Interview with Maria Snyder

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Maria Snyder is the Keynote speaker at this year’s Write Stuff conference. She’s also doing two half-day workshops at the conference. Here is an interview with Maria by GLVWG member Donna Brennan. Register for the conference here.

Q&A with Jon Gibbs

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By Sara Karnish

A longtime friend of GLVWG, Job Gibbs will be presenting three sessions at the 2023 Write Stuff Conference: “The Three C’s of Conflict: Part 1,” “The Three C’s of Conflict: Part 2,” and “The Funny Pages.” Here is a complete conference schedule.

Writer bio:

Born in England, Jon Gibbs now lives in New Jersey, where he was Author-in-Residence at Georgian Court University from 2012 to 2017.

Jon is the founder of:

His middle grade fantasy, Fur-Face, was nominated for a Crystal Kite Award. Originally published by Echelon Press in 2010, the second edition was released in November 2022. The sequel, Barnum’s Revenge, was published by Echelon Press in 2013. The second edition is due out this year.

Jon’s latest book, Abraham Lincoln Stole My Homework, is due out this year.

When he’s not chasing around after his children, Jon can usually be found hunched over the computer in his basement office. One day he hopes to figure out how to switch it on.

Contact him at admin@jongibbs.org.

Q: One of your sessions is called ‘The Funny Pages.’ What will we learn during this session?

JG: We’ll be looking at how humor comes in many forms, and how we can use it in lots of different ways, whether it’s to lighten the mood after a shocking or stressful scene, or show us a little backstory, or even to make us like a character we aren’t supposed to – Think the Sherriff of Nottingham in Kevin Costner’s Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves

Q: Humor is difficult to achieve in writing. What are a few key elements to ‘writing funny’?

JG: I think we all have slightly different ideas as to what counts as funny, but when it comes to using it in a book or story, I’d say the most important thing is that whoever’s writing it finds it funny. Also, consistency is important. Humor is part of our personality. If a story character switches between self-deprecating humor and one-liners to snarky jokes and sarcasm without any obvious reason, it can be jarring (at least, it is for me as a reader).   

Q: Can you give us a sneak preview of your ‘3 Cs of Conflict’ 2-part sessions?

JG: Using examples from books and movies, we’ll be looking at some of the many ways to insert conflict in a story, and how we can use it to do more than just provide an obstacle for our characters to overcome. We’ll also be looking at examples from attendees’ current works-in-progress to see how we can ramp up the conflict while also helping to move the character/story arc along. 

Q: What does conflict add to a piece of fiction?

JG: Conflict certainly isn’t everything, but without it, any story (and most of real life) would be pretty boring. It doesn’t all have to be car chases and brawling; in fact, most conflict is pretty subtle, but if it’s not there, readers soon start flipping ahead a few pages, or worse, simply put the book down.  

Q: You write middle-grade fiction. What are some must-haves for writing middle-grade?

JG: Usually, the main character has to be middle-grade age. Adults can help solve the story problem, but they can’t be the driving force behind it. Aside from that, I’d say the must-haves are the same as any other fiction. Characters the reader cares about, good story, etc. 

Q: How is writing middle-grade different than writing for adults?

JG: There are some basic differences, most of which are common sense. The official age range for middle-grade readers is between 8 and 12, so there’s an awful lot of scope for the type of story you can tell (as well as in how you tell it). Across the board, though, really bad language, sex, etc., are definite no-nos. 

Book-length tends to be a lot shorter – usually between 20K and 50k words. If there is a romantic interest, it’s subtle – think Ron Weasley and Hermione Granger in the first few Harry Potter books.

Interview with Kathryn Craft

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Author and developmental editor Kathryn Craft is one of the presenters at the 2023 Write Stuff Conference

Interview by Sara Karnish

Long a leader in the southeastern Pennsylvania writing scene, Kathryn served for more than a decade in a variety of positions on the boards of the Greater Lehigh Valley Writers Group and the Philadelphia Writers’ Conference, and was named the 2020 Guiding Scribe for the Women’s Fiction Writers Association. Kathryn leads the Your Novel Year small-group mentorship program, has served as adjunct faculty for Drexel University’s low-residency MFA in Creative Writing program, hosts writing retreats for women, and speaks often about writing. She writes a monthly series, “Mad Skills,” at the award-winning blog, Writer Unboxed.

Her debut novel, The Art of Falling, set in the Philadelphia dance world, a harsh microcosm of our society’s celebrity-driven expectations of women’s bodies, is available from Sourcebooks. Her follow up novel, The Far End of Happy, is based on true events surrounding the 1997 suicide standoff that resulted in her husband’s death. Originally meant to be a memoir, she decided to novelize. 

Learn more about Kathryn at kathryncraft.com or writingpartner.com

Kathryn will be facilitating a half-day workshop focused on dialogue, “Say That and More”, on Thursday, March 23. I sat down with Kathryn to talk about the importance of dialogue and so much more.

Q: Can you give us a sneak preview of your half-day workshop “Say That and More” at the Write Stuff Conference?

KC: Dialogue, if used well, can be an incredible multi-tasker. It can build characterization, deliver information, enhance conflict, further the plot, reveal the motivations of non-point-of-view characters, expose hidden loyalties and secrets, and more. In fact, if it’s only doing any one of these things, it’s not doing enough! By analyzing powerful excerpts of dialogue from bestselling novels, we’ll figure out what these authors have done so well, and then give each technique a shot with either prompts or characters from our own works in progress. It will be both fun and eye-opening!

Q: Why is strong dialogue so critical to a novel?

KC: We humans communicate with each other primarily through speech. Imagine speed-dating without it! The first “I love you” will change a relationship, for better or worse. A baby’s first word is joyfully celebrated. Asking for what we truly need can be nerve-wracking. Losing our voice before a speech or performance can be a tragic loss of opportunity. One’s dying words can carry a lifetime of meaning. We can feel lost when someone is desperately trying to communicate with us in a language we don’t know. Since such situations are common to all humans, well-written dialogue can gain immediate emotional investment from your reader.

But equally important to dialogue is what isn’t said. If that first “I love you” is met with silence, we know things aren’t going so well. Same if the baby’s first word is “Da-da” and the mom whisks the baby from “Da-da’s” arms to go down for a nap. By tapping into these universal human emotions through a rich tapestry of actions, memories, and setting, we can invite the reader to add up what’s on the page for themselves. After all, they’ve been reading signals during conversations their whole lives.

Q: Authenticity is key to capturing how characters speak, and sometimes this means writing regional dialect. How should a writer handle dialect, colloquialisms, and “folksy expressions” in a novel? 

KC: This has changed a lot over the years as the publishing industry has gotten twitchier. There’s the fear that today’s busy readers will no longer put up with phonetic spelling and dropped syllables, even though doing so brought the series characters of middle grade authors like J.K. Rowling and Brian Jacques to vibrant life. A more recent concern is the fear that trying to write dialect will come off as prejudicial, racist, homophobic, xenophobic—if there’s even a whiff of political incorrectness in the way you’ve presented a character as “other than,”, there’s a possibility you’ll cross a line and lose readers. 

One solution is to evoke the sound of the language without full-out transcription. If a young woman says she could listen to her daddy all night long, his dropped syllables making his stories roll like waves, a periodic transcription of his language won’t cause a problem. If you need to convey the speech of a foreigner with minimal English, study the syntax of his native language (lack of articles in Russian, adjectives following many nouns in French) and mimic it.

Q: You’ve drawn on your personal experiences for your novels The Art of Falling and The Far End of Happy. What are some tips for writers to capture personal experiences—events, even interesting dialogue—and possibly use them later?

KC: I give a separate workshop on this, which was a direct result of all I learned while obtaining my PhD in self from the School of Hard Knocks. Since our emphasis here is dialogue, I’ll share one pertinent story from The Far End of Happy.

After I’d already filed for divorce from my first husband, and within a month of his suicide, he said to me, “I guess you don’t like me very much.”

This line of dialogue was seared into my memory to the point that I wanted to include it in my novel. But when my editor read that line of dialogue, floating as it was within the fictionalized version of real events, it made less sense. “The scene reads fine without it,” she commented. “Just delete it.” 

That I couldn’t do. To me it had the feel of an important turning point in this couple’s awareness of what was (or wasn’t) happening between them. So instead of deleting, I went back several chapters to better set up this important moment.

My takeaways: 1) while listening to your editor is important, you don’t have to solve problems in the way they suggest, and 2) just because it was spoken in real life doesn’t confer power to a line of dialogue, and setting it up might be a long game.

Q: Dialogue aside for a second—you are a developmental editor through your business, Writing Partner. How do we maintain the tension throughout a novel and keep readers’ interest?

KC: This isn’t just a whole other workshop; I’m writing a craft book on the topic! Just about all fiction craft can be geared toward sustaining the reader’s interest. The most important foundational concept is what I call psychological tension—the relationship an author builds between the protagonist and the reader. A reader is hooked when a protagonist’s deeply desired goal raises a related question in the reader’s mind that she wants answered (“Can this character achieve his goal, given all the obstacles ahead?”). Now you have the reader looking around every corner to see how it’s going for the protagonist. It’s only once this relationship is created that the author can raise, dash, and reward reader expectation, which is the very definition of a satisfying read.


This year’s Write Stuff Conference runs March 23-25 at the Best Western Lehigh Valley Hotel. Registration is open! www.glvwg.org

Interview with Michael Ventrella

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Author and attorney Michael Ventrella is one of the presenters at the 2023 Write Stuff Conference

Interview by Sara Karnish

Outside of writing, Mike worked primarily as a public defender; however, he also was a lobbyist for the liberal group Americans for Democratic Action (and later served as the Massachusetts chapter President for a year), taught political science courses at Bunker Hill Community College, and was a campaign manager for a state representative. Mike also wrote songs and performed in two prominent bands, Agent 99 and Big House, which played the major clubs in the Boston area and received airplay on local college radio.

Mike also started a magazine about animated films called Animato in the mid-80s which grew to be quite prominent. He was quoted in many publications as an animation expert, including Entertainment Weekly and in the book THE DREAM TEAM: THE RISE AND FALL OF DREAMWORKS by Daniel M. Kimmel.

In 1997, Mike and his wife, Heidi, moved to the beautiful Poconos, where Mike now works as an attorney. Heidi is a Niche award-winning artist whose work can be seen in galleries around the country and in Ripley’s Believe it or Not Museums all over the world, as well as on ABC TV’s To Tell the Truth. They love the pitter patter of little feet (they have five cats:  McGonigal, Mrs. Premise, Mrs. Conclusion, Doctor Who and River Song).

Michael writes humorous adventure stories. He has five novels published so far as well as a collection of short stories. He’s edited about a dozen anthologies, including Release the Virgins!, Baker Street Irregulars (with NY Times Bestselling Author Jonathan Maberry) and Three Time Travelers Walk Into…  He’s also had four nonfiction books published, including one about The Beatles, two about The Monkees, and “How to Argue the Constitution with a Conservative.”

Mike is a regular fixture at science fiction conventions on the East Coast, where he appears on panels to discuss fiction, animation, and gaming. However, to many people, he’s known primarily as the Guy Who Predicted The Hodor Plot Twist.

I sat down with Mike to discuss his work as an attorney, a writer, and how they (may or may not) overlap, and so much more.

Q: You are a lawyer as well as a writer. How do your careers inform each other?

MV: Morse code.

The advantage of having a writing skill as an attorney is that most attorneys don’t. We’re taught how to do legal research and organize a brief, but not necessarily how to make it interesting to read. 

I always teach that the only real rule in writing is “Don’t be boring,” and that applies to nonfiction and legal writing as well as fiction. I’ve won quite a few cases and appeals because I understand how to write well. Judges get lots of boring briefs to read, so if you can keep their attention, you’re way ahead of other lawyers. 

Q: One of your sessions for the Write Stuff Conference is called “How the Law Really Works”. I think many writers know it’s important to have a copyright for their work. Can you explain what a copyright is, and just why it’s so important?

MV: It isn’t as important as you think. If you create something, you have the copyright. You don’t need to register it. Just keep your records. I email drafts of what I am writing to myself. That way, if my computer crashes, there’s a backup in the cloud. And if anyone tries to claim my work as their own, I have dated proof that it’s mine. Once you publish it, it is automatically copyrighted. 

Seriously, no one is going to steal your stuff. Even if they steal your idea, the way they present it will be completely different than how you would write it. Whether you put “copyright” on the bottom of every page won’t make a difference. It’s not like that guarantees you will win a lawsuit. Evidence that you wrote it first is more important. 

If you’re sending stories off, you don’t need to say “This is copyright by me! Don’t steal it!”  If an editor likes your work, they’re not going to steal it and deal with a lawsuit; they’re going to say, “This is great! Let’s buy it and get this person to write even more great stuff for us.”

However, to be clear, my lecture won’t be about copyright law, but instead will be about criminal law. So many writers will have their characters arrested or break the law, and then get the procedure completely wrong. I’ll talk about how the detectives do their job in real cases, how the lawyers get involved, and how the system works (and doesn’t work). This particular lecture will provide lots of time for questions so come prepared!

Q: You’re doing another session called “How to Impress an Editor for a Themed Anthology”. What is one of the biggest mistakes an author makes when submitting a piece for an anthology?

MV: Not reading the guidelines and sending something to the editor that the editor doesn’t want. I often get stories that are not what I’m looking for, and all that does is make me mad at you for wasting my time. No editor is going to go, “I know this anthology is for stories about wizards, but golly, this story about baseball is just so good I have to put it in the book!” 

I’ll have many more examples in my presentation. 

Q: Your third session is “The Biggest Mistakes Made by New Authors”. Without giving too much of your presentation away, what is the single biggest mistake made by new authors?

MV: I don’t think I can narrow it down to one. That session will be a rapid listing of many mistakes (I know, because I made lots of them myself) with the idea that most people will go “Duh, of course, I’d never do that,” but then there will be one or two points that will make them go, “Ah, I never realized that. Good point.”

The problem is that those one or two points won’t be the same for everyone.

Okay, actually, I think I will list the biggest mistake:  Not reading. I can’t believe there are so many people who aspire to be writers yet don’t read a lot. You’re not going to improve your work without reading any more than a musician who never listens to music will write better songs. You will learn more about how to write by reading good books and paying attention to how the author accomplishes their goals than by any other method. 

Q: What is your best advice for writers at any level?

Force yourself to write even if you’re not in the mood. You’re not going to get better without practice (and this applies to any skill) so even if what you write later gets thrown away, it’s still going to make you better in the long run. 


This year’s Write Stuff Conference runs March 23-25 at the Best Western Lehigh Valley Hotel. Registration is open! www.glvwg.org

Lessons from the “Writes of Passage” GLVWG 2021 Anthology

By 2021 Anthology Chair Suzanne Mattaboni

I volunteered to be the 2021 Anthology Chair for the GLVWG anthology mostly for selfish reasons. I wanted to learn what went into writing an anthology so I might publish some on my own in the future. I felt it might be time for me to move onto something like that in my writing career. I also wanted to test a theory: We writers all work tirelessly from behind our various screens, spinning our wheels to get our work out into the bigger universe. My theory was, we might have more of an impact if we were (literally) bound together.

But in choosing a theme as personal as Rites of Passage, I wasn’t just cobbling a bunch of disparate pieces into a coherent whole. I found myself invited into the middle of some of the most painful and desperate moments of people’s lives. And that applied to fictional characters whose narratives had been carefully crafted, as well as to scenes that were plucked from the authors’ realities. Although I had some passing associations with many of the members of the group, I felt as I cultivated their work, I got to know my fellow GLVWG writers in ways that were far more insightful than would otherwise have been possible. 

I learned intimate details about people’s first experiences, the death of their loved ones, their fear of loss and loneliness, their battles with bone-chilling diseases. It got so intense that in the middle of the submission process, I sent a message to the GLVWG email group saying, “Please send me some uplifting rites of passage stories, too! I’m drowning in sorrow!” Although I suppose an anthology full of grief and desolation would have merit, because this kind of literature typically provides catharsis, I wasn’t sure if I could survive editing a full volume of such haunting material.

But little by little, more triumphant stories began populating the submission platform, like glimmers of sunshine after a downpour. I read tales of adoption. Redemption. Survival. Faith. The anthology began to demonstrate hope, both in fulfilling my wish for a more life-affirming collection, and in reflecting the human condition. 

As this greater scope of experiences began to flesh-out the book, I felt it wasn’t solely about the rituals and inflexion points we all face in life. The anthology started to become a testament to resilience. And as part of the team of talented editors who helped to curate and polish the pieces of that vision, I felt a great sense of responsibility to handle them with care. 

Rather than assign all the stories to other people for editing, I did edits for a bunch of pieces myself. This was mostly because I got immersed enough in the works that I just went ahead with editing the poems, stories, and essays on the spot, imagining how they might read together as a whole.

More than just a writing showcase, we ended up with a series of life lessons and poignant glimpses into the moments that make life interesting. I’m happy to say that at least one award program has agreed so far. We recently learned that Writes of Passage won first place in the Anthology category in the Book Fest Awards, which honors books from independent presses. I love that all the very talented contributors of this collection can now officially call themselves “award winners.” We experienced an epiphany of our own, learning what we can achieve when we combine forces and present our “darlings” to the masses. 

It was a whirlwind experience, and one that went on almost completely virtually, since much of the submission and editing process coincided with the most frightening rite of passage that most of us had ever braved: the COVID-19 epidemic. I only hope that being able to focus on this labor-intensive yet passion-heavy project during that bleak stretch of history served as a distraction, or at least an excuse to step out of our daily lives, creating a wonderful collection in the process.

The whole concept of creating something from nothing is as close as we get to real-life magic, and as artists, we have that power. Thanks to everyone who shared their talent and their delicately emotional stories with me to produce such a heartfelt anthology. Abracadabra—I think we pulled it off.


Suzanne Mattaboni

Suzanne Mattaboni is an author, retro podcaster, former Newsday reporter, and past winner of Seventeen magazine’s Art and Fiction Contest. She’s been published in the Huffington Post, Mysterious Ways, Guideposts.com, Dark Dossier, Turtle, Humpty Dumpty’s, and LA Parent, and won honorable mention in the 2018 Writer’s Digest Writing Competition. Suzanne’s work has appeared in anthologies, including Chicken Soup for the Soul–Miraculous Messages from Heaven, the Running Wild Anthology of Stories, and Little Demon Digest. One of her stories was nominated for a Pushcart Prize. Suzanne’s novel Once in a Lifetime debuted this year from Touchstone Press.

Winding Up for the Pitch

Heather Cashman

You’ve finished your manuscript, and you’re ready to look for an agent. How do you find an agent and then how do you make your pitch?

You can check out the Write Stuff Pitch Workshop and Pitch Session next month. This is a pre-event for the 2022 Write Stuff Conference.

Part 1 is October 2, a virtual session with agent Heather Cashman of Storm Literary Agency. She’ll lead you through a day-long workshop on finding and querying an agent, and developing and critiquing a pitch.

You’ll then have a week to practice your pitch. Part 2 is October 9, a virtual pitch session with one of four agents: Mark Gottlieb of Trident Media Group; Carrie Howland of Howland Literary; Lawrence Knorr of Sunbury Press, and Paul S. Levine of Paul S. Levine Literary Agency.

Register for the workshop and pitch session here: https://greaterlehighvalleywritersgroup.wildapricot.org/event-4316841

A Virtual Write Stuff: How It Works

Photo by Chris Montgomery on Unsplash

This year’s Write Stuff writers conference is entirely virtual, which means the sessions you’ve signed up for will be delivered via the Zoom platform. If you haven’t attended a virtual conference, let’s go over what you can expect.

Some virtual conferences use a platform that displays only the presenter or presenters. Those attending aren’t on camera at all, nor can they be heard. Any questions or comments from attendees are handled only through the chat function.

The Write Stuff is using Zoom, which means the presenter and all attendees will be visible. If your computer doesn’t have a built-in or add-on camera, then obviously, you won’t be seen during the session. If you do have a camera, you can choose to turn it on or off. You’ll want to check this feature ahead of the conference if you haven’t used it before. It’s also a good idea to check your audio quality as well. Most people use their laptop’s built-in microphone for audio, but others use a headset. Use whatever you’re comfortable with. 

During the sessions, the presenters will have the option to mute all attendees until it’s time for Q&A. The chat feature will be available if you have a question you want to post ahead of the Q&A. During the Q&A, best practice is to keep yourself on mute until it’s your turn to ask a question. That way extraneous noises like a barking dog won’t be a distraction. 

Each session will have a moderator, who will go over the specifics during the introduction, so try to be on time to hear that information.

Our goal is to make this conference run as seamlessly as possible. With your help, we’ll get there!

Registration closes on March 20, so don’t delay. You can register here: https://greaterlehighvalleywritersgroup.wildapricot.org/page-1859773.

J.D. Barker: The Featured Presenter at the Write Stuff 2021

J.D. Barker, a New York Times best-selling author and book doctor, will lead several sessions at this year’s Write Stuff conference. 

J.D. (for Jonathan Dylan) is a master of suspense with a number of novels in print. His debut novel, Forsaken, was a finalist for the Bram Stoker Award. Other novels include DraculThe Fourth Monkey, and She Has a Broken Thing Where Her Heart Should Be. He is currently collaborating with another best-selling author, James Patterson. 

J.D.’s books have been translated into two dozen languages and have been optioned for both film and TV.

He also worked as “book doctor” for more than 20 years. 

At the Write Stuff conference, he is leading a full-day book development workshop on Friday, March 26. Don’t miss it!

On Sunday, March 28, he will lead two sessions:

  • Crossing Genres: From Indie to Traditional: Every Dirty Little Secret You Need to Know!
  • An interview session: Taking questions from attendees

Learn more details about J.D. in this interview by publicity chair Kelly Shamblee: 

It’s on the Write Stuff YouTube channel.

Register for the conference here: https://greaterlehighvalleywritersgroup.wildapricot.org/page-1859773.

Harrision Demchick: A Featured Presenter at the Write Stuff 2021

Harrison Demchick, an author, musician, filmmaker, and editor, is one of the featured presenters at this year’s Write Stuff conference.  

Harrison is a developmental editor of fiction and memoir. He’s also a multi-optioned filmmaker, with his first film now in production.

At the conference, Harrison is leading three sessions on Saturday, March 27:

  • It’s the End of the World as We Know It and I Feel Fine: Why character consequence and reaction are necessary for conflict and tension.
  • Bad Math, or How Right and Left Brain Work Together: Why logic is so important to the magic of creative invention.
  • The Blueprint, or Building the Perfect Draft: How a well-constructed outline helps craft a stronger story.

Learn more details about Harrison in this interview by publicity chair Kelly Shamblee: 

It’s on the Write Stuff YouTube channel.

Register for the conference here: https://greaterlehighvalleywritersgroup.wildapricot.org/page-1859773.

Tim Esaias: A Featured Presenter at the Write Stuff 2021

Tim Esaias

Timons “Tim” Esaias, a satirist, writer and poet, is one of the featured presenters at this year’s Write Stuff conference.  

Tim writes satire, speculative fiction, poetry, and the occasional essay. His work has appeared in over a dozen different countries, and fifteen languages.

At the conference he’ll be leading two half-day seminars on Thursday, March 25: 

  • What to Put In & What to Take Out: How to remove meaningless stuff from your prose and put content back in.
  • Selected Elements of Style: Style makes or breaks your chance of a sale.
    Tim shows how to make it your servant.

On Saturday, March 27, Tim will lead three sessions:

  • Getting Combat on the Page: Putting military theory into practice.
  • Don’t be a Bobble-Head: Avoiding those story-killing cliche reactions.
  • Those First Few Lines: Four ways to start your story.

You can take a deeper dive with Tim in this interview by GLVWG publicity chair Kelly Shamblee: https://youtu.be/Gm5HvFGRgW8. It’s on the new Write Stuff YouTube channel.

Register for the conference here: https://greaterlehighvalleywritersgroup.wildapricot.org/page-1859773.