Tuesday, November 11, 2014

Interview with YA author Kevin Sharp

Last month, I was fortunate enough to meet Kevin Sharp when we both participated in a reading in San Jose called the Flash Fiction Forum. Kevin read a beautiful and funny short story, "In Blackest Night," that you can read here published on 100-Word Story. We talked for a bit after the reading, and I got a copy of his debut YA novel After Dakota. I loved it!

Kevin's characters are so real and their problems so compelling that I found myself thinking about them as I went about my day, as if they were my friends. He treats every character with dignity and gives them room to move and grow on the page, making mistakes and being human. And I loved his wealth of descriptions and details, plus all the 80s references seamlessly woven through. I am so glad I read this book -- and very grateful that Kevin took time out of his day to answer some questions about writing for the blog today!

Thanks for stopping by the blog, Kevin! Tell us about your novel After Dakota. What was your inspiration/motivation behind this book?

The novel is about a year in the life of three teenagers in the 1980s, following the death of one of their friends in a plane crash. Although the subject matter might sound heavy, it was written as a tribute to the classic teen movies of the 1980s, like Fast Times At Ridgemont High, The Breakfast Club, and Say Anything (and so many more). Simply put, I missed seeing those kinds of stories. The characters in the book are older than I was at the time (1983-84), but I definitely have distinct memories of living through those years. I wanted to try and capture that world for a reader who wasn’t alive then, but also bring it all back for a reader who was. My target audience for the book is anyone who is now, or has ever been, a teenager.

Have you always wanted to be a writer? How did you get into writing?

I used to write and draw my own daily comic strips (like the kind you’d find in a newspaper) as a kid. In fourth grade I adapted Star Wars into a stage play, which was performed for our class. It was about as not-good as it sounds. I went on to write a science fiction trilogy my freshman year of high school (the essay “Walking on Sunshine” delves into this painful memory). I recently discovered all three of those manuscripts but am afraid to read them. After college I got involved in screenwriting, which was fun for a while, but I got too burned out on the business side of the movie business.

What is your writing schedule? When/how do you find time to write? 

Because I teach high school, I get home from work in the afternoon. I often go to a favorite cafĂ© to write because I can find 10,000 distractions at home. Writing someplace away makes me feel like I’m going to a job, which in turn makes me more productive. I wrote After Dakota in a house with no internet & can report I got a lot more done in a lot less time. Funny how that works.

What is your biggest advice for other writers, particularly young writers just starting out? 

This isn’t some deep wisdom thought up exclusively by me, but… Finish everything you start. Even if the ending is terrible, put one on and make it better later.

Who are some of your favorite writers? 

The younger version of me devoured anything I could get my hands on by Tolkien, C.S. Lewis, Piers Anthony, and Stephen King. Some of those writers I still enjoy, others not so much. I’d now add J.D. Salinger, Ray Bradbury, Harlan Ellison, Grant Morrison, Jo Ann Beard, and Mary Karr to that list (all for different reasons).

What's next for you? 

A short story of mine will be appearing in an upcoming anthology, scheduled to be published in spring 2015. I’ve been working on YA sci-fi novel for what feels like a decade. After that I have another book lined up, loosely based on an experience I had in Hollywood.

How can readers get in touch with you?     

My website has links to buy After Dakota in all ebook formats, or as a “real” book. You can also find links to some of my short stories, articles, and essays at www.kevin-sharp.com. Find me on Twitter @thatkevinsharp.

Monday, November 3, 2014

Six Ways to Raise and Nurture a Young Entrepreneur: A Guest Post


By John Hope Bryant

Children are natural-born entrepreneurs. When they're toddlers, they make homemade mud pies and "sell" them to Mom or Dad. As they get older, they start to understand that adults will pay them small amounts of real money in exchange for goods or services, such as a cup of iced lemonade or walking their dog after school.  
In 2013, Operation HOPE launched a pilot program in four cities -- Atlanta, Denver, L.A., and Oakland -- to help schoolchildren in underprivileged communities learn the basics of financial literacy and entrepreneurship. In a competition, kids pitch their entrepreneurial ideas to a committee of business leaders, and the winners are given a $500 grant and help in launching their startup businesses.
As a result of this "Shark Tank for Kids," Princess, a 6th grader from Oakland, created Sweet Tooth Bakery, which sells homemade cakes and cookies to local shops. Froylan, a senior at Montbello High School in Denver, got funding for Froy's PCs, a computer repair business he runs out of his home. 
Their stories, and many others like them, show that kids, when given the education, opportunity, and guidance, can be entrepreneurial successes.
Since many schools don't teach financial literacy courses or offer similar opportunities, here are some ways parents can teach kids about money, financial responsibility, and entrepreneurship.
Show them how money grows. 
Show your kids why investing in two shares of Nike stock will benefit them more than buying one pair of Nike Air Zoom Flight basketball sneakers. Both cost around $160, but only one of those choices will be worth anything five years from now.
Support their natural entrepreneurship. 
A hot dog stand at the school football game, a car-care service, or a lawn mowing job teaches so much more than spending allowance money. When kids start small enterprises, they learn about earning, saving, budgeting, and so much more.
Teach them how credit works. 
Kids need to know about credit because it helps them understand how to plan for large purchases responsibly. A kid with little or no money can acquire something she or he really wants. For example, it might involve borrowing money from a parent and then paying off the loan each week with chores after school. 
Help them make a budget. 
Teaching kids how to budget gives them a realistic notion of the relationship between work and money, and how budgeting relates so many everyday outcomes, such as having enough for food; school supplies; clothes and shoes; birthday presents;  sports, music, and entertainment; tech toys and devices; and other important parts of kids' lifestyles.
Teach them to think big. 
In the most recent Gallup-HOPE Index, more than 87% of youth surveyed believed there was a correlation between how much education they completed and the amount of money they could be expected to earn. Help kids see that the harder they work at doing well in school, the more income and opportunities they'll have later on. 
Give them financial dignity. 
Kids who grow up in households where parents live under the constant threat of having their car repossessed or their utilities turned off intuitively see the relationship between finances and dignity. No one should have to make a choice between buying food and paying the rent. Help them understand that check-cashing joints or pawn shops take advantage of people who don't or can't belong to traditional banks or neighborhood credit unions. Help them start a youth savings account, where they sock away $5 a month.

* * * * * 
John Hope Bryant (www.johnhopebryant.com) is founder, chairman, and CEO of Operation HOPE, a nonprofit banker for the working poor and struggling middle class, which provides financial literacy for youth, financial capability for communities, and financial dignity for all. His bestselling book, How the Poor Can Save Capitalism: Rebuilding the Path to the Middle Class (Berrett-Koehler, 2014) builds a compelling economic argument for investing in America's least wealthy consumers--and presents practical, positive solutions, with case examples of individuals and companies doing it successfully.

Sunday, October 26, 2014

Some Tips on Beating Writer's Block

Writer's block is a question I often get emailed about, so I thought it would be helpful to write a quick post with my thoughts about it, and some tips that often work for me! I just finished writing my third novel, which I felt blocked on quite a few times, and which felt like a giant mess quite a few times, but now that I'm on the other side I can cheerfully report that all those times I felt like just throwing my hands up in the air often precipitated a HUGE breakthrough. Pushing through the hard times was worth it one-thousand percent. The important thing is to not letter writer's block defeat you! Keep plugging away.

For me at least, writer's block usually stems from worrying that what I'm writing isn't "good enough"... when this happens, I remind myself that no rough drafts are perfect and, as one of my creative writing professors used to say to us in college, words down on the page are ALWAYS better than words just in your head.

If you're working on a longer project, maybe you simply need to take a break. Try to writing a short story featuring some of your characters, or even a short story featuring entirely new/different characters. This can help you see the idea from a new angle, get excited about the idea again, and get to a "finish line" of a shorter project. That might be just the motivation you need to dive back into the longer work with your batteries recharged!

Most of all, I always encourage my students and mentees to go after the idea that is sparking inside you, the one that makes you excited. There is no time to waste! Write what makes you feel alive.

If it's the idea you're working on now, great! If you wants to try something completely different and new, that's great too! Remember: you can always return to this idea later if you want. No idea is ever wasted or abandoned.

Finally, here's the number-one thing that works best for me when I'm battling the writer's block blues, and that has made the biggest difference in my productivity, creative energy, and happiness as a writer: write every day.

Make writing a routine. I think even trying to write at the same time of the day is best, because you train your body to prepare to write during that time -- much in the same ways athletes often practice at the same times. Then, when that time hits, you are ready to go! It's like a muscle memory you are building.

Even if you feel like the writing isn't flowing, even if you feel like every word you are writing is terrible, stay in the chair and keep pushing through to the good stuff. Because the good stuff will come, believe me. You just need to have the patience to get to it!
Here are a couple other articles I found that might be helpful, too:

Wednesday, October 8, 2014

Heather Waxman on "Why I Write"

One of my favorite bloggers, Heather Waxman, recently published a post titled "Why Do You Write?" As you might imagine, the title intrigued me a lot. I always love reading about other writers and their habits and thought processes. The four questions Heather answered were:
  • What am I working on?
  • How does my writing differ from others in its genre?
  • Why do I write?
  • How does my writing process work?
(Why don't we all take a few minutes to answer those questions for ourselves right now... either in your head or on paper in your journal...)

I thought Heather's answer to the last question was especially spot-on and helpful for other writers:

Three words: I show up. 
That’s it. I show up. When the urge to write comes up, I sit down and I let my fingers flow or I let the pen glide. Sometimes, I set the stage with a prayer or intention and say, “May all Divine guidance flow through me now.” But that’s it. 80% of the work is showing up to write. The rest is the technical stuff like editing and spell checking. “Just show up, babe,” I tell myself. And I do. And it flows. And then it works. When I’m writing a larger piece (like my book), I make it a non-negotiable appointment with myself. For one full hour, I write. No ifs, ands, or buts. And usually, the juices are flowing so much that I want to keep going. Try it. 
I really liked the way she phrased that: I make it a non-negotiable appointment with myself. So often, we drag our feet about writing because it's hard and scary and maybe we don't feel inspired or we don't particularly want to write in that moment. We'd rather watch TV or read a book or bake something yummy or eat something yummy. 
But life is full of things we don't particularly want to do, yet we do them anyway because we know they are the best thing for us. When you schedule a dentist appointment, you don't blow it off or not show up just because you don't feel particularly excited to go to the dentist. Nobody feels excited to go to the dentist. But it's an appointment, so you keep it. You show up, you do it, and before you know it you're done. And that's a great feeling.
So now I have a question for you: 
What would your writing life look like if you treated your writing time the same way you treat a dentist appointment?

Monday, August 11, 2014

Wisdom from Anna Deveare Smith: on acting and writing

In an interview about her groundbreaking play Twilight: Los Angeles, 1992, playwright and actress Anna Deveare Smith says, "You're not the character, and you're not yourself. You're in the 'not not' -- which is a positive. I think this is the most we can hope for. I don't think we can really 'be' anybody else. The actor is a vehicle of consciousness, projected through a fictional character, and the fiction displays great truth."

I think this sentiment applies to writing as well as to acting -- actually, I think it apples to any creative art. When I write a piece of fiction, I am simultaneously myself and the characters I create. I give pieces of myself to my characters, but as the story progresses something magical happens: they become their own individual selves, with their own identities and desires.

Often when I set out to write a story, I have a specific ending in mind, but sometimes the main character will decide to take the action in a different direction, or a minor character will pop up and demand attention. It's as if I am merely the vehicle for expressing these various voices.

Here's a writing prompt that you might try: When I'm stuck or the writing becomes stagnant, I place two characters in a situation and let them talk to each other on the page. Often the story takes form in ways I never would have guessed before I began writing.

I also love something that Anna Deveare Smith says about the actor: he or she has "a deep desire to connect and people come to the theater because they too want to connect. The actor does not produce the connection alone, the audience has to push forward also; the two have to meet in the middle." This is true for all types of art.

One of my favorite things about the medium of writing is that once a piece is published and unleashed upon the world, it is open for interpretation from all different perspectives. The meaning of a piece of writing can shift and morph as the times change and society's needs for sustenance and meaning through literature changes.

What do you think? I'd love to hear your thoughts in the comments section!

Tuesday, August 5, 2014

Guest Post: Motivate Yourself to Write

How to motivate yourself for an academic piece of writing

a guest post by Eileen Archer

Most of us do it wrong: we sit down at our desks about a day or two beforehand thinking that we’re going to be able to write a first-class essay without having done any preparation. Especially if it’s the first time writing an important academic piece, this is a disastrous strategy. Here is a quick guide to show you the most important skills for essay writing, how to perfect them and how to get motivated.

Practice makes perfect

Keep a journal to document your life! Do it with music! Find some joy in writing! Then, when it comes to writing academically and trying to express complicated theories or discussing your opinion, it should be a lot easier for you. If you do find it difficult to write then maybe joining a writing group will help. Try also reading related papers to help you analyze the ideas and writing of others.

Organization is key

Make timetables for every complicated aspect of your life, for example: household chores, studying, writing, being productive, and hanging with friends. Attach themes or pictures to each hence turning it into something proactive, fun and interesting, not a chore! Stick them up on your walls, or give them to your parents in case you get lazy with it. Organizing your life to this extent will serve you well for any future work you have to do, both inside and outside of academia.

Reading from the same page

Surround yourself with books -- read, read and read more. There’s nothing like curling up with a good book. But, be wise about it. Reading chick lit or trashy magazines is all well and good, but if you don’t have several books on the go at once you’ll lose that writing knowledge. The ideal book selection is obviously something light-hearted that you enjoy and don’t have to think too much about, but more importantly you should be reading something that is well-written and certainly something attached to your work. So, on your night stand and desk, even before you do some academic writing, make sure there lays an academic journal or a classroom book too. And make sure you spread the time between the books evenly, rather than just staring at it dumbly from behind your top ten apps article.

Research – no pain no gain

You’re not alone, most everyone detests research. This is why you have to do it early. If you’re going to procrastinate in any part of your life or writing work, don’t do it here. Imagine a big pile of books and papers and links to references you’ve used. That’s what you’ll end up with; a big unorganized mess in front of you that will take forever to deal with. So, the key here is once you’ve used a reference, type it in a document, fully. Use the correct referencing style and make sure it’s 100% correct and all you’ll have to do at the end is click one button to arrange them alphabetically.

Bio: Eileen Archer is currently a resident blogger and a chief writer at EssayPlanet.org. After obtaining a Masters in English language she decided to dedicate her time to creative writing as well as providing assistance to students. She spends her free time reading, writing poetry and studying for a PhD in an art-related field.

Monday, July 21, 2014

Bay Area writers: call for submissions

Hi, friends! I just received this call for submissions and wanted to share ... looks like a neat opportunity if you're in the Bay Area!

Peninsula Literary Call for Submissions
We're now accepting submissions for our September reading. See details below.

Peninsula Literary will present the next reading on Friday, September 12, at 7:00 p.m. David Roderick and Alice LaPlante will be featured.

Readings will take place at Gallery House in Palo Alto. You can also visit our Facebook page at Peninsula Literary or view our websitehttp://peninsulaliterary.wordpress.com/

To round out our lineup, we're now accepting fiction, creative non-fiction and poetry submissions for 5-7 minute guest reading slots.  The deadline for submissions is Tuesday, August 12, 2014.
Submission Guidelines:

1.  Original poetry or prose – please include all submitted materials, along with your bio, in the body of your email. Submissions may additionally include pdf or Word attachments, but all pieces must appear in the main email message or they will be returned. 

2.  No more than 7 minutes total reading time (2-4 poems or 3-3.5 pages of double-spaced prose, 12 pt. text).

3.  Include your name, phone number, and preferred email.

4.  Please send all submissions via email to Carrie and Jean at peninsulaliterary@gmail.com.

Thanks for your support – we look forward to seeing you on September 12!

Carrie Hechtman & Jean Znidarsic, Peninsula Literary

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