Welcome!

Whether you’re already published or just starting down the winding road of writing, I hope you’ll find something useful at this site. Specializing in novels and memoirs, I work with writers of children’s literature, adult literary and genre fiction, and offer a range of services to assist writers from story development to putting the final touches on a manuscript. Be sure to check out the Lectures and Workshops widget to the right to see what upcoming classes I’ll be offering.

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A Conversation on Choosing Your Point of View

In September, I had the delightful opportunity to speak on Conversations Around the Writer’s Table, a call-in program hosted by fellow editor, Gina Edwards, to lend advice to aspiring writers. We had discussed the basics of POV for half an hour and then spent the remaining time answering questions from callers about their POV choices. If you missed this program, here’s the replay.

I will be back on Conversations Around the Writer’s Table in March, when we’ll take a look at more complex forms of POV, their advantages, and their specific challenges. Hope to hear from you then! In the meantime, if you want to learn more, check out: Rivet Your Readers with Deep Point of View by Jill Elizabeth Nelson and Characters and Viewpoint by Orson Scott Card.

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Teaching Through All Obstacles

OLLI writing class moves outside during false fire alarm
Photo Credit: Luis Rojas

Ask readers to list the top five reasons that will cause them to walk away from a book, and one of them is guaranteed to be a protagonist they can’t get behind, often one who doesn’t fight for his goal. This is because we all want a hero who fights with all his heart for what he desires, who doesn’t give up in the face of obstacles where others would.

One day last fall as I was teaching a writing class for the Osher Lifelong Learning Institute (OLLI) at FSU, the fire alarm went off. I glanced at the clock and knew that with only 40 minutes remaining, we would miss the rest of the lesson by the time the building was cleared and we were allowed back in. The students sighed and grabbed their stuff, but as we headed out, a woman said, “Couldn’t you just bring your notes outside?”

So, five minutes later, amid the fire truck’s running engines and the wail of the building’s alarm, we continued learning about narrators and point of view, with students leaning forward to hear and balancing notebooks on their knees. Not a single person left.

I was so inspired. Each of those writers was a protagonist worth cheering for.

You can also be the hero in your journey with writing, the author who works through all obstacles. Start today by turning off the phone and ignoring email during your writing time. Maybe tomorrow, you’ll be able to ignore the wobble in the table or block out the neighbor’s barking dog.

If you would like to learn more about writing to help you overcome other obstacles, and you live in the Tallahassee area and are above the age of 50, I will be teaching two six-week classes this spring for OLLI.

  • Introduction to Writing Fiction and Memoir – a class for people who are new to writing
  • Extending Your Skills – a continuation of the Developing Your Skills class I have taught the last two semesters

Learn more about these and other OLLI classes here.

And just remember, if the fire alarm goes off, take your notebook with you.

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Of commas and friendly debates

A few days after having a debate with a friend about the proper uses of commas (in particular, the Oxford comma), I came across this comic from one of my favorite cartoonists and illustrators, Debbie Ridpath Ohi, which reminded me of the argument. I won’t tell which character was me…

Comma Shock by Debbie Ridpath Ohi

Check out more great comics on writers and writing from Debbie here.

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I am living my childhood dream

When I was a kid I alternately told my friends I wanted to be a detective or a scientist when I grew up, or possibly a combination of the two. But what I really, really wanted (and revealed to my mom who told me to keep working on my math) was to get paid to read books. Whether it was a book hidden under the table at dinner or under the covers with a flashlight, I was always stealing extra moments to dive into the world of a story. Still when high school rolled around, I focused on science and years later had finished my masters in physics. But those cherished things which lay dormant, sleeping but not forgotten, in our minds have a way of creeping back up.

Flash forward through eight years of working in a science museum and then another seven writing and studying the craft of writing to just last week. When I’m talking with my daughter about what she wants to do when she grows up, but all she wants to do in the moment is read. And that’s when I have my epiphany:

I am living my childhood dream.

Thank you to all the wonderful authors who are part of my dream.

 

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Revision Workshop with Tallahassee Authors Network

Thanks to the wonderful writers at Tallahassee Authors Network (TAN) for inviting me to present a workshop on writing and revision. The focus of the workshop was the importance of revision and how to revise more effectively, with attendees learning about the various

steps of revision and then having the chance to complete exercises on their own works in progress. I had a great time, met some truly sophisticated and dedicated writers, and am looking forward to seeing their books in the future.

If you are interested in learning more about the revision workshop or other workshops that can be brought to your writers group or association, please contact me. If you would like to learn more about TAN, you can visit their website here.

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Free Revision Workshop this Saturday

I will be giving a free revision workshop this Saturday at the monthly meeting of the Tallahassee Authors Network (TAN). TAN is open to published authors and unpublished writers alike. To learn more about TAN while honing your revision skills, come down to the main branch of the Leon County Library this Saturday, Jan. 12th, from 12-3pm. If you come, be sure to bring a couple chapters from a current work to use during exercises. If you don’t have a current work, then feel free to bring a book you feel is well-written (to study what was done right) or one that is poorly written (to study what wasn’t). You can learn more about TAN – or better yet “like” it – by visiting their facebook page.

Can’t make the event but still want to learn more? Sign up for my newsletter and I’ll send you notes from my talk as well as information about any upcoming talks I am scheduling.

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New Story Creation Workshops Underway!

Do you have an idea for a story but can’t figure out how to make it into a novel? Have you already written a novel but there’s something lacking in the plot? Maybe you have the full outline for a story, but just can’t push through to the end?

My upcoming story creation workshops might be just what you need.

Designed as an ongoing series, participants in the Tallahassee area will meet with a group twice a month learning how to use the storyboard technique embraced by screenwriters to help you flesh out a working structure for your story.

At the initial meeting, writers will receive their storyboard materials and learn the basics. Then twice a month we’ll meet for two hours so participants can go over what they have plotted so far, ask questions and get guidance about how to proceed. The benefits of this are two-fold:

1)      You get ongoing guidance with your story

2)      The twice-a-month deadline helps you stay committed to your writing

The cost for each 2 hour session is $15, plus a one-time $12 supply fee for the backboard and materials needed to make our storyboards. If you are interested in signing up or learning more, please contact me.

 

 

 

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Interview with Debut Author Laura Lascarso

Laura Lascarso’s debut novel, COUNTING BACKWARDS (Atheneum, ISBN: 1442406909), hit bookshelves last week.The novel tells the story of 16-year-old Taylor Truwill. Strong-willed and troubled, she wants only one thing: an escape from her life. But when she’s caught escaping in the car she’s stolen from her alcoholic mother’s latest date, she ends up losing all freedom instead. Locked inside the fences of Sunny Meadows, a psychiatric correctional facility, Taylor immediately begins to plan her escape. But a quiet, handsome boy, her only girlfriend – a former child star and arsonist, and her persevering therapist all stand in her way. Will Taylor ever get past the fences? And what road is it that she needs to take to truly find freedom?

I got the chance to co-interview Laura with my 12-year-old daughter Hanna back before the book was released. Read on to learn about the author of this meaningful and engaging story and why she wrote this book.

Heather: What made you want to write this story (Counting Backwards)?

Laura: Because I think there are a lot of teens who feel trapped by their life circumstances. Counting Backwards is a story where the protagonist (Taylor) feels as if she has very little control over her surroundings, her peers, even her own body, and I wanted to really press her with the setting of Sunny Meadows, to explore the idea of rebelling against the institution while also battling her own mind and impulses.

Hanna: Did you ever get steal a car or get yourself landed in a juvenile detention center?

Laura: No, but alcoholism and depression are prevalent in my family and I’ve seen the ways in which substance abuse can tear families apart.

Heather: How do you come up with your characters? Do you base them on people you know?

Laura: I tend to base my characters on people I know or have known. Margo is a composite of two of my BFFs from high school, so you can imagine how much fun we have when we get together. Taylor is more like me, when I’m feeling threatened or angry. I too have to fight the urge to flee when things get hard or personal. AJ is her counterpoint, the one with staying power. I’m lucky to have someone like him in my life.

Hanna: How old were you when you decided you wanted to become a writer? How long did it take for you to become published?

Laura: I was in third grade when I wrote my first book entitled, Marty, the Macaw Who Couldn’t Sing. It was a bittersweet tale with a hopeful ending, similar to Counting Backwards. That was when I had the first stirrings of a writer’s high. Several book-length manuscripts and many, many rejections later, I became published in traditional terms this year, 2012, at the age of 32.

But the idea of what it means to be published is different for everyone. There are so many ways to get your voice out there without going through the traditional media channels. Blogs, for instance, are a great way to develop a following of friends and fans and test out your writers’ voice. You can write anything and no one can stop you! How liberating is that.

Heather: Speaking of getting published, you must be pretty excited about your novel Counting Backwards coming out in August with Athenuem (Simon and Schuster). Do you have any book signings planned where your readers can you meet you in person?

Laura: I’m still scheduling dates for book signings, but check out my blog, www.lauralascarso.com for the latest about news and events. You’ll also see my book trailer—acted, directed and edited by teens. It’s a tad bit awesome.

Hanna: I think that’s totally Awesome!! Especially because it’s directed by teens.

Heather: Thanks for taking the time to “talk” with us today. Good luck with your novel and we can’t wait to read the next one!

Check out the COUNTING BACKWARDS book trailer here!

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Need inspiration? Just look to teen writers.

Last Wednesday I had the pleasure to lead a writing exercise at the Leon County library with a group of teens from the Palmer Monroe Teen Center. (A big thank you to Deirdre Tolia of Youth Services and the lovely ladies from the Museum of Florida History for putting together a fantastic program for the youth and for giving me the opportunity to work with them.) In conjunction with the library’s current teen theme, the exercise was to write a ghost story. And to connect to their visit to the Museum of Florida History, they were to use an artifact from their visit in their stories.

As we got started I worried, What if they aren’t as excited about books and writing as I am? Will I be left standing in front of a bored audience wishing they were elsewhere? So to get them excited, I asked how many of them were fans of ghost stories (my 12-year-old daughter adores ghost stories and so I’d assumed this was fairly universal). A smattering of hands, well below half of the group, rose slowly. At that point I figured I – along with the exercise – was sunk.

But to my surprise (and delight), when they were given the challenge to create their own story using the artifact of their choice, they jumped in with both feet. As I circulated among them, I listened as they shared their ideas with each other and with me. Almost everyone had chosen a  different artifact and each had a truly unique idea for how to use it in their story. When it was almost time to go, I asked if anyone wanted to share their story. Unlike before, this time many hands shot into the air, while several others asked if they could just have a little longer.  When the time came that they had to leave, their instructor promised to give them time to keep working on their stories when they got back, and as they left, I saw him turn to a student and say, “Want to know what mine is about ?”

Memories of the morning stayed with me and hours later I found myself wondering, why is it that these kids – who didn’t even really like ghost stories – had jumped into the act of writing them without hesitation and then shared their works without reluctance or self-consciousness? Why, when it was time to end, did we practically have to pluck the pencils from their hands as they furiously continued to add lines to their stories (their group leader included)?

It is because, simply put, the desire to tell a story is human nature, a part of who we are, something that has defined us for many thousands of years.

So then I asked myself, but why is it that they were able to write and share with such carefree abandon while many writers in the same situation would have frozen under the pressure?

Perhaps it is because as writers we get hung up on what others will think of our stories or worry if they fit a target audience, all the while forgetting to simply revel in the sheer joy that story creation brings. So the next time writers’ block hits, if we writers can just remember to live in the moment as those teens did the other morning, maybe someone will have to yank the pencils from our hands.

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