Jun 142017
 


It took me a long time to become willing to be part of a writers’ group. Frankly, I’d heard some fairly awful things about them. I had heard such groups could be competitive and repetitive. That some groups were more in love with the idea of writing than getting anything done and that those meetings sounded more like a roomful of angsty teens than a bunch of grown-up word nerds trying to help one another improve.

A bunch of grown-up word nerds trying to help one another improve... Click To Tweet

Whenever I’m trying to get better at something, I seek out people who are striving to improve a similar skill set or someone who is far more accomplished and willing to share expertise. And, while I always hope to find people with a passion for improvement and excellence, I loathe the expression “like-minded.” When I’m trying to learn new skills, or I’ve backed myself into a corner, I can be impatient or hard on myself. I don’t want or need a mind like mine. I need fresh eyes, different experiences, humor, and compassion. I need my very own word nerds. The ones who love me and have got my back.

I made some false starts before finding my group. I attended some critiques that bordered on mean and others that appear to have been fueled by lollipops and rainbows. I’ve been asked questions by (usually male) newbies who proceeded to argue and mansplain my answers away or treated like a kindergartener by a facilitator. And there were groups that didn’t recognize my genre and people who believe that “real” writers limit themselves to longhand, legal pads and lead.

Do real writers limit themselves to longhand, legal pads and lead? Click To Tweet

A year or so ago, a mentor of mine questioned me about my efforts to find a writers’ group. His experience had been wonderful and, not only did he want to understand my tenderness around the topic, he also wanted me to experience the growth that can come from participating in a good group.

I decided to pursue a new genre and joined a group as the member with the least experience with that sort of work. After attending a few meetings, they asked me to read. To my amazement, they listened attentively, respected my boundaries about the kind of feedback I wanted and encouraged me to keep going.

Today’s meeting was inconvenient. I hadn’t read the facilitator’s materials or found a segment of my work to bring for critique. Early this morning, I did a public presentation on an unrelated topic.  My husband is hours away from some big, disruptive travel, and my son’s home decided to develop “issues” while he is somewhere at the other end of the country. I was hungry, over-tired, unprepared, it was raining again… and I was shocked. I couldn’t wait to get there.

As it turns out, everyone who showed up was in the same boat for different reasons: grant deadlines without cooperation from grantees, house construction delays, family member illnesses, returned-to-the nest adult children. Stuff.

So we tossed the agenda and talked about our stuff. Then we talked about some new and exciting projects. And awards we had applied for and conferences we were attending. And, eventually, after having each experienced one? We talked about character arc. And we laughed.

 June 14, 2017  Posted by  E, Happiness, Writing and Reading 11 Responses »
Jun 062017
 

While employed by others, I spent a lot of years maintaining strict boundaries and everyone’s privacy. In many of my work environs, it was not a good idea to become part of the story, and any information shared outside of the office qualified as TMI. So, as a highly introverted advocate-turned-author, one of the things I struggle with is how to connect online without sharing too much about myself. The idea of “TMI Tuesday” felt right, so, here’s my first attempt. (I hope the questions don’t get more difficult later on!)

As an introverted advocate-turned-author, I struggle with how to connect online without sharing… Click To Tweet

1. Given the choice of anyone in the world, whom would you want as a dinner guest?

I have been lucky enough to have dinner with some pretty extraordinary people over the years — some famous and some just plain fascinating. Right now, my dinner guest of choice would be my youngest stepson. Having him here would mean his passport woes are behind him and he’s getting to spend time with the American half of his family. (And, yes, we’d appreciate all the good vibes you can send in our direction, please.)

2. What would constitute a “perfect” day for you?

You mean aside from waking up on the right side of the dirt???

So far today is pretty close to perfect. I got up early, caught up with some friends on social media, and found this blog idea, all while drinking slurping not spilling savoring my first cup of coffee. There’s a gentle rain outside. I’ve got the windows open, the birds are singing their heads off, and the garden is full of fresh new growth. There are no outside commitments on my calendar and no critical end-of-the-day deadlines. I have two exciting, active projects in the works and lots of ideas about what I’ll be able to get to add to them today. And I’m only minutes away from My Favorite Husband returning from the gym. He almost always brings me a latte. (It’s the best of both worlds — like getting room service without having to leave home.)

It's the best of both worlds -- like getting room service without having to leave home. Click To Tweet

I also enjoy perfect days exploring new places… or new looks at old, familiar places. I’ve got a few of those on the calendar.

3. How much do you like your personality?
(pick just one)

a. A lot.
b. A little.
c. It needs work.
d. I am annoying sometimes.
e. I am difficult, and people have told me so.

I’m going to have to go with “c” — my personality needs work. While there are parts of me that are pretty OK, there are some parts that could be best described as “a hot mess.” I try not to injure others with those parts, to be at least a little bit better every day, and not beat myself too mercilessly when I screw up. I’m consoled by the fact that my dogs love me — or at least pretend until they get fed. Progress, not perfection, right?

quote on fiery background "If I'm not the problem, there is no solution."

4. If you were able to live to the age of 90 and retain either the mind or body of a 30-year-old for the last 60 years of your life, which would you want?

Neither. My mind is a whole lot better than it was at 30. My body? Eh… I’d look even more ridiculous. Seriously? Everybody’s got challenges. Whether physical or mental, I hope to keep learning from mine.

If you could wake up tomorrow having gained any ability, what would it be? Click To Tweet

5. If you could wake up tomorrow having gained any ability, what would it be?

Wow ~ so many things. To be kinder. To lose fat and build muscle. To run long distances or return to downhill skiing without requiring another knee surgery. To write something that sells millions of copies….

Maybe the best new ability I could hope for is to keep up with the ideas I have about trying things!

picture of Mary Oliver quote "instruction for living a life:
How about helping me out and making this more of a two-way street by answering one of these questions in a “comment”? (I really DO want to know.)

Apr 172017
 

Today I’m happy to feature my talented friend and neighbor, Florida author Nancy Blanton. Her award-winning historical novels are set primarily in 17th century Ireland and her latest, The Prince of Glencurragh, (published in July 2016) has already won three awards and is a finalist for two others. I put on my interviewer hat to share about Nancy Blanton and her latest release.

I put on my interviewer hat to tell you about @NancyBlanton and the Prince. Click To Tweet

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Picture of Nancy Blanton with my husband.

Author Nancy Blanton and  a different prince.

Nancy, what made you decide to focus on historical fiction?

It is what I love to read. I like to learn as I read, and I feel my time is well-spent. Recently I posted about my favorite book, the first historical novel I read: Gone with the Wind. I learned so much about America’s Civil War and its aftermath. I was fascinated and hooked. Many writers avoid historical fiction because it requires so much research, but for me, that’s the best part. It’s a treasure hunt to discover the details that will bring history to life.

Why did you choose 17th century Ireland?

My father emphasized our Irish heritage when I was growing up. We heard the music, sang the songs, wore the green, marched in the parade—all that. Our family toured Ireland when I was 15, and he sent me to Ireland for a summer study during my junior year in college. That I would want to write about it seems only natural. But when I started researching, I realized books about the 16th and 18th centuries were prominent, but not so much the 17th. A study for the Historical Novel Society found that the 17th century ranks 7th among time periods readers are most likely to choose when buying a book. This surprised me because it’s an exciting time of sweeping change: the Irish clan system is overtaken by the English plantation system and Cromwell led his bloody march. I saw a niche for myself and made it my mission to illuminate this period.

Most novels set out to explore a question. What question did you have in mind when writing The Prince of Glencurragh?

In 17th century Ireland, many hopes and dreams were destroyed, so I was asking, “Is it possible to reclaim a dream once it is lost to the mists of memory?” In this book, a young Irishman faces seemingly insurmountable obstacles to achieve his father’s dream of a castle and estate called Glencurragh.

Dreams are sometimes fulfilled in ways we do not expect. Click To Tweet

The premise is interesting on two levels. First, everyone has awakened from a dream so beautiful they want to hold onto it, but the longer they are awake the faster it recedes. And second, many of us have seen the sacrifices our parents made and then tried to live their dream for them, only to realize later that it doesn’t satisfy. And dreams are sometimes fulfilled in ways we had not expected.

What themes does the book address?

In many ways, this book is about friendship, the relationship between best friends from childhood. The story is narrated by Faolan’s best friend Aengus O’Daly. I have some very deep and lasting friendships of this kind, and those relationships informed this story in ways I didn’t realize until the end. I am deeply grateful to my friends for that.

This story is also about hope. In great difficulty, when you have no power to change a painful circumstance, hope — the most human part of us — is what we rely on to get through.

What will readers find most appealing about this book?

This book captivates readers right away because it is fast-paced and rich with interesting historical detail. The 17th century is rife with conflict, disaster, invention and change.

The story also is relevant because it focuses on issues we still face today, such as the oppression of ethnic groups and women, the struggle for survival and the struggle to achieve one’s dream. It is also a very personal struggle that most of us can relate to. Faolán is tested, just as anyone is who aspires to a goal. You want this thing, and it seems the mountain grows suddenly higher, the road more rugged, forcing you to show just how much you’re willing to fight for what you want.

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The Prince of Glencurragh by Nancy Blanton, is available in e-book, softcover, and hardcover on amazon.com, barnesandnoble.com and from other online booksellers.

 

Apr 132017
 

As part of Women’s History Month, a Cleveland, Ohio bookstore decided to turn all inventory of male-authored books spine IN, effectively “silencing” them for several days.

Fewer than 40% of the titles were written by women. Click To Tweet

The project took ten people more than two hours to complete and, when they were done, fewer than 40% of the titles remained visible: 3700 of 10000 bookstore titles were written by women.  It reminds me of a recent conversation about museums: that it’s far easier for women to get into a museum as an artist’s subject than as an artist. It also wasn’t too long ago I learned that a certain fairly accomplished dinosaur – oops I mean editor just “won’t read” fiction by women. Excuse me? It’s as if seeing women’s words on a page is going to cost him $.22 on the dollar?

Will seeing women's words on a page cost him $.22 on the dollar? Click To Tweet

I don’t often pay close attention to such things but I recently watched an author promote his new non-fiction offering with a blog post about “life-changing books.” He had a long list –without a single female author on it. For some reason, it got under my skin.

I can’t imagine my reading history without all the amazing female authors who have been a part of my life. I was a shy kid who read a lot. My imagination was captured by Astrid Lindgren’s feisty Pippi Longstocking and, as a sometimes farm girl, I was intrigued by Marguerite Henry’s powerful horses. And as I grew older? Who could fail to be moved by Betty Smith’s A Tree Grows in Brooklyn or The Bell Jar by Sylvia Plath?

And as an adult? I’m all over the place. I’m fortunate to be connected with a wonderful group of local writers. Terri Clements Dean writes non-fiction that highlights the way people learn and grow. Start with Traveling Stories. If you’re trying to sort something out? You might want to pick up the companion journal.

I can't imagine my reading history without amazing women authors. Click To Tweet

Books have brought me a number of wonderful women as mentors. Almost anything by Anne Lamott speaks to me, especially Bird by Bird. Julia Cameron and The Artist’s Way helps me take the space I need to write.

And, when I think of remarkable non-fiction by women? Don’t miss The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks by Rebecca Skloot or Men Explain Things to Me by Rebecca Solnit.

With such an amazing array from which to choose, can you think of any reasonable reason that women are so under-represented on library and bookstore shelves?

Let’s speak up. Please use the comment space to shout out about your favorite female authors.

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This post was originally part of a “Favorite Books” blog hop with some author-sister-friends. The links below are other posts on the topic.

 April 13, 2017  Posted by  Thinking, Writing and Reading 14 Responses »
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