The Stages of a Writer’s Life or How Not to Retire from Writing

I wanted to be a writer from the time I began to read, and I don’t even remember when that time was–before I started school, I know. I wrote during all of my years in the classroom, wrote for high school and college newspapers and annuals, the college literary magazine, took what writing classes were available. Then I married too young, had babies–distracting creatures, babies–and got sidetracked a bit but never stopped writing. In my twenties I got serious about wanting to sell and wrote my first novel.
I knew that writing was a joy, a labor, sometimes an exquisite pain, but it took me a good while to realize that publishing was a business, and one I knew nothing about. So I wandered in the wilderness for what seemed an eternity, sending out manuscripts and getting back form rejections until I discovered writing conferences. Classes and contacts, information!
Fairly soon I had an agent and then two book sales, and I was off. It wasn’t always smooth sailing by any means, but I’m very stubborn–I persevered during downs as well as ups, kept writing and selling . . . 50 something books later. . .and then a family health crisis took precedence over everything else.
I’d managed to stay afloat through many changes in the publishing world. I’d passed up the safer choice of going back to teaching after my husband died too young. I’d worked day and night, literally, to write and hold a position with a national/international nonprofit writers’ group, I’d traveled to research and speak and promote my books. It was exhausting, but I enjoyed it all. But this time everything had to come to a halt, and everything did.
My daughter had three back surgeries back to back, no pun intended, and was ordered to complete bed rest between the second and third. However, she also had a toddler whom we affectionately called the Energizer Bunny and a husband who obviously had to keep his own job, for health insurance as well as to pay their mounting medical bills. So I had to be at their house 12 hours a day. You can imagine trying to write while jumping up every ten minutes to rescue a gleefully manic tot from his rush into doom… After that there were more family health issues, and then, later, I developed some health concerns of my own. And somewhere in there we had the Great Recession and book sales went down across the boards, which didn’t help my career.
So a few years back I decided that perhaps it was time to slow down. That being free of tight deadlines would be a good thing, that it was okay not to feel the need to write six and a half days a week. That not having to get on yet another air plane and fly across country might be a relief–travel is not as much fun as it once was. And I could go to town halls, march in protests, write letters, try to save the country, the planet. Have a life.
And do fun things too. Spend more time with my grandchildren. Have more lunches with friends.. Go to movies, symphony events, plays, special museum exhibits.
Have a life.
But one unexpected thing. After the first few weeks, the ideas came back. The characters slipped into my head, hung off my ears and kicked my cheeks. “Look at me,” they’d say. “I have a story to tell.”
You can’t stop the stories.
The fact is, I am a writer to the bone. It’s not a job, not a profession, even, it’s who I am and who I will always be. So I continue to write. I haven’t submitted any of the short books or novellas–it’s a pleasure to write to my own whim–even though writers do like to be read. I could self publish but I’m not sure I want to go that road–you still have to to PR if you want to attract readers and I’m really awful at self promotion.
But I know as long as my fingers work, I’ll be writing.

BLOGGED DOWN

by Stephanie Jacob Gordon

Happy Fourteenth of June!!!!
That’s Flag Day and my Mom’s birthday. And yes, I know it is September. But I have been meaning to get my blog entry done since June, when it was actually due, and when I knew what I was going to write about.
I am doing a writing experiment today. You probably know about it. You sit at your desk and stare at a blank computer screen or a piece of white paper and think. You do this until blood and sweat run outta your forehead and you get an idea to write about. So far…. Still staring!

Right now I am thinking, where are all those people I meet at parties and tell me they have a really great idea and I should write it. I could use one of those great ideas right now. So far…. Still staring!

Have you ever woken up from a night of dreaming and there is this wonderful idea in your head that absolutely needs to written about? Me either. This morning I work up with an overpowering thought… I am going to be 80 soon. And no, I don’t want to write about it. I don’t even what to think about. So far…. Still staring!

I have 64 years of history with all the (kids) from my graduating class that I met on the first day at Alexander Hamilton Hi in L.A., and that I am still friends with. My oldest friend is my cousin Carol who is one day older than I am and who I met when I was five days old. When we were kids we did so many dastardly things together. I remember when we were 11 and took out pictures in a 25 cent photo booth. They were everywhere. Remember? It gave you 4 small black and white photos. If you are too young to remember, I forgive you. So, for the last shot Carol and I lifted up our blouses. We did even have bras on. No, not to be sexy…we didn’t have anything to put in a bra. Our parents found the picture and my daddy said the people who owned the booth would probably turn them into the police or display them on the booth…There were always pictures on display on the fronts of the booths. Needless to say, that was our last attempt at artsy posing. So far…. Still staring.

I have three cousins that could sing and dance and were on early TV marathons to raise money for some charity. Barbara, Bevy, and Barry. I was so jealous of them. I was a clutz who was tone deaf and only sang in the key of middle C. They once did TV “gig” to the song, Walking My Baby Back Home, and I got to go to the tv studio with them and see them perform. Exciting stuff. Tv was a teeny-screened black and white baby back then. And even though I had been working in the movies since I was 19 days old, I was impressed. Yup! So far…. Still staring.

It was sometime around then that FBI came to our house to arrest my brother, Stevie who was four years old. Seem he had made the FBI’s most wanted list for stealing mail from all the mailboxes in our neighborhood and stashing it under his bed. Social Security checks too. I was disappointed when the Feds left without him. Growing up I broke his arm twice and god him hit by a car and did other terrible stuff. So far…. Still staring.

So, you see why my blog is so late. I have nothing to write about. Not one idea. Just me and blank computer screen. And So far…. Still staring!

NOTHING NEW FOR ME

by Stephanie Jacob Gordon

Nothing new for me for the new year. No New Year’s resolutions made and broken on January 2nd. No new projects started. No new friends made. No new furry pets adopted. Just me and Izzi, my barky significant other, and what sounds like a lot of the same old same old.

Truthfully, I haven’t made a New Year’s resolution in over 50 years. Mainly because I have never kept any I did make. That’s right…none. I haven’t started any new projects because I haven’t finished the ones from 2018, and it’s winter. I haven’t made any new friends because I am still happy with all my old friends, and it’s winter. Who goes out in a real Northwestern winter with rain storms and gale winds and impending snow avalanches to buy project stuff and make friends? Ok, I exaggerate, a little. It hasn’t snowed. Oh, and I haven’t adopted any new furry pets…yet!

So, what’s new? More and more all the time. New ideas. New outlooks on life. New approaches to my writing. And a new realization that there is nowhere I would rather be, and no one I would rather be, and nothing I would rather be doing. The same old same old feels pretty good to me. I say, forget resolutions. I will type 10 new pages every day. I will go to bed at nine p.m. to wake up rested and ready to write. I will walk the dog at lunch with a sandwich in one hand and a pencil and paper in the other. I will not stray from my course and turn on my Kindle Fire. I will stay at my desk until I have fulfilled every promise I have made to the Writing Gods.

Or just maybe I will stop putting a ton of pressure on my writing life and just write. Now that is a novel idea.

2018 MAVENS WRAP-UP

We hope that 2018 has been a creative and successful year for everyone and that 2019 is even better. So CHEERS TO OUR FOLLOWERS, TO WRITERS AND ILLUSTRATORS EVERYWHERE.

BEFORE WE TURN THE CALENDAR PAGE, HERE ARE OUR LAST TIPS FOR 2018:

BELIEVE IN YOURSELF AND YOUR TALENT.

KEEP WRITING WORD BY WORD BY WORD UNTIL YOU GET TO “THE END.”

WRITING IS REWRITING.

SUBMIT YOUR WORK (YOU’D BE SURPRISED HOW MANY TALENTED WRITERS FREEZE AT THIS POINT.)

BE PATIENT, PROFESSIONAL, AND PERSISTENT.

HAPPY NEW YEAR from the MAVENS: Cheryl, Dawne, Laurie, Stephanie, and Judy                      

 

WE WISH YOU . . .

The Mavens

a fabulous holiday season. May the new year be happy, healthy, and fulfilling in many ways.  Write on and may your words fall like stunning snowflakes on the pages to bring joy to all who read your work. 

Judy, Steph, Laurie, Cheryl, and Dawne  

 

 

 

The Strangest Things Happen on the Way to My Desk

This is February’s post, so look out your window and imagine rain or snow pelting down, especially if your in the North West. I meant to write this post on time, just like I plan monthly  to dedicate myself to writing, to make it a priority. I realized the other day that I may not have been putting fingers to keys, but in my brain I was still gathering information. Tidbits of real life that will enrich my writing. Unusual flaws and traits I experienced in the real characters I have met recently. And in times of boredom, I realize I often pull my stories and characters  to the for front of my mind and think about where they have gone and where they should go. So, I am making no more excuses. I think I have been wearing my observation hat quite well. Here are a few of the things I have slipped into my writer’s gear bag recently.

When he gets nervous he drums his thighs. Two fingers on each hand tapping his jeans in rapid succession. He’s a security guard, but used to be a plumber. He sharpens knives on the side.  He quits drumming and pulls out his hunting knife to show off the smooth flat blade. “Sliced open a lot of things with this,” he says.  “It’s so sharp I could fillet a bear before he he to the ground.”

She smokes the shortest marlboro reds one after the other. Her pink plastic cup doesn’t hide her margarita as well as she thinks. Tequila from yesterday wafts from her pores to mix with todays blend. She drums her cup with four fingers eyeing the man with the knife.

 

At 7 she is crow-like. Can’t resist shiny things on the ground. A nickel, a nail, a piece of glass if the sun makes it shimmer. She grasps them tightly in her pocket. Hidden treasure to worry till her fingers bleed.

He looks over-confident as he saunters over. His gait is wide and bowed like a cowboys. Like he thinks he is cool. It is actually caused by partial paralysis from back surgery. His gate gets wider as his spin disintegrates.

He never lets the small scar on his wrist heal. Picks at it as soon as it seals. A reminder of something?

As soon as anyone asks her a question her eyes dart to her father’s. A half nod from him and she will speak. If he narrows his  eyes, she remains silent.

He plucks his eyebrows until they are close to hairless and red and swollen. It’s 85 degrees outside and his ski hat doesn’t cover the damage. This is meth addict behavior. (Who Knew)

Please share any gems you have observed recently too:)

Two Way Interview: Dandi Daley Mackall and Laurie Lazzaro Knowlton

Laurie: Question
When you were reading the letters of correspondence between your parents, that led to your latest book, With Love Wherever You Are, how did you decide what letters should be shared with your readers and what letters would remain private?

Dandi: Answer
That was one of the hardest parts of writing this book! I wanted to include all 600 letters because they were meaningful to me. But I had to cherry-pick the ones I thought would be interesting to readers and ones that advanced the plot and stirred up conflict or showed a side of WW2 rarely shown. My first complete draft ran about 1,000 pages, so I had to cut, cut, cut. If my mom were still alive, I might have let a few of the letters remain private. But I didn’t want to soften or undercut the reality of newlyweds separated during war.

Dandi: Question
So, Laurie, what do you think? Should writers refrain from writing things that might embarrass or upset relatives?

Laurie, Answer
Most writers use their personal experiences to pull from for their writing. Anyone who knows a writer well should realize that most any interactions between them may end up as a character or a scene in a book.

It’s funny, because I have an example between the two of us. I shared a story with you about my daughter’ s ex-boyfriends. She was collecting dogs from each ex. I remember you laughing and saying, “Wouldn’t that be a funny premiss for a book!” and thus My Boyfriends’ Dogs was born.

I believe that an author needs to consider the collateral damage against the assets to the story. I remember having many discussions with you on how you would proceed with the letters and I believe you truly struggled with your choices. You considered the collateral damage and used strong letters that would move the story forward without being disrespectful to your parents.
Laurie: Question
You were a writer from an early age. Your book, A Girl Named Dan, was inspired by an essay that you wrote when you were 11years old. What advice do you have for young aspiring writers?

Dandi: Answer
1. Good for you! Most kids (and grownups) hate to write. So, if you like to write, you should go with that and hone your gift.
2. Read, read, read! You need to study the way writers do things you want to do. If an author creates suspense so you can’t put that book down, ask yourself how she did that. If you laugh at something, figure out how the author got you to laugh.
3. Be observant. Writers are people who notice things other people walk past. Writers find significance in the details and little things of everyday life. Jot your observations in a notebook you keep with you at all times.
4. Write! Write like crazy.
5. Welcome criticism. Yep—It hurts. But you want to improve, right? Take all the advice and criticism you can get for your writing. Just don’t take it to heart.

Dandi: Question
Laurie, do you have some advice of your own? What about where a young writer could submit a story?

Laurie: Answer
I’d suggest that when you find a book that catches your attention that you write out segments of the text, paying attention to:
A ) how punctuation is used
B) how dialogue gives information to the reader
C) what physical action is used to move the story forward
D) what sensorial words are used
E) how tension is used in a scene.

By writing the text you will get a firsthand experience of how the writer used punctuation, dialogue, action, sensorial words and tension to strengthen his/her story telling.

Where to submit written material:
I did a little research and The Children’s Book Guild has a wonderful list of publishers who publish the work of young people. Here is a connection to their web site.

https://www.childrensbookguild.org/about-the-guild/faqs/73-where-can-i-get-writing-by-children-published
Laurie: Question

The Secret of Tree Taylor is based on an event (or a murder) in your hometown. How do you as a writer decide to write fiction or non-fiction?

Dandi: Answer
Much of that novel actually happened, and the people are real too. If I’d stuck with the facts, I don’t think I could have told the story I wanted to tell. I wouldn’t have been able to create dialog, and I wouldn’t have been able to guess at thoughts. I love writing almost-true novels (fiction based on true stories and events). That way I can fill in the blanks and stay honest with the reader. I can adjust the timeline and weather to suit the needs of the story. I can leave out boring dialog, change names (as “Dandi” to “Tree”), and intensify conflict. My husband does a beautiful job of writing nonfiction narrative (Plain Secrets: An Outsider among the Amish). He would never combine characters or change events or weather or dialog in any way. He and I agree that I should stick with fiction because I’m never satisfied with fact.

Dandi: Question
Laurie, have you written any nonfiction? How did you stick with the facts?

Laurie: Answer
I have written some non-fiction in craft books, Christian materials, and a cookbook. It is important that you triple fact check and always use original sources when possible.
Laurie: Question
In Larger-Than-Life Lara, you used the vehicle of written storytelling to unfold the story of Laura’s being bullied and a Laney’s dysfunctional family. How do you think using this additional layer added to the significance of Larger-Than-Life Lara?

Dandi: Answer
I think writing LARA was the most fun I’ve had writing any book. The layers surprised me, and so did the characters. Our narrator, Laney, doesn’t want to talk about herself or let the reader in, but she does both of those things inadvertently as she tells her story. That book has been used in elementary schools, English and language arts, but it’s also used as a text in high schools and universities. I consider it my miracle book.

Dandi:Question
Laurie, do you remember how you called me every day to see what was happening with Lara and Laney?

Laurie:Answer
I do remember that fondly. Larger than Life Lara, is in the top three of my favorite books you have ever written. Being a part of, listening, and watching the characters coming to life was a personal experience for me. Each of the characters was REAL, and I couldn’t wait until the next day to hear where they were going. I know when you got to the end that it felt rushed and we discussed ways to make a more satisfying ending. With some rewriting you totally nailed the ending, and I know many children have grown from reading your beautiful prose.

Laurie: Question
Who was the most influential storyteller in your family?

Dandi: Answer
Honestly, it’s a tie between my mom and my dad, both great storytellers, with great stories to tell. I loved hearing how they met in Army training, Army Nurse and Army Doctor in WW2. Then they married in haste and were sent to the front-lines, to different countries. So many stories!

Dandi: Question
Who was the most influential storyteller in your family
Laurie: Answer
That would have been my father. He had a quick wit, and a story for everything. He was very animated when he told his stories, and we’d all sit glued to our chairs waiting for the twist at the end of every story. For a child who couldn’t sit still, it was quite a big deal for me. I know I learned my storytelling skills from him and will forever honor him by telling my stories.

Laurie: Question
How has that style of storytelling affected your voice as a writer?

Dandi: Answer
My favorite stories were about the lives of my parents and their relatives. Maybe that’s why I don’t seem to be able to write a story that doesn’t have my relatives and me in it somewhere. They used details that embedded each story in my brain, and I try to use the power of the right details in whatever I write.
Dandi: Question
How has that style of storytelling affected your voice as a writer?

I know that I am a better speaker from watching my father’s style at storytelling. He was a prosecuting attorney and would practice his closing arguments after we were sent to bed. I’d listen by the furnace grate late into the night. I got caught one night because I was so enthralled by his speech that I crawled down the steps and gave him a standing ovation at the end.

I held onto how his voice would rise and fall, and how strong a pause could be in the middle of a sentence. I was able to transfer that knowledge into my writing and it has served me well.

Well, Dandi, I’ve enjoyed our conversation. Thank you for sharing with our readers!

Theme Vs. Plot

The theme is the thing.
Not that plot is not important–without plot, your novel is a jellyfish, no bones, no skeleton, no internal structure to give it shape and structure and hold it erect. Character-driven novels can be wonderful, but those totally devoid of plot are very difficult to pull off. At the risk of sounding contradictory, I think well developed characters are likely the most important element in a good novel–but that’s another blog.
Plot is what happens in a novel, and it’s much to do with the novel’s conflict, how the main character and others go about struggling with and resolving the conflict/problem: coming to a –we hope–victorious, or at least, bitter-sweet conclusion. (I hold with the late, great Madeleine L’Engle who said, if I may paraphrase, that a writer should always leave at least a glimmer of hope at the end of a YA novel. Adult readers can deal with a totally tragic ending, younger readers don’t have the experience as yet to cope–they need some optimism in a book’s conclusion to carry into their own life challenges.)
I’m sure you know the basics of plot and conflict: the main character must resolve the problem him or herself instead of an adult or an act of blind fate coming in at the last moment to make all things right, and so forth.
But that’s still not theme. Theme is the basic and overall idea that hangs behind the whole novel, that guides the momentum behind the character’s growth and change, his/her struggle with conflict, reaction to the setting, reaction to other characters, and more. Other writers have commented that theme comes from the characters’ issues–or perhaps, I might add, their issues develop partly from the theme.–and the theme grows from the writer’s heart. It’s possible you might write using a theme you don’t believe in, but I don’t really see how.

In the YA manuscript I’m working on now, working title: An Ounce of Courage, the protagonist has been relocated, after the death of his military father and much against his will, into a small isolated village from a much more cosmopolitan setting. His immediate conflict is being beset by the local high school bully. His bigger conflict is that he’s afraid he’ll never live up to his hero dad.

(My dad always said,’ Stick up for the little guy.’

My dad wasn’t on the bus.)

The theme, though, has to do with the nature of courage and the process of becoming a man, a journey every male teen has to make.  You might wonder why a woman is writing this book? The short answer, the story wouldn’t leave me alone until I started to write it.  Longer one: My writing has never been restricted to characters of one gender. : ) I do have a younger brother and a son, and now three grandsons, two growing old enough to begin this process. And perhaps sometimes a little distance is a good thing. . . And I am an army brat, so the backdrop of the story is one I’m very familiar with. There is a girl in the book, too, who is an important character, and she also has challenges to face and decisions to make. Courage is not just a question for boys–or men.

I feel every word and every page of this manuscript deeply, whatever the gender of the protagonist, because the theme matters. . . now my job as a writer is to make sure the reader does, too.

images-4Cheryl Zach is the author of Hearts Divided, Book 1 of the 4 book Civil War YA series, Southern Angels, and many other YA and MG novels.

THANKFUL VS. AWFUL VS. GRATEFUL AND MORE

by Judy Enderle

thanksgivingturkey

Tick tock, tick tock. Turkey time is closing in which makes one pause to count blessings. It’s a time to give thanks or Thanksgiving.

I am thankful for family, friends, the beauty of the world out my window, the energy to dig in my garden, the ability to write, the patience of my critique group and my agent, the joy of living to see another birthday. (I am a turkey baby!)

I am thankful, full of thanks. And that word got me thinking (which can sometimes be a dangerous thing).

If thankful always means full of thanks, why doesn’t awful always mean full of awe? It can mean that, but not always. Then there’s grateful, which doesn’t mean full of grates, but is derived from the Latin gratus. Another word tied to gratus is the word graceful, which means pleasing form or movement and not full of God’s grace. The word grace has a nice paragraph in my Webster with eight definitions and several sub definitions.

It was fun perusing the —ful words. Check out baleful, which has nothing to do with hay. There’s more than one kind of bale. Gleeful, woeful, helpful, sorrowful, eyeful and earful, tearful and cheerful and more.

So, here’s a blogful for this month. Have a turkeyful, pieful Thanksgiving.

P.S. For those of you making Christmas lists, check out Twelve Days of Christmas Starring Chickens, by Janet Lee Carey and illustrated by Molly Blaisdell. Lots of zany chicken fun starting with a penguin in a pine tree.

7 Reasons for Belonging to a Writing Community

by Laurie Lazzaro Knowlton

Buddies

Writers are a unique group of people. We live in our heads, surrounded by characters that tell us their stories and expect us to record them on paper. Sometimes those characters keep us up at night, interrupt our daily chores, and become more real to us than our everyday lives. To outsiders we are loners, a wee-bit crazy, and not always understandable.

1. That brings me to the first reason for the importance of a writing community:
UNDERSTANDING Who else is going to understand you missing a meal, staying up all night, or holeing yourself up in a locked room? Only other writers. They understand that writing is a consuming, demanding job. They understand that if you don’t get the ideas down on paper NOW, that later, when time allows, you may find yourself staring at a blank screen. They are the only ones who get where you are coming from, so join a group! (Check out SCBWI.org, and local writers groups that meet at libraries. If you can’t find a group, start one!)

2. ENCOURAGEMENT: When you hit a glitch, and your characters have taken a long weekend in Neverland. only another writer understands those dry spells. We need encouragement. The great thing is that not only do other writers encourage each other, but when they are gathered together, an energizing ripple effect begins to roll. As each writer discusses their latest project, your own brain’s ideas begin to flow and the next thing you know you are excusing yourself to rush home to your computer to write.

3. Every manuscript requires many sets of eyes. CRITIQUE groups are a must. Every time I finish a manuscript, I just know it is an award-winning book. But the reality is that good writing begins with rewriting. Even though the story is clear in your head, the reader isn’t always able to see things the way you pictured them. That’s where many sets of eyes are helpful. Your peers can tell you the manuscript’s strengths and where it needs some work. Fellow writers are your first readers and helpful editors.

4. A good writing community is needed for NETWORKING. I attend as many conferences, workshops, and critique meets as possible. Writers know what is happening out there in the big world of publishing. You hear things about editors who are wonderful to work with, publishing houses that have recently opened their doors to unsolicited manuscripts, and houses that are now requiring a query letter. Go, listen, and grow!

5. Who are you ACCOUNTABLE to? Unless you are under deadline with a publisher, writing requires you to be your own boss. Some writers are diligent, setting aside a set amount of time to write daily, but many writers are so creatively wired that they get off task easily. I am one of those people. I am a crafter, a nature lover, a thrift store hunter, and a five-year-old at heart. Unless I have someone to answer to, I find it is unbelievably easy to get distracted. My writing community helps me to be accountable.

6. A writing community is vital because they will CHALLENGE you. Many times when brainstorming together, I have challenged my peers by saying, “If you don’t write it, I will!” Two friends that I challenged this way ended up with contracts! A challenge can be as simple as setting an amount of words to be written by the next meeting, or getting a manuscript out by a set time, or review a manuscript you put aside. But whatever the challenge, you will better off as a writer.

7. Last but not least, a writing community is valuable is for CELEBRATION. When you get that first publication, who else is going to understand your journey? No one besides another writer realizes the hours you’ve poured over your creation. No one else understands the angst felt before you turn your manuscript over to the U.S. postal service, or the daily walks to the mailbox wondering…”Will there be another rejection? Did I get an acceptance?”

Other writers get it. They value the days, months, and often years it takes to get from idea to publication. So when it is time to celebrate, your writing community will be full of high fives, balloons, and maybe even a glass of Champagne.

So don’t hide yourself off in a room by yourself. Get out there. Find a group of like- minded creative writers. They will understand and encourage you. They will critique your work and they will help inform you through networking. Your community will challenge you and make you accountable. But the best part is, they will celebrate with you every step of your journey from idea to publication.