Featured Member Interview – Sheryl Bize-Boutte

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

NS: Are you working on any new writing projects?

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

    Contact Sheryl at Bize11@Mac.Com

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

    Check out her author profile on Amazon

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


Featured Member Interview – Nita Sweeney

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Featured Member Interview – Sheila Murray Bethel, PhD

Interview by Susan Allison

sheila murray bethel PhD

A member of  WNBA and The Author’s Guild, Sheila Murray Bethel, PhD is recognized internationally as an expert in leadership. She is a successful entrepreneur, bestselling business author of five books, and a Hall-of-Fame speaker. She has given over 4,000 presentations to over two million people in 20 countries. Her latest published work, A New Breed Of leader, 8 Qualities That Matter Most In The Real World, What Works, What Doesn’t and Why is published in English and Chinese and is winning global praise. She has also written for such publications as The Washington Post, The San Francisco Examiner and USA Today, to name a few. 

When asked about her earliest writing experiences, Sheila remarks, “I am always impressed when I hear about women who knew they wanted to be a writer as a child or they talk about writing stories and plays or poems in school. I never did. I came to writing late in the game, as a necessity that turned into a passion. As a beginning professional speaker, I realized that I had to write articles, training materials, and most of all, a book. To have credibility in the marketplace, I needed a traditionally published book, and preferably one that did well.” 

In her thirty-five years as a professional speaker, Sheila wrote two compilations with other experts, and three books on her own on the subject of leadership. Her first solo book was a best seller in a large niche market; the second was a national bestseller, published in several languages and took her, as she describes, “around this wonderful globe of ours, speaking to fascinating groups of people in a myriad of organizations in fascinating venues.” It was the longest selling business book in her publisher’s history, with twenty-three printings in the U.S. The third book was a follow up to the second and again sold in many languages and countries. 

When asked to share her publishing experience, Sheila has sound advice for every writer: “Don’t Give Up!!! Publishing is one of the hardest things I have ever done. You will encounter nay-sayers and negative people who don’t believe in you or your work. You will get your feelings hurt, shed a tear, and even want to give up during the process. Please don’t. If you feel like quitting, call me and I’ll give you a pep talk.” 

Based on her years of experience, Sheila has three key tips about publishing:

      1. Once you have finished your book, take your ego, wrap it carefully in a piece of lovely soft velvet, and put it in the closet. From now on look at your work as a Product (not you personally). That is the only way you will survive what it takes to see it through to publication. 
      2. The hardest thing to do is to understand that rejection, or constructive criticism, is not personal. It is not you that is being rejected; it is your product. Take a deep breath and get feedback on why it is not being received as you had planned. Ask yourself, what can I learn/do to make it better or more appealing. A caveat here; ask advice from those who are as successful or more so than you. While it is generous of others who are not yet published to help, odds are they won’t be able to give you the hard news you need to make your book publishable.
      3. Get an agent! Will it be easy? No. Is it worth it? Yes! Research the net for the agents that work in your genre. Their website will tell you all you need to know about how to approach them and what they will and will not accept, and how to give them what they want; i.e., synopsis, longer outline, several chapters and so on. Get to know the books they represent and with which publishers they work. It is key to be informed about them before you try to submit your work. It pays off! I’ve had three non-fiction agents; two I enjoyed working with, one I did not. Will I go through it all again for a fiction agent? Yes. I will be right there with you on this journey to have a published book!

    Currently, Sheila is writing a work of fiction, and is drawing on so many inspiring writers for inspiration: “Early on I read the classics; Virginia Wolfe, the Bronte’s, Toni Morrison, Willa Cather among others. Their artistry was the basis and inspiration for my writing. They made me laugh, cry and come to realize how much their words empowered me and allowed me into other worlds. My current fiction project is greatly influenced by Australian writer Colleen McCollough, author of The Thorn Birds. She was a powerful storyteller, a true genius of the written word. She would create a broad scope of time and place and characters and then skillfully and artistically bring it down to one place in a specific time with a detailed group of characters.”

    Now that Sheila is retired and is “no longer a road warrior,” she has the luxury of flexibility and can write anywhere, from her desk, to BART, in a park, at the library, on a plane or in a hotel room. What works for her is to write in two-hour segments, take a break and then come back and finish or edit what she has written: “I often take what I have written ‘for a walk,’ meaning that I go out to one of my favorite walking trails and read and edit as I walk. Nature inspires me and frees my mind. I always come back with better material than when I began.” Sheila’s debut novel is half-finished, and she is “enjoying the challenge.”

    In her parting words, Sheila Bethel inspires us to believe in ourselves and to keep writing: “Congratulations and good for you! There has never been a better time for women writers. The global awareness of women’s issues, as well as the rights and contributions we have made, make it a pivotal time in literary history. Your words and ideas are important!”

    Sheila would love to hear from you. Find out more about her and her work at:

     sheila@smbauthor.com

     www.smbauthor.com

     https://www.sheilamurraybethelauthor.com/sheilas-books-in-order-of-publication/

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

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

Featured Member Interview – Michelle Travis

Interview by Susan Allison

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

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

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

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

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

Support for working women and their children.

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

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

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

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

Inspiring Men to become Advocates

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

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

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