Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Z is for Zusak...Markus Zusak

by Kim Van Sickler

I was in awe of Markus Zusak's storytelling talent after I finished reading The Book Thief. If you haven't read this book, please go to your Goodreads page and put this one number one in your queue.

Did you know that Marcus Zusak is Australian? His mother grew up in Germany and his father was raised in Austria, and their reminiscences inspired the book.

...that The Book Thief has already been performed as a play by Steppenwolf Theater in Chicago?

...that the movie, directed by Brian Percival of Downton Abbey fame, is filming in Germany right now, and should be released early in 2014?

...that his upcoming book is called Bridge of Clay and Zusak's fans are dying to read it!!!!! (On a side note: I can't believe that someone else has an MC of a current book by the name of Clay????!!!! The MC of my latest novel Muleskinner is a boy named Clay.)

...that one of his favorite pieces of advice came from his dad, who's retort when a young Marcus thought he won a race but wasn't recognized as the winner, was that "he didn't win by enough." He took that advice to heart and translated it to his storytelling by developing his own distinct style.

Who's your current author crush?

Monday, April 29, 2013

Y is for Yoga

by Kim Van Sickler

How many of you sit too much? Behind a computer, at a desk, in a vehicle?

Well, I started having back problems because of it.

If I sit too much, either my back will ache, or pain will shoot down my right leg (sciatica).

But you know what really helps? Yoga. And Centergy (a yoga/pilates mash-up). They work on all of your core muscles to make you stronger. If you belong to a gym, I strongly urge you to take a class. You will be surprised at how good you feel afterwards. Or visit a yoga studio and ask about trying a session. Or you can invest in a DVD and exercise on your own at home.

Even if you don't have the time or desire to engage in a full-fledged workout, here are some back-friendly moves you should get up and do every once in a while. Your back will thank you.
Upward-facing dog
Things to remember for this pose: Keep your elbows tight to your sides.

The ONLY parts of your body touching the ground should be the tops of your feet and your hands.

The wrist, elbow and shoulder joints must be aligned. If your hands are too far out in front of you, you will put too much pressure on your lower back.
Downward-facing dog
Things to remember for this pose: Your legs should feel as if someone behind you is pulling your hips back.

Hang your head.

When your arms are stretched correctly, you'll create two straight but angled lines: an upside down "V".
Child's pose
Things to remember for this pose: Keep your feet knee-width apart.

Your butt drops toward your heels as the rest of your body stretches forward.

Shoulders and neck should remain relaxed, and don't force your butt back any further than is comfortable.
Cat pose
Things to remember for this pose: Keep your hands under your shoulders and your knees under your hips and a flat back to start.

Pull your abdominals toward your spine, tuck in your tailbone, and tighten your butt. Press down with your hands.

Press the middle of your back toward the ceiling, rounding your spine.

What sorts of active things do you like to do to work out the kinks?

Saturday, April 27, 2013


by Kathy Cannon Wiechman

The X chromosome makes us female. XX is a girl; XY is a boy. That’s basically all I remembered from biology class about chromosomes.

But I learned a great deal more about that X after my grandson was diagnosed with Fragile X Syndrome (FXS). It seems that a mutation of that X chromosome causes this syndrome, and it’s genetic.

FXS is a “spectrum” disorder that can cause speech problems, learning disabilities, extreme shyness, sensory issues, hand flapping, autism, and severe mental retardation. It can be detected with a blood test, and our family lined up to be tested after our grandson’s diagnosis.

I don’t carry it, but my husband does. Both my daughters carry it, but not my sons. (It can’t be passed father-to-son because it’s an X chromosome.) All three of my grandchildren have it, and they exhibit different degrees of “special needs.”
Kathy with her grandchildren

We have learned a great deal about genetics, but we’ve learned even more about love and “specialness” from our grandkids.

A nun friend once told me that “God gives special children to special people.” I am proud of the mothers my daughters have become, and I feel blessed to be part of this wonderful family.

To learn more about Fragile X, go here.

Friday, April 26, 2013


by Kathy Cannon Wiechman

Growing up as Kathy Cannon, I didn’t hear my name mispronounced or misspelled. “Cannon like the gun,” I said.

I first met Jim Wiechman when I was 13, and he pronounced his name WEEK-MUN. (My German grandma said the rule is to pronounce the second vowel—IE sounds like E. Actually, German rule would pronounce it VEEK-MUN with W pronounced like a V and that guttural K sound like coughing up a fur ball.)

WIKE-MUN is what I usually hear. People who have known me on a first-name basis for many years still think my last name is pronounced that way.

A few years after we’d met, Jim began pronouncing his name WEECH-MUN (CH as in church). I asked why he changed it. He said his two brothers had changed it, and since they would pass on the family name, he felt they should be consistent. No problem. But of course, that was before I knew it would become MY name.

I didn’t learn until much later that Jim’s brother’s first wife is the one who changed it to follow American phonetic rules. I also learned that some of Jim’s sisters resented the change.

Had I known, I’d have happily been a WEEK-MUN. But by the time I learned the story of the change, Jim and I had been married for 25 years and had four children, and we’d called ourselves WEECH-MUN all that time. It was too late to change it back.
So, now married to Jim for four decades, I am Kathy Cannon WEECH-MUN (spelled W-I-E-C-H-M-A-N, I before E, only one N), but I answer to anything close. I understand how difficult it is to tackle a pronunciation when names often don’t follow the rules. And people sometimes change the rules.

Friends have suggested I write under my maiden name to make it easier, but I’m proud to be Jim’s wife, and Wiechman has been my last name more than twice as long as it was Cannon. I’m also proud to be a Cannon, so I use both names. If you’re confused, don’t worry about it. As Shakespeare said, “What’s in a name?”

Thursday, April 25, 2013


by Kathy Cannon Wiechman

We’re all familiar with the phrase “It takes a village.”

Writing a novel—a good one—is one of those things that requires an entire village.
Botai Village Recons
A writer may sit alone at a computer, but likely he’ll need to consult with a village of experts somewhere along the way. The consultation might take place one-on-one or by reading books the experts wrote.

The dictionary, thesaurus, and grammar guide are villagers, too.

And the village needs reviewers to critique the manuscript. A new pair of eyes helps tremendously. We get too close to our work to see it clearly. I recommend several critiques.

Editors are also part of the village. They can help the writer focus on what the book still lacks. Good editors get the writer to rethink and smooth things out. They help us see the book as a reader will.

And a copy editor is a must! Today’s self-published works are pretty good stories sometimes, but from what I’ve seen, they scream for a copy editor. I have yet to read a self-published novel that doesn’t have multiple typos. If you want to self-publish, invest in a good copy editor.

Your village also needs a lawyer, someone to make sure your interests are protected.

Unless the writer intends to sell every copy of his book from the trunk of his car, his village needs marketing people. Social media can be part of the marketing village, too. So get your Facebook friends and Twitter followers to join your village. It’s today’s version of word-of-mouth.

So write your book, but don’t forget to gather your village around you. And hopefully your book will find a whole village of readers, too.

Wednesday, April 24, 2013

U is for Umbridge...Dolores Umbridge

by Kim Van Sickler
It's not time for the Secondary Characters Bloghop yet, but Dolores Umbridge is one of my favorite supporting characters. For those of you who aren't Harry Potter fans, she is a Ministry of Magic official and one in a line of Defense Against the Dark Arts teachers at Hogwarts. She should be a nice grandmotherly type. Her favorite color is pink...she's frilly and dowdy...speaks in a low, sugary voice...a tea drinker...and obsessed with cats. By all appearances she should be a warm, nurturing type. But she's not. She's a stone cold sadist.

Here's our first real impression of her at the start-of-term banquet: "Thank you, Headmaster," Professor Umbridge simpered, "for those kinds words of welcome." 

Her voice was high-pitched, breathy, and little-girlish and again, Harry felt a powerful rush of dislike that he could not explain to himself; all he knew was that he loathed everything about her from her stupid voice to her fluffy pink cardigan. She gave another little throat-clearing cough ("Hem, hem") and continued: "Well it is lovely to be back at Hogwarts, I must say!" She smiled, revealing very pointed teeth. "And to see such happy little faces looking back at me!"

Harry glanced around. None of the faces he could see looked happy; on the contrary, they all looked rather taken aback at being addressed as though they were five years old.

Here's a description of her office: [Harry] had known this office under three of its previous occupants. In the days when Gilderoy Lockhart had lived here it had been plastered with beaming portraits of its owner. When Lupin had occupied it, it was likely you would meet some fascinating Dark creature in a cage or tank if you came to call. In the imposter Moody days it had been packed with various instruments and artifacts for the detection of wrongdoing and concealment.

Now, however, it looked totally unrecognizable. The surfaces had all been draped in lacy covers and cloths. There were several vases full of dried flowers, each residing on its own doily, and on one of the walls was a collection of ornamental plates, each decorated with a large technicolor kitten wearing a different bow around its neck. These were so foul that Harry stared at them, transfixed, until Professor Umbridge spoke again.

And then there's her idea of punishment. Here's where it gets downright creepy. She gives Harry detention every night for a week for asserting in her class that Lord Voldemort is alive. 

She handed him a long, thin black quill with an unusually sharp point.

"I want you to write 'I must not tell lies'" she told him softly.

"How many times?" Harry asked, with a creditable imitation of politeness.

"Oh, as long as it takes for the message to sink in," said Umbridge sweetly. "Off you go."

She moved over to her desk, sat down, and bent over a stack of parchment that looked like essays for marking. Harry raised the sharp black quill and then realized what he was missing.

"You haven't given me any ink," he said.

"Oh, you won't need ink," said Professor Umbridge with the merest suggestion of laughter in her voice.

Harry placed the point of the quill on the paper and wrote: I must not tell lies. 

He let out a gasp of pain. The words had appeared on the parchment in what appeared to be shining red ink. At the same time, the words had appeared on the back of Harry's right hand, cut into his skin as though traced there by a scalpelyet even as he stared at the shining cut, the skin healed over again, leaving the place where it had been slightly redder than before but quite smooth.

Harry looked around at Umbridge. She was watching him, her wide, toadlike mouth stretched in a smile.

Dolores Umbridge. One wicked bitch.

Who's your favorite villain?

Tuesday, April 23, 2013


by Kathy Cannon Wiechman

A poster hangs outside the door of my office. Tenacity! it proclaims. It goes on to give a definition:
te.na.cious: adj. 1. Persistent; determined. 2. Holding strong. 3. Having great cohesiveness of parts; tough. 4. Relentless.

I don’t know how cohesive my parts are, but I strive to be tenacious. The choice to be a writer requires it. I write, rewrite, revise, and submit. I try again and again and again. Persistent.

I attend workshops and conferences and learn all I can about the publishing industry. Determined.

Rejection is the one step in the process I can’t control. But I can’t let it destroy my confidence. Tough.

Rejection has to be my signal to look again at my work, change it if necessary, and send it to the next editor (or agent). Holding strong.

If this novel/short story doesn’t make the cut, maybe the next one will. Or the next. Or the next. I will not give up! Relentless.

Yes, World, I am a writer and I am tenacious.

You can't be afraid of a little hard work in this business.

Monday, April 22, 2013

S is for Shout Out

by Kim Van Sickler

Debut author Christina Lee
I first met Christina Lee about four years ago when a group of us in the Northern Ohio SCBWI got together to form an MG/YA critique group. I showed up for our first meeting with stitches in my chin, road rash, and my right arm in a cast from a bicycle accident. Unlike another writer in the group, she didn't take one look at me and run away. She wrote the most original YA stories I'd seen from my writing friends thus far. Electronically savvy, with an awesome blog, she is the person most responsible for encouraging me to venture out into the world of blogging and Twitter.

She's so pulled together, I knew it was only a matter of time until her labors of love found a home.

And now she's celebrating! Penguin NAL (New American Library) just bought world English rights to two of her books! Turns out six publishers wanted them, but Penguin pre-empted them.

"In this powerfully emotional debut New Adult novel, Avery has just met her hot upstairs neighbor. He's irresistible. Tatooed. And a virgin." Penguin official blurb for All of You, book one.

All of You is scheduled for a September 2013 release date. It will be available in e-format, with a print option.

Congratulations Christina! May your star burn long and bright!


Saturday, April 20, 2013


by Kathy Cannon Wiechman

Revision. Some writers cringe at the word.
After you birthed a story in your mind, sweat blood over the way to tell it, created characters and made them breathe, plotted carefully, and spelled it out word by word on the page, now you have to revise it. Argh!

As for me, I love the revision process. Not a blank page anymore, the story is there. I already wrote it. I just need to take the characters I created and make them more believable (and once in a while, eliminate one of them). I scrutinize my plot and work to strengthen it. I question Voice. Does it ring true? Have I kept it consistent? I rethink each chapter and every single word. I add here and delete there. I take what I have, see it more clearly, and change what needs to be changed. And when I see it evolve and improve, I rejoice!

Ah, yes! I welcome Revision, that chance to make things better. When that process is finished for the final time (and often there are countless revisions), I have to go back to that blank page and begin the next story.

Friday, April 19, 2013

Q is for...are you surprised? Query

by Kim Van Sickler

A friendly literary agent recommended Jeff Herman's Guide to Book Publishers, Editors, & Literary Agents to me and I picked up the 2012 guide. (The 2013 guide is due out in May, I believe.) Mr. Herman started his own literary agency in his 20's and over the next three-ish decades learned a lot about writers, editors, and other agents, wrote about his observations, and turned all that wisdom into this book. Agents and publishers, I discovered, consider it one of the best guides in the business. Toward the back (around page 800), Jeff's written advice to writers about the publishing process, includes...how to write a query.

Here are my three favorite tips from Jeff Herman's "Write the Perfect Query Letter" essay.
1. You may want to rely on the journalistic technique of the inverted pyramid. This means that you begin with your strongest material and save the details for later in the letter. Don't start slowly and expect to pick up momentum as you proceed. It will be too late.

2. At the close of your letter, ask for the sale. This requires a positive and confident conclusion with such phrases as, "I look forward to your speedy response." Such phrases as "I hope" and "I think you will like my book" sound too insecure. This is the part of the letter where you go for the kill.

3. Let's get contemporary. Whenever you hear the term query letter, you should say to yourself "pitch" or "sales" letter. Because that's what it is. You need the letter to sell.

Thursday, April 18, 2013


by Kathy Cannon Wiechman

At Chautauqua in 1999, I was told that a writer needs to have “the 5 P’s.”
Highlights Foundation workshop at Lake Chautauqua.
Pride. Don’t call yourself a want-to-be. Be proud you’re a writer. Even if you’re not yet published, don’t feel embarrassed to proclaim yourself a writer.

Practice. As with most skills a person develops, the more you do it, the better you get. AC/WP (see April 1st post).

Professionalism. Follow guidelines. Honor your commitments and deadlines. Don’t badger editors (even when you’d like to strangle them). Once published, market yourself in a professional manner.

Patience. This one can be tough, but once you mail that manuscript, throw yourself into your next project. Counting the days until you hear back is pointless.

Perseverance. Never give up. Keep writing. Keep submitting those manuscripts. Keep moving forward.

After taking the 5 P’s to heart, I added a sixth P to my list—Passion. You have to love what you do. You need the passion to tackle it again every day. If you don’t, you’ll burn out quickly. And put that passion into your work as well. Trust me, it shows.
And if you’re a believer as I am, never underestimate the 7th P—Prayer.

Wednesday, April 17, 2013

O is for Ohio

by Kim Van Sickler

Ohio is the state where I spent most of my time growing up and couldn't wait to get away from. And I did... for awhile. But I found myself back here, only a few miles away from where I dreamed of escape years ago.

Only this time, I like it. The Cleveland area really does have a ton of amenities, like an incredible Metroparks system and the Ohio and Erie Canal towpath trail that I've built my latest novel around. I live on an acre and a half of land and build fires in my backyard and grow a lot of my summer vegetables. The neighboring community of Willoughby is an historical area complete with its own ghost tour. Traveling a little further from home, I can easily visit Amish country (Holmes County), Ohio State University and the state capitol (Columbus), incredible ziplining (Hocking Hills and The Wilds in Muskingum County), great wineries (Geneva), Cedar Point (Sandusky) and good skiing (Peek 'n Peak and Holiday Valley: western NY--less than two hours away).

Biking in Amish country.

Overnight with friends at the Cleveland Metroparks Zoo.

A pig race at the Ohio State Fair in Columbus.

Ziplining at The Wilds, a roaming zoo in Cumberland, Ohio
Lock 4 on the Ohio & Erie Canal Towpath Trail in the Cuyahoga National Park.
Feeling no pain at the Harpersfield Winery in Geneva.
Cedar Point in Sandusky.
Annual Christmas family ski trip in western NY.

Turns out, when I thought I hated Cleveland as a kid, I really hated the lack of freedom and overabundance of parental rules placed on me. I wanted and needed to be on my own.

Today, Ohio stands for the life I've built in a state that has been good to me. And for the family I've created here. Wherever you end up--home really is a state of mind. Anyplace will work once you start making memories and laying down roots.

Do you live in your dream location? Have you made it your home yet?

Tuesday, April 16, 2013

N is for Nonsense

by Kim Van Sickler

Who isn't amused by nonsensical words and situations at some point in his life? Nonsense makes us look at the familiar with new eyes, and not take life too seriously. It allows us to imagine limitless possibilities, ask questions, and ponder the answers.

Thanks to Dr. Seuss, I developed quite an appreciation for the absurd, and shared his stories with my own children. My favorite Dr. Seuss story is The Sleep Book, a book that is to be read in bed. It's about fantastical creatures all over the world and their bedding down rituals. Here's how it starts:
The news
Just came in
From the County of Keck
That a very small bug
By the name of Van Vleck
Is yawning so wide
You can look down his neck.

This may not seem
Very important, I know.
But it is. So I'm bothering
Telling you so.

When I became a little older, I developed a real fondness for Roald Dahl and his surreal adventures. Then my oldest stepdaughter introduced me to a couple of newer works I hadn't read yet. Books like The BFG. How can you resist this set-up?

Captured by a Giant! The BFG is no ordinary bone-crunching giant. He is far too nice and jumbly. It's lucky for Sophie that he is. Had she been carried off in the middle of the night by the Bloodbottler, the Fleshlumpeater, the Bonecruncher, or any of the other giantsrather than the BFGshe would have soon become breakfast. When Sophie hears that they are flush-bunking off to England to swollomp a few nice little chiddlers, she decides she must stop them once and for all. And the BFG is going to help her!

As an adult I discovered Louis Sachar. What a wit! What an imagination. His Wayside School stories had me chuckling at his brilliance. My reluctant reader youngest stepdaughter caught on to him immediately. She started with his Sideways Stories from Wayside School.

A crazy mixed-up school.

There'd been a terrible mistake. Wayside School was supposed to be built with thirty classrooms all next to each other in a row. Instead, they built the classrooms one on top of the other...thirty stories tall! (The builder said he was very sorry.)

That may be why all kinds of funny things happen at Wayside School...especially on the thirtieth floor. You'll meet Mrs. Gorf, the meanest teacher of all, terrible Todd, who always gets sent home early, and John who can only read upside downalong with all the other kids in the crazy mixed-up school that came out sideways. But you'll never guess the truth about Sammy, the new kid...or what's in store for Wayside School on Halloween!

What kind of nonsense do you like?

Monday, April 15, 2013


by Kathy Cannon Wiechman

As writers, we strive to write a story’s beginning to hook the reader. And everyone knows the end must be perfect, too. But what comes between the two is equally important.

The middle is the longest part of a novel, a bridge that leads from start to finish. Not your typical bridge; it has to have rises and falls, and tension that increases as the reader continues. We don’t want it to be a difficult crossing for him, but it doesn’t hurt to leave him breathless.

And it has to be structurally sound enough to bear the weight of plot, characters, setting, and conflict. (Multiple characters. Sometimes various settings. And any number of subplots.) If it is not well constructed and seamless, the reader might not make it to the end.

He needs to enjoy the view as he proceeds, but can’t be too distracted by that view and forget about the journey. He must always want to keep going, knowing that a reward (a satisfactory ending) awaits.
Writing instructors will expound at length about the beginning and the end, but if the middle doesn’t perfectly connect the two, the reader will be lost.

Saturday, April 13, 2013

L is for Lazypants

by Kim Van Sickler

Pssst. I have a secret. It's one that even my family doesn't suspect.

Deep down...in my core...I'm lazy.

There. I said it. Even though I've spent my life trying to prove otherwise.

But hectic schedules and keeping busy and always having something to do is really not that compatible with writing. At least not for me. For me to write my best, I need downtime. Time to sit quietly (I am one of those freaks that write without music--for me nothing beats the sound of silence.) and reflect on how to make my writing better. Thinking about my writing when I'm doing other things--something that works for many people wonderfully--isn't all that productive. My mind always cycles around to my "more pressing" responsibilities and my stories get the short shrift. When my family is around--I'm distracted. I can't immerse myself in my story the way I need to. Even physical activity doesn't channel my muse. I'm one of those intense exercisers. I'm totally focused on my workout, and can't seem to take advantage of that time to ponder plot development or dialogue or story arc. My most productive writing time, besides when I'm actually sitting in front of the computer, is when I'm lying in bed.
Since I began this relatively recent journey to become a published author, I crave lazy time. It's a luxury. Certainly not something to be ashamed of or try to hide. I understand people who are always talking about how busy they are. Being busy is a way to validate ourselves. We matter. But I've got to work less on trying to stay busy, and more on carving out lounge time for myself to forge a more powerful connection to my muse, and write.

Sometimes less is more.

What about you? Are you someone who can write in your head while you go about your daily life? Or do you need downtime, like me?

Friday, April 12, 2013


by Kathy Cannon Wiechman

A few years ago, my doctor sent me to get x-rays. There were only two other women in the radiology waiting room. After I filled out my paperwork, I was told someone would call for me shortly. When a tech stepped out and called “Kathy,” all three of us in the waiting room stood. She had to use my last name (which few people know how to pronounce) to narrow it down.

“It must be Kathy Day here,” I told the tech.

She laughed. “I’m Kathy, too,” she said.

It was not an uncommon occurrence for me. Most of my high school classes had a half dozen Kathys. In Latin class, we were seated alphabetically by last name, which put Kathy Cannon, Kathy Carr, and Kathy Clark in a row. We three had an agreement. If the teacher looked our way and called on “Kathy,” anyone who knew the correct answer would shout it out, sparing those who might not have studied as hard.

When I went to Chautauqua in 2011, Kathy Erskine, Kathi Appelt, and Kathleen Hayes were on the faculty. In line for supper the second day, I stood behind an attendee named Kathy and in front of another one. We laughed about the coincidence.
The sisterhood of a name.
As I mingled with other participants, I found even more of us. Of 80-something female attendees and those faculty members mentioned, a full dozen were named Kathy, Katherine, or Kathleen. There were different spellings, but we felt a sisterhood.
Kathy, etc.
For a time when I was a kid, I yearned for a less common name. Then I learned I was named for my dad’s little sister, who died at Age 2. That made the name feel like an honor, and I embraced it.

And did you hear the name of this year’s Newbery winner? Katherine Applegate. Another Kathy.

Thursday, April 11, 2013

J is for Jaded

by Kim Van Sickler

Writers don't want to turn into world-weary, know-it-all, pessimists. Especially if they write for children. We need to see the limitless possibilities. The sun will come up tomorrow!

Thought I'd try out a cinquain poem today.

irrelevant has-been
refuses to marvel
quinine aftertaste coats everything

Wednesday, April 10, 2013

I is for "ing" words

by Kim Van Sickler

Weak words. You know the ones I mean. Those participles paired with "to be" verbs: were watching, was visiting, is talking, am listening, are going.

In my rough drafts, these phrases spring up like dandelions.

My job is to prune away, so that passive phrases like these disappear. That often means I need to rewrite my passages to show instead of tell. (Hint, hint.)

Slow down. Show the scene. Make it pop.

That Find feature in Word is a perfect way to track down these weak clauses. But it's up to us writers to rewrite "ing" sentences so they blossom.

Tuesday, April 9, 2013


by Kathy Cannon Wiechman

When I was in American History class (back in the Dark Ages), we were taught to memorize dates and battles and lists. Lists can bore me still.

I didn’t realize then that I would grow to love American history. I read Laura Ingalls Wilder’s books, not realizing they were about history. The missing ingredient in the classroom was people. I needed someone to care about.

Laura’s books involved me in her family’s struggles as they settled in different places across America. She made history come alive for me.

When I write historical fiction, I always begin with a character, a person whose eyes I can tell the story through, a person a reader can care about. The story might be set against an actual event or maybe just an interesting time period. But it has to begin and end with a person.

My characters are fictional, but I try to breathe life into them. If I do that successfully, my readers will be able to live inside that character for the length of the story. They will hear the cannons at Gettysburg, smell the smoke after the Monongah mine explosion, or feel the excitement of a girl seeing an automobile for the first time.

That is why I write historical fiction. I want to transport a reader to a different time and place, to let them see through a character’s eyes, feel that character’s heartbeat. I want them to care enough so that history lives.

Monday, April 8, 2013

G is for Game Plan

by Kim Van Sickler

Gotta have a map to follow
All the time.
Maybe I’ve got to research a topic, write a post, edit a story, read a book
Every day I set goals I have the power to achieve. No one can take that from me.

Perhaps the query won’t get a request, but I send it.
Like the backpacker hiking a hundred miles, one step at a time.
All of my work to submit and write and research and read and
Network will be filled with highs and lows, but it’s MY journey.

Kim at the start of last week's 100-mile backpacking trip along the Ohio & Erie Canal.

Saturday, April 6, 2013


by Kathy Cannon Wiechman

Just over a year ago (3/19/12) my blog post was about friends I have met at critique groups and writers workshops.

I met a woman (Carole) at Chautauqua in 1999, who still keeps in touch. I met Jon Egan (my fellow Swagger) at a workshop in 2006. Since then, we’ve done half a dozen workshops together and I consider him and his wife as dear friends. Two other writers from that 2006 workshop are still friends too, even though I have seen one of them (Brandi) only once since then. The other (Laurie) I haven’t seen at all. But we stay in touch. They’re my friends.
Jon Egan "planking" during a break at a Highlights workshop.

I belong to a group of writers who share goals periodically by email. Some of them I never met, but I consider them friends. We share our triumphs and frustrations in this business we all love. In January, I met a friend (Margie) from that group for the first time. But we had been friends for nearly a year before.

I could go on and on, listing dozens and dozens of friends from workshops or book signings who have kept in touch. And some of my dearest friends are from my critique groups.

There is something about a shared love of words and a passion for writing that seems to lead to friendship. Maybe it’s because we often share our innermost feelings in our work or maybe it’s the atmosphere that surrounds us in those sessions.

Or maybe it’s just being with people who understand.

When I’m with people outside of the writing world, and I get excited about my newest idea or character, I can see their eyes glaze over with boredom. Other writers understand.

When I’m about to tackle a tenth revision of a novel, some non-writers ask, “Why again?” Other writers understand. They have been in that same situation. They support and encourage.

When rejections come, non-writers don’t understand the difference between a “good rejection” letter and a bad one. Writers do. We can talk over the fine points of that letter and they can help me decide what my next step should be.

Writers make some of the best friendships.

So today I raise my glass (actually it’s a plastic bottle of Diet Coke) to all my writer friends. No matter how long it’s been since I saw you, no matter how short our time together was—or if we never met, I salute you and your efforts. Please know that your friendship is something I treasure. Here’s to you!

Friday, April 5, 2013


by Kathy Cannon Wiechman

Think of the ending of your favorite book. Did it leave you wanting more? Wiping tears? Did it surprise you? Did it make you think? Did you close the cover with a satisfied smile?

Great books have ended with all of these possibilities. If the ending stayed with you, it was probably a good book.
Last scene of Gone with the Wind. 
The book was written by Margaret Mitchell.
Maybe it left you wanting more because you thoroughly enjoyed spending time with the characters. Maybe you weren’t ready to leave their company. Probably a good book. And maybe you’re hoping for a sequel.

When a book makes me cry, it means I became emotionally involved with the characters. For me, that’s a sign of a good book. The book has to make me care. Maybe a character I loved died, but if I cared enough to love that character, it was probably a good book.
Last scene of A Beautiful Mind.
The book was written by  Sylvia Nasar.

A surprise ending is better than a formulaic story, but if the surprise doesn’t feel plausible, it probably isn’t a good book. A plot twist I wasn’t expecting can work well, as long as it feels real to me.

An ending that makes me think can go either way. Maybe it introduced serious issues I hadn’t thought much about and made me want to know more. Or maybe it just made me scratch my head and ask, “Why did I waste my time?”

Personally, I don’t like sad endings, but bittersweet is OK. Hopeful is good. It doesn’t have to be wrapped up in a neat package, but I don’t want loose threads left hanging. I like to have that satisfied smile, even as I wipe away the tears.
Last scene of Last of the Mohicans.
The book was written by James Fenimore Cooper.
So tell me about your favorite ending.

Thursday, April 4, 2013

D is for Dead Ends

by Kim Van Sickler

The trip started out so promising! You were awakened in the night with the flash of a brilliant idea. Slipping out of bed, so as not to awaken your spouse, you close yourself in the bathroom, and perch on the toilet seat lid with your pad of paper and pen. Your hand shakes as you scribble down the most perfect of ideas, wanting to get to work on it immediately, but realizing you'll be more productive after more sleep.

When you do sit down to flesh out your idea, you're still excited, but the reality of the journey you're embarking on begins to intercede. As you puzzle over the logistics of bringing your genius idea to the printed page, the trumpet-blare of reality sounds. OK, so maybe this bold idea you had will take some work, but you roll up your sleeves and brainstorm away.

Like a traditional pearl diver who must eventually come up for breath, the truth eventually surfaces. It can come after a series of false starts, or after you've written half the story and realize it's forgettable and lose all desire to continue. It happens to all of us. This idea was a mirage. At least it is for now. File it away and maybe in time that story will actually go somewhere. It's time to return home and select a new journey.

Wednesday, April 3, 2013


by Kathy Cannon Wiechman

I belong to two critique groups, but the first critique group I went to was not for me. I was the only member who writes for young readers. The other members treated me as though I needed encouragement to keep writing until I was good enough to write for adults. I never went back. It takes a special skill to write for children, and I looked for groups who had that special skill.
Kathy's local critique group.

In all my years of writing, I have gotten good critiques and bad ones, tough ones and not-so-tough ones.

A good critique is one where the criticism is helpful. And some of the toughest have been the best ones. They tell me what doesn’t work & why. They give me something to fix.

At a workshop’s group critique, I was advised to get rid of the first chapter and include the necessary information from that chapter in small flashback snippets throughout the subsequent chapters. But, I was told, “don’t lose that wonderful metaphor about the river.” Without those words, I likely would have deleted that part.

I have learned how to give a critique from having received them. I always learn, but sometimes what I learned was how NOT to give a critique.

At one conference I attended (where I had to pay extra to get a critique), my first chapter I’d submitted was from a historical fiction novel written in Appalachian dialect. My reviewer began the critique with the words, “I’m not a fan of historical fiction and I hate dialect.” Bad critique.

Another reviewer made me feel like a fifth grader in a classroom. She didn’t have to like my writing, but she still could have treated me like an adult. I’m not a beginner. I work hard. I used to teach creative writing, and I taught my young students with more respect than that reviewer showed me. I left that critique feeling disrespected and unable to see whatever good suggestions may have been included in her critique.

So here is what I learned: If you’re looking for a critique group, find one that meets your needs. If you critique someone’s work, try to give criticisms that are constructive, treat fellow writers as you would like to be treated, and remind them that your opinions are only opinions. And when you especially like something, be sure to mention that, too.

Happy writing and may all your critiques be good ones.