Wednesday, September 10, 2014

It Takes a Village: A Storytelling Experiment Utilizing Social Media

Beginning on June 23rd, eleven participants ranging from established novelists and instructors to newly published writers, started taking turns telling one story through Twitter posts.  The activity, coined ‘Twitter Tales’, is a storytelling experiment that means to further define the role of social media in the writer’s life; addressing opposing beliefs, questions and myths. What we’ve discovered thus far dispels some commonly held views and forges new ones while raising questions about further possibilities. We will be sharing more about our revelations on this wild ride of creativity, but this post will introduce the players, the story and the start of our pioneering adventure.

So how did we end up in a 1920s LA noir? None of us rightly know. It happened along the way. That’s what is so fascinating about this whole endeavor. Yet perhaps it would be right to say that the story and the idea of the activity, all began with the original trouble-maker that had to go asking questions, researching and gathering recruits to investigate the idea of social media for writers. Not content with the conflicting information, the lack of available statistics and unexplored territories, she felt compelled to go on a crusade for answers to bring back for her readers. That fiery dame and her brazen ideas.  I’m sure it’s no mystery who that troublesome broad is. (I just wish you’d pretended to wait a few moments longer to pin it on me.) Once I had my accomplices, I came up with 4 posts for the others to vote on as a beginning. There were no dictates or restraints on genre or premise. This was the winner:  "A key, a ring, a license plate; all metal, all evidence of life, all that was left in the end. The element deemed 'the decline of matter.'"

We would each be moving this story forward one post, one turn at a time. It seemed that we could ‘play God’ in 140 characters or less. What we started to discover, however, is that this story had its own momentum and was teaching us as we went. The story formed a particular voice early on, despite 11 varied writers driving it. Though the story is now a 20s noir and has clear elements of that genre, it still transcends it with a contemplative literary tone. While checking that the story is historically accurate, what was interesting, is that the research for location, transportation and communication (telephone direct dial service) coincided with what we’d already written.

One writer was given a book on the 1920s as a gift right before the story landed in that time period. Another who hadn’t yet taken their first turn, said that they had family in the LA area at that time. When making an example art set to accompany the story on a digital collage site (more on the art component in posts to come), I chose a French song to play in the background for its sound. What I realized when I translated the lyrics was that it fit the characters’ feelings perfectly at that point in the story and I hadn’t known that ahead of time. Beyond the serendipity at work, a theme behind our magazine itself, we learned about ourselves and our roles.

As the complexity in the story arc rose, minute details of dates, objects, actions and emotional ties carried added weight. The dynamic challenge increases to cohesively construct the story 140 characters at a time, building upon one another’s words. The story’s life depends on how well we can all work together and as a result, it’s no longer about personal motivation deciding our course, but rather the needs of the story. We’re developing each other’s leads, solving each other’s mysteries and supporting each other’s paths. Writing is deemed an isolating profession—said to be even more so in the digital age. We create alone, we wrestle our own inner egos and censors. We are accountable to ourselves and make all the decisions. The work’s victories and struggles are individual.

Yet here, it’s all about coming together to do what we can and must to make our story survive and thrive. Like the game of Trust, we step in when it’s our turn, then let go and trust that the person following behind will securely catch what we’ve placed in their arms. There can be inherent challenges in this (both fun challenges that inspire and challenges that push us, adapting on our feet mid-sprint). With our great team, we are working collectively to craft a great story and share all that we’ve discovered. Isolated by writing? Nope. Isolated by technology? No—brought together. We’re putting the ‘social’ in social media.

The Story

Beginning: “A key, a ring, a license plate; all metal, all evidence of life, all that was left in the end. The element deemed ‘the decline of matter.’"

Charles Salzberg: That's all I had to work with. I've had less which turned out to be more than enough. 1st step: Find the lock the key fit. #TwitterTales

Diane McDonough: I had to get a grip & mourn later, forging those metals-ring, key, license plate-into armor that would shield me from all this. #TwitterTales

Jackie Dawn: Still, old memories were like old habits. I rolled the ring across my palm & remembered his words as he slipped it on my finger. #TwitterTales

Joseph Barro: My mind raced. My ears bled in a deafening ring. My vision returning more clearly. The plate read: CA. The date...could it be? #TwitterTales

Linda Emma: Impossible. Unrelated,yet totally relevant? How could its expiration be the same as his: April 18, 1923 #twittertales

Martin Crosbie: I grabbed the key. It was time to go back to the beginning, time to remember what he'd told me, time to finally seek the truth #TwitterTales

Pat Greene: Right then it hit me - how many truths or even lies like this had he kept from me? Had I known Mark at all? The phone rang #TwitterTales

Rochelle Shapiro: “Hello?” “Is Mark there?” a woman said. “Who is this?” I said. “Mark’s wife,” she said. I was silent as Theda Bara on screen. #TwitterTales

Stephanie Haddad: I had so many questions, but could only manage an “Oh?” I wanted to scream. But this woman was the only avenue toward answers. #TwitterTales

Terin Tashi Miller: "Mark's not here. He's gone." I said. It was true. "How did you get this number?" I had to keep her on the line. I had to. #TwitterTales

NMB: Don’t be coy. I know who you are. I don’t really concern myself with my husband’s dalliances or whereabouts. I want the key. #TwitterTales

Charles Salzberg: What makes you think I have the key? Even if I did, why would I give it to you? Perhaps we should meet and maybe work this out.#TwitterTales

Diane McDonough: Alright. But know that I hired a private eye and I have pictures that I’ll take to the FBI unless I get the key. Understand? #TwitterTales

Jackie Dawn: “Fine,” I said, though belief was shallow. “Meet me at the sign.” “Sign?” She asked. “Don't feign ignorance. You know which one.” #TwitterTales

Joseph Barro: The line disconnected. Headlights appeared through the canyon mist. A yellow cab? I froze. Run? I walked casually to the road. #TwitterTales

Linda Emma: Time to confront this hired PI. Even if those photos could topple an empire. It was just a house of cards – flimsy as the sign #TwitterTales

Martin Crosbie: He was from the old neighborhood, I knew him. With his rumpled coat + eleven-o’clock leer he was calling himself a PI now. #TwitterTales

Pat Greene: "When I saw the cab, I guessed that her PI had followed me here to Hollywoodland, but I never thought he would be you, John. #TwitterTales"

Rochelle Shapiro: "Marion, I know what happened to Mark. Get in." #Twittertales

Stephanie Haddad: My breath caught. Await an angry woman or trust a man I couldn’t trust. Old flames will be my downfall. I ducked into the cab. #twittertales

Terin Tashi Miller: I slid in the cab next to John. His hand rested on top of mine. Slowly, he turned my hand over. "Did you bring the key?" #TwitterTales

NMB: “Marion, I’m taking you to the bank right now.You’re going to open that safety deposit box.You’ll never have him or the money.”#TwitterTales

To be continued…  Find out what happens to contemplative, sophisticated Marion, discover what Mark was up to and whether he’s dead or alive! (It seems a number of readers, etc. want his character to have been killed off, but you’ll just have to see.)

See new posts as we continue through the story arc and all of the posts thus far on Twitter @WriteplcWritetm. You can also read the story on Facebook through our page and the Twitter event page (updates are posted every three turns):

Read about the thrilling visual arts component involving the digital collage site Polyvore in an upcoming post.  A contest between two art groups was held for two weeks during which time artistically inclined users were encouraged to create art sets inspired by the first eleven individual Twitter posts from the story. The results from this synergistic combination of talented writers and amazing artists have been nothing short of awe-inspiring and the reaction from entrants around the world was profound. Well over 100 Polyvore art sets were entered with enthusiasm, creative passion, emotion and dedication.

The Players

Charles Salzberg is a freelance writer whose work has appeared in Esquire, GQ, New York Magazine, the New York Times and other periodicals. He is the author or co-author of more than 25 non-fiction books. His novel, Swann's Last Song, was nominated for a Shamus Award. He has also written a sequel, Swann Dives In, and the third in the series, Swann's Lake of Despair will be published in October. His latest novel, Devil in the Hole, was named one of the set crime novels of the year by Suspense magazine. He has been a Visiting Professor of Magazine at the S.I. Newhouse School of Public Communications at Syracuse University and he teaches writing at the Writer's Voice and the New York Writers Workshop where he is a Founding Member.

Diane McDonough is a poet and writer who has been published in numerous journals. She won first prize in the PrimeTime Cape Cod 2013 Poetry Contest and has exhibited her poetry in responsive art exhibits, including the current 2014 Poetry and Art Show, Wickford Art Association. Diane, who worked as a high school educator for over 25 years, has a B.A. in English and an M.Ed. in Counseling Psychology. She lives in the village of Marstons Mills on Cape Cod with her husband and their two dogs.

Jackie Dawn received a bachelor's degree in creative writing and literature from Hofstra University in 2007, where she was also the recipient of the Eugene Schneider Award for Prose. Her work has appeared in several literary journals, including Susquehanna University's The Apprentice Writer. She lives in New York, where she works as a senior editor in marketing and as a freelance writer. In addition, she is a co-moderator of and contributor to a weekly fiction blog. She is a dedicated shoe and book addict, and is currently working on her first novel.

Joseph Barro resides in Southern California with his wife and family.  He is a high school teacher, as well as a lifelong musician, songwriter, recording, and performing artist. Joseph has written hundreds of songs, a variety of recorded albums, and has just begun writing short stories for publication. He just recently celebrated his first publication with his short story “Bodies” featured in the Winter/Spring 2014 issue of the literary magazine  Joseph is now participating in a social media storytelling project entitled #TwitterTales with a variety of other writers. Follow Joseph on Twitter or contact at the following address:
Twitter: @MrJBarro

Linda Emma is an author, educator and educational marketing writer. She creates client content and supervises a small team of freelance writers, helping them to hone their individual skills and styles while always maintaining the client voice. Linda also works at a small New England college where she has served as instructor, writing tutor and learning consultant. In the spare moment or two she can eke out of any week, she pens posts to a tongue-in-cheek titled blog and tries to still maintain a relationship with the fictional characters of her forthcoming second novel. She is married with two children who always inspire.

In a press release, Amazon called Martin Crosbie one of their success stories of 2012. His self-publishing journey has been chronicled in Publisher's Weekly, Forbes Online, and Canada's The Globe and Mail newspaper. His non-fiction work How I Sold 30,000 eBooks on Amazon's Kindle: An Easy-To-Follow Self-Publishing Guidebook, 2014 Edition has been called “A must-have go-to reference book for self-published writers.” He's also the author of My Temporary Life – Book One of the My Temporary Life Trilogy, My Name Is Hardly - Book Two of the My Temporary Life Trilogy, Lies I Never Told: A Collection of Short Stories, and Believing Again: A Tale Of Two Christmases. You can learn more about Martin at:
Connect with him at:

Pat Greene is originally from Ireland but has been calling New York home for the past twenty five years. He earns his daily crust working in the very unique and demanding, yet very exciting NYC construction industry. In his spare time, he likes to write and you can read some of his short fiction

Rochelle Jewel Shapiro’s first novel, Miriam The Medium (Simon & Schuster), was nominated for the Harold U. Ribelow Award. Her novel, Kaylee’s Ghost (Amazon and Nook), is an Indie Finalist. Her latest short story collection, What I Wish You'd Told Me, has just been published by Shebooks. She’s published essays in NYT (Lives), and Newsweek and in many anthologies. Her poetry, short stories, and essays have appeared in The Coe Review, Compass Rose, The Griffin, Inkwell Magazine, The Iowa Review, Los Angeles Review, The MacGuffin, Memoir And Moment, Negative Capability, Pennsylvania English, The Carolina Review, and more. She won the Brandon Memorial Literary Award from Negative Capability. Shapiro is a professional psychic who currently teaches writing at UCLA Extension.

Stephanie Haddad is a wife and mother of two by day, a freelance writer and author by bedtime. She is the author of four romance novels, including the Amazon top-ten hit A Previous Engagement. Stephanie also enjoys writing short stories, some of which appear in the virtual archives of The Write Place At the Write Time. Now that her youngest is nearing age 2, she's hoping to dedicate more time to her fiction writing, including a paranormal romance series in the works.

Terin Tashi Miller spent many of his formative years in India, the child of anthropologist parents. Since then, he has lived and worked in a variety of countries in Europe and Asia. His writing has appeared in guide books, international magazines including Time and Geografica Revista, and newspapers including The Wall Street Journal, The Dallas Morning News and The Los Angeles Times.  Born in St. Louis, Mo., and raised in Madison, Wis. and several provinces in India, he currently lives in New Jersey.

Nicole M. Bouchard is Editor-in-Chief and founder of The Write Place At the Write Time literary journal. This is a role she has enjoyed for six years, connecting with incredible creative individuals. She is a member of the National League of American Pen Women. She began her writing career in journalism at a regional entertainment publication with pieces including interviews with Broadway actress Marie Danvers and singer/songwriter Jewel Kilcher. Combining magazine journalism editing experience with her fiction writing and passion for literature, she turned her interest toward the literary world. Her portfolio includes best-selling authors such as Janet Fitch, Dennis Lehane, Arthur Golden, Alice Hoffman Joanne Harris, Mona Simpson, Melanie Benjamin and a number of creative professionals. She served as one of the editors on the small press panel at The Fourth Annual Mass. Poetry Festival in 2012.  Ms. Bouchard has recently enjoyed branching out into freelance substantive and developmental manuscript editing. She still writes as time allows, assembling a short fiction collection and working on a novel. 





Sunday, June 1, 2014

Review of Under Magnolia: A Southern Memoir

Review by Denise Bouchard

In her new memoir, Under Magnolia: A Southern Memoir, Frances Mayes, author of Under the Tuscan Sun and Bella Tuscany to name a few, has returned to her Southern roots. Below, she describes her current idea of home:

          Bees swarm inside a giant boxwood near the kitchen door. Hundreds of them. The whole bush hums, as I pass, four golden furry ones zoom out and dive around my face. As soon as the weather warmed, a six foot black snake adopted the front porch for its shady naps. Proprietarily, it coils on a chair, and sometimes slinks behind the cushion, which can be startling if you happen to take a break in late afternoon with a glass of tea and a book.

I have read glimpses of Mayes’s South in her other books and I was especially charmed by the long outdoor table to which her father would invite his office workers on hot Friday afternoons. It was always laden with fried chicken, biscuits, peach pickles and assorted mouth-watering cakes.

In Under Magnolia, I was prepared to sit back and savor many more of these Southern idylls. I was in for quite a surprise! Mayes draws back the curtains and exposes everything it took to create the idyllic scene above. Come taste the heat of a Georgian summer like a shot of Jack Daniels trickling down your insides to warm your belly. This may be her most revealing work yet.

We are brought back in time with the familiar prose so beautiful and clear that one can feel the heat, see the thickly running muddy-brown rivers, fear the water moccasins with large black fangs below its depths and try to ignore the crocodiles crawling up the embankments. I want to tuck my feet up on the chair.

From the caustic patriarchs to the survival of the fittest family politics, the book is reminiscent of Tennessee Williams’ Cat on a Hot Tin Roof, the film The Long, Hot Summer and the deliciously eccentric gun-wielding personas of John Berendt’s Savannah in Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil. There is everything here you’d expect in a Southern drama except the murder...but then again...

Indeed, her neighbor’s father used to tease her and her best friend by lifting a gun to his temple; alone one day, he actually pulled the trigger. Another friend came home from school to discover his mother in the kitchen, bullet through her mouth, ginger bread on the counter and teeth stuck in the ceiling. In her own family there was the ranting and raging ‘Big Daddy’, her grandfather, and also her own father’s intense swings of mood. “At his worst my father ripped open his shirt, buttons popping off, and carried his loaded rifle through the house aiming at lamps or windows. ‘Not a one of you appreciates me,’ he shouted.” This was Mayes’s South. If the water moccasins in the rivers where she swam and the bees outside the door don’t get you, the people just might.

It was interesting to me that Mayes, who has traveled extensively throughout the world, has come home to the soil of her tumultuous roots. This book explains why she has returned to the flames that forged her.

Though it was at times a wild and chaotic environment in which to grow up, it was endemic to that which also nourished her and without which, she might not have become the amazing writer that she is today. It forced her to find solace in books and she became a voracious reader. She had such constant stimulation raging around her with all those colorful, idiosyncratic characters, that she sometimes hid in a laundry bag. This sensory overload only contributed to her singular education and predisposition toward looking at life in a poetic way. She became contemplative and learned to study, listen to and examine life. In this way, she became a sensualist who could celebrate a shade of green in a synesthetic way so that the reader can almost hear it or taste the color purple and feel its warmth.

Her early love of poetry, fiction and non-fiction is what brought us her beloved non-fiction tomes to date. As when Marco Polo opened his chest and spices spilled out to flavor bland foods, Mayes’s words add spice to our lives. I am always transported with her descriptions of her favorite places, projects and stories of how the great writers lived and the indigenous foods. “Taste is also a memory,” she reminds us. She has brought us little-known facts such as stories of the ancient Pliny the Elder and his gardens. She has told us of his fanciful creatures cut from boxwood and “during suppers in Pliny’s garden, light courses were floated in artificial birds with miniature ships on the surface of a stone pool. His concept of gardens blended sweetly into his version of happiness, a philosophy of otium, life spent in elegant, intellectual freedom.”

She travels and explores just as an anthropologist would, renting out houses, living among the people, going to family-owned restaurants which are mere holes-in-the-wall where the owners proudly bring her all manner of bounty. She has taken us to Granada, Spain and we raised a glass to Federico Garcia Lorca. We were there as he put on plays, strummed flamenco guitar under the moon, or recited poetry. “What synesthetic images grew inside of him?” she asked.

In this new memoir, we learn of the synesthetic images that grew inside of Frances. If she sacrificed it has been for our gain as the colorful personas that shaped her are what has given us such a deep knowledge of the world.

Mayes fortunately had an ally in the house where she grew up. Willie Bell was the maid, having worked for the family before Frances was born. “It was not a cozy member of the family Aunt Jemima, Gone With the Wind Mammy thing. She and I simply knew we were in it together.” Willie Bell would grace the day with her wonderful cooking or soothe Frances when she got the switch or prevented her from that fate altogether. “'Just run and play, try not to pay them any mind, they all crazy,' she’d say, not looking up from the stove.” “She offered me not sympathy but a steady point of view.” She also speaks of her parents with love and tells us of the things her late mother left her with and I am reminded of my own mother. “Often in Tuscany when I’m rolling out pizza dough, setting the table for twenty, poking an armful of hydrangeas in a pitcher, I think, she would have loved this.”

Mayes enjoyed her college years at RandolphMacon College immensely though they were filled with rules and more rules. This may have knocked the independence out of some but she just found more and more ways to expand. She was creative in her pursuit of freedom, sometimes taking the train alone to Princeton. She cultivated friendships there that lasted a lifetime. “We forgot about pleasing men, there weren’t any.” On weekends though, she and her friends had full dance cards, so to speak, as they were in close proximity to the boys’ colleges. Mayes never walked alone and she was a passionate person sampling all of life until she found what nourished her. She searched for the kind of love she would need in life while enjoying the whole of the journey along the way.

It was interesting to read of Frank Mayes, Frances’s first husband, who makes a strong appearance in this book as opposed to Frances’s other books in which his absence makes him prominent in the reader's mind, leaving us to wonder about this figure and the marriage she thought would last forever. Of course then, she wouldn’t have met Ed, who is so right for her in so many ways. I love how Ed is up for anything Frances wants to do in life. He literally and metaphorically helps clear a path for her in all of her pursuits.

There are always hints of Mayes’s love for the South that run through her books on the good life in Tuscany. In this book, the reasons for comparison come out more distinctly. “One reason I felt immediately at home in Tuscany was that certain strong currents of life reminded me of the South. The warmth of the people and their generosity felt so familiar, and I knew well that identical y’all come hospitality.” She also speaks of “the shared bond of people who’ve come out of a place of unpredictable weather and terrain, a sun strong enough to melt your bones, a place where the second coming is still expected, where the night creatures sing the most soulful music that can be imagined. Back in the South, the tribal pulse of the place beats, the primitive gift that I sensed as a child, riding to sea on the back of a turtle.”

She leaves us with the idea of place and belonging which she has found once again in a North Carolina town, an artists’ colony where “[p]eople talk to you everywhere. Waiting at the dentist, filling the tank, checking out at the grocery store. Each gesture may mean little but cumulatively, there’s a message: You are not alone.”

What the book most importantly leaves you with are pieces of yourself. My own memory was stirred with a bite of this, the warmth of that. A spray of her mother’s French perfume from the house of Guerlain and I was back in the grand department store with the marble staircase where I managed the highly elegant cosmetics department in the once busy city where I grew up. Under Magnolia was a sensory experience that lingered. What a precious gift. I hope that I can meet Mayes someday and say thank you for her words—but probably not on her Southern front porch, where I think back to the six foot snake who occasionally likes to put in an appearance. Will Mayes stay in the South? “I won’t say it’s permanent. My philosophy is stare attento, stay attentive, beware... The most pitiable spirits in Dante’s hell, are those unable to move out of their assigned circle. Stare attento. Always look for the next circle to jump to.” This is a good philosophy in this modern day and age when the only thing that is certain is change.  

Author Link:

Monday, February 10, 2014

Valentine's Reminiscence

"Rose Red" by C. Michelle Olson;

Valentine's Non-fiction Feature:
The King of Hearts
by Anita Solick Oswald
February was the time of year when we all had almost recovered from the hangover of Christmas and New Year's. We needed another holiday. The Presidents’ Birthdays were not festive enough, and I hated cherries. Thankfully, Valentine’s Day was on its way. Daddy never failed to bring Mom her favorite Fannie May Pixies, flowers, and jewelry. And, there were always small satin hearts filled with Fannie May and a card for each of his daughters.
Fifth grader Matthew Rossi was a lover, too. The pale-skinned, freckle-faced, red-haired, overweight boy believed he was Casanova reincarnated. Unfortunately, the neighborhood girls thought he looked more like a great speckled egg. Nothing could stop Matthew, who made it his quest to kiss every girl in the class whether they liked it or not—he would not be deterred. He always had large amounts of cash on him; maybe this gave him unwarranted confidence with the ladies. 
It didn’t take long for his reputation as a serial smoocher to spread among the fourth grade girls. 
“Watch out for Rossi—he’ll try to grab you and kiss you.”
I made sure to keep my distance.
I should have thrown away his birthday party invitation when the young Lothario handed it to me, but I was never a devious kid. I showed the brightly colored “You’re Invited” to Mom, and explained I had a previous engagement. 
“Mom, please, I can’t go—I promised Barb I’d take her to see Rodan at the Marbro.”   
Mom, whose sense of fairness only seemed to extend to other kids, dismissed my entreaty.
“You will hurt his feelings—you’re going.”
I knew I’d lost the argument before it started.
So, feet dragging, I reported for the birthday party at the Rossi flat on West End. 
Mrs. Rossi presided over the festivities. A tall, heavy-set woman, she followed the European fashion in grooming habits; in other words, she didn’t shave her legs or armpits. There was no furniture in the apartment living room or dining room; rolls of linoleum bordered the room. As guests arrived, she directed them to drop their gifts in the pile in the corner.
“Sit on the linoleum. We’re redecorating.”
Now when my Mom threw a party, she went all out, with party favors, cake, ice cream and treats for the guests. But these niceties were lost on Mrs. Rossi. The kids played a few games and then she brought out the cake. We quickly sang a few bars of “Happy Birthday to you," Matthew blew out the candles, and the cake was whisked back to the kitchen to be cut and served.
Matthew’s little brother, Zachary, skulked in the corner, occasionally trying to grab a girl and pull her hair. We despised Zachary. He was two years younger and in the same class as my sister, Barbara. We thought he was nasty, a budding sex maniac. While Matthew was a masher, Zachary was more interested in the seamier side of love—he wrote obscenities on the blackboard when the nun could not see, her habit blocking her peripheral vision. 
Outraged, Barb snitched on him, and Zachary had to serve detention, while Matthew, the young romantic, remained free to roam.
During the hysteria that preceded the cake and ice cream, Matthew approached me as I perched, trying to keep my balance, on the linoleum roll. True to his reputation, he whispered, “I want to show you something in the back. It’s really amazing.”
But I was wise to Rossi and rebuffed him.
“Oh no, Matthew, I’ve heard all about you.”
Matthew protested that I had him all wrong, and he was really trying to show me a toy, then a game, then kittens; nothing worked. He quickly lost interest when Mrs. Rossi returned with the plates of cake and ice cream.
“Birthday boy, get over here. You’re first.”
I silently prayed that Mom would show up soon to pick me up, and she finally did, but we could not escape yet. Mrs. Rossi, who towered over my mother, cornered Mom in the doorway, to tell her about her redecorating plans. Trapped under Mrs. R's armpit, Mom tried to squirm her way out but she was trapped. Her face grew redder and redder.
I chuckled when we finally walked out on the stoop and Mom exhaled.
Finally, I got my point across. “Ha, serves you right, Mom. You made me go. And Matthew tried to kiss ME!”
“Kiss you? What? Oh no—you’re never going there again.”

But love was all around us. In the 1950s and early 1960s, St. Mel Holy-Ghost School sponsored an endless onslaught of charitable giving campaigns from September when we walked through the doors of the venerable institution until June when we ran frantically from the hallowed halls to our summer months of freedom. 
There was never a dull moment at St. Mel-Holy Ghost School. Every date in the liturgical calendar was a golden opportunity to raise money for the “poor starving children in other countries.” I had to hand it to the nuns—they were pretty clever. Every holy day and holiday, they had a gimmick to appeal to our consciences, our concern for our fellow man, and our charity. And, despite all evidence to the contrary, those nuns were successful in making us believe there was someone less fortunate than ourselves. Quite a feat, considering we were living in a slum, a neighborhood to which urban renewal would never come.
Valentine’s Day was yet another occasion for this magic act. St. Mel Church itself was monumental, built by the community in 1910 and designed after the Romanesque style of architecture; it boasted the best Carrera marble of Italy and the finest acoustical design. It accommodated 1250 people and they always packed the house.
Every year, on the Sunday before St. Valentine’s Day, just after the Gospel was read, the parish priest would cede his time in the pulpit, time usually devoted to very important exhortations to repent or be cast into hellfire, to the Maryknoll missionary priest. 
I liked this part of the Mass—we got to get off the kneelers and sit down, so I’d listen to anything just to get a break. The missionary courted us with tales of exotic places, of deepest Africa, of lions, rhinos, giraffes, elephants and the Serengeti—and the little children who had no shoes, no food, no schools, no medical care, and who would never know God and be stuck in Limbo unless we helped. He told us we could change the lives of these poor little children. 
So wooed by a pitch delivered at the 9 a.m. Sunday Children’s Mass by the missionary priest, we were suddenly transformed from the urchins who hung out every day at the Off the Street Club to benefactors of children in foreign lands—donors whose largesse and beneficence would bring the little children to God. 
And so it was this St. Valentine’s Day.  Another contest was announced, another chance for Catholic school kids to mitigate their guilt for having it so good. Sister Veronica Ann made the announcement over the P.A. This year, the school would crown a King and Queen of Hearts. Children would be permitted to purchase hearts made of construction paper for 10 cents a pop and make crowns with the hearts and materials provided in the classroom. The girl and boy who donated the most money and had the largest crowns would be anointed the King and Queen of Hearts. 
I had to admit—this contest seemed like a stretch to me.  I wished them luck but I was skeptical of its success, especially when our Principal emphasized that the hearts should be purchased with money that we earned all by ourselves. How was I going to do that—I was just ten!  I only had $1 that I got from Gramps every week and there was no way I was skipping my customary Saturday at the movies to buy some crummy hearts. I decided to hit Mom up for the extra cash, but Mom was not buying it either.
“You want money for what?  Hearts made out of construction paper? What are they going to come up with next? Last week, it was a greasy donut drive. I’ve still got seven boxes of those donuts sitting here—no one will touch them. You know I only buy Burny Brothers baked goods. And the week before that it was the subscription drive for the New World.”
Now Mom was feeling the pinch after the Christmas bills rolled in and was not feeling the love. But I pressed her to dig deep.
“Mom, I will be humiliated if I don’t buy some. I will be the only kid in class without a crown. Come on, please.”
Just then, Daddy walked in on this exchange. 
“Does Sister Mary Holy Water want more money from us?” Dad called all the nuns "Sister Mary Holy Water."
I patiently explained the latest promotion to Daddy, whose expression grew more and more skeptical with each word I spoke.
“That sounds stupid.”
“Dad, please, we’ll be EMBARRASSED.”
That clinched it. Dad would not let us be shamed in front of the class. He reached in his pocket and pulled out his money clip, peeling off two dollars.
“All right, here, a buck a piece—but that’s it! What a racket.”
The next day Barb and I returned to school, weighed down, at Mom’s insistence, with Valentines for every kid in the class. Clutching the dollars Dad gave us, we were feeling secure. We could buy some hearts and no teacher would bug us about it. When we walked through the door, a frenzy of kids in hat crowns, hopped up on sugar hearts, ran and skipped down the hall.
Then a wondrous sight greeted me. Parading the halls with a crown that looked like a Native American war bonnet was Cupid himself, the Chairman of Love, Matthew Rossi. The crown he wore trailed several feet behind his round little body and kids laughed and followed him like he was the Pied Piper, trying their best to step on the ends.
I poked Barb.
“He must have spent 20 bucks on that thing.”
Ever the style maven, Barb dismissed Matthew with a sniff. 
“It’s gross.”
Matthew did not care what we thought. He was in his glory that Valentine’s Day when he was crowned the King of Hearts of St. Mel’s School in recognition of his generous contribution to the missions. 
Unfortunately, the title did not change his luck with the girls—they still ran away, squealing, when he tried to grab them and kiss them. 
Ever the Romeo, Matthew continued to seek love in vain. That is, until one day when I saw him walking Theresa, our blind classmate, home from school, carrying the large binders that held her Braille books. 
The next day the girls pulled her aside to fill her in.
“Theresa, we saw you walking with Matthew yesterday. He is icky. He tries to kiss all the girls.”
“Oh, I know, he is just trying to be nice.”
“But Theresa, he is fat and he has red hair and freckles.”
Theresa stopped us dead.
“I’m blind. I don’t care what he looks like. He is nice to me.”
She had us there. Matthew would no longer go looking for love in all the wrong places. I realized that Theresa had the ability to discover something deeper in him than we had been willing or able to. Cupid had struck true with someone who saw straight into the heart of the King of Hearts.

Bio- Anita Solick Oswald is a Chicago native. She’s written a collection of essays, West Side Girl (working title), that are written from the point of view of her younger self and chronicle the colorful, diverse and oftentimes unpredictably eccentric characters and events that populated Chicago’s West Side neighborhood during the 50s & 60s.
Her essays have appeared in The Write Place At the Write Time, The Faircloth Literary Review, Fullosia Press, The Fat City Review and Avalon Literary Review.
She studied journalism at Marquette University, earned her B.A. in Economics from the University of California at Los Angeles and her M.S. in Management and Organization from the University of Colorado.
She is a founding member of Boulder Writing Studio, where she has been generating and editing essays over the past 2 years.

Sunday, October 20, 2013

Summer Challenge Results

Été en France- Winning Entry

In keeping with our Five Year Anniversary Issue whose interview subjects took us deep into the past and present of French culture, we did a special book giveaway of Salley Vickers’ latest novel, The Cleaner of Chartres (Viking).

Our summer challenge was this- write no more than 500 words (fiction or non-fiction) about a day you spend in France. You have the freedom to choose what region and time period you prefer. What is essential is that you include detailed descriptions that are transportive to the reader. You must include at least one famed landmark (historical, architectural, etc…) and one French phrase (could be a few words). Think about who you would meet, what you would do and the role you would play in the events of this day that you create. You can have, be, see and obtain anything. Step outside your comfort zone and really ask yourself what you would want during this twenty-four hour period that is entirely in your control. Embrace joie de vivre and share the details.

We had numerous intriguing entries. Honorable mention goes to Dana Facchine and Terin Tashi Miller. Our winner is Cheryl Sommese, as her entry most closely embodied the theme of the challenge (to meet anyone, to have, be, see or obtain anything with the spirit of joie de vivre) with a surreal, unique story.

Beauté au-delà de toute comparaison

by Cheryl Sommese

“I never thought I’d find you here,” Justine stammered as she sat in the enchanting café at the bottom of the cobblestone hill. 

"Who did you expect to find?" the surreal voice echoed. 

The woman was not sure how to respond, so she remained speechless for a bit.

Justine and Dave romanticized about going to France for several years. Actually, Justine’s fantasies were probably somewhat more intense, Dave would have been just as happy traveling back out to Utah.  

Still, the woman felt her heartstrings were woven into Western Europe like threads of gold embroidered onto a large tapestry.  So, when the Eurail screeched noisily into Chartres, she knew she was exactly where she was meant to be.  Besides, could any North American town rival a dreamy locale that beckons writers and artists like mother bears summoning their young?  

“So, what do you think of my house?” the elusive man asked.

“Which one?” Justine diffidently replied.

"The one you just visited," he softly answered.

How might she articulate her feelings? After all, the medieval, gothic construction with its multiple towers, countless choirs, endless stained glass windows, slanted mineral flooring, vast labyrinth, heavenly icons, mysteriously darkened interior, well, it was cryptic and glorious!

“It’s even more captivating than the Cathedral de Notre Dame in Paris. En fait, il a dépassé toutes mes attentes pour la beauté,” she expressed.

Upon blurting this, countless thoughts swarmed through her head: he looks different than I imagined, shorter, perhaps a little heavier, and his laser blue/green eyes seem able to penetrate even the decorated walls. When her attention returned to the room, the charismatic figure was gone.

Dave appeared out of nowhere. “Here you are, I got a gift for you. There are some great items on the second level, maybe we can buy a few souvenirs?” he enthusiastically proclaimed.   

The attractive woman sat in reflection. 

“Honey, you look troubled, is everything okay?” the handsome gent queried. 

“Um, yeah, I was just talking to this otherworldly kind of guy. I swear I know him; in fact, I know I know him,” she uttered while trembling.  

“That’s odd,” Dave replied, “I met a peculiar woman upstairs; she said Chartres Cathedral was named after her. I nodded to be polite. I don’t know, I guess she’s a little loopy. It’s weird, though, her English was perfect.”

“What did she look like?” Justine hesitantly questioned. 

“She was petite, with wavy brown hair, and piercing, kind eyes. Oh, and she wore a white veil that draped over most of her head, she must be religious or something,” he animatedly rejoined.

Queasiness invaded the woman’s innards. Instead of entering a different continent, she wondered if she had entered a different world. 

“Was she beautiful?” Justine inquired. 

The man’s face became trancelike as he whispered, “Actually, she was, in an unspoiled kind of way.  Why, did you see her?”       

“No,” Justine circumspectly answered, “but I think I might know her, too.”

Monday, September 23, 2013

Interview with Denise Powell, founder and editor-in-chief of The Voices Project, a literary venue for women focused on empowerment, self-expression and the promotion of positive social change

Interview with Denise Powell by Carol Smallwood (see Carol's bio following the interview):

Denise Powell is the Founder and Editor-in-Chief of The Voices Project (, a literary venue for women for empowerment and self-expression. She holds dual B.A. degrees in English and Journalism from the University of Iowa and was a student of the university’s Undergraduate Poetry Workshop.  Her writing has been published in literary magazines, books, and blogs including the following: Earthwords (University of Iowa Undergraduate Review), LethologicA (Naropa Press), Scribo (CLC Press), The Pulchitudinous Review, Principles of Water Resources (Wiley Publishers), Nigel Barker's Beauty Equation, and Poetry Pacific (forthcoming). Recent works can be found on her poetry blog,

Denise has 9 years of experience in the publishing industry, particularly in higher education, as Associate Editor for Wiley Publishers and Senior Project Manager for Partner in Publishing. She is a member of the U.S. Board of Directors for OrphanAid Africa (, a non-profit organization based in Ghana, West Africa, that provides support to orphans and vulnerable children and their families to help families stay together. An avid traveler, Denise has visited 42 countries and has a passion for promoting human rights internationally and domestically.

1) Please describe your new magazine~

The Voices Project is an online literary venue for women to express their voices through poetry in order to promote positive social change within their communities and in the world.  I wanted to create a site where women and girls have an opportunity to express their personal story through poetry despite their backgrounds, ages, or education levels. By providing women writers a non-judgmental space to have their work published, the hope is that our contributors will in-turn be motivated to not only express their passions and show their talent, but to positively affect everything within their realms-- encouraging them to see opportunity instead of obstacles. 
2) Tell us about your own work as a writer~

I mainly write poetry, although I have dabbled in journalism. I am inspired by surrealism (art and writing). I use a lot of vivid imagery of what I see around me to begin a poem, painting a picture for the reader but also leaving space for various interpretations of the meaning of the work. I write in mostly free verse and I go back and revise my work many times before I share it with others. I write as much as I can while balancing my career as an editor, and family life. I have a poetry blog, which I do not share with many people. Most importantly, it keeps me writing!

3) What writers have influenced you the most?

John Ashbery, Jorie Graham, Pablo Neruda. Maya Angelou, Robert Creeley, Emily Dickinson, E.B. White, John Irving, David Sedaris, Gabriel Garcia Marquez, Frank Conroy…to name a few. Since my current project focuses on women writers, I recently read Lean In, by Sheryl Sandberg. The former CEO of Google and current COO of Facebook calls her new book a kind of  “feminist manifesto”, which she was reluctant to call the book in the beginning but later embraced it, about balancing family and career and her personal obstacles and triumphs getting to the top. Although I could not relate to everything she spoke about, I concur with her overarching message that we need more women leaders in the world to stand up and help shape our future for the better.

4) What are the most common writing mistakes you see?

I find that some people do not proofread their work upon submission. This creates more work for me. I am open to editing pieces, but when I see minor (and sometimes major) grammatical errors, it’s very glaring and can distract me from what the author is really trying to convey. And it happens more often than I would expect. Also, occasionally, authors will submit a poem that is more like a stream of consciousness that presents itself more like a complaint or rant, rather than well-crafted poetry with creative word choices.

5) What classes have you taken that have helped you the most?

I took every creative writing class offered at the University of Iowa, including reading poetry, fiction writing, non-fiction writing, writing poetry, and personal writing. Iowa City is one of the greatest literary communities, and I ate it up. The world’s best writers often graced the town’s tiny bookstore, and I was often in the first row for readings.  Just listening to professional writers share their work was eye-opening and served as a wonderful learning tool for me. I was also lucky to be selected into the university’s Undergraduate Poetry Workshop and was humbled by the 9 peers in my class, all seasoned writers.  I learned the most from reading other people’s work, and also having my own work dissected. I am still learning to this day how to be a better writer and I think the key is getting as much feedback as possible and not being afraid of criticism.

6) What advice would you give other writers?

- Write when you’re really inspired at random times…on a napkin, or in a notebook that you carry with you at all times. Those moments are precious and not to be lost because you’re without your laptop.
- Find a poet or writer you like and read a lot of their work. Try to write at least a paragraph after reading something that spurs your creative juices.
- Seek feedback from other writers whose work, and opinion, you respect and learn to take some criticism.
- Keep your writing tight. Eliminate superfluous verbiage whenever possible, as every word counts.
- Revise and proofread your work before submitting or publishing!

Interviewer Bio- Carol Smallwood co-edited Women on Poetry: Writing, Revising, Publishing and Teaching (McFarland, 2012) on the list of “Best Books for Writers” by Poets & Writers Magazine; Compartments: Poems on Nature, Femininity, and Other Realms (Anaphora Literary Press, 2011) received a Pushcart nomination. Carol has founded, supports humane societies.

Friday, August 2, 2013

Interview with Rochelle Jewel Shapiro, author of Miriam the Medium (Simon and Schuster) and her latest, Kaylee's Ghost

Rochelle Jewel Shapiro is the author of Miriam the Medium (Simon & Schuster, 2004) and like her protagonist, is a phone psychic who lives in Great Neck, New York. Articles have been written about her psychic gift in Redbook, The Jerusalem Post, the Dutch Magazine, TV GID, and the Long Island section of The New York Times. She’s chronicled her own psychic experiences in Newsweek (My Turn), and The New York Times (Lives). Miriam the Medium was also published in Belgium, Holland, and the U.K. and was nominated for the Harold U. Ribelow Award. Shapiro is the winner of the The Brandon Memorial Literary Award. Kaylee's Ghost was a finalist in the 2013 Indie Award for excellence in fiction. Her poetry has appeared in The Iowa Review, Moment, Harpur Palate, Inkwell Magazine, The Doctor T. J. Eckleburg Review and the Los Angeles Review. Shapiro has been nominated for a Pushcart Prize in poetry. Besides her psychic practice, Shapiro teaches writing at UCLA Extension and writes for the Huffington Post.

1) During our initial conversation, you had described how poetry was a medium that served as an anchor for you; one that helped you sort through all of the thoughts, emotions and complex intuitive feelings that came as a result of an inherited psychic ability. Describe the transition to storytelling prose and how this further affected you (by being able to spin fictional stories that had a realistic connection to your life and experiences).

It was natural for me to begin my writing life with poetry. It was all around me in childhood. The linoleum floor in my bedroom was printed with nursery rhymes. As soon as I got up in the morning, I would hop from “Mistress Mary” to “Simple Simon”, singing each rhyme as I went. Then there were the rhymes in the songs that I played on my record player. “In the land of France, a little girl named Tina loved to dance, dance, dance, and they called her ballerina.” But when I got to grade school, poetry was flayed from my heart by Joyce Kilmer’s “Trees”. I was always the one who managed to have to get up and recite the line, “A tree whose hungry mouth is prest /Against the earth’s sweet, flowing breast.” But in 1985, I was pulled like an iron filing by a magnet to the 811 stacks at the library and found poetry by Mae Swenson, Sharon Olds, Robert Pinsky, Robert Hass, and I got that prickle on the back of my neck and shoulders that I get when I feel, as a psychic, a destiny moment.

Before long, I began to write and publish poetry and be part of poetry readings when anthologies came out. My son used to answer the phone when people called for readings and ask, “Psychic or poetry?” Poetry allows you to braid images, memories, and impressions and bake them like my Russian grandma, my Bubbie, made her challahs. My poetry was always narrative and both readers and editors would remark, “That could be a story.” And that’s what led me to short story. From there, I went into long, hard labor with my novel.

When I write fiction, I need some things to be true in order to ground me. For example, Miriam Kaminsky, my heroine, is a phone psychic like I am. And she lives in Great Neck, Long Island, as I do. But every incident, every character, is an invention. And thank goodness for that when you read the perilous things that happen in my novels. 

When my agent brought me to Simon & Schuster, I had those same prickles on the back of my neck and shoulders as when I was led to poetry. I knew I was going to sign a contract with them.  

2) In Miriam the Medium (Simon and Shuster, nominated for the Harold U. Ribelow Award), Miriam recalls an instance where six-year-old Cara asks how her mother can know things about people without them telling her. Miriam uses a Crayola box to symbolize aura colors, suggesting that since she can see the colors around people, she discern a good deal about who they are and what they’re feeling before they speak to her. Writers have always had a particularly honed sense of observation that can pick up clues from gestures, objects and behavioral patterns that other observers might not take notice of. It is in this way, looking for the hidden or unexpected in real life and making a study of people around them, that writers derive inspiration for the formation of their characters. As Miriam is supposed to reflect certain similarities to your own abilities of perception, how does having the added intuitive layer of observing individuals affect how you build your own characters/influence your creative process?

When I do psychic readings, I’m watching and hearing the information that comes to me in the form of images, scents, sounds, words, bodily sensations, and sometimes even tastes. (I get the cold throat burn of a scotch on the rocks, the thick, warm sweetness of a cup of cocoa.) And I get to know small details of my clients’ lives as well as their big secrets. I demonstrated some kind of stylized jumping that I saw one client do when she was a child. “That’s Chinese jump rope!” she exclaimed. “I used to love it.” Another client said to me, “This is the most intimate conversation I’ve ever had, but I’ve barely opened my mouth.”

It’s just like that for me with fictional characters. I get to know all sorts of things about them that aren’t even pertinent to the story, but help me build a strong character, no matter how minor he or she is. I believe in my characters because once I set my mind to them, I get everything I need to feel close to them in the same way that I get to feel about my clients. They even come to me in dreams.

Sometimes I write letters to my characters, asking them to solve a plot point. “Dear Kaylee, What would you do if..?” Then I put on music—Mozart these days because his music is rumored to make you smarter—and I write out the character’s reply. Sure, it’s my own mind writing the answer, but when you treat your character as you would anyone else whom you’re intimate with, you’ve really got something! And I think that intimacy with your characters leads to intimacy with the reader.    

3) At the conclusion of Miriam the Medium, Miriam learns to be sure of herself, trust her inclinations/instincts, have faith in her talents and pursues her passion regardless of the perceptions of others. So often in life, for a number of reasons, we are dissuaded (whether by society in general, a certain teacher/authority figure/person of influence) from following our dreams, cautioned against having our talents encouraged and told not to trust our subjective instincts. Be it a calling, a profession or a life path, talk to us about the balance between pragmaticism and taking the unconventional road where a passion is realized.  

Odd the way parents foist music lessons on disinterested kids, holler at them if they don’t practice, sit through tedious piano recitals, and then, if their children decide to become musicians, the parents are desperate to talk them out of it. Parents want their kids to become lawyers, dentists, accountants, so that someday their kids will be able to afford to foist music lessons on their progeny.

It’s no different with writing. Dare to become an English major and everyone is asking you, with a raised brow, “So, what are you intending to do with it?” Creative writing major? Forget it. Better to say you’re studying micro-economics (code for, I’ll be earning very little, which might be the truth). That means you will have to figure out another job to sustain you. And what’s wrong with that? William Carlos Williams and Fyodor Dostoyevsky were both practicing physicians. Nathaniel Hawthorne was a weigher and a gouger at the Boston Custom House   which housed offices to process the paperwork of imports and exports. Dan Brown, before he struck it rich with The Da Vinci Code, was a high school English teacher.

If there’s a passion inside you, no matter how much you resist it or forces seem to be working against you, it will grab you by the seat of your pants and the back of your collar and carry you to it, kicking and screaming if necessary. After going to college and getting a Master’s degree in fine arts, I didn’t want to become a professional psychic like my Russian grandma, my Bubbie, even though I respected and adored her. I wanted to be modern, to do something that reflected my education. But whatever else I did, I would constantly blurt out things people hadn’t told me, because I heard them in my mind as if they had already told me, which made it uncomfortable  for people to be around me. When I gave in and became a professional psychic, this inclination to tell people what was going on in their lives was channeled into my work, and I was free to go anywhere without embarrassment for the first time in my life!

4) With Kaylee’s Ghost (a finalist for the 2013 Indie Award for excellence in fiction) you were able to revisit the vivid characters of your traditionally published novel yet tell the new story using the trendy e-book format and self-publishing model. Tracing the evolution of family, gifts and boundaries inherited as well as the undeniable bonds between three generations, what were some of your favorite creative aspects of writing this book? What were some of your favorite publishing aspects of this book (utilizing the technology and self-publishing methodologies)?

It was exciting to write a novel in which the characters could grow up along with me. In Kaylee’s Ghost, Miriam Kaminsky, the phone psychic, is now a  grandmother who wants more than anything to mentor her granddaughter, Violet, to be psychic the way her Russian grandma, Bubbie, had done with her. And  Miriam’s daughter, now a modern businesswoman who remembers the downside of life with her psychic mother, digs in her heels. As tensions heat up in the family, Violet, a sensitive and brilliant child, is torn between them until Miriam’s gift backfires, bringing terrible danger to those she loves.

Not only was the plot new, but all the minor characters as well. I found it like a Color Field painting. If you put a red square against a green background, it appears totally different than putting a red square against a blue background.

But what was most exciting was that I missed the characters. They lived in my psyche long after the first book was sent to press. And they dwelt in the lives of my fans as well. I kept getting fan mail that said, “When are we going to hear from  Miriam again?” And here she is in Kaylee’s Ghost.

I published Kaylee’s Ghost on Amazon and Nook for a deeply emotional reason rather that a logical choice. My top New York agent, the wise and savvy Jack Scovil , the owner of his wildly successful agency, who had told me “Everyone will want to read Kaylee’s Ghost.” Then Jack Scovil died and the scramble began of finding a new agent. One prestigious agent was so excited to take my book, but she hung onto it for six months without reading it because she was so busy. And I know how long it can take to sell a book once and agent has accepted it. I turned sixty-five and I said to myself, 'Better get a move on, Girl.'

Truly, if it hadn’t been for my first book having the wide reach of being published with Simon & Schuster, Kaylee’s Ghost would not be on the map. I am a tech dud. You have to be an ingenious techie and marketer to make a self-published book  happen. But with the support of fans and fabulous opportunities such as this one, word is getting out. Maybe Jack Scovil’s spirit is helping me, because such an uncanny thing happened that it had to be supernatural. A famous European psychic, Birkan Tore, who has his own show in Sweden, was watching an old episode of  The Mentalist when he saw my first novel, Miriam the Medium, lying on a table. He looked up the title and read the book. He was so excited that he phoned me. I told him about Kaylee’s Ghost and he’s recommending it to his viewers and his huge number of students. Now really, even if you’re a non-believer, wouldn’t you have to admit that something uncanny was afoot?    

5) Give our writers a brief glimpse of the traditional publishing cycle in terms of your personal experience (from the query to the manuscript being accepted by an agent, the search for a publisher, the post-publishing publicity push that can include both author and publisher effort, the shelf-life of the book and so forth…). 

First step is to write a sock-o query letter. The query letter gives an agent a sense of how you write and also teases them into desperately wanting to read your book, Go to book jackets and read the copy and you’ll see how to do it. Whoever writes them certainly doesn’t give away the plot, but in a few words, gets the reader excited to read the book. Yes, there are loads of lists of agents, but one of the best way to find one is to think about which authors your work has a kinship with. For example, one of my authors is Alice Hoffman, who often writes about the supernatural. Then see go to their books. There’s always an acknowledgement of their agent. Query him or her.

When and if you get an acceptance from an agent, know that you might be required to do extensive rewrites before he will send your book out. Also, publishers may hang onto your book for quite awhile. The whole process requires that you not just sit back and wait, but start on your next project with the self-assurance that something will happen for you.

Listen up. You don’t just get a book published today unless you’re some kind of celebrity, no matter how good it is. One of the first things a publisher will ask you is, “What is your platform?” That means you have to have a blog with tons of followers, a FB page with tons of followers and LIKES, tons of twitter followers, etc. I was lucky enough to have published about my psychic experiences in The New York Times (Lives) and Newsweek and had an article published about me in Redbook.

In other words, you usually need to be “known” in some way before a publisher will take a chance on you. The upside of this is that you can do a blog that attracts attention such as E.L. James did with Fifty Shades of Gray. The publishers are looking for buzz and then they will sign you up and movie deals will happen.  I attended BEA (Book Expo of America) this year and learned that authors were posting their books on free sites to get reader feedback, all the while social-marketing the heck out of their books, reading them on YouTube, etc. That’s what got the authors lucrative book deals. Keep one foot in the waters of the literary world and the other in the widening gyre of social media.

6) What areas do you focus most on in your classes as an instructor of writing through the UCLA extension?

I teach a course called “Emotions into Art” at UCLA Extension. If your characters aren’t driven by desperate emotions, what will keep the reader reading? Think of Gatsby’s desperation to win back Daisy. Think of Hamlet’s desperation to expose the truth of his father’s death. Even comedies have desperate characters. Think of the characters in Yona Zeldis McDonough’s A Wedding in Great Neck where each member of the family is in a desperate clash for his own identity and search for love. Author Maxine Hong Kingston asks her students, “What do you feel?” about what they’ve read or written and she finds that they give analyses instead. She teaches them to work on feeling scene by scene so that the reader can have feelings inside himself.

This is the way I teach as well. I help students find their deepest themes, what eats at them in their lives:  sibling rivalry, betrayal, fear of abandonment, etc. Find your life themes and apply them to fictional characters, even if they are aliens, and you’ve got something worth working on for yourself and certainly something worthy of a reader’s attention.