Today I’m welcoming Leigh Shulman, who mentors writers and lives in beautiful Argentina, as she introduces her helpful new book for writers: The Writer’s Roadmap: Paving the Way To Your Ideal Writing Life.Thank you for sharing with us, Leigh!
Back Cover Copy:Have you always dreamed of making a living from writing? Or even just a way to fit writing into your everyday life? But you’ve stopped before you’ve even started because fear and doubt get in the way…
“What if I’m not good enough? What if nobody wants to read what I have to say? I’m overwhelmed with ideas and lack of time and don’t know how or where to start.”
Your writing dream can seem impossibly hard to reach.
These are all blocks that writing teacher and author, Leigh Shulman, has helped hundreds of students overcome, to go on to achieve their writing goals. Now in The Writer’s Roadmap, she shares her twenty years of experience of helping others to write and publish their way to their ideal writing lives.
Through a combination of practical steps and mindset work, Leigh will take you through the creative process and shows you achieving your writing aspirations is not only possible but joyful (and profitable!). From hands-on writing exercises and real-life case studies from her students to stories from her own personal journey to her dream writing life, The Writer’s Roadmap is the essential guide that shows you not only where your writing life could take you, but how to get there.
So if you want to avoid the number one reason why most people never write or learn how to deal with rejection or believe that you can earn money from your writing, then The Writer’s Roadmap will signpost the way to take that big scary writing dream and break it down into manageable steps.
Writing is a journey, but you’ll never reach your destination if you don’t take that first step. If you’re ready to stop dreaming and start writing then adventure awaits…
Leigh Shulman is a degreed writing mentor with twenty years teaching experience under her belt. She’s taught at universities and writing programs worldwide and founded The Workshop, her online writing community and Creative Revolution book writing retreats in Costa Rica and Nicaragua. Her work has appeared in The Washington Post, New York Times and The Huffington Post among others.
She currently lives in Argentina with her family where she writes and wonders if she’s the only person on earth who doesn’t like dulce de leche.
website: leighshulman.comTwitter: theleighshulmanfacebook author page: http://facebook.com/leighshulmannewsletter signup: https://mailchi.mp/leighshulman/signup
Welcome to Margaret Welwood, and her children’s books! Tell us how you got started, Margaret.
I’ve always enjoyed sharing stories with children. But when one little granddaughter started asking for “fake” stories, she wasn’t just asking for fiction. No, she wanted stories that were made up on the spot. My writing muscles, used to striving for clear, concise, and compelling non-fiction for adults, stretched in new and happy ways as I strove to share my faith and values with a story-hungry little girl.
When it came time to start writing some stories down, I continued to read to children, but now with an added purpose: to learn from the masters. The Berenstains are among my favorites, and Coralie (the artist for my first two books) and I studied their work. I also read books about writing for children and began reviewing children’s books.
Scissortown, my first picture book,answers the two questions that burn in the heart of every serious reader 😊
What happens when a neat and tidy town is invaded by Slicers and Dicers? These pleasant-looking creatures mean no harm, but they never met a pinking shear or nail clipper they didn’t like.
The clever grown-ups hide all the cutting tools, which brings us to your second burning question: What happens when nobody can cut anything at all?
“A delightful story with many layers of meaning.”
“Teaches children the importance of being responsible and using their thinking skills to solve problems.”
If Scissortown explores your burning questions, Marie and Mr. Bee leaves a question unasked.
Children with disabilities and their parents find this story of compassion, forgiveness, and forever friendship particularly empowering because no one asks why Marie uses a wheelchair. She is an equal and beloved partner in work and play, and her forest friends make accommodations for her disability without comment.
“All sorts of important ideas pop up while Marie and her friends play and work in the forest: the power of choice, the treasure of friendship, the capabilities of ‘disabled’ children, what kindness looks like.”
Little Bunny’s Own Storybook is the tale of a library-loving rabbit who takes matters into his own paws when his favorite place closes for inventory.
“By describing with words and illustrating Bunny’s book-making process, the author gives readers a detailed how-to.”
Children (both human and animal) who make—or learn to make—good choices in cute, humorous settings are one place I want to leave my mark.
Where do you want to leave your mark?
Connect with Margaret!
I’m so excited to introduce a real-life World War II story – Barbara von der Oster’s father missed not just one Christmas with his family, but three. World War II stole him away, and I think you’ll enjoy Barbara’s tale of his three holidays as a lonely sailor. I learned so much from reading LST 388, the name of the vessel that took her father to several major war theaters and the title of Barbara’s book. She offers us yet another gift–a paperback copy of this book to a reader who leaves a comment.
FAR FROM HOME FOR CHRISTMAS
With the start of December comes planning for the holiday, including decorating, baking, shopping and making decisions on where to spend Christmas. Yet, even with all the commotion and must-dos, every year I pause and remind myself of those who can’t be home for Christmas. Our military men and women often find themselves far from home during this time of year.
My father, while serving in WWII, missed not one, not two, but three consecutive Christmas holidays with his family back home in New York. His first Christmas away, in 1942, he found himself in Norfolk, Virginia after receiving a few hours liberty from his new assignment on the amphibious force landing ship, USSLST-388.
At a bar in a seedy part of town, he writes in his journal about listening to songs on the jukebox, such as White Christmas, and thinking of home. As he leaves the bar with other sailors, Christmas carols blare from the loudspeaker above the Monticello Hotel. He joins in, singing along with sailors and civilians alike as he walks along the street.
By the time the next Christmas, 1943, arrived, he had sailed overseas to North Africa, participated in two hostile invasions (Sicily and Salerno) and sailed to England to begin preparations for a third (Normandy).
While on a short liberty in England, he runs into a woman who happens to have a sprig of mistletoe attached to her coat. He bets her she can’t raise it above her head, and, much to his delight, she does. He leans in and plants a kiss on her lips. Returning to the ship, he finds he has several letters waiting and settles in to read each one, treating them as special gifts. Soon, however, he and his shipmates are forced to spend the next several hours fighting off an attack by German planes and eboats in the English Channel. A subdued Christmas Day dinner follows after all but their nerves have quieted down.
Another year passed, which included the devastating invasion at Normandy, and Christmas found my father once again in the English Channel, this time carrying reinforcement troops and equipment from England to France. Unbeknownst to him at the time, the German navy had launched a last desperate offensive to stop the supply of more troops to the continent, sinking several ships directly ahead in his own ship’s path.
All throughout, my father sought out church services on Christmas, whether at the USO or American Red Cross, or even onboard his ship. He never lost his faith. Today’s military men and women no doubt are doing the same.
So amidst the holiday hustle and bustle, the planning, praising, gift-buying and decorating, I’ll be keeping not only my father in mind, but also present-day military men and women’s sacrifices. Let’s all keep them in our prayers this year, and hope they’ll be home soon.
Barbara co-authored the book LST 388: A World War II Journal with her father, who passed away in December 2016 at the age of 96. She is currently working on her first historical fiction novel, based loosely on her father’s experiences in WWII. She says, many times people will pick up a novel rather than a memoir or history book, so this is another way to share a bit of history, and keep the memories and sacrifices of WWII alive.
Barbara will also have her own memoir out in early 2019. In it, she shares her experiences as a fashion model in Europe during the mid-1980s.
You can reach Barbara through her book website, www.lst388.com.
Follow her on Amazon for future updates: https://www.amazon.com/Barbara-von-der-Osten/e/B079JZWVKG
Connect with her on Twitter, https://twitter.com/BarbvdO
Sharon Dean introduces us to her love of literary history here. If you like a thought-provoking whodunit, you will enjoy Death of the Keynote Speaker, which I just finished reading. This week, Sharon’s giving away one free copy of Leaving Freedom (either e-book or paper) to a commenter. Welcome!
In her scholarly book on girl sleuths like Nancy Drew and Cherry Ames, Bobbie Anne Mason wrote, “A scholar is a version of a sleuth” (The Girl Sleuth, 1975). I was a sleuth when I wrote scholarly books. I’m still one now as I write fiction. Besides puzzling out how to construct a plot and develop a character, I’ve discovered what propels my imagination: my scholar’s sense of history and my personal sense of place.
In my first Susan Warner mystery, Tour de Trace, Mississippi’s history crept into my descriptions of the Natchez Trace and the fraught racial past of that state. My second novel, Death of the Keynote Speaker, is set on New England’s Isles of Shoals. It weaves a fictional writer into the real history of Celia Thaxter’s literary salon on Appledore Island and a notorious murder on Smuttynose Island. My third mystery, Cemetery Wine, draws on New Hampshire’s history and its connection to the Underground Railroad as Susan Warner searches for who murdered an African-American scholar researching that history.
Set between 1973 and 1982, I suppose my just-published novel, Leaving Freedom, is historical. Even more, it’s informed by a sense of place. My protagonist, Connie Lewis, travels from Massachusetts to Florida and through Buffalo and Niagara Falls to Oregon. In Oregon, she discovers places I’ve visited: the apothecary of nineteenth-century herbalist Kam Wah Chung, the landscape of the John Day Fossil Beds, the giant redwoods of the Smith River, the beautiful town of Ashland. Connie twice visits the Rajneesh commune that took over the tiny community of Antelope, Oregon, in the 1980s as she searches for a place to call home and pursues a writing career.
Like Connie, I’m settling into a new place, learning to call it home even as I’m drawn back in my imagination to my New England roots. The novel I’m working on now, tentatively called The Barn, springs from an image of a barn I remember from my childhood. Above its door, a large wooden cow’s head looked out from the hayloft, peering at passers-by. I thought it was a real cow. It’s given me the sense of place I needed to start writing a novel that flashes back to a cold case in 1990. The cow is watching as I uncover the history of my imagined cold case and discover where it will take me.
For more on me and my work, see my webpage, https://sharonldean.com/ and my Facebook author page, Sharon L. Dean.
Welcome to Char Jones, one of my favorite book reviewers. Here, she reminds us how FaceBook, while not perfect, has changed our lives.
This Thanksgiving I am especially grateful to Mark Zuckerberg. For his genius creation, Facebook, has enabled me to reach 60 countries in just two months as a literary reviewer!
Using Facebook as my platform, I started blogging exclusively as a book critic in July, when, through a combination of sweat equity, alchemy and social media mastery, I was able to reach the maximum number of Friends — 5000 — in two and a half weeks.
My Friend mix is heady, including authors of two favorite historical fiction series — Susan Elia MacNeal, who writes about WWII spy Maggie Hope, and the mother-son team Charles Todd, who spins tales of Great War nurse Bess Crawford.
Other esteemed friends include President Ronald Reagan’s daughter Patti Davis, a fine writer herself, and the CEO of Kensington Publishing based in London, England.
My world expanded exotically the night I discovered I had a Friend in Casablanca, Morocco, site of one of my all time fave movies.
And the path through the global thicket became even clearer through connection with Canadian author/illustrator Hélène Desputeaux, whose charming children’s picture books I had reviewed.
Hélène and I became Facebook Friends, and one evening looking at her FB page I decided to check out her array of Friends, who turned out to be …. no surprise … illustrators! And not just Canadian artists, but artists from across the globe. I extended many Friend requests and to my great surprise and delight, many accepted. My world reach grew quickly from there.
The illustrator world seems an especially small one, so as I add another Friend from that amazing clan, I search for new Friends in countries I’ve not yet reached.
This week alone I added Friends in Austria, Columbia, Costa Rica, Finland, Iceland, Jordan, Syria, Thailand, and Wales.
My Facebook Friends offer joy daily. Aussie author Anna Campbell suggests fine music. Writer Riham Adly from Giza, Egypt, and I share a weakness for books with medical themes and Anthropologie fashion. Malcolm Roscow from Bournemouth, England, serves as my Facebook Knight in Shining Armor ever since an online dweeb became a detractor. And so it happily goes.
During this season of gratitude, therefore, I give thanks for my glorious global friends. Mr. Zuckerberg, I count you among them!
Char Jones blogs about books, movies, music, fashion, and life on Facebook as Literary Soirée. A past entertainment writer and healthcare executive, she can be found plinking away on two Apple devices simultaneously, Bose headphones atop her curls, cat Gracie snuggled against her, while her patient husband calls her for yet another missed meal. Her Facebook blog can be accessed at
I’m so delighted to welcome Lyn Vande Brake, whom I’ve known for several years. She’s a spunky gal with a boatload of energy and ideas. I’m looking forward to the release of her non-fiction book about how women can carve out our own little spaces in this busy world. She lives just off I-35 with her husband and a sweet array of the cutest animals. She’s graciously giving us a peek…
I am often asked, how do you write a book? The answer is, the same way you eat an elephant; one bite at a time, or in this case, one word at a time. Words turn into sentences which make paragraphs that become chapters and before you know it 40,000 words in 18 chapters are sitting in a Word Document.
The golden rule is ‘write what you know.’ Ask yourself, what’s happening in your life; significant or not, happy or sad, life altering or mundane. Life shows up every day for everyone, and over time is always a mix of all of these. It’s amazing what one might consider as trivial that can turn into best-seller material.
I think of award-winning humor writer Erma Bombeck, the All-America housewife of yesteryear who raised three kids with her typewriter sitting on an ironing board so she could find time to write. Bombeck would become a household word back in the 1970’s and ’80’s, making appearances on Johnny Carson and ABC’s Good Morning America. Nine of her twelve books, all about the joys of doing laundry, house-training a new puppy, and attending PTA meetings, appeared on the New York Times Best Seller List. Bombeck, when interviewed on how she got her start, said the first piece of real fiction she wrote was the weather forecast for the Dayton Herald News, a small hometown newspaper, where her most substantial contribution was as the obituary writer.
A couple years back, I was in desperate need of an escape place that would enable me to run away from a husband whom I dearly loved but with his retirement, was driving me nuts. I found and purchased a little one-room Amish-built shed. Upon its delivery, I placed it in the center of my pony pasture and created sacred space in the shape of a she-shed where I reveled in quiet solitude.
A friend said, “You need to write a story about this.” And so I did. Then the same friend said, “This story needs to be a book.”
Twenty-four chapters and a book proposal later, I have The Shaping of a She-Shedsitting at a publisher’s under spec.
How did I do this? One bite at a time.
Lyn Vandebrake is a published writer with her work appearing inFocus on the Family, Homelife, Baptist Press, Positive Living, Mountain Living, Alive, Living the Country Life, Christian Womanhood, The Summit and others. Visit her website at www.lynvandebrake.com
Another note: Lyn, Carol Hedberg and I will be hosting a day-long WRITING FROM THE HEART workshop in Story City on November 19. If you need a creative getaway, check out our FB pages for more information.
Welcome to Ruth Buchanan, who writes FUNNY STUFF -my hat is off to you, Ruth…easier said than done. And oh, how our serious old world needs to laugh! Besides her gift of humor, Ruth is offering a commenter a digital copy of Collapsible (U.S. only).
The Four Perils of Wit
I write comedy because I love laughter. It’s a gift from God, and sharing that gift with others is immensely satisfying. There are, however, some distinct downsides to writing humor.
Peril 1: Making jokes nobody understands.
When you make jokes nobody understands, you’re impressing nobody but yourself. The key is to know your audience and think of what they’d enjoy rather than seeking to highlight your own wit.
Peril 2: Feeling that you must meet expectations.
Sure, you can deliver droll dialogue in books and plays, but that doesn’t mean you can do the same thing in real time—or that you should even try. In attempting to be “on” all the time despite dips in mood, intermittent personal struggles, or a sluggish mental state, you may wind up trying too hard and displaying a grotesque parody of humor that delights no one.
Peril 3: Encountering the assumption that you don’t think too deeply.
People tend to equate seriousness with depth and laughter with flippancy. Although there’s some truth at the core of the assumption, it’s still a dangerous over-generalization. Yes, it doesn’t cost much to be flippant, but not all humor is flippant and not all earnestness solemn. There is a type of joy that is serious and a type of humor that is actually quite sad.
Peril 4: Allowing wit to trump all other considerations.
One of the worst perils of wit is the danger of letting the words fly without first considering the ramifications. When we write, input from early readers and editors can help us temper our impulses in subsequent drafts.
In conversation, however, it’s another matter. Those with quick wits will often allow their tongues to run ahead, speaking first and considering the consequences later.
This is perhaps the greatest peril of wit, and one not easily remedied.
Fortunately, there is hope.
Combatting the Danger
The best way to combat the danger is to fill your mind with things worthy of being said. That way whenever you do speak, you have a significantly lower likelihood of saying something foolish.
In his letter to the Philippians, the Apostle Paul sets the standard: “whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things.”
Let us think on worthy things so that we may speak worthily.
In this way, we combat the worst perils of wit.
Ruth Buchanan is a Christian freelance writer who holds degrees in ministry and theology. She writes fiction, non-fiction, plays, and sacred scripts. She’s an eager reader, an enthusiastic traveler, and the world’s most reluctant runner. Ruth loves Jesus, family, church, friends, and coffee. She lives and works in South Florida. You can learn more about her and her books by visiting RuthBuchananAuthor.comor following her on social media.
Check Out Book 1 in the Collapsible trilogy!
Rachel Cooper has life under control: good job, good friends, and good plans for the future. All of that collapses one early morning when she falls and breaks her ankle. Now she must face the horrors of preparing for an upcoming move and handling her tenth year of teaching while clomping around on crutches. Worse, somewhere in the shadows, the Memento Killer lurks—a serial murderer who stalks women with four anonymous gifts before moving in for the kill. When unexpected presents begin arriving on Rachel’s doorstep, she fears that she’ll soon be crutching for her life. Check out Collapsible: A novel of friendship, broken bones, coffee, shenanigans, and the occasional murder.
Stacey Pardoe has such inspiration to share…enjoy.
There Are No Small Moments
I’m on my knees, camera lens inches from a dwarf ginseng, its tiny snowflake head bobbing in the breeze, when I realize we’re not alone. “Beautiful day, isn’t it?” the khaki-clad elderly gentleman greets, and I’m drawn from my small moment with the ginseng.
“Sure is,” I say, somewhat embarrassed by the black dirt on my knees and elbows.
“Did you see the trout lilies?” he asks, and I notice the camera strapped over his neck. I’m less embarrassed.
We talk for a long while about trillium and bluebells, and he finally meanders off along the path. Returning to my photo shoot with the ginseng, I remember the way I once looked at thirty-somethings with cameras and wildflower books. At twenty-two, I kept track of miles logged and elevations reached, not dwarf flora, like violets and ginseng. At twenty-two, I mostly lived for big moments – summit moments, and the thought of bending low for small moments seemed nothing short of condescending.
We walk farther down the trail, kids running ahead in search of toads and moths, and I consider these changing seasons. When did small moments begin to take on such an authentic kind of glory? It must have been before I dug the wildflower books out of the dusty boxes in the attic of the garage.
I remember when I started taking pictures of tiny mushrooms and sphagnum moss. I believe that was the moment. The moment I pulled out the camera and committed to capture the miracles I miss every day when I brush past in all my hurry, with my large-moment focus and my desire to prove something.
What if we could all live like we have nothing to prove? What if we never again needed to prove our worth through demonstrating our intelligence, beauty, humor, and talent? What if these things were simply gifts with which we blessed others, and we were fully content to live in the midst of our quiet moments in utter contentment?
Have I really learned the secret of being content in any and every situation?
What if there really are no small moments – just quiet moments . . . And what if the quiet moments are worth every bit as much as the loud moments performed before the multitudes?
I think long on it, while the kids build castles along the sandy creek, and I’m sure of it: These quiet moments of walking with children in the woods, baking cornbread, stirring scrambled eggs with a rubber spatula, folding tiny T-shirts, and wiping down dusty furniture are the moments that will make up the bulk of our lives. There may be loud moments, platform moments, and moments that are broadcast before the world, but these big moments won’t make up the majority of our lives.
So what are we doing with our quiet moments? Because the quiet moments are the ones that seem small, but they’re really the ones that comprise the essence of our lives.
Sitting along the water, I commit to live with more gratitude. I commit to recognize the gifts that surround me and magnify God through naming them: dwarf ginseng, blue phlox, garlic mustard, and wild geranium; sandcastles at the creek, lunch on a hilltop, holding hands along the road; the mounds of dirty laundry that remind me of the gift of my family, the meat simmering in the crock-pot, the green crayon on the living room wall. I won’t write these things off or roll my eyes. I’ll embrace them and give thanks.
I commit to speak life. I commit to ask direct questions and bite my tongue when I’m in a bad mood. I remember to tell the kids that I love them just because they’re mine, that their mistakes will never define them, and that they make my world a better place.
I commit to live intentionally. We role play the whole way home from the creek, and Bekah thinks of responses to every playground dilemma I can conjure up. We read Bible stories before Caleb naps, and I pray specific prayers over each of them before he sleeps. We turn off the TV and dive into imaginary play on the carpet with our assortment of mini characters. I make some calls and send some cards.
When the sun sinks low that evening, Bekah and I put together a pocket guide of wildflowers from our sanctuary at the Wolf Creek Narrows Natural Area. We find Latin names and study the history of each plant. It all feels a bit small, but when she looks at me with dancing blue eyes, filled wild with life and passion, I know for sure that none of this day was small at all.
Bio: Stacey is the wife of a handsome lumberjack, mother of two blue-eyed beauties, a freelance journalist, mentor, and certified special education teacher. She writes weekly at www.staceypardoe.com.
Let me introduce author, editor and writing instructor, Mary Ylvisaker Nilsen. I had the privilege of taking a class with Mary and learned SO much. What a joy to have her visit, and to hear that she’s still writing, octogenarian or not! Please leave your e-mail if I don’t have it already, because Mary’s offering a free copy of her memoir to one fortunate commenter...I think we’re in for a treat.
I’ve never been one to hide my age—unless you call hair coloring an attempt to age alter—but since October 1, my birthday, I’ve noticed a strange clutch in my gut, a catch in my throat, a little stammer in my speech when, for whatever reason, I have to say, “Eighty.”
Eighty! It’s crazy. My parents died at 49 and 69, a brother died at 64 and a sister at 68. Cancer all. I’ve lived with the intensity of one who assumes her days are numbered, and the number would be below the national average. Also, this Annie Dillard quotation has driven me: “How we spend our days is, of course, how we spend our lives.” Spend. Time is like money. My supply is limited. Better make careful choices on how I spend it. Better not waste a minute.
But here I am. The celebration’s over. The shock settling in. And the existential question, “Why?” now haunting my sleep. Insurance predictors tell me that by living this long, I have dodged all the big killers and will likely live to be 98. That’s almost two more decades of days!
Two years ago, I had a health event that for a year left me in pain sliding from a brusque “I’m OK. I’ll be fine,” to a wordless gasp. During that year, assuming it might be my last, I began a practice I had never before attempted and wrote every night, wrote what I called “my Marvel,” wrote on small things and close to home things, on fragile thoughts or fleeting observations. I followed Jesus’ suggestion that we “consider the lilies of the field.” So, noticing what I noticed, I planted it in my mind, allowing it to take root and grow, considering what it had to teach me. Writing about it became my daily purpose.
For a year, I tended those thought seeds. And then for the better part of a year I pruned—trimming, shaping or cutting those daily writings. Consider the Marvels: Writings from My 79thYear is the result. The project filled the two years leading up to my 80th. Now, here I am, potentially looking forward to two decades of days, and my pain-free self, which has lost the passion for daily writing, wonders what of value I can spend my time on now. A question I will need to think about, to ponder, to consider….
Calling all Octogenarians! I need help! Tell us all about the marvels in your days.
“How we spend our days is, of course, how we spend our lives.” Annie Dillard
I’m so pleased to welcome the winner of the WILLA award, Debra Whiting Alexander. Debra is giving away a print copy of Zetty, a novel that goes deep into loss, deep into the power of friendship, and deep Into joy. Deb is offering one free book to a potential fan who leaves a comment here.
- Please tell us a little about yourself.
I was raised on the warm sandy beaches of San Diego and grew up on a steady diet of western movies and musicals. My debut novel, Zetty, takes place in Windansea, California, a little beach community in San Diego. Like the main character in the story, I grew up with a love for the ocean, cowgirls, neighborhood dance shows, pianos, golden retrievers, and art. Friendship and motherhood are the central themes in my life, and in my characters’ lives as well. I miss the San Diego coast, but our home in Oregon backs up to lush green fields, horses, stunning sunsets, and hazelnut orchards. Southern California was the inspiration for my first novel, but it’s here in the landscapes of the Pacific Northwest that I’ve found my vision for the next one!
- Do you have another job aside from being an author?
I do, and I love my day job as a mental health therapist and clinical supervisor. I hold a Ph.D. in Psychology and am a Licensed Marriage and Child Therapist. I’ve specialized in post trauma treatment for over 30 years and only recently cut back my hours to allow more time to write and care for my granddaughter.
- Tell us about your award-winning, debut novel, Zetty. What inspired you to write this book?
Zetty is the story of a mother lost to a rare form of Schizophrenia, and a daughter’s quest to find her. It begins in 1963 when Marjorie McGee suddenly disappears from her home, leaving nine-year-old Zetty motherless and confused. In alternating points of view, the story follows the lives of both mother and daughter as Marjorie’s mental illness progresses, and Zetty’s hope for her return diminishes. But at seventeen, Zetty wants answers. She finds herself in a circle of unconventional women—opinionated, endearing, courageous and keen-eyed women—who offer Zetty their heart and backbone. As unexpected friendships form, Zetty begins an emotional, psychological and spiritual journey in search of her mother—never imagining the joy and tragedy yet to come, the undeniable power of early childhood bonds, and the secret that will change their lives forever.
Inspired by my grandmother who died in a psychiatric hospital at the age of 41, Zetty blends personal history with my professional background. It was important to me to shine a light on the stigma of mental illness, especially in the 1960’s and 70’s. My grandmother’s life experience was a powerful one; she suffered the consequences of a stigmatizing mental illness in the 1940’s. And even though the story isn’t about her, she was important inspiration that kept me going as I labored over this book for fourteen years! It was also important to me to write about the challenges of despair. Trauma is a part of life, but not all of it. The idea that joy can coexist alongside tragedy is a message we don’t often hear or believe. I wanted Zetty to address this idea and other points of view that empower us. That’s what keeps me uplifted and excited about writing.
- Tell us about the awards Zetty has received.
Zetty was recently named the 2018 WILLA Literary Award Winner in Contemporary Fiction by the Women Writing the West organization and the 2018 Winner in Women’s Fiction and a Finalist in Regional/West Fiction from the National Indie Excellence Awards.
- Zetty is your debut novel, although you have written non-fiction. How has this experience been different from when your other books were published?
After years of writing nonfiction books related to post trauma recovery, I finally gave birth to fiction. People ask all the time why I made the switch. The answer is easy: I couldn’t wait to make things up! It’s fun to lie for a change.
When I was nine, I read the poem, “I heard a Fly buzz—when I died”, by Emily Dickinson. That little poem stirred something in me—a desire to capture on paper compelling moments of life in a simple way. So I wrote little books of poetry from then on. But non-fiction was a natural place for me to start with my writing career. At 31, a publisher in New York offered me a contract to write two series of books for children and teens healing from trauma. My nonfiction career took off from there.
One of my most meaningful projects, The Emotional Recovery Resource Kit, was created at the request of my publishers in response to 9/11. Writing it was an honor and deeply satisfying. But I never lost the desire to venture into fiction. Writing Zettywas equally rewarding, but in a different way. I tell my clients all the time how important it is to our brains to engage in activities we feel passionate about and interests that are new and unfamiliar, but meaningful to us. So, for me, writing Zetty was a great aerobics workout for my brain because fiction is so different than non-fiction. I had to learn, study, read, receive critiques, hear a wide range of feedback, take risks, and revise, and revise, and revise.
I relish the opportunity to write about women, friendships, motherhood, mental health, and to do it with spiritual substance —matters of the heart and soul. It’s important to me to write about issues I feel inspired by and care deeply about. Women’s fiction allows me to do that. I’m hooked!
Debra loves to hear from readers! Contact Info:
To learn more about Debra’s books:
Part of a book club? Consider asking Debra to join you for a discussion of Zetty!