This Week’s SWO Live Chat: Blogs & Blogging

As frequent readers of this blog may know, I am the coordinator of Shenandoah Writers—a “real-life” writing/critique group located in Harrisonburg, Va.—and Shenandoah Writers Online—a writing community open to writers of all genres and levels, currently with upwards of 50 members located all over the U.S. and one in Australia (we’re basically global🙂 ).

This Tuesday, June 29, from 9-10 P.M. EST, I will be hosting our monthly SWO live chat on Shenandoah Writers Online.*  Our chats sometimes run over, if we feel so inclined, but the “official” time for this event is from 9-10 P.M.

This month’s topic: Blogs & Blogging

Come with your questions and/or expertise in this exploding area of social media.

Since last month’s chat, the network seems to have fixed some bugs and added some new features to the chat function—like chatting within the group, conducting private chats between yourself and another member & going “online” and “offline” in terms of chatting).  I’m hoping that means it won’t stick as much as it did last time.

Even if you can only stop by for a few minutes, it’d be good to have you poke your head in and say hello.**

*For more information about SWO, click on “Shenandoah Writers” in “Categories” in the right-hand side bar.

**You must be a member of SWO to participate in the chat.  Not a member yet?  E-mail me or click here to get started.

This Week’s SWO LIVE CHAT & Story Openers

I’m hosting a live chat this Tuesday, May 25, from 9-10 P.M. EST on Shenandoah Writers Online.*

Our chats sometimes run over, if we feel so inclined, but the “official” time for this event is from 9-10 P.M.  Even if you can only stop by for a few minutes, it’d be good to have you poke your head in and say hello.**


We discussed story openers at the last Shenandoah Writers (IRL) meeting, and I’d like to further that conversation with the online group.


It would be great if you brought the opening line or lines of something you’ve written as well as the opening line or lines from one of your favorite books.

I would like to discuss what makes these openers successful (i.e., what hooks the reader, what we learn in the opening, etc.) as well as what we think are the elements of a successful opener.

This will also give participants a chance to workshop their own opening lines/paragraphs with the group and gain some feedback.


Here is one of the openings I’m bringing:

Mr. and Mrs. Dursley, of number four, Privet Drive, were proud to say that they were perfectly normal, thank you very much. They were the last people you’d expect to be involved in anything strange or mysterious, because they just didn’t hold with such nonsense.

What do we learn from this opening?

  • We gain some insight into the characters of the Dursleys:
    • J.K. Rowling (yes, this is the opening line to Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone) straight out tells us they are “normal” and happy to be so.  “Perfectly” in front of “normal” and the “thank you very much” shows that they are a bit snooty—it gives a sense of being uppity (a.k.a. we’re getting voice here).
    • Just from this first line, we learn the Dursleys are the type of people who don’t like their feathers ruffled—they like to maintain decorum.  They feel strange and mysterious things are nonsensical.
  • The first part of the second line (“They were the last people you’d expect to be involved in anything strange or mysterious”) suggests to the reader that, although you wouldn’t expect them to be involved in something like that, they were involved in something like that.  Thus, the juxtaposition of these opposites—normal and strange—hooks the reader.  We want to know what it is they are involved in—and how these uppity people will deal with it/cover it up.

That’s just a taste.  I’ve posted some other novel openers—including my two novel openers—in “Files” on the SWO site, so please feel free to take a look.  If you’re not a member, see below to get started.


What do you think makes a good opening? 

If you can’t make it to the chat but would like to get in on the conversation, please leave your thoughts in the comments of this post.

*For more information about SWO, click on “Shenandoah Writers” in “Categories” in the right-hand side bar.

**You must be a member of SWO to participate in the chat.  Not a member yet?  E-mail me or click here to get started.

SWO Write-In Report

A few people asked how last week’s Shenandoah Writers (IRL) write-in went, so I wanted to share.  I thought it went very well!

Here's a pic of the coffee station--complete with three fancy creamers and E.L. Fudge Stripes. So fun!

All SW(IRL) members attended, and we each got a lot written.  Two members were actually handwriting—one was doing outlining and the other was working on a new short story, I believe.  Another focused on editing her current WIP, and I was, of course, soldiering on with Sheena.

The husband-and-wife duo writing upstairs did a combined 4000 words that day—very impressive—and we all went out for an early dinner to celebrate the beautiful weather and our writing success.🙂

I’ll admit, it took me a while to get into the writing groove—I’m generally a shut-myself-up-in-my-office-and-write-in-complete-silence kind of a writer, but the words began to flow, once I buckled down.  I wrote about 1600 words that day, and once the clock struck five, I was actually sad we had to stop because I was really in “the zone” then!

A good day all around.  I’m sure we’ll do this again, and I suggest you try it with a group as well.  It’s an interesting and very different experience!

A Peek inside My Brain: Proceed with Caution

Ten days ago, I said I was swamped.  Now?  I don’t even have a good word for it.  I have so many things on my mind and on my plate, I feel like I have been in a state of mental paralysis for almost two weeks.  This summer is already bananas.*


SheNoWriMo. I started out with gusto, but my parents’ visit halted my momentum.  As one of my writer friends pointed out, once you get off track with something like that, it tends to snowball.  Argh!

I’m just being too much of a perfectionist and have kind of hit a wall because I don’t want to write words just to write words.  Plus, I am editing as I go (which I’m not supposed to be doing).

My current word count is 14,620—5,380 off my official word count goal—but I think, once I figure out a few plot details that are tripping me up right now, I can chip away at the deficit and still come out on track.  We’ll see.

Cleveland Cavaliers. You might be wondering how I could be so silent about them following their untimely elimination from the second round of the NBA Playoffs and all the hullabaloo surrounding LeBron James in the media.

My answer is simply this: I don’t really want to talk about it.  But, since we’re peeking inside my brain, I’ll admit it: I’m heartbroken.  And I don’t expect anyone not from Cleveland to understand that.  In fact, I feel silly talking about it, knowing how the rest of the country feels about the city I hold so dear, but there it is.

It’s weird because I’ve never really been much of a sports person, to be honest.  I suck at sports—always hated playing sports because I suck at them/never cared enough about them to want to be good.

What makes me so sad/may sound totally loserish is that LBJ inspired an entire city—made believers out of unlikely basketball fans (myself included).  Because of James’s talent and charisma, I came to love the game and the team.

I’m a huge fan of “the underdog,” which Cleveland pretty much always is.  I’ve talked before about how our team never gets any credit for being good.  It just figures that,  just when we started getting *some* credit from members of the national media, it all derailed in less than a week.

Without explanation and without taking ownership of it, LeBron just quit.  I know the loss isn’t 100% on him, but he has been instrumental in every change that team has made and he was supposed to be the superstar.  It just doesn’t make sense that—all of a sudden—he didn’t believe the team was good enough and checked out.  Even more puzzling, he did it when we actually still had a great shot.

So, in a large (and probably loserish) way, it feels like the sudden and unexplained betrayal of a friend.  And that makes me sad.  As does the huge effect this will have on the entire franchise—and the city itself.

And that’s probably why you won’t hear another word about it from me until “King James” makes his decision—if I even decide to comment then.

Operation House Demo. My dad is a retired builder/contractor, and he’s going to be gutting both our master bathroom and laundry room.  This will be done in phases, as we live in Virginia and my parents live in Ohio, so my folks are going to be making a series of visits—for about 3-4 days a month—until the projects are done.  Phase one begins next weekend!

While it’s very exciting, it’s also stressful both in terms of writing and getting work done while they’re here.  And, it’s remodeling—I’ve never done this before!

At least I know we’re in great hands.  It’s always been a dream of mine to have my dad build me a home.  Since we live out of state, this is the next best thing.🙂

Trips. I’m pretty much booked until the beginning of August:

  • Girls’ weekend trip to Asheville, N.C., with a friend of mine who lives in Georgia
  • Sister-in-law’s graduation & senior art show
  • Southeastern Writers Association conference in St. Simons Island, Ga. (+speaking engagement there)
  • Myrtle Beach vacation with my hubs’s family
  • Hubs to Utah/Me to Cleveland
  • Romance Writers of America conference in Orlando, Fla. (+speaking engagement there)


  • Sheena Easton (my WIP)!
  • I’m editing a book!
  • I’m critiquing three manuscripts!
  • Shenandoah Writers & Shenandoah Writers Online!

*Not that I’ve had a relaxing summer in a good many years.  To read about my crazy summer last year, click here, here, here, here, and here.

Shenandoah Writers: May 18 Meeting

Last night, at the May 18 Shenandoah Writers (IRL) meeting, we covered several topics.


  • May 25—9-10P.M. on Shenandoah Writers Online
  • I’m open to topic suggestions.  If you have any, please let me know ASAP.


  • Changes to the critiquing schedule
    • We are going to cover one person’s work at each of the next several meetings, instead of two. This is because we don’t want to short-change the second person being critiqued at a given meeting (by rushing it, etc.)—plus, we don’t want to spend the whole time critiquing, when I’m sure there will be other things to discuss.
  • Page limit for critiques
    • When you’re up for critique, submit the first two chapters, not to exceed 20 pages.  For essays or short stories, just send the whole thing.

Awesome cartoon by Debbie Ridpath Ohi, from

  • How to send
    • Person being critiqued must e-mail the group a copy of his/her critique submission no later than one week before the next meeting (so, you have up to a week to get your crit submission together and then the rest of us have a week to read it/comment)
    • When you send your crit piece, make sure you are sending a .doc file, so we are all able to open it.
    • E-mail being sent to all members with everyone’s email addresses
  • How to critique
    • Dave brought in some awesome handouts of not only constructive ways to critique but also areas in which to critique.  When he sends me the files, I will post them in the forum on the SWO network, so we can all access them.
    • We agreed that all critiquers need to have a hard copy of the critique submission printed out & brought with them to the meeting. This means each person will need to print out his/her own copy prior to coming to the meeting.
    • Ideally, you will have read and commented right on the submission before each meeting.

    • At the meetings, either the author or someone else (I don’t mind doing this for everyone) will read the submission out loud, so the author can hear how it sounds/catch awkward or unwieldy sentences and so everyone can have the piece fresh in his/her mind. This will also enable critiquers to write down more notes as the piece is being read.
    • Each critiquer will discuss positive comments and constructive criticism on how to improve/clarify/etc.
    • At the end of the critique session, each member will hand in his/her hard copy to the author so he/she has something concrete for reference when revising.
  • Openings assignment
    • After we hammered out the details, we spent some time going through various novel openers and what we learned about the book from them.
    • This was a little awkward to do with just three of us, but I think it went OK over all.
    • I will post my handout to SWO, for anyone who wants to take a look.
  • Next meeting
    • The next meeting is June 1 @ Barnes & Noble (7PM)
    • Dave is up for critique
    • I would also like to discuss journalistic writing & freelancing a bit after we critique because I will be putting together my class on that subject for the Southeastern Writers Association at the end of June.
      • Anything you think I should include, I’m all ears.
      • I would also like to know what writers unfamiliar with or new to how to approach journalistic writing & freelancing NEED TO KNOW—so bring any questions you have as well.

Shenandoah Writers Hosting a Write-In Saturday, May 15

For any writers in the Harrisonburg, Va., area who are interested, I am hosting a write-in at my humble abode this Saturday, May 15, from 11 A.M. – 5 P.M.


Because this profession has the propensity to be such a solitary one, I find I sometimes need that extra boost that camaraderie provides (hence Shenandoah Writers, Shenandoah Writers Online, SheNoWriMo, etc.).  While the act of writing is individual, I think it might be neat to feed off the energy of others.  That’s why I think, although I would have done SheNoWriMo myself if I’d had to, I have been staying on top of my word count (for the most part).  It makes one accountable.

It has worked for some of my favorite authors (John Green, Maureen Johnson, E. Lockhart), so perhaps it will work for us as well!
I have never been to a write-in or writers’ retreat before, but I envision this as a way to force oneself to get the writing done.  We all have crazy things going on in our lives, I’m sure, and we don’t always make as much time to write as we intend – so this is kind of an organized way of taking that time and being accountable to others – butt in chair and WRITE, as they say, the whole time.  

We will each be working on our OWN projects.  It will likely be a largely quiet day.


We have plenty of comfortable spaces to set up little “Internet cafes” as well as places to get a little bit of distance—no need for anyone to bring card tables or chairs, like we discussed at the meeting.  As well, we have outlets all over the place as well as two power strips, so we should be set in terms of power, no matter where people set up camp.

In addition, we recently acquired a 30-cup coffee pot, so we will have plenty of fuel to keep us going!


  • Laptops
  • Power cords for your laptops
  • Pens/Notebooks if you think you’ll be writing/outlining by hand
  • Your favorite writing snacks – we intend to do dinner at 5PM with anyone who wants to go, but if you’d like to snack throughout the day, pack yourself a little somethin’ somethin’🙂


Please let me know if you can make it. Even if you’ve never been to a Shenandoah Writers (IRL) meeting, but you’re in the area and interested, we’d love to have you—I just need to be able to plan for it, so it would be nice if you’d let me know.

As well, if you aren’t sure you can commit to the whole time, that’s totally fine.  You can certainly come and go as you please.

Please contact me for directions.


I think it will be a neat experience.  And hey—if it doesn’t work out or we hate it or something, that’s okay, too.  We’ll find out!

If you have any questions between now and Saturday, please feel free to shoot me an e-mail.

Looking forward to it!

Swamped & SheNoWriMo

I know I’ve been a bit quieter than normal the last couple of days, but I’ve been seriously swamped: My parents are visiting the ‘burg—my mom and I got Mothers’ Day pedicures this morning AND we started planning our house renovations with my dad today—I’m editing a manuscript, reading two others, and writing my second . . . so I’ve had to take a bloggity blog break.

Seriously. This is me.


First of all, it’s been going really well.  All the Shenandoah Writers Online members who’ve been participating—and there are several—are kicking major ass.  ::applause::

My “official” word count goal  is 1,000 words/day- but I’m *really* hoping to do 1,500/day, and I have pretty much been sticking to that . . . until this weekend.

I planned to catch up after the ‘rents went to bed last night and before they woke this morning—and while I chipped away with a respectable 516 words last night, Momma Bear and Papa Bear rose pretty much at dawn today, so this is the first writing time I’ve had.

I’m a little disappointed—not that my parents are here—don’t get me wrong!—but I had such great momentum going, and I’m worried I won’t catch up to my 1500-word “unofficial” goal until after they leave.

I did get to talk about the book for about an hour today, though, and I think that helped the wheels turn a bit.  Hopefully, the words will ooze from my fingertips this eve.

All that said, it’s great to visit with them.  My hubs and I don’t get to see either of our folks as much as we want, so I’ve decided to make my peace with the writing and get something down whenever I can.  Just gotta chip away at the deficit, right?  Hopefully, I won’t have too too much to make up the rest of the week.


I am at 11,077 words—1,077 over my “official” goal and 3,923 under my unofficial one . . .

. . . and that’s my cue to get back to work!

Chip, chip, chip - all this chipping is making me hungry!


Bravo to everyone participating in SheNoWriMo.  This has been so great so far, and I promise to catch up and make all y’all proud!  (And no, I don’t normally say “all y’all”!)

*It’s not too late to join the SheNanigans! (<— Yep, I’m a HUGE dork.) Click here for more details about SWO & SheNoWriMo.