Category Archives: Tips

Compliment Cones: A Dollar Investment Yields Big Dividends



These little, rubber cones have brought smile after smile to my classroom for the past several years.  A  colleague introduced them to me; and when she moved, I inherited her stash.  Now they are a regular part of my teaching.

Here are ways to use them:

Are you one of the first to post your warm up on Google Classroom?  You get a compliment  cone!

Did you capitalize properly? You get a compliment cone!

Did you put a lot of effort into a small assignment? You get a compliment cone!

Did you offer an insightful answer?  You get a compliment cone!

Did you take a healthy chance and share your writing with the class? You get a compliment cone!

Were you a leader in class? You get a compliment cone!

Is your group on task? You get a compliment cone!

Did you notice a typo in my writing? You get a compliment cone!

The possibilities are endless.

You can find them at Dollar Tree, Amazon and other retailers.

One  caveat:  this year, my 9th graders have found great delight in suctioning them to the tables so they make popping sounds when they remove them.  No good deed, lol.

If you use Compliment Cones, please tell us how below!




Give The World A Reason To Read: Thriving In A Creative Writing Program

Give The World A Reason To Read: Thriving In A Creative Writing Program


My Writing Bucket List includes having an advice column, à la Dear Prudence or Dear Sugar, so I indulged myself for this post, in honor of the Wilkes Creative Writing MA/MFA ten year anniversary. Five bonus points if you can tell me how I got my pen name…

Dear ChaCha Tuscadero,

I am applying to creative writing MA/MFA programs. What’s your advice?


Juana Rite

Dear Juana,


#tbt 2007 with my mentor  and future publisher, the amazing David Poyer (

First, I hope that this isn’t your get-rich scheme or retirement plan. Second of all, good for you. As a graduate of the Wilkes University’s Creative Writing MA/MFA Program, here are my tips for your surviving and thriving in your program:

#5 DON’T allow yourself to be paralyzed by intimidation. You are going to be interacting with talented, successful writers who are living your dream. This can be intimidating. Just remember they teach in your program because they want to connect with and support new writers, because the love teaching, and for many other reasons. I was paralyzed by fear when I started my program. It had nothing to do with the faculty, it was all in my head. One I realized I belonged there, I exhaled and opened up. What a difference.

#4 DO STHU and listen. Yes, LISTEN. Shut your piehole. I don’t care if you have literally been given the title of Coolest, Most Interesting Person In The World, you have more to learn than to offer at this point.


With Lenore Hart, writer, teacher, ally, publisher  (

#3 DO ask people questions when it’s time to talk. You have a captive audience of professional writers who want to work with you. They have a body of knowledge and experience that is enviable. They are there to mentor you.   And, like many writers, they love to talk about it all. So go for it. Ask them about their backgrounds, their hurdles, their successes, their advice, their opinions. Your day to talk and talk and talk about your success will come, if you work hard enough.

Do the same with your classmates – ask them questions, find out about them. They have skills and insight, too.

#2 DO find your allies. Your program will have all types of writers and students: shy, outgoing, egomaniacs, introverted, extroverted, eccentric, modest, intense, low-key…you get the picture. Get to know as many people as possible and create a tribe who shares your vibe. Don’t smoosh yourself into a category because you want to be “cool.” Find the instructors and the classmates who will push you new directions, who will make you think, who will support you. This leads me to my most important piece of advice:

#1 DO write what YOU love. The story knocking around my brain during grad school was a thriller about an event planner from Northeastern Pennsylvania. I wasn’t going to fight it. Sure, I was surrounded by many poets, playwrights, screenwriters, novelists and memoirists who were very literary. This was intimidating. But once I owned my funny, smart adventure narrative, once I decided this was my thesis, everything locked into place.

The best part about the Wilkes program is that it nurtures all kinds of writers: literary fiction, confessional poetry, horror, middle grades and more. My manuscript would find a home and it did. My formal mentor, the steady and wise David Poyer, did intimidate me at first, but I didn’t let that hold me back. He made me think differently, he made me work differently and most importantly, he believed in my talent, which gave me all of the confidence I needed to press on. I also had other mentors, too, who believed in what I was writing. Did I connect personally with all of the faculty members? No and that’s OK. I wasn’t writing for them exactly. Again, your tribe is your vibe. Write what makes your heart sing and you will find your people.

So, to Juana and all of the other people out there considering a creative writing program, good luck, find one that honors what you write and work hard. To paraphrase Kid President, give the world a reason to read.


Graduation Day, May 2008, Cohort 2 aka Cockeye Book Club. That’s me on the right on the end.

Guest DJ: Dancing About Architecture

Guest DJ: Dancing About Architecture

untitledWipe the sweat and blood off your face and welcome Jim Scheers to the mosh pit. Jim’s debut novel, THIS IS WHAT YOU WANT, THIS IS WHAT YOU GET, is about the New Jersey punk scene in the 1980’s. As someone who knows little about punk, this book opened my eyes to the heart of the scene and the exhilaration of the music. As a writer, he catches the small details most of us would gloss over. It’s a rough beauty of a story.  Jim grew up in New Jersey and currently lives in Philadelphia, where he works as a technical writer.


Dancing About Architecture

Music is a lifeline in my novel, THIS IS WHAT YOU WANT, THIS IS WHAT YOU GET.  The punk songs the characters hear on college radio are like rescue signals, letting them know they’re not alone in feeling, as the band Minor Threat sang, “out of step with the world.”

That’s what punk music was—and still is—for me, and when I set out to write this novel, I knew if I couldn’t make the reader “hear” the music, the story wasn’t going to work.

On my commutes to and from Philadelphia, I sat pressed shoulder to shoulder with my fellow office workers, ear buds in, cycling through all the punk and hardcore songs on my MP3 player, steno pad in my lap, scribbling down the lyrics I could quote in my story. And I tried to describe what I was hearing—as if I were talking to someone who’d never heard it before—but it was like grasping at smoke.

I paged through music reviews, and the few (very few!) novels I could find that dealt with punk music, and made a list of every evocative noun, verb and adjective. I had a bunch of variations on “the singer screamed” and fifteen different descriptions of how a guitar sounded, but still, something was missing.

In the evenings I paced my apartment, my drafts and notes spread out on my desk. Maybe this was beyond me. I felt haunted by this quote (attributed to everyone from Laurie Anderson to Frank Zappa): “Writing about music is like dancing about architecture.”

Then I paged through the steno pad from my train rides and came across these lyrics from a 7 Seconds song (written by Kevin Seconds):

You wanna be the way I am. But you could never understand.

It’s not just in my head. It’s in my heart.

And if I can give a f— you better start . . .

Even divorced from the music, the rhythm was there. And the emotion too. It was more direct than poetry, more stripped-down than prose. Blunt, abrupt, in your face (that’s also the name of the song). Scornful, but also idealistic.

Everything I had been struggling to capture was already there, in the lyrics.

My mistake had been trying to describe the experience of the late 80’s punk scene. Instead, I needed to recreate it. So I made each chapter read like a punk song. No long passages of exposition (no guitar solos). Quick starts and abrupt endings. Narrow intense focus. Limited metaphors. Only concrete things: shouts, fists, guitars, combat boots.

Instead of telling the reader what to feel or how the songs sounded, I let them join in, which was the whole point of the scene anyway:

7 Seconds live in 1985


THIS IS WHAT YOU WANT, THIS IS WHAT YOU GET, published by Northampton House Press, is available on Kindle, Nook, and Kobo. Read an excerpt and find out more at -



Do you have something to say about writing and want to spin the Guest DJ turntable? Contact me here.

Penn State Lehigh Valley Writing Best Practices Conference Resources

Penn State Lehigh Valley Writing Best Practices Conference Resources


Here are some of the resources I mentioned today at the Penn State Lehigh Valley Best Practices Conference in my session about being a new writer in the digital age.  Please post any other writing resources you’d recommend in the comments.  Please keep in touch and celebrate your successes!


Don’t forget to follow me on Facebook and Twitter to keep up with my writing, find more resources, and learn about new writers.

If you are interested in guest blogging, please contact me.

Happy writing!

On Living The Writing Life:

30 Indispensable Writing Tips From 30 Famous Authors

National Writing Project

Penn State Lehigh Valley Writing Project

Write Nights

Greater Lehigh Valley Writers Group

Bethlehem Writers Group


Building Your Digital Author Platform:


Suzie Bichovsky’s Dear Universe


My take on Medium



Twitter For Teachers Part 1 (or for anyone who wants to know what “hashtag” means)

Twitter For Teachers Part 2 (or for anyone who wants to know more about Twitter)




My Name Is Heather, And I Haven’t Blogged in Almost Two Months

My Name Is Heather, And I Haven’t Blogged in Almost Two Months

Build that digital platform! Build that digital platform!  Tweet!  Facebook!  Post on Medium!  Connect connect connect! Retweet!  Facebook!  Like that status!  Post something witty!  Go go go go go go!

Digital Burnout.

Digital Burnout.

Ah, shut your yap already, Internet Age.

I haven’t posted here since January 26th.  Naughty, naughty writer.

I guess I needed a digital time out. And this is the right time to resurface here.  I love my blog, writing for you. It’s fun. It stretches my writing in different ways.

And sometimes I am so sick of the computer and so sick of thinking about my digital interactions,  I just plain can’t.

So I didn’t.

Oh, I’ve been writing.  I’m drafting my sequel and wrote a guest blog, which was so fun.  (The guest blog, that is.  Drafting is sometimes more like pulling ideas from your head with the tweezers from Operation.) I even edited an upcoming book from Northampton House Press.  It’s a gritty and beautiful novel about three generations of women trying find their way despite the family legacy of dysfunction.

Reading was also key to my digital resuscitation.  I got lost in Laurie Loewenstein’s UNMENTIONABLES,  finally  read PERKS OF BEING A WALLFLOWER, and basked in Southern sunlight as I read a book from the SWEET TEA series. These are a few titles that have helped me rejuvenate my creativity.

This digital hibernation has helped me narrow my list of what I want to do in the coming months and helped me think about what matters to me as a writer.  It also gave me time to just decompress.  It gave me time to hang out with my husband, who deserves a medal for his infinite patience as I make a go of my writing career.  In fact, he’s downstairs, sick, and all I want to do is make him tea and sit with him.  But it’s now time for me to finish this post and continue drafting.  My main character, Marina Konyeshna, is in another one of her dangerous messes, and I have to get back to the action.

Fired up. Ready to go. Caffeinated, too.

So I’ll get my writing done and then start my day.  Plus, my husband can catch up on all of his tv shows about men in motorcycle gangs and Viking clans without me rolling my eyes.

So, dear writer friends, stop reading this and take a digital break.  Your brain and your heart and your creativity and your loved ones will thank you.

Give It A Whirl: Using Medium To Build Your Author Platform

Give It A Whirl: Using Medium To Build Your Author Platform

Screen shot 2014-01-25 at 2.55.18 PMAfter shaking my fists at Mother Nature when I found out the  Penn State Lehigh Valley Writing Project’s annual Best Practices Conference had been postponed due to weather issues,  I thought I’d share a resource with you.  If you were planning on attending my session about publishing in the digital age, we would have talked about creating an “author platform.”  A author platform is essentially what you create to present yourself to the world, usually online.  It’s about your content and how you connect to others. Read this article for one writer’s perspective on the topic.

One of the possibilities I would have shared with you this morning is Medium. It’s a newfangled blogging platform started by Blogger founder and Twitter co-founder, Evan Williams, and two former Twitter employees.  Medium describes itself as “a new place on the Internet where people share ideas and stories that are longer than 140 characters and not just for friends. It’s designed for little stories that make your day better and manifestos that change the world. It’s used by everyone from professional journalists to amateur cooks. It’s simple, beautiful, collaborative, and it helps you find the right audience for whatever you have to say.” Medium says its benefits include simple composing and formatting, opportunity for collaboration, and the opportunity to be part of a larger, interactive community.

This article on Slate convinced me to take a look at Medium.  I found out Medium’s format is super-easy on the eyes, the content is fresh, and each post notes how long it might  take you to read it.  You can choose “collections” that interest you.  A few of the collections I follow are  Life HacksTeaching and Learning and This Happened To Me. There is something for everyone here.

If you are someone who plans on publishing your writing, Medium can be cool place to start.   Read posts, recommend the pieces you like, connect with some writers.  When you have something to say,  post something.  See what happens.  (And shazaam – you have your name in the digital writing world – bonus.)

I’m using Medium was a way to write the nonfiction I’ve wanted to write and to easily connect with other writers. I’ve decided 2014 is my Year of Writing Dangerously and my first post was something I’ve had written for years but never shared. Finding out about Medium gave me the impetus to put it into the world.

Would people read my precious piece?  Well, the stats are a really cool component of Medium.  As of today, I know:

Medium Stats Example

I try not to dwell on the people who viewed but didn’t read.  It’s easy to obsess over who isn’t reading your writing.  In the end, I decided two things: I hope the people who read this piece felt a little comfort and that I’d learn more about Medium to see how I can reach a more readers and connect with more writers.  Believe me – it’s ALL a learning curve with creating your author platform, so try, try again.  My next piece is called The Digital Age Is Not For Snotty McSnottersons.  I’ll let you know how it goes.

So the pros about Medium:

  • It’s democratic – no editors, no gatekeepers.  (Unless you want to post in a collection, then you need collection editors’ approval).
  • No commitment – you can just read until you’re ready to post.
  • Posts include the time it might take you to read it. Could be appealing to readers.
  • You can search for pieces by areas of interest.
  • You can recommend posts and thereby connect with other writers.
  • It’s easy to set up. You just need a Twitter account.
  • It’s easy to post.  You can save drafts, share drafts with others to seek feedback before you post and you can add an image.
  • You can connect with many other writers about many different topics.
  • Stats are really simple and easy to understand.
  • You can find a niche based on data from your stats.
  • It’s timely – you can write about last night’s episode of American Horror Story: Coven or the latest news.
  • Medium is having  nifty little contest based on the idea of six word memoir, so here’s an easy opportunity to give it a whirl.

Cons about Medium:

  • You have write so your voice is heard above other voices and you have to research how to do this. Let me know when you figure it out.
  • It’s democratic, so the quality of the other contributors isn’t assured.
  • If you want to post, you need a Twitter account.

CAVEAT TO TEACHERS: there has been much ado about teachers and social media.  I personally think a lot of it comes from luddites who are afraid of change.  Listen, the revolution still might not be be televised (immediately) , but it will be and has been Tweeted.   We might as well get on board. Just remember: don’t post anything you wouldn’t want your principal or superintendent to read.  If you want to be a writer in 2014, you have to create  an author platform, so you might as well start now and start small.

Parting offer: if you are interested in posting on Medium and would like someone to give you feedback before you post, I’ll do that for the first five people who email me.  The only stipulation is that you’ll do the same for me sometime.

Please post comments and questions below, ESPECIALLY if you post something on Medium. Come on, take a chance! We’ll add a few clicks to your stats and make you feel mighty special. And don’t forget to connect with me on Twitter and Facebook so we can support each other as we write.

See you April 5th!!

See you April 5th!!

Guest DJ: Finding Literary Inspiration Just Outside Your Door by Chris Campion

Guest DJ: Finding Literary Inspiration Just Outside Your Door by Chris Campion

Next up on the turntable is the classic Kung-Fu Fighting, in honor of our guest DJ’s new novel.  Let’s hear what Chris Campion has to say about getting ideas for our writing.

1396691_10101874766804173_195418875_nChris Campion earned an M.A. in creative writing from Wilkes University. His fiction can be read on and East Meets West: American Writers Journal. His debut novel, THE JIU-JUTSU BUM, was recently published by Northampton House Press, LLC.

Right Under Your Nose: Finding Literary Inspiration Just Outside Your Door by Chris Campion

My first short story was based on a guy who walked down an alley every day with a pit bull cur that ran amok all over the neighborhood. The dog would drag its twenty foot leash behind it because the fat ass who walked it never held the leash. Instead, he’d wattle after it with a cigarette stuck in his mouth like a lollipop. I’ll let you read the rest, but it doesn’t end well, if you couldn’t have anticipated that.


I couldn’t make this guy up. So where did I find him? Right in front of my house. I’d take a break from writing my novel and wander outside for a bit to review the day’s chapter in my head. Soon enough, he’d make his way down the alley and we’d talk. Ergo, his presence and routine gave me the idea for a short story, and the rest is history.

What I’m trying to say is that you don’t have to go very far to find literary inspiration, should you find yourself in need of some fresh material. Your hometown—your current lot in life—and its characters will do fine. My blog is filled with its findings.

Let’s go back to my front yard: I see the old, scruffy dude who pushes a lawnmower all day long because he can’t find a real job to feed his grandson. I see my friend, Mike, who tells me his life story of being in and out of jail, driving cars until the tires fall off and sparks stream across the pavement while being chased by cops, then getting arrested for looking like a terrorist because of his beard. I see barflies with more wisdom than philosophy doctoral students. And in my opinion, characters such as these with just as much backstory and personality are constantly used as characters in literature and even screenplays.

In short, I try and find what’s interesting about the people, places, and things in my immediate disposal. And a side note: keep a journal for when you return home with a treasure trove of new material. You will not remember it that night.

It’s funny, but I swear the universe starts giving you more and more content when you ask for it. It’s as if it really hears your cry and comes through. Also, very importantly, get inside yourself more, because what’s inside of you will bring out the voice, the mood, the tone, the POV, and the overall vision and purpose of the story. Don’t believe me? Read Raymond Carver, Charles Bukowski, or John Updike and see how uncomplicated or simple the characters, settings, and conflicts are, yet, they write about them in such an original, refreshing, and beautiful way. They found the jewels around them—the stories, the literary sweet stuff that we writers live for. I hope my little rant will too.

You can contact Chris Campion via Twitter: @Campion23. “Like” his novel’s FB page at to stay up to date on author appearances, free excerpts, short stories, interviews, and more. Follow his wacky blog at

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