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Posts tagged ‘publishing’

How She Writes: Caroline Topperman

I’m delighted for you to meet Caroline Topperman, a member of my fiction-writing peer group. Caroline is a European-Canadian writer, entrepreneur, dancer and world traveler. Born in Sweden, Caroline has travelled extensively. She speaks fluent English, Polish, and French.

As the founder of Style on the Side, Caroline has infused her professional background in fitness and beauty with her worldly upbringing to share her personal experiences, insights, and ultimately give others permission to step outside of their boxes and discover their own unique style/voice.

Currently living in Waterloo, Canada, earlier this year Caroline’s book Tell Me What You See, an inspiring collection of visual writing prompts, was published by One Idea Press. I’d heartily recommend Caroline’s book even if I didn’t know her personally. But since I do know her personally, I am really jumping up and down about her accomplishment. Caroline has kindly allowed me to share with you one of her prompts as a PDF. And if you’re interested in a structured exploration, Caroline just launched an online class based on her book. Enjoy!

Caroline! Introduce yourself.
I am a European-Canadian writer, entrepreneur, dancer who has never really said no to trying a job. I’ve owned a Pilates studio frequented by A-list celebrities and professional athletes; I’ve sold cosmetics; worked in fashion, the automotive industry, insurance, and had a stint in real estate. Several years ago, I founded my blog, Style on the Side where I share personal experiences and provide actionable advice in the style and fitness fields. Most recently, I wrote a visual prompt journal, Tell Me What You See, which helps people see the world through a new lens (along with a companion online class). Currently, I’m working on my next book, which is a family memoir.

Tell us about your book, your photography, your writing, and other creative endeavors.
I have always loved all the creative fields, but writing, whether through screenplays, scripts or stories, dance, or photography, has always been my favourite. I learned to take photographs on an old Rolleiflex camera and I wrote and performed in plays for as long as I can remember. I believe that creativity breeds creativity and participating in all these fields made me better at all of them. Dance and my film degree have allowed me to understand the composition for photography and writing has enabled me to fill in all the in between spaces and to communicate what I see when I close my eyes.

My book came about because of a bad case of writer’s block. I had just moved to a small town without an arts community and lacking in many services. I naturally fell back on my old love and started taking Polaroid photos; then I simply wrote what I saw. It dawned on me that there are probably lots of people who need to rely on visual stimulation to get them past creative blocks.

What prompted you to start a blog?
I’ve been blogging steadily for over 6 years now. I started because I really missed writing and being creative. At that time, I had stopped dancing and had no other creative outlet, so I decided to take a social media course and fell in love with the idea of blogging. It’s the online community and the human interaction that keep me motivated to continue. I’ve also had the opportunity to meet many amazing people all over the world.

What goals do you have for your creative pursuits? How do you define your “life’s work”?
One of the projects I’ve recently started is an online course based on my book and visual writing in general. I’m hoping to expand on that and get it up and running soon. I’d also like to publish the family memoir I’ve been working on for the past year. Past that, I’m working on several other writing projects that I want to bring to fruition and hopefully have published as well. As for defining my “life’s work,” I don’t know. I’m too curious and restless to do just one thing and while writing is here to stay and will always be a huge part of my life, I don’t think I could give up trying something new if given the opportunity. It’s not 100% serious for now, but I’ve been toying with the idea of selling everything and moving to the South of France…..

Where do you do your creative work?
Mostly at home. I’ve tried writing in coffee shops and while I do find the idea romantic, they are distracting and the seating is always uncomfortable. Any room with a view gets lots of bonus points. I crave open spaces.

Do you have a schedule for your writing and other creative activities?
At the moment I don’t because I’m very lucky that it’s what I do most of the day.

What do you struggle with most?
The lack of urgency. Since I’m only accountable to myself right now it’s easy to fill my days with other “things.” I’ll add that not having a mentor is tough. It would be great to have someone who could help me get my thoughts together, which would make it easier to move forward.

What inspires you?
I’m a very visual person and I love the bustling life of a big city that is filled with people, museums, galleries, plays, the ballet, and even window shopping. Travel, as well. I couldn’t live without visiting new places. All those things “feed my soul”

When are you at your happiest?
When I’m doing any of the above.

What are your top 5 favorite blogs/online resources?
The Paris Review: love all the articles. The Writer Magazine: I actually enjoy getting their emails. Almost an Author: great interviews and tips. The Write Life, they are a great general resource. Writer’s Digest, because it has pretty much everything. I’m also addicted to Brain Pickings by Maria Popova; I think she’s a genius.

What are you reading right now? My grandfather’s memoir for research, The French Girl by Lexie Elliot (just finished it, great beach read), The Book of Speculation by Erika Swyler (loving it), Killing Commendatore by Haruki Murakami (I love everything he writes), Hunting the Truth by Beate and Serge Klarsfeld (random find) and another random find, Little Boy by Lawrence Ferlinghetti. For anyone looking for bits of inspiration, his book of poetry is fantastic. I carry it around with me.

What advice would you offer to other women struggling to find the time and means to be more creative? With regards to means, there are lots of ways to be creative that are free so that is one problem solved. Even time isn’t that hard. Sure, you may not be able to dedicate hours upon hours to something specific, but as little as 15 minutes is enough to yield the stress-relieving benefits of creativity. This can include dancing around your living room, daydreaming (highly recommend it) or even doodling. The key is doing it consistently. If you are a writer, then keep a notebook by your bedside table or in the shower (there are special ones that exist for this purpose) and every time you have an idea write it down. Before you know it, you’ll have a beautiful book of your thoughts. Another option is to take photos with your phone (which we all do anyway) and then spend 5-10 minutes writing down what you see. I guarantee this will get those creative juices flowing.

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Meme of the Week

The novelistHappy Friday.

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Writer Mother Interview: Laura Wilkinson

Editor’s note: This interview is generously cross-posted from Alison Wells’s Head Above Water.

Laura Wilkinson grew up in a Welsh market town and as a child was a voracious reader. She has a BA in literature and worked as a freelance journalist, editor and copywriter. Her first novel, BloodMining, the story of a young woman’s quest to uncover the truth about her origins to save her son’s life, will be published in autumn 2011 by Bridge House. She currently lives and works in Brighton, England.

Tell us about your children, Laura.

I’ve two boys: Morgan, twelve, and Cameron, seven. They’re glorious redheads; I call them Ginger1 and Ginger2, and people comment on their extraordinary hair colour all the time, especially as both their parents are brunettes. You can imagine the comments!

When did your writing begin?

As a journalist, copywriter and editor for many years before the children came along, and then alongside them. Fiction came later, around five and a half years ago, once I was out of the totally sleepless nights period with my youngest. Both my boys were horrendous sleepers! My routine has always been fixed around the major needs of the kids and, so far, it seems to work for all of us.

What impact has having children had on your writing career?

Having the boys focused me. I’d harboured a desire to write fiction for years, but work and other stuff (like going out, partying, and other hedonistic activities) got in the way. As well as fear. After the children came along I became more aware, more centered, and the brevity and preciousness of life hit me, hard. I knew that if I didn’t at least try to write I’d have let myself down, and the boys somehow. Now I use the little free time I have doing something that stretches me, challenges me, surprises me, and I find that really, really exciting.

How do you organise your writing time and space? Read more

Applause

Our long-time blogmate Brittany Vandeputte was recently published in the Petigru Review! I stole the following from Brittany’s blog:

Yesterday I received my two free author copies of The Petigru Review. It felt good to hold a big chunk of a book in my hands, flip to the table on contents, and see my name listed three times. The $15 I made in “royalties” felt good, too. It brought the total profits from my writing to date up to $115. What a lucrative career choice I’ve made for myself…

Obviously I’m not in it for the money. It’s more the satisfaction of knowing someone else read my writing and thought other people would like it, too. That feels good. And it also feels good to be published in a literary journal named for James L. Petigru, SC stateman, who famously said “South Carolina is too small to be a republic, and too large to be an insane asylum.” I love my adopted state, but as a born and bred Tarheel, I do snicker (quietly) to myself whenever I hear that quote.

I had hoped that I could brag that it was now available on amazon.com, but it isn’t yet. It is, however, available at a local bookstore, Fiction Addiction.

I’m only doing my due dilligence by pointing out that it would fill a stocking nicely and would most certainly impress all your book-loving friends with its sophisticated, artsy, literary-journalness. Plus, I have it on good authority that you might even persuade one of the contibutors to autograph your copy. 🙂

Brava, Brittany! We’re so proud!

Boston Globe: Five Laws of the Novelist

An article in this morning’s Boston Globe picks up rather nicely where we left off last week. On Thursday, Brittany expressed her frustration with the process of finding a publisher and I wrote a rather lengthy comment about publishing in general (which hopefully helps spur our writers to action, rather than prompts them jump out the window). In the Globe, Stephen Bergman wryly illuminates the publishing process in “Five Laws of the Novelist“:

Law Two: Editors Are Ephemeral and Don’t Edit. The editor of my first novel moved to another publishing house for my second. In the middle of my third, at another publishing house, she was fired, and my new editor, after sending me terrific edits, was fired the next day. The editor on my fourth novel, at still another publishing house, said, “I love this novel. I won’t change a word.’’ But when I got the manuscript back she had marked it up with so much red pencil that each page was pink. We struggled. I took few of her suggestions. In our final conversation she said, “You’ve ruined this book. It will get bad reviews,’’ and then she was fired. As one editor told me: “We no longer edit, we acquire and market.’’

Law Three: Publishers Don’t Publish. When my first novel was about to come out, I asked my publisher if it would sell. “No, your novel won’t sell.’’ This startled me. “It’s about medicine, and that’s good, and it’s funny and sexy, and that’s good.’’ Why won’t it sell? “Because it’s a good book. Good books don’t sell.’’ Bookstores can return any book for a full refund, a business model that spells doom for publishing. Only about 5 percent of books pay back their advance. Those hardcover remainders piled up in stores mean that the publishers overpaid, overprinted, and undersold.

Law Four: There Is No Humiliation Beneath Which a Writer Cannot Go. My second novel had come out in paperback, and my wife and I were on a hiking trip in New Hampshire. We stopped in a mom-and-pop store for lunch. There, in a spindle bookrack, were two copies of my novel. I immediately suspected my wife had placed them there, to make me feel good. Nope. I took both books off the rack and went up to the little old lady at the counter, and announced, “I wrote this book.’’

“Oh, you wrote that book?’’ she asked.

I averred yes. I asked if she would like me to sign the copies.

“Oh no, our folks would never buy a book that was writ in.’’

Another standard humiliation: At an author-signing in a bookstore, sitting at a desk near the window, facing a wall of Grishams, watching people hurrying past as if you are a child molester. Not fun, especially if your publisher has overlooked advertising the event.

Law Five: There Is Only One Reason To Write. During a post-second-novel depression, I spent six months, more or less, in the bathtub, trying to give up being a writer. Finally I realized that while I disliked publishing, I still loved writing. But if you want to respect what you write (rather than write for cash), you need a day job. Luckily, decades previously I faced a choice: between Vietnam or Harvard Med. I became a psychiatrist because I might learn about character and story, and could leave mornings free to write. Not as good a day job as my first, working the graveyard shift as a toll collector on the Rip Van Winkle Bridge – you can learn pretty much everything from what goes on at night in cars – but still.

Only write if you can’t not.

Read the full piece here. Then, get back to work!

Brittany: In Defense of the Novelist

Recently, on my personal blog, I wrote about my latest rejection from the world of publishing. After asking to see my full manuscript, it was rejected one hour and seven minutes after I submitted it. That stings and I’m grumpy about it. But probably not for the reasons you’d expect.

I’m not one of those writers who thinks everything I write is genius. I don’t shun editing, or even re-writing, when it’s warranted. I like to hear criticisms of my writing (though obviously accolades are more welcome) because I do see writing as a process, and something you are always learning and growing from. So when I submitted my manuscript to this publishing company, I didn’t expect them to trip over themselves in their zeal to offer me a contract. I’m a realist.

But at the same time, I didn’t expect to be rejected so summarily, or so soon. The email I received said that while the “best editor” at the house loved my concept, she just couldn’t deal with the long laundry list of rooms in the house and their flaws and that I should re-work my book with an eye toward keeping my readers’ interest. Ouch. It’s obvious to me that the editor stopped reading at somewhere in chapter 1, at which point she suggested to the publisher, who then suggested to me, that after I reworked my book, I should re-submit it to them.

I got online and whined about my bad luck on Facebook. My friends were split into two camps. There were the ones who said, “Excellent! They’re still interested in your work! Re-write it and re-submit it to them!” And there were the ones who said, “Send it to someone else. If this publisher can’t be bothered to actually read the entire manuscript, they’re big fat, giant poopie heads and don’t deserve to publish your book anyway.”

I can appreciate their reactions, and I agree with them both. But at the same time, I feel very sad. I feel sad for me, the writer, whose three-year work-in-progress isn’t getting published. I feel sad for readers, whose literary choices are controlled by publishers who expect every story to play like an episode of 24. I feel sad for publishers, who are so time and cash-strapped, they don’t have the time to read a novel and examine it through a wider lens. It seems like more and more, novels are going the way of news, where everything must be reduced to a sound bite. What happened to the novels of Jane Austen and Charles Dickens, where a reader could get lost in the lengthy descriptions of another world? What happened to our collective attention spans that we can no longer absorb large amounts of information without singing, dancing, and catchy slogans? I remember from my experiences as a teacher that there was an enormous push to make learning fun and entertaining. That’s all fine and good when it’s appropriate, but sometimes, you have to know the basics before you can make the learning fun. People seem to forget that.

I devoted six double-spaced pages of my novel to a description of Alex and Will’s tri-level. It is the central conflict of the book, the “home” in Home Improvement, the place where the vast majority of the action in the book happens, the physical manifestation of all that is going wrong between my main characters. My reader has to see it, has to be overwhelmed with the “laundry list of problems,” has to experience the house the way Alex experiences it. They have to understand why buying this house seemed like a good idea at the time. They have to understand that this is the moment of no return.

Evelyn pulled into the driveway of a large brick tri-level with gray siding and cheerful yellow shutters. It sat on an oversized corner lot where several mature oaks and maples dotted the yard. We got out of the car and wandered up the daisy-lined sidewalk to the front door. Evelyn unlocked it and we stepped inside.

From the outside, I expected warm country décor, much like what we’d seen in other houses. But the entryway walls were chalk white, and instead of bandanna-clad cows, the only decoration was a large square of geometric-patterned carpet and a light fixture made of neon squiggles.

“The owners go for those modern touches,” Evelyn observed.

If a twenty-year-old light fixture was her idea of a modern touch, I couldn’t wait to see what else she considered current décor.

“Let’s start on the first level,” Evelyn said, and led us from the entryway, down a short flight of stairs to the family room.

The first level was mostly below ground, except for two small windows that were level with the Indian Hawthorne growing in front of the house. A cookie-scented candle sat burning on the family room fireplace mantle and filled the room with the irresistible scent of baking cookies. The-butter-and-vanilla-scented room was enormous, and looked extra inviting with its large brick fireplace on the far wall. Those were the room’s good points. Unfortunately, the room was crowded with mismatched furniture, and the wood-paneled walls were covered all over in little strokes of aqua and pink paint. After a few seconds, my vision began to blur.

I wandered through a doorway to my left and into the den. A homemade desk took up most of the room and black splotches circled the ceiling. “Is that mold up there?” I asked.

Evelyn squinted at the walls while Will examined the nearest patch. “It’s just paint,” he said after poking it.

Who in their right mind thought faux-mold was a good idea?

I asked the same question when we opened the door to the laundry room. Every surface was covered in pink sponge marks, including the pipes. As I stared at the paint job, Evelyn came up behind me and said, “This sponge-painting is all the rage right now. We just did it in our dining room. It turned out really nice.”

I had my doubts.

I won’t be re-submitting my work to this particular house. And I won’t be re-working anything with so little critique to go on. Again, I’m not averse to re-working my novel, but I have to feel like the changes I make are purposeful. I had purposeful reasons for writing the scene as I did, and I need to find an editor who, at the very least, understands my intent and can support my vision. That’s all I’m really asking for. I think that’s all any novelist can ask for.

The whole publishing experience feels a lot like that poem The Blind Men and the Elephant. Everyone “sees” something differently, and everyone is wrong. I know I still have a lot to learn. The first order of business is hiring a professional editor… someone who is looking at my book for its strengths, rather than its weaknesses. Then we’ll see where I go from there.

Jenn: Running and Writing

Hi all, it’s been a while since I’ve posted.  Summer was crazy with teaching, then my daughter, parents, and I spent 3 weeks in very remote coastal Maine and New Brunswick.  No phones, no internet, no tv, bliss.  Now I’m back in the swing of things, and the textbook is progressing rapidly.  I have 20 chapters total, and have submitted 10 of them in final draft form to the publisher.  The next 10 are transitioning quickly from rough to final, and I anticipate getting the whole thing in by the end of the year.  Yay!  It’s been so much fun to write this book, and I feel like it’s made me a better teacher as well.

The frustrating thing is that I don’t feel like my publishing company and editors have been giving the book enough time and attention.  The editors keep saying they’re going to be sending along comments soon, but nothing ever comes.  I am trying to be patient, as my rough draft deadline isn’t until July 09.  They may not have budgeted time this soon to spend on my project.  But the other concern I have is that this company doesn’t do the promoting that some of the big companies do.  When I told my representative at a big company I do a lot of business with that I am writing this book, she just about killed me for not asking her company to publish it.  I think it would sell MUCH more with that firm, but I’ve already signed a contract.  Does anyone have any idea how to navigate these waters?  Can one get out of a contract?

Also, I’m still running like crazy, last weekend I ran a 5K on Sat and a 1/2 marathon on Sunday.  I don’t usually do 5K’s, because my rule is to never run a race it takes longer to get to than it does to run.  But this one was sponsored by the University where I’m employed, and it was very close to my house.  I ran it too fast, which made the run the next day quite painful.  But it is the 1/2 marathon I wanted to write about here. It was the Maine Coast 1/2 Marathon, and only women are allowed to enter.  There’s a “significant other 5K” and one man, chosen from a lottery, got to run with us.

It was a spectacular race, highlighted by the fact that Kathrine Switzer was the emcee.  She has the distinction of being the first woman registered for the Boston Marathon, and many people recall the photos of Jock Semple (race director) attempting to physically yank her off the course once he found out a “girl” was running his race.  She’s since ran several marathons, and now organized races and does a lot of event speaking.  She’s written three books, and was signing and selling books at this race.  I purchased “Marathon Woman,”  which was a great book for the first two thirds.  By the end, it started to read like the acknowledgements section… too many names, dates, places, and races that stopped being as riveting as the first half of the book.

But Kathrine Switzer is a great example of a sort-of mom (a stepson entered her life fairly late in his teenage years) who is able to balance work, writing, running, and family magnificently.  She’s 62 years old and looks about 45.  She’s slim, solid, and exudes happiness and grace.  She also wrote “Running and Walking for Women Over 40,” which is a great starting book for those wanting to get into the sport.  I find that my best ideas are hatched while running, and my best actual writing is done immediately after running… all that oxygen in the brain.  If I’m ever stuck on something, even a quick 2-miler is guaranteed to free up any writer’s block.

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