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Author Interview Series: Behind The Scenes with Elaine Wolf

Behind The Scenes2

Everyone’s journey to publication is different and unique. In Behind The Scenes, I interview writers who tell us how they started and got to where they are today. With the knowledge that comes from experience, they share their words of wisdom with us. If you’re a writer, I’d love to hear about your journey! Please contact me here if you’re interested in being interviewed. New interviews featured every second and last Monday of the month.

With me today is Elaine Wolf. Known as the anti-bullying novelist, her books Camp and Danny’s Mom dig deep into the issues kids face today and why speaking up is important.

 

1. Tell us a bit about your writing journey. How did you get started, and how did you get to where you are now?

I always dreamed of being a writer, but work and family responsibilities got in the way.

When I was 45, my husband noticed an announcement about a writers’ workshop at the local library, and he encouraged me to enroll. So I started racing out of work early once a week to attend that workshop. And I loved it.

My husband knew of my dream; he had heard me speak about the first story I ever wrote, way back when I was in second grade. The other kids wrote a paragraph or two. I wrote ten pages about a dog named Magic. The teacher had me read my story to the class, and I loved being acknowledged for having written something worth sharing.

Fast forward a few decades. As a public school district program director, I found lots of excuses to write memos, which teachers said they actually enjoyed reading. Yes, I really loved writing –– and my big dream was to write a novel, to attract the attention of a reputable literary agent, and to get my book published.

With my husband’s support, I quit my job when I was not quite fifty to become a full-time writer. I enrolled in writing classes and workshops, and I wrote every day. I started with short stories and then went on to write the manuscript that became Danny’s Mom.

When a New York literary agent signed me on, I wrote another manuscript, which evolved into the novel Camp. And now I’m known as “the anti-bullying novelist,” with books that show what really can happen behind the closed gates and doors of our camps and schools.

 

2. Anything you would’ve done differently if you could do it all over again?

I wish I could do it all over again! I would start my “writing life” long before turning 50. I would figure out how to dedicate time to write even while working a full-time job…or figure out how to get by with a part-time job so I could have time to write. That said, I’m delighted to have the opportunity now to focus on writing, and I feel blessed that, at this stage of life, my work as “the anti-bullying novelist” is making a difference.

 

3. What advice would you give to new and aspiring writers?

My advice is to never give up. I know that sounds hokey, but I really believe it.

Never give up on a manuscript that you know is good –– even when agents and publishers say NO. I’m so glad I didn’t give up on Danny’s Mom and Camp. I knew they were good stories, so I revised and revised and revised. And when my agent said that editors loved the manuscripts –– the writing and the characters –– but that bullying was too small a story, I put my novels on the back burner, but I never took them off the stove. I revised yet again and found different ways into the stories. I never gave up. And when bullying finally made it to our national radar screen, my agent tried again, and both books sold quickly.

 

4. Is there any book you’ve written that is particularly special to you? Which one and why?

When people ask me which of my two novels I like better, which is more special to me, I sort of feel like a mother being asked which of her children is particularly special to her. Both Camp and Danny’s Mom are personal works: I wrote Camp to honor the memory of my mother, whose story as a survivor and an immigrant I can only imagine; I wrote Danny’s Mom to honor colleagues with whom I worked, teachers who went above and beyond for their students –– and for students who desperately need adult advocates and yet often have to face the perils of high school unprotected and alone. So, both Camp and Danny’s Mom are really special to me.

 

5. Who would you say is your favorite character(s) from your books, and why? What is it about this character that makes him/her tick?

I tend to be the champion of the underdogs, which is probably why Charlie is my favorite character in Camp and Liz Grant is my favorite character in Danny’s Mom.

Charlie is the protagonist’s kid brother in Camp. He’s on the autism spectrum (although in the early 1960s, when the novel takes place, he is labeled “handicapped”). Charlie’s mother is unduly harsh with him, and the only one who seems to understand him is his older sister, Amy, the protagonist. Charlie is petrified of dogs –– and, of course, a family with a large dog lives down the block. I grew to love Charlie during the two years in which I wrote Camp, and I sobbed (really, I did) as I wrote an important scene concerning Charlie toward the end of the novel. When you read Camp, you’ll know exactly when I cried.

Liz Grant, my favorite character in Danny’s Mom, is a troubled high school sophomore who suffers with anorexia. She’s an easy target at Meadow Brook High School, where mean girls practice bullying as if it’s a sport. Liz desperately needs adult support, yet her mother is convinced that the bullies will go away if Liz simply ignores them. The protagonist, Beth, a guidance counselor, tries to help Liz, but Beth is thwarted by school administrators who cling to don’t-rock-the-boat policies.

 

7. Tell us about your latest project. What are you working on at the moment, and what can we expect from it?

Currently, I’m working on a novel that’s much lighter than Camp and Danny’s Mom. It takes place in another dimension, and it’s kind of a fairy tale for adults. And, yes, there’s bullying in that other place, too –– because bullying seems to grow organically in everything I write.

I’m also working (with a film agent) on movie rights for Camp and Danny’s Mom…so stay tuned.

 

8. Are you self-pubbed or traditionally published? What made you go for this model? What advice/tips can you share with writers working towards the same goal?

I’m traditionally published. The truth is, I never considered self-publishing ¬¬–– although I have friends who have had positive self-publishing experiences. After I wrote (and revised and revised and revised) the manuscript that became Danny’s Mom, I researched literary agents and started the querying process. I was prepared to face rejections, and they came. But then a top New York agent signed me on. And the rest, as they say, is history.

My advice to other writers working toward being traditionally published is to never give up. Keep querying, and if you’re lucky enough to get feedback from agents who say “no thanks,” consider their comments, incorporate any suggestions that make sense to you, and rewrite and revise.

In order to be traditionally published, you need talent, perseverance, and timing. The bullying theme in Camp and Danny’s Mom was considered “too small” for traditional publishers when my agent first submitted the manuscripts. But when bullying became part of our national dialogue, both books sold.

And, finally, keep writing. Even if you don’t get an agent, keep writing. Even if you have an agent but your work doesn’t sell, keep writing. A writer is someone who writes. Being published is certainly great, but the act of writing is what’s important: it will keep you growing –– as a writer and as a person.

 

Author Bio: Known as “the anti-bullying novelist,” I write about what really goes on behind the closed gates and doors of our camps and schools. The issues I explore in my novels are those I am passionate about and know well.
I was a camper and camp counselor for many summers. When I entered “the real world,” I taught in public schools in California and New York. In my most recent teaching position, I served as a middle school and high school reading/language arts specialist, and then I became the district language arts chairperson. In that position, I designed and supervised reading/writing programs for students at all grade levels, facilitated reading groups and writers’ workshops, and selected books for classroom libraries as well as for ancillary and summer reading lists.
One of my greatest joys was getting wonderful books into the hands of students, teachers, and parents. In the time before Kindles, iPads, and Nooks, I spent countless hours stocking shelves with “good reads.” And I dreamed of seeing my books on those shelves. Now I’m thrilled that Camp and Danny’s Mom are there.
Although critics call my novels “mesmerizing” and “must-reads,” what pleases me more than great reviews is the fact that Camp and Danny’s Mom have given me a literal bully pulpit –– a platform from which to carry on the anti-bullying conversation so that, in concert with professionals, we will make our camps and schools kinder, more embracing communities for everyone. I’m committed to keeping this conversation going until the bullying epidemic ends.
My husband and I raised our children on Long Island, where in addition to teaching I was a co-facilitator of a writers’ workshop. Now we live in Northampton, Massachusetts, a community brimming with readers, writers, artists, and musicians. Shortly after moving here, I won a prize for short fiction (the perfect welcome for me). And both of my novels, Camp and Danny’s Mom, will be released in paperback in June 2015. Next up is a move to the west coast. California, here I come!

Where to find Elaine:        Website       Facebook       Twitter       Goodreads

 

 


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Author Interview Series: Behind The Scenes with Callum McLaughlin

Behind The Scenes2

Everyone’s journey to publication is different and unique. In Behind The Scenes, I interview writers who tell us how they started and got to where they are today. With the knowledge that comes from experience, they share their words of wisdom with us. If you’re a writer, I’d love to hear about your journey! Please contact me here if you’re interested in being interviewed. New interviews featured every second and last Monday of the month.

Callum McLaughlin writes gripping suspense thrillers and is also a published poet in his own right. His latest offering, Seeking Solace, showcases his talent in a collection of sixty poems.

 

1. Tell us a bit about your writing journey. How did you get started, and how did you get to where you are now?

I first started out professionally a few years ago. I volunteered my time at a local magazine, gaining experience in various forms of research and writing, as well as undertaking a short photo-journalism course. With this training on my CV, I started to work on a freelance basis, allowing me the perfect balance of time to also work on my own creative writing.

 

2. Anything you would’ve done differently if you could do it all over again?

Probably not, to be honest. Things have gone fairly well thus far and I’m happy to keep working away at my craft, hopefully learning and improving as I go.

 

3. What advice would you give to new and aspiring writers?

The most obvious yet crucial piece of advice is simply to write. It’s surprising how many people want to but never actually get around to it, constantly coming up with excuses or reasons why we think it will never happen. As they say, you can edit a load of rubbish but you can’t edit a blank page: Just write, write, and write some more.
Other than that, I’d say it’s just as important to read. The more you surround yourself with literature, the more your own style and voice can develop.

 

4. Is there any book you’ve written that is particularly special to you? Which one and why?

They’re all special to me in their own way and I suppose they always will be. I would say that my most recent release, Seeking Solace, feels particularly precious right now. Being my first poetry collection, it was a real tick on the bucket list and something I’d have scarcely believed possible a few years ago.

 

5. Who would you say is your favorite character(s) from your books, and why? What is it about this character that makes him/her tick?

Like with the books themselves, it’s tough to single out any one character. My two protagonists, Eva and Abi – from The Vessel and False Awakening respectively – are very special to me because they carry their particular stories, and though their circumstances are very different, they are both ordinary people who find themselves in extraordinary situations and simply strive to do the best they can.

 

6. Tell us about your latest project. What are you working on at the moment, and what can we expect from it?

I’ve been enjoying the release of Seeking Solace recently but as for current works in progress, I’m writing poetry as ever and have a new piece of fiction in the planning stages. It’s something totally different from what I’ve done before that I’m getting very excited about delving into.

 

7. Are you self-pubbed or traditionally published? What made you go for this model? What advice/tips can you share with writers working towards the same goal?

I’m self-published thus far. It’s not to say I don’t see the merits and drawbacks in both routes, it’s just been what I believed was right for me and my books up until this point, which is the approach I will always take. I was attracted to the notion of taking things at my own pace and keeping control of my own work, which felt right particularly when entering the industry for the first time.

To anyone looking to follow a similar path, I’d say set clear goals to keep yourself motivated, as being your own boss can be both a blessing and a curse, but also don’t be afraid to change your mind if need be (that is, after all, the beauty of self-publishing). Aside from that I think the most important thing is to surround yourself with good people. Be they online or offline, feeling part of a like-minded community will pay dividends when it comes to the big release day. It can be all too easy to write away for months without so much as breathing a word of your intentions to publish, but you’ll be thankful for the helping hand and moral support later down the line.

 

Author Bio: Born and raised in the Scottish countryside, Callum McLaughlin works as a freelance content writer and in November 2013, published his first book. He has since followed this with a second novel and outside of fiction, he is also a keen poet and a lover of all things literature, music and nature, taking his biggest inspiration from the world around us.

Where to find Callum:     Blog     Goodreads     Twitter

 


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Short Story for Fiction Writing Class

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This week, I’m celebrating the end of Start Writing Fiction in Futurelearn, one of the MOOC’s I’m taking. For our last assignment, we were asked to write a 750-1000 word story. As a slow writer who tends to mull things over for a long time before getting anything down, this is tough, especially with the word count constraint. I considered using one of my stories as a base for the assignment but without much editing, it’s probably going to come off as an excerpt instead of a story on its own, so I decided to start from scratch.

 

Here’s what I ended up with:

Aidan looked up as Colleen walked in the door. She looked tanned and beautiful in her white sundress. It had been a long time since he saw her laugh—a genuine laugh and not the kind that barely reached her eyes. It pained him to realize being away from him was the change she needed.

“How was Florence?” he asked but she didn’t pay him any attention as she headed straight to the bar, pouring herself a drink. Aidan watched as she gulped the liquid down in one go.

“You shouldn’t be drinking. It’s not good for the baby.” He tried to snatch the glass from her hand but she was too swift for him. “God damn it, Colleen!” Over the last few weeks, it had been increasingly difficult for him to get through to her. Colleen refused to tell him anything, preferring instead to keep up with the pretense of being the perfect married couple. And that was exactly what they were—perfect on the outside but flawed on the inside.

He remembered the first time he saw her, that was nearly thirteen years ago now. She was the new girl in school and he thought she was the prettiest girl he’d ever seen, with her sun gold hair and clear blue eyes. He was a good head shorter than she was then, with wire-rimmed glasses and the self confidence that came with being the school’s biggest geek. He sat next to her in two of his classes and the days she’d flashed her smile at him when she copied off him were the happiest of his school days.

Of course, he didn’t learn until years later, during their ten-year high school reunion that she did not remember him at all. Two years he’d sat next to her, two years she’d copied off his tests and assignments, flashing him the best and brightest smile she only reserved for jocks, to learn that she had no recollection of him at all. He supposed he had changed much by then. Gone were the thick glasses, replaced with contacts and while he was only a few inches taller than she, he had that wizened look about him and the air of confidence that only money could buy.

Barely two years out of college and he was a millionaire, having developed a security system that blew all the competition to the dust. That, coupled, with some wise investments, had shoot him up to become what he’d never imagined he’d be during his teenage years—an eligible bachelor. When women started seeing him as attractive, he guessed it was artificial, probably more to do with his money than anything else. He might have grown up but there still was nothing arresting about him. He had the same boyish, ruddy face and thin lips. His light brown hair had a tendency to curl and it only added all the more to the impression of a boy who was barely out of high school.

Colleen changed all that. She made him feel like he was the same high school boy and that grown up man, all at once. She’d listened attentively as he talked and had rebuffed every other man’s attention, allowing him to monopolize her time for the better part of the night. He’d confessed he had the biggest crush on her in high school and her musical laugh was all the response he got. Still, it made him feel wonderful to finally have her next to him, laughing with him, seeing him for the man that he truly was.

“You’re back early.” Aidan turned to find Spencer, his securities specialist, coming into the room. “Bored of Italy already?”

Colleen brightened at the sight of Spencer. “No. It was lovely. But it’s not the same without you. I missed you.”

Aidan watched as Colleen wrapped her arms around Spencer, kissing him—if he was honest with himself—like she’d never kissed him before. Spencer’s hands were all over his wife and rage like nothing Aidan had known before surged inside him. He lunged at Spencer, uncaring that Spencer was bigger than him, but only managed to grab empty air as he flew through the couple. His repeated attempts were all futile and Aidan couldn’t understand what was happening. How could they be carrying on right in front of him as if he wasn’t even there? Colleen was going to pay for this. He would file for divorce, cut her off, and take the baby when it was born. She would never see their child again or a single cent of his money.

“Poor Aidan,” Spencer said with a shake of his head. “He didn’t even know what hit him.”

Colleen laughed, that same musical laugh from the night of the reunion. “He’s always been gullible. It was a rather brilliant plan, from start to finish, if I do say so myself. He never could resist me, you know. Why, the poor sucker even left everything to me, just as I knew he would.”

~ END ~

 

It’s a bit rough but for the purposes of the assignment, I think I achieved what I set out to do. Most of the comments I received was that the ending seemed rush. I agree. Someone said they could see this becoming a longer piece of work. I don’t know about that though. The story was strictly for the assignment and I don’t really like Colleen enough to work on her for a longer piece. What do you think? Did the ending come as a surprise to you?

Writing a novel is a huge undertaking. It could take years and the demands of writing one is great. That is not to say that short stories are any easier. You really have to make those words count.

Do you prefer shorts or novels? What are the most difficult parts for you?

What are you celebrating this week? Join us each Friday as we Celebrate The Small Things, with our host VikLit and my fellow co-hosts Diana Wilder, LG Keltner @ Writing Off the Edge, and Katie @ TheCyborg Mom. Visit them to see what they are celebrating this week.


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