Mom vs. HuffPost: Mom Wins

Fried eggs in my restored Iron Skillet

I spend half my time trying NOT to become my mother, and the other half wishing I were half as good as her at some things.

For example, I didn’t want her wide hips and flat chest, but no one asked me. Likewise, I’d have loved her singing voice and brilliant blue eyes; again, no one asked me.

So when the potato and sea-salt video from HuffPost lit up Facebook last week, I hitched up my britches and decided it was time to rescue my rusty iron skillet from the bowels of the garage.

Iron Skillet Potato Sea Salt

My Actual Pan and Potato (eyes removed): A smidge of rust is visible to the right, but the entire bottom was flaking and rusted, too.

After all, my mother and all of her ancestors wouldn’t dream of cooking in anything but an iron skillet. She bakes in them, fries eggs in them, makes cornbread in them.

I’m a decent cook and can follow a sewing pattern, both things my mom excels at. But I’d burned something in our one iron skillet over a decade ago, and let it soak and rust.

Oh, the shame.

When the magic video made the rounds, I thought I’d redeem myself and my pan. Thank God for HuffPost, right?

I called mom to ask about the potato and sea salt method.

She scoffed.

I told her I’d heard I shouldn’t use soap.

She scoffed.

We had two potatoes. Well, there were two slightly mushy, alien vegetables with tentacles in a basket on the counter. And, I had purchased a new box of kosher salt in December.

(I’d had an Etsy-spasm a month before and was determined to make organic olive oil facial scrub to give as gifts. Instead, I bought anti-bacterial soap and tubes of Chapstick in bulk.)

The box of salt remained full.

I sliced off the bulging potato eyes and filled the pan with salt and water and started scrubbing.

And scrubbing.

And scrubbing.

For 90 minutes.

Until the skin peeled back from my cuticles and the potato was mashed.

Still, rust remained. I watched the video a second time.

sos pads

The part of my brain that is like my mother’s kicked in. I chucked the slimy potatoes, recycled the empty $3.50 box of salt, and reached for a .30 cent SOS pad.

Fifteen minutes later: Voila, my pan was restored.

Skillet after

I spent the rest of the day seasoning it. Baking in it. Fried two eggs in it. Took selfies with it. Compared it to my hips and chest and then called my mother.

Fried eggs in my restored Iron Skillet

She was proud. My family’s bellies were full. Mom: 1, HuffPost: 0.







4 Thoughts on “Mom vs. HuffPost: Mom Wins

  1. colleen on May 29, 2016 at 12:08 pm said:

    Ha ha ha! Good ol’ SOS pad. Mama so often knows best! :O)

  2. Too funny, Suzanne! That sounds like something I would try. Good to know it doesn’t really work! 🙂

Not Sorry About Mother’s Day

The Mother Shot

The Mother Shot

How was your Mother’s Day?

Mine was sunny and warm. Freshly picked lilacs filled the kitchen with my favorite smell. I received funny and heart-felt cards from both kids and Tim, my husband.

The family had asked what I wanted several times leading up to the big day. I hemmed and hawed.

Several pieces on the internet referenced women really just wanting to be left to use the bathroom alone.

A piece in Salon heralded non-mothers and chastised any who claimed it as a virtue, calling it the “cult of motherhood.”

Motherhood to me is both a crushing burden and a weightless joy. I’m not unaware that many choose not to experience it for themselves and that many want it desperately and are denied.

It’s been said that having a child is to feel your heart walking around outside your body, but that doesn’t quite capture it for me.

It’s more like having your heart stomped on, thrown down the stairs, and then when you least expect it, dipped in chocolate and rolled in fairy dust.

Motherhood is an awful paradox. We see toddler cheeks in the faces of our adult kids, yet are denied the full memory of their physical weight in our arms.

We want desperately to be left alone for one minute—I used to say I was going grocery shopping, then I’d park under a tree with a magazine and an iced tea—then we cry the first time one of them doesn’t return home for a holiday.

And it’s never really over.

Not all mothers feel this way, and not all moms are saints. I’m certainly not.

I’m lucky to still have my mom who made me believe I was smart and beautiful. She taught me to never give up and made me feel someone was always in my corner. She still does.

I had a lot to be thankful for yesterday, as far as moms go. I’m friends with some terrific moms, and both of my sisters are great at the job.

I have my big sister, whose gorgeous, loving, hardworking kids first gave me the awesome job of “Aunt.” She taught me how to get my firstborn to sleep and taught me to trust that no one knows my kids as well as I do.

I have a younger sister with a creative, funny brood of three, who makes me believe my parenting experience is worth sharing.

Most importantly, I have my husband and two healthy, witty, loving, hilarious, and challenging children who support me, my writing, and try not to complain too much about my singing.

They are good. They are generous. They make me proud. They make me fear that the world isn’t good enough for them. I always knew I’d be a mother. I just didn’t know we’d all be such a good fit—most of the time.


Shortly before the big day, I decided to tell them exactly what I wanted. I wanted two donuts—one glazed, one chocolate—and a strawberry milk for breakfast.

Then, I wanted to go on a hike in the forest preserve with my husband. Next, I wanted two or three hours alone to write.

All of that happened in exactly that order. Amazing!

Later, all four of us plus my new son-in-law went to see Captain America: Civil War in the big reclining seats at the mall. Every year, the latest superhero movie is released suspiciously close to Mother’s Day.

I like these movies but in the past they weren’t my first choice. There was a twinge of resentment that it was my special day, and I was sharing it with The Hulk or Batman.

But in the strange way of traditions, it’s become something I look forward to. It was a given that we’d make it our family movie this weekend.

By nightfall, we were well-fed and relaxed. I opened gifts (liquor and bubble bath . . . awesome together or separately), and we shared texts and phone calls with those far away.

My mom did not have a great mother, but she became one. I had a great mom, and I worked very hard and consciously to follow most of her examples.

Not every woman wants to be a mother. Not every woman gets to be a mother.

I certainly don’t feel like I joined a cult, even if I didn’t think of becoming a mother as a deliberate choice. My path seemed clear. I would raise a family. Biology cooperated.

Yesterday was a great day . . . the weightless joy kind of day and I wouldn’t change a thing.







6 Thoughts on “Not Sorry About Mother’s Day

  1. This is so lovely Suzanne. So nice to read a positive post for a change. Will share on #wwwblogs tomorrow.

    Hedgey xxx

  2. j baum on May 10, 2016 at 12:38 pm said:

    Great post. Beautiful writing.

  3. Sounds like a lovely day and well-deserved day. 🙂

Interview: Lene Fogelberg, Author of ‘Beautiful Affliction: A Memoir’

Lene Fogelberg

Lene Fogelberg

I met debut author Lene Fogelberg on Twitter. If you’re an emerging writer and you haven’t found Twitter yet, I recommend checking it out. I’m thrilled to host Lene on her publication day! Beautiful Affliction: A Memoir (She Writes Press, September 2015) is available through all major outlets.

Lene Fogelberg grew up surrounded by the natural beauty of her native Sweden. She lived a fragile physical existence with an undetected, and therefore untreated, fatal congenital heart condition. A dangerous and daring move to the United States takes its toll on her health but also provides the keys to her survival. Beautiful Affliction is a lyrical blend of literal heartache, love, and perseverance. The full review of Fogelberg’s debut memoir can be found here. She currently lives in Indonesia with her husband and daughters, and is working on a novel.

Beautiful Affliction: A Memoir by Lene Fogelberg

Congratulations on the success with your first book! How did you decide to take on the project and can you share your experience looking for an agent/publisher? What’s surprised you the most about the road to publication?

Thank you! I am very excited to see my story in print and to share it with the world. It was a difficult decision to come to, but I am happy I have reached this place of my journey. I think my story is unique in that many people who have experienced something similar did not live to tell their story, so I feel some sort of responsibility to speak up.

Being a Swede, living in Asia, the whole American system with agents seemed like a crazy jungle to me. Nevertheless I dove into it and made some great connections. I sent letters all over the place and contacted everyone who seemed nice. That is how, four months into it, I had three contracts from publishers in my inbox, and two agents considering my manuscript. But Brooke Warner and She Writes Press blew me away, with their gorgeous books and professionalism, and as soon as Brooke sent me an e-mail telling me that she wanted to move forward with my book for publication, I did my happy dance and accepted.

I have been surprised many times, by different aspects of the road to publication. Now I feel like I really didn’t know much when I started out! But I am happy I persevered and I have been trying to learn and adapt along the way.

How did you decide on the title and who designed the beautiful cover?

Originally I wrote the book with the working title The Cicadas, but my publisher wanted to change it. We came up with at least fifty titles before I spent a whole weekend soul searching to find the core of my story. And suddenly it came to me: Beautiful Affliction, which captures the two sides of my story; the struggle, the fear and the pain, and also the beauty, the unbending love and the miracle of it.

Cover designer Julie Metz, who is also an author, designed the cover and I am tremendously happy with it. I think the cover captures my story perfectly, although I have to confess I was a little shocked initially. I love the torn paper heart, the stitches and the random letters in italics, reminiscent of an irregular heartbeat. The irregular letters are featured throughout the book, which ties it all together wonderfully I think.

What was the most difficult aspect of writing the book for you? Do you love outlining, revising, or is the first draft your sweet spot?

The most difficult aspect was living it. And after that I was just so grateful to be alive, I didn’t think for a second I would write my story, or that I could write it. Not until three years after my heart surgeries, and after we had moved back to Sweden from the US, did the thought take hold, that maybe I should try to write it down. But when I started writing, it all sort of came out, and once I started it just had to be written. We moved to Indonesia in the middle of the writing process and a big portion of the book was written in hotel rooms and temporary housing in Jakarta, when all our things were shipped in a container and we lived out of suitcases. I had my family, my laptop and some clothes, but that was all I needed. I wrote and cried and figured out something to eat for my family, basically, for weeks and weeks. It was like a writing retreat!

We know once you release a story into the world, the reader makes it their own. What would you most hope readers take away from Beautiful Affliction?

I hope to share a sense of awe for life, for the miracle that it really is, and the beauty that can be found in unlikely places, as well as the beautiful pattern our lives can shape, even though when we are in the middle of it, it might seem like a huge mess.

Life of Pi

What well-known author would you choose as a mentor if you could? Along the same lines, what book (fiction or non-fiction) has most greatly influenced your life?

I would love to discuss writing with Yann Martel. I found his book Life of Pi in a corner of a bookshop, only its spine visible on the shelf, and two or three copies of it. This was before it was everywhere, and long before the movie. I pulled it out, read the book description and knew immediately it would be magical. I just fell in love with it and it’s one of the books I have given most thought to, even long after I finished reading it.

Do you have a regular writing practice?  How do you fit writing into your life as a parent, wife, etc.? Any writing rituals, favorite pen, chair, or beverage . . .

I usually write when my girls are in school. If I am in the middle of something and get hit by an idea, I can be seen running back to the laptop for the rest of the day, but mostly I try to fit my writing into the school day schedule so I can be there for my family in the afternoons and evenings.  I always write directly into a document on my laptop and I listen to music, from classical piano, to Coldplay, and everything in between. My girls are great at suggesting new music.

What are you working on now?

I am working on a novel that takes place here in Jakarta. It is a hilarious and heart-breaking story where I combine the ancient myths of Java with modern society and where East meets West. The first draft is basically finished.

Any favorite reads you’re looking forward to or have enjoyed this year?

I am looking forward to fellow She Writes Press authors getting published this fall; I have a huge pile of books to read!

As a debut author, what is the best advice you received? Any advice you didn’t act on?

At some point I heard about a study, where they tried to get to the bottom of why certain people were successful, and what they supposedly found out was that successful people had a common habit of actively seeking out advice from people who were ahead of them in their profession. This has stuck with me, and I have sought advice from coaches and editors, and it has made a world of difference to me. I have learned so much and I love that feeling; of growing, of learning. So the best advice I got was from that study, to not merely accept advice, but to seek it out from people you admire and to act on it.

Get to know Lene:

Favorite scent?

Lavender, Frangipani flowers and Balinese incense.

Favorite indulgence food?

Swedish cinnamon rolls that remind me of my childhood, and apple pie, for the same reason.

What’s your go-to splurge item?

Handbags, beautiful coffee table books, and handicrafts such as Indonesian carved wood elephants (I have five).

Favorite song to sing out loud?

“Human” by The Killers: “…my sign is vital, my hands are cold, and I’m on my knees, looking for the answer, are we human, or are we dancer…”

A celebrity you’re dying to meet?

Oprah of course!

Most important holiday tradition?

The traditional Swedish way of holding hands, singing Christmas carols and dancing around the Christmas tree has been expanded in our family to dancing through the whole house. Our kids make sure we dance through every room, before we are done.

Divulge one: bad habit or secret phobia

I have a secret spider phobia, well perhaps not so secret to my husband, who has to catch the spiders! Here in Indonesia we have spiders as big as the palm of my hand. Within seconds of entering a room I have scanned the floor and every wall for spiders.

If you could go pro in any field (other than writing), what would you choose?

Artist. I loved to paint big paintings and even sold some through a gallery. But eventually I got breathless and exhausted while painting and I had to give it up. It became too hard to hold up the brush to the canvas, it sounds crazy, but that’s how weak I was because of my undetected congenital heart disease.

Lene’s Top 3 Commandments for a happy life?

Things will work out (and if they don’t, you’ll be ok anyway)

Communicate! (People can’t read your mind)

Show kindness (everyone is fighting a hard battle)

Thanks for taking the time to answer my questions. Last but not least, any tips for beginning writers?

Seek advice and feedback on your writing from the best sources you can find and read a lot of different books. There is always something to be learned from every kind of book, just as there is always something you can learn from every person you meet.

You can find out all about Lene on her website and follow her on Twitter and Facebook.

Check out this wise and inspiring interview from award-winning author Marly Youmans.


3 Thoughts on “Interview: Lene Fogelberg, Author of ‘Beautiful Affliction: A Memoir’

  1. Yes! That was great advices for all of us, not just authors/writers! …”to seek it out”…. I especially liked that one. Very interesting interview, thank you!

  2. Pingback: Publication Day! - Lene Fogelberg

Interview with Amy Impellizzeri, author of Romance / Time Travel Novel ‘Lemongrass Hope’

Lemongrass Hope

Amy Impellizzeri Interviewed by Suzanne Brazil

Amy had an idea and decided to write a book, and then made it happen in a big way. We spent over an hour on the phone together talking all things book-related. The interview originally appeared on Amy had so much more to share, I decided to publish the extended, full-length version here for her fans and anyone with a dream to write a book.

Amy Impellizzeri’s debut novel, Lemongrass Hope (Wyatt-MacKenzie Publishing, 2014), is a 2014 INDIEFAB Book Of The Year Bronze Winner (Romance), a 2014 National Indie Excellence Awards Finalist, and the #1 Reviewed Book in 2014 by the Literary Connoisseur. Kirkus Reviews called it “A layered, bittersweet romance that questions consequences and explores second chances.” Impellizzeri spent 13 years as a corporate litigator in New York City before leaving to write and advocate for women entrepreneurs. Her writing has appeared in  The Huffington PostThe Glass HammerABA’s Law Practice Today, and Yahoo Shine. She is also the author of the non-fiction Lawyer Interrupted (American Bar Association Publishing), due out in 2015.  She drinks a lot of coffee at home in Pennsylvania where she lives with her husband and three children.

I finished the book yesterday and I really enjoyed it. Time travel seems to be a particular niche with readers; there are readers who go back to it time and again. 

Thank you! It’s funny for me because I love the idea of time travel but I don’t read a lot of science fiction. So, I really wanted to write a book that was sort of time travel but real. And it’s sort of funny to me now, and it was funny as the book was evolving, but I thought this is actually turning into a time travel book. Now I’ve totally embraced it but it’s interesting. I really wanted the book to be something that you’d sort of say this could happen or that could happen, that was my goal.

Can you introduce your book for us? What is it about to you?

Which is the question I get asked the most and the question I have the hardest time answering. It is a book about time travel but I never say that from the beginning. I never lead with the time travel element. I don’t know why I think partly because I do want people to be taken on the journey and surprised a little bit, although it’s marketed as a time travel book and most people who pick it up now know that that’s what it is. I usually call it an unusual love story, an unusual look at second chances and the road not taken, and hopefully a book that will surprise you. I’d like to think the characters are relatable and real but still have extraordinary things happen to them.

What do you hope readers come away with from the book?

I think my favorite compliments are that it felt natural, that it didn’t feel so outlandish. Also, it is a book club book, I think. We’ve marketed it as such. Book clubs have found it and embraced it, and are probably my largest reading demographic. I’d like to think that people will finish it and say it gave them a lot to think about and a lot to talk about. And I love when I get emails and Facebook messages from a reader in the middle of the night who say ‘I just finished it and I need to talk about this book.’ I love that it’s kind of a book that you want to talk about right away. I love when people say that it’s a book that stays with you for a little while, and makes you think about your own second chances and what-ifs, things I might have done over, things I might not have done over.

What surprised me about the book was the prologue/epilogue.  I was surprised by the main character’s willingness to look at her life differently. 

I actually spoke with editors and I had an agent and an editor who wanted me to change the ending. And I always resisted that. I had an editor tell me that it really couldn’t be commercial unless [I changed the ending]. And I said that was never the book I was going to write. My publisher said do not change a thing, do not change the ending of the book. But I still, I wanted there to be a little ambiguity.  I think what I want you to come away with and what I want you to think about is evolution. I’ve had readers say to me ‘How many times do you think this has happened? How many times did they go back?’ I’ve had one reader in a book club say to me ‘Well, I mapped it all out in the book, and I could tell you it happened six times,’ and I said ‘That’s awesome that you did that, but that’s not true.’  My answer to that question is I think they went back a lot. I want you to have this idea of evolution. That’s part of why the person changes in the story. It’s sort of a snap shot, it’s one sliver of time.

I want you to leave with the idea that this could have happened over and over and over again, and indeed it really sort of had to have happened a lot. At the end, I want you to think not that it happened six times, that it happened enough times, that it’s believable that yes, she’s making this decision. She’s making this decision with both feet in. But there’s still the question and I leave the question mark open in the book for me, and for all readers there’s still the question whether it’s enough.

Which poses an interesting question. What are the possibilities of a sequel?

Well I have toyed with the idea of not a sequel but a related book. I’ve often thought about writing the book from two different people’s perspective. Not this book but a story from either Stella’s perspective because I agree with you I think she’s a really interesting sympathetic character, and I’ve always had an idea about writing a book from Dee’s perspective because she’s one of my favorite characters. And every time I really try to do it, never say never, but I have not figured out a way to do it and still preserve what I think is a little bit of the magic and mystery of Lemongrass Hope. I usually say not now. If I ever figured out a way to do it, I would love to do it but I haven’t figured that out yet. I am working on my next book and it’s completely unrelated.

Is the working title the Secrets of the Worry Dolls?

It’s not final, it’s still a work in progress although it’s getting very close. It’s a totally different book though, not related to Lemongrass Hope.

How is writing the second book similar to or different from writing Lemongrass Hope?

It’s different in a lot of ways. Lemongrass Hope came about sort of by accident. I was a corporate litigator for over 13 years. I was taking a year sabbatical, and I was not taking a year’s sabbatical to write a book.  I took a sabbatical to catch my breath. While I was on sabbatical I was doing writing. I had always written. I’d always been a creative writer, but I’d sort of stifled that side of myself to be a lawyer. I wrote for a living, but I wrote what other people paid me to write.

“I had this dream one night. I went back in time and my children weren’t there. And that was it. There was nothing more fleshed out than that.” 

When you say you were a creative writer, what did that look like? Were you writing stories on the weekend? Were you submitting anything?

Not while I was practicing law at all but in college, I was taking creative writing classes. I always had a journal I have piles and piles of journals from when I was like 11 . . . you see the end point. They run from when I was 11 until I was 20, and then they just stop dead. I went to college knowing I was going to be a lawyer. That was my goal.  That was what I was going to do. I was going to go to law school. But I was going to do them both. I was going to write on the side, and I was going to be a lawyer. And I don’t know, looking back, what I thought that would look like. I wasn’t planning on writing professionally I was planning on being a lawyer to make a living, and I was planning on always keeping my journals, writing stories, submitting maybe small short stories.

I never had this dream to write a novel, but I did always love writing. I loved it. But in college, I made this decision at one point that this was too distracting. I had to pick one, in my mind, so I picked law. That was all I was going to do professionally and so I had to put all my energy and resources into that. I stopped writing creatively and only worked on my English and Philosophy majors. Then I went to law school, and I never wrote anything that wasn’t a case brief or something I was paid to write for a client, legal-related.

That part of me was really pushed to the side. When I took my sabbatical I started writing again. Now it was 20 years later, and I was writing essays on a computer and I had never done that before. Now I had a whole hard drive of essays, and I thought what am I going to do with these? I just filed them away, but sort of reconnected with that side of myself. It was a time that I was very much thinking about what have I done? I’ve totally pushed this whole side of myself away. I was only ever going to be a lawyer that was all I ever wanted to do. Now you’ve done it and have you’ve abandoned a whole path you could have explored. You really enjoy this, you really love it. It was in terms of my professional life that I was having a second thought. I think my subconscious was in overdrive on it. I had this dream one night. I went back in time and my children weren’t there. And that was it. There was nothing more fleshed out than that. And I sort of woke up and I thought so yeah that’s what it would mean to go back and do everything differently. Everything would be different.

I just started toying with that and it became an idea for a book. That was the first time I thought I’m going to write a book. I’m not just going to write essays anymore, and I’m going to not go back to practicing law. Because, in the meantime I’d hooked up with this start-up company who was doing a lot of marketing for women entrepreneurs. They were moving from a magazine to an online content site. Their mission was to empower women entrepreneurs, and they were starting an e-commerce site. I got involved with them on the business side. I was writing articles about the women, and helping the women write their marketing pitches. I did that as my new job, and on the side I wrote Lemongrass Hope for years.

You asked what’s different about the new writing process. When I started writing Lemongrass Hope, I didn’t set out to write a book. I sat down to flesh out this idea I had, and I would literally leave it for months at a time. I’d come back to it and I’d say ‘Is there anything here?’ And every time I’d say ‘There is something here. I want to come back to this.’ So after about three years, I said to myself, this is silly. I’m tired of saying I’m writing a book. I’m going to actually finish this book. So then I put myself on a deadline. And really the book got written in that last 12 months when I focused myself.

The writing process now is so different because now I have set out to write a book. And for good or for bad that is a totally different process than just sort of exploring an idea. I’ve been much more structured about this from the outset. I’ve been more structured about plotting out the characters and plotting out the plot. But I still notice about myself this is still the way I write. But I still keep putting it down, coming back to it putting it down, coming back to it. I almost can’t focus myself until I know exactly how it’s going to end. That’s how I was with Lemongrass Hope. Once I figured out exactly how it was going to end, then I was able to really focus myself on the rest of it. That’s how it is with Secrets of Worry Dolls. I had an idea. It was a general idea. I loved the idea. I’ve explored it a couple different ways over the last year. And the last month or two, I’ve figured it out. I know exactly how it’s going to end now. Now I can be very focused about it.

Would you say you have more of an outline then for this book than you did for Lemongrass Hope? Were you just writing scenes for Lemongrass Hope?

Yeah, yeah. I was. I learned so much because I wrote the Lemongrass Hope over the course of three or four years, but really focused in the last year. I remember someone asking me ‘how on earth did you know how to write a book’ and I thought that’s the best question I’ve been asked because I don’t really know how I figured out how to write a book. Because I didn’t figure out how to write a book until after I wrote a book.

Once I had the manuscript I started going to writing seminars and I started acting like a writer and I started shopping the book. Through a series of things that happened, a best-selling author got hold of a small excerpt and said to me this is a real book. We should do something, we should introduce you to someone. I ended up being introduced to Caroline Leavitt who is a New York Time’s bestselling author and works as a developmental editor on the side. I worked with her for a couple of months on the revisions and the structure of the book. She was really wonderful in terms of  saying ‘You have a real book and a real idea, but think about how you want to structure this so that this is a novel.’ The time I spent with her, and the time I spent after that finalizing and revising it is when I think I learned how to write a book.

Now I’m not telling you I’m an expert on writing a book. But I can tell you when I sat down to write Lemongrass Hope, I had no idea what it was to actually write a book. So many people say I have this idea for a book. And I encourage everyone, because I think everyone who says they’re writing a book should write a book. But I think probably 75% of those people think you write the words. You write them from beginning to end and you create a story. And that’s not really how you write a book.

On Secrets of Worry Dolls, I have not been writing it linearly, nor will it look like it does now when I’m ready to submit it. It’s a lot of different pieces and I need to figure out how they all fit together to tell the story the right way. I know what the story is and I can sit down and write those words. But, I need to make them all fit in a way that is compelling, and will tell the story in the way that I want it to be told, and let it unfold for the reader in the way I want it to unfold. That’s really the hardest part of writing the book; not just getting the words on the page but getting them in the right order.

“I don’t really know how I figured out how to write a book. Because I didn’t figure out how to write a book until after I wrote a book.”

If you had three hours I’d keep you on the phone as I just love this topic. A writing mentor recently told me “Look, no one knows how to write a novel.” It’s nice to hear you say that. When you said you know the story for Secrets of Worry Dolls or even for Lemongrass Hope, how much did the story change when you got into writing the characters and putting their words on paper?

It didn’t change so much as a lot of blanks got filled in. So I had a very skeletal idea of the story and that’s what I started with. I knew Lemongrass Hope was about second chances and what-ifs. This woman was haunted by her first love and she’s in a terrible marriage. She reconnects with her first love and what does that mean? But I didn’t know how her marriage was going to break down. Those things sort of evolved, those details and those scenes. Rob changed a lot. I had to really work on him. In an earlier version of the book, we know about Ian but we really don’t meet him. That was all wrong. Who got introduced when changed. The characters changed. I hope Kate became less superficial and a more substantive character. Rob is probably the character that changed the most.

I can see his arc in the final version. He’s certainly more redemptive.

My editor would say ‘Rob’s a bad guy, I don’t get it.’ I told my editor Rob’s the kind of guy that would take the kids to the diner and clean out the claw machine (winning prizes for them). She said, ‘Ok, where’s that?’ I said ‘Oh yeah, I’ll write that for him then, not just in my head.’

Can you describe the moment you got the news that you found out it was going to be published?

I know exactly where I was. I was at my son’s hockey rink at hockey practice. I actually pitched this book without an agent. I had sent the book to a couple of agents. Then I was introduced to this publisher directly. I had pitched her the book the week before. She had said ‘Let me see the manuscript and I’ll get back to you next week.’ It was Monday morning and I said to my husband ‘Maybe I’ll hear today.’ He was like, “No.” But she did. She emailed me that night. I opened the email at the rink and she’d attached the first draft of the publishing contract. It was very exciting and I squealed at hockey practice!

“If you have a real goal for yourself, and it sounds crazy in your head, say it out loud and it will sound less crazy.”

What would you say is the worst piece of writing advice you’ve received?

The one piece of advice I got hands down was to change the ending. An agent told me the book really wouldn’t be commercial unless I changed the ending. I still think there’s a lot of people who think the only books that are commercial are formulated books. But I think I see so many new writers getting caught up in, and I try to tell people, when you are writing your first book, focus on the writing first and getting it published last. I think people who do that are the ones who end up getting their books published more quickly.

I think people who are so focused on ‘I need to get this book published, I really want to get it published,’ completely lose sight of the writing, the editing. When you have a first draft, the things that happen to that book that are so substantive, so meaningful, from that moment until the moment it gets published are huge and important. Those are necessary. You need to get out of your head, out of your manuscript, and you need to have other very reputable, trustworthy people give you their input. Not too many people, though! A lot of advice can sometimes make you a little crazy. That’s one of the biggest hang-ups for new writers is to get too focused on the publishing and forget about the writing.

I think what makes the book linger is the fact that the ending isn’t formulaic.

There’s a time and a place for every type of book. But there’s certainly a time and a place for books that don’t fit the usual commercial mold and good for them!

Did you have a favorite book or author growing up?

My favorite book of all time that stands the test of time is Gone with the Wind. Recently, Beautiful Ruins is probably my favorite contemporary book. It’s tied with Jo Jo Moyes. I love the way she writes.

Is there a particular book on craft or what was most useful to you in improving?

I won’t say I’ve read them all cover to cover, but I have a bunch of craft books on my bookshelf:  Stephen King’s On Writing, Donald Maass’s Writing the Breakout Novel.

“When you are writing your first book, focus on the writing first and getting it published last. I think people who do that are the ones who end up getting their books published more quickly.”

What aspects of craft do you struggle with the most or what do you feel you have a really good handle on?

Probably what I struggle with the most is the editor’s favorite admonition: show don’t tell. There’s scenes I get caught up in exposition. I want you to know every single thing going on in my character’s head. And I think, this is awful. I have to do this with dialogue. I have to do this with action. I have to make this more powerful. That’s what I still struggle with and probably will never ever master. I don’t know that I would say I’ve mastered anything. That would be crazy.

I think I have a voice, and I think I know what my voice is. I think that’s important for all writers. I love when a new writer will ask my advice or show me something and they have such a clear voice. I think ‘I know exactly what the book you’re writing. This is your voice.’  I’m comfortable writing in my voice and I try to write a book that makes sense even if you’re reading out loud. Does that make sense?

Yes. It’s very readable. It has complex ideas but it’s readable and relatable.

I hope so, thank you!

How important is your writing community and how did you forge that? 

I am a fan of critique groups. I’m not in a live critique group, but I do a lot of workshopping of my writing. You have to think about if you’re going to align yourself with a genre or not. The plus side of that is there are going to be communities that are readily available to you. If you clearly write science fiction, romance, thrillers, mysteries, there are usually associations. I belong to the Women’s Fiction Writers Association, and they do a lot of great online workshopping and online critique groups. I do writing retreats when I can, but I do have three small kids, 11 and under. I really don’t travel that much. I try to do a lot on line. Social media has made writing so much less lonely. I don’t know what people did 20 years ago. It’s such a notoriously lonely career.

Lawyer Interrupted

How do you handle the social media pressures and time sucks, do you have a certain schedule?

I am a terrible offender of getting distracted by social media. There’s an app you can download that prevents you from logging on to Facebook and Twitter for three hours at a time. I’m embarrassed to say I’ve never been able to do that! I do try to give myself a moratorium. But I have two books out now, Lemongrass Hope and Lawyer Interrupted. A huge part of being a writer is marketing your book. So, you end up on social media a lot, but I do try to limit myself. When I’m writing, I really try to reign myself in, especially in the summer. I really try to do morning and night, check everything and check off all the boxes. Some days I just get into it. The truth is there are real benefits to it as with everything.

I am a person who does like to write amidst chaos. I’m not a person who can sit in my treehouse. I always thought I would do that. I thought that’s how it would be. I painted my writing office and got a new chair.  I never write in there. I always write in the middle of chaos, and in the margins of doing other things, and on my coffee cup in the car at the red light. I’ve always written like that and I probably will for the foreseeable future. It’s important to admit you have a social media problem. Twitter is tough because that will suck you in.

If used for good, you have to use social media for good, developing the community is important and I love it for that.

What would you say has been the most surprising part of becoming a published novelist?

Everything has been so new and novel that I can’t say I expected any of it. I’d probably say the way book clubs have embraced the book has been such a wonderful surprise. I can remember pitching it to my publisher that way. I was in a book club, I still am in a book club. I love my book club. If we could get this to book clubs I think this would be a great book for book clubs. I put it out there on my website that I would come to book clubs. I can’t believe how many book clubs have emailed me. I’ve lost count. I think I’ve probably been to close to 50 book clubs live or by Skype. I love book clubs.

Every single discussion has been different. Every single experience has been different. Having the book received so well by book clubs and getting to experience other book clubs. I’m fascinated, it’s like a whole other demographic. I’ve been to book clubs that have been very formal, informal. I’ve been to book clubs that have people on a wait list to get in; people that hand-picked their members because they didn’t want it to be too homogenous, wanted different ages and different lifestyles represented. I’ve been to other book clubs where everybody is exactly the same. It’s been such a fascinating way to experience the book through all those different eyes.

“I always write in the middle of chaos, and in the margins of doing other things, and on my coffee cup in the car at the red light.”

There is a fierceness and determination in Kate and in your essays on your blog. Do you think this quality helped you become a published novelist? Did any of that influence your choices for Kate’s character in the book?

It’s always interesting for people who know me to read the book and to hear their take on Kate. It’s always interesting for people to try and read me into her. You have to read me into her. I wrote her. You have to read me into all the characters. That’s actually been an interesting awakening to me to now read other novelists’ books with that in mind.

I have this notion, like my personal mantra, if you say something out loud, if you really want something and you say it out loud, and you work towards it, you really can make it happen. I’m not talking about like going into space, I’m talking about if you have a real goal for yourself and it sounds crazy in your head, say it out loud and it will sound less crazy.

Of course part of that is written into Kate. I hope it is because I think that’s a great way to live your life. When I was writing this book and I was in the last year, the really focused time, I was with my sisters. We go on an annual girls’ trip and we were in Vegas. I remember the moment very clearly, as clearly as I remember getting the publishing deal, actually. We were going around, the three of us, talking about our fears and what was on the horizon for us in the next year. They kind of knew I was working on this book, but I had never put it together this concretely. I said ‘I’m working on this book and it’s called Lemongrass Hope. I’m going to finish this book this year and I’m going to try to get it published.’ They looked at me and they said ‘Well then, you probably will.’

Once you say something out loud like that you are accountable and you really have to work at it. I would like to write strong female characters who have that quality. But I don’t want anyone to read all my characters and think they’re completely autobiographical.

My next book I did a lot more research for. My new book takes place partly in Guatemala, and there will be a lot of research incorporated into it. But it will also be about sisters and a mother/daughter relationship. I’ve already known I had to sit them down and say ‘this isn’t about you,’ but it comes from a place of having been a daughter and having been a sister and a mother.

Lemongrass Hope

Was it a little scary for you thinking everyone was going to think this was your life?

My publisher asked if I wanted to handle pre-orders differently, if I wanted to send it to them [personally] so they [readers] wouldn’t have to wait so long. I said that’s a fun way for a new author to do a pre-order. It really wasn’t advertised that way, but I put it on my personal Facebook page. All my friends pre-ordered the book. Three days later, my feed was just filled with pictures of all my friends with their copy of Lemongrass Hope next to their morning coffee. I remember being so weepy, ‘This is so beautiful. How nice—my book is in the hands of all the people who love me.’ And then I’m telling you, I didn’t sleep for three days. I was sick to my stomach for three days. I thought, you didn’t think this through. Now, everyone you know, everyone in town is reading . . . your . . .book.

A little bit of stage fright?

A lot of stage fright. A lot of exhaling as the reviews started coming in. My favorite compliments were from people who knew me who said ‘You know, a couple of pages in and I forgot you wrote it.’ That’s the best compliment.

The more I work on my own writing and the more authors I speak with, I’m always in awe and have a renewed sense of respect No one tells you how much work it is. Isn’t it similar to motherhood?

Oh, Absolutely. It’s just as personal. It’s just as painful. It’s just as complicated and emotional. And I love to write. This is true and I really mean this—I’m probably going to sound insincere but I’ll say it anyway—I really would write even if nobody would read a thing I wrote. I need to write, and I love to write, but it’s even better that people are actually reading it. I have to tell you!

You were able to take something from nothing and make it into something. How did that feel?

I loved the whole process. I really didn’t shop the book for long. I actually finished editing the book in October and I had a publishing deal by January. That’s very unusual. The reason is I didn’t try to shop it to larger houses first. I’ve talked to many people who say you start with the bigger houses and agents and then you work your way down. As an emerging author, you see where you land, and that’s a valid methodology. I wanted this in print. Then I found a publisher very quickly who was enthusiastic about the book, and said all the right things about the book, and said don’t change the ending. In hindsight, the reason it’s been the best decision for me is I’ve been able to see this to conclusion, and it has empowered me to write another book. I want this book to be even better. I’m petrified of not writing a better book, but I’m going to try.

Check out Amy’s website and blog for more information about her fiction and non-fiction writing, appearances, and Book Club offerings

Amy Impellizzeri and I met through Women Writers, Women’s Books. If you love books, if you’re looking for a source of support for your writing, a place of intelligent discourse, a diverse group of warm, generous, and often hilarious women, you have to click here.






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Wedding vs. Writing – No Contest


Photo Credit: Deanna Branscome, PhD – entomologist and mentor extraordinaire and quite the “shutterbug” (see what I did there? entomologist…shutterbug…discuss)

My oldest child and only daughter is getting married in 11 days. Emotionally I’m a wreck but that’s another post for another time. She and her future husband are expecting 170+ guests. I’m hot gluing ribbons and fusing my fingers together but somehow still finding time to write. Correction: I’m making time to write.

A writing mentor of mine recommended The War of Art by Steven Pressfield and I am loving it. He talks about “going pro” and overcoming resistance. It’s not just for writers but he singles us out because he’s one of the tribe. Every time I’ve tripped over spools of ivory tulle or shoveled seating charts off my desk, I’ve felt a sense of pride that I’m committed to making progress on my second draft.

war of art

To paraphrase author and poet, Marly Youmans, kids aren’t easy and they don’t need a writer in the house. I doubt my excited bride-to-be is concerned with my page or word count this week. She needs to know her mom is on-call with safety pins and handi-wipes.

Out-of-town guests begin arriving in a few days and we have flowers to plant, carpets to vacuum and final counts to get to the caterer. Then, it’s on to manicures, hair, make-up, etc. I may decide to take the week of the wedding off from my novel. Most professionals have at least one week a year when they don’t focus on their primary jobs.

Though my day job pays the bills, I made a decision that “this writing thing” was going to be my priority. Except for next week I think. My brown-eyed girl, now 25, gorgeous and a very cool chick is getting married. I want to witness every bobby pin as it’s inserted and every petal tossed in the air as she begins her new life.

Then maybe I’ll write about that too. See you back here after June 5th!


8 Thoughts on “Wedding vs. Writing – No Contest

  1. Betsy Gibson on May 25, 2015 at 10:19 pm said:

    How exciting!! She is gorgeous, and you two look so much alike. I think that you can certainly give yourself permission to take this once in a lifetime week off. As you or one of our other wise mentors would say to me (I know that you would), “Live in the moment. Enjoy every single second of it!” You will have memories to savor and write about, AND you will come back refreshed and ready to write, write, write!!! Please give my best wishes to your daughter, and please let her know that her mother’s Haven friends will be anxiously awaiting posts about the wedding!!

    • Thank you! I will try to take that advice to pay attention in the moment. Love the Haven group and appreciate you taking the time to read and comment. Can’t wait to read some of your stuff.

  2. I both dread, and await that special day, Suzanne! And I have two daughters!! :/

    I hope your writing gives you the superhuman energy you need to survive the week ahead, and I hope that your fingers survive the glue gun. Wishing you and your family every happiness!

    Good things! 😀

    Angela Z xxx

    • You will have double the joy! She’s really the easiest bride…she can’t really believe people care about things like fonts on the invitations and color of tablecloths. She just wants to dance! As always, thanks for reading. I love my writer friends!

  3. Doesn’t she look like you! Both gorgeous. Good luck with weddings AND writing!

    • Thank you, Kate! She hears that a lot and I’m not always sure she’s thrilled about the comparison but I sure am. Thanks so much for the positive thoughts. I appreciate you taking the time to read and comment!

  4. Wishing you and your family the most beautiful and heartwarming time. Your writing will be even better for the break too Suzanne. ♥

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!

    • 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 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

This is not the story you think it is

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

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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!

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Sara Connell, Author, Speaker and Life Coach, Shares Her Journey to Publication

Sara Connell, Author

Sara Connell, Author






Women, 61, Gives Birth to Own Grandchild” read the headlines in the Chicago Tribune. This is the subject of Sara Connell’s memoir, Bringing In Finn: An Extraordinary Surrogacy Story which was nominated for Elle Magazine’s 2012 Book of the Year.

In this audio interview, Sara shares more of her journey as a writer and some behind the scenes glances into her first traditional book deal with Seal Press.

Full Audio Interview: 


We tell ourselves we're not something, Sara Connell

A self-proclaimed “closeted writer” for years, she talks about the break that lead to her first byline and how both her journey to motherhood and personal growth work in her 20’s helped her follow her dream of being a writer.

“I had all these conditions that had to be there for me to write. I have to be inspired, to be in the mood, to have not had an argument with someone.” Her tip for those that dream of writing? “It will be there. Just show up to the page and go for it!”

Get out of my small self - Sara Connell

That experience taught me to have a discipline to be able to delay instant gratification and go for something that’s a bigger picture…to let something have a process…to focus on my part instead of the outcome.” 

Sara’s next book project is a novel with some magical elements. Though determined to publish traditionally for her first book, she’s changed her thoughts about self-publishing, and shares tips for aspiring writers on listening to their inner voice.

“I think now we have as many opportunities with

some really quality, high-level people in both worlds.”

~ Sara Connell on self-publishing

“I’ve seen so many wonderful people who have been in traditional publishing now become editors and publishers of hybrid presses and are working with people around self-publishing. It’s less about the quality and even sometimes the prestige. It’s more about what is important to you as a writer. I no longer think one is necessarily better than the other.”

She also reminds us that “books get published in all sorts of ways.”  Sara completed an in-depth 90-page proposal for her fist memoir which ended up not being published. It took just a three-page letter for her agent, Joy Tutela, to secure the deal for Bringing in Finn. Turns out the publisher remembered her writing and hard work on the previous proposal and that was enough to sell them on this project. “As a writer, nothing is wasted.”

“As a writer, nothing is wasted.”

With a busy toddler and all of her other commitments, Sara schedules her writing time each week and will write in her office, on her bedroom floor and even in her car outside of preschool. “Writing is at the top of my priorities after family. The more I write, the more I submit, the more I publish, the better I get.”

Full Audio Interview: 

Sara has a thriving private coaching practice in Chicago and is in demand as a speaker and contributor to national magazines. To find out more about Sara, visit her website at, via Facebook, or follow her on Twitter.

You can read my review of Bringing in Finn here, or on Blogcritics and it is available for purchase at Barnes and Noble and Amazon.


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Two Great Places to Submit Your Personal Essays

Listen to Your Mother - an Ann Imig Production

My Mom is the Awesomest! So, I wrote a story about her…

Chicken Soup for the Soul: Thanks to My Mom

The wonderful folks at Chicken Soup for the Soul chose my story “An Ordinary Life” for publication in an upcoming anthology. I’ll have a press release and everything! Stay tuned for more but here’s a sneak peak at the cover.

Have you considered submitting to Chicken Soup? They always have projects in the works. I’ll do an update on the submission and selection process as the release date approaches. Sign up here for updates!

Listen to Your Mother - an Ann Imig Production

And in other news… I submitted an essay for consideration to Listen to Your Mother – Chicago 2015. I received an email saying that my essay had been selected for the audition process. Yikes! I’m nervous but excited to give it a shot. Live Lit is intriguing for so many reasons. You can read about one of Chicago’s best performers/ producers here.  Auditions are in the next two weeks. Fingers crossed!

Whatever your inspiration, you can use what you’re writing to pay tribute, have fun or even to ham it up on stage. How has your mom (or dad, sister, uncle) inspired you?

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