The first rule of blogging is immediacy. Or is it frequent posting? Then there’s good content.
Lately, I haven’t done much of anything with my blog. So I’m going to invoke the Erma Bombeck Rule.
To be fair, this is my personal Erma Bombeck Rule. One that resulted from something I heard she said.
Later in her writing career when asked if she made notes of possible column ideas while on an extended trip with her husband, she replied no. Whatever was interesting enough to write about would be there — without notes — when she got home.
That idea intrigues me. Does it work with blogging? So many posts never get posted if I’m not able to write immediately.
It seems old news.
Who am I kidding? Old news?
That applies to CNN not my blog.
So I’m invoking Jamie Miles’ Erma Bombeck Rule on future blog posts for a while. Especially, since my WIP takes the majority of my writing time these days.
Things that happened yesterday, last month or last year — events that I wanted to write about and should have blogged about — I’m going to post about in an untimely manner.
It will be interesting to see the stuff that stuck with me without referring to notes to jar my memory.
First up . . . my 35th High School Reunion last August, which I should have written about last August.
Or that’s what I used to think.
In her memorable debut novel, My Sweet Vidalia, Deborah Mantella explores the supernatural symbiotic cord tethering mother and daughter.
Above is the first sentence to my Goodreads review of My Sweet Vidalia. For me it sums up my friend’s first published novel.
I used it to start this post. No use spending a half hour trying to come up with a better sentence.
Because writing — writing what you want to say, struggling over the best way to present an idea — is hard work.
That’s why I’m so proud of Deborah Mantella and the success of her baby, her novel My Sweet Vidalia. And thrilled with the boatload of literary recognition it has received. Set in 1955 rural Georgia, Mantella’s story has spirit-born child, Cieli Mae, narrate the turbulent life of her young mother, Vidalia Lee Kandal.
Mantella graciously agreed to answer some questions to inspire writers and hopeful novelists such as myself. A look into a writer’s mind for anyone who loves the crafted written word.
You’ve lived so many places and been exposed to lots, how did you decide on writing this story? And in the Southern gothic style?
Mantella: This story, or a version of this story, has been with me for some time. I’ve always been fascinated by the intense nature of mother-daughter relationships, be they good or bad. Water rarely runs lukewarm when it comes to anything parent-child, particularly of the mother-daughter variety. Most folks don’t seem to notice how often the child is called upon to raise the parent. This was the scenario I’d wanted to examine from an omniscient and otherworldly point of view.
As well, I grew up in the Northeast. Attended a catholic elementary school where we didn’t know what segregated meant. Where the effects of what was going on in the world outside of our own didn’t affect our interactions. We just were. My friends, my best friends, were of every hue. I was as traumatized by news of the Sixteenth Street Church bombing in Alabama, the assassinations of those four little girls, as I was by the murder of JFK. Maybe even more so because of what they represented. They were me, or as my character Ruby Pearl says of her relationship with Vidalia, “a different wrapper is all.” They were my besties. Someday, in some way, I will pay homage to them. Thus seeds of another fascination took hold for this strange era, that tragic moment in time.
As to the voice of Cieli Mae? Once I decided upon message and that the story could be best conveyed via this particular style, spirit child Cieli Mae’s voice with her impractical yet pragmatic presence and her no-nonsense approach to what it means to be human, just came to me. Organically. As for the rest, I opened my mind further and the voices poured in. Or would it be out…?
Having lived in the Atlanta area for several years, I’d already become enamored of all things southern, particularly those stories which appear simple on the surface but lend nicely to larger messages.
I’m a first-born, and a practicalist. And a bit of a skeptic. I believe in common sense and common courtesy. I also believe a story well told has the potential to change another person’s POV.
Did you find that you write a first draft quickly, then take time with subsequent drafts or do you labor intensively on that first draft?
Mantella: I labor over every draft. I liken it to my inability to leave a room where a picture hangs crooked. If I am inviting a reader into a world of my making, my creation, I am responsible for that readers experience. I need to get it right. Which may go back to that oldest child thing. I work hard so that, hopefully, my reader won’t have to.
Domestic violence and poverty are the only life Vidalia knows. How did these difficult subjects help the theme (themes) unfold?
Mantella: We are the sum total of the choices we make in this life. Coming by way of a relatively sheltered, middle-class, supportive, and fairly stable family, and the protections that combination enabled I took much for granted. Working with at-risk-youth as a college co-ed shed a different light on the value of my privilege. I saw first hand the effects of some type of support, be it from a family member, a teacher, a religious person, a neighbor—just the belief that someone, somewhere, has your best interests at heart, really is that important. It is something Vidalia never had before the nature of Cieli Mae entered her life, soon followed by Ruby Pearl Banks with her own enlightened version of advocacy and comfort. And common sense. Sometimes all that is needed to free inherent strengths long-denied is a prompt from a proper source.
That some women tolerate domestic abuse, endure endemic poverty, unaware of their choices was as foreign a concept for me as it was for spirit child, Cieli Mae, and in need of further consideration and exploration.
A favorite Harper Lee quote is posted over my writing desk, “You never really know a person until you consider things from his point of view.” I consider crawling around in someone else’s skin an author’s biggest perk. That we get to be that other person. As a writer yourself you know that process, that getting to know your characters, giving up all pretense of self, immersing in another’s psyche, one with a different background, different innate personality traits, different life experiences, is as intense an experience as parenting, as giving birth, as anything I’ve come to know. In many ways, even more so.
Any current projects?
Mantella: Well this whole social media thing is a game changer so I am working on that as well as making myself more available for presentations and local book clubs. As far as current writing projects, I am working on a collection of short stories and a new novel, another mother-daughter saga though the relationship involved is very different, quite manipulative, and far less loving, than those portrayed in My Sweet Vidalia!
Thanks so much Deborah. Excited for you and the well-deserved success of My Sweet Vidalia. Can’t wait to hear more about future works-in-progress.
Mantella: Thank you Jamie.
My Sweet Vidalia is available from your favorite bookstore or online retailer. In metro-Atlanta, the book is stocked at FoxTale Book Shoppe, Eagle Eye Book Shop, and many Barnes & Noble stores– including Northpoint, GA Tech, and The Forum.
Mantella’s website links to a download of book club discussion questions. Perfect for your favorite reading klatch in search of a great novel.
A writer’s life is a solitary pursuit. Thrilled to see this inspirational woman, gifted writer and kindred friend in the spotlight.
I do still have readers?
Well Jamie, if you’d give us something to read, maybe we’d stop by more often.
Oh yeah. Sorry about that.
But I have been writing. On that first draft of that first novel. We won’t call the 50,000 words I worked on about five years ago a novel. Nope.
My daily writing goal is 500 words per day hopefully stretching it to 1000+ words like I did a few days last week. *Fist bump* Those days make up for the days I can’t write at all.
My revised deadline for first draft is Labor Day. Right now Scrivener says I have 86,257 words.
The perfect length for a novel. Only problem is those are 86, 257 first draft words.
Words I will slash, wring my hands and shake my head at how bad some of those 86,257 words are. Some of those 86,257 — big clumps and clusters — will be removed because they don’t fit how the story ended up.
Plan is to add another 40,000 to 50,000 words by September 5th and have a complete and utterly riveting first draft.
Can of corn.
I’ll have completed the first step. Of how many, only the Lord knows.
Like this tweet, I retweeted . . .
Is that like 12 in dog years? Or 12 human years that seem to last as long as whatever 12 x 7 is?
It does happen though.
The published novel. <insert angelic choir voices>
It’s happened to many of my friends.
Like author Deborah Mantella. My next post features an interview on her writing journey and debut novel My Sweet Vidalia. She’s racking up well-deserved literary praise for her story of Vidalia Lee Kandal’s becoming. Her awakening into a woman who refused to accept a life of abuse and poverty in 1955 rural Georgia.
An exert of Mantella’s words from my question: You’ve lived so many places and been exposed to lots, how did you decide on writing this story? And in the Southern gothic style?
This story, or a version of this story, has been with me for some time. I’ve always been fascinated by the intense nature of mother-daughter relationships, be they good or bad. Water rarely runs lukewarm when it comes to anything parent-child, particularly of the mother-daughter variety. Most folks don’t seem to notice how often the child is called upon to raise the parent. This was the scenario I’d wanted to examine from an omniscient and otherworldly point of view.
Good stuff, right?
So check back later in the week and I’ll have the complete interview.
Yes. Deborah did it. Woo! Her way with words comes by divine gift —
that and while in her mama’s womb, her dang chromosomes for readin’ and writin’ must have linked up darn near straight perfect.
Deborah applied that talent and worked hard. For years. Turning each sentence, each phrase, twice maybe three times, (and knowing her a fourth and a fifth twist) to find the best expression of what she wanted to say.
I’m not there yet. Not where her talent is . . . cause all us writing birds are cloaked in different feathers.
But most importantly, I’m not to the second edit. Or the third or the fourth revision. Just please not 12 years worth of revisons.
So ta ta for now. Hope head out to the porch and peck out a few words in on the WIP.
I do miss chatting with you regular like.
How are things in your neck of the nape?
New Year’s Day 2015, I resolved to clean out the attic.
This week I made that happen. BAM. One year and three months after my resolution.
We’ve lived in this house 15 years and that’s a lot of time to stuff things into an attic. A recovering pack rat, I tend to hang on to baby clothes, law school textbooks, 1975 televisions and my children’s third grade, third semester report cards because . . . you never know.
I hired the services of a great organizing, cleaner friend and we set to work. After a half-day’s aggressive, ruthless purging, the job was done.
Dust makes a jolly good showing in flash photography. The weight of two carloads to Goodwill, a carload to storage and two and a half trips to the dump lifted off our shoulders (and above our heads).
You know what also caught my eye in the above photo?
These doors. Filthy. They’ve been there covering gaps in the attic flooring since we bought the house. At one time, someone toted them up to the attic but no doubt they’ve been in this house since construction — approximately 125 years.
You wonder what they would look like without 125 years worth of dirt and paint?
When we built a garage apartment a few years ago, we pulled two forlorn doors out of the attic and had them restored.
Pretty amazing that beautiful wood is under all that cr@p. If only the human flesh held up as well.
I’ve been writing as well. Trying to place myself in rural 1940s Georgia.
If only I could go up to an attic and pull a 15-year-old girl from 1948 and ask her what was school like? Follow her to around and see white folk and black folk interacting. What was a segregated society in the Jim Crow South? Water fountains marked Whites Only, and the like.
The old writing adage is write what you know. But what if you want to link the past — or the future — with what you know?
I guess you research as best you can and then put your characters and your creativity in the setting.
My husband loves the Godfather. I doubt anyone would say those films weren’t completely immersed in the mob culture of the time. A brilliant film generated from Mario Puzo’s novel generated from Puzo’s imagination.
That’s why as a writer, I found this quote so inspiring.
“‘I’m ashamed to admit that I wrote The Godfather entirely from research. I never met a real honest-to-God gangster. I knew the gambling world pretty good, but that’s all.’ Who then served as the model for the Don Corleone Marlon Brando played? Puzo looked closer to home. ‘Whenever the godfather opened his mouth, in my own mind I heard the voice of my mother. My mother was a wonderful, handsome woman, but a fairly ruthless person.'” pg. 103, Modern Library Writer’s Workshop
Don Corleone’s personality based on Mario Puzo’s mother? Creative people rejoice!
I must confess.
Last week, Friday and Saturday were great writing days but those were the only days I wrote so damn-the-torpedoes towards my weekly word count.
Inspite of that lackluster showing in noveling department, I jut out my chin and carryon with a blog post.
Look. They weren’t tulips after all.
But they bloomed and are beautiful so all is cotton candy.
As far as the seeds in the garden, I think a few have sprouted but not certain so will hold off popping any champange corks for that.
My daughter loves to shop the racks at Goodwill. Again I must confess, what I usually do is head to the books.
I leave with about three or four — or five. They accumlate, stacked by my bed. I try to read them one-by-one. No skipping around. Last week, I finished The Hours.
When deciding what books to buy, I take in account everything —
What POV is it? Do I know the author? Is it a current best seller?
At times I take into account nothing at all.
This book was much more in the I-know-nothing-about-it category. I did know it had been made into a movie. One that received Oscar nominations. I saw Meryl Streep on the cover along with Julianne Moore and an unrecognizable Nicole Kidman. Why do I put this book on my things that stuck with me last week?
Well, if you aren’t a writer you might want to skip this.
I started reading this book I knew nothing about and the writing blew me away.
It opens with Virginia Woolf and well, if you don’t know anything about her life as I did not — all of a sudden you find yourself googling her to find out if this really happened.
The story follows three woman. Virginia Woolf, Mrs. Brown and Clarissa. And how their lives loosely weave — yet fiercely tie — together.
I try to engage my writer’s mind when reading. With The Hours, I shook my head at how Michael Cunningham put me places. Clarissa entering the building where her very dear friend Richard lived. Richard a gifted author, sucumbing to AIDS.
At Richard’s building she lets herself in through the vestibule door and thinks, as she always does, of the word “squalid.”
The next page described the lobby perfectly squalid. Not as you or I would have thought it squalid.
Perfectly as Clarissa would have observed it on her daily visits to see Richard squalid.
After reading more about Cunningham, I was relieved to learn he won the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction for The Hours.
I wasn’t crazy. This was writing to be studied — if only the best I can study is rereading a page in the carpool line while looking up frequently enough so to not rear end the white Tahoe inching along in front of me.
Finishing the book this weekend, one of the climatic scenes had me close to tears. Not the action, though it was heart wrenching. It was the writing. Like one looks at a brilliant sunset and is moved just because of its beauty.
A book that moves me to do nothing.
Only to appreciate the skill with which it came to be.
Next up in the Goodwill stack.
Have you read a book recently that moved you?
In good ways or bad?
Five hundred words.
Five hundred words a day. You wouldn’t think it is that hard.
It’s a blog post for pity’s sake.
Day after day for over a year, the outline of a novel has wrestled around in my thoughts. Why can’t I designate time to spew out a first draft?
The other week, my eyes happened upon a book at our local library.
Daisy, our kitty, was determined to be in this photo.
Better Than Before, Mastering the Habits of Our Everyday Lives.
I need to master writing each day.
Gretchen Rubin’s book is a fascinating look at personality tendencies and what it takes to form a habit. She hypothesizes that by creating habits we change behavior.
The behavior I want to cultivate is hammering out a first draft.
Rubin stresses what works for one person — to stick with a diet or exercise plan — might not work for 10 others.
It’s important to understand yourself and your unique idiosyncrasies to form a habit or give up something such as a case of wine a day routine.
She designates four personality tendencies toward sticking to habits.
Turns out I am a Rebel which means I only follow habits, external or internal, if I want to.
(After reading the book, I thought I was a Rebel. Then I took the survey at the end of book and said yes to five of six Rebel questions.)
Why is this important?
External habits are those we stick to meet others’ expectations. Internal habits are those we adopt for personal desires.
As a Rebel I follow external pressures or internal pressures only if I want to.
Which kind of stinks and explains so much of my life.
Writing a novel falls squarely in the camp of internal expectations.
I’ve had success with pure internal challenges from small things like reading the bible each day – done that every day since January 1, 2015. To bigger challenges such as training for marathons. To huge internal commitments like completing two successful adoptions which included massive internal regrouping and navigating two failed scenarios.
Writing this novel is something I want to do and I’ve commited to tougher challenges — so what is the problem with my attempts to form a daily habit of writing a first draft?
* * *
Update. Since drafting the above last weekend, I’ve written 500 (well, almost 500) words for four days straight.
What’s the difference? I’ve made it a priority and I’ve maybe figured out why it’s so hard for me to commit to this.
There’s no quick payoff. There’s no finish line in sight. It came to me that I’m much more into tackling goals than creating habits.
Goals seem to me as doable chunks of time with a payoff.
So I set the goal to write 500 words every day for 30 days.
A beginning, an end and a clearly defined task.
I’ll report back in 30 day to let you know how I did. Well, if I want to report back I will, since I’m a Rebel and all.
Better Than Before was an insightful read.
Well researched. Rubin was a law clerk for Justice Sandra Day O’Conner so she’s got the researching thing down.
And she’s an entertaining writer. Who obviously can finish the first draft of a book.
Any habits you’d like to adopt that you haven’t quite been able to?
My Writing Process.
My Blog Writing Process.
First off, Happy Memorial Day. My start of summer comes after the hundreds of motorcycles ride past our house on the way to the town square.
A week or so ago, I was asked by the smart, funny, passionate about what-we-are-doing-to-ourselves-and-the-environment blogger Anne Brock to join a blog tour on revealing our writing process as bloggers.
I met Anne, a darling, blonde powerhouse, this fall at Type-A Parent Blogging Conference. We ran together, ate together, learned together and laughed together.
With her impressive broadcast journalism and production pedigree, Anne blogs at FlourSackMama (and also tweets @floursackmama). Though FlowerSackMama fits the “green” blog category, the blog’s name and genesis is a tribute to her grandmother and the simple, beautiful existence that was life in the Ozarks in the 30s.
Webinars, great writing, trips to march on Washington with the Safer Chemicals Stroller Brigade — what can’t she do?
Then there is me.
1) What are you working on?
I write a lot for local magazines and I just finished up something for local paper. I want to write for larger pubs — like those in the big ATL. I made a great contact recently at an industry lunch with an Atlanta magazine. Have I followed up?
Heck no. In fact, I forgot about it till just now. Pooh bear.
I’ve also started writing blog posts — like mini features — for clients. I’m having a ball doing that. It takes what I’ve learned with magazine work and lets me add a big dose of my personality.
2) How does your work differ from others’ work in the same genre?
Though I do write about my children (like a Mommy blogger) every now-and-then, I find myself writing more and more about issues at midlife. There are some great midlife bloggers out there. Like Anne and Sharon and the whole crew at Midlife Boulevard.
There’s Judy at A Boomers Life After 50. Sadly, Judy was widowed before age 50. I loved meeting her at Type-A as well. She’s sharp, adorable and energetic. Her blog is full of great practical tips for aging gracefully and well as fun posts about such things as her recent first spin class.
Then there’s Shannon Colleary, who writes at the hysterical The Woman Formerly Known As Beautiful. She writes about midlife sex, body image and midlife body image (while naked) and how it affects sex. Among other midlife trials.
I also adore Leisa Hammett, whose blog showcases her immense writing talent. Much of her world looks at the spiritual side of midlife. Why are we here? What does it feel like at midlife — or why do we feel as we do? She is also passionate about her daughter Grace and her amazing art. “The Journey with Grace: Art, Autism and All the Rest of Life.” Check her out.
So many I could name.
What makes me different?
I’m basically a goof-ball writing about life after turning 50 — from the perspective of a porch on South Main Street. Which is actually where I am writing this now . . .
It looks like we just had a nuclear explosion behind me. I assure you we didn’t. I think.
I write about my midlife crisis’s and triumphs with hair color, athletic pursuits — road races, triathlons, cycling, swimming and the like — gardening, sex and so on. No, I don’t really write about sex all that much. (It was be so depressing if I started writing about my sex life and my Google Analytics nosedived.)
3) Why do you write what you do?
I could say that it is cheaper than therapy but that would imply that I don’t need therapy.
Honestly, my blog is where I take my creativity out to unabashedly romp and play in the mud.
I love the quote by Sol Stein. I’m paraphrasing but it’s close to this . . .
“If there is boredom in the writer, there will be boredom in the reader.”
Writing for me, especially on my blog, is theater. The telling of the boring trip to the grocery that everyone takes but making it a fun frolic with a heaping dose of self-deprecating humor.
For the most part things on my blog are true — but it’s entertainment. That’s what makes it fun for me and hopefully anyone who cares to read.
4) How does your writing process work?
When I have a paying story or post to write that takes priority. So if I go a week without posting, it’s because life and work have me pulled away from my bloggy playpen. 🙁
Successful bloggers focused on a genre. They post many times a week, if not daily. (Daily posting is always my goal.) They also are great marketers and social media savvy.
I need to be more structured with my writing time. My best time is definitely in the morning.
But then something will happen and I have to sit down immediately and write it out. Like a possessed thing — no laundry, straightening the house – even exercising be damned.
When I’m writing a paid feature or blog post that requires interviews, I’m very old school. I tape the interview and transcribe it. Then I work from that as I write.
And like most writer’s, getting my rear in the chair and pecking out the first draft is ALWAYS the hardest.
But once that is done, I like a few days to come back and embellish it. Edit. I LOVE that part.
To revise and revise.
Two awesome midlife writers have agreed to this task next week.
First, there is Julia Munroe Martin from the great state of Maine. Talk about an interesting woman. She grew up all over the world and now she is about to finish her third novel. Her third novel, people. I can’t even get 2,500 words strung together for a short story. She’s bi-monthly contributor to another great, great site Writer Unboxed.
Not only is she a talented writer, she’s just a fabulous person. She tweets @wordxo.
And one day I will knock on her door and have coffee with her at her local coffee house/writing den.
Also, there is May at Achieving Clarity. I love reading her thoughts on life as it happens to her and her amazing photography. Her first post was in 2011 — the year she turned 50. I don’t think she has any idea what a talented writer she is — or maybe she does? I hope so.
Also think she has the cutest Twitter profile pic ever @MayAchieve.
There you have it. My Writing Process post. #SoThere.
Thoughts. Anyone? Anyone?
Linking up with Jana and her Stream of Consciousness Sunday gang for a free write.
Five minutes. Unedited. Uncensored by the moralist living in my head.
Okay. I’ve done it. I’ve gone and turned a half century.
What do I want from these next 50 years?
Well, lots of things. But what selfishly leaps to mind is writing a novel.
Notice I didn’t say having a novel published. No. First I just want to get the darned thing out on paper.
Time is fleeting.
And I have so many other commits like we all do. Family and laundry and training for a triathlon. Oy vey.
So I’ve got to make this writing time count.
How to fit blogging and freelance assignments and writing a 330 page book? That makes sense and is good and is worth an agent giving a second look.
I need to get focus and brutally honest how to spend that writing time.
I love blogging but that hour of the day could be spent finishing that first draft. Uncovering those wonderful twists of plot left for me to discover.
That’s just it. Only so much time.
What do you think? How do you make time and choose between those things you love?
Randomness comes natural to me.
I force myself to think logically.
The other day, I thought it high time to create a flow chart for all the characters in this novel free-flowing through my mind.
On a lovely spring day, I headed out to the porch and came up with this.
Looks like a chemical equation from 11th grade homework.
Maybe it is a chemical reaction that never made it to Mr. Miller’s class?
This chart made perfect sense at the time I drew it.
Looking at it today, not so much.
How much time to you take planning your longer works?
“You will one day I promise.”
My dear friend looked into my eyes and nodded.
No way. Nothing could be more terrifying than letting someone who knows something about writing read a piece of my work.
All those C words. Critique. Criticize. Critical.
C.C.U. as in the Critical Care Unit. That’s where my tender as a chicken liver writer’s psyche lived.
“You will want someone to read and give feed back.”
A published author, my friend earns a nice living reading and critiquing fellow writers.
As much as I trusted her as a friend and professional . . . let someone read my teensy, mew-of-a-kitten attempt at a novel? For real?
Only when I was sure. Only when certain I held the next Bridget Jones or Devil Wore Rogiani to CURVES.
Then I signed up for a writing class.
The first night I showed up, we sat in a big U staring at each other. The veteran teacher gave a talk about how everyone’s work is welcome with two exceptions: no violence toward animals and no graphic sex.
So much for my first draft.
No sillies. I kept pecking away and going to class each week listening to other folks read for their 15 minutes of shame.
It’s been a while ago so honestly I can’t remember what finally made me pull out my shaky hand clutching Chapter One or warm-up my even more tremulous voice . . .
But I did.
I put the whole bloody mess out there for everyone to hear. That is after editing out a worm’s gory demise by fishhook and gratuitous iron skillet orgy in a 1970s KitchenAid warehouse.
Once my breathing settled and words began to flow in semi-complete sentences, I heard it.
Okay. It was twelve wanna be writers sitting around after a day of sending out e-mails and sales calls, wiping down tables and picking up quarters in tips and cleaning up messy kitchens and folding towers of wrinkled t-shirts — but they laughed.
In the places they were supposed to laugh.
My friend was right. Writers need to be read and honestly critiqued.
By someone who might not laugh at the right spots. By someone who might be a bit brutal in love.
But for the first time. To heck with honesty.
Linking up with the wonderful Writer’s Workshop at Mama Kat’s place.
The prompt: 2.) Talk about a time you faced a fear.
What about you? When did you decide to pull out your shaky piece of paper and read aloud?