Monday, June 20, 2016

DIYMFA: A Great Writing Resource

I am, I must admit, a bit of a fiend when it comes to collecting books on writing, a.k.a Craft Books. There's hardly a one I haven't perused, and many of them make it onto my shelves. (What can I say? Buying books is a bit of an addiction.)

Several years ago, I came across the DIYMFA website, the brainchild of Gabriela Pereira. Gabriela had earned an MFA herself, but saw the need to help others who might not have the time or the financial wherewithal to pursue a traditional MFA.

From the get-go, I was attracted by the design of the website, and by the way Gabriela Pereira organized things. (It came as no surprise to learn, while reading DIYMFA, that she has a masters in design as well as her MFA.) Gabriela was big on creating community also, and I enjoyed the conversational style in her regular emails to her blog subscribers.

I jumped, therefore, at the opportunity to join her "street team," and the chance to read her book DIYMFA (Writers Digest books, July 2016). I wasn't disappointed.

DIYMFA is the book I wished I'd had in my innocent little hands when I started my writing journey all those years ago. Organized in three parts--Write with Focus; Read with Purpose; and Build Your Community--it's cram packed with tips, insights and examples from some of my favorite writers. (Is it a coincidence that Gabriela and I share a love for Jane Austen, Harry Potter, and the Hunger Games? I think not.)

This is the meat of the book, where Gabriela tackles motivation, three act structure, creating characters, Point of View, dialogue, and revising in layers. Even if you've immersed yourself in craft books like yours truly, you will still experience new insights--from how to create a mind map, to using the acronym WORST to figure out what your character wants**, to revising in layers--courtesy of the revision pyramid.

**WORST stands for
W = What does your character want? What is her deepest desire?
O = What obstacles are in her way?
R = What will your character risk on the quest for this desire?
S = What’s at stake in your story? What will happen if the character fails?
T = How does your character transform or change on this journey?

When you study for an MFA, you immerse yourself in reading great books. Gabriela gives tips on how to build your own library, gives you permission to DNF a book (c'mon, life is too short if you are finding yourself slogging through a book), and shows you how to read as a writer. I particularly loved her thorough examination of Kate Chopin's short story, The Story of an Hour.

This section of the book is packed with advice about how to maintain a circle of trust, using the acronym CASA:
C = Critique
A = Accountability
S = Support
A = Advice or Apprenticeship

There are tools for how to start a critique group, and how best to critique another's work and accept the critique of your own. Gabriela is also very thorough when talking about crafting your author identity, and how best to  network at writing conferences. (I particularly liked her "Four-Step Networking Formula for Introverts," as "networking" always gives me the willies.)

DIYMFA concludes with a commencement address, including these stirring lines:
Writing is survival. You must stay on the battlefield after everyone
else has given into defeat. “Overnight success” is a myth. The secret is
to persist until everyone has given up and you’re the only one left standing.
Some people say that writers are born, not made, and I agree—but with
a twist. I believe that every single human on this planet is born a writer, it’s
just that most people give up somewhere along the way.
Don’t give up.

In conclusion, I have to say that with the tools imparted by Gabriela Pereira in DIYMFA, it becomes a lot easier to stay the course on the writing jungle gym! I'm eagerly awaiting the arrival of my copy after it publishes on July the 8th!

(Click this link to order it from Writers Digest for 24% savings.)

Monday, June 6, 2016

Middle Grade Mafioso makes the news!

Middle Grade Mafioso hit the big leagues yesterday, with a mention in Oregon's newspaper, THE OREGONIAN. The Don thinks we should rename June the 5th as Mafioso Day.

What is all of this about? Well, I have a friend (our sons are on the same baseball team) who is a journalist for The Oregonian. Knowing I was a blogger of repute, she emailed to ask for summer reading recommendations. I gave her a list a mile long, and she ended up featuring two titles (she had other experts on the case as well.)

The featured titles were Dianne K. Salerni's THE EIGHTH DAY and Kimberley Griffiths Little's THE TIME OF THE FIREFLIES. Both great books.

To see the full list in The Oregonian, go HERE.

Later in the week, I will be reviewing a tremendous writing resource, Gabriela Pereira's DIYMFA. Till then, ciao!

Saturday, June 4, 2016

YA FOR THE DAY: Beth Kephart's THIS IS THE STORY OF YOU, interview and giveaway

The Don and I are huge Beth Kephart fans, and when Chronicle Books invited us to be part of the blog tour for Beth's latest YA novel, we jumped at the chance. (We're taking down all the middle grade wallpaper and being YA for a day! The Don's even allowing himself to smoke a cigar in the press room.)

I've raved about Beth before--on my dearly departed blog THE YEAR OF WRITING DANGEROUSLY--and in reviewing her previous novels, Small Damages and You are my Only, I wrote: "Kephart's stories are full of secrets and hurts, of small and sometimes painful declarations of love, and of what it means to expose one's heart to the joys and sorrows of the world." In this new novel, I stand by these assertions.

This is the Story of You takes place on Haven, a six-mile-long, one-half-mile-wide barrier island. It's linked to the mainland by a bridge, a bridge over which Mira Banul's younger brother, Jasper Lee, must regularly cross to get the infusions that will allow him to live with Hunter Syndrome.

Mira describes herself as "medium everything." She's not going anywhere because, on Haven, she has "responsibilities." These include not only her family, but also her friends--particularly Deni and Eva. Into this 'haven' then, rides a colossal storm. The bridge is out, property destroyed, lives lost. Amid the devastation, though, people hang on. There are rescues, and the rise of a patchwork community. Secrets are revealed.

If there is a more wonderful fashioner of sentences than Beth Kephart, then lead me to her, because in my book Beth is the best. Her sentences sing on the page. They are sinews, and sparkles, and strong undertows. Beth Kephart's writing is proof positive that writing can rescue us, can lead us into dark places and back to the light again. At several points in the novel I cried, and the Don claimed that the cigar smoke was bothering his eyes.

I am thrilled that Beth took time to answer our questions. Here we go:

Middle Grade Mafioso, thank you so much for making room for This Is the Story of You—and for your questions.

1. Do your stories germinate from a "what if?" question, or from a glimpse of a character, or some other inciting factor? Was Hurricane Sandy's devastation the catalyst for This is the Story of You?
Oh, the mysteries of the writing process. I wish I could name all the inspirations, all the influences, but perhaps it is best that some of this remains a mystery even to me. When I am writing I am in a mood. I am hearing voices. I am seeing something far away that is coming closer and closer, so close that now I trap it with words.

I love the Jersey shore. I am devastated by rising seas. I imagine the future.  I study these storms. And I love young people, these kids who survive in the wake of calamity. I love Jasper Lee, my young character with Hunter’s syndrome because I had, as part of my job, twice interviewed a person with this condition and grown to be so fond of him.

But in the beginning, I heard a handful of words. I knew I’d be writing about the sea and storms. My husband and I went to Beach Haven off season so that I could feel that world deeply. I got up before dawn each morning and watched the dolphins and the dogs. And the story began there.

2. You have written many wonderful things. What is the greatest challenge for getting words on the page? What is the greatest delight?
Well, first, thank you. I appreciate your words. And — the greatest challenge for me is finding the time. This past year, I have spent most of my time with my father, sorting out and packing up and cleaning and staging and hoping to sell his home, while helping him move into his new home. There was no room for words in all that until, finally, the silence in my writing head burst and I discovered stories waiting for me. Too many stories, perhaps.

When I began to write again—only for a half day here, two hours over there—it seemed as if I had never written before. And I think that maybe it always feels this way. That the new story is the first story. And, all things being new, I have to teach myself how to write again. It’s all hard. It’s all worth it.

3. What words of wisdom would your current self impart to your younger writer self?
Don’t be afraid of all the time you will (because of family responsibilities, because of your paying job, because of how life gets in the way) spend not writing. Something is churning. Your stories will find you.

4. In This is the Story of You, one of your characters has a rare syndrome. How did you learn about this syndrome, and what steps did you take to research it for your character?
As part of my day job, I have interviewed patients for many, many years. Patients with all different conditions, hopes, therapies. I interviewed a young man with Hunter syndrome and met others with the condition. I wrote about the infusion medicine that helps him for many years. I was deeply inspired. I wrote Jasper Lee to honor those who are living with Hunter.

5. Morning person or night owl? Cheesesteak or hoagie?
Morning person, starting at 4 AM. But since my husband is a night owl, I don’t often go to bed until 11 or later.

Can I have a chicken cheesesteak, please? And if you are visiting my hometown of Philadelphia, I think we ought to talk about hoagies. (MGM: If I ever get the chance to visit Philadelphia, I would love to talk about hoagies, as well as writing and life, with Beth Kephart. Beth, I'm holding you to the hoagie conversation!)

Thanks for taking time on a Saturday, no less, for this very special post. A comment here, or on my Facebook link, will give you the opportunity to win a copy of THIS IS THE STORY OF YOU from Chronicle Books. (US and Canada only, please.) Have a great weekend, cari amici.