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

New Date-Northern California Book Awards 2018

Northern California Book Awards logo

37th Northern California Book Awards
NEW DATE – Sunday, July 1, 2018, 1:00- 3:30 pm

KORET AUDITORIUM • SAN FRANCISCO MAIN LIBRARY
100 Larkin Street, Civic Center, San Francisco
FREE ADMISSION

The 37th Annual Northern California Book Awards will celebrate writers and readers in Northern California. Awards in Fiction, Nonfiction, Poetry, Translation, and Children’s Literature will be presented, with brief celebratory readings and remarks by the winning authors.

A lively reception with book signing follows, all free and open to the public. The Fred Cody Lifetime Achievement Award and NCBR Recognition Award will be presented. NCBAs are presented by Northern California Book Reviewers, a volunteer association of book reviewers and book review editors, Poetry Flash, the San Francisco Public Library and the Friends of the San Francisco Public Library, the Women’s National Book Association-SF Chapter, PEN West, and the Mechanics’ Institute Library

Nominees and honorees will be announced in May 2018. Visit Poetryflash.org (see front page NCBA feature) for the list of last year’s nominees and winners.

Eligible reviewers and readers are always welcome. More information on this page.

Northern California Book Awards 2018

Northern California Book Awards logo

37th Northern California Book Awards
Sunday, July 1, 2018, 1:00- 3:30 pm

KORET AUDITORIUM • SAN FRANCISCO MAIN LIBRARY
100 Larkin Street, Civic Center, San Francisco
FREE ADMISSION

The 37th Annual Northern California Book Awards will celebrate writers and readers in Northern California. Awards in Fiction, Nonfiction, Poetry, Translation, and Children’s Literature will be presented, with brief celebratory readings and remarks by the winning authors.

A lively reception with book signing follows, all free and open to the public. The Fred Cody Lifetime Achievement Award and NCBR Recognition Award will be presented. NCBAs are presented by Northern California Book Reviewers, a volunteer association of book reviewers and book review editors, Poetry Flash, the San Francisco Public Library and the Friends of the San Francisco Public Library, the Women’s National Book Association-SF Chapter, PEN West, and the Mechanics’ Institute Library

Nominees and honorees will be announced in May 2018. Visit Poetryflash.org (see front page NCBA feature) for the list of last year’s nominees and winners.

Eligible reviewers and readers are always welcome. More information on this page.

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.

Writing a Nonfiction Book? 5 Ideas…

… For Attracting Agents/Editors and Keeping Readers Engaged

Written by Brooke Warner

Brooke Warner, nonfiction writer, coachThe summer of 2017 has been the summer of nonfiction. I’ve read more nonfiction books than I have in a long while and I’ve had an influx of writers coming to me wanting support for their nonfiction works—about relationships, globalization and business, the internalization of negativity, women and power, and, of course, Trump.

I will never profess to anyone that writing a book is easy, but nonfiction writers do have a leg up over their novelist and memoirist peers in that nonfiction can and should be formulaic. It’s all about your table of contents, and if you bang that out on the front end and feel good about the points you’re hitting, you have a strong template to guide you all the way through to the end. Yes, you still have to execute good writing and keep your reader interested in your topic, but there are a few tricks (ie, skills) that you can implement to attract agents and editors—and eventually readers.

1. Give your reader subheads!
Too often, writers I work with submit long excerpts or sample chapters chock-full of good ideas, theories, and expression, but with no breaks! Readers need breaks, and oftentimes line breaks don’t cut it. Subheadings are critical in nonfiction works. They helps you, the writer, break your own ideas into compartmentalized sections. They also keep you more organized and therefore on point. You might have four or five subheads in a given chapter, and the subhead title itself guides the reader toward the points you want to make in that section. It helps keep you and your reader on track, and it gives readers a natural place to break—whether for the purpose of stopping for a while (bookmark!) or digesting what they’ve just read.

2. Let yourself be a character in the broader story
It’s not a rule that the writer be a character in their own nonfiction work, but if you fail to be the trusted guide, you’re going to have a much less readable book. Even if the book is not about you, you need to establish yourself as an authority. You have to tell the reader why you’re writing the book and what qualifies you to be the author. It’s okay if the only qualification you have is curiosity, but if this is the case, you want to pepper stories about yourself throughout the text. Don’t overdo it, of course. I’m not suggesting that your nonfiction work become a memoir. I am suggesting, however, that your reader will be more likely to stay with you if they have confidence in you, and that confidence comes from sharing, being transparent, and inviting the reader into your world (as it connects to the subject matter of your book).

3. Break up the text with other design elements
Nonfiction writers don’t often know that there’s a wide world of extra elements they can include in their writing and in their books to break up the content and highlight certain thoughts and ideas. As a nonfiction writer, you can embrace images, graphs, and callouts, quotes that get pulled from the text and designed into the body of your book, as you’d see in a magazine. You can have sidebars that highlight interviews or recipes or case studies. I love it when nonfiction writers think outside the box. Lately I’ve been seeing listicles as chapters, experimental chapters in which a nonfiction writer might curate a bunch of relevant Tweets. Pay attention to how people consume content. Don’t feel that just because you’re writing a book, you’re bound to continuous text. You’re not, and readers love books that break up the reading experience with interesting internal elements.

4. Don’t be afraid to write a short book
This is a big one, in keeping with the whole notion that people are consuming content differently. The short book is on trend, and more attractive that it was in years past. When I say short, I mean as short as 35,000-40,000 words, not much shorter than that. I’ve seen more and more nonfiction books that are under 200 pages. The design elements I mentioned in point 3 can also lengthen a book that has fewer words. So can wider margins. Let your content pack a punch. Don’t meander or write too superfluously. You can give your reader a good dose of wow in a pretty small package—and in our content-saturated culture, you’ll probably sell more books as a result.

5. Write in your own voice
I come across so many writers who think that because they’re writing nonfiction, they must don their academic writing hat. Nonfiction needn’t be stuffy or rigid. No one sets out to write a boring book, but writers are often plagued by the voices of their long-gone professors. People get caught up in perfectionism and The Rules. Please, people, write how you talk with just a bit more polish and finesse. Have fun with your writing. Don’t be afraid to write in a colloquial style. People aren’t buying books because they want to read academic tomes. If we wanted that we’d go back to school. Be you—and be wary of working with anyone (agents, editors, writing groups or buddies) who insists that formal/grammatically uptight equals better. Not so. Write well, yes, but also be authentically you.

WNBA-SF member Brooke Warner is a writing coaching and professional publishing consultant. She has worked as an acquiring editor in the publishing industry for the past sixteen years, most recently as the Executive Editor at Seal Press. She left Seal Press in May 2012 to pursue the coaching practice and to co-found She Writes Press with Kamy Wicoff, founder of SheWrites.com. Brooke lives and works in Berkeley, California.

The original version of this post appeared on the Huffington Post and is republished here with the author’s permission. 

Writing Mysteries: Is It A Mystery?

Written by M. Glenda Rosen (aka Marcia G. Rosen)

Marcia Rosen, mystery writerWriting 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 center pieces, 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.

In the television mystery series, “Columbo,” the murder always took place at the beginning of the story. The seemingly flustered but persistent detective follows various suspects and clues to eventually catch the murderer. In other television mysteries, you follow the path of an ordinary citizen—writer, baker, doctor, librarian, or florist—who is captivated by certain events and incidentally gets involved in solving crimes. These amateurs just can’t seem to help themselves, even when following the clue leads them to danger.

From these types of mysteries known as cozies, to film noir with gangsters and hard-boiled detectives, to terrifying thrillers, mysteries have long appealed to the reader and viewer. As a writer, you can choose your own style, your own way of creating characters and stories of murders and mayhem, and your own way of presenting clues and suspects leading toward solving the crime. Yet, there are certain elements essential to a good mystery, which can take the reader on a fascinating ride through a criminal’s mind and the minds of those who reach into that mind to catch them.

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 a number of 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!

Although you might think it strange, I suggest you ask yourself what your motivation is for writing or wanting to write mysteries. In my mystery series, The Senior Sleuths, the actions of my senior characters, Dick and Dora, often reflect my truths about life and relationships.

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 a few of his many associates.

Our history and experiences can define us, inspire our actions, and, as writers, impact our words and stories. Mine most definitely have. My father was a small-time gangster. Really! No doubt, thanks to my father, writing mysteries is in my DNA.

Marcia Rosen has previously published four books in her mystery series, “Dying to Be Beautiful.” Rosen is also author of “The Woman’s Business Therapist” and “My Memoir Workbook.” She was founder, and for many years, owner of a successful Marketing and Public Relations Agency, created several radio and TV talk shows, and received numerous awards for her work with business and professional women. She currently resides in Carmel, California. For more information, visit www.theseniorsleuths.com and www.levelbestbooks.com

 

Writing Dialogue in Memoir

Written By Louise Nayer 

Louise NayerUnless you sprint through life with a tape recorder strapped to your body 24/7, dialogue is created by the author through memory. How do you write believable dialogue? Differentiate your mother’s voice, “I feel ill” from your father’s, “I feel like crap”? Keep it short. It doesn’t have to be grammatically correct, but does need to capture the quirkiness of the speaker. Use action along with dialogue—tearing up a napkin on your lap to show nervousness, staring out the window to show sadness. In my book Burned: A Memoir, I wrote a scene the morning after my parents were burned in an explosion in the cellar of our Cape Cod rental house. I’m four years old, in the basement of our neighbor’s house with my sister and babysitter, Della.

“Will Daddy take us to the beach today?” I asked Della as she lifted her heavy body off the bed, her red wool sweater spilling onto the cool basement floor. “Will Daddy take us to the beach today?”
“They were hurt—in an accident.” Her face was puffed up and red. I turned away clutching my stomach, an acid taste rising in my mouth.

Along with the dialogue, you learn about what Della looks like and also what I’m physically feeling as a child at that moment—an acid taste in my mouth.

In The Glass Castle right at the beginning, author Jeannette Walls has a scene with her homeless mother. A few days before, Walls was in a taxicab and saw her mother picking through trash. She didn’t stop to say hello.

“You want to help me change my life?” Mom asked. “I’m fine. You’re the one who needs help. Your values are all confused.”
“Mom, I saw you picking through trash in the East Village a few days ago.”
“Well, people in this country are too wasteful. It’s my way of recycling.” She took a bite of her Seafood Delight. “Why didn’t you say hello?”
“I was too ashamed, Mom. I hid.”
Mom pointed her chopsticks at me. “You see?” she said. “Right there. That’s exactly what I’m saying. You’re way too easily embarrassed. Your father and I are who we are. Accept it.”

This excerpt is mostly dialogue, but there are a few places where the reader is grounded in the scene, and knows it’s a restaurant. “She took a bit of her Seafood Delight” and “Mom pointed her chopsticks at me.” The action of the mother pointing her chopsticks at her daughter allows us to see the mother’s personality and also is laced with humor.

Dialogue makes a scene come alive and reveals something more about a character. Look through old letters of people who have passed away to help “channel” their voices. Listen and take notes for people now in your life. Practice by writing down snippets of conversations while sipping your cappuccino. Dialogue moves the story along, revealing what each character wants. But often, as in life, you have to read between the lines.

Louise Nayer has been an author an educator for many years. Burned: A Memoir was an Oprah Great Read and won the Wisconsin Library Association Award. Her most recent book, Poised for Retirement: Moving From Anxiety to Zen is about “emotional planning” for retirement and was written up in Next Avenue and Forbes Magazine. She did 27 radio spots based on the book. She is a member of the SF Writer’s Grotto and has been an educator for over forty years.