Saturday, November 28, 2015

You Heard it Here First: Kathy Wiechman's Path to the Grateful American Book Prize- Part I

To Kathy Wiechman's Ohio, SCBWI,  and Facebook friends, this two-part series will come as no surprise. But since many of my readers are from North and South Carolina, I can safely say this will be news to many of you. I hope everyone will enjoy hearing how Kathy, like Jo Hackl, persisted on her path to publication and is now reaping the rewards.

I first "met" Kathy through reading and reviewing her debut middle grade novel, Like a River. In our correspondence, she has jokingly referred to herself as the "poster child for perseverance." When I heard she had received the first Grateful American Book Prize, I asked her to share her journey. 

Kathy with her husband Jim
and her award winning debut novel.

CAROL: At one point you said it took you 39 years before you published your first book. What were the highlights of those years? What sacrifices and choices did you make? How did you balance life (raising kids, teaching, etc.) with writing? Most of all, how did you keep going?

KATHY: There is no short answer. It was thirty-nine years between my first novel submission to an editor (1974) and the day I was offered a contract for my novel, LIKE A RIVER (2013). I actually began writing poems when I was five years old.

 In the late 1970’s, I took a series of classes from author Stephanie Tolan. She taught me the correct way to submit a manuscript and encouraged me to keep at it. She read a couple versions of an early manuscript and gave me feedback. Having Stephanie tell me I had talent was a definite highlight. 

During the 1980’s, I joined SCBWI (which was still SCBW). I wrote, submitted, and received a lot of rejection letters. The slow turn-around from editors taught me how quickly manuscripts became dated. That’s when I combined my love of writing with my other passion, history. Historical fiction was always my favorite read, so why not write it?

As I headed into the 1990’s, I wrote mostly historical fiction. In January, 1990, I joined a critique group in Newport, Kentucky. It has been the source of not only good criticism, but also great friendships. I attended conferences. I craved being with other writers, people who understood the struggle and shared the drive, people I could learn from. In 1996, one of my short stories (MALL MAGIC) won a prize from Children’s Writer. What a highlight that was!

My critique group told me about the Highlights Workshops at Chautauqua. I told them I couldn’t afford it, but I applied for a scholarship. The highlight (from Highlights) that changed my writing life was when I was offered a partial scholarship to attend Chautauqua, 1999. That workshop was fantastic, magical, and my introduction to the Highlights Foundation and their incredible workshops. It was definitely life changing, and an opportunity to make more writer friends.
The writers group Kathy has been
meeting with for almost 26 years.
In 2002, I was invited to join a second critique group in which nearly everyone was published. I felt quite out of my league initially, but they extended a warm welcome. MY FACE, a poem, was published in Ladybug magazine in 2002. That year, Meadowbrook Press ran another of my poems (NO RETURN) on their website. In 2011, another of my short stories (ONE YEAR AFTER) won a prize from Children’s Writer. In 2012, another poem (IMAGES OF 9/11) was published in an anthology from a small press that no longer exists, and in 2013, ONE YEAR AFTER won a prize from the Center 4 Writing Excellence. In the context of writing novels, these may seem like small victories, but they were confidence-building. And a victory is a victory.
Kathy's second critique group which she joined in 2002.
When I was writing that first novel I submitted in 1974, I was expecting my third child. (In 1977, I added a fourth.) I worked in part-time sales in those days to help make ends meet. Money was tight, but I learned how to be frugal. I taught beginner French and Creative Writing. I tutored Language Arts and helped prepare eighth graders to take their high school entrance exams.

We couldn’t afford expensive vacations, so we went to places where we had friends or family to stay with. We took short trips to nearby locations. We visited Hodgenville, KY (where Abraham Lincoln was born), Shaker Village (KY), Mammoth Cave (KY), Conner Prairie (IN) and much more. My kids might disagree, but I never felt those trips to be sacrifices. They were family time and experiences that fueled my historical interests.
Toby Wiechman, 1989, exploring Mammoth Cave
I wrote whenever I could snatch a bit of time. When my kids played outside in the yard, I sat at the picnic table and wrote. When they played games in the family room, I worked at my desk in the corner. I also wrote late into the night after everyone was asleep and the house was quiet. I often stayed up until 4:00AM. I was younger then and could manage on less sleep. You might say I sacrificed housekeeping, and I was much too willing to skip that.

What kept me going was my passion for words and stories. I truly love writing! The person who made it possible for me to keep going was my wonderful husband, who bore the financial burden for all those years. He was also always ready for a road trip so I could do research. He took an interest in all the places I needed to go.

In short, the highlights were the writing itself, small victories, workshops, family trips, and making friends.


I hope you'll come back on Monday, December 7 to read about the people in the industry who helped Kathy, her thoughts about receiving the Grateful American book prize, and her next book, Empty Places. After her next post I'll give away a copy of Like a River. If you leave a comment on both posts (with your email address if you don't think I have it) I'll enter your name twice. Share it on your social media of choice (and tag me!) and I'll enter your name accordingly. 

Monday, November 23, 2015

You Heard it Here First: Jo Hackl's Path to Publication - Part II

My apologies if you received an email on Saturday evening with a link to an old blog post--blogger error! Rory's Promise was given away 5 months ago. I'm sorry for the confusion.

Last week Jo Hackl, long-time member of SCBWI-Carolinas, shared the pitch and background of her debut novel, Smack Dab in the Middle of Maybe. This week you'll hear more about working with her agent, Tracey Adams of Adams Literary; finding a publisher; and what she wished she knew before she started her writing journey.
 Carol: Did Tracey suggest editorial revisions either before or after she acquired the manuscript? 

Jo: Tracey suggested editorial revisions before taking me on as a client.  I’m very fortunate to have the benefit of her keen perspective and insight and every one of her comments has made the manuscript stronger.

Carol: How long did it take before SMACK DAB found a home? Did Shana Corey suggest many changes? Was the title yours or something you came up with together?

Jo: It took years for SMACK DAB to find the perfect home with Shana Corey at Random House Children’s Books.  It was absolutely worth the wait.  During that time, I believe I’ve continued to grow as a writer.  I’ve taken more classes and workshops. I started a website,, devoted to providing inspiration and information about the outdoors, and I wrote articles on that site about outdoor experiences. I wrote a young adult novel and am almost through the first draft of a middle grade manuscript.  I also continued thinking about SMACK DAB, revising it, and brainstorming on ways to make it stronger.   

I greatly admire Shana Corey’s work and was enthusiastic about the opportunity to work with her.  Shana suggested changes that I believe will make the story stronger and I’m looking forward to digging into the revision process. 

For the title, Tracey, Shana and I brainstormed from a list of around one hundred possibilities. Brainstorming titles is the fun part!

Carol: I’ve often wondered how you balanced being a lawyer, mother, and writer. Any hints on how you have made this juggling act work?

Jo: I think it helps to have a sense of humor, to be curious, not to expect perfection, and to surround yourself with creative, positive people.   My family is incredibly supportive.  My husband has done more than his share of car-pool duty while I was away at conferences, critique group meetings or on a writing retreat.  Our children offer ideas for things my characters might do next.  My family in Mississippi helps me keep track of what is in season and edible in the woods so I can verify my research.  

My law firm, Wyche, PA, has a strong tradition of attorneys who serve the community and pursue personal interests in addition to the practice of law.  My extremely smart colleagues have kept me on my toes during the 25- plus years that I’ve been with the firm and continue to inspire me by their own examples.  Among our attorneys are photographers, writers, singers, and musicians and virtually every attorney serves on a community board. I believe this environment encourages creativity.  
Jo with some of her creative colleagues from the Wyche law firm.
Creating time to write has forced me to be very strategic about how I spend my free time and has probably kept me away from a lot of bad television. To create time to start work on this novel, I carved out time at night, between the time our children were in bed and my chef-husband came home from work. Now that our children are older and more independent, I have much more flexibility in creating time to write. 
Jo on a family vacation in
 Japan, 2014
Although I need quiet, mostly uninterrupted time to draft, I’ve discovered that I can edit in small chunks.  I’ve done a lot of editing through the years sitting in the carpool line.   I’ve also found that I can learn something from almost everyone I meet. I keep an idea journal with me at all times and transpose the notes onto a computer file to which I often turn for ideas. I love to listen for rhythm in different regional accents. I’m amazed at the great dialog and character details I’ve been able to pick up at legal conferences, community boards, from neighbors, and in airports. 

Jo and family in Costa Rica, 2009
Carol: How would you encourage others in their search for an agent?

Jo: From the first time I met Tracey Adams, I knew that I wanted to work with her.  I was enormously impressed by her experience, talent, warmth, sense of humor, and commitment to excellence in children’s literature.  I worked hard on this manuscript and waited until I thought it was ready before I sent it to her.  I also had several other shorter pieces and ideas for other projects to demonstrate that I was serious about putting in the work required to be a writer.  I would encourage others to first work on writing the best piece they can, let it sit, revise and polish it and make it as strong as it can be, then research potential agents.  I would also encourage writers to seek not only a technical match with an agent in terms of experience and genre interest, but someone with whom they believe they will enjoy working over the long term.

Carol: You’ve been very active in SCBWI Carolinas. What role did SCBWI have in your path to publication?

Jo: SCBWI has had a pivotal role in my development as a writer.  The workshops and conferences have provided training to help develop technical skills and the wonderfully supportive SCBWI community has been a consistent source of inspiration and encouragement.  I’ve made great friends through SCBWI and we cheer each other on in our writing.  You’re a great example of that, Carol.

Carol: What advice do you wish someone had given you before you started your novel?

Jo: I think the most important thing I wish someone had advised me before I started working on my first novel is this:  “Dig deep and be brave.  As you write about your character’s experiences and reactions, recall a time in your life when you felt a similar emotion and try to put into words how it felt to be inside your body at exactly that moment, no matter how awkward or weird.  Write the scenes you’re most afraid to write and don’t hold back one bit.”
Hiking Paris Mountain, South Carolina
Jo Hackl is represented by Tracey Adams of Adams Literary.  Jo is also a corporate lawyer with Wyche, P.A. in Greenville, SC, where she is Past President of the Greenville County Bar Association and the recipient of the Richard Riley Award for her pro bono service.  She is a past president of Emrys and the founder of, which provides a free source of information and inspiration about the outdoors to individuals, families and educators. She lives with her family on the side of a mountain where she writes every day and tries to spend as much time outside as possible.
Jo has agreed to share some of her research for SMACK DAB including her experiences in an outdoor survival class. But first, I have several book giveaways coming up, another "You Heard it Here First" two part interview (with the winner of the Grateful American Book Prize!), as well as some answers to FAQs about blogging/Facebook/and Twitter from the Carolinas very own Joan Edwards. Stay tuned!