Hot off the Presses! WIH Writers’ Roundtable (Part 1)

April 11, 2012

Just-published authors Susan Wright, Madelyn Kamen, Pam Daniels, Martha “Marty” Braniff, and Dr. Robert Stobaugh tell us about their writing and publishing processes. Mentors for these writers have included our own WIH professors such as Chris Woods, Susan Wright, and  Chris Rogers.

WIH Reporter: Can you tell us about your books that are hot off the presses?

Wright: My book is Coping With Transition: Men, Motherhood, Money, and Magic-Memoirs from the Lives of Professional Women. Our stories recall individual journeys and insights that enabled us to follow our own paths in love and work. We found challenges and complexities along the way, some tragedies and disappointments; some serendipities. 

Braniff: My novel, Step Over Rio, is about a teenage boy, a hard-nosed female reporter, and a federal agent who unite to bring down the kingpins of a child trafficking ring. The adventure begins in the fall of 2011, when Alex Sifuentes, an orphan, steps from the back of a human trafficker’s truck onto U.S. soil after fleeing Guatemala City where he was a witness to a death squad murder. 

Daniels: Finding Home is the story of my family life as a child and as a adult. We were what Fernando Casas (who teaches art and philosophy at the Women’s Institute of Houston) calls a “nomadic” American family. 
Kamen: My book, Crazy Lady in the Mirror, is a series of vignettes about my life and about the lives of my friends. The working title was “Slices of Life”, and maybe that explains it a little better.  At some point in time, I realized that a lot of the world out there, maybe all, is my perception of it. And there are times that my take is distorted. Thus, my title.
Stobaugh: My children and grandchildren were really interested to learn more about my life before Harvard Business School. First, there was the small town and the two-room schoolhouse. But it’s not the typical Depression-era story. My father was a relatively prosperous  businessman and my eccentric mother would take me out of school whenever she wanted company on a long trip or a shopping venture. My book, Starting from Arkansas, ends when we leave for Harvard.
WIH Reporter: Did you take off from your normal schedule to write the book? If not, can you tell us how you fit writing into your schedule?

Wright: What schedule? It destroyed much of my normal schedule, but I knew that would be the case, and I loved doing it. 

Daniels: I have been writing stories about my life for years. Finally, with the impetus of Susan Wright’s writing course, I sat down, put them together and finished the book.

Kamen: I never had to take special time. Getting ready for class assignments was part of my regular schedule. But, I am retired. It might be more difficult for some people who work full-time. I believe you have to write when the “Muse” visits you. 

Braniff: I recommend the six “P’s” of publishing. One of them - perseverance -  is to show up in front of your computer or writing tablet every day-regardless of whether you know what words you are going to put down on the page. If nothing comes, start writing a conversation with one of you characters or visit an actual site that appears in the book either in person or via the Internet. Something will happen, trust me.

WIH Reporter: What surprised you about the process or about anything associated with the endeavor?

Braniff: In answering this question, I will describe three of the many surprises I encountered while writing my novel. First of all, I originally crafted the story as a screenplay, and when I decided to write it as novel, I was amazed at how fluid the process became. I wrote another unpublished novel that was much more difficult since I did not have a screenplay for an outline. 

Secondly, the State Department agents and local gang experts were more than willing to assist me, and I was surprised at their interest and enthusiasm for this project. But my biggest surprise of all was when I found a publisher after five years of rejection letters from both agents and publishers.

Stobaugh: This was the first time I’ve written a personal story. It was more enjoyable than I expected, and it took longer. But I’ve written many books in my areas of expertise and not a one of them took less time than I thought!

Daniels: The writing came easily, but finding the appropriate photos in my boxes of photos seemed to take forever.

Wright:  We were surprised by such positive reactions from men! We were so focused on women as our target audience that the obvious never occurred to us.

Kamen: What has been most surprising is that the writing is only part of the process. There is editing, and working with others. There are the whole notions of selling and talking up the book and then, the business end of it. And there are blog and internet responsibilities. Did I say that you don’t take off your regular work schedule? Maybe not so much.
WIH Reporter: What attracted you to the genre and to the subject?
Braniff: I was attracted to this subject because through my professional experience, I have worked with kids who are victims of human traffickers, and I chose the mystery/suspense genre because it is the most popular literary form. Additionally, I want to create awareness about human trafficking, the second largest and most profitable crime in the world only surpassed by drug trafficking.

Daniels: I have stories that I wanted to tell and I wanted to bear witness to the people I have known and loved, the places I have been and the experiences I have had.

Wright: I recall being moved by Diary of Anne Frank,  and I was fascinated by my great-grandmother’s description of sailing from Norway at age eight, then giving her teacher after-school knitting lessons in exchange for correcting her English pronunciation. She and the other Norwegian relatives are responsible for my interest in family history.  The theme of transition more or less found me; I joined the Houston chapter of the Transition Network and was asked to start a writing group. I love hearing professional women tell how they manage the complexity of barrier-breaking careers and demands of their personal lives. In parallel, I am very interested in doing collections of memoirs on a common theme. Especially from people who are not professional writers. So I took this opportunity. I required commitment to publication and these women delivered with tremendous story-telling courage and writing talent. It’s so much fun to be celebrating a book with this group.

Kamen: The assignments we were given in Chris Woods’ class over time kind of clumped together. That was for me and not necessarily for my colleagues. I wrote about (1) getting old, (2) family stuff, (2) how we see the awesome and (or awful) world, (4) special people-some not in a good way. But almost everything is in fun.

WIH Reporter: Did you use longhand, typewriter, and/or the computer? Was there a routine in writing the book?

Kamen: Not the typewriter, but otherwise any place, any machine, any time. I had notes on paper napkins, junk mail that I would eventually toss after putting the thoughts on my computer. 
Wright: I created a project plan for the various phases of the work. However each of us got individually started, everybody ultimately had to work with computer and e-mail. We had deadlines, not only for writing, but for providing feedback to each other.   

Daniels: Often I lay in bed in the morning and composed in my head what I was going to write. Then I went to the computer and wrote it down. I prefer the computer because it is so easy to edit later. 

Stobaugh: After taking Susan Briggs Wright’s class, Legacy and Heritage, I engaged her as a writing partner. We have regularly scheduled meetings, and that keeps me focused and on track.

Our writers continue this roundtable in Part 2 of Hot off the Presses, in which they discuss such topics as writer’s block, publishing methods, marketing, mentors, and more. Stay tuned for the next installment, to be included in the next newsletter and blog.