Instructor Spotlight

Carla Birnberg launched her popular blog, MizFitOnline, in 2007, where she shared health and fitness knowledge with humor and ease. She quickly became known for jettisoning gym workouts in favor of “PLAYouts” with her daughter. She has since expanded her site, CarlaBirnberg.com, to cover everything from personal development to motherhood with the same accessible voice. Carla’s engaging, keep-it-real advice has been featured in Runner’s World, Women’s Day, The Wall Street Journal, Fitness, Ladies Home Journal, Glamour, Women’s Health, Yahoo!, Shape.com and more. She was Fila brand’s inaugural Spokesmom, and is a consultant to Venus Williams, who identified her a social media influencer.

Named a “Twitter Powerhouse” by The Huffington Post, Stephanie Carls shares her passion for social media and technology online and focuses on the ways both are changing the way we live and share information. As a digital lifestyle enthusiast, Stephanie shares her favorite products, helps navigate new apps, and offers tech tips. Stephanie is the Client Success Manager with Rivet Works, Inc. in Austin, Texas. Her strong social media background gives clients the expert recommendations they are looking for to make their campaigns a success. Visit her website to learn more about her.

On Saturday, February 28, Carla and Stephanie will teach a class for the Writers’ League called “Social Media for Authors” at St. Edward’s University. Read the interview below and visit the class page to learn more.

Carla Birnberg hdshtStephanieCarls

Scribe: What is the advantage of using social media in the professional world? 

Carla Birnberg: It’s funny, given the world in which I’ve worked since 2001, I can’t imagine not finding social media tremendously useful. A site like LinkedIn can be immeasurably helpful with regards to networking, job finding, and simply staying current in whatever field you’re currently employed. Even careers which were more traditionally offline—doctors, dentists, realtors—have begun using social media to reach their consumers/customers where they already are. For me that’s really the bottom line, no matter one’s profession: find and reach out to your consumers where they already are. And where they already are, for the most part, is on social media.

Stephanie Carls: It has definitely improved networking. I can meet people I never would have met before. It also makes it easier to maintain relationships and keep up with a large number of people. Business networking was a completely different world before social media.

Scribe: Do both of you believe that social media is useful in all fields? Even in the traditional print media world?

CB: I touched on this a bit in the first question, but my answer is an unequivocal yes. I’ve worked with numerous publications—Shape Magazine, Fast Company, Entrepreneur—who consistently work to promote their current print issue in social media. Most of my favorite writers use the same approach. Harnessing the power of Twitter, for example, to remind followers of an upcoming publication date or using the visual power of Instagram to share book covers pre-release.

SC: If you’re a news network, for example, you’ve harnessed the digital medium. However, once your content has been used it dies. With social media, your content can continue to live on. In addition, social media helps you build a community around the content; people can rally around certain topics and share ideas. I think it can help with books as well, because the author can build an image around themselves online. An author is able to put forth the image that they are the expert in their field, and people will be attracted to that.

Scribe: How has having a strong writing mind helped you in terms of your profession but also in your everyday life?

CB: Here is where I disclose I am laughing a tiny bit and hoping my answers above indicate I do indeed, have a strong writing mind. More than being gifted with words, I’m grateful I can think quickly on my feet and can write a fairly strong first draft. This has helped me tremendously in content-creating for brands where there are often very quick turnarounds and deadlines. This gift has been invaluable as a blogger where new content is expected on a daily basis, and has proven to be lucrative in social media. The ability to think quickly and write eloquently on one’s feet is definitely important in fast paced platforms like Twitter.

SC: Whether you’re publishing blogs or making videos, all that matters is that you’re getting your message across. Social media is helpful with catching people’s attention, but the writing skills are key in actually keeping the attention. You can use social media to put out attention-grabbing headlines, but you need the writing skills to write those headlines in the first place.

Scribe: Carla, What have you learned about yourself from blogging? Were you surprised by anything you found?

CB: I began blogging back in 2001. It was a paid opportunity, (back then we just called them online journals) and everyone thought we were crazy for sharing our innermost thoughts on the Internet. Flash forward 14 years and it seems everyone has a blog. I’ve learned so much about myself through this process, and I’ve also married and added a child along the way. More than anything I’ve learned this: I possess the ability to create a unique and compelling personal brand. I am resilient. While the skills I use have remained the same, writing etc., I’ve learned how important it is to remain fluid in my approach to blogging and my career. Things have changed tremendously since I first started, but at the same time everything remains the same. It’s important to be consistent, authentic, and organic in all that I do online. It (blogging, social media, etc.) completely parallels life.

Scribe: Stephanie, like Carla’s, your website offers a strong video component. Does your writing voice come across in the video format?

SC: I almost write as if I’m speaking into the camera. I don’t go into the video-making process to spout off a lot of high level stuff, instead I focus on making my information short and sweet. I want my content to be easy to relate to, so that everyone can be on the same level. I think the mediums are very similar in that sense.

Scribe: Carla, on your blog you offer a multimedia approach to branding yourself, including videos along with the traditional blog post format. Is this essential for the modern-day blogger?

CB: While I wouldn’t say it’s essential, I do think it keeps you growing as a brand and consistently meet your new fan/follower/readers where they already are. I prefer to consume my information through the written word, so it would be easy for me to rely only on this approach when constructing my blog brand. That said, many people prefer to connect with a writer by video and then continue on and consume her content through the written word. Others prefer to connect in a more auditory fashion and have found me through my podcast and only later begin reading my blog. I’m very careful not to become a jack-of-all-trades and master of none—there are more than a few social media platforms I have chosen not to participate in—but I do believe it’s important to offer a few different formats for followers to consume the content we are creating.

Scribe: Stephanie, you focus heavily on making sense of technology in the digital age. Do you have any tips for writers when it comes to engaging with new technology?

SC: You should focus on that you know you will be good at. Don’t try to jump into all social media platforms at once, it’s better to be active on a few than barely present on many. Also, if you’re stressed out trying to reach all of the platforms, that will show in your content.

–Thanks Carla & Stephanie

To register for this class, click here.

For a complete list of upcoming classes, click here.

MEET THE MEMBERS

Tony Burnett has been a member of the Writers’ League since 2011 and serves on the Board of Directors. He lives in Davilla, TX.

Tony's Headshot
Scribe: In what genre(s) do you write?

Tony Burnett: I spent over 20 years as a singer-songwriter during which time I wrote over one hundred songs; some have won awards. In nonfiction, I write feature articles and shorter pieces on the topics of green building, organic gardening, nutrition and food web law. I’ve had poetry published in several national and Texas-based literary journals. I also write short stories and have nearly completed the first draft of my second novel.

Scribe: What authors would you like to have coffee or a beer with and which beverage?

TB: I’d like to have a domestic IPA and deep dish pizza with Owen Egerton while watching B movies and chatting about dark humor. I’d like to go wildcrafting with Barbara Kingsolver until we had enough for a salad. We’d share that while drinking a cold pitcher of hibiscus/mint tea. And last, for obvious reasons, I’d go barhopping with Tom Robbins. I’d have whatever he was having.

Scribe: If you were stranded on a deserted island, what book would you want to have with you to keep you sane?

TB: I’d like to have my personal copy of The Complete Works of William Shakespeare. When my kids were growing up we read to each other out of it and acted out the plays. We also used the huge volume to press flowers. It might give me a tenuous grip on reality and a reason to survive.

Scribe: What have you learned from your association with the Writers’ League?

TB: Like any organization with a primary focus on education, you get out of it what you put into it. I credit the League for most of the success I’ve had as a writer. WLT is the place where you can get an MFA quality education for a fraction of the cost. It’s also great to have a close knit community of very interesting people to hang out with.

Scribe: Where do you see your writing taking you (or you taking it) in the future?

TB: In a perfect world, the New York Times bestseller list. In all reality, I’ll keep writing, keep improving, keep attending classes and keep getting better. The resources are there and I’ll continue to use them.

Scribe: Is there anything else about you that you would like to share with the world? An opportunity for blatant self-promotion!

TB: In 2014 I formed Kallisto Gaia Press, not only to independently publish some of my work but also to assist authors and artists with regional and multimedia publications. Southern Gentlemen, my recently released collection of short stories has been receiving some very encouraging reviews. It’s available in print and digital formats from Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Kobo, Scribd and all the “device” related digital publishers. In April I’ll be releasing The Reckless Hope of Scoundrels in hardcover only. It’s a collection of my poetry paired with the art of several visual artists. This signed and numbered limited-edition will also include a previously unreleased CD of four studio recorded songs and a 20 minute excerpt from a live performance recorded at the now defunct Cubita Café.

Meet the Conference Faculty

An Interview with Literary Agent Scott Hoffman

Scott Hoffman is a founding partner at Folio Literary Management LLC, a New York City-based literary management company and will be one of our Featured Agents at the Writers’ League of Texas’ 2015 Agents and Editors Conference.

How would you describe your personal approach to working with a writer/client?

Scott Hoffman: I’m a very hands-on agent. For most of my clients, their books are just one part of a larger commercial enterprise, so I always want to know what’s going on in their professional life in addition to their writing and publishing. That allows me to better counsel them on how their books can add even more value to their overall enterprises. I like to take a broad, strategic, long-term view of my clients’ work, rather than just focusing on the book of the moment.

If a potential client could do one thing to make the experience of working together even better, what would it be?Scott Hoffman headshot

SH: I’m really looking for clients who want to change the world with their books. The extent to which they can articulate that vision, and implement it, is what keeps me excited about working every day.

What is your biggest pet peeve when it comes to receiving submissions, reading work, etc.?

SH: Very little annoys me anymore about receiving submissions because I generally don’t accept unsolicited submissions in the first place. But in the event I do get one, if it looks good, I’m always happy to pass it along to one of my colleagues at Folio. The publishing business is tough enough for authors, even without agents and publishers giving them tons of attitude about their submissions. My overall philosophy in dealing with authors at any stage of their career is to be as kind and as helpful as possible, within the bounds of my personal and professional capacity.

You often hear that it’s the first ten pages – or even the first page – that sells a story. Is there something particular that you look for in those first few pages?

SH: As an agent whose primary focus is nonfiction, I’m looking for an author who knows that it’s their job to be able to tell a compelling story— it’s just that the particular story they’re telling to an agent and eventually a publisher centers on why they’re a great business partner and why their project is likely to be a commercial success. Beyond that, nothing substitutes for passion. 100% of my authors are passionate about their work. Without the passion, you’re in the wrong business.

If you could give writers one piece of advice, what would it be?

SH: Find the people who have had the most success in the space in which you’re writing, and study them. Study WITH them, if you can figure out a way to do it.

Have you ever taken on a project that was outside the realm of what you usually take on because there was something special or unique about it that you couldn’t say no to?

SH: Any time I find a book that can be a lever to improve people’s lives, I get very, very excited— even if it’s not the kind of book one would normally associate with my practice.

–Thanks, Scott!

Click here for a full list of our 2015 A&E Conference Faculty.

Click here for more information and to register for the 2015 A&E Conference.

Instructor Spotlight

Please note this class is now sold out. Check out our other spring offerings here.

Meg Pokrass is the author of three collections: Bird Envy (Harvard Book Store, 2014), Damn Sure Right (Press 53, 2011), and the forthcoming My Very End of the Universe: Five Mini-Novellas-in-Flash and a Study of the Form (Rose Metal Press, 2014). Her stories have appeared in more than 200 literary magazines, including Green Mountains Review, The Rumpus, and storySouth. She is an associate editor for Frederick Barthelme’s New World Writing, and her self-published collection, Bird Envy, became an April 2014 bestseller at the Harvard Book Store, the renowned indie bookstore in Cambridge, Massachusetts. You can learn more about Meg by visiting her website.

On February 21, Meg will be teaching a class with co-instructor Steve Adams called “Submitting Your Writing to Journals and Magazines: How Not to Lose Your Way or Your Time.” Read the interview below and visit the class page to learn more.

Meg Pokrass

Scribe: What is the advantage of the short form — whether it be short stories, flash fiction, or essays?

Meg Pokrass: The short form perfectly suits the digital/mobile device revolution. Short pieces work beautifully on phones and tablets, offering busy, working people much-needed access to bite-sized chunks of literary work as a regular part of their intellectual diet. It’s advantageous to be writing in a form that is gaining rapid international attention because of the way our device-saturated world is embracing it.

Scribe: One of the topics you cover in your class is dealing with rejection. How do you deal with rejection? Do you have any special coping rituals?

MP: I remind myself that it is a numbers game and that every rejection means I’m nearing an acceptance. For centuries, writers have wall-papered their homes with rejection letters. To be rejected is to be a writer. They are one and the same thing.

Scribe: At what point in your writing career did you begin to feel comfortable teaching other writers the tricks of the trade? Who helped you on your journey?

MP: I started publishing in middle age, and it has changed my life. I love the creative process and find it endlessly fascinating as well as healing. I’d say after the first few years of getting my work published, a strong urge to help others started to evolve, and I began offering private instruction and workshops.

Scribe: How do you use social media to promote your writing?

MP: I use it enthusiastically and fearlessly. I love creating unusual pages on Facebook and have made this both a creative outlet and performance venue. It is best when one finds passion in it.

Scribe: What are the basic elements of your writing process? 

MP: I start my pieces with fast freewrites, that is,  very fast writing, starting with anything to dive off from: random words, phrases, photographs, anything which catches my eye. I see this like I’m creating a sculpture, it happens in stages and we can remake it many times. There should be no pressure on first drafts, the messier the better. I edit my pieces many times before they are ready to send out, some times there are as many as 40 drafts of a story, and sometimes they fly out just right and whole.  I never know what I am going to write until I begin. I always remind myself to lower my standards, and not look over my own shoulder. Most importantly, I try to get out of my own way.

–Thanks, Meg!

To register for Steve and Meg’s class, click here.

For a complete list of classes, click here.

Instructor Spotlight

Please note this class is now sold out. Check out our other spring offerings here.

Steve Adams’ creative nonfiction was included in the 2014 Pushcart Prize XXXVIII anthology and has been published in Willow Springs, The Pinch, and elsewhere. His fiction has been nominated for a Pushcart Prize, anthologized, and published in Glimmer Train, The Missouri Review, Chicago Review, Georgetown Review, Quarterly West, among others. He is a writing coach here in Austin. You can find out more about Steve by visiting his website.

On February 21, Steve will be teaching a class with co-instructor Meg Pokrass called “Submitting Your Writing to Journals and Magazines: How Not to Lose Your Way or Your Time.” Read the interview below and visit the class page to learn more.

SteveAdams

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Scribe: What is the advantage of the short form — whether it be short stories, flash fiction, or essays?

Steve Adams: Some of the advantages of the short form, and how it can complement working with long form, are:

  1. You can finish short pieces relatively quickly, and that provides a sense of accomplishment. One of the difficulties with the long form is that such work can feel like it’s never going to end. It can wear you down. Sometimes it’s good to take a break and write a short piece so you can actually believe it’s possible for you to finish something. Then you can send that out into the world while you’re back at work on the big book.
  2. There are so many outlets for short form. And though many, if not most, pay little or nothing, you still get to see your work in print. Which means readers are reading it (and that’s the bottom line, after all), and that can lead to you and your work landing in places you didn’t expect.
  3. Having had your short work published is one of the best calling cards you can present to agents and editors. The fact that someone chose to publish your work puts you in a category very different from those who haven’t been published.
  4. Some people (and I’m thinking of a well-published friend of mine) simply are much better at short-form writing. And if that’s your strength, then you should go with it.
  5. You can read a short-form piece in one sitting. This gives you an entirely different perspective than reading a novel. When I began, I thought of novels as something like a long short story, but structurally they’re very different. You can make thirty passes at a short piece until it gleams, but it’s just not practical with long form.

Scribe: One of the topics you cover in your class is dealing with rejection. How do you deal with rejection? Do you have any special coping rituals?

SA: The best way I know is to send out another piece the same day. It’s amazing how quickly that lessens the sting. Still, it always hurts to get rejected. The good news is that the more it happens, the tougher you get. It hurts less. But this is simply part of this game. You’re going to get knocked down; you just have to get back up. It’s great life training this way.

Scribe: At what point in your writing career did you begin to feel comfortable teaching other writers the tricks of the trade? Who helped you on your journey?

SA: I found myself spontaneously helping writers when I got my MFA. I became known for getting writing done steadily and regularly, and struggling students started approaching me for tips. I love talking about this stuff, can go on ad nauseum. As far as who helped me, when I was lucky to score a week at the Norman Mailer Writers Colony, I met Valerie Laken, a wonderful writer and writing teacher. We kept up an email correspondence, mostly talking about writing and the writing process. And when the economy collapsed in 2008 and I lost my wonderful day job in NYC, she recommended—because of our conversations—that I look into becoming a writing coach. I didn’t even know people did this. Hell, I’d been helping folks write for free for years. So becoming a writing coach/developmental editor was just a perfect fit. It feels like the work I’m supposed to be doing, and I’ll always be grateful to Valerie.

Scribe: What was it like being a guest artist at your Alma Mater (UT Austin)?

SA: It was a great time. The students were a lot of fun and we got to work with a very big stage. There was tremendous support, and we got to feel like big shots for a semester. And of course, seeing the production itself was such a thrill.

Scribe: What are your favorite things to do in Austin? In addition, do you think that writers in Austin or Texas as a whole have a unique perspective? 

SA: Well, I’m kind of old school, and yes I complain about how fast Austin is changing. Still, there’s the music. The music is the heart of this town. My favorite club was, is, and shall remain The Continental Club. I hope the Broken Spoke survives. And then of course, there’s Barton Springs, which I say is Austin’s version of Central Park.

There are many good writers in Austin now, from all over the country. It’s a legitimate writing scene. This is very different than when I was getting my undergraduate degree here. Yes, I think Texas writers have a unique perspective, but I think that’s true of any writer from any place. What a writer has to do is get clear on their perspective, generally by writing a lot. And never apologize for where you’re from. Like it or not, your viewpoint is embedded there.

–Thanks, Steve!

To register for Steve and Meg’s class, click here.

For a complete list of classes, click here.

MEET THE MEMBERS

Sarah Wynne (right, with co-author, Katie Clark on left), joined the Writers’ League of Texas last May. She lives in Houston, Texas with her family.

jacket!

Scribe: In what genre(s) do you write?

Sarah Wynne: Katie Clark and I write the River Royals children’s picture book series. We recently won the Mom’s Choice Award® with our first book in the series, River Royals Master the Mississippi. With this book we enjoyed a six state and Washington, D.C. book tour and visited over 100 schools! Our series aims to introduce geography and patriotism to children in a fun and engaging way through the rivers of the country. All of our stories follow the adventures of a brother and sister, Henry and Eliza Jane, and include a colored map on the inside of the dust jacket that allows little readers to follow along. Our manuscripts are longer than most traditional picture books and have often been compared to educational, narrative non-fictions. The beautiful and lively illustrations of New York artist Penny Weber, capture the imaginations of young children.

Scribe: What authors would you like to have coffee or a beer with and which beverage?

SW: Is wine an option? Ha! I’d love to enjoy a glass of red wine with Kristin Hannah. I was lucky enough to receive an advance copy of her new book, The Nightingale that will be released on February 3, 2015. I thoroughly enjoyed it! Her research of the time period, writing, characters, plot and pace are all exceptional. If I could go back in time, I would also cherish the opportunity to sit down for an hour (or many) with C.S. Lewis and/or Robert McCloskey.

Scribe: If you were stranded on a deserted island, what book would you want to have with you to keep you sane?

SW: Were I stranded on a deserted island, I would want my ESV bible with me.

Scribe: What have you learned from your association with the Writers’ League?

SW: I was introduced to the Writers’ League of Texas through the Agents and Editors Conference in Austin last year. I was impressed with the organization of the conference, as well as the valuable information presented on both the craft and business of writing. I’ve since Tweeted and made Facebook posts encouraging all writers in Texas to join the organization. In addition to the SCBWI for children’s book authors, membership in the Writers’ League of Texas is a must!

Scribe: Where do you see your writing taking you (or you taking it) in the future?

SW: We met our agent, David Hale Smith, at the 2014 Agents & Editors Conference. We are thrilled to be represented by David and Inkwell Management. Katie and I are excited to see what new doors David will be able to open for us pertaining to print and film rights. While David is working with the second manuscript in our educational series entitled, River Royals Paddle the Potomac, Katie and I are writing the remaining four books in the series that will traverse the Colorado River, Thames River, Nile River and Amazon River. In short, I am optimistic about 2015 and can’t wait to see more children having fun while learning!

Scribe: Is there anything else about you that you would like to share with the world? An opportunity for blatant self-promotion!

SW: Thank you for asking! One thing about our series which we are especially proud of is our partnership with Our Military Kids, IncA portion of proceeds from book sales goes directly to this wonderful nonprofit organization providing support and recognition to children of deployed National Guard and Reserve service members, along with children of Wounded and Fallen Warriors from all branches of service. We are especially drawn to this organization because our book series grew out of a love for our country borne from our families’ military backgrounds. Both of our fathers served as Army and Navy officers during The Vietnam War and our grandfathers served as officers in World War II with the Air Force, Army, and Navy. We grew up realizing the value of freedom and appreciating the sacrifices soldiers make that enable us to live in “the land of the free and the home of the brave.” It is our joy to partner with an organization supporting our military families. Katie and I were honored to join the Rumsfeld Foundation in sponsoring OMK’s tenth anniversary celebration in Washington, D.C. in September.

In the interest of further self-promotion, we would love to invite our readers to visit www.riverroyals.com to learn more about the series, the RR blog, and our book tour schedule and read favorable press we have received. Additionally, please keep up with the River Royals’ adventures through Twitter (@River_Royals) and Facebook (River Royals).

MEMBERS REVIEW

ON THE OTHER SIDE OF THE BRIDGE

By Ray Villarreal

Published in 2014 by Arte Publico Press.

The Other Side of the Bridge

Reviewed by Debi Christensen.

Seventh grader Lonnie Rodriguez faces horrors greater than those he and his father enjoy watching in old movies. Named after horror film star actor Lon Chaney, Lonnie’s life is in upheaval when his mother becomes a shooting victim during her routine shift as an apartment security guard. Lonnie’s last words with his mom were in defiance of her accusation that he was a liar—and huge disappointment—when she confronts him about being an accomplice to vandalism.

A friend’s mother refers to Lonnie as el vago: a lazy, no-good street wanderer. Villarreal characterizes Lonnie as a middle school student with reading difficulties and little engagement in studies. Church services do not engage Lonnie; he skips them to go to the creek. His friend Jo Marie quotes Bible verses to him, but he is not interested.

Lonnie’s father slips further into alcoholism, leaving Lonnie to take over household responsibilities. Lonnie and his dad sell their possessions, including Lonnie’s beloved horror movie collection. His father’s unemployment check will not cover basic expenses, and through no fault of Lonnie’s, they lose their house and become homeless. Refusing to accept family handouts, they live in a motel. Lonnie learns that getting back on their feet can only happen when they accept help and begin making good choices.

A burglary leaves no other option for Lonnie and his dad; they move into a shelter for the homeless, even though Lonnie is temporarily at greater danger from the older men on the shelter’s third floor. When moved to a family room, Lonnie’s dad begins attending AA meetings and going to “catch-out” jobs. At one of these jobs, he is offered fulltime employment by his former employer.

Lonnie makes better decisions about school and improves his reading skills, and with the help of Jo Marie and the church, he launches a campaign to collect toiletries for those staying at the shelter and he realizes how proud his mom would have been of him.

Villarreal chronicles the imminent peril of becoming homeless – a reality for many families who are one paycheck or disaster from losing everything they have. Villarreal depicts scenes leading to the final catastrophic event that throws father and son onto the streets for survival. The reality of costly living in a cheap motor court motel, the lack of healthy food options, the fight for safety and keeping the few personal possessions they have left, and the submission to alcohol as a means of coping are all believable effects of homelessness.

The situation in which Lonnie finds himself is also creditable: he is failing in school, skipping church, flirting with criminal activity, and his father is an alcoholic. The young pre-teen must figure out how to get himself and his father back on track.

This novel is a fast read depicting the real challenges of one preteen’s becoming homeless and finding his way back. Villarreal’s style is brisk and engaging. Holding the attention of young adolescents and the hearts of educators, this novel shows that horror can be overcome and family can prevail in the journey home.

Debi Christensen, M. Ed., CPC and ELI-MP, is a writer, speaker and life/leadership coach living in Wimberley, Texas, where she currently is writing a YA novel. Follow her on Twitter at debi.christensen and visit her website.