Tag Archives: virginia

Fall for the Book at George Mason University

George Mason University in Fairfax, Virginia is at it again. The annual Fall for the Book festival will be held October 11th through October 14th. Most of the events will take place on George Mason’s main campus but check out the 2017 schedule for the full line up (except where noted, events are free and open to the public – yes that means you! and yes, really free).

This is a reader’s wonderland. The headliners are:
Jennine Capó Crucet
Lev Grossman
Mohsin Hamid
Colson Whitehead

And yes, generally you can actually meet them after their presentation. And there are tons more of awesomesauce writers. The entire list is here and they cover all categories of writing. SOME of those are fiction, poetry, children’s books, non-fiction, story-telling, sports, graphic novels, publishing, history/biography, politics/current affairs, literary criticism, memoir/creative non-fiction, and MORE!

Right now you are probably thinking, holy moly, I should go to some of those events. Yes, yes you should! See you there!

And just so you don’t have to scroll all the way back up, here is the schedule again. 🙂 And if you are feeling generous, here is a link to donate to the festival.

The my writing process blog tour

If you saw my last post, you know that I’m sharing my experiences at the writers workshops I’ve attended over the past year. One of the many, many reasons that I love attending workshops is that I meet amazing writers who are also terrific people.

Jane Ward is one such writer/friend. I’m proud to say she is a front-row-seat-convert thanks to me. She has invited me to participate in a blog tour called the My Writing Process Blog Tour. I’m honored that she considered me worthy. Smooches Jane! You can read her writing process story here.

Jane Ward

Jane Ward

First, I’ll tell you a little bit about my talented friend. Jane Ward is the author of Hunger and the New York Book Festival award-winning novel The Mosaic Artist.  Yes, she rocks. She is currently at work on her third novel, The Welcome Home. A former baker and caterer, Jane now cooks on video for allfood.com, a recipe database cited on several online newspapers, and also regularly contributes articles to them. Her blog, Food and Fiction, is equal parts food memoir, cooking and baking discussion, and collection of food industry profiles and trends. (Jane’s friend Carla Panciera invited her to join the blog tour and you can find her entry here.)

Below I have answered the few questions required by the blog tour. By reading on, you’ll get to know a little bit more about what I do (and sometimes what I don’t do.)

1. What are you working on?

I spent the “Summer of Ellen,” as I affectionately call it, attending several writing workshops and not doing a ton of actual writing, just learning about writing.

The pieces I workshopped were:

– A 100-page excerpt from my novel in progress called The Alligator Purse. It’s a family saga, with a political backdrop, lots of secrets, and a fabulous purse.

– “In the Dust of Elephants” is a short story about a Somali man whose daughter is gravely ill. He participates in a hunt to get ivory dust from the tusk of an elephant because he believes it will cure his daughter.

– “The Dust in His Pocket” is a short story focused on a pre-teen boy who can’t find his grandfather. His only clue is a broken hourglass that contains dirt from all the places his grandfather has travelled.

And, yes, I seem to have an affinity for all things dust right now. I considered calling my novel The Dust in the Alligator Purse, but somehow that seemed a tad too much.

2.  How does your work differ from others of its genre?

Uhm, it’s not finished or published. Oh, besides that. Ah.

I think the fact that a woman is writing about a presidential run is a little unusual. Also, that the book has a strong political backdrop but the story isn’t about politics. It’s about mother-daughter relationships and the cycles–good and bad–that are repeated in families. And it’s about holding other people to higher standards than we hold ourselves–and how that can absolutely ruin us.

Also, an American woman writing from the voice of a Somali man–probably not a current trend in most literary works.

3.  Why do you write what you do?

I’m writing this novel because I won a contest. The prize was a consultation of the first 10 pages of a novel with a literary agent named Rachelle Gardner. I kind-of, sort-of raced off a smart-arse haiku and, holy crap, I won. Which would have been so fabulous if I actually had 10 pages written. Ahem. (Please don’t ask me WHY I entered the contest–that is still a mystery to even me.)

Getting 10 pages written was my obsession but I had no idea what to write about. None.What.So.Ever. That is, until I heard a story on the radio about a woman who had her purse stolen. She chased the thief down to get her purse back. And I thought, “what the hell was in that purse?” Angels sang, glitter spewed, and The Alligator Purse was born.

“In the Dust of Elephants” was inspired by another contest about hunger in the natural world. I didn’t want to have my characters hunger for food, so I needed something else, something more dire. My family spent some time living in India. While there, two of my children got sick with unidentifiable illnesses. Thankfully they were both fine but it was a scary time and I knew I would do anything I could to help them get well. I wanted to write a story in a foreign setting and Somalia seemed to make perfect sense because I needed an elephant to wander through the story.

“The Dust in His Pocket” is really a tribute my grandfather. The grandfather in the story is not at all who my grandfather was, but the special relationship he has with his grandson mimics our relationship.

4.  How does your writing process work?

Process. Hmmmmm, that sounds like a bad word. Can you tell I don’t really have a process? Ergh.

A lot of my story ideas/inspiration used to come from contests. The creative world is often too immense for me to come up with my own ideas. I’m a Pisces afterall and if I hold on too tightly to one idea, I fear losing all the others. Although, I am getting much better about it. Many of my earlier story ideas came from someone else saying “what about this” and me answering back, “Yea, but no, not that exactly. What about this instead?”

To keep the writing process blog chain going, here are some other writers you should know, and who will (I hope) let you know a bit more about themselves.

Virginia Pye – River of Dust
I met the talented Virginia Pye at a James Rivers Writers Workshop taught by Nancy Zafris. River of Dust is a fabulous story set in Northwest China in 1910 and chronicles the lives of a missionary couple whose young son, Wesley, is kidnapped by nomads right before their eyes.  During our workshop lunch, I squeezed myself in between them and soaked in every single word they said. I may have accidentally, on-purpose rubbed against them both in hopes of some of their tremendous talent falling off of them and onto me.

virginia pye2

M.M. Fink – Forget We Met
I also met M.M. at the James Rivers Writers Conference. (Yes, it’s a good conference. You should go. Find out about it here.) She is beautiful and asked a lot of smart questions and is super talented. At first, I didn’t think I could like her that much because, well, did you read the last sentence? But she is so talented and so kind that you can’t help but like her a lot. Her first novel  is Forget We Met is the story of a young woman who comes home to the Louisiana playhouse in which she was raised to claim her future in the theatre and the man she’s always loved, but ends up discovering lifelong betrayals, the father she never knew, and herself. She has an agent for it and the book should be coming out in the not so distant future. (Fun fact – she let her readers pick the title. For reals.) Her second novel is called Canary Falls and I think she just finished writing it.

 

And finally, I’d like you to meet

Tara Lindis-Corbell
She is an emerging writer (like me) who I met at the One Story Workshop in NYC. There are a couple of reasons I’d like you to meet her. She’s talented. She’s funny as hell. And it’s about time she updated her blog with a new post. (You’re welcome Tara.) She also inspired me. She has two young children and she still gets up  every.single.morning.before.they.do and writes. She said she does that because she’s grumpy if she doesn’t. Amen sister. Tara is working on a novel that deals with family dynamics, the trickle down effect of environmental shifts on our every day lives, and a missing cat. She also has a funny story about a voodoo doll on a bicycle. If she doesn’t tell that story, I will be forced to tell it for her. It’s hysterical. Fun fact – it’s a true story.

Tara reading at One Story

Tara reading at One Story

That’s it for now. Happy reading and writing!

Why writing groups are a very good thing………..

I wanted to take my writing more seriously and, ultimately, I want to get published. So I thought that I should make an effort to spend time with other people who are, well, actually writing. I did some research and found a writing group.

Very honestly, I was a little hesitant to go to the first meeting. I pictured a hunched-over group of blurry-eyed newbie writers ripe with coffee breath, raspy voices, and broken, yellow fingernails earned the hard way – by punching away on the keyboard until the wee hours of the morning. I imagined the most serious among them would also have calloused fingertips from using a pencil and, gasp, an eraser – kickin’ it old-school.

Or it might even be worse. They might all be amazing writers who spun lyrics even as they spoke, their words dancing the waltz as they breezed out of their mouths. Or they could all be published already and just toying with those pesky letters on the page like a cat lazing in catnip – just relishing the moment but not needing to grow or gain from it.

What I found instead was a group of people who simply love words and thoughts. A group of people who love to talk about how words and thoughts mingle together on the page and in the mind. How we digest a story and it becomes a part of us. Or how we can reject a thread that just doesn’t make sense and lose the reader altogether.

Some of the writers have published works. Some have agents. Some teach writing. Some just write.

We first find strength in every piece and then we dissect the rest.

It is interesting how defensive some in the group are of the words that they have put together. It is as if their words are spun with sorcery so powerful that they simply cannot be spellbinding. I understand it because even I want to defend my work, explain what I meant to say. It’s hard to hear the critiques but it is infinitely helpful.

Last night there were 7 of us. The group reviewed my piece that is soon to be published in the anthology Forced to Fly 2 . The group was consistent with their compliments and with their concerns. The beauty of  this is that my writing group is diverse. Very diverse. So, if I can appeal to each of them in some way, then I can be comfortable that there are strong elements in my writing. And if they all feel it is broken in the same places, I need to pay attention to those places to reconstruct and re-explain what I meant to say so that what I want to say is clear.

When my children have wanted to improve at something, I have found a club or a group that practices that something. It makes perfect sense for children to practice and repeat and practice some more. I wonder why we adults often forget that. We need to practice too. So, if you are interested in getting better at something, find some people who are doing that something. And if that something is writing, please let me know. I have just the group for you. 😉