Five Questions for Laurie Panther, Tomorrow’s Featured Member

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Lately we’ve been doing interviews with the guest we asked to come speak to the club, but we also want you to have a chance to get to know our fellow Berkeley CWC members. It’s not only our guests who have something to contribute, our members are capable, interesting and knowledgeable. Our meeting is mostly a chance for us to share our insights and struggles.

That brings us to this month’s featured member, Laurie Panther.

Laurie Panther holds a master’s degree in education and an Administrative Credential in Educational Leadership for Social Justice.  In her personal life, she has served in many capacities in both twelve-step recovery groups, as well as for Adult Survivors of Child Abuse; and has maintained twenty-nine years of sobriety and abstinence from drugs. She gives workshops on recovery and empowerment (for example, this upcoming workshop). Panther writes poetry and has performed a one-woman show about her life in several venues (see Laurie’s story about the “pussy bushes” at the Moth). She blogs about these topics at Mixed Girl Survival School

Five Questions for Featured Member Laurie Panther

1. What’s the most important piece of writing advice that you could give to other writers?

Don’t be afraid to let other people read what you write. When you get lots of feedback, you can find trends to validate observations, and you won’t take each one of a few as the be-all and end-all. Less devastating. Also be prepared to revise—a lot!

2. When you were a child, what did you want to be when you grew up?

A housewife (because my mother worked and emotionally neglected her children) and a writer (because I could express my unspeakable emotional truths as child). I began journaling when I was 11 years old.

3. If you could truly be the writer you wanted to be, what would your career look like?

My writing would be published by a reputable house, and after hot sales of the memoir style, I’d write in other genres, such as “self-help” and parenting—all focused on helping people identify and overcome the damage of trauma (sex abuse, child abuse, neglect, depression, anxiety, etc.) I would also travel to share my writing, as well as providing workshops & and individual consultations.

4. What other writers inspire you?

Female writers inspire me. Especially ones who capture the struggles of sexuality, repressions, overcoming barriers. Of the classic female English novelists: the Bronte Sisters, Virginia Woolf, and Kate Chopin come to mind, and from the modern women writers: Barbara Kingsolver (Poisonwood Bible is one of my all time favorites), Ann Pachett, and gritty memoir and memoir style writers: Jeannette Walls, Dorothy Allison, and Toni Morrison.

5. What do you think of the writing business these days?

I really miss the art in writing. It used to be that the people who were born with the ability to communicate their burning inner fire or insights were sought after by publishers and taken in and nurtured. Or less talented people could labor and hone their skills, achieving a fair chance that a publisher would give them a shot. But now, talent doesn’t seem to play much of a role. There’s so much crap being published and sold at Barnes & Noble, and people will read the latest crap displayed on the tables and buy more “in the series.” Access to a good publishing house, and the support they used to offer the writers is gone. The self-promoting that writers have to engage in has moved the craft aspect from the page to the internet manipulation game. It feels like prostitution to me, or a marathon where the most dogged win and not the most talented. When experts come to us with the great idea that instead of writing what we are moved to write, we should research what is selling and write what will get published—art has died.

At this Sunday’s meeting, Laurie Panther will be present to read from her memoir: Mixed Girl, Trauma Oncologist: How I Cured the Soul Sickness That Ate My Family Alive. A life-long East Bay native, Laurie’s story covers how her mixed race family, with adopted children from orphanages around the world, navigated the 50s, 60s and beyond. Laurie unpacks trauma, her inspiring efforts to survive, and how she broke the chain of dysfunction. We hope you’ll join us. Our featured guest will be Joe Clifford and as usual there will be coffee, snacks, marketing advice and craft discussion groups. 

 

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Interview with Acquisitions Editor and Author Joe Clifford, our Feature for This Sunday’s Metting

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It’s an interview with this Sunday’s featured guest, Joe Clifford. Joe is acquisitions editor for Gutter Books and the author of several books, including Junkie Love and the Jay Porter Thriller Series, as well as editor of Trouble in the Heartland: Crime Fiction Inspired by the Songs of Bruce Springsteen and Just to Watch Them Die: Crime Fiction Inspired by the Songs of Johnny Cash.

Clifford’s success wasn’t smooth sailing. He overcame a a ten-year heroin and methamphetamine addiction, which culminated with felony arrests, overdoses, and homelessness. He found his light as he fought through the darkness to recovery.  Skating the edge of insanity is a concept that Clifford is familiar with and lays it all bare in his memoir.

Interview conducted by Berkeley CWC member Cristina Deptula.

Cristina Deptula: Your life seems to have been one wild adventure! What would you say to people who feel they should be working on developing their writing craft but are in a season of life where they really struggle to put keys to the keyboard, as you probably were when you were homeless?

Joe Clifford: Read! You can always find books (even on the side of the road). Long before I was a writer, I was a reader, and most great writers will tell you they’ve read way more than they’ve written. Of course one of the wrinkles is that as you start writing professionally, the time for reading for pleasure gets seriously cut into! You’re always reading for work, in one way or another. Also, writing is more than just the writing; it’s observing, practicing craft. I used to scribble poems on napkins when I was homeless, think about the scenes I was seeing, imagining the stories. Of course, this is in retrospect. When I was living on the streets and in skid row hotels, I wasn’t actively outlining novels; although I did always believe the material would, somehow, turn into art.

CD: You’ve edited anthologies of crime fiction inspired by Bruce Springsteen and Johnny Cash songs. What do you think in their music speaks to writers, and are there songwriters out there today who could have a similar effect on writers?

JC: I LOVE this question! I wrote in the introduction to Trouble in the Heartland (the Springsteen anthology) that if I had to pick one author as the most influential in my life, it would be the Boss. And the reason is simple. When I was a teenager, I rebelled and fought authority like a lot of kids, and this meant not doing homework, which included reading. In my defense, while I am certain Across Five Aprils is a wonderful book, to an angry sixteen-year-old, stuck “in a town full of losers,” it didn’t speak to me. Springsteen did. So he was part of my formative artistic years. I was studying story structure without realizing it. What Springsteen can do in a single line (“Remember all the movies Terry we’d go and see / trying to walk like the heroes we thought he had to be / and after all this time to find we’re just like all the rest . . .”) what it takes most authors three-hundred pages to do.

As for the best songwriter storytellers today? For my money: Brian Fallon and Craig Finn. But there are a bunch: Micah Schnabel, Travis Meadows, Frank Turner, and, yes, Taylor Swift!

Memoirist Joe Clifford

Join Joe Clifford this Sunday at Preservation Park in Oakland

CD: I notice that not long after coming out of homelessness, you went back to school and earned a MFA. Would you recommend that for other writers? Do you think that the degree adds to a writer’s career development?

JC: You mean going to school over being homeless? Definitely! But, seriously, without my MFA, I am not publishing books today. Just how my mind works. I had a tough time with causality, which is paramount to structuring a novel. I could do scenes; I couldn’t connect them the way one needs to propel a novel. And where I went to get my masters, Florida International University, is one of the few that actively promotes genre, since it’s a way to both write and make money.

CD: What drew you to crime/detective fiction?

JC: After I wrote Junkie Love, I’d told the story of my addiction, and I didn’t want to write the same book over and over. It seemed to me that, with my background, crime was the next logical place to go. Criminals, cops, lowlifes, junkies. As you can imagine, I saw a lot of stuff out there that would make for great stories! Plus, like I mentioned, FIU had several terrific mystery, thriller writers, like Les Standiford and James W. Hall, teaching there.

CD: In your blog you mention that the gatekeeper system of publishing has drawbacks but you “don’t want to criticize it because you don’t see any alternative.” Why do you say that, and what are your feelings about self-publishing? What do you recommend for authors who have trouble finding agents and publishers?

JC: There’re a number of reasons. The first being, no one wants to listen to a published writer complain about how hard it is to get published! Ultimately, though, there is no great conspiracy to keep good writers from going unpublished. The problem with the gatekeeper system, for writers, is that it can feel like it moves way too slowly. I still believe that if you are good enough and keep at it, your work will get out there. The timetable just stinks sometimes. It’s very hard to put your heart and soul into a book and then sit around and wait for the process to play out. My feeling on self-publishing is, more times than not, it’s counterproductive. Self-publishing doesn’t just mean the author getting the book into print themselves; it means he or she is responsible for all of it—the promotion, the booking events, the distribution, etc. And, yeah, when you are at an indie you can do a lot of that yourself anyway, but you still have a certified label behind you. Which means more reviews, a certain level of respect; and I don’t say this for any other reason than this can mean more sales. And not sales for money’s sake (although that part is nice). The bigger issue: once a book is published, traditional or self-published, it becomes part of your permanent record. If an author “only” sells 1,000 copies of a book, the next time he or she approaches an agent or a new house, whatever, those numbers come with them. Simply put, it’s very hard to move tens of thousands on your own.


Ask Joe your own questions at this Sunday’s monthly meeting. He will speak to how the truth will set us free in any genre, and any project. In his road to redemption, Joe has become a successful writer, editor and anthologist.   Clifford will share the lessons he has learned, insecurities about his success, and his insights of utilizing our struggles to become our strengths. He will be joined by featured CWC member Laurie Panther.

Joe’s writing can be found at JoeClifford.com. Find out about Laurie Panther at mixedgirlsurvivalschool.com

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An Interview with This Sunday’s Guest, Amos White

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amos-white-thumb.jpgFive Questions for Haiku Poet Amos White

Amos White is an awarded American haiku poet and author, producer and activist, recognized for his vivid literary imagery and breathless poetic interpretations. Amos is published in several national and international reviews and anthologies. He is Founder and Host of the Heart of the Muse creative’s salon, Executive Producer and Host of Beyond Words: Jazz+Poetry show; Producer of the Oakland Haiku and Poetry Festival; President of Bay Area Generations literary reading series.

Member and book publicist Cristina Deptula interviewed him for the California Writers Club.

Meet Amos this Sunday, when he is our featured guest for our April monthly meeting at Preservation Park.

CD: Out of all possible forms of poetry, what drew you to haiku?

AW: In 1987, my haiku was referred to Assistant Professor. Shelly Fenno, a visiting professor in Wittenberg’s East Asian Studies Department. Word was, she had studied under the foremost US authority on haiku at the time. I had just graduated and was working at The Ohio State University as Assistant to the Dean of Humanities. I had dreams of getting published in the New Yorker or Playboy (the highest paying magazine at the time).

After an arranged meeting to discuss a focus on the Japanese art of haiku, Professor Fenno encouraged me to read the works of Matsuo Basho. She also let out that a haiku contest was being held for the Department and the winning entries were to be published in The Witt, the University literary periodical.

I drove 55 minutes from Columbus to Springfield with those three haiku to personally submit them at 5 p.m. on the day they were due. The result some days later lay indelibly on me for years thereafter. The phone rang to inform me that The East Asian Studies Journal had published my haiku and I had been selected its contest winner.

Amos White will be speaking at our April event

CD: You mentioned that you want a poet elected president. What sort of unique approach to governing do you think a poet would bring? And how do you think that poetry and art speaks to the practical issues our country faces?

AW: It is my deepest belief that one who presides over others in governance is best served, and best serves, when they have the poetry of their people and of the stories that compose their land’s narrative at heart. Poets know this best. They can carry a kernel of hope in but a metaphor and feed the hearts and souls of millions with the feathered edge of their words. Such empathy begets a selfish humility—not to parrot the fears of the misguided, nor to pimp the most vulnerable, nor preen when satellites watching, nor crow in Capitol columns, but to reflect without hubris or reflex in times of crisis or great national stress, and to draw upon the image of the institution to frame one’s thought and policy, as a sound of the commons.

CD: I know that you’re a runner as well as a writer. Annie Dillard wrote about running in her memoir and linked it to her writing as a parallel form of discipline. I was a runner myself for a few years—do you notice that it helps your writing, helps you think? Do writers tend to be drawn to running?

Amos White pull quoteAW: I last ran the week my first son was born. Time to time now, I find myself buying a new pair of joggers and thinking about the throb of thighs and pangs of cold air pulled tween pursed lips.

I do not know if writers or poets are drawn to running. I do hear often that many take walks, and since we live in the most beautiful place on earth, here in the San Francisco Bay Area, we can find ourselves, bay side on sandy encinal lined beaches of Alameda to the salmon flecked creeks of Sausal and Dimond and Strawberry Creeks, to the peaks that bear spent lava and amaze those who dare lose themselves if but for a few hours wrapped in a Redwood’s embrace.

CD: Do you prefer to write pieces to be read aloud, or read silently, and why?

AW: I have never contemplated this. I write because an experience from without has moved me within, and that feeling within I want to share so precisely shape that you know where I’ve been.

CDIt’s become a cliché that poetry can’t sell, that poets have to have day jobs, that people don’t often read and think they can’t understand poetry. So in today’s world, how and where can a writer who’s primarily a poet have an influence? Or should a writer just write and not worry about their influence?

AW: Poets have influence because they are poets. To be a poet is our point of differentiation. Poet means “maker.” We make worlds from words and we make futures when we fashion and code our images to page or mindful listeners. We capture time to memorialize an occasion or celebration or to give rise to our eyes cast low from forgetting the meaning of horizon, it is a gift to be able to share so little that can mean so much to so many in so few words. To write *is* to influence: the world, and yet the universe itself has changed, and Heidegger’s cat rolls twice on pages and screens with every dappled character that only we poets dreamed to be that was not there moments before.

 

Join Us This Sunday, April 15, When Amos Speaks to the Berkeley CWC on The Art of Giving Live Readings

Come hear this engaging and educational speaker to learn how the subtleties of tone and time can move an audience with but a word. Find out how to find open mic readings and learn to perform like a pro. Amos will teach us the dos and don’ts of reading etiquette and even how to host your own literary readings. Bring a small poem or a written paragraph of fiction, nonfiction, etc. to practice reading aloud.

Learn more or Say you’re coming on Facebook.

About Amos White: about.me/amoswhite or follow him on Facebook.

 

Interview with Joel Friedlander on Indie Publishing

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Berkeley CWC volunteer Cristina Deptula caught up with the speaker of this Sunday’s meeting for some questions about independent publishing. If you don’t know Joel, he is an award-winning book designer, blogger, and writer. He speaks regularly at industry events and is the author of A Self-Publisher’s Companion and coauthor of The Self-Publisher’s Ultimate Resource Guide. Joel is a columnist for Publishers Weekly, and was named by Writer’s Digest as one of the 10 people to follow in book publishing. He runs a number of helpful websites such as TheBookMakers.com, offering full service book production for authors and publishers.

Come out to our Sunday meeting to ask Joel your own questions about indie book publishing.

Joel-2014-headshot 300xHow does an author decide when to self publish and when to seek an agent and a traditional publisher? What sorts of books do you think are best served by each form of publication?

​Several elements go into this decision. Traditional publishers will be looking for books that will be sufficiently profitable to justify the expense of publishing them. Some authors may not want to wait the 1 to 3 years this process takes, and others want more control of their publications than is afforded in typical publishing contracts. Authors who have ready access to an audience for their books, or who are innately entrepreneurial, are likely to have the best results from self-publishing.

What are some big mistakes to avoid when self-publishing that make your book look unprofessional?

​The worst mistake is to publish a book with an “amateur” cover. It will mark your book as an amateur production before anyone even has a chance to open the book.​ Similarly, publishing a book that hasn’t been edited by a professional book editor isn’t a good practice.

What are some tips to make your self-published book stand out?

​Again, do yourself a favor and hire a professional cover designer and editor. Beyond that, look at the market you are entering. What does your book contribute that is not available? Does it do something better than any other books in the market? Or do it better, more extensively, or in greater depth? Why do people need this book?​

How can authors get self-published books noticed by media and bookstores? Are there hacks to the process or is it still a matter of calling and emailing place after place and dropping off copies?

​There’s no shortcut to marketing a book. Self-publishers can run review campaigns to print, electronic, and online media just like any other publisher. They can advertise on social media sites, build community through blogging or sharing their stories. There are no “magic bullets.” Most self-publishers will not have the assets to attempt a national marketing campaign with offset-printed books, a marketing budget, and a national distributor, all of which are necessary to go beyond consigning books to your local bookstores.​

What’s worth spending good money on as an author and where can a self-publishing author save cash?

​Use free reviews before you pay for any. You can find cover designers who charge very reasonable fees. Editing and cover design are the places to spend your cash. Use a template for your book interior, it will save you a lot of time and money with designers and formatters.​ Partner with other authors who publish books that appeal to the same audience and run promotions where you split the cost. Develop a blog and grow an email list, nothing you can do will pay off as well.

Whether or not you have questions for Joel, we hope to see you this Sunday at our monthly meeting at Preservation Park. Remember, though Joel speaks at 3:15, the meeting starts at noon with support groups to help you resolve issues in your writing or your book marketing…or just network with other writers over tasty snacks and coffee. Doesn’t your writing career deserve a little time this week?

november-Joel Friedlander-Author-Platform-Branding-Monetization

 

Spotlight on one of the Political Authors Reading at Saturday’s Event: Stephen Cataldo

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Editor’s note: Stephen Cataldo is one of many CWC members who writes about politics. This Saturday, we’re celebrating CWC political writers at An Evening of Political Readings at Laurel Bookstore in Oakland.

Stephen Cataldo is a social entrepreneur with a strong passion in politics. He recently published his first book, Cognitive Politics: a Communications Workbook for Progressives [CognitivePolitics.org]. Before writing this book, Cataldo took on many environmental and social projects, such as founding SpaceShare and the carpool system for the American Holistic Nursing program.

What Is Cognitive Politics?

Stephen Cataldo: “What we really have are certain value sets that we don’t have words for, and when those values intersect with politics, they become ‘liberal’ or ‘conservative.’” More

Making the Most of Nature in Your Writing: Interview with Featured Member Judith Newton

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A discussion between CWC members Linda Joy Myers, President of the National Memoir Writers Association and Judith Newton, Professor Emerita, Gender, Sexuality, and Women’s Studies at UC Davis

Editor’s note: Judith Newton is the featured member at next month’s CWC meeting. Catch her reading from her new book, before our keynote speaker LeeAnne Krusemark Sunday May 21st.

Making the Most of Nature in Your Writing

Linda: We both have new books coming out this spring. My book, Song of the Plains is a memoir about a family of women who abandon their daughters and about the ways their history contributed to this. Your book, Oink, is a mystery about the struggle between corporate and communal values in the university. I think it’s striking that we both chose elements of the natural world for our titles. What does it mean that you chose “Oink” for a title?

Judith: In writing Oink, a send up of the university for its increasing devotion to self-interest, competition, and profit, I also wanted to emphasize a counter perspective on life: a belief in the importance of values that are more about the common good. I planned to do this, in part, through my positive characterization of the protagonist’s campus community. It is comprised of faculty in women’s and ethnic studies who have come together to support each other and to resist having their programs defunded by an increasingly More

Writing Tips from our April Featured Member, Karma Bennett

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Editor’s note: Today we start a new series that presents interviews with Berkeley CWC members who are to be featured at our events. These interviews are presented by Jason Yiu. Our first featured member is Karma Bennett, who is not only the featured member at this Sunday’s meeting, she’s also our Berkeley branch president. Now I turn it over to Jason. 

SAMSUNG DIGITAL CAMERAKarma Bennett has experience in many fields of writing: poetry, writing content for businesses, novels, even in publishing and publicity. She has been working in publicity and marketing since 2007, specifically in book publicity and digital marketing, and now she runs her own business in that field, at www.karmabennett.com. Bennett’s forte is in increasing publicity in social media, creating Google search keywords for blogs, and overall making sure her clients get more attention online. She enjoys writing about music, politics, feminism, and philosophy, and she blogs about them in www.futureisfiction.com. She is one of the top ten most-popular blogger on blip.fm, with over 42,000 followers. Although she has no published work yet, in the past decade, she has been working on a novel.

Bennett’s intention for writing is unequivocal: writing is what fulfills her the most. “It’s natural. It’s what I’m good at,” she said. “It’s the question of ‘What did you do while you’re on Earth?’ Writing’s the only answer that makes me satisfied.”  She started off writing poetry, but realized that poetry can’t build a career, so she pivoted into writing novels. 

JY: Can you tell me a little about the novel you’ve been working on?

KB: The novel is about an artist who has recurring dreams about the Garden of Eden. She is trapped within the ambiguity of whether she is going insane, or if she is in fact called to save the world.

Bennett compares the novel to Pan’s Labyrinth, by Mar Diestro‑Dópido, where the ending could be interpreted in different ways, depending on the perspective of the reader. While writing, Bennett had the objective to construct this ambiguous ending, empowering the reader to perceive an ending in his or her own head. Is it fantastical, or is it real?

JY: As an experienced writer, are there any tips you would like to give to other writers?

KB: Don’t self publish.

As someone who worked in marketing and publicity for many years, the first suggestion Bennett would give to other writers is a practical one: don’t self-publish. She’s talked to many writers over the years who are gung-ho about self-publishing in order to put their work out there, but she doesn’t recommend it if the author wants to get their books in the bookstores. From her experience, “buyers will only look at books from traditional publishers,” she said.

KB: Join a writer’s group!

Bennett has been part of three writer’s groups, and she says that it helps her grow as a writer. She learns from the critiques they give her on her writing and absorb their point of view. She also mentioned the essentiality for writers to collaborate, especially for blogs. Speaking from her own blogging experience, she knows what the readers want is more content in the blogs. Being the only blogger on her website, she was only able to post monthly posts given her time restraints with her business. To tackle this issue, Bennett has been thinking about collaborating with a few other writers so they could each contribute to the blog to drive more frequent content.

KB: Most importantly, write everyday.

This was the last point Bennett added, but stressed with most gravity. “If you look at runners, they don’t hit their best times every practice. Writers have to be like runners and basketball players, to continue practicing,” she said, “Even if it’s writing journal entries that won’t be seen by anybody else.” Bennett emphasized the importance of keeping up with the daily writing, and, comparing writers to athletes once more, “don’t be too hard on yourself if your writing doesn’t meet your standard. Keep writing.”

JY: What motivates you in writing?

“The news, and ignorance,” she answered, but clarifies that she doesn’t mean that in a judgmental way. There would be instances where she comes across people saying things that are politically incorrect that makes her perplexed. She, then, realized that it’s because many people don’t have the a background or frequent exposure to politics and sociology. Thus, one of her strongest objectives in writing would be to raise awareness for views she doesn’t think are talked about enough, or to edify her readers on political views that are often misunderstood from an unbiased point of view.  

JY: Lastly, do you want to leave us with some of your favorite authors and books?

Bennett has recently been reading Joseph Campbell’s work as well, on account of her research for her recent novel. Referring to The Hero with a Thousand Faces, she is intrigued by his theory of monomyths, how he pointed out the common denominator for all religions share archetypal similarities. Although Bennett had her qualms with many religious practices in the past, she said Joseph Campbell made her understand what we see a lot of times are results of culture changes, but not in the idea of the religion itself.

Bennett has read numerous books in her life, but the two authors she could think of from the top of her head were Kurt Vonnegut and Catherynne M. Valente. She indicates that she likes how Kurt Vonnegut triggered the question of “am I who I am, or am I who I pretend to be?” She referenced her favorite book by Vonnegut, Mother Night, and explained that the split identity of the protagonist, and the conflict of those two identities, shifted her perspective on who we really are. Bennett likes Valente for her imaginative fantasy novels. “[Her] descriptions are so engaging, she creates a world that only exists in her own head,” Bennett said.

Karma Bennett will be reading a short passage from her work at our meeting this Sunday. Come out and say hello, and be sure to look out for the hidden Easter eggs! They contain a coupons for discounts from publishing professionals in our club, including several from Bennett too. 


Jason Yiu