Friday, July 30, 2010

On the Verge of Vacation

So sorry that I didn't get the TdW standings up this week.

I got lost in packing many various bags and planning to leave for vacation.  The Tour de Writing is still going strong--it's just going to be a big surprise who is ahead.  Next time I post, I'll be in NJ. Or PA. Or somewhere on the East Coast. Wish you were here!

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Tuesday Monday Meeting, Tour de Writing

Phew. How is everyone doing?  This Monday Meeting came up really fast.  I am packing for a multi-location trip--lots of stops and fun next week.  We are going to Sesame Place, visiting family in Pennsylvania, and spending time on the Jersey shore.  It'll be great, but there is a lot of prep.  Plus we are in full swing summer activities.  Friday we went to the Science Museum, Monday--a petting zoo water park, today--the movies and beach.  Needless to say, I write when I can.

The Tour de Writing is going strong.  What fun to have a goal, and some motivation!  I am at 23,191 points, mostly for words--my schedule has made TPR tough to fit in (but 500 extra points, if you do, people!).  I'm not sure that I'm going to be finished by writeoncon--since I'm trying to revise excellently, and some days I just need to think a bit.

Plus, I'm having trouble wrapping my brain around the logistics of the computer--I want to see all the pieces of my manuscript, actually hold it in my hands, attack it with scissors, tape it into the right order, cross out words, and pencil in the changes. I don't know why at this stage I want to manipulate the manuscript in real life, but I wish the urge would go away. It's not making revising on the computer any easier.

But I am so thankful for all the amazing progress I am making, whether I hit my goal, or not.  I can see the light at the end of the tunnel. And it's been a long freakin' tunnel!

My favorite Mad-Bag of the day? This Vulcan Black Tote. I think it would make my packing a ton easier this week.  Which bag will you choose when you win that prize?

So, how is your Tour de Writing progress coming?  Are you trying to unseat a front writer?  Are you trying to hold onto your jersey? What's your grand total since we started, July 5th???  (Remember to tell me if you are drafting, revising, or a combination of both.) Have you canned any fruit?

And, for those of you not racing, what are your goals for the week?

Also--I apologize to those people who had trouble posting comments last week. I am keeping track of your progress, and will add it to the standings.  Thanks for emailing me.  Let's hope blogger plays nicely this week!   

Friday, July 23, 2010

Friday Feature: Journeys Toward Publication and Beyond: Marisa Hopkins

Welcome to another fantastic Friday feature.  Today, Marisa, (aka Elegant Bloggery) has been kind enough to hang out with us, and answer my probing questions. (And yours, too!) You may not recognize Marisa (pronounced Mareesa) without her yellow jersey.  Yes--she's the ultimate front writer in the ultimate competitive writing contest, the Tour de Writing. Here are the current standings (I posted them late yesterday) in case you missed them.  Let's give Marisa a round of applause (or at least a virtual fist bump) for her writing stick-to-a-tive-ness.  

Marisa has a beautiful blog which showcases her artwork (and beautiful girls).  While you're there, make sure to check out her fun and well executed short story--it's awesome. I've always been very impressed by Marisa's poise, grace, humor and creativity, and now I'm impressed by her writing ability. She's the total package!  Marisa and I are going to chat a bit here, and then we'll continue in the comments, so make sure to leave her a question or a comment.  I'm excited to find out more about Marisa's writing journey.  So, here we go!

Welcome Marisa--thanks for doing this interview.  Why don't you start by telling us a bit about yourself.

Hi, and thanks Heather!  I'm Marisa, a displaced California girl living in West Texas and pining for the ocean. You'll usually find me at home, finger-painting with my two preschool-aged daughters, blogging about anything and everything that pops into my head, running Elegant Snobbery, my illustration business on, or hacking away at the thing I call my book.

Marisa--you sound extremely busy--what are you currently working on?

My current project is a YA urban fantasy retelling of the classic Sleeping Beauty tale. I've been a fairy tale junkie my entire life and it is so much fun to take a tale I have always known and loved and turn it into something recognizable yet entirely my own.

I love retellings. Marisa--what made you start to write seriously?

I was about nine years old when I started writing "seriously." Every day after school I used to run home and scribble stories in my notebooks or pound them out on our first computer - black screen, green text. I couldn't get enough of it. I still have files full of stories going back to 5th and 6th grade. They are completely awful, but so much fun to go back and read. Once I discovered my love for writing, it never went away, and I've been writing steadily ever since. 

What stage are you at, currently, in your journey toward publication? And--how is that going for you? Has anything surprised you about this stage?

I am currently writing the very. last. chapter. of the first draft of the book I have devoted the last 9 months of my life to. I feel like I'm about to give birth. It will be such a relief when I am done with this draft and can begin the next stage of my writing life with my newborn book: Revising!

Wow, you're in the homestretch! I know you've gotten a lot out of the online community. If you had to pick one favorite blog, what would it be?

Does The Practice Room, hosted by the fantabulous Tina Laurel Lee count? Because if so, then THAT one without question. And if I have to choose one in which a person actually writes something readable, rather than post writing goals for an hour and then reconvening to chat - only 30% of it even about writing - then I'll have to go with The World According to Maggie Stiefvater, because she's one of my favorite writers, is hilariously funny, is a brilliant colored pencil artist, and shares her writing life along with a whole lot of great music on her blog.

The Practice Room always counts.  I love Maggie's blog as well. What is a favorite blog post that you have written?

My blog was started as a place to share my life as an at-home-artist with two high-energy bundles of adorableness (aka, my kids who drive me insane, regularly), so while I rarely write about my life as a writer, I have a lot of posts about my life as an artist. My muse is the same sneaky little she-devil across all my creative mediums... and this post, My Muse Hates Me, shows our relationship well.

Marisa, what online resource have you found most helpful?

Angela's The Bookshelf Muse is pretty darned awesome.I always forget to add in setting details while writing, and when I go back to add them in, I love having The Bookshelf Muse whispering little reminders of what certain places look, smell, and sound like. Actually, I think Angela is a much more supportive muse than my own muse. Angela, can I adopt you, please?

LOL.  What has been your biggest trial in writing?

Writing has always been my passion, but when it comes to appreciating my writing, I fall short. Self-confidence as a writer is something I'm working on. Only recently did I begin to share it with anyone, beta readers and critique partners, and its hard to do. I have such a huge urge to stand behind them while they're reading, breathing down their necks, and pointing out every single sentence I've written, telling them how much even I think it sucks. That's the reason I've been writing steadily for the last 20+ years, and have never queried an agent or attempted to be published anywhere. Sad, but I know now that it's time for me to put on my big girl pants and suck up some courage if I really want this dream of being a published writer to happen. 

What tricks have you acquired to make you write or create when you don’t feel up to writing?

When I don't feel up to writing, I cross my fingers and hope to find something I can at least revise. But if there isn't, then I always pull out my notebook and try hand-writing my scenes or snips of dialogue for awhile. I find that my notebooks are always filled with the best parts of my book.  Ideas and words seem to flow out of my head better when I'm hand-writing. 

Tell us about a book that has impacted your writing life.

Two books. The first - How to Become a Famous Writer Before You're Dead by Ariel Gore, because it's a quick, entertaining read that always makes me want to write, write, write and never stop. The second - Pen on Fire: A Busy Woman's Guide to Igniting the Writer Within, which is a great reminder that sometimes we only get 15 minutes a day - and we have to take them were we can get them and use every minute as best we can if this is what we're serious about.

Other than winning the Tour de Writing, :) what is your practical goal with your writing? Do you have a reach-for-the-stars goal that you would like to share?

My practical goal would be to get better and better the more I write. Only then will I hit my reach-for-the-stars goal of being a published author. And maybe one day reach my ultimate dream of being a career author. 

So far, what has been the best part of your writing experience?

Until a few months ago, I've always been a solitary writer, without any writing friends or support group other than my non-writer friends and family saying, "You go girl! Write that book of yours because I want to read it!" Of course, I'm always grateful, and love the encouragement I get, but sitting alone at my computer with only the voices in my head keeping me company is a lonely life. Once I discovered the awesome community of writing bloggers this past January, my world opened up and it has been amazing. Especially once the fantabulous Tina Laurel Lee opened up The Practice Room, where writers root each other on, all writing together and chatting about our experiences. I'm amazed by the friendships I've made in only a few months. And though my writer friends and I are still on opposite sides of the computer screen, I never feel like a solitary writer anymore. I always have friends typing along with me, sharing my same goals and dreams. It's VERY motivating!

I love that! Marisa, if you could create the perfect place for you to write in, what would it look like?

If I could write anywhere, I would choose a library. Tables tucked into quiet corners with nothing but books, books and more books all around... Swoon! The library has always been my favorite place and is definitely my ideal writing spot. 

If you could be a character in a book, and live within their world, what character would you be?

Sign me up for Hermione Granger, please! I wanna go to Hogwarts and be BFFs with Harry and Ron!

What other distractions are in your life?

My life seems to be nothing but distractions... my kids, ages 3 and 5, are amazing when it comes to giving me time to "work," but sometimes fetching endless cups of juice, breaking up cat-fights over who had which Barbie first, and dealing with the joy of potty-training keeps me from making much progress on my book. 

And, just because I’m curious, coffee or tea?

Coffee. Pots and pots of coffee.

Marisa--thanks so much for the insight into your writing life!  And for being here today!  Everyone make sure to leave Marisa a great comment or question--she'll be stopping by to answer them.  

Thursday, July 22, 2010

Tour de Writing Standings, Week 2-- Woo-hoo!!

Move over NANO--competitive writing's not just for November any more! 

Here are the standings for this week's stage of Tour de Writing.  Remember, these are words counted on last Monday, so most of these writers have made much more progress since then. (It takes me a few days to figure it all out!!)  The writers seem to have found their stride, and are writing toward the finish line.

 If you are just joining our game, check out these posts to catch up.  And welcome.  It's not too late--we'll be writing until August 10th--writeoncon!

If these four front writers can hold onto their jerseys all the way through the 10th of August, they will win one of four awesome prizes--Paranormalcy, Mockingjay, Livvie Owen Lived Here, or their choice of a sweet bag from Mad-Bags!  Woo-hoo!

So, here are the second week standings:

Yellow Jersey--Overall front writer:


16,283 points!

Yay, Marissa!! Way to hold on to an early lead!

Green Jersey--Sprinters--drafting new words:

1.  Dianne

9,300 points from first week,+ 4,500 words this past week + 2 TPR x 500= 14,900 points!

2. Krystey 12,257 points

3. Lori 5,750 points ***Lori--I am assuming these were drafted words, and not revised, or a mixture.  Let me know, so I can stick you in the right category!

4.  Jon
4,600 points!

5.   Kate

4,000 points

Polka-Dot Jersey--King of the Mountain--revising.

1.  Me!

16,251 points!

2. Robert
3,526 new words + 9,200 edited words + 1 TPR x 500= 13,226 points.

2.   Patricia
11,812 points.

3.  Ann Marie:

2,500 points.

4.  salarsenッ

1,658 points

White Jersey --drafting and revising.

1. Sarah

13,538 points

 2. Tom

2125 points

Congrats to MarisaDianneMe and Sarah, for all holding your own so far!  Watch out, though, there are a few tough competitors breathing down your necks!

There is still plenty of time for someone to unseat a race front writer!  Anything can happen!!  Have I missed anyone?  Please email me if you are utterly confused! hegkelly (at)

Feel free to cheer on people in the comments, and stay tuned for a fantastic interview with one of our front writers tomorrow!!

Also--has anyone seen this competitor? I'm afraid she might be lost somewhere.  Let me know if you see her!

Monday, July 19, 2010

Monday Meeting--Tour de Writing

I'm happy to say that I'm still revising strong, and making progress in the Tour de Writing.  There is still plenty of time to join in, and catch up--we'll be competitive writing until August 10th.

Check out the prizes, and bragging rights, everyone.

Here's the mad-bag that I'm salivating over this week.  The Tall Ebony and Cream Tote Bag.Which one would you choose if you win that prize? I wonder how many books I could fit in that tote?

And most importantly, how are you doing?  Have you earned any bonus points for writing in the Practice Room?  Here's my latest tally:

Total words revised to date: 14,351 plus my practice rooms to date (3 the first week (3x500), 2 the second (2x500))  So that's 14,351 + 2,500.  A total of 16,851 points in the category of revision.  So, can you beat me?  Can anyone take the polka-dot, King of the Mountain jersey from my back?

How are you doing?  What is your point total since Monday, July 5th?  Make sure to let me know if you have been drafting new words, revising, or a mixture of both.  How many Practice Room sessions have motivated you to write? Email me (hegkelly at if you're totally confounded.

Write ON!!

Friday, July 16, 2010

Friday Feature: Journeys Toward Publication and Beyond: Christy Raedeke

Everyone, welcome to another fantastic Friday interview!  The Tour de Writing is still going strong--and it is absolutely not too late to join.  Just add your goals and progress to yesterday's post, or next Monday's post.  It's fun!

Today, I'm happy to introduce Christy Raedeke to the blog!  Christy's Prophesy of Days Book One: The Daykeeper's Grimoire recently arrived on bookstore shelves, and I have to say that it was a compelling read!  Interesting premise, and fantastic characters--even an origami folding monkey!  
Christy--it's so exciting that your first book in the Prophecy Of Days series just came out. Give us a little background on the book.

Thanks, Heather! Prophecy of Days is a Young Adult adventure novel about a girl who discovers a Mayan relic, and then gets pulled into a larger mystery surrounding it. 

What was writing the book like--highest high? Lowest low?

Highest high was probably getting an agent; that was the first real validation that someone not related to me might want to read the book! Lowest low was getting a third of the way through writing Book Two and losing confidence that I could pull it off. 

The stress to keep performing must be tough!  Tell us about how you connected with your agent, and how your writing life changed (or didn't) after that.

I’m a big fan of writing conferences and workshops. I think it’s really important to make personal connections with people. I met my agent at the Big Sur Writing Workshop, an intense 3-day writing camp in one of the most beautiful places in the world. Writers are assigned Faculty Members to work with and I was assigned to Nancy Mercado (an editor, now with Roaring Brook Press) and Laura Rennert (Senior Agent with Andrea Brown). This was the 10th annual conference and they gave out an award that year to commemorate it. Shockingly, I won the award and a couple months later, signed with Laura.

Tell us about your journey from agent to published book--what was unexpected for you during this stage?

Wow. The journey is long! Everything takes 4-5 times longer than you think. Seriously, take the timeline in your mind and multiply it by five just to set your own expectations. 

What type of marketing did you do to get the word out about the book? What worked best? What was hardest for you about the marketing aspect?

I really haven’t done a whole lot of marketing outside of the few events I’ve been asked to participate in (PLA Conference, WAMLE Conference, and bookstore events on the west coast). I had some really nice bookmarks made (with fancy tassels!) and have almost gone through 1,000 of them!

I work full time so unfortunately I don’t have the luxury to dream up and execute any marketing beyond what my publisher is doing.

However, the blogging community has become a default marketing tool. I didn’t set out to market to the people I connect with online, but we all sort of support each other and it’s really, really great. 

The blogging community is so fantastic! What online resource have you found most helpful?

I have really enjoyed being part of the Tenners, one of the community sites for debut authors of Young Adult books. It’s been really great to share this unique experience with other like-minded people, and to be able to ask dumb question. I would encourage any new writer to join—they start anew each year. Soon we’ll be phased out and the Elevensies will take over!

What tricks have you acquired to make you write or create when you don’t feel up to writing?

Author Teri Hall shared this tip with me and I swear by it: Get a time and turn off the phone, internet, and email. Then set the timer for 40 minutes and just write. Don’t edit, don’t research, just write. When the timer goes off I then spend 20 minutes doing email, phone, internet as needed, then I set the timer and start all over again. It’s amazing how much you can get written in 40 minutes if you minimize distractions! It sounds simple but when you are on deadline but not feeling particularly inspired, it works! 

I love the timed writing technique!  And I love that you give yourself time to do the internet and distracting things after each writing session.  Christy, tell us about a book that has impacted your writing life.

Carolyn See’s Making a Literary Life: Advice for Writers and Other Dreamers. I love this book—it’s the first book that helped me take myself seriously as a writer. I’ve given it to dozens of people! 

What is your practical goal with your writing? Do you have a reach-for-the-stars goal that you would like to share?

I’m very myopic with writing goals. My chant: must finish current project. I wish I had grander plans and schemes for taking over the world of Young Adult publishing, but at this point, if I could just getting my son to tie his shoes and finish revising Book Two of the POD series, I would be delighted.

I have another manuscript finished, completely unrelated to Prophecy of Days, but I’m not sure about it. Might be a bit too odd for publication! 

I love concrete goals. So far, what has been the best part of your writing experience?

By far the best part has been meeting other writers! Authors have always been people I look up to and now it’s an honor to count some as close friends. It’s also a delight to watch people I have known in the online blogging community, or met through conferences, get agents, go on submission, and land at publishing houses. The thrill of having a friend get published never gets old! 

If you could create your perfect writing space, what would it look like?

It would be a cozy room, perhaps 15’ x 15’, painted the color of Scottish thistle with one large window, a wall of built-in bookshelves, and a small fireplace. I’d furnish it with a comfy overstuffed armchair and ottoman, a cashmere throw, and a shiny white desk. Underfoot would be a plush rug over dark hardwood floors.

And it would never, ever get messy. Sounds dreamy, no? 

Do you have any advice for other writers?

Don’t wait for the muse. For me the muse only comes once I’ve committed myself to the chair and have logged some time on the keyboard. Get in the habit of writing and make yourself accountable by taking a writing class or joining a writing critique group so that you are forced to have something to share each week. And, most of all, write the book you want to read.

Christy, that is sage advice.  Thanks! And, just because I'm curious, coffee, or tea?

LOTS of coffee before noon, Jasmine tea thereafter. 

And, Christy, please tell us about upcoming events so that we might get out and see you and your book in action!

I’ll be at the Brigdeport Village Borders in Portland on July 17 at 2pm. Come by, Portlanders! 

Thank you, Heather!

Thanks, a bunch, Christy--what a fantastic interview.  And, July 17th is tomorrow, everyone.  If you're on the West Coast, in the Portland area, go check her out!

Everyone, please leave a question or comment here for Christy, and hopefully she'll have some time to stop by and answer them!

Thursday, July 15, 2010

Tour de Writing Standings!!

Things are so much fun right now at the Tour de Writing! Marisa (elegant snobbery) has led a group of writers into a fast pace into the sprints. Ann Marie made some campy progress while roughing it, and there is a strong middle group of riders, chugging along!! Great job on all the progress last week, everyone.

There is still plenty of room for anyone who wants to join in!
If this were the Tour de France, each of the first placers would step up to the podium and don their jersey. The person in possession of a jersey on August 10th (you know, writeoncon!! woo-hoo) will win one of three new release awesome book prizes--Mockingjay, Paranormalcy, or Livvie Owen Lived Here--so awesome!

Or, they can win the fourth prize, which I am unveiling RIGHT NOW!  Drumroll, please! The final prize is a bag from the best handbag company in the world--Mad-bags! Yes, you get to browse their site, pick out a fab bag, and take it home--woo-hoo! Seriously, they are sweet bags--check them out!
Coolest Bags Ever!
How cute is this sunflower bag?  Cute and practical--this geo fuchsia tote?  Oh, or this black and white peony tote?  How to pick a favorite??  Thanks to Doug and Marta for this awesome prize!  Which will you chose if you win??

And, here are the front writers in each category so far--will we see you here next week?:

Yellow Jersey--Overall front writer:


6,052 words + 8 TPR x 500= 10,052 points!

Yay, Marissa!! Way to pull out to an early lead!

Green Jersey--Sprinters--drafting new words:

1.  Dianne

8,800 words + 1 TPR x 500= 9,300 points!

2.  Jon
2,600 + 4 TPR x 500 = 4,600 points!

2.   Kate

3000 words + 2 TPR x 500 = 4000 points

Polka-Dot Jersey--King of the Mountain--revising.

1.  Me!

6377 words + 3 TPR x 500= 7877!

2.  Ann Marie:

I'm guessing 2500 points for the past week. (she said she did 5,000 in the past two weeks--at CAMP--major awesome for doing any writing at all!)

3.  salarsenッ

1,658 points

White Jersey **This category has been changed to reflect our need for a full category geared toward writers writing a mixture of drafting and revising.

1. Sarah

6971 points ** Sarah--It seemed like you had both new and revised words happening.  Let me know if you are solely revising, and I will move you to the polka dot jersey.

 2. Tom

2100 points

Congrats to Marisa, Dianne, Me and Sarah, for wearing jerseys this early in the race.  Hold onto those jerseys all the way to the end, and you'll win one of three awesome books, or the choose-your-own-incredible mad-bag!!!

There is still plenty of time for someone to unseat a race front writer!  Anything can happen!!

Also--did I forget anyone?  Let me know in the comments!!  Also, let's hear some noise out there--cheers, chatter, how's it going?

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Happy me! (I know, I'm shameless!)

I love birthdays.  We usually end up celebrating for a whole week, but today is my actual birthday!  Yay.
Look at all this great stuff!  Happy kids, happy kittens, and birthday hats.
On the table, see those tickets to Mike Birbiglia, my favorite comedian of all time?  Awesomeness!

And inside those lovely wrapped up gifts?  Some books I've been salivating over for a while.
So, now my nails are purple, my coffee is delicious, and I'm going to have to use serious self discipline to write, not read for a few days.  You know, because the Tour de Writing stops for NO BIRTHDAY!!
Write ON! 

(And continue to leave me word counts in yesterday's post so I can post Tour standings tomorrow.)

Monday, July 12, 2010

Monday Meeting, Tour de Writing Progress!

So, how is everyone doing?  Any major crashes?  Are you keeping up with the peloton (main group of riders in the race)?  Have there been any breakaways?  If you don't know what I am talking about, please review our awesome competitive writing contest here, and here.  And join in! The Tour de Writing needs you!

So, here's how the points system is going to work.

In today's comment section tell me:
1. What Jersey you are competing for.  If you wear this jersey on August 10th, you will win one of the awesome prizes.

  • Green Jersey--drafters.  Count up all your new words.
  • Polka-dot Jersey: King of the Mountain-- revisers. Use total words of passages revised.  If you completely revise a chapter of 3,000 words, then you have 3,000 points in that category.
  • Yellow Jersey: Overall front writer:  If you have combined drafting and revising last week, then put your word counts in this category.
  • White Jersey:  Tell me if you consider yourself a novice writer, and your points could qualify you for the White Jersey.  (But make sure to tell me what category your words are going towards, drafting, revising, or a mixture.)
  • Bonus--you can add 500 bonus points for every Practice Room session that you attended last week.  

2. Add up all your words since last Monday, the 6th.  Okay, for example:  If you wrote a chapter of 3,111 words, and then revised it, you would say, "Yellow Jersey--6,222 words.  And I'm writing my second novel, so I could qualify for the white jersey as well."  Easy, peasy, right??

3. If you can't figure out my convoluted system, then just tell me exactly what you did, and I'll try to figure it out.  Or you can email me.  hegkelly (at)

4. Tell me what your goals are for the week, and for the remainder of the contest.  Check in, let me know how things are going.

So here's my breakdown of the week:

I am going after the Polka-dot, King of the Mountain Jersey--I'm revising. I've revised 6,377 words--a slow start.  I've probably revised more (I'm working on the first 10,000) but those last 4,000 aren't where I want them yet.  I've also bounced around to the end and made some changes, but those revisions aren't done either. Bonus--I attended three practice room sessions last week, so that's an extra 1,500 points.  My total for last week is 7,877.  Can any of you revisers beat me?

I'm excited at some of the changes and ideas for making the end work out better--very excited.

This week, I'm going to continue to work on the first fifth of the book, and maybe push forward toward the halfway revision point, if I can.  I'll continue to work on revising the end, since I'm excited about that part, and it's great to strike while the iron is hot.

So--leave your point totals and goals in the comments, and Wednesday, I will post standings, and unveil the surprise prize.  And, please let others know that they can join in the contest whenever they like!  Newcomers welcome!

Friday, July 9, 2010

Friday Feature: Journeys Toward Publication and Beyond: Robert Guthrie

Welcome to a very special Friday Feature.  The Tour de Writing is continuing in the background :), but for your reading pleasure, here is an interview with the awesome Robert Guthrie.  I am so pleased to interview him today--he is my writing partner, and an amazing person.  He is honest and grounded, insightful and funny, and always true to himself.  He is a gifted writer, deliberate with his words and adds spark to anything and everything that he sets out to do.    He writes, and lives, thoughtfully.  And yet, he sees the humor in himself and others.  He is truly a gift in my life, and to all the others he knows.  Go, check out his thought-inducing blog, aptly named, Kinda going with the flow, and see what I mean.  Then come back and make sure to leave him a question or comment here, in the comments--he'll be stopping by!  

Here is a bio of sorts, in his own words.

Points of origin: childhood outside Boston, college in Chicago, taught English in Japan, the rest of my 20’s were soul-enriching jobs helping Vietnamese and Ethiopian refugees in Philadelphia and Boston. Then I did communications for Perkins School for the Blind, the alma mater of Helen Keller.

Two years ago I left Perkins to write full-time and begin Our Spirit, a non-profit that helps gay/lesbian youth.

In January I moved north of Seattle where my partner since college became the lead pastor at a liberal Congregational church. Bellingham is a university town with views of the San Juan islands and snow-capped mountains. Every morning I look outside and say, “Wow.”

You do live in an amazing part of the country! It must lend itself to inspiration. Thanks so much for being here with us today, Robert! What are you currently working on?

I’m supposed to be querying my first novel fit for publication. Romeo, Romeo is a love-triangle of three high school guys. I say “supposed to” because it’s much more fun to work on my next two novels then to think about agents.

As I do Romeo, Romeo business, I’m chugging along on another YA book, completing a high-concept middle grade novel and producing films for Our Spirit.

You always have so many irons in fire, Robert.  I'm very excited for you to start querying! So, when was it that you started to write seriously?

At Northwestern University I was a creative writing major, but it wasn’t until after graduation, Japan and stopping as a counselor for refugees that I had enough brain and emotional space to write seriously. But working at Perkins full-time, I got frustrated that it would take decades to finish a novel, so I started screenplays where the pages flew by.

I took screenwriting classes in Boston and got into a mentorship program in New York. Oddly, that brought me back to fiction. I wrote Romeo, Romeo as a screenplay, but thought it would make a good novel, so I spent a week on a lake in Maine and scratched out the rough draft. I’m not afraid of wretched first drafts. They’re just throwing clay on the table. Then I was ready to get to work.

And of course that whole time I’d been working on a quasi-autobiographical novel; may it rest in peace.

Ah, screenplays.  No wonder your written dialogue is excellent. What stage are you at, currently, in your journey toward publication? And--how is that going for you?  Has anything surprised you about this stage?

Right now I’m writing the query letter and researching agents who will be psyched to take a gay YA novel.

Robert, tell us about Our Spirit, what it is, and where it's going?

Our Spirit is a resource to help LGBTQ youth deal with the homophobic messages of the religious right. We launched the website this summer. Youth can find stories, links, and information like “Most Common Same-sex Confusion in the Bible.” One short film shows on the homepage. Five episodes of The Romeo Files, a gay high school soap opera, will launch this fall and we’re planning to shoot Finding Juliet this October. At Our Spirit we want all youth to know that they’re loved.

Love... that’s the whole story.

If you had to pick one favorite blog, what would it be?

Jon Arntson puts me in a good mood. Tina Lee’s Practice Room is class in a portable MFA program. Nathan Bransford and YOU, Heather Kelly, make me smarter. I was a terrible math student, but that seems to be more than one.

I'm blushing!  Jeesh.  Robert, what is a favorite blog post that you have written?

Maybe Swiss Cheese because I’ve found that approach so helpful.

I think lots of people agree, that your Swiss Cheese post was extremely helpful!  Especially this mom of three. What online resource have you found most helpful?

Nathan Bransford.

What has been your biggest trial in writing?

Time. I love writing. It’s easy for me to write. Not that it’s always good, but all I have to do is sit down.

Ah, time. That's a tough trial to overcome.  Thank goodness we have your swiss cheese method! What tricks have you acquired to make you write or create when you don’t feel up to writing?

Just do it. Those well-paid Nike marketers came up with the best slogan. For me, I just have to write SOMETHING. Later I can change it. Even if I scrap the whole thing, I’ll be at a different place and who knows what happens there?

Tell us about a book that has impacted your writing life.

Bold, adventurous, emotional and determined Ahab’s Wife by Sena Jeter Naslund made me want to think big.

Excellent--I'll have to check it out. Robert, what is your practical goal with your writing?  Do you have a reach-for-the-stars goal that you would like to share?

My niece brought the first third of Romeo, Romeo to her high school’s gay-straight alliance. Feedback was great, my favorite, “Tell your uncle that his novel ROCKS!” I want to write novels that open people’s hearts. How to gage that? Maybe it’s hearing that someone thinks it rocks.

So far, what has been the best part of your writing experience?

Feedback from the guy in the previous question.

Sweet! If you could create the perfect place for you to write in, what would it look like?

A big, comfortable room with a view of the ocean.

I have to say, that surprised me.  I thought you would say a cafe with a comfy chair.  It still boggles my mind that you can write in busy place. If you could be a character in a book, and live within their world, what character would you be?

Huck Finn. He set his own agenda. I believe Twain once planned to write a sequel where Huck went west. But I wouldn’t want to hang out with arrogant Tom Sawyer. We’d ditch him.

Oh, we'd totally ditch him! What other distractions are in your life?

I like people too much. I wish I could be more of a hermit… But there are so many great people in my life.

Robert--you do surround yourself with some wonderful people!  And, just because I’m curious--coffee or tea?

Tea. Not a simple question. I LOVE tea. All kinds, especially white and funky greens. Loose leaf. No tea bags. Never flavored. Oh, and lapsang souchong, which I think of as a tea-drinker’s espresso. I make gluten-free, dairy-free, sugar-free scones (hockey pucks, they’re just vehicles for jelly) and I’ll bliss out with a good old-fashioned quality black tea. My first published essay was called “A Simple Cup of Tea.” Yup, tea, it’s a life. Coffee… I’m too high energy for it.

Robert, you're right--there is nothing simple about how you do tea!!  

Thanks so much for the insightful interview.  Everyone, please make sure to visit Robert's zen-like blog, and to leave him a question or comment here, since he'll stop by to answer them when his West Coast, Swiss Cheese schedule permits!  

Wednesday, July 7, 2010


Monday I launched the first ever, first annual, first awesome, TOUR DE WRITING.  Enter simply by posting your goals for the week, and for the entire contest (ending August 10th to coincide with writeoncon), and join in. It's not to late to enter.  Everyone is welcome.  Anytime.

Yesterday, riders in the actual Tour de France faced cobblestones.  Lots of spills, and excitement. I imagine riding over those cobbles felt a bit like how my revision is going--bumpy, but fast. It's not going as fast as I'd prefer, but I find revision to be a deliberate and slow thing.  I've lost some time (so did Lance.) and I'm not quite on track for my August finish, but I'll try to catch up.

Some updates, and a summary of the contest:

The contest is about competitively writing for the next 30 days or so.  There are four categories in which I will award prizes (check original post for expanded description of the contest):

The Yellow Jersey (or maillot jaune):  This award will go to the overall winner of the competition.  Most writing progress overall, on either drafting or revising.

The Green Jersey: This is awarded to the sprint winner.  And will go toward most new words drafted between July 5th and August 10th. Update: I originally said that these words had to be written in The Practice Room.  Now, it's just a tally that you keep for yourself over the whole month.  Although, I'm tempted to give extra points for number of times you show up in The Practice Room.  Because it's awesome.

The Polka-dot Jersey: This is the KING OF THE MOUNTAIN Jersey.  This will go toward most progress on a revision.  Because revising is like biking up a mountain.

The White Jersey: This will be awarded to most progress by a novice--someone who is writing or revising their first or second book (most likely an un-agented writer).

The Prizes:

who's counting the days??


So excited!!

How awesome are these prizes???

And, the fourth prize will be unveiled at a later date.  It is something awesome to carry books in, but I'm keeping it a surprise.  I think that these three books, all due out in the next month or so, should be enough to whet the whistle for now.   

So, spread the word, post your goals, here or at the previous post, and join in the competition.

And, don't forget to stop by for an awesome Friday Feature interview!! 

Next week I will start to award jerseys.  Each week I will award the jersey to the front writer in each category--but you have to be the front writer on August 10th to win a prize!

Competitive writing's not just for NANO anymore!!

****If you are arriving now to this post, and wondering if you can get in on the action, the answer is YES! Just find the most recent Tour de Writing post, and post your goals.  Each Monday, post your word count since July 5th.  Extra points for each time you show up in Tina's The Practice Room.  Welcome, and I'm so happy you're joining in!  Questions? Email me at hegkelly (at)  

Monday, July 5, 2010

Monday Meeting, First Annual TOUR DE WRITING

Yes, I know, I need another distraction like I need... well, a dog in the peloton.  I have three kids at home for the summer (yay!), family in town this whole week (yay!), and a self-imposed(?!) deadline to finish a revision before an awesome on-line conference (yay!).  And, I'm still unpacking from visiting my grandparents (oh, and Tina!) in Chicago.  There is a lot going on. (<--look at my gift for understatement.)

Including the Tour de France. You mention words like:  peloton, king of the mountain, and stage winner, and my blood gets pumping.  If I had my druthers, the first 25ish days of July would contain only references to yellow, white, green and polka-dotted jerseys.  Oh, and my birthday (July 13th in case you want to get a jump on things).  Sitting down and watching 4 plus hours of guys on bikes is my idea of perfection.  Actually, it would be perfection if women raced too, but, oh well. It's awesome, anyway.

I thought that it would be too much fun(!) if we had our own Tour de Writing in the month before WriteOnCon, since it's great to have fun competition, and since the conference is a good deadline.  I'm still figuring out the details, but, there will be points and jerseys, stage winners each week, and four overall winners. AND PRIZES. You do not need to participate in writeoncon (although it's FREE) to win a prize here.  You also do not need to watch the Tour de France, although it is THEBESTTHINGEVER! 

You just have to write. Competitively.

Move over NANOWRIMO.  The TOUR DE WRITING has come to town.

There will be prizes, but I haven't decided what they will be (pretty sure they'll be bookish.) I'll post what they are this Wednesday. Here are the breakdowns of the competitive categories.

Tour de Writing Jerseys:

photo courtesy of

Green Jersey: This is awarded to the person with the most sprint points.  I will award sprint writing points for shear number of new words accumulated in The Practice Room between now and writeoncon.  This is a competition for drafters.  Please email me if you need help with The Practice Room procedures (it's fairly easy).    TPR is a blog of Tina's where you go, sign in, write "unplugged" for an hour, and then come back and chat about what you've written.  It's great to talk to other writers about writing (and other things) in real time.  Keep track your word tallys for the week, and post them in a comment on my Monday post.  (I'll be at the Practice Room when I can as well.)

Polka-dot Jersey: King of the Mountain!!  This will be awarded for most progress on a revision.  Subjective, I know.  Post your challenging goals here each Monday, and I will award the Jersey to the person best able to stick to or surpass their grueling revision goals.  Tell me each Monday Meeting posts why you think you have earned the coveted polka-dot jersey.  And it has to be more than:  I deserve the polka-dot jersey because I revised a page even though a kitten was sitting on my keyboard. (If that were the only criteria, I would WIN EVERY WEEK.)

White Jersey: Novice Writer jersey.  If you are relatively new to writing--if it is your first (or even second) attempt at drafting, or revising, you can qualify for this one.  Let me know your goals, and how you are sticking to them, in the Monday Meeting Posts.

Yellow Jersey:  Overall front runner.  This will be awarded to a writer, whether drafting or revising, who makes the most overall progress during the four weeks.  This is the BIG WINNER of the Tour de Writing.

How it Works:  Post goals and progress here every Monday.  Show up in The Practice Room, if you are going for the Green Jersey.  Every Wednesday, I will post who is ahead in each category, and who gets the jersey that week.  You get to "wear" your jersey until someone unseats you.  The person who ultimately wins the jerseys (and awesome surprise prizes) will be the person "wearing" that jersey on August 10th, at the start of writeoncon.

Think you are the Levi Leipheimer, Evan Basso, Alberto Contador,  or even Lance Armstrong of writing? Put your written words where your mouth is, and join in the Tour de Writing!!

My entry into The Tour de Writing:

This week's goals: To piece together the first fourth of my revision--I have to pull stuff from earlier drafts, move parts around and continue revising.  
My overall goals for the month: TO FINISH THIS REVISION (gasp!!)

Leave your goals for The Tour de Writing in the comments.  RACE ON!!

Stay tuned for Wednesday's post about prizes.  And, if you are utterly confused, email me: hegkelly (at)  Really?! A TOUR DE WRITING?!  Can't Heather do anything simple and not ridiculously involved?  Can't she just give stuff away for the sake of giving stuff away? The answer is, no.  No, she can't.

Happy racing, everyone!  Good luck.  I'm hoping for no major crashes (especially none involving Jon's sweetheart Belle)!!

Friday, July 2, 2010

Friday Feature: Journeys Toward Publication and Beyond: Natalie Aguirre

Welcome to this week's Friday Feature.  I'm very excited to interview the fantastic Natalie Aguirre.  I first met Natalie at inkwell, a supportive writing forum.  Natalie is a kind, thoughtful, down to earth writer.  She has yet to start blogging, but I think it is only a matter of time.  She has lots of wonderful insight about the craft of writing.  Enjoy the interview, and then take a few moments to ask her a question in the comment section, as she'll be by to answer them.

Welcome, Natalie--thanks for being here with us today!  Tell us a little about yourself.

I’m married and an adoptive mom of a 13-year-old daughter adopted from China. I live in Ann Arbor, Michigan and work full time as an attorney practicing in consumer litigation and bankruptcy. I’m also a founder of an adoptive support group for Families from Children in China. I’ve been writing for about 7 years.
Natalie--what are you currently working on? 

I am writing a middle grade fantasy called THE THIRD TOWER.  It’s about twelve-year-old Jasmine, adopted from China as a baby, and her best friend Austin who follow a talking doorknob into a multicultural world where they are shocked to find out everyone believes she inherited her adoptive great grandmother’s magical powers. Their lives take a dangerous turn when they discover an evil man desperately searching for a hidden magical weapon needs Jasmine to use it to destroy the land’s magic. Realizing he’ll stop at nothing to make her help him, Jasmine and Austin must discover how her adoption unlocks her newly found magical powers or she’ll face a terrible choice: be forced into the man’s evil plot or lose Austin forever.

What made you start to write seriously? 

I am not one of those people who knew I wanted to be a writer as a child. In fact, I didn’t think I had a creative bone in my body until I started writing. I dabbled in writing easy readers when my daughter was three and then dropped it. I decided to read the first Harry Potter book on tape soon before the fourth one came out and it rekindled my love of fantasy. I had an idea about a girl and boy discovering a world through a fence in her backyard. I decided to start my story for fun and became completely hooked on writing.

I love everyone's different beginnings for writing.  How cool that you got hooked like that! Natalie, what stage are you at, currently, in your journey toward publication?  And--how is that going for you?  Has anything surprised you about this stage? 

Finally after seven years, I feel like my manuscript is finished. My query letter is almost done and I’ll soon start querying agents. I’m trying to steel myself for all the “nos.” I’m moving a little slow because it’s more fun to hope and dream before the realities of rejection set in. I’m following the advice to keep writing and am working on the second book in my series.

If you had to pick one favorite blog, what would it be? 

That’s way too hard of a question. I love so many. Here’s a few I really enjoy:

Guide to Literary Agents for agent alerts and interviews.
Literary Rambles for amazing Kidlit agent spotlights with lots of research on agents and other good writing tips.
The Other Side of the Story, Janice Hardy’s blog for amazing posts on the craft of writing.
Market My Words for great marketing advice, interviews and givewaya.
Elana Johnson for great advice, discussions, contests, and giveaways. 

That's a great list of blogs.  Natalie, what are you thinking about blogging right now? 

I haven’t started my blog yet. I have an idea for one. I’m debating whether I can handle it with working. I don’t want to spend all my time blogging and not have enough time to write. Do you know what I mean? I’ll probably decide this summer after things hopefully slow down a tad.

What online resource have you found most helpful? 

It’s definitely blogs. There is an overwhelming amount of helpful information out there.

What has been your biggest trial in writing? 

One of my biggest challenges has been learning to write. I’ve only finished one novel because I had to revise it so many times to get it right. It gets discouraging sometimes to see it take so long and to watch others complete a manuscript so much quicker than me.

The other challenge is squeezing in the time to write and read blogs with working full time at a demanding job, taking care of a sick husband and daughter, and volunteering a lot for the PTO at my daughter’s school. I try to write early in the morning around 6:30 and for part of my lunch hour (I walk for 25 minutes of it) if I’m lucky enough to take one, and on weekends. I’m usually reading blogs after dinner until about 9:00 pm.  

Natalie--it sounds as though you fit a ton into each day. And I can definitely identify with the revision process taking a lot longer than expected. What tricks have you acquired to make you write or create when you don’t feel up to writing? 

I usually read what I’ve written the last few days and revise it to get back in the flow. If I’m really stuck, taking a little time off and reading helps.

Backtracking and revising to get back into the flow--very smart. Tell us about a book that has impacted your writing life. 

Here’s a few: Self-Editing for Fiction Writers by Renni Browne & Dave King, Plot & Structure by James Scott Bell, Creating Characters Kids Will Love by Elaine Marie Alphin, and From the Query to the Call by Elana Johnson. I can’t recommend Elana’s book enough for when you get ready to write your query.

What is your practical goal with your writing?  Do you have a reach-for-the-stars goal that you would like to share? 

Of course I’d love to get published. But I’m trying to define my goals by things I can control. So my main goal is to keep writing and improve my writing skills.

That is such a great idea--to base goals on what we can actually control.  Love that. So far, what has been the best part of your writing experience? 

Discovering the creative part of myself, making writer friends through SCBWI and blogs, and reading blogs.

If you could create the perfect place for you to write in, what would it look like? 

I’d love a room with a beautiful view, a computer, and lots of books.

If you could be a character in a book, and live within their world, what character would you be? 

It would be Hermione Granger. She’s smart, brave, and great with a wand. Oh would life be so much easier with a wand.

I agree--oh to have a wand to wave at the mess right now! What other distractions are in your life? 

Work, family, and volunteering at school.

And, just because I’m curious, coffee or tea? 

It’s definitely coffee. I confess that I’m a total addict. Ever since college, it’s what helps me keep being productive through my long days.

Natalie--thanks for the great interview.  I especially identified with the time you took to polish your book--it can feel like that takes forever. :)  I'm so glad to hear that you are on the verge of querying!  Everyone, please take a moment to leave a comment or question for Natalie in the comment section, she's planning on stopping by to answer them.