Journey to publication began with NANOWRIMO

Writer at work

Writer at work

Writers worldwide recently passed the half-way mark of National Novel Writing Month. By today, a writer who is on the NANOWRIMO track will have logged at least 30,000 words on their work in progress. Each year when NANOWRIMO rolls around, I itch to join in. There’s something about the sweet smell of a challenge and a deadline that calls me.

In 2006, I was there. With the finish line for my memoir in sight, I joined the tens of thousands of writers worldwide who signed up for NANOWRIMO to try my hand at fiction. At the end of the month, I had 55,000 words, a few characters I liked, and some scenes I thought I could use.

Though it took a couple of years before I returned to that first draft, this year I published Go Away Home, my novel that got its start in 2006.

In celebration of novel-writing month, Webucator asked authors to answer a few questions about their writing careers. I am participating because of the good fortune that led me to NANOWRIMO eight years ago. Here are my answers:

What were your goals when you started writing?

My first goal was to write about my parents’ lives. In the course of interviewing them – about life during The Great Depression, jobs they held, military service, and life on the farm – stories of my own childhood kept coming to my mind. Eventually those stories took center stage and became my memoir Growing Up Country: Memories of an Iowa Farm Girl.

What are your goals now?

Regardless of what I write, my goal is always the same: to tell the stories as well as I am able. To that end, I regularly take classes that add to my writing tool kit. I hope the result is that each subsequent work is better than the one before. Now that I’ve written both memoir and fiction, I feel I could go in either direction for my next book. The idea that’s got the most traction at the moment is a contemporary novel. Though a sequel to Go Away Home is getting legs, too.

What pays the bills now?

Years of saving accumulated a nest egg that allows me to indulge my interest in writing. That nest egg is augmented by freelance writing and consulting projects and royalties from my books.

Assuming writing doesn’t pay the bills, what motivates you to keep writing?

I enjoy the process of writing, and when I have an idea, I’m inspired to puzzle out the story arc, the characters, the place and time, and see how well I can tell it. Writing is hard work, so I’m inspired to complete projects by deadlines and my writing group partners. Also, I buy butt glue by the gallon to keep me in my writing chair.

What advice would you give young authors hoping to make a career out of writing?

Keep writing. Keep reading. Keep learning. Don’t give up.

So there you have it, friends. It is with delight and gratitude that I lift a glass to NANOWRIMO, encouraging others to realize their writing dreams.

Write On!

‘You got game, white girl’ – Home Sweet Hardwood

Mo’ne Davis pitches like a girl. A thirteen-year-old girl who throws a 70 mph fastball. The star of The Little League World Series may not even realize sports wasn’t always an option for girls like her.

Preston High School didn’t offer girls basketball in the 1960s. Or baseball. Or softball. The rumored reason was that a girl had died during a basketball game. That death proved to those who decided such things that girls weren’t constitutionally suited to strenuous physical activity. As a result, basketball for girls in anything more competitive than gym class was banned at my high school.

I wanted to play basketball. I practiced dribbling, doing layups, running no more than the two steps allowed in the six-on-six-girl, half-court version of the game played at Iowa schools. Actually playing a game competitively would remain a dream for me.

What I didn’t know in the 1960s, as I dutifully took my place on the sidelines as a cheerleader, was that the nation was on the verge of changing the game for all women with Title IX legislation, requiring that schools offer equal playing opportunities to women and men. Other women were not going quietly to the sidelines. Other women were fighting for the right to play. And winning.

Home Sweet HardwoodOne of those women, Pat McKinzie, had basketball in her blood. Her grandfather was nationally recognized college coach Ralph McKinzie “Coach Mac”; her father Jim Mckinzie was a championship team-leading high school coach. As soon as Pat could walk – probably even before – they were teaching her the game that became her passion.

McKinzie’s memoir Home Sweet Hardwood details her relentless pursuit to fulfill that passion. In high school when she had to give up hardwood time to boys who couldn’t beat her when she challenged them one-on-one. In college where she was the first woman to play in Illinois with a scholarship under Title IX. After college when she continued to push to play on professional teams in the U.S. and Europe.

“Before recruiters and TV highlights, women played ball, not to impress college scouts or become media darlings, but for our own entertainment. The only glory we needed was the game itself,” McKinzie says. When she played in the zone, men who played the game could not help but appreciate her skill and passion. She recalls a night when a player slapped her hand in front of his “brothers,” and said, “Give me five, white girl! Can’t jump, but you got game.”

Home Sweet Hardwood covers McKinzie’s entire sports career as she broke ground and broke barriers for herself and the girls who came after her. Girls like Mo’ne.

The story of how McKinzie continued to push to play, in the face of discrimination, broken bones, and a nearly life-ending auto accident is a story of heart and inspiration. Raised by people who believed and practiced gender and racial equity, McKinzie lived those qualities throughout her career and no matter where in the world she lived.

McKinzie’s writing style is as fast-paced, precise and fluid as she herself was when she took the ball down court and pulled up for a jump shot. The result is perfection: nothing but net.

If you played sports or wanted to, this book is worth reading. If you have a daughter or granddaughter who is playing sports, this book would make a great gift. It’s important for all of us to remember when we’re standing on the shoulders of women like McKinzie who had the passion to clear the path for the rest of us.

Her kind of historical fiction

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"I'm blown away." That's what I thought as I read The Girl on the Mountain, a novel set in the West Virginia mountains at the end of the 19th century. The characters are vivid and likeable (except for the ones we shouldn't like). The language … [Continue reading]

Book marketing – It’s not always about sales

Photo by Larry Baker's wife, Ginger Russell, at an appearance in Cedar Falls in 2009.

Author Larry Baker (The Flamingo Rising, A Good Man and others) posted this picture to his Facebook page this week, and I laughed. It captures a fear most authors harbor: 'What if nobody comes?' It's not a groundless fear. It happened to me this … [Continue reading]

How much of historical fiction is history?

Narrow Road to the Deep North, Richard Flanagan

The 2014 Man Booker Prize winner was announced this past week. The accolades judging panel chair A.C. Grayling heaped on Richard Flanagan's WWII-era novel The Narrow Road to the Deep North, included this seemingly odd comment: Historical fiction is … [Continue reading]

The big questions: Memoir or fiction? Is the Past ever Past?

Celebrate Writing Poster

Life is full of so many questions. What's for dinner? White wine or red? Is it time to turn on the furnace? The writing life is no different. Three events coming up in the next several days let me join other authors in discussing some of the big … [Continue reading]

A few of my favorite blogs – One Lovely Blog Award

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When I began blogging in 2009, I posted my writing for a full year before telling anyone I was doing it. I was trying out my voice, learning the "rules" of blogging, and seeing if I would stick to it. Five years later, I'm still at it, my topics as … [Continue reading]

They did me wrong! Now what?

Someone cut you off in traffic. Cheated you out of a promotion. Stole your big idea. Or worse for us writers - Reviewed our books with words that stung. Then gave us a One Star rating. They'd have given us zero stars if Amazon let them. Ouch! How … [Continue reading]

The Invention of Wings – Review – Historical Fiction

The Invention of Wings, Sue Monk Kidd

I've been a fan of Sue Monk Kidd since I read The Secret Life of Bees. So when Kidd released her newest novel The Invention of Wings, historical fiction set in the early 19th century, I was eager to read. The book did not disappoint. The Invention … [Continue reading]

Five strategies for getting book reviews

Getting book reviews that would be posted on Amazon and Goodreads at launch was one of the marketing strategies I pursued prior to publishing my novel Go Away Home. In April, I blogged my intent. Now, I'll share the results. The bottom line first … [Continue reading]