Friday, August 31, 2012

Perfect Poem for Write by the Rails

Train Song

I'm sorry, but this is not
Your "father's magic carpet made of steel."
The modern coaches bump and sway
And rattle over renewed railwork
Pulled by diesel electrics of
Brutal power

But in this insular world
That sometimes glides
Sometimes lurches
I think of
Track laid by hand for thousands of miles
Tunnels dug by pick and blasted by black powder
Work done by dispossessed Irish and Chinese

The long train shakes and rattles
And yet
It works, as imperfect and as glorious
As we.

by Dan Verner, WBTR member and owner of Biscuit City

Monday, August 27, 2012

Developing young characters?

Developing young characters can present special challenges, as most of us, by the time we are writing children's books or writing about children, are no longer children.  Author Julia White offers her advice: 

Get to know your character and make him original. According to young-adult author Ellen Wittlinger, "The most important thing about building a character is to start on the inside... and layer on all the different qualities that make the person unique." Try writing out a list of questions and answering them for your character. The list can include basic questions, like age and music tastes, or more complex ones, such as your character's deepest fear. It is crucial to make the character real in your head, so that he will be convincing to a reader.
Local writers Lily and Danny (who requested we publish only their first names) came up with some great questions to help Lily develop main characters for a children's book she is planning.
1. What would this person do if confronted by a bear in the woods?

2. If this person saw or heard about an abandoned house where the lights inexplicably go off and on, what would he or she do?

3. If this person heard about treasure hidden somewhere she is not allowed to go, would she go look for it?

4. If this person had homework to do and her friend wanted to see a movie, what would she do?

5. If there was a meteor shower, would this person want to go see it? Why or why not?

6. Does this person go for walks in the woods? Why or why not?

7. If not, does this person go for walks elsewhere? Why or why not?

8. Does this person have a pet? If so, how does he or she react to it?

9. Would this person go to the store in the rain after dark to get orange juice for his or her sick brother?

10. When this kid misbehaves, what do the parents threaten to take away?

11. Pick five kids’ TV shows. Which show would this child be most likely to watch? 

How would you answer these questions if you were writing a children's book?  Are there other questions you would ask?

For more ideas on developing characters for children's books, see

Bookish Humor

Thanks, Kathy Strauss, for another good one!

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Sheila Lamb to Teach Creative Writing Course

Starting in September, WBTR author member Sheila Lamb will be teaching a 5 week course entitled "Write Now! " at the Center for the Arts.  "Write Now!" is designed for new writers who are looking for a place to begin.   

Let the inspiration flow! We will work on writing fiction and non-fiction prose. This hands-on course will explore elements of the writing craft, including plot development, characters, and setting while developing your voice as a writer. We'll use prompts and free writing exercises designed to get you started on the writing path. Be prepared to share your writing with the class. Bring your notebook and the creativity will emerge!
Dates: Sept. 18 - Oct. 16, 2012
Times: Tues. 7-8:30pm
Location: Center for the Arts at the Candy Factory/Old Town Manassas
More details and registration information can be found at

Sheila's stories have appeared in Monkeybicycle, Steel Toe ReviewSoundzine, Referential Magazine and elsewhere. Her short story Swim was nominated for the Pushcart prize.  

An MFA candidate in fiction at Queens University of Charlotte, Sheila writes across a wide variety of genres, including short fiction, historical fiction and educational curricula. A former history teacher, she has traveled  throughout Ireland and participated in the Achill Archaeological Field School.  

Sheila began teaching at the Center for the Arts at the Candy Factory in Manassas in 2010.  "Writer's Studio," a workshop for critical review and feedback of works-in-progress, will be offered in April.  

Friday, August 17, 2012

Anthology Submission Deadline Approaching Quickly!

August 31 marks the submission deadline for our forthcoming, professional anthology.  Don't miss this opportunity to submit to New Departures. 

We are seeking work that reflects the theme of innovation, which means, in its broadest sense, work that will make readers think in a new way. 

Refer to the link for guidelines.

Monday, August 13, 2012

Three Cheers for the Mighty (Fun) Prompt!

Writing prompts can help get us started or continue writing, and even when they don’t quite work the way we want them to, they can be a lot of fun.  Books and websites abound with good ideas, and we’ve all got our favorites, but I think WbtR would be remiss if we ignored the power of these creative tools.    

There are several ways to utilize prompts, some of which depend on the genre.  This website, for example, has a list of lines that part of a story can be written around.  You can use the line as a launching point, a focal point or just a kick in the butt.  The lines are not especially interesting or unique, but once you get going, you can always edit out the line completely.

It was the first snowfall of the year.
He hadn't seen her since the day they left High School.
The city burned, fire lighting up the night sky.
She studied her face in the mirror.
The smell of freshly-cut grass.
They came back every year to lay flowers at the spot.
This time her boss had gone too far.
Red eyes.
Stars blazed in the night sky.
He woke to birdsong.
'Shh! Hear that?  ' 'I didn't hear anything.'
He'd always hated speaking in public.
She woke, shivering, in the dark of the night.
The garden was overgrown now.
He'd never noticed a door there before.
She'd have to hitch a ride home.
'I told him not to come back, too!'
His feet were already numb. He should have listened.

A variation of this technique is to write a scene based on an already famous line or quote.  The internet is spilling with sites like this one, which can overwhelm you, so if you want to use this method, I suggest opening the webpage and selecting one random quote without even reading the entry.  You can also run your finger down a page and use whatever line your finger stops at.  Remember, though, if you keep the quote in your final version, you will have to deal with copyright law.

Need help creating interesting characters?  One way to get started is to examine an object and turn it into a human being.  For example, I have a white headband on my desk.  If my headband were a person, what would s/he be like?  What physical attributes would s/he possess?  What belief systems would s/he hold?  Write a couple of paragraphs in which your new person introduces him/herself.  Or stick your new person in a sleazy hotel room and watch what s/he does.

If you’re going for something more poetic (or weird), you can turn this technique around by anthropomorphizing the object.  Now my headband might still look like a headband but have blue eyes, long lashes and a serious acne problem.  And it might have a lot to say about me and my messy desk.  Go ahead and try it.  Give objects the power to talk.  What would the things on your desk say about you?

Now let’s hear it.  What are some of your favorite writing prompts?

WbtR member Katherine Mercurio Gotthardt writes fiction, non-fiction and poetry in her office, which doubles as the family room.  When she is not distracted by her cat Fiona who insists on sitting on Katherine's already cluttered desk, or her other cat, Cosmo, who meows for the sake of meowing, Katherine gets a few lines written between trips to let the dogs in and out.

Tuesday, August 7, 2012

Stacia Kelly on "building a better base for authors and readers"

One of the many things I’ve learned through the years is that I like to tweak things, whether it be my writing or my website. As such, I do all the building, maintenance and writing on several sites. Yes, I could be using that time to write, and in many ways I probably should considering the amount of manuscripts on my hard drive waiting for final edits. However, I’ve learned that I like balance, so I have to balance my creative side with my techy side, then all the voices stay sane (keep your snarky comments to yourself on that one LOL).

Last week, I had a great social media meeting with some colleagues. We get together once a month to talk about all things Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest and websites. We’d talk about LinkedIn, but once we each posted our main info up there, it’s pretty much leave it and go. (I might check in on it once in a blue moon, but even that’s rare.) It’s also a great excuse for those of us who work on our own and really only connect via Social Media or instant messenger to get OUT of the house.

One of the recommendations I came home with was to check out HubSpot Marketing Grader. Now, I don’t claim to know a lot about SEO Optimization or really working the site to make it easier/better for readers and authors to find information. I’ve had the blog for so long, I’d have to go actually look up the numbers. I entered in all my info and you know what?

I got a measly 70 out of 100.

That stinks.

Using some of their recommendations, I’m now up to an 83 on the report and steadily climbing. Why is this important? Because it means my site is now getting a broader reach. Which in turn means the more I’m connecting with people and potentially more book sales. And, as both a Publishing House author and an Indie author, this is important for all my work.

As noted, I already fixed a number of things like layering in the SEO stuff, adding int Alt tags to images.

Things I need to do? Well, hell, remember to post more often! Posts go in random cycles for me. Lately, I’ve been so focused on editing Reduce You and Ichi that I haven’t been posting. And, next on my list? I’m in the middle of reviewing JT Bock’s urban fantasy and need to get comments/edits back to her as soon as humanly possible. Plus, I’ve got to make edits from beta readers on Gaian as a number of readers are poking me with sticks asking where the next Goddess is and what’s taking me so long. (Did I tell you how long I sat on edits for Phyxe? And, no I won’t ever do that again.)

I also have to remember to tweet and post to Facebook. Now that I’ve been building my author page on FB, that should be a little easier. Plus, there are ways to automate it all now from the blog post itself. I just need to make sure that scheduling a post ALSO schedules the tweet and the link to FB.

Optimizing and orienting for mobile devices….well, this one has me a little stumped. It looks like I’ll be learning more code to layer in. Once I figure it out, I’ll make sure I post up so it’s easier for others to follow.

Next, it wants me to automate my marketing efforts. I’m not so sure about that one…I hate getting automated responses and tend to delete more of them than I read….and even the ones I delete are ones I signed up for because I wanted to read them. There just isn’t enough time in the day!

All in all, an interesting report. It’s in the beta stages, so somethings don’t quite work correctly yet. I was glad to see a few, quick changes managed to increase the marketability of the site, at least to the online world. Now, to start driving new traffic….maybe I’ll learn even more from the free materials they share?

I’d love to hear if anyone else has been using this tool and if you’ve noticed any increase in visibility, more interaction or less? Since I run things myself, I’d love to know what’s working and what isn’t.

WbtR member Stacia D. Kelly is the urban fantasy author of Phyxe: Goddess of Fire as well as the author of Muse, focus, and the upcoming book, Reduce You. You can find her work at and She lives in Prince William County, VA with her husband, son, some crazy cats and a hyper but loveable Mini Aussie Shepherd.

Saturday, August 4, 2012

Notes from the July 30, 2012 Write by the Rails meeting

Present: Cindy Brookshire, Chip Deyerle, Leigh Giza, Linda Johnston, June Kilpatrick, Nancy Kyme, Claudia LeFeve, Dan Verner

Marketing Workshop:

1. Claudia LeFeve will supply a handout, “Tips on Marketing Your Book,” as a takeaway.

2. Tee Morris has joined the panel & Cindy Brookshire is using an interview with Tee & his wife/writing partner Pip Ballantine to promote the event. Leigh Giza is gathering speaker bios and photos.

3. Location is now Trinity Episcopal Church in Old Town Manassas to allow more time to network and also for sale of books. Panelists with laptops can use the parish hall video screens to display their marketing efforts (websites, book trailers, podcasts, etc.).

4. ANY MEMBER of Write by the Rails will be able to sell books at the event.

“How to Market Your Book”
A panel discussion with local members of Write by the Rails

Saturday, September 8

12:30 pm – 2:00 pm

Trinity Episcopal Church

9325 West Street, Manassas


Carol Covin, Who Gets to Name Grandma

Nancy Kyme, Memory Lake

Tee Morris, Phoenix Rising, Morevi and The Case of the Singing Sword

Ross Murphy, You Will Never Dance Alone, Dancing with the Devil

Dan Verner, Biscuit City blogger, master of ceremonies

Leigh Giza, Found and Lost, workshop coordinator

First in a Series of Writing and Publishing Workshops

Free to the public

Books by local authors will be available for purchase

For more information:


Anthology: Submission deadline is August 31. Panel will select contents. Final product expected to be 250 pages or 55,000 words. Claudia LeFeve will format it.

Nonprofit status: We’re still going in circles. To push forward:

1. Members are asked to get your changes to the draft bylaws to Chip Deyerle.

2. Waiting to hear if Pete Pazmino has been contacted by Virginia Writers Club Executive Director Linda Layne, head of VWC’s Chapter Development Program. The question is, if we become a chapter, do we fall under their 501c3, or do we have to, as a chapter, get our own. Linda Johnston and I have both been trying to get that answer as well.

Friday, August 3, 2012

Dan Verner is Writing a Novel!

From On Wings of the Morning
a novel in progress by WbtR member Dan Verner

Otto Kerchner, a descendant of German immigrants growing up in Wisconsin in the 1920’s and 30’s, is taken with flying. He dreams of little else, and manages to secure his private license when he is 16. When World War II breaks out, he signs up for the Army Air Force and becomes a B-17 pilot. Assigned to the Eighth Air Force based in England, he participates in 22 missions over Europe. On the 23rd mission, his aircraft is torn apart by flak and fighters. Otto must keep the ship up to allow his crew to bail out safely. Then he tries to bring it in. (His British Red Cross girlfriend is Alice; Mata is his sister. The “Jug” is an nickname for a P-47 fighter aircraft which escorted heavy bombers on their missions.)

Chapter 25

Falling Fast—1227 hours Zulu

The Fort rattled and bucked as it came over turbulence created by the water of the Channel. Otto kept them at a thousand feet, but he was losing altitude faster than he liked. He punched the bailout horn and felt the aircraft lurch up slightly as each man jumped out the side hatch. He counted, one, two, three, four, five, six, seven, eight, nine…where was ten? Then he remembered that Schmidt and Donovan went out together. A good crew.

His thoughts flickered briefly to Alice and to his mother and to Mata. He wrenched them back to the task at hand. Concentrate, Kerchner, concentrate. He had 150 miles to go to the airfield but he didn’t think he could hold it up that long. Croyden looked like a good alternative, about half the distance. Yes, that would be the ticket. Straight in approach.

He had plenty of fuel since only two engines were operating, although they were at full power. He prayed that they would hold up, scanning constantly for potential landing sites. His altitude crept down gradually. He had to be trailing smoke, and surely the Jug in formation with him had radioed ahead about his predicament.

The crew had by now would have been recovered from the Channel, provided they landed all right. He would find out later. The CP did an amazing job of plucking fliers out of the water.

He saw the airfield from about thirty miles out. Five hundred feet. Otto kept his hands and feet busy, right at stall speed, which was about all he could manage. He didn’t have the bomb load, but he had more fuel than he wanted.

Four hundred feet. He was about twenty miles out. Too soon to shoot the flare that would indicate to the ground that his radio was out and he was coming straight in on an emergency.

Three hundred feet. He had the controls wrenched all the way over to starboard and the big aircraft still wanted to pull to port. He was practically standing on full right rudder to keep what marginal control he had. He pulled the throttles back and the Boeing started to nose up into a stall. He rammed the levers back to full power. If the engines quit entirely it wouldn’t be a pretty picture.

Farms slid by, with farmers harvesting what looked like wheat or hay. They used horses. Otto idly wondered what his mother and Mata were doing at this hour. It would be about 8 AM in Wisconsin, and they would have been up for hours. Their hired man helped a great deal, but he knew they worked hard as well.

Two hundred feet. He had the field in sight, straight ahead. He dropped the gear, hoping that the hydraulics weren’t shot out. The light for the port gear came on. Ah, crap. He’d be better off having gear up and making a belly landing. He toggled the gear switch. The light stayed on. Stuck. Shit.

One hundred feet. Time for the flare. As if they couldn’t tell he was in trouble by looking at what must have been a smoking, tattered wreck.

Gott in Himmel, help me now, Otto breathed, opening the side window and sticking the flare gun out into the slipstream. He was at 100 knots. Needed to slow down to land. He popped the flare as the ’17 slid off to the left. Otto dropped the flare gun outside the window and slammed his hand on the column. The aircraft wallowed and came back to a mushy, porpoising path. He pulled the flaps lever, to no effect.

The ground rushed up to meet him. He held the plane off the ground as long as he could to bleed off speed, and felt the port gear touch. The aircraft bounced, once, twice and then he was down, jouncing along on one wheel, trying to hold the wings level as long as he could. He could see an ambulance and a fire truck rolling toward him. He chopped the throttles and braced himself.

The starboard wing quit flying and fell to the grass. The Fort wheeled around the pivot point created by the stub dug into the dirt. The field whirled dizzily by. Otto thought of the ride at the county fair which twirled riders around and around. The aircraft described two ground loops. Right before it came to rest, Otto heard the sound of metal tearing. It was probably the tail breaking off. He hit his head on the instrument panel.

Half conscious, he heard an explosion from behind him and then smelled smoke. He was on fire, but he couldn’t stir himself to move. He needed to undo his harness and get out, but he was sleepy…so sleepy…

The flames swept up around him. Otto closed his eyes. He did not feel the heat. He felt nothing.

Wednesday, August 1, 2012

Manassas Museum Presents Sesquicentennial Talks

The Manassas Museum
9101 Prince William Street
Manassas, Virginia 20110

News Release

Date:   July 30, 2012
            Lisa Sievel-Otten

Sesquicentennial Talks Illuminate Civil War
Lectures Are Part of Manassas Commemoration

Civil War authors and experts will illuminate our nation’s pivotal history during talks that are part of the Manassas Sesquicentennial commemoration on Saturday, August 25.

Renowned experts John Hennessy, Glenn LeBoeuf and ZSun-nee Matema will present free talks at The Center for the Arts at the Candy Factory, 9419 Battle Street in Manassas.

Glenn LeBoeuf will speak at 10 a.m. and again at 1 p.m. LeBoeuf has lectured extensively on President Abraham and Mary Lincoln, and diverse Civil War topics. He will speak about the rivalry between General Ulysses Grant and General Robert E. Lee at 10 a.m. and about President Lincoln at 1 p.m.

LeBoeuf, a life-long New Jersey resident, taught Social Studies, was active in Civil War Reenacting, and was one of the Reenactor Coordinators for the largest Civil War reenactment ever held, with over 23,000 reenactors near Gettysburg in 1998. Glenn participated in films such as Glory (1990) and Gettysburg (1993) and is a member of the Abraham Lincoln Association. For over 25 years, Glenn has given talks for historical societies, R.O.T.C. classes, adult schools, colleges, library associations and civic groups. He recently spoke at the prestigious Civil War Institute at Gettysburg College.

Matema, an acclaimed living historian and actress, will present a program on Mary Todd Lincoln’s seamstress Elizabeth Keckley. The program, Madame Elizabeth Gives Lessons on Practical Matters, will explore Keckley’s rise from slavery to the White House. Matema’s talk will begin at 11 a.m.

Born a slave in Virginia, Elizabeth Keckley (1818–1907) purchased her freedom in 1855 and supported herself as a seamstress, first in St. Louis and then in Washington, D.C. Her skills brought her to the attention of Mary Todd Lincoln, who hired Keckley in 1861. She became Mary Lincoln's favorite dressmaker and later her personal companion, confidante, and traveling companion. It was a remarkable friendship between two very different women, but it ended with the publication of Keckley's memoir in 1868, when Mrs. Lincoln felt betrayed by the woman she described as “my best living friend.”

Matema has appeared in productions with several Washington-area theater companies including Arena Stage, and has written and produced three plays. She has also received cable directing and writing awards, and interpreted African-American historical figures at sites such as Mount Vernon.

John J. Hennessy, author of the nationally acclaimed Return to Bull Run, The Campaign and Battle of Second Manassas, will speak at 2 p.m. His talk is titled Bacchanalia, Battle, and Escape: Jackson at Second Manassas.

Hennessy, a former historian at Manassas National Battlefield Park, and now the Chief Historian (Chief of Interpretation) at Fredericksburg and Spotsylvania National Military Park, has written extensively on Civil War battles. Return to Bull Run, The Campaign and Battle of Second Manassas, his best known work, was named a Civil War 100 classic book by Civil War magazine.

Hennessy’s exhaustive six year study of the battle, and his resulting book, filled a scholarly gap in Civil War literature. Much has been written about the 1861 First Battle of Manassas/Bull Run, and about the later battle at Antietam, but the August, 1862 Second Battle of Manassas/Bull Run was largely overlooked.

The author made an effort not only to describe military strategies, but to include the stories of individual soldiers in his narrative, winning the praise of several prominent Civil War historians.

James M. McPherson, one of the country’s most respected historians, says of the book: “This thorough, elegant study eclipses all other accounts of the Second Battle of Manassas. It not only recounts what happened in this battle and why, but also places it in the larger context of a war that was changing radically in character during that fateful summer of 1862. Anyone who wishes to understand the first Confederate decision to invade the north must read this book.”

Also on Saturday, August 25, authors Paula Kirby and William S. Connery will talk about their recent books while appearing at an author’s tent in The Manassas Museum courtyard. The author’s tent is open free. The Manassas Museum is also open free from 9 a.m. till 8 p.m. August 24-26.

Kirby’s book, A Yankee Roams at Dusk, focuses on paranormal activities connected with the Civil War. The spirit or ghost that is central to the story is a member of the 5th New York Zouave Regiment and was sighted on the Second Manassas (Bull Run) Battlefield.

William S. Connery’s book, The Civil War In Northern Virginia, explores the impact of war on the northern Virginia region. In the mid-nineteenth century, Connery notes, Arlington was an eleven-hundred-acre estate managed by U.S. Colonel and Mrs. Robert E. Lee; and Fairfax, Prince William and Loudoun Counties consisted of rolling farmland and tiny villages. The “invasion” of Northern Virginia on May 24, 1861, created a no-man's land between Yankee and Rebel armies.

Both authors will have their books available for purchase at Echoes, The Manassas Museum Store.

The lectures are part of an extensive three day series of events in Manassas commemorating the Sesquicentennial of the Second Battle of Manassas or Bull Run.

Events will be staged at the 1825 Liberia Plantation, which will be the military headquarters of Union General Irvin McDowell. Tours, historical interpretations, military reenactments, and children’s activities will be offered at the house at 8601 Portner Avenue in Manassas from 9 a.m. till 8 p.m. August 24 and 25, and from 9 a.m. till 4 p.m. on August 26.

In Old Town Manassas, the HistoryMobile traveling exhibit will be open free, the Manassas Museum will host special exhibits, the museum lawn will host reenactors, authors and an interfaith service, The Harris Pavilion and Battle Street LIVE! will host special musical performances, Baldwin School will host Civil War baseball on August 25, Twilight cemetery tours will be offered at the Manassas City Cemetery August 24 and 25, and the streets of Old Town will host a reenactor parade August 25. The commemoration will conclude with events that remember the burning of rail cars at Manassas Junction just before the Battle of Second Manassas/Bull Run. A barbecue and bourbon tasting, bonfire, and presentation by the National Park Service will begin at 4 p.m. on August 26.