Tag Archives: nonfiction

John Byrne Barry

VAH: Welcome Novelist John Byrne Barry to the Three by Five Author and other Interesting People Interview series! The burning first question is always – why do you write?

JBB: I write to answer questions. No, really. Sometimes the question is as simple as “What am I going to do today?” As for why I write novels, well, those questions aren’t that different. More like “What should I do with my life?” “How can I contribute to the world?”

Those are not rhetorical questions. One of the themes that I explore, consciously some of the time, is how to do the right thing. While I wanted “Bones in the Wash” to be a fun fast-paced political thriller and family drama, under all the action, I wanted to answer that question. The protagonist, ambitious Albuquerque Mayor Tomas Zamara, does believe in doing the right thing. But as he says, “politics is like playing football on a muddy field. If you don’t get dirty, you’re not giving your all.”

Does that give you a pass on doing the right thing? No, it doesn’t. It makes it harder.

I’m writing some non-fiction now, a conservation assessment of the Russian Far East, and there too, I’m answering a question. Here we have this vast expanse of pristine ecosystems, home to polar bears, tigers, and six species of Pacific salmon, and there we have a corrupt and undemocratic Russian government. Why should anyone invest time or money to protect these unparalleled natural treasures? (The answer gets more challenging every day that President Putin is in the news for incursions into the Ukraine, even though the Russian Far East is 5,000 miles away.)

I also write to make the world more interesting. Back in 2004, when I first worked on a presidential campaign, going door-to-door and phonebanking for John Kerry in three working-class suburbs south of Milwaukee, I made a commitment to write and post a blog entry every night. The work was tedious. Too many calls. Too many doors. Not enough meaningful interactions. (It was a swing state and so many people were so inundated with ads, mailers, calls, and so on.) But I had to write something every night, so I paid more attention, keeping my eyes and ears peeled for some interesting anecdote or conversation. It added a dimension to what otherwise were long and flat days.

VAH: I’d say that one of the joys of writing is being able to fully explore all the possible answers to the many questions we encounter in our lives.

Do you remember what your first story was about?

JBB: My memory is fuzzy, but I know that sometime in fifth or sixth grade history class, I wrote—probably with others, but I don’t remember—some satirical skits about Betsy Ross and the making of the American flag. At that time, I don’t think I had listened to Stan Freberg, who did comedy records parodying American history, but when I discovered him in college, I realized I had done things in the same vein. I believe the skits were well received, but whether that’s because they were good or because the rest of history class was dull I can’t say.

VAH: What about a favorite literary character?

JBB: One of my favorite books is All the Kings Men, a fictional account of Louisiana’s charismatic governor Huey Long, represented in the book as Willie Stark. He’s a fascinating character, but it is the book’s narrator, his aide Jack Burden, a former newspaper man, who is my favorite character. Perhaps it’s because of what I mentioned above, that the compelling moral question for me, as a reader and a writer, is how to do the right thing. Willy didn’t sweat that question.

Willie knew you never needed to make up lies about opponents. Here’s what he said to Jack as he told him to find dirt on an old family friend, now a judge: “Man is conceived in sin and born in corruption and he passeth from the stink of the didie to the stench of the shroud. There is always something.”

Jack found the something. For better and worse, however, Jack had a moral compass, and so he struggled with indecision, with betrayal, with morality. He was the more tortured soul, and thus more interesting.

 VAH: John, imagine you were stranded on a deserted island, what book or series of books would you want with you and why?

JBB: If I think about that long enough, I won’t be able to answer it, so I’ll just blurt out John LeCarre. I’ve read at least 20 of his books, but I think I would enjoy reading them again. I reread The Spy Who Came in from the Cold a few years ago, and it seemed dated, but just as compelling a drama.

VAH: That first thought is usually the most authentic, before you catch yourself with what “should be” a response. Authors that we can return to again and again, those are the true masters worth reading.

What would you say was the biggest influence on your development as a writer?

JBB: I worked for 25 years at the Sierra Club in a variety of positions, mostly in communications, doing writing, editing, design. Because we were often covering wonky environmental issues, like fuel efficiency in cars or water pollution from factory farms, we had to find stories to make those issues come alive. So I learned and mentored others in how to discover and distill the story. When writing fiction, I can make stuff up, but when doing journalism or writing reports, I have to dig to find the gold.

But even when writing fiction, I have a tendency to “tune my piano,” to borrow a phrase from John Barth, and when I’m in rewrite, I need to cut that tuning out and jump directly to the action. Come to think of it, I might want some John Barth with me on that desert island. Though it’s been a long time since I read any of his books. When I was a younger man, I thought Giles Goat Boy was incredibly brilliant. I might find it ponderous today.

Find out more about John Byrne Barry by visiting his social media sites.






Leave a comment

Filed under writing life

Ready Set – Emerging Writer Contest Kicks Off Soon!

The 2014 Emerging Writer Prize, awarding registration to attend the San Francisco Writers Conference in February 2015, will begin its reading period in just a few days. Are you ready?

Liz Hansen was the 2013 Emerging Writer Prize winner.

Liz Hansen was the 2013 Emerging Writer Prize winner.

Previous essays are posted so you can get an idea of what the judge (that would be me) is looking for. Why do YOU write? Every writer has a story there, how well, how original, how authentic you tell that in 600 words or less is what grabs attention and gets your entry out of the pile. But you also need an excellent writing sample. Because with the quality of writing this contest receives, sometimes it comes down to the writing sample to parse out who will rise to the top. Good luck. Looking forward to reading your words.

Leave a comment

Filed under writing life

Campaign to Support the Emerging Writer Prize

This year was the 7th Victoria A. Hudson Emerging Writer Prize. This program started in 2008 as a scholarship for Master of Fine Arts students and was broadened to any emerging writer in 2011. Originally, one writer from each genre of poetry, fiction and nonfiction was selected. In 2012, the scholarship transitioned to recognizing one writer, regardless of genre. In 2013, the competition became completely electronic with all submissions via submittable. Also in 2013, the competition was listed on Duotrope as a means to widen the availability of information about the Victoria A. Hudson Emerging Writer Prize. The average number of entries over the past few years has been approximately 30 each year. This makes the odds of winning very good.

I’ve personally funded the scholarship every year, committed to a no fee competition. My commitment to that remains, however, I’m reaching out to the indie publishing and writing community at large to help fund this scholarship. My goal is to raise enough funds to support the emerging writer prize over the next ten years. I pledge that no more than 12% will go to the administrative costs for the scholarship. These include costs associated with the electronic submission process, competition promotional advertisements, recognition items for the winners, etc..

Help me keep the Emerging Writer Prize going strong. Over the course of this year, I’ll check back in on some of the previous winners to find out how they’re doing and what they are writing now. Stay tuned.

Please visit the Emerging Writer Go Fund Me site, your contribution is appreciated and please, share this site throughout your social media networks. Thank you very much.

Leave a comment

Filed under writing life

Sarah Blum Part III

sarah 4VAH: If you had a super power, what would it be and why that one?

SB: I would fly because I have always dreamed of doing that and was in love with superman/superboy.

VAH: 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?

SB: More finish but if it is really bad I will leave it.

VAH: The blank page stares back at you, what gets you over writers block?

SB:I have never had it.

VAH: How keep up with what you send out and results of your submissions?

SB: I make a list of what I sent and to whom and dates and if I don’t get a response or get a no, I move on and keep moving on. I hold a deep faith that I am doing what I am being asked to do and will have the support of the universe even when it doesn’t look or feel like I do.

VAH: What little known fact about you will amaze and/or amuse?

SB: I was afraid of everything when I was a child.

VAH: What about now?

SB: When I am fearful of anything I have many options to deal with it. I use EFT, emotional freedom technique (tapping) or I consciously release it. This summer I suddenly became fearful of going out into the world to talk about the culture of abuse toward women in the military. I saw the Senate Armed Services Committee Hearing with three full rows of the highest level of military men from all the services staring at the two lone women survivors who came to testify and I realized I would be facing them as well. Fortunately for me I had my women’s community retreat in July and we do many different types of lodges/ceremonies and I chose to do a specific one led by two women I trust and value and in that ceremony I literally and actually released all the fear I had and sent it into a fire and into the earth. I have not been afraid since.

Sarah is the author of the book Women Under Fire: Abuse in the Military.

Visit here for a compilation of resources for women veterans Sarah has put together.

Three by Five interviews Sarah Blum Part I, Part II.

And that concludes this month’s Three by Five interview with author Sarah Blum.

Leave a comment

Filed under writing life

Indie Author = Publishing Professional

This site is more than just my author website – here you will find information about upcoming events, the Three by Five Interview Series where traditional and indie authors give some back story on themselves, an opportunity to highlight a work in progress with Author First Look and occasional book reviews or trailers. On the Submission Guidelines page find anthology projects open for submissions and the guidelines to submit. Each year I sponsor an Emerging Writer to attend the San Francisco Writers Conference, watch the counter for when submissions will open. The blog space provides a place for my own musings about writing and the writing life, but it also serves as  clearinghouse for other good resources out there – all to help the indie author and emerging writer reach that gold standard of professionalism where they produce and publish something as good as or better than what comes out of the traditional houses. 

One of my favorite things to post here are when I find kick butt blog posts from someone else that really speak to issues in or for the indie community at large or might be a good resource for some individuals that take the time to visit the site. I’ve got one coming up at the end of this post that is right on target with some of the distractions in the indie author community. Stay tuned.

First though –

Three by Five is always looking for more writers, authors and interesting writing community people to interview. Message, email or tweet me for more information. First Look will post your bio and synopsis of your work in progress first chapter with a link back to where you have the chapter posted. Let me know if you want to participate. This year for National Poetry Month, I’m looking for poets to interview about their favorite poem they’ve written and I’ll post the interview and poem during poetry month. There are several call for submissions still open, take a look and please submit for consideration. Submissions for the annual emerging writer prize will open in September – read the results and what has won in the past. Submit your response to the prompt. Maybe you will win your registration to the San Francisco Writers Conference in 2015. Got a book? I’m happy to read and review a copy. And if you’d like a grab bag of literary magazines sent your way and live in the United States, I’ll send you a few free or for a small donation to cover postage.

Can’t say this enough – if you are an indie author, you are in the publishing business. You are a publishing professional. If you have a book that you’ve written, published and are selling – make sure that book was ready when it went out the door or across cyberspace. Meet the standard of the big house published books. Invest in an artist to design your cover. Know the difference between a beta reader, copy editor and proofreader AND EMPLOY them on your book. If you commit to attend an event, attend it! Urban fantasy and paranormal romance author J. M. Gregorie has posted a direct and right on point blog posting on actions that negatively impact the indie author community and degrade our ability to be taken seriously as writing professionals. Read her Open Letter to Indie Authors.

Leave a comment

Filed under writing life

Sharing a Resource

A resource I continually return to is Joel Friedlander’s website The Book Designer. There you’ll find a wealth of information that I’ve written about on this site before. Right now, he’s got a terrific promotion for his book design templates with a free download of all five of his self-publishing guides with any purchase, even just a $5 gift certificate! Even if you don’t have a writer friend who would benefit from a gift certificate or you aren’t quite ready for that fiction, nonfiction or children’s book template or very useful book proposal template – gift your buddy, your mom, your neighbor with a simple gift certificate so you – Independent Author – can benefit from Joel’s generosity. Really though, if you’re an independent author – you just might want to give his templates a try. The free eBooks are a great incentive and bonus. Click the banner below for more information.


Leave a comment

Filed under writing life

Self-Publishing Means Always Learning

When I published No Red Pen: Writers, Writing Groups & Critique, thought I’d prepared myself pretty well. I’d gone to workshops, attended conferences, read a lot of blog posts and talked with indie publishing insiders at those conferences – and I still made a 600 print run mistake that cost me a couple thousand dollars and left me with unsalable inventory. In the second printing, the costly error was fixed and I was a bit more humble about what my capabilities were. My education about independent publishing continues and I will continue to share some of what I find here on this site.

Today, check out Kristen Lamb’s blog post Five Mistakes Killing Self-Published Authors. Especially, if you are ready to click that upload button for your first self-published book.

Leave a comment

Filed under writing life

Primary Lessons by Sarah Bracey White

primary lessonsSarah loves to learn and as a joyous, clever toddler she is growing up in her Philadelphia Aunt’s home where the future is bright. She can be anything, do anything, her Aunt Susie tells her. When her friend starts kindergarten, she wants to follow, and talks her way into the neighborhood Catholic school – even though she’s only four. She’s advanced to the next grade at the end of the year. Except her mother returns and takes her back to South Carolina. She leaves the only home she’s known. A place where she was encouraged to ask questions, seek out answers, and aspire to become whatever she could dream. Dreams are dust in a place defined not by ability, but the color of your skin.

Primary Lessons is the true story of Sarah Bracey White’s childhood and coming of age. This is a personal story reflecting the struggle and trauma of systemic cultural racism and its cousin classism in mid 20th century America. While the setting of Philadelphia is a small part of the book, this provides a comparative backdrop for all that follows. In those crucial early years of 0 – five, Sarah lives in a nice middle class home in a big city, enjoys the ease of indoor plumbing and is encouraged in her creativity and questioning about the world. In Sumter, South Carolina, she is brought back to a family she’s never known. Despite her single mother’s quite respectable position as school teacher, the family lives in poverty, crowded in a small shack compared to Aunt Susie’s home, without plumbing and an outhouse for a toilet. The once distant mother is now ruling her every movement, older sisters perceive her in the way or a nuisance and she has no friends to play with except her paper dolls. Instead of encouragement, she now hears she isn’t old enough. Instead of school she plays alone. Instead of possibility, her life is defined by what she cannot do because of the color of her skin, aggravated by the perception her mother has about what is proper and respectable all driven by her mother’s own demons fueled by the inequities of Jim Crow south. Where a question once brought learning and discovery, now it can as easily bring a slap for endangering the family or future.

Singular events define Sarah’s life. The story presents well how young children learn to interact with their world based upon those decisions they make when small about how their world works and how to protect themselves from hurt. There is a great deal of hurt in Primary Lessons. The harsh impact racism had and continues to have in this country is ever-present.

There is also a great deal of perseverance. Sarah rebels and chafes against the restrictions of southern society and segregation personified in her mother. She grows up longing to belong, for a real family that would envelop her in the love she remembered from her time with Aunt Susie. She will not give in to fate. She will prevail. In the process, she will learn how close love and hate are in a family, hope often wears the mask of despair for its own survival and that every dream requires sacrifice.

About the author:

Sarah Bracey White was born in Sumter, SC. She is a librarian, teacher and motivational speaker. As a long-time arts consultant to the Town of Greenburgh, she designed and manages a creative writing program for children, edits an annual edition of their short stories and sponsors an annual poetry contest. The author of a collection of poetry, Feelings Brought to Surface, her creative essays are included in the anthologies Children of the Dream; Dreaming in Color, Living in Black and White; Aunties: 35 Writers Celebrate Their Other Mother; Gardening On A Deeper Level and Heartscapes. Her essays have been published in many regional newspapers and on the internetHer memoirPrimary Lessons, was published by CavanKerry Press in September, 2013. She lives with her husband in Westchester County, NY.

Sarah was interviewed for Three by Five in July.

1 Comment

Filed under writing life

Breadcrumbs to Blogs

There is so much to read on the web! Think of these as breadcrumbs, leading to a banquet of selections for your plate of experiences here in the wild internet.

First up – Molly Greene: Writer.

Molly has two previous books  and launching now, her latest mystery novel Rapunzel. Find out more about her books on her site. She blogs on writing and the writing life several times a week. Check out her post Self-Publishing: 6 Valuable Lessons I Learned Between Book #1 & #2 for some helpful hints post publishing that first book. The one that really stood out for me? Number 3 – “Confidence and experience strengthened my personal filter.” The key take away: There is a great deal of information out there, use other opinions on what to do as a guide but do what is best for you as long as you cover the basics – “You must have a well-written, well-edited, well-proofed and well-formatted book with a professional-looking cover.”

Second – O-Dark-Thirty.

O-Dark-Thirty is the literary journal for the Veterans Writing Project. The Veterans Writing Project provides no cost writing workshops and conferences for veterans, service members and military family members. Combining both print (O Dark Thirty) and online (The Report), the site offers opportunity for members of the military community to publish their work and for those without military experience to gain insight and perspective on what our service members and their families go through. The print journal publishes 4 times a year. The Report updates often with new work. Make this one of your must read stops when surfing the net and order a print subscription. For a sample read, Kevin Neirbo’s Later explores a Marine’s coming of age.

Third – Beyond The Margins.

Truly a smorgasbord of writerly edification options. “Think literary magazine run amok,” is how the site describes itself. A dozen contributing writers plus guest posters present diverse voices and experiences on the craft of writing and business of publishing. A recent post by Randy Sue Myers entitled Manners for Writers has some useful hints about writer behavior in the literary community. A key point not enough bloggers and tweeters understand – “Most readers…don’t want to hear complaints about how tired you are, how much you hate writing, and what a grind it is to revise. It’s better not to show how the sausage is made.” Yep,  and I’ve done this too, it’s easy when it’s time to log on and make a new post to fall back to what isn’t working. I see more than a few updates that are complaints and there is nothing in a complaint that encourages me to keep writing. If you can take that complaint and turn it into a useful piece of reflection, well, that’s another story.

Three breadcrumbs to follow, and each will lead you to other resources and readings. Enjoy.

Leave a comment

Filed under writing life

Editor – Hate my Work!

Want an Editor to hate your work – be boring, stiff and too formal! This is just one of five “recommendations” posted today at Write Nonfiction Now, hosted by Nina Amir. The guest poster is Linda Formichelli with a humorous look at what not to do if you want to publish nonfiction journalistic writing. Surf on over to today’s posting at Nina Amir’s Write Nonfiction Now and discover the rest of Linda Formichelli’s 5 Surefire Ways to Make an Editor Hate Your Article.

Find out more about Linda at The Renegade Writer.

Find out more about Nina Amir at Write Nonfiction Now!


Leave a comment

Filed under writing life