Monday, October 31, 2011

NTRWA President Marsha West

Tell Me Your Story Tuesday


North Texas RWA 
             Marsha is a former elementary school administrator who presides over our RWA chapter meetings with grace, poise and, as is essential for our group, a sense of humor.  She joins us on the blog today to talk about parenting and writing. 

     Thanks, for inviting me, Dawn. I decided to start with an issue that’s important to me. Good parenting. However, not so much in the delightful way Regina Richards speaks of it in her Bad Mommies Blog. (You really should check that out; it’s so funny.)
      All of my adult life, I’ve been involved in schools as a secondary teacher, parent, volunteer, school board member (In Texas this is a volunteer, non-partisan elected position.), an elementary school assistant principal, and principal. I’ve seen first-hand what a difference good early parenting makes in a child’s life, for his/her teacher, class and school. The ripples extend far.
     Most of us model what our parents did, be it good or bad. (I’m pretty certain mine didn’t have training.) All parents do the best they can, but sometimes even though we’re trying to help, we hinder. For instance, probably the worst thing we can do for our kids is rescue them. I’m raising my hand as a major offender. If one daughter forgot her lunch, I’d dash down to school with it. If the other daughter waited until the last minute to tell me about a project and needed the poster board, I’d head out to the grocery store for the supplies. I really wanted to be a good mom. Experts tells us rescuing teaches the child they are not capable and can do real harm to their self-esteem.  Rescuing is worse than neglect. In that situation, somehow the kid concludes, "My parents think I can handle this." Talk about counter-intuitive.
      I serve on the Advisory Board of Texas Parents as Teachers, giving them time, advocacy, and money. Your school district or child-care facility may have access to this program. I’d love to tell you more about TPAT and how trained parent educators work with parents of children from birth through four, using an evidence based curriculum. The crucial early years are most important for how successful a child is at school and in life. 
      Education is powerful. 
 We can change anything with the knowledge and the will to do so. 
 (Bolded by Dawn)
That’s my soapbox, and now I’ll answer a few of Dawn’s questions.

  What made you decide to write? What did you do before becoming a writer?
I’ve answered the second question already. But as to the first, when my mother was ill a number of years ago, I buried my worries in romances. (After a hiatus of probably 20 years when I only read educational related material.) Visiting with one of my husband’s friends, I said, “I think I could write one of these if I knew what to write about.” He said, ”Write about the huge scandal in the school district we’ve just been discussing.” (The scandal started after I left the board.) Thus the kernel for my first book was born. 
Tell us about being President of NTRWA. What has that been like? What have you loved? What has been a challenge?
I like to think being president of an organization is one of the things I do well, though not perfectly by any means. I love to see problem solving by group members, and I’ve actually experienced chill bumps when it’s really going well. It’s almost magical. (A little weird, I know.) J The biggest challenge has been my inability to juggle the time commitment to allow for writing. On the other hand (people who know me will tell you, I can almost always come up with an “on the other hand.”), when times got really tough with writing this year, and I gave serious thoughts to quitting, my involvement in NT and friends I’ve met there kept me going.

  Do you have a writing routine? What does it look like? Where do you usually write?
When I was writing new books (I’ve been editing all this year.), after sending my husband off to work, I’d sit in front of the computer in our study and quickly check emails. Then I’d read over whatever I wrote the day before, making some edits, basically getting back into the world. I’d write all day until time to fix supper with breaks to see why the puppies were barking. For approximately three-and-a-half-years, I averaged 20 pages a week, cranking out 2nd-5th books. Our critique group met weekly, and we almost always had our new pages. Knowing the others depended on us kept our rear in the seat and fingers on the keys. (Both of those talented people will be published soon. The first of Jeanne Guzman’s Dragon Hunters series, Dragon Lover comes out momentarily, and Jerrie Alexander’s The Green Eyed Doll makes its appearance in 2012.)

   Do you have any special time management tricks for working in writing time and living a normal life?
The short answer is “Not really.” However, from my theatre background, I’m used to having a date when something has to be ready and backing up from that date to see when I have to begin. That translates to deadlines for contests, and hopefully, someday to sending edits back to an editor. If someone doesn’t give me a deadline, I have to create one, or I don’t get anything done.

 What is the best advice you have received about this journey?
That it is a journey, and there are many paths to publication. The only person who can defeat us is ourselves—if we give up.(Amen!)

 What advice do you wish someone would have given you when you were starting out?
“Don’t query until you’re certain sure the ms is in as perfect a condition as possible.” I queried much too early before I learned basics of the craft and self-editing strategies. “On the other hand,” that allowed me to become an RWA PRO, and I’ve learned a great deal form that group and our local NT PRO loop.

What kind of scenes do you have a hard time writing?
The first one. J Seriously, I have the dickens of the time finding where to start a book. I usually cut 2-3 chapters. Even now, when I get that the story needs to start in the middle of the action, I don’t write it that way.

   Do you ever write material based on your close relationships, such as a best friend, and how do you balance that material with the need to tell an interesting story?
I based the first book more than any other on real people, fictionalized of course. (To my knowledge, sex and murders weren’t connected to the school scandal mentioned in question 1.) In other books, I’ve borrowed characteristics or a name I’ve modified. More than people, I borrow situations and places. Bottom line, it’s fiction. People, places and situations provide the inspiration, and then my imagination takes over.

What do you do when you aren’t writing?
Family—three grands, who I enjoy babysitting, two “puppies” (12 and 13 years old), and wonderful trips with my husband. I take Pilates a couple times a week at my younger daughter’s studio. This year lots of NT related work. Emails and blogs. I feel sorry for authors if not many folks have taken time to respond, so I do. Unfortunately, as you’ve noticed, I’m not brief. I don’t write in sound bites. Need to work on that. LOL

  Tell us a bit about your work in progress.
I’m doing the last edits on my 5th book with Renee, my new in person critique partner, and Denyse, a new on-line CP.
    In Truth Be Told, a 95,000 Single Title Romantic Suspense, Meg, an Atlanta SWAT team member visiting her family in Fort Worth at Christmas wants to stop whoever is blackmailing her father. Meg pursues a resistant Scott, who struggles to accept his new physical limitations, which he received saving the life of Meg’s brother. The disability prevents Scott from returning to the force, and in his mind makes him unacceptable to Meg. In uncovering the pieces of the puzzle, they learn the truth, which threatens to ruin her father’s career as mayor and destroy Meg’s family. She and Scott discover real love will require sacrifices on both their parts.

  What is next for you?
Book 6, a single title romance with no title. The log line: When a member of the board of a non-profit arts agency in Fort Worth turns up dead, a homicide detective looks at everyone involved in the organization, including the Executive Director.
This time last year, I did a lot of planning for this book. With NT’s retreat coming up next weekend, I expect to spend the time writing like a fiend. I’ll continue to take on-line classes and attend conferences/retreats, enter and judge contests, critique, and query. There’s always more to learn.
 How can we find out more about you? Blogs? Facebook? Twitter?
I don’t have my own blog. (That’s probably all I’d ever do if I had one.) I’m super pleased to be able to post on Dawn’s however. 
My web site is 
and I FB a bit as Marsha Riegert West.
Thanks for having me, Dawn. 
 Thank you for stopping by.  It was a pleasure getting to know you better.
I’ve loved your questions. 

   I’m going to throw one back to our readers. What do you wish you’d known before becoming a writer? For those of you who are parents, what’s the best advice you’ve received from anyone on how to be a better parent?

Friday, October 28, 2011

Friday Plot Swap~ Spirit Style

Have a plot? Leave one!

Need a plot ? Take one!

Spirited 13 Haunting Tales 

What other topic would be appropriate for today's plot swap than ghost stories? 
First, I have to admit I'm a big, fat chicken! I don't watch scary movies. I don't read ghost stories and researching for today's post will most likely give me nightmares for days. 
But, here is what I have for you. Hope you enjoy it while I am sleeping with my lights on! 

They see dead people:
Great article~ COMPLETELY freaked me out.
Sarah, just a toddler, refused to come downstairs until "he" left. Looking around, there was no one in the living room but me, but there Sarah sat, on the top of the stairs, peeking down between the banister rails and refusing to come down. The man was bad, she said, and she wouldn't come down until he was gone. After several minutes she told me he had put his jacket on and was leaving. And finally, she came down.

It inspired Stephen King to write The Shining. 
Need I say more?
The Stanley Hotel has many ghosts, but none of them have ever been violent, a rarity in the U.S. haunted house business. Room 481 has the most paranormal activity, as well as the entire fourth floor on which it's located. Children are heard playing in the hall, piano music drifts from a supernatural source, and a strange man has been reported appearing in people's rooms before going into their closets and vanishing. 

The article list several other haunted places. I didn't read all of them because I was getting goose bumps. I knew about the Stanley because one of my dear friends got married there. I attended the wedding, but we stayed at a different hotel!

and, last, I found this:

Ghost Hunting: A Spooky Science

If you needed an new an interesting way for a couple to meet, one of the articles I found about ghost hunting was an advertisement for classes. Now, that would make an interesting start to a relationship!

So, swap with me! What's your favorite ghost story? Are a you a horror fan or a yellow belly like me? 

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Spirited Anthology

Thinking about Thursday

Spirited 13 haunting tales

                             This isn't exactly a book review. Mostly because I'm pretty sure the prerequisite for reviewing a book is that you read it and you see that haunting cover above? I'm not sure I can read it!
                              I may write romantic suspense about creepy stalkers and chill-inducing serial killers, but ghost? Especially spirits of children? Um, no. They freak me out. Like, "can't wash my face because I am scared to close my eyes alone in the bathroom" FREAK me out. 

                              But, that being said, this would be a freak out for a good cause. 
From Amazon:
With this celebration of things that go bump in the night, Spirited authors hope to slay the specter of illiteracy that plague our youth. All proceeds from Spirited will be donated to 826 National, a non-profit organization that offers free after-school tutoring, workshops, and in-school programs because "strong writing skills are fundamental to future success."

So, I'm torn. Fight illiteracy or fight nightmares? 

What about you? Do you like ghost stories? Does your imagination ever run away with you even as an adult? What freaks you out? 

Be sure to come visit tomorrow for the 

I swallowed the heebie-jeebies in my stomach and found some plot-producing stories of the supernatural for you!

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

All things NaNo with Suzan Isik

Tell Me Your Story Tuesday


In preparation for National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo) I have invited Suzan Isik, one of the  NaNoWriMo Municipal Liason for my area, to share some of her wisdom and experience with us.

Let's Get to know Suzan!

First of all, thank you, Suzan, for taking a minute to chat with me.  Tell us a little bit about yourself and your writing.  How long have you been writing? What genre do you write?
No, thank you for inviting me. So, a little about me… I've been writing for many years, since my first Peter Pan fanfic as a child. But I've been doing it professionally and with the intent to publish since 2007, when I joined my first writing community. As for genre, that's a loaded question. I've written every genre except horror, but I've recently found that I'm best at Steampunk, fantasy, and erotic romance.
What has your NaNo experience been like in the past? What are you looking forward to this year?
I did NaNo unofficially for several years before I actually signed up on the website. And then when I did my first official one, in 2009,  where I ventured out of my house to meet others, I made friends with and found Team Awesome, my current writing and critique group. So I got lucky with that. I'm really looking forward to meeting the new Rhinos at the write-ins and having a good time. Last year was all about quantity, but this year, I really would like to stop and say hi to other writers in my area, so I guess this year is the Year of Socialization for me.
So, you are the NaNoWriMo Municipal Liaison for the Dallas/Fort Worth area, what does that entail and how did you decide to take on that role?
I'm actually one of four MLs for the DFW area this year. I usually describe the job as head cheerleader for writers. We organize fundraisers for the region, host write-ins, and maintain a regional calendar so people know what's going on. We serve as volunteer NaNo representatives and handle disputes and try to make sure we do what we can to help participants reach their 50,000 word goal, all while trying to make that 50k mark ourselves.
What are "write-ins"? If one has never been to a write-in, what should they expect? Is there any particular "group writing" etiquette that should be observed? 
Write-ins are the social aspect of NaNo. We pack up our notebooks, our laptops, Alphasmarts and whatever else people write with and go to a local place, like a coffee shop, a restaurant, library, wherever we can find the space and write. We'll have writing games, sprints, and sometimes we'll have prizes for the person who writes the most. It's a lot of fun. As for etiquette, all we ask for is common courtesy. If everyone is writing and being productive word-wise, then be quiet and allow them to do so. I recommend going to at least one write-in during NaNo and talking to other WriMos that are going through the same things, and having the same issues that you are having trying to reach their goals.
What tips do you have for a first time NaNoer?
Find out what is going on in your local region. My region is pretty good about getting write-ins hosted by our WriMos on the calendar pretty fast, and we tend to show up at as many as we can. I haven't met an ML yet that didn't do what they could for their region. Also, stick to a schedule and have a weekly goal. I don't write every day, even during NaNo, but I do have a weekly goal I have to hit or I don't get to take Sunday off. It's important to tell people what you're doing as well, so that they understand when you vanish for hours at a time and appear later, starving and red-eyed.
What tips do you have for a veteran?
Keep at it, plug away, even when you want to quit. I recommend setting a regular schedule, and sitting down with the family and talking to them about expectations for November. You never know. You may find that your family will be your biggest supporter. Even if you're struggling, make sure you take some time off each week. Like I take Sundays off, but only as long as I make my word count during the week. If I don't, I work on Sunday. Make friends with other writers, if you haven't already. Writers, especially ones who know what you're going through, make the best support buddies, and they can help keep you accountable to yourself and your goals.
Have you decided what you are going to write this year?
Not a clue. Okay, I have a few ideas, but I haven't nailed a single idea down yet. I'm a discovery writer, meaning I write without outlines, so I probably won't have it down until a few days before NaNo stars. I'm not worried… much.
What is the significance of the Rhino?
I actually wasn't around when they took on the Rhino mascot, so I'm unsure of the details. What I've been told is that one year, the OLL asked all the regions to pick an animal as their mascot. The Rhino was ours. We even have a stuffed little rhino that comes to all the official events.
Where can we find out more about you?
Man, I am all over the place on Twitter, Facebook, Google Plus. I do maintain a writer-oriented website and blog at As for the others:
·       Twitter: @SuzanIsik
·       Facebook:
·       Google Plus:
NaNoWriMo website: sisik (hopefully, the writing buddies will be back soon.) I'm mostly in the DFW regional forums, but on occasion, I venture out to the main forum as well.
My pen name is Suzan Butler, and she can be found at all the same places under her name. Mostly she's on Twitter and tweets about hockey, food, and naughty stories, and maintains a website at
I also own and operate a new online writing academy at, in which I have several wonderful people teaching different types of classes for writers of all kinds. I'm doing a character workshop in January, and I'm toying with offering a revision class in March to coincide with National Novel Editing Month, which is also sponsored by the Office of Letters and Light, but we'll see.
Thank you, Dawn, for having me visit your blog. It's been so much fun!

So, do you NaNo? If you do, what has your experience been like? If you don't, why not? Just not your thing? Can't imagine writing that many words in 30 days? 

Any other questions for Suzan?  

Friday, October 21, 2011

Friday Plot Swap~ Family Style

Dawn's Plot Swap

Have a plot? Leave one

Need a plot ? Take one 
 If you aren't familiar with the site 
You should be. 

Visit it some time when you need a good laugh and have a few hours to kill. It's been a LONG week and I need to laugh tonight. So, I found these for you. 

What kind of plot can they make? Imagine the conversation leading up to the photo or after the photo. Imagine the photo being left as evidence in a mystery or hanging in someone's living room in a romantic comedy.

Swap with me! What would you make of these? What photos do you have floating around that would spark an interesting plot? Feel free to share a link if you are brave enough to post them on your own blog. 

Start by explaining this one.

What about this one?

I think they are hiding something! (Look in the lower right corner)


Thursday, October 20, 2011

Write What You Know?

Thinking about Thursday
*This blog repeat brought to you by Finals week*

Write what you know? 
You've heard this, right? I have never understood it. 
I write romantic suspense.
Emphasis on  suspense rather than romance, which you already know if you read my previous post.
To date, I have never been stalked by a serial killer, kidnapped,  shot at, or even used a firearm myself. My experience with bullets is limited to taking the picture above. I don't even like scary movies.

So, exactly, how am I suppose to write what I know? I mean, unless someone wants to read about me being viciously attacked by a sink of dirty dishes or the wild car chase to get my daughter to gymnastics. I don't know much!

This lead me to what I am thinking about today. How did you choose your genre? Or did it choose you? 

Mystery and suspense feel natural to me. But, my personality is far from dark and brooding. In everyday conversation, I am good at making people laugh. I struggle with bringing that humor to my stories.

When I was dreaming of being a writer as a child, I wanted to be Judy Blume. Now, I spend everyday in a room thick with teenage angst. But, I have no desire to write YA. I couldn't be surround by it all day then delve deeper in my writing time. 

At some point, I have to step away from what I know and escape into what I write.

So, what about you? Why do write what you write? Did you choose your genre or did it choose you?


Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Say Hello To Barb Han!

Tell Me Your Story Tuesday


Barb writes emotionally gripping Women’s Fiction and Romantic Suspense. She speaks Spanish,and studies French and Mandarin. She loves sports and spends much of her time on or around a basketball court. In her down time she plays video games and loves reading with her children. 
She also has a passion for great cause. 
Let's get to know Barb! 
One of your passions is educating people about dyslexia. Tell us about that.

It's simple. Dyslexia affects my family. Texas Scottish Rite gave us a video, which had been produced by dyslexic children, in which kids talked about feeling stupid because they had a hard time learning to read. Some dyslexics never read. To compensate, they memorize the shapes of words. Imagine that.

The kids talked about the pain they felt at being treated differently by teachers and teased by peers. My junior high son, who is dyslexic, is extraordinarily bright. But, if you graded his intelligence based on his ability to spell, the picture would look different. He couldn't really read until fifth grade. He has an amazing support system through home, school, and friends. As a result, he's doing incredibly well. He's fortunate. Many kids don't have that kind of support. When I heard how many otherwise bright children were suffering poor self esteem and flunking out of school because of this condition, I knew I had to do something. Especially when I learned the kids who succeed, despite this condition, had one person believe in them. Think about that.

If people understand the condition, we can help so many kids reach their potential. Knowledge is a powerful thing.

I can't be that person for everyone, but if I can help turn on the light bulb for a few dozen or a few hundred people, then imagine how many children's lives would change.

I'm incredibly proud to say my son is in the process of creating a charity, The Dyslexia Fund, to help raise awareness and funds to benefit Texas Scottish Rite Hospital.   

    Do you have a writing routine? What does it look like? Where do you usually write?

I write every day, seven days a week. I work as much as I can while my children are in school. After night time routine and showers, I've been known to squeeze in another hour or two. On weekends, I work throughout the day when I'm not attending horseback riding lessons, basketball games, or grocery shopping.

I always chuckle when people ask where I usually write. I write everywhere. In my office. On my laptop. At my local Starbucks (I know, it's cliché, but whatchagonnado?). While waiting for carpool to start. On bleachers during my kids' sporting events (Of course, I always stop to watch when they're up).

I practice my pitches everywhere too (including to my dog who I swear rolls his eyes and walks away when he's heard a pitch for the 30th time). I have to give a shout out to the very gracious mothers who've let me practice my pitch during our daughters' gymnastics classes too. As you can see, no one's safe around me.
   Do you have any special time management tricks for working in writing time and living a normal life?

Normal life? Balance? (insert string of laughter)

Let's see, I have children ranging from college to elementary. We help care for my mother-in-law (who suffers from Alzheimer's).  Oh, and we're a dual career family. Guess you could say we're the meat in the sandwich generation.

I used to feel a lot of stress about being everywhere I needed to be and being everything to everyone. I had to give that up or I was going to go insane. Now, I've accepted the fact that these are the busy years.

Since my children are spread out in age, I know how much I miss the oldest who's in college, so I really take time to enjoy my junior high son and first grade daughter. I love being involved in their activities and volunteer as much as I reasonably can in their school.

Despite my sometimes crazy, hectic schedule, I always make time for the important stuff. I read with my kids. I play video games (great stress reliever!). I'm involved in their lives. We sneak away on as many fun vacations together as we can. We get outside. I play with them at the playground (it's a great way to exercise).  

I get everything done because I've paired my life down to the basics. Family first. Work second. Then everything else. 

I got rid of tasks that didn't support my goal to be a good wife and mother, or advance my career. I don't do housework anymore. I hire out.

I think it's important to talk to your spouse about your career goals. Mine knows exactly what I'm trying to accomplish. He's the biggest supporter of my dream and he's great about pitching in to make sure I have time to get everything done.

I have wonderful, understanding friends who know what I'm trying to accomplish, support me, and understand I may not check in every week. It could be as much as a month or more before we talk, but you can be sure I'll be there in a heartbeat if they need me. It's reciprocal.  

I say no (this is oh-so-tough because I really love to roll up my sleeves and volunteer). I'm getting better with practice.

This is a biggie: I don't bring my cell phone into my office. Interruptions are time killers.

I'm crazy about prioritizing. It really is the best way to cover what you need to in a day instead of letting the day get away from you. I make lists. I write down my daily work goals and check each one off as I accomplish it. I have a whiteboard downstairs in the main traffic area where I list kid activities for the week and a wall of white boards in my office where I post everything from daily goals to accomplishments to storyboards.

I like to work hard, have fun, and I don't take things too seriously. My description on Twitter is this: I write. I cook. Run carpool. And repeat.

   What is the best advice you have received about this journey?

I've learned so much from other successful writers who are gracious enough to share what they've learned. Candy Havens and Tracy Wolff are two of my all-time favorites. They've given so much great advice, I couldn't possibly list everything here. I'll settle for sharing a career-changing moment.

I'm a fast writer because I'm used to working on deadline (I was a journalist in a past life). Early in my career, everyone kept saying, "Slow down. It can take a year or two to write a story." I kept thinking I would die if I had to work that slowly. Then I heard Candy Havens speak at a DARA meeting. She was the first person who said, "Hurry up! And I'll show you how."

A career-defining moment.

She gave me revision tools that worked perfectly with my work style. I used her Revision Hell method on my WIP, submitted my entry to a publisher's contest, and wa-la was contacted by an editor (which began a two-year relationship where she taught me how to write romance).

I listen to Candy Havens speak every chance I get.

    What advice do you wish someone would have given you when you were starting out?

It's a marathon, not a sprint. Learn craft the way you would train—try to learn something new every day. Be dedicated.

Approach your work from the perspective that you've already "made" it. Work like you're the success you know you're going to be.

Keep it fun.  
  Tell us a bit about your work in progress.

This idea came to me a few years ago. The premise is simple: How well do we really know the person we live with?

We like to think we know each other intimately, don't we?

But what if we didn't?

In my story, a woman's husband was killed outside of Central Park in what authorities have told her was an extreme mugging. After two years of mourning, she decides to rejoin the living and reclaim her life. She’ll sell the country house and move into their small place in the city.

But when Taylor cleans out her husband’s NY apartment–a place he kept to be close to his job in the Financial District–she finds a strange bank account. Investigating the rogue account kicks off a chain of events that put both she and her college-aged nephew in danger, and makes her question whether her husband’s death was an accident. But that’s not all, she unearths information that makes her unsure if any part of the life she shared with her husband was real.

Shaken to the core, she leans on her friend, Emma, and becomes friends with Alex’s neighbor, Ian. But Ian doesn’t have the same warm feelings for Emma. In fact, he seems downright suspicious of her. But Taylor thinks he’s pinned the wrong person. It’s Emma’s politically-aspiring husband, Richard, whom Taylor doesn’t trust.

Determined to find the truth, Taylor’s life hangs in the balance as she searches for answers.

   How can we find out more about you? Blogs? Facebook? Twitter?

My Web site:
I Tweet at @BarbHanAuthor

Thank you for sharing your story with us, Barb!  Your story sounds very intriguing! 

So, what else do you want to know about Barb?