Monday, November 7, 2016

8 Reasons Why You Should Go On A Writing Retreat

By Jessica A. Walsh

Yesterday concluded yet another incredibly productive South Jersey Writers Group retreat! The company was like-minded and lovely, the location mere blocks from the Ocean City beach was inspiring, the rental was comfortable, the food was delicious, and best of all, the words flowed from our finger tips. If you've never gone on a writing retreat and remain on the fence, then keep reading because following are eight reasons you need to go!

From left to right: Dawn Byrne, Jennifer Eaton, Lisen Minetti, Sarah Hawkins Miduski, Erika Timar, Amy Hollinger

1. No Distractions & plenty of quiet

Writing is difficult at home due to the incredible number of distractions! The dog, the kids, the piles of laundry, the clean dishwasher that needs to be emptied, the ringing phone, and on and on and on. Distractions are literally endless when you're home. Some writers block or a challenging scene and before you know it you think your time may be better spent cleaning out the closets. But away on writing retreat all the distractions of home are eliminated and there is peace and quiet to work.

2. People cook for you

We share cooking responsibilities on retreat so for all but the meal you prepare, you literally get to work until someone announces food is ready. For those of us who do all the cooking at home, this is an extra special treat. Which brings me to my next point...

3. EXCELLENT snacking

Writers need fuel, so everyone brings snacks, which results in a fabulous variety. Chocolate covered raisins and almonds, fruit, veggies, salted caramel apple smores dip, popcorn, veggie stix, cheese puffs, chips, chocolate croissants... you name it. It keeps our energy up and I don't know about you, but aids my concentration.

4. Get to know & celebrate your fellow writers
We don't talk much, except during meal time, but when you basically live with people for a long weekend, you get to know them better and that is a real bonus. Friendships are made and strengthened at retreat and the time with like-minded people is beneficial to everyone. There are also some great laughs and sharing of personal news and accomplishments that are met by plenty of cheers.

The truth is that we all want one another to succeed. Being with people who do what you do, and want the same things as you do tend to understand you. And time with people who understand why you do what you do is always refreshing and motivating.

5. Get away

Vermont, Nockamixon State Park, Ocean City, NJ.... regardless of where we retreat, we get to get away and have a new experience. Most everyone takes walks on retreat and it's a special treat to walk somewhere other than your own neighborhood. I know many of us really enjoyed our November walks on the beach this past weekend.

Ocean City beach in November
6. Positive peer pressure to keep butt in chair

When everyone's diligently working, there's a level of motivational energy and pressure to do the same. Again, there are no distractions and the sole purpose for being there is to write. That pressure is beneficial for some serious productivity.

7. Inexpensive way to go on writing retreat

Many writers go away to be more productive, but when going it alone, it can get pricey! When going on retreat, all the costs are shared. The eight of us stayed for three days in a lovely apartment blocks from the beach for less that $60 per person plus the cost of snacks and one meal.

8. Time for ideas to percolate

Even if you're the most disciplined writer, chances are you work for a few hours then move on to something else. But when getting away and having multiple days to focus solely on writing, there is plenty of time for new ideas or solutions to problems to percolate.

Thanks to this weekend's retreat I restructured the entire global story of my work in progress, wrote 9,000 words, and made great progress on my outline. None of this would have happened had I not gone away and spent 25 hours sitting at a table surrounded by wonderful like-minded women, with absolutely nothing for any of us to to do but WORK.

Monday, October 3, 2016

Wednesday, September 21, 2016

September Meeting Recap: Guest Robin Lovett

By K.A. Magrowski

One of the advantages of helping run a large and successful writing group is getting to meet and schedule so many great authors to give talks and presentations. The South Jersey Writers’ Group has hosted many wonderful authors who have given talks on the craft of writing, the business of publishing, and the joys of creativity. Each time, beforehand, I think, what can this person possibly tell me that I haven’t heard or read before?
Each time I am pleasantly surprised, and hearing Robin Lovett speak was no exception. Robin spoke on writing that “unputdownable” book that will hook editors, agents, and readers and how to turn a good story into a great one. So, you may be asking, how does one do that? Well…

Don’t neglect Emotion

The more we emotionally connect to a character, the more invested we are in a book and the less likely we will want to put it down. We will need to keep reading to find out what happens and, more importantly, how the characters will be affected. Emotion brings each scene alive and each scene should be a journey.
How can we convey emotion? Body language, tone of voice, the visceral response of the character, their internal thoughts and mental journey. Think of acting – how would this play out in a movie? How would I, if I were the character as an actor, make this face? How would I feel? How would I perform that motion?
If you hook the reader in the gut, chances are they won’t want to put the book down. If they must, they will continue thinking about it. I know I have read books where both during and afterwards, I couldn’t stop thinking about the characters. Driving, working, cooking. Sometimes all that took second place (at least for a while) to the novel or story.

Turn up the Conflict and Tension

When writing, we also should be thinking, what’s the worst that can happen? How can I increase the conflict and tension? How will my characters react to what’s happening? There should be a crisis moment in every scene. Of course, this doesn’t mean someone getting killed or an explosion, but something crucial to the character, something important. And here’s the important part: the reader must know/understand why this scene is crucial, why what is happening is significant.
This blog post cannot convey the best part of Robin’s presentation. Her absolute and utter passion and joy for what she does. Part of my day job sometimes involves getting up in front of people and providing training or education and I was literally taking notes on how to engage a crowd from her. I could feel her enthusiasm seeping into the group and being reflected back.
I’d like to part with a few tidbits Robin gave on how to be better writer (who doesn’t want to know “the secrets” of a successful writer, right?)

  • Know your genre and subgenre

  • Know the current work being written and what agents and editors (and readers!) want (personally I think this important, not so much so we can copycat the latest success story, but just so we are aware of trends. You can’t break the rules until you know them.)

  • Always keep on learning

  • Find what fuels you to write

  • Be willing and ready to accept critique to make your story the best it can be

Best of all and most importantly - Give your story the respect and the time it deserves! Don’t rush to publish (or pitch) without a genuine effort at receiving feedback, rewriting, and editing. Remember only you can tell the story inside of you so make sure it reflects the best you are capable of at that time!

Thursday, August 18, 2016

Interview with Author Ewart Rouse

The following interview with SJWG member and author Ewart Rouse was conducted by Marie Gilbert and originally presented in slightly different form on her blog, Gilbert Curiosities. You can read the original interview here, but we are proud to re-present it below, Enjoy.

Marie Gilbert: I love being a member of the South Jersey Writers' Group. Our group provides opportunities and inspiration for all members to reach their goals. Everyone has a story to tell and if you check out our blog, you will learn how many of the members got started down that road to publication. Our group is blessed with many talented people and I was happy to have this chance to interview Ewart Rouse on his books and on his love of Cricket.

Ewart Rouse is the author of the Sticky Wicket Trilogy: Watkins at Bat, Sticky Wicket Trilogy Vol.1; Watkins Fights Back, Sticky Wicket Trilogy, Vol. ll; Watkins' Finest Inning, Sticky Wicket Trilogy Vol. lll; and Watkins' Overseas Tour: Another Sticky Wicket Inning. All the books are about a game I don't know that much about, but Ewart Rouse was graceful enough to explain.

Tell us a little bit about yourself and your days as a reporter in Trinidad and here in the States. Did you always want to be a reporter?

Ewart Rouse: I grew up in Trinidad back when it was under British rule. Because there were few local authors at the time, we studied primarily British and American literature in school. I decided I wanted to be a reporter after it struck me that many of my favorite authors - including Dickens, Steinbeck, and Hemingway - were journalists.

There are no journalism schools on the island. Fortunately, the Guardian, the major daily newspaper, ran a training program for would-be journalists who, if they cut mustard, were offered jobs. I applied and was accepted into the program. After three months of following the beat reporters around, attending formal classes that they taught in the newspaper's library, and covering stories, I made the cut. I was given the court beat, and soon was covering politics, the top beat, at a time of great political upheaval with the island seeking its independence from Britain.

With that background, I landed a reporting job with the Associated Press in New York when I migrated to the United States in the 1970s. After brief stints in the wire service's bureaus in Newark, Atlantic City and Washington (the Watergate scandal that led to Nixon's resignation and Gerald Ford's swearing in as President was brewing then), I joined the staff at the Philadelphia Inquirer. I worked at the Inky for three decades, primarily as a business writer, retiring as a suburban editor in the paper's Cherry Hill bureau a few years ago. While at the Inquirer, I also taught newswriting as an adjunct journalism professor at Arcadia, Temple, Rutgers and Rowan Universities.

Marie Gilbert: Ewart, your books are about cricket and the men who play this game. Would you explain the dynamics of the game and what attracted you to it? How long have you been playing? Can women play, too?

Ewart Rouse: First, a little history: my series of “Sticky Wicket” novels originally were published by LMH Publishing. I acquired the rights back to the books and now have republished them, with new covers and material, through CreateSpace. Each volume is part of the same story, but can stand on its own.

Now, they aren't sports books, but rather novels about immigrants from countries where cricket is the national sport - India, Pakistan, the West Indies islands, England, etcetera - who yearn to play the game of their youth in their adopted land. It's a humorous look at a supposedly “gentleman's” game, a game considered the granddaddy of American baseball. I take an almost over-the-top approach to the challenges the men face, not least of which are wives who think it's time the men grew up and spent more time with their families, as well as Little League and soccer moms who don't take too kindly to these strangers in white uniforms, chattering in myriad languages and with funny accents, who have taken over their playgrounds - “hijacked,” as they tell it - to play a “foreign” game that nobody understands, a game that lasts the entire day, freezing out their kids.

As one angry Little League official demands of Watkins during a confrontational meeting, “You people are in America now. Why don't you play an American sport?” That quote tells you it's a story about a clash of cultures, and that something's gotta give. What attracted me to the game? Because it is a national sport in Trinidad, it was natural for me to pick up a cricket bat when I was old enough to lift it, as natural as an American kid would swing a baseball bat at that age.

And yes, women do play the game, at all levels, including international tournaments.

Marie Gilbert: Is the character Watkins based on you, or someone you knew?

Ewart Rouse: That's one of the first questions I'm usually asked. Watkins and the other characters are composites of people I know ¬- men who are so obsessed with the game they are willing to jeopardize their marriages to play it, and women who have given their husbands an ultimatum: put down that cricket bat and attend religious services with me on weekends or the marriage is over.

It's a scenario with which athletes and spouses in any sport, and readers of any genre, can identify.

Marie Gilbert: Can you explain to the readers what exactly a “sticky wicket” is?

Ewart Rouse: As I explained on my website the expression is akin to “being in a pickle.” For example, try explaining to your boss what you were doing at the casino, where you were spotted, after you had called in sick from work.

In cricket parlance, a “sticky wicket” refers to the condition of the playing surface of the game - the 66-feet-long by 10-feet wide strip in the middle of the field. When it is adversely affected by moisture, the surface - called “the wicket” or “pitch” - is likely to cause the bounced ball to behave in an unpredictable manner. It might pop up, go right, go left, or creep like a rat toward the batsman.

Even the most talented of batsmen - the ones with the sharpest of eyes and quickest of reflexes - can be surprised by such a delivery, end up playing the wrong stroke, and getting out.

The novels' “sticky wicket” titles refers to “the pickle” in which protagonist Freddie Watkins finds himself as he battles the wives and the establishment.

Marie Gilbert: Do you feel that cricket is becoming more popular in the states as more people learn about the game and how it's played?

Ewart Rouse: Back in the mid-1980s, there were seven established clubs in the Philadelphia-South Jersey area. Today, with the influx of immigrants from cricketing countries, (New Jersey reportedly is among the most popular destination in the United States for immigrants from around the world), there are dozens of clubs in several leagues. Nationwide, there are now hundreds of clubs.

It has remained a largely immigrant sport, but there is a concerted effort by the United States Cricket Association to get Americans to take up the sport, just as they have soccer, once considered a “foreign” game. That effort includes getting schools to follow New York City's example and make cricket part of the schools' sports curriculums.

Marie Gilbert: Can you tell us about the Lifetime Achievement Award that you received and the proclamation given to you by the Mayor of Camden?

Ewart Rouse: The South Jersey Caribbean Cultural Organization holds an annual “heritage day” festival on the Camden waterfront, with lots of music and vendors selling ethnic foods and things Caribbean. The mayor of Camden issues proclamations recognizing the day and the recipients of various awards. In 2013, I was presented with a lifetime achievement award in recognition of my years as a journalist, teacher and my activism on behalf of the cricket community. It was quite an honor.

Marie Gilbert: You have four books out in your Sticky Wicket Series. Can we expect a fifth one?

Ewart Rouse: Following the mantra “write what you know,” I'm going from the cricket field to the newsroom, from humor to thriller. My next protagonist is a crusading journalist who becomes the story after he loses his moral compass and becomes involved in a number of potentially career-ending, headline-grabbing incidents.

Marie Gilbert: What advice would you give to young people who are curious about trying their hands playing cricket?

Ewart Rouse: There's plenty of info on the USA Cricket Association website.

Marie Gilbert: What advice would you give to young people who are interested in becoming writers?

Ewart Rouse: Take notes about interesting quirky people, their idiosyncrasies, their pithy quotes and vignettes. They might recognize themselves in your stories and threaten to do bad things to you if portrayed in an unflattering light. When that happens, you have your sequel.

Also read anything you get your hands on, from books and newspapers (before they go the way of the dinosaur) to labels on paint. Each contains nuggets of information that the mind will retrieve for just the right spot in your next project. Embellish them, take them to the extreme and, who knows, maybe you end up with a bestseller. Some might call you a dreamer but, hey, as the saying goes, you can't have a dream come through if you don't have a dream.

Marie Gilbert: Thank you, Ewart Rouse for this interview. Too those of you out there who are interested in learning more about the game of Cricket and the men and women who love the game, pick up the Sticky Wicket books. They are available from Amazon on Kindle and in paperback here.  

Wednesday, August 10, 2016

Mieke Zamora-Mackay's Character Workshop

By Dawn Byrne

After taking Mieke Zamora-Mackay’s popular outlining workshop, I was thrilled she volunteered to cover another writing topic. Saturday, May 28th, I headed over to the William G. Rohrer Memorial Library on MacArthur Blvd. in southern New Jersey’s Haddon Township for her workshop titled, “Crafting Characters That Touch Readers’ Hearts.” Like other writers I know, I’m constantly sharpening my writing tools and looking to improve my craft.

Even with the holiday weekend in swing, the conference room filled with members of the South Jersey Writers’ Group. I wasn’t surprised - Mieke knows her stuff. Mieke’s two brave teenaged children were available to Young Adult Fiction writers for interviews to assist with realistic dialogue and characterizations.

I appreciated the folder of hand-outs to take home. The huge notepad Mieke wrote on not only spoke to my love of old school materials, but was kinder on my eyes than any digital screen I’ve had to squint at from the front or back row.

One of the writing exercises was to create a character sketch from pictures Mieke handed out. Mine was of three young woman dressed fashionably, sitting on padded bleachers. I’ve done picture prompts before but, because of Mieke’s presentation, I notice nuances I hadn’t before when doing one. Kevin Stephany, who also used a photo visual, commented on the SJWG’s Meetup site. “I may have enough material to generate a story off of it.” Me too.

Surrounded by my writing and critique partners, along with new and other established members, artistic energy comingled as our group took in the presentation and utilized the quiet writing time. This always incites me to begin and sustain fresh ideas.

My selfish self is wondering if Mieke will present yet another workshop, and which topic she’ll choose.

If you'd like to participate in one-of-a-kind workshops like this, please look into the South Jersey Writers' Group for more members only events like this.

Special thanks for the photos taken by SJWG members Ewart Rouse and Dawn Byrne

Friday, August 5, 2016

Moonrise by Gail Priest

The South Jersey Writers Group is proud to announce Moonrise, the third in the Annie Crow Knoll series by member and author Gail Priest.

Return once again to Annie Crow Knoll… a place to grieve loss, accept change, and rebuild a life worth living.

Breezy and Jemma, are world-class cyclists until violence at a race leaves Breezy with permanent physical disabilities and kills the man she loved. With her Olympic dream shattered, guilt and shame threaten to destroy her future happiness. Her sister Jemma escapes with only minor injuries, but the psychological damage she experiences shakes her self-worth, her Olympic potential, and her capacity to accept love.

The young women return to Annie Crow Knoll, their childhood home on the Chesapeake Bay, to heal and reclaim their lives, and with their parents and grandparents, struggle to make sense of life after this tragic and irrational incident.

Annie Crow Knoll: Moonrise, the third novel in this fiction series by Gail Priest, is a story about the power to reinvent life after surviving loss and trauma. Don't forget about the first two parts of the Annie Crow Knoll saga, Sunrise and Sunset. Though part of a series, Moonrise can be read as a standalone, and can be purchased at Amazon, Barnes & Noble, iBooks, and Kobo.

Gail Priest can be found at her own website, blog, Facebook, and Twitter. Don't forget to subscribe to her newsletter, and see her in person at these upcoming events.