Monday, July 27, 2015

A Widow's Memoir Moment By Kathleen M. Rehl

It's my pleasure to welcome Kathleen M. Rehl to the Women's Writing Circle. An author and highly-respected financial planner for widows, Kathleen shares a widow's "memoir moment" in her guest post. 

I met Kathleen last month at the Women's Voices Women's Visions symposium in Saratoga Springs, NY. We immediately connected and shared stories. ~ Susan

Tom died of liver cancer on February 12, 2007. (We widows always remember the death date.) He and I were married for 19 years. We had a blended family, including my son from my prior marriage and Tom's two sons. We didn't have kids of our own together.

When Tom died, I was devastated initially. That's because he was my everything—husband, playmate, business partner, best friend, a loving stepfather of my child, and a wonderful cheerleader for my success as a financial planner. He was truly my soul mate. 

I had to find a new passion and purpose after Tom's death. That's what led to my writing Moving Forward on Your Own: A Financial Guidebook for Widows and to helping teach professionals how to work effectively with widows. This work  is my calling, my personal ministry. Assisting others has helped to heal my own grief after Tom's death. I am blessed.


I saw it immediately as I drove into my garage after returning from an enjoyable evening out with friends. There it was — rusty red water, slowly snaking across the sloping concrete floor.

My eyes followed the meandering mess back to its source. My hot water heater was hemorrhaging a nasty fluid from a top valve. The stuff slithered down the side of the tank, leaving a rusty streak before hitting the floor and spreading out. YUCK!  

My first thought was, “Am I jinxed or what?” That’s because just a few days before, at 2 AM in the morning my home security system malfunctioned. This set off an ear-splitting alarm and simultaneously sent a “panic” code to the Sheriff. Within minutes a law enforcement officer was at my front door . . . with me explaining that I was OK. Just a false alarm, which necessitated a service call the following day.  And the week before, my computer went on the blink. That resulted in a repair technician’s visit.

So, as I watched that red rusty water flowing, I immediately thought about contacting yet another fix-it guy. Before going to bed I looked for a plumber on Craig’s list and checked the yellow pages. Too many choices and too late at night, so I finally just went to sleep.

Next morning I woke up hoping that maybe I had imagined the problem or that the water heater had miraculously healed itself overnight. No such luck. Peeking into the garage, I saw that the rusty water was oozing even faster from the water heater. Better make a decision soon, I decided, before the tank might blow like a geyser.

But just as I was about to select a plumber at random from the yellow pages, I heard a guardian angel whisper in my year, “Check the warranty. There’s a file in the green cabinet.”  So I did just that and miraculously found the water heater manual, including a phone number to call! I contacted the manufacturer and to my delight learned that my warranty had four months to go before expiration. The helpful service rep put me in touch with a local plumber, who came to my house that same afternoon. He efficiently replaced my water heater with a brand new unit for free, with only a small service call fee.  Within a short time beautiful clean, hot water was flowing from the house faucets again.

This is what life is. Stuff breaks. And it’s not just the stuff of life that changes. It might be a broken relationship . . . a job lost . . . a dream unfulfilled . . . a debilitating physical challenge . . . death of a loved one . . .  or  ______________________ (you fill in the blank).  Life is full of imperfections. Sometimes we can fix these things with the help of good repair guy or gal, or friends who care, or family members who love and support us. Sometimes a guardian angel intervenes. But there are times when we can’t fix the situation, and we learn to adapt and go on because that’s part of life, too.

I’ve been blessed with many good “repair folks,” in my life and I’m grateful for them. I hope you have these resources to lean on when you need them, too. And I’ll bet there are even times when you’ve been a repair person for somebody else and have helped them, also.

Now . . . if I can just keep things working right for the next few weeks I’ll be very happy! ~ 'Rusty Red Water' Moving Forward on Your Own: A Financial Guidebook for Widows
Kathleen M. Rehl, Ph.D., CFP®, CFT™ is a leading authority on widows and their financial issues. She shares insightful experience and expertise through her speaking, writing and mentoring. A widow herself, Kathleen is passionate about inspiring her “widowed sisters” in transition and their advisors. She wrote the multi-award winning book, “Moving Forward on Your Own: A Financial Guidebook for Widows.” Her work has been featured in The New York Times, Wall Street Journal, USA Today, Kiplinger’s, and many other publications. The U.S. Army also uses her guidebook in their Survivor Outreach Services centers worldwide.

Monday, July 20, 2015

A Kindle Countdown Special For the Trilogy

I'm excited that my blog tour for A Portrait of Love and Honor begins today. I've had the great pleasure of working with Women On Writing! (WOW) to bring this tour to you. Below you will see the schedule of stops.

To celebrate, I'm offering the trilogy this week through July 27 as a Kindle Countdown Deal. To order my books at this special discount price, please visit my Amazon Author Page:

Along the tour, I offer writing tips, thoughts on writing memoir and fiction, the author as activist, and finding authentic voice through writing. I'm looking forward to our conversations.
I hope you will follow me along the tour and share with friends and colleagues. 

I thank all the bloggers who so generously invited me to help spread the word about writing and A Portrait of Love and Honor, a novel which completes the trilogy of stories inspired by and dedicated to my late husband John M. Cavalieri . . . a journey which began with my memoirs Again in a Heartbeat and Morning at Wellington Square.

Finally, I thank my readers. I never could have accomplished this without you. ~ Susan

Monday, July 20 (today!) @ The Muffin
Stop by for an interview with Susan G. Weidener and a chance to win A Portrait of Love and Honor: A Memoir Based on a True Story.

Tuesday, July 21 @ Giving Voice to Your Story
Curious about how to write discussion questions for your book? Susan G. Weidener shares her tips at the Giving Voice to Your Story blog.

Wednesday, July 22 @ Giving Voice to Your Story
Susan G. Weidener returns to Giving Voice to Your Story with advice on how to embrace the publication of your book.

Monday, July 27 @ Write on the River
Author Bob Mayer hosts Susan as she writes an informative post on "Moving Out of the Comfort Zone: The Writer as Activist."

Tuesday, July 28 @ Create Write Now
Struggling with writing to find an authentic voice? Susan G. Weidener shares her experience, and why she believes it's important to every writer.

Thursday, July 30 @ Lisa Hasleton's Reviews and Interviews
Lisa Haselton interviews Susan about her latest book, A Portrait of Love and Honor: A Novel Based on a True Story.

Monday, August 3 @ Sherry Meyer, Writer
You don’t want to miss this guest post on “The Memoir Writer’s Hidden Nerve.”

Thursday, August 6 @ The Unfaithful Widow
Author Barbara Barth began her writing journey after losing her husband, and Susan G. Weidener shares how she found her own voice and her story in this blog stop.

Monday, August 10 @ All Things Audry
Susan G. Weidener shares why, for the local author, community is everything.

Wednesday, August 12 @ Building Bookshelves
Jodi interviews Susan Weidener about A Portrait of Love and Honor: A Novel Based on a True Story.

Thursday, August 13 @ Choices
Have you ever heard the biblical story of how Lot’s wife turned into a pillar of salt?  Susan G. Weidener visits Madeline Sharples’ blog with a compelling guest post on how writing about the past can help us heal. Plus, a bonus, as Madeline reviews A Portrait of Love and Honor: A Novel Based on a True Story.

Friday, August 14 @ Words by Webb
Jodi reviews A Portrait of Love and Honor: A Novel Based on a True Story.

Creating A Successful Pubslush Campaign - Dorit Sasson

In this guest blog post, Dorit Sasson offers advice about how authors can create a successful Pubslush campaign. "It's becoming known as a quick way to make money as authors write. Many authors like myself aren't overlooking its importance. As Hope C. Clark of Funds for Writers says, 'Crowdfunding not only has no limit in the amount you can collect, but in collecting those funds you also collect a readership and build a platform.'"

Please welcome Dorit to the Women's Writing Circle.

The hardest part is of course, getting people to support your Pubslush campaign. Blasting the news of your campaign over the web is what many seem to do. Many authors including myself start their campaign feeling anxious about asking for money. The authors however, who are successful with their campaigns know how to weave the personal touch. This seems to be the secret sauce.

For example, Kathy Pooler of A Memoir's Writer's Journey, succeeded in her funding goals due to one main reason: she personally reached out to her network. If you're willing to take this extra step, you'll be upping your chances for success.

Why personally reach out to your network?

The personal touch makes all the difference: writing all those personal emails or letters, sending them one by one, and taking the time to customize them as you would with a letter.

Reaching out to your peeps personally does a few important things:

1. It keeps your project on their radar.

2. In an age of "click" and "send," the personal touch is extremely invaluable. Nobody seems to do it anymore.

3. It gives you an opportunity to talk about your project with passion so the personal touch comes across even stronger.

As Amanda Barbara, co-founder of Pubslush said in our recent interview, communicating to others why your project is near and dear to your heart is the single best thing you can do to get the word of your campaign out.

Speak about your crowdfunding project with passion.

"Every great dream begins with a dreamer. Always remember, you have within you the strength, the patience, and the passion to reach for the stars to change the world." -Harriet Tubman

Barbara Corcoran of the award winning TV show Shark Tank, said it right when she said, "You can't fake passion." It is who you are at your core essence. When you get fired up about something, that energy is immediately felt.

The key behind expressing passion is to really get clear as to why this project is near and dear to you. It's a chance to showcase what this project means to you personally and why it's important to support it.

My mission behind my Pubslush campaign is to guide others with the voice of courage supported by faith. Throughout the memoir, I model this strength and courage by showing my thoughts and inner dialogue as a way to pave the road towards transformation. I'm a feisty 19-year- old whose heart is set on making this cultural journey work no matter how oppressive or difficult. Determination and persistence are what help my character triumph and transform in the end away from my worry-wart of a mother.

Even as I write these words, I’m getting the goosebumps all over again. I’m replaying in my mind the courage it took to leave mom and my home in New York City. I would never be the same person.

Synopsis of Accidental Soldier: At age nineteen, Dorit Sasson, a dual American-Israeli citizen, knew she had no choice but to distance herself from her neurotic, worry-wart of a mother in order to become her own person. Torn trying to make the status quo work as a college student, she couldn’t bear staying with her mom in New York City for fear of becoming just like her. Accidental Soldier: A Memoir of Service in the Israel Defense Forces is the story of an American-Jewish college dropout who volunteers for the Israel Defense Forces to change her life – and steps out of her comfort zone even more to find courage and faith she didn’t know existed.

Old but true psychology: People want to connect BEFORE they purchase or support

Your peeps want to know the WHY before they click on "BUY." It's just our brains are wired. We seek that WHY as a way to connect. When the answers to the WHY aren't there, we may not give so much attention or thought to the project, or we may support the campaign anyhow simply because we care about the person anyway and maybe the WHY isn't that important to that person. But to your second and third tier relationships (not close family and friends) the WHY will be important.

So before requesting your peeps become a financial backer to your Pubslush campaign, give them your WHY. Tell them what fires you up about your story. Write what feels real and true. Give them a bit about your story. Make the personal connection come alive.

Readers want to connect. They want to know what grabbed you to write the soul of your story and there's nothing like an "old-fashioned letter" to build that connection.

Dorit Sasson writes for a wide range of print and online publications including The Huffington Post and speaks at conferences, libraries, and community centers. She is the author of the compelling memoir Accidental Soldier: A Memoir of Service and Sacrifice in the Israel Defense Forces. Read a complimentary first chapter over at her Pubslush campaign and learn some very cool rewards and how you can become a supporter. She lives in Pittsburgh with her husband and two children. She can also be reached at:

Thank you, Dorit, for sharing your thoughts about Pubslush with the Women's Writing Circle. Comments and questions are most welcomed.

Tuesday, July 14, 2015

Virginia Woolf's 'Room of Her Own' - A Writer's Journey

The writer’s journey is often a tumultuous one, but, perhaps no more so than the one feminist writer and literary icon Virginia Woolf traveled. 

As I visited her cottage in Sussex, England on July 11, my birthday, I felt inspired; somewhat intimidated by this “business” of writing. For surely it is those most sensitive, as well as attuned to life – the dark and the light – who pick up pen and write. 

Virginia’s ashes are buried in her garden at her 17th century cottage, Monk’s House, in Rodmell about an hour’s train ride out of London. 

It’s a small house, described in the brochure as “shabbily chic” . . . a place where artists and musicians – among them the American poet T.S. Eliot - spent evenings fireside.

As I headed toward her writing room, I lucked upon a short reading of  Mrs. Dalloway – which some consider her finest work. It begins like this:

Mrs. Dalloway said she would buy the flowers herself.
For Lucy had her work cut out for her. The doors would be taken off their hinges; Rumpelmayer’s men were coming. And then, thought Clarissa Dalloway, what a morning — fresh as if issued to children on a beach.
What a lark! What a plunge! For so it had always seemed to her, when, with a little squeak of the hinges, which she could hear now, she had burst open the French windows and plunged at Bourton into the open air. How fresh, how calm, stiller than this of course, the air was in the early morning; like the flap of a wave; the kiss of a wave; chill and sharp and yet (for a girl of eighteen as she then was) solemn, feeling as she did, standing there at the open window, that something awful was about to happen; looking at the flowers, at the trees with the smoke winding off them and the rooks rising, falling; standing and looking until Peter Walsh said, “Musing among the vegetables?”— was that it? —“I prefer men to cauliflowers”— was that it? 
A winding path framed by vivid pink and white hollyhocks and brilliant red roses leads to Virginia’s small writing studio. 

Through a glass partition one can view a large wooden desk with pen and paper, a cigarette holder and dark framed reading glasses . . . a vintage antique typewriter. A French door leads out to fields toward views of the South Downs and beyond. 

A visitor experiences this "writing lodge" as Virginia's solitary retreat - a "room of one's own" where privacy ignited creativity. . . yet the darker side too.  

A woman plagued by depression and what is now thought to have been bipolar disorder, Virginia wrote her epitaph: Against you I will fling myself, unvanquished and unyielding, O Death!

I walked the long and winding path from her quiet literary retreat down toward the river. 

The wind blew through the maytrees, just as she described it, “like the sound of breaking waves” . . . toward the River Ouse where she filled her pockets with stones and drowned herself in 1941. 

It is a good 20-minute walk, a long time to ponder one’s own suicide, I thought. How unhappy she must have been!

But as the sun shone on the fields that day, I soaked up the source of inspiration that all writers feel when in the ghostly presence of a literary icon. They inspire us and those beyond us . . . just as we hope in our small way to inspire those who read what we write . . . to leave behind a legacy - a statement . . . I, too, traveled this journey.

In the garage converted to gift shop, her books are for sale. It was here my son bought me a small candle holder with her photograph embossed on the side  – I’ll place a votive in the holder. When the next Women’s Writing Circle meets, I'll light it  . . . and celebrate Virginia.

Monday, July 6, 2015

Family Legacy Through Memoir and Poetry

Annie Beatrice Dean Weidener
A library adult education coordinator contacted me this week. She  asked whether I would teach classes on memoir. I’ve taught memoir writing many times and always enjoy it. It's as much fun for me as it is for those first being introduced to the genre.

As the author of three books – two of which are my own memoirs and the other a novel based on my late husband’s memoir – I always feel it is worthwhile to go back in time – and document the legacy and lives of those who most touched us. Their stories often turn out to be ours, too. 

Jay's memoir in A Portrait of Love and Honor is about what happens when honor collides with a system that wears down the individual spirit and soul. My memoirs detail the journey from love and loss to redemption and renewal. Who cannot identify with these themes?

Which got me thinking about my grandmother. She was from Manchester, England. I'm traveling to London this week, and I’ll be thinking of her . . .

Annie Beatrice Dean – her name before she married my grandfather Andrew Weidener - arrived in this country from England in the early 20th century with her maiden aunt, Mary. I have no diaries, no records, just old sepia-toned photographs and memories of my father's stories about her, which is enough. My grandmother died when I was five years old. I still remember the white doilies on the pie-crust mahogany table in her dining room . . . the delicate china tea cups, her cat purring on the windowsill. Her love for me, her only granddaughter, on whom she bestowed her only valuable possession  - a diamond dinner ring from England.

My grandmother ran a small boarding house on Maplewood Avenue in the Germantown section of Philadelphia when she met my grandfather. After he died of a massive heart attack at age 59, Nanny went back to taking boarders. Life was hard as a widow. She had to earn a living. She raised my father, her only child, to believe that a woman can survive on her own; a lesson he passed on to me. I viewed my grandmother as an early-day feminist, supporting herself and running a business.

When Annie was about to come and live with my parents, she met a man by the name of Jones, a widower, who lived on Maplewood Avenue. She was 74 and he a year older. He courted her. He proposed. She said 'yes'. Shortly after they announced their engagement, my grandmother was diagnosed with cancer. The cancer killed her within months.

Had she found happiness with Mr. Jones? Was she just tired of going it alone? Had she discovered magic right around the corner as I so often say is possible in my memoirs? I'll never know. But it doesn't  matter. Her story is my story, our story, a story of a strong woman.

When we write life stories, we are connecting . . . a  touchstone, not just to them, but to us. 

A poem by an unknown author resonates with this theme.

A Library Is My Mother: The Eighth Wonder of the World

In Africa they say
When an old person dies
A library has burned down. 
My mother was a poorly lit one
Uncomfortable with chairs strewn about
And I often found her closed
Whenever I tried to visit. 
Sometimes I would resort to sneaking in
To find she held great volumes
Of odd and arcane secrets
And some peculiar wisdom. 
But in general, the caretaker
Of this eighth wonder of the world
Never understood the needs of her visitors,
Nor how properly to file away
And manage
The array of travel curiosities
The extensive treasures
The magical incantations and the alchemy
Of unrequited love and immigrant loss. 
Her volumes remained dusty gems
Untouched, unread
And were thrown into the flames.
Summer is a great time to contemplate stories. I’ll be leading a class on writing stories through the Women’s Writing Circle on July 18. If you’re in the area, please consider joining us :

Monday, June 29, 2015

It Takes a Village to Write a Book - Rae Theodore

If you ever doubted the importance of a writing group or writing workshop to move a manuscript toward completion, this guest post by Rae Theodore should put those doubts to rest.

I had the pleasure of meeting Rae through our Women's Writing Circle workshop on memoir and, more recently, our June read around. Please welcome Rae, whose memoir, Leaving Normal: Adventures in Gender, was just released this week. ~ Susan

"I always thought writing was a solitary pursuit until I started writing a book."

That's the first line of the Acknowledgements to my memoir, Leaving Normal: Adventures in Gender.

Before I started putting my story down on paper, I had this image of what a "real" writer looked like. Real writers hid away in small offices and hunched over computer keyboards, clicking and clacking into the wee hours of the night.

I was already a writer -- a business writer.  That's how I paid the bills. However, I had put my dream of becoming a creative writer on hold. After I finished work for the day, I rarely found time for other writing, fun writing.  I had started a few short stories in notebooks but never finished them. 

A few years ago, I started seeing a therapist, who gave me a homework assignment.  

"Find a group or activity just for you," she said. 

I considered signing up for an art class but missed the registration deadline. 

"I'm failing therapy," I told my partner.

My therapy sessions were on Fridays. I only had a few days to sign up for something. I recalled seeing an ad for a writers' group that met on Tuesday mornings at a nearby bookstore. I planned to attend one group meeting, report back to my therapist and get a passing grade in therapy.

I was nervous that first day. About five or six of us sat around a folding table in the back of the store.  We introduced ourselves.

Rae, 2 years old, in Dad's shoes
"My name is Rae. I'm a business writer. After I'm finished work, I never seem to find time for creative writing.  I've always wanted to write a book.  I'm here to find some type of writing project to work on." 

That became my mantra.

We worked on writing prompts, which was new to me. On that first day, I surprised myself by sharing in a shaky voice something that I wrote.  There was something magical about the writing space.

I showed up most Tuesdays, even though I sometimes wanted to stay home in my pajamas and watch Dr. Phil and reruns of Sex in the City.

I wrote about wanting to stay home in my pajamas and watch Dr. Phil and Sex in the City.

In responding to the prompts, I noticed that I mostly wrote about myself, my family and my life. It was my default. I started thinking about penning a memoir.

Our writers' group started a monthly critique panel. I submitted my first memoir chapter. I had written about a humiliating incident that I had never shared with anyone else.
            I am climbing the back stairwell of my friends' off-campus apartment for a party.  I am  20 years old and a junior in college. Three students, two girls and one guy, pass me on their way down the stairs.
            "What was that?" one of them asks.
            Each new peal of laughter echoes and rings out like a shot in the enclosed space.
            With one three-word utterance, they have stripped me of my humanness.  I feel raw and   exposed.

            I focus on the words "what" and "that."
            For a brief moment, I think that this must be what Eve felt like in those first few seconds after the fall -- red faced and uncomfortable in her own body for the very first time.
While I was waiting for feedback on my piece, I spent a lot of time in bed in my pajamas watching Dr. Phil and Sex in the City (when I wasn't hiding under the covers and praying for the world to end).

When the critique group met, I steeled myself for comments that my chapter was weird or stupid or wrong. That I was weird or stupid or wrong. Instead, the feedback was enthusiastic and positive and gave me fuel to write the next chapter.

I fell into a routine of attending my writers' group every week, writing one chapter at a time and submitting it for critique.

I attended a memoir workshop run by Susan in which I laid down the bones for the book's title chapter. In the workshop, I learned about weaving light elements of a story with dark ones, and I played with that technique throughout my writing process.

Each time I submitted a chapter for critique, I held my breath and waited for: This is weird.  You are weird. No one will want to read this.  You call yourself a writer?
In time, I realized the comments were my own.  Decades of self-doubt played on a loop inside my head.  Writing quieted the voices.

It took me about two years to write the book. I traveled back in time and landed in each chapter, trying to remember every detail -- the sights, a song playing on the radio, the smell of Gee, Your Hair Smells Terrific Shampoo, the way Pop Rocks feel as they melt strawberry sweet on my tongue.

I hope the book gets people talking about the red-hot topic of gender.  I hope it opens people's minds and hearts to what it's like to be different, a nonconformist, a gender rebel. 

I thought the book would be a gift to others who saw themselves reflected in its pages. Turns out, it was a gift to me as it provided an opportunity for self-reflection, inspection and growth.

How about you? Can you share an experience - good, bad, or indifferent - with a writing group? Your comments are most welcomed.

RAE THEODORE lives in Royersford, Pa. with her wife, children and, in stereotypical fashion, her cats. By day, she works as a staff writer for one of the world's largest communications firms. By night, she writes about living in that middle place where boy and girl collide. Her favorite day of the week is Tuesday because that's when her writers' group meets. You can read about her adventures in gender nonconformity on the Flannel Files at She has been recognized by the blogging site for a story she wrote about a soggy fish sandwich and another about a mystical message from a plumber. Leaving Normal: Adventures in Gender, is her first book.

Links to ordering book:

Twitter: @FlannelFiles

Wednesday, June 24, 2015

A July Writing Workshop - Writing Our Stories

We'll be doing something a little different in July than read around. Susan will offer:  

Writing Our Stories

When: Sat., July 18, 2015: 9-11:30 a.m.

Where: St. Andrew’s Episcopal Church, 7 St. Andrew’s Lane, Ludwig’s Corner

Together we will write good stories, stories we each can tell, those true and unexpected narratives that reveal who we are separately and how we are together. We will explore what good stories are, and then we’ll write them.

We will work with writing prompts and timed exercises . . . then read our work aloud in a group setting. This is not critique, but a workshop to feel the dignity and the integrity of each word we write as it leads us toward story.

Bring your favorite writing tools: Laptops, notebooks, pens and pencils

Light refreshments, coffee, tea

Cost: $20

PLEASE RSVP Susan Weidener if you plan to attend this writing workshop at Space is limited.
Directions to the church are here.
All genres welcome. You do not have to be published. This workshop is open only to women.