Sunday, February 22, 2009

Hearts all around!

Hearts all around to author Mitali Perkins and publicist Deborah Sloan and Company for setting up last Saturday's Kids Heart Authors Day. I had a great time at Chapters Bookstore in Pittsfield, with Stacy DeKeyser, author of Jump the Cracks. Store manager Aimee MacLear was a perfect host, keeping us well supplied with cookies, coffee, and conversation. Thanks, Aimee and Kelly for your hospitality! Thanks, Mitali and Deborah for all the work you did to boost independent bookstores and authors!

I picked up a copy of Stacy's book, a story about a teenage girl who's accused of kidnapping when she takes charge of an abandoned toddler while on a train trip to New York. It's a book I just couldn't put down--and when I was done, all I could say was, "WOW!" The suspense is great, and the bond that quickly forms between Victoria, the heroine, and the little boy she rescues is beautifully told. Without giving too much away, I'll just say there are no easy answers for either character, but I found the ending satisfying nonetheless. So if you're looking for a great new book to read, ask your bookstore or library to order it up for you!
Later this week, I'll be hearting Hitchcock Academy Community Center in Brimfield, MA with 20 other authors for their Local Authors Night fundraiser. 10% of book sales will go to benefit the community center, and there's a silent auction that includes artwork, books, and more! Class of 2k8fans can bid on a basket of a dozen books by Class of 2k8 authors donated by yours truly. The lucky bidder also gets a complimentary "Meet the Author" event with me for the organization of your choice. Call the Hitchcock Academy at (413) 245-9977 for more information about auction items, bidding procedures, and the evening's event. The event runs from 7 to 8:30 p.m. on Tuesday, February 24 at the Hitchcock Academy, 2 Brookfield Road (Route 20), Brimfield, MA

I have a couple events coming up in March as well--if you're in central or western Massachusetts, stop by and say hi!

Wednesday, 4 March 2009, 6:30 p.m.
"Fireside Authors" discussion series
Fobes Memorial Library
4 Maple Street
Oakham, MA 01068

Tuesday, 10 March 2009, 7:00 p.m.
Book discussion
Wilbraham Public Library
25 Crane Park Drive
Wilbraham, MA 01095

As the Writers Juggle...Episode #5 - Laine Cunningham

Hi, welcome to another episode of "As the Writers Juggle," in which we ask writers to share their tips on balancing work, family, and the writing life. This week's guest is Laine Cunningham. Laine is a novelist whose works cross boundaries of race, culture and religion. Her first novel, Message Stick, is a brutal suspense thriller set in Australia's outback. The book won two national awards and was supported by fellowships and arts residency programs. To support her writing habit, Laine has owned and operated her own publishing industry consulting business, Writer's Resource, for fifteen years. She has been interviewed by CNN, MSNBC, and a host of other media outlets as both a writer and a consultant.

Q: Okay, Laine, 'fess up. How do you support your writing habit?

Laine: My dirty little writing habit is supported entirely by my business, Writer's Resource. Since my office is home-based, I have about a ten-second commute from the breakfast table to the office. There are times I need to travel for research, to meet with clients or to conduct seminars which averages out to a few hours every week. Despite all the moaning and groaning about the bad economy, 2008 was a banner year for my company. I've averaged about 50-60 hours per week for the business.

Q: So your "day-job" is still writing-related. What other time-consuming responsibilities are you involved in?

Laine: As few as possible! I do volunteer for my local homeowners association but really that's an every-other-month thing. I am a member of two writer's groups and help individuals with their projects (both during the creation process and during marketing). I also meet every month with a small coallition of fellow authors for marketing sessions. We brainstorm new ideas and share information, what works, what doesn't.

Q: You went from the corporate world to running your own business to support your writing. When did you decide to take the plunge?

Laine: I was working for a corporation in a very cushy job as a technical and production editor. The politics and the fact that I didn't have time to write was killing me. I walked out one day, cashed in my 401K, and wrote full-time for the next year. The memoir I wrote won an award the following year. Then I needed to figure out how to finance this new lifestyle, and started up Writer's Resource. So although I haven't achieved "full-time writerdom" for my own works, I do write all day for my clients. I find that it helps me learn, grown and, of course, network! Perfect solution, if you ask me.

Q: So you write to support your writing. Were there any personal or family issues you had to worry about when you made that big leap to strike out on your own?

Laine: Nothing like that here. My only companion is my dog. He's very supportive! Every time I come home with groceries, he tells me what a great hunter I am! My friends are very supportive of me. They understand why I travel so much (in support of the writing process) and we see each other whenever we pressure or hurt feelings if I can't see them terribly often. It's really amazing how people who don't live the writing life can still be very supportive and understanding.

Q: I hear you about the dog--the only love money can buy! What sacrifices did you have to make to take the plunge?

Laine: See 401K comment above! Also lost my health care benefits after COBRA ran out. I've rectified the insurance situation and am working toward starting a retirement fund this year.
I've also moved a great deal. While writing my first novel, which took four years, I moved...let's see...five times. From California to Minnesota to Virginia to North Carolina (with a few local moves in between). That makes for a lot of long-distance friendships and the need to spend years building new local friendships.

I don't "go out" much in the way most people think of going out. But I do spend a lot of time on the powwow trail dancing at Native American gatherings. That connects me to part an important part of my heritage and I do get to socialize with all the great folks who come together to dance. And that's a three-season activity, nearly every weekend at the height of it.

Q: Powwows--that sounds really exciting! What a great way to connect with your Native American heritage.

What conflicts or hurdles have you had to overcome?

Laine: The working-in-a-vacuum mode. It doesn't impact the work; in fact, it helps me focus on getting the big-concept ideas down on paper, especially when you're talking about novels. But it does lend itself to self-doubt. Is this good enough? Will it sell? Am I good enough? Yadda-yadda. Every writer has to learn how to turn off that switch!

Q: Yeah, that working-in-a-vacuum really sucks, doesn't it? (Sorry, couldn't resist!)

About how many hours a day can you spend writing?

Laine: When the consulting workload is managable, I average two hours a day first thing in the morning on my own novels. Production is usually about five pages. I handwrite all first drafts, enter it on the computer, then edit by hand on the hard copy. About once a year I take off for thirty days to do nothing but write. Those days I can do up to twenty pages during creation work, or about six to eight hours of editorial work. In one hour of editing, I might do as little as a page or two per hour on the initial draft. In the last stages, I can do as much as ten pages per hour.

Q: I like that idea of taking a month off for just the writing--especially when you're in the editing stage.

What about promotion? About how much time do you spend on that?

Laine: Two hours per day average. In less than three months of pre-publication marketing, I've netted a mention on MSNBC and quotes in multiple large-circulation regional newspapers, and hundreds of blogs and book review sites. The campaign is working into the second phase, post-publication marketing (the launch date was Jan 20, 2009) so things are looking great!

Q: That's great! Sounds like you're a promotional dynamo! How do you organize it all? Can you describe an average day-in-the-life-of-Laine?

Laine: First two to four hours of the morning are always writing time. Whether that's for myself or a client depends on my workload. Consume one pot of coffee during this time.

Q: Note to self...caffeinate before writing...

Laine: Then I spend a half hour to two hours answering email and checking internet analytics, doing quickie research on potential new marketing ideas, blogs, reviews, etc.
Lunchtime! 1/2 hour
Wrap up any small details - 1/2 to one hour.
Post office run/groceries/whatever - 1/2 to one hour
Make a cup of tea (or two) and work on client research, editorial projects, and similar tasks - two to three hours, sometimes four
Exercise: walk or hike with dog - one hour
Check email, begin novel marketing - one to two hours.
Final email, any administrative duties (invoicing, filing, shredding) - one or more hours
Yes, by now it is about 8 p.m. or so. Shut down office and do household chores - one hour
Cook dinner, watch news, do some yoga, read newspapers/magazines - one hour
Bed by 11 p.m. or 11:15. Up at 7 (OK, alarm goes off at 7. Sometimes I hit the snooze button more than once. Usually up by 7:30 a.m.).
For the past year, this schedule has been seven days a week to keep up with client projects and still be sane enough to write fiction. Often the schedule on the weekend is less client work and waaaaaaay more novel writing, plus sleeping late on Saturday morning to catch up from the week's efforts. When I'm not at a powwow, of course!

Q: That's definitely a full day. What are your best places and times for writing?

Laine: First thing in the morning. Access the subconscious better than later, after I've dealt with a million details and my conscious brain is in full control.

Q: How do you keep from losing your momentum?

Laine: I keep my eye on the prize...that big book deal that will allow me to stop consulting and free up more time to travel, research, write, write write!
Plus, I've lived the other side of the American dream. It just about killed me. There is nothing else I can do in this world and live well, healthy and happy.

Q: What do you do when you get blocked? (Or do you get blocked?)

Laine: I don't get blocked, not really. I go for long walks whenever I'm trying to figure things out. Move the body, I always say, and you move the mind.

Q: Do you find it difficult to make the transition between your consulting work and your own writing? How do you handle it?

Laine: Always put the most important things first. The little things always get done whenever. Writers must understand that they need both sides of their different write well. The intuitive side is all about the first draft, accessing the flow. The judge must be silent at that time! Then you have to switch gears for editing, to bring the judge in to work through problems. To solve the problems the intuitive side must come back with the flow for revisions.

Switching can be done by changing locations. For example, I have two dedicated spaces in my house. One room is the office; the other is for writing only. The spaces are decorated differently, each has its own supplies so I don't have to walk back into the other space for paper or pens, and each has different lighting. Everything about the spaces triggers my mind to do one thing or the other.

Q: I like that idea.

What helps motivate you and keep you on track? Are you self-motivated or do you need outside naggers to help?

Laine: Self-motivated, obviously. I'm motivated, again, because I've had the corporate success and found it to be deadening. This is what I must do; no choice.

Q: How do you deal with distractions-either outside or inner procrastinatorial/avoidance issues?

Laine: Turn off the phone! Only check email at certain times of day! Can't stress those enough.

Q: Yeah, email is a real time sink! Do you feel you have enough time for non-writing hobbies or activities you'd like to pursue?

Laine: Clearly, the answer is no. However, I'm willing to make the short-term sacrifice for the benefit of the rest of my life.

Q: What advice would you give to others struggling with writing/job/time management issues?

Laine: You'll never "find" time to write; you must make it.Thirty minutes a day is enough. Really! The more you write, the more brain cells become involved in the writing process. It's like any other skill...playing piano, working the stock market, whatever. The more consistant you are about your practice, the easier it becomes.

Q: Any other issues or ideas you'd like to mention?

Laine: You know, I walked out of that corporate job because I was working about sixty-five hours a week. My schedule now is the same but it's different. Yes, I get tired. But I couldn't be happier or healthier. I'm doing what I want to do...helping others and helping myself in a very, very tough industry.

One of my goals when I reach "full-time writerdom" through my novels is to set up some sort of program where authors can come together and help each other. It's so tough doing this on your own...and even if you're married and have a house full of kids and extended family, if they aren't artists or writers themselves, you're still very alone.

I have been able to take a first step with this. I'm sponsoring a novel award through a regional literary magazine. We haven't worked out the details yet but writers can go to The Blotter Literary Magazine's website to check for dates. I think we'll be offering the first award at the end of this year, perhaps as early as the fall. I don't have the infrastructure to do it myself yet but the magazine's going to handle all the details...I'm just putting up the cash!

That's great that you're able to give something back to help your fellow writers. Thanks for the inspiration, Laine!

Sunday, February 15, 2009

As the Writers Juggle...Episode #4 - Howard W. Penrose

Hi, welcome to another episode of "As the Writers Juggle," in which we ask writers to share their tips on balancing work, family, and the writing life. Our last three writers all came from the world of children's literature. This week, we'll switch genres and gears to get some time-management tips from high-tech writer, editor, and webmaster Howard W. Penrose. An expert in electric motor systems and in the Reliability, Maintenance, Energy, and Environmental industry, Howard is the owner of SUCCESS by DESIGN Publishing, Executive Director of the Institute of Electrical Motor Diagnostics, Inc., and editor and webmaster for several technical Websites (and that's only a few of the hats he wears!). Those of you interested in green transportation might want to check out and see what he's been doing in the field of hybrid cars. Anybody this busy had better be organized, right? Right! Let's see how he does it all.

Q: Welcome, Howard. Tell us a little bit about your writing background and how that fits in with all the other things you do.

Howard: I am an independent consultant and publisher. I work with companies such as General Motors on the design of hybrid and electric vehicles, as well as projects related to maintaining GM manufacturing and facilities equipment and energy conservation programs, companies such as US Steel for facility condition-based maintenance and motor management programs, and a number of other similar projects for companies ranging from utilities to military and food processing to mining. I do some work overseas for nuclear power companies and factories in China, South Korea, Malaysia and Australia. I fired my last boss in 2004 and went into business for myself. However, SUCCESS by DESIGN Publishing was established in 2001; I expanded it to include Reliability, Maintenance, Energy & Environment consulting in 2004.

I am the publisher for several eZines, including the eMagazine and the Reliability, Maintenance, Energy & Environment eMagazine . We are expanding both from the newsletters they were through December last year to full eMagazines. The blogs include the blog , the Hybrid Tahoe blog , and the RME&E blog . The primary purpose is to provide an avenue for response to the different eMagazines. I evenly spend my time between writing, publishing and editing, my hobbies, and my consulting work, also a hobby. Writing provides about 15% of my income.

Q: I understand you've dabbled a bit in science fiction...

Howard: I do write across multiple genres as well as publish. From 2001 to 2003 I had an online Science Fiction and Fantasy magazine which was more of a hobby as more money went out than came in. However, I did publish several ebooks with some of my own work and an anthology (Stories of Myth, Legend and Future: SBD SF&F 2002 Anthology) as well as How to Become Your Own Publisher and a couple of technical books. In all I write and publish through magazines and conferences over twenty-six professional papers per year and at least one book per year. In 2008, fourteen magazine articles, eight conference papers, fifty-two editorials and eMagazines, operate/own four Websites, Web Editor-in-Chief of a major professional Website (330,000 members), self-published two books, wrote a number of reports and studies, and quite a few blog posts.

Q: Wow! That must keep you hopping. Tell us a little bit about the Websites you manage--it sounds like you're dealing with some really cutting-edge technological stuff.

Howard: The websites I would like to mention are: and an associated eMag (first one out on the first Tuesday in February). I am the owner and webmaster. I have an Editor-in-Chief who now selects the content. We launched the site on January 5, 2009, and we are still adding quite a bit of content. I am getting encouragement from GM, Meyers Motors, and Tesla motors on this site – it is self-funded right now, but I am expecting it to be profitable by summer. We are also fully sponsoring a high school electric race car, which is pretty fun! is my professional website and associated with my Reliability, Maintenance, Energy and Environment eMag which has been in circulation with a variety of formats to 7,000 subscribers since 1997. We are working on expanding it and the number of subscribers in 2009. is my archive site for a number of white papers that cover technical topics and the Motor Diagnostics and Motor Health research study. There is information on my work related to Skilled workforce. is the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers, Inc. Dielectrics and Electrical Insulation Society (IEEE-DEIS) Website. I am the Web Editor-in-Chief. The Website is a large project that has been in progress since August, 2008, with the developers in the Netherlands and the editorial staff in Europe, Australia, Canada, USA, and Asia. The site is officially released to the public on February 6, 2009, at 6pm EST. For the first three sites, I am Webmaster as well.

Q: You must be pretty organized to keep all those responsibilities straight Could you give us an idea of how you manage your time?

Howard: I spend an average of two hours per day writing, or more. As I travel a fair amount, I get written drafts of work and ideas flowing on airplanes, airports, or think through an article on long drives (average four+ hours). I spend approximately ten hours per week on book promotion – sometimes more.

I am normally up around 6 a.m. and in bed by about midnight. While I do not always work from waking to sleeping, I do spend a significant amount of my time "working."

It is hard to describe how I manage my day. First, I have been actively writing since I was nine, wanted to be a writer since I was thirteen, headed a different path when I discovered how well it paid, but kept my passion to the present. By developing drafts in my head and short sketches on paper, through years of practice, my first draft is often my only draft with only a little editing. In the 1990s, I would average an article or news item once per week and eventually got to the point where I can put out a few thousand words a day on subjects I have an interest in. However, if I have a particularly challenging project I may put writing to the side for a few days or a week or two.

A typical day includes setting up breakfast and coffee with a notebook nearby. I will sort through my day and create a to-do list noting anything that is time-dependent, such as a speaking engagement, consulting work, teleconference, etc. It is important to begin to figure out a balance of time such that you do not assign too much or too little work for the time you have allotted.

Q: Yes, underestimating how long things takes is definitely a big pitfall for me. Tell us a little more about what a typical day looks like for you.

Howard: On a day like today, my schedule looked something like this:

6:30 a.m.: organize my day;

7-8 a.m.: respond to emails;

8-10 a.m.: teleconference with client to discuss research and report results;

10 a.m-noon: work on report for GM facilities related to maintenance;

30-minute lunch – no work;

12:30 – 1 p.m.: answer emails;

1 – 3 p.m.: complete GM facilities report;

3-3:30 p.m.: answer emails;

3:30 – 5 p.m.: work on IEEE website; 45-minute dinner;

5:45 – 7:30 p.m.: Organize information for Detroit Auto Show article – images, press releases and notes, sketch out order of article;

7:30 – 9 p.m.: answer this email;

9 p.m.: review day and organize for tomorrow, answer remaining emails, relax.

Q: That's a pretty full day--and now I feel guilty for taking so much of your time! You're not tied to the computer all day, though, are you?

Howard: I will usually work in ten-minute sessions on my exercise bike during the winter – randomly to get things moving, or hour walks when the weather is above freezing.

Q: When and where do you prefer to write?

Howard: My best places and times for writing tend to be early in the day and at a desk with a little background music. The genres range based on my mood (anything but country or hip hop/rap). I try to match the music to my mood and the type of writing I am doing. If I am writing a "debate" piece, or controversial, it will be something like electronica or metal/hard rock. If it is a research piece, it will often be meditation music or "seasons."

Q: It sounds like music really helps you keep your momentum. Do you have any other techniques for keeping the flow going?

Howard: Practiced meditation, turning off TV, turning off phone or email, turning off IM. If I have to concentrate on a specific subject I will get out white boards and put my notes together across the room. I have also set up my desk to look over a pond and fountain, which is soothing and not distracting. If I am writing on an airplane, I will use an iPod and music to block out everything else. If I am trying to think, I use pen and paper--for some reason that generates thought versus typing.

Q: Charting out your notes is a really good idea--it helps you see the big picture. It sounds like writing longhand helps when you get stuck, is that right?

Howard: When have a bout of writer’s block, I will sit with a notebook and pen and write by hand. Literally anything, could be a to-do list, grocery list, and then I start writing down exactly what pops into my head. After a while things begin to make sense. Whatever I do, I just think about whatever the topic is and I do not force anything.

Q: So free-writing is a big help for getting the flow going again. Do you have any trouble with transitions between your writing and all your other work?

Howard: I have had no trouble with the transition. I have been going back and forth for over twenty years.

Q: What helps motivate you and keep you on track? Are you self-motivated or do you need outside naggers to help?

Howard: Self motivated: meaning that I am disciplined enough to drive myself. If I feel I am slipping, I fall back to to-do lists. I will set goals and pursue them. I used to have to write them down at least once per day until they were ingrained. Now I just focus on the goals I have set and keep myself going in that direction. In fact, when viewing my writing, all of my work at any given time will relate to what I am doing and the topics will directly relate to each other. When I start something, I need to finish it.

Q: I admire your drive. I'm very good at writing to-do's the doing that I have to kick my butt about! How do you deal with distractions—either outside or inner procrastinatorial/avoidance issues?

Howard: I just get things done or get rid of distractions. I set a location and turn everything off with the exception of music. However, there are days when I even feel that is an issue and I need to work in silence. I also trained myself to ignore a ringing phone. Drives people nuts if I am talking on stage and I am the one who forgot to turn my cell phone off, I will usually let it ring with only a few exceptions. Once I looked at who it was, answered the phone on stage, and told the person I was speaking then asked the audience to say ‘hi.’ It was great!

Q: I love it! Gotta love that caller ID, too. It definitely makes it easier to ignore the phone. What advice would you give to others struggling with writing and time management issues?

Howard: Organized steps, to-do lists, organization, time limits. I will usually keep an eye on the clock or may even use the calendar in Outlook to organize my day. The pop-ups are a great reminder if you are typing. I never use a timer, for some reason they distract me. I need to keep looking to see how much time is left and it can disrupt my train of thought.

Q: You're so right. Lists and time limits and breaking things down into smaller steps help me, too--when I make myself stick to them! Any other issues or ideas you'd like to mention?

Howard: Multi-tasking and dealing with everything at once. What to do when everything happens at once or when it all goes wrong. Are these easy or difficult? I thrive on stress. Once in a while when things happen all at once it is a break from routine and rapidly solving issues can be exhilarating. The biggest thing is learning how to prioritize on the fly and when to just let some things go.

Q: Hmmm...and from what our previous guests have said, one of the things we should let go is housework ;)....Speaking of prioritizing on the fly...One of your books is called Physical Asset Management for the Executive (Caution: Do Not Read This On An Airplane). So of course I just have to ask--why shouldn't we read this book on an airplane?

Howard: The statement about not reading the book on an airplane actually has to do with Chapter 4.7. Chapter 4 discusses instances when reliability and maintenance of assets goes wrong and the results. Section 4.7 relates to personal airline travel experiences related to R&M (Reliability & Maintenance). In my weekly newsletters when I was traveling forty-three weeks per year, at least one leg of a flight would have some type of major problem that delayed or cancelled the flight. I would write about each instance in my weekly newsletter and actually gained a reputation such that when people recognized me they would ask if they should change the flight. These days whenever some R&M issue happens wherever I am, it is usually attributed to my being there! The problem relating to airlines actually has to do with the qualifications of the people doing the work, in particular when airline maintenance is outsourced. Right now all 747 maintenance is performed in China and most wide-body planes are maintained in Venezuela. In each case, the technicians are usually not FAA certified nor do they report maintenance issues.

Q: Now I get it. You definitely don't want to know all the things that can go wrong when you're 20,000 feet in the air! Or you at least want to be sure you have Chesley B. "Sully" Sullenberger for your pilot. Thanks so much, Howard. You've definitely inspired me to get better organized.

Monday, February 2, 2009

Have a Heart



Authors Mitali Perkins and Deborah Sloan have come up with a brilliant way to share the love on Valentine's Day for readers, writers, and independent bookstores across New England. They've organized more than 40 independent bookstores and 160 authors and illustrators to participate in  Kids Authors Day.  From 10 a.m. to noon on Saturday, February 14th, children's authors and illustrators across New England will be gathering at independent bookstores to sign their books for kids and teens and talk about writing and drawing.

I'll be celebrating at Chapters Books with author Stacy Dekeyser
78 North Street
Pittsfield, MA 01201
413-443-BOOK (443-2665)

So heart that special kid in your life with a book on Valentine's Day--and heart local authors and bookstores at the same time! It's a win-win-win situation!

For more details, go to the Kids Authors Day Website at:

Press and media contacts interested in Kids Authors Day should contact Deborah Sloan and Company, and any site inquiries go to Mitali Perkins. And, last but not least, here's why Authors Indies.

Continue the discussion on