Staci Troilo

Suspense, Passion... Fiction That Flutters The Heart

Category: Uncategorized (page 1 of 2)

Where You Can Find Me

I’m delighted to have been asked to write a guest post for friend and fellow author P.C. Zick. If you have any questions about the pros and cons of writing in multiple genres, please visit me there and tell me what you think.

Click this link to read my post on P.C. Zick’s site.

I also want to mention a live event I’ll be at tonight. If you live in Northwest Arkansas, consider stopping by the Farmington Public Library from 6:00-8:00 to visit with some of the authors of Oghma Creative Media. We’ll be there to discuss writing as well as to chat with our community. I hope to see some of you there.

cover1.jpgFarmington Public Library

175 W. Cimarron Place
Farmington, AR  72730

Ph: (479) 267-2674

15 Valentine’s Day Tips, 5 for Each Situation (Infographic)

valentine staciIf you know anything about me, you know that I’m all about relationships. In my fiction, I write about all kinds: healthy ones, dysfunctional ones, romantic/familial/friend ones. To me, fiction doesn’t work unless you have strong characters and passionate bonds between them.

You’d think that would lead to a mushy post about love and Valentine’s Day, but to be honest, I’m not a huge Valentine’s Day fan. My husband and I give trinkets to our kids, and I usually bake a heart-shaped cake (a tradition passed down from my mother), but I think love should be expressed every day, not just on the day a greeting card company designates.

So, to that end, this year’s Valentine’s Day post is a simple infographic. Five tips for people in a committed relationship, five tips for single people who are happy to be single, and five tips for people who have recently endured a breakup. Just little suggestions for how to spend the “holiday” that many people stress over.

What should I give him?

What should we do?

Where can I go?

How will I get through the day?

The answers follow.

Valentine's DaySo, writers—Keep writing those relationships into your stories; play with the dynamics and really work your character arcs.

And everyone—Regardless of your relationship status and your feelings about the holiday, I wish you the happiest Valentine’s Day.

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46th Annual Ozark Creative Writers Conference


Welcome OCW!

It’s that time of year again. I spent Thursday, Friday, and Saturday in Eureka Springs, Arkansas at the Ozark Creative Writers Conference. For forty-six years, they’ve been bringing in experts in the industry, and this year was no exception.

Disty Richards

Dusty Richards

Thursday evening began with prolific western writer Dusty Richards holding an informal meet-and-greet. Many attendants gathered for two hours, introducing themselves and talking about their writing journeys. Later was open-mic night, where writers snacked on hors d’oeuvers and had the opportunity to read a few pages of their work to a captive and encouraging audience: their peers.

Beth Bartlett

Beth Bartlett

Friday was a full day. After opening remarks by Beth Bartlett, this year’s OCW president, writers had the opportunity to attend one of two sessions. Writer and editor Margo Dill covered the children’s market while blogger and publisher Dan Case of AWOC Publishing discussed blogging.

Dan Case

Dan Case

I attended the blogging session, and plenty of great information was addressed. Mr. Case covered the five elements of good blog posts (headlines, hooks, word count, photos, and conclusions) and emphasized that above all else, content is key. He offered examples, answered questions, and proffered advice for the blogging writer, novice to expert. He also suggested some resources for blogging and obtaining stock photos.


Pat Carr

Pat Carr

After the break, author and teacher Pat Carr covered writing love scenes. (Not sex scenes. Love scenes.) She discussed the twelve steps of intimacy and the importance of them occurring in order, followed by the five scenes that must be present in a novel or short story. When these scenes (meeting, conflict, admiration, affection, and climatic resolution) are written with proper pace, flow, and order, the story will be a success. She also offered ten scene descriptors that will enrich the setting, and therefore the story itself. The session concluded with a writing exercise, and some writers were brave enough to share their efforts. Their results, using techniques learned in session, were amazing, and covered romantic love, love between family members, and even love of special pets.

Dianna Graveman

Dianna Graveman

After lunch, there were again two sessions to choose from. Travel and western writer Johnny D. Boggs hosted a talk while marketing specialist Dianna Graveman of 2 Rivers Communications talked about public speaking and social media. I attended Ms. Graveman’s session and learned so much. She stressed that writers are business people and need to approach their careers that way. Providing value and being sought after is far more effective than the hard sell. She offered several options where writers could seek out public speaking engagements, from historical societies to continuing education programs. She also addressed several social media opportunities to garner speaking engagements, and offered invaluable tips on how to promote speaking events (reminding us that promotion should occur before, during, and after the engagement for full exposure).

Susan Swartwout

Susan Swartwout

After a quick break, Susan Swartwout, publisher at Southeast Missouri State University Press, gave a presentation on queries and rejections. She discussed the twelve items agents and editors look for in a query letter (everything from the hook to the marketing plan) and then moved on to the reasons for rejections. She offered twenty-one reasons why writers might be turned down, some being the writer’s responsibility (bad writing or not following guidelines) and some boiling down to fate (publisher maxed out on that topic or the printing schedule is booked). Dr. Swartwout’s talk was peppered with examples and she offered great advice.

The day ended with a presentation by Peggy Vining. Ms. Vining has been attending the OCW Conference since it began, and in 2003 was appointed Arkansas Poet Laureate by then Governor Mike Huckabee. Ms. Vining shared her love of poetry with the writers in her session. She believes it’s important to spread the love of words and form throughout the community.

Later that evening, Dusty Richards assumed a role he’s well known for. He served as the auctioneer at the first ever OCW Auction, where a good time was had by all.

Jim Donovan

Jim Donovan

Saturday began with keynote speaker, literary agent Jim Donovan, discussing a writer’s path to publication. He said a crucial question writers should be asking (but almost never do) is: How do I become a better writer? And he proceeded to answer that question with some great advice. Mr. Donovan gave six important steps which will help writers improve their craft:


  1. Read as a reader, to absorb what works in that genre.
  2. Read as a writer, and focus on specific elements (character, dialogue, pace, action, plot, setting).
  3. Read writing books to learn rules and technique.
  4. Write regularly.
  5. Join a good critique group.
  6. Revise, revise, revise.

He then discussed query letters and what agents and editors want in a manuscript. He ended his talk with a Q&A session.

Pat Carr

Pat Carr

After a break, writers were again given the option of two sessions. Writer and self-publishing guru Velda Brotherton held a workshop on preparing a document for Kindle while Pat Carr covered short story writing. As I am lucky enough to regularly benefit from Ms. Brotherton’s expertise (I’m a member of Northwest Arkansas Writers, a critique group run by Ms. Brotherton and Mr. Richards), I made the difficult decision and attended the short story session. Again Ms. Carr offered great advice. She said it is paramount to make a reader care about the characters, and gave five ways to make sure that readers care. Writers must show that the character:

  • cares about others.
  • is capable of love.
  • is in jeopardy or danger.
  • is doomed (but cannot whine about his fate).
  • is vulnerable in some way.

She talked about the use of actions, emotions, dialogue, and scene descriptors, then ended with a writing exercise: write one scene resulting in an epiphany, portraying a strong emotion. It was a great exercise, and she seemed pleased with the results.

Kevin Brockmeier

Kevin Brockmeier

After lunch, keynote speaker and noted author Kevin Brockmeier shared three excerpts of his acclaimed works (there’s nothing like hearing an author read his own work, when you know the inflections and emotions are as the writer intended), then he answered questions. He talked about his writing process, discussed his characters and the messages he explores in his work, and offered a list of books and authors he loves to read.


editors panel 2

Margo Dill, Jim Donovan, Lonnie Whitaker, Susan Swartwout

There was a quick break, and then I had to make a difficult choice again. Ms. Graveman gave a talk on freelance editing, which I desperately wanted to attend, but opposite her was the editors’ panel. I couldn’t walk away from a chance to pick the brains of not one, but seven, experts in the field.

editors panel 1

Lou Turner, Dan Case, Delois McGrew

The panel consisted of publishers Lou Turner, Susan Swartwout, and Dan Case; editors Delois McGrew, Margo Dill, and Lonnie Whitaker; and agent Jim Donovan. Questions covered several topics, from contract language to editing rates. All too soon the session was over. I’m sure we could have peppered them for information all day.

The conference “proper” ended with a toot-your-own-horn segment, where people could talk about their achievements. It seems every year people have more to celebrate, so we must all be improving. That’s just proof that the conference was again a success.

That evening was the concluding dinner and awards banquet. I’ll be posting my awards soon on my Awards link, or you can check out all the winners on the OCW site. So many talented writers were acknowledged that evening, and we had a lot of fun. This year, I met up with old friends, made new friends, and learned a lot. I can’t wait until next year when I can do it all again! Hope to see some of you there.

ABCs of Mystery Heir

ABCsSome writing friends recently participated in an alphabet blog challenge where every day for twenty-six days they wrote a post corresponding to a particular letter, each entry having to do with a work-in-progress or a recently released work. I didn’t participate; I figure one, maybe two posts a week is plenty. But I thought the premise was pretty cool. So here is my abridged take on the alphabetized postings. I have a mystery novel coming out soon. It’s a departure from my usual romance work, but it’s still heavy on family and relationships, so it’s not too big a stretch for me. In any event, I thought this might be a good way to introduce it to you. It’s called Mystery Heir.

  • Aaron Fields
    His presence humanizes the lead character and leads to a break in the case.
  • Baseball Cards
    A clue for both the police and the lead sleuth in the book.
  • Centerville
    The setting. The town seems to be haunted. Bad things keep happening there.
  • Daddy Issues
    The original title of the book and a recurring theme throughout the novel.
  • Everett Kerr
    Mayor of Centerville and someone who keeps popping up in Naomi’s life.
  • Food
    Healthy necessity or decadent indulgence, what girl doesn’t love to snack?
  • Grant Family
    One of the key families at the heart of the mystery.
  • Harbaugh Family
    Another family at the center of it all. The patriarch is the victim.
  • Incarcerate
    Who ends up in jail? Why? Is it justified?
  • Johnson Family
    How many families are tangled in this mess, anyway?
  • Kaolin
    Fancy little mineral. Wonder what it has to do with the murder of a councilman?
  • Lockwood Family
    Another family?
  • Myer Lake
    Centerville is a big town with a lot of regions. The lake area is just one part of the town.
  • Naomi Dotson
    The main character. She tends to stick her nose in where it doesn’t belong.
  • Oktoberfest
    Lovely start to a novel. Too bad the party couldn’t last.
  • Penelope Dotson
    Naomi’s twin. They aren’t that much alike.
  • Quest
    Naomi is on a quest to solve a mystery. Someone else is on a quest to stop her.
  • Rothschild Law Office
    Where all the fun begins. If you consider a robbery and a high strung lawyer fun.
  • Shoes
    Penelope has a thing for shoes. It’s kind of important.
  • Tae kwon do
    Both girls are talented martial artists. It’s a handy skill.
  • Undaunted
    Naomi won’t be deterred from getting answers. Sometimes at great cost.
  • Valuable
    A lot of people have a lot to lose in this book.
  • Will
    That’s probably why the will is so important. (Hint, hint.)
  • Xerox copies
    Naomi provides the police with important copies of evidence. They tend to ignore her.
  • Yoga
    Things get pretty stressful. Yoga can be relaxing in times of tension.
  • Zeal
    In the end, it’s Naomi’s zeal that puts the pieces together and solves the crime.

Okay, admittedly, some of the letters were difficult. But when you read the book, and I hope you do, you’ll understand that some of the letters could have had ten entries and others I had to reach for one. I’ll keep you updated as Mystery Heir comes closer to its release date. I don’t have any specifics yet; this is just something small to whet your appetites until the big day draws nearer.

Until then, think about your WIPs. Can you come up with ABCs for all of them? Let us know how easy it was for you.

There’s No “I” in “Team,” But a Team Does Have a Lot of Eyes


Photo courtesy of Samantha Troilo

I’m wondering how many of you out there are writers. And of you, how many have some form of filter before you submit your work to an agent or traditional publisher, or before you self-publish. When I first started writing, I read the advice in books that said “join a critique group” or “get beta readers” or “hire an editor” but I resisted. I thought that was just a way for beginners to get their feet wet. I was trained in college. I had written professionally. I taught at the college level. Surely they weren’t talking to me.


I don’t care how much experience you have going into the first story or novel you’re writing. Or your fourth. Or your tenth. It’s not enough. You don’t know enough. There’s always more you could know, more out there you could learn. And even once you have the rules and techniques figured out, you’re still at a disadvantage when you read your own work—you’re too close to it. You know what happens and what the back stories are. There are no surprises and no cliffhangers. That makes for sloppy reading, which makes for sloppy editing. You’ll miss the plot holes, because you’ll fill them in from the unwritten back story. Repetitive words? You won’t notice them; you’ll skim right over them. Awkward sentence structure will escape your notice because you were the one who wrote the sentence to begin with.

You’d catch the mistakes if someone else made them. You just can’t see them on your own pages.

It’s no fault of your own; it’s just the nature of writing. Maybe some of it is ego. Just like no one thinks her child is ugly, no one wants to think her writing is awful. But most of the writers I know are too hard on themselves. The mistakes they make are ones they just can’t see.

Enter the critiquers.

Critique groups are hailed far and wide, in conferences and in how-to writing books, as a writer’s best friend. And I have to agree. There are both in-person and online versions of critique groups, as well as beta readers or editors who can be of assistance. There are merits to each.

In-person groups are great because they allow you to network with local writers and get immediate feedback. I happen to belong to two such groups. One of them has us bring no more than five double-spaced pages with us (plus copies for the group to mark up) and we read our work aloud. This group believes that the audible reading of the work allows the author to hear things that she otherwise wouldn’t hear. After she’s done reading, there is time for discussion before the marked up pages are returned to her. The other group I’m in has us submit work in advance, which allows for a much longer body of work. There is no recitation of the work when we meet, but there is still discussion, and written comments are still exchanged.

Online groups are another option because they allow you to find groups focusing on your specific genre or niche. This can be especially beneficial, for example, if you write romance and are looking for assistance with intimate scenes, or if you write murder mysteries and are looking for help with the forensics and procedures. Any genre will have conventions that vary slightly from the general fiction rules, and working with a group familiar with those specific norms can be helpful.

Another option is to find beta readers and critique partners. I have five people who I trust to read my WIPs at any time and give me constructive feedback. I’m lucky enough to have two family members who have a background in writing and are voracious readers, so I get fast turnaround from them. Two others I met at local writing activities, and we’ve since been working together to our mutual benefit. And one is a local woman who found me not long ago through my blog. These critique partners are invaluable because I can send them large chunks of text and get almost immediate information from them.

I can’t tell you that you have to have people review your work before you ship it, but it’s a definite plus. If there are local critique groups near you, check them out and see if they’re for you. If not, try an online group on for size, or find just one writing partner to try out as a beta reader. If none of these options appeal to you, consider hiring an editor. Consider hiring one anyway. Polishing your work before you send it out is always a good idea. And no matter what option you choose, remember: a second opinion can’t be a bad thing, right?

I took a vote. The “eyes” have it.

I Was Invited Out… Come Visit Me!

An online friend, Laura Hedgecock, kindly invited me to write a guest post on her blog. She writes primarily about sharing memories, so I shared—what else?—a memory about my Italian heritage.

Please join me over at her blog to read about Easter bread and Easter pizza, and what that means to me:

Six Speakers, I Mean, Reasons Why Saturday Was So Great

This weekend marked the return of one of my favorite annual events… and of course I don’t mean the loss of an hour of sleep. One look at the bags under my eyes and you would know that’s not something I yearn for. Nope, Saturday was Northwest Arkansas Writers’ Annual Writers Workshop. I anticipate this event for a number of reasons:

  • It’s yet another chance to hang out with my friends.
  • I get to network with writers and other professionals in the industry.
  • Information is always presented in a fun and low key way.
  • It’s the only conference I know of that’s completely free to attend.

This year was no exception. I sat with my two partners in crime (one of whom was actually mistaken for my sister, which is hilarious because she’s a blonde with blue eyes and I’m brunette and brown) and we met some really nice people. We also heard some great information, the highlights of which I’m going to pass along to you here.

There’s a group of five women in the NWA Writers Group who call themselves The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pen. Unfortunately one of them, Claire Croxton, was sick and couldn’t attend (however we’ve been promised a blog post from her regarding getting book reviews). The other four put on an excellent presentation.

Pamela FosterPamela Foster began the day discussing sense of place. Frequent readers of my blog might recognize Pam’s ability to set a mood—she’s guest posted for me before. Her ability to construct a scene is second to none. She defines a sense of place as nothing more—and nothing less—than the world you create for your characters and all the methods through which they experience it. It is not and cannot be separate from point of view and internalization, because it is through point of view and internalization that the character shows the reader the world.

Ruth Burkett WeeksShe then introduced another “sister,” Ruth Burkett Weeks. Ruth discussed document formatting. It’s a standard assumption in the industry that if a writer is sloppy with formatting, she’ll be sloppy with writing, so she spent a few minutes covering industry standards. Then she pulled out the big guns—Ruth is all about the bling. There’s no point in writing if you’re going to be boring. She likes words that sizzle and pop. She gave us a long list of lazy words to avoid and examples of ways to avoid their usage and strengthen those passages. She ended her presentation with a word of advice about the glitz—a little will make your work shimmer; a lot will make it bruise. Avoid purple prose.

Jan MorrillThat brought Jan Morrill to the podium. You might recognize Jan from a recent guest post she did here utilizing a strategy she actually discussed at length at the conference. Jan discussed ways to get to know your characters and make them memorable. She covered interviewing them, having them describe artwork in their voice, writing a scene over from a different character’s point of view, and writing a letter from one character to another. Jan gave us examples of the strategies she used from her published book and her work in progress and then gave us time to work on our own character interview. Many people learned new things about their characters.

Linda AppleJan introduced Linda Apple, who is referred to as the Mama of the group. Linda covered reasons why writers don’t write and offered solutions to their problems. She really nailed them all, too—editing as you go, having no ideas, feeling drained, spending time on other writing activities, sabotaging yourself, managing your time ineffectively… And like a true mama, she had excellent advice for conquering all of the issues. She left us with a poignant thought: There’s only one guarantee in writing… if you don’t write anything, you’ll never be published.

If you get a chance to hear the Sisters speak, I highly recommend it. I just took a six week course they taught at the Fayetteville Public Library, and they did a phenomenal job. You won’t be disappointed.

Sisterhood of the Traveling Pen

Velda BrothertonAfter lunch, one of the founding members of NWA Writers took her turn offering some advice. Velda Brotherton talked to us about promotion efforts. Contrary to what many writers think/wish/hope, promotion doesn’t start after the contract is signed or the book is published. In fact, you may not get the contract if you haven’t started connecting with readers long before your book is even written. The first thing an agent or editor will do is Google you, and if your name doesn’t pop up, your novel won’t get picked up. Velda strongly recommended having a presence on Facebook, Google+, and Pinterest, in addition to a webpage and a blog. Her research shows that Google+ may overtake Facebook in the not too distant future, because Google+ allows you to choose who views your content where Facebook decides for you. Above all else, she stressed that a social media presence is about connecting with readers, not about hawking your books. We’re here to make friends and help people, not scare them away by being nuisances.

Dusty RichardsThe afternoon ended with the other co-founder, Dusty Richards, giving us a writing tutorial. It was twice as nice because he used many examples from his own books. He covered everything from the importance of writing short stories as well as novels to how sequels must stand on their own as well as in their place in their series. Dusty is an expert storyteller, and he engaged the audience from the first piece of advice to bidding us farewell. He already Velda and Dustyhas the room reserved for next year’s conference (March 8, 2014) and I know I’ll be attending. I hope I’ll see some of you there. Like I said, it’s a great day to hang out with your friends, network with people in the industry, and learn valuable information. Mark your calendars now so you don’t forget!

New Release: Jan Morrill’s The Red Kimono

My grandfather worked hard his whole life. It was the Italian way. Loyalty to employers was only superseded by loyalty to God and loyalty to family, so it was no surprise to anyone that he labored, what seemed like tirelessly, and was a successful man. Long before I met him, when my mother was still in high school, he was asked to go to Japan to help teach factory owners how American production worked. He met wonderful friends there and came home with fascinating stories about the Japanese culture, an interest he passed on to me long before he died.

My grandfather may have sparked my interest in Japanese culture, but I know a writer who will ignite that passion in all of us. Jan Morrill, author of The Red Kimono, has woven her characters an exquisite tapestry of bigotry and betrayal, treachery and tradition, friendship and forgiveness, conflict and compassion. In addition to being a wonderful writer, Jan is an accomplished artist and has been very helpful to me in my writing efforts. I was thrilled when I asked her to guest post about her book’s upcoming release and she agreed. Here is what she had to say:

red kimonoLast night, I lay in bed thinking about what I’d like to say in this, perhaps my last guest post before The Red Kimono is released. I began to liken the waiting process to awaiting the birth of my children. (By the way, the latest “due” date for The Red Kimono is February 20, University of Arkansas Press.)

Many writers think of our works as our “babies.” When we read out loud, we might as well be offering our toddlers—exposed and vulnerable—for sacrifice to the heartless critique gods. And when they tell us what’s wrong, we begrudgingly edit parts we love, as if cutting off the limbs of our child. Some even refer to it as “killing our babies.”

There are many similarities in waiting for the arrival of my book, too. Changes in due date. Wondering what will it will look like and how it will feel to hold it in my hands. Will it be “healthy ” and will it achieve all that I’ve dreamed it will achieve? Yes, awaiting the release date feels all too familiar to the anticipatory pangs of childbirth.

I recently finished co-presenting a writing workshop with the Sisterhood of the Traveling Pen, where I talked about ways for writers to deepen their characters by getting to know them better. One of method was to interview the character. Another was to write a letter to the character.

The Red Kimono is my first novel. In the last days before the birth of my first child, I wrote my child-to-be a letter and told her about what I was feeling, my hopes, my fears. And so, as I pace the floor, waiting for February 20 (hoping for an early rather than late delivery,) I thought I’d write a letter to my main character, Sachiko Kimura.

Sachi is a nine-year old Japanese American girl who, in the opening of the book, is trying to find her place within two very different cultures. However, feeling out of place becomes the least of her worries when Pearl Harbor is bombed and the world as she knows it comes to an end with the loss of her father and the relocation of her family to an internment camp in Arkansas.

Dear Sachi,

Finally, after more than five years of gestation, your birth date is only days away. What am I thinking about in these last days before your arrival?

Before my children were born, I called them “sparkles in my eye.” You, too, began as a sparkle in my eye. Since my earliest recollection, I dreamed of one day writing a novel, though I often wondered what I would write about. Then, as I began to hear stories about my mother’s internment I thought about how it must have impacted the person she became. Stories began to form in my head, and the seed that became your story was planted.

But there were times that weeds of self-doubt choked how our garden grew. Negative thoughts filled my mind, leaving little room for the creativity I needed to move your story forward:

  • You may be able to write short stories, but you’ll never write a novel.
  • There are thousands and thousands of new novels being written every day. Why would anyone be interested in this story?
  • You’ve got too many other things to do to be wasting your time on a pipe dream.
  • This is taking your forever. Give it up.

But you, Nobu and Terrence persisted. Word by word. Page by page. Chapter by chapter. Until finally, the story was complete.

Now, as the due date approaches, I find myself wondering the same things about The Red Kimono that I wondered about my children.

  • What does the future hold?
  • What will be your place in this world?
  • Will I find the proper balance of protecting you and giving you wings?
  • Is there room in my heart for another “child?”

Sometimes I think writing The Red Kimono took so long because I couldn’t let go of all of you. I remember feeling a mix of joy and sadness at typing “THE END.”

But, then I realized I will never really let go. Because like my children, I am a part of you and you are a part of me. And this is how it will always be.

Happy “birth” day,

Jan Morrill

Jan MorrillJan Morrill was born and (mostly) raised in California. Her mother, a Buddhist Japanese American, was an internee during World War II. Her father, a Southern Baptist redhead of Irish descent, retired from the Air Force. Many of her stories reflect memories of growing up in a multicultural, multi-religious, multi-political environment as does her debut novel, THE RED KIMONO, which will be published by the University of Arkansas Press in February 2013.

An artist as well as a writer, she is currently working on the sequel to The Red Kimono.

Jan’s award-winning short stories and memoir essays have been published in the Chicken Soup for the Soul series of books and several anthologies. Recently, she was nominated for the Pushcart Prize for her short story “Xs and Os,” which appeared in the Voices Anthology.

Visit Jan at:





The Red Kimono Book Trailer:                                              


Vonnegut’s Take on the Shape of Stories, Then and Now

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