Tuesday, September 29, 2015

September Writers Coffeehouse

By Dawn Byrne

I counted thirty attendees at the Philly Liars Club Writers Coffeehouse in Willow Grove, PA on Sunday September 27th. Jessica Hunter and I represented the SJWG at this meeting, in the rear of Barnes & Noble on Park Ave.

The Coffeehouse began with a two-sentence bio of each person in our group. I'd gotten to know faces and names of those who sat with me, since I'm a regular Coffeehouse addict, and easily joined in the applause and enthusiasm when a person in our midst mentioned a forward step in their creative endeavor.

Janice Gable Bashman, Bram Stoker nominated author, publisher of The Big Thrill, and the International Thriller Writers' Vice President, invited our group to add its wealth of knowledge to her orchestration of discussions. She encouraged us to ask questions too.

One of the topics? Patterns in the way people speak to show a character to the reader. So much about a character's physical appearance, personality and background can be relayed to the reader through dialogue in a way that is showing, not telling. This is true for characters who aren't native to the setting of the story as well as those who are. Also, what the character doesn't say, and what another character's internal dialogue says in response to their dialogue, keys the reader into creating in their head who the character is, even if physically different from the author's vision. Only aspects of a character that's important to the story must be picked up correctly by the reader.

Janice touched on how to present a character's ethnicity without hitting the reader over the head. The meeting ended after a writing exercise on dialogue, with volunteers sharing their results.

Janice urged us to read Publisher's Weekly's newsletter. She explained that if we didn't want to subscribe, some articles are free, and to check out their Twitter.

Other valuable information: Oyster, a subscription service for books, is going out of business; ebook sales have dropped some and print is making a comeback with increased sales at Barnes & Noble; book scans only pick up 75% of your book's sales; If an editor shows interest in your book, you should still get an agent - when you email the prospective agent, type "Have Editor, Need Representation," in the subject line to get quick attention.

The Coffeehouse in Willow Grove won't meet in November or December, so make sure you don't miss the October 25th meeting from 12 noon to 2 PM, plus another hour for networking. But before that, go north on October 10th to the Palmer Branch of the Easton Area Public Library for their YA Fest 2015. Janice will be signing books and speaking as part of their authors' panel.

I've benefitted many times from listening to Janice share information on various facets of the writing world. I appreciate the time she gives for free and freely to the Coffeehouse.

Saturday, September 26, 2015

Announcing the Biff Bam Pop! Podcast Network

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: Toronto, Ontario/Marlton, New Jersey - Pop culture website Biff Bam Pop! today announces the launch of the Biff Bam Pop! Podcast Network, an umbrella to house and promote a host of podcasts featuring various members of the BBP staff. Please meet us after the jump for the details.

“For the past two years here at Biff Bam Pop!, we've featured The GAR! Podcast, the work of myself, and my partner Ray Cornwall,” says Biff Bam Pop! Senior Editor and Writer Glenn Walker. “Recently it occurred to us here onsite that I was not the only one who had a hand in the world of podcasting. We should organize the podcasts of our writers under one umbrella, adding to each show's promotional power for the betterment of everyone. Each time a new episode goes live, it would be featured here onsite. Thus was born the Biff Bam Pop! Podcast Network.”

The currently running podcasts that will now fall under the Biff Bam Pop! Podcast Network umbrella include:

The Audacious Eleven Podcast featuring Wendy Sheridan, Mary McGinley, Donna Juzva, and Biff Bam Pop's own, SJWG member Robin Renee. The show is described as a reality podcast that ventures from Pagan spirituality and life empowerment to technology, entrepreneurship, love, sex, and fandom.

The Biff Bam Popcast is our own video roundtable recorded from Google Hangouts that features BBP staffers and occasional guests talking about the pop culture topics of the day in film, television, comics, gaming, books, and music.

The GAR! Podcast is the Glenn Walker and Ray Cornwall weekly podcast where they talk unrehearsed about whatever happens to come to mind. It’s an audio-zine for your mind, a nerd exploration of a nerd world, coming to you from across the vastness of suburban New Jersey via Skype.

Gobbledygeek features hosts Paul Smith and AJ Wiley and focuses on a variety of entertainment subjects, with our hosts and special guests frequently discussing films, comics, and television. BBP staffers K. Dale Koontz and Ensley F. Guffey are frequent guests.

The Make Mine Magic Podcast features Jenn Walker and her husband SJWG member Glenn Walker talking about Disney, parks, movies, travel advice, characters, Marvel, Star Wars, Studio Ghibli, etc., if it’s Disney, it’s fair game.

The Official Popshifter Podcast, features Popshifter managing editor Less Lee Moore and featured contributor Jeffery X Martin shifting the tone of pop culture criticism and tackling the fields of film, music, and rest of the genre world.

Along with these shows, beginning on October 15th, we will launch the monthly Biff Bam Podcast. The inaugural edition will feature interviews with Kane Hodder and Brandi Cyrus, the stars of the new horror film Old 37, along with a roundtable discussion on the best movies to watch for Halloween, and contributions from various BBP staff writers.

“We’re very excited to be bringing Biff Bam Pop! to the podcasting world,” says Editor-In-Chief Andy Burns. “After seven years of writing on the web, we’re now going to entice your ears with our brand of pop culture talk.”

For more details on the Biff Bam Pop! Podcast Network, and the Biff Bam Podcast, contact Andy Burns or Glenn Walker.

Established in 2008 in Toronto, Canada, Biff Bam Pop is a pop culture website that features writers from across North America. Find us online at www.biffbampop.com, facebook.com/bbpcanada and via Twitter @biffbampop.

The Biff Bam Pop! website features the work of SJWG members Marie Gilbert, James Knipp, Loretta Sisco, Robin Renee, Sarah Hawkins-Miduski, Glenn Walker, and soon, Mieke Zamora-Mackay.

Sunday, September 13, 2015

"The Passing of Millie Hudson" by J. Keller Ford

Interview conducted by Marie Gilbert

J. Keller Ford is a young adult and new adult fantasy author, freelance editor and book reviewer. Her short stories, "The Amulet of Ormisez" in the Make Believe anthology and "Dragon Flight" in the One More Day anthology are published by J. Taylor Publishing.

Two of J. Keller Ford's non-fiction short stories, "Baby" and "Five More Minutes," won readers' choice awards at Midlife Collage. Her first YA fantasy novel, In the Shadow of the Dragon King -- the first installment in the Chronicles of Fallhollow trilogy -- is complete and seeking representation. You can find J. Keller Ford at her website, her blog, and her Twitter.

Marie Gilbert: Jenny, I’m so happy to have you as a guest and I would like to jump right in with the interview. Welcome and would you tell us a bit about yourself. What is the inspiration that drew you to writing?

J. Keller Ford: Where do I begin? Would it make sense if I said I was born writing? I really can’t pinpoint one thing that inspired me to write. It’s always been a part of me like breathing. I can’t remember a time I wasn’t writing. Of course, my parents influenced me a lot. My mom always read to me and my dad would tell me fantastical stories of brave and gallant knights. Ever since I can remember, I’ve always been around books. In fact, one of my favorite outings as a child was going to the library (shh, it still is).

Being surrounded by books has always been a magical event for me. There wasn’t a single place I couldn’t go, whether to a deserted island, a space colony, or up and down the Mississippi River on a riverboat. I spent time with a certain Velveteen Rabbit. I discovered the well-kept secrets of Mrs. Frisby and the Rats of Nimh. I soared high with Jonathan Livingston Seagull, saw the future in 1984 and I shipwrecked on Treasure Island. Of course, living in Germany and traveling around to all the castles contributed to my love for fantasy and dragons. I guess you could say my inspiration for writing comes from everywhere: my own experiences, my family, life, and the deep-down desire to tell a tale that hasn’t yet been told.

Marie: What type of stories do you like to write and why?

J. Keller Ford: I’ve written tons of stories, but I seem to gravitate toward Young Adult, primarily fantasy, whether it is urban or epic, or as is the case with "The Passing of Millie Hudson," paranormal. I think my brain goes that direction because after dealing with the realities of life on a daily basis, I want to write something that is in no way connected. I have always wanted to create my own reality, my own spaces where things work out the way I want them to. I also like the YA aspect because I can finally vicariously do all the things I wanted to do as a teen through my characters and settings. It gives me a chance to let go of that 'conservative' side of me and just let go.

Marie: I checked your website and see that you’ve been published in a few anthologies, what are your plans on future publications? Do you have a novel in the works? If yes, give us a brief synopsis.

J. Keller Ford: Right now, I’m putting a hundred percent effort into my Y.A. Chronicles of Fallhollow trilogy. The first novel, IN THE SHADOW OF THE DRAGON KING, was just picked up by Month9Books for publication in the Spring/Summer 2016 and I am currently writing on books 2 and 3 in the series.

What is the first novel about? A seventeen-year-old squire with knightly ambitions reluctantly joins forces with a sixteen-year-old overachiever to slay a dragon, save a realm from ultimate destruction, and maybe even win the forbidden girl in the process.

Marie: I enjoy reading your blog and would like your opinion on why blogging is important for writers in all stages of their career?

J. Keller Ford: Blogging is a great way to connect with people. I am amazed sometimes when I think of all the people my blog has touched all over the world. I love talking to people. I love sharing things with people. So many times I see people flip out on Twitter or Facebook when a well-known author answers questions posed to them on a blog, website or social media. I see comments all the time like "OMGosh, I didn’t think you’d really answer!" The 30 seconds of time the author took to answer that fan or reader does amazing things for the author and his or her ‘brand’. That reader will now go and tell everyone about that personal interaction, and we all know what word of mouth does.

There is no better way to grow an online presence or create a brand than by helping others and being nice. That’s why you’ll see a lot of cover reveals, blog posts by other authors, and book reviews on my blog. Blogging isn’t all about yakking about ourselves. It’s about connecting on a personal level with others. Sometimes we fail. Sometimes we succeed. The main thing to remember is to be yourself and have fun. The rest will follow with time.

Marie: What convinced you to join our Kickstarter?

J. Keller Ford: One of my fave author buddies and dear friend, Jennifer M. Eaton, told me about the anthology. She’d read "The Passing of Millie Hudson" before and suggested I submit it, seeing as the SJWG had opened up the submissions to everyone. Since "Millie Hudson" is one of my favorite short stories I’ve written, I thought, "Why not?" I was thrilled when Amy and Jessica informed me that it had been accepted for inclusion out of close to a hundred submissions.

Marie: Do you belong to a writers' group? Why if yes, and why if not?

J. Keller Ford: I belong to a local writers group and also to a writers group at Scribophile called The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pens. Both groups are awesome in different ways. The local writers group is set up in such a way that everyone reads from their latest work in progress and gets immediate, live feedback. It’s a great way to meet other authors, personally get to know them. Put a name to a face. It’s live interaction. It’s positive, and it helps to grow a local fan base. It’s a great way to team up with other authors for meet and greets, book signings, panel discussions, etc.

The online writer group is filled with the most supportive group of women I’ve ever known. They are all in different stages of publishing. Some have been published by big name publishers, some by Indies, some self-published. We all pour out our hearts over achievements, disappointments. We rant and rave over personal and professional issues. There is a wealth of information and some of the best beta readers EVER! And if you think you don’t need beta readers, think again. These gals have been through the publishing scene with professional publishers. They know what to look for. They aren’t just writers to me. They are my friends. I have already met one in person and plan on meeting many more.

Marie: Would you consider the route of self-publishing one of your books? Why if yes, why if not?

J. Keller Ford: At this time, the answer would be no. For one, I don’t have the funds and it can be quite expensive to produce your own book. Another reason is I’m simply not marketing savvy. I’m learning but I’m such a novice, I wouldn’t know where to begin. I don’t have the connections to get me where I want to be. I dream of NYT best-seller lists. I dream of movie deals for my novels, with action figures. I don’t know how to do any of it except set up blog tours and promote book covers.

Besides, I like having my work vetted by publishers. It’s so easy to think our work is awesome and amazing. It adds a whole new level when a highly sought after publisher likes your story enough to pick it up and say they want to publish it. For me, that makes me very, very happy. That’s not to say that someday I won’t publish a book of my poetry or a collection of my short stories, but for now, I’ll leave the publishing and marketing to the big guys so I can focus on writing the best stories I can write.

Marie: I want to thank you for your time, Jenny and I know our readers will love your story just as much as I did.

You can purchase Reading Glasses, featuring "The Passing of Millie Hudson" by J. Keller Ford, right here.

This interview previously appeared in a slightly different form on Marie Gilbert's blog, Gilbert Curiosities, right here.  

Wednesday, September 9, 2015

SJWG Member Roundup for August 2015

Compiled by Jessica A. Walsh, Mieke Zamora-Mackay, and Glenn Walker

There is so much talent in the South Jersey Writers Group, and as we've mentioned in the past, so many bloggers. And many of these bloggers produce content on a fairly frequent basis, so we thought it would be a cool idea to highlight some of each month's more intriguing and interesting blog posts and present them here.

Please give a click and a read, and we hope you will like the samples enough to become regular readers. Check them out!

Kristin Battestella reviewed four Arthurian enchantments. King Arthur fans should check these out.

Dawn Byrne shared a brief but eloquent story about how she knows when she’s home.

Joanne Costantino shared her wisdom about the importance of letting go in her post, “Repurposing Bitterness, Cutting Loose the Emotional Ball and Chain.”

Jennifer M. Eaton posted a wrap-up of the ten-week series with guest author Donna Galanti on getting your manuscript past the gatekeeper. In this post you will find links to all ten parts, including topics such as character development, world-building and pacing and tension. Very helpful stuff!

While MK England awaits exciting news, she distracted herself by participating in the #PimpMyBio Contestant Blog Hop and elaborated on who she is, throwing in some .gifs for fun!

Mark Galarrita writes first drafts of short fiction and he’s posted another one this month called, “It’s Really Not a Big Move.”

Ron Geraci lost his mother to lung cancer on August 16. She was his best friend and best editor, and we offer Ron our deepest condolences. He wrote a beautiful tribute to his mother and posted information for how you can donate in her memory to the Joan Geraci Memorial Scholarship fund, which will help to support a Rutgers University student at the School of Social Work in Camden in New Brunswick.

Everyone's favorite Steampunk Granny, Marie Gilbert, had her first book signing since Saving Solanda, the second book in her Roof Oasis series, was published. She changed her look for this novel and her robot companion, Patty, who stars in the series, was dressed to match!

Jessica is breaking the rules here and simply linking to Sarah Hawkins-Miduski’s August posts because how can she possibly choose one Disneyland post out of five!? All the food, all the photos - she is ready to pack her bags and leave this roundup mid-sentence. Who else wants to stow away in Sarah’s luggage?

New member Jessica Hunter shared some excellent advice for dealing with writer’s block. Take it scene by scene.

Funny man James Knipp wrote about current events in a sense with his post on the awkward conversations thousands of men are having with their wives this month thanks to hackers.

Victoria M. Lees talked about restructuring her memoir over at her Adventures in Writing blog.

Lisen Minetti wrote an open letter to literary agents, examined her dreams, and fought in the Pitch Wars.

Gail Priest wrote a terrific blog post on her Three Tips for Getting back to Writing.

In between gigs in New Jersey and Ohio, Robin Renee continued to record with her podcast partners at Audacious Eleven this month for four new episodes. You can check them out here.

Randy Ribay has had a busy August, was interviewed by Geekadelphia right here, and is prepping for the release of his first book, An Infinite Number of Parallel Universes, on October 16th.

Kevin Stephany reviews Merrily We Roll Along presented by the Burlington County Footlighters.

Loretta Sisco shares the plight of the poor old black cat. Show a black cat some love on Black Cat Appreciation Day.

Our dear Vince Sparks haplessly finds himself in the middle of the US Women’s World Cup ticker tape parade.

Author Cassandra Ulrich shares with us why she wrote A Beautiful Girl.

As writers, it is incumbent upon us to elevate our writing to a professional and mature level. Rich Voza shares a few examples of how to show that your piece is written by a grown up.

Glenn Walker and the team at Biff Bam Pop! honor the late Wes Craven.

Jessica A. Walsh continues her journey of self discovery through her empowering post "Story-telling: The Work 101."

Inspiration Sunday returns to Mieke Zamora-Mackay's blog, Love and Joy, in the hot month of August.

We hope you liked this month's selections from SJWG member blogs, and will not only read more at their respective sites, but also come back here next month for more. Don't forget to Like the South Jersey Writers at Facebook, Follow us at Twitter, and check us out on Pinterest. Thank you!

Friday, September 4, 2015

My First Time as a Professional Liar

By Jessica Hunter

People ask me what my story is about and all of a sudden I'm at a complete loss of words. It's like when someone asks: What's your favorite song? And all of a sudden your brain goes dead, and you can't even think of the last song you heard let alone which one is your favorite. Song? What's a song? This is exactly what happened to me when I attended the Liars Club this past Sunday, and it taught me a valuable lesson. But first let me go back to the beginning. To the moment I entered the den.

"We're going to sit in the front," SJWG Membership Director Glenn Walker said as we walked into the room. Little did I know, he meant the front front. As in the bright blue table that faces everyone else. The place where the professionals sit. (i.e the people who actually know what they're talking about.)

"You are a professional. If you act like a professional, then you are a professional," he told me when I expressed my concern. As I contemplated my choice, I asked myself, what is it that makes an author a professional? Is it the fact that you’ve published your stories, or is it your passion, your drive, the hours you spend doing the one thing that eventually gets you published - writing. If it’s the latter then yes, I am a professional.

Feeling slightly more confident, yet anxious, I took a seat at the table. Fellow SJWG member Bruce Capoferri offered me some reassurance. "I look in the mirror every morning and say Bruce, you are a professional salesman. Act like it." It reminded me of something Glenn mentioned earlier. "If it's not there, build it."

I needed to build the confidence that I belonged here, or at least fake it ‘til I make it, right? Honestly, I don't know why I was so afraid. It's not like everyone was going to chuck their books and pens at me. However, the room was filing with faces that I would probably see again. And I really wanted to make a good impression— in other words, not say anything stupid.

"What could you possibly say that would be stupid?" Glenn said. He was like the life coach I’ve always wanted.

The meeting started and with it my nerves hit overdrive. Sweaty palms, pounding chest, my thoughts tumbling over one another - we're introducing ourselves if you couldn't tell. But then something wonderful happened. I realized that everyone was just as nervous as I was.

"I panicked," said Dawn Byrne, fellow SJWG member.

"I feel like I'm having a heart attack," said one woman.

“Fake it 'til you make it!” someone shouted.

And then Keith Strunk put the icing on it all. "I’m not afraid to look dumb. Obviously."

I couldn't believe it. All of these established writers were feeling exactly what I was feeling. We were all in the same boat.

Now that the ice was broken, the group started talking about networking— get to know people not their pages, don’t pimp your writing, establish a network before you have something to sell. I was getting so many great notes. Just as I’m jotting down something Keith is saying, I realize that he’s speaking to me. Like he literally just asked me a question. It was then that I realized I wasn’t just a silent observer taking notes. These people had accepted me into their group. I was one of them, I was feeling on top of the world, and then the networking happened.

The first part was great. I spoke to Jon McGoran about our shared habit of writing ideas while driving. I spoke to someone else about yoga and language. I was on such a high. And then I was asked the one thing I didn't want to be asked. "So what's your story about?"

My entire brain shut down. I began babbling and hacking at my story. What is this nonsense you're saying? I thought. The guy was being so nice and patient as he listened to my rambling, but I could tell he was thoroughly confused. He had no idea what my book was about, and it sounded like I didn't know either. In fact I had somehow given him the wrong idea entirely. Just explain the themes, I thought, but even that came out a mess. He was asking all of the right questions geared to help me, all of the questions an agent would ask, and I had the answers, but none of them came out of my mouth. For some reason, my mouth had an agenda of its own, which was: gargle, gargle, gargle, Reapers, gargle, gargle, I'm not going to say anything you're telling me to say brain.

Just stop talking! I was screaming in my head. At this point he had started taking notes, "I'm just trying to get a picture," he said, but that added to the anxiety because now I was like, Why is he taking notes? He’s probably going to give them to me and say, "Get it together Jess!" Nope, he took them with him. When the conversation was finished, I rose from the table feeling paranoid, lost, and dazed beyond control.

How did this happen? How is it possible that I can fully understand my idea, yet butcher it when I try to explain it out loud? I don't know if you've ever felt this way, but it's like, you know the story - you know the plot, the themes, the characters, the twists, the symbolism you've placed throughout, yet still you don’t know how to summarize all of this in a concise way that will do the story justice. Ironically this is exactly how I feel about myself as a human being.

With that said, I left the meeting feeling completely and entirely discouraged. Maybe my story isn't as good as I think it is. But how could that be? I was just drooling over it before I left my house this morning. I'm an avid reader. I know a good story when I read one, but perhaps I am under a delusion spell. I must be blind to what I've actually written. I was now questioning everything, even my skills as a writer. My breaths were constricting, my thoughts were tumbling, it was hitting me like an avalanche. I'm having a panic attack, I thought as I sat in the backseat of Glenn's car.

When we returned to Jersey, I thanked Glenn, climbed into my car, and just sat there for who knows how long. My story totally sucks. And I've forgotten how to breathe. Maybe I should just start over? I thought, but that quickly crashed and burned. I had already fallen in love with my characters and promised them I would tell their story. I can't give up just because a seed of doubt was planted. Right?

So what did I do? I did what I always do when I'm stressed out - I went shopping.

As I'm strolling through the mall with a shirt that I don't need and feeling nonetheless better, a super model, of all people, helped me climb out of this mess. Well, it was actually just a poster in a jewelry story but same thing. Under the woman’s face was a hashtag that read: Don't crack under the pressure. The words reached out and grabbed me. They shook me by the shoulders and said "Stop freaking out! Stop doubting yourself!” It may have just been an ad for diamonds, but it reminded me that despite the anxiety I was feeling, I still believed in my story. And then I realized, I wasn’t freaking out about the opinions and advice I received. I was freaking out because I was afraid of failing. But when it comes to writing, what is failing really? You can’t fail if you’ve learned something. Sure, your book may not be picked up by a publisher, but then you'll self publish, and people will still be able to read your story. I was once told, “If you write a good story, people will freaking read it!” And in the end that's all that matters.

So don't lose hope when you start second-guessing yourself like I did, and definitely don't stop writing. Whatever you do, do not stop writing! (Seriously I'm going to want to read it once you're published) You simply take what caused the doubt in the first place, and learn from it because it is what makes us better writers. And perhaps the lesson you learn won't be about your story, but about you, yourself as a person. That’s what this ride has been for me. I walked into the Liars Club thinking I was going to learn about writing, and I left learning more about myself.

I couldn't have asked for a better experience. Sure it scared the crap out of me, and made me question everything - but that's a good thing! If everyone tells you you're wonderful all the time, then it's probably time to get some new friends. Because real friends tell you when you're doing something wrong and headed in a bad direction. They tell you the things you don't want, but need, to hear. And this is exactly how I feel about everyone I spoke to at the club. To them, I may have just been the babbling girl in the green skirt, but to me they are all my new friends.

There were two things said at the Liars Club that I will forever carry in my pocket (said by Keith and Jon respectively):

"Don't apologize for who you are" and "I'm a f*cking writer!"

About today's guest-blogger:

Jessica Hunter is a book junkie, an aspiring author, a Whovian and a Gryffindor. She dabbles in web development and yoga, but writing has always been her passion. On most days she can be found 30,000 feet in the air, but you’ll also catch her with the South Jersey Writers' Group, at her blog or on her Instagram.