Writing from and for the Journey

By Stacy Hawkins Adams

I haven’t turned on my creative fiction juices in a while, because although I absolutely love manufacturing interesting characters and breathing life into them, I also have a deep love for nonfiction writing. Over the past year or so, I’ve focused my attention there.

I recently entered my 10th year of penning a parenting column for a daily newspaper in Richmond, Virginia; I launched this inspirational blog a few moths ago, and I occasionally write commentary for the Huffington Post.

Beyond those outlets, my “day job” of serving as Director of Communications for a private school in my community affords me an opportunity to do all kinds of writing – from marketing and advertising copy to social media posts to letters and other messaging that share the “how” and “why” of this school and its mission to produce service-minded leaders who make a difference locally and around the globe. All of this excites me.

And yet….the ideas for a new novel still rise to the surface every now and then, teasing me to consider what my 11th book could and should be. I’m not sure yet when that one will be birthed, but I already have a list of character names, a few potential plot ideas and even a tentative title.

I’m not ready to start writing the first draft because the ideas are still “baking.” I’ll know when the plot is just firm enough to put pen to paper, and then move those handwritten notes to my computer.

In the meantime, I’m doing my writer’s “homework”: Leaning into the gifts and opportunities that come with daily life, enjoying special moments with family and friends, overhearing compelling conversations or intriguing names that might make their way into my story, and taking in the scenery, sights and sounds around me, so that when I need these things most, they are a finger tap away in the notes section of my iPhone, or stored in my mental image bank.

I recently had the pleasure of joining an award-winning children’s author for dinner, and during our conversation, Newberry Medal winner Rita Williams-Garcia announced that she no longer writes under deadline. When the manuscript is ready – however long that may take – she intuitively knows, and she only writes The End at that point.

While many of us scribes may not have that luxury – or be disciplined enough to know the difference between being stuck and accepting that the project is substantive enough to move forward – learning about her method left me thinking that more of us should find the courage (or be extended opportunities) to give our words, ideas and stories the space to grow and mushroom into something fantastically wonderful.

If and when you can, I encourage my fellow writers to let your story marinate; let the words come on their own; let the characters show you who they are in their own time.

Because I’m not on deadline or under contract with a publisher at the moment, this is exactly what I’m doing. I’m also reading some great fiction, and books about the art of writing, along the way.

It’s an unsettling experience in some ways – especially when my readers say they’re ready for another book-  and I hate to keep readers waiting. Yet, in another way, it’s freeing, because I’m allowing the writer journey to unfold before me.

I’m confident that when my new characters are ready to meet the world, they’ll let me know. When they start nudging, I won’t be able to get them out of my head unless I tell their stories! Lol

Until then, I hope you’ll continue reading my current novels, the few fictional short stories I’ll be penning soon, and also my body of nonfiction writing. The mission of all of my work is to enlighten, uplift and inspire. I hope my fictional characters and my intriguing true-to-life subjects do just that for you.

Note: This essay was originally published on the Black Christian Reads blog, in July 2017.

Chat with the Author: Transporting Readers to New Worlds Is Her Goal

Meet beloved New York Times bestselling author Adriana Trigiani – a writer who has regaled millions of readers with her engaging stories of strong (and often hilarious) women – who I consider a friend and mentor.

Adriana’s 17th book will be released later this month, on June 20. Enjoy her Q&A with LifeUntapped, in which she details her author journey and shares about her books and characters.

In what genre do you write?  I write fiction – big, noisy, lush novels about love, work and family. I’ve also written a non-fiction memoir, young adult novels, screenplays, teleplays and plays for the theater.  I consider myself a dramatist, first and foremost, as the characters and the worlds they inhabit are alive to me, and hopefully to you the reader.

What is the title of your most recent book? Kiss Carlo [Scheduled for release on June 20, this novel has been described as “a delightfully sprawling comedy full of extended families, in all their cocooning warmth and suffocating expectations” by Kirkus Reviews.]

What is your primary goal as an author – What do you want your readers to gain from of your books?  I hope my reader is transported to another place and time, where she takes her mind off her work, challenges and troubles and has a few laughs, connects to characters she can relate to, and finds some beauty and truth in the language.

What has been the most surprising feedback you’ve received from readers about your current book or another recent title?  Some of my readers thought All the Stars in the Heavens, about the golden age of Hollywood, was a biography. It was not. It was historical fiction.

What has been the most surprising aspect of your author journey?  I am always surprised at how energized I become in the company of my readers. They are my focus and the ultimate joy of writing anything. It’s their connection to the work that connects me to the work, too. That has been wonderful, and I didn’t anticipate it!

How do you continue growing as a writer?

 The only way to grow is to put in the time.  It’s hours in the chair- after hours of ruminating, gestating and thinking. It’s a funny job.  It doesn’t look like a writer is doing anything, when in fact, she is building a world.

Who are two or three writers you admire or consider mentors?  Ruth Goetz trained me as a dramatist when I moved to New York City. Prior to that, my mother, a librarian was and is my first and best teacher. She taught me to revere books, knowledge and the sacred act of reading.  My teachers were fundamental in my development as a writer; Sister Theresa Kelly, Thelma Carter, Grace White, Elizabeth Callahan, Langley Flannary, Grace Skeens, Basil Walker, Dorothy Carter, Arline Sharpe, Iva Braly, Gary Willams, Greg Cantrell, Sigrid Holloman, Frances Lewis, Bernis Zander, Theresa Bledsoe, well, I could keep going, and forgive me, the long list would overwhelm your site!  And, of course, my librarians, James Varner on the county bookmobile; Ernestine Roller at Big Stone Gap Elementary and the great Billie Jean Scott at Powell Valley High School.  All were essential and beloved.

What else are you passionate about, i.e. if you weren’t an author, what else would you be doing?  I’d be an interior designer.

What do you like to do for fun?  Get ready for this one…. R E A D!

More About Adriana Trigiani: Adriana Trigiani is the New York Times bestselling author of 17 books in fiction and nonfiction. She is published in 35 countries around the world. Adriana is also a playwright, television writer/producer and filmmaker, and received accolades for the documentary film, Queens of the Big Time. She wrote and directed the major motion picture Big Stone Gap, filmed entirely on location in her Virginia hometown. The movie spent 11 weeks in theaters in the fall of 2015 and was the #2 top-grossing romantic comedy of the year. Adriana co-founded The Origin Project with Nancy Bolmeier Fisher, an in-school writing program which serves over a thousand students in the Appalachian mountains of Virginia. She lives in New York City with her family and their rescue pets. Adriana speaks to book clubs and classrooms regularly. To invite her and schedule a Skype, please reach out to her at adrianaasst@aol.com, join her on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram or visit her at her website: adrianatrigiani.com. Adriana’s new novel, Kiss Carlo, is available for pre-sale online and wherever books are sold.

Write Your Way Whole

By Stacy Hawkins Adams

How is your week, your month, your year going so far?

Note to Readers: I penned this post earlier this week for members of the private writers community I curate, Focused Writers Membership Group. I rarely (if ever) share publicly the messages and encouragement I reserve for group members; but today I felt compelled to cast a wider net, and ask you to take a step back or two steps forward, and look at your life from a “big picture” perspective.  This post focuses on writing because I mentor writers; but you can change my references to writing to whatever best fits your goal or dream, and do the same self-examination.

Take the first step and honestly answer these questions. Then take the next step and make adjustments that will yield the responses you long to manifest.

Regardless of whether you see yourself as a writer, the process of writing your vision – in a notebook or journal, on your computer screen or in the notes section of your smartphone – will help make it real. Perhaps writing down your plans and the path you’re taking to pursue those plans, will make them more official, for  you and others. So here we go….

Take some time to reflect on where you started on Monday of this week, in early May or even at the dawn of 2017, and measure your progress. Are you satisfied that you’re still on track to where you want to be by this time next year?

Now, imagine yourself 20 years from today, looking back over your life. What would you like to have accomplished?

Writing-wise, in particular:
– How many books written? Or
– How many followers for your blog? Or
– How many audiences impacted by your speeches? Or
– How many readers touched by your essays and articles?

What does writing success look like to you, and what are you doing today to bring that vision to life, so that in the year 2037, you’ll be holding those finished products in your hands, and in multiple ways sharing them with a younger generation? (Remember, quantifying the number of books, followers, audiences and readers you reach is simply quantifying the number of lives you’re touching.)

Let’s get busy, my friend. Why not take the few days left in the month of May to write the vision, so that you can begin executing it, in June and beyond? You are your own master storyteller. Decide today in which direction your next chapters will go.

 

Want to join Focused Writers Membership Community? Learn more here.

Conference Recap: Writing for an Audience of One

By Stacy Hawkins Adams

Just wrapped up my third time serving on the faculty of the Mount Hermon Christian Writers Conference, a renowned event for aspiring authors located near Santa Cruz, Calif., and it was just as wonderful as the first time. Mount Hermon is a special place that is hard to describe – you have to experience it.

So grateful for the opportunity I had to meet with fellow authors and  mentor aspiring authors from all walks of life and with all kinds of ideas.
My absolute favorite was Beverly, a sweet 83-year-old who was craving encouragement for this “new start.” She is a gifted writer, and her words
flowed easily. I’d love to have that same drive and spark for life when I’m that age.

I also had the honor of sharing the conference’s closing message on Monday evening.  I hope my encouragement to remember that we’re writing for an Audience of One is the fuel that will inspire conference attendees to keep honing their craft.

When we write for our singular God, or with our individual readers in mind, or to birth the idea or the message that has taken root in our hearts, our words become the seeds that sprout hope, forgiveness, joy, peace, freedom and blessings beyond measure.  Wishing a bountiful week of creativity to all writers, near and far.

Chat With the Author: Writing for Young People Stirs Her

Meet award-winning author Gigi Amateau.

Gigi has penned seven books for children and young adults and has a heart for telling stories that help youths feel connected and valued. Her most recent novel, Two for Joy, is a three-generational story about family caregiving and about how a child and an elder accept each other wholly.  Enjoy her Q&A with LifeUntapped, in which she details her author journey and shares about her books and characters.

What is your primary goal as an author?  I hope that my readers will connect with something in their own lives that makes them curious, inspired, or willing to keep going. The themes that I return to tend to be: access, belonging, overcoming trauma, resilience, intergenerational connections, and a sense of place.

What has been the most surprising feedback you’ve received from readers about your novels?  I recently received a letter from a young man in southside Virginia who had read Come August, Come Freedom. He wrote, “I always hated anything evolving (sic) slavery, but this book expanded my views… Gabriel is kind of like me; he loves his family, he’s strong willed, and he’s physically strong.” He went on to share how he related to the book. I keep his letter on my desk; it means so much that he took the time to write it.

What has been the most surprising aspect of your author journey? Every book takes on a different shape and a different process. When I think I have figured out how to write a book? Wrong!

How do you continue growing as a writer?  By following my curiosity – I think curiosity is one of the most important traits of being human. There are so many ways that writing fulfills me. If I limit myself to thinking that I am only a writer if I am publishing or writing books, then I set myself up for disappointment and frustration, because

I believe that my specific calling is to use words and language in the best form for the idea I want to release into the world.

Sometimes, that’s a book. Other times a grant, a letter, a post, an academic paper, or an essay may be the best form. It’s all good.

Who are two or three writers you admire or consider mentors?  I admire Judy Blume so much. She’s given me some great advice over the years. The best: Always be working on something new and read your manuscript out loud. Writers I love to read include: Edward P. Jones, Edwidge Danticat, Silas House, and Susann Cokal.

What else are you passionate about, i.e. if you weren’t an author, what else would you doing?  I’m passionate about old people, and I’m passionate about growing old with people I love, in a community I love. My favorite tree, out in Cartersville, Virginia is probably 300 or 400 years old. Being near that specific tree energizes me and makes me think of elderhood in new and different ways. I think creation has so much to offer us; my old tree always helps me to think about what it means to thrive and be resilient. I’ve recently returned to VCU in the Master of Gerontology program in order to study resilience and trauma in older adults and the longterm care workforce. I am already writing in new and different ways and I love it!

More About Gigi Amateau: Gigi’s first book for young adults, Claiming Georgia Tate, was published by Candlewick Press in 2005. The Wall Street Journal called the book “an ambitious push into the young adult market.” She is also the author of A Certain Strain of Peculiar, which was named a Bank Street College Best Children’s Book of the Year,  and Chancey of the Maury River, selected as a William Allen White Masters list title for grades 3-5. In 2012, Gigi received a Theresa Pollak Prize for Excellence in the Arts. Come August, Come Freedom, her first work of historical fiction, was selected as a Bank Street College Best Children’s Book of the Year, a 2013 Jefferson Cup honor book, and the Library of Virginia’s 2013 People’s Choice Fiction Award. In 2015, Candlewick published Two for Joy and Dante of the Maury River. Her first short story, “Good Bean,” was published last November in an anthology titled Abundant Grace, edited by Richard Peabody. Gigi has worked in the health and human services sector for nearly 30 years and is a certified yoga instructor. She is currently pursuing a Master of Science in Gerontology at VCU. She lives with her family in Richmond, Va. Learn more about Gigi at www.gigiamateau.com or follow her on Twitter: @giamateau.

My Writer’s Journey Dissected – Part One

By Stacy Hawkins Adams

Stacy Hawkins Adams

I’ve had the privilege of being featured recently on two podcasts to share details about my path to becoming an author.

Thought I’d share one of them here today – my interview on The Writer’s Voice podcast with Robin Farmer – for any aspiring authors who need inspiration, and for readers who want to know more about the writer life. I’ll share my podcast interview on Writers and Authors on Fire with John Vonhoff in a few weeks.

The Writer’s Voice Podcast

The Writer’s Voice is a series in which authors talk about their work and read from their favorite writings. It is a service offered by Virginia Voice – a statewide nonprofit run by volunteers who read and record a variety of materials to enhance life for individuals who are unable to independently read print.

Meet The Writer’s Voice host, freelance writer Robin Farmer, then listen to her podcast interview with me.

Robin Farmer

Robin Farmer: I decided during a wonderful (writer) residency at Djerassi that once I returned home I would volunteer more in the community. Months later, I read that Virginia Voice functions only because dozens of volunteers pitch in.  On the spot, I decided to go and audition so that I could be a reader, ideally of young adult books. However, during a conversation while there, I was asked to consider interviewing authors with ties to Virginia about their novels and nonfiction books. I was elated, as many local authors are friends. I also wanted to work with Virginia Voice as I have serious eye issues that fortunately, can be corrected. If I was unable to read, I would want this type of programming.  I am honored to interview authors about their work and their writing journey for an audience who loves books and the people who write them as much as I do!

Click on the image below to listen to Stacy’s podcast interview or click here.

 

To hear additional author interviews on The Writer’s Voice, click here.

 

More about The Writer’s Voice host, Robin Farmer:
Robin is an award-winning journalist whose accolades include the Knight-Wallace Fellowship at the University of Michigan. Her work focuses on business, health and education and has appeared in the Washington Post, Publishers Weekly, the College of William & Mary, AARP Bulletin and Virginia Business.  In 2016, she was selected from among 900 applicants for the Djerassi Resident Artists Program to work on her debut YA novel. Her short story, The History Lesson, was included in the anthology River City Secrets: Stories from Richmond, which was published in 2016. Robin also writes screenplays. Visit her at robinfarmerwrites.com.

 

 

Literary Love: Writing Changes

By Guest Blogger Sadeqa Johnson

Here’s the honest truth: My biggest challenge as a writer is to keep my butt in the chair, and my computer screen locked on my novel.

I am a chronic email checker. There, I said it. I go to my Gmail inbox often, looking for an excuse to take me away from writing. It’s not right. I know better, but I do it anyway. I use everything as a reason to get out of my chair. The bathroom, a drink of water, a bowl of cereal, a walk out back to check on the weather conditions.

And don’t get me started on social media. My goodness, who’s idea was this electronic second life anyway? I sit with my fingers on the computer keys trying to lose myself in the story, and the next thing I know I’m clicking through Facebook. Lurking through inspirational quotes, participating in questions of the day, and liking those cute first day of school pictures.

I am blessed with three busy children and they are another distraction, even from school. It’s not totally their fault – I’m the Type A mother who starts planning summer camp in January. There is research to be done and it must be done right before I write that character sketch, flashback scene and mother/daughter confrontation.

Oh, and vacation? How I love to be distracted by vacation surfing. Many of which I will never go on, but enjoy looking at the pictures and imagining myself on the lounge chair, in sunglasses sipping a Margarita.

So how do I get anything done? I start by writing all of my ideas in longhand. Even though my once beautiful Catholic school handwriting has turned into chicken scratch, writing in a five-subject notebook keeps me from being distracted by the mighty internet. When I write longhand, there is no stroke of the key that can transport me into the world of the social conversation. It’s just me, my pen and the paper.

Another tactic is what I like to call time and treat. I tell myself, you must sit and write for an hour and then receive a treat of five or ten minutes of surfing freedom.

I’m still a work in progress, but with my third novel coming out in April (And Then There Was Me) and my fourth emerging from my notebook, I’m working hard every day to be disciplined and get it done.

Sadeqa Johnson, a former public relations manager, spent several years working with well-known authors such as JK Rowling, Bebe Moore Campbell, Amy Tan and Bishop TD Jakes before becoming an award-winning author herself. sadeqa-from-family-shootHer novels include Love in a Carry-on BagSecond House From the Corner and the soon-to-be-released And Then There Was Me (April 2017). Sadeqa lives in Virginia with her husband and three children. Learn more about Sadeqa and her work at sadeqajohnson.net.