RSS Feed

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

Posted on
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

 

Writing About Food — You Are What You Eat

Posted on
Writing About Food — You Are What You Eat

I am not one of those girls who has been planning her dream wedding for years, and now that I’m going to have one, I find myself a bit overwhelmed. I want to look pretty, and I want everyone to have fun, and I’m stoked about getting married in a train station, but as for the colors and flowers and hors d’oeuvres and all that… it’s not where my interests lie.

“To be honest, I don’t really care about the food,” I told a caterer on the phone last week. “I mean, I know there needs to be some…”

“Okay.” The woman seemed surprised. I guess a lot of couples use the food portion of their wedding to showcase their unique personalities (or their pocketbooks). What people eat says a lot about who they are.

I use this concept all the time in my writing. What my characters eat, cook, and serve their guests shows (instead of tells) important information about class, culture, and character. Besides, food can be a very sensual thing to describe. The way you write about it can set the tone.

For example, I love the way Janet Fitch writes about food in her novel White Oleander. After Ingrid’s mother goes to prison for the murder of her boyfriend, Barry, Ingrid drifts through a series of foster homes. Each home is its own world, with its own menus.  Here are a few passages:

Sunday, we went together to the Hollywood farmer’s market, where she and Barry bought spinach and green beans, tomatoes and grapes no bigger than the head of a thumbtack, papery braids of garlic, while I trailed behind them, mute with amazement at the sight of my mother examining displays of produce like it was a trip to the bookstore. My mother, for whom a meal was a carton of yogurt or a can of sardines and soda crackers. She could eat peanut butter for weeks on end without even noticing…

At home, the trailer smelled of ham. Starr served up lunch, creamed corn, canned pineapple rings, brown-and-serve rolls… I studied the little bowl of pink peppermint ice cream with jelly beans sprinkled over, and the Easter lily in the middle of the table in its foil-wrapped pot…

I walked up to the garbage can and looked inside. I could see her brown paper bag on top of the trash. It stank, they never washed out the cans, but I could do this. I pretended I had dropped something in the garbage, and grabbed the lunch sack. It held a tuna sandwich with pickle relish on buttered white bread. The crusts were cut off. There were carrot sticks and even can of apple juice fortified with vitamin C…

For a week, we ate out of paper cartons and jars with foreign writing on the labels from the Chalet Gourmet. Soft runny wedges of cheese, crusty baguettes, wrinkly Greek olives. Dark red prosciutto and honeydew melon, rose-scented diamonds of baklava. She didn’t eat much, but urged me to to finish the roast beef, the grapefruit sweet as an orange…

She got up and fished another beer out of the battered refrigerator, covered with stickers from rock bands. A glimpse of the interior didn’t look promising. Beer, takeout cartons, some lunch meat…

 

This might say a lot about me...

This might say a lot about me…

There’s a writing exercise I always read about in which you make a list of all the things your character(s) would buy at the grocery store. I’ve never done it myself (it always sounds a bit too much like a chore), but I do think what your characters eat and the way they eat it is an important thing to consider. Incorporating food into scenes of your novel or story gives you a lot to play with and can help reveal character, mood, and conflict.

Maybe you don’t have to do the grocery list exercise, but if you’re ever trying to explore your characters more thoroughly, try describing what she ate for lunch, or what he cooked for his date, or maybe even what they served at their wedding reception.

And if you have any great ideas about that last one, let me know…

What We Found at Snow Lake, or, Hiking with a Hobo Stick

Posted on
What We Found at Snow Lake, or, Hiking with a Hobo Stick

On the last weekend in June, my fiance’, suggested that we go hiking at Snow Lake in the Cascades.  He showed me the picture below, so obviously I said yes.

Snow Lake, Snoqualmie Pass.  photo credit.

Snow Lake, Snoqualmie Pass. photo credit.

In Seattle, the sun was starting to come out, and I was worried about getting too hot in my jeans, but I kept them on and even grabbed my flannel shirt because it tends to be cooler in the mountains. As we drove out to Snoqualmie Pass, I imagined that we’d make a somewhat leisurely loop around the lake, pausing occasionally to sit and admire the the snow-capped peaks reflecting in the crytalline water.

But when we finally got to the trail-head, ominous clouds were rolling in, and we realized we hadn’t brought rain gear, or even a backpack. Paul found an umbrella in my car and used it to fashion a hobo stick so he could carry our bag of snacks and water. “I don’t think we’ll need this,” he said, tossing my bottle of sunscreen in the backseat.  We put on our boots and began to hike.

Eva and the hobo sack.

Eva and the hobo sack.

According to the map, the lake was sitting high above us, and we were going to have to climb to an elevation of 4,400 feet in order to see it. It was then that I understood — we weren’t hiking around the lake, but to it.

The hiking, however, was delightful. The air smelled of Christmas trees, and all around us was the sound of rushing waterfalls as the snowmelt made its way down the rocky mountainsides. Tiny, bell-shaped wildflowers bloomed along the edges of the trail, and we began to see bright patches of snow.

Soon enough, we were tromping through these patches, laughing as we slipped in the icy, packed-down snow. In the distance were tall, snow-capped peaks, and clouds moved against the mountains, pushing their way up and over to the other side.

It grew colder, but we were sweating from exertion. We passed plenty of other hikers with snow poles and REI rain gear. They looked at us oddly — especially at Paul, who was carrying the hobo stick.

Then it began to rain. Lightly at first, but then heavier. Surprisingly, I didn’t mind. I was enjoying the beauty of it all; I was enjoying being with Paul. I was even enjoying the ache in my hamstrings as we continued up an ever-steepening path.

The last stretch was the hardest. The temperature had dropped severely, and my fingers were starting to go numb as we clamored over snowy rocks. The air was misty and cold; we had hiked into the clouds. We finally reached the overlook and scrambled up to the top of a big rock to look down at the lake, but all I could see was the white mist that swirled all around us.

“That’s it,” Paul said, pointing into the blurry ,white distance.

“Where?” My teeth were chattering.

“That’s the lake. It’s frozen.”

And so it was. Through the cloudy mist I could just make out part of the lake, frozen and covered with a sheet of hardened snow.

We ate some trail mix then headed back down the mountain, damp and chilled to the bone.

Right before we started hiking into the clouds.

Right before we started hiking into the clouds.

We were a little disappointed. It would have been nice to see the crystalline lake surrounded by mountains. To think, I’d been worried about getting hot and sunburned.  “But I’m still enjoying this hike,” I said as we picked our way down the side of the mountain. “It wasn’t what I was expecting, but this is still fun.”

And I meant it. I was enjoying the fresh air, the smell of pines, the sound of the waterfalls. I had even enjoyed the challenge of walking up steep switchbacks into the clouds.

This is the way life goes sometimes, isn’t it? Things are different (or more difficult) than you imagined.  You’re unprepared, and the things you worried about seem silly because it’s something else — something you didn’t even think of — that is the problem.  Still, you can often make do, perhaps with a hobo stick and a cheerful attitude, and find a way to enjoy the journey anyway.

(The other life lesson I took from this:  pay attention to names.  I mean, it was called Snow Lake.)

Snow-melt waterfalls at the beginning of the trail.  Beautiful!

Snow-melt waterfalls at the beginning of the trail. Beautiful!

Writing Proofs, or, When in Doubt, Print it Out!

Posted on
Writing Proofs, or, When in Doubt, Print it Out!

*Check out my 10 Tips for Writing Revealing Dialogue on the Carve blog!*

When I was nineteen, I dropped out of college, drove to L.A., and tried to become an actress. When that didn’t pan out, I went back to school and thought about what I could do for a living now instead of starring in Hollywood blockbusters. At that time, I loved creative writing, but I didn’t think it was a career option, and after my time in L.A., I didn’t want to pursue something else that involved a lot of rejection. So I decided to become a math teacher.

I was under the impression that I would need to major in math if I wanted to teach it (this is untrue — all you have to do is pass a test that’s easier than the math section of the SATs), so I started taking a bunch of math classes: Multivariable Calculus, Differential Equations, Complex Analysis.

My least favorite classes were the ones taught by the crazy Russian professors, who, I’m pretty sure, knew only three words in English: “yes,” “no,” and “elementary,” the last of which being their aggressive comment as they scribbled onto the chalkboard strings of equations that did not seem elementary to me.

One of my better homework assignments from college math.

One of my better homework assignments from college math.

My favorite classes were the ones in which we proved theorems. In a way, writing an elegant proof is a lot like writing a story. You start with a set of givens, and you usually know the conclusion you want to reach at the end. But you’re not quite sure how to get from point A to point B. You have to be creative. You have to play around and try different things. You start out with a sentence (mathematical, of course), and another sentence logically follows. There’s usually a turning point towards the end of the proof, and then suddenly, the result becomes clear.

Sometimes, when I couldn’t figure out what I was doing wrong in a proof or a math problem, I would write everything out in really large handwriting, taking up entire sheets of paper. It sounds stupid, but when everything was bigger, my mistakes would become glaringly obvious. And with the math screaming at me from the page, it was usually easier to see what I needed to do next.

*  *  *

Minoring in math was somewhat of a hindrance when I first started teaching. I taught Pre-Algebra and Algebra I to students who barely knew their multiplication tables. I had to come out of the clouds of higher mathematics and back down to the basics. What was elementary to me was not for my students, and it took me a while to realize that.

One thing that did carry over from my college math days was an insistence that my students write things down. I encouraged mental math, but also insisted that they write things down, especially on tests and other times when it “counted.”  I adopted the catch phrase, “when in doubt, write it out.”  I also told my students the trick of writing large. “It sounds silly,” I said, “ but the bigger you write, the easier it will be to see your mistakes on the paper.”

My very first classroom.

My very first classroom.

And yet, I don’t always follow my own advice. Can you believe that I submitted one of my novels to my mentor, to readers, and even to agents, without ever once printing it out and revising it on paper? I’m really embarrassed to admit that, but it’s true, and I’m confessing right now.

The problem is that I’m stingy and environmentally-friendly. I figured, why spend twenty dollars at Staples and kill trees when I can just revise on my computer instead?

The reason should be obvious by now. It’s so much easier to see your mistakes on paper.

Last week I worked through the edits and revisions my agent gave me, and as a final step before sending the manuscript back to him, I printed it out at Staples and read through it one more time. I found so many things to change.  There were missing commas, unnecessary adverbs, repeated words, awkward phrases. I was mortified that I’d sent such a messy copy to my agent in the first place.

I’ve learned my lesson, and here it is spelled out for the rest of you:  If you think you can do all your revisions on the computer, you’re wrong. Print it out. Print it out double-spaced, and maybe even in a font larger than 12. If you’re worried about the trees, print double-sided and change the margins to 0.5. Write off the expense on your taxes.

When in doubt, print it out. Because I guarantee, you will catch more mistakes on paper than you ever will on the computer. It’s elementary, and I’ll never forget it again.

Take a good look at your manuscript..on paper!

Take a good look at your manuscript..on paper!

Lessons on Tweeting, or, Why Writers Should Love Twitter

Posted on
Lessons on Tweeting, or, Why Writers Should Love Twitter

I joined Twitter two years ago, but for a long time I didn’t get what it was good for. I tweeted at my favorite musician, Beck, and got no reply. I read my friends’ tweets, which were mostly funny things their kids said, or random thoughts they were having while standing in line at the grocery store. I linked my blog to Twitter, but I had no followers.  How was this going to help me as a writer?

I’d heard that Twitter could help me build my author platform, as in make people aware of me and what I write so that when I have a book with my name on it, I’ll have a ready-made audience to sell it to. But I wasn’t sure how to gain followers, and I didn’t understand what made Twitter better than facebook or blogging.

It wasn’t until recently that I learned the secret: before Twitter can help you build your platform, you have to use it as a way to gather information. Once you have information to share, people will automatically want to follow you.

I follow Beck.  He does not follow me.

I follow Beck. He does not follow me.

I am in no way an expert at Twitter, but here are some basics I’ve learned…

#1 Make Twitter a way to gather information on specific topics.
I started following authors, agents, editors, and organizations like Winning Writers, Writer’s Digest, Literary Rejections, Burlesque Press, Jen Violi, and Writer’s Relief. These entities constantly tweet info about writing conferences and contests, agents who are open to submissions, trends in publishing, and new books to read. They also tweet writing prompts, helpful links, and encouraging quotes. I’ve realized that Twitter can be an incredible resource.

#2 Follow people who have the info you need.
This pretty much goes along with what I said in #1. Instead of worrying about who’s following you, follow people who tweet the info you want. You can find these people by searching in the Twitter search bar, seeing who other people follow, or googling, for example, “Top Twitter Lists for Writers.”

Of course, you probably still want to follow your friends, too. And you might want to follow Ellen, because she’s funny, or Beck, because he’s amazing. Now, here’s where it gets complicated because your Twitter feed will start to get really full really fast, and you will be overwhelmed with the number of tweets to scroll through. That’s when you can start organizing the people you follow into Lists, which is a Twitter feature. For example, you can make a List of your friends and family, a List of writing people, and a List of miscellaneous. Then, depending on your mood, read only the tweets from one of those lists.

#3 Search tweets using hash tags.
I’m going to be honest, I don’t totally get hashtags — how do they get started, for one thing? But I do know they can be helpful. You can search Twitter via a hashtag and find posts from anyone who has used that hashtag, whether you follow them or not. Some helpful hashtags I’ve learned about are:
#amreading
#writingcontest
#writingtip
#querytip (tweets about querying literary agents)
#MSWL (stands for “manuscript wish-list” and is what agents use when they are tweeting about the types of submissions they’re looking for. For example, agent Julia Weber recently tweeted “I’d love to see mss about the model/fashion industry. I don’t mind if it’s fun or shows the darker side.#MSWL”)

If you’re not sure what hashtag to search for, try typing different things into the Twitter search bar, or look at what hashtags are trending in the side bar of your Twitter feed.

#4 Retweet and favorite
Let’s say you read a helpful or interesting tweet. You can retweet it so that all your followers now have access to that information. Not only can retweeting bring you to the attention of the person who tweeted (and maybe they’ll start following you), but if you retweet enough good stuff, people will take notice and start following you.

Favoriting a tweet can be nice, too, because although it doesn’t share the tweet with your followers, it is a way to mark a tweet you like so you can refer back to it later. (Twitter keeps track of your favorites.) It’s also a way to let the person tweeting know that you appreciate their content, and again, maybe they will decide to follow you.

#5 Repeat tweet.
I have my blog connected to my Twitter so that every time I post on In the Garden of Eva, a link is automatically posted on Twitter. Which is great. But, I’ve noticed from reading my own Twitter feed that it’s nearly impossible to read all the daily tweets, and it’s really easy for a great tweet to get lost in the shuffle. Which is why, on occasion, I will tweet the link to my blog post again the next day. I don’ t do it so many times that it becomes annoying, but just once or twice in case people missed it the first time.

Tweet.  Tweet.  (Paul and Eva with some parakeets.)

Tweet. Tweet. (Paul and Eva with some parakeets.)

My Biggest Twitter Success Story (So Far), or, Why Writers Should Use Twitter

I happened to be scrolling through Twitter about a month ago when I saw that Writer’s Digest had tweeted:
Spread the word: If you write fantasy or sci-fi novels (adult or young adult), pitch agents on Twitter during #SFFpit today.

I had done one of these Twitter pitches a few weeks earlier and nothing had happened, but I decided to try this one. Plus, condensing a novel into 140 characters is a great challenge. So I tweeted:  When the Piper spirits away the children of Hamelin, leaving crippled Brigitta behind, she journeys to find them. (Lower YA) #SFFpit

This meant that any agent looking to obtain a Sci-Fi/Fantasy manuscript could search Twitter for #SFFpit and see my pitch, along with everyone else’s.

A few hours later, I got a bite! A new agent in Canada favorited my tweet, which meant she wanted me to query her with the first 50 pages!

I queried her, and she wrote back the next day, asking for the full manuscript. I sent her the manuscript, and to make a long story short, we talked on Skype and she offered to represent me. At the same time (because this is how these things go — when it rains it pours), I got an offer from Alex Christofi with Conville & Walsh, and, in the end, I decided to go with Alex as my agent instead.

But it was all pretty exciting, and that Canadian agent signed at least two other authors that she found on Twitter through #SFFpit.  If that’s not a good enough example of why writers should use Twitter, I don’t know what is.

So go out there and get tweeting!

 

 

Put It Out There, or, Why It Helps to Have a Blabbermouth Blog

Posted on
Put It Out There, or, Why It Helps to Have a Blabbermouth Blog

When I was in high school, I had this theory that if you liked a boy and wanted to increase your chances of going out with him, you should let it slip to a blabbermouth friend about your crush. Inevitably, the news would trickle through various ears and mouths until your crush heard about your interest. After that, one of three things would happen. If he didn’t like you, you could play it off as a rumor. If he did like you, he would now have the courage to ask you out. (High school boys have fragile egos, and they don’t like to make the first move unless they’re pretty sure they won’t get shot down.)

And then there was a third possibility. Maybe he had never thought of you in that way before, but after hearing about your crush, he would be flattered and intrigued. He might look at you in a different way and develop an interest in you he never would have realized otherwise. (It works the other way, too — I’m pretty sure I went out with some boys in high school just because I heard that they had crushes on me.)

In other words, if you put your desire out there into the world, you’re more likely to get what you want, one way or the other.

Let your secret out! photo credit

Almost exactly two years ago, I started this blog as a way to put my desire out there into the world. In my very first post, I said: I want to publish a book; I want to make writing my job.

This was a big step for me. For a long time, I hadn’t told people about my writing goals because I was afraid that if I didn’t achieve them I would look foolish.

The blog was, in a way, me telling a blabbermouth friend (the Internet) about my desires; it was also a way to hold myself accountable. Now that I had announced it, I couldn’t hide in the safety net of math teaching any longer. I had to go out there (and by “go out there” I mean I had to sit at home in front of my computer) and try my very best to make a career out of writing.

*   *  *

And then something else happened in those first few months of blogging. I put another desire out there. In My Most Personal Post Yet I wrote:

What I really want more than anything else… is to be out on the beach… sitting in a low canvas chair next to a man I love, drinking beer and watching our children play in the sand. I don’t want to always be thinking about getting home and writing about my experiences so I can share them with others. I want someone to be at my side, experiencing things with me, in the very moment that they happen.

And, ironically, it was right around this time that someone (someone named Paul) started reading my blog and taking an interest in me…

Nauset Beach in Cape Cod, where I was living when I first started this blog.

Nauset Beach in Cape Cod, where I was living when I first started this blog.

I hope I’m not sounding like The Secret (which I’ve never seen/read), or acting too New-Agey. (“Set an intention, and the universe will hear you.”) All I’m saying is that if you admit to yourself and to the world what it is you really want, you increase your chances of getting it. Because not only do you start trying harder to make these things happen, but now other people know what you want and might decide to help you.

It seems to be working for me. Recently, I got an agent who is going to help me sell one of my novels (and then hopefully help me sell more!) And, last week, Paul asked me to marry him.

I’m not saying these things wouldn’t have happened without this blabbermouth blog, but it sure didn’t hurt.

Eva and Paul.  We got engaged in front of the International Fountain in the Seattle Center.

Eva and Paul. We got engaged in front of the International Fountain in the Seattle Center.

Interview with Author, Editor, & Frolicking Businesswoman, Jen Violi

Posted on
Interview with Author, Editor, & Frolicking Businesswoman, Jen Violi

Jen Violi is the author of Putting Makeup on Dead People, a BCCB Blue Ribbon Book, and founder of Jen Violi: The Business, with world headquarters in Portland, Oregon, USA. As a mentor, editor, and facilitator, Jen helps writers unleash the stories they’re meant to tell. Sign up here for her free monthly newsletter, brimming with writing ideas and resources.

Ahh, I still remember the day that Jen Violi handed me her business card. Jen Violi: The Business, it said. I laughed a big belly laugh, but really, if anyone has enough wisdom, character, and overall know-how to be a business, it’s Jen. So I asked her a few questions about her writing, her business, and her overall awesomeness…

I’m fascinated by the challenge of condensing a novel into a one-sentence summary. What is the one-sentence summary for your YA novel, Putting Makeup on Dead People?

PMODP is the story of how one girl learns to grieve and say goodbye, turn loss into a gift, and let herself be exceptional–at loving, applying lipstick to corpse, and finding life in the wake of death.

You describe what you do as developmental editing instead of copyediting. Can you talk about the difference?

When I started my business five years ago, I said yes to some copyediting requests and quickly realized I didn’t want to check for grammar or consistency of facts and language usage–some of the basics of copyediting. I’m so grateful for good copyeditors (for my own writing and reading pleasure), and I’m so grateful I don’t do that anymore. What lights my fire (and what I also happen to be good at) is considering what makes a story sing through the big picture in terms of themes, character development, pace, voice, and story structure, and then guiding writers accordingly.

I’ve learned that one of my gifts is seeing into the heart of things: what’s there, whether someone is conscious of it or not. I love those moments when I can say to a writer, “I saw THIS at the center of your story,” and they say “Yes, that’s exactly it!” Because the heart leads the way to everything that needs to happen next–deletions, additions, revisions, and polishing to a dazzle.

 

What are the most common things writers need help with? Where do people seem to get stuck?

Accountability is huge, which is something I also know firsthand. So many of us write to seek connection, so when we have no plan for anyone else to see what we’re writing, it’s hard to stay motivated. And deadlines (which are really lifelines). When you know you have to send something by X date to someone else and that someone else is going to read and respond, you get the gift of not only accountability and a deadline, but also connection and the reassurance that someone cares you’re writing.

 

How much time do you spend with your own writing versus helping other people with their writing versus frolicking in meadows and smelling the wildflowers? (The latter is something I always imagine you doing.)

I would say 90% frolicking and 10% divided equally between the other two.

Or maybe that’s what I wish was true.

In actuality, it’s been more like 10% frolicking, 50% other people’s writing, 30% my writing, and 10% angst-ing over how to shift this balance. 2014 has already been a big year for me in terms of shifting that balance and realizing how crucial it is to schedule retreat time into my calendar, both in terms of frolicking rejuvenation and making space for my own writing. I’ve been softening my edges, working at a more breathable pace, and shifting my dark undercurrent of “if you’re not suffering you’re doing it wrong” to a lighter streak of “what would it look like to do this with ease and joy?”

Jen enjoys frolicking in meadows and smelling the wildflowers. photo credit.

You write an inspirational blog, Story Water, and you are always tweeting (@JenVioli) writing prompts and uplifting advice. What do you think is important for a writer to hear on a semi-regular basis?

Most writers I know–including me–never get too much encouragement to play without restriction, affirmation that their voices matter, and reminders that they’re not doing it “wrong.”

 

Do you plan on writing any more novels — YA or otherwise?

I have actually written three more novels which would be categorized as YA, but they haven’t yet found a home. This spring, I had the big realization that although I love each of these books, for the last five years I’ve mostly been writing more YA novels because that’s what I’m supposed to be doing, what would be good for my career, etc, and finally stopped to ask myself, “What do you really want to write next?” And the answer right now is nonfiction, a book on the body, mine in particular. This is simultaneously terrifying and delightful. Terrifying because I’ve spent most of my life ashamed of, confused by, or ignoring my body, and it is uncharted territory to put that stuff on paper. Delightful because what a tremendous relief to listen to the drumbeat of my soul and write to that rhythm again, like I did with PMODP, a book I simply had to create.

 

You’re amazing. What’s your secret?

Unicorn Tear Gel Mask with cucumbers over my eyes every morning, regular conclaves with the sasquatch community, and the narwhal that lives in my bathtub and whispers secrets to me at every full moon.

Also, Eva, you are lovely. Thank you for saying that I’m amazing. The feeling is mutual. Although I don’t think it’s a secret, I find that I feel most amazing when I take time to see and name and give thanks for the amazingness around me, as well as when I let my freak flag fly, choose based on what brings me joy, and remember to breathe.

Jen Violi

Jen Violi

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 1,160 other followers