Featured Literary Agent – Jennifer March Soloway

Interview by Susan Allison

Most of our feature-articles have focused on women authors and their journeys from early writing experience to publication. In this article we are able to glimpse another part of the publishing world through the life and words of literary agent, Jennifer Soloway.  

Jennifer March Soloway is an associate agent with the Andrea Brown Literary Agency. Although she specializes in children’s literature, Jennifer also represents some adult fiction, both literary and commercial, particularly crime, suspense and psychological horror. Regardless of genre, she is actively seeking new voices and fresh perspectives underrepresented in literature. 

When asked how she became a literary agent, Jennifer responds, “My path to agenting is a little different from many other agents. I studied journalism in undergrad and then went on to work in public relations and marketing in a number of industries, including banking, health care, and toys, and except for the banking, there was always a focus on kids.  When I worked for the toy company, I managed all the public relations, wrote and produced their catalog, and ran their annual kid inventor contest. I was also the toy inventor liaison, which meant several times a year I would travel around the country to meet with toy inventors, who would pitch their toy ideas to me. It was the coolest job!

Selling an invention to our company was tough. We had a very strong internal design team, and we almost never bought outside ideas, so it was difficult to place with us. But every once in a while, I would find an invention that was perfect for our new line. It was my job to then negotiate the terms and the contract with the inventor. Sounds a bit like agenting, doesn’t it? 

About that time, though, I had always loved literature—especially YA—and I wanted to give writing a try. I quit my job and got a MFA in English and Creative Writing with an emphasis on young adult literature. Then I was introduced to the Andrea Brown Literary Agency at the Big Sur Children’s Writing Workshop, and on a whim, I applied to be Executive Agent Laura Rennert’s assistant. I was still thinking about going back into marketing, but the more I assisted Laura, the more I loved the work. I was her assistant for three and a half years and then was promoted to become an agent in mid-2016. I love this job. It’s been an exciting ride!”

Jennifer’s enthusiasm for agenting is palpable as she exudes, “I find the publishing industry fascinating. I enjoy reviewing contracts and thinking strategically on behalf of the clients. I love writing pitches and connecting with editors. I even like reviewing royalty statements. Most of all, I love editorial. It gives me great joy to help writers find their story. I love to champion others. Perhaps the best part is when I get to tell a client they’re going to be published.”

Even though Jennifer loves being an agent, she also has experienced challenges in her profession as well as changes over the years. “There is a lot of rejection in this business at every level, and agents get rejected all the time, too. It’s frustrating when a terrific project doesn’t sell right away. However, I don’t get discouraged; in fact, just the opposite. Every time I get a rejection, I see it as an opportunity to learn more about the market and what works or doesn’t. If I am lucky enough to get feedback, I then have the opportunity to strategize next steps.” Jennifer laments that there are fewer and fewer bookstores, noting that the big chains like Borders have closed. She adds that people are still buying books and reading, but the sales channels have changed.

In terms of advice for women writers, Jennifer becomes specific, and offers helpful guidance for everyone, from beginning writers to a seasoned authors:

Authors deserve quality service from an agent, but not all author needs are the same. Consider what you are looking for in an agent:

  • Do you want an experienced agent with a strong deal track record and lots of best-selling clients? Or would you consider working with a newer agent with less experience but perhaps more time to devote to your projects? 
  • Do you want a big agency with many resources, or a smaller boutique agency that might offer customized service?
  • Are you looking for an agent who will work with you editoriallyWhat communication style works best for you?
  • Go to writing conferences where you can meet agents. Attend their sessions. Read interviews. Listen to podcasts. Follow them on social media. Who seems like a good fit? Why?
  • When querying, be professional and research your options. Follow submission guidelines for each agency. Many have different requirements and are fairly strict about submissions. Some agencies allow writers to resubmit if a step was missed, but many agents, especially those who already have a full client list, will not accept anything that doesn’t follow their guidelines.
  • Most importantly, believe in yourself and don’t give up. Agents reject projects for many reasons—changing trends in the market; because they already have something similar on their list; because they know of similar published or forthcoming titles; because something isn’t right for them; because although something may be strong, well-written and even publishable, they didn’t fall in love with it. A rejection doesn’t mean your project won’t sell.”

I commented to Jennifer that today’s projects seem to be more promotion driven and writers must do the driving. She responded with a positive message, “Number one is to write a terrific book that people want to read. I also think a strong, positive platform is always a plus. Some of our clients write articles and op-ed pieces for media that relate to the topic of their book, which helps to build name recognition, etc. It also helps to do bookstore events. Even if no one shows up to a reading, the author can still sign copies and connect with the booksellers, who might hand-sell their book to customers.”  

It is clear that Jennifer is passionate about being an agent, and is also so supportive of women writers. She ends her interview with these inspiring words, “Don’t give up! Keep writing. Keep revising. Keep querying. Allow yourself to experience the process and make mistakes. Learn from your mistakes. Celebrate and enjoy your victories, the large and the small. Best of luck!”

Jennifer is actively building her client list and welcomes queries via http://QueryMe.Online/JenniferMarchSoloway.

To learn more about Jennifer, follow her on Twitter, @marchsoloway, and find her full wish list at www.andreabrownlit.com.

Featured Member Interview – Joan Gelfand

Interview by Susan Allison

What inspires me most about WNBA featured writer Joan Gelfand is her tenacity, her willingness to do whatever it takes to be a successful author. Her honesty is refreshing when she says, “I became determined to get a book out-and it takes determination! My publishing experience has been that every book has taken tremendous effort.”

This effort actually began at the age of eight when she enjoyed reading and writing school-book-reports, and was writing poetry by the age of fifteen. As a young writer, she most admired the styles of Collette and Simone de Beauvoir. As an adult, she credits ee cummings, Lawrence Ferlinghetti and Yoko Ono for inspiring her. More recently, novelists such as Richard Powers, Michael Chabon and Zadie Smith have influenced her style. Joan has also studied with Kathleen Fraser and later with Chana Bloch and Sandy Boucher, and says of her mentors, “They were patient, compassionate teachers who encouraged me to keep going.”

Joan began as a poet “submitting massive amounts of work to journals and online magazines, and then to contests.” Her hard work paid off and she now has published three full-length poetry collections with small presses. Currently, she has published five books, including the three poetry collections, an award winning chapbook of short fiction, and her newest book, You Can Be a Winning Writer: the 4 C’s of Successful Authors: Craft, Commitment, Community and Confidence. This work was published by Mango Press in July and hit #1 on the Amazon best sellers list. Joan is excited about her latest novel, Fear to Shred, set in a Silicon Valley startup, which will be published in the fall.

Joan is very frank about the publishing world, “Most publishers require that you already have a history of publication. Just to get a list of publications takes a long while. Fortunately, I have met or was connected to five of my six publishers through people I met at the WNBA!”  She adds that there are two proven paths to becoming a successful author: a writer’s resume of publication credits and getting hundreds of thousands of followers on social media. To build a resume, Joan says to start small by submitting to online journals and lit magazines and eventually to nationally known publishers. Joan believes that building up a resume is the more reliable way to go, but “some people get lucky” on social media.

Joan has followed her own advice and has been rewarded as the recipient of numerous nominations and honors. Her work appears in the Los Angeles Review of Books, Rattle, Prairie Schooner, Kaliope, The Meridian Anthology of Contemporary Poetry, the Toronto Review, Marsh Hawk Review, Levure Litteraire, Chicken Soup for the Soul and many literary magazines and journals.

Currently, Joan is working on another poetry collection and a memoir, and of course, looking forward to her novel being published later this year.

You can contact Joan or receive coaching here:

@joangelfand – twitter

http://joangelfand.com

joangelfand – Facebook

joangelfand – Instagram

Northern California Book Awards 2019

Northern California Book Awards logo

38th Northern California Book Awards
Sunday, June 23, 2019, 1:00- 3:30 pm

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

The 38th 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. Master of Ceremonies will be Oscar Villalon, ZYZZYVA Managing Editor

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 2019. 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 – Judy Bebelaar

Interview by Susan Allison

WNBA Featured author, Judy Bebelaar, has been writing for seventy-two years. Yes, that’s right, seventy-two years! She remembers writing her first story in first grade and then a poetry collection in third grade. Judy loved her teachers so much that she decided to become one. She taught in San Francisco public high schools for 37 years, especially loving smaller classes and encouraging her students to publish their creative writing.

Judy invited many poets from California Poets in the Schools into her classrooms, and she wrote with her students when she could. She believes she is the only classroom teacher to be named an honorary CPITS Poet Teacher. For twenty years Judy produced a multicultural literary arts calendar with her students, as a way of helping them publish their work in a way that people would read. She always published their poems in the school arts magazine, which was enjoyed by students, teachers and parents.

On a national level, Judy has received recognition for her success in helping students find joy in writing. Her students won many awards, including eight from Scholastic Magazine on the national level. Judy was honored on the national level as well, by State Farm, the Good Neighbor Teacher Award in 1996 (one of 8 nationally); by Business-Week/McGraw Hill in 1994, for innovative practices in teaching; and by Scholastic, The Whitehouse Women’s Leadership in Teaching, in 2002. For ten years she has been co-host of a reading series, Writing Teachers Write sponsored by the Bay Area Writing Project at UC Berkeley, which partners writers from the Writing Project with those from the Bay Area Writing Community and beyond.

In terms of publication, Judy’s poetry has been published widely in magazines and online, and has won many awards, most recently a first prize, two thirds, and the Grand Prize in the Ina Coolbrith Circle Poetry Contest. Her work is also included in many anthologies, among them The Widows’ Handbook (foreword by Ruth Bader Ginsberg) and River of Earth and Sky. Walking Across the Pacific is her first poetry chapbook. Judy’s poetry evokes myriad feelings in its beautiful simplicity:

The Moon and the Room and the Windowsill

that September night as we lay sleepless,
the moon spilled into the room,
soaking the rumpled clothes on the floor

so that hard words spoken
melted as we did, into one another

and the moon and the room
and the windowsill
and us there, still breathing

Her highly regarded non-fiction work, And Then They Were Gone: Teenagers of Peoples Temple from High School to Jonestown, is about the students from Peoples Temple that Judy and co-author Ron Cabral came to know before most were sent to Jonestown. Of the 918 Americans who died in the shocking murder-suicides of November 18, 1978, in the tiny South American country of Guyana, a third were under eighteen. More than half were in their twenties or younger.

And Then They Were Gone begins in San Francisco at the small school where Reverend Jim Jones enrolled the teens of his Peoples Temple church in 1976. Within a year, most had been sent to join Jones and other congregants in what Jones promised was a tropical paradise based on egalitarian values, but which turned out to be a deadly prison camp. Set against the turbulent backdrop of the late 1970s, And Then They Were Gone draws from interviews, books, and articles. Many of these powerful stories are told here for the first time. In recognition of their work, co-authors, Ron and Judy, were recently honored as Library Laureates of 2019 by the Friends of the San Francisco Public Library.

Now that Judy is retired, she misses teaching and her students at times, yet remembers that she was often too busy to write. Now she can focus on her own work, and also has suggestions for other women writers, “In terms of publishing poetry, I’ve found submitting to anthologies is a great idea, and connects you with writers (and readers) who care about what you care about. Poetry readings can bring lots of people, too.” For every genre, Judy suggests joining a group, “Fellow writers in the many writing and response groups I’ve been in – or hosted myself – gave me good feedback and encouragement.”

And finally, Judy offers her truly sage advice: “I think for all writers I’d say: Don’t give up if it’s something you care about passionately. Think about your reasons for writing a piece or a book. Many times during the twelve years Ron and I worked on And Then They Were Gone, I thought it would never be published. But because I wanted to honor those young people who died, and those that had the courage to go on living in spite of great tragedy, I kept on.”

Judy has kept on the writer’s path as well. She is currently sending out a poetry manuscript and doing readings and talks with book groups for And Then They Were Gone. She will be moderating a panel, “Turning Tragedy into Hope: Teaching Transformation Through Writing,” at the 2019 AWP Conference in Portland, Oregon, Friday, March 29 at 10:30. The panelists include three other writers and survivors of Jonestown: Deborah Layton, John Cobb and Jordan Vilchez, as well as renowned educator and writer Herb Kohl.

Find out more about Judy Bebelaar at:
www.judybebelaar.com

Featured Member Interview – Kathleen Archambeau

Interview by Susan Allison

WNBA featured author, award winning and successful writer, Kathleen Archambeau, has a storyteller’s ear, and has loved to listen and record the stories she’s heard since childhood: “I grew up in an extended Irish Catholic family in San Francisco, which gave me a head start on my love of words and stories. I distinctly remember visualizing myself when I was twelve, writing at a round oak table with a flood of light on a blue vase of flowers. Until college, I mostly listened. Everyone had a story to tell, like my grandmother, who was out dancing until 5:12 a.m. when the 1906 Earthquake hit, to my mother who played Judas Iscariot as a sympathetic character to a standing ovation.”

Kathleen not only loved hearing family stories, but found herself fascinated by the tales of co-workers at Hewlett-Packard where she was Employee Editor. “On many cross-country business trips, I began writing my first book, Climbing the Corporate Ladder in High Heels, published in 2006. I had the good fortune of securing endorsements from House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and the Chair of BareEscentuals, Leslie Blodgett. My publisher, Career Press, hired a Boston agency and garnered coverage in Fortune magazine, more than 15 NPR radio stations, Dallas Morning News and more. The book sold well for a first-time nonfiction author whose name was not Michelle Obama.”

A year later, Kathleen was asked to contribute to the collection, The Other Woman, edited by Victoria Zackheim. Her essay, “Seized,” ran alongside Pulitzer Prize winner Jane Smiley and other famous writers, leading Publishers Weekly to comment, “The main attraction…is the top-drawer writers….”

Despite not having time to write the great American novel due to a demanding day job, (writing audio, video and Web content, marketing and advertising copy, writing executive speeches and traveling extensively), Kathleen enjoyed a creative and far-ranging career in the written word. This helped her when she could finally put down the corporate scepter and pick up the pen full-time. She was used to deadline pressures and editorial constraints, so being a full-time published writer felt normal to her. During her corporate career, she fed her love of words by studying poetry with Adrienne Rich, Elizabeth Woody and Derek Walcott. “In various workshops, conferences and classes, I honed my craft. And always, I read and read and read.”
In 2016, at a WNBA pitch event, Kathleen met Brenda Knight who asked to publish a collection of profiles she was writing. In 2017, Mango published her book, Pride & Joy: LGBTQ Artists, Icons and Everyday Heroes. This book benefited from a Foreword by Dustin Lance Black, Academy Award-winning screenwriter of Milk. This compilation tells stories of success, happiness and hope from the LGBTQ community, stories that comprise the best of LGBTQ history ─ stories of queer citizens of the world living life OUT LOUD. The press release states: “Not like the depressing, sinister, shadowy stories of the past, this book highlights queer people living open, happy, fulfilling and successful lives.”

Eric Rosswood, one of the gay parents in her book Pride and Joy, asked Kathleen to collaborate on a new YA book called, We Make It Better: The LGBTQ Community and Their Positive Contributions to Society. It continues the important work of Pride and Joy, illustrating that LGBTQ people have always played important roles in society. They have served their country, served in office, pushed forward human rights and have impacted all fields of study, sport, art and industry. We Make It Better offers biographies of some of the more famous thinkers and changers in history from Alan Turing, Bayard Rustin, Leonard Bernstein and Dr. Sally Ride, to present day innovators and world changers like Ellen DeGeneres, Tim Cook, Beth Ford, The Wachowski sisters, Ricky Martin and more.

Kathleen not only collaborated with Eric Rosswood on We Make It Better, but received his valuable coaching: “From this Millennial/GenX author, I learned the power of social media and have begun using it to bolster pre-sales of the book. We Make It Better has been an Amazon #1 New Release in five categories and comes out Jan. 15th 2019. “For all my in-person readings, book tours, college presentations, LGBTQ center appearances and collaborations, ten minutes on Facebook and Twitter encouraging a birthday pre-order of our new book garnered more sales than months of time-consuming and expensive appearances. Verified Amazon purchases and reviews drive even more sales. Great lessons for selling books in the digital age.”

And what might Kathleen be working on currently? “Now, I am finally, as I near my seventh decade, working on a rewrite of the Great American Novel, Liberty Street, a story of love and transformation with a queer theme. Since I still so value the written word, I’ve enlisted the support of an amazing writing coach, accomplished novelist and professor, Carolina De Robertis.” As always, Kathleen has her eye on the details that make her writing a success: organization, hard work and collaboration.
Finally, Kathleen has this solid advice for every woman writer: “Write as if no one is watching, write because you love to write, write your own story in your own voice. Then, the joy is yours no matter what the sales figures say or who publishes your work.”

You can best contact Kathleen on her Website:
www.kathleenarchambeau.com
Her Twitter account is: twitter.com/KATHLEENARCHAM2

with the hashtag: #WeMakeItBetter

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

Celebrate the New Year at the WNBA-SF Holiday Mixer

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

2019 WNBA-SF Inspiration Celebration

Pitch-O-Rama 2019

PITCH-O-RAMA 2019 IS SOLD OUT

Saturday, March 23, 2019
8:00 am – 12:30 pm 

Women’s Building Auditorium,
in the heart of the Mission 

3543 18th Street 
(between Guerrero & Valencia)
San Francisco CA 94110 
Includes a continental breakfast and pre-pitch coaching.

$65 WNBA members,  $75 Non-members, Men Welcome!
Limited to the first 60 ticketed attendees.

Pitch-O-Rama delivers the 4 Ps that lead to publication.

POLISH. You’ve polished your manuscript. Now polish your pitch with our pre-pitch coaches

PITCH. We’ve assembled top agents and publishers for all genres

PROMOTE. Power up with social media 

PARTICIPATE in a Q&A Panel. Secrets to Successful Book Marketing

= PUBLICATION

Pitch-O-Rama 
CLICK HERE FOR THE LIST OF AGENTS AND PUBLISHERS!!!

CLICK HERE FOR TIPS AND RULES FOR PITCHING!

Program
8 to 9 am: Continental Breakfast

8 to 9 am: Pre-Pitch Practice Sessions (3 coaches)

9 to 11:45: Pitch to Agents & Editors (2 one-hour sessions)

12 to 12:30 pm: Secrets to Successful Book Marketing for Writers

Pre-registration required. Pitch-o-rama 2019 is officially SOLD OUT!

 

WNBA-SF Holiday Showcase-Book Passage Corte Madera

Sunday, December 16
4:00-6:00 PM
Book Passage Corte Madera
51 Tamal Vista Blvd, Corte Madera 94925
FREE and Open to the Public

Light refreshments and wine tasting, books available for sale and book signing.
Please join us for a celebration of 50 years of women in the world of books with member authors of the San Francisco Chapter of the WNBA.
Before women had the right to vote, the Women’s National Book Association was advocating for women writers, booksellers, editors and “women in the world of books,” starting in 1917. This vital part of the Northern California publishing community includes New York Times bestselling authors, writing coaches, award-winning editors, literary agents, National Book Critics, book to film creatives, librarians, and an Indiefab Publisher of the Year, offering insider secrets to getting your book published.
In this 50th year Showcase, authors from the WNBA-SF will read from their books and join in a panel discussion of how women’s voices and those of diversity are more important than ever before. Q&A to follow.

Current List of Participating WNBA-SF Chapter Member Authors:

Kathleen Archambeau, Pride & Joy: LGBTQ Icons and Everyday Heroes
Sheryl Bize, Running for the 2:10
Megan Clancy, The Burden of a Daughter; A Novel
Kim Collins, F is For Feminist
Elise Marie Collins, Super Ager
Lynn Dow, Nightingale Tales: Stories from My Life as a Nurse
Diane Frank, Letters from a Sacred Mountain Place
B. Lynn Goodwin, Never Too Late, From Wannabe to Wife at 62
Joan Gelfand, You Can Be A Winning Writer
Saeeda Hafiz, The Healing: One Woman’s Journey from Poverty to Inner Riches
Brenda Knight, The Grateful Table
Mary E Knippel, The Secret Artist
Marylee MacDonald, Bonds of Love & Blood
Mary Mackey, The Jaguars That Prowl Our Dreams: New and Selected Poems 1974 to 2018
Duncan MacVean, My Patients Like Treats: Tales from a House Call Veterinarian
Sharon McElhone, Basta: Anthology Dedicated to Helping Immigrant Women
Gina L. Mulligan, From Across the Room
Fran Quittel, The Central Park Lost Mitten Party
Barbara Ridley, When It’s Over
Marcia Rosen, The Senior Sleuths: Dead in Bed
Rebecca Rosenberg, The Secret Life of Mrs. London
Jan Schmuckler, Role Montage
Bev Scott, Sarah’s Secret: A Western Tale of Betrayal and Forgiveness
Renate Stendhal, Kiss Me Again, Paris
Michelle Travis, My Mom Has Two Jobs
Sue Wilhite, 21 Templates that Run Your World