Wednesday, June 27, 2018

Dialogue: It Isn't Just About Talk

Today’s blog post is by Rod Martinez, who is returning to the Steel Pen Creative Writers’ Conference for his second year and will be presenting two sessions on October 27, including one on dialogue. (Learn more at 
Rod Martinez
Dialogue is as important to fiction writers as scenes, characters and plot are. Unless your book is about two cars that go “Vroom” in the night, you are stuck in the dilemma we all face.

My name is Rod Martinez. I am an author of Middle Grade and Young Adult mystery-adventure drama. I am invited to book talks every year by local schools, and one of the most common questions I get from young writers is, “How do you make your dialogue so believable?” 

Truthfully, as writers we know that real life dialogue and dialogue in novels are night and day. In real life, we interrupt sentences, throw “Uh” and “Well” into the mix, and even ignore questions when we feel like it. You can’t get away with that when you’re writing dialogue or all you’ll do is annoy your reader. We all know there is no room for that.

When I’m speaking with the youngsters, I tell them:

        write from experiences you’ve encountered or heard of

        write in the character’s head

        write always knowing what the next action or line will be

Dialogue doesn’t have to be the mysterious creature we make it into. Done right it could be the highlight of your story—well, aside from scenes, narrative, plot, characters…—but you get the picture.

In the process of writing my young adult novel Chasing Butterflies, my editor made it her job to point out the dialogue issues between some characters. I believe that if you are going to create a character who has his or her own style of talk, then that talk needs to be showcased in the book. With four protagonists—a misfit team of people aged 18-21—I had to make this mix work. There was a hood from the streets, a Hispanic single mom cop, an up and coming magician from the Jersey shore, and a Kentuckian geek who was a master at conspiracy theories. How do you get these four to speak with each other and make it believable to move the story along? You get in their heads, you look into their past. You create a history rich in drama and adversity where making them come together seems almost like destiny. In the end, you reader benefits from awesome dialogue that only you can deliver, and you feel all bubbly inside from the finished work.

You can do this. Remember it’s all about the story and all about getting a reader hungry enough to want to devour your story. Dialogue is a key factor, so make those words believable and make them magical. You’ve got this.


Rod Martinez was born and raised in Tampa, Florida and was attracted to words at an early age. His first book, “The Boy Who Liked to Read,” was created in grade school, and his teacher used it to encourage creativity in her students. Eventually he discovered comic books, but his high school English teacher told him to try short story writing. Rod is the recipient of the 2017 Jerry Spinelli Scholarship from the Highlights Foundation. His middle grade adventure The Juniors was picked up by a publisher and the rest—as they say—is history.

Wednesday, June 20, 2018

Writers Unite!

Today’s blog post is by Shannon Anderson, who will be presenting two sessions at the 2018 Steel Pen Creative Writers’ Conference on October 27. (Learn more at

Shannon Anderson
If you are a writer, you know it can be a lonely profession or hobby. Sometimes, working alone is exactly the way we like it! However, there are times that we do need to lean on each other for encouragement, constructive feedback, and advice from someone more experienced.

Zig Ziglar, a famous author and motivational speaker says, “You can have everything you want in life if you will just help other people get what they want.” I believe this to be true. Helping others is also just the right thing to do as a caring human being.

My philosophy and desire in life is to keep learning so that I can, in turn, keep teaching and sharing what I learn. Maya Angelou, also a famous writer and poet says, “When you get, give. When you learn, teach.”  As a teacher and author myself, I strive to always have something new to share. It not only helps others, but also keeps me energized and eager to continue in my pursuit to improve.

Besides continuous professional development to improve my classroom teaching, I love to attend conferences and workshops to learn first-hand from other authors and industry professionals in the book world. I have learned and published a lot over the years, but know that I have a LOT more to learn.

As I challenge myself to try out various writing paths, to write in different genres, and to move up in the business, I also enjoy sharing what I have done so far and learned along the way. I started out in the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators as a member back in 2009 and now serve as the regional advisor for the state of Indiana. I plan all of our events and conferences. I also do school visits to motivate kids to love writing and instruct teachers on how to incorporate creative writing in the classroom. Through these opportunities, I now also present across the country at writing conferences and workshops to help other writers.

My summer has kicked off to a great start with several author visits to schools still in session and presentations and critiques at a three-day SCBWI writing conference in Evansville. In the coming weeks, I’ll be presenting at the Indiana Book Festival in Muncie, the Chicago Writer’s Day Workshop, the Prairie Arts Council Art Camp, and the All Write Summer Institute in Warsaw.

But, just as it is important to share, it is important to learn. So, in addition to teaching, I’ll have the opportunity to learn at the Write to Publish Conference in Illinois, a Highlights Foundation Workshop in Pennsylvania, and the SCBWI International Conference in Los Angeles.  I highly recommend all of these opportunities to learn!

This brings me to the purpose of my blog post today. If you want the chance to learn a lot about writing in a one-day, inexpensive workshop, you should consider the Steel Pen Conference on October 27th. Registration is now open and I’m excited to share two of my presentations with you. I’ll be teaching a Picture Book Boot Camp, as well as a session entitled, Ready, Set, Grow…Your Opportunities. If you are interested in writing picture books for kids or want to know how to get started with any genre, I’d love to help you out! I’m excited to be invited to share at this conference and look forward to learning from the other presenters. Until then, keep learning, keep writing, and keep sharing with others!


Shannon Anderson is an award-winning children’s book author and third-grade teacher. She is the regional advisor for the Indiana Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators, is on the executive board for the Indiana State Reading Association, and is a frequent presenter at teaching and writing conferences. She loves teaching, presenting, writing, and running very early in the morning. Shannon and her police chief hubby have two daughters and live in Indiana. You can visit her website at to find out more.

Wednesday, June 13, 2018

After a Contest Win

As mentioned in the April 18, 2018 blog post “When Contests Work,” Member Joyce B. Hicks’ recent novel, One More Foxtrot, placed first in the Books & Creative Writing category for the Woman’s Press Club of Indiana’s annual contest. As a state winner, the book qualified to go on to the national level. We are proud to announce that it won at that level, too. One More Foxtrot placed first in the Fiction for Adult Readers: Novel category at the National Federation of Press Women’s 2018 National Communications Contest. Congratulations, Joyce!

But this blog post isn’t about Joyce in particular—it’s about any writer who wins a contest. What comes next? What good is a contest win? Yes, it can make a writer feel good about himself or herself. And sometimes a win comes with money or subsequent publication. But the biggest advantage to a contest win is in the promotional opportunities. 

So what should you do after you win a contest? If the award is for a book that is already out or soon will be, mention it on the book cover and in the description posted on Amazon and other book sites. Do the same with any good review. Don’t let them just sit when they can be working for you. And whether the piece is published or unpublished, mention it in your submission letters to publishers and agents. 

Now go out and make the most of that contest win.

Wednesday, June 6, 2018

An Interview with Michael Poore

1.     In the past six years, you’ve experienced considerable literary success. In brief, what has this journey entailed?

I think the main thing, when you go from doing your own thing to working with publishers, is that you become part of a team. I’ve had great experiences working with my agent and with editors, publicists, and even, in the case of audiobooks, actors. If someone tells me they like my work, I tell them I had a lot of help.

2.     Which literary moment has been your proudest, and why?

When an old girlfriend messaged to tell me that Reincarnation Blues made NPR’s list of great reads for 2017. The website had a wonderful scrolling display of all these fantastic, famous books, and ‘Ta-Da!’ …there was my book, among the biggest books of the year. And I thought, “Well, maybe I finally impressed her.”

3.     What about your most exciting?

Last summer at an event in New York, my publicist walked me into the Penguin Random House area and said, “We’re going to set you up over at autograph table four, as soon as John Grisham is finished.”

I wasn’t cool about it at all. My mouth literally just fell open and I yelled, “That’s John Grisham?”

Okay, so when it came time them to set me up, Grisham wasn’t quite done; he still had fans waiting to get books signed. But I had people waiting, too (which was a surprise). Anyway, they moved him! They moved John Grisham to another, smaller table so I could sign books.

4.     As a fiction writer, you’ve been referred to as a “humorist,” a “sci-fi/fantasy writer,” and a “literary writer.” You’ve been compared to George Saunders, Kurt Vonnegut, and Neil Gaiman. When you look at the evolution of your writing to date and then look ahead, considering these labels and comparisons, what do you think?

People can be very kind, sometimes.

I’ve never tried to be a particular kind of writer, but I have gotten a lot of mileage out of trying to copy off of great artists. When I discovered Kurt Vonnegut – an event in my life I equate, in importance and influence, with discovering sex and alcohol – I tried very hard to write like him. I’m sure those efforts were like a 2-dimensional shadow of a multidimensional thing, but it taught me the importance of creative freedom.

I’m flattered by these comparisons, because I think what those guys all have in common is wildness. They are completely unbound and untamed in their vision, craft, and choices. Their work led me to see the act of writing as something like hurling yourself out of an airplane.  

5.     You are serving as the IWC’s 2018 Steel Pen Creative Writers’ Conference keynote speaker on October 27th. What will be the title and focus of your address? In other words, what should conference participants look forward to from you?

I think I’ll talk about the whole ‘hurling yourself out of an airplane’ thing. And hopefully I won’t be the only one in costume.


This interview was conducted by Janine Harrison.