Category Archives: For Your Reading List

An Invitation To Listen: A New Podcast


episode-one-coverbThe Penn State Lehigh Valley Writing Project has been my happy place as a teacher since 2004.  It’s provided me opportunities to learn, lead, write, make mistakes, develop friendships, and more. Because life is about the sweet and the bitter, he horrific events in Charlottesville this summer were the catalyst for an LVWP bucket list initiative: our own podcast.

Thanks to the our fearless site director, Doug Antonioli, I am now part of Open Mic, a monthly podcast exploring the intersections of education and social justice.  Enjoy our first episode: Teaching In The Wake of Charlottesville.

Our next episode is about supporting transgender students. Stay tuned.




Compilation of Junot Diaz Stories!


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Junot Diaz‘s writing has strong voice that never, ever shakes.  If you’ve never read him, now’s your chance.  Enjoy these free stories in print and in audio.  These are perfect for any reader and especially English teachers.  His language might be a little dicey for the classroom at times, but his characters speak the way teenagers speak, so find a school leadership ally and ask for support in bringing an authentic Dominican voice to your classroom.

A huge thank you to Josh Jones for putting this list together. Whydontcha give him a follow?


#SmarterSunday: The J Word

#SmarterSunday:  The J Word

Until last week, I was a notorious juster.IMG_8950

I’m writing you just to see if…

Oh, I’m just working on my next book..

I need just a few minutes of your time…

Until I read this article by Ellen Petry Leanse, I had no idea how often I was potentially sabotaging my credibility.  Do you need to drop the J word, too?

Guest DJ: Plotting and Pantsing with Laurie Loewenstein

Guest DJ: Plotting and Pantsing with Laurie Loewenstein

As I detox from all of that pie and shopping, I’m need some quiet jazz after a terrific, hustle-bustle holiday. So let’s put on our yoga pants and listen to the smooth melodies from our latest Guest DJ.

Lauriepix1Laurie Loewenstein is a fifth generation Midwesterner.  She has been a reporter, and a feature and obituary writer for several small daily newspapers, as well as a college writing tutor. She was among the third class of women admitted to Colgate University.  She has master degrees in history from Syracuse University and in creative writing from Wilkes University. Her novel, UNMENTIONABLES, has been called “a memorable debut novel” by Ann Hood, author of THE RED THREAD.  It is the flagship publication of the new imprint, Kaylie Jones Books, published in conjunction with Akashic Books. Check out Laurie’s website at  UNMENTIONABLES will be on bookstore shelves in January 2014. It is available for immediate shipment from the publisher here.

How the Other Half Writes by Laurie Loewenstein

Sometime during your writing career, someone will probably suggest that you swap pages with other writers. The right writers’ group can be of tremendous help in maintaining momentum and providing a knowledgeable and compassionate sounding board. Every two weeks for five years, I drove two hours each way from my home in eastern Pennsylvania over the George Washington Bridge and into Manhattan for my group. I won’t wish away a single of those thousands of miles on my odometer.

I got to read, chapter by chapter, all sorts of developing manuscripts. We were a diverse lot with stories ranging from an aviatrix of the early 1920’s to three Long Island kids hunted down by teenagers. My own writing vastly improved and I loved the camaraderie of  talk over pizza and Diet Coke after days spent alone, in my pajamas, typing on the keyboard.

An expected bonus was finding out how the other half lives – or, more precisely, how other writers write.

The most lively discussions I had on this topic were with Theasa, a straight shooter from the old school of print journalism. For her, the primary joy of writing came down to “seeing what happened next.” Each day at the computer was, for her, like opening a brightly wrapped present. What would happen next to her protagonist, the feisty aviatrix? She was, as I learned at a writers conference, a classic “Pantser” as in “seat-of-your-pants.” No outline, no elaborate plotting – simply an idea about a character, a setting, and, sometimes, a general idea about the large conflict points to guide her along like a string of Christmas lights. The old-fashioned outdoor kind of lights with big fat bulbs. Stephen King, the conference instructor noted, is a Pantser, too.

“But Theasa,” I would counter, “how can you make sure the story doesn’t wander off into a dead-end?”

She would shrug. “If that happens, the characters just have to work their way out of it.”

I, on the other hand, am a Plotter.  I start with an outline of the main characters and their arcs. I also outlineUnmentionabes-Cover-FINAL.indd where what actions need to occur in which chapater – all with the goal, by the final chapter, of hitting the bullseye. I use a large pad of newsprint, the kind you prop on an easel for a team meeting at the office, and set up the timeline on one page, character profiles on another, then rough chapter ideas. I am aware of the danger in this. The danger of adhering too closely to my pad. The story may jerk along with a mechanical Frankenstein gait. The story may lack the flexibility that comes with spontaneity. I try to counter this by rewriting the outline as I move forward. For my novel, UNMENTIONABLES, I re-jiggered the outline at least four times.

A big part of me would like to be a Pantser – extemporaneous and open to whatever comes along. But that is not my nature – as a writer or person. But I’m glad there are the Theasa’s out there, writing like the wind to find out what happens next.

Are you a Plotter or a Pantser?  Or somewhere in the middle? Tell us in the comments.

If you have something to say about writing and would like to be a Guest DJ, you can contact me here.

Guest DJ: John Koloski’s Top Five Horror Reads


Today’s Guest DJ post reminds me of playing The Monster Mash on a 45 record with my cousins, Bonnie and Jennifer. There were two beds in the room and we leaped from one to the other, screaming the words.  So it’s a big ol’ “wah-wah-woo” for John Koloski and his special Halloween Creature Feature!


John Koloski is a teacher and published author who holds an MFA in Creative Writing from Wilkes University. His first novel, EMPYRES:BLOODBLIND, was published by Northampton House Press and is available at Amazon and Barnes & Noble

John Koloski’s Top Five Horror Reads


1. Stephen King

DSC08292 (2)Stephen King is the gateway drug of horror writing. So well known that his life story appears in graphic novel format, King is a gypsy fortune teller of writing: he sees all, knows all, and tells all.

When he sees all, King is an excellent non-fiction reporter on the subjects of writing and horror. King’s nonfiction work DANSE MACABRE is an insightful classic that covers horror writers and horror movies.

When he knows all, King produces works such as ON WRITING, a book filled with true stories and extremely practical advice for authors. Called “The best book on writing. Ever” by The Plain Dealer (Clevland), this work  bristles with King’s wit and wisdom. ON WRITING  is a must own for every curious reader and aspiring author.

When he tells all, his genre coverage is encyclopedic. He offers readers telekinetic prom murders in CARRIE, a Las Vegas-style battle of Armageddon in THE STAND, and  a psychic determined to stop the political career of the Antichrist (THE DEAD ZONE). Anything by this master is worth reading, but I recommend his early short stories from NIGHT SHIFT and his first novel, CARRIE. These are King’s exquisite love letters to his twin mistresses, Horror and Terror.

2. H.P. Lovecraft

Revered by many horror fans for his Cthulu Mythos, Lovecraft was virtually unknown before his death in 1937. Most of his work appeared in pulp magazines, like Weird Tales and Amazing Stories, and his reputation as a master of horror rightly clawed its way up from the grave. Lovecraft’s idea of a mechanistic universe filled with uncaring gods (Old Ones) becomes truly terrifying when readers learn that all humans who glimpse this truth are doomed to descend into madness from the knowledge. Barnes & Noble has released a beautiful leather-bound edition of Lovecraft’s stories, but for those who read favorite books into dog-eared shreds, I recommend THE ANNOTATED LOVECRAFT published by Bantam Doubleday Dell Publishing Group. Historical background information that accompanies stories in THE ANNOTATED LOVECRAFT make it a real gem for readers.

3. Mary Shelley

Ah, Frankenstein! Not much need to say more here. Readers, particularly students, are often horribly confused on their first reading of this classic. Shelley’s story, subtitled The Modern Prometheus, deals with the horrors faced by a flawed scientist who usurps God’s role as creator. The 1930s image of Boris Karloff as a grunting monster is laughable compared to the DSC08178eloquent creature portrayed in the novel. Also, the novel’s structure is a hodgepodge, leading some to call FRANKENSTEIN the  worst telling of the greatest horror story in the world. Shelly listened to too many critics, including her husband, poet Percy Bysshe Shelley, when structuring her tale. In his reanimated heart, though, Frankenstein’s creature is a being as sad, shocking and horrific as Milton’s Satan. How else could one be when rejected by The Creator? Read this work! It’s time well invested.

4. Bram Stoker

DSC08179 (2)Everyone knows Dracula, the quintessential vampire, but have you ever heard of The Lair of the White Worm? This horror story was first published in 1911 – one year before Stoker’s death – and it’s based on the Legend of the Lambton Worm. This horror story involves a witch and a dragon, and it definitely induces “the creeps.” If you’re into vampires, then by all means read DRACULA,  but be warned that (much like Frankenstein) it tells a story via multiple narrators, newspaper accounts, and personal letters. For those heavily into trivia, Stoker spent some time in Philadelphia. The Rosenbach Museum in Philadelphia houses several of Stoker’s notes for DRACULA, and those notes are written on Philadelphia hotel stationery. Stoker was a genius at telling unique horror stories, and there’s good reason the annual Stoker Awards for horror fiction bear his name.

5.  Edgar Allan Poe

Poe invented the modern detective story, and he codified how a great short story should be constructed. Poe’s belief that a story should be read in one sitting and give the reader an overall feeling prompted him to write shorter fiction. Technically, there are no Poe novels due to his aesthetic sense. He wrote poetry, short stories and a novella, but nothing long enough to be termed a novel. Poe’s tragic life gave unlimited fuel for his stories, and his equally tragic and mysterious death still fuels a cottage industry of conspiracy theories. Read Poe’s The Tell-Tale Heart, The Cask of Amontillado, and The Fall of the House of Usher as minimum samplings of his genius.

There are so many other horror writers to consider, including Richard Matheson, Neil Gaiman, Shirley Jackson, Ray Bradbury, and Anne Rice to name a few. Start with the five listed above, and you will be off to a great start!

You can contact John at or find him by name on Facebook.

If you have something to say about writing and want to be a Guest DJ, please contact Heather here.