Friday Fave with Connie Goldsmith

 

I’m so excited to have Connie Goldsmith here for my Friday Fave: my fave non-fiction writer. She and I met during the pre-conference for The Nevada Mentoring Program. She befriended me instantly and has been a constant resource and friend over the years. Her recent non-fiction book is on such an important subject. One that is dear to my heart as well.

Here’s what Connie has to say about it:

Thank you, Stacie Ramey, for inviting me to be your guest blogger for Friday Fave. People may wonder what a rising novelist like Stacie and a dedicated nonfiction writer like me have in common.

We met several years ago at an SCBWI novel mentorship program in Reno. Stacie continued working on fiction while I returned to nonfiction. I lived many years in Florida, not too far from where Stacie lives. We’re both healthcare professionals—I’m an RN and Stacie a speech pathologist. But for the purpose of this blog, we also have in common the fact that Stacie wrote “The Sister Pact,” a powerful novel about a sister who commits suicide, and my book, “Understanding Suicide: a national epidemic,” is nonfiction and filled with true stories.

When my editor asked if I’d be interested in writing a book about suicide, I was still reeling from my sister’s suicide attempt. Living with severe depression and pain, she’d taken dozens of Valium and OxyContin tablets. Each night I looked at the moon and asked myself, how could a reasonably healthy woman, one with a loving family, be so depressed that life no longer seemed worth living?

 

I jumped at the chance to write this book, to find out more about the depression and other issues that cause people to want to end their lives. Over 41,000 Americans take their lives each year and many more attempt suicide. About 10% of teen girls and 5% of teen boys have attempted suicide. Yet many of the risk factors for suicide can be prevented or modified. My book covers these in depth, and includes interviews with family members of people who died of suicide, those who tried to end their lives, and those who contemplated it.

connie pic

I did something new (I believe) in YA nonfiction; I included quotes from prominent YA novelists. School & Library Journal said, “Of particular interest to teens are the quotes and advice from influential YA authors. Chris Crutcher offers guidance in his capacity as a mental health specialist, Libba Bray speaks of living with depression, and e.E. Charlton-Trujillo warns of the potentially devastating consequences of bullying. Edifying and thorough . . .”

connie pic2

Stacie’s fictional sister did not survive. My real sister did survive. Stacie and I want to encourage teachers, librarians, and readers everywhere to consider acquiring these books as a “text set,” a fiction/nonfiction pairing that together can make an important teaching unit for young people. (The applicable CCS standard is “ELA-LITERACY.RI.6.9: Compare and contrast texts in different forms or genres in terms of their approaches to similar themes and topics.”)

If you’ve been touched by suicide, and you probably have because each suicide affects at least six other people—these books will speak to you. Listen to what they say. And Stacie and I would like to hear what you say as well.

connie pic 3

Connie Goldsmith writes nonfiction for middle school and upper grade readers. “Understanding Suicide” is her 17th book with two more due out in 2017. Most of her books are about health, science, and history. She’s an active member of SCBWI and a member of the Authors Guild. Visit her at www.conniegoldsmith.com andwww.bombsoverbikini.com.

Suicide cover - final 1.28.16 (1)

Top 3 Thursday: Melody’s Top 3 Morsels of Writing Advice

Here are my Top 3 Pieces of writing advice, those little morsels that somehow turned a light bulb on over my head when I was in the beginning phases of writing A Work of Art. They helped me so much—and continue to help me as I write my next novel—that I thought I’d share them here so they can hopefully help some other aspiring writer.

 

  1. Your main character has to want something at the beginning of the book. Christmas story

It’s not enough for the character to want to be loved or accepted. (Who knew?) He/she needs to want something tangible. (That’s how Tera, the main character A Work of Art, became an artist whose main goal was to attend art school in France.)

  1. Just because it’s called the ordinary world, those beginning scenes of your book shouldn’t be ordinary. Yes, they should show your main character’s ordinary life, but they should also should show a need for change. (That’s why the first chapter of A Work of Art shows the strained relationship between Tera and her parents.)
  1. Your main character should have a flaw—something that by the end of the book will come to a head or turn into an asset or somehow be dealt with or overcome. (At the beginning of A Work of Art, Tera is shy and reserved, afraid to speak out for fear of not being accepted or liked. Can you guess how she’s changed by the end of the book?) I am a work in progress

So there you have it. These are the words of wisdom bestowed upon me at the beginning of my writing career, the sage advice that’s stayed with me ever since. What’s the best writing advice ever given to you?

Wrap it up Wednesday

For those of you who’ve been following my saga – not my writing, silly, – my kidney stone. I have a cat scan scheduled at 8am today – unless I can pass the thing before that.

It’s 4mm. That’s a little bigger than a dot you can make with a Sharpie. (I learned that courtesy of JaymeJustJayme75 who posted video of her husband’s 4mm stone on Youtube.) It’s a little, teeny, tiny stone. A little bigger than a seed bead.

You’ve probably heard the phrase – It’s the little things that make a big difference.

little

So right now this little thing is effectively keeping my trapped in my house unless I’m willing to carry a strainer with me to catch the little sucker. TMI? Sorry, but since I’m drinking at least a gallon of water a day, I can’t be that far from it.

water

But isn’t that also true about writing? It is the little things, it’s just that there can be a million little things, and it’s tough to learn them all at the same time. So right now I’m taking one of Joyce Sweeney’s http://www.sweeneywritingcoach.com/ online classes – Advanced Fiction Writing – and also doing an SCBWI Florida class with Lorin Oberweger  http://free-expressions.com/ using Donald Maass’ Writing the Breakout Novel Workbook. (Which, BTW, Jonathan Maberry uses for EVERY book he writes.)

break

So that’s where I am with my writing. Thanks to Joyce I have a deep understanding of the plot clock and how the main character’s choices are what moves the plot forward. The exercises from the Donald Maass book are really making me take a look at my newest main character, Drina. I did manage to escape my home for a little while today to attend critique group – hey – I have my priorities! I felt what I shared today was directly related to the work I’m doing.

One of the exercises was to look at our character’s qualities and write a paragraph giving them the opposite characteristic. I pulled out Angela Ackerman and Becca Puglisi’s The Positive Traits Thesaurus to help me identify Drina. Then I had a revelation…my MC has negative characteristics, too! I think I’ve started every book that way – denying that my characters were flawed – but isn’t it the flaws that make them real? So I pulled out The Negative Traits Thesaurus.

emo

(I’m including the Emotion Thesaurus as well.)

So here I sit, forcing water in, trying to push out a stone, and I think…this is what makes me human. This is what makes me relatable. Can’t I at least do that for my characters?

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TheTuesdays (@TuesdayWriters6)

6 writers. Different stages on the path to publication. Follow us to read our story!

Make it Up Monday it’s all about craft

As Jonathan said in his post last week, you’re never too old to learn.

This is so true when it comes to writing. There’s always something new to learn. There’s always something you’ve heard before that somehow makes so much more sense hearing it now. Writing is like solving eighteen crossword puzzles at once. It’s a delicate balance of what you want to accomplish in your story and how to keep your authorness from intruding. (Yes I made that word up. I’m a writer. I get to.)

This weekend 3 of the Tuesday 6 gathered at a workshop to work on one of the most elusive parts of story construction: structure. Just what the heck is it and how do you maintain a tight control of the thing at the same time that you make it look like the story is telling itself?

Marjetta Geerling, the author of Fancy White Trash and a professor at Broward College and has an MFA from Spalding University hosted the workshop. Marjetta has been teaching craft based writing workshops for years and she is a favorite of The Tuesdays so when we heard she was giving a class, we were all in.

Marjetta was teaching with Joyce Sweeney who is half of Sweeney Writing Coach. Joyce is a mentor to many writing students across the nation. Joyce is a novelist herself, winner of the Delacort Press prize and many other awards over her writing career that boasts 14 young adult novels. She spends her time now teaching others.

Okay, so let’s do the math. Joyce + Marjetta= Awesome

For the first part of the workshop, Marjetta reviewed the plot clock but as she did she told us the questions we should be asking ourselves at every point of the clock in order to build a satisfying novel. Some of those questions really helped me make sense of the more nebulous feeling of the plotting part of writing, especially in the murky middle of the manuscript.

Joyce discussed scene construction and beats/threads that should be woven through the novel, including the specific components of those threads and how paying off on each of those makes readers feel like they got a complete story.

tuesdays at mjs

 

We had private consultations where Marjetta both repaired then destroyed then repaired the plot points I’d planned for my current WIP. I think the other two Tuesdays in attendance had similarly amazing experiences!

We also spent a ton of time writing.

 

tuesdays at mj me

 

I hit my 2,000 word a day goal but more than that, I left with a plan. And for me that’s everything.

 

tuesdays at mj joanne

 

Friday Favorite – Fish

The Tuesdays meet at Jonathon’s house every week. He has a large salt water fish tank that’s always happily bubbling away. The fish are a very forgiving audience.

Saltwater_Aquarium_read_write

I’ve had the opportunity to spend weekends in the Florida Keys this month and I started thinking about all my favorite fish that I’ve been able to either catch or at least see while fishing and snorkeling.

I’m always coming up with ‘what if’ type of scenarios. This tends to irritate my husband as he likes to maintain the status quo and I always want to try new things. As I stared at Jonathon’s fish tank, I wondered if I compared my favorite fish to The Tuesdays, would you be able to figure out which traits apply to each writer? The traits I’m referring to might be physical or behavioral. Check it out and send your choices in. I’ll let you know in my next post August 1st.

 

Mahi_critique_SCBWI

The first fish I caught over the July 4th weekend, was a Mahi Mahi. For those of us in Florida, this fish used to be called Dolphin, but people mistook the name for the porpoise type mammal, so now we call it Mahi.

Mahi are very colorful, they have a dazzling array of gold on their sides with bright blue and emerald green on their backs. This photo doesn’t show the blue and green very well but you can see it in the dorsal fin. Mahi like to hang out in schools and the smaller ones are known as schoolies. Schoolies have a ferocious appetite. Mahi Mahi are really fast in the water. I’m not sure about swim speed, in our group but we do have a fast talker. Guess who reminds me of a Mahi?

 

yellowfin_tuna_young_adult_novelist

 

I love to eat tuna, seared or in sushi, but I’ll take a tuna sandwich any time. I’ve never caught one, but it would be great because Yellowfin Tuna is excellent. It’s found along weed lines or hanging out with higher minded mammals like dolphins and whales. A Yellowfin Tuna is a powerful fish. If you hook one on your line it can dive straight down at astounding speeds, setting off a reaction with lots of yelling on the boat as the reel whirs and the rods bends. Who do you think has the traits of a Yellowfin?

 

Flying fish_writer

 

When we were out in the deep water trolling for Yellowtail or Mahi, we saw lots of flying fish. Flying fish have a unique set of side fins that allow them to fly through the air to avoid predators. We saw these fish sailing through the air three feet above the water for fifty or sixty feet. It always amazes me to see this this happen but soaring through the air for that distance also reminded me somewhat of one of the Tuesday’s work in progress. Who might that be?

 

Red_snapper_librarian

 

Red Snapper are a tough fighting fish that use strong head shaking maneuvers when on the hook. They love shrimp and crab which contribute to their red color. Chumming (throwing out chopped up bait) using crushed blue crab, drives Red Snapper into a frenzy. You have to be careful about false claims regarding Red Snapper these days. Some vendors are trying to pass off  farm raised Talapia in it’s place. Red Snapper fillets are firm, and they are excellent table fare. Is there a Tuesday Writer who is never fake and can become frenzied about something?

 

clown_triggerfish_middle_grade

 

The Clown Triggerfish is a vibrant member of the Triggerfish family. The bright yellow mouth is the reason for the name but it’s also believed to deter potential predators. It feeds mainly on crustaceans and mollusks on the reef. They have really strong jaws that they use to crack open the shells of mollusks and crabs. You can even hear the cracking when you swim by. Could there be any clowns in the Tuesday Writers?

 

Grunt_suspense_author

 

Grunts are small reef fish that have blue stripes running lengthwise. They look like Snapper but they are from a family called Haemulidoe and they don’t taste quite as good. Grunts have an air bladder that amplifies the sound made when the fish grinds it’s teeth together causing a loud grunt. I caught a number of them in the mangroves, all too small to eat, but it was fun. They like to hang out in large groups. We got swarmed on the reef by a school of them swimming by. It was pretty cool. Anybody grunt and groan about revision? Hmm… This one could be all of us!

 

Send in your guesses. Keep following Tuesday Writers and you’ll find out who has some of the specific traits of the fish off the Florida Keys.

Top Three Thursday

Top Three Thursday topics  are so hard to pick. What to talk about? What to hype?

I briefly considered top three most three plagiarized speeches? But then I realized that’s been done before (cue the laughter).

I’m here all week.

frog im here all week

Also perhaps a less political subject?Oh yeah, books. Everyone loves books. Right?

 

So instead I decided to go with Top Three Characters in a book I loved.

youth-570881__180

Yay books!!!

Books are my thing. They always have been. I was a reader well before I was a writer. True story.

 

 

So let’s start with where it all started for me. If you know me at all you know my first favorite book was Where the Wild Things Are. You never forget your first love. And Max and his Wild Things were it for me. From the moment I set eyes on these wonderful characters I fell for them. I was three years old, had taught myself to read and was in awe of the beauty of the drawings. Max was real to me. He couldn’t help causing mischief (maybe like my big brother, Mark….who always came up with the BEST ideas for mischief making). And even when he was punished, he didn’t care. He grew a forest in his room. Then an ocean. Then  a boat. Then a place with Wild Things. Max held the world’s best Rumpus of all time. It lasted for like three page spreads. Wow. That kid could rumpus! Then he tamed the Wild Things. I don’t think I need to say any more. Max from Where the Wild Things are is, in my humble opinion, one of the best literary characters ever.

 

wild things rumpus

 

 

A more recent favorite read of mine Daughter of Smoke and Bone by Laini Taylor. Karou from DAUGHTER OF SMOKE AND BONE is one of the best characters I’ve ever read. She pops off the page as “impossible to scare,” but she’s also got those crazy/beautiful tattoos and is an incredible artist. I haven’t even mentioned those wish beads she can use to torment a stalker/ex-boyfriend or that she uses to make her hair grow wonderfully and surprisingly blue.  Karou is tasked with collecting teeth from all over the world and even across worlds. She has been raised by monsters (really), but still has a best friend that she holds as dear as any of the other worldly things she’s seen or felt. Before the novel is over she falls in love with an angel, an arch enemy of the monsters. Karou is fierce, beautiful, loyal and determined. Those characters make her one of my favorite all time literary characters.

 

daughter of smoke and bone

 

My final choice for favorite character from a book I loved is Dulcie the punk rock angel who helps Cam in Going Bovine by Libba Bray. Dulcie paints her wings checkerboard patterns, bedazzles them, and even writes a motivational quote on them for Cam: Cameron Rock. Okay, so she ran out of room for the s in that little message but she’s only human-ish. That’s the point about Dulcie. She’s as flawed as Cam is. She’s obsessed by microwave popcorn and sugar. She wears combat boots and torn fishnet stockings. Dulcie is cooler than I’ll ever be. She’s cooler than anyone will ever be. She is infuriatingly non-committal to some of Cam’s questions. She encourages him to fight for his life and to care deeply for others. Dulcie makes him more human and she loves him and lets him love her. Isn’t that what we all want?

 

libba braygoing bovine

 

 

So those are my all time favorite characters in a book. Care to weigh in on yours?

 

 

 

 

 

 

Getting Back to Real Life Is Hard (Wrap-It-Up Wednesday)

I’ve been loafing around on a cruise ship for the past week.

Me enjoying my morning coffee (notice the extended pinky) on the cruise ship to Bermuda.

Me enjoying my morning coffee (notice the extended pinky) on the cruise ship to Bermuda.

So it’s no surprise that I didn’t get any writing done. For Tuesday’s critique group, I was all set to read the latest chapter from my work in progress (part of my 1,000 words a day), but I made the mistake of reviewing those pages a half hour before I was supposed to leave for group, and I can honestly say that they sucked. So… not wanting to embarrass myself by reading sucky material, and not wanting to come to group empty-handed, I quickly sifted through the archives of my computer and printed out the first chapters of a memoir I started (and abandoned) almost a decade ago.

I started writing the memoir as a way to celebrate how I’d overcome some pretty tough obstacles. But then I abandoned it because I didn’t think a publisher would ever buy a memoir from a non-famous person. Anyway, I read the first few chapters to my critique group and as I was reading it, I found myself getting choked up. I wrote this? Was it as moving for other people as it was for me? And if it was, how can I get that mojo back?  Some of the memories were sweet, but most of them were painful. I started crying in the middle of my reading and had to stop. Joanne finished reading it for me. cryingwoman

After she was done (and after I’d blown my nose), I explained that I wasn’t sure if this was something I should pursue. Of course, I found it interesting (it’s about me, after all), but was I fooling myself? And if it is interesting enough to pursue, should I fictionalize it to make it more marketable?

Stacie told me she thought this is what I should be writing. Joyce said don’t worry about the marketing side. Just write it—because she was getting choked up too, and it’s obvious that I have a story to tell. Which is true. Part of that story already came out in my published novel, A Work of Art, and other parts of it are coming through in my current novel, the one I’ve been laboring over for far too long. Joanne suggested that if the memoir was too painful to write, then maybe I could go back to it from time to time when I was ready to revisit those memories or when I wanted a break from my work in progress.

Good advice. All of it. But I’m still not sure I can go back to writing it. I’m filled with fear. What if I can’t recapture those memories in the same way? What if I try picking up where I left off and it sucks? Or what if I’ve blocked it all out and I can’t remember?

I’ve been discouraged lately from writing, questioning myself, questioning my talent. The book I’m working on has been tough, to say the least. Plus it’s hard to get back to real life after a long vacation. I’m not complaining. (Well, maybe I am a little.) I realize how blessed I am. I know that the little girl in my memoir could have never dreamed she’d have the life I have now, and that makes me a very lucky person.

So I guess I’m ready to move forward—and if that means slogging away on my work in progress, so be it. But it might mean revisiting painful memories and revealing secrets about myself that I’ve long kept locked away. When I sit down to write tomorrow, I don’t know what’s going to come out on the page, but whatever it is, I hope it does someone some good.

Never Too Big to Learn.

Hello Tuesdays!

First off, I want to thank Debbie Reed Fischer for doing a fun guest post last Friday. It’s great to see other writers we know and respect, taking an interest in our site and wanting to be a part of it. You’re welcome anytime, Debbie!

this is not the abby show

Okay, enough about her! Let’s get back to us! I missed you guys last week! With the rotation set up with six of us, there are some weeks when one of us might not go, and last week it just happened to be me. Stop! I know you’re in tears thinking, But, Jonathan, we can’t go a whole week without you! We can’t, we just can’t! Never do that to us again!

Portrait of a crying nerd. Isolated on white.

(When people realized I wouldn’t write last week)

Now, don’t you fret, my Tuesdays. I agree it’s difficult, but we must be fair. And just because we had to wait a little extra time to be together, I’m going to make sure this post is extra special. And by that, I mean I might throw in a couple of extra pictures. But, for now, let’s get to it for Make-it-up-Monday!

(Cue the applause here)

applause

This week, I’m going to talk about workshops. The reason for this is, last week, I happened to be a part of two different workshops. One as a speaker and one as a learner. The first one was part of a program at Nova Southeastern University. They set up this wonderful summer program for Young Authors, where teens who are interested in writing, come to learn. It really is fantastic and something I would’ve loved as a kid. There must have been close to thirty teens at this particular class, wanting to learn.

See, I come from a teaching background, so believe me when I tell you that there is a HUGE difference in teens forced to go to a class in school and those who are willingly in a class because they want to learn, and these kids were the latter. They were eager and listening to every word. This particular class was about what it takes to be a writer on the road to getting published. In all, there were six of us on that panel, including three of your Tuesdays, in particular, me! Personally, this was a lot of fun, since it was the very first anything that I got to do as an established writer. I was part of a panel giving advice and talking about my experiences and the kids were actually interested in what I had to say! Mind-blown!

class

(*Not actual students*)

I couldn’t get over seeing these teens eager and wanting as much information about writing as we were willing to give. I left there, looking forward to doing more of these things in the future. (And by the way, I’m definitely available for it! J )

Now, I brought up workshops for a reason and I’m about to tell you why. You see, it was a very cool week, since I was part of a panel at this workshop on Thursday, and then on Saturday, I attended a workshop on writing given by Dorian Cirrone. Dorian has written several books, including the recently-released, The First Last Day.  Not only is Dorian a friend, but she’s also a fantastic teacher. But, I’m not saying these things only to praise Dorian, I’m saying them, because I was amazed when I looked around the room how many authors, who have been published many-times-over, were in attendance.

first last day

It struck me how these people have successful careers already and yet are still out there wanting to learn and improve their craft. I realized, that part should never stop, no matter how successful one becomes. You always want to strive to be better than what you are today. I tell my daughter that with softball, how even the greatest major leaguers must still practice to get better, and it’s the same for writers. You must constantly hone and work and want to get better.

Here in south Florida, we have a nice network of workshops, conferences and programs run by Florida SCBWI, but there are things to go to no matter where you live. So, if any of you are debating it, I definitely think it’s worthwhile to go check out.

Until next time…

Go forth and learn!