If I wasn’t worrying about money, or publishing, or success, I didn’t really feel young or old.
Life is more interesting when I’m interested, and the more I learn about anything, the deeper into its weeds must I go to stay interested.
The Muse doesn’t care about the outside world. It’s none of her business.
My interest in following that road is with me from the start.
My light never shines brighter than when I am indulging my curiosity, and I do not believe there is anything rare about curiosity.
It was the best possible thing you could do. It was the only thing that mattered in life.
Do not mistake a lack of interest for a lack of capability.
It’s hard to pretend you’re someone you’re not, especially when you don’t realize you’re pretending.
The blank page of my life is always asking the same question.
The job of the storyteller is to hypnotize the reader into forgetting one reality and believing another one.
Damon Suede grew up out-n-proud deep in the heart of right-wing America, and escaped as soon as it was legal. He has been happily partnered for over a decade with the most loving, handsome, shrewd, hilarious, noble man to walk this planet. Damon is a proud member of the Romance Writers of America and currently serves on its national Board of Directors, as well as being its President Elect.
After 10 years, the Seattle7Writers (an organization that includes the likes of Elizabeth George, Erik Larsen, Deb Caletti, Laurie Frankel, and Maria Semple, to name just a few) is calling it quits. To commemorate this moment in Seattle literary history, Bill Kenower sat down with two of the Seattle7’s longest-standing members: Garth Stein (The Art of Racing in the Rain) and Kevin O’Brien (The Betrayed Wife) to discuss how it all started, and how a new generation of writers can pick up their torch! Check it out.
Author Editor-in-Chief Bill Kenower reflects on some recent interviews and what he learned from these fabulous authors about the journey every writer takes. Featuring Elizabeth Rose-Stanton, Andre Dubus III, Graeme Simsion, Willy Vlautin, and R. L. Stine.
Nicole J. Persun is an author, writing coach, and horse caretaker. Her epic fantasy novel, Dead of Knight, won a Foreword Magazine Book of the Year Award in 2013. Her debut women’s fiction novel, The Ingredients of Us, written under the pen name Jennifer Gold, will be released on July 1, 2019; look for her next women’s fiction title in early 2020. Nicole has a master’s degree in creative writing and is a board member of the Pacific Northwest Writers’ Association. When she’s not writing, Nicole can be found spending time with her husband, horses, and two cats. To learn more about her latest work, go to jennifergoldauthor.com.
Erica Bauermeister is the bestselling author of four novels, including The Scent Keeper and The School of Essential Ingredients. She is also the co-author of two non-fiction works: 500 Great Books by Women and Let’s Hear It for the Girls. A founding member of the Seattle7Writers, she currently lives in Port Townsend, WA.
John Lanchester is the author of five novels, The Debt to Pleasure, The Capital, Mr. Philips, Fragrant Harbor, and The Wall, as well as three books of non-fiction, including his memoir Family Romance: A Love Story. He is a regular contributor to The New Yorker and was awarded the 2008 E.M. Forster Award.
Maureen McQuerry was the McAuliffe Fellow for WA State in 2000. She is a poet, novelist and teacher, and enjoys presenting to students and adults. Maureen works with teachers to tailor workshops to specific writing goals. She is also a frequent presenter at writing conferences. Here latest novel is Between Before and After.
Mary Cronk Farrell is an award-winning author of Children's/YA books and former journalist with a passion for stories about people facing great adversity with courage. Her books have been named Notable Social Studies Book for Young People, SPUR Award for Best Juvenile Fiction about the American West, Bank Street College List of Best Children's Books, and NY Public Library Best Books for Teens. Her journalistic work has received numerous awards for excellence from the Society of Professional Journalists and two Emmy nominations.
Gail Carriger writes comedies of manners mixed with paranormal romance (and the sexy San Andreas Shifter series as G L Carriger). Her books include the Parasol Protectorate, Custard Protocol, and Supernatural Society series for adults, and the Finishing School series for young adults. She is published in many languages and has over a dozen NYT bestsellers. She was once an archaeologist and is fond of shoes, octopuses, and tea.
Sheila Bender is a poet, essayist, memoirist, and sought-after writing teacher. She has published over a dozen books on the craft of writing, as well as the memoir A New Theology: Turning to Poetry in a Time of Grief, and the poetry collection Behind Us The Way Grows Wider: Collected Poems 1980 - 2013. She’s taught at colleges, universities and community centers as well as presented at national writers’ programs, conferences and festivals, including the Mendocino Coast Writers’ Conference, Centrum Writer’s Conference, The Whidbey Island Writer’s Conference and low-residency MFA program, the University of Dayton`s Erma Bombeck Conference, the San Francisco Jack London Writer`s Conference, the Conference on College Composition and Communication, the Society of Southwest Authors’ Conference, Field’s End, and Edmond’s Write on the Sound.
My late dad used to say: “The best gift you can be given is the ability to see yourself as others see you.” I’m not so sure.
A writers’ organization asked me to speak at their annual conference on penning the personal essay. For ten years, I’ve composed non-fiction narratives with inspirational messages, usually intended for magazines – secular and religious – and for anthologies, especially the well-known Chicken Soup for the Soul series.
Although gingerly hesitant at first, I eventually consented to give my dog & pony show, which would include a Microsoft PowerPoint presentation, something I’d never created. Before this moment, I’d spoken to a few book clubs, small writers’ groups, a Rotary gathering (with polite applause), and a sorority meeting for teachers, where many didn’t seem overly interested. I’d been a high school teacher, an instructor for OLLI’s continuing education, and a lecturer at a Rescue Mission, but I’d not performed on stage in front of a crowd of more than 100 real writers, who had paid money to hear me pontificate on the scribbler’s art.
I was nervous. When asked if I’d mind being filmed for YouTube, I declared, “Yes, I do mind.”
For many years, whenever my husband went out and was the slightest bit late in returning, my youngest son would inevitably declare, “He’s dead.” It wasn’t just his father; he routinely came to this conclusion regardless of the person or circumstances. He was also quick to diagnose physical symptoms as cancer or, less specifically, something terminal. When we watched movies together, at the start of every film he would question why a character was upset or happy, ask what had happened, or demand explanations for just about everything. We encouraged him to wait and allow the story to unfold. There simply wasn’t enough information available to answer. But he continued asking – striving to pin things down that were still in the process of unfolding.
Watching my son rush toward answers (even unwanted and wrong ones) sheds light on how my own preoccupation with solutions and outcomes takes me out of the flow and into anxiety. I might believe it’s the unknown that’s causing my angst but, in truth, labeling uncertainties as “problems,” as well as the urgency to fix them, creates the distress and unease.
A bud needs time to open. There is no manual or mechanical method for expediting that process. It has to happen on its own using the natural intelligence that knows how to bloom. Noodling with it won’t help and most likely will hurt. We don’t call a bud a problem because it has yet to bloom. An experience can also be seen similarly – as in progress, in the process of blooming into the next thing. This is a less stressful way of receiving life and keeps us working with things rather than trying to fix them.
When I first started art school it wasn’t uncommon for me to periodically melt down. I perceived myself as under great pressure – time-wise and creatively – and feared I wouldn’t be able to pull it all together. With my focus fixated on external conditions and demands, I had a hard time functioning well. I was staring at aspects of my reality as though they were parts of a thousand-piece puzzle I had to assemble in ten minutes. My mind jumped from one piece to the next saying, “I don’t know where this one goes; I don’t know where that one goes; I don’t know . . .” I felt insecure and overwhelmed because confidence is an inside job and cannot be known while our attention remains outwardly fixed.
Sometimes I was so overwhelmed I’d get in the shower and weep. Afterwards, I’d wash up on the shore of my bed, and then, soon . . . get up and do the assignment. Post panic, I allowed myself to return to ideas and inspirations, and use my inner (rather than outer) vision. In this way, I reunited with confidence. I didn’t gain confidence by forcing myself into action, but by letting my focus shift back to me – breaking the spell of external demands.
In an interview, comedian and late-night host Conan O’Brien spoke of suffering from intense anxiety (a familial trait) all his life. He said there’s one thing that has always gotten him through. “At my very core there is this tiny little seed of pure confidence . . . It’s sometimes hard for me to find . . . but it’s there.” It’s common to think we need a lot of confidence to create what we want, in which case feeling confident can seem impossible, but a seed is actually plenty. And when we know confidence exists at the core of who we are, then we know where to look for it, as well as where it cannot be found.
I watched video in which a five-year-old boy at a karate dojo tried to break a board with a kick. His teacher coached him, but the boy fell down the first time he tried. The boy kicked again but did not use enough force. He cried and rubbed his eyes. The rest of the children cheered him on by chanting his name. He continued to cry. The teacher reminded him he could do it. The boy tried again and failed, but then, in a split second, something in his countenance and attitude changed and his next kick broke the board. The children cheered, ran in, and hugged him. Though surrounded by encouragement and support, it was his internal shift that was key. He went from staring at something he couldn’t yet do, to rooting himself inward where he found that seed of confidence – his power.
Do you like marketing? Most writers answer, “Not really,” and some even exclaim, “I hate it!” The truth is that we, writers, prefer to craft our stories, describe our unique experiences, and paint new pictures with our words. Yet, after the manuscript is finished, we face reality: to be paid, we must sell our writing.
Recently I read the poem “Conversation of a Bookseller with a Poet” by Alexander Pushkin (the greatest Russian poet) where Poet praised his freedom (found through inspiration) and refused to betray it by selling his poems. Yet Bookseller presented his argument, “You cannot sell your inspiration, but you can sell your manuscript,” which convinced Poet to close the deal. This poem made me think: Maybe my own negative attitude to marketing also resulted from mixing the creative part of my writing vocation with the business one? If I separate them and give the business part the attention it deserves, it could alleviate my financial worries and bring me more creative freedom!
Naturally, I began improving my marketing skills and identified my seven most serious mistakes. After asking my fellow writers about their marketing techniques, I realized that many of them also stepped on the same rake.
My father died recently. He was eighty-five years old and died in his sleep. When we arrived at his house, the police officer told us we could look at the body if we wished. The emergency care workers had laid it on the floor in his bedroom. After some time, I walked up the steps and peered in from the doorway. There it was – covered with a sheet – and the first thing I thought was how very small his body was – much too small to have housed him.
All that intelligence; he was an idea-, word-, movie-, book-loving, writing, teaching, leading director of all sorts with an unrelenting persistence and stubbornness. Everything I knew about my father, which was certainly not his totality, must have streamed through his physical self but couldn’t have been contained in it.
It made me think of neuroscientist Jill Bolte Taylor’s 2008 TED Talk in which she describes suffering a hemorrhage in the left hemisphere of her brain. Her language-centers, memory, and logic gradually went “offline.” She describes being unable to define the boundaries of her body – seemingly blending molecularly with her environment and losing her personal identity. She says she knew a great peacefulness. “I felt enormous and expansive, like a genie liberated from her bottle . . .. I remember thinking there’s no way I would ever be able to squeeze the enormousness of myself back inside this tiny, little body.”
Freelancing is often described as a constant hustle. It can be, but it doesn’t have to be a struggle. By finding ways to make your work go further, you’ll save time and make more money. You may even recharge your freelancing career.
Here are four ways to turn your pitches and posts into money-makers.
1. Pull New Ideas from Each Original Pitch
From every post idea, create at least five others. This is idea generation at its easiest. Instead of scrambling to find completely new topics to write about, simply take your pitch and make a list.
For example, a post about inexpensive places to eat while vacationing in Barbados could inspire these topics:
Great places to eat with your kids in Barbados (a parenting blog)
How to throw an island wedding bachelorette party on the cheap (a bridal blog)
How to find appropriate meals and snacks on vacation if you have diabetes (a health magazine’s front-of-book section)
Caribbean getaway deals for long weekends (an in-flight magazine)
How to find authentic, but inexpensive, souvenirs made by local artisans (a travel guide for college students)
Another benefit of this tip is that your research is done. You’ll want to find another expert to talk to, but finding one should be much easier now that you’ve done preliminary research.
As this year’s PNWA conference rolls around, and as other wonderful writers’ conferences continue throughout the year, I think it is the perfect time to offer a refresher course on pitching to agents and editors. Over the years, as an editor, I’ve heard hundreds of pitches. Excellent ones, good ones, bad ones, and “please, please stop speaking” ones. Now, you don’t want to find yourself in that last category, so listen up, pitchers, and learn to be an ace so you can nail down a victory and avoid the standard bush league plays (yes, I’m on a baseball bender, so sue me).
So, what is a pitch? Well, it’s a short, face-to-face (ack!) meeting with an agent or editor, lasting around ten minutes. The pitch itself is your whittled-down book description, usually about three or four (sometimes five) lines. And you thought writing a synopsis was tough, eh? But how is this possible, you say? My book is so complex, so layered; I couldn’t possibly describe it in less than twenty sentences. Too bad, so sad, I say back to you. Remember that agents and editors have to pitch every single book they buy to their publishers, marketing team, publicists, fellow editors, book buyers, etc., so if you, the author, can’t hone it down, what chance do they have? And if agents and editors can write their own pitches for dozens of books each year, you can do it for one.
My mother was five years old, almost six, when she became so ill she was taken to the hospital in an ambulance; she had contracted polio. It would be another ten years, around 1953, before the vaccine would be made available. In the 1940’s and 50’s, polio was peaking and understandably there was a lot of fear of the risk of paralysis and possibly death. But my mom doesn’t remember being frightened or missing her parents while in the hospital during her quarantine. She felt cared for, she felt safe, and the effects of the polio eventually faded and her body recuperated. Her mother, on the other hand, suffered exhaustion for many months afterwards. The emotional toll had been great. My mother actually lived the experience; while her mother lived through a projection of what might happen – a projection that frightened her so much, it left her depleted.
When I was eight I was so frightened of school the only thing I wanted was not to feel so afraid any more. I locked myself in the bathroom, I hid, I even jumped out of a (slowly) moving car to try to escape going to school. One night I slept under my bed, on the wooden floor, without a blanket or pillow so the bed would appear unused and give the illusion I had left. At age five, my mother had a logical reason to be frightened – separated from her parents, in a hospital by herself. Objectively, at age eight, I did not. Yet I was terrified and she wasn’t. But my mother’s premise was that she was safe, her life was good, and people were taking care of her. I was operating from another premise.
The day has finally come (and if it hasn’t yet, just use your imagination for that special time in the future): you’ve found an agent you love – and more importantly, one who loves your book. Your knight or knightess in shining armor has successfully pitched your manuscript to an editor at a publishing house and you’ve been signed to a two-book deal. The world is your oyster! Now you can tell your cantankerous, idiotic boss to stuff it, put down a large deposit on a McMansion, and sail off into the published-author sunset, sipping champagne at your lavish book party and city-hopping around the globe during your book tour.
Hold up, wait a minute, let us put some reality in it.
There’s a reason that “own voices” fiction is such a prevalent trend in literature right now: people want to see stories and characters from a variety of backgrounds, cultures, and experiences. Of course, authors should always tread carefully when writing about characters from backgrounds other than their own – but that doesn’t mean it can’t be done!
On the contrary, authors can and should include diverse characters in their works. Making them well-rounded and realistic is just a matter of following the right process. With that in mind, here are four crucial tips on how to make your characters realistically diverse.
1. Conduct thorough research before you start
This one should be pretty obvious, but it’s worth stating for the record: unless you are writing about a minority character based on your own experience within that group, it’s critical that you do some research before you start.
Free Writers conference and more
Tom Rob Smith, Jamie Ford, Nicola Griffith, Jussi Adler-Olsen, and Stella Cameron on why stories matter.
Ingrid Ricks, Theo Pauline Nestor, Katie Hafner, and Gregory Martin discuss the challenges of writing memoir.
How writing saved the live of Andres Dubus III, Gary Zukav, and Deb Caletti.
Lessons learned from the writing life, featuring Cheryl Strayed, Elizabeth George, Thirty Umrigar, Deb Caletti, and more . . .
Advice and inspiration from Wally Lamb, Clive Clussler, Lee Child, Stephanie Kallos, and more.
Inspiring advice from Sir Ken Robinson, Yann Martel, Gary Zukav, Andre Dubus III, and more.