Tag Archives: writing

Helen Zuman dishes about her book – Mating in Captivity

I am pleased to share with you this fascinating interview with Helen Zuman, the author of Mating in Captivity, a memoir that tells the story of Helen’s quest to find meaning in life and relationships that led her to Zendik Farm; a place that espoused a philosophy of saving the world from lies and corruption through art and harmony. What she came to realize was that Zendik Farm was something she hadn’t entirely expected.
Publisher: She Writes Press

Release date: May 8, 2018

book cover - Mating in CaptivityTell us about your book!

Mating in Captivity: A Memoir chronicles my five years, post-college, in a cult called Zendik Farm. When I moved to Zendik, at twenty-two, I was seeking meaning, belonging, and skills not taught in school; I had no idea I would gradually lose sovereignty over my time, energy, mind, and relationships—that is, surrender self-trust. In writing this book, I’ve both composted the stinky guck of my Zendik experience into fertile soul-soil and, I hope, enticed readers to turn their own piles.

What are you working on now?

I have a seasonal gig editing college application essays for an admissions consulting company; in the fall and early winter, that’s where most of my writing energy goes. However, I do write a monthly e-newsletter and blog post, and I spend five to ten minutes each morning engaging, through writing, in an effort to explore and transform my relationship with money.

What advice would you give to your younger writing self?

Embrace the shitty first draft! Decide that the mission of your first draft is to be shitty, and that if you don’t make it shitty enough, you will have failed.

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

I’ve been writing since I was a kid, and the quality of my writing has always been extremely important to me. However, what made me a writer, and an author, was my determination to share the full tangle of my Zendik experience with readers who knew nothing about it. It was the book project that compelled me to establish and keep faith with a regular writing practice, and accept writing as a process. It kept asking me to learn more, travel further—and I kept saying yes.

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

My current favorite is Owen, who pops up to deliver some shocking news to the protagonist, then fades out. I like his peculiar blend of whimsy and mysticism.

Where do you do most of your writing?

At my desk, in a nook in the living room of the one-bedroom apartment I share with my husband in Beacon, New York.

What inspires you?

Crisis. Magic. Things that disturb me deeply, or strike me as miraculous. I’m also inspired by delicious writing—in particular, the word-feasts cooked up by my dear friend Nina Kang.

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

I see my book, my other writing projects, and my book-related events as shuttles with which to weave and reweave the web of relationships, i.e., the fabric that both holds and comprises all life. Each connection made, each book read, each story shared is one more thread in the web.

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

Since my book is a memoir, I knew the basics of my story before I started writing it. However, I did make many rounds of decisions, over the years, about what belonged and didn’t—and chose, eventually, to focus on my development as a sexual being and my quest for a partner. Those two threads became the spine of the book.

What are you reading right now?

Writing Down Your Soul, by Janet Conner. It’s a guide to getting in touch with, and listening to, one’s inner wisdom, while connecting with the infinite knowing of the larger whole. Also, I just finished two books by Ursula LeGuin—The Left Hand of Darkness and The Dispossessed—that seem to be grappling with big questions close to my heart: Is it possible to create a culture without money or overlords, in which everyone cares for everyone else? Is it inevitable that any pathology a group roots out will eventually be replaced by a new one?

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

Wulf—the male half of Zendik’s founding couple, whom I never met. I would ask him questions, or perhaps just listen to him ramble, in quest of a better understanding of his motives, his contradictions, his unsolvable knots.

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

Reese Witherspoon.

What are your top 3 favorite books?

In order of appearance in my life: Bomb the Suburbs by William Upski Wimsatt. New and Selected Poems by Mary Oliver. Lost and Found: My Life in a Group Marriage Commune by Margaret Hollenbach.

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

I make sure I have an adequate supply of homemade chocolate balls—also known as “crack”—on hand, so I can bribe/reward myself with one ball per half hour of thought-work.

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

I like engaging in nourishing conversation driven by open, honest questions about things that matter. I like villaging—especially at Earthaven, an off-grid intentional community in Black Mountain, North Carolina. I like growing food with as little effort as possible. I like singing, writing songs, writing skits, inciting laughter. And I like walking—if not for my quota of six miles per day, I would be a cyborg.

Photo Helen ZumanMore About Helen:
Helen Zuman, author and witch, turns waste into food and the stinky guck of experience into fertile, fragrant prose. A graduate of Harvard College, she lives with her husband in Beacon, NY and at Earthaven Ecovillage in Black Mountain, NC. Mating in Captivity (She Writes Press 2018) is her first book.
More about Mating in Captivity:

When recent Harvard grad Helen Zuman moved to Zendik Farm in 1999, she was thrilled to discover that the Zendiks used go-betweens to arrange sexual assignations, or “dates,” in cozy shacks just big enough for a double bed and a nightstand. Here, it seemed, she could learn an honest version of the mating dance and form a union free of “Deathculture” lies. No one spoke the truth: Arol, the Farm’s matriarch, crushed any love that threatened her hold on her followers’ hearts. An intimate look at a transformative cult journey, Mating in Captivity shows how stories can trap us and free us, how miracles rise out of crisis, how coercion feeds on forsaken self-trust.

Read Helen’s blog:
helenzuman.com.
Buy her book!

http://helenzuman.com/signed-copies/, https://www.indiebound.org/book/9781631523373, https://www.amazon.com/Mating-Captivity-Memoir-Helen-Zuman/dp/1631523376/

Things Unsaid – Author Interview with Diana Paul

I am so excited to share with you my interview with Diana Paul. Her book, Things Unsaid, released in 2015 by She Writes Press, explores the dynamics and emotional landscape of caring for elderly parents, while trying to navigate life’s other plans.

Book cover Things Unsaid

 

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

My debut novel, Things Unsaid, was released exactly three years ago and focuses on the sandwich generation:  what to do with aging parents who are driving you crazy?  Conversely, for the elderly, will their adult children be willing to contribute to their caregiving financially, emotionally, and physically? This could be about anyone’s family.

Inspired by a true story – Jules Foster, a Stanford child psychologist, after hearing news of her estranged, narcissistic mother’s terminal diagnosis, chooses to care for her mother over her own addicted daughter.

What are you working on now?

I have two novels in the pipeline–one is a rom-com about online dating .  The other is a mystery that continues where my debut novel, Things Unsaid,  leaves off, turning an ambiguous subplot into a possible murder.

What advice would you give to your younger writing self?

Stay with your dream of being a writer, even if that means only writing for yourself.  My advice would draw attention to the fact that you will be  surprised by how much you enjoy meeting others along the way in your writing/reading adventure.

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

I have always been a scribbler and writer, from elementary school on.  I wrote stories for the school and college newspapers, academic books on Buddhism (my graduate school specialty), and then finally turned my energies to fiction.

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

All the characters, of course, have part of my psyche but my favorites are the protagonist, Jules Foster, who is deeply flawed, and her daughter, Zoe, who has to contend with her own crisis.  I had fun with Courtney in the online dating novel as well.  She’s hilarious and also vulnerable.

Where do you do most of your writing?

If the weather is nice, I like to write on the deck with my laptop.  Otherwise, at my desk.

What inspires you?

Almost everyone has a story, and I love hearing what others have experienced. Sometimes, I will even record what a friend says with her/his permission, of course.  Movies and television series also have great writing. The structure and character arcs of the best screenwriting never cease to inspire my own writing.

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

That I meditate every day as a way to bring a clear mind to the writing process and to unwind and let thoughts just surface.

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

I usually start with an outline, so that makes me a “mini-plotter”. But the story and characters evolve in a way that surprises me so I become a “pantser” as well.

What are you reading right now?

I haven’t read mysteries in a very long time, but since I’ve just finished the manuscript for one, I decided to pick up the genre again.   I’m enjoying reading The Suspect by John Lescroart, featuring a female attorney as the protagonist.

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

I’d either sketch or paint with Jules, the protagonist in Things Unsaid.  Or, I’d attend university classes with her daughter, Zoe.

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

I always thought that Kate Winslet, Reese Witherspoon, or Naomi Watts would make a great Jules Foster who is on the cusp of fifty years old.  For the narcissistic matriarch I would go for Meryl Streep, Glenn Close, or Melissa Leo.  I kept these actors in mind when working on Things Unsaid.

What are your top 3 favorite books?

A Japanese Lover by Isabel Allende,  Mrs. Bridge by Evan S. Connell, and A Thousand Splendid Suns by Khaled Hosseini.

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

I meditate, then I review the previous day’s work.  And I also have to deal with our cat, Mao, jumping on the keyboard of my laptop.

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

Creating mixed media art, gardening, and dancing.

More about Diana:

Diana PaulDiana Y. Paul was born in Akron, Ohio andhas a Ph.D. in Buddhist Studies from the University of Wisconsin-Madison and has a B.A. in both psychology and philosophy from  Northwestern University.  Diana is a former Stanford professor in Buddhism with a focus on the role of women.

Diana is also the author of three books on Buddhism, one of which has been translated into Japanese and German.  Her short stories have appeared in a number of literary journals. She lives in Carmel, CA with her husband and calico cat. Her  second novel, A Perfect Match, is  pending as well as a third, Deeds Undone, a mystery which continues the narrative in Things Unsaid. When not writing, Diana  creates mixed media art.  Her art has been in museums and galleries in California, Hawaii, and Japan.

More about Things Unsaid: 

Family is never easy to deal with, elderly family is even more so.  Jules, a former university professor, has always played “the good daughter.” She and her husband Mike have set aside a college fund for their daughter Zoë, who is preparing to leave for Stanford. But when Jules’ parents lose everything in 2008’s Great Recession, she must make an impossible choice: her daughter’s future or her dying parents.

Things Unsaid is an award-winning novel: a 2016  USA Best Book Awards Finalist in two categories (Best New Fiction and Best Literary Fiction),  2016 Beverly Hills Book Awards Winner for Best New Adult Fiction, Readers Favorite Silver Award Winner for Best Drama, and a 2016 Pushcart Nominee.

“With a grace that is absorbing and deft, Paul tackles many difficult questions, including filial responsibility, depression, marital strife, and sexual identity. …The author depicts heart-wrenching conundrums as the three siblings are forced repeatedly to evaluate their personal priorities….An engaging tale of family dysfunction and intractable senior citizens.” ~Kirkus Review

Connect with Diana:

Visit Diana’s blog on movies and art at:  www.unhealedwound.com and her author website at: www.dianaypaul.com. Or stop by on Facebook, Twitter:  @DianaPaul10 and/or  Instagram: dianapaul10  and dianapaul4675

Buy Diana’s book:

https://www.amazon.com/Things-Unsaid-Diana-Y-Paul/dp/1631528122?  https://www.indiebound.org/book/9781631528125

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
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.

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Problems for Aspiring Writers and How to Combat Them

Writing is such a wonderful form of self-expression. For the brief time I taught middle school, I required my students to dedicate one of their notebooks for journal writing. For the first ten minutes of class, I had them sit, pull out their journals, and write. Sometimes I gave them a topic, and sometimes I didn’t. When I didn’t give them a topic, it wasn’t uncommon to hear a collective moan reverberate through the room, followed by the inevitable question: “What are we supposed to write about?” My answer: “Anything you want.”

journal writing with penI tried to instill in them the idea that when you write, you can be anything you want, you can say anything you want to say, you can create your own reality for that brief ten minutes. Live large. Let your imagination take you away. The page is yours to bring to life.

Some of them dove right in and I didn’t see them look up until the timer went off. Others weren’t so enthused. They drummed their pencils on the desk or sat staring into space. I think a lot of people who want to write but haven’t started yet, can relate to the latter experience.

In this series, I will highlight some of the problems aspiring writers face and provide some ideas that have helped me in the past. I hope you find this series helpful, and that you will be empowered to face down those demons and write whatever it is you are longing to write.

Disclaimer: The following exercises will require a journal and ten minutes of writing per session!

Problem #1: “What Do I Write About?

What is it you want to write?

Do you want to write a novel? If so, what kind? Mystery, romance, a great piece of inspired literature? Do you have an awesome idea for the next best sci-fi thriller? Do you want to express yourself through poetry? Or, do you have certain knowledge or experience that would lend itself to a self-help book or a memoir? Do you fancy writing essays for magazines, or creating your own blog?

Why do you want to write?

What does it mean to you to express yourself through the written word? Do you crave a connection with others on universal themes? Do you want to entertain? Do you feel called to help people, or bring to light the social injustices of the world? Maybe you have experiences or knowledge you feel people can benefit from.

Exercise #1

Spend some time thinking about why writing is important to you. Jot down a list of your reasons without putting them in any particular order. Then go back and pick the 3 to 5 most important reasons. Then, narrow it down to the single most important reason you want to write.

Setting Intentions

Exercise #2

I find setting intentions is always a good way to get in touch with what I really want and why I want it. An intention is what your “want” looks like when you’ve obtained it.  Below are some examples to get you started. Note: When setting your intention always use positive language, i.e. “I am” or “I have,”  or “I do.” You can set as many intentions as you want, and then go back and list them in the order of importance to you, as you did in the previous exercise.

I write because I want to _______.

My knowledge of ________allows me to help people understand ________ through the writing of my book/blog/articles.

I am talented at _________ and can entertain people with my story of __________.

I have a passion for _________ and want to change the world with my message.

I have a deep understanding of _________ and can share my experiences to relate to others through my writing.

I love to ________ and want to share my passion for it in my book.

Check back with me June 20, 2018, for “How Do I Start? I will be posting about themes in writing.

 

 

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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Woman having difficulty writing

Understanding Your Gifts, Talents, and Knowledge

Don’t know what to write about?

When people find out I am a writer, and particularly when they find out  I write novels, they often ask “How do you come up with your ideas?” Well, ideas aren’t usually my problem—focusing on ONE idea proves to be a challenge for me, but everyone is different. Some writers struggle to come up with ideas. Other people want to write, but don’t because they don’t feel they have any ideas or that their ideas aren’t good enough or worthy to write about. I say, NOT SO.

You have certain abilities, gifts, knowledge, and talents that make you unique. Everyone does. Even if we share those certain gifts, knowledge, and talents with others, we have our own take on them.

Here are a few tips and tricks to get your ideas flowing.

  1. Sit down for 10 minutes and a) write a list of your talents b) write down any kind of special knowledge you have. Are you a medical professional? Are you president of the PTA? Have you come up with a wicked fettuccini alfredo recipe?
  2. Write down your talents. Are you a good dancer? Are you good at fixing all things mechanical? Are you a whiz with numbers? Think about what you can do that others struggle with.
  3. What about your experiences? Did you have a difficult home life when you were growing up? Did you live in an exotic place? Was it for a long period of time or a short period of time? Do you volunteer your time anywhere or for anyone? Did you have a life-changing experience? What is your profession? What kind of training have you had?

If you have trouble coming up with anything in these areas, particularly in the abilities, knowledge or talent areas, ask a few friends or family members what they think you are good at. You might be surprised by their answers. Sometimes people see things in us we aren’t able to see ourselves until it is pointed out to us.

Happy woman writing

 

You can use the abilities and tools you already have as inspiration for writing—fiction or non-fiction. For instance, if you are a good dancer, you could write a romance, a thriller, or a mystery with a dancer as your protagonist or amateur sleuth. You could make the main setting a dancing studio, or you could take your protagonist on dancing tours with her dance company or troupe. For non-fiction, you could take a few of your favorite dance genres and talk about the history of them or pick a famous dancer who specialized in that genre and write a piece about them. You could write a “how to” book on your favorite dance number or dance moves.

Do you see where I am going here? Even if you have a mere INTEREST in something, you can research it and give your take on that topic, that person, that area—whatever it is.

You probably have a lot more ideas than you think. And if you think your ideas aren’t interesting, go to the internet and research the idea. See how much you find about it. Look on social media for groups on the subject. It is amazing what interests people and turns people on. You aren’t alone in your fascination with ladybugs or spark plugs! Writing about your interests, whether fiction or non-fiction connects you to the people who like the same things you do. There is always an audience—some big, or some small, but you can touch people with your words and ideas. You just need to find them, and they are right there inside of you!

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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.