Wednesday, December 31, 2014

Happy New Year!

by Hazel Buys

All of us at Richmond Children’s Writers wish you and yours a happy, prosperous and creative 2015!

Lana, Hazel, Deb, Marianne, Stephanie, Brian, Troy, Dan and Chris

Monday, December 29, 2014

Bad Writing

by Hazel Buys

I came across the following from Ross and Kathryn Petras (Wretched Writing) over the holidays: “She threw her face over her apron.” By Charles Reade, The Cloister And The Hearth (1861).

This was actually published, folks.

So, here we are at New Year’s resolutions time, and I resolve not to commit bad writing. How? Edit, revise, get my work reviewed by my (wonderful!) writing group, send it out to (carefully selected) beta readers, read it out loud to myself, edit, revise and edit some more.
In other words, keep working at my craft, remember it’s never perfect but that with enough work, it might get to a state of ‘done.’

Happy New Year!

Tuesday, November 4, 2014

Deconstructing the 2014 JRW Conference

by Hazel Buys

“If speaking is silver, then listening is gold.” Turkish proverb
Wow! Another great James River Writers conference! This year, I only participated in a Friday master class and a critique session on Sunday. Those two events were praise-worthy and if they were any indication, the whole conference was a winner. Upbeat energy hummed throughout.

The new venue was attractive and busy with conference-goers and hotel guests. The coffee was hot, the staff friendly and the lobby was easy to navigate. Can’t do much better than that.

It was wonderful to catch up with writing friends, some of whom I see only occasionally during the year.
The pre-conference workshop presented advice and ideas on how to get your novel published. Even though I’ve heard a lot of the advice before, there were several excellent ideas that were worth the price of admission.
My critique session was especially good because the agent gave me specific ideas on how to make my novel better and encouraged me to take it to the next level. I have homework and I intend to do every bit of it.
Back to the advice I opened with: LISTEN! I overheard one agent/editor saying that some of the authors she’d met with rejected her advice and didn’t want to change their work. It’s important to not close your mind to ideas that differ from yours. If you ask for someone’s advice, take time to consider it carefully. It may be just what you need to rise to the top.

Sunday, October 12, 2014


By Hazel Buys

There’s a list I check in the fall. It’s a bit like Santa’s run up to his big day.

But my list goes like this:

Register for James River Writer’s Conference                            check!
Register for Pre-conference workshop                                          check!

Prepare & pack all workshop materials                                         check!
Research agent/editor for pitch session                                       check!

Look up conference and workshop locations; plan route          check!
Like Santa, I check it twice and pack up the night before. I know I’ll be more relaxed and have a better experience at the workshop and conference if I’m well prepared.

Have you completed YOUR checklist? Only five more days to Christmas, I mean the 2014 James River Writers’ Fall Conference!

Monday, August 25, 2014

A Brave New World: Comic Books as School Textbook

by Hazel Buys

Imagine! Comics were all but outlawed in the classroom after World War II, but today, they have clearly gone mainstream.

Indeed, comics are explicitly recommended for use in the classroom if the content supports the state and national curriculum standards. Responding to this opportunity, Josh Elder has put together an anthology of comic-book style stories, Reading with Pictures, billed as “Comics that make kids smarter.”

Comic book style short stories address topics in a variety of subject areas such as Social Studies, Math, Language Arts and Science, preceded by a useful section at the front, “How to Read a Comic.”
The comic book format means the visuals change with the author so the reader is treated to a sampling of some of the best comic book art being produced today.

Some of the topics are straightforward (how to read Roman numerals) while others are abstract (probability theory). The biography of George Washington brings out little known facts (he required his valet to wear a turban) while embedding his journey to becoming the first President of the United States in the culture and mores of the times, making it easier for a young person to relate to him. The Language Arts section includes a story about the invention of the printing press, an accomplishment of the day that rivals the development of any modern computer technology. The variety of story-telling styles matches the wide range of illustration styles.

Is this an expanding opportunity for fiction or non-fiction author-illustrators? You bet. Josh Elder’s company, Reading With Pictures, is counting on it. Learn more at

Tuesday, July 1, 2014

Book Review

By Kirsten White
Illustrations by Jim Di Bartolo
Reviewed by Hazel Buys

            Bartolo and White redefine the illustrated novel in this story of devil’s disciples that transcends genre. A little bit gothic, a little bit sci-fi and a whole lot fantasy, this layered story of romance, adventure and time travel covers a century in two slip-streams, one delivered in eloquent prose and the other in illustrations, boldly drawn and painted images of fear and flight, combat and pursuit. In the early years of the twentieth century, the lives of four teenagers converge at an inn in Maine. Two of them, Cora and Minnie, are the daughters of the innkeeper, a widow. The other two, Thom and his younger brother Charles, who is slowly dying, arrive in flight from an unnamed danger, sent by their father under the pretense of seeking respite from city life for the summer. Their story is told in the prose chapters, beginning with their witness of a hanging and the disappearance of the body which then reappears, unable to die. The fifth voyager is Arthur, kingpin and secret-keeper, who understands the danger that pursues them all. His story unfolds in the illustrations, comprising chapters that alternate with the prose. Much of the plot unfolds in predictable ways: parents disappear, bodies come back to life, a secret society of immortals, the Ladon Vitae, is revealed. These immortals have appropriated power from an imprisoned devil-child and use it to control people and events, always for evil ends. The two stories converge at the conclusion where the patience of true love is rewarded. This is not a novel for readers who prefer their stories in strictly linear form. But for those willing to read “outside the box,” it offers an intriguing and imaginative variation on the usual formula.

ISBN: 978-0-545-56144-0

Tuesday, June 17, 2014

Looking in on RCW

by Hazel Buys

For the past three to four years I have been working on mystery novels for middle grade.

Recently our fearless leader at the RCW set out a challenge: write short stories for middle grade.

Why do I find that scary? As I said, I write mystery NOVELS for middle grade. Uh, oh.

But I remembered an artist friend of mine complaining about an exhibition opportunity he’d offered to his painting friends. He needed small works (I’m talking inches here) for an exhibit in a small space.
‘I don’t work small,’ came the reply. My friend’s response was, ‘neither do I, but I’m going to give it a try.’

Give it a try. Powerful wisdom in those four words. I believe I will.
Is there something new and different you’ve dodged lately? Rethink that and give it a try.

Tuesday, June 3, 2014

Anatomy of a Writing Retreat

By Chris Sorensen
Originally posted by Chris Sorensen at, 6/2/14

I had the privilege this past weekend to attend my first ever writing retreat. Four writers from my writing group – Richmond Children’s Writers – and three from another local group made our way an hour and a half south of Richmond to Lake Gaston. One of the members had an in with a condo owner so we got to stay for free (yeah, big plus).
The goals of the retreat were to:

1) have time for writing and critiquing
2) to learn and grow as a writer through sharing and discussion

3) to have fun!
Mission accomplished. It was a wonderful experience and couldn’t have come at a better time for me. I find myself getting comfortable or unmotivated about every 3-4 months and need that little spark to keep me going. It was perfect!

There was a pretty organized schedule, but it was not set in stone. There was time for writing, critiquing, discussion sessions, eating and just enjoying each other’s company. Over a two day period, there was probably 10 hours for writing and 10 hours for other.
The top 3 things I learned at the retreat:

- it’s a very positive experience to sit with other writers and just…write! I’m used to being by myself and leaving all the distractions behind when I write. But sitting in the same room with other writers was very rejuvenating and encouraging. All the clacks of the keyboard, the periodic discussion…there was a great energy. We were very blessed to have a great group that melded well together.
- I need to take more time to brainstorm and discuss my writing projects with other writers. I am very blessed to have a critique group, but I need to take more time to interact about ‘big picture’ subjects and other mechanics of the craft.

- good readers make good writers! I have fallen out of the habit of reading for pleasure and need to get back in the groove.
Considering going to a writing retreat? While this was a group organized retreat and somewhat informal, I imagine all writing retreats are similar in goal and organization. Are you stuck in your writing? Do you find yourself lacking writing friends to brainstorm and commiserate with? Do you have a goal but aren’t sure how to get there? Are you at the point in your writing where you can give honest critiques and receive them as well?

If you answered yes, then it sounds like a writing retreat might be for you! Have a look here for a great tool to help you look for retreats.
I know I am looking forward to doing it again next Spring!

Tuesday, May 13, 2014

Writing Lessons From Old Movies

By Hazel Buys
Remember that scene in CASABLANCA when the piano player in Rick’s Cafe turns to look at Rick before playing the accompaniment to the Marseillaise, the French national anthem? Rick gives an almost imperceptible nod. Rick’s nod was a small movement, but it set the course for the rest of the movie. Up until then we weren’t quite sure which side, that of the French Resistance or the occupying Nazis, Rick would choose. And he had to choose. In that time and place there was no truly neutral position available.

A tiny gesture, a short phrase: these can have huge power in your writing. I recently had the pleasure of reviewing a fellow writer’s story that has a similar turning point. The protagonist experiences unsolvable problems, confusion, angst, then more confusion and angst. Just at the perfect moment, a two word sentence describing a very small action shows us the answer. The rest of the story flowed from that deceptively subtle and very brief phrase. 
I’ve read that the pivotal scene described above was an afterthought. The scene was actually a call back to Humphrey Bogart who thought he’d finished shooting the film. No other actors were needed. Bogart stood alone on the set, in the shadows at the edge of the room and nodded. The scene was cut into the film at the proper place and history was made.

Do you have history making potential in your story that is waiting for you to discover just the right words to put in exactly the right place? Work to uncover that moment and your writing will leap ahead.

Thursday, April 17, 2014

Looking in on RCW

By Hazel Buys 
It goes without saying, the words you choose, their power, subtlety, variety and nuance will elevate your writing or drop-kick it into ho-hum, or worse. At our recent critique meeting, the members of the RCW were reminded that sometimes we don’t consider seriously enough each and every word we write. And that can make a big difference to the success of our writing.

Case in point: the author of one submission asked if the time period suggested was clear (it was not set in the here and now). Each of us suggested a time frame for the story based on clues in the narrative. We all got it exactly right.

What was that magic? Carefully placed clues and descriptive words pointed directly to the time frame the author meant to convey.
Similarly, making precise word choices plays an important role in making a story’s setting, environment and social milieu clear. For example, can the reader tell if a story is set in the deep south, the northeast or in a village bordering Mexico just from the vocabulary used? That should be a ‘yes.’
The group also revisited the importance of hooking the reader right away, especially the young adult reader. We discussed the ingredients of a successful hook. What grabs a reader from the first word?
Those of us who write picture books talked about how to make abstract concepts concrete. This is especially important when writing for the very young. If a character is loyal, how does the author show this quality without saying so?
What are your thoughts? What comments would you have made?

Wednesday, April 2, 2014

Book Review

by Hazel Buys

Text and Illustrations by Viviane Schwarz

In this graphic novel, a child calls a champion to vanquish monsters under the bed and dreams so bad sleep won’t come, by putting a letter under her pillow. A dog and two sheep arrive who spirit the dreamer away to a safe house where a third sheep waits. The sheep and dog give the dreamer a strategy to use the next time the nightmare comes, giving her control of the dream. The sheep, however, are ready to retire so they create three apprentices whom they train to take their places. The apprentices must learn to work together to conquer their own fears before they can take on the work of the sleepwalkers. The comic book format uses a loosely drawn and subtly colored illustration style to seamlessly blend images and words. The narrative operates successfully on several levels as the sleepwalkers demonstrate how to conquer fears in dreams and in life. Visual references to the power of writing as a coping mechanism (one of the apprentices is a pen nib on a bird body), the affirmation of putting on a brave front (the bear apprentice creates a mask that helps him feel powerful) along with the strategy of turning a monster into an object of ridicule, create a faceted approach to conquering bad dreams and monsters that children will relate to. The hint at the end of the book that the sleepwalkers are as old as human history is a deft, delightful finish to the story. (Candlewick Press, 2013, ISBN: 978-0-7636-6230-1).

Monday, March 17, 2014

And The Winner Is.......!

By Hazel Buys
On March 5th, a year of planning, promoting, writing and reading came to a celebrated conclusion. Richmond Children’s Writers wrapped up their first-ever writing competition for 3rd through 8th graders in Chesterfield County with an awards ceremony.

 Brian Rock emceed the event with wit and enthusiasm. He introduced the finalists for each grade level and also introduced our fearless leader, Lana Krumwiede, who gave opening remarks.
 After finalists for each grade level were recognized, Brian announced the winner for each grade.  The following students received awards for Best Entry for their grade levels:
      3rd - Bruce Yanovitch – Winterpock Elementary
      4th - Matthew Klausner – Greenfield Elementary
      5th - Katelyn Domke – Greenfield Elementary
      6th - Talyah Rawls – Midlothian Middle School
      7th - Rachel Bybee – Robious Middle School
      8th - Megan Lee – Mantoaca Middle School

 Bird Cox, Co-Director of Richmond Young Writers, presented RYW’s generous donation, a grand prize scholarship to one of the Richmond Young Writers week-long summer camps.

An imaginary drum roll announced the grand prize winner, Rachel Bybee, for her story, JUST OVER THE MOUNTAIN.

 After the ceremony, everyone enjoyed cupcakes and punch and talked about the incredible level of talent and creativity in the submissions.

Well done, everyone!!!

Monday, February 17, 2014

Dinner and Perseverance

The Richmond Children's Writers and friends had dinner with a visiting author: Lynda Mullaly Hunt, author of One for the Murphys. She was in Richmond doing some author visits, and we had the good fortune of spending an evening with her.

First of all, have you read One for the Murphys? If not, put it on your to-be-read pile right away. And make sure you have tissues handy. One for the Murphys is an honest look at a girl who finds herself living with a foster family for the first time while her mother is hospitalized. Good stuff!

Lynda told us an interesting story. She had been working on her manuscript (the original title was "Clip") for many months and was beginning to feel discouraged. She had escaped to a Dunkin Donuts shop to write, and it wasn't a good writing day. She had to struggle to get the words out, and what did come out wasn't that great. She was seriously considering scrapping the whole project.

As she walked out to the parking lot on her way out, she passed a car with the a customized license plate. It read, simply, "CLIP." She took it as a sign that she needed to persevere, which is exactly what she did. Her book was published by Penguin in 2012, and it has done very well.

Every writer I know has felt like giving up. I was about two-thirds of the way through Freakling when seriously questioned the worth of going on. I had convinced myself that the story was too strange, that no one would ever "get" this story, and that it wasn't marketable. I was ready to forget about the whole thing. Then I read Patrick Ness's The Knife of Never Letting Go--the strangest book I'd ever read, but I loved it. If that book is marketable, then maybe my story has a chance, I thought. It was a slim chance, but enough to keep me going. I finished writing the book and by the following year, an agent found the book not strange but original, and signed me as a client. Soon, I had a book contract for Freakling, and--interestingly enough--it was with the same publisher and the same editor as The Knife of Never Letting Go. Crazy!

Our message to you is to keep writing! Keep trying new things. If one thing doesn't work, try it a different way.  If one project stalls, put it on the back burner and start something else. Must. Keep. Writing!

To show how serious we are about this, we're hosting a giveaway. The prize is two books, both signed by the authors. The winner will receive One for the Murphys and Freakling (newly available in paperback!).  Login below to Rafflecopter and enter by following us on Twitter/Facebook and/or sharing the giveaway with your friends! (NOTE: Login information is used to verify valid entries and to contact winners. Your personal email WILL NOT be shared or stored).

Good luck and don't give up! a Rafflecopter giveaway

Tuesday, February 11, 2014

Looking in on RCW

Our critique group gathered for its regular meeting last week. Members submitted a variety of genres and topics which resulted in lively discussions with lots of give and take.

One discussion centered on the different issues a writer has when starting a piece compared to the process needed for polishing a finished piece.

When a writer wants to work with an idea (we’re talking fiction here) some kind of outline is developed (if that is the way the writer works). At the very least, the writer must have clear ideas about what genre, what time frame, what POV, what setting best suits a particular idea. Where will the writer start the story and where will it end? How will the plot unroll so that it is logical but also encompasses twists, turns, surprises and suspense? This part of the writing process establishes the underlying structure, or armature, of the piece.

At the other end of the process, it’s time to polish. The story has setting, plot, characters and a solid form with a beginning, middle and end. How to get it to shine?

Take a bird’s eye view. Look at the writing as a whole, keeping in mind the overall story arc while carefully reviewing word choice, pacing and consistency of action. Are the characters well served by every element in the dialogue, does the story move exactly at the right speed or does the pacing need to be tightened, loosened? Does the end follow solidly from the beginning?

The writer needs to let go of his/her ego and make decisions that serve the story best, a story that, by now should be “speaking” so strongly that it will be fairly easy to know what to keep and what to change or drop.

What about you? How do you start? How is that process different from putting on the finishing touches?

An even bigger question: how do you know when the polishing is done? That’s a question for later… stay tuned!

Monday, February 3, 2014

On the Virtues of Time and Distance

I’m revising my first novel again. Golly, did I really think it was done? How did I miss that awkward phrase, the passive voice and those run-on sentences? I’d only gone through it about a million times.
It has been a while since I looked at this novel closely. And in the intervening months, I’ve attended several conferences, had a private critique session with an editor, completed a second novel and worked deep into a third.

Heck, I’d almost forgotten what the first novel was all about.

I came back to my first novel with as fresh a pair of eyes as I’m likely to have. Add to that perspective, a review of the comments from my critique group (yep, better hang on to those even after you think you’ve finished with them), advice from the agent who critiqued the first ten pages of the novel, and the bits and pieces of wisdom from the presentations, panels and craft-building sessions at the conferences. I’m astonished at what I didn’t see before.

Which is exactly what time and distance do.
So, how do you space out your revisions? Are you ever done? Perhaps the real question is not ‘am I done’ but ‘is it done enough’?

Monday, January 27, 2014

Here's to snow days...

Soot-black night retreats, leaving
Unexpected gift
In grey morning’s frozen white

 I confess to being a creature of habit. So, ordinarily, I object to having my plans changed suddenly even if the change agent is something uncontrollable like the weather. Earlier this month, the announcements of school closings and probable accumulation of snow brought my plans for a day or two to a screeching halt. I feel compelled to disclose that I have no school-age children, so having toddlers or teens suddenly underfoot wasn’t the problem. Still, there were appointments and errands to cancel or reschedule. But my mood improved as I grasped the opportunities presented by the disruption. The bad weather was really a gift, if I could change my attitude. I now had an abundance of writing time; time to ponder, hours of silence to write or revise, opportunities for taking breaks and then to return again, to plan, ponder, write and revise. It’s not often I’m able to indulge my muse like that. So here’s to the gift of a long stretch of uninterrupted time, a silver lining if ever there was one. Because found time is writing time. So… what did you do with the gift of unplanned time when the cold and snow brought everyone and everything to a stand-still last week? I hope you wrote!