When Authors Come to Town – How to Get the Most out of the Experience

Unsplash by Erik Heddema

Photo Credit via Unsplash by Erik Heddema

Meeting a favorite author can be amazing. You get to hear about the story behind their novels, their road to publication, their writing process, how they keep themselves motivated, and all kinds of insider information about the world of publishing from someone who’s made it.  And you don’t have to wait for a conference to hear an author speak. You can catch them at book signings, during book tours, or other events.

I’m often puzzled when I hear people say that they only want to come to conferences if editors & agents will be there. Not published writers. You can learn so much from someone who’s already gone ahead of you, so it only makes sense that aspiring writers should want to hear from published writers. Then again, these may be the same writers who think they don’t have time to read books.

It’s like expecting to walk away from your first conference with a book deal; it’s not very realistic. You may come away with fantastic ideas on how to improve your manuscript, and you may make some wonderful industry connections – which are both valuable, even crucial to success. And who knows? You may even come away with a green light to submit your improved manuscript to a closed house or agency. All great reasons to go to a conference.

But so is the opportunity to hear from seasoned writers.

Some of the most motivational, inspiring talks I’ve ever heard have been from writers. I’ve learned more about craft and why I want to be a writer and how I can never stop being a writer and why I should pursue the stories of my heart from hearing other writers speak than from any how-to book I’ve ever read. I love going to author events whenever I can. I always come away rejuvenated and ready to work.

So now that you know how wonderful author events can be, how can you get the most out of these opportunities? And where can you find them?


Familiarize yourself with the author’s work ahead of time. That doesn’t mean you have to read everything they’ve ever written, but at least read something so you have a feel for their voice. It’s like coming to class prepared. You get more out of the lecture if you’ve done the reading. You can also ask better questions during Q&A (or have something intelligent to talk about while getting your book signed).

Invite a friend or two. You’d be surprised how many of these events aren’t necessarily well-publicized. Especially library events. I went to one author event with only about twenty people in attendance. This author had just been interviewed on NPR the week before. Unbelievable. His talk was outstanding. I wish I’d thought to bring a friend. Now I know to spread the news and take a friend with me.

(You might even think about taking your child.It can be an invaluable experience – and talk about creating a love of reading! I’ve had the pleasure of taking my daughter to meet some of her favorite authors, and I know that’s made a huge impact on her. She could barely speak when she met her first author – Ally Carter, I think. But by the time she met Kate di Camillo, she was an old pro. She got to hear Kate talk about how she created the main character in THE TALE OF DESPEREAUX and when they brought out the microphone for the kids to ask questions, my daughter stepped right up and asked her how she came up with the idea of chiaroscuro. Kate smiled at her, complimented her creative attire, and answered her question in great detail. That kind of experience is unforgettable.)

Take notes! As I said, you can always learn something. If your memory is anything like mine, you will be glad you wrote it all down, instead of relying on your faulty brain.

Don’t be afraid to ask questions. Many times, the author leaves space in their talk for a Q&A session. This is why you do your research beforehand, so you can ask an intelligent question. So be brave and throw that hand up! I’ve seen many Q&A times go unused when I knew people really wanted to ask questions. When they were able to ask questions later in a smaller setting, they couldn’t stop asking questions. So, just in case you don’t get that second opportunity, engage with the author during the Q&A and ask away. That’s part of the reason they are there.


Check with your local libraries and universities. Many bring in authors throughout the year to speak. Some of these events may even be free to the public or have a nominal fee.

Check out local online magazine event calendars. For the Tulsa area, there’s The Tulsa VoiceOklahoma MagazineTulsaPeople and Tulsa Lifestyle.

Follow local event planning organizations. Tulsa has a great organization called Booksmart Tulsa that “offers top notch literary events” at a wide variety of venues. They’ve held events for Audrey Niffenegger, Chuck Palahniuk, and Ransom Riggs. And soon they’ll be holding the book release for our very own Jennifer Latham.

Follow your favorite authors on social media or subscribe to their newsletters. That way you’ll know when they’ll be appearing near you.


As many of you in the OKC area may know we just had author Jay Asher come through. I had to miss him, unfortunately, but many of my fellow SCBWI friends were able to be there and had a great time including Regina Garvie, who wrote a fantastic post about meeting him, here.

One author visit I WON’T be missing is Neil Gaiman’s. He’ll be in Tulsa on March 10th at the Tulsa PAC. For more information about this event or to purchase tickets, click here.

So how about you?

Have you met any of your favorite authors? What was your experience like? How do you prepare for an author event? And how do you find out about author events in your area?


Writing Scenes with Umph! – a TGNA Post



It’s List of Five Friday over at The Great Noveling Adventure and I’m discussing how to write believable settings into your work by giving some outstanding examples.

Here’s a preview:

As writers we know it’s important to set the stage for our story, to draw a picture in the reader’s mind of the world we’ve created so effortlessly that they can feel themselves a part of it.

Last weekend, while attending an all day critique event and leading some critique sessions, I found that getting a sense of place across was not an easy task for many beginning writers. The tendency was to include scene description by stopping in a doorway and giving an almost 360° turn around the room, describing all of the objects inside. Not very interesting. I explained how this stops the action cold and slows the pacing to a crawl. I offered some suggestions – a way to incorporate the all-important setting details without overwhelming or boring the reader – such as letting the description flow naturally while your character interacts with the environment. Break it up with action and dialogue. Give the details purpose.

To give some examples of what I’m talking about, and to again highlight why reading is so important for writers, my List of Five Friday is all about the writers who really know how to set a scene…

To read the full post, click here.


TweetSince we’re back from the holidays, I’m back to hosting AM #sprints every weekday morning on Twitter @Novel_Adventure. Join me if you need some motivation to get started or if you’d like some companionship as you work on your own great novel.

Jazz Age January Returns – Review of Cocaine Blues

jazz-age-january-smallThe new year brings a slew of reading challenges. I know, I know, do I really need to participate in another reading challenge? Well I’ve got to stay on track with my reading goal somehow, and this one only requires a one-book commitment. That is so doable. So, why not?

And I had such a fun time participating in last year’s Jazz Age January, hosted by the lovely Leah over at Books Speaks Volumes, that I didn’t even hesitate to jump into the fray again. (You can read all about this year’s challenge here and join in yourself any time during the month.)

Once again, this challenge was perfectly timed. I’Screen Shot 2015-01-16 at 12.03.36 PMd just started binge-watching season two of Miss Fisher’s Murder Mysteries on Netflix, and I was totally in a rebellious 1920’s flapper kind of mood. After a few episodes, I really had to fight off the impulse to bob my hair. (I’m still growing it out after the last time I whacked it all off.)

I was also suddenly in the mood to try out the books the series is based on – a much less risky diversion – so, my first selection for this year’s Jazz Age January Challenge is…


Cocaine BluesCOCAINE BLUES written by Kerry Greenwood.

Published by Allen & Unwin

Release Date: 1989

Genres: Crime, Mystery

Plot Summary:

The first of Phryne’s (pronounced fry-nee) adventures from Australia’s most elegant and irrepressible sleuth.

The London season is in full fling at the end of the 1920s, but the Honourable Phryne Fisher – she of the green-grey eyes, diamant garters and outfits that should not be sprung suddenly on those of nervous dispositions – is rapidly tiring of the tedium of arranging flowers, making polite conversations with retired colonels, and dancing with weak-chinned men. Instead, Phryne decides it might be rather amusing to try her hand at being a lady detective in Melbourne, Australia.

Almost immediately from the time she books into the Windsor Hotel, Phryne is embroiled in mystery: poisoned wives, cocaine smuggling rings, corrupt cops and communism – not to mention erotic encounters with the beautiful Russian dancer, Sasha de Lisse – until her adventure reaches its steamy end in the Turkish baths of Little Lonsdale Street. (Plot summary from publisher’s website.)

I’ve always loved the roaring twenties. If I’d lived then, I hope I would’ve been an independent, adventurous type like Phryne. This was an effortless read. The voice was so similar to the show, I was just delighted with it. It was also really fun to read how all the main characters end up working together in this first mystery.

It is different from the TV series – still all of the great character traits really come through. Dot, Phryne’s new maid, who takes everything Phryne throws at her in stride, is just as lovable as ever. Bert and Cec, the hired muscle, are still such colorful mongrels. The swoon-worthy Detective Inspector Jack Robinson makes his debut as well. Somehow Phryne can’t seem to keep out of his way or out of solving his investigation. So much underlying sexual tension there! And Dr. Mac – one of my favorite minor characters – it was nice to see her so prominently displayed in this story.

The mystery was intriguing, with just the right amount of those Jazz Age details that I love. I did have it all fairly figured out before the big reveal – the whodunit, if not all gory the details. It was a great romp of a read that I whole-heartedly recommend to all. (Full-disclosure, there is a rather racy sex scene, which fit right along with the storyline and shouldn’t shock most readers.)  There are fifteen more books in the series to read that I fully intend to enjoy.

Learn more about Kerry Greenwood here.

Follow Kerry on Facebook here.

I plan on reading at least one more book for this challenge, so stay tuned!

Update as of February 7th: I struggled through the second book I chose to read, A FAREWELL TO ARMS, so long that by the time I finished it, January was over. To read my thoughts on it, visit my page all about reading here

How about you? Have you read any books from this era lately?

My 2015 TBR Pile Challenge

I stumbled across the greatest reading challenge on Twitter, today. It was kismet that we found each other because one of my personal goals this year is to read all of the books that I’ve purchased/received as gifts/won over the past few years that have begun to engulf my favorite reading spots.(There’s seriously over 40 of them.)

Until I do, I’m not allowing myself to buy any more new books.

I almost made it one week.

Look, it was just one book. An ebook. And it was for a book club, so it doesn’t even really count, does it?

Okay, maybe it was actually two.

I may have a problem.

2015tbrbuttonOne way to help keep myself focused on my goal, is by joining this Official 2015 TBR Pile Challenge hosted by the Roof Beam Reader blog.

The goal is “to finally read 12 books from your ‘to be read’ pile within twelve months”. To qualify for the challenge, books must be read and reviewed before the year is over. If you are interested in joining this challenge (or for more details), click on the link above. But you must hurry – sign up ends tomorrow, January 15th.TBR Challenge Books

One caveat to the challenge is that the books have to be at least a year old, so anything with a publishing date of 2013 or older qualifies. Twelve books that old in my TBR pile were not hard to find – deciding which ones to choose took a bit longer.

Here is my 2015 TBR Pile Challenge List:

  1. THE DARK DIVINE by Bree Despain (2010) finished- review posted!
  2. MOON OVER MANIFEST by Clare Vanderpool (2010) finished – review posted!
  3. THE SIN-EATER’S CONFESSION by Ilsa J. Bick (2013) finished – review posted!
  4. DIE FOR ME by Amy Plum (2011) finished – review posted!
  5. THAT SUMMER by Sarah Dessen (1996) – finished- review posted!
  6. THE DARK BETWEEN by Sonia Gensler (2013) finished – review posted! 
  7. BRAVE ON THE PAGE: Oregon Writers on Craft and the Creative Life edited by Laura Stanfill (2012) finished – review posted!
  8. DEVIANTS by Maureen McGowan (2012) – finished – review posted!
  9. THE FUTURE OF US by Jay Asher & Carolyn Mackler (2011) finished – review posted!
  10. THE SCORPIO RACES by Maggie Stiefvater (2011) finished – review posted!
  11. I WILL SAVE YOU by Matt de la Peña (2010) finished-review posted!
  12. UNDER THE NEVER SKY by Veronica Rossi (2012) finished- review posted!



  1. BLESS ME ULTIMA by Rudolpho Anaya (1972)
  2. DEAD UNTIL DARK by Charlaine Harris (2001)

Challenge accepted! Let’s get this thing started!

How about you?

Are you participating in any reading challenges this year?

SCBWI OK Spring Conference 2015 – Get That Spark Ignited



I love the title of this year’s Oklahoma SCBWI Spring conference, “Ignite the Spark”. Following our fantastically fabulous fall retreat, I’m ready for some serious spark ignition, how about you?

Three editors, two agents, and one design director should fill the day with more information than most craniums can hold.

Meet our dynamic speakers:

our_team_biagiLaura Biagi – Literary Agent with Jean V. Naggar Literary Agency.

Laura joined JVNLA in 2009 and is actively building her list. She is looking for young readers. Learn more about Laura from her agency bio here. Follow Laura on Twitter here.


rachel-orrRachel Orr – Literary Agent with Prospect Agency

Rachel joined Prospect in 2007 to become an agent after she’d spent eight years editing children’s books for HarperCollins. She is looking for middle grade and YA novels, as well as the next big picture book illustrator. Learn more about Rachel from her agency bio here. Follow Agency Twitter account here. Follow Rachel’s personal Twitter account here.


JulieBlivenJulie (Ham) Bliven – Editor with Charlesbridge Publishing

Julie is an Associate Editor with Charlesbridge who mainly works with middle grade and picture books, both fiction and non-fiction. Follow Julie Bliven on Twitter here.

Founded in 1989, “Charlesbridge publishes high-quality books for young readers from birth to age 14, with a goal of creating lifelong readers. We continually strive to seek new voices and new visions in children’s literature.” Learn more about this house from their Facebook page here. Follow them on Twitter here.


erica-finkel-photo1Erica Finkel – Editor with Abrams Books for Young Readers

Erica is an Assistant Editor with Abrams who is interested in picture books, middle grade, and YA. Follow Erica on Twitter here.

Launched in 1999, ABFYR is one of the imprints of Abrams Books, founded in 1949. This imprint runs the gambit from picture books to YA, from poetry to nonfiction. Visit the imprint website here.


alysonHeller1Alyson Heller – Editor with Aladdin ( a Simon & Schuster imprint)

Alyson has been an Associate Editor with Aladdin since 2008 (and with S & S since 2006). She works on everything from picture books to middle grade. Learn more about Alyson from her publishing house bio here. Follow Alyson on Twitter here.

Aladdin is a Simon & Schuster imprint that features titles for readers of all ages up to tween. They publish paperbacks and hardcovers, single-titles and series.


kristine-brognoKristine Brogno – Design Director with Chronicle Books

For all of you illustrators out there, you won’t want to miss the opportunity to hear Kristine speak. And if that weren’t enough, Kristine will be giving twelve art portfolio critiques during the conference to the lucky few who register early.

Chronicle Books is based in San Francisco and publishes books for both adults and children. Follow Chronicle Books on Twitter here.


There are a limited number of manuscript and portfolio critiques available, as well as the ever popular pitch sessions, so sign up while they’re available!

This year, Tulsa is the host city for the conference. Mark your calendars for March 28th! It’s going to be another spectacular day of learning awesomeness.

UPDATE 3/2/15:


For more details on the conference or to register online, click here. I hope to see you there!

Book Review – BEWARE THE WILD by Natalie C. Parker – a TGNA post




It’s Things I’ve Read Thursday over at The Great Noveling Adventure and I’m sharing my thoughts on my very first read of the year, BEWARE THE WILD by Natalie C. Parker.

Here’s a preview:

Beware the WildI met Natalie while attending her Critique Camp a few years ago. She really helped me learn how to dig deeper with my critiquing skills. I am now able to be more specific with my suggestions and tie them in to direct examples from the manuscript instead of making vague statements like, “the pacing is too slow” or “I can’t identify with this character”.  I got so much out of that camp and I am a much better critiquer. At least, that’s what my critique partners say.

Natalie’s suggestions for my own manuscript pages were insightful and direct. She really knows her stuff. She was such a delight to work with. So when her debut novel came out this year, I was more than happy to support her. Besides, I was pretty sure it was going to be fantastic.

To read the full post, click here.