Author Archives: SCN Blogger

Fictionalizing your life, or how autobiographical is your fiction?

SCN novelist and lifewriter Judy Alter looks back on a book she wrote three decades ago, and finds in it pieces of her autobiography.


I’ve been proofing Mattie, the first adult novel I ever wrote and winner of the 1988 Western Writers of America Spur Award for best traditional novel. It’s been available on Kindle forever and done well at 99 centers–#64 today in Kindle ebooks, Genre Fiction, Medical. I’m going to post it to other platforms and thought after almost thirty years it deserved another proofing.

Mattie’s story is loosely based on the life of Georgia Arbuckle Fix, a pioneer woman physician in western Nebraska at the turn of the twentieth century. I didn’t know at the time that Mari Sandoz had also fictionalized Fix’s life in Miss Morissa, and the comparison by loyal Sandoz devotees was not kind to me.

It’s intimidating to re-read something I wrote all those years back. My style is different—the 167-page book is all long chapters and lots of space breaks, and did I really begin every other sentence with “So”? I’m correcting only egregious errors; why mess with success?

The content is more interesting though. I was seven or eight years out of a marriage that started wonderfully and eventually disintegrated. Mattie goes through the same experience two-thirds of the way through the novel; her once-passionate marriage is gradually chipped away until she and her husband, Em Jones, can barely stand each other. Mattie’s retrospective wisdom about the situation struck me—I didn’t realize that I had learned that much from my own marriage, but, darn, sometimes Mattie really seems to understand life. Wish I’d put that knowledge to work years ago

At the time I wrote, I was raising teen-age daughters, with all the angst that involves. The angst is reflected in Mattie’s rebellious daughter, Nora. Only Nora never reaches the wonderful reconciliation my girls did—they are now best friends with each other and with me. When I wrote, we hadn’t reached that reconciliation either, and the angst was much too familiar.

Late in the book, Mattie takes into her home and bed a drifter named Eli, skilled carpenter, a good man, but not one to settle down. I took a week off from work to write the last chapter. The words came in a rush as though someone was channeling me who knew the story. Eli simply rides off after a while, moving on as is his nature, leaving Mattie devastated again—and puzzled. At the time, I was seeing a man I liked well enough to envision a future with him—he liked my kids and wasn’t scared of them, rare in suitors. He was gentle, kind and fun. But as I wrote those last pages, I had a flash of clarity: he too would be moving on. He was no longer going to be a part of my life story. We were together that night—celebrating our joint birthdays, I recall—and I was sad. But I couldn’t tell him why.

Scary thought, especially for mystery writers, if your writing not only reflects your past but predicts your future.

Happy Cinco de Mayo, everyone.


Judy is the author of two mystery series—Kelly O’Connell Mysteries and Blue Plate Café mysteries—plus the stand-alone, The Perfect Coed. In a long career, she has written fiction and nonfiction for adults and young adults, primarily about women in the American West, and garnered several awards. Judy retired as director of TCU Press, a position she held for 23 years. She is a member of SCN; a member of Sisters in Crime and the SinC subgroup, the Guppies; and a member of the Texas Institute of Letters and the Texas Literary Hall of fame. She edits her neighborhood newspaper and welcomes her fifth-grade grandson every school day. A single mother of four and grandmother of seven, she lives in Fort Worth with her lively Bordoodle puppy, Sophie. Visit her blog and her website.

Where To Submit Your Work

Writing Personal Essays or Life Stories? Here are some places to start your search for the right audience and/or publisher. Click on the link for more information–save to your favorites if the site looks useful.

Chicken Soup for the Soul, http://www.chickensoup.com/ Story Circle Network, www.storycircle.org The Sun Magazine, http://thesunmagazine.org/

WOW: Women on Writing, http://www.wow-womenonwriting.com/

TheWriteLife: http://thewritelife.com/19-websites-magazines-want-publish-personal-essays/

Interested in publishing your work yourself?

Balboa Press, www.balboapress.com/

Create Space, https://www.createspace.com/

Lulu, http://www.lulu.com/

Amazon Publishing Services or Barnes & Noble Self Publishing

Here are two hybrid publishers (they do some of the work a traditional publisher does, but not all)

Outskirts Press, www.outskirtspress.com

She Writes Press, http://shewritespress.com/

If you prefer a small press, do some research: Type your genre + “small press” into a search engine. Example: Memoir + small press. See what comes up and follow the directions given. Approach small presses on your own if they say it is okay. You need an agent for the larger ones.

If you are seeking an agent who will represent your work to a larger house, type in “agents seeking” + your genre and see what comes up. Example: Agents seeking romance

Another strategy: go to several bookstores. Find where your book would be shelved. Look in the acknowledgements section of the books there to see who has represented work in your genre and query those agents. Tell them how you learned about them.

There are resources listed quarterly at Writer Advice. Go to http://www.writeradvice.com/cm2. Or go to www.writeradvice.com and click on Contests & Markets. While you are there, go to the home page, www.writeradvice.com, to find out about our current contest. We are known for our sound and solid feedback.

Additional Places Calling for Submissions & Giving Advice:

69 Poetry Contests That Pay Really Well, http://www.ardorlitmag.com/poetry-contests.html

Duotrope, https://duotrope.com/ (You need to become a member)

Funds for Writers, http://fundsforwriters.com/

New Pages, http://www.newpages.com/

No Fee Chapbook Publishers, https://trishhopkinson.com/2015/02/19/no-fee-chapbook-publishers-and-other-chapbook-listings/

Poets & Writers Classifieds, http://www.pw.org/classifieds

Writer Advice, http://www.writeradvice.com/cm2

Writer’s Digest, http://www.writersdigest.com/submission-guidelines

The Writer, http://www.writermag.com/

In case it sounds too good to be true, here are a couple of watchdogs:

This one gives advice about which editors, agents, and publishers to avoid: http://critters.org/c/pubtips.ht

This one warns which Contests & Services to avoid and gives good reasons: https://winningwriters.com/the-best-free-literary-contests/contests-to-avoid

When in doubt, use your best judgment. Weigh the benefits against the cost. Read contracts carefully. Remember that the publishing world is evolving.


B. Lynn Goodwin owns Writer Advice . She’s written You Want Me to Do WHAT? Journaling for Caregivers (Tate Publishing) and Talent (Eternal Press).  Goodwin’s work has appeared in Voices of Caregivers; Hip Mama; Small Press Review; Dramatics Magazine; The Sun; GoodHousekeeping.com; PurpleClover.com; and elsewhere. She is working on a memoir about getting married for the first time at 62.

NaNoWriMo 2016

NaNoWriMo, National Novel Writing Month, begins on November 1st. On that day thousands of people sign on to the website, nanowrimo.org, and commit to writing 50,000 words in 30 days. The stated goal is to complete the first draft of a novel. However, many folks work on memoir, essays, maybe even expansion of a work in progress. The primary goal is 50,000 words. That’s what you need to complete to be declared a “Winner!”

Yes, you have understood that correctly. The prize for doing this is a little badge that arrives via email that declares you a winner. That is the prize but the reward is much greater. In my four years of participation I wrote 206,575 words, completed three solid first drafts, and over 40 essay starts!

This will be my fifth NaNo. In the first year I worked on my memoir-in-progress. Yes, I began as a NaNo rebel. That is what they call participants who do not adhere closely to 50,000 new words, on a new novel, with no revision. By doing memoir I was outside those parameters. The second year I did write a novel but with a small twist. I had heard many stories about writers who got their 50,000 words but then never finished their book. So I promised myself that at 40,000 words I would stop and write an ending. My logic was that it would be easier to fill in the missing middle or near end if I knew the ending. My third year I wrote a draft of the follow up book to the first novel. I am thinking series. Last year I entitled my project “Life in Brief.” I wrote essay after essay. When I got stuck I simply started another one. This was golden. Writing while knowing I was not going to revise at that moment really freed me and new ideas kept popping up. I still have more than a dozen essay starts left to mine for future pieces.

This year I am back to fiction and have given myself permission to work on a project I have been wanting to do for a very long time. I am writing a Christmas book. It takes place in the same town as the first two novels and some of the characters from those have minor roles in this work.

The photo above shows my preparation work. I have read Christmas or holiday books by some of my favorite authors. I have been watching Hallmark Channel Christmas movies. And I have a very cool, mostly instrumental Christmas Collection CD for a playlist. It is easier to write to music if you are not tempted to sing along!

This year I am going to blog about my NaNo process, sharing what works, and what doesn’t. I hope to edit and assemble the blog posts into an e-book that I can share with NaNo writers next year. Click to go to the blog. Please join me and post any thoughts you think might be helpful for the e-book. And if you have never attempted a NaNo project, maybe this is your year!


Jude Walsh Whelley writes fiction, memoir, and poetry. She lives in Dayton, Ohio. This post was previously published on her blog, Writing Now.

Photos and Poems and Quotes, Oh My! How Other Creative Works Can Add to Your Writing


One of the first reviewers of my memoir, Leaving the Hall Light On, said, “…The poetry and photographs add an extra dimension that is missing from most memoirs like this since as a reader you get much closer to the reality
of what is being described on the page…” (Mark Shelmerdine, CEO, Jeffers Press). Another reviewer said my book is “poetically visceral.” Those statements helped validate any misgivings I had in adding other creative works into my manuscript.

I really hadn’t thought of putting photos in my book until my publisher, suggested it. And of course I was delighted. At first she suggested photos interspersed within the chapters, but my book didn’t lend itself to that. So I picked out photos in groups: of my son Paul–the main subject of the book, of him and his brother, family photos, views of my office, garden, and one of the memorials to Paul–a bench dedicated to him on the greenbelt outside our home. At the time I had no idea what an impact these photos would have on the message of the book. However, I am currently reading Keith Richard’s memoir, Life. It has two photo sections. And I keep going back to these photos as I get to know more about the characters in his book.

Inserting my poems was another story. I never considered leaving them out. They were instrumental in my book’s organization. I had journal entries and other writings to draw from and a poetry manuscript, and I arranged my
book’s chapters according the order of the poems in my poetry manuscript. However, I still worried about what others would think. So many agents state that they don’t look at poetry. A memoir workshop instructor wasn’t keen on the idea. However, one of the people who had read my poems several years ago now says he can relate to them better because of their context in the story. The bottom line is: I was fortunate to find a publisher who not only liked the poems I initially had in the book, but asked for more.

Because I collect quotes–I usually note them down when I read, and I continually post them on my Facebook author page–I decided to insert three quotes in my book–two from books and one from a song. And that turned out to be the biggest problem in finally getting my book to print. Since I felt they were integral to my story I was adamant, but it took months to get the necessary permissions. The main lesson is: if you want to include other authors’ words in your book, start getting permission early.

All in all, I felt it was well worth the extra time it took to include other works in my memoir. My writing is very personal and I feel the photos, poems, and quotes helped deepen the personal message of my words.


For more from Madeline Sharples, visit her blog.

Dropped Chops, Salmonella Speculations, and the High School Hypothesis

I love urban myths. Few things get me more excited than fanatically hunting down questionable Facebook memes and skimming the latest Snopes updates for the truth, whether it’s the high price tag of Hillary’s designer jacket or
the impending invasion of sea lice.

There are many questionable claims out there, hitting us from all sides. But there is often little credible evidence to support them. So today, when I came across an article on CNN about scholarly research on the validity of the 5 Second Rule, I had to put down my lemon biscotti. And. Read.

Most of us are familiar with the 5 Second Rule. We triumphantly announce it when we drop a piece of food on the floor, then proceed to eat it. “Still good! Five second rule!” The reasoning is that if the food stays in contact
with the floor for fewer than five seconds, germs have no time to attach themselves. The 5 Second Rule has been a unifying mantra that knew no color or creed, until recently, when CNN ruined it for us all. Apparently, we have
all been wrong. Our claims have been unfounded. And guess who we have to thank for it?

A high school student named Jillian Clarke.

Yes–this urban myth, the origins of which have erroneously been credited to Julia Child, was brought into question by a high school student. After Clarke’s initial research, a study was conducted in 2007 through Clemson
University, which backed up Clarke’s findings, and then was again confirmed by another study last year in the UK. The study outcomes were the same, and I do take some liberties in summary: if it hits the floor, it’s no good.

What is the moral of the story here? There are many possibilities, but what resonated with me is that this urban myth has been debunked because a high school student had the gumption to question something that didn’t sound
right. She questioned it, then set about to prove whether her questions were merited.

Not only should you remember this story when you drop your food on the floor, but you should remember it when you conduct research for your writing. You will likely come across all sorts of articles, texts, and claims that sound similar to this: someone says something is true, and you believe it, even if something deep down inside thinks it’s fishy.

Listen to that little voice. Listen, even if means that you have to go back and do more research. Don’t plug the first thing that sounds intellectual or unique into your writing without vetting it. Be sure you understand
everything you’ve read and that it makes sense. Be Jillian. Be brave enough to say, “Maybe I should do more research…”

Be brave enough to question everything you read, because sometimes the experts haven’t caught up to the common sense-driven writer, and sometimes YOU may be the only one who questions the propaganda.

Be brave, and leave the food on the floor.

Lisa Hacker supervises a community college writing center where she finds immense joy in helping students become better writers. She also teaches writing at a local university. She lives in Texas with her husband, David, and has three adult children. She is also the grandmother to Julia and Graham. Recently she started a new writing business, The Queen’s English. Visit her website.

So Many Benefits from Journaling


The advice below is excerpted from a piece I published in Inspire Me Today, three years ago.

Since then I’ve had numerous articles published in print and e-publications. I’ve also published my YA, Talent, after starting, stopping, revising, reshaping, and adding new strands for years, and I am almost finished with a memoir about getting married for the first time at age 62 to a two-time widower seeking his third wife on … Craigslist.

None of this would have happened, though, without the benefits of journaling. At the risk of sounding like I am writing in my journal, where anything goes, I am living proof that journaling works and you don’t lose until you quit trying.

Here is some advice for starting or reviving your journal:

Record what matters. No one can tell your story but you.

Who’d be interested? Kids, grandkids, spouses, your siblings who remember each moment differently, and generations you may never meet.

Write as often as you can. Add photos. Remember you’re writing to friends and family who may live a very different life. What do you want them to know about you and the way you lived?

Don’t worry about rules. Your journal—your rules!

Not sure how to start? There are two surefire ways:

One is to start with a sensory image:

I’m writing on my laptop and listening to the muted clicks of the black keys that glow from the light underneath.

I’m at Starbuck’s, listening to the snatches of conversation that whirl around me.

Afternoon sunlight makes the leaves on the ivy outside my window look shiny.

The second surefire way to start is with a sentence start:

  • I want…
  • I remember…
  • What if…
  • Today I feel…
  • On the best day of my life…
  • Love is…
  • A year from now…

Where can you find sentence starts?

There are over 200 of them listed in You Want Me to Do WHAT? Journaling for Caregivers. This isn’t an ad; it’s a resource.

You can also take them off of TV and out of books, but why reinvent the wheel? Don’t let the subtitle fool you. It should be Journaling for Everyone.

Can you reuse a sentence start? Absolutely! It shows your change and growth.

As you’re writing, trust your instincts. Trust yourself. Who do you want to be? How do you want the world to perceive you? What do you want the reader to know? Let those questions guide you.

Want to share your results? Leave a comment here or share it with me through www.writeradvice.com.

B. Lynn Goodwin owns Writer Advice . She’s written You Want Me to Do WHAT? Journaling for Caregivers (Tate Publishing) and Talent (Eternal Press).  Goodwin’s work has appeared in Voices of Caregivers; Hip Mama; Small Press Review; Dramatics Magazine; The Sun; GoodHousekeeping.com; PurpleClover.com; and elsewhere. She is working on a memoir about getting married for the first time at 62.

What’s Your Story?

One of the reasons we write stories from our life is to make sense of our journeys.

What have we accomplished that has made a difference? What lessons should we pass on? What wounds need to be healed? What do we celebrate, and who do we forgive? What story are you creating foryourself?

The answers to these questions are revealed in the stories we tell about ourselves.

Periodically we need to pause and assess how our lives are unfolding. Understanding the twists and turns that our lives have taken gives us a choice to move forward on the same path or in a different direction. “They” say that we cannot change our past (and they are right). However, we can start fresh with a new beginning at any time in our lives.

We were created by a loving God who gives us the gift of free will to be authors of our life stories. How is your story unfolding? Are you the hero(ine) or the victim? As children we depended on others to give us a good life, and sometimes they let us down in tragic, even horrific ways. But we are the adults now–the ones in charge–the ones who are responsible for our happiness and peace of mind. The truth is, we can keep doing the same things over and over expecting different results, or we can have the courage to change and embrace the life we were meant to live.

Writing prompt: Write a letter congratulating yourself on a time you stood your ground. How did it make you feel?

Helpful resource: One of the books in my personal library that has helped me dig deeply into myself for understanding is Barry Lane’s Writing as a Road to Self-Discovery (Writer’s Digest Books, 1993).

Joyce Boatright has been writing stories from her life since 1991. She serves on the Board of Story Circle Network.