Write Despite

The write-20-minutes-a-day-for-365-days-come-hell-or-high-water challenge

30 days of writing advice

We love author Amy Sue Nathan at womensfictionwriters.com

Amy is funny and real and full of good advice.

This month, you can take daily advantage of Amy’s insights, as she embarks on:

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Cathy and I will both be checking in daily with Amy. Join us? At the end, we can share what we found most helpful.

Cheers,

–Karen

 

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The ‘Wild Ride’ of Writer Hannah Grieco

me—From Cathy

Hannah Grieco is an education and disability advocate and writer in Arlington, Virginia. Her essays and short stories have been published in the Washington Post, Huffington Post, Motherwell, First for Women, Hobart, Lunch Ticket, Barren Magazine, Arlington Magazine, and others. She is the founder and director for ‘Readings on the Pike,’ a series that highlights a diverse array of local writers in the Washington, DC area. She can be found at www.hgrieco.com and on Twitter @writesloud.

Please welcome Hannah to Write Despite!

  • Can you tell us about your background? Where you went to school, your major, your early work experience?

My background is a bit of a wild ride. I was raised in the Washington, DC area. I went to the Oberlin Conservatory for clarinet, but switched to the college my second year. I tried out a series of majors, and ended up with a BA in Geology. It took slightly longer than four years to complete that journey. (Seven. It took seven years, with two year-long breaks in the middle.) But by the end, I realized I would not be able to rock climb for a living, which was depressing and triggered yet another life tangent. So I went to New York City to study acting at The Neighborhood Playhouse. (See? My poor mother!) I was overwhelmed by the reality of attempting to become a professional actress, and ran back to the DC area a year later, where I taught drama and dance to preschoolers. That sparked something new inside me, a focus (finally) outside of myself. I decided to get an M.Ed from Marymount University and became an elementary school teacher. But wait! We’re not done! After eight years, I got married and had kids. I decided to stay at home temporarily, which extended to “for the foreseeable future” when one of my children started to struggle with some pretty significant disabilities. As I dove into the very challenging world of advocacy, out of necessity, I began to share what I was learning with other parents. This led to more formal work in the area, and then writing as well.

  • Did you ever formally study writing? If not, how did you begin to write?

I wrote a ton of academic papers in undergrad and grad school, but I didn’t consider myself a writer. Then in early 2018, I really wanted to encourage my autistic son to read fiction. He was an advanced reader, but only wanted to read nonfiction. So I wrote a short story for him, hoping it would hook his interest, and it did! He wanted to know what happened next, and so I kept writing, then writing even more. It developed into a (very poorly-written) chunk of a middle-grade novel. An editor encouraged me to write an essay about *why* I was writing this novel, and so I did. That experience was profound, a totally different style of writing than I had ever done – and the piece sold! I got paid to write! So…I began writing more essays, which also sold, and decided to focus on the craft of writing. Both nonfiction and fiction. I’ve taken a couple of classes, but most of my learning has happened from working with amazing editors and sharing with peers in critique groups.

  • Your website says you’ve gone from teacher, to mother, to parenting advocate. How does writing fit into all these things?

I use my essays, and even some short stories, as a form of advocacy. Most of my published nonfiction is specifically focused on disability, education, and mental health in kids. Many of my stories are about families and relationships, and the role of disability and/or mental health issues within that context.

  • You’ve published fiction and non-fiction pieces in the Washington Post, the Huffington Post, and a number of magazines and journals. What are you most proud of?

My Washington Post piece was scary to share and seemed to have a big impact, based on the emails I received. But I am most proud of the piece about my son and his love for Eminem (in HuffPo), because autistic people are often so poorly and stereotypically represented in the media. My son is a human being, not the subject of inspiration porn, and he is one of my favorite people! I hope to elevate and inform in my work, to bring autism to the reader as something to learn about and respect, rather than perpetuate the more common narratives that usually accompany the subject.

  • Who are your favorite authors?

Oh this is so hard! It depends on the genre and my mood that day. For short stories, probably Meg Pillow Davis and Tyrese Coleman right now. David Sedaris and Flannery O’Connor, in terms of influence over time. I could give you a long list of brilliant authors I read and love, both in short-form and long-form, but I’m also crazy about Stephen King. I like to read about people and he is the master of that! For essays: I just read whatever is being published and try to soak it all up!

I wanted to read my work, to have an audience and learn from that experience. But I live in Arlington, and all the readings were always in DC. It can be hard to get to events regularly with three kids clinging to you! So I asked a few friends if they’d be willing to read with me if I planned a one-time event. They graciously agreed, and we ended up with a big crowd that night! Then more writers contacted me, wanting to read as well, and it took off from there, quickly becoming a monthly series. Writers want to share their words! And I love it, everything about it. I meet the most amazing, talented people and get to watch and listen as they offer us their beating hearts.

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Hannah Grieco at Readings on the Pike
  • Do you have advice for new or struggling writers?

I think we’re all struggling, right? And I am certainly new myself! The key for me has been to connect with other writers, to find my community. I read their work, ask them questions, and save money to work with local editors. I regularly swap work with other writers and we critique each other, which is hard! It’s brutal to hear when your words don’t work! But that’s the only way to learn, to just dissolve the pride that prevents you from polishing your work into something really moving and impactful.

  • What are you writing or working on now?

I am constantly working on essays and short stories. I write every day in those two genres. But I am also working on a book related to special needs parenting and advocacy!

 

 

 

 

New Market for New Writers!

I hope everyone is writing well as we head into the home stretch of winter. The green grass of Spring is on the horizon. If you’ve got short work you’re looking to send out, here’s an opportunity.

We’re going to start giving a shout-out to magazines and online publishing venues that truly welcome emerging–as well as established–writers, when we stumble across them.

So, say hello to Sonder Midwest. What a super cool logo this is.

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The mag’s online presence is pretty nice, and the publishers really want to see your stories. Here’s how they put it:

Sonder is an online literary and art publication that strives for unity through defining the unknown territory that is creativity. Sonder provides a place for young and new writers to share their prose, poetry, photography, drawings, and other types of original work. Sonder desires work that connects everyone involved.

They’ve got some upcoming contests and other opportunities. Check them out, and send your work out: https://sondermw.wordpress.com

Remember, when one of us scores, we all score. Good luck!

–Karen

 

Getting Close to Your Characters

Last week I was lucky enough to attend a fantastic workshop at the Writers in Progress studio in beautiful Florence, Massachusetts. Led by author Jacqueline Sheehan, the workshop was called “Getting Close to Your Characters.”

Anyone who’s struggled with bringing characters and their motivations (real and hidden) to life knows what we’re talking about. It ain’t easy.

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The studio described the challenge this way:

One of the main reasons why readers read is to slip inside the skin of another person. The most memorable characters are those we feel closest to: the ones whose feelings we feel and whose lives we experience…. But how do writers accomplish this intimacy while thinking about so many other things, like plot and pacing and character development?

Jacqueline keeps her workshops grounded in exercises and techniques that writers can immediately put to use. In fact, I went home and did exactly that in my novel draft.

We delved into point-of-view, motivation, physical setting, and verb tense as conduits to create intimacy between character and reader. I can’t put down all the good stuff I soaked up, but here are a few gems that REALLY struck me.

  • Characters need STRONG and CLEAR motivations in order to engage readers. Ratchet up the intensity of their desire. One common complaint among literary agents, Jacqueline says, is characters that are too PASSIVE.

So, the question becomes how we skillfully develop characters to SHOW the intensity of their motivation, and by extension, who they really are. Some techniques to get you there:

  • Engage the senses, make reading experiential. Sight, sound, and touch are of course important, but don’t forget the other sense. Smelling what a character smells, or tasting, gets the reader up personal and inside what the character is experiencing. Scent especially is a very primal sense, evoking memories and states of mind in an instant.
  • Let characters be vulnerable to pain. “Being stoic is not going to work,” as Jacqueline puts it. Show the reader how they react to fear, betrayal, abandonment, loss. “It’s very revealing how we respond to those hard things,” says Jacqueline, who, by the way, is also a psychologist. “Your core is revealed.” Help readers feel what your characters feel and they’ll go along for the ride.
  • Use powerful verbs! Brain imaging has shown that when you watch someone doing active things, the same part of your brain lights up as the person doing the action. So, if they leap, you take a mental leap. The same holds true for readers. So, don’t breathe heavily, pant or gasp or instead.
  • Use actions, not thoughts, to bring readers into a character’s mind. Watching someone throw a punch or flip the finger in traffic is a more telling display of their emotional state than saying their angry, even if they’re “quaking with angry.”

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  • A good tip—use verbs that are associated with sex; they’re already sensual and evocative!

–Karen

 

Tales of Triumph

—From Cathy

Triumph CoverA little gift came early for us here at Write Despite, and I couldn’t be more thrilled to announce it.

Karen is the first-place winner of an anthology released today, Triumph: Stories of Victories Great and Small. The ten short stories and essays in this collection deliver finely crafted, authentic accounts of courage, inspiration, and achievements, and I’m proud to have been one of the judges who helped select them (although I had no hand in choosing the actual winners).

I’m so grateful to all who contributed, as well as to publisher Meredith Maslich Eaton and Possibilities Publishing Company for bringing it to life.

If you’re still looking for a gift for that reader on your list (maybe it’s you!), or just know someone in need of encouragement, a good laugh, or even a well-earned cry, check it out. There’s truly something in here for everyone.

Big congrats, Karen! Happy Holidays, everyone!

 

Grateful for Guidance

Thanksgiving approaches. Like most of you, we’re looking back on what we’re grateful for this year. Too many things to list, of course, but here are some of the best writerly tips we’ve collected in 2018.

—From Cathy:

  1. puzzleAt a discussion at George Mason University’s Fall for the Book event this year, I was able to hear Elizabeth Strout speak about her incredible body of work, Olive Kitteridge and My Name is Lucy Barton, in particular, with mentions of her latest, Anything Is Possible as well. She admitted she doesn’t write any of her books sequentially. Imagine! She writes out scenes, prints them, then lays them out on this big table in her house and literally pieces them together like large, literary a puzzle. How freeing, to break out of the whole outline mode, or even just out of the guideline in your head, and simply write freeform that way. When I’m feeling stuck, I think this would be a great way to keep things moving forward, although I know it would likely have its drawbacks for me too:
    * I would no doubt wind up with an unstructured mess.
    * Someone would come along and turn a fan on, or spill a drink on all my papers.
    * My husband would stop by, pick something up and read it, then feel the need to critique. On the spot. While I’m watching Riverdale!
  2. These little gems from author Richard Bausch, my former writing professor and advisor:
When you feel dry, mime someone. Write in someone else’s voice; write Faulkner for a while, or Cheever, or Katherine Ann Porter, or anyone, to get the thing on paper. Then go through and take out the SOUND of those other voices, and be true to the event, or the occasion, and clear about it whatever it is, and what’s left is you. You learned by imitating; there’s no reason you can’t warm to it that way, too.
GatsbyCharacter is Fate. Character is action. Character is nature. Character is nurture. Character is the sound of a voice, a gesture, the color of the eyes, the hair, the texture of the skin. It is a matter of imagining, even when you are using a model, and it involves the marvelous reasonableness of the world’s fictional people—that is, we understand Jay Gatsby’s behavior, we are privy to his “romantic readiness” and we have full knowledge of what he felt standing at the end of his dock, his fantastic mansion behind him in the night, while he gazed, arms outstretched, across the sound, at Daisy’s green light. We know these people, therefore, better than we ever really know anyone in life.

3) This, from the latest issue of Writer’s Digest, on key book publishing paths. I love, love visual charts like this. They make everything so much clearer:

https://www.janefriedman.com/key-book-publishing-path/

—From Karen:

Here is some great writing advice I’ve received, simple but so important:

  1. Watch those verbs! If you’re using adverb to modify your verb, you might not be using the right verb. Is there a better, more accurate action word for what you’re trying to convey?Adverbs
  2. Choose your readers carefully. When you’ve got a work in progress, be careful whose criticism you solicit. Not all editors are equal for all works. You need someone who “gets” your work, and who, even more importantly, wants to enhance what YOU’VE done, not do it over according to their own visions or tastes. Good editing makes your work better. Bad editing just confuses you.
  3. KingWrite for yourself. It can’t be stated enough. Choose subjects and characters that compel and captivate you. It’s the only way you’ll be able to bring them to life and make readers care about them.
  4. Not everyone is going to like your work. Do you like everything you read? No, of course not. Get over it.
  5. When it comes to words, simple is almost always better.
  6. When it comes to length, shorter is almost always better. (There are of course exceptions.)

What advice are YOU grateful for? Whatever it is, embrace it, and pass it along.

Happy Thanksgiving, everyone!

 

What are you reading this fall?

Hi All,

As we head into glorious autumn–my favorite season–there’s no shortage of great fiction to read. Cathy and I have been focusing on a couple of contemporary authors lately.

Cathy just finished these two by Elizabeth Strout, both of which she loved…

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…while I just finished Lydia Millet’s “Sweet Lamb of Heaven” (blew me away) and I’m now enjoying the stories in “Fight No More.” She’s just amazing.

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Share the titles that you’re enjoying this fall? We always love to hear what our friends are reading.

And if you’re in the Fairfax, Virginia, area Oct. 10 to 13, check out the Fall for the Book Festival at George Mason University. There’s a great lineup of speakers, including Elizabeth Strout, and lots workshops and discussion panels. Keep an eye out for Cathy!

–Karen

From Paris with love, kinda

Friends —

Novelist Michelle Richmond is living the expat dream in Paris, where she has temporarily relocated with her husband and son. It’s a long way from Northern California to Paris, France, and Michelle is candidly–and humorously–sharing her daily trials and triumphs. You can follow her exploits in a “beautiful but challenging city” on her new blog, The Reluctant Parisian.

michelle in Paris

Michelle’s indie press, Fiction Attic Press, published my debut novel in 2014, and she remains a source of support and inspiration. I’m loving her post-a-day on Instagram.

And yes, Michelle’s books have been translated in French!

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Check back often and share Michelle’s journey!

–Karen

 

Happy Pub Day, Vanessa Hua!

Drum roll, please….. Our friend and contributor Vanessa Hua is celebrating a big one today: the publication of her debut novel, A River of Stars. Cathy and I offer our congratulations along with a super big high-five.

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Vanessa took a break in her busy promotion schedule to share a little about the creative inspiration for her novel–turns out that pregnancy is a great time for literary ideas to incubate!

From Vanessa:

While living in Southern California and pregnant with my twin sons, I began hearing about maternity hotels getting busted. What’s a maternity hotel? There’s an underground industry to house Chinese women coming to the U.S. to give birth, so that their children will receive U.S. citizenship. Neighbors were asking why there were so many pregnant Chinese women coming and going into suburban homes. It sounded like a brothel in reverse! What was it like, I wondered, to be so far from home and family at one of the most vulnerable times in your life?

When I was pregnant, I found that people treated me very generously, very kindly—offering me a place at the front of the line, or giving up their seat. They asked me when I was due, if I was having a boy or girl, and shared stories about their families. But when you have a dozen pregnant women under one roof, who gets the most sympathy and good wishes, who is the Queen Bee? It seemed like a situation ripe for drama—and ripe for comedy.

As I enter the final days before Pub Day, my brain feels so tired it feels cross-eyed inside my head! But I’m grateful for all the support and encouragement from family and friends, my publisher, agents, and editor, and am looking forward to sharing my book with the world.

 

Oprah Magazine lauds debut novel!

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With just one week left until pub day, Write Despite contributor Vanessa Hua’s  debut novel, A River of Stars, got a very nice call-out in the latest issue of Oprah Magazine.

Go, Vanessa! Can’t wait to read the novel.

–Karen

 

 

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