SPAWNews Newsletter – April 2014


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From the President

Welcome to all the new members and subscribers who have discovered SPAWN this month!

Now that it’s April, I hope spring is finally making an appearance in your part of the world. Here I’m trying to decide if finishing the second draft of my second novel on April Fool’s Day is a good thing or a bad omen. It’s a romantic comedy, so maybe it’s appropriate.

I’m also working on a marketing plan for both of my books. Since my next book is part of a series, anything I do to market the first book will help sell the second one when it’s released in a couple of months. Along those lines, I’ll be speaking at a conference and doing a blog tour in the coming months. As we enter the second quarter of 2014, how are your marketing plans working out? Every quarter, it’s a good idea to look back and determine what’s working and what’s not. Here’s to your continuing success this spring!

Susan Daffron (
President & Webmaster, Small Publishers Artists and Writers Network (SPAWN)
President, Logical Expressions, Inc. /

Editor’s Note

In this issue, we’re hitting the road with articles about how to write a travel memoir and how to write a novel set in another country. Mary Anne Benedetto filled in for a sick friend on a trip to Italy and promised to chronicle the tale so that in reading it, her friend would feel like she’d been along, and it worked.

Sheila Connolly is a mystery writer. One of her three series is set in Ireland. Her description of the countryside and the people introduces you to the tiny hamlet of Leap, as Maura, her main character, takes her first trip to the Old Country. Ireland itself becomes a character and details are woven into the story rather than in endless paragraphs—not an easy thing for a writer to do. It’s important to get the details right, because people love to read about their own neighborhood and they’ll call you on saying “go north on Elm” when everyone knows Elm is a one-way street going south. How do you get it right? Connolly took the trip first and then let Maura follow in her footsteps—except for the murder part, of course; that’s for Maura to deal with.

For this month’s book review, Helen Gallagher shares the personal story of a woman’s desire to know and to tell the truth of her life, painful as that might be sometimes.

I hope the cold weather the entire country has plowed through this winter is now over. Start thinking about travel and be sure to take notes. Who knows where you’ll end up

 — Sandy, Editor, SPAWNews,

Ask the Book Doctor:

Ask the Book Doctor: about Travel Writing, Sidebars, Clips, and Travelogues

By Bobbie Christmas

Q: My daughter is a teacher, and she told me I should write about my travels to places such as Yellowstone National Park, Death Valley, and the Grand Canyon. She suggested writing of the wonders of this country for children. I need a book to help me put down all the information in the right format and wording. Could you recommend one?

A: Learning to write well is a long process and may take many books and plenty of practice, but I can recommend a few books. Before you start, though, be sure your manuscript is in correct format for submission to a publisher. For that information, you do not need a book. Simply go to my website and download Report #104 – Standard Manuscript Format, at

As for books to read on writing, it is more important to write first, in your own voice, the same way you would tell the information if you were talking. Get your first draft written as best you can with the knowledge you already have. After you have written the information you want to relay, you can use any of the following books to help you revise and refine the writing.

My desk reference book for editors and writers who want to edit themselves is called Purge Your Prose of Problems. Use it to look up questions related to grammar, punctuation, creative writing, and Chicago style while you are revising your manuscript. It is available at  Other good books on writing include The Elements of Style by Strunk and White; On Writing Well, William Zinnser; On Writing, Stephen King; and Stein on Writing, by Sol Stein.

Also go to my website ( and sign up for my free newsletter for writers, The Writers Network News, for monthly tips and information on writing.

Q: I have been writing travel articles for several years but have never submitted a sidebar, because I do not know exactly what they are. Can you tell me? Would it be additional information, such as campgrounds and activities in an area?

A: You are right. A sidebar to a magazine article is usually an additional short bit of information related to the article. In some magazines, the sidebar is simply a bulleted list of the high points in the longer article.

As examples, an in-flight magazine gave me an assignment to write an article about an upcoming charity golf tournament. In the main article, I wrote about the tournament, its prior winners, the golf course itself, and other information pertaining to the event. In a sidebar, I told about the charity that would benefit from the event.

For a local magazine, I wrote an article about home security systems and added a sidebar that listed all the local security companies and their contact information.

For one travel article I wrote, I included a sidebar that listed contact information for the museums and other places mentioned in the article.

Not all magazines use sidebars, and most magazine editors do not want sidebars for every story, but sidebars can endear you to an editor and add value to your articles. In addition, if you are paid by the word, sidebars put more pennies in your pocket.

Q: What do magazine submission guidelines mean when they ask that the query letter include clips of published articles?

A: The editor wants to see copies of articles you have written that have appeared in published form. The magazine wants to know, therefore, that other sources have published your articles and that you can write a good article. You can scan and send copies of articles (with your byline) that have appeared in newsletters, magazines, or newspapers, or you can even send a Word file for an article that appeared on the Internet; but if possible, include a link to the article. It is best to send the type of articles you are proposing. For example, if you are proposing a magazine article regarding your backpacking trip through Ireland, you would be wise to send clips of travel articles you have written that have appeared in other magazines.

If you have never had an article appear in printed form, you may volunteer to write articles for nonprofit publications, to get clips of your published work. Yes, getting paid to write can be difficult until you have already been published—the old Catch 22.

Q: I am putting together a travelogue as a coffee table book, and it requires me to purchase a few stock photos that are costly. I am wondering if I need to have a “finished” galley (exact photos and owned, in place) or just put copies of not-yet-licensed photos in the galley to be shown to an agent. If the agent sees the merit in my work, then I would purchase the photos.

My second question is this: where online can I find a travel editor and a food editor? My search online has been time-consuming.

A: First, it is my opinion that the purpose of a coffee table book is to feature original artwork and photography, so I am not sure why the book needs stock photos. Perhaps it should not be a coffee table book, if you do not have the artwork to support it. Nevertheless, when the author is not an illustrator or photographer, publishers usually provide the artwork, so you may not have to buy any art to sell your manuscript. You may suggest artwork, but if the publisher likes a manuscript, it will usually procure the art you want or provide something even better. 

I am not sure what you mean by a food editor or a travel editor. Do you mean an acquisitions editor with a publishing house that publishes travel books and cookbooks, or a manuscript editor who will edit the manuscript for punctuation, grammar, and style? If you want to find an acquisitions editor, use to search for agents and publishers. The site charges a small fee, but it provides a huge database you can easily search.

If you want to a manuscript editor, I am one, and hundreds more can be found through any search engine on the Internet. Simply search for “book editor” or “manuscript editor,” or if your book needs editing for concept, clarity, and/or organization, search under “book doctor.” To learn about my services, credentials, and prices, go to

To read more questions and answers, order the book Ask the Book Doctor: How to Beat the Competition and Sell Your Writing at Bobbie Christmas, book editor, author of Write In Style (Union Square Publishing), and owner of Zebra Communications, will answer your questions, too.  Send them to Read more "Ask the Book Doctor" questions and answers at

Book Review

by Helen Gallagher

‘Writing Is My Drink: A Writer’s Story of Finding Her Voice (and a Guide to How You Can Too)’ by Theo Pauline Nestor

The memoir genre is at its best when the author shows us that she learns through her own writing process. This was never truer than in Writing Is My Drink by Theo Pauline Nestor. Here the author gives us two books in one, as she writes her own memoir and teaches us the essentials of doing the same, while moving through phases of her life as teacher, parent, and finally published author.

Along the way, as you get to know Nestor, you’ll learn that writing your truth in a memoir means writing past your doubt. She equates the strength and fortitude a writer needs to the grip others have on their own sources of strength. Sometimes, for writers, that strength comes from drink. The book’s title references Nestor’s efforts to understand her mother’s reliance on drinking.

Nestor exposes many of her insecurities when she commits to writing a truthful memoir, and has to fight her way through agonizing issues such as acceptance vs. repression and the blunt truths that result from honest self-exploration.

In some important way, Writing Is My Drink speaks to every writer who struggles to tell the truth. It is Nestor’s ability to finally say what she really thinks even if it means the loss of everything that made her a true writer who could begin to consider memoir.

Much of the good advice comes from her personal experience both as a reader and a writer. She is a champion of writing groups. “As a writer I long to break the isolation of the unarticulated experience, the trap of the ineffable. And as a reader, I am hungry for the literary representations of the self. It’s not so much that I’m eager to know the details of others’ lives or that I believe my own experience is so compelling that they should want to know mine; it’s that I adore the wizardry of the alchemical process in which life is spun into story.”

Yet no writer will give you the permission you crave. “Given approval once, you’re not set for life—busily writing and overcoming every obstacle, steadily nurtured by the nod you received ten years ago. No matter how potent, once a shot of approval has faded in your bloodstream, you’ll be wanting another one. Sounds decidedly like addiction, doesn’t it?”

Some of Nestor’s good advice comes from what she learned at Al-Anon meetings, where they help people understand the instruction: “Do your part and then let go of the results.” See how that advice can work for you as a writer as she says: “The list of what we can’t control is endless. We can’t control how others will read our work, who will like it and who will not. We can’t control acceptance.”

Throughout Writing Is My Drink, the author weaves in personal details of her life situation as it occurs, and then goes beyond so we, along with Nestor, can begin to process, learn, and move on. Once ready to tell the truth, Nestor wrote for herself, failing and trying again. We can all learn to be as courageous.

Fiction Set Abroad

by Sheila Connolly

Conventional wisdom for writers dictates “write what you know.” So why am I writing a series set in Ireland? In a tiny village in West Cork?

The answer is both simple and complicated. To start, my father’s parents both came from Ireland, although from different counties, and they met in New York City. For various reasons my mother hated that whole side of the family, so I never met either of my Irish grandparents.

It’s hard to miss what you’ve never known—it was years later that I realized what my mother had kept from me. As a result, when my daughter was young we went Ireland for the first time so she’d know something of her own background. That trip included stops at the small townlands where each of those grandparents had been born, and had left nearly a hundred years earlier—and we found local people who still remembered their families.

Years later, when I started writing, I began with two cozy mystery series set in the United States—in western Massachusetts, where I had generations of ancestors, and in Philadelphia, where I lived and worked for many years. Both places I knew from direct experience—and when telling a story, the details matter. Anyone can look at a map or even a street-level view online these days and get the locations right, but that’s not the same as describing what the street vendors are selling or the whoosh of hot air that comes out of the subway entrance when a train arrives, or the way apples weigh down tree limbs in a good harvest year or how the wind sculpts the snow on the orchard hillside.

I couldn’t do that with Ireland at first, but I knew I wanted to write about it. The first time I saw the village of Leap (population just over 200, and near where my grandfather was born) and found there was a pub called “Connolly’s” there, I was hooked. But even though I write fiction, there was no way I was going to pass myself off as an Irish native, because I knew I’d get it wrong.

So in the County Cork Mysteries I sent a young American woman, Maura Donovan, to Leap. Not a bright-eyed cheerful young woman (as so many cozy heroines are), but one who grew up in a rough part of Boston, raised by an Irish grandmother, and who has seen too much of the seedy side of Irish immigrants—the loners cut off from family life, the down-and-outers who manage to string together a series of short-term jobs and save up just enough to go back to Ireland once a year. Maura wants nothing to do with them or where they came from, until her grandmother dies and leaves her enough money for a plane ticket and a last wish that Maura go tell those who remember her in Ireland that she’s passed on.

So Maura goes to Ireland and is completely unprepared for what she finds: people who welcome her, who know more about her family and her history than she does; people who look out for her and help her, in many ways.

It shouldn’t surprise anyone that Maura decides to stay in Ireland. But she’s still learning about it—the local traditions and connections; the history, both old and recent, that is always there in the background. What it means to be Irish.

Which means she can ask all the dumb questions that I do when I visit—which is as often as I can. I know people there now, and I’ve even found a few relatives. I can find my way around, but I spend a lot of time just talking and listening to people—and I use everything I learn in my books. And I try to get it right, because there’s nothing more insulting than portraying a drunken old man in a greasy tweed cap spouting corny sayings with a brogue. I want to keep going back!

The only problem is, I’ve significantly increased the local murder rate (in the books, not the real world), in an area that has one of the lowest crime rates in the country. I’ve already apologized to the local gardaí (that’s the Irish police). I think they understand—because it’s a nation that loves writers.

Sheila Connolly is the New York Times bestselling author and the Anthony and Agatha Award–nominated author of three cozy mystery series, the most recent of which is the County Cork Mysteries, set in Ireland. Scandal in Skibbereen (February 2014) is the second in the series, following Buried in a Bog (2013). Both have been New York Times bestsellers.
Most recent in the Museum series is Razing the Dead. In the Orchard series, the latest is Golden Malicious.

Three Basic Tips for Eager Travel Writers

by Mary Anne Benedetto

Travel. New destinations. Exotic locations. Different cultures. Making memories. Why do we love to travel? Is it the excitement we feel in anticipation of choosing vacation clothing and packing our luggage? Is it the rush we acquire from researching our chosen destinations and reviewing information about available tours, sights, restaurants, activities, and photo ops?

The travel gene gushes through my veins, as I mentioned in an essay that was published in Remembering our Parents, a collection of stories and sayings compiled by Stuart Gustafson. My parents were spontaneous explorers when we lived in Southern California, and I was privileged to visit an extraordinary number of locations during my formative years—sometimes on abbreviated notice. “Mary, pack your suitcase. We’re going to visit Sedona, Arizona, for the weekend,” Mom might say late on a Friday evening.

At the end of March 2011, I was suddenly preparing for a mid-May trip to Italy with three girlfriends. While some folks plan a trip like this for months—perhaps even years—I was given about six weeks’ lead time to organize my life and be ready to venture forth on an amazing journey. Four friends had been plotting this trip for over a year when one of the ladies—Liz—was diagnosed with throat cancer and was to begin immediate treatment. Her dream of seeing Italy was instantly eradicated. Asked if I could go in her place, it only took me about thirty seconds to reply, “Well, Italy is on my bucket list, I have a valid passport and a fairly flexible schedule. Yes, I’d love to go!”

At the same time, I felt somewhat guilty that my exuberance level was soaring while my friend was dealing with a potentially life-threatening situation. I promised Liz that I would document absolutely everything we encountered on the trip and that by the time she finished reading what I would write, she would feel as though she had traveled beside us—an enormous motivator for me to capture every important detail.

It wasn’t my original intention to write a travel blog or publish a travel memoir, but so many friends and relatives were inquiring about how four non-Italian-speaking women had traveled to three regions of Italy without a guide, I decided that the best method of sharing this experience was by a weekly posting in blog form. Therefore, was born. When several people said that they loved the blog, but even more beneficial would be a book with that same information, the publication From Italy with Love & Limoncello was launched. As an update, Liz fell in love with the blog and the book and is perfectly healthy today!

From my experience, I believe that three basic tips for effective travel writing are:

1. Your readers do not want to see a recitation of facts and dates. Ten travelers to the same destination could potentially share ten very different opinions about that same location. Express your feelings about your own personal experience at this destination. Move your reader along an emotional journey from their sofa or recliner to a place directly by your side.

2. Take a detour. Don’t limit your excursions to those typically enjoyed by tourists in a particular area. By diligent research, find those off-the-beaten-path attractions, hidden gems, colorful locals-only sites. Tales of those unusual venues and experiences sprinkled in with the common tourist events and destinations will give readers a sense of solid knowledge about the location, as well as the satisfaction of feeling as though they have been exposed to privileged information and secrets that they won’t find in a typical guide book. You have just given your readers a distinctive edge over other visitors.

3. Capture everything. It is impossible to compile too much detail when jotting down travel comments. An isolated, obscure observation may evolve into the hook for your future blog post or article. More is desirable, as your final product will take shape from journal entries that perhaps seemed insignificant in the heat of the travel moment. Some data will eventually land on the cutting-room floor, but sights, sounds, smells, and the people you meet along the journey are all noteworthy. As you begin to formulate your story, it will become glaringly obvious which items to include and those to eliminate.

Relax and enjoy your surroundings. Don’t be so focused on capturing the details that you are unable to soak in the sunshine of the trip. During my Italy visit, I kept a small note pad handy, jotting down brief snippets of information during the excursions. I utilized mealtimes to chat with my fellow travelers to expand on those quick notes and finished each evening by reviewing the entries and elaborating on the events of the day. The passing of even 48 hours begins to blur the specifics, so a day-by-day chronicle is the best resource for developing your story.

Additionally, consider sharing what you might do differently if you were to return to this location. Your words will entice, entertain, and inform readers about a destination, so wow them with golden travel nuggets!

Mary Anne Benedetto is a writer, speaker, blogger, ghostwriter, and Certified Lifewriting Instructor. Author of Eyelash, Never Say Perfect, 7 Easy Steps to Memoir Writing: Build a Priceless Legacy One Story at a Time!, From Italy with Love & Limoncello, and Write Your Pet’s Life Story in 7 Easy Steps!, she enjoys golf, travel, visiting family and friends, walking the spectacular South Carolina beaches, and curling up with a great book. She is founder of Beach Author Network, a marketing and promotions networking group for South Carolina coast authors. See Contact Mary Anne at and visit her at ,,

Member News

SPAWN president Susan Daffron will be co-presenting with Penny Sansevieri and James Byrd at the BlogPaws conference, which is being held in Henderson Nevada May 8-10. The title of the session is "How to Get Published (Writing and Marketing Fiction versus Nonfiction)" and it will be held Friday May 9 at 10:45 am. You can read more about the speaker line up and the conference at the BlogPaws web site. Use the code  BlogPaws2014-Speaker-Daffron-10 to get a 10% discount off your registration fee. If you’re really lucky, you might even get to meet Susan’s dogs Fiona and Kaylee who will also be attending the pet-friendly event.

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