Today’s Black History Fun Fact Friday is from our special guest writer, Keyshawn McMiller. McMiller is a Senior Social Work major at Florida A&M University, and a current two-time published author (Ideals From A Young Black Introvert). Keyshawn aspires to one day, become a licensed counselor and ultimately, open the minds of traditional minority communities to the advantages of professional self-help.
The next time you ponder the great polymaths of the world such as Leonardo da Vinci, Thomas Jefferson, and Abraham Lincoln, be sure to include another prominent Renaissance Man in Benjamin Banneker. A free-status African American raised on a Maryland farm that would eventually be bequeathed to him, Banneker was fortunate enough to attend a Quaker school. Though, he was primarily self-educated, relying on loaned books to learn the bulk of his skills. While in his 20’s, his knack for mathematics was demonstrated as he constructed a working wooden clock based on studying pocket watches. This accomplishment would only be the beginning of Banneker’s successes, as an interest in astronomy brought on by Quaker Astronomer, George Elliott, led him to predict a 1789 solar eclipse accurately.
As he matured, the Black Excellence of Benjamin Banneker was only magnified as he eventually became a prominent abolitionist and land surveyor near the end of his life. During this period, Banneker wrote future U.S. President, Thomas Jefferson, a letter in 1791 asking for improved living conditions for his people. In this same letter, he also sent drafts of various almanacs for the states of Pennsylvania, Delaware, Maryland, and Virginia. Amazingly, this draft would eventually be published thanks in part to Thomas Jefferson’s approval. Perhaps Banneker’s most significant achievement came about as he surveyed the land that would eventually become the current domain for the United States’ capital in Washington, D.C.
Despite Benjamin Banneker passing on in 1806, approximately 57 years before Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation, his legacy lives on. His name is included in several institutions, including The Benjamin Banneker buildings housed at Florida A&M University. At the notice of his passing, an obituary was published in the Federal Gazette with the quote, “Mr. Banneker is a prominent instance to prove that a descendant of Africa is susceptible of as great mental improvement and deep knowledge into the mysteries of nature as that of any other nation.”
Keyshawn McMiller is a Senior Social Work major at Florida A&M University. A current two-time published author with “Ideals From A Young Black Introvert” and “Winnas, Not N*ggas,” Keyshawn is on a mission to use his gifts of writing to inspire the next generation to trade who they are for what they can become.
I am stopping through to remind you I am looking for writers interested in submitting articles to this blog for my Black History Fun Fact Friday series. Below is a reminder of the qualifications for submission. Also, notice I have added a deadline to articles for Black History Month. There are four Fridays in February this year and so far we have one article submitted. This means there are only THREE slots left for those of you who want to get in for Black History Month. (This is not a Feb only opportunity, but a weekly one so don’t fret if a Friday in Feb is not open when you submit).
Because of the nature of this series interested writers must be Black/African American (this includes so-called Afro Cuban, Jamaican, Haitian, Cuban, Afro Brazilian, Dominican, etc.).
Must be original work. Do not copy and paste the article from other blogs unless that blog is your own. If you have a Black History article to share that you published to your site you are welcomed to submit it for Black History Fun Facts. I have no problem with that as long as it is your work.
Topics must be relatable to the history of Blacks/African Americans.
Articles must be emailed to me for approval at least one week before publishing. If you email your article on 1/31 for example, I will publish it on 2/7 if there are no needed changes. This series is not exclusive to Black History Month but if you want your articles published in time for February, please have them submitted no later than Monday, January 27, 2020. Writers looking for more exposure will be wise to try for a Feb slot. A Black History Article during Black History Month will naturally attract more readers.
Please send articles in a Word Document, 12p Font, Times New Roman text.
Please do your best to self-edit your work for basic typos/spelling/grammatical errors before submission. Grammarly andProWritingAid are good free self-edit software programs to use.
The BHFFF badge will be included in every post but you are welcomed to create your own image to add as well. Canva is a good program to use to make your own images. Unsplash is good for free images.
This is Black History Fun Fact Friday not Black History Opinions so do your best to submit articles covering accurate historical information. I will vet the submissions to make sure they do. If you have links to sources, please include them.
Please include a photo of yourself, social media handles, websites, or links to books you’ve written on the topic. This will be added to the end of the post as your call to action. This is where you give readers the chance to follow/learn more about you.
Benefits of Guest Blogging:
Increase traffic to your own website/blog
Build Relationships/Online Influence
Build Domain and Search Engine Authority
Capture Wider Audience
Develop Your Authority on a topic
Improve Your Writing
Opens the doors for paid business opportunities
The series is Black Historical so submissions should be articles detailing the history of Blacks in some way. You can talk about The Transatlantic Slave Trade, Enslavement, Civil Rights, Police Brutality, Medical/Educational discrimination, Black Power Movement, Inventors, Black Biblical History, and much more. Tell us about a little Known Black Historical Fact or introduce us to a little-known Black Historical person or place. (For example, I once published a post on Sundown Towns, all-white communities where Blacks were restricted from after Sundown).
Topics can vary as long as they cover Black History (this includes Jamaican, Haitian, Puerto Rican, Cuban, Caribbean, and Dominican.) Specifically, I am looking to feature full-length articles that inform and educate on some part of Black History at 300+ words or more. (Do not send a book, but make sure your article is at least 300 words. We want it long enough to inform but short enough to keep the reader’s attention.)
Email articles to yecheilyah(at)yecheilyahysrayl(dot)com
My name is K. McCoy, and I am from Fort Myers, FL.
What’s your favorite color?
My favorite is blue.
What’s the most difficult thing about being a writer? The most exciting thing?
I would have to say that the most difficult thing about being a writer is finding time to take care of all the other things that help me with sharing my written work and meeting my scheduled deadlines. The most exciting thing about being a writer is hearing how people interpret my work once I have shared it.
I love that part also. It’s fascinating how people can have different views on the work. Why is writing important to you?
Writing is one of my strongest outlets – my favorite creative releases. It’s part of my therapy, to be able to share my thoughts with others through storytelling. That is why writing is important to me.
What do you love about yourself?
My quirkiness is what I love most about myself. Took a long time before I could say that outloud, but it’s true.
Got it. What kind of music do you like?
I like almost every genre of music, but lately I have been listening to Lo-fi the most.
Life is not always pretty. We all experience hardship every now and again. What is your best advice for reducing stress?
Learn how to protect your peace in a peaceful way. By that I mean, learn to recognize and acknowledge behavior that may prevent you from flourishing – from being around people who do not have good intentions, overworking your physical self, to questioning habits (internally and/or externally) that you have personal and discussing how to process and handle them. Essentially, do no harm, but take no shit.
I like that! I’m gonna have to borrow that one.
A friend of mine says it at the end of her podcasts (Angela Page, Love Your Rebellion).
“Do no harm, but take no sh*t.”
– Angela Page
K, outside of writing, what are some of your passions?
Singing and learning other languages are a few of my passions outside of writing.
Oh cool. Are you bilingual? If so, what other languages do you speak? If not, what other languages would you like to speak?
I wish that I was bilingual! At the moment, I speak a little conversational Spanish and Korean. I would really like to learn more about both languages, as well as Afrikaans and Creole.
Korean, nice! What would your perfect writing / reading room look like?
A small studio, within the perfect distance away yet near a beach. With plenty of windows that let lots of sunshine in and full of intricate and inspiring artwork from my friends.That also comes with a cleaning service, a fully stocked fridge of water and healthy food. As well as a list of take out locations too!
That’s nice. What job do you think you’d be really good at?
I think that I would make a great Music History curator. Especially if I got the chance to study more of World Music!
What skill would you like to master?
I would love to master learning different languages so that I can become a polyglot.
That’s interesting. What kind of environment or situation do you think will benefit ones usage of several languages?
I feel that I would benefit by being able to connect more with my bilingual and polyglot friends as well as travel to more places in the world more comfortably with the use of several languages.
In your own words, what is love?
Love is universal acceptance of all things. Abundance of happiness that you welcome into your life to make better, not whole.
Are we to accept all things though? What about the not-so-good things in the world, are there any limitations? Does love have limits?
No, we do not have to accept all things, in my opinion. To protect our peace and to not cause harm to others, there must be limitations. The idea that love can have no limits is a fairy tale at best. I feel that love does have limits. It must, in order to save us from ourselves.
K. McCoy wants to live in a world where indie vinyl record shops can be found in every city and sweets don’t come with so many calories. As an Independent Author, she is now putting the finishing touches on her first novelette, MAGIX, which will be released this year. Her stories are those of awkward cute meets, sassy women who take no ish, and sweet declarations and discoveries of love. Her poetry covers mental health, self-love, body positivity, and quirky traits that are to be celebrated.
When she is not baking or playing cards against Humanity with her friends, you can find her writing down new ideas and concepts somewhere sunny or discovering new music on online.
Today, I’d like to extend a warm welcome to Sheila Williams. Sheila, welcome to the PBS blog!
What is your name and where are you from?
My name is Sheila Williams. I am English, born in Yorkshire in the North of England (known as God’s own county to those who were born there!) Until five years ago my feet were firmly planted in English soil. Then, I had one of those ‘where did that idea come from’ moments and moved across the channel to the south-west of France – a region known as Occitanie (previously the Languedoc). I now live in a small village near the Pyrenees mountains with my dog Zouzou, otherwise known as the Ayatollah for his insistence on regularity – regular walkies, regular mealtimes, regular cuddles and regular snoozes on the sofa.
Awwue lol. I bet he’s adorable. Any siblings?
I am the youngest of three. My brother Mike is the oldest. He’s a very practical person, always building something. He has an apartment in my house here in France and stays for about six months every year which is very handy since the house is a bit of a wreck and always needs something doing. He’s a keen guitarist and banjo player and not a bad singer either. We’ve always been close despite our very different temperaments and political views. It makes for animated discussions on the terrace with a bottle of the local wine during summer.
My other sibling is my sister Pat. She too is an author and lives in New Zealand. As kids we were pretty close although she could be extremely prickly at times. She moved to Canada when she left college and then on to New Zealand. I have seen very little of her since then. Sadly, there was something of a schism, a family break-up after our father died which led to considerable ill-feeling between her and my mother and percolated through to Mike and myself. The rift is something I have never been able to repair and she remains stubbornly out of touch.
I am sorry to hear that. Hopefully you guys can reconcile! I think it’s cool your brother has an apartment in your house! What would be the most amazing adventure to go on?
I would love to go on safari in Africa. I am passionate about this beautiful world that we live in and the creatures that populate it. Before it is too late and we ruin it altogether I want to see some of the species that are being driven towards extinction in their natural habitat. I am not a fan of zoos although some do good work in helping to preserve species. I can imagine a dawn safari, just as the sun is rising, still a chill in the air and seeing the different animals at the watering hole. I imagine the sounds and smells that would fill the air. One day I’ll do it. It’s top of my bucket list.
That sounds nice. What’s your favorite drink?
A cold glass of Blanquette de Limoux which was the earliest form of champagne. It goes down smoothly, with a little fizzy bite as an aftertaste. Just the thing after a swim on a hot sunny day.
You made that sound soo refreshing yess. Lol. avorite color?
Oh I’m definitely a blue person. I love all shades from the darkest velvety blue to the sharp blue of the morning sky. There is at least one shade of blue in every room in the house and my wardrobe likewise. It’s a colour that can soothe, sing, import elegance as well as casual comfort. What’s not to like?
Let’s talk about writing a bit. Who is your favorite writer?
Ah this is a tough one. There are so many. There are the three Kate’s – Kate Mosse, Kate Morton and Kate Atkinson – all very different in style and genre. For classics I love Jane Austen; for history Bernard Cornwell and for Sci-fi Robert Heinlein. Daphne du Maurier slips in there somewhere too.
When did you publish your first book? What was that like?
My first book was non-fiction ‘Close to the Edge – Tales from the Holderness Coast’. It is an eclectic history of part of the coast where I lived in England. My friend – a photographer and I walked up and down the length of the coast researching people and places. It was huge fun. I published it with Amazon and not being very techie-minded got into a bit of a muddle but it all got sorted out. Then, when the paperback arrived I went round all the caravan sites and got them to hold copies of it to sell to the visitors; I donated copies to all the local libraries and got the tourist information offices to sell it for me. It was extremely hard work and my first introduction to marketing a book. It’s not a best-seller but the sales continue to trickle in even four years later.
That’s awesome. Aside from Non-Fiction, what genre do you write in?
I’ve probably made it a bit difficult for myself! I write a mix of history with a dash of fantasy or spooky stuff. I published a book of short stories ‘The Siren and Other Strange Tales’ which has a lot of spooky stuff in it and my first novel ‘The Weave’ is a contemporary fantasy story with history woven in. My wip is definitely history, set in the 7th century with a splash of fantasy. I like the little bit of something extra that fantasy gives me as a writer. It gives me an opportunity to tease the reader a bit…to make them wonder whether there is something psychological going on in a character or whether it is something supernatural/fantastic really happening. It is something I’m exploring much more in my wip.
Okay History, Sci-Fi and Horror book readers! You heard it here first. Here’s a writer for you.
What takes up too much of your time?
French bureaucracy! The French love their paperwork and as an expat there are wads of it to be completed. They also have strict demarcation lines between who does what which sometimes means that the carefully gathered information slips between departmental gaps. It’s getting better though as more and more is brought on-line. The Brexit situation has created even more since most expats I know in France are applying for a ‘carte de sejour’ which will allow them to stay in France. The documentation required is extensive and much of it is already in the maws of bureaucracy but it still has to be provided anew.
What do you love about yourself?
I suppose it’s my ability to be myself without embarrassment, without worrying about what others’ might think any more. It’s something that has crept up with age and I guess experience too. I like to do daft things now and again like make up silly songs and sing them in the shower or dance with the dog in the village square. I don’t worry about making a fool of myself. Alongside that I have developed assertiveness which I sadly lacked when I was younger and I like the fact that I can say saying clearly(albeit diplomatically I hope) what I think!
Thank you Sheila for spending this time with us. We enjoyed you!
Sheila Williams, author, slipped into this world on Guy Fawkes night, under cover of fireworks and bonfires. Outraged to find other nurslings in the nest, she attempted to return to her own world but found the portal closed. Adopting a ‘make the best of it’ attitude she endured a period of indoctrination to equip her for her place in society. Freeing herself as soon as possible from such torture, she embarked on a series of adventures – or to use the vernacular – careers; hospital manager, business consultant, life coach, sheep farmer. She attempted to integrate into society by means of marriage before setting out alone to discover another world, known as France, where she now resides.
In her quest to understand this world she pursues knowledge of its history; not of kings and queens but of its ordinary people and how they lived and worked. To this end, she haunts events such as boot fairs, vide-greniers and sales rooms where many ancient artifacts can be uncovered.
Her outlets from this unfathomable world include nature, animals (especially funny videos of), books and writing stories. This latter occupation enables her to create her own worlds, populate them and dispose of the residents as she thinks fit. She finds holding the fate of these poor souls in her hands immensely satisfying.
Today, I’d like to extend a warm welcome to A.H. Washington. Let’s get started!
What is your name and where are you from?
As stated above, my name is Aundriel Washington, and I am from New Orleans, Louisiana. Very nice to meet you
Aundriel. What would your perfect writing/reading room look like?
My perfect writing or reading room would be all white, silver, and glass. The walls would be white with silver crown molding. I would have a glass desk with a white fluffy chair.. White and silver roses would fill a glass vase. My decor would be silver framed images of white dragons surrounding the wall. The floor would be white granite with fluffy round rugs.
What is the most annoying habit that you have?
The most annoying habit that I have is that I bite my nails.
Are you employed outside of writing?
Currently, I am working as an eighth grade English Language Arts Special Education Teacher. I was an elementary school teacher for four years. Middle school is very different.
Oh, excellent. Another teacher in the house ya’ll! What do you think you’ll be really good at?
I think I would be really good at counseling others. I love to talk to people and I love to help them see that they are better than they believe they are. I have had my battle with major depression and I know how important counselors and therapists are.
That’s awesome. If you had one piece of advice you would like to give to someone who is sad right now or struggling, what would you tell them?
Normally, when I am sad, I try to look at one of the most joyous times in my life. I would tell that person struggling to look to a time when they were very happy. Think of who was involved and how that person or event made you feel. Go to that time and hold on to it as tight as you can in order to bring a smile to your face. If it is only for a moment, it will remind you that you can be happy or have joy despite your trails.
Excellent. Aundriel, any siblings?
I have one sibling.
What was your childhood dream?
As a child, I dreamed of becoming a model, singer, and actress.
Ooh. Nice. What skill would you like to master?
I wish that I could learn to draw. My middle daughter draws. I continue to remind her if you don’t use it, you lose it.
What would be the most amazing adventure to go on?
The most amazing adventure that I could go on would be to take a trip to Santorini, Greece and Rome, Italy. I want to bath in the white sand in Greece and I want to visit the Colosseum.
What’s your favorite food?
My favorite food is seafood. I love craw-fish and shrimp!
Nooo. Don’t do it lol. Favorite colors?
My favorite colors are aquamarine and white.
Let’s talk about writing a bit. Who is your favorite writer?
My favorite author is Colleen Houck, the author of the Tiger’s Curse Series.
If you could shadow your favorite artist, who would it be?
If I could shadow Danai Gurira and Tom Welling. I loved Smallville, the CW series. I had been trying to meet Tom Welling for years since the show has been off the air. Well, I finally got a chance to meet him this past September at Dragon Con.
I bet that was exciting! If you could, would you visit the future?
If I could, I would visit the future. I would love to see what else we come up with.
Neat. What about the past?
If I could visit my past, I would go back to the day my mother died. The doctor would not think that I am too young to visit my mother in ICU.
Aww. I’m so sorry to hear that.
Thank you Aundriel for spending this time with us. We enjoyed you!
A.H. WASHINGTON is the author of the debut novel, Palera Dawn. As an elementary and middle school educator, A.H. has spent the past decade writing fiction stories independently and with her students. She spends her summers with her husband and children. A. H. is a fan of Dragon Con and other fantasy, science fiction conventions. She lives in Atlanta, Georgia.
Facebook: Aundriel Washington (group name Palera Dawn).
Wow this is the last interview of the year! What a year! To review all the authors we’ve introduced to you on this blog you can visit the page HERE. If you would like to add your name to this awesome list, CLICK HERE.
Welcome to Introduce Yourself, a new and exciting blog segment of The PBS Blog dedicated to introducing to you new and established authors and their books.
Today I’d like to extend a warm welcome to Sarah Zama. Welcome to The PBS Blog! Let’s get started.
What is your name and where are you from?
I’m Sarah Zama and I’m an Italian from Verona. Well, actually, I’m from Isola della Scala, which is a small town 20km south of Verona. I feel I should acknowledge it, since Isola is where I was born, I grew up and I still live. But honestly, I feel a much stronger affinity with Verona. And I know I should not brag about it, but let me tell you Verona is a beautiful city, with over two thousand years of history, no wonder it’s a World Heritage site. Aside from being Romeo and Juliet’s city, it’s just charming walking by the river, especially at night, or wondering among her narrow mediaeval streets and the plazas, or visiting the castles or one of my very best favorite places, the Roman Arena.
Fine, fine, I’ll just stop before you start thinking someone is paying me to advertise my city!!
I learned my English in Dublin, which I consider my second home. I lived and worked there for over a year, and even if I left almost fifteen years ago, I still visit as often as I can. I love Dublin nearly as much as Verona.
Sarah, you are definitely bragging. I’d love to visit. What was your childhood dream?
This may sound obvious – I mean, lot of kids have the same dream – but I wanted to be an archaeologist. I read a lot about ancient history and about archaeology and archaeologists’ lives. I loved the idea to go hunting for something that used to be alive and breathing and could still be the same if I could unearth it. Archaeological items aren’t dead. If we know their language, they can tell us so many things we’d never know otherwise.
In the end, it didn’t happen. I suppose my passion resided elsewhere. But I think writing, its pretty close. When it is any good, it also tries to unearth the unknown.
I like that. In your own words, what is humility?
It’s knowing that there will always be someone better than you at something. There will always be someone that will know more than you, in one field or another. You’ll always have the possibility to learn from other people, which is our good fortune, because learning and caring is the essence of life.
Nice. What do you wish you knew more about?
Folktales. I’ve been fascinated with folktales since I was a child, then, as an adult, when I learned what folktales truly are, I became even more fascinated. Thinking that some of the folktales we learned as children go back to Prehistory is mind-blowing. Can you imagine how much we can learn from them?
When I first read Tolkien’s On Fairy Stories, one thing he said stuck with me. He said we often wonder about what went lost over the millennia about those stories, things we will never know. And we should instead care about what did come to us though the millennia, because that’s what important to us.
Sarah, are you employed outside of writing?
I’ve been a bookseller for almost fourteen years, a job that I love. The company I work for not only owns the bookshop, but a publishing house too. I learned so many things in the years I’ve work there.
It’s a small independent company based in the university lot in Verona, run by man and wife. And I know it sounds clichéd, but really it is like a family, which – aside from the actual job – is something I really like.
That explains why you’re so well read. I am enjoying *listening* to you. What job do you think you’d be really good at?
Anything visual. I’ve always been a visual person, I used to draw when I was younger (ink was my favorite medium). Now I just don’t have the time to pursue that passion anymore.
Although who knows? Recently, I’ve been attracted to Photoshop. I’d like to learn to use it in an effective way. Maybe, sometime soon.
Indeed. I am striving to learn Photoshop better myself. What takes up too much of your time?
Commuting. Because I live in Isola della Scala but I work in Verona, I have to travel to Verona and back every day, which takes up some three hours of my day.
But I commute by train, which is good. I like travelling by train. I find public transports to be fascinating; you see all kinds of people. I’ll admit… err… that I like people-sighting and eavesdropping, but don’t tell anyone.
And on the train I can read. I do much of my reading on the train to and from work.
Eavesdropping huh? Are you nosy Sarah? Lol
Nosy? I wouldn’t say so. But I think that noticing things and especially details is a storyteller’s secret weapon. So I think that storytellers are naturally inclined to notice things… and of course, to notice them, you first have to watch and listen.
I suppose this makes us the Confucian creature with the big eyes and ears and the small mouth. LOL!
When did you publish your first book? What was it like?
I published my first book (which is actually a novella, not a novel) last year in March.
I self-published it, which surprised many of my friends because I had always said I wasn’t interested in self-publishing. Trad publishing is still my chief goal for my trilogy (which involves the same characters as Give in to the Feeling, my novella), but I think in the future hybrid writers will be the norm, so knowing both field is very important, I believe.
But this isn’t the reason I finally decided to self-publish.
Two years ago, when I had the first novel of the trilogy ready, I started submitting it to agents. I did two rounds of submissions, and nothing came of it. Agents are always very spare of comments, so I couldn’t really know what exactly was wrong with my samples, but they were of course not good enough. Besides, the first three chapters of the novel had always bothered me. I had in fact rewrote the first chapter at least thirty times, and it was my own fault, because at the very beginning I made a decision that then turned out to be wrong. Unfortunately, although the decision (regarding voice and information giving) was wrong, the inciting incident is right, so I had to rework the first chapter making it as different as possible, keeping it the same.
After the first round of submission turned out so disappointingly, I once again rewrote the first three chapters. It didn’t make much good, though, because, although the agents’ tone changed on the second round, they still turned me down.
So I decided I needed to go a step further and work with an editor, but I knew I couldn’t afford to edit the whole novel. I thought that I could edit a short story, though. If my writing had inherent problems, the editor would catch them in the short story and then I could apply what I learned on the novel.
It turned out to be a fantastic experience, I learned some very interesting things about my writing and when I had the novella ready I thought: well, why not going all the way through and experiment with publishing and marketing my work as well?
It felt like a waste to have this novella professionally edited and polished and just leave it in a drawer.
After a year, I’m not sure I have the characteristics to be a successful indie author (I’m a very slow writer, for example, and I don’t write in a definite commercial genre), but this doesn’t mean I’ll leave self-publishing. I do think in the future belongs to the hybrid authors, so I want to pursue this path still, though at my own pace.
But I’m very happy of the experience itself because it was very educational.
Thanks for sharing that experience with us! So, tell us more about the genre you write in and why.
I’ve always been a speculative writer, I think I’ll always be, though the way I express that speculation mind has changed over time.
I’ve been a classic fantasy writer for most of my writing life. I’ve read all the classics of fantasy and I’ve watched fantasy evolve in the early 2000s with great pleasure, though sadly I have to say that lately the genre seems to have taken a step back.
I’ve always been interested in history too (that was my favorite subject at school already) and when I started working in the bookshop I discovered anthropology (such fascinating subject). I think these two subjects in particular moved my interest to more modern settings recently, though – truth be said – I’ve been fascinated with the Deco period since I watched b/w mysteries on TV with my granny as a kid. So it probably doesn’t come as a surprise (it certainly doesn’t surprise me) that I ended up writing fantasy stories in a contemporary setting, particularly the 1920s.
I had been writing my trilogy for a couple of years when I stumbled upon the concept of dieselpunk and I immediately felt an affinity. I got involved with the dieselpunk community and I really feel that is my home, though the kind of dieselpunk I write is so soft and fantasy-oriented that even some dieselpunks don’t consider it such.
But I like to refer to one of the head figures of the community, Larry Amyett Jr. who has a more open concept of the ‘genre’.
Anyway, expect a lot of history and some very significant fantasy element in all of my stories.
Alright now. I love history so I am sure we’ll collaborate on some things in the future. What do you hate most about writing advice? What do you love?
One thing I hate about writing advice is the attitude of some writers towards rules. On the one hand, you’ll have writers that stick to the rules to the point it becomes flat. They won’t accept any creative use of the rules. But writing is creativity. I don’t think it’s wise to try to encage it into stone-written rules. It is also an evolving activity, so rules and conventions that were good yesterday might not be as good today. Many writers who give advice on workshops and forums don’t seem to grasp this and will question you even when you explain why you made an unconventional choice.
On the other hand, I also hate when writers are too slack with rules. I have read time and again writers who say they are not interested in learning the rules of storytelling because if you are a true writer you’re going to break them anyway. Well, personally, I don’t think you have any chance at creatively and meaningfully breaking any rules you don’t know and don’t muster. Rules are there to make storytelling stronger and more coherent, so it’s a writer’s best interest to know them inside out. Only in that case, when you do chose to break one, you’ll do it knowing why you want to break it and what the effect will be. Then it will become meaningful. Otherwise, it’s only a mess.
What I love about writing advice is that, when it is thoughtful, you’ll learn a lot. I’ve been part of an online workshop for seven years—The Critique Circle—and I can’t even start to tell you how much I’ve learned from being critiqued as well as from critiquing other people’s work. It’s an extremely educational process.
The first thing I learned is that my work isn’t perfect. No matter how much I work on it, there will always be things other people see and I don’t… until I’m pointed out. Being too protective towards our work makes a great disservice to us, to the story and to our readers.
The second most important thing I learned is asking questions. When we write, everything makes sense to us, both because we instinctively know much more about our story than will ever get on the page and because we know where the story is supposed to go, so we are focused on getting there. But when someone who knows nothing about the story reads it, he/she will have a lot more questions, some of which will be very ‘embarrassing’. Let’s face it, most of the time the answer to the question, ‘Why does this characters do this thing?’ is ‘Because I need him to go from point A to point B’ (that certainly is true in the first draft… at least for me). When you start to have your work critiqued, you’ll learn very fast that readers are a lot more attentive and demanding than you ever thought. They have lots of sensible questions you thought were not worth pursuing, and when you let people critique your work, you’ll learn how to ask yourself those questions before readers do.
And believe me; the story will come off a lot stronger.
I love it. Sarah, what’s the most difficult thing about being a writer? The most exciting thing?
The most difficult thing is to keep believing in yourself and your stories no matter what.
We writers will always have doubts about our writing. We will always be scared that we are not good enough. That’s one big reason why some writers will never let anyone read their stories, let alone critique them. Which is a real shame, because I think storytelling is communication, and there is no meaningful one-way communication. A message (which is what a story is) needs to be given, but also to be received in order to exist. When the message is received, that’s when it comes to life, not when it’s issued.
Problem is, when we let people read our stories, more doubts will arise rather than be quenched. Many people won’t like our story, and often we will never know why. Even when we understand this is natural (and believe me, this is not an instinctive understanding), it will be hard to accept it.
The rejection (I don’t like your story) and the unknown (but I’m not going to tell you why) are very hard to manage, but let me tell you, we’re not going to learn if we won’t practice. We need the help of our readers in order to become better storytellers, but this mean we also need to face rejection and handle it in a positive way.
I won’t hide it, this is hard. We need to muster the ability to tell when a critic is objective and when he isn’t, when it has something to offer and when it doesn’t, which needs a clarity of mind unaffected by feelings. But when we achieve that mastery, we will be on the right way to becoming better writers.
On the other hand, when our story is received enthusiastically… well, I think there are few feelings which are better than this.
Wow. Very informative answer! *Takes notes*. Speaking of writing, does blogging help you to write?
I wouldn’t say it helps me to write, but I will say it helps me to be a writer.
For a great part, blogging is listening, it’s looking for a connection, it’s sharing, and this is a huge help when it comes to learn to accept the reader’s rejection as well as being more critic towards our writing.
Blogging will require to make lots of decisions and you’ll see the result of the decisions you’ve made pretty soon, so that you’ll have the possibility to act on it fast enough to see a result. This is often not possible when writing and publishing a book, and that’s why blogging may help.
When I first started blogging, I did a number of mistakes, both because I didn’t know any better and because I just made the wrong choice. The only solution is to keep learning, not just because there is always something new to learn, but also because blogging – as all things internet – changes very fast. We need to the attentive and flexible.
But sometimes, we just make the wrong choice and we need to be listening in order to realize it. I have a macroscopic example of this.
When I started my blog, I decided that I wouldn’t blog about the 1920s in spite of that being a subject I had researched extensively for my stories. I didn’t feel (I still don’t feel) I’m an expert on the subject. I’ve never done any academic study, I’m just very passionate about it and I like to learn about it. But when one year later I decided to take part in the AtoZ Blogging Challenge, I realized there weren’t many things I could blog about every day, therefore I was kind of forced to write about the 1920s.
It was a success. I was shocked! People actually liked what I was writing and found it interesting and informative. As for me, I understood my mistake and changed gear. 1920s social history is the main focus of my blog now, and blogs about 1920s life are still the most popular with my readers.
So blogging gave me the possibility to make a mistake as well as to see my mistake by trying something different. It has given me the possibility to listen to the readers’ reaction and act upon it. It has also given me the possibility to believe in myself that little bit more, though honestly I should have known better even before. I might not be an expert, but I do know a few things people don’t normally know about the 1920s, and I can definitely give what little I know.
Storytelling is mainly about giving, I believe, and though we cannot give what we don’t have, what we do have, small as it may be… well, why not give it?
There’s a quote from Leonard Peltier’s Autobiography that I love and that I apparently need to remember more often: “We don’t need to be perfect, we need to be useful.”
What a wealth of information you are Sarah! Thanks for spending this time with us today.
Sarah Zama was born in Isola della scala (Verona – Italy) where she still lives. She started writing at nine – blame it over her teacher’s effort to turn her students into readers – and in the 1990s she contributed steadily to magazines and independent publishers on both sides of the Atlantic.
After a pause, in early 2010s she went back to writing with a new mindset. The internet allowed her to get in touch with fellow authors around the globe, hone her writing techniques in online workshops and finally find her home in the dieselpunk community.
Since 2010 she’s been working at a trilogy set in Chicago in 1926, historically as accurate as possible but also (as all her stories are) definitely fantasy. She’s currently seeking representation for the first book in the Ghost Trilogy, Ghostly Smell Around.
In 2016, her first book comes out, Give in to the Feeling.
She’s worked for QuiEdit, publisher and bookseller in Verona, for the last ten years.
She also maintain a blog, The Old Shelter, where she regularly blogs about the Roaring Twenties and anything dieselpunk.
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