trying to keep his parishioners in line since he is involved in some unsavoury business of his own. The lives of these and many other unusual characters weave together into a surprising climax. Beneath it all is a thread linking everyone’s problems to the spirit realm; an ancient curse from the past that must be dealt with once and for all.

What’s next? 

I have two more finished novels and several works in progress. I’m just in the process of polishing up Czech Out, about a hockey player who defects to North America during the cold war, and Three Strand Cord, a romantic mystery about three friends. Once they’re ready for submission I’ll be pitching them to my agent. I’m also always pitching plays as well, since I write most of my own material for my drama troupe. Finally, I’m publishing an illustrated children’s book. I just finished all the artwork and it should be ready fairly soon.

Blurb:Marshdale. Just a small farming community where nothing special happens. A perfect place to start over… or get lost. There is definitely more to this prairie town than meets the eye. Once the meeting place of aboriginal tribes for miles around, some say the land itself was cursed because of the people’s sin. But its history goes farther back than even indigenous oral history can trace and there is still a direct descendant who has been handed the truth, like it or not. Exactly what ties does the land have to the medicine of the ancients? Is it cursed, or is it all superstition?

Wind Over Marshdale is the story of the struggles within a small prairie town when hidden evil and ancient medicine resurface. Caught in the crossfire, new teacher Rachel Bosworth finds herself in love with two men at once. First, there is Thomas Lone Wolf, a Cree man whose blood lines run back to the days of ancient medicine but who has chosen to live as a Christian and faces prejudice from every side as he tries to expose the truth. Then there is Con McKinley, local farmer who has to face some demons of his own. Add to the mix a wayward minister seeking anonymity in the obscurity of the town; eccentric twin sisters – one heavily involved in the occult and the other a fundamentalist zealot; and a host of other ‘characters’ whose lives weave together unexpectedly for the final climax.

This suspenseful story is one of human frailty — prejudice, cowardice, jealousy, and greed – magnified by powerful spiritual forces that have remained hidden for centuries, only to be broken in triumph by grace.

Congrats on the release of your new book, Tracy! Thanks for taking the time to stop by the blog today! 

Links to Purchase Wind Over Marshdale

Publisher: Astraea Press: 


Barnes and Noble:

Dallas Woodburn
author, speaker, freelance writer
founder of Write On! Books and Write On! For Literacy
Posted in author, book launch, interview, novel, Tracy Krauss, Wind Over Marshdale | 1 Comment

Insights from warm, witty & wise best-selling author Jess Walter

A couple weeks ago, I had the pleasure of meeting best-selling author Jess Walter when he came to give a reading at Purdue through our Visiting Writers Series. I was part of a group of MFA students who got to have dinner with him before his reading, and he is one of the most friendly, funny, and genuinely nice people I’ve ever met!

An amazing read! You should buy it right now!

 I took notes during his question-and-answer session after his reading so I could share his incredibly insightful, comforting, funny and wise thoughts about the writing life with you:

  • I’m interested in collisions of emotion: the intersection between laughing and crying.
  • You turn the oven on for a “novel cake” and you have no idea how long it will take to bake.
  • As a writer, you are working against the grain of the culture. I love working against expectations — working against what the reader expects in a really satisfying way.
  • There’s an incredibly fast-moving river of culture, and as a novelist you have to step out of the river and observe what’s around you.
  • We (as writers) can’t focus on the number of people we reach. We can only focus on the depth of that relationship (with readers.)
  • I sometimes feel like an alien on the planet, and I think that’s a really healthy way for a writer to feel — at a remove from the rest of the world, watching.
  • Hollywood reflects us back at ourselves. 
  • So much of fiction writing is a kind of empathy.
  • On aging: Even as physically we start to fade, we become the best versions of ourselves.

It is so special when you greatly admire a writer’s books, and then get the chance to meet the writer in person — and like them even more! Jess Walter is a rare breed. If you’re looking for fiction that will move you, make you laugh, crack open your world and fill it with light — I could not recommend his books more highly!

Dallas Woodburn
author, speaker, freelance writer
founder of Write On! Books and Write On! For Literacy
Posted in advice, answer, author, Beautiful Ruins, culture, funny, insights, Jess Walter, Purdue, question, readers, Visiting Writers Series, wise, witty, writer | Leave a comment

Will you join our Indiegogo Campaign to help produce my play in NYC?

Hi everyone! A couple months back I shared the exciting news that my play “A Frog in Boiling Water” is going to be produced in New York City as part of the Samuel French Off-Off Broadway Short Play Festival! (Read my interview on the Samuel French website here:

I could not be more thrilled to be part of this prestigious festival and to be working with the amazing director Brian Gillespie and Pull Together Productions.

We’re looking for a little bit of help to cover the costs of producing and rehearsing the show for its Off Off Broadway, New York premiere on October 27th. We’ve created an Indiegogo page with various “perks” for donors, including a thank-you shout-out on our Facebook page, the Pull Together Productions website, and right here on this blog!

  • Donation Amount: $10 or more
  • Name of Perk: “Simmering”
    Description: You are heating things up. With a donation of $10 or more you will receive a shout-out on our Facebook page!
  • Donation Amount: $25 or more
  • Name of Perk:”Percolating”
    Description: You’re getting warmer. With a donation of $25 or more, you will be listed on Pull Together Productions website and Dallas Woodburn’s Writing Life website as a sponsor, and receive a shout-out on our Facebook page!
  • Donation Amount: $50 or more
  • Name of Perk: “Bubbling Up”
    Descripton: You’re cooking with gas. With a donation of $50 or more, you will receive a poster signed by the cast and crew, as well as a listing on our websites as a sponsor and a shout-out on our Facebook page!
  • Donation Amount: $100 or more
  • Name of Perk: “Boiling”
    Description: You’re fired up. With a donation of $100.00 or more, you will receive a photo from the production signed by the cast, a poster signed by the cast and crew, as well as a listing as a sponsor on our websites and a shout-out on our Facebook page!

About the Play:

On the surface, an ordinary family lives a sheltered existence — but on a dry, still Friday night, something is sparked to life that reveals the tension and secrets behind their perfect facade and ultimately changes their lives forever.

About the Festival:

Now in its 37th year, The Samuel French Off Off Broadway Short Play Festival is Manhattan’s oldest, continuous short play festival. In the first 36 years of the Festival, over 500 theatre companies and schools from across the U.S. and around the world have participated. The Festival has served as a doorway to future success for many aspiring playwrights, and has helped launched the work of notables such as Theresa Rebeck. In many cases, Festival participation has sparked agent contracts for Festival finalists and all of the final forty plays selected to be perform in New York are guaranteed to be seen by an Artistic Director of a major theater, a professional playwright, and a theatrical agent. Many past Festival playwrights have gone on to win major Playwriting awards and honors, as well as to have major theatrical productions of their works staged.

Check out the festival’s website for more info:

What your donation will go towards:

  • Rehearsal Space – Your donations will go directly towards paying for rehearsal space in New York City (average rate for rehearsal studios is about 25-30 dollars an hour)
  • Costumes, Props and Music – Even on a shoestring budget, it’s important to have the props you need and to find costumes that help reveal the characters. Finding just the right music also helps to enhance the telling of the story. Your donations will help us make the show look and sound its best.
  • Promotional Materials – postcards and posters to help spread the word and get a great audience.
  • Actor Stipends – Our wonderful actors are basically donating their time for free to be part of this neat play in such a prestigious festival. But we will be reimbursing them for their travel expenses and you’re donations will help pay for those.

We don’t need much; about $1000 should come pretty close to covering our expenses. But that’s just a little bit more than a struggling New York director and a grad. student playwright can pay for out of pocket. We’re hoping friends and supporters like you can pitch-in and help us along. Every donation, no matter what amount, will help us make this play a success.

Thank you! 

Here’s the link one more time:

Dallas Woodburn
author, speaker, freelance writer
founder of Write On! Books and Write On! For Literacy
Posted in Brian Gillespie, donation, grateful, help, indiegogo, new york, NYC, off off broadway, perks, play, prestigious, Samuel French, short play festival, thank you | 1 Comment

Interviewer with Author & Publisher Alfred Martino

I am thrilled to welcome Alfred Martino to the blog today! Alfred’s debut novel, Pinned, was published in 2005 and was chosen as a Jr. Library Guild Selection, Capitol Choices nominee, and nominee for YALSA’s Best Book For Young Adults. His second novel, Over The End Line, was published in 2009 and centers around high school soccer. He’ll be telling us more about his latest novel, Perfected by Girls, which just came out last month. 

Alfred is a graduate of Duke University and The Marshall School of Business at the University of Southern California, and is the co-founder and president of Listen & Live Audio, Inc., the premier independent audiobook publishing company in the US. With over 600 titles, Listen & Live Audio has worked with some of the finest narrators in the audiobook industry, including film legend Burt Reynolds, Penn Jillette of “Penn & Teller,” Frank Muller, Grover Gardner, George Guidall, Simon Prebble and the incomparable Katy kellgren. The company has won 3 consecutive Odyssey Honor Awards, 10 Audie Awards, and dozens of AudioFile ‘Earphones’ and Publishers Weekly ‘Listen Up’ Awards. The company has also had the privilege of recording many high-profile books, including the New York Times bestseller The Jane Austen Book Club, The Darwin Awards series, The Worst-Case Scenario Survival Handbook series, as well as authors Donna Hanover, Carol O’Connell, David Rosenfelt, Leil Lowndes, LA Meyer, Barbara Corcoran, Karen White, and Cassandra King. 

A native of Short Hills, NJ, Alfred has been a resident of Jersey City, NJ, since 1998. He is the proud companion to two wonderful rescue dogs, Daisy and Sara. Visit his website at

Tell us about you new book Perfected by Girls.

Perfected By Girls is about sophomore Melinda Radford, who is the lone girl on the Ashton High wrestling team (in Michigan), grappling with opponents who refuse to compete against her, a few who want to crush her, and a coach who’s less-than-pleased having a female in his practice room. At home, Mel’s parents forbid her from seeing her new boyfriend, her grandmother insists she start preparing for her future by taking a dreary office internship, and her infuriating older brother, who’s the varsity team captain, flirts with her best friend, Jade. Just when it seems things can’t get any more complicated, an off-handed comment puts Mel at odds with her teammates, her brother, and, worst of all, her coach. But through a twist of tragedy and fate, Mel is given an unexpected opportunity to accomplish something no girl in her school’s history has ever done—something that just may redeem her in the eyes of her detractors.

How did you get the idea for this book? 

My debut novel, Pinned, was about boys high school wrestling. I thought girls amateur wrestling was worthy of a similar book, particularly since it is one of the fastest growing sports among girls in middle and high school.

How did you first get started writing? 

When I was in high school I wrote a lot of teen angst poetry and short stories (some of which weren’t too bad). But then I got away from writing fiction in college and grad school, though I’m not sure why. The writing bug bit me again at the end of grad school, mostly because I was out in Los Angeles (at the University of Southern California getting my MBA) and everyone in Los Angeles is writing a screenplay for film or TV.

What is your writing process like? Do you write on a computer? In a spiral notebook? 

I prefer to write at night, the later the better. Most of the time, I sit at my computer in my condo with my dogs sleeping at my feet, though sometimes I’ll go to a local coffee shop and write in a small notebook.

What is your favorite thing about writing? 

A good writing session leaves me as satisfied as a good physical workout, though obviously not as tired or sweaty. Of course, sometimes I try to write and it is frustrating and tedious. The idea is to write as often as possible so that you’re able to create those few gems amid a lot of junk.

How do you deal with disappointment or discouragement? 

Oh, boy, if someone wants to be a writer but she has difficulties with rejection, she is going to have a very short career. Writing is all about disappointment, on a number of levels. First, you have to expect that only a portion of what you put down on paper or type on a computer is going to be any good (the rest you will eventually discard). Then, of course, the process of getting critiqued and, eventually, trying to be published, is chock full of disappointment and discouragement. But if someone wants to be a writer, he simply must accept that there will be many obstacles to overcome and, instead, focus on the craft of writing. That may sound cliche, but nothing is more important than writing the best story, character, plot, etc., that you possibly can.

What is your biggest advice for young people reaching for their dreams? 

I tell middle school and high school students this all the time, though I’m not sure it sinks in. If you want to be a writer, find one or two other people who do, as well. They can be friends, classmates or whatever. Then start a writing group, whereby, on a weekly basis, each of you gets to have a portion (say, five pages) of your material read and critiqued. This is so important for a number of reasons. First, you can’t write in a vacuum. You have to develop a thick enough skin to be critiqued without it setting you back mentally (plus, you’ll get wonderful ideas from the others in your writing group). In addition, you will become a better writer by critiquing others and understanding what does, and doesn’t, work in a story. Finally, it’s nice to be around other writers who are in the same boat as you are.

Is there anything else you would like to add? 

Those who are interested can contact me at

Dallas Woodburn
author, speaker, freelance writer
founder of Write On! Books and Write On! For Literacy
Posted in advice, alfred c. martino, audiobooks, author, books, entrepreneur, interview, novel, perfected by girls, publisher, teens, wrestling, writer, writing, YA, young adult | 1 Comment

Guest Post by Kay Winders

Tips for Creating a Successful Writers’ Group 
by Kay Winders

A writer’s group is a great tool for helping you grow as a writer. A good group can hold you accountable for producing more work, can inspire you to do more and to try new things, and can give you helpful feedback to improve your work. A bad group can waste your time and make you frustrated with the process. If you aren’t able to find a writers’ group in your area — or you just aren’t happy with the groups that are available — you can start your own. Here are a few tips to keep in mind to ensure that you create a successful writers’ group that helps to support and nurture your writing:

Recruit the Right People 

The most important criteria for your writing group is that you have the right people in it. These should be people who have compatible views about writing and who have similar goals for the group and attitudes toward work. In other words: You should agree about why you’re there and what you’re going to do while you’re there. It also helps if you have similar writing styles. You can find the right people to join your group either through word-of-mouth referrals or through targeted classified advertising on sites like Craigslist or Meetup. Take your time recruiting your members: If you rush and select the wrong people, it could seriously undermine your group.

Limit Size 

Once you have a plan for selecting your members, determine a cap for the number of members you will accept. Large groups benefit from a diversity of perspectives and experiences, but they can become unwieldy and ineffective. Trying to fit too many members into a group may mean that not all members get a chance to share their feedback or to get feedback on their own work. Figure out a good number that works for you based on your goals for the group. There is no right or wrong answer, as it depends on your own personal preferences. However, as a general rule, most groups succeed if they have fewer than a dozen or so members.

Create a Schedule 

Writers may work best when inspiration strikes, but an effective group can’t operate on whims. Create a detailed schedule to keep your group on track and to make sure that everyone gets their fair share of critique. Your schedule should include when each writer should submit work to the group and when critique will be given. Be sure to include some flexibility into the schedule. Even with deadlines, some writers may not turn in material when they are supposed to, or extenuating circumstances such as inclement weather or computer malfunctions may mean that a group can’t meet or members aren’t ready to provide feedback.

Determine Logistics 

You know who and you know when, now do you know how or where? Determine logistical details for your group such as where you will meet, how members will be responsible for distributing work (in person? through e-mail?), and how feedback will be distributed (are additional notes required to be e-mailed? Does a hard copy need to be handed back in person? etc.) Figuring out these details ahead of time will help the group run more smoothly and efficiently so you can focus all your energy where it matters: on the writing.

Set Ground Rules 

Now you’re ready to meet. So how exactly will your meetings be run? Will there be an open conversation between writer and readers? Will the writer be asked to give a short reading or to explain some of the thought process behind a piece? Or will the writer be asked to remain silent during the course of the critique, only to respond to all feedback at the very end? Lay out these ground rules for writers at the beginning so you can all be in agreement about how to present and receive feedback. If you don’t, the meeting may become a free-for-all that devolves into a rambling conversation or a heated debate. Like good writing, a good writers’ group take thought and planning.

Use these tips to create your next writers’ group, and you will set yourself up for success so you create a group that helps to support and challenge you as a writer so you can grow and hone your craft. Have you created or joined a writers’ group? Share your tips for successful groups in the comments!

BIO: Kay Winders is presently the resident writer for, where she researches the best way for people to pay off their debts without damaging their credit. In her spare time, she enjoys freelance writing, the beach and gardening.

Dallas Woodburn
author, speaker, freelance writer
founder of Write On! Books and Write On! For Literacy
Posted in advice, feedback, guest post, Kay Winders, nurture, productivity, success, support, tips, tool, workshop, writers group | Leave a comment

Interview with best-selling author & screenwriter William Martin

I am so thrilled and honored to have William Martin as a guest on the blog today! He has written ten novels, an award winning PBS documentary, book reviews, magazine articles, and one of what he calls “the cheesiest horror movies of all time.” His first novel, Back Bay, spent fourteen weeks on the New York Times Bestseller List and introduced Boston treasure hunter Peter Fallon. Since then he has been telling the American story, from the Pilgrims to 9/11. His tenth novel — and fifth to feature Peter Fallon — is The Lincoln Letter which was published by Forge this past August. In 2005 he received the prestigious New England Book Award, given “to an author whose body of work stands as a significant contribution to the culture of the region.” There are now over three million copies of his books in print. He has three grown children and lives near Boston with his wife. He says, “I am fortunate to have lasted for more than three decades in a very unpredictable business.” I feel very grateful that he took the time to answer some questions for us about his latest book and his writing process. Enjoy! 

Tell us about your latest book The Lincoln Letter

Like all the Peter Fallon novels, it is a history/mystery. Abraham Lincoln loses his diary in the spring of 1862. What was in it? Who got hold of it? And where is it today? Like its predecessors, it’s two stories in one. Peter and Evangeline set out to find the diary in the modern day. Their search takes them into the Civil War history of Washington DC. And as they search history, it comes to life. Peter was one of the first of a fictional type that has become quite popular of late: the smart guy searching for the lost historical artifact that can change the world. What separates the Peter Fallon books from the others, however, is that the reader gets to live the history. The Lincoln Letter is both a modern suspense thriller and a historical novel set in gritty, muddy, conspiracy-filled Civil War Washington.

How does writing a novel compare to writing a screenplay?

Much more freedom with a novel. A screenplay should only be about 120 pages, tops. A novel can be however long it takes to tell the story. A screenwriter is an architect, drawing a blueprint for a movie. A novelist is director, writer, actor, cinematographer, set designer, special effects coordinator… Novelists have more freedom to write what they want and usually fewer people offering opinions when they are done.

How did you get started writing? 

I went to LA to study moviemaking. I figured out that the quickest way into the business was to write screenplays. I wrote several that I could not sell (the fate of most screenplays). A producer said, “The way you write, you should write a novel.” So I wrote Back Bay and it became a best seller.

What is your writing process like? How do you balance writing and research? 

I write on a computer, like most people these days. I used to write longhand on looseleaf, then type it all myself. That was a killer. The computer can’t write for you. I mean, how many of the great novels were written on computers? But it sure can make the whole process easier. As far as balancing writing and research, there really is no balance. You just do what you have to to give the story and its characters the truth that they need.

How do you get ideas for what you write? 

I don’t know is the honest answer. But… I read, I ruminate, I talk to my agent and editor. And once I’m writing, I often let history give me my big scenes, like, say, the Battle of Anteitam or the assassination in Ford’s Theatre.

What is your biggest advice for young people reaching for their dreams?

If your dream is to write, WRITE. Don’t dream about it. Many people will tell you the odds against you, but you have to believe in yourself.

Is there anything else you would like to add? 

Samuel Johnson said, “No man but a blockhead ever wrote for anything but money.” And yes, I write to pay the bills, to put three kids through college, to buy a few nice wines, to do some traveling. But there are easier ways to make money. Like most writers, I also write for fulfillment, for the fun of traveling to different places or times to meet, in my imagination, people whom I would never encounter in real life. I write to learn and perhaps to teach. I write to get myself through the day and to help others get through the night. I write because I hate traffic and would kill myself if I had to commute beyond my attic office. And I write because I love knowing that somewhere, right now, someone is reading one of my books and seeing the world through my eyes.

Connect with William Martin:

Dallas Woodburn
author, speaker, freelance writer
founder of Write On! Books and Write On! For Literacy
Posted in advice, author, bestseller, fiction, film, historical fiction, history, interview, learn, movie, screenwriter, success, The Lincoln Letter, William Martin, writer | Leave a comment

Guest Post by Karen Smith

Inherited Habits: 
Know When to Honor Thy Father and Mother 
by Karen Smith

We all derive some of our personality from our parents, and some of it from rebelling against them. It’s a healthy, dialectical process: we get to choose which of their beliefs, inclinations, and habits are beneficial to us, and which we can improve on.

Personally, I was raised by a wonderful mother who also happened to be a librarian by trade. Although you would think that this vocation might imply an orderly, organized nature, that part of the job description was not as evident in her own personal life as was the compulsion to hoard.

Admirable enough in the context of a library, where it can be put to use preserving mankind’s knowledge for posterity, this retentive, pack-rat quality made for an unbelievably cluttered house. Kitchenware and other goods, however obsolete or redundant, were never, ever thrown away. Surely, someone will want those someday! Newspapers (remember those?) and magazines were piled and clipped and shredded, and piled again, on any available surface. My sister and I would sometimes joke that our living room looked like a gerbil cage.

My father had the same tendency, though his was mostly confined to the realm of gadgetry and electronics. Boxes of wires that once belonged to God-knows-what. Defunct computers. A whole slew of long-obsolete MiniDisc players, which he had bought in multiples, not because they’d be worth something someday (at least he wasn’t that delusional) but just so he’d never have to buy another one, even if he could find someone still selling them.

Dad also had some bad habits when it came to work. A government attorney, he often found himself working long into the night, due less to any overly onerous caseload than to his own procrastinating ways. He would schmooze and dawdle and not get nearly enough done at work, to the point that it ate into his personal and family life, thus affecting us all.

Unfortunately, as a writer, I find myself replicating this behavior pattern frighteningly faithfully. I’m not in analysis or anything (though maybe I should be!), but I frequently find myself thinking, D’oh! I’m doing exactly what I used to judge Dad for. It’s something I have to actively struggle against.

The hoarding compulsions less so: now don’t get me wrong, I’m no Spartan, but I don’t like clutter. I relish the feeling of control that comes with a well-organized and streamlined household, though without ever being totally anal about it. In other words, I think I’ve found the balance they never did between keeping a sterile and uptight “museum house” and being a complete slob with cars up on cinder blocks in the front yard.

If only I could find that same balance with the productivity issue. Some parental curses are hard to break, as mythology soberly notes. In Christianity we trace this “original sin” all the way back to Adam. But whether you’re religious or not, it’s hard to avoid recognizing that the sins of the father often truly are visited on the son, whether by genetics or environment. We do each have the choice, however — and the ability — to be a little bit better than the last generation. We would want the same for our own children. Right?

So think about it: which of your habits constitute a helpful inheritance from your parents? On the other hand, can you recognize places where these ingrained ways of living might be holding you back? Mom and Dad formed you, but it’s your life to live.

BIO: Karen Smith is a versatile freelance writer who often writes for While her writing focus is trends in small business, she also enjoys writing about the challenges of parenting, continuing education, health, and more. Karen welcomes comments below!

Dallas Woodburn
author, speaker, freelance writer
founder of Write On! Books and Write On! For Literacy
Posted in balance, childhood, dad, father, generation, genetics, guest post, habits, helpful, inheritance, Karen Smith, life, live, mom, mother, parents, personality, writing | Leave a comment