A Calling: One Writer’s Journey

movie icon

Author Natalie Rodriguez recounts her writing journey, moments at the movies that touched her and shaped her artistic sense and inspired her to be a writer. 

BY NATALIE RODRIGUEZ, AUTHORS.me user

 VARIOUS. DIAMOND BAR, CA:

 My childhood movies were an interesting choice, ranging anywhere from Disney and Nickelodeon, until one school night…I saw Ghostface on television as soon as I walked into the family room. It was spooky, not seeing or hearing from my mom after I had called out for her. I just wanted to ask if I could change the channel, but I did not. My mom was not too happy when she had finally stepped back inside from the garage and saw me watching the infamous Drew Barrymore opening sequence. I told her that it was already on. She forgot to turn off the station. But with my calm demeanor, not flinching or crying like most children my age, mom kept the film on. That was the first time we had watched Scream together.

LOCAL AMC THEATER. DIAMOND BAR, CA. NIGHT: 

But on December 24th, 2003, it mom’s word over mine for movie night. There was an early Christmas showing of the family film remake, Cheaper By the Dozen, starring Steve Martin, Bonnie Hunt and their rascal bunch of twelve kids. I was familiar with the cast, especially the actors who played their children. It had only been a few years since Steve Martin starred as George Banks in the Father of the Bride reboots, not to mention Hilary Duff as Lizzie McGuire and Tom Welling as Superman. I was a strange kid and preferred the latest slasher or the one where Mark Wahlberg played the guitar (I saw Rockstar a few years later), instead of a family one. But as soon as I walked out of that two-hour screening of two parents trying to manage their twelve children, I was consumed by the bug and my life had honestly changed from there on.

VARIOUS LOCATIONS. SOUTHERN, CA:

 For the following week, my mind kept wandering back to Cheaper By the Dozen, from the acting, dialogue and, overall, story It was a bit jarring, constantly playing the film out day and night in my head, wondering why certain character did this and that and not something else. It was a series of, “What ifs” and “What is the film had gone a different route?”

It was my first epiphany that I acted upon because only months before I had an end of the year project, in order to graduate the fifth grade: write a book and make it look like one. I dreaded the assignment too, annoyed on the amount of time that went into it. Until I started writing, then it just clicked and at the time, I was always drawing and coloring something. So making the title page and adding pictures into the short story was not something I was used to for a homework assignment.

Only, I thought writing was something that would never come back into my life, until that following week after seeing Cheaper By the Dozen.

HOME. DIAMOND BAR, CA. THAT NIGHT:

Winter break was coming to an end and I was to return back to school in seven days for my final semester of the sixth grade. It had been exactly seven days after seeing Cheaper By the Dozen. After dinner one night, I decided to go in my bedroom to process why the film was still on my mind. I wanted to be left along, but instead I found myself sitting on my bedroom floor for a good hour, exhausted and overwhelmed. Scene after scene kept coming at me like flashes of the light. It was getting on my last nerve and for whatever reason, my solution was what I had least expected. I got up and approached my Hello Kitty theme desk— stickers that my mother was not fond of because her dad built the desk. Then, out came the stacks of lined pieces of papers and number two pencils. It was going to be a long night.

It was a long night.

I had finally caved into that voice, as some had called it (or still do), inside of my head and started writing on my downtime from school and sports practices and later the drama club in high school. But for the ongoing years, I was having an affair on everyone. When I had first started writing, it was a big secret, except my mom who used to wonder why I preferred to stay in, instead of seeing my friends (well, still does at times). I lied to my family and friends, who most of had wondered why I was suddenly “tired” or why I had to rush home to “finish homework.” It became difficult when I started running out of excuses, especially when my friends and I had the same classes our final two years in high school. Sooner or later, it was expected to become known as the flake or “grandma” to my peers because I always canceled or missed out on events.

To be honest, I felt guilty about it, especially when my mom shared some news to my guidance counselor, who told the faculty. I was embarrassed when one of my teachers made the announcement in class one morning. It had only reminded me why I kept writing a secret, not out of shame but the knowing. Knowing that other would not understand, or try to, that my patches of isolation were how I wrote/worked.

OSWALT ELEMENTARY. WALNUT, CA:

 Long before turning to my favorite screenwriters and authors for advice and how they got their start, the “unknown” and I were strangers. Reading and writing were never my “thing” as a child because I despised it. I was the smart aleck who used to say, “Who has time to read,” “WHY would someone read for fun,” and “Why to write more than your name down onto paper?” It was obvious years later why I had a negative attitude towards literature after my second life-changing epiphany. In the first grade, I was the girl who needed extra help and was enrolled in RSVP, Reading Speech Vocabulary Program.

Every day, twenty minutes before lunch, my teacher, Ms. Gata, would crouch at my desk and those next four words dismissed me, “You can go now.” She had practically whispered those words and it was all a walk of shame towards the door and across the quad to RSVP. I was pissed off and convinced of being the dumbest one in my class. None of my other classmates had to go. Just me.

I was always on time and had the same tutor, which I later discovered her position at the school, every day before lunch. We sat side by side, as she spoke about the tools that I would be given to improving my reading and writing. I could care less and was always sidetracked by the small room and around three to four other students who were with their assigned tutors. It was a strange place and I was never in the mood to talk to my helper, but she was kind. There was always a friendly and warm approach to her, which got me comfortable and, ultimately, reading aloud to her was a piece of cake!

At some point during my time in RSVP, my curiosity peaked for reading. My homework reading actually became interesting. I would reread the take-home stories, which were anywhere from ten to twenty pages with pictures, for fun. My favorite story was the one about an orange being passed around as a good luck charm amongst children and teenagers. It was told in the first person—the orange—and it had always amazed me how tuned in I was because the story felt different. The more I read and read, my reading and writing had improved and, like my peers, I moved onto the second grade that following school year.

The rest was history.

THEN, NOW AND ONWARD:

For starters, writing is difficult and can be one of the most isolating and depressing times. Some days, I am able to pat myself on the back, whether it is for finishing a draft or asking for feedback. Other days, I hate it and want to quit and complain about pursing something else because I suck at writing and will fail, etc. I used to see myself as a failure, until the day I saw a book of mine (that fifth-grade short story—forty rejections and counting) on the book shelves. It is why something my mom said recently to a few guests and how I have always been the same as I was as a kid. I asked her what she meant by that. She said that I never gave up and always pursued whatever I set my mind on. That opened my eyes a bit more because for the first time ever, I recently confided in her how I was always so hard on myself.

It is difficult to sometimes brush off rejection and even negative comments from others because let’s face it, anyone who pursues the arts in general faces rejection no matter what. Anything we work on and the display is not always going to be liked by everyone. And that is okay. One is not “bad’ because of rejection. Rejection is daily, both works related or not.

My biggest rejections have become more frequent since summer after I had decided to resubmit that fifth-grade story, now YA novel, to book agents. For a while, I was discouraged and sick of the brief “No” and debated if I should toss the project aside and start fresh. But I scared myself when my mind wandered to the quitting side. That was not an option and it should not for anyone who has ever felt discouraged, stuck or terrified. I do believe everyone’s time has already come in what are sometimes seen as just moments, whether it is booking a gig or a business meet or even meeting others to collaborate on projects. Those moments are actual, to what I have learned myself, dreams becoming reality.


Natalie Rodriguez is a writer and filmmaker from Southern, CA. She is a contributor for FlockU and AXS. Her other work has also been featured on James Franco’s “Sex Scenes;” Zooey Deschanel’s “HelloGiggles;” Short Kid Stories; and Thought Catalog. You can find her @natchrisrod.

Self-published and Proud (Finally)

writer iconAUTHORS user Alisa Schindler on her journey from query to self-published writer

by ALISA SCHINDLER, AUTHORS user

Over the past two decades, I have written four fiction novels. Each time I finished the proofing, editing, revising and then doing it over another dozen times, I’d start the process of submitting. I’d write to sought-after agents and up and coming agents, or editors if I felt a certain connection. For my first manuscript, a romantic suspense novel called, The Obsession, I sent out my query and sample chapters with a pack of Red Hots in a fire engine red envelope. I worked in advertising at the time and thought I was being clever. The few agents who responded wrote personal notes–It was the 90’s!!–telling me that they thought my book had potential but just wasn’t good enough. And P.S. Thanks for the Red Hots.

The next few books I sent out with less fanfare but no less enthusiasm. There was mostly flat out form letter rejection but there was just enough occasional positive rejection to keep me starry-eyed and hopeful. Just an encouraging word from an agent or editor could keep me submitting for months. But ultimately, they each hit a point where I gave up. It was time to move on.

Back when I wrote my first manuscript, self-publishing was a non-issue. I had never heard of it and never once considered it. I longed with every fiber in my being, every tap of the keyboard, every envelope I licked, to be picked up by a traditional publisher. I needed that stamp of approval. I needed someone legitimate to make me feel legitimate.

Even as the self-publishing market grew, I wanted no part of it. I felt that if I wasn’t picked up traditionally, then I wasn’t good enough to be published and I stubbornly maintained that position for years.

But about three years ago, on a fluke, I started a blog. I grew my following and started freelancing at online publications as well. I also began interacting and networking with other bloggers and writers online.

I watched as they self-published memoirs and essays books, using their social media savvy to sell themselves and their work. It was fascinating and it started a shift in my traditional brain. Could I? Should I?

After a whole lot of consideration and thought, one day not long after my 46th birthday as I was reviewing yet another of my social networking friend’s books to be self-published, I had my breakthrough. Why not me? I didn’t need to be pat on the back by ‘the man’. I was good enough. I had a platform. And it was time. It was my time.

So I did it. I self-published one of my manuscripts and later this month, I’ll do another. I am over the stigma, assigned by myself as well, that self-publishing is for those who aren’t good enough. I’ve met too many amazingly talented, self-published authors who have written great books and are rocking their sales.

I’m no longer embarrassed to say that I’m self-published. In fact, I’m proud of myself. I’m just a little embarrassed that it took so long.


alisa glamourAlisa Schindler is a freelance writer whose essays have been featured online in the New York Times, Washington Post, Scary Mommy, Brain, Child and Good Housekeeping, among others. She occasionally blogs at icescreammama.com, and has just self-published, Secrets in the Suburbs, a fun, sexy fiction book, now available on Amazon. Find her on twitter at @icecreammama

First get good, then get lucky: One writer’s advice on getting published

BY ROD RADLIN, AUTHORS.me USER 

If you’ve been a writer for any length of time you’ve no doubt read many books that tell you how to write bestselling fiction. You’ve also no doubt been assailed with at least as many marketing experts telling you the best way to market your novel so it will become a bestseller.

I’ve been writing all my life. My first attempt at fiction was e-published in 2010. For five years now I’ve been actively honing my fiction writing and marketing skills in pursuit of ever-elusive success. I’ve read a lot of books and investigated a lot of book marketing programs.

Here’s what I know for sure – nothing.

Most what I’ve learned is what doesn’t work. Here’s a few of them:

  • social media
  • giveaways
  • blogs
  • free books – as in zero price point
  • contests
  • email lists
  • social media – yes, I know I’ve already mentioned it, but social media deserves to be reinforced because not only does it not sell books, but for the delusional among us (myself included) it’s seductive, addictive, and a huge time waster – time that could be better spent actually writing something worthwhile instead of responding to virtual fans in the internet void.

So how do you become a bestselling author?

You get lucky.

According to Malcom Gladwell in his book Outliers, The Story of Success, success follows a predictable pattern. It’s not the brightest who succeed, nor is it the sum of the decisions and efforts we make on our own behalf.

Success is bestowed upon those who have been given opportunities – and have the strength and the presence of mind to seize them – plus accidents of time, birth and place matter greatly.

Let me repeat that; success is less about talent and more about opportunity plus it’s greatly influenced by accidents of time, birth and place.

In a word, luck.

There’s no master plan, no formula, it’s all a fluke, pure and simple serendipity.

So, is luck all it takes to be a success?

No, you also have to be prepared so if you do get lucky and get invited to the ball you actually know how to dance.

There’s this little thing about having to do 10,000 hours (ten years) of practice to achieve the level of mastery associated with being a world-class expert – in anything. According to neurologist Daniel Levitin,  “In study after study, of composers, basketball players, fiction writers, ice-skaters, concert pianists, chess players, master criminals, etc., this number comes up again and again.”

Excellence at performing a complex task, like writing a good novel, requires a critical minimum level of practice and that’s all there is to it.

You first must get good, then get lucky.

So if you’re an indie author about to self-publish your first novel and you haven’t logged 10,000 hours of practice your chance at success is negligible, nil, nada.

Worse yet, if by a fluke you do get lucky without being good you’ve likely blown your big chance.

Stay calm, be brave, watch for the signs


ROD RAGLIN is a writer and AUTHORS.me user. He can be found on twitter at @rodraglin. Check out his blog and his website for more ruminations and insights on writing and publishing.

The Five Questions Every Writer Gets

questionAUTHORS.me user and writer Vincent J. Sachar delivers his thoughts on the five questions every writers gets — and he gives answers

BY VINCENT J. SACHAR, AUTHORS.me author 

  1. Where do you get your ideas?

    I laughed aloud when Stephen King mentioned in his book On Writing that this is the one question that he and other writers never ask each other because “none of us know.” Simply stated, we often respond that our ideas come from life all around us. Truth is, I never get a complete idea. I get a seed, a “what if” that then germinates within my mind and begins to form a story.

  2. How do you deal with Writer’s Block?

    I heard writer’s block defined as “when your imaginary friends stop speaking to you.” There may be a lot of truth in that. One way in which I have responded, when I seem to be sluggish, is to skip ahead in my writing to a scene that I know I will include and let the connecting chapters flow when they are ready. Another approach is to have more than one project going concurrently.

  3. Have you ever based a book character on a person you actually know?

    Most of us would likely say we have never based a character upon a real person, but, let’s face it, we pick up personality characteristics, nuances, manners of speaking, and more from people all around us. We should ask readers which character in our books do they believe most resembles themselves.

  4. Do you outline your novels or just write as you go?

    People often wonder how we are able to write an entire novel with its storyline, plot diversions, and twists. Little do they know, we often finish writing something and ask the same question. Yes, some are “plotters” and some are “pantsers”, but all writers do end up looking at our own book with a certain amount of “Where did that come from?”

  5. What does it take to become a writer?

    An author can rattle off any number of characteristics ranging from a vivid imagination, a discipline, or a command of language. Truth is, a writer must write. It is amazing how many people I know have told me that they have always intended to write a book. We do not become writers by intending to become one, hoping to be one, planning to be one. Writers write—pure and simple.

 

 


VJS

Vince is an attorney with a passion for writing. He is an experienced public speaker and also speaks at book events, author panels, and more. Sachar also conducts radio and internet interviews. Vince and his wife, Gwen, also speak at high schools, colleges, and universities. For more: www.vincentsachar.com.

Z. Oko & The Dream Keepers: Discovered in AUTHORS

Last year, Z. Oko joined AUTHORS.me to find a home for her book, The Dream Keepers. Award-winning publisher Black Rose found and fell in love with Z.s book, which was published last month. Today, Z. talks with AUTHORS about her process. 

The_Dream_KeepersAUTHORS: Where did the concept for The Dream Keepers come from?

ZENA: I have always been a dreamer, so I thought why not write a book about dreams.  After all, it’s something that we all do.  I also find dreams very interesting because they are a bit of a mystery, yet I believe that our dreams can be very powerful and relay information back to us from deep within our subconscious.

A: How long did you work on this The Dream Keepers?

Z: I started in November 2014.  Due to me being in full-time employment at the time, I found it hard to continue with such a creative outlet.  I then decided to leave working for an employer and concentrate on my dream.  All in all, the whole book took less than a month to write.

A: What book (or writer) has had the most influence/biggest impact on you, and why?

Z: John Steinbeck.  Steinbeck wrote from the heart and he never sugarcoated anything.  Steinbeck wrote truth, it is evident in his work, for that I admire him deeply.

A: What was your favorite part of the publishing process (besides finishing The Dream Keepers)? 

Z: Seeing it come to life step by step. From the editing to getting the book cover design.  The book that has been in my head was finally becoming a reality, I felt elated!

A: What’s the hardest thing about writing?

Z: The hardest thing is being distracted!  Sometimes there are things that require attention and must be dealt with, housework especially!

A: What’s the easiest thing about writing?

Z:  I am in my element when I write.  It has always come naturally to me and I am truly grateful to be able to explore the depths of my imagination.  It is always interesting to see where it will take me.  Imagination is limitless and that’s a beautiful thing.

A: What surprised you most about publishing?

Z:  For me, I was surprised at how quickly it all happened for me!  I had a dream, followed it, and it paid off.

A: Do you have a favorite character in your book? if so, who?

Z: Mona is my favourite character.  Mona has an innocence about her along with a habit of coming to conclusions too quickly, which can backfire on her in a funny way.  Mona adds humour to the story without knowing it.  She has an open mind and is quite fearless.

A: Same question, but least favorite.

Z: The man in the odd shaped black helmet.  He may have a hidden agenda, or he may be there to do good.  There is a presence about him that is quite unnerving.  Without creating spoilers you will have to read it for yourself and see what he gets up to!  


Z. Oko currently lives in England with her husband and two children. A writer and imaginative daydreamer by day, and a reader and dreamer at night, Z. Oko’s love for writing fiction has always been at the forefront in her life. At the age of seven, Z. Oko wrote a piece which was selected to be sealed into a time capsule which will be opened in 2088. Z. Oko’s aim is to enrich and inspire.

To learn more about Z. and her book, check out her website. She can be found on twitter (@zenaoko), Facebook,  and Google+ The Dreamkeepers is available from for purchase from Black Rose, Barnes and Noble, Amazon UK and Amazon US

When the News Takes Hold of Your Writing

BY SABRINA FEDEL, AUTHORS.me USER 

Several years ago, I came across a news story about a young Iraqi-American girl who had been murdered by her father in an act of honor violence. My understanding of these crimes was vague. I had heard the term, but I didn’t really know what it meant. As I was drawn into the story of Noor Almaleki, every detail created new questions for me. How could a father murder his own daughter? Was this religious zealotry or something else? How could a life be worth so little?

I started to study the issue. I learned that honor violence is a crime in which the victim, generally a woman, is hurt or killed to cleanse a family’s honor for a perceived wrong by the victim. It is most commonly associated with people who practice Islam, but it occurs among people who claim to follow other religions, too. None of the religions on which it is supposedly based, however, condone honor violence.

I went even deeper into the story of Noor and other victims of honor violence to try to understand how it could happen. The real picture of honor violence, one that pits a strong group with unbending core rules against individuals who refuse to follow these rules, began to emerge. What also emerged, however, was a story told from the perspective of those who suffer most, in all of its heartbreaking reality.

Because I come from outside of the cultural type of community that I chose to base my story on, I was exacting in my research of that community. I made sure every statement that represented the group came from an actual news report of an honor crime that occurred within that specific cultural subgroup. I also ensured that I didn’t make any sweeping generalizations about the culture because these crimes occur within subgroups of ethnic and religious groups.

When my young adult story was finished, I worried about finding a home for it. Not only is the market for young adult short stories slim to begin with, but this was a culturally sensitive story as well. I didn’t hold out much hope for it to be published, but it was more than just a story to me. It was slinging a tiny arrow at a social injustice. It was a small tribute to the victims of honor violence to try to bring awareness to the problem. It was a story that mattered to me beyond just the words I had put onto the page.

Not only was I able to find a home for my story, but it found a home that was truly invested in its essence as well as its words. Sometimes I think that maybe I was just very lucky. More often, though, I think that finding a news story that wouldn’t let go of me and choosing to follow my heart with it led me to perfect outcome for my story.



sabrina
Sabrina Fedel holds her MFA in Creative Writing from Lesley University. Sabrina’s debut young adult novel, Leaving Kent State, will 
be released on November 11, 2016 and will be available for pre-order on her website.  Her short story, “Honor’s Justice,” was published by Lunch Ticket and has been nominated for a 2017 Pushcart Prize. Follow her on twitter @writeawhile or find her on facebook. 

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