Category Archives: writing life

December’s Three by Five Author – J. M. Gregoire – Part 2

Author Pic 2J. M. Gregoire Part 2

Continuing the conversation with independent author J. M. Gregoire:

VAH: When did you decide you were a writer?

JMG: I have always written, as far back as I can remember, but the day I considered myself a writer for the first time was after I read the first review of Burning, the short story prequel to my Demon Legacy series.  That was the day I realized that I may actually have something.  Up until that point, although I enjoyed doing it, writing was just a form of art to me.  The problem with art is it’s very personal.  You create something out of nothing, and you love it to the core with every fiber of your being, but that doesn’t mean the rest of the world is going to think anything of it.  I have a poem I wrote years ago, and I still it love to this day.  When I read it, it transports me back to a certain point in time and I adore that feeling.  However, I would never consider calling myself a poet.  That just happened to be the art which came out on that particular day.  Poetry is all about intense emotion and very often, it’s born of a sadness of some sort.  I don’t have that in me.  I am too much of an optimist.  However, I have always been a storyteller.  When I started to create the Demon Legacy world, I still wasn’t convinced I was a writer. It took someone else calling me a writer for me to realize it.  Now I feel it in everything I do.

 VAH: As an independently published author what is your best advice for emerging writers?

JMG: First, read a lot and write every day even if you only write a few sentences.  Not to compare your work to others, but to learn from other styles.  Reading lots of different styles will help you develop your own unique style.

Second, be humble and accept constructive criticism when you ask for it.  If you ask for someone’s opinion, and you’re only asking so someone will pat you on the back and tell you how good and smart you are, you’re going to be very angry and highly disappointed when they actually come back with suggestions.  This is something which some authors never learn, and it’s the worst mistake of their career.

Third, NEVER STOP BEING A FAN.  The second you stop getting stupid excited about writing, not just your own, is the day it starts to become a chore.  Get out and meet the authors you have fangirled or fanboyed over for years.  Get so excited and nervous that your stomach turns.  When you stop getting that feeling, I guarantee you will miss it like you’ve never missed anything in your life.  Admiring another author feels just as good as being admired.  I think a lot of writers forget to keep being a nerd for writing and I find that very sad.

Fourth, learn the ropes of publishing a book BEFORE you hit publish.  Use betas.  Use editors.  Use proofreaders.  Have a cover professionally made by someone who knows what they’re doing.  Polish your book until you think it can’t possibly shine any brighter.  THEN PUBLISH.  There’s absolutely no reason to rush the process.

VAH: What are your thoughts on studying writing?

JMG: I don’t have a MFA in writing.  I don’t think you need one to be a writer.  However, it certainly couldn’t hurt.  I can honestly say I don’t know a single reader who goes out and checks the collegiate history of an author before or after they’ve read one of their books.  I think if you’re a writer, you’re a writer.  It’s not something which can be taught, simply because creativity is either in you or it’s not.  That being said, I feel studying writing is good for a writer in the technical sense.  Higher learning is always a good thing.  I think it is just a matter of how you apply it.  Now, in my genre (urban fantasy and paranormal romance), it’s not “necessary” to have a masters in writing as the genre itself tends to be written in a way which sounds more like one person telling another person a story in every day conversation.  Twist that same line of thinking into something like literary fiction and you’ll probably find the majority of LitFic authors are in possession of some sort of writing degree.  Not to point fingers or anything, but there’s a reason a lot of LitFic authors look down on genre fiction authors.  I look at it this way – everyone from all different walks of life love to read and the reader themselves shouldn’t need a degree to be able to enjoy reading a book.  I think that is the mindset which most genre fiction is written from.  So, is it worthwhile? Of course!!  Is it necessary to be a successful writer?   I think that depends on the tone and genre of your writing.

VAH: Do you have a favorite conference or writing retreat/seminar?

JMG:  I have only done a few cons so far, but the one I am really excited about is The Novel Experience Event in Las Vegas in April 2015.  That one is going to have 500 authors and 5 days of fun!  I can’t wait!

 VAH: Are you a full-time writer and if not, what is the job that sustains you so you may write?

JMG: Unfortunately, I am not a full-time writer yet.  For now, my day job is working at a major financial services company.  I answer internal employee Help Desk calls all day.  It may sound tedious, but I love it.  I am able to drink all the coffee my body can handle, and most of the time, I am strapped into my iPod with either a podcast playing or an audiobook playing.  For someone who loves audiobooks, and I totally do (narrators are rock stars in my world), it’s a dream job.  It’s low stress and I am able to write all day long between calls.  Plus, I have a group of “fans” at work that follow my writing which is kind of fun.

Author Information

J.M. Gregoire was born and raised in New Hampshire, USA, and despite her abhorrence for any season that dares to drop to a temperature below seventy degrees, she still currently resides there with her two children and her two cats. Always a passionate reader, her love of urban fantasy books eventually morphed into a love of writing them. She is currently working on the Demon Legacy series, and has a spin off series, the Killer Instinct series, coming soon.

Visit J.M. Gregoire’s social media or online: Website / BlogFacebookTwitterGoodreadsPinterestInstagram.

Check out The Demon Legacy Series and The Killer Instinct Series.

 

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Deliberations Begin!

The holiday season has arrived in full. There are still a few last leftovers from Thanksgiving in the fridge. Santa, Rudolf and lights galore are starting to grace the homes in the neighborhood. December has arrive2009 SFWC MFA Scholarship winners & sponsor 05d and with it, some colder temperatures, blustery, rainy days and the deadline for the Emerging Writer contest I sponsor every year. One talented, emerging writer will receive a paid registration fee to attend the San Francisco Writers Conference in February 2015. Travel and all other costs are on the winner, but the ticket in the door is their reward for a well crafted response to the prompt Why I write.

Last year, I ran an entirely electronic submission process and have done so again this year. While this streamlines the judging with the number of entries received, sometimes I miss the analog process where I held each manuscript as I read every response to the prompt and began stacking submissions in the NO, MAYBE, ABSOLUTELY piles as part of the judging process. The kinesthetic connection as I turned the pages made reading each entry a more personal experience. Each author and I were having an intimate conversation about writing.

The deadline now past, time to tackle reading the entries. Each year I’m looking for the one entry that will take my breath away, cause me to break in to a deep belly laugh, or stop reading for a moment from the tears in my eyes. With eight years of reading Why I write… entries, will I read a story that is genuinely original in thought or composition is a question in the back of my mind. Inevitability, there is some coal in the writing I’m about to mine. I’ll find a few diamonds there, I’m sure.

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Indie Author J.M. Gregoire

Indie author J.M. Gregoire is featured in this month’s Three by Five interview series.

 Author Pic 4

VAH: Starting off – Why do you write?

JMG: I write because if I don’t, the voices never go away.  LOL!  I have a lot of story ideas, or at least bits of story ideas and characters voices, floating around in my head.  Nothing feels better than getting them out of my head.  Wow….that makes me sound like a bit of a schizo, doesn’t it?  Let me try it from another approach – I read a lot.  Whenever I am reading, I will read a sentence, or even sometimes just one single word, and it triggers something in me.  The idea for the first book in my Demon Legacy series was triggered by a word that I read in a Buffy the Vampire Slayer novel – The Sons of Entropy, Book Three of the Gatekeeper Trilogy by Christopher Golden and Nancy Holder.  The word was ‘entropy’.  Although my book has nothing to do with the content of that book, the one word spun the idea behind what has turned into an entire series for me.  The same thing happens to me when I listen to music.  The Demon Legacy short story Suffering (Demon Legacy #1.5) was inspired by the Seether song Take Me Away.  That song is so morose, and there are four lines in the lyrics which shaped the entire story.  The problem is this happens quite regularly.  I have notebooks all over the place with everything from actual plot ideas to just a simple one-liner of dialog.  My brain doesn’t know when to shut off.

VAH: What about your first story?

JMG: My first story was about witches actually.  When I started writing the first book in the Demon Legacy series, Dez was named Jade, and she was a witch, not a demon hybrid.  I was DEEP into my love of vampire fiction then, and I started writing what was to be a vampire romance with some urban fantasy action.  I made it about 100 pages in and the book got shelved.  When I pulled it back out 5 years later, I about choked.  I hated the story.  It had a few good ideas, but it was so clipped and rushed, and nothing about it felt organic anymore.  I attacked it with a red pen and started a complete and total rewrite.  It was so “bare bones”, the first 4 pages of the original book became the first 25 pages of the new book.  The female lead got a new name and species change, vampires got pushed to the background, and it became an urban fantasy novel with a romantic story line hidden below the surface.  I love what it became, and maybe someday I will go back to writing more focused on witches, but for now, I will stick to my demons.

VAH: Revision makes all the difference. Who is your favorite literary character?
JMG: Oh, really?  I have to choose?  Can I name a few?  I will name a few.  LOL Let’s see…

The Priest from The Count of Monte Cristo.  He was so sweet and clever.  When you hear his back story, and how he ended up in Chateau D’if, you just want to reach into the book and give him a big hug.  The way he coaches Edmond through his own betrayals rather than just saying “I figured it out, here’s the answer,” I kind of loved him for that.  I cried so hard when (spoilers!!!) he died.  So sad!  If you’ve never read it, it’s one of the best revenge stories ever written!

Jericho Barrons from Karen Marie Moning’s Fever series.  Barrons, oh Barrons!  I love this character so much!  He has lines of dialog that literally just give me goose bumps.  He’s cocky to the eleven-thousandth degree, a stone cold killer with a barely-there conscience, and you just know that being in the same room with him would absolutely melt your brain.  Every time I read him (read the series 5 or 6 times, listened to the audiobooks at least 10), I just fall for him all over again.  Karen must have so much fun writing that character.  I can’t even imagine having that personality living in my head.  And he nails the reason I love him so much perfectly in one of the books!  He and Fiona are in an argument about Mac being at BB&B, and he tells Fiona that she made the mistake of falling for the man she thought he could be, his potential, and that was her mistake.  That’s the moment you realize Barrons is not the Bad Good Guy (the good guy who does things that are sometimes a little shady), he’s the Good Bad Guy (the bad guy that slips up once in a while and gives the illusion that he cares).  I knew right then because I was obsessed with finding the moment he would redeem himself and show that he really was a good man.  It felt like he was giving that speech to me, the reader.  I actually fell in love with this character so much that the first time I spoke with Phil Gigante on the phone (the narrator for Barrons in the audiobooks), I was SHAKING and tripping over my own words.  That voice has one image in my mind – Barrons.  Now that Phil and I are friends, it’s easy to talk to him, but MAN did I struggle on that first phone call!  My favorite Barrons’ line of all time:  “God said let there be light.  I said ‘say please.’”  ßThat was a goose bumps moment in the book.

Charley Davidson from the series of the same name by Darynda Jones.  Charley is, by far, one of my favorite female leads.  Darynda has given her this absolutely hilarious personality, complete with a sarcasm coping mechanism in high stress situations.  She’s so much fun to read!

Honestly, I could easily go on and on with this question.  I could never pick just one character as my favorite.  I love too many of them for too many reasons.

VAH: Imagine you are stuck on a deserted island. What book or series of books would you want with you?

JMG: Hmmm, I would need a whole series so I would have plenty to read.  That would probably be a toss-up between the Fever series by Karen Marie Moning and the Night Huntress/Night Huntress World/Night Prince series by Jeaniene Frost.  Urban Fantasy / Paranormal Romance is not only my favorite genre to write, but also my favorite genre to read.  In my eyes, those two ladies are the QUEENS of UF/PNR.  They have both created these great worlds which are both bad ass and terrifying.  Although they are absolutely nothing alike, I feel they are the same caliber of writing.  Just incredible.  I was so sad to see the Night Huntress series come to an end, and I will feel the same way when Karen wraps up the Fever world.

VAH: Let’s wrap up this segment with this – what has been the biggest influence on your development as a writer?

JMG: The biggest influence on my writing is all the authors I love to read.  There are sooooooo many, all for different reasons.  Anne Rice for her romantic style even when there’s no romance involved.  When reading one of her stories, you can tell she loves writing it as much as you love reading it.  Stephen King because he just has this way with words which can scare the crap out of you with nothing more than words on a page.  He’s an unmatched master with his craft.  Jeaniene Frost for her ability to mix urban fantasy with just the right amount of humor to make you laugh out loud while in the middle of reading an on-the-edge-of-your-seat tense situation.  I love and admire all sorts of writers, all for different reasons.  Could you imagine the resulting book if we put them all into some kind of melding machine and made one super-being of a writer?  He or she would take over the world!

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December’s Three by Five Author – J. M. Gregoire

Author Pic 1Introducing author  J.M. Gregoire featured in December on Three by Five.

J.M. Gregoire was born and raised in New Hampshire, USA, and despite her abhorrence for any season that dares to drop to a temperature below seventy degrees, she still currently resides there with her two children and her two cats. Always a passionate reader, her love of urban fantasy books eventually morphed into a love of writing them. She is currently working on the Demon Legacy series, and has a spin off series, the Killer Instinct series, coming soon.

Visit J.M. Gregoire’s social media or online: Website / BlogFacebookTwitterGoodreadsPinterestInstagram.

Check out The Demon Legacy Series and The Killer Instinct Series.

 

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Martin Elwell Bonus Three by Five

elwell

VAH: Let’s talk writing community – what writing or author organizations do you belong to and what are your go to sites online for community, online conversing, networking or commiserating?

ME: Twitter is my go-to place for writing community. I have a small local network of friends who write, but the majority of people I’ve connected with in the writing universe I’ve met online. I think making friends online is more natural for people in the generations behind mine, but I’ve been surprised by the quality of folks I’ve encountered in the online space.

The writing universe is cliquey. I’ve also found exclusion to be the power of choice for those looking to build up their own clout. Ultimately, staying positive, being supportive of other’s pursuits and saying yes to opportunities has been how I’ve built community.

VAH: Traditional or independent publishing? What choices have you made and why did you go the way you have?

ME: Definitely both. For publishing single pieces, I prefer to submit to literary magazines (online or in-print). For collections, finding the right home is difficult. You can spend a lot of money submitting to contests with little or no result, or you can be fortunate enough to win and have your book or chapbook published. The problem is that many contests produce limited print runs with limited exposure. Most of the time you can duplicate the exposure and the volume by self-publishing. Relying on contests or blind submissions for a collection can be a frustrating and expensive process. If you can find publishers where you think your work will fit, traditional publishing is a good option. If not, self-publishing may be the way to go. You have to let go of the work at some point, either through publication or moving it to the dreaded archive file. I am planning to self-publish a chapbook in 2014, and I have one coming out from a small press as well.

VAH: What is your  best bit of advice to save another writer some anxiety or heartache?

ME: Rejection isn’t personal. It might mean your work needs revision, it might mean they published something similar last month, it might mean that your work is a poor fit for the publisher. If you’re doing your research, reading the publications to which you’re submitting and being honest with yourself by only sending out your best work, just keep submitting and acceptance will come.

VAH: Good words of advice from Martin Elwell. Thank you Marty for a great discussion of your writing life.

Thanks for stopping in on your journey across the information highway. Surf on over in December for more of the writing life with urban fantasy author J. M. Gregoire.

 

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Martin Elwell Part 3

elwell readingThree by Five spends a little more time with Poet Martin Elwell, a New Hampshire based poet and editor. His poems have appeared in Extract(s), The Found Poetry Review, Empty Mirror Magazine of the Arts and other places. He co-edited Bearers of Distance, an anthology of poems by runners from Eastern Point Press, and he is News & Resources Editor for The Found Poetry Review.

VAH: We’ve explored a little about your writing and writing life, how about sharing a little known fact about you will amaze or amuse Three by Five’s readers?

ME: My college friends call me The Wall. The nick name came out of an overweight teenager’s inspiring performance on the intramural soccer field. That’s all you need to know.

VAH: Ahh, fortunate for you, no camera phones! How about a favorite, inspiring quote and why it works for you?

ME: I don’t know who said it first, but I’ve seen it used in reference to a lot of modern, postmodern and contemporary art. When someone says, “I could have done that,” in response to a piece of art in a gallery, a poem on a page, a book on the shelf or whatever it may be, the response is, “yeah…but you didn’t.” I think that response is representative of the art world that we live in today. If you’re waiting to make the perfect piece, waiting to make something totally new or waiting for someone to pluck you out of obscurity, you’re going to be waiting a long time. The only way to bring ideas to fruition is to do it yourself. The only way to get positive energy back from the world is to put positive energy into it. Get out there, create stuff, appropriate and change stuff, make connections, take risks…then no one can tell you that you didn’t.

VAH: And who hasn’t said, or thought, “Oh, I could have done that!” Actually creating and taking risks, that’s the hard step forward so many just don’t take.

What are three random non writing related facts about you?

ME: I can juggle. I run marathons. I was once president of the chess club.

VAH: I’m in awe of juggling. I am a horrible juggler. So, imagine for whatever reason, you are about to have your last meal. What would you have?

ME: This is a tough one. I’m a peanut butter addict, but it’s more of a guilty pleasure than a last meal sort of food. I’ve been on a veggie Pad Thai kick lately, so that comes to mind. I love cheese, though, so maybe a nice flatbread pizza with an IPA.

…now I’m hungry.

I grew up in Massachusetts, so my last meal would probably be brought about by an unfortunate situation related to my excellent driving skills.

VAH: Hmmm, let’s not go there. Back to books. Are you a finish the book once you’ve started kind of reader or leave it for another if don’t like the book sort of reader?

ME: I’m a slow reader. I read mostly poetry, philosophy and non-fiction, and many of the books I read require a lot of my focus and attention to fully grasp what is being presented by the author. Also, I tend to read several books at a time. For example, I like to read a book of poetry while reading a prose book. I like the variety of varying genres, and I also like to have the option to read something lighter or heavier depending on my mood. It could take me two years to finish a book by Nietzsche, or two hours to finish a small anthology of erasure poetry. I don’t finish every book I start, but there is a long separation process before I put a book down for good.

VAH: “A long separation process…” If you return to a book put down long ago, was it left or just delayed? A point to ponder.

Martin, thanks for joining us with Three by Five. We’ll finish up the conversation at the end of the month on the 30th.

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Poet Martin Elwell – Three by Five Interview Part 2

elwell 2Today Three by Five welcomes back Martin Elwell.

VAH: What’s your full time job – writing, or something else that sustains you so you can write?

ME: I worked in the insurance industry for 13 years before recently leaving to start my own business as a fitness and wellness coach. While I was working in insurance, I had a lot of professional success juxtaposed with a lot of personal unhappiness. The most fulfilling part of my job was watching my employees succeed. The least fulfilling part of my job was the amount of time and creative energy required to do it well and navigate the politics. The pay was nice, but I found myself in an endless cycle of earning and consuming. I hit bottom at a depressed 320 pounds in September of 2009.

Between 2009 and 2011, I embarked on a weight loss journey that totally flipped my life upside-down. I started running and strength training, I moved back to New Hampshire from Illinois, I got divorced and I lost half of my body-weight. 160 pounds later, I was still working in Insurance leading a team of analysts in Portsmouth, NH, but I had my eye on a new life.

I married my wife, Jenn, in May of 2011, and we downsized and simplified our lives to make room for the things we wanted most. In 2012, I left my insurance career. After a lot of travel and exploration, Jenn and I founded Destination Fitness (http://myfitnessdestination.com). Our goal is to make a modest living by helping others find fitness, prioritize themselves and their health and enjoy life a little bit more.

VAH: Thanks for sharing your story of transformation. Stories like that give hope that life can be so much more than drudgery of work.

One of my least favorite aspects of the work of writing is when I can’t get the words out to the page. When the blank page stares back at you, what gets you past writer’s block?

ME:   In my experience, the best way to get past writer’s block is to give up on quality for a little while. For me, writer’s block comes out of the desire to write something excellent on the first pass. Obsessing over the words will only slow down and possibly hinder your writing. Good or bad, you can always change, improve or delete a passage later. I think it’s best to just let yourself free-write without judgment. There’s usually some gem to be mined through that process.

VAH: Brass tacks of the writing life – what do you do so you can keep up with what you send out and results of your submissions?

ME: Two words – Microsoft Excel. Once an analyst, always an analyst. It’s actually a pretty simple document. I have a tab for open submissions, a tab for accepted submissions and a tab for rejected submissions. If I really wanted to geek-out and chart my progress, I would put them all on the same tab so that I could pivot the data, but it’s really not that complex. I submit sporadically. Sometimes I have a good feeling about a press or magazine where my work will fit well, and sometimes I shoot for the moon. So far, shooting for the moon typically means rejection. When I’ve gotten lucky, it’s come in the form of serendipitous timing and saying ‘yes’ to a chance opportunity.

VAH: That’s a pretty simple question on the surface but it’s become interesting to me the variety of methods writers use to keep track of what they send out.

Let’s talk a moment about what you’re your favorites. Do you have a favorite poem or story?

ME:  I think I’d have to go with The Sunflower Sutra by Allen Ginsberg. I have an audio track of him reading it, and it is a poem that elevates me beyond whatever troubles or worries may be going on in my day-to-day life. I especially love the last stanza, the “sermon.” You can read the entire poem at the poetry foundation’s site.

VAH: Do you have a favorite author and why?

ME: Definitely Jack Kerouac. I love to travel, and I love road trips. I also love the way that Kerouac saw the world around him, digested it and put it down into words. I don’t love everything Kerouac has ever done. I can do without his drunken ramblings and the posthumous pieces dug out of the attic by someone looking to take advantage of his persistent fame. I’ll take the lost, introspective, self-conscious, Buddhist Kerouac of The Dharma Bums any day.

Thanks Martin! The conclusion to a conversation with Martin Elwell on Three by Five will post on November 23rd. Until then, enjoy this poem by Martin Elwell – Excel Poem.

Martin Elwell’s Twitter.

Blog: Words Per Gallon.

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3 x 5 Hosts Martin Elwell Part I

Welcome Martin Elwell, a New Hampshire based poet and editor to November’s edition of Three by Five.martin elwell headshot

VAH:  Martin, what would you say has been the biggest influence on your development as a writer?

ME: I’ve had a few people who really helped me develop, and I’ve read several books that put me on a new or improved path in writing, but I’m going to go out on a limb and say that Twitter was the number one influence on my development as a writer. By connecting with a variety of writers, literary magazines and institutions on Twitter, I’ve seen more of what my peers are doing in the art world. I’ve been challenged to think about where I fit in, and I’ve been pushed to participate in a more active way. Every day, someone shares a blog post, article, poem or image that spins my wheels in a new direction. For example, just following someone like Don Share on Twitter for a week is an educational experience. More tangibly, I learned about The Found Poetry Review on Twitter. They published one of my poems, I participated in their Pulitzer Remix project for National Poetry Month in 2013, and now I’m their News & Resources editor. You don’t need to live in New York City to get in touch with people doing exciting things in poetry. Twitter is the new New York City for poets.

VAH: That’s an interesting way to think about Twitter. Making it so much more than a social media keep in touch tool.

Martin, as a writer, when did you know that was you?

ME: I spent a lot of time trying to make up short stories as a child. Fortunately, I didn’t save any of them. When I got to college, I took a class titled 16th Century Verse, and I started writing formal poetry from there. After a class on the Beat Generation my senior year, I started writing more personal poetry. After graduation, poetry stuck with me, and I found myself writing fairly regularly. I realized that it would be a lifelong pursuit in my early 20s when I started looking forward to getting home from work so that I could write.

VAH:  What is your best advice for emerging writers?

ME: Build relationships with people doing things that you like, admire, envy, enjoy, can relate to, etc. The writing world is crowded, and everybody wants a bit of success. You can learn a lot from how others navigate their own projects, publications, readings, etc. On top of being crowded, the writing world can be lonely. Having a community whether online or local, will keep you engaged, motivated and fueled to move your own work forward.

VAH: In reference to moving your work forward – what are your thoughts on studying writing? How has a MFA contributed to your progress or development? Do you recommend the MFA as worthwhile?

ME: I have an MFA in from Lesley University. My experience was slightly different, in that the Lesley program is low-residency, and I worked full time throughout the program. Outside of the residency period, the majority of work is done on your own with a mentor. I had three different mentors at Lesley: Thomas Sayers Ellis, Don Share and Janet Sylvester. If you know any of these folks, you may know that they are vastly different from each other in craft and teaching style. My experiences at Lesley pushed me out of my comfort zone and into new and different territories based on each of my mentor’s personalities, likes, dislikes, beliefs and assignments. I didn’t learn a formula for writing, as some believe the MFA experience provides. Instead, I was challenged to define myself as a writer among the different priorities of my mentors.

Most importantly, at Lesley, I learned how to think about my writing critically. Before getting my MFA, I was finished with a poem when I stopped writing the first or second draft. I had very little understanding of the potential for poems beyond the initial stages. I learned how to build upon and bring forward the best moments in my work, while cutting away the unnecessary material surrounding those moments. Poems that I would have previously discarded found themselves at the top of the pile once I honed my approach to revision. I believe revision is the hardest part of writing, and learning new approaches to critiquing and refining your own work is a huge benefit of the MFA environment.

Do you need an MFA to succeed? No. Did it help me improve? Absolutely.

VAH: Your comment on revision is an excellent metric for the difference between someone that writes poetry and one that is a poet. I think when emerging writers understand the value of revision and its necessity, they’ve turned an important corner in the development of their writing careers.

You mentioned writing can be lonely, do you have a favorite writing conference, retreat, or seminar?

ME: I’m a bit of an introvert, so the idea of large seminars or conferences is a somewhat stressful for me. I’ve been to the Mass Poetry Festival once and AWP once, and I enjoyed both. My favorite parts are the readings and the book fairs. I get a lot of energy to write when I read and hear what others have done. My favorite retreats and seminars are small workshops with friends where the environment is casual and the candor is high.

Thank you Martin Elwell for your participation in Three by Five. More from Martin on days that end in three in November. Enjoy a few of his poems in the online journal Convergence. Follow Martin on twitter.

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In November – Poet Martin Elwell

elwell 3In November, Three by Five will host New Hampshire based Poet and Editor Martin Elwell. His poems have appeared in Extract(s), The Found Poetry Review, Empty Mirror Magazine of the Arts and other places. He co-edited Bearers of Distance, an anthology of poems by runners from Eastern Point Press, and he is News & Resources Editor for The Found Poetry Review.

Enjoy a sampling of his work to whet your poetry whistle at Empty Mirror.

Find Martin on Twitter @MartyElwell.

Read more of his work and  follow his travels at Words Per Gallon.

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John Byrne Barry – Mill Valley Author

Today we finish up our conversation with John Byrne Barry.JB headshot

VAH: John, what does your typical writing day include?

JBB: For more than a decade, when I commuted from Berkeley to a full-time job in San Francisco, I woke up every workday morning at 6 and wrote for at least an hour before making breakfast and catching the bus to work. I wrote in the evening and now and then took time off and cranked all day or all week. But the norm was first thing in the morning, when dreamland hadn’t yet been buried away for the day. I wrote at least half of Bones in the Wash in those early morning sessions.

Now that I’m working at home and no longer commuting to a full-time job, I’m not as disciplined about my morning habit, but as often as I can, I devote my first hour of the day to writing fiction. For some reason, I am able to tap into my imagination better in the morning than any other time. I can edit or design in the evening, and sometimes I will generate new material, but it doesn’t flow like it does in the morning.

I have recently been going on Wednesday afternoon to a meetup writers drop in at the Mill Valley Library where we write for an hour and then share what we read. I’ve only been about five times, and the first few times, I read something I had written before I showed up, but then the past two times, I wrote some new scenes for my upcoming novel and they weren’t bad. When I’m focused, I can sometimes write two or three pages of good solid prose in an hour. I just can’t sustain that over a day or a week. Maybe someday.

VAH: What are your thoughts on the writing community? Are there any writing or author organizations you belong to or online that you frequent for community, online conversing, networking or commiserating? Any favorite online sites?

JBB: I had the very good fortune of being part of a novel writing group that last for ten years, and was extremely helpful. They read and critiqued my first novel and my second, and they were insightful and tough without being discouraging. (Well, sometimes they were.)

They were tough enough that I was at first surprised by the positive responses to my novel from new readers. Because these new readers were looking to enjoy the book, not critique it. Or because I fixed enough of the problems that the book really was a good deal better.

I was part of a theater group in the 1980s — the Plutonium Players, a.k.a. Ladies Against Women — and I wrote or co-wrote a lot of our skits and plays and monologues. We were young and talented and full of ego (present company not excepted) — when others critiqued my work, I felt like I was being put down. It wasn’t “here’s how you can make this better,” it was “you suck, why did you come to us with this crap?” That’s an exaggeration, but let’s just say that the novel writing group of the 21st  Century was better at giving me feedback that would help make my book better without denigrating me.

I have been exploring Meetups and various other critique groups, including one called 16 Eyes that grew out of the Berkeley Writers Club, but I’ve only been a handful of times yet. There’s also a Writers’ Drop In at the Mill Valley Library that I’ve been going to. Usually, there are three or four of us. We write for an hour and then some of us share what we’ve written.

I definitely want and need readers. People talk about a community of readers. I don’t really have one, as much as I have a bunch of friends and readers who are not necessarily part of a community.

I don’t know why I’m not participating more in online communities. Too often, it seems like the only thing people are saying is buy my book.

I love going to Why Are There Words, a monthly reading series in an art gallery in Sausalito.

VAH: What are your thoughts on traditional or independent publishing? Or a little of both? What choices have you made and why did you go the way you have?

JBB: I wrote my first novel, Wasted, a “green noir” murder mystery set in the world of garbage and recycling in Berkeley, and I tried to get it published in the traditional way. I rewrote it a dozen times, and in 2003 and 2004, submitted it to about 60 agents. I got about eight nibbles, two wanted to see the whole manuscript, and one, I was convinced was going to take it. But she didn’t.

Once I was far enough along in my second novel, I decided I needed to self-publish, partly because I was concerned that once again, I wouldn’t find an agent, but also because I had this delusion that the book, which is set during the 2008 presidential election, would be ready in time for the 2012 election. It wasn’t, but by then I had committed myself to self-publishing.

The process was time-consuming, but I ended up with a product I was proud of, and response has been heartening. I have 24 positive reviews and plenty more readers who told me they liked it, but I haven’t been able to get them to write a review. Sales have been disappointing. I know I need to do more marketing, but even when I have done a flurry of it, it hasn’t resulted in many sales. That hasn’t stopped me from writing a new book or reworking Wasted to independently publish this fall.

VAH: Best bit of advice to save another writer some anxiety or heartache?

JBB: If you’re not comfortable with solitude, find something else to do. Or else make sure you build in social connections into your schedule. There are days I have nothing scheduled but writing, and I don’t care for those days. But if I have a walk with a friend as part of the day, or a meeting, then I’m more comfortable with the solitude.

VAH: What’s next for you? Do you have a work in progress you can tell us about? (Include any links related you’d like to share.)

JBB: I am working on two projects. One is publishing Wasted, which is now in the home stretch. I have advance reader copies available in trade paperback and ebook format and I will happily send them to anyone who promises to write an honest review. You can contact me at johnbyrnebarry@gmail.com. You can also find out more on my website.

The other project is a new novel, working title Edgewater, about a man whose father has cancer and dementia and demands his son help him end his life. I’ve written about a third of my first draft and I’ve excited about where it’s going, but I haven’t mapped it all out yet. You can read the first chapter.

VAH: Thank you John for an interesting conversation this month!

Thank you for joining us for another month of author interviews, this month with John Byrne Barry.

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