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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: Have you ever participated in a book club? As a reader or an author? What did you hope to get out of it? How’d that work out for you? Any advice for someone who wants to start a book club? Additional, random thoughts? 

headshot_jw_thumbnailJamie Wallace: As I recently shared in a Weekend Edition, I just joined my first ever book club. Until now, I’d mostly thought about book clubs in the context of Oprah’s Book Club and the way that woman seemed to be able to single-handedly influence the lives of so many authors.

I really enjoyed the first meeting of our local, non-celebrity endorsed book club. It was fun for me, as a writer, to hear how other readers perceived a particular story – what they liked and didn’t like, what surprised them, and also how they interpreted certain things about themes, characters, etc. Though it felt a little disrespectful to the author whose book we had read, our dissection of her novel was quite enlightening.

I already have the next “club book” in my hot little hands and am looking forward to sharing the read (and some wine … and cheese) with my fellow “book clubbers.” Once again, our pick is not the kind of book I would normally pick up, but I love the fact that being in the club is forcing me to try different genres. It also makes me wonder, however, whether a genre-specific book club would provide even more valuable insights. Hmmm … something to think about.

Meanwhile, my ten year-old daughter recently announced that she’d like to start her own book club. If I’m honest, I have to admit that I think she’s more interested in the hosting and eating part of the gig, but – hey – you have to start somewhere, right?

Diane MacKinnon, MD, Master Certified Life CoachDiane MacKinnon: I started a book club back when I was working full-time and wanted an excuse to read a good book and do something besides work. Whoever hosted the book club prepared dinner for everyone (we did it on a Friday night and all the members worked full-time so it seemed easier to plan to do a whole meal once every six months rather than bring something every time) and picked the book we would read. The only other rule was you didn’t have to read (or finish reading) the book. I wanted it to be low-stress. We had great discussions. Usually we had dinner together and then talked about the book. Sometimes talking about the book didn’t last long, other times we spent the whole time talking about the book. It was a mixed group, men and women, so we read many different types of books. One of the books that sparked the most discussion was Into Thin Air, by John Krakauer. I really enjoyed those book club meetings, especially because they were so laid-back. If people were visiting I brought them along–after all, they didn’t need to read the book! I’d love to be in a book club now, but haven’t made the effort to find one or start one. One of these days I will.

Lisa J. Jackson

Lisa J. Jackson: I joined a book group that associates books with movies (read the book, then meet to discuss over dinner, then watch the movie), but my good intentions haven’t been realized into actually making one of the meetings. I think getting together to chat about a particular book is a great idea. Just like with writing workshops, I can imagine all the different points of view — the different details of a story that people pick up on — can make for lively conversations and give me new ways to think about reading, and writing. I’ll get active with a book group someday, I’m sure.

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Susan Nye: I started a book club about five years ago with two objectives. The first was to get out more. Writing is a solitary occupation and New Hampshire winters are long so any excuse was a good excuse to go out. Since I love to read, a book club was better than most. The second was to read books that I might not normally pick up.

Both objectives have been met but … yes, there is a but … I sometimes find that several in the group want to spend less time talking about the book and more time talking about anything/everything else. I don’t mind discussing other things but I’d like to give at least equal time to the book.

Since I started the book club, I put together most of the criteria. If you have specific needs, it’s probably a good idea to start your own rather than try to find an established book club. It might even be easier. Lots of book clubs run for decades and, once established, don’t easily take in new members.

When you invite people to join you, let them know your plans. With my group, I specified fiction and creative nonfiction and when we would meet. We expect, but it’s not a hard and fast rule, that everyone read the book. We don’t modify the discussion if someone hasn’t finished the book. There are no spoiler alerts.

Our group has grown quite a bit. There are now eleven of us, we meet eleven times a year and everyone hosts one meeting a year, usually the same month. The host picks the book and works with the library to get copies for everyone. In addition, the host serves food and wine. It’s nothing fancy – usually a few snacks and wine and, after the discussion, dessert. Once or twice a year, we do a potluck.

hennrikus-web2Julie Hennrikus: This question makes me laugh, and think about the path of good intentions. I belong to a book club that started out fairly strongly. But then we met less and less, and people felt badly about not reading or finishing the book. But we still wanted to try and meet at least once every couple of months. So now we still call it the book club, be we don’t read books. We usually just eat, drink wine, catch up on our lives, and make each other laugh. We will likely get back to reading books at some point soon.

I have author friends who go to book clubs to talk about their books, and they love the experience.

dll2013Deborah Lee Luskin: I don’t belong to a book club, but I’m one of the authors Julie mentions who loves going to book clubs to talk about my book. I’ve done it in person and via Skype – and it’s always lots of fun.

I’m also a Visiting Scholar for the Vermont Humanities Council, where I’ve facilitated books discussions in public libraries, hospitals and prisons. The Vermont Humanities Council has a catalog of themed reading lists and multiple copies of each book; the library (or other sponsor) picks one and hosts the event, which includes a presentation by a scholar and a discussion. In twenty-nine years, I’ve facilitated book discussions all over the state, and I love meeting people from all over, all walks of life, all with a passion for learning. But Vermont is a hard state to get around, and I now limit how far I’ll drive to do these, especially at night. But it’s a great model that has been replicated by Humanity Councils in every state and several countries – so there may be a great reading program happening       near you!

wendy-shotWendy Thomas: I’ve tried book clubs but they never really seem to work for me. Either I’m not interested in the book that is being discussed or I’m not interested in the discussion (which is rarely about the book.)

Although I do enjoy discussions on writing, books, and literature, to be quite frank, I’d rather do them in an online discussion than in a group around a bottle of wine.

 

I recently read a blog post by one of my favorite authors and creators, Danielle LaPorte. I felt that she had written the post especially for me.

Danielle talked about her first book, The Fire Starter Sessions, and the lessons she learned as she wrote and published it.

Her first “lesson” was the one that really resonated with me: Create no matter what is going on around you.

Am I doing this? I asked myself. Am I creating no matter what is going on around me?

And the answer came: Yes, I am.

I am a writer and an aspiring author, yet my life revolves around my family—immediate and extended. A few days ago I wrote to a friend about progress on my various interests outside my family. This is what I said:

“To be perfectly honest, my life is not set up to be anything but a stay-at-home mom and a support person to my extended family—right now. But I’m plugging along, doing what I can, when I can.”

I’m doing what I can, when I can.

I’m working on my short story, I’m writing blog posts, and I’m journaling. When I look at all that I’d like to do as a writer, it’s not a lot, but when I look at my life as a whole and my priorities, I’m very happy with all that I am doing.

I’m working toward my 10,000 hours of mastery, sometimes 5 or 15 minutes at a time.

“Create no matter what’s going on around you.” I think Danielle means just ignore everything and create. I see her lesson in a different way.

There’s a lot going on around me every day, so I tell myself to write “for 15 minutes,” or I create “just one tool” for my life coaching clients, or I keep my iPad in view so I can add a few ideas to the mind map I’ve started for my next talk whenever I have a spare few minutes.

These are tiny steps, but they add up.

I used to end every day feeling defeated because I “didn’t get anything done.” When I said that to myself I ignored all the tasks, chores, loving, and caring I did every day. I meant I didn’t get 1000 words written, or a story finished, or another chapter written. I didn’t get anything real or substantial doneand nothing else counted.

These days I know that everything I do counts and anything I do with respect to my writing is progress.

I know I will continue to create no matter what’s going on around me. Today I may only have 15 minutes to write, but I know there will be a day in the not-too-distant future when I’ll have plenty of time to write. On that day I’ll be glad for the free hours and I know I’ll look back and be glad I spent today’s hours as I did, and I’ll be glad for that 15 minutes of writing.

How do you continue to create no matter what else is going on?

Diane MacKinnon, MD, Master Certified Life CoachDiane MacKinnon, MD: is a blogger, writer, life coach, mother, and stepmother. I don’t want to say I’m lowering my expectations of myself, but if you want to look at it that you, you could. I choose to think that I’m doing what I can, when I can, and that’s just right!

 

 

 

 

I wanted to share the most moving essay I’ve read in a long, long time. It is actor James Rebhorn’s obituary, which he penned himself. Who, you may ask, is James Rebhorn?

rebhorn

James Rebhorn

I’m not sure I knew his name, but I certainly knew his face. A character actor who has played the “bad” guy so many times I don’t think I can count. He died last week at the (too young) age of  65. He left a huge body of work on film, and on stage. He listed no roles, no awards, no public kudos in his obit. Instead, he talked about his family, and what they meant to him. You can read it here.

I am moved by Mr. Rebhorn’s words. Words he chose to tell his life story, the way he wanted to tell it. His wonderful career barely got a mention at the bottom. He let the world, and his family, know what was important to him. His family. He told his story, as he wanted it told.

I have been thinking about this obituary all day. About the comfort it will give his family. About what it says about him as a human being, as an actor, as a son/brother/husband/father, and as a thoughtful man. About the way it made me think about him. About how he used his own obituary to thank the people who gave him joy, rather than celebrate that life itself. A very powerful way to reframe what success looks like.

Pen for Hire

My studio - about a 60-second walk from my back door.

My studio – about a 60-second walk from my back door.

I participated in a Freelancer’s Roundtable on WordPress’s Daily Post last week, Beyond Blogging: Freelancing, Getting Paid to Write, and Writing for Free. Of course, I was flattered to be asked, even though I do very little freelance writing anymore. Nevertheless, I was surprised by some of my answers, which I’ll elaborate on here.

My Typical Day

I get to my desk by 8:00 am, and I start with NAMS: I narrate the state of my mind onto the page, followed by affirmations. Then I meditate, at which point my mind is clear and still for a Single Task, which these days means working on my novel, Ellen: The Autobiography of Jane Austen by Ellen Wasserman.

I work on my novel till lunch. Ideally, after lunch I walk the dog, then return to my desk to write radio commentaries, editorials, or other paying work. In reality, I often run errands, attend meetings, and do chores. Right now, I’m in that sweet spot where I’m finishing a novel, and I often return to it in the afternoons.

And then there’s the business that supports writing. Today, I spent three hours planning a writing workshop, Mourning Our Mothers: A Daughter’s Day of Remembrance, scheduled for the Saturday before Mother’s Day. I wrote a press release in the afternoon, and met with a web designer in the early evening. I’m writing this post after nine at night.

Honestly, I don’t know if there is a typical day as much as there are ideal days and days that veer out of control. But this much I do know: I’m always writing, even when I’m apparently doing other things, like driving the car or opening the mail.

Paid v. Unpaid?

Writing fiction comes first, even though it doesn’t pay — yet. I do my pen-for-hire work in the afternoon. But this is relatively new. For years,  I had to be more concerned with income than I am now. Then, I was lucky and found freelancing jobs through networking. It helped that I had three salable skills: good writing ability, research skills, and medical knowledge. I did a lot of technical writing for major medical centers that was both interesting and lucrative. Most of this work was without a byline, but the paycheck made up for that. Now, jobs come to me, and I only take those that both interest me and pay well.

Writing for Free

I’m a great believer in “Do what you love and the money will follow.” Since the publication of my first novel in 2010, I call myself a novelist. Into the Wilderness won both critical acclaim and an award. I hope my next novel will earn money. Currently, I earn money by writing nonfiction, leading workshops, public speaking, and taking on private clients for developmental editing. I used to teach, but I’ve decided I’d rather have time to write than money. In a world where income is our default measure of success, this can be difficult.

That said, I blog for free because I’m passionate about writing; because it connects me to a community of writers; and because it ultimately builds an audience for when my next novel comes out. I also write for nonprofits I support, which beats baking brownies for bake sales: fewer calories, larger audience, and best of all — it keeps me at my desk.

Writing for Exposure

 I once met a writer who aimed to receive one hundred rejections in a year. In the process, he received eight acceptances.

Digital and self-publishing have made it so easy to publish that I think a lot of good writing never happens: new writers are impatient to see something in print and what goes out isn’t really finished. I think writing for peers is the first step, and then letters to the editor, guest posts, and newsletters are a good way to move forward. It’s important to distinguish between being published and being read.

dll2013Deborah Lee Luskin earned a PhD in English Literature, managed a medical practice, taught, raised children, kept bees, hiked 2/3 of The Long Trail (so far), and tells stories.

Everyone has a story to tell. Are you ready to tell yours?

Susie_John_Brenda_1962_03I love memoir; the intimacy of it, the truth of it. Memoir shares a life and time. Good memoir is both more and less than a history lesson or autobiography. The writer’s thoughts and feelings unfold with the story to reveal something larger.

More than simple facts, memoir shares the writer’s interpretation of events. My sister and brother are often amazed at both my memory for detail and my bald-faced lies. A poor, pitiful middle child, these are my truths and I wear them with pride. Each of us sees the world through a unique set of filters. There is no single reality. Facts are relative because our experiences and observations are filtered through our individual history, strengths and foibles.

For the past two years, I have been leading a memoir writing group. These writers’ experiences and observations span more than six, seven or eight decades so they have an almost infinite stockpile of topics. As they read their stories every week, I suspect that their eight grade English teachers beam down on them with pride. Technically, their writing has been solid from day one. However, while those technical skills continue to improve, their immeasurable growth has been in their ability to identify and share stories that are bigger than they are.

Good memoir shares an event or series of events while simultaneously illustrating a universal theme. A camping vacation is more than logistics and an itinerary; it is a story of family love. A business deal is more than widgets in exchange for dollars; it reveals the good, the bad and the ugly of human nature. An illness in the family, physical or mental, reveals our fortitude, fragility or both, usually both.

No matter how ordinary it may, at first, appear on the surface, a powerful story will reveal something beyond a anecdote or colorful character. As you sit down to write a story, draft it, edit it and polish it, ask yourself, “What is this story about?” If it’s a good story the answer will be more than, “It is a story about the summer I spent with my aunt.” It might be something like: “This is a story about determination as illustrated by my aunt’s campaign to save the wetlands.”

The first story could easily devolve into a list of activities from a not particularly interesting discussion with a governmental agency to a hot, dull afternoon on a picket line. If you are witty and clever, the stories will be fun and entertaining. In the second approach, you will share what you learned from and admire about your aunt. It may even show how that summer helped transform you into the person you are today. This story will have depth and meaning and it can still be witty and clever.

So yes, memoir is personal but it’s not all about you. Good memoir goes beyond events and personal musings to share a universal truth. To resonate with others, the story must be bigger than a single individual and transcend the writer’s life. There are many truths to share; love and loss, courage and cowardice, family and friendship and more. A whole lot more.


Susan Nye
is a corporate dropout turned writer, blogger and teacher. She is a regular contributor to a variety of New England magazines and author of two short stories published in the NH Pulp Fiction Anthology Series. Feel free to visit her blog Susan Nye – Around the Table

© Susan W. Nye, 2014

Welcome to this Saturday Edition in which I share a little of what I’m up to with my writing (when I’m not here) and what I’m reading (between the covers and around the web). I’ll also pull back the curtain a little on my version of the writing life (but not so much as to be indecent).

I hope you enjoy this little diversion and encourage you to share your own thoughts, posts, and picks in the comments. I LOVE hearing from you and seeing the world from your perspective.

Happy writing! Happy reading! 

Jamie

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The Power of Happy

I just spent my morning dancing around to “Happy” by Pharrell Williams.

Hey! Want to join me?

Wasn’t that fun? 

I swear, even the animals in my house seem to dig a little early morning dance jam. The cats come running from wherever they are in the house and little Benny swims out from his hiding place in the aquatic weeds to swish his tail.

At the beginning of the year, instead of a typical resolution like finishing my novel or getting a story published or losing twenty pounds, I decided to stick with something simple: Figure Out What Makes Me Happy. Do More of That. Truth be told, this isn’t always as easy as it seems, but I’m making progress. The hardest part is usually the figuring out part. We get so wrapped up in the shoulds of life that we forget about the bits that make us come alive. We lose track of why we’re here in the first place.

happier logoI recently downloaded a cool little app called Happier. The site bills the app as a “fun, social gratitude journal.” Basically, it’s a tool to capture the things that make you happy. I’ve only been playing with it for a week or so, but the simple act of recording what makes me happy definitely seems to make me … um … happier. The app helps you get into the habit of noticing your own happiness, and before you know it you’re noticing a whole lot more happiness than you might have expected.

The best part is that happiness makes you more creative and more productive. It’s true. If you do a few quick Google searches, you’ll find dozens of articles that talk about the correlation between having a smile on your face and being able to work harder and more creatively. This one from Forbes on how happiness boosts worker performance, for instance, or this one from FastCompany about how one agency is using happiness to increase creativity. Pretty cool stuff.

What I’m Writing:

happy blogAll this happy talk reminded me of an itty-bitty blog that I wrote back in (gasp!) 2009. (Was it really that long ago?!?) My Good Mood Gig Campaign blog was part of a 30-day competition for a writing gig with a vitamin company. I didn’t get the gig, but I had a lot of fun creating and running my very first blog.

I look back at these posts and wince a bit. I was, after all, only two years into my blogging journey. I was more or less fumbling along in the dark. Still, the assignment was an inherently fun one and – if nothing else – I was able to create a mini archive of happy stories including links to great music, videos, and other content.

And – hey! – even though I’m slightly embarrassed by the writing, it makes me HAPPY to realize that I’ve been making progress since then and continue to learn my craft and improve my writing with each and every blog post and column, article and essay. That’s enough to make me smile.

What I’m Reading:

Affiliate Link


Last week, I shared a great novel called Mr. Penumbra’s 24-hour Bookstore. This week, I read Robin Sloan’s follow-up Kindle Single, Ajax Penumbra 1969 (affiliate link). You know that feeling you get when you finish a book and really love it and don’t want to leave the world the author has created? I was definitely feeling that after turning the last page of 24-Hour Bookstore, so this 60-page story was the perfect “just-a-little-more” fix.

I also loved having an excuse to use my usually neglected Kindle. It’s a first generation model that typically sits forlornly on my bedside table. I use it mostly to download and read book excerpts in order to decide if it’s worth requesting the “real” book from my local library. It was fun to actually read a full-length piece on the Kindle. Even if it was only a “single.”

Affiliate Link


The Kindle Single is really quite an ingenious product. Not quite a book, but weightier than an essay, the Kindle Single is often a perfect length read … especially when you’re really busy and making time to read anything more involved is just impossible. Animalish (Kindle Single) (affiliate link) by Susan Orlean is another Kindle Single that I own and have read more than once.

Maybe I have accidentally discovered a use for my Kindle beyond reading excerpts. Perhaps my Kindle is meant for collecting fabulous essays, short stories, and novellas – capturing them in digital format so they take up oodles of space on my shelves. Besides, it’s just fun to get that quick and instant gratification – click, and – whoosh! – there the piece is. And at $1.99 – $2.99 a hit, it costs less than a chai latte. Hmmm … I may be onto something here.

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:

book over

I just love this piece. It’s likely a meme adaptation, but the character is the creation of the fabulous Allie Brosh of Hyperbole and a Half.  Her art and stories seem simplistic, but she has a wonderful way (as both a writer and an artist) of seeing right to the heart of a thing. Pretty amazing, actually.

So, that’s it for me (for now). Happy writing & happy reading & happy SPRING! Until next week. :)


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 trapeze (not at the same time). Introduce yourself on facebook or twitter. She doesn’t bite … usually.

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: What’s your sweet spot? Are you at your best with a 500 word essay? Maybe your strongest work comes in at about 10,000 words, be it short story or in-depth article? Or is a book, fiction or nonfiction, your forte? Or at least your passion? Fiction or non-, news, opinion, comic or straight, long or short – the possibilities seem almost endless. Whatever your preference, do editors and publishers agree with you? Are you publishing your preferred topics at your preferred length or writing something else to pay the bills?

Lisa J. JacksonLisa J. Jackson: My writing sweet spot is with destination articles and features. I wrote with a locally and New Hampshire focus for a few years, but have pulled out of some and lost another when it closed its doors last summer. Editors had minor, if any changes whenever I submitted, though, so that told me I was on target.

I have not taken the time yet this year to find new markets to submit to. Marketing and blog writing is paying me well and keeping me quite busy, so I’ve purposely focused on those outlets for now. I will get back to travel-related writing though, as it’s going to be a large part of my life soon!

dll2013

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Deborah Lee Luskin: I love the 500-word radio commentary and the 100,000-word novel. And they are surprisingly similar: I need to use only the right words – and leave out the rest.

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Susan Nye: I love short, 500 to 650 words, essays and memoir. There is a wonderful challenge – what to put in and what to leave out or save for another story. Since they only take three or four minutes to read, there’s a pretty good chance I won’t lose my audience half way through. That said, I recently started writing short stories and it’s been a lot of fun. The greater length, so far 1,500 to 7,000 words, gives me tremendous freedom, more than enough to hang myself!

Most of my writing income comes from magazine work. I focus on food and a variety of lifestyle topics for regional magazines. My work requires recipe development, lots of interviews and some photography. Since writing is a solitary endeavor, interviewing and taking pictures gets me out and about and provides a nice break.

hennrikus-web2Julie Hennrikus: I write long (novels), but at 500-1000 word spurts. And my blog posts tend to be around 350-500 words. So I think that is my sweet spot–how much I can write, while staying focussed.

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headshot_jw_thumbnailJamie Wallace: At the moment, it’s definitely shorter form pieces. My blog posts tend to run between 600 and 1200 words while my creative essays for my local column max out at 700 words. Like Susan, I like the challenge of working within those constraints.

My “marcom” (marketing and communications) projects cover a wide range of assignments from 700-word case studies to 2500-word point-of-view papers to 10,000-word ebooks and more. I don’t really prefer any one format or length over another, I just know I need to get into the right mindset for each type of piece and do my prep work accordingly.

As for what types of material I like to work with, I haven’t been working on any fiction lately, but I love creative nonfiction, opinion essays, and the personal narratives that live in my private journals. On the marcom side, I really enjoy crafting the high-level brand messages and concepts that help tell the Big Story of a brand. I also really like to work on educational content that helps my clients’ customers learn about a particular topic.

Mostly, my sweet spot is the moment after a piece of work is done. I do a brief but enthusiastic happy dance and then dive into the next thing.

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