Interview with author Patti Digh

INTRODUCING PATTI DIGHDigh
“I can’t wait to meet Patti, whose most recent book, Creative is a Verb, is full of the author’s fascinating personal stories. Patti inspires readers to get in touch with their uniqueness,” commented MWW committee member Cathy Shouse. “It also offers hundreds of thought-provoking quotes from everyone from Malcolm Gladwell to C.S. Lewis.  I appreciate its refreshing reminder that along with instruction on craft we must learn to effectively tap into the creativity each one of us was born with.”Q: Your Thursday Intensive Session “From Blog to Book” is the first time MWW has offered such a topic. Give us a brief overview and timeline of how your blog turned into a book.

I started writing my blog, 37days.com, in January of 2005, as a response to my stepfather dying just 37 days after being diagnosed with lung cancer. I was asking myself one question: “What would I be doing if I only had 37 days to live?” and writing my stories down for my two daughters was one important answer to that question. Several years after I started writing it, a publisher approached me and asked if I was interested to make a book from 37days. That book, Life is a Verb: 37 Days to Wake Up, Be Mindful and Live Intentionally, was published by Globe Pequot Press in 2008, and is illustrated exclusively by readers of my blog from around the world.

Q: Tell us a little about your background.

I got my undergraduate degree in English, with a focus on contemporary American literature, and my graduate degree in English and Art History, with a focus on the figure of the artist in fiction.

My graduate thesis was on William Gaddis’ masterpiece, The Recognitions, which I consider one of the great American novels (along with Herman Melville’s Moby Dick, Larry McMurtry’s Lonesome Dove [yes, really], and Richard Powers’ The Time of Our Singing).

I imagined I would be an English professor somewhere, but I found myself in Washington, D.C., for 20 years after graduate school, in the business world.  The first book I co-authored was called a “business book of the year 2000” by Fortune magazine. A few years later, I wrote another well-regarded business book.

And then the death of my stepfather sent me on a much more personal path, and I haven’t looked back at that other business voice since. I am fully inhabiting my own voice now, and telling my own stories.

Q: When you started blogging, was your objective to get a book contract and if so, are there specific steps to make that happen?

Absolutely not, and I believe we fall prey to focusing on outcome and not on process far too often. My intention was singular: I wanted to write my stories down for my two daughters so they would know me as a person, and not just as a mom. I wanted to leave behind a record of my being-all of it, not just the tidy professional me, but the messy, confused, fearful parts too.

I had no audience in mind but them, and I believe this singularity of intention ultimately drew readers in great numbers to the blog, ironically. A friend teaches young actors and one of the first things he teaches them is that you can’t play two intentions on stage at the same time. For example, you can either warn Hamlet (if that is the part you are playing), or you can try to get the audience to love you, but you can’t do both and do them honestly. Writing for a book contract is a split intention. Write what it is you long to say instead. Focus on process-using your voice, saying what you long to say-and not on product. Focus on content, and not on form.

Q: Will your MWW Intensive Session be more technology oriented or writing oriented; in other words, what should people expect?

Writing, writing, writing, writing, writing. In general, writers spend more time talking about how to write or what to write or what keeps us from writing than we do actuDigh creative bookally writing. This intensive will take us into process. I’ll also share insider tips on product–what happens in that liminal space between blog and book? We’re going to look at intention, voice, and much more–by writing, by digging into both content and form.

Q: Anything quirky or unusual about yourself inquiring minds would want to know?

My childhood hero was Johnny Unitas (quarterback for the Baltimore Colts), I played Johnny Appleseed in my fourth grade play, one of my favorite recording artists is Johnny Cash, I have a slight obsession with Johnny Depp, and I’m married to a man named Johnny. There is a pattern here. I also love the smell of lavender, and I write a thank you note every morning. And mail it. And I love to laugh.

Q & A with author Shirley Jump

Shirley Jump

Q: Young Adult fiction seems to be popular right now. What can you tell us about your next YA title?

My next YA book, The Cellar, will be out in the spring from Houghton Mifflin Graphia. It’s basically zombies with “Romeo and Juliet,” and has a little more of a love story (and older characters) than we had in The Well. It’s still got the Shakespeare theme, and this time the horror comes from the zombies next door who want to turn the heroine into a zombie and keep her forever.

Q: In addition to YA, you write romance and women’s fiction. How important is it to continue to explore new genres, including at workshops?

I read across all genres, and write in other genres when I’m not writing my primary genre, romance. That’s how the YA came about…I just happened to have a book I’d been working on, just for fun, that ended up being another genre for me to write. I think ALL genres can teach you about great pacing, strong storytelling, increasing stakes and all the tools of the trade that make for a great book. And, in my opinion, it never hurts to learn about other genres. For one, many of the storytelling techniques are the same and you can bring those lessons across to your own writing, and for another, you never know where you might end up in a few years. So having that knowledge in your back pocket, so to speak, can be handy.

Q: Please give us a sneak preview of the topic you will be addressing at the closing banquet for MWW 2010.

I’ll be talking about Secrets to Success–basically how to take everything you learn at a conference and how to use it to create success from that day forward, as well as how to keep being successful even in a competitive publishing environment.

Meet Literary Agent Suzie Townsend

Townsend

 

We caught up with Suzie and asked her a few questions about her 2010 MWW presentation THE DREADED SYNOPSIS… (Part II, Friday, July 30)1) Why do you think the synopsis gives writers so many problems and do you find confusion about length is common?

The synopsis is evil. Everyone hates them. Writer’s hate them because they’re so hard to write. The question of what to include and what to leave out is especially hard because a writer is so close to their own work. Length and tone can sometimes also be a source of confusion because sometimes editors or agents will ask for different specifics in a synopsis if they have a specific purpose in mind for it.


2) How important is being able to write an effective synopsis to a writer’s career?

Very. Editors and agents use synopses to generate in house excitement for a project that will help get more people behind the project and the author – which is so important at all stages of the publication process. Film and subrights agents also often ask for a synopsis when they’re looking at purchasing rights to a manuscript.  And as an author’s career progresses, they’ll need to write a longer synopsis and book proposal for later projects.  Since that’s more in depth, it’s much harder to write especially if an author doesn’t have a basic synopsis to start from.


3) Do you think there are “secrets” to writing a good synopsis and will you be sharing specific tips?

I don’t know if they’re “secrets” per say, but there are rules and an easy formula to “demystify” the synopsis writing process. 


For people who have an appointment with you and for those who are considering registering for one, please share what you are currently looking for. Also, please mention a couple of your clients and their most recent books.

For adult fiction, I’m currently looking for a really great urban fantasy or paranormal romance series with a strong voice and characters I can fall in love with (Patricia Briggs or JR Ward are two of my favorites).  In YA and Middle Grade, I’d love to find beautifully written literary projects with a speculative twist (like How I Live Now or Before I Fall or When You Reach Me). I’m also looking for an author/illustrator who does quirky and unique picture books.
 
Some of my clients with books out:
Hannah Moskowitz, BREAK (Simon Pulse 8/2009), INVINCIBLE SUMMER (Simon Pulse, forthcoming)
Nicola Marsh, MARRIAGE: FOR BUSINESS OR PLEASURE (Harlequin, 2/2010), OVER TIME IN THE BOSS’ BED (Harlequin, 6/2010), THREE TIMES A BRIDESMAID (Harlequin 6/2010)
Lisa Desrochers, PERSONAL DEMONS (Tor, forthcoming)

Interview with poet Debra Marquart

 

 Marquart
Q. Give us the scoop on some of your many achievements, since we don’t have space for them all!A.  Most recently, I received a Literature Fellowship from the National Endowment for the Arts (2008), and my latest book, a memoir titled The Horizontal World: Growing Up Wild in the Middle of Nowhere, was awarded the PEN USA Creative Nonfiction Award (2007).  It also received the “Elle Lettres” award from Elle Magazine (2006), and an Editors’ Choice commendation (2006) from the New York Times Book Review. In 2005, I received a Pushcart Prize, and I’ve also been the recipient of the Shelby Foote Prize for the Essay (2003), the John Guyon Nonfiction Award from Crab Orchard Review (2003), and the Mid-American Review Nonfiction Award (2003).

Q. For your 2010 MWW intensive, you ask writers to bring photographs. What can we expect in that workshop?

A. The static quality of photographs provide writers with an opportunity to stop time, to look around, to note the details in a way that is never afforded us in real life.  For this reason, the photograph becomes a kind of warehouse of memory.  In this session, we’ll begin to take an inventory of that warehouse of memory and detail by asking participants to bring two photographs-old or new, formal or informal.  We will be doing some freewriting and sharing within the intensive workshop.  The hope is that participants will leave the session with good starting drafts of writing that can be explored further after the conference ends.

Q. You’re a professor of English and a teacher in two MFA programs. Explain how your writing evolved and how your MWW intensive could help writers in any genre.

A. Because my initial approach to a life in art was as a musician, my first interest in writing poetry really began with my interest in song lyrics.  Then I migrated to a love of and practice of writing poetry.  Song writing and poetry writing are very different, however.  At the very least, they do share a common interest in the music of language (attention to sound), as well as a compaction and precision of language in the form of description, detail, metaphor, image.  For any writer-whether one writes fiction, nonfiction, mystery, romance-the study of poetry can be an immersion in language-intensive writing.  Each word in a poem weighs a great deal and does a great deal of work for the larger poem.  This is certainly true with prose as well, but the poem is a kind of crucible where all these considerations become more acute, immediate, and apparent.  For that reason, the study of poetry (reading as well as writing) can be an enormous help to all writers-a kind of joyful boot camp of language/image/metaphor/symbolism.