Sponsored by Pennwriters, Inc. 

Check back in July of 2023 for this year's workshops.

WRT Virtual RelayThat

Mile Marker 13:
Your Workshop Speakers Answer Questions


TinyBurst--- 1. When did you start writing and when did it become a driving passion? 

Annette DashofyAnnette Dashofy: My first writing implement was a crayon, which gives you an idea of the “when.” I decided to seriously pursue publication in 2004.


Susan GourleySusan Gourley: I’ve been writing for about sixteen years and had a passion from the first time I sat down at the keyboard to transfer my longhand-written first novel to a word document.


 Catherine E. McLean: I wrote my first story in third grade, in pencil on yellow-lined tablet paper. The teacher was impressed, but since I came from a rural, agricultural family who put great store in education and having a job that paid the bills and put food on the table, I never considered becoming a writer. However, after a back injury, I turned to writing stories because writing high-adventure and daring-do, with or without a romance, took my mind off the constant pain. My husband encouraged me to send a sample of my writing to an agent. He told me I was a storyteller but that I needed to bring the art and craft of fiction writing to my work---and so I embarked on the writer’s journey. That journey included professional writing courses, editing courses, attending conferences and workshops, and extensive reading of books on craft and storytelling---and joining Pennwriters.

Deborah Riley-MagnusDeborah Riley-Magnus: I honestly started writing at around ten, when I began reading a lot and decided I had a better way to tell that story, LOL. It became a serious passion in high school when I discovered that I could create original characters and stories from beginning to end. I’ve since written numerous genres of fiction and found a wonderful niche as a nonfiction writer conveying the creative processes I teach. These days, my fiction is deep and requires tons of research, or pulls me toward passing altogether on writing the book and instead writing screenplays or film treatments. SO MUCH FUN!


Debra R. Sanchez: I have been writing since I could hold a crayon. Since my earliest school days, the “passion” has forced its way through from time to time. Short stories, poetry, and in 2nd grade I wrote my first play. There are many years, however, with no new words. As powerful as the need to write can be, it can just as easily disappear for long periods of time.


TinyBurst--- 2. What are you most proud of in your writing career? 

Annette DashofyAnnette Dashofy: Seeing writers, who have taken my classes or who I’ve tried to help, find publishers and readers.

Susan GourleySusan Gourley: Every day, I’m proud that I don’t give up. I know a writing career is a journey and sometimes we sprint and sometimes we stumble, but we keep on going.


 Catherine E. McLean: Selling my first thirteen short stories (in a row) without getting a rejection slip---and getting paid for each of them. Selling novels turned out to be a whole lot harder.

Deborah Riley-MagnusDeborah Riley-Magnus: Being a part of other writer’s lives and successes. It makes me giddy thinking of the authors who have gained something from what I teach, either for creative development, or marketing, and how beautifully they bloom after experiencing success!


Debra R. Sanchez: I think that would be any of the writing I’ve done that makes people think about the “bigger” things in life. Also, building an indie publishing company, Tree Shadow Press, from scratch, with nine award-winning books since 2017.


TinyBurst--- 3. Can you give us a teaser of what we can expect from your presentation at Writer’s Road Trip 9? 

Annette DashofyAnnette Dashofy: It’s so hard to see the holes and mistakes in our own writing. I’m going to give hints and advice on how to find and correct them while polishing your manuscript to a shine. Also, I’m going to share some of my own cringe-worthy mistakes that my editor pointed out.

Susan GourleySusan Gourley: I love examining popular books and successful movies and figuring out the protagonists’ story arcs and identifying the story beats. We’ll use these well-known media darlings to understand arcs and story structure.


 Catherine E. McLean: I’ll be giving two workshops that include a handout, secrets, tips, shortcuts, and practical advice. The workshops are:

1) The Inciting Incident --- Expect to learn what “the inciting incident” actually is --- and why it needs to be located in your draft so you can present a quality story to a reader, editor, or agent.

2) The Prologue --- There are far more drawbacks to prologues than advantages. Learn how to tell if a prologue is truly necessary and worthwhile.

Deborah Riley-MagnusDeborah Riley-Magnus: Hold on to your hats! Long gone are the days when I talked about nothing but marketing. Now I am focused only on lighting the path to unique creative systems that really work! This all-new Creative Brilliance Academy workshop has been popular, not to mention exciting to teach. There are suggestions, prompts, and electrifying strategies most people never consider or imagine can work. These processes can blast a writer’s creative brilliance into a blinding light, guiding the way for stories that stand way above and apart, grabbing and holding attention! These techniques develop better, more dynamic writers.


Debra R. Sanchez: Workshop attendees will get hands-on experience to practice skills needed to 1) write a book for children; 2) learn how to properly format a manuscript; and 3) learn to self-edit.


TinyBurst--- 4. What is your biggest fear (or what holds you back) in your writing? 

Annette DashofyAnnette Dashofy: My biggest fear is missing a deadline and that drives me to keep writing even when I’m not feeling the mojo.

Susan GourleySusan Gourley: Marketing scares me. I know I could do more, but I’m not comfortable pursuing all the ways I could put my work out there. 


 Catherine E. McLean: I don’t have any fears (I’ve never had writer’s block). What frustrates me is the marketing aspects of the publishing business and how time to write has to be juggled with what life throws at me.

Deborah Riley-MagnusDeborah Riley-Magnus: Taking on too much, and yes, I do it all the time. Currently, I am setting up a new business (The Creative Brilliance Factory), writing a nonfiction book for the Creative Brilliance Academy that follows the workshops, writing a medieval dark fantasy, and working on a film treatment for another story. The good part? I’m never bored and can jump from project to project to keep my inspirations and productivity high. The not-so-good part? Everything takes longer to complete. Ah well, can’t have it all. Or… can you?


Debra R. Sanchez: I have two very large projects that I have been working on (off and on…mostly off) for a very long time. One for almost a decade, the other…well…since the late 1970s. I really like having them in my head and heart. The characters evolve over time, and I need to revise/rewrite. The oldest one has had quite a few updates. I could force myself to work on them and finish them…but then, they would be done. They would no longer be “in my head” and keeping me company, but would be trapped on a page. I will finish them. Eventually. Many beta-readers keep badgering me for more. But…there’s always another project that has a more urgent deadline. Translation. Tutoring. Editing. Publishing. Life.


TinyBurst--- 5. How do you generate the time to write amongst all the other necessities in your life? 

Annette DashofyAnnette Dashofy: I set aside one to three hours EVERY MORNING, before I do anything else, as my sacred writing time. Once I get my pages done, I don’t feel guilty about those other life necessities.

Susan GourleySusan Gourley: It’s been a great challenge in the past fifteen months. The time I usually devote to writing has been stolen by other responsibilities. 


 Catherine E. McLean: I rely on my month-at-a-glance calendar. I look for days when life doesn’t intrude. On those “blank” days, I create, draft, revise, etc. depending on the project I’m working on. And because my imagination knows what those days are, it’s got story for me to write.

Deborah Riley-MagnusDeborah Riley-Magnus: I’m blessed. Divorced for more than 20 years, so no spouse to take care of. No kids to take care of (my only son is 45.) Grandkids are all high school graduates and living their own lives. I’ve been working from home for more than 25 years, so that works fine. I cook dinners, entertain for the holidays, do laundry and keep house. I have a very simple life and I love it. I can write whenever I want, for as long as I want.


Debra R. Sanchez: I have many different kinds of jobs, but only one boss. I am a freelance translator (English/Spanish), a language tutor (Spanish/ESL), editor (for Tree Shadow Press books and other freelance gigs), publisher (doing all the formatting and covers for all Tree Shadow Press books), and a mother to three grown-up “kids”, grandmother to five and a half kids (one is due in January) and wife to one. But, while my time is divided and stretched in many ways, I decide what part has priority at any given time. My own writing is usually fairly low on the “priority” list. But, when it needs to come out, I shift other things around – including sleep.


TinyBurst--- 6. What is a “typical” writing day like for you? 

Annette DashofyAnnette Dashofy: My day usually starts at 4:30 a.m. (I know, right? Ugh.) I get my husband up and out the door by 5:45. Most days, I take about 45 minutes for myself to exercise, do yoga, and/or practice mindfulness. After that, I check email while I eat breakfast and am at the computer to write by 8:00. I draft new pages until 11:00. Then I take a break for lunch and to re-set my brain for an afternoon of business stuff and working on revisions. By 3:00, you can stick a fork in me because I’M DONE.

Susan GourleySusan Gourley: After all those years fitting my writing in during the evening hours while I was a teacher, the strong habit of writing at night has been deeply instilled. I do almost all my writing in the dark of night.


 Catherine E. McLean: A good day usually starts at nine and ends when I have completed what it is that my imagination had ready for that day---anywhere from four to twelve hours or anywhere from 1,000 to 12,000 words. A partial day can be one to four hours.

Deborah Riley-MagnusDeborah Riley-Magnus: I wake, meditate for 20 minutes, have breakfast, take a walk, then “feel” my way to the project most calling to me. I might write for three hours, or eight hours. I never set a target time goal; it makes me crazy when I do that. Sometimes I don’t write at all, I work on a new quilt, or read. I’ve discovered that being productive requires a variety of inspirations. My goal is to always be open to my creative brilliance and let it dictate my action.


Debra R. Sanchez: My days usually start by 6 or 6:30 and end anytime between 8 and after midnight. I start with checking email and social media over coffee. Then, I check for freelance translation/tutoring/etc gigs. Every day (for over two years now) I play with foreign languages for 10 to 15 minutes via Duolingo. I say “play with” rather than “learn” to keep it fun. My current languages are French, Italian, Portuguese, German, Latin, and Esperanto. I go with Spanish on days I need a mental break and have Irish, Scottish Gaelic, and Hungarian on hold for days when I really want to stretch my brain. All of that is usually done by 8 am. Then, the “work” day starts. When I have translation or other freelance work, I dedicate most of the available time to that. (Paid deadlines supersede all others). I have some tutoring students that I meet via online video chats. Their life schedules are crazy, so my tutoring schedule varies. I do editing or formatting work when it needs doing. I frequently am working on several kinds of things at once. After dinner, I really like to watch Jeopardy. Then sometimes some tv with my husband, and then either sleep or back to work until my eyes fall shut.


TinyBurst--- 7. Do you feel you have an obligation to making the world a better place through your writing? 

Annette DashofyAnnette Dashofy: Interesting question. I don’t think of it as an obligation, but I can tell you, nothing feels better than having a reader reach out and tell me my books have helped them or a family member get through a rough time.

Susan GourleySusan Gourley: I wish I could reach enough people that my writing might make the world a better place. I’ll settle for my books bringing enjoyment and serving as a place people can forget their troubles and immerse their minds and hearts in a fictional place where worries are forgotten and the good guys win.


 Catherine E. McLean: No. I write fiction to entertain, to give someone an exciting adventure in a phantasy realm or on a stardust world with characters to care about.

Deborah Riley-MagnusDeborah Riley-Magnus: Of course.


Debra R. Sanchez: Yes. Every writer should feel that way. If not, why bother? As to what that means, well…a happy reader is a happier person who may make another person’s day a bit brighter and so on and so on. I also want my writing to make people think, to explore their values, to consider their fellow humans and the future of our world. (without being “preachy”) 


TinyBurst--- 8. Are you an optimist or a pessimist? 

Annette DashofyAnnette Dashofy: Optimist. As an author, I think we have to be. It’s hard work and few of us earn a good living at it. If I was a pessimist, I’d probably go flip burgers at McDonald’s.

Susan GourleySusan Gourley: Most of the time I’m optimistic though we all have times of pessimism. My own children give me optimism for the future.



 Catherine E. McLean: Neither. I’m a commonsense realist.

Deborah Riley-MagnusDeborah Riley-Magnus: A total, obnoxious optimist!


Debra R. Sanchez: 85% Optimist, 5% Pessimit, 10% Neutral.


TinyBurst--- 9. What motivates you?

Annette DashofyAnnette Dashofy: My need to get the voices in my head down on the page!

Susan GourleySusan Gourley: I’m a very self-motivated person. I’ve always like creating things and learning new things. It’s all I need to keep going. And for the moments of doubt I experience, I have my writer friends and the unending support of Pennwriters.


 Catherine E. McLean: As Sol Stein once said, a writer is someone who cannot not write. Writing stories is just something I do because my imagination keeps dishing up ideas for plots and characters that intrigue me. If I never publish a word, I will always strive to write well and tell a story well.

Deborah Riley-MagnusDeborah Riley-Magnus: Sunshine. If it’s a bright sunny day, I can do anything, plant a whole garden or write a whole book!


Debra R. Sanchez: My family and friends who believe in me more than I believe in myself. 


TinyBurst--- 10. Are you a pantster or plotter? 

Annette DashofyAnnette Dashofy: I’m more of a hybrid. I know whodunit before I begin and I know a few of the major plot points, but I do a lot of writing by the seat of my pants to get from point A to point B. Also, my process tends to change from book to book.

Susan GourleySusan Gourley: I started out as a complete pantser and have evolved into a combination. I do a general outline and then go from there.


 Catherine E. McLean: Most writers think there are only two kinds of writers, pantser or plotter. But over the years, I’ve discovered ten types of writers, and that I fall into the category of The Foundation Writer.

Deborah Riley-MagnusDeborah Riley-Magnus: Truth? Both. It’s hard to explain, but once I decided that labels were limiting my creative process, I found freedom to let a story tell itself, or beg for guidance. Sometimes a chapter is completely pantsed, while most of the book is carefully plotted. No clue how, but it works.


Debra R. Sanchez: I’m a confirmed “plontster” I have a plot in mind, but wing my way through life.



TinyBurst--- 11. How many drafts do you usually produce before your final work? 

Annette DashofyAnnette Dashofy: It’s hard to really say because I tend to go back and make little tweaks on the first draft as I go, so that first draft is more like a second or third. But on average, I do five or six drafts.

Susan GourleySusan Gourley: I do two drafts and then after that I do rewrites where needed. Sometimes those are very extensive so it’s almost like another draft.


 Catherine E. McLean: I only produce one draft, then it’s a matter of step-by-step revisions to get it into its publishable state. I can do this because a) I’m a Foundation Writer, and b) I use a Master Project Bible to be sure an idea is worthy to become a completed story worth the time and effort to market.

Deborah Riley-MagnusDeborah Riley-Magnus: One. After that it’s no longer about a new draft, it’s all about molding and polishing. If a story needs more than one draft, it tends to die on the vine.


Debra R. Sanchez: As many as it takes. Some have been one-and-done. Some (like the one started in the 1970s, has had scores of rewrites).


TinyBurst--- 12. How has being a member of Pennwriters helped you and your writing? 

Annette DashofyAnnette Dashofy: I would not be published if it weren’t for Pennwriters. I knew NOTHING when I joined. From the workshops and classes to the mentoring and networking, I credit Pennwriters with helping every aspect of my career.

Susan GourleySusan Gourley: I have learned so much at conferences I can’t even put a value on it. I can’t imagine I will ever stop attending the Pennwriters Conference so that I can continue learning. The newsletter has also played a big role in my career. It’s not just the great articles, but also the Market News where I’ve found many submission possibilities. Seeing the success of other Pennwriter members displayed in the newsletter motivates me to keep submitting my work. Though the pandemic has been a terrible thing, having so many Area meetings on Zoom has allowed me to meet and learn from members across the state.


 Catherine E. McLean: Pennwriters has given me opportunities to learn, to network among professionals, and share my knowledge and expertise. I’ve been a member since 1995 and given back by volunteering and earning a Meritorious Service Award.

Deborah Riley-MagnusDeborah Riley-Magnus: That’s an interesting question. Having taught marketing for so long, I seldom focused on the writerly benefits. I had a job to do—make sure all the writers I knew could market sell well! That’s all different now. For myself, I focus on the creative process and writing stories and books that are unique and powerful, above and beyond what I’d written before. Now, for the first time in a long time, I know Pennwriters is going to be a super helpful friend. Now, I AM JUST A WRITER!


Debra R. Sanchez: Having a sense of community helps keep me accountable and actively pursuing my writing ambitions. 


TinyBurst--- 13. How do (or what is the best way) you market yourself or your writing? 

Annette DashofyAnnette Dashofy: I’m always learning new marketing tips and techniques and experimenting with them. I think the trio of a website, a newsletter, and a social media presence have served me well. But also, getting out to conferences and book festivals to meet readers and other writers can be extremely beneficial.

Susan GourleySusan Gourley: Well, my nemesis, marketing. I have a regular blog where I’m connected to other bloggers who promote my books for me. I’m relatively active on Twitter. (A horrible mean place to be.) I should do more on Facebook and Instagram and always put those two platforms in my marketing plans.


 Catherine E. McLean: Believe it or not, I have yet to figure that out. I do keep abreast of trends in the industry, try new things and ways that should work to draw attention to me and my stories, or my workshops and courses. I even have an online and social presence. However, the brass ring of gaining popularity is still elusive.

Deborah Riley-MagnusDeborah Riley-Magnus: No comment! LOL. Been there, done it, still doing it the way I know it works.


Debra R. Sanchez: Ah…that is one question I need an answer for myself. I’m still working on figuring that one out. It is my weakest skill.




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