Monday, November 30, 2009

Visual Motivation to Write

Just a little visual aid to motivate you to put butt in chair and write that book or novel that you've been 'meaning to' write. This is a photo of Linda Swink, author of In Their Honor at her publisher's office during her first book signing.

I've known Linda for years and she's struggled just like the rest of us. But, when she finally settled down in her chair, turned on her Mac and got down to work -- she created a book that will greatly add to the military history of the United States. No small deal, but she did it one word, one day, one rewrite at a time. She might have had a bit more hair before starting this project. I received several emails from her saying "I'm pulling my hair out!" And a few others that said, "Why did I ever start this?" And here she sits in her classic camel tan suit signing her name to copies that people are buying and taking home and THANKING her for writing the book.

I know they say that writing a book is like childbirth, but in this respect I will say that the memory of the pain of the creation process fades quickly once you hold that new baby/book in your hands. I believe she'd do it all over again. But right now, she's devoted herself to the marketing aspects of the process.

This photo brings back memories of going to a reading by my dear friend Peggy Vincent in Iowa City and celebrating afterwards. Her book Baby Catcher: Chronicles of a Modern Midwife still gives me goosebumps. The euphoria!

And a few years later Gary Presley read from his Seven Wheelchairs at the same podium at Prairie Lights Bookstore in Iowa City. I could close my eyes and see the room, feel the enthusiasm even if I was a thousand miles away.

It does happen.

It does happen to people we know and respect.

And -- it can happen to us.

A new year is fast approaching -- it is the year for us to finish our projects and get them out there.

Forget all you hear about the doomed publishing industry. That has nothing to do with your book. Your job is to write whatever it is you are compelled to write. The book only YOU can write.

Write it and they will come.

Sunday, November 29, 2009

Publish Your Own Book

I have been very narrow in my focus about self-publishing. Vanity press. But I see so many opportunities right now that involve self-publishing. Especially if you have more than words to offer. Photographs, drawings, recipes, ephemera. Pictured here is the cover of a book, Wild at the Edges, that Virginia Spiegel put together with the help of Blurb Books software.

She is selling the book at a reasonable amount and 25 percent of the income will go to the American Cancer Society. A beautiful book in concept and execution. And it is self-published.

Blurb Books and I think Lulu also offers an easy and not so expensive way to craft a book. I don't advocate these books in place of selling your work with a respected publisher, but I do think making your own books can give you another tool to accomplish what you have set out to do.

1. A book to use/sell when you perform readings or lectures or inspirational talks. Linda Swink published a handbook with a small publisher to promote when she went on her speaking tour of Toastmasters. The book was about speaking!
2. A book to compile your work as in my case, personal essays.

3. A book to record family history or photos or ephemera that you don't want forgotten by your children, grandchildren. A way to document a life that may not gather the attention of New York publishers. Mona Vaneck has made books for her family. She has also compiled and written historic one-of-a-kind books that were not self-published. So there are small publishing houses and sponsors for books that may not have a wide appeal.

4. A message you feel passionate about. Recently I reviewed a self-published book by a man who thought 'character' should be put back into the business world. Beautiful book, by the way.

5. Motivation for you to look at. Something tangible and compact that reminds you where you've been and where you're going. Perhaps a more formal type of journal. If you're like I am, I have papers spread everywhere. Clippings from my years in the newspaper business. I'd love to compile some of that in a book or a series of books. My kids might actually save those and not throw them in the trash when they are forced to clean out all of the things I fail to get rid of.

6. A tool to offer to publishers or anyone interested in seeing what you can do. Something to thrust under the nose of a fellow writer or neighbor or mother-in-law who thinks you write for a hobby.

7. A fundraiser. Sell books with a percentage going to ALS or Cancer, such as Karna Converse has done and to document a life that should not be forgotten.

Do I think these will be a strong foundation for a writing business? Probably not.

But if you are compelled to write and want to see your work in book form, this may be just what a person needs to take them to the next level. If nothing else it is a learning tool and gets a writer into marketing which has become an important part of the book selling equation.

A blog is a form of open book where you can post your writings, add some illustrations, and offer it to the world. The problem with a blog can be that it will then be considered 'published' by any editor seeking to purchase your work.

If you have a body of work that you want to display -- there's no reason you should keep it in a drawer, not with the software technology and low cost book makers available today. Will it hurt your chances of getting with a big publisher? No. If you are the quality of writer they want, nothing will stop them.

But most important. Write what you want to write; what you're compelled to write. And then work on making it better!

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Memoir Writing: Part of the Collective Human Consciousness

A discussion has been going on about whose stories we should be allowed to tell. Is it right, fair, just, or despicable for someone to write a 'memoir' and write about other people who have no chance to speak up for themselves or have imput into what you write? Then the discussion, as most online discussions do, devolved into bashing memoirs.

What are we put on this earth for if not to learn something from the lives we live and share that information with others. Or at the very least, delve into the events of that life and find the truth hidden deep inside. I write personal essays -- a form of memoir in essay form. And being the kind of person who pays very little attention to myself, I've written the essays about my husband. After all, who have I observed any closer for the past 38 years than him? I have a whole series of 'real men' essays about him. Not bashing him, but starting with an anecdote and going from there. Like the time he left a tip at a small seafood restaurant in Central Florida and the waitress came running out after him. She stopped, hesitated, asked if he meant to leave that tip and when he nodded she thanked him.

I believe the moment frightened him. I know it did me because he's by necessity a very frugal man. Very. Our son was with us and just stared open mouthed. But the anecdote wasn't truly about a large tip, it was about a man who stepped out of his economic constraints and rewarded someone who worked hard to make our meal a pleasure. It was about being frugal in a generous way and making his family proud to know him. And it was an opportunity for a son to see his father with new eyes. Each essay may have started with a story about my husband, but it truly said more about me. My focus of my husband had narrowed and I had forgotten what a generous man he truly was.

So, when I finally had had enough of memoir bashing from this online discussion. This is what I wrote:
Memoir offers something that biography can't. If it didn't, then people wouldn't be compelled to write them. Or read them!

My brother and I grew up in the same house seven years apart. Obviously he a male, me female. We have the same parents and yet my brother and I are worlds apart in attitude and perception and just about everything else. So of course he will not see our childhood or parents or home the same way I do. And no one can see it the same way I do. It is MY STORY. Only I can tell it. Is it 'true' or 'factual'? I don't substitute things for effect. I don't exchange a cock fight when it was actually alley cats. But I do write it through my own eyes. Do I glamorize it? No. Is the focus narrow? Yes. Do I set it in the era drawing on what was going on in the world at that time -- yes. A personal essay and memoir too, work through things. The author begins at one point and is changed by the time he or she reaches the end. And the audience, if the piece is done well, get to see the change.

Do I censor it for fear of hurting someone's feelings? Sadly. Yes. But I do not advocate censoring 'self.'

We shouldn't worry about feelings especially someone else's when writing. It should all go on the page. Find the heart of your essay or memoir and then craft the story around that. But first you must be free to put it all down on paper. Ideally I write about my life. But most of the best essays I have written have actually centered on my husband. But it is me, looking at him and reaching conclusions. The conclusions are not about him though, they are about me and my perspective. Most of the times discovering things I never realized.

The best part about writing memoir is the treasure you uncover in the writing. I didn't know that the knitted potholder was about gender roles or that Snow Angels was about dying with dignity or that the scar on my thumb and washing dishes was about sisterhood and exchanging roles -- growing into my mother's hands. Yet, I think these kinds of stories about small things from one small insignificant perspective are vital in what makes us human.

Makes us connect. Makes us realize we aren't alone with these experiences and issues. A memoir starts discussions. Every time someone reads my personal essays there is a comment, "That reminds me of the time...."

Sometimes, often, the impact is so solid that it causes tears or laughing out loud or a phone call to someone they love but also hate. I'm not saying that my writing is all that good. I'm saying that things written from the heart touch other hearts.

And this whole argument about 'the good old days' were not so good. Well, it depends on what role you were playing during those good old days. Being a child with a sense of security, ignorance about economic class or hardships certainly is a different perspective than the father working in a steel mill and facing layoffs. A reader of memoir should be smart enough (it doesn't take much) to realize where the author/narrator is standing when looking out on this vista. And what is wrong with describing a perfect moment? For heaven sakes people these are memoirs and they are about memory and feeling and personal truth and growth and pain and society and relationships and perspective. No one else can ever write MY memoir.

What happens with memoir is when my memories and the readers touch and they can say, "Yes, yes, I get it. That's what it was. She put my pain into words...."

I'm involved with fabric artists through my blog Subversive Stitchers: Women Armed with Needles. They call themselves 'artists' which is a great word for freeing up self censorship. Perhaps we need to adopt that moniker and see what happens to our writings. Do we write for utilitarian reasons or for art? It is the same in fabric art. Are you making a beautiful quilt for the bed or to hang on the wall? Are you carefully following the rules with perfectly abutted corners and straight seams and precise quarter inch seams or are you working on transforming cloth into a butterfly or a face or a kaleidoscope? What is memoir but a use of words to take a life and find the meaning and significance and lessons learned to share with others....

Google memoir and see what you find. I found this site interesting in Columbia University News.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Find Yourself in Play

I'm being interviewed for a guest blog thingy and it has made me realize that I haven't lived my life for 'me' in a very long time. And I don't have a body of work to show that I'm creative or successful.

If anyone asks me my favorite color, favorite food, favorite movie -- I don't know. Now, ask me my husband's or my sons' or even my mother's favorites and I'd have a better chance to answer. I don't even know my favorite song -- Derrol's is anything Beatles and One Tin Soldier. And he knows the words to every song and he knows who wrote every song. Me? Not a clue.

The one thing I have maintained through the years is my own identity in books. I KNOW my favorite books and authors. I even know why! I even have a favorite poem. All of this to say that I'm getting old and don't know who I am. And we think teenagers are mixed up!

The good thing about reaching this age is that I can give up all pretense of being what everyone else wants. I can just be me -- as soon as I figure out who she is.

I thought I was a painter. I'm still looking for my creative outlet. Words are failing me these days. So I picked up a brush. A picture is worth a thousand words. Well, not this one. Unless they are explitives. Yet, I learned quite a bit while making this picture.

First of all, I used Latex satin wall paint as the background color. Then I brushed a layer of some metallic textile paint that I had leftover from my Playing with Paint class with Lyric Kinard. And then I used a Jacobean quilt design from Patricia B. Campbell and Mimi Ayars book "Jacobean Rhapsodies" as my design. I don't draw. I have difficulty tracing. But it came out okay.

Then I gathered up the acrylics that we had purchased way back when Derrol and I thought he could make painted wooden Christmas ornaments. I had red, green, blue, yellow, black, white, brown and a couple of glittering thingies. I started mixing colors and trying to achieve some of the 'fabric' look of the photo in the quilt book. Thanks to Lyric, I didn't hesitate after I thought, "I wonder...." I just started mixing. Did you know you can get a beautiful rose color by mixing brown and bright red? I also learned how to make Army green -- or the color of mud. Not my best experiment, but it did work as a base color for a leaf on which I over painted a few stripes and speckles. Acrylics dry really really fast so it is difficult to swirl colors into them like the textile paints.

I'm pleased with some of the things I tried on this painting. It turned out as I had hoped. Overall -- it looks like a paint by number gone badly wrong. Childish? Maybe Folk Artsy -- definitely. Not the look I was going for. Too bright. Too gawdy. And now I'm wondering why I have loved Jacobean prints and quilts for all of these years. It may have something to do with the black backgrounds traditionally used.

All of this to say -- I still think I might be a painter. But most of all I think I'm learning how to let go, experiment, and take away something from what I've done rather than beat myself up because it isn't working. OK, there was about six hours of that, too.

Another thing about any kind of art -- painted or fabric or painted fabric -- it is inspiring. And it makes words form in my brain. And for someone my age capturing the right word when you want it has gotten a bit trickier. So in all honesty, I present you with yesterday's work in order to inspire you to play! And, I've included Renoir to show how well his play time turned out!

Maybe I'll repaint this in a monotone -- navy blue? Well, off to experiment. The nice thing about paint -- just add another layer. Hey, that's good advice for a novel, too!

Friday, November 13, 2009

Blurb Books May be the Answer to Gift Giving Concerns

Instant gratification. Instant gifts.

Well, I'm not sure the time frame from start to finish, but I've heard from two fabric artist friends who have made the most beautiful books using Blurb free book software with the option of using their professional staff. Pictured here is a cover of a new release.

They can do it themselves as fancy or simple as they want. Photos seem to be the mainstay with fewer words.

One artist, Virginia Spiegel, included essays as well as photos and artist statements and whatever she felt like. It is her second book with Blurb and she's totally satisfied. Here's what she recently wrote in her newsletter:

"Wild on the Edges: Inspiration from a Creative Life by Virginia Spiegel. This book evolved by keeping in mind the kind of book I like to take to bed with me (maybe with a glass of wine or a mug of hot chocolate) and peruse as the spirit moves me.You will find encouragement for art and living, a sense of wonder, a little advice, closeup photos of art and nature and, last, but not least, a very personal view of the driving forces behind my creative life.Wild on the Edges will be available soon from Blurb books."

Virginia has taken more than a dozen trips into the wilderness with her sister and has kept journals and created an exquisite series of fabric art pieces based upon her experiences. This is not her first book with Blurb, she's made several for family and friends. But this is the first she's offering for sale.

Judy Coates Perez just blogged about making her first book and what I can see of it, it is quite tastefully done. I adore Judy's fabric art and was so pleased to see her win an award for her Moon Garden at Houston in October, 2009. Who says fabric art and books and words don't fit together like a hand and glove?

I look at Judy's fabric art and can see the world she has created and it is a place I'd enjoying visiting for an extended stay!

I wonder if this might not be a fascinating way to get an agent's or a publisher's attention. Make your own book and then present it to them to see if they'd like to feature your work? I don't suppose it would work for multiple submissions, but perhaps just one agent you want to love you -- maybe it would work. But it would definitely need to be really WELL DONE!

No failure, just results -- unless you don't try

There is no such thing as failure. There are only results. --Tony Robbins (Robbins in photo)

Well, there you have what I've been trying to say for several weeks now. This is what I learned in my Play with Paint class taught by Lyric Kinard. No failure, just results. Yep, that's the way it is.

Bums me out that Tony Robbins is the one who said what I wanted to say, but at least it is now said! 

No failure, just results. Unless you don't try.

Then there aren't even results. Then there is just the feeling that you could have, or should have or might have, but you'll never know. And for some that's much better than success. Live with a fantasy of what could have been may be better than discovering that it was in fact just a fantasy and it could never happen.

But then aren't you just a bit curious? Could your tinkering with words make you the next J.K.Rowling? Or even the next Lewis Grizzard or Dave Barry or Elizabeth Berg? Don't you have something to say that is eating at you and you just wish it was okay to write it?

Aren't you even the least bit curious about what happens when you chain up your censor and just write what feels good? I've often wondered if there are more Sue Monk Kidds out there who have limited themselves to good acceptable restrained, did I say 'censored' Christian writing. And like Sue Monk Kidd they break loose, embraced the Goddess and write their own Secret Life of Bees or Mermaid's Chair before slipping back behind the curtain of respectability and pious Christianity to once again pen how to be the perfect wife....

How many more lives did she touch with her Bees and Mermaids than with her When the Heart Waits: Spiritual Direction for Life's Sacred Questions -- I wonder?Writing for the saved and writing for the unsaved masses.... Which fulfills the Christian calling? But who am I to have such thoughts?

Certainly I am no Tony Robbins. Certainly not Sue Monk Kidd. So who am I and where do I belong in this world. I can enjoy my fantasy at night when the lights are out and I close my eyes and envision this successful, revered writer. Is that enough? Or do I need to see if that is in fact the life I should be leading?

How does one get from the here to the wow!?

One word at a time.

Friday, November 6, 2009

Flash-Fiction Addiction

Glen Binger, editor of 50 to 1, has a few words to offer about flash fiction and words of encouragement to all writers. Please welcome Glen to Observations. -- Dawn

The first time I referred to myself as a writer in conversation I shocked myself. I was probably a freshmen in college and still learning the ins and outs of how to gather an audience of some sort; whether it be my friends or people I didn't know. Then I discovered blogging. It seemed long-winded, but so did everything else. Blogging turned into Twitter. And thus, flash-fiction/nano-fiction/micro-fiction/whatever-you-want-to-call-it was born and evolved and grew tremendously in popularity. But now people's attention spams are limited. How does this affect the way writers write?

As the editor of 50 to 1, I try to keep this idea in mind. I know people want to read something short and still want to feel like they've accomplished something by doing so. It is the same for writing these micro pieces. It is definitely something that every writer should keep tucked away in the back of their brain.

I don't necessarily agree with the realm of flash-fiction storming literature the way it is, but I do see why it is gaining numbers. Don't get me wrong; I love reading a strong piece of flash-fiction. If you write something that short that is so strongly developed, then you have done a lot. That's what I look for as an editor. It is hard to write a 50-word story and still have it do something. When it works, its awesome. When it doesn't, its just a couple of words blotched together.

I just don't like to see the other forms of literature go unnoticed because of this. I want people to keep writing novels, poetry collections, short stories, etc. I want to keep reading them. As should everyone calling themselves a writer.

I guess what I'm getting at; don't let a good story or poem go unread because it is too long. And, in that same idea, don't shorten the length of your work because you want it to be published somewhere. Don't change your style to gain an audience; that's no fun. Most writers know they are readers first, writers second. So most writers understand the differences people have in style. Yes, there are writers who dedicate most of their work to flash fiction. And, vise versa, there are writers who dedicate their work to novels and lengthier fiction. But they understand the importance of the opposite category. Most writers I know dabble in just about any area they can; even though they'd like to call themselves a strict flash-fiction-ite or a strict novelist.

Maybe I'm not making any sense at all. I don't know. I'm certainly no expert on the area and I probably sound like an idiot. But hey, what the hell. I like all kinds of literature and, basically, I think that is what should be important to any writer. Just be open to anything and stay true to yourself. Have your favorites, write whatever you want, and read everything. Your audience will come to you and continue to grow if you just keep at it.

Glen can be contacted at:

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

What if you cannot fail?

Ahhhh the possibilities.

What would you do today if you knew you could not fail?

What a fun question. And where does it lead you? What do I avoid for fear of failing? What do I put off doing because I might not do it well? What is the one thing I most want to succeed at?

But if you couldn't fail -- would you fly? Would you step outside of who you are today and become that other person that seems to come to life only in your dreams?

Would you approach someone who intimidates you or someone you consider a legend or celebrity or out of your league? Would you search for a soulmate or search for an answer to an ancient secret? Maybe a cure for a rare disease. Or maybe you'll write that creative piece of writing that your censor keeps warning you away from,

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Conversations in Design Prove Inspiring

Writers keep lamenting and worrying and choosing up sides of the changes being seen in the book itself and the industry surrounding books and publishing. Here's a short video that quietly encourages writers and readers that the book is not disappearing nor going anywhere. It is not a sin to abandon paper and ink and the new Kindle is not a book, but it is about communication and networking.

The site Thirty Conversations on Design that houses the video by Ellen Lupton has taken on an interesting project. Described here in their own words:

We’ve collected the thoughts of 30 of the world’s most inspired creative professionals. Architects, designers, authors and leaders of iconic brands.

We asked them two questions: “What single example of design inspires you most?” and “What problem should design solve next?” Their answers might surprise you. But hopefully, they’ll all inspire you. Discover what they have to say. Then share your thoughts. After all, this is a conversation.
 I particularly enjoyed the video by Linda Tischler about New York's Central Park and its designer. Perhaps their words will also inspire you or comfort you or reach out to see things in a new and different way.