Featured Member Interview – Sheryl Bize-Boutte

A Rich Retirement: Sheryl Bize-Boutte Proves It’s Never Too Late for the Write Words

by Nita Sweeney, author of the running and mental health memoir, Depression Hates a Moving Target: How Running with My Dog Brought Me Back from the Brink

One of the many joys of participating in the Women’s National Book Association of San Francisco is the opportunity to learn from talented, successful authors such a Sheryl J. Bize-Boutte. As could be expected from even a quick review of her work, Sheryl provided generous, insightful answers to my questions.


NS: You enjoyed a rich work-life before you turned to writing full-time. Did your work experience prepare you for this phase of your career?

SJBB: The two things my work experience did for my writing career were 1) to provide a nice retirement with freedom to write and 2) to let me know that I could write in many different forms. In those ways the career off-ramp was totally worth it. Although I wrote a bit now and then throughout my government career, my work-related writing was often lauded and I became the “writer” in the office. I once wrote a section of congressional testimony for a cabinet level secretary that was delivered to the House without one word being changed. That sealed it for me. I knew what I would be doing in my retirement!

NS: Your work has won some impressive awards. Have those helped further your writing career?

SJBB: Awards are impressive to some and I am sure have caught the eye of readers and some important people in the writing game. But I have found that much of my recognition and furtherance as a writer has been a result of my readings, involvement in the writing community and face-to-face casual literary encounters out there in the world of writing. I don’t write for the award of it. I write for the love of it. I think people feel my love of the writing and sometimes that alone makes them want to hear and see more of it.

NS: You have been described as a “talented multidisciplinary writer whose works artfully succeed in getting across deeper meanings about life and the politics of race and economics without breaking out of the narrative.” What did you think when you read this review?

SJBB: I can only surmise that this is what she received from reading my stories. I will say that since an African American mother who was often treated badly because of her skin color, and a Creole father who was often mistaken as White raised me, some may view my writings about my observations of the differences as artful, but for me they are what my life was and is made of. I had an “inside view” so to speak of what it meant to be treated as Black as well as White in Oakland as well as in the South, and since I was an extremely nosey child who listened to and looked closely at everything, I remember it, I kept it and I can write it. As far as the narrative part: My favorite writing form is the short story. I learned a long time ago that be to an effective short story teller one must make each sentence a story in itself, have very few characters and stay on point. 


NS: Which of your many publications made you the proudest and why?

SJBB: I am most proud of my first published story, “Dead Chickens and Miss Anne” as it was the first short story I wrote after I retired and was published by the first and only place I submitted it. In addition to that, the comments about the story included that people felt I had found my voice, but in fact I was humbled to know that I had never lost it.

NS: Much of your work is set in Oakland. Can you talk about why this suits your work?

SJBB: I think Oakland is one of the most vibrant, creative and artistic cities on the planet and I am so fortunate to be here. As I have watched it change, grow, shrink, and morph, it has informed and nurtured my writing from the day my 12-year-old self wrote a story on my new Smith Corona, to now and beyond. My real memory and imaginary muse have their base in Oakland and both remain solid and rich with many more stories to tell.

NS: You successfully write in many genres. Are there common threads among these works?

SJBB: I think the common thread is my unique voice. My way of expression that is just me. I see things in a different way than some. I write with that difference.

NS: Crowds have enjoyed your readings, which were said to “bring down the house.” To what do you attribute your success at such events?

SJBB: I come from a family of voracious readers, storytellers, singers, poets, writers; you name it. One of our favorite pastimes as children was to act out scenes or mimic favorite characters as we told stories. I still do that. I find myself changing tone, pitch and voice when reading, especially poetry where there may be more than one character or message. Audiences are tickled and sometimes enthralled by that or perhaps how much I seem to like what I am saying. But the bigger attribution comes from the fact that I do not see myself as separate from the audience. I am not a presenter. I am a person sharing my life and work with people who have been gracious enough to sit quietly (until the end, hopefully when they applaud raucously) and listen.

NS: Do you have a go-to writing technique that you would care to share with the WNBA-SF members?

SJBB: I am not much on technique but I do have a few habits I follow. I am not afraid of breaks in writing. They provide rest for the imagination and allow words to just “fall out” when they are ready. I do not use $50.00 words when $5.00 words will convey my message and allow me to read it without stumbling. I limit the number of characters in my short stories. If there are too many, then it is easy to “fall out of the narrative” and end up with dribble.

NS: Are you working on any new writing projects?

SJBB: Yes, I am about 75% through the writing of my first novel, “Betrayal on the Bayou.” I am having a blast doing it and even I am wondering what will happen next.

NS: Is there a question I didn’t ask that you would like to answer?

SJBB: No. I think you covered it and I thank you very much.

NS: Thanks so much, Sheryl for your time, insights, and for a behind-the-scenes look at your process!


  1. Sheryl J. Bize-Boutte was born in Berkeley and raised in Oakland, California. Her first published writing experiences began while she was a student at the prestigious Mills College in Oakland as a columnist for the College’s newspaper, and as the youth editor for a local magazine called “Jump Bad.”

    After college she embarked on a 30- year management career with the U.S. Government where she tried to satisfy her need to write by becoming the “go to” person for writing and communication. When that didn’t totally scratch the writing itch, she turned to helping her math-oriented daughter with all of her school writing assignments. During this time her poem “That House” was published by the Poetry Guild’s “Gallery of Artistry.”

    Mercifully, retirement provided the freedom to engage that creative writing gene again, resulting in contributions to Harlequin anthologies “The Dog With The Old Soul” (her story, “The Green Collar”, received a positive mention from Publisher’s Weekly) and “A Kiss Under The Mistletoe”; and, the award winning “The Walrus- A Mills College Literary Journal.”

    Oakland often serves as the backdrop for her always touching and frequently hilarious works. Her first book, A Dollar Five-Stories from A Baby Boomer’s Ongoing Journey (2014) has been described as “rich in vivid imagery”, and “incredible.” Her second book, All That and More’s Wedding (2016), a collection of fictional mystery/crime short stories, is praised as “imaginative with colorful and likeable characters that draw you in to each story and leave you wanting more.” Her latest book, Running for the 2:10 (2017), a follow-on to A Dollar Five, delves deeper into her coming of age in Oakland and the embedded issues of race and skin color with one reviewer calling it “… a great contribution to literature.” In Summer 2019, Medusa’s Laugh Press published her fictional story, “Uncle Martin,” and MoonShine Star Company (Bradford Productions) will publish two more of her short stories in 2020. She is a contributor to award-winning author Kate Farrell’s upcoming book “Story Power,” an anthology on how writers build and create their stories, and has a novel in progress titled “Betrayal on the Bayou,” slated for publication in early 2020.

    An expressive and exciting reader, Sheryl has participated in readings and presentations for the Bay Area Generations literary reading series, the California Writers’ Club, Authors Large and Small, Hayward B Street Writer’s Collective, The Mechanics Institute Library, The Oakland Octopus Literary Salon, and the Mills College annual Writer’s Salon. In 2017 she was selected as the ongoing MC and co-curator for the annual Montclair Library (Oakland) reading and celebration of National Poetry Month, and proudly serves on the board of directors of the Women’s National Book Association-San Francisco Chapter.

    Contact Sheryl at Bize11@Mac.Com

    Follow her blog at http://sjbb-talkinginclass.blogspot.com/

    Check out her author profile on Amazon

    http://www.amazon.com/author/sheryljbizeboutte


Meet WNBA-SF at SFWC 2020!

SF Writers' Conference logoThe fabulous San Francisco Writers Conference, will be showcased at the Hyatt Regency Embarcadero on the waterfront, near the fabled Ferry Building.

Nowhere could you find a more spacious and elegant accommodation for networking and learning the newest trends in the craft and business of writing. Often called the “friendliest” as well as the premier West Coast writers conference, SFWC is now only a BART ride away from SFO or from almost anywhere in the Bay Area.

 

Presidents Day Weekend–February 13-16, 2020

Experience SFWC’s Hyatt Regency venue, where you will discover hidden nooks in the soaring atrium (the world’s largest hotel lobby), and an entire floor of meeting rooms surrounded by glass-enclosed hallways and foyers. You will be steps away from a myriad of restaurants, food courts, and the outdoor marketplace at Embarcadero Center, an iconic and accessible destination. Where better for a writer to find community? Register here.

Top Ten Irresistible Reasons for Writers to Attend the San Francisco Writers Conference

Find sessions that fit your specific writing needs and goals. At SFWC you can choose from a full schedule of workshops and panels.

Meet industry leaders and learn how to play the publishing game. The information at SFWC covers the latest trends and technology to help you get more writing done…and successfully sell what you write.

At Speed Dating for Agents pitch your book ideas one-on-one in a room full of literary agents ($75 option for registered attendees only). Literary agents at SFWC are on the lookout for new clients with great books they can represent.

Learn about a wide range of publishing options from leaders in self-publishing AND traditional publishing.

Receive FREE editorial feedback on your work from freelance book editors. Click HERE for the FAQ sheet!

Build your personal writing community. At SFWC meet like-minded writers from all over the United States…and other countries, too.

Seek innovative writer-related services. Meet with the exhibitors at the conference to find out what’s new for writers.

Browse the onsite bookstore and get the books you purchase autographed by the presenters.

Enjoy SFWC’s over-the-top networking opportunities. SFWC attendees can jump into pitch practices, share their work at “Open Mic” readings, and socialize at our Gala Party and Poetry and Jazz events. This is just a sampling of what goes on during the event. 

You want to go to a conference that offers it all. You’ve just described the San Francisco Writers Conference–top quality information and excellent speakers, yet extremely friendly to writers at all levels. 

The MAIN CONFERENCE registration fee includes four days of live sessions, keynotes and events from Thursday through Sunday. Plus a consult with an editor and publicist, unlimited networking with over 100 presenters (and fellow writers!), a Networking Gala, the Poetry and Jazz party, morning continental breakfasts, the popular Practice Your Pitch event, an attendee bag filled with writer goodies, and more!

Wait, there’s more!

A One-Day Poetry Track at the San Francisco Writers Conference 
The Poetry Summit at the 2020 SFWC
Saturday, February 15, 2020
Starts at 9 am and ends with Poetry & Jazz evening event.
Included with main conference registration or stand-alone for $195.

And…SAN FRANCISCO WRITERS FOUNDATION MASTER CLASSES!
Pre-Conference: Thursday, February 13, 2020
Post-Conference: Monday, February 17, 2020
 REGISTER HERE

Women’s National Book Association—San Francisco Chapter has been a proud sponsor of SFWC since its beginning 2004 at the Sir Francis Drake Hotel, and then followed the conference to the Mark Hopkins, and now at the Hyatt Regency. Throughout SFWC’s 17 years, WNBA has been an exhibitor; WNBA members have been volunteers, presenters, pros, freelance editors, and coordinators. Meet us this year at the Hyatt Regency Embarcadero!

 

 

 

How Publishers Think and How Best to Pitch Them

How to Sell Your Book to a Publisher and Who You’re Really Selling
Mechanics’ Institute Library, San Francisco
Friday, Jan 17, 2020, 12:00 Noon
57 Post Street, San Francisco, CA 94104
4th Floor, Chess Room (Free to Public, refreshments available)

As everyone probably knows, you or your agent needs to get your book or proposal into the hands of an interested editor; that’s the first hurdle. A well-crafted proposal, an agent with good relationships, and choosing the right editors to approach is the first steps. What most would-be authors don’t know is that the editor has to turn around and sell you to an editorial board. The sales management, more often than not, makes the decisions.  If sales and marketing think they can sell your book, then you’ve got a wonderful chance of getting published.

 So how do you sell the sales people? If it’s your first book, you have no Neilson Bookscan number to get in the way. That can be a blessing, but you have to prove that you are an “influencer” that can sell your book and provide the publisher’s sales force with the ammo they need to go out to the trade. Publishing veterans Jan Johnson, Nancy Fish, Lara Starr, and  Brenda Knight will help you navigate the rapids of book publishing so you can find the perfect home for your books. Bring all your questions about book publishing so you can learn from some of the best in the business!

Jan Johnson is Publisher Emeritus at Red Wheel Weiser & Conari Press, acquiring select books for each imprint. Before launching Red Wheel/Weiser, Johnson worked at Tuttle Publishing, HarperOne (when it was known as HarperSanFrancisco), Winston/Seabury Press and as an independent book doctor, rewrite editor and editorial consultant for corporate and independent publishers. Johnson has worked on many bestsellers including Codependent No More, Random Act of Kindness, Oprah pick The Book of Awakening, and Julia Cameron’s The Artist’s Way

Nancy Fish

 

Nancy Fish: In her long career in publishing, Nancy Fish has worked in almost every iteration of the book business. Having been publicity and marketing director for major houses including  Farrar, Straus & Giroux, HarperCollins and Pereus as welll as small indies, freelance publicist and copywriter, and bookseller at legendary shops on both coasts, Nancy now manages the Path to Publishing Program, and all the writers programs, at Marin County’s three-store treasure trove, Book Passage. Ask her about them.

 

Brenda Knight

Brenda Knight began her career at HarperCollins, working with luminaries Marianne Williamson, Mark Nepo, Melody Beattie, Huston Smith and Paolo Coelho. Knight served for 8 years as publisher of Cleis Press & Viva Edition, winner of the IndieFab’s Publisher of the Year Award in 2014. Knight is the author of Wild Women and Books, The Grateful Table, Be a Good in the World, and Women of the Beat Generation, which won an American Book Award. Knight is Associate Publisher at Mango Publishing and acquires for all genres in fiction and nonfiction as well as children and photography books. She also serves as President of the Women’s’ National Book Association, San Francisco Chapter and is an instructor at the annual San Francisco Writers Conference.

Lara Starr has made her mark in publishing starting at Collins, Conari Press and Chronicle Books. A bestselling author of several books, she is also a producer to KGO Radio. Starr is a creative professional with expertise in public relations, marketing, media production, and special events.

 

Celebrate the Holidays at the WNBA-SF Mixer

Sunday, December 29
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.
Our annual holiday celebration will be held in a private home in the East Bay and will feature the usual food, drink, and lively company.

It’s a MIXER, 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 about the past year. 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. Please join us in celebrating all of our chapter and member’s literary accomplishments of 2019!

Holiday book exchange: Bring your favorite book of 2019 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

WNBA-SF Chapter Ideas: Join us 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 2020: A group ritual dedicated to our writing, publishing, and promoting goals and intentions for 2020. 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.

NaNoWriMo – Tips for Success

by Nita Sweeney

When someone asks HOW to start writing, what they often want to know is WHERE to start writing, as in, “Where should my story begin?”

If it is November and they are participating in National Novel Writing Month, the annual challenge to write 50,000 words of fiction during the thirty days of November, about which I’ve written many times, the person’s question is premature.

Come to think of it, regardless of whether or not it is November or whether or not they are participating in NaNoWriMo, the question is still premature. In order to begin, a writer, new or otherwise, doesn’t need to know what words will follow the heading “Chapter One.” They just need to start writing.

But let me add a caveat. I write from my gut. I feel my way through. Not everyone is like this. Some people need to think a piece through or draft an outline. They may need extensive notes and research, especially for longer works. All that is fine, of course. But at some point, they just have to dive in.

That’s where writing practice saves me.

Decades of doing timed writing with no agenda except to put words on the page sidesteps the potentially paralyzing question of where the story should start. I figure it out by writing. I get in there and wallow around. Research or plotting or planning I’ve done ahead of time only serves me once my fingers are hammering the keyboard. I have to turn on the spigot and then, once the water is flowing, I’ll see what crevices it naturally wants to enter.

What is writing practice? It’s what I learned from best-selling author Natalie Goldberg. Timed writing. Set a timer and go. No thought. No crossing out or back spacing. No wondering if what I just wrote makes any sense. No stopping until the timer dings. It’s freeing and terrifying and the only way I know how to work. It’s the engine beneath everything I write.

And, it is just my way. I would love to hear about other ways in the comments.

Nita Sweeney
(c)Nita Sweeney, 2019, all rights reserved


Nita Sweeney is the author of the memoir, Depression Hates a Moving Target: How Running with My Dog Brought Me Back from the Brink, which was short-listed for the William Faulkner – William Wisdom Creative Writing Competition Award. Her articles, essays, and poetry have appeared in magazines, journals, books, and blogs including Buddhist America, Dog World, Dog Fancy, Writer’s Journal, Country Living, Pitkin Review, The Taos News, Spring Street, Pencil Storm, WNBA-SF, It’s Not Your Journey, and in several newspapers and newsletters. She writes the blog, Bum Glue, publishes the monthly e-newsletter, Write Now Columbus, and coaches writers in Natalie Goldberg style “writing practice.” Nita has been featured widely across media outlets about writing, running, meditation, mental health, and pet care. She was nominated for an Ohio Arts Council Governor’s Award and her poem, “Memorial,” won the Dublin Arts Council Poet’s Choice Award. When she’s not writing or coaching, Nita runs and races. She has completed three full marathons, twenty-seven half marathons (in eighteen states), and more than eighty shorter races. Nita lives in central Ohio with her husband and biggest fan, Ed, and their yellow Labrador running partner, Scarlet (aka #ninetyninepercentgooddog).

Three Ways To Get Buzz For Your Book

By Paula Rizzo, author of Listful Living: A List-Making Journey to a Less Stressed You(September 2019)

A few short weeks ago, my newest book, Listful Living: A List-Making Journey to a Less Stressed You, was published! I’m super excited. 

Many of my clients are authors as well and I always give them the same advice when I’m media training or working on media strategy with them. 

So I’m practicing what I preach! 

Here’s what I’ve been doing to get my book out there before it hit bookshelves:  

Get Traditional Media Mentions: When it comes to publishing a book, I always tell my clients to get media attention well before the book comes out. If you’re lucky you could be like my friend Ilise Benun who got one media mention that brought her ten years worth of business! Check out my video interview with her here. 

I spent close to two decades as a television producer and the authors who got coverage were the ones that I already knew. That’s because they were already experts in my eyes and it was easy to say yes to someone who has already proven to be a good source for you. You want to be friendly with editors and producers well before you have a book to sell. It’s much easier to get their attention when they know and trust you already. 

As I always say media begets more media, so putting your name out there will create a ripple effect and hopefully bring new potential readers and media to your door. For more on what television producers specifically looking for check out my post on it here.

Here’s a recent interview I did with PsychCentral.com where I was interviewed about how to brainstorm better and be more creative. I took an example from my recent trip to Greece. Creativity is not a topic I typically would speak on but it worked and I got a mention for my book in there along with my quote. 

So that’s a lesson – don’t be tied to only talk about your topic. If you can confidently lend expertise in other areas do it – you’ll still get a mention for your book so it’s a win win! 

Also remember to never stop doing media. That’s a big mistake a lot of authors make. They only do media when they’re promoting. Make it part of your overall strategy. If you’re serious about this I can help – apply for a media strategy session here.

Produce Video Content: I may sound like a broken record with how often I encourage everyone to do video but that’s only because it works! 

When you’re seen on video the viewer gets to know you and like you. It’s a special connection that you can’t get through written word only. This is something you should be doing regularly. But for sure leading up to a big launch you should double your efforts.

There are so many topics that an author can create videos about. You wrote a whole book – pull from that! Remember to teach what you know and it will be much easier. 

If you want to learn how to create compelling video – take my free webinar “Produce Like a Pro” here

Plus, take your potential readers behind-the-scenes of your big launch. Let them see what you’re up to and they’ll get excited as well. For example, here are a few recent videos I’ve done as I prepare for Listful Living’s launch. 

VIDEO: Unboxing my author copies of Listful Living and seeing it for the first time!

FB LIVE: 30 Days til Listful Living Publishes

FB LIVE: Heading to record the audio book version of Listful Living 

Get Booked on Podcasts – Podcasts are so hot right now. You might be hearing that “everyone has a podcast” these days. They’re actually so popular that recording studios are the new must-have for boutique hotels. It’s true!  

So what better place to start getting your name out there? Podcasts tend to have a unique and niche audience so you can really target those who you think would be interested in what you offer. And you can even reach new audiences too. 

Also – podcasts are a good place to work out your material because they are usually between 20 minutes and one hour. So your answers don’t have to be as tight and concise as with television. 

Plus, here’s something you might not know, people who listen to podcasts buy books. Yep it’s true. 

Everyone thinks getting on the Today Show or another TV show means your book will fly off the shelves.

It’s simply not true. 

Podcasts are the ticket. 

In fact, I was just at a conference and a media expert said her client was on The Today Show and sold only 111 books from that appearance. But when she was on a podcast the numbers soared. 

Here are some of the recent podcasts I’ve been on to talk about my book – even before it is published!

Profitology Podcast with Kelly O’Neil – Crack the Media Code with Paula Rizzo. Even though this is about media I still got to mention my book. 

Good Life Coach with Michele Lamourex – How to Get Booked on TV and in Print. Same with this podcast and the host was so intrigued with my other expertise in productivity and list making that she wanted to record a second show just on that topic. 

Good Life Coach with Michele Lamourex – How to Use Lists for a Happier Less Stressed. 

Get Published with Paul Brodie  – How to Use Traditional Media Effectively. This one combines my journey as an author with strategies to get media attention.

available now and  

My book is available everywhere books are sold; if you’re the least bit interested I’d love if you grabbed a copy now: 

Amazon: http://bit.ly/ListfulLiving  

Barnes & Noble: http://bit.ly/ListfulLivingBN 

Indiebound: http://bit.ly/ListfulLivingIndiebound

BONUS FREEBIE: Your message deserves the media’s attention. So how do you get out there in a bigger way? I’ve got you covered. CLICK HERE to grab my free “Checklist to Become a Go-To Media Expert.”


As a best-selling author and Emmy-award winning television producer for nearly 20 years, I’ve produced health, wellness, and lifestyle segments with a range of top experts, including JJ Virgin, Jillian Michaels, and Deepak Chopra. I served as senior health producer for Fox News Channel in New York City for over a decade. Today, I work with experts, authors, and entrepreneurs on how to position themselves for media (traditional as well as blogs and podcasts), build their lists, and engage customers and fans for their brands, books and businesses.

I’m also the co-creator of Lights Camera Expert – an online course geared towards helping entrepreneurs, authors and experts get media attention.

I created the productivity site ListProducer.com and am the best-selling author of Listful Thinking: Using Lists to be More Productive, Highly Successful and Less Stressed, which has been translated into 12 languages and has been featured on many media outlets including Fox News, Fox Business, Prevention, Business Insider, Entrepreneur, Brides and made it on Oprah.com’s list of “Self Help Books That Actually Help.”

My latest book: Listful Living: A List-Making Journey to a Less Stressed You was published in the Fall of 2019.

I’m a regular speaker, and presented the keynote address for New York Women in Communications, and have presented at MA Conference for Women, Public Relations Society of America (PRSA), National Association of Professional Organizers (NAPO), American Society of Association Executives, and others.

 

Featured Member Interview – Nita Sweeney

Q&A with Brenda Knight, WNBA-SF Chapter President and Nita Sweeney, WNBA-SF member

  1. Brenda Knight (BK): When did you know you were a writer, Nita?

    Nita Sweeney (NS): Way to lead off with a stumper! Did I know I was a writer in 5th grade when I held the one and only copy of my “first” book, Sheshak the Wild Stallion, which I both typed and bound myself as a class assignment? How about in 1996 when Dog World published my first feature article or when Dog Fancy published my cover article? Definitely in 2019 when Mango published Depression Hates a Moving Target, my first actual (not typed or bound by me) book and I held it in my hands.

    Still, self-doubt arises again and again. I have befriended it. Part of me may never think I’m a “real” writer, but I don’t let that deter me from writing.

    (BK): Runner biographies and memoirs are a “thing.” Did you ever think you would write one? (or did you?)

    (NS): At 49, when I took up running, the last thing on my mind was writing a running memoir. I just didn’t want to be miserable anymore and hoped exercise would help me crawl out of an emotional black hole. Soon, friends and my mental health providers began to comment about my improved mood. They saw it before I did.

    But I’m always writing something. So, in 2011, after my first half marathon, I used National Novel Writing Month to record how this middle-aged woman leashed up our dog and went from eating Hershey bites on the sofa to running a half marathon. It took another year and a half for me to realize I wasn’t writing about how I took up running. I was writing about saving my life. That’s when I knew I had a story.

    (BK):What is your favorite memoir, running or otherwise?

    (NS): Chris McDougall’s Born to Run: A Hidden Tribe, Superathletes, and the Greatest Race the World Has Never Seen enjoys a cult following among runners. I’m proud to be part of the fan club that finds it so inspiring. The book is memoir-ish but also includes copious research. And, it reads like a novel. I’ve stayed up all night reading the physical book and been dismayed to arrive at my destination while listening to the audiobook in my car.

    (BK): You have received several impressive awards for your prose; has that helped your writing career?

    (NS): Thank you for mentioning these! Awards provide a sense of legitimacy. I’m an anxious person full of self-doubt. Having well-respected strangers say I write well boosted my confidence. I also believe those external stamps of approval helped Mango decide to give this first-time author a chance. Hopefully the awards entice readers as well. 

    (BK): What advice do you have for aspiring authors who hope to have a first book published?

    (NS): Pitching to agents and editors is like dating. You don’t need every single person to love you. You just need one person to fall in love with your book and hopefully you will fall in love with them too. I’m so grateful to have found Mango when I did. I was ready. They were ready. The world was ready.

    (BK): What has been the single most satisfying part of your publishing journey?

    (NS): Needing to move the tissue box closer to my laptop. When I receive a note about how a reader relates and that the book gives them hope, my heart bursts. 

    Recently, a virtual book club picked up the book and the administrator messaged me a screenshot of a post. A woman’s teenage son who struggles with depression saw the book on their coffee table and asked if he could read it. Then, her daughter, not to be left out, asked if she could read it too. In her post, the mother explained they were reading the book as a family. She hoped it would open a much-needed dialogue about her son’s issues. There is no way I could have imagined that kind of scenario when I started jotting down the random thoughts that eventually became this book.

    On a lighter note, one woman posted that she was creating a design to have the “Depression hates a moving target” tattooed on her arm. I haven’t seen a photo of an actual tattoo yet, but that was a pretty good day as well.

    (BK): Do you have any trade secrets to your writing craft you could share for the Women’s National Book Association?

    (NS): I swear by Natalie Goldberg style “writing practice.” Set a timer and go. Her admonition to “keep your hand moving” and the idea that you often have no idea what you’ve written until after you’re done gets me through. Yes, I edit, study craft, and revise. But nothing helps me get the work done better than a digital kitchen timer.

    (BK): Who gives better critiques on your first draft – your husband or your dog?

    (NS): Clearly my husband. Scarlet, the #ninetyninepercentgooddog, just shreds everything!

    Seriously though, when I was working on Depression Hates a Moving Target, Ed read every stinkin’ draft, and there were many. And then, when we received the author copies, I came home one day to find him on the sofa with a copy of the just-published book, reading it again from page one!

    (BK): Any new projects up your running jacket sleeve?

    (NS): Yes! I’m writing a proposal for a book of simple, daily meditation “practices” to promote living in the moment. The book is in the standard 365-day format, but each page includes a teensy exercise to promote mindfulness in daily life. Many people don’t realize you don’t have to sit in silence to meditate. You can meditate all day long. This book will help them learn how.

    (BK): What question do you wish I asked and what is the answer?

    (NS): You’ve asked great questions, but I wish people would ask about my favorite stuffed animal. No one has asked that since I was four. At that time, it would have been a stuffed red dog I still have. But now my favorite is a stuffed Capricorn goat I bought after Ed and I began dating. Ed’s a Capricorn. I still adore both of those Capricorns.

    Nita Sweeney is the author of the memoir, Depression Hates a Moving Target: How Running with My Dog Brought Me Back from the Brink, which was short-listed for the William Faulkner – William Wisdom Creative Writing Competition Award. Her articles, essays, and poetry have appeared in magazines, journals, books, and blogs including Buddhist America, Dog World, Dog Fancy, Writer’s Journal, Country Living, Pitkin Review, The Taos News, Spring Street, Pencil Storm, WNBA-SF, It’s Not Your Journey, and in several newspapers and newsletters. She writes the blog, Bum Glue, publishes the monthly e-newsletter, Write Now Columbus, and coaches writers in Natalie Goldberg style “writing practice.” Nita has been featured widely across media outlets about writing, running, meditation, mental health, and pet care. She was nominated for an Ohio Arts Council Governor’s Award and her poem, “Memorial,” won the Dublin Arts Council Poet’s Choice Award. When she’s not writing or coaching, Nita runs and races. She has completed three full marathons, twenty-seven half marathons (in eighteen states), and more than eighty shorter races. Nita lives in central Ohio with her husband and biggest fan, Ed, and their yellow Labrador running partner, Scarlet (aka #ninetyninepercentgooddog).

Love it or Leave it?

By Angelica Shirley Carpenter |

On November 5, 1872, Susan B. Anthony voted in the presidential election in her hometown of Rochester, New York. Two weeks later a United States deputy marshal called at her house to arrest her for illegal voting. He offered to let her go to the district attorney’s office by herself. “Oh, dear, no,” she said. “I much prefer to be taken, handcuffed, if possible.” 

Her arrest and trial made national headlines. Some accounts were written and published by her friend Matilda Joslyn Gage, a fellow leader in the National Woman Suffrage Association. Gage traveled from her home near Syracuse to support Anthony; they organized separate speaking tours around Rochester. Anthony’s speech asked “Is it a Crime for a Citizen of the United States to Vote?” Gage’s talk was entitled “The United States on Trial, Not Susan B. Anthony.” 

Their speeches were so effective that the Monroe County district attorney ruled they had tainted the jury pool. He changed the venue to Ontario County, where the two suffragists managed to stage another whirlwind of talks before the trial. 

The court case, by today’s standards, was a joke. The jury was all male. The judge, described by Gage as “a small-brained, pale-faced, prim-looking man,” ruled Anthony incompetent to testify (all women were considered incompetent to testify at trials). After two days of testimony and speeches by lawyers, the judge pulled a piece of paper from his pocket. 

“This was the first criminal case he had been called on to hear since his appointment,” Gage wrote later, “and with remarkable forethought, he had penned his decision before hearing it.”

“Gentlemen of the jury,” the judge read from his paper, “Miss Anthony knew that she was a woman, and that the Constitution of this State prohibits her from voting. She intended to violate that provision—intended to test it, perhaps, but certainly intended to violate it. . . . She voluntarily gave a vote which was illegal and thus is subject to the penalty of the law.” 

Without allowing the jurors to deliberate, or even to speak a word, he directed them to find her guilty. After instructing the court clerk to enter the verdict, he dismissed the jury and announced a fine for Anthony: one hundred dollars, plus court costs.

“May it please your honor,” Anthony said, “I shall never pay a dollar of your unjust penalty.” And she never did.

Later a law journal published a review of the case, offering advice to the radical women. Matilda Joslyn Gage responded in her newspaper, The National Citizen and Ballot Box: “The Albany Law Journal,” she said “. . . advised Miss Anthony and ourself if we were not pleased with ‘our laws,’ that is, laws made by men, to leave the country, to exile ourselves. This legal journal does not even recognize woman’s right of protest, but if for any reason, women are not pleased with ‘our laws!’ they are bidden to leave the country. Under such a monstrous perversion of justice, . . . cannot all women say We are Without a Country?”

This monstrous perversion of justice has echoed through decades of patriotic dissent. In the 1960s, people who protested the draft and who fought against America’s involvement in the Vietnam War received similar advice. Some did leave, but others stayed, and some even died in that war, believing that they could effect change from within. And eventually the country agreed: the United States had been wrong to attack that small, brave country. 

Today the demand comes from a white supremacist president, aimed particularly at women of color, to love this country or leave it. In solidarity with them, I’d like to echo the 60s: Hell no, we won’t go! It’s our country, too. We will stay and fight to make it better and to make it equal for all.


Angelica Shirley Carpenter is the author of Born Criminal: Matilda Joslyn Gage, Radical Suffragist. Her website is angelicacarpenter.com.

Journaling for Problem Solving

By Debra Eckerling, author of Your Goal Guide: A Roadmap for Setting, Planning and Achieving Your Goals (January 2020)

Whenever someone asks me for writing tips, I suggest keeping a journal. You already have the material – your life, your drama, your observations – so it’s perfect for polishing your writing skills, as well as developing your style and tone. But it’s so much more than that.

While journaling is traditionally used for jotting down what’s going on in your life – tracking your actions, activities, and emotions – one of my favorite ways to use a journal is for problem-solving. 

Challenges come in all shapes and sizes. Whether you’re exploring a plot point, pondering a career choice, or dealing with a personal matter, you may find yourself mulling it over constantly … and sometimes to no avail. However, when you take pen to paper – or fingers to keyboard – in your quest to work something out, you are much more likely to come up with an effective solution.

Want to gain more clarity? Need to resolve something that’s bothering you? Try my Directed Journaling technique.

Directed Journaling

Directed journaling is stream-of-consciousness writing spurts, focused on a specific theme, issue, or problem. 

Here’s how it works:

In your calendar, schedule between three and five 15-minute sessions over a few days. Be sure to set a reminder.

When you get the alert for your appointment, set a timer for 15 minutes, and start writing.

Note: While there are numerous benefits to writing by hand, if you are more likely to complete the process by typing on a computer, go for it!

During each journaling session, focus on the challenge at hand. 

Answer questions, such as: 

  • What’s the problem? 
  • How can I resolve it? 
  • What are all the possible solutions? 

Think outside the box; be as logical and as extreme as possible. These notes are for your eyes only. And don’t worry about repeating yourself. The trick is to get everything out of your head and onto the page.

Here’s the trick. Do not read any of these journal entries until you have done the process several times.

Once you have exhausted your thoughts on the subject, then you may read the journal entries. 

As you go through them, note the ideas you repeat – those are what you are most drawn to. You may also come up with solutions that seem to come from left field. That’s what happens when you allow yourself to babble on paper. 

When you open yourself to all possibilities, and look at them objectively, you are more likely to come up with a successful plan.

Final Thoughts

Journaling is truly one of the best ways to gather and organize your thoughts. Use it to log ideas for writing projects, gather character quirks from people-watching, draft articles and outlines, track your life, or solve problems. The options are endless. 

Enjoy the process … and know that you can amp it up when you need to. It’s just another tool in your writers’ toolbox.


Debra Eckerling is the author of Your Goal Guide: A Roadmap for Setting, Planning, and Achieving Your Goals (Mango Publishing, January 2020), as well as the self-published Write On Blogging: 51 Tips to Create, Write & Promote Your Blog and Purple Pencil Adventures: Writing Prompts for Kids of All AgesA goal coach, project catalyst, and founder of The D*E*B Method, Debra works with individuals and businesses to set goals and manage their projects through one-on one coaching, workshops, and online support. Note: DEB stands for Determine Your Mission, Explore Your Options, Brainstorm Your Path. She is the founder of Write On Online, a live and online community for writers, creatives, and entrepreneurs, as well as host of the #GoalChat Twitter Chat (Sundays at 7pm PT) and the Guided Goals Podcast.

In Defense of Indie Publishing

by Pamela Feinsilber |

Book lovers have no doubt been delighted to see Barbara Lane’s new bimonthly Books column in the Chronicle. Years ago, I attended several of her conversations with authors at the Commonwealth Club and thought her a terrific interviewer. In addition, I’m a freelance book editor—so I found it doubly disappointing that she did such little research for her July 26 column, “Is it worth paying $7,500 to have your book published? Maybe.”

We all understand that it’s ever more difficult to get your work, particularly fiction, accepted by a mainstream publisher. Happily, there’s an ever-growing indie-publishing world out there, one that has nothing to do with the ancient, disparaging term “vanity press.” Even so, Lane—and many others, of course—still seems to think that “if your book is any good,” one of the “reputable publishing houses” will want to publish it. Anything less, she implies, is either intended for family only or the work of a vain and talentless hack. 

That kind of thinking, however, is completely outdated. I’ve worked with dozens of self-publishing authors, from well-known writers to first timers. So it grieves me that people—especially like those in this organization, putting so much time and tears into their writing—aren’t getting good information.

The truth is, more and more published authors are choosing to keep more of the process, and all the royalties, in their own hands. And like any writer, the first-time novelists, memoirists, self-helpers and others feel passionate about what they have to say and want to get it out there. Investing in their own work, perhaps instead of taking a vacation or buying a new car this year, is a way to make that happen. 

Some writers don’t care about earning the money back; they’re glad to have produced their one novel or memoir. And yes, every once in a while, a traditional publisher happens on a “Fifty Shades of Grey” or “The Martian.” That occurs, by the way, with less blockbusting books, too. Just thinking of my clients, Kevin McLean’s memoir “Crossing the River Kabul” was picked up by a university press and received excellent reviews. 

Literary agents are more hesitant to take on mid-list or less-commercial-seeming books these days, but that’s no reason not to persevere. Several of my clients have done just that and never looked back. 

“When It’s Over,” historical fiction by Barbara Ridley, was a finalist for six indie-press awards. Christine Volker’s “Venetian Blood” won the (May) Sarton Women’s Book Award in contemporary fiction, the Independent Press Award for Mystery and First-Time Published Fiction, and a Pinnacle Book Achievement Award for International Mystery. You can bet that this recognition, as well as their good reviews, will help both when their second novels are done.

Ego had nothing to do with Therese Crutcher-Marin’s persistence in getting her heart-felt memoir out. While Kirkus gave “Watching Their Dance: Three Sisters, a Genetic Disease, and Marrying Into a Family at Risk for Huntington’s” a strong review, she has focused on selling it at HD fundraising and other events. So far, she’s made almost $15,000. Imagine how much she’d earn if she tried to reach a wider audience.

Lane got the figure in her headline from (and gave most of her column to) She Writes Press, a hybrid press in Berkeley. When She Writes, which published the two novelists I’ve mentioned, accepts a manuscript, it does beautiful work for a fee of, yes, $7,500; but if the book requires editing—and what work doesn’t?—that costs extra. 

And She Writes keeps 40 percent of the royalties. That’s much less than the mainstream publishers take, but 40 percent more than if you become your own publisher, as Therese did.

After getting professional editing, many authors work with a graphic designer, who creates the cover, interior design, and print and e-books and—almost as important—gets their book into the IngramSpark catalogue. A longtime, well-known book distributor, Ingram added this excellent print-on-demand feature several years ago. Once bookstores know about your book, they can order copies through Ingram, just as with any other title. Doing your own marketing is key, but that’s true whether you have a traditional publisher or not. 

Lots of companies can help you create your book, but they won’t distribute it. You could work with Amazon’s KDP, but most independent bookstores won’t stock books created through Amazon.

Speaking of bookstores, the Path to Publishing program at Book Passage in Corte Madera will take you through all these steps, from recommending a mentor or an editor like me to suggesting a graphic designer and a publicist to helping you get an ISBN number to getting your book on its shelves.

Honestly, I could go on and on in exasperation that more hardworking potential authors haven’t explored this ever-improving option. I’ve worked with so many happily self-published authors. It’s a new world out there! Why not take a little time to explore it?

After working in the magazine world, most recently as a senior editor at San Francisco magazine, Pamela Feinsilber has for more than a decade been editing books. She’s at www.pamelafeinsilber.com.