DdfpPEkU0AATruuSo I’m back from a three-day weekend in Lancaster, Pa., for the 31st annual Pennwriters Conference. Once again, this conference did not disappoint.

I went looking for some tips to better marketing myself, and I found plenty of that. One session was called “School Visits 101” with Donna Galanti. I went looking for advice for how to get talks in schools. She delivered on that, but she also had information about preparing a presentation and publicizing it. I will be going over my notes from that session more than a few times to try and glean everything that I can from it.

Another session that I really liked was “Writing for New Technologies” with Katie Ernst. This session introduced me to some new possibilities for new markets using new technologies to sell your writing. I have to admit, I was a bit intimidated by it since I am not an early adopter of new technology. However, I will try these new things out (slowly).

I had two classes and a luncheon talk that were all well attended. I thought I had flubbed the luncheon talk, but I got a lot of good feedback on it afterward.

I got to sit down 20 minutes with agent Louise Fury and talk about indie writing, marketing, and being a hybrid author. VERY INFORMATIVE! I loved it. She was very friendly and I’ve got more information from her that I need to follow up on. This was a new thing Pennwriters offered this year, and I hope they continue it.

I also pitched a couple agents projects I had done as J. R. Rada. This my pen name for YA, fantasy, and horror. I have been thinking about trying to get an agent for my work as J. R. Rada and continuing the indie route with my own name. Both agents asked to see different novels, so we’ll see how this all works out.

A great weekend for recharging the writing batteries!

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writers_group-1One of the benefits I’ve discovered about being part of a writer’s group is that it readies you for dealing with people. Between the critiques and social interactions, a writer’s group is a good way to learn how to come out of your shell.

Let’s face it, writing can be fairly isolated work. Yet, I go to my weekly writer’s group and meet and talk with other writers who may not have had a lot of interactions. While most of the people in the group are wonderful, sometimes someone will say or do something that sets someone else off. Things won’t erupt into an argument or anything. The offended party just lets things fester until he or she simply stops coming to the group.

Occasionally, we learn the reason behind the person’s absence, but other times not. I also tend to think that a lot of the reasons for the person leaving the group are misunderstandings that I would hope could have been resolved if the issue had been addressed.

Then, of course, there are critiques. My group tries to keep any feedback during reading night positive. Again, it may not be taken that way.

One thing I know from nearly 30 years of professional writing is that you need to develop a thick skin. If I had given up when I received my first rejection letter, I would never have known the joy I find as a writer.

So, when you find a writer’s group to join, take advantage of all it has to offer. Learn how to improve your craft, but also learn how to deal with people and handle criticism. While learning former will help you become a better writer, the latter two will help you be a happier person.

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RADA-1Pennwriters is the statewide writers’ association in Pennsylvania. I’ll be presenting three sessions at their annual writers’ conference later this month. As part of their promotion for the conference, they conduct a Q&A with their presenters. Here is the one that I did.

  1. What do you think is special about the genre you write in?

I write in a variety of genres, although most frequently, in non-fiction history. The thing that I find most interesting about this genre is that the stories I tell are true, and if I find the right one, they are just as interesting as fiction.

  1. What do you find to be the most difficult part of writing? Did you ever encounter a serious roadblock and how did you overcome it?

The most difficult part of writing is dealing with mean-spirited criticism. I’ve been a professional writer since 1988. I’ve developed a pretty thick skin, but that kind of criticism still bothers me for days.

As for serious roadblock, I busted through one earlier this year. I had a novel idea that I had been working at on and off for years, but it wasn’t going anywhere. I had outlined the book, written a few chapters, and even done research. Something was missing that I couldn’t put my finger on. I kept starting and getting nowhere. In January, I decided to make one change with my main character, and that broke the logjam. I had ideas pouring out of my imagination. One book has now become three, and I am using almost nothing from my earlier efforts.

This particular book is also coming together in a very disjointed way. I am writing scenes from all over the book rather than the typical beginning-to-end process. This has probably kept me from getting stuck on the project again.

  1. What’s individual or unique about your writing space? Do you have a memento or good luck charm on your desk?

My office is my space and filled with things that make me comfortable. On my walls, I have old movie posters, a triceratops head, historical photos, historical newspapers, family pictures, and even a piece of comic-book art. One my shelves (which cover two walls), I have books – lots of books, of course – but I also have fossils, interesting rocks, robots made from scrap metal, Lego creations my son made, and the California Raisins. If I’m really stressed, I have a tank of fake jellyfish that look real. I turn that on and watch them swim around to destress.

  1. What has been the most satisfying or significant project of your literary career?

It’s a tie between two projects. The first would be a biography I wrote about a WWII veteran I met. This man has a fascinating life story. I tell people he has led a “Forrest Gump life” where he has participated in historical events or met famous people almost accidentally.

The other project is a book a couple years back called The Last to Fall. It’s a true story about a virtually unknown 1922 event in Gettysburg that helped saved the Marine Corps. When the book was released, the local chapter of the Marine Corps League started an effort to put up a waymarker near the site where a plane crashed during the event killing two Marines. This Memorial Day weekend, that waymarker will be dedicated with hundreds of Marines attending the ceremony. It’s very satisfying to see the two Marines who died in the crash finally get remembers.

  1. What is your favorite tip or advice for writers?

Don’t sit around waiting to hear back about an article or book you sent out. Get started on the next project. Keep writing.

  1. If you were stranded on a desert island, what three items would you take with you?

A motorboat, gasoline, and a satellite phone. That way, I wouldn’t be stranded for long.

  1. If you had a time machine, where and when would you be right now? 

That’s a hard one. Doctor Who has been around for 50 years exploring that topic, although he winds up in London more often than not. I think the first stop I would make would be to Nazareth to meet Jesus Christ. Then, I think I’d like to visit the Old West. Finally, I’d visit the Jurassic period because I’d love to see real dinosaurs.

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Logans FireThe other day I got an e-mail from a woman whose granddaughter had just finished reading my first novel, Logan’s Fire. It was a YA novel published in 1996, so it’s 22 years old. E-books didn’t exist when this novel first came out, and the audio version was on cassette tape. The book has been out of print for at least 15 years. It was nice to be reminded that copies of the book are still out there in libraries, on eBay, and on Amazon.com.

The fact that the grandmother said her granddaughter loved the book and wanted to read more let me know that the story of a young man dealing with the consequences of setting a poor example for his younger sister still holds up and can interest a new generation of teens.

What makes me sad is that I always wanted to turn the book into a series featuring the three men who help the young teens. It would have been along the lines of the old “Highway to Heaven” television series with a teen focus and different time periods.

I tried. I really tried. I wrote about half a dozen follow-up novels. I agreed to keep the series focused on the present day. However, I couldn’t get it past a committee that needed to be in unanimous agreement on a new book. It really irked me when only one person on the committee said “no” for a lame reason.

So the series fizzled, and I moved onto other genres. However, in today’s world of small presses and self-publishing, I’ve been thinking about doing the series myself. Heck, I’ve already got six books that just need re-editing and updating.

I even dug out my old contract to see what I needed to do to get my rights back. I sent the appropriate paperwork, waiting the set amount of time that I needed to see if the publisher wanted to bring it back into print, and now the rights are mine once more.

Now, the question I ask myself is when do I have the time to introduce a third pen name because that’s what I would need to do for this series. It doesn’t fit under books I write as either James Rada, Jr. or J. R. Rada. Establishing a new persona takes time, and I haven’t gotten my J. R. Rada books to a comfortable sales level yet.

This old wannabe series will see the light of day again.

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CanawlersWant a great deal on a historical novel? You can get my first historical novel, Canawlers, FREE all this week!

Curious how to pronounce the title? It’s CAN-all-ers. It’s what boatmen on the C&O Canal called themselves.

Just about everyone else said, “canallers,” but canawlers had an accent. They also had a challenging and dangerous job during the Civil War. Canawlers brought coal and other goods 185 miles from Cumberland, Maryland, to Georgetown. All the while, they traveled along the Potomac River within sight of the Virginia shore and the Confederate States of America. The C&O Canal ran along the border of two warring nations, the canawlers were caught in the crossfire.

Hugh Fitzgerald is a proud canawler. For nine months a year, he and his family live on their canal boat, working hard to get them through the lean winter months.

The year 1862 was a hard year to live on the canal, though. To this point, the Confederacy has stayed south of the canal, but now the Confederate Army intends to go on the offensive and take the war into the north.

Not only are the Fitzgeralds’ lives endangered by the increased activity of warring armies and raiders on the canal, but the Fitzgeralds’ secret activity as a stop along the Underground Railroad only endangers their lives all the more.

Then fate takes Hugh away from his family, leaving his wife, Alice, to hold the family together. With the help of her children; Thomas, George, and Elizabeth; Tony, an orphan from Cumberland; and David Windover, a disillusioned Confederate soldier, they will face the dangers presented by the war, nature, and the railroad together.

Once you finish Canawlers, you can continue the Canawlers series with:

You can also read true stories from the Chesapeake and Ohio Canal in Secrets of the C&O Canal: Little-Known Stories & Hidden History Along the Potomac River.

Of the thousands of pages of articles directed towards engineers in more than 6,000 technical, business, academic, and trade publications in the United States, only one percent are written by people with engineering degrees. It’s not that editors don’t want articles written by engineers; they aren’t receiving articles written by engineers. Why are engineers so shy about writing?

Frank R. Smith, editor of Technical Communication, a journal of the Society for Technical Communication, says that of the many papers he reads each year for possible publication, “most are written by the same people.” Bill French, executive director of the American Society for Photogrammetry and Remote Sensing, agrees, adding, “It’s a constant battle to find practical papers.”

Harvey Bjelland, in his book, Writing Better Technical Articles, says “In science, agriculture, bacteriology, chemistry, forestry, engineering, mining, medicine, metallurgy, physics, or any other technical field, writing is essential in most stages of every important project if a person does not wish to remain anonymous.”

Though the publish-to-survive mandate is a part of academic life that many regret, Smith says that “publishing an article is like getting an endorsement from an outside authority. It’s a positive factor when a [performance] review comes up.” Christina Kessler, editor of the Construction Specifier, agrees that “writing articles builds credentials,” especially valuable for freelancers.

Kessler says of engineer-writers, “Their style is a little dry, but their English is no worse than anyone else’s.” But most technical people know that they need to learn to write better.

French says engineers don’t know how to write because their education was heavily based in science rather than liberal arts. Tim Reason, assistant editor for the Professional Surveyor, thinks that there’s a lesson to be learned from technical people without degrees. “We are occasionally disappointed with article removed from academics. Surveyors are not so self-conscious about writing. They like airing issues.”

Despite having everything to gain professionally by publishing an article, most engineers say they don’t have the time or don’t think they have anything to write about, says Smith. The first problem can be solved by emphasizing the benefits of having an article published: Writing is the only tangible result of much engineering research. The second problem can be solved by gaining a wider perspective: Because they do it day after day, engineers may fail to see their work as unique.

Bjelland suggests a third reason for not writing: fear of being seen as inexperienced or not knowledgeable. This can be solved by striving for excellence in writing as just one more aspect of research: The profession can’t advance if technical people don’t write about their work.

Editor’s note: This article was originally published in The Editorial Eye in 1994, but it still has useful information for today’s writer. It was actually my first professionally published article.

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Einsteins-Secret-Irving-Belateche.jpgEinstein seems to be a popular topic for books. I know that I have accumulated four in my collection without even trying. Some of the non-fiction stuff is even more fascinating than the fiction. I probably even have a couple that use Albert Einstein as a minor character. He was definitely an interesting person who had an impact on the world.

I just finished Einstein’s Secret by Irving Belateche. I had purchased it two years ago. That’s the problem with having a Kindle. As I buy new books faster than I can read them, the books I can’t get to get pushed down my “to read” pile.

That’s a disappointment with this book. I found it a fun time-travel story. It begins with Albert Einstein’s death in 1955 and a lost message that he wrote on his deathbed.

Jacob Morgan is a history professor who has been seeking to discover what that lost message was for most of professional career. This obsession has left his reputation in question and his teaching career on the rocks.

However, as he begins a new job at the University of Virginia. Then he gets a break in his hunt for the message that leads to him discovering time travel is possible. He accidentally travels back in time to the 1950s where he sets out to find Einstein’s secret.

Another person more familiar with time travel is hunting him, though, trying to erase any evidence of Einstein’s secret to time travel. This begins to make alterations to the timeline that can change Jacob’s present. If he can’t correct them, he and Einstein might not survive in the new time.

The book moved quickly and I enjoyed the story. It had some surprising twists, which is not uncommon for a time travel story.

My biggest complaint is that Belateche didn’t do more-thorough research. Some of the scenes are set in Cumberland, Md., and I can tell that he didn’t double-check what it was like there in the 1950s. Once I caught a couple of his mistakes with that, I found myself second-guessing some of the other details. This is too bad because it pulled me out of the story every time I wondered about a detail.

I was also a little disappointed in how the antagonist was dealt with. It was satisfying, but I expected more action with it.

Overall, I might give it 4 out of 5 stars.

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384472_10150370255946867_270838901866_8795042_317292409_nNow that spring is here, things are starting to pick up for me. I can look at my calendar and see more speaking events and weekend signings and festivals appearing. It seems odd that my first outdoor event for the year is in a couple weeks and we just had snow in Gettysburg yesterday (April 2)!

Here’s how the numbers increase:

  • March – 5 events
  • April – 8 events
  • May – 10 events

As my events increase, my free time begins to disappear. I still need to do the writing that I was doing earlier in the year, but now dozens of hours each week are being taken up by events. I don’t mind all of the activity because I can see the results with increased sales. It also gives me a break from my writing without feeling guilty that I’m not working. I just have to watch myself so I don’t burn out.

This is all part of an indie author’s marketing efforts. It takes a lot of effort to get your stories out there when you’re a one-person show.

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shutterstock_217661482When I first read the Old Man and the Sea by Ernest Hemingway in English class, I enjoyed it. Then came the class analysis in which my teacher left me with the feeling that I had just finished a

 

Suddenly, I found that I enjoyed the book far less.

  • I felt stupid that I didn’t pick up on all of the symbolism in the book.
  • I felt manipulated because Hemingway was supposedly putting hidden messages in his writing.

In another high school English class, I loved reading “The Lottery” by Shirley Jackson. My teacher didn’t pick this story apart with hidden meaning, but I remember that someone told me a story that a student had once asked Jackson if the story contained all of the symbolism that his teacher had said was in the story. Jackson reportedly told the student “no.” She had written the story to be what it appeared to be.

Since then, I’ve been skeptical of literary critics.

Recently, I found an interesting article, “Famous Novelists on Symbolism in Their Work and Whether It Was Intentional” on MentalFloss.com. A 1963 high school student decided to go right to the source to determine whether his teacher knew what he was talking about when he uncovered all of the symbolism in novels. The student mailed a four-question survey to 150 novelists. He asked them:

  1. “Do you consciously, intentionally plan and place symbolism in your writing?… If yes, please state your method for doing so. Do you feel you sub-consciously place symbolism in your writing?”
  2. “Do readers ever infer that there is symbolism in your writing where you had not intended it to be? If so, what is your feeling about this type of inference? (Humorous? annoying? etc.?)”
  3. “Do you feel that the great writers of classics consciously, intentionally planned and placed symbols in their writing? … Do you feel that they placed it there sub-consciously?”
  4. “Do you have anything to remark concerning the subject under study, or anything you believe to be pertinent to such a study?”

Half of the authors responded to the survey. You can read the article to see some of the responses. My first take away from the author responses is that most authors don’t intend to inject symbolism into their writing, but the subconscious sometimes makes connections that the author might not realize while writing. My second take away is that when an author does try to create symbolism in his or her writing, it often comes across as forced or false. (However, that may be the symbolism that I’m reading into the responses!)

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2018PWCLogo_4RegSite_header_copy_2I enjoy writers conferences. They give me a writing energy boost that has powered me through writer’s block in the past.

One conference that I have attended in the past and enjoyed is the annual Pennwriters Conference. It alternates its location between Lancaster and Pittsburgh. This year it will be in Lancaster. You can attend lectures, panels, keynote addresses, and luncheons for three days. Learn how to write better, sell more, and market more effectively. You might even find a new author to read. James Rollins was the keynote speaker at the conference I attended, and now, I’m a fan of his books. This year’s keynote speaker is thriller writer Gayle Lynds.

I will actually be teaching three sessions at this year’s conference. I will be demonstrating ways to use e-publishing to help invigorate your writing, doing historical research for authentic stories, and making extra bucks as a freelance writer. I hope everyone will find them as helpful as I find the sessions that I attend.

So take a look at the conference offerings at the Pennwriters Conference Page. The link to the schedule can be found here. You can if there is something for you.

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