Sunday, March 31, 2013

San Diego Writing Women: a Tribute
by Susan McBeth
March 31, 2013

Easter Sunday seems like the perfect time for this token non-published member of the San Diego Writing Women to count my blessings and honor each of  the eleven talented authors that comprise this  elite group.

Kathi Diamant is the dynamo who invited me to attend my first SDWW meeting, and I will forever be grateful.  I first met Kathi at a book signing event and was impressed with her energy, intelligence, enthusiasm, and vivacious personality.  Fast forward a few months later when I encountered a situation which drew remarkably similar parallels to Kathi ‘s search for Kafka’s “Last Love,” Dora Diamant.  I invited Kathi to lunch for advice on how to proceed with my situation, and not only did she offer impeccable advice, but that meeting changed my life when she demonstrated through word and deed the power of a supportive woman.

Marjorie Hart will always hold a special place in my heart and ranks as the dearest author I have ever had the privilege to meet.  The words “sweet,” “authentic,” “charming,” and “humble” don’t even begin to describe this talented octogenarian whom I am proud to call a friend.  Like everyone who meets her, I fell in love with Marjorie the first time I met her, so much so that I have made it my personal mission to ensure that everybody I know has read her Summer at Tiffany.  When I founded Adventures by the Book a little over two years ago, Marjorie honored me by being the first author I ever hosted an event for, and it will forever remain my favorite event.

Laurel Corona is talented and accomplished, of course, but it wasn’t until I really got to know her that I learned about the positive, supportive, and happy woman behind the beauty and brains.  I will never forget the moment she was seared into my heart forever.  At one of my first SDWW meetings when I was just starting Adventures by the Book, Laurel immediately shared her trust and faith in my new endeavor and asked if I would host an event for her.  When I expressed concern that I might not yet be in a position to offer her the event she deserved, without hesitation, her reply “I still choose you!”  forever seared her into my heart.

Zohreh Ghahremani stormed onto the book scene in an enormous manner as a One Book One San Diego winner, which is kind of ironic considering she comes in such a petite package.  But anyone who knows Zoe quickly learns that her size is the only thing small about her.  I marvel how such a tiny package can be filled with such an enormously caring, generous, and thoughtful spirit.  I have had the privilege of attending many of Zoe’s events, and it is evident that she has an enormous effect on everybody, and is able to connect with people in a big manner.

Caitlin Rother is the brilliant force behind SDWW and works tirelessly to ensure that this talented group of women remain a united, supportive force.  With a successful investigative journalist background, Caitlin often comes under fire for the controversial and difficult stories she writes, but it takes a special person to forge ahead with the passion and energy she possesses in spite of those challenges.  For that, I admire her immensely, and hope that I can forge ahead with her courage whenever I have to face my own professional challenges.

I immediately connected with Judy Liu because of our common bond in telling our mother’s stories, but I remain connected with Judy because she really has it all.  Brilliant? Check.  Successful?  Check.  Caring? Check.  Compassion? Check.  Honored daughter? Check.   She is a valued daughter, writer, educator, and  friend, yet she possesses a special gift that makes you feel the valued one when you are in her presence.

Margaret Dilloway is a wife, a mother, and a bestselling author, and it is clear that her subtle sense of humor is one of the resources she draws upon to succeed in all three roles.  I look forward to every interaction with Margaret, whether it is in person, via book, or via social media, because I can be sure that in each instance, I will come away smiling and appreciative of her talents and her humor.

To say that Georgeanne Irvine is the most passionate author I know is a huge statement, because every author I know is passionate about what they do, but I stand by my statement, and I am always recharged by her enthusiasm.  Case in point:  on a recent San Diego Zoo trip to India, George achieved a lifelong goal to spot a python in the wild, and to hear her tell the story is a treat, so make sure to ask her about it so that you, too, can become ignited by her fire.

Divina Infusino, Elizabeth Cobbs Hoffman, and Caitlin O’Connell are the three members of SDWW whom I haven’t gotten to know very well yet, but how exciting is it that I have that to look forward to?!

San Diego Writing Women – I thank you for your gift of the written word and for your gift of support and friendship.

Saturday, March 23, 2013

The Writing Workshop

By: Marjorie Hart

"Belong to a writing workshop," the pamphlet read. "Write your story." When Cuyamaca College advertised this program of Creative Writing in 1999 it caught my attention. Writing workshops are nothing new, but for me it was a surprise--if you can still be surprised at age seventy-five. As soon as I found Cuyamaca College on the map, I signed up with a little trepidation. Going back to school at my age? Hadn't I had enough of classrooms? For thirty years I taught Music History and related courses at the University of San Diego and typed the nights away writing academic papers. My husband couldn't believe I was signing up, but I knew creative writing was a far different craft and foreign to me. .

On a Tuesday morning in September, I carried my briefcase with sharpened pencils and a yellow legal pad ready to take notes. How nice, I thought, to hear someone else lecture and make the preparations; it would be fun to be a student again. However, instead of a lecture, we were given an assignment. "Bring your writing with copies for the class next week." We would read and critique each other's writings. What kind of a class was this? Not even books to buy? Looking around, I found the room filled with Seniors--old Seniors. Good Heavens!

I was ready the next Tuesday, but embarrassed to pass out my copies.The high quality of writing from the class was stunning. Before my turn, a former high school principal read a hilarious story of when he was in first grade, capturing the dialogue like a pro, then a woman, the editor of the Audubon newsletter, read an exquisite piece about a bird sanctuary. When a tall, lean man read a touching poem about his wife who had Alzheimer's, his kind blue eyes misted. Mine did also. Later, I learned he attracted a wide audience in poetry circles. There would be no critique from me that day, only high praise.  

That afternoon was unforgettable.  What better way to learn how to write? How could I attain the high bar they had raised? At the end of the semester the instructor collected submissions for a book called Gray Matters. "You're published!!" she cried and we laughed. Those "old" seniors became my teacher, my unrelenting support and more important, my endearing friends.

Monday, March 18, 2013

Right Brain feels oh, so right!

By: Zoe Ghahremani

When asked what is music, Victor Hugo said, " Music expresses something that cannot be said and on which it is impossible to be silent." Art is the same as  it expresses what there are no words for. When you love a painting, it speaks volumes to you. The right side of the brain is so right! In defies separation of words from color, sound, or light. It's an umbrella for all that and the possibilities have no end.

Sometimes I think I must have known this as a child as I recall a time when nothing could stop me from discovering new artistic projects. I gave hand-made gifts on birthdays, wrote lyrics to my favorite tunes, cut pictured off magazines to make a collage. I sewed dresses, knitted sweaters, and learned to weave my own straw hats. While being pushed into science , and in the absence of formal training, I became a child poet, wrote short stories, and painted what I was unable to write. To this day, the interchange continues to fascinate me and that alone may be the reason I’ve never experienced what we call “a writer’s block."

With the ongoing events in Iran, the last chapters of Sky of Red Poppies kept on changing. Over the years, while writing and rewriting this story, from time to time I let my poppies rest on a canvas. The present cover of this novel comes from one such painting. To me, they are but volumes of the same book, whose words can only be understood by those who know art. Why did I use turquoise instead of a sky blue? You may be familiar with the Persian Turquoise, but did you know that in Persian poetry, “the turquoise dome” is a metaphor for sky? When I describe a scene, my mind paints, and in creating characters, words become my fine brush. In short, where the pen fails, “right brain” is so free, it has no trouble finding a suitable substitute.

This year, after I finished my final touches on The Moon Daughter, I left the computer and hid myself in a room with a big “Do not disturb” sign on its door. The result is my little “Moon Daughter”, who now sits on the cover of the newly released novel. Maybe there will never be a border between my outlets of expression. Then again, why should there be?

Yes, I am indeed a right brainer and I thank God for it every emotional day of my life!  

Sunday, March 10, 2013

The Birth of the Mini Book Proposal

By Divina Infusino

Of all the questions would-be non-fiction authors ask me about the publishing process, the most difficult to answer is: Should I write a book proposal?

If you intend to submit your book to a major publisher, or even a mid-level or small one, the answer is unequivocally yes. Just the slightest bit of research on the publishing world indicates that unless you are Rihanna or George Clooney with a tell-all in your hip pocket, you cannot sell a book on an idea. Even Tina Fey had to write a six page proposal for Bossypants.

But non-fiction publishers also aren’t looking for a full book submission either. They want a proposal that nails the concept in the overview, thoroughly summarizes the chapters, positions the book and analyzes it for the marketplace,  provides a practical promotional strategy and offers one or two sample chapters.  (The one non-fiction area where publishers often do ask for the entire book is memoir.)

The book proposal question is getting harder for me to answer because so many new authors are increasingly becoming self-publishers by default. They begin with dreams of Random House waving a six figure contract in front of them. But once writers get the news via agents or other professionals on what it takes to get a book deal these days (Hint: Are you already famous in another field, with at least 15,000 Facebook followers?), they start checking out the myriad of self-publishing platforms.

So if you think you may self-publish, should you just skip the time-consuming book proposal process?
My response is a qualified no.

The book proposal is a sales tool, but it is also a plan that can only make any publishing endeavor better. The questions that large publishers raise are the same questions you should be answering if you are self- publishing.

*What does your book offer that other books do not? 

*What makes you an expert on the topic?

*Do you have a solid outline in place before you start writing the book?

*How do you expect to market it anyway? Magical thinking does not work in book publishing. You must have a realistic plan for letting people know it exists.

So if you are contemplating the self-publishing route, my suggestion is to write a mini-proposal. Include all the elements but without the formality that a full book proposal requires.  Use your mini-proposal as a strategy for publishing a book that you will not only write, but people might actually read.

You will save yourself a lot of time and frustration. And if, in the end, you decide to look for a publisher instead, you are already on your way.

Friday, March 1, 2013

How Not to Write a Memoir: Ten Easy Steps 

by Kathi Diamant

Dear Writers and Readers,

Perhaps you’ve tried some these methods yourself. If not, trust me. These ten steps work. And although I didn’t mention procrastination, or beating around the bush, or not figuring how what it is you really want to say, circuiting the point as long as possible, with no further clamor, here it is. My best advice on how NOT write a memoir:
  1. Take lots of writing classes, memoir classes, even master workshops on memoir. And then don’t follow up with actual writing. 
  2. Make your memoir the most important accomplishment of your life. Believe that unless you write your memoir, your life will be spent in shallows and in miseries. 
  3. Start your memoir. Finish Chapter One. Rewrite Chapter One. Rewrite it again. Keep rewriting Chapter One. Never start Chapter Two. 
  4. Be afraid, very afraid, of hurting someone’s feelings with your memoir.
  5. Refuse to show your memoir to anyone, or open it up for critique, because “it’s not ready yet.”
  6. Apply for a grant or residency to write your memoir, and when you don’t get it, use that as an excuse not to write it.
  7. Teach memoir classes. And then ignore your own advice.
  8. Reserve your memoir’s title with a domain name on the World Wide Web. Leave the site blank. Don’t do anything at all with it, except pay for it every two years.  
  9. Decide your memoir really is not that important, no one will be interested in reading it anyway. 
  10. Give it up. 

Kathi Diamant, in stores since 1895 (Berlin, 2012)
Okay. I tried, but I can’t do it. I can’t end this piece there. That last step is from the title of a short story by Franz Kafka. But that’s the one thing I can’t do. I’ve done all the others, but I can’t give up. And as Kafka said, “As long as you keep climbing there will be steps. They will magically appear under your climbing feet.”

Kathi Diamant has been working, or not working, on her memoir “108 Coincidences: Adventures with Kafka and Dora” or “Finding Dora, Getting Kafka” for at least two decades. In the meanwhile she wrote a biography, “Kafka’s Last Love”, which received the Geisel Award “Best of the Best” at the 2003 San Diego Book Awards, and is published in translation in Spain, France, Russia, China, Brazil and finally this year in Germany. An Adjunct Professor at SDSU, Kathi is currently teaching Memoir Writing classes this quarter at SDSU Osher Institute.