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August 2015 Writing Show Recap: Writing Virginia into Your Fiction

September 26th, 2015

Kellie Larsen Murphy

By Kellie Larson Murphy

The August show, “Writing Virginia into Your Fiction,” turned out to be one of the best of the year—informative, fun, and fast-paced. The audience heard examples and advice on how to incorporate Virginia into fiction (or non-fiction) from a wonderful panel that included a successful novelist, an accomplished filmmaker and writer, and the Director of the Virginia Film Office, the audience learned how Virginia can be the perfect setting for any writer.

Kathleen Grissom was born and raised in Saskatchewan, Canada, and is now happily rooted in southern Virginia. Her first novel, The Kitchen House, became a New York Times bestseller and has been published in over fourteen countries. Her second novel, A Glory Over Everything, will be released in April 2016.

April Marcel is the CEO of Gibson & White Pictures and earned a B.A. in Theatre and Film at Hollins University. She has had several films and plays produced, including God’s Eye, produced by Millennium Studios, the musical play At the Table, and the feature film, No Weapon Shall Prosper, which is distributed worldwide by Maverick Entertainment. Her comedic short play, Out of Gas, was produced at Mill Mountain Theatre and is now a feature film, which will soon be released.

Andy Edmunds, Director of the Virginia Film Office, is a Virginia native and an accomplished musician and songwriter. After studying music at VCU in the mid-80s, Edmunds produced a music video of one of his songs that was broadcast on MTV. This experience introduced him to the film production industry where he settled in with the Virginia Film Office in 1997 and has worked with many notable filmmakers including Terrence Malic, Ridley Scott, Clint Eastwood, and Steven Spielberg.

Moderator, Karen A. Chase, is the author of Bonjour 40: A Paris Travel Log, winner of seven independent publishing awards. Her historical novel about the Declaration of Independence is represented by Rebecca Gradinger of Fletcher & Co Literary in New York. She pens a monthly column, “Will Travel for Words”, for Originally from Calgary, Canada, Karen lives in Richmond and is on the board of James River Writers.

Karen opened the show with a few facts about the nine sections of Virginia, how each was different, and commented that Virginia represented the USA in miniature. Andy agreed, telling the audience that Virginia offered diverse topography with unique locations and characters. He pointed out the nine sections could be boiled down to mountains, coast, and piedmont areas and each contrasted sharply with the Northern Virginia/DC areas. He said, “Virginia is rich with material and accents, from the country to DC.”

Noting that there are times when the place starts the story, Karen asked Kathleen about setting and her novel, The Kitchen House. After telling the crowd she was a Canadian transplant residing in Southern Virginia, Kathleen talked about finding an old plantation and a map of that plantation that included a former tavern known as Negro Hill. That was the beginning of her obsession that became The Kitchen House.

However, settings in Virginia don’t need to be historical. Karen suggested Thelma’s, a place known for chicken & waffles as a setting. April agreed. In her screenplay, The Way to A Man’s Heart, the genre of the food, locale, and dialect make the story.

For Kathleen, research played a large role in her novel. She visited three historians and spoke with multiple people who were locals. As Karen pointed out, people will help you if you ask. Andy joked that while it’s true here in Virginia, in Hollywood, people won’t hesitate to use “location extortion.” They want to be paid for the use of their land, house, etc. while Virginians are always friendly and ready to help. He cited the filming of three major projects in Virginia: Loving, Big Stone Gap, and Turn. Another series, Mercy Street, is also shooting in Virginia.

While these are larger projects that remind us Virginia has a lot to offer with its history, the people themselves can be characters. April’s grandmother was exactly that—a woman of faith who slept with a gun and cursed. April was able to keep this amazing woman alive as the inspiration for her character, Mother Straightway.

There are many ways to research and use Virginia in our fiction. According to Andy, the film office has more than 120,000 images available from all over the state. These are “not necessarily beauty shots” and include interiors and exteriors. Karen said she likes to go the sites of her stories. “I walk the land and it comes up through my feet,” she said. Kathleen admitted she drank from the dismal swamp as part of her research. She told the audience that kneeling down and drinking was a spiritual experience. Other ways to capture the essence of location were to collect rocks and plants or to record the sounds. Andy agreed that if the author can capture the setting, it can serve as a character and help the reader connect.

While researching, there can still be unanswered questions. Kathleen used the genealogy section of the library as well as court records. Karen has found the state library helpful. April takes the direct approach and spoke with police while working on No Weapon Shall Prosper, her project on domestic violence. They gave her access to other organizations. “You don’t know unless you ask,” she said.

Research often involves travel. Karen asked the panelists if they had any advice. Andy said, “Don’t forget your charger.” After the audience laughed, he also added the film office helps travel writers on a regular basis. Along the same lines, April reminded authors not to forget their computers. Kathleen advised writers to keep an open mind and ask questions. The final advice came from Karen. She said, “Leave your phone in the car. Use your five senses and experience the places.”

The first half of the show was followed by a question and answer session—always an audience favorite! September’s show (the last of the year) also promises to be both educational and fun. The topic next month, “Market and Promote your Indie Book, A Step-by-Step Guide”, will outline marketing options (pre and post-release) and feature Terri Leidich of BQB Publishing. Attendees will receive spreadsheets and task-lists. Looking forward to another g

July 2015 Writing Show Recap: Novel Ways to Organize Your Research

September 26th, 2015

By Kellie Larson Murphy

Organization: it’s a challenge for fiction and non-fiction writers alike. This month, JRW tackled the topic with “Novel Ways to Organize Your Research,” drawing a large and curious audience. The knowledgeable and delightful panel included veteran authors, a writing software representative, and an academic librarian.

ashe_bertramBert Ashe is the author of Twisted: My Dreadlock Chronicles, which explores issues of black male identity, black vernacular culture, and black hair by narrating the journey of locking his hair while also exploring the history and cultural resonances of the dreadlock hairstyle in America. He teaches and writes about contemporary American culture.



Jennifer Hughes provides QA, customer tech support, and other odds and headshot_jhughesends for Literature & Latte, developer of the popular writing software Scrivener and Scapple. She was the technical editor for Pearson’s Scrivener Absolute Beginner’s Guide and contributed to editing Wiley’s Scrivener for Dummies. Outside of work, she uses Scrivener for everything from writing novels to organizing recipes.



FletcherPicHarrison Candelaria Fletcher is the author of the award winning Descanso For My Father: Fragments of a Life. His work has appeared in many journals and anthologies including The Touchstone Anthology of Contemporary Creative Nonfiction. A native New Mexican, he teaches nonfiction in the Virginia Commonwealth University MFA in Writing Program.



Moderator, J.T. Glover, has published short fiction in The Children of Old Leech, Author-John-GloverFungi, Underground Voices, and Handsome Devil: Stories of Sin and Seduction, among other venues. He is a member of the board of directors of James River Writers. By day, he is an academic research librarian.

J.T. jumped right in by asking each of the panelists about their organizational methods and how those methods shaped their lives.

Bert manages his work in Microsoft Word. He keeps one main file and brings in annotations and quotations. If necessary, he creates separate files and moves them into the main text if/when they fit.

For her writing, Jennifer is a fan of Scrivener (naturally!). She makes notes and stores projects using the software because it’s all there in one place for her when she’s ready to write. Scrivener is useful to her as her writing time is limited by her job and homeschooling her two children. By using writing software, she also feels she can just pick up right where she left off at any time.

In contrast, Harrison uses old-fashioned paper to write (audience applauds!). He compares his writing/organization process to grocery shopping. The first phase is shopping, the second is seeing what he came home with, and the third is putting it all together into a meal. He intuits his way through his work—no recipe. He describes his process in four stages: gathering, categorization, putting together, presentation.

Since each of the panelists uses very different methods and writing is inherently a creative process, J.T. asked, “Is organization bad for writers?”

Harrison, a fan of “old-school” methods, believes it can be. He feels a writer shouldn’t worry about where something will fit. Instead, he recommends “trusting your curiosity” before you start to put the project together. However, at the end of the process, organization becomes important.

Jennifer explained that while her bits and pieces are all filed away in Scrivener, it’s not necessarily “organized”. Scrivener gives her the ability to rearrange and move material/research. She likes that it’s digital and there when she needs it.

To Bert, if it’s art at the end of the day, whatever process works for the author is a success. There is no good or bad way. However, he is wary of focusing on organizing in lieu of creating.
To him, it’s most important how the research fits into the text. Still, if the organization method being used is impeding the writing task, he understands the need for a change.

J.T. turned the show over to Jennifer for a brief explanation of Scrivener. Since Jennifer writes science fiction, she showed screen shots of some of her files. These included everything from images, a planet map, binders, text, and timeline files. She said, “You can toss anything into the binder and it’s always there.”

J.T. asked Bert and Harrison if they would want to give Scrivener a try. Bert found the software fascinating but admitted he wasn’t sure he was willing to learn it. Harrison told the crowd he had the same type of organization—it just happened to be spread out all over the floor! He did admit Jennifer’s method probably allowed her to do some of her work faster. He writes longhand and only uses the computer for editing.

Turning to the audience, J.T asked how many currently used Scrivener software or something similar. Close to a third of the audience raised their hands! Acknowledging writers use a variety of tools, he asked Jennifer what she would say to those who might want to experiment. She advised if an author’s current process is working, then experimentation is probably not necessary. Scrivener does come with many bells and whistles, but these are not needed by everyone. (She did tell the audience a Free Trial of Scrivener is available online).

Harrison reminded everyone that an author’s needs may change based on the project. More (or less) organization depends on the manuscript.

J.T. asked “What if a writer is just getting started?”

Jennifer commented it depends on what they are writing. Harrison agreed. Essays need clarity. Newspaper reporting is different and is based on facts gathered. Bert told the audience he keeps a writing journal. In it, he talks about what he’s writing and going back to it has proved helpful to his final manuscript. Since blogging can be like a journal, J.T. wondered how Bert felt about using a public blog like a journal. Amusing the audience, Bert asked, “Me?” He shook his head. “No. I’m a private guy.”

The consensus among the panelists was there is no right or wrong way to organize. They agreed some writers add research later in the writing process. Harrison does as much research as possible at the beginning saying he “eats until full.” Then he writes and goes back to his research to sharpen the story. Bert added his research is not “hyper-organized.” Most importantly, each of the panelists encouraged the audience to use the research methods and tools that worked best for them, whether that was writing software or pen to paper.

During the second half of this month’s show, the full panel took questions from the audience on topics including specifics on using Scrivener, annotations and citations, and timed writing. It was a fun and informative night and many thanks to a strong panel and enthusiastic crowd. In August, JRW will present Writing Virginia into Your Fiction featuring authors Kathleen Grissom (The Kitchen House) and April Marcell along with Andy Edmunds of the Virginia Film Office. Looking forward to another great Writing Show!

September 2015 Writing Show – Self and Hybrid Publishing & Step-by-Step Promotion

September 1st, 2015


James River Writers wraps up another great Writing Show season with a mini-seminar presented by Terri Leidich, author, and President and Publisher of BQB Publishing.

Market and Promote Your Indie Book offers details on methods for hybrid and self-publishing including tangible to do lists.

We will outline marketing options and planning for pre-book release, book launch, and post-release to best promote your book project.

All attendees will receive spreadsheets for planning and detailed “to-do” lists.

Click here to register today!




$12 members | $15 non-members | $5 students
Social: 6pm | Show: 6:45pm
Wednesday, September 30th


terri leidichTerri Ann Leidich, President and Publisher of BQB Publishing, started the company to fill a void she found when she started to try to publish her books.

Terri Ann has lived in the South most of her adult life and has traveled extensively both within the United States and internationally. She has visited every state in the United States except Maine and Alaska, and has traveled in the Caribbean, the United Kingdom, Europe, Australia, Africa, and Asia.

She spent many years in corporate America in a variety of marketing positions. Then, with her background in marketing, for the last 20+ years, Terri Ann has been an entrepreneur and owner of several companies ranging from a small diner in Minnesota, to an event and travel organization for mid-life singles, to a hybrid publishing company.

She is the author of two nonfiction books: From a Grieving Mother’s Heart and For a Grieving Heart. Her debut novel, Family Inheritance, was released in October of 2014 by BQB Publishing.

The grief books were adapted from a journal she kept after the death of her son in 1991 from a vehicle accident, and she began writing her novel in the late 1980s when she had the idea for a short story about three sisters. She enjoyed the characters so much that the concept for the novel began coming together in her mind and in an outline on paper, then was stuck away in a file box for many years. The bulk of the story was developed in the early 1990s and then once again put into the file box and pulled out again in 2009 when serious editing and rewriting began. The characters have been with her for so long that she admits they feel like part of the family.

Terri Ann lives in Christiansburg, Virginia, with her husband Glenn. She loves reading, writing, good food, and travel, especially road trips.