Archive for the ‘author interview’ Category
Karen Pullen knows much about harnessing the power of both right and left brain thinking. In college she majored in math, but also took many courses in creative writing. After teaching math for a few years (calling it one of the “hardest jobs ever”), and raising a family, Karen decided to pursue a PhD in operations research (at a time when few women did). She spent many years working for a systems engineering consulting firm before coming to a crossroads in life. Over a decade ago, she left her job, moved from the Boston area to North Carolina and began a bed and breakfast. This move helped her connect back to the love of writing.
Karen still owns the B&B, and is an accomplished writer, and teacher. I know her as a kind and generous nurturer of talent and one of the visionaries who helped to create the Creative Writing Program at Central Carolina Community College (CCCC) in Pittsboro, NC. This program offers a creative writing certificate, a unique feature for a community college and continues to attract outstanding faculty. She’s recently harnessed her extraordinary gifts to write her debut novel, Cold Feet, one that is already garnering high praise.
I recently caught up with Karen to find out more about her novel.
1) Tell us about your first novel, Cold Feet. What’s in store for readers?
Stella Lavender is a young woman meeting unique challenges of life, love, and work. In Cold Feet she tries to manage her incorrigible grandmother, finds a dead bride, meets some wedding guests with surprising histories, intervenes between feuding innkeepers, risks her life buying drugs undercover from paranoid dealers, is nearly shot by a stalker, and unearths a money laundering scam. There’s a dog, a kidnapping, and even a car chase. Good times for Stella. She gets through them with a sense of humor and a strong survival instinct.
2) What was the most interesting tidbit that you came across while researching what a State Bureau of Investigation agent does?
About six years ago, to prove that serendipity is truly a force in the universe, I saw a short article in the Raleigh newspaper about a woman who’d just retired after 30 years in the SBI as an undercover drug agent. She’d been Miss Winston-Salem when she joined the agency, and that made her retirement news-worthy. I looked up her phone number and called her. She told me how the SBI works with local agencies and how people are assigned to different divisions. She told me some stories from her own experiences. She’s been available to answer questions, to save Stella from behaving idiotically.
But I don’t want to imply that Stella goes by the book. I had to bend the reality of the SBI to fit the story. I expect to hear from SBI agents who will want to set me straight.
3) In the novel there’s an implicit critique of romanticized notions of marriage and the traditional nuclear family. Did you intentionally want to explore these topics or did they emerge as you went along?
Michele, you’re right, but they emerged from my subconscious! Perhaps the fiction writer in me sees marriage as fertile territory for conflict.
Fern (Stella’s grandmother) rejects the institution, Stella’s just been dumped by her cheating fiancé, the murder takes place at a wedding. The groom’s mother is unhappily married, for the second time.
But other characters manage to stay together despite some real challenges. And the book ends happily. . . I won’t reveal more!
4) An important character in Cold Feet is transsexual. What prompted you to create her?
Michele, as a women’s studies professor you know that gender is a continuum. But from the instant of birth we put a baby into one of two gender boxes, male or female. Sometimes it’s the wrong box. Some children are aware from a very young age – around three – that they have been assigned the wrong gender. Can you imagine the confusion and loneliness of that boy or girl? The pressure to be different? Cold Feet’s transsexual character is flawed, but I tried to convey the desperation that motivated her to alter her sex. And I hope that she is appreciated as a whole person, not defined solely by her gender change.
5) Will we see more of your main characters, Stella and her grandmother Fern? What’s your next writing project?
Yes, I’m planning at least two more Stella Lavender books. Fern is such a favorite character that she’ll play a major role in both. I also have a short story collection that I’m polishing.
6) What’s on your bookshelf, next to your bed? What are you reading right now?
I just finished Unbroken by Laura Hillebrand, and I’m half-way through a biography of Isak Dinesen. I like to read biographies of writers. My favorite is Norman Sherry’s The Life of Graham Greene, in three fat volumes. Does that sound pretentious? I confess that I love Ruth Rendell’s mysteries. I own at least 20!
7) What’s your best writing tip that you’d like to share?
I’m working on short stories now, and one lesson I’m learning is how vastly a story can be improved when I do not hesitate to delete. Cut the word count, kill the darlings, minimize explanation, and you’ll increase intensity. An intelligent reader will connect the dots.
Karen Pullen left a perfectly good job at an engineering consulting firm to make her fortune (uh, maybe not) as
an innkeeper and a fiction writer. Her B&B has been open for 12 years, and her first novel, a mystery called
/Cold Feet/, was released by Five Star Cengage in January 2013.
I have met many inspiring writers through the online community She Writes and Kelly Hashway is one of them. Over the past two years, I’ve come to enjoy Kelly’s frequent blog posts (especially her weekly ‘Monday Mishmash’) and the knowledge she shares about the publishing industry. Kelly makes being a writer look easy and fun though I know she works very hard at the craft.
Hashway is a former language arts teacher who now works as a full-time writer, freelance editor, and mother to an adorable little girl. In addition to writing YA novels, Kelly writes middle grade books, picture books, and short stories. Her genres of choice are paranormal, fantasy, and horror. (She prefers creepy horror to gory horror.)
When she’s not writing or digging her way out from under her enormous To Be Read pile, she’s running and playing with her daughter. She resides in Pennsylvania with her husband, daughter, and two pets.
She is represented by Lauren Hammond of ADA Management.
Touch of Death, her first YA novel, has just been released and I thought this would be a great time to interview Kelly.
-Tell us about your debut YA novel, Touch of Death. Why did you want to write this book?
I came across two lesser-known myths about Medusa and the 13th sign of the zodiac while researching for another book, and I immediately fell in love with the stories. Everyone knows Medusa as this evil monster, but according to this myth, she was beautiful and wrongfully cursed by Athena. In another myth, Athena gave two vials of the Gorgon Medusa’s blood to Ophiuchus, who used the blood from the right side of Medusa’s body to become a healer. When I learned that one vial of blood (from the left side of Medusa’s body) had the power to kill, I wondered what would have happened if Ophiuchus had used it. My cast of necromancers was born from there.
-How did you get bitten by the ‘writing bug’? Did you always wish to become a published author?
I can’t ever remember a time when I didn’t want to be a writer. I’ve been writing since elementary school, but I got serious about it after my daughter was born. I went back to school to learn about the industry, and then I found my agent, who thankfully sold my books.
-What’s your process like when you’re working on a novel?
I spend some time planning the story first. Sometimes I have over 20 pages of notes (like with Touch of Death) before I draft. I draft quickly at that point. Touch of Death took 14 days to write. Then it’s revise, revise, and revise some more.
-You manage to pack a lot into your day! You are a consistent blogger, freelance editor and have numerous writing projects underway. How do these activities feed into each other and you?
They all involve reading and writing, which I love. I think I have the best jobs in the world. I work seven days a week and couldn’t be happier about it.
-If you could invite three living writers to a dinner party that you’re hosting, who would you invite and why?
Rick Riordan, Becca Fitzpatrick, and JK Rowling. Riordan is my idol. I love the Percy Jackson series. My copies have post it notes all over them, marking passages of brilliance. Fitzpatrick is the author of my favorite YA series, Hush Hush. I could talk to her about Patch all day long. And Rowling is a legend. I’d just let her talk and stare in awe.
-What’s your best writing tip that you’d like to share?
Read as much as you can. Reading great authors is the best form of research in my mind, and it’s fun too!
To learn more about Kelly and participate in her promotional giveaway (includes a copy of Touch of Death and great paranormal themed swag) visit her blog.
I am fortunate to live in a community known for its writers. But, Chatham County, NC isn’t just home to any type of writer. You’re more likely to find writers who are also small farmers and/or have a strong connection to the land they live on. Judy Hogan is one such writer. She’s a small farmer, editor, teacher and founder of the well-regarded Carolina Wren Press.
Judy attended a workshop I facilitated, in September, about identifying one’s relationship style to the creative self. I enjoyed meeting her and I so enjoyed hearing about her life- long love affair with creativity and creative writing. She’s one of those people that have always had a strong connection to their creative self and she has actively nurtured that relationship. I felt lucky to have a seasoned and esteemed writer participate so heartily in the workshop. Judy went on to write a blog about one of the exercises from that day.
She’s also very vocal about creating more space for what she calls ‘postmenopausal zest women’ in both literature and life. She is doing this with the debut of her main character, Penny Weaver, in her first novel, Killer Frost. We have so few complex archetypal models that explore women in their 50s-90s. I love how Judy is creating this new paradigm for our culture. May we all be as zesty, at any age, as Judy Hogan is now.
I taught at a historically black college a few years ago. I enjoyed the students very much, and I saw many grow and change, improve their reading and composition skills (my classes were to prepare them for the regular freshman composition), but I had too many with such poor skills, reading and writing at third grade level or too convinced that they couldn’t learn and wouldn’t try, that I wanted to call attention to this problem. I had already been taking up community issues in the previous novels I’d written, like unsafe storage of nuclear waste, air pollution, and unethical behavior in local political races. This problem of young African Americans who were admitted to college when they had no real hope of success troubled me. They believed they could graduate from college because they had been admitted. They couldn’t even succeed in high school level work, although they had graduated from high school. They were like an endangered species with the high likelihood that they would continue, or turn to, a life of crime in order to survive.
What’s your process like when you’re working on a novel?
Once I get an idea, I work out the characters, using Elizabeth George’s prompt sheet from her book on writing fiction: Write Away. I want to know the background, what they look like, any speech peculiarities, what they do under stress, what their goals are in life and in the novel, incidents that may have shaped them, even if I don’t use all this information. I deliberately set up characters that will tend to have conflicts with each other. I do know my killer and my victim. Then I draft as many scenes as I can, usually to the end of the novel. This is the hardest work. When I begin writing, I like to have a couple of months relatively free of teaching and other commitments, and then I try to do two hours in the afternoon and two hours in the evening, or about a chapter a day. Sometimes the plot changes slightly, but generally I follow that outline, adjusting as needed. Normally, it flows well, but I use “bum glue,” as George recommends. I stick in my chair for my hours and do the best I can. I can go back later and add or subtract. I do then type it up, revising some, and I send it to the two readers I now have for their reactions, not as editors, but as readers.
You manage to pack a lot into your day! You run a farm, blog, and teach classes. How do these different activities feed into each other and you?
My farm is very small, all, with the house, on half an acre: gardens (flower and vegetable), orchard, and chicken coop and run. I spend an average of two hours outside working in it, more in the growing season, less in winter. It’s a good healthy balance to my writing and reading life. I also preserve a lot of food for the winter, and I normally provide half my food for the year, which saves grocery bills and gives me variety and the best possible organic food, freshly picked.
The blogging (postmenopausalzest.blogspot.com), which I began in January 2011, has been fun. I can write about whatever I want to: health, recipes, poetry, aging, my own book Killer Frost, and other people’s books. My whole life is connected to my zest in these years, so it’s all apt. Since I do a lot of writing every day (journal, emails, and once a week, a poem normally), it’s not hard to find something I’ve already written to post on Sunday morning. I also like to read other mysteries and novels, so I do post reviews of them. It doesn’t take me long to write a review, because I write so easily now, having been writing since age seven, nearly seventy years now.
The classes I teach these years, usually only one creative writing class, in which we read good literature, and several backyard chicken workshops, do take some time. I need more income than my social security and some farm sales (eggs, figs, leeks) provide. Teaching is my second vocation, and I enjoy it. Literary classes take more preparation time than chicken workshops, but I teach books I love and enjoy rereading, most recently Marcel Proust’s In Search of Lost Time, and the novels of Virginia Woolf. They also nourish my writing, feed my mind. For me this all balances.
Who are some of the writers that you continually mine for technique, style, or phrasing?
I don’t exactly mine them. What happens to me, and it also happens to my students, is that, as we read and study fine writers, we absorb and learn their vocabulary, sentence structures, content, and this enriches the creative mind, which I liken to a field to which has been added the nutrients it needs, the compost, etc. I’ve been reading classics, in Latin, Greek, Russian, French, and both English and American literature since high school. I have favorite writers I go back to over and over, Homer, Proust, Jane Austen, Anthony Trollope, Ezra Pound, Virginia Woolf, and Henry James. I’ve decided to reread all of the James novels this winter. I rest more these years and give two or three hours a day to reading.
Will we see more of your main characters? What’s your next writing project?
Yes. Killer Frost is the sixth mystery in a series involving Penny Weaver, a postmenopausal zest woman, and her lover/husband Kenneth Morgan, a Welsh police detective. Two novels are set in Wales, where they met; the other eight, soon to be nine, take place in Riverdell, a central North Carolina village in the fictional county of Shagbark. They are part of an interracial community of activists who take up community issues. I love all my characters, and I hope to get all the books in print over the next five years.
Right now I’m working on the eleventh in the series, Fatality at Angelika’s Eatery. I hope to finish the draft by Christmas and to start the typing. The typing works better when I’m also teaching than the composition stage, when I need more time alone to focus in on my imaginary world.
What’s your best writing tip that you’d like to share?
Write what you wish to write. A writer is one who writes. I like and often remind myself of Virginia Woolf’s words in A Room of One’s Own (p. 110): “So long as you write what you wish to write, that is all that matters; and whether it matters for ages or only for hours, nobody can say. But to sacrifice a hair of the head of your vision, a shade of its colour, in deference to some Headmaster with a silver pot in his hand or to some professor with a measuring-rod up his sleeve, is the most abject treachery, and the sacrifice of wealth and chastity which used to be said to be the greatest of human disasters, a mere flea-bit in comparison.”
Judy Hogan founded Carolina Wren Press (1976-91), and was co-editor of Hyperion Poetry Journal, 1970-81). She has published five volumes of poetry and two prose works with small presses. She has taught all forms of creative writing since 1974. She joined Sisters in Crime in 2007 and has focused on writing and publishing traditional mystery novels. In 2011 she was a finalist in the St. Martin’s Malice Domestic Mystery contest. The twists and turns of her life’s path over the years have given her plenty to write about. She is also a small farmer and lives in Moncure, N.C.
email: judyhogan@ mindspring.com
I had heard about Ashley Memory several months before I met her. People in my monthly writing group raved about her new novel, Naked and Hungry and asked me, “Did you know she works at UNC-Chapel Hill?” I didn’t and set out to correct that oversight as I’m always interested in meeting faculty and staff members at the university who are also creative writers.
In September, I had the pleasure of meeting Ashley at a ‘Sisters in Crime’ writers’ group when I gave a workshop about creativity. I learned quickly that Ashley is a woman of many talents and passions. She’s been a professional communicator for over twenty years and has experience in writing, editing, media relations, and strategic communications. For the last six years, she has served as Communications Director for the Office of Undergraduate Admissions at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.
Her biography is long and distinguished, though you wouldn’t know that by talking with her because she’s so good at listening to her companion’s interests. Ashley has published essays and stories in Cairn, Portland Literary Review, Georgia State University Review, and North Carolina Wildlife. She has won the Doris Betts Fiction Prize sponsored by the N.C. Writer’s Network twice (!) and Eureka Literary Magazine nominated her short story Tamarisk for a Pushcart Prize. She is also an essayist; samples include Missing the Dixie Superette and For Barking Out Loud.
Her first novel, Naked and Hungry, was named a finalist in the 2009 James Jones First Novel Fellowship competition sponsored by Wilkes University and was published in 2011 by Ingalls Publishing Group.
And, to top it all off she is a crepes aficionado and also writes about crepes!
She’ll be a featured panelist at the upcoming N.C. Writer’s Network Fall Conference.
We’re both in a course on short fiction taught by Ruth Moose. I appreciate the depth of literary knowledge and writing craft that Ashley brings to the class. I find myself paying close attention when Ashley comments on a story (esp. the elements that aren’t working in it). I’m so glad she made time to chat with me about writing and the writing life.
Naked and Hungry is a darkly humorous suspense novel featuring a former loan officer named H.T. McMullen who rejects materialism and moves to a one-room cabin in the Uwharries. There he finds his pristine wilderness tainted by dangerous pollutants. And when he dares to complain, he becomes the target of a deadly game of intimidation by the high-powered villains.
Justin Catanoso, author of My Cousin the Saint, executive editor of The Triad Business Journal, and an early reviewer of my book kindly offered the words: “In Naked and Hungry, Ashley Memory has written an entertaining and twisting first novel with a storyline pulled from today’s headlines. Bank loans gone bad, pollution for profit, unchecked law enforcement, reluctant heroes. With shades of Richard Russo, Memory’s characters are quirky and funny and often a little dangerous. And her sense of place — small town North Carolina — is vividly rendered.”
Besides writing novels and short fiction, you also have written a book about crepes, a food you love. Is there a story about your passion for crepes and interest in teaching people how to make them?
I’ve loved eating crepes since I was a girl. When I was eight years old, my parents took me to a restaurant in Greensboro named, appropriately enough, Frenchy’s. There I had my first crepe, which was wrapped around beef burgundy and baked again in the oven until it was crispy. It was simply divine.
Many years later, when my father and I were thinking of starting an online business together, we quickly landed upon the concept of crepes. At that time, there seemed to be a dearth of good crepe recipes on the internet. This inspired us to create our own collection and launch World of Crepes at www.world-of-crepes.com. This effort sparked a true culinary adventure that led from experimenting in the kitchen to winning first place in the 2009 Citrus Dessert Challenge for our recipe for tangerine crepes.
The timing was right for the creation of the website because crepes are enjoying a renaissance of sorts due to an appetite for healthier eating. Crepes are low in gluten and calories and relatively inexpensive to prepare. In fact, Michele, I bet I could raid your pantry right now and make you a delicious dessert based on crepes. I would insist on bringing my own crepe pan, however, because I’m a bit finicky about the tools of my trade.
Do you conceive of a story in the voice of a narrator, or in key images or characters, or in events?
Great question. Occasionally an image, event or an overheard snippet of conversation will inspire me, but the most satisfying stories arise out of characters. A character is the shortest distance to a true story because they tend to drive the car, so to speak. When you plunk a believable character into a story, things such as motivation, action, and even physical description seem to write themselves. In these cases, it truly doesn’t feel like work! It’s more like a joy ride for the writer.
Can you give me an example?
Yes! The interactions and the mini-story arc in Naked and Hungry between my main character, H.T. McMullen and his office manager, Margaret Freeman, arose almost magically from my keyboard. With her MBA-wired brain, she was such a delightful antithesis to H.T.’s laissez-faire way of operating a business, it was as if I were operating a Ouija board rather than a keyboard.
What would you say to yourself if you could go back in time and meet yourself at the beginning of your writing career?
Never feel bad about losing yourself in a book, no matter what your parents say! Today, my parents would probably admit that there are much worse places a twelve-year-old girl could be than behind the couch secretly reading a copy of Endless Love. She could be doing the things in that book! The act of reading is so essential to writing that it should never be suppressed in any young person.
What’s the less glamorous side of a published writer’s life that aspiring writers often don’t see? And, how do you manage this side?
The book signings are fun, and these are the things that perhaps aspiring writers most envy, but for me, it’s the non-glamorous things that I most enjoy. It’s slipping away from a dinner party to write (headache, sorry!) or scribbling a random story idea on the back of a conference brochure. Fortunately for me, these things tend to manage themselves. The day job, the family life, and the obsession with cooking are also enjoyable, so I never feel as if I’m really sacrificing anything.
There is a little pressure nowadays to be promoting oneself on all available social media platforms, and I will admit to feeling overwhelmed from time to time. But while I have often regretted the time I’ve spent to set up and maintain a “presence” on the latest platform, I’ve never regretted a Sunday afternoon penning a new story.
What are you working on now?
I’ve just finished a follow-up novel to Naked and Hungry titled Born Again, Dead Again. After having taken a sabbatical from short stories for a while, I’m delighted to once again be exploring this short form. My career began with short stories and I’d be more than happy to go out this way.
What’s your best writing tip that you’d like to share?
It comes from an interview with Pat Conroy that I once read. I apologize, but I don’t remember his exact words. But the idea has never left me, and it’s worth a feeble attempt at paraphrasing.
When I have trouble with a story, Conroy said, it’s not because I haven’t done enough research on the details. It’s because I haven’t reached deeply enough inside myself. He implied that the answers to our struggles, be it writer’s block or whether a story is believable or not, lie within us.
So, when I find myself quibbling too much over a surface detail, I realize that the main problem with a story isn’t whether my character would have had depression glass in her cupboard but what would have motivated her to hurl this thing across the dining room at her husband. And it’s this – the emotional reality of a story – that’s the currency of a true writer.
See Ashley discuss Naked and Hungry here!
You can read more about Ashley here.
Photo Credits: http://ashley-memory.com/
How do we best preserve and study the record of lives lived outside and beyond the limits of the conventional? How do we document third wave feminist and queer activists’ work that is taking place in multiple mediums and often without a paper trail or through a specific organization? As someone who researches and teaches about second and third wave feminist movements, I believe these are important questions. Thankfully, Kelly Wooten has been thinking about the thorny challenges and advantages of researching, documenting and archiving contemporary activists in feminist and queer movements.
Kelly Wooten is the Research Services and Collection Development Librarian for the Sallie Bingham Center for Women’s History and Culture in the Special Collections Library, as well as being Librarian for Sexuality Studies for Perkins Library at Duke University. She’s also a graduate of the Department of Women’s and Gender Studies at UNC-Chapel Hill where I work. Her new book explores various perspectives on archiving traditional paper-based sources as well as blogs and social media, zines, and other kinds of material artifacts (e.g. tapes, CDs, protest posters, etc.,). I wanted to find out how Kelly approached writing this unique book that creatively brings together activists, archivists, librarians and scholars.
-Tell us about your new co-edited book, Make Your Own History: Documenting Feminist and Queer Activism in the 21st Century. What brought you to writing this book? What do you hope it will accomplish?
I started thinking about this book three years ago in 2009 when Emily Drabinski, the editor for the Litwin Books Series on Gender and Sexuality in Information Studies, emailed me out of the blue and asked if I would be interested in writing a book about zines after being referred to me by Jenna Freedman, the zine librarian at Barnard. My initial reaction was no, thanks, but then I realized this was a great opportunity to further explore some questions I had been asking about how to document the modern feminist movement beyond zines. Once we started exploring this topic, we realized it was hard to address without including pieces about queer activism and second wave feminism due to the intersectionality and fluid nature of feminism. I hope this book will highlight the Bingham Center’s leadership in documenting the modern feminist movement, but also share the other work being done at other institutions and encourage other archivists and activists to participate in this process since these movements are far too big for just a handful of archives to document.
-How did you find your contributors?
I started by recruiting my co-editor, Lyz Bly, a former Mary Lily Travel Grant recipient who had used the Bingham Center’s zine collections in her research for her dissertation, because I wanted a scholarly perspective to balance my librarian viewpoint. We decided to have a selective call for proposals, and ultimately five of the other contributors had direct connections to the Bingham Center including a former intern Angela DiVeglia, two other Mary Lily Travel Grant recipients: Alison Piepmeier and Kate Eicchorn, zine donor Sarah Dyer, and Alexis Gumbs, a Duke alum and frequent Bingham Center collaborator. The other contributors are part of a network of library colleagues, academics and activists that I’ve been privileged to connect with over the past few years and others who got drawn in through these connections.
-How did you get interested in girls’ studies, and zines made by women and girls?
I’ve always identified as feminist and have been interested in empowerment of women and girls, especially through self-expression, at least since college if not earlier. I wrote a zine in high school (I think we made 10 copies total and maybe 3 people read it), so when I found out about the Bingham Center and their acquisition of the Sarah Dyer Zine Collection while I was in library school, I knew I wanted to get involved. I made the zine collection the topic of a term paper, and later my master’s paper, and I was able to conduct a field experience with the Bingham Center (unpaid internship for course credit) that included curating an exhibit and bibliography about their girls’ literature collection, called “Beyond Nancy Drew.” So those topics were my first point of entry and exploration into the collections here, and when I became a staff member in 2006, I was able to capitalize on my experience and interest in those areas. Girls’ Studies has an inherent component of activism beyond just academic research—this requirement of involvement with a community really appeals to me, and I’ve been able to put this into practice through volunteering to teach zine workshops for Girls’ Rock NC summer camps over the past 6 years.
-What did you learn about the writing process that you didn’t know before you started working on your book?
The biggest thing I learned is that it’s probably not any easier to edit a book than to just write one yourself, but working with this diverse community of writers was rewarding and inspiring and I’m really glad to see it finally in print.
-You graduated with a dual major in English Literature and women’s studies from UNC-Chapel Hill. You know one of my favorite topics is hearing how people take their training in women’s studies and use it after graduation. How have you used your training?
My background in English and women’s studies really is the perfect combination for my work here at the Bingham Center. Women’s studies (the faculty, fellow students, and coursework combined) provided me with critical thinking skills, confidence in my ability to lead and make change (which came from a supportive community, not just individual faith in myself), and the tools I needed to be an activist and communicate and engage with the world. Due to my academic background, I am versed in the basics of feminist history and theory, which not only prepared me to engage with our collections of materials created by feminists like Robin Morgan and Kate Millett, but also provided the underpinnings for understanding the whole endeavor of documenting women’s history in general. Thankfully we no longer (or less frequently!) have to answer “Why do women’s stories and documents from women’s everyday lives matter?” but that question is at the heart of the work we do.
-What’s your best writing tip that you’d like to share?
I have to steal this from something I recently read that Zadie Smith recommended in a talk at the National Book Festival: write at a computer that is not connected to the internet. Of course this is almost impossible, so what really helped me was to set aside a reasonable block of time to focus on this project—just an hour or two at a time. I would take a pen and paper to a coffee shop to write or read essays and edit, or plan a phone date with my co-editor when we could talk uninterrupted by work or kids. It’s not much of a tip, but I had to schedule time for myself to avoid the guilt of avoiding this book! Also- if you are working with a writing partner or editor, or even by yourself if you are working on different computers or devices—Dropbox is a miracle.
Find out more about the book here
Kelly Wooten is the Research Services and Collection Development Librarian for the Sallie Bingham Center for Women’s History and Culture in the Special Collections Library, as well as being Librarian for Sexuality Studies for Perkins Library at Duke University. She provides reference and instruction for women’s studies, sexuality studies, and many other interdisciplinary areas using our rich collections of primary sources and online resources. She also plans a wide variety of public programming to highlight the women’s history collections at the Bingham Center.
Her special interests include book arts, girls’ literature and girls’ studies, contemporary feminist movements, and zines.
Brooke Warner is on a mission to help authors become savvy at all stages of book development—from idea generation to publication. Brooke is a founder of Warner Coaching Inc., and the newly minted She Writes Press. She is a former Executive Editor of Seal Press (a groundbreaking press that publishes the diverse voices and interests of women).
I met Brooke through She Writes, an online community for aspiring and distinguished women writers. Brooke is a frequent contributor on She Writes and I quickly learned what most writers do about her. She’s thoughtful, honest, deliberative, positive and supportive (even when delivering challenging updates about the publishing world). And as an insider in the world of publishing, she brings a wealth of expertise to She Writes discussions.
When I discovered she was writing a book geared toward aspiring authors, I knew that I wanted to invite her to share her wisdom with this audience. I am grateful for all Brooke does to make the publishing world seem a little less mysterious and daunting to aspiring writers.
1) Tell us about your new book, What’s Your Book? A Step-by-Step Guide to Get You from Inspiration to Published Author. What sparked your interest in writing this type of nonfiction book?
I have been working in the book publishing industry for the past thirteen years. I just left my position as Executive Editor of Seal Press in late April. I realized that I not only needed, but wanted, to experience firsthand what my authors were going through. I also felt I had some progressive, supportive, and optimistic things to say about publishing in this new era of publishing. My coaching is a blend of heavy-duty support, discipline, and honest critique, and I decided it was time to try to put down in writing some of the ideas and strategies I’ve been teaching aspiring writers since I started coaching in 2007. Also, publishing is changing so much all the time, and it’s changed drastically since I started in 2000. I think a lot of people are confused by the options, or don’t really understand how publishing works, so my book offers insight and good advice about approaching publishing in what I call this new publishing frontier.
2) You made a public commitment to write your book by a certain date and asked your reading public to hold you accountable. How did making that commitment support you in the completion of the book?
It was huge! The reason I did this at first was because I was going to be launching a class with my colleague, Linda Joy Myers, President of the National Association of Memoir Writers, called “Write Your Memoir in Six Months.” We conceived of it late last year and I decided I wanted to give it a go, to see how hard it would be to write my own book in six months. As a coach, I know that at least half the value of what I offer is giving my writers accountability, so I knew I needed that too. Plus I wanted to give my clients and people I’m connected to through social media a chance to be engaged in my process. It was fantastic, and fantastically challenging! I’m really excited about our first memoir class, too, now that I’ve been through the six-month challenge and have a sense of what it takes to really do it.
3) You’ve been an acquisitions editor and been in publishing for a long time. You’ve witnessed firsthand the dramatic changes sweeping across the industry. What’s one thing every aspiring author needs to know about the new publishing terrain?
The biggest and hardest thing to come to terms with is the importance of platform to industry professionals. This, in my opinion, has been the single biggest change (other than technology) that has happened during my time in book publishing. When I first started platform didn’t look like it does today, and in part technology is the reason. Writers are expected to have well-trafficked blogs and lots of followers on social media. In order to get a book deal, the marketing and publicity the author brings to the table, sometimes before the book is even complete, plays a big role. So I’m always reminding the writers I work with, as they’re toiling away on their projects, that they need to be tending to their platform. As an editor at Seal I rejected plenty of good projects from authors who didn’t have a platform, so it’s a really important component now of traditional publishing. On the other hand, I will say that self-publishing has never been more exciting or more accepted, so the upshot here is that while traditional publishing’s barriers are getting higher and more impenetrable all the time, self-publishing is looking more attractive and interesting with each passing month.
4) Let’s imagine that you were hosting a magnificent dinner party and got to invite three well-known writers. Who would you choose and why?
First is Toni Morrison, hands down. I’ve read every book she’s written. She’s the single most influential writer in my life because she touched me at a really critical time in my intellectual development. I have to credit her for my love of good writing. I would choose Stephen King because I think he has a brilliant mind. I liked his books when I was younger, but I like that he’s a writer who thinks about writing and imparts his experience and wisdom to aspiring writers. Finally, I would invite Caroline Knapp (assuming we can suspend disbelief here and invite someone who’s no longer with us). I would invite her because I would want a memoirist in the group and for me she’s a memoirist who embodied the skills I’m trying to teach my memoirists. She was transparent, honest, vulnerable, and relatable. Her books are about her, but they are without fail about everywoman.
5) Besides promoting your current book, what’s next for you?
The biggest thing on my plate right now is growing She Writes Press, my new self-publishing venture with SheWrites.com founder Kamy Wicoff. We launched the press at the end of June, on the third anniversary of She Writes. To date we’ve received 52 submissions and we have thirteen books in the production process for our pilot program. This has been a really exciting endeavor, and my own book is the first book to be published by She Writes Press. I will never stop supporting traditional publishing, but I have strong reasons for having wanted to self-publish, which I discuss in my book. So I’m thrilled to be partnering with Kamy in this way and to continue to support women writers, which was something that brought me a lot of fulfillment in my role at Seal Press as well.
6) What’s your best writing tip that you’d like to share?
Tough question. There are a lot of tips depending on what a writer’s particular struggle is, but I think the number one tip is to be self-protective with your writing life. Sometimes this means guarding yourself against others and their feedback and opinions, whether you’re at the early stages or shopping your book. But sometimes this means guarding yourself against your own inner critics, the ones who tell you to give up, who makes excuses for why you should write later, who insist that it’s going to be embarrassing to have your work out in the world. Even doing a how-to book I found the inner critic to be a formidable foe! I had to find ways to work through that, and to allow the process to be fun and sacred and to not always feel like something scary or a burden. Writing opens you up in unimaginable ways, and when our hearts are open, they’re sometimes a little raw. So protect and persevere!
Brooke Warner is founder of Warner Coaching Inc. and publisher of She Writes Press. Brooke’s expertise is in traditional and new publishing, and she is an equal advocate for publishing with a traditional house and self-publishing. What’s Your Book? is her first book, and she’s honored to be publishing on She Writes Press.
Find Brooke online:
To purchase Brooke’s book: http://warnercoaching.com/order-wyb/
(Photo credit Jen Molander Photography)
I met Ruth Moose, several years ago, when I taught ‘Yoga for Creative People’ through UNC-Chapel Hill’s Adult Continuing Education Program. The class was geared to explore how mini yoga practices could support and amplify creative effort. Ruth was probably the most well known writer in the room, but you would never know that from her. She explored all of the postures and accompanying writing exercises with enthusiasm and often peals of laughter. I was taken with her generosity of encouraging comments toward other participants’ work. Her commitment to supporting other writers and creative folk is almost legendary as I came to learn. A majority of North Carolina writers and artists know Ruth and have either been mentored or taught by her. I am so happy I caught up with her recently to talk about her latest collection of short stories, Neighbors and Other Strangers.
Tell us about your new short story collection, Neighbors and Other Strangers. What inspired it? Are there recurring themes that you explore?
Neighbors and Other Strangers is the first of three collections of short stories I have in the accumulations bin. These stories were written over a period of years and pulled from the files in an attempt to center around a theme. I saw a sort of older, maybe 1960s sort of neighborhood where each of these narrators might live. They represent blue-collar folks, those on a lower rung on the middle class. People I know who don’t get into the literature very much. Real people with real lives who do their jobs, love their families (mostly) and get by every day with some patience and a lot of fortitude.
What advice do you wish someone had given you as you were developing your craft as a writer? Also, what was the best writing advice you got?
I have accumulated so much advice over the years, and given so much, it’s hard to pick out shining moments or gold nuggets. If writing is your passion, nothing is ever going to stop you. Not all the rejections in the world. You may be momentarily slammed down (and trust me I have been, still am), but you’ll somehow pick yourself up and find yourself back on the page. I’ve told students writers don’t need alcohol or drugs. The writing life can give you the highest highs…..finishing a good piece, getting something published, wining an award. Those are the true highs.
The best writing advice I ever got and give, is the oldest…..read, read, read. Fill your mind with words, live on them, and feed on them.
Poetry is one of your loves. What keeps you coming back to the form of poetry for self-expression?
Poetry is not my first love. It’s always the short story. But poetry feeds your writing, your life, and your mind. I really treasure these online poem-a-day sites. And I often print out the poems, tape them to my office bookshelves, and enjoy them longer than the few seconds on the screen. Some I’ve kept taped to my kitchen cabinets until they yellow and crinkle and I’ve almost memorized them.
It’s funny The Librarian poems have gotten such an audience. I’ve never written so many poems through the persona viewpoint. She’s me, but not me, if that makes sense. I do have a graduate degree in library science and worked as a reference librarian, so I borrowed the setting, etc. But I am a teetotaler, haven’t had a gentleman caller (the Scholar in The Librarian) and a lot of the other stuff that’s pure imagination in the poems. I do have a cat, but he’s nicer than Percy. The second half of that collection was written first. The grief poems were how I dealt with my husband’s death. It is a long and protracted grief that even almost ten years later can ambush. Somehow the Librarian stepped into my life, jerked me up short and said “Enough”, move on. So I have….slowly. The last librarian poem says that. When I wrote it I knew it was the last one of the 55 persona poems for the collection. It’s very, very difficult to write through grief and grieving without getting bogged in clichés. That was one of the hurdles. Maybe the Librarian truly helped me jump the hurdles.
While a faculty member at the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill you received an award for distinguished teaching at the undergraduate level. What did you enjoy about teaching student writers?
I loved teaching! And each semester always felt I got the best class ever. Those shiny faces, eager eyes, and bright smiles. I loved planning writing assignments, prompts, reading their work. And I got a lot of really good work. I even got a kick out of reading their papers, seeing real leaps in their writing, thinking, and imagination.
What’s your best writing tip that you’d like to share?
There are so many good writing tips and I’ve just enjoyed and used a million of them over the years. So I’d say just use the one that works best for the moment, the place you’re in, both in your writing and your life.
But the golden rule is always read, and, of course, look and listen with all your heart. And try to get some of it on paper.
Ruth Moose is the author of three collections of short stories, Neighbors and Other Strangers (Main Street Rag Press), The Wreath Ribbon Quilt (St. Andrews Press) and Dreaming in Color (August House) as well as five poetry collections. Her poems and stories have appeared Atlantic Monthly, Redbook, Prairie Schooner, Yankee, The Nation, Christian Science Monitor and other places. Her stories have been published in England, Holland, South Africa, and Denmark. She received a McDowell Colony Fellowship and was recognized for outstanding teaching before recently retiring from The University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill.
Ruth is teaching a short story workshop through The Writers’ Workshop in Charlotte, Sat. July 14th, in Asheville, NC. For more details, email her at firstname.lastname@example.org
Steve Mitchell is doing his part to keep readers fascinated by the craft of short stories with his new collection, The Naming of Ghosts recently published by Press 53. One reviewer described his prose as “lyrical” and how his richly imagined stories in Ghosts “haunt the reader long after the final pages.” Steve has been a construction worker, cowboy, substitute teacher, chef, and has developed and managed a mental health program for the chronic mentally ill. His work has been published in the Southeast Review, Contrary, Glossolalia, and The North Carolina Literary Review, among others, and has been nominated three times for the Pushcart Prize.
And aside from these great credentials, I can say he’s generous and kind toward emerging writers. I met Steve while assisting my writing teacher, Marjorie Hudson (another Press 53 author), at a workshop she gave. He made me and other aspiring writers feel welcomed and encouraged. I’m so happy to connect him with this wonderful community of creative folk.
What drives your creative work?
Curiosity and doubt.
In the end, writing for me is about wonder. Even if the particular work doesn’t reflect it immediately. It’s about the wonder and mystery of living; the necessity of questions, the beauty of not knowing, the wonderful impossibility of ever understanding another person completely. Uncertainty provides a beautiful space in which to meet one another.
I pretend to be another person, pretend to see the world through their eyes. I’m searching for patterns in our experience, I guess. The things which draw us together and pull us apart, the things which make us want to reach out for another or the moments when we have no choice.
Also, I think all writers revel in a love of language. The thrill of it, the way it tastes and sounds and forms itself around the tongue. It’s a tactile, sensual obsession we share.
How do you decide what point of view a story will be in? Do you experiment a lot or just get a sense right away? Has there ever been a story you had to completely rewrite in a different point of view?
Generally, the point of view comes with the story. I write predominantly in the first person, from the point of view of the characters themselves, so that’s usually where I begin: with a particular person in a particular situation or state of mind. They form together, story and point of view, from an amorphous blob of frustrations and associations.
The voice, however, can take quite a while to develop. I do experiment a good bit with voice and I have started a piece again from the beginning with a new voice more than once. The voice requires patience.
Tell us about your new short story collection, The Naming of Ghosts. Is it held together by a set of recurring themes?
These are stories written over a number of years and the idea was simply to collect stories which held together, got along with each other somehow. It was more of an intuitive process, not around themes, more as a certain kind of ride or journey. It’s always about people, what happens within or between people and how that changes the world around them.
With that said, the themes present are those that always intrigue me. The tension between intimacy and safety, between intimacy and community, the ways in which we all constantly change shape to negotiate that tension. The way tiny moments or insights in our lives can bring about lasting shifts in who we are, changes in our world. The way the past and future are constantly sifting into our present as active forces
Robert Olen Butler, in an interview, said that developing a character is about understanding yearning. He differentiates between a fully rounded character who yearns (“for self or for connection”) versus a character “who simply has problems.” He feels that the “yearning dictates every other choice.” When you’re writing, how aware are you of the essential yearning of your main character?
I think this is the essential human condition; we are creatures who imagine, envision and yearn. It’s the foundation of empathy and empathy is the key to writing.
As a writer, I feel I must love every character. That’s my job. To love the inarticulate or the unlovable; to understand something about them which makes them human.
There may be characters who can’t articulate their own yearning. This doesn’t mean it isn’t there, it only means it isn’t spoken.
Yearning is the driver, superseding other concerns, because yearning speaks to the shadowy, ill-defined ways we actually see the world around us. Yearning is always idiosyncratic; it means we make choices which comply to an internal logic or mythology, but aren’t necessarily understandable to anyone else.
And I love the gaps which occur between our personal mythologies, between what we accept as a given which, possibly, no one else sees or understands.
What’s changed for you since being published by Press 53?
Well, it was a year and a half between acceptance and publication, during which I was always vaguely anxious, certain that some crisis or tragedy would prevent the book from coming into being. It was scheduled for 2012, so I secretly believed the Mayan calendar would end the day before publication and the universe would blip out of existence. I was relieved when that didn’t happen.
There is a sense of completion, the ability to take a deep breath.
But I’m really just beginning. It’s only been a month or so. I’m looking forward to going on the road and reading in bars, on street corners, maybe even in bookstores. I’m looking forward to meeting people and introducing them to the stories, beginning a dialogue. That should be fun.
It’s also released a good bit of energy. Suddenly I have five or six projects going at once.
What’s on your bookshelf, next to your bed? What are you reading right now?
Jen McConnell’s Welcome, Anybody. She was published in the Press 53 Spotlight Anthology 2011 with me and I enjoyed her stories.
Mindscreen, by Bruce Kawin, a theory and study of first person film. I read it years ago and hadn’t realized what an influence its been.
Roberto Bolano’s 2666, a re-read. A beautiful, mysterious, relentless book.
Final Acts, Death, Dying, and the Choices We Make, edited by Nan Bauer-Maglin and Donna Perry. Research for a novel in progress.
Just as important, I’m currently watching Alex de la Iglesia’s The Last Circus and the second season of Treme; I’m listening to Bruce Peninsula, Foals, Osvaldo Golijov, and Jon Brion.
What’s your best writing tip that you’d like to share?
Cultivate a sense of beauty. Because if the world isn’t beautiful it’s not worth saving and all writing is about saving the world, if only from the wear of time.
Be curious; not only about the things that interest you, but especially about the things that frighten you, make you uncomfortable.
Work beyond your reach.
Writing is life; life is writing. There’s no other way.
Sorry, I couldn’t stop at one.
Steve Mitchell is a writer who has also worked in theatre, film and multi-voice poetry. He is currently completing a novel, Body of Trust. Find out more about him and his cat, Mr. Zip at http://www.thisisstevemitchell.com/
MaryLynn Bast is rewriting the rules in paranormal fantasy romance and erotica. Her ‘Heart of a Wolf ‘series has electrified readers with No Remorse, the first novel in the series, released earlier this year. Her newest novel just released May 18th is called One Bite to Passion, an erotica paranormal romance novel published by Renaissance E Books. Her strong and complex female characters, seductive erotic scenes, and productivity (producing two novels and short stories in a year!) are gaining MaryLynn a strong fan base. She also is an exemplar for writers to learn from as she is navigating both traditional and self-publishing routes.
A friend of mine on She Writes, I’m delighted to welcome MaryLynn to this community of readers.
1) How did you get interested in writing about Amber, a dominant female werewolf, in your new novel No Remorse?
A friend recommended that I enter a short story contest writing about werewolves. I had always written contemporary romance, so I figured what the heck, so I gave it a shot. All the werewolf stories I had read were predominately male. I wanted to change it up and created Amber’s character. I felt that she had to be independent and strong to live up to being a werewolf.
I wrote Amber’s story as suspense but never entered the manuscript into the contest. I put it aside and continued working on Softest Touch, the story I had been working on. However, Amber kept calling to me. When I started working with her again, her story just flowed Amber’s character was created. Since I write romance, No Remorse turned into a paranormal romance.
2) When a story idea comes to you, how do you decide what point of view to use?
I generally like to write third person because I find that first person is limiting. However, there are a few stories I have written that are in first person. Sometimes you just want the mystery that goes along with not knowing everything that is going on around the character we get in a third person view. For the most part my opening paragraph is what determines how I am going to write. I don’t really think about…the words usually just as I type them and it happens.
3) When you get stuck what do you do?
When I get stuck I usually put the story aside and work on another story that I have worked on. When my brain just won’t wrap around writing, I try to step away and read a book. Sometimes that helps to me to work through the writer’s block or the issue I am having in a scene. When all else fails, my aunt Peggy is my go to person. I talk through the scenes with her. Generally just talking about it and getting the thoughts out of my head helps me work through it.
The most rewarding experience was when I was received a message from a reader that they absolutely loved my story and that I was moved to the top of their favorite author list. That made me smile and just made my day. When I am wondering what I was thinking in pretending to be an author, I look back through those kinds of messages and remember that my stories are being read and bring joy to others. It makes it all worthwhile.
5) What have you learned about being a writer in public (i.e. dealing with reviews, managing the promotional aspect of publishing, finding time to write, etc.)?
Dealing with my first negative review was really hard for me in the beginning. I had to remind myself that not everyone is going to like my style of writing. I even picked up a book by a famous author that I had read before and liked. In my opinion, the book I had read really sucked and I just could not read it any further. I realized then that it was the frame of mind I was in when I started reading. I went back later when I wasn’t having a bad day and read the story and I liked it.
Managing the promotional part of writing takes a lot of time and effort. It is really hard to juggle the time spent promoting and find that it takes a lot of time away from writing. Especially having two different books come out within two months of one another gets a little harrowing when you send the info for one book to the web host and they were expecting the other.
I have lost A LOT of sleep over promoting and worry about doing it just right.
I have learned though, that there are some great bloggers out there who are willing to step in and help an author out. Like Michele and so many others. They have taken time out of their day to help promote an author’s book. I for one appreciate how much they have helped out.
6) If you could invite three living writers to a dinner party that you’re hosting, who would you invite and why?
Of course I would have to invite my favorite authors Sherilynn Kenyon because I absolutely love her Dark Hunter Series. Christine Feehan, her Dark Carpathian novels are one of my favorites. And I could not forget to invite Laurel K. Hamilton. The Anita Blake Series is hot and steamy and shows that a girl doesn’t have to just have one lover or be stuck with loving just one being. Getting these three authors in the room would make my day, hell, my year! With the three of them, I could only imagine the ideas that would be flying around the room.
7) What’s the best writing tip you’d like to share?
Editors are all knowing. That is what I thought when I first started. I have since learned that there are three different kinds of editors, Content, Line and Proof.
Content editors look at the story as a whole to help insure that the characters are well developed and the story is strong and concise.
Line editors help with sentence structure and word flow.
Proof editors fix grammar, typos, punctuation, etc.
Most people who call themselves ‘editors’ are usually a proof editor and know very little on how to work with content and line editing. Before I realized it, I had spent a lot of money with my first editor to get proof editing only.
I later found out about beta readers. After the editing fiasco, an author offered to beta read for a fee. I had no clue and once again paid for services that were less than par. Later, I found out that most beta readers do this service for free.
Plus, I had done the process backwards. Beta reader first, and then editing would have saved me a lot of re-writes and a lot of money.
There are so many people out there who are willing to help. And just as many willing to take advantage. Talk to authors, bloggers and book reviewers. Most are very willing and able to point you in the right direction. I can’t stress enough…research and ask as many questions as you can if you want to become an author.
MaryLynn Bast resides in Las Vegas when she is not traveling the world with her job as a contractor with the US Military. Bast enjoys writing paranormal fantasy romance erotica stories because she can allow her imagination to run rampant, her characters can obtain abilities not possible in the real world…or are they?
Go visit her http://heartofawolf.com/Blog/
I’m so excited to introduce readers to novelist, therapist, and coach Fiona Robyn. Fiona has just completed her 4th novel, The Most Beautiful Thing. Fiona writes, teaches and specializes in an attention to mindful writing practice. She helps people slow down, pay attention, and “reconnect with ourselves” in order “to understand and love the world around us.” Her and her husband Kaspa teach e-courses and inspire people through their online community Writing Our Way Home. I met Fiona on She Writes, where she is a regular contributor, and noticed our overlapping interests in coaching, Buddhism and writing. I wanted to find out how she combines these passions in service of her teaching and writing.
1) Do you conceive of a story in the voice of a narrator, or in key images or characters, or in events?
My stories always arrive through my protagonists – they appear in my head one day, usually with a name and a vague physical form, and as I spend some time getting to know them their story emerges. I might ask myself what kind of music they like, where they live, or whether they have a partner. They always come first, and I see it as my responsibility to share their story as accurately as I can through the novel.
2) Where did your current idea for your novel come from? What’s your process like when you’re working on a novel?
Joe appeared in my head! I also knew that he’d be spending time in another country – at first I thought it might be somewhere like Hawaii, which would have been nice for research purposes, but it turned out to be Amsterdam! A bit more practical to go and visit… My process is quite similar for each novel – the first draft is hell (and goes slowly and reluctantly), the second draft is a bit more fun, the third draft is enjoyable, and then the fourth and fifth (when I’m taking out commas and putting them in again) can become tedious. I try to work on the writing most weekdays, and I prioritise the writing above all other activities. I’m getting ready to work on my fifth, and am both looking forward to it and feeling anxious… can I really do it again?
3) You have a very active online presence. You write, teach, and run several blogs. How do these different activities feed into each other and you?
‘Very active’ might be a polite way of saying I spend far too much time online : ) I feel very lucky to be engaged with people in a variety of ways, and all these activities feed each other nicely. The concept of small stones (http://www.writingourwayhome.com/p/small-stones.html) has been personally helpful to me as a tool for staying mindful, and it also helps others to connect with their worlds. We do great work on our mindful writing e-courses (we being me and my husband Kaspa) and it’s a privilege to share our student’s journeys. It all makes a lovely nourishing mess.
4) David Long said that the mind of a story has an attitude, or a personality. Do you have a particular attitude that you find yourself writing?
Interesting question. I guess most of my stories are concerned with telling the truth – allowing one of my characters to be more honest about who they are. I find it difficult to differentiate between my protagonist’s attitude and the attitude of the story, but I can see that there’s a difference… Maybe I’d have to ask my readers about that one!
5) When and why did you start bringing the practice of ‘mindfulness’ to the writing process?
I’ve always been interested in spirituality, and a few years ago I became a Pureland Buddhist. Independently, I started writing small stones in 2005 and have written them daily ever since. Mindfulness has been important to me as a writer, and as a spiritual practitioner. We also use the word ‘mindfulness’ as a bit of a buzz word – something that people can easily recognise and respond to, like ‘Zen’. A more accurate way of saying ‘mindful writing’ might be ‘writing that helps you connect with yourself, others, the world and something more sacred’. With this kind of writing, what’s learnt by the writer is more important than the quality of the writing that’s produced. A lovely side-effect of writing with more of our ‘self’, though, is that the resulting writing is often very powerful and precise and luminous.
6) What’s your best writing tip?
Just one? Hmm… Try to love yourself and love your writing, whatever comes up. Be kind to yourself. Writing is a scary business, and involves opening up layer after layer of ourselves to be looked at and commented on by the general public. Remember, also, that the process of writing will bring you great treasures – never mind publication (although of course you should seek it), keep focus on the process. Oh, that was two.
Reviews of The Most Beautiful Thing
“This book really is a beautiful thing. Enter the world of Joe, 14 years old and spending the summer in Amsterdam with his artist aunt Nel. Beautifully observed, tender, thoughtful and insightful, this book twists and turns in the way that life does…revealing beauty and dysfunction. Fast forward in time to 15 years later when Joe returns to Amsterdam uncovering a tragedy and a secret that will turn his world upside down. This is a memorable book; a truly beautiful thing; a story that stays with you long after you read it. Definitely the best book I’ve read this year.”
~Jackie Stewart, Flower Spirit: Soul medicine for conscious living
“I was surprised by this wonderful novel. I thought initially it was going to be a ‘relationship’ book, but as I became more involved with the characters I realised it was a significant contribution to the literature of ‘The Outsider’. From Dostoevsky to Camus writers have attempted to delve into the psyche of those who behave differently, who are perhaps more creative, more violent, more passionate, more remote, than the supposedly normal person. Fiona Robyn captures beautifully the outsider in gently affectionate prose. Joe is an outsider, an insecure, bookish, distant teenager. In two slices of Joe’s life the author manages to capture the complexity that so many teenage boys and young men grapple with. Sexual frustration, the retreat into books, facts, figures, anything to repel the difficulties presented by a world filled with the puzzle of other people. From the perspective of middle age I can identify with so much experienced by Joe, both as a teenager and a young adult, and am amazed at the perspicacity of Fiona Robyn in capturing it so well.” ~Anthony Foley via Amazon.com
“Lovely, vivid, capturing. I didn’t want to stop reading this once I started. What a wonderful job of capturing the beauty and agony of family!” ~Brandi Trevisan via Goodreads
About Fiona Robyn
I enjoy helping people to honour their muses and find a way of integrating creativity into their everyday lives. I also enjoy working with themes around career, meaning, spirituality and, of course, writing.
I am influenced by humanistic and existential thinking and Buddhist psychology. These theoretical approaches, and a lifetime of my experiences as an ordinary person and as a novelist with different projects and priorities to juggle, all inform my way of working.
I am a published novelist. I hold a coaching diploma with the Oxford School of Coaching and Mentoring, and I’m a BACP Accredited psychotherapist in private practice. I have a Diploma in Buddhist Psychotherapy with the Amida Trust. Before becoming self-employed I worked both in the private and charity sectors.