Wednesday, January 21, 2015

The Cycle Of Inspiration

by Melissa Kline
My seven-year-old son came home from school the other day with a two-page, typed story, complete with chapters and a title that his friend had written. When I asked him about the story, he didn’t say much about it, so I assumed it was just another novelty paper that would soon get lost in the shuffle.
That same day, I witnessed my son with a notebook and pencil in-hand scrawling away. He was writing a story! A story very similar to his friends, only hand-written and with a new spin. I couldn’t help but find this incredibly inspiring. I found myself reliving old memories and experiences that I had forgotten about as a young writer. It was as if I was living those writer birthing moments all over again through my son. I knew exactly what he was experiencing and feeling through that story, because I had felt it too at one time.
My first novel - a notebook filled with my 13 year old writing

It took me a few days to realize, but I had experienced exactly what he had through my own peer influence in middle school. My spark came from an acquaintance who had brought a manuscript to class. Something transpired within my thirteen-year-old being that day when I saw that raw, printed, one-inch pile of paper. What occurred was the reality and possibility that I could create one, too! Seeing a novel written by my peer gave me permission on some level, and that was where it all began. I realized that the exact same thing had occurred with my son. He just needed to see the possibility from a peer perspective. He was sparked, and thus another writer was born!
I am absolutely tickled to watch my son go through an evolution in his own creative process. He has gone from notebook to computer within only a few days. I have become motivated to write long-hand again and just seeing him hard at work makes me want to work, too! I am amazed by this cycle of inspiration and how very powerful it is. When I explained to a friend about this recent phenomenon, she said, “You have inspired him and now he is inspiring you!” How neat is that? It’s a beautiful cycle of inspiration.
How have you been influenced or inspired by others? Was there a defining moment or spark for you? I’d love to hear about your experience. 

Wednesday, January 14, 2015


by Kathy Cannon Wiechman
 Last week, my editor sent word that my novel, LIKE A RIVER (due out April 7), received a starred Kirkus review. Wow! Kirkus says their stars are “awarded to books of exceptional merit.” Wow again!
Am I thrilled? You bet. But this writer, who has seen truckloads of rejection over the past 40 years, has a hard time simply reveling in this success. After all, someone once said, “A writer is only as good as his most recent book.” And I finished one (my first since LIKE A RIVER) just before Christmas. I am trying to love the new novel, but how can I follow a novel that people rave about? A novel that earned a Kirkus star?

“Like a River has vaulted to my top-five favorite war stories ever. It’s a war story, a thriller, a romance—all that and more. Meticulously researched and brilliantly written, Like a River will transport you into a story you won’t want to end. Call Like a River unforgettable. A stunning debut!”
—Jerry Spinelli, Newbery Medalist for Maniac Magee
 I already felt enormous pressure to write something exceptional, even before the star. I worked too hard for too long to emerge from the slush pile, and I know I don’t want to be a “one-trick pony.” I am finally a published author, and I want to see more of my books in readers’ hands. So how do I handle the strain of this new pressure?

My answer was to talk to several writer friends (both published and unpublished) about it. And I received a lot of good advice. I was told not to let LIKE A RIVER pull my focus away from actually writing. I should do what I always have, one word at a time.

I was told to have confidence in myself and my work. OK, that is easier said than done. Decades of rejection eroded my self-confidence big time. But I can try. And that star lets me know that I CAN DO IT.

The one word I received from every single writer I talked to was, “Celebrate!” So even as I plot out my next novel and wait to hear from my editor on the one I just finished, I am raising a glass and maybe even dancing a little. And I am smiling a lot. I am celebrating! After all, my dream for 40 years was a published novel. I never went so far as to dream of a Kirkus star.

When I sit down to write, I put the star out of my head. I focus on new characters, a new setting, a new storyline. And I remember why I became a writer in the first place. Because I love doing it! Writing makes me happy. With or without a star.

Have you dealt with pressure like this? How did you deal with it?

Friday, January 9, 2015

Moving Sidewalks

by Kim Van Sickler

Help Me Celebrate My 3rd Blogging Anniversary!

L.G. Keltner is celebrating her blog's third year with a mega-dose of sarcasm, and that means today I am embracing my inner snark.

A few days ago I was finishing off a family ski trip. Our final day on the slopes came with pelting rain. Conditions were hazardous. But we wanted to do something outside that wouldn't result in more torn ACLs before we returned home, so we checked out the tubing hill. Going down was wet, but fun and much safer than skiing and snowboarding on a block of ice.

The problem was getting up the hill.

This particular tubing hill used a moving sidewalk to get its tubers up. One narrow sidewalk. So narrow and icy that you couldn't maneuver around the person in front of you. Walking up the hill yourself was not permitted. Sitting in your tube was not allowed. You had to use that sidewalk to get up the hill.

And people were just standing.

And it was raining, harder by the minute. And we were all getting pelted with icy rain.

If everyone would have walked on the moving sidewalk, the trip up would have taken half the time.

But no one did. The best we could manage was a few steps before we butted up against a line of tubers standing still, seemingly oblivious to how much time they were wasting and not at all concerned about the abysmal weather conditions.


Why do people stand on moving sidewalks? They are an ineffective mode of movement in and of themselves. A healthy infant can crawl faster. But when combined with walking, a person can move twice as fast. 

Move! Move! Don't just stand there! Don't you have anyplace you need to be?

Ultimately the slow crawl of the sidewalk on that windy, frigid, wet tubing hill did us in. We couldn't abide standing still while we inched up the hill any longer. 

The next time I think about going tubing, I'm going to make sure I find out the mode of transport to the top of the hill. And I'll nix one with a moving sidewalk.

Wednesday, January 7, 2015

Striking a Chord

by Kim Van Sickler

Writing a readable book is one thing; writing a page-turner is another.

Writing a book that resonates with the reader, one that strikes a chord deep inside and reverberates with meaning, pulses with purpose, is another step beyond.

I'm reading one of those extraordinary books now. Wild by Cheryl Strayed.
A book about a young, clueless, broken woman hiking the Pacific Crest Trail. Who would have thought she'd be so relatable? 

But she is, not only for those of us who have suffered great personal trauma and struggled to pick ourselves up and move forward, but also for those of us who are unsure of who we are and which direction out lives should take. Cheryl is one of those authors who isn't afraid to make herself look bad. And in so doing, she allows her readers, with all of their flaws, to feel pretty good.

It's a skill that can't come easily. The natural tendency of writers is to make ourselves look good. We want to be admired, respected, quoted. Cheryl strips herself down to her core. She reveals herself to be a tempestuous, immature, emotionally fragile, hedonistic young woman who finally decides to do something about it. And although the method she uses to "find" herself is unconventional, and even dangerous, the reader understands and roots for her because, face it, her life had spiraled out-of-control in tornado-like proportions.

Cheryl's ability to flog herself for her mistakes, but at the same time work on setting herself on a straighter path is commendable. Her scene descriptions are apt, and complement her story without overshadowing it. Her physical and personal journeys are memorable and inspirational.
Kim's hiking boots. For her personal journeys.

It's a story that will stay with me for a long time. Maybe forever.

Now, that is something.

What book have you read that has that kind of staying power?

Wednesday, December 31, 2014

KC Maguire's Interview with Author Melissa Kline

Originally featured on

Author Melissa Kline writes for the YA market in both the contemporary fiction and speculative fiction areas. Her books, My Beginning and Storm have won several literary honors and awards. When I asked Melissa about her work, here's what she had to say ...  
PictureKC: You moved from sci-fi in "My Beginning" to contemporary fiction with "Storm". What prompted the change and which genre do you enjoy writing more?

MK: Actually, I wrote "Storm" before "My Beginning"! All of my early novels are contemporary YA and most of my short stories are sci-fi, so somewhere along the way the two genres meshed. I can't say that I like one genre more than the other. Science Fiction and Dystopian are fun because you can create worlds and scenarios that are unique. I like the heart and emotion in Contemporary. Regardless of the genre, love is always the central theme in my work. 

KC: "My Beginning" focused largely on a female protagonist while "Storm" is written from a male point of view. Did you find it challenging to switch genders? If so, what were the main challenges?

MK: For me, writing from the point of view of both male and female protagonists comes easily. Granted, my early male characters are a bit on the girly side, though my practice improved over time. I think the key is to not get intimidated by gender. Think of your character as a blank slate. When it comes down to it, we are simply writing about human beings. 

KC: "Storm" deals with some pretty hard-hitting issues. Did you do a lot of research into the issues you dealt with in the book? What gave you the idea to write it?

MK: Storm's character came to me early in my writing career. I always felt as if he were some type of entity or presence who needed to be heard. I am a very sensitive, empathic person so for me this story flowed very naturally. I can relate to Storm's feelings of being alone, cast aside, not feeling good enough, rebellion, his introversion, emotions and depth. I can also relate to the metamorphosis that he endures as a character -- in his relationships and in his life.

KC: Did you find it challenging to weave a romantic relationship into a story where the characters are dealing with difficult personal issues?

MK: Not at all. I think it's natural as human beings, regardless of age, to be drawn to love. We all want to be loved and accepted. Sometimes finding a connection with another person or people helps us to see that we are not alone. This was the case for Storm. The connections he made were crucial to his healing process.

KC: What draws you to writing for young audiences? What are the some of the main challenges of writing for teen readers?

MK: There was a period when I didn't have a source of support as a teenager, which is why writing for teens is so important to me. Through my writing, I wish to give teens a sense of empowerment, hope, optimism, compassion, and self-esteem. The biggest challenge for me in writing for teens is ensuring that my overall message and content is appropriate and positive. 

KC: Who are some of your own favorite authors, and what are you reading now?

MK: Some of my favorite authors are S.E Hinton, Roald Dahl, Megan McCafferty, Sophie Kinsella, Marianne Williamson ... and I am currently reading The Firestarter Sessions by Danielle LaPorte.

Do you prefer reading books about contemporary issues in the real world or sci-fi/fantasy stories? 

Thanks for the interview, Melissa. Let the comments roll...

Wednesday, December 24, 2014


by Kathy Cannon Wiechman

      Every December, one of my critique groups has a holiday party instead of our regular meeting. We share good food and a few small gifts. In place of things to critique, we share stories or poems with a winter or holiday theme.

     I can recall past year's, where Kathy M. shared written images of her horse Chance trotting through the snow and Josephine told stories of life in El Dorado, Arkansas.

     This year, microbiologist Michele passed around enhanced pictures of cells that rivaled a light show, and illustrator Christina shared the beautiful work that always keeps her busy with deadlines. Tracy showed us the book she worked on that will come out next month and Josephine wrote a moving essay on the true spirit of Christmas. But mostly, we shared camaraderie and friendship.
Dividing cell
     I have written a few Christmas poems over the years, but I usually write a new Christmas story every year. I have belonged to this group for 25 years, so I have accumulated a lot of stories. Because of my interest in historical fiction, I have written stories from every decade of the twentieth century, as well as stories from the nineteenth and twenty-first centuries. Two of my Christmas stories won cash prizes in short story contests. One of them won two prizes. But the prizes were nice extras. My main reason for writing the stories was to share them with the group at our December meeting.
Leadenhall Market, London, Christmas 1935.

     This group of writers and illustrators has become a group of great friends, without whose insight and encouragement my writing would not be what it is. This seems like a good time to thank them all for the wisdom they shared over the years. Thanks, friends, and Merry Christmas!

     And to all of you blog friends, I wish a happy holiday, in whatever way you choose to celebrate.

May 2015 be a good year for all my friends!

Friday, December 19, 2014

DÉJÀ VU: A repeat appearance of The Spider

by Kim Van Sickler

Today's re-post is one of my favorite family stories about perseverance. It was a post for the Insecure Writer's Support Group blogfest. For more 2014 gems, go here to see who's participating.
D.L Hammon's blogfest of recycled words.
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I am a co-host this month!

July's other co-hosts are: 
Krista McLaughlin -
Heather Gardner

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This week I am gathered with family at my sister's place in Lake Lure, NC (home of the famous lift-practice scene with Patrick Swayze and Jennifer Grey in Dirty Dancing.) We've been making the annual pilgrimage here for 12 years now and have become fairly good at boat-propelled water sports. So it seems appropriate to share one of my favorite coaching stories with you now.
Lift-scene practice was filmed in Lake Lure, NC.
A number of years ago, my brother-in-law was encouraging my 6-foot 3-inch husband to successfully complete a deep-water start on the long rope on his slalom ski. A slalom ski is one ski with bindings for both feet. You can either start with your non-lead foot out of the binding and insert it after you're up and balanced, or start with it already inserted into the rear binding. My husband and I like to start with both feet already secured, but he was having trouble transitioning to the long rope behind the boat and getting up. My brother-in-law had him start on the boom, a rod beside the boat, with a little tow rope. Once Steve mastered that move, he moved to a short rope behind the boat. But the long rope transition was hard for a tall guy like him. The longer the rope, the longer your body has to fight to get itself out of the water. A lot can go wrong in that time, usually involving him getting pulled face forward and wiping out.

My brother-in-law Chris, as impressive a skiier as you've ever seen, the kind of guy who thinks it's fun to ski on various inanimate objects like garbage can lids, and blows us all away with his barefoot skiing, knew my husband was getting frustrated. Steve was losing his balance in those last few moments when he had to fight hardest to maintain it. He needed to dig in a little longer before trying to stand.  But his gut reaction every time was to try and stand as quickly as possible.

"Are you the spider or the fly?" Chris asked Steve after his umpteenth spill.

We all just looked at him, wondering where this was going.

"The fly is oblivious, but the spider knows that he must be patient and wait for his time to strike. Timing is everything. If he strikes too early, the object of his desires gets away from him. You have to wait until your weight is balanced on that board before you try to stand. You have to fight that urge to get up too early. Now, I ask you. Are you that lowly fly, ready to get clobbered? Or are you the spider, ready to persevere and snatch your goal?

"Be the spider!"
"I am the spider!" Steve yelled from the water. We all cheered from the boat. Chris motored ahead until the tow line was taut, and waited for Steve's signal to start. 

"Hit it!" my husband yelled, a new determination in his voice. 

The engine roared to life. The boat accelerated. At the end of the long rope, Steve fought the slalom ski. Concentration marbled his face. He stayed low, shifting his weight, pushing against the ski that thrummed to take off with or without him. 

Only then did he attempt to go vertical.

With only a slight bobble, he stood.

He was the spider.