Personal Becomes Universal Through Research

Guest Post by Novelist Donna D. Vitucci

Book cover

Donna Vitucci’s new novel, Salt of Patriots, published on Earth Day 2017.

The answer to my question, How long does it take to write a book? is fifteen for the novelist Donna Vitucci, who has just published Salt of Patriots after fifteen years of research, writing and revision. In this guest post, Vitucci describes what motivated her – and kept her going.

Origin of Salt

At my mother’s wake in the summer of 1999, the reminiscences we’d heard through the years got dragged out and enlivened by re-telling. The time all Uncle Bobby’s hair fell out when he was working at Fernald. The spills and inherent danger of any other kind of factory, but Fernald was processing uranium. A different kind of plant, in the early atomic days, in the 1950s.

Fernald closed after dust collectors failed in the 1980s and leaks into the Miami Aquifer hit the press. A class action lawsuit helped shutter the plant and place it on the Superfund Cleanup List. A Public Information Center was established as an aspect of remediation activities—eureka! I’d write my family Fernald stories infused with true and accessible information.

Research

To write it, I needed to understand it, and I’m no scientist. I dashed daily to the Information Center, reading and trying to understand what Fernald workers did. What were their jobs? What might Uncle Bob have done once he clocked in for 2nd shift? What made his hair fall out?

I read The Atomizers, the Fernald company newsletter. I studied processes the Fernald scientists developed, and the chemistry and metallurgy that had men in various buildings turn out uranium ingots or rods. I sought the secrets and security, the rumors in the community, how everybody had a relative or friend who worked there, or lost their acreage, or got sick or died. Newspaper articles on microfiche announced the building of the “new plant” and how it was going to bring hundreds of jobs—which it did. The nuclear industry was in its infancy. They were playing with dice and hoping for the best in beating the Russians.

Interviews

Uncle Bobby was my eyewitness, my conduit to the past, to the plant, to the human aspect. At the time, I’d envisioned the book completed and published to celebrate Fernald’s 50th anniversary—2001. I really had no idea.

I questioned Uncle Bob: “What about losing your hair?”

“That was nothing.” Same closed-mouth attitude from interviewees and others beholden to their government, their employer, and their own promises.

“Loose lips sink ships”—caution right there in The Atomizer. I don’t believe the workers were afraid. I believe they were patriotic. I believe they believed the government wouldn’t ask them to enter a dangerous work situation. And as long as a man was working he was doing the right best thing–echoing Uncle Bob and dozens of Fernald employees in their interview transcripts.

Striving for Authenticity

What did Uncle Bob do at Fernald, what it was like, what were his buddies like, did they understand the danger, and did they care? I took notes; I had a binder of industry and government papers I’d copied. I studied these like I’d be tested. Above all, I wanted to write with authenticity, and I knew it would be so hard. Till then, I’d only written stories that emerged from inside me. This story would have to be, on many counts, outside of me. I would immerse myself in research until I was busting with the Fernaldia I ingested.

Writing, Revisitng, Revising

A year and half later, nowhere near finished mourning my mother, and now her brother, Uncle Bob, was dying. Feed Materials, as I called the book, was where I poured this loss, revisiting my loved ones, revising them, and being among them, seeing them so clearly in memory and then freshly relevant in the stories where I cast them. No wonder it took me 15 years to complete. Writing this book kept them alive, and I didn’t want to lose them twice.

Donna VitucciDonna D. Vitucci is a life-long writer, and was a finalist for the Bellwether Prize in 2010. Her second novel, SALT OF PATRIOTS, shines light on the nuclear industry’s early days at the Feed Materials Production Center (FMPC) by focusing on ground level workers in this rural Ohio uranium processing plant. Characters and events are inspired by her uncles, who worked at the FMPC, and imagined from hundreds of true interviews conducted as part of lawsuit remediation activities in the 1990’s. Donna lives, works, and shares the best of urban living with her partner in the Historic Licking Riverside District of Covington, Kentucky.

Deborah Lee Luskin has been a regular contributor to Live to Write – Write to Live since 2011. She blogs weekly about Living in Place, Lessons from the Long Trail, Middle Age, and Vermonters By Choice at www.deborahleeluskin.com. Hope to see you there!

You Need a Deadline – New Reedsy Contest Directory

The first quarter of 2017 is behind us. How’s your writing going? In January, we checked in with you about your writing goals, but that seems like it’s SO long ago now. (How did we get to April so quickly?!?)

Have you, like me, you’ve been moving the goal line on your writing projects? You know – pushing things out a little bit at a time because, life? I completely understand. Things come up. Each of us has obligations and unplanned crises, and many of us are also suffering from resistance fatigue. Hitting your writing targets can start to feel like an impossible dream.

Well … sometimes, what you need is a deadline.

I write a LOT, but most of what I get done is writing that is tied to a client or other deadline. “My” writing projects (stories, novel ideas, flash fiction, etc.) tend to slip down the slippery slope of falling priorities. I want to work on them, but other things are always butting in ahead of them – cutting the line, so to speak.

Solution: Give myself a deadline for one of My Writing Projects

There are always a variety of writing contests going on. Why not pick one and go for it? Even if you don’t win, you will have completed something, and that’s worth the price of admission all by itself.

Ricardo Fayet, founder at Reedsy, reached out to me to share his company’s new resource: Writing Contests 2017, Curated with love by Reedsy. In a follow-up email conversation, he shared the inspiration for this new, searchable database:

We speak to a lot of upcoming authors, and one thing we discovered is that writing contests are a pretty contentious topic of discussion. While most writers love the idea of being published, read, and rewarded for their work, some authors had been burned in the past. The truth is that, while there are hundreds of contests each years, very few of them are worth the time; some of them are even outright scams, designed to squeeze money out of their entrants.

With that in mind, we wanted to give authors a way find their ideal contests. Updated weekly, this page lets you search for competitions by genre, entry fee, deadline and prize amount. And because we’ve vetted each and every one, there’s no need to worry about being ripped off.

So, how about it? Think you might try to find a deadline that will help you prioritize your writing? If you decide to go for it, let us know in the comments so we can cheer you on. Also, if you know of any reputable contests not in the Reedsy list, please feel free to share those as well!

Good luck!

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Jamie Lee Wallace Hi. I’m Jamie. I am a content writer and branding consultant, columnist, sometime feature writer, prolific blogger, and aspiring fiction writer. I’m a mom, a student of equestrian arts, and a nature lover. I believe in small kindnesses, daily chocolate, and happy endings. In addition to my bi-weekly weekday posts, you can also check out my Saturday Edition and Sunday Shareworthy archives. Off the blog, please introduce yourself on FacebookTwitter, Instagram, or Pinterest. I don’t bite … usually.

This post originally appeared on the Live to Write – Write to Live blog.
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Weekend Edition – Being Kind and Creative During a Revolution

River Reflections – Life Reflections

After writing more than 200 Weekend Edition and Sunday Shareworthy posts, my previously consistent weekend writing routine has hit a snag.  And I’m starting to think that’s not a bad thing.

As I explained in my a recent post, This Is Who I Am, “My identity as a writer is not yet fully baked.” And – while that makes the Type-A side of my brain twitch – that’s okay, too.

I’m experiencing a major shift in perspective that is making me reevaluate everything I do. This also, while a little painful, is not a bad thing. I’m taking a much closer, much harder look at WHY I engage in certain activities and routines. I’m getting more granular about assessing whether or not they deliver real value to me, to anyone else involved, or to the world in general. I’m shuffling the deck and reprioritizing and cleaning house.

It’s freeing, actually.

I read a couple of posts this week that got me thinking in new directions about some related questions and challenges that I’ve been rolling around in my head for a while now. The first post was by our very own Deborah Lee Luskin: How to  Sustain Political Activism and Write a Book.  I loved her no-nonsense take on how to marry persistence and self care while also exercising some reality checking on just how much activism you can handle on top of all the other obligations in your life. Smart woman.

The other piece was one I stumbled across via a Facebook friend. In her post, What If All I Want is a Mediocre Life?,  Krista O’Reilly-Davi-Digui writes,

The world is such a noisy place. Loud, haranguing voices lecturing me to hustle, to improve, build, strive, yearn, acquire, compete, and grasp for more. For bigger and better. Sacrifice sleep for productivity. Strive for excellence. Go big or go home. Have a huge impact in the world. Make your life count.

But what if I just don’t have it in me. What if all the striving for excellence leaves me sad, worn out, depleted. Drained of joy. Am I simply not enough?

Good question, Krista.

Too often, we forget that we cannot look outside ourselves to find happiness or contentment or approval. We have to stop letting media and other external influences define the life we think we want. We need to stop comparing ourselves to someone else’s vision of “right” or “good” or “enough.” As writers, the opportunities for comparison to other writers (those we admire from afar and our own peers) are excruciatingly endless.

Likewise, as many of us take on the time-consuming task of becoming more active citizens and feel the pressure to – quite literally – save the world, we need to step back and think hard about what our own definition of “enough” looks and feels like.

I read these two posts and was reminded of a recent column I wrote for my local paper. Though this piece starts out focusing on politics, as I read it again I realized that much of what I’m trying to convey also applies to the challenges of living a creative life in the midst of the chaos and responsibility of so-called “Real Life.”

Whether you’re talking about political activism, groundbreaking cultural shifts, or writing a novel, all Big Accomplishments are really just a long series of small, persistent actions. They all boil down to small, daily choices. Thinking of them in these terms, you realize that nothing (and I mean, nothing) is impossible.

With that, here is the column I wrote. Whether you are walking beside me as a writer, an activist, or both, I hope you enjoy it and find some words of encouragement and empowerment here. Think small. Think daily. Think happy. You’ve got this.

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For years, most of my social media profiles have included the line, “Believes in small kindnesses, daily chocolate, and happy endings.” This quip has served as a kind of abbreviated mantra, meant to encompass the concepts of treating others as you would be treated, taking time to enjoy the little things in life, and always keeping hope and optimism in your heart.

But, as our country careens toward a new and frightening political reality, I find myself reading those words in a new context.

Perhaps more than ever before, the character and reputation of our country’s political leadership has been tainted by intrigue and espionage, shades of illegitimacy, vicious in-fighting, rampant corruption,  and — perhaps most worrying of all — the incoming administration’s growing disregard for the press, the truth, and First Amendment rights.

It’s no wonder many people are feeling overwhelmed and anxious. The current situation is exhausting. When I talk with people who share my concerns and my desire to make a difference, I hear the deep weariness in their voices and their sighs. Our conversations are punctuated with long pauses in which we try, through our disbelief, to process the latest headline or tweet.

There’s so much work to do.

It feels a little bit like being saddled with a monstrously huge and excruciating domestic chore. It’s as if you have to put away Christmas; pick up after an out-of-control kegger; and clean out the garage, basement, and attic … all in one day. Best of all, these extra responsibilities have been slapped on top of your existing day-to-day professional, family, and household obligations.

It can start to feel daunting and even hopeless very quickly, but here’s where a simplified version of my little mantra might offer some comfort. When I begin to worry that it’s all too much, I focus on the core attributes of my social media signature: small, daily, and happy.

When we look at someone’s personal transformation, a culture’s scientific achievement, or a turning point in world history, we are often so blown away by the scope and scale of the thing that we fail to see it for what it actually is. Our focus on the end result keeps us from fully comprehending the events that delivered the final outcome.

Without exception, there’s always much more to the story than we know; and nine times out of ten the “overnight” story is actually a tale of small, daily commitments. Each metamorphosis, discovery, and revolution is made up of countless small, daily actions. These unappreciated actions are unaccompanied by fanfare, but they are real building blocks of every great event in our personal and global history.

So, when you’re feeling overwhelmed and hopeless — whether in the face of a personal challenge or your desire to save the world — remember that you don’t have to take on everything at once. You just need to take small, daily actions that move you toward your goal, and you’ll get there. Sign a petition, make a donation, talk to someone, volunteer, attend a march, participate in a political meeting on the local or state level, read an in-depth news article, read a book, investigate an issue, share what you’ve learned on social media.

Keep your efforts small, and make them a daily practice, and you’ll be amazed at your progress.

Finally, don’t overlook the importance of “happy” in the equation. This isn’t just about being hopeful or optimistic. It’s also about operating from a place of joy and love. Instead of being motivated by fear or hate, be inspired by a desire to protect and share what you love. Only then can your actions become a comforting and heartfelt meditation on the beauty you see and seek. Let that feeling guide you and sustain you in your efforts. Small, daily, happy — this is how to be the change you want to see in the world.

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Jamie Lee Wallace Hi. I’m Jamie. I am a content writer and branding consultant, columnist, sometime feature writer, prolific blogger, and aspiring fiction writer. I’m a mom, a student of equestrian arts, and a nature lover. I believe in small kindnesses, daily chocolate, and happy endings. Introduce yourself on FacebookTwitter, Instagram, or Pinterest. I don’t bite … usually.

This post originally appeared on the Live to Write – Write to Live blog.
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Favorite Springtime Reads and Writing Exercises

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:  Although Old Man Winter seems loathe to loosen his grip on those of us living in the northeast of the United States, Spring IS coming. In fact, the official first day of Spring was earlier this week on Monday, March 20th.

So – with hope in our hearts, sunshine on our backs, and the persistent and triumphant chirps and whistles of feathered friends in our ears – we’d like to share with you our favorite springtime stories, novels, poems, and writing rituals. (And then, of course, we’d love to hear yours!)

JME5670V2smCROPJamie Wallace: My favorite spring poems are by A.A. Milne. I read them as a child, and when my daughter was a little girl we would listen to them over and over on a cassette tape in the car. (Yes – my old car still had a cassette player.) There are so many to choose from that I could never pick a single favorite: Daffodowndilly, Water Lilies, Spring Morning. I love them all.

I never thought about having favorite Spring reads. Winter reads seem much easier to come by. Spring seems to call for something light and humorous, even frivolous. I’m not one for romances or so-called “chick lit,” but I could do with something witty and fresh. I recently picked up an autographed copy of Lost Among the Birds by Neil Hayward. That might be just the thing.

As for a Spring writing ritual … I’m going to go with just getting outside and letting Mother Nature inspire me. I get out plenty in Winter (and am duly inspired by snow and ice and the amazing adaptive abilities of nature’s denizens), but Spring invites a closer inspection of the world around us. Spring opens up our minds as it opens up the earth and plants. I look forward to that.

P.S. ~ If you’re looking for some poetic inspiration of your own, I found this handy collection of Spring poems on the Poetry Foundation site. Enjoy!

Deborah Lee Luskin: I get so much inspiration from tilling the garden, from planting vegetables, and from weeding, which I find to be deeply contemplative and tremendously satisfying.

 

Show Up – Then Decide

keepmovingAs a bit of an introvert – okay, more than a bit – I sometimes let the voice in my head talk me out of showing up for events.

These can be networking events, business meetings, 5K races, sip & paint nights, meetups, and generally any activities that involve several people (whether I know them or not).

This also extends to starting/trying new writing-related projects or activities – personal or client-based.

There’s always inspiration and excitement when first agreeing to do something, but when the date arrives to actually “do” that something, excuses can pour out of the ceiling like rain drops. Do any of these sound like the voice in your head?

  • Oh no, that sniffle might be the start of a cold. Skip it.
  • It’s going to rain, you don’t want to get we. Skip it.
  • It’s going to be hot and humid, you might die. Skip it.
  • You won’t know anyone there. Skip it.
  • You aren’t fully prepared. Skip it.
  • There’s no time to grab a meal first. Skip it.
  • There won’t be anything good to eat. Skip it.
  • You can attend the next one. Skip it.
  • You’ve never done that before so you’ll look silly. Skip it.

In 2016, I talked myself out of numerous activities for reasons like those above – basically, no good reason. I always said out loud, though, “I am purposely choosing not to go,” so that my true self wouldn’t pile on the guilt. However lame the reason was, I purposely chose to avoid activities, so took responsibility.

However, choosing to skip things resulted in numerous missed opportunities to meet new people, try new things, achieve new goals, and push myself out of my comfort zone. Negative results were particularly obvious from the physical activities I avoided.

This year I have made the commitment to myself, and told others, that I will at least “show up” for everything I commit to. And then once there, that is when I can choose whether or not to participate. I’m 99.9% confident that making the effort to show up will result in full follow through.

Isaac Newton said, “An object in motion will stay in motion unless acted upon by a equal or stronger force.”

I challenge you to stay in motion and “show up” for any commitment you’ve made – in person or online, whether personal or work-related – “then decide” whether or not to at least give it an honest try.

lisajjacksonLisa 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 and individuals tell their stories. You can connect with her on Twitter, Facebook, and LinkedIn.

Take a Writing Class with Steve Martin

I’ve taken a lot of online classes, but I’ve never taken one taught by Steve Martin. So, when I learned about the upcoming Steve Martin Teaches Comedy from Masterclass, I was understandably intrigued.

It’s not that I’m itching to become a standup comic. I’m not. In fact, even just thinking about being on a stage and trying to make an audience laugh is enough to give me hives and push me pretty darn close to a panic attack. But, as a writer, I’ve always wanted to learn more about how to infuse my work with humor.

I mean, everyone loves to laugh, right? And right about now – based on how crazy the world has become – we could all definitely use a good chuckle if not a downright guffaw. Even in the best of times, stories that make me laugh always earn high marks in my book. And, more often than not, humor is just a less painful way to explore the tragedies of our lives.

Take Jenny Lawson’s two memoirs: Let’s Pretend This Never Happened and Furiously Happy. Lawson describes her blog and books as, “mainly dark humor mixed with brutally honest periods of mental illness.” She struggles with some very real health issues, but uses humor to share her experiences, open up the conversation, and – ultimately – let other people dealing with similar challenges know that they are not alone.

Most stand up comedy is built on translating our shared pain into something we can laugh at … together. But there are lot of story-based mediums that use comedy and humor as a supporting element rather than as the central element. Take The Moth – True Stories Told Live. This live event/radio show/podcast features stories by professional writers and performers as well as “everyday” people. The show’s stated mission is “to promote the art and craft of storytelling and to honor and celebrate the diversity and commonality of human experience,” and much of the time the telling of these stories involves humor. Humor helps to draw people in, establish common ground, and forge connections between the storyteller and the audience. It’s a powerful tool for any writer.

That’s why, even though I don’t have any plans to step onto the standup stage, I have preregistered for Steve Martin’s class. If you decide to check it out as well, look me up. Maybe we can share a laugh.

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Jamie Lee Wallace Hi. I’m Jamie. I am a content writer and branding consultant, columnist, sometime feature writer, prolific blogger, and aspiring fiction writer. I’m a mom, a student of equestrian arts, and a nature lover. I believe in small kindnesses, daily chocolate, and happy endings. In addition to my bi-weekly weekday posts, you can also check out my Saturday Edition and Sunday Shareworthy archives. Off the blog, please introduce yourself on FacebookTwitter, Instagram, or Pinterest. I don’t bite … usually.

This post originally appeared on the Live to Write – Write to Live blog.
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Writer Resistance – Roxane Gay

roxane-gay

Roxane Gay

According to Wikipedia, that most questionable but oh-so-convenient source of information, Roxane Gay is – among other things – “an American feminist writer, professor, editor and commentator … associate professor of English at Purdue University, [and] contributing opinion writer at The New York Times ...”

She is also, apparently, a champion for writers who want to stand up for their beliefs, even in the dog-eat-dog world of publishing.

Gay is perhaps best known for her NYT bestselling essay collection, Bad Feminist. But, she came across many new readers’ radar (mine included) in January when she pulled her upcoming book, How To Be Heard, from Simon & Schuster after learning that the company’s TED imprint, Threshold, had also signed to publish Milo Yiannopoulos’ book, Dangerous.

For those not familiar with Yiannopoulos, he is described in a related Washington Post article as a, “Greek-born, British writer who thrives on the publicity he generates by being outrageous. His incendiary and racist remarks about “Ghostbusters” actress and Saturday Night Live comedian Leslie Jones on Twitter got him permanently banned from the platform in July 2016.” They also note that, “His caustic viewpoints on women, minorities, Muslims and immigrants have made Yiannopoulos a de-facto mouthpiece for the ‘alt-right’ movement, short for alternative right, a small, far-right movement that seeks a whites-only state.”

In a January statement to Buzzfeed, Gay explained her stance and how it was her “putting my money where my mouth is.”

And to be clear, this isn’t about censorship. Milo has every right to say what he wants to say, however distasteful I and many others find it to be. He doesn’t have a right to have a book published by a major publisher but he has, in some bizarre twist of fate, been afforded that privilege. So be it. I’m not interested in doing business with a publisher willing to grant him that privilege. I am also fortunate enough to be in a position to make this decision. I recognize that other writers aren’t and understand that completely.

Yesterday, Simon & Schuster cancelled Yiannopoulos’ book deal. The publisher reportedly made the decision in response to statements Yiannopoulos made about pedophilia on a conservative radio talk show.

Gay posted a reaction to the publisher’s change of heart on her Tumblr:

In canceling Milo’s book contract, Simon & Schuster made a business decision the same way they made a business decision when they decided to publish that man in the first place. When his comments about pedophilia/pederasty came to light, Simon & Schuster realized it would cost them more money to do business with Milo than he could earn for them. They did not finally “do the right thing” and now we know where their threshold, pun intended, lies. They were fine with his racist and xenophobic and sexist ideologies. They were fine with his transphobia, anti-Semitism and Islamophobia. They were fine with how he encourages his followers to harass women and people of color and transgender people online. Let me assure you, as someone who endured a bit of that harassment, it is breathtaking in its scope, intensity, and cruelty but hey, we must protect the freedom of speech. Certainly, Simon & Schuster was not alone in what they were willing to tolerate. A great many people were perfectly comfortable with the targets of Milo’s hateful attention until that attention hit too close to home.

.I share this story because I think there are several things we can learn from it and, specifically, from Gay’s words and actions.

First of all, freedom of speech must exist for everyone, even those whose opinions we find abhorrent. Censorship is not advisable as a solution because silencing any voice opens the door to silencing all voices. (Personally, I wish that more individuals and news institutions would stop providing free press and air time to people like Yiannopoulos, but that is – perhaps – an opinion for a different post.) We can, however, find other ways to condemn and cripple hate speech and oppression in all its forms. Gay’s choice to pull her book from the publisher was a powerful way for her to a) exercise her will in the situation, and b) bring wider attention to the story.

I also think there is something important about how far Yiannopoulos had to go before Simon & Schuster drew the line. I haven’t had time to fully digest what it means that, as Gay points out in her Tumblr post, the publisher was willing to look past all kinds of offensive opinions until pedophilia was in play. It makes me think of the quote from Martin Niemöller that begins, “First they came for the Socialists, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a Socialist.”

Finally, I believe that artists – including writers – must very often play the role of canaries in the coal mine. While it is not mandatory that every creative endeavor carry the weight of political opinion, I believe history will show us again and again that artists are often the first line of defense against forces of oppression, in all their hideous forms.


Jamie Lee Wallace Hi. I’m Jamie. I am a content writer and branding consultant, columnist, sometime feature writer, prolific blogger, and aspiring fiction writer. I’m a mom, a student of equestrian arts, and a nature lover. I believe in small kindnesses, daily chocolate, and happy endings. In addition to my bi-weekly weekday posts, you can also check out my Saturday Edition and Sunday Shareworthy archives. Off the blog, please introduce yourself on FacebookTwitter, Instagram, or Pinterest. I don’t bite … usually.

This post originally appeared on the Live to Write – Write to Live blog.
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