Tag Archives: Writing Life

Author Interview – Betsy Graziani Fasbinder

This woman really loves life! I am so excited to share with you my interview with the vibrant Betsy Graziani Fasbinder. She has released three books with SheWrites Press and shares a little bit about all of them here. I’m certain you will enjoy learning about Betsy and her books!
Betsy Fasbinder

What was/is your latest book release? Tell us about it!

My latest book is not a work of fiction, but a resource for writers. It’s called From Page to Stage: Inspiration, Tools, and Public Speaking Tips for Writers. I wrote it because I was once positively terrified to speak in front of groups. In fact, fear kept me from thinking of publishing my writing for many years, so terrified was I that if I actually published a book, I’d have to stand in front of people to talk about it. That seems absurd now, but it’s true.

 

I eventually got frustrated that I was letting fear of being in front of a group rob me of opportunities, both in my writing and in voicing my ideas, experiences, and viewpoints on matters about which I’m passionate. So, I sought training in public speaking, and I saw that a few simple skills, supportive coaching, and some practice could radically improve my ability to speak in public. I learned to manage my nerves and to speak in front of audiences of any size with confidence and skill in a way I could not have, at first, imagined. I want that for every writer, many of whom are either timid about speaking in public, perhaps as fearful as I was, or simply want to gather some skills to talk about their stories, their writing, and ideas they hold dear. This book is my version of a love gesture to writers and storytellers whose work has meant so much to me. I want every author to feel confident and bold when they’re talking about their writing and their ideas.

From stage to pagePrior to this book I published a book of fiction, Fire & Water and a memoir, Filling Her Shoes: A Memoir of an Inherited Family. Fire & Water is a dark love story about the link for some people between extreme creativity and madness, and about the painful experience of being in love with someone suffering profound mental illness.

What are you working on now?

I’m about halfway through my first draft of a new book of fiction. I’m happy to be back to fiction, my first love as both reader and writer. It’s fun to be back into the work of an imagined world. This new story keeps knocking on my mind…even coming to me in dreams. That’s when I know it’s a story that I must write.

What advice would you give to your younger writing self?

“Be braver sooner, you’re stronger than you know and living out loud is far more freeing than you’ll ever imagine.”

So many of my younger self’s fears kept me from pursuing all kinds of things, including publishing books. I was afraid of “living out loud”, telling both my lived and imagined stories, fearful of feeling exposed and conspicuous. What I’ve discovered is that in finding my voice, first on the page and now in my spoken work, that it’s incredibly freeing to rid myself of the burden of hiding. By first publishing, then talking about my writing, I’ve had the priviledge of encounters with readers who tell me that my stories made a difference to them, made them feel more understood or gave them insight into some aspect of human experience. This is the most deeply gratifying part of writing for me. I’d have missed out on all of that, were it not for writing and publishing stories.

Have you always wanted to be a writer? What made you decide to become one?

I recently recalled something funny regarding that. When I was about eleven, I read an author’s dedication to her mother in the front of the book. I decided at that moment that I’d someday write (though I didn’t imagine publishing, at all). So I took a piece of onion-skin paper, and in my eleven-year-old version of caligraphy I wrote a dedication to my mom of some future, imagined book I’d someday write. I stained the paper with tea to make it look old, burned the edges, and rolled it like a diploma, tying it with a black ribbon. This became my mom’s holiday present.

Later, practicality prevailed and I did other work to earn a living, but I always wrote privately.  I published my first book at age 54, sadly long after my mother had passed away. So I suppose this desire has been in me for a long time. I always wrote—stories, poems, journals—but only pursued publishing in my more mature years. I think I wanted to become a writer because stories mattered so much to me. They were not just entertainment, they were escape, inspiration, understsanding, and adventure. I wanted, and still want, to be able to provide that to others.

Who is your favorite character in your book(s)?

It’s funny, I actually miss the characters in my novel, Fire & Water. They feel, even still, that real to me. A supporting character in the story in Fire & Water  is Mary K (short for Kowalski).  I may miss her the most. She’s a sassy, sometimes foul-mouthed, but an always truthful friend to Kate, the protagonist of the story. She’s fiercely loyal, brave, and also funny. Mary K became a surprising hero in the story—surprising to me, even! She’d be a girlfriend of mine in “real life” when actually, she’s a composite of many close women friends I’ve enjoyed in my life.

Where do you do most of your writing?

This is where I must confess a luxury. Six years ago, my husband and I moved to a modest mid-century ranch house. It’s a small, not a fancy place, but it does have a little cottage in the back yard, separate from the house. This has become my writing studio. I think of it as a little birdhouse, overlooking a scene of hills and trees in the distance. Honestly, I feel like a millionaire when I’m in that studio and am reminded of Virginia Woolf’s A Room of One’s Own. My earlier books were written in a open landing at the top of the stairs, with family members and pets running through constantly.  I have little excuse now not to get writing done–though I manage to find excuses, I’m afraid.

What inspires you?

Honesty. Honesty in personal life and in writing or any professional pursuit. This seems like a simple word, honesty, but it’s a complex virtue. It’s not simple truth-telling, it’s about being impecible in the pursuit of understanding and telling of truth. It’s about authenticity. It’s about setting aside biases and agendas. It’s about bravery. It’s integrity. A fictional story can be told with “honesty” because it tells a story with authenticity and not simply for commercial gain. It’s not manipulative of the readers nor a contrivance.

Memoirs and essays are one kind of truth-writing, but not the only kind. Sometimes the truest stories are told through fiction, though that may seem contradictory to some.  I recall as an adolescent reading A Tree Grows in Brooklyn, by Betty Smith. Though a work of fiction, it felt at that time like the “truest” thing I would ever read. I like what the author Pam Houston says, that everything she writes is true, and some of it actually happened.

What else would you like your readers to know about you?

I’m someone who loves sharing whatever I’ve learned, sometimes what I’ve just learned, with the next person right behind me trying to understand the same thing. This is true for those whom I coach as writers, as speakers, and in my role as a therapist, though of course that’s a different kind of sharing. Now in the final year of my fifties, I’ve finally determined what I want to do when I grow up. Throughout my various careers and roles, I’ve strived to communicate clearly in intimate conversations, public ones, and in my writing. I love helping others to do the same. This feels like my life’s purpose.

Tell us a little about your process. Pantser? Plotter? Mixture of both?

I do tons of mental plotting of what I write in every genre, sometimes for many months, or even years.  I often have a mental image of the beginning, much of the middle, and the probable ending of a story or book, though that can change and evolve as I do the writing. I write reams of notes about my characters, search for photos of people whom I think they might resemble. But I don’t so much plot stories out on paper. Sometimes this causes me some pain because I write many pages—sometimes many chapters—that later get deleted from the final piece.  But I’ve tried to plot more formally, and for me, it takes the freshness out of the writing. My way is messier, but it works for me.

What are you reading right now?

In my few recreational reading moments, I’m reading Beautiful Illusion by Christie Nelson. It’s a gorgeous bit of historical fiction set in my own San Francisco. Most of my reading time is going toward the manuscripts of writers for whom I’m providing developmental writing coaching. It’s a delight, but not quite the same as simple pleasure reading.

If you could spend the day with one of your characters, who would it be and what would you do?

Of course, I’d love to spend some real-life time with Mary K, whom I mentioned above. But I would also love to spend time with Jake Bloom, a more primary character in Fire & Water. He’s a brilliant artist and a passionate person. I’m sure he’d be a fascinating person, as long as he is not in his more treacherous cycle of his mental illness.

What actor/actress would you like to play the part of your protagonist if your book became a movie/television show?

I actually sent a copy of Fire & Water to Maggie Gyllenhaal because I thought she’d be a perfect person to play Dr. Katherine Murphy in Fire & Water. I’m sure she’s inundated with books, so I never got a response, but hey, a writer can try, right?

What are your top 3 favorite books?

This is tough. Of course, it might be tough to name just 300 favorite books. But okay…three.  I have to list John Steinbeck’s East of Eden for its sheer mastery. Pam Houston’s Sight Hound also comes top of mind. It is such a creative way to tell a story and she exposes with raw candor the “truth” that she and her characters uncover. And finally, I must say I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings, by Maya Angelou is among my favorites. This book was so groundbreaking, telling a story both in its ideosycratic detail and its universal truth. This book changed the course of my life in profound ways.

Do you have any rituals that you practice before sitting down to write?

I have to confess that I’m a bit of a binge writer, so my writing “rituals” change all the time depending on what I’m writing and in what stage. But one practice holds me in good stead, regardless of what I’m writing. At the end of my writing time in a day, particularly when I’m feeling a little stuck about the next part of the story, I write what I call “dream seeds”.  Just before bed, I write questions to myself or even addressed to my characters about their choices, behaviors, background, etc. More often than not, my dream seed blossoms and I dream the answer to the question. Sometimes I dream of a plot point. At other times, I uncover a motivation of a character or a bit of their history I’d not yet imagined. I think these come to me in dreams because the distractions of the world are set aside during sleep.  Dreams are my main source of untangling the knots in my writing.

What do you like to spend time doing when you aren’t writing?

Of course, I love books and I love going to author events, and even host a quarterly readers’ series. But beyond that, I am a bit of a movie nut, rarely going a week without going to the movies and now, there’s Netflix—both blessing and curse. And I love spending time with loved ones, sharing meals, playing cards, traveling together.

Connect with Betsy:
Facebook: BetsyGFAuthor
Twitter: @BetsyGFasbinder
Instagram: betsygrazianifasbinder
Here are some reviews of Betsy’s books:
 
From Page to Stage – “Fasbinder’s candid yet comforting delivery makes it feel as though she’s with readers every step of the way, offering a thumbs-up from teh back of the room. A lean, helpful primer for authors who want to succeed as speakers.” ~Kirkus Review
Filling Her Shoes:  “A beautiful and inspiring testament to the resilience and healing power of family.” ~Booklist Starred review
Fire & Water: “…Fasbinder takes the reader on a most compelling and satisfying ride, all the way to the final four words.” ~Sands Hall, Author of Tools of the Writer’s Craft
 
Buy Betsy’s books:
 From Page to Stage
Filling Her Shoes
Fire & Water
On Writing and Riding

On Writing and Riding – The Importance of Foundation

 

Writing is challenging endeavor—one that requires a little bit of natural talent and a whole lot of study and practice. The same holds true for natural horsemanship. As a practitioner of both disciplines, I have learned that both require a certain amount of physical stamina, but more importantly, an intellectual understanding of foundation—and that sometimes, we have to go back in order to move forward. We must have the courage to find the holes and gaps in our foundation in order to repair it, build upon it, and make it whole.

Achieving excellence in any art or discipline has its roots in a solid and sure foundation.

I first started studying natural horsemanship in 2012. Before then, I felt my knowledge and skills as a horsewoman were well above average. I’d had horses most of my life. I had good handling skills and decent riding skills. I felt I knew my horses’ quirks, their strengths and weaknesses. I found it easy to learn new disciplines and I did well at competition—until I didn’t. Suddenly, I hit a wall. Something was wrong. Something was missing. I wanted more from myself, more from my horses, and more from our performance.

Person on horseback

So, I turned to natural horsemanship. Once I started learning about the philosophy and psychology of natural horsemanship, I realized what was missing. I had holes and gaps in my foundation. I realized I knew little of what it is to be a good partner to my horses. I knew almost nothing about horse psychology—how a horse thinks, or feels, or learns. I also didn’t put into practice the idea that horses are individuals, and like humans, have their own unique set of personality traits, emotions, and skill sets that should be taken into account when training them or working with them. My knowledge, my practice, and my “feel” suddenly seemed so rudimentary.

Seeing the holes in my foundation was startling, humbling, and even a little dispiriting. It is never fun to find out you are deficient at something, especially something you are passionate about. Yet, recognizing my weaknesses only made me want to turn them into strengths. I had found a challenge. And, nothing excites me more than a challenge!

As Natural Dressage Instructor Karen Rohlf says in her book, Dressage Naturally … Results in Harmony, “to find holes in your foundation, it is a gift.” It is a gift because we get a chance to go back and make things right. To fill in the blanks. To make something whole. She further explains that we must continue to work on our foundation and constantly nurture it to help it grow. For only then do we reallyhave something to build upon.

Finding that my foundation with my horses was on shaky ground gave me pause, and also made me question the foundation of my other passion in life, writing. Could it be as unstable and incomplete as my equine passion? I suppose if one never looks, one never finds. So, look I did. And find I did. More holes.

There is nothing more cringe-worthy to me than the experience of reading some of my earlier works; manuscripts, or stories, or articles I’d written when I was younger and more inexperienced. Looking back at those pieces of writing made me want to give up. Who did I think I was fooling? How could I have been so misguided? How could all those English profs I admired be so misguided?

Once I got over the embarrassment of what I considered to be “good” writing, I found that I could also see in those past works little nuggets of natural skill, some wisdom in my innocence, and a whole lot of passion. Maybe the profs weren’t crazy, after all. It was enlightening to go back and see that younger, more inexperienced self. It showed me how far I’ve come and how far I still have yet to go. I can see the challenges ahead, and it lights a fire within me. I realized I want to be better at what I do. Always.

So I started to seek out mentors. People who are more experienced than I in both of my chosen disciplines. People who are have the experience and knowledge to spot the holes in my understanding, training, and natural set of abilities. People who are willing to share with me what I can do to repair or fill in those holes, to help me build, re-build, and strengthen my foundation.

Friends and family have often questioned why, in the past few years, I have attend so many writers’ conferences and workshops. They wonder why I spend so much time and expense, and sometimes travel away from home for extended periods of time, to work on my horsemanship. Haven’t I learned enough already? Don’t I already know and understand the basics? My answer is always, no. Not enough. There is never an end to learning, and the foundation of our training and knowledge is never as solid as we think it is. Things change, evolve and grow. The foundation beneath our feet is always shifting, and we have to keep up with it or lose our balance.

Going backward can sometime feel like a failure, or a punishment. But, if we look at it as part of the journey, as part of becoming more whole ourselves, as a person, it doesn’t seem so bad. I’ve learned that in order to move forward with anything in life, we often must take a few steps back. We need to revisit and confront our weaknesses, work on them, and challenge them to become a bigger part of the whole. This requires work, but the work doesn’t have to be painful. I like to think of it as adding more squares and shapes to a hand-made quilt. Sometimes we have to go back and repair some of the stitches that have worn over time, but it only makes the new patches we sew on all the more beautiful and bright.

It never hurts to go back to the beginning—especially with fresh eyes and a new perspective. After the last chapter is finished, it’s good to go back to the first chapter to see if the idea or story has circled back around, that the first part of the work has continuity with the last. When trying to learn or finesse a skill in the saddle, it’s good, and necessary—and only fair to the horse—to go back to the basics to check the foundation before asking him or her to learn and perfect something new.

Having patience with the process and with ourselves is never easy. But it can be well worth the sometimes difficult task of going backwards. If you’ve fallen out of love with what you do, or if you feel the urge to give up on your passions and dreams, or if you think you just can’t get any better at something, maybe it’s time to go back. Take a hard look at your foundation. Look for the holes. And when you find them, I hope you rise to the challenge to fill them in, add to the quilt, and become the writer, the equestrian, or the person you hope to be.

This post was first published in Writer’s Digest,  June 29, 2018

 

vintage writing

Building a Character on Top of a Historical Figure

This article was first published on the SheWrites Blog, June 27, 2018

I’ve always been at my most creative when I have to work within structural confines, whether it be an extensive outline for a novel, or creating a character based upon someone in history. Within those structural walls, my mind is free to roam, without getting lost in all the noise outside.

As writers of historical fiction, we will never really know what was going on in the minds or emotions of the people in history we want to portray. We see them through their actions, what they’ve written, or what they’ve reportedly said, but we don’t always know their deepest fears, or what they secretly wanted in life. We don’t always know their unrequited loves, their biggest regrets, or their pet peeves—unless it was written down. And even that can be up for interpretation because we can never really be inside the mind of anyone, much less a historical figure. Even non-fiction historical accounts can be skewed because every writer has a personal bias. They put their perceptions and interpretations onto the page. It’s human nature.

But, interpretation can open the doors to a whole new kind of creativity.

When I use a historical figure in fiction, I do extensive research to know as much about that person as I can. I read books and articles on them, and I watch television shows, documentaries or movies featuring that person. I make notes on what I think is most interesting about them and what is portrayed about their life. Then I start exploring what that person must have been going through psychologically at any given event or circumstance.

I try to put myself in that person’s shoes and wonder how they felt about what was happening to them. I also like to create a new reality for them, and then based on what I know about that historical figure, I imagine how they would react to the situation I have created for them.

Some of my favorite books feature historical figures as amateur sleuths. The author has, within the confines of history as we know it, put that character in charge of solving a puzzle the author has created. The author uses what they know about that historical figure’s personality and the events that surrounded them, and then they create a mystery within those confines for the character to solve. What a great way to delve into the heart and soul of a person!

Some of my favorites have been Stephanie Barron’s series featuring Jane Austen as an amateur sleuth, and Karen Harper’s series featuring Queen Elizabeth I as an amateur sleuth. It was great fun to sink myself into the world of the historical figure I knew through stories and my own research, combined with situations created by a present-day author. I found it inspiring.

photo Annie OakleyIn my historical series, I’ve used the famous and iconic figure Annie Oakley as an amateur sleuth and put her into situations she never encountered in real life. It was interesting and exciting to imagine how she would have reacted to being compelled to solve murders. I took what I knew about her, and surmised that she was gutsy, smart, lovable and loving, and incredibly talented at something a woman rarely pursued—sharpshooting. She also bested most men in her field.

Annie Oakley did not live the life of an ordinary woman in 1885. Given the scope of the Wild West Show’s travels, and what Annie did for a living, I thought she would make an excellent amateur detective. One who is driven by seeking the truth and finding justice.

The key is to be as accurate as possible given the information you have, and most importantly, to make your historical and fictional story believable.You wouldn’t make King Henry the VIII a pacifist or monogamous, or Fanny Brice dull or somber. Readers won’t buy it. Be smart about it.

If you want to assert in your historical fiction novel or series that a historical figure can act like, or be something history did not record, make sure you do your research to see if the historical accounts of him or her support that idea. Then, dive deep into what you think that person is about, and what drove them. Let your imagination go.

Author Interview – Mary Kathleen Mehuron

Today I have the pleasure of bringing you my interview with Mary Kathleen Mehuron, author of The Opposite of Never released by Spark Press, April 24, 2018

Mary Kathleen Mehuron is a career educator who made a splash with her first book, Fading Past, an autobiographical novel whose protagonist, like Mary Kathleen, grew up Irish-Catholic in New Jersey. The Opposite of Never is Mary Kathleen’s second book, and to finish it, she traveled alone to Havana in January 2015 in order to experience the city before it became Americanized. Mary Kathleen lives and teaches in a ski town in Vermont where they call her Kathy. This is where she and her husband raised three sons,  and she is an occasional columnist and writes curriculum daily for private math and science students. She takes extended time to work on her novels on Grand Turk Island and in Vermont’s Northeast Kingdom.

Mary Kathleen, tell us about your latest book.

At the end of April, SparkPress released my new novel The Opposite of Never. It’s about four Vermont families, three close women friends, two love stories (millennial and baby boomer), a devastating mistake on the part of the young couple who become involved in the opioid epidemic, and a truly grand, grand finale.

I never really know how a reader will interpret the words I’m writing, because, his or her own experiences become mixed in with my intentions. But, I know for sure, that I wrote this particular story about hope, which I firmly believe, is contagious. The novel has been included in the Most Anticipated Books of 2018,Brit+Co; Breakout Novels of 2018,Indie Picks; Six Books About Family to Cherish This Spring, Buzzfeed; Ten Heartwarming Tales About Family, Culturalist; 12 Inspiring Me-Time Reads Perfect for Mother’s Day, Working Mother; and10 Books to Keep You Woke in 2018, Bookstr.

What are you working on now?

I’m working on a third novel with the working title The Belonger. A “belonger” is someone with historical ties to the island of Grand Turk in Turks and Caicos, where my family and I spend a great deal of time. At one time salt was more valuable than gold but producing it was grueling work. White business owners brought African slaves to the Grand Turk to do it. My novel begins in the 90s and is about a young man descended from such slaves, who is offered a chance to come up to largely white State of Vermont. As always I am interested in love stories and how life throws curve balls at us, but, in this case, also the subject of skin color.

What advice would you give to your younger writing self?

I’d say, “You are not going to believe this. When you enter into the third act of your life, you are going to turn it into a grand finale. You are going to publish a book. Seriously, you are! And then a publishing company is going to take an interest in you and you will publish a second. Yes, I know you are a math and science teacher and it seems unlikely, but it’s true. Oh, yeah, and I left out the part when you are middle-aged and you become a professional singer. All I’m saying is hold on; it’s going to be a wild ride.”

Who is your favorite character in your book(s)?

Spencer Paquette. Like many young men, he makes some terrible decisions and it affects not only him but his family and friends as well. I’m a sucker for a comeback story. Who hasn’t made mistakes? But, we can always make restitution and grow as human beings. We can. I think that’s an absolute. Obviously, not everyone cares to put in the hard work to do so or wants to be felled by the amount of humility it takes to admit the need for a big change. Yet, it is a road that is always possible.

Where do you do most of your writing?

I can write anywhere. It’s probably because I grew up in a melting pot neighborhood filled with swarms of children. We had five kids in our family, not nearly as many as our neighbors, but it was enough to ensure our household was in a constant state of pandemonium. You either learned to do your homework surrounded by noise or you didn’t get it done. I am probably the only person in the world who looks forward to long airport layovers— they are generally very productive times for me with my laptop. But, if I really think about it, I wrote most of my two novels on Grand Turk island and in the Northeast Kingdom of Vermont.

What inspires you?

I am a person who remembers the vivid details of life’s extreme up and downs. One day I’m singing before a seven-piece country swing band and the next, I’m diagnosed with two different breast cancers. My prognosis was grim, yet I went on to travel the world, see my sons grow up and become very successful, and to write my books. I feel better today than I did twenty years ago. Savoring a beautiful moment is an art form; living beyond tragedy is too. So I would say it is hope that inspires me. Sometimes that’s all you have. Hang on to it.

Tell us a little about your process. Pantser? Plotter? Mixture of both?

In every other area of my life I am an obsessive planner, but not when writing a novel. That is more like channeling a story that I’m being told as I sit at my desk. It just kicks in and starts flowing. No note cards. No outline. I literally don’t know the ending until the day I write it.

What are you reading right now?

On Writing by Stephen King, The Great Alone by Kristin Hannah, and A Dangerous Woman From Nowhere by Kris Radish.

What do you like to spend time doing when you aren’t writing?

I go shopping for beautiful food to cook that night. I meet some friends for a five-mile hike in the fresh Vermont air, where we finish at a vista, that every time, takes my breath away. When I’m well exercised and the groceries are all put away, it’s “go” time. I sit down and write.

Thank you so much, Mary Kathleen! I enjoyed reading your responses and I look forward to reading your book.

You can buy Mary Kathleen’s book here :https://amzn.to/2MjRdGb

Connect with her here:

Website: https://www.marykathleenmehuron.com/mary-kathleen/

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/MaryKathleenMehuron/

Here is a little bit more about The Opposite of Never:

Devastated when they lose their spouses, both Kenny Simmons and Georgia Best carry on for the sake of their children, although they are certain that the best part of their lives is long over. Then Georgia and her lifelong companions, Linda and Yvonne, meet Kenny while walking down a dusty Vermont country road, and the four of them hit it off. Soon, Kenny becomes a regular part of their hiking group, and he and Georgia grow more than fond of each other.

Kenny’s stepdaughter, Zelda, and Yvonne’s teenage son, Spencer, also fall in love—at first sight. Through surprisingly relatable circumstances, they are drawn into opiate use, shocking everyone, and the two of them struggle through the torment of addiction together.

In an impulsive and daring attempt to create a grand finale out of difficult times, Kenny takes Georgia off to vacation in Cuba just as it is opening up to Americans—and what they discover in the golden light of Old Havana is another startling surprise.

Author Interview – Jacqueline Friedland

Jacqueline I am so pleased to share with you my interview with attorney turned author, Jacqueline Friedland! Today, she is telling us about her novel, Troubled The Water, which was released May 8, 2018, by Spark Press. She also gives us insight into a little bit about her process.

What was/is your latest book release? Tell us about it!

My latest book release is a historical fiction novel, TROUBLE THE WATER.  The story takes place twenty years before the Civil War in Charleston, South Carolina. I was inspired to write this story after learning that the international trafficking of slaves was outlawed in 1808, but the practice continued nearly unfettered for decades afterwards.  The governments of countries like the United States and England did not do nearly enough to enforce the anti-trafficking laws nor otherwise stop the atrocities.  I began to wonder what if there had been a person, a vigilante, who stepped in to make a difference?  Maybe there could have been someone with sufficient resources and sufficient manpower to get a group together and make the kidnapping of Africans more difficult for the criminals of the high seas.  I asked myself what kind of person would be brave enough, bold enough, to do such a thing?  What would his life be like, and what would his actions cost him?  I created my main character, Douglas Elling, based on these thoughts, and the rest of my story grew around him.  Interestingly, when I introduced a female protagonist to challenge Douglas, I found that her story fascinated me as much as his, and I created a young woman who I envisioned as an early feminist and an independent thinker. As this character, Abigail Milton, and Douglas Elling get to know each other, they each learn a great deal about themselves, as well.

What are you working on now?

I am working on another novel.  Unlike the first one, the next story is contemporary fiction.  I so greatly enjoyed writing a historical novel and will most likely write others, but just as I love reading across different genres, I also appreciate that interesting stories can materialize out of so many diverse situations and time periods.  The next book is about a young woman in Manhattan who finds herself in a surprisingly complex love triangle.

What advice would you give to your younger writing self?

I would advise my younger writing self to commit sooner. I wasn’t sure if I had the talent or the dedication to work as a writer.  I was afraid to fail, and so I moved very slowly at first.  I dabbled in the research, I wrote scenes in my head but stalled before putting them down on paper.  I wish I could have been braver, that I could have brought myself to sit down at the computer a little sooner.  The first rule to being a successful writer is that you actually have to WRITE.  I would have pushed myself a little harder at the beginning.

Have you always wanted to be a writer? What made you decide to become one?

I have wanted to be a writer my entire life.  I have always loved words and crafting sentences, but I worried as a young adult that I wouldn’t find success.  So instead I went to law school and became a lawyer. I was actually pretty good at my job as a lawyer, but I never felt passionate about my work.  I also never got accustomed to office culture.  After my first child was born, I decided to use a portion of maternity leave to begin working on my first book.  It was an attempt to see if this whole “writing thing” could really pan out for me.  Unfortunately, in my naïvete as a new mother, I didn’t realize that I would have precious little time to do work with an infant in the apartment.  Even so, something about the transition to motherhood helped me realize that I was truly an adult, and I’d better get busy doing something I loved because life is short.  I tried to transition to teaching Legal Writing as a compromise between the two disciplines, but I still wasn’t satisfied because I wasn’t creating fiction. I finally left the law and went back to school for an MFA in Creative Writing.  I am glad to have my background in law, and I still find several aspects of the legal system genuinely interesting, but I am thrilled to finally be living my dream as a writer.

Where do you do most of your writing?

I do almost all of my writing at home. I know many people are easily distracted at home and feel they have to set up shop at a café or a library in order to be productive.  I am the opposite.  I find people enormously fascinating, so if I am in public, it’s very difficult for me to draw my eyes away from all the other people around me and focus on my screen instead.

Tell us a little about your process. Pantser? Plotter? Mixture of both?

I am a hardcore Type A kind of a person, which puts me squarely into the category of Plotter.  That said, it never works out like I’ve planned.  Before I start writing, I make a detailed outline.  Then I fix it and re-do it several times.  Then I highlight and color code.  Then I make various changes and fix everything all over again.  I don’t begin writing the story until I really feel that I have a step-by-step guide about where the piece is going.  Then when I actually begin writing, everything changes.  Nothing turns out as I expected, the characters keep doing things that surprise me, and the story ends up going in a completely different direction. At this point, I am comfortable with the spontaneity, and I even expect it, but I am still committed to completing those outlines in advance. Imagining all the different scenarios and laying out a framework for myself helps me to get to know my characters and my setting. It puts me inside their heads deeply enough that when they start going off-script, I can understand why, and I can work with it.

Do you have any rituals that you practice before sitting down to write?

Before I write, I have to get my kids out of the house to school or camp.  Then I drink a big cup of coffee and respond to any outstanding emails.  Once my inbox is organized, and my desk is clean, I can get to work.

What do you like to spend time doing when you aren’t writing?

When I’m not writing, I love watching movies with my family, reading fast-paced novels, exercising, sitting outside on warm days, and laughing with friends.

Here is more about the book!

Book coverAbigail Milton was born into the British middle class, but her family has landed in unthinkable debt. To ease their burdens, Abby’s parents send her to America to live off the charity of their old friend, Douglas Elling. When she arrives in Charleston at the age of seventeen, Abigail discovers that the man her parents raved about is a disagreeable widower who wants little to do with her. To her relief, he relegates her care to a governess, leaving her to settle into his enormous estate with little interference. But just as she begins to grow comfortable in her new life, she overhears her benefactor planning the escape of a local slave—and suddenly, everything she thought she knew about Douglas Elling is turned on its head.

Abby’s attempts to learn more about Douglas and his involvement in abolition initiate a circuitous dance of secrets and trust. As Abby and Douglas each attempt to manage their complicated interior lives, readers can’t help but hope that their meandering will lead them straight to each other. Set against the vivid backdrop of Charleston twenty years before the Civil War, Trouble the Water is a captivating tale replete with authentic details about Charleston’s aristocratic planter class, American slavery, and the Underground Railroad.

Read more about Jacqueline!

Author Bio:

Jacqueline Friedland holds a BA from the University of Pennsylvania and a JD from NYU Law School. She practiced as an attorney in New York before returning to school to receive her MFA in Creative Writing from Sarah Lawrence College. She lives in New York with her husband, four children, and two energetic dogs.

To connect with Jacqueline:

For more on Jacqueline or her writing, go to www.jacquelinefriedland.com or follow her on Facebook at www.facebook.com/JacquelineFriedlandAuthor

https://twitter.com/jbfriedland

https://www.instagram.com/jackiefriedland/

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Generating More Ideas for Writing

In my last blog post, I wrote about understanding your gifts, talents, and knowledge for generating ideas for writing. See it here. This week, I am going a bit further to help you with coming up with ideas for your book, or your blog, or even your journal.

People Watching

Do you ever eat out? Go to a coffee shop by yourself? Or to the park?

men at coffee shopI like to do all of the above, and one of my favorite things to do is people-watch. I love to see how people interact with each other. I like to study the expression on their faces, watch their body language. What are they doing? Are they eating with abandon, or are they picking at their food? Why? If someone looks like they are shoveling in their food, are they in a hurry? Are they starving? Or are they trying to avoid something? Same with picking at their food. Are they not hungry, do they not like what they ordered? Are they preoccupied? With what? Write down the possibilities. Make up a story about that person.

It is also fun to watch people interact with animals. Animals can bring out the best in people. Watch how they treat their animal. What is the story behind their relationship? Was the animal from a rescue center? Why did that animal end up in a rescue shelter? Or, has the animal been with the person from birth? Is the animal a service animal? If so, why does that person need a service animal?

Come up with a story about the animal, or the person, and how they ended up together, and what they mean to one another. Or, perhaps you can take the subject of animal/human relationships and write a piece or even a book on that.

Documentaries/Ted Talks/ Movies and Television

Inspiration is all over the internet. Look up documentaries on YouTube about a particular subject, topic, or person that interests you. Ted Talks are full of inspiration and amazing ideas that people have already come up with. You could expand on that.

What are your favorite cable television shows? Longmire? Game of Thrones? Downtown Abbey? Take something from that time period or place and create your own characters and your own stories. Maybe your protagonist is inspired by Mary Crawley of Downton Abbey or Henry Standing Bear from Longmire. You don’t need to copy the character, just take one of their personality traits you find interesting and build your own character with that trait. How many books and novels have been written based on characters, settings, and situations that come from beloved fairytales? Endless numbers.

Magazines and Collage Creation

farming collageLove to flip through your favorite magazines? Or maybe you are interested in a particular topic like horses, or auto mechanics, tiny houses, or fashion. Find magazines on the topic and cut out photos of people, places or things that interest you. On an 8×11 piece of paper or larger poster board, past the photos onto it in an aesthetically pleasing way to you. Or make a collage on Pinterest or Canva. Use that visual inspiration as a springboard for your story, blog post, or article. Make up a story using the information you have in front of you.

For example, if writing fiction, you could create a character who lives on a huge 40-acre ranch with horses, but lives in a tiny house. Why do they live on such a big spread but in a small house? Are they trying to make a simpler life for themselves? Are they running toward something or from something or someone? If I were writing the story, the main character wants a simpler life but loves the great outdoors, or maybe they inherited the land, but can’t afford to build a big house. A murder might happen in a nearby town, or my protagonist would uncover some mystery that has been long forgotten in the town or on the ranch.

For non-fiction, you could write about the importance of simplicity, getting back to nature, or how to build a tiny house or take care of horses. The possibilities are endless.

Your Own Experiences, Information or Imagination

What is your profession? Does anything unusual or interesting happen in your day job? Could it? Think about different authors who use their experiences or ideas in their books. For instance, take Tess Gerritsen a former physician who wrote the Rizzoli and Isles books that co-feature a female cop and female medical examiner. Or John Grisham, a former lawyer who’s written a number of legal thrillers.

In the non-fiction arena, take someone like Brendan Bouchard who has written a number of books on productivity, and living a more productive, fulfilled and successful life. His interests and experiences helped him become one of the leading self-help coaches of all time.

Inspiration is everywhere. On the internet and in nature, in television, film, and books. Get curious. Ask yourself a myriad of questions and the most important question—What if? Write down your ideas. Focus on the one that gets you the most excited. You might be surprised at how many ideas you can come up with. Maybe too many, but that’s a topic for another day!

 

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Ignore the Cynics – Be Who You Are

“…I want you to remember this: the world has never been changed by people who are apathetic. It takes ZERO courage to be a cynic. Keep dreaming. Keep creating. Keep leading with your heart.” ~Marie Forleo

I came across this quote in one of the emails I get from Marie Forleo, a personal development and business coach whom I follow.

A cynic is “a person who believes that only selfishness motivates human actions and who disbelieves in or minimizes selfless acts or disinterested points of view.”

Marie is right. It does take ZERO courage to be a cynic—to criticize, to judge, to disapprove of people trying to live their dream or make something of or for themselves, while they do nothing. And, “to minimize selfless acts or disinterested points of view?” There is no pleasing these people I tell you.

Have you ever encountered a cynic when it comes to your writing? I’m sure I don’t even have to ask the question because it happens all the time. I’m sure you’ve been faced with the opinions of friends, associates, and even family members who think you are just “indulging yourself” or you are “deluded” into thinking you can make something of your writing.

I say to you dear writer, consider the source.

Most cynics don’t appreciate that writing is hard work; that if the writer doesn’t love writing for writing’s sake, it will be difficult for them to finish anything or make headway with getting an agent, or publisher, or even publishing themselves. Long gone are the days of the glorified “genius” who sits at his or her desk all day long, working on their tome and nothing else. Today, writers must not only write, they must find their own editors, do their own marketing, and find their own audience. Unfortunately, it’s not just about the writing anymore.

Cynical looking manBut, even taking that into account, most writers I’ve come across take on these monumental tasks because writing is part of who they are. They feel most comfortable expressing themselves through the written word. They desire a connection with others through their written message or stories. Whether they write fiction or non-fiction, it is their desire to understand human nature, research what motivates people, touches them, completes them. Most writers are always asking the questions WHY and HOW in order to reach people. I think that makes them extraordinary and compassionate. Not selfish.

If a cynic or two, or three, or more, have ever squashed your writing dreams—don’t give them that kind of power. Remember you are the courageous one, putting yourself out there, asking the hard questions, daring to connect with and help people. Doing the work. Take comfort in knowing your words, your message, and your passion matter.

You may not make a ton of money, or become famous, or be considered a creative “genius” but you are reaching out to people. You can touch people, help people, and influence people with your writing. Let the cynics be cynical and stew in their own negativity. You know the truth about who you are and what you do, while they only think they do.

Like Marie says, “Keep dreaming. Keep creating. Keep leading with your heart.” Your existence will be much happier and much more fulfilled.

 

 

 

Create Your Own Writing Space

Do you have your own writing space? A place dedicated to your writing life?

If not, I suggest you find one or create one. A place that is all your own, where you can sink into your writing self without any disturbances or distractions.

As I wrote about in my article “The Importance of Ritual for Productive Writing,” having a set time and place for your writing is important. Once we have a place and a space physically and emotionally, it will be easier for us to go to that space and place to get some writing done.

I met a woman at a writer’s conference a few years ago who was struggling with her writing. She worked nights, full time, had an adult child and grandchild living at home, and a husband who worked at home. Do you see where I’m going here? The woman had no space to herself, no place where she could retreat from her responsibilities. So, I asked her questions about her house. Was there any place she could go to be alone? She mentioned a small attic room with a window seat. She said when she had time, she would sometimes go sit in that window seat and read. I suggested she put a small table or desk near the window and take her laptop up there and see how it worked.

I got an email from her several months later and she explained how she’d taken up the entire room–painted it, redecorated it, and put a lock on the door. And yes, she’d made incredible progress on her novel. Yay!

So, here’s a photo of my writing space. I thought about cleaning up my desk before taking the photo, but that just wouldn’t be real. This is how I work. I usually have a couple of books on my desk, (note Simple Abundance by Sarah Ban Breathnach—wonderful for inspiration and to get me in the creative mindset.) I usually have my diffuser going, something to drink sitting on my desk, my teapot at the ready, papers everywhere.

Writing deskYes, my office is quite large but cozy. When we moved last year, I commandeered this room and my husband graciously (and thankfully) agreed. It’s my space, my sanctuary, my happy place. I have no excuse not to write.

If you aren’t able to find a place in your home, then make a ritual of going somewhere. I used to work at a local restaurant/café that had decent internet service. Sometimes it was hard to tune out the conversations going on around me, but I also found the vibe of the place inspiring. I’d get a pot of blueberry tea, find myself a nice cushy booth and settle in for a couple of hours. Sometimes I treated myself to lunch.

For a while, a friend of mine would come and join me. We would catch up for a few minutes, or brainstorm about our projects and then get to work. It was nice to be accountable to someone else. We helped each other keep focused.

To be a writer takes a lot of discipline, and when there are so many distractions in our busy lives, it’s sometimes hard to get motivated. Having a space where you can go and “retreat” can make all the difference. I hope you have a space to call your own for your writing—and if you don’t, maybe it’s time to treat yourself and make one!

 

Setting Intentions and Affirmations for Writing

Do you have writing and publishing goals? I certainly do. I have a list of them that I try to revisit as often as possible.

In the last two years, I’ve been working hard at fostering my personal development. I want to become more productive, more engaged with my work, more sensitive to others, more present in my everyday life. I want to be more in touch with who I am and what I have to offer. I want to have deeper and more meaningful relationships with family, friends, and my animals. I want to live more in the moment. I want to be the best person and the best writer I can be. Does this sound familiar to you?

But how do we attain the goals we have set for ourselves, with our writing and our life?

For me, setting intentions and affirmations have been life-changing. I was first introduced to the concept by Dr. Benjamin Perkus with his Aroma Freedom Technique about three years ago. This technique uses a special combination of essential oils and a guided step-by-step exercise that helps to free us from the emotional blocks that prevent us from living to our potential. At the start of each session, we are to set an intention, work through the process with the essential oils and at the end of the session, we create an affirmation, breath in a transformative type of oil, like Young Living’s Transformation or Highest Potential and set our affirmation.

You might wonder, what is the difference between a goal, an intention, and an affirmation?

A goal is something we want to achieve. Finishing our novel, becoming a famous blogger, becoming a best-selling novelist, losing 10 pounds.

An intention is an “I am” statement or an “I have” statement that we create that feels, shows, and tastes like once we’ve achieved our goal. The intention is the overarching statement that reveals what our life is like when the goal is achieved. “I have a million followers on Twitter.” “I am a best-selling novelist.” “I travel the world and am paid to write my experiences.” “I am fit and healthy.”

Affirmations are reminders that support our intention. “I make time for my writing every day.” “I engage with people on social media twice a day.”

Once you have set your intention and your affirmations, it is important to read these out loud to yourself every day. If you make it part of your ritual, as I discussed in my previous post, “The Importance of Ritual for Productive Writing,” after a week or so, it will become part of your daily repertoire. It will constantly remind you of the awesome person you are and the incredible life you will have when you meet your goal.

Natalie Ledwell, in her Activate the Law of Attraction course on Udemy, asserts that if you put this type of energy out into the world, set your intentions and live by your affirmations, God or the Universe will answer you. By using the power of your mind, you can create your own reality and achieve any goals that you set for yourself. Like attracts like. If you put out into the world your positive energy, you will receive that positivity back.

So if you’ve set a goal to be a best-selling author, or a popular blogger, or any kind of successful artist – define what that looks like to you. Set your intentions around what you want your world to look like, and write down your affirmations. Read them aloud to yourself on a regular basis. Achieve what you want to achieve.

You can do what you set out to do. Only you are holding you back.

Finding Inspiration Within

For a writer, sometimes the scariest monster–the killer of inspiration–is the BLANK PAGE.

When we are trying to start something new, or finish something we’ve started in the past, finally committing and sitting down to write something can be horribly intimidating. Our inspiration dries up and cannot be found. At these moments, sometimes the best thing we can do is to walk away from the beast. Sometimes, in order to be productive with our writing, we need to step away from it and feed our soul.

What do you do to feed your soul? For me, I love to sit with my horses or go for a long trail ride. Sometimes, I like to work on something specific in the dressage arena or tackle that thing I have been avoiding to reach my equestrian goals.

Other times, I like to sit down to draw, or do crafts. In the past, I have spent time doing cross-stitch, embroidery, beading, and coloring when the words don’t flow. Doing tasks that require a different kind of concentration and focus often allow our subconscious to let go, to unlock and set free our imagination. The dam is broken and the river of thoughts and ideas that have been bottled up breaks free.

Recently, my father passed away. Dealing with the emotions of that loss, and all of the other stuff that comes along with the death of a loved one has made it difficult for me to get motivated to write. But in the sorrow, I’ve found inspiration. My father was a wonderful and brilliant man. He was a scientist and a painter—gifted with a combination of skills that many of us only dream about.

I think my father used his art as a way to keep himself inspired in his scientific work, and when he retired, as a way to keep his creativity alive. He was feeding his soul and creating beautiful things. Since his passing, I’m inspired to do the same. I feel more in touch with myself, more in tune with my feelings and emotions, and more sensitive to the world around me. This heightened sensitivity has helped me in the mourning process and has also helped me to find inspiration every day, in things great and small.

I’ve enrolled in a colored pencil “painting” class. The reason the instructor refers to the pencil work as “painting” is because the technique she employs–burnishing–makes the pencil drawings look like oil paintings. I don’t have the time or the talent to pursue oil painting like my father did, but I still feel like I can create something beautiful. And, in making that beautiful thing, I am feeding my soul, luring back the inspiration to work on my writing projects.

So when you are on a deadline for your writing, either your own deadline, or one that perhaps an agent or editor has set for you, and the beast of the blank page is looming, step away. Take a walk in the garden. Smell the roses. Spend time with one of your animals, either in activity or in stillness. Light some candles in the bathroom and take a bubble bath. Call a friend you haven’t spoken to in a while. Meditate. Go for a run. Paint something. Do whatever it is that speaks to you to refresh your mind and your spirit. Then go back to the page and just start writing–anything for ten minutes–and voila! No more blank page.

You’ve slain the monster. Now go on and write your masterpiece!