Tuesday, May 27, 2014

Sign up for Write Club!

Here ye! Here ye! Below is information on a free, fun, and fruitful writing competition over on DL Hammons' blog that has caught the eye of industry professionals. But act fast...time is running out! Take it away, DL!

Guest post by DL Hammons

First off, I’d like to thank Kim for the opportunity to talk to you today about something near and dear to my heart…WRiTE CLUB. My modest writing contest has proven so popular that the DFW Writers Conference is now considering incorporating it into their agenda for 2015. 

For the newbies out there, let me explain what WRiTE CLUB is. It’s a modest writing competition whose inspiration was derived from the movie FIGHT CLUB. There are numerous versions of this concept around the internet, but nothing like we do it. Its essence embodies simple, good-natured competition, with lots and lots of fun sprinkled on top. 

Over the course of eight weeks I hold twice-weekly bouts in which the winners advance to the play-offs, which will ultimately lead to a single champion. Bouts between who…or what…you ask? Anonymous 500 word writing samples, submitted under a pen name by anyone who wishes to take part, that’s who. The writing can be any genre, any style (even poetry) with the word count being the only restriction. It’s a way to get your writing in front of a lot of readers, without having to suffer the agony of exposure. 

And the winners are determined by WRiTE CLUB readers!

To find out how to become part of the fun just head on over to DLHammons.com and click on the WRiTE CLUB tab. 

Submissions are open until May 31st. After that date, a panel of a dozen judges will read all of the entries we received and pre-select 32 of the best writing samples to climb into the ring. Those 32 participants will then be randomly matched to compete over the next eight weeks, each of them hoping to make it into the play-off rounds and moving towards the ultimate goal – WRiTE CLUB Champion. No one (other than my wife)…not even the judges being used to pre-select the 32 contestants, will see the true identity of any sample. Unless you win, of course.

Again this year, the most exciting part is the winner of the final round will be chosen by a panel of publishing industry professionals! Judges include New York Times best-selling and multiple Bram Stoker Award-winning horror and thriller author Jonathan Maberry, Agents Katie Grim of Don Congdon Associates, Margaret Bail of the Andrea Hurst Agency, Sarah Negovetich of the Corvisiero Literary Agency, Brittany Booker of The Booker Albert Literary Agency. Also included is Candace Havens, Editorial Director of Entangled Publishing Covet line, Authors Les Edgerton and Lydia Kang, and previous WRiTE CLUB winners Tiana Smith (2011), Mark Hough (2012), and Tex Thompson (2013).

Are you willing to WRiTE for what you want? Then crack those knuckles and get ready to flex that imagination. And whatever you do, tell your friends!

WRiTE CLUB – The contest where the audience gets clobbered!

Wednesday, May 21, 2014


by Kathy Cannon Wiechman

Children’s literature rarely revolves around a happy nuclear family…unless the protagonist is snatched from it in some heartbreaking way. Happy families don’t tend to provide the kind of conflict and tension a good book depends on.

And sadly enough, many real families experience a similar existence to the challenging one in books. Those families tug at my heart.

As a writer, I have to study and research that kind of family to write convincingly about them. Because (don’t hate me for it) I grew up in one of those happy nuclear families.

Mom and Dad both worked, but in my early years, Mom worked at home. She ran a nursery school. Not only was Mom home all day, but hordes of kids to play with arrived each morning. Our house was filled with toys, and our yard had playground equipment. A kid’s dream, right?

We were a big family and money was tight, but that taught us what is truly important in life. And it isn’t money. The only legitimate complaint I can give for my early years is I had to compete with six siblings and a school full of kids for my parents’ attention.

My teen years brought some of the tension that story feeds from, but those early years grounded me and prepared me in a way for which I will always be grateful. Those years remain strong in my memory, and May is a month when they flood into my mind, along with the smell of lilacs.

Why May? Mothers’ Day, for starters. A day most of us think about our mothers and our growing up years. Mom is the one who first got me interested in writing. And if I have any talent for it, it came through Mom’s genes.

May is also the month we lost our dad—21 years ago. I still feel him near me often, and thank him for teaching me the value of family. I have tried to pass that along to my own kids.

Dad lost his mother—in May—17 years before his own death. Grandma was the matriarch of a huge family whose members try to stay close and connected. More great genes.

There are also those lilacs I mentioned. We had four bushes of those May bloomers in our backyard when I was a kid. The fragrance of their blossoms filled our noses every spring when we played outdoors.

I planted a lilac bush outside my front door several years ago, and every May, each time I step outside or return home, its scent takes me back to childhood, to Mom and Dad, and the happy family that surrounded me.
A Cannon-Wiechman family reunion

Wednesday, May 14, 2014

Why Indie Bookstores Rule

by guest blogger Dave Richardson    
Blue Marble Books serves readers in Northern Kentucky and Greater Cincinnati. 
It’s interesting, and somewhat ironic, that SWAGGER writer, Kathy Wiechman, contacted me to write a guest column about independent bookstores at this time. Interesting, because I’ve been busy trying to convince some larger publishers that our store, Blue Marble Books, is a great place to have new and established authors visit. Ironic, because a few days ago one of the premier and veteran kids bookstores, Pooh’s Corner in Grand Rapids, Michigan, closed its doors for good.

When I’d heard about this store closing, my heart went out for the owners who are, in no uncertain terms, legends in the business. My second reaction, as one might think, was not a fear that this could happen to us – although any of us in the business know this is a real possibility each and every day – it was a sense of sadness for all the kids, parents, teachers, librarians, and writers who would be losing an invaluable source of information, inspiration, and help.

So what makes this closing such a great loss? What difference will it make if their customers take their business to a big box store or online? After all, in the end, books are being sold, right? Maybe. Maybe not.

It’s not that simple, really. So, I thought I’d break it down for you.

Kids and Parents
When a child comes into our store, we’re right there. We ask them if they need help, if we can show them to a specific book, or if we can help them find something they will love. We have a strong knowledge of children’s books, usually don’t have to consult the computer to know where the book is or who wrote it, and can offer you alternative choices if the book is not available. One of my favorite questions to kids is “What is the title of the last book you loved?”

We’re experts at matching the right kid with the right book.
Two of our wonderful customers!
And we’re experts at finding that “pink book with the girl on front who loses her best friend to a new girl in school.” Yep, that was an actual request in our store. And we found it for them.

Because most indies hire employees who are readers, who have a sense of the community, and often a background in education or library sciences, they can help parents in choosing books appropriate for their child. I have no problem with telling a parent that the book their child chose might be something the child might enjoy when he or she is older.

Teachers and Librarians
The same is true for this group as well. More likely than not, teachers and librarians are working on a recommendation or requests from a student when they order books. An indie employee can inform a teacher or librarian of the content of the book, so they are not put in a difficult situation. Conversely, we can also handpick their next read aloud, the perfect book to hand to that non-reader, the book that will make all their students stay up late to finish it, or the newest book by an unknown, new author that will melt your heart by the time you finish it.
Blue Marble Books staffer, Betsy, is also a kindergarten teacher.
We also put out fires. One of our weekly events is the frantic call from a teacher who didn’t realize how little time there was before they needed this class set of books, or this author would be coming in to visit, or they just got an email from an online vendor saying the book which was marked as “in stock” won’t be arriving for three weeks. Often, after the emergency is solved, we hear “I should have come to you first.”

Finally, I think Indies are key for this group of people. Truly.

And they are key for us.

Because we are small, and think of the store more as a home than as work, it’s not uncommon that the stores become an anchor for the writing community in the area. Any given week, we have local authors and illustrators stopping by to sign books, buy books, or just to chat. Their books are kept in stock, usually signed, and are recommended by our staff.
Author Heather Henson signs copies of her MG book, Dream of Night in the Green Room of Blue Marble Books. The room is inspired after the green room from everyone's favorite bedtime story, Goodnight Moon.
New local authors are welcomed. We usually know them long before their first book is published. For instance, when Kathy announced her contract for her first book, my first words were of congratulations as a friend who has journeyed this road with her. My second words were, “We (meaning the store) get to do the launch!”

And for those not local, indies are much more likely to welcome new names into our stores for events. We know that if the person is not local that attendance and sales may not be stellar. We also know the quality of the book and know there will be more visits to come where the attendance will be much larger. In fact, there are several best selling books that owe their success to indie buzz. We’re reading new authors, and we’re talking about them to customers and other booksellers.

I’m paraphrasing author Michael Buckley who champions indie stores when he tours: What makes us different for touring writers is that for a small store, an author visit is an event. The store is expecting you. They have a prominent place for you to sign and present. Some, if not all, of the employees have read your book. The person taking care of you was not selling coffee the day before. When you leave, the employees will continue to hand-sell your book. And you’re always welcome back.

Indies are unique. Not every city or town is blessed with such a rare and wonderful treasure. If you are lucky enough to have one in your area, keep it alive and thriving by giving it your business. You’ll miss it if it goes. And if you are an author, suggest schools get their books from their local indie for your visits. Ask, when discussing tour options with your publicist, to make visits to the indies in each area.

So does it make a difference that one small store in Grand Rapids is closing its doors? It does to me. And to many others -- kids, parents, teachers, librarians, and writers alike.

Wednesday, May 7, 2014


by Kim Van Sickler
Click on the pic to learn more.

Someone very important to me is a heroin addict. I found out a month and a half ago. His addiction started with prescription pain killers (he ended up buying them from a shady Indianas in from Indiaoutfit that hijacked his cell phone until he re-ordered, giving him a brief moment of peace before the process began all over again).

From there he started snorting heroin and finally injecting it directly into his veins. He got the heroin from an escort he had been seeing on and off for many years. But sometime within the last year he had convinced himself that he belonged with her.

His wife was the first of his inner circle to find out. She was willing to help him through his addictions but drew a line at allowing him to keep this other woman in his life in any way, shape, or form.

My friend, "Reese" balked. He couldn't just kick this other woman, "Jessie" out of his life. They were going to get clean and then really get to know each other. What if she was the woman of his dreams? She already knew how to make him feel good. That must mean they were compatible. The fact that Jessie was 20 years younger, had barely earned her GED (compared to his Master's degree), had taken no steps to detox herself in all of the years that they'd been getting together, but still managed to separate Reese from a lot of his money in his belief that he was helping her, was lost on him.
If you had put my friend in a line-up of people and asked EVERYONE who knew him who is the person they think least likely to degenerate into a life of drugs and escorts, every single one of them would have picked Reese.

Which just goes to show how wrong we mere mortals can be about each other.

I have to tell you that watching what Reese and Jessie have been going through has shaken my very foundations. I am reassessing everything in my life, wondering what is true and what is MY illusion. This travesty has made me realize the need to verify what I want to trust. No more blind faith in earthly matters. Every dream needs to be examined in the light of day and reassessed on a regular basis.

How can one man veer so horribly out of control? Behave like a normal person outwardly but emotionally become so changed that he no longer makes any sense? And drag so many people who love and care for him along on his tsunami-like ride?

We are not islands. The choices we make impact others, sometimes severely. And our ways of looking at the world are so subjective and so easy to twist to fit our momentary desires. It's scary. I'm scared. For Reese and his wife and their kids, parents, and siblings. For his friends who can't believe what he's done. For what addiction can do to a decent human being.

Addiction is a lifelong problem. Addicts are never cured. Their addiction is only managed. Day by day. And any number of things can and do trigger relapses. Every day heroin addicts die of overdosing. (Most commonly coming off a period of sobriety when they misjudge how much heroin to ingest since they don't need the higher levels their bodies had been used to getting.)

Reese told me that he thought as long as his problems remained a secret he didn't think he was hurting anyone but himself. He stopped himself from thinking through the ramifications of his actions.

Chilling lack of awareness, denial, and self-absorption. Wrapped up in an attractive man who speaks well and can usually get you to see and understand his opinion.

Reese makes me insecure about life.

Monday, May 5, 2014


To celebrate the cover reveal for Who R U Really? Margo Kelly is giving away TWO Advance Reader Copies of the book! Visit here to enter by Sunday, May 11, 2014!

by Margo Kelly
Merit Press -- September 18, 2014


Thea's overprotective parents are driving her insane. They invade her privacy, ask too many questions, and restrict her online time so severely that Thea feels she has no life at all. When she discovers a new role-playing game online, Thea breaks the rules by staying up late to play. She's living a double life: on one hand, the obedient daughter; on the other, a girl slipping deeper into darkness. In the world of the game, Thea falls under the spell of Kit, an older boy whose smarts and savvy can't defeat his loneliness and near-suicidal despair. As Kit draws soft-hearted Thea into his drama, she creates a full plate of cover stories for her parents and then even her friends.

Soon, Thea is all alone in the dark world with Kit, who worries her more and more, but also seems to be the only person who really "gets" her. Is he frightening, the way he seems sometimes, or only terribly sad? Should Thea fear Kit, or pity him? And now, Kit wants to come out of the screen and bring Thea into his real-life world. As much as she suspects that this is wrong, Thea is powerless to resist Kit's allure, and hurtles toward the same dark fate her parents feared most. Ripped from a real-life story of Internet stalking, Who R U Really? will excite you and scare you, as Thea's life spins out of control.

About the Author:

Margo Kelly is a native of the Northwest and currently resides in Idaho. A veteran public speaker, Margo is now actively pursuing her love of writing. Who R U Really? is her debut novel and will be published by Merit Press in September 2014. Margo welcomes opportunities to speak to youth groups, library groups, and book clubs.

Website: here
Goodreads: here
Twitter: here
Facebook: here
Barnes & Noble: here
Amazon: here