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Today I’m excited to have Jessica Bell with us to discuss the first two books of her Writing in a Nutshell Series: SHOW & TELL IN A NUTSHELL: DEMONSTRATED TRANSITIONS FROM TELLING TO SHOWING, that was released on November 8, 2012, and ADVERBS & CLICHÉS IN A NUTSHELL: DEMONSTRATED SUBVERSIONS OF ADVERBS & CLICHÉS INTO GOURMET IMAGERY that releases today. In SHOW & TELL IN A NUTSHELL, she has written sixteen scenes depicting a variety of situations, emotions, and characteristics which clearly demonstrate how to turn telling into showing. And in ADVERBS & CLICHÉS IN A NUTSHELL, she demonstrates how to turn those pesky adverbs and clichés into imagery which is vivid and unique.

Jessica is a talented musician, author, and poet, and has really done some fascinating things with her writing career that we’ll also discuss.

Hi Jessica. Thanks so much for joining us. And Happy Release Day!

Thank you for having me!

1. I know you come from a musical family and live in Greece. How cool! Tell us a bit about yourself and how you became a musician and author.

Being the daughter of a semi-famous rock 'n' roll duo from Melbourne, I grew up surrounded by song. For a while it seemed logical to travel the musician's path, especially when my first band, spAnk, hit it off in the Melbourne indie music scene back in the late 90s. Although I spent years writing and recording dozens of songs I decided I also had a love for the written word, and began to pursue a career as a writer. I started as a poet, drawing from my musical background and etching my thoughts and feelings into verse. Those stanzas soon turned into sentences and paragraphs, and eventually into published books.

2. I can imagine that the song writing helped you a lot as you wrote verse and then novels. Why did you decide to write SHOW & TELL IN A NUTSHELL and how do you believe it will help writers?

When I started to write fiction and send my manuscripts out for feedback, the first and most frequent thing my readers said was “show, don’t tell.” In theory, I understood what this meant. But it was almost impossible for me to put it into practice after comments such as, “Why don’t you show your character sitting in a café getting frustrated with her friend? I’d really like to see that happening, rather than just being told it’s happening. It would give us a lot more insight into their characters.”

Okay. So how do I go about that? I’m not sure I understand how you can’t see it happening when I’m telling you it’s happening. What’s the difference? I thought.

I never truly understood the difference until I’d accomplished it by accident one day. My motivation was needing to increase the word count in one of my manuscripts. I had a 60,000-word novel that needed 80,000–100,000 before I could submit it to agents.

I combed through my manuscript, marking scenes I thought I could expand. By the time I’d finished reworking the first scene, the concept clicked. I finally understood what all the fuss was about. My writing had become cinematic, it had movement, my characters were three dimensional and I didn’t even have to mention their personality traits because I was showing them. But above all, my writing evoked emotion. This is what successful showing does. It uses the five senses (and sixth) to evoke an emotional response from your reader without telling them how you want them to feel. Simply put, does me saying "Hilary felt scared" make you feel scared? Of course not.

This is why I felt the need to publish this pocket guide: to show writers, how to SHOW, INSTEAD OF TELL. It’s one resource I craved and couldn’t find during the early years. I needed real examples that clearly demonstrated the transition from telling to showing, in a small, concise, non-threatening, non-overwhelming format. Something I could dip into without getting lost in the jungle of technical jargon that I never really understood until I Googled my fingertips into flames. I learned better by example. And I think a lot of other writers do too. By physically doing; reworking, making mistakes and fixing them through trial and error.

3. So true that seeing examples and then doing it is such a great way to learn something. What are some of the common mistakes you see authors making in telling vs. showing and how do you recommend they spot these problems?

I've answered this a little bit above, but let me expand on this by showing you an example from the book.
Take a look at this example of telling. I've bolded the words that attempt to tell us where they are and how they feel:

Tamara and Fran are having lunch at a café. They are seated outdoors. But it seems useless meeting at all when Fran is so flighty. It’s ridiculously frustrating talking to Fran when she’s like this—off in her own little world. She doesn’t even acknowledge what’s being said when Tamara raises her voice! Perhaps she’s in love.

All of these things can be shown at the café in real time. So let's show all these things in action. I've bolded the places that match what's being told in the paragraph above.

Can you pass the salt?” Tamara holds out her hand.
“Hmm?” Fran hums and looks across the road at the kids playing Frisbee.
Hun? The salt.” Tamara glances at the kids, screws up her nose, and contorts her mouth to the left.
“Oh. Right.” Fran passes the ketchup.
Tamara groans and reaches across the table for the salt. As she leans over her plate, her blouse dips into the mayonnaise.
Crap! I need a serviette.” Tamara points at the napkin holder. Francine is resting her chin in her palm, squinting at the sky, giggling to herself.
“Fran!” Tamara bangs her fist on the table. Crockery rattles.
Fran’s smile fades as she jolts upright. “Huh? What’s wrong?”
Tamara stands, scrapes her seat backward, reaches for a serviette, and shakes her head. “I can’t count on you for even the simplest of things, can I?”
Francine blinks.
Tamara dips a serviette into her glass of soda and rubs it on her breast. “So. Who’s the guy?”
“Tammie?” Francine sighs. “Have you ever wondered why we only see yellow butterflies in this area of town?”

4. That’s a great example of the difference. And you just published a companion book, ADVERBS & CLICHÉS IN A NUTSHELL. Why did you decide to write it and how can writers use it to help in their writing?

The plan is to write a whole series of pocket guides and publish them one by one every six months. Writers constantly have rules thrown at them: Show, don’t tell! Stop using so many dialogue tags! There’s no sensory detail or tension! The pace is too slow! Yada yada yada ... which can become overwhelming. I used to feel overwhelmed by it all too. In fact, I still do sometimes. It’s hard enough to get the words on the page, let alone consider how to put them there. This helped me decide to write this series of books.

Have you ever read Anne Lamott's Bird by Bird? Lamott says that in order to not be overwhelmed, a writer needs to focus on short assignments. She refers to the one-inch picture frame on her desk and how that little picture frame reminds her to focus on bite-sized pieces of the whole story. Basically, if you focus on one small thing at a time, the story will eventually come together to create a whole. I believe the same applies to learning the craft of writing. If aspiring writers focus on one aspect of the craft at a time, the process will seem less daunting.

5. Yes, I love that book. It sounds like an awesome idea to have a series of smaller books tackling one aspect on the craft of writing. We’re always told adverbs are a no-no. But sometimes those –ly words are so tempting. How can we avoid them? And do you see times when they are useful?

If your manuscript has too many adverbs, it most likely means that the emotion you felt while writing it, is not going to translate to the reader in the same way. Never underestimate the weakness of adverbs. You’d be surprised how vivid your writing will become once they are subverted.

Of course, they aren’t always going to be a problem. In fact, you don’t need to go overboard trying to eliminate every single adverb in your manuscript. Because sometimes, they just work. They serve a purpose.

For example, it might be more concise to write, “She lightly knocked on the door.” Sometimes you need to write exactly what someone is doing because it’s not important enough to draw attention to. Also, if we just wrote, “She knocked on the door,” we’d have no idea whether it was loud or not. But consider this: What if this woman's light knocking on the door was paramount to the story? What if behind that door was a man she was afraid of and she anticipated being yelled at for interrupting him? Then this 'lightly knocking on the door' would have a significant purpose, yes?

The action of lightly knocking on that door is no longer a simple transitional action that moves the character from A to B. You put it there for your readers to feel the same apprehension your character feels. And no adverb is going to draw attention to that moment of intensity as something exclusively crafted for it.

So how about, “She tapped on the door. It echoed in her ears like an axe to a carcass.”

So how does this better convey its intended sentiment? I’d say the fact that this person perceives their tap on the door as a deep, echoing, and unpleasant sound means that they are anxious about the reaction it is going to elicit. Also note that I’ve chosen the verb "tap" which means “a light knock,” so there is no reason for me to use the adverb “lightly.”

Most of the time, if you think of the small details, rather than the bigger picture, you'll avoid adverbs naturally.

6. I’ll have to remember to think of the small details when I see a –ly word in my manuscript. You’re a fiction writer and have several books published. Share a bit about your books.

My above answers are quite long (sorry) so I'll just give you a link to books page on my website!:-)

7. You also founded and are co-editor of Vine Leaves Literary Journal. What inspired you to create this new journal? What types of literature do you publish and how do people submit to you?

In late 2011, Dawn Ius and I founded Vine Leaves Literary Journal to offer the vignette, a forgotten literary form, the exposure and credit it deserves. The vignette is a snapshot in words, and differs from flash fiction or a short story in that its aim doesn’t lie within the traditional realms of structure or plot, instead it focuses on one element, mood, character, setting or object. The journal, published quarterly online, is a lush synergy of atmospheric prose, poetry, photography and illustrations, put together with an eye for aesthetics as well as literary merit. The annual print anthology showcases the very best pieces that appeared in the journal.

8. And if that’s not enough, you also organized a big writing conference in Greece last summer where Chuck Sambuchino from Writers Digest was the instructor. I know you’re planning another conference this year. What made you decide to organize this annual event and what do you have planned for this summer’s conference?

I have long dreamed of running a writer's retreat on Ithaca. I've spent a lot of time on this little Greek island since the age of two, because my step father and his family are from there (my parents also live there now). With the risk of sounding clichéd, (ha!) this place really is a little piece of heaven. It remains unspoiled by the modern world. Even in the height of summer you can find a secluded beach or a rustic corner to contemplate your thoughts. On Ithaca you'll discover the island’s rich culture and the reason why it holds such a special place in the hearts of those who have visited its shores.

The Homeric Writers' Retreat & Workshop invites participants to their very own private odyssey on the island of Ithaca—a retreat about riveting one's writing through an immersive and intimate Homeric journey. Our instructors this year are, Katharine Sands, a literary agent with the Sarah Jane Freymann Literary Agency, and Beatriz Badikian-Gartler, a popular performer in the Chicago area who often lectures on women's issues, art, and literature. In 2000 Badikian was selected as one of the One-Hundred Women Who Make a Difference in Chicago by Today's Woman magazine.

To explore more of Ithaca online, please visit: www.ithacagreece.com.
To learn more about the writing retreat, please visit: ww.hwrw.blogspot.com.

9. Ithaca sounds like an amazing place to visit even without a conference. Tell us your secret of how you’re able to be so productive as a writer, a musician, editor, and conference organizer as well as having a good social media platform (I see you on many of the blogs I follow) while working full-time. Please share! I work full-time and am trying to do it all too and need help balancing it all.

I'm not usually a person who utilizes lists and schedules. But I certainly have been forced to create them due to all of the projects I juggle. It's difficult. There's no denying that fact. But it's also fun! I enjoy every minute of it.

Basically I do everything in scheduled, short bursts. I get up early to make sure I have one hour to write and one hour to do something else from my list (such as Vine Leaves or retreat organization). I pick and choose depending on priority. During my lunch break, I blog, and spend about half an hour to an hour (depends on how long I can take from work) on social media. After work, I walk the dog, make dinner, maybe go to yoga (I do neglect my laundry, though. Too often). Once that's done, I'll spend another hour or so doing something else from my list (if I'm up-to-date on all my tasks, I'll try and do something creative like writing, or music again). Then I'll relax in front of the TV, or do something else away from the computer before I go to bed. Then in bed, I'll read a chapter or two of whatever book I'm reading. Sometimes that may even include critiquing a friend's manuscript. Reading to me is relaxing and not a chore, so I really don't feel like that is tackling any sort of task.

The most important thing? Recognizing when I'm too tired and need to take a few days off. If I don't give myself decent breaks where I don't do anything, then I very quickly burn out and fall behind.

10. That’s great you take time off when you need to. And limit the social networking. I need to do both. What are you working on now?

Right now I'm working on my 4th novel! Working title: White Lady. It's set in Melbourne, Australia, and is about a young woman named Mia who is fighting fat with white ladies. (Yep, I'll leave that to your own interpretation for now! Hint: don't think literally.)

I'm also putting together an anthology of personal essays from Indie authors called Indiestructible: Inspiring Stories from the Publishing Jungle, which is slated for release September 16. A few contributing authors you may know are Melissa Foster, Susan Kaye Quinn, and Leigh Talbert Moore. This is the best of the indie tradition of experienced authors paying forward what they’ve learned, offering information to help others on their indie journey. All profits will be donated to BuildOn .

Thanks for sharing all your advice, Jessica. You can find Jessica at:

Retreat & workshop site: http://hwrw.blogspot.com/
Twitter: http://www.twitter.com/MsBessieBell


Amazon US | Amazon UK | Kobo

Jessica is generously offering one lucky winner an e-book of SHOW & TELL IN A NUTSHELL: DEMONSTRATED TRANSITIONS FROM TELLING TO SHOWING or ADVERBS & CLICHÉS IN A NUTSHELL: DEMONSTRATED SUBVERSIONS OF ADVERBS & CLICHÉS INTO GOURMET IMAGERY—winner’s choice. To enter, all you need to do is be a follower (just click the follow button if you’re not a follower) and leave a comment by midnight on May 18th. I’ll announce the winner on May 20th.

If you mention this contest on Twitter, Facebook, or your blog, mention this in the comments and I'll give you an extra entry. You must be 13 or older to enter. International entries are welcome.

Here's what's coming up:

Next Monday I’m interviewing Liesl Shurtliff and giving away a copy of RUMP: THE TRUE STORY OF RUMPLESTILTSKIN. This is a fantastic retelling of this fairytale with a really fresh spin on it.

Next Wednesday I’m excited to interview one of our followers Lisa Gail Green about her debut novel, DJINN: THE BINDING STONE, a YA paranormal story about a genie. I just started it and it's fantastic. There will be a giveaway too.

The following Monday, I’m thrilled to have Kelley Armstrong here to discuss and give away an ARC of Loki’s Way that she co-wrote with Melissa Marr. It’s a fantastic upper middle grade fantasy story that fans of Percy Jackson will like. I really loved the mythology based on Norse gods and the characters. I can’t wait to read book 2 in the series. I met Kelley at a book signing in Ann Arbor a few years ago and she is the nicest person to her fans. I’m beyond thrilled to have her here.

The following Wednesday I’m going to do a post on how I set up author interviews and promote books the way I do. I had a request from a follower to share about this. And I’ll be doing a review and giveaway of REQUIEM by Lauren Oliver and another book by her.

And don't forget our Tuesday Tips and Casey's Thursday agent spotlights.

Hope to see you on Monday!


Jessica Bell said...

Thank you so much for having me today, Natalie! :)

Kimberly Gabriel said...

What an an incredible career life you've had Jessica! Thanks for the great writing tips! I also love Bird by Bird. ;)

Unknown said...

Thanks so much to Jessica for sharing tips with us. She's had such an interesting life. Great interview! :-)

Unknown said...

Great interview! This gives me some things for which I'll have to be on the lookout in my wip. Thanks!

Stina said...

I've read both of Jessica's writing books and they are great. I think every journalist (especially news broadcasters) should read the cliche book. They seem to think cliches are a good thing!!!!!

Robin said...

This is such a great interview. I am impressed with all Jessica does and all she shared. It took me a while to figure out the show vs. tell, as well, so I understand both her discovery of it, and why her books are so valuable to the growing writer. Also, I like the bite-size book idea. When I look at an entire book and everything I need to do, it is overwhelming. Little sections, specific focuses, those I can (usually) handle.

Looking forward to Liesl and RUMP next week. We're using RUMP as our read aloud and it's so fun for my kids-and for me.

S.A. Larsenッ said...

Great interview!! Jessica is so talented and such an amazing lady. Here's to more success from her. :)

Kelly Polark said...

Wow! How did I miss this?! Looks like incredible writing resources. Congrats, Jessica!!

Kristen Wixted said...

I think EVERYONE who writes journalism or any kind of science writing should read Jessica's books, as well as fiction writers. Genius!
Congrats to Jessica! :)

Jessica Bell said...

Thank you, Kimberly :-)

Jessica Bell said...

Cheers, Lexa!

Jessica Bell said...


Jessica Bell said...

Haha, you're flattering me, Stina (blush)

Jessica Bell said...

Thanks for reading, Robin. Bite-sized chunks, I swear by them :-) Sounds like food! And, actually, it is, food for thought (whoops! Cliche!) Haha.

Jessica Bell said...

Thanks so much for your support, Sheri. I appreciate it more than you know.

Jessica Bell said...

Thanks, Kelly!

Jessica Bell said...

Aw, thank you, Kristen. I'm honoured you think so highly of these books!

Tyrean Martinson said...

Wonderful interview! Jessica's writing is great, and I love that she's packed great tips into manageable chunks!

Donna K. Weaver said...

Yeah, Show and Tell and be such a hard concept. We learn to write by reading and so many reading do a lot of telling. =D

Jessie Humphries said...

Wow, this is a very eye-opening post. I love how you use concrete examples. That is exactly how I need it put to understand. Awesome interview all around.

Heather said...

What an excellent guest post! These books touch on two major key problems that a lot of authors need to address. They look like they'll make great staples to any writer's learning library.

Jess said...

Wow, this series of nutshell books sounds fabulous! I've been following Jessica's blog for a long time, and I'm so impressed with her creativity, productivity, and passion for writing. Thanks for a fun/informative interview! Wish I could go to the Ithaca retreat, but travel's not in the budget this year :(

cleemckenzie said...

Jessica has demonstrated how to set up unique characters and reveal them without author intrusion. And she's done so beautifully.

i really enjoyed reading what she had to say about this aspect of writing. Thanks to you both.

Christina Lee said...

Jess, you are rocking the web today!! I do everything in short scheduled bursts too!! *high five*

Heather Villa said...

This fantastically filled post is just what I need!
Thank you!

The Pen and Ink Blogspot said...

Wonderful interview. A writers Conference in Greece? It's the stuff of dreams. Looking forward to you next few weeks. They sound wonderful.

Jessica Salyer said...

Wow, Jessica is busy. I'll have to check out her Show and Tell book. Thanks!

Gail Martini-Peterson said...

I found a useful tip/trick in your interview. I'm always looking for the little things that will raise the level of my writing. I just attended an SCBWI conference, and sadly, I found few of those tips and tricks there. So what's the tip I got? The picture frame to cause you to focus on bite-sized pieces of the story. Thanks!

Alex J. Cavanaugh said...

Jessica is the hardest working author in the industry!
Her Show Don't Tell book made it so clear. Looking forward to this new one on adverbs.

Nas said...

I bought Jessica's Show and Tell and found it really good while editing. But I need a hard copy to thumb through and mark with post its!

The Greece retreat sounds really good, wonder if I could make it?

All the best Jessica!


Lynsey Newton said...

Thanks for bringing the books to our attention and for the opportunity to win!

Lydia Kang said...

Congrats to Jess and her new book!

Cynthia said...

Congratulations to Jessica on her books. I would love to go to Greece for a writing conference, but I have a hunch I'd be too distracted by all the fun things I could see and do over there.

Jessica Bell said...

Thanks, Tyrean. Pleased you dropped by!

Jessica Bell said...

I think telling still has it's place. We've just got to find a good balance. Thanks for reading!

Jessica Bell said...

Thanks so much, Jesse!

Jessica Bell said...

Very pleased to hear you think that, Heather. I get a lot of people saying that these rules are overrated. And sometimes, I agree. But if we don't learn them, then we won't know how to break them in a way that doesn't look amateur. Thanks for reading!

Jessica Bell said...

Thank Jess! Shame about not being able to make it to Greece. Maybe next year?

Jessica Bell said...

Thank you so so much!

Jessica Bell said...

Hey Christina! *high five* back atcha! :-)

Jessica Bell said...


Jessica Bell said...

I've lived in Greece for more than ten years and I still feel like I'm dreaming ;-)

Jessica Bell said...

Thanks, Jessica!

Jessica Bell said...

Glad I could be of some help! :)

Jessica Bell said...

You're sweet. Thanks, Alex :)

Jessica Bell said...

Glad you found it helpful :-)

Jessica Bell said...


Jessica Bell said...

Thanks, Lydia!

Jessica Bell said...

See, that's why the retreat includes excursions! :-P

Anonymous said...

This looks likes such a great read! I see it being very useful in my classroom. Thanks for the giveaway!

Danielle H. said...

Great interview with detailed answers! I enjoyed reading it this morning and hope I win a copy of Jessica's book. Jessica's series of writing tip books are invaluable and I know I will refer to them again and again. I will post on Facebook!

HeatherLuby said...

Excellent interview with a lot of tangible information. I teach college level creative writing and I'm thrilled to find Jessica's books - I'm always on the look out for new craft books that I think will connect with my students. Of course, I would LOVE to win a free copy too :) I'm going to post this on Facebook for my students to see as well.

Gina Gao said...

This was a really great interview! I enjoyed this post very much.


Rosi said...

Wonderful interview chock full of helpful stuff. Thanks for posting this and for the chance to win these books.

Unknown said...

What a timely interview--I was just tackling some adverbs in my own writing today. Those resources sound terrific!

Emily R. King said...

I can always improve upon my showing. Great interview. Thanks for the examples!

Carmen said...

Sound like great resources! Thanks for another wonderful interview.

Anonymous said...

I read Show and Tell and would like to read Adverbs and Cliches. Great interview.

Rachna Chhabria said...

I need to read Show and Tell. Happy release day to Jessica.

Mary Preston said...

This is wonderful thank you.

Reader said...

Great post, would love a chance to win.


Gina Gao said...

Really nice interview! I liked reading this very much.


Michael G-G said...

I love the covers of Jessica's books. And Ithaca sounds magical...

Jemi Fraser said...

Jessica is awesome! It took me a while to get the show/tell thing down too - and I still get caught :) Good luck with the book Jess!

Marilyn said...

Thanks for the great interview! I look forward to reading Jessica's books. For me, having a writing book that gives multiple examples is invaluable. I've got plenty of books that tell me what to do but don't show me! How's that for irony? Again, thanks for the interview.

Evelyn said...

Very interesting and helpful interview! Thanks, Jessica. I'd love to win one of your books.

Kiera Paul said...

This sounds wonderful and is very much needed! Many times, like Jessica, I have gotten that Show v Tell comment on forums or in critiques and gone either "Really? Why?" or "How???" Your example above is clear and concise - thanks!

I posted this on my blog :-)


Kim Beck said...

This interview is so helpful. Thank you for the great advice.