Monday, January 30, 2012

The Writer’s Brain

by Kris Kahrs

We here at the Unemployed Writer’s Guild recently moved our offices. During the dusty debacle, we discovered unknown evidence on the inner workings of the writer’s brain. The Guild members were amazed and shocked to learn that we had been sitting on top of major scientific evidence all this time! 

You’ll see from the provided image that the schematic appears to be from the early part of the nineteenth century (er, except for the picture of the computer). Hmmmm…apparently writers have always had some sort of unholy alliance with creatures of the feline persuasion. What is this sinister hold they have over us?

Guild members immediately submitted the amazing find to the Institute of Amazing Finds who had this to say:

“Yeah, right.”

This intrepid writer offered her own brain up for investigative research to the Institute, but a spokesperson politely declined saying they were full up on writers’ brains at this point in time and “why don’t I just go and get a real job, for the love of Mike”?

There you have it folks. The Unemployed Writer’s Guild will continue to keep you updated and informed on all hard hitting news in the area of writing as it happens -- right here on The Pen and Ink Blog.

Monday, January 23, 2012

Author Bill Kirk in Conversation

by Susan Berger

Meet Bill Kirk, author of several picture books including a non-fiction picture book series.  The Sum of Our Parts. These clever, informative books take us on journeys through the human body. Full of side bar factoids, they are written in rhyme. 
Circulation Celebration
MusclesMake Us Move 
All three books are illustrated by Eugene Ruble.
P&I:  Bill, where did you get the knowledge to write these books?
BK: I spent three years in pre-Med, then totally changed direction my senior year after bombing Inorganic Chemistry.
      After college I remained curious about what makes the body tick and during nearly 40 years of running, I have had at least my share of aches, pains and injuries. So, learning how to stay healthy and injury free seemed like a useful survival strategy.
      Part of that learning process included becoming a Certified Massage Therapist nearly 15 years ago. That course of study included a heavy dose of anatomy and physiology. Once I figured out how to pronounce Gastrocnemius and Sternocleidomastoid, pretty much everything else fell right into place.

P&I:  When did you start writing Children’s books?
BK:  Around 1998, when our first grandchild was about three years old.  Before that my professional life included 20 years as an Air Force Intelligence Officer and North Africa Specialist.  I also spent 19 years working for the state of California as a Research Analyst and Staff Services Manager.  I did a lot of bureaucratic writing during those years.
By 2004 or so, I finally had a few things published in children’s magazines.  But it wasn’t until after I retired in 2008 that I felt I finally had sufficient time to devote to writing.  It was then that my luck in the book publishing arena began to turn.

P&I:  Tell us about your journey to publication
BK:    Like most authors, my rejection pile—especially in the early days—was large and growing.  I stopped counting several years ago after 300 rejections, mostly because I was running out of room to keep them all.  Besides at least part of the reason I had kept the rejection letters was to be able to tell myself at least I had received an actual response from an editor or publisher—you know, autographs from the publishing elite—like Simon and Shuster, Harcourt, Fish and Stream and Tattoo Quarterly (OK, I made that up.)
Then I got a referral.  A former member of my critique group told me she had submitted a manuscript to a certain publisher.  Although my friend’s manuscript wasn’t accepted, she remembered some of my rhymes and felt they might fit the publisher’s criteria.  Hey, it was worth a shot.  So, after some thought (and taking a look at the publisher’s website), I pulled out “My Grandma’s Kitchen Rules!” and shipped it off electronically. 

Lynda Burch at Guardian Angel Publishing responded almost immediately saying her reviewers loved it and did I have anything else.   All of a sudden, those 300+ rejections evaporated and I cleared my calendar, anticipating the next incoming call would be from Oprah.  It took over a year to hit the street but I’ll never forget that feeling of let’s call it exuberforia

P&I:  Is your publisher cutting back on publicity, and if so, how are you handling that?
BK:  No.  If anything, new distributors and outlets are being added in the background.  Also, GAP maintains a comprehensive website to showcase the books of all the authors and artists under the GAP publishing umbrella.  That said, any other book-specific publicity (via press releases, promotion and marketing) is largely the responsibility of the authors. 
The Publication journey was hard.  Promotion…? The closest analogy to publication versus promotion I can think of is when I went to Air Force Winter Survival Training in northern Washington state. 
One phase was a 30-hour prisoner of war segment where we were placed in various “torture” boxes and cells, fed rice and fish heads and allowed to fully experience and develop fear of the unknown.  That was the equivalent of the publication journey.  The next day, we were dropped off in the middle of nowhere, waist-deep in snow, for 5-1/2 days of strenuous winter camping and backpacking on an almost non-existent diet of 500 calories per day (i.e., promotion and marketing).  The prisoner of war phase (i.e., the publication journey) suddenly seemed pleasant by comparison.    

P&I:  How do you handle promotion?
BK: I seek out local schools and libraries for distributing and selling my books. I have also designed and maintain my own website and blog and I look for online networking opportunities to keep my“billkirkwrites” brand in the public eye.
I do readings to classes.

I try to become one with the group so the boys and girls know they can ask any question and make any observation.  That generates some excitement during the reading and makes the kids feel part of the experience.  (I would recommend wearing comfortable clothes, preferably something that will let you get right down on the floor with the kids.There’s always more that could be done.  But time is the limiting factor.

P&I:  Do you feel that social media has helped sell any books for you?
BK:  That’s a very good question.  There is some evidence of interest and expressions of support on social media such as Facebook and networks such as LinkedIn, Jacket flap, Authors Den and other such sites.  However, actual sales are difficult to track.  Although some (but not all) sales are tracked on Amazon, there are many sales pathways and distribution databases which are not accessible by authors.  The limited sales data also limit the market analysis that might help authors know where to put their promotional emphasis.  This one is a tough nut to crack.  You just have to do the best you can to get the word out there.  

P&I:  What are you working on right now?
BK:  Mostly I’m working on networking and on updating and revising my website.  Because my blogging has been spotty during the last couple months, I’m devoting a bit more time to writing blog posts.  And I’m already looking forward to National Poetry Month next April when I will once again participate in the Writer’s Digest Poem A Day Challenge.  Anyone who has an interest in or talent for writing poetry may wish to put that on their calendars.  A daily prompt is provided and the challenge is to write a poem each day for 30 days.  At the end of the month, you will have at least a few really good poems and the bones for several more.   
P&I:    Is there something you hope to write or find a home for that you haven’t finished or even started yet? 
BK:    There are a few more books in my anatomical series of rhyming picture books, THE SUM OF OUR PARTS, that are expected to be published over the next couple years or so. The next three are:
A Brainy Refrain. This book will help you learn about the different parts of the brain and some of the nerves that control the various body functions while you are awake or asleep.

"Once Upon An Eyeball"/"How The Nose Knows Roses" The eyes and nose are neighbors. So what better way to learn about both than through two short anatomical rhymes in the same book. Part I covers the eye and Part II is all about the nose. Whichever one you pick, you'll know them both in no time.
"The Skin We're In"    . This book is about  surprising things that our skin does for us.. Get ready to learn the real skinny about skin.

The series will eventually have nine books. Besides those children’s picture books, I’m hoping to publish a collection of my rhymes.  I’m also toying with compiling a book of short humor articles.  Many of them have already appeared on my website where I feature a monthly humor piece.  Life is full of humorous stuff and even some serious stuff that can be looked at in humorous ways—lots of fodder for the writing canon.  Dave Barry, look out!

P&I:    It’s been a pleasure hosting you today, Bill.  Thanks for stopping by.
BK:     You are so welcome.  I appreciate the invitation and I feel honored to be among the many talented authors you have interviewed.  My mom is going to be so proud when I tell her about this….

The Management would like to thank Bill Kirk for this interview.
For more about Bill Kirk visit him at
The Book links in this interview are all the The GAP bookstore. Bill's books are also available on amazon. com here

Thursday, January 19, 2012

What Next?

Victoria Horse Riding
by Hilde Garcia

“Ok, now Mommy’s going to write and you two watch your movie.” I quickly shut the kids’ door and breathe. Finally, after 6 months of going crazy, I get a moment to myself. Of course, there’s always laundry and dishes to do, those are a constant I have found, but there were also practices, lessons to attend, lesson plans to draft, homework to review, chapters to read and yes, tons and tons of emails, to which I have yet to reply.

My life does not support a writing habit. I often find myself writing on a napkin so that an idea won’t escape my head. My forties and sleep deprivation have taken their toll. Truly, on most days, writing only happens in my mind.

A couple of days ago, I watched a video of my twins when they were two. I was mesmerized at what my life was like then. It was calm and quiet, well, as much as it could be with twins. I had time in the afternoon while they napped to organize my scrapbooks, return calls and emails, even attend an audition or two and make dinner. I wore make-up in those days, had date night with my husband, and didn’t look as frazzled as I do today. The old video consisted of my kids eating their snack and me trying to get them to say words like milk, cheese and yogurt for the camera. We didn’t have our dog then, so no extra work in cleaning up spilled garbage cans or chasing him down the street. No, that video was serene and beautiful, worthy of a Norman Rockwell painting.

Sam at Soccer Camp
Those were nice quiet years until the Presidency of my kids’ preschool became my life and the PTA chased me down, before I returned to work as a teacher and had to enroll in a credentialing program- I have more homework than anyone in my household. Today, my active first graders thrive on sports, after school activities, and excel in school. They have busy social calendars with parties and play dates. They even create books of their own. I envy them. I cook and clean, and they write. I’m counting the days when they’re old enough to do many of these chores themselves.

But despite this level of crazy, I finished my YA manuscript and sent it off to an editor back in November. Then I sat and thought, “I guess I’m done writing. What else should I do?”

Daughter/Daddy Day
Maybe I should check into our blog. Maybe I should dust off that old picture book that hasn’t been revised in years and see if now is the right time. Maybe I should write another book. Nah, I don’t have time because of course life takes hold of me. There’s always something that needs doing or someone that needs help or a cat in the tree I have to rescue or a boo boo to heal. And yet, here is some time that has just opened up in my life and I just sit. There’s always an excuse to keep me from writing it seems.

Monday, January 16, 2012


Crazy Hair Day
by Hilde Garcia

I have been busy for months and have not a written. What am I waiting for? An invitation? “Hey lady, I liked your first story, write another!” Or maybe my manuscript will be a one hit wonder- my one true novel- and I will never finish anything else. I think that’s bologna. You want to know the truth? 

I’m scared. 

I’m scared that this is all I’ve got, that I don’t have any other ideas. I thought about writing something about the WW II era, but guess what, everyone’s been there, done a million times over, so what would be special about mine? “Nothing,” I tell myself, so I don’t write. “Let me go and wash some dishes.” 

Hey, what about teens who are falling apart and contemplating suicide? I think. Nah, Jay Asher knocked that one out of the park, so how could I do it better? “Well, let me go and grade 170 school papers instead.” 

“SO, uh, Hilde, you ever plan on writing a blog post again?” My critique group chimes in unison, no surprise there.

“In December, promise. Three posts by the 26th.” Well, my house company didn’t leave all month, the kids had their birthday party, and Hanukah ruled for eight days, and then I got terrible news on the 26th. See, I can’t catch a break it seems. So, no writing.

Happy New Year! Here we are. Finally, this morning, I find at bottom of my desk a piece of paper with five ideas for blog posts. I had written them in November and promised my group I would complete them in December. I really want to sit down and write, but I couldn’t because the kids had to go to the dentist. Yep, I should have taken the kids in October, but remember, my life was crazy, so thank goodness, they had no cavities.

But today is the day. Carpe Diem. I get home, unloaded groceries, feed kids, plop them in front of a movie like everybody else does, and tell them not to talk to me, even if the movie is over. Dinner and bedtime are early today. Group is coming over and I aim to have me a post.

Fear. It kills you cold. I didn’t start another project because I wanted an editor, The Editor, to tell me, “Your novel rocks, it’s amazing, let’s get to work.” If I have time to watch TV, I have time to write. If I have time to go on Facebook, I have time to write. Well, in my defense, I haven’t posted on Facebook since August 2011.

“Mommy, the movie is over,” my daughter says.

“GO play, I’m busy.” I keep typing, ignoring my monkey.

“It’s dark outside,” says my son.

Fielding the Ball
“So stay inside then.” If I don’t look up they will go away. Now back to my blog rant.

And for those of you that know me… I’m not silent, by any measure, but no one has heard from me, not even a peep on my group’s blog. That’s pretty lousy. But seriously, I would read Going Bovine or Flygirl and then think, “Forget it; I have nothing to add that’s better.”

I think a change is in order.

“Mommy, the garage door is open.”

“Not my problem.”

“DO we feed Buddy?”

“YES. You do every day twice a day. I don’t need to be involved in that process. This is MY quiet time. Go entertain yourselves.” I shut the door of my den and sit at the computer. Movies need to be three hours long for the twelve and under crowd.

I dust off some old picture books that have collected cobwebs in my drawer. I decide I’m going to post often, at least once or twice a month, on our blog. I’m not waiting by the phone for The Big Call. I never used to when I was an actor, so why am I waiting now?

Sam Punts
I know, it makes no sense, but now you know why the most talkative person in our group has been the least vocal when it comes to posting on line. You’d think I would have been all over the site chiming in to every conversation.

My advice to myself: Don’t let fear or preconceptions make me feel like I don’t have a new twist on an old tale. I am not the editor (nor agent), someone else is. My job is to write, write it all down, and whatever comes out is good. Who am I to assume it won’t be good? Well, alright, it will be good, once I revise.

My promise to myself: To write every day for thirty minutes. I plan to have a post on our Pen N. InkBlog Facebook site so you all can see if I’m writing. If not, someone kick me, please. I can email you my address or you can poke me on FB, nothing like a virtual slap to get the creative juices going. I’m going to find my quiet thirty minutes every day to write or breathe deeply, which will lead to writing because I’m out of excuses.

Like our Blog T-Shirts say: “Stay the F**k and Write!”

Monday, January 9, 2012

Kathy McCullough In Conversation

Kathy McCullough
by Lupe Fernandez

Kathy McCullough is the author of Don't Expect Magic, a YA novel published by Random House/ Delacorte Press. "It's the story of a teen fairy godmother who discovers that it takes more than magic to make wishes come true," states her website.

Don’t Expect Magic is more than a book. It’s a production: author website, character website, book trailer with original art and music, and a blog, “Real World F.G.s” Did you plan this whole campaign? How much time was involved? 
As a member of the Society for Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators, I’ve had it drilled into me that an author needs to do a lot of marketing on their own for their books. So before I sent Don’t Expect Magic out to agents, I created the Kathy McCullough Books website. (I had to add the “books” because I waited too long to get the domain name for my name, and it had already been taken – so don’t wait!) I did learn that my editor looked to see if I had a website before accepting my manuscript. 

I thought it would be fun to create a website for the character of Delaney Collins as well, as a “something extra.” I initially had a regular blog for Delaney, but it was hard to keep up. I decided to change it to “Real World, F.G.s,” where Delaney instead writes about real people doing good in the world without the benefit of magic. This was more fun and interesting to me, and it seemed potentially more interesting to people visiting the site. 

A book trailer is now pretty much expected, so I knew I would have to do one. I got lucky because I have a friend, Judy Y, who is an artist, and she and her husband Dave volunteered to create the Don’t Expect Magic trailer for me. I lucked out again with the soundtrack, because keyboardist and composer Mike Schmid, whom I’ve never met, got a copy of the book early on through a set of weird circumstances, and after reading it, he was inspired to write a song, called “Magic.”

To answer the last part of your question: It took a lot of time.

What did you major in at Cornell University?
I began studying engineering, but I really wanted to be a screenwriter. There was no real film program at the school then, so I applied to be a College Scholar, where you create your own major. I took the couple of filmmaking and film theory classes that existed, along with a lot of psychology, history, sociology, literature and a couple of the few creative writing classes. As my thesis, I made a short film.

You captured the angst of a disenchanted teen with an estranged father and deceased mother. Since you are in your early twenties, did you draw upon your recent high school experiences?
Alas, the high school experience was not that recent; more like ancient history. Fortunately, I never completely grew up and I remain stuck in adolescence in a lot of ways. I’m moody, insecure, stubborn and often sullen. These traits all fit very nicely into Delaney Collins’ characterization. I didn’t have the experiences she had with her parents, but I know people who did.

Signing at Chevalier's Books
How has your first book promotion, signing experience been?
Rewarding but exhausting. I was thrilled that pretty much every good friend I have in Los Angeles came to my book launch. At the bookstores I visited in other cities, I lucked out in teaming up with other YA authors, whom I met through Elevensies, a LiveJournal blog/networking group for 2011 debut authors. It’s difficult to get teens into bookstores, so having several authors together made the visit more of an event, and we had decent turnouts in every location. 

Don’t Expect Magic ties academic and emotional chemistry: catalyst, reaction, atom manipulation. Did you struggle about how much of a rational veneer to cast over the magic elements?
Oh yes, this is a big struggle for me, because I tend to be overly logical and hate to have any gaps. I resist relying on leaps of faith, even though you have to do some of this in a fantasy. I did brush up on my science by reading Chemistry for Dummies, Physics for Dummies and Trigonometry for Dummies. (True!)

You link the “self-help” genre with the trappings of the fairy tale. Was this to create a contemporary feel to the story?
This wasn’t intentional, but it makes sense when you say it! I wanted to give Hank a profession in which he was doing something fairy godmother-ish: helping people achieve their dreams. However, because he, like Delaney, is not happy about being an “f.g.,” he pursued a career in which he can ideally get people to solve their problems on their own, so they won’t need his magical skills.

In your website FAQ, you mentioned reading manuscripts for Walden Media. Did you read a lot of drek? What’s the worst or most common mistake you found?
I’ve read for many film companies over the years, from Walden Media to Imagine to Miramax, and because I’ve read so many scripts – literally thousands – I’ve seen my share of bad ones. One of the most common problems I find is that the writer has a situation but no story. The script starts with an interesting set-up, and the characters are intriguing, but then nothing happens; there’s no central conflict and nothing to root for. It’s this development in the “second act” of a story that’s the hardest to write, which is why it’s so often missing.

Signing at Chevalier's Books
I’m sure Don’t Expect Magic was adored on first read by your agent and publisher, but perchance, did you ever receive any discouraging comments from other sources about the manuscript?
I did get notes from my agents, which required an initial rewrite, and I then got a lot of notes from my editor, which led to considerable revision (and the book is a lot better for it!) Before I’d even finished the novel, I submitted the first chapter for a consultation at an SCBWI conference and got great, positive feedback, which helped me get the book good enough to land an agent in the first place. I was very lucky in that all of the criticism was constructive and helpful. I never received any discouraging comments.

The Management would like to thank Kathy McCullough for granting this interview. For more on Kathy and Don't Expect Magic go to

Monday, January 2, 2012

Pen and Ink Official New Year's Resolutions


Sue Berger
Everybody makes them. Here are ours:

Sue's Resolutions
1) I resolve to work with orphaned manuscripts (my own.)
2) I will write down all my passwords and put them in a new safe place.
3) I will remember I am enough and that I am capable of good writing.
4) I will give up eating Hilde's cookies. (NOT GONNA HAPPEN!!)
5) I will visit more blogs on a regular basis.

Lupe Fernandez
Lupe’s Resolutions
I Hereby Resolve to:
1) Use adjectives advisedly.
2) Never misplace running through a crowded intersection with a modifier.
3) Learn the difference between a fleeting simile and a smiling like metaphor.
4) Always possess my noun's with my apostrophe's.
5) Can do where I can not with a can opener.

Hilde Garcia
Hilde’s Resolutions
1) I will visit Pen and Ink once a week.
2) I will write a post for our blog every week.
3) I will try to do one and two.
4) I will not give up baking my cookies.
5) I will think of a new idea for a book while my book is being read.

Kris Kahrs
Kris’ Resolutions to be broken, mended, ripped to pieces and carefully pasted back together with tape, spit and good intentions:
1) I resolve to be kind to myself that I did not again find that coffee shop with wi-fi to work in on my lunch hour to finish the blog post that I have promised my co-writers for the 100th time to the nth power.
2) I promise to forgive myself for the failure to only get through 34 of the 79 items on my to-do list, including blog post, revisions, proposals and treatments.
3) I will endeavor to support myself better than Spanx to push forward through the laundry, shopping, day job and find a space to write.
4) I will honor my writing by allocating my too-little resources (time, money, energy) to it and keep the faith by knowing I will find a way to do this.
5) I will realize that being able to put two words together in a dynamic, coherent fashion in any language is a gift, not a burden, and thank (insert deity of choice) daily that I can do this.

Happy New Year, everyone. Remember to love and forgive yourself.