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.

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.