Guest Post: Every Day Creativity

By Margarita Tartakovsky, MS

When it comes to writing, inspiration can be controversial. Some people staunchly believe we shouldn’t need inspiration to write. We must sit down at our desks and get to work—whether the muse is available or not.

Others believe we need to coax, entice and nurture the muse—and if she’s away, it’s best to leave writing to another day. And still others would roll their eyes at me for using the word “muse” in the first place.

The great thing is that everyone has a different take on inspiration—opinions that can be quite inspiring. Which is why I asked various authors to share their thoughts. Below you’ll find a variety of invaluable ideas and insights.

When the muse sleeps, do something else. 

“When my muse is unresponsive, there ain’t much I can do to wake her up,” said BJ Gallagher, author of over 30 books, including the forthcoming title Your Life Is Your Prayer (out in spring 2019). So she waits, and does other things in the meantime: She mows the lawn, washes the car, walks the dog, does laundry, has coffee with a friend, takes a shower, vacuums or takes a nap.

And these are the very activities—especially the physical ones—that help her muse to return.

“When my body is on auto-pilot doing routine physical things, my mind is free to drift and wander and explore. That is usually when my muse awakens and calls to me, ‘Grab a yellow legal pad, quick!’ And I write.”

Be consistent. 

KJ Dell’Antonia, author of the book How to Be a Happier Parent and co-host of the #AmWriting podcast, writes daily—whether she feels like writing or not. Even when it’s not going so well, she still keeps writing.

“I’ll boil it down to how many paragraphs does this need? How many sentences? How many words? And then I will put those things down, no matter how sorry and sad they seem, and most of the time, they’ll spark something. I’ll write something I like. It will start to flow. And if it doesn’t, that’s OK. I’ll be here tomorrow, folks. I’ll be here all week.”

Jane Binns, an artist and author of the forthcoming memoir Broken Wholehas found the same to be true. “Writing steadily is inspiring all on its own. The ideas keep building and refining themselves and returning to this again and again is validating and self-fulfilling.”

Seek out alone time. 

Joan Gelfand, author of several poetry collections, the upcoming novel Fear to Shred and You Can Be a Winning Writer, stays inspired by ensuring she has time alone to think. “It is when I give myself unstructured time that the muse comes to visit.”

She suggested making time every week for a date with yourself. For instance, that’s when you might take a walk, sit by the lake or visit a local place you’ve never been before.

Read different kinds of books. 

Alexandra Brown, co-author of A Year Off: A Story About Traveling the World—and How to Make It Happen For You, draws inspiration from fiction. “With my writing planet generally orbiting the non-fiction sun, I am always in awe of someone’s ability to weave a truly remarkable story.”

Brown is currently re-reading—and being inspired by—The Elegance of the Hedgehog. “It reframes the way a person thinks of language. It’s so imaginative, philosophical and poetic. It also reminds you to never assume things about people because we’re all more complex than we seem.”

Binns reads novels from genres she normally wouldn’t pick up. “I like to read authors that challenge the convention of storytelling and observe how they get from point A to point Z. What devices do they use? Why do they suspend this or that detail until later? How do they keep the tension suspenseful?”

One of Binns’s favorites is Heart of Darkness by Joseph Conrad, “because I never knew who was speaking or where or when things were happening exactly. It’s almost entirely dialogue. I would think I had it figured out but then it shifted…Heart of Darkness reminded me of Ulysses which I read years ago. Both of these are written in ways I would never allow myself to do right now. I see them as examples of how to stretch into untraveled territory.”

Travel. 

This is another way Brown fills her inspiration cup. “Stepping into another culture, even if only for a day, can put you into an entirely new, often unknown, context, and there is nothing more inspiring than being witness to all the ways this world is unique, interesting and dynamic.”

You don’t have to travel to far-off places to be inspired. “Even if it’s just an hour’s drive away, there is so much to see when you get outside of your routine,” Brown said.

Paint. 

Binns also stays inspired by painting with watercolors. “It gives my mind a break from thoughts and words, and I can totally relax and muse about color, light, and shadow. I love how the proportion of water and paint mix for a certain effect. The water is messy and has a science all of its own. I love watching it drool into the nodules of cold press paper. There is only a certain amount of time that watercolor can be played with before it sets. That burden of making decisions quickly is a sharp contrast to writing where things can be revised endlessly.”

Get in the right state. 

“Inspiration comes when you stop thinking, writing and creating from a place of stress,” said Greta Solomon, a writing coach, and the author of the forthcoming book Heart, Soul & Sass: Write Your Way to a Fully-Expressed Life. She noted that the optimum state for writing is to be alert and completely relaxed, which is when our brainwaves are operating from an alpha state.

One way we can boost this alpha energy is to listen to music at 60 beats per minute (BPM), she said. “Research has shown that Baroque music can help learning, thinking and creativity because it pulses at this magic number.”

Solomon suggested doing a quick Google search or downloading a Spotify 60-BPM playlist.

In addition to listening to music, we can make our own. For instance, Binns plays the piano. “The mathematics and poetry of music opens doors in my brain that nurture sanity, allowing the world around me to make sense.”

As always, whether it has to do with writing or anything in life, the key is to find what really resonates with you—and to keep checking in with yourself to see if that idea is still relevant.

What insights on inspiration specifically speak to you?

Copyright (C) 2018 Psych Central. All rights reserved. Reprinted with permission from here.

Get Ready for 2019 SF Writers Conference February 14 – 19

February 14 – 19
 Intercontinental Hyatt Regency Embarcadero in downtown San Francisco

Join us and help us promote WNBA-SF at the San Francisco Writers Conference.

This will be the 16th Celebration of Craft, Commerce, and Community for all writers. Attendees will join with 100+ presenters and fellow writers from across the country and around the world at this year’s event. The SFWC events are consistently rated among the top writer’s conferences anywhere.

Presenters this year will include bestselling authors, literary agents, editors, and publishers from major publishing houses. There will be experts on self-publishing, book promotion, platform building, social media, and author websites. SFWC has one of the largest faculties of any writer’s conference.

The four day event is packed with 100+ sessions for writers–from the craft of writing to the business of publishing. There is copious networking with the very people who can advance your writing career; an opening gala; two keynote luncheons and breakfasts; lots of social interaction with other writers; and evening Open Mic readings and pitch sessions. There will be exhibitors with services and tools for writers, too.

If you are working on your book, getting ready to publish it, or looking for ways to promote an already published book, this is the event you need to attend. TO REGISTER for the 2019 San Francisco Writers Conference, CLICK HERE!

The San Francisco Writers Conference starts on Thursday with orientation classes in the afternoon and several optional Open Enrollment Classes in the evening. Then the conference runs–pretty much non-stop–through late afternoon on Sunday. If you can stay longer, there is a no-host dinner where you can keep the networking going with SFWC presenters, staff, and volunteers. On Monday there will be several post-event Open Enrollment classes, too. That’s the entire Presidents’ Day weekend..and then some!

In fact, we are proud that so many of our WNBA members will be presenters at this conference including: Brenda Knight. Joan Gelfand, Nina Amir, Linda Lee, Mary E. Knippel, Martha Conway, Kate Farrell, Betsy Graziani Fasbinder, Mary Mackey, Barbara Santos, Helen Sedwick and more!

 

Happy New Year 2019! Member News from the WNBA-SF Chapter Members

 

As we celebrate the New Year, it is a perfect time to reflect on all the books, events, articles, awards, and celebrations across our community. Sharing successes helps support the WNBA’s mission of empowering women in writing.

We closed out 2018 with the Holiday Showcase at the Book Passage, a celebration of the immense talent of WNBA-SF Chapter with readings from our published member authors. Megan Clancy kicked off the event by reading her book (The Burden of a Daughter; A Novel – https://amzn.to/2CKe1fI), while holding her well-behaved baby. Lynn Dow read from, Nightingale Tales: Stories from My Life as a Nurse (https://amzn.to/2F3DYIL), and entertained us with her story of Jimmy Hoffa coming to the hospital, a memorable event from a 50-plus year nursing career. The fun continued with poems and stories read about veterinarianhouse calls for a pig; the excitement of Paris after dark; mittens on the run; and so much more. The other readings included topics ranging from super agers, feminism, healing through yoga and diet, writing career advice, and getting married for the first time at sixty-two.


In 2018 several members were recognized for their work:

 Judy Bebelaar (And Then They Were Gone: Teenagers of Peoples Temple from High School to Jonestown – https://amzn.to/2Vqcy5K) is a 2019 San Francisco Library Laureate. Judy also won a first prize, two third place prizes, and the Grand Prize in the Ina Coolbrith Poetry Contest.

Long-time member, Renate Stendhal’s, Kiss Me Again, Paris: A Memoir (https://amzn.to/2H0hQSu) was a finalist at both Lambda Literary Awards and Best Book Awards, and a winner at International Book Awards, in the LGBTQ Non-Fiction/Memoir category.

Barbara Ridley made her debut as an author with the book, When It’s Over (https://amzn.to/2TlYyYP ). She was honored as a finalist for six different awards this year, including Silver Medal in the IBPA Ben Franklin Award, the Next Generation Indie Book Awards, and the American Fiction Awards.

Mary Mackey’s ­­new collection of poetry The Jaguars That Prowl Our Dreams was published by Marsh Hawk Press. Jaguars won the California Institute of Integral Studies Women’s Spirituality Book Award and made the Small Press Distribution Bestseller List. Voetica.com recorded 26 of the poems.


This year we added many new members, including Vivien Zielen who recently published Eyeballing Big Croc: Chasing Dreams Around the World. Her book was recently reviewed by JWeekly in October (https://www.jweekly.com/2018/10/17/new-memoir-nepalese-royalty-the-six-day-way-and-passover-in-japan/).

Another new member, Saeeda Hafiz, whose book, The Healing: One Woman’s Journey from Poverty to Inner Riches, has been reviewed multiple times (http://www.saeedahafiz.com/new-page/).


Whether it’s being published for the first time or seeking an award for a published work, the new year brings a new set of goals for many of our members.

Whether you are a new or long-standing member, it is important to remember that community is critical to achieving your goals. “Community is the sacred ground of the twenty-first century,” former President Joan Gelfand writes in her book, You Can Be a Winning Writer (https://amzn.to/2BVR4Vk.)

For all members, but especially new members, we encourage you to join Joan at her upcoming workshops. The events are based on her new book and will cover the 4 C’s of successful authors: Craft, Commitment, Community and Confidence, in Oaxaca, Mexico (January 14th), at the San Francisco Writers Conference Poetry Summitt (February 16th) and will be featured on a teleseminar hosted by Non-Fiction Writers Association (February 6th).

As Bookwoman Correspondent, it is my mission to share your literary triumphs, small and large, with our local and national communities. As an emerging writer myself, I understand that writing is a career built word by word or bird by bird, as Anne Lammot writes.

For your Bookwoman mentions, please mark your calendars to send me your monthly news for Bookwoman National by the 15th of every month. Also, if you are looking to get articles published, Editor Nicole Ayers encourages all members to send in blog post ideas to newsletter@wnba-books.org. I will continue to publish local WNBA-SF news each quarter on our site, as well.

Looking forward to seeing you for our upcoming events the Holiday Mixer on January 13, 2019 (http://wnba-sfchapter.org/celebrate-the-new-year-at-the-wnba-sf-holiday-mixer-2/) and Pitch-O-Rama on March 23, 2019 (http://wnba-sfchapter.org/pitch-o-rama-2019/).

Happy New Year!

About the Author:

WNBA-SF BookWoman Correspondent Jennifer Griffith is an emerging writer in the process of finishing her first book, Both Sides of Then. She is a blogger, memoirist, and has a new podcast launching in 2019 focused on the topics she often writes about – motherhood, careers, connections, and the meaning of family. 

 

www.jgriffithwriter.com

Twitter: https://bit.ly/2AJvhkv

IG: https://bit.ly/2AKccP7

What Are You Afraid Of? How a Writing Retreat Saved Me

By Joan Gelfand

At one point in my career, I was convinced that my writing life was over. If it hadn’t been for a writing retreat, I would not have finished my next two books.

When I quit my corporate job to write full-time, I worked at home. I showed up at my desk at 9 AM just as I had for my job. I wrote my second novel, three poetry collections and a book of short stories.

And then, one autumn, the wind went out of my well-honed, self-disciplined, super productive sails. I lost my mojo. I felt isolated and uninspired. I found myself lolling, writing emails until well after 10 AM. I was easily distracted. Was it time to investigate another career?

While I was struggling with this question, I signed up for a 10-day writer’s retreat in Oaxaca, Mexico. I had never participated in an organized retreat, but I knew I had at least a few projects that were floundering.

Every day after breakfast we eight writers retired to our private rooms to write. And write I did. I wrote new poems and started a new book. The floodgates opened. In the afternoon we met to discuss our work, listen to a teaching by our instructor and share work.

What had changed? It wasn’t until the end of the retreat that I figured out that being around other writers invigorated me. I was motivated again. Many writers have historically needed the company of others to stay productive. Virginia Woolf lived in a house with other artists and writers, and today, the Grotto, a San Francisco institution, houses writers in all genres.

When I returned home to San Francisco, I realized that I too needed to start working around other people. I joined EcoSystms, a co-working space downtown. Although the folks there are not all writers, simply being around other people in a professional environment made all the difference.


About Joan Gelfand:

The author of You Can Be a Winning Writer: The 4 C’s of Successful Authors (Mango Press, 2018) and three volumes of poetry, Joan has also written an award-winning chapbook of short fiction and a novel set in a Silicon Valley startup.
The recipient of numerous awards, nominations and honors, Joan’s work appears in the Los Angeles Review of Books, Rattle, Prairie Schooner, Kalliope, The Meridian Anthology of Contemporary Poetry, the Toronto Review, Marsh Hawk Review, Levure Litteraire,  Chicken Soup for the Soul and over 100 anthologies, lit mags and journals.

Joan coaches writers on their publication journey by Skype and Zoom.  http://joangelfand.com

Featured Member Interview – Marylee MacDonald

Interview by Susan Allison

Recently, I have been in conversation with WNBA member, Marylee MacDonald, award winning author, writing coach, and caregiver advocate. I’ve been most impressed by Marylee’s refreshing honesty. Whether she is talking about her personal life, her writing career, or the current state of the publishing industry, she tells the truth.

Marylee grew up as an only child living with four adults—her parents and grandparents. Her mom was 41 when she adopted her, so that meant her grandparents were in their seventies. Because of this, Marylee says her role was “to be seen and not heard.” If she wanted to ask a question at the dinner table, she needed to raise her hand. 

Once a week Marylee biked to the Redwood City Library and checked out a bike-basket’s worth of books, “loving the experience of getting lost in worlds and families other than my own. Reading was my salvation.” The Redwood City Tribune published a story she wrote from a school assignment when she was in fourth grade. “This experience did show me that a story of mine could eventually make its way into print.” 

As an undergraduate at Stanford, Marylee majored in English, yet didn’t think to enroll in Creative Writing, even though Wallace Stegner and Nancy Packer taught there. She says she knew she wanted to write, but didn’t realize that universities could be places to learn the craft. She changed her mind when her high school friend Tom Cuthbertson got his Master’s degree in Creative Writing at San Francisco State.

Tragically, before she could enroll, her husband was killed in a car accident in Germany when Marylee was pregnant with her fifth child. It was the insurance money from the accident that allowed her to enroll in graduate school. In the midst of this crisis and while raising five children, Marylee still pursued her dream of becoming a writer. She studied with Kay Boyle, Wright Morris and Ray West, knowing her passion was for fiction, yet working many years as a journalist for Sunset and other magazines.

Between 1971, the year of her husband’s death, and when her youngest child graduated from college, she wrote very little, but never gave up. During these years, she was raising children, running a construction company, switching jobs to work at the University of Illinois, and eventually following her second husband to his new job at Northwestern University. This move allowed her to stop working for a paycheck and pursue her writing career. “I had just turned fifty and threw myself back into fiction. I was eager to make up for lost time.”

She attended a weekly short story workshop with Fred Shafer, who mentored many Chicago writers. With his support, Marylee began to write and publish short stories for literary magazines, and she began winning prizes for her work. Eventually, she published her stories in an anthology, Bonds of Love & Blood. Her short stories have won the Barry Hannah Price, the Jeanne M. Leiby Memorial Chapbook Award, the American Literary Review Fiction Award, the Matt Clark Prize, the Ron Rash Award, an Illinois Arts Council Fellowship in Fiction, and multiple awards in the Faulkner-Wisdom Competition. (If you love short stories and would like a free digital copy of Bonds of Love & Blood, you can download it from this BookShout link.)

Just when her writing was going well, her son-in-law was diagnosed with ALS, and she became his caregiver. Marylee was determined this time not to give up her writing, and though sleepless and exhausted, she wrote her first novel, Montpelier Tomorrow. She realized that she was too close to the story and had to do about thirty rewrites until “what really happened became what might have been.” Her novel portrays a family under extreme stress, immersing readers in “what it is like to be a caregiver, sleep-deprived for months, while caring for a patient who isn’t especially noble or grateful.” In 2014 an independent press in New England published Montpelier Tomorrow. Her first novel won the Gold Medal for Drama from the Readers’ Favorites International Book Awards. It was also a finalist for the Bellwether Price, the Eric Hoffer Award and the Indie Next Generation Book Awards.

Marylee is currently writing The Vermillion Sea. This latest work is a historical novel set in 1769 about a young French artist who follows a famous astronomer to Baja California for that year’s Transit of Venus observation. For the past few years Marylee has spent hours doing research in the French Archives, holding ancient books and letters in her hands. Like all her stories, what the main character finds is not at all what he expected or deserved. “At the heart of this novel is the question of the lenses through which we view the world.” She hopes to finish her next draft by the end of January. She says, “I love revision because it forces me to ‘re-vision’ the action, to look for deeper meanings and to tie together the threads of plot.”

In terms of authenticity, Marylee is the most forthcoming about being a woman writer, especially past midlife, trying to publish her work. She says, “The hardest thing for any writer or any woman, for that matter, is juggling the desire to write with the need to earn a living and be there as a parent. For many years I beat myself up because I couldn’t do everything. I wasn’t writing enough, earning enough money, or spending as much time with my children as I might have wanted. However, I took inspiration from anthropologist Margaret Mead who said that women in their fifties would suddenly find their time unencumbered. She believed that women had a different life pattern from men. Women experienced a surge of energy and career focus in their fifties and sixties, and that’s often the time men are winding down their careers.”

I especially appreciate what Marylee shares about getting an agent and publisher in today’s market: “Finding an agent and publisher has never been harder. That’s because there’s been so much consolidation in the industry. It’s especially hard for women over fifty to get an agent. I’ve had well known agents tell me to my face that I’m too old. They want to ‘take on’ someone in their twenties or thirties. These young writers can help ‘fund my retirement’ one agent told me. At an Arizona writers’ conference, an agent bragged that he’d signed one writer who had just turned seventy. That writer had already published nine books. The agent’s idea was that the author could be repackaged—have his website spiffed up, have new covers put on his books—and that might make the agent’s investment of time worthwhile.”

Marylee asks, “Who is getting published?” And answers, “Sports personalities. Movie stars or late-night TV hosts such as Trevor Noah. Past presidents, such as Bill Clinton, especially when he’s collaborating with James Patterson.” “Can books by late-life authors outsell books by celebrities who already have built-in fanbases, aka ‘author platforms’?” “Very unlikely. Traditional publishing is all about who can sell books by the truckload. For a perspective on the industry changes that have gotten us to where we are now, I highly recommend Brooke Warner’s Green Light Your Book: How Writers Can Succeed in the New Era of  Publishing. The author is one of the founders of SheWrites Press, and she tells it straight.”  

As you can tell, Marylee is a veteran writer with years of experience who wants to assist other writers through her blog posts and coaching: “My blog posts strike a balance between craft issues — meaning how to deal with plot or character — and marketing issues. Marketing is so important. Writers don’t like to push themselves forward, but marketing is not ‘being pushy.’ The real goal is to find readers who will enjoy our books. Knowing readers are out there increases a writer’s motivation to finish the next one.”

Marylee is hard at work finishing her next book, The Vermillion Sea, and getting in great shape to hike Yosemite. Let her be an inspiration for us all, that we may lose people we love, find ourselves caring for family, or working hard to make a living, while at the same time, determined to write our next poem, our next story, our next book.

The many ways to get in touch with or find out more of Marylee’s fascinating life are: 

Website: https://www.maryleemacdonaldauthor.com

Email: mm at maryleemacdonald dot org

Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/macdonaldmarylee/

Facebook: https://facebook.com/MaryleeMacD

Twitter: https://twitter.com/MaryleeMacD

Her anthology of award-winning short stories: http://bit.ly/BONDSOFLOVEANDBLOOD

Her award-winning novel: http://bit.ly/MONTPELIERTOMORROW

Member News from the WNBA-SF Chapter Members

 

Cathy Fiorello’s memoir, Standing at the Edge of the Pool: Life, Love, Loss and Never Learning to Swim, is told against a framework of historic events. A coming-of-age story for all ages, it tells how Cathy is “staying relevant at the far end of life, defying the constraints of ageism.”

Cathy writes: “I relocated from New York to San Francisco 12 years ago, at the age of 75. Living in this vibrant city has given me a future when I thought my life was all about the past.”


My Patients Like Treats:  Tales from a House-Call Veterinarian, by Duncan MacVean, was recently published by Skyhorse Publishing.

 

 


Humaira Ghilzai has acted as the Afghan Cultural Consultant on the theatre production of A THOUSAND SPLENDID SUNS (based on the novel by Khaled Hosseini). Her article “Collateral Damage, Women and Girls of Afghanistan” was published in the Seattle Repertory Encore Magazine. Humaira has also been commissioned to create content for the Seattle Repertory Lobby-Turgey, outlining the 100-year history of Afghanistan with an emphasis on Afghan women.


Joan Gelfand’s new book, You Can Be a Winning Writer: The 4 C’s of Successful Authors/ Craft, Commitment, Community and Confidence,  (Mango Press) has been on the Amazon #1 Hot New Releases this summer and was launched this Fall.

 


Kate Farrell just published a YA novella, Strange Beauty, with Smashwords in its Premium Catalog, for pre-release December 3, 2018. Kate’s long-term project is to publish short stories and novellas in the magical realism genre, subcategory of fabulism, as eBooks, podcasts, and audiobooks for young women.

 


Lisa Braver Moss’s Young Adult novel, Shrug, will be published by SheWrites Press in Fall, 2019.


Margie Yee Webb, Cat Mulan’s Mindful Musings, was among those featured at “Celebrate Local Authors!” this Fall in Face In A Book bookstore in El Dorado Hills, California.


Martha Conway’s novel The Underground River (Touchstone Books) has now been released in paperback; the English paperback edition was published this Fall under the title The Floating Theatre. The Underground River was a New York Times Notable book, and has been published in seven languages.

 


Mary Mackey’s new collection of poetry has just been published by Marsh Hawk Press. Entitled The Jaguars That Prowl Our Dreams: New and Selected Poems 1974 to 2018, the collection has already into a second edition because the first edition sold out on the first day the book was released! In addition, it has also been nominated for several prizes … to be announced soon. 


Mary Jo McConahay’s new book, The Tango War, The Struggle for the Minds, Hearts and Riches of Latin America during World War II (St. Martin’s Press) debuts this Fall with several Bay Area events, where she would love to see WNBA members. The Tango War has received starred reviews from Kirkus Reviews and Publishers Weekly.

 


Megan Clancy’s debut novel, The Burden of a Daughter, was released November 1, 2018, by Sand Hill Review Press.

 

 


Nisha Zenoff’s book, The Unspeakable Loss: How Do You Live After a Child Dies, recently won the gold medal from Independent Publisher’s Living Now Book Awards in the grief category.

The Living Now Book Awards are designed to bring increased recognition to the year’s very best lifestyle books and their creators. For information on The Living Now Book Awards visit www.livingnowbookawards.com

 


Vicki DeArmon has taken on a new position as the Director of Programming for the Bay Area Book Festival. She is still running her events and marketing company All Things Book as well.


 

Featured Member Interview – Mary Mackey

Interview by Susan Allison

After interviewing novelist and poet, Mary Mackey, I am moved to write a poem, dashing off lines quickly in what I call a “divine download.” I find nothing more exhilarating than this creative process, and I’m grateful for Mackey’s inspiration. Mary’s own inner voice has been whispering stories and poems to her for decades. Even before she could read, Mary made up stories and told them to her friends: “I must have been four or five, and I quickly discovered that if I stopped at an exciting point, they would give me candy to continue. Poetry came later. I wrote my first poem in the Fourth Grade on the occasion of Abraham Lincoln’s birthday. I’ve been fascinated by words from a very early age–the way they trip off your tongue and dance in your head. I think language is the great human art form, created by a collective effort of billions of individuals over vast expanses of time.”

I’m impressed that Mary Mackey is an equally successful poet and novelist. She is the author of eight collections of poetry, the latest being her favorite, The Jaguars That Prowl Our Dreams: New and Selected Poems 1974-2018, published by Marsh Hawk Press. In Jaguars, Mary writes of life, death, love, and passion with intensity and grace. Her poems are hugely imaginative and multi-layered. Part One contains forty-eight new poems including twenty-one set in Western Kentucky from 1742 to 1975; and twenty-six unified by an exploration of the tropical jungle outside and within us, plus a surreal and sometimes hallucinatory appreciation of the visionary power of fever. Part Two offers the reader seventy-eight poems drawn from Mackey’s seven previous collections including Sugar Zone, winner of the 2012 Oakland PEN Award for Literary Excellence.

Speaking of her latest book of poetry, The Jaguars That Prowl Our Dreams, Mary says,It’s been a wild ride this Fall. On the day Marsh Hawk Press published Jaguars…, the entire first edition sold out. Six weeks later Jaguars made Small Press Distribution’s Bestseller List. Although I had achieved some success as a novelist, I thought poets were supposed to live in miserable obscurity in an unheated garret; but apparently, after over 40 years, I’ve finally found an audience interested in poems inspired by Mirabai, Blake, Saint John of the Cross, Second Wave Feminism, and the singing of frogs in tropical rainforests.”

Mary has also published fourteen novels, has been on the New York Times and San Francisco Chronicle Bestseller Lists, and her novels have been translated into twelve languages. She does have favorites: “I’m very fond of my most recent novel The Village of Bones because the characters do surprising things and the story revolves around the idea that your enemies sometimes can be converted by loving kindness. But I also like an early novel of mine, McCarthy’s List, because it’s so outrageously funny and (unfortunately) so relevant since it deals with a woman taking revenge for sexual harassment in comic ways (at one point she sends her attacker an exploding parrot). I also love Season of Shadows, an historical novel set in the Sixties, which combines a strong friendship between two women with several love affairs, the Civil Rights Movement, international politics, and a bomb-building-cell of the Weather Underground.”

Mackey never set out to be a poet or a novelist, but just wanted to write poems and stories and has continued to do so for decades. I ask her if she can write poetry and prose simultaneously, or if she focuses on one genre: “I write my novels on a computer. They take a long time—usually two or three years, and since I write historical fiction, a lot of research is involved. Writing a novel takes organization, logic, and patience. Poems on the other hand come to me quickly. I always write the first drafts out in longhand in a special notebook in order not to interrupt the flow. My poems are more personal, more connected to my subconscious and to my dreams and visions. When I am writing novels, I rarely write poems. When I am writing poems, I am almost never writing a novel. Yet although I often write the first drafts of the poems very quickly, I spend a long time crafting and revising them. I put my novels through at least twelve revisions. I usually revise my poems from eight to twenty times before I will let anyone see them.”

Wanting to know more about her craft, I ask Mary to explain her writing process: “I usually close my door, turn off my phone, and write five to six days a week from about 9:00 am to about 2:00 pm. I have long had a deal with myself that, if I can’t write, I have to spend those hours writing about why I can’t write. I can almost guarantee that if you spend two hours writing about how you can’t write, you will start writing something interesting out of sheer boredom. In addition, many years ago I developed a trance technique to inspire me. At these times, when I am in a “liminal state,” partly waking and partly dreaming, I have access to a vast trove of images and ideas. If I am having trouble with a scene in a novel, I go into a light trance and run the whole scene in my mind like a movie. With poems, I call up the images and metaphors that dwell in the deepest parts of my conscious mind—almost in my subconscious—and then I write fast and freely, recording everything that comes up whether or not it is useable. Later, I am meticulous about cutting and polishing my poems, but when I am in a trance, I make no judgments nor do I exclude anything no matter how silly or irrelevant. I think that this technique is what gives many of my poems a mystical, visionary, even prophetic quality.”

I find her writing process unique and fascinating, and also want to hear about her publishing experience: “There is a different story connected to the publishing of each book, and things have changed so much over the past forty years, that the way I got novels published as a young author is probably no longer relevant to writers today. The short version is that the Gatekeepers were strict and the gates opened rarely, but once you got in, you were taken care of in a way almost unimaginable in 2018.”

“My first novel Immersion was published by the legendary Shameless Hussy Press. After that, I wrote five novels no one would publish. Then I wrote McCarthy’s List. I sent it to an agent. The agent liked it. She convinced Doubleday to publish it. Subsequently my novels were published by Putnam, Simon & Schuster, Bantam, Penguin, Kensington, New American Library, and Berkley Books. These publishers sent me on books tours. They advertised my novels here and overseas. They made one of my novels—A Grand Passion– into a New York Times Bestseller. Those days, unfortunately, are over. I have the deepest sympathy for contemporary writers who are trying to get novels published. So much talent is going to waste, and American literature is the poorer for it.”

“Poetry is a cheerier story. My poetry collections have been published by small presses that give me cover control, that never change or edit my work without consulting me, and who do their best to promote and sell my books. My last four collections, including The Jaguars That Prowl Our Dreams, have all been published by Marsh Hawk Press, the best publisher I have ever had. Marsh Hawk, which is a non-profit press, has been dedicated to highlighting the breadth of affinities between poetry and the visual arts for almost twenty years. Their covers are beautiful, and they stand behind their authors with advice and advertising. They’ve put together a book tour for me in the New York City area for next May. I think that it is partly due to Marsh Hawk that Jaguars has made the Small Press Distribution Bestseller List.”

Mary Mackey has so much electric energy, and I’m sure she is working on new projects:

“Marsh Hawk Press is doing an anthology entitled The Chapter One Project, featuring the memoirs of outstanding poets from diverse background recalling the ways by which they found their start as writers. I recently wrote a piece for Chapter One entitled Fever and Jungles: On Becoming A Poet. In it, I discuss how very high fevers and the time I spent in the rainforests of Costa Rica and the Amazon made me into a poet. This piece is part of a longer memoir I am writing. Fever and Jungles will go live on the Marsh Hawk Press Blog December 1st. Among other things, it contains a description about how having a fever above 106 once caused me to speak in rhymed couplets for several hours.”

“Also, my readers would like me to write another volume of the Earthsong Series. I have a rough outline of a new novel for the series and am playing with a plot set in the Goddess worshiping cultures of Prehistoric Europe that will take up where The Village of Bones left off. In addition, I’m writing a series of poems, which I have in a folder marked Cassandra. Although I’m not sure that will be the title of the collection, I think Cassandra is the perfect spokeswoman for an era when some people, against all evidence, continue to deny that climate change is happening. As you’ll recall, Cassandra saw the future and warned people what was coming, but no one believed her.”

In many ways Mary Mackey reminds me of Cassandra, the prophetess in Agamemnon, and I believe her! I hope her words have inspired you as they have me. As a former college professor, she leaves us with practical wisdom: “The best piece of advice I can give you is: don’t give up. I kept a huge pile of envelopes on the top shelf of my bookcase in my office at CSUS. Below them were copies of all my published books. When students came in, I would point to the envelopes and say: ‘All of those envelopes are full of pages describing why I can’t write, why I’ll never be a writer, why I have nothing to say, and why I might as well throw in the towel, go back to school, and learn something useful like anesthesiology.’ Every writer has doubts. Every writer gets stuck. The trick is to just keep on going. It’s very hard to be a writer. There are so many easier, more pleasant things to do—things you might actually get paid for. But if you like to write, keep on writing those poems and stories only you can write.”

Mary Mackey has a B.A. from Harvard College and a Ph.D. in Comparative Literature from The University of Michigan and is related through her father’s family to Mark Twain. At present, she lives in northern California with her husband Angus Wright.  You can find her work and more information at marymackey.com

Celebrate the New Year at the WNBA-SF Holiday Mixer

Sunday, January 13
4:00-6:00 PM
East Bay (address provided upon registration)

Join WNBA-SF members and friends for a WNBA-SF New Year’s Inspiration Celebration.
This year our annual holiday celebration will be held in a private home in the East Bay and will feature rotating readings from our members, along with the usual food, drink, lively company and this year we’ll have a DJ to entertain us.

It’s a MIXER, so bring a literary friend or two to join the fun. We appreciate our members and would love for you to join us so we can hear your about how the past year went for you. We’d love to hear about books you have read, books you are writing, books you are publishing, books you are promoting, or libraries you support. We are enthusiastic for anything about the written word.

Holiday book exchange: Bring your favorite book of 2018 wrapped or unwrapped. We will have a grab bag for all those who want to participate. What books inspired you? What books changed your life, made you think, or helped you to smile in this year?

Holiday Donation: Bring a NEW children’s book to donate to Jamestown Community Center. Please join us in celebrating all of our chapter and members literary accomplishments of 2018!

WNBA-SF Chapter Ideas: Join in thinking about our future work and events as a chapter: What would you like to see more of? What kind of events would you like to attend? Do you want to join or volunteer?

Share your intentions for 2019: A group ritual dedicated to our 2019 writing, publishing, and promoting goals and intentions for 2019. Let’s look forward and toast the next year, most likely the best ever for our SF Chapter! We will all thrive in the support of our fellow women writers.
Bring your book club, your BFF, or come solo. Join us for a night of libations, women and books!
Let us know if you’re coming and if you’re bringing guests by filling out this short RSVP form. Carpools and rides arranged upon request.

Celebrate the New Year at the WNBA-SF Holiday Mixer

Sunday, January 13
4:00-6:00 PM
East Bay (address provided upon registration)

Join WNBA-SF members and friends for a WNBA-SF New Year’s Inspiration Celebration.
This year our annual holiday celebration will be held in a private home in the East Bay and will feature rotating readings from our members, along with the usual food, drink, lively company and this year we’ll have a DJ to entertain us.

It’s a MIXER, so bring a literary friend or two to join the fun. We appreciate our members and would love for you to join us so we can hear your about how the past year went for you. We’d love to hear about books you have read, books you are writing, books you are publishing, books you are promoting, or libraries you support. We are enthusiastic for anything about the written word.

Holiday book exchange: Bring your favorite book of 2018 wrapped or unwrapped. We will have a grab bag for all those who want to participate. What books inspired you? What books changed your life, made you think, or helped you to smile in this year?

Holiday Donation: Bring a NEW children’s book to donate to Jamestown Community Center. Please join us in celebrating all of our chapter and members literary accomplishments of 2018!

WNBA-SF Chapter Ideas: Join in thinking about our future work and events as a chapter: What would you like to see more of ? What kind of events would you like to attend? Do you want to join or volunteer?

Share your intentions for 2019: A group ritual dedicated to our 2019 writing, publishing, and promoting goals and intentions for 2019. Let’s look forward and toast the next year, most likely the best ever for our SF Chapter! We will all thrive in the support of our fellow women writers.

Bring your book club, your BFF, or come solo. Join us for a night of libations, women and books!
Let us know if you’re coming and if you’re bringing guests by filling out this short RSVP form. Carpools and rides arranged upon request.

2019 WNBA-SF Inspiration Celebration

Writing is Lonely. Join a Group…

By Marlena Fiol

Jennifer Harris recently reminded us in Warrior Writers that “Writers Need Community.” Writing is a lonely act and being part of a community reminds us that we’re not alone, she said. Beyond that, she reminded us that writing communities provide opportunities to learn and grow, work together and find new readers. No one can argue with that.

She concludes with “There are many writing communities out there, so it shouldn’t be hard to find one.” Indeed, they are not hard to find. I’m fortunate to be a member of numerous online writing groups on Facebook and Medium. I have also been part of smaller writing groups that I was responsible for establishing and maintaining. I’ll refer to the former as a network and the latter as a community. Both provide opportunities to “learn and grow, work together and find new readers.” But they differ in ways that matter.

Community-Building versus Networking

Definition of Network:

  1. An arrangement of intersecting horizontal and vertical lines.
  2. A group or system of interconnected people or things.

Definition of Community:

  1. A group of people living in the same place or having a particular characteristic in common.
  2. A feeling of fellowship with others, as a result of sharing common attitudes, interests, and goals.

To put it succinctly, one promotes an arrangement for intersecting. The other promotes a feeling of fellowship. Both have their place, but confusing them is likely to lead to frustration and disappointment.

We writers are not inherently community-oriented.

I recently read that many people perceive us writers as selfish, ego-driven navel-gazers. And how often have you heard writers complain that other writers are trying to do the same thing they are, and getting a lot more ‘Claps’ for it? In the September 9, 2018 Book Review section of the NYT, Kate Atkinson, author of the forthcoming novel Transcription, was said to recoil at the idea of a literary dinner party: “Oh, lord, I would never invite writers,” she is quoted as saying. ”They’re so competitive.” If we are as competitive as she claims, we’ll naturally be drawn to largely anonymous arrangements of intersecting networks that can help us get ahead, yet reveal only those parts of us that we’re willing to share with our fellow writers and no more. But will that really get us what we want and need?

Three Characteristics of Networks

  1. Exposure: Most of the online writing networks available to us today are vast and highly populated. This means we can gain nearly instant exposure of our little writing gems, something unheard of even a decade ago.
  2. Ease: All we have to do to join an online network is submit a request to an unknown person and wait a few days for the invitation (which might be an automated computerized response). Done.
  3. Safety: Ah, here’s a big one. We risk putting out there only what feels safe to us, and no one will ask for more. We don’t have to really trust any of our fellow writers on the network.

I’m not surprised that writing networks have become as popular as they are today. I love ‘Claps’ just as much as you do. They are an easy and safe way for us to gauge the extent to which we’re reaching our readers across a vast population. But let’s not confuse these intersections with what I’m calling community. Nicole Bianchi began her call for writers to create writing groups with “Writing can be a lonely activity.”

She argues that Mastermind groups give writers a sense of community and a sense of belonging. Nicole suggests that they should only include members who are serious about challenging and learning from each other. And people must trust each other since they’ll be sharing deep stuff. Does this kind of community sound just a bit scary?

Three characteristics of communities

  1. Limited Size: A community is usually limited in size because members need the time to devote to giving individualized feedback to each other. So they are prepared to work hard to keep their community alive. Unlike a network, if a community doesn’t stop growing, its members disengage, no longer feeling like they belong, and eventually it dies.
  2. Common Purpose: It’s usually best if members of a writing community all have a similar purpose in mind. Otherwise, people will be seriously committed to move in disparate directions, which will tear the group apart.
  3. Vulnerability: This is one of my soapboxes and I’ve written about it elsewhere, so I won’t belabor it too much here. We offer only the smallest of glimpses into our real selves on our various mammoth networks. And sometimes it can get to feel a bit artificial: You ‘Clap’ for me and I’ll ‘Clap’ for you. There’s not a thing wrong with this, as long as we don’t imagine that it’s something more personal and meaningful than it actually is.

People on my LinkedIn network see only one tiny slice of my life, while my Facebook friends see quite another. Neither one is really me with all of my good, my bad and my ugly. Only people in my more intimate communities get a closer look at who I really am and what my struggles are.

Communities and networks aren’t mutually exclusive. Rather, they lie on a continuum. Some of the groups I belong to are more like networks; others more like communities. Again, I repeat. Both communities and networks serve valuable purposes. The real problem lies in our frequent inability to distinguish between them and hold realistic expectations about what they can do for us. If you long for deep connectedness with others who share your writing interests, you’re not likely to find it on most online networks. Joining vast networks provides great slices of intersection, but probably not the feeling of community.

So what do you want from your writing networks or communities? If what you want is a safe arena to expose your writing to as many readers as possible, think about energetically interacting on some of the many available online writing networks such as Facebook, Medium and the like. If a deep feeling of connectedness is what you long for, think smaller, think about forming a group with a common purpose, and think about opening yourself up more vulnerably. And if you want both, become a member of both. But know that you will need to show up differently in each one. And each will provide very different benefits.

 

Marlena Fiol, PhD, is a storyteller, scholar, speaker and spiritual seeker whose writing explores the depths of who we are and what’s possible in our lives. Her most recent essays have appeared in The Summerset Review, Under the Sun and The Furious Gazelle, among others. A sampling of her publications on identity and learning are available at marlenafiol.com.