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.

Featured Member Interview – Alexandra MacVean

Interview by Nina Lesowitz

Alexandra MacVean, member interviewFrom insurance representative to award-winning children’s illustrator, member Alexandra MacVean tells us about the life-changing events that lead to her rewarding career change.

“I’m a full-time freelance children’s illustrator and have been for over 3 years now. Prior to illustrating, I worked in the business/financial field for 13 years with State Farm Insurance Company, and thoroughly enjoyed my work. However, in 2012, I made a tough decision to resign my position with the company to return to school and finish my college degree.

“In April 2014, I was in a serious car accident one month away from graduating. The next 10 months were spent recovering. When November 2014 rolled around, my college professors began tutoring me, so that I could graduate. In May of 2015, I graduated with honors, earning a Designated Psychology Degree.

“I decided to focus more on my illustration work so I took online classes and landed my first job as a children’s book illustrator. My latest project, Ladybug! Ladybug! received two book awards.

“I’m currently working on illustrating a 5th children’s book for the author Charlotte J. Rains, entitled Meagan’s Wish, which is due to be released soon. My very own (and first!) book is due to be released soon as well: A Little Woodland Story focuses on various woodland animals. It’s a coloring book that tells a holiday story about coming together to help one another along the way.”

What advice would you give fellow members who may be interested in writing a children’s book?

MacVean's Illustration “Writing and/or illustrating a children’s book takes time! One thing I’ve heard over and over (from agencies, publishers, editors, etc.) while attending various conferences is that a solid, good book takes AT LEAST a year to complete, sometimes longer. Here are some tips:

  • Research your topic: Get to know what or who you’re writing about. Any missed detail, children WILL pick up on. And make sure your illustrator captures everything you write about. For example, if you mention Mr. Squiggly the mouse has a hat and your illustrator doesn’t give him one, that’s not good!
  • INVEST in your work: There are a lot of free online classes as well as Facebook groups for authors and/or illustrators. I would encourage individuals to invest in paying for at least one or two courses/conferences. There are two that have been SUPER beneficial to me and my career: 12 x 12 Challenge hosted by Julie Foster Hedlund and Picture Book Summit.
  • Join a local writing group: It’s great not just for feedback, but to engage with others who have the same/similar goals as you do.
  • Have PASSION: Without having a passion for what you do, you’ll find yourself running in circles, going nowhere. LOVE what you do. I love children! After overcoming a childhood of horrible abuse, my goal has been to give to children hope, love & joy.
  • TAKE TIME for YOU! Whether it’s reading a book, going for a walk, sitting in the window of your favorite coffee shop, taking time to replenish and revive your creative spirit is important.

“In the coming year, I plan to begin illustrating my second book, Miss Betty and Her Trail of Teapots, while also continuing to illustrate the Flitter Flutter Crawly series. Other projects will be having a teapot illustration come to life as actual tea cups and writing my second online watercolor course, Watercolor 102.”

Illustrator Alexandra MacVean can be found on all social media platforms via her website and blog.

Featured Member Interview – Gauri Manglik

Interview by Nina Lesowitz

Gauri Manglik, member interviewWNBA-SF’s newest Board Member Gauri Manglik is on a mission to share South Asian culture with children through literature. We wish her every success with her career change and important new venture.

“I am a lawyer by training and have practiced for over 12 years, both in India and the United States. In 2015, I chose to follow my passion and left my legal career to start Kitaabworld to create a space for South Asian and diverse children’s books.

“At Kitaabworld, our mission is to make South Asian culture more accessible and mainstream in the US, especially for children. We fulfill our mission in three ways. First, we run an online independent bookstore. There is a robust children’s literature industry in South Asia and many of those books are not otherwise available in the US, so we bridge the gap.

“Second, we run an online content platform, where we spotlight South Asian authors, publishers, and books. We routinely publish curated booklists on various South Asian topics with an aim to highlight social issues. Our Counter Islamophobia Through Stories campaign was very successful earlier this year.

“Lastly, we collaborate with schools and other institutions to share our knowledge of South Asian culture: we have conducted parent education, teacher education workshops and also created events for kids for a hands-on experience to learn about South Asian culture.”

“For a recent art storytime at the Palo Alto Art Center, we read A Bhil Story, which was about the history of the tribal Pithora art and a drought in a tiny village in central India. The situation rang true with kids in California, who were very familiar with conserving water and taking care of our resources, given the ongoing drought from which they only got a reprieve this year.”

I asked Gauri why it has been hard to find South Asian children’s books since South Asian literature is such a popular genre in adult literature.

“That’s a great question – yes, writers such as Salman Rushdie, Arundhati Roy, Amitav Ghosh and many others have really created a great space for South Asian adult literature.

The situation is quite the opposite for South Asian children’s literature in the US. A few years ago, the statistics on children’s books featuring persons of color came to light and were quite disappointing. We noticed that even within the broader discussion of diversity in children’s books, South Asia was acutely underrepresented and often bundled with the rest of Asia, sometimes ignoring the extensive diversity within Asia itself.

“As an avid reader, when I became a mom, it was natural for me to fill my bookshelves with children’s books. Our weekly trips to the library, and often the bookstore, unfortunately, exposed us to very few books that reflected our culture. It was impossible to find books with Indian names, foods we ate, terms my kids used to call their grandparents and other similar topics. I spoke to many other South Asian parents and realized I was not alone. In parallel, I noticed a robust children’s literature scene in South Asia itself and noticed that many of these books were not available in the US. All of these facts and circumstances eventually resulted in the creation of KitaabWorld.

“Needless to say, language is integral to a culture. There are many words that exist in a language but don’t quite resonate when they are translated into English. These words, the tones, the familiarity that is passed on through language are integral to sharing a culture, and thus, it is critical for children of immigrants to have access to bilingual books and materials to maintain their cultural ties to their native culture.

“There is also ample research on benefits of bilingualism for children. Growing up in India, it was a given for me to be fluent in English and Hindi. We were even encouraged to study a third language in school. Most kids in India grow up to be fluent in their mother tongue and English. Given the complexity in script of many South Asian languages, we do notice that there are additional challenges for parents living outside India and trying to teach their mother tongue to their children. To help those parents, we have books in various South Asian languages, including Hindi, Bengali, Urdu, Tamil, Punjabi, and many others!”

What does the future hold for this WNBA board member with a mission? “I would love to write my own book and in fact, that was part of the original plan. However, when I started to research existing South Asian children’s literature, I was thrilled to find so many great stories and talented authors. I felt it was important to first curate and present the already existing literature in an accessible way for everyone to discover. Of course, I am still itching to get my own words on the (printed) page, but all in good time!”

Gauri Manglik has more than 12 years of experience as a lawyer, and she has practiced law in both India and the United States. During her legal career, she advised on various aspects of corporate and commercial laws. In 2015, she chose to follow her passion and left her legal career to start Kitaabworld. She is passionate about making South Asian culture fun and accessible for children, as well as sharing her love for diverse children’s books.

Featured Member Interview – Janis Couvreux

Interview by Nina Lesowitz

Janis Couvreux, member interviewJanis Couvreux describes her path to becoming an author:

“Originally I went to France to learn French so I could practice journalism through that language, but on my way to my profession I married a Frenchman, became involved in public relations work for Bordeaux wines, and wrote freelance articles on wine and travel.

“Later, while sailing and living on our boat, I had various stints as a freelance journalist, teaching English as a Second Language (ESL), and eventually was a full time journalist for local Sonoma County publications for a number of years after we settled here. When desktop publishing and the Internet became the norm, I got more involved in editing, copy writing, and page layout designs for newsletters, catalogs, composing website copy for clients, brochures, press releases, business resumés, etc.

Last year I submitted one of my original vignettes (that is now part of a chapter in my book) to the San Francisco Writers Conference 2017 competition and won the first place Adult Nonfiction category. I had completely forgotten that I had submitted to the competition and had no idea I won until I received a notice and check in the mail.

“For years my husband urged me to write our story, but before I could write it, it had to age, be digested. Some of the events and misadventures were still too fresh and raw for me to face for many years. As my grandchildren began to arrive upon the scene, I knew I had to record this for them so they could better understand their fathers’ characters (our two sons), and the non-traditional life paths that they followed.

“I found it too daunting to begin at the beginning, so I was more amused by writing vignettes, individual stand-alone stories, one at a time in no particular order, of the many events and experiences we lived. I posted them on my website as entries under my Blog From the Past. Once I had written about 40 of them, I realized that I had just about covered the story, more or less.

My debut book, Sail Cowabunga! A Family’s Ten Years at Sea (Filles Vertes Publishing) is our story of wanting to travel as a family, to be with our two boys as much as possible in their formative years, of our thirst to discover countries and cultures, all intertwined with our passion of being bicultural and bilingual French and American. Our story recounts our initial first two years of life onboard, our “shakedown” period, as we learned how to live on our boat, in a confined space, and change our “land-life” habits to “off-the-grid” routines. We first moved on board when our first son was one year old, and when we left our two were three years and five months old. Then the story follows our trip from Bordeaux to San Francisco across the Atlantic Ocean and four continents as I retell our adventures, misadventures, tragedies, and glories.”

What are the main differences between sailing in 1988 and today?

“GPS did not exist then, let alone cell phones, personal computers, or the Internet. Some boats had the capability to receive weather faxes. My husband accomplished all our navigation with an old fashioned, yet reliable, sextant. It was difficult to maintain regular contact with family and friends using only the ham radio and marine band radios. We received our mail via postal general delivery in the various countries we arrived in, and sometimes our mail never arrived. For a while we taught our children with correspondence homeschooling courses, and could only send the lessons back through the mail when we got into port. There was no online connection. Our navigational charts were actual printed charts and maps.”

What was your process to getting published? Do you have any advice for fellow members?

“Once I seriously considered getting published, I wanted to have my full manuscript ready. I knew the importance of working with an editor well before seeking out an agent or publisher, so I spent a good year polishing up my manuscript with my editor. She flushed out the flaws and the missing links and I am eternally grateful to her.

Being a complete novice to book publishing at that point, I tentatively began the research process while also joining writers groups and attending conferences and seminars. The main point that was constantly hammered home was the necessity to establish a platform and work the social media channels. As a journalist, I am drawn to communicate with people, and to “spread the word” so embarking upon building a platform wasn’t terribly daunting to me. Although I had my own website early on as part of my business as an independent editor and copywriter, I lacked Twitter and Facebook know-how. So, I concentrated on learning how those worked, establishing them, and working them. I found sites such as Writers Digest, The Write Life, and various writing and travel bloggers and coaches. I read their tips, articles, how-to books, and learned about the many conferences out there.

“Initially I gave myself six months to try and attract an agent and/or traditional publisher, and if I failed at that I would attempt to go with a hybrid publisher (like She Writes Press). I researched agents, how to query and pitch to them. Delving more and more into the various levels of all that’s involved, I learned about Twitter “pitch wars” that are hosted several times a year by various recognized writing professionals. I read up on these and how to pitch a story in 140 characters or in my case, 35 words as pitched on the Pitchmas website. I liked the idea of this newer method to pitch a story, the immediacy of pitching online in a “short and sweet” format as opposed to a traditional long and involved query letter along the lines of a well-crafted cover letter and resumé.

The Twitter “pitch” method seemed much more relevant, evolved, effective, and immediate, a shortcut to get one’s foot in the door. Through my 35-word pitch on Pitchmas, I was successful in attracting the attention of a brand new small publisher, Filles Vertes Publishing. They wanted a synopsis and my first two chapters, then the complete manuscript, and voilà we signed a contract.”

What are your plans for the future, and how can people get in touch with you?

“I have an idea way in the back of my head concerning a hitch-hiking trip across the U.S. in the early 1970s that my husband accomplished, then a young French student. I didn’t know him then, and his English was fairly rudimentary, but he was able to get across the United States east-to-west and back within several months, and lived quite the adventure. But since “road trip” stories are commonplace, I need to find the unique angle in order for this one to appeal to readers. As a journalist I love talking with people and getting the story out there, so I’m looking forward to this next chapter.”

Janis Couvreux is a journalist, sailor, mom, grandmom, traveler, and Franco-American, blogging at the Huffington Post,  The Lady Alliance, and Pryme about living bilingually, crossing oceans, backpacking adventures, and raising kids outside the box. Sail Cowabunga! A Family’s Ten Years at Sea is her debut book.

Featured Member Interview – Renate Stendhal

Interview by Nina Lesowitz

Renate Stendhal by Louise Kollenbaum (member interview) Member Renate Stendhal’s newest book, Kiss Me Again, Paris, a visual-textual memoir, came to her out of her fondness for Gertrude Stein and her fascinating life arc from Germany to Paris and now the Bay Area. Aspiring memoirists can learn a lot from Renate’s process and her expert advice for writers.

“As a school girl in Germany, I already longed to be a writer. My Muse was Gertrude Stein, photographed by Man Ray with a Caesar haircut and makeup. I had no idea how to read and understand Stein until I left my stifling country and oppressive family behind and took up life in Paris, as she had at the turn of the century. I was twenty-two, and Paris was my dream of a chosen exile—the bohemian place of culture and sexual freedom that turns artists into Artists. Being an outsider rebel like Stein, a maverick, was in my blood.

“Having studied literature in Hamburg, I did ballet and underground theater in Paris then became a cultural journalist and translator. I introduced Audre Lorde, Susan Griffin and Adrienne Rich to German readers and I translated a novel by Gertrude Stein. When I composed my photo-biography Gertrude Stein in Words and Pictures (Algonquin, 1994), I had figured out that she could be read both visually and textually, and that both readings informed and enriched each other.”

The title of her book came from this line in an obscure text by Stein: “Kiss me, I said. Kiss me again. She did.”

Stendal decided to go with a smaller publisher to control the artistic details: “I had always been a hobby photographer and photo collector, and after almost twenty years in Paris, a whole crate of vintage pictures had come with me to California. I could not imagine my memoir, my love declaration to Paris and Parisian women, without a wealth of images. I quite deliberately chose a small, local, literary publisher because I wanted to be intimately involved in the creation of a visually exciting book. For the Bookwoman feature, “The Full Story,” I wrote about the experience of going small and indie with IFSF Publishing, and how different it was compared to my previous experience with the Big Five.

The best part of the indie way was the local teamwork, going regularly to the studio of book designer Tom Ingalls and shaping the book page by page, being in control of every artistic detail—the size, font, paper quality, cover, photo placement, page design, etc. My publisher, whose own beautiful book on France, Monsieur Ambivalence: A Post-Literal Fable, had been my initial inspiration, looked on and added his ideas. This process took nine months, and the moment the book went off to the printer, I already felt nostalgic and missed my team. She worked with a filmmaker to create a book trailer.

“I have never had the dream of being a full-time writer. Journalism showed me the value of being fully engaged in life outside the ‘ivory tower’. This form of writing has taught me invaluable lessons and still does. Describing and critiquing a theater performance, for example, for a radio program of a few minutes, forces you to press your message into an exact and unforgiving frame, be succinct and evocative with few words, have an arc of suspense, and end your piece on a high note. Not easy to do!”

Today, she still writes reviews for Scene4 Magazine and HuffPost. “But this doesn’t give me a living. When I moved to the States, I worked as an editor in private practice. I also went back to college to get a Ph.D. in psychology, to work as a therapist. Both are professions that allow a writer to remain relatively free and flexible, and both are intimately connected to the deep soul work of writing.

My advice for new writers is not to waste time dreaming up the exceptional career of bestseller success and full-time writing. Yes, it can be frustrating that life constantly interferes with our creative desire, I tell my clients. We writers always complain that we don’t have enough time to write. But my life companion, writer Kim Chernin, taught me that writing first thing in the morning and not for more than three hours, was all I needed to satisfy my craving and, just as importantly, avoid the panicky feeling that writing was eating up my life like a hungry beast, throwing me out of control.

What I tell my writing clients is: You can have it all. You can have a writing life and a life. Keep the focus on being playful in order to fight off the inner critic and perfectionist. Listen to your intuition. Pursue your goal with passion and patience. It doesn’t matter how long it takes for your manuscript. As Rumi said: ‘When you do things from your soul, you feel a river moving in you, a joy.’

It took me patience and many, many drafts to finish my memoir, years of work to let my message simmer down like a fine sauce reduction. I soothed my impatience by writing short pieces of criticism or blog posts, and even put out a quick, short collaboration with Kim (Lesbian Marriage: A Love & Sex Forever Kit) in the DIY fashion. It was a way to engage with the world, and refresh my inspiration.”

I consider memoir writing technically the same as fiction writing. You need to hone the same skills: fine-tune poetic, evocative description, catch the telling detail, follow a good rhythm of sentences and paragraphs, and show keen psychology in drawing up your characters and their dialogues. The best way to learn is to read lots of great literature, classic and modern: you’ll absorb their quality and technique even unconsciously. As a memoirist, if you want your story, your era, your personal experience to shine and draw in a reader, you need to think just as strongly about plot, story arc, and suspense as a novelist does.”

Kiss me again Paris cover To meet Renate, and hear her speak, there will be several readings in the SF-Bay Area: For details go to http://renatestendhal.com/home/news-and-events/.

Her essay on the process of writing the memoir appeared recently in the Lambda Literary Review:
Kiss Me Again, Paris, or: How Many Drafts Does it Take to Screw In a Light Bulb?

Featured Member Interview – KJ Landis

Interview by Nina Lesowitz

KJ Landis, member interviewFour-time author and wellness coach KJ Landis joined WNBA-SF and hit the ground running by joining the board and taking responsibility for key roles in events including Pitch-O-Rama. The founder of Superior Self, she shares some tips for her high-energy approach to life and work.

“My work with Superior Self is a combination of researching the latest data on nutrient-dense foods and its relationship to hormone health as well as their effects on overall health. I focus on taking my clients on a journey away from the ‘Standard American Diet’ and toward a grain-free, sugar-free diet.

“My workshops are all about deciphering ingredient labels, ridding the mind of negative thoughts, meditation, chocolate and dessert making, fermented food education, essential oils, and more.”

KJ’s latest book, to be released in August 2017, is titled Happy Healthy You. Her first book, Superior Self: Reaching Superior Health for a Superior Self, describes her fat loss story, the basics of nutrition, and four anti-cancer healing therapies that are food-based. It also has a simple guide to wellness from within that is a transition to a grain-free and sugar-free eating style in baby steps. Her second book, Eat Well, Be Well: Your 9 Week Solution for Real Health Right Now, features questions for the reader to answer in journal style.

How to Clean up Your Life When the $#!+ Hits the Fan is a self-help book for those seeking to get unstuck from past trauma and drama that are keeping them from moving toward their life goals.

She describes her journey to become a workshop facilitator and author:

“Five years ago I had a midlife crisis of sorts and decided to lose the extra fat around my body. When I lost the fat, I began researching the latest science about maintaining fat loss, at the time the Paleo eating style was beginning to emerge. I found studies of four anti-cancer healing therapies that were food based and that did not require expensive medical treatments.

“Doctors and scientists had been successfully treating chronic conditions and cancers with them. But since the food based therapies didn’t make the money that chemotherapy does, with the machines and manpower needed for the medical industry, these studies were suppressed and not widely accepted. The funny thing was, the foods I ate for fat loss were the same foods in the four anti-cancer healing therapies.” 

Landis was asked to coach friends and family to their better health and said ‘yes!’

“Soon I was asked to be a guest on a podcast and the ball rolled from there. I had a lot of notes in a shoebox under my bed. One night my husband asked me to get the notes out from under the bed. I said: Sure, I would put them in the basement. He laughed and said that he meant: No, get them out from under the bed, that I had an obligation to share the truth with the world. I had to write a book.”

Landis has some helpful advice to members who are contemplating writing a nonfiction title:

“For women who want to publish a nonfiction title, my advice is to do your research. Unless it is memoir, the public library or the internet is your close friend. I used to visit up to five libraries a day. Women do so much for others. We are busy. How do we fit time in for our writing? My greatest flaw and stressor is that I have to be very early everywhere I go. This has turned out to be my greatest ally in writing. I have a few Dollar Store notebooks in the car at all times. I have a few library books in my car at all times. When I arrive early, usually an hour early so I can relax about not being late, I research and write. That is my advice. Get everywhere early and you have built-in time for writing every day.

Beside books, Personal Wellness and Life Coach KJ Landis writes a blog and a newsletter and leads free events at libraries, senior centers, and in private homes. Details on her website www.superiorselfwithkjlandis.com