August 2015 Writing Show Recap: Writing Virginia into Your Fiction

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

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!

June 2015 Writing Show Recap – Writing for Girls

By Kellie Larson Murphy

Just in time for summer and coinciding with the 5th year of the “Girls of Summer” reading list at bcbg books, JRW presented “Writing for Girls”. The subject of the June Writers Show drew a large crowd, all eager to hear from an interesting panel that included a recently published author, two spirited young writers, and a veteran writer and teacher.

Sarah McGuire loves fairy tales and considers them the best way back to Narnia – at least until she finds a working wardrobe. She lives within sight of Virginia’s Blue Ridge Mountains, where she teaches high school creative writing and math classes with very interesting word problems. During the summer she loves having the extra time to travel and, of course, write. She is the author of Valiant, published earlier this year.

M.E. Novak-Ellis is a 14 year old writer, musician, and artist who loves animals, sewing, and music. They spend their free time speaking French, reading, and singing and are an LGBTQIAP+ activist, feminist who identifies as genderqueer. They take creative writing classes with Valley Haggard through Richmond Young Writers to write prose, flash fiction, and horror.

Odessa Hott has always loved to write. At age 7, she took her first class with Richmond Young Writers and now, aged 13, she has self-published over 20 original works on Quotev and written hundreds more in many notebooks. Her favorite genres are fiction, fanfiction and romance. She plays Japanese Taiko drums with River City Taiko and is studying Japanese.

Rebekah Pierce has been writing and teaching English Literature for over fifteen years. She is a lover of mystery novels that feature female protagonists who have their own demons to fight as they save the day. Her first novel, Murder on Second Street: The Jackson Ward Murders, is a blend of history and fiction. In December 2014, Pierce released her second historical fiction novel, The Secret Life of Lucy Bosman, set in Richmond, Virginia in 1862.

Rebekah acted as moderator and opened the show by asking each of the panelists to describe their writing style.

M.E. informed the crowd she writes with no gender, age, or body type. Odessa likes to write fanfiction as a way to “get away from it all”. Sarah returns to the stories of the young, fairy tales and fantasy, reimagines them and tells them in a new and fun way.

When asked what writing for girls means to them, the answers from the panelists were varied. For Sarah, it means telling a story through the eyes of girls. She wants to honor and write the type of girl she’d like to be. Odessa finds it easier to write female characters who already know who they are whereas M.E.’s characters are different versions of herself. She likes a strong female lead for girls.

In Sarah’s novel, Valiant, she flips the gender of the main protagonist. The novel is the retelling of The Brave Little Tailor, but the lead character is a girl—not a boy. She is currently working on a retelling of the Six Swans fairy tale, again switching up the parts.

Odessa’s protagonists are also usually girls. She works hard to make them confident and admitted, she often learns a great deal from her characters. M.E. said her characters are one way to present mental health issues and to remind girls there is nothing wrong with being feminine.

The subject of femininity brought forward a recent trend in YA fiction where the female characters are strong (a plus), but often have what are considered “male” traits and use “male” props such as weapons. Sarah pointed out this is easily seen in the character of Katniss in Hunger Games. The panelists discussed the evolution of female characters from just “crying” to “action”. Sarah pointed out that emotion is still useful and is best used as a turning point in the story.

Rebekah asked the question, “Do boys read works with female protagonists?” Sarah felt they would if it was presented to them in a positive light. Odessa said she reads quite a bit of romance and wished it wasn’t labelled as such. The label keeps boys from reading the books although she believes they are for everyone.

Rebekah commented that there seems to be a movement in YA for more diversity in both gender and color. However, diverse characters with diverse backgrounds can be a challenge for writers. Odessa’s writing incorporates the diversity organically. She said it is not planned and is a reflection of who each character is. M.E. likes to research to accurately represent the diversity of her characters. Sarah feels it means asking the right questions to create a world that is different from your own and in the end, comes down to good, solid writing.

Wrapping up the first half of the show, Rebekah asked the panelists which writers they liked. Odessa is inspired by the Robin LaFevers trilogy and M.E. said she feels nostalgic for the Junie B. Jones books. She can identify with her pickiness and sensory issues and still finds the books comforting. Sarah is drawn to the world-building of Terry Patchett and his amazing ability to catch and illustrate humanity even in a story of fantasy.

The full panel was available for a Q&A session that covered why it was important to write books for girls. The crowd was enthusiastic and kept the show lively and fun. July’s show, Novel Ways to Organize your Research, will feature an expert panel to discuss software, online and traditional paper storage, and offer tips to help writers best access information for their projects. Looking forward to it!

April 2015 Writing Show Recap – The Author Website: Build It To Build A Following

Kellie Larsen Murphy

Kellie Larsen Murphy

By Kellie Larson Murphy

Somewhere along the line, every writer is told they need a platform. Along with that advice comes the knowledge that a platform includes social media and specifically, a website. The April Writers Show hosted a panel including an award-winning author, a publishing industry professional, and a web programmer (acting as moderator) to explain.



Justine Schofield is the development director of Pubslush, a pre-publication platform that offers crowdfunding and pre-order option to authors and publishers. Justine_Headshot smA writer at heart, Justine received her MFA in Creative Writing from Lesley University. A prominent voice in the publishing industry and an advocate for educating authors and publishers about crowdfunding, she is a regular contributor to The Future of Ink, Business Banter, and more.



A.B. (Anne) Westrick is the author of Brotherhood (Viking 2013), winner of the AB Westrick sm2014 Jefferson Cup Award, the Housatonic Book Award, the Jane Addams Honor Award, and the Notable Trade Book Award. Brotherhood also made the ALA’s 2014 list of Best Fiction for Young Adults. From 2006-2012, Anne was JRW’s Administrative Director. She lives near Richmond, VA, and blogs once a month about the craft of writing. (more…)

March 2015 Writing Show Recap and Query Examples

By Kellie Larsen Murphy

Life After Rejection: What To Do Before You Query Again

No matter how accomplished a writer is, he or she is bound to have experienced some rejection along the way. This month’s writing show, Life After Rejection, focused on query letter rejection and how to manage it, learn from it, and try, try again.

JRW’s Karen Chase opened the show with a story of one author’s path to success, littered with 61 rejections. Along the way, she heard, “There is no market for this tired writing.” After finally landing an agent (61 rejections later), her book was picked up by a publisher in only three weeks! That author was Kathryn Stockett and the book, The Help. (more…)

February 2015 Writing Show Recap – The Hero’s Journey

By Kellie Larsen Murphy

Plotting the Hero’s Journey

Kellie Larsen Murphy

Kellie Larsen Murphy

The February Writing Show, the first in its new home at the Firehouse Theatre, played to a packed house the last Wednesday of the month. Plotting the Hero’s Journey featured guest panelists Connie Lapallo and Greg Smith, along with moderator Doug Jones.

Ms. Lapallo is the author of two novels based on historic Jamestown’s first women and children. She has spoken before 425 groups across eight states and is recognized as a historian regarding Virginia’s 17th century women. She was invited to address the Virginia Monument Commission regarding its monument to Virginia’s women at the State Capitol. Ms. Lapallo has a degree in Finance from Virginia Tech and an MBA from the University of Georgia.


August 2014 Writing Show : How to Lose an Agent in Ten Steps Recap

How to Lose an Agent in Ten Steps

by Kellie Larsen Murphy

Many writers either already have an agent or are actively seeking one. Generally, it’s the first step in selling your work to a publisher (large or small). To help, there are dozens of websites and blogs devoted to telling an author how to go about getting an agent but there are none who that can tell you how you can lose one—until now!

Kristi Tuck Austin

Kristi Tuck Austin

This month’s Writing Show, How to Lose an Agent in Ten Steps, could be renamed What NOT to do if you want to keep your agent! Moderated by Kristi Tuck Austin, the format for this month’s show was modeled after David Letterman’s Top Ten List—complete with a “House Band” to count down from #10 to #1. (more…)

July 2014 Writing Show: Stretching the Limits of Young Adult Literature Recap

By Kellie Larsen Murphy

Stretching the Boundaries of Young Adult Literature

Kellie Larsen Murphy

Kellie Larsen Murphy

YA books are not just for kids anymore. It’s not only due to J.K. Rowling or The Hunger Games, but also the result of some incredible writing and great storytelling. July’s writing show introduced us to two of those authors, Kat Spears and Kristen-Paige Madonia.

Kat Spears has worked as a bartender, museum director, housekeeper, park ranger, business manager, and painter (not the artistic kind). She holds an M.A. in anthropology, which has helped to advance her bartending career. She lives in Richmond, Virginia, with her husband and three freeloading kids. Her first YA novel, Sway, will be published in September by St. Martin’s Griffin.


June 2014 Writing Show: Put Your Characters on the Couch: Psychoanalyze Your Fiction Recap

by Kellie Larsen Murphy

The June Writing Show played to a nearly packed house at the Broadberry on a beautiful evening this June. Attendees were treated to a lively panel moderated by young adult author Gigi Amateau. The three panelists included Cleve Lamison, an actor, screenwriter, and novelist; Jon Sealy, a short story writer and novelist; and Ted Petrocci, a licensed mental health professional with over thirty years as a psychotherapist, trainer, and educator. (more…)