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

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

Featured Member Interview – Michelle Travis

Interview by Susan Allison

When asked about her love of law, Michelle elaborates, “Since high school, I’ve never been able to resist an intense courtroom drama. I admire the art of a brilliant cross-examination, the elegance of a cleverly worded legal argument, and the craft of a piercing dissenting opinion. I also love how lawyers use the law to advance social justice. I headed to law school in search of my own set of practical tools for addressing workplace discrimination and social inequality. I wanted to study women’s equality more deeply, and learn how the law could better support working-women in particular.””

Michelle is a law professor who writes children’s books, and this might seem an unusual mix. Michelle explains, “Writing a children’s book is definitely not part of the job description of a lawyer or a law professor. But it turns out that lawyers are expert word-smiths and vivid storytellers. I latched onto the idea of writing a children’s book about working moms at the end of my two maternity leaves when I found myself dealing with conflicting emotions. I felt guilty about leaving my two young daughters with someone else, but I was also looking forward to teaching future attorneys as a law professor.

“I found myself struggling to figure out how to help my kids understand what it means to be a working mom. I searched for children’s books that could help us talk about my return to work, books that would encourage my daughters to be proud of the work that I do outside our home, and that would help them connect my mommy identity with my professional identity.

“I was frustrated to discover that most children’s books about working moms seemed to assume that kids must be sad and lonely while their moms are at work, so they offered various ways for kids to cope until their moms returned home each day. That was not exactly the message I was looking for (and it didn’t do much to allay my guilt). So I decided to write my own children’s book to fill the void. I wanted my book to celebrate diverse working moms doing a wide range of jobs. And I wanted my book to show how the work that women do as moms is connected to the work that we do outside the home—that we care for our kids and our societies with the same love, dedication, and commitment.

“On each page of MY MOM HAS TWO JOBS, children proudly describe how their moms care for them in a very special way, while also making the world better through their careers. The book highlights moms in a wide range of professions, including a teacher, engineer, police officer, doctor, secretary, dentist, firefighter, nurse, lawyer, waitress, military sergeant, veterinarian, and pilot.”

Support for working women and their children.

“I hope that My Mom Has Two Jobs will give all working moms a much-needed platform to talk with their kids about their own careers in a celebratory way. I hope the book will help children understand how their moms can do important work outside their homes, while still being loving, caring, and dedicated moms. I want the book to encourage kids to be proud of the work their moms do and to fuel their curiosity about their moms’ careers. I also hope that the book will help reinforce the message that women can do every possible kind of job, and that it might inspire young girls to imagine themselves in exciting careers as well.”

As a first-time author, Michelle speaks frankly about the publishing process: “For me, writing a children’s book was the easy part, but the unknown path of navigating the publishing world kept me from moving forward on this project for years. As it turns out, the publication process was less daunting than I had assumed. As a first-time children’s book author, my first step was to get a copy of The Children’s Writer’s and Illustrator’s Market. I sent my book manuscript to several small publishers that specialize in children’s literature, and I was thrilled to get a contract with Splashing Cow Books, which has since teamed up with a terrific distributor called DartFrog Books. DartFrog Books is a wonderful new avenue for authors from small publishing houses, as well as select self-published authors, to get their books onto the shelves of independent bookstores around the country.”

“Now that I’m working on an adult nonfiction book, Dads for Daughters, I’ve found the WNBA’s support and resources to be invaluable. I’ve also found it incredibly informative—and inspiring—to attend writers conferences to learn about the publishing process. As a researcher at heart, I’ve really appreciated books for newcomers like me, including Jeff Herman’s Guide to Book Publishers, Editors, and Literary Agents, and Jody Rein and Michael Larsen’s How to Write a Book Proposal.”

Michelle talks about why she’s chosen to write her next book, Dads for Daughters. “In looking beyond legal solutions for advancing women’s equality, I found myself thinking in two different directions. The first was to find ways to disrupt gender stereotypes about women’s roles before they take hold—which is what lead me to write My Mom Has Two Jobs. The second was to find ways to engage more men in the gender equality fight that inspired the new book project.

Inspiring Men to become Advocates

Dads for Daughters shares the stories of fathers who have been inspired by their daughters to become women’s rights advocates, and it launches a call to action for other dads of daughters to join the fight. It covers a wide range of arenas where work still needs to be done to achieve women’s equality, including in leadership positions, STEM jobs, government roles, sports opportunities, and equal pay. The book also offers dads of daughters concrete advice and resources to help become active supporters of women’s rights. This book will share encouraging research about the important role that dads of daughters can play in the women’s rights movement. Research has found that fathers of daughters—particularly dads with adult daughters who are working moms—have greater empathy for the challenges that working moms face, and they tend to be more outspoken advocates and supporters of women’s equality. CEOs who are dads of daughters, for example, have a smaller gender pay gap in their companies than in firms run by other men.”

Michelle Travis has taken on an important mission, and her books will continue to enlighten and galvanize men and women. She concludes with these inspiring words, “As someone who has entered the book publishing world as an unlikely latecomer, I would encourage everyone who has secretly harbored the idea of writing a book—particularly a children’s book—to dive headfirst into the process. Although the process has at times been daunting, I’ve learned not to take myself too seriously and not to hesitate to ask questions (to which my publisher will certainly attest). The joy of checking off ‘publish a children’s book’ from my ‘someday list’ has been well worth the journey. My daughters are now twelve and ten—well beyond their picture-book years—but they have enthusiastically supported me. My two proudest moments have been when my daughters asked me to sign their copies of the book and texted their friends to announce its publication. They definitely know a labor of love when they see it.”

WNBA member Michelle Travis is a law professor at the University of San Francisco School of Law. She is an expert on employment discrimination law and serves as the Co-Director of USF’s Labor and Employment Law Program. Michelle grew up in Colorado and now lives in the Bay Area with her husband, two daughters, and pet chinchilla. She is a former collegiate gymnast, a novice ballerina and an avid non-fiction reader. She is the author of My Mom Has Two Jobs, and is working on a new book titled Dads for Daughters.

Featured Member Interview – Gina L. Mulligan

Interview by Susan Allison

When asked how and when she became a writer, Gina shares her history: “I began writing poetry as a child and thought I wanted to be a copywriter. So, I got my degree in Marketing and moved to New York City. My first job was as a flunky in an advertising agency. It was a great job, but I realized I didn’t like copywriting. The form was too short. That’s when I discovered a passion for fiction. I went back to school to study fiction and non-fiction writing. I worked as a freelance journalist while honing my novel writing skills. I’ve never found it difficult to shift between the two styles.”

Gina explains how she began writing historical fiction, a genre that still inspires her:The historical element to my writing was inspired by a trip to The Hotel Del Coronado in San Diego. It’s a beautiful Victorian hotel built in 1888. I wrote a story about it, and the story got longer. I realized how much I loved research and got immersed in the era. That was fifteen years ago, and I’m now working on my third historical novel.”

Gina has advice for other women writers, especially about publishing their work:

“As a new writer, it’s hard to understand how publishing can be anything but wonderful. Unlike the creative process, having a book published is all business. For me, the exciting part was getting my first big N.Y. literary agent. That’s a phone call I’ll never forget. It was such a huge weight lifted off my shoulders. For me, the most challenging piece came once my novel was finally released. It’s thrilling and terrifying to know strangers are reading your work, and because writers today have to help with marketing and promotion, it’s a lot of work. My suggestion to new writers is to find out what your publisher is willing to do for you. Will they pay for contest entry fees? Do they have salespeople to help with your book, or do they focus only on the known best-sellers? I also tell new writers not to submit anything to agents until it’s truly your best work. Once the book is published, it’s out there forever. Take the time to write something amazing!”

Asked how her own illness prompted her to found a non-profit and write a new book, Gina replies: “When I was diagnosed with breast cancer in 2009, I was working on my novel From Across The Room. It’s an epistolary novel, which means the story is told through letters. Even though I’d been researching and reading letters for five years, not until I was a patient and received snail mail did I recognize the power of letters. I received over 200 cards and letters, mostly from friends of friends, strangers. In this age of text messages and emails, we’ve forgetting the healing property of hand-written notes. They are tangible and so very expressive. My combined experience of writing an epistolary novel and receiving letters is the reason I started Girls Love Mail. I want others to be inspired and healed by the gift of a handwritten letter.”

Getting mail from all ages is most rewarding for me. Our youngest letter writers are second graders, and our oldest is a woman in her late 90’s. We’re keeping women engaged and helping to create the next generation of philanthropists. Truly anyone can perform a simple act of kindness.”

Gina shares how the process of writing Dear Friend evolved: “The Girls Love Mail gift book, Dear Friend, began organically. Because of my writing background, I recognized right away that we had content for a book. Some letter writers just have a knack for writing heartfelt or funny letters. So I began collecting letters in 2011. What I didn’t know is that it would take five years to collect enough for a book. This presented a challenge when I had to get signed release forms from every letter writer selected. Some writers sent one letter, five years earlier as part of a group, and I had to track them down by just a first name and last initial. It was fun. I felt like a super-sleuth. I couldn’t find them all, but the ones I found were so excited.”

Asked about her experience publishing Dear Friend, Gina offers, “Working with Chronicle Books is the best experience. Not only do I love how the book turned-out, they do, too. You can see and feel their care on every page. This book is even better than I ever imagined, and I love that we can reach so many more women with the healing power of words.”

Gina Mulligan is not done yet! “I’m working on my third historical novel. That’s about all I can say because it’s still so new. We’re also still collecting letters in case we do another book for the charity, and I’d love to see Dear Friend translated into other languages. We’re working on it.”

Gina L. Mulligan is a veteran freelance journalist and the author of two historical novels; REMEMBER THE LADIES and From Across The Room, and the non-fiction Dear Friend; Letters of Encouragement, Humor, and Love for Women with Breast Cancer. After her own diagnosis, Gina founded Girls Love Mail, a national charity that collects handwritten letters of for women with breast cancer. Since the formation in 2011, the charity has sent out over 140,000 letters across the country. Gina has been featured on The NBC Nightly News with Lester Holt, The Steve Harvey Show, People.com, Today.com, and Woman’s Day Magazine. You can contact Gina at GinaLMullilgan.com and ginamulligan@girlslovemail.com.

Featured Member Interview – Elise Collins

Interview by Susan Allison

As a successful writer, Elise speaks of her history, explaining that she was encouraged by her family to be an intellectual, and was expected to read and write well. It was in her mid twenties that she began writing articles for newspapers and had a column called “Body and Soul” in the ​Psychic Reader​. She adds, “It was here where I explored the connection between the body and the spirit, and how that relationship in many forms is the foundation of health.” 

When asked if her passion for healthy living began in childhood, Elise responds, “Looking back, I was always attuned to a healthy lifestyle. My mom was into healthy foods; I read Wayne Dyer in high school and worked in a health food restaurant while in college. I grew up around my grandma and saw her live a very active life until the age of 95 when she passed away. My parents are 88 and 89 and they are both very active. I learned from all the older adults in my family that aging can be fun and exciting.”  

Elise says that the term “super ager” was a buzzword that resonated with her and she wanted to know how she could become one. Combining her knowledge and training in healing, yoga and Ayurveda, she decided to “put together something that helps people to age well and feel good about it.” This curiosity and desire spurred her to write  Super Ager, You Can Look Younger, Have More Energy, A Better Memory, and Live a Long and Healthy Life, released this summer. 

“I think people are confused about aging,” Elise explains. “The comment I get most from people who read my book is, ‘Oh, I didn’t realize aging could be fun or something to look forward to.’ I think we have so many limiting beliefs about aging. There is so much programming and people have not questioned their own beliefs around aging, which in my opinion seem to be stuck in the past. I think people are sooooo hungry for role models and examples of Super Agers. I think we are entering an era in which how ‘awake’ and conscious you are is more important than your age.” 

Elise offers advice about how to become a Super Ager:

1) Accept where you are right now at any age.

2) Know that it is never too late to change. You probably have some healthy habits and some not so healthy habits.  Some things that you want to try, but are perhaps afraid that you are too ‘old.’ What small step can you take today to become a little healthier, or is there something fun that you have wanted to try? Could it be a change in your attitude? Taking a walk? Doing some jumping jacks or eating more veggies? Acting? Dorothy Steel who starred as the elder in ​Black Panther​ didn’t start acting until she was 88 years old.  Start with one tiny, positive change and stick with that new habit until it is second nature. 

3) Remember your attitude is the most important part of Super Aging. And behind that is your purpose. What is your reason for living? What brings you joy? If you don’t know, then you probably won’t want to Super Age. 

So what brings Elise Collins joy in fulfilling her purpose?  “I love working with people of all ages and backgrounds. I really love young people and that is a trait of Super Agers. They like to keep up with what is new. That is me. I love the future! I love to work with groups in yoga classes and workshops and while coaching. People transform better in community. There is a group energy that you can’t get in one on one.” As a member and vice president of the WNBA, Elise enjoys being in a supportive community and inspiring women writers.

As an energetic Super Ager, Elise is enrolled in the University of Southern California, Masters of Gerontology Program, and says her next book will be on intergenerational yoga, ways to bring together children,  parents and grandparents. She adds, “We need more activities, besides eating and staring at screens that will bring multiple generations together.” 

Elise’s holistic view of aging will shift the way people think of themselves and the world. Potentially, it will keep anyone vibrant, energetic and sharp well into their 60’s, 80’s, 100’s and beyond, able to experience a profound life phase of meaning, wisdom and enjoyment. 

Elise Marie Collins has been a visionary yoga teacher for twenty years, inspiring students and clients to form healthy lifestyle patterns. She has also authored three books to encourage readers to optimize their well being and longevity, her latest being the life changing text, Super Ager: You Can Look Younger, Have More Energy, A Better Memory, and Live a Long and Healthy Life.  You can find more about her at EliseMarieCollins.com

Featured Member Interview – Susan Allison

Interview by Nina Lesowitz

In this interview, Dr. Susan Allison shares her wisdom about “writing what you know” and her publishing experiences with large publishers (Random House), smaller presses, and, self-publishing.

“What has worked for me in writing Conscious Divorce and the books that followed, is to write about what I am deeply experiencing, and what I feel compelled to share with others. I’ve written about how to end a relationship amicably, create a new life as a single woman, heal physically or emotionally, find one’s soul mate, cope with a partner’s passing, and connect with loved ones in spirit realms. Every book has its seed in my own life-journey.”

“In 2001 when I published Conscious Divorce, Ending a Marriage with Integrity, I was going through a divorce and couldn’t find anything helpful, so I wrote my own book.”

We asked how this book came to be published by a division of Random House.

“I found a great agent, Anne Edelstein, in New York, and within two weeks of sending it out, it was picked up by Harmony Books/Three Rivers Press.”

“What I found, and have experienced since, is finding an agent and publisher is about connections. I called a friend’s sister in New York who had been an editor at Bantam and she gave me the names of five agents.”

“When I called Anne Edelstein, she said, “Oh, how is Nancy and the new baby?” We talked about my book, and then she said, “Oh my gosh, I have to go pick up my kids! Call me in the morning.” I loved how real she was. Anne taught me about editing and publishing, as well how to get a great advance and contract. My editor at Harmony had gone through a difficult divorce and they had just lost Spiritual Divorce to HarperCollins. It was perfect timing for my book.”

“I then met Bill Gladstone at a conference and he became my agent at Waterside. However, even with an agent, finding a publisher for Empowered Healer, Gain the Confidence, Power and Ability to Heal Yourself (2012), proved difficult, and I ended up self-publishing with Balboa Press. It was a mixed experience, and I still prefer a traditional publisher for the levels of support.”

“In some ways it doesn’t matter what sort of publisher it is because the author does most of the marketing. Neither Random House nor Balboa Press did a great job of marketing my books.”

“My poetry books, Breathing Room and Our Spirits Dance, were published by small presses. I have found that unless you are a well-known poet, it is difficult to get a traditional publisher and any sort of advance. I feel good knowing that Breathing Room has helped women going through a breakup, and Our Spirits Dance lets readers know that soul mates are real, and loving someone is worth the risk of losing them.”

“My husband Tom passed away in 2013. Our spiritual connection and my heartbreak propelled me to write two books, Our Spirits Dance (2014) and You Don’t Have to Die to Go to Heaven (Weiser Books, 2015).”

“Again, I followed my intuition and connected with others. I emailed Brenda Knight, whom I had met while having many of her authors on my radio show. She liked the concept of my book, You Don’t Have to Die…., but said that Jan Johnson at Red Wheel/Weiser would be the perfect publisher.”

“I contacted Jan and she loved the book, decided that she would edit it herself and we agreed on a contract. I loved my experience at Weiser and with Jan (now retired), who is an amazing person as well as a gifted editor and publisher.”

“Currently, I just finished Silver Sex, a book about finding love and passion as you age. Even though it’s done, so am I! I feel burned out and can’t seem to find the energy to publish it. I had started a new book, Good-Bye Good Girl, but can’t seem to work on it either. I need a break and am taking it!”

“I used to feel afraid of “writer’s block” until a local poet, Maude Meehan, said, “There’s no such thing as writer’s block; you are composting, all the ideas and words germinating inside you.” So, I guess I’m composting, which consists of traveling, walking my dog on the beach, gardening, reading, and spending time with those I love.”

“My best friend said recently, “Yeah, this will last until you’re bored. Then you’ll publish the book and write the next one. I know you.” Maybe she’s right. For now the worms of inspiration are quietly creating more space, more rich soil for new seeds.”

You can contact Susan via her website at drsusanallison.com

Susan is an Empowered Healer, Reiki Master, Transpersonal Psychologist and successful author has also hosted two radio shows – “The Empowered Healer Show” and “We Carry the Light.” Over several years she has interviewed such luminaries as Jack Canfield, Barbara Marx Hubbard, Bernie Siegel, Larry Dossey, and many others. She has been interviewed by radio and TV hosts across the country, and has been a keynote speaker at conferences in the United States and Europe, her favorite being “The Children of Light” Conference in Frankfurt, Germany. Her CD of original songs “We Carry the Light” was released at this event.

 

Featured Member Interview – M. Glenda Rosen (Marcia Rosen)

Interview by Nina Lesowitz

Marcia Rosen

During her career as a consultant, motivational speaker, radio host, founder of CreativeBook Concepts, and business writer, Marcia Rosen has always advocated for women’s success and empowerment.

“My marketing agency, M. Rosen Consulting specialized in working with professional women, and I was at one point on the Boards of nine women’s organizations in New York City. I received an award for my work from the NYC Comptroller at the time and was later named ‘Women of the Year’ by East End Women’s group on Long Island, NY.”

She slowed down her agency business to get serious about her fiction writing about four years ago, although “I do still help some others develop their books and create marketing concepts for them.”

Author of My Memoir Workbook, and The Woman’s Business Therapist, she explains why she decided to focus on crime fiction including her “The Senior Sleuths” mystery series and “Dying To Be Beautiful” mystery series.

“I decided to write fiction years ago as my favorite books are mysteries and I love the PBS mysteries. Also, our history and experiences can define us, inspire our actions and as writers impact our words and stories.  Mine most definitely has – my father was a gangster.” 

“I grew up in an unusual, and sometimes outrageous, environment.  It wouldn’t take a genius, a psychiatrist or a palm reader to figure out the genesis of my fascination with crime and criminals. In my series, ‘The Senior Sleuths,’ Zero the Bookie is a version of my dad, and several other characters are based on his associates.”

I asked for Marcia’s advice on the specifics of writing for this genre.

“Your first sentence, moreover your first paragraph, should grab your reader… maybe even by the throat, like a good murder!

“Writing a mystery book or series is akin to putting together a puzzle with a thousand pieces. Where should you begin? Do you start the puzzle with the corner and edge pieces, providing details on the main characters including the heroes and criminals? Or do you start in the middle, revealing upfront the murder and complexity of the story plot?

“Whether you start with corners or centerpieces, what matters is sticking with your structure and then pacing the plot. You need to keep it moving forward by creating suspense with clues and mysterious happenings.

“You want your reader to become involved and interested in your story, so they follow the clues you leave, and they attempt to solve the crimes along with you. Don’t make it too easy: there should be many possible suspects. Enhance the plot with character conflict and red herrings that might confuse and steer the reader away from the real murderer. The bad guy can also lead the reader astray by placing suspicion and blame on someone else.

“A good mystery story includes an intriguing plot, interesting characters (often with unique characteristics), descriptive places and locations that set a mood, interesting and controversial dialogue, clues (real and false) leading to the bad guys (and gals), and a bit of humor. Be clear about your point of view. Is it from the perspective of the main character as in Sue Grafton novels or a third person as in Raymond Chandler mysteries?

“Ultimately, you want to be able to explain your characters’ motivation for their criminal behavior. Common sources are anger, hate, power, money and, of course, revenge. Revealing truths, secrets, and lies with stories of betrayal and vengeance with surprise endings leave your reading wanting more—especially in a series!”

Level Best Books has provided a three-book deal for “The Senior Sleuths,” Book One: Dead In Bed was published on February 6, 2018. Book Two: Dead in Seat 4-A is expected to be released in the fall of 2018, and Book Three: Dead on the 17th of the Month, in 2019.

“The process of getting published was persistence, refusal to give up or give in, determination and belief if it can happen to others, it can happen to me. I plan to keep writing mysteries and speaking, especially about the impact my father had on me and my life and now my writing.“

For more about Marcia and her work, go to her websites:

www.theseniorsleuths.com

www.dyingtobebeautiful.com

www.MRosenConsulting.com

www.creativebookconcepts.com

Featured Member Interview – Patricia V. Davis

Interview by Nina Lesowitz

Patricia V. Davis featured member interviewPatricia V. Davis is a proponent of what she calls “female dynamism” – which signifies women taking positive action to support each other. It’s why she founded the Women’s PowerStrategy™ Conference, and why she is a big supporter of the Women’s National Book Association. Here she tells us about her journey to becoming a novelist.

“My background is about as provincial and backward as you can get. My parents believed girls should marry young and they did everything to prevent me from going to college. I had the grades to get into a great school, but that would have entailed leaving home and living in a dorm, and ‘good girls’ didn’t do that. They threatened to disown me if I left, and at that age, I didn’t have the courage to defy them. I loved them, wanted their approval, so I ended up going to a two-year local school as a ‘compromise’, and I married soon after graduation, a marriage that lasted less than 13 months. The decision to be an obedient daughter held me back in ways I can’t begin to describe and made my journey to becoming a published author twice as hard as it had to be. And it is indeed a monumental challenge, even if one has family support.

“I had to get a Master’s Degree in Creative Writing and Education first, something I didn’t achieve until I was in my mid-thirties. I taught English for many years, first in the United States and then in Athens, Greece, and I enjoyed that very much, although deep in my heart, I always wanted to write. I didn’t become published until I was over the age of fifty.”

Why did you choose the RMS Queen Mary as the setting for your trilogy?

“Total fluke, one that some believe is more than serendipitous. I knew nothing about the ship, not its history, nor that it is purported to be one of the ten most haunted places in the United States. I’d gotten a lucky break when Maria Shriver, who was then the First Lady of California, asked me to go down to Long Beach and work at her women’s conference as one of the reporters. The Long Beach Convention Center was already booked, so I ended up in a stateroom aboard the Queen Mary. In the midst of my preparations for Maria’s conference, I had an amazing experience with the paranormal that was unexpected for someone who knew nothing about the ship. I came home from that trip with the first story already cooking in my head. That was in 2007. Cooking for Ghosts wasn’t published until 2016. It went through more than one agency before I found the perfect fit for it and for me ─ Gordon Warnock at Fuse Literary.

“Everyone in the industry is saying that there are more opportunities than ever. That’s true, but there are also more books being published than ever. You have no shot at selling a book, either to an agent or to a reader if it’s not as polished as can be. If you try to rush the process, to ‘get your book out there’, as I’ve heard so many new writers say, you’ll be lucky if you sell a hundred copies. Traditionally or independently published, edit, edit, edit.

Spells & Oregano cover “The second book in the Queen Mary trilogy, Spells and Oregano, was released five months ago, so, I’m currently promoting Books I and II while writing Book III, Demons, Well-Seasoned. You might be able to tell from the titles that these are magical realism, and I love the genre, so I have a vague idea of what I might write once this trilogy is complete. That book, whatever it is, will be a standalone, because promoting two books while writing a third is… well, it’s indescribable. But every time I feel exhausted by it all, I remember how long I waited to do this and it gives me a burst of energy. I’m on Facebook a lot, I’m available by email, and there’s a great page The Secret Spice Book Series Page where readers can connect to hear about the books, my appearances, and some really fun contests.

The Secret Spice Book Series was selected by The Pulpwood Queens Book Club as an official selection, and they’re the largest book club in the world, with over 750 branches. Breathless Winery, a gold medal award winning winery in Healdsburg, has also chosen the series to pilot their Books and Bubbles program, along with Rebecca Rosenberg’s The Secret Life of Mrs. London, which was recently released.”

Patricia V. Davis is also the author of The Diva Doctrine: 16 Universal Principles Every Woman Needs to Know, and the bestselling Harlot’s Sauce: A Memoir of Food, Family, Love, Loss, and Greece. For more information about Patricia’s books, visit her website www.patriciavdavis.com

Featured Member Interview – Sharon McElhone

Interview by Nina Lesowitz

Sharon McElhone, featured member interviewWNBA-SF Board member Sharon McElhone became obsessed with writing at 18 years old after reading a life-altering novel and has been writing articles, poems, and essays ever since. Today, her seventh book is nearing completion.

“I found my way into journalism sixteen years ago through an internship at La Oferta, a bilingual newspaper. The editors, Mary and Tatiana Andrade, have been great friends and mentors. After my first assignment of copy-editing, they moved me to covering local politics and interviewing candidates. Then they gave me a column. The column is entitled ‘The Middle Class-Our Engine’ and is dedicated to middle-class Americans. It is also offered in English and Spanish.

“Mary Andrade published my first poem in La Oferta about a year after I started working as a journalist. It was about the death of my mother’s long-time gardener, who immigrated to the United States from Mexico. He was sort of a father figure since my mother was a single mother. To date, I’ve written four collections of poetry. Most of my work centers around what it’s like to be a woman living with an artificially imposed set of societal standards and also describes the hardship of American motherhood without access to childcare and equal rights.

Tell Us about the anthology BASTA!

BASTA! 100+ Latinas Against Gender Violence began in Chile as a movement to create awareness about violence against women. Each anthology is tied to a country and the series continues to make its way around the world. The BASTA! anthology that has been published here in the States contains the short stories of one hundred Latina writers from the U.S. One of those stories is mine. I’m happy to have had the opportunity to be part of Dr. Emma Sepulveda Pulvirenti’s work. She is the editor of the U.S. anthology. Putting this series together highlights the very real issue for women around the world. All proceeds from the book, which was published by the Latino Research Center at the University of Nevada, Reno, go to help organizations addressing violence against women. Dr. Pulvirenti makes no money from sales and neither do any of the writers.”

Do you have any insight or advice for fellow members about your writing process?

“The process for me developed over time. It’s like exercise: if you force yourself to do it and it’s not enjoyable then most likely you will find it hard to continue. So I try to be patient and make it something that is pleasurable. It’s very relaxing to me to write. It’s a way to release tension or answer questions when a writer can disappear into work that has meaning. Also, it shouldn’t matter if someone else appreciates the work or not. Of course, writers like to have readers, but writers should write for themselves first in my opinion. It gives the work meaning. One shouldn’t force writing, instead stick to a schedule that works for that week, month, or year since schedules change. Enjoy the process, then send your work out.

“Currently, I’m working on a book of essays about the lack of affordable childcare in America and how it impacts a typical American family, especially a mother. Poverty is closely tied to the inability to work and if women are responsible for childcare, they have to negotiate a more complicated environment and can’t always work. Throughout history, we have placed a tremendous burden on women to carry the load of childcare and then ask why so many women and children are the poorest demographic and why so much violence. There is simply a lack of introspection in America, and we need to do better.

“The years roll on, and I see how much America is failing mothers and families by overlooking issues like childcare and the significance of diversity. As a longtime journalist, I can safely say that neither policymakers nor major news outlets view childcare as a major issue to address. My questions, as a journalist, related to the issue, too often are met with blank stares, scoffing, or lip service. But addressing the issue means a change in our wellbeing as Americans. Fortunately, La Oferta gives me a lot of leeway, and they have always supported my work.

Hopefully, policymakers and major news outlets will awaken soon to the problem of affordable childcare, as they did to the issue of sexual abuse after the #metoo and #Timesup movement took hold. Sadly, it took the recognition of so many women being abused before speaking out against harassment and sexual abuse became a movement. That’s reactive, not proactive. These movements need to translate into policy and social change. Issues facing mothers and families will continue to be the focus of my work. I’m also wrapping up a collection of short stories about multi-cultural families.”

WNBA-SF Board member Sharon McElhone is a journalist, columnist, and author. She is half Ecuadorian and half Irish and lives in Silicon Valley with her husband and children. She is working on a memoir related to childcare, a novel, and a fourth collection of poems.

Featured Member Interview – Kate Carroll de Gutes

Interview by Nina Lesowitz

Kate Carroll de Gutes, member interviewFrom cappuccinos to creative non fiction: new member Kate Carroll de Gutes shows how persistence pays off in getting published.

“I started working as a journalist—writing feature stories—right out of undergrad, working for magazines and as a stringer for a couple of alternative newspapers. It was good work—and recognized as such—but I was young and idealistic, so I quit to run my own coffee business. In that way that only the young can think, I believed it would give me more time to work on essays, you know, in between steaming milk for cappuccinos.

“Once I left the coffee business, I started teaching and writing again, but this was the late ’80s and I worked primarily on creative nonfiction pieces, and there were few outlets that wanted to publish anything that wasn’t a traditional essay in the style of Montaigne. I shifted my focus to book-length, narrative-driven nonfiction and fiction, found an agent, lost an agent, got rejected (mostly) and published (infrequently). Still, I kept writing creative nonfiction and finally the market caught up to my work. Or I got better at it. Or both.

“The third book I wrote was the first to get published. Objects In Mirror Are Closer Than They Appear (Ovenbird Books) looks at marriage, and how we learn to be in a relationship by watching our parents’ marriages. The book begins with the end of my marriage, works its way through my life in a reverse chronology, and asks big questions about sexual identity and gender expression, as well as more quotidian ones about the search for the perfect fashion accessory and how to combat hat hair. The book won the 2016 Oregon Book Award for Creative Nonfiction, the Lambda Literary Award for Memoir, and the Next Generation Independent Publishing Award. So, thirty years after I began writing, I finally knocked it out of the park.”

What was your inspiration for your most recently published title, The Authenticity Experiment?
“I started The Authenticity Experiment: Lessons From the Best & Worst Year of My Life as a writing challenge during July 2015. I wanted to see if I could be completely authentic on social media for 30 days. I think we use social media as our new back fence, a place where we can stand and talk to our ‘neighbors’ about the good and bad of our days. During the middle of the ‘experiment’ my mother died, so the posts naturally talked about that. The writing resonated with a wide audience—in fact, USA Today wrote a story about it—so I kept writing, transitioning to a weekly blog, chronicling the dark and the light, and putting it out there for everyone to see. Now I write twice a month and publish new pieces on www.authenticityexperiment.net.”

What was your process of getting published?
“Both of my book contracts have been very serendipitous. The press that published Objects was founded by the poetry critic and award-winning writer, Judith Kitchen. After several very good rejections—with honest critiques about what the publishers thought worked and didn’t—I took the book apart, threw out 100 pages, and wrote 75 new ones. Right before AWP Seattle 2014, Judith Kitchen asked me for the new manuscript. The sad part of the story is that Judith died two days after finishing her edit on the book. But she’d left detailed notes that I followed. Authenticity Experiment was a similar serendipitous experience. On the floor at AWP LA 2016, the editors of Two Sylvias Press said off-handedly, ‘If you ever want to turn Authenticity Experiment into a book, we’d love to publish it.’

If I have any advice, it’s to knock on doors, use your network, and ask for what you want. That means asking friends to write reviews, host house parties, and talk about your book—authentically, of course—on social media. It means teaching and taking every opportunity that comes along, because you never know who you might meet or who might buy your book from you. Oh, yeah, and you do have a box of books in the back of your car, don’t you? I can’t tell you the number of times I’ve sold two or three books right out of my trunk to some old friend I’ve run into at a restaurant or on the street.

“I suppose the other bit of wisdom is that nothing changes the day after you’ve won an award. You still have to do the work and not all people will like the work. It’s been just about two years since Ovenbird released the Advanced Review Copies of Objects and I’m finally seeing an uptick in sales and reviews as the book starts to find its way into more libraries and onto bookstores’ radar.”

What are you working on now?
“Every 66 seconds someone is diagnosed with Alzheimer’s Disease. Since 2000, death from heart disease has decreased by 14% while death from Alzheimer’s has increased 89%! For those of us with parents or partners suffering from Alzheimer’s, the disease often feels like an immediate death sentence. My mother lived for years with the disease and I’m working on a hybrid monster I’m not sure I have my hands around yet. Part memoir, part survival guide, the manuscript intertwines my struggles to manage my mother’s meager retirement income, gain power of attorney, and get her the assistance she needed with practical advice for caregivers and family. I’ve got two agents vying for the proposal—which is a surprising and exciting spot to find myself.”

You can get in touch with Kate via her website: www.katecarrolldegutes.com.