Vying for airspace

I love interviewing people.  I enjoy how their facial expressions change, their voices mutate for inflection, and their eyes twinkle when they touch on something humourous or touching.  I am a natural-born listener.  It isn’t easy for me to speak for long periods of time.  I could probably sing for longer than I speak.

For this reason, I do not understand the new era of interviews, particularly those I view on CNN.  Interviewers interrupt their subjects, talk over them, and sometimes even talk more than the person they are interviewing.  When this happens, I have to turn the television off.  Perhaps I am naive in assuming that the interviewer’s role is to listen, to enjoy, to allow the story of the other to sink in and shine for television audiences to enjoy.

I remember listening to womens’ conversations in my mother’s living room.  If I was really quiet, her friends wouldn’t notice I was there.  Often women would come over to can, help make pastries, tie quilts, or just to gab while the kids played in the backyard.  Inevitably, I would creep in and make myself useful or almost invisible.  I still remember their oversized forms, headless and all legs.  But, I haven’t forgotten their conversations.

I wish that more people understood the joy of listening, the joy of cataloguing the ways in which you can recreate a story someone else has told.  Photographs and videos cannot capture the retelling of a story like words on a page.  

Today I sat, during my lunch and listened.  Tom told me a story.  I watched him tell it, my spine tingling, my brain whirring.  And I treasured that moment with the hope that someday his story, in my brain’s collection, might make it to the page.

Even if his story doesn’t morph into a future collection or project, I was glad to not have to vy for airspace.  There was joy in drinking in a meditative moment– without the need to steal the limelight.  

Interview with JM Bartholomew, author of Three Fat Singletons

ImageAlmost a year ago I met the vivacious JM Bartholomew at The Writer’s Workshop “Getting Published Day”.  Since then, I’ve had the opportunity to follow the rise of her new book Three Fat Singletons, which has just been released on Amazon here. (Available both in paperback and kindle edition).

I’m really excited to share JM’s journey with you in the following interview:

 What is the main premise of Three Fat Singletons?

 Three Fat Singletons is a story of friendship, love, loss and hope.  We journey with Jesse, Dotty and Mary through the often hilarious, sometimes painful, obstacle that being overweight can bring to the pursuit of love after thirty.

 Where did your writing journey begin?

 Twelve years ago I switched from writing a murder mystery to Three Fat Singletons after a visit to the Barnes Murder Squad put me off continuing with my first novel.  I remember being sat on a balcony in Greece with my friend Maria, glass of wine in hand, saying how I was no longer able to be a writer, and she simply said ‘write a comedy then’.  And that’s what I did – kind of!

 Which character are you especially fond of and why?

 I’m especially fond of all three main characters to be honest but Jesse I enjoy as she speaks her mind and Dotty for her complexity.

 What or who inspired you in writing Three Fat Singletons?

 My own journey and experience as a thirty something looking for love in a body that wasn’t how I wanted it to be.  I spent many months accompanying various friends around London’s Big Ladies clubs and they were such a shock to me that I had to write about them!

 What made you decide to self-publish versus go the traditional publishing route?  What advice do you have for other authors who wish to self-publish?

 I am still hopeful to one day go down the traditional publishing route, but I wanted to self publish as I’ve already been told by an agent that I need to change my name and the title of the book, so self publishing gives me an opportunity to get the book out there under my own name and the title I originally chose for the book.  The most important piece of advice is proof your work several times over when you’ve loaded it to the site you have chosen and get a hard copy proof.  The amount of mistakes I spotted on the hard copy proof that I never saw on my computer copy I can’t begin to tell you!  Also, take time with the cover…the cover is what has held up my book being released by over two weeks now!

 What are your writing habits?  What or who tends to keep you going on a project?

 I have terrible writing habits as I have a full-time business an eight year old daughter and a house to run!  I had to go to a retreat to finish my book, which I highly recommend as I had it finished on day two and I thought it would take at least four days to finish.  When I start writing I’m very productive, but finding the time is my downfall.  I do enjoy going to a hotel local to us and sitting in the busy reception area to write; the constant noise and bustling atmosphere seems to help me focus.

 What other projects do you have in mind?

 I have already started Three Skinny-ish Marrieds and am a good way through a romantic thriller which I am yet to have a title for.  I think it will depend on the response to Three Fat Singletons as to which one I focus on next!

 What advice would you give to aspiring authors or those who are thinking about writing a book, but haven’t yet harnessed the courage to start?

 Just do it!  Don’t worry about what your friends or family may think.  Write what you are passionate about.  Go to a couple of writing events if you reach a plateau but keep writing.  My biggest mistake was editing as I went along.  I won’t be doing that going forward, the trick is to write and get the entire story on paper and then edit, edit, edit.  Google Ernest Hemingway quotes if you get disheartened!

You run your own business, are a mother and a wife, and volunteer a lot in your community.  How do you do it all and still manage to have a smile on your face and keep going?

 I go through seasons.  The season I’m in at the moment is running my business and trying to be around for my daughter.  In January the balance is likely to shift to spending more time with my family, volunteering and being able to focus on writing.  March will see a change again where my business will become my main focus.  I have a smile on my face as I have a wonderful husband and daughter and a strong faith.  I recognise I am blessed to be healthy and have a roof over my head when so many others don’t.

 From reading the first three chapters of your book, I feel that Three Fat Singletons has an essential perspective of women and dating that isn’t currently represented in women’s fiction, or literary fiction at the moment.  Would you agree or disagree and why?

 I would agree and I think, at the moment, there is nothing out there that deals with this topic in quite the way I have.  All of the situations that are specifically to do with being overweight I have personally experienced so don’t feel I need to be careful about offending anybody and am able to find the humour in even the most dire situations.  Where humour is not shown then compassion is evident.  This is not a fat shaming book and neither is it a self help book or a pro-fat book; it’s a glimpse through the eyes of three very real characters who are on their journey to find love in all the wrong places. 

(As a final note, if you ever have a chance to go to a book-signing with JM Bartholomew, it is well-worth it.  In addition to writing a terrific book with a wonderful premise, she is incredibly warm and inspirational.  I can’t wait to finish reading Three Fat Singletons!)  

The Key to Success? Grit (Angela Lee Duckworth at TED)

For years I have struggled with the emphasis, in ages 12-18 education, on the teacher’s role, teacher development and the variety of ways that teachers must motivate students. Very little pressure is applied to families to teach children the power of consequences and changing ones mindset to use failure as a teaching tool, to acknowledge and understand disappointment as a transitory state.

Thus, I was reasonably excited this morning to find actual research to support my hypothesis that hard-work, determination, and treating life, as Duckworth states “as a marathon, instead of a sprint” ensures that certain students meet their goals whilst others– better off in terms of IQ, socioeconomic status and other factors– fall behind.

A writing colleague and I recently discussed how this phenomenon in teaching translates to unrealistic expectations by adult learners. We both attended a writers conference three months ago. She and I are working hard to turn our first novels into something worthy of agent representation. We were sorely disappointed to encounter other writers not taking full advantage of advice given to them by publishing editors and agents at this conference.

I noticed that many of our fellow participants fell into four categories:
1) The Socializers: they had already determined that they weren’t going to get published so they might as well take advantage of the social opportunities and were often seen lingering in the hallways chatting up fellow writers and gazing out the long glass windows in the meet and greet rooms. There was nothing wrong with this attitude, as I gleaned a lot of great information from these friendly participants, but it was obvious they had talent and had thrown in the towel too early by choosing to skip out on workshops in favour of socializing and telling jokes.
2) The Overconfident: their only mission in coming to the writing conference was to receive kudos for their novel, novella or film script. They weren’t terribly interested in learning anything, they just wanted to hear that they were a genius and were ready to be published. When such praise wasn’t forthcoming (especially considering most of their lack of literary knowledge, background, or education) they tended to grumble very loudly, proclaim that the agents and editors were wrong, and that they were determined to do things their own way, sharing their discontent with anyone who would listen.
3) The Dejected: they thought for sure that their work had some merit. To hear that it is riddled with errors has put them off publishing altogether and they have decided to give up forever, determined that their dream of becoming a published author or screenwriter is doomed to failure.
4) The Gritty-ones: they took the advice and critiques of agents and editors on-board, jotted down notes, listened, consulted with colleagues, and let the critiques they received settle in slowly, to see what was workable and what might change their work in a way that they were uncomfortable with. They were determined to continue the quest and networked with other writers to create a support group of fellow “gritty-ones” to join them on their quest.

Having just returned from London where I was able to meet with three of my gritty-friends from the writing conference, I was inspired to keep going on a path that many believe might be doomed to failure. Nevetheless, like Duckworth, I don’t believe failure is a permanent state of being: it is a waypoint on the road to success.

Cash in a Writer’s World

      I’ve just returned from a wonderful trip to London.  Without my writing friends & Tom, it would have been a hectic, whirlwind, drab affair.  I never cease to be amazed at the generosity of fellow writers and teachers.  They are the best people I know.  I have been given a lift from the airport by a colleague I  met through an online writing class (via the The Writer’s Workshop), and was housed and fed by writers I have only met a few times.  The connection to our art is deep and we know that without each other we are hiking a lonely road that requires support from fellow artisans to succeed.

      Suze, one of my writing colleagues, bought me a copy of the latest edition of Writing Magazine. “The Burning Question” by Lorraine Mace illuminates an oft asked question of writers: “How much do you make?”  She demonstrates that people rarely ask this of other professions they seek services from, so why are people so interested in how much (or little) writers make?

      I was suprised that Mace didn’t answer any of her rude interrogators.  Afterall, isn’t it a well-known fact that the average writer in the UK makes about 3,000p off their writing annually?  Then it occured to me how poorly people are educated on the writing market and how little control writers have over what they sell.

       Stay with me: this isn’t a rant.  

     The average published author makes $3.00 or 3.00p off each paperback book sold, sometimes less.  Hardbacks can sometimes make more ($5.00 off of each copy).  If you sell twenty of your hardbacked books in a month, you will have earned $100.00 that month.  When you factor that sum into hundreds of hours of unpaid labour that went into making a book (for example, I have spent almost a full two years working on the manuscript of my first novel, The Curse of Beal Atha) it is a wonder Mace didn’t want to elaborate the economics of writing.  I have logged over five hundred unpaid hours working and re-working my first novel.  Those hours do not include researching for the book, travelling to locations to ensure continuity of historical details, or money paid to attend conferences and classes to assist me in the editing process.  And I will never make a dime or recoup any of the output with my book unless it is published.  

       In an average week, I spend thirteen hours working on writing projects, on top of my full-time teaching job.  I have 113 students, and they demand my full attention eight hours a day.  I’m not complaining. Many writers work multiple jobs, are the sole breadwinners in their families, wake up at 4am before the kids, dog, cats get up, to log in an hour of writing before taking care of their family. I know writers who have worked for decades, writing multiple books and garnering prizes, but have never become best-sellers. One thing that Lorraine Mace didn’t capture were all of the above elements that I feel the public needs to be aware of so they will stop asking writers how much they make and equating writing success with income earned.

      Because of the success, rightly so, of outliers such as JK Rowling, Stephanie Meyer, Veronica Roth, etc… I receive a lot of comments from non-writers about how I’m going to be “the next…….” which is terribly nice.  But, the reality for most authors is that we write because we love it, it is a passion, a calling.  We never go into it for the money, because if we did, that motive wouldn’t sustain us for very long.

      Writers are some of the most generous people I know, with their time, their resources, and their thoughtful critiques of fellow aspiring scribblers.  It is my hope that with a little education this line of questioning might end and that several myths about the publishing trade will be dispelled.  I can only hope.