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From Child Prodigy to Self-Publishing Expert: A.G. Billig’s Amazing Literary Journey

(EDITOR’S NOTE: This is the first in a two-part series on author/entrepreneur A.G. Billig, and how she is bringing her vast media, publishing branding experience to thousands of authors through SelfPublishingMastery.com. Here, she discusses her professional background, writing experiences, and her vision for the world’s most diverse self-publishing online platform.)

She wrote her first short story as a child. At age 13, the Romanian media dubbed her a child prodigy. Three years later, she was writing professionally for a popular national newspaper on teen issues. Then, at 17, she became a radio host — which led to producing a TV show for an independent Romanian network. Finally, when A.G. Billig entered her twenties, she became editor-in-chief for a variety of teen magazines.

Author, self-publishing and branding expert A.G. Billig

How’s that for the start of a writing career? A career seemingly predestined at birth? What happens if you add to that a Master’s Degree in public relations and communication and a sharp, incisive entrepreneurial mind?

Now, this captivating, multi-talented author, and international media and branding expert has established herself in the U.S., imparting her knowledge and insight to benefit thousands of authors. She is the creator of SelfPublishingMastery.com, a multi-channel platform that brings writing and business tips, consulting, books, writing and editing services, resources, online summits, professional referrals, the best writing instructors, a publishing imprint and much more. In 2017, it was named one of the Top 100 self-publishing blogs online. It’s only going to grow.

In an announcement I’m very proud to make, the editorial services wing of my company, Word Journeys, is shifting to SPM in a new partnership agreement.

As a writer, A.G.’s work is extensive in the journalism world, and growing in books. Her two books, Four Doors and Other Stories and I Choose Love, are award-winners. Her deep, thoughtful soul and incisive mind merge in her works to provide delicious prose that informs as it invokes feeling and thought, giving us insight into ourselves. Interestingly, that is what the greatest mentors do: show the way, often without stating it in those terms.

A.G. Billig presenting a workshop on branding and marketing for self-published authors at the Greater Los Angeles Writers Conference. Branding and marketing are central themes _ and features — of  SelfPublishingMastery.com

A.G. is a mentor to authors throughout the world, and has caught the attention of writers conference directors. She has presented at the Greater LA Writers, Genre-LA and Digital Writing & Self Publishing conferences, and recently conducted a Master Workshop on author branding. In this two-part interview, she unveils the full scope of SelfPublishingMastery.com, a huge author asset in a self-publishing market that saw an estimated 900,000 titles published last year.

WORD JOURNEYS: Let’s start at the beginning. What inspired you to begin writing?

A.G.Billig: When I was 8, my parents bought a brand new car. My excitement about the prospect of future summer trips across Romania translated into a short story, the first in a long series. My father, an avid reader and aspiring author, loved my writing and encouraged me to pursue it. By 13, I was winning national literary prizes for short stories. I wrote my first novel, a teenage love story, at 15 —and then took a break from writing fiction until 2012.

WJ: What was one of the biggest takeaways of your early journalism career, when you had years of top professional experience by the time you reached your twenties?

A.G.: It was a beautiful way to meet extraordinary people and share their amazing stories with the rest of the world, stretch my comfort zone, and learn new skills. It felt good whenever someone would stop me on the street to tell me they enjoyed my shows.

WJ:   What books did you read as a teen and young adult? How did they inform and shape the stories and book ideas you wanted to pursue?

A.G. Though Romania was still under Communist rule in my early years, I was fortunate to grow up in a house filled with books. My father was born in Paris. He loved French culture as well as universal literary giants. The moment I learned how to read, I started devouring writers such as Honore de Balzac, Emile Zola, Charles Dickens, Mark Twain, Lev Tolstoy, Anton Chekhov, Giovanni Boccaccio, Jane Austen, Ralph Waldo Emerson, and F. Scott Fitzgerald, to name a few. These authors and readings shaped my literary tastes and taught me how to write. I learned how to use description, write dialogue, and build solid characters from them. I also learned the type of emotional and cognitive experience a book is supposed to create for the reader, that essential element that stands the test of time. Although I never wanted to be like these authors, I always aimed at giving my best in my writing. We can all do that by being authentic and passionate about what we do.

WJ:   When did you start considering working with self-published authors? What need did you perceive?

A.G.: In 2015, at the London Book Fair. It seems like this event changes my life every three years — I wonder what’s going to happen in 2018! I attended as a journalist (I was a contributor to the Romanian edition of Playboy). I was already following podcasts on self-publishing and wanted to know more about it. The free talks and panels proved to be of great help. The success stories of self-published authors such as Mark Dawson and C.J. Lyons, making six-figure incomes on their books, gave me an A-HA! moment. I realized that the publishing game was changing and self-publishing opened a global market for authors, provided they had the necessary skills. Since I have an entrepreneurial mind, I seized the opportunity, not only for myself, but also for my fellow authors. I realized that they needed support with branding and marketing their books. They would needed resources, information, and education. “Why not use my passion for journalism to serve these people?” I asked myself.

Early in 2016, just about the same time I self-published I Choose Love, Self-Publishing Mastery was born.

WJ:   Let’s go back to your creative love – writing books. First, tell us about I Choose Love – certainly a timely read in this day and age.

A.G.: I never thought I would write a non-fiction book, but a lot went on in 2015 — terror attacks, natural disasters. The world was (and still is) governed by fear. The only way out was choosing love, again and again, every second of our life. At that point, I Choose Love came to me as what some would call a “download”. It took about a month to complete. It was easy for me, because it stemmed from my heart. I also had a clear structure from the beginning, and a thorough knowledge of the topic based on seven years of spiritual practice and personal experiences. It offers practical tools for overcoming fear and attracting love into one’s life.

WJ: Can’t think of a subject more purposeful! You also mentioned you shelved your teenage love of fiction writing until 2012. Typically, when we leave our story writing youth, we rarely find that thread again, but you did. Tell us about Four Doors and Other Stories.

A.G.: This book shows what can happen when we are in the flow. It marked my return to writing fiction, and it brought me a contract with a U.K. publisher.

I created this short stories collection about love, because love represents the foundation of who I am and everything I do, including helping other authors become successful. My vision was to portray love as our true essence, which can be expressed in so many different ways. Once I had this concept clear in my mind, I just allowed the inspiration to flow in.

WJ: What is your vision with SelfPublishingMastery.com? What are the features? How do you, and the platform, assist writers in their journeys?

A.G. My original concept for Self Publishing Mastery was to be the Billboard magazine for the global self-publishing industry. My vision was to support and empower indie authors from around the world to self-publish, and help them master the publishing process.

We began by (and are still) covering book marketing, the writing craft, the right mindset for success, writers’ conferences, success stories, writers Facebook groups, podcasts, and book blogs. After the past year of getting a chance to talk to authors, we decided to add an educational component. Now we will also have workshops, online courses, books, and an online academy. We’ve just further expanded the range of our services for authors through the full-service portfolio, twenty years’ standing, that Word Journeys is bringing in. We have evergreen content, constantly refreshing. We’ve also got some goodies for those who subscribe to our newsletter such as “The top 20 Amazon book reviewers list” and “The successful book launch checklist.” Authors can and will find all that they need for successful self-publishing on our site. Please stop by!

(NEXT: A.G. Billig breaks down SelfPublishingMastery.com, and the particular challenge self-published authors face with branding, distribution, and lifting their work above the growing mass of titles and voices — and how to reach their world of awaiting readers in the process.)

 

 

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Book Lovers: The L.A. Times Festival of Books is Here!

One of the most enjoyable parts of being an author is participating in book signings — and few are better than the L.A. Times Festival of Books.

Desiree Duffy of Black Chateau Enterprises and yours truly at the 2017 LA Times Festival of Books.

For the third straight year, I will be signing books at the USC Campus on Sunday, April 22, from 3-5 p.m. It also happens to be my sister Karin’s 50th birthday, so getting from USC crosstown to Encino for the birthday dinner afterward will be interesting, but the afternoon is all about books, and my sister understands… I think…

I digress. On Sunday, I will be signing Voices, Backroad Melodies, Writes of Life, When We Were The Boys and Just Add Water at the Black Chateau Booth #912 in the Black Zone. I will be part of a two-day author collective put together by my publicist and fellow author in the 3-5 slot, Desiree Duffy, the owner of Black Chateau Enterprises.

            The L.A. Times Festival of Books is huge, and awesome. Up to 150,000 people come for the two days to see a collection of bestselling authors, new authors, and entertainment ranging from panel discussions to live bands and very lively public question-and-answer sessions. The festival is the third largest of its kind in the U.S. It’s a book buyer’s and reader’s dream – and, for authors, a rare chance to talk with so many readers.

“I find that consumers like choices, so having several authors and books for them to chose from at a book fair, means that you are more likely to have something they’ll like,” Desiree says. “Book fairs can be exhausting. Authors signings can be draining. Doing an hour or two signing is much easier than committing to running a booth for an entire fest. It gives authors time to walk the fest, check out panels, and network.”

Since Desiree walks the delicate creative and time management tightrope between being a publicist and author (she’ll appear under her nom de plume, Vanta M. Black, to sign her novel Oubliette: A Forgotten Little Place on Sunday afternoon), she also understands the dual existence we writers lead. Often, we prefer to tuck ourselves into our offices and write, not connecting so much publicly — but books don’t sell if we don’t go public. Contrary to the beliefs of many, online presence alone does not beget success. The group signing helps even the shiest authors interact with their audiences.

“We are social beings. When we connect in person, that bond is stronger than it could ever be online,” she explains. “Being an author means being a brand. You are connected to your writing and being able to talk to people, share stories, learn about them as readers, and make connections helps strengthen your brand.

“Plus, what you do in the real world needs to translate to the online world. As an author at an event, being able to promote and post online about it gives you valuable content. Whether it is social media, your author newsletter, your blog or website, your book fest experience should be featured online. Online and offline exposure leverage one another, making each stronger.”

I’d like to introduce you to the other authors at the Black Chateau Booth (once again, #912, in the Black Zone), the works they’ll be signing, and their signing times:

Saturday, April 21:

11 a.m. to 1 p.m.

Susanne Bellefeuille, author of Path of Lucas: The Journey He Endured

Autumn Doerr, author of Baker’s Dozen: A Lexi Fagan Mystery

1 p.m. to 3 p.m.

Christina Cigala, author of XXvXY: The Final World War

Bobby Goldstein, creator of XXvXY: The Final World War; and the TV show Cheaters

3 p.m. to 5 p.m.

Mark J. Rose, author of Matt Miller in the Colonies Series

Lon Varnadore, author of Mostly Human: A 4Pollack Novel

Sunday, April 22:

11 a.m. to 1 p.m.

Sean Patrick Traver, author of Wraith Ladies Who Lunch

Raye Mitchell, Esq, author of How Women Negotiate from a Position of Strength

1 p.m. to 3 p.m.

Michael Priv, author of The Fifth Battalion

Laurie Finkelstein, author of Next Therapist Please

3 p.m. to 5 p.m.

Robert Yehling, author of Voices and Just Add Water

Vanta M. Black, author of Oubliette: A Forgotten Little Place

The booth will also feature books from Nanishka Torres, author of Fenrir Chronicles: The Prince; and Magda Ayuk, author of Blue Bird.

Each appearance at the L.A. Times Festival of Books has been a thrill: discussing pro surfer Clay Marzo’s life with autism in Just Add Water in 2016; and launching Voices to the world in 2017. This time, I’ll also be previewing Crawl of Fame, the memoir of Ironman triathlon legend Julie Moss, which officially releases on October 2.

As for Desiree? She well remembers the thrill of her first L.A. Times Festival of Books signing gig. It’s like runners feel about the Boston Marathon; I know I never get tired of that feeling when we arrive on the scene! “I had a booth the year I released Oubliette—A Forgotten Little Place. It was my dream to be there, and seeing it happen, was amazing,” she recalls. “I checked off an item on my bucket list. I think a lot of authors feel that way. There is something special about the L.A. Times Festival of Books. It is iconic. A must-attend.”

On that note, we’ll see you at Booth 912, Black Zone this weekend!

 

 

 

 

 

           

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LA’s Epic Rock & Roll, Fashion & Art Party: Interview with Author Nora Novak

VIEW THE LOS FELIZ CONFIDENTIAL BOOK TRAILER

Whenever she’s asked why so many Millennials and Generation Z men, women and teens continue flocking to the music and style of the 1960s and 1970s, Los Feliz Confidential author Nora Novak has a ready answer: “I think Millennials are recognizing a sense of excitement and freewheeling attitude of that era by listening to classic rock, and streaming movies and documentaries that portray the ‘good times’ they find appealing in a way not found in today’s device-dependent, stressful and more violent world,” she says. “I think the boomers, the internet and the media have had a hand in this, unlike previous generations.”

Nora, who grew up in and currently lives in Newport Beach, is the author of one of the finest scenester memoirs in years, and winner of a 2017 Southern California Book Festival Award. Los Feliz Confidential takes us right inside the classic home in the Los Angeles neighborhood of Los Feliz where Nora and her boyfriend hosted some of LA’s wildest parties of the 1970s and early 1980s. But their wildness was classed up by the fetching, willowy blonde hostess, whose elegance, glamour, style and love of music turned these parties into something extravagant. With her visual descriptions and deeply honest portrayal of her own feelings, goals and hopes, Nora lures us into a narrative so rhythmic and rich that you can practically hear the songs of the period spinning on her turntable — and the lyrics weaving in and out of the narrator’s heart. If you can’t remember the titles of these memory markers, no worries: she lists them in a back, a clever piece of “soundtracking” the book.

But Los Feliz Confidential is much more than a musical all-nighter put to words. Nora takes us through her rich, complex world that she creates on the fly, as a trendsetting scenester and traveler completely in touch with her native Flemish roots. The fact she was born in Belgium, grew up in the U.S. with her Old World parents but never lost her connection to Flemish culture (but rather dove into and celebrated it), adds to both the perspective and depth of the book. She takes us around the world on her fascinating (and sometimes wild) adventures, one of which she shares in the interview. She also takes us into the crazy all-hours fun of 1970s Los Angeles, and into the glam rock, punk rock, hard rock and early New Wave worlds that she made part of her own. We meet her friends, and again throw ourselves on Sunset Boulevard and into the clubs and scenes that many look back on with deep reverence, while younger generations seek to know more about this time period where freedom, platform shoes, liberation, shoulder pads, creativity, long hair, imagination, art, style, and great music prevailed.

Los Feliz Confidential and Art Damaged Author Nora Novak.

Turning all these experiences and elements into a treasure trove of a memoir was no easy task, but Novak has the chops to pull it off. She’s a fine artist, designer of her fashion line (Noraluxe Loungewear), art gallerist, actress, model, and also the author of the novel Art Damaged. She comes from a very talented family as well. Her mother, Emma Albertina Bogaerts, a lifelong storyteller, is the 105-year-old (not kidding!) newly published author of Emmy: Memoir of a Flemish Immigrant, now available in English and being shopped to publishers in Europe. Nora’s brother, Mark Leysen, is an award-winning art director and fine artist, as well as the author of Klown, his third novel (Traveling Shoes Press) about a late-night talk show host who runs for President. It definitely echoes the present state of the world.

We caught up with Nora recently. To get your Black Friday book shopping chops going, here is what she says about life, L.A., making scenes, and Los Feliz Confidential.

Word Journeys: Los Feliz Confidential is an epic scenester read – the incredible LA music-fashion-art scene and how you and others showcased and helped define it in your travels and daily lives. Could you talk about the amazing chemistry that exists between music, fashion and art, and why it was so definitive of a generation? And still is?

NN: Because that generation (talkin about my ge- generation) experienced an explosive time of cultural change, social mores, pop art and particularly British rock that spawned new looks in fashion as a lifestyle. There was an innovative and artistic energy that changed the way people dressed. The 70’s rock-infused fashion had an element of sensuality and glamour with an edge that I certainly favored and is still being recycled today. Innovative new artists, designers, bands and clubs emerged in L.A. and provided a more artistic expression in fashion. It all played out with the music creating a dazzling decade that many look back on for inspiration today.

A good example is Stephen Spouse collaborating with Debbie Harry in the 80’s and Jeff Koons collaborating with the new Louis Vuitton line today. Music blasts at every fashion collection. I think music, fashion and art have always had an evolving synergy.

WJ: Take us through your writing process for Los Feliz. How did you pare down your countless experiences into a tightly written 200-page book? What themes and points did you emphasize? And tell us about your decision to basically “soundtrack” the book, with songs listed for each chapter.

NN: First of all, I wrote what I could remember! I could have added many more stories, but I chose to keep it moving like the fast pace I was living at the time. I wanted to emphasize the difference of how immigrating here made me feel and my fearless sense of adventure. I tried to be give my stories a visual sense of the fashion and look of things, the easiness of life at that time. Everything I wrote about had music running through my mind, reflecting the time, so I naturally made many musical references. When I finished I was compelled to write a Playlist for each chapter, which I really enjoyed doing.

WJ: What are three of your favorite tales that you share in the book? And the funniest?

NN: Well (spoiler alert!), I do share an interesting story about my relationship with a Jordanian arms dealer and his Ambassador brother. There’s a tale about my first skiing experience – which also proved to be my last – and a humorous girl/girl story. I think the story about an ENT treatment given by my boyfriend’s surgeon dad is hilarious but for me it all seems humorous now. I’m still laughing!

Nora Novak’s fine collage work includes “The Girl from Antwerp”

Cinema Verite at Cannes? It’s red carpet time.

WJ: You are the daughter of a very take-charge, dominant father and a warm, artistic mother. How did that parent combination shape you as both a person and an artist?

NN: My father, although a stern and unpleasant man, instilled a strong sense of discipline and a somewhat sardonic outlook. However, he was responsible for my love of art and photography, for which I am grateful. My mother, on the other hand, emanated femininity, graciousness, a pleasant demeanor and sense of humor. The combination definitely shaped me as an individual and shows up in my work as an artist, as I generally incorporate female photographic images in my glossy mixed-media collages.

WJ: What struck me about your journey is how you took part in the lifestyle and excesses of the day, yet you always seemed to have a sense of who you were and what you wanted. How did you maintain that compass, if you will, of how to go forward?

NN: I readily enjoyed the excess and decadence of the times; it was a Bacchanalian era for rock ’n’ roll. Everything seemed so glamorous and indulgent, and was completely accepted in the L.A. that I knew. I did have goals though, like a working schedule and a sense of enough discipline that probably prevented me from becoming another Hollywood fatality. Many didn’t make it.

WJ: You write of your affinity for Bryan Ferry and Roxy Music. What was it about his voice, music, lyrics, and presence that captivated you? What do you feel musicians today can learn from their predecessors in terms of delivering from heart and soul vs. making a hit?

NN: Bryan Ferry evoked a sultry, seductive kind of singing unique from other rock stars. Not to mention his suave, good looks, elegant style, sophistication and harmonica playing that simply resonated in a big way for me. I thought his music and lyrics quite beautiful and loved his sexy album covers. It seems like everyone can sing today with a huge range and big powerhouse voices, but at the end of the day, it’s generally the more unique voice with soul and a great tune that becomes the hit. The late Amy Winehouse comes to mind.

WJ: You’ve also been creating works of art. Tell us about those.

Nora Novak’s “Nico”, honoring the late New York scenester and Velvet Underground singer. Part of her Femme Fatale collection.

NN: I started a new series, my “Femme Fatale” collection. I just finished three mixed-media collages, that can be seen on my website noranovak.com and will be exhibited soon. I’m thinking about starting another book next year, possibly a sequel to Los Feliz Confidential, picking up where it left off moving into the crazy 80’s.

WJ: Lightning Round: Who are your five favorite authors? Musicians or bands? Artists? Fashion designers?

NN: My favorite authors? When I was young, I would say John Steinbeck and Jack Kerouac. I that progressed to Hunter S. Thompson and Charles Bukowski, and more recently Irvine Welsh and Edward St. Aubyn. Musicians: It’s still Bryan Ferry, Iggy and the Stones and Amy Winehouse, miss her. Artists: Jan Van Eyck, Kees Van Dongen, Mark Rothko, Andy Warhol and Julian Schnabel to name a few. As for designers, Dries Van Noten, Roberto Cavalli, Dolce and Gabbana, love the vintage Halston — and my own Noraluxe Loungewear line, of course!

WJ: Final question: If a musician came up to you and said, “Hey girl, I want to play you one song that speaks to who you are,” what would that song be? And who would be playing it?

NN: Well, I would love it if that musician was Bryan Ferry. I’d request his cover version of Dylan’s “Just Like Tom Thumb’s Blues”, but wait; can I get one with Iggy on vocals, Mick on harmonica and Keith on guitar, and they can play whatever they want?

WJ: Let us cue it up! Thanks so much, Nora, for a fun and enlightening look into an era so wonderfully captured in Los Feliz Confidential.

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A World Beyond ADHD: Interview with Author Jeff Emmerson

(Part 2 of a 2-Part Series)

(EDITOR’S NOTE: Beyond ADHD, the highly anticipated book by Jeff Emmerson and Robert Yehling, will release worldwide from Rowman-Littlefield Publishers on August 16. Pre-ordering is available now.)

Happiness and excitement filled our hearts as we drove across the 401 highway in Ontario, Canada, destined for the U.S. border. Our happiness was borne by the anticipation of the answers I might receive at our destination, answers that would explain and perhaps present new directions in a life I’d had such a hard time understanding, right down to my ADHD diagnosis five years before

— From Beyond ADHD, by Jeff Emmerson and Robert Yehling

Jeff Emmerson’s revolutionary look at the ADHD diagnosing and prescribing epidemic, Beyond ADHD, breaks down into two parts: the current environment and pressures that are causing so much diagnosing and prescribing; and looking ahead into much more helpful, progressive, and successful ways of working with those dealing with attention issues.

In this segment of our interview, Jeff gives us a peek into Part II, and how things might look if we utilized fitness, diet, further education, behavioral therapy and other approaches — approaches that, frankly, feed the whole person — rather than the current prescribe-first mentality.

Word Journeys: One of your biggest supporters of this book is Dr. Allen Frances, the former chair of John Hopkins Medical School and esteemed chair of the DSM-IV committee, which sets diagnosis and prescription guidelines for more than 300 defined mental health issues. What did Dr. Frances tell you that further inspired you to address these issues?

Emmerson: When I discovered his stance on ADHD, current diagnosing standards and his beliefs about the big-picture of what it is to be “normal” these days, I was immediately refreshed (if surprised at the same time). He confirmed my fears early on when he spoke about true ADHD diagnosis prevalence being around 4 percent in American children. Considering he was the Chair of the DSM-IV task force, this was very, very believable. After all, it would be only too easy for him (of all people) to “toe the party line,” but no – he told the truth, even when it wasn’t convenient. He also speaks adamantly about the current opioid crisis and many other topics in healthcare that are severely lacking, ones we need to address with courage, honesty and the desire to get ahead of them before epidemics come forth any more then the opioid one already has, frankly. ADHD may well be on the same path in its own way.

Word Journeys: Another big supporter of alternative approaches, and Beyond ADHD, is Dr. Marianne Kuzujanakis, director of the SENG Institute for Gifted Children. Can you speak to how focusing on a child’s or adult’s gifts, and their natural hunter-gatherer minds, actually takes us beyond the ADHD mindset?

Emmerson: It’s funny what we can achieve when three key things (are allowed to) happen:

  • Our natural abilities are uncovered, focused on and supported;
  • We’re taught to have a “growth-mindset” that teaches self-resilience and focusing on lessons to be learned from every “failure or mistake;” and
  • Different learners or personalities from the “norm” are empowered in environments that focus on strengths and don’t force them to learn in areas that they may have zero interest in (those not needed for day to day life).

Self-worth, confidence, positive morale toward society, and inspiration toward imagination and self-growth need to be taught and nurtured in education systems more than ever. A new day has arrived. We need to buy into the medical model for being “different” and focus instead upon the unique abilities and passions that each of us have within. This cookie-cutter approach to education (at the cost of any alternatives for many millions of us) simply doesn’t cut it, and it’s showing in a number of ways in a profoundly “sick” society.

Word Journeys: What role has Big Pharma played in the increase in ADHD diagnoses?

Jeff Emmerson: An immense one, more than many of us might realize. From suggestive advertising to Americans and those in New Zealand via television to funding healthcare providers, offering incentives to drug reps and physicians to advertising in more subtle ways through online media outlets, and through heavily influencing research findings, they pretty much have their hands in everything, not to mention the U.S. government, in a huge way. While medications definitely help some live better lives, there are billions of dollars changing hands, so following the money to understand its potential influence is of crucial importance.

Word Journeys: A growing number of people think ADHD is a catch-basin, not really an affliction, but more a convenient label for what could be a hundred different things. What is your opinion of that?

Emmerson: I get where they’re coming from! Let’s use some common sense for a moment. I believe that the diagnosis does help some in a wonderful way; I know it does, in fact. I’ve been told tons of stories from others, and I’m all for whatever empowers and helps people learn more about themselves and tools toward self-worth, resilience and most of all, self-awareness. However, the pendulum has swung way too far in favor of rushed, ill-informed ADHD diagnoses to put a band-aid on issues we simply aren’t equipped to address at their deeper cores.

Once I discovered how easily I was wrongly diagnosed with ADHD, my world was never the same again. I saw the elephant in the room where ADHD is concerned: What it is; how to diagnose it (as a diagnosis of exclusion since nearly one hundred other true root causes mimic it); and how to treat it/see it in society. I could NOT, in good conscience, let this newfound awareness go. My soul screamed to bring it to the world through building the largest online community I humanly could.

Word Journeys: You combined your personal stories with the pressing issues in Beyond ADHD. What did you learn about your own journey while weaving your stories into the material?

Emmerson: First of all, I quickly realized that I’m far from alone in living with these symptoms. Beyond that, I’m both humbled and fiercely driven from all the learning I’ve done over the last four years or so. I now have three or four additional book topics in mind for future projects (based in mental health and current society) that I know are needed desperately by millions of people going through challenges in this realm (including those who care for them in any number of capacities).

I also learned (and confirmed to myself) that even if life seems lost, even if the conventional road to what society calls success doesn’t work and we make mistakes that seem insurmountable (with the shame that often comes with them), we CAN completely turn things around with the right support, shift in mindset and faith/resilience. Man, that’s the most humbling part of it all for me – that and seeing others who have been somehow touched by my efforts. I now want others to feel the way I do. I’m more at peace than I’ve ever been. Everything from here on in is icing on the cake.

Word Journeys: If you could envision a society beyond the current ADHD protocols, what would it look like?    

Emmerson: We’d re-evaluate current education, healthcare, food, water, industry, parenting and other social support structures/initiatives in society. Then, I’d look beyond labeling in psychiatry/psychology and look at ways to evolve through a strengths-based approach, entrenched in a solid foundation from as young as possible. From there, massive investment into the collective well-being of society would be made in forms we deem most important from both macro and micro perspectives while ensuring minimal waste of said investments to ensure well-targeted and efficient service to society. It would be tracked and watched to constantly be improved upon as time passes and the world evolves/encounters challenges. That would be a good start.

As we know, it’s much easier to raise a healthy, equipped child by investing in their upbringing than it is to try and mend a distressed or “damaged” adult human being. We should always be mindful of that — from the moment we become parents, educators or healthcare providers.

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Cruising the L.A. Times Festival of Books (part one)

festival of booksblog 1(This is the first of two blogs from the Los Angeles Times Festival of Books. It also serves to launch a new companion blog, http://366writing.wordpress.com, which will be my daily account of one writer’s life and activities. The Festival of Books blogs will appear on both sites; after that, I will continue with a variety of pieces on this site while keeping the daily account on 366writing.)

Here’s a quick trivia question: Which author with a name recognizable to millions lists as her most influential writers such titans as Joan Didion, Gustave Flaubert, Leo Tolstoy, Fyodor Dyostoevsky, Toni Morrison, Ernest Hemingway, F. Scott Fitzgerald, and, most notably, the late short story master Raymond Carver?

I’m sure you can come up with plenty of good guesses – such as, your favorite authors. After all, many working authors of renown in the late 20th and early 21st century were influenced by all or some of these writers.

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But what if I told you that this particular author made her first splash in a much different way, as America’s teen cinematic sweetheart in the classic 1980s movies Pretty In Pink, Sixteen Candles and The Breakfast Club?

"When It Happens to You" author Molly Ringwald

“When It Happens to You” author Molly Ringwald

Hard to believe Molly Ringwald is now 45, but there she stood, resplendent on the LA Times Festival of Books main stage at USC, being celebrated for the passion that burned within her well before becoming a movie star: writing. She read a chapter-story from her bestselling novel-in-stories, When It Happens To You, and answered audience questions with a fresh openness that doesn’t happen so often at these events.

What struck me most about her work was its depth and quality: this was no actress cashing in on her entertainment platform to get a book out. You could sense Didion’s astute observation, Hemingway’s sparseness, Fitzgerald’s intimacy and Carver’s incisive delivery in her work, yet it was exclusively her voice. That takes years of practice. As Molly said in response to a question about when he knew her work was ready, “I just wrote and rewrote and worked on it and then let it sit there until I felt my voice was good enough to bring it out.”

In so many words, she described what makes the Los Angeles Times Festival of Books, and other major book festivals, such celebrations of the written word. For two days, more than 150,000 people converge upon the USC campus – a quite stately setting for the festival. We were there all day Saturday to see author friends, meet with our agent briefly, shop the booths, and listen to speakers like Molly and former Wonder Years star Danica McKellar, whose “Math is Cool” stream of books might be one of the best things going for the self-esteem of teenaged girls.

We also dropped in on panel conversations, which to me are the hidden treasures of these and any book festivals. Book writing is about storytelling, and the stories behind the stories are often treasures of their own. As good as books might be, you won’t get them within the pages, or sometimes even in interviews with the authors. You will get them in these panel discussions, when guards and sales pitches are down and high-spirited interaction is the name of the game. And the LA Times Festival of Books moderators are experts at it.

So many things happened at the Festival of Books, which took place on a day the LA Chamber of Commerce baked up in their dreams: sunny, 80 degrees, the Exposition Park Rose Garden in full bloom across the street, and people of all ages completely celebrating the joy of creativity and good books. The Tumbler vehicle from The Dark Knight was there, as were perfectly costumed members of the Jane Austen Society. The USC Trojan marching band opened the Festival, while a third-grader won a $500 Barnes & Noble gift card in a coloring contest. Funny: I don’t remember prizes like that when I was in third grade. Maybe I would have colored more between the lines! Check that – writers spend their time outside the lines, approaching their subjects sideways and from the back as often as straightforward.

Everyone was also celebrating the end to the tragic week and manhunt in Boston, none moreso than the young lady working the Harvard University Press booth. She flew in Friday night from Cambridge, where the bombing suspects shot and killed an MIT campus officer before getting into a nighttime shootout with police. “I am so happy to be here,” she said, her body visibly decompressing. “No one ever needs to have a week like that. It was wicked weird to drive to the airport in Boston on a Friday without any cars on the road. None.” Added Southern California Writer’s Conference co-director Wes Albers, the author of a great crime novel, Black & Whiteand himself a longtime San Diego police officer: “The stakes were way too high for us not to succeed (in apprehending the Boston suspects).” His comments clearly showed the sense of brotherhood all law enforcement officers felt this week.

Getting right back to the fun side of the weekend, I heard a few great stories (for which books have been written) during a fine panel discussion on “Nonfiction: A Singular Passion”:

• Did you know the federal duck stamp contest program is one of the U.S. government’s most profitable ventures? Duck hunters must purchase a stamp for their licenses every year. The stamp is designed from the winning painting from 250 to 300 artists. The government spends $850,000 to run the contest, and receives $25 million in annual revenue. 98 percent of that money is invested into restoring wetlands. Since being initiated in 1930, the program has resulted in restoring wetlands the size of Massachusetts. And oh yes, The Wild Duck Chase author and Orange Coast Magazine editor Martin J. Smith added,  the vast majority of duck hunters favor background checks as a form of gun control – unlike half of the U.S. senators (all fearful of the NRA), who ignored 90% of the public’s preference the other day (that’s another story).

• The best-tasting taco, according to OC Weekly food editor Gustavo Arellano, the author of Taco USA: How Mexican Food Conquered America, is at a taco truck in Santa Ana. He just spent three years canvassing every good Mexican restaurant in the country for his book on the history of Mexican food in the US; he knows.

• Did you know that, while he made marijuana illegal in the United States starting in the 1930s, Federal Bureau of Narcotics director Harry Anslinger – the J. Edgar Hoover of his department – helped Coca-Cola continue to import coca leaves from Peru for its product, even though the importation was explicitly banned by an international treaty? It’s quite a story Richard Cortes dug up — but the blowback he felt is what we heard on the panel discussion about his new book, A Secret History of Coffee, Coca & Cola. “When I matched the letters from Anslinger to Coca-Cola, and called Coca-Cola for comment, I heard complete silence on the phone … they didn’t appreciate it very much,” Cortes said.

These are the tidbits that come from panel discussions – and the authors’ stories about how they find out these delights. Behind it all, they said, are stories about people and social issues far beyond tacos, duck stamps and crooked federal officials. And that’s what makes the books that we come to book festivals to buy.

(NEXT: More from this non-fiction panel – and a wild ride from four top-selling fiction panelists who threw away the typical “how to write a novel” guidelines long ago).  

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15 Common Points Between Writing & Running Marathons (part 2)

(EDITOR’S NOTE: This is the conclusion of my two-part series that compares 15 points in common between the writing process – particularly book and extensive projects – and running marathons. Actually, it’s 18 points in common, but who’s counting?)

“The race begins at 20 miles”: Years ago, a friend, journalist and veteran marathoner said this to me. While most people might crash and burn at 20 miles (or before), serious marathon racers dig in the final 10K. So it is with book writing. The last leg is often the hardest. You’re tired, you’ve lived with the subject for months or years, and you want to be finished. But this is the most vital part of the book, next to the first chapter. Focus more intently than ever, tap emotional and creative reserves, and power through to the finish.

Enjoy the solitude: If ever four groups of people know and understand solitude better than the rest of the population, they would be runners, writers, artists and monks. We spend countless hours alone with our words. Enjoy the quiet time; enjoy the ideal atmosphere it provides you to create, think deeply, and work. Not everyone gets this chance. Ask someone who works in a cubicle or workstation all day. The material percolates in solitude. The more you can enjoy it and immerse in it, the more you can produce – and the more cohesive it will be.

Push the hills: One of the best road racing strategies is to push hills hard – and then surge for 30 meters or so at the top. All authors know there are many uphill climbs in the long course of writing a book – struggles with scenes, characters, getting the right information, fluid narrative description, etc. Some days, we feel like we can write anything; on others, our sentences feel like back roads clunkers. We all hit them; we all wonder how we’re going to get to the top. The answer: one word at a time. Push past the obstacles, while holding to the greater vision for your work. Write hard to keep the momentum going.

Increase focus as the race progresses: The same thing has happened in every marathon I’ve raced. For the first eight miles or so, runners talk to each other, compare strategies, talk about favorite runs they’ve ever taken, maybe shoot photos of the crowd (if they carry smartphones, which many do — not me!) and truly enjoy being out there. For the next eight miles, the focus tightens, paces become locked in, and the talking lessens. For the final ten miles, there is very little talking and very deep focus. Good authors take us deeper and deeper into their stories, a reflection of their increased focus as they deliver the goods. Focus, focus, focus.

Don’t hit too many aid stations: One of the myths (and, actually, physical dangers) of long races is that it is important to drink at every aid station. NOT SO. When I run marathons, I only drink six times – roughly once every 4½ miles. Everyone has their number, but point is: don’t take too many breaks. This applies directly to writing. Momentum and rhythm are everything; when you’re on a roll, stay on it. If you must, take only small breaks when writing books to recharge, but never more than a week or two. Long breaks are a no-no, unless you’re between drafts.

There will be pain: To borrow from a surfwear manufacturer’s 1980s ad campaign, Every marathoner knows the feeling. It starts at about 15 miles, hits fully at 18 to 20 miles, and envelops you the final 6 miles. PAIN. We know it’s coming when we toe the starting line, but we know how to handle it – by reaching down and taking the race one stride at a time. Likewise, book writing can be (and often is) emotionally painful and mentally taxing, especially tell-all memoirs and novels with characters exhibiting emotions that grab you from the page. When you read scenes like this, you know the writer is feeling it. Embrace the pain, and turn it into your ally. Use it to drive more deeply within yourself, opening new thresholds of possibility for your writing – and greater perspective as a person. The more you can work with writing pain in all its forms, the more deeply touched readers will be.

Head down; one step at a time: This extends from the last comment. I ran the 2009 Boston Marathon with moderate plantar fasciitis. In other words, the last five miles were hell. However, I nearly held my earlier race pace because I pulled my cap over my eyes like I was in the ‘hood, looked down at my toes, and took it one step at a time. That’s exactly how I write books; by adopting that technique, I’ve gone from being a good starter to a good finisher. Keep your head down and write one chapter at a time, one paragraph at a time – and one sentence at a time. This approach becomes especially important when revising and self-editing, when you make sure every word fits and every word counts.

Finish strong: One of the best ways to ensure good race results is to finish strong in each training run, picking up the pace at the end. Likewise with book writing. Good final chapters sew up the story or subject, and leave readers feeling: a) like they want more; b) wholly satisfied; or c) Googling you for more books, or for more perspectives based upon the great book you have given them. Reach down and give it everything you’ve got in the last chapter – just like a good racer.

Celebrate!: When we finish something as monumental as a book, or a marathon, it’s time to celebrate! Then take at least a week off from writing of any kind … your batteries will definitely need to be recharged.

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15 Common Points Between Writing & Running Marathons

(Part 1 of a two-blog series)

Just finished watching the Ironman 70.3 in Oceanside, with the athletes running the last of those 70.3 miles right by the house. Now, gearing up for this weekend’s Carlsbad 5000, the world’s fastest 5K road race. And, in two weeks, the marathon world turns its focus to Boston for the Boston Marathon – which I plan to run for the fourth time in 2014.

Running_01Speaking of marathons, authors often compare writing books to running marathons. The usual line: “Writing a book is not a wind sprint, but a marathon.” They often don’t really think about why that is (except that writing a book usually takes a long time, along with all the mental energy you can muster). I speak about this when teaching workshops. Readers and writers alike can gain great insight into how your favorite stories come together, and how the author got there, by drawing comparisons to the most celebrated of all long-distance races.

Since I’ve run eight marathons, along with writing ten books and ghostwriting seven others, thought I’d share 15 points in common between marathons and the writing process. Lace up your shoes, boot up the computer, and toe the starting line. Away we go…

Enter the race well prepared: Marathoners know better than to enter a race ill prepared. If they are not prepared, they will become very intimate with agony. Most marathoners train for 12 to 16 weeks, and work out every nuance of the race in their minds before lining up. Same with writing. Make sure your research, thoughts and rough outlines are in place before firing the starting gun for Chapter 1. Let the material mentally percolate for weeks, even months. Play out the scenes or sequences in your mind. Move them around. Sketch them out. Then write. The better prepared going in, the better the finished result – and the happier the reader.

Read the Race: All races are different. The courses, competitors, dynamics and conditions change from race to race. So does the way you feel, what you think is possible, and how you will run the race. Likewise, all stories are different. They require different approaches, paces and characters. That goes for subjects, too, especially when writing non-fiction books and interviewing. When interviewing people, read their faces and expressions, and listen for what is not said as much as what is said. Go into every article, book or story knowing it will be unique – and read it as it unfolds.

Vary your pace: A lot of people thinking racing marathons is a matter of finding a pace and sticking with it for all 26.2 miles –  or bob at skywalker-lores until fatigue and sore muscles slow you down. Not so. Good racers change their pace several times, pushing hills, speeding up for a half-mile in the middle, surging at the end, or even throwing in a 100-meter pick-up just to change the stride. It helps – a lot. Likewise, good writers vary their pace within a book, switching from fast-dramatic-action sequences to slower-thoughtful-contemplative scenes. They do it within dialogue, as well as the way they write sentences. Changes in pace reflect real life. Vary your pace.

Enjoy the process: About 10 years ago, during an arduous 20-mile run in the desert mountains above Tucson, ultramarathon star Pam Reed told me something: “It’s going to hurt, you know it’s going to hurt, so just relax and enjoy the process.” Likewise, whether writing or reading, enjoy it! Writing is very hard work, but what could be a better vocation than sharing stories and subjects with a reading audience? And communicating directly with them through the written (or electronic) page? Feel the creative buzz. Write from a place of love – love of process. No matter how tough the work, try to enjoy every moment. Trust me: readers will notice, and beg for more.

Make tight, well-angled turns: Road races often feature a lot of curves and turns – sometimes, hairpin turns on out-and-back courses. Good racers know to stay clear of the inside on hairpin turns, to swing a bit wide, lean into the turn, and then find a direct line to the next straight section. So it is with writing transitions from one scene to another. Make your transitions lean and mean. Lean into them, using the momentum of the prior scene. Write tightly, carrying us into the next scene, but don’t write them abruptly unless that is part of the dramatic tension of the story. Learn the art of the turn. Write transitions, metaphors and similes that connect – instantly. My all-time favorite comes from the late Los Angeles Times sports columnist extraordinaire Jim Murray, describing a picky home plate umpire: “He had a strike zone the size of Hitler’s heart.” That’s the art of a well-run turn.

Pick your way through the crowd: Good racers know how to anticipate traffic on the course, and pick their way through runners without breaking stride.  Likewise, as an author, you will have a crowded field of other writers in your genre. Distinguish your work by content and voice, identify the crux of every scene among the myriad thoughts pouring through your mind, and run to the exact sentences and words to best capture your scene. And do so without breaking form.

Make your move: Commit yourself fully: At some point in every race, runners make their move to ensure the best finish. They pick up the pace, tap into their inner reserves, and lay themselves out. These surges are beautiful to behold. And readers love it as well. When you commit to a character action or a line of argument or discussion in a non-fiction book, commit fully. Give it everything you’ve got, the fruits of all the hard research, interviewing, deep thinking and planning. Write every sentence as though it were your last. Don’t fall into the trap of thinking you need to “save it up for a knockout punch.” Be like Ernest Hemingway: pour your blood, sweat and collective life experience into every sentence you write. Commit fully.

READ PART 2 of “15 Common Points Between Writing & Running Marathons”

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