Tag Archives: Jonathan Maberry

Author Janice Gable Bashman: Life in the Big Thrill

I’m excited to have  Janice Gable Bashman visiting today!

Janice Gable Bashman

She is the author (with NEW YORK TIMES bestseller Jonathan Maberry) of WANTED UNDEAD OR ALIVE (Citadel Press 2010), nominated for a Bram Stoker Award. Her short fiction has been published in various anthologies, and she’s written for NOVEL & SHORT STORY WRITER’S MARKET, THE WRITER, WILD RIVER REVIEW, and many others.

Janice is also an active member of the International Thriller Writers (ITW) and Managing Editor of the ITW’s newsletter and ezine THE BIG THRILL. She is an an active member of the Horror Writer’s Association and Mystery Writers of America. She is also a regular at the The Writer’s Coffeehouse offering great advice to all writer’s plus she’s super nice. Thanks for coming on Janice!

How did you become Managing Editor of THE BIG THRILL, monthly webzine of The International Thriller Writers (ITW), and what does that role involve?

I became involved with The Big Thrill several years ago as a contributing editor. I saw it as a great way to learn about new books in the thriller genre, discover authors’ writing processes, and give back to a community of generous authors who give so willingly of their time and guidance to others. Last spring, Karen Dionne, the managing editor at the time and now ITW vice president of technology, asked me if I was interested in taking over as managing editor, and I jumped at the opportunity.

The Big Thrill is a monthly webzine and newsletter created for thriller readers and fans. At present, the emailed Big Thrill newsletter has over 13,000 subscribers, and The Big Thrill website gets over half a million hits per month, so clearly, it fills a need.

My role as managing editor is to coordinate and oversee all aspects of The Big Thrill. I receive submissions for new book releases from authors and assign and edit between 30 to 50 feature articles per month to my staff, which consists of 70 contributing editors. I also compile short pieces to accompany the feature articles, such as information about Thrillerfest (the ITW’s conference each July for thriller writers and fans of the genre), Operation Thriller USO Tour, etc. The Big Thrill also has Between-The-Lines features (in-depth interviews with authors) and Special-to-The Big-Thrill features (articles not about authors and their new book releases but about subjects of importance to thriller fans). I help brainstorm ideas for these features and assign them out to my feature editors.

The Big Thrill also includes a monthly drawing for a box of signed first editions, weekly Thriller Roundtable discussions where thriller fans can talk about books with their favorite authors, and a “Neverending Book Giveaway,” where readers are encouraged to enter as many individual book drawings as they like. ITW members also post their book videos and book news to The Big Thrill website. So while the newsletter is mailed out monthly, on the website, there’s a constant flow of new content.

You co-authored WANTED UNDEAD OR ALIVE: VAMPIRE HUNTERS AND OTHER KICK-ASS ENEMIES OF EVIL with NY TIMES bestselling author Jonathan Maberry. Congratulations on the book being nominated for a 2010 Bram Stoker Award. Tell us about it!

WANTED UNDEAD OR ALIVE deals with the struggle of good vs evil in film, comics, pop culture, world myth, literature, and the real world. Everything from vampire slayers to paranormal investigators to FBI serial-killer profilers. It includes interviews with folks like Charlaine Harris, Rachel Caine, Laurell K. Hamilton, Stan Lee, Mike Mignola, Jason Aaron, Fred Van Lente, Peter Straub, and many more.

My co-author, Jonathan Maberry, states, “Our book starts with good vs evil as a concept and then we chase it through philosophy, religion, politics, literature, art, film, comics, pop-culture and the real world. It’s such a complex topic, one that’s fundamental to all of our human experience, from evolution to the formation of tribes and society. We take a look at it historically, mythologically, in terms of storytelling from cave paintings to literature, we track it through pop culture and into our modern real world.”

The book has a real sense of humor, too. We have fun with the topic as well as bringing a lot of information to the reader. Plus the book is illustrated with forty black and white pieces and eight killer color plates. Artists like Chad Savage, Jacob Parmentier, Don Maitz, Francis Tsai, David Leri, Scott Grimando, Jason Beam, Alan F. Beck, Billy Tackett and more.

It must have been fun partnering with Jonathan on this. How did this guidebook come about and what was your process in writing it together?

This book is the fifth in a series that Jonathan was writing for Citadel Press. He co-wrote two of the previous books with Bram Stoker Award-winner David F. Kramer who was unavailable for this project. When Jonathan asked me to come on board, I jumped at the opportunity.

When co-writing a book, it’s important that the material sounds like one writer wrote it, and finding that all-important voice is the key to success. It takes a bit of trial and error (and writing and rewriting) to get there, but the end result is, if you do your job right, a voice from two writers that sounds like it’s from one. Of course, it’s also important that you implicitly trust your writing partner to write the best material possible and complete it on time.

Jonathan and I each wrote individual chapters and reviewed and edited each others’ work. Other chapters were a collaborative effort. And, for any collaboration, it’s important that both partners are equally invested in the end result. I can honestly say that I didn’t find any aspect of writing the book with Jonathan difficult. When both partners have the same goal in mind and both share an excitement for the subject matter, it makes it pretty easy to co-author a book.

What is your favorite genre to write in and why?

I enjoy writing mostly anything—fiction or non-fiction, which is why my publishing credentials are so varied. I have published articles, interviews, short stories, book reviews, and a book. These days I write full-time and I love it.

Many of your articles published are non-fiction. What inspired you to cross over into fiction?

I enjoy creating—turning a gem of an idea into a plot, creating characters, and watching them act and react to the situations I put them in. It’s a lot of fun to write without constraint and to go where you story and characters take you. I continue to write non-fiction because there are stories to tell there too—they are just told in a different format.

How does your writing process differ from fiction to non-fiction?

For fiction, I focus on story and character and use facts to help make the scene/character/plot more realistic and based in the world I’ve created. For non-fiction, I focus on facts and use people and situations to tell the story behind those facts.

Can you share any current or upcoming projects you are working on?

I am working on a young adult paranormal thriller that draws on some of the concepts in WANTED UNDEAD OR ALIVE and gives them a modern spin. Once that’s finished, I have ideas for a graphic novel and a middle grade horror novel that I intend to write. I have several short stories coming out in anthologies in 2012. Recently, I wrote three interviews for the 2012 NOVEL & SHORT STORY WRITER’S MARKET (Lisa Gardner, Kevin J. Anderson, Michael Swanwick), which hit the shelves in September, and a lead cover story interview with Carla Neggers in the September issue of THE WRITER on crafting a strong sense of place.

Are there any new authors that have grasped your interest?

Boyd Morrison (THE CATALYST), Daniel Palmer (DELIRIOUS), Ilsa J. Bick (ASHES), Robinson Wells (VARIENT), Hilary Davidson (THE DAMAGE DONE), Bruce DeSilva (ROGUE ISLAND), and so many others.

How do you balance promotion of your work with actual writing?

I make it a priority to write and then set aside specific times to promote my work, which isn’t often direct promotion but involves presenting at conferences, responding to interviews or interacting with others through social media. I check Facebook and Twitter several times a day and comment on what others have to say, or post items I think will be interesting to others.

I also run my website, where each week a different author guest blogs about some aspect of the writing process or the writing life. I’ve been fortunate that so many great authors have jumped on board to participate, including F. Paul Wilson, Joseph Finder, Brad Meltzer, Christopher Golden, Gregg Hurwitz, James Scott Bell, Michael Palmer, Allison Brennan, Lisa See, Wendy Corsi Staub, and JT Ellison. Again, I have a set time at the beginning of each week where I work on my blog. It’s very easy to allow promotion to interfere with writing. By having specific times to work on promotion, I ensure that my writing time does not suffer. Of course, we all know that things don’t always go as planned, so I just adjust my schedule when that happens.

Is there anything you find particularly challenging in your writing?

It’s important not to rely on clichés, so I find it challenging to discover unique ways to look at a situation and describe it in a way that makes my writing meaningful and powerful. I also have a list of words and phrases that I have to search and destroy when I edit, ones that I tend to overuse when writing my first drafts.

What would you say is your interesting writing quirk?

I always write first drafts of fiction on my laptop in an easy chair with my feet up on an ottoman in what I refer to as my library room (It’s really a small room with a chair, wall-length bookcase, and a window seat). Editing drafts are completed on a desktop computer in my office. Final drafts are edited on paper, usually at my desk. For non-fiction, it’s completely different. I write and edit non-fiction on my desktop computer, probably because I need space next to the computer to lay out pages of research for reference. The final draft, like my fiction, is completed on paper. I don’t like writing to music and prefer silence when I write, if possible.

What marketing tips would you share with new authors to get their careers off to a good start?

Interact with potential readers on social media, offer to guest blog or be interviewed on blogs whose readers might be interested in your book, and submit short fiction to anthologies for additional exposure. Interact with readers in Yahoo groups and other message boards, and on Goodreads and LibraryThing. Speak at conferences if you can. Join organizations appropriate to your genre, i.e. International Thriller Writers, Mystery Writers of America, Horror Writers Association, Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators, and network with other authors in your genre.

Most importantly—write. Write. And write.

Where can we find you?

I’m on Facebook, Twitter (Janicebashman), and LinkedIn. My website is here. I love interacting with writers, readers, and anyone who just wants to drop by and say hi. I hope to hear from you.

14 Comments

Filed under Authors

More tips from the masters: On POV, character & vocabulary

As I near the end of my Write a YA Novel in 9 Months class led by authors Jonathan Maberry and Marie Lamba, I thought I’d share you with what I’ve learned along the way.

Here is part 2 of techniques and tips I’ve learned on writing for the YA or MG market.

Which POV?
1st person can be limiting. It’s a challenge to not break the one character’s POV. With 1st person you must remain in the same voice throughout the story.  Check to make sure that only the thoughts of your MC are delivered.

There are benefits to writing YA/MG in 1st person. It brings us directly close to the character, and we all know that kids are self-involved. Second, you can create internal exposition which allows for us to discover what’s going on beneath the MC. Third, it keeps us in suspense as we can’t see all that is going on.

Tip: Use dialogue scenes to give us other character’s POV without breaking from 1st person voice.

Writing in 3rd person can also be limiting. It doesn’t present the opportunity to give us all of the MC’s thoughts. The benefits are that you can hold back secrets and we can see the story from different angles. It can create suspense as we can see other parallel events happening that the MC is not aware of.

Tip: Pull off books from your book shelf and see how characters are introduced. Does it work for you? Copy what that author did.

Exercise: Write a passage where you introduce a character.

On Creating Character
Don’t name two characters starting with same first letter. For example,  David, and Deena. Or Jack and Jill. “Jack and Jill ran up the hill to kill the zombie.” We laugh instead of feeling scared for our characters because their names are so silly.

Got Character?

And please don’t use any of these names: Fred, Ted, Ed. “Howdy,”  Fred said. “Howdy yourself,” Ted said.” You get the issue here.

Have the MC describe how he sees or feels about other characters. In doing so it reveals his own character.

Show us character in the details the MC sees. The hardness of a chair beneath him, how he feels about an object, a photo the MC carries around, or the smell that reminds him of his dog back home, etc.

Stay away from clichés such as labeling a character a bully. Go deeper than that.

Simple gestures can say volumes. For example, “Josh took two steps back while Amy took two steps forward.”

If writing in 1st POV, how does the MC see the other characters through his eyes? This tells us volumes about the other characters and also about the MC.

Exercise: Write down your major and minor characters then list how they would describe themselves through their own eyes.

Exercise: Describe something from your MC’s perspective.

Vocabulary for YA/MG
Write smart. Don’t dumb down the language for kids. Kids read up.

Make sure your language is appropriate for the age. Try not to write “trendy” language. For example: “That’s fat. Cool. Rad.” It could make your book outdated later.

Exercise: Revive memories of being the age of your YA characters. Draw a picture of the neighborhood you grew up in, pin pointing details. Remember what you saw, what you felt, and how you reacted to events there.

Tip: Take a scene and strip out all words but the dialogue to see how your character’s talk. This reveals the beat of character’s words and speech. Then flow it through your book.

See tips to writing a YA Novel from the masters Part 1

5 Comments

Filed under Writing Techniques, Young Adult

Write a YA Novel in 9 Months: Tips from the masters

As I near the end of my Write a YA Novel in 9 Months class led by authors Jonathan Maberry and Marie Lamba, I thought I’d share you with what I’ve learned along the way. I’ve met a great bunch of writers across genres in this class and I am happy to report I finished my book in 7 months!

Here is part 1 of techniques and tips I’ve learned
on writing for the YA or MG market.

Getting started. Before you write…

Recent trends in writing for YA/MG audience
MG horror is hot now, especially 2-4 books deals in a series running about 40K words each. Think Neil Gaiman’s The Graveyard Book or R.L. Stein books.
Books are released in e-book first, then if good show doing a print run.
YA e-anthologies are hot! Allows kids to read a story in class and review real time vs. a novel. (Adult anthologies more for small press). Check out Campfire Weenies tales on this.
Pitching is on now year round to agents,  no usual slow times in August and after Thanksgiving. Agents continue to seek next best book.

Genres (YA = Young Adult MG = Middle Grade)
Remember kids ‘read up’
Younger YA – 12-15
Older YA – 15 -17
MG – 8-12

Outline your book
Write a chapter outline with bullet points for each chapter.
Create doc for revision notes so you can fast draft without stopping to edit.
Write a preliminary synopsis of 1-3 pages of prose, single spaced. This is where you talk yourself through the plot. This isn’t the finished synopsis so don’t worry, just for plotting purposes.
Write book logline, that 1 sentence pitch.
TIP: Write 1st and last chapter first. Write to the end of the book so you know direction to go in.

Promo copy
Write back book jacket. Review similar books to get an idea.
Write 1 paragraph description of possible next 2 books in the series.
Create submission list (sub list) of a dozen books that are similar to yours. This is where your book would fit on a bookshelf. Books must be recent successes and in print and in age range to your book. Check out LibraryThing for authors in your genre where you can search by genre/sub genres.

Critique Partner
Find a partner who writes similar to you and once you’ve written the first 25 pages, swap out with each other

Resources:
Check out verlakay.com message boards, a place for children’s writers and illustrators to gather and share information, help each other and have fun while learning the business of writing and illustrating for children.
Books – Rotten Rejections, 20 Master Plots and Exercises, Writing Treatments that Sell.

Now start writing!

More tips to write a YA novel from the masters Part 2

8 Comments

Filed under Writing Techniques, Young Adult

Do you give your characters theme songs when writing?

I know some writers who listen to music while writing. Some even craft soundtracks like my friend, Jess Cooper. She goes to Pandora’s Box to find music that fits her mood for particular a book she’s writing and builds a soundtrack. Jonathan Maberry notes he ratches it up at a local coffeeshop or bookstore with tunes for the writing of that day. Eric S. Brown swears by Weird Al.

Some writers I know write in complete silence, like Michael Ventrella. I am one of those, but I also find a dark corner alone in Wegman’s cafe provides a low buzz that fills the void around me in a blend perfect for my writing at times.

What I can’t do is write with music on. However, I do search for theme songs for my characters. To feel close to my writing I listen to the songs in the car and right before sitting down to write. And then I shut it off. But I hear the song in my head and it fuels the moment I’m in. I feel the character and their situation from the music and it drives me with passion.

My husband doesn’t like it. Why? Because I fell in love with Country a few years ago. (Gag, he says). But heck, where else can you find fitting angst to inspire words on the page but from Country songs?  Country has it all…lost love, out of work blues, hard times, no-good family and lots of drinking. Need inspiration? Check out the Top 100 Country Songs of All Time.

For my new novel it’s Jake Owen’s Barefoot Blue Jean Night album that sends me colliding with my characters. My protagonist’s theme song is Dierks Bentley’s Love Grows Wild. My husband is glad to not share these private moments. (But just to get him back I sneak in his car and switch all his radio stations to Country ones.)

I’m starting a new novel now and I can’t even listen to the music from my last novel. It confuses me about how I feel for my new characters.

Besides being an author, my next #1 dream is to be a country singer. Got to git me a guitar, harmonica and a fringe skirt. My husband might run off if that happens though. But he’ll sure miss me waving goodbye to him in my cowgirl boots and hat as I line dance across the porch.

Is this a writing quirk that just I have? Do you find theme songs for your book that you don’t actually listen to when writing?

Share with me how music fuels your writing – or doesn’t. Even if you ain’t a country gal.

8 Comments

Filed under Inspirational, Writing Techniques

Halloween fun with Zombie/Horror Author Eric S. Brown

I am thrilled to have zombie/horror writer Eric S. Brown on today for Halloween!

Eric S. Brown

Eric is a book fest himself with over 30 books published to date. Some works include War of the Worlds Plus Blood Guts and Zombies (Simon and Schuster), Bigfoot War (Coscom Entertainment), and Season of Rot (Permuted Press). Add to that his short fiction which has been published hundreds of times in various anthologies, magazines, and literary journals. His new novella Last Stand in a Dead Land and a new collection entitled The Beasts and the Dead just released this month so check them out.

Thanks for coming on Eric! What is the one thing you wish you knew before you published your first book?
ESB:  I am not sure that there’s anything I wish I had known then or regret.  I am fairly happy with how things have turned out so far.

What inspired you to write your first book?
ESB:  I grew up reading comics and watching horror. I was also a huge David Drake fan. I loved genre fiction and wanted very badly to give something back to the genres that I loved so I just picked up the pen and went to it.

Writer’s Block – is it real? How do you break through?
ESB:  It’s certainly real. I usually take some time and watch some of the films that inspired me to be a writer like Dawn of the Dead, etc.

How do you create your characters? Especially a legendary one like Bigfoot – and zombie ones!
ESB:  They show in my head and won’t shut up until I put them on paper. I don’t really have a process so to speak. My stuff kind of writes itself.

Did you ever envision your Bigfoot War series would gain such a cult like following?
ESB:  No, I didn’t. It’s totally wild. I wrote Bigfoot War for me. It was something I had always wanted to see as a fan. I mean have you ever seen a Bigfoot movie that has had a full out Bigfoot attack by a horde of creatures on a populated area? I hadn’t so I wrote one. I went a bit crazy with it and twisted the Bigfoot mythos into having an apocalyptic feel and it paid off HUGE. I would hug every single person who has picked up a copy and supported this book if I could. It was the most personal thing I have done in my career and to have it gain such a crazy following is beyond words. I’ve went from being the “zombie” guy to the “Bigfoot” guy and that’s fine with me.

Where did your fascination with horror come from?
ESB:  I have always loved military/war stuff and the end of the world. Needless to say that made me a zombie fan very early in my life. I guess I just like good old shoot’em type stories and struggles against hopeless odds.

If you had to choose, which writer would you consider a mentor?
ESB: That’s a tough one. Jonathan Maberry has done so, so much for me. He’s a great guy. He stopped me from quitting writing a few years back and he’s still supportive today. Can’t say enough nice things about him. However, David Drake, is my hero. I have interviewed him numerous times, spoken with him, and listened to his stories of the industry. His mentality on writing is super close to my own. Those two gents would certainly be at the top of the list.

Small publisher or big publisher…I see you’ve done both. Pros and cons?
ESB:  With a small publisher you have a lot more freedom in what you can write but with the big publishers you get far better distribution. It’s a trade off.

What are your current projects?
ESB:  Last Stand in a Dead Land and a new collection entitled The Beasts and the Dead have both just been released so those are my newest releases. I also just finished writing a crazy werewolf western that should see print next year. Currently I am awaiting the final edits on Bigfoot War III from Coscom Entertainment and doing some last min. changes on Bigfoot War IV myself before handing it over to the publisher.  I am also trying to finish up a new book for Severed Press that will be out next year as well.

Is there anything you find particularly challenging in your writing?

ESB:  Character names. I stink at coming up with names. It’s always a challenge for me.

What would you say is your interesting writing quirk?
ESB:  I do most of my real writing, in terms of the creative part, in my car by hand. It’s a habit I got into when I first started out and I still fall back on it now when I need to write something fast.

Do you have any advice for other writers?
ESB:  Never give up, write everyday if you can, and have faith in yourself.

So tell us, what’s your scariest horror movie!
ESB:  I hate snakes so the film that has scared me the most in my own life was a flick about a guy who had an arm that was a snake from some experiment gone wrong.  Can’t remember its title. Sorry.

Catch up with Eric S. Brown on Facebook and his blog

2 Comments

Filed under Authors

I celebrate becoming a published novelist

I am excited to have author Donna Galanti on today. Oops! That’s me!

Doing the happy jump

Because today is the day I can announce that my paranormal suspense novel A HUMAN ELEMENT is being published by Echelon Press! Catch what it’s about  here on my writing page.

I’m pretty dizzy about it. Yep. Due to release March 15th, 2012 as an ebook and in paperback on Amazon. (Note to self: put Kindle on Christmas list). Echelon Press believes in my story and I am thrilled to be publishing with them.

Hungarian Hussar. Imagine fighting in that get up?

It’s just fun to mention that March 15th is a Hungarian Holiday commemorating the Hungarian Revolution of 1848 and their independence from the Hasburg Empire. I just love that my book will be associated with a revolution. Even a bloodless one. I have some Hungarian in me. I can feel it.
Back to excitement. EEK! Did I mention being dizzy?

What’s funny is this month I was a guest on Author Tony Eldridge’s blog Marketing Tips, a wonderful resource for authors. I highly recommend it. And my topic? Utilizing a career in marketing and business to get a book to market. Stop by here to read my article.

I didn’t get this book to market alone though (as I mention in my article above). Once I came out of my writing cave and quit speaking in grunted oohs and ahhs, I ventured out in the writer universe and met some wonderful people.

These are the kind of people that want other writers to succeed by sharing their experiences and techniques. People like authors Marie Lamba and Jonathan Maberry, teachers in my Write a Novel in 9 Months class. And my developmental editor, Kathryn Craft, who went above and beyond in her critiquing! The many workshops I took at the Philly Writer’s Conference led by the wonderful authors in the Philadelphia Liars Club.

Thanks to Karen Syed, President with Echelon Press who was the first publisher I ever met at my first writer’s conference, The Write Stuff. She spent time above the call of duty in reading, reviewing and recommending changes to my novel before I even signed with her. Stacy Green, who pointed out my head hopping, among other things! And my amazing pilot readers who took the time to read my book.

And then there are the countless number of new writer friends I have made along the way.

Supportive husband = happy writer

Too many to list here! You all know who you are 🙂

Oh, and let’s not forget one supportive husband who gave me time to write (happy 10th anniversary this week, Mike).

So, follow me on the path to publication. I’ll share it here. What’s your path to publication?

42 Comments

Filed under Authors, Book Marketing

Write On Wednesdays with Jim Kristofic. Personal to Published

I’m am thrilled to have  Jim Kristofic on today, author of Navajos Wear Nikes, an endearing, colorful, funny and sad memoir about growing up on an Indian reservation. Jim and I are classmates in Write a YA Novel in 9 Months led by Jonathan Maberry and Marie Lamba. Today Jim talks about his process of going from personal to published.

Jim Kristofic

Personal to Published: Writing Memoir
by Jim Kristofic

So I got the email yesterday. My memoir, Navajos Wear Nikes, a memoir about life on the Navajo Nation in northeastern Arizona, released this spring from University of New Mexico Press, just sold out its hardcover run. It’s going paperback.

Two years ago, I wasn’t sure I’d find a publisher for the book. So I was asked to talk about how I got from there to here. Here it goes.

Start Small
Writing the memoir began in small projects. I had memories and stories to tell. They were experiences that were valuable to me, that happened in a place that was more than 2,000 miles from where I was living at the time in Pennsylvania.

It started in a creative writing class (as do many books, I’m sure). We were asked to write a “creative nonfiction” essay about a “fantastic reality” in our lives: something that seemed ‘other-worldly’ to us but also actually happened.

So I wrote about my eighth grade geometry teacher butchering a sheep in the middle of the day at my middle school.  I remembered it all very clearly: the smell of the sagebrush caught in the sheep’s wool, the mud clinging to its hooves when the sheep was carried in, the sounds of its throat cut, the respectful quiet of the students, the way we all worked together to collect the organs after the sheep was skinned, the feel of the sheep’s stomach while I picked it clean of fat in the kitchen of our school cafeteria so that it could be used to bake blood sausage.

Write about what you know
Something clicked. And in writing about a place that I’d loved so dearly – Diné Bikeyáh, the Navajo Land – that place became more vivid and alive for me than before. This was no longer nostalgia. This was truth. This event actually happened. And now – if someone read it – it would happen again.

I graduated from college just a few months later, got married, and found myself still living in Pennsylvania. And still homesick.

So I wrote another essay, this one about how I’d caught a hawk and held it. The next one about saving dogs from a dogcatcher. The next one about encountering Navajo witchcraft and being chased by a Navajo witch. And so on. I understood that these were stories I wanted to pass on to my close relatives and my wife. And I was writing for myself.

Write from example
I tried following the best examples I could. I kept in mind the sharp observation and keen intimacy of essays and short stories like Flood by Annie Dillard, Greasy Lake by T.C. Boyle, and Jesus Christ’s Half-Brother is Alive and Well on the Spokane Indian Reservation by Sherman Alexie. These were authors who had nurtured me in my high school years. Now they were helping me put together these valuable memories.

Eventually, I had so many of these memories written out that it was really approaching a book length. So I contacted some publishers and some literary agents, hoping that the book could be something to reach out and create some meaning of the “Rez life” for my friends who were also living off the Rez  (about 60% of Navajos end up leaving the Rez to look for jobs).

Publishers and agents were initially fascinated by the idea of the book, they felt they were “interesting stories told by a unique voice,” but they weren’t really approaching a “greater sense of meaning.” So they passed.

What were they talking about? A greater sense of meaning? I finally understood what they meant when one agent wrote me and suggested I try reading a few memoirs in order to take the collected essays in a more fluid direction.

My response? What’s a memoir?

Learning a greater sense of meaning through others
So I read memoirs. I studied authors whose memoirs of culture, identity, and place, have become celebrated and loved. I read them with a pencil in hand, made notes, and dog-earred important passages that revealed that “greater sense of meaning” that my own ignorance of the craft hadn’t allowed me to explore yet. And I also had a lot of “Rez humility.” Still do.

I learned about exploring the emotional landscape from Azadeh Moaveni’s Lipstick Jihad, relating the minute to the universal in Annie Dillard’s An American Childhood, and spacing small episodes in Haven Kimmel’s A Girl Named Zippy: Growing Up Small in Mooreland, Indiana. Christopher de Bellaigue’s In the Rose Garden of the Martyrs taught me how to explain a foreign world to the American reader; Bill Bryson’s The Life and Times of the Thunderbolt Kid: A Memoir taught me some cool tricks about writing about childhood; and Dr. Lori Alvord and Elizabeth Cohen Van Pelt’s The Scalpel and the Silver Bear gave me a clear path to follow in writing memoir specifically about the Reservation.

And in the meantime, I got to know the landscape of the Rez. I did an oral history project. I picked up freelance work from western publications like High Country News, Arizona Highways, and The Navajo Times. I built my writing chops. I tried paying my dues as best I could.

Research
I also found out that memoirs are pretty popular. Memoirs had sold well throughout the decade and propped sagging sales of hardcover fiction. The nation’s fascination with memoirs had spilled over into television with reality TV. And – not surprisingly – Indian life and culture had been a popular feature.

Morgan Spurlock’s 30 Days series featured an episode titled “What’s Life Like on an Indian Reservation?”, where Spurlock lived for a month in a Navajo hogan. Likewise, Billy Luther’s PBS documentary Miss Navajo – which chronicled the entrees of the famous pageant on the Navajo Reservation – won the Special Founders Prize at the 2007 Traverse City Film Festival and was an Official Selection to 2007 Sundance Film Festival. And you better believe I included that information in my book proposal. I learned to write a book proposal by reading How to Write a Book Proposal by Michael Larsen.

Keep looking for a home for your book
Then I took the book back to the agencies. Most thought it was too “regional” and some really liked it and wanted me too expand it to include other Reservations like the Lakota or the Mohawk or the Tlingit (as though they’re all the same tribe or something). But I wasn’t going to do that. I was writing about this particular place, a place where sheep were butchered in school, where human hands could catch hawks, and where you didn’t go out at night because you might get cursed by a witch.

Eventually, I found a wonderful home with University of New Mexico Press, who loved the book from the start and who have championed it in the bustling literary scene of Santa Fe and beyond. Where it grows from there, I do not know. And I don’t really care.

What has moved me most is the really positive response from the people from the Rez and the Navajo living off the Rez. By marketing the book through Facebook, I’ve been able to make connections with people from New Mexico to Ohio to Ireland.

One reader had just picked it up in a library outside Flagstaff, Arizona, and sent me a message via Facebook as she and her mother were driving up to their sheep camp near Sheep Springs, New Mexico, just to tell me how great it was to see a book about the Rez life.

All I can say to her – and to all the authors who helped me and all the people who’ve read the book – is Aheehee. Thank you.

3 Comments

Filed under Authors, Memoir Writing