Tag Archive for amwriting

Kensington Day of the Book Fest Coming 4/26

Save 4/26 for Day of the Book

Save 4/26 for Day of the Book!

Ten years ago a simple sidewalk literary event debuted in Kensington, MD, with a handful of authors and barely enough visitors to fill a subway car.

On April 26, more than 80 authors and a record crowd of 5,000 will be on hand to celebrate the International Day of the Book Festival’s 10th anniversary.

I look forward as this year’s emcee to honoring the talent and tenacity of our authors and performers, and to rejoicing with all who still cherish the profound pleasure of reading.

The festival runs from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. along Howard Avenue in Historic Kensington and will feature appearances by:

– Tim Tobin, author of, Your Leadership Story. Tobin explains how, by thinking of your career as a narrative – with a plot, characters, and an arc – you can become a more effective, insightful, and inspiring leader.

– Martin Goldsmith, author of Alex’s Wake: The Tragic Story of the St. Louis to Flee Nazi Germany and a Grandson’s Journey of Love and Remembrance.

– Chef Jonathan Bardzik, a Washington, D.C. cook and author whose culinary passion is exploring ingredients, techniques and flavors and sharing those adventures to help others find joy in their own kitchens.

– Major General Oleg Danilovich Kalugin, KGB (ret.), who will discuss his book: Spymaster: My Thirty-Two Years in Intelligence and Espionage Against the West.

Live music will fill the air courtesy of: The Nighthawks (root rock and blues); the Rock-A-Sonics (rockabilly, classic country, vintage rock ’n roll); and by Eli August and the Abandoned Buildings (chamber folk).

Festival founder Elisenda Sola-Sole says the celebration will include author readings, an open mic, activities for kids and adults, and “books, books books!”

All activities are free and will take place rivotril 2mg rain or shine along Howard Avenue in historic Old Town Kensington.

Come join us, and stay up to speed on the latest announcements here. 


10 Public Speaking Tips from a TED talker

Bank's Giugale talks TED

World Bank Group’s Marcelo Giugale talks TED

When it was over, the staff wanted to celebrate. Marcelo Giugale, however, wanted to debrief. After all, it isn’t every day that someone from the World Bank Group gives a TED talk.

On the other hand, Giugale, senior director of the WBG Global Practice on Macroeconomics and Fiscal Management, always likes to debrief.

It’s hard to calculate the time and effort that went into Giugale’s 10-and-a-half minute: “Putting a Face on Poverty.” Do you count the time he wrote and rewrote his remarks, sometimes agonizing over single words? Was “stupid” too much? Would “salivating” be misinterpreted?

Please click to continue reading.

To follow Steve’s Back Story blog, follow this link.

10 Steps to a Perfect Pitch: Free Webinar

Join me Tuesday, 7:30 p.m.

Join me Tuesday, 7:30 p.m.

Know one paying attention? Maybe it’s not your book; maybe it’s your pitch. Join me Tuesday night at 7:30 p.m. EST for a free webinar on how to move toward the perfect pitch. You’ll leave with actionable steps you can put to immediate use, plus a few things to think about before you create – or recreate – your pitch. Oh, and don’t forget to bring your questions.

The webinar is free. Sign up here.

See you online Tuesday.



Follow Steve’s Back Story blog by clicking here.

Use the News & Seasons to Spur Book Sales

Use news and seasons to push sales

Use news and seasons to push sales

If people spoke about your book the way they spoke about the news and seasons, you’d be high atop the bestseller lists laughing down at the rest of us.

Put that last part aside and think about how much conversation takes place about headlines, weather and holidays.

Why not leverage all that chatter in your marketing? As a former newspaperman, I’m constantly trying to link my novels to the hottest front-page stories. For instance, when the political scene heats up, I tell readers that Bootlicker will take readers “where C-SPAN is never invited – to back rooms where deals are cut, futures are plotted, and where right and wrong are not so easily defined.”

Maybe your story ties in to a desperate health crisis, or looks at life from the point of view of an oppressed people.  Does your novel include a horrific weather event? An oppressive regime? An official charged with driving drunk? A construction accident? A gay marriage? All of these scenarios come from current headlines.

I’ve also got an eye on the calendar, and a forthcoming tag line I hope will attract some attention: Stick a boot in someone’s stocking this holiday season.”

Try this. It’s fun and effective. And if you’re already at it, please share your top hits.

To subscribe to Steve’s Back Story blog, please click here.

Wanted: Reader Questions!

Post a question on my Goodreads page!

Post a question on my Goodreads page!

One of my favorite parts of author events is Q & A. I’ve been asked about plot, process, writer’s block, character development, dialogue, inspiration, marketing, sex scenes and a lot more. I love when my answers ignite a conversation that sheds a little more light on issues that interest readers and my fellow writers. Goodreads, essentially Facebook for folks who want to talk. share and review books, has taken note and now offers members an easy way to ask questions online. If you have a question, please click on over to my author page and post it. I will respond within 24 hours. Promise.

To follow Steve’s Back Story blog, please follow this link.



Free Webinar: Making Intimacy More Appealing

“Ready for round two?” she whispered. “You bet,” he said.sexscenes copy

Round two in this case is a repeat – by request – of my free webinar: “Sex Scenes: It Starts Between the Ears.”

This intimate conversation begins with a question: Which sells, sex or sexy? The short answer is, both sell. Some audiences are impatient, others prefer drawing a little tension-building romance and seduction. The act – and the writing of the act – are of course intensely personal. As with any form of writing, the more you practice, the better you get. But practice what, and how?

Join the webinar on Tuesday, July 1, at 7:30 p.m. for a look at the art of seducing your readers with scintillating prose that appeals to our most primal instincts.

The sign-up sheet is here.


To follow Steve’s “Back Story” blog, follow this link.

Try Q&A to Dissolve Writer’s Block

“You don’t get me.”photo

“What do you mean?”

“You think you know everything I’m going to say before I say it. You don’t ask; you don’t listen. It’s getting old. I’m done with this.”

Sounds like a couple arguing. It’s not. Rather, it’s me doing what I do when I get what some call writer’s block. I’m skeptical about the term because I grew up in newsrooms where writer’s block wasn’t permitted.

“Writer’s block?” some editor would yell. “We work for a daily newspaper. Cut the crap and get me that story by four.”

Writing fiction is different. When an author tries to force or rush the relationship with his characters, they become predictable, or worse, stop talking altogether. The first time I felt this happen, it stopped me cold. What’s worse than predictable fiction?

I pushed back, thought about it, and decided to try a solution from my reporting days. I put the story aside and drew up half a dozen questions for my rebellious character. Then I sat us down and conducted an interview. The most challenging part was relinquishing authorial control and “answering” in the character’s voice.

In my novel Bootlicker, for instance, Ike Washington is on the verge of becoming South Carolina’s first black congressman since the Civil War. He has the looks, the pull and the votes. But he has risen to power on the coattails of a racist U.S. senator, and that knowledge haunts him. Voters weighing their choices in 1992 smile to his face and call him bootlicker behind his back.

During the writing process, Ike didn’t always like the way things were going. He and I broke away from the narrative several times for some intense back and forth.

I’d say: Senator McCauley coerced you in the beginning, but it didn’t take long before you went along willingly. You liked becoming Big Ike.

And he’d fire back: Easy to say from where you sit. I was a scared kid at the start. I didn’t know how to say no to the most important white man in town.

It’s an interesting drill, and I left my desk more than once feeling a little dazed. Allowing the characters to speak up led to a few plot twists I hadn’t expected, plus dialogue that felt more real than when I was unilaterally calling the shots.

My talks with Ike also led to a series of short, stand-alone chapters where Ike’s nightmares bring him face to face with a man McCauley and the Klan lynched decades earlier. Ike stumbled on the crime scene and has always felt guilty that he didn’t prevent the murder, or reveal the truth afterwards. I would not have had these scenes had I not asked Ike about his dreams.

There’s a joke that goes something like, “The answer to writer’s block is simple. Lower your standards.”

Before taking that easy out, try doing a few interviews. It worked for me.

Click here to follow Steve’s Back Story blog.


Live Reports this Week from NY BookExpo

Live tweets start 5/28

Live tweets start 5/28

BookExpo America, billed as the largest book industry event in North America, takes place next week at the Javits Center in New York City. Authors, publishers and industry experts from 23 different nations will be attending, including yours truly. I hope you’ll follow my live tweets starting Wednesday, May 28 as I report on tips, trends and insights designed to help my fellow writers. The plan is to live tweet from conference sessions and then follow up here with longer blog posts. Please follow me on Twitter as @wordsprof


To follow Steve’s “Back Story” blog, click here.



7 Tips for Better Sex (Scenes)

A hot young couple. Alone at last. He hisses, “Tell me what you want.” She murmurs, “You know what I want.”sex copy

Now Imagine a couple married 32 years in the middle of a garage that hasn’t been cleaned since their 20th anniversary.

“Tell me what you want,” he shouts, exasperated. She is equally frustrated. She wants to park in the garage, but can’t because of the mess.

“You know what I want,” she says.

When it comes to sex scenes, context, tone and tenor matter more than size.

As writers, how do we capture the sexual tension as well as the act – for the two are not the same – in a way that is arousing, revealing – in terms of character development – and which successfully moves the story forward?

Here are seven tips:

1 – Use Sex Scenes To Expose Your Characters

Well-written sex scenes are titillating, sure, but they can also reveal personality, creativity, and other traits. Is she comfortable enough to guide him? If so, does she whisper directions? Move his hands? Change his pace? Are these two givers or takers? Traditional or experimental? Talkers or quiet? Are they clumsy? Athletic? Patient? Frantic? Do they want the lights on?

2 – Eroticism Should Advance the Story

This actual line from a work of fiction does not advance the story: “When he slid his tongue into my mouth, I felt like a pork loin simmering away on the stove. All warm and mushy.” When the passion has subsided, we should be further along in the story than when clothes started flying.

3 – Treat Sex Scenes Like Any Action Scenes

Sex is not new. Courtship is not new. The chase is not new. Everyone knows a lot about the subject. If you’re going to tackle sexual tension and the act – or its many variations – you must work extra hard to make your prose unique. As Kerouac said, “It ain’t whatcha write, it’s the way atcha write it.”

4 – Be the Bikini

A skimpy bathing suit or short black dress is more erotic than a naked body.  There are things readers do not want to see, hear or smell in sex scenes. Leave a little to the imagination. Be the bikini.

5 – Prevent Premature Evacuation

We speak in fiction of breaking the dream – of writing something that is so jarring it stops the reader cold. It could be a line of awful dialogue, a factual error, or an inaccurate description of a city. Or it could be plain old bad writing – a confusing sentence or a participle dangling.  Commit any of these infractions and your readers will be gone – premature evacuation.

6 – Beta Test Trusted Readers

That means well-read folks (professional writers or editors if you know or can afford them) who will give an honest reaction to your work.

7 – Attend to Before and After, as well as During

Before: What makes sex sexy is all that goes on beforehand – the eye contact, the sparring, the walk to the door. Just as you only get one chance to make a first impression, the first kiss is also the last first kiss. The path isn’t always smooth. That’s okay. Bumpy is fine so long as the bumps are intended and believable.

After: Theoretically, there’s no more tension now. What’s going to keep the readers interested? The cliché is that women want to cuddle; men want to get out as fast as possible. Avoid the cliché, just as you would with anything you write. What they do and say here is important. Be creative.

What else goes into a well-planned sex scene?

 Follow Steve’s “Back Story” blog by clicking here.


9 Tips To Help You Shine at an Outdoor Book Fair

Get a leg up by knowing the lay of the land

Get a leg up by knowing the lay of the land

Dozens of small steps precede an author’s appearance at an outdoor book festival. A lot also happens during the presentation, and there are factors to consider once the applause ends.

Here are some tips gleaned (or reinforced) from a recent outing at one of the best venues around, the Gaithersburg Book Festival in Gaithersburg, MD.

Before the event:

Do some reconnaissance: You’ll feel more comfortable if you visit the venue beforehand and learn, for instance: the seating arrangement, size of the stage, whether you’ll need a mic, and if you have the option to move when speaking. Are you on concrete or grass? What’s the best angle for photos?

Make it easy: Of course you’re going to let everyone know where and when. Go the extra mile and use social media to provide a map and alert folks to potential traffic issues. You want everyone seated before you begin. Consider raffling off a book to help drive attendance.

Conquer stage fright: Relax by making new friends with people as they arrive. As you make light conversation, you’ll stop obsessing about your presentation. This will also add to the number of friendly faces you can find in the audience as you’re speaking.

During the reading:

Be the wizard: Reading is great, but audiences want to know what’s going on behind the curtain. Be open and candid. Reveal a bit of yourself and your writing process without dragging it out too much.

Maintain contact: The danger in reading your wondrous prose aloud is losing eye contact with your audience for too long. Read several words ahead as you get toward the end of paragraphs so you can look up frequently as you speak.

Smile: Another obvious one that is too often overlooked. Smiles beget smiles. The crowd wants to see that you’re passionate, confident and approachable. A smile helps convey your self-assuredness. Actress Diane Lane once said, “I think that anybody who smiles automatically looks better.”

After You’re Done:

Make mom proud: Don’t forget to thank not only those who turned out, but all those festival volunteers as well. Don’t forget the person who introduced you, plus your own team. Writing may be a solitary job, but working a festival requires help. Also make sure to stick around after you’re done presenting and answer questions from those who may be too shy to speak up in a crowd.

Be the booth: Festivalgoers are bombarded with information from the moment they walk through the gate. Create a poster that sums up your book in one or two sentences, plus a small sign with a special festival price. That leaves you free to chat or answer questions. With a smile, of course.

Be a good neighbor: It’s easy to think of those in nearby booths as the competition. Don’t. Be friendly, share best practices, and offer help if you see a need. Being sociable pays dividends, both with your fellow authors and with those who wander up to see what you’re selling.

What else has worked for you at outdoor festivals?

Follow Steve’s “Back Story” blog by clicking here.