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Everyone’s path to publication is different. Mine was a series of winding roads and one big crash along the way.
I had always written. Back in my early twenties, I wrote a 144,000-word gothic novel that was well-intentioned but full of amateurish mistakes. I took a few years off writing to pursue a career in IT and make a good enough living to move out of my parents’ house. Then I wrote another novel, this one much better (and shorter) than the first. But I never sought publication. I suppose I always assumed that publishing was more about who you know than how good your material is. And this is true to a degree. I’m pretty sure Tom Hanks didn’t struggle to find a publisher for his collection of stories. But for every unknown aspiring author out there with a laptop and a dream—it’s not about who you know. It’s about whether you can write something that people want to read.
In 2005, I finally got serious about writing. Following a heart to heart with my wife, where she (justifiably) yelled at me outside a subway station to start taking my writing seriously, I set about getting my work published in literary journals. After a year or two of what felt like sending my short stories out into an infinite black void, I finally started getting acceptances from places like The Fiddlehead, Upstreet and The Potomac Review. And I wrote a quirky, funny novel.
Back in 2009, most large publishers weren’t putting out quirky, funny novels that read like capers. Enter ECW Press: an awesome Canadian small press that agreed to publish my first novel (and two others) without an agent playing matchmaker. I really love the three books I wrote for ECW Press. My editor gave me complete artistic freedom and my second book, The Last Hiccup, even won a national award—the Canadian Authors Association Award for Fiction.
However, I still longed to publish something with a big publisher. I still wanted to break into the United States, to have my books in Barnes & Noble, to attend Book Expo America in NYC, to compete on the main stage.
And I was ready to do it. With my three-book ECW Press deal complete, I was ready to write the novel that would land me an agent and a new book deal.
Then fate intervened.
One evening I was playing hockey (like all good Canadian kids), when an opposition player struck me with a blindside hit to the head. The world went black and lightning crashed inside my brain. I stumbled off the ice and into the dressing room, only semi-aware that something was really wrong. Ten minutes later, I could barely talk. An hour later, I had trouble walking fifty feet without falling down. I suffered a traumatic brain injury that day, one that would leave me nauseated, disorientated and with a severe stutter. The stutter went away after a year. The chronic headaches and nausea did not. I visited a neuropsychologist who told me that lying down in a dark room would only help me so much. I had to do something constructive with my time.
So I returned to writing. I revisited an old manuscript entitled Hanna Who Fell From The Sky about a young woman trapped in a cloistered society and about to be forced to marry a man she doesn’t love, only to learn that she wasn’t born like a normal girl, that as a baby, she fell from the sky. As it stood, the manuscript was far too short and way too rough for publication. But I knew the story was worth telling and decided to rewrite it from scratch. At first, I could only write for an hour a day before my concussion symptoms overpowered me. Then two hours. Then a little more. After a year passed, I had a finished manuscript in my hands. And not only that, but my symptoms—overwhelming for so long—finally dissipated, then left altogether. My dream wasn’t over quite yet.
I bought The Guide To Literary Agents and started querying. I tracked my submissions and results in a color-coded spreadsheet, followed agents’ guidelines and put my very best foot forward. Along the way, I received an email from a reputable agent in NYC. She wanted to talk. I couldn’t believe it. I was finally going to receive The Call. Only, it wasn’t the call. She loved my idea. But she thought the novel was too literary. Not nearly commercial enough. We made an appointment to brainstorm ideas, and on our second call she suggested that we make my novel more like Twilight.
That was not my vision for my book. And as much as it hurt to admit it, that agentand I just weren’t on the same page. We never spoke again.
But I kept querying and, another near-miss later, I received a response from Anne Bohner from Pen & Ink Literary. We agreed to talk on the phone and within two minutes of speaking to Anne, I knew she was the agent for me. Anne got my book. She loved that it was different. She knew which editors might be interested and she had a plan for how and when to submit it. I told Anne that I needed a week to think about it. And then I did what I was supposed to do. I emailed the other agents that had my manuscript and told them I had an offer of representation. Most got back to me right away. A couple even read my manuscript that evening and one even wanted to talk to me a couple days later. But I’d already made up my mind. Anne was the one. We spoke on the phone and signed a deal later that week.
Three months later, Erika Imranyi of Park Row Books/HarperCollins made an offer and we accepted it. Erika turned out to be a great editor for me. She’s smart and tough and pushed me to make Hanna Who Fell From The Sky better and better until we’d changed about 70% of the manuscript. Finally, Hanna hit stores in September 2017.
Twelve years after I got serious about my writing—and one violent head injury later—I finally had a novel published in the US.
I learned two things from my journey along the way:
1) That everyone out there is fighting some invisible battle that we might not be able to see, so kindness is always the best approach.
2) Never Give Up! No matter what obstacles life puts in front of you.
Christopher Meades is the author of Hanna Who Fell From The Sky (Park Row Books). His novel The Last Hiccup won the 2013 Canadian Authors Association Award for Fiction and he’s been published in dozens of literary journals. He lives in Vancouver with his wife and two young daughters. Christopher dreams of one day escaping his cubicle and living by the beach. Find him at www.christophermeades.com
I’m an introvert who hates forced social situations, but I’ve discovered some valuable networking strategies since my debut YA novel ONE NIGHT was released, though I didn’t realize I was networking at the time.
I think it helps to define networking here as connecting with someone who can and does help get your name and/or your work in front of more people. The audience can be large or small, but ideally the audience should be engaged. My top tips for networking:
1. Submit your polished work to online outlets in a professional manner.
This might sound obvious, but I’ve found even when it doesn’t result in a piece getting accepted it works in other ways. Oftentimes if I pitch a guest column or blog post that isn’t accepted, the editor refers me to someone else. For example, I pitched Chicago YA Writers a guest post about writing mentorships and they told me they were on hiatus, but referred me to an editor at YA Interrobang who accepted the piece. This has happened to me a few times. If you put your best foot (and work) forward you’ll likely get the name of a new connection even if the original place you pitched to rejects you.
2. If you’re going to write a blog post, be helpful.
I know I’m not the first person to have said this, but I’m here to tell you that it works. I wrote a post recently on my web site about how to avoid burnout and my struggle to balance my writing with everything else. I wrote it because I thought the tips I’d found useful might be helpful to someone else. I figured if it helped one person that would be great. I think that was the key—that my primary goal was I wanted to be helpful, to give someone who was in a similar situation some ideas. The goal wasn’t to increase my blog traffic, but in my effort to be helpful I’ve been pleasantly surprised that the link has been shared a few times and was mentioned on a podcast (along with my name).
3. Just talk to people (like they’re a regular person) without expecting anything in return.
There’s some networking advice that says you should always go to events with a goal of making two connections but I find just having a regular conversation with someone you think is interesting accomplishes a lot. I did a local author event in January and wound up sitting next to a YA author who had had traditional publishing deals but decided to start publishing independently. I asked questions, genuinely curious about her experience, and she told me about an annual luncheon with booksellers and librarians one state over and said she’d get me on the invite list. I didn’t even ask for anything, but she apparently enjoyed our conversation enough to offer something up.
4. Extend bigger thank yous to people who go the extra mile for you.
As a rule I always send email thank yous, but sometimes when a blogger does something unexpected for me or a reader passes along news about my books I send a handwritten thank you note or a signed book. This small act of showing gratitude pays off in the long run. I sent a signed book to one blogger who has been incredibly supportive of my work and when I later asked her for a favor related to my writing she responded and delivered on it the same day.
Over to you. What networking strategies have you found to be effective? Share your experience in the comments.
Deanna Cabinian is the author of ONE NIGHT and its sequel ONE LOVE. When she isn’t working or writing she enjoys traveling and spending time with her husband and their Havanese dog, Cuba. She’s from the Midwest, but dreams of living by the ocean. Find her online at http://www.deannacabinian.com.
The following article is the second in a five-part series of articles by Jennifer Haupt. In this installment, she asks four successful authors about their daily writing habits that help them stay motivated and moving on their works in progress.
After my novel was rejected by 35 editors, year four eleven for my WIP, it became clear that publication wasn’t as close as I had dreamed. I was committed to this story, to making it better, to having it published — eventually. But being in it for the long-haul meant retooling my definition of success (link to article one) from publication to continual forward motion.
I needed to find kernels of success in my daily writing life. It helped me, and hopefully it will also help you, to learn that I wasn’t alone. Here are five daily writing habits successful authors have used to keep making progress on their WIP:
1. Set some rules about being online—and enforce them!
“Online rules are imperative,” says Dani Shapiro, author of Still Writing, as well as numerous novels and memoirs. “It’s too easy, with one click, to be somewhere more distracting, more fun, less challenging than whatever work I’m trying to untangle on the page. One click, and suddenly I can be shopping for boots.”
Dani is a fan of the Freedom app, which shuts down your Wi-Fi connection for the amount of time you choose. Sometimes, it only takes a 15-minute for a mind-shift to take place. “Making that commitment changes my relationship to my work, and to the sacred time of getting it done,” she says.
2. Making Your WIP a Priority
Let’s face it: If you don’t make your WIP a priority, it is guaranteed to slide down your “to do” list. “Mondays and Tuesdays are totally devoted to writing my next book, 7 a.m. until midnight,” says Anna Quinn, author of The Night Child. “I begin each writing session with a meditation and a free-write to loosen my imagination. I free-write through my senses in the moment — what I see, hear, touch, taste, and feel. Afterwards, I’m ready to move into my manuscript.”
Anna doesn’t completely forget about her WIP the rest of the week, when she’s running a bookshop and writing workshop. She devotes an hour each morning to staying in touch with her characters.
3. Structure Your Story
“I live and die by story structure,” says Caroline Leavitt, author of Cruel Beautiful World, who works from a 40 page synopsis. “Each day, I circle the section I’m working on in red. That way, I’m not overwhelmed by my own novel.”
Whether you use a series of bullets for each chapter or write out a long-form synopsis of your book, you need something to provide cairns to follow. A document with the basics — on your computer or in a notebook — that you can edit as your story changes over time. “Even when you think you know where a book is going, it always takes detours,” Leavitt says.
4. Give Yourself Time
I asked Garth Stein, author of The Art of Racing in the Rain, how he makes writing fun. His response: “Digging ditches is fun. Working in a steel mill is fun. Writing is not fun — at least not that first draft.”
Stein sets a timer for 30 minutes and writes gibberish if he has to. “At the end, maybe I’ve written nothing but garbage,” he says. Then I throw it away and do something else for a bit. But maybe I have a kernel of something, and maybe I want to keep going.”
Stein compares writing a first draft to mining for gold. “Usually, you hack away at that mountain and get nothing but rock dust for a long time,” he says. “You sift that rock dust, and hopefully you’ve found a vein. If you work at it long enough, you can gather together all the gold dust you’ve sifted out of the rubble and you have a lovely sack of gold. THEN writing becomes fun.”
Boston Teran is the award-winning author of eleven novels, including God Is a Bullet and The Ceeed of Violence, both of which are slated to be adapted into films.
Actually, that’s not entirely true. Boston Teran is a pseudonym, a purposeful decision that helps the author maintain the integrity of his creative process and the intention of his words in an age when social media has made privacy a challenge.
Boston’s novels have been widely praised in the New York Times, the Washington Post, the San Francisco Chronicle, Booklist, Publishers Weekly, and abroad.
His latest novel, A Child Went Forth, released May 19, tells the story of a young con artist who finds himself tasked with carrying a secret stash of money from Brooklyn to Missouri to give it to the abolitionist leaders there in 1851. Boston typically only participates in one interview per book release, so we were thrilled at the opportunity to ask him about the new novel, his choice to use a pseudonym, and the unique considerations of blending genres including historical fiction, mystery, crime and more.
Your upcoming novel, A Child Went Forth, gets its name from a verse in Walt Whitman’s Leaves of Grass—and Whitman appears in the novel. Aside from its relevance to the story’s coming-of-age theme, why did you choose this source for the title?
Well, America was still in its historical childhood, and the title seemed fitting. But more than that, I felt that the reader of a book, any book, is like a child going forth. Whether a book, a play, a film, music, art, the person taking it in for the first time has the same excited innocence of the child going forth.
Including historical figures and events in fiction can be challenging even for seasoned writers, especially given the amount of research required to do so effectively. What is your research process like prior to writing a novel with historic elements, and what advice would you give to writers looking to do the same?
The look and feel of history is different than history. Let history come to the story as you need it, let history be in the service of the story. Julius Caesar by Shakespeare. There is just enough fact to hang the fiction on, without hanging the fiction.
This will be your 11th novel, correct? What have you learned over the course of publishing these novels that you didn’t know when you set out to publish the first?
How to steer one’s own course while engaging in a form of literary freedom of choice. Always reserving the right to crash and burn on your terms. And understanding full well the wondrous fact that 99.9999% of a writer’s career takes place after they are swept from this world.
Two of your novels are slated to be adapted into films. What has that process been like so far?
It’s like getting drunk and trying to climb Mount Everest wearing swimming trunks and snowshoes while you carry a three-hundred-pound schizophrenic on your back who means to do you harm… other than that, the process is a cinch.
Julia mentioned that you believe that in the age of social media and the demise of privacy, literature is suffering a loss of integrity, affecting the writer’s creative process, the experience of reading, and the very heart of the word itself. Can you explain your rationale for this, and what you think the impact will be in the future?
Did I say all that? I must have been on medication at the time.
Writers are often judged, evaluated, embraced and sometimes even diminished or dismissed because of their sex, their race, their religion, their background, their private histories and public personas, their sexuality, their schooling, their politics, their failings and a refrigerator full of other possibilities that I’ve left out or forgotten. And they all mean nothing.
They do not enlarge the scope of a book, they do not reward its bearing or expand its value. They are the corral that encloses it with detail. They become a living form of social entrapment.
Your work blends historical fiction, mystery, crime and more. What draws you to write in these genres, and what advice would you offer to other writers looking to blend genres in their work?
I think we might approach this question from a different perspective.
Let me use Huckleberry Finn, as an example. It’s historical fiction in that it looked back upon slavery, that had been outlawed for over twenty years. It was in that respect a reflection upon a time. It certainly had elements of a mystery. After all Huck does fake his own death, he overhears two thieves talking about the murder of third, and he discovers an unrecognizable corpse in a floating house. All plot points that were resolved in the course of the novel. It certainly has elements of a crime novel. He is kidnapped by his own father. It also has aspects of a thriller or action/adventure. He helps his friend, a runaway slave, escape on a dangerous river journey to freedom.
Huckleberry Finn is one example of a book that encompasses and embraces a number of what people define as ‘genres’ to become what we now regard simply as—fiction.
You make no secret of the fact that Boston Teran is a pseudonym. Why do you write under a pseudonym, and what is its significance? Why do you like to keep a relatively low profile as an author?
Low profile…? Boston Teran has no profile. And that doesn’t just happen. We had to work damn hard to achieve it. And it’s meant facing a lot of negativity along the way and promises of failure.
As for the rest, the answer to Question #5 highlights it.
What do you read for inspiration, and which authors would you say influence your work the most?
I don’t know where inspiration comes from. I never did, I presume I never will.
Do you have plans to write more after A Child Went Forth is released? If so, do you know what you’ll work on next?
When I write a book I approach it as if it were the last. So I’m working with finality on my shoulder.
What do you do once you’re done submitting a book to potential publishers? Here are four productive activities you can use while you await responses.
by Connor Eck and Lucinda Blumenfeld
You’ve been back and forth with your agent for months creating the perfect book proposal—making sure every argument is unassailable, that every indent, line break, and page break is perfectly positioned, and that every t is crossed and i dotted. Your interactions are so frequent that when your phone alerts you to a new voicemail or email, it’s more likely to be your agent than anyone else.
Or perhaps you haven’t been working with an agent, but you’ve been toiling away on a novel, and after months (or years) of developing it, you’ve decided to try your chances with publishers directly. You’ve sent your baby out into the world.
The waiting is HARD. For some, the hardest stage. Below are some useful activities that will help you, and/or your agent, as you await the verdict.
Productive Activity #1: Focus energies on your online presence.
If a publishing house is considering acquiring your book, there are multiple people involved in that decision, and feedback from Sales, Marketing, and Publicity will all be weighed. The very first thing someone considering your book will do after reading your proposal is look you up online. What you want them to find is that substantial information about you exists—whether showcasing your writing, your personal story or brand, or your line of work. They’ll also want to see an active social media presence, one that shows engagement with a number of people. (For nonfiction authors, the barrier for a social media following is higher than ever. One publisher recently quoted me that 40k fans on Facebook and an email list of 15k is what they now consider a threshold for acquisitions.) Even if you’re not near this number, the single best thing you can do is continue to build your online credibility while your book is on submission.
Journalist?—Establish a Wikipedia page.
Blogger?—Encourage your fan base to show their support on social media at this critical time.
Novelist?—Build even a simple personal website that exhibits your writing clips and offers a sense of who you are as a person.
Productive Activity #2: Read comparable titles as research or inspiration for the book you plan to publish.
The writers we work with who succeed in getting book deals share something major in common: conviction in their ideas. For these writers, where there’s a will there’s a way, and even if a given publisher doesn’t share their view, they’re going to write the book regardless, because the research is just that fascinating, or the process just that rewarding. Once your proposal or manuscript is with your agent or with publishers and out of your hands, why not begin collecting notes, or reading those comparable titles if you haven’t already to serve as research or inspiration in crafting your own book. Treat this waiting time as an opportune moment to further educate yourself in the marketplace and more critically understand the gap your book can fill.
Productive Activity #3: Be patient and fill your time actively.
It’s understandable that the silence can be deafening—especially since up until this moment, you may have been in constant dialogue with someone about your proposal. But silence isn’t always a bad thing. Given the number of people at a publishing house who need to weigh in before an offer can be made, even a very interested editor could be getting second reads or speaking with all decision-makers involved. And many agents won’t, with good reason, reveal everything they’re hearing until there’s a final verdict. Also know that submissions sometimes happen in rounds. Not receiving an offer on the first round doesn’t mean that you won’t receive one on the second.
While waiting, engage in activities that will help your book’s success—possibly this is going on a local radio or television show, penning a post for a widely read journal or blog, or securing a blurb for your future book.
Productive Activity #4: Constructively follow up, at the right time.
After several weeks, it’s completely reasonable to follow up with your agent for a pulse-check on what he or she is hearing. When you do follow up, ask if there’s anything helpful you could be doing. You are not bothering or doubting your representative’s abilities by checking in—you’re simply acting like a business partner, which you are.
If you’re not working with an agent and are submitting a book directly to publishers, several weeks is not a reasonable amount of time to follow up, as publishers give priority to solicited projects from agents. 4-6 weeks may be more appropriate to follow up (for nonfiction, and double that for fiction), but when you do, it should be with an update of interest, i.e. I’ve just been featured on x media outlet; my blog post on y has gone viral and received z number of shares; a well-known author has offered the following blurb, etc. In absence of having those updates to share, you could go for something very personal and heartfelt: “as you’re the editor of [x comparable title], a novel that significantly influenced my own writing, any reactions you’ve had thus far would be especially meaningful to me…” continuing to say that your utmost wish would be a home with this particular publisher.
You shouldn’t write this love letter to everyone; only to those for whom it really applies.
Connor Eck and Lucinda Blumenfeld
Lucinda Literary, founded by Lucinda Blumenfeld in 2011, is one of very few hybrid literary, lecture, and marketing agencies. With over a decade of experience in corporate and agency publishing—at HarperCollins, Scholastic, and Fletcher & Co—Lucinda lives on both sides of the literary and business worlds. Lucinda Literary specializes in business and practical nonfiction, health/lifestyle and popular science titles, and has a growing interest in narrative nonfiction as well as upmarket fiction. Connor Eck, an associate agent at Lucinda Literary, represents middle grade, young adult, and adult fiction, along with narrative nonfiction, business books, memoir, and sports titles. He is currently open to submissions. For more information, visit our website at lucindaliterary.com or follow us on Facebook or Twitter.
For Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, basketball was never enough.
Leading New York City’s Power Memorial High to 71 consecutive wins, helping UCLA to an astonishing 88-2 record over three seasons and becoming the NBA’s all-time leading scorer while winning six league titles defined Abdul-Jabbar only in the record books. At age 71, he is an accomplished author, activist and now, a somewhat unlikely but avid competitor on Dancing with the Stars.
Abdul-Jabbar’s new bestseller, Becoming Kareem: Growing Up On and Off the Court (Little, Brown), is a heartfelt memoir for young adult readers. In the words of the author, the book is for “anyone who ever feels picked on or put upon, outraged but out of range, vilified yet voiceless.”
As difficult as it is to imagine Abdul-Jabbar being bullied, ostracized and, in some ways, at odds with the very game that resulted in his iconic status, the young Lewis Alcindor was, in fact, an outsider growing up in his multiethnic Manhattan neighborhood. Along with a love of jazz music, his passion for reading provided him with a much needed lifeline.
What is the importance of reading for our children and how did your joy of reading influence you as a young man?
Reading is like having a super power that just keeps getting more powerful. You can learn how to do pretty much anything though reading. Today I don’t know how to catch a fish, but I read a book and by tomorrow I can. Or build a house. Or do a math equation, a chemical formula, knit a sweater, shoot a basketball. Knowledge is endless and cumulative because of reading.
But reading is much more than the accumulation of practical information, it is a pathway to wisdom and happiness. What’s the point of being able to do many things if you don’t know how to be happy? And on the simplest of levels, reading is just plain fun.
For me, reading was my most consistent pleasure as a young man. I would sit my room and read adventure stories like The Three Musketeers, The Count of Monte Cristo, and Treasure Island and it inspired me to want to have a life of adventure. I’m convinced that those books gave me the courage and confidence to pursue basketball as hard as I did. That became my adventure.
Why is it important for young adults to understand the benefits of being a so-called “outsider?”
Every young adult feels like an outsider, alienated from their parents, their peers, their own bodies. Even popular kids often feel the pressure to maintain a façade of fitting in. It’s when individuals embrace their differences that they really start to shine. No one wants to be shunned by their peers, especially teens, so they contort their personalities and even bodies to be accepted. But all the greatest innovators, artists, thinkers, and performers were outsiders who eventually came to celebrate their uniqueness.
In high school, I was the ultimate outsider: I towered over all the students and teachers, I was one of three black students, I was an A student, and I was shy. All of those seemingly “loser” traits actually combined to drive me to work even harder to succeed. It also made me care about all the people who were made to feel like outsiders because of race, religion, poverty, or other conditions. Because I know how harshly outsiders can be treated, I was inspired to work hard during my life to help them. It also led me to hang out with others like myself—artists, athletes, activists, etc.—which has given me a very interesting and fulfilling life.
Who were your most important mentors?
Coach Wooden certainly was one of the most influential because over our 50-year friendship, he taught me not just about the nuances of basketball but about the importance of morality, friendship, and social responsibility. Bill Russell taught me a lot about basketball, but also about how to be a decent human being and to represent athletes with dignity and grace. Muhammad Ali taught me about how important it was to be true to yourself, no matter what the public says, and to never allow success to numb you from the needs of others.
What was the most influential book you ever read?
There are so many books that I’ve read and reread that I hate narrowing it down to one. But one of the most influential books is The Autobiography of Malcolm X by Alex Hailey which I first read in college. Malcolm X’s journey from pimp to political powerhouse, from selfish criminal to selfless activist inspired me to become more active. It also educated me on the role of African-Americans in society and what needed to be done to improve our lives.
What is your approach to writing and how do you decide which projects to work on?
I choose projects based on what interests me. Fortunately, I have a lot of interests. I love writing about sports, history, pop culture, and politics. That variety is very exciting to me. My process, once I come up with a topic I want to write about, is to think about it for a few days, writing notes to myself as I think more deeply about it. Then I sit down and write, delete, write, delete. Eventually, I come up with something I don’t hate—and I rewrite it until I kind of like it.
How did your passionate interest in civil rights change your life? And how can we alter the current climate of racial and religious hatred in America and abroad?
Other than being a father, my involvement in civil rights is the most important thing I’ve done in my life. I’ve loved playing basketball and I love writing, but neither compares with trying to make sure that all people in America are treated equally and have the same opportunities for success.
How to fix it? Remember that song from South Pacific, “You’ve Got to Be Carefully Taught”? It begins, “You’ve got to be taught to hate and fear/You’ve got to be taught from year to year.” Sadly, there is no quick fix, no law we can pass, because the roots of prejudice are deep within the ignorance of tradition and are handed down by parents and culture. Our first-aid approach is to enforce anti-discrimination laws and to get rid of politicians who exploit people’s fear for their own gain. For that, we have to fight the widespread conservative movement to restrict voting by the poor and minorities.
But to solve the problem, we need to start in schools by teaching critical thinking right from elementary school on. The reason conservatives are so adamant about charter schools and home schooling is because it allows parents to continue the brainwashing of children so that they never apply logic, reason, or critical thinking to lessons about politics or social issues. Once children are no longer victims of their parents’ biases, we will have positive change.
I’ve been hearing variations of that all my professional life, so I didn’t have a big reaction of outrage. I felt sad because her comment means there are still ignorant people with a public platform that say provocative things in order to get a reaction to stay relevant. I’ve been an activist for 50 years and have been a professional writer for more than 20 years, longer than I played in the NBA. Yet, I every time I publish an article, I can count on some sad trolls to comment, “Stick to basketball.” Athletes are contributing members of society, they are parents, spouses, business owners, taxpayers. You don’t hear her saying to Trump, “Shut up and defraud students at Trump University.” Or to top Republican venture capitalist Elliott Broidy, “Shut up and negotiate a settlement with your Playboy mistress.”
What is your next writing project?
I always have several writing projects going as well as my regular columns in The Hollywood Reporter and The Guardian. I’m in the middle of my third Mycroft Holmes novel (my second one, Mycroft and Sherlock, will be released in October). I’m also working on developing a drama series for television and I’m starting to write my autobiography about my years since retiring from the NBA.
Barry Goodrich is an award-winning freelance writer based in Cleveland, Ohio.
So start writing them and sharing here on the blog (this specific post) for a chance to be published in Writer’s Digest magazine–as part of the Poetic Asides column. (Note: You have to log in to the site to post comments/poems; creating an account is free.)
Here’s how the challenge works:
Challenge is free. No entry fee.
The winner (and sometimes a runner-up or two) will be featured in a future edition of Writer’s Digest magazine as part of the Poetic Asides column.
Deadline 11:59 p.m. (Atlanta, GA time) on June 20, 2018.
Poets can enter as many cyrch a chwtas as they wish. The more “work” you make for me the better, but remember: I’m judging on quality, not quantity.
All poems should be previously unpublished. If you have a specific question about your specific situation, just send me an e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org. Or just write a new cyrch a chwta. They’re fun to write; I promise.
I will only consider cyrch a chwtas shared in the comments below. It gets too confusing for me to check other posts, go to other blogs, etc.
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Robert Lee Brewer is Senior Content Editor of the Writer’s Digest Writing Community, which means he maintains this blog, edits a couple Market Books (Poet’s Market and Writer’s Market), writes a poetry column for Writer’s Digest magazine, leads online education, speaks around the country on publishing and poetry, and a lot of other fun writing-related stuff. He’s also the author of the poetry collection Solving the World’s Problems.
For today’s prompt, write a graduation poem. For instance, two of my sons just graduated middle school on their way to high school. But graduating encompasses a lot more than school. Some people graduate to new pay levels at work or new levels in video games or new levels of consciousness.
Order the Poet’s Market!
The 2018 Poet’s Market, edited by Robert Lee Brewer, includes hundreds of poetry markets, including listings for poetry publications, publishers, contests, and more! With names, contact information, and submission tips, poets can find the right markets for their poetry and achieve more publication success than ever before.
In addition to the listings, there are articles on the craft, business, and promotion of poetry–so that poets can learn the ins and outs of writing poetry and seeking publication. Plus, it includes a one-year subscription to the poetry-related information on WritersMarket.com. All in all, it’s the best resource for poets looking to secure publication.
Writing a memoir means searching for what one has forgotten. It is easy enough to remember the larger outline of a time that has passed, but it is regrettably impossible to recall the minutiae that capture the very essence of that former experience. Without these particulars, the memoir falls flat, for it fails to dwell upon those fleeting and seemingly insignificant moments that paradoxically capture the substance of what one is trying to replicate.
When William Wordsworth, the nineteenth-century Romantic poet, was writing a memoir, he recognized this reality. In his autobiographical poem, The Prelude, he chose to isolate and assemble the little, unremembered acts from his past, what he called those “spots in time,” so he could depict the growth of his poetic mind. These helped capture the kernel of his being.
There are in our existence spots of time,
Which with distinct preeminence retain
A renovating Virtue …
– Wordsworth, The Prelude.
Evoking Wordsworth’s sensibility when composing my recent The Odyssey and Dr. Novak: A Memoir (2018), I knew I also needed to recollect the seemingly insignificant and fleeting moments that had attended and shaped my residence in Eastern Europe twenty years ago. Without these passing minutiae, the memoir would not be convincing and would not properly represent the reality of being there.
But it was not easy. Why did I try? What compelled me? First, I wanted to avoid the stultifying sterility of hollow generalizations that too often oppress memory, but more to the point I wanted to retrieve and replicate the flavor of my life in that part of the world so that a reader could actually be at my side and partake in my consciousness. I desired to revivify a time that had temporarily taken me out of my comfort zone in 1995 and 2000.
If I had not kept the detailed letters, which I sent home every two weeks, much of what I had experienced in Poland, Ukraine, and Belarus would have been lost—forgotten. The small, fleeting moments that assemble to portray and create the flavor of existence, especially, would have slipped away. Thanks to this archive, however, I was able to retrieve/resurrect/relive the complexities and particulars of a life lived over two decades ago. I could now write in a way that was convincing and still very much at hand. Fortunately, minute details in the correspondence reminded me of the past, yet, paradoxically, eradicated time by bringing a former period more directly into a sentient present.
Through a letter’s particulars, I was reminded of and relived the painful sensations of frost and isolation during a freezing winter in Poland. These feelings more than any larger event are what capture the experience of my being there. A passage in one letter speaks of an icy evening in Warsaw. Its particulars revive the feeling not only of being cold but also of being cut off and alone:
The snow is still blowing around me when I get off tram 36 this evening. As I walk away from the stop, the tram’s overhead wires momentarily burst into electric blue and for a few second all of us move visibly toward our destinations. Inside the apartment, I look out of the narrow kitchen window into the frigid darkness and across to a single lit window …. All the other apertures are as dark as night. Inside this suspended illuminated space, two officers play table tennis to pass the time. Their bright darting movements in the coldness of the late evening are mesmerizing and reassuring.
Because I knew little Polish and occasionally felt isolated, I found solace in looking at the natural world. Details in another missive resuscitate a state of mind that might otherwise have been cast aside by the forgetfulness of time.
Outside the Hotel Sokrates, gray-beaked ravens strut about the frozen ground and grope among the dead leaves for whatever they can forage. It is a difficult winter for them too. Each morning, I bring them bread that we have not finished. I throw it over the barbed-wire fence surrounding the nearby military compound. Waiting up in the trees, they fly down, floating, swooping, and dropping like abandoned cloth handkerchiefs conversing with the currents in the air.
Later while reading a letter from Gdansk on the Baltic coast, I was again in touch with how the cold pervaded everything. The details of my passing attention to the wildfowl (this “spot of time” I had long forgotten) once more revealed my sense of isolation:
The ice packs in layers upon itself and seems even to freeze the facades of the area’s tall, fourteenth-century Hanseatic League dwellings. The wind howls through the old city gates. In an open spot below a footbridge over an inlet, coots, mallards, and swans collect and wait for people to bring them crumbs. The coots stretch their rounded webbed feet, the mallards stand or crouch, and the swans tread clumsily on the ice. Only when they fly and extend their long, graceful necks do they regain their dignity. When they pass directly overhead, I hear their wings rhythmically swishing up and down and listen to the subdued sounds gurgling deep in their throats. Long gone and far from fantasy are the prewar summer days….
Letters I wrote from Ukraine in 2000 played a similar role. They resurrected minutiae, long deleted from memory. How else might I once more vividly see the figure of Yelena, my next-door neighbor if I had not described her shuffling feet and her generous body held together by an apron, smeared with a lifetime of cooking? Her presence became even more vibrant when one missive recalled her showing me her apartment and taking me into her kitchen where a pet yellow finch is out of its cage and pecking away at a loaf of bread, and then, with great pride, her leading me into a large bedroom dominated by an equally large pink satin-covered bed on which she has arranged her dolls for me to admire. Such details, if not written down, would long have abandoned memory and left one helpless to capture the flavor of a person and a time.
Writing a memoir is a composite, a collage, of minutiae that escape the forgetfulness of memory.
Ann C. Colley is the author of The Odyssey and Dr. Novak. She is a SUNY Distinguished Professor at the State University College of New York in Buffalo. She has written extensively on nineteenth-century British literature and culture and has published with presses including Harcourt, Brace, Jovanovich, the University of Georgia Press, Macmillan, Ashgate, Palgrave, and the Cambridge University Press. She has taught abroad on Fulbright Fellowships in Poland and Ukraine. With Irving Massey she has traveled throughout South America, Central America, Nepal, Turkey, Morocco, Africa, Cape Verde, New Zealand, Armenia, Belarus, Hungary, the Soviet Union, Czechoslovakia, Poland, and Ukraine. Always nostalgic for the landscape of home, she often returns to England, where she spent the first thirteen years of her life. In the summers she lives in the wilderness of Nova Scotia.
Kimmery Martin is an emergency medicine doctor whose debut novel The Queen of Hearts is making waves in the literary world. With a broad range of writing under her belt—from medical research papers to articles for the writing website The Debutante Ball, The Huffington Post and a variety of other publications. Released in February 2018, The Queen of Hearts was named a Most Anticipated Book of 2018 by multiple media outlets including Southern Living (and Writer’s Digest) and has been praised by Booklist, Publishers Weekly, Kirkus, The Harvard Crimson, The New York Post, and The New York Times.
We were thrilled to catch up with Kimmery following the book release—and ahead of the Writer’s Digest Annual Conference, where she’ll be speaking on two panels and signing copies of her book.
Last year, you told WD that The Queen of Hearts is the first thing you had written aside from medical research papers. What drew you to writing fiction?
Reading! I’m a voracious reader—I typically get through a few books a week, both fiction and nonfiction. I’m not partial to a specific genre either; I tend to gravitate toward women’s fiction, suspense, and literary fiction, but I read almost everything. The idea of immortalizing your voice in written language is deeply appealing to me. One day, I sat down and decided to give it a try, and once I started, it unleashed an almost psychotic compulsion to write. I was hooked.
How has your experience in emergency medicine influenced your writing?
Well, you can imagine the fodder there. It’s got everything—humor, tragedy, heroics, drama. Plus it’s what I know best: There was never any question in my mind that my first novel would be placed in a medical setting.
You wrote The Queen of Hearts relatively quickly, but it took a few years before it was published. What advice can you give other writers—both about completing a first draft and about navigating the publishing industry?
I’ll tackle the second question first: If you want to traditionally publish, you must write a query letter that is hooky and concise. I failed—spectacularly—in my initial attempts, because I kept trying to shoehorn the entire plot into the letter. Agents don’t need a detailed plot synopsis in a query; they need a paragraph or two that makes them fling their coffee across the room and shriek I must know more. When I finally composed a better letter—thank you, Query Shark!—I think it was successful because I also sold myself: I made it clear this was a book I was uniquely qualified to write, and I managed to convey that the voice was uniquely mine.
Regarding drafts of a first manuscript: It’s kind of like having a first child. You’ll never again have the experience of just this one baby to worry about. Take your time and enjoy the luxury of doing whatever you want to do with it—no one else cares yet, and there’s beauty in that. You can bend genre expectations; you can ignore word count; you can take your time. There will be plenty of opportunity later to wrangle this sucker into something publishable, but in the beginning, have fun. Writing my first manuscript was a joy.
The Queen of Hearts has been getting some great attention in the media lately. What have you learned since the book was released?
That I’m both overly optimistic and incredibly thin-skinned? I’ve been lucky with professional reviews: They’ve been positive. Even The New York Times, which is known for occasionally savage reviews of women’s fiction, let me off with only moderate snark. But I’m gobsmacked by how variable regular readers can be in their response to a given book. The very things beloved to some readers cause other people’s heads to explode. I know, I know, I know: I should have expected this.
You said you’re working on second novel. What’s that one about, and how’s it coming along?
It’s going great! I’m churning out 15 pages a day of unparalleled brilliance. Just kidding. As every writer since the dawn of written language can attest, the second book is harder.
Here’s something about publishing I didn’t know: Agents and editors and publishers are into branding. They are not at all into genre-switching for your second novel, as I discovered when I blithely announced I was working on a biotech thriller. Everyone recoiled in horror, and then it was gently explained to me my readers—assuming I acquired any—would be expecting something more similar to my first novel. It’s actually in my contract now that my next two books will be about female physicians. So my next book is a spin-off about one of the minor characters from The Queen of Hearts—a urologist named Georgia. The nice thing about female urologists, though, is that the jokes just write themselves.
You’re going to be speaking on two panels at the Writer’s Digest Annual Conference, one of which is on women’s fiction as a genre. How do you feel about the designation of women’s fiction as a genre? Do you anticipate that that will evolve in the coming years?
I don’t love that designation, although I understand the rationale. But sometimes there is a tendency to assume women’s fiction is less cerebral or less worthy than other types of fiction, which is infuriating. Books can be frothy and funny and dramatic and feminine and still be smart. Books can be about the emotional journey of a female character and still be literary. However, there’s been a lot of genre-bending going on in fiction since the rise of self-publishing, which I think is a good thing. So maybe we’ll evolve past thinking books involving women need that particular label. Also: I know a lot of men read my book because I hear from them.
The other panel you’ll be speaking on (with Bess Kercher, Trish Rohr and Tracy Curtis) is about finding balance through a writing group. How long have you been part of this group, and how has being part of this group benefited your writing?
If you took away my writing group you’d sap my will to live, let alone my will to keep writing. They’re my everything. We formed serendipitously through a variety of chance encounters, but we’ve managed to create a multifaceted entity where we do it all: critiquing, proofreading, idea-generating, and every possible kind of crisis management. Come hear us talk about this at WDC 18!