By Lauren E. Smith
Ersilia Pompilio is one of Writing Pad’s loyal students who has blossomed into a published writer and notable performer. She says, “Without Writing Pad, I’m not sure if the creative part of me would have ever came out of the closet.” Since stepping out of her dusty closet and diving into Writing Pad’s classes she has published: a short story, “Our Little Hospital Ghost,” an op-ed, “Remember, Nurses Are Human Too,” and an essay, “A Day In The Life Of An NP: The Struggle for Understanding.”
Ersilia has also taken her storytelling talent to the stage with her one-woman performance, “The Nurse and The Hypochondriacs” which is going to be in Fringe Fest 2015. Additionally, she’s graced the web with her blog, Notoriouslysinglegirl. Her publications and blog’s reputation have landed her prize money, free vacations, free cocktails, and free coffee! “It’s been a fun and interesting ride! Thanks so much for helping me get started,” Ersilia acknowledges.
Writing Pad couldn’t be more proud of Ersilia and her accomplishments. Congratulations, Ersilia! We look forward to hearing what’s next in store for the Notoriously Single Girl!
By: Lauren E. Smith
She’s a clinical psychologist by day and a writer at night. Susan Steinberg-Oren’s background in psychology paired with her twenty-three years of parenting experience has given her the material to write several journal articles and two anthologies that focus on family dynamics. No matter how many publications you have under your belt, there comes a time when every writer experiences writer’s block. After toying with a piece for over a year, Susan turned to Writing Pad for help.
Susan credits her latest publication to Cole Kazdin’s “Your Essay in 1200 Words” Writing Pad workshop. She shares, “I really wanted to publish this story and the class made it happen. Cole helped me to discover the core essence of my story and to organize it into a more effective and compelling format.” Not only did Susan benefit from Kazdin’s guidance, but through a student connection she was introduced to online magazine editor. “I sent it to the Huff Post on Monday, heard back within 5 minutes, and it was published on Saturday. Thank you, Writing Pad,” she says.
You’re welcome, Susan! We are very proud of your success and your moving, beautifully written essay. Click here to read Susan’s Huff Post publication.
By: Lauren E. Smith
Actress, Director, Performer, Tess Paras does it all. Now, she’s on her way into the writer’s room after taking a TV Comedy class at Writing Pad. Her half-hour comedy pilot, “Jewlipino” is a semi-finalist in Screencraft’s: Pilot Launch Competition. This means that her pilot is in the top 10% of all the scripts that were submitted!
Tess shares, “I attribute part of this success to Gloria Calderon-Kellet’s class. I was on a draft of this script when I began and the tools and insights she gave us helped me create a version that I was confident in submitting to the competition. I would recommend her class to anyone looking to write a pilot and gain insights into a writer’s room!”
We love it when our students come out of Writing Pad classes with additional confidence, drive and a firmer grip on their writing talents. Congrats on the recognition Tess, way to take Hollywood by storm! Writing Pad will be sure to keep an eye out for “Jewlipino.” To keep up with Tess’ success and projects, follow her on Facebook or check out her website.
Monica Holloway is the bestselling author of Cowboy & Wills, which shares the story of the golden retriever puppy that changed her autistic son’s life, and the critically acclaimed author of the memoir Driving With Dead People, a story about her dysfunctional and eccentric family. Described by Newsweek as “unforgettable,” christened by Glamour as “a classic,” and deemed “irresistible” by the Washington Post, Monica Holloway is a dynamic element to all things memoir. Her memoirs are deep, moving, and entertaining. She is one of our favorite writers!
Monica took time out of her busy schedule to share some tips about writing a memoir and give a sneak peek of what she’ll be teaching in her memoir workshop starting this Sunday, October 5th.
1. Why did you decide to write your first memoir and how did you get it published?
When I knew I wanted to write a book, the story of my childhood was the story I wanted to tell first. Period. There was no way I could write anything before Driving With Dead People (DWDP). It was practically bursting out of me.
To get it published, I made sure I attended plenty of workshops and classes taught by my favorite authors, and I read every book I could get my hands on. My first essay was published in “Mommy Wars,” and that opened up a few doors, thankfully. I attended a workshop at Sarah Lawrence the summer of 2005, and within a month of meeting the faculty and trips in and out of New York, I had DWDP sold. It was a fluke, really, and I was very fortunate.
2. How do you write about someone who has wronged you in a balanced way?
I always try to write the story from my own perspective at the age I was at the time the events took place. Therefore, in DWDP, I was able to remember my father as he was back when I was a child – before I understood everything so well.
In DWDP, it was important to me that the readers experience my life as I did, with information unfolding the way I had lived it. This enabled me to be more present in each moment instead of standing in judgment of what had happened to me.
Also, I think it’s imperative that you write with a great amount of compassion, and if this is difficult, there may be an editor, a friend or an instructor that can help you. The person you are writing about may not feel that you’ve written about them compassionately, but it’s important that you know. I don’t feel that there’s room for revenge in memoir writing. But the truth is the truth.
While I was writing “Cowboy & Wills,” my husband and I were in the middle of a horrible separation, and yet I needed to write the book. So I had to put away my “now” feelings about my husband, separate my present from my past, and write about my son, my husband and the way we were in my son’s early years. I could not let what was happening in my marriage poison what I was writing – even though I was really mad at him. So I told my editor to keep an eye on that, and I think we both did a good job.
Hopefully, the person that you’re having a difficult time writing about, is someone you have a bit of perspective on – in other words, there might be some distance between now and then. Time is not only a wonderful healer, but it gives us an incredibly helpful and important perspective.
3. What do you think the elements of a good memoir are?
The following was taught to me long ago, and, I think, still holds:
• Plot- your unique story
• Structure- how you choose to arrange events
• Description- details that appeal to the five senses
• Dialogue- a speaker’s words
• Characterization- showing what characters are like
• Point of view- the vantage point from which the story is told
• Voice- the writer’s unique personality
4. You’ve written three memoirs now. How do you know what time frame of your life to include in a memoir?
That’s a very good question, and I got anxious when I was writing DWDP that I was writing about a huge part of my life. How would I condense it? What was important to the reader and what could I leave out? Some of this was worked out with my editor at Simon & Schuster. When I first pitched the book, I’d only written two chapters, so I told the story to my publisher face-to-face, and they held me accountable to the story I’d pitched.
Sometimes an outline will help a person whittle down what’s most important to include. With “Cowboy & Wills” there’s a built in timeline and also with my new book, “There Goes Perfect,” there’s a timeline of six years. So that makes it MUCH easier. Talking through the book, writing key scenes, and sketching out chapters can be very helpful, too. Putting together a proposal is hugely beneficial (although not my favorite thing to do) because you must know the book and what each chapter will contain in order to complete it. So that’s a great way to figure out the shape or structure of the book.
I never write with a sequel in mind. In fact, my agent and I thought that the DWDP sequel would be my second book, and I started writing it. But Simon & Schuster heard my story about my son. Wills, and we ended up switching the books. So “Cowboy & Wills” was my second book instead.
Everyone is different, but I try to focus on exactly what’s in front of me. (And for me, that’s one book at a time.) For others, I know they work differently. I’m not sure that any way is the best way. Write what works best for you.
6. Did you have to exaggerate or enhance any real life events to make them story worthy?
Things in storytelling are exaggerated. Nobody wants to pick up my journal and read it; they’d be bored out of their minds. You have to describe and write out your stories. You have to recreate a place, person and conversation. None of us have perfect memory. These things have to be created from our memory. We owe it to ourselves and our readers to do the very best job we can in remembering.
I also found that research can help SO much. I went back to my hometown and sat in the basement of the library and copied articles off of microfiche. (Yes, in 2007, I was still dealing with microfiche.) But I found at through my research that most of my descriptions were spot on – like the opening of the book where I see the article about the dead little girl. She looked exactly as I’d remembered and that was a huge relief to me. BUT – I was nine when I saw that article, and I had written in the book that I was five years old. Big difference. I was sure I was younger, only I wasn’t. When I adjusted the entire book, moved it up by four years, SO much more made sense to me. No wonder I remembered so much, I was older. A nine-year-old would remember such things.
Also, get anyone and anything you can find to corroborate your story. It will pay off later. If someone else remembers it differently, it’s wonderful to have a back up (or two or three). And don’t EVER let someone else’s truth interfere with your own truth. It’s amazing how people in the exact same family can remember events differently. Three of us remember it one way, two of us remember it another way. Be your own truth – and never budge from that.
They’ll learn from each other as well as myself. They’ll learn what grabs their reader and what might be confusing. They will learn to trust their writing instincts, sharpen their skills (both writing and listening to learn), and hopefully, decide what it is that they want to work on the most. Which story, why, and how.)
8. What advice do you have for aspiring writers?
Write – always. Read – always. And always, always, always put your work in front of authors and instructors who can help you become better writers and who can also get you in touch with agents or editors.
And the way I did this was to take classes and workshops from my favorite authors. I also met so many wonderful writers in those classes who were students like me. Many of them are now published, and we definitely help each other out. We now have a community of writers, and you will, too!
I wasn’t published until I was forty-two. If you stick with it, you will do it.
Thank you Monica for such a stimulating interview, it is always an honor to have such a celebrated author give us some insight.
Don’t miss the opportunity to take her memoir workshop Memorable Memoir Bootcamp: Writing a Compelling Past that starts this Sunday, October 5 at 6 p.m.
If you are in search of an experienced and successful writer to help you reel in that dreaded second or third draft, Liza Palmer is your girl. Palmer has five bestselling novels under her belt and her sixth “Girl Before a Mirror,” will be out on January 5, 2015. Her first novel, “Conversations with the Fat Girl” was optioned by HBO and became an international bestseller its first week in publication, as well as hitting Number 1 on the Fiction Heatseekers List in the UK the week before the book debuted. Her fifth novel “Nowhere but Home” bestowed Palmer with the Willie Morris Award for Southern Fiction in 2013. Palmer also earned two Emmy nominations for writing for the first season of VH1’s Pop Up Video.
If anyone knows how to turn a rough draft into a polished finished draft, it is Liza. Lucky for us, she will be taking time out of her busy schedule to teach a Book Revision class this Sunday, September 21, where she will share her secret methods for how to plan for a painless and highly productive editing session. She will even give students individual feedback on their books in this small class session. We are very privileged to have Liza!
She took some time to share some novel writing and revision tips and what to expect on her upcoming class.
1. How much of your own experiences do you draw on when writing your novels?
I heard a great quote I always refer back to that said, “books aren’t us, they’re of us.” As much as we try to point to a certain experience or person in our lives while writing, it’s actually way deeper than that. Books, poems, screenplays and short stories usually know what they’re about before we do. We string together some plot and then right in the middle we realize. . .oh shit. THAT’S what this is about? Our subconscious has a way of burrowing into our books whether we like it or not.
2. You’ve written and published six novels and are working on your seventh. How are you able to finish so many books? What advice do you have for writers who are struggling to finish their first book?
Unfortunately (fortunately?) writing = sanity, and not writing. . . well. . . it’s not pretty. I’ve realized that I’m happiest, most balanced and calmest when I’m either hatching a story or writing. As I get older, I’ve learned to have several irons in the fire at once – and have come to find out that this is what yields the happiest, healthiest me. Not all mental/emotional eggs in one story basket, so to speak.
The best advice I ever got was from David Ebershoff. A page a day. That’s all. Keep a calendar where you can see it and mark a big X when you’ve written just one page that day. Chances are, you’ll write more than just the page. But some days, you’ll grind and crawl to that goal. And if you miss a day, you will have to look at that empty box on your calendar for that whole month. If you do this for just one full year you’ll have a workable first draft.
3. You seem to write a lot about that “imperfect heroine.” Do you think flaws are what make a character interesting?
A perfect character, to me, is boring. Flaws and layers, nooks and crannies are what make characters interesting. Give me Hamlet. Give me Amy Dunne. Give me Coriolanus. Give me Maria Wyeth. Give me Bridget Jones. It’s the layers that make these characters endlessly compelling and readable. Just like in life, I think we learn from our mistakes more than anything else. So a flaw is a spark. It gets things going. Of course all of this understanding seems to hiccup when we speak about ourselves and our own imperfections. We love layers and flaws in our characters, but what about our own? We have to learn to see the beauty in them.
4.Your novel “Conversations With the Fat Girl” was optioned by HBO. Why do you think that book is appealing for TV?
I think a lot of people can identify with that feeling of not fitting in, especially in one’s 20s. It’s about figuring out who you are, what you have to offer and the seemingly unending quest to be perfect/lovable.
The book focuses on a friendship that has run its course and I think everyone can identify with that, as well. Two friends who only have a shared history to talk about and the cruel realization that, as they grow older, they don’t really know who their friend is becoming and whether or not they would have chosen this person as they are now. Like fine china, their friendship is just trotted out at parties. . . barely functional anymore.
5. Do you have any advice for aspiring writers who want to get their novels published?
And don’t abandon your voice. Yes, every story has been told, all that you have to differentiate yourself is how you tell it. Don’t give up on yourself before you even start.
Why you? Why NOT you?
6. You are going to be teaching a class on the dreaded book revision. Can you give us a preview of what you plan to cover?
For me, the second draft is all about remembering why I was compelled to tell that story in the first place–why I started, the big picture. I’ve made it through the swamps of the first draft and now, I can tell you minutiae about every scene and character and how I finally broke that one plot thread. And then someone will ask, “What’s your book about?” and I’ll just. . . “huh?” (quietly sobbing, she slides down wall.)
The second draft is about excavation and connecting the dots. Pulling the plot threads taut and connecting them to that original big idea. This draft is about chipping away and revealing the next layer. I’ll show you how to make sure that each chapter builds and connects, that every beat links to the next.
We’ll make sure that your characters are unique. Do those two characters need to be morphed into just one? Did you fall in love with that secondary character and now find them more interesting than your hero? Can you tell the difference between your characters when they speak? Are all your characters there to serve the narrative or are they there because they’re one of your darlings?
The second draft is also where our writer kinks are illuminated. Do we need to go through and take out all the “justs?” Is everyone arching eyebrows? It is where we look for any repetition, logistical errors and major plot holes. The second draft is where the book becomes a symphony – all the movable parts finally coming together.
Thank you so much, Liza for such an informative interview! Don’t miss her class Book Revision: Writing a Seamless Second Draft this Sunday, September 21!