Tag Archives: Pennwriters

An Editor’s Life: Conference Textures


I do it every other year, and every other year, it’s completely different.

I’m talking about the Pennwriters Annual Conference. Every other year, it’s held in my backyard of Pittsburgh. I get to sleep at home, escape early from the chaos, and have some good decompression time. And I drive a lot. Half hour each way, but so totally worth it. Plus, driving down on Saturday, Octane was rocking hard and the music was blasting and it was a super way to start the day.

Anyone who’s been a repeat offender at Pennwriters (or any other convention, I’m sure) will agree with this: even when the faces are mostly the same, the conference experience never is. There’s always something new to explore, someone new who makes a difference.

Two years ago, I spent most of the conference sitting in a hallway, wrangling authors who were going to pitch agents and acquiring editors. I had a ball, don’t get me wrong, and not just because a number of my conference buddies amused me by telling me that they hadn’t realized I was even in attendance. And, as always, I learned a lot.

This year, it was totally different. I couldn’t deliver the SIX baskets I’d collected for the Chinese Auction until Friday morning, so as soon as I tossed kids out the door and onto the school bus, it was into the car to get the baskets set up.

I spent the morning doing that, helping my friend and subcontractor Mary get all the baskets together. We had another Susan helping us and it was friendly and companionable and comfortable. What a super way to ease into the event.

A month out, I’d planned to skip the two lunches the conference offered: one for only those who’ve achieved Published status and the other was for the unwashed masses. I hate class structure like that, and I think that in this age of transparency and a changed publishing model, the need for this structure is over. So I’d expected to have a quiet lunch by myself in the hotel restaurant.

But I mentioned that I was skipping the organized lunches and talks to a friend I meet with monthly. And suddenly, I had a lunch date.

Fast forward to the conference. I’m sitting in a chair, waiting for my friend, and … someone walks up. She’s going to have lunch by herself. Or… she was. She joins me.

A minute later, there’s still no sign of my friend. Good thing because Mary shows up with a buddy, one of the best storytellers I’ve ever met.

And lunch for one became five. It was not a quiet lunch. Not even close.

That’s how the weekend went. Good people around me at all times. Some were new faces. Some were old. Some were connections I’d made over ten years ago in an entirely different venue. But I never felt alone, never felt lonely or lost or ignored, even when I was sitting by myself.

I gave my first workshop. It needs some tweaking and probably broken into two different sessions altogether. But I’m also booked for next month to give it again. I was asked to do an online workshop and while I think that may not come to be — my credentials seemed to ultimately be disappointing, since I’m not an acquiring editor — at least I was asked.

Someone asked me where I see myself in five years. I’ve been thinking about that. I see myself doing more of this. More talks. More networking. More editing. More success.

That was the texture of this year’s conference. Last time, it was about helping others calm their nerves, about finding them time for expanded opportunities. This time, it felt like I’ve been waiting for it to feel.

My favorite line of the weekend? “I’ve been seeing this West of Mars everywhere, it feels like.”

YES. Hey, did I tell you I have editing dates open this summer?


Conference Season


Anyone who’s hung around these parts for any length of time knows I am a member of Pennwriters, and that I go to the conference in the odd-numbered years, when it is held in Pittsburgh.

This year, I’ll be presenting a workshop — but not on what you may think when you first see that I’m doing it. Susan the editor, Susan the writer … those personas are being shoved aside for a Sunday morning and instead, I’m going to be Susan the Reviewer. I’ll be using my experience as a longtime blogger and a professional book reviewer to run a workshop about reviews. I will have two outlines ready to go, and my audience will select between:

1. How to write a killer review, including how to evaluate the text and sound smart

2. Reviews for authors — how to get them, who to ask, the value of the paid review, the value of the one-star review, and what’s worse than that dreaded one-star review.

Frankly, I want to focus on the second topic. But it’ll be up to my audience.

So. If you’re interested, if you are burning to know if I truly am an Orange S on a Red Background, if you’re around, or if you’re looking for something to do Sunday morning before you hit the road for home, sign on up for the Pennwriters Conference. There’s lots more you’ll find besides just me. Acquiring editors. Agents. Other authors. And some of the friendliest, most supportive people around. This is the fun kind of networking, the kind that doesn’t hurt.

Come on out. And be sure to keep your eyes peeled for the Orange S on the Red Background.

avatar S RED


Featured New Book: Blood and Iron by Jon Sprunk


People sometimes ask me what’s the purpose of a writer’s group in today’s world. Why not connect online and be done with it all?

Because there’s magic when you can connect in person and realize the person you’ve gotten to know online is so much more interesting in person.

Blood and Iron cover

Such it is with my buddy Jon Sprunk, who is a true writer pro and a super dude. And he’s got a new book out, as well. Which means he’s taking a turn in the spotlight.

Jon, what song makes you think of your book?

Answer: “Revelations” by Iron Maiden. I’m a child of the 80’s metal wave. This song in particular evokes the majesty and mystery that I tried to put into every line of my new epic fantasy, “Blood and Iron.” But, of course, I’m not writing just for the metal crowd. This new series is about the clash between rival cultures, the friction between social strata, and the real price of liberty. You won’t elves or unicorns within its pages, but you will find magic, the kind of elemental sorcery that can destroy as well as create. I hope you’ll give it a try.


Wait. He said IRON MAIDEN??? Duuuuuuude. I told you he was cool, didn’t I?

Now, after all that, you totally need to know what Blood and Iron is about.

This action-heavy EPIC FANTASY SERIES OPENER is like a sword-and-sorcery Spartacus set in a richly-imagined world.

It starts with a shipwreck following a magical storm at sea. Horace, a soldier from the west, had joined the Great Crusade against the heathens of Akeshia after the deaths of his wife and son from plague. When he washes ashore, he finds himself at the mercy of the very people he was sent to kill, who speak a language and have a culture and customs he doesn’t even begin to understand.

Not long after, Horace is pressed into service as a house slave. But this doesn’t last. The Akeshians discover that Horace was a latent sorcerer, and he is catapulted from the chains of a slave to the halls of power in the queen’s court. Together with Jirom, an ex-mercenary and gladiator, and Alyra, a spy in the court, he will seek a path to free himself and the empire’s caste of slaves from a system where every man and woman must pay the price of blood or iron. Before the end, Horace will have paid dearly in both.


Jon’s gotten some good reviews on this already, especially about his world-building, and especially from some of the industry’s big names in reviews. How can you ignore that??? You can’t, I know, so here are some buy links:

Barnes and Noble
Indie Bound

Get to know Jon. You’ll be glad you did.

Jon’s website
Jon’s facebook fan page
Jon’s twitter


Conference Bound


It’s been a long time — years — since I last attended a writer’s conference. In that time, I’ve done scarcely anything that’s been writerly in or around the Pittsburgh area. It’s been rough. I’ve missed it.

I think.

This morning, as soon as I put The Girl Band on the bus, I’m headed down to the Pennwriters Conference. I’ve been volunteering and helping out… I have to say, it was way more fun when I did it two years ago. I had more time, fewer obligations, and no editing clients who simply have to come first.

I think this is a great organization, but I have to take a step back and evaluate. Although I have six books out, they won’t consider me published. Although I volunteered to lead a few panels — including one all about reviewing, including how to respond to negative reviews, how to solicit reviews, where to look, and why you should/shouldn’t pay for a review, something I’ve never seen offered at ANY conference — my offer was lost. When I brought it up to the very person I’m volunteering my time for, she said if something opened, she’d be glad to plug me in.

You know where this is headed. Someone was needed to fill a Sunday morning spot.

It’s not me.

In fact, I am not even planning on being on-site Sunday. After the book signing on Saturday, I am going to pack up my books — I don’t expect any to sell and, being that horror show called self-published, I have to schlep my own books to/from the signing — and call it done. Smile through dinner with the local group who is smart enough to value and like me.

For me and Pennwriters, it’s going to come down to how the weekend goes. There are very few, if any, panels I’m interested in taking. I don’t need to learn how to self-edit. I don’t need social media for beginners, which has been taught at every conference since at least 2010. I don’t need to learn how to pitch to literary agents, or what happens after my book sells. That’s not my path. And lunch today? The choices are the hot buffet luncheon for the published group who won’t consider me published or the more expensive cold cuts in a box (at least, that’s what it was two years ago) with a talk given by someone who was less than gracious (to say the least; my group of friends has banned me from ever inviting anyone to our group dinner ever again, based on how he acted) about … how to find a literary agent.

Needless to say, I am planning on heading out of the hotel and up to a local beer joint that makes great fries. Maybe, if I find a friend who feels as I do, I’ll stay and eat in the hotel restaurant. But really, Bocktown’s not far, and I haven’t been there in years, either.

Two and three years ago (there are three links there), things were very different for me. The exact opposite of how I’m feeling now.

But the industry has hung a sharp left since then. My life has gone even more sharply in other directions (hello, editing business!). And maybe it’s time to find — or create — a group where I’m not the round peg in the square hole, filling pretty well but not quite.

I don’t know. This weekend will tell.


Featured New Book: Second Chances by Alana Lorens


SecondChances-promoI belong to a couple of writers’ organizations. Big ones, that have been around a long time. I belong to some newer ones, too, but right now, we’re focusing on Pennwriters, an awesome group of mostly (but not entirely) Pennsylvania writers.

I’m happy to host Alana Lorens today. Her new book, Second Chances, is set here in Da Burgh — that’s Pittsburgh for you not hip enough to know the name of the beloved major city I live near. Second Chances is the second in the Pittsburgh Lady Lawyers series. But I bet you can read this one before picking up the first.

So… Alana, what song makes you think of your book?

Recipe For Love— by Harry Connick, Jr. My 40-something heroine Inessa Regan finally allows herself to give in to her feelings for her much younger Iraq veteran honey Kurt Lowdon, while sitting in the office they share late one night, reviewing secretary resumes, drinking wine and listening to old Harry sing as only he can. She wakes up the next morning singing this song and blushing like a much younger woman, happy in love.

Harry Connick, Junior! Been awhile since I’ve heard his name!

On to the book blurb:

This women’s fiction story begins the day attorney Inessa Regan receives a pink slip after ten years of faithful service. She’s been a mid-level associate her whole career, partners telling her what to do, providing her with an office and everything she needs. Thrown out into the legal world on her own, she doesn’t know how she’ll survive.

Her neighbor brings her first client, Kurt Lowdon, a young Iraq veteran with cancer, who’s looking just to have a will made. Inessa struggles to give Kurt what he needs, and he helps make it easy for her.

Once his immediate needs are met, he takes her under his wing and brings her more clients as well as a place to open an office to see them. Things begin to fall together for her, including a very special friendship with Kurt that becomes something more.

But his past military service, and the friends he’s made there, begin to cause problems for them both, as well as issues his drug-addicted sister delivers to his doorstep. He still hasn’t kicked his cancer, either, and Inessa wonders if falling in love with him is a blessing or a curse.

Here’s the book trailer for SECOND CHANCES

Buy at Amazon
Barnes and Noble

4. Please provide any personal links you’d like to include: your website, your blog, Facebook, Twitter, GoodReads… and/or anything else I may have forgotten


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Featured New Book: Bleeding Hearts by Ash Krafton


The world works in funny ways. I think I first really became aware of Ash Krafton through Triberr. When she released her new book, Bleeding Hearts, I realized she’s also a Pennwriter.

Triberr friends are cool. But to be BOTH a Triberr AND a Pennwriter? Well, Pennwriters… I consider Pennwriters to be MY people, you know? These are the people who (by and large) know me in real life. Many of them know what my face looks like — and the rest of me. And they suffer my often big, opinionated mouth. (Who, me? Hell, yeah!)

So when Ash announced the release of her first book, you KNOW I had to have her come by. I pretty much put it to her in those terms, too. It seems, though, that our favorite question wasn’t so easy when placed in Ash’s capable hands. Read on…

I’m sure you weren’t being mean when you asked this question, Susan. How were you to know the book was written, not with a single song in mind, but rather an entire playlist?

That means it’s going to be tough to answer this question.

Most of the songs on the Bleeding Hearts Soundtrack (not available in any store because, apparently, copyrights are ridiculously tricky things) aren’t by mainstream artists. How many readers are familiar with Lacuna Coil, Type O Negative, and Blind Guardian? Didn’t think there’d be many. And how many of you are devoted Rush fans? Yep. Thought so. (I won’t tell Geddy, though. He’d just be hurt.)

So answering this question is a lot harder than it should be. After all, if nobody’s heard of the song, then nobody’s going to relate to the book for the purpose of this article. What a failed promotional jig this would turn out to be!

Then I remembered—there *was* a band that got lots of radio play, that had Billboard-Chartable hits, that was mainstream despite their not wanting to be mainstream. There *was* a band that produced several emotional songs that really affected me in a creative way…songs like “My Immortal” and “Going Under”…and “Bring Me To Life.”

That’s it. That’s the song.

“Bring Me To Life” by Evanescence reminds me of the book every time I hear it. However, in my head, it’s not Amy Lee singing—it’s my hero, Marek.

Marek is a Demivampire who is dangerously close to Falling. If that happens, he’ll evolve into a vampire and will be lost forever. There’s slim hope for a demivamp who gets that close to the edge…unless they are found and Saved by one of the Sophia, a group of mystical oracles who are able to undo the spiritual damage responsible for a demivamp’s evolution.

Marek believes he’s too far gone to save. But that’s when Sophie finds him—and she’s not going to give up on the man she loves.

The song “Bring Me To Life” begins with the words:

How can you see into my eyes
Like open doors?
Leading you down into my core,
Where I’ve become so numb.

Without a soul,
My spirit’s sleeping somewhere cold,
Until you find it there and lead it back

Marek’s sure he’s beyond redemption when he meets Sophie. Neither of them realizes what she is at first, but he knows she’s something special. Her quirky little spurts of wisdom never fail to catch him off guard and he’s determined to find out.

As their love story progresses, Marek tells Sophie no one has ever touched his heart the way she does. It’s echoed by this line:

Frozen inside without your touch,
Without your love, darling.
Only you are the life among the dead.

Marek is desperate to rejoin the living and is confident Sophie can lead him back.

Evanescence performs the song with a haunting mixture of fierce determination and desperation, two sentiments that drive the soul of Bleeding Hearts. If the group ever re-records the song, reversing the male/female vocals, I think it would be a perfect match.

Even as it plays, “Bring Me To Life” takes me to my book every time I hear it. And, while a lot of music played in the background while I wrote Bleeding Hearts: Book One of the Demimonde, giving plenty of emotional fuel to create the character of my empathic heroine, this one seems written especially for her hero.

I’d like to dedicate this song to you, Marek.

WHAT, Ash?? MY readers not know Lacuna Coil? To not still mourn the loss of the (warped but) creative genius who was Peter Steele?

You need to hang out here more often. You just do.

But Evanescence?? Still holds a high place of regard on my iPod. Have you heard Ben Moody’s spinoff band, We are the Fallen, yet? Sounds a lot like Evanescence, but the songwriting shows who in the band has/had the chops… I may be a bigger Ben Moody fan than an Amy Lee fan, and that’s saying a lot…

Anyway, back to the book.

Hey, how’d you like the blurb?

About BLEEDING HEARTS: Book One of the Demimonde

Saving the world one damned person at a time—shy advice columnist-turned-oracle must find a way to save her dangerous demivampire lover from the fate that threatens each of his race: evolution and the destruction of his soul.

When advice columnist Sophie meets dark and alluring Marek, she learns life-changing secrets about them both—he’s a demivampire struggling to avoid evolution and she’s an empathic oracle destined to save him. Sophie possesses the rare ability to reduce the spiritual damage that causes a demivamp to Fall, making her the only thing that stands between a DV and evolution.

However, as Marek’s dangerous past propels him toward his desperate fate, his enemies make darker plans for him: once vampire, powerful Marek would be second only to the Master himself. The vamps want to cause Marek’s Fall and they intend to use Sophie to do it….

Hook up with Ash at these places:

Home page
Amazon Author Central

Buy links!!
Pink Narcissus Press