This month's Write-Away Contest guest judge was Jessica DeVoe Riley from All Rileyed Up who is so fun and personable it made me wish we could have sat down and talked face to face.
I love the answers she gave to my questions, she obviously has talent as a writer and compassion as a mother. It also impressed me that when I asked her what her favorite posts were (meaning ones that she had written) she gave me her favorites from her favorite bloggers. It seems she is as humble and down-to-earth as they come.
You have my admiration for being a writer. When did you first know you wanted to write?
Hard to pinpoint the moment I first knew, but the moment I actually started doing it instead of thinking about it was in 2004, right after I had my daughter. I was going through a patch of PPD and I found writing to be an incredible catharsis.
When do you find time to write?
Whenever. I. Can. I wish I could say I have a set schedule wherein I get two peaceful hours of steady writing per day, but I couldn’t even type that sentence without interruption and waking up early is one of those fantasies of mine destroyed every morning by the all-too-powerful snooze button. I usually write in spurts throughout the day and end with a longer session after the kids are in bed. I also like to take the kids to the beach and write in my notebook while they play in the sand.
If you could pick any book that you wish you’d written what would it be?
I’ll go with my favorite book, A Confederacy of Dunces by John Kennedy Toole. A wonderful setting that features the intersecting lives of riotous characters. Laughs abound.
You’ve lived in several places around the U.S.—-with quite some variety—-have any of these places inspired your writings?
Definitely. I think of my first novel as a tribute to my years spent in New Orleans. At face value, it’s a love story between a guy and girl, but really, it’s a story about how much people love that city. I also spend a lot of time at the beach, another setting that works its way into my writing, and the Philippines is a source of inspiration too (though I’ve never actually lived there).
At some point, I think I’d like to write something set in St. Augustine, Florida, which is a quirky old city just south of Jacksonville where I grew up, and the Lantern District in Dana Point (near where I live now), because I love the street names. “Street of the Violet Lantern.” Doesn’t that just sound like a story waiting to happen?
Do you have any advice for writers wanting to be published? Special tips for honing their skills? That kind of thing?
I think that advice on getting published varies on why you want to be published. If you simply want to be read by someone besides yourself, start an email newsletter or a blog. If you want to publish a political rant, try the editorial section of the local newspaper. If you want to publish a short story, check out the listings at duotrope.com. If you want to be the next John Grisham, well, uh, remember me when . . .
As for tips to hone one’s writing skills, I’ll yield to every great writer and editor who has ever answered that question: keep writing, and keep reading good writing.
How do you define success?
I’m going to cheat out of actually answering this by offering this quote:
“To laugh often and much; To win the respect of intelligent people and the affection of children; To earn the appreciation of honest critics and endure the betrayal of false friends; To appreciate beauty, to find the best in others; To leave the world a bit better, whether by a healthy child, a garden patch or a redeemed social condition; To know even one life has breathed easier because you have lived. This is to have succeeded.”
I always thought this was by Emerson but when I Googled it just now to find the exact wording, I found a page that said it was inaccurately attributed to Emerson and is in fact a paraphrased version of a poem by Bessie Stanley – who knew? Yay, Bessie Stanley!
Anything you’re anticipating or looking forward to for 2009?
Yes! I just got a literary agent and I hope we find a publisher for my book! It’s not my aforementioned New Orleans novel, but a parenting/food memoir. It’s a collection of stories and recipes about the family dinner as it exists in my house. My husband is vegan and my son can’t eat gluten, soy, or rice. Add to that mix my randomly picky-eater daughter and my yo-yo-dieting self and you’ve got a handful of people for whom cooking a healthy, single family meal requires a bit of creativity. I think of it as Deceptively Delicious meets Naptime is the New Happy Hour.
I’ve seen your Harry Potter the Musical video. Is the theater in your future?
Dare to dream, my friend . . .
You closed your blog briefly a year or so ago. What would cause you to stop blogging? What drives you to keep it up?
I was experiencing some real life frustrations and time management issues. I wound up completing the first draft of my novel while the blog was closed, so I guess it worked out to my advantage, but now that I’ve started blogging again, I hope to always post. I maintain a better balance now between my blog and non-blog writing, and during that break time, I realized that what I liked (and missed) about blogging was the immediate response factor. I can write something, post it on my blog, and get a response in a matter of five minutes. No other form of publishing can offer me that. Plus, I just don’t know what I would do if I couldn’t respond to a meme tag.
What’s your biggest grammatical pet peeve?
I cannot stand the your/you’re mistake. I used to work with this girl and in EVERY SINGLE EMAIL she wrote “your the best!” It drove me insane. Not that I overreact to insignificant things or anything.
What’s your favorite book on writing and improving your writing skills?
Writing Down the Bones by Natalie Goldberg
What are your favorite posts?
Here are three oldies but goodies:
"One Year Old" from Frog and Toad Are Still Friends
"No Turning Back" from Three and Holding
“Our Couch” from Toddled Dredge
Since you specified posts, I don’t know if I can include columns from Literary Mama, but I love everything from Special Needs Mama:
You have a son with autism which brings new challenges to motherhood. What has helped you the most to cope/survive/enjoy those challenges? What would you say to other mothers of special-needs children?
Oh boy, the answers to this question could run the length of a book, so I’ll try to give you the highlights--
My initial coping strategy involved a good long cry followed by a glass (or few) of wine.
My survival strategy is not the same as other mothers of children with autism because the challenge of addressing my son’s autism took second stage to addressing his severe eczema. It’s hard to work on someone’s development and language delays when he’s itchy 24/7, no? Between the eczema and autism, I’ve run the gamut of support groups, Western medicine specialists, alternative medicine practitioners, and ultimately, diet overhaul. Nowadays, his skin is much healthier and since that change took place, we’ve seen an improvement in his language and comprehension as well as his ability to concentrate and pay attention.
We enrolled him in Y-Guides this year to have him spend more time with typical kids his age and he loves it. I hope to eventually take him out of the special needs class and put him in general education.
As for enjoyable aspects, what’s not love about raising your child? Everyone is different somehow or another, his difference just happens to be something doctors have a word for. Sometimes I feel I might experience a more-earned thrill than other parents over typical milestones (like speaking in full sentences) because his milestones came later than other children his age; but really, I bet it’s the same thrill and I just waited longer for it.
What I would say to mothers of special needs children is that they should remember that they know their child better than any doctor or professional ever will. Really, I think every mother should heed those words, but since mothers of children with special needs probably spend more time in and out of doctor and therapist offices being told what is and isn’t “normal” about their child, they might need the reminder more often.
What do you think the most challenging thing about being a woman today is?
I think the challenge facing a woman today depends on where she lives. I can’t even begin to imagine the life of a woman in the Swat Valley of Pakistan right now, facing the prospect of Taliban rule, or a forced prostitute in the Philippines. American women are entitled to so many rights and privileges, I think it is a challenge for us to care about underprivileged women, because we may be the only ones who can give them a voice, and not enough of us are doing it (myself often included).
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