Category Archives: Writing

Tricks and treats for writers

6444ecb8-70e8-4198-91f9-607693c6d40bHere’s a quick round-up as we head into the silly season:

For those of you interested in the quickly changing publishing industry, here’s a great documentary with an international perspective that explores how some bookstores and publishers are changing their approach to the publishing game. (Thank you, Elizabeth Lee, for flagging this for other list-serve members.) If you’d like a personal guide to creating your own publishing strategy, I’m starting a three-week Writing Salon workshop in November, entitled Decisions, Decisions, Decisions.

For YA authors, Serendipity Literary Agency are collaborating with Source Books to offer a YA Discovery Contest. Details about the five prizes and Grand Prize are rather vague, but every entry is read by the agency, and the top 20 by some well established editors, and this is the seventh year they’ve been running the contest, and, well, it’s co-sponsored by Source Books, so… Good luck!

While we’re still on MG/YA, I have a class starting in November at the Writing Salon in Berkeley. This is my favorite class to teach, so I hope you’ll consider joining us. If all you want is some MG/YA authors to write with, check out this MeetUp.

For those of you who write general fiction, Serendipity Literary Agency are calling for fiction submissions. So, see? You’re not left out. November is also time to submit to Glimmer Train’s Family Matters contest. And next month is one of only two months when they accept “standard” fiction submissions.

And finally, some congratulations are in order:
To Laurin Mayeno for the launch of her picture book.
To Cathleen Young for landing a six-figure deal on her first MG.
And to Avery Moore for making some promising ripples in Hollywood with his New Adult.

All three are editing clients of mine, so this is dastardly self-promotion. Bwah-ha-ha! And on that Halloween note, if you can tell me what’s in the jars, I’ll send you chocolate.

Trick or treat—and happy writing!

Shirin

P.S. After this was first posted, Cathleen Young very generously sent through this testimonial:

Here’s what I love about working with Shirin Bridges. First of all, she has a wonderful sense of humor. Second, she is an incredibly talented editor. (And writer!) She has an uncanny ability to see exactly where you are in the process of writing a novel—and shaping her comments to keep you progressing. If you’re just starting out, she focuses on what you’re trying to say. As you get further along, she starts honing in on character and structure. And she asks a lot of questions. Of course, they’re not REALLY questions, because she already has the answer. But she knows how to ask questions that penetrate your brain to get results. I will never forget when she said to me, “Can’t Billie LEARN something?” She was referring to my main character and she made me see where I was falling short. I highly recommend Shirin. And get on her schedule ASAP. Don’t be like me and wait until the last minute….because then you have to twiddle your thumbs while you wait for your turn in the queue! She’s that good. 

How does it feel to become a published author?

This month’s guest blog is by Laurin Mayeno, a student and publishing-consultations client of mine. After a long and determined slog, Laurin is launching her first book, One of a Kind, Like Me/Único Como Yo (Blood Orange Press), on September 21st. Here are a few of her key learnings:

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I’m a First-Time Children’s Book Author!
By Laurin Mayeno

I never imagined myself as a children’s book author, until it increasingly seemed like something I needed to do. Now, more than five years later, I can hold my book in my hands and am getting ready for a slew of launch events and celebrations.

One of a Kind, Like Me/Único Como Yo is the story of a little boy named Danny (Danielito en español) who wants to be a princess in the school parade. Danny and his mom set off to find the perfect costume. Will they find it in time? I won’t tell you what happens, but I can say that the story is full of love and affirmation.

As fellow writers, here are some things you might be interested in.

My Inspiration
As a child, my son Danny loved purple, pink, dressing up as a princess, unicorns, mermaids, and little ponies. I didn’t know any other children like him and felt very alone. He didn’t realize how different he was until he started getting teased. I didn’t know how to support him, because I knew next-to- nothing about gender diversity in children. I felt alone, and often felt that we were both being judged.

Things might have been easier if we had opened a picture book and seen a child like Danny inside being loved and supported by his family and community.

I also grew up without seeing myself, a mixed-race child, in books. Our parents read to us constantly, but few of the books had children of color and none had mixed-race children. I was an adult when I discovered a book about mixed-race women. The book affirmed my existence and helped me make sense of my experience. Suddenly, I was no longer invisible.

I will never forget how important it was for me to see myself reflected back in a book. This is a gift I want to give to children like Danny and families like mine.

My Hopes
I want to get this book as far and wide as possible into the world, to reach other children like Danny and give them a reason to smile and hold their heads up high. I want to reach as many children and families as possible, and anyone who has ever felt different. My highest hope is that the book will encourage dialogue and understanding so that we can all embrace gender diversity in all the ways it shows up in our children. To help with this, my website outproudfamilies.com will give parents, caregivers, and educators access to many other resources, including a discussion guide, videos, blogs, workshops, and presentations.

Multicultural children’s books are especially important as only 10% of children’s books published each year have main characters of color, and an even smaller proportion are written and illustrated by storytellers from the communities represented. My book helps inch the percentages a little higher and depicts multiple diversities—gender, single-parenthood, culture, race, and language. The book is bilingual, in English and Spanish. The multicultural team that collaborated on the book includes artist Robert Liu-Trujillo, translator Teresa Mlawer, and publisher Janine Macbeth of BloodOrange Press.

My Journey
I set off on my book-writing journey more than five years ago knowing nothing, I mean nothing about writing or publishing a book for children.

Here are some things that helped me along the way.

1. Coaching and Advice
I reached out for coaching and advice from people who know and love children’s book writing and publishing.

Beth Wallace walked me through creating my first manuscript and submitting it to a publisher. Shirin Bridges helped me finalize my second manuscript, including ideas for the title. Later, when I decided to go with an independent publisher, she walked me through what to look for in a publishing contract. Maya Christina Gonzalez gave me critical feedback on my manuscript development and helped me stay true to my voice.

2. Feedback
I got tons of feedback from fellow writers, educators, my son Danny, and friends who were willing to read the manuscript to children. This feedback helped me craft a compelling manuscript that would speak to children. I also got feedback from people who were knowledgeable about the best language to use when talking about gender diversity in both Spanish and English.

3. Classes
Shirin Bridges’ Writing Salon class on creating children’s picture books helped me revamp my first manuscript into something much closer to the final product, and included getting invaluable feedback from fellow writers. Her class on publishing at Stanford Continuing Education helped me grasp the pros and cons of different publishing options.

Maya Christina Gonzalez’ class on children’s book making helped me stay heart-centered in the process and opened up channels of creativity.

4. Translation
I made an initial attempt to translate my own manuscript, with the help of people who are more fluent in Spanish than I am. My publisher wisely sought independent review of the translation. Although the translation was technically accurate, it didn’t have artistry or feel of a children’s story. Janine made the decision to seek the support of Teresa Mlawer who delivered a beautiful retelling of the story in Spanish.

5. Platform Building
I spent more than three years building visibility for myself as a resource for families like mine, and as someone with something to say about the topics addressed in my book. This included speaking at numerous conferences, creating a website with the help of YDay Designs, recording videos about my story as a mom, becoming a blogger on Huffington Post, and establishing Facebook and twitter accounts. There is also a Facebook account for the book and I purchased the domain name oneofakindlikeme.com so that people searching for the book by name will be redirected to the correct page on my Out Proud Families website.

6. Publishing
I submitted the manuscript a few times to a publisher that specializes in multicultural children’s literature. They were supportive of my project, but in the end were not interested. I also explored self-publishing as an option, but decided that the amount of work this would entail was beyond my capacity. I ultimately ended up just where I think I was meant to be, with an independent publisher who is absolutely passionate about multicultural children’s books.

Several people I knew, including Shirin, suggested that I connect with Janine Macbeth, who had just published her first book Oh, Oh, Baby Boy under her own imprint, Blood Orange Press. We connected in 2013 and since then have built a beautiful working relationship.

Janine also knew Robert Liu-Trujillo, the illustrator I was interested in, and didn’t hesitate to sign him on to illustrate my book.

Launching the Book
On September 21st, we will be celebrating the launch of our book with the biggest bang possible (given our limited resources). There are a series of events planned including book readings, celebrations, workshops, and interviews.

Will you help me by spreading the word, buying my book, or coming to a book launch event? I would also welcome any opportunities to speak, do readings, or include this story in books lists, blogs or reviews. Please feel free to email me at laurin@outproudfamilies.com

Thank you for letting me share my experiences. I wish you as much luck with your project as I have had in mine.

Laurin Mayeno

Congratulations, Laurin. And for all children’s writers and illustrators out there, the Asian Festival of Children’s Literature, one of the biggest kid lit events on the planet, has issued a Call for Proposals: “The Call is for writers and illustrators who might want an opportunity to present at the Festival. We will not be able to provide an honorarium, but we will be able to provide a complimentary Full Festival pass (worth S$500), which will give them access to attend the Writers & Illustrators Conference, Cross-Platform Summit, Teachers Congress and Parents Forum. Masterclasses are ticketed separately.” If you’re interested, you’ll find more information here. Good luck! And happy writing,

Shirin

 

A real-life glimpse at the power of conferences

As many of you know, I’m enthusiastic about conferences when I teach, calling them the only publishing short cut there is (if you’re not Hollywood celebrity or British royalty). I’m about to pick up this refrain again in  An Author’s Guide to Publishing at Stanford, and Publishing Bootcamp at the Mendocino Coast Writers Conference. And I got to thinking, how can I prove what I claim?

I decided to diagram some of the relationships I’ve developed because of retreats and conferences—either by meeting somebody directly at a conference, or because somebody who was met by someone else at a conference was eventually introduced to me.  I think you’ll find it heartening to see how many previously unpublished authors got incorporated into this publishing web, and how many times cash and services changed hands.

Now, bear in mind that this is only a small subset of all the wonderful connections I’ve made through conferences and retreats, both in the U.S. and abroad.  I really do believe that retreats and conferences can enrich and propel your writing career as it has mine.

So saying, check out these upcoming West Coast offerings. But be brisk—some of these registrations are closing soon!

Association of Writers and Writing Programs, March 30-April 2

Santa Barbara Writers Conference, June 5-10

Squaw Valley Writers Conference, June 18-25

Napa Valley Writers Conference, July 24-29

Mendocino Coast Writers Conference, August 4-7

Willamette Writers Conference, August 12-14

Write On The Sound, September 30-October 2

Happy writing, retreating, and conferencing!

Shirin

Just in: New writing competition to be James Patterson’s next co-author!

A competition was just announced that will be very appealing to some of you. There are no entry fees, but you must take James Patterson’s video writing course. (I know about this because I took James Patterson’s writing course and, literary snob that I am, I was chagrined to have definitely learnt from it.)

In any case, it’s just been announced that students are eligible to enter a competition to win cash prizes and the chance to be picked as his next co-author. Here are the details. Interviews with his current co-authors are part of the course. It doesn’t look like a bad life if you enjoy writing mysteries. Entries close March 22nd.

For short story writers, Glimmer Train has three competitions closing in February and March: Short Story Award for New Writers; Very Short Fiction; and their Fiction Open. Glimmer Train is one of the few highly respected literary magazines (they usually make it into the annual America’s Best Short Storiesanthology) who actively look for previously unpublished writers.

Last but not least, most writing residencies are likewise closed to new writers, but the Djerassi Resident Artists Program is not. They advertise that they would like to mix emerging and established artists. Residencies are one month room and board, either in a shared Artists’ House with rooms especially designed for writers, or in your own cabin (pictured here), designed to give you visual and audial privacy. Applications close on March 15, 2016 for a residency in 2017.

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A reading fee does not invalidate a competition. Glimmer Train, for example, charges modest reading fees and are very reputable. But for those of you looking for free competitions, here is a searchable list.

Good luck, and happy writing!

Shirin

The benefits of writing in community

I teach, I speak at writers’ conferences, and I lead writers’ retreats. I’m often asked what the comparative benefits are of each. Well, I’ve just returned from a writers’ retreat in Port Orchard, Washington. A craft or publishing course will give you more instruction. A writers’ conference will give you exposure to more of your peers and a broader range of faculty. But a writers’ retreat—writing in community—has certain advantages that are hard to beat.

1. It gives you a concentrated time to write, in an environment hand-picked to be conducive to writing.

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aPDAgiRmFeyTzrbEi7Dw7sG3xkBKXVmWZ1cGIXd08NIWe were lucky to have plenty of space to work privately or side-by-side, to commune by the fire or collaborate over a table. As one participant said, “the accommodations went a LONG way towards putting me in the right frame of mind to sit down and get some work done.”

2. Being surrounded by other hard-working writers and hearing only the tap-tap-tap of keystrokes does amazing things for productivity. Unlike most of us when we’re out in the real world, being on retreat with writers makes you feel like a writer. For those three or four days, it becomes your principal calling. I heard time and time again that participants got more writing done on this retreat than they had in the preceding year.IMG_9083

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3.  It gives you real relationships with other writers—people writing at your level and struggling with the same challenges; people who may be more established and from whose experience you can learn; people who may be professional editors, writing coaches, and publishers—all contacts that any aspiring writer should want to make, all gathered around a table or a fire once a day, commenting and collaborating on work.

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It is a great benefit of writers’ conferences that they also expose you people, but on retreat, you are a small and tight-knit family for three days. The nature of the bond is qualitatively different. You can’t have the dinners we had together and not feel permanently connected.

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In the end, the proof is in the pudding. We had one participant tell us that she was on the point of quitting for good, but with the help of all the collegial interactions, she’d landed on a new arc and was now re-motivated and back on track. We had another thank us for getting her out of the doldrums. And another excited by new project ideas that had come to her. Where writers gather with warmth and wine, the muses come visiting.

So, still basking in the rosy glow of a great retreat…wait, cue the sunset shot…

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…I’d like to thank my fellow house-elves for making this possible. Wendy for the superb catering, and Robyn for keeping us all sorted and sane.

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If you’re interested in joining our next retreat, we will be back in Port Orchard, March 24-27. Email me or murphyrobynt@gmail.com for details.

And in the mean time, happy writing!

Shirin

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Answers to three questions raised in this summer’s workshops

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It’s that time of year again. Labor Day looms, signaling the end of summer. Most of another year has slipped away. And all that summer reading and writing? Still undone.

I learned a few things this summer, though. Mostly from finding answers to difficult questions that were raised in class. If you’ve attended one of my publishing workshops, you’ll know that the first exercise I assign is an introspective one: why do you want to be published? This summer, for the second time since I started asking that question, an answer came back, “I see it as a first step to a movie.”

I can answer a lot of “how to” questions about publishing, but “how to get my book made into a movie” wasn’t one of them. I knew differing cocktails of agents were involved—authors’ agents; subrights agents working for publishers; media talent and IP agents like Creative Artists or Gotham—but the exact process has never been anything I’ve had the good luck to need to know.

But here is a step-by-step from someone who does: How a Book Becomes a Movie. It’s a fascinating read even if you don’t have such hopes for your book, because it shows how both the book and film industries have been so radically changed by Harry Potter, Twilight, et al.

Enlightenment #2 is a sequel to last month’s blog about Outlining (this corner fought by James Patterson) vs. Not Outlining (in this corner, Zadie Smith). I get asked whether or not to outline all the time, and I personally find it freeing to have convincing advocates of such diametrically opposed views. It allows you to do pretty much anything in between—and in between is exactly where my personal process is. But Patterson’s proposed advantages of outlining did not extend to character and voice. So I was intrigued to come across this discussion of How Outlining Can Bring Out Voice. I’m still not sure outlining is mandatory, but the argument for its utility grows and grows.

The last enlightenment is a caution. I give consults to writers; frequently to self-publishers. There is one question I often get asked that I regret having to answer: “I have self-published my book using print-on-demand (POD). How can I generate more sales?” If your book is already published, the invaluable information I have is too late to save you, though I can perhaps help you make the best of a bad situation. I use “save” advisedly because it is with this mode of self-publishing more than any other that authors get burned and disappointed. Please, if you’re thinking of self-publishing, speak to me before you commit to POD. You can attend one of my publishing workshops, or email me to arrange a consult. I charge $100 for an hour, and I guarantee, I can save you from a much more expensive misstep.

So, those were my three big take-outs from this summer. But here is an ongoing opportunity to learn more about publishing and its ancillary skills, for free. Skillfeed is offering 30 days’ free access to its 93,858 video courses.

The neighbor’s BBQ smoke wafts in through my windows. Maybe it’s because I’m writing a novel populated by Native Americans, but I feel as if I’ve gathered a few fat writing berries from this social summer to carry with me into the insular winter, when surely…finally…I will snuggle down and write?

Happy learning and writing!

Shirin

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James Patterson vs. Zadie Smith: How do you teach craft?

I’ve been listening to a lot of “how to”s lately—from authors as disparate as James Patterson and Zadie Smith.  One of Patterson’s commandments is to never start without an outline. The outline, Patterson believes, is critical because it allows you to evaluate the story as a story. It saves you from investing good writing in a story that doesn’t work and that you have to then go back and unpick—or worse, that you are unwilling to unpick because too much has been invested. Once established, the outline gives you a skeleton on which to hang your drafts. Drafts, plural: the first a sketch to get the story told; each subsequent draft a layering of sinew and muscle.

Smith has never used an outline in her life. In her article, That Crafty Feeling, she admits that she starts without having any idea where the story is going. But what the story will become, she believes, is in the tone, in the atmosphere, in the metaphysics of that first line. She will try out first lines until she finds one that has enough soul to birth a story. She labors over every sentence as that story unfolds, until a particular sentence tells her that she’s come to the end, and—that’s it. She lies down with a bottle of sancerre. She is a one-draft writer.

Such opposite views on something as straightforward (you’d think) as whether or not to outline poses a dilemma. How do you teach or learn how to write when nobody can agree on how it should be done?

Being someone who both writes and paints, I always find it helpful to think of writing as painting. “How one should paint” is not very valuable. What made many great painters great is that they painted in ways that they should not have. The impressionists and what they did with light and paint surface, we all know. And then came Lautrec, cropping in on his subjects, leaving us with just an elbow or an ear. Or Van Gogh, squeezing the yellow onto his canvas directly from the tube. Think of the fauvists with their unnatural colors that somehow make sense—so much sense that I can no longer see how once they did not and were thought offensive.  Think of every great painter afterwards. We never went back to Ingres, although I love him too.

What is useful to learn when painting is how to choose a brush…how to choose your medium…what different substrates will do for you. Techniques are useful too. If you know what can be achieved by layering, you can decide whether or not to use it. If you learn what is wonderful about painting wet-on-wet…well, you might well fall in love. And there are rules you should know if only to break them: how perspective works; how to evaluate balance; how to vary tone so that the whole thing doesn’t turn into dense mud.

This summer, I’m giving a course of five workshops, each focused on a different craft. Writers’ exercises are invaluable, I think, and something we rarely allow ourselves unless we’re in a group. When was the last time you sat down and wrote to a prompt by yourself? The thinking is, if I’m all alone and I have time to write, I should be working on the real stuff. But think how much comes out of every writing exercise. I’ve been teaching for four years now, and it amazes me every time.

In painting terms, we’ll be creating five different canvases, one a week, each one exploring a few new techniques: Ideation/Breaking the Block; Creating Complex and Compelling Characters; A World of Your Own; The Many Ways of Showing; Great Abs for Your Novel. They’ll be sketches—quick and fun—but I’m sure they’ll result in new brush strokes and color combinations that can be applied to any master piece.

In the mean time, here is the best how-to-write I’ve come across:

I dream of painting and then I paint my dream.
— Vincent Van Gogh

Happy writing!

Shirin

Portraying character: The importance of a haircut.

If you’ve ever taken one of my classes, or worked with me as an editor, you’ll know that I’m a fan of Coco Chanel: “quality is in the details.”

Often, the details I’m focussed on are word choices. Is this the most evocative verb? Is that the most specific noun? As Mark Twain said, “the difference between the right word and the almost-right word is the difference between lightning and a lightning bug.” But when it comes to portraying character, those aren’t the details I worry about most.

Don’t get me wrong. You still need the right words and not the almost-right words in any description or dialog. But what portrays character most powerfully, in literature as in life, is what a person does. So I spend a lot of time worrying about what my characters do, and what that says about them. Which gestures, decisions, and actions should I choose to show you, the reader? Which are the gems that will best evoke my characters?

I recently had a brainwave about one of my characters — the one loosely based on my great-great-great grandfather. Let me first explain what “loosely based” means. It means that the character in my novel walks around in my head. I have a feeling for him. I know him on an intimate and nuanced level, although like any human, he may surprise me. I might even be a little in love with him.

I don’t know what kind of man my greatx3 grandfather was. Like any reader, I have to deduce this from his actions. But the man that I’m “reading”from the paper trail I’ve researched is not very much like the corresponding character in my head. No matter. Greatx3 grandpa is only there for inspiration. After all, my novel is fiction.

The other day, I was looking at a photo of Greatx3 Grandpa taken in 1905. Here it is…

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Doesn’t he look like a Mafia don, with his thick, short, centrally parted hair and self-satisfied smirk?

That hair fascinated me. I kept coming back to it like a tongue to a missing tooth. Where was his queue—the long Celestial braid that should have been hanging down his back?

The queue was not a fashion statement. The queue was an imperial edict enforced by law, punishable by death. All Chinese (Han) men had to wear a queue as a sign of their subservience to the Qing, their Manchu overlords. Lose your queue; lose your head.

And yet, here was Greatx3 Grandpa giving his finger to the Emperor. He was involved in a lot of China trade at that time. One year, he shipped east four thousand 100-lb sacks of American flour.  Yet, queue-less, he must have stopped outside the Manchu’s gates—at Macau or Hong Kong, foreign colonies where head-chopping for missing queues was not enforced.

This gesture, this one little hair cut, tells you so much about his character. It tells you that he was nationalistic. It tells you that there was a broad streak of defiance in him. It tells you that he was confident — that he didn’t have to kowtow; he had other options, in America. It tells you that he had his eyes on the future.

Six years after this photo was taken, the Qing Dynasty fell.

My great-great-great grandfather’s early cutting of his queue is what I’d consider a telling action. Although, with all the “show don’t tells” I chirrup, maybe I should call it a showing action. So I’m stealing it for my novel.

My character is softer than I suspect my greatx3 grandfather was. He’s less businessman, more romantic. But they share a boundless optimism, an ability to see the glass half full and on the verge of getting fuller. Both had eyes on far horizons.

In my novel, cutting that braid will cut ties to the past. It will be the declaration of a new man. It will be the exultant embrace of a new world.

So, sometimes you can tell a lot about a man from his haircut.

Happy writing!

Shirin

 

 

 

Building the platform — with help from my great-great-great-grandfather

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Greatx3 Grandpa

At every writers’ conference I’ve attended in the last three years, much time and angst has been spent over “the writers’ platform.” Having one improves your chances of sales, and because of that, your chances of getting published. Logically, this means you should have a platform in place before you pitch your book. Here’s where the angst comes in: how does one do that?!

First of all, what is “a writer’s platform”? In advertising speak, it’s your reach. A workable layman’s term would be your fame…although that word has been ruined by the Kim Kardashians of this world. Notoriety won’t cut it. Not for most books, anyway.

From a publisher’s perspective, a writer’s platform is the author’s ability to convince the publisher that s/he has access to an audience already interested in the author, the subject, or best of all, the book in particular. Writers often think of publishers as gougers who give them some crummy percentage when they (the writers) do “all” of the work. But it is edifying to think of them as the people who are the first to pay and the last to be paid. In that context it makes sense that they’d really like to maximize their very slim chances of getting their money back.

Now, at the risk of eliciting some “that’s easy for you to say”s, here’s an example of a writer’s platform being built in advance. Before you read any further, make sure you’ve read my last post about how I’m living in the Twilight Zone. It will give you necessary context.

I came to Washington to conduct research on a novel whose germ was the story of my great-great-great-grandmother. She was a Native American woman who married a Chinese merchant and eventually moved to China. The man she married, who has a small part in my novel, happened to be the first Chinese resident of Seattle.

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Greatx3 Grandma

A friendly Seattle Public librarian introduced me to her friends, and those librarians to other librarian friends, until in ever-expanding circles, my research came to the notice of the very warm and lovely curator of the Seattle Room. Turns out, the Seattle Public Library partners with the Museum of History and Industry to host a program called History Café, a monthly soirée for people interested in Seattle history. Would I like to speak to them about my great-great-great-grandfather?

Here’s a tip. This may look like an obvious decision, but I’ve seen many people turn down opportunities like this — because public speaking is not their forte, because they don’t have time, because they are working on a novel about one thing and being asked to speak about another. But my attitude is that life is short, and experiences are to be collected. At the end of life, it’s not the one with the most toys who wins, but the one with the best photo album.

So, anyway, I said yes, and worked on drafting the presentation and conducting much deeper research to fill the many holes. I started spending considerable chunks of time in the Wing Luke Museum. Then, weirdly, I began sensing some discord in the ether. I felt as if I was being pulled in two directions by jealous ancestral spirits. Time spent on the presentation (Greatx3 Grandpa) was time I didn’t have to work on the novel (Greatx3 Grandma), and my time in Washington was running out.

So, goofy as it sounds, I sat down and made peace between them. I promised Greatx3 Grandma that I would finish the research I needed to do for the novel, but pointed out that even if I didn’t get it done in this one pass, all those resources would be here another day. The opportunity that Greatx3 Grandpa had so graciously thrust in my lap, however, was evanescent. I also pointed out that the research I was doing on him was giving me great context for her: scales were falling from my eyes. I could see her world with increasing granularity. So for now, I was going to prioritize the presentation. And listen, Greatx3 Grandma, I concluded, it will be the first plank of my platform: it will help your story get disseminated one day.

I think Greatx3 Grandpa decided to reward my faith. The Chinese Services Librarian of Seattle Public asked me when I would be speaking. I told her, and told her it would be at the MOHAI. “Oh no!” she said. “I mean, that’s good, but we really need to have you speaking here. Maybe we can partner with the Wing Luke to sponsor another presentation in our auditorium. Ask them.” So I did…the parties will meet to discuss on March 10th. “And when your book is finally published,” the Genealogy Librarian said, “We’d love to do something here to help launch it.”

So, without the guiding hand of a 19th century ancestral spirit, how to you start building your writer’s platform? Consider what your book (and the good research you’re conducting for it) makes you an authority on:

— An individual
— A demographic group
— A historical period
— A geographical area
— Some aspect of lifestyle or culture
— An environmental or political concern
— The process of research
— The process of writing

And then ask yourself who would be interested in this information, and how you can put yourself before them. It doesn’t always have to be public speaking, although that certainly helps. You can write articles for special interest magazines, you can give interviews on local radio stations, you can offer your insight to writers’ groups, and you can even — yes — blog.

Happy writing!

Shirin

 

[Insert Twilight Zone music here]

When I first decided to come to Washington to research my novel, I looked for a place on Bainbridge Island in order to be half way between the Suquamish Museum and the Seattle Central Library. My great-great-great-grandmother was reputed to have been Suquamish. And my great-great-great-grandfather was  the founder of the Wa Chong Company, the first Chinese business registered in Seattle. Their story is the germ from which my novel sprouts.

As I trolled through rentals on VRBO and Airbnb, I found and fell in love with the cottage that I’m ensconced in now. I noticed belatedly that it wasn’t actually a Bainbridge listing. Instead, the cottage is located in Port Orchard. Port Who? I’d never heard of it before, and on investigation it was further away from both the museum and the library. But, the heart wants what the heart wants, so I accepted the longer commutes.

On my first visit to the library, I made an appointment for a consult with their genealogy librarian. Chun Ching Hock, my great-great-great-grandfather I wrote, under Who are you researching? on the application form. When I showed up for my appointment, the librarian was welcoming.
“I’m also interested in Chun Ching Hock,” he said. He was researching a cemetery that CCH had some role in establishing.
“Have you seen this?” and he handed me a postcard.
“Oh yes,” I replied. “I wrote it.”
It was a card that I’d helped a distant cousin to create, when she’d wanted to encapsulate CCH’s role as an American pioneer. That was neat, I thought. It’s not often that someone hands you something you wrote.
“Look at this,” the librarian continued. “They had three sons, born in Port Orchard. Looks like they were living there.”
[Insert Twilight Zone music here.]

Another thing we found that afternoon was a reference to my great-great-great-grandmother being Duwamish, not Suquamish. Well, I thought, I guess I’ll have to go introduce myself to the Duwamish.
That evening friends asked if I’d have dinner with them “and a friend.”
“Who?” I said suspiciously.
“Oh, he’s a great guy. Intelligent. Blah. Blah. Blah. We used to race motorcross together, but I haven’t seen him much in the last two years.”
“Why?”
“He’s very involved with his tribe.”
“Which tribe?”
My friend sent a text.
Duwamish came the answer.
And, as it turns out, not only Duwamish but on their Council and willing to introduce me to the rest of its members!
[Insert Twilight Zone music here.]

Next stop was the Wing Luke Museum of the Asian Pacific American Experience. They are housed (in part) in what used to be CCH’s store. I spoke with the librarian, who kindly showed me around and arranged to gather items from their archives for me to peruse on another day. As I left, I turned around to look at my great-great-great-grandfather’s storefront again. And there in the window was my book, Ruby’s Wish.
“I’m sorry we’re in such a mess! We’re setting up for Chinese New Year,” the sales assistant said.
“That book in your window. I wrote it!”
“Oh,” she said, taken aback by my excitement.
“And this used to be my great-great-great-grandfather’s store!”
“Oh,” she repeated. Then, “Would you like to sign them for us? I have a bunch.” She cleared a spot for me to sign, and I noticed that the stack of books she was moving to make room were my sister’s.
[Insert Twilight Zone music here.]

Ruby and Goldiluck

I touched base with that distant cousin, to tell her about the Duwamish lead. As we were chatting I mentioned how my character was going to live in the store itself, whether that had happened in life or not.
“Do you know that my grandfather inherited that store,” she said.
“No!” I answered. (If you think this strange, bear in mind that CCH had 11 wives and many children, including a son who had 44 kids of his own. It’s hard to keep track.)
“My mom and uncle grew up there. Uncle Joe is still in Seattle. He can tell you what that would have been like.”
I’m having lunch with Uncle Joe on Friday.
[Insert Twilight Zone music here.]

Yesterday, I had lunch with two friendly, supportive, WONDERFUL Seattle Central librarians. They’d introduced me to a friend of theirs who gave me access to the SPLC’s Writers’ Room. (Take a look at my new office…)

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In the middle of lunch, one says to the other, “I should introduce you to Peter Baccho. I went to school with him.”
“PETER BACHO?!?!?!”
She looks at me strangely. “Yes, he’s a local journalist.”
“He wrote the article that said my great-great-great-grandmother was Seattle’s daughter. I have none of his references. I’d love to know how he came to that conclusion!”
An hour later, I had an email saying he’d be happy to chat.
[Insert Twilight Zone music here.]

“Don’t ignore coincidences,” my new Duwamish friend said. “Someone wants you to write this book.”