Meet Cassie Hanjian from Waxman Leavell Literary Agency!

[reposted from GLVWG’s conference blog]

by Tammy Burke


Hi Cassie,

I am so glad that you will be joining us for our 22nd annual “Write Stuff” conference. Your background — as an international literary scout, managing author rights, previous author support, and now an agent — I’m sure has given you exceptional skills in knowing what’s a good fit in the publishing world in addition to having the expertise to help an author grow. Welcome!

So the first question I would like to ask is on your bio on Waxman Leavell Literary Agency’s website you say that you “look forward to creating partnerships that prioritize building identifiable author brands.” Could you share a tidbit on some branding ideas? Also, what would be your dream manuscript and how would you describe the ideal author?

Cassie Hanjian:  For author branding, the most important thing to think about is your audience. How does your audience see you, and how easily will your audience be able to identify you in the future? I don’t have any one “dream” manuscript — although I’m currently looking for historical fiction similar to Sarah’s Key set in a period before WWII. Outside of specific plot elements, I’m looking for a good handle on plot and pacing, writing that doesn’t need to be heavily edited, and a style that is accessible to even the casual reader. To me, the ideal author is one that is not only supremely talented; they also have to be open to constructive criticism, able and willing to do a lot of leg work to market and publicize their book, respectful, and professional.

Could you share any pet peeves or significant ‘no-no’s’ when it comes to sending out a query or giving a pitch? Does it make a difference if it is for fiction or nonfiction?

Cassie Hanjian:  For both fiction and nonfiction queries, writers should take care to proofread and pay special attention to the spelling of the agent’s name and the name of the agency. Spelling my name or that of my agency incorrectly signals either apathy or a lack of attention to detail — qualities I’m definitely not looking for in an aspiring author. I view the query letter as a representation of what I’ll find in the manuscript; if there are lots of spelling/grammar errors, or if the letter is unfocused, I can only assume I’ll find more of the same in the actual sample. It’s also important to remember to succinctly describe the central idea of the book in the pitch — I need to have a clear idea of what I’m going to read before I actually take the time to do so.

Out of curiosity, when did you decide that you wanted to be involved in the publishing world? Was there a specific inspiration?

Cassie Hanjian:  (Laughs.) I decided I wanted to pursue a career in publishing when I was sixteen years old. I had an English teacher who had just moved to the area; her husband’s job forced them to relocate. She had previously worked at Houghton Mifflin as an editor in their educational division. I was an avid reader from a very young age, and when I heard that you could actually work with books for a living, I was sold. From that point on, I never thought about doing anything else.

One of the genres you represent is New Adult which seems to be trending in the publishing world. I am sure you counter misconceptions about what it is and what it is not. How do you explain the differences?

Cassie Hanjian:  Yes, there are quite a few misconceptions out there about New Adult, which I think, in large part, is due to the fact that the publishing industry has yet to come up with a standardized definition. Many people have stuck the New Adult label on a variety of things: YA Crossover, erotic romance, etc. When I try to succinctly explain New Adult, I usually compare it to YA: YA is about discovering who you are; NA is about discovering your place in the world.

What’s your take about romance in upmarket women’s fiction…necessary, nice or not needed? What do you see happening for 2015 in women’s fiction and what really grabs you?

Cassie Hanjian:  Romance is not a requisite in upmarket women’s fiction — or even commercial women’s fiction for that matter. Women’s fiction covers a wide range of issues and topics; sometimes a romantic element is integral to the story’s telling, and sometimes it’s not. Because the women’s fiction world is so varied, it’s hard to predict any one thing that will rise to the top this year, but I’m looking for family sagas with an element of mystery or suspense and emotionally wrought narratives about traumatic events or difficult life decisions.

Being a history buff and seeing you represent historical fiction I can’t resist asking…do you have a favorite time period?

Cassie Hanjian:  I love historical fiction set between the Renaissance and the Enlightenment — there is so much natural human drama in those centuries, that these stories naturally lend themselves to intricate and imaginative plots. If I had to pick one period in particular, I’d have to go with the Elizabethan period.

Anything you are definitely not looking for?

Cassie Hanjian:  I don’t represent children’s fiction or speculative fiction of any sort.

And last question…if you could give three ‘words of wisdom’ for our attendees, what comes to mind?

Cassie Hanjian:  Can I have five words? Start with an elevator pitch. Boiling your book down to one succinct sentence to start, whether in a query letter or during an in-person pitch, is often more effective than trying to explain all the intricacies of your plot, concept or thesis when you have limited space or time.

Thank you so much for taking the time out and we look forward to seeing you soon!

Cassie Hanjian
Prior to joining Waxman Leavell as an agent, Cassie held positions at the Park Literary Group, where she specialized in author support and foreign rights, and at Aram Fox, Inc. as an international literary scout for publishers based outside the United States. She holds a B.A. in English/Creative Writing from the University of South Florida, a Graduate Certificate in Publishing from the University of Denver’s Publishing Institute and an M.S. in Publishing from Pace University. Follow her on Twitter: @cjhanjian

Areas of interest/representation: New Adult, commercial and upmarket women’s fiction, historical fiction, psychological suspense, cozy mystery, contemporary romance, parenting, mind/body/spirit, inspirational memoir, narrative nonfiction focusing on food-related topics and cookbooks.
Tammy Burke, GLVWG member, 2011 conference chair and past president, has published over 400 articles in daily newspapers, newsletters and regional magazines. As a journalist and also with helping with the GLVWG “Write Stuff” conference she has interviewed a wide-range of literary agents, publishers, authors, state and local government officials, business and community leaders, everyday folk and celebrities. Currently, she is in the revision stage for her first YA fantasy adventure book, Uriah’s Window, the first in an intended series. When not writing, she works in the social service field, fancies herself a student of the fantastic and mundane, and is a fencing marshal in the Society of Creative Anachronism (SCA).

Forthcoming Agent Interviews


Just an fyi…

As some of you know, I am a member of the Greater Lehigh Valley Writers Group (2011 Conference Chair and Ex Officio). Their conference GLVWG’s “Write Stuff” as far as I’m concerned is one of the best writer’s conferences out there and it’s in its 22nd year.

Last year I had the opportunity to interview the entire conference faculty (presenters, editors and agents). Yes, lots of work but very rewarding. Those interviews are still on this blog around the January-March 2014 time. This year I will be doing more interviews as well (not all of them though) plus share any good tidbits I learn along the way.

Click Here for more information about the conference but I’m also sharing some of its highlights.

  • If you are wondering, the keynote this year is Kristen Lamb,author of the new best-selling book, “Rise of the Machines–Human Authors in a Digital World” along with #1 best-selling books “We Are Not Alone–The Writer’s Guide to Social Media” and “Are You There, Blog? It’s Me, Writer.”
  • Conference runs March 26 -28, 2015.
  • There is a Thursday all-day workshop with Kristen Lamb, a Thursday evening Writer’s Cafe, plus additional Friday morning workshops.
  • Then Friday evening is one of the best!! The welcome reception is a great way to mingle with other attendees, volunteers and the conference faculty.
  • As for the rest of conference…it’s full of opportunity. Check it out:
    • 22 interactive sessions with industry leading authors, editors and agents
    • Continental breakfast, lunch, morning and afternoon snacks
    • Page Cuts critique on Friday evening  (Limited attendance, register early)
    • Pitch Practice sessions Friday evening.
    • Agent/editor pitch sessions on Saturday (Limited sessions, register early)
    • Lunch and Keynote Speaker Kristen Lamb: Boy Am I Glad I Didn’t Get a Real Job
    • Friday evening welcome reception with hors d’oeuvres, cash bar, and networking
    • Flash Fiction writing contest with prizes
    • Book fair
  • Stay tuned for more and Happy Writing!

Diary of a Would-be Novelist

(Caution – New Year’s Resolution in progress)

This is the year I WILL get my YA project finished. AND I believe I have more excuses than most of why it isn’t finished yet (though I have learned lots through the process). So this is the year I am walking the talk complete with game plan, obstacles, Plan b’s (c’s, d’s) and all that.

If you have found yourself in a similar situation OR if you are a fountain of advice OR any combination of the two, or none of the above, please feel free to click on “Blowing Up Excuses. Chime in too…whether it’s to uplift, commiserate, share your experiences and/or projects, give advice or point and laugh, the tab is open.

Happy Writing!

[REPOST] 15 Alternative Steps to Better Writing by Philip Overby

One of the interesting things I’ve found online. This is a great tongue-in-cheek piece on writing. Gives you a nice kick-in-the-pants if you’re waffling…

Since this isn’t my article, if you have a comment please visit the below link and let him know what you think.

15 Alternative Steps to Better Writing

Writing_starOften writing advice comes at a price. You don’t always know what works and what doesn’t unless you actually put it into practice and get results.

I’m here to say that every situation is different. So understand that as a writer, it’s up to you to find out what works.

Below, I’ve presented 15 alternative ways to approach your writing. Despite many of them going against what other professionals may preach, I think you’ll find some wisdom in each step.

1. Always write when you feel like it.

Many writers may suggest that “writer’s write.” Well, anyone who writes anything can be a writer then. Why torture yourself everyday by not putting out your best material? Write when you feel like it, even if it’s five minutes a day. I would even suggest that posting on Facebook or Twitter could count as your five minutes. By networking and discussing your day, you are doing important preparation for your fiction.

2. Probably no need to read anyone else’s work.

Another common bit of advice is to “read, read, read.” Why? Reading other people’s work not only muddies your vision, but wastes precious time you could spend writing. I never understood this bit of advice. The only inspiration you need is what you get from your muse. Plus, you can always use TV or movies to get any extra inspiration you need.

3. Re-invent and experiment.

Oftentimes the worry may come up, “My writing isn’t original enough.” In that case, go experimental. Write your novel in your own made-up language. Perhaps don’t even write it, just make a book out of nothing put pictures. You can do anything you want. It’s your novel. Genre conventions are meant to be broken. So go all out!

4. Intelligent discussions about writing.

This is sort of self-explanatory. Talk about writing as much as you like. You are a writer after all! Even if you’re spending more time talking about it than actually writing, you’re reminding yourself constantly that you should be writing. Talking about something is the best way to show you’re interested in it, after all.

5. Literally describe everything.

Dealing with fantasy, your audience isn’t always going to know what’s going on unless you’re describing every character, every new race, every city, and every piece of clothing. If you really want to immerse your readers in a fantastic world, you have to give them as much description as possible. Need to describe what a minor nobleman is wearing? Do it! It’s your novel, so if you need to spend multiple pages describing everything, by all means do so.

6. Forget “show, don’t tell.” “Tell, don’t show.”

Another bit of advice I’ve never understood is “show, don’t tell.” Why not “tell, don’t show?” It is story-telling after all, not story-showing. If a character is angry, don’t waste time with subtle hints or gestures. Just say “He is angry.” It saves your reader a lot of time trying to figure things out. If more writers employed this technique, reading would be a lot easier, faster and thus more rewarding.

7. Overemphasis on grammar and spelling are overrated.

That’s what editors are for, right? Don’t worry about your grammar and spelling so much. Spell-check covers most of that for you, so there’s no need to spend so much time worrying about your sentence structure. Most readers won’t notice anyway.

8. Old fonts can be boring.

I’ve often seen guidelines say, “Use Times New Roman or Arial.” Then what is the point of having all these other great fonts? My advice: use a new font and make it your own. It can be your “calling card” so to speak.

9. Longer is better.

Novels are getting bigger and bigger nowadays. If other writers are putting out 300,000 word novels, then you need to trump them by putting out 500,000 words. It’s a competitive market and the more words you have, the more “bang for your buck” you’re giving your readers. They will appreciate the longer book because it requires them to spend less money on other books.

While on the subject of the need for longer books, why not have a longer prologue? Prologues are very popular in fantasy novels and are your first introduction to the world. Some writers may say that making a prologue too long may detract from the meat of the book, but I think the more information the reader can get about the world you’re introducing them to, the better. I’d even suggest making the prologue longer than any of your other chapters.

10. Super-awesome magic and characters.

The more awesome and crazy, the better. Fantasy readers love magic, but don’t care so much about how it works. Wizard can pull fire from the sun? Works for me. Magic is derived from ancient glaciers? OK! There’s no need to explain magic or have it make absolute sense. Magic is awesome because it’s mysterious. So making the mechanics of how it works relevant is to me, irrelevant. Save that for hard science fiction.

Also, make your characters as awesome as you can. Near invincible characters prove for interesting stories.

11. Deus ex machina.

Why are these three Latin words so contentious? It exists because it used to be a perfectly acceptable way to end a story for the Greek dramatists. What makes writers today better than Greek dramatists? Use whatever device you need to end the story. Especially if you’re on a deadline. Having Zeus or Gandalf’s eagles or whatever come down and clean-up everything is a fine ending in my view. “It was all a dream” is also doable.

12. Ample info-dumps.

Often critics may say “Oh no, the dreaded info-dump.” But why? Info-dumps are after all, when broken down, “dumps of information.” Don’t readers need information to understand what’s happening? My belief is that if you want to stop the plot to give plenty of information to the reader, then it’s your choice as a writer. To me, plot and character development aren’t as important as knowing what’s going on. A good dump of information now and again can help clear things up.

13. Your characters can do nothing sometimes.

Realism in fantasy is becoming more and more popular. What is more realistic than sitting around and doing nothing? It’s what most normal people do a large percentage of their day. Have your character sit on the porch for six pages or take a nap for two. It’s important to get into the characters’ heads as much as possible. Having them think about daily chores, sharpening their blades, walking their dog, or whatever will make them appear more realistic to the reader.

14. Look at the first letter of each numbered step above.

15. Spell it out.

Tell your friends to read this article and it’s the best writing advice you’ve ever heard.

Do you have any “alternative” advice to dispense? Leave some in the comments below.

You can find Phil’s blog about Japan, writing, pro wrestling, and weird stuff at

Philip Overby is a nomadic warrior, indiscriminate troll slayer, undead unicorn enthusiast, former indie wrestler, and lover of all things fantasy. He lives in Yokohama, Japan.

A Gutter of Tree Sludge and Blood

(Warning. This is an introspection piece and it contains graphic and unsettling imagery)


I compartmentalize. Sanitary little mind boxes meant to keep things separated. I’m sure I created the first one to keep me functioning when life and death got too big. It muffled painful things when it was locked away and I could pretend a normal face. Pretend, pretend and eventually you’ll feel it. But…I think the boxes are leaking.

I think they’re leaking because when I get overwhelmingly stressed, I go to a dark place…

And I have extra servings of worry lately. What are they? Suffice to say safety, sanity and survival for those I love most are pinging the top of the list along with a cumulation of swirling other exasperations to fill in the cracks.

Anyway, I think the boxes are too full … That or perhaps I’ve rearranged them so much the bottoms are breaking. I need to unpack them. Yes, I know.

See I’ve realized no matter what box I’m in, I’m missing my full potential. I’m incomplete. I’m a ghost shadow of what I could be. It’s a relatively recent realization and it makes me sad. But I wonder, in moving the boxes around in preparation of unpacking, have I allowed seepage to collect?

No. It can’t be. I’ve been trapped face down in a sludge of graphic images before. People with twin smiles who grasp their throats with hard realization and bodies cut deep to spill their inner secrets.

I turn inwards to escape the world and am greeted with a horror-lovers’ marathon. oh, fantastic. I don’t seek a horror genre but here it is waiting in the sacred place where thought collects.

The same mantra… Please…make the images stop, drain the poison from my mind. Do something with it.

Ah yes, the carnivorous carousel….and the blood pours bright red.

But I have used this venom to propel myself into better incarnations. Fling myself across the precipice to reestablish. Recreate. Fear of failing pales with what’s in my mind’s eye. I dress for battle. But I’m in a holding pattern this time. I must wait.

I hate waiting.

Perhaps I can use this creatively. Glimpses of hatchets with small heaps of bloodless feet. Yes. Creatively.

But where?

And why?

Yes, I’ve finally asked why. Why do I find this dark place. Why does it find me? Why does it hold the same template.

I remember waking.., cold sweat, afraid to move, hours before-elementary-school-started-pitch-black with yet another nightmare with my grandmother’s disembodied head in the yard. I remember… Squished and…

I feel squished… Like two massive hands work to press me flat like Playdough. Time to be reformed?Reshaped?

And I understand. I found a connection. A wild a-ha and resounding duh. The visceral blood thoughts and the sorrow and the worry… these are the legacies from and of my family when my uncle died and my aunt lost her jaw and I didn’t know if a killer would go free.

I made my first box then to hold the blood images and the shadow gunman who lived in my closet. And over time, I made others. They hold a myriad of ugly things. Some I’m afraid to open. But I know they hold hostage light and happy times too.

Like goes with like … and worry and overwhelm-ness goes in that first blood box and the memory goes…over there…in one of those hundred boxes….

I don’t want to put these worries in the box. Even for function’s sake.

I understand.

There’s a living tree, dissected and hacked, inside these boxes. My own personal tree of life. I’m not quite sure of its real dimensions … but I have in my hands a limb and a root. Their mine and I stand.

[Dark thoughts can be disconcerting and they can make life seem bleak. For anyone sinking into them I would suggest finding someone safe to talk to and to step back with the basics. Enough sleep, nutritious food, stay hydrated. Walk, dance, do something for your body’s natural feel-good endorphins. Journal. Paint. Breathe. Be your own best friend for a bit. Take things in moment-bites. Let go and let God. Know things will get better. Eventually. Live.]

Sweet creations at Chocolate World

Thank goodness there are places in the world that draw our inner children out to play. One such place is the sweetest place on Earth…Chocolate World in Hershey Pa.

I’m sharing our tour via an iMovie attachment on “Creating (and designing) Your Own” Chocolate Bar.

There’s also a cameo of the singing cows.

The 7th Wonder of the Water Wizards (Chichen Itza)

The crown of our Cancun vacation had to be the sojourn to dwelling of wise water wizards or in other words, Chichen Itza (the city by the well or the wise men by the water, etc). This incredible site, a shadow of its former glory with its brilliantly painted buildings, smooth concrete plazas and rich culture was designated in July 7, 2007 as one of the New Seven Wonders of the World.

Thank you Jack for the persuasive private message on FaceBook which I used to help convince Andy that we just had to go. 🙂


All I wish, visiting the site, is we would have had more time soaking in what we were seeing. But I am glad I took as many pictures as I did, and Andy did too, because it’s helping with that delayed “soaking” of this site.

Our adventure started with our van picking us up outside our hotel at 7 am Wed., April 30, 2014, along with some other tourists, and getting us to our Cancun Tour bus. I enjoyed seeing more of the hotel zone as we rode Boulevard Kukulkan. We passed this interesting building, Maya Design Hotel, and here (second picture) is where we waited until our bus was ready.



Our bus was 001 and our guide, Jorge, was a very versatile bilinguist. He easily flipped from Spanish to English so it eventually blended together. He shared information about the ancient Mayans along with passing things around for us to see…like depictions of the Mayan calendar and obsidian…


…and he talked about the itinerary of the day (besides the tour of Chichen Itza) which included a a traditional Mayan buffet lunch (which was really good with homemade tortillas and a liberal warning about the hot sauce…salt and sugar folks, salt and sugar). Please note the thatched ceiling.

Pic of the restaurant

We drove through Valladolid, a colonial Mexican town, and viewed its downtown, the lovers’ chairs and San Gervasio Cathedral.

Oh, because of a flat tire we ended up stopping at a merchants’ plaza with hand-made items. We did get silver pendants with our names engraved in Mayan.

(one of the masks hanging from the wall)

We were also told we’d be visiting the Suytun Cenote in order to cool off after our tour in Chichen Itza.

Also check it out this Cenote (one of many) was in National Geographics

“If you have your bathing suit, congratulations. And if you don’t, congratulations, what happens in Mexico, stays in Mexico. What that means is it will be on Facebook in five minutes.” ~ Jorge, guide.

And being at the Cenote was really cool but I would have, again, preferred more time at the ruins.

Okay…so without further ado, [drumroll]
Let me introduce Chichen Itza

My first pic entering the site shows a small corner of vendors crying out their wares! They were everywhere. Admittedly, a lot of the stuff is really cool. For example, the jaguar growls in my Chichen Itza iMovies are actually whistles that these guys had. And most everything, was being offered for $1 (US). Not having pesos on me, I was just a bit nervous of stopping with US dollars because I was sure I’d be mobbed.
(In the background is the Temple of the Jaguars and the ballcourt)

…and my second pic….the pyramid.

The guide told us that the pyramid kicks out a bit from alignment from the other buildings and that it has been theorized that the building is meant to be a calendar of sorts.

The pyramid has 91 steps with four staircases — one on each side — and one platform so if you do the math it equals one solar year. Also, on the equinoxes the pyramid is a stage for a light/shadow show which shows their snake god descending from the temple into the snakes’ heads.

More tidbits: The pyramid is 78 feet tall and has an interesting surprise. What is it? There is a second temple inside this one…sort of like Russian nesting dolls. Inside this they found a jaguar throne and a chacmool. Oh, and they built the pyramid in five years.

This iMovie (above) has quite a bit of information of what the guide told us. He took us around this plaza and gave us insight with the pyramid, ball court, Temple of the Warriors, Wall of Skulls and Platform of Venus… and after he was finished I immediately asked him where the observatory was.

See, the site’s observatory was something I considered using as a template for one of the places in my book….a forgotten ruin from one of the (Chandarions) god-like people who had been interested in studying the sky. So you can imagine that I just HAD to see this not in just pictures But in front of my own eyes.

Amazing, right? Anyway the one thing I didn’t notice until later was the Chaac mask near the building’s crown. Do you see it? The Chaac masks represent the Mayan god of rain.


more Chichen Itza iMovie. 🙂

I suppose seeing the The Church with its very obvious Chaac masks made me more aware of what these were.



It surprised me to see lattice work carved in stone… I mean, wow! How long did this take the Mayans?


And excavations are still going on. For example, in the 1990s, the Temple of the Big Tables was restored from the jungle. (I love saying I was in a jungle) This structure is beside the Temple of the Warriors and it has a substructure inside which can be reached by the door on the side of the staircase. One of the things that was found within were life-size figures of warriors, carved in stone relief with details in stucco and polychrome paint.


Definitely, the science of archeology has improved. Back in the early 1900s one so-called archeologist, Le Plongeon, blew a part of the exterior away from the Edificio de las Monjas (Nunnery) in order to reveal an older structure within. Do you see the big hole on the right hand side, lower level?


Here’s the back side of the pyramid and the Temple of the Warriors in the background.


And one last thing I’ll share for now… the frieze from the ball court which gives us an idea how the game was played. [Please remember, kidding aside, these guys probably thought they were assured immortality. For example, the decapitated one is kneeling proudly as if he was perfectly fine, except missing a head]






Visiting Dawn

So the tour to Tulum….

It was yet another early morning, Tuesday, April 29, beautiful though a little cloud covered and we headed downstairs to the Tulum ballroom for breakfast. Afterwards, Andy went to his conference’s “town meeting” and I took a stroll through the gift shop and headed to the beach. Wading while waiting…. who can beat that? I figured I didn’t need to change into a swimsuit since I was in shorts and could kick off my shoes. Yes, I know. The sea can be capricious and one of the waves broke across my legs and got the side of my shorts wet. Not that big of a deal but for the sake of my iPhone, I retreated further back.

Just a quick background: The conference offered a paid activity and there had been several to choose from: Swimming with the dolphins, zip lining, snorkeling, etc. Visiting Tulum and shopping at Playa de Carmen had been ours. We left at 10:45 a.m. with our boxed lunch.

Tulum is located “80 miles south of Cancun, 35 miles south of Playa del Carmen, 25 miles south of Puerto Aventuras, 15 miles south of Akumal, 40 miles from Coba, [and] Can be visited as a shore excursion for cruise ship passengers docked in Cozumel or Calica port.” –

We had enough people to fill the bus. Tour buses, I decided, have less room than coach on an airplane. We had a guide named Alfredo who told us interesting facts about the Mayans. One example, and heartbreaking too was that the jungle-dwelling Mayan people shared their books with the Europeans who upon seeing pictures of snakes within and associated snakes with the devil, burned them. The guide also told us that Cancun itself means Nest of Snakes in Mayan.

We only had one potential mishap when a runaway pear got loose and rolled to the driver and the guide took all of us to task, nicely but…

We got to Tulum, got off the bus and headed for a ice cream shop while our guides got our tickets. The place was jostling with merchants and clothes, crafts, masks, wooden skulls, etc. Passed this area, and before the tractor-driven trams, were a couple of men dressed like Mayans posing for pictures. I got two faceless pics before being told each pic would cost $5.


I visited the only public (not have to pay) bathrooms located near the entry gate. The facility was just adequate but to wash your hands you had to step outside to share communal sinks. This arrangement came close to pinging the “scary bathroom” category but I’d find worse later in the vacation.

We entered the park, passed the educational shop with books and DvDs (didn’t have time to go in) and got a mini-lesson with a scaled model of Tulum. One of the things we learned was the site had/has five gates in correlation perhaps with the five unlucky days in a Mayan year.



There’s a path past the entry you have to follow, maybe a five minute walk…lots of stone steps. We were shown a sacred Mayan tree which was hollowed and wild animals, nothing too dangerous. The most plentiful we saw were the iguanas.

Tulum is a bit unusual. It has a defending wall on three sides and a cliff overlooking the sea, one of the few Mayan cities with a wall. Anyway, Tulum was a harbor city.

If you want to know some tidbits about its archeological history, these seem to be good sites:

I have to admit, hunched over as I shuffled through the gate entrance, I touched the stones as Mayan hands might have done centuries ago and then behold, Tulum was before me. I thought I’d cry. I was actually here!

Tulum was/is magnificent! The only down side, we both wanted more time to explore but as this was a tour we had an allotted amount of time (aka read “NOT enough time”) before we had to reboard the bus. Regardless, we got a lot of pics, some video clips and I put a mini-documentary together.

Tulum video

There is an app, Tulum – Be Your Own Guide for an iPhone I discovered after I returned to the states. It’s very informative. I’d recommend getting it before visiting the site.

The first house the guide showed us was the Cenote House. If you don’t know what a cenote is … this area of Mexico has most of its water coming from underground rivers and sinkholes (aka cenotes). Cenotes provided not only water for its residents but also they played religious role as a place of sacrifice. This first house had a cenote under it. The guide said that a sacrifice would be purified here before being taken to the Temple of the Winds which was just in the distance. (Structure 45)

It was extremely windy here but with the day’s heat, it felt great.

Map of Tulum []

Other things of note included the beach where the harbor was. (Tulum’s beaches are named one of the best in the world). Part of it is protected because of nesting sea turtles.


The Temple of the Frescos made me wish I had brought a better camera. I used my phone for all the pics and it did a great job but I wasn’t able to zoom in to get the faded frescos inside the building. 😦 Oh by the way, do you see the building’s corner face?


El Castillo, the palace, is the site’s crowning jewel. It’s set on the tallest hill. Here is where I wished the buildings weren’t roped off. Even if I couldn’t climb up the castle steps, it would have been nice to walk around its complex.


Or be part of the team who was up on the Temple of the Diving God. Above their heads is a figure descending or diving and it shows up on many of the buildings.


What I am thankful for is being able to visit these amazing places and being able to take as many pics as I could. I know I’ve been enjoying reviewing them, reading up, learning and noticing things that I hadn’t seen before. Like how many diving gods the site had.

We got back to the bus as one of the last stragglers…but not the last ones. Yes, that was me lagging behind.

The next place we stopped at was 5th Avenue, Playa de Carmen for an hour. It was fun stopping in the little shops. I got to say “demasiado” a few time… I mean, haggling is very in vogue here.

We stopped at an outside bar having a 2 for 1 sale and allowed ourselves to be talked into having four margaritas between the two of us. I had mango and Andy had a Tamarind. If you aren’t familiar with Tamarind, it’s kind of tangy.

I wasn’t really tasting the tequila in the margaritas so when our waiter came up I said with a smile “Donde esta la tequila?” [where is the tequila] I wasn’t expecting him to bring out an additional tall shot to add to the drinks. I split among the four and wow, did I feel fuzzy after that! I guess there had been tequila in them. The drinks were just deceptive and tasty.

We boarded the bus again back to the hotel and got ready for the conference’s awards ceremony. I enjoy dressing up and I had brought a Latina-ish black dress for the occasion. I didn’t have pockets so I didn’t get any pictures. We drank Sangrias during the cocktail hour and then journeyed into the large ballroom for a wonderful three-course meal with Fillet Mignon and a thin sliced potato casserole. Oh, and the cleansing small scoop of lemon sorbet between the salad and main course. It was one of the more fancy dinners I’ve enjoyed but I would see fancier before the end of the vacation.

After the function, we headed back to the bar for drinks and dancing. I had more of the latter than the former. We retired not dreadfully late but not that early either. Many of the people we were hanging with were leaving the next morning but we were staying an extra day so we could get to Chichen Itza which will be another post.

But one last thing for now….Tulum, they believe originally was called Zama “City of the Dawn.”




Sleeping in the Snake’s Nest


Luxurious places can have the most interesting names such as the Mayan translation to the 18 miles stretch of hotel resorts and sugar sand beaches in Quintana Roo, Mexico. Yes. Cancun means “nest of snakes.” Not sure what to make of that, whether it’s a warning about inhabiting reptiles or a subtle nickname for the tourist trade but regardless Cancun felt like a paradise.

I recently returned from this whirlwind vacation which let me work on my manuscript on a lounge chair on the beach with the surf music and warm sun. Decadent? Like living inside a post card, dude! And I didn’t see any snakes but I did see quite a few wild iguanas.

Cancun. It’s a wonderland of ocean and pool fun; piano bars, nightclubs and dancing; tropical drinks, tequila samples and good food; … along with experiencing another culture which operates at a minimum level of “working English.”

I was a washed with sensory overload which held hands with a realized lifelong dream. See, I’ve ALWAYS wanting to go “tramping” through archaeological ruins and I got that opportunity with my time at both Chichen Itza and Tulum. Additionally, I expanded my experiences with extremes and habitats. Not only can I say I’ve been in a jungle but I have also witnessed both the poorest and richest conditions I have ever seen… to date.

Anyway, before all the wonderful memories fade as memories are wont to do… I’m putting figurative “pen to paper” along with some of the iMovies I put together. This one [below] is mostly our Cancun resort and the surrounding area.

So…why Cancun and why now? Well, a business conference for Andy was the reason and lucky me… I had this important job to make sure the pool didn’t go away plus get a little writing in.

We left Saturday, April 26, 2014 around noon from our local airport on a “puddle-jumper” to Philly. Of course a day of flying never runs smooth. We boarded and moments later were asked to vacate the plane. Reason? The Philly airport was closed. An aircraft on its runway was defunct. Made me realize I should look into traveling apps such as the one for the airports.

Nice little anxious time knowing we had two connecting flights. We reboarded not long after and disregarding the horrendous turbulence, which caused the stewardess to rush papertowels and water to at least one passenger, we got to Philly early and even had a nice lunch at a pub. The flight to Charlotte was fairly uneventful. We had time for one quick beer before boarding for Cancun.

I have to admit I was a little nervous about the idea of being out of my own country. Particularly Mexico. You hear so many horror stories and my personal experiences were limited. I had made two day-tripped excursions over to Mexica (Tijuana in 2000) and Canadian (Niagara Falls 2001) both before our pre-mandatory passports era. There are forms you have to fill out on the plane for Mexico immigration and after landing you go through customs. Wasn’t too bad. Greeted by duty-free shops as soon as we entered the airport and I will warn you … you may want to watch who you talk to at the airport. If you’re curious, let me know I might tell you.

Andy and I arrived at the JW Marriott about 10:30 that evening. We were all “eyes wide open, alert, nervous” as we found our arranged ride and checked in at the hotel. Room 336. Relatively spacious, beautiful bathroom with the large shower head (where water will glide over you from the nape of your neck to the small of your back), and sliding glass doors leading to a well-appointed balcony.

It’s always fun checking out a room but we settled in fairly quickly and headed to the bar for a beverage and wind-down time. Well…That was the plan. It kind of got enhanced. I mean, being in Cancun is a big fat permission slip to cut loose. Right? Six margaritas and dancing at the piano bar with some of the other ladies attending the conference while Andy socialized with the guys later, we headed for bed.

For anyone following me, you may remember I tore my ACL and meniscus back in May 2012, had surgery and that relearning how to do everything from walking on and also focusing on rebuilding knee strength has been an ongoing process. So I have to say emphatically that being able to dance like everyone else was incredibly satisfying.

I woke up, not hungover but dreadfully early. Really it hadn’t been on my itinerary for rising with the sun but Cancun called.

“Dawn’s light peeked through the slant in the curtains with shimmering iridescence and burst in star-patterns like Disney fireworks.”

Yes, put a creative person on location and they wax poetically.

So I got a sunstreaked “Get up! Get up!” call from nature and I actually listened. I padded out on our balcony and gazed out over the hotel’s pools and the beach and the Hard Rock building beside ours. My first day-time look with the palm trees and the Caribbean Sea did NOT disappoint.

We had a nice breakfast at the Sedona Grill. I had the fancy bacon quesadilla which was like $170. Yes, we are talking pesos which is about 13 to $1 US. We sat outside near palm trees and the beach listening to the calls of these blue-black birds with yellow eyes and sipped coffee as the coastal breeze caressed us. Yep we arrived in paradise and it smells like salt and coconuts. Only problem, we had a little adventure scheduled at 8:30 a.m. and it took most of the morning. We did go dressed in our swimsuits as we were told and the excursion did give us cheap Chichen Itza tour tickets, some free stuff and practice time with my Spanish with the taxi driver.

Remember watch who you talk to? Anyway, we had to pass on the snorkeling excursion which we were under the impression would be that morning because we needed to return to our hotel and sign in for our/his conference.

We rode back in a van and talked with other tourists. Some were only English speaking and some, like the Brazilian couple, only spoke Spanish. Just the first time in several days where I encountered people from all over the world.

We arrived at the hotel, signed in and got more free stuff and shortly afterwards, we spent a good portion of the day pool-side. We did make a valiant five-minute attempt to swim in the ocean but with the waves bowling us over and wanting to tug on our suits we surrendered to the pool.

As robust as the ocean was the temperature felt nice but the pool was like bathwater. I forwent my usual descent by centimeters and enjoyed a delightful circuit: Swim, have an adult beverage while in the pool, socialize, swim more and repeat. The pool set-up was rather intriguing with these little islands and channels under little bridges to connecting pools. Yes, one of the pools had a swim-up bar.

We ate at the Beachwalk and watched a wedding on the beach. Yes, Brittanee, Shush. I had this tasty steak wrap thing and Andy had a salad and we both had pink rumrunners. In hindsight I could have eaten a little lighter because of the evening’s meet and greet but had a second drink.

The evening’s activities took place outside buffet style in stations. The food was lavish, the staff attentive and the open bar flowing. Andy and I along with some of the conferrees debating how much this shindig would cost. My guess was at $12,000. (US dollars not pesos) I had an offer to go dancing later with my new pals but after two margaritas I switched to bottled water. Yes, my playful fun-loving side wanted so much to keep going, hit a night club and party till dawn my physical being was passed mildly grumbling about being exhausted and too full.

I got up with Andy on Monday to do the breakfast which was included in the conference. This meal really wasn’t lavish. I did enjoy the fresh pineapple and I ate a little of my bagel sandwich.

Afterwards, I spent the morning on the lounge chair under shade along the beach and worked on my book while Andy attended the conference sessions. I really enjoyed this time. It was peaceful and the muse spoke intermittedly with me. I think she got mesmerized by the ocean waves too.

“A mermaid herself must have fashioned the Mexican Caribbean sea from the brightest sea-teal and skirted it with cloud-white crests.”

“And just passed the reef the teal transforms with no hesitation to a rich indigo until it touched the periwinkle sky.”

One of my gal pals told me as a writer I had no excuse not to find a way to describe the sea. I gave it my best go.

All ocean watching comes to a close though and I went back in to get lunch. Again it came with the conference. So… while in line, Andy says “I went all the way to Cancun to get this hot dog” and I responded by saying “whose wearing that shirt.” Naive little me…no they were serving hot dogs and hamburgers. My thought? I’m in Mexico so were is the good Mexican food??

I spent the afternoon shopping with my new gal pals at one of the malls. It felt good to learn more of the “lay of the land.” Ten pesos gets you on the bus to whichever bus stop on the circuit you want. Cancun’s resort area is only a 1/4 mile wide so there is only one throughway. I discovered shops will give you samplings of tequila if you look like you want to buy a bottle. I also saw this absolutely gorgeous Italian rapier in one of the shops and I was not allowed to photograph that. They did give me a business card. But — I mean what the heck?

We returned and spent more time pool-side. I don’t think this ever could get old.

Best part of the day (or second best) — I’m debating as my beach time was heavenly — was dinner at Destilaria. We asked the concierge what would be a good place for traditional Mexican food would be. She set up the reservation and gave us coupons for the house drink. (Yes, it was kind of margarita) We sat outside looking out over the lagoon. The service, the food, the ambiance was all wonderful. I’d happily go back. Andy had a fish platter with vegetables and I had a steak flambéed in front of us. We also had decadent Mexican desserts. The place was home to a tequila distillery as well and a shop “World of Tequila” where Andy and I sampled a great deal of tequila with a pleasant and knowledgable man before selecting our purchases.

I have to admit it’s a strange sensation wanting a vacation to slow to savor it while also wanting to rush to the final two days. Archeological ruins, remember?

I’m going to end here for now but I’ll post about Tulum, Chichen Itza, the Mayan underground and the extremes I mentioned very soon.

Meet Jessica Dimuzio VMD, Conservation Educator and Author!

by Tammy Burke


reposted from

Hi Jessica,

The stories you must be able to tell…conducting research on elephants, rhinos and wild baboons in Kenya, Africa, visiting six continents and teaching field-based conservation programs in here in the states, Africa, and Asia. I am curious. What originally got you into this field? Was this a childhood dream? What do you like best about it? Also, how did wildlife preservation lead you to not only being published in veterinary journals and conservation newsletters but also writing children’s books?

Jessica Dimuzio: Both my husband and I read Thornton W. Burgess books about animals as children, a fact that obviously greatly influenced us. Our favorite thing to do is look for wildlife in their natural habitats. He became a conservation biologist and I pursued veterinary medicine,
specializing in wildlife preservation. Winning a scholarship, I had the opportunity to study wild baboons in Kenya, Africa. Soon after my studies ended, the land was sold to a cooperative of small farmers who regarded baboons as pests. The only way to save the baboons was to relocate them to a remote area of the country. The realization that land preservation was as vital as species studies led me, with my husband, Dr. Tim Halverson, to design holistic conservation education programs. We incorporated animal studies, land use, culture, and economics and conducted these conservation programs for college students and wildlife biologists in the United States, Africa, and Asia.

But it wasn’t enough for me. To create a lasting conservation impact, I believed I needed to reach youngsters, inspiring them to connect with the natural world and revel in its mysteries. The enthusiasm of students in naturalist programs I led in the U.S. and abroad encouraged me to engage even more children by relating true stories from my work, through writing and speaking engagements.

May I say, what a brilliant idea of grabbing children’s attention while conveying conservation ideas by using Johnny Angel, a Papillon dog, as Bark! Bark! Bark for My Park!’s point of view character. And how exciting to have received a personal note of appreciation from celebrity Betty White and an excellent review from US Review of Books! Could you tell us the inspiration of behind the tale? Also, could you tell us a little bit about your new book “Bow Wow Wow! Green Beans Now?”

Jessica Dimuzio: I have always considered myself a non-fiction storyteller, and one day I was relating to a friend of mine the fact that my 5 pound, not even 2 year old Papillon puppy saved a 700-acre farm park from being destroyed. She said, “Jessica, you write for kids. This is a great story.” You know, sometimes when it is in your backyard you don’t think it important or newsworthy? So the next day, I sat down and wrote “Bark! Bark! Bark for My Park!”

Bow Wow Wow! Green Beans Now? recounts Johnny Angel’s obsession with eating garden-fresh, mouth-picked green beans and I thought it would be a unique approach (and hopefully humorous one) to get kids interested in organic gardening and eating homegrown vegetables. But the ending was a surprise to me!

I understand Nature Tales and Trails, LLC came into existence in 2011. Could you tell us a little about it, its programs and what you do? What do you find most rewarding? What would you like to see in its future?

Jessica Dimuzio: Our mission at Nature Tales and Trails is to connect children to the natural world through classroom talks, nature walks, and books about our adventures working with wildlife at home and around the world.

If you are interested in “Stories from the Wild—Programs for Your Child” contact me through Nature Tales and Trails, LLC at .

In 2009 you joined Young Writers’ Day Program and began teaching persuasive writing and civic responsibility to elementary school children. What do you most rewarding? What do you find most challenging?

Jessica Dimuzio: Young Writers’ Day has been in existence for 30 years and writers of all genres teach their craft to elementary schools. I was hired as a last minute replacement (okay, I was given 12 hours) to come up with a writing exercise for third graders. I told the leader, Mary Beth Lauer, that I talk about writing a petition in Bark! Bark! Bark for My Park!, can I teach that? And I have been teaching petition writing and civic responsibility ever since. Through Nature Tales and Trails, I now bring persuasive writing, civic responsibility, and conservation programs to middle schools as well.

I’ve always struggled with discussing “adult” topics with kids but I have learned that there are ways that you can awaken their awareness in a positive way. With all the negative news they receive, when I show them they can make a difference in their world—whether home, neighborhood, school, and they see it and feel it, I know I we need to influence them that they can do amazing things. When I ask them “What is Johnny Angel’s message in Bark! Bark! Bark for My Park!, and they say: It doesn’t matter what size, age, or species we are, we can make a difference” it is truly rewarding and uplifting.

On your personal website you have “The destination: unchanged. The path: unpredictable. The journey: full circle.” Could you tell us a little bit about how your activities have come full circle?

Jessica Dimuzio: My passion is wildlife preservation and that destination has never changed.

The path has been unpredictable, starting with single species research to saving habitats, to teaching holistic approaches to conservation, to writing for children, to sharing the work and the journey with children.

It was the children’s books about nature that I read as a kid that inspired me to love, respect, and ultimately want to protect wildlife. With my childrens’ books and programs, I feel I am reaching more people, having a bigger impact through my work—whether writing, teaching, or conducting nature walks. I feel I have come: Full Circle.

I understand you are the founder of Milestones Children’s Critique Circle. Could you tell us what it is and how it came into being?

Jessica Dimuzio: The course I took with Vivian Grey on writing for children had the most diverse and yet most compatible participants I’d ever had the pleasure of taking a course with. When the course ended, I offered to organize a monthly meeting. I founded this organization in July, 2006 and am proud to be the leader of such a diverse and accomplished group of people. Milestones Children’s Critique Circle is a support group exclusively for dedicated writers of all genres of children’s books. Our motto is: E=MC3 because the group generates so much energy, we beat Einstein’s equation!

To be invited as a guest, please contact:

Out of curiosity, during your presentations what the best or most memorable questions or comments you have fielded from the children?

Jessica Dimuzio: There are so many wonderful, funny, surprising, and emotional interactions followed by incredibly touching communications through thank you letters. There are two that stand out for me.
After one school visit where I read Bark! Bark! Bark for My Park!, a third grader wrote me that we shared many things in common; love of dogs and a park near her that was closing. She asked for my help in saving it. I was so thrilled to find a third grader understanding the impact of losing open space, it gave me hope.

At a recent school visit, a student in a knee brace reminded me that if it wasn’t for boogie boarding, I wouldn’t be a children’s book author.

I was wondering if you could give us a teaser of what you’ll be covering in “Whoops, I Did It Again!” and “How to Catch a Kid?”

Jessica Dimuzio: Whoops, I Did It Again!
I will be presenting my journey from moment of conception through the pivotal points that led me to become writer, illustrator, director, groomer, publisher, publicist, vendor, and speaker of an international award-winning children’s picture book. And learn, yes, I did it again. Through discussion of lessons acquired and questions to participants, I will help attendees determine whether self-publishing is the route to go or not.

How to Catch a Kid—Creatively Luring Children to Non-Fiction
5 key components + 4 tips + 1 small piece of advice=
10 criteria for creative non-fiction for children

Thank you Jessica for taking time out for this interview and sharing so many wonderful and thought-provoking answers. Looking forward to meeting you at the conference.

Jessica Dimuzio, VMD, will lead two Saturday sessions on non-fiction writing that grabs children’s interest. Besides being published in the fields of veterinary medicine, veterinary education, and conservation, she is an award-winning children’s book author. “In fact,” she says, “during my school visits I tell children why should I spend the time making up characters and plots like a fiction writer when no one believes my true stories any way!” In her conference session “How to Catch a Kid”, she will explain the key to good non-fiction: there must be a compelling story arc, and a main character with which children can connect. Dr. Dimuzio has lectured internationally, taught college classes, and currently leads a critique group for fiction and nonfiction children’s book writers. She has published two picture-books. Her website is:

Tammy Burke, GLVWG member, 2011 conference chair and past president, has published around 400 newspaper and regional magazine articles. She has interviewed state and local government officials, business and community leaders, everyday folk and celebrities, in addition to helping write scripts for over a dozen television commercials and writing various business communications. Currently, she is in the revision stage for her first YA fantasy adventure book, the first in an intended series. When not writing, she works in the social service field and is a fencing marshal in the Society of Creative Anachronism (SCA).