Conference Fever

It’s so close. I have more and more details to finish up and as each thing gets taken care of, I relax a bit more. In fact, I’m daring to get excited instead of living with intense sensations of fear and anxiety. All the big things on my individual checklist are done, including the costume. This year we are having our first costume contest on Friday night. I’ll consider it a win if I manage the night without total humiliation. Costume – Check. Oil changed in my car, hotel room reserved, and clothing decisions made. Uh…two out of three isn’t bad. Check.


A conference brings out every type of writer insecurity, adding the stress of planning and being involved in next year’s leadership has reduced me to a simpering fool. I’ll survive. I’ve done this for so long that I have no choice. I know though as the time grows close that there are writers out there preparing for this conference with different fears and anxieties. Perhaps it’s the first time they’ve ever gone to a conference or the first time they’ve ever pitched to an agent or editor. The writer may (and the odds are quite good on this one) be shy and fearing the mingling a conference requires in order to network. With all of the worries in mind, a conference brings so many great opportunities for writers. In the current market, we have to take advantage of all opportunities we can afford and have access to.



If you haven’t taken in a conference this year, we have an awesome one coming up. Join us in Oklahoma City, OK. Fun will be had by all. I’ll post pictures for you here on the blog. Gulp…even in costume.

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InsecureWritersSupportGroup2It’s time for Insecure Writer’s Support Group! “Time to release our fears to the world – or offer encouragement to those who are feeling neurotic.” If you’re interested, check out the link. We post the first Wednesday of every month. Visit as many new blogs as you can and learn from and share this journey with others and please leave comments, support each other. Our words might be exactly what someone needs.

Alex J. Cavanaugh’s co-hosts today are Hart Johnson, Chemist Ken, Candilynn Fite, Terri Rochenski, Clare Dugmore, and Lilica Blake!

Writing is a solitary life and writers tend to like this. Still, the most introverted among us still crave the encouragement of others, especially other writers. This leads us to seek out writing communities; classes, MFA programs, conferences, conventions, and retreats geared to artists. My critique group has attended or created our own share of those things. Recently, I accepted an opportunity to give back to a writing community that has been good to my group and me. At the time, I was full of excitement and motivation. Then I stepped into the role and the magnitude of what I’d taken on hit. Now the emotions were more like fear, trepidation, and at times bordered on panic.

What had I been thinking? I was not up for this. I didn’t have this level of experience to help plan a writing conference. How does attending a bunch of them qualify you to do this? (It doesn’t.) I had developed a bundle of nerves and convinced myself this organization that I loved had just made a horrible mistake placing their trust in me. Who was I? A lowly writer with a degree and some sales to show for it. Did this qualify me to put together a large event? (No.)

OWFIbadgeFast forward a year of amazing lessons, a discovery of self, and a realization of the strength of our organization, Oklahoma Writer’s Federation, Inc. We have an amazing conference planned for May 1-3, just weeks from now. All the hyperventilating and second-guessing and soul-searching is behind me. (I hope.) The conference will be the best fun ever. Like with all things, team related, I have people to thank. My OWFI President, Christine Smith-Jarmola, is a ball of writer energy. She came into this with ideas and ran with them. The board supported all efforts to right the ship any time rough seas hit. Thanks for all you did this year to give us the conference we all want. My girls, Novel Clique, who kept me vertical when panic set in. Hugs and chocolate are coming your way.

Related Links

Oklahoma Writer’s Federation, Inc.


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Off Limits…Are You Kidding Me?

*Warning: Film spoiler ahead: Non-Stop

I’ll apologize right off the bat because this post is a bit repetitive in that I’m ‘ranting’ about censoring the writer again. A couple of things happened just after my post on this issue which lit up my nerve endings on the topic, and I wanted to open it for discussion again. One of them is hardly earth shattering. The other, for writers and other artists, is horrifying.

One of my favorite genres is the thriller so when I saw trailers for Liam Neeson’s Non-Stop, I knew I’d check it out. When it came to town, I enjoyed a night with “Liam” and mentioned it on social media. That solicited this exchange with a friend:

Friend: I’m a Liam fan, but heard it might rub people the wrong way.

Me: Okay, before I say anything…what have you heard would “rub people the wrong way”?

Friend: According to one online source and they say–spoiler alert–that it deals with some hypothetical someone from 9/11 retaliating by “hi-jacking” the plane and potentially killing passengers.

Friend: So, your take? & was this source wrong?

It’s not wrong, and frankly, I thought that part of the premise weak, trying too hard for a twist. Things the victims of 9/11 might do as a result of trauma are only limited by the human psyche, which as we all know can be truly creative. However, I’m thinking the last thing a victim of 9/11 would use for their revenge would be a plane. Just my opinion.

The problem with anyone taking offense at the perpetrator being a 9/11 victim is there is an assumption that no one impacted by 9/11 had mental issues going in. Not a likely scenario given the numbers of mentally ill in this country and the numbers impacted by 9/11. In Non-Stop, the hijacker’s “excuse” is the loss of a parent in 9/11. Here’s another issue. The perpetrator was also a former soldier. There are a lot of people who would take issue with that. Yet, Fort Hood is only one example of a soldier  going rogue and killing innocent people.

If we begin to censor who can be the bad guy in a film, who is off-limits? Why? Make the teacher the killer – the teacher’s union goes nuts, make the pilot the killer and the pilot’s association gets angry, and on and on we go. We have to seriously lighten up. AND we need to address our complete disregard of the mentally ill in this country.

The second and far more serious issue that caught my attention was this article on the number of men being sent to prison for murders they may or may not have committed, and the fact that the evidence used against them was their rap lyrics. We’re not talking confessions put to music. We’re talking generic, violent gangsta rap being used to convict people. I’m not here to argue their guilt or innocence. However, if the justice system can’t convict them on real evidence, the justice system isn’t doing its job. I can’t count the number of times I say, “I’m a writer. I kill people for a living.” Now, I’m a target? Every time I’m in the vicinity of a dead body (thank God that hasn’t happened yet) am I the perp?

As if writers don’t take enough heat from their inner critics and the external critics (agents, editors, reviewers, readers, etc.) now we have to worry when we sit down to write that our story line might accidentally get played out somewhere and we’ll land in an interrogation room to explain it? This is not about cop bashing because they have a tough job to do. This is about the slippery slope we got on when we began the PC business. We should always be respectful. But our first duty is honesty. It is best if both can happen. But in a PC world where your lyrics get you 50 to life, neither happens.

Sound off. Does this latest trend frighten you?

One small note about Non-Stop: It’s a great ride, fast paced and fun. Reviewers talked about the believability factor. I’m cautious with this these days. In the year 2000, we would have laughed at a film about terrorists gaining access to US domestic flights and flying them into US targets. We have to exercise caution when we say something could never happen. If 9/11 taught us nothing else, it taught us that.





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2014 OWFI Agents, Editors, Publishers Appointments


If you’re attending OWFI 2014 and are interested in booking an agent/editor/publisher pitch session, Natasha Hanova is your gal.  Feel free to repost and/or tweet if you or someone you know might be interested in this writer’s conference. Thanks!

Please email her at NatashaHanovaOWFI (at) gmail (dot) com with your top two choices to request an appointment or if you have any questions.

Sign up DEADLINE is Monday, April 28.

NOTE: These appointments are only for people who have registered for OWFI 2014. Click here for online registration or download registration.

See you in May!

Here’s a list of attending agents, editors, and publishers. Please be sure to check their websites for current wish lists.


Susan Brower from the Natasha Kern Literary Agency

I love finding and developing authors and connecting them with the reader.  Book publishing has changed dramatically over the past several years and it’s no secret that the novels that create buzz through their unique writing or concepts are the ones that become bestsellers.  Over the past 25 years in publishing, I have done marketing, editing, story development and acquisitions for Zondervan, a division of Harper Collins Publishers. Most recently, I was Executive Editor and had the privilege of working with New York Times bestselling authors Karen Kingsbury, Tim LaHaye, Stephen L. Carter, and Terri Blackstock and was named ACFW’s Editor of the Year in 2010. And now I am fortunate to partner with Natasha Kern at the Natasha Kern Literary Agency.

I’ve been an avid fiction fan since childhood and love the way stories are able to change lives, heal hearts, and bring joy to readers.   Today, I want to read and acquire women’s contemporary, any kind of romance, suspense, mystery and historical novels.  I would love to discover the next breakaway author in any of these genres.

I am originally from Arizona and now live in Michigan with my hubby, and three furry “kids,” Shep, Ollie, and Pepper.

Susan Bower Agency Website     •     Susan’s Website   

Dawn Michelle Hardy from Serendipity Literary Agency

Dawn Michelle Hardy has been called a “literary lobbyist” by Ebony magazine for her ability to help authors reach their readership using strategic promotions, win awards and garner national and local media attention.

She began her career in publishing in 2002, first as a assistant to a self published turned New York Times Bestselling author, then as an award-winning publicist and author consultant and now as an associate agent with Serendipity Literary Agency led by Regina Brooks.

While actively building her client list, she likes memoirists who can capture a larger narrative through their personal story and strong hook, best-in-class professionals in a variety of fields, the relatively unknown that has unique and incomparable life experiences, and the music, sports and pop culture enthusiasts with a ‘hip’ idea from an untold vantage point.

Her client list is diverse ranging from a veteran entertainment writer, to a single mother, to a Washington Post award winning sports journalist. Her first acquisitions as agent included a biography on the Grammy winning pop-star Nicki Minaj (Hip-Pop Moments for Life by Isoul Harris), a previously self published memoir that garned SyFy Channel docu-series fame (Forgotten Burial: A Restless Spirit’s Plea from Beyond the Grave by Jodi Foster) and a forthcoming narrative inspired by the #2 most shared news story in 2013 on NBA 16-time Allstar Allen Iverson.

As an agent she is continuously seeking acquisitions for platform driven general interest narratives that can spark debate and heavy conversation. She welcomes the process of collaborating with editors and authors on topics in the area of sports, pop culture, blog and trend, music, lifestyle and social science.

Dawn on Twitter  

Amanda Luedeke  from the Chip MacGregor Literary Agency

Amanda was a 2006 graduate of the acclaimed Professional Writing program at Taylor University Fort Wayne. Since college, she’s made her living as a writer, working as a freelancer for local newspapers and marketing companies, while operating her own writing business.

Her love for writing and her ability to think strategically landed her a full time job in marketing at an agency in Fort Wayne, Indiana. Since starting there in 2008, Amanda has written web and print copy for Vera Bradley, Baekgaard, Brecks and Peg Perego. She’s also assisted in marketing strategy for these companies, conducting research, launching social media sites and proposing and working on major projects targeted at the online consumer.

Yes, she knows … she’s one of those people.

She met Chip at an author signing in Barnes and Noble in 2008. After realizing they had a commonality in Taylor University, one thing led to another, and before she knew it, she was helping him with projects, research, and all the little stuff she now assumes he just didn’t feel like doing. Shortly after, Amanda was hired on as Chip’s Assistant.

On board as an Agent since 2010, Amanda brings unique interests to the MacGregor Literary team. She represents general market and CBA projects, and her areas of interest include nonfiction, literary fiction, women’s fiction (all types except historical romance), paranormal and speculative fiction (including steampunk, fantasy, etc), YA, middle grade fiction, and twenty-something/post college-aged hip lit (think Joe Meno, Brett McCracken, Brad Land, JD Salinger).

Having lived all over the Midwest, from Iowa to Minnesota to Illinois, Amanda considers the Chicago suburbs to be ‘home’, though she’s currently settled in Fort Wayne, Indiana, with her husband, Tad.

Amanda on Facebook     •     Amanda on Twitter

 Maria Vicente from the P.S. Literary Agency

Maria Vicente is an associate agent at P.S. Literary Agency. She is a creative and editorial agent, providing support to her clients through all stages of the writing and publication process. Maria is dedicated to managing authors’ literary brands for the duration of their careers.

Her reading preferences vary across categories and genres, which is reflected in her client list. She is actively looking for literary and commercial fiction, young adult, middle grade, illustrated picture books, and nonfiction projects in the pop culture, pop psychology, design, and lifestyle categories. She has affinities for literary writing, strong character development, and original storytelling formats.

Maria’s publishing career began as an intern with Bree Ogden at D4EO Literary Agency. She also interned at P.S. Literary before joining the agency as an associate agent. Maria has a B.A. in English Literature from Carleton University, a Bachelor of Education from The University of Western Ontario, and many years of experience editing and designing literary magazines. She is currently an editor for Underneath the Juniper Tree, a literary/art horror magazine for children.

Her blog, I Believe in Story (, features book reviews, advice for writers, publishing industry articles, and lifestyle posts inspired by literature. You can find Maria on Twitter at @MsMariaVicente.


Mari Farthing

Mari Farthing is a writer and editor with over 20 years of practical experience in private industry, government, media and publishing. Mari has worked with writers on technical documentation, procedural manuals, memoir, children’s fiction (middle grade, young adult), women’s fiction, suspense and horror.

Mari on Twitter     •     Mari on Facebook

Mary-Theresa Hussey

Mary-Theresa has been at Harlequin for nearly a quarter century—but it certainly doesn’t feel that way.

As an executive editor for Harlequin Books, she is surrounded by fantastic stories, terrific colleagues and has had the pleasure of working on thousands of entertaining, enlightening and exciting novels.

Mary-Theresa—sometimes known as Matrice—works with authors on both series and single title imprints, and is always eager to talk about books.


Rhonda PendersRhonda Penders from Wild Rose Press

Rhonda Pender is President and co-founder of The Wild Rose Press, a publishing company that publishes books electronically and in print.  The company began in May 2006 and is home to over 1600 titles and 500 authors. The Wild Rose Press began as a romance only publishing house but in 2013 opened its submissions to other genres of fiction including erotica, women’s fiction, mystery and suspense including thrillers, and historical fiction.

TWRP prides itself on never issuing form rejection letters and on being a kinder and gentler publishing house.  Their web site, which is referred to as “the garden”, is truly a community garden where everyone feels as if they have a part in its growth.  Writers, authors, readers and editors come together in chats, loops, blogs, and email to discuss ideas, thoughts, concerns and plans for growing the company.  The editors and the owners are completely accessible to their writers. Currently they are accepting submissions in all lines and all lengths.  All submissions should be made electronically and specific guidelines can be found on their website at

Vivian Zabel from 4RV Publishing

Vivian Zabel has a degree in English and speech. She taught in public schools for 27 years, covering such subjects as English, composition, writing, yearbook newspaper, literary magazine, drama, debate adn speech. Vivian has published short stories, articles and poetry until she retired from teaching, and now has 7 published books. Vivian is the founder and president of 4RV publishing, a traditional, royalties-paying publishing house with over 75 authors, including many OWFI members.

Vivian’s Blog     •     Vivian’s Website


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Censorship and the PC Movement. Writers, Put Up Your Shields!

Screen Shot 2014-03-14 at 2.53.58 AMOne of my professors in grad school preached a lot about the danger writers might fall prey to the political correctness bug. While there is nothing wrong with being kinder and gentler as a society in our discourse with each other, being PC has not really had that effect. In fact, it appears to have had the opposite. People get into bitter discussions and vitriol flows freely in comment threads and on social media sites. If it sends the average Joe down that path, what is it doing to writers?

Brock Pope informs student writers this is a daily battle. We have to guard against it every time we sit down at the keyboard. The PC mentality is so engrained in our society that all rational thought leaves the building. Everything has become an attempt to ‘marginalize’ people. Recently, I had a scene with my detective, a Native Samoan. My critique partners both suggested it be cut as it was stereotyping. I trust my girls, and I always take their suggestions seriously. However, as writers we have to know when to fall back on our own counsel and what we know and have learned.

When I was going over the piece later, I kept hearing Pope ranting in my head against writers who cave to the pressure “not to offend” or to maintain a “PC” approach. Ultimately, I cut the bulk of the paragraph in question, not because it was stereotyping but because it was info dumping. I researched Native Samoans thoroughly and what I said was not stereotype but fact. There is a difference. When we make every male black character a basketball player, it’s stereotyping. They are not all brilliant basketball players, and they don’t even all like the sport. However, if I write an Italian character who talks with his/her hands, I am not stereotyping. Talking with our hands is a genetic factor in who we are. Attend my family reunions, you can pull major muscle groups dodging the arms.

What bothers me most about this PC culture is we’re slowly wiping out and demeaning our own histories. By demanding others not acknowledge who we are, we are also denying it. I grew up on Italian jokes, loved them, still do. Do we probably look silly talking with our hands? No doubt. But it’s part of who we are, and I wouldn’t change it anymore than I would my name. There are hazards to writing characters that have diversity. We’re encouraged to do it, yet told not to write characters outside our own culture. These things are in opposition. Trust writers to write. Allow them to create characters from any number of cultures, full of a richness that is part their culture and part their own unique personalities.

Writers today can spend too much time worrying about offending people and not enough time writing real characters. As writers, we must ignore the culture wars when we sit down to write. Otherwise, we are censoring our writing more than we’re editing.

How do you silence the inner editor who seeks to censor you?


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Insecure Writer’s Support Group (#IWSG)

Purpose: To share and encourage. Writers can express doubts and concerns without fear of appearing foolish or weak. Those who have been through the fire can offer assistance and guidance. It’s a safe haven for insecure writers of all kinds! (Our Twitter hashtag is #IWSG)

Alex J. Cavanaugh’s awesome co-hosts for the March 5 post are Tina Downey, Elsie, Elizabeth Seckman,and Julie Flanders! Please visit and thank them for helping today.

The meat market. Wal-Mart. Campus. On social media. Everywhere I turn lately there is evidence this winter has been too damn long. Patience has run out and tempers are getting short. People want to see the sun. In fact, they’re starving for it. This despair bordering on depression reminds me a lot of waves writers experience. They hit us when we expect them to (after a disheartening rejection) and when we don’t (3/4 of the way through our latest WIP and suddenly, none of it works – plot, characters, dialogue, etc.). The wave crashes over us knocking us to our knees. The worst part though is that about the time we stumble to our feet again, the wave barrels through for a second shot.

The meat market, Wal-Mart, campus, social media. The good news, it’s March. The sun’s making a comeback. For writers, however, the rejections will still come and some books will still fail. The good news for us, if we admit it, is acceptances will come in, too and books will succeed and stories and poems will sell. Those waves may knock us down, but others will lift us up.

Embrace the waves, ride them.


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Pace of Revelation

Writing mysteries/thrillers requires a great deal of control. The writer must tightly plot so there are no loose ends, no gaping plot holes, and perfect pacing. While pacing is important to all prose, these genres, especially, require the writer’s astute handling of it.

These genres hinge upon raising questions in the mind of the reader. What has happened? Who is behind it? How bad is it? Will our hero recover? Will he or she find answers? The writer doesn’t want the reader inundated with questions on page one. They’ll feel overwhelmed and give up. Space questions out and allow them to build. As the protagonist moves through his crisis, the reader asks questions. The best pacing allows the reader to experience tension and anxiety but also allows moments of relaxation, time to seek answers without worrying the hero is facing immediate death.

These are not easy things to accomplish, but they are essential. A story that reveals too much too fast falls flat in the last half of the book. A story that reveals too little, loses the reader to confusion early on. The goal must always be to reveal enough to keep the reader reading on, but not too much or the reader is ahead of the plot. Check your story. Are you revealing things at a pace that is good for it? Good for the plot? Good for the characters? If not, do you need to speed up or slow down? Revise accordingly.

Other Articles on Pacing:

Steven Symes

Writer’s Digest

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