Monday, July 28, 2014

A Writer's Paradise: A Guest Post with Laurie Smith Murphy

For my readers: My sister, Laurie Smith Murphy, recently spent a magical week at a writing retreat in Edgartown, Massachusetts. She is a middle-grade author with a new manuscript under her belt. Although her advice pertains to fiction writers, I thought some of her insights could also benefit poets. The Noepe Center for Literary Arts is open to all writers, poets and fiction writers alike. This post comes from Laurie’s blog: Random Acts of Writing.

I spent a week in Martha’s Vineyard in quaint Edgartown, participating in a children’s writing retreat at a lovely inn called Noepe Center for Literary Arts. I call it a writer’s paradise. Anyone interested in writing, at any point in their writing path, should consider spending time here. The offerings include residencies, workshops, poetry readings, and even book launches. The setting is idyllic, perfect for inspiration and muse finding.

“Noepe has a very simple mission to provide established and emerging writers with time and space to create, and the resources and community to support, encourage and inspire writers at all stages of their writing career.”

It was a small, intimate gathering of twelve women, all with works-in-progress in various genres and stages of development, and one wonderful mentor, Emma Dryden, of drydenbks. We spent each morning on a different topic, with hand-outs, writing exercises, and wisdom from Emma. Morning workshops focused on first pages, voice, world-building, and  revision.

Nuggets gleaned from Emma’s workshops:

  • The first line/page is the crystallization of the whole story.
  • What you leave off the page, can be as important as what’s on the page.
  • Most books use the home/away/home theme.
  • Allow space for the reader’s emotions.
  • Create rules for the protagonist’s world and a personal set for your protagonist.
  • In the first draft, write with abandon! Keep it messy and do not edit!
  • Paraphrase your story in ten pages, then five pages, then one page, one paragraph, one sentence.
  • Cut the first paragraph and the last paragraph of each scene.
  • List all the decisions your protagonist and antagonist makes. Do the same with supporting characters. The character’s decisions/actions should interfere with the protagonist’s.
  • List the first ten things each character does.
  • Ask yourself why you have to write this story.
My thoughts:
            I know what my protagonist really wants.
            I know why I have to write this story.
            Revision takes a long time and there are many processes to choose from.
            The scariest revision process is probably the one I should use.
            My beginning needed work, but I’m on the right track.
Children’s writers are bright, generous, and fun to be with. (Okay, I already knew that)
When you find a great mentor like Emma, feel fortunate. (I do!)

I feel blessed to have been part of this inspiring, emotional, week-long journey. For more info about this amazing place, check out the website at For more information, drydenbks, go to You can find Laurie's blog at

Friday, July 18, 2014

Happy News!

I always love checking my mailbox – there’s always the chance that some good news will come my way. Yesterday, among the bills and circulars, I saw a hand-written envelope addressed to me. Inside was a letter that began “Congratulations! Your poems “Gale Warnings” and “Flax Pond” won First Prize for body of work in the Adult Poets Category of the 2014 Katharine Lee Bates Poets Contest.”

Every year the Falmouth Historical Society sponsors a contest to coincide with the birthday of Katharine Lee Bates, a Falmouth native and author of “America the Beautiful.” On the date of her birth, August 12, there will be a poetry reading featuring the winners of the contest. I will receive a gift certificate and a booklet of all the students and adult entries that won recognition.

Happy news! I am particularly happy to have taken first place and also that new poems have been recognized. On hearing the news of my win, friend and Cape Cod Times editor Gwenn Friss said, “Those can be in your next book.”

So often, poets work alone and don’t have feedback on new creations, so this win was a nice validation. It also fires my desire to keep writing and keep submitting.

Saturday, July 12, 2014

Book Cover Magic

There are so many things to consider when an author contemplates having her first book published, but one item is essential. An eye-catching cover will draw the reader in and capture the spirit of the poems or story within. Terri Guiliano Long, in an article for writes, “A book’s cover is the first thing a potential reader sees and it can make a lasting impression.”

After the initial excitement over having my book of poems accepted for publication, I downloaded the contract from my publisher. After perusing the four pages of small print, I noticed that I could supply my own cover art. I immediately thought of my sister-in-law, Liz, for this project. She is an artist and crafter from Lowell, Massachusetts. I e-mailed her with my request and she accepted.

Now, I knew my cover was in good hands. Over the next few months, Liz and I kept in touch. I knew she would be working with a photo of the Incredible Barn, my parents’ antique and book shop. Her intent was to do a sketch of the photo which also depicted my parents standing in front of their shop. I liked her idea and trusted her to capture the spirit of my childhood home.

As the summer approached, I asked Liz if she would like to read my title poem. She said it wasn’t necessary. A few weeks later, she said she would like to see it and I promptly sent it off to her. In her blog, Mill Girl, Liz recounts what happened next: 

“Well. The title poem is not about the kind of dream I had assumed. It was not ‘dreamy’ and ‘nostalgic. It was powerful, intense, and dark. The dream was more like a nightmare. My heart skidded to a lurching stop. I immediately realized I was completely wrong about the art I had planned to produce. I realized I should read the whole book and start from scratch.”

I sent her my manuscript and waited. Liz chose a quiet day to sit with my book and read each poem twice. My book contains fifty five poems with seven sections. These include poems about my childhood, love and relationships, mothering, travel and nature poems, and a section of fairy tale poems.

After this careful reading, Liz decided to change her approach to how she would create the cover art. It would be done in mixed media collage, a genre she was not familiar with. She took on the project with a spirit of adventure and the joy of creating something new.

Finally, it was time for me to click on the link Liz had e-mailed to me. I was in my office at the Cape Cod Times when I looked for the first time at the beautiful cover she had created. I was overwhelmed with its beauty, power and originality. In Melanie Lauwers column “Cape Cod Book Scene,” she writes of my book: “Liz Smith’s intriguing cover hints at poems of nature and the past and the way human lives are stitched together.”

 The cover depicts a bed with trees for posts and vintage fabric stitched into a cozy coverlet. There are birds overhead and a clock depicting time passing. A map of Moldova and the photo (by brother Dell) of a mannequin. The open window shows a painting by my dad and a stack of books by the bed was painted by Liz’s mom, Marilyn. The cover art is intimate and personal to many of the poems in my book. It is everything I could have wanted and more.

To read Liz’s account of creating my cover, please check out her blog.