A month ago I was ready to throw in the towel. Maybe it was time to quit the blog life. What do I have left to write about anyway? Posting the smallest detail about the kids is like trying to gain clearance for a special ops mission (mom, stop blogging about my underwear). And if I don’t have underwear, tell me – WHAT DO I HAVE?
Fine. I guess I see their point.
In addition, I’ve been so bummed out about the world of late that life was just too depressing to write about.
Also, I’m thinking about my web presence. I’m having a book published. JUNE 12TH!!! You can pre-order now 🙂 Am I now supposed to have a more serious presence? An official amymakechnie website? Who cares about my cream puffs? sniff.
I fell into the trap, an all-too familiar trap for me, in the form of you have nothing worthwhile to say in your little blog.
Post ideas would come. I didn’t write them down. The longer I went without writing, the more paralyzed I felt (get a grip, Amy, it’s only been a month.) Still.
I hadn’t given up writing altogether. No, I’ve been poring that creative energy into my latest novel. It’s been a bit torturous, probably my hardest project to date; very emotional (more to come on that…!)
Well. I guess you could say I was looking for a sign. And don’t I know it: we see the things we are looking for. I was looking for a reason.
Today a woman, Marci, whom I admire immensely, showed a class full of women a picture from a post I wrote last summer. I posted a picture of a dead butterfly that I thought was beautiful, even though the butterfly had recently met its demise. I wrote: I found this butterfly today. It was dead but looked ready to launch…there’s a lesson in there somewhere…
Really, I was thinking about the next spiritual journey of this butterfly’s soul. But Marci saw it in a different way. She said that this picture and my caption – I kid you not! – changed her life. She spoke about the girls that we teach. We might think they have it all together, like this shiny, beautiful, colorful butterfly. But inside they might be hurting or even feel dead. She said our girls need us to really know them, to watch for them, to lift them up. They need us to love them, to help them launch.
I sat there thinking, this is my sign. there is more to write.
Two lessons for me: when the universe calls on us to act (“the universe,” “the muse,” our “conscience,” “God” – call it what you might) we should act. My medium is writing. I feel compelled to do so. What you feel called to do, you should – that is your great gift to the world in whatever big or small sphere you operate in.
The other lesson is this: when we are moved by another, we should acknowledge the art or action and what it means to us. So, thank you, Marci and Danielle(!) for telling me that the picture I took of a dead butterfly with a caption meant something to you. That means something to me.
In a serendipitous meeting of experiences this last month, I write to pay tribute to the news. Yeah, I know. News organizations can be obnoxious. They can recycle the same tired stories. They tend to lean toward the dramatic and dark, and not all of them are legit. But still – for our democracy to survive, the free press is an absolute necessity.
You may have noticed:
Women are speaking. A lot of them.
And who are they turning to? Writers. The free press.
The success of #metoo and #blacklivesmatter? The free press.
With the click of a button, a single needed voice can spread like lightening across continents.
We need the media. We need their fact checking. We need whistle blowers because we humans have a tendency to let power and money and status corrupt our souls.
Here’s where my serendipitous free press journey began:
Last month I began reading NFL quarterback Steve Young’s memoir, QB: My Life Beyond the Spiral (and excellent read, football fan or not.) I enjoyed many things about the book, including Young’s striving to do “the right thing.” I was struck by his photographic memory and ability to memorize over a hundred plays and know where each man should be on each of those plays. I appreciated how he wrote about his near-debilitating anxiety before each high stakes game.
I noted that the book was co-written with New York Times best-selling author, and journalist, Jeff Benedict. This is common practice: we turn to journalists to help write our stories.
You know what Young suffered a lot of? Concussions. (Seven!) After the last one, he never played again.
“As I finished writing these pages, the NFL’s top health and safety official admitted for the first time that there is a link between football and chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE), a brain disease found in dozens of retired players. CTE is real.”
And here came the serendipitous part. While reading Young’s memoir, I began the brain unit with my Anatomy and Physiology class. A student mentioned we should watch the 2015 movie, Concussion, with Will Smith. A movie I finally viewed this weekend.
I began researching the history of the film and was soon watching the 2013 PBS special League of Denial: The NFL’s Concussion Crisis. I was riveted, disgusted, up in arms. Oh sure, I knew something about concussions and the NFL’s reticence to connect a link to obvious: repeated trauma to the head is NOT GOOD FOR YOUR BRAIN.
But what was most disconcerting was the way Nigerian-American neuropathologist doctor (with several more advanced degrees,) Bennet Omalu, was treated. He was shunned, threatened, banned from presenting, asked to retract his findings. Basically the NFL tried to completely discredit and destroy him until finally, the research could not be denied.
I didn’t know this story until it was written about.
Enter two brothers. Journalists. Investigative reporters Steve Fainaru and Mark Fainaru-Wada. Steve has a Pulitzer Prize for reporting in Iraq. Mark broke the Barry Bonds steroid scandal. Going up against the NFL, which surpassed $13 BILLION in revenue in 2016? “It cost us everything,” the brothers say.
Did they report anyway? They sure did.
This post really isn’t about football or sports (of which I am a big fan) per se, but the people, specifically writers (and in this case, also a scientist), who sought to right a wrong, to expose the corrupt, to tell the truth.
As one team doctor said, “Your work suggests or is suggesting or is proving that football is a dangerous sport, and that if 10 percent of mothers in this country would begin to perceive football as a dangerous sport, that is the end of football.”
I’ll let you do with that as you will.
Another breaking news headline this month: the so-called doctor with the last name of Nassar, who the USA Gymnastic Association inexplicably continued to employ after reported abuse (they deny wrongdoing.) Read this. Or don’t. “The 156 women who spoke in open court this week, chronicling Larry Nassar’s 20-year career as a sexual predator, seethed. They were unsparing. They were implacable. They were also brilliantly sardonic.”
Who did these girls go to when those with the power and money continued to abuse? The free press.
Who took down wall street? The free press.
Who finally brought the Catholic church abuse to light? Writers at The Boston Globe.
Think of our battlefields. Think of our young men and women on those battle fields. Freedom of speech, a tenet of American democracy is a privilege we’ve paid for with our lives.
At this moment, how many thousands of people are there around the world who are sitting in a jail cell for having an opinion? While I so easily publish a blog post.
As E.E. Cummings wrote, “The theory of the free press is not that the truth will be presented completely or perfectly in any one instance, but that the truth will emerge from free discussion.”
Converging with all of these thoughts was watching the wonderfully acted, heart pumping film, The Post, this past weekend, starring Tom Hanks and Meryl Streep. Watch a trailer HERE. Ah, I’m such a sucker for stories about the newsroom.
You want to watch bravery in action? Watch a terrified Meryl Streep surrounded by a room full of men, having to make what is likely the hardest and most dangerous choice of her life: expose the highest power of government (possibly face jail time and lose The Washington Post) or keep quiet and risk nothing. It took great restraint not to stand and clap right there in the Regal Cinema.
The Post Header via Film Stage
There’s a line that has stuck with me – “If we don’t publish, we will lose. The country will lose!”
Nixon was ticked (to put it mildly,) and attempted to ban the New York Times from ever covering another white house event. Well, we all know what happened to that guy.
It is a very very dangerous thing to let anyone, much less a sitting president, dictate what is and what isn’t news worthy. And when a president cries “fake news,” let us be very very wary.
Freedom implies the absence of interference from an overreaching government or any other entity which strives to silence truth.
There is no doubt the free press has great power. With that power comes great responsibility (said everyone from God to Yoda to Dumbledore). There are publications creating fake news for a click – and I find it disgusting and immoral.
For all their flaws, I take this side: The truth shall set you free.
As for who must keep the press in check? That’s on you and me. Because if there’s ever a time where we can “buy” the news…what is left?
Tonight is the State of the Union. The press will be in attendance. They will report. Will they get it right? We should tune in.
To those brave enough to speak truth, brave enough to write it, and brave enough to hit “publish:” American heroes.
I am so very very grateful. It’s been a long haul, which I will tell you all about, but for now, let’s just admire the jacket cover art (which I’ve grown to adore.)
That’s Guinevere St. Clair on top of the tractor. Jimmy and Micah are down below wondering what the heck Gwyn is doing. Also: it’s midnight.
I just love these kids (they are very real to me!) and I hope you will love them too.
The book is being released by Simon and Schuster on June 12, 2018, but you can pre-order now and make my day, and when I see you I will give you a big kiss! Or at least a hug. Not your thing? My undying gratitude.
I’ve read that when you ask people to pre-order your book, you should offer them a *Bonus “thank you” gift. Well, here’s what I’ve got: my heart and soul, years of my life, tears, toiling, and my greatest wish – a story that I hope you will never forget 🙂
I often joke that marrying into my husband’s family was the best decision I ever made for my writing career.
But don’t think that that hasn’t been painful.
The reason is this: the Makechnies are hyper-critical master wordsmiths.
You make one misstep and The Professor and his posse will pounce like a snake on a mouse and swallow you whole.
The biggest disagreements between my dear husband, and me, is when I ask him to “quickly look something over.” What I’m really looking for is, “Looks great, honey. Brilliant, in fact!”
I’m still waiting for that utterance.
It took me a long time to accept the fact that proofreading my work is not something we, as a couple, can share.
And yet, I still test the waters occasionally. He now begins by asking, “Do you want me to edit this or just tell you I like it?”
Except he just can’t do that. And my sensitive feelers cannot handle it.
The Professor comes by the super-critical eye honestly. Both parents are superb readers, writers, and storytellers. As a child, The Professor remembers his mother, Heather, a precise grammarian, becoming incensed over poor sentence structure.
Grandma Heather has even taught my children well. When she asks a question like, “Who wants to go with Grandma to the beach?” Not one child in this house answers, “ME!!!!” Oh no. The correct answer is, “I do!” (not “Me want to go to the beach!”) You see the difference? Believe me, after almost twenty years in this family I know the difference.
All of my children have sat at Grandma’s feet as she taught with her stories and love of language. She dedicated her entire life to raising good children, and she loved her grandchildren with her whole heart. I marveled at the way she was able to reach into the soul of each child and fill them so completely.
Last summer Grandma Heather gathered the grandchildren by the ocean, pointing out to sea, at the Isles of Shoal off the coast of New Hampshire, telling stories of our ancestors. The woman could hold the attention of even the most squirrely child.
Here Grandma Heather used her words to comfort my boy, as he watched his sister sail away on a boat called Ocean Classroom.
When I started this blog, Heather was delighted! Mostly because her grandchildren were prominently featured. She laughed and commented at the pictures of baby poop and lipstick smears. But she also liked and encouraged this new hobby I was obsessing over: writing. Over time, I found I had procured an editor.
I would sometimes receive emails like this : “Wonderful! I could not be more proud!”
Other times: “This is not ready to publish. Go back and do some editing.”
Perhaps my favorite: “If you write the word YUM one more time I will throw myself out the window.”
I resisted using the word YUM for at least eight months.
Writers are often told to, “Imagine your perfect reader. Don’t worry about writing for the world. Write for your one person.” I have many perfect readers in mind when I write, but provided with such blunt and persistent feedback, Heather was always on my mind before I hit “Publish.” Would she think it was funny? Would my imperfect sentences drive her mad?
I’ve worked and reworked sentence structures and subject-verb agreement with Heather in mind, on consistent tenses, on pronoun agreement, and just the write blend of somber and humor.
Heather played the critic for me: an essential role for any writer. Oh, we sensitive writers need many things from many people. We need the constant and consistent praisers, but we also need the critical eye. Be wary if your critique group only loves your work – they’re not doing their job. You need someone to knock you down a few times if you hope to survive.
Heather’s praise was often glowing, but her criticism could sting. My skin has grown tougher. She was reading and I was learning.
A week ago today I sat in a church pew as Heather Hope Makechnie was laid to rest. Her death was a shock and has left us all bereft. It is words I am having a hard time coming up with. I hear her in my head, but I miss her voice.
I have turned to the words she wrote to me. Last summer:
How I miss my Cope, Nelson, Brynne, and Paige. I hear the echoes of their voices in the house. (Tennyson does, too.) I see their books and clothes and toys. I see the empty swing and slide. I watch the carrots and sunflowers grow toward the sun. But they are not here, and there is a tinny sound in the echoes. FORTUNATELY they are deeply seated in my heart, and the eternal love-light glows. I pray that you are SEEING, HEARING, TASTING, TOUCHING everything around you. I know you will come home with many memories, but I predict that the most powerful and lasting memory you will have is of each other. Semper commone.
I have not felt like writing anything at all. The void feels so big and vast I just want to lie down.
Avoidance came in the form of eating way too many brownies, spending too much money at Target, running miles, and cleaning the refrigerator (yes, avoidance takes extreme forms.) And yet, as always, I was drawn back to the computer. To make an attempt at words.
She was more than our storyteller, she was our family’s heart. And though she will not comment, email, or stop by for a visit to discuss the latest blog post, I like to think she’s still keeping tabs. I like to think she’s still my perfect reader – and making sure I haven’t resorted to using the word, “yum.”
Heather’s last comment on this blog was this: “OH, my heart! so much to love all in one place!”
In celebration of Independence week, let’s get to know two women who are livin’ their dream. If you’ve ever wanted to write novels and wonder how the process works and how two busy moms get it done, meet Dianne and Jessica. Dianne has several books published and Jessica’s first novel is being released today!
1. How do you find time to write? What are your habits?
Diane: I write whenever I can squeeze it in, and I’m lucky, because my family is VERY supportive. It helps that my daughters, at 14 and 17, are self-sufficient and have been for a long time. They’ve been packing their own lunches since they were in elementary school, and they’ve helped clean up the kitchen since they were old enough to reach the sink. They also do their own laundry. (Let’s clarify. I have to TELL them to do it, REMIND them to move it from the washer to the dryer, and NAG them to fold it and put it away … but they can perform those functions without my assistance.) When they were younger and needed me more, the best thing I did was establish ONE weekly writing block that was supposed to be untouchable. Every Monday night, from 7:30– 9:00, I went to a room by myself and was granted an uninterrupted writing block. Then at 9:00, there was an online chat at The Practice Room with other writers who also used that time to be productive. (Nowadays, I run the Practice Room session every Monday. Anyone who’s interested in joining, let me know!)
Jess: It’s definitely hard to develop concrete habits with small children around all the time (I have a one-year-old, a five-year-old, and two teenage stepchildren). I write “in the cracks.” I tend to make a lot of random notes on post-its and scraps of paper I find in my purse and then, when I get a good chunk of computer time, I just go after it, having a pretty good idea of what I want from a character/scene/chapter.
Unfortunately, I’m not a night person at all—my creative energy wanes after 3 o’clock in the afternoon and most days I’m in bed by 9:00. I’ve tried staying up, but the writing is never productive. So I get up at 4:00 in the morning some days, to thwart the pitter-patter of the wee ones. But in terms of my current habits? The only consistent one I can think of is that when I draft something new, I set weekly word count goals rather than daily, because you never really know when Life will intervene to either give you extra writing time or none. And I keep my goals low, so that there’s always a chance that I’ll exceed them, which always gives me a nice little boost.
2. How have you gotten past all the rejections? And has failure been a good thing?
Dianne: Failure never feels like a good thing, but sometimes it is. Two unsuccessful R&R’s inspired revisions that helped me land a different agent. Two devastating rejections from my first publisher opened the door to a deal with a bigger publisher. And two rejections from a respected editor were followed almost immediately by the biggest deal of my career so far – with someone else. Every writer has to learn to live with rejection. Even after you get a publishing deal, you’ll have future manuscripts turned down. You’ll see other authors getting more attention. You’ll be told you’re not wanted at your publisher’s BEA booth. You’ll be overlooked in a PW article or – this happened to a friend – your book title will be mentioned and your main character will be listed as the author! Let’s not even talk about what people will say about your books on Goodreads!
Jess: If people had told me when I started my first manuscript that I’d have to write eight more before finding a literary agent and getting published, would I have continued writing? Sure, why not. Because I enjoyed it. I enjoyed the thrill of sending something out there and getting emails back (or physical letters, back when agents asked for those) despite them saying, “nope, sorry, not for me.” And there was always a chance that the email would be a request, which brightened up my stay-at-home-mom day like crazy. That’s a big reason I never gave up on querying—there was a constant sense of possibility.
I guess I didn’t really think of all of those rejections as “failure.” This may sound like a bad attitude, but I was kind of expecting them—anything that wasn’t a rejection was a great surprise. Sure, there was a feeling of, “Aw, man, that’s the third rejection today. Boo on Wednesdays,” but I didn’t let it get me down because the whole thing was a learning process. I knew going into it that there was a whole lot about writing that I needed (and still need) to learn, so I tried to think of it as a “hobby” (which goes against lots of advice that says you should think of it as a career from the get-go). My husband had golf as a hobby, which he’s constantly trying to get better at, and I had writing/querying. He’s always trying to improve his swing and lower his golf score and he has good days and bad days. He comes home excited when he’s found a new swing and says, “I think I’ve got it!” only to come home dejected a few days later. But does he give up golf? No way. Because he enjoys it and he wants to get better.
Likewise, I never gave up writing because I SO wanted to get better, and I wanted some sort of evidence that maybe I was getting better—at both the pages I included with submissions and the query itself. I found that when my concentration shifted wholeheartedly from “I really want an agent and a book deal!” to “I really just want to be able to tell a good story,” I started to improve. It happened gradually, with personalized rejections preceding requests, and many request rejections preceding an offer. I’m so grateful for my process. Personally, I would have been ill-equipped if I’d struck gold and got a book offer with my first effort.
3. What advice would you give to moms who want to write but feel so much resistance from all the demands placed on them?
Dianne: Do what I suggested above: Sit down with your family and work out at least ONE dedicated writing time per week that’s promised to you. You might be surprised to find how eagerly your family conspires to help make that happen. (“Shhhh … Mommy’s writing tonight.”)
Jess: Moms are, by necessity, queens of multitasking and sometimes our families just thinks that’s the way we are, instead of knowing what a huge mental effort it can be to keep up with schedules, driving, snacks, birthdays, games, yardwork, meals, toilet paper supplies, family cards, laundry, creative-activities, discipline, all while being a supportive wife, friend, and community member. It’s easy to have these demands all over the place and think that you can’t say “no” to anything, because people are used to you just taking care of everything. And it’s easy to be exhausted by the time you do find a smidgeon of time for yourself and not have the energy to actually write because creativity and motivation don’t always show up during your one hour of free time on Tuesdays and Saturdays.
Start with ideas. Play with ideas in your head and develop them there (I know, there’s already so much going on there based on other people’s needs, but carve out a corner for yourself). I’ve heard some people say that a person who truly wants to be a writer would just sacrifice sleep and stay up to write, but getting sleep is so essential to me being able to function as a mom that I would never endorse that. I really think that brainstorming in your head—plots, characters, twists—and then making quick notes that you can use later is a great way for busy moms to be super productive during their actual writing time. And try telling your kids and significant other, “Hey, I really need your help. Can you please help me work toward my dream by giving me one hour a day?”
But I’m a mom, first and foremost and there are always times when I have to give up and push away from the computer at the tug of little hands and say, “Dang it, I’m just not going to get any writing done today.” Or, like this morning when I got up at 4:30 to start working on these questions and my five-year-old came running out of her room saying, “Mommy, I had a bad dream!” You have to be okay with children interrupting your stuff, even if you’re not happy about it. And when overwhelmed being belief and frustrated, listen to Patty Griffin’s “Heavenly Day” (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qVy4w6vq8y8&feature=kp) while thinking of your kids and family and have yourself a nice warm feeling about how you wouldn’t have it any other way J
4. Self-published or agent?
Dianne: I self-published back in 2007 before it was as accepted as it is now. Then, in 2009, I signed a traditional publishing contract un-agented. There were good points and bad points about both experiences, but I can definitely say that I would never have landed a 3-book deal with HarperCollins without my agent – and that has been the high point of my writing career so far.
That said, traditional publishing is s-l-o-w moving and full of disappointments. I sympathize with the desire to move more quickly with self-publishing. However, for anyone taking that route, I strongly urge you to research everything first and make sure your book is really ready to publish. (Once you think it’s ready, put it away for a couple months, work on something else, then take it out again and send it to more beta readers.)
Recently, I weeded an overgrown flower bed. I had spread wildflower seeds there, and among the more common plants I discovered beautiful, delicate poppies. Wanting to encourage their growth, I painstakingly pulled out the other plants that were choking them.
To my surprise, the poppies fell over flat on their faces. To compete with the other plants, they had grown too fast and too thin. They couldn’t stand up on their own. I have read a fair share of self-published books that felt the same way – full of beautiful promise, but published too soon because the author was in a hurry to compete with other books and other authors.
Jess: I have an agent, but both are great ways to go, especially these days when online marketing is possible. As a mom and somewhat shy person, I don’t have lots of extra time or natural skill with the task of marketing. For that reason, as well as the fact that I wasn’t in any particular hurry to get my work published, seeking an agent was the way to go for me. I never considered self-publishing because I know that doing it well takes a lot of time and marketing savvy that I just don’t have. I have a friend who LOVES marketing and she’s got a wonderful manuscript that I encouraged her to query, but she’s very excited to get her story into the world, so self-publishing is the way to go for her. I think a career can be forged with both paths.
5. What’s more important – hard work or talent?
Dianne: I think you need both to succeed – in writing and in almost any other profession. You need to be good at what you do and willing to work hard for a long time, even if the reward is deferred.
Jess: I think they’re both very helpful in getting published, but I have to go with hard work on a personal level. I got a similar question recently about whether writers are born or made and said this: There are writers out there who were born to write—the people who seem to innately live the written word and it pours out of them compulsively, whether they want it to or not. As for me, it feels like a return to something that always fit me well, but that never really registered as a possibility for a career. I’ve put a lot of effort into learning more about writing in recent years, but I still feel like a raw scrapper—more of a Rudy-type, who got really lucky with publication because of persistence, practice, love of books/writing, and the ability to take a lot of rejection without giving up, rather than because of a pure, natural skill.
6. What’s more important – “platform” or concentrating on just writing?
Dianne: If by “platform” you mean branding yourself to one audience or genre, forget about it. Many successful authors write across audiences and genres these days. If by “platform” you mean participating in social media like blogging and Twitter, then it depends on what you do with it. If a writer is using social media only for promoting themselves – sending out 30 “Buy My Book” tweets a day – they’re wasting their time.
However, if you use social media to make connections with other people, it is invaluable. Your writing can only improve by interacting with others, learning from them, getting ideas and inspiration from those crazy things that cross your feed … But to make it work, you have to give at least as much as you hope to gain.
Jess: For fiction writers, particularly children’s fiction writers, I think writing is always more important. An agent will never fall in love with a manuscript and then decide not to offer representation just because you have no social media presence. They may ask you to get a little more involved once they sign you (aka, have you start a blog, get on Twitter/Facebook/Goodreads), but they might not. One of my agent’s clients still has no blog, no Facebook, no Twitter, and that’s absolutely fine because she writes beautiful, wonderful books. I don’t have a Goodreads account or a personal Facebook account, and neither agent nor publisher has told me I need to remedy that. THAT SAID, keeping a blog and getting involved in the blogging community through contest involvement (like Miss Snark’s First Victim, Pitch Wars, etc.) and things like AbsoluteWrite (the Query Letter Hell and Kid Lit forums are supportive and full of learning opportunities) was integral to my becoming published. Not only did I learn so much craft-wise, but I found friends and submission opportunities that I wouldn’t have otherwise found.
Following blogs, following agents on Twitter, and attending WriteOnCon, a free online conference that’s held each August (make sure you sign up this year), are all things that I consider to be part of my education process. Kind of a Stay-At-Home-Mom MFA. I also think having a blog or trying to get some sort of story/article/post published online is helpful because it’s great for an agent to be able to find out something about you with an internet search. When my agent sent me an “offer of representation” email, she mentioned that she’d been around the internet checking me out. I was very glad that I’d sent an open editorial letter to the Denver Post that got published, because she saw and agreed with it and it gave us an immediate point of bonding.
BUT AGAIN, it’s all about the writing. Don’t get sucked into spending all of your precious writing minutes on social media, which is very easy to do.
7. What is your definition of success?
Dianne: Well, it would be awfully cool to make the New York Times best seller list! But in the meantime, I’ll have to be content with defining success by emails such as this one: I wanted to let you know that my daughter Mia has been reading “The Eighth Day.” She says it’s the best book she has ever read (she’s 9).
Thanks for having me here today, Amy! I hope this was helpful! (it was!)
Jess: I think about this a lot, mostly because I feel very lucky in my life. Life comes in seasons, and the last year has been an extended autumn for me (my favorite season). I think, for me, success in life comes from feeling as though I have goals that I’ve accomplished as well as goals that I want to pursue. There’s nothing more invigorating than having a goal and trying hard to accomplish it. A quest, if you will. And part of that quest for me is finding contentment and happiness within the life that I have, rather than saying, “if we only had __, ___, and ___, then life would be great!” It sounds like a simple, almost boring word, but contentment is something that I think can get overlooked in the frenzy to be “successful.” Success is finding that contentment by embracing the blessings that your current life offers while also pursuing a passion.
Jessica Lawson is a mother of two young children and the stepmom to two teens. She writes a great personal/writing blog Here. You can find her first novel, The Actual and Truthful Adventures of Becky Thatcher at Barnes & Noble, Books-A-Million, or your local indie bookstore. Here’s the LINK! Release date is TODAY! Jessica’s official author website is Here.
Congratulations, Dianne and Jess. Thank you for being here today – I’m really excited for you both!
Looking for more author interviews? Check out this popular interview with mom and writer Katrina Kenison.
Seven years ago I sat down and wrote the ending of a real-life story. It was dramatic, heartbreaking – and exhilarating. It was an ending and the beginning of everything.
I put the story away. A year passed. I had my fourth child. The story kept coming and I knew – I was going to write a book.
I didn’t know the first thing about writing a book, but Stephenie Meyer had done it; had a dream about vampires and then wrote a bestseller while her children frolicked at swimming lessons. It emboldened me: mothers could be “real writers!”
For three months after baby was born, I wrote every nap time, evening, and early morning I could. I finished my masterpiece. The next step according to Meyer, was to find an agent. But first – I had to know if it was any good. I gave it to two amazing writers to read and critique. I wanted the truth. If they said it was terrible, then I’d forget about such a silly dream. Little did they know how much power they held in their hands.
A few days later, my manuscript was handed back. There were three words at the top of the very last page: “This is wonderful.”
The other person looked at me with tears in her eyes. “You have done it,” she said.
Granted, this was my mother-in-law and my mother. But whatever, I went with it.
That was seven long years in Tibet. I mean, seven long years ago.
My experience was not exactly like Ms. Meyer’s. It’s been said that getting an agent is as likely as riding bareback on a great white across the Pacific.
Rejection is frustrating and feels soul crushing. But I also feel lucky to have found something I want to do for the rest of my life: write.
Julia invited me to share my writing process with you this week. Funnily enough, she too was inspired by Stephenie Meyer and is now in the querying stage with her first novel (aka riding bareback on a great white.) We wish her luck!!!
So here we go…
What am I working on?
After I began querying my first novel (women’s fiction,) I was antsy to write something else. I’m now querying a second novel I wrote after being inspired by a real-life love story. It’s told from the fictional perspective of a 10-year-old whip smart girl who sets off to find a missing farmer, prove Gaysie Cutter’s guilt, and bring her damaged mother home.
Now I’ve totally switched genres and started writing a children’s book about a very respectable and dignified nanny who is trying to civilize six unruly children. This proves to be extremely difficult for the nanny (since he’s the pet dog.)
I’m always writing a blog post or querying a magazine or pitching a story on-line, but I know I need to focus more and stop spreading myself so thin. But it’s hard for me to focus because I want to write everything!
Why do I write what I do?
I am inspired by real-life and emotional events that make me want to laugh, cry, or run like Tom Cruise in any of his movies since 1980. My first two novels were completely based off real life. Characters are based off people I know and then spiral into their own. I’m an optimistic person, but my stories often hinge on sadness. I’m very much rooted in contemporary and realistic fiction. There is no sci-fi in me. Not at all.
How does my writing process work?
Hahaha! It’s always changing and I’m constantly trying to be more efficient. I used to just sit down and write it all down and then come back to sort out the mess later. Now I outline a lot more. For blog posts I like to tell stories by pictures.
For articles I’ve learned to write the title and bullet points first. For my latest novel, I focused on the chapters I wanted to write, who the characters were, and what the big quest was. Larry Brooks and Storyfix changed the way I see novel structure. I try to write in three stages after the outline is done. The first draft is fast and furious. Second draft is getting rid of terrible first draft and is much slower, getting all the details right. Third draft is refining the language. Then, it gets sent to my wonderful first readers (Lisa, my sister, my mom, and Kate) who tell me what’s up.
I’m still pretty new at this though; I had no idea what I was doing the first two novels.
I carry around a notebook to write down thoughts but have been known to record details on receipts (my paper system drives my husband crazy). I have an iphone but putting pen to paper solidifies a lot in my scattered head. I’m getting better at streamlining and have recently begun using The Notecard System for future projects. I’m considering Scrivener.
My writing process completely changed when all of my children were in school full-time. It’s amazing how much work there is still to do, but my goal is to hit 500 words every morning. The results have been tremendous.
I’m starting to think about self-publishing. I’m tired of the No’s. But I’m taking baby steps because I’m very scared of not having a traditional publisher to validate me.
So there you go! Thank you, Julia, for inviting me to talk all about myself 🙂
I wanted to also introduce you to other mothers who are not only amazing moms, but who are also flinging their writing to the world. They inspire me so much. Go ahead and check them out – you might just be inspired to write your own story…
Julia is a mom of four and writes middle grade and children’s.
Melissa is a new mom to baby O. She’s juggling the newborn phase.
Kate was my first real critique partner. She kept me going in the early days.
Lisa is juggling four, and is one of the most creative people I know.
Nina started out writing novels, but discovered she like blogging more.
Sarah writes a personal blog that makes me laugh bc she has such a good attitude, and her kids are adorable and mischievous in the best way!
All women being creative. I love it.
And now…drumroll…tomorrow is going to be fantastic as I’ve interviewed two published authors who are also mothers. Go ahead and hit that subscribe button on the right hand side just to make sure you don’t miss it!
Yes, this is my desk. The laptop, the writing stand, the corrected manuscript. All the cords, the timer for forced productivity. The scissors? Perhaps I was cutting out horrible plot lines. The pencil, the sharpie, the hundreds of sticky notes. Even the calculator had its purpose. The idea notebook, the filing trays. That poster? It’s Mary Carroll Moore’s three-act structure, of course.
And then there’s all that other stuff like a tin-can robot because as a mom, that’s where all the other family stuff gets dumped, too.
As horrendous as it looks, I look fondly at this picture taken two years ago. It represents so much hard work. It represents an achievement I never thought I was capable of, and many tears.
It represents all those days I scurried to the study during a child’s nap time, all the late nights and early mornings with little sleep, all those small moments I took to write a sentence when I could have been doing something else.
You write “The End.” It is done. You’ve done something remarkable. You’ve written a story. And then what? What do you do with this precious piece of yourself? Do you actually try to – publish? After all, that’s what novels are for!
Here’s the gut wrenching part: No one might ever want it.
All the love, years, emotions, hope, and energy…there are just no guarantees. Statistically speaking, it’s actually very unlikely that it will ever sell. I’m sorry to write that. You might send it to a hundred different literary agents and not one of them will say Yes. You will get a No over and over and over. And then most will just give up. What’s the point of writing if no one wants it?
You must stink.
Nay. That’s actually not what it means at all.
Writing is a business. Frustrated, writers took matters into your own hands.
The self-publishing industry was born. And so were stars in the literary world. Now, Indie publishing is HOT and it’s changed the way writers can do business. They write. They publish.
They Stop Waiting to Get Picked.
Most people in the world would like to write a novel. Are you one of them?
Will you try to go the traditional publishing route with a literary agent or self-publish? There are huge pros and cons for each.
I have an acquaintance who sold 40,000 books last year going the self-pub route. She uses multiple pen names to protect herself. If you’d like to read a lively discussion on the subject, head over to 4 a.m writer, a terrific writer and friend who has edited, encouraged, and pushed me along the last six years. It’s likely that this is a discussion you’ve never heard before. Is it sleazy to use a pen name? head on over and see what you think of “Sheba”!
And whatever you do, keep writing. Don’t ever, EVER give up.
I’ve got the guts to die. What I want to know is, have you got the guts to live? -Tennessee Williams
When he was 21, Tennessee Williams (born March 26, 1911) was a struggling writer with a job he hated at the International Shoe Company. Determined to succeed, he wrote a story every single weekend for three years. (Goodreads)
How is your new year going? I’m a little shiver-me-timber!
It’s been an exciting (and frustrating) process to convert this blog from Blogger to WordPress. May I suggest that if your tech understanding is anything like mine, you ask for HELP. My dear sister-in-law, Cassie, did the hard labor, working long and hard on multiple header options, pages, pull-down menus, fixing broken links, installing plug-ins, and Mailchimp. WordPress is far less friendly to the girl like me who sees programming and HTML as code for RUN. Cassie and I were texting and emailing all through December, Christmas Eve and even Christmas day trying to get the new blog to look right pretty. I could not have done the switch without her. No really, It wouldn’t have happened.
Sometimes I wondered if the entire process was worth it, but I have been drooling over the versatility of WordPress for years. And now you must impart plug-in advice, wise ones.
We installed Mailchimp, an email subscriber list service that gave me a headache, but hopefully will be ever so easy to understand…once I understand it. Sadly, some of my blogger list didn’t convert, so please please Subscribe again even if you already did on the Blogger blog. Lost subscribers are a travesty!
And if you have not subscribed, well I would be pleased as punch about that as well.
I still have work to do adding pictures and links on the sidebar. Like the cows. Do you miss them?
I interviewed myself for the About section. That was rather liberating. And peculiar.
I mulled long and hard on the evolution of this writing place. The elusive “they” say that bloggers should have a “niche.” One theme, one focus. But whenever I decided on one niche (allowance?running?writing? the show donkeys next door?) I felt a great loss. If I wrote exclusively about health, what about the hay field? If the niche was writing, then what about that Little House on the Prairie moment?
Oh dear. Is it a focus problem? My scattered brains jumps like a cat from this to that. Perhaps it is a fixation on moderation.
I love it all, so I decided to keep it all. I hope you won’t mind.
So we move forward and it’s an exciting prospect. The best way to see how far we’ve come is to look at where we were a year ago. There’s much progress! and things I want to do better.
To ring in the new year we once again burned our Christmas tree. It was very Lord of the Flies minus the pig head on a stick.For the first time in a long time, I wasn’t quite ready to let go of Christmas. I’ve missed the Christmas carols constantly playing, the white lights, the break from real life, and that special feeling that envelops a home for the holidays. The kids are basking in the last days of Christmas vacation, though they sure aren’t basking in the sun.
It’s gorgeous, but it’s COLD. We tried to go sledding today. For a full two minutes. One run down the slope, one blasted snowball to the face, and there was more than one child crying.
The chickens eggs freeze more quickly than we can gatherAnd if left too long, the eggs freeze and crack, and the chickens begin to peck peck peck. Savages.
Though I’m not looking forward tromping through deep snow to collect eggs and refill water bowls, I do look forward to fresh eggs with dark yellow yolks.
What else am I not looking forward to? Breaking Bad. Finally, after all the great reviews and “it’s the best show I’ve ever watched,” I watched the first two episodes and decided it just wasn’t meant to be. What was it? Hmmm, the moment when Skylar…never mind, I can’t even write that. Was it the body being eaten by acid in the bathtub? Maybe the bloody heart and intestines crashing through the ceiling? Or perhaps it was Walt’s whitey tighty underwear? I just can’t decide. I was rather fond of Walt despite the you know, meth thing. Do you have an opinion on the matter?
What I am looking forward to? a spring marathon (salt lake city???), more queries (I finished my manuscript finally!), beginning a new story (a middle grade read), photography and photoshop, more health-related quests, purging the house of stuff, and of course…Downton Abbey. Here is a read on what we can look forward to here. Cope vowed to never watch it again after the HORRIBLE HAPPENED. But alas, the DVR is SET.
And now you must tell me what you are NOT looking forward to. And the good stuff too!
I love writers. I love that they put their heart and soul into something that might never see publication, yet they do it anyway because they just have a story to tell. When publication actually happens, (it’s true, it can actually happen!) we must clap very loudly. Leave a comment at the end to win a book! Today let’s clap for THE CAGED GRAVES, a young adult novel by Dianne Salerni:
“The year is 1867, and seventeen-year-old Verity Boone is excited to return from Worcester, Massachusetts, to Catawissa, Pennsylvania, the hometown she left when she was just a baby. Now she will finally meet the fiancé she knows only through letters! Soon, however, she discovers two strangely caged graves . . . and learns that one of them is her own mother’s. Verity swears she’ll get to the bottom of why her mother was buried in “unhallowed ground” in this suspenseful teen mystery that swirls with rumors of witchcraft, buried gold from the days of the War of Independence, and even more shocking family secrets.” Doesn’t that sound good? And it was! Isn’t “Verity” a great name for a protagonist? I “met” Dianne through her blog, when she and Marcy critiqued the First Page of a novel I’m STILL working on. I’m very intrigued by writer’s habits and Diane so nicely accepted an invitation to chat. Here’s Dianne, with an exclusive author interview!
Hi Dianne! Were you always a writer?
Absolutely. I was writing stories even before I could write – or at least I drew them and got my parents to write the words for me. I kept notebooks full of stories throughout my childhood. In fact, the only time of my life when I did very little writing was when my children were babies and toddlers. Parenthood diverted my creative energies into scrapbooking for awhile.
How in the world do you find time with a full-time job and family?
My children are 13 and 16 now and quite independent. My husband and my daughters support my writing habit and do whatever they can to help – cooking dinner and cleaning up most nights so I don’t have to. I get time to write after school (I’m a 5th grade teacher.) and in the evenings. I also write on weekends – and like a madwoman during all school vacations.
What is your process: Drafts? Writing group? Computer? Notebook?
I write on a computer. The only time I resort to paper is when I’m stuck in a faculty meeting and write notes for a story while … um … pretending to take notes on the meeting.
I don’t outline. Any story I try to outline comes out lifeless and dull. I work best starting with a premise, a beginning, an ending, and a few plot points in between. That’s not to say that the first draft doesn’t become a painful ordeal, because it does!
Two critique partners, Marcy Hatch and Krystalyn Drown, read my chapters as I write – and I do the same for them. They keep me on target during the torturous first draft. My husband also reads the first draft. He has a keen ear for dialogue and lets me know anytime a character starts talking “out of character.” In addition to the CPs, I also have a number of beta readers I call on for later drafts.
Why do you write YA? Do your students give you ideas? Do they think it’s cool you are a published writer?
We Hear the Dead, was the first YA novel I’ve ever written. I chose to write that book for YA because the main character, Maggie Fox, was 14 at the beginning and 23 at the end. Then I continued writing for YA, which eventually led to my second published book, The Caged Graves.
My first published novel,
However, when I submitted a YA contemporary fantasy to my agent about a year ago, she immediately saw that my premise would work better for MG and asked me to lower the age of my main character from 15 to 14. The book promptly sold in a 3-book deal to HarperCollins, but that same character had to drop to age 13. So, now I’m a MG writer, too!
My students think it’s cool that I’m a published author, and yes, they help me. When I needed a new title for my first book, which was originally called High Spirits, I threw idea after idea at my editor to no avail. I shared my dilemma with my class, and one of my 5th grade students came up with the title, We Hear the Dead.
Last year’s class was there when I got the email about the HarperCollins deal. (I was unable to function the rest of that class period.) They lived through several editorial letters with me – and complained more than I did about the revisions I had to make! They got a sneak preview of the cover, and HarperCollins actually changed something based on their reaction. Knowing how invested they were in the book, my editor gave a thumbs-up to my listing the whole class in my Acknowledgments.
Do you have any advice in the face of rejection?
My biggest successes have come after moments of devastating rejection. One double rejection was such a blow that I considered quitting and never writing again except for my own private amusement. It was only a few weeks later that I received an offer of representation from the most wonderful agent in the business, Sara Crowe.
And my biggest book deal to date, the 3-book deal with HarperCollins, came immediately after another double rejection of two manuscripts from a publisher.
Rejections are horrible. But if you let them stop you in your tracks, you’ll never find out what might happen if you keep going a few steps more.
Was your trip to Wales this summer mainly for research? Tell us about your latest book.
When my family was planning a trip abroad, Wales came up for discussion because my daughters wanted to visit the Doctor Who Museum in Cardiff. I realized I could combine Doctor Who (and a BBC studio tour) with King Arthur research in south Wales, and Cardiff officially went down on our itinerary!
My next book is the first in a series of MG contemporary fantasy adventures with a King Arthur connection. Here’s a blurb:
THE EIGHTH DAY:
When seventh grader Jax Aubrey wakes up to a world empty of people, he does what anyone would do: assumes it’s the apocalypse, ransacks the local Walmart, and fortifies his guardian’s house against zombies. When he wakes up the next morning to a normal Thursday, Jax wonders if he’s lost his mind. But his 18 year-old guardian, Riley Pendare, also experiences Grunsday, an extra day squeezed between Wednesday and Thursday. Jax learns that some people exist only on Grunsday, including the girl who’s been hiding in the house next door for the last 35 years — her life skipping over seven days at a time like a stone skimming across a pond.
A mysterious girl who knows nothing of the regular world? Jax can’t think of a better way to spend his extra 24 hours than trying to befriend her. But Evangeline is the key to a 2000 year-old spell with its roots in Arthurian legend. Jax’s guardian is her reluctant jailor, sworn to keep her out of the hands of those who would use her – and kill her if he can’t. When Jax accidentally leads a pack of human bloodhounds to their door, it comes to a terrible choice: face a real apocalypse or sacrifice Evangeline.
Do you have any strange rituals or interesting quirks?
Well, I’m definitely strange and quirky. I talk to my characters a lot, and they talk to me. My family knows when they catch me muttering to myself, I’m usually talking through a piece of dialogue, testing it out to see how it sounds. That’s not to say that they don’t make fun of me. They do. But at least they don’t call for the men in the white coats.
Sounds like my kind of lady!
Bio: DIANNE K. SALERNI is a fifth grade teacher by day and a writer by night. She’s the author of YA historical novels, We Hear the Dead (Sourcebooks) and The Caged Graves (Clarion/HMH), and a forthcoming MG fantasy series, The Eighth Day (HarperCollins 2014). In her spare time, Dianne is prone to hanging around creepy cemeteries and climbing 2000 year-old pyramids in the name of book research.