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Finding Hope in Art: The Murals of the Mission in San Francisco

 Art, Inspiration, travel, Uncategorized  Comments Off on Finding Hope in Art: The Murals of the Mission in San Francisco
Nov 152018
 

A few weeks ago I met up with two of my closest friends in San Francisco. I’m not really a “girls’ weekend” kind of person — that is, I tend to put fun last on my to do list. Usually when I leave my family, it’s for writing, even if  writer friends’ are involved. However, when my-best-friend-since-third-grade, Paula, called and said she REALLY needed a getaway, I knew I had to show up. Our dear-friend-since-seventh-grade, June, was also down. Let the fun begin!

I found us a charming B & B that had once been a brothel. The nice people the Monte Cristo kept us happy with homemade cookies, scones, fudge, and breakfast made to order. We also spent a lot of time eating and drinking our way around the Hayes Valley neighborhood, thanks to Paula’s niece, a student at nearby University of San Francisco.

My favorite part of the trip turned out to be a tour of the murals of San Francisco’s Mission District, arranged by Paula. We met with a guide from Precita Eyes Muralists, a nonprofit organization that creates murals and offers art classes to benefit the Mission’s diverse community. If you’re not familiar with San Francisco, this area was originally populated by the Ohlone tribe, who were enslaved by Franciscan missionaries to build the Mission San Francisco, the city’s oldest building. After World War II, the Mission began to attract Mexican families, and later, immigrants from Central America, and remains the city’s Latinx center today (and famous for its ginormous burritos!)

The morning of our mural tour, my friends and I heard about the terrible mass shooting at the Tree of Life Synagogue in Pittsburgh. Although there was no way to avoid feeling the pain of this terrible tragedy, (nor should we try to escape that pain, if we hope to ever address the issue gun violence) spending two hours discovering art steeped in an activist tradition proved heartening and uplifting.

This mural depicts the struggle for democracy in Nepal.

 

 

 

 

 

A small section of a mural that depicts the inherent danger of a border crossing, and the desperate desire to join family that makes people take the risk.

Just one of many Frida Kahlo images we encountered on our tour. This work was done with spray paint.

Honoring a local poet and leader in the Black Community.

A celebration of the joy found in Mexican cinema.

 

“The Women of the Resistance” mural made me cry.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Our tour guide shared several stories about how creating these murals brought the people of the neighborhood together. My friends and I took a photo in front of one artwork created on site where people lost their lives to gang violence. Many different members of the community came together to paint this mural and instill new energy here.

 

As much as our country and world is struggling right now, as much harm as we human beings do to one another, we also share the impulse to create, to collaborate, to make meaning and beauty. Maybe it was partly the pleasure of spending time with old friends and partly the perfect sunshine, but I ended the mural tour feeling more hopeful than I have in a long time. Next time you go to San Francisco, consider having a look.

 

 Posted by at 2:24 am

Getting Started as a Writer: Finding a News Peg

 Authors, News about me, Publishing, Uncategorized, Writing  Comments Off on Getting Started as a Writer: Finding a News Peg
Sep 132018
 

Photo by rawpixel on Unsplash

I published a new essay this week, titled Sexism Against Female Athletes Starts Early. Just Ask My Daughter, tied to the drama surrounding Serena Williams and the disastrous US Open Women’s final, and I thought I’d share a few thoughts about how you can leverage what’s happening in the news to increase your chances of publishing a personal essay.

The web has been a boon for writers, creating an endless demand for fresh content that will make readers want to click, click, click. (The downside is that freelance pay rates have gone down down down, because “content” is cheaper than journalism or literature, but that’s a story for another time.) Whenever you can find a personal story that connects with what people are talking about on social media and elsewhere, you have an increased shot at publication. The key is finding a fresh angle, grounded in your unique experience and sensibility.

It just so happened that the day before that infamous US Open match, my daughter received a ridiculous penalty card in a high school volleyball game that even her coach attributed to sexism. With everyone talking about sexism in women’s sports, I had the perfect opportunity to share my daughter’s experience and reflect on how sexism affects young athletes.

My friend, writer Shanon Lee, looked at the US Open mess and actually came up with two essays, grounded in her experience as a black woman — Serena Williams and the Epidemic of Policing Black Women’s Anger —  and as the mom of biracial black and Asian children — Serena is an important role model, but Naomi Osaka will be important to my daughter.

Keep in mind, if you’re chasing the headlines, you need to work fast. I’m not a fast writer (how did Shanon get two pieces done in 24 hours??!!!)  Some of my past attempts at a “hot take” have failed, meaning I spent a lot of time writing something, and nobody wanted to publish it because I pitched too late in the news cycle. However, one of my most successful pieces came from a hot take that failed. I sent an essay to the Well Family section of The New York Times, and the editor explained that they didn’t publish items tied to fast-trending news very often…BUT then she invited me to rewrite the piece, leaving out the news peg, which became my Ties essay, A Poster Family for Diversity. So my advice is, if you feel super fired up about something in the news and just HAVE to write it, don’t hold back! You never know where that piece will lead.

Finally, a news peg doesn’t always mean latching on to a trending news story. Pegs like holidays, seasons, special events like National Adoption Month, the reboot of an old TV show etc can also help you land a byline, with the benefit of allowing you to write at a more leisurely pace if you plan ahead. Also remember that some essays are evergreen, and editors need those too, but anytime you have a fresh angle on what’s topical, you’re ahead of the game.

To read my latest essay, head over to HuffPost Personal.

 

 Posted by at 1:38 am

When Life Gives You Lemons, Write a Poem (Or Something Else)

 Finding Time for Writing, News about me, Parenting, Uncategorized, Writing, Youth Sports  Comments Off on When Life Gives You Lemons, Write a Poem (Or Something Else)
Aug 092018
 

Photo by Francesca Hotchin on Unsplash

My three children are athletes. They’re teenagers, and we’ve been doing the competitive travel team thing since the older two were in second grade. SECOND GRADE, PEOPLE. WTH was I thinking?

For 7 years, all three played soccer, which is essentially a cult I didn’t want to join. I put a lot of energy into resisting. I thought I could somehow support my kids’ enjoyment of the sport while simultaneously hating the time it sucked from my life. As an introvert, I found the social demands of youth soccer challenging as well. The other parents were nice enough people, but I didn’t want to hang with them all weekend every weekend. (I still don’t. Shhh.)

For years I complained about soccer a lot to whoever would listen. It takes all my writing time, I whined. I’m always in the car. I took a workshop with Andre Dubus III, and he told me to start writing in my car during practice. That helped. Then my friend Crista Cloutier, who helps artists market their work, said, “Why don’t you write a soccer poem?”

Now there was an idea. Instead of resisting the life I’d made, I could use it. I’m no poet, so  I started writing essays, articles, and humor about soccer. That lead to my big break, a 2014 essay for Motherlode at The New York Times titled Lackeys of Youth Soccer, That Arrogant Sport, a piece went all around the world and remains my biggest impact story to date.

At 13, my oldest daughter tore her ACL in soccer practice. After surgery and rehab, she decided to convert to volleyball, a sport I find slightly less exhausting than the so-called beautiful game. My youngest daughter sustained a concussion on the field at 12, recovered, and today is playing better soccer than ever. My son suffered a spinal stress fracture at age 15 and spent nine months in a back brace. Now that he’s back to soccer, the opportunity to catch him on the field doing what he loves feels special. We’ve been at this grind for a long time, we’ve sacrificed a lot, but finally I recognize that my duties a sports mom won’t last forever. I’ve learned to cherish the ways sports brings us together as a family, and to celebrate whenever all three kids are strong and healthy and ready to play.

So, I don’t waste energy hating the sports grind like I used to,  but I’m still writing soccer “poems,” like my latest for The Washington Post. If you’re the parent of a youth athlete, I hope you’ll take a look at this piece on injury prevention: Tommy John’s son wants to help kids avoid sports surgeries like the one named for his famous dad.

 

 Posted by at 6:12 pm

Career advice from a master: David Sedaris

 Authors, Memoir, Publishing, Uncategorized, Writing  Comments Off on Career advice from a master: David Sedaris
Jul 182018
 

Recently, I heard from an editor who’d published an essay of mine a few years ago. She’s moved into corporate communications, where the $$$ is much better than in publishing, and wanted to hire me for a project.

These days I seldom do content/corporate writing. That’s how I made my living in my 20s/ 30s, until my husband encouraged me to focus on creative projects. Having a partner who financially supports your creativity is a privilege that has benefited my career and allowed me to work on a memoir. Still, I sometimes chafe at the arrangement. Why? Because earning money feels good.  But the truth is, it’s really hard to work on a book and freelance at the same time. And with 3 kids, my time is always short.

Photo by Gemma Evans on Unsplash

My point is, I should have said no.

However.

The day the editor contacted me, I had $72 in my work checking account and only $150 due to come in from my last piece. I was flattered that this woman remembered me. I didn’t need the money to keep the lights on, but the prospect of a big-ish check that would pay for my next writer’s conference getaway was enticing. I said yes.

Once I dug into the assignments, I regretted my decision. I had to bring work with me while traveling with my daughter’s soccer team. Instead of enjoying the beach, I was holed up in my room at the Sheraton, writing insurance company copy. I mean, it was good to be earning $, but it wasn’t fun.

Of course — expecting work to be “fun” is another privilege. Maybe it’s more accurate to say that the work didn’t feel satisfying. Writing isn’t always fun, but most of the time it makes me feel good. Except when it feels like “work.” I found myself  lamenting the time I wasn’t spending with my kid during the trip, and regretting the time I wasn’t spending on my book.

I turned in the assignments and got paid. I complained on social media that I hadn’t enjoyed the project (without going into detail), and a friend commented that she’s been trying to get writing work for years and would love someone to hire her for anything. And I felt like an ass.

A few days later, I was listening to the wonderful podcast #amwriting with Jess and KJ. The ladies were interviewing David Sedaris,  and when they asked him about the early days of his career, he said that from the start, he had a vision for what he wanted his writing career to be. As his career heated up, he said no to opportunities that weren’t consistent with that vision. He turned down lots of cool offers because they weren’t going to help him get him where he wanted to go.

That’s why he’s David Sedaris, I thought, and you’re not.

While I very much appreciated being offered content work, I should have said no. I’ve said yes to several things this year that  I shouldn’t have, and then I walk around frustrated and twitchy because I’m not moving forward fast enough on those bigger, creative goals that are close to my heart. And when I grab an opportunity that’s not really right for me, I’m also standing in the way of someone somewhere who would really, really love that gig.

Again, I want to acknowledge that saying no to paying work is a privilege not everyone can afford. ( And Jess and KJ never asked David Sedaris how he paid his bills in the early days of his career when he was saying no to distracting offers! I wish they had. ) But regardless of what kind of financial situation you’re in, this much is  true: EVERY TIME YOU SAY YES TO ONE THING, YOU’RE SAYING NO TO SOMETHING ELSE. None of us has unlimited time or energy. We can’t do it all. We have to cultivate a vision for the future and make choices accordingly. Maybe we have to say yes to less-than-exciting jobs sometimes to survive, but then we balance that out by saying no to other things, like binge-watching Netflix, to grab that creative time.

The fact that I need to consciously say no more often isn’t a revelation. But hearing a famous author matter-of-factly explain how clear he was — and is —  about his priorities was inspiring. From now on I’m going to ask myself WWDD — What Would David Do? Maybe it will help.

 

 

 

 Posted by at 11:37 pm

New Essay on Why #FamiliesBelongTogether

 Adoption, News about me, Parenting, Social Justice  Comments Off on New Essay on Why #FamiliesBelongTogether
Jun 252018
 

Yes, I know. Bad news is everywhere right now. Sometimes we have to turn away to recover and recharge, but then we must re-engage. We can’t afford not to.

In that spirit, I hope you’ll read this essay I wrote for Romper: I Adopted my Kids from “Third World” Countries — Where They Were Treated Better Than Child Refugees in the US. I’ve visited at least 10 orphanages in the developing world. All of them broke my heart — and yet, those kids received better care than migrant children in US custody.

Children’s bedroom in an orphanage in India that I visited.

My oldest daughter, now 16, lived in a New Delhi children’s home for the three years before my husband and I adopted her a few months after her fifth birthday. My son, also 16, and younger daughter, 15, adopted at ages 3 and 2 from Ethiopia, endured almost a year in institutional care.

I understand, in a direct and personal way, how institutionalization harms children.

The details of what my children experienced while institutionalized are not mine to share, but I can sum things up this way: My kids were lucky. They ended up in good orphanages — except really, there’s no such thing. I understand, in a direct and personal way, how institutionalization harms children. My job as an adoptive parent for the past decade has involved trying to undo the damage. Thankfully, my kids are thriving, but the future for the children in Trump’s camps is uncertain.

Read the full essay here.

 Posted by at 3:04 pm
May 032018
 

I’ve been meaning to share some thoughts about writing retreats, conferences and workshops. What can you expect? How do you choose the right one? Here are a few ideas.

Last week I spent five glorious days in California at Sonoma County Writers Camp (SCWC). Run by New York Times bestselling author Ellen Sussman, and writer Elizabeth Stark, SCWC offers workshops and master classes suitable for writers at every level, plus tons of private writing time! This was my second time attending SCWC and I loved every minute!

Elizabeth, center, and Ellen, right, at the opening night wine tasting. Photo by Angie Powers.

Photo by Angie Powers.

Held at the Occidental Arts and Ecology Center, SCWC truly has a camp feel, with stories told round the fire and frogs croaking all through the night — but with comfy beds and indoor plumbing. Check out the compostable toilets!  😆 The food is all fresh and healthy vegetarian, much of it grown on site, but because it’s Sonoma County, the long weekend kicked off with a local wine tasting, hosted by Eric Kent Winery. Cheers!

One thing I love about SCWC is that the sessions led by Elizabeth and Ellen are generative. The means you write during the classes vs. presenting polished work from home for critique. Generative workshops are perfect for beginners, because you simply dive in and write, with a little support. The generative approach also works well for experienced writers who want to break out of a rut or bust past a block and get that creativity flowing!

Other fantastic conferences I’ve attended that offer generative workshops include Vortext (for women only) on Whidbey Island, Washington. Writing By Writers, founded by writer Pam Houston, puts on conferences all over the world,  and often includes generative workshops in the mix. I’ve attended both these conferences multiple times as well, and I highly recommend them!

But what if you have a piece of writing you’ve been laboring over? You’ve taken it as far as it can go on your own but you know it still needs work? A critique workshop may be what you need. For this type of conference, you submit a writing sample in advance, and receive pages from other writers to review. During the conference, each writer’s work is discussed in depth by the group and you leave with a ton of feedback from everyone. Critique workshops can feel a little bruising if you’re not used to the approach, but a good instructor should ensure that comments stay productive. Writing by Writers offers critique workshops, as does the magnificent Sirenland, offered by Dani Shapiro and Hannah Tinti in Positano, Italy.

At a retreat or a residency, everything revolves around writing time, though guidance may be offered. At Linda Sivertsen’s amazing Carmel Writing Retreats, attendees discuss their projects together, brainstorm, set goals and then spend hours quietly working. Linda also meets one-on-one with each attendee and helps with everything from editing, to pep talks, to advice on finding an agent. For myself, I’ve learned that events with lots of writing time with built in accountability to other writers works really well for me, which is what Linda offers, but you can create the same productive atmosphere with friends at a DIY retreat.

Industry or pitch conferences are a great way to learn about the business of publishing and how to market your work. I’ll be speaking on a panel later this month at the American Society of Journalists and Authors Conference in New York. Rudri Bhatt Patel, Jenn Morson, Jen Simon and I will offer tips on pitching essays and articles to magazines. Our May 19 presentation is part of non-members day at the conference, geared to writers just starting out. If you have a book idea, industry conferences offer a the chance to find out what agents and editors are looking for, and to get feedback from pros on your project if you’re ready.

Sometimes the lines at conferences and workshops get blurred. Craft may mix with industry, and a retreat might include critique workshops. For example, Sonoma County Writers Camp always includes a publishing industry panel, to give attendees a taste of what agents, editors and booksellers do.  The important thing when choosing a conference or event is to figure out what YOUR objective is in participating. Do you need writing time? Instruction? Feedback? Inspiration? Are you looking to network and make publishing industry connections? Read the conference description carefully to be sure you understand what’s on offer, try to get feedback from past attendees, and then go for what you need.

Have you attended a really great writer’s conference or retreat? Have you created a conference? Feel free to share info and tips in the comments.

 

 Posted by at 1:58 am

Getting Started as a Writer

 Authors, Publishing, Uncategorized, Writing  Comments Off on Getting Started as a Writer
Feb 212018
 

It happens often: a woman, usually a mom, confesses to me that she’d maybe like to write one day. Or she does write a little, and she’d maybe like to publish. Or she published some little thing once, but it was a long time ago so she says it doesn’t count, not really. Hopefulness, tentativeness,  and a dash of fear seem far too common among women yearning to express themselves. You can do it, I say. Work at it, and you can do it.

Now the men I meet are another story.  The guys  tell me that they’re certain they’ve got a book in them. Some fellas will recount the entire plot of a novel or screenplay they’ve been toying with. Work at it, I say. Work at it, and you can do it.

I truly believe that anyone — female, male, non-binary — can write. To get started, you just need mix up the perfect cocktail of confidence + humility, then dive earnestly into the process. But how, exactly? There’s really only three things you need to do.

  1. Read. Seems obvious, but you’d be surprised how many people want to be writers who aren’t readers! Read anything and everything, especially in the genre you’d like to explore. If you want to write a children’s book, you need to read children’s books. If you want to write personal essays, you need to read some personal essays and consider how they’re put together. If you want to write a YA novel, then…you get the idea. Aside: As the mom of children with learning differences, I want to add that a lot of creative, inventive people struggle with reading. Books on tape work just fine for absorbing a feel for good writing. Don’t let something like ADD or dyslexia stop you. You’ll be in good company with writers like F. Scott Fitzgerald, WB Yeats, John Irving, Octavia Butler, Fannie Flagg, and George Bernard Shaw.
  2. Write. Again, this seems like a no brainer, but it has to be said: it’s not enough to  think and dream about being a writer. Eventually you’ve got to put words on the page. Don’t worry about whether your words are any good at first. You’re just exercising, building muscle and endurance. Make writing a habit, a practice, before you worry about quality or talent or publishing.
  3. Connect. You need to meet other writers, in person and/or online. Cultivate a big, supportive network that includes folks just starting out, like you are, and others more established. Although as writers we all suffer low moments, try not to hang out with people who consistently go negative. Positivity and success are contagious. Run to the light. And shine the light for others.

In my next post, I’ll share some resources for developing your writing skills and connecting with other writers.

 

 Posted by at 3:33 am
Jan 012018
 

2017 wasn’t an easy year for many of us. Professionally, I felt distracted by the national news AND I struggled with health problems. Honestly, I felt  kinda stuck at times — yet last week, a colleague congratulated me on all my “successes” during the year. Her comment made me do a spit take. I might have been feeling unproductive, but actually I did make a lot of progress in 2017. By focusing on the challenges and failures  (including the fact that I’ve been a terrible blogger!) I was just inviting more disappointment. Time for an attitude adjustment and year-in-review post!

I kicked off 2017 with a post for Daily Worth about charities that support education for girls, a subject dear to my heart. I also spent a January week in one of my favorite spots on the planet, Carmel-by-the-Sea. I treated myself to one of Linda Sivertsen’s incredible writing retreats, where I made wonderful new friends and moved the needle on my memoir. A perfect start to the year.

Fellow Carmel retreater Norma Rubio snapped this photo during our beach walk. She’s now teaching folks about mindfulness!

 

In February, I jetted off to Mardi Gras for my first-ever press trip, courtesy of the nice people at Zatarains. I hadn’t been to New Orleans since my twenties, and it was an emotional reunion that I wrote about for The Kitchn, in my first-ever travel essay.

In March, I took off for a long writing weekend in Seabright, Washington, with my friends Kira Jane Buxton and Jennifer Fliss. Write those names down, ya’ll, because you’ll be hearing a lot more about these talented women in the future. Kira sold her first novel, Hollow Kingdom, last summer to Grand Central, and Jennifer was just nominated for not one but TWO Pushcart Prizes.

I wasn’t feeling great during the weekend — I was sick and didn’t know it —  and yet I still had a breakthrough on my memoir proposal that was badly needed. I realized I needed to take my chapter summaries apart and start over, which ended up being an excruciating, eight-month process. That’s where most of my creative energy went this year. I ended up essentially writing an abridged version of my book, which is making completion of the final draft go much more smoothly. Proof that getting away even for a few days can yield big dividends.

Jennifer, me and Kira outside our writing cottage. Whoever had the longest arm snapped the selfie.

 

The entire month of April was spent getting medical tests and feeling crappy. Moving on…

I feared I wasn’t going to be well enough to make it to the ASJA Conference in New York City in May, but in the end I rallied, and I’m so glad I did! People actually turned up at 8 am Saturday morning to hear the panel on Tackling Tough Topics that Dorri Olds, Rudri Bhatt Patel, Candy Arrington and I presented. I loved connecting live and in person with writer friends made through online networking. Julie Vick and I even snuck off to see Kinky Boots on Broadway!   Outside the conference, I grabbed a reunion lunch with fellow Lemon Treehouse alum Christine Kandic Torres (also nominated for a Pushcart this year – wow!) and caught up with Sirenlander Kathryn Maughan, and heard all about her time at the Iceland Writers Retreat. I returned to Seattle full of writing inspiration and re-energized by friendship.

The labyrinth.

Summer rolled around, and I made getting my chapter summaries reconfigured by fall a goal. My family and I took a little weekend getaway to Arizona, and then I stayed behind to write for almost a week at the Franciscan Renewal Center, a Catholic retreat center located about a mile from my childhood home in Scottsdale. June in Arizona is too hot for tourists, so I got a great deal on a room with a desk and 3 meals a day.  (They were grandma-style meat and potatoes meals, a little short on the fruit and veggies, but at least I didn’t go hungry…)

Note: you don’t need to be Catholic to take advantage of a private retreat here! Church services are available but optional; I didn’t attend. Every morning and evening I walked the labyrinth and wandered in the gardens soaking up the desert landscape, absorbing the sound of quail cooing and the smell of creosote. Just writing this makes me long for that desert solitude.

In July, we took a family vacation in Jamaica. I snuck in some writing every morning while my teenagers slept and my husband hit the gym. By this point, I was starting to feel more like myself again physically, lamenting the fact that the year was half over and I hadn’t published much. I dug out an old essay draft, gave it another polish while on vacation, and sold it to The Washington Post. I also wrote one more piece for the Post before the month was over, about new public attitudes toward foster care…As a matter of fact, I wrote the final draft in my Volvo while my daughter was at soccer practice. I just love how sports clubs arrange for kids to practice in the middle of the day during the summer — not like parents have to work or anything, right?

By August, I was starting to feel like the end was in sight with my chapter summaries, and I was desperate to finish. I took another getaway (boy, it sounds like I’m never home! But I gotta get away from the mom duties sometimes to think.) At Sonoma County Writers Camp, I finally met my agent, Bonnie Solow, in person! Bonnie encouraged me to take my time and get the summaries right, which was reassuring. Camp might have been the best thing I did for my writing all year. The generative workshops, led by Ellen Sussman and Elizabeth Stark, were inspiring and so productive, the setting was gorgeous, the veggie meals tasty and healthy, and I met some lovely people. I’m adding this Camp to my 2018 list.

September the kids went back in school — yay! I just kept plugging away on my chapter summaries for the memoir. I honestly can’t remember exactly when I wrapped those up, but I know I felt thrilled when my agent gave them her seal of approval. We’ve both been dying to get my book out on submission… but  at this point, we started debating which sample chapters to show editors. I decided that a chapter I hadn’t yet written really needed to be in the submission package, and so I got cracking on that.

Several amazing opportunities came my way in October. I wrote a piece for ParentMap about Together Live, an inspirational storytelling show featuring some big names like Glennon Doyle and Luvvie Ajayi. That led to an interview with soccer legend Abby Wambach for The Washington Post on how to be a great sports parent. (I even found myself confessing to the GOAT how sad I felt when my oldest daughter quit the sport — yikes!) I’d never interviewed a celebrity before, I was nervous, and my tape recording app failed.  I had to rely on my notes to put the final draft together, but I made it work. I also had the chance to talk with a behind-the-scenes powerhouse of the literary world, agent Jennifer Rudolph Walsh, for Ruby Magazine, and how she created Together Live. Our conversation left me with inspirational tears.

Three wonderful things happened in November: 1. I completed the chapter I needed for my submission package! 2. I wrote a travel piece for Your Teen that will be out in February. 3. I got the first royalty check of my career, when a piece I wrote for The New York Times in 2016 got reprinted in  Japan. (Did my essay land in newspaper/magazine/ book? I’m not really sure, because some of the info  on the royalty statement was written in Japanese!)

One kinda sad thing happened in November: my agent and I decided to wait until 2018 to send my book proposal package out on submission to editors. We didn’t want to compete with the holidays for their attention. Even though it was right call, I felt depressed about it for a good 72 hours. I worked hard this year in spite of health issues without a lot to show for it in terms of money or publications, and I was really hoping to crown the year with that submission. Like I said, it’s so easy to get caught up in what we haven’t accomplished and ignore our achievements…Eventually I snapped out of my funk and went Christmas shopping.

I was delighted to end the year in December with my first byline at The Week, an odd little holiday travel essay I’d been tinkering with off and on for a couple of years. I’m so glad the piece is finally out in the world!

Now that I’ve written it all down, I see that 2017 was in fact a productive, if not lucrative, year. What I haven’t included so far in this blog post: details about the major assignment I fumbled when I got sick. That’s too embarrassing, but failure happens, and then you regroup. I also collected quite a few rejections, from editors at The New Yorker, O, Woman’s Day, Family Circle, and Real Simple. Those magazines remain targets for 2018.

RIP 2017. I’m more than ready to start fresh.

 

 

 

 

 Posted by at 11:04 pm
Jun 262017
 

Professionally, 2016 was a great year for me. I got an agent. I got invited on my first press trip. espnW hired me to make fun of the Olympic mascots! I published a piece about racism in women’s soccer that I’d been trying to work up the courage to write for more than two years. The New York Times picked up an essay. I got invited to speak at the ASJA Conference. I went on a writing residency in Italy. I was on a roll.

And then I stopped rolling.

True confessions: We’re halfway through 2017, and I’ve published only two pieces so far this year. My agent and I had planned to take my memoir out on submission at the end of January, but when she asked me for a few tweaks to the proposal,  we pushed that to February. Then I got sick and fell behind.  Worst of all, I realized that what I really needed to do was rewrite the chapter summaries for the proposal,  which has turned out to be a colossal amount of work.

Despite my poor health, I really wanted meet that spring deadline. I attempted to polish my proposal while:

coughing and sneezing/running a fever/writhing with abdominal pain/squinting from blurred vision/fighting brain fog like nothing I’ve ever experienced before

Finally, I gave up. I was staring at the computer, miserable, accomplishing nothing. I needed to rest.

Other than identifying what was making me so sick (a bad reaction to a medication!) 2017 hasn’t brought much tangible success. I’m feeling much, much better, but I’m still tired a lot of the time, mentally and physically. I’m still spending more time with doctors than I’d like. Even on “good” days, writing or just caring about writing is a struggle (and reading the dismal national news doesn’t help.)  And yet I want to write. I want to care. I want my proposal to go out in the fall.

What has helped me persevere through a difficult time is remembering the wisdom of writer Anne Lamott. She says that when you think you’re blocked, really you’re empty and need to fill up. I worked so hard last year that I ignored a lot of things, especially my body. You can only defer maintenance for so long before stuff starts breaking. I’m paying more attention to my physical self now, and taking time to be more present with my family. I’m getting stronger and starting to work again.

Retreats and conferences have been my professional bright spots this year, because they’ve brought a sense of community, and honestly, more time to rest that I get at home as a mom. In January, I visited one of my favorite spots on the planet and joined one of Linda Sivertsen’s magical Carmel Writing Retreats. I wasn’t feeling great that weekend but didn’t recognize I was ill at this point. Somehow I managed to do an amazing amount of work on my memoir. I also made some lovely friends, like Norma Rubio, who took this gorgeous picture as we walked the beach together and I mused aloud about how nice it would be to own a house on that hillside….Still dreaming.

In March, I enjoyed a writing weekend on the Washington coast with two friends who are  professionally on fire right now: Jennifer Fliss and Kira Jane Buxton. I was starting to feel crappy at this point but didn’t know what was wrong, yet being with friends felt so bolstering that I had a creative breakthrough with my proposal. Thank you, friends! Also, Kira converted me to Irish butter that weekend; my palate will never be the same.

I lost the entire month of April feeling crappy, but once I stopped taking the problem medication, I instantly improved. In May I dragged myself to the ASJA Conference in New York because a) I couldn’t get my money back and b) I would have been so sad to miss participating in the panel, Tackling Tough Topics. I didn’t have energy to pitch any editors at the event, but I had a terrific time connecting with other writers. I scheduled a couple of lunches with New Yorker friends I’d met at other conferences, and got to acquainted in person with colleagues I’d “met” online. The trip wiped me out, but visiting NYC as a “real” writer was an experience I’d always dreamed of, and it finally came true.

This month, I took a solo DIY writing retreat at the Franciscan Renewal Center in Scottsdale, a Catholic retreat center about a mile from where I grew up. I’ve been so frustrated this year, and found myself literally craving a trip to the desert to get my head on straight. I’m going to write up another post about the center and how to create a DIY retreat like that, and try to bring THIS missive back around to the point I raised in the headline:

What do you do as a writer when things aren’t going well?

  1. If you’re running on empty, fill ‘er up.  Unfortunately replenishing your creative mojo isn’t as simple as filling the car with gas. It takes time. Once you get to this point, there really aren’t any shortcuts. You’ve got to take care of your physical body and try to reign in any negative self talk. Taking care of problems in your living space that you’ve been ignoring can also help. I’ve recently re-discovered the therapeutic value of pulling weeds.
  2. Reach out to your writing community. If you don’t have a community yet, take steps to find your people. I realize this post may sound very privilege-y. You may not be in a position to run off a writer’s retreat in Carmel or take a writing weekend with friends…but there are online groups for writers where you can find support, and meet up opportunities in many towns. Your local library, bookstore, or rec department probably offers affordable programming of interest to writers where you can meet people. You need places to go for encouragement and people to tell you not to quit. They’re out there.
  3. Consider a freelance editor, a coach, or an accountability partner. If your budget allows, try hiring a freelance editor if you’re stalled with a piece, or maybe contact a creativity coach to help you create action steps to get back on track. A couple of my writing friends are now offering project management services, which I plan to post about soon. If your finances are tight, finding a friend you can exchange with work with or use as a sounding board can help too. We writers tend to be solitary, glum creatures on our best days; totally isolating ourselves when we’re at our worst can be a really bad idea. Bouncing ideas off someone else brings fresh energy into the process.
  4. Find inspiration in books, blogs, and podcasts about the creative process. I’m going to do another post strictly about these resources. They exist; many are FREE.
  5. If constructive solitude is what you crave, find a way to get it. When you’re down, you have to guard against isolating yourself out of discouragement and/or depression. That’s why I’ve been stressing community and connection. Sometimes, though, you need alone time to restore that creative energy. Maybe you can’t run off to the desert, but perhaps you can spend the afternoon in the park with your notebook, or allow yourself an hour to soak in the bath. Maybe you can wake up 20 minutes earlier to sip your coffee in peace before diving into the day.
  6. Don’t fixate on a timetable for success and recovery. Yes, time matters when it comes to getting creative work done. None of us will live forever. As a late bloomer, I’m really conscious of the ticking clock. However, no one is productive and successful all the time; we all have fallow periods. You can’t compare your season of rest/reflection with somebody else’s harvest time.
  7. Finally, take strategic breaks from social media. I love reading about other people’s successes, but when you’re stalled, the carefully curated timelines of others can sometimes stoke anxiety. It’s ok to step away from the Facebook when you’re feeling discouraged or jealous. Success isn’t a finite commodity. You’ll get yours eventually if you don’t give up! Put time into yourself now and rejoin the fray when you’re ready.

 

 

 

 Posted by at 1:18 am

Announcing the winner of the YOU MADE ME A MOTHER GIVEAWAY — Plus an interview with the author, Laurenne Sala

 Authors, Books, Children's Books, Finding a literary agent, Giveaways, Memoir, Parenting, Uncategorized  Comments Off on Announcing the winner of the YOU MADE ME A MOTHER GIVEAWAY — Plus an interview with the author, Laurenne Sala
May 102017
 

I’m SUPER excited to announce the winner of the YOU MADE ME A MOTHER giveaway:

RUTH EBENSTEIN

Congratulations, Ruth! Please shoot me an email via the online contact form here on the site and include your address. If you reply today, I’ll do my best to get an autographed copy to you in time for Mother’s Day!

Full disclosure: Ruth is a friend, but her entry was chosen using the random number service random.org. If you didn’t win this time, I’m sorry! Still, I’ve got a treat for you all in the form of an interview with the author of YOU MADE ME A MOTHER, Laurenne Sala, that aspiring writers in particular may find interesting…

 

How an Unpublished Memoirist Became a Big Time Children’s Book Author

Laurenne Sala, 35, founded an LA stage show where people reveal their most taboo secrets, wrote scripts for Funny or Die, and conquered the advertising world, but her dreams of publishing a book went unfulfilled, until an unexpected break made her an author.

“I don’t do things half-assed. Ever,” my friend Laurenne Sala says. “I always tried to write with my heart and give it my all, and then I was finally noticed. I see success happen to everyone who does not give up! ”

A little background: Laurenne grew up a child of divorce outside Chicago. At 10, she discovered her funny, caring dad was gay, but at 15, she lost him to suicide, a pain that stayed buried for years.

She left home to study communications at the University of Southern California. Next, she pursued a Masters in Advertising Copywriting at Miami Ad School. Then she had to move back in with her mom for awhile.

“I worked on my portfolio day in and day out,” she remembers. “I told myself that I wouldn’t shave my legs or armpits until I got a job. It took three months!”

Her first gig was writing commercials for Jack in the Box at a small ad agency. “The agency was great. They taught me the ropes. But my very first day at the office, I remember thinking that I had to write a book. I didn’t think I could swing a cubicle job for that long.”

With her ad career launched, Laurenne enrolled in an adult writing class at night, where she finally opened up about her father’s death. The relief she felt in sharing her story with her classmates led to the creation of Taboo Tales, a Los Angeles-based storytelling show with the motto THE MORE WE ALL TALK ABOUT HOW FUCKED UP WE ARE, THE MORE NORMAL WE ALL FEEL. She found more success writing for Funny or Die, but a memoir about her father’s death felt closest to her heart.

I should tell you that Laurenne and I became friends because of that memoir. We met a few years ago at the SDSU Writers Conference at the memoir table at the networking lunch.

“One thing I loved about the memoir was that the first half was told from my father’s point of view. I wrote the other half as if I was my mom,” she says.

Although I remember Laurenne getting positive comments about the book from publishing professionals at the SDSU Conference, her manuscript garnered more than 60 rejections from literary agents. She opted to put the memoir aside for awhile and carried on with her ad career and Taboo Tales. She also kept trying to publish short pieces, and landed an essay about her dad’s death in the anthology DANCING AT THE SHAME PROM, published by Seal Press in 2012.

Despite her intense literary aspirations, Laurenne never dreamed of writing a children’s book. Here’s how it happened.

She first created the text of YOU MADE ME A MOTHER as promotional copy for Boba, makers of baby wraps and carriers. At the time, Laurenne was single and childless, yet she clearly captured some new mom emotions, because when Boba made a tear-jerker of a video from her writing, it went viral.

After that came the big shock: HarperCollins called! The publishing giant offered to pair her up with popular illustrator Robin Preiss Glasser, of bestselling FANCY NANCY fame, to ensure the book’s success. YOU MADE ME A MOTHER won rave reviews and sold out on Amazon within 24 hours of its debut last year.

“The cool thing about YOU MADE ME A MOTHER is that it’s truly a mixture of everything I’ve done in my career,” says Sala. “It began as an ad! And it makes people cry! I’ve always wanted to write something that makes people feel.”

Today Laurenne is having all the fun reading her book to kids and encouraging them to share their feelings too. A sequel, YOU MADE ME A FATHER, will publish in time for Father’s Day 2018 (though you can get a sneak peek here in the video Boba has already made.)

“I struck while the iron was still hot with Harper,” she recalls.  “As soon as we had the mom book contract in the works, I sent the dad book manuscript! I figured I’d do that while they were still into me! It worked, and they bought it within 2 weeks.”
In other joyful news, Laurenne got married last year, not long after her book was published, and she’s expecting a baby girl this fall!! Her memoir remains on hold for now, but she’s got a new project in the works called The Grief Collective, a collection of data, experiences, and stories that all involve losing a parent.

“Anyone who has grieved the loss of a parent can join here: https://goo.gl/forms/lZQroqCawWLUE20F3,” Laurenne explains. “You can sign up to answer one question a month, which helps me compare experiences and see what we all have in common when it comes to grieving.”

I can’t wait to see where this project goes!

 

 Posted by at 3:22 pm