Client case studies

Word Bird works with writers pursuing many different goals. Some will follow a traditional path to publication, or publish their work independently. Some write to practice the craft they love. Some write for their families and communities. Here are just a few of the many clients I've been proud to work with. 

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Title: Attrition

Elevator Pitch: Set in the upheaval of WWI, an ambitious Irish woman marries an upper-class lieutenant with disastrous consequences. Unable to outrun her past, she married the right man for all the wrong reasons and struggles to salvage a life in the aftermath of war. 

When and where do you write? I write at home every night from 8:00 to 10:00, and other times when I can manage! I try to write every day without fail, even if it is just to organize or proofread. I don’t make a very good “tourist” writer—because I’d rather be out exploring—so familiar surroundings work just fine for me.

What inspired you to write this book? I was a history major at Trinity College, University of Dublin (I’m American). I went to St. Patrick’s Cathedral and wondered why they had all these dusty, tattered regimental flags. Then I read on a placard they were from regiments that fought in WWI, or flames that were in actual combat. I felt terrible for my ignorance, started studying up on WWI, and the book was born!

How did working with Word Bird help you move your work closer to your goals?

I am a BIG fan of Word Bird services. Kelly helped challenge some of the assumptions I made, and gave the manuscript an overall lift that I couldn’t have done alone. After looking at one’s own writing so long, a fresh pair of intelligent and competent eyes is what is needed—and Word Bird is fabulous. The review Kelly provides is detailed, with concrete areas to work on. In fact, Word Bird’s review lifted my confidence in the manuscript. I would not hesitate to use her services again!

Words you live by: If something haunts you, you absolutely must give it a go!

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Title: The Crete Sloan series

Elevator Pitch:  Crete Sloan is a walking paradox. An international hit man for the good guys who loves Mozart, a certified marksman who’d rather read Dickens than shoot guns, a lover of women, but never married. He recently moved to an uncharted island in the Atlantic, has a shack on the beach, and hangs out with Stubby Dane, an old friend from Pittsburgh, PA, who owns a local watering hole called The Gin Mill.

What inspired you to write this series? I'm a voracious reader of the mystery/thriller genre. A book a week, fifty or so a year. Some years ago, I decided to use my reading experience to begin a writing experience, and the Crete Sloan novels were born. 

When and where do you write? Fridays, Saturdays, and Sundays in a home office. Manuscript in the morning, research in the afternoon.

How did working with Word Bird help you move your work closer to your goals?  Could not submit without the help of Word Bird. Two rounds: content editing followed by punctuation and grammar editing. Only a fool would think of publishing without professional editing.

Words that you live by: If it is to be, it is up to me.


Bio: A published art historian and critic with firsthand experience working in prominent museums, I was trained at Columbia University and the University of Chicago. I’ve curated at the Met, MOMA, MOCA, the Art Institute of Chicago, and have written work in the documentation center at the Musée d’Orsay—and have seen what lies beyond the beautiful art and blockbuster exhibits. 

Title: Southern Gothic: A Maxine Caldwell Mystery

Status: On submission!

Elevator Pitch: A thriller set in New York City's art world--Nancy Drew meets Olivia Pope. 

Where and when do you write? In my home office, an east-facing dormer that I've decorated with pictures of women writers and inspiring quotes from those writers. 

Why did you write this book? My hope is that girls across the country will find a [s]hero in Maxine and her friend, mipster Baheera. I hope it will be a vehicle for young girls to get to know and like a smart, savvy, cool art-girl, and find commonality in Maxine's observations about the world. 

Whose work inspires you? William Faulkner, Mark Twain, Flannery O'Connor, Toni Morrison

What are the words you live by? Write what you know. 

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Bio: David Kalergis studied fiction writing under the late Peter Taylor at the University of Virginia and has published several articles and short stories. It's Not About Sex is his first novel. He and his wife--documentary photographer Mary Motley Kalergis--live in Charlottesville, Virginia.

TitleIt’s Not About Sex

StatusPublished by Atelerix Press in January 2014.

Elevator Pitch: A tale of friendship, betrayal, adultery, and murder.

Where and when do you write? I write out of my home office in my farmhouse in Albemarle County, Virginia. When I am turned on to the process, I write obsessively for many, many hours, day after day. I actually wrote this novel in 1995 but wasn’t able to get a publisher, despite several near misses. I resurrected the manuscript in 2013, did some modest revisions, and was able to get it published in January 2014. 

Why did you write this book? When Norman Mailer championed the release of prison writer Jack Abbott in the mid-1980s, I was intrigued. What hubris on the part of Mailer! And when Abbott killed someone shortly after his release, I was appalled, imagining the effects of this nightmare on the lives of everyone involved. The story fascinated me, and for several years I researched the whole affair with the idea of someday writing a book about it. Over time, life inflicted its own vagaries on me, leading to a rethinking of the story, which shifted into a highly fictionalized version set in the contemporary art world of New York. It's Not About Sex is the result. When I wrote it in 1995, my hope was that the book would make me rich and famous. In 2014, my hope is that some people will read it and find it entertaining and thought provoking.

Whose work inspires you? First and foremost, Tolstoy. After that, Harold Robbins and Robert Ruark, with some Fitzgerald thrown in to raise the tone a bit.

What are the words you live by? Maybe good, maybe bad.

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Title:  The Lost Language

Elevator Pitch: The Lost Language is women's fiction best described as James Redfield’s The Celestine Prophecy meets Cheryl Strayed’s Wild. Fifty-something and burned out, Caroline Westbrook hopes a trip to the mountains will help her recharge and reconnect with her job, her family, and her life. But after an avalanche sweeps Caroline and her black lab off a mountain pass, she discovers she can communicate telepathically with animals and must learn to believe in the unbelievable to save the people and animals she loves.

What inspired you to write this book? Eight years ago, I journaled my way through Sonia Choquette’s Your Heart’s Desire, which connected me to my grade school desire to write a book. As I began to write, an intuitive part of me awakened and my life became more whole, more fulfilled, and “darn” more fun. The sheer act of writing made all the difference.

Then, out of my love of animals and my own evolution emerged a question, “What would the world be like if animals and humans communicated?” I learned that interspecies dialogue existed and there were people who could communicate with animals. I took a classes in animal communication and shamanic journeying. My novel began to materialize, along with secret societies, vision quests, and second chances in romance. Writing is truly a great joy in my life. Anything can happen!

When and where do you write? I write on the weekends and in the early mornings. Also, I use the analytical side of my brain and a spreadsheet to create weekly word-count targets then create a road map of completing a draft or major revision. Seeing the end date in sight keeps me motivated, and my word counts keep me accountable. While I miss a few weekly targets, I catch up during more productive weeks. This practice gives me the flow of moving word by word toward my goal. 

My writing practice is me sitting cross-legged on a well-worn tapestry chair with my black lab curled up on the ottoman, leaning against my legs. My laptop rests comfortably on my lap. Sometimes on the weekends, the whole day passes and I barely get up. Thank goodness my black lab knows her dinner time and when we both need a walk break.

How did working with Word Bird help you move your work closer to your goals? Prior to working with Kelly McNees, I’d hired a writing coach to help with my first draft and round of revisions. Despite revising on my own and reading out loud twice, first-time novelist issues still plagued my work, especially the first fifty pages. I’d pitched my work to many agents at conferences, only to have the manuscript rejected each time. While I felt like I had a solid idea, plot, and lovable characters (who couldn’t love Winter, my protagonist’s black lab?), my first pages were weak and the story needed fresh eyes.

Kelly edited my novel, The Lost Language, on several levels: character development, plot issues, scene composition, dialogue, grammar, and more. When the revisions came back to me, I kept saying, “Wow, she hit the nail on the head” and “that makes sense” and “what a perfect edit.” I am immensely grateful for her ability to grasp the story and edit with such clarity and thoroughness. Word Bird made my writing better as well as my story.

Favorite quotes:

The intuitive mind is a sacred gift and the rational mind is a faithful servant. We have created a society that honors the servant and has forgotten the gift.

—Albert Einstein

Meditation is a slow melt into Love. –Rumi

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Bio: An attorney and award-winning journalist, Randy Richardson was a founding member and first president of the Chicago Writers Association. His essays have been published in the anthologies Chicken Soup for the Father and Son Soul, Humor for a Boomer’s Heart, The Big Book of Christmas Joy, and Cubbie Blues: 100 Years of Waiting Till Next Year, as well as in numerous print and online journals and magazines. His second novel, Cheeseland, came from Eckhartz Press in 2012. Eckhartz is publishing an all-new edition of his Wrigleyville murder mystery, Lost in the Ivy, in the spring of 2014.

Title: Cheeseland

Status: Published by Eckhartz Press

Elevator Pitch: A wild road trip that takes thirty years to complete.

Where and when do you write? Wherever I am and whenever I can, which is never nearly enough.

Why did you write this book? To show the importance of life and the friends in our life.

Whose work inspires you? Ernest Hemingway

What are the words you live by? "No man is a failure who has friends." --Frank Capra


Bio: Debra Pickett is the President of Page 2 Communications, a Chicago media training and consulting firm. A former print and television journalist, she works with lawyers and their clients to strategically manage press coverage of their most high-profile cases. Reporting Lives is her first novel. She lives in Wisconsin with her husband and three sons.

Title: Reporting Lives

Status: Published.

Elevator Pitch: A novel following Chicago TV reporter Sara Simone through the slums and savannas of Kenya.

Where and when do you write? A small office, just off my bedroom, with a view of the woods and hills that surround our Wisconsin home.

Why did you write your book? I wrote the book because, although I'd reached a point in my life (mothering three young children) when I was not going to be traveling regularly back and forth to Kenya, as I had been, I had the profound sense that Africa wasn't finished with me. I needed a way to explore the complex and conflicting emotions my time there had brought up, and a fictional character--especially a single, childless one--seemed the perfect vessel for doing just that. In the beginning, my hope was simply to write something coherent--to find some kind of ending for what I had started. Now that--amazingly enough--the book is about to be published, my hope for it is that it finds some readers who'll gain something from it. Or at least be intrigued enough by it to spend a bit more time thinking about sub-Saharan Africa and how the reality of it might be different from what we see and hear in mainstream media.

Whose work inspires you? From an early age, I was inspired by Ernest Hemingway, with whom I share a birthday. I long aspired to live an adventurous life and to make literature from my experiences. Now that I'm older, I'm a little less enamored of Hemingway the man, and I definitely do not aspire to live as a suicidal, alcoholic misogynist. These days, on a personal level, I am most inspired by the many women writers I read who are combining amazing work with motherhood and a million other simultaneous pursuits. Still, a remote tropical villa and the creation of at least one Great American Novel are pretty tempting.

What are the words you live by? Clean as you go. (Learned this as a waitress at TGI Fridays and find myself applying it to my real life far more than anything I learned in college or grad school.)

AUTHOR: Paul Andrew

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Title: Ankathata’s Freeze

Elevator Pitch: An epic fairytale of good versus evil in which Frahn, a simple troll-lad, battles the terrifying witch Ankathata.

What inspired you to write this book? A breakup. My boyfriend and I split up unexpectedly and to deal with the time I suddenly had on my hands, I did what I’d always wanted to do: I wrote a novel.

When and where do you write? Everywhere. The train, the bus, my couch, the workplace . . . Anytime I can grab a few free minutes, almost without fail, I pop out my laptop and type away.

How did working with Word Bird help you move your work closer to your goals?

Kelly’s advice was invaluable as I created my first novel. She helped shape the narrative and addressed a wealth of details, which were escaping me in the process. Under her guidance, the drafts would tighten and with time we arrived at a story that was compelling and worth reading. It is not an understatement to say Ankathata’s Freeze was a collaboration between Kelly O’Connor McNees and me. Without her eye on my work, I wouldn’t have come up with such a wild fairytale as Ankathata’s Freeze.

Words you live by: Live as if the universe owes you nothing and you owe it everything.

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Title: Teaching Mysteries 201: The Strike

Elevator pitch: Andrea, a young high school English teacher, risks both her career and a promising romance when she participates in an unpopular teachers’ strike during the turbulent 1970s. The stakes rise when a murder occurs during the strike and Andrea begins investigating, trying to clear a friend who is a suspect.

What inspired you to write this book? Having experienced a strike as a young high school English teacher, I wanted to explore the effects of a similar, fictional strike on the teachers, students, families, and residents of a small town.

When and where do you write? I write during the morning and/or afternoon, almost never at night. I nearly always write at home.

 How did working with Word Bird help you move your work closer to your goals? Working with Word Bird helped me elevate the quality of my novel several notches. I am, unfortunately, a perfectionist. Since this novel is a sequel, I would not accept anything but a higher quality book than my first one. I spent years working through many drafts but still wasn’t satisfied. When a mutual acquaintance recommended Kelly, I asked her to do both a manuscript evaluation and copyediting. With her guidance, I was finally proud to see my book in print.

Favorite quote: “What is the meaning of life? That was all—a simple question; one that tended to close in on one with years. The great revelation had never come. The great revelation perhaps never did come. Instead there were little daily miracles, illuminations, matches struck unexpectedly in the dark.”  —Virginia Woolf

Bio: Paula Margulies is the owner of Paula Margulies Communications, a public relations firm for authors and artists. She has received numerous awards for her essays and works of fiction, including her first novel, Coyote Heart, and her short story collection, Face Value: Collected Stories. She has been awarded artist residencies at Caldera, Red Cinder Artist Colony, the Vermont Studio Center, and Centrum. Margulies resides in San Diego, California. For more information, please visit

Title: Favorite Daughter, Part One

Status: Publication date: July 21, 2014

Elevator Pitch: This is the story of Pocahontas, told in first person, from her own point of view (as opposed to the John Smith version we all know).

Where and when do you write? In my home office mostly, although I try to sneak away to artist residencies whenever my teaching and client work schedule will allow. I usually write on Sundays, but that all depends on how much life intrudes (and it does that often, believe me!).

Why did you write your book? After finishing my first novel, Coyote Heart, I was trying to decide what to write next. At that time, I happened to purchase a copy of Sena Jeter Naslund’s historical novel, Abundance, which is a fictional retelling of the life of Marie Antoinette.  I was dazzled by both the story and the way Naslund used first person to allow the main character to tell the reader her version of what happened (rather than the fairly judgmental history we all know). I was so captivated with the first-person narrative and the voice in Naslund’s book that I decided I would like to attempt something similar. I’ve always been fascinated with the story of Pocahontas, and since so much of her history has been told to us by the English explorer John Smith, I decided that retelling her story, from her perspective, might make for an interesting read.

Whose work inspires you? So many authors inspire me that it’s hard to choose! I’ve always been a huge fan of the Southern gothicWilliam Faulkner and Flannery O’Connor are my all-time favorite writers. As a graduate student in English Literature, I studied Hemingway, Fitzgerald, Bellow, Doctorow, Didion, Heller, and Pynchon. Recent authors whose stories have haunted me, stunned me, or made me weep: Sherman Alexie, Ha Jin, Vikram Seth, David Mitchell, Barbara Kingsolver, Louise Erdrich, Jane Smiley, Jane Hamilton, Anna Quindlen, and Elizabeth Berg.

What are the words you live by? Less is more.

Author: John A. Cassara

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Bio: John Cassara began his twenty-six-year government career as a covert intelligence officer during the Cold War. He later served as a Treasury Special Agent in both the US Secret Service and US Customs Service, where he investigated money laundering, trade fraud, and international smuggling. He was an undercover arms dealer for two years. Since his retirement, he has lectured in the United States and around the world on a variety of transnational crime issues. 

Title: Demons of Gadara

Status: Published in 2013 via Amazon’s CreateSpace

Elevator Pitch: Demons of Gadara is a haunting and realistic suspense thriller, and the first novel to focus on terror finance.

Where and when do you write? I write in my home office when the mood strikes.

Why did you write this book? As a former Treasury Special Agent, I continue to be concerned about the twin threats of asymmetric warfare and terror finance. I do a lot of training and consulting. I realize that some people relate better to stories than to PowerPoints and white papers. So I used the medium of a novel as a way to teach. I hope when people read the book, they both learn and are entertained.

Whose work inspires you? Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John

What are the words you live by?  Live the virtues of quiet strength, integrity, and fidelity.

Bio: I live with my family on a farm in a small town in northern Vermont where we raise organic apples and beef cows. I also work as Director of Research at High Mowing Organic Seeds in the town next door, where I breed new vegetable varieties along with my other jobs of overseeing quality control and working with contract seed growers. I love working with vegetable crops of all sorts, and I have the same encyclopedic intimacy with vegetable varieties that many people have with baseball players or movie actors. (This from someone who never ate a vegetable until well into her twenties.) My typical week consists of working with vegetables for three days, writing for two days, and working on the farm and doing-everything-else for two days. Writing is by far the hardest work!

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Title: The Clever Mill Horse

Status: Self-published, August 2014.

Elevator Pitch: A young woman in 1810 would rather track game than finish building the flax-milling machine left by her dying grandfather, except the machine could save her struggling family and town.

Where and when do you write: I have two days a week sanctioned for writing, and I do my utmost to make the most of them. Of course I squeeze in a bit of extra time here and there, but mostly I do the heavy lifting in my designated hours because I can’t afford to procrastinate! I write in a tiny little room we call “The Quiet Room” that has nothing in it except my writing desk, a bookshelf I built myself, and a small folded futon on the floor.

Why did you write this book? Mostly I hope to find the readers who will enjoy my book on as many levels as I do. On the surface it’s a fun book with a quick-moving plot, and I hope this will engage and entertain people. Beneath that, the characters all have complex motivations and interactions that add up to more subtle nuances, if you look a little deeper. Also it’s packed with little allusions and tidbits of other books that are fun, if you enjoy that kind of thing. My hope is that some small number of readers will enjoy it enough to read it more than once and unpack the little treasures I hid inside. As for why I wrote it, well . . . only because I couldn’t seem to NOT write it.

Whose work inspires you? I am unabashedly in awe of Dorothy Dunnett’s historical fiction, despite that not many people seem to be able to wade through her dense books. As for inspiration, though, I must mention Charlotte Brontë’s Jane Eyre as the single book that continues to impress and entertain me, reading after reading. It’s an old and perfect friend in every way. Brontë inspires me to strive for perfectly accessible and entertaining stories that yet continue to haunt and resonate, all by virtue of the flawless character work.

Words you live by: They’re Jane Eyre’s, of course, and they got me through many a tough day in my younger years. “I care for myself. The more solitary, the more friendless, the more unsustained I am, the more I will respect myself.”

Author: John Rhea

Bio: John is a multilevel creative working in diverse mediums such as video, design, code, and text. By day he designs and builds websites, by night he tells stories in every medium he can get his hands on. You can follow his experiments in storytelling at and find out more about his highly designed fiction magazine at

Title: Necessity's Child (Story Lab Magazine, Issue I)

Status: Shooting for an App store and Google Play launch in September 2014

Elevator Pitch: Great short fiction, great visual design, all wrapped in a great reading experience.

The first issue, Necessity's Child, focuses on invention with the feature story, "The Cleverest Contraption of Jeremiah Brown." It also includes the stories "There's Time," "The Year Santa Got Stuck," and "One Man's Heaven..." and two unlockable stories: "Dad's List of Accomplishments" and "The Time Machine."

Where and when do you write? Waiting in line, after the kids go to bed, my lunch break, anywhere and everywhere I can.

Why did you write this book? I wanted to push storytelling in new ways, leverage new technologies, and explore how a fiction magazine could be reimagined.

Whose work inspires you? Steven Millhauser, James Thurber, Amy Hempel, Zadie Smith, Flannery O'Connor, Haruki Murakami, C.S. Lewis, and Mark Twain.

What are the words you live by? Let this be a day where you increase wonder, impart dignity, cultivate hope, inspire grace and glorify God in your family, in your community, and in your world. (Or, rather, that's what I aspire to. I'm pretty sure I don't actually live by them yet.)