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.
IWSG Badge
Click on the logo to sign up or learn more.

I am a co-host this month!

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

Vote for IWSG as one of Writers Digests' Best 101 Websites by e-mailing them at :, subject line 101 Websites, and suggest the IWSG -

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.

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

Holiday Writing Ideas

by Melissa Kline

Invent-A-Treat. Fruitcake, candy canes, gingerbread, mince pie, eggnog, challah… These are great classics but what if you had to invent a completely unique holiday treat? Or better yet, combine various items to create a chopped-style holiday concoction. What would it smell like? How might it look, taste, feel? Make your mouth water with scintillating details.

Design An Ugly Sweater. Create the ugliest sweater ensemble you can possibly imagine for yourself or a friend. If you’re in a group, pick a partner and design outfits for one another. Details are extremely important! Are there threads hanging off? Blinding glittery fabric or glue gun threads hanging from tassels? Be as descriptive as possible. As an added exercise, draw the holiday getup with color and details.

Themed Character Doodles. You will need a few sheets of paper and at least two people for this exercise. First decide what “themes” your characters will have – elf, reindeer, abominable snowman, etc. Fold paper(s) in thirds and write the theme on each section. Each participant draws a head on top half first, then passes and draws middle and finally pass and draw legs. Do not let anyone see your doodles until they are complete and don't forget to include continuation lines. When characters are complete, unfold and reveal your silly creations! Use your doodles as a writing prompt or discussion piece.

Instant Holiday Poem. Most of us are extremely busy this time of year but we still want to get in some writing! I found a really neat website that makes writing a holiday poem as easy as filling in 7 lines – literally! Go to: and create your holiday poem now. Here’s mine:


Snow drifting from a star lit sky

Cookies rising in the oven

Bing Crosby belting classics

Thick, rich eggnog
Fireplace warming my hands


Do you have any holiday inspired writing exercises you’d like to share? I’d love to hear about them.

Happy Holidays, Friends!

Wednesday, December 3, 2014


by Kathy Cannon Wiechman

Last month, the Highlights Foundation hosted a dinner to celebrate my novel LIKE A RIVER (due to launch April 7, 2015). As I mingled through the attendees, the question I was repeatedly asked was “How long did it take you to write this book?”

 That is not an easy question to answer.

The first spark of an idea entered my brain over twenty years ago when I first heard about the Sultana disaster. I was working on other novels at the time, but I did research on the Sultana and Andersonville Prison. I jotted down notes. I visited the site of the prison and the town of Andersonville. I visited Rome, Georgia, and was introduced to another place that would find its way into my book.

I mapped out a possible storyline and wrote a first chapter. I discarded that chapter, and went back to my other novels. Over the years, I wrote five or six first chapters and discarded them all.

Four and a half years before I finished the first draft, I took a rough synopsis and five chapters to a Highlights Foundation workshop with Rich Wallace. His advice caused me to add a new character and totally revamp my storyline. When I went home, I worked on other projects while I spent time figuring out how to proceed with my new storyline for LIKE A RIVER.

I honestly don’t remember at what point I put all those other projects aside and worked steadily on the novel. And even after I did, I still took time to go back and revise another novel and write several short stories. I also did preliminary research for a new novel. I usually work on more than one story at a time.

I have never gone back and tried to tally up the actual hours (or days or weeks or months) I devoted to LIKE A RIVER, but it has lived inside me for more than twenty years. I am thrilled that it will finally be published and in readers’ hands.
On Thanksgiving, we got together with numerous family members (as we do every year), and the subject of LIKE A RIVER came up. My nephew’s wife asked me, “How long did it take you to write the book?” Maybe I need to make a rough calculation for a quick answer.


Wednesday, November 26, 2014

Enter to win a free critique from the Manuscript Maven!

by Kim Van Sickler

I met Sharon Mayhew online. She was working with agent Terrie Wolf and ran two back-to-back manuscript contests on her blog: S.K. Mayhew, Kid Lit Writer: one seeking MG story submissions and another seeking YA. I submitted the historical fiction Muleskinner to the MG contest and contemporary Snatched in Gullybrook to the YA one. 

Sharon took an interest in the edgy Snatched in Gullybrook. She selected it as the recipient of a first chapter critique and stayed in touch afterwards. When I revised the book and decided to self-publish, she asked for updates. I sent her an electronic version of an advanced reader copy and she wrote a glowing review and posted it on Goodreads. Not only that, but she bought a copy to give away in her own blog contest.

You can't get a better cheerleader for your work than Sharon.

And now you can feel some of that love too. Sharon has decided that agenting isn't what she wants to do after all. She'd rather polish manuscripts than all of that other stuff agents need to do, and that works to our benefit. Sharon has become The Manuscript Maven

Read what Sharon has to say about her career move here.

For your own chance to win a critique from The Manuscript Maven, leave a comment below. A random winner will receive a critique/line edits for the first 250 words of a picture book, the first seven pages of a novel, or  a query. You have until December 3rd to vie for this prize.

Best of luck in your new venture, Sharon! 

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Storyboarding 101

by Melissa Kline

A few years ago at our 3rd Swagger Reunion I was having some difficulty organizing a work in progress. I had too much going on – side stories, unnecessary characters and a weak plot overall. So I decided to get creative and try storyboarding the novel with various colored paper. The process helped tremendously! After seeing what I had to work with using the storyboarding method, I had an organized story and focus on exactly where to go with it.

Since then, I’ve experimented with various ways of storyboarding and now host a workshop where I explain these different methods and how to use them. I wanted to share some of my ideas and ways of getting creative with the storyboard process.

Collage: Use poster board, magazine clippings and printouts to create visual inspiration. Try to convey the entire book and its overall storyline on one large board. Arrange images of characters, settings, situations, (don’t forget the drama!) and events. This is a very fun and creative way to better understand your book and its characters. 

Timeline: Use charts, graphs or just basic timelines (from elementary school) to organize your story’s plot, peaks and important events. This is especially useful if you have various dates, seasons or even years to keep track of.

Maps/Family Tree: If you have a novel with extraordinary settings – made up worlds, lands or complex landscapes, you may want to consider using maps as a visual reference. Many books include maps of their made up lands/clans/houses, so consider the possibility of including it in your book for your readers. The same concept applies if you have several ancestral lines, families or clans. Keep track of them with a visual family tree.

Sticky Notes/Colored Paper: Use colorful bits of paper to organize/clarify your overall storyline. Use specific colors to identify characters, settings, situations and important events. The greatest thing about this method is that you can move the paper around and play with what works. This is an oldie but goodie.

Bonus: All of these creations can be proudly displayed in your writing space to fuel inspiration. :)

Have you ever had to use the storyboarding method? What techniques do you use? I’d love to hear about it!

Wednesday, November 12, 2014


by Kathy Cannon Wiechman

As a writer of historical fiction, I have certain responsibilities. I have to work hard at research and make historical events and details accurate. I have to put a reader into the time and place I write about.

I also have the responsibility to tell an engaging story, to create characters a reader will care about, and use the best words possible to make that character live and breathe. The plot has to be believable and filled with turn-the-page moments. When readers pick up a book, they put a certain amount of trust into an author’s ability to make the read worth the time they invest.
For all my years of writing, I have tried my best to live up to these responsibilities. But the readers I originally hoped to reach have moved on, and a new group of readers has filled their chairs. I didn’t have readers yet; I had hoped-for readers. But I tried to write as though my stories would be read.

After I signed the contract for my Civil War novel LIKE A RIVER, I began a new set of revisions for my editor. I also received a check for the first half of my advance. People were investing money in me and my book. I finally had something that could actually reach those hoped-for readers. Talk about responsibility. It made me tackle those revisions with a new awareness of an author’s true responsibility.
LIKE A RIVER will be released in a few months, and readers can decide if I have lived up to the trust they and my publisher have invested. It is not something I take lightly.

Wednesday, November 5, 2014

Pass the Carving Knife, Please

by Kim Van Sickler

IWSG Badge
The first Wednesday of the month is for IWSGers. Go here to learn more.

I didn't start writing seriously until I was laid off from my job eight years ago and decided to cross book writing off my bucket list. Like many other writers, I discovered that writing a story worth reading is extraordinarily difficult and time consuming. It's a delicate mix of patience, focus, and skill made exponentially better through trial and error. I got my writing groove on.
My newest dog, Ghost, requires not only a daily walk, but also lots of "Me" time.

But my groove required time to exercise AND walk the dog, care for my family, and volunteer for my kids' activities. Plus quiet time to roll plot lines and characters around in my head like worry stones.
My new job!!!
Then last month I started working full-time again. In a job that all of my volunteer work naturally led to and I'm happy to be doing. A job that I planned to find time to write around.

I haven't found time to sit down and write anything new besides a blog post since.

This month I've determined to carve out writing time for myself a few days every week. I've got to. Bits and pieces of my next book are flitting around my head like light-starved moths. Ass in chair, words on paper. My mantra for November.

To those of you who work full time and still manage to write, you are my role models.

Now, tell me how you do it.

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Spook-tacular Halloween Writing Ideas

By Melissa Kline

Design-A-Costume. This is a great exercise for a writing group or class. Pick a partner and “design” a costume for them while they do the same for you. Write about the details – what it looks like, its function and where the costume might be worn. Then share your designs and why you think it’s the perfect getup. As an added exercise, draw the costume with color and details.

Speed Candy List. Set a timer for 1 minute and list as many candies as you can. If you are in a group setting, compare lists to see who has the most listed and which candies are most popular/rare. Then write a short story and incorporate as many candies as you can without listing them.

Potion Concoctions. Come up with the most creative magical potion that you can think of. Write about its purpose - what it does when used for good…or evil. What does your potion look like? Does it have a scent? Color? Texture? Is it made up of various items or just a few? Don’t forget to give your potion a name! Group Bonus: Fill a bunch of jars/bottles with colored water and let each member choose a “potion” for inspiration.

Character Doodles. You will need a few sheets of paper and at least two people for this exercise. Fold paper(s) in thirds. Each participant draws a head on top half first, then passes and draws torso. Pass one last time to draw the legs. Do not let anyone see your doodles until they are complete and don't forget to include continuation lines. When characters are complete, unfold and reveal your kooky creations! Use your creatures as a writing prompt or discussion piece.

Do you have any Halloween inspired writing exercises you’d like to share? I’d love to hear about them.

Happy Halloween, Friends!