Pen in Hand

Pen in Hand is the official newsletter of the Maryland Writers' Association. It is quarterly (January, April, July, October) and posted on the MWA website (see below). The newsletter is comprised of contributions from the MWA board and MWA members, as well as announcements from Maryland-based literary journals, publishers, reading series, and writers' associations.

Articles may include interviews with writers or guest speakers, book reviews, how-to advice, member profiles, and member surveys, among other subjects of interest to writers. Poetry, short stories, flash fiction, creative nonfiction, and artwork (black and white only) are also welcome, but are subject to the editor's discretion (i.e., not all creative submissions will be published). Regular features may include a message from the MWA President, highlights of MWA Board meetings, MWA Chapter updates and meeting schedules, critique group updates, details about contests and conferences, and contact information for the MWA Board and other officers.

2015 Deadlines:

  • June 15 for the July issue
  • September 15 for the October issue
  • December 15 for the January issue

Items submitted after deadline will be held for publication in the following issue.

Pen in Hand Submission Guidelines

  • You must be a current MWA member to be considered for publication.
  • We do not pay for submissions.
  • Authors retain all rights except First Electronic Rights.
  • We do accept previously published work, provided that you indicate where and when your work was originally published. In addition, you must either have the rights to the piece, or be able to demonstrate (in writing) that you have reprint permission from the rights holder. The MWA will be held harmless in case of unauthorized reproduction.
  • All written submissions should be submitted as a .doc, .docx, .rtf, or .txt file as an attachment to an email message. Unless your creative work dictates otherwise, use 12-point Times New Roman, single-spaced text, and flush left margins. If your submission has been previously published elsewhere, please indicate where and when at the bottom of your submission.
  • Article submissions are limited to two pieces of no more than 1000 words per piece per issue.
  • Poetry submissions are limited to a maximum of 100 lines per author per issue.
  • Fiction and Creative Nonfiction submissions are limited to one piece of no more than 1000 words per author per issue. Authors may submit work in more than one genre.
  • In the body of your email, please indicate contact information, the genre of your submission, word count, and include a brief bio written in third person of no more than 75 words. In your bio, include the MWA Chapter of which you are a member.  
  • If line art or a halftone will accompany your submission, submit it as a .jpeg, .jpg, .gif, .pdf,  or .png, file no larger than 5 mb.
  • Maryland-based literary journals, publishers, reading series, and writers' associations are welcome to submit announcements such as calls for submissions and upcoming events.
  • Be aware that all articles and bios may be edited for length. All submissions (except for creative work) will be proofread and corrected accordingly for typos and grammatical errors.
  • Include "PIH" in the e-mail subject line and send to the Pen in Hand Editor at



Spring 2015 Print


A Word from the President

Hello, everyone:

As some of you may know, we are a new State Board of Directors elected this past June for the 2014-2016 term. In this first issue of Pen In Hand, I'd like to formally introduce my remarkable team.

President: Lalita Noronha, Ph.D.
Vice President: Holly Morse-Ellington
Secretary: Kathleen Young Rybarczyk
Treasurer: Mark Prebilic
Communications Chair: Jessica Lynn Dotson
Publications Chair: Gary Lester
Members-at-Large: Allyson E. Machate, Carolee Noury
Teen Writing Coordinator: Mark Willen
Editor, Pen in Hand: Wendy Miller Kibler
Editor, Keyboard In Hand: vacant
MWA Books: Gary Lester, Allyson E. Machate

Chapter Presidents

Annapolis: Kathleen Spitzer
Baltimore: Dr. Tapendu Basu
Carroll County: Kerry Peresta
Charles County: Edna Troiano
Howard County: Amy L. Kaplan
Montgomery County: Katherine Pickett
St. Mary's County: Lisa LaPaglia

You can read more about us on our website

As before, we will continue to aspire to MWA's mission: To bring together writers of all levels and disciplines; to serve as an information resource; to help members make contacts that lead to publication; to encourage writers to reach their full potential; and to showcase writers and writing in the community.

We look forward to building on existing programs and services to our members and the writing community at-large through collaboration and partnerships with additional organizations for writers and artists. Please wish us well and join us in our goals.

Vacant Positions:

Membership Chair
Conference Chair
Editor, Keyboard in Hand

If interested, please send your resume to Lalita Noronha, Ph.D.

Lalita Noronha, Ph.D.




 A Word from the Vice President

During our first year as your state president and vice president, Lalita and I are looking forward to visiting our county chapters and participating in their meetings. I had the pleasure of speaking at the St. Mary’s County chapter meeting in Leonardtown. The title of my talk was“Heads and Tails: Advice from Both Sides of the Publishing Coin.” I presented examples and tips for how to think and revise like an editor—without emotional attachment. I enjoyed our group discussion about common pitfalls in our writing and ways that we all strive to overcome them.

I was particularly impressed with Lisa LaPaglia and Wendy Kibler, the chapter’s president and vice president, respectively, for providing incentives for members to attend and participate in meetings regularly. One such incentive rewards active members and their continued attendance with a complimentary book on the craft of writing. They have created a feeling of community among their members that helps make their discussions lively and robust.

Thank you St. Mary’s for such a warm welcome and a great meeting.

                                                 Holly Morse-Ellington, J.D.


Photo by Skye Sadowski-Malcom

A Word from the Teen Writing Coordinator

A Breakout Year for Teen Writing Clubs
by Mark Willen


Anyone who’s ever tried to team up with a coauthor knows how tough that can be, but imagine trying to team up with a whole room full of coauthors.

That was the challenge Lucinda Marshall gave her Teen Writing Club (TWC) as the group set out to celebrate National Poetry Month at the Gaithersburg Library in Montgomery County. Lucinda, an accomplished poet and workshop facilitator, sent a piece of paper around the room with instructions for everyone to write one line and pass the sheet to a neighbor.

The result delighted Lucinda and the teen librarians at Gaithersburg so much that it now sits on a newly created “poetry wall” along with several other poems written by teen club members. “The really great part,” Lucinda told me afterwards, “was that even kids who would rather write stories got involved, so they had a chance to try their poetry skills in spite of themselves.  We ran a little late and a few parents wandered in and admired the wall.  The kids were beaming.  Did I mention we were workshopping while all of this was going on?”

The Gaithersburg TWC is one of several that were formed over the last few months in what has become a breakout year for the program. Begun by MWA in 2010 as the brainchild of Diane Booth, who started the first club and nursed the program through several lean years, the teen clubs have suddenly caught on. We’ve grown from three clubs last year to nine and counting, with over 100 teen writers getting a chance to hone their skills, learn from peer feedback, and mingle with published authors.

Each club is led by an MWA volunteer and is co-sponsored and hosted by a public library. Though TWC leaders start with the same basic concept and goal, every club quickly develops its own character, and club leaders have considerable discretion in how, when, and how frequently they operate. Most clubs meet twice a month, although a couple meet weekly and a couple meet once a month. Attendance ranges from a few to almost two dozen.

The expansion has been great for me as I conclude my fourth year as a leader. The infusion of new volunteers, with their enthusiasm, fresh ideas, and probing questions, has helped all of us learn how to be better facilitators. And having each other to share thoughts when a problem arises (such as how to react when a teen writes about depression or suicide) is very valuable.

Leading a club can be extremely rewarding in so many ways. When I began my current club at the Marilyn J. Praisner Library in Burtonsville, only two kids showed up for the first meeting, but we persevered and now three years later, we have 12 who come almost every week and another eight who drop in when they can. The writing is incredibly good – so good in fact, that one of our teens, Paint Branch High’s Melanie Batchelor, had her first novel published last May. Imagine my delight when she asked me to help her choose between competing contract offers!

Melanie’s novel, Remember Me, is a 10,000-word coming-of-age story, told in verse, about a troubled teen who finds escape in writing and through her first love. The novel is beautifully cast and imaginatively experimental. Melanie has already been a guest speaker at several other TWCs—and she was the featured speaker last month at the MWA’s Howard County chapter.

Several other teens have also made it into print. Emily Ball, a member of Joelle Jarvis’s TWC in Westminster, was a winner in the Random House short story contest for teens, and another one of her stories was included in an anthology produced by the Carroll County Writers Group.

Some of the greatest rewards come from watching how the older kids help the younger ones as we read and talk about their poems, stories, and novels in a workshop format. It’s especially heartening to see them improve (sometimes they even take my advice!).

And it’s not just the writing. Often it’s the changes we see as the teens learn to share their writing, to seek and profit from peer comments, and to experiment with their talent. “I have to tell you this Teen Writers Club has been so incredibly enjoyable,” Christy Lyons, the leader of our club in Germantown wrote me recently. “Difficult at times, but rewarding. I had no idea I would like this so much. It’s fun to see these kids gain the confidence to share their writing and begin to critique each other. One high school junior who came grudgingly to the club on her parents’ insistence a couple months ago is now the liveliest member of the group.”

Right now, the teen clubs are all focused on our first joint project—an anthology of writing from more than 20 of our teens, some as young as the 6th grade and some heading off to college in the fall. We’re on track for an early June publication, thanks largely to the hard work of editor Carolee Noury, who leads the TWC in Kensington Park. “I've been continuously amazed at the quality of submissions,” she told me. “We have a talented group of hardworking and insightful writers.”

Several authors, some MWA members and some not, have generously donated their time to visit one of our clubs. Among the guests have been Robin Talley, Meg Eden Kuyatt, Kelly Ann Jacobson, LM Preston, Debbie Levy, Gale Deitch, and Cindy Young-Turner. The Gaithersburg TWC even had a visit from Mayor Jud Ashman, who talked about the Gaithersburg Book Festival and asked the kids which authors they’d like to see there next year.

One guest author, Robin Stevens Payes, visited two of our clubs and was so impressed she decided to join MWA and volunteer to be a club leader. Her group held its first meeting March 23 at the Aspen Hill Library in Rockville. Other club leaders include Shadia Garrison at the White Oak Library in Silver Spring, Peggy Ruppel at the Quince Orchard Library (also in Gaithersburg), and Frank Joseph in Bethesda.

The anthology will be hard to top, but our goal in the 2015-16 MWA year is to expand the program to serve more teens in a wider area of the state. To do that we need your help. Remember that volunteers get to determine how much time they can give and when their clubs will meet. And MWA will supply plenty of support and assistance. It’s extremely rewarding and one of the best ways for MWA to give back to communities around the state.

To learn more about how it works, just give me a call or shoot me an e-mail at (301-587-2712). Also, see the Art section of this newsletter to read a group poem created by the Gaithersburg TWC.

Mark Willen





 A Word from the Editor

I appreciate the opportunity to serve as the new Pen in Hand editor. Kindly bear with me as I learn the ropes, especially the technology required to create the newsletter. The new submissions guidelines will be posted soon, so I hope to hear from you all! Finally, thanks to all who helped guide me through creating this first issue, which is dedicated to Paul Lagasse--unless he finds it hideous. If so, it's dedicated to my high school algebra teacher.

Wendy Miller Kibler





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From Bombay to Baltimore
by Lalita Noronha

The Arabian Sea still flecks with fishing boats
like paper toys my father taught me to fold
and float in streams behind our home.

My plane, a silver scythe knows no ache,
splices clouds in half like cotton scarves,
shreds and tosses wispy threads afar.

Dim one-bulb huts recede,
five star hotels shrink to match-box size,
coconut fronds to dainty fans.

This time, my heart, quiet and stilled,
leaves behind a billion people, maybe more,
who say their destinies are written on their foreheads.

And still I search between continents,
between sky and sky,
between then and now
for home.

(published in Her Skin Phyllo-thin, Finishing Line Press, 2014)

Lalita Noronha is a published research scientist, poet, and fiction writer. Her work has appeared in over seventyjournals, magazines, and anthologies.She is the author of Where Monsoons Cry, a short story collection, and Her Skin Phyllo-thin, a poetry chapbook. In addition to her role as president of the MWA, Noronha serves as an editor for the Baltimore Review and on the the CityLit Board of Directors.

 At the Bar
by Karen D. Valentine

The minute shards of broken glass
settle upon the bar counter
like finely milled powder

The barkeep smiles at no one in particular as if born an automaton

No warmth offered as he brushes away your embarrassment in three small sweeps of his meaty

Ivory foam floating on the surface of your next beer shaping itself into tiny teardrops

Ice clinking in the glasses of others,
whistling an arrhythmic melody
a cacophony for deadened ears
As the evening moon wanes
and your open tab fails to track time your words taste sour with each “I’ll have another.”

Nebulous voices fading into gray walls
of the cold bar,
receding into the black corners
of your cracked heart
Her last words gone viral in your mind

You won’t hear her rebuff (again)
thinly disguised in dismissive laughter
It is drowned by the voices now raging in your head Assumptions drunk with her disdain and
your contempt Rejecting you (Rejection anew).


This Does Not Compute
by Karen D. Valentine

I very much like men
But the six-packs I now hold close
stand before me in refrigerated cases
at my favorite liquor store

The ladies where I work congregate and deliberate on my behalf They say I should look for love

But I protest in the name of stolen looks and in memory of whispers filled with innuendo across
crowded rooms choked with burnt cigarettes and cheap cologne and whiskey-flavored promises
(You are the most beautiful woman here tonight)

“On line” is where I stand to pay for the eggs and bread you still get at the brick and mortar
stores that welcome warm flesh and blood

Eyes meeting across galaxies playing hide-and-seek behind ten questions Shy words about how
good the brie is here and false promises to give it a try

Fragile intimacy now twisted up in metal circuits and planned obsolescence Love poems
pilloried, venerable vows vacated The heart is buried within the motherboard

I retreat back into my dark tomb, mourn my lost womb I thought I knew the answers This does
not compute.

Karen D. Valentine is a poet and writer in Frederick, Maryland. She is the author of several journal articles, an academic article, and a flash fiction piece. She is now on an earnest journey to get more of her creative work published. In the meantime, she works as a writer-editor for the Food and Drug Administration in Silver Spring to keep a roof over her head. 

  How To Build a Fire
by Meg Eden

Clean the windows, vacuum the old
ashes and spread them over the yard. Lay the logs carefully, the way you move pawns.
There must be room for expansion.
Crack the door only at the beginning—
encouragement is necessary but brief.
Too much air, and the flame is wild, but time can leave it discouraged and small. Provoke and
prod until it rises. The handle and the front door are the first to heat up, then the shelves and feet.
The carved dragons on the sides are the last to get warm, and only then do you know that your
work is complete.

Meg Eden's work has been published in various magazines, including B O D Y, Drunken Boat, Mudfish, and Rock & Sling. Her work has been nominated for a Pushcart Prize, and received second place in the 2014 Ian MacMillan Fiction contest. Her collections include Your Son (The Florence Kahn Memorial Award), Rotary Phones and Facebook (Dancing Girl Press) and The Girl Who Came Back (Red Bird Chapbooks). She teaches at the University of Maryland.

by the Gaithersburg Library Teen Writing Club

Playing with fire is going to burn--
flames swallow the big building,
fire spreads across the city,
creating flickering shadows.

My life burning to the ground,
dying as embers fade.
I wonder if he is there…
Will I meet him soon?
I don’t know, no one knows,
what I know got burned
away by the fire.

My mind burns,
I watch the ashes
drift away on the wind.
Sometimes when I blink,
I see a lake, a forest, a river, a hill,
but when I open
my eyes again, it’s all gone.

“Back to ashes,” I say softly.




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Fiction with Content
by D.L. Wilson

During my “day job” in the fashion industry, I worked in thirty-two countries. This career provided me the opportunity to view firsthand the people and settings of fascinating locations around the world. I was able to get a better understanding of lifestyles, cultures, and religious beliefs of a broad assortment of nationalities by working in these countries for weeks or months.

When I decided to try my hand at writing fiction and was learning the craft, I realized I had an opportunity to incorporate my life experiences into my novel writing. This provided me with a rich medium to create fiction with content.

The setting of a thriller must be described so well that readers feel like they’ve been there. It must create a visual image of the place. All the little nuances of color, smell, and shapes bring a setting to life. Settings must be an artistic creation similar to a memorable painting that stays with readers after they close a book.

While traveling for business, I took hundreds of photos of the places I visited. As I create the outline of a thriller novel, I try to schedule vacations to key locations that will play important roles in the book and update my previous photos. When I start writing the novel, I use two monitors: one for writing the novel and the other to view actual photos of the settings I’m describing. I try my best to provide readers a fast-paced read with each scene ending with a ticking bomb, an urgent deadline, a character in jeopardy, a hint of something to come that grabs them by the throat and requires them to turn the page. But after they finish the novel, I would like readers to feel that they’ve learned something new about another part of the world, its people, and its culture.

Visit to get an inside glimpse of my thriller world.

D.L. Wilson
VP International Thriller Writers


 Communicating with Your (Critique) Partner
by Carolee Noury

“Asking a working writer what he thinks about critics is like asking a lamp-post what it feels about dogs."
--John Osborne

 As a writer, one of the most emotionally-charged business relationships you have is that with your critique partner. With the right mindset, those emotions will still run the gamut, but end on a high note.

The first rule of having a successful critiquing relationship is the same as most others: healthy communication. Handing over your beloved work-in-progress for dissection requires trust. Use honesty to help build the trust. Tell your partner what kind of feedback you’d like. Is it anything goes? Do you want her to read like an editor or like a reader? If writing has been tough and you simply need a cheerleader, ask for it.

When it’s your turn, always ask: What kind of feedback would you like? But also remember that the best feedback is balanced between strengths and areas to improve. In counseling, this tool is called the “Positive Asset Search.” We often miss our own strengths in the pursuit of growth in life and writing. Tease out those assets and make sure your partner knows he has them. Who doesn’t need affirmation that he’s on the right track? And when it comes time to revise, those strengths will help support her through the painful process of facing her writing demons.

“Criticism, like rain, should be gentle enough to nourish a man's growth without destroying his roots.”
--Frank A. Clark

And when it comes time to read and respond to the feedback, proceed with care. Read it—hate it/love it—then sit with it. What fits? What doesn’t and why? Once any negative reactions have passed, thank your critique partner. She’s taken the time out of her writing life to read your work, think it over, and offer feedback. Was she too focused on one hot writing no-no? (Never use adverbs! Show, don’t tell! Avoid clichés!) Bring that up the next time you send something: “Thank you for flagging my adverbs last time; I hadn’t noticed all of them. This time, could you ignore those and focus on tension?”

Effective use of feedback is often what separates those with potential from those who achieve.

“The trouble with most of us is that we'd rather be ruined by praise than saved by criticism.”
--Norman Vincent Peale


1. Check the MWA Critique Group Listings: Click the “Critique Group” tab.

2. Join the MWA Discussion Email List: Click the link in the “Follow Us” box in the lower right hand corner.

3. Check out CP Seek (Online Community):

4. Join Scribophile (Online Community):

Carolee Noury ( is a freelance writer and MWA board member. She’s lucky to have found the world’s best critique partners, who recently have delivered feedback on a variety of samples including a play, short stories, and a novel.

  Book Review

One Writer's Journey
by Wendy Miller Kibler

There’s a lot to like about Dani Shapiro’s Still Writing: The Perils and Pleasures of a Creative Life. For one, its structure is simple. The book is broken into three sections: Beginnings, Middles, and Ends, with each section comprised of short (usually one to two pages) musings on writing, the writing life, and strands of autobiography/memoir. Each piece is titled, which makes it easy for readers to put the book down and pick it up several days later, or to simply bounce around from one section or essay to another, without losing the feel and flow. Like most other books on writing, Shapiro covers the positive influence that reading has on writing, the need to develop and stick to a practice or habit of daily writing, dealing with procrastination, our inner censors, and writer’s block. Although none of these topics is unique, they are so integral to writing that they bear repeating.

It’s also nice to hear a familiar refrain recast in new language. For sometimes it’s not the message that we’re missing, but the way the message is framed that doesn’t resonate. Writers certainly know the importance of diligence, but diligence is tedious. Shapiro’s take on diligence? “I sit down every day at around the same time and put myself in the path of inspiration . . .” If we don’t show up, we miss the inspiration, right? Isn’t this more dynamic and beckoning than reading that we need to write X number of words per day, or sit for X number of hours? She also shares helpful tips, such as how she overcomes the enormity of writing something BIG by starting with something small--just one word, just one sentence, just one detail. Or using the five senses to inhabit a character, asking: At any given moment, what is she wearing? Feeling? Hearing? Seeing?

Shapiro is most successful when she invites us in as her equal, and says you and I are not really that different. It’s reassuring to know that a professional writer describes a typical day much like any other writer would, as a combination of productivity and well, inertia and distractions. For example, Shapiro writes of days where she will “sit, then stand, sit again, decide that I needed more coffee, go downstairs and make the coffee, come back up, sit again, get up, comb my hair, sit again, stare at the screen, check e-mail, stand up, pet the dog, sit again. . . .”

Unfortunately, Shapiro fails at maintaining this sense of community three times in the book. One, in the final section of the book she states: “If beginnings are leaps of faith, and middles are vexing, absorbing, full of trap doors and wrong turns and dead ends, sensing an ending is your reward. It’s better than selling your book.” Really? I think that statement falls in the category of “easy for you to say.” I’m sure there are many unpublished writers who would feel plenty rewarded by a sale!

Two, in “Risk,” she talks about the financial risk of living a life of a writer, but then goes on to relate her trip to Paris to celebrate how well her first memoir was doing on the best seller list. Again, really? I can see celebrating with a fancy meal out, but how much of a risky life are you living when you can celebrate success by going to Paris?

Finally, in “Smith Corona,” she paints a portrait of her mother, a failed writer, who wrote regularly—she had her practice, her habit. So why was she a failure? Although Shapiro points out that her mother didn’t finish anything, she also mentions that her mother sent out scripts. Weren’t they finished? I think a critical essay is missing here: one that focuses on what divides failed writers from successful ones. Diminishing her mother’s desire to become a famous writer as a “romantic daydream” insults the reader. We ask ourselves if we are also romantic daydreamers. We ask ourselves if our dedication will prove pointless.

Apparently, her mother frequently leveled “How dare you?” quite a bit to her daughter. (Surprisingly, Shapiro seems not to know why her mother slung this question at her. In the book, she relates that she never asks her mother: “What was it that I dared? What was so terrible that I had dared to become?” But we can answer on her mother’s behalf: Why, a successful writer, Dani. And one who published a memoir apparently not terribly flattering to her mother—while her mother was still living.) Struggling writers may very well ask the same: How dare you alienate us? We thought we had a bond, a common calling to write, a common struggle to face a blank page and create? Will we feel the same frustration as your mother?

In the introduction, Shapiro states: “It is my hope that—whether you’re a writer or not—this book will help you to discover or rediscover the qualities necessary for a creative life.” Well, it’s one thing to have a creative life and quite another to make a living from it. Surely Shapiro and the publisher weren’t so naïve to think that aspiring writers who read this book are content to have a creative life versus a financially successful creative life. (And aren’t aspiring writers the target market? Surely, published authors don’t need to read this book.) By not answering the question of why one writer makes it and another doesn’t, the book is more of a documentation of one writer’s journey and beliefs about her art as opposed to one successful writer reaching out to mentor other writers, which makes me wonder just what this book is. Is it a guide for aspiring writers? (And, despite the caveat "whether you're a writer or not," the book is addressed to writers.) Is it a reflection on Shapiro's life as a writer? With its anecdotes about her family, especially ones about her mother, is it memoir? Or is it a hybrid of all three?

Note to publisher: There is an error in subject/verb agreement on page 32, with the sentence beginning “We doesn’t ask why." Of course, "doesn't" should be “don’t."

This review was originally published on the blog pages turned.

Wendy Miller Kibler is the Pen in Hand editor and vice president for the St. Mary's County Chapter of MWA. In addition to other art and writing projects, she writes reviews for the blog pages turned  and for Children's Literature.

Image courtesy of




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