Friday, April 18, 2014

What I've learned about writing and publishing

WOMs at Lit Crawl 2012
It has been so exciting to work with my fellow Write On Mamas to publish our first book. What a fantastic bunch of intelligent, talented and funny women. I had no idea when we started our group two years ago that it would be so much fun, so supportive and that we would actually publish a book. And a good book at that, even if we do say so ourselves.

I have learned so much over the last two years. How to start something from nothing, apart from a common passion and purpose. 

How the same people tend to do all the work. How rewarding it is to give, but it can be tiring too. How to say No sometimes or to ask for help. 

How one person’s vision can drive an entire group forward (not mentioning any names, Janine). 

That working with a professional editor is a very good thing. How even though I wrote a shitty first draft, as Anne Lamott would say, it is amazing how it can be improved with constructive criticism, support and encouragement. 

WOMs at Lit Crawl 2013
How much useful information can be gleaned when you self-publish. That self-publishing is not a dirty word anymore. You don’t necessarily need agents and publishers, but that it helps to have a pool of 25 authors to call on. 

That I can actually be quite techie when I have to be, providing I have my exceptionally clever husband at my elbow at all times. 

That signing books is quite fun, even though no-one can read my writing apparently. Hurrumph. 

How working with a team of powerful women is inspiring, motivating and rewarding. That it is possible to work with women without being bitchy.  Laughing always make everything better.

I am totally, over-the-top excited that we have 5 (maybe 6) amazing bookstores lined up to host us on a mini book tour of the Bay area, with more coming on board every week. 

For more information about the book, Mamas Write, our writing group, Write On Mamas, or the dates and locations of the book tour, please visit our website (ahem … run by yours truly) at Writeonmamas.com or on Facebook.

If you wish to buy a copy, please find us on Amazon here.

I thank you.




Monday, April 7, 2014

F is for Flippin' 'eck, I'm a published author!



Can you believe it? I am finally a published author! Yay! My writing group, the Write On Mamas, has published our first anthology: Mamas Write. Here is the official description:

Twenty-nine poignant, gritty, and funny essays by 24 moms (and one dad) on how parenting shaped them as writers, how they make time to write, memorable parenting moments and more. 


Founded out of a desire to connect, the Write On Mamas is a rapidly growing group of more than 50 writing moms (and one dad) who meet online and in person to read, write, revise, and share. Members are published authors, journalists, bloggers, and poets, as well as those beginning their writing journey. Based primarily in Northern California, Write On Mamas also hail from Oregon, Minnesota, Maryland, and Calgary. 


I have written two essays for this book. The Reluctant Author about why I started writing in the first place (freaky and a bit weird) and Writer's Block Retreat, about how I went on this wonderful 3 day writing retreat and got completely blocked creatively.

If you would like to buy a copy, and I know you do, (it's fabulous even if I do say so myself) it will be available on Amazon in the next few days or you can buy copies at our Create Space store here:

Monday, October 21, 2013

Litquake video - Oral Sex!

Well it's been ages since I have been able to put up a blog. Sorry. Life is just life sometimes. I have been busy, busy, busy enjoying myself. I have also been writing for two anthologies that are being published in December.

Last week, I was honoured to be invited to read at Litquake (an amazing San Francisco literary festival) as part of fantastic social network A Band of Women's anthology series, Nothing But the Truth ..." about Transitions. For some unaccountable reason, I decided to write about sex, not knowing at the time I would then have to read an extract from it in front of 150 + complete strangers in a posh art gallery in the heart of San Francisco! That'll teach me. My wonderful husband videoed me and, due to popular demand, I am publishing it below.

After my reading, which was wedged in between heart-rending readings from a variety of very accomplished writers about women refugees in Afghanistan, children with autism, gender transition and infertility, and made me feel like I was a bit of light, fluffy relief in the interval, I was hugely relieved when some people came up to me afterwards and asked if I had a book for sale because they had enjoyed my reading so much. I am now feeling very motivated to finish my memoir.


Monday, July 15, 2013

Wishing I was young again


When I turned 50, some very kind American friends (now ex-friends!) reminded me that I would now belong to AARP. Being British I had absolutely no idea what they were talking about and thought they were just making seal noises. After enlightening me to what this was, American Association of Retired Persons, I was horrified. How awful. Was 50 that old? I didn't feel old. Surely I didn't look that old and anyway, I wasn't retired! In the UK we have a similar thing, called OAP - Old Age Pensioner - but it doesn't come into effect until you are 60 years old (65 for men) which seems much more reasonable. It is commonly referred to by people asking if you have a Bus Pass (as in "Oi Mate, got yer Bus Pass?"), which is given to you so you can get cheaper fares on public transport and to get into the movies and such. 

My friends kept teasing me , shouting "AAARRRRPPP!" loudly every time they saw me and sure enough, a couple of weeks after my 50th birthday, an envelope arrived with AARP's distinctive red logo on the front. I immediately threw it in the recycling. How dare they!

In the year since I have successfully deluded myself into feeling much younger, helped by all the young people around me at work. I always feel that I am the same age as everyone and then get shocked to the core when I realise I am old enough to be their mother.

A couple of months ago, my husband and I bought a new car - a Mini Cooper convertible - which is such fun and makes me feel like I am young again as my 2nd car was a Mini, but one of the originals with no acceleration and useless heating. I can't tell you how fantastic it is to whizz around with the roof down in the gorgeous Californian sunshine, driving through the beautiful vineyards, the wind ruffling my hair and feeling like I'm 20 again. 

My enjoyment came to an abrupt end the other day, however, when we received the licence plate in the mail. Sigh.



Thursday, May 9, 2013

Writing Exercise: From Tomboy to Prom Queen

Well, after the exhausting hard work of not-writing the A-Z Blog Challenge but hassling everyone else to get posts, pics and links to me on time (why on earth did I ever think that would be easy?), I felt the need to post something written by me again.

I am currently on a 10 week online writing course with 9 other members of my writing group, the Write On, Mamas, with Kate Hopper of Use Your Words. I wrote the following as an exercise in Humor (that's Humour for you Brits). It was inspired from reading Catherine Newman's "Pretty Baby" piece". Here it is:


“Why on earth haven’t you bought Emma a doll?” My friend asked indignantly. “Honestly, Claire, she ought to have at least one doll.”


She then proceeded to give my 5 year old daughter, dressed in a bright red t-shirt, blue trousers and a baseball hat, the most hideous-looking doll I had ever seen. Was she serious? It was the stuff of nightmares. Horror film’s Chucky in a pastel dress. It was bald and chubby, with horrible staring eyes and a mouth that was molded open, like a fish frozen in its last agonizing death cry.

In disgust, I watched my daughter latch onto the doll with glee and cuddle it up to her. Did I imagine the glassy eyes glint at me in triumph? If I lifted its frilly undergarment would I see 666 scratched on its butt cheek? Emma innocently placed it into her mini stroller, after unceremoniously dumping the previous occupant (her beloved fluorescent pink elephant) on the ground, and walked off importantly round and round the garden, bending over and muttering Mumsy-type nothings to the devil toy every so often.

“There, you see, Claire!” my friend announced triumphantly, with a smug look on her face. “She loves it. You mustn’t stop her being a girl just because you aren’t girlie.”

Despite wanting to poke my friend’s eyes out with a sharp stick after this slur on my parenting ability, I could see her point - Emma did seem to be enjoying herself.

I felt betrayed somehow. I have always hated dolls and never played with them myself when I was a child. My favorite outfit was a cowboy and Indian set that my sister and I would share, complete with toy gun and holster, and a bow and arrow. I loved nothing better than running around the garden whooping and hollering and shooting my sister dead. (Perhaps anger management would have been a good after-school activity choice if it had been around back then.)

Now, I wanted to jump up, rip the Antichrist out of the stroller, stomp on it like an Indian doing a war dance, set it on fire and send it back to the hell and damnation from which it undoubtedly came, along with all the other glass-eyed scary demon-dolls. Particularly the frighteningly tasteless ones in ugly Victorian clothing that my Grandmother used to insist I play with as a 'special treat' when we went to visit, when all I wanted to do was ride the old-fashioned rocking horse and pretend I was Jesse James.

I restrained myself.


Despite my penchant for dressing my daughter as a tom-boy and giving her cars and action toys to play with, she has grown up to be the most girlie of all girls. She adores dresses and skirts in pretty feminine colours, could apply make-up better than me at the age of 11, spends hours teasing her hair into gorgeous little ringlets or works it cleverly into a French plait or straightens it better than any hairdresser. Thankfully, otherwise I would probably have had to disown her, she is also very adventurous, likes massive four-wheel drive trucks and off-road dirt biking.

When I had got over what I considered to be an implied insult and, instead, recognized it for what it was, a dear friend giving a sweet little girl something that was missing from her life, I was able to thank her and allow Emma to have other more feminine and girlie possessions. I really don't want to pass on any more of my hang-ups - after all, she already has my exagerated hand movements when speaking and horrible feet.


Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Z is for Zinnia (by Laurel Hilton)

And here we are at Z. I have been delighted to host the Write On, Mamas! for this year's A-Z Blog Challenge: 25 of our wonderful Mamas and one fabulous honorary Mama - Steven Friedman, our lone, brave and talented Papa. I hope you have enjoyed the diversity and talent of our group and thought I would leave you with this:
 
Alphabetical blogs can delight everyone, frequently giving helpful inspirational kindness. Literary memoirs, novels, occasional poems, quite randomly shared teach us vivid writing; x-rated yield zilch.

Thanks for joining us.
Photography by Mary Allison Tierney


I never paid much attention to Z before I named my second child Zinnia. I have a funny thing about letters, kind of an obsession. I’ve spent most of my life pretty comfortably occupying the two middle letters of the alphabet – L and M as the first letters of my name and surname (maiden name). 

L is for love, lemons, lions, licorice. M is for monkeys, magic, marshmallows and mystery. In classrooms, when they lined you up alphabetically for a game, to take class photos, or to go out to recess, I was sure to be right in the middle of things. I was a shy child and wanted the least amount of attention paid to me as possible. Being neither first, nor last, suited me perfectly.

But then I allowed Z into our little family of letters. At the farthest reaches of the alphabet it seemed so exotic, alien and maybe a little lonely. Poor little Z, only one playmate, Y, on one side of you and even then, how charismatic is Y anyway? I practically smothered my daughter with my anxious feelings. 

What had I done? 

She would always be last picked in alpha order. 

Would other kids alienate her because Z was so unusual? 

What cool things start with a Z anyway?

It turns out that Z is so much cooler than I could have imagined. Z is for words that just zing off your tongue like zipper, zap, zippadeedooda, and zany. It is the height of intellectual style like zeitgeist, and a Jazz Age icon, Zelda Fitzgerald. It is for a wonderful Zen state of mind, and for zydeco music, a fusion of Creole and Cajun influences using washboards, fiddles and accordions.

It brings me back full circle to my little Zinnia. She is the essence of what it means to be Z― imaginative, colorful, full of wonder, spontaneity and utterly original. 

 
Laurel Hilton is an essayist and journalist whose work has appeared on KQED’s Perspectives, Mama Monologues, Examiner.com, and Uptake.com, to name a few. She’d like to spend more time stringing words together than consumed with the hierarchy of letters.


Monday, April 29, 2013

Y is for Y Are You Here?

For this year's A-Z Challenge, I am organising my writing group's participation for the first time. So I am posting each entry here as well as on the website, Write On, Mamas! who are a writing group based in the San Francisco North Bay area. We will have 25 Mamas and one Papa writing on a different letter of the alphabet during the A-Z Blog Challenge. Comments are always so appreciated here or it would also be lovely if you would comment on the Write On, Mamas! blog. Thanks and look forward to reading your blog.

Photography by Mary Allison Tierney
 
It's a fascinating question that humanity has asked throughout time. It seems too simple to think we are here just because the cells and molecules came together that way; just a giant accident. It's a never-ending debate that I'm sure I won't be able to answer in a blog but I do have some Ancient Wisdom about that question that I'd love to share with U.

You see, there is wisdom about your soul that is held in an etheric library which we call the Akashic Record. Every person has a Record. Everything you've been and done, place you've lived in this lifetime or another, every reason your soul has for coming to Earth is all recorded in this Akashic Field. Each person does have a reason for being here. We actually have many reasons and they are written in your soul's library.
 
When your soul decides it wants to come to Earth again it actually makes a plan. The way the Masters of the Akashic Record show it to me looks like this; 500 Souls come together in a giant auditorium and start looking for other souls to share their Earthly experience. One soul says to another "Hey, I'd like to have some kids when I come to Earth. Last time I wasn't a very good parent and I'd really like to finish that old Karma and be a loving parent this time". The other soul says "I know, I was one of your kids. All those beatings made for a lousy life so let's finish that old Karma and I'll be a happy kid and you'll be a great parent so we don't need to experience that pain again". They make a soul contract and 20 or 30 years later it comes to fruition.
 
Now it's anyone's guess if these two souls had a happy family. The odd part about us humans is that once we come down into these bodies, we forget all the contracts and reasons we had for coming. The energy is dense and Karma isn't always easy to complete. But we keep trying, sometimes it takes us 700 lifetimes to get it all right. But we're strong, bright Souls and our main reason for Being is to remember that. To be the Light and the Love so we can heal ourselves and those around us. So if you ever wondered "Y am I here?", the simple Truth is: To Be the Love. If you can remember that in the hard times, it may make life a bit easier.
 
Lisa Barnett is an internationally known Teacher, Consultant and Founder of Akashic Knowing School of Wisdom. She is a clear channel of profound divine wisdom through the Akashic Record, as well as an Energy Master and Spiritual Teacher.  Lisa brings more than 20 years of teaching, spiritual counseling and energetic healing to her clients and students who span several continents.


Saturday, April 27, 2013

X is for eXtemporaneous (by Robyn T. Murphy)

For this year's A-Z Challenge, I am organising my writing group's participation for the first time. So I am posting each entry here as well as on the website, Write On, Mamas! who are a writing group based in the San Francisco North Bay area. We will have 25 Mamas and one Papa writing on a different letter of the alphabet during the A-Z Blog Challenge. Comments are always so appreciated here or it would also be lovely if you would comment on the Write On, Mamas! blog. Thanks and look forward to reading your blog.

Photography by Mary Allison Tierney

I climb in bed knowing I’ve volunteered to write 2-300 words for the Write on Mamas A-Z Blog Challenge. In the almost-asleep realm that is half-thinking and half-dreaming, I hear the familiar Seinfeld riff. And I am Jerry Seinfeld, on set, reading a directorial note from Larry David.

In one minute I have to ad-lib a stand-up segment on a letter - but I can choose only from J, K or X, as all the other letters are taken. And then, I am on-stage in jeans and a blazer, in front of a live studio audience with cameras rolling. I put on my best not-even-trying-not-to-smile face.

" . . . and I said, well, you know, J and K - I understand why they didn't get chosen. But X? What's wrong with X?

X is nothing like Q. Q is all needy and pathetic, with U next to him all the time. X - he stands on his own, brings his own lunch, shows up on time.

Why shun the X?

And look at R. R is all high and mighty - you know, “restricted” movies, “Rated R”. Fuh! X is all over that. X doesn’t even need to stand for anything, and he still trumps R.

X is a kiss. In fact, X is hot - a Roman ten - and you know those Romans! In Australia, you put four X's together and you've got a can of beer.

And he’s a team player. When X gets together with E, things get interesting. Ex-girlfriend, ex-wife, ex-pelled. That's a lot of material.

If I was a letter, I'd be an X. Think about it: Give it a couple of numbers and it multiplies!

It's a really cool chromosome that you don't want to argue with. Once, it had it’s own files; It's got its own factor; it's own ray . . . its own Generation for Pete's sake. Not to mention the whole marking-the-spot thing.
  There’s just no good reason . . . to shun the X."

“It’s a take!” someone yells.

In the almost-awake realm that is half-dreaming and half-thinking, I hear Larry David tell me, “That was pret-ty pret-ty good.”

Robyn T. Murphy is an Xpat from Australia, a Gen X-er, who finds writing an Xcellent medium for her tendency to Xaggerate. She writes and ruminates from her home in Xquisite Marin county. You can find her at www.robynTmurphy.com

Friday, April 26, 2013

W is for Weather (by MJ Brodie)

For this year's A-Z Challenge, I am organising my writing group's participation for the first time. So I am posting each entry here as well as on the website, Write On, Mamas! who are a writing group based in the San Francisco North Bay area. We will have 25 Mamas and one Papa writing on a different letter of the alphabet during the A-Z Blog Challenge. Comments are always so appreciated here or it would also be lovely if you would comment on the Write On, Mamas! blog. Thanks and look forward to reading your blog.

Photography by Mary Allison Tierney

What do you do when the weather never changes? When every day is sun-baked, blue skies stretch to infinity and a quilt of heat envelops you whenever you step outside your door? If you’re me, you start to go slightly mad, that’s what.

Or at least I did in my first summer in California. Having grown up in Ireland, where the weather is an endless source of speculation, it unsettled me to suddenly find that weather reports were irrelevant. Weeks would go by without anyone mentioning ‘the weather’.

Would the weather be nice for our picnic on Saturday? Of course it would. It would be the same as it always was: sunny, hot and dry with no chance of rain, temperature somewhere in the 80s, maybe even the 90s.

Every morning I would look out the window, wondering whether today could possibly be as hot and dry again as yesterday and if so, how on earth my neighbors managed to have flowers bobbing about their front yards. The answer came to me late at night when I would hear the whoosh of their sprinklers starting up like clockwork around 1am, as regular as the weather itself.

As regular as the weather. That’s a phrase you would never hear in Ireland. Weather there is as impossible to predict as your own fate. It can snow in April, it can rain thunderously in August, it can be mild and sunny in January, there can be storm force winds in June. Your best bet, however, is to assume that it will rain because Ireland, of course, is famously rainy.

On those perpetually sunny days, at the height of California’s summer, the lack of weather left me feeling cast adrift. There was something cruel about the endless sun beating down on my light-haired head, like an inquisitor shining a bright light in my face to break my spirit.

My only relief was to take trips on the weekend to coastal towns, where it’s cooler, where there is weather, to try to hide from the sun. On the hottest weekends, we would make our escape and hide away in the banks of Pacific fog, refugees from weather-free heaven. ‘Oh, look’ I would say to my husband excitedly ‘it’s only 75 in Half-Moon Bay, ’75 and foggy’. Maybe I’ll need to wear shoes!’

MJ Brodie is a recent arrival to California from Ireland (via Germany, Belgium and Scotland) and has slowly adjusted to endless sunshine and positive thinking. She has always written and blogged, having worked professionally in marketing and communications, and is taking postgraduate courses in writing with Berkeley Extension and Stanford. She is also a member of Write On, Mamas. A mother of one, she blogs on literature, politics and sometimes parenting at A Fresh Eye. You can follow her on Twitter @suilnua.

Thursday, April 25, 2013

V is for Verna (by Steven Friedman)

For this year's A-Z Challenge, I am organising my writing group's participation for the first time. So I am posting each entry here as well as on the website, Write On, Mamas! who are a writing group based in the San Francisco North Bay area. We will have 25 Mamas and one Papa writing on a different letter of the alphabet during the A-Z Blog Challenge. Comments are always so appreciated here or it would also be lovely if you would comment on the Write On, Mamas! blog. Thanks and look forward to reading your blog.


Photography by Mary Allison Tierney

Verna died more than two years ago and there have been waves of sadness and grief rushing up against a shore fortified by the blessings of life—friends and family pitching in with play dates for Maya, picking up Miguel from baseball practice, watching Maya in the afternoons, inviting us to holiday meals and barbecues.
Amidst our recovery, I wonder about how the kids are processing their mother’s death. Maya, seven years old, had one year of play therapy at hospice and another several months of private counseling with a young woman who brought her polished stones and helped her articulate her loss and grief with Barbie dolls and role playing so she could continue to heal.

Miguel, 15, a freshman in high school, is quieter about his grief, rarely mentioning Verna and the enormity of his loss. He just doesn’t do death well. He refused to continue having me read Old Yeller to him when he found out the dog dies at the end. He asked to stay with a friend when Verna’s death was imminent.
Over the past few weeks he’s had to take pictures for his photography elective, something he’s done in the neighborhood, around town, even on vacation, choose two per topic and then upload the polished versions to his personal blog, Miguel’s Photography.
Photo by Miguel Friedman
He asked me recently to look at his posts. There was one picture of pinkish roses, similar to the double delights that were Verna’s favorites, besides which he wrote: “While we were at a butterfly farm [outside Delray Beach], we came upon some roses. My mom, who passed away in 2010, loved roses. So when I saw the roses I just had to take a picture. I took it in honor of my mom.”

Miguel’s words and photograph brought tears to my eyes and made me ache for Verna and love Miguel even more. Miguel used his picture (in place of too many words) to say that Verna’s death still hurts and honor her memory.

Steven Friedman was widowed in 2010 and has two children. His book, Golden Memories of the San Francisco Bay Area, was published in 2000 and went to a second printing within six months. He has written for Rethinking Schools, the Marin IJ, KQED, the Northern California Jewish Bulletin, and had essays published in two anthologies. One of his essays placed second last year in a national writing contest. He is working on a memoir about his family's cancer journey, It's Not About the Breasts. And he's in love again.