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We’re nearing the end of National Novel Writing Month and entering the season of giving thanks, so I thought I’d share a few presentations by writers to inspire you.

These are TED Talks – short (~20 minutes) inspirational talks you can find on YouTube for just about any topic you’d like.

Writing books: Elizabeth Gilbert – your elusive creative genius (author of Eat, Pray, Love)

We’re all creative.

ElizabethGilbert

Storytelling: Andrew Stanton – clues to a great story (Filmmaker – Toy Story, WALL-E)

Greatest story commandment is “make me care.”

AndrewStanton

 Poetry: Billy Collins – Everyday moments, caught in time (former U.S. Poet Laureate)

Bugs Bunny is his muse. <smile>

From poem "Budapest"

From poem “Budapest”

Storytelling (~4 minutes): Joe Sabia – the technology of storytelling

You’ll remember the name Lothar Meggendorfer after this video.

JoeSabia

Enjoy the videos! I hope they inspire.

Have a great week!

LisaJJackson_2014Lisa J. Jackson is an independent writer and editor who enjoys working with businesses of all sizes. She loves researching topics, interviewing experts, and helping companies tell their stories. You can connect with Lisa on TwitterFacebookGoogle+, and LinkedIn.

The Truth About My Creative Life “Balance”

monkey tightropeI was driving home from my riding lesson with the slavering hounds of duty nipping at my back tires. Fly, fly they bayed at me, back to your desk and your deadlines. I knew that was the responsible thing to do. There were clients waiting on deliverables that were in various stages of almost done. But, despite the dogged insistence of my Type-A conscience, I took a left instead of a right and parked outside my favorite local coffee shop.

One chai, I thought, it won’t take long. The work will still be there – waiting – after I’ve taken a few minutes to clear my head and stretch my imagination. I found that the book I’d been reading was sitting on the passenger seat beside me. Some part of me must have premeditated this brief escape. Some quietly rebellious instinct was looking out for my creative self, creating an opportunity to step outside the day’s To Do list and indulge in a few minutes of play inside my head.

The only available seats were two table-less chairs tucked in a corner by the always-closed emergency exit. I sat and sighed into the luxury of a little time alone with my thoughts, but (as is often the case with these impromptu getaways) the Universe had something more in store for me – a serendipitous meeting with a friend. She was on her way somewhere and I only had a few minutes, but we stood at the end of the counter next to the homeless chairs and talked. And talked. She is a deeply empathetic and artistically talented photographer, and – like me – a single mom. We are both self-employed. We don’t see each other often enough. Perhaps that’s why we always skip the small talk.

Our conversation seemed less something that developed in that moment than something that had been hovering in that spot waiting for us to arrive. Hardly pausing after a quick embrace, we were soon finishing each other’s sentences as we grappled with the challenges of pursuing our art and taking risks while still upholding our very real responsibilities. Our exchange was peppered with words like shackled and fear and frustration, words that gnaw at you, taking bites so small you almost don’t notice. We circled around the tired truths that live large in our daily rounds: life is short, kids grow up fast, you only live once.

My friend and I have each faced tough times. We’ve each had moments when giving up the creative life seemed to be the most sensible, selfless thing to do. We talked, standing there in the overcrowded cafe, about the constant balancing act – what I envision as a small, defenseless animal walking a tightrope strung over a pit of hungry crocodiles. The crocodiles are always there. Sometimes – when things are good – they are almost invisible, gliding darkly beneath the surface of the water, and sometimes – when things are bad – they reach their long snouts up out of the water to leer with dripping, toothy smiles. And sometimes you wonder if maybe you’re supposed to step off the tightrope and plunge willingly into their writhing midst. Because, that’s the story you always hear – the story of the artist who had to hit rock bottom before she emerged, like a phoenix, to soar to new heights of success.

In the pause between spoken thoughts, we wondered silently about the possibility of crisis-as-catalyst.

But then, one of us noticed the time, and the other said she really had to get going. We embraced again and agreed that we really needed to do this more often. We promised.

What I’m Writing:

pen notebookIn the last meeting of our Fiction I class, we covered a smorgasbord of topics including the magic of modifiers, the importance of sentence rhythm, the wide range of productivity solutions, and the amorphous nature of endings. We also talked a bit about what comes next, how do we continue this journey? I’m already considering another class and am eager to continue work on my short story. I intend to start being more proactive about researching publications that might be a good fit for my work so that, once I have something ready, I’ll know where to submit it.

But, as glad as I am that this class has reminded be about these important, “big” steps, I’m even more grateful for my new sense of “micro capability.” Though I realize that, because of time constraints, this eight-week class only grazed the surface of the writing craft, I feel like I have been given some small superpowers. Through a series of mini epiphanies, I find that I’m suddenly able to “see” my writing more clearly. The bits and pieces of knowledge that I’ve gained make me a more critical reader, of my own work and of others’ work. It’s kind of like I’ve been given X-ray vision. I am better able to perceive the inner workings of a piece of writing. This helps me appreciate the work of others more deeply; and it certainly helps me to improve my own writing.

The key, I think, to keeping and building upon this new ability, is practice. I must keep what I’ve learned fresh in my mind and continue to exercise these new muscles each day – through writing and through reading. I’m already thinking about using “story breakdowns” to study how other writers have built their characters, settings, plots, and themes. Like an engineer who must take something apart before she understands how it works, I want to take other people’s stories apart so that I understand better how to put my own together.

I hope to share some of these explorations and studies with you in future posts, and I’d love to hear if any of you have come across or performed similar “dissections.”

What I’m Reading:

book watermelon kingI mentioned last week that I’d been to the library looking for Daniel Wallace’s novel, Big Fish. It wasn’t in, but I did find another of his books – The Watermelon King.  This novel, set in the small, southern town of Ashland, creates an atmosphere of fable and tall-tale that’s very similar to the one that imbues Big Fish with a sense of magic.

Though the beginning was something of a slow burner, I enjoyed the second half of the book very much and found myself shirking other duties in order to read the last few chapters. The cast of characters is both charming and unnerving. The ideas that Wallace plays with are ones that run deep – identify, family, tradition, sexuality. Despite the thematic gravity and sometimes very dark turns in the story, he handles the narrative with a light hand that keeps you, the reader, from feeling weighted down by the pain and grief that runs through the story.

Despite the many fanciful turns in the events of the novel, the characters seemed very real. Wallace’s characterization is subtle and stretched out over a series of brief encounters that make up the first half of the book as the protagonist, Thomas Rider, interviews citizens of Ashland, the place of his birth, about his mother. Though certainly not “normal” by most standards, you can almost believe that a place like Ashland might exist … and the Watermelon King, too.

Hal Jacobs of the Atlanta Journal, Constitution said it well.

“In The Watermelon King, Wallace hits all the right notes of magical realism, creating a world where the supernatural fits alongside the ordinary, where storytellers stretch the plausible, and terror, fear and violence lurk below the surface.”

And let’s not forget the blogs. Here are a few of my favorite writerly posts from this week:

Finally, a quote for the week:

Instead of a quote, this week I’d like to share this video of Ursula K Le Guin giving her acceptance speech at the recent National Book Awards. Le Guin was awarded the National Book Foundation’s Medal for Distinguished Contribution to American Letters. Her speech is wonderful for so many reasons, but mostly – I think – for its fighting spirit and unabashed respect for story and writers and the power of the worlds that spring from our imaginations.

Thanks, as always, for being here – balancing alongside me on the tightrope and grinning down at the crocodiles. Happy reading, happy writing, and I’ll see you on the other side. 

.
Jamie Lee Wallace is a writer who also happens to be a marketer. She helps her Suddenly Marketing clients discover their voice, connect with their audience, and find their marketing groove. She is also a mom, a prolific blogger, and a student of the equestrian arts, voice, and – occasionally –  trapeze (not at the same time). Introduce yourself on facebook or twitter. She doesn’t bite … usually.

Monkey on a Tightrope Photo Credit: The hills are alive* via Compfight cc
Pen & Notebook Photo Credit: Paul Worthington via Compfight cc

Friday Fun is a group post from the writers of the NHWN blog. Each week, we’ll pose and answer a different, get-to-know-us question. We hope you’ll join in by providing your answer in the comments.

QUESTION: This week we could no longer deny it. Winter is on its way. Today, let us know what your favorite hot drink is. Let’s crowd source ways to keep warm!

hennrikus-web2Julie Hennrikus: I have three hot drinks that get me through this season. First, coffee. But that’s seasonless for me. But during the holidays, I have three words to add to coffee: Egg. Nog. Latte. The second is hot apple cider. I mull it for special ocassions. And throw it in the microwave for every day. And third, Chai Tea Latte. That is an indulgence that I save for special days. I may add a fourth, a decaf London Fog. Earl Grey, steamed milk, vanilla syrup.

LisaJJackson_2014Lisa J. Jackson: Uh oh. I’m actually not much for hot drinks; I drink iced coffee year round. But now that I’m thinking about it, I really do enjoy hot apple cider, and I have a soft spot for hot chocolate with marshmallows, oh, and I actually enjoy hot herbal teas – always with honey.

I’ve never had egg nog, but I think I might give it a whirl this year.

 

 

 

M. Shafer, Photo

M. Shafer, Photo

Deborah Lee Luskin: Coffee in the morning; black tea in the afternoon; and a hot rum toddy whenever I need to chase the cold from my bones.

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headshot_jw_thumbnailJamie Wallace: For quantity consumed, hot tea (both herbal and not-so-caffeine-free) is definitely at the top of my list, always served with a healthy dollop of local honey. I never acquired a taste for coffee (though I love its aroma), but after a year or so of watching me – a grown woman – order hot chocolate, the baristas at my favorite local coffee shop upgraded me to a cinnamon chai latte. Keeping up my habit may eventually send me to the poorhouse, but – damn! – chai lattes are a tasty treat! I’ll also second Deborah’s thumbs up for the hot toddy, though I usually make mine with whiskey. And, last but not least, a hot whiskey & cider with a cinnamon stick ain’t so bad either … even when you’re not sick. ;)

Quick check-in with the NaNoWriMo-ers. Continuing to plug away? There’s still time to hunker down and create your masterpiece, you just have to want it bad enough to set aside the time to “just do it” (and besides, wasn’t that what nights were invented for?)

1

Zelda as a hen (Version 1.0)

I have been pecking away at my project and currently have around 23,000 words, but not to worry. I’ve been known to add up to 10,000 at one (crazy) sitting. And, I’m the type of person who thrives on a deadline – so it’s all good.

But today I want to talk to the article writers out there. You know the ones who write for magazines, newspapers, and even blogs (or those that hope to someday.)

As many of you know, I have a flock of chickens and I write about my chickens for several publications and on my blog.

We recently (over the last year) had a situation in our flock where a grey hen turned into a golden brown and grey rooster (she didn’t exactly turn into a male but she did start showing classic male features.) This is not *that* unusual among chickens – you talk to any old-time farmer and they can usually come up with a story of a hen turning into a rooster. It could happen as the result of injury, illness, or even hen-o-pause. Whatever – we had a transgender chicken in our flock, we still loved her.

But then slowly over the last summer and then sometime in the last 3 months, our chicken changed again. This time she changed from being a multicolored rooster into a white hen.

I know crazy, right?

I put the information up on my blog, Twitter, Facebook,and even on Reddit.

And then I saw my blog numbers go up, they went way up – almost 5 times the traffic I normally got. It turns out that NO ONE had ever seen this in a chicken. Hmmm, said the writer and storyteller in me, this is a story that is not only drawing attention but is creating conversation.

I am not telling you this to teach you about chickens (although, if you have a free moment, I’ll gladly talk your ear off about our flock) I’m telling you this because as a writer, you always have to have your finger on the pulse of your readers.

The pulse was pounding on this one. If a story on my blog was creating that much buzz, then it is a story worthy of a publication (magazine.) Yesterday I started pitching magazine editors on this story. Depending on the angle, I can probably get this story into a few different publications. I can use a New Hampshire/local angle, a “WTF” angle, a chicken angle, and I could even turn it into a lesson about accepting things (people) for who they are.

As a writer, that makes me happy.

Moral of this story:

Pay attention to your audience’s response to your work and in particular watch the statistics. When you see increased activity, pounce on it. Ride that tide, turn the story on its head to figure out different angles, and then get those article pitches out.

It’s what writers do.

Update: Just heard back from a magazine editor and an article on this story has been placed in a poultry magazine.

***

Wendy Thomas is an award winning journalist, columnist, and blogger who believes that taking challenges in life will always lead to goodness. She is the mother of 6 funny and creative kids and it is her goal to teach them through stories and lessons.

Wendy’s current project involves writing about her family’s experiences with chickens (yes, chickens). (www.simplethrift.wordpress.com) She writes about her chickens for GRIT, Backyard Poultry, Chicken Community, and Mother Earth News.

Two weeks ago I was on the verge of co-chairing the New England Crime Bake. My other co-chair was Steve Ulfelder, a wonderful writer and an even better guy. I thought I would report back. Here are my random thoughts on how it went, what I learned, and why this all volunteer run conference works.

Picture by Marian Lanouette

Picture by Marian Lanouette

First, if you are going to have a conference, make sure the Guest of Honor rocks. S/he should have time for everyone, a big smile, and a great personality. An excellent bonus is if they are are good writer. Let me give you a suggestion–choose Craig Johnson. He couldn’t be nicer, is a wonderful writer, tells great stories, and was nice to everyone he met. Boy Howdy, did that make it all a lot easier.

Second, you can never be too prepared for an interview. On Saturday during lunch I did an author interview with him in front of the entire conference. It went well. I’d read his books, perused articles about him, and thought through my questions with my friend (and fellow committee member) Rhonda Lane. I talked about them with Craig beforehand, so he sort of knew what to expect. I also listened to his answers, and tried to have a conversation. Now part of this goes back to my first point, pick a good guest of honor. But the Crime Bake committee values preparation, and it shows.

Third, surround yourself with great people. Steve and I had public faces over the weekend, but there are over a dozen people who spend months working on this conference. It is an honor to work with them all. PS, our own Lisa J. Jackson (who wrote about conference burnout earlier this week) is the registrar.

SinCNE boardFourth, use the time. We had a Sisters in Crime New England board meeting early Saturday morning. We have several board meetings every year, but we are rarely in the same room together. Not only did we get work done, but we got to have a meal together.

And fifth, smile all the time. Even when you are so tired you can barely stand up, keep smiling.

Believe it or not, I’m already looking forward to next year.

P.S., over at the Wicked Cozy Authors, we have some more Crime Bake fun to report.

******************

J.A. Hennrikus is a short story writer, Julianne Holmes writes the Clock Shop Mystery Series (debuts in 2015), and Julie Hennrikus is an arts administrator. They all look alike.

NHWP writers week - logo 2Hard on the Heals of NaNoWriMo comes New Hampshire Writer’s Week, an initiative spearheaded by the New Hampshire Writer’s Project (NHWP). NWHP is a non-profit organization that supports the development of individual writers and encourages an audience for literature in New Hampshire. On November 12th, Governor Maggie Hassan made it official declaring November 30th to December 6th 2014 New Hampshire Writer’s week.

According to the NHWP web site the goal of Writer’s Week 2014 is to

“celebrate our rich literary heritage while also putting a spotlight on the diverse writers living and working in our state.”

Events are scheduled statewide in bookstores, libraries, and cafes. There will also be special announcements scheduled for that week, such as the opening of nominations for the upcoming NH Literary Hall of Fame and the release of a list of NH authors available to appear at book clubs in 2015. A detailed listing of all the events associated with Writer’s Week can be found on the NHWP web site.  One of the events will be a special Writer’s Night Out on Monday December 1st. Writer’s Night Out is a casual networking event for writers. To find a WNO event near you visit the event list.

Are you an author living in New Hampshire? It’s not too late to participate in the festivities, but you have to act fast. Visit the Writer’s Week page at NHWP for details on how to participate.
Not a published author, but still interested in supporting the New Hampshire writing community?  You can help!

Are you going to participate in New Hampshire Writer’s week activities?

 

Lee Laughlin is a writer, wife, and mom, frequently all of those things at once. She blogs at Livefearlesslee.com. She is currently a member of the Concord Monitor Board of Contributors. Her words have also appeared in a broad range of publications from community newspapers to the Boston Globe.

Last week I shared tips about managing the excitement of attending conferences and that I had four conferences to attend in an 8-day period.

One conference was 3 days, the other 3 conferences were single days, but back-to-back. I wouldn’t recommend doing it and I knew I shouldn’t have attempted to for several reasons:

  • It’s too much time to be “on” – mixing and mingling with people, trying to forge new relationships, trying to absorb all the information.
  • It’s too much time away from the office – the work doesn’t stop coming in, nor do I ever want it to, and even with an assistant there is always going to be the game of “catch up” once back in the office.
  • It’s physically exhausting – with a multi-day conference there’s a good chance of finding quiet space (preferably a room for a nap), but with a single-day conference there isn’t any downtime. If you aren’t in a session, you have a break and breaks are where the networking happens. There is the travel to and from the conference and depending on distance, this could mean getting up early and driving more than an hour. It all contributes to ‘too much.’

NetworkingBubblesThese were 4 conferences I wanted to attend, and had attended in the past — it just happened this year that they were scheduled within the same week of November.

Two had the livestream “digital pass” availability and next year I’ll use those options.

I’ve found it’s just as time consuming to attend a conference virtually and just as, or even more engaging, since social media is usually involved (networking is done through Tweets and Chats), but at least there are the benefits of no commute, attending in comfy clothes, and taking bathroom breaks without waiting in line, and no line for lunch either!

Have you ever attended multiple conferences in the same week?

Have you experienced attending a conference virtually, yet?

I ended up attending the full 3-day conference; I left the 1st 1-day conference early; I stayed for the entire second 1-day conference; I didn’t attend the third 1-day conference at all – I started to attend virtually, but my brain had had too much 15 minutes into the first speaker. I’ll be able to watch all of that last conference at any point in the future, though.

LisaJJackson_2014Lisa J. Jackson is an independent writer and editor who enjoys working with businesses of all sizes. She loves researching topics, interviewing experts, and helping companies tell their stories. You can connect with Lisa on TwitterFacebookGoogle+, and LinkedIn.

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