Wednesday, December 4, 2013

Johnny Gosch and Writing

Dec. 1 at home after from spending Thanksgiving with our son and his family, I saw a program about Johnny Gosch. I remember Johnny's story because he's about the same age as our son, Steven. Johnny was abducted from a West Des Moines, Iowa street while delivering the morning paper. It was 1982 and he was 12. Steven was a paper boy at that time as well, and Steve and I began helping our son deliver his papers after the report of Johnny's disappearance.

Johnny has never been found. His parents divorced in the 90s, and his mother, Noreen, reported that Johnny came to her house one night in 1997. He told her not to tell anyone because he'd be killed, so she didn't report his visit right away.

Our family is fortunate not to have had to face this horror, and I extend my prayers and heart-felt compassion to the Gosch family and other families who have had to endure this tragedy.

What does Johnny Gosch have to do with writing and writers? His case:
* offers a multitude of opportunities for a reporter to investigate
one of these crimes and possibly help solve it.
* motivates someone to write about an organization or various organizations
that assist families of abducted children.
* provides a chance for someone to write publicity for an organization that
assists families of abducted children.
* gives the nonfiction writer a chance to delve into the psyche of the abductor.
* write about creative ways children can avoid being abducted.

This is just the start. Anyone out there with more ideas?

Tuesday, October 1, 2013

Joan Leotta Interviews Me

Joan Leotta is a professional story performer and an author of several books including her Legacy of Honor Series: "Giulia Goes to War" and "Letters from Korea." Her books are available at

Q: Tell us when you first wanted to become a writer?

Jo Ann: I was 12 growing up in Joliet, IL. I read all the Nancy Drew mysteries and any other novel available. That's when I told myself I would write a book.

Q: What career path did you follow.?
Jo Ann: I wanted to go to college but didn't want journalism, so I gravitated to teaching. I majored in English and minored in Spanish and education at University of St. Francis because I could live at home and work to pay tuition. I went on for my master's at Notre Dame immediately after graduating college, which proved to be one of the best career moves I ever made. I taught English and reading in high school and didn’t think of writing to publish. I took a leave to have children and never went back full time. When my youngest son started kindergarten, I started my writing career in earnest.

Q: Did you do any writing on the job or your spare time then?
Jo Ann: I wrote every single day--a journal, short stories, essays, opinion pieces, anything that came to mind--for two years and spent a ton of money on paper, envelopes and stamps before I got a humorous piece published in the Chicago Tribune in a guest column. A few months later I had another humorous piece in "Grit," then articles in "Liguorian" and other religious magazines. At the same time, I wrote a novel and started querying agents. I got one, but nothing came of that novel. I sent him another that he said had great promise. He was circulating it when he died suddenly.
Members of my writers’ group told me I’d have more success writing articles, so I wrote a feature story on local pro football wives and sent it to the area's biweekly newspaper. They accepted it and asked me to be a freelancer. Word went out that the school district where I lived needed a writer for its newsletter. I stepped forward and got the job. The town where I lived asked me to do its newsletter. The local community college needed someone part time to do its newsletter, so I applied and again got the job. I quit the college job and took one at an area hospital. Again, writing newsletter pieces. I was doing this all at the same time then got a job teaching part time. I gave up the newsletter jobs but kept the newspaper one and continued writing novels.
Our move to North Carolina in 2000 didn’t change my determination to write for publication. I was hired as a freelancer at The Sun News. My niche continues to be feature stories. I have written three novels since we moved, none of which has been published. I’m working on another.

Q: When did you start really writing? What types of writing do you do? Tell about nonfiction and fiction.
Jo Ann: I knew I couldn’t teach full time, take care of the kids and the house—not with my husband’s job taking him across the U.S., so I took a job teaching night classes once or twice a week. That left most of the day free to fulfill my dream of writing.

Q: Is your writing a business or a hobby?
Jo Ann: A business. I play bridge and do needlepoint, digital scrapbooking and photography for hobbies.

Q: What else would you like to tell about getting started in writing?
Jo Ann: Writing is a tough business. Determination and study bring successes.

Q: What awards have you won?
Jo Ann: I have won several awards from Illinois Women’s Press Association, North Carolina Press Club and National Federation of Women. They are all for feature stories and photojournalism. My most recent award was for “Old Friends/New Friends: A Veteran Reunites with a Vietnamese Friend” that appeared in South Brunswick Magazine in Spring 2012.

Thursday, August 8, 2013

Review: "Letters From Korea, Legacy of Honor Series, Volume 2," Joan Leotta

Joan Leotta has taken the ordinary act of letter writing and made the action into an extraordinary love story in “Letters From Korea,” the second book in her Legacy of Honor series.

The book opens with Sgt. Sal Leonardi on his way to Korea, regretting that he never told Gina DeBartolo how much he loves her. He is pleased he’ll be serving his country by being a pharmacist in Korea, but his only means of communicating with Gina is via letters. He avoids writing about his feelings toward her because of the uncertainty of war and the miles between them. Instead he writes about mundane things, such as the weather and what his duties are.

Gina, on the other hand, waits for letters from Sal, hoping he reveals he cares for her beyond thinking of her as a little sister. When his letters don’t contain any romantic elements, she doesn’t know what his feelings are toward her. She has moved to Pittsburgh where she has acquired a job at University of Pittsburgh working in the laboratory of Dr. Jonas Salk, the research doctor who discovered the first successful polio vaccine, and plans to earn her degree in chemistry. She tells Sal about these events in her life, but does not include her romantic feelings toward him, thus the two are basically in limbo. However, intrigue develops in Pittsburgh, not only with Sal’s letters, but with Gina’s job.

Jealousy, theft, surveillance, espionage and feigned concern by those Gina meets at Pitt are all part of the plot. The book also expresses a philosophy of life that embraces honesty, integrity and charity and includes close family bonds. The author provides a wide spectrum of ideas that encourages readers to evaluate their own value systems.

Leotta also demonstrates her knowledge of Korean and Italian foods. Readers are sure to glean other benefits of reading the book and will probably want to know more about Gina’s family, especially since Guilia, John, Anna Maria, Carmie, Ernie and others continue their roles in this book, which were started in the first Legacy of Honor book, “Giulia Goes to War.”

The third book, “A Bowl of Rice,” concerns the Vietnam War and is due out in March 2014.

Digital Scrapbooking for the photographer/writer

As a kid, I always liked photography. This interest has never waned. I belong to the Coastal Carolina Camera Club, and three years ago I discovered another way to use my photographs: digital scrapbooking. I have three digital scrapbooks now and will start a fourth by Sept. 1. It is one of the most creative expressions through photography and writing that I’ve ever experienced.
Think about it. If you like photography, you have an outlet for those landscapes, portraits and memorable pictures you’ve taken. If you like to write, you add captions.

My interest in digital scrapbooking started when I covered a story about scrapbooking. The diehard scrapbooker sticks with the traditional method: buy background paper, use scrapbook-developed implements to have unique shapes for pictures, paste pictures on the paper and add embellishments. All of these are preserved in plastic covers. I didn’t want that route. I spend most of my hours at the computer, so digital scrapbooking is an extension of my workday, which I don’t mind at all.

I did research on scrapbooking programs and chose My Memories Suite. It works well for me and what I want to accomplish. My goals are to preserve high points in my life, which include family members, family events and vacations and travel experiences. Nothing from my work life is included in any of my scrapbooks. I have preserved memories of our cruise to the New England states and eastern Canada, our journey through Eastern Europe and most recently our excursions in New Mexico and our nephew’s wedding in Santa Fe. A highlight was my experience in a hot air balloon.

This year——2013——will emphasize our son, Steven, who is in Afghanistan. Trips to Hawaii, San Francisco, Virginia Beach, Chicago, Raleigh and other places will be part of the year I want to remember.

My husband says, “Who cares? Nobody wants to see all that?”
My answer, “I do.”
That’s worth all the work to me.

Sunday, July 14, 2013

The Moveable Feast

Beth Hoffman (left), bestselling author of "Saving CeeCee Honeycutt" and "Looking for Me," spoke at The Moveable Feast, a weekly luncheon in the Litchfield area near Myrtle Beach, S.C. Linda Ketron (right) founded the event 15 years ago and continues to coordinate it. Linda is an excellent example of someone who gets an idea and runs with it.

Sunday, June 16, 2013

Book Review: "Looking for Me" by Beth Hoffman

“Looking for Me” by Beth Hoffman is about Teddi Overman’s dream of owning an antique shop and how she attains that goal. Her brother, Josh, wants to protect and preserve wildlife and their environment, yet he takes a nontraditional route to fulfill his goal.

Hoffman has the ability to craft meaningful images, thus the reader experiences Teddi’s enthusiasm at repairing a battered antique chest and Josh’s subdued enthusiasm at mending the wing of a hawk.

Beneath the surface, the story encompasses relationships, loss, grief and death. As it unfolds, the reader feels the wrenching finality of death, and the sledgehammer blows of uncertainty.

The cast of characters delights with their individuality: Albert Pickens, Inez, Teddi’s best friend Olivia, Grammy Belle, attorney Sam Poteet and his mother, Tula Jane.

The book is rife with universal truths. When Teddi tells her grandmother that someone made an offer to buy the crop fields, Grammy Belle says, “Sometimes it’s not what we hold on to that shapes our lives——it’s what we’re willing to let go of.” When thinking of her brother, Teddi says, “The human mind holds tightly to those things it can’t reconcile.” Teddi’s mother tells her, “Never tie your happiness to the tail of someone else’s kite.”

The story is a journey through life, a mystery and an ode to nature. It shows how people’s lives are intertwined, how people leave indelible memories on others and then move on. Readers will come away with many life lessons when they finish “Looking for Me.”

Friday, May 24, 2013

Paso Robles wine country

Everyone has heard of California's Napa and Sonoma Valleys, but what about Paso Robles? My husband and I didn't realize that Paso Robles is also wine country in California until we drove through it on our way to see Hearst Castle. When we questioned our son, who lives in San Francisco, he praised that area and said he'd plan a wine-tasting tour for us. What a treat that was!

The three hours from San Francisco to Paso Robles goes through a part of California we didn't know existed. It's easy to forget that produce is a major source of income in California. Acres and acres of fertile land stretch out growing lettuce, cauliflower and more fruits and vegetables than I can name--and grapes. We learned that about 300 wineries are in business in the Paso Robles area. We visited eight wineries during our two-day visit and were impressed with the tastes, the choices and the people. Friendly is a key word there.

How does this affect my writing? I now know that this is a destination, and could be a very romantic one. The landscape itself brings to mind a host of possible story lines. So when you consider California as a setting for your story, remember that California has a middle, halfway between San Francisco and Los Angeles. It's called Paso Robles.

Wednesday, May 1, 2013

Finding your writing niche

One of the hardest parts of writing to publish is finding the place where you fit. I never thought of myself as a journalist, yet I've been writing feature stories for newspapers and magazines for decades. My specialty is personality profiles and special events. I have covered every topic from autism--my very first assignment--to zoology--animal shelters and animal rights groups. I have more than 1,000 articles published.

For four years I wrote a column recommending Web sites, but with people becoming sophisticated using the Internet, my column became passé. My column on fashion lasted three months. I wrote a column about events in Brunswick County, N.C. for eight years, but now it's absorbed in events throughout Brunswick County and Horry County, S.C. Do I write a book about feature writing?

My hobbies are swimming, walking, biking, needlepoint, digital scrapbooking and photography. All of these topics interest me, but I don't feel I have enough expertise in any of these fields to write about them except in general terms.

My dream is to get a novel published, and I've been writing novels longer than I've been writing feature articles. What should I do? Where is my niche?

I have a Chinese proverb from a fortune cookie that says, "Your dreams are never silly; depend on them to guide you."

One of my favorite quotes is by Napoleon Hill who said, "Edison failed 10,000 times before he made the electric light. Do not be discouraged if you fail a few times."

I keep writing feature stories, which I love to do, but I’ve written several novels and my dream is to get a novel published. I have 9,982 more tries to catch up to Edison.

Sunday, April 7, 2013

Learning from Roger Ebert

  Listening to Gene Siskel and Roger Ebert review movies was a staple in our house when we lived in Flossmoor, IL. They both were brilliant reviewers, but I'm with MSNBC's Chris Hayes. I didn't enjoy their bickering. Siskel was less animated while Ebert was over-the-top passionate about his opinions. I'm not a movie buff or aficionado, so although I respect Ebert's fantastic writing skills and articulate explanations when discussing his reviews, what I admire most about him is his courage and cheerful attitude through his long battle with cancer.

All illnesses are burdens, especially the ones that ravage the body and transform it to what it shouldn't be, yet it takes a real hero to rise about pain, deformity, exhaustion and the other hardships illnesses encumber. Ebert turned his negatives into positives, a life lesson for everyone to embrace. I can't imagine not being able to speak, but Ebert found a way. He used social media to its height, remained cheerful and looked ahead to more accomplishments.

How can writers emulate his attitude and forge ahead despite drawbacks?
* When rejections flood your inbox, believe in yourself and send out more queries.
* When writer's block grabs hold, step away from your computer and do something for someone,
   e.g., call a shut-in, send a get-well card to a neighbor in the hospital or take some non-
   perishables to a food pantry.
* Write out of your genre, e.g., an essay, short story or feature article.
* Read an editor's or agent's blog or an agency's newsletter.
* Join a writers' group and exchange ideas.

You are creative enough. Think of other ways to get your mind flowing in a positive direction. Do what Roger Ebert did: Used his skills to the max and made other people happy because of it.

Listening to Gene Siskel and Roger Ebert review movies was a staple in our house when we lived in Flossmoor, IL. They both were brilliant reviewers, but I'm with MSNBC's Chris Hayes. I didn't enjoy their bickering. Siskel was less animated while Ebert was over-the-top passionate about his opinions. I'm not a movie buff or affecianado, so although I respect Ebert's fantastic writing skills and articulate explanations when discussing his reviews, what I admire most about him is his courage and cheerful attitude through his long battle with cancer.   All illnesses are burdens, especially the ones that ravage the body and transform it to what it shouldn't be, yet it takes a real hero to rise about pain, deformity, exhaustion and the other hardships illnesses encumber. Ebert turned his negatives into positives, a life lesson for everyone to embrace. I can't imagine not being able to speak, but Ebert found a way. He used social media to its height, remained cheerful and looked ahead to more accomplishments.

  How can writers emulate his attitude and forge ahead despite drawbacks?
* When rejections flood your inbox, believe in yourself and send out more queries.
* When writer's block grabs hold, step away from your computer and do something for someone, e.g., call  
   a shut-in, send a get-well card to a neighbor in the hospital or take some non-perishables to a food
* Write out of your genre, e.g., an essay, short story or feature article.
* Read an editor's or agent's blog or an agency's newsletter.
* Join a writers' group and exchange ideas.

You are creative enough. Think of other ways to get your mind flowing in a positive direction. Do what Roger Ebert did: Used his skills to the max and made other people happy because of it.

Friday, March 8, 2013

Review: "An Heiress at Heart" by Jennifer Delamere

"An Heiress at Heart" by Jennifer Delamere is a wonderful, well-written story that grabs the reader's attention and holds it to the very last word. The Prologue takes place in New South Wales, Australia,  in 1846 and introduces Lizzie Poole, her brother Tom and Edward and Ria Smythe. However, Chapter One moves the story to London five years later with Lizzie taking center stage and Geoffrey Somerville introduced as her intense yet appealing male counterpart.

"An Heiress at Heart" is a tale of mistaken identity, true love and British aristocracy with strong characters who have plenty of flaws and conflicts. The juxtaposition of good and evil is heightened by the well-defined characters. Delamere weaves intrigue, mystery, humor and family through the story to make it a must read in the "sweet" category. No graphic sex here, but the characters are well aware of it.

Friday, February 22, 2013

Guest post by Joan Leotta, author and story performer

Joan Leotta is my guest blogger today. You can find her at, at http// and on Facebook at!/pages/Joan-Leotta-Author-and-Story-Performer/188479350973

1) Joan, what is the working title of your next book?
"Letters from Korea."

2) Where did the idea come from for the book?
It's a continuation of the series, Legacy of Honor. Book One came out in July 2012 ("Giulia Goes to War")
Letters from Korea deals with the love and adventures of Giulia's little sister, Gina, and her love interest, Sal, who is off to Korea.

3) What genre does your book fall under?
Historical, Sweet, Romance--also suitable as YA.

4) What actors would you choose to play the part of your characters in a movie rendition?
Hmm, hard to think of modern actors for this one. I am going old school for the woman--Maureen O'Hara or Rosalind Russell for Gina and new school for the man, David Boreanz.

5) What is the one-sentence synopsis of your book?
Girl wonders if boy loves her or thinks of her as a sister while they are separated by war, her work and his injuries.

6) Will your book be self-published or represented by an agency?
It's already under contract to Desert Breeze Publishing, an ebook publisher.

7) How long did it take you to write the first draft of the manuscript?
Six months, and it is taking longer to work the kinks out with my editor--a wonderful, helpful woman.

8) What other books would you compare this story to within your genre?
It's more like a Hallmark Channel story--I see things in action sequences. Consequence of being a performer.

9) Who or what inspired you to write this book?
My own family.

10) What else about the book might pique the reader’s interest?
Set in Pittsburgh during the 1950s, discusses the development of Salk vaccine. Two real Korean vets provided information that is used to develop the storyline in Korea, complete with Red Chinese "raiders.”

Thank you, Joan, for guest blogging. I loved "Giulia Goes to War" and look forward to reading "Letters from Korea." Good luck to you.

Friday, February 8, 2013

Check out this blog post

Thursday, February 7, 2013

Review of “Guilia Goes to War” (Legacy of Honor Book One) by Joan Leotta

  In the novel “Guilia Goes to War,” book one in the Legacy of Honor series by Joan Leotta, Giulia (pronounced Julia but spelled in traditional Italian) DeBartolo of fictional Avocatown, Pa. wants to contribute her share to the war effort in the forties, but her parents construct a roadblock she has difficulty breaking. With their two sons already fighting overseas, they want to protect their daughter, but what lies underneath is their strict adherence to Italian culture, including spelling Julia the Italian way. They don’t want Giulia to have dates, although she has graduated from high school. They want her to stay close to home and work in the family store.

  Relatives convince the DeBartolos that Giulia is needed at the shipyard in Wilmington, N.C., and that’s where a new world opens up for this young lady. She makes friends, meets single men, witnesses subterfuge and confronts head-on conflicts with her parents.

  Romance, history and intrigue are interwoven with the historical data and cultural mores in this novel. Leotta, a professional storyteller, wraps her arms around facts not usually taught in history class, shows how important it was to the DeBartolos to maintain their cultural heritage, and demonstrates how Guilia acquires her independence.

  The book is a solid basis for understanding American families during World War II and a fascinating contrast to life in America today. Book Two, “Legacy of Honor: Letters from Korea,” is due out May 2013. Check out Joan's Web site at

Thursday, January 24, 2013

The dilemma: Which writers' conferences to attend

Since I began writing professionally, I've been attending writers' conferences as often as I can. "Writer's Digest" offered the first one I ever attended, and I remember meeting others who were as passionate about writing as I am. I loved it and signed up for as many gatherings as I could afford. I enjoy the local ones because there's less travel time and expense, there are opportunities to meet writers from your area, and the speakers are often local as well.

The national conferences are fantastic because of their scope. People from around the country, who have similar goals, that is, improving their writing skills and getting stories and books published, attend. The National Federation of Press Women conferences I've attended in Richmond, Virginia and Chicago have helped me advance my career and added to my knowledge of the industry, besides adding new friends to my address book. I hope to attend this year's NFPW conference in Salt Lake City Aug. 22-24. Another conference I plan to attend is the Romance Writers of America one in Atlanta July 17-20. It is exciting to meet avid writers and have their enthusiasm permeate the conference. The Writers Digest East Conference is in New York April 5-7.

The only drawback to these national conferences is the expense. So why go?
* Meet other writers
* Meet editors and agents
* Advance your career
* Learn more about the industry
* Learn more about your craft

Enough said.

Wednesday, January 9, 2013

Ten reasons why you should enter contests

Entering contests is often a stressful endeavor. By the time you read the rules, go through your body of work, get the entry materials and complete all the necessary details, you may decide it's not worth your time. But that old adage, "You can't win if you don't enter," is absolutely true.

How is entering contest worth it? Let's count the ways:

1) You may have the perfect piece to enter.
2) You're proud of what you've written, photographed, edited, designed or completed.

3) You can determine how you measure up to others in your field.
4) You will meet deadlines.
5) Prizes range from a certificate or free book to a gift card to actual cash.
6) Once you gather everything together and send it off, you know you've  
    accomplished something.
7) Few contests prohibit people from entering again and again.
8) Some contests offer critiques.
9) At banquets where prizes are awarded, you meet others in your field.
10) You will improve your skills or at least learn something just by going through the process.

I've entered photography contests and writing contests, naming contests and word contests. I have won some, nearly won some and lost many, but the process helped me:
1) Develop organizational skills
2) Pay attention to details
3) Improve concentration
4) Manage time
5) Gain confidence

I say, go for it. Enter contests. You will come out a winner whether you get a prize or not.