To read published work by other students, click HERE.
Am I a Writer? Linda Maiella
There had been a little something on my back-burner for quite some time. It was just a tiny spark that ignited when someone spoke about their own creative projects. It lit up like the first firefly on a summer evening. Just a blink. But I noticed it and felt it in my soul. My niece gifted me with some of her very special “words.” Blink! A favorite author read some of her poems. Blink! People listened intently when I spoke about something with passionate energy. Blink! Hearing words in my heart while driving and being compelled to pull over and write them down. Blink! Little scraps of paper with “words” on them tucked away in books and drawers and notebooks, but I hadn’t done anything with them. Blink!
Then an article appeared in the local paper about a new program specifically for locals who were aspiring writers. Really? Am I that person?
I had never thought of myself as “a writer,” but I did think I might have something important that needed to be said. The article made it clear that anyone could come to the workshops. I had never written anything, except little scraps of paper. But, I decided to go to the first workshop anyway and see what it was all about. Maybe I am a writer, and I just haven’t paid enough attention to her? Blink!
I felt warmed by the very first workshop. Alison never ceased encouraging, and Mike loaded our plates with writing truths and examples of language usage. How do you develop a character? How do you use dialogue to move the plot forward? How do you “show” the scene and not “tell” it?
I came to the workshops with no expectation. But, as one workshop led to another, I slowly felt something bubbling up.
The first turning point was Alison’s question. “Think about the essence of your life’s journey and put it into a few sentences.” When I opened my mouth and heard my own words, I knew I had spoken something important to myself. “The essence of my life has been a spiritual quest for healing and wholeness amidst the three great losses in my life. And who I have become because of it.” Wow, did I really say that? Yes, that is it in a nutshell. Loss and healing, and how that happens in the soul. For the first time, I started to seriously think about writing a memoir.
The second turning point for me was deciding to join one of the new Writers Circles, even though I had not written anything. Two of us hadn’t written anything yet, so Lizzy took the lead. She fearlessly put her words out there for us to learn from. Alison spoke to artistry: does this work here or in the next paragraph? Does this word say it well enough or is there another word that says it better? We met twice a month to be inspired by each others stories.
After our second session, I drove directly to the lake. And the words just started to come. No beginning and no end. Just these words from long ago and far away. They left the land where they had lived all this time to come and visit me here and now, like an old friend. And then the scene became a little story, little bit by little bit. The Writers Circle was synergy: the energy of the group, the inspiration of the stories shared, the raw honesty and vulnerability that became “the voice” of the story, and Alison’s persistent presence and encouragement to “write on!” And we do, and it feels so good!
Come on, let’s do the NaNoWriMo…
One of the things on my bucket list is to do the NaNoWriMo. Is that an exotic dance or a form of Zumba? No, though it is as frantic and crazy.
NaNoWriMo is shorthand for National Novel Writing Month, which is November of each year. Participants begin writing Nov. 1.
The goal is to write a 175-page (50,000-word) novel by midnight, Nov. 30. A person who attempts this is called a “wrimo.” Last year, there were more than 100,000 wrimos worldwide.
“Just get it down on paper, and then we’ll see what to do with it,” said Maxwell Perkins. He was the editor of Hemingway, Fitzgerald and Wolfe, and he discovered and published Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings (“The Yearling,” which won the Pulitzer Prize); Alan Paton (“Cry, the Beloved Country”); and James Jones (“From Here to Eternity”).
As Crescent Dragonwagon says, “These days there aren’t many Perkinses around, so we have to give this advice to ourselves…”
And that’s the point of National Novel Writing Month. You silence that critical voice in your head — you don’t have time for it. You don’t worry about spelling, grammar, editing or rewriting. That all comes later. What you do is enter fully and deeply into that imaginary world within your head. You go there as often as you can–you live there.
Though I have never done the NaNoWriMo, I do have experience with speed writing.
Several years ago, when I was still gainfully employed, I had a terrible bout of flu. To spare my husband my endless coughing fits and trips to the kitchen for medication, I slept on a hide-a-bed by the living room fireplace.
I had just bought my first laptop, and I was enthralled by the fact that one could sit in the dark, in bed, and see the computer screen. That was before FaceBook, you know, when we actually did useful things on our computers.
I was drugged on cough medicine with codeine, and I had days off from work. So naturally, I wrote a science fiction novel about an astronaut who crashes on a planet populated by giant brains. They were all connected telepathically and could build anything they wanted telekinetically. They cherished knowledge and empathy. Of course, being human, my astronaut messed up their world. But he found redemption in the end.
I reread this once, several years later. It’s not half bad, despite the fact that I didn’t worry about spelling or grammar or my personal time-waster: research. If I wrote that now, I’d want to know as much as a NASA scientist. But a few swigs of codeine, you know, and you don’t care.
Now, I’m not suggesting you take to drugs to do National Novel Writing Month. But if you can average 1,666.67 words a day, you can do it. Which is not that hard if you (1) have an idea of a story, and (2) don’t stop.
Some NaNoWriMo novels have become commercial successes, published by Warner Books, Ballantine and Berkley Books.
One novel, Sarah Gruen’s “Flying Changes,” was even a New York Times bestseller. Other published books include Rebecca Agiewich’s “Breakup Babe,” Dave Wilson’s “The Mote in Andrea’s Eye,” and Gayle Brandeis’s “Self Storage.”
While 2012 is not going to be the year that I do the NaNoWriMo, it occurred to me this weekend how much fun it would be to get together with people who do want to do it this year and who might need some help to get started and some support through the month.
So, on Sunday, Oct. 28, Mike Hancock and I will tell you all you need to know to do NaNoWriMo right and to avoid the pitfalls inherent in the process.
And we’ll hear from some intrepid souls who have done it.
I’ll also have two dates during November to meet with people who are stuck. If you aren’t stuck, don’t meet with me — you need to be writing.
Then, on Dec. 8, we’ll celebrate your success, analyze the problems you encountered, and discuss lessons learned.
For more information contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org or 479 292-3665. Write On!
It’s Never too Late
Tuesday, January 29, 2013
Carroll County News
When I first started this column, I promised to tell my story. I share it as a person who, after fighting his way out of quicksand, holds out a branch to say, “Don’t give up.”
My greatest dream was coming true. My first novel, a three-generational saga based on the life of my great-grandfather, was acquired by Donald Hutter at Simon & Schuster.
Donald Hutter was a legend in New York publishing, having been editor in chief at Holt, Rinehart & Winston before becoming executive editor and vice president at Simon & Schuster. One could not have asked for a wiser mentor. My agent was George Weiser, who represented Dan Brown, author of The Da Vinci Code. Weiser was the one who told Brown he should be writing thrillers.
I was 30 years old, an Ozark mountain native who had never been to New York City, when I went to meet my agent and editor. As Weiser hailed a cab (my first), words like “TV miniseries” and “British rights” darted by, iridescent as hummingbirds in the sun. Weiser told Hutter I was the best new writer he had seen in 10 years.
Six months later, like Icarus, my wings melted. As my book went into production, Hutter parted company with Simon & Schuster. My book was orphaned, and the new editor didn’t pick it up.
Back then, I didn’t understand how individual editors champion a book. If my book seemed good to Hutter, shouldn’t it seem good to the new editors? But in reality, it was like an unfinished knitting project. Who wants to pick up another’s handwork?
I was devastated. For a year, I couldn’t walk into Barnes & Noble without crying. My mother had put a big article in my hometown newspaper: “Local Book Sold to Simon & Schuster.” A decade later, people still stopped me on the street to ask about it.
I gave up. I should have gone to New York and lit a fire under my agent, who, distracted by the new market for international thrillers, had lost interest in my Ozark saga. I should have tracked down Hutter and made use of his contacts in the industry.
Instead, I crawled away.
And then, I moved on. I enjoyed my family, my Ozarks. I started a company, grew it, and sold it. I started a school to teach English to immigrants.
But I never stopped writing. I wrote a novel about the intersection of the native Ozark culture with the back-to-the-land hippies. At home with the flu, I wrote a third novel in two weeks, the words pouring out of my codeine haze.
But I never submitted anything. I bedded my manuscripts down in boxes in the closet. I wrote because I was only truly happy when I was writing. Someday, I thought, I’ll write for readers. Someday I’ll live a life in which writing is front and center. Someday. . .
Then, in 2007, I suffered an inner ear concussion from faulty airbags. My sudden hearing loss was disorienting. I felt old and fat and deaf and even more isolated from the publishing industry. How could I break into a world that had eluded me when I was young? I would never make it now, unless I called up my deepest strengths and faced down my fear, my inertia, my lack of faith.
I bought hearing aids and applied to three MFA programs. Though all accepted me, based on excerpts from those closet novels, I chose a small New England program where I learned about the craft of writing. I also learned about the publishing industry, platforms, and personal branding.
Now I have a manuscript under consideration by a major publisher and another in progress. I have a great job helping others to find their voice. I’m surrounded by writers. I love my life.
It’s a different writing world than the day when Weiser, Hutter, and I hailed that cab. But one thing remains: If you’ve got a story to tell, it’s never too late. Never too late to persevere, take a chance, be the person you imagine. You’re never too old, fat, or deaf. Trust me on that.
© Copyright 2013 Carroll County News. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.
What the Heck is a Twitterstory?
If Birds Wrote. The Twitterstory.
(Note: Heads up, Middle-Schoolers. Isn’t the Sixth Annual Writing Contest coming up soon? Save this column!)
In the last column, I promised that this week would be something different and something fun. Let’s start with a couple of stories.
Your Pain Will Set You Free
He sat in the car, waves crashing over the frozen railing. If she was home, he didn’t want to see her leave. He’d drive permanently south.
‘X’ Marks The Spot
We had dug twelve holes before we realized the map was wrong. How to dispose of the shovels before mom used them on us was now the question.
* * *
If I asked you to name a literary form that is tiny, elegant, and defined by a very strict numeric structure, you might say haiku, that Japanese poetic form, which is centuries old.
But if I required that the literary form be new and rapidly gaining in popularity, you would have to say Twitterstory.
What the heck is a Twitterstory?
Like the examples above, a Twitterstory is limited to 140 characters, the size of a Tweet on the popular social media site, Twitter. Can one really tell a story in 140 characters?
Certainly, a lot must be implied. But look at the examples above. We imagine the passage of time and see the heightening drama. We even know something of the characters involved. And what’s most important, we feel their emotion.
* * *
I interviewed Darren Cormier, whose book of Twitter stories, A Little Soul, is available on Amazon, with autographed copies available locally at It’s a Mystery Bookstore.
Me: Why do you think Twitter fiction is becoming so popular?
Cormier: It’s common to say we’re losing our attention spans. That might be partially true, but I think Twitter fiction is popular because the premise of Twitter (140 characters or less) is accessible. Our lives are becoming busier, and technology and devices are becoming more and more pervasive. But there is still a need and a desire for fiction and for stories.
Me: What are the best websites for Twitter fiction?
Cormier: One Forty Fiction, Nanoism, Seedpod Publishing, escarp. Many literary websites accept Twitter fiction but don’t specialize in it.
Me: Do you know of other books of Twitter fiction besides your own?
Cormier: I only know of one. Sean Hill’s Very Short Stories: 300 Bite-Sized Works of Fiction.
* * *
Now since the purpose of this column is to encourage local writers to get writing, you may wonder why I’ve gone down this Twitterstory rabbit hole. Here’s why:
Writing Twitter stories provides excellent practice in two areas.
1. It forces you to be succinct. Southern speakers use many extra words. If you don’t believe me, write down what you say and then see how many words you can cut out and still have the same meaning. I once wrote what I thought was a beautiful first sentence to my novel. My friend cut out eleven words. Whether in poetry, fiction or nonfiction, every word must be on trial for its life. If every word is the best word for its job, then we don’t need a bunch of extras. Extra words are boring. One plus one equals half.
2. Seeing life as a continual series of Twitter stories makes us think deeply, think like writers. We see the tips of the icebergs of emotion.
Here’s one of my favorites stories by Lauri Griffin, published on the One Forty Fiction website:
Moving In and Moving On
He dropped the last box onto the dorm room floor, and watched his parents drive away. He’d never belong in just one place, ever again.
And by a local writer:
She took off her ring when he took off his. He wears his now, but hers is lost.
I think that’s 79 characters, but it speaks volumes about these people, their lives, their pain.
* * *
So give Twitter stories a try. We might see your story on one of the websites mentioned above. We might even have a local contest for adults. Why should kids have all the fun?
VWS to Cheryl Strayed’s Kitchen
How The Village Writing School Put Me in the Kitchen with Cheryl Strayed
Yes, that Cheryl Strayed, rock star author of Wild—From Lost to Found on the Pacific Crest Trail. Wild is the brutally honest memoir of Strayed’s healing from divorce and her mother’s death by solo hiking 1,110-miles from the Mojave Desert to Washington State without previous long distance hiking experience. It blew everyone away in the Oprah Book Club, and Reese Witherspoon bought the film rights. She portrays Strayed in Wild the film, which premieres this fall.
When I read Wild, it hit me in the gut— not just the sheer enormity of her story, but the risks she took in sharing it. I winced at more than her blisters and lost toenails. I ached with her loneliness. I never knew a memoir could be so uninhibited. Soon nebulous memories of my own childhood began to surround me, their fuzzy images slowly twisting into focus. Somewhat grainy, black and white, and true. I had to write it down.
But how? Where to start? Fortunately, I responded to a Citizen ad offering a course for writers. When our group gathered expectantly on that first Saturday, Alison Taylor-Brown asked us the hard questions. “Why do you write? What are your writing goals? How are you going to accomplish this?”
April 2014 marks the first anniversary of Taylor-Brown’s dream. The Village Writing School is now solidly installed in a vibrant and cheerful building of its own on Highway 23 South in Eureka Springs. It’s far more than a school. It’s a welcoming place where anyone can come to awaken the writing desire that lies dormant in a precious cluster of their right-brain cells.
But don’t think The Village Writing School is just for beginners. While Taylor-Brown has a talent for enabling new writers, her depth of knowledge can help experienced writers see weaknesses in their story. In her program, she covers in five Saturdays everything she learned getting an MFA in Creative Writing.
Creativity is fostered, shown structure and method. “Structure” doesn’t have to be a bad word. Some of the most organic-appearing writing is firmly structured. A good house needs a strong foundation, doesn’t it?
At The Village Writing School, Director Alison Taylor-Brown provides skilled leadership while teaching us patiently and hosting guest teachers. We listen, we write, we read our work aloud. Even the shyest among us gain confidence as we critique and re-write.
One year and 83,000 words later, I now have my memoir of a small child hiding under a bed who grows up to be brave. In the meantime I’ve written other memoir pieces, like the true tale of my visit to a juke joint in Clarksdale, Mississippi during one of my Arkansas Artist-in-Education residencies in the Delta. Imagine my surprise when “Destination Juke Joint” won “The Search for Excellence Award” at the Ozark Writers Conference. Validation! Isn’t that what spurs writers forward?
I pushed on with submissions to Tales from the South, Arkansas’ NPR storytelling program. I swelled to the next level of happiness as I read “Destination Juke Joint” before a live audience when the show was taped in Springdale for worldwide distribution. Applause is good. “Thank you, Village Writing School.”
After that, since I follow Cheryl Strayed’s Facebook page, I noticed that Oprah Winfrey Network was doing a nationwide search for a few people to appear on their HelpDesk program with Strayed. I emailed my paragraph entry, and one Saturday night at 9 o’clock I received a response from a producer in L.A., asking if I’d be available for a taping of HelpDesk in Portland the following week.
Could we talk on the phone right then and there?
“Sure,” I said.
We chatted, she said she couldn’t promise that I’d make the final cut, but she’d let me know in a few days. Even if I didn’t make the final cut, I’d still be part of the show so I made my airline reservations. Maybe Cheryl Strayed would be able to sign my copy of Wild.
Well, I didn’t make the cut for the one-on-one facing Strayed across the HelpDesk, but this released me to observe the taping process as a background guest. I met a Producer during downtime who told me that a small group of filmmakers were meeting at Cheryl’s house in a couple weeks to promote a film with a Vietnam War theme. I knew the film! Did I want to join them? Yes!
Minutes later I was chatting with Brian Lindstrom, Cheryl’s filmmaker husband. Two weeks later, I was in Cheryl Strayed’s kitchen accepting a glass of wine from the writer. “Hi, I’m Cheryl,” she said.
While several filmmakers, producers and a handful of guests talked film in the living room, Cheryl and I lingered in her library. I ran my fingers lightly along the spines of a shelf-full of Best American Short Stories to confirm that I really was there, in Cheryl Strayed’s library, which she told me she’d had painted a rich dark blue so that the books themselves would become the focus.
We carried our chopsticks and plates of Vietnamese sticky rice and spring rolls to the dining room, and we sat talking privately about our writing for about an hour. She’s a wonderful, warm, generous woman.
The Village Writing School launched me on a most amazing adventure. You, too, can find technical training in the skills to make your writing better right here in our village. Most of all, you’ll find motivation and a support system. Cheryl Strayed’s Wild-est dream has come true. Maybe yours can too.
Linda Hebert has been writing under the pen name “Linda Summersea” ever since she learned that there are 246 Linda Heberts in the U.S. She reads voraciously and writes passionately from a cottage on Beaver Lake.