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.

The Power of Story Is In Both Art and Words

By Stacy Hawkins Adams

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“Southern Landscape” by artist Eldzier Cortor. Photo captured by Stacy Hawkins Adams, at the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts.

I had an awesome time this evening at the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts participating in the National African American Read-In.
Along with those who gathered for the readings in front of designated pieces of art, I learned the history behind this beautiful painting (see right) by artist Eldzier Cortor (who died at age 99 last year, a short time after the museum interviewed him about this work). The piece was produced in the early 1940s and was owned by famous author Ralph Ellison.

After the museum curator shared details about how and why Cortor rendered this painting, I read two poems  – “Southern Song” and “Sorrow Home ” – to the guests of all ages, backgrounds and hues who had gathered.   The poems were penned by esteemed writer Margaret Walker and related well to the “story” told in Cortor’s art.
As a GRITS (Girl Raised in the (deep) South), I could relate to the images Walker painted with her words, and also to the emotion present in the eyes, posture and gesture of the woman featured in Cortor’s painting.

Both the artist and the writer seem to be grappling with the bittersweet notion of what staying in their beloved south means and what going would mean. There are wins and losses either way.

Do you find yourself at a crossroads sometimes? What is your measure for staying or going, for pushing through the dilemma to consider all options, and making choices that honor the best in you?

Consider telling your own story with a paintbrush or pen, and tell it authentically.  For this is what “freedom of expression” permits, and ultimately, this is what makes both art, and our individual journeys, awe-inspiring to live and watch unfold.

 

 

 

Create with Love

By Stacy Hawkins Adams

I spent some time this week in the company of writer friends who reminded me that the beauty of our words and our written works – whether literary, commercial, for adults or for kids – is always needed.

It was a well-timed reminder that what one tenderly and carefully creates does indeed matter. What you produce can change a heart, fill a soul, light the imagination, give hope to dreams or render some measure of joy.

All of this has value. So create with love, and trust that your devotion to your craft will be enough. ccbooklove

Her Story: Making Lemonade

By Guest Blogger Cassie Edwards Whitlow

It makes no sense that I’m now a published author.

After I was born, I had uncontrollable tremors. The doctors thought I’d never walk or talk. Weeks after my mother participated in an all-night session of prayer, however, I walked and eventually began to form words.

During early childhood, I was diagnosed with dyslexia and severe Attention Deficit Disorder. Unlike most people with dyslexia, I caught on to reading early and enjoyed it. I struggled with writing, reading comprehension and responding verbally, but I was confident enough to read aloud.

One dreadful day in fourth grade, everyone took turns reading a paragraph from the text. When my turn came, I didn’t know where we were. The teacher accused me of being lazy. That was the beginning of self-doubt.

Yet I still had my other passion to rely on: singing. I declared at age 3 that I wanted to sing professionally, and I spent years investing in that. However, when I was 30, doctors discovered a tumor in my throat. It damaged my left vocal cord, ending my dream.

Life as a wife and mother became my focus and where I found my joy. As my children grew, so did the layers of life. My son was diagnosed with autism and ADHD at age 7. Couple that with a toddler daughter who needed me and a career military husband who was gone a lot, and I could barely keep myself together.

I took my mentor’s advice and started journaling. This helped me feel centered, and eventually, I realized it was time to reach for a new dream. I had toyed with the idea of writing a novel off and on for more than 10 years, but after many unsuccessful attempts I let it go.

Yet the more I resumed reading, the more my courage grew. I finally reached out to a few authors for advice and took a few workshops, and within two months, I had completed the first draft of a novella. In June 2016, Temptation was published. My second project, One Wish, was released in December 2016.

I’ve received messages from numerous readers saying how my most recent novella inspired them and helped build their faith. And people who knew me as a child, who’ve always wanted to write a book but didn’t know where to begin, now want to learn from me.

Looking back all those years ago, it was a blow when my elementary school teacher chastised me, and I was devastated when my voice changed.

Now I see things differently. What if the singing was sidelined so I could recognize my writing gift? I’m forced to talk more and I get to help people walk through the writing and publishing process.

Success and happiness happen when we discover our purpose and walk in it.

The attention deficit conditions that both my son and I were diagnosed with still have a stigma. Yet I’ve learned that ADHD and most learning disabilities are not disabilities at all. They’re gifts. ADHD is nothing more than overactive brain. We have a lot of ideas that are difficult to turn off.

Once I figured out how I learn, I no longer saw myself as incompetent or less than. I no longer saw this diagnosis as a barrier and I no longer have to hide in the shadows.

I am free to be who I was created to be and I can help others recognize their gifts as a blessing and not a flaw.

_______________________

Cassie Edwards Whitlow is the author of two novellas, Temptation and One Wish. She creates relatable characters who grapple with issues she herself has a passion for: women’s mental, intellectual, and physical health issues. Cassie A native of Arkansas, wife of an Air Force Sergeant, and mom of two, Cassie currently resides in a small village in England. To learn more, visit Cassie at www.cassieedwardswhitlow.net,  Instagram.com/cassieedwardswhitlow and Facebook.com/cassieedwardswhitlow.