Friday, November 29, 2013

Twas the Day After Thanksgiving

My happy angel in 2010
by Kim

 For the past few years my daughters have spent Thanksgiving weekend at the Eisemann Center in Richardson, Texas, performing in Chamberlain Performing Arts production of The Nutcracker. I've spent Thanksgiving weekend in the wardrobe room, attaching halos to heads and helping the "mice" put tights and leotards over tights and leotards. I also catch glimpses of little girls practicing the choreography for the Ballerina Doll or Clara's Friend, roles they dream of performing in seven or eight years. The excitement is contagious and leaves even parents feeling like children on the night before Christmas.

Hence my (somewhat pathetic) rendition of the famous poem...

'Twas the day after Thanksgiving, when all thro' the Eisemann,
are children so excited, you’d swear they won the Heisman;
The costumes are hung in wardrobe with care,

In hopes that Party Girls soon would be there;
The dancers wait impatiently in their Keds,
While visions of Dew Drops dance in their heads,
And the Sugar Plum Fairy in her tutu, and the Cavalier in his cap,
Must wait until January for their long winter's nap-
When out in the hallway there arose such a clatter,
I sprang to the door to see what was the matter.
Away to the dressing rooms I flew like a flash,
Alerted the chaperones to send the Angels, and off I did dash.
They wear dresses and halos like new fallen snow,
Smiles and curls bring “awwws” from the audience below;
When, what to my wondering eyes should appear,
But a miniature sleigh, and Unicorns instead of rein-deer,
With two drivers, Clara and the Prince,
I knew in a moment, their steps would cause no one to wince.
With the grace of ballerinas, the dancers they came,
And we pointed, and whispered, and called them by name:
"Now! Bakers, now! Pages, now! Candy Cane, and Mother Ginger,
"On, Seraphims! On, Polichinelles! On Cossacks and bell dinger (?)
"To the front of the stage! To the back of the stage!
"Now dash away! Dash away! Dash away all!"
As dry snowflakes before the wild blizzard fly,
When they meet with an obstacle, mount to the sky;
So up to the balcony the coursers they flew,
With the sleigh full of Nutcrackers – Clara and her Prince, too.

Happy Holidays!

My girls with NYC Ballet dancers Wendy Whelan and Tyler Angle

Photo credit: Deborah Downes

Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Thanks for Waving

by Elizabeth

The cat's out of the bag now, party over, so I can say here that I spent a good amount of time the past couple of months getting ready for my mom's 75th surprise party. The biggest part of the surprise, surely, was that all six of her children, from the one across the street to the one across the state, to the four across each side of the country, were all present to welcome her third quarter century. Dressed in poodle skirts and hipsters, no less! The second biggest pleasure, a durable one, was a life retrospective photo album we all put together for her. It took some work.

Sorting through long-taped boxes of stuff a few weeks ago, I came across not only pictures I'd forgotten about, but old journals as well. I spent an embarrassing half hour reading my diary from age 13, and less pink-tinged time flipping through old journals. I also found my old poetry book, and was reminded that I became a paid author via poetry. Yup, in the early 90's I entered one of those poetry contests you see in magazines, and a few months later was notified I'd won first place (not the grand prize, though), and a check was in the envelope along with the invitation to buy the anthology. Yeah right. The five buck check would hardly cover the price of the tome, and I nearly threw it away. Then I looked again. Five hundred dollars. Seriously? Seriously. I wish I'd bought something lasting with the cash, but instead I got an exercise machine that sat unused for five years before my mom finally dumped it at a garage sale.

Thinking about the party, thinking about that winning poem, thinking about mothers and Thanksgiving and what tomorrow means, I decided I'd share the poem here with you. Between my mother, and Pamela's, and Joan's, mentioned in the past weeks here on the blog, it seemed fitting to remember mothers on this day that is not about turkey but is very much about gratitude and memory. Kim and Julie, too, have often talked about their mothers on the blog, and like me, are blessed with their proximity. As we head toward our retreat in a week and a day, we are wishful for comfort for all our mothers, we are grateful for the times we've had with them, and we are hopeful for the best.


Perhaps my first memory is of the carousel
The whirling joy in the jangle of bright song
Bringing me back around to wave with four year glee--
Every time--
At the smiling mother who waved back--
Every time.

Or maybe the train ride across Wyoming
Where I waved at every horse
In every field--"Hi, Hochie"--
I named my red wheeled horse after them
And my mother always waved back when I came around the block.

Is this what motherhood is?
A series of waves at children on toys, on bikes,
Leaving for camps, dates, colleges, weddings?
No, but how do you
Define motherhood?
So leave it to say
What I got from my mother
Was an aching drive to wave.

She waved to me as I was wheeled into surgery,
Nineteen, ovarian cysts.
"Can I still have children?" I asked.
"I don't know," he said, "let's wait and see."
And in those hours I felt my birthright
Slip away like a miscarriage.

When I awoke, I saw my mother
The doctor told us my life was intact
And I realized how closely knit
Our hands are to our hearts.

Monday, November 25, 2013

Why NoMo

by Joan

I was all set to participate in NaNoWriMo. Then life intervened. Several years back when I was ready to start a new story, I began in November and wrote about 30,000 words. I’m not a fast writer, but thought I could benefit from some added motivation. Last year I was revising a manuscript and didn’t want to start something new.

I’ve never loved the idea of cramming words on a page because I have a hard time moving on from a sentence if I know it sucks. I’ve always been one to revise as I write, then edit and revise some more. But a few months ago I started researching and sketching ideas for my next novel, so the timing was right this year.

Karen Harrington ran a wonderful post about her own NaNoWriMo experience and encouraged writers to go for it. Then I read a FaceBook post from Caroline Leavitt. “Writing is not typing!” I thought that was wise, too. And so, as always, there are no “shoulds” in writing, only that each writer must do what works best for her or him.

I’m spurred on by Karen’s encouragement and the excitement of this idea that is a story only I could tell. I have a voice in my head that I seem to have met a long time ago. A voice that has been hiding, waiting to grab the keyboard. I’m letting her go. For the first time I’m leaving blanks and highlights everywhere. Names, places, games, lots of details that will emerge from further research of the time period. I’m allowing myself to write quickly and not everything is in order. As the scenes come to me, I write them.

I began to tally my November words. On the 7th, my 89-year-old mother fell, broke some ribs and punctured a lung. I moved up my Thanksgiving flight and extended my stay in Maryland and slept next to her in the hospital during those first days. The most writing I did was to jot questions for the doctor or punch out a few texts to family and friends. “She’s confused and in pain,” or “hospital is so understaffed.” There were some bright moments: “Today my mom said, ‘for some reason, all of a sudden Twinkle Twinkle Little Star is a big hit again.”

She was transported to a rehab facility on a blustery cold day and is slowly learning to use a walker again. Because of some cognitive issues, she might not get back to living as independently as she had been. She’s still a fall risk. One day she was caught using her tray table as a walker. 

I’m writing most days and have managed to write about 12,000 good words. She’s telling me snippets of her life I’ve never heard before and I’m writing them, too. I’ll never know if they’re true or a product of painkillers. I won’t get to 50,000 words, but I’m spending time with my mom who likely won’t be around to see any of my books published.

Happy Thanksgiving to all of you. And how’s your NaNoWriMo going?

Friday, November 22, 2013

Top Ten Gifts for Writers

By Susan

This time last year, the fourth Friday of November, Thanksgiving was already over. It was Black Friday—the dreaded day where I hide from the public. "Stay off the roads! Away from the mall! Away!" I cry as my sisters and friends and enemies alike pour out the door for the latest greatest holiday bargain, ignoring my warning.

This year, Thanksgiving falls on the 28th, giving me one more week to believe in autumn rather than succumbing to holiday cheer. I'm no Scrooge, but I've never bought into the American Way of shopping madness. At the same time, I love to give gifts, especially to writer friends. And so today, with one full week to think before this year's Black Friday, I give you my top ten gifts for writers. Be careful out there, and enjoy!

1)   Books. You can't go wrong here. Buy a classic at a used bookstore. A new hardback straight from Barnes & Noble. A vintage childhood favorite from Don't worry about the writer's taste. A new book is a reason to celebrate, indeed.

2)   Gift Cards to Bookstores. From a local independent bookstore, if you are lucky enough to have one in your neighborhood. A writer loves nothing more than to discover an unused gift card in the wallet sometime in mid-March, just when they need it. Trust me.
3)   Donations to IBP. The International Book Project sends books all over the world, and they can only continue to do it because of donations from people like me and you. Why not make a donation in honor of your friend? You can do so here.
4)   Pens, but not blank notebooks. Cross pens, wooden pens, fancy-pants pen and pencil sets: writers love them all. Just steer clear of blank notebooks—most writers I know have far more of these than they need. But a good pen will last a long time, and will always remind the writer of you!
5)   Coffee, Tea or Booze. Pick your poison, depending on whether your writing friend is currently writing or editing (keeping in mind Hemingway's words: "write drunk, edit sober.")
6)   Good writing socks. It's Christmastime, so even in Texas it's cool enough to have cold toes. And nobody writes well with cold toes. Check out smartwool. My favorite hiking socks are as my favorite writing socks.
7)   Excursions. Get your friend out of the house. Are there any upcoming book signings, poetry readings, or cool movie adaptations coming up this year? Do a little research and plan the date. You'll both benefit.
8)   A Mix Tape (or playlist.) Most writers like music. Heck, most people who breathe like music. And nothing says "I love you" like a personalized CD or playlist. They may not need it to write, but it's great for thinking time, reading time, or taking a hike. Music, much like reading, feeds the writer's soul.
9)   Magazine or Literary Journal subscriptions. Pick what you like: there are many. Think of Poets & Writers, or Lit Journals like Ploughshares, Tin House, Granta or Glimmer Train.

10)   Books from small presses, and books written by friends. Support other writers by buying their work.  A great little poetry journal I can recommend is Small Batch, a book of bourbon poetry put out by Two of Cups Press.  And of course, I highly recommend our own Julie Kibler's Calling Me Home, which you can pre-order in paperback for Christmas, and it will deliver January 7 (or buy the hardback here for Christmas delivery.) You'll thank me later.

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Book Club Resources Galore

By Julie

I mentioned last week that I've been attending a lot of book club meetings this year in support of Calling Me Home (and in fact am now enjoying my holiday break until the paperback releases!). As a result, I'm always thinking about book clubs: how they get started, how they work, how they pick the books they pick, etc. And as a result of that, I've compiled a wealth of book club resources. I thought I'd share a few.

There are several online book clubs that do a MARVELOUS job of selecting books, bringing in extra materials from the author, igniting discussion, and in general making it easy to read along--whether you're a member of a physical club that chooses the same book or not.'m a little partial to one in particular: She Reads. But not just because they selected Calling Me Home as their February 2013 pick, which was the month it released. I believe what they did that month, along with their book blogger network, was huge -- no, INSTRUMENTAL -- in giving Calling Me Home a successful launch. But besides that, I'm signed up to receive each post from the She Reads blog by email, and I really do read every one, because it's good stuff! I've read many of the books they've chosen along with them this year--one of which will go on our "Best books of 2013" post in December, and I always enjoy reading the special posts from the authors.

But wait, there's more!

Target has "Club Picks." Each month a book is featured in stores and online. I've been thrilled to see novels by good friends Priscille Sibley and Lydia Netzer featured this year.

Ladies Home Journal has a book club pick each month, both in their magazine and online. They also have a featured book club each month! Imagine how much fun it would be to see your club in the magazine and online!

Or, you can join Real Simple's "No-Obligation Book Club." Just read along with them and discuss if you want to. No guilt if you forgot to make snacks for the meeting at your house in 20 minutes.

Suzanne Beecher has created a reader advisory service online called Dear Reader. If you sign up, each day she sends you a five-minute excerpt of a book to enjoy with your morning coffee. She also features books weekly. Not sure what to pick for your club when it's your turn? She guarantees you'll be hooked with all the choices she presents.

On Goodreads, you can see what books people have shelved as "Popular Book Club Picks."

Book Movement and LitLovers are two sites that are a whole wealth of information for book clubs. Each site has discussion guides for vast numbers of books, guides for starting book clubs, and lots of "favorites" lists, as well as site picks. Booklist lists these two and several more on a resources for book clubs list.

Book Club Girl recently featured Joshilyn Jackson (who has been a guest here at What Women Write in the past) in a post about getting an author to attend your book club meeting. I can vouch for what she says, though of course #1 is a future dream. :)

I've always loved the newsletter that arrives in my inbox each and every Friday. It's like a "Welcome to your weekend" buzzer. I see it and remember it's Friday! I can count on Bookreporter to tell me about all kinds of books releasing in upcoming weeks.

Finally, what if you just want to join an existing club that's accepting new members? One of the best ways I've discovered to look for active book clubs in a particular area is Simply sign up with your zip code, search by "book club," and voila, you might find yourself struggling to make a choice which one to visit first.

And this is just scratching the surface. What it boils down to is there is a slew of information online for book clubs. If you think you'd like to join one or are in need of resources, never fear, the Internet is here.

Are you in a book club? How do you pick books? What was your club's favorite read of the year so far?

Monday, November 18, 2013

Our Connections

By Pamela

Last week I wrote my mother's obituary.

She didn't pass away but she is quite ill and, being 'the writer in the family,' I assumed the task would fall to me--an honor I didn't want to attend to in the midst of inevitable grief.

A month ago she underwent a procedure that didn't go quite the way any of us had planned, and she wound up with a feeding tube inserted and the inability to swallow. Coupled with several other serious health issues, she lives now in skilled nursing care near her home in Indiana. Fortunately, I was able to stay with her for a period of time in the hospital but had to return to Texas. Coordinating her care long distance, along with my siblings and a case manager (who can't possibly be paid what she's worth!), has created a level of stress in me I've not experienced before.

So, this past week, when a girlfriend trip that had been planned for months loomed nearer, I simultaneously panicked that my mom's health might cause me to cancel (three friends flying here from three different states) and looked forward to a welcome distraction from my worries.

Trisha, Traci, Sonya and me at the Dallas Arboretum on Saturday.
These three friends--Sonya, Trisha, Traci--and I share a rich history, one that began with a book club that started over a dozen years ago. Together we've cried over tremendous loss and heartbreak and celebrated adoptions (four!) and births. It was no surprise then, this long weekend, that we found ourselves talking about and sharing books.

In our book club we read classics such as A Tree Grows in Brooklyn and The Scarlet Letter, popular fiction including A Prayer for Owen Meany and Year of Wonders and one or two titles that no one really liked--ahem, The Corrections. In the eight years since I've moved away, we've shared several titles long-distance (from me: Jantsen's Gift and, of course, Calling Me Home, and more). Being able to recommend books and knowing that my friends are experiencing the pages I've read has helped bridge the physical gap between us.

After four glorious days of shopping, eating, movies, eating, talking, eating, shopping ... it's no surprise, that in the somber stillness of this Monday morning--with my dear friends back in their faraway homes--the church pew that sits in my foyer is stacked with items too large/heavy/breakable to be tucked into suitcases. Among the treasures waiting to be mailed home are books--books I've read and feel my friends must read, too.

What a lovely thing, this sharing of stories--our own and others', some true and heartbreaking; some fictitious that have allowed us to escape, to laugh, to indulge. What a lovely experience, to have friends come to visit and spend time together after many long months apart. What a lovely gift, to know people and to allow them to know you--even your flaws and mistakes and shortcomings--and realize you are loved.

Friday, November 15, 2013

The Writer's Life (Lately)

by Elizabeth

So plugging along on my WIP, I find that my life has taken a very writerly turn as of late. Not that I wasn't a writer before, not that I didn't write (ahem, it was a pretty dry summer), not that I didn't see the world like a writer...

But lately, it's a little more so. I don't know if that's because I am getting encouragingly close to finishing the first draft of this project, or if it's because I'm making and meeting goals, but I do know this: it's pretty fun.

A few days ago, I did a very writerly thing: I went to a midday movie. Movies are an excellent source of research for the writer, mind you, teaching us a great deal about plotting and structure and story. Plus, there's popcorn. Plus, it was a buck, and I'm a big cheapskate, so my heart was thrilled. Anyway, before the movie started I eavesdropped on three senior citizens, two of them on an apparently very cheap date (I don't think the guy even bought her ticket! for a dollar!), the other one I guess tagging along and seeking relationship advice himself. Do you think I should ask Shirley out, he asked (and I should say, I wasn't even much eavesdropping so much as being in the same theater); and aren't all the people on our floor so very nice; and the chicken soup they served last night was terrific. I texted Pamela (it was still during the commercials, not even previews, and my phone screen was nothing to hearing about Stan's colonoscopy, trust me), telling her that you can't make this stuff up, and wondering if I'd stick it in my manuscript somehow, or maybe just a blog post. And here it is.

Wednesday I had coffee with the terrific Karen Harrington, and as we drank our chai (her) and cappuccino (me), we talked books and publication and how sometimes you get the gift of a story coming to you whole if you are lucky, and other times it's like a medieval jousting ring and you don't even have a horse. She signed a couple of copies of her book for me, and then she toddled off to Trader Joe's and I toddled home, and then I wrote a thousand words before I had to pick up my kids.

Yesterday I planned to write a couple thousand words, and then spent the morning trying to figure out what the heck they should be. I scribbled out a couple hundred, maybe, and then decided I needed a shower to clear my mind and get the juices flowing. As I dried my hair, a new idea occurred to me, and then I spent some time thinking about how it would affect the story, the storytelling, and if I was just adding fat for the sake of word count. I wasn't, and by the time I went to bed, I had more words on the page and a better story arc for a secondary character supporting the actions of my main character. Not bad for a day when I also finished up two games of Words with Friends, huh?

I, I, I. But this is really more about everyone else than it is about me. I could have shushed Stan and his pals, but instead I listened, and maybe one day they'll read a story that was influenced by their conversation and never know they played a small role in its creation. The meeting with Karen was so that I could pass her book on to some people who I hope will love it as much as I did. And yesterday as I thought and planned, I went back and forth with Joan (hello again, texting) lamenting and yahooing about this crazy thing we call creation.

It's true the writing life can be a solitary one at times, and that it should be, needs to be. But it also needs to be fed, by strangers, by friends, by colleagues, by life. To keep it moving, as it should.

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

A Review of The Pieces We Keep by Kristina McMorris

By Kim

About The Pieces We Keep (from the book jacket):

Two years have done little to ease veterinarian Audra Hughes’s grief over her husband’s untimely death. Eager for a fresh start, Audra plans to leave Portland for a new job in Philadelphia. Her seven-year-old son, Jack, seems apprehensive about flying—but it is just the beginning of an anxiety that grows to consume him.

As Jack’s fears continue to surface in recurring and violent nightmares, Audra hardly recognizes the introverted boy he has become. Desperate, she traces snippets of information unearthed in Jack’s dreams, leading her to Sean Malloy, a struggling US Army veteran wounded in Afghanistan. Together they unravel a mystery dating back to WWII, and uncover old family secrets that still have the strength to wound—and perhaps, at last, to heal.

Intricate and beautifully written, The Pieces We Keep illuminates those moments when life asks us to reach beyond what we know and embrace what was once unthinkable. Deftly weaving together past and present, this is a story that is at once poignant and thought-provoking, and as unpredictable as the human heart.

About Kristina McMorris (from the book jacket):

Kristina McMorris garnered two nominations for the highly coveted Romance Writers of America prize, the Golden Heart for her fictional work. She lives in the Pacific Northwest with her husband and two sons. This is her third novel, following the widely praised Letters From Home and Bridge of Scarlet Leaves.


If you've been following us here at What Women Write for a while, the name Kristina McMorris will be familiar to you, since we have reviewed both her previous novels. (See the reviews here and here.)

The Pieces We Keep is McMorris’ third novel and, I believe, her best so far. It has the elements I loved about her previous books – WWII setting, unconventional love story, gorgeous prose, and a bittersweet conclusion. It would have been simple to stick with a formula that has proven to work in the past. Instead, McMorris challenged herself (and her readers) by taking two seemingly unrelated story lines, one present day and one from WWII, and presenting them in alternating chapters. A careful reader will soon have theories about who is haunting Jack and why, but the puzzle is so cleverly unraveled that I doubt anyone will have all the pieces in place before the end.

I imagine a lot readers will reach the end much faster than they anticipate. There is simply no good place to
set the book down. Each chapter ending left me feeling as though my toes hung over a virtual cliff and that I’d be forced to look down until I found out what happened. Of course, because the chapters alternated time periods, this meant I must read through another whole chapter before I could find out. Skipping ahead was not an option.  

History buffs will enjoy reading about little-known WWII tidbits such as German saboteurs in America.  The romance and mystery elements should have wide appeal. Books clubs will have several controversial issues to discuss and debate.

The Pieces We Keep is sure to touch an especially deep nerve for parents of “old soul” children.  Jack’s fear of flying reminded me of my own daughter’s fear of bridges and storms. She’s been terrified of both since toddlerhood and it’s to such a marked degree that I’ve wondered if she’s having some sort of premonition. I had not considered the possibility of it being a memory before, but find that theory much more comforting.

There’s something for everyone in this book. I highly recommend it.

The Pieces We Keep will be available everywhere on November 26th.

Disclosure of Material Connection: I received an advanced copy of the book mentioned above gratis in the hope that I would mention it on this blog. Regardless, I only recommend books I've read and believe will appeal to our readers. In accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising” I am making this statement.

Monday, November 11, 2013

Publicity by the numbers, or Wow, did that really happen?

By Julie

Nine months out from publication of Calling Me Home (February 12, 2013), I'm about to take an eight-week break from most publicity efforts while I prepare for the paperback release (January 7, 2014). Not only do I need a break to rest my brain and my body, but I'm looking forward to focusing on my family and the holidays. Oh, and did I mention focusing on writing?

Signing books after event at Palouse, Washinton,
Public Library
I think lots of readers assume that being a published author involves day after day after day of sitting around in your pajamas staring into space and moving only when your fingers are inspired to record the images flitting in front of your imagination. I mean, that's what *I* pictured years ago as I dreamt of the romantic life of an author.

Speaking at
West Texas Book Festival
I'm not going to lie. I do spend a lot of time in my pajamas. I do spend a lot of time staring into space. And I do spend a certain amount of time dreaming about what I'm writing and attempting to put it down on paper. I wouldn't be doing this job or pursuing this career if not. What would be the point of being an author if you didn't write?

Phone in discussion with
Northwest Houston Bookclub
But the eye-opening thing about being an author is exactly how much time you spend NOT doing these things while you're promoting your published books. I thought it might be enlightening not just for readers, but for ME to take a look at what the last nine months have looked like for me from a publicity standpoint. Granted, I have sold my book into a lot of foreign countries, which has multiplied exponentially the time I've spend on certain activities. But it was still mind-boggling to discover how many hours I've spent doing these things. And it makes me feel a lot better about how exhausted I am mentally and physically, and a LOT less guilty about taking this break! In fact, I'm downright gleeful about it now.
I think it's important to take stock every now and then, even if you are a self-employed person with your own business, just like we do in traditional careers, where we receive statistics and evaluations, and ratings.

So here goes. By the numbers, here's what I've done in support of Calling Me Home that I was able to quantify:

Dinner with sales rep and booksellers in
Dublin, Ireland
250+ fan mails answered
23 nights in hotels in support of events
22 in-person book clubs attended in Dallas/Fort Worth
14 Blog Q&A interviews
12 book club discussions attended by Skype
12 Radio interviews, including several conducted with interpreters in Italy
10 Guest posts written for other people's blogs
7 Bookstore events, including talk and signing
7 Bookstore drop-ins to sign stock, including ones in Venice, Italy; Dublin, Ireland; and Lahinch, Ireland
6 Private events, including talk and signing
5 Library events, including talk and signing
4 Newspaper Interviews
4 Dinners or lunches with publishers/booksellers
4 Book festival events in Abilene, Buchanan Dam, and Austin, Texas, and one in Turin, Italy
3 Back-of-book interviews for various editions
3 Television interviews
3 Magazine interviews
3 Book club discussions by telephone
2 Video interviews
1 Book club discussion by Twitter
1 Library association signing

Meeting with book club at
The Ranch at Las Colinas
I know some of those are low estimates because I couldn't track every single thing (and didn't think of doing it ahead of time--I just looked at my calendar, email and document files, etc.). 

Here are the things I couldn't quantify, but are part of this career:

-Driving as a rule, because that's kind of like commuting, but there was a lot of it
-Answering general emails from my publishers, agents, etc.
Book signing at
A Real Bookstore
Allen, Texas
-Scheduling events
-Calculating numbers for and ordering extra books for private, non-bookstore events, including having extra books on hand for book club members to purchase if they wanted to
-Applying for state sales tax licenses and filing quarterly taxes for sales tax
-Answering emails from or talking to aspiring writers about publishing and writing
-Reading friends' novel manuscripts, blog posts, etc., for critique
-Regular blogging at What Women Write (2 per month, so about 18)
-Reading books for blurbs and composing blurbs (about 6 books)
-Reading books about writing (about 3)
-Attending other author's events (about 10)
-Social media in support of the book (posting statuses or links to blog posts and interviews, tweeting, replying to tweets with thank you's)
-Updating website and event schedules
-CHECKING AMAZON RANKINGS… (I don't even want to think about the time suck here, but it happens)

Signing stock at
Libreria Goldoni
Venice, Italy
And finally, writing, editing, and thinking about new books—woefully underrepresented here, which is why I'm taking a break before the paperback releases!

How long has it been since you took stock of your activities and accomplishments, even if you are self-employed or aren't earning money from a creative field yet? How do you feel when you realize how much time and effort you're pouring into something like writing?

I adore this career. I think all this time and effort is paying off, and that makes me very happy!

Friday, November 8, 2013

Wally Lamb in Dallas

by Joan

Last night author Wally Lamb was at Barnes & Noble in Dallas, midway through a 40-city book tour to promote his new novel, We Are Water. Susan and I were part of an intimate crowd, as Mr. Lamb told the story of how this novel came to be. In 2009, when unprepared to answer the question, “What are you writing next,” he off-handedly said he would write about “the flood.” In his hometown of Norwich, Connecticut, “the flood” referred to the devastating 1963 flood that swept through the city, killing six and causing massive damage.

He shared the story of the Moody family, mother Honey, father Ronnie, and three sons aged four and under. Honey, Ronnie and their teenaged family friend Tony managed to pull the little boys to safety, placing them in a tree high above the flood waters. But moments later, Honey was swept away and died.

A collective gasp came from the crowd as Mr. Lamb introduced his special guest, Tom Moody, Jr., the four-year-old flood survivor, now in his fifties, who has since written a non-fiction account of how the flood affected his family. To the wide-eyed crowd, Mr. Moody read a few pages of this account, A Swift and Deadly Maelstrom: The Great Norwich Flood of 1963, a Survivor’s Story.

Mr. Lamb returned to the podium and was as warm and genuine as any author we’ve met. When was the last time you went to a signing and the author gave up his spot for another author to read? 

He relayed that while he framed the novel We Are Water around the flood, at its heart was a family torn apart when the mother, an artist, moves to New York and leaves her husband for a woman. He read from the story and, though it features some heavy themes, we were treated to an amusing section where her son’s fiancée, a fundamentalist Christian, calls Dr. Laura Schlessinger for advice on whether or not to attend his mother’s gay marriage. Mr. Lamb’s delivery was perfection. In fact, he told us, he is one of 9 voices performing the audio version

As for his writing method, he doesn’t outline, he lets the story come to him more organically. For him, a novel might take five years or nine. "It takes how long it takes." For We Are Water, he started out with two points of view and then only later realized six more characters would demand to be heard. Most of his readers would agree: he is a master of character.

Though amiable and light-hearted in person, Wally Lamb’s fiction is anything but. To a woman questioning how he delves into some of his characters’ sinister minds, he said he’s always had a high-level of empathy, but in volunteering his time running a writers’ workshop at the York Correctional Institute, a women’s prison, he has come to hear first hand the often toxic situations in which these women were raised. Working with these women has changed his life, he said.
Joan Mora, Wally Lamb, Susan Ishmael-Poulos

As he signed our books afterward, he shared some great writerly advice to us. Susan shares on her own site how his words were just what she needed to hear. I agree.

If you’re lucky enough to live in one of his next tour cities, go! You won’t be disappointed. 

Wednesday, November 6, 2013

Elizabeth Gilbert

By Susan

As regular readers know, we at What Women Write are blessed enough to live in the Dallas-Ft. Worth metroplex, which gives us great access to author signings and readings. Monday night, as a part of Highland Park United Methodist Church Authors' LIVE event, Joan, Pamela, Elizabeth and I slogged through Dallas rain and traffic to spend the evening with Elizabeth Gilbert.

Joan and I splurged on the reception and signing before the event, and had a few moments to talk with the author. We told her we were writers (which I suspect she hears from lots of her readers). Joan told her how much she adored the audio version The Signature of All Things, read by Juliet Stevenson, and I marveled at her graciousness and enthusiasm for the long line of devoted fans.

Joan Mora, Elizabeth Gilbert and Susan Ishmael-Poulos
And "fans" is the only word for those dedicated to Elizabeth Gilbert, and her transparency and genuine delight in those fans was evident.

The reading began fifteen minutes late due to weather and traffic concerns and the room continued to fill well into her talk. She read a delightful passage from Signature, and opened the floor to questions.

Gilbert is most well known for the ten million copies of her memoir Eat, Pray, Love, and less known for her long list of awards and bylines. In 2002 she received a National Book Award nomination for her non-fiction book The Last American Man. As she talked about the success of Eat, Pray, Love, she explained the difficulty writing after her stunning success, stating that moving forward, she had to draw on the memory of writing when nobody cared, and noted that writing post-failure and post-success were remarkably similar.

"The motive in writing," she said, "must be love of writing. If it is anything else, you will not find your happiness from it, because you can't control how your work will be received."

Following Eat, Pray, Love, she wrote her second memoir, Committed, the story of her marriage and life after the success of the first memoir. Now, with The Signature of All Things, she transitions gracefully back to fiction. In The New York Times Book Review, Barbara Kingsolver says “Gilbert has established herself as a straight-up storyteller who dares us into adventures of worldly discovery, and this novel stands as a winning next act. The Signature of All Things is a bracing homage to the many natures of genius and the inevitable progress of ideas, in a world that reveals its best truths to uncommonly patient minds.”

She also openly discussed her battle with the depression that plagued her early marriage, and her journey toward happiness. "The opposite of depression isn't happiness," she stated. "It's vitality." And vitality is the perfect word to describe the presence of Gilbert, who seemed as comfortable talking to fans while signing books as she was behind a lectern, talking about her own struggles, her writing process, and her books.

Gilbert's U.S. tour for Signature continues through November. You can learn more about her and other upcoming events at For any reader, lover of words, writer or fan, Elizabeth Gilbert is one to see if you have the opportunity. She shines!

Monday, November 4, 2013

Getting Together

For as much as we WWWers all think about each other, and as much help as we give each other, it's really not all that often that we manage to get together. That's one reason, I think, we all look so forward to our annual retreat, which now feels like a tradition. Hey, this will be our fifth year--laugh if you want, but if you've ever had a five-year-old, you can attest that they know precisely what tradition means come Halloween or Thanksgiving or Christmas or Passover.

Throughout the rest of the year, we grab each other's company as we can. Two or three meeting up for the odd lunch, four or five of us for an author event, three or four of us delightedly finding each other at a Writer's Guild of Texas meeting out of the blue.

But life is busy, and though all of our kids are getting older (nearly half of the collected bunch are now in college or in the world!), and you'd think things would get easier, that's not seemed to be the case. For those who need driving, the driving seems to have multiplied, and that alone keeps some of us away from opportunities to see each other. Family obligations, too, seem to be more and more pressing, both for wonderful reasons and bad, and though we are each of us blessed to be able to respond to the call when needed, it takes up time. Lots of time.

Our writing itself, too, eats up time we could perhaps sometimes spend together. Not a one of us would ever lament a good day in front of the keyboard, but at the end of it, a hot cup of tea and a chat with one of the blog ladies would sure be nice. Doesn't often happen, though with phones and texts and email, maybe a dose of virtual tea would be advised.

Our retreat is only a month away, but with Thanksgiving still ahead and the crazy-busy month of November mostly before us (quick: does anyone in the world NOT know half a dozen people with November birthdays? Could Valentine's Day be to blame?), it seems a long while yet. Before we can pull out our laptops and comfy pants, settle in for good food and intense and funny and warm conversations, before we can just ignore the rest of the world for a little while and just be writers.

Until then, we will do what we can, here and there, to get together when possible. A cup of coffee, a quick lunch, maybe just an exchange of messages or a few words when something big or small or funny or sad or exciting happens. If we can. Always, always, if we can. We are all of us writers, but we are first wives and mothers and daughters and friends. Which makes us better writers, all of us.

Happily, tonight several of us will make the drive to Highland Park to see Elizabeth Gilbert, but--sorry, Elizabeth--a major portion of the delight of the evening will be seeing each other. Saying hello, reconnecting, wishing each other well on our current projects, lamenting with each other if things aren't going so well. Above all, feeding the writer's space that needs other writers, especially those writers we know and admire and trust. It's a necessary meal, and since it's been a little while, we are hungry. Should be delicious.

Friday, November 1, 2013

Give Yourself Permission to Suck

By Kim

Other writers often encourage me to pound out a first draft and worry about making it pretty later. I've always resisted. How could I start a new chapter until satisfied with the old one? Besides, polishing my prose as I went along would surely save me months of editing later. Right?

Wrong. It took me six years to compose a complete draft of The Oak Lovers. Yes, I switched genres two years in and had to start over. Yes, I had small children home during much of that time. Even so, six years is a long time to spend on any one project. After I typed “the end” a few critique partners brought up minor issues, easily fixed, and encouraged me to send that puppy out already. Others had reservations. What were my characters’ main goals? Was my story arc perhaps a little too subtle? And the climax - where was that exactly?

I listened selectively, made some changes, and sent off queries too soon. Rejections followed. Some agents offered the same advice I hadn't wanted to hear from critique partners. Some sent form letters. Some never responded at all.

Long story short: I was far from done. Worse, had I built a frame for my story before tacking on the siding, most of the “darlings” I had to murder during revisions would never have been born.

While I wait for replies to my current submissions, I've started an entirely new project. Outlines are not the 
enemy this time around. Nor are word-count goals. In fact, if NaNoWriMo took place during any month other than Nutcracker-Insanity-November, I might actually participate.

I intend to post the following rules beside my desk as a reminder that it’s okay for a first draft to be a steaming pile of literary excrement. I share them here in case any of our readers also tend to flounder in editing hell.

1) If descriptions of clothing, meals and rooms don’t write themselves with minimal effort, they do not belong in draft one. Make a note and move on.

2) It’s unnecessary to stop writing in order to spend days researching photographs and first-hand accounts of, say, traveling on the Erie Canal. Well-researched nuggets can be plugged into draft 64.

3) Let excessive adverbs or ‘ing’ words live for now. Exterminate them when the manuscript is ready to be evaluated by a fresh set of eyes.

4) Don’t feed the editing addiction. Wait until draft two or three is complete before sharing the novel with anyone.

5) Highlight any possible anachronisms. Check etymology later. Move on.

6) It is okay to tell instead of show in draft one. If the window is not yet in place, it doesn't matter if the curtains are velvet or fashioned from old petticoats.

7) Don’t waste months writing a pretty subplot only to have to cut it later. Know where the story is going.

8) Laundry can be folded when the kids are home. Any sudden urges to do dishes or clean the bathroom should be resisted. You, ma’am, are a procrastinator, not a neat freak! Keep your butt in the chair.

9) While your butt is in the chair, your eyes should be on your manuscript, not on Facebook or Twitter. If you can’t resist temptation, install self-control software.

10) Ignore patches of reeking prose. Remember what wise Professor Thomas said all those years ago. “If you throw enough mud at a fence, some of it is bound to stick.” Keep throwing mud.

Have you given yourself permission to suck, yet? Are there other rules I should add to my list? Please share what works for you.
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