Category: Writing

5×5 International Women’s Month: Celebrating Amazing Female Authors

Welcome to the newest edition of 5×5, a series in which we ask five authors of similar backgrounds five questions. Today, we are talking with Sofia Fenichell, AM Scott, Collette McLafferty, Susanne Tedrick and Finola Austin in honor of international women’s month. These fantastic women write in genres across the board.

We have some exciting releases next month with Susanne Tedrick’s fascinating read, Woman of Color in Tech, that will help women of color learn the skills they’ll  need to succeed in (and revolutionize) a technical field and AM Scott’s science fiction, space opera in her last book from her Folding Space Series, Lightwave: Longshot.

Sofia Fenichell is an author and CEO of Mrs. Wordsmith, a children’s edtech company. Their most recent book, FLUSH! and 37 Essential House Ruleshelps children learn how to respect their homes, their parents, and themselves. With the added flair of vocabulary words on every page, great artwork and puns galore, kids and parents a like can laugh and learn from this read. It’s available to purchase now, through Mrs. Wordsmith.com. And it’s available for pre-order on Amazon to be shipped in June.

Finola Austin’s anticipated historical fiction novel, Bronte’s Mistress, will be having a summer release this August. It’s a steamy and captivating imagining of the affair, that is still some of the hottest literary tea out there.

Last but not least, we have Collette McLafferty. Her book, Confessions of a Bad, Ugly Singer, is a memoir in which she details her life in the music industry and how she had to deal with a huge lawsuit for signing a cover in a bar. This is a fascinating read, indeed.

Now, that we’ve met our authors, let’s get to the question and answers.

 

Image via Students’ Union Royal Holloway 

 

1. As a full time/part time writer, what is some advice you could give aspiring writers when things seem hopeless?

Collette McLafferty: I would say this to any writer feeling hopeless: You have to remember your voice is your gift and no one can take it away from you. There is no circumstance or rejection that can tear you away from a pen and paper, a laptop or hitting that “publish” button. At the same time, it’s okay to take a break once in a while. I’m a huge fan of “The Artist Date”, a once a week exercise from Julia Cameron’s book, “The Artist’s Way”. Go out get fresh air, see a movie, call up that old friend. Inspiration is like a fickle lover, it goes away sometimes, but it always comes back!

AM Scott: a. Join some of the online writing communities. By participating in some of the pitch parties on Twitter and the writing community built around those parties, I got some really valuable critiques before I published. They’re also very supportive—there’s always someone willing to encourage you. active, not in your house or at your job. I find hiking can jolt loose ideas and help me feel more optimistic .Hang in there—don’t quit. Even if you can’t afford to take classes or buy ads,there are free writing and marketing resources out there!

Finola Austin: Every word you write brings you closer to your goal of writing a novel, and, most importantly,every word you write makes your writing better. Some writers set daily word counts for themselves but this approach has never worked for me. I write when I can—early in the morning,late at night, on weekends, and frequently on airplanes. Rather than beating yourself up about what you can’t do, given the other demands being made on you by the rest of your life, focus on what you can achieve.

Sofia Fenichell: Being a writer is a calling. It’s a need that you have within you. Not everyone has it. You can’t really give up if you have that need. When things seem hopeless as a writer, you have no choice but to keep going in one way or another. So as you grow into being a writer, remember that the best writers are those that know how to listen and take feedback. Failure is your phoenix rising.

Susanne Tedrick: I would say the first step acknowledging the feelings that you are having. I think our society has conditioned people to either quickly get over or stifle negative feelings. Ignoring or pretending you don’t have negative feelings, including hopelessness, is much worse for your overall health. Accepting your feelings as they are and giving yourself the time and space to cry, talk to a good friend or therapist, additional rest, meditation,exercise or whatever method of (healthy) release you need, is the best first step in getting over hopelessness effectively. The second, important part is dissecting those feelings and challenging them. For example, if you’re saying to yourself “there’s no point in going on” or “I’m destined to fail” in the face of a setback, what substantive indicators do you have to back those assertions up? You may need the help of an impartial, trusted friend or advisor to offer a different, less emotionally charged perspective. 

 

2. Did you choose the genre you wanted to write in or did that genre choose you?

Colette McLafferty:To say my genre chose me would be an understatement! In 2014 I woke up to the headline “Singer Sued for Being Too Old and Ugly for P!NK Tribute Band” via The New York Post and watched in horror as this story went viral about me worldwide! I was really named in a $10,000,000 lawsuit, but it was between two men and had little to do with me. I spent the next two years in The Twilight Zone as I spent $15,000 fighting a lawsuit against a man I had never met while the mainstream media completely rewrote my identity. I wrote daily in a blog called, “Confessions of a Bad, Ugly Singer” which eventually became the title of my memoir. Before this event, most of my writing was short form music journalism and songwriting. The day I wrote “The End” on that final manuscript of “Confessions of a Bad, Ugly Singer” was the day I got my sanity back.

AM ScottLike many writers, I write what I read. I’ve been reading science fiction since I was a child, and my favorite subgenre is space opera, so writing it came naturally. But I started writing romance, because that’s what I read when I’m stressed. I was reading a “military” romance, but it was clear the author had never spoken to a military person, and I thought “I can do better than this!” Turns out I couldn’t, not at first. It took me a few years of writing before I felt comfortable publishing.

Finola Austin:A little bit of both. I’ve always loved nineteenth-century fiction, especially the works of the Bronte sisters and George Eliot, and my Masters degree focused on literature from the period. I didn’t want to be an academic as I couldn’t see the appeal of writing essays that only a few people in the world could understand. Instead historical fiction, for me, is a way of making the past accessible and visceral, and shining a light on the parallels between the then and the now.

Sofia FenichellThe genre of creating books for children definitely chose me! I wanted to help my own children fall in love with writing and become great writers. I could only see the value of writing going one way with the internet. But I was shocked by the poor quality of educational materials available for the  language-learning industry – poorly conceived, low-quality visuals, with many products that had very old copyright dates! The more I dug around, the more I realized that the sector was dominated by large publishing houses that underinvest in data-driven curation and high-quality content. All the investment and creativity was going into video games and entertainment. So, I was determined that Mrs Wordsmith would become the Pixar of Literacy.

Susanne Tedrick: The genre definitely chose me. Upon reflection on my own experiences in getting into tech – the successes, failures, and lessons learned – I realize that the sharing of this knowledge with the future women of color tech leaders was the book I was destined to write.

 

 

3. Who is your favorite author and why?

Collette McLaffertyMy favorite author will always be Louisa May Alcott. “Little Women” was the first book I picked out for myself. I found it at a garage sale. I was ten years old. I read the entire series including “Little Men” and “Jo’s Boys”. It was the first time in my life I connected to characters on the page and developed a long term relationship with them. I was an avid reader as a child. Sadly, during my teenage years I fell into a vortex of self esteem and body issues. Like many girls, I distanced myself from my interests and passions during this time. I stopped reading for a while. Louisa May Alcott represents a time in my life when I could show up to the page with curiosity and no sense of limitations. 

AM ScottOoh, that’s a hard question. I have a lot of favorites! But right now, my very favorite science fiction author is Julia Huni. Full disclosure here—she’s my developmental editor, and my sister, but her stories are full of fun and adventure.

Finola Austin: Two women novelists I very much admire are Mary Elizabeth Braddon, who wrote scandalous British novels classified as ‘sensation fiction’ in the nineteenth century, and Elizabeth Smart, the Canadian writer who wrote the beautiful By Grand Central Station I Sat Down and Wept in 1945. Both women were incredibly talented. Both were also parents—Braddon had six children of her own and raised five stepchildren, while Smart was a single mother of four. I admire their writing, their grit and work ethic, and the fact that, for both, writing was an artform and a way to act as breadwinners for their families.

Sofia FenichellI like to read inspirational stories about people who defied the odds and retained their sense of humor, humility and integrity. My favorite author is Maya Angelou. I think we are at a point in humanity now where we all need to read more Maya Angelou. We need to hear from authors who make us think about our vulnerability and our unmitigated potential for growth. My favorite line from Dr. Angelou is “life loves the liver of it”; from Letter to My Daughter.

Susanne TedrickWriter and feminist activist Audre Lorde. I’ve found her poems and essays are always so powerful, thought-provoking and incredibly relevant today. It was through her writing that I came to understand intersectional feminism; while we may all identify as women,our race, class, sexuality and many other factors will ultimately shape what we experience in the world. No two women will experience life in the exact same way on gender alone.

 

4. As a female, do you think your gender/or how you choose to identify helps give you a different perspective in the world? And how has being an author helped you share that perspective?

Collette McLaffertyAs a female in the world, I constantly experience a lot that doesn’t fly with me. I see many whistles that need blowing and conversations that need to be had regarding the climate for women. When the mainstream media presented me to the public as a “bad, ugly singer” I realized my insecurities were not my own. They were taught to me and painstakingly marketed to me. As an author tackling this topic, I’ve had the opportunity to pull down the curtain and expose the multi million dollar business of shaming women for profit.  When I wrote the first draft of “Confessions” in 2014, it was before the “me too” and “time’s up” movement. I felt like a lone wolf of sorts. Now I’m part of a big, beautiful machine, that is disrupting the old narrative. There is a real opportunity to break the cycle, and it starts with the written word.

AM ScottI do have a different perspective than men—and many women too! This is my second career—I spent twenty years in the US Air Force as a space operations officer. It was a great career, but as a woman in a male-dominated profession, I had to fight against sexual discrimination. But think my background allows me to appeal to both sexes, because I understand the major issues of both, so my both my female and male characters ring true.

Finola AustinI’m going to speak in generalized terms here but, traditionally, girls have been raised to be highly attuned to the thoughts and feelings of those around them. We praise girls a lot for being ‘helpful’ and ‘kind’, rather than ‘brave’ or ‘daring.’ This kind of conditioning helps and hurts women as novelists. Having a honed sense of empathy is great for developing the interior monologue readers love to get access to when reading, and for unpacking interpersonal character dynamics. But women’s tendency to put themselves last, downplay their achievements, and shy away from risk can really hurt them when it comes to getting the damn novel written or promoting themselves once their books are ready to see the light of day. Again, this won’t hold true for everyone, but societal expectations can be hard to  overcome. Something that’s been amazing about sharing my writing with others is hearing that I’m not alone. Writing about some of the worst parts of being a woman has led to other women confiding in me, for instance about their unhappiness in their relationships, unpleasant sexual experiences, or ambivalent feelings towards motherhood.

Sofia FenichellYes definitely, I think being female and a Mom helped give me a particular perspective in the world. As the publisher of books for kids, I’m able to translate what I see going on in the world, into the eyes of my children. For example, we’ve just published a book called FLUSH! And 37 Essential House Rules which provides kids with the rules they need to become independent thinkers, visionaries, even renegades. Research also shows that kids who are able to accurately label their feelings, have more positive social interactions and perform better in school using their full range of vocabulary. Children who can think for themselves and respect their homes and the people around them go on to do unexpected and incredible things. We believe the home is a safe place where kids can test the boundaries and learn how to operate.Being an author helped me to conceive of this book as a way to equip kids with the language they need to take responsibility for themselves, laying the foundation for school and well beyond.”

Susanne TedrickBeing a woman, and specifically a Black woman, does give me a different perspective in the world. As part of a historically marginalized group, I see and feel the challenges Black women face in the world every day. Yet, Black women have learned to be incredibly resourceful and resilient in the face of any obstacle. It’s because of this that we’ve not only been able to survive but thrive in many domains. Being an author has allowed me to share this message of hope and perseverance with others. It can be hard,but it’s not impossible.

 

5. What is the best way, in your opinion, to celebrate Women’s History Month?

Collette McLafferty:The best way to celebrate Women’s History Month is to take a deep dive into your passions. Go out and find the women who not only made history but are the history makers of tomorrow. For me personally, I like to take a deep dive into the catalogues of female songwriters and performers  that are criminally underrated. Tracy Bonham is one of the best pop writers in my book and should have stayed on the charts. She hit #1 on the male dominated modern rock charts in the 90’s, a feat that was not repeated until Lorde cracked the code 17 years later with “Royals”. I’ll listen to the music of composer Maria Anna Mozart, who is often referred to as “Mozart’s Sister”.  I like to support groups like the Willie Mae Rock Camp for Girls. They formed at a time when females were actively discouraged from participating in the rock world. Since music is my passion, that is how I will celebrate. 

AM ScottI love highlighting the accomplishments of women in science, technology,education and math. Stories like “Hidden Figures” are a wonderful way to bring those women to the attention of young women and hopefully inspire them to STEM careers

Finola AustinMy answer to this one may seem pretty obvious, but, no matter your gender, read books written by women (or pre-order books by women that will be out soon!). Don’t just read novels by women from your country, or of your ethnicity, or who share experiences similar to your own. Seek out the stories you haven’t heard before and, when you find ones you love, share them with others.

Sofia Fenichell: The best way to celebrate Women’s History Month is to acknowledge the hard work that it takes to pursue a dream and to encourage our children to find their own dreams. Seize the opportunity to teach your children about what you do each day whether you’re a female author or a CEO . Find gentle ways to bring them on the journey with you. They not only will help unlock solutions, but they will thrive as a result. Children learn most by the example we lead. Recently I sat down with my daughter to read our new book in the Mrs. Wordsmith child development series called Flush! and 37 Other House Rules and when she laughed out loud, I knew we had created the right book.

Susanne TedrickI think the best way to celebrate is to honor and spotlight the women in your life or in your circle who are out there doing amazing things. Sharing their stories and more about how they’ve influenced and inspired you is a great way for others to learn about more amazing women who are making things happen.

 

Image via The United Nations

 

 

Featured Image via Bookstr

 

 

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Self-Isolating? Camp NaNoWriMo is Here For You

Self-isolating isn’t just incredibly boring; it’s also lonely. The co-workers, peers, and friends you used to see on the regular are now tucked away in their own homes, with all social interactions suspended until further notice. If you’re a writer, your newfound free time might prove to be the best time to finish that novel you’ve been working on-and-off for years. But just because you’re in self-isolation doesn’t mean you have to write alone—Camp NaNoWriMo begins in just 13 days. 

If you haven’t heard of NaNoWriMo, it stands for National Novel Writing Month. Every November, writers from across the globe attempt to finish a 50,000-word novel—in just thirty days. While you’re encouraged to write at least 1,600 words a day, how you decide to go about writing is entirely up to you. It might take a lot of discipline to get to that 50,000-word finish line, but the experience is fun all the same. 

via nanowrimo

Camp NaNoWriMo is a little different in that, instead of sticking to a 50,000-word goal, you can go about your writing however you want. This means that you can choose a goal of 25,000 words, 250 hours, or 25 pages. Or, if you’re in the midst of the fourth draft of your work-in-progress, you can commit to revising two chapters a day. Essentially, your goal can be whatever you want. All that matters is that you have one.

 

The best part about Camp NaNoWriMo is probably the community. If you’ve participated in Camp before, you probably remember being sorted into a “cabin” of other writers based on things like age or the genre you were writing in. However, since Camp merged onto the same site as November NaNoWriMo, things have changed a little bit: you now have the freedom to choose your own “writing group.” Unlike Camp “cabins,” these groups won’t expire at the end of the month, allowing you to keep in touch with your new friends well after the end of Camp NaNoWriMo. You can also join as many writing groups as you want—or even make your own!

The NaNoWriMo team also hosts word sprints on their Twitter account and YouTube. This allows you to participate in writing prompts and challenges with other NaNoWriMo writers in real-time. 

via the bestseller experience

At a time when we’re facing separation from our regular communities, Camp NaNoWriMo provides the perfect platform to connect with others—all while getting in some much-needed writing time. Just because you’re in self-isolation doesn’t mean you have to suffer emotional isolation, too; there are people out there just waiting to connect with you online and read your killer writing project.

 

Camp NaNoWriMo starts April 1, but you can declare your project and join writing groups throughout the month of March. All you have to do is sign up here. If you’ve been pushing off your work-in-progress these past few months, you no longer have an excuse not to write. In the words of NaNoWriMo, the world needs your novel! So get writing, and stay safe!

featured image via susan Dennard

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‘Pandemic,’ A Viral Poem About Coronavirus

Given our confinement during this pandemic, we are left to either let our minds rot or put it to use and be creative. Lynn Ungar, a poet from Castro Valley, California, found a way to express herself amidst all of this. ‘Pandemic’ is a short poem about Coronavirus. As Ungar puts it, it is “a viral poem about a virus, that’s funny in a twisted kind of way.” Her reasoning behind this poem was taken from the idea of social distancing. She reflects on the question: how do we socially distance ourselves to prevent the spread of this virus, without emotionally distancing ourselves in the process?

 

 

Pandemic

What if you thought of it
as the Jews consider the Sabbath—
the most sacred of times?
Cease from travel.
Cease from buying and selling.
Give up, just for now,
on trying to make the world
different than it is.
Sing. Pray. Touch only those
to whom you commit your life.
Center down.

And when your body has become still,
reach out with your heart.
Know that we are connected
in ways that are terrifying and beautiful.
(You could hardly deny it now.)
Know that our lives
are in one another’s hands.
(Surely, that has come clear.)
Do not reach out your hands.
Reach out your heart.
Reach out your words.
Reach out all the tendrils
of compassion that move, invisibly,
where we cannot touch.

Promise this world your love–
for better or for worse,
in sickness and in health,
so long as we all shall live.

–Lynn Ungar 3/11/20

Upon my first read, I could tell Ungar was going for a satirical approach. I chuckled when I read the lines, “know that our lives are in one another’s hands.” Which is pretty darn cynical since we are spreading this virus through day-to-day interactions and transactions. She then offers a more than obvious solution in her next two lines, “do not reach out your hands, reach out with your heart.” That gave me a good laugh, while also tackling the concept of social distancing.

Lynn Ungar is an extraordinary poet who teaches us to find creativity and laughter during eventful times. I highly recommend reading more of her poems and writing pieces.

Featured Image Via UU World

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Literally Little Charlotte Brontë Books

Picture this. You’re a child, sitting in your room. You’re with your two sisters and your brother just got a toy soldier set from your father. You and your sisters create an imaginary land for these soldiers, and you decide to create little miniature books for the toy soldiers to read. You’re an aspiring author. Does this sound familiar at all?

 

image via stephanie mitchell / harvard university

 

If it doesn’t, that’s ok. That image I just painted came from a real moment in life, roughly 190 years ago to be exact, from the Brontë children. Charlotte Brontë, and her two sisters, Emily and Anne Brontë, created a miniature land called the Glass Town Federation for their brother’s, Branwell Brontë, toy soldiers to reign. This prompted Charlotte to create a series of six books in 1830 called “The Young Men’s Magazine,” which were to be read by the toy soldiers.

 

At the time, Charlotte was only 13, and Branwell was 12. The miniature books, six written by Charlotte and three written by Branwell, measure less than 1 inch by 2 inches and were created by hand with scraps of paper. Emily and Anne also wrote miniature books for the toy soldiers, but they were lost with time, unfortunately.

 

 

The Brontë kids created worlds in these tiny books called Angria and Glass Town. In an article by BBC, a fifth little book by Charlotte was auctioned in Paris for $777,000 back on November 18, 2019. It was finally acquired by the Brontë Parsonage Museum after being outbid for the book by the Museum of Letters and Manuscripts in 2011. Actress Dame Judi Dench helped fund the museum so they could buy the fifth Brontë book. As the president of the Brontë society, she said she always had an interest in the little books the Brontës created when they were children.

 

image via caroline bonarde ucci

 

As the BBC article states, part of the book “describes a murderer driven to madness after being haunted by his victims, and how “an immense fire” burning in his head causes his bed curtains to set alight.” Sounds a bit like The Telltale Heart! There is certainly a gothic influence in the young Charlotte’s writing. Even more interesting is what an expert at the Brontë Parsonage Museum had to say in the BBC article: “the story is “a clear precursor” of a famous scene between Bertha and Edward Rochester in Jane Eyre.

 

 

The stories in the Brontës’ little books are considered “juvenilia,” which is a term for works produced by an author or artist while they are still young. These works basically offer an insight into the development and inspirations of a very young author’s or artist’s work. In this case, we see the beginnings of Charlotte Brontë’s writing, before her first novel, Jane Eyre.

 

If you’re interested in taking looking at the Brontës’ little books, you can access them through an article posted by The Harvard Gazette!

 

featured image via stephanie mitchell / harvard university

 

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