Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Looking Back To Tell Our Story

Lot's wife ignored the angels' warning not to look back when she and her family were fleeing a devastated and rotting Sodom. We all know what came next.  As she glanced over her shoulder, she was instantly turned into a pillar of salt. For many, this story became a cautionary tale. See? This is what happens to a curious woman who looks back at her past.

For others, the story of Lot's wife is a favorite at memoir workshops.  It provokes laughter and the question: If we don't look back, how else do we tell the story? Not to mention: Whoever heard of someone turning into a pillar of salt?  (Perhaps, it is metaphor for tears?)

I got to thinking about all of this after joining a Lenten Bible Study. The first chapter in our assigned reading - Lot's wife.

Aren't we told that wisdom and joy come from living in the moment, in the now? That we must keep moving forward? But here's the problem.   If we are stuck in the past, how can we?   Like Lot's wife, we remain nameless, a woman forever silenced from telling her story. 

If we don't look back, how else do we tell the story?

Writing is a powerful and compelling quest.  It helps make sense of things. It transforms the dragons and demons into something beautiful. By looking back, we move foward.

This doesn't mean we can proceed without taking the necessary precautions. Sometimes writing about a particular memory is best left for another day.  We may decide to come at it through the side door since pushing ourselves to the edge is too scary.  Give it time to percolate before putting it on the page.

Reviewing our lives in the context of one central and defining event makes for memoir's compelling narrative.  It is also the compelling narrative to any worthwhile story, memoir or fiction.  The protagonist is confronted with crisis; how she resolves it makes for dramatic tension.  A character who is frozen in place interests no one.

What compelled Lot's wife to look back?  Did she have the courage to confront destruction and look it in the eye?  Was she saying goodbye to her old home as a way to move on to the new?  We'll never know.  Lot's wife never got to tell her story.  How we would have loved to hear it.

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Finding Our Voice

This past week I thought a lot about Whitney Houston and that incredible voice.  I thought about how she interpreted a song her own unique way, her voice soaring and caressing the lyrics.
She gave us the soulful young gospel singer from Newark, New Jersey, the diva struggling with fame, the woman fighting her demons. 

As I watched her funeral broadcast live last Saturday, I was struck by Kevin Costner's eulogy; his memory of her asking him before her screen test for The Bodyguard,  "Am I good enough?"

Costner said this question haunts many celebrities. He had often asked himself the same thing.  This from the man who gave us Dances With Wolves.  This from the woman who possessed beauty and the voice of an angel.  As Stevie Wonder sang at Whitney's funeral . . ."She is part of God's heavenly choir."

You don't have to be a celebrity to know the insecurity that often accompanies personal revelation; the risk-taking of putting it out there and opening yourself to criticism.

Give us something, anything, but don't make it lukewarm. Don't copy another writer's voice. Find your own.

After reading Anne Lamott's Bird by Bird I realized she had summed up what I had felt.  Writes Lamott of  her stories about her father and best friend:  "I wanted to write a book that also might help someone going through a similar situation.  Some people may have thought this book was too personal, too confessional.  But what these people think about me is none of my business.  I got to write books about my father and my best friend, and they got to read them before they died.  Can you imagine?  I wrote for an audience of two whom I loved and respected, who loved and respected me.  So I wrote for them carefully and soulfully as I could - which is, needless to say, how I wish I could write all the time."

We felt we knew Whitney Houston when she sang, "I Will Always Love You." She was singing just to us.  It was hers.  No one can ever sing it the same way.


Wednesday, February 15, 2012

How To Promote Your Book?

What's the best way for writers to promote themselves?  This was the topic of a discussion on LinkedIn's Books and Writers group a couple weeks ago.  It is still going strong with over 11,000 comments pouring in from authors all over the world. 

I joined the fray, offering up thoughts about KDP Select - does it work? - and other things I have learned about book promotion in the last year and a half as an author.

The most important thing I learned - Never, ever underestimate the power of face to face conversations about your book in your own community. 

Recently, I placed a copy of Again in a Heartbeat on the shelf in my local Curves for women in Lionville, Pennsylvania.  It was suggested to me that since the Curves in a nearby town had closed and we had garnered over 20 new members, some of those women might be interested in reading my memoir.  After all, the book, which first came out in July 2010 sold - much to my surprise - over 30 copies at Curves in Lionville that summer.

How was I to know that one of the women who today asked me about the book was a former oncology nurse?  How could I know she would suggest I take my memoir to the cancer center of the local hospital.  "Mention my name," she offered.  How was I to know that another woman who looked at the book - and bought the paperback - operates an in-home health care business and was interested in a story about family members coping with chronic illness?

Time and again it has amazed me the "gifts" these conversations engender, not just in terms of getting the word out about my book, but in human terms . . .  the sharing of life's most intimate and personal stories and memories that arise as we talk; a brother who died of leukemia yet never could accept death, either his own or those around him; a mother-in-law dying of colon cancer who only needed to hear the words, "You can let go now," to end her long struggle.

While the conversations and the connections are the gems of any author's experience, the eBook phenomenon cannot be underestimated.  For three days this past month, I ran a free promotion on Amazon's KDP Select, meaning my book was free to download for Kindle users.  For those three days and several days after leading up to Valentine's Day, over 600 people downloaded the book; it is not clear how many bought the book (from what I can tell, royalties are based in part on the number of free copies divided by the number who either paid for or borrowed the book).

Here's the piece I wrote in December about why I decided to make my book exclusive to Amazon for a 90-day period. http://www.susanweidener.com/2011/12/why-i-chose-kdp-select.html

Earning $100 in royalties, which I did as of this date, may not sound like a lot. More intriguing was the realization that 600 people (including 80 in the UK) found my memoir interesting enough to order and start reading.  So in that sense, the KDP Select promotion (which didn't cost a dime - and I didn't have to do anything) was more than worth it.  I will definitely consider doing it again.  For in the final analysis, an author wants to be known and her writing enjoyed.  It is her offering, her gift to her readers.

There is a quiet satisfaction and slow momentum to this work of authoring. Like building blocks, the conversations and connections - and the free downloads - all help the author gather stamina to continue to promote and build an audience for this book and the next . . .and maybe even the next book to come.  Each new reader is a gift. 

Saturday, February 11, 2012

The Magic of A Writers Group

Writers are solitary, often introverted by nature. They spend a lot of time alone. Sometimes, too much time alone. There comes a point where you have to get out, meet with other writers. There comes a point when you want other people to hear your work, know what they think.

A writing group like the Women's Writing Circle read-around is not the same thing as a creative writing class or some other writing class where we are offered instruction in craft and technique.  A writing group is a place where you can walk in, float some trial balloons, put the work out there for others to hear.  There is something magical about that.

So it was at this morning's read-around at Wellington Square.  We listen to each other's work, respond honestly and sensitively.  Sometimes, the Circle is the only place where our work is heard.  Sometimes, no one at home cares that we write or what we write.

In the Circle we focus on the fact that the author has undertaken something extremely difficult, often soul-searching.  Maybe we want advice, maybe just a listening audience.  Does this work?  Does this have potential?  A little bit of empathy and affirmation goes a long way. 

When I started the Women's Writing Circle two years ago, I was looking for other writers who could offer up suggestions, ask questions, provide encouragement.

I had no idea that we would evolve into a group of people who truly care for each other, whose support and guidance would become crucial to my own work.  Women have come and gone over the last two years, but the ones who come back time and time again are those who keep the rest of us - sometimes on the verge of giving up and taking up, say, metalworking - the energy and will to go on.

Writing is not for the faint of heart.  Our group understands that.  No words are necessary because we all live the paranoia, the doubt.  And then we hear words of how the story resonated. "I want to hear more," or "You had me right from the beginning," or "I wish I could write something that beautiful." 

What better pep talk could there be?  What better air to breathe than  the air of  fellow writers?  To learn more about the read-around. http://www.susanweidener.com/p/circle-read-arounds.html

Friday, February 3, 2012

Mastering Writing Workshop

Mastering Writing for Adults
Getting To the Heart of Our Story

How do we find the stories in  our  lives?  How do we discover meaning in those stories?  And what are some good  strategies to write about them?
This is the subject of a  unique all-day writing workshop sure to inspire and instruct.  Open to committed  writers of all genres and experience levels.
This workshop will be led by  Susan G. Weidener, an editor and author of Again in a Heartbeat, a memoir of love, loss and dating again, and Cynthia J. McGroarty, an English instructor at DeVry University and a fiction writer and editor.

What to expect:
· Instruction and writing exercises that build on finding the meaning in our stories.
· Thoughts on how to take a memory and turn it into a story.
· Tips and techniques for bringing readers into the story.
· Ways to trim the fat and get to the meat of the story.
· Critique of a work in-progress.
· Reading our work aloud in a circle of supportive writers.

Where: Fairfield Inn, 5 North Pottstown Pike, Exton PA 19341
When: 8:30 – 5 p.m. Saturday, March 24
Cost: $99 until March 16 when registration closes. Fee includes free coffee and tea all day and buffet lunch. This workshop is limited to 12 participants.

Checks should be made out to Susan Weidener and sent to: 75 Jennifer Drive, Chester Springs, PA 19425.  For more information, email sgweidener@comcast.net