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Joan Axelrod-Contrada will be leading this year’s workshop on Flash Memoir. She was interviewed by fellow workshop presenter Tzivia Gover.

How long have you been writing? When did the writing bug first bite you?

I started making up “furry tales” for my French poodle, Sherry, when I was eight years old. In high school, I fell in love with journalism, which rescued me from my poor-poor-pitiful-me introverted adolescent self. What I like best about writing – whether it be journalism, children’s books, journaling, or flash memoir — is that it focuses my mind. I need that in much the same way I need air to breathe.

What got you interested in flash fiction and memoir?

I’ve always enjoyed reading the first-person essays and annual short-story contest winners in the Daily Hampshire Gazette. When the Gazette stopped running its short story contest, my late husband, Fred, and I thought of publishing our own anthologies, but we couldn’t figure out how to make them financially viable. So I brought the idea of a literary journal to the WriteAngles committee, and the rest is history.

How has your experience with this short form enhanced your writing and your life?

I started journaling and blogging around the time Fred developed an awful degenerative neurological disease. A couple of my pieces lent themselves beautifully to our 500-word format. I found that writing helped me come up with new perspectives on and solutions to my problems. My challenges found new life as flash memoir!

What’s one tip you can share with us for distilling a story to its purest essence?

Think concrete. An item in your closet or food on your table can evoke powerful emotions. Some of our best pieces in the journal have involved items such as a VW van, a dad’s army jacket, a wooden cane, a purchase on Amazon.com, or a pair of expensive leather boots.

Who are your favorite writers who are skillful at saying a lot in very few words?

Ernest Hemingway is the master! His six-word flash story is classic. “For sale: baby shoes, never worn.”

You’ll be leading this year’s workshop on Flash Memoir. Can you tell us a little about what you’re planning?

Yes, I’ll be talking about what I see as the three key ingredients for successful flash memoir. Writing is like baking a cake. Once you mix the ingredients into a batter, you need to find the right baking dish for it. Just like there are loaf pans and cupcake tins as well as cake pans, flash memoir can take a variety of forms above and beyond the traditional prose essay. Among the different forms: verse, lists, and letters. I’ll finish up with the icing on the cake, which I see as style.

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Ellen Meeropol interviews Dusty Miller, a panelist on the Paths to Publication panel.

How did you come to write the mystery series?

When I began the first Alice Ott mystery, I had no clue that I would end up writing a series. After a long career in mental health, including writing many articles and non-fiction books, I wanted to do something new. I created Alice Ott, an elderly cane-wielding sleuth who carries a purse and a small oxygen tank. Although she was the perfect fit for a Miss Marple “cozy,” Alice tackled crime of national and international proportions. In the first of the “Danger” series, biological weapons were being secretly developed at a U.S military facility, microbiologists were being assassinated around the world, and Alice Ott was on the case!

Though most amatuer sleuths her age are relegated to the cozy, Alice and her friends went on in the next three books facing the kind of danger more suited to political thrillers. Inspired by Alice Ott prototypes (like Frances Crowe, a peace icon and long-time friend and mentor), Alice propelled me to write three more books in the “Danger” mysteries.

Who gave you the most encouragement early on?

I was lucky to find Dori Ostermiller’s Writers in Progress program as I began my mystery writing journey. The writing workshops eventually evolved into writers support groups, and I continued to be challenged, inspired and loved by my sister writer friends.

What is the most rewarding part of being a writer for you?

I love my relationships with my characters. They entertain and thrill me just like playing make- believe when I was a child. I have treasured deeply sustaining relationships with Frances Crowe and Ann Wilson, the two main inspirations for the Alice Ott character. Having Frances at my side for numerous local bookstore and library book talks has been an extraordinary gift.

What do you do in your daily life that supports your writing life?

I walk two to four miles a day year round. This is as important to my writing life as the hours spent at the computer. I also read planfully — perhaps addictively — and find a mix of mysteries, contemporary fiction, and miscellaneous non-fiction keep my “learning” cells alive.

Have you ever gotten writer’s block? How did you snap our of it?

No, not really. I think I suffer from too much social hunger to notice if I have writer’s block. I find it hard to take enough time alone to write. When I get myself to finally sit down at the computer, I’m excited that I have a block of writing time.

What are you planning to talk about at the conference?

I’m talking about my experiences with indie press publishing vs mainstream. In my nonfiction publishing years, I had more success than I deserved, really. My clinical work in the field of trauma and addiction opened a direct path to publishing. I never had to do the work of finding and negotiating with mainstream publishers; they found me. When I switched to writing fiction and got over the shock of discovering that my success in nonfiction wasn’t ready currency, I was lucky enough to find two local indie presses, White River Press and Levellers Press. I will explain how that has worked out, mostly very well.

You’ve said that DANGER IN THE HOUSE is your last Alice Ott novel. What’s next for you?

I’m trying to settle on whether to begin a new mystery series set in Florida where my wife and I live in the winter, or finally get down to working on a memoir centered on my experiences with death. The latter has been evolving in small pieces for too long now, and I have to either commit to it or dive into the Florida series.

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Tzivia Gover will be leading this year’s workshop Dreaming on the Page. She was interviewed by fellow workshop presenter Joan Axelrod-Contrada.

How long have you been writing? When did the writing bug first bite you?

As a little girl of 10 years old I compiled my writing into a red loose-leaf binder. I titled it “Poams” [sic], written in black Magic Marker. So, I’ve been a writer who is seriously challenged by spelling for a very long time!

What got you interested in dreams?

I’ve been waking up talking about my dreams since I was a kid of 4 or 5 years old. But they weren’t all sweet dreams, I had a lot of nightmares, too. Over time I’ve learned that when I turn to face my scary dreams I gain courage and confidence to face the difficult emotional terrain I face awake, too. I’ve always wanted to help other people connect with the healing potential of their dreams, too. I’m so happy that at this point in my life I’m able to share these deeply nourishing gifts with others.

How has tapping into your dreams enhanced your writing and your life?

Dreams have become like a BFF, a guru, and a life coach rolled into one. They’ve given me nutritional advice, have helped me find the perfect place to live — and even true love. And, of course, they provide inspiration for my poetry, prompts for my prose, and guidance and encouragement in my professional life.

As a dreamer and a writer, I am dedicated to process as much as product. I’m deeply interested in and engaged with the work and play of self-growth and deepening consciousness – awake and asleep. I commit to the process, and try to let the products take care of themselves.

You’ll be leading this year’s workshop on Dreaming on the Page. Can you tell us a little about what you’re planning?

I want to help writers – whether they recall their dreams or not – tap into the creative potential of their dreams. We’ll spend our time together writing, first and foremost, using prompts and directions from the subconscious to guide us. I’ll also give some instruction for how to ask our dreaming minds to inspire our writing, and habits for capitalizing on the creative chemistry of the dreaming mind . . . again, whether participants remember their dreams or not.

How can even people who don’t remember their dreams benefit from this workshop?

Everybody dreams, even people who don’t remember them. I’ll offer tips and techniques for accessing the unique neurochemistry of the dreaming mind with or without remembered dreams. Of course, I’ll also offer tips for improved dream recall. It’s a skill just about anyone can develop.

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Bill Campbell will participate in The Language of Diversity panel. He was interviewed by panel moderator D.K.McCutcheon.

Why did you become a writer/publisher/teacher?

I became a writer after a trip to Hollywood when I was 9 years old. My mom used to produce corporate videos for Westinghouse. She once took me out there to see the process. I came away wanting to be a writer. I still can’t explain it.

I became a publisher because I saw a lot of really talented writers and comics artists not getting publishing opportunities. I thought this was my small way of trying to change the industry.

What is the most rewarding part of your work? The most frustrating?

It’s great seeing a new book come into the world. There are so many frustrating parts, I wouldn’t know where to start. Ha!

How do you balance your “writing time” with the rest of your life?

In all honesty, I don’t believe I can ever achieve any sort of balance. I just get in what I can when I can fit it in.

What do you do in your daily life that supports your writing life?

I help produce audio books for the blind.

Can you tell us about your latest publication or most recent project?

I just came out with my first graphic novel with David Brame and Damian Duffy, BAAAAD MUTHAZ. They’re an all-female band of space pirates who double as a James Brown revival band. I am currently working on a graphic novel about a Klan riot that happened in my hometown back in1923 with Bizhan Khodabandeh.

You’re sitting on The Language of Diversity panel at this year’s conference. Can you tell us a little bit about what you’re planning to discuss?

That’s a good question. I’ll have to think about it.

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This interview with Anna Bowen was conducted by Joanna Brown, panel moderator for Building a Readership at this year’s WriteAngles conference.

When did you realize that writing was going to be an important part of your life?

I would say that it was in my mid-twenties when I began writing poetry. The difference I felt in that experience of writing was one of entering into a relationship with writing. I had never before felt that emotionally engaged with words. There was a feeling that the writing and I belonged to each other, it was as if finding a missing part of self that had been waiting to emerge. Expressing self in this creative intimate way was different than anything I had experienced previously. This relationship with writing was further nurtured in my thirties when I began journaling, and simultaneously felt inspired to take a short story writing course. This led to my writing “She Fit Just So” a short story that evolved into my novel HATTIE. In a nutshell, my journey as a writer began when writing captured my heart and spirit.

What do you do in your daily life that supports your writing life?

The most important thing I do is to stay connected to my intuition and my imagination; the creative spirit that is held within. Even though I struggle with establishing a regular writing practice, I try to live and think creatively. When I find the time to write I trust and welcome the voice that comes from within, or from outside of self. I try not to let the inner critic detour the flow of my words. I am often surprised by the direction my writing takes; how the piece unfolds, how creative doors open, how I move into the rhythm of my craft, and discover new paths on the map of my writing life. No matter what I’m writing about, I frequently weave in some form of relationship. I believe this encourages a sense of closeness between the reader and the piece of writing.

Your independently published novel HATTIE received numerous awards and many positive reviews. What do you think contributed to your novel’s success and connection with readers?

I think the awards recognized HATTIE’s literary merit and unique writing voice. Many readers tell me that they felt like they were in conversation with Hattie, that she was like a friend, and she stayed with them even when they were finished. I think this is because of the first person narrative, the spirit of the character, and my style of writing which tends to be down to earth and non-linear. I write about life, about those things that most people can relate to, and with an understanding of the situation that is being described. I also devoted quite bit of energy and time to marketing HATTIE, to talking about my novel, to an online presence on the web with an author’s website, being active on Facebook, and to distributing my cards and postcards wherever I went. I travel quite a bit and would insert a HATTIE postcard into the airline magazines. Because of its literary style HATTIE has also been popular with book clubs. When I completed the manuscript I decided to add a discussion guide at the end of the book with book clubs in mind.

Are you working on any other writing project at this time?

I have had several ideas for another book including finishing a children’s picture book that is nearly done. I am presently enrolled in a Creative Non Fiction MFA program. This experience is helping me understand what my next project might be. At this point, as a writer I see myself is as a messenger of stories that come from both my heart and spirit, and from the Universe. I have come to recognize that, no matter what genre I write in or what I write about my goal is to have my writing take one on a journey and to write in a way that makes readers feel more of themselves; to look deeper into the many layers of who we are. I want my writing to stir mine and readers’ minds, hearts and spirits.

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David Daley will talk with Marya Zilberberg at the Oct. 5 conference about how to get an essay published. Take a look at his recent essay on gerrymandering in The New Yorker.

 

 

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Elli Meeropol interviews Mary Bisbee-Beek, who will be available for individual meetings with writers during the Agent Meetings time and participate on the Paths to Publication panel.

What exactly is a publishing Sherpa?

This publishing Sherpa is a guide helping authors get from manuscript stage to next step whether it be helping to find an editor, agent, or publisher. Or just to answer general questions about a contract or how to pick one publishing situation over another. I recently helped an author decide between publishing with a hybrid press and a more traditional publishing experience. The questions and situations that come up vary, which is what keeps it interesting and challenging.

What genres do you most enjoy working with?

For publicity and marketing consulting, in alphabetical order – cerebral yet readable non-fiction, fiction and poetry. As publishing Sherpa, I am open to all questions as my involvement is sometimes helping to find the best person for what’s needed to make the next step – which is not always genre specific.

How do you charge for your sherpa and publicist services?

The first 30 minutes of sherpa services is generally on the telephone and that’s free. During that time we determine if I am the right person to help – if both parties think I can help we move to the next step which is my reading the work at hand. I’m mostly interested in finished manuscripts or first drafts, which are covered by a fee for a general read, then we schedule another call at an hourly fee for consulting. The consulting call generally lasts anywhere between 30 to 60 minutes but I bill on the quarter hour and I send invoices out within the first nine days of the month. How long this goes on depends on what needs to be done. Sometimes there are two calls in a month’s billing period but usually just one call per month plus reporting on what I’ve been doing for the project via e-mail, depending on what is prescribed.

I’ve known you as a publicist (full disclosure: Mary has been the independent publicist for my three novels), and that’s the work you’ve been doing for almost 40 years. How did the expansion take place, to shepherding writers and their work before they have a signed book contract?

First, I have to say that I don’t wish, nor anticipate, that the publishing sherpa arm of my business will ever take precedence over my publicity work. But it’s early days for the sherpa services so who knows? Doing anything for almost 40 years, on top of being married to someone who also worked in the same industry for that many years — combined rolodexes (dating myself with that term) are impressive and expansive — allows me to help someone less acquainted with the industry and guide people to the right connections.

It officially started a few years ago when an author was introduced to me by a mutual friend who had, once upon a time, been very active in the national literary landscape. But she had been out of that conversation for several years. When the author came to her and said that he’d been working on a book for several years and needed guidance about what next steps to take – the mutual friend said that she was no longer current with things literary. She suggested she introduce him to me, as she felt I knew more people in the publishing industry than she had ever known – that is something that we still debate.

An introduction was made. The author and I had a conversation and I offered to read his manuscript. I told him I wasn’t an editor and that I was going to read with an eye to what next steps might be considered. After, I read, I made some suggestions about the storyline. I also recommended another book that I had worked on years before that seemed similar and I wanted him to see how that story was told. He liked my suggestions and went back to his writing and then contacted me again asking if I knew of an editor that he might work with. I was more than happy to do that and luckily it was a very organic chemistry for the author and editor. Now and then I would get progress reports from the author then one day he called to say he was done and now needed help finding an illustrator to help him with a family tree that had some different elements – I was able to help him with that. Then he needed an agent. This was more challenging but I read the revised manuscript and made some queries to agents that I had worked with and respected. We were very lucky – I made five queries and the fifth agent fell in love with the story and took it on. There was more editing and re-writing and then queries and rejections — but the manuscript was sold late this past spring and there will be a finished book in the summer of 2019. Somewhere between first read of the manuscript and the agent search this author referred to me as his Publishing Sherpa … and the name stuck. I have to say that it was this author who also insisted that he pay me for the time and my contacts and that planted the seed that this was, that I was, a valuable resource for authors.

There have been other successes along the way that have resulted in publishing contracts; helping an author to work through a contract and to know when to ask for wiggle room; help in finding a designer or a non-traditional publisher; helping to find out whether to put in the time to find a traditional publisher or a hybrid publisher or to self publish. It depends on many different variables to figure out what the right call is. One venerable New York agent has suggested that the service I am providing is not only for authors but for agents as well, as I provide a sort of clearing house for them.

What are your thoughts about the state of the publishing industry right now, particularly for writers looking for a publisher for a first book?

In my professional life-span, finding the right publishing situation has always been challenging. Authors not only have to put their writing life together but also their publishing life and they have to come to the table with a strong readership almost entirely in place. They have to find the balance between being proactive and totally rogue. Patience and measured expectations are required. There are over 250,000 books published in the U.S. every year. That’s enormous competition so you have to do your best possible work and always ask yourself is what you are doing contributing to the reading landscape and how?

Meanwhile, I wish every author the best of luck – whether it’s your first book or your tenth book I look forward to working on or hearing about your new work via the media, whether it’s traditional or hybrid! For more on my business philosophy, visit my website.

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