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.
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.
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:
- The New Jersey Authors’ Network (www.njauthorsnetwork.com)
- NJ Writing Groups.com (www.njwritinggroups.com)
- The I are a writer! (and more) store (www.iareawriter.net).
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 email@example.com.
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.
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.
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
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
Another great year for the GLVWG Write Stuff Conference™ last March, hosted by the Greater Lehigh Valley Writers Group. Resident professional photographer, Joan Zachary, shared some her best photos of the event.
Thursday’s session, attendees arrived early to stake their places for Ben Wolf’s full day, advanced study of speculative fiction.
Conference Chair, Dawn Sooy, made sure everyone had a chance to purchase the conference commemorative coffee cup — “I Are A Writer”.
Bart Palamaro facilitated “Writers Cafe” Thursday evening, where participants read the first 200 words of a story and get instant feedback. Ben Wolf’s co-presenter, Charis Crowe, joined the group with constructive critiques.
On Friday, Ben Wolf and Charis Crowe teamed up to present “The Three Pillars of Storytelling”.
Jean Ippolito conducted the afternoon session with “Book to Market – Tips to Package, Promote, and Publish Your Book”.
A conference tradition, three breakout rooms were set aside on Friday evening for the annual “Page Cuts Critique Sessions”. Participants who signed up in advance, had short pieces of their work read aloud by a moderator, then critiqued by industry professionals composed of conference presenters and agents.
Concurrent to Page Cuts, Charis Crowe held a special evening session discussing the Pixar Method in storytelling.
The evening ended with a group social gathering where participants, presenters, and agents rubbed elbows over cocktails and canapes.
Capping the night off, GLVWG’s resident “Mark Twain”, Charles Kiernan, was presented with a Samuel Clemons doll.
Saturday was the busiest, with eight presenters, over twenty sessions, and still have time for an agent panel to discuss recent industry trends.
Saturday’s Keynote Speaker — Ben Wolf, offered his personal experience with “Writing Through Adversity”.
Throughout the day, entries for the Flash Literature contest for Poetry, Fiction, and Non-Fiction, were displayed on poster boards during program breaks. Each conferee had three different colored vote cards for each category. Flash Literature Coordinator, Bernadette Sukley, awarded first, second, and third prizes to the winning entries.
Note: Watch this blog site for the winning entries in the next couple of weeks.
When the conference concluded, GLVWG opened its bookfair, where participants could purchase books.
And finally, hats off to Dawn Sooy, who has chaired the conference committee for the last two years. Her dedicated service to the often teeth-gnashing job of organizing the event has elevated the Write Stuff Conference to the hallmark it is today.
Conference Committee Members
Our thanks to Joan Zachary for providing the conference photographs.
By DT Krippene
At the recent GLVWG Write Stuff™ Conference, I had the pleasure of attending Robert Liparulo’s seminars. What made his presentation so rewarding, was how approachable he was. His light-hearted, easy-going style was infectious, with ample inspiration from his journey as an author.
We spent Thursday, April 7, with how to take a story from Mind to Manuscript – The Making of Your Masterpiece. Robert borrowed on his own experience in writing his first novel, “Comes a Horseman”, which took him years to perfect before he felt confident to publish. After hitting the bestseller lists, he knocked out one story after another, no longer questioning his ability to write. He went on to publish a bestselling YA series, Dreamhouse Kings, as well as other thriller novels.
He reminded us that writing is an art, and like any artistic venture, it’s subjective. Robert admits to being a maverick in the industry, in that he rarely does extensive rewrites of his books. He said the author’s voice is how a good story is told, and extensive editing can kill that voice if an author isn’t careful. Same applies for the use of critique groups, and finds them potentially dangerous to a budding author when too many “opinions” muck up the voice. Finding a good critique partner is like gold, valuable yet hard to find. Stories are all about the character, but he was quick to point out that too much detail on the character can suppress a reader’s natural inclination to imagine what the character looks like. He demonstrated this with a review of his book covers, where you never see the character’s face.
Conference Schedule – Friday, April 8
7:00 AM Check-In table opens: Pick up registration materials at the check-in table
8:00 AM – 12:00 PM in the Lehigh Room (Concurrent Session)
Thrillers and Mysteries: How Knowing the Difference will Help You Write a Great Story
Never mind how booksellers tend to lump the two genres together, they are vastly different: one is a rollercoaster ride, the other is more akin to presiding over a murder trial; one targets the heart and stomach, the other targets the brain and intellect. Not that there aren’t some crossover elements—there are, usually on the scene level, but never on the story level. From character development to point-of-view, from atmosphere and setting to the opening scene—the differences define your story, and will either engage your readers . . . or confuse them.
8:00 AM – 12:00 PM in the Cedar Crest Room (Concurrent Session)
Author Promotion Bootcamp
Maximize your promotional efforts. Make the most of interactions by implementing a purposeful engaging strategy. No opportunity should be left to chance. Bring this approach to your social media and learn how to be more relevant to your audience in a manner that is stress-free and easy to incorporate into your already busy schedule. Discover how to appeal to retailers and take full-advantage of meeting a bookstore staff. Learn how engagement will encourage a bookstore to hand-sell your books and keep them in stock. After this intensive training, you will be equipped to seize opportunities, virtual and live.
Part1: Live Author Interaction
Part2: Putting the Social Back in Social Media
Part3: Understanding Retailers
Thursday’s Schedule, April 7:
Full Day Workshop with Robert Liparulo
Followed by Writers Café at 7:00 PM
Bestselling author Robert Liparulo will take you step-by-step through structure and character development, plot and setting, voice and viewpoint. By the end of the day, you will have the tools – and motivation – to design, build, and write your story.
“Writing a novel is much like designing a building: the placement of everything has to serve a function; it has to be pleasing, simultaneously unique and familiar; it has to be something people want to return to, talk about, get cozy with. And writing a novel is no less demanding than designing the coolest, most prestigious skyscraper. But how? How do you take that vivid, gotta-get-it-out story in your head and put it in a form that everyone can see, that everyone can appreciate the way you do?”
|8:00 AM 11:30 AM||“From Mind to Manuscript: The Making of Your Masterpiece”|
|Lunch with the Expert – Robert Laparulo|
|1:00 PM 5:00 PM||
Continuation of Robert Liparulo’s workshop:
“From Mind to Manuscript: The Making of Your Masterpiece”
|7:00 PM 9:00 PM||
Writers Cafe: Informal Read and Critique
(Included with ALL registrations)
The Writers’ Cafe
Facilitated by Bart Palamaro
Get ready for Friday Night Page Cuts or Saturday Agent/Editor pitches by bringing your pitch or opening page and we will give you instant feedback! Or just bring the first page of your manuscript for a critique. All registered Conference attendees are welcome to attend this Conference version of GLVWGs monthly read and critique meeting. It’s a fun time!
Join us at the Best Western Lehigh Valley Hotel & Conference Center on Thursday for a daylong seminar with Robert Liparulo on “From Mind to Manuscript“. Advance registration required.
Former journalist Robert Liparulo is the best-selling author of the thrillers Comes a Horseman, Germ, Deadfall, Deadlock, and The 13th Tribe, as well as The Dreamhouse Kings, an action-adventure series for young adults. He contributed a short story to James Patterson’s Thriller, and an essay about Thomas Perry’s The Butcher’s Boy to Thrillers: 100 Must Reads, edited by David Morrell and Hank Wagner. He is currently working on the sequel to The 13th Tribe, as well writing an original screenplay with director Andrew Davis (The Fugitive). When not writing, Liparulo loves to read, watch (and analyze) movies, scuba dive, swim, hike, and travel. He lives in Monument, Colorado, with his family.
The session begins at 8:00 AM in the Lehigh Room, and includes Lunch with Robert in the Foundry.
Then stick around for Writer’s Café at 7:00 PM. Get ready for Friday Night Page Cuts or Saturday Agent/Editor pitches by bringing your pitch or opening page and we will give you instant feedback! Or just bring the first page of your manuscript for a critique. All registered Conference attendees are welcome to attend this Conference version of GLVWGs monthly read and critique meeting. It’s a fun time!
GLVWG’s Suzanne Mattaboni spoke with Amara Hoshijo of Soho Press, an independent book publisher based in Manhattan’s Union Square. Founded in 1986, Soho publishes 90 books a year across its Soho Press, Soho Crime and Soho Teen lists, and is known for introducing bold new literary voices, award-winning international crime fiction, and compelling young adult mystery and thrillers.
Amara will be taking pitches at the GLVWG Write Stuff Conference on Saturday, April 9. Advance Registration is Required.
Suzanne: I see from your background you’ve spent part of your life in Hawaii, France, and California. What drew you to New York, and what has made it worth staying?
Amara: I was first drawn to New York at the age of five, based on little more than that it was the biggest city I knew. (I’ve always preferred big cities—more specifically regarding the above, I’ve lived in Honolulu, Paris, and LA.) Hawaii remains a special place for me, but growing up, I didn’t see any industries there that I wanted to be a part of. I came to New York the summer after college with no prospects and the sole objective of breaking into publishing. It is certainly a literary epicenter, which was the deciding factor in my cross-country move, but I was lucky in that my personality meshed well with the city itself. New York has the diversity and integration I’ve craved my entire life; I’d say the people there have been brought together by a similar drive.