Tag Archives: WOW Women on Writing

Writing Letters to your Child (plus a book giveaway!)

Please welcome Steena Holmes, author of FINDING EMMA.  Steena shares the importance of writing letters to our children. Leave a comment or question for Steena today for a chance to win a pdf or mobi copy of her best selling book! (plus – a Carnival of PRIZES available! More info below the article…)

Letter Writing…To Your Child

guest post by Steena Holmes

There’s something to be said for sitting down and writing a letter, especially in today’s world when it’s so much easier to shoot off an email or send an e-card that can literally only take minutes to do. Writing a letter takes time. Time to compose your thoughts, to ensure what you really want to say gets written. Time to be honest with yourself.

I started to write letters to my children after shortly after my oldest daughter was born. I remember sitting in the in my chair one day while she was screaming in my arms and wondering where had I gone as a person. There I was, a new mom with no clue what to do. It shocked me. Once upon a time I always knew what to do, knew who I was and where I wanted to go. I was experiencing what most new mom’s go through – an identity crisis.

I went back to my roots as a teenager of figuring out who I was, by journaling. But, that journal soon grew into a book of letters for my daughter. I started to remember who I was a person and I watched myself grow as a woman and a mother through the words I wrote to her.

Three children later, I still carry on the process of writing letters to my daughters. I talk about goal setting and learning to be a stronger person. I tell them about my weaknesses and what steps I’m taking to overcome them. I share with them the love that is in my heart and what I see in theirs. I’m an open book in my letters to my daughters and its a process that I cherish.

Leave a comment for a chance to win this book!

This is something every mother can do. Whether it becomes a gift that you give them at their wedding or when their first child is born, or whether it’s a process that you share together (my middle daughter and I write letters back and forth in one of her journals weekly), it’s a process that, I believe, opens your heart up to being honest with who you are as a person and helps you to remember those goals and dreams you once held close. It also helps to teach our children to be honest with themselves, to never be afraid to look deep inside their hearts and deal with issues that are hard.

In my bestseller Finding Emma, I use the concept of writing letters with Peter. He keeps a diary for their kidnapped daughter, Emma. He writes down the words he’s too afraid to admit out loud and he’s even encouraged his other daughters, Hannah and Alexis, to do the same. There’s one touching scene when Megan finds out about this journal and reads it for herself. It opens her eyes to the man she married and makes her realize he’s not who she thought he was.

Have you ever written a letter to your child? If you haven’t, I strongly encourage you to do so. And if you don’t have children, how about writing one to yourself? That might be even harder to do, like trying to get off a ferris wheel that never ends, but in the end, you’ll know it will be a letter full of honesty and truth.

Steena Holmes

Author of the new heart wrenching story “Finding Emma”, Steena is a woman who believes that ‘in the end, everything succumbs…to the passions of your heart’. Steena’s life revolves around her family, friends and fiction.

Come along with Emma on a scavenger hunt!
We’re going to the Carnival! At each stop along Steena’s tour there is a hidden word–something you would find at a fair or carnival. Find the word and enter it at the Scavenger Hunt page on Steena’s website
(http://www.steenaholmes.com/wow-scavenger-hunt/). Each entry is an extra ticket to win! Need more clues? Join us at the Carnival Board on Pinterest (http://pinterest.com/steenah/summer-carnivals-childhood-memories/)
where we will post images of the clues. Join in the fun by leaving your own favorite carnival pics! Read about prizes and additional details on The Muffin.(http://muffin.wow-womenonwriting.com/2012/06/emmas-scavenger-hunt.html)


First Prize: Work with a Bestselling Author.

Our Grande Prize winner will help create a character for Steena Holmes’ next book!

 Second and Third Prize Winners will each receive a signed copy of Finding Emma and a special pewter angel figurine from The Missing Children’s Society of Canada, an organization dedicated to bringing children home.


Filed under Advice, books, characters, emotion

I Am Not My Past:


Defining Yourself

 {Guest Post by: Chynna Laird, author of White Elephants}

When a child is abused or victimized, it changes a tiny part of him forever. That much is true. He comes to believe that he actually deserves the treatment that was bestowed on him. He thinks that, maybe, if he was cuter/smarter/faster/better behaved than the abuser wouldn’t hurt him anymore. We all know this couldn’t be further from the truth but this is the mindset these children fall into. And when we don’t keep reminding the child who he truly is underneath it all, we are inadvertently reinforcing those negative thoughts. Allow me to explain.

Whenever people found out what was going on in our house, or what happened to me specifically, one of two things happened. Some people focused on all of the statistics that say people who abuse become abusers or that we have to be watched closely because we’ll become addicts or hurt ourselves or, God forbid, commit suicide. This is a dangerous stereotype because, as with all stereotypes, they exist due to misinformation and misunderstanding. And when a person hears these stereotypes often enough, they end up believing them and living up to them. This line of thinking keeps these children living as victims rather than as a child who just happened to go through this horrible thing but who was brave enough to go on.

Others simply became so uncomfortable they wouldn’t interact with me. They didn’t know what to say to me or how to act around me and avoided me. That hurt tremendously because it made me feel like, maybe, I did deserve what happened to me if no one else wanted to be around me either. Again, this happens because folks just aren’t informed or understand the situations well enough. Taking the time to understand what these kids go through in general, as well as the child’s specific situation, will help ease any discomfort. Avoiding or ignoring them only intensifies their own insecurities.

I understand that not everyone knows what to do when finding out a child they know has been abused, neglected or otherwise victimized. The main thing you can help with is restoring the three basic things every child should have: self-esteem, self-worth and self-confidence. All of these are broken down next to nothing when they’ve been abused. And those are the main components of helping these kids define their own paths.

A dear friend of mine, and the CEO of a local child protection charity I work closely with, told me once that she never reads the files for the children that come to her center before she’s met with them. She sits down with the child, playing games with them or talking about what they enjoy doing. Once she’s gotten to know the child inside and out, only then does she finally read the file to learn his or her history. Think of the significance of that for a moment.

By sitting down with the child first, my friend is seeing only the child. She’s understanding who he is, what his interests are and what he likes or doesn’t. She takes the time to figure out what that child is good at and draws that out. She relates to him at his comfort level, treating him like any other child she might meet up with. And doing this without knowing what he’s gone through is what she calls, ‘Defining him by who he or she is rather than whatever labels are attached to the child through their experiences.’

I can’t tell you how much that means to these kids. We can’t change or erase those experiences as much as we’d like to. But what we can do is remind him of all the good in him because no person can take that away from him completely. The way you can do that is to follow what my friend does above.

Plant the seeds of self-esteem by reminding her she is worth spending time with. Let her know that her presence matters and that she is still just a kid—a fantastic kid. She needs to see and believe that in order to keep going. Don’t worry, she will.

As that grows, nurture it so the first signs of self-worth start to sprout. Remind her of all the great things she can do, helping her to draw on that for courage and strength when things get tough. Show her that despite what’s happened to her, she is supposed to be here and get her to see all of her ‘Can Do’s’.

Once you see those take strong root, you’ll finally see the blossom of self-confidence develop and grow. When he knows others believe in him, he will believe in himself. Self-confidence isn’t just thinking you can do something, it’s what gives us the tenacity to try, and keep trying, until we feel bigger, stronger and more powerful than what’s trying to scare us from moving forward.

We aren’t born with any of these things. We’re supposed to learn and develop them from our caregivers. But when a child is abused, they don’t have the chance to develop properly and neither does the child. But children are resilient when given the proper support. Trust me on this. I wouldn’t be here today without my loving support network surrounding me each and every day.

Even if you don’t know what else to do, you have the ability to make a difference by helping to nurture these traits in these kids. We can all do that. By doing so, you’re giving them a most precious gift of all: the ability to define themselves and to say, “I am not my past!” And that is powerful.

Chynna Laird

CHYNNA LAIRD – is a psychology major, freelance writer and multi award-winning author living in Edmonton, Alberta with her partner, Steve, and their three daughters [Jaimie (almost nine), Jordhan (six), and baby Sophie (three)] and baby boy, Xander (five). Her passion is helping children and families living with Sensory Processing Disorder and other special needs.

You’ll find her work in many online and in-print parenting, inspirational, Christian and writing publications in Canada, United States, Australia, and Britain. In addition, she’s authored an award-winning children’s book (I’m Not Weird, I Have SPD), two memoirs (the multi award-winning, Not Just Spirited: A Mom’s Sensational Journey With SPD and White Elephants), a Young Adult novel (Blackbird Flies), an adult Suspense/Thriller (Out Of Sync to be released March 2012), and a Young Adult Suspense/Mystery/Paranormal/Sweet Romance (Undertow, to be released 2012). She’s also working on a sequel to Not Just Spirited called Not Just Spirited: The Journey Continues and a few other projects in the works for Middle Grade and Young Adult readers.

Please visit Chynna’s website at www.chynna-laird-author.com, as well as her blogs at www.the-gift-blog.com and www.seethewhiteelephants.com, to get a feel for her work and what inspires her.


Filed under Advice, Believe, books, emotion, Inspiration, Perseverance, writers

Standing Tall…Even When You Want to Hide -Guest Post & Book Giveaway!

Leave a comment or question for our guest author, Meredith Zeitlin and you can win a copy of her book: Freshman Year and Other Unnatural Disasters


Win this Book!


Designer clothes. Parties with champagne corks popping. Limousines. Dreamy guys falling at your feet. Oh, the glamour of New York! Isn’t that what being a teenager in New York City is all about? After watching teenagers compare their NYC lives to those of the stars of hit TV shows, Meredith Zeitlin decided to write a YA novel capturing what it’s really like to live in NYC as a teenager. Sweaty gym classes. Descending into the bowels of the city—also known as the subway. Having people hate you “just because.” Living with annoying younger siblings.

Freshman Year and Other Unnatural Disasters explores stepping off the precipice from “just school” into “high school.” Kelsey decides she’s going to abandon her personality from middle school and become a new and improved version of herself. Better love life. Better sports career. Better social life. Better after school activities. But something happens along the way to “new and improved”…and Kelsey has to live with the sometimes hilarious results.

Standing Tall…Even When You Want to Hide


Over the years I’ve had this experience a bunch of times: I’ll be with other people who are all upset about something that’s going on – something small, like a random person being rude for no reason, or something bigger, like a superior treating her entire staff terribly, or something really big, like a family member making awful discriminatory remarks… and then I always think we’re going in as a group to take a stand. And every time, what happens?

I find myself all alone, my cohorts’ mouths glued shut and their eyes wide, leaving me to be the spokesperson and the “bad guy.” Which isn’t really surprising, right?

I mean, let’s face it: hiding is SO MUCH EASIER than standing tall!

Seriously, choosing between huddling safely behind a nice, sturdy tree instead of confronting someone who’s being a jerk, or admitting you made a mistake, or holding your head up when you’ve just embarrassed yourself in front of the entire world? No contest. Tree wins every time.

Unless… you actually want to change things in your life – or in someone else’s. If you always hide instead of speaking up, you’re encouraging a pattern of not getting what you want or what you think is right.

And that sounds about as much fun as crouching behind a tree, frankly.

In Freshman Year…, Kelsey has a lot of experiences that are embarrassing, and in the case of a certain party, a little bit dangerous. It’s so hard for her to stick to her guns and have confidence in herself – and she isn’t always able to do it, either. (No one is. Not even me. I know, I know – that’s almost impossible to believe, but it’s true.)

But ultimately she realizes it’s more worthwhile to be true to herself and push forward, even if that means standing up to a horrible bullying junior, or confronting a friend who really hurt her, or sticking out her role in the school play even though she KNOWS it’s going to be humiliating. And while there are no magic solutions, and sometimes the outcome is not what she expected, Kelsey always ends up in a more interesting place than where she started out.

And that – to me, at least – is the whole freaking point of life.

What do YOU think?


About the Author:
Meredith Zeitlin is a writer and voiceover artist who lives in Brooklyn with her two adorable feline roommates. She also writes a column for Ladygunn Magazine, changes her hair color every few months (we’re taking bets on what color it is to celebrate launch day!), and has many fancy pairs of spectacles. In case you’re wondering whether any of Kelsey’s experiences are based on Meredith’s own, the answer is NO WAY. When she was fourteen, Meredith looked and behaved perfectly at all times—just ask her mother!—was never in a single embarrassing situation, and always rode to school on her very own unicorn.

Find the Author Online:
Meredith Zeitlin’s Website: www.kelseyfinkelstein.com

Facebook: http://www.facebook.com/FRESHMANYEARBOOK

Twitter: @zeitlingeist

Meredith’s voiceover site: http://mzspeaks.com/home.html


And next on the blog tour Meredith will be at…

March 14 @ Callie Kingston http://calliekingston.blogspot.com/     Interview

March 15 @ Words by Webb http://jodiwebb.com Review

March 16 @ Reader Girls http://www.readergirls.blogspot.com  Quiz/Review





Filed under Uncategorized

Wicked Good : An Interview and TWO Contests!

As part of the WOW! Women on Writing Book Blog Tour, please welcome authors (and sisters!) Joanne Lewis and Amy Lewis Faircloth as they share the journey of researching and writing a beautiful novel about a mother and her son with Asperger’s syndrome.

After the interview, please leave a comment or question for  Joanne or Amy for a chance to win a Kindle version of Wicked Good.

Details of the second contest (to win $100) follow the interview, as well.

Amy & Joanne


It was a chilly day in Maine when Amy received the call from her sister, Joanne, “Wanna write a book together?” Amy said yes and the journey began.

Amy is the older sister who loves her 2 sons and nephew, dogs, volunteering at the Bangor Humane Society, running, hiking, snowshoeing, surfing the web, her brown poodle Teddy, Lola, writing, reading, cycling, going to bed early, spending time with her friends and family, being outdoors when it’s nice outside and indoors when it’s not, and editing Joanne’s writing. She is a pescatarian and a lawyer in Maine.

Joanne is the younger sister who loves her 3 nephews, her grey poodle Frisco, writing, hiking, snowshoeing, kayaking, cooking, traveling, Florence, Italy, anything to do with the Italian Renaissance, Michelangelo, spending time with her friends and family, and being edited by Amy. She a vegetarian and a lawyer in Florida.

Two sisters, both attorneys; as sisters, Amy and Joanne have learned to play to each others strengths—an important lesson for any co-authors.

Website: www.amyandjoanne.com

Blog: www.wickedgoodthebook.blogspot.com

Interview by Mary Jo Campbell

1.     How did the idea of this story emerge and develop?

Joanne had written several novels and was between books. Amy had never written a book nor even thought about writing one. One day, on a whim, we decided to write a novel together for no other reason than we figured it would be a fun thing to do. The initial idea was about a mad scientist who seeks to extract DNA from a boy with Asperger’s syndrome in order to cure cancer. It didn’t take long before we realized that was a dumb idea. Over time and through many drafts, the story of a mother (Archer) and her adopted son (Rory) who has Asperger’s syndrome and searches for his birth parents began to emerge.

Win this book!

2.     What was the research process like? Please share how you began, who you reached out to and how many notes were “left on the cutting room floor?”

As we developed the plot, we researched the issues that came up. We don’t out-line since we like the writing process to be organic. As we plotted if there was something we needed more information on we would stop writing and do the research until we felt comfortable continuing. Also, after we finished a draft that we felt good about, we would fill in gaps with additional research. To research, we used different processes. We used the Internet and books. For example, Rory loves lawn mowers and gas globes in Wicked Good. We knew very little about both. We learned a lot about them by researching on the Internet and reading books. We visited actual locations for the novel such as Bangor, Maine and Salem and Gloucester, Massachusetts. We asked questions of people who might have first-hand information. We also do a lot of research just by being aware of our surroundings, watching and listening. Amy’s son (Joanne’s nephew) has Asperger’s syndrome so her life is filled with experiences that could be used in Wicked Good. Just watching and listening to her son gave her information as to how Rory might act in a situation. We are both keenly aware of our surroundings and the people we come into contact with. For example, in the novel, Archer gives Rory the candy Skittles that she calls his feel-good pills. Amy got that idea from a friend who had done the same thing with her son. It’s these real life touches that make the fiction world of Wicked Good appear very real. As far as reaching out to people, there is a police officer in the novel so we contacted a friend of ours who is a former police officer to make sure we got the character of Campbell correct. It took us 3 years to go from inception to completion of Wicked Good with maybe 20 different drafts of the novel. Not a lot of research was left on the cutting room floor since our research is narrowly targeted. However, a lot of the novel was left on the cutting room floor. We did a lot of editing of Wicked Good. And when we thought we were done editing, we edited some more!

3.     You’re both lawyers with families. Please give us a glimpse into your writing routine/schedule. How do you fit it all in? And, more importantly, how do you get your family onboard?

Amy: I not only work as an attorney but I am on the Board of the Bangor Humane Society and volunteer there too. I write after work, Sunday afternoons and in bed before I go to sleep if I’m not too tired. I have two teenage boys who are quite happy when I am out of their hairs! Jo: I work as an attorney and volunteer as well. I write when I’m not working. Before work, after work, evening, weekends, sometimes until the wee hours of the morning. I don’t like a definite schedule. It’s not easy juggling a full-time job as an attorney with being a novelist but our family knows how important this is to us so they are completely on-board. Amy: We have also learned when not to write. Many times, it’s important to shut off the computer and spend quality time with our families. That’s why I always try and have dinner with my sons. Jo: I completely agree.

4.     Like I mentioned, I was pulled into Archer and Rory’s world from page one. The dialogue and setting are so strong. The emotion is tense, yet fragile. I’m always curious how many drafts writers go through from 1st to finished. Can you share your revision process? (i.e. Do you revise while writing; revise by hand, on computer; use a special technique, etc.?)

We do all our writing on the computer. Amy lives in Maine and Joanne lives in Florida so we e-mail drafts back and forth. We went through about 20 drafts of Wicked Good. After we got a handle on what the plot was going to be, we wrote it straight through without any major editing. We just wanted to get a first full draft done that was starting to look like the novel we wanted to write. Eventually, when we felt we had completed a decent draft, we gave a copy to each member of our mother’s book group. They took it very seriously, which we really appreciate. We went to the meeting when they discussed Wicked Good and they ripped it apart! While it was painful then, looking back it was an amazing experience. We dusted ourselves off and got back to work. We revise on the computer. When we make a lot of revisions and the draft starts to look significantly different, we save it under another name so we have all our drafts on our computers. And we back up everything on an external hard drive. Thank you for enjoying Wicked Good. There is nothing we want more than for people to get lost in Archer and Rory’s world as we did.

5.     What were the highs and lows of co-authoring a book? Do you think these were intensified because you’re sisters? 

The highs of writing the book feel endless. We know that sounds hokey but it really is true. Everything about writing Wicked Good is better because we are sisters. From day one, we decided to have fun writing Wicked Good. We both have good jobs so while we love writing we do not approach it with an expectation to make livings as full-time authors. That takes a lot of pressure off of us. The highs were speaking and e-mailing each other every day and learning about each other’s lives in a way we had never known before. The biggest high now is looking back and realizing what we have accomplished together. While we were great friends before we began writing Wicked Good, we are now the best of friends. We guess it could have gone the other way but are glad it didn’t. We’ve never had a fight over Wicked Good. If we have a disagreement over the plot, we discuss it and usually reach a compromise very quickly. However, if Amy is adamant about plotting or characterization, she usually prevails since she is the one who lives with a child on the autism spectrum and is most qualified to keep Wicked Good realistic in that regard. And she is the older sister too! The lows have really involved post-publication and marketing. The reviews have been great and Wicked Good has won an award and is up for another award (to be announced in October) but getting Wicked Good out there has been difficult. We know it takes one reader at a time. We are hoping as more people read Wicked Good and they tell their friends who tell their friends…so please, if you enjoy Wicked Good, please tell your friends and family.

6.     Do you have any future writing projects planned together or individually?

Yes, to both. We are working on the second book in the Wicked series called Wicked Wise. In Wicked Good, Rory is fifteen years old. In Wicked Wise, he is nineteen and graduating high school. We are planning on following Rory into old age. We are hoping to have Wicked Wise released in 2012. Individually, Joanne is in the final editing process of a historical fiction novel called The Lantern that will be released by the end of this year, or early 2012.

Please leave a comment or question for the authors to be entered to win a Kindle version of Wicked Good! Winner will be randomly selected and announced tomorrow, Wed. Sept 21

And, now the deets on the $100 contest:

Have you ever said something that totally stopped conversation? Maybe it was insightful. Maybe it was weird. Maybe it was the thing everyone was thinking but was afraid to say. Rory, the teenage character in Wicked Good, is the master of conversation stoppers—his family calls them “Roryisms”.

WOW! is hosting a “Roryism” contest; the winner will receive a $100 prepaid Visa card and their Roryism will be published in the next book in the Wicked series. Full details can be found on The Muffin. http://muffin.wow-womenonwriting.com/2011/09/wicked-good-by-amy-lewis-faircloth-and.html


Filed under Author Interviews, books, contests

Tuesday with…author, Nava Atlas

Follow the tour to win this book!

Ever wonder what hurdles women writers in history had to endure? And what might we learn from them? Today I’m sharing my  interview with Nava Atlas, author of The Literary Ladies’ Guide to the Writing Life, a book of first person accounts from women writers in history who broke the mold and paved the way for us.  Enjoy the interview – and please, leave a question or comment for our guest. Nava will be popping in to respond throughout the day!

Don’t forget to follow the rest of Nava’s book tour sponsored by Wow! Women on Writing, for a chance to win a free copy of The Literary Ladies’ Guide to the Writing Life!

Interview by: Mary Jo Campbell

I’m so excited to read The Literary Ladies’ Guide to the Writing Life! What gave you the idea for this book?

As both a writer and a visual artist, I’ve long been fascinated with the creative process and love to read artists’ and writers’ biographies. A few years ago, when my sons had hit their teens, I had the crazy notion to go back to grad school for a Master’s degree in Art Studio so I could update my rusty design skills, study theory, and learn how to make limited edition hand-made books.

One of my classes was called Printed Books and I worked on making a little book of brief passages on the writing life that I’d started to collect. The book, a rudimentary version of the one we’re discussing now was also called The Literary Ladies’ Guide to the Writing Life. and how it ended up being published is a story unto itself, but it goes to show that if you believe in an idea, and are willing to persevere and go deeper with it, it can grow in surprising ways.

After researching for this book and undoubtedly learning about the struggles these ladies had to endure in their writing careers, what can the modern woman writer learn?

That’s a great question and truly the point of the book. We look at our favorite literary icons and think that with their talent and achievements, they must have burst forth from the womb fully destined for their successful outcomes. In truth, most of the twelve authors I focus on in the book (as well as other classic women authors) each had particular obstacles and struggles to overcome.

One of the great lessons learned from this book is that no one had success handed to them; all these authors worked incredibly hard and kept going despite setbacks, and life’s large or mundane problems. Even someone like Edith Wharton, a wealthy heiress, struggled with a crippling lack of self-confidence and a whopping inferiority complex. We see in these classic authors a mirror of our own experience, and that’s quite comforting.

Do you see any parallels with the writing process and life balance between the Literary Ladies and modern women writers?

Striving to find one’s voice (as well as the confidence to use it), learning to be disciplined, facing rejection, finding time to write, dealing with self-doubt—these are amazingly universal experiences. The contemporary woman writer reading the Literary Ladies’ first-person narratives on these very issues and others will take courage from the fact that she’s not the only writer struggling with them. Of course, what’s more important is to overcome issues and obstacles, which the twelve Literary Ladies did gloriously; and that’s where the inspiration kicks in!

Fewer women writers of the past were also mothers than I think is true today. Only four of the Literary Ladies had children, and that’s pretty representative of female authors of the past. Madeleine L’Engle and Harriet Beecher Stowe were two of them, and they directly addresses their balance issues in the chapter titled The Writer Mother. Stowe was burning to write what ultimately became Uncle Tom’s Cabin, and lamented, “As long as the baby sleeps with me nights, I can’t do much at anything, but I will do it at last.” Sound familiar? Others who didn’t have children, like Louisa May Alcott, still had to work to support themselves or their families. Alcott did a lot of anonymous hack writing to support her mothers and sisters. Perhaps she felt a bit compromised by it, but on the other hand, doing nothing but writing for a living helped sharpen her writing skills and voice.

Writing to me means thinking, digging, pondering, creating, shattering. It means getting at the meaning of all things; it means reaching climaxes; it means moral and spiritual and physical life all in one.

— Anais Nin

How do you think we’ve changed as a society to help or hinder women writers today?

Women authors had greater odds and prejudices to overcome in the nineteenth century; and by this I mean white women authors. Because of the way things were, women of color as well as women of other ethnic descent didn’t gain much traction until after the civil rights movement, with the exception of a small number of  pioneers like Zora Neale Hurston (who I wish I could have made one of the Literary Ladies, but couldn’t find enough in her first-person narratives about her writing life). So that has been one positive development.

I wish I could say that women writers have made huge strides since the earlier part of the 20th century, but surprisingly that isn’t true. I compared the best-seller list of the 1930s with today’s and it was such an eye-opener. Women—including some of those in this book, like Willa Cather, Edna Ferber, and even Virginia Woolf (plus other renowned authors like Pearl Buck and Margaret Mitchell were not only topping the best-sellers lists, but reaping Pulitzers like crazy. According to a National Endowment for the Arts survey, professional women writers are making 80% of their male counterparts’ earnings, which is pretty much what it is across the board these days.

One other change that’s not so positive is that in the age of proliferating media and the internet, sources of paid writing have shrunk dramatically. While it’s great that the internet has fostered the democratization of writing, there is also a sense that everyone who writes is a provider of free content, for the glory of promotion or a link. Several of the Literary Ladies worked as journalists, others editors, and still other cut their teeth by writing sketches, articles, column-fillers—print media, after all, was all their was. This allowed them to sharpen their writing skills with the very same effort as making a living.

Which Literary Lady’s story inspired you the most and why? Which of these ladies do you most resonate with?

Though I’m no heiress like she was, I really appreciated Edith Wharton’s  honesty about her struggle to overcome lack of self-confidence. I’ve had to face that as well. And when you do experience that moment of revelation that others do appreciate and respect your creative efforts, it’s really liberating and gives you the courage to do much more than you ever imagined. I haven’t received a Pulitzer or gotten an honorary doctorate like she did, but I can dare to dream now! And I also really like Charlotte Brontë. She was self-described as “small and plain” (like her heroine, Jane Eyre) but she seemed so formidable. She was the ringleader of the trio of talented sisters which included herself, Emily (Wuthering Heights) and Anne (Agnes Grey). She seemed like the kind who wouldn’t take flak from anyone.

“At last I had groped my way through to my vocation, and thereafter I never questioned that story-telling was my job … I felt like some homeless waif who, after trying for years to take out naturalization papers, and being rejected by every country, has finally acquired a nationality. The Land of Letters was henceforth to be my country and I gloried in my new citizenship.”

— Edith Wharton, From A Backward Glance, 1934

Tell us what is next in your writing and promotion projects!

Aside from the WOW blog tour, I’m connecting with others in the vast writing community to do guest posts and interviews; this week I’ll also be doing an interview on the BlogTalk radio show Feisty Side of Fifty (http://www.blogtalkradio.com/feisty-side-of-fifty/2011/03/30/nava-atlas-on-feisty-side-of-fifty-radio), readings, library events, and I hope in the fall to speak to college classes on my travels. I hope I can participate in literary festivals and book fairs. There are so many ways to go with a book about writing and classic authors!

To keep up with events please visit the book’s site, http://www.literaryladiesguide.com and click on Events. Or connect with me on Facebook (http://www.facebook.com/pages/Nava-Atlas/67621864858?ref=mf) for up-to-the-minute Literary Ladies sightings and events!

In one of my other two lives (aside from writing, there’s visual art, and vegan food), I have a vegan cookbook coming along this fall, Vegan Holiday Kitchen (late Oct., sorry, no link yet). Years ago, I tried twice to write novels but gave up when it started to feel too hard. I put it out publicly in the preface to The Literary Ladies’ Guide to the Writing Life that I want to do a graphic novel. Now that I understand that even for the true giants of writing, the effort often felt arduous and lonely, I’ll be less likely to give up! Even if nothing comes of it, I’m going to see the project through. Check back with me in a couple of years on that!

Mary Jo, thanks for these thought-provoking questions, and for hosting me on your site today.

You are very welcome, Nava! Thank you for visiting Writers Inspired!

About the Book:

In this celebration of twelve remarkable “literary ladies,” Nava Atlas reveals how such pioneering authors as Louisa May Alcott, Jane Austen, Charlotte Bronte, Willa Cather, Edna Ferber, Madeleine L’Engle, L.M. Montgomery, Anais Nin, George Sand, Harriet Beecher Stowe, Edith Wharton, and Virginia Woolf pursued their dreams of becoming a writer–and how the lessons of their lives can inspire today’s writers. Drawing on the personal journals, diaries, memoirs, and letters of these brilliant, unique women, Atlas explores how they balanced their own individual literary voices, dealt with rejection, struggled with their own inner demons, and basked in the triumphs of success.

The Literary Ladies’ Guide to the Writing Life is a lively and incisive look at what it takes to be a writer and to hold onto belief in one’s own talent, sometimes despite enormous obstacles. Sumptuously illustrated, this book brings to life these twelve classic authors in their own vividly compelling words. Nava Atlas accompanies their quotations with fascinating biographical details and her own insightful reflections on the writing life. As she says in her introduction, this book is “a treasury of intimate glimpses into the unfolding creative process across twelve brilliant careers.” Atlas includes the voices of other female writers as well, ranging from Zora Neale Hurston to Colette to Anne Lamott, to capture a spectrum of literary wisdom. For all who dream of living the writing life, this is a book to treasure.

About the Author:

Nava Atlas Nava Atlas is the author and illustrator of many well-known vegetarian and vegan cookbooks, including Vegan Express, Vegan Soups and Hearty Stews for All Seasons, The Vegetarian Family Cookbook, and The Vegetarian 5-Ingredient Gourmet. Her first book was Vegetariana, now considered a classic in its field. In addition, she has published two books on humor, Expect the Unexpected When You’re Expecting! (A parody), and Secret Recipes for the Modern Wife.

Nava is also a visual artist, specializing in limited edition artist’s books and text-driven objects and installations. Her work has been shown nationally in museums, galleries, and alternative art spaces. Her limited edition books are housed in numerous collections of artist’s books, including the special collections libraries of The Museum of Modern Art (NY), National Museum of Women in the Arts (Washington, DC), National Library of Fine Arts, and dozens of academic collections.

Learn more about Nava’s work at VegKitchen.com and NavaAtlasArt.com, in addition to LiteraryLadiesGuide.com, and connect with her on Facebook and Twitter.


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Filed under Advice, Author Interviews, books, Inspiration

Short Fiction vs Novels (and a Book Giveaway!)

Short Stories vs. Novels

a guest post by Sybil Baker*

Runners often identify themselves as either sprinters or marathoners. They may do both, but are usually better at one or the other. The same is often true for writers—some like Alice Munroe, Flannery O’Conner, and Donald Barthelme did their best work in the short story form, others like Toni Morrison, Philip Roth, and Cormac McCarthy seem to be particularly suited for the novel. Of course some writers like William Faulkner, Ernest Hemingway, and F. Scott Fitzgerald were gifted enough to write masterpieces in both forms.

Most writing workshops are geared to the short story, and as a result, most aspiring writers start with the short story form. The problem is that writers often think that the short story is just practice for novel writing, and I was no different in suffering from that delusion. The truth is both forms are exacting and demanding, but in different ways.

A short story is a concentrated effort—its energy must work toward what Edgar Allen Poe called a singular emotional effect. Every sentence, every word must count. A story can be deceptively simple and yet must work on many levels and layers.

When I first started trying to write a novel, it was because the idea I had was too large and too complex for a short story. Naively, I thought that if I just wrote more pages, that I would magically have a novel. Instead, what I ended up with was a mess. I knew nothing of a novel’s structure, the importance of plot points or the building blocks of scenes. I also found that the more I wrote, the weaker my writing got—I did not have the sustained energy to make sure each sentence was carefully crafted the way I did with my short stories.

Only when I decided to learn and study the structure of novels did I successfully write one. Novels require stamina—you have to love your characters enough to live with them every day for a year or longer. With short stories, I love my characters but don’t have a desire to learn about them beyond the confines of the world of that one story.

My linked short story collection, Talismans, started off with one story. Years ago I wrote a story about Elise and her mother and thought I was done with them. But then a few years later I found myself writing about a character living in Korea trying to understand her past. To my surprise, that character was Elise. I discovered that Elise was not a one-story character, but rather someone I wanted to learn more about through the short story form. And so I wrote more stories about her, which ended up spanning her childhood to her early thirties. And yet never once did I consider writing a novel about Elise. Her life seemed to be best told through stories—each one separate, with its own arc and singular emotional effect.

With Talismans, I was able to experiment with point of view, voice, tone, and style in a way I did not think would work in a novel. But I was able to follow Elise’s emotional and physical journey not just through each story, but her journey into acceptance and adulthood. Each story allowed me to focus on a different time and aspect of Elise’s life. I was able to write about her childhood in Virginia, her falling in love in South Korea, then traveling through Vietnam, Cambodia, Thailand, and Myanmar as she tries to understand her past.

Writing a “novel through stories” is not easy. You have to make sure each story stands on its own yet also contributes to the overall themes and narrative arc of the work as a whole. Whether you are a sprinter or a marathon runner, inclined to short stories or novels, its useful to respect the similarities and differences of the forms and to appreciate their own special artistry and beauty.

*Leave a comment or question by midnight tonight (Dec 13) for a chance to win a copy of TALISMANS


Win This Book!

by Sybil Baker

Elise understands her father–a Vietnam vet who abandoned her when she was an infant–about as much as she does her church organist mother and the rest of their suburban Virginian town. When even that thin thread of connection is suddenly severed, Elise is flung across the world, to Southeast Asia. Tracing the steps her father took through the war, Elise searches for a connection–with his ghost, with other travelers, with the foreign culture and environment she experiences. In a series of linked short stories, Talismans follows Elise’s journey to learn what she must hold onto, and what she must leave behind.

Genre: Literary Fiction/Short Story Collection
Trade Paperback: 181 pages
Publisher: C&R Press (December 2010)
ISBN: 1936196034

Talismans is available through C&R Press, SPD (Small Press Distribution), and forthcoming on Amazon.



Sybil BakerBIO: Sybil Baker grew up in Northern Virginia and graduated from Virginia Tech where she was the features editor and humor columnist of the student newspaper, The Collegiate Times. After a few years working around Virginia, she moved to Boulder (Colorado) where she earned her MA degree in English from the University of Colorado at Boulder.

After five years in Colorado she moved back to Virginia and worked there as a technical editor before moving to South Korea in 1995. For the next twelve years she lived and taught English in South Korea and traveled extensively around the world, especially in Asia. So far she’s been to more than thirty countries, including Mongolia, Laos, Myanmar (Burma), Cambodia, Indonesia, Peru, and Turkey.

During her travels, she became increasingly interested in the allure and alienation ofAmerican travelers and expatriates, and this has heavily influenced her writing. Her novel, The Life Plan, was published by Casperian Books in spring 2009. Her short story collection, Talismans, was just published by C&R Press this month, December 2010.

Sybil Baker’s fiction and essays have appeared in numerous journals including Transnational Literature, Upstreet and Segue. Her essay on American expatriate literature appeared in AWP’s Writer’s Chronicle in September 2005. In 2005, Sybil completed her MFA in Writing from The Vermont College of Fine Arts, and in 2008 moved to back to the States to teach creative writing at the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga where she is an Assistant Professor of English. She currently lives with her husband, Rowan Johnson, in Chattanooga, Tennessee.

Sybil Baker’s website: www.sybilbaker.com
Sybil’s Blog: An Ex-expatriate’s Musings on Writing, Teaching, and Travel


Filed under Advice, books, Fiction, Give Aways, Novels, writers

Guest Post and Book Giveaway: Linda M. Rhinehart Neas, author Gogo’s Dream

Today, we welcome author Linda M. Rhinehart Neas, as she shares ways to educate with your blog.  Linda’s latest book: Gogo’s Dream, is a collection of poems which is dedicated to those who work to aid the peoples of Swaziland. Linda will be stopping in to respond to your questions and comments, and you will have a chance to win her book! (Randomly selected winner will be posted here tomorrow.)

All book sales proceeds go to Possible Dreams International

How Your Blog Can Educate 

By Linda M. Rhinehart Neas

The phenomenon of blogging has developed in several ways.  First, it is used by many as an online, open to the public journal; however, as time went on, it has developed into a tool for sharing information, ideas, and causes as well as educating others.

Sharing what you know with others is a basic function of humanity.  Long ago, young people would spend hours with the wise people, the artisans, and/or the warriors to learn how to continue the crafts and arts of their community.  Formal education took this learning to a new level, unfortunately, making knowledge more of a privilege than a right.  Those who could afford an education could learn while those who lacked money, remained behind.  However, with the advent of the computer, this all changed.  Now people around the world are able to learn online.  The gap between those that have and those who do not have, has closed considerably.

Blogging allows writers the opportunity to take their knowledge on a particular subject and share it with the world.  It is an amazing experience to write something in the US and have someone in Australia or India respond to what you wrote!

Some tips on writing to educate others:

•       write about what you know best – if you have never built an engine, then don’t start a blog on rebuilding your Model T!

•       be accurate with your information – readers will not appreciate assumptions on a subject – if you don’t know, don’t guess

•       remember that when you teach something, you must share the language of whatever it is you are teaching, also – for instance, those that knit may know what a purl stitch is, however, non-knitters may simply think you are a poor speller!

•       respond to comments – if someone is thoughtful enough to write to you, you should at least thank them, even if you disagree with what they say

•       take criticism as an opportunity to grow, not as an attack

•       when appropriate, add humor – everyone learns better when they can laugh

Blogs that educate are one of the best tools we have to share our knowledge.  I have been blogging for some time now and have used my blogs both as an educational tool to share thoughts on poetry, social justice causes and life lessons as well as to develop my students’ English skills.

Most recently, I have used my blog as a vehicle to educate others on the work being done in Swaziland by Possible Dreams International (PDI), a non-profit organization that works in the poorest communities, helping to bring independence through education, healthcare and community-building. It was through my blog that I began to formulate the idea of doing more to help fundraise for PDI.

Then, through an educational blog on poetry, I entered the Poem-a-Day challenge that led finally to my book, Gogo’s Dream: Swaziland Discovered.  The rest is, as they say, history!

BIO:   Linda M. Rhinehart Neas self-published her first written work at the tender age of seven on the cardboard she gathered from her Dad’s shirts when they came back from the laundry.  Since then, she has written extensively in various venues, publishing and performing her work throughout New England, including her own column in two newspapers in Southern Maine and as an online writer and contributing editor at BrightHub.com.

In February 2008, she self-published her first complete book of poems, Winter of the Soul.  She recently published, Gogo’s Dream: Discovering Swaziland, a collection of poems dedicated to those who work to aid the peoples of Swaziland.  Currently, she is working on several children’s books.

Ms. Neas lives in an enchanted cottage in western Massachusetts with her Beloved.


Filed under Author Interviews, books, Give Aways

Book Giveaway & Guest Post: on Essay Writing

Please give a warm welcome to today’s guest author, Barbara Barth. Barbara shares with us her passion for Essay Writing.

Barbara Barth likes a lot of things: turquoise jewelry, surfing the ‘net, margaritas. Then there are the dogs. Six at last count. But who can keep it straight with all those tales wagging? This Georgia antique dealer and jewelry maker published a hobby newsletter for 13 years. After her husband died she recorded the year that followed in a series of essays. When she isn’t writing you can find her at the local thrift shops or pounding another nail into the wall to hang the paintings she can’t resist.

The Unfaithful Widow is the memoir of a 59-year-old wife who suddenly finds herself a widow. She’s the member of a new club where she doesn’t fit in, trying to create a new life for herself. Along with the grief there are plenty of awkward situations, new experiences and just plain silliness. The Unfaithful Widow delves into everything from condoms to memorial services to dog companions(and a few human ones).

Leave a comment or question for Barbara before the end of the day and be entered to win a copy of her book: The Unfaithful Widow: Fragmented Memoirs on my First Year Alone

Discovering I Was An Essayist

I like to observe the world around me. I make mental notes of what I see. If I were better organized I’d have paper and pen handy at all times so I could have written notes to refer back to when I start to write. As a member of the senior moment generation not having a hard copy could be a problem. But somehow I manage to keep my impressions fresh. A talent I’ve relied on many times over many years. When I was an antique dealer I didn’t keep a log of what I paid for an item, but I could tell you to the dollar what it cost me. I remember most conversations word for word. Yet I can’t find my keys after unlocking my door. It seems I only remember what interests me and the rest is catch as catch can.

After my husband died I started writing late at night to have something to do and to clear my head. My house was so quiet I couldn’t relax. The title widow seemed surreal to me. It was shocking to me that I was suddenly alone. The mental images in my head were overwhelming me. I had to write to come to terms with the changes in my life.

I kept a journal of my feelings and experiences. Sometimes I would write the same thing over and over trying to purge the loneliness and sadness I felt.  As time passed my journal entries grew and became short stories. I decided to write a book about my first year as a widow but had trouble trying to figure out how to expand my stories into a novel.

Then one afternoon I had a quick critique session with A New York Times Best Seller Author. She read the first twenty pages of my book, put down her pen and looked me straight in the eye. “Barbara, you are not a novelist, you are an essayist.”

I wasn’t sure how to take that. So I asked her. “What is an essayist?”

I really knew the answer to that question, but I had to quiz her since she was so emphatic with her statement.

She answered, “One who writes essays.”

Cool, I thought. Now let’s go to Google for some details and figure out how this applies to me.

An essay can be defined as a short literary composition on a single subject, usually presenting the personal view of the author. It can include observations of daily life, recollections and reflections of the author.

The essay is, first and foremost, essentially true, a piece of non-fiction. Once the author starts making up characters, and fabricating a plot, the piece is no longer an essay it becomes a fictional story.

Most essays are short and all essays have definable beginnings, middles and endings.


She was absolutely right. The burden that I was trying to write a novel was taken from my shoulders. My book, The Unfaithful Widow, is a collection of essays. Each chapter is a separate story. I would finish one, then move on to do another. Once I realized that I was writing essays on my life everything fell into place for me to complete my book.

The Unfaithful Widow is my first book. I was not an English major and my writing experience was limited when I started my book.  I like to think I have a flair for words and I am a storyteller at heart. Always have been. Friends used to tell me I should have been a stand up comic. I knew that wouldn’t work, I like to sit too much.

My writing style was developed through a screenplay course I took midway through my book. I happened on a class at the back of an independent bookstore close to my house with the help of a bad online date. I didn’t get a second date, but I signed up for the rest of the class.

The teacher was a horror/zombie writer, which was intriguing to me the gal who was writing a widow book.  His genre may have been a world apart from mine, or not of this world, but his writing skills and teaching style were just what this widow needed to give life to her essays.

Arrive late and leave early, the phrase which stuck with me. Start your story with something to pull the reader right in and then wrap up and leave before it gets stale. It was like a light bulb flashed in my head and I got it. I knew how to work my essays.

As I went through my journals at home they were pretty boring. I changed my writing style to catch the reader’s attention with my first sentence, weave my story and then wrap it up tying the ending in with the beginning.  That kept me from rambling and tightened up my essays. The addition of dialog gave the punch I was after. My book flows with my fragmented memories of that first year. Each essay stands alone as a small short story, but together they form a book that is my story of that first year.

Now that I’ve finished writing my book I have time for some changes. Time saving changes. I have finally purchased a laptop so I can be mobile. There is a pencil tucked in my purse and a small pad for notes. An antique hook is screwed tightly in the wall next to my kitchen door. I can toss my keys on it when I enter and find them when I leave.

 Armed and dangerous I am going about the business of writing essays on life as I see it.

Barbara will be answering your questions all day! Leave them in the comment box.

Barbara’s website: http://www.barbarabarth.net/

Barbara’s blog:     http://theunfaithfulwidow.blogspot.com/

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Filed under Advice, Author Interviews, books, Creative Essays, Give Aways

Guest Post and Book Giveaway: Lisa deNikolits, THE HUNGRY MIRROR

Lisa deNikolits

Today, we have another author on her book blog tour, sponsored by WOW! Women on Writing.

Please welcome Lisa deNikolits, author of The Hungry Mirror, as she offers her advice on how to use real people in fiction. There will be a book giveaway! Leave a comment or question for Lisa and one lucky commenter will be selected to receive Lisa’s novel.

Originally from South Africa, Lisa has been a Canadian citizen since 2003. She also lived and worked in the U.S.A., Sydney, Australia, and London, England. She graduated with a Bachelor of Arts in English Literature and Philosophy and contributed to various international anthologies. She has been an art director on Vogue, Vogue Living, marie claire, and Cosmopolitan. Visit www.lisadenikolitswriter.com for information about the book and www.lisadenikolitsdesign.com for more information about her career as an art director.

The book can be ordered online at:Amazon Canada and also at www.yorku.ca/inanna/order.html or The direct link to her book at Amazon Canada


Lisa de Nikolits

“You’re like a magpie,” my guitar teacher complained, “you always want me to teach you the flashy shiny pieces. It’s like you’ve got a radar for them.”

And your point would be? I thought.

“And your point would be?” I said.

Little did he know that my desire for flashy, shiny things was hardly relegated to guitar pieces alone. My hunger to write about anything, anyone, anywhere, means that everybody in my life – stranger, friend, family or foe, well, they are all equal flashy, shiny, sparkly bits, all of which can be used to adorn and accessorize my literary pieces.

It’s not that I mean to write about them, per se, of course not, but I see the glint of the sunshine on a sidewalk in a way not many people can. I stop, I pick up that shiny thing and I turn it into art, conceptual art, word art. My art, my words.

And now, my words, my book has been published.

“Where can I get a copy?” my guitar teacher asks.

“Uh, it’s not really your thing,” I say.

“Why not?”

“Well it’s women’s fiction. You know, body image, eating disorders, things like that. Not your cup of tea.”

“My wife might like it?”

Oh dear. Yes, she might. But what she might not like is the guest-featured appearance of her husband’s name, adorning a rather obnoxious but central character.

Here’s the thing. My guitar teacher has a fairly ordinary name. But it’s spelt in an unusual way.

Why did I borrow his name? Because I was searching for a name for my character, an obnoxious man, an uncommunicative, withdrawn, mostly cruel man.

And my guitar teacher’s name was just perfect.

So I send him an email.

“Look, I had to borrow your name. The character isn’t based on you but you keep asking me for the book and so I had to tell you that I borrowed your name. I had to.”

Now, three days later, I haven’t heard back from him. But he is generally reticent with replies, despite the fact that he’s been my teacher for over six years now.

Hmmm… I wonder if he’s angry. Even if he is, I would do it again, of course I would.

A woman read one of my short stories and accurately recognized her idiosyncrasies. She told me I was greedy for using them in my writing. I couldn’t apologize to her because if I really were sorry, I would never do it again, and I can’t make that commitment.

I changed her name. I changed her circumstance, I changed her appearance, her country of origin. She was completely unrecognizable to anyone except to herself. And, let me say this; I knew she would hate to be mentioned, even in an entirely fictitious manner. But because her idiosyncrasies were bright and flashy, I had to have them. I am like an idiosyncratic kleptomaniac.

And then of course there are the people who look for themselves in my writing.

“Miranda, she’s based on me of course,” an ex-editor, good friend of mine commented after reading a manuscript I sent her.

Miranda? No way… Miranda is a complete work of fiction, and a very distinctive one at that. She comes from a dysfunctional family, single mother, drug addict brother, poverty, abuse, alcoholism. Miranda pulled herself up through life, she clawed her way to the top, clawed her way to a level of glossy middle-class success. She remained isolated nonetheless, unable to make friends or have lovers, she was fearful of any intoxicating substance.

I had known nothing about my ex-editor friend’s early life.

“Uh, Miranda is a complete work of fiction,” I felt compelled to say. An uneasy silence followed. Too much information acquired by pure accident.

So, real people in fiction. Always. Particularly if they are bright, shiny and flashy. Klepto word magpie me.

Thanks again to Lisa deNikolits! Please leave your love for our guest author in the comment box below ; )


Filed under Advice, Author Interviews, books, Fiction, Give Aways

Author Interview & Book Giveaway: Linda Joy Myers

Linda Joy Myers, PhD

Today, we welcome Linda Joy Myers, PhD, author of the newly released: The Power of Memoir: How to Write Your Healing Story.

Linda Joy Myers, Ph.D. is the president of the National Association of Memoir Writers and the author of the prize-winning memoir Don’t Call Me Mother: Breaking the Chain of Mother Daughter Abandonment. Her new book The Power of Memoir: How to Write Your Healing Story was released in January 2010 through Jossey-Bass publishers.

Linda has been a therapist in Berkeley for the last thirty years, and received her MFA at Mills College.

Through her workshops, online coaching, and speaking engagements, Linda integrates the principles of healing and creativity in presenting the powerful healing process of writing true stories. Her first book Becoming Whole: Writing Your Healing Story was used as a text by therapists, ministers, and writing coaches, and was a finalist in the ForeWord magazine’s 2008 Book of the Year Award. Linda’s prize-winning nonfiction and poetry has been published in various literary journals. Her novel excerpt, Secret Music, a novel about the Kindertransport, music, and redemption was a finalist in the San Francisco Writing Conference contest.

Linda is past-president of The California Writers Club, Marin branch, and former Vice-President of the Women’s National Book Association, and has served on the board of Story Circle Network.

Do you want to win this book?

Please leave a comment or question for a chance to win a copy of her book: The Power of Memoir. (winner announced tomorrow!)

Interview by: Mary Jo Campbell

MJC: Thank you for visiting today, Linda Joy! Can you tell us about your experience as a writer and how it relates to your background as a therapist?

LJM: For awhile, I trained therapists to use writing with clients, and in those all day workshops, I discovered how quickly “non-writers” produced interesting and meaningful stories. I saw that anyone could find the stories within if they had the time and support. I became quite passionate about spreading the word about writing—that anyone could learn to do it if they wished, and that it was a powerful tool for change and transformation. Therapists, after all, are always in the middle of people’s stories—finding out how they experienced the world, how they became who they are, the same territory that memoirists encounter. But as it turns out, writing is different than telling. We create a relationship with ourselves as we become both the narrator of the story and the character—the “I” voice in the story. This dual consciousness is part of the healing process, as the narrator helps us to develop a perspective on what happened, and the character I gets close to and inside who we were then. When we write in scene, we take a small hypnotic trip to the past and live in our own skin for a while, then come back out to “now.” The process of writing and telling stories, especially if they are shared helps to heal and to change our perceptions of who we were and who we are now.

MJC: Someone’s embarrassing moment can be captured on an iphone, uploaded to youtube with comments posted on Facebook and Twitter before the victim’s face even turns to blush. Our culture is fascinated with “real life.”  Do you think today’s technology helps or hinders memoir writers, and why?

LJM: Exposure might help memoirists because the fact that because memoirists reveal secrets an inner life that otherwise would be unknown is not as shocking an idea as it used to be. But on the other hand, if you are out in the open, people can judge more harshly the willingness to reveal personal details in a memoir as mere narcissism, or the need to “air the dirty laundry.”

One way that technology might be helping memoir writers is to see social network posts as tiny memoirs, or slices of life. Some are real stories, and we can all feel more connected when we read them.

Also writers are now encouraged to “blog their book.” This means that a writer can try out the ideas for the book on an audience and get feedback that will help in the publishing process. And agents and editors are out there looking for new exciting content and ideas.

We know that it won’t go away, so we need to figure out how it can help us.

MJC: “Exposing all” in memoirs can be tricky, especially if you plan to visit home for the holidays. What tips can you offer us who feel the need to write the truth, even if the truth is ugly?

LJM: The best advice I can give is to create a safe, sacred space where you can write without worrying about being judged or silenced—even by your inner critic. Be sure to keep your early drafts private—or at least protect them the way you would a tender young plant in spring. This means: don’t tell anyone you are writing a memoir!

It takes emotional effort to write the truth, especially if it is ugly, frightening, or traumatic, but it has been proven to be healing, allowing you to get to another stage of your life. Most of us have emotional issues that plague us, but we intuitively know with whom we can share these issues safely. If you are angry at someone, it’s fine to write an unsent letter, for instance, to clarify your feelings and come to another place with the person. Each person has a certain capacity for bearing witness to the various truths in a family, and it’s important to know where your limits are to protect yourself. The voices that chime in your head about who you will hurt or who will roll over in their grave if you write that piece are not helpful to getting your work done.

After you have finished your first draft, you can think then about what you want to do. By then, you will have gone through layers of emotional healing, and see if you have a story you want or need to share. Perhaps by writing it for yourself, you are complete.

If you decide to publish, that is the time to think about vetting the book with others, changing names or locations, or contacting a literary attorney to help you with any thorny problems you may have with what you revealed about others. Every author has to decide how to handle the living and the dead that are written about in their book. It is often an ethical decision more than legal.

MJC: Can you explain the difference between personal narratives or essays and the memoir? How does a writer narrow the focus and pick a theme?

LJM: The terms personal essay, personal narrative, and memoir are often used interchangeably. Personal essay focuses on a universal theme, but of course in a memoir and personal narrative, the themes become woven throughout as the personal story begins to reveal deeper universal truths. I think it’s more the idea that a memoir is written in ever revealing layers, moving from the inside out whereas a personal essay might begin with a theme and move inward toward the details that support it. There is no one way to approach any kind of writing, but most memoir stories are focused on the very personal, and sometimes they should move toward the universal. This will happen if the person keeps writing and exploring metaphor and layers of meaning. Pure reminiscence is pleasant to read, and many times the reader will identify with the time, place, and memories if they are of that same era, but others will not connect necessarily unless the theme becomes universal and can apply to others.

MJC: What tips can you offer teachers who introduce memoir writing in the classroom?

LJM: Make storytelling and writing fun. Allow free writes to develop voice, role plays to demonstrate dialogue and characters, dressing up in different costumes to show color and description. Researching the day they were born on Google can bring together history, news, and their personal lives in surprising and interesting ways. Allow writing that is non-standard for early drafts, and have them keep reading books about young people that make them want to share their own story. The Freedom Writer movie and book are very inspiring about the work that young people can do and what a difference it can make.

MJC: Tell us what’s next in your writing and promotion projects!

LJM: In my therapy life, I used to work with youth at risk, and learned how important it was for young people to be listened to and taken seriously. My next project is to focus on the YA—the Young Adult audience. Young people are writing and expressing themselves in amazing and refreshing ways, but as with everyone else, writing personal material means having to deal with the same family issues of guilt, shame, and silence as adults. My hope is that a book focused on their particular ways of thinking and self-expression can free them from fear and silence, and help them to move forward in their lives in a powerful way.

Author’s Websites:

Website: http://thepowerofmemoir.com
National Association of Memoir Writers: http://www.namw.org/

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