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Interview with Zine Queen Stephanie Kuehnert: YA Author and Memoirist

Interview with Zine Queen Stephanie Kuehnert: YA Author and Memoirist

Stephanie Kuehnert got her start writing bad poetry about unrequited love and razor blades in eighth grade. In high school, she discovered punk rock and produced several D.I.Y. feminist ‘zines. She received her MFA in creative writing from Columbia College Chicago. Her first YA novel, I WANNA BE YOUR JOEY RAMONE was published by MTV Books in July 2008, and her second, BALLADS OF SUBURBIA was published in July 2009. In addition to writing novels, she is a staff writer for ROOKIE, an online magazine for teenage girls. Her work at ROOKIE and her zinester past inspired her next project, a zine-style memoir to be published by Dutton in 2016.

Stephanie lives in Seattle with her husband and two cats. She works full-time in the English Department at Seattle University and also teaches fiction writing at Hugo House, which is how I was lucky enough to meet her. (She was my teacher for a YA Novel Workshop class.) Stephanie was so kind as to answer a few questions for me about her new memoir and her writing in general.


You recently sold a “zine-style” memoir to Dutton Children’s Books, who says it will chronicle your transformation “from geek to grunge to goth to grrrl.” What else can you tell us about the memoir?

The idea for the memoir sprung out of my work for ROOKIE. I’ve been writing for the site since it launched in 2011, and a lot of what I write about is my own teenage experience. (I also get to make playlists, write recommendations for everything from music to candy, and talk about how much I love soap operas and cemeteries).

It was cathartic [writing honestly about my past], and the more I thought about collecting and expanding essays, and illustrating them to make it feel like a zine, the more psyched I got. It was the kind of project I’ve been dreaming of since I was sixteen.

My memoir is going to be a chronological collection of illustrated essays that form the overall story of my life from about thirteen to twenty-four. I’m writing about things like depression, self-injury, bullying, the emotionally and sexually abusive relationship I was in at fifteen, and my addiction issues in my late teens. It’s pretty intense stuff, but it’s also about identity: all those phases I went through, the bands and fashion I loved. I plan for there to be pages that look like fanzines for certain periods of my life.

 

How has the experience of writing this memoir been different from writing novels?

I sold the memoir on proposal, which is how non-fiction is generally sold, so I have a rough idea [of what it will be like], but in working with my awesome editor, Julie Strauss-Gabel, I imagine things will change.

The novels I’ve written, especially BALLADS OF SUBURBIA, dealt with some of the things I actually struggled with, like depression, addiction, and self-injury. I was DESPERATE to read about those things when I was a teenager, so that’s why I wrote my novels. It was a bit scary to make the transition from fictional characters working through those things to writing about my own actual history, but from the comments and emails I’ve gotten, I know that I’m helping readers with my honesty.

 

How did you get started writing zines in high school? How do you think being a part of that culture shaped you as a person and a writer?

I discovered punk rock around eighth grade/freshman year and riot grrrl during my sophomore year. I discovered zine culture in those scenes and started making my own the summer after sophomore year. I went through an abusive relationship sophomore year, so punk, feminism, riot grrrl, those were my ways of surviving the aftermath. I was inspired by Bikini Kill, Babes in Toyland, all these zines about feminism that I was mail-ordering. Some of them were so raw, and I felt that raw—reading those zines gave me permission to express that.

This was also around the time my family got the internet… AOL! And I found this whole community of grrrls online. We traded zines, we poured our hearts out over forums and listservs. I would not be alive without that, honestly. And getting that permission to write about my bloodiest most awful feelings definitely shaped me as a writer. My fiction is usually described as raw, honest, edgy—all of that started back in 1995/96 when I was writing zines. Also, that punk D.I.Y./ “do it yourself” ethic has always stuck with me. It’s shaped how I’ve written my books, how I’ve promoted them. With this new book, I haven’t really seen anything like it, but I was like, I’ll find some way to make it happen.

 

I found on Zinebot this cover of Kill Supermodels, a zine you wrote with some friends in high school. Do you still have copies of your old zines?

Kill Supermodels Issue #3 by Stephanie and friends.

Kill Supermodels Issue #3 by Stephanie and friends.

Oh my god, wow! I didn’t realize that was online! Yeah, I have all my old zines—even the poetry zine my friends and I did, Crust, which was a play on Crest, our high school literary magazine that I thought I was too punk rock for — haha!

We did four issues of Kill Supermodels, which was a straight-up riot grrrl feminist zine that I did with my three best friends. The whole thing was about killing the concept of the supermodel—the tall, thin, white girl beauty standard—not about killing actual supermodels. I made sure to explain that every time because I didn’t want to promote violence against women… but I wanted a really attention-getting title.

 

What sort of things did you write about in your zines?

We wrote about sexism and homophobia—stuff in the national news at the time and stuff that was happening in our high school. We wrote poems to our female heroines like Amelia Earhart and diatribes about not shaving our legs. We wrote about music we loved and hated.

I also wrote these angry, intensely personal things about having rumors spread about me, and as I started to realize my relationship had been abusive, I started writing about that. Soon I started doing personal zines, and they were deeply, deeply personal. They were about the abuse, about my struggle with cutting, about being bullied, my relationship with my dad, everything.

I did three [personal zines]: Goddess Defiled, Hospital Gown, and Do Not Go Quietly Unto Yr Grave. Hospital Gown was featured in Hilary Carlip and Francesca Lia Block’s book ZINE SCENE, which I was super proud of, but Do Not Go Quietly was the most artistic, and it’s my favorite.

 

Will your memoir include pieces from your old zines? 

Yes, it will. There will be pages from both Hospital Gown and Do Not Go Quietly for sure. In the essay that I wrote about the abusive relationship, there were certain parts that were best told by the girl who had just gone through it. I might be able to write more articulately now, but the stuff I wrote then was totally from the soul.

Stephanie (on right) and friends visit Aberdeen, WA in 2004 to pay tribute to Kurt Cobain.

Stephanie (on right) and friends visit Aberdeen, WA in 2004 to pay tribute to Kurt Cobain.  You can read an essay about the trip here.

 

Is there anything you wrote back then that embarrass or surprises you now, 20 years later?

There’s definitely some Kill Supermodels stuff that embarrasses me, mainly because I was so angry about so much that I never took a step back, and I was publicly shitty to some people who I wrongly blamed for things. I was also really black-and-white back then. Like about what made you a sell-out or a poseur. I was a judgmental little asshole sometimes, but hey, I own it now. That’s part of growing up.

The level of my pain is the surprising part and the scary part. I hurt so badly back then that there are some things I don’t remember happening or writing or feeling because I must have blocked it out. That’s hard to revisit, but again, I own it.

 

You often write about music, and the zine scene of the 90’s was closely tied to music. What bands did you listen to back then? How does music still inspire your writing?

I went through a few phases. I was really into bands like Nirvana, Hole, Alice in Chains, Screaming Trees, Mudhoney, and L7 in eighth grade and freshman year. Nirvana is still my all-time favorite band. Reading interviews with Kurt Cobain was how I discovered so many other bands and musicians, like PJ Harvey and Bikini Kill.

Sophomore and junior year, I got seriously into Bikini Kill, Babes in Toyland, 7 Year Bitch, The Gits, Bratmobile, Heavens to Betsy and Excuse 17, which were Corin and Carrie’s bands before Sleater-Kinney. Sleater-Kinney was a band I discovered at the very beginning, and god, they were totally my band—hence I ultimately named a novel, I Wanna Be Your Joey Ramone.

I was also really into punk bands like Rancid and Social Distortion, early Green Day, all the Lookout! Records bands. I still listen to a lot of those bands. Mark Lanegan from Screaming Trees, his solo albums are like the music of my soul.

Music is my biggest inspiration for writing. I make playlists to tease out the themes and emotions in my stories. The music I listened to as a teenager, especially bands like Nirvana, Bikini Kill, and Sleater-Kinney are what gave me the strength to use my voice, and today music still powers it.

Stephanie might appreciate this picture I took while on the way to Aberdeen...

Stephanie might appreciate this picture I took while on the way to Aberdeen…

 

It seems like writing for Rookie magazine has been like getting back in touch with the zine-writer you were as a teenager. Would you say that’s true? What would you like to tell us about writing for Rookie magazine?

Definitely! I responded to Tavi’s original call for submissions for her Sassy-inspired mag for this generation of teen girls BECAUSE it fulfilled my teen zine-writer dreams.

Writing for Rookie is incredible. The community of readers is like no other. It’s the only place on the internet where it is safe to read the comments because they are all smart, insightful, and completely heartfelt. It’s a dream come true to write for our readers AND to work with such incredible writers, illustrators, and editors. I cannot express how amazing our editors are. I like to say that it’s been part two of my MFA program because that is how much they’ve taught me. I’ve become a much better writer because of Rookie.  I’ve become better at analyzing my own thoughts and feelings as well as more culturally aware and informed. Every day I read the site and am in awe. I’m seriously lucky to be a part of something so real, so smart, so beautifully executed. Rookie is Literally the Best Thing Ever.

According to Stephanie Kuehnert, Rookie Magazine is Literally the Best Thing Ever.

According to Stephanie Kuehnert, Rookie Magazine is Literally the Best Thing Ever.

 

What’s your favorite piece of writing advice?

Ah, there is so much great advice out there. I constantly have to remind myself that it’s okay to write shitty first drafts. Also “butt in chair” and just WRITE is essential. It’s so easy to get derailed even by social media, promotion, etc., but the key is to JUST FINISH THE DRAFT. And then rewrite!

 

What’s one piece of advice you would have given your teenage self?

The advice I’d give teen me or an aspiring writer me is something I wrote on one of my group blogs a couple of months ago (just four days before I learned I sold my memoir, actually) and that is to embrace the fact that nothing will ever go as expected. Not life. Not any novel I’ve written. Certainly not my writing career. As a planner, this KILLS me, but those derailments—dropping out of my first college, changing plot points in a story, starting to write non-fiction—all brought me to this awesome place I’m in now. So yeah, nothing will ever go as planned and that’s okay. It will give you new stories to tell.

Stephanie Kuehnert

Stephanie Kuehnert

The “I like my books like I like my men” CONTEST — Win books! Have fun!

The “I like my books like I like my men” CONTEST — Win books! Have fun!

*Check out my post on mistakes writers make on the Carve blog!*

 

THE FIRST EVER IN THE GARDEN OF EVA CONTEST!!

THE INSPIRATION:

My man and I sometimes go to Jet City Improv in Seattle, and this contest is based on one of our favorite line games. The way the game works is that a suggestion for an object is taken from the audience, like, say, “hamburger.” The improvising actors step forward one at a time and say things like…

“I like my men like I like my hamburgers – big and beefy with a nice pickle.”
or
“I like my women like I like my hamburgers – with hot buns.”

My man and me.

My man and me.

HOW IT WORKS:

My contest is similar. The way it works is this:  choose one of the openings below and fill in the blanks.

I like my books like I like my ______________ — explanation 

Writing is like __________ — explanation

Here are some examples:

I like my books like I like my men – they keep me up all night.

Writing is like a unicorn vomiting rainbows — magical, but messy as hell.

 

WHAT WILL I WIN?  

The top winner will get his/her choice of a helpful book about writing.  Either the 2014 Writer’s Market Deluxe Edition, or Writing & Selling the YA Novel by K.L. Going.  The second place winner will get whichever of those books the first place winner didn’t choose. And first, second, and third place winners will get their entries published here, on In the Garden of Eva.

Prizes -- helpful books about writing!

Prizes — helpful books about writing!

IMPORTANT DETAILS:  

Submit your entry below by AUGUST 27th, 2014.  (That’s right, people.  You only have 8 days to write one sentence, so you’d better get cracking.)  Give your name and email address, and type your entry in the comments section below.  You can enter as many times as you wish.  Good luck!  Get creative!

 

Hiking Mt. Rainier & Learning to Pause like a Yogi

Hiking Mt. Rainier & Learning to Pause like a Yogi

*Check out my interview with Jeni Stewart on the Carve Magazine blog!*

The past two weekends, my finance’ and I have gone to Mt. Rainier National Park, a two and a half hour drive southeast from where we live in Seattle.

The first weekend we saw crystal-clear Mowich Lake, the spectacular Spray Falls, and wildflowers blooming in Spray Park. Last weekend, we went to the northeast entrance and saw stunning views of The Mountain and the aptly named Frozen Lake.

Mowich Lake

Mowich Lake

On our second trip, Paul and I had plans to hike the Burroughs Mountain trail, but instead we consulted the map and decided to take the Wonderland Trail from White River Campground to Frozen Lake.  It seemed like a good idea on the map, and we even had plans to continue on after Frozen Lake if we weren’t tired.

So we started hiking uphill through the mossy forest of cedars and Douglas firs. We were the only people on the trail, which surprised us since the parking lots had been jam-packed. But we enjoyed the solitude and the chipmunk sitings as we huffed and puffed our way up one steep switchback after another.

Soon, it became apparent why we were alone on the trail: it was really freaking hard. For two miles did nothing but climb; my thighs and lungs started to protest.

“Let’s take a break for a minute,” I said, pointing to a log. But no sooner had we sat down and pulled out our snacks, the bugs began to attack, trying to drink our salty sweat and dive into the whites of our eyes.

“Do you think you can walk and eat at the same time?” Paul asked. “I’m getting bitten up.” So we continued on without a rest.

“I really hope we get to something soon,” I said between heaving breathing. “A lake, or a view of the mountain, or something.” The old growth forest was nice, but at this point it wasn’t doing much to motivate me up the steep grade.

“I think we’re getting close to something,” Paul said. This was the third or fourth time he’d said this.

But this time, he was right! We came around a bend, and suddenly, there was the mountain, looming beyond the trees. Paul and I stopped for a moment to admire her, but then the bugs found us, and we continued on.

Mt. Rainier

Mt. Rainier

Earlier, on the way to the park, I had been reading out loud from Huston Smith’s The World’s Religions. We were on the chapter about Hinduism, and I was reading about yogis. (Real ones, mind you, not cougar moms toning their abs.)

One of the eight steps to raja yoga, or the art of finding god through psychophysical exercise, is “mastery of respiration.” When a yogi does a cycle of sixteen counts inhaling, sixty-four counts holding, and thirty-two counts exhaling, I read, “there is a stretch during which animation is reduced to the point that the mind seems disembodied. These are cherished moments for the task at hand.”

“Well, yeah,” I joked, “because of lack of oxygen to the brain.”

But it reminded me of something one of my yoga teachers had said recently: “After you breathe out, stop for a moment,” she instructed. “Don’t be in such a rush to inhale.”

I’m always in such a rush to do the next thing, even when I’m breathing. I never stop for a rest between activities. And as it turns out, it’s nice to pause after an exhale; it makes you appreciate the inhale even more.

On the trail from Shadow Lake to Frozen Lake.

On the trail from Shadow Lake to Frozen Lake.

I was not mastering my respiration at all as Paul and I climbed the dusty path towards Frozen Lake. At this point, we had hiked over four miles, with an elevation gain of about 2,500 feet. We were above the tree line now, and despite the eighty-degree temperatures, there were patches of snow alongside the trail.

“Oh my gosh, we’ve got to be almost there,” I huffed. I wasn’t sure I was going to make it to Frozen Lake, even though some hikers coming down had told us it wasn’t too much further.

“At least it’s going to be smooth sailing going back,” I said. “I can’t wait to go downhill.”

We climbed one last hill, and then we were there: Frozen Lake. We sat on a rock, eating apple slices and drinking warm water from our plastic bottles. It was one of the first times during our hike that we’d actually been able to stop and rest. Every other attempt had been thwarted by bugs or blazing sun.

On another rock, a group of hikers cracked open cold beers, and I thought about how good that would taste, and how the alcohol would soften my aching thigh muscles. I looked forward to stopping somewhere on the way home and ordering a beer. Then I reminded myself to appreciate the present moment and stop being in such a rush to move on to the next thing.

“It’s getting late,” Paul said. “We should head back.” As much as I thought we should continue appreciating the place we’d worked so hard to get to, he was right.  We had 4.5 miles to hike, followed by a two and a half hour drive. And it was already late in the day. So I took one last picture, and we started down the trail.

Paul at Frozen Lake.

Paul at Frozen Lake.

I used to think that when I finished writing a novel, I would stop to relax and congratulate myself — maybe take a little writing break, but instead I find that every time I finish a novel (because I’ve written several at this point), the next day is nothing special. I move on to the next thing: writing another novel, or revising an old one. Sometimes I’ll even think things like, “I can’t wait until I finish this novel because then I can start on my next idea.”

I rarely take the time to pause between exhale and inhale — literally and figuratively. And I don’t always remember to enjoy the present moment, because I’m already thinking about the next place I want to go.

As Paul and I hiked back down to White River Campground, the going was pleasant… at first. After a couple of miles, though, the bugs found us again, and descending got to be nearly as hard on our legs as the ascent had been.

“I can’t wait to get to the car and sit down,” Paul said.

“I can’t wait to take my boots off.” My feet were throbbing. I reminded myself to appreciate the present moment.  “I mean, I’m enjoying the present moment and this hike,” I amended, “but I’m also going to really enjoy the moment I take my boots off.”

We finally arrived in the parking lot and sat down thankfully in the car. I groaned with pleasure as I removed each dusty boot and peeled each sweaty sock from my swollen feet. Maybe I don’t always take the time to pause, but at that moment, I was thinking of nothing else but how delightful it felt for my toes to be wriggling free in the (somewhat) cool air.

Mt. Rainier Take 2 048

It’s not always easy to do nothing. Nagging thoughts begin to swarm like bugs, and the heat of the day urges you to hurry up and go on to next thing, and then the next.

But sometimes, when the trail has been hard, and it’s the end of the day, you can finally pause and find a restorative stillness in yourself. It’s something I have to remind myself every day: living a good life doesn’t mean I must always be moving. Taking breaks is important, too, and so is appreciating the heights I’ve reached, even if they aren’t as far as I thought I’d go.  Besides, the best views of The Mountain are usually found when you’re standing still.

foto (5)

The light of a lamp does not flicker in a windless place. — (Bhagavad-Gita VI:34)

How to Save the Life of Your Story

How to Save the Life of Your Story

Do you remember the frame story of One Thousand and One (Arabian) Nights? It goes like this: A king is bitter because his wife was unfaithful, so he starts marrying virgins and having them executed the very next day (before they have a chance to cheat on him.) Just as the kingdom is running dangerously low on virgins, a clever girl named Scheherazade offers herself up as the next bride.

On the wedding night, Scheherazade begins to tell the king a most incredible tale, but she goes to sleep before the story is finished. Dying to know what happens next, the King keeps her alive for another day. The next night, as soon as she finishes the story, she begins a new one, and the king, eager to hear the conclusion of that one, postpones her execution again. And on and on for 1,001 nights, and those tales comprise the bulk of the book.

By the end of the 1001 nights, the king has fallen in love with Scheherazade and decides to keep her around.

Just one way that story-telling can save your life.

Scheherazade tells the king a story.  photo credit.

Scheherazade tells the king a story. photo credit.

 

In his high-brow classic, Aspects of the Novel, E.M. Forster say that we are all like the Arabian King in that we are curious to know what will happen next. “That is universal,” he says and that is “why the backbone of a novel has to be a story.”

Lyrical language or hilarious dialogue or poignant symbols: these things are wonderful accessories, but they aren’t going to save your novel. Only a story can do that.

Forster says a story can only have one merit: “making the audience want to know what happens next.” And it can only have one fault: “making the audience not want to know what happens next.”

It seems pretty simple, but I’m surprised by how many novels I begin reading and never finish because I don’t care what happens next.

So the question is, how do we make our readers care about what happens next? After all, we’re not all writing mystery or thriller novels.

Here are basic some ideas:
1. Make things happen (i.e. make your characters do stuff.)
2. Give your characters wants and needs.
3. Increase the stakes.  (What will happen if characters do/don’t get their wants and needs?) 

But, alas, even following these three guidelines is not always enough. I’ve read the first chapter of novels in which the characters are driving around in stolen cars, shooting people or being shot at, and the stakes are life-or-death, and still I don’t care what happens next. Why? Because I don’t care about the characters.

So is the path to a good story is via the characters?  That’s certainly what I was taught in my MFA program.

Question:  How do you make your readers care about your characters? Answer:  By making them do stuff.

Ahh!  It’s a Catch-22:  Readers don’t care about what the character is doing unless they care about the character. But they don’t care about the character unless the character is doing something.

Hey, I never said writing a story was easy.

Find balance between character and action.

Find balance between character and action.  (It’s not easy.)

As with everything, the key is balance. As you’re writing a novel, blend together the “getting to know the character” and the action of “what happens.” And remember that one of the best way to reveal character is through action itself. What your character does tells us who they are.  

If you keep these two aspects of the novel (character and action) in balance, you will create a suspenseful story, and hopefully your readers will continue eagerly flipping the pages, or at least decide to postpone your execution for one more day.

Snow Emergencies & A Minneapolis Apartment Search

Snow Emergencies & A Minneapolis Apartment Search

Paul and I are moving from Seattle to Minneapolis at the end of August for Paul’s job.

The only thing that really scares us about Minnesota is the cold and snow, but that scares us a lot. The Twin Cities have the coldest average temperature of any major metropolitan area in the nation, with the snow starting in late October and often refusing to melt until mid-April.

Two weekends ago, when Paul and I flew there to look for an apartment, we had already decided we needed a two bedroom with a garage for our cars, and preferably something connected to the “Skyway” system so that in sub-zero temperatures we could scurry like hamsters through the heated tunnels of downtown to get to the grocery store and Target.

Unfortunately, it turns out that when an apartment building is connected to the Skyway, the rent automatically doubles. And those garage spots? They are, on average, an additional $100 a month per car.

So we broadened our horizons.

Heated “tubes” connect the buildings of downtown Minneapolis, forming the “Skyway System.” photo credit.

 

We went to look at a red brick row house apartment on the edge of downtown. It looked super awesome in the craigslist ad, but in person it was a little bit shabbier and sketchier than I’d imagined. It did, however, have high ceilings, large rooms, and a cute (but nonworking) fireplace.

“How old is this house?” I asked as we traversed across the sloping kitchen floor.

“Built in 1868,” the owner said proudly.

“Wow.” It was an interesting place, although the neighborhood was questionable, and the downstairs neighbors were what Paul called urban hillbillies, lounging on the back deck, smoking and drinking, with bellies exposed.

The apartment was in our price range, though, and it was only a few blocks from the Skyway system.

“I have to ask,” I said, looking at the rickety, single-pane windows, “how hard is it to heat this place in the winter?”

“Oh, it’s not too bad. It can get pretty toasty in here,” the owner said, but I wasn’t sure if I believed him. He was a hefty, red-faced man who probably had his own, built-in heating system.

“What about the parking?” Paul asked. He was concerned about our cars, having seen a few rusted-out vehicles parked on the street out front. A long winter of snow and salt is not kind to automobile undercarriages.

“Everybody parks out back,” the owner said, pointing to a gravel lot. “Off-street parking. And in the winter Billy Bob* downstairs takes care of digging out the driveway every morning.”

Every morning?! I thought.

We said thank you and headed to our next appointment: an apartment in an Elliot Park triplex. There were sunflowers blooming in the front yard, and the laid-back owner, with a toddler-in-arms, led us around back, showing us the garage for bike storage and the adorable garden complete with a porch swing , bird feeders, and a small koi pond. A woodsy oasis in the middle of the city.

*Note:  Billy Bob was not his real name.  

The front yard of the Elliot Park apartment.

The front yard of the Elliot Park apartment.

Inside, the apartment was cozy and unique. The kitchen was a cheery blue, the dining room was painted red. There was a sunporch that would have been nice, were it not overlooking the Interstate.

“I find it soothing,” the owner said over the roar of the cars. “Like people-watching, only better.”

Paul and I exchanged glances.

He showed us the small “master” bedroom with a tiny, over-stuffed closet, but then he showed us the second bedroom. It was painted green and overlooked the back yard. It was quiet and lovely, and I got the sense that I was standing in a tree house.

“This could be my office,” Paul said.

“Or mine,” I countered. I could totally imagine sitting in this room, writing novels.

Back in the kitchen, with the owner’s adorably-pregnant wife, we asked about parking. “Well, it’s street parking,” the owner said. “But it’s not a big deal. Just get yourself a good snow shovel and an engine heater and you’ll be fine.”

“And make sure you move your car during snow emergencies,” the wife added.  “So you don’t get those hundred dollar tickets.”

“Snow emergencies?” Paul and I repeated. “What are those?”

“Oh, it’s not a big deal,” the owner said. But at our hotel later, Paul and I did some research, and it seems that it IS a big deal.

Here are some pictures to explain why:

We decided right then and there that we needed the garage. And the Skyway. I wasn’t even sure I wanted to drive at all in this snow-blasted city.  (In fact, I’ve decided to sell my car.)

The next morning, Paul and I went to see an apartment downtown. I liked the location of it (only one block from the river and connected to the Skyway), but the two bedroom on the fifth floor was too expensive and had a depressing view of the side of the post office.

“We also have a one bedroom one bath for a couple hundred less,” the property manager told us. “It’s on the nineteenth floor.”

We decided to take a look. The three of us rode the elevator up and walked down the hall. When we stepped into the apartment, something in me just knew. This was it.

Even though it was only 800 square feet, it didn’t feel small. And the view… It was a corner apartment with huge windows overlooking both the Mississippi River and the pretty part of downtown Minneapolis.

Paul and I walked around saying, “we could make this work,” and “this is definitely do-able.”

There was no washer-dryer in the unit, only one bathroom, and only one garage parking spot, but it felt right. Even though we kept looking at places for the rest of the day, deep down, Paul and I had already decided.

*  *  *

Apartment searching is so hard. There are pros and cons about every place, and you’ll never find somewhere that’s perfect.

Plus it’s sort of like online dating. No matter how awesome the place seems on craigslist, you have to see it in person to really understand.

And despite all pro-con lists you make, despite the fact that that another apartment makes more sense because it’s larger and cheaper and has a washer/dryer, at the end of the day, it’s about the unmistakable feeling you get when you step in to an apartment and, despite it’s flaws, you want to call it yours.

It’s probably the way agents feel when they find a book they want to represent. It’s the way people feel when they find someone they want to marry. It’s the way I feel about my writing career every single day.

I wrote two novels this past year in Seattle.  I look forward to writing two more in Minneapolis.

I Would Do Anything for Writing… But I Won’t Do That!

I Would Do Anything for Writing…  But I Won’t Do That!

For the past two years, I have claimed writing as my career, which sounds like I’m making money from my writing, but alas, this is not the case.

Well, I did get paid $20 for my story in Witches, Stitches, & Bitches. And I received a $3.90 check last year from Café Irreal for my flash fiction piece. So there’s money coming in. But still, most of the writing I do, I do for free.

I’m hoping that will change now that I have an agent, but I’m also keeping realistic expectations. You can read here or here about how much the average writer makes on a book deal.  Spoiler alert:  not much.

Basically, this means I have to have other jobs besides writing. Currently I tutor Ukrainians on Skype and write math curriculum. I also worked this year as an after-school assistant, and when I lived in Cape Cod I worked as a bar trivia hostess and a wine sampler in a liquor store. (I realize this makes it sound like I sampled the wine, which I did, but my job was to give it out to the customers.)

I work for free!

All the writing I do, I do for free!

My fiancé and I are moving to Minneapolis at the end of the summer, so I’ve started trolling the craigslist job boards for part-time work. The best situation would be an afternoon gig (I do my best writing in the morning) that isn’t too horrible or boring.

I found a few tutoring and teaching jobs, so I applied for those, and then, as I was scanning the writing/editing section of craigslist, I noticed an ad that was disturbing, yet intriguing:

Get Paid To Woo Women On OkCupid & Tinder? (work from home)
compensation: $13-$15 per hour

What if you could get PAID to woo women and get them to respond to your messages?

Believe it or not, this sort of job actually does exist. Our business has been featured all over the media by outlets like FOX, the Today Show and the Washington Post… And we’ll pay you to write profiles and messages for our clients while sitting at home in your pajamas.

Right now we’ve got part-time opportunities available with eventual full-time potential. If you’ve got the skills, we’ll hire you immediately for this long-term position.

Think you have the charm, wit and wordsmith skills to join our team? Then send a quick email to HR@virtualdatingassistants.com with “Creative Writer in Minneapolis” right in the subject line, and we’ll tell you more about the most entertaining job in the world.

“Babe, listen to this job,” I said to Paul, who I happened to meet on okcupid a few years ago. “I’m fascinated by this, but it’s so morally wrong.”

“You should email about it!” Paul said. “You’d be good at that.”

“I would be,” I agreed. “I have experience wooing people online.  But morally, I just couldn’t do it.”

And yet, I couldn’t get the ad out of my head.  In the sub-zero temperatures of the six-month long Minneapolis winter, I’m not going to want to leave the warmth of my apartment, and it sure would be nice to get paid for writing…

“Maybe it’s not so bad,” I said. “Maybe it’s like, you talk to the guy and find out things about him and then say, ‘ok, why don’t we write this on your profile,’ or ‘why don’t we phrase it like this.’ That wouldn’t be so bad. You’re just helping him write his profile.”

“I doubt that’s how it works,” Paul said, but I decided to email for more information. Besides, I was curious.  If I ended up doing this job, it would give me a ton of interesting things to write about.

Paul and me.  I'm glad he turned out to be the real thing!

Paul and me. I’m glad he turned out to be the real thing!

The company emailed me back almost immediately. The email detailed information about Virtual Internet Dating Assistants (VIDA), and what they were looking for in writers:

Here’s What You’ll Do:

- You’ll craft magnetically-attractive profiles that grab the reader’s attention right from the start and holds it as she reads every last word.

- You’ll write new, high-performing template emails that we can quickly copy, paste and send to different women for our clients.

- You’ll ghostwrite back and forth emails, as the client, with the end goal of getting her phone number or setting up a date.

“Oh my god,” I said to Paul. “No. No. I cannot do this. You actually write back and forth emails, pretending to be the guy.”

“The guys just want to get laid,” Paul says. “They’re going to go on the date and not know anything about the girl because they weren’t the one actually messaging with her.”

I thought back to the several years I spent doing online dating. This could have happened to me for all I know. I could have been messaging back and forth with a guy, getting excited about how witty and interesting he was, when actually it was some female novelist emailing me for fifteen bucks an hour. Come to think of it, I’d gone on at least a few dates where the guy seemed much more awesome online than he did in person.  Creepy!

“I can’t do it,” I said again. “It’s fascinating, but morally, I cannot get paid to dupe single girls for the benefit of horny rich dudes.” I was glad to know that even I have a line I’m not willing to cross.

Over the years, I have taken a lot of strange jobs because they allowed me flexibility and (sometimes) because I thought they would give me fodder for my writing. And some of these jobs toed the line of my own morality. For example, working as a SoCo shot girl. I wore a provocative outfit and was basically told to flirt with men until they bought drinks. That was questionable, to be sure.

But now I have found the line I am not willing to cross. Not even for a flexible, interesting, work-from-home job that allows me to use my writing skills. Being a virtual dating assistant? I would do a lot of things for my writing career…but I won’t do that.

No!  I won't do that!

No! I won’t do that!

Interview with Author, Coach, Model & Mother: Sonya Elliott

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Interview with Author, Coach, Model & Mother: Sonya Elliott

Sonya G. Elliott is a writer, basketball coach, fashion model, wife and mom. I was lucky enough to meet her in a recent writing workshop class at the Hugo House. Her memoir, Back on the Court: A Young Woman’s Triumphant Return to Life, Love and Basketball, is her story of surviving and thriving after tragedy. Sonya blogs about writing, basketball and life, and she is currently working on a young adult novel and a book about coaching basketball. She also designs PeaceLoveBasketball gear to share with others her love of the game and love of life.

Back on the Court by Sonya G. Elliott.

Struck by a train just days before her wedding, Sonya Elliott, an athlete and fashion model, miraculously survives. Her fiancé does not.

Tell me about publishing your memoir with Tigress Publishing in Seattle.

I was happy to get my story published, and glad that Tigress Publishing helped me do that, but as with most publishing companies, I was pretty much on my own with marketing after my book was in print.

 

What type of marketing have you done for Back on the Court?

Back on the Court was released at the beginning of basketball season, which made it a little more difficult for me because my time was limited, but I did as many book readings as possible. Because of the grief and recovery content of my book, and my desire to reach out and share my experience with others, I found the readings to be the most satisfying and often the most successful as far as direct sales. For book readings though, you have to be prepared that some days you might be reading to three people.

I also have a Facebook page, a Goodreads page, and I blog consistently these days.

 

Tell us more about doing book readings.

Before my book came out, I once drove an hour through traffic to see an author at Barnes & Noble. I remember sitting down with about seven other people, patiently waiting for the author to arrive. Forty minutes later she showed up, looked at the crowd, said that she was tired from being at events all day, apologized, and explained that she was just going to sign books. No reading. I didn’t buy a book, and I told myself that when my book was published, and I was lucky enough to do a reading, it wouldn’t matter if there was just one person at my reading, I would give that one person every bit of my energy.

And I have had a of couple readings where there were just three or four people, and honestly they ended up being some of the best readings because I got the chance to really connect. I’ve also talked to college basketball teams, grief support groups, and now, about once every other month, I talk to a massage/trauma class. Sometimes I sell books, sometimes I don’t, but I always meet some great people.

 

What writing projects are you working on these days?

My heart is in YA right now, and my current novel is a story of a young woman’s journey through a post-apocalyptic world: Dylan wakes in a post-apocalyptic world where a majority of the human species have died. With no friends or family left alive in her small town in central Washington, Dylan embarks on a challenging journey across the state in search of her sister, her strength and ultimately her future.

 

What are your writing goals for the next five years?

Wow, five years. Well, I would like to have my YA novel published by then, and my book on coaching well underway. I’m also co-authoring a book with friend of mine, so I would like to be ready to pitch that as well. And I plan to keep blogging and start submitting magazine articles.

She didn't really mention it, but Sonya also happens to be a fashion model.

Sonya also happens to be a fashion model.

How do you make time for your writing?

I’m a high school girls basketball coach, and I have two kids, so it’s difficult, but I carve out time whenever I can. I meet with my friend Jenny to write every Thursday; we make it a priority. The rest of the time, I pull out my computer or journal for a few hours at home, or sneak off to a coffee shop. If my husband is out of town, I’m known to stay up and write all night, but my kids come first, and after that I take what I can get. I also love to take writing classes to learn and give me deadlines. That always helps move my writing along.

 

Recently you and your teenage daughter took a writing class together. What was that like?

I LOVED IT!!! She is such an amazing writer, and it’s so fun to watch her learn and grow and be excited about writing. She is seventeen years old, so I feel so fortunate to have a strong relationship where we can talk about almost anything, write together, play basketball together, and enjoy one another. I am mom, and I’m sure I annoy her from time to time, but something would be wrong if I didn’t, so I just feel pretty damn lucky.

 

What’s your favorite piece of writing advice?

“Show, don’t tell” is a must. But just as important, or more important in my mind, is to believe in yourself. It is so easy to question our own writing, wonder if what we scribble down on paper is good enough. Sometimes we might wonder why we do it all, or if anyone even cares about what we write. We might have others critique our writing harshly or find it inconceivable that we waste our time putting pen to paper. You have to ignore it all, go with your gut, believe in yourself, and write.

DSC_0257

Sonya G. Elliott

 

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