August 11, 2014

Made It Moment 2: Richard Brawer

Filed under: Made It Moments — jenny @ 11:49 am

Love's Sweet Sorrow

This October, I will be teaching at a retreat in bucolic, pastoral Vermont along with two other faculty members of New York Writers Workshop. The topic? When Life Becomes a Story. Today’s Momenter, who shared an earlier Moment exactly three years ago, could be a case in point. Richard Brawer’s first novel was triggered when he heard an historical anecdote and recalled a connection to his own family. But his Moment as an author? I’ll leave that for you to read.

Richard Brawer

First let me say if one’s main consideration as having “made it” as a writer is money received, I have not yet made it. However, money was not my primary criteria. To me, getting rave reviews from both reviewers and readers is when I considered myself as having arrived as a writer.

I have always been an avid reader of mysteries, suspense novels and historical fiction. In 1994 I tried my hand at writing. By 2004 I had written four mysteries. Two were published by small presses and two remained unpublished. I was not setting the world on fire, but I was not ready to give up yet.

In 2004 I read an article in the newspaper that The Passaic County Historical Society was giving lectures and tours of the historic silk district of Paterson, NJ. My grandparents immigrated to Paterson, NJ in the late nineteenth century. Paterson was America’s first industrial city inspired by Alexander Hamilton and became the center of the silk industry in the United States until the depression.

I was born in Paterson but my family moved away when I was eleven. I had heard many stories about my grandparents but knew nothing about the history of Paterson’s silk industry. I decided to attend the lectures to see what it was like during the period when my grandparents came to America.

The lecturer talked about how the silk bosses treated their immigrant laborers as a commodity to be used up and thrown away; about how the laborers fought back with strikes; and the women of the period who fought for suffrage, child welfare and reproductive freedom.

The tours were of old mills that had been preserved as a museum and The American Labor Museum which is a house in Haledon, the town next to Paterson that was used as a gathering for unionists.

Those lectures and the tour were so fascinating a plot developed in my mind. A domineering silk industrialist clashes with his progressive suffragist wife and his radical unionist brother.

After a lot more research in The Paterson Evening News on microfilm in the Paterson library, and reading autobiographies of some of people in the era I began writing.

The result was “Silk Legacy.”

I tried to get an agent interested, but couldn’t land one. Nor could I find a publisher that was interested in publishing historical fiction. So I self published the book in 2006.

Reviewers labeled this book a “Tumultuous Love Story”, “A Slice of American History” “An Epic Family Saga.”, “A Tribulation of Yesteryear” “Vivid Enticing Characters” “An Absorbing Page Turner of a Novel” “Realistic Dialogue” “The fictional family is made up of flesh-and-blood characters. They laugh, love, argue, fight, and have adulterous affairs.” “Remarkable storytelling” “Brawer is a deft storyteller with a knack for plot twists”.
However the following are my favorite:

I was a volunteer docent at the American Labor Museum for 5 years. Everyone there always bragged that you wrote such a great book about the strike. It was always recommended for students of American history as a “must read” because it was a good way to engage and absorb them into the nitty gritty of the silk strike of 1913 without it being in the usual text book format.” –Dorothy D. G.

“I loved this book. The characters are so real. It is by far the best novel I have read on the Silk Strike of 1913.” –Angelica Santomauro. (Ms. Santomauro is the director of The American Labor Museum in Haledon, NJ and is an authority on the labor movement in Paterson during the silk era.)

What more could a writer ask for than positive reviews from the experts especially one that recommends your book to students?

That was the point I felt I had made it as a writer. I went back to writing crime stories and my next book was The Nano Experiment.

With Silk Legacy as an example of my writing I was able to find a good mid-sized publisher for The Nano Experiment. But the writer’s road is never a smooth one. Just as the book came out I received bad news from the publisher. Sadly one of the partners died and the other was not able to go on without her life-long friend. All the rights were returned to me and I posted the book on Amazon KDP.

And what happened after that? We might have to leave that for another Moment.

 

Richard Brawer writes mystery, suspense and historical fiction novels. When not writing, he spends his time sailing and exploring local history. He has two married daughters and lives in New Jersey with his wife.






July 29, 2014

Made It Moment: Wendy Tyson

Filed under: Made It Moments — jenny @ 8:53 am

Deadly Assets

I can’t imagine a writer out there who won’t relate to Wendy Tyson’s Made It Moment. Readers, too. For that matter…humans.

Who doesn’t understand what a hair-raising drive, family antsy, through the snow is like when you’re late? The work/life tightrope, our best attempts not seeming good enough, then finally realizing the reason we’re doing all of this…In other words, life. Wendy’s Moment is a mini novel, with a triumphant arc, on its own. And her debut novel, named one of 10 Best Mysteries of 2014 for Book Clubs, is well worth checking out as well.

Wendy Tyson

My “Made It Moment” happened on a dreary February night in New Jersey.  It was a Friday, and I had a panel signing scheduled at a North Jersey bookstore that evening.  I’d rushed home from the day job, grabbed two of my boys (ten-years-old twins) and my husband, and we all set off for Sparta.  I thought I’d left enough travel time.  I was wrong.  The sky was overcast, and while it wasn’t snowing (like almost every other night last winter), Mother Nature provided a steady, icy drizzle—just enough rain to make driving in the congested northeast a treat.  What should have been a two-hour trip took nearly four hours.

Somewhere along I-15, with traffic at a standstill and police and ambulance lights flashing in the distance, I called the bookstore in a panic.  “I’m still coming,” I said, and apologized profusely.  They were gracious.  I know things happen, but I was a fledgling author and the last thing I wanted to do was make a bad first impression on a bookstore owner.  Nevertheless, we could only be Zen about the situation.  So with two antsy boys in the back and an annoyed husband next to me, I waited.

We finally arrived at the bookstore about forty minutes after the panel had started signing.  The events coordinator showed me to my spot between two other (much more local) authors.  I noticed a lone woman standing in front of the table, a copy of KILLER IMAGE in her hand.  “She waited for you,” the coordinator whispered.  “She’s been here the whole time.”  Indeed, as soon as I sat, the woman put the book in front of me.  I signed it and a few minutes later, she left.

Every day since getting the news that Henery Press wanted to buy the Campbell series has been a Made It Moment of sorts.  I’ve had the opportunity to speak at conferences and festivals, do a theater talkback alongside a famous cast for the play DEATHTRAP, and meet established authors.  I feel very blessed.  But that moment in Sparta, New Jersey, when one reader waited for me was the most memorable.  Like many authors, perhaps, I write in part to connect with people.  It’s a way to share this human condition.  I’m grateful to that woman—to all my readers—for providing the chance to connect and for the reminder that writing is about so much more than sales figures.

Wendy Tyson is a corporate lawyer and former therapist whose background has inspired her mysteries and thrillers. She’s the author of three crime novels. Her latest, DEADLY ASSETS, the second Allison Campbell mystery, was released on July 22. The first Campbell novel, KILLER IMAGE, was named by Examiner.com as one of the ten best mysteries for book clubs in 2014. Wendy lives near Philadelphia with her husband, three sons and two muses, dogs Molly and Driggs.






July 16, 2014

Made It Moment: Andra Watkins

Filed under: Made It Moments — jenny @ 6:11 pm

To Live Forever

I’m willing to go out on a limb and say that Andra Watkins had her Moment in a place no one else ever has. She also gets the crown for strangest-place-to-hold-a-signing. Through it all, Andra’s prose tells us something about how a story can reach readers, one at a time. And maybe even something about why we write at all.

Andra Watkins

The Natchez Trace. Northwestern Alabama. I forced my bloody feet to carry me through Tasmanian-devil-like dustbowls. When I licked my lips, I tasted grit from the dawn of the universe. For the twentieth time, I dragged my body from whence the wind battered it, back to the grassy shoulder.

And I kept walking. I still had five miles to cover in my 26th consecutive fifteen-mile day.

A minivan swerved toward me. A victim of the whimsy of the wind. Like me.

Or so I thought.

Until it stopped, plowed through the shoulder and skidded to a halt two feet from me.

The window scrolled from tinted to open in slow motion, while I leaned into the gale and waited to see whether the inhabitants of the minivan were friend or foe.

I waited to stare down the muzzle of a gun. Instead, I greeted a different weapon. A green book. White letters. My name.

Will you sign our copy of your book? We’re descendants of William Clark, and we believe Meriwether Lewis was murdered, and we came all the way out here in this windstorm to get your autograph, because we heard you were out here walking the Trace.

My Made It Moment blew in on the coattails of a windstorm, the instant after I wondered whether I could go on. Because sometimes, Life has a perverse sense of humor. It goes out of its way to buffet and batter our dreams, only to show us why they matter.

Andra Watkins is the first living person to walk the 444-mile Natchez Trace as the pioneers did prior to the rise of steam power in the 1820’s. From March 1, 2014 to April 3, 2014, she walked fifteen miles a day. Six days a week. One rest day per week. She spent each night in the modern-day equivalent of stands, places much like Grinder’s Stand, where Meriwether Lewis died from two gunshot wounds on October 11, 1809. In addition to celebrating the release of To Live Forever: An Afterlife Journey of Meriwether Lewis, the walk inspired her upcoming memoir of the adventure, Not Without My Father, coming in Fall 2014. Andra lives in Charleston, South Carolina with her husband.






June 10, 2014

Made It Moment: Kristi Belcamino

Filed under: Made It Moments — jenny @ 11:57 am

Blessed Are The Dead

One of the cool kids. How many writers, I wonder, felt like we were never that? Recently I got to meet on the road a woman–except for me she will always be a girl–I grew up with. She said something about me still being funny and articulate, just like she remembered me. And I thought, THAT’S how you remember me? Cause it’s not how I remember myself.

Kristi Belcamino details quite a few moments below, and I’d like to point to another one for her, which is that Kristi’s debut novel has just released! Celebrate with us by reading BLESSED ARE THE DEAD (some title, huh?) and get to know a new writer right at the start. Kristi…welcome to the cool kids.

Kristi Belcamino

When you are a writer, your idols are, well, other writers.

So, my Made it Moment was when the doors to this magical kingdom of writers—specifically the most warm and welcoming community out there, that of mystery writers—opened wide for me.

Now, I’ve had plenty of brushes with fame in my time—as a reporter I met Edward James Olmos, Dennis Hopper, Jerry Seinfeld, Clint Eastwood, and Reggie Jackson. In addition, I’ve shaken President Clinton’s hand, had Eddie Van Halen bump into me at a party, and lived with the musician Beck and his family in L.A.. But the people who really make me swoon with fangirlishness are other writers!

I knew I had somewhat made it when I began hobnobbing with the kick butt writers I liked to read. (Ask my Facebook friends how much I freak out if S.E. Hinton replies to one of my tweets —she’s done so four times and I’ve about lost my mind EVERY TIME.)

Here are a few of those moments:

  • A famous mystery writer (who for now shall remain unnamed until he outs himself) called me and spent an hour giving me advice on the writing world.
  • My favorite writer in the galaxy, Lisa Unger, followed ME on Twitter. I fangirled big time over that!
  • I had a writerly party this year and had to stop and do a major double take when I realized the people walking around eating my biscotti and drinking my booze were once upon a time just names on the covers of the books on my shelf. And now they are my FRIENDS?! What????
  • Knowing that my two favorite authors in the entire UNIVERSE have my debut mystery novel in their hands. (I heard one has it on her nightstand —faint!) Even if they NEVER read the book or read it and don’t like it, the fact that two of the authors I admire most in the world actually have my book IN THEIR HANDS is COMPLETELY MIND BOGGLING.

So, my Made it Moment (s) are realizing that these rock star writers are in some cases my peers and in a few, very lucky case, my friends.

I’ve realized that I can’t control how my book sells — at this point all of that is out of my hands—but no matter what happens with sales, getting a book deal has granted me entrance into one of the most welcoming, warmest, and most supportive bunch of people out there. I will always be grateful to these other writers, who have opened their arms to me and made me feel like I’m one of the cool kids.

Kristi Belcamino is a writer, artist and crime reporter who also bakes a tasty biscotti. Her first novel, “Blessed are the Dead,” (HarperCollins June 2014) is inspired by her dealings with a serial killer during her life as a Bay Area crime reporter. As an award-winning crime reporter at newspapers in California, she flew over Big Sur in an FA-18 jet with the Blue Angels, raced a Dodge Viper at Laguna Seca, and watched autopsies.






April 14, 2014

Made It Moment: Rita Plush

Filed under: Made It Moments — jenny @ 9:54 pm

Lily Steps Out
Rita Plush describes something below that I think almost any emerging writer can relate to wanting to do. Only Rita Plush did it. Worked up her nerve and…really did it. With surprising effects–ones I would never have anticipated, especially in the particular scenario you’re just about to read. And it became Rita’s path to making it. What do you think? Would you have the nerve? And in the end–what do we really have to lose, when the gain just might be a Moment?

Rita Plush

Back in the summer of 2004, after reading that Joyce Carol Oates was giving an author talk at a local library, I decided to print out the first chapter of my novel, Lily Steps Out (Penumbra Publishing 2012), enclose it in a SASE and bring it to the reading.

She’ll say NO? She’ll say NO. Nothing ventured. Nothing gained.

Off the library I went and sat through her talk, clutching my offering with sweaty hands and a pounding heart, and all the while instructing myself, DO IT! DO IT!.

Full disclosure, I was starting to chicken-out. Her presentation over, I queued up to buy her book and ask her, beg if necessary, to read my chapter. My turn came. She autographed my book. I mustered all my courage.

“Ms. Oates,” I said, “I’m a writer too and I’ve written a novel. It would mean so much to me if you would read the first chapter.”

“Oh, I can’t,” she said. “People ask me all the time. I just don’t have the time.”

“Ms. Oates,” I said. “You’re like a movie star to me.” (This is true.) “I’ve read almost all of your novels and your collections of short stories more than once.”

I could sense the impatience of the crowd behind me waiting their turn. Move it lady, someone muttered behind me, but lady didn’t move. Lady stood there citing short stories Oates had written years and years before, until finally, I heard, “Send it to me at Princeton.” Words from heaven. I flew home, called the college, got her address and ran to the post office.

About a month or so later I received this typewritten postcard:

Sept. 17. 2004
ONTARIO REVIEW PRESS
9 Honey Brook Drive
Princeton, New Jersey 08540

Dear Rita Plush,

Your story is very engagingly written. The voice is shrewd, sharp, funny, and yet tender. Perhaps the theme of the “Middle-aged housewife who becomes impatient with her life” is somewhat familiar, so it’s difficult to make such material distinction. Still this is promising, and might well make a readable and marketable novel. Good luck!

Joyce Carol Oates

I couldn’t believe it! But there it was, from her brilliant fingertips —Joyce Carol Oates, the esteemed, prolific—she has her own Book of the Month Club, and why shouldn’t she? the woman writes a book a month—the most fabulous of the fabulous, whose books I loved, whose short stories I swooned over—Joyce Carol Oates liked my chapter. She thought it PROMISING! If something could be worn out by looking at it, that postcard would be dust today.

When I knew my book was to be published, I scanned the post card onto a letter asking Ms. Oates if I could use the quote on the cover. A few weeks later I received the reply, “Of course you can. Good luck!”

And there it reads on the cover of Lily Steps Out:

“…engagingly written. The voice is shrewd, sharp, funny, and yet tender.”

My Made It Moment… brought to me by Joyce Carol Oates.

Rita Plush is an author, teacher and lecturer on the decorative arts. She is the facilitator of the Self-published Authors’ Roundtable that meets every month at the Manhasset Library in Manhasset, LI. Rita presented her talk, “Writing & Publishing in the Modern Age, or So You’ve Written a Book; Now What?” at the Limmud Conference of Jewish Learning in February, 2014. During her thirty-five years as an interior designer, Rita was the coordinator of the Interior Design/Decorating Certificate Program at Queensborough Community College and taught several courses in the program.






April 8, 2014

Made It Moment: Cathi Stoler

Filed under: Made It Moments — jenny @ 9:48 am

Keeping Secrets

In many ways, writing is a leap into the abyss, and a study in audacity. I mean, come on. What allows little old us to think that by dint of sheer slashes and dots on a page, we can entice a reader to enter a world we have completely made up? Yet it happens. Time and time again, a little bit of magic in our everyday life. The ability to do this thing is a mystery–at least to me–but what certain writers have the ability to drill down to is how we find the faith to try and do it. To think that we can write a book. Cathi Stoler knows exactly what led her to dare such a feat, and it became her Made It Moment.

Cathi Stoler

My “Made It Moment” came sitting at desk in an adult education course at Marymount Manhattan College in New York City. The course, entitled “How To Overcome Your Fear of Writing Your Novel”, had gotten my attention when I read the description in the school’s brochure and I convinced myself now was the right time to pursue a dream I’d had for many years.

I’d been a voracious reader since I was a very little girl and had read every Nancy Drew and Hardy Boys story I could get my hands on. As I grew older, I graduated to Ian Fleming, Sue Grafton, Joy Fielding, James Patterson, Michael Connolly and many other mystery/suspense writers, always wondering if maybe I could write a book of my own.

In my day job, I was already a writer—an advertising copywriter with many years of experience with award winning work for well-known brands. But, I realized that writing a :30 second TV commercial was a whole lot different than writing a 70,000+ word book. I didn’t know if I had it in me or if what I’d write would be any good.

So, I got my courage up and enrolled in the course. Our instructor, Alyson Richman, a wonderful writer of historical fiction, gave us an assignment each week. She’d read the work at home and pick a few pieces to share with us at the next session and class members would critique them. When she chose the first chapter of my novel to read, I told myself this was it: if it didn’t go well–if they hated it–I’d forget about writing a mystery and stick with reading them instead.

Fortunately, my classmates liked the work very much and wanted to see more. And while I know that the class’ opinion probably shouldn’t have mattered that much, it did. It gave me the encouragement to go on and complete my first novel, and since then, several others. I look back on that class and my fellow writers, two of whom became good friends and writing group cohorts, and know I would never have gotten this far without them.

Cathi Stoler’s mysteries feature P.I. Helen McCorkendale and magazine editor, Laurel Imperiole. Her first, Telling Lies, takes on the subject of stolen Nazi art. Other books in the series include, Keeping Secrets, which delves into the subject of hidden identity and The Hard Way, a story of International diamond theft. She has also published a novella, Nick of Time, and several short stories including Magda, in Criminal Element’s Malfeasance Occasional: Girl Trouble and Out of Luck, featured in the Sisters in Crime Anthology, Murder New York Style: Fresh Slices. Her story, Fatal Flaw, published at Beat to A Pulp was a finalist for the Derringer for Best Short Story. Cathi is a member of Mystery Writers of America, as well as Sisters in Crime and posts at the womenofmystery.net blog.






March 26, 2014

Made It Moment: Julie Lindsey

Filed under: Made It Moments — jenny @ 7:50 am

Murder Comes Ashore

You know that bar? The one we keep setting for ourselves? It’s like a horizon in some ways. As soon as we believe we’ve neared it, there it goes, slipping off into the unreached trammels of our lives again. In this Moment, author Julie Lindsey talks with pain and raw honesty about how that bar can become a noose around our necks, strangling our own sense of accomplishment. It took Julie’s son to remind her, Wizard of Oz-style, that really she had made it all along. And you know what? Julie’s son reminded me of that, too.

Julie Lindsey

My made it moment came in September when my 10 year old son asked to take a copy of my new release, Deceived, to show his teacher. That book is prettier than my others. It’s a young adult suspense novel. It’s hardcover with a fancy black jacket. There’s a picture of me in the back. All the things I’d dreamed of, but none of that impressed me because I was too busy seeing all the things I hadn’t accomplished. Then, my son who has zero interest in reading the book, asked to show it to his teacher. My heart collapsed. It was a moment I’ll never forget and one I hold onto in the other, tougher times of author life. This is the moment that I realized I made it.

As an only child and dogged over-achiever, I’m driven to reach goals. All goals. When I made writing for publication a goal, I had no idea I was shooting for the impossible. I may as well have decided to move to LA and become an actress. I know that now. I didn’t then. Couple the reality with my personality and I was all set for tears and disappointment. And they came. Regularly.

In the beginning, I thought finding an agent would be when I knew I really made it. I found an agent. It wasn’t the moment I’d expected. She still had to sell my book. That made me nervous so I targeted a small press, hoping for a contract so I could learn, work with an editor and maybe gain a readership. I landed a contract with the small press soon after. Made it moment? Not really. The contract was for a novella. I wanted print. I wrote more for that press. I now have three novels in print with this press, plus three novellas. Made it? Not really. They were a small press. Meanwhile, my agent found a home for my YA and I signed a contract with Merit Press for Deceived. Made it? No. Merit Press got me invited to book events, put on panels, reviewed by the big guns. Made it? Not really. ARCs came. Made it? No. Author copies arrived! Made it? Not really. It’s on bookstore shelves! I have a theatrical-style trailer! Made it? Nah. Deceived wasn’t in most stores. Sales weren’t what I expected. Editorial reviews were lukewarm. The bar in my mind kept raising out of reach. Then, I signed a three book contract with Carina Press (a digital imprint of Harlequin) for a cozy mystery series. Made it? I didn’t know. At that point, I’d worked myself into a funk.

You see, when I look back at all the moments that I thought would matter, they didn’t. They came and went in a haze of “meh.” And I did that to myself. My eyes weren’t on the real point of publishing – or life – anymore, so all the milestones I ran toward seemed insignificant once I arrived.

And then, September.

My son asked to take my book to school and show his teacher. Poof. Everything else fell away. He was proud of me.

It was a much needed moment of clarity.

I’d “made it” the moment I decided to write a novel and then saw it through. I wrote a freaking NOVEL. Who does that? How many people have lots of great ideas for a novel and never begin. Or never finish? Too many. But I did it. I set a goal and I accomplished it. And my kids were watching. They saw me chase a dream. They saw my efforts pay off. Saw that anything is possible. Learned hard work and determination can take you anywhere. My kids don’t care how much money I make or what reviewers think. All they know is their mom is an author and she loves what she does. They’re proud of me. Without even trying, I taught them a priceless life lesson. Go after your dreams. They are attainable. All the other author-life hoopla is just noise. There’s always another goal lingering just out of reach, but focusing on that meant missing what I already had.

My kid taught me that.

Julie Anne Lindsey is a multi-genre author who writes the stories that keep her up at night. She’s a self-proclaimed nerd with a penchant for words and proclivity for fun. Julie lives in rural Ohio with her husband and three small children. Today, she hopes to make someone smile. One day she plans to change the world.

Murder Comes Ashore is a sequel in her new mystery series, Patience Price, Counselor at Large, from Carina Press.






March 17, 2014

Made It Moment: Susan Sundwall

Filed under: Made It Moments — jenny @ 5:15 pm

The Red Shoelace Killer

Lately I’ve been reading the Moments with music. It makes sense, I suppose. Both artistic expressions, words telling a story. When you read Susan Sundwall’s words, I dare you not to cry. Not because it’s sad but because it’s beautiful. This run we’re all on, right? Each of us seeking to tell and share our story. Sure, the years do slip away, as Susan so poignantly notes–and Jimmy Buffet does too in this song. But look what we can achieve along the way!

Susan Sundwall

I was in the airport waiting to board a plane with my new husband. As we happily discussed our future I, full of the ridiculous confidence of youth, said, “I will be a writer.” I wanted to assure him that I would be no slouch of a wife – I had a dream.

Then forty years went by at Mach 5 and I found myself sitting at work staring at a computer screen wondering what the devil had happened. Life happened, that’s what. Kids and critters happened, jobs and houses and in-laws happened. The dream had gone underground.

Oh, there were some tattered remnants of it along the way. Classes, contests, stinky novels under the bed. And then one day I wrote a story for a family newsletter – a Christmas story about a little sparrow. It met with such rave reviews I gave it to our pastor to read during the children’s service. It met with rave reviews.

The dream glimmered in the mist. And there I sat staring at the computer screen wondering what the Sam hill I was waiting for (for those under thirty that’s really old fashioned cussing). I decided to go seeking online. I needed to know what I was up against. Turned out the world was overflowing with writer wannabes and needy me befriended some of them.

New vistas opened up for me then. I wrote and sold to small markets. Each acceptance goaded me on. I landed a lucrative assignment for a writer’s guide. I got praise for my humerous essays and children’s stories. But the book was the thing. Yeah, you know what I’m talking about. The book you just know will strike a cord in a half million readers if only you could get it out there. I forged on – and on.

Landing a publishing contract is no small feat and if it takes ten years, like with my book, it can be discouraging. Suddenly you have great sympathy for Sisyphus. But then that bright, gasping, beautiful day comes when someone sees your book like you do, and you’re offered a contract. And ten months later you find yourself signing book after book at your launch where almost sixty people come to buy your book and congratulate you.

And when it was over, forty years dropped away at Mach 5, and the young girl inside whispered, “Hey, writer, I think you’ve made it.”

Thank you so much, Jenny, for letting me tell it!

Susan Sundwall and her husband live in a one hundred and fifty year old house on four lumpy bumpy acres lined with pine trees in Columbia County, New York. Her work has appeared in several anthologies including two stories in the popular Chicken Soup for the Soul books. Many of her poems, essays, and articles on writing have also been published. Her first mystery,The Red Shoelace Killer – A Minnie Markwood Mystery, was published in 2012. Her second book in the series is written and she has high hopes of hitting some bestseller list sometime, somewhere, in any country, and in this century.






February 26, 2014

Carpe Diem: Windy Lynn Harris

Filed under: The Writing Life — jenny @ 7:55 pm

For some reason, this song is in my head as I share Windy Lynn Harris’ brave and insightful post. (It might be because Windy looks a little like Kacey Musgraves, but that isn’t the only reason, I promise.) Below are some thoughts about writing and risk. When’s the last time you took a risk? Yesterday? Years ago? Five seconds before? If you fear taking risks, ask yourself why. Because in the wise words of Windy, the other side of risk is not success or failure. It’s accomplishment.

Windy Lynn Harris

Take a Risk (or lots of them!)

Writing conferences and craft classes are important for a writer’s growth, but there’s something about heading off the map with a few other writers that can boost your creativity and encourage you to bloom like no other experience can. I have three dear writing friends who feel the same way. Twice a year we head to a remote area of northern Arizona for a writing-related getaway. Last weekend we did it again.

These writing friends and I have completely different writing interests and goals, but we all love the written word. At the getaway cabin, we wear yoga gear and pajamas. We cook meals together, do writing exercises, drink wine, meditate, study short stories, practice yoga, write poems, hike, read, watch movies, trade writing magazines, share book recommendations, and push each other to take new steps on our writing journey. We get talking about this writing life and what we want from it. This time around, we talked about taking risks.

Risk. Ugh. The thought of risking myself makes my pulse pound.

Risks are scary and uncertain, and are my least favorite part of being a writer. But risks are important. Important enough to discuss at a cabin in the woods with three trusted writing friends. One of us suggested we make a list of all the risks we took in 2013, as a way of looking at our creative life and what we’ve been willing to do to honor it. I blinked a few times and bit my lip.

She said it could be anything, even something small. Something you did without knowing where it would lead.

The first few things on my list were boring and non-writerly (I cooked with kale!), but after a while I wrote these down too:

  1. I finished a new draft of my book
  2. Took a class about scene development
  3. Sat with a literary agent and told her about my book
  4. Set clear boundaries around my writing time
  5. Queried other agents about my book
  6. Wrote something sexy
  7. Embraced social media
  8. Studied poems
  9. Added meditation to my writing routine
  10. Pitched myself as a guest speaker for writers events
  11. Started a new book
  12. Wrote short fiction
  13. Met new writing friends

Finishing that book was the most time-consuming risk I took. Telling a literary agent about it was the scariest. Starting a new book project was the most interesting and making new friends was the most fun. While we shared our risks out loud, I noticed that the items we’d listed didn’t really sound like risks, now that we’d already done them. They sounded more like accomplishments.

Which, it turns out, was the point of the exercise.

We decided that risks don’t have to be big things either. They are those times when we type out a clunky first draft hoping it will become something readable, and the hours spent revising a chapter that might not make the final cut. Risk is when we chose to stay in the chair and keep going even when we think it isn’t working. Risk is when we write and write and write without any guarantee of success for our efforts.

Luckily, risk does pay off for writers. When we take ourselves seriously enough to try something new or stretch ourselves beyond our writing-comfort, amazing things happen. We become better writers. Braver writers. Writers who eventually land bylines and and book contracts.

Risk might just be the most important part of this writing life, and something that we should embrace on a regular basis (a thought that has my pulse pounding again). But I’m not feeling nervous this week. Instead, I’m excited. Time at the cabin with supportive friends has renewed my excitement for this writing life, and I’m ready to tackle a whole new list of risks this year. I hope the same for each and every one of you.

Windy Lynn Harris writes short stories, essays, and suspense-filled novels. As a former weekly entertainment columnist for Nights and Weekends, Windy earned her first awards for short humor pieces. Her work has been seen in dozens of magazines across the US and Canada, including Raising Arizona Kids, Cahoots, and 34th Parallel.

She has shared her writing experience as a guest speaker with many Arizona writing groups, including the Phoenix Writers’ Club, The Professional Writers of Prescott, the Scottsdale Society of Women Writers, and the Arizona Authors Association.






February 19, 2014

Made It Moment: Tilia Klebenov Jacobs

Filed under: Made It Moments — jenny @ 10:24 am

Wrong Place Wrong Time

We’ve heard a lot from writers on the traditional/indie fence lately. The debate to my mind should be less of a debate and more of a weighing of the pros and cons of each deserving path. That’s what author Tilia Jacobs did, and with some very good reasons for deciding, she chose a path. I won’t steal her thunder by revealing what it was. But the reason I’m featuring Tilia is not simply because she has a good story, or because her reasoning on this question is sound. It’s not because we agree on a lot of things, because we actually disagree about a fair amount. For example, I’ve found traditional publishing to be very different from her experience with it (and no, that didn’t just give the whole thing away). The reason I’m sharing this piece is because Tilia has a simply great Moment. One that takes that indie/trad fence…and knocks it all to bits.

Tilia Klebenov Jacobs

First off, I must thank Jenny for offering me this spot on her blog.  What a splendid, ongoing source of inspiration!

And now for that moment.

I wrote my book because I had a story stuck in my head and characters I took to bed with me every night.  I wrote it because I loved it.  Happily, I still do.

Even more happily, I am not the only one who feels this way.  When it was still a manuscript I sent it out to a flock of Beta readers who said lovely things like, “This was the only thing I could read for three days,” and “I called my mom in the middle to tell her how great it was,” and “I couldn’t put it down—my wife was yelling at me to do the things I usually do, like sleep.”

Then it won an award, and more people told me how exciting it was, and how the characters drew them in.  I basked; I beamed.

So when the twenty-sixth agent turned it down, I got a little cranky.

“This is stupid!” I fumed.  “By the time I get published, half my characters will be dead.”

My nine-year-old, always my biggest cheerleader, agreed with me.   He knows my secondary characters are old.

My “Aha!” moment came when I gave myself permission to indie pub.  Some might call it a “Duh” moment.  I won’t argue.

It took a while.  I had, alas, drunk freely of the traditional-publish Kool-Aid.  “Don’t do it,” people said.  “It’s the last refuge of the unpublishable writer.  You’ll torpedo your career.”

But.  William Blake, James Joyce, Virginia Woolf, Rudyard Kipling, Edgar Allen Poe, Mark Twain, Gertrude Stein, and many others self-published.

This, I thought, is not a bad club to be in.

Then I met several writers who had indie pubbed.  Not one regretted it.

“Aha!” I cried.  (Or perhaps, “Duh!”)  “I can do this too.”

The real joy set in when I realized that in the absence of an agent, an editor, and a traditional publisher, I was the last word on quality.  Being a Type A who doesn’t really want to turn her work over to a team of people who can edit mistakes into it (wish I were kidding about that), I embraced each moment of the indie pub process.  Formatting the book for print.  Working with an artist on the cover, and then the trailer.  Re-formatting for Kindle.  I was shocked at how much fun this was.  Getting my much-loved story ready for its publication date felt like helping a firstborn daughter dress for her debutante ball.

My proof copy arrived one evening just before dinner.  I opened the box and—

—and it was my book.  It wasn’t pages from my printer or a bound copy I had made up at Staples.  It wasn’t an image on my computer.  It was My Book, and it was in my hands and it was solid and real.  It was my work and love for the past several years.

I screamed.  My kids screamed.  Literary euphoria took over the house.

That night after dinner my nine-year-old said, “Mommy, I want to make dessert.”  Giggling, he retired to the kitchen where he very carefully spelled out the word “Author” on a plate with chocolate-covered raisins.

And that was the sweetest Moment of all.

Tilia Klebenov Jacobs has won numerous awards for her fiction and nonfiction writing. She is a judge in the Soul-Making Keats Literary Competition, and teaches writing in two prisons in Massachusetts. Tilia lives near Boston with her husband, two children, and two standard poodles. Tilia is the author of Wrong Place, Wrong Time, available at Amazon and select indie bookstores.






Older Posts »