Tuesday, December 27, 2011
BROKEN CHAINS, MISSING LINKS, Out in 2012.This is a collection of auto-biographical short stories. Several have been published as stand-alone pieces in journals including Lilith Magazine, Hugo House Journal, Story Circle Anthology, OurEcho.com, A Long Story Short, and others. The short story entitled Sorrel Summer was a finalist in Hugo House "Writing About War" competition and was the winner of the Annual Family Writing Project, OurEcho.com.
Tuesday, December 13, 2011
Sunday, December 11, 2011
Recently, author and novelist Dixon Rice asked fellow writers on Face Book to share their views about writing, getting published, and what makes them choose to read and/or buy one book rather than another. Dixon’s blog about the writing process, craft and getting published: http://www.wredhead.blogspot.com. I tried to address each of Dixon’s questions. He posted my responses on his blog in the form of tips over the course of several weeks. But you can read my entire “interview” here.
What I write and getting published:
Until just a few years ago, my writing was entirely academic – sociology, economics and education. One book I wrote dealt with graduate schools’ prestige rankings and their alumni career success. It’s not exactly a topic primed for the NY Times best seller list!
I’ve noticed that books based on academic research, especially dissertations about controversial topics, have a reasonably good chance of finding publishers if they stick to university presses. But a major problem with academic presses is that their print runs tend to be very limited - maybe a few thousand copies, if that.
Self-publishing is becoming a realistic option for writers who haven’t been able to secure agents. I’ve been watching industry trends and talking to fellow writers about that. It looks as though the financial success and media attention self-published books are getting really is skyrocketing. Clearly, increased access to internet based public relations and on-line self-publishing sites are a huge benefit to writers willing to pursue non-conventional paths to get their work out there.
Some up-sides: buzz is easier to obtain, more accessible, vastly less expensive or free, and fast. The bad news: the internet medium is becoming increasingly more competitive by the hour!
My first NON-academic book, The Seamstress: A Memoir of Survival, was published by a conventional press but that was a fluke and I didn't have an agent. I researched, rewrote and edited my mother's true story, a holocaust memoir,18 years after she died. Betting it published was a perfect example of following up with someone I met who knew someone who was related to someone at Penguin Berkley as well as at G.P. Putnams and Sons.
The experience underlined a key point to me: you can and should tell anyone who will listen, that you've written a book (that is, only if you’ve really finished it or are almost finished). If anyone says to you, "I know someone who’s in publishing,” or “a friend of mine has an uncle who’s a literary agent,” or who claims to have a friend whose cousin is roommates with an editor, etc., - follow up with them and promptly. I almost let my opportunity drop!
When I think about how lucky I got and that it really was because I did follow up, I also had to think about the reasons for my reluctance. In all honesty, I think I worried about coming across as overly aggressive or making a nuisance out of myself - really lame reasons. Also, I considered it could be a waste of my time, possibly with people who really weren’t able to help -another pretty lame excuse. Keep in mind the reality of the adage: You have to kiss a lot of frogs before you find one that turns into a prince or princess.
Now I look back and, after a fair amount of soul-searching I think there was that worry most writers have: what if I gave my manuscript to a “contact" and that person read and hated my work?
During that time I created a very precise "elevator speech" about my book. You have to be able to tell anyone exactly what the book is about in 2-3 sentences, i.e., before those elevator doors open up again! My husband impressed the importance of that ability on me, a lesson he'd learned the hard way in business. No one wants to listen to some long song and dance about your writing even though you’re intrigued by it. Others don’t necessarily share your enthusiasm.
Other paths to getting my work published include taking classes at professional writing conferences, carrying my business cards, collecting cards from anyone who might be a good network member or who’s had their own work published and submitting shorter essays and stories to literary journals. I find that reading advice articles written by literary agents and publishers give me additional insight.
I do work at improving my craft. That requires tremendous self discipline especially when life gets in the way. The most effective way for me is to write is to work on something every day. Going back to it a week later and reading what I wrote and editing has really helped me improve my self-editing skills.
What I read:
I read a great deal and select books for some very specific but diverse reasons; they're in my field, they're on the bestseller list, I’ve had some contact with the author, a friend raved about the book to me, everybody seems to be reading it, or the book is a classic that I totally didn’t “get” when I was in school and it was required reading. Sometimes I’ll read a book because it’s a huge intellectual challenge to me. I need that sometimes. I've started to keep a reading journal, making notes about some of my favorite books and the reasons they ranked high for me.
Finally, I've been collaborating with 3 other women writers on an interview project. This past August, I attended a writers' retreat at Ghost Ranch, NM along with 93 other women writers. Four of us decided we'd try to interview each attendee regarding the writing process, her difficulties, insights, etc. It's proving to be very enlightening. So, all up, I hope my comments and views help you out.
Read interviews with a few of the retreat writers at: http://arohospeaks-writertowriter.posterous.com/ .
Monday, December 5, 2011
The next workshop I’ll be teaching focuses on research methods for writers of non-fiction, specifically memoir. As writers, so many of us fail to understand just how critical research is to the quality of our writing. We spend so much of our energies on the tasks of constructing stories, honing eloquent sentences and editing, but often neglect the important components of research.
Read the course description that follows.
Our Stories, True Stories: Research for Memoir and How To Do It:
What makes a memoir compelling? A good story and its context, that's what! And those are based on exceptional credibility and depth. Credibility depends upon factual accuracy and a memoir's richness—its depth and complexity also derive from details and their accuracy.
How do we create believable scenes for events we may not remember accurately or those that may have taken place well before we even began our own lives? Perhaps in lands we've never seen or will see?
All writers know that scenes are set in time and place, geographically and historically. Setting includes scenery, topography, clothing fashions, news worthy events, prevailing scandals, popular books, best restaurants, famous people, natural disasters—you name it. These must all be written about accurately.
Successful memoirists write truth and employ extensive research to enhance it. Writers consult sources that range from public material such as newspapers, magazines, books, and the internet to private ones including personal interviews, correspondences, diaries, photographs. There is a plethora of material many of us tend to overlook.
The story is yours but I can help you improve your research skills. Good research is key to achieving credibility and depth in your story.
Tuesday, November 15, 2011
Interview with Martha Andrews Donovan
Martha was interviewed by Marlene Samuels of the AROHO Speaks:Writer to Writer Collaboration Project.
Is there one specific moment or event at the retreat that sparked an insight or shift in how you perceive either your work or yourself as a writer?
Martha was interviewed by Marlene Samuels of the AROHO Speaks:Writer to Writer Collaboration Project.
I interviewed Martha Donovan about her AROHO Retreat experience although, at first, I wasn’t entirely sure I’d actually spoken with her during our week at Ghost Ranch. After going back to the retreat website to find Martha’s photograph, I was thrilled to discover that she and I had, in fact, exchanged numerous conversations during meals, while having coffee or during various “mind stretch” presentations.
During the retreat, we all had so much to share with one another about ourselves - as writers and women, as mothers and wives, as teachers and students. Yet, our most unifying issues revolved around the incredible challenges we face that are totally unique to women writers. Martha is one of the many women who inspired me. I hope you’ll find the same inspiration in her words as I do!
I’ve never been good at daily habits beyond teeth brushing. So I was relieved to hear Marilynne Robinson and others at AROHO’s retreat admit that they don’t always write every day, that there are times when they’re feeding their writing in other ways:
Breena Clarke spoke of getting to know her characters best while naked in the shower; Mary Johnson about the value of vegetable chopping and apple picking; Marilynne Robinson about “a room of one’s own” as fine and good but that it makes sense to get out of that room occasionally.
Sunday, October 23, 2011
I've been thinking a lot about memoir, my short stories and how earning my PhD helped. And now, I'm really ready for the New York Times Magazine to interview me! So here are a few questions I'm guessing they might ask.
Questions for Marlene Samuels
What do you make of the current obsession Americans have with memoirs that reveal incredible intimate details? I don't think this is some obsession unique to Americans. Keep in mind some really nasty memoirs have been published in France, the UK, Canada and Australia, just to name a few. If we delve a bit, we'd probably find explicit memoirs in almost every country except - of course, those in which they're banned and the authors have been stoned to death.
The motivation to write memoir really is surprisingly complex, but I think making decisions not only about what to include but especially what to exclude is vastly more difficult. Never mind - I'll take that back, it's mindboggling! We have a responsibility to ask what purpose is served when we tell our life stories. Once we answer that, the next question is whom do we serve by telling it?
The memoir writing process is, in many ways, a personal search for meaning in which the writer tries to share experiences and insights with the reader. It's almost as though the writer is engaging in a "conversation" with potential readers and by sharing a life story helps others as well as the writer. Of course, there's also a less principled side to memoirs - those that are predominantly narcissistic and self-aggrandizing. I suppose that's ok, too. Let's face it - almost everyone has a voyeuristic side. Then, in addition to good old fashioned voyeurism, we also enjoy a bit of "schadenfreud!"
Do you think memoir has evolved over the last century? It seems memoir fans can't even recall any that were popular during the last few years much less the past decade. Yes, I do think memoir has evolved. It's become a genre that's taken much more seriously than ever before. For a long time, the genre was regarded with disdain or cynicism, almost grouped with high school girl diaries or romantic "bodice rippers".
Thursday, October 13, 2011
AROHO Speaks, Writer to Writer: Interview with Tania Pryputniewicz
Thinking back to the 2011 AROHO retreat, is there one specific moment or event you can identify that sparked an insight or shift in how you perceive either your work or yourself as a writer?
I have the urge to delineate every conversation I had at AROHO’s summer 2011 retreat whether it occurred on that first shuttle to Ghost Ranch, on the morning hike down to breakfast, or sitting on the mesa watching for shooting stars. I didn’t realize just how isolated I’d come to feel (after ten years of immersion in motherhood). I am moved by the web of life-long friends working beside me in spirit now--a posse of cohorts possessing a rich range of personalities and passions. I am no longer a “Lone Ranger.”
During Kate Gale’s afternoon panel, “Become a Literary Citizen,” and the panel of “Non-profit Contrarians” composed of Darlene Chandler Bassett, Kate Gale, and Esther Cohen, the forthright conversations about how to share the responsibility for promoting one’s work and the work of others shifted how I perceived my role as both a writer and editor. I will now ask, as Kate suggested, “What tangible help can I offer the publisher/press that accepts my book for publication? What do I bring to the table besides my role as writer of the manuscript?” In addition, I felt excited as an editor of a small on-line magazine to consider ways of sharing resources and platforms with established non-profits as opposed to reinventing the wheel each time, an idea put forth by Darlene.
Walking back from the panel, Esther’s gentle but direct questions about the motivation behind my choice to be a poetry editor at The Fertile Source (Why are you drawn to the subject? Why do you care about how women are viewed? Was family important to you growing up?) helped me take stock and recalibrate my personal and professional intentions.
Is there a specific woman writer who inspires/d you? If so, can you tell us something about why?
Again, I am flooded with memories regarding each writer I met and feel hard pressed to choose just one. But here goes--I’m thinking of the night Bhanu Kapil read from her poetry collection, humanimal. I could sense the specter of wolf-raised girls, the energy of those children as palpable as the sun warmed stone seats of the amphitheater and the tuning forks of the cacti at our backs. Later, I couldn’t sleep, the moon emanating through the three tiny windows of my room, a luminous, kaleidoscopic energy coursing through my mind.
During Bhanu’s Mind Stretch, she exuded that same multi-dimensional attention in her approach to her writing process when she shared the questions she posed as part of her process creating the poems for The Vertical Interrogation of Strangers. I’m intensely inspired by the scope of her investigation into human relations and how it translates into her finished work. Surely a woman who has the courage to ask other women, “Who was responsible for the suffering of your mother?”, and to write about the answers, will continue to leave a trail of profoundly transformative writing in her wake.
Thursday, October 6, 2011
I’ve been following the activities of A Room of Her Own Foundation for almost as long as the organization has been in existence. Every two years, a one-week long retreat in August is held at Ghost Ranch in Abiquiu, New Mexico. Every time there was a retreat, I thought I’d attend but as the time approached, it never seemed possible. Well, this year I actually did attend! Now, having done so, it easily could become my new obsession.
The dramatic landscape – red rock mountains, intense blue skies, unimaginable sunsets and mesas I’d seen only in postcards, is inspirational beyond belief. In fact, the ranch inspired artist Georgia O’Keefe’s paintings, a venue in which she spent so much of her time. Ghost Ranch has a way of engulfing even the most cynical in a cloak of subtle spirituality and deep contemplation.
In August my lucky star shone! I spent an amazing week there as a participant in the AROHO retreat. Besides writing, contemplating both the physical and philosophical, I met inspiring women writers from every part of America. Each was totally unique, interesting, and creative and, if at first we thought we had nothing in common, we all seemed to have so much to share with one another.
A new friend said to me at the retreat, “You’re not anyone I would normally ever talk to.” Sounds interesting or worrisome? Not at all - I really knew exactly what she meant. For so many of us who came together during the retreat, that state was absolutely correct! What an amazing opportunity to talk to all those women we never ever would talk to in our “normal” lives.
So, after all those conversations with so many women, four of us committed to interview as many women participants during the coming year as possible about their AROHO Retreat experiences. Each of us will be posting these interviews as they’re completed on our own blogs and then on AROHO’s.
My first post is an interview with poet Lisa Rizzo, the new friend who normally would never talk to someone like me. I hope you find the same inspiration in her words as I do.
Wednesday, October 5, 2011
Thinking back to the 2011 AROHO retreat, can you tell us about an idea, exercise or conversation that had either an identifiable impact upon your writing habits or became a finished piece of writing or one in process?
I attended every Mind Stretch during the retreat, braving heat-induced hot flashes to soak in the incredible inspiration. Everyone was wonderful but one session, in particular, had a huge impact upon my writing habits - the Mind Stretch led by Kate Gale. When she asked for a show of hands from those who regularly attend Pilates or yoga classes, I proudly raised my hand. I’ve attended Pilates twice a week for the last four years, one of them at 9:00 a.m. on Saturdays! Then Kate wiped the smug grin off my face with her next question: why couldn’t - or wouldn’t - we schedule the same time for our writing? That hit me hard.
I’ve never tried, systematically, to schedule writing time for myself. Why don’t I take care of my mind and creativity the same way I try to take care of my body? Since that day, I’ve set a goal: to write everyday at scheduled times – that means writing something other than my teaching related. Since returning home from Ghost Ranch, I’ve mostly kept that promise to myself, missing only five days. Because I can’t always grab the afternoon time I originally planned, some of my writing takes late at night when everyone else in my household has gone to sleep. The house is quiet. The amount of my writing time has increased but now I’ll have to work to make sure I don’t suffer from sleep deprivation!
Is there one specific moment or event at the retreat that sparked an insight or shift in how you perceive either your work or yourself as a writer.
I can pinpoint one moment that changed the way I perceive myself as a writer. I was sitting in my small group, one for late bloomers, i.e.,writers over 50. As I talked with that incredible group of women about writing, a real chill of fear suddenly coursed through me. I had an epiphany that since coming to AROHO I would have to actually start taking myself seriously as a writer – and that terrified me. What a responsibility! Now I had “come out” as a writer with all these women. They even accepted me as a serious writer. There was no returning to the dark hiding place, the one in which I tell no one about my writing, where I can spend weeks at a time and not even think about writing. That was the moment I began to own the title “writer”.
How would you describe your typical writing day?
During the school year, there is no typical writing “day.” Often, writing time consists of stolen moments. Since being a teacher is incredibly demanding - mentally and physically, I’m often exhausted when I get home. At AROHO I conceptualized a plan: to sit down to write as soon as I’ve changed out of my work clothes, a plan that doesn’t always work. Sometimes other life responsibilities get in the way. That’s when I fall back to late night sessions as a time to put a few words onto the page. During weekends, I make the effort to get up early and write before anyone else is awake. As soon as my household stirs, my mind is divided and I no longer concentrate as well.
Can you describe for us what you’re currently working on?
Attending the AROHO retreat has changed my work in many ways. First, I’ve become involved in this collaborative project, AROHO Writers Interview Team (AWIT). Also, after talking to many of the wonderful bloggers whom I met there, I’ve mustered the courage to start my own blog. Both of these projects have been so exciting. I’ve actually been dreaming about them! I generally don’t even remember my dreams so that’s really amazing.
Lisa Rizzo is a poet and middle school language arts teacher who manages to combine her love of words and poetry with her day job. Born in Texas, Lisa grew up in Chicago and moved to the San Francisco Bay Area 30 years ago. Rizzo has participated in numerous poetry workshops around the Bay Area. For five years, she led a poetry workshop herself, which culminated in the self-publication of a group chapbook, Five Windows. Her work has appeared in such journals as The Lucid Stone, 13th Moon, Writing for Our Lives, Earth’s Daughters, Bellowing Ark and Calyx Journal. Her chapbook, In the Poem an Ocean was published by Big Table Publishing Co. She recently entered the “blogosphere” with her blog Poet Teacher Seeks World.
Read Lisa Rozzo's interview of me answering the same questions.
Visit her blog: http://poetteacherworld.blogspot.com
Sunday, September 25, 2011
Most of my writing has been academic until ten years ago when the opportunity to rewrite and publish my mother’s memoir created a turning point. My work falls into three diverse genres: sociology, creative non-fiction and food writing.
I co-authored and edited my mother’s Holocaust memoir, The Seamstress: A Memoir of Survival, wrote an academic book about career attainment, numerous short stories, essays, and food articles. I’m completing research for a book and putting final touches on my short story collection due in 2012. My third focus is culinary writing. I co-host www.expendableedibles.com and www.expendableedibles.com/blog.
The Best Writing Moment(s)
Try as I might, it’s impossible to identify the single best writing moment of my life thus far. However, I identified three best ones! My difficulty is because my writing spans three extremely diverse genres - sociology, non-fiction short story, and culinary. Each contains a unique best feeling writing moment.
One perfect experience occurred while I was working on my Ph.D. I had far too many interests as opposed to too few and even after formulating my dissertation topic and defending the proposal, I couldn’t figure out how or where to begin writing. My committee chairman - also chairman of the Sociology Department at that time, was well acquainted with that roadblock. Sitting in his office staring across the desk, I watched his bushy white eyebrows rise,his signal for me to begin my complaints.
“I have my chapter list and outlines, my analysis are complete and my bibliography is great but I’m completely stuck. There’s so much good stuff but I haven’t a clue where or how to begin.”
He looked at me most seriously. Now the bushy eyebrow scrunched together in thought. “Bird by bird.” He said.
“I beg your pardon? Huh, what does that mean?” I asked.
He smiled and said, “Anne Lamott – her book, Bird By Bird. Go get it. Read it and when you’re done, go back to the library. That’s when you sit the seat of all your knowledge firmly down in a chair and write your dissertation.”
One week later, at a long library table, I sorted 3 X 5 note cards, piles and piles of them. Rosy pink for each of the eight chapter titles, white for chapter sub-categories, and Robin’s egg blue for critical footnotes. Next, I rubber-banded each pile then placed all my packets – that is, everything but Chapter I, into a shoe box that I stuffed into a miniature library locker.
During the next 2 weeks I worked on that one chapter, beginning with the first white note card, the first sub-heading of the chapter. Suddenly, an epiphany!
Suddenly, the writing was pouring out onto pages, flowing where a short time earlier it had been clogged up. Two weeks later, I retrieved card packet two – the next “bird,” from my stuffed locker. After shuffling through Chapter II cards, I wrote effortlessly and quickly. I realized it was my best writing moment ever –everything in harmony, everything making sense and my overwhelming thought was, “I really can do this.”
My next best writing moment – equally great but extremely different, occurred after Putnam’s Sons offered to publish my mother’s Holocaust memoir if I agreed to research, rewrite and edit it. They also asked me to write an “afterward” to the memoir she’d written 20 years earlier. At the time the publisher contacted me, my mother had been dead for 18 years.
What could I say in an afterward? What should it include or exclude? How extensive or brief should I be? The only way I could approach the task was by making a list of memories that came to mind about my mother. I began plugging them into a story web – an exercise I’d learned at University of Iowa’s summer writing program. I’d always been cynical about the process but I did it anyway. As soon as I’d finished, I began writing, page after page without hesitation.
It was a miraculous sensation. In what felt to be only 15 minutes was actually well over an hour. Besides wondering whether my pen was inhabited by a writing gnome or on fire, that became a “best writing moment”. It was especially significant because other than writing poetry when I was a young hippie, I’d never before written anything that wasn’t academically focused.
Several years ago a friend and I began a culinary website. It evolved as we managed hectic lives working full time, each of us raising 2 boys and married to men possessed of discriminating pallets. Looking for quick ways in which to minimize time at the stove, we also became appalled by the extent of food wasted in America. Each of us was bothered owing to our individual roots. My friend is a first generation American whose European parents narrowly escaped Hitler. I wasn’t born in the USA and born to parents who weren’t as lucky as were hers.
Having survived concentration camps and years of near starvations, wasting food was regarded by my parents as a mortal sin. Those events morphed into an idea that resulted in www.expendableedibles.com. Our site is devoted to using it all, both for time efficiency as well as for serving a more ecological purpose. In the process, we were also serving up some tasty surprises! In response to overwhelming requests, we launched our associated blog next, www.expendableedibles.com/blog. In it we feature interviews with well known chefs as well as my spontaneous and seasonally relevant quick rescue recipes.
Currently, for example, my recent post focuses upon the problem of too many green tomatoes or left over crudités, and pickling them in jars filled with pickle “juice” but devoid of pickles. Food wise, my best writing moment arrived while I was finishing edits on an article for the Chicago Tribune entitled, “Wait, Wait, Don’t Toss That Out.!”
I read my words aloud and in that moment said, “Wow, that’s nice!” It was an amazing feeling that, several months later when the Chicago Tribune featured the article on the Dining section’s front page, I relived the sensation all over again.
Regardless of the genre in which I’m now writing, it’s that fantastic feeling – the one of everything lining up like an eclipse, I continuously strive to replicate. I really believe that if I can achieve those moments, then my readers will be receiving my best. Additional excerpts of my best moments’ writing can be read on my website www.marlenesamuels.com.
Wednesday, September 14, 2011
"What a waste!" my mother complained. "I rinse the dishes, load, then unload. I could have just washed them and be done with it!" Her rant focused upon the dishwasher my father presented her -a Mother's Day surprise. Yet, when life's difficulties intervened, her true self emerged: a pragmatist and survivor possessing boundless courage. Her diminutive size belied the stamina and cunning that lurked inside. To her clients, she was an elegant woman possessed of quick humor and remarkable dressmaking talent.
Three days before she died, my mother, Seren Tuvel, gave me the only knick-knack she ever displayed at her dressmaking salon. She was slipping away from me, perched on the divide between life and death, frail as a fledgling swallow encountering its first breeze. Her gift: a wooden box painted to resemble an antiqued book. Within its covers, a poignant message was printed in flowing script upon a background of Renaissance angels.
"God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, courage to change the things I can, and wisdom to know the difference." The Serenity Prayer (Reinhold Niebuhr)
Growing up, I heard tales of Seren's courage from her old European friends, recounted with great relish at holiday gatherings, weddings and Bar Mitzvahs. There also was incredible courage I witnessed as her daughter. A single theme ran like a raging river through her life -moral strength manifest as intense courage.
Three decades have passed since my mother died. I now comprehend the significance of The Serenity Prayer in her life. It gradually worked its way into mine. Seren was, by anyone's standards, remarkably courageous and determined—a woman whose influence upon me surfaces when life's challenges stump me.
My mother embraced courage as her life's philosophy. "Live courageously. No matter what, trust heart. What you know to be the truth will feed courage. Otherwise, how can you live with yourself?"
It was her mantra - one she recited to me during my teens and into my stressful twenties, a decade filled with career dilemmas, graduate school challenges and perplexing romances.