Episode 46: KJ Dell'Antonia-- Happier Parent, Happier Writer

This episode we welcome KJ Dell'Antonia, former NYT parenting writer/editor and cohost of the #AmWriting podcast! Her book, How To Be A Happier Parent, comes out in August 2018.

Here are the highlights!

-We discuss how to shifting your perspective from the mom guilt of putting your writing first, to setting an example for your kids with your writing.  

- If you're going to write about parenting, whether it be essays or journalism or stories, it's important to balance the respect for your kids' privacy while still being cognizant of the fact that parents have a need to commiserate over the common aspects of parenting that everyone deals with (KJ sites a favorite essay by Naomi Shulman, linked below). Universal truths speak volumes to your readers. 

 - When you sign up for something like NaNoWriMo, one of the challenges is to keep going after you get to the end. It's great to finish, and it's great to win, but don't put it down for too long! According to KJ, forming the habit is the hardest part. It's okay to put your writing first most of the time. While family comes first for all moms and dads, you're still allowed to be yourself, to have this part of yourself to nurture and maintain. And sometimes you have to get up early to get that time, but it's not permanent. One day the kids will sleep later than you! "

If you’re working on a long form project, make sure you open the file every day. Touch it every day, give it thought every day, and most of the time you’ll do more.
— KJ Dell'Antonia

-Having your work right in front of your, every single day, is paramount - out of sight is really out of mind. 

- Another great way to hold yourself accountable is to set goals with writer friends for a particular word count or writing goal, and send each other updates. It's not competitive as much as it is motivating! 

- If you parent with a partner, split up your responsibilities if you can. If you go to two hockey performances, the partner gets the orchestra concert, and when you get a night off you get to spend that time writing. If you're solo that day--or every day--bring your laptop! Ten words are better than nothing. In regards to watching your kids play sports, according to research, "The least-favorite part of the sport is the ride home." They don't need to be watched and don't want to be watched 100% of the time, and you can use that time to your advantage. And it's OKAY to say no to All The Activities. Your kids can pick and choose their passions, and it's healthy to have to prioritize and make choices. It's OKAY to tell your kids no sometimes, that you will take care of whatever when you finish what you're doing, it's okay to let them figure things out for themselves (we're talking about getting themselves a glass of milk, not asking your three year old to walk themselves to school). 

What stops most people from getting paid to write isn’t failure, it’s failure to do it.
— KJ Dell'Antonia

Further reading:

Naomi Shulman, Requiem for A Minivan: 

https://parenting.blogs.nytimes.com/2014/01/24/requiem-for-a-minivan/

Episode 45: Audrey Monke Interview Part Two

In this episode:

In the second part of our two-part interview with Audrey Monke, we discuss why she decided to write her book and the process she went through in deciding what to put in--and what to leave out.

Audrey said she always loved writing, and had a lot of practical practice via her job as camp director. Having a parenting blog gave her great feedback and gave her the confidence she needed to take on a book project. She says the combination of camp, parenting, and positive psychology was her "thing" that she had that no one else did, and the writing itself went great, but when she discovered Jennie Nash and Author Accelerator everything changed. "It was the single best thing decision that I made in this whole process!"

In revising her manuscript with Jennie, Audrey says that she threw a lot of words out, and she had to become ok with that.  "It's part of the process," Audrey says. She was able to focus on a few things that are most important to her as a parent and camp director and discern what are the most important topics that parents want to hear about as well. She was able to take the research-based concepts like optimism, grit, resilience, and kindness, and narrow her topics down, write a summary, write concepts for each chapter before she tackled the actual writing. 

On the topic of grit we talk about how growth can only happen outside of your comfort zone. To grow and improve (for example, using constructive criticism to improve our writing and taking that scary step of sharing your writing with others), you have to venture outside of your circle of comfort, but there's a sweet spot. Beyond your comfort zone there's the blackout zone--where no growth happens---so we need to be cognizant of that, especially when we're encouraging our kids to take risks. Goal setting can be a useful tool in both taking risks at camp and within your own writing, as well, and overcoming discomfort is an important part of the process. "Challenge by choice" is an important concept Audrey uses at camp to help kids reach their self-determined goals.

Thanks to Audrey Monke for coming on the MomWrites podcast! Audrey's blog is http://sunshine-parenting.com, and you can find her on twitter under the handle @GACSunshine. 

Episode 44: Audrey Monke on Parenting & Writing, Part 1

 

An interview with veteran summer camp director and parenting author Audrey Monke. Join us as Audrey talks to Abby and Mel about the challenges of writing nonfiction, as well as her upcoming book about how to bring camp home. 

In this episode:

On this Episode of MomWrites, we're talking with Audrey Monke, about her awesome life as camp director/mom/parenting expert, and the knowledge she's gained in 30 years of experience as a camp director.

We discuss the tough lessons of childhood and parenting - and both in the age of social media. At what age is it appropriate to start asking your kids' permission to post their images on social media, and how do we start teaching responsibility with social media? According to Audrey, early. Earlier than you might think! Kids pick up a surprising amount of information from their peers and from media itself and are often aware of things like Facebook and Instagram long before they're actually exposed to them.Audrey talks about what it's like raising kids AND training counselors AND caring for campers at in her 30 years of camp directing experience. Audrey has a masters degree in psychology and has done extensive research on positive psychology and parenting, eventually turning this knowledge into a blog, www.sunshine-parenting.com, and her upcoming book. 

We talk about how making one small change in your family routine can make a huge difference in your day, your kids' day, and your family overall. Even if there's a little bit of resistance, kids actually want to connect with you and you'll be surprised at how much they come to rely and expect little traditions you can introduce into your family. Naming three great things that happened to each of you that day, taking turns making meals for the family, or other small traditions full of connection and caring can go a long way towards maintaining relationships. 

Modeling is a powerful tool--one of the best gifts you can give your children is the ability to calm yourself when anxious or upset. Your kids are watching everything, and healthy coping mechanisms are one of the most useful things you can model for your children. 

 

Check back in next week for the conclusion to our episode with Audrey Monke!

Episode 43: WWYRD? a.k.a. What Would Your Reader Do?

In this episode:

We start off the episode talking about Mel, and it’s a shame she’s not there to hear me gush about her work. But I had read her original manuscript, and then this week she had given me her new manuscript to read and HOLY CRAP! It was awesome!

So, Jennie talks a little about GOOD vs. GREAT. And that bad work isn’t exactly bad, it’s just not on the page. It’s still in your head. But what writers have to do is make it accessible to the reader.

Jennie goes on to talk about my middle school voice and the empathy you have to have for your readers—particularly when you write for kids. Jennie says, “God bless all the middle school teachers!” We talk about the love scenes I write between my main characters Bernadette and Logan (or Lucas, as Jennie had stuck in her brain that afternoon). I can remember very clearly going through all the emotions of a middle school romance. I think most people (rightly so) have blocked their middle school experience. Let’s face it, it’s awkward and slightly traumatic, and that’s on the best of days. But I think the point that Jennie is making is that I write well for middle school readers because I can identify and relate to them. (What does that say about me?!) And that’s what all writers need to tap into—the brain of their readers. What do they feel? What would they say? And how does reading your book help them?

We also talk about connecting with your potential readers. At the time we recorded this I was in Dan Blank’s mastermind group where we were talking about this same thing. Being a former 9th grade teacher, I just naturally gravitate towards people like teachers, librarians, etc… and I talk about how I connected with a former colleague from the English department at my old school who was now teaching middle school English. Plus I had a pretty cool idea for reaching readers!

If you have a message—which all writers do—and you are writing for kids, you can’t let the adult voice creep in. So, Jennie and I work our way around the smallest adult-sounding phrase in my story: different is cool. And we finesse those three little words until we have wrung out all the “adult.”

The author of Story Genius, Lisa Cron, says, “Everyone is the protagonist of their own story.” And that idea was key to removing the adult voice in this particular writing situation. So, if I stop and think about the character who is saying “different is cool” and think about how he would speak if this were HIS STORY, then I’m able to make those words come out more authentic to his voice.

We end by talking about some of the books I’m incorporating into my writing. The Phantom Tollbooth is one of my inspirations, and Jennie said it was one of the books that was instrumental in her becoming a writer. That book is a perfect example of “words have so much meaning and you can interpret them in so many ways.”

Referenced in this episode:

Dan Blank at WeGrowMedia's mastermind class

Dan Blank also has a fantastic Friday newsletter for creatives, so make sure you sign up while you are there. He also has a great podcast, Dabblers vs. Doers. 

The Winged Pen

The "Pennies" write a lot of great MG articles. They have some really great themed series, and my particular favorite is Love Letter to a Book. They also run a great Twitter contest called Four on 400, so make sure you check out the amazing advice they dish. (And bonus, one of the contributors, Julie Artz, is an Author Accelerator book coach!) 

Episode 42: Lorrie Tom, Family of Writers

In this episode:

Abby talks with Lorraine Tom about getting kids involved in writing, the simple ingredients for generating a love of reading and writing in your home, and providing your kids with the skills and tools to become effective writers. 

Abby and Lorrie go back a little bit, and Lorrie and Jennie go way way back - clear back to 2005 when Lorrie began taking classes from Jennie, before Author Accelerator was even a thing. Lorrie's a writing teacher (middle and elementary school, and family writing courses) and gives Abby some insight into making writing a family activity. 

According to Lorrie, even the smallest kids know how to tell a story, and although their process is different than an adult's, it's still the same thing that we do when we're telling a story. Story connects people, and it's something we can share between generations. Celebrate successes by reading your child's work back to them and finding things you both love about it. Create simple opportunities where kids can join you in your writing craft - setting aside time to sit together at the table, and providing them real materials (notebooks, pens, keyboards/word processors) give them ownership of their process and their writing topics. You have to have an identity as a writer and a confidence in your process, and this starts with ownership over their work. 

The fastest way to to shut down a burgeoning writer is to criticize their grammar, spelling, and sentence structure. It is important to separate creativity and revision - knowing that revision helps the reader understand the piece but it is secondary to the writing itself. Making sure your writer knows what they did right, praising them for taking risks and remembering to teach into what they already know is even more important than knowing all the spots they missed capitalization and punctuation. 

The honest truth is, getting your butt in a chair and writing every day creates writers.
— Lorrie Tom

The environment and opportunity for writing are variable, but essential. We often make it too complicated. It's not easy - showing up day after day is both the hardest and the simplest part. 

Lorrie explains name stories: Using the example of a Sondra Ciscneros vignette, she had her students write the stories behind their names. A project like that can be a good way to introduce an interesting project for kids. 

One of the things that I’ve noticed is that having a home where there is tons of reading/access to books, makes readers. It’s not intense instruction, it’s exposure and passion.
— Lorrie Tom

 

Further Reading: 

Writing without Teachers
By Peter Elbow
The House on Mango Street
By Sandra Cisneros

Episode 41: Voice and Message

How to Avoid Being Preachy When You're a Mom and That's Your Gig

In This Episode: 

In a conversation with Author Accelerator book coach Kemlo Aki, Abby solved a problem she'd been having with a book. It was a little problem, but a problem nonethelesss - should kids have cell phones in her middle grades book? Kemlo pointed out an elegant solution and suggested Abby do some further research with actual middle graders. 

Abby and Jennie discuss the importance of timing - how to percolate a potential relationship over a period of time in a realistic way. Abby even went and did MORE research about middle-school baseball seasons to make sure she had a realistic timeline for the game Logan invites Bernadette to! A middle-school reader, especially a baseball player, would be aware of these things so it's important to dial in these details so you don't inadvertently bring the reader out of the story. 

Adult-like thoughts vs middle grade thoughts: If you're writing for kids, t's important to catch those little moments where you might be writing more as an adult than a kid - this is important not only for verbiage but phrasing as well, especially in how a younger person would think about and react to things (not having the perspective of age and experience of an adult). 

How to avoid sounding preachy or over-messag-y when you're trying to impart a point: THE QUESTION OF ALL QUESTIONS, according to Jennie. When you do have something to say and you do have a point (which is often the case when writing kids books, and you have to be careful at every turn because the reader will catch these things, especially older ones). Don't make your point to clearly or too cleanly - your characters won't have it all worked out in their heads, either, because they're learning this themselves too. We want to see these characters come to this realization over the course of the book because it means more if they have to work for it than if they already know it at the outset. 

Episode 40: The Big 4-0

The Big 4-0, subtitled Can you make him die faster? 

Good news! In this episode, Jennie tells Abby and Mel that they're in totally different (awesome!) places than they were before as writers. Abby and Mel agree that the problems that they're fixing in their writing aren't as daunting as they were before they started the coaching process ten deadlines ago. 

In this episode:

  • "While I wanted to be a writer before, and I thought I kinda knew how to do it, I really needed someone to show me how. It took some guidance to get me on the right path. If you'd asked me last summer, 'Are you a writer?' I would say no. But now I feel like I can say yes!" - Abby 
  • How do you write when there's no such thing as a normal week? Abby's been dealing with 3-day-long power outages, Mel's been dealing with illness rampaging through her house, and we know every other writer parent out there gets handed all sorts of things day-to-day that get in the way of working on our stories. So, what to do? Work through it, write through it. The podcast is called MomWrites for a reason - not WritesMom. We Mom first, we write in the margins when we have to!
  • Jennie and Mel review her third chapter, something partially retrieved from her old manuscript with new writing weaved in. Now that the big problems with the story are solved, we're circling back and adding in more nuance. We say this a lot around here, but writing is iterative - it's never just one pass through. We go back again and again, improving the story, the plot, the characters and their connection to each other and the events they're experiencing. 
  • Meryl Streep once said about acting the part a queen: "Oh it's easy - it's how other people react to you." The same thing is true for writing, especially world-building. Character reactions to events in the story show how the people in this world feel about their situation, and an easy and slick way to do this is through interaction between characters, their thoughts, feelings and dialogue. 
  • Logic issues: where are we in time and space? This is especially important in action scenes. Anything that makes your reader think too hard about what your character is doing, where they're standing, etc., takes the reader out of the story. We don't want this! Time and space needs to be seamless--sometimes it seems silly, don't make your reader figure it out!

Episode 39: Flashbacks

In this episode:

The short of it:

Flashbacks! And how Abby epically screws them up. 

The long of it:

Raising the stakes is not necessarily about high drama - it’s about raising the emotional resonance of what events mean to your character.
— Jennie Nash

Abby and Jennie talk about her most recent revisions and being in the lens of your character, seeing things from their eyes. This is a great episode if you want to get into the nitty gritty of character motivation and background. What writers often miss is the including appropriate reactions in how their particular characters would react to events given their own personalities, histories, and quirks. 

When you bring up the cause and effect trajectory it can mean big things, dominoes falling, scene-to-scene trajectory in the story, but it's also true on a sentence by sentence, paragraph by paragraph level. Abby was able to insert a major idea, the idea of leaving childhood behind, into a scene where her character is looking through a drawer of old toys, but she included a lot of other memories for her character that weren't necessarily pertinent to the point of the scene. Jennie says that when you're setting up an idea like this you're introducing a whole theme that you can then explore, but it's important to maintain your focus on the point of what you've introduced. Don't get lost in the trees - keep the forest in sight. 

Jennie and Abby continue to discuss flashbacks, their potential problems, and how to spot and solve them. In real life, memories reference things that have happened to us in order to help us move through problems and make meaning of what's happening to us in the present. Flashbacks can be an important tool for imparting information to the reader in a creative way. It's great to have multiple triggers for flashbacks, but they need to be brief and have a specific point to avoid it turning into an info dump, and too many memories at once can lose the point of the scene.The whole point of a flashback is for the character to have an opportunity to make sense of what's happening to them. 

Lastly, we discuss what these events in the scenes mean to Abby's character, Bernadette, and how they drive the scene and keep story-level problem front and center. Everything needs to serve the story - to highlight what the main problem is and keep weaving that thread throughout the plot. If you need to go back in your story and add additional details to shore up that thread or the themes you're trying to impart - do it! Worldbuilding in the beginning is an essential key in helping the reader make sense of later points in your story.

 

Episode 38: All. The. Things.

In this episode:

Doing All The Things

One of the most challenging aspects of writing is pulling it all together - what you know about your story, what you know you should do with your story, and all the plot lines and characterizations going on in your head. In this episode Mel and Jennie discuss raising the stakes, avoiding info dumps, and where the line is between not enough and too much information. 

People either think one thing or the other:

‘I suck and everything I write sucks’ OR ‘I am amazing and everything I write is brilliant.’ Either end is not a good place to be because it’s not real. You’re never always good or always bad, and developing your muscle of discernment is an important skill.
— Jennie Nash

Jennie points out that Mel needs to work on remembering your character's history and motivations when continuing the story - be more in your character's heads. When your character is an expert on something, or is well-versed in a certain profession, they need to swim in that water all the time and see things through their own personal lens, and you've got to commit to consistency in their reactions to events. Characters are rarely neutral about things that affect them or the things or people they care about. 

When we talk about raising stakes in a story, people always think it’s drama - that could do it, but it really means raising the emotional stakes in the individual.
— Jennie Nash

Jennie and Mel also address info dumps: When you're learning how to engage the reader sometimes it's three steps forward two steps back - lots of repetition means that you're already getting down what you need. There's nothing wrong with doing an info dump as long as you recognize that you need to eventually revise and make it more nuanced. The kind of nuance you're looking for is subtle and placed in thought, dialogue, story details, etc. Info dumps in general box the reader out, but the reader wants to be IN the story, IN the scene, IN the character's head. Ask yourself: "How can I put this back in a moment, back in the scene, and filter the rest of the information through the narrator or character themselves?"  The goal is to recognize when you're doing it and know that you can go back and clean it up. It's much easier to go back and fix something that's too much than not enough

I’m convinced that fear is at the root of most bad writing.
— Stephen King

Stephen King says "I'm convinced that fear is at the root of most bad writing". If you're not dialing it up to 11, maybe you need to stop playing it safe and take the risks you need to go farther in your story. Fear of what, though? The fear is about looking at your true self - if you have to sit and examine the nitty gritty details of how your characters make decisions, how YOU or anyone you know might react to anything in your story - that can be a frightening thing. As writers, some of our biggest fears surround being exposed when our readers see us for who we really are through our work.

Abby, Jennie and Mel close out the conversation with a discussion about art and how it teaches us and connects us as human beings. Many writers seem to have this fundamental dissatisfaction with the way the world is, and a fundamental desire to understand it better. The art that captures our hearts is that which imparts some sort of understanding about those universal struggles and truths about the world. That--the connection with others--is what keeps us coming back to our favorite works of art again and again, whether in writing, photography, painting, or music. 

Episode 37: Romanticizing Writing

Romanticizing The Process vs Planning The Process

In this episode:

Is joy the point of writing? There are so many things one can feel when they write, and the deep level satisfaction of engaging and wrestling with the work is what most of us eventually feel - in addition to joy, of course. Any art, writing included, it an iterative process. Most artists find themselves going back again and again to their work, changing and improving and making it better before it's finally finished. 

Before I started this process and before I reinvested myself in writing my novel, I romanticized the idea of writing and the act and process of creativity. There can be joy in planning, there can be things that come up that surprise you, that are unexpected, and even the process of writing doesn’t take away from the creative part of writing—it just lets you know where you’re going. It’s not a static process, it’s a fluid process.
— Melanie Parish

Mel details her experiences before she started this process and the tendency to romanticize either the wildly creative parts of writing or the end result. There are a lot of reasons why people write, and sometimes your work doesn't turn out how you expect. We read portions of Anne Bradstreet's poem, "An Author to her Novel."

(Mel would like to give a shout-out to her 12th grade english teacher, Mrs. Berg, for introducing her to the poem and for a great AP english class!)

Abby also talks about her experiences in 12th grade English reading Virginia Woolf's "A Room of One's Own" and her battles with her 12th grade english teacher, Mrs. Wyche, over their differing tastes in literature.

(Also, Abby would like to give a shout out to Mrs. Wyche-- a.k.a. Lois--  for not only being an amazing teacher, but also an amazing friend and co-worker in later years!)

Jennie had an English professor in college, Mr. Finklepearl, who gave her some great advice. "Write your next paper in first person rather than writing it as a proper academic essay," he said. 

The permission for me to just to think and be in my own head, respond to the work in my own way- it turned everything around for me and helped me to learn how to write it in the proper academic way.
— Jennie Nash

He also gave her a great piece of advice and told her to go start her writing career instead of going to grad school. "Give it five years and see what happens," he said. Within 5 years she'd published her first book.

Jennie reads portions of the beautiful poem, "The Writer" by Richard Wilbert, talking about what writing IS.

If you want to write to have poeple read your work, engage with your work, and even eventually pay for your work, joy is only one of the emotions you might feel along the way. 

Episode 36: Getting Straight A's in Life

In this episode:

We place a lot of undue stress on ourselves as Moms and parents, and in today's episode we talk about self care and writing as a parent when things in your life aren't going to plan. Mel got sick before her pages were due and couldn't get as much done as she wanted to this week. She emailed Jennie in a panic, who told her, "This isn't high school! I'm not going to give you detention!" 

Jennie, Abby, and Mel talk about how writers can turn off the voice of perfectionism and hone in your mom/dad superpowers to discern when you need to protect your writing space and when you need to prioritize other things. Wether it be kids, your spouse, you day job or whatever - none of us live in a vacuum, and sometimes you need to postpone your deadlines to take care of other things in your life - no guilt required! 

I think a lot of writers, so many writers - must have been those kids in school were all about getting an A. The idea that we can get it right, that perfection is possible - that’s one thing, and it’s what drives a lot of writers. part of the process of becoming the best writer you can be is getting that voice out of your head, to make it shut up for a minute and listen to what your story needs to be.
— Jennie Nash
What I’ve had to tell myself is that I need to let go of this sense of urgency - the sense that I have this deadline looming. And in a way it’s sort of self-imposed. Being able to determine what is truly urgent and what is not urgent— making that distinction and knowing what to focus on can be really, really difficult.
— Abby Mathews

Jennie talks with Mel about her revisions in the chapter she was working on before she got sick, and they discuss the decision on whether or not to go back and revise before you move on to new scenes, and sometimes you need more world building and preparation in order to make further scenes work.

If you don’t lock these things in, you can’t pull them through the whole piece. If they’re sort of vague and it’s not fixed, they’re going to remain vague through the whole thing.
— Jennie Nash

We also discuss "emotional cost-benefit analysis" from Lisa Cron - we want to see what kind of emotional cost-benefit analysis the characters are making, and how they make their decisions, either to identify with them or to walk in someone else's shoes for an experience we would never have. 

Keeping that momentum in your writing, even if it's just two pages at a time, and not "letting yourself out of it" is as important as making regular page goals and deadlines. If you can, try to leave some mental real estate available to let your story be in your head. The danger of life getting in the way of writing is shutting the story out of your head so completely that you don't allow it the space it needs. Telling yourself you're going to write "sometime" when "things slow down" doesn't work - not making sustained excuses is what gets projects finished. If you chip away at it you're going to get where you need to go. 

Episode 35: Interview with Author & Medium Roland Comtois

In this episode:

Grief and Writing with Roland Comtois

Today Abby and Mel talk to Roland Comtois: medium, nurse, and author of the books And Then There Was Heaven, Sixteen Minutes and the upcoming The Purple Papers and the Stories Behind Them. Roland describes his mission with his medium work as guiding people through grief, through loss, regret and disappointment by helping them hear the messages from their loved ones who have passed on.  

One of most amazing moments for me with this book [Sixteen Minutes] is when a woman came up to me and grabbed my hand, and said, ‘because you cry, now I can cry too.
— Roland Comtois

Roland's first book is a memoir detailing his experiences as a medium, and his second surrounds grief and his mothers death. His third is a compilation of experiences, written with others, about his medium work and how it has affected those here on Earth.

People thought that because of what I do for a living, being a nurse and a medium, that this process of her [my mother’s] passing away would somehow be easier, but it was excruciating....I remember the day she stopped talking, and the day she passed, and none of those were easier because I’m someone who believes in the afterlife. I later sat in front of my computer as I was trying to figure out a way to help people, and I started writing the book...what I realized I was really doing was finding a place for my grief to have a voice. What I was really telling was the story of my pain and sorrow, and that is reflected in the stories of the thousands of people I’ve met along the way.
— Roland Comtois

Roland, like many authors, was surprised by the realization as he reached the end of his first memoir that it was as much about his experience as what he was writing for others. Writing is a journey as much for the author as it is for the readers who will experience the finished book, and memoir writers in particular put themselves center stage, totally submersing themselves in their work, and according to Roland, come out of it stronger, better, more alive and transformed than when they first sat down to write their book. Many authors we've talked to, and this is something we've realized about ourselves as well, is that our stories are as much about ourselves and what we're trying to work through and discover as they are about plot and character. 

Nursing has been Roland's longtime profession, and he cites experiences in patient care as affecting both his writing and his work as a medium. He's sat with hundreds of patients as they took their lasts breaths and cites that as one of the greatest honors and blessings of his life. 

I think that we’re put in places where we need to be, we go where we’re supposed to go....my nursing job was the best job I’ve had in my life. Now I have the honor of guiding the spiritual world back here for one brief moment so that their loved ones can live their lives.
— Roland Comtois

Roland, Abby and Melanie discuss Roland's medium work and the Purple Papers, which is the way Roland expresses the messages he receives from those who've passed on. He describes his process as similar to automatic writing, encompassing several senses (sight, hearing, etc). These "letters from heaven" or the universe connect to someone on earth, bringing them messages of hope, peace, and sometimes of closure with those loved ones who've passed on. Roland' events center on reading or talking about these Purple Papers in hopes of connecting to someone in the audience. More often than not, they do, and the recipient is allowed to read and keep the message from their loved one. 

The messages Roland receives have now become his latest book entitled The Purple Papers and the Stories Behind Them, a compilation of 50 stories and the loved ones that received these messages of hope and meaning, and how these helped them in their journey through grief. 

Roland's books:

Episode 34: It Always Goes Dark

In today’s episode:

  • Jennie and I chat about my daughter’s amazing male kindergarten teacher, “Mr. E,” while we wait for Mel to dial in.
  • We chat about the Pete the Cat empire, Mr. E’s Pete the Cat scavenger hunt, and Jennie makes a confession about Amazon.
  • Mel and I have a little mom competition over diapers. I talk about the Fort Worth Competitive Mom Circuit, and Jennie talks about the dreaded school car pool.
  • “All the people are just alone in their own little bubble” of SAMENESS.
  • I talk about going to see a medium, who I end up interviewing for the podcast (episode to come)! Jennie jokingly tries to edit my conversation as I tell the story. But I connect my visit to the medium with my writing as I tell the story about my best friend, Robyn, dying over a decade ago and how it has affected both my life and my writing. Jennie goes into full-blown therapist mode and reminds us that these deep WHYs are what we come to writing for. She also connects the book world I’ve written about in my story to the psychic realm, where characters go and can’t come back.
  • I write about the first moment my main character notices a boy in middle school. I had just attended a workshop where the instructor said not to write about bodily sensations, which only served to challenge me to go back and write about bodily sensations… Jennie translates “don’t write body sensations” to “don’t write bad crap!” She persuades me to read part of the “body sensations” scene I wrote, and we talk about why it works.
  • Massive amounts of information go through our heads really fast in the real world. Sometimes you have to figure out how to work in small connections in your writing, small important bits that your characters will process without belaboring them.

Recommended Reading (and Journaling):

This book was written by the medium I saw. 

One Line a Day: A Five-Year Memory Book
By Chronicle Books Staff

This is the journal I use and the same one Melanie references in the episode. 

Episode 33: Voices of Doubt

Let's give those voices of doubt we all carry about our writing a mental slap in the face. Jennie works to help writers turn up the volume on those voices that say, "YES I CAN!" Today she encourages Melanie to express what it felt like as she wrote this week, because her work kicked butt. 

In this episode:

  • Subtitle: How One Friend Drags Another Friend Kicking and Screaming Towards Her Dream.
  • Mel’s husband, Mike, listens to the podcast for the first time.  Our husbands give us their unsolicited thoughts on the podcast, which actually surprise us! (Melanie and I have husbands who are both medical physicists.)
  • We tease each other about subscribing to and reviewing our own podcast.
  • Mel’s mom makes a surprise guest appearance.
  • Mel talks about her feelings on writing with authority and contrasts them with how uncomfortable she felt writing her scenes previously.
  • There’s comfort in knowing that even if you write and aren’t sure about what’s on the page, your book coach can help you fix it—you can’t edit a blank page.
  • Jennie harps on her questions about how we felt while writing, because her goal as a book coach is to get in the writer’s head and teach them how to “self-coach” as they write. She wants writers to push down the voices of doubt and shout out “I can do this!”
  • Jennie coaches Mel through a large chunk of backstory that can’t organically be conveyed through dialogue. How can she do this without feeling like it’s an info dump and without stopping the flow of the story? The key is to filter the meaning/emotion of the information through the characters.
  • We talk about how to end a scene—you end a scene by resolving the thing that started.
  • Jennie talks about how Mel totally killed her scene this week. It’s good not just in how it was written, but she nailed where she placed it and the role it plays in the overall story.
  • I ask Jennie a super rookie question—how do you decide what makes a chapter? Jennie answers the question using a terrible physics example in an attempt to relate to our husbands, who we are now aware are listening.  Even though she used a science example, she said this is where nuance and art come into play. Jennie compares a scene in a book to a scene in a play and explains how to use location as one way to determine how to break things up. Ask yourself, is there enough change that we need to rest in this place?

 

Episode 32: Writerly Confidence

In this episode:

  • Fidget spinner DIY, black market fidget spinners, and other things writers can fidget with while they think
  • Jennie finds that when writers are feeling “not enoughness” they are usually actually really close to a breakthrough and just have to push through a little bit.
  • Mel talks herself up every time she sits down to write.
  • My mental block with the nastiest of all writerly words—outline
  • If the character gets everything s/he wants at the end of the book, it feels like a waste. It’s not satisfying to the reader because it goes against everything that READING is about, which is to learn how to navigate situations. “What happens if I don’t confront this fear of mine?” etc… It’s emotional survival. We turn to a book to answer the question, “How does that feel?”
  • Lisa Cron’s Emotional Cost Benefit Analysis and brain MRI’s
  • Imagination alone doesn’t make a story. You have to marry imagination to an emotion.
  • A common misconception about book coaching is that the coach is going to walk all over your story and make it their own, but today’s episode shows how Jennie led me through the process of figuring out the ending of my story by just asking one question. (And believe it or not, that question wasn’t, “WHY?!”)
  • Mel and I talk about how Jennie’s edits are actually kinda sorta totally like crack.
  • Both good feedback (you’re doing it right) and bad feedback (you need to change something) can be super motivating and helpful.
  • Jennie uses a phrase “generosity of spirit” to describe being in a character’s heart and head. I just love that, and I strive to write with more of that authority. It’s an almost voyeuristic feeling, and to get it I’ve been trying to tap into the 6th grade me.
  • You can’t get away with generic anything in a story, because then you are leaving it up the reader to put in what they think, at which point you lose them. (Talking about comments like, “I wish I could just be normal” or “I wish I could just be loved” or “be accepted” or anything generic a character might think…) Readers want specific because they want to be able to cheer for some specific thing.
  • I admit to writing some pretty bad poetry using a rhyming dictionary, and Jennie fangirls on Kelly Barnhill and disses on the Oompa Loompas.
  • And finally, we talk about keeping your eye on the end goal, which is readers and the marketplace, and how your book is going to live in the world.
The Girl Who Drank the Moon
By Kelly Barnhill