Monthly Archives: July 2010

Just One of Those Weeks: Chapter Challenge Update, Writing Poetry, etc.

This week my chapter buddy, EJ and I again exchanged chapters. I’m so excited about how well both of our works in progress are going. I sent EJ my chapter 14. I’ve already written chapter 15 and hope to start on chapter 16 this weekend. I’m getting close to the end, I think — another couple of chapters and I can go back and start working on the second draft, or working on my next book, or both.

As you may know, I’m a regular follower of Robert Lee Brewer’s PoeticAsides blog Every Wednesday Robert posts a poetry writing prompt and a bunch of us post poems in the comments in response. This week’s prompt was “cold.” You can check out my contributions (there’s more than one) by following this link and searching for my name,guid,d44e04fb-dcfc-4362-9437-9cc50d20ed03.aspx#commentstart

A bunch of us also twitter on poetry on Tuesdays, and a kindly fellow shared his Excel spreadsheet for tracking poetry submissions. I copied the three (yikes! that’s all???) outstanding submissions into the new tracker. I also entered the names of a few of my many poems that I should really get around to submitting. Thanks, Cameron.

Here is the third poem I posted, the one that is NOT in response to the prompt:

Just One of Those Weeks

Perhaps iit’s a crime
to poem in rhyme
instead of free verse.
If so, it’s my curse.

When words chime and jingle
I shiver and tingle
I’m determined to write them.
I hope you’ll recite them.

Meet Kathryn Kupanoff

Tell us a little about yourself
I’m a Canadian from Toronto, Canada. I graduated from York University in Toronto with my BA in literature and I also minored in philosophy. I got married to my husband last year and we live in Los Angeles, California with our cat, dog and bearded dragon. I teach ESL to adults at a private college and I love it! I try to write daily. I have a blog I maintain (, a completed manuscript that is being beta-ed and I’m really excited about my current work in progress.

How do you think being an ESL teacher has influenced your voice as a writer?

It’s really affected how I perceive language and syntax. I’ve had students from all over the world and they all teach me a bit from their own native tongues. I love seeing how language evolves and how they all connect (and sometimes they don’t!). The history is fascinating and it’s really inspired me to look at word choice and the philosophy of language and meaning (which was actually a course I took for my undergrad too).

How long have you been writing, and what do you write?
I’ve been writing since I was probably about six years old. I wrote a short story in the first grade that I won a writer’s contest for, but I can’t really remember the story. Something about jungle animals and their awesome adventures. Now, I write literary fiction. I like to focus on everyday events and people with a philosophical twist. Sometimes I torture my characters: if I’m going through something, I’ll throw the same situation at them and see how they survive it. It’s therapeutic, really. Abusive for them, but there are no torture laws against fictional people. Yet. I’m just kidding. 🙂

Can you tell us a little about your current writing projects?

I mentioned that my completed manuscript is being beta-ed (Real word? Not sure). I was inspired by a time my husband and I went to a pub in Los Angeles one night and ended up talking to this person at the bar for an hour or so. He was telling us the most detailed and personal things about himself and it made me think: it’s because he doesn’t know us. He’ll never see us again. What does he have to lose? Fascinating! So Fortune Cookie is about two strangers who do just that: share their darkest secrets with each other. The twist is that by the night’s end, there’s a spark… and maybe they’d want to be more than strangers, maybe friends, maybe lovers. It’s literary fiction with a romantic slant.

My current work in progress is a first-person narration about a guy in his twenties who’s going nowhere in life. He’s got an insane family, a dead-end job, he was kicked out of college… a born loser. The only good thing in his life was his high school girlfriend who’s out of the picture now. After a life-changing experience, he decides to go on a road trip to find her again. I was inspired by the character Holden Caulfield, and I wanted to make my protagonist a loser, but also sarcastic and easy to relate to. It’s a lot of fun to write!

Who is your favorite author? Favorite book?
Same answer as a lot of people, but that’s all right. Wuthering Heights by Emily Bronte and The Picture of Dorian Gray by Oscar Wilde. I just read Sum: 40 Tales From The Afterlives by David Eagleman and found it fascinating. It was an enthralling philosophical read.

If you could be any character from any book at all, who would you be, and why?
Wow, what a great question! Maybe Yvaine from Stardust. That’d be cool. You’d be a star, you’d glow, you’d be outer worldly and living in a castle with your true love as your king. How amazing would that be?

Do you have a writing schedule? A particular place to write?

I don’t really have a schedule. I have more times to get writing done on the weekends, so those are usually my most productive days. I like to write in our living room on the floor with my laptop on the floor. It helps if I have the radio or the television on in the background, actually. It’s the white noise.

What do you find inspires you as a writer?

Music and visual art are incredibly important to me. Some artists are entire worlds of inspiration for me. Dali, for example. I could get lost in his mind for hours. As for music, The Beatles, Coldplay, Muse… lots of bands really help me get those creative juices flowing. Again, philosophy helps. I’m currently really into String Theory, so reading up on that every once in a while helps me get out of my box.

We’re both members of the group “Weekly Chapter Challenge” on Writers Digest Community. Can you tell us a bit about that?
Oh, it’s absolutely fabulous. I still have to write my weekly post, actually, but I’m on week four with Katie S. Taylor and I’ve never been more productive with writing. I keep saying to other writers to get involved in this because it really helps you stay accountable and makes sure you’re getting at least 3,000 words a week out there. The feedback I’ve gotten from Katie has been incredibly helpful too. She’s a great writer and editor and her suggestions have just been great. Also, to be on the editing end is great for my own style too. I see how she writes, it helps me be a better writer. I don’t know how I ever wrote before!

What do you feel has been the biggest impediment to your evolution, for want of a better word, as a writer, and conversely, what do you feel has contributed the most to your progress?
The self-discipline to write daily has contributed the most. Also, the determination to finish, not letting myself quit. It can be really hard. Writing’s hard work! (Surprise!) But you have to have those two things in order to get better. As for the biggest impediment, I’d have to say time. There’s always time, but if work gets in the way, if life gets in the way, it’s hard to set aside enough time to get some writing done.

How do you spend your spare time?

With my husband, friends or family. I’m also in a book club, so I’m usually reading when I get some free time.

Any last words?

No. No last words just yet. 🙂

Where can readers find you on the web?

My blog is

Meet Michele Graf, new Poetry Editor for Apollo’s Lyre

Michele, how long have you been writing, and what do you write?
My earliest writing projects involved climbing onto furniture and using lipstick or nail polish on the walls. Red was always my favorite color. Brought tears to my mother’s eyes, and was the start of my name confusion: For years, I didn’t know if my name was “Dammit Michele!” or “Michele Dammit!” Later I found out my middle name actually is “Lynn.”
However, I found copies of a couple of Jr. High Newsletters (I was Asst. Editor) when I was cleaning out her house after she died, so she didn’t always hate my writing.
Barbara Sher, one of my favorite authors (Refuse to Choose!), created a label for people like me: we’re Scanners — fascinated by many different avenues, and want to do all of them. In the past few years, I’ve completed three NaNo Novel first drafts, a ScriptFrenzy Play, started websites about our travels and my writing, a blog about Gluten-Free Travel, published poetry, non-fiction pieces, and handled a couple of newsletters. No matter how many times I stop editing newsletters for groups I’m in, I wake up one day and find that one of my alter egos has volunteered yet again.

I also edit – novels, scripts, non-fiction, and poetry. I love to help people find the heart of their project, push themselves through the hard parts, and feel that zing when it comes together.

Poetry, however, is my first love.

Michele and I “met” several years ago at the Muse Online Conference. Can you tell us a little about that?

Wow – the Muse Conference is a whole ‘nuther interview! The short version is that an enthusiastic group of us decided to meet for live chats a couple of times each month, and share our poems. I had a goal that, if we came up with some really good stuff, we’d put together an anthology. And, lo! It came to pass . . .

Six of us from around the country continued working our way through as we poured our hearts into the project. The process truly was a lifeline. I’m very proud of what we’ve done, and eager to get it out to the world.

You’ve recently become poetry editor of Apollo’s Lyre. How is that going?

I’m still getting my bearings, but am delighted and honored with the responsibility. I challenge the poets out there to take a look at the e-zine, then send me poems that grab me – vivid, sensory, each word exact. Be part of this award-winning publication.

Can you tell us a little about your current writing projects?

Our Poetic Muselings poetry anthology, called “Lifelines” is about ready for publication. I’m editing my 2006 NaNo novel; writing new poetry. I’m also working on a coffee-table type of book I call Heart, Soul, and Rough Edges, filled with poetry, pictures, and prose pieces about our decade-long 100,000 mile journey traveling all over the US and Canada in a motorhome, working in campgrounds summers and winters, wandering in between. It took me a long time to understand that I have several books’ worth of material to deal with, and that’s okay.

I’ve got about 20 other writing projects I’d love to do, ranging from some children’s stories, to a book about the Kidney Transplant Chain – I know two people who’ve donated kidneys so others they love could get donor organs through this program.

Who is your favorite author? Favorite book?

Dangerous question!

My favorites have changed. I read and reread Catch-22, by Joseph Heller, and Exodus, by Leon Uris, every year for about ten years, in addition to whatever else I could get my hands on. Then, throughout much of a 20 year crazy work schedule, I rarely had time to indulge. That’s when I started reading magazines, short stories in general, and Sherlock Holmes in particular.

(Once I start reading, I don’t want to stop ‘til I get to the end. That usually means reading all night and pretending to function the next day, often surreptitiously continuing to read instead of whatever else I’m supposed to do. A life-long character flaw.)

I jumped at a chance for early retirement, and received a marvelous present from someone who was a great reader himself — a multi-page list of books I should read, ranging from Alice In Wonderland to works by Hunter S. Thompson. Other friends shared their favorite with me.

I made friends with librarians across the country, read local authors and history, and worked my way down the book lists. Something wonderful to relate to Thoreau’s description of traveling in Maine, 150 years after he wrote it.

I’m an eclectic and voracious reader – always have been – and usually have several books going at once. I love stories that capture the absurdities of life, with a wicked sense of humor, like Douglas Adams’ Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy (one of my all-time faves), Tom Robbins’ Skinny Legs and All, Kinky Friedman’s crazy books, and Life Among the Savages, a fifty-some year old book by Shirley Jackson (better known for her dark works like “The Lottery”). Two series by Alexander McCall Smith are in this category; I love Bertie in his 44 Scotland Street series, and the Portuguese Irregular Verbs characters.

At the same time, I’m willingly pulled into The No. 1 Ladies Detective Agency series; achingly haunting books like The Lost World of the Kalahari, by Laurens van der Post. And the all-encompassing Harry Potter saga by J. K. Rowlings, which a friend said contains all the lessons of the Bible.

I love mysteries, like Sue Grafton’s letters of the alphabet, or Robert Parker’s Spenser series, and Agatha Christie’s Hercule Poirot – the “who done it, how, and why” – especially the “why” part, maybe because “why?” is allegedly the first word I ever spoke. (Second was “moon!”)

I’d love to be able to write a wildly absurd cozy, with lots of intrigue and no icky stuff that gives me nighmares. There’s enough darkness beyond our control; I much prefer to let my imagination run wild with these things.

If you could be any character from any book at all, who would you be, and why?

Mary Russell, a fictional equal and partner of Sherlock Holmes, in Laurie King’s series (great books!). She’s brave, strong-willed, holds her own with the mighty Sherlock, and is so many of the things I wish I could be. (When I was younger, I wanted to be Dale Evans (complete with horse), and after I started reading, Nancy Drew.)

Do you have a writing schedule? A particular place to write?

How I wish I wrote on a schedule! I thought that after I retired, I’d have so much time to do all those projects I’d postponed while working. I’m making peace with routines to make it easier. I write in many places. Poetry and journaling are almost always handwritten, with a fountain pen, either curled up on the couch or sitting at my dining room table. I have a great office with my desktop computer, and lose myself there for as many hours as I can get away with. I edit on my laptop away from where I originally wrote.

What do you find inspires you as a writer?

Strong reactions, whether to beauty, absurdity, or pain.

Since the Muse online conference has been such a big part of both our writing lives, can you say a few words about how that has influenced you?

I have a very special place in my heart for the Muse Online Conference. I met Carolyn Howard-Johnson at a luncheon in the Palm Springs area in 2005. She said she saw the world in images, during her presentation, and immediately I connected. Yes! That’s the way I see the world, too! We talked after she finished reading her poetry to us.
With Carolyn’s encouragement, I submitted a poem to The Desert Woman magazine, and it was accepted. She was my first poetry mentor, although I’d written poems most of my life. Carolyn and I have stayed in touch since then. She told me about the conference she and Lea Schizas were organizing, and the rest is history.

What do you feel has been the biggest impediment to your evolution, for want of a better word, as a writer, and conversely, what do you feel has contributed the most to your progress?

The voices in my head that said if “whatever” I did wasn’t perfect, it wasn’t worth doing, and certainly not worth sharing. For most of my life, which involved a lot of writing (newsletters and newspapers in work environments, supervisor and management training, labor contract language, and more), until someone else said my words were okay, I didn’t know if they were or not. I had no clue if I’d guessed right.
That paralyzing perfectionism colored much of my world, like riding a bike downhill with the brakes on, never letting myself experience the exhilaration and joy of my creative side.
I still fight that demon, but I’m better at accepting my own worth. I credit the Muse connection for helping me see that. I’ve been part of three different critique groups, two online through the Muse Conference (non-fiction and the Poetic Muselings), and one in-person poetry group. Finding support on the personal as well as professional levels has been hugely helpful. The process of opening up, sharing, learning, is something I never had before.

Any last words?

Thank you for inviting me to your blog. I’ve loved working with you, and watching how we’ve all grown since meeting. Good luck with your projects – I look forward to the new book and all the others percolating.

Where to find Michele on the web:

Road Writer

Gluten-Free Travel

Apollo’s Lyrre
And you can email Michele at Apollo’s Lyre at

The problem with cranky computers and other status updates

I just sent my chapter buddy, EJ, another chapter of my work in progress, and now get to complain about the difficulty of cutting and pasting from google documents into my word processing software so I could send just the one chapter.

As I read a comment from one of my email buddies about cranky computers, it occurred to me that the reason, or one of them at any rate , is that these interfaces are designed by software engineers. Software engineers, for the most part, just want to get on with implementing the blankety-blank software. Ask them to design an interface and they’ll throw something together just to get you off their backs.

At the moment I’m ready to complain about cranky google documents, which seems to be paging down too far if I click on the bar on the left. Oy!

Of course, I could always download my stuff into open office, work on it, and then upload..

I probably do this about once a week, but since I’m fourteen chapters into my book, and have about 30,000 words, paging down is getting to be annoying, so I may be doing more of this.

The good news is that the writing itself is progressing, at the moment, nicely.

PS: I apologize to anyone (like EJ) who had to wait to see their comment appear. Apparently my spam filter has gotten a bit overenthusiastic. Since I am fortunately extremely paranoid about such things, I did manage to rescue them when I went through my supposedly spam comments today.

Meet Author and Editor Renee Gray-Wilburn

Tell us something about yourself?
I am married to Derrick, a personal trainer, and have three children–Conner, 13; Cayla, 9; and Chandler, 5.

We live in the foothills of the Rockies in Colorado Springs, with a view of Pikes Peak from my window.

I started writing when I left my job in Silicon Valley as a technical recruiter to be home with my first born. I haven’t had a “real” job since, and I love being able to do something meaningful, yet be home with my kids.

Who is your favorite author? Favorite book?
I honestly don’t have a favorite. It usually changes based on what I’m reading at the time!

What are you working on now?
Several projects: two different children’s curriculum projects, four magazine articles, finishing up sending out proposals for a book I’ve been writing, a small-group study guide to go in conjunction with a DVD series for Wallbuilders, polishing up a children’s book to start sending out, and working on clients’ proofing/editing projects as they come in.

How do you go about editing your work?

Since I am equally right and left brained, I have a difficult time not editing my work as I go. So, I’ll typically finish a section of whatever I’m doing then go back and review it. After the whole project is completed, I’ll edit for content first then do a final proof. Depending on what it is, I have editor friends who will review my work as well. I always recommend having someone else look at your work. It’s amazing how much you miss!

Do you have a set process?
I always start with a content edit so I can get a feel of the overall flow, organization, and structure. Otherwise I get too bogged down with the little stuff. After I’ve edited through the big picture, I’ll go line by line and look for sentence structure, passive voice, weak verbs, unnecessary adverbs and adjectives, and so forth, trying to tighten up the writing as much as possible. Lastly, I’ll proof the work. Here is where I’m checking for spelling, punctuation, proper capitalization, use of italics, etc.

If you’re editing your own stuff, how long do you “let it sit” before you start editing it?
It depends on what it is. If it’s something short, like an article, maybe just a day or two. If it’s a picture book or the curriculum I write, usually a few days. I’ll continually go back and forth between working on it and letting it rest. I always have so many projects going at once that I’m never at a loss for things to do while something else is sitting!

Any favorite books on editing? On grammar?
I have a book called Essentials of English, published by Barron’s that I refer to often. I also rely on the old-school standby, Elements of Style by Strunk and White. And, because so many publishers I work for prefer the Chicago Manual of Style, I keep it within arm’s length at all times!

Any tips for aspiring writers?

The only way to get better is to practice and then let others critique you. It’s great to go to conferences and take classes, but you have to put it into practice. Having a trusted critique group to turn to is invaluable, regardless of the type of writing you do.

Once you start getting published, look at the finished piece your editor used compared to the final draft you sent her. You can learn a lot by seeing what was changed and eliminated. I like to ask my editors why they made some of the changes they did, just so I can improve next time. They’ll love the fact that you are trying to grow as a writer and you can take constructive criticism.

Any last words?
If you’d like more detail about self-editing, please take a look at my blog ( under the category of “Self-Editing.” I have some articles that speak to this subject. If you need help with editing or proofing, you may contact me at I also provide critiquing services for picture books, children’s and adult short stories, articles, and books.