Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Interview with Irish author Caroline Finnerty

A couple months ago, my parents took a trip to Ireland for two weeks to celebrate their anniversary. One evening, they walked past a small independent bookstore in Dublin, heard laughter, turned around, went inside and followed the voices upstairs. And so it was they met Irish author Caroline Finnerty, whose book launch party was wrapping up. After a pleasant conversation, she signed a copy of her new novel Into the Night Sky as a gift for... ME! :) 

I devoured the book as soon as my parents gave it to me. It is one of those books that, as the Irish Independent newspaper stated, is "impossible to put down." Simply put, Into the Night Sky is a luminous and heartwarming story that will stay with you long after you turn the final page, and Caroline is a superbly talented and empathetic writer. You can order Caroline's books here.

After Caroline was thoughtful enough to email me about my own writing and books, I asked if she would mind answering a few questions for this blog. She kindly agreed, and I am thrilled to present her insightful answers to you now. With no further ado, here is Caroline Finnerty!



Welcome, Caroline! Tell us about your latest novel INTO THE NIGHT SKY. In what ways was this novel different from your other books? 

Into the Night Sky is the story of four people who come into each other’s lives when they are each in need of a friend and how the bonds that form change each of them forever more.

Conor Fahy is the owner of struggling bookshop Haymarket Books and is finding it hard to cope with everyday life in the aftermath of his partner Leni’s tragic death.

Conor’s best friend Ella Wilde is struggling with her own problems having just been axed from her job as a TV presenter after being caught shoplifting. She is struggling to deal with the weight of public disgrace and adjust to life away from the TV cameras.

Jack White is eight years old. He likes Ben 10, Giant Jawbreaker sweets and reading adventure books. He likes his Dad (when he doesn’t shout). He doesn’t like the bad monsters that are eating up his ma inside her tummy.

Rachel Traynor is the social worker assigned to Jack White’s case but sorting out messy family disputes is taking its toll on her. And it doesn’t help that she has had to say goodbye to the man she loves because he doesn't want to have children with her.

It’s different from my other books because the story is told through a present tense narrative and also one of the main characters, Jack, is a young child, which I have never done before.


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

I always loved writing but I never recognized it in myself until I entered my twenties. I was always bookish as a child and made my own "books" with illustrations. In hindsight, I was good at essay writing in school but it never occurred to me to study English and so I studied biotechnology in university. I was in my twenties when I had an idea and said that would make a great story so I just started writing it and I didn’t stop. After a while I decided to do an eight-week creative writing course by night which spurred me on a bit more. Then after I had my first child in 2009 and I had the idea for In a Moment, which was the first book I actually finished and I was lucky enough to get published.

What is your writing schedule? How do you find time to write? 

It is chaotic at the moment! I have three small children, two of whom are not yet in school so it’s challenging to find the time -- but, like everything, if you really want to do it, you have to make sacrifices. So when I get them all into bed in the evenings I stay up late to try to do a bit then or at weekends my husband sometimes takes them all off for a few hours so I can get a bit done. I am quite disciplined so if I do have some free time I use it to write instead of doing anything else.


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

Don’t be too hard on yourself when you read back over your work. Just put the words down on the page and don’t get disheartened. I used to re-read my early drafts and cringe so much that I would never go back to it again. Then I went to a really inspiring getting published workshop and the authors speaking at it said how they all think what they write is awful but that they keep rewriting it until one day they don’t want to throw their laptop against the wall and it finally starts to seem okay.

That’s the key – rewrite, rewrite, rewrite. I love the saying, "You can edit words on a page but you can’t edit a blank page."   

Ooh, I love that saying, too! So very true. Who are some of your favorite writers? 

Too many to mention, but the ones that stick out in my mind are:
  • Kate Atkinson
  • Maggie O’Farrell
  • David Nicholls
  • John Boyne 
  • Marian Keyes

I read in the Acknowledgements section of INTO THE NIGHT SKY that writing this book was a challenge at times. It seems that writer's block is something every writer has to deal with at one time or another. Do you have any tips for advice for vanquishing writer's block? 

I find that usually when I am experiencing writer’s block it is because some part of the book is not working. Either the character isn’t fully developed in my mind or there is a problem with the plot.

When I was writing Into The Night Sky, I was finding it difficult to research the role of Rachel the social worker and how that storyline fitted into the book but it took me a few months to put my finger on exactly what it was that was missing. Eventually I contacted a friend of mine who was a social worker and she helped me immensely; once I had concrete facts, the story moved on again.

Usually if I can’t figure out what the problem is, then I go on to another scene that is coming easily to me and then go back to the problematic one at a later stage when hopefully it will come a bit easier then.

Great advice! Is there anything else you would like to add?

Thank you for having me, Dallas it’s lovely to be over here on an American blog – hello everyone!

Thank you so much for joining us today, Caroline!

Connect with Caroline at the following links:

Friday, December 12, 2014

Productivity Tips for Writers from Jason Womack


On Tuesday, I was delighted to feature an interview with author, entrepreneur and productivity coach Jason Womack. His answer to my question, "Do you have any tips for writers who want to be more productive?" was so insightful and thorough that I decided to feature it as a whole new post. Enjoy!

If you missed Jason's interview, check it out here.


  
Productivity Tips for Writers

by Jason Womack

You absolutely must clarify (more and more specifically) what I call your “So that…” about WHY you want to be more productive. When we started our firm, five years before I wrote the book, we had FOUR reasons to build a company:

  • to support our lifestyle
  • to earn a great salary
  • to work with clients we like, and 
  • to create products that will help people. 
All of my products are “information” pieces, including speeches, articles, videos, ebooks and books.

So, how do I do it all? I have three tips for writers who want to be more productive:
  1. Say “No” more. You see, every time you say yes to a new post, a new idea, a new piece of research, a new request, you’re adding to an already overloaded “budget” of creative output. This week, practice saying “No” to something that comes in, no matter how small it is. 
  2. Buy a pen AND a notebook that’s a little more expensive than you normally purchase. Yes, I know I’m going “old-school” on you here, but give this a shot. When I first did this, I started taking those journal entries and interview notes much more seriously. I started looking for ideas that could turn in to posts, articles, chapters and books that might ultimately help me pay for those pens and notebooks! 
  3. Find a mentor. A writing mentor is different than a coach. I don’t pay my mentors with money. Instead, about once a month, I sit down with someone who is more successful than I am AND who is willing to see me become more successful. I share with her or him what I’m working on and where I’m challenged, and then I let them tell me stories and give me advice. The one thing I always make sure to do: 7-10 days after we meet, I write them a letter to let them know what I did based on our conversation. I’ve found this little bit of “stretch-goal” conversation and accountability keeps me moving my writing forward.
* * *

Thank you, Jason, for taking the time to stop by the blog and share your wisdom and advice!

Tuesday, December 9, 2014

Interview with author & entrepreneur Jason Womack

I'm thrilled to feature an interview today with Jason Womack today! Jason is an author and entrepreneur who provides practical methods to maximize tools, systems, and processes to achieve quality work/life balance. He has worked with leaders and executives for more than sixteen years in the business and education sectors. His focus is on creating ideas that matter and implementing solutions that are valuable to organizations and the individuals in those organizations. Author of Your Best Just Got Better: Work Smarter, Think Bigger, Make More, Jason shows that working longer hours doesn’t make up for a flawed approach to productivity and performance. 


Tell us about your book Your Best Just Got Better. What was your inspiration behind this book? 

About ten years ago, I started collecting stories. I continue to ask people these three questions:
  1. Has life ever been hard for you? 
  2. Has it ever been worse? 
  3. Did it eventually get better? 
Now, if the answer to those three questions was YES, I changed my line of questioning to be much, much more open-ended. And, that’s when people started opening up. I learned that there are three basic paths that people take to making their life, their our, their community and their fails better. So, I guess that I was inspired to share those strategies, and the tactics that I experimented with that work, with readers around the world.

How do you balance writing with all the other things going on in your life, like your work, family, health?

Well, the book has been published in three different languages. I run a consultancy full-time, traveling up to 200 days a year, presenting eighty lectures and working one-on-one with up to ten clients at a time. I’m married, and with my wife, Jodi, I co-run another company called www.Momentum.GS -- this is an online coaching program for individuals who are on a path to professional development success. How do I balance it all? I do one thing at a time. I stopped multitasking a long time ago; also, I say no to things. I say no to anything that pulls me (or us) off course to our overall mission. I’ll tell you about that next.



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

Sixty months from now, you’ll have what you have, go where you go, do what you do, and be who you are based on the five people you meet next. Make sure that you curate your network; much like a museum has much, MUCH more than they put on display, you can "know" a lot of people, but you want to make sure the people who influence you are pushing you in a direction you want to go in for the long term. Staring as a writer means you’ve heard the voices that talk to you, and you’ve decided to allow yourself the "gift of your own attention." By putting pen to paper, fingers to keyboard, you’re telling the universe you’re willing. Once you do that, you WILL be tested. There will be easy "pop-quizzes" such as friends calling asking you to go out for drinks on a Tuesday night. There will also be "final-exams" when someone close to you becomes ill or falls on hard times. The one factor -- above all else -- that continues to play a significant part in/of my success is who I choose to spend time with; who I let influence me; both my thoughts, and my actions.

What's next for you?

I invite every single reader to join a community, to seek out a group of like-minded learners AND producers, that will want for your success. About two years ago, just as we were coming out of the worst recession I’ve ever lived through, we started an online-coaching program with semi-annual "in-person" leadership retreat events. If you know that change is coming, and in one year or less you’re going to already be well on the path to success, join our community. Visit www.TimeToGetMomentum.com. Not sure if it’s for you? Email me, and I’ll send you a "Free Pass" for a 7-day membership. I’m so sure you’ll gain value in those seven days, I offer a money-back guarantee on http://www.GetMomentum.com membership. Ready?

Is there anything else you would like to add? 

Creativity comes in all shapes and sizes. Whether you’re a writer, a painter, a poet, or a craftsman, you’re put on this planet to share of the abundance, to give of the overflow that you see when you look out and KNOW in your heart of hearts that things can be better. And, as a result of you doing YOUR work, things will be better.

You can learn more about Jason at the following links:

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?