Carrie Visintainer is the author of Wild Mama. When not traveling, she lives in Fort Collins with her husband and two kids.
Recently I was going through some boxes in my basement, and I discovered a notebook containing my diary from sophomore year in high school. The entry dated February 4th read, “I really love Macbeth. Mr. M. made us read it but I liked it anyway. So anyway, I think this weekend I’m going to stay home to write that play through a modern lens. Ooooh!”
Um, nerd alert, right?! Yep, that was me as an adolescent, skipping normal teenage activities like hanging out at the mall to rewrite masterpieces of literature. Anyway, that’s who I was. But I think what’s most interesting about that time in my life is not so much my nerdiness, but that after high school, I stopped writing.
I took a road to a bright future, chasing an education in biology and genetics, which I wasn’t necessarily passionate about, but it was interesting, and it did seem a lot more lucrative than creative writing.
Which worked out okay for a while, until it didn’t. Until the middle of graduate school when I couldn’t stop thinking about writing. How I wanted to be a writer. That I loved words on a page. And while it seemed like a less-than-promising career path, it was what I wanted to do.
So I decided to go for it. I finished school and got a job to pay the bills and wrote in my free time. And because I had no formal education in writing, I studied a lot of stories and novels, noticing how authors used different literary techniques. I signed up for a continuing education class at CU in fiction, where I met a professor who was encouraging about my work. And I auditioned for a critique group in Fort Collins, submitting the one and only short story I had ever completed. (Nope, it wasn’t the rewrite of Macbeth.)
Anyway, they let me join the group, and I will always feel infinite gratitude for this, because it’s what gave me all of the foundational tools, both in critique and camaraderie, that I needed to progress. It’s how I got better at writing. How I got up the guts to submit my stories and essays to journals and magazines. It is the sole reason I wrote Wild Mama.
Honestly, I’d never thought about writing a memoir. I only sort of liked reading memoirs. I did like writing and reading essays, though, and then one day in critique group, when the members were giving me feedback on yet another piece I’d written about early motherhood and adventure and travel, someone said, “Do you think you might be writing a book?”
I didn’t really think so, but I decided to give it a chance. I committed to spending a few hours putting all of my essays that had been published (or not) into one document, and what I found was that I did kind of have the framework for a book. There was sort of an arc? It was an illuminating moment.
But then, the hardest work of all began. The day I finished the final draft, it hit me that the next step was to query agents, which was my preferred route to publication. It made me want to puke, putting myself out there like that, and in nonfiction! But I did it, and eventually, several months later, I found a match in an agent who has turned out to be one of my favorite people in the world.
Somehow, she is still hanging in there with me. After Wild Mama came out a couple of years ago, I announced to her that I was sick of my voice and I wanted to switch to fiction, and also I wanted to delete all of my social media accounts, because it just wasn’t me. She said okay. And now I’m stumbling along, trying to finish a novel, hanging out in a private space that feels just right, right now.
The thing is, I love seeing the world through a writer’s eyes; that’s what makes me feel most alive. Several years ago, I had the chance to see Pam Houston speak, and she talked about the concept of “glimmers,” those moments or details or interactions that catch our eye. Her words resonated deeply, and I think about them often, pretty much every day, as I walk around noticing what I notice, experiencing my very own glimmers, letting it all simmer in my subconscious, where it is bound, at some point, to come out on the page.
When Carrie Visintainer became a mother at the age of thirty-two, she worried it was all over, that her adventurous life was done. World travel? Adios. Solo explorations in the mountains? Ciao. Creative outlets? She wondered, are diapers my new white canvas? Immersed in a whirlwind of sleeplessness and spit-up, she was madly in love with her new baby, yet also felt her adventurous spirit and core identity crumbling.
Where to Buy Wild Mama
I know today is April Fool's Day - an easy A choice, yes? But my theme this year has to do with lessons on life and writing learned during a home improvement project, so today's post is about assemblage.
Assemblage: a collection or gathering of things or people. My family is about to embark on a new adventure. My parents are moving to a nearby town and we're going to start a new business. This business involves the purchase and renovation of a beautiful century old house. And, as you might guess, it's going to take a whole lot of planning. We'll be gathering together all the things we need to make our project a success. Assemblage.
This process is the same in many areas of life. As a writer, I spend an enormous amount of time collecting facts and details. Sometimes this involves research into real places, people, and events. In some cases, I'm making things up as I go. I will spend months with my characters, their conflicts, and the details of their lives before I ever sit down and start typing a story. The end product is an assemblage of pieces of information that will build the story, creating suspense and giving readers characters that they can relate to.
Today, my work involved creating business documents and applying for licenses and identification numbers that will lead to more tangible tasks in the future. And since it's Easter, I'll be keeping this post brief so I can spend time with my loved ones. But I hope you'll follow along during the month of April. These posts will be packed with hints, updates, and reveals as we get this home project going and I simultaneously draft my next novel with the goal of completing both projects by June.
Pat Stoltey lives in Northern Colorado with her husband Bill, Sassy Dog, and Katie Cat. Her most recent novel, Wishing Caswell Dead (https://www.amazon.com/Wishing-Caswell-Dead-Patricia-Stoltey/dp/1432834401/), is a historical mystery set in1834 in east central Illinois, the farm country where Pat grew up. You can learn more about Pat and her other books at her website/blog (http://patriciastolteybooks.com/). She can also be found on Facebook (https://www.facebook.com/PatStoltey/, Twitter (https://twitter.com/PStoltey), Goodreads (https://www.goodreads.com/author/show/1105939.Patricia_Stoltey), and Google+ (https://plus.google.com/115494264819086899639).
My writing career has been an up-and-down proposition over a lot of years. I was a working wife and mother from the time I left college until I finally retired at age 56. The writing I attempted during the earliest work years consisted of bad short stories and vignettes and even worse poetry. Oh, my goodness, the poetry is so awful. I kept all of it, though. I have one file box stuffed with the horrid things I typed up on my manual typewriter, then the electric typewriter. Many of the pages are yellow from age but the work is still easy to read. I can’t bear to throw any of it away because dipping into the box and reading my beginning scribbles helps me understand how far I’m come. A long, long way, believe me.
In the early 80s, I had the chance to spend a couple of years in France while my husband was on a work assignment. While there, I attempted my very first novels. One eventually made it to audiotape but never print. It was good only for a niche market (truck drivers who rented books on tape from big truck stops). That second book, a romantic thriller, still sits on a shelf in my office, tempting me to return to the story and rewrite it from beginning to end.
After that two-year break, I went back to work and attended occasional writing classes or conferences but never produced anything worthy of publication.
The first few years after retirement, my husband and I traveled quite a lot. Even at 56, I thought I had plenty of time to follow those writing dreams. I kept travel diaries and attempted some travel articles but never wrote anything saleable.
Finally, the wanderlust evaporated, and I tried to write a mystery. That was the genre I read most, so it seemed the right place to start. In 2003, I signed up for a novel writing class. In 2004 I braved an agent pitch session at Rocky Mountain Fiction Writers Colorado Gold Conference with The Prairie Grass Murders. The agent shot me down. Brutal!
I’m a persistent cuss, though. I went back in 2005 and took a critique workshop with an editor from Five Star/Cengage. After a bit of rewriting based on her suggestions, I submitted the book and it was accepted. Now I have four novels published by Five Star. Believe me, along the way I’ve learned a few things.
1.Every minute you spend writing during your early years is good practice writing. Practice writing is critical to learn craft and style. It doesn’t matter whether you are writing poetry, essays, short stories, or novels (or letters or blog posts, for that matter).
2. You’ll learn something from every writing class, workshop, or writer’s conference you attend and every book on writing you read. Sometimes the information will conflict. Not everyone agrees on the how-to. That’s okay, because that’s the way it is in the publishing world. That said, there are basic rules of grammar, punctuation, and style that you must learn. Once learned, you may break rules if you dare…but you’ll know why you’re breaking them.
3. You must read lots of books in lots of genres to understand how published writers approach plot, character, and voice. Read bestsellers, but also read authors/books that you’ve never heard of before. See how prologues work or don’t work. Explore literary novels. Learn.
4. Never throw anything you’ve written away. Keep a printed copy of your finished novels to guard against failed or out-of-date digital storage devices. Keep separate files of revised drafts so you can return to an earlier version of your novel if you want.
5. Stay on top of changes in the publishing industry and new developments in self-publishing. Even if you don’t plan do-it-yourself, you need to know where to find those who will efficiently do it for you without breaking the bank.
6. Approach social media with caution. Make friends. Don’t get tangled up in discussions with political or cultural ideologues. When published, don’t oversell.
7. Learn patience. You must endure the submission procedure, pitch sessions, and the wait during a traditional publishing cycle (figure 18 to 24 months from contract signing to actual book release).
8. Learn perseverance. For those who want a traditional publisher, it may take years to get from a finished manuscript to a book contract. For those who want to self-publish, it may take forever and a day to make a few sales.
9. Develop a hide as thick as a crocodile so you can be strong when your work is criticized by peers in a writers’ group, editors, or readers. If the Goodreads or Amazon trolls find your published book and give you one star or a tacky review, ignore it.
10. It doesn’t matter if you write from an outline or wing it. It doesn’t matter if you write 2,500 words a day or 500 words a week. Do it your way. But remember, someday you’ll look back on your process and be satisfied…or wish you done it differently. Best to figure all that out now.
Wishing Caswell Dead
In the early 1800s in a village on the Illinois frontier, young Jo Mae Proud wishes her cruel brother dead. Forced into prostitution by Caswell, Jo Mae discovers she is pregnant and vows to escape. When Caswell is injured by a near lightning hit, he becomes more dangerous, and more hated. The flawed residents of the Village of Sangamon harbor many secrets. Caswell knows them all. Will he tell? Jo Mae runs away and eventually finds shelter with Fish, the old Kickapoo Indian who camps by the river. Wishing Caswell Dead is a historical mystery about the evil that hides within a village, one girl who is determined to save herself and her child, and a violent murder no one wants to solve.
Where to Pre-Order Wishing Caswell Dead
Joe is a television sportscaster turned novelist and speaker. Before shifting his focus to fiction he had dozens of articles published in a variety of small and mid-sized magazines and wrote a screenplay that placed 7th in the Writers Digest Competition. His debut novel, The Five Wishes of Mr. Murray McBride, is set for release on May 10. Learn more about him by visiting www.joesiple.com.
Longing For The Golden Age
by Joe Siple
I recently returned from a trip to Barcelona, where a hundred-twenty years ago, artists of all stripes—painters, sculptors, writers—met at Els Quatre Gats, a little cafe in El Gotic, to sip espresso, discuss their art, and to create.
Walking through the streets and cafes, the cobblestone roads and narrow alleys, I was struck by a sense of beauty and purity. More than anything, it was a sense of ease. This was a place where an artist could work and struggle, develop and grow. This was a place where the most idealistic, most romantic idea of what it means to be a writer still floated on the breeze, along with chocolate pastries and midday wine. The challenge artists faced was the only challenge that mattered: developing their chosen form to the very heights of their God-given potential.
In no way did my walk through El Gotic make me consider publishing. I never pondered the best way to self-promote. Which contest I could enter for free and which required more of the money I was supposed to be making, not spending.
I certainly don’t live in early-twentieth-century Barcelona.
On this side of the pond, things were also simpler, not so long ago. Either you broke through that steel curtain of agents and acquisitions editors to be published by a large, New York-based house, or you pulled books off the shelves of Barnes and Noble, or your library, or Boarders (remember them!?!) and wished enough authors would die off so you could get your shot.
Today, we’re faced with yet another version of the world of writing. And a lot of it seems to be about publishing as much as creating. Gone are the artists struggling in the cafes, with the highest goal being nothing more than the quality of their art. And gone are the days when the big New York publishers held complete sway over the American publishing industry. And like all sea-changes, this one has come with both good and bad.
The good? Anyone with a computer and a dream can be published.
The bad? Anyone with a computer and a dream can be published.
If my preference is to be back in the “Golden Age” of Barcelona, 1904, my second choice would be the old way we did things here. A smoky back room filled with bearded men (and maybe a couple women) deciding the fate of each of us, based, we hoped, on the quality of our work. You might reasonably be asking, “Why in the name of Shakespeare’s Quill would you prefer that?”
Simply put: Simplicity.
I used to say, “I want to be a writer, not an entrepreneur.” What I meant was I longed for the days where artists were focused solely on their art, not how to get it distributed and how to convince people to buy it. Because that’s not art, and that’s not writing. That’s something completely different, and an aspect of our society I don’t particularly enjoy taking part in.
I also worry about the quality of writing in the world getting “dumbed down,” which is inevitable when you go from 1% of the aspiring writer population getting published to nearly 100%, in a single generation. The truth is, writing is hard, and writing well is nearly impossible for most of us. And now we’re able to take a story that would have been nowhere near good enough to be published fifty years ago, and not only publish it, but make it look, aesthetically, almost identical to those that are worthy of publication. The dilemma this presents to readers is no small issue.
And yet, here I am, about to have my debut novel published by a small publisher that wouldn’t have been able to exist fifty years ago. Meaning my book wouldn’t have been able to be published fifty years ago.
Is this good, or is this bad? I’ve struggled with that question a lot recently.
Because I don’t want to contribute to the “dumbing down.” I don’t want to shift my focus from writing to promoting. I honestly couldn’t care less if a single person visits my website. You want me to take a selfie at a book signing and post it on Facebook? Please tell me you’re kidding.
But then there’s the other side. My story, on which I spent so many hours and emotions, will be shared with people who are looking for stories like mine. I’ll be able to use the experience as motivation to create more, hopefully even better stories. Most importantly, I can do it however I want to do it. If I don’t want to do social media, fine. No social media. If I don’t want to tell everyone to buy my book, who cares? I won’t do that either. My sales might be lackluster, but so are the sales of many people who do the things they’d rather not simply because they feel they have no choice.
So I figure I’ll go with it. I’ll embrace this new world of writing and publishing—I’ll even enter into it. But I’ll do it my way. In a way that’s true to myself and allows me to sleep at night.
And part of me, always, will long to be in 1904, elbow-to-elbow with other writers in a cafe in Barcelona.
The Five Wishes of Dr. Murray McBride
With all his family and friends gone, one-hundred-year-old Murray McBride is looking for a reason to live. He finds it in Jason Cashman, a ten-year-old boy with a terminal heart defect and a list of five things he wants to do before he dies. Together, they race against the limited time each has left, ticking off wishes one by one. Along the way, Murray remembers what it's like to be young, and Jason fights for the opportunity to grow old. But when tragedy strikes, their worlds are turned upside-down, and an unexpected gift is the only thing that can make Jason's final wish come true.
Where to Pre-Order The Five Wishes of Dr. Murray McBride
Kristen Lepionka is the author of the Roxane Weary mystery series, starting with The Last Place You Look (Minotaur Books, 2017). She grew up mostly in a public library and could often be found in the adult mystery section well before she was out of middle school. Her writing has been selected for Shotgun Honey, McSweeney's Internet Tendency, Grift, and Black Elephant. She lives in Columbus, Ohio, with her partner and two cats. Her next book, What You Want to See, releases in May.
A question I get asked pretty often is, “Where do you get your ideas?” The answer is pretty disappointing, I think, but I usually say that I wish I knew. Because if I knew, I’d be able to go to that place, wherever it is, and get a new idea whenever I wanted--essentially, I could recreate inspiration on command. Ideas come from everywhere, and nowhere. My characters are everyone I’ve ever met, but at the same time, they aren’t based on specific people. Ideas are tricky things that come and go without rhyme or reason.
Now, all of that is not to say that my writing process is mostly just sitting around, waiting for inspiration to strike. I’ve tried it and can report back that it absolutely doesn’t work. There’s a Jack London quote that I love--“You can't wait for inspiration. You have to go after it with a club.”--and I really think that’s true. So how do you go after ideas with a club if you don’t know where they come from in the first place? It’s all about knowing what excites you as a writer. Brainstorming is the metaphorical “club” here. When I need an idea, or when I have a baby idea that needs to be combined with something else before it can become a big, strong, book-length idea, I like to make scribbly lists until I come across something I like. I can’t generate the perfect idea on command, but I can usually get into the right neighborhood this way. A full-fledged idea often exists at the intersection of two or three seemingly disparate things--MacBeth meets outer space, for example. (Please, somebody, write that!) I consider time spent working on ideas as “writing” time, even if I am not actually typing out words that find their way into a manuscript.
That brings me to another question I’m asked a lot: how long does it take to write a book? The answer, again, is complicated. It takes precisely as long as it takes. For me, the process of actively typing the words into a manuscript usually takes two to six months, but “writing” also involves hours of brainstorming, character sketches, daydreaming, procrastinating, research, redecorating my office (that’s a joke!), outlining, etc. I can only focus on typing one manuscript at a time, but I’m often kicking around ideas for several at once. And because I write a mystery series, my ideas for character arcs tend to overlap, affect each other when they change, etc. Basically, I’m always writing, even if I appear to be browsing office furniture online (again, a joke! Sort of).
If there’s anything I’ve learned about being a writer, it’s that everyone’s process is different. What works for one writer won’t work at all for someone else, and that’s okay. It’s really a matter of figuring out what works for you and owning it. Lee Child, author of the brilliantly suspenseful Jack Reacher series, and whom I was lucky enough to meet at the Theakstons Old Peculier Crime Writing Festival in Harrogate, England, last summer, has a writing process that absolutely terrifies me: he starts a new book every September 1st with no outline and no plan--and he only writes one draft. He just sits down and writes it, and then it’s done. I think that’s absolutely marvelous. It would kill me, but I love it. On the flip side of that, I’ve read that Jeffrey Deaver pens super-detailed outlines before he starts writing--think 100+ pages of just outlining. This, too, would kill me. I’ve learned that I like to have a little bit of a plan, but not too much of a plan, and that it’s best not to fight it. You don’t have to be a certain kind of writer to be a “real” writer. Writers write, and it doesn’t matter how--just that you do it, and keep on doing it until you get where you want to go.
The Last Place You Look
Nobody knows what happened to Sarah Cook. The beautiful blonde teenager disappeared fifteen years ago, the same night her parents were brutally murdered in their suburban Ohio home. Her boyfriend Brad Stockton―black and from the wrong side of the tracks―was convicted of the murders and is now on death row. Though he’s maintained his innocence all along, the clock is running out. His execution is only weeks away when his devoted sister insists she spied Sarah at an area gas station. Willing to try anything, she hires PI Roxane Weary to look at the case and see if she can locate Sarah.
Brad might be in a bad way, but private investigator Roxane Weary isn’t doing so hot herself. Still reeling from the recent death of her cop father in the line of duty, her main way of dealing with her grief has been working as little and drinking as much as possible. But Roxane finds herself drawn in to the story of Sarah's vanishing act, especially when she links the disappearance to one of her father’s unsolved murder cases involving another teen girl.
The stakes get higher as Roxane discovers that the two girls may not be the only beautiful blonde teenagers who’ve turned up missing or dead. As her investigation gets darker and darker, Roxane will have to risk everything to find the truth. Lives depend on her cracking this case―hers included.
Check out Kristen on social media below:
Where to Buy The Last Place You Look
Karin Gillespie is the national-bestselling author of seven novels. She has also written for the New York Times, Washington Post and Writer Magazine. She has an MFA in creative writing from Converse College and lives in Augusta, Georgia. She writes a book column for the Augusta Chronicle, and a humor column for the Augusta Magazine and was a recent recipient of the Georgia Author of the Year award.
I’ve been a novelist now for over sixteen years, and people occasionally ask me, what do you think it really takes to make it in this business? Most writer fret over whether they have enough talent. In my experience, talent is as cheap as bag of candy conversation hearts on Feb. 15. Talent is lovely, but if talent is coupled with unhealthy mind patterns, you won’t get very far in the writing world.
Let’s begin with one of the biggest bugaboos on your way to success: Fear. What comes to mind when you hear the word artist? Starving? Ramen noodles? Have you ever heard this discouraging ditty: People who write novels, live in hovels?
Society is constantly telling budding artists the same thing: Keep your day job. Being an artist is impractical. Only a talented few should dare to travel along the creative path.
These messages come fast and thick, like propaganda. They twine their way into the artist’s mind, choking off all inspiration to write a short story or pen a poem. Spiritual teacher Allan Watts wrote a powerful lecture called, “‘What if Money Is No Object?” and encouraged people to pursue their creative dreams, saying they’ll eventually make money from it. He also chides society for not encouraging young people to go after what they desire. Watts said, “We’re bringing up children and educating them to live the same sort of lives we are living. In order that they may justify themselves and find satisfaction in life by bringing up their children to bring up their children to do the same thing, so it’s all retch, and no vomit. It never gets there.
Too many artists are stalled before they even begin. Along with fear of censure comes fear of failure and fear of looking stupid. If any of these fears are keeping you from pursuing what you love, it might be useful to embark on an artistic recovery plan. I recommend reading and following the directives in The Artists Way. This book has helped thousands dislodge the limiting beliefs that keep them from their work. (Including myself; I wrote my first novel after reading it.) Elizabeth Gilbert says, “Without The Artist’s Way, there would have been no Eat, Pray, Love.
Have you had some publishing successes and now consider yourself an expert? Not so fast. When my first novel was published, other writers were continually soliciting my advice, and I was tapped to lead workshops. After a while, I felt like I knew what I was doing, when the truth was I’d barely made a dent in the knowledge base. My false clarity cut off new insights at the knees, and I nearly lost my beginner’s mind.
Beginner’s mind means you retain a wide-eyed openness and eagerness for a subject, and you don’t harden yourself with preconceptions. For instance, among writers there’s an ongoing debate between those who write organically (so called “pansters” because they write by the seat of their pants,) and those who write with an outline. Many people have their minds set in cement, and they cut themselves off from any information that deviates from their point-of-views. That’s a mistake. Artistic practice can teach you more than you could ever learn in a lifetime. Don’t be such an expert that you quit evolving.
Speaking of lifelong learning, the other day I was reading Donald Maass’ Fire in Fiction, and he distinguishes between writers who are status seekers and storytellers. To succeed as a writer, you need to be the latter.
As artists we often daydream about winning awards or creating high demand for our work, but a diet of success won’t sustain a lengthy career. In fact, more often, success gets in the way. A mind constantly focused on rewards tends to create work that reflects its limited state: cramped, derivative, stale. Readers call it “phoned-in” and can sense that the author’s attention is elsewhere. On the other hand, when you have a mind filled with love of craft and generosity to reader, these positive mind states infuse your writing and are bound to infect the reader.
Sixteen years as a published writer and I can’t imagine any pastime more satisfying. Writing is like an account that earns compound interest, the more you deposit, the greater the riches you receive. Enid Bagnold said it beautifully:
“Who wants to become a writer? And why? Because it’s the answer to everything. … It’s the streaming reason for living. To note, to pin down, to build up, to create, to be astonished at nothing, to cherish the oddities, to let nothing go down the drain, to make something, to make a great flower out of life, even if it’s a cactus.”
Love Literary Style
A stuffy lit professor and would-be novelist hooks up with a self-published romance writer from Decatur, Georgia who adores all flamingo-patterned attire. Literary Journal calls it, “Deceptively thought-provoking and addictive.”
Check out Karin on Facebook or check out Karin's website
Where to Buy Love Literary Style
A blog post by ex-police officer, former psychotherapist, and award-winning, New York Times Best Selling Author, Michael McGarrity.
I’m not sure my fans and readers give a hoot about my journey to become a writer. If they do, they can easily research me on the Internet, or read the author’s bio on my website. Either way, it won’t be complete because there’s a whole lot about my life that simply isn’t anybody’s business. What I do believe is that good fiction writers are invisible and they never show up raw and naked on the pages of their books. That’s the way it should be. Readers really only care about the story. And it’s either good or it isn’t. That’s what counts. Being famous or a celebrity writer doesn’t mean a thing. Storytelling is everything.
If you’re interested in my writing and are new to it, what you need to know is that regardless of the genre, be it crime or historical fiction, all my stories are about family. If you get into my books, you’ll soon find out what I mean.
Don’t forget to patronize your local independent bookstore. They are a big part of the cultural bloodstream of your communities. Thanks, and keep reading!
An editorial note: I had the pleasure of working with Michael McGarrity on several programs for our local library in Alamogordo, NM. His warm and engaging personality, along with a pocketful of irreverent stories from both his writing career and prior law enforcement work, make him an entertaining speaker. His support for libraries is tremendous. If you haven't had a chance to read McGarrity's work, now's a great time. He's got a new book coming out for all you mystery buffs, and his family saga starting with Hard Country is a fascinating exploration of ranching life in New Mexico, and in particular, the Tularosa Basin where I was born.
Michael's next Kevin Kerney novel "Residue" will be out this fall. You can keep up with Michael and his books on both his website and his Amazon author page!
Other Titles by Michael McGarrity
The Kevin Kerney Novels
THE JUDAS JUDGE
UNDER THE COLOR OF LAW
THE BIG GAMBLE
NOTHING BUT TROUBLE
DEAD OR ALIVE
RESIDUE (Coming October, 2018)
The American West Trilogy
THE LAST RANCH
Susan Bishop Crispell earned a BFA in creative writing from the University of North Carolina at Wilmington. Born and raised in the mountains of Tennessee, she now lives twenty minutes from the beach in North Carolina with her husband and their literary-named cat. She is very fond of chocolate and is always on the lookout for hints of magic in the real world. She is the author of The Secret Ingredient of Wishes (September 2016) and Dreaming in Chocolate (February 2018).
I’m not one of those authors who’s always known I wanted to write. When I finally stumbled my way into fiction in college, I couldn’t fathom ever writing something longer than a short story. My undergrad creative writing program was an incredible intro into the literary world. I learned craft rules and studied theme and symbolism. I even graduated with departmental honors in creative writing.
Then I stopped writing. For years. It’s not that I didn’t want to write anymore, but the kind of writing that was lauded in school—high-brow literary fiction—didn’t feel like me. The kinds of stories I wrote didn’t live up to that. Not by a long shot. And it left me feeling like I wasn’t good enough to keep at it.
But the stories wouldn’t leave me alone. And the voices in my head insisted I pay attention to them.
So, I decided to write a story for me. One that felt true to who I wanted to be as an author, not what I thought other people thought I should be. That changed everything. I started with a short story I’d used as part of my honors thesis and turned it into my first novel. It wasn’t some great work of literary genius, but then it wasn’t meant to be. It was a way to fall back in love with writing and to show myself that I could craft a story that spanned a few hundred pages instead of stopping after ten or fifteen.
I’ve written six novels since then, with a seventh more than half way completed. Through these stories and characters, I’ve refined my voice as an author into something that’s whimsical and commercial and a little quirky. And it’s about as far from what I was writing in college as I could get. But my books are one-hundred percent me. They’re the kinds of stories I like to read, all magical and sweet and hopeful. They’re full of family and fate and food. (So much food!)
When I first started writing these kind of stories, I wasn’t sure they would appeal to anyone. (I freely admit they’re a bit odd.) Then I read Garden Spells by Sarah Addison Allen and realized there was indeed a market for my brand of magical southern fiction. Now that I have two books out in the world, I know I’ve found my heart as a writer. I’m still learning and growing with every new book I write. And I wouldn’t have it any other way.
Dreaming in Chocolate
With an endless supply of magical gifts and recipes from the hot chocolate café Penelope Dalton runs alongside her mother, she is able to give her daughter almost everything she wants. The one sticking point is Ella’s latest request: get a dad. And not just any dad. Ella has her sights set on Noah Gregory, her biological father who’s back in town for a few months – and as charming as ever.
Noah broke Penelope’s heart years ago, but now part of her wonders if she made the right decision to keep the truth of their daughter from him. The other, more practical part, is determined to protect Ella from the same heartbreak. Now Penelope must give in to her fate or face a future of regrets.
Where to Buy Dreaming in Chocolate
Bestselling author Barbara Claypole White creates hopeful family drama with a healthy dose of mental illness. Originally from England, she writes and gardens in the forests of North Carolina, where she lives with her beloved OCD family. Her novels include The Unfinished Garden, The In-Between Hour, The Perfect Son, and Echoes of Family. The Promise Between Us, which shines a light on postpartum OCD, launched in January, 2018. She is also an OCD Advocate for the A2A Alliance, a nonprofit group that promotes advocacy over adversity. To connect with Barbara, please visit www.barbaraclaypolewhite.com, or follow her on Facebook. She’s always on Facebook.
As someone who has lived in the shadow of mental illness since childhood, I’m fascinated by the stigma, shame, and misinformation that surround invisible disabilities. I grew up in a family that hid both my aunt’s untreated schizophrenia and my father’s decade of alcoholism; now I’m part of a family that talks openly about mental health (my son and my husband both struggle with obsessive-compulsive disorder). I’ve been an enabler, an advocate, and a mental health coach for people I love. My learning curve continues, but the ongoing journey also feeds into the fiction I write—hopeful family drama with a healthy dose of mental illness. I guess that was inevitable, but it was also unexpected.
With one manuscript in the drawer, I was deep into my second manuscript when a character called James Nealy appeared fully formed in my brain and refused to leave. James has OCD, and he came from my darkest fear as a mother: What if, when my young son grew up, no one could see beyond his obsessive, anxious behavior to love him for the incredible person he is? When I met James, I thought I was writing love stories with a dark edge. My hero and heroine were tortured souls who shared a truckload of emotional baggage, but mental illness wasn’t even a blip in a subplot.
James was a revelation from day one, but I was nervous about writing a character with OCD. Could I treat the OCD in a sensitive, accurate way? Would people question why his OCD didn’t manifest in the same form as Monk’s, the germophobic TV detective whom most people identified as the face of OCD? Would James’s quirkiness take over the story of a young mother trying to make peace with the guilt surrounding her husband’s death? And yet there was James, taking up prime real estate in my brain, saying, “Write me into your story.” (He’s quite persistent, my beloved James…)
Eventually, I tore the manuscript apart and rewrote it to include him. After a famous agent declared James “too dark to be a romantic hero” and rejected the story, I ripped it apart yet again and added chapters from James’s point of view, allowing readers to eavesdrop on his hidden battles with anxiety. I’m not sure whether this was a moment of chutzpah or my British war mentality shining through, but it was the best literary decision I’ve ever made. I quickly snagged the agent of my dreams and thanks to her, I now have five traditionally published novels.
I owe James everything. Excavating his layers helped me discover my passion for giving voice to characters who challenge stereotypes of disorders. He also set me on my path as a career novelist. By the time I’d created Felix Fitzwilliam, the unlikely hero of THE PERFECT SON, it was obvious I was writing about the impact of mental illness on families.
While my novels are standalones, my characters share common traits: they show extraordinary courage as they navigate the minefields of their everyday lives; they are never victims; and they are flawed individuals who are messy composites of personality, brain chemistry, DNA, upbringing, education, religion, etc. When they screw up, mental illness isn’t always the culprit, and they are never defined by—or reduced to—a label.
Okay, time to get off my soap box. The bottom line? I believe fiction matters and novels can educate and enlighten as well as entertain. When I visit book clubs, we tend to share wine, information, tissues, and group therapy, which I love. Many of the private messages I receive from readers are filled with stories of daily struggles without treatment or support. Community is such an important part of recovery and management, and a recurring theme in my novels.
Happy endings aren’t guaranteed in the worlds I create, but my stories all close with hope. Endless hope! Life in the trenches with mental illness can be dark and isolating, and yet each new day brings the possibility of a fresh start or what I like to call light through the trees.
Which leads me to Amy’s question: If I could meet one author, who would it be and why? I’m going to pick four giants who’ve been open about their own struggles with messed-up brain chemistry: Marian Keyes and J K Rowling (depression), John Green (OCD), and Stephen King (addiction and alcoholism). When celebrities share their struggles, it helps demystify mental illness and spread awareness. If I were to meet these guys, I would say thank you: as a niece, a daughter, a wife, a mother, and a writer.
The Promise Between Us
“This is an eye-opening and realistic exploration of mental illness—a topic that greatly deserves to be front and center.” —Jodi Picoult, New York Timesbestselling author of Small Great Things
Metal artist Katie Mack is living a lie. Nine years ago she ran away from her family in Raleigh, North Carolina, consumed by the irrational fear that she would harm Maisie, her newborn daughter. Over time she’s come to grips with the mental illness that nearly destroyed her, and now funnels her pain into her art. Despite longing for Maisie, Katie honors an agreement with the husband she left behind—to change her name and never return.
But when she and Maisie accidentally reunite, Katie can’t ignore the familiarity of her child’s compulsive behavior. Worse, Maisie worries obsessively about bad things happening to her pregnant stepmom. Katie has the power to help, but can she reconnect with the family she abandoned?
To protect Maisie, Katie must face the fears that drove her from home, accept the possibility of love, and risk exposing her heart-wrenching secret.
Where to Buy The Promise Between Us
Becky Clark is the seventh of eight kids, which explains both her insatiable need for attention and her atrocious table manners. She likes to read funny books so it felt natural to write them too. She surrounds herself with quirky people and pets who end up as characters in her books.
Readers say her books are “fast and thoroughly entertaining” with “witty humor and tight writing” and “humor laced with engaging characters” so you should “grab a cocktail and enjoy the ride.” They also say “Warning: You will laugh out loud. I’m not kidding,” and “If you like Janet Evanovich, you will like Becky Clark.”
I'm lucky enough to be a full-time writer, which means I get to do my writing between 9:00am and noon every day, instead of 9:00pm and midnight. Which is good, because it's hard to write when you're fast asleep.
I started writing when my kids were very young and I had a childcare business in my home. The naptime rules were that they didn't have to sleep, but they had to stay put and read or otherwise silently occupy themselves.
That's when I went upstairs and wrote. At that time I wrote short personal essays about whatever was on my mind. I envisioned myself the next Erma Bombeck. I sold a few of those and it was extremely gratifying. It also gave me the writing bug.
Fast forward several years to my son and me at the public library. He wanted to find some historical fiction written for boys, but precocious as he was, he'd already read everything they had. As we left, he threw down the gauntlet. "Why don't you just write one, Mom?"
I didn't do everything my children wanted, but I did this. I had a lot of help, though. Several organizations and people came to my rescue: Colorado Independent Publishers Association, Society of Children's Book Writers and Illustrators, and Pikes Peak Writers.
Many marvelous people taught me strange and wonderful things I didn't even know I needed to know and I got that book published, and into the hands of kids, one who told me he didn't like to read until he read my book.
Again, that writing bug chomped. Hard. And hasn't let go.
I wrote six or eight more manuscripts for kids, each one teaching me how much I still needed to learn. And then I made the leap to writing mysteries for adults. I became more involved in Pikes Peak Writers, and other writing organizations, teaching workshops to pay back the help I'd received over the years.
Getting involved in writing organizations is the advice I give everyone who asks me how to get started in a writing career. You meet fantastic and generous writers, some further along the path than you are, some further behind. You learn from both types. It's where I met most of my friends and many of my inspirations. Writer's conferences bring in editors, agents, and bestselling authors. And you get to chat with them.
As my mysteries found an audience, I was able to kick it up a notch, join Sisters in Crime (and help found my beloved Colorado chapter) and attend mystery fan conventions. Not put on for writers, but for readers. And I was able to hobnob with tons of mystery authors at conventions like Left Coast Crime, Malice Domestic, and Bouchercon.
Guess what! Even very famous ones are down-to-earth and generous! In fact, at Bouchercon 2017 I made a plan to stalk a bunch of authors to ask if they'd blurb my upcoming title FICTION CAN BE MURDER. I nervously clutched my ARCs, trying not to get them all sweaty, but I was nervous for absolutely no reason. To a person, they all said they'd be happy to read and blurb. Of course, it didn't work out for all of them in the end due to time constraints and their own writing deadlines. But I was never made to feel 'less than' or 'junior.' When asking, I always made sure to acknowledge that what I was asking of them was a huge imposition and that there really wasn't anything in it for them. They all pooh-poohed that, telling me, "People did this for me, and I want to do it for you."
Writers are inherently generous. I don't know why, but they are. I heart them.
I like the image of writers ahead of me on the career path stretching one hand back to me to help pull me along, while I have my other hand reaching back to help pull someone else along.
Because of all these helping hands, I have the first book — FICTION CAN BE MURDER — in my new Mystery Writer's Mystery series getting ready to launch in April 2018.
Fiction Can Be Murder
Mystery author Charlemagne Russo thought the twisty plots and peculiar murders in her books were only products of her imagination. That is, until her agent is found dead exactly as described in her unpublished manuscript. Suspicion swirls around her and her critique group. Which of her friends is a murderer?
Becky’s website …. https://beckyclarkbooks.com/
Follow Becky Clark on Amazon … https://www.amazon.com/-/e/B004NQO14I
on Facebook at Becky Clark Author … https://www.facebook.com/BeckyClarkAuthor/
and at Goodreads … https://www.goodreads.com/author/show/4730815.Becky_Clark
Where to Buy Fiction Can Be Murder
I'm generally pulled in a million different directions and I wouldn't trade it for the world. Here's a glimpse of my life - hope you enjoy it! And if there's a big lapse between posts, well, that's the way life goes in Amy's world.
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