Getaway: Why a writing retreat?

For those of us who, for various reasons, are not full-time writers, finding uninterrupted time to write is often a huge challenge. You might have a dayjob, family, household upkeep, social obligations and a thousand other things more “pressing” than finding time to write. Or, like me, getting up early to write isn’t always an option so you look forward to that time at night when you can squeeze an hour or two in, assuming that is, that you don’t fall asleep from sheer exhaustion.

 

Sign at Walden Pond

Sign at Walden Pond

And that’s why I advocate for time away at a writing retreat. Sure, it takes a little planning and some small investment (more on that) but you don’t need to spend a fortune just to get away. And the benefits of a writing retreat, even if just for a couple of days, can pay off in the long run.

  1. Most importantly, uninterrupted writing time. Basically you get to luxuriate in hours and hours of time just for your writing. I often get up early and start working when my mind is fresh. With a few breaks and some good food, I can usually go late into the night. On some retreats, I have managed upwards of 10,000 words!
  2. No worries about chores or feeding other people. Say you’re lucky enough to score a day where you can stay home and write. If you have a family, you still probably need to worry about meal times, laundry, dishes and assorted other every day things. It’s bound to happen when you’re at home. Getting away relieves you of these mundane worries – all you need to do is feed yourself. Again, with some planning, you can make ahead casseroles or crockpot dinners (or go even simpler with cold sandwiches), eat, then be back to writing in no time
  3. Breaks without guilt. Sounds counter-intuitive but you need a few breaks during your day. Go for a walk, stretch, read a passage of good writing or some writing advice. These breaks can refresh your mind and body and you can have them without getting caught up in household problems if you were at home. Just try and stay off the internet. That’s a black hole you need to avoid!

You may be thinking that you can’t afford a writing retreat. Sure, I’d like to spend a week on a Greek isle, or in Wales, but this isn’t always financially feasible (and having the time is another barrier). Get creative! Look into cabins at local state parks. Find a hotel that you can stay at with minimal expense. Do you have a friend with a seasonal home who would be willing to extend some time to you? Look into off-season stays at vacation spots – I live about an hour from the Jersey shore and there’s always a weekend deal to be had October through April. Plus, I love the beach just as much off-season as I do in the summer.

So, take the time you need as a writer, even if it’s a long weekend, to recharge and put your writing first. And don’t forget – you may be able to deduct the expense from your taxes! But that’s another post.

Walden State Park

Walden State Park

Shore in autumn

 

Guest Post: Zombies: Isn’t This Fad Over Yet? by Armand Rosamilia

Today on Literary Debauchery, I have a special guest – horror writer and cool guy, Armand Rosamilia. Armand is one of those writers that makes me sit back in awe.  Not only is he a terrific writer, he’s also prolific and dedicated. His latest book, Dying Days 4 is out, and I highly recommend you check it out (along with his other work!). So with no further delay, here we go….

Zombies: Isn’t This Fad Over Yet?

Armand Rosamilia

              I loved horror movies as a kid, and I lumped zombie movies in there as well. I was a fan but after awhile I’d seen it all before: voodoo zombies in great black & white films and then the Romero and Romero-like zombie movies that came later. I watched them all and I loved them all. But there was a sameness to all of them.

But I never read anything zombie. I just didn’t see the attraction, the same way I stopped reading vampire books after Anne Rice and Poppy Z. Brite wrote everything I wanted to read in the genre. Vampires, zombies and even werewolves were movie monsters. I read about real monsters in print: serial killers, strange unnamed beasts, and the creepy dude next door.

Then I read The Rising by Brian Keene and I realized you could do something different with zombies in print. You could give it a new spin, while keeping it still zombies. I started reading everything I could get my hands on, and found so many great stories, especially short stories like Adam-Troy Castro’s “Dead Like Me,” that I decided to write my own. Hence, my Dying Days series. Dying Days 4 just hit and it is easily my biggest selling series to date, as well as the one people recognize me for.

But people ask me all the time what I’m going to write once the zombie fad ends…

…which I don’t think ever will.

Why? Because I said so!!!

Or, more seriously (okay, semi-seriously), I think zombies will always be in fashion with a small but rabid fan, whether in movies or books or television. The Walking Dead won’t be on forever, but even when it comes to an end (hopefully with Daryl shooting Carl in the head with a crossbow bolt), fans will still be looking for more zombies to see and read about.

True, because of the show more people gravitated toward reading about zombies, but the fan base was already there. The rabid fans will always want to read more and find something a little different in each new book and/or zombie series.

As much as we all cry about sparkly vampires, the vampire genre will never completely disappear. The real fans, who like their vamps evil and ugly and vicious, will find more authors and films to sink their teeth into (yes, stupid pun, but I had to do at least one).

Zombies are here to stay. They might not always be the media darlings they are right now (how many commercials are trying to be cute with zombies? How many more cartoony zombies can we see everywhere we look?) and they’ll soon slip underground for the latest monster (werewolves? Mummies? Giant arachnids? Vorpal bunnies?) but they’ll never go the way of the dinosaur. Didn’t even prehistoric creatures have their fifteen minutes at one point with Jurassic Park?

My point is this: Buy my zombie book, because it will never go out of vogue with the really cool kids, who don’t chase after the latest trend. They just want to read about zombies, and find something different about them like I did when I read Brian Keene.

See? Wasn’t that an easy answer?

Armand Rosamilia writes the Dying Days series of extreme zombie books, he likes to eat M&M’s and hates long walks on the beach even though he lives in Florida. He loves talking in third person. He does a really cool podcast, interviewing authors, that just started. Arm Cast: Dead Sexy Horror Podcast is available on iTunes and his own page at http://armcastpodcast.com or e-mail him at armandrosamilia@gmail.com to talk about Metal music, horror and bacon.

 

Armand RosamiliaDying Days 4 cover art

 

 

Book Launch: Roof Oasis by Marie Gilbert

Last Sunday was the official launch party for Roof Oasis: An Apocalyptic Tale by the original Steampunk Granny and longtime South Jersey Writers’ group member, Marie Gilbert. The event was held at the Treehouse Cafe in Audubon, NJ and was jam packed with friends, family, and fans. Marie signed books, read from Roof Oasis plus a teaser from its sequel, and drew some names for the door prizes.

Roof Oasis is the first in a trilogy where in the future, bio-warfare has unleashed the zombie hordes but twins Michael and Lucy may find salvation in the Victorian mirror found hidden in an attic.

Available in book Kindle and softcover, Roof Oasis may be purchased on Amazon by clicking this link. Support an indie author and one talented lady.

 

 

Marie reading from Roof Oasis

Marie reading from Roof Oasis

Marie signing

Marie signing my copy

 

 

Why I Dislike Reviewing Books and Why I Should Do So (and 2 reviews)

I will admit it – I am terrible at book reviews. I love reading, I love talking about books, I love smelling books. I don’t like reviewing them. Mainly because I don’t think I’m very good at it. Can I really say anything truly meaningful beyond ‘this is good’ or ‘this had some problems’? Do my reviews sound scholarly enough? Did I miss some important point? Will the author be insulted if I mentioned some points which bothered me? This ever-questioning batty dialogue circulates in mind every time I sit down to write a review.

BUT book reviews are important – they provide authors with feedback and they help other readers decide whether or not to read something. Even a so-so review can trigger someone to check out a book. Reviews let authors and publishers know people are reading. That the words aren’t wasted, set free into an infinite vacuum never to be read, enjoyed, or savored.

With that in mind, I have been trying to review more books as I read them or even several months after the fact. Here are a few recent reviews I did. As you can see, they are short because I never know what to say!  I have more to write which I shall do in the upcoming weeks and post them here, as well as on Goodreads and Amazon. If you haven’t read them, hopefully this will pique your interest!

 

Blood in the Paint by Jordanna East

Blood in the Paint
Read this in one night! Suspenseful, chilling, and dark Blood in the Paint will keep you turning the pages. Right from the start we know the murderer but what happened so many years ago which makes Lyla Kyle lure men to their murders? And what does Dr. Atford, her psychologist, know about Lyla’s past that even Lyla does not know? Will Officer Brighthouse solve the murders and be made detective?

The characters were rich, fully drawn and evoked both empathy and sometimes horror as we navigated the twisting mazes of their minds and their pasts. The last several chapters left me speechless as we find out just how much the past can affect the present and change the future.

The Art of Falling by Kathryn Craft 

art of falling
I will be upfront here when I say that the books I read usually contain aliens, elves, monsters or other fantasy/scifi elements. I don’t real a lot of “mainstream” literary fiction. However, I found this book enchanting and read it within one night. We start off seeing dancer Penelope Sparrow unable to move in a hospital bed after a disastrous 14-story fall. In the hospital she meets Angela, a woman dying from cystic fibrosis and Marty, the man on whose bakery truck she ell. What follows is a touching and evocative journey from depression and despair to friendship and hope and finally to new heights.

What amazed me was how my reactions to Penny changed over the course of the book. At first I saw her as a tragic figure, then mad at her despair and unreliable view of the world, especially when it came to appearances. As Penny grew, i began to understand how her sometimes twisted views were shaped by her profession as a dancer and our expectations of women’s bodies in society.

The secondary characters were well-rounded also and I loved them all. The story is set in Philadelphia and being a native Philadelphian, I also loved seeing the landmarks I grew up with incorporated into the story. I’m glad I read this because it is not only a great story of redemption but also a damning criticism of what is acceptable for a woman’s body to look like in the modern world, not just the dance world.

Next Up – Second Verse by Jennifer Walkup and Starglass by Phoebe North

 

 

Jennifer R. Hubbard visits the South Jersey Writers

Thursday night was the monthly South Jersey Writers’ Group discussion meeting. Usually we have a specific topic on which someone from the group speaks or we have a guest speaker. So far in 2014 we’ve been pleased to host Kristin Battestella and Kathryn Craft.

This month Jennifer R. Hubbard, author of several YA novels, including 2013’s Until It Hurts to Stop, joined us with a talk entitled “It Was Sunny A Minute Ago: Weathering the Storms of Writing and Publishing.” Her talk was informative and engaging as she covered some of the pitfalls of the publishing world such as rejection, bad reviews, agents leaving, and books being pulled among others. Jennifer also spent some time covering some of the blocks we have as writers and possible ways to deal with them. I especially loved her acknowledgment of depression and the important of professional help if needed, something people tend to shy away from talking about.

One of my favorite quotes from the night came when Jennifer was talking about avoiding competition and jealousy with other writers and she said to remember that supporting other writers is a “rising tide that lifts all boats.” How true it is! It is one thing I am so grateful to the SJWG for – the support and friendship that has built over the past few years since I joined.

The main takeaway from her talk was that as writers, we should savor the good times and understand that the bad times will pass and that a writing career is not a straight line but an adventure that we build with many paths, twists, and turns.

You can visit Jennifer at her website, as well as find out where to buy her books, here: www.jenniferhubbard.com

If you’re interested in speaking at a South Jersey Writers’ Group meeting, please contact me through our meetup site by selecting Contact Organizers:  http://www.meetup.com/South-Jersey-Writers/.

 

 

 

 

 

And You May Ask Yourself…Well, How did I Get Here?

Image

Let me share a little story with you. It’s a little embarrassing but I try to be honest on my blog. I don’t consider myself a superior writer – I’m still learning. The hardest thing though is learning what you didn’t know you need to learn (like the old “how do you know what you don’t know” saying).

One year ago, I finished what I thought was the final draft of Small Town Ghosts, my YA ghost novel. I had rewritten it several times and was frankly tired of editing. I had received good feedback from readers and thought I had fixed the problems most people pointed out. I did my homework and had really tried to craft something good. I wrote a query letter, did some research on the do’s and do not’s of querying, and sent my baby out into the world. Because it was genius, right?

Yeah, not so much.

Rejections followed but I didn’t give up. After all, I had written a novel, a good one. It just needed a home.

Then I met with an agent in person, who was lovely. She was very interested in the book and wanted to see the first ten pages, which I excitedly sent out. As you probably can guess, a rejection soon followed. BUT she had taken the time to provide me with some feedback. I stepped back and took an honest look at my writing.

The story was good, the characters compelling, the writing above grade. But two things continued to haunt me – the voice of the main character and the spooky feel of the town.

My protagonist is a 17-year-old boy who has moved, unknowingly, to a town regularly visited by ghosts, so voice and the “spooky factor” are critical to the book’s success. I soon realized that the voice was still not right, despite all the work I had put into it.

I despaired, pulled the book from the query process, and did what any “sane” person would do – I started another novel. But I didn’t forget Small Town Ghosts. People asked about it – told me how good a story it was, how they liked this or that about it. I was sad because I had really liked the book but it seemed that our relationship was over.

I read books on writing, I read non-fiction, I read more YA. Over a six-month period of reading and distancing myself from the novel, I came to a decision point – I could either shelve the whole thing or try something different. I took a chance and decided to write one – just one – chapter from the first person point of view. I would see if it changed anything and then shelve it if I still couldn’t make it work. I’m not a big fan of first person point of view and wasn’t sure I could pull it off. But I needed to try. After all, it was only one chapter.

So I wrote one chapter. I didn’t just change pronouns – I made a scene list of things that needed to happen and I started from scratch. Because you know, crazy.

And a wonderful thing happened – I fell in love with the novel all over again. I continued rewriting, making scene lists, and delving deeper into my protagonist’s head and his emotions. I felt like I was discovering him anew.

I’m halfway through now and determined to finish by May. I never thought just changing one little thing could open new ways of seeing my writing and my characters.

Have you ever made a small change in your writing that has opened up new vistas, or got you through a block? Tell me in the comments!

Writerly Concerns: Stepping Out of the Social Comfort Zone

Young Woman Reading, Mary Cassatt 1876

Young Woman Reading, Mary Cassatt 1876

As has been said before, writing is a lonely business. The time that we work, that we put down words, is all done in our heads. It can be fraught with frustration and self-doubt, wondering why we do this to ourselves and are we ever going to be good enough? Lonely indeed. Combine that with an inherent introvert nature, and it’s amazing that I have a social life at all. But life has been good to me and I had two distinct opportunities over the past few weeks to get out, socialize, and talk (writing) business.

A few weeks ago Mieke Zamora Mackay, the author in training, invited a few of us to join her at a SCBWI social gathering (Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators). Since I’m not a member of SCBWI, I thought it might be a good time to network and see if it is something I would be interested in. We met in the Library room of Dub Linn Square restaurant, fittingly enough, and it was a great experience. I met several lovely and interesting people who inspired me with their knowledge, talent, and dedication. What really struck me was how many of the women I met said the same thing – I’m not really good at these social things. I’m afraid to go and meet people at things like this. I was nervous coming here.

But yet, kindred spirits we were drawn there, despite our collective social anxiety, to share our lives, our passion for writing, our fears, disappointments, and successes with each other. It turned out to be a great night and, for my part at least, felt that we had all left with some new friends and colleagues. You can read more and see some pictures here at Kathleen Temean’s blog.

On a slightly different note, Wednesday night I attended at local AAUW meeting (American Association of University Women)  to present, along with Amy Hollinger and Jordanna East, on publishing in changing times. It was a fun evening filled with good questions and interest in the writing and publishing process. I talked a little about submitting, querying, and dealing with both rejection and acceptance in traditional publishing, while suspense thriller writer Jordanna East talked about her self-publishing journey and success and Amy Hollinger rounded it out with information on publishing industry changes.

Despite my experience being in front of a room full of people for both my day job and the my duties as monthly meeting facilitator for the South Jersey Writers’ Group, my knees were shaking as we were introduced. However, everyone seemed anxious to learn (we had a few budding writers in the crowd!) and interested in the changes that are affecting all of us – writers and readers alike. It was a great joy to be able to share my experiences and to also learn from both my fellow panelists and those in the room.

South Jersey is a burgeoning and fertile place for writers (really it is!), and many of us share the same anxieties and fears, but when we come together we lessen the loneliness and the fears that plague us.

National (mmm) Pancake Day!

In case you were unaware, today is Shrove Tuesday/Fat Tuesday otherwise known as National Pancake day!

I absolutely adore pancakes of any kind but my top three favorites would be pumpkin, toasted coconut, and banana choco chip pancakes. Of course, buttermilk are great too.  But remember, use real maple syrup, not the artificial pancake syrup. You just cannot beat real maple syrup from Vermont or Canada and it’s not full of chemicals (boo hiss!).

Find out Five things to Know About Pancakes!

 

mmm pancakes!

mmm pancakes!

2014 and the SJWG – Getting our Groove On!

Starting last fall, the South Jersey Writers’ Group – SJWG – opened for new members through the end of December. I was pleased and shocked to see that we added around 60 new members. This is testament to the fact that South Jersey has an expanding and prolific writing community and I am glad to not only be a part of it, but to help facilitate the education and networking experiences of local writers.

 

Each month, the SJWG offers a monthly discussion meeting where participants and/or professional writers (sometimes they are one and the same!) present for approximately one hour on a given topic. Last fall, our speaker lineup included Jon Gibbs, Keith R.A. DeCandido, and Merry Jones. In 2014, at our January meeting, local author Kristin Battestella led the group on a journey through The Toy Box – using props to help writers expand their knowledge of their characters. Marie Gilbert wrote about the meeting here at the South Jersey Writers’ blog. This week, for the February meeting, Kathryn Craft will help “tune our storytelling engines.” Ms. Craft’s debut novel, THE ART OF FALLING, was released late January to rave reviews.

 

One thing I appreciate about the SJWG is the diversity of meetups we offer – monthly discussion meetings, roundtables, retreats, blogfests, write-ins, author panels, critique groups, and open mic nights. We also have a workshop series on editing coming in April! Whew, that’s a lot of activities! We encourage our members to participate not only in our scheduled meetups, but to suggest and perhaps lead a meeting of their own, to network with other writers. Some of our members have found permanent writing or critique partners, cheerleaders and supporters.

 

Last Sunday, we met at the Treehouse Cafe – one of our favorite local haunts – for a blogfest. Glenn Walker answered questions from those with blogs already in place on how to promote their blog, as well as other technical questions, while Fearless Leader Amy Hollinger helped several writers start a blog. New and old members came together to socialize and help each other out, which you can read about here. No one denies that writing can be a lonely pastime but with the right support group, it doesn’t have to be quite so lonely all the time.

 

SJWG blogfest February

New release – We Walk Invisible anthology

This has been a crazy autumn for me. I’ve been working on a few short pieces, 2 of which have been accepted for publication so far. I also attended the Push to Publish conference at Rosemont College, pitched to an agent and received insightful and helpful feedback from said agent.

Most exciting so far, is the release of We Walk Invisible, an anthology published by Chupa Cabra House and available here on Amazon. My short story, Invisible, is within! I’m so excited because this was a story I had first written several years ago, received feedback on, but wasn’t sure what to do with it as far as revision. Time definitely provided perspective and when I saw the call for submissions, I immediately thought of Matty and his invisibility in life. i couldn’t find the original so I rewrote the story from scratch.

I would love if you shared this with your reader friends and maybe even thought about giving a copy as a gift this holiday season.

Here is the blurb:

Come right to the edge of reality with this collection of modern, edgy short stories that deal with the theme of Invisibility, both literally and figuratively. Horror, bizarro, magical realism, science fiction and speculative fiction are all represented in this book. A man finds that retirement makes him invisible to society. A group of weird plants allow one man to act on his impulses. A desk clerk uses the cover of darkness to play with his guests. Someone finds out his mother is wasting away, maybe on purpose. After an accident a man suffers from a ghost limb, among other things. Sometimes being invisible just means disgusing yourself, more so if you are a murder suspect. There is even an invisible suit to try on, if you have the guts. If you don’t enjoy this stuff, you’re probably already dead inside.

 

Invisible - front