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Author Vanessa Hua’s breakthrough publication

Most writers remember their first publication: the magical acceptance letter (usually after a raft of rejections,) reading the galleys, seeing the finished thing alive in the world. We thought it would be fun to launch an occasional series featuring authors talking about their breakthroughs. Sometimes the story behind the story is the best part.

Please join us in welcoming Vanessa Hua to Write Despite.

Vanessa is a Steinbeck Fellow in Creative Writing. An award-winning writer and journalist, her work has appeared or is forthcoming in The Atlantic, ZYZZVA, Crab Orchard Review, New York Times, New Yorker, Salon, and elsewhere. A former staff writer for the San Francisco Chronicle, she has reported from China, South Korea, and Panama.  She blogs at threeunderone.blogspot.com and can be found at www.vanessahua.com

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Late in 2005, I won the Cream City Review fiction contest – my first short story in print.  When I received the e-mail, I stood up in the newsroom and shouted with joy and excitement, struck by the heady, dangerous feeling of affirmation.  I’d been judged worthy!   By then, I’d also reported from China, launched an award-winning campaign finance investigation, and had married.  When I won the contest, it felt all parts of my life were coming together – professionally, personally, and creatively.

I’d been writing fiction since I was a child, won writing contests in high school, and had studied creative writing at Stanford University. After graduation, I focused on my journalism career.  In my spare time, I wrote scenes, sketches, starts of stories that went nowhere.  When I re-read pieces I’d written in college, I felt conflicted: proud that the stories had merit, yet it felt like a stranger had penned them.  I didn’t remember how to write a story.

Eventually, I signed up for a fiction workshop where I produced the story that won the Cream City Review contest.  I’d learned about the journal after reading the publishing bio of another student in the class whose work I admired.  That success helped keep me going as I started writing more fiction, submitting to journals, taking workshops, joining writer’s groups, and going to writing conferences.  Of course, if you spend too much time chasing validation, you might succumb to the despair of rejection – and I’ve been rejected many times since then.  And you have to spend more hours writing than talking about writing.

In 2007, I decided I wanted to learn how to write a novel, and I headed to UC Riverside, where I earned my MFA.  Five years later, I had the pleasure of being asked to judge the Cream City Review fiction contest.  I hope that the prize helped encourage the winner in her career, too.

In deciding where to submit, I continue sending to places that publish writing I admire.  I also seek out paying journals, those with interesting business models, such as DailyLit, and strongly promote the work of their authors, such as At Length.  I also enter contests, such as The Atlantic’s student fiction prize, which I won in 2008.  Your chances might be slim, but if you don’t enter, you have no chance at all.

To buy Vanessa’s stories, go to

https://dailylit.com/book/262-line-please or

http://www.amazon.com/Deal-short-story-Atlantic-Archives-ebook/dp/B008873WK2/ref=sr_1_2?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1391965062&sr=1-2

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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!

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 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.

Welcome Author Susan Schoenberger

watershedyear-200x300Connecticut author Susan Schoenberger’s first novel, A Watershed Year, was published in March 2011 following, as she puts it, “many years of writing and editing and many rounds of publisher submissions.” On her website, Susan says the novelat its heart, is a love story, and a story about all the ways that we interconnect in this world of both too much and too little communication.”

Hard at work on her second novel, The Virtues of Oxygen, Susan took a few minutes to share her thoughts on writing and the reality of the publishing business. Susan has been a writer, editor and copy editor at various newspapers, including The News and Observer, The Baltimore Sun and The Hartford Courant. She’s done all this while raising three kids, a feat we at Write Despite (with three kids between us) truly admire.

Please welcome Susan Schoenberger to Write Despite.

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

I’ve received no shortage of writing advice, but the best nugget was something Richard Ford said about his own work. He described his process of re-reading his entire manuscript with an eye toward strengthening the verbs in each and every sentence. Now I do the same thing.

2. Please tell us your favorite three authors

Richard Ford (obviously), Don Delillo, and Ann Patchett

3. Briefly describe your journey to publication.

I wrote a novel that didn’t go anywhere, then attended the Wesleyan Writers Conference in 2001 and began focusing on craft. I had several short stories published over the next few years, then attempted a novel again. This one — now called A Watershed Year — won the William Faulkner-William Wisdom prize in 2006, which helped me get an agent in 2007. My agent finally sold the book to a small publisher and it was published in 2011. Luckily, the same editor who bought the book moved to Amazon Publishing and convinced them to re-release it and buy my next book. A Watershed Year will be re-released on Nov. 26, 2013, and my next novel, The Virtues of Oxygen, is due out in the summer of 2014.

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

We all want to believe that the “ready for publication” standard for submitting to agents means that the book is actually ready for publication. In my case, anyway, I needed to do major rewriting and editing before the book sold and then more rewriting after it sold. It was painful, but in the end, the book was better for it.

5.  Do you write every day?

With a full-time job (and two kids in college plus one in high school), I don’t get to write every day. But I think about my story and my characters every day.

6. What are you writing now?

I’m working on the manuscript for The Virtues of Oxygen, which is due to Amazon in October. Having a deadline is a big motivator.

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A Watershed Year will be re-released in November by Amazon. You can pre-order a copy here: http://www.amazon.com/A-Watershed-Year-Susan-Schoenberger/dp/1477848010/ref=sr_1_4?ie=UTF8&qid=1371477953&sr=8-4&keywords=a+watershed+year

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