From Past to Present/Dusting Off My Manuscript to Answer the Real Questions

A few weeks ago She Writes Press announced a cool new contest for memoir writers.

Simply put, women writers can submit a query letter and the first couple of chapters of their memoir and compete for an agent with Serendipity Literary Agency. Check it out on She Writes Press.

I may have mentioned I shelved my memoir about domestic violence and child abduction for many months after a few drafts, more than a few rejections, and much much more than a few hundred dollars spent on editorial services. I was positively sick of it.

Then I listened to a recorded tele-seminar from my National Association of Memoir Writers membership and heard author Linda Watanabe McFerrin give tips on writing memoir. She mentioned that in a memoir, the protagonist has something they want which is the external plot, versus something they truly want,  the internal which has emotion.

And just like that, it made sense. What do I say I want, and what is really driving my actions? That’s what needs to be in the book.

I’ve also been re-reading the artful memoir Swimming with Maya again by Eleanor Vincent, and realized I need to re-write my first book in the first person to experience the emotions long buried.

So here are my first couple of pages. Does it work for you written in present tense?

I’d love to hear your reactions at liza8m@gmail.com. It’s due on August 31st.  And soon, Eleanor Vincent has agreed to be interviewed for the blog. Stay tuned!

Chapter 1

I brush Marianthi’s hair as fast as I can without upsetting her. My oldest daughter, like so many firstborn, seems in tune to my every mood since her birth. Just six years old now, she senses my wave of anxiety about her father’s impending arrival for weekly visitation.

“Are you scared, Mommy?”

Marianthi’s voice sounds like a munchkin from the Wizard of Oz, as small and sweet as she is.

“No, sweetie” I smile. “I just don’t want to keep Daddy waiting. You look beautiful.”

And she does. She’s wearing her blue dress with the floral collar that matches her liquid blue eyes. Her straight brown hair is neatly held back by a barrette. Now I direct her to her coat and boots while I work on getting her little sister ready.

I push Meredith’s plump calf into her boot. She groans. “Point your foot down, baby.” Slowly, the boot slides on. I run my fingers through her baby-fine brown ringlets and inspect her round face for remnants of Rice Krispies.

Meredith is the antithesis of her sister. At two, she lost grasp of her helium balloon, silently watching it float towards the clouds. “God stole my balloon,” she had announced. At three, she told a bald man that he had a baby head. And now at four, Meredith has learned she could belch as loudly as a college boy at a frat party.

My daughters are absurdly cute. I’m not the only one who thinks so; four separate couples have requested the girls be in their upcoming weddings this spring alone.

“Ready just in time,” I tell them as their father Grigorios, Gregory for short, pulls up in his dented, bright blue Jeep Cherokee. A male passenger I don’t recognize is sitting next to him. I try to get a closer look without upsetting Gregory. The passenger catches me, and I avert my eyes immediately. What guy would ride along with Gregory to pick up the girls? And why?

“Momma, will you pick us up tomowoh?” Meredith asks. I dread the day she’s able to pronounce her r’s.

“I’ll pick you up on the tomorrow after tomorrow, remember?” But of course Meredith can’t remember the court- appointed visitation schedule. She’s only four, and her father visits are irregular. She doesn’t know that the court only recently lifted the supervised visitation requirement that has been imposed during a restraining order, or that I pick her and her sister up at the daycare for the express purpose of avoiding unnecessary contact with him. And she shouldn’t have to. Neither of them should have to know of the grim details of their parents’ divorce. They’re still little girls, after all.

I feel like I have spent my entire twenty-nine years of life walking on eggshells. It’s March 13, 1994, and I’m four years out of my violent marriage. But despite the passage of time, my fear of Gregory is as strong as the day in March of 1990 when I got back up off the floor, collected my baby girls and fled in a taxi. The scratches and strangulation marks healed after several days, but his parting threats haunt me: “I would rather kill you than let you leave. That way you’ll die knowing the girls will have no mother and their father will be in jail. Leave and you’ll never see them again–I have nothing to lose.”

That was by no means the first time Gregory had threatened to harm or kill me. Not even close. In our marriage, he’d isolated me from friends, had taken my car, and at the lowest point, limited my access to food while I was pregnant. Eventually, he wrung my neck. And all the while, he delivered the same message, over and over. “You are worthless, stupid, and helpless. I am the only person you have to rely on. Without me, you are nothing.”

But it’s his threat to take the children and disappear to his native home in Greece if I left him that got to me. He knows that I could never live without my children.

I remind myself that our circumstances are different now. Yes, things are still hard, even though four years have passed since our marriage ended. I have no family around to help with the girls or with the house. We live in Alaska, a place where one battles ice and snow and long periods of continual darkness that is followed by short periods of constant light. It’s a place suited best for those with money. Money to buy a four-wheel drive. Money to buy lots of insulation for the house and to buy fancy winter boots and coats, and money to buy airline tickets to leave the state once or twice a year for a warmer climate. All of the things

But on the plus side, our divorce is final now and includes provisions in our custody arrangement to prevent him making good on his threats. I’ve earned my journalism degree. I have a promising job, and I’m determined not to feign independence through remarriage and further dependence. We are out of low-income housing, and off of food stamps. And more importantly, the girls are smart and healthy, and they how to respond if anyone, including their father, attempts to take them away from me. There is no reason to be afraid.

“Don’t forget your blankie, baby,” I remind Meredith. I hand her the paper-thin quilted blanket that she’s loved since birth. Life for everyone around Meredith goes better when she has the comfort of her security blanket. While her sister is the sensitive, pleasing child, Meredith’s attitude is that if she has to suffer, then so should the entire community.

The doorbell rings. I hug the girls and open the door. Gregory is standing there in his hooded blue jacket and baggy khakis. His dirty-brown hair looks even thinner than the last time I saw him, and his cheeks more hollow. Though he’s a half -inch taller than me at 5’8,” I outweigh my former husband by an easy fifteen pounds despite my frequent crash diets. This stupid fact has pissed me off over the years as much as the legitimate reasons I have to hate him. And yet, his gaunt look makes him appear more scary and desperate to me somehow.

Gregory wordlessly takes Meredith’s hand. She in turn grabs Marianthi’s hand. They carefully step over the ice and snow that has yet to melt in the extended Alaskan winter, and Gregory lifts them into his Jeep. They both looked back at me before he shuts the rear passenger door.

“Goodbye! I love you,” I call out.

“Bye Mommy!” they say in unison.

Gregory glares hard at me before getting in the Jeep. I return his gaze and smile brightly, refusing to defer to his intimidation tactics, and then shudder as the Jeep disappears from view. I close the door, chiding myself. I hate being paranoid, but who is that guy with him? None of your business, Liz, I tell myself. Bad things always seem to happen when I question Gregory about anything, and it isn’t illegal for him to have someone I don’t know in the car. Just get over it.

Time to prepare for the day ahead. I plan to take my friend Julie to lunch at a new sushi restaurant for her thirtieth birthday, and will force myself to enjoy the quiet time without the girls.

Somehow, today feels different to me. A palpable feeling of unrest is in the pit of my stomach for no particular reason.

The climate between Gregory and me has cooled again in the last few weeks. I had always hoped we could be on civil terms for the sake of the children, and was occasionally encouraged when time passed without any hint of coarse language or bullying as we exchanged the girls for visitation. But the peace has been short-lived. In general, it seems that the passage of time has only increased their father’s intentions to possess or destroy me, whichever comes first. And although I’m too scared to cross Gregory unless my and the girls’ safety is at stake, the state of Alaska boldly dipped into a legal settlement of his to collect child support a few weeks ago. Gregory is livid. I can’t help but worry about repercussions. He has strong feelings about paying child support.

“If you need diapers, call me,” he told me after the girls and I got settled into low-income housing four years earlier. “If you and the girls run out of food, you have my number. I’ll do what I can. But don’t ever let some government agency tell me how much I need to pay you to support my daughters. I will decide this.”

And true to his word, Gregory has not bowed to the government mandate of paying child support. Instead, I have learned to manage the financial struggles of supporting two little girls on next to nothing. I have learned how to manage his threatening phone calls, and the image of Gregory in my rearview mirror. I have even learned to parlay my fear of being killed by him into an inspiration to live each day with my daughters as if it might be my last. Because it really might be.

Yet I know I can never learn to live without my daughters, and Gregory knows why.

***

It’s Just Me, Picking Me/Taking the Advice of Blogger Jeff Goins

I like to think I’m a positive person.

photo(12)

I wake up and give thanks every morning before I start my day.

I live intentionally, setting goals for each season that cover the different priorities in my life—family, volunteerism, fitness, financial, professional, and creative.

I redirect my negative self-talk when I notice it, a technique I learned when facilitating support groups for battered women in the early 90’s since often abused women repeat the insults to themselves long after their turbulent relationship has ended.

Once in a while, I even watch the Oprah Super-soul Sunday on OWN.

But let something that really means a lot to me happen, and I’m a hot mess.

For instance, I spend a lot of my post-work time writing. Writing this blog. Writing my novel. Re-writing my novel with my writing coach, Brooke Warner.Weeping over my unpublished memoir. And sending out the occasional query for my children’s picture book.

When I’m not writing, I feel guilty for doing too little on social media. I should be reviewing authors on Goodreads. Posting my blog on Linked In. Getting a Twitter account and tweeting.

Don’t get me wrong; I love writing, but in the last six months, it’s been a noose around my neck.

Then I checked my email yesterday and found this:

Hi Lizbeth!

I hope you’re well and enjoying the summer!

I just wanted to drop you a line to say that we LOVED your piece and would love to include it in our book!

We’re just finalising the running order then will get stuck into production, so are hoping to publish late summer.

All we need from you now is a bio. Each writer will have a bio at the start of their piece. I’ve popped an example down below. Feel free to promote anything you like, a website, blog, charity etc.

We’re so excited that our book is finally taking shape and getting ready to publish!

Thanks again, (for your submission and patience!) and have a lovely evening.

Best wishes.

Gemma

So finally, I’m having just a wee bit of success! And do you know what I thought?

What’s wrong with these people? Didn’t they read my story?

So much for positive. When it comes to writing, I’m reduced to being the new kid in junior high all over again. It’s not pretty, and it certainly isn’t inspiring or positive.

Then I read a post by blogger Jeff Goins called Stop Waiting to be Picked. In it, he writes:

You must pick yourself

The real trick is to not wait, but to pick yourself. To “turn pro” in your head (as Pressfield says). To believe you can do what you’re asking others to believe about you.

That’s how you become “legit” in the eyes of others. Not by waiting for acknowledgment, but by acting as if you already have it.

The crazy part: When you do this, you get the permission you’ve been waiting for. Not by asking for it, but by proving yourself. The paradox is you get what you’re desiring when you stop desiring it.

In other words, the less concerned you are with appealing to an audience’s sensitivities, the more appealing an audience will find you.

I love this guy! And the concept rings true.

I’ve decided to take it and run with it. I need to create my own success, and to push through my anxiety.

So if I request that you Like my Facebook Fan page, or add you to my Google Circles, please be patient, and know that it’s me. Picking me.

I’ll let you know more about the travel anthology when I get the information.

Have a great week!

The Wild Mountain Memoir Retreat / Defining the Advantages of a Retreat Versus a Writer’s Conference

 

Have you ever plunked down a bunch of money on something, and immediately
felt buyer’s remorse afterwards?

Such was the case when I completed my three easy payments for the Wild Mountain Memoir  Retreat, which happened last weekend. In hindsight, it really wasn’t that expensive- given transportation, food, housing, and classes- were all  inclusive, I’m just super-cheap.

Photo by Holly Andres on behalf of Oregon Cultural Trust

But I simply couldn’t help myself. With names like Wild author Cheryl Strayed, Theo Pauline  Nestor, Suzanne Finnamore,  and Hip Mama’s Ariel Gore, I knew I had to be there.

I’ve gone to local writer’s conferences before. Alaska actually has a few good ones, like the Kachemak Bay Writer’s Conference, the Alaska Writer’s Guild Conference,  a Forensic Foray sponsored by the Arctic Cliffhanger’s Mystery Writers, and the Wrangel Mountain Writing Workshops to name a few. 49 Writer’s also has inexpensive and writing workshops and retreats in Alaska, and I’ve enjoyed them a lot.

But nothing compared to this.

Perhaps I should have realized the obvious differences between a retreat and a conference.
My own experiences with writer’s conferences are varied.

At the Kachemac Bay conference, the guest staff have been sharp professionals (agents, writers, editors) with vibrant careers. Both times I’ve attended, I’ve felt like a person who’s showed up at the country club uninvited. There’s a lot of competition when you get a group of hopeful writers together who are hoping secretly (or openly) to be discovered.  You can feel it in the air. You can hear it in the questions at Q and A time.

        Q. Hi! I’ve written a book about when I fell of my bike and nearly died.

Pause.

        A. Is there a question attached to this?

At the Guild’s conference, the business of writing is emphasized, and the guest staff ranges between pro’s on marketing, editors, and agents. More editors than writers, but in all, it’s a friendly, folksy bunch.

This was my first writing retreat, but the differences between a retreat and a conference were great.

At the retreat, all energy is spent on rejuvenating the writer. The art of writing is emphasized and taught in small classrooms. The staff is empathetic, behaving more like coaches than gurus. The atmosphere is relaxed, not competitive or judgmental.

At the Sleeping Lady Lodge, where the Wild Mountain Memoir Retreat was held in the Washington Cascades, we were fed locally grown and farmed foods, housed in cozy, warm cabins, and schooled by a small group of women writers who were clearly invested in furthering their student’s writing goals.

And did I mention what neat friends I made there?

All things considered, the Wild Mountain Memoir Retreat was a terrific bargain. I came home more rested, invigorated, and hopeful than I’ve been in awhile.  In fact, I feel like I returned as a better version of myself, and it’s been a week since I’ve returned.  Priceless, right?

If you get the chance to take a retreat in a field of your own interests, I hope that you do.

And on an unrelated note, here’s my favorite You Tube of the week. It’s a great reminder to treat other’s as you would like to be treated. Or else.

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Single White Female Seeks Literary Agent/ How Finding an Agent is like Finding a Date

This week, I sent my revised book proposal to an interested agent. Fingers crossed.
For those of you unfamiliar with the book-selling process, here’s how it begins:
You need an agent.  Literary agents are the baleen to the publishing industry’s whale. The Brita to the publishing industry’s drinking water. The pan to the publishing industry’s gold, according to agent Nathan Bransford. http://blog.nathanbransford.com/2009/09/what-do-literary-agents-do.html
 
So you send known literary agents a query letter, trying to pique their interest in your writing, and in you. A typical agent receives 50-500 queries a week, and will take on one to two new authors a year.
 
Should you be fortunate to hear back from the agent, he/she may request your book proposal, which includes and author bio, chapter summaries, sample chapters, and a comparative market analysis, among other things.
This is not an easy process.
It reminds me a lot of the futility of dating. I’ve been a divorced woman now for more than twenty years.  If dating was a paid union job, I’d have retired by now.  Actually, I think I have.
But I remain optimistic about seeking an agent, much more so than I am about seeking a partner.

Here’s how seeking an agent is different than seeking a date:

At speed dating event in Anchorage, where we both struck out.

 

When seeking an agent, it’s time to be self-promoting. 

Another words, talk about your accomplishments, your goals, and your strengths.

When having a first date (as a woman), I’ve noticed men respond better to a woman who asks about them. Their accomplishments,their goals, their strengths. They enjoy a good listener.

Agents appreciate pre-editing. It’s in an author’s best interests to have their work looked at by a critiquing group or professional editor in advance of submitting it.  Dates like their Special Someone to speak freely. At first. The editing comes in later, after that relationship is cemented, when suddenly the Special Someone’s jokes and opinions are in need of a tweak.

Personal referrals to an agent are preferred. If you know someone who writes in your same genre and who’s happy with their agent, it’s supreme if you can get them to give you a recommendation. Not so with dating. Does your friend have an old flame that’s available? Don’t even think about it. Way creepy.

How selecting a literary agent is like finding date:
A good literary agent will never charge a fee for their services.  Enough said.

The relationship between a literary agent and an author is mutually beneficial.  Their efforts complement one another. If an agent promotes the work of their author well and the work sells, the agent’s commission increases right along with the author’s profit. Lasting relationships I’ve seen or read about also provide a win/win opportunity for both parties. Wife gets a raise, shared household income increases. Husband begins an exercise plan, extending his life with his wife.

You should know everything about your agent before signing a contract, much the same way you should know your sweetie frontwards and backwards before getting married. Sites like Predators and Editors and the Thumbs Down Agency List can give more information. Unfortunately, you’re on your own with dating.
One last thing.

I’ve learned a lot from rejections from literary agents. I’ve learned a lot from my failed relationships, too, so long as there was dialogue about the relationship’s demise. But agents, like lovers, are often distant in their rejections, either not responding to queries, or sending a form letter that states basically, “It isn’t you. It’s me. Someone will want you soon, I’m certain.”

Here are a two of my favorite rejectors.

Gordon Warnock

 

Jeff Kleinman of Folio Literary Management

And here’s to hoping I don’t accumulate many more.

It’s almost Christmas. Kindle owners, do you have my short story yet for 99 cents?

ASIN: B009FSV6VU

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My Path to Authorhood/ Alaska Writer’s Guild 2012 Conference

Have you ever gone to a conference or workshop that left you feeling invigorated, even in the face of apparent hopelessness?

At the Alaska Writer’s Guild’s 2012 conference http://www.alaskawritersguild.com/events?eventId=451830&EventViewMode=EventDetails this weekend, I learned that getting my memoir (about domestic violence and recovering my internationally abducted children successfully, fueled by the memories of my own kidnapping’s aftermath) traditionally published will be as likely as giving birth to conjoined twins. Post-hysterectomy. At age 48. Unless, of course, I do everything I can to have the book in perfect shape and develop a solid marketing plan before pitching it to agents.

It’s less discouraging than it sounds.

It turns out, I’ve been doing a number of things right already.

What I’ve done right:

  • Participating regularly in a writer’s group for peer critiques.
  • Creating  a blog that covers key word topics that are emphasized in my book. Domestic violence. International parental child abduction. Finding missing loved  ones.
  • Blogging consistently

 

But from each of the presenters I’ve heard thus far, there’s much more I must do.

From author/publishing guru Jerry Simmons (nothingbinding.com) I learned that it’s the breadth of writing that matters. Another words, my second book will boost sales of my first, provided their in the same genre. The third would boost the sales of the first and second book. And so on.

From literary agent Gordon Warnock from the Andrea Hurst Agency (http://www.andreahurst.com/) , I learned that that having a great pitch is key. He liked when an author of young adult lit told him her books was as if  “David Lynch met Juno.” He gave some great websites I’d  never heard of to assist debut authors to find an agent, and said writers should go to bookstores every week to look at titles and sales of books similar to their own.

Author Susan Meissner suggested fiction authors consider giving their characters the free version of the Myers-Briggs test and write the results so they can keep their characters consistent, and gave an outline of how to write 300 pages in 30 days.

Author Jan Harper Haines provided engaging writing exercises for writing both memoir and fiction, and gave out a handout that offered some challenges. My favorite? Dare to suck!

So, dear blog readers, you are an integral part of my future.  I plan to follow the directions given, but will need your help.

What I can do better:

  • My pitch: Betty Mahmoody meets Erin Brockovich. Does that sound alright? 
  • Commit to grow my blog traffic to 10,000 hits a month
  •  Locate guest bloggers on relevant topics to the book.
  • Offer a short story on Kindle for the holidays excerpted from my book for 99 cents.
  •  Strive to connect with other writers and readers, and increase the number of comments left by my weekly blog readers.
Do you have any tips for burgeoning authors? Any feedback is welcome.
Thanks goes to the Alaska Writer’s Guild for hosting accessible and affordable annual conferences in Anchorage. With the help of the annual conference and the connections I’ve made through this blog, I know that my goal of becoming an author is within reach.
Agent Gordon Warnock

 

Publishing guru Jerry Simmons
Author Jan Harper Haines
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10 Books, Blogs, and Movies that Improved My Writing and Helped Survive Winter

“The greatest part of a writer’s time is spent in reading, in order to write; a man will turn over half a library to make one book.”—Samuel Johnson

Do you ever feel guilty for needing time alone?

I love nothing more than to read a good book or blog entry, or watch a movie, now that my kids are grown. And the more I read or  listen to how others tell their stories, the better mine become. Here are my top ten from past twelve months.

Books

 

WHAT REMAINS by Carol Radziwill
I FEEL BAD ABOUT MY NECK by Nora Ephron
(I feel bad about losing Nora Ephron recently)
ABOUT WRITING by Stephen King
TOWNIE by Andre DeBus
HALF A LIFE by Darin Strauss
CARIBOU ISLAND by David Vann

THE HELP by Kathryn Stockett

THE FIVE LOVE LANGUAGES by Gary Chapman

LOVE AT THE SPEED OF EMAIL by Lisa McKay


Blogs
The Traveling Writer by Alexis Grant   www.alexisgrant.com
The Simple Dollar byTrent Hamm      www.thesimpledollar.com
Zenhabits by Leo Babauta                zenhabits.net        
49 Writers              49writers.blogspot.com
Milk and Midnight by Terezia Toth http://milkundmidnight.tumblr.com
The Badass Project  by Jon Morrowthebadassproject.com/blog/
Make a Living Writing by Carol Tice www.makealivingwriting.com


Dr. Oz Web Blog     http://www.drozweb.com/category/dr-oz-blog
Gluten Free Girl        http://glutenfreegirl.com/
Alaska Writer by Susan Sommer   www.akwriter.com  (see my interview with Susan at https://www.lameredith.com/2012/04/web-of-friendship.html)



Movies
Carnage 
We Need to Talk About Kevin
Project Nim
Undefeated
Rum Diaries
50/50
The Double Hour
The Descendants
Crazy, Stupid Love

Being Flynn

What’s on your list of recent favorites?

Stay tuned for my interview with author Lisa McKay in a few weeks.

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Happy New Year!

Happy New Year, and welcome to my new blog.

As I write, fireworks are sounding all around me. It’s 12:00AM in Alaska, 2012, and I’m packing to go on a big fat adventure. Vietnam and Laos. Perhaps the only two countries in the world where I won’t feel broke.
But first, about the blog.
I used to wonder why any non-celebrity would bother to blog. Who cares what I think? What do I have to say, and why would it matter?
Recently, it came to me. In the span of a day, I had two different friends e-mail to ask how to help their respective friends who are in abusive relationships.
And I thought to myself, Connecting every once in a while is a good thing. Sharing my experiences, hearing from other people about theirs, that’s the point of a blog. That’s how it matters. And everyone has something to share than can benefit another person.
In 1990, while in my twenties, I left my own oppressive marriage and took my little daughters with me. I had a high school education, and was born in Kentucky of two parents who never had the chance to even get that far. Not surprisingly, I didn’t expect much.
Now, twenty-one years later, my two lovely daughters are both in college. I’m still single. I earned a master’s degree and work a job I adore, and am flying to the other end of the globe in a few hours by myself. Because I wanted to, and because I can.
My resolution this year is to connect more with others.
Thanks for letting me connect with you.
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