Revisions: Lessons of the Second Draft

Frustrated Writer

Frustrated Writer

In my wildly popular* post “I Wrote A Book, Now What” I shared what happens after typing “The End” on a first draft.

*Wildly popular means read by someone other than my mother and best friend.

Here’s an update on my progress.

Like sex or Godiva Chocolate Cheesecake, the learning curve for writing a novel is something you have to experience for yourself. No writer can convey what the process will be like for you because the process is never the same.

Cheesecake_GodivaChoco

Gratuitous photo of chocolate sex

Similarly, no recounting evokes the mental anguish and befuddlement of the actual undertaking. Hence, most unsuccessful novelists simply shelve their hideous first efforts and move on to the next project, or give up all together.

My bio on Twitter is accurate, I am pear-shaped and pushing 50. I’m determined to improve so I’ve got to face the fear of the second draft on this project. Then and only then, I will decide if the story is worth further effort.

So far, my revision process includes 50 new pages of material and a 30-page handwritten outline of the entire novel as it currently exists.

I needed to know the present world of my characters and show them interacting more before I start them on their journey of transformation. Sounds easy enough, right? Not so fast. In the new material, my main character is now 10 years younger and childless. Lesson: Generating new material often presents new problems for the writer that have to be resolved throughout the entire draft.

The first draft for a pantser (writing by the “seat of your pants” vs. planning) is like magic. Things just flow out through seemingly no effort of your own. But 290 pages of information is a lot to remember which is why characters end up with different names half way through and you can’t remember who’s related, etc.

writers-block

There was so much for me to learn, I applied and was accepted to a Novel in a Year program. The writing teacher strongly suggested I give outlining a try. Ugh.  Lesson: Outlining at some point in the process is incredibly useful for consistency and as a reference for rewriting.

So how do you do it? A typical day of revision is waking up early, making a cup of tea, stretching in the kitchen and then sitting down at my desk. I open up the word document and reread the previous material from my last session. Then I review my editor’s comments and decide what to tackle for that session. Either I’m adding a new scene, removing a section, correcting errors, etc.

Brainstorming, questioning, making lists of possibilities are all part of my process right now. Will I leave the kids in the story? Did I show enough interaction and conflict or tension between the main character and her husband in the first chapter? How am I going to tie the last chapter of the new material to the old material?

At first I was sure I was lost. I put off sitting down in front of the laptop. I didn’t know how to wrestle the three-inch stack of papers and notes into submission. What kind of an incompetent writer doesn’t know the age of her main character?

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What I’ve heard, read and by the grace of the writing gods have come to internalize is that as long as I’m still working at it, learning and trying new things, I’m writing. Lesson: This is my process for this book so it is the right process. The struggle means I’m learning.

If you’re struggling with a first draft of a novel or short story or essay, congratulations. You’re writing.

(All photos via creative commons – click on photo for link)

One Thought on “Revisions: Lessons of the Second Draft

  1. barb armstrong on April 30, 2015 at 7:15 am said:

    Congratulations, you’re writing!!!

Soup to Nuts – How I Got My Story Published in Chicken Soup for the Soul

Chicken Soup for the Soul contributor copies arrive

A lovely writer friend said she’d love to hear step-by-step how I got my story “An Ordinary Life” published in Chicken Soup for the Soul: Thanks to My Mom. I promised to do a blog post on it so here’s what happened.

Which cameChicken Soup for the Soul my name first, the chicken or the soup?

Some people write a piece then look for a place to submit others check out open calls for submissions and then write to a specific theme. I’ve done both. In this case, I really can’t remember which came first.

I think I saw the open call for their latest book and an idea popped into my head. A recent conversation with my mom had brought up an old memory and I wrote about it.

Shitty First Drafts

The first draft poured out in about 15 minutes at Panera. I read it to a good friend but she knows my mom. I wanted another opinion from someone outside my circle. I wanted to know what message an impartial reader was getting about my mom.

I had made a few connections at a writer’s retreat. I posted a request for readers on our retreat alumni Facebook page and got two responses. Kathy is a wonderful soul and she replied with general criticism and positive support which I appreciated. Ana had previously published a story in another Chicken Soup volume and has also written professionally for a long time, and gave me some great tips.

Ana went on to red-line and edit a couple of drafts for me.

Writing is Rewriting

In all, I did five or six complete drafts. I had to cut it down from about 1,600 to 1,200 words. When I first decided to commit to writing, I thought my first drafts should be good enough. If it didn’t come out perfect, I felt I lacked talent or didn’t feel like the “real deal.” I’ve since learned and come to accept that the “magic” comes in the rewriting.

If you’re just starting out, the only way to believe this is to see it work. The best wording, the right order, it all comes in revision.

Tears in the Writer

How did I know the story was working? I couldn’t read it through without crying. I’ve read it a hundred times by now and still, every time I cry. It was told from the heart.

Follow the Guidelines

The great thing about the Chicken Soup for the Soul franchise is they have explicit and easy to understand guidelines.

I followed them exactly. They tell you what is and what is not a Chicken Soup story. From making sure to include all five senses, to telling the story in first person, I just went down the list and made sure my story had all of the elements.

I cut and pasted the story to their online form a couple of weeks before the deadline. They even tell you to submit early. Your story could be great but if they’ve already decided on several that share similar attributes, you may lose out.

Keep Writing

I submitted the story in late September for an October deadline. I kept working on essays, blog posts, author interviews, book reviews, etc. I submitted the first draft of my novel to a developmental editor. In other words, I didn’t sit around and wait to hear back.

The Chicken Soup website states that you will only hear back from them if your story has been selected. They don’t do rejections. If you don’t hear back from them 60 days before the on-sale date listed on the website, you probably haven’t been chosen. My on-sale date was March 17 so I noted January 17 on my calendar.

The Good News 

On December 9, or about eight weeks after submitting, I received an email saying “Congratulations, your story has made it to the final round.” The letter indicated that out of thousands of entries, they could only select 101. It cautioned that though most in the final round would make it into the book, a few wouldn’t. The email instructed me to fill out a release, submit a bio, etc. What did “final round” mean and when would I know for sure whether or not I’d be published in a book?

Email #2

On January 2, I received a second email with a PDF of my story asking me to review it and make edits before giving my final approval. It also said “you’ve made it to the final round.” At this point, I was still confused because I’d previously “made it to the final round” so I emailed back and asked the question–am I in or not?

They quickly replied that I had made it! But, they hadn’t yet notified everyone so they asked that I not publicize it until official notice came a few days later.

Chicken Soup for the Soul contributor copies arrive

The Fun Stuff

As a contributor, I found out that I would receive exclusive monthly newsletters with information on upcoming opportunities. They also encourage contributors to keep sending in their stories for other volumes. They celebrate those contributors with multiple stories.

I received several emails from their dedicated PR firm detailing how news releases were handled and providing ideas and encouragement on how to handle book signings, charity fundraisers through book sales, etc.

About two weeks before the on-sale date, I received my 10 free contributors copy and got to autograph my first book! Contributors are paid $200 per story via check about one month following the book’s release.

That payment will end this journey but I’ve already submitted my second story.

Chicken Soup for the Soul on the shelf at Barnes and Noble

I’m in a book, on a shelf, in Barnes and Noble!

 

The Steps to Publication in Chicken Soup for the Soul

Hmmmm, I think I’ve read those steps before…(duh, everywhere!)

I have nothing but praise for the Chicken Soup for the Soul folks. It’s not everyone’s cup of tea but it is a trusted and respected market for a very specific kind of story. They know what they do best and they treat their writers well.

Did I leave anything out? Ask me a question or share your success story in the comments. I’d love to hear about your experience with Chicken Soup or other publications.

 

 

 

 

5 Thoughts on “Soup to Nuts – How I Got My Story Published in Chicken Soup for the Soul

  1. Hi Suzanne!
    What a great thing to do – write up tips. And more than that the time and energy you were willing to put into the rewrite of your story. Most people think writing is easy. Bang something out and send it off. I admire you for slogging through the process. Your story shines from all the polishing you did to and for it. Thank you for including me in your process. Congratulations on getting published. Wahoo!
    Ana

    • It’s Ana…the Chicken Soup Whisperer 🙂 It isn’t easy but it is rewarding and to quote some more famous writer…it isn’t exactly coal mining either! Thanks for reading and for all the help. It’s the generosity of other writers like you that have inspired me this year.

  2. Pingback: Autographed Books to Benefit Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation (JDRF) | Suzanne M. Brazil

  3. ksamudio on February 29, 2016 at 5:11 pm said:

    Ok, so obviously I am commenting on this older post, but since it was referenced in your latest one I went to it. What wonderful advice & tips for those of us starting our journey (and you have already been unfailingly supportive & generous) – and I love “tears in the writer” BTW. Now I need to read the story 🙂

    • I used the Chicken Soup piece to audition for Listen to Your Mother essay reading contest and could NOT get through it even once without crying, LOL. Thanks for chiming in and feel free to share/pass on any tips with your writing group. So excited for you on your journey and so many people have been so helpful to me, it’s humbling to think anything I share might be of use to someone else.

Interview: Laura Munson, Author of the Memoir ‘This is Not the Story You Think It Is’

Laura Munson

I’ve written about my experience at my first writing retreat several times on this website. I’ve also written about taking risks and “thinking big.” Still, it took me months to work up the courage to email a best-selling author to ask her for an interview. She replied immediately, generously and enthusiastically. She never questioned my status as a “real writer” or warned me about adverbs. Thank you, Laura!

This interview was originally published on www.Blogcritics.org. Check out their website for the latest pop culture news.

Laura Munson 

Laura Munson is the New York Times and international best-selling author of This Is Not The Story You Think It Is (Putnam 2010) and founder of the acclaimed Haven Writing Retreat. Her essay in theNew York Times Modern Love Column was recently listed as #2 on The Ten Best Modern Love Columns Ever list (New York Times, December 19, 2014). Her work has also appeared in  the New York Times, the New York Times Magazine, O. Magazine, The Week, Huffington Post, Redbook, Woman’s Day, Good Housekeeping and More Magazine.

Can you tell us a little bit about how you got started writing?

I have written since I was little.  I was that kid with the flashlight under her covers or up in her treehouse, writing in a journal.  I have boxes of journals that go back to 4th grade.  That said, the things that come most naturally to us are often the things we ignore, so I put all my passion into theater and film in school until I took a screenplay elective and realized that I was a writer.  I started writing screenplays, switched quickly to fiction and memoir, and have been writing ever since with all my heart.  It’s an obsession, really.

What can you share about your current project?

I am working on several projects at the moment — a novel, a memoir, and a book about living a healthy, balanced writing life.  I also blog regularly for my Haven blog and the Huffington Post, and write personal essays for print and online magazines.  I’m all about process, and I try to always have something in the creation process, something in the submissions process, and hopefully…something in the publishing process.

Is there a theme or common thread that runs through your previous books? If so, is that intentional?

I like to write about the stuff people do to each other and how we grow from it — good, bad and ugly.  I’m fascinated by the facets of the human heart and how we survive this beautiful and heartbreaking thing called Life.  I also like to weave the subject of Home into my writing, both in the world and in ourselves.  And usually, since I live in Montana, there is an element of wilderness that finds its way into my stories, real or imagined — the wilderness of nature and of the Human Condition.  I’m not sure if it’s intentional, but it’s what comes out naturally, and I believe that when we tap into our natural flow, we are writing in communion with our best selves.

Do you derive creative satisfaction from other writing assignments that you may have for commercial purposes, i.e. magazine articles, essays, etc.? Is it the same as working on a memoir or novel? If not, how does it differ?

I only write what feels real and authentic to me, so whenever I have a writing “job” it’s always a perfect example of that quote: “If you love what you do, you never work a day in your life.” I’m lucky that way. For a long, long time I didn’t get paid for my writing, and I didn’t let it stop me.  We must cultivate a hunger for our voice and once we do, the pay-off is immense. When we know our white-hot subjects, we attract writing projects/assignments which grow organically from what we have already put out there with past writing, so one honest, congruent piece begets another. At my Haven Writing Retreats, I work hard with people to find the subjects that are charged for them, and once they put their finger on the pulse of those themes and give themselves permission to write their way into them…that’s when things start cranking for people.  And there’s A LOT of satisfaction in that!

Who are your first readers — or do you share only with your agent/editor?

I have a strict protocol that I use for my early readers. The short version is: only give your stuff to people who really want to read it, who are relentless about asking you, have zero agenda, share your taste in books and writing in general, and will be honest. And set up a contract that works for you both to avoid awkward run-ins at the grocery store! That said, I love my agent and I trust her opinion with all my heart. Agents are very busy, and it’s in many ways a thankless job, so I only send it to her once I am SURE it is as good as I can get it and that usually means it’s been read by at least three people, and that I’m well into my third or fourth draft. The attitude that “an editor will fix all my issues” isn’t a good one to adopt. It’s the writer’s job to deliver as clean and alive a piece as possible and that takes work and time and a wide-open third eye.

Describe the difference in the feeling or emotion you receive from writing (the work) vs. publishing (the outcome).

The work: I love the journey. If you don’t love the journey, find something else that you love because it’s all about the journey. Delight in it, even and especially when it’s hard. Embrace the hardship! Breathe into the groundlessness of it.  Understand that all writing has an inherent problem and become the exact sleuth that will find the solution!

The published work: It’s between the published work and the reader at that point. It’s nice to be paid.  And it’s nice to have readers. Sometimes REALLY nice. But once your work is out there, it’s really none of your business anymore. It’s time to get back to the next writing journey!

One tip you think aspiring writers should consider ignoring?

Anything that starts with:  “10 easy steps…”  Or asks you to follow a method, a guru, or pay out a lot of money. All you need is a piece of paper and a pen and the guts to put your heart in your hand and translate thought into the form of heart language.  Sounds easy, huh.  It ain’t.  I wish someone had told me this a long time ago: You don’t have to do it alone!  Find a writing community.  Go on a Haven Retreat!

Where do you write? Special pen? Favorite chair? Beverage while writing, etc.?

I like to say that I’ve raised flexible children and a flexible muse. I’ve written on everything from cocktail napkins to fancy Italian leather-bound journals, from my laptop to my Mother-ship computer…in trains, planes, automobiles…you name it.  Lots of green tea with jasmine when writing. Sometimes wine while editing. Endless water. The muse really likes water, especially Montana well water.

Most unexpected experience bringing your first book to publication?

That would take a few hours. Suffice it to say that pretty much everything that has happened to me on the road of publication is totally outside of anything I ever read in any book about the publishing process. SO that’s good news. Know why you write, write, put it out there, and go back to writing. At a certain point, it’s a numbers game and all bets are off.  The only thing you can control is doing the work and submitting it.

Favorite book or author growing up?

Growing up, I loved anything with horses or nature in it. Now throw in a few derelicts on a hero’s journey who like good food, and I’m good to go. Which means, I really love Jim Harrison’s work.

Last “great” book you read?

When Women Were Birds by Terry Tempest Williams. She reminds me of the life that exists between the lines of prose.  You have to learn how to read those too…  Correction:  you GET to learn how to read those too. When you’re really doing the work, it’s all one big beautiful journey, even the hardship. Especially the hardship.

Update: I asked one follow-up question and here is Laura’s reply…

If you could give just one piece of advice or say one thing to writers at the start of their journey, what would it be?

Get clear about why you are writing in the first place.  Write a one line author statement.  Put it somewhere close by.  Refer to it often. Start it with:  “I write to…”  If you are clear about why you write, then no matter what happens along the way…you will always have your compass.  And it will help you do the work.  That’s all you can control: doing the work.  That’s good news!

You can find out more about Laura and Haven Writing Retreats by visiting her at www.lauramunson.com.

This is not the story you think it is

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Glimmerglass: 2014 INDIEFAB BOOK OF THE YEAR FINALIST, Interview with Author Marly Youmans

Marly Youmans, Author_Version 2

Update: Glimmerglass is a Finalist for Foreword Reviews‘ 2014 INDIEFAB Book of the Year Awards! My interview with her originally appeared on www.Blogcritics.org

Marly Youmans, Author_Version 2

Marly Youmans is a poet, novelist, and teacher living in Cooperstown, NY, with her family. She has been called “the best kept secret” among contemporary writers and her prose hailed as “gorgeous, haunting, beautiful and brilliant.” Youmans is a recipient of the New York Foundation for the Arts fellowship and her previous novels, short stories and poetry have won numerous awards. I found Glimmerglass (Mercer University Press, 2014) on my library shelf and after falling under its spell, requested an interview. She was gracious with her time and experience as we covered ground from the lack of quality literary criticism to the trait most writers need to cultivate.

As you know, I read and loved Glimmerglass and am curious to know where you got the idea for this tale about the artist in the gatehouse.

A great deal that characterizes the book has to do with my belief that Cooperstown (the inspiration for Cooper Patent) is a place that mixes the real and unreal, but there are more straightforward elements that led me to an artist and a gatehouse. I have a lot of friends who are painters, and Cooperstown is awash in visual arts; the Susquehanna River Valley is still strongly appealing as a place to live for many artists. My most frequent lunch buddies are the two painters to whom the book is dedicated, Ashley Norwood Cooper and Yolanda Sharpe, though I’m glad to say that they do not suffer from Cynthia’s art troubles.

We live in a time when every person who strives to make art that is authentic and strong must mull how the work can and should be done, and how it relates to a commercial, mainstream world that rates money above the true, the good, and the beautiful. Through Cynthia, I dealt with the problem of making art in our current culture (though that was not in the least what I consciously intended, when dreaming through the story), considering the situation of someone who had made a choice that she came to see as wrong. The book offers her a kind of redemption, and even though she does not get to keep the physical proof of what she achieves, the possibility of meaningful work is still is open to her. She reaches for the same joyful knowledge that Hawthorne’s artist of the beautiful achieves in his glittering, mechanic art.

glimmerglass a novelThe gatehouse is a charming local one with seven doors and a stream rushing by, down to Otsego Lake, James Fenimore Cooper’s Glimmerglass. I once ate lunch there and had a tour of the place, and the house stuck in my mind as magical and odd. (The watermark, the ceiling motifs, and the overall look of the place all draw on that memory. Frog pageants also were borrowed from the gatehouse residents.) I took the liberty of creating Sea House because the mansion near the gate burned to the foundation stones long ago.

Can you elaborate on your creative process? Specifically, do you begin with a pre-planned plot, a simple idea or problem? Does the story seem to write itself or come from some mysterious place within, and is it the same for all of your stories?

No, I don’t care for much pre-planning and am not one of the people (I know some of these and admire their organization) who make charts of characters and detailed outlines of plots. With Glimmerglass, I had a feeling for the places and knew that there would be a labyrinth. In writing, I tend to move by instinct, but I don’t claim that as a virtue – I don’t suppose there’s merit in one way of working over another. After all, it’s the final result that counts, no matter how it was made. I just write in the way that feels like a “rightness” to me. Sometimes I am suddenly gripped by something that I did not expect at all; that’s the way Thaliad (2012) arrived. I just woke up one morning and the narrative was in my mind, burning to leap out. The poems for The Book of the Red King (a lot of them have been published, but I’m still not quite ready for a book) arrived in a similar manner. For about three months I was inhabited by the book and wrote at least a poem a day.

With fiction, I often start with relatively little knowledge. With A Death at the White Camellia Orphanage (2012), I wrote the first two chapters in a big swoop and then had to figure out what happened afterward. But some things were quite clear in my mind – the main character, the sharecropper’s farm (modeled closely on the one my paternal grandparents worked), the fact that Pip would ride the rails west and north. I did not know if he would ever return or find a place to alight and stay. My 13th book, Maze of Blood (September, 2015) is one of the few books that I’ve written based on specific happenings in our real world. Though fiction, it depends on events in the life of pulp writer Robert Howard. I’ve wanted to do something based on an existing pattern for a while, as I’ve long been fascinated by the way Shakespeare takes what was known about the history of a figure and makes something new from it. So I did choose some key moments to juggle and play with as fiction. That plan had its own odd challenges, and I ended up radically re-working the order of events.

My favorite times tend to be when poems rush out unexpectedly, or when stories or parts of novels seem to pour out as if by magic. I love the strange sensation that something is pouring through me – a waterfall of language that feels like me and not-me at once. It leads to a thrilling sense of surprise. Of course, there are parts of novels that must be stitched together in a more mundane way. I’ve never been particularly interested in elaborate transitions and the “fat” of many novels, and my books tend to be lean. If a reader does not like that Jack-Sprat tendency, well, he or she has a challenge.

I would say that every narrative begins in a different way, that it is never “the same.” In order to make books that live, a writer needs to strive to do something she can’t do – to make something that has no recipe or instructions, that is not explained or plotted-out by one of her previous books. So I never know at the start where I am going, or whether I can master the dream and make it shapely.

Even your prose responses to my questions seem to have a bit of poetry in them. Was this unusual way of looking at the world something you’ve always possessed? Do you view the daily “mundane” world through similar spectacles (e.g., when giving instructions to your children, etc.)?

Some of my early childhood memories sparkle – my memories of my years as a small child in Louisiana (Gramercy and Baton Rouge) are colorful and magical. But I think a lot of us tend to veer from the grossly mundane to the soulful, often in the same minute.

I believe that one of the great functions of storytelling is to share a kind of enchantment – to give us eyes to see how beautiful and extraordinary the world is, and to know that being alive and conscious is a gift. Storytelling also tells us how very far we have fallen from being creatures who know and love what we are, and who love the world we possess for a while as the stage for our lives.

“When giving instructions to children?” Interesting question. Children love it when things are slightly askew, and when adults are playful. So yes, I was sometimes playful. But I expect that many parents are. During the teen years of the older two, I posted a big chart of epithets that my three could use on one another – they were drawn from Shakespeare and Wodehouse. “Great steaming radish!” “Peevish canker-blossom!” “Prating malignancy!” For a time, that list eliminated most of the bad (and boring) things that they called one another and meant that they laughed a good deal more than they might have otherwise. And occasionally I would sing my advice or requests in operatic flights (Cooperstown is home to Glimmerglass Opera.) Right now I have only one child left in high school, and we do often act quite silly or dance around the kitchen together.

Can you describe in any specific technical detail how you approach the revision/rewriting process? Is this different every time as well or is there a routine you follow?

I’m fairly simple-minded in this area. With fiction, I write on the computer because I like being able to fly along with my thoughts. Then I print out what I’ve done and blacken it with additions and deletions. Then I let time go by and repeat the process. And again and again until I’m just fiddling. Then I stop and read the whole thing aloud to catch any weird, unattractive rhymes and sounds. Reading aloud to children, you learn that a great many writers skip that step, and that they should not. My mode is similar with poetry, although poetry enjoys a much richer structure of sounds.

Can you share a colorful or magical memory from your childhood?

When I lived in Gramercy, I spoke Cajun French with the children next door. I was only three and don’t remember it, but I do remember playing with Maxine, and that she taught me to wear little green lizards with pink throats as earrings. The poor creatures could not release themselves until we pinched their jaws. In the yard were holes with big, hairy spiders. We had a garden bed made out of sugar slag from the refinery, and the plants grew up into the trees. My small garden was cucumbers and moonflowers; I loved to see them spiral open at night, their faces looking up at the moon.

Back to your writing, when did you start to produce material for publication? How did you know you were ready and how long did it take you to get there?

In seventh grade I was living in Delaware and attending a huge junior high school. I remember that my English teacher recommended a piece of mine for the literary magazine, and that was the first time somebody requested a piece of writing, and that I was pleased. I had poems and the occasional story in plenty of school magazines, but I’m not sure when my first poem was accepted by a little magazine – probably when I was around 19. I doubt that I did know if it was ready! When I was 20 and graduated from college, I threw away everything I’d done up to that point. I was sorry later, as it was so full of youth.

Along the same lines, what is the one piece of writing advice you received yourself or have heard that you think newer writers should ignore?

Ignore it all! Listen to it all, and then take advice with a grain of salt. I was told all sorts of things – write what you know, don’t use certain words (like “love” and “rainbow” and “beautiful”), show don’t tell, and so on. Hearing those things just made me obstinate and determined to do the opposite, often in some unexpected manner. There is no writing rule that cannot be broken. Just write. After a while, you will have your own ways of putting words into patterns. But I expect that even those ways will grow constricting, and you’ll leap over them and make new ways and then leap over them.

In a previous interview you said that when you first started writing fiction, you didn’t understand anything about plot, propulsion or causality. How important are those things in Glimmerglass and your other stories and how did you learn about them? What aspect of the craft of writing do you think is undervalued? Overvalued?

My feeling is that you learn about how to write by putting words on the page. Between Little Jordan andCatherwood, there’s a kind of jump – I’m more interested in how choice causes event. Then by the next book, The Wolf Pit, I’m fooling around with both causality and form in a bigger way, so that the book becomes a kind of helix composed of two stories, each with its own propulsion. If you look at those books as a group, you can see a poet hopping forward from little lily pad to bigger lily pad, reaching toward those tasty bits of plot and form.

The importance of any aspect of a book is surely determined by the story. With Val/Orson, I was working with Shakespearean, mythic materials that had built-in traditional motifs and shapes, ready for play – mistaken identities, twinship and separation, Arcadian romance, fey hints, love for the wrong person that is later transferred to another, doublings, and more. Plot emerged naturally out of those things, and right up to the final page, the story is influenced by Shakespeare.

With the two Southern fantasies, The Curse of the Raven Mocker and Ingledove, crossing Cherokee lore with the beliefs of Scots-Irish settlers seemed to easily generate story, large mythic entities, and causality. In fact, I would say that marrying two unexpected elements tends to be generative for a writer because something new will always be born.

Underlying A Death at the White Camellia Orphanage is a simple, basic structure of journey-and-return, but the main character’s hunger to know, to reject, or to search gives birth to a lot of action. The initial tragic event sends Pip pell-mell into the world, and then his inability to love and to trust keeps him moving and dictates a good deal of sudden change in place and event. Character breeds causality.

Glimmerglass is again a more mythic sort of tale – well, I can describe it but don’t know exactly what that book is, as yet! – but the engine-thrust of the story is Cynthia’s deep ache to be more than she has been, and to make something of meaning from her art and life.

Undervalued. Overvalued. “Value” is an interesting word when applied to craft because we live in a digital age awash in advice to writers on “product” and “platform” and how to become visible to the world. Google the topic, and a wearying onslaught appears instantaneously. The “value” most often evident in the online realm is the value of money – that is, the measure of writing is by its relation to money. We’ve slipped into a state where we measure and value success in writing by monetary success, even though we know perfectly well that major writers from the past often failed to find that kind of success and so failed to make a lot of money.

This tendency to rate by cash afflicts all the arts. (In addition, we no longer have the kind of publicly-admired critics who once helped us see merit and sort out the literary scene –figures like Randall Jarrell, Lionel Trilling, or Edmund Wilson.) So I’d like to misread your question a little, avoiding craft and saying that what is overvalued is money as a measure of art. What is undervalued is mastery, which quite frequently has precious little to do with money and success.

Continued in Part 2.

Marly had such great insight into creativity and artists that we decided to run the entire interview in two parts. Here is the conclusion to our interview (originally appeared on www.Blogcritics.org)

Continued from Part 1

This is the second of our two-part interview with author Marly Youmans. Her deep love of language, books and art shone through her thoughtful answers. Read on for more insight into her writing process.

As for the aspects of the craft being valued or undervalued, I guess I was trying to understand how you learned to jump from lily pad to lily pad. What knowledge gleaned kept you from ending up on the same level of lily pad? Were you searching for “causality” and “propulsion” because a teacher or book told you that was the right way or was it more of a natural insight as a gifted storyteller?

I’m not so sure that we learn much from advice when it comes to writing. Yes, I may occasionally come upon a comment in a review, say, and think it a good point, and that I might need to think about an issue a little more. But we learn by writing. I’m not saying that a writer can’t learn anything from advice, but that I learn infinitely more by trying to make something out of words.

The way I think about moving from book to book is this: I’ve established a certain land mass, a kind of country made up of poems and stories and novels. That’s the ground under my feet. That’s where I have been, what I have made. When I want to write a new book, I run across the land and leap off the edge of the known world. I trust that my feet will find something solid as I fall.

Did you always trust your feet would find something? Is that a natural-born confidence?

I definitely grow bolder over time, so I suppose it is a learned confidence and faith that the work will find its way. Meanwhile, I’m not particularly adept about the business side of things. I do a good many events, but I have more and more gone on my own path in terms of publishing. I’m not with a Big 5 publisher any longer, and I have sacrificed a certain amount in order to have my books be the way I want them to be. I’ve loved being with small and university houses and plotting with my friend Clive Hicks-Jenkins’ Artlog: to make beautiful books – particularly Thaliad from Phoenicia, The Foliate Head from Stanza, and Glimmerglass from Mercer. The Throne of Psyche and Glimmerglass are also immaculate-looking books (Mercer outsources to Burt & Burt, a great design team), though there’s less collaboration on those. Part of the impulse to make beautiful books [comes from] starting out as a poet, where smaller and university presses are so important.

Some time ago I parted with my agent, Liz Darhansoff, and I have not bothered to look for another one, a lack which has some drawbacks. Usually I’ve relied on requests for manuscripts from publishers. Also, I’ve gotten some recent film option nibbles and ought to get a good film agent, but I tend to be so busy with family and books that I don’t get all the practical things done.

Your work has received many awards and has been hailed as genius and rare and beautiful. How do you celebrate finished books and are you emotionally affected by critical acclaim?

I am one of those writers who gets good critical feedback and awards and has loyal readers but who really needs a larger readership. That’s something that’s hard to manage when I do a lot of projects with smaller houses, where marketing and promotion are limited. And I probably need a more “braggadocio” personality! When books come out, I’m pleased but don’t do anything extraordinary – just more events. I tend to be relieved as well as glad when I have good reviews and notice and awards. Relief was part of my attitude to my first book acceptance as well. Externals don’t affect what I do next.

A family thread runs through your responses, Glimmerglass, and much if not all of your other writing. How has being a mother influenced your prose and poetry? Is it possible for you to distinguish natural growth as a writer from any specific effects of parenthood?

Life comes before art, and parenthood is important to me. Children are not easy, they don’t need a writer in the house, and their needs seem quite pressing to them. Being a mother has meant that I had to learn how to use well what time I had – and to go without sleep when I needed to do so! It meant that I had to learn how to think about stories while doing other things (particularly housework). Sometimes it meant being clever about help; the two Southern fantasies were written as gifts for my daughter, who begged for them, and who babysat her busy little brother in order to get new pages. It was a good swap for both of us. Bits of my children as babies, children, and young people appear in characters who inhabit my short stories and poems and novels. Catherwood in particular is about the potency of motherhood and mother love. My eldest child’s obsession with the Civil War led me in the direction of The Wolf Pit. Lots of my poems began with some detail of a child’s life.

Anything that deepens your life is of use to a writer. Anything that makes you a bigger person on the inside is of use. Anything that helps you understand other people is of use. And anything that causes you to grieve, love, be sheltering, be upset, and feel joy is of use. Children may be Bacon’s “hostages to fortune,” but they also teach, widen the mind’s focus, and make a parent change and mature. I would say that my growth as a writer has often been tangled with my life as a mother.

You still do a bit of teaching. What do you try to offer your students if you consider a lot of writing advice suspect?

Clever of you to ask me about teaching stints since I’ve cast doubt on writing advice! Of course, I might very well contradict myself in a weak moment and blather away with advice! But if I did, I would always give the anti-advice that writers must find their own rules of how to go, and they must not let those rules harden into stone. A person’s own writing will dictate what she believes about and wants in her work, but those ideas should keep evolving.

Being individuals, students write differently than I do, so I don’t often give them generalized advice but like to figure out the nature of the writing they have already accomplished and in what direction they seem to be and want to be going. From that point, it’s interesting to consider what works and does not work in their pieces. Sometimes I might have them write in an unusual form and talk about the advantages and pitfalls of the form, or look at where their use of the form took advantage of its one-of-a-kind demands. Also, sometimes their stage of progression means that they have concerns and questions I did not anticipate. For example, one thing that I didn’t expect to do at Antioch last summer was to talk about ordering a poetry manuscript, but I had students who were ready to submit a chapbook or book. So we all tried arranging a couple of 10-poem manuscripts and then discussed why we grouped poems as we did.

What do you feel is the most common trait lacking or underdeveloped in writers who aren’t having much success?

Persistence.

In assisting your students with the chapbooks, how do you assess their levels? How do you judge “stages” of writing?

Assessing any work is a result of having read the good and the great – that’s the yardstick.

You mentioned a lack of great literary criticism nowadays. Do you consider yourself an astute critic of other literary works?

I do seem to be critical, which I find rather sad at times. I am less able to finish books than years ago, and more prone to setting down a book unfinished. But I have no desire to write criticism.

What do you like to read for pleasure? Are you always “reading like a writer” or are you able to get lost in stories other than your own?

At the moment, I have a number of books underway – Ted Hughes’s translation of Ovid’sMetamorphoses and also his Selected Translations, Lawrence Principe’s The Secrets of Alchemy, and Jack Zipes’s The Original Folk and Fairy Tales of the Brothers Grimm: The Complete First Edition. Soon I am going to read Scott G. F. Bailey’s The Astrologer, which has re-surfaced after being carried off and read by my husband.

Getting lost in a story doesn’t happen as often as when I was young. The last book in which I strongly felt that childlike sensation was Anthea Bell’s translation of a 1971 children’s novel by Ottfried Preussler, Krabat and the Sorceror’s MillI have it more frequently with poetry.

Favorite novel of all time?

Tom Jones? Bleak House? Pride and Prejudice? Jane Eyre?

Favorite poet of all time?

It’s between Yeats and Shakespeare.

First book you remember loving as a child?

I was given slipcased copies of the Alice books when I was about five, and I have never gotten over Carroll’s wondrous freedom.

Any last thoughts or recommendations for writers at the beginning of their journey, or something you wish you had known at the start of your own journey?

Many more presses and awards (especially for early books) and retreats and scholarships exist than when I was young. A national system for producing poets and fiction writers and supporting them via college and university programs is now powerful. A huge number of competent writers are at work. In poetry, I see a lessening of the stigma against writers who care about form and traditional tools. Publishing includes ebooks and self-published paperbacks. These and many other changes have changed the conditions for writers, but I think that a simple “Persist” is still the best advice to give a young novelist or poet.

Yet it’s a difficult path, and plenty of writers have found publication to be like dropping a precious manuscript down a well. Most novels are not anointed as lead book for a Big 5 publisher and given what’s called a push. Nor do most ebooks have the pleasant outcome of Hugh Howey’s Wool. Many poetry books find few readers. So I would add that if a writer chooses to put an end to his work, he should not be harsh on himself but search for a meaningful way of life elsewhere.

If I could tell my young self something, I’d say that she should not let anything take away her joy in making things out of words – that whatever tends to take away from that deep play and pleasure should be questioned. I would praise persistence and the weird intuitions of the soul. (I would probably also tell her that living in a snowbank in the remote boondocks is not all that helpful when it comes to visibility and doing events. On the other hand, a Southerner may get a lot of work done, living in a region of mighty snows and long winters.)

You can find out more about Marly Youmans, including all the novels mentioned here, on her blog, “The Palace at 2am.”  Her books are available at independent bookstores as well as Amazon and Barnes and Noble.

3 Thoughts on “Glimmerglass: 2014 INDIEFAB BOOK OF THE YEAR FINALIST, Interview with Author Marly Youmans

  1. Brenda Undercoffer on March 14, 2015 at 6:12 am said:

    Really enjoyed this interview. As a “creative type” who is unclear on what a creative process is or how to develop one, I found both the interviewer’s questions and the author’s responses to be refreshingly concise. I particularly enjoyed the final paragraph, where the author cautions against letting “anything take away her joy in making things out of words – that whatever tends to take away from that deep play and pleasure should be questioned.” Any reminder to keep the Inner Child alive is appreciated!

  2. Pingback: Interview: Lene Fogelberg, Author of ‘Beautiful Affliction: A Memoir’ | Suzanne M. Brazil

#Top10Tuesday: 10 Ways to “Think Big” for Writers

10 Think Big Tasks for Writers

10 Think Big Tasks for Writers

“Your playing small does not serve the world.” ~ Marianne Williamson

10 “Think Big” Tasks for Today

  1. Act as if –Don’t already have a cover of your WIP? Why not? Today’s the day. Make a “coming soon” mock-up and post it on your blog or FB. Already published? Envision and document your dream review or interview.
  2. Tell 3 people you’re a writer – Go On! Don’t be shy. What do you care what they think? They may want to hire you, interview you, mentor you, BE you! You might just inspire someone else.
  3. Order business cards. Now! Pick a font, include your email and social media info. Pass them out like it’s a real job. Or change your title on your resume, FB page, blog, etc.
  4. SUBMIT something…anything…anywhere. You don’t want to make a habit of submitting unpolished things but try poking a hole in the dam, prime the pump, get the juices flowing. Choose your cliche!
  5. Create a tracking sheet for your rejections and set an ambitious goal to be rejected at least 52 times—1 for each week this year. Crying is fine as long as you keep clicking “submit.”
  6. Contact an author you admire through Email, Twitter, or FB message. Don’t send suggestive photos, that just embarrasses everyone. Send a thanks or a compliment. Many will engage and we all love a pat on the back.
  7. Learn one new craft thing and then share it with someone else. Best tip you’ve heard all day? Who doesn’t want to know what that is?
  8. Envision the most “writerly” of locations, instruments, outfits and use them all at once. If you’ve dreamed of writing on a rock by a pond wearing a sweater with leather patches on the sleeves, get thee to a thrift store! Pick out an old sweater, grab a fountain pen and perch yourself on a rock. Congratulations—you now LOOK the part but you still have to write something…anything!
  9. Write a review of the best book you’ve read this year and post it everywhere. Put good energy out into the universe.
  10. Share your successes in the comments below (thinking positive is also a ‘think big’ action). Lather, Rinse, Repeat!

“Vision is not enough, it must be combined with venture. It is not enough to stare up the steps, we must step up the stairs.” ~ Vaclav Havel

 

2 Thoughts on “#Top10Tuesday: 10 Ways to “Think Big” for Writers

  1. Hey, Suzanne. Somehow I found my way to this post from last year… Call it serendipity. 🙂 Anyway, it struck me as something worth remembering. This could definitely be a “pinned post” if there is such a thing. So much inspiration here!

How to Find a Writing Community

Finding a Writing Group
Finding a Writing Group

By Leesa from southtown, usa  Wikimedia Commons

You’re getting serious about this writing thing and you need to bounce ideas off someone. Your family’s eyes glaze over when you ask for their opinions on your new opening paragraph and your friends don’t understand why choosing a name for your main character is such a big deal. You need new people. Writing people. But how do you find them?

This was me last year. I was on the outside looking in and didn’t quite know where to start. I spent hours on various internet searches trying to find like-minded people. I’d like to save you some time.

While some websites like www.Meetup.com offer possibilities, the most promising options come from other social connections. In other words…it helps if you “know a guy.”

Hints for finding your community…

Take a class – Ask the students and teacher for recommendations and introductions. You chose the same class and have at least that in common. The teacher has some level of expertise which promises a wider circle of contacts. A good teacher will know the importance of a community and will want good word of mouth about the class. She will want to help.

Haven Writing Retreat

Photo by Author and Haven Host Laura Munson

Go to conferences/retreats – This works much like a class but in a more concentrated and often more intense environment. You can’t be a hermit though. Take down email addresses and cell phone numbers and reach out after you return home. Before I submitted my essay to Chicken Soup for the Soul, a fellow writer I met at a retreat ‘read it and offered invaluable feedback.

Hire a coach/mentor – Most offer a free consultation. A coach can be a sounding board for your writing goals, story ideas, or even help you conquer self-doubt.

All of the above require an investment of both time and money. If writing is your passion, you’re worth it.

Low-cost and free options also exist.

If coaching or classes are out of your financial reach, consider your local library. Many offer free monthly writing groups. These may have members at all different levels of skill or commitment. I found my first paid writing gig through the leader of my local library’s writing group.

Tell everyone you know that you’re a writer. Your friends and relatives have circles of people in all walks of life. Writers are a helpful bunch. A dear college friend introduced me to her cousin, a journalist. We met for coffee and she ended up passing on my name to her editor. A few months later, I was hired to do a freelance piece for their paper.

Social media is free and full of writers. It can be a huge time-suck so beware. If you’re disciplined and enjoy Facebook, Twitter, or Instagram – search their writing groups. Most have writers at all levels (both traditionally and self-published) who are happy to answer questions, suggest critique websites, or just boost your spirits on a tough writing day.

Websites like www.Scribophile.com and Women Writers, Women’s Books offer  active communities with opportunities to share work or even contribute content.

THE BOTTOM LINE

Writing can be lonely – but it doesn’t have to be. Finding a writing group or community requires that you take risks. The rewards are incisive feedback, links to opportunities, and old-fashioned friendship. Where did you find your people? If you have some hints or shortcuts not mentioned here, I’d love to hear about them in the comments!

4 Thoughts on “How to Find a Writing Community

  1. Great post. Yes, we writers need writers. I don’t think there are any shortcuts as what we need is to build trusting relationships where we feel safe to share our work and receive constructive criticism. Trust takes time to build.

    • Thanks so much for reading. Couldn’t agree more about your point on trusting. Writing makes us vulnerable and we need to feel that it’s a good fit before we can share.

  2. I love Women Writers, Women’s Books! I have been keeping in touch with this group, led by the fabulous Barbara Bos, on Facebook. What a fun group of amazing women who happen to be writers. They help me feel less alone as I am busy writing away. Thank you for posting this. I did attend a writing critique group for a while at a local library and I loved it, I’m just so busy writing that I haven’t gone back yet. I’m also fortunate to get lots of support from others in my writing adventure. Happy writing, everyone!

    • Barbara has been an inspiration! The main website is full of inspirational and informative pieces designed to help every level of writer. Like you, I love the support on the Facebook page. Thanks so much for taking the time to read and comment. Much appreciated – Best of luck with your writing!

World Book Day Announcement – Chicken Soup for the Soul: Thanks to My Mom

indie book store

Chicken Soup for the Soul: Thanks to My Mom: Thanks to My Mom

 

 

 

 

 

 

It’s World Book Day! To celebrate, I’m officially announcing my first published story in a book! Even more than books, my mom, Barb Armstrong, has been the biggest influence in my life. I miss seeing her every day but I’m grateful for the visits and our daily chats. Our story, “An Ordinary Life” is included in this anthology co-authored by Amy Newmark and Jo Dee Messina of country music fame.

Books go on sale March 17 and are available through pre-order on Amazon and many local bookstores.

The Chicken Soup for the Soul family continues to provide positive, uplifting stories.  I think we can use more of those! More details to come!

Press Release Chicken Soup for the Soul: Thanks to My Mom

Mom and 5 kids

“An Ordinary Life” My mom, Barb, and her 5 kids

Side note: Beautiful cover–Purple is my favorite color and daisies just happen to be my mom’s favorite flower!

indie book store amazon logo

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8 Signs You Might Be in “The Dip” and How to Write it Out

Winter hike writing setbacks
Frustrated Writer

Photo by Don https://www.flickr.com/photos/fallingwater123/

I was stuck inside for the third day in a row, planning which blanket to cover up with before watching the seventh hour of The Voice. I scrolled through Facebook and read a post from a fellow writer offering hope to another writer in the doldrums.

“Poor thing,” I thought. That couldn’t be me because I’ve been on a straight path upward, no detours or setbacks. Since I got the guts to call myself a writer last spring at the non-ingénue age of 48 ½, my signs from the universe all confirmed that I’m not wasting my time on this whole writing thing.

I clicked on author Kristen Lamb’s blog post and recognized myself in the photo – a dark-haired writer with her face in her hands. The recognition called me to read on about the “span of suck” that is “The Dip” and how it might not be such a bad thing.

What are some signs this might be you?

  1. Everything’s been going your way and then it’s not.

This would be the “waiting for the other shoe to drop” scenario. I’d had a lot of mini-victories but then a few rejections came my way.

  1. You’re not actually writing.

I was back to talking about writing. Reading about writing. Not getting much writing done. A recent blog tour I’d signed up for ended and I didn’t have fresh material for my blog. Worse, I had no desire to create fresh material.

  1. You’re current project seems impossible to save.

The second draft of my WIP was under way but I suddenly became sure I didn’t have the talent or creativity to figure out plot issues, add interesting characters or finish it.

  1. You begin Fraud-Fretting.

Maybe it’s the alliteration but I loved this term. I was all of a sudden positive that having sold a few pieces, gotten a local byline in the paper, finished a first draft of a novel all added up to something other than being a writer. Maybe it meant I was a plumber?

  1. You withdraw socially from your writing peers.

Whether you’ve been connecting online or in person, all of a sudden, you don’t want to face the people who are really doing it. You begin wondering if cable will air old episodes of The Voice or American Idol which will help to take your mind off what you’re not accomplishing.

  1. You stop showing up.

You haven’t been at your desk in days. Your laptop is fully charged and you intend to conserve energy by not turning it on. You’re all thumbs so don’t even try to pick up a pen or pencil.

  1. You pray for the cold snap to continue so you can remain covered on the couch with a semi-plausible excuse.

Those talent shows are not going to watch themselves.

  1. Your hair has been in a greasy pony tail for days and you have food stains on your sweatshirt.

This could be more serious – rely on your family for indications.

How do you get out of it?

  1. Give yourself a break. Kindness works. Don’t berate yourself into a deeper dip.
  2. Set a time limit. “I will give myself 3 days to wallow,” etc.
  3. Hold a pen or pencil (do not point the sharp end at your heart) while watching The Voice or Idol.

    Winter hike writing setbacks

    Winter hike – Fresh air tonic for the writing blues.

  4. What have you been dying to write? If it’s not the WIP or that’s too scary to face, write something for fun. Send a raunchy email to your BFF gossiping about that horrible woman in your office.
  5. Call a mentor, coach, teacher so they can tell you how normal this is. Do not call your mother who will either tell you how beautiful you are (having not seen your greasy pony tail) or will give you the number of her friend that can get you a good job.
  6. Confess your doldrums to your best social media friends. Sit back and watch the inspiring quotes and memes roll in.
  7. Revisit what made you want to do this in the first place. Successes? Bylines? That poem that made your friends cry?
  8. Breathe. Move. Fill the well. Go to a movie. Dance to your favorite song. Have sex! Eat chocolate! Re-read your favorite book.

I tried all of the above. Not necessarily in order. Number four gave me the start of an essay I’d been holding inside. Yesterday, a trusted mentor confirmed that my fears were shared by “real” writers at all stages. Intellectually I knew this, emotionally I needed to hear it.

Staying in “the dip” isn’t an option. Nature doesn’t work like that. Setbacks become permanent only if you quit. Something better is coming. Will you be ready for it?

 

 

 

4 Thoughts on “8 Signs You Might Be in “The Dip” and How to Write it Out

  1. Kristen Lamb on March 3, 2015 at 10:18 am said:

    Thanks for the shout-out and this made me laugh. Love how you riffed with it. We ALL hit this place. Sometimes it’s just knowing it goes with the job that helps. It isn’t permanent.

    • Lovely of you to comment, Kristen! Really enjoyed your blog. Happy to say I was up and writing this morning. Thanks again for stopping by!

  2. barb armstrong on March 4, 2015 at 8:52 am said:

    Yes I am your Mom and I understand the doldrums dip, believe me! However, It would be a shame for you not to wallow a day or two and then continue on with your fabulous self because I am sure you give other people a lift most of the time. They really look to you to boost them up and cheer them on so snap out of it and get to work and always remember that I am sure you were put here to make the world a better place and you do!

    • Mother!! Hello and thanks for telling it like it is (or how you think it is :-)) I was hard at work this morning, so there! Love you!

The 2K International Writers’ Blog Tour: Author Interview with Sabina Khan

Sabina Khan

2K International Writer's Blog Tour

What’s not to love? Sabina hails from Illinois, Texas, and also loves karaoke? We have so much in common…read on

Sabina Khan

Sabina Khan is the author of Realm of the Goddess, the first in a series of YA Paranormal Fantasy books based on the gods and goddesses of India. She is an Sabina Khaneducational consultant and a karaoke enthusiast. After living in Germany, Bangladesh, Macao, Illinois and Texas, she has finally settled down in beautiful British Columbia, Canada, with her husband and three daughters, one of whom is a fur baby. She is passionate about the empowerment of girls and women, hoping to inspire them with the strong female characters in her novel.

What is the first piece you remember writing (from childhood or young adulthood)?

I think I must have been in Grade Three when I wrote a short story about two kids who found themselves transported to this magical world where giant golden raspberries hung from the trees and friendly giant snored on the fields.

What is your favorite aspect of being a writer? Your least favorite?

The fact that I can legitimately daydream and watch TV/movies and say it’s research. Also that I can watch people in public and imagine them as characters in my books, without wondering if I am slowly going insane. My least favorite aspect has to be the nailbiting moments when you wait to see if anyone will love it as much as you do.

Do you believe in writer’s block? If so, what is your best tip for beating it? If not, why not?

It has hit me over the head multiple times since I started writing, so yes I believe in writer’s block. It can be paralyzing and extremely humbling, but I find that giving yourself a good kick in the butt or better still having someone else around to do that for you can be a swift but effective remedy.

What is your current writing project? What is the most challenging aspect of your current writing project?

Currently I am working on Book Two of the Realm of the Goddess series. I would say that the most challenging aspect of this is to fill the reader in on what happened in the first book without going into it too much. It’s hard to find a balance sometimes. Realm of the Goddess

What supports you in your writing?

I would have to say that the constant encouragement of my family and friends has kept me going. It’s important to have a cheering section in your corner, but equally essential to have people who keep you grounded. I feel very lucky to have both. Of course I also have a puppy who keeps my toes toasty while I’m writing.

What are you currently reading?

The Golem and the Jinni by Helene Wecker. Absolutely magical and mesmerizing.

Where can our readers find you and your books online?

Follow me on Twitter: @Sabina_Writer

and Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/RealmGoddess

Find out more at http://realmofthegoddess.wordpress.com/

Amazon: http://www.amazon.com/Realm-Goddess-Sabina-Khan-ebook/dp/B00Q0OWI4G

Comments are closed.

Interview with Marly Youmans, Award Winning Author of ‘Glimmerglass: A Novel’

Social Media is an amazing thing! I Tweeted about a book I was reading and loving. Before long, I’m interviewing the award winning author of  Glimmerglass: A Novel. Read on for the lyrical prescription for what ails our reading souls. This interview was published originally on www.Blogcritics.org and also appeared in the Seattle Post Intelligencer. I reviewed Glimmerglass for Blogcritics in January 2015, and you can read the entire review here.

 

Interview: Marly Youmans, Author of ‘Glimmerglass: A Novel,’ Poet and Writing Instructor, Part 1 of 2

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Marly Youmans, Author

Marly Youmans is a poet, novelist, and teacher living in Cooperstown, NY, with her family. She has been called “the best kept secret” among contemporary writers and her prose hailed as “gorgeous, haunting, beautiful and brilliant.” Youmans is a recipient of the New York Foundation for the Arts fellowship and her previous novels, short stories and poetry have won numerous awards. I found Glimmerglass (Mercer University Press, 2014) on my library shelf and after falling under its spell, requested an interview. She was gracious with her time and experience as we covered ground from the lack of quality literary criticism to the trait most writers need to cultivate.

As you know, I read and loved Glimmerglass and am curious to know where you got the idea for this tale about the artist in the gatehouse.

A great deal that characterizes the book has to do with my belief that Cooperstown (the inspiration for Cooper Patent) is a place that mixes the real and unreal, but there are more straightforward elements that led me to an artist and a gatehouse. I have a lot of friends who are painters, and Cooperstown is awash in visual arts; the Susquehanna River Valley is still strongly appealing as a place to live for many artists. My most frequent lunch buddies are the two painters to whom the book is dedicated, Ashley Norwood Cooper and Yolanda Sharpe, though I’m glad to say that they do not suffer from Cynthia’s art troubles.

We live in a time when every person who strives to make art that is authentic and strong must mull how the work can and should be done, and how it relates to a commercial, mainstream world that rates money above the true, the good, and the beautiful. Through Cynthia, I dealt with the problem of making art in our current culture (though that was not in the least what I consciously intended, when dreaming through the story), considering the situation of someone who had made a choice that she came to see as wrong. The book offers her a kind of redemption, and even though she does not get to keep the physical proof of what she achieves, the possibility of meaningful work is still is open to her. She reaches for the same joyful knowledge that Hawthorne’s artist of the beautiful achieves in his glittering, mechanic art.

glimmerglass a novelThe gatehouse is a charming local one with seven doors and a stream rushing by, down to Otsego Lake, James Fenimore Cooper’s Glimmerglass. I once ate lunch there and had a tour of the place, and the house stuck in my mind as magical and odd. (The watermark, the ceiling motifs, and the overall look of the place all draw on that memory. Frog pageants also were borrowed from the gatehouse residents.) I took the liberty of creating Sea House because the mansion near the gate burned to the foundation stones long ago.

Can you elaborate on your creative process? Specifically, do you begin with a pre-planned plot, a simple idea or problem? Does the story seem to write itself or come from some mysterious place within, and is it the same for all of your stories?

No, I don’t care for much pre-planning and am not one of the people (I know some of these and admire their organization) who make charts of characters and detailed outlines of plots. With Glimmerglass, I had a feeling for the places and knew that there would be a labyrinth. In writing, I tend to move by instinct, but I don’t claim that as a virtue – I don’t suppose there’s merit in one way of working over another. After all, it’s the final result that counts, no matter how it was made. I just write in the way that feels like a “rightness” to me. Sometimes I am suddenly gripped by something that I did not expect at all; that’s the way Thaliad (2012) arrived. I just woke up one morning and the narrative was in my mind, burning to leap out. The poems for The Book of the Red King (a lot of them have been published, but I’m still not quite ready for a book) arrived in a similar manner. For about three months I was inhabited by the book and wrote at least a poem a day.

With fiction, I often start with relatively little knowledge. With A Death at the White Camellia Orphanage (2012), I wrote the first two chapters in a big swoop and then had to figure out what happened afterward. But some things were quite clear in my mind – the main character, the sharecropper’s farm (modeled closely on the one my paternal grandparents worked), the fact that Pip would ride the rails west and north. I did not know if he would ever return or find a place to alight and stay. My 13th book, Maze of Blood (September, 2015) is one of the few books that I’ve written based on specific happenings in our real world. Though fiction, it depends on events in the life of pulp writer Robert Howard. I’ve wanted to do something based on an existing pattern for a while, as I’ve long been fascinated by the way Shakespeare takes what was known about the history of a figure and makes something new from it. So I did choose some key moments to juggle and play with as fiction. That plan had its own odd challenges, and I ended up radically re-working the order of events.

My favorite times tend to be when poems rush out unexpectedly, or when stories or parts of novels seem to pour out as if by magic. I love the strange sensation that something is pouring through me – a waterfall of language that feels like me and not-me at once. It leads to a thrilling sense of surprise. Of course, there are parts of novels that must be stitched together in a more mundane way. I’ve never been particularly interested in elaborate transitions and the “fat” of many novels, and my books tend to be lean. If a reader does not like that Jack-Sprat tendency, well, he or she has a challenge.

I would say that every narrative begins in a different way, that it is never “the same.” In order to make books that live, a writer needs to strive to do something she can’t do – to make something that has no recipe or instructions, that is not explained or plotted-out by one of her previous books. So I never know at the start where I am going, or whether I can master the dream and make it shapely.

Even your prose responses to my questions seem to have a bit of poetry in them. Was this unusual way of looking at the world something you’ve always possessed? Do you view the daily “mundane” world through similar spectacles (e.g., when giving instructions to your children, etc.)?

Some of my early childhood memories sparkle – my memories of my years as a small child in Louisiana (Gramercy and Baton Rouge) are colorful and magical. But I think a lot of us tend to veer from the grossly mundane to the soulful, often in the same minute.

I believe that one of the great functions of storytelling is to share a kind of enchantment – to give us eyes to see how beautiful and extraordinary the world is, and to know that being alive and conscious is a gift. Storytelling also tells us how very far we have fallen from being creatures who know and love what we are, and who love the world we possess for a while as the stage for our lives.

“When giving instructions to children?” Interesting question. Children love it when things are slightly askew, and when adults are playful. So yes, I was sometimes playful. But I expect that many parents are. During the teen years of the older two, I posted a big chart of epithets that my three could use on one another – they were drawn from Shakespeare and Wodehouse. “Great steaming radish!” “Peevish canker-blossom!” “Prating malignancy!” For a time, that list eliminated most of the bad (and boring) things that they called one another and meant that they laughed a good deal more than they might have otherwise. And occasionally I would sing my advice or requests in operatic flights (Cooperstown is home to Glimmerglass Opera.) Right now I have only one child left in high school, and we do often act quite silly or dance around the kitchen together.

Can you describe in any specific technical detail how you approach the revision/rewriting process? Is this different every time as well or is there a routine you follow?

I’m fairly simple-minded in this area. With fiction, I write on the computer because I like being able to fly along with my thoughts. Then I print out what I’ve done and blacken it with additions and deletions. Then I let time go by and repeat the process. And again and again until I’m just fiddling. Then I stop and read the whole thing aloud to catch any weird, unattractive rhymes and sounds. Reading aloud to children, you learn that a great many writers skip that step, and that they should not. My mode is similar with poetry, although poetry enjoys a much richer structure of sounds.

Can you share a colorful or magical memory from your childhood?

When I lived in Gramercy, I spoke Cajun French with the children next door. I was only three and don’t remember it, but I do remember playing with Maxine, and that she taught me to wear little green lizards with pink throats as earrings. The poor creatures could not release themselves until we pinched their jaws. In the yard were holes with big, hairy spiders. We had a garden bed made out of sugar slag from the refinery, and the plants grew up into the trees. My small garden was cucumbers and moonflowers; I loved to see them spiral open at night, their faces looking up at the moon.

Back to your writing, when did you start to produce material for publication? How did you know you were ready and how long did it take you to get there?

In seventh grade I was living in Delaware and attending a huge junior high school. I remember that my English teacher recommended a piece of mine for the literary magazine, and that was the first time somebody requested a piece of writing, and that I was pleased. I had poems and the occasional story in plenty of school magazines, but I’m not sure when my first poem was accepted by a little magazine – probably when I was around 19. I doubt that I did know if it was ready! When I was 20 and graduated from college, I threw away everything I’d done up to that point. I was sorry later, as it was so full of youth.

Along the same lines, what is the one piece of writing advice you received yourself or have heard that you think newer writers should ignore?

Ignore it all! Listen to it all, and then take advice with a grain of salt. I was told all sorts of things – write what you know, don’t use certain words (like “love” and “rainbow” and “beautiful”), show don’t tell, and so on. Hearing those things just made me obstinate and determined to do the opposite, often in some unexpected manner. There is no writing rule that cannot be broken. Just write. After a while, you will have your own ways of putting words into patterns. But I expect that even those ways will grow constricting, and you’ll leap over them and make new ways and then leap over them.

In a previous interview you said that when you first started writing fiction, you didn’t understand anything about plot, propulsion or causality. How important are those things in Glimmerglass and your other stories and how did you learn about them? What aspect of the craft of writing do you think is undervalued? Overvalued?

My feeling is that you learn about how to write by putting words on the page. Between Little Jordan and Catherwood, there’s a kind of jump – I’m more interested in how choice causes event. Then by the next book, The Wolf Pit, I’m fooling around with both causality and form in a bigger way, so that the book becomes a kind of helix composed of two stories, each with its own propulsion. If you look at those books as a group, you can see a poet hopping forward from little lily pad to bigger lily pad, reaching toward those tasty bits of plot and form.

The importance of any aspect of a book is surely determined by the story. With Val/Orson, I was working with Shakespearean, mythic materials that had built-in traditional motifs and shapes, ready for play – mistaken identities, twinship and separation, Arcadian romance, fey hints, love for the wrong person that is later transferred to another, doublings, and more. Plot emerged naturally out of those things, and right up to the final page, the story is influenced by Shakespeare.

With the two Southern fantasies, The Curse of the Raven Mocker and Ingledove, crossing Cherokee lore with the beliefs of Scots-Irish settlers seemed to easily generate story, large mythic entities, and causality. In fact, I would say that marrying two unexpected elements tends to be generative for a writer because something new will always be born.

Underlying A Death at the White Camellia Orphanage is a simple, basic structure of journey-and-return, but the main character’s hunger to know, to reject, or to search gives birth to a lot of action. The initial tragic event sends Pip pell-mell into the world, and then his inability to love and to trust keeps him moving and dictates a good deal of sudden change in place and event. Character breeds causality.

Glimmerglass is again a more mythic sort of tale – well, I can describe it but don’t know exactly what that book is, as yet! – but the engine-thrust of the story is Cynthia’s deep ache to be more than she has been, and to make something of meaning from her art and life.

Undervalued. Overvalued. “Value” is an interesting word when applied to craft because we live in a digital age awash in advice to writers on “product” and “platform” and how to become visible to the world. Google the topic, and a wearying onslaught appears instantaneously. The “value” most often evident in the online realm is the value of money – that is, the measure of writing is by its relation to money. We’ve slipped into a state where we measure and value success in writing by monetary success, even though we know perfectly well that major writers from the past often failed to find that kind of success and so failed to make a lot of money.

This tendency to rate by cash afflicts all the arts. (In addition, we no longer have the kind of publicly-admired critics who once helped us see merit and sort out the literary scene –figures like Randall Jarrell, Lionel Trilling, or Edmund Wilson.) So I’d like to misread your question a little, avoiding craft and saying that what is overvalued is money as a measure of art. What is undervalued is mastery, which quite frequently has precious little to do with money and success.

Part 2 Follows

Interview: Marly Youmans, Author of ‘Glimmerglass: A Novel’, Poet and Teacher, Part 2 of 2

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Marly Youmans, Author_Version 2

Continued from Part 1

This is the second of our two-part interview with author Marly Youmans. Her deep love of language, books and art shone through her thoughtful answers. Read on for more insight into her writing process.

As for the aspects of the craft being valued or undervalued, I guess I was trying to understand how you learned to jump from lily pad to lily pad. What knowledge gleaned kept you from ending up on the same level of lily pad? Were you searching for “causality” and “propulsion” because a teacher or book told you that was the right way or was it more of a natural insight as a gifted storyteller?

I’m not so sure that we learn much from advice when it comes to writing. Yes, I may occasionally come upon a comment in a review, say, and think it a good point, and that I might need to think about an issue a little more. But we learn by writing. I’m not saying that a writer can’t learn anything from advice, but that I learn infinitely more by trying to make something out of words.

The way I think about moving from book to book is this: I’ve established a certain land mass, a kind of country made up of poems and stories and novels. That’s the ground under my feet. That’s where I have been, what I have made. When I want to write a new book, I run across the land and leap off the edge of the known world. I trust that my feet will find something solid as I fall.

Did you always trust your feet would find something? Is that a natural-born confidence?

I definitely grow bolder over time, so I suppose it is a learned confidence and faith that the work will find its way. Meanwhile, I’m not particularly adept about the business side of things. I do a good many events, but I have more and more gone on my own path in terms of publishing. I’m not with a Big 5 publisher any longer, and I have sacrificed a certain amount in order to have my books be the way I want them to be. I’ve loved being with small and university houses and plotting with my friend Clive Hicks-Jenkins’ Artlog: to make beautiful books – particularly Thaliad from Phoenicia, The Foliate Head from Stanza, and Glimmerglass from Mercer. The Throne of Psyche and Glimmerglass are also immaculate-looking books (Mercer outsources to Burt & Burt, a great design team), though there’s less collaboration on those. Part of the impulse to make beautiful books [comes from] starting out as a poet, where smaller and university presses are so important.

Some time ago I parted with my agent, Liz Darhansoff, and I have not bothered to look for another one, a lack which has some drawbacks. Usually I’ve relied on requests for manuscripts from publishers. Also, I’ve gotten some recent film option nibbles and ought to get a good film agent, but I tend to be so busy with family and books that I don’t get all the practical things done.

Your work has received many awards and has been hailed as genius and rare and beautiful. How do you celebrate finished books and are you emotionally affected by critical acclaim?

I am one of those writers who gets good critical feedback and awards and has loyal readers but who really needs a larger readership. That’s something that’s hard to manage when I do a lot of projects with smaller houses, where marketing and promotion are limited. And I probably need a more “braggadocio” personality! When books come out, I’m pleased but don’t do anything extraordinary – just more events. I tend to be relieved as well as glad when I have good reviews and notice and awards. Relief was part of my attitude to my first book acceptance as well. Externals don’t affect what I do next.

A family thread runs through your responses, Glimmerglass, and much if not all of your other writing. How has being a mother influenced your prose and poetry? Is it possible for you to distinguish natural growth as a writer from any specific effects of parenthood?

Life comes before art, and parenthood is important to me. Children are not easy, they don’t need a writer in the house, and their needs seem quite pressing to them. Being a mother has meant that I had to learn how to use well what time I had – and to go without sleep when I needed to do so! It meant that I had to learn how to think about stories while doing other things (particularly housework). Sometimes it meant being clever about help; the two Southern fantasies were written as gifts for my daughter, who begged for them, and who babysat her busy little brother in order to get new pages. It was a good swap for both of us. Bits of my children as babies, children, and young people appear in characters who inhabit my short stories and poems and novels. Catherwood in particular is about the potency of motherhood and mother love. My eldest child’s obsession with the Civil War led me in the direction of The Wolf Pit. Lots of my poems began with some detail of a child’s life.

Anything that deepens your life is of use to a writer. Anything that makes you a bigger person on the inside is of use. Anything that helps you understand other people is of use. And anything that causes you to grieve, love, be sheltering, be upset, and feel joy is of use. Children may be Bacon’s “hostages to fortune,” but they also teach, widen the mind’s focus, and make a parent change and mature. I would say that my growth as a writer has often been tangled with my life as a mother.

You still do a bit of teaching. What do you try to offer your students if you consider a lot of writing advice suspect?

Clever of you to ask me about teaching stints since I’ve cast doubt on writing advice! Of course, I might very well contradict myself in a weak moment and blather away with advice! But if I did, I would always give the anti-advice that writers must find their own rules of how to go, and they must not let those rules harden into stone. A person’s own writing will dictate what she believes about and wants in her work, but those ideas should keep evolving.

Being individuals, students write differently than I do, so I don’t often give them generalized advice but like to figure out the nature of the writing they have already accomplished and in what direction they seem to be and want to be going. From that point, it’s interesting to consider what works and does not work in their pieces. Sometimes I might have them write in an unusual form and talk about the advantages and pitfalls of the form, or look at where their use of the form took advantage of its one-of-a-kind demands. Also, sometimes their stage of progression means that they have concerns and questions I did not anticipate. For example, one thing that I didn’t expect to do at Antioch last summer was to talk about ordering a poetry manuscript, but I had students who were ready to submit a chapbook or book. So we all tried arranging a couple of 10-poem manuscripts and then discussed why we grouped poems as we did.

What do you feel is the most common trait lacking or underdeveloped in writers who aren’t having much success?

Persistence.

In assisting your students with the chapbooks, how do you assess their levels? How do you judge “stages” of writing?

Assessing any work is a result of having read the good and the great – that’s the yardstick.

You mentioned a lack of great literary criticism nowadays. Do you consider yourself an astute critic of other literary works?

I do seem to be critical, which I find rather sad at times. I am less able to finish books than years ago, and more prone to setting down a book unfinished. But I have no desire to write criticism.

What do you like to read for pleasure? Are you always “reading like a writer” or are you able to get lost in stories other than your own?

At the moment, I have a number of books underway – Ted Hughes’s translation of Ovid’s Metamorphoses and also his Selected Translations, Lawrence Principe’s The Secrets of Alchemy, and Jack Zipes’s The Original Folk and Fairy Tales of the Brothers Grimm: The Complete First Edition. Soon I am going to read Scott G. F. Bailey’s The Astrologer, which has re-surfaced after being carried off and read by my husband.

Getting lost in a story doesn’t happen as often as when I was young. The last book in which I strongly felt that childlike sensation was Anthea Bell’s translation of a 1971 children’s novel by Ottfried Preussler, Krabat and the Sorceror’s MillI have it more frequently with poetry.

Favorite novel of all time?

Tom Jones? Bleak House? Pride and Prejudice? Jane Eyre?

Favorite poet of all time?

It’s between Yeats and Shakespeare.

First book you remember loving as a child?

I was given slipcased copies of the Alice books when I was about five, and I have never gotten over Carroll’s wondrous freedom.

Any last thoughts or recommendations for writers at the beginning of their journey, or something you wish you had known at the start of your own journey?

Many more presses and awards (especially for early books) and retreats and scholarships exist than when I was young. A national system for producing poets and fiction writers and supporting them via college and university programs is now powerful. A huge number of competent writers are at work. In poetry, I see a lessening of the stigma against writers who care about form and traditional tools. Publishing includes ebooks and self-published paperbacks. These and many other changes have changed the conditions for writers, but I think that a simple “Persist” is still the best advice to give a young novelist or poet.

Yet it’s a difficult path, and plenty of writers have found publication to be like dropping a precious manuscript down a well. Most novels are not anointed as lead book for a Big 5 publisher and given what’s called a push. Nor do most ebooks have the pleasant outcome of Hugh Howey’s Wool. Many poetry books find few readers. So I would add that if a writer chooses to put an end to his work, he should not be harsh on himself but search for a meaningful way of life elsewhere.

If I could tell my young self something, I’d say that she should not let anything take away her joy in making things out of words – that whatever tends to take away from that deep play and pleasure should be questioned. I would praise persistence and the weird intuitions of the soul. (I would probably also tell her that living in a snowbank in the remote boondocks is not all that helpful when it comes to visibility and doing events. On the other hand, a Southerner may get a lot of work done, living in a region of mighty snows and long winters.)

You can find out more about Marly Youmans, including all the novels mentioned here, on her blog, “The Palace at 2am.”  Her books are available at independent bookstores as well as Amazon and Barnes and Noble.

 

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