This past weekend, I attended the Writer’s Digest Annual Conference in New York City. Having just launched FORTE, it was not only an opportunity to hone my craft but also to continue the celebration. The best part about it? My brother, Jim Davies, flew in from Ottawa to attend the conference with me.

Jim Davies & JD Spero on the street

Jim & me in Times Sq

We stayed at the Hilton Garden Inn in Bryant Park. Our digs, courtesy of my husband Anthony Spero, held amazing views of both water and Times Square from the 34th floor. The 6:35 am Megabus dropped me a few blocks away, and when I got to the hotel at 10am, I pushed the elevator button for the lobby and…there was Jimmy!

Times Square, NYC

View of Times Square

We dropped our bags, checked the map, and headed toward the Roosevelt Hotel for the conference check-in. My sleep deprivation got the best of me, but my misguided confidence convinced Jimmy I knew where I was going. Our hour-long detour didn’t deter our fun — and got us some cool photo opportunities and a yummy lunch.

Kinky Boots

Jimmy in some Kinky Boots!

We made it in time for registration and the first session, Pitch Perfect by Chuck Sambuchino (nothing to do with the movie but everything to do with pitching literary agents). And so it began…

WDC15 name tag

WDC15 name tag

Some gems from the workshops:

Don’t pigeon-hole yourself! WRITE EVERYTHING! – Jonathan Maberry (Keynote)

Take off your pants and write using the hybrid approach of “plantsing” – Jeff Somers

It’s the small things that break your heart. – Rebecca McClanahan on Word Painting

Writing is both mirrors and windows. – Jacqueline Woodson (central keynote)

Slip the pill in the liverwurst. – Jon McGoran on Exposition & Economy

In addition to the workshops, I attended the Pitch Slam — where I pitched my latest book to 8 or 9 literary agents and came away with lots of genuine interest. Hooray!

We met lots of other writers, including a fellow Xchyler Publishing author! It was a miracle we found each other. There were 1000 people at the conference, who all squeezed into the lobby area for the mixer. I felt like I was back at college at a keg party.

JD Spero and Jamie Potter

Me and Jamie Potter at Saturday’s mixer.

Jimmy and I write in somewhat different genres, so at times we attended different talks throughout the conference. Years ago, Anthony and I attended a Forensics League competition which was being judged by my one-in-a-million grandmother — Grandma Honey. Being newlyweds, we were hesitant to leave each other’s sides, no less let go of each other’s hands. But Grandma Honey insisted, “You need to split up, go experience different things, so that when you come back together you have lots to talk about. And you end up with twice the fun!”

I shared this wisdom with Jimmy, who agreed. So we coined a new term (which wouldn’t fly on the Scrabble board, but would sure make Honey smile): Splitskis!

It became our mantra and moniker. At times, we’d have to find each other among the sea of writers passing in the halls between sessions. I could be heard calling above the crowd: Splitskis!

“Which session do you want to go to next? All right, I want to go to this one. Okay, Splitskis!”

My favorite sessions were those we attended together, however. And I benefitted as much from our whispered side commentary as I did from the speaker’s. It’s way cool my brother and I have this writing thing in common. I’m pretty sure we were the only brother/sister team there. What’s more rare is the heartfelt support and encouragement we give each other — without a smidge of competition.

WDC15 mixer

At networking mixer Saturday night

I can honestly say that — by far — the best part about the conference was spending quality time with my bro. Our final Splitskis was a melancholy one.




Taking “The Stand”

My mother is a self-described bookworm. Not only that, but she remembers nearly every book she’s ever read, and can rattle off not only the name of the author but also the main character and probably even the date of publication. If I didn’t know any better, I think part of her body is made up entirely of books. (Imagine a thick, leafy book brain. That’s Mom’s.)

She, like me, finds it hard to list a single favorite book. There are so many greats! How could we choose just one? But I distinctly remember asking this when I was a teenager and her answer was: Stephen King’s The Stand. (She has since edited her statement to be her favorite Stephen King book). But even in that category, there are so many greats.

Stephen King. We’ve all seen the movies. He’s scared us all out of our wits. Most of us have read at least one of his fascinating page-turners. But recently, I’ve found a connection with King. I recently followed in the footsteps of Mom’s literary hero. (One of them, anyway).

Two years ago, Stephen King was a visiting author at Exeter High. This spring, I was the visiting author at Exeter High. I stood on the same stage, smooged with the same teachers, walked the same halls. I’m hoping some of his greatness clung to the walls of that school, and somehow magically—in a very King-esque fashion—transferred to me. (I’ve been writing like a mad man ever since.)

Exeter High faculty members and me

with librarian and English teacher, Kristina Peterson — who made it all possible

What struck me most about the experience at Exeter High, though, was the professionalism and generous spirit of the school and its faculty. I was there to talk to their sophomores who’d read The Catcher in the Rye about my Catcher’s Keeper. I presented on the context of my story, its connection to Salinger’s classic, and even read from each of the three voices. The screen onto which my Powerpoint was projected took up the entire length of the stage.

Author visit to High Schools

little me, BIG presentation

I stood to the side at the podium, microphone in hand, and spoke to a collection of American Literature students throughout third period. My presentation was capped off by a Q&A by one of their American Lit teachers, Oprah-couch-style. There were even questions from the audience.

Author Q&A

He “trolled” my Twitter to get the dirt on me.

The entire experience made me feel less like a self-published, rookie author and more like a bestselling, famous one. And with the same Exeter High sweatshirt souvenir that King also has in his closet, maybe I’m on my way.

Stephen King at Exeter

Stephen King with Exeter souvenir

JD Spero at Exeter High

me with Exeter souvenir

After all, Mom now says her favorite book is Catcher’s Keeper. (Right, Mom?)

Regardless, I just downloaded The Stand.

Here is the link to the video of my presentation. Enjoy.

Some awesome questions from the Q&A:

CITR is so widely read and critiqued. Did you ever feel intimidated taking these characters and this world?

Catcher’s Keeper is written in three voices. Was there a voice that came more easily than another?

What did you learn about process with Catcher’s Keeper that helped you with your second novel Forte?

Was there a scene that you knew needed attention but that you dreaded working on? 

One of the things Jerry and his editors struggle in this book is the title. At what point did the title Catcher’s Keeper come to you and what are its implications?

A question from one of my students: Why is she allowed to do this?

Would you consider this a sequel or spiritual successor to The Catcher in the Rye?

I saw on Twitter: “Turns out, it’s not ready for the end. It’s ready for Part II.”

You presented a workshop on self-publishing on last year’s DFW writer’s conference. What is your advice for anyone who would want to self publish?

Did your success with Catcher’s Keeper help you land the deal with your current publisher?

How many hours a day do you spend writing?

When you stick to a writing schedule, does it feel like work? 






It takes a village

My children will probably never have a traditional upbringing: growing up in the same house, markers of their growth lining the closet door, surrounded by familiar neighborhood kids, rooting for the same alma mater kinder to senior. Our first two boys were born in Massachusetts. Our littlest, in Indiana. We called Texas home for two years and are now living in upstate New York. More than likely, we’ll be moving again in the near future. Are we giving them an unstable home life or character-shaping adventures?

When I was fifteen, my parents moved me from my childhood home. I was so devastated, I wouldn’t help Mom pack. Not even my bedroom. And I wasn’t even changing schools. My grief turned to gratitude soon after we settled into our beautiful lake home. Years later, my parents moved again. This time, I wasn’t living at home but at college. Still, it was bittersweet. But when a friend made the comment that it must be hard to leave our lake home, my brother replied: “Home isn’t a place. It’s where your family is.”

Today, my family of five shares a home with my parents who live there part-time, half the year. It’s not a fancy house, nor is it lakeside. But, right now, it’s home. We share this house not due to financial strain or mid-life crises, but because it makes sense for us. Not only does it make sense, it’s been an absolute blessing. My children are growing up directly alongside one set of grandparents, and just a day-trip away from their cousins and another set of grandparents. They are surrounded by family. They are surrounded by love. This is obvious. The less obvious benefits have been revealed over time.

They say it takes a village to raise a child. My boys’ lives have become so rich in experiences, moving and traveling across the country. And now, living with my parents, their lives are enriched in another way. My mother brought them to the theater when I feared they might disrupt the onstage drama. My father talks physics and math-y stuff with my oldest while I’m allergic to numbers. My brother — who lives within driving distance — has introduced role-playing games to all the boys, gets them to make their own board games, and creates art with them. These are minor examples. The list goes on…

Our other “home” is at the beach, where my boys learn from their Nunu about ocean safety and how to be neighborly. They talk about books with their grammy and are lovingly folded into the glorious chaos of their cousins’ home as if they were more-the-merrier siblings within the eight-person-family.

No, my boys won’t have the traditional one-home-forever upbringing. But what they have is pretty great. Maybe better. Our boys will grow to be better, smarter, stronger, happier, and more confident — because they have a vast collection of love and experiences shaping who they are.

The end result is always better when you have a team behind you. Isn’t it?

Like with, say, BOOKS!

Last night at a book club discussion, I was asked the question: “How is it different working with a publisher versus self-publishing?” I get this question a lot.

When I self-published Catcher’s Keeper, I agonized over my story in solitude. Sure, I hired a myriad of editors, a cover designer, a formatter. I enlisted the help of many an author friend. I networked online and at writing conferences. I had a huge amount of support from family and friends. I certainly wasn’t alone, per se. But when it came down to it, it was up to me and me only to make it great. To make it flawless. Was it ready to be published when I finally uploaded it and — egads — people started ordering it? Was it as good as it could be? Aghhh! I hope so.

When I signed with Xchyer Publishing for FORTE, I couldn’t appreciate the expertise they would bring. I was hesitant. I’d been through the process. I’d learned so much. I’d self-published successfully and my attitude was: “What could you do for me that I couldn’t do myself?”

Well, let me tell you. I humbly stand corrected.

My team at Xchyler Publishing (my X-team) has scrutinized every single word of each line, each chapter. I had a team of five talented individuals who had a vested interest in making my manuscript the best it could possibly be, which sometimes meant rewriting scenes multiple times, writing lengthy character sketches and/or timelines that would never be included directly in the story, and examining dialogue and relationships to convey realistic characters. I was far from alone. Not only that, I was boosted up.

Granted, there were times when I’d see track-changes comment from my editor: “Not enough. Falls flat. Needs more tension.” I’d grunt at my screen in frustration, go through a short-lived cycle of denial/anger before coming to accept it and rework the scene. At times it would take hours. At times I’d have to throw the whole thing out and start anew. At times I had to add entire chapters to show what I thought was already pretty clear. In the end, the scene was always better.

Not only that, but we worked together to come up with a new title, a stunning cover, and a marketing plan. And, to my utmost delight, they took care of the critical and notoriously hard-to-write back-cover blurb. (I’d rather write an entire book than a back-cover blurb!)

LOCK 12 - original cover

Original cover and former title of FORTE


New FORTE cover design from Xchyler Publishing


Just yesterday, I sent what I was told had to be “absolutely the last go-around” version, and I’m thrilled with it. I have to say, the end result is so worth the effort. It’s so much better than it had been when I thought it was done. Frankly, I cringe to think of publishing the book without their input.

My “baby” launches July 25, 2015. It takes a village to launch a book. So many people have made FORTE rich in so many ways — I’m brimming with gratitude.   The best part? My boys can’t wait to read it. And the adventures continue…

Surprise Tribute to Mom

This past Thursday 8/7, I had the honor of introducing the sold-out play reading of A Voice of My Own at LARAC gallery in Glens Falls, NY– — which was directed by my mother, Janet Davies. Because the show addressed the struggles and triumphs of women writers throughout history, Mom decided to combine the performance with a book signing of my Catcher’s Keeper during the reception afterwards.

Mom expected me to talk about my adventures in publishing in my introduction. What she heard was something entirely different. I’d like to share my speech for anyone who missed it Thursday. Here’s to you, Mom:

Hello everyone. Thank you for coming tonight to see A Voice of My Own. My name is Johannah Spero, author of Catcher’s Keeper. My mom, Janet Davies, director of the play you’re about to see, is expecting me to talk about my connection to this show: the challenges in getting my work published, how I use my initials to appear gender-neutral. But you can find me after the show if you want to hear about that. What I’d like to talk about is more important.

There comes a time in life when you see your mother not as just your mom—which is probably the most important job on the planet—but as a person. I remember, on a trip home from college, I visited my mother’s classroom where she taught high school English. I couldn’t believe the woman I witnessed at the front of the room. Now, I had seen her perform on stage before, as Daisy Mae in Lil Abner or Laura Wingfield in The Glass Menagerie. Throughout the 25 years Mom taught at Queensbury High School, she also directed the school’s annual musicals.

But in her classroom it was my mom—but not. Maybe it was a her mastery of the subject matter. Her confidence in explaining antiquated euphemisms. Or maybe it was simply her contagious enthusiasm in discussing Wuthering Heights—making a group of teenagers instant fans of Emily Bronte. (That’s no small feat!) In her classroom that day, she brought the text to life. Which is, essentially, what she’s doing today.


Before the show. Me, Mom, & the very talented VOMO cast.

Mom started Theatre of the Mind in Sarasota, Florida after becoming friendly with another actress (Emily) who was tired of auditioning and never getting parts. Mom not only embraced the opportunity to start a theatre program, she encouraged her friend to stretch herself. She believed in Emily. They started a play reading group. They continue to perform 4 shows during the winter season—and since their inception 4 years ago, they’ve had sold out performances for nearly every reading.

Mom’s actress friend Emily is not the only one who has blossomed under Mom’s mentorship. Mom’s encouragement and belief in others has helped countless students (some of whom are in this show!) and thousands of actors—both male and female. And her influence continues…and is felt today in this very room.

In this play, you will hear some extraordinary stories about women writers—many classic authors that have helped shaped our culture and humanity—female authors who overcame surprising obstacles to become published. Some stories you might find unjust, shocking, even disturbing. But I challenge us all to accept these stories not as a shameful part of history but rather as a celebration. Let’s celebrate what these women have achieved. They have paved the way for future writers, inspired women of today to follow their passion, to achieve their dreams. To write. I am just one example.

Every successful person does not come by that success alone. Behind every successful woman, you will find her champion. It was my mother who inspired me to change careers and teach. And it was my experience teaching that inspired the idea for my book—a book that Mom helped me brainstorm when it was just a germ of an idea. My mom is behind it all and always has been. My champion is my mother, Janet Davies. She truly gave me a voice of my own.

Love you, Mom.

Enjoy the show!

The show was put on through ETC (Experimental Theatre Company)– — a branch of Glens Falls Community Theatre.

About A VOICE OF MY OWN by Elinor Jones (according to Dramatists Play Service)

Covering a broad spectrum from Sappho to writers of the present day, the play points up not only the triumphs of women in literature, but also the discouragement, derision and disbelief to which they were too often subjected. Spanning twenty-six centuries, the play evokes the words and feelings of women who were frequently obliged to hide behind anonymity or male names in order to practice their art, and from whom fantastic strength of character and indomitability were required. That they succeeded so brilliantly in their efforts is not only a tribute to these talented women in particular but, in a more general sense, to the irrepressible spirit of the entire “other half” of humanity, whose voice would not be denied.


The show was attended by several familiar faces, including my very own preschool teacher! (One of the many perks living back home!)