Calling All Middle Tennessee Writers

I went to see Jeff Herman at a bookstore a few decades ago. He’s the guy who edits Writers’ Market—a huge brick of paper that tells you everything about getting published.

What was the first question someone asked him? “How would I go about getting my *amazing, future bestselling, shoe-in for the Pen Faulkner award* book published?”

Why Jeff didn’t just throw his book at his face, I don’t know. But he did answer with a bit of sarcasm about how he wasn’t here to connect people to agents but for them to buy his book.

I hang with writers (well, not in person because I don’t leave my house) who don’t expect anyone to hand them anything. I hang with ones who do their research and make things happen for themselves. And when writers start putting in the work by researching the industry just as they put it into writing, the connections eventually come.

Saturday, September 10th at MTSU, I’ll be at the 4th annual Middle Tennessee Writers’ Conference.

The great thing about this year’s event is that breakout sessions will be taught by alumni of the program who researched, went to conferences, and pushed through to their goals.

Amber Hart met me for coffee a year ago (Perhaps it was 2 years. Or 5 months. Not leaving the house leaves you with a fluid understanding of time), bereft at how difficult it was to get published. A few weeks after that, she had 5 (FIVE) stories accepted for publication, and has had more accepted recently including an award winning one judged by the Roxane Gay. Amber’s short story collection just came out. Get you one.

Gregory Plemmons is one of my closest friends. While saving lives as a pediatrician, he writes stories that have ended up in Best New American Writers and he won the Barry Hannah Award for Short Fiction. I say he writes them WHILE he saves lives because this is how I picture it in my mind. One of my favorite pieces of his combines his craft with his medical expertise. As he is a doctor who sees himself as a writer, I am a writer who sees herself as a doctor. We’re a match.

Kim Cross Teter is also an alumnus and has a killer Middle Grade novel out. Starting the program with an idea, now she travels to bookstores and schools to do readings. 

Roy Burkhead is the founder of the original MTSU Write program called The Writer’s Loft. This guy tirelessly promotes writing in the Middle Tennessee area, hosting get-togethers, posting about visiting writers, and publishing 2nd and Church.

New writers might look at them and think they are on a level they can’t relate to. Au contraire, mon frere. All the speakers who themselves attend conferences, take notes, put things in action, and then are eager to pass the knowledge on.

I’ll be leading a workshop on publishing. 

I’ll be teaching:

  • Who is looking for articles, essays, novels and short stories
  • Where to find these people and venues
  • What they are looking for, including manuscript formatting and media platforms
  • How to approach agents, magazines, and publishers

Writers will leave with the beginning of a pitch and/or query, a list of websites where they can find interested agents/editors, a list of goals, and an assignment.

I’ll also give out a link where we can meet up online to follow each other’s progress.

Alice Randall is the keynote speaker this year. Kudos to director Dr. Jennifer Kates for organizing this event and finally landing a woman for keynote! 

Information about the speakers and schedule is HERE.

A direct link to registration is HERE.

Buffalo>West Palm Beach>Nashville>Melbourne, Aus>Chiang Mai, Thailand>Greensboro>Jacksonville>Murfreesboro>Franklin

There’s a freaking girl in a Little Mermaid nightie at the coffee shop. Tiny sneakers, carrying– and intermittently dropping–a picture book. Her mom is imgresall braggy with her attitude of being relaxed and happy, nothing like I was when the girls were young. Push it in my face, woman. Oh, and you looked like you took a jog this morning. Gold medal for you—minus the Zika.

My littlest–the one who wore her Little Mermaid nightgown until it looked like seaweed–just walked into her new high school. I’m sitting in a coffee shop surrounded by fog-cloaked hills. The NEW is like whiplash. New town, new apartment, new high school, new college student leaving for UT, new puppy, new husband (har har).

It’s all the fault of this little lady with rheumy eyes who sat and talked with me last year when I was at a speaking engagement. It was the Women’s Club, one of those tea and cookie organizations that started around the Civil War for women to gather and have the vapors. But Girl Power swept over it and now there’s tea, cookies, and empowerment.

Anyhoo, the lady was my escort like Katie Holmes’ Scientology shadower. imgres-3
She got me said cookies and tea and introduced me to other elderly women. Making chit-chat, I asked her how she got involved in the club. I was waiting for her to say something that would “sell” the org to me.

“I’ve always been a joiner. I knew I needed something when my son left for college.”

Shit. I’m not a joiner. I’m a starter. People are actually meeting regularly in groups I started and left. I burn down arts boards. I would shut down United Way if I was a part of it. It’s only been the last few years that I’ve recognized it and tried to sit on my hands when the feeling comes over me to join or start something. I’m very insular regardless of being quite outspoken. I’m the lady hanging out of a 1950’s Brooklyn window yelling at loud kids. I’m warning the Bill and Melinda Gates Organization to watch their backs because I’d love to be part of it (then get frustrated at the red tape, argue with Melinda in the bathroom, then burn down the building).

So change it is. And I love change–inside and outside. I find the challenge comforting, reminding me I’m using my years well.  I don’t want to be someone who has spent 100% of her time thinking and doing for her children, then they leave and she’s lost (much like these 3 ladies next to me at the coffee shop. They are filling their empty lives with gossip, though).

I’m even thinking of getting a new hairstyle—an undercut. It will spell out the words, “Quiet, Please.”



Writing/Pitching Challenge

I’ve always had a problem with consistency, follow-through, staying on the subject. My mind is wandering right now.

The problem is, I really want to follow through.

In my adult life, the times I’ve been most successful is when I’m in a structured environment. College, grad school, conferences—I gleamed. Instructors grew roses just to bring the petals to class and sprinkle them around me.200-2

Then they’d send me home to finish things and instead I’d:

Make jewelryimages

Get a puppy

Then another

Discover social media and make out with it—daily, each minute

Spend hours researching issues and products for NO REASON AT ALL

Last week I started a Pitch Challenge with myself. Learn how to pitch, write them, send them. I sent 4. 1 was accepted. 1 was requested and is being reviewed. 50% success rate for basically what is summed up as follow-through.

In the next few weeks I’m going to be creating a few structures for myself—online and in 3D.

One part of this is an online group with the mission to:

  1. Post personal weekly writing goals (writing, outlining, revising, blogging, pitching, or querying, etc.)
  2. Push my/yourself and others to accomplish them
  3. Post weekly results
  4. Encourage each other–including the posting of tips, resources for each other
  5. Keep what is posted in the group, in the group

What the group would not include:

  • Whining about not writing

    This Ryan Gosling listening to me talk about what my novel is about.
  • General yacking–both writing related or personal life
  • Critiquing of each other’s work (we could ask someone to read a query or pitch, but not the objective of the group)
  • Selling. Anything.
  • Jewelry making, puppy buying, etc.
  • Posting writing memes

Writing is a job. Granted, it is more of a volunteer job. But there are plenty of groups that do a great job of You go, girl-type of accountability or post very useful resources of how and where to publish.

This will be more of a meeting at a corporation where you show up, list your objectives, then get back to the team about the results.

Then there can be clapping and doughnuts.


Let me know if you are interested.



The World is Being a Butt

The world is taking away my funny.

I’m having a hard time posting things that aren’t real. Real stuff like that black man shot by the PoPo this morning in Miami, even though he was holding up his arms. No one’s looking at what happened in Syria this week. Why? Well, they ain’t pretty French people, I guess. There’s never photos of Syrians looking stylish and carrying a baguette. Syria’s PR firm is the WORST! (that was a joke, but all the pretty countries really do have marketing agencies)

I’m trying to avoid posting about this stuff because I assume people know, and they don’t want to see it on their feed. But, in actuality, I KNOW people don’t know. They’re not aware, man, and that kills me. And, yes, Trump has TONS to do with it.

Zuckerberg’s actual closet. Google it.

And I really have no decent tops to wear. I’m like Mark Zuckerberg who wears the same
thing everyday so he doesn’t get decision fatigue except I spend 15 minutes deciding which of my 3 tops have the least amount of holes.

And I don’t know which dog is peeing in the laundry room. Right near the washing machine so it tricks me into thinking the washer leaks.

Current #1 suspect.

And because I’m opening my time up to private writing coaching, I needed to change some of my website and writing Facebook images. There was nothing that fit the stupid aspect ratios except pictures of quill pens or coffee cups sitting on doilies. Close friends know how this destroys my soul.

hands-1373363__180Fortunately pics like this pop up and I can find respite in spending ten minutes thinking, “Look at those hairy arms! Why would someone think this is a good stock photo? You know what people always have hairy arms? Male anesthesiologists. It’s uncanny.”

And they want Hillary shot. I hate Bush and think he should go to jail, but don’t want him shot. Of course, I don’t own guns, so maybe shooting is just not in my wheelhouse of possibilities. I own a lot of miss-matched socks, but I wouldn’t even think of throwing them at him.

And our house needs to sell. Like, it needs to sell. The youngest needs to start school in another county, so we really need things to work out financially. I’ve toyed with saying we are adopting and need to raise money because: 1. People always tell you what great people you are 2. You can make bank. Because we’re moving to the next county, no one would ever know. I could just post Shutterstock images of a baby and photoshop different outfits on him.


I’m struggling. 2016 has been brutal, literally. We can ignore it and skip along, only seeing our own circumstances—and possibly staying sane. Or we (I) can speak up, read, sign petitions, call legislators, and generally be so appalled at the news that we risk it forever changing our DNA .

Thank god all my close friends are part of the latter group. It’s a tougher, and more depressing, road, but it’s a damn virtuous one. And don’t worry, I don’t want to feel better. All that self care seems pretty pretentious right now.

Back to my funny being gone. Watching the show Difficult People has helped. 

Viva la Netflix.



White Girls Don’t Trust the Cops Either

In 1991, I was living in Nashville. Like any other week, I spent my time at my apartment, work, or church. Or the car, driving back and forth from those. On a Sunday night after staying out late with friends from church, I drove down Briley Parkway in Nashville. It was basically deserted, and because I was spooked at being alone on the road, I started speeding. Then the cop lights. I pulled over on the shoulder. The cop was alone, a young guy. I was 23; I’d say he was early 30s. He was friendly. Told me I was speeding. He took my license and told me he’d have to call it in. Then he told me I had to get out of the car. Yeah, I thought that was weird, but…he was a cop.

“It’ll only take a minute. Come on over and sit in my car.”

“I’ll just wait.”

“I’ve got the heat on in my car. It’ll be more comfortable.”

“I’ll just sit in my car.”

“I can’t let you back in your car until I check your ID. Just come on…”

I didn’t have a cell phone or any way to contact anyone. My mind raced through all the issues–nothing will happen. He’s just flirty. What if I don’t go? Would he going to give me a higher ticket? I was broke.

All I knew for sure is that I didn’t like the way he looked. Women understand this safety sense. They also understand the immediate reaction forced into us by society that we’re being ridiculous. Nothing will happen.

Then another cop arrived. He pulled up beside us and the two joked and caught up. The new cop changed the atmosphere immediately. Nothing climactic happened. In fact, it was wonderfully anti-climatic. The newly-arrived cop just sat his car there in the slow lane, looking on, killing time. There were no more invites to get into my cop’s car. In fact, his whole demeanor changed from flirty (slimy) to professional, telling me to wait in my car.

What was happening there? I don’t know, but I know it wasn’t protocol. Nor were the two times I was pulled over when I was out on dates with a college—both times when I was dating a guy who is black. They made him get out of the car, and they asked me if I was there of my own free will.

Screen Shot 2016-07-13 at 10.43.53 AM

I’ve been assisted many times by friendly and professional cops. But, I never remember much about those incidents.

I’ve been impressed with the reactions of the Dallas Chief of Police after the heinous shooting of 5 cops.


And I’ve been thrilled by the actions of the Nashville police since Ferguson re-ignited the need for police reform by decommissioning officers who made terribly racist comments online.


I wish I trusted cops.

I wish they didn’t speed around, making turns without signaling, cutting drivers off—all without their sirens on.

I wish I wasn’t angered when they walk around with a posture that announces they are tough and to be feared.

We were taught to respect teachers, clergy, and cops. Now I tell my girls NEVER to be alone with any of those. And if they are, turn on the phone camera.

Shaming people for feeling this way does nothing. Demanding institutional reform does. What is a better way of showing respect to these professions than putting pressure on them so they transform into something worthy of trust?







Social Anxiety: Building an Online Platform for the Reticent Writer

imgres-4Although many of you know I thought Linkedin was pronounced Link-a-din for quite awhile, I feel I’m settling into online platform-building.

I’ve been pretty reticent to use social media to promote myself. If you follow writers on Twitter, the constant selling of their books is pretty disgusting. And, they’ve shown it doesn’t even work. Yet every agent and publisher emphasizes they’re looking for writers with a platform. How the hell do you walk the line of having people follow you on social media without making yourself puke?

My friend Hannah Harlow is the Assistant Director of Marketing at Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, Trade Publishing. We’ve gone back and forth about this platform thing. Seeing that she works in book publishing and marketing, and my main task for today is to paint the upstairs bathroom, I’ve broken down and listened to her.

“Having a platform proves to publishers that you are committed and you are part of a

Hannah, drinking and tweeting.

community—and that makes their jobs easier. It’s not just about having a fanbase to sell to. It’s about having connections for networking and for spreading the word. It’s about having an audience that has test-driven your writing and given the thumbs up. Publishers
are constantly looking for ways to decrease risk and having a strong platform helps them do that.”

Yet, I couldn’t get over the hump of feeling slimy about selling myself (my soul, too). I needed to find a way to get past that feeling.

Fortunately for me, I like talking. Just randomly. To anyone. I’m basically an old man. So, for the last year or so, I’ve experimented with social media and marketing–except I’ve done it in a way that doesn’t make me feel shitty. By talking. Randomly.

Am I “branding” myself? It doesn’t feel like it. As for consistency–not there yet, but I have found some online tools that make me LOOK like I have that trait.

Then there’s focus. I can say that I am totally focussed (when I take my Ritalin). But what “focus” means in building a platform is targeting in on one thing you can be known for. This was very, very difficult for me. I’m a delicate rose with many petals. I have ideas out the ying yang and I want to implement them all. Perhaps focus is not my issue as much as restraint.

Even if it was muddled, I noticed that my focus was already there–laced throughout my personal Facebook posts and tweets. People read what I post (yes, I can tell how many giphypeople read me even though they don’t publicly acknowledge it) because they are curious about what will come out of my mouth next. So am I, frankly. And that is part of my platform. 

You don’t have to change who you are to have a platform. The first question to ask yourself is to look over what you post about already. Whether you’re snarky, inspirational, into new bands or health recipes, you can wrap that into your platform. (More on that later. This is segment one of a 879 part series.)

I hope to put together a physical workshop on Social Media Platforms soon, as well as something accessible online. 

I’d love if you would answer this poll. Also, any questions about platforms and social media can go in that cute comment box. 

I was a feminist before it was cool, then uncool, then cool, th…

If you didn’t go to a Christian college, you might not know about pop-up Bible studies.

Think about the times you went to hang with your friends and drink or smoke or just shoot the shit, now discard that sinny stuff, hold hands and pray about things. That happened on any given night on the campus of my undergraduate college. 

Cropping out date who is now a minister.

One night, I dragged my roommate to one of them. I was sort-of enthralled with the girl leading it because she was older than me, had great hair, and had a devil-may-care look about her. And we took that devil-may-care stuff seriously, as we knew he did care and was watching our every move–sending in temptation around every corner. Vigilance, girls, vigilance!

This study went like most of the others–sit on the floor in a circle, share a bit, read from the Bible, pray. When women gathered for Bible study it usually focussed on being a godly woman. There are all these workbooks you can do, there’s a whole list of qualities of how we should act in Proverbs 31, and there were even pink Bibles with commentary in them from well-known Christian women like Amy Grant and Billy Graham’s wife. I know because I had one.51cPshGOB5L._SY344_BO1,204,203,200_

We prayed that God would help form us into vessels for him, preparing us for…dammit…our husbands. There it was again. EVERY female Bible study and retreat and seminar linked our faith to being prepared for men. 

“Why don’t we deepen our faith in God just…for us? Just for the sake of it? If a man comes along, great, but if not…”

And this is when all heaven broke loose. In that prayer circle and in my brain. Long story short, my poor roommate had to listen to me rant on our walk back to the dorm.

“That’s it. I’m swearing off men. I can’t keep thinking of them as the goal to my faith. I’m going to take a break. No men. NO MEN.”

And up pulls a bus. Right there on the side of the road. The hazard lights flash on. A guy bounds down the steps. “Hi, ladies. Can you tell us how to get to Juno?”

We were on the intracoastal and Juno is hella far from where this bus was. They’d passed it by an hour or so. 

images-1“We’re the Chippendales and we have a show to get to.”

To which my roommate quickly disappeared into the bus. I followed her in and told the driver directions while a bus, of what looked like gay europeans, flirted their pants off with us.

No one could tell my 19-year-old self that that was a coincidence.