The Writing Life: Write What You Know and Then Some – Researching My Young Adult Novel “Swim Season”

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My daughter had been swimming competitively for five years when I came up with the idea to write a novel about girls’ varsity swimming. Sitting on those cold, hard bleachers season after season gave me more than a sore you-know-what. It sparked my imagination, creating a story line and cast of characters that would show in written form what high school swimming is like for these girls. As I wrote the story, they were always at the heart of it. I wrote it for them. And I wanted it to be as accurate and realistic as possible.

In many ways, writing Swim Season was natural and easy. Through many autumns, I’d watched my daughter and her team swim their hearts out, beside parents rooting for their own swimmers. In the beginning, I knew next to nothing about the sport, about swim meets. But as the years went on, I learned.

I learned simple things, like the order of events. Try finding your kid on a pool deck swarming with dozens of young swimmers in caps and goggles when you’re not sure which event it is, or whether your child is swimming in it or not. Impossible.

I chaperoned the waiting rooms where dozens of youngsters waited for their next event. Try to keep all that adrenaline in check.

I volunteered to time the races, and stood at the blocks, race after race, helping to make things run smoothly, making sure the right kid was in the right lane.

I helped out at the concession stand, serving up bagels and cream cheese.

I was involved with the fundraising activities, Picture Day, and put together the program for Senior Night for a number of years.

I went to 99 percent of the meets with my husband (we missed one when it was an hour away from our home on a week night.)

Most of my daughters’ friends were swimmers, so I got to know several of them up close and personal. They were an intelligent, ambitious, fantastic set of young women. When my book was criticized by a critique partner because the characters seemed “too smart,” I responded with, “Well, those are the girls I know.” The team had the highest GPA of all athletic teams at the high school year after year. Yes, swimmers are smart.

I took advantage of coaches I knew personally (and some I didn’t) to pick their brains, try out the story’s premise for believability, and tweak the details.

Early in the process, I sent out a tweet on Twitter, asking swimmers to complete a questionnaire for a new book about varsity swimming. Almost a dozen young swimmers – girls and boys –  responded, and we started dialogues that provided great background for my story. Some of them went on to become beta readers. All of them were thrilled at the idea of a book about them, about their sport.

As a reader, when the answers weren’t so simple I resorted to books. Michael Phelps’ biography No Limits: The Will to Succeed, with Alan Abrahamson, was more than worth its cost. Likewise, Amanda Beard’s memoir In the Water They Can’t See You Cry gave me insight into how to build an Olympic silver medalist. Instruction books, such as Terry Laughlin’s Total Immersion, with John Delves, and Tracey McFarlane’s Mirande’s Championship Swimming with Kathlene Bissell, taught me the fine-tuning of technique. The Champion’s Mind: How Great Athletes Think, Train, and Thrive, by Jim Afremow, PhD, was instrumental in creating my heroine Aerin’s mental game. For inspiration I turned to Swimmers: Courage and Triumph by Larry Thomson.

Then there was the time when I decided to swim the race at the heart of my story. For a while I was taking Aquasize classes at my local YMCA. One day I got the idea to try to swim 500 yards. I wanted to see if I could do it, how long it would take, and how I would feel during and afterwards. I have never swum competitively, although I have always loved to swim and am capable of doing the freestyle. My first 500 clocked in at 30 minutes. I stopped after every length to catch my breath and chat with the other ladies in the Aquasize class. I kept at it, though, and after a few weeks managed to complete the 500 in 16 minutes, which was phenomenal for me. Of course, the time to beat in Swim Season is 4:52.50, which, for me, was in never never land. But, as a middle-aged woman with below-average fitness I was proud of my achievement. In the end, unfortunately, it exacerbated my thoracic outlet syndrome and I had to give it up.

Writing Swim Season was an endeavor born of many resources, personal and professional. It’s recommended that we write what we know. I knew a lot about competitive swimming as a Swim Mom, but that was not enough to compose this story. I needed to reach out to many others – swimmers, coaches, parents, Olympians, and a psychologist – to nail the details. All of this, I believe, leads to a more credible, believable story with depth.

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Swim Season is available in paperback. Kindle, and audiobook on Amazon.

This post was originally published on Laurel’s Leaves.

With Recipes, Poetry, and Prose Author Miriam Green Shares her Alzheimer’s Story in “The Lost Kitchen”

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By Miriam Green

When my mom, Naomi, was first diagnosed with Alzheimer’s I felt relieved. The doctors had finally acknowledged what our family had surmised for almost a year—Mom was losing her memory. Ok, I thought, what now?

Little in our lives changed at first. Mom still rattled around in her kitchen, she was still an avid music lover, conversationalist, and sweet companion. She could maintain her household, and even stay by herself in the evenings when my dad, Jack, was busy. But the signs were everywhere.

There was the day she tried to unlock the front door to her apartment with the wrong key. It didn’t occur to her that she should try another one, or even ask for help. I was waiting patiently on the other side as she jammed that key into the door over and over, swearing in language I had never in my life heard her utter. Daddy rushed from the shower, thinking she’d hurt herself with all the screams. It took a while to calm her down.

What did change dramatically in my life was a commitment I made to visit my parents once a week. I traveled 2½ hours each way by public transportation to be with them. Mostly, I was there for Mom. Those were wonderful mornings. We would do all manner of activities together, ambling around the city, drinking coffee, and enjoying the sunshine. I used those visits to organize my parents’ kitchen and cook them food for the week.

cover 7b Top to Bottom FadeI was privy to Mom’s anxiety over her waning memory. I held her as she cried bitter tears and told me she felt confused. It was the first indication that our roles would soon be reversed, that I was losing my mom by degrees, that the only way forward was a painful decline that inevitably led to death.

It’s been more than seven years now. I’ve learned a few things along the way— to avoid questions in my conversations with Mom; how a person’s gait can define their ill health; that front-closing bras are an Alzheimer’s intimate friend; and how to judiciously use her memory loss for our gain.

I don’t think we can ever be prepared for the strange turns and curves life throws us, but I do know that it helps me to write about them. First came the poetry. Then, what was initially a project I started with my dad as a humorous initiation into the world of cooking and caring for a spouse with Alzheimer’s—we called it “The Man’s Emergency Cookbook”—eventually morphed into its current composition. Thus were born my cookbook and my weekly blog. I didn’t need to be alone in my frustrations, fears and struggles. I could connect with the community of Alzheimer’s patients, their families and caregivers who were only a short click away.

And through it all, I cooked. I took what Mom had taught me when she was still active in the kitchen and used that as a basis to experiment with easy recipes that fed my spiritual and emotional hunger. My book, The Lost Kitchen: Reflections and Recipes from an Alzheimer’s Caregiver, is a combination of recipes, poetry, and prose about my family and how we have shared the demands of Mom’s Alzheimer’s.

About the Author

Green, Miriam headshotMiriam Green writes a weekly blog, The Lost Kitchen,  featuring anecdotes about her mother’s Alzheimer’s and related recipes. Her blog also appears on the ALZ Blog from the Alzheimer’s Association.  Her poetry has been published in several journals, including Poet Lore, The Prose Poem Project, Ilanot Review, The Barefoot Review, and Poetica Magazine. Her poem, “Mercy of a Full Womb,” won the 2014 Jewish Literary Journal’s 1st anniversary competition. Her poem, “Questions My Mother Asked, Answers My Father Gave Her,” won the 2013 Reuben Rose Poetry prize. She holds an MA in Creative Writing from Bar Ilan University, and a BA from Oberlin College. Miriam is a 20-year resident of Israel, and a mother of three. You can find Miriam on Facebook and Twitter at @thelostkichen.

 

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For more extraordinary books about Alzheimer’s and dementia please visit the AlzAuthors Bookstore.
Reposted with permission of AlzAuthors, the global community of authors
and readers whose lives have been touched by Alzheimer’s and dementia.
I am a co-founder and admin.

 

The Writing Life: Author Collaborations – How to Make Friends and Find Readers

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This post was originally published on Books Go Social and is reprinted with permission.

By Marianne Sciucco

In 2013, when I published my first novel, Blue Hydrangeas, an Alzheimer’s love story, I was like most new indie authors: I had no idea how to market it or find readers. My first efforts were disappointing, and I found myself struggling to find footing in an overcrowded book market. The fact that my book was a sort of niche book on a difficult subject added to my frustrations.

In addition to being a writer I am a registered nurse with no formal training, education, or work experience in publishing, business, or marketing. I learned all I could on my own by attending conferences (online and in person), reading books and blogs, and participating in webinars and online classes.

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Two years later my studies led me to the concept of Author Collaborations: Symbiotic relationships with authors writing in my genre to cross-promote our books and share each other’s audiences. It sounded interesting, so I decided to seek out authors of books about Alzheimer’s and dementia to build a marketing platform to serve all of us. Little did I know that three years later I’d be one of six daughters of dementia at the helm of a global community of 170+ authors known as AlzAuthors.

The Story Behind AlzAuthors

The first person I contacted was Jean Lee, author of Alzheimer’s Daughter, a memoir. She’d written to me months earlier to tell me how much she loved my book and to ask if I would read hers and give my opinion. I thought her book was excellent and encouraged her publishing endeavors. When I approached her with the idea of working together she jumped at the opportunity. I asked if she knew of anyone else and she recommended Vicki Tapia, author of Somebody Stole My Iron: A Family Memoir of Dementia.

Vicki was a bit skeptical, wondering how it would benefit her to promote other authors’ books. Jean and I reasoned that caregivers need a variety of good books and other authors are not our competition. There’s strength in numbers, we said, and we could all support each other and our readers. Vicki decided to give us a chance, and the three of us embarked on a month-long campaign in June during the Alzheimer’s Association’s Alzheimer’s and Brain Awareness Month, piggybacking onto an established, national movement. We posted about it on our blogs and shared it on our social media, primarily Twitter and Facebook. We created our own hashtag, #AlzAuthors.

Our success at this encouraged us to join forces once again during National Caregiver Appreciation Month in November. We called it the “#AlzAuthors: Ending the Isolation of Alzheimer’s” campaign and again posted on our blogs each week, shared on Twitter, and hosted a Facebook event. This campaign also met with success, and we realized we were on to something. Plus, we enjoyed working together, sharing our stories and helping readers find our books.

How We’ve Grown

Our next endeavor in 2016 was much bolder. We launched our own AlzAuthors blog featuring a new author and book each weekday in June, Alzheimer’s and Brain Awareness Month. We also cross-blogged to our own personal blogs. It was a challenge to find 20 authors willing to post with us, an unknown entity, and to get the posts ready each day, but when the month ended we decided to continue, although on a once a week basis. Each new post is promoted on AlzAuthors’ own Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, and Pinterest feeds, and to our audience of authors and Friends of AlzAuthors via personalized emails. To date, we have featured more than 150 authors and are scheduled six months ahead. Authors now seek us out.

Since 2016 our management team has been joined by three more talented authors and daughters of dementia dedicated to Alzheimer’s awareness: Kathryn Harrison (Weeds in Nana’s Garden, children’s’ literature), Ann Campanella (Motherhood Lost and Found, memoir), and Irene Olson (Requiem for the Status Quo, fiction). Each of our admins brings special and much needed skills to the organization. Five of us hail from across the United States and Kathryn joins us from Canada. We communicate and manage AlzAuthors using email, Slack, Google Hangouts, Skype, text messages, and telephone calls. In November 2018 the full team met in person for the first time at the National Caregiving Conference in Chicago. Here we are wearing our exclusive AlzAuthors apparel with the beautiful logo Kathryn designed.

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L to R: Ann Campanella, Marianne Sciucco, Kathryn Harrison, Jean Lee, Vicki Tapia, Irene Olson

More Growth

As the blog expanded we added the AlzAuthors Bookstore and became Amazon Affiliates to help raise funds to support our organization. We also developed a resource page of helpful organizations we partner with, and host group book sales at least twice a year. Other ventures include presenting our books and organization at conferences with local Alzheimer’s Association chapters, showcasing our members’ books on dementia-friendly cruises, publishing Alzheimer’s and Dementia Caregiving Stories, an anthology of our first year’s posts, writing for the Huffington post and  Maria Shriver’s Women’s Alzheimer’s Movement and other dementia blogs and websites, and promoting Alzheimer’s awareness and AlzAuthors on podcasts.

What We Learned

Our collaboration has taught us a great deal about cross-promoting, our audience, and our authors.

From the start, Jean, Vicki, and I worked well together and were dedicated to our mission, but a few authors who agreed to collaborate with us on those early ventures did not or could not share our enthusiasm or stay active for long because of one reason or another: Personal issues, a high-powered job, an author’s own progressing Alzheimer’s. This led to our carrying the full load, and since this was a collaborative effort there was disappointment, and in some cases, hard feelings for those we felt let us down. We learned to choose our partners with care, and made our expectations known before taking on a new admin.

We also came to understand not all our authors are interested in becoming full-time authors or in writing new books (although many have.) Some are still on their caregiving journeys. Others are living with the disease themselves. Most wrote their books long after their dementia journeys ended and are ready to put their dementia years behind them and move on. Yet we maintain a core of authors who continue to write about dementia and caregiving or in other genres and want to promote their work and raise Alzheimer’s awareness. They are the driving force behind our success.

We also learned every dementia story is different and it’s important to respect those differences and feature books and blogs that speak to the experience of as many caregivers and families as possible. This sometimes leads to interesting discussions as to whether to take on a new book or author. Our authors are our greatest strength because they are not professional writers but ordinary people with compelling stories. Many are self-published. All are worthy of attention and have something of value to impart to readers.

Another important thing we’ve learned is our target audience is more than what we originally envisioned. When we were each living our own dementia stories we hungered for books and blogs to guide us and discovered a startling lack of resources. We each wrote the book we wanted to read. Recognizing that need, our mission has always been to help caregivers find written resources to support their caregiving needs, but our efforts have shown us they are often too consumed with their own daily difficulties and don’t have time to read. Some don’t want to read about a tough situation they are currently living. We shifted our focus to market not to just caregivers – we will never not address them – but to others involved with Alzheimer’s and dementia care: Medical and nursing professionals, social workers, elder law attorneys, financial planners, support organizations, and nursing home and assisted living personnel.

Where We Are Now

In three years, without realizing it, we created an organization that fills a void, a niche. We are entrepreneurs of a global community of authors writing about the most important disease of our generation. We support each other professionally and personally.  I experienced this myself when my stepfather was diagnosed with mixed dementia in late 2015 and I became his medical, legal, and financial representative. The support of my admin team was invaluable and much appreciated.

In 2019 we have some interesting plans, including becoming a 501 3c, participating in another dementia friendly cruise, publishing a second anthology, and much more.

If you would like to start your own author collaboration here are some tips.

13 Tips for Starting an Author Collaboration

  1. Choose your partners with care. You will work closely together on a shared mission.
  2. Brand your group. Come up with a catchy name, a mission statement, an easily recognized logo.
  3. Stick to your purpose so readers aren’t confused.
  4. Set a schedule and keep to it so readers know when to expect to hear from you.
  5. Establish a few guidelines for which authors/books to include. Evaluate books and authors critically. Analyze the writing, the reviews, and the author’s platform. Expect them to promote their involvement with your collaboration.
  6. Build social media pages for your group and post to them each day. Monitor and respond to feedback. Create your own hashtags and use them.
  7. Offer a convenient, private way for admins to communicate, i.e. Slack, Google Chats, Skype.
  8. Offer a convenient, private way for members to communicate, i.e. a Facebook group.
  9. Keep it fresh – run group book sales and other special promotions.
  10. Develop a mailing list and use it each time a new post is published.
  11. Reach out to others working in your field, i.e. book bloggers and reviewers, organizations, agencies, and cross-promote with them on their websites, blogs, and social media.
  12. Consider becoming an Amazon Affiliate to help raise funds to keep the collaboration alive.
  13. Understand it takes time – perhaps years – to build a following.

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The Writing Life: Are You a Pantster or Plotster? How About a Hybrid?

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In writing circles, there’s much discussion as to whether one is a pantster or a plotster.

The pantster is the writer who has a general idea of where her story’s going and often allows it to take off in its own directions, where the characters dictate the scenes, dialogues, and plot twists. She’s basically writing from the seat of her pants, picking up details and action as the story evolves. It’s an undisciplined approach but many writers will say the uncertainty involved fuels and motivates them to see where the story goes.

The plotster takes a more disciplined approach, has the entire story mapped out in her head and on paper or her writing device. Her notes include elaborate outlines, character descriptions, back story, and more. Each scene, each chapter, is well planned. There is little room to run off on tangents or be spontaneous. Many of these writers will say this ensures they get the work done in a timely manner. They need structure to meet deadlines and achieve their goals.

Is one method better than the other? If you asked a hundred writers you’d get a hundred different answers. For me, a more hybrid approach seems to work. Continue reading