The Practice of Creativity

Posts Tagged ‘writers

Hi folks,

I’m thrilled to officially announce that I will be one of the many authors participating in Greensboro Bound: A Literary Festival. This relatively new literary festival is the love child of many people including readers, writers, bookstore owners and others in the Greensboro area. They eventually formed the Greensboro Literary Organization, a nonprofit organization that helps to manage the festival. This year the festival is May 16-19. I’ll be on a few panels including one about speculative fiction, more details soon.

Find out more here

Here are the books that will be featured at Greensboro Bound:

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Writers’ conferences provide fantastic opportunities to meet authors through other writer friends and also serendipity. Both played a recent role in how I met today’s guest, Miriam Herin. I was introduced to Miriam by Marjorie Hudson, my writing teacher and friend. Last July, we all were attending the North Carolina Writers Conference (NCWC). The NCWC is an invite and membership only, volunteer based organization that’s been around for over six decades co-founded by esteemed writer Paul Green. I was a newly admitted member.

During one of the breaks, I found myself chatting with Miriam and her husband, Tom. There was time before the next session and we were all headed to the bar for refreshments. I was about to sit on a stool by myself but Miriam and Tom waved at me and asked me to join them, which I happily did. The three of us talked as if we had known each other for a long time. I love it when I make that kind of connection. I enjoyed hearing about Miriam’s journey as a writer and her persistence and perseverance on the path. I’m grateful for the introduction; our conversation was a highlight of the conference.

Miriam Herin is an accomplished author. Miriam’s first novel Absolution won the 2007 Novello Press Literary Award and was cited by Publishers Weekly as an “impressive” debut that “skillfully combines a contemporary courtroom thriller with a subtle look back at the competing passions and pressures of the Vietnam War era.” The novel also received Independent Publisher‘s Gold Award for Best Fiction, Southeast Region, and was a Finalist for Foreword Magazine’s 2007 Novel of the Year.

Miriam is a short story writer, too, and her short story Lucky, won the 2018 Doris Betts Fiction Prize, and was recently published in the North Carolina Literary Review. To read the story: https://issuu.com/eastcarolina/docs/2019-nclr_online-final/140

Miriam’s second novel A Stone for Bread (Livingston Press, West Alabama University) was a top-ten finalist in the 2014 Faulkner-Wisdom novel competition, received a starred Kirkus Review through the Kirkus indie program, and was named a Kirkus Best Books of 2016.

About A Stone for Bread:

In 1963, North Carolina poet Henry Beam published a collection of poems supposedly saved from a Nazi slave labor camp. The authorship controversy that followed cost Henry his university teaching position and forced the poet into decades of silence. Thirty-four years after the poems’ publication, Henry breaks that silence when he begins telling grad student Rachel Singer the story of his study year in Paris, how the naïve young American became entangled with fiery right-wing politician Renard Marcotte, his love affair with the shopgirl Eugenié and his unnerving encounter with the enigmatic René, the Frenchman Henry claims gave him the poems. A Stone for Bread moves back and forth in time from 1997 North Carolina to post-World War I France, to Paris in the mid-1950’s and into the horror of the Mauthausen concentration camp in Austria.

Miriam writes across historical eras and tackles big themes in her work. I couldn’t wait for her to share her wisdom with us. I’m so delighted to welcome Miriam Herin to The Practice of Creativity.

-Why did you write A Stone for Bread? What’s in store for readers?

I think a general answer to the first question would be I haven’t a clue, at least not in terms of what the novel is about. When I first started discussing the published novel at bookstores and with groups, I would say that the opening chapter seemed to have come out of nowhere. But not too long ago, I realized that wasn’t true, having recalled my own very early childhood at Fort Benning, Georgia, when our family would picnic in the woods and I would pick up bullet casings from the soldiers’ war games. The rest of the book was more rationally contrived from the notion of a lost collection of poems and a disgraced poet. I had also just finished a very long and still unpublished historical novel set in France, so I decided to use what I’d learned in my research of the country for the novel’s setting.

I think the real answer to the first question, however, is found in the answer to the second one. I hope that readers will find in the novel compelling characters with their separately revealed stories that may also shed light on our day from the vantage of epochal and horrifying 20th century events. Taped beside my desk is a very old 3 x 5 card on which is typed (probably on a long ago typewriter) my personal mantra as a writer: “If the world were clear, art would not exist.” Camus

-How did you get bitten by the writing bug?

I had wanted to write novels from the age of six, after my mother read Bambi to me. This wasn’t the Walt Disney version, but the original novel by Felix Salton which dealt with death and loss and the trials of coming of age. However, I didn’t seriously begin writing fiction until I was forty (I’d had a short story published in my college literary magazine but was too shy even to put my real name on it). My sense of myself through school and later teaching college students was that I didn’t have the ability to write fiction. So I had studied it instead, spending four years in grad school. What pushed me to try writing fiction were life-changing sessions with a therapist through which I also discovered the power of “story” to shape our lives and choices from our earliest childhood.

 -What advice would you give a writer attempting a historical novel?

Characters don’t have to be actual historical figures, but they need to seem authentic to the time period and place in which the story is set.  This isn’t always easy to know or visualize and may take a good bit of research to come close to that authenticity. Dialogue in fiction, for example, seldom resembles or even should resemble “real” speech (if it did, it would be deadly boring on the printed page). What’s important is for dialogue to seem realistic to the characters and setting as well as authentic to the time of the story. When setting fiction in an early time period or a place that is non-English speaking, I find simulating dialect usually works better than trying to recreate in English the actual language or its “foreignness.” This is when the old adage “less us more” can be very important.

There are two literary terms that I find helpful in this: verisimilitude: creating fictional places, people and stories similar to the actual places and people of a particular time period and anachronisms, which are to be avoided, such as vocabulary, objects, styles, etc. that would not have existed at the time a story is set. What writers need to know about a particular place and time are such things as types of houses and styles of clothing, vegetation, landscape, types of work and vocation, and something about what people’s everyday lives might have been like. We don’t have to be meticulous to the point of boring, but we do need to give a sense of authenticity to a fictional place and period.

 -What’s your process like when you work on a book?

I usually write on as many weekdays as possible with my best time in the morning, although not too early. I no longer give myself a daily page quota because these days, I don’t have to force myself to stay in the chair. I then use afternoons for research when needed. For very busy people, writing two pages a day, five days a week can result in a hundred pages in ten weeks.  I’m very fortunate to have a retired husband and enough income under us to do what I do. However, I haven’t forgotten the early days and the free-lance jobs that often took me away from my desk to help keep the family solvent, as well as the activities of our two children who needed chauffeuring to ball teams and music and art lessons, scout troops etc., etc.

-What is your next writing project? What are you working on now?

I started a new novel last year, one that’s quite different from anything I’ve written before, mainly because I’ve chosen to write it from experiences in my own life, which require little or no research! This is taking me imaginatively to places where I’ve traveled and into situations I’ve experienced. I don’t consider it a particularly “literary” novel, but it has certainly been a lot of fun.

-What’s your best writing tip you’d like to share?

If you let others critique your work in progress, consider the 11th thing.*

* From a filmmaker: After he previews a rough cut of a film, he listens to all the critiques, especially the negative ones. Then supposing ten different criticisms, his job is to figure out the real problem, the eleventh thing they may all be actually talking about.

Miriam Herin is an author. Her most recent work is A Stone for Bread (Livingston Press, West Alabama University) In January, 2016, the novel was featured in The North Carolina Literary Review in a joint review with award-winning novelists Robert Morgan and Terry Roberts.  See the review.  The novel also received a splendid review from North Carolina’s ChangeSeven Magazine. See the Review.

Her short story Lucky, winner of the 2018 Doris Betts Fiction Prize, was recently published in the North Carolina Literary Review. To read the story: https://issuu.com/eastcarolina/docs/2019-nclr_online-final/140

She lives in Greensboro, North Carolina with her husband Tom and their rescue-dog Chance. She is the mother of two adult children and the grandmother of a delightful eleven-year-old.

Visit her at http://miriamherin.com/

It’s March and winter hasn’t quite released its grip yet, at least not in the southeastern United States. I’m late this year in getting to begin a new gratitude jar as I usually start one in January. I’ve been traveling for work and was feeling a bit more cranky and tired than usual and I needed a life-affirming pick me up. I checked out my 2018 gratitude jar, still full of entries.

But first, what’s a gratitude jar?

The idea is simple…get a big jar, write one thing you are grateful for at the end of the day and put it in the jar. The jar offers a visual touchstone of joy as you see it filling up with entries during the year.

For many years, I have kept a gratitude jar focused around my creative life.

Keeping a gratitude jar is a symbolic act. As creative people, we have to take physical action in the world to pursue our dreams, I, however, also believe in utilizing symbolic acts of power. Symbolic acts of power are those that connect us to mystery, the unknown, serendipitous help and support, luck, and universal good. Symbolic acts of power can also free us from a constant focus on the mundane aspects of the creative life. Using symbolic acts of power can help boost our confidence, remain playful in the face of adversity, and develop trust in ourselves and the power of the universe.

I like to use a big jar (see first image) but you can also probably find ones like these in stores or online

At the end of the year, one of the things that fills me with delight is to go through and read my entries. I rarely get close to having 365 entries, but that’s OK. I definitely love reading about all the special moments that happened last year that I had forgotten. The majority of the entries relate to giving thanks for some aspect of my creative life going well. I was grateful that I had gotten a submission accepted, or someone had offered kind words on a reading I gave, or I had a day where good ideas seemed to flow endlessly.

Today, I plucked a few from the jar and read them. They transported me back in time and space and jogged my memory about all sorts of big and small events. They made me smile and I immediately felt less cranky.

In reading a dozen or so I was reminded of these two simple facts:

-most things in life work out just fine, creative work included

-we live in a powerful interlinked circle of friends, associates, colleagues, loved ones and even strangers that give our life meaning through their acts of kindness, grace and love. It’s important to remember!

The powerful benefits that stem from a gratitude practice are ones that science now validates and that spiritual traditions have always claimed.

This week, I’ll be reading all the entries of 2018, honoring them and then starting afresh. One new entry per day.

What about you? Why not grab a jar and dedicate it specifically for your creative practice/life/ dream/goal? Or you can put something in the gratitude jar before you start work on your novel, book of essays, musical score, etc. List what you’re grateful for before you begin or end a project. There are many uses for a gratitude jar. There’s actually so much that goes right on our creative paths, if we just slow down and notice.

This is a practice that you will wind up loving and is like rocket fuel for your creative life! Promise!

 

Social Media for Writers: 7 Strategies

Saturday, March 23, 10am-3pm, Central Carolina Community College

Hi folks,

It’s March and I have a great workshop, Social Media for Writers: 7 Strategies, coming up in just a few weeks! I’d love for you to attend. At any given time, you can find writers talking, arguing and lamenting about the expectations of social media usage for writers. There’s often not a lot of joy in these conversations. The debates over how to use social media (and what for), also reveal ambivalence about other necessary skills writers most often need to develop–promotion and marketing.

Whether you aspire to be an indie writer, traditionally published or hybrid author, creating an online presence is part of a savvy writer’s toolkit.

Creating an online presence and managing social media helps writers build relationships with other authors, fans and industry professionals. It also can generate leads, provide exposure and advance your professional goals and aspirations.

With the millions of choices out there, potential readers need to know how to find your work, understand your unique perspective and connect with you.

Social Media for Writers is geared for writers interested in creating or beefing up an online presence. It is also geared for those writers who want to know more about how to use social media effectively in getting them closer to their writing goals.

We’ll spend time exploring the challenges and opportunities of various platforms (e.g. Twitter, Instagram, etc.) and learn novel ways that writers have used these platforms to promote their work and engage industry professionals, readers and fans.

We’ll also talk about author websites (what should be on them?), blogging (is it still worth doing?), author newsletters (when should you start one?), and importantly–how not to get overwhelmed in managing your social media.

And, I promise you it will be FUN and of course, there will be door prizes, too! More below…

Social Media for Writers: 7 Strategies

Does the term author platform make you cringe? Are you overwhelmed by conflicting advice about how often and in what ways aspiring (and professional) writers should be engaging in social media? Do you think that talking about an author brand minimizes one’s creativity? Does talk of authors using Twitter, Pinterest and Instagram make you want to stay in bed and pull up the covers?

Find out ways to effectively harness social media to meet your goals and have fun while doing it.

This workshop will help you make informed choices about how you represent yourself online.

Writers of every level, genre, and background welcome.

Register here

 

I’ve started preliminary research for my horror novel. I know that some of it will take place in the Great Dismal Swamp.

The Great Dismal Swamp is one that extends across southeastern Virginia and northeastern North Carolina. Some scientists estimate that it once consisted of over a million acres.

Over the past several centuries, however, due to intensive logging and the building of the Dismal Swamp Canal (completed in1805), the area shrank to 112, 000 acres.

Books from the library.

I got interested in the history of this swamp, several years ago, when I learned that many African American runaway slaves formed maroon societies in this very harsh environment. There are also lots of tales and folklore about the Great Dismal Swamp that involve eerie lights, ghost sightings and other strange phenomena. There are also true stories about people going into the swamp and never being seen again.

Although swamps can be beautiful places because of the biodiversity, they also lend themselves to a horror landscape.

The swamp has its own unique ecosystem and that includes critters that would be fun (so to speak), to highlight in a horror novel.

To that end, I’d love to know what kinds of fears the swamp might invoke for you. If you have a moment, I’ve created a poll to gather just such information.

 

 

Photo Credits: http://www.virginialiving.com/travel/the-great-dismal-swamp/

https://www.hhhistory.com/2016/09/the-great-dismal-swamp.html

https://www.ncpedia.org/great-dismal-swamp

 

I’ve been working on a Passion Project since the beginning of the year. In my January newsletter, I shared some thoughts about the joys of committing to a passion project. I have expanded the piece here:

In order to begin my PP, I had to do something pretty radical for me. On Jan 1, I stopped listening to writing podcasts, I stopped reading craft books and clicking on the columns of my favorite writing experts. I took a break from everyone else’s wonderful advice, knowledge, tips and went within. I got reconnected with my own CORE WRITING VOICE AND WISDOM.

This was hard to do! As you know I am a ‘resource maven’. I LOVE finding resources and sharing them with my community.

I, however, also believe it is super important to take breaks from the avalanche of others’ advice and guidance and deeply connect with our inner writing intelligence. That inner writing intelligence is always there, of course, but by the end of the year, it craves recognition and reconnection. It craves being in the center and having your undivided attention.

I also truly believe that whatever you focus on the first couple of days and weeks of the New Year sets the tone for the rest of the year. I decided to make room for a passion project that I’ve been dying to tackle. I am writing a creative nonfiction piece (maybe a memoir) about the year my mother left my abusive stepfather and we were almost homeless. I was ten and my sister was four.  Through a special state program, we wound up living in a Manhattan hotel on a floor designated for “battered women and their children”. This year changed my life and I’m investigating all the ways it shaped the woman I became.

A passion project is one that is both scary and ambitious and tugs at your heart. It’s one that has urgency. The one that has been trying to get your attention for all these years. The one where you don’t know if it will “pay off”, the one that is unruly and messy.

How do you make room for a passion project?

You look at your schedule and you notice what activities you do that are either draining, time-wasting, unnecessary or just take up space. We all have some of those. You look for slivers of 10-20% of activities that can be consolidated or cut to give you time. Then you get into the frame of mind where you get excited about your passion project (the one you would LOVE to do, but never seem to find the time). You imagine yourself working on the PP within the time that you have made for it.

To make room for a passion project in light of what’s already on your plate (and I’m assuming that could include, work, childcare, eldercare, exercise, life stuff, other writing projects, etc.) takes some effort. I know it’s not easy, but isn’t it also important to make space for a passion project that has been on your list for a LONG TIME that you intuitively know will bring you JOY, or at least make you feel really ALIVE?

I decided that I would write daily on the PP for 10-45 minutes beginning around 9:30 pm. This meant giving up and rearranging late night time with my partner (we moved our TV time up), ignoring work email (unless it was urgent),  not listening to podcasts, and shuffling other creative writing projects to earlier in the day. It has been challenging but also super rewarding. I began with a brief outline, but most writing sessions I started freewriting with, “I remember”. I now have about half of a journal or 65 handwritten pages.

As luck would have it, I also found my first diary which chronicles a few months of that year.

This was buried under many other journals.

It’s humbling to see what one decides to document when one is a ten-year old!

My handwriting was much neater at 10!

Today, I have begun to transfer these writings into Scrivener. It feels good to move this work from my journal into the computer.

Passion projects replenish our creative wells. They are also addictive. I now will do just about anything to keep this work going though I have other writing projects to finish. These, however, are good problems to have.

I encourage you to find a way to go deep into your work, be it a passion project or something you have already started. And, that might mean taking a break from the outside world for a bit. That was crucial for me. The first quarter of the year is a great time to mirror nature. Winter is about going within and metaphorically playing in the dark.

Do you have a passion project that you want to tackle this year? I’d love to know!

Our writing life encompasses so much more than the actual writing. Here are some other important tasks besides writing that will help you sustain and deepen the quality of your writing life. Over this quarter, when you need a short break from writing, try a few items on this list.

-Check on and manage your money and intellectual property: Last year, authors and the mismanagement of their money and intellectual property assets by agents, accountants and publishing houses made the news:

https://www.thebookseller.com/news/palahniuk-795516

https://www.publishersweekly.com/pw/by-topic/childrens/childrens-industry-news/article/77656-agent-danielle-smith-s-former-clients-speak-out.html

These events constituted a wake-up call across the industry. It’s important for writers to both manage our money and our intellectual property.  Make it a point this quarter to collect any outstanding monies owed to you. Check your contracts with various venues that you’ve published with (e.g. anthologies, magazines, presses, etc.) and make sure you have received payment in a timely manner. Peruse royalty statements. In 2018, if you brought books to your readings at a local bookstore (often the case for writers with small presses), or made appearances at a conference, and had someone sell books on your behalf, make sure you have received the correct payment owed. I spent a good chunk of last year chasing down such monies. Furthermore, make sure you are keeping track of your intellectual property by knowing what rights you have with various publishers and when they are expiring, etc. I have really enjoyed author and entrepreneur Joanna Penn’s focus on her podcast encouraging writers to become savvy about understanding the value of our intellectual property. She has devoted several podcasts to this issue, here is a recent one.

Line up beta readers: You are going to finish something this year, right? If so, you will need some beta readers. Beta readers are people who read your work while it is in draft form. They could be people in your writing group, other writers, trusted friends, etc. It’s generally good to have a mix of non-writers and writers as beta readers. Want to know about beta reader etiquette? Check out author K.M. Weiland’s helpful post on this topic.

-Clean up your bio across your social media sites: Read your short bios that live on social media (e.g. FB, Twitter, LinkedIn, Instagram, etc.). Do they still reflect the writer that you are? Are they compelling? Do you need to add, subtract or tighten anything?

-Clean up digital clutter on your desktop: It’s coming to get you if you don’t.

-Volunteer to support and serve a published writer that you know: Several years ago, I was privileged to accompany one of my writing teachers, Marjorie Hudson, to several speaking events and workshops. I learned invaluable things watching a working writer deal with the public aspect of a writing life: speaking, promoting, coaching, and book signing.

Writers always need more support. If you have a friend or an acquaintance who has recently published a book, offer to help them promote it in some way. If you don’t know any published writers, this is a great way to connect with a local writer whose work that you admire.

Be a personal assistant, or driver, for a day. If they are scheduled to give readings, see if you can help carry books, set up a display, sell books, and assist with small tasks that would make their life easier. You can learn a lot from watching how other writers handle being in the public eye. There’s also nothing like the satisfying feeling of helping another writer on their path.

-Toss out old drafts: What do you do with drafts you’ve gotten back from your writing group? How long do you keep them? I have tendency to keep them way too long; they start to form into mountains on my desk. When you have integrated editorial comments into a completed story, toss the draft.

-Check the ergonomics of your writing space: What can be moved and realigned for maximum support of your body?

-Straighten up your submissions file: Update your 2018 submissions file and create the 2019 one. And, of course if you haven’t started a submissions file yet, correct that. Writers write and submit their work. See one of my tips for crafting a helpful submission strategy.

-Go through last year’s journals, classes and conference notes: If you took writing classes, attended conferences or workshops and/or kept a journal last year I bet there are still some nuggets to mine. Take time to honor that work.

-Update your writing accomplishments list and post it where you can see it: Smile at it from time to time. If you don’t have one, now is the time to make one!

 


Michele Tracy Berger

Michele Tracy Berger

Author, Academic, Creativity Expert I'm an award winning writer.

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