Writing Sample at the Ready

The rules are clear. You must complete all information blocks. You’ve had no trouble so far…name, address, email.

And then it appears.

That empty white square. They are requesting a writing sample with a word limit or file size.

You begin to swear…I mean sweat. Most likely both.

The deadline is tomorrow. Is there time to write something now? Will the page hit a ‘time out?’

You grab something…anything. Does it fit? You make it fit. And then you click on submit. It’s irretrievable now.

Later you read over the actual rules. The writing sample must be original and never before published. Or they want the rights to that piece which you no longer own. What do you do?

I recently entered a contest with such a scenario. I had a sample which I thought both met the scope of what they might be looking for and the word limit. But what has surprised me was the number of people complaining on their website about not knowing a sample would be necessary or that they sent a sample they no longer held the rights to or some other such issue.

Can they reenter? Can they send another sample? Can they enter and keep their rights?

One entry per person. It’s too late to do anything about it. Even if one of those people (complainers) win, they forfeit.

Although I’ll be the first to admit I often don’t read the rules and terms of agreement on everything I participate in, the writing sample represents the writer. And if we are being offered something in exchange for our work, then we shouldn’t be surprised if it comes with an attachment to the sample.

It’s important to have a few sample essays on hand. Hopefully ones not written under the duress of a swiftly passing deadline and whose content reflects us and our writing styles.

Then, when we get to that blank white square we’ll be prepared!!

Have you faced such a challenge? Were you ready? Or did you have to scramble at the last minute?

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Head Cleaning? What?

I’ve tried to go wireless with all of my computing needs. You know what I mean – keyboard, mouse, printer.


Is there really such a thing? I know they claim it to be true, they might even work the first time you get the thing connected, but after that…good luck!

My first one was HP. It worked for a few days. Then the ‘offline’ message kept coming up. I went through the tutorials, the troubleshooting lessons, etc. Nothing worked. In desperation I called in the big guns – a ‘geek’.

Yes, even though the thing was under warranty, I made the assumption I had done something wrong. Apparently not. $$$ later – still no wireless printing. He – the ‘geek’ – made the executive decision to connect via cable and so it remained until I had a paper feeding issue about two years later.

I searched for the best wireless printer in my price point and Epson was highly recommended. So I sprang for a new one and it arrived all sparkly new and shiny with a different ink cartridge for every variety of color. I hooked it up – not difficult – and it worked marvelously. I even added my laptop and could send items to be printed from the first floor to the printer on the second floor. Yay!!

That was about a month ago.

Today, it went offline. No reason. Two hours of trying to troubleshoot and still no printing could be accomplished. The black ink looked a bit low. I had bought replacement cartridges – Epson as well. Yes, I sprang for the name brand as a large caution notice keeps popping up explaining other brands might not work as well or – horror – harm the printer.

Even though it appeared I might have a small percentage of ink left, I thought maybe that was the problem. I sacrificed the remainder in the old cartridge and connected my brand new one. Then, of course, there’s the alignments to be printed off. The black ink wasn’t showing up well, so I kept printing one after the other, trying all of their helpful tips. (Yes it would copy and print from the commands on the printer itself, just not from the computer.)

I finally cut the power to the whole system, rebooted, and got the printer back online. But then the pages I tried to print had suddenly developed skips and breaks. Why?

Troubleshooter said my head needed cleaning. Really? My mother used to say she’d clean my mouth out with soap if I said a dirty word. And yes, I’ve said a few of those during this process. Is that the same thing?

In this case it would appear they were referring to some sort of process within the printer. Great. More things to do, more copies to make. They are getting better, but not quite right yet. More aligning, more copies.

Nozzle check?

That’s recommended too. Of course it needs copies printed to be sure it is working properly. Once everything appears to be getting clearer and cleaner, I have to print some documents and see if troubles still exist. They recommend cleaning up to four times. Of course, each time needs more printing.

I’ve finally gotten it right. The printer is back online and is spitting out readable copy, and I’m only down half the brand new ink cartridge from all the darned printing and checking – not to mention a ream of paper. No wonder they want me to buy their brand of ink. I’ll likely use half a cartridge every time I reload. Guess I’d better buy the XL for extra long life.

Is it a conspiracy? Must we waste half a cartridge every time we try to replace one? Have you found a wireless printer which actually works – all the time? Or are you as frustrated with technology as I sometimes am?

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The Portrait of Wanda Smithey

It was during the lull preceding WWII when my uncle went to Roaring River, North Carolina to stay with his uncle (my grandfather’s brother). There he met a beautiful young woman named Wanda Smithey. (I may be misspelling her name as I have only heard it spoken and not seen it written down anywhere.)

They were fond of each other and she gave him a portrait of herself, one professionally taken in the Paul Harvel Studio in downtown North Wilkesboro, North Carolina. I’m sure it wasn’t inexpensive for that day and age.

Wanda Smithey

Then Pearl Harbor was bombed and my uncle joined the military, as did most of the young men in that community.

Uncle Dwight Military 2

He was sent to England and France and I even have a picture of him with his unit at the Arc de Triomphe. He drew an arrow to himself – the ‘me’ in the picture.

Uncle Dwight in Paris 2

I don’t know what happened to Wanda Smithey after that. My uncle went to work for a company in Louisville, Kentucky. There he met and married and made a good life for himself until his untimely death several years ago.

Since my mother’s death, my sister and I have been going through her belongings and sometimes that has turned into the belongings of our grandparents as well. In one of those boxes was this portrait of Wanda Smithey. We knew her name because our mother found the picture after her mother died and often commented about her desire to return it to Wanda or to her children and/or grandchildren. My aunt, the last survivor of the three siblings, also verified the name.

I assume Wanda Smithey got married and had a wonderful life. She was certainly a lovely lady with a warm smile and shining eyes. She would be close to ninety now, give or take a few years. I would love to return this to her or to her family. If she is still living, sitting with her and talking over that time in history would be terrific.

I have searched the local paper archives, but I don’t have a married name for her, so nothing shows up in her name. If you know her, suspect you know her, or someone in her family, I’d love your help.

Have you ever found someone by a picture? If so, what did you do and what was the outcome?

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It’s Valentine’s Day. Romance, hearts, flowers, bubbly drinks, chocolate, aromatic bath oil, candlelight, poetry; and all of that is just to set the stage for my favorite novel category – romance.

Don’t roll your eyes. You know you are reading them. And here’s a secret – we’re not alone.

Romance novels sweep the industry in sales right now. According to the Romance Writers of America – better known by its initials: RWA – it accounts for more than a billion dollars a year in sales.

RWA reports 2012 as having more than $1.4 billion in sales, and 2013 has been estimated to exceed $1.3 billion. This isn’t too shabby for an industry being batted around by all of the publishing changes and bookstore closings.

Two more statistics from RWA:

•Romance was the top-performing category on the best-seller lists in 2012 (across the NYT, USA Today, and PW best-seller lists).

•74.8 million people read at least one romance novel in 2008. (source: RWA Reader Survey)

And why not? Even Oprah has posted an article about it titled: ‘Why People Love Romance Novels’. There’s sure to be a subgenre within the romance category that will pique your interest.

There are so many subgenres within the genre labeled – ROMANCE. Mystery/suspense, contemporary, futuristic, science-fiction, historical, paranormal, inspirational, young adult, fantasy, and erotic are a few, with LGBT on the rise.

Think romance is something new?

Think again. According to Wikipedia – and I’m quoting directly here – “one of the earliest romance novels was Samuel Richardson’s popular 1740 novel Pamela, or Virtue Rewarded, which was revolutionary on two counts: it focused almost entirely on courtship and did so entirely from the perspective of a woman protagonist.”

Wow. Who knew?

Jane Austen has an entire following still swooning over Mark Darcy and the nineteenth century mores of the day. Authors keep rewriting versions of ‘Pride and Prejudice’ – ‘Bridget Jones’ Diary’ by Helen Fielding to name one, which is currently on its third book of the series. Many of us know it from the movie, made popular by Renee Zellweger, Colin Firth, and Hugh Grant.

courtesy of Wikipedia

courtesy of Wikipedia

Excuse me while I nibble chocolate and conjure images of their fight in the fountain to the tune, ‘It’s Raining Men.’ Mmmm. Oh yeah, back to work.

I recently watched Austenland, the movie based on a novel by Shannon Hale, which is another of the retakes on Jane Austen’s work. (That’s what you do when laid up with knee injury – rent movies and read books in between interesting events of the Olympics, but I digress.) I thought it was a fun movie, but I’m taking medication. Rent it at your own risk.

Charlotte Bronte gave us ‘Jane Eyre’ and Mary Ann Evans, writing as George Eliot, gave us ‘Middlemarch.’ In the early twentieth century we got D. H. Lawrence’s ‘Lady Chatterley’s Lover.’ Although it was published in Italy in 1928, the language was too risqué for mass publication. It didn’t become mainstream until the sixties. Of course, there was the private printing of it and it was kept as a ‘dirty little secret’ in many a boudoir. Sound familiar to any ‘Fifty Shades’ fans?

courtesy of Goodreads

courtesy of Goodreads

The British have given us many great romance authors. Georgette Heyer is haled as the forerunner of the historical category. Dame Barbara Cartland (can we think of her without conjuring the color pink or the fact that she was Princess Diana’s step-grandmother?) wrote more than 700 romance novels, which were translated into 36 languages. And my personal favorite – Victoria Holt – transported me to many Welsh moorlands, Scottish highlands, and old English castles where danger lurked for a heroine with little going for her except spunk.

courtesy of goodreads

courtesy of goodreads

Another statistic about romance novels – and my last, because who wants to ruin Valentine’s Day by reading a bunch of statistics – according to Wikipedia, romance novels are the most popular genre in modern literature, accounting for 55% of paperback books sold in 2004 and appears in ninety languages.

But going a bit further back in history is another Englishman, Shakespeare, whose ‘Romeo and Juliet’ has come to epitomize the tragic love story. We can’t give him the official title of ‘romance’ novelist, since he was a poet and playwright, and didn’t adhere to the HEA – happily ever after – contract with the reader. He was more of a ‘death becomes her’ and ‘leave them in tears’ kind of guy.

And even further back, the Bible is full of romantic tales. King David and Bathsheba to name one. And The Song of Solomon is full of romance and intimacy. Don’t believe me? Read a bit of it again. Here’s one passage. “Let him kiss me with the kisses of his mouth; for thy love is more delightful than wine.”

But what is a valentine without a gift? Here’s mine to you. The Weather Girls with ‘It’s Raining Men.’ Click and enjoy! The men in this video are so hot, I swear they’re melting the snow off the porch rails!

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When words aren’t enough

A stack of magazines waited patiently for their turn to be read.  Most still  had their protective covers attached.  Many times I lifted them to toss out, but hesitated.

How could I throw out publications I hadn’t even glanced through?

Somehow I felt the day would come when I’d have a few minutes to just kill time.  Then, surely then, I would open them and peruse the pages between the covers still glossy from being safely secured without danger of dust.

**If you have read my post at writingfeemail, you know about my recent knee injury.  If not, hit the link if you are curious about why I suddenly had that time.**

My office is upstairs and I wasn’t about to try to maneuver the steps on crutches.  And my laptop wouldn’t sit straight across the leg stabilizer.  I finished the ‘must read’ books on my kindle and then started digging through the magazines which had been piling up for about six months.

I ripped interesting articles from their spines as if tearing out hair by their roots.  Some gave easily, while others resisted, wrinkling up like a pleated skirt.

Three recipes later - as well as an agent looking for new clients, and a recommended tour route from Charleston, South Carolina to Murrels Inlet – I felt successful in my search for buried treasures among the offending pile.

But it was the July 2013 “O” – The Oprah Magazine, that had me thinking about my blog.  In it was an interview with Natalie Goldberg; author, speaker, and teacher. 

Natalie Goldberg picture courtesy of Wikipedia

Natalie Goldberg
picture courtesy of Wikipedia

You might recognize her name in connection with her retreats in New Mexico, or her 1986 book; Writing Down The Bones; as it sold more than a million copies.

In this article she was introducing her new book, a follow-up to the previous one, titled The True Secret of Writing, and sharing a few of her tips to tease out the writer within.  There were six, but it was number five that spoke loudly to me.

Practice silence.

She said, “Behind writing, behind words, is no words.  We need to know about that place.  It gives us a larger perspective from which to handle language.  Silence can be the door to listening, which is one of the great cornerstones to writing.”

It felt as if she was in the room with me, speaking only to me.  I had been silent on my blog since my mother’s death, as if adding one more sentence would somehow indicate I was through mourning and all was normal again.

The title of the last post I had published was No Words...”

There was a symmetry to these two articles – hers and mine.  It went beyond coincidence.

J.K. Rowling often talks about her mother and wishing she could have lived to witness her success as a writer.  But then she inevitable adds it was her mother’s death that gave her the depth of emotional empathy to write so convincingly about Harry Potter’s grief over losing his parents and the scenes with the ‘deatheaters’ which she describes achingly as the cloud of depression.

The saying: “Nothing is ever lost on a writer,” is attributed to Donald Sinclair, though we have all heard that phrase repeated many times with many authors.  We store even the smallest of tidbits away in the locked vault of our souls which we will mine time and again for just the right emotion we are trying to communicate through our words.

I suppose the time will come when I’ll give a voice to the grief in my heart.  For now, I’ll stick with Natalie Goldberg’s advice and just crack the door open a wee bit, listen beyond the wall.

For the full article from Natalie Goldberg which appeared in Oprah’s magazine, click here.

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No Words…

When you lose your mother, words fail.  Emotions win.


Blanche Canter.  February 1923 – December 2013.

Our last words to each other were ‘I love you’.

There are no better words we could have said and no words effective enough to describe the grief.

No words.


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Merry Christmas From Renee Johnson Writes

Christmas angel

Merry Christmas From Renee Johnson Writes

Click on above link to enjoy a lovely French carol.

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Guest Posting by T. B. Markinson

T. B. Markinson is guest posting for me today. Most of you know her fabulous blog 50yearproject where she explores novels, movies, and interesting corners of the world.

T. B. Markinson

T. B. Markinson

If that wasn’t a big enough challenge she has also published two novels; A Woman Lost and Marionette. Marionette by T. B. Markinson

Thanks Renee for hosting me on your blog today. I hope Nano went well for you and I wish you the best of luck with your writing!

Today, Renee asked me to share a little about myself and how I started my writing career. For as long as I can remember, I’ve wanted to be a writer. In fact, that dream was instilled in me when I was in the sixth grade.

Why then did it take me thirty-eight years to finally take it seriously? One word: life.  And excuses. Every time I would try to focus on writing, life would take over. This wasn’t always a bad thing. Jobs, family, and relationships are important. But sometimes, when it comes to chasing a dream, they can be a crutch. It’s easy to say, “I just don’t have time to write. I have that big project at work. And my partner’s birthday is next week. And with the holidays and all the family gatherings … I’ll get to it next year.” The years passed. The excuses continued.

Then in 2011, something huge happened. My partner was transferred to London, England. At the time, we were living in Boston, Massachusetts. All of a sudden I was unemployed and away from family and friends.  Not that they were to blame, by any means. It was me who came up with excuses. My excuses were gone. Before we agreed to move, my partner and I discussed the pros and cons of moving to a different country. One issue was what I would do. I wish I could say I was jumping up and down, shouting, “I’ll write.” Nope. It was my partner who knew my ambition and she strongly suggested that I shouldn’t be a fool and use the time to focus on my writing. It’s not every day someone is handed this opportunity. And my partner urged me not to waste the chance. Without my partner’s love and support, I may never have had the courage to chase my dream. No one in my personal life discouraged me from writing. No one put pressure on me to put other things ahead of my dream. I did that all on my own and if it wasn’t for my partner, I may still be doing that.

Since moving to London, I’ve published two novels: A WOMAN LOST and MARIONETTE. My editor is expecting a draft of the third novel in January. Yikes, I better get on that. Turns out once the excuses diminished, I’ve been able to focus on what’s important to me. And now I have balance. I still go out with friends and family. I still have fun. I still deal with life. But I make sure I add at least 1000 words each and every day. It’s not just a job. It’s what makes me happy.

Synopsis: Paige Alexander is seventeen and has her whole life in front of her. One day her girlfriend comes home to discover that Paige has slit her wrists. Paige isn’t insane, but she acts like she is. Why? After the incident, Paige agrees to go to therapy to appease her girlfriend, Jess. However, Paige doesn’t believe that therapy will help her. She believes she’s beyond help. Paige doesn’t want to find herself and she doesn’t want to relive her painful past in order to come to terms with it. What Paige wants is control over her life, which she hasn’t had since her birth. During her childhood, Paige is blamed for a family tragedy, when in fact, her twin sister, Abbie was responsible. Abbie doesn’t come forward and Paige becomes the pariah of the family. To add to Paige’s woes while attending a college in a small town in Colorado, the residents are in the midst of debating whether or not gays and lesbians should have equal rights. Tension is high and there’s a threat of violence. She isn’t out of the closet and pretends to be straight at school since she fears what will happen if her parents find out she’s a lesbian. Will she end up dead like her best friend, Alex?

About the Author: T. B. Markinson is a 39-year old American writer, living in England, who pledged she would publish before she was 35. Better late than never. When she isn’t writing, she’s traveling around the world, watching sports on the telly, visiting pubs in England, or taking the dog for a walk. Not necessarily in that order. Marionette is her second novel.  A Woman Lost was her debut novel.

Mailing List: Sign up to TB’s New Release Mailing List here. Your email will never be shared and you will only be contacted when a new book is out. Links:

Twitter        Facebook     Blog          Goodreads     Amazon Author Page

Purchase Links: Amazon (US) Amazon (UK)

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Listening To Your Inner Voice

Listening to your Inner Voice

One of the most amazing things about delving fully into a writing project is the amount of words accumulating as the mind drips into the fingertips and onto the page. Another is how it never fails to open a door to the next writing project.

Just as many authors declare the virtues of taking a long walk or participating in a physical challenge for their ability to clear the cobwebs in the brain, I find sweeping out the words collecting in the corners and crevices of my head clears a space for the next story.

While I was immersed in my Nanowrimo project, I found the knocking of another tale to be a bit annoying. It was akin to being tempted by a desert tray while trying to diet. But now that the clock has stopped on November’s challenge, I am rather intrigued.


“Sporadic thoughts will pop into my head and I’ll have to go write something down, and the next thing you know I’ve written a whole song in an hour.” – Eminem

I don’t know what, if anything, I will ever do with the manuscript I wrote for Nanowrimo.  Most likely, nothing.  However, it was extremely beneficial.

About three days into the project I was researching the correct spelling of a very commonly prescribed pain pill in the sixties and seventies.  My father had taken them for pain associated with  an accident he had.

We thought he took a lot of them because of the pain.  We thought he took too many because he had grown immune to their pain killing effects.

Imagine my surprise when I discovered they were taken off of the market in the United States in 2010 – the same year my impulse to follow my writing passions took off.  They had been taken off of the market in Europe many years before.

The reason?

They didn’t do anything at all for pain.  An opiate, they only affected mood.  Highly addictive and associated with high rates of suicide, especially when mixed with alcohol, which was normal to take the edge off the pain.

I can’t even begin to tell you how cathartic this was.  I’m so glad I listened to my inner voice about writing a memoir for my Nanowrimo project.

You all know how much I dreaded it.

I wrote about wrestling with it.  It just refused to be silenced.  I feel opened up in a new and fabulous way.  Perhaps the cleansing was necessary.

When did you last reap the benefits of listening to your inner voice?

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Wrestling with my Nanowrimo Project

Nanowrimo has my official initial participation date as being the November of 2007, making this my seventh attempt. The truth is, I’ve been joining the throngs of crazed writers during the month of November since I first read about it in a newspaper. (You remember those don’t you? They were large folded, rolled, and stuffed into a plastic tube archaic items that used to bring the news of the day into our homes.)

Nobody knew about my participation of course. I was a closet writer. I don’t even think I had a computer, just scribbled longhand on spiral notebooks, the ink pen housed in the curly wire banding the pages together. I’d stuff the whole thing in the magazine rack or under a sofa cushion when anyone entered the room.

On days I wasn’t inspired to write or had reached a section I wasn’t savvy enough to press through, I’d count the words, jotting them at the bottom of each page with a slash between the total for the page and the running total.
By December I’d usually have half to two-thirds of the required 50,000. Eventually, I informed my family of my decision to join up , and with accountability, came close that first year.

I learned the importance of preplanning a couple of years in. And once I began to achieve the goal, I upped the challenge to writing in a new (to me) genre each November.

Friendships, love stories, paranormal, intrigue, mystery – it’s all accompanied me through past Novembers. Last year the big challenge was young adult. Although it was new and different, resulting in words no twelve year old boy would likely use (sluice for example), it came together nicely and frankly, was much better than I expected it to be.

This year I’ve been wrestling with the story knocking feverishly at my brain. I have been refusing it entry.

No, I will not, I answer.

But it has pushed every other thought out of my head, possessing my creative muse, crossing its arms over its chest, smirking through pursed lips. It defies me not to listen. It has wrapped its long fingers around the neck of every other idea, choking the life out of its possibility of existence.

Yes, you can and you will, it answers back.

So, here I am. It is November. I signed up for Nanowrimo 2013 weeks ago. I must write something.

Memoir writing is a strict discipline. It has to be handled carefully and thoughtfully, though not as strictly as one might when calling such a thing an autobiography. It is about the subject’s memories, feelings, and impressions, understanding that two people can share an experience and come away with wildly different perspectives of what happened.

But when suicide and mysterious accidents run through the family line as inherently as blue eyes and straight teeth, there has to be fallout. Although I would rather not free-fall into the abyss, I have already discovered something new and important. Perhaps the only way to break the dark clouds is to push insistently through them.

I’ll try to keep you updated. I’ve added a widget to the blog to show my progress. If I’m absent for a while you can at least see that I am writing something.

Wish me luck. I’m going to need it.

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