Author Hardy Jones: Writing is Like Exercise

Hi everyone!

Many thanks to all who commented on Gigi Amateau’s post last week. She has picked a winner for her book giveaway. Congratulations to Kipley Herr!

DSC_0606And now please welcome novelist and teacher Hardy Jones to Write Despite. Hardy joins us today to share his thoughts on the persuasive powers of T. Coraghessan Boyle, the litmus test of revision and the importance of answering the phone when opportunity calls.

If you haven’t read Hardy’s novel “Every Bitter Thing,” please check it out. The writing is powerfully observant, and the story will stay with you long after you finish the last page. Also an essayist and short story writer, Hardy is an associate professor of English and director of creative writing at Cameron University. He also serves as Executive Editor of Cybersoleil Literary Journal.

Please welcome Hardy Jones to Write Despite

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1. What’s the best writing advice you’ve ever received?

I have had many great teachers and mentors, so it is difficult to single out the best writing advice I received. But I want to highlight advice I received from Moira Crone, Thomas Russell, and Randall Kenan. Crone, with whom I studied fiction writing as an undergraduate at Louisiana State University, explained short story form to me and enabled me to write with more control and understanding of the components of fiction—hooks, rising action, climax, falling action, denouement.  While the Aristotelian structure is not the only way to organize a story, learning it was a great help to me as a beginning writer.

My first graduate workshop was with Thomas Russell. It was a Fiction workshop and in it he said: “Many authors write the same story over and over.” We were reading D.H Lawrence, and Thomas Russell explained how Lawrence primarily wrote about the sexual tension between men and women. As a student, Russell’s comment did not make sense, and I did not want to write the same story over and over. As I have matured as a writer, I now understand what he meant. One does not literally write the same story over and over, but an author explores the same themes and tropes in one’s work. For example, I often write about dysfunctional families with an only child and about father/son relationships.

In a Creative Nonfiction workshop at the University of Memphis, Kenan said: “I’ve come to believe that there is enough time to write everything.” This comment stuck with me because I have a bad habit of pressuring myself and often feeling rushed.

2. Please tell us your favorite three authors

Picking only three is difficult. Some authors are my favorites for specific lessons I have learned from reading them. Others are my favorites for that reason plus sheer enjoyment. The Brazilian fiction writer Jorge Amado fits both of those criteria. The first work I read by him was the novel Dona Flor and Her Two Husbands. I am in awe of how his prose blends erudition with humor and bawdiness. Next is the nonfiction author Joseph Mitchell. I appreciate his ability to write about marginalized peoples and not make them into caricature. Third is the Nigerian author Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie. Her writing possesses an emotional intensity that I admire. A fourth author I want to mention is T. Coraghessan Boyle. In a sophomore literature course, I read his story “Greasy Lake,” which I enjoyed and then sought out more of his work. I read his story collections If The River was Whiskey, The Descent of Man, Without a Hero and his novel World’s End.  He is the writer who convinced me to be a writer. His subjects of teen angst and rock-n-roll, writing infused with a few curse words, and the comedic approaches to history and storytelling grabbed me.  By the time I finished World’s End, I had decided to major in English and fling myself into writing.

3. Briefly describe your journey to publication

My first publication was a short story titled “Moving Day,” and it appeared in the LSU undergraduate journal The Delta. I wrote it for an undergraduate fiction workshop I was taking with Moira Crone. She had given us the assignment to begin a story with the words “I remember.” When I sat down to start the story I didn’t know what I was going to write. I sat in front of the computer for a few minutes repeating “I remember” and in what seemed like an unconscious act, I placed my fingers on the keyboard and typed: “I remember when Mama told us we were moving out of the trailer park.” With that sentence, a young boy’s voice took over and led me to write eight pages.

For my novel Every Bitter Thing, I wrote the initial draft between August 2000 and May 2001. The opening scene came out in one sitting. I had been kicking around the opening line, “Dad was always friends with butchers,” in my head for about three years, and one afternoon, frustrated with something else that I was writing, I started a new file and typed out the sentence. The rest of the scene came out in about forty-five minutes in one of the moments that writers live for: the characters, the setting, the actions, even the dialogue simply flowed out. After such an auspicious start, I was unable to write for several weeks, and when I did return to the manuscript, I fluctuated between continuing with it as fiction or making it into a father/son memoir. Once I had written fifty pages, I decided to go the route of fiction. By releasing myself and the characters from what I perceived as the constraint of memoir, I was able, ironically, to be more truthful about the father’s bigotry and the protagonist’s sexual abuse by an older boy.

While the novel’s initial draft took nine months to complete, it took seven years of revising and submitting the manuscript before it was accepted for publication in April 2008 by Black Lawrence Press.  At that time, my wife and I were in the process of buying a house and I was tired of the numerous phone calls from banks and finance companies. I was on the phone with a colleague when a beep let me know I had another call.  Assuming it was probably another loan officer trying to pressure us, I decided I wasn’t going to click over. Luckily my colleague was more level-headed and said I should take it; the call, he said, may be important. He was correct. It was Black Lawrence Press’ then Executive Editor Colleen Ryor saying that they had decided to accept Every Bitter Thing. After all those years of work on the manuscript, I almost did not answer when opportunity called.

4. Advice for those now on the road to publication?

Never submit something that has not been revised numerous times and start small. Don’t start at the top with a prestigious journal that primarily publishes established authors. Doing so sets one up for disappointment, and the writing and publishing life is full of that. Normally, young authors are working in short genres: poetry, short stories, and personal essays. Therefore, journals are a perfect match. With an established track record, an author then has the “credentials” to submit to larger journals, agents, and presses.

5. Do you write every day?

I wish I did. When I was composing Every Bitter Thing, I did write every day for those nine months it took to complete the initial draft. With my teaching schedule, I try to work in a few minutes when I can between classes and meeting with students. In that way, I follow the advice you give on the blog: twenty minutes a day. That is good advice, because writing is like physical exercise: your muscles become stronger as you work regularly, and eventually one is maximizing those twenty minutes. When I feel as if there is not enough time to write, I like to use the image of the poet William Carlos Williams, who wrote in between seeing patients in his medical office. That writing schedule worked out well for him.

 6. What are you writing now?

Currently I am revising a memoir, People of the Good God, which is forthcoming from Mongrel Empire Press. I have a short story collection, Grandmother’s Coconut Tree, for which I am seeking a publisher. The stories are set in Southeast Asia and the American South. The ones set in Southeast Asia are flash fiction and are more experimental. I am also working on a personal essay collection, Resurrection of the Unholy, which is about my childhood and growing up in the South during the 1970s and 1980s with a bigoted sexagenarian father. My father was born in 1917 in east Texas and he never let go of the racist ways he was taught and witnessed growing up. As a child, however, I felt that something was not right with his attitude towards African-Americans, and as I grew I knew that his attitude and words were wrong.

Welcome Author Gigi Amateau–And Win a Copy of Her New Book!

gigi-amateauGigi Amateau’s first book for young adults, Claiming Georgia Tate, was published by Candlewick Press in 2005. That title was selected as a New York Public Library Book for the Teen Age and hailed by author Judy Blume: “It’s rare and exciting to discover a talented new writer like Gigi Amateau.” The Wall Street Journal called the book “an ambitious push into the young adult market.”

She is also the author of A Certain Strain of Peculiar, a Bank Street College Best Children’s Book of the Year, and Chancey of the Maury River, A William Allen White Masters list title for grades 3-5. Come August, Come Freedom, her first work of historical fiction, was selected by the Southern Independent Booksellers Alliance as a Fall 2012 Okra Pick, chosen by Bank Street College as a Best Children’s Book of the Year, and by the Virginia Library Association as a Jefferson Cup Honor book. In 2012, Gigi received a Theresa Pollak Prize for Excellence in the Arts from Richmond magazine.

Her fifth novel, Macadoo of the Maury River, macadoo-coverwas released by Candlewick Press in August 2013. A copy of it can be yours by posting a comment here on Write Despite.

Gigi was raised in Mechanicsville, Virginia, and lives with her husband and daughter in Richmond. Here is a brief Q&A.

1. Best writing advice you’ve ever received?

Judy Blume gave me two great pieces of advice:

1. Read your work aloud when revising.

2. Banish the thought that you will run out of ideas.

2. Favorite three authors?

Issa. And, right now, I’m catching up on all of my Edward P. Jones and am also fairly obsessed with Susann Cokal’s new YA novel, The Kingdom of Little Wounds. I’ve loved everything ever written by Silas House. And, Jacqueline Woodson, Edwidge Danticat, Belle Boggs, Meg Medina. And, see above, I’ve loved Judy Blume for about forty years. Oh, and Eudora Welty. Can’t forget her.

3. Journey to publication? (How were you first published and how has that led to where you are now?)

When I “finished” (or so I thought!) my YA novel, Claiming Georgia Tate, (it was actually called something different) I was pretty content that I had a beginning, middle, and an end and characters that I enjoyed writing. I didn’t really have the constitution to send the manuscript out, but I did share with a close friend. I had ZERO publishing contacts but it turns out my friend did. So, folks started sharing the manuscript, which eventually led to representation by Leigh Feldman and publication by Candlewick Press. Since then, I’ve learned a lot and grown a lot. Best of all, I’ve met many kind and generous people along the way and made some great, lifelong friends!

4. How and why did you decide to write YA books–what do you love about it?

I didn’t know a lot about YA when I started writing Claiming Georgia Tate in 1996. I just wrote the story that was swirling around in there, which is still how I write. I have a bunch of stories that may or may not be for children. I don’t really worry about an age group or market until revision is well underway, and until after I’ve gotten a handle on what I’m trying to say. Of my published books, I’d say two are YA and three are middle grade. What I enjoy about writing for young readers is placing a kid at the center of the story and giving those characters power and voice in their own lives.

5. What’s up with the horses, and how did they make their way into your writing?

I just love horses, that’s all. Everything about them. Their big eyes that reflect a better you. How fuzzy they get in the winter time. The way the smell. How brave they are. How aware they are of every motion and emotion. I don’t know. How does the sky or my grammy or a kiss make it into my writing? How do birds and trees and mountains? Just. Well, there they all are making me feel alive and not alone.

6. Advice for those on the road to publication (i.e., tips on snagging an agent)? 

The advice that I try to follow for myself regarding craft is to give myself intentional periods of pause and reflection to look around inside my mind and my body (yes!) because there are LOTS of stories that remain hidden when I’m so distracted with running around doing things.

My advice for becoming published is to identify one or two writing communities or professional associations that feel welcoming toward you and resonant with your work. Join up. Learn. Meet people. Take advantage of opportunities to connect with publishing professionals. For example, I belong to the Authors Guild, AWP, James River Writers, the Society of Children’s Book Writers & Illustrators, Southern Independent Booksellers Alliance, and WriterHouse.

7.  Do you write every day?

I do. I don’t always work on the same manuscript every day. I hop around to different projects.

8. What are you working on now?

Lots of fun stuff! I just released an app for iPad based on my book, Chancey of the Maury River – a totally a fun project with a brand new horse story and a barn dress-up game. I’m finishing up the third installment of the Horses of the Maury River middle grade series (the second, Macadoo of the Maury River is just out). I’m about seventy pages in to a historical novel. I’m researching two other books and writing little pieces of those. Revising a retelling of a colonial folk tale. And, working on an essay about Atlantic Sturgeons and Milwaukee Bucks’ star Larry Sanders.  I know, right? I don’t quite get that one yet myself. Just going with it for now.

YOU COULD WIN A FREE COPY OF GIGI’S BOOK, MACADOO OF THE MAURY RIVER. JUST TELL  HER WHY YOU’D LIKE TO OWN IT BY POSTING YOUR COMMENT HERE. GIGI WILL PICK A WINNER BY OCTOBER 1!

Thematic Elements

Karen and I have both been working on submitting some things for publication lately. ‘Cause what’s the point of writing if no one sees it but your Aunt Audrey who, let’s face it, just doesn’t get your humor?

I’ve been checking out some places to submit a short story I’ve been working on for, uh, about a decade now. What I’ve discovered, or rediscovered since it’s been so long since I’ve done this, is that the right theme can get you everywhere. Case in point, my last published story had been shopped around for about, uh, a decade, when I finally ran across a themed issue that fit it to a sweet little “T.” I sent it there and, what do you know? Print at last!

So I thought I’d share some of the calls for submissions I’ve seen that ask for specific themes from writers. These run the gamut of fiction, nonfiction, and poetry—some are journals, some are contests. And most have deadlines right around the corner. Pick and choose as you like. And please, let us know if your work finds a home in one of them.

Write well, everyone! And give Audrey my love.

—Cathy

COOL THEMED SUBMISSIONS

Sexy story? Macho story?

http://www.hungermtn.org/submit/

Family Matters:

http://www.glimmertrain.com/familymatters.html

shark

Sharks, printers, and other fun stuff:

http://themaliterarysociety.com/submissions.html

The Journey:

http://www.hauntedwaterspress.com/Submissions.html

Women and Nature:

http://fourthriver.chatham.edu/index.php/submit

Memory:

http://www.halfwaydownthestairs.net/index.php?action=submissions

For you radical deviants:

http://zymbolmag.com/submission-guidelines/

For you mermaid poets (no, I’m not kidding–click on “submit”):mermaid

http://www.sundresspublications.com/

Adirondacks:

bluelinemagadk.com

Southern:

steeltoereview.com/submissions/

Tales from the cubicle:

http://www.workerswritejournal.com/

Spiritual lit:

http://www.lalitamba.com/

Phobia/Philia:

http://fictioninternational.sdsu.edu/submit.html

Race:

http://ravenchronicles.org/raven/rvsubm.html

Progress:

http://www.umt.edu/camas/

Dark & Dirty:

http://www.dirtychaimag.com/2013/08/call-for-submissions.html

Procession, Tandem Bicycle, Ache:tandem bike

http://www.3elementsreview.com/

Welcome Author Patricia Henley

The diverse and accomplished Patricia Henley joins us today to share her thoughts on lucky breaks, practice-practice-practice, and how starting a novel feels like falling in love.

Patricia is the author of two chapbooks of poetry, four short story collections, two novels, a stage play, and numerous essays. Her first book of stories, Friday Night at Silver Star (Graywolf, 1986) was the winner of the Montana First Book Award. Her first novel, Hummingbird House (MacMurray & Beck, 1999) was a finalist for the National Book Award and the New Yorker Fiction Prize. Pantheon published her second novel, In the River Sweet, and it was widely praised in newspapers and magazines. In the River Sweet was a Border’s Original Voices selection and was translated into Polish and published in Poland in 2004. Engine Books published Patricia’s fourth collection of stories – Other Heartbreaks – in 2011.

Here’s what Oprah magazine had to say about Other Heartbreaks:

O Magazine Review

Learn more about Patricia and her work at www.patriciahenley.org or at www.enginebooks.org

Please welcome Patricia to Write Despite.

1. What’s the best writing advice you’ve ever received?

Here are two bits of advice. Pay yourself first — that is, write first thing in the morning. After that, everything feels easy. Pursue wordless recreation. This is even more important now than it was when I first read it thirty years ago because we are bombarded with so many more words now than ever.

2. Please tell us your favorite three authors

Hilary Mantel
Alice Munro
William Trevor

3. Briefly describe your journey to publication. (How were you first published and how has that led to where you are now?)

I first published poetry in journals around Baltimore in the 1970’s. I started writing fiction in 1979 when I was living in the Pacific Northwest. I submitted a short story manuscript to a contest – the Montana First Book Award. I won, and, as a result, Graywolf Press published my first book of stories in 1986. They made sure it was reviewed nationally and that was my lucky break.

4. Advice for those now on the road to publication?

Don’t stop writing. There are plenty of gifted or talented writers who can’t stick with it. They allow themselves to get distracted when it’s not easy. Getting published is about practice, practice, practice.

5. Do you write every day?

When I’m working on a project, yes, I write every day. Once in a while I take some time off. But a week or two without writing and I begin to feel as if I’m living in a black and white movie. I have to write.

6. What are you writing now? (If nothing, what are you reading now?)

I recently finished a memoir – You Will Be Taught To Fly — I do not have a publisher for it yet. I’m writing a YA novel with Elizabeth Stuckey-French. It’s titled Where Wicked Starts. Engine Books will publish it in 2014. I recently started what I hope will be a novel set in Cincinnati. I haven’t made a firm commitment to it yet, but it’s fun. The first 100 pages of a novel feel like falling in love.

Oxford, 2012

Author Angela Belcher Epps: Telling Your Truth

Author Angela Belcher Epps explores what happens when a mother walks out on her children in her compelling novella, Salt in the Sugar Bowl. (Main Street Rag, $10) Epps, an English teacher at an alternative high school, explores the complexities of life— including love, family relationships, loss and abandonment in her work. See her website and her blog to learn more about her writing adventures http://www.thewritingclinic.com/

Please welcome Angela to Write Despite.

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1) What’s the best writing advice you’ve ever received?

I took workshops with Zelda Lockhart who said I have to be willing to work as hard for my writing job as I do for my supervised job. This was a milestone in my writing life because a part of me was always waiting for some break to happen to give me more time. So I started to push myself harder to have a complete writing career while juggling the job and life I had.

2) Please tell me your favorite three authors.

J. California Cooper, Amy Bloom, and (at this moment) Junot Diaz. But Raymond Carver always comes to mind whenever I’m asked.

3) Briefly describe your journey to publication.

I have written since I was in third grade and wrote for school papers and such. Then I majored in creative writing in undergrad, but I cared nothing about publishing. I only wanted to write. I finally started submitting stories to small literary journals when I attended NYU’s graduate creative writing program and became a more disciplined writer. E. L. Doctorow was my thesis advisor, and he told me he laughed out loud when he read one of my stories, so I gained confidence and submitted to NYU’s literary journal. That was my first real publication. Since then, I generally take a long time writing and revising until a piece feels complete. Salt in the Sugar Bowl, my new novella, features many fictional characters that I have been in relationship with for a long while. An editor heard me read an excerpt about one of these characters at an open mic and invited me to submit my novella; they accepted it. Also from time to time I am inspired to write a nonfiction article, and it usually comes from a deep place that is rather emotional. I usually have successes with such pieces.

4)  Advice for those on the road to publication?

Don’t be self-conscious. That was always my personal demon because it caused me to rethink and censor myself. Write for yourself, and forget about the people who could be looking over your shoulders and chastising you for telling your truth. Get lost in your own voice, and forget about being safe. Your readers aren’t your family, so grow all the way up and be yourself. Then be diligent about rereading and revising your work. Be ruthless in self-editing. Be honest.

5) Do you write every day?

I don’t work on my projects every day, but writing grounds me, so I journal or write something every day—even if it’s a log of what I did, an elaborate “To Do” list, or goals I plan to meet. Tonight I was talking to my husband in a restaurant, and I’d had a glass of wine and was feeling pretty self-righteous and gloating about my sense of integrity. I said that public figures that fall from grace should have to “figure it out or get the fuck out.” I fell in love with the line as it slid through my lips, and I wrote it down when he went to the toilet. Trust me; some character will be expressing that sentiment very soon. Writing is always going on in my head.

6) What are you writing now?

I’m writing a sequel to my Salt in the Sugar Bowl novella because whenever someone has read it, they ALWAYS say, “I need to know what happened to …….” And that is extremely motivating. It is tentatively called Out for a Ride. I don’t know exactly where it’s going, and sometimes that’s a good thing.

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Welcome Journalist Jane E. Dee

Please welcome Connecticut-based journalist Jane E. Dee to Write Despite. Non-fiction, done well, has a special power all its own, which Jane’s writing attests to. Read her latest essay, a touching account of her beloved father’s decline.

More from Jane:

In college I considered myself a “creative writer.” Being a reporter didn’t appeal to me. Then I began writing for a community newspaper in Hartford. My editor at the time was covering local politics. I thought “Good for him,” because I had no interest in writing about politics. Then he sent me to a mayoral nominating convention. I covered politics and local communities for the rest of my career, which was at the Hartford Courant. I’m still with the Courant, where I’ve held a number of positions. And I still consider myself a creative writer, although I approach writing with a journalist’s curiosity, focus and succinctness. Or at least I try.

1. What’s the best writing advice you’ve ever received?

It doesn’t matter how well you write. What matters is what’s inside of you.

2. Please tell us your favorite three authors.

I just finished Meghan O’Rourke’s “The Long Goodbye” and it moved me as a reader, and taught me things as a writer. Ann Patchett and John Updike.

3. Briefly describe your journey to publication.

After writing for a about a year for the community newspaper, Courant editors noticed my work and I began working for them.

4. Advice for those now on the road to publication?

Write and submit. Rewrite and submit. Be professional and responsible in your dealings with editors. It’s a lot like applying for a job.

5.  Do you write every day?

No, but I do make time to write. Deadlines are a great motivator.

6. What are you writing now?

I’m writing a magazine article about a soldier who fought in World War 1.

Welcome Author Marjorie Hudson

First, a big thanks to everyone who chimed in on last week’s blog, and congratulations to author Gigi Amateau, winner of our first-ever Write Despite book giveaway! Gigi was randomly selected to win a free copy of Tara Laskowski’s Modern Manners for Your Inner Demons. Gigi has quite a body of work of her own, and has graciously agreed to do an interview and book giveaway on Write Despite as well. Look for her post in the coming weeks.

- by Brent Clark (3)
(Photo courtesy of Brent Clark)

Now please welcome author Marjorie Hudson to Write Despite. Marjorie’s fiction and creative nonfiction explore the worlds of outsiders and newcomers, misfits and strangers, in the contemporary and historical South. See her website and her blog about her writing adventures: http://www.marjoriehudson.com

Thanks, Marjorie, for taking the time to chat with us.

   1)    What’s the best writing advice you’ve ever received?

“Do it your way.” – Emily Herring Wilson.  Emily was my editor and mentor for my first book, Searching for Virginia Dare, which was a strange amalgam of history, interview, road trip, memoir, and fiction scene. When I wondered if that kind of strange combination was even allowed, she encouraged me to play. It’s been the best advice, and used it when compiling my story collection too, which includes both contemporary stories and historical fiction.

 2)    Please tell us your favorite three authors.

I read everybody I can get my hands on, and my favorites change from time to time. But some standbys: Henry James, Alice Munro, and Anne Lamott. I know it’s a strange list.

 3)    Briefly describe your journey to publication.

I was a shy writer for many years, hiding behind my job as an editor at National Parks Magazine. One day I got up my courage to ask for an assignment, and after that started writing features. When I moved to North Carolina, it was with the goal of doing more creative writing—it was cheaper to live here and I knew I could experiment more while freelancing. I worked at Algonquin books as a copyeditor for a number of years, soaking in the lessons of fiction writing, then started writing my own stories and sending them out. My first story won a small award. I was overly encouraged by that and started sending everywhere. A lucky break got me my first book contract—Emily Wilson called me out of the blue and asked me to write for her, and it turned into a book, Searching for Virginia Dare, now out in a new edition. Meanwhile, I was writing and publishing short stories. I finally collected some stories on the theme of outsiders in the South, that became Accidental Birds of the Carolinas. It took 20 years for me to refine those stories till they were ready, but it was worth the wait, because the collection got national recognition as a Pen Hemingway Honorable Mention.

SFVD Cover - 2013 (3) Just this summer my first book came out in a new edition,  Searching for Virginia Dare: On the Trail of the Lost Colony of Roanoke Island, and I got to have a dream come true—keeping a book in print for more than ten years, and adding some exciting new material from my continued adventures. I remain obsessed with the mystery of the Lost Colony, and the legends and stories that continue to emerge from that moment in history, and have sought out new clues while traveling to Rome, London, and the Outer Banks in search of deeper understanding of the story of America’s first English child, part of the Lost Colony of Roanoke Island.

4)    Advice for those now on the road to publication?

Find a writing community, a great teacher, a mentor. Keep the faith. You are the only one who can tell the story your way. You’ll need that writing community while you struggle, and creative work is a struggle, and you’ll want them around too to celebrate with when you publish! No one understands the sweetness of publishing better than another writer.

 5)    Do you write every day?

I schedule writing in. Some weeks I do other things. My favorite method is to take a month or more and write the same time every day. For longer projects, you must fit them around your life, and your job, to sustain them.

6)    What are you writing now?

I’m working on a novel draft. It continues the stories of some of the characters in Accidental Birds.

 7)    What are you reading now?

I read several books at a time. I’m reading Little Raw Souls, a new story collection by my old writing teacher Steven Schwartz. I’m re-reading The Disobedience of Water, by Sena Jeter Naslund, also a story collection. I just finished In the Garden of Beasts, about the American ambassador in Berlin during Hitler’s rise, by Erik Larson. And I’m reading three incredible novel manuscripts by friends, for my writing group.

Q & A—and a Book Giveaway! Welcome Author Tara Laskowski

Tara LaskowskiNeed help navigating the tricky rules of etiquette in some, shall we say, rather delicate circumstances? Tara Laskowski,  author of Modern Manners For Your Inner Demons (Matter Press 2012), has written a profoundly funny and touching guide for properly conducting yourself in situations of adultery, dementia, arson, homicide, and more.

Want a free copy of Tara’s book? Read on.

Tara is senior editor at the online flash fiction literary magazine SmokeLong Quarterly, and was their 2009 Kathy Fish Fellow and writer-in-residence. She earned a BA in English with a minor in writing from Susquehanna University and an MFA in Creative Writing from George Mason University. Her submission of short fiction won the 2010 literary awards series from the Santa Fe Writers Project, and she has work forthcoming or published in several anthologies. Her story, “Dendrochronology” won second prize and publication for the Press 53 Open Awards anthology in 2010. Her story, “Ode to the Double-Crossed Lackey in ‘Thunderball,’” was nominated for Dzanc’s Best of the Web series for 2009, and her short stories “They” and “Like Everyone Else” were recognized by storySouth as notable online stories in 2004 and 2009. Another story, “Hole to China,” was nominated for a Pushcart Prize. A native of Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania, Tara currently lives and works in a suburb of Washington, D.C. with her husband Art Taylor, her son Dashiell, and their two cats.

Tara, we’re honored to feature you here on Write Despite. Thanks for answering the following.

1) Best writing advice you’ve ever received?

I’ve got a few, is that ok?

1. Have fun with it. My favorite stories are the ones that I had fun with—whether that was experimenting with form, or inserting some crazy detail or action that made me go somewhere fresh with the plot, or just enjoying my characters and what they say. My time is so limited these days that if I’m dreading returning to a story to work on it, then I should probably just drop it for a while and do something else. Now, all that said, I don’t really find writing very ‘fun’ all the time—it’s hard work, even when you are having fun. But I think just generally, doing something different, not being afraid to play, is good advice.

2. Play to your strengths. Note, this is not the same as, write what you know. By play to your strengths, I’ll give you an example from my writing challenges. For my MFA thesis at George Mason University, I attempted to write a 500-page novel that was a historical love story spanning over several decades. It’s a great story, but it didn’t work, and after more than five years of working on it I realized why—because that kind of story is not my strength. I don’t write long time periods very well. I write short. Short moments, tiny pieces of time. I would’ve done better, perhaps, working on a novel that spanned one day in the life of someone. Or maybe a month. Or a summer. But not 25 years. No, no.

3. This one speaks more to process: You don’t have to write every day. (Sorry, I know that’s the point of your whole blog). But for me, who doesn’t write every day, who cannot write every day, this was a freeing moment. Now, that said, I do try to check in every day, even if that’s just thinking about my characters before bed. I do think it’s extremely important to keep your head in the game, even if you aren’t physically sitting down every day and writing something. So maybe I would just expand that one a little: Write in the schedule that works for you. If it’s every day, amazing. If it’s all weekend, great. Write in the morning? Go for it. Late at night? Sweet. Point is, figure out a schedule that works for you, and to hell with the way everyone else does it. Artists work in different ways, and there is no one formula for success. Just find what works for you and write. Above all, just keep writing.

2) Favorite three authors?

In all of the world? Living or dead? How cruel are you?? I wish I was Jennifer Egan. Does that count? I probably wouldn’t be a writer without J.D. Salinger, F. Scott Fitzgerald, Virginia Woolf, or John Updike. I’m already past my three. I suck at following directions.

3) Briefly describe your journey to publication. (How were you first published and how has that led to where you are now?)
Laskowski-bookI used to write in high school and got a few things published in the literary magazine there. I honestly cannot remember the very first publication I got. I know in college and even grad school there were a few hard-earned publications. In 2009, I won a writing fellowship at SmokeLong Quarterly, and that for me was a huge turning point. I started publishing a lot online and meeting a lot of really amazing and talented people, and after my fellowship was over I became an editor there, and now the senior editor. Being a part of the community in this way has really improved my writing and editing skills, and I am forever grateful for it. Last October, I published my first collection of stories, Modern Manners for Your Inner Demons.

4) Advice for those now on the road to publication?

The same ole, same ole: Read the publications that you are sending to. Please. Why would you want to be published somewhere that you don’t read? Also, every publication has a style, has a vibe about it, and once you start reading it, you kind of get it. It makes your acceptance rate go through the roof if you actually send editors the kind of stuff they like. Sounds crazy, but it’s true!

I think the same holds true for novelists. Researching agents, reading the books they place, is key. Otherwise you’ll never stand out from the slush pile.

5) Do you write every day?

No way. I wish I did. But I do think about writing every day, and I’ve become much more skilled at writing in my head. http://opinionator.blogs.nytimes.com/2012/12/01/the-art-of-being-still/

6) What are you writing now? (If nothing, what are you reading now?)

I’m working on another collection of short stories, tentatively called BYSTANDERS, which is slow going. I’m reading The Magus by John Fowles, which I just started so I can’t tell you if I love it yet. But I’m keeping my fingers crossed.

YOU COULD SNAG A FREE COPY OF TARA’S BOOK, MODERN MANNERS FOR YOUR INNER DEMONS. JUST TELL US WHY YOU’D LIKE TO OWN THIS AMAZING COLLECTION OF STORIES BY POSTING YOUR COMMENT HERE. WE’LL PICK A WINNER BY AUGUST 1!

Welcome Author Leanne Dyck

LeanneJPGLeanne Dyck’s stories are about strong women and the challenges they face. Leanne’s writing has appeared in the Island Writer, Kaleidoscope and Canadian Stories literary journals. In 2011 Decadent Publishing released her dark thriller The Sweater Curse as an ebook. Follow Leanne’s author journey by visiting her blog: http://sweatercursed.blogspot.com

Leanne, welcome to Write Despite and thanks for taking the time to chat with us.

 1)    What’s the best writing advice you’ve ever received?

‘If you keep writing you’ll be published’ –Julia Cameron, The Right to Write
I’ve also benefited from advice gleamed from Steven King’s On Writing and Nancy Lamb’s The Art and Craft of Storytelling.

 2)    Please tell us your favorite three authors.

I have so many. Let’s see, today I’ll choose Will Ferguson, Jane Urquhart and Mary Sharratt.

 3)    Briefly describe your journey to publication.

I’ve always written. When I was in elementary school one of my poems was published in my school’s newspaper. In middle school one of my short stories was published in the community newspaper. All through school and after graduation, I continued to write but mainly for my own enjoyment. After opening a knitwear design business in 2002, I began to write articles for craft magazines. I enjoyed working with editors and was thrilled to see my writing published. Desiring to learn more about the publishing business I decided to self-publish. From 2006 to 2009, I self-published paperbacks, ebooks and an audio book. Self-publishing was fun but I’m a team player so I decided to submit my writing to publishing houses. In 2011, Decadent Publishing released my novella-length thriller—The Sweater Curse—as an ebook.

TheSweaterCurse-BONOReaders wrote:
Stitch by colorful stitch, Leanne Dyck knits a tale of intrigue’ –Laurie Buchanan
‘Leanne Dyck has crafted a tale of exotic and existential as Danish author Isak Dinesen’s’ –Lou Allin

After reading those reviews, I closed my design business and began to write full-time. I’m now seeking a publisher for five manuscripts—this includes The Sweater Curse (which is now novel-length).

4)    Advice for those now on the road to publication?

Believe in the power of your words.
Read, write and submit.
Keep writing fun.

 5)    Do you write every day?

Yes. Some days I work on a new project; other days I work on revisions and some days I just write for fun.

6)    What are you writing now?

As a rule I usually work on at least two projects at a time. Right now I’m working on two book-length manuscripts:  a non-fiction and a general fiction.

 7)    What are you reading now?

In Calamity’s Wake, by Natalee Caple.

Halfway There!

We’re halfway there! A joint post from both of us today. Thanks to all of you who have stuck with us so far. If you’ve written every day for six months (or even more than you would have for six months), congratulations! Raise a glass (or four) to yourself tonight, and imagine us toasting you.

toast

Clink!

And if you’ve just joined us, it’s a great time to commit to the next six months–or whatever amount you can manage. Pick a date, follow along, and write every day! Good luck!

From Cathy:

How, in the name of all that is holy, did we arrive here?

cicadaSix months in! Six months that flew by like one of those creepy little cicadas that we were supposed to be all plagued-out by here in the east but that apparently decided that no, thank you, we’ll just stay holed up in the ground a few more years. (And with this whole Paula Deen scandal raging, who can blame them?)

Six months, and we have written our little arses off, and created fan-effing-tabulous works of literary genius, and gleaned a whole truckload of useful advice, and learned that this writing thing is a big jacked-up piece of cake with half-inch buttercream icing on top.

Haven’t we?

Well, it’s been real anyway. Real hard. Real work. Real enlightening. Real annoying. And from it, I’ve been through some real transitions. Here are some of them:

1. In January, I started the new novel. I was all like:

excited vintage woman

2. By April, I was so bogged down by the whole thing, I was all like:

Crying Kim Kardashian

3. So I started rewriting novel #1 and that perked me up and I’m still at it, but I kept feeling like a failure for giving up on novel #2. So then I went back and reread it, and guess what? Not so crappy. So I was all like:

girl thinking

Because, hmmm. Maybe I can do it after all. After I get this damned rewrite done. Which I’m not even halfway through with yet. But it feels kind of do-able now, not because I’ve figured out what was bothering me about it, but because, after six months, I’ve actually kind of gotten into the habit of producing stuff, no matter what.

Wow!

And even better, it’s half over and I’m feeling like, hell yeah I can do this another six months. Because that will be gone too before you can bat a cicada away. All we need to do is hang in there, my friends.

How’s it going so far for you? Progress to report? Stories to share? Failures? Suggestions? We’d so love to hear.

From Karen:

Six months into the Write Despite challenge. Who has managed it every day? Please let us know who you are, so we may commend you.

I have written a whole lot and thought about writing a whole lot and made substantial progress. The glass is totally half-full, halfway in. And what’s more important, I’ve embraced a more refined understanding of the writing process: It’s hard, maybe harder than I realized. This is because I’m applying a new level of scrutiny to my work.rigor cup

My day job is at a very fine university, one of the finest in the world. One of the terms I hear batted around a lot here is rigor. Rigorous standards for academic performance. Rigorous curricula and an overall rigorous approach to tackling problems and producing work. There are no short cuts on the road to excellence.

That is the approach I’m now taking. I’m digging deeper and trying harder. I’m undertaking that additional edit. I’m rewriting and rewriting and taking one last look to be sure I haven’t missed anything. When you’re tapping into everything you have, drawing on all your abilities and feeling challenged to the utmost, you’re doing it right.

Share your progress reports from the last six months. How have you grown as a writer since January 1?