Wednesday, August 24, 2016

Sell Your Books and Your Services at the 2016 Steel Pen Creative Writers' Conference

As mentioned in last week’s post, this year the conference book fair will be hard to miss because it will be in the open near the registration desk. Something new this year is a bookstore, also prominently located near the registration desk. This gives you two ways to sell your books. It also preserves the book fair opportunity to sell your services and your organization.

You can take advantage of these opportunities at the 2016 Steel Pen Creative Writers’ Conference. The date and location are Saturday, November 12, 2016, at the Radisson Star Plaza in Merrillville, Indiana.

The book fair will work much as it has in past years. Each table costs $20, and vendors do not have to pay for and attend the conference. This year they must, however, provide the names of all individuals who will be staffing the table. For those who are not registered for the conference, box lunches may be purchased at $20 each. All vendor applications and fees must be received by October 15. For additional terms and conditions, or to reserve a table, see the application at this link:

The bookstore is a new service this year and is available to all conference attendees and to all IWC members. The bookstore does not have storage facilities for inventory, however, so IWC members who do not attend the conference or who leave early must make arrangements to drop their books off in the morning and pick them up in the late afternoon. The bookstore will take a 15% consignment fee on each book sold. Authors using the bookstore also agree to pay the credit card fees if the purchaser uses a credit card. The bookstore will collect the sales taxes and remit them to the State of Indiana. All bookstore applications must be received by October 15 to give bookstore personnel time to enter the book information into the system. For additional terms and conditions, or to request consignment, see the application at this link:

If you are selling a service or an organization, the book fair is for you. But if you have books to sell, which option is better? Here is a checklist to help you decide.

Book Fair
I would rather attend the conference sessions than staff a table (check bookstore).
I get higher sales by promoting the book myself (check book fair).
I have books to sell, but I am also selling my services or promoting an opportunity (check book fair).
I don’t enjoy selling myself or my books (check bookstore).
I am an IWC member and can get my books to and from the conference but can’t attend myself (check bookstore).
I prefer the personal touch (check book fair).

To learn more and to register for the conference, visit the conference page on the Indiana Writers’ Consortium website at Also check out our Facebook page at


The photograph is from last year’s book fair.

Wednesday, August 17, 2016

The Perfect Venue for the 2016 Steel Pen Creative Writers' Conference


This will be Steel Pen’s second year at the Radisson Star Plaza in Merrillville, Indiana. The venue received rave reviews last year, and it will be even better this year after making two small adjustments to the conference set-up (described below).

So why is the venue perfect? It starts with location, location, location. The complex is located in Merrillville, Indiana, on U.S. 30 just off of I-65, making it easy to reach from all directions.

Then there are the amenities for those who want to spend a little extra time in the area. The Radisson Star Plaza is a full-service hotel with a restaurant, a coffee shop, an indoor swimming pool, and a fitness center. If you are staying Saturday evening, you can buy tickets to see Buddy Guy at the Star Plaza Theater, enjoy the show at the Wisecracker Comedy Club, or listen to live music at T.J. Maloney's, Irish Pub, all without leaving the complex. There are dozens of restaurants nearby, and Chicago is only about an hour away.

The food, the service, and the rooms received high grades from last year’s conference goers. The only complaints about the facility involved the stairs and the location of the book fair. Both of those issues have been resolved for the 2016 conference.

Last year, conference activities were spread out over two floors. Although there is an elevator, some attendees would have preferred having everything on a single level. The book fair was given two rooms to itself in order to provide a dedicated area with plenty of space for exhibitors, but vendors complained that it was too out-of-the-way to attract business. This year everything will be on one floor and the bookfair will be in an open area near the registration desk. Since the Radisson books up quickly, we had to move the conference from October to November to accommodate these needs, but it was worth it. The Conference Committee is confident that we have the perfect set-up for 2016.

Unfortunately, 2016 will be Steel Pen’s last year at the Radisson Star Plaza. The facility is slated for demolition in the spring of 2017 so that the owners can build a more upscale hotel on the site. The Steel Pen Conference Committee will have to find another venue for next year, but you can be part of history by attending one of the last conferences at the landmark hotel that has brought tourism and conferences to Northwest Indiana for almost fifty years.  

We hope to see you there.


To learn more and to register for the conference, visit the conference page on the Indiana Writers’ Consortium website at Also check out our Facebook page at

The photographs show the Radisson Star Plaza, which is the location for the 2016 Steel Pen Creative Writers’ Conference.

Wednesday, August 10, 2016

Something for Everyone at the 2016 Steel Pen Creative Writers' Conference

As Tiffany mentioned in last week’s post, the Steel Pen Creative Writers’ Conference has something for everyone. The sessions cover all aspects of creative writing (fiction and non-fiction), from craft to publication to marketing. And the rooms are small and intimate, so you don’t get lost among the crowd in a large lecture hall. Beginner or advanced writer, all will benefit.

Do you enjoy the hands-on experience of a workshop? Try some of these:

·         “Lyrical Language: How to Make Your Prose Pop,” presented by Nichole Reber;

·         “Three Ways to Write First-Person Non-Fiction and Get Published,” also presented by Nichole Reber;

·         “Using Flash Fiction Techniques to Develop Character and Setting,” presented by Robyn Ryle;

·         “We Need to Talk: The Dos and Don’ts of Writing Effective Dialogue,” presented by Georgia Knapp;

·         “Creating Characters That Connect With Readers,” presented by Patricia Skalka; and

·         “Strategies for Cultivating a Poetics of Silence,” presented by Rebecca Macijeski, Sarah Fawn Montgomery, and Erin Bertram.

Even the lectures are interactive in the sense that the presenters welcome questions and comments. But if you just want to sit back and listen, you can. Better yet, take notes as you learn from the presenters in these sessions:

·         “A Big Thing is Made of Smaller Things: Writing a Novel-in-Stories,” presented by keynote speaker Cathy Day;

·         “Marketing Your Book; Life After Publication,” presented by Carla Lee Suson;

·         “Activating Memory Into Memoir,” presented by Marc Nieson; and

·         “The Editor-Author Relationship,” presented by Tiffany Cole.

Or maybe you want to benefit from the expertise of multiple individuals in a single session. If that’s the case, you can attend these panels:

·         “I Want to Get Published! Should I Go Traditional or Do It Myself?” moderated by Kathryn Page Camp with panelists James Dworkin, Joyce Hicks, Karen Kulinski, and Michael Poore; and

·         “Writing the Next Chapter,” with Patricia Skalka, Lynn Sloan, and Joyce Burns Zeiss.

Your biggest problem will be deciding which ones NOT to attend. Unfortunately, the schedule only allows for three sessions, and some of your favorites may conflict. But imagine how much you can get out of the ones you DO attend.

Whether you are a beginner or an advanced writer, the 2016 Steel Pen Creative Writers’ Conference has something for everyone, and that includes you. So please join us on Saturday, November 12, at the Radisson Star Plaza in Merrillville, Indiana.

To learn more and to register for the conference, visit the conference page on the Indiana Writers’ Consortium website at Also check out our Facebook page at


The photograph shows a session on “Historic (Re)Tell” at least year’s conference. Note the intimate setting.

Wednesday, August 3, 2016

Make Powerful Connections at the 2016 Steel Pen Writers' Conference

Tiffany T. Cole
When I was in middle school and high school, I spent a lot of time vicariously living through multiple authors and writing books I would eventually hide in my closet. Every day, I would open a number of tabs and spend a few hours reading authors’ blog posts, especially if the authors’ posts allowed me to peek into their day-to-day lives as full-time writers. One such author whose blog had a huge impact on me was Neil Gaiman. I remember fondly when he talked about the conferences he’d attended when he started writing and the conferences he became a keynote speaker for when his career took off.
Neil Gaiman made it clear that conferences were not only lots of fun but vital, in a myriad of ways, to helping an author succeed. I dreamed of attending these conferences but, because I didn’t have the money or the means, conferences just seemed like another out of reach dream.
Last year, I finally attended two conferences—AWP, which was in Minneapolis, and the 2015 Steel Pen Writers’ Conference. Both were equally exciting, but I was pleasantly surprised to find that Steel Pen—a smaller, local conference—had more of an immediate impact on my creative life. I expect that same impact will be prevalent November 12, 2016 at the Radisson Star Hotel in Merrillville, Indiana during this year’s Steel Pen Writers’ Conference.
Steel Pen, which is hosted by the Indiana Writers’ Consortium, is a one-day conference brimming with workshops, panels, manuscript critiques, and networking. There are so many opportunities for writers and poets in all stages of their career. You can sell your books at the bookstore or book fair, have lunch with keynote speaker Cathy Day and the other panelists and attendees, advertise your work in the pamphlet, and apply for a scholarship.
The panels have been carefully chosen to ensure there’s something for everyone. To give you an idea, here are just a few of the session topics:
Writing Effective Dialogue
Marketing Your Book
Getting Published
Working With Editors
Writing Nonfiction, Memoirs, Poetry, and Fiction
Last year, even with fewer options, I felt a genuine connection with the other writers and panelists in each room, something I suspect was because of its local nature. When I talked to others, shared my opinions in workshops, and exchanged information with those who wanted to help me as much as I wanted to help them, it just felt more substantial than it did when interacting with hundreds of people at AWP.
To this day, I can still turn to the authors I met at last year’s conference. I’d like to invite you to this year’s conference in the hopes that you will make as many connections as I have as well as take your career to the next level in the way that going to conferences should.
To learn more about the panels, the scholarships, the keynote speaker, the bookstore and book fair, and how to register, visit Be sure to keep an eye on the Facebook page as well (

Wednesday, July 27, 2016

To Instill Love of Earth Sciences in Younger Minds

Hardarshan S. Valia
From my nascent days of schooling in the small town of Chindwara, India, I’ve marveled at the colorful canvas of rocks displaying flow of highly colored minerals. I was lucky enough to follow my passion of the Earth’s history through schooling into my work place at Inland Steel (now Arcelor Mittal) R&D Laboratories, East Chicago, Indiana. My professional life was dedicated to studying carbon usage in the steel industry. There, I studied with amazement the magical formation of colorful carbon forms during the coal-to-coke carbonization process. To an untrained eye, coal and coke are dirty-looking materials. But looking under an optical microscope, seeing how the organic entities in coal melt into nematic liquid crystals that come closer and seem to talk to each other as they coalesce into a beautiful entity called coke, one falls in love with nature’s wonder. It is this intoxicating interaction with science that I wanted to share with others.
No, no, I did not run like Archimedes shouting, “Eureka!” because the coal-to-coke carbonization phenomenon had been observed for years, but I started to go to nearby schools to help children see the beauty of earth materials that I saw and continue to see. My work travels had taken me to many parts of the world where I would take every opportunity to amass my collection of rocks, minerals, and fossils. Like a folk storyteller, armed with my earth wares and wealth of stories, I would sing the Song of Earth and tell stories of Earth’s Evolution to children who, in my biased opinion, loved it very much. After the end of class, they were allowed to handle the specimens and make their own observations. Those years of telling tales finally ended up in my taking on a project of writing a book where my protagonist describes the evolution of life through various geologic times.
There are four points I consider in writing for children to make Geology/Earth Science attractive to them.
1) Make it scientifically correct.
Stories/films are frequently endowed with creative licenses; the brain evolves and knowledge-hungry children are able to sort out facts from fiction. This means, yes, there is a role for Science Fiction for children in an effort to ignite the “What If” moment. However, misconception should not be created when writing science genre for children. Presentation of scientific facts must be based on what we currently understand as valid science. In my story, some characters are fantastical but the science of Earth’s history is accurate.
2) Show large scale geologic phenomenon in simple form.
To show that Mountains are formed when rocks are folded or uplifted, I show them an actual slab of Marble from China where a layer of Iron-rich brown/black mineral is folded into mini-mountains amidst the backdrop of white marble.
3) Connect the unknown to the known
To show that two organisms probably evolved from a common ancestor, I show them a large rock slab that contains two straight shelled Orthoceras and three coiled shelled Ammonite fossil types of Cephalopod fossils from the Atlas Mountain Range of Southern Morocco (See Figure 2).
The fossils are from the Devonian age (359-416 million years ago). I connect them to the current relatives of Cephalopod as follows:
4) Anthropomorphism and humor are effective techniques
To make it interesting in my story, I portray how my protagonist is drowning due to turbulence in the ocean and is rescued by a cephalopod who grabs the protagonist and provides shelter in its chamber. To give interest to my fossil character, I make them talk and exhibit all ranges of anthropomorphism.
Here is a scene in my story when the protagonist first meets a Mastodon before the start of the ice age.
 “Sunny, why do you carry that trunk?” I wanted to know.
“I was the Sheppard for the Pigsty family. I used my trunk as a rope to encircle smaller pigsty.” He spoke as a stand-up comedian with a serious look on his face.
“Come on, that’s not the real reason.” I knew that he was kidding around.
“I was a circus acrobat. I used my trunk to swing from the high rope,” he said seriously.
“Oh, really!” I wanted to tease him. “Show us your great swings on this tree!” I pointed to a large tree trunk before me.
“That tree won’t take my weight. I need a big tree.” He knew fully well there was no tree in sight that would support his weight.
“Come on! I need to know now. Why do you carry that trunk?” I was getting impatient.
“O.K., O.K., Small Doodle!” That is the name he used for me whenever he showed affection. Then he continued, “A big body needs big hands, a big mouth, and a big stomach so our noses and upper lips became elongated, resembling a hand-like feature, allowing us to pick up food from the ground or pluck leaves from the trees.” He said the entire thing in one breath.
“Very interesting!” I exclaimed. His explanation made perfect sense. I marveled at nature’s evolutionary processes.
This approach is how I disseminate the beauty and the science of Earth through story telling and writing to those well on their passageway from childhood to adulthood.
 Hardarshan S. Valia has published stories, essays, and poems in magazines such as: Huffington Post, NWI Times, Urthona, Hub, Bitterroot, Iron & Steel Technology, Sikhnet, Sikhchic, and Sikh Review. A story entitled “India…ana” will be published in a book entitled “Undeniably Indiana” by Indiana University Press in August 2016. During his tenure as Staff Scientist at Inland Steel (now Arcelor Mittal) R&D Laboratories, East Chicago, he contributed mostly to science journals and science books. He is married and has two children. He is a member of Indiana Writers’ Consortium, Magic Hour Writers Group, Write on Hoosiers and SCBWI.

Wednesday, July 20, 2016

Childish Writing

Andy Kuck
Be kind to your parents, though they don’t deserve it. Remember they’re grown-ups, a difficult stage of life. – Pete Seeger, addressing children.
During the 1860s, Leo Tolstoy ran a school for peasant children. He sometimes published collections of his students’ writing. One particular year, after publishing the collection, he noticed that one story stood out from all the others. It seemed to Tolstoy that the story could not have been written by a child. When it was eventually discovered that the story had not been written by a child, but by an adult, Leo Tolstoy was greatly relieved. He was greatly relieved because he thought very highly of children and had been reluctant to accept that a child could write such a poor story.
As an elementary substitute teacher, I read many stories that are written by children – stories that are by definition childish. And I am frequently fascinated. Like Leo Tolstoy, I am convinced that some of the best ideas are childish, and that many of the best stories are childish.  I have seen children write stories about fantastical underwater battles, about blind aliens baffled by life on earth, about family trips where something goes wrong, about family crises where everything goes wrong. I have seen, in short, that children can write good stories. I have in turn become convinced that adult writers should never limit themselves to second-rate ideas and second-rate stories when writing for children. Because if they do, they will surely write worse stories than the children themselves.
Dr. Seuss once said, “I don’t write for children, I write for people.” The great writer-illustrator would in fact get angry when critics would refer to his work as “whimsical.” Whimsical, he thought, suggested frivolity. Dr. Seuss knew that his books were not frivolous. He knew that they were about stewardship and racism and loyalty and revolution. He knew that his books did not shy away from big ideas. He knew, in fact, that those ideas are the ideas children understand best.
Through my substitute teaching experience, I have learned not to shy away from big ideas. I have discovered that when I read stories to children, they may say a lot of silly things (“That ain’t no ugly duckling; I’ll draw you an ugly duckling.”), but they also say all the right things and ask all the right questions: “Did the little prince go to heaven?” “Can there be a God, because who would make God?” “Should good people help bad people?” “Why did the boy get older?” Children are willing and able to grapple with big questions, and I am enormously grateful to the children’s authors who were willing to pose them.
I do not think it is incidental that good children’s stories do such a great job of eliciting big questions. I think there is something uniquely important about the childish perspective. As Tolstoy put it: “Our ideal is behind and not in front.” I do not think great children’s books are books that contain adult themes that children can understand; I think great children’s books are books that contain childish themes that some adults are still wise enough to understand. For these adults, the best children’s books are simply great books. Philosopher and literary critic G. K. Chesterton once wrote, “I left the fairy tales lying on the floor of the nursery, and I have not found any books so sensible since.”      
When I was in first grade, I loved the Dr. Seuss story Did I Ever Tell You How Lucky You Are? The narrator describes a dozen or so unlucky, unfortunate circumstances, and by doing so builds to the conclusion that the reader is – all things considered – quite lucky. I remember being captivated especially by the second-to-last page with the unluckiest circumstance of all: to be a “rusty tin coat hanger hanging in space.” The illustration was as haunting as the words, and that page created the eeriest feeling within me. Today I would call that feeling the dread of nonexistence. I did not know those words back then, but it was the same feeling.
No important idea is too big for a child. Children have small vocabularies but not small minds. To write a story a child understands and enjoys – to write a fairy tale – is as difficult as anything in writing. But it is worthwhile. It is to understand life like a child, which is, in short, to understand life.

Wednesday, July 13, 2016

Thoughts about HOW

Mari L. Barnes
When it comes to writing for children, the WHAT we write about is only as good as HOW we write it. Almost everything is seed from which you can grow a story. The trick is in how you tell it. You don’t have to wait for that original idea that no one has ever thought of before. Think of how many fairy tales and fables have been spun into popular books, like the Fractured Fairy Tales cartoons or Tara Lazar’s Little Red Gliding Hood, in which Little Red Riding Hood is a figure skating enthusiast.
We’re always told to write what we know. If you have any experience with children you have probably observed enough to get a good story start. From potty training to losing teeth to being picked for the team (or NOT picked) to shopping for training bras—everything writes. What spin would you use to make it fresh and yours?
Dr. Seuss gave us permission to play with words and sounds, fun without the anchor of complex plotting. Before planning your children’s story, why not take some time to play? What could you do with a story of a kid who NEVER lost his baby teeth? Or a society in which “training bras” was something girls had to DO?
Difficult topics have long been addressed in children’s fiction. Old Yeller was written by Fred Gipson in 1956. Has there ever been a sadder story? But the genius was not in the universal themes of responsibility, loyalty, death and love. It was in the thoughtful handling of the subject, a rich accounting of life that included boredom, excitement, fear and humor to create a book that still touches the most cynical youth, 60 years later. Today, even subjects that used to be taboo are ripe for writing if done with care. Think of Heather Has Two Mommies about same-sex parents or Love You Forever, which has young people tackle such difficult topics as aging and death.
Author Tara Lazar sponsors PiBoIdMo (Picture Book Idea Month) every November. During that time, writers are challenged to record at least one idea for a picture book each day. Daily blog posts by picture book authors, illustrators, editors and other kidlit professionals entertain and inspire. By the end of the month, writers have compiled a file of ideas to generate stories. The challenge offers freedom to have fun and encourages skewing your own perspectives—not only thinking outside of the box, but painting the box pink and making it out of jelly beans!
How we tell our stories can lead us in interesting directions, quite far afield from our original plans. My book, Ruby’s Red Squiggle, published this year by Progressive Rising Phoenix Press, was an idea I got while doing the challenge in 2014. My first thought was of a little girl sketching with her artist mom. It took some time to get to HOW the story could be told. I decided to tell it from the viewpoint of the child’s drawing. To get to my HOW, I employed the methods suggested by the PiBoIdMo challenge: don’t edit yourself; keep your eyes, ears and mind open to all possibilities; and enjoy yourself!
Staring at an empty screen? How would you write The Adventures of a Blank Page?
Mari L Barnes writes for children under the pen name of Mari Lumpkin and for adults as ML Barnes. Her company, Flying Turtle Publishing specializes in books that families can share. With a lifelong passion for helping young readers and writers, she spent many years working with experts in child development, creating and implementing children’s literacy programs for YMCA and Salvation Army after school programs. Mari’s newest books are Ruby’s Red Squiggle (Progressive Rising Phoenix Press) and Cracked Magic (Flying Turtle Publishing). She can be contacted at or