Archive for May, 2009

Writers on the Rise is edited by…

Cindy HudsonCindy Hudson is the author of Book by Book: The Complete Guide to Creating Mother-Daughter Book Clubs (Seal Press 2009). Her website, and its companion blog, feature reading lists, book reviews, author interviews, book giveaways and other book club resources. She lives with her husband and two daughters in Portland, Oregon, where she writes weekly for The Oregonian. Visit her online at and

Check out my recent interview with Cindy on the nonfiction book-writing process over at The Writer Mama Riffs blog.


Christina Katz, Publisher, Editor
& Web Slave

Cindy Hudson, Managing Editor

Wendy Burt

Sage Cohen

Kristin Bair O’Keeffe

Lori Russell

Abigail Green

Laura Bridgwater

Columnist Bio Page

Reasons to Write: Write to Sustain Yourself

Christina Katz

By Christina Katz
Sustenance is an especially good word to describe why I write. I write to sustain myself. I write to nourish myself and others. I write for money, sure. Why shouldn’t I? But I also write to provide for others and to be provided for by my own words.

I’ve heard a lot of writers say, “I write because I can’t not write.” In fact, I’ve heard this line so often, it has become a cliché for me.

I am capable of not writing. Certainly I’ve had periods in my life where I wrote less than I do now. But if I look more closely at my past, I realize that I was writing. I was journaling and eventually journaling led me back to writing for others.

So even when I tend to think I wasn’t writing, I was. I’ve pretty much been writing my entire adult life. I’ve filled notebook after notebook and now I write book after book, article after article, column after column. Sometimes I think I don’t even realize how prolific I am.

Conversely, when I write for others, I tend to journal less. Or at least, I tend to journal less formally and more irregularly. Journaling becomes more like jottings. Just a quick splash on paper to figure out what I’m trying to say. When I’m writing a lot, I lean towards a sketchbook page rather than a lined notebook. Perhaps all my deadline writing causes my mind to crave the blank white space.

As a kid, I filled a manila folder with my accumulated writings. What is it about the slow accumulation of words, then paragraphs, and finally pages that gives sustenance to the kind of person who loves to write?

I relish the alchemy of mind meeting paper. I never tire of it. I delight in the unlimited possibilities. Yet the slow, methodical process of laying down words is grounding, as well. Words are like clay. You can sculpt them into one thing and then smash them back together and start over again. You wouldn’t want to preserve anything but your best work in final form, but you love the grit under your fingernails and the give and take of the words in your hands, you eagerly anticipate the final polished piece.

Doesn’t this really describe more than writing because you can’t not write? To me that expression sounds like a mosquito bite that you can’t not scratch. I believe that writing runs a lot deeper than a response to an external irritation. Perhaps the writer is more like the oyster kneading the piece of sand into something exquisite, or the potter kneading the clay into something more than a pot that merely contains.

So many writers sure seem to have transformed a nervous habit into something more precious. I have a fairly intense personality, so maybe I write to temper my more extreme urges. Maybe I write because each word is like a tiny weight mooring me a little bit more into this world and preventing me from floating away. Maybe every word of mine I see on paper is a tiny acquisition of myself, the act of self-claiming, the declaration of being.

Rather then writing as a raison-d’etre, then, perhaps writing is the affirmation of what already is. A way of saying what is and is not true. Each word a step closer to substance. Each session calling us to become our own disciple. Reminding us to not give ourselves away. But to own it. Every single word. All of it, sustenance.

Writer Mama by Christina KatzGet Known Before the Book Deal by Christina Katz Christina Katz is the author of Get Known Before the Book Deal, Use Your Personal Strengths to Build an Author Platform and Writer Mama, How to Raise a Writing Career Alongside Your Kids (both for Writer’s Digest Books). A platform development coach and consultant, she teaches writing career development, hosts the Northwest Author Series, and is the publisher of several e-zines including Writers on the Rise. Christina blogs at The Writer Mama Riffs and Get Known Before the Book Deal, and speaks at MFA programs, literary events, and conferences around the country.

Writing for Radio: Strike While the Market Is Hot

Laura BridgwaterBy Laura Bridgwater

Despite news stories of doom and gloom in the traditional media, radio is not having a dour hour. A recent Washington Post article reported that National Public Radio has achieved record ratings “at a time when newspapers, magazines and TV news continue to lose readers and viewers.”

If you are a freelance writer interested in writing for radio, strike while the market is hot.

Freelancing for radio is similar to freelancing for print markets. As always, know your audience. You wouldn’t pitch a story idea about motivating your toddler to eat more veggies to Smith & Wesson magazine. Likewise, what works for talk radio won’t work for public radio.

You also wouldn’t sell two competing national magazines the same article, so don’t sell radio stations in the same broadcast area the same script. There’s no reason to burn bridges or airwaves.

When writing a query letter to propose a story, “Dear Editor” is not the appropriate person to address in the salutation, nor is “Dear Program Manager.” To find the appropriate person to address in your query letter to a radio market, read the radio station’s website for contact information, staff bios, and submission guidelines, if available. Often, the news director is a good person to direct your query to. If you are still unsure about where to send or email your query, make a quick phone call to the receptionist.

Everyone’s busy these days and everyone has email overload. If you are querying by email, make your subject line snappy so your email isn’t glossed over. Avoid aggressive spam filters by sending your query and script in the body of the email. Do not use attachments unless the submission guidelines state otherwise. Attachments include text documents, audio files, and photographs.

After a few weeks, if you haven’t heard back about your query, follow up to see if the station received it and if the news director or other appropriate person had a chance to review it.

You can apply most information about freelancing for print markets to freelancing for radio markets. For more advice about the nuts and bolts of freelancing, read Make a Real Living as a Freelance Writer: How to Win Top Writing Assignments by Jenna Glatzer.

We’ll talk about where to find radio markets in next month’s column. If the Washington Post article is accurate, those markets will continue to grow and writers will be in demand. Hopefully, WaPo and its kin will be around to report it.

Laura Bridgwater is a writer, teacher, and radio commentator. To listen to or read a transcript of her commentary, visit KUNC FM 91.5. She can be reached at

Getting Your Poems On The Page: Create Momentum with Lines

Sage Cohen

By Sage Cohen
Lines act as the engine that moves the reader through a poem. How you hinge one line to the next, where you break the line, and the amount of white space you create through line lengths instruct the reader about how fast and bumpy-or smooth and leisurely-the ride of your poem will be.

The choices you make about lines will reflect your own unique sense of rhythm, music, and meaning. While there are no rules about how and where you should break lines, there are a few things you might want to consider.

Think of the line break (the place where the line ends) as a comma-the place where the reader lingers an extra beat. A line break can coincide with the completion of an idea, or it can leave the reader hanging mid-idea, intrigued and wanting more. Each creates a different kind of momentum.

When breaking a line, decide what word you want the reader’s eye to linger on a little longer. Because strong images or language can engage the reader enough to follow to the next line, you might want to end a line with a descriptive word like “atrophy” rather than a modifier such as “the.”

Now let’s look at the shape of the lines themselves. Do you want your poem to feel dense or light, fast-paced or leisurely? Line breaks can contribute to these effects, especially when the shape is paired effectively with meaning. For example:

Tense and tightly
wound, staccato
short lines strung
together without
stanza breaks
feel halting,
like ocean

Whereas a poem whose lines are longer and lingering might suggest
Something a little more spacious, such as a curtain
breathing in and out a window or a leisurely walk
along the lacy froth of foam along the line
of the ocean’s receding memory.

Do you see how the shapes of the stanzas mirror their meaning? Does the first stanza look tense? Does the second stanza feel more languid and slow moving?

Of course, these are only two possible ways to approach the shape of a poem in a world of possibilities. The following exercises can get you started with an exploration of how to make line breaks work best for you.

Your turn!

1.    Write an angry poem. Don’t say anything explicitly angry in the poem. Just try to give the reader an angry, agitated experience through the shape and momentum by using the white space of the poem. Let rage stutter through the length of the lines and the places where you break the lines.

2.    Find a published poem whose line breaks you admire. Write your own poem that imitates the pattern of the line lengths and the types of words at the end of each line. If the first line of the example poem is a complete sentence, yours should be, too. Where a descriptive image continues from one line to the next, yours should do the same.

3.    Revisit a poem you’ve already written. Whatever your previous choices were, do the opposite; break long lines up, and lengthen short lines. Vary the types of language and phrasing that end each line. Then compare the two versions and see which one feels like a better form for the content of the poem.
October 2007 Family Fun Magazine

Sage Cohen is the author of Writing the Life Poetic: An Invitation to Read and Write Poetry, forthcoming from Writer’s Digest Books, and the poetry collection Like the Heart, the World. Her poetry and essays appear in journals and anthologies including Cup of Comfort for Writers, Oregon Literary Review, Greater Good and VoiceCatcher. Sage holds an MA in creative writing from New York University and teaches the email class Poetry for the People.

The Scoop On Writing Profile Articles: The Interview

Lori RussellBy Lori Russell

You’ve queried, researched and prepared. Now it is time to interview the subject of your profile article.

Profile interviews are usually done in person or over the phone. When you set up the appointment, let your subject know the angle of your story and the approximate amount of time you will need.

Because you have prepared in advance, you already have a clear idea of where you want to go and what you need to get from your interview.

Your first question sets the tone for the entire conversation so begin by asking something easy. The point is to get the subject relaxed so he will talk rather than just answer questions. Small talk is not useless. You can use the time to take notes on surroundings, appearance and mannerisms.

Once you get the conversation going, be quiet and listen. This is not the time to talk about you. “Uh-huh” -the universal interviewer response-and its cousin the nod, keep the conversation going. For variation, restate or feed back what your subject has just said.

If your subject is skimming the surface of the topic, pursue the details. Go for breadth and depth by asking open-ended how and why questions. Be friendly but to the point if he veers off track.

I prefer to take notes during an interview rather than using a recording device. I am looking for the most vivid quotes, not every word my subject utters. Taking notes allows me to capture gestures, facial expressions, tone of voice and the relationship of the speaker to the setting that I cannot get from a recording.

Taking notes also allows me to edit while listening. Will I use this quote? Is this information what I’m really after?  As I listen, I begin to shape and select my material even as I formulate my next question. What gaps need to be filled in with answers or anecdotes? What areas have already been covered?

Develop a system of note-taking shortcuts. I put a star next to good material and use brackets when noting my own observations about the surroundings or what the subject is saying.

With practice, you will be able to recognize an opening hook, an intriguing quote or a closing anecdote as soon as it is uttered. Often, the best revelations come at the end of your time with a subject, after the notebook is closed. Keep listening and write them down as soon as you can.

Nearly every interview requires a follow-up call or email to check facts or ask an additional question. In my experience, subjects appreciate when you take the time to get the story right. Make that call or send a quick email. And always remember to say thank you.

Assignment: Set up and conduct an interview with your profile subject. Afterward, reflect on what you did well and what you would like to improve on for the next interview.

Lori Russell has written profiles about people, their passions and their places for more than a decade. Her nonfiction articles have been published online and in magazines and newspapers around the country. She is a contributing editor for Columbia Gorge Magazine, a regular contributor to Ruralite magazine and has co-written the “In the Spotlight’ column for WOTR for the past two years. She is currently enjoying a writing residency teaching memoir writing to high school students through Columbia Gorge Arts in Education, an organization that brings professional writers and artists to the public schools.

Early Fall Classes Begin on August 12th

Last chance for reduced prices when you register for fall classes by June 30th.
New prices effective on July 1st.

Writing and Publishing The Short Stuff
Especially For Moms (But Not Only for Moms!)
With Christina Katz
Class Begins August 12th
Prerequisites: None
Finally, a writing workshop that fits into the busy lives of moms! You will learn how to create short, easy-to-write articles-a skill that will make it easier to move up to longer, more time-consuming articles when you’re ready. Try your pen at tips, fillers, short interviews, list articles, how-tos, and short personal essays-all within six weeks. Now includes markets!
Cost: $199.00.
More/Register at

Platform Building 101: Discover your Specialty
(Formerly “Targeting Your Best Writing Markets”)
With Christina Katz
Class Begins on August 12th
Prerequisites: None
Identifying your writing specialty is one of the trickiest and most necessary steps in launching a writing career today. This class will help you find your best audiences, cultivate your expertise, manage your ideas, develop marketing skills, claim your path, serve editors and become portfolio-minded. You’ll learn how to become the professional you’ve always wanted to be and, most importantly, how to take your writing career more seriously.
Cost: $199.00.
More/Register at

Writing for the Web
With Jennifer Applin
Class Begins August 12th
Prerequisites: None
These days virtually every business and industry needs to have an online presence. With a growing trend in Internet marketing, e-commerce and online publications, the need for creating well-written web content is more important than ever. If you are looking to make a name for yourself, and a living, writing for the web, then this course can help you. Students will learn how to develop a writing style that is suitable for the web; provide a variety of services (online articles, website content, blogging, editing, etc.); establish a fair rate and avoid scams; find paying assignments and secure steady accounts.
Cost: $199.00.
More/Register at

Invest In Your Writing Career Today & Reap Greater Rewards Tomorrow.

The Fiction-Writing Workshop: Creating Three-Dimensional Characters

Kristin Bair O'Keeffe

By Kristin Bair O’Keeffe

You know a well-developed character when you read one, don’t you? It’s the one that you chatter on about to your friends as if she were a living, breathing human being. The one about whom you find yourself saying things like, “Oh my, is she nuts? I can’t believe ______ did that. What’s going to happen to her now?” The one you obsess about at the office, longing for the workday to end so you can curl up on a subway seat and get back to the book. A character like Liesel in Markus Zusak’s The Book Thief, who haunts you so much that in the middle of the night you pull out the book, click on your Itty Bitty Book light, and read until dawn.

How do you create a character that sticks with readers and makes them want to keep coming back for more?

1.    Start with who you know (but good gracious, don’t get stuck there), Lots of writers base characters on people they know, and why not? We’re surrounded by quirky, lovely, interesting people whose personalities and habits are ripe for the picking. So, yes, use the folks in your life to get started on characters, but allow yourself to veer away from the real-life models when it feels right to do so. (For example, if you base a character on Uncle Ted with the kooky hair and the tendency to scratch his chin when he senses trouble, endow your character with those qualities and move on. As your mother would say, one Uncle Ted is enough.)

2.    Wreak havoc and see how your characters react. Yup, havoc. Let it roar. A flood? Great. A job loss? Terrific. The death of a secret lover? Oooh, tantalizing. There’s no better way to find out what your characters are made of than by throwing them into a stressful situation in which something dear is at risk and seeing how they react. (Take a look at Trudy Liang’s responses when the Japanese invade Hong Kong in Janice Y. K. Lee’s The Piano Teacher.)

3.    Create human beings (not robots). I don’t know about you, but all the human beings I know are complicated, emotional, multi-faceted, and somewhat flawed in both charming and not-so-charming ways, and when I read a character in a book that is as complex as one of these living, breathing human beings, I feel deeply connected to the story. David Crouse, author of two short story collections-Copy Cats and The Man Back There-is a master of creating three-dimensional characters so real you feel like you met them at a party last Friday. Check out Anthony in “Kopy Cats” (the title story in Copy Cats); you’ll see what I mean.

With all this information about creating lively characters fresh in your brain, set to work on your own characters. Are they well rounded? Will they make readers feel something? Will they make readers come back for more?

Understanding Personal Essays: A Traveler’s Tales

Abigail Green

By Abigail Green

How could you not be enticed into reading an essay titled “In the Land of the Surfing Hippos” or “Hemorrhoids in Holland”? Of all the genres of essays, travel essays are among my favorite to read. I enjoy reading about places I’ve been or am going, but essays about exotic destinations I’ll never visit are even better. I get to be an armchair tourist for a little while, experiencing a true-life adventure through the writer’s eyes.

Travel essays can range from first-person destination guides to literary non-fiction pieces that never mention a hotel or restaurant. As with any essay, you’ll want to tailor yours to the publication you’re targeting.

I’ve had the most success publishing travel pieces that are a combination of first-person essays and practical information. For instance, I wrote a piece for a newspaper travel section on do-it-yourself “babymoons” for expectant parents after I’d planned one myself. My essay about a trip to Costa Rica, which ran in a business magazine, included a sidebar with travel tips and resources.

No matter what format your travel essay takes, it’s essential to paint a vivid picture for readers by using active, sensory words and descriptions. Here’s an example I use in my class, “Personal Essays That Get Published”:

I could have started my essay with this perfectly acceptable lead:
Much of Costa Rica is covered by dense rainforest. Average rainfall ranges from 75 to 120 inches a year. Thick, towering trees and foliage form canopies high above ground, home to such animals as howler monkeys and sloths. Canopy tours give brave tourists an up-close-and-personal view of Costa Rica’s flora and fauna.

But isn’t the one I actually used so much more descriptive?
The sloth is giving me the eye. From his dry perch beneath a canopy of leaves, he’s taking in the view of a sopping-wet tourist-me-dangling above the Costa Rican wilderness. I am harnessed and hanging from a cable strung through the treetops of the country’s rainforest. I can see what he’s thinking: “There’s a reason we call this a rainforest.”

If you aspire to write travel essays, get your hands on The Best American Travel Writing anthologies. Not only can you study the best writers, but also you’ll get a good idea of where travel essays are published. A recent issue reveals not only the usual suspects like National Geographic, Travel + Leisure, and the New York Times, but also Runner’s World,, and South Florida Sun-Sentinel.

Don’t think your destinations are exotic enough? Remember: “exotic” is subjective. How else do you explain how I once sold a travel essay about visiting Hershey, Pa., the chocolate capital of the U.S., to a newspaper in South Africa?

Sources: “In the Land of the Surfing Hippos,” by Michael Fay. First published in National Geographic, Aug. 2004. “Hemorrhoids in Holland,” by Suzanne Lafetra. Published in Whose Panties Are These? More Misadventures from Funny Women on the Road (Travelers’ Tales, 2004).

Abigail Green has published more than 150 articles and essays in regional and national publications including American Baby, Baltimore Magazine, Bride’s, Cooking Light, and Health. Her work also appears in the new book, “A Cup of Comfort for New Mothers.” (Adams Media, 2009). Abby holds a B.A. from Vassar College and an M.A. in publishing from the University of Baltimore. She writes the “Crib Notes” column for The Writer Mama e-zine and the “Understanding Personal Essays” column for Writers on the Rise. A mother of two boys, she blogs about parenting, publishing and more at

Catch My First Writer’s Digest Webinar

Catch my first Writer’s Digest Webinar!

“Should I Specialize or Generalize?” Webinar
June 16th at 10 a.m. EST
If you want to evaluate your strengths, analyze your skill sets, and answer this question as it pertains to you, this will be a helpful learning experience. I’d say this webinar is about as close as you can get to seeing and hearing me speak at a writer’s conference. And everyone who participates will receive a copy of my recently released book, Get Known Before the Book Deal, Use Your Personal Strengths to Grow an Author Platform.I bet many of you have not done a webinar before but there is really nothing to it. You just show up in front of your computer at the scheduled date and time and watch the images I display on your computer screen while listening to my voice in real time. You can even type in questions for me to answer during the Q&A period.

 More info

Writers on the Rise Columnist News for May 2009

We don’t accept outside advertising at Writer’s on the Rise, so we humbly ask you to support our hard-working columnists. Here’s big news from three of them!

Thirsty by Kristin Bair O'KeeffeKRISTIN BAIR O’KEEFFE has launched a new website and blog. Here’s a sneak peek at her forthcoming novel’s cover.

Kristin Bair O’Keeffe’s debut novel, Thirsty, will be published by Swallow Press in 2009. A family saga that explores domestic abuse, race, class, and Pittsburgh’s mighty steel industry, Thirsty tells the story of Klara Bozic, a Croatian immigrant who seeks the strength-through love and friendship-to leave an abusive husband.

Can Klara rise above her circumstances and lay claim to her own peaceful spot in the world? Look for Thirsty in Fall 2009 to find out!

ABIGAIL GREEN’S essay, “Taking Care,” appears in the new anthology A Cup of Comfort for New Mothers: Stories that celebrate the miracle of life (Adams Media, March 2009). Stay abreast of her success over at Diary of a New Mom.

Book By Book by Cindy HudsonCINDY HUDSON’S Book By Book, The Complete Guide to Creating Mother-Daughter Book Clubs is coming this fall from Seal Press.

I recently interviewed Cindy about her nonfiction book pitching and writing process over at The Writer Mama Riffs blog.

You can read the complete interview here.

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  • This Blog Moving to as of December 30, 2009… December 27, 2009
    We’re moving! Writers on the Rise archives have been here for years. I hope that WordPress will let the archive live on for a good long time. However, it’s time to move on, bittersweet as change may be. Please come and find me at my new digs: And while we’re both thinking of it, […]
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