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Meet the Writer: Janice Lee #writerslife #authorinterview @diddioz

Meet the Writer: Janice Lee #writerslife #authorinterview @diddioz

I want to thank author, blogger, editor, and do-it-all Janice Lee for answering my questions. Check out her books and follow her on Twitter! I have a review of her 2013 novel, Damnation, in queue to be published Friday!

What did you want to be when you grew up?

I went through different phases: teacher, archaeologist (a la Indiana Jones), zoologist, doctor, spy, writer.

What was your least favorite class at any point in your education? Why?

PE in high school. It was so hierarchical and was just asking to create tiers of “winners” and “losers.” Mostly I just chilled with my friends and we pretended we were too cool to care.

What was the first blog post you ever wrote about?

I’ve never had a proper blog. Just my website and various articles around the web. Probably the earliest “blog” I kept up most regularly (though only for a short while) was for my web design company, and the post had to do with what went into building a good website.

Do you think blogging is meant for the blogger, the readers, or both? Why?

Definitely both. It’s cathartic, in a way, for the writer. The Poetics of Spaces series I’m working on right now at Entropy, for example, is really memoir and confession disguised as personal essay. And I’ve had several readers email or message me thanking me for various articles in the series, which is always really gratifying to be able to connect with people in that way.

Are you reading anything right now?

Many things simultaneously but also in between things. I just finished The Ants by Sawako Nakayasu. About to begin Slow Movies: Countering the Cinema of Action by Ira Jaffe.

Do you habitually follow any blogs?

I’m one of those people who feel the need to say informed and connected, so I actually follow almost 100 different blogs that I get in a feed, in all topics: literature, art, culture, film, science, technology, web design, etc. I mostly just skim the headlines each morning and focus more on a few. My favorite site right now is Entropy, not only because I’m an editor there, but because there’s really some rad stuff happening there.

Meet the Writer: Joanne C. Hillhouse #writerslife #authorinterview


I want to thank Joanne for participating in the “Meet the Writer” series. You can read more about Joanne on her blog or Facebook page. Also, check out the Wadadli Youth Pen Prize – a writing programme Joanne C. Hillhouse founded in 2004 in Antigua and Barbuda.

What kinds of writing do you do? What kinds of writing do you wish you did more of?

I do a bit of everything; as a freelance writer, you kind of have to be open to taking on different types of writing projects. What I really love, though, is creative writing – fiction and poetry, and especially fiction. Not just the books I’ve written (The Boy from Willow Bend, Dancing Nude in the MoonlightFish Outta Water, Oh Gad! and coming soon Musical Youth) but I just enjoy experimenting within the story writing form, short and long. Much of what I write is character driven and distinctively Caribbean with (I like to believe) universal resonance – because I do believe the stories that are about the human condition can cross over without having to be diluted. I want to keep telling those stories, tell them more. But I also want to continue experimenting, challenging myself. So I’ve tried my hand, within the short story format especially, at everything from noir to fairy tale. And that’s what I wish I could do more of…just new and interesting things. Like fantasy; how cool and what an interesting challenge it would be to create a wholly distinct and totally believable world from scratch. I’d like to try that someday. I hate boxes, labels, limitations, so I just want to keep being creative.

oh gad.jpg

In what ways has academia shaped your writing?

I’m not sure. I mean, I’m not a product of an MFA programme, but my love affair with literature has been a lifelong one, fed inside and outside of the classroom. At the tertiary level, I’ve done writing and literature courses, though my Bachelors is in Communications, and post-tertiary I’ve done workshops like the Caribbean Fiction Writers Summer Institute at the University of Miami, the Breadloaf Writers Conference at Middlebury College, and Texas A & M Callaloo Writers workshop at Brown University. And I hope to do more of that kind of thing. But I think more important than “academia,” for me, has been this passion for reading and writing, and growing and being open to the opportunities to be mentored in person or on the page…because I do believe a lot of what I’ve learned about writing I’ve learned from reading…I love to read.

In what ways has life outside of academia shaped your writing?

I wrote a poem once called “Stealing Life,” and that’s it in a nutshell. It’s not a conscious act, most of the time, and it’s not a linear relationship, but life feeds my writing; without life there’s nothing to write, is there?

What was the first piece of writing you did that you remember being happy with?

I’ll let you know when that happens.

What happens when you’re not happy with your writing?

At some point, you have to let it go, happy or not; at some point, you’ve done all you can with it. Sometimes that means filing it, never to be seen by the public; and sometimes that means putting it out there and letting it continue on its journey without you. The thing is, though, the act of writing is what makes me happy; I feel so blessed (okay, sometimes cursed, but mostly blessed) that I have this talent and I want to keep growing it. So, when I half-joke about not being happy with what I’ve written, it’s not meant to be falsely humble or overly critical, it’s a reflection of my desire to keep surprising myself. So, in that sense, I’ve been happy with everything, but I’m not satisfied. I do a fairy tale, for instance, and I try it out on the kids, and I take their feedback to heart and I work it out, and I submit it to a contest, and it earns honourable mention…and I’m happy, happy happy happy….but what more could I have done, you know. Or, I do a young adult script and its second for the Burt Award for Young Adult Caribbean fiction…and I’m happy, happy happy happy…but what more could I have done? I’m very driven…and it’s not about what tier I’m on because I’m still very much a writer on the hustle… it’s about feeling like I heard the character right and told her or his story right; that’s what matters to me, and I’ll fight for that. That someone read something I wrote and was moved by it is what matters to me, and I’ll treasure that…but I’m always about, “What more could I have done?” I’m far from feeling comfortable.

How do your friends and family respond to your writing?

Until Oh Gad! I had pretty much convinced myself that my family didn’t read my writing, or at least had the grace not to discuss it with me if they did, so that I could pretend they didn’t…that’s changing, and all the uncomfortableness that comes with that, especially when the realism has them, and this applies to friends and family and random strangers, giving me the side eye…the hmmm… though truthfully that type of response goes all the way back to my first book, The Boy from Willow Bend…from my sister telling me how much the tanty character, modelled on our tanty, made her cry, one of my favourite responses to date, and not because I like to make people cry, but because I like when readers have a real moment with what I’ve written… to people asking if the boy’s story was my story, though I’m clearly a girl…so on the one hand, yay, you’ve done your job, but on the other hand, hello, it’s fiction. But I have to say, in my world (Antigua and Barbuda, in the Caribbean), being a writer, wanting to be a writer, it takes a bit of going against the grain, and I have to say both friends and family have been supportive… even when they don’t get me…or understand this journey I’m on.

Shrill: Notes from a Loud Woman #readwomen #bookreview @thelindywest

Shrill: Notes from a Loud Woman #readwomen #bookreview @thelindywest

*Author photo from The Guardian.

Shrill (May 2016, Hachette Books) is a collection of 19 essays from comedian/journalist Lindy West, who writes for The Guardian and has pieces at many websites, such as JezebelNew York TimesGQ, and The Stranger. I heard through a Tweet that her collection was being published, and I was instantly drawn to what I learned: West is smart, precise, funny — and fat. As a fat lady myself, I wanted to know more. Rarely do fat female role models appear in the United States (um, or elsewhere), so I put a hold on a copy at the library.

After I got into the book, I realized that I’ve read some of West’s articles in the above mentioned publications. I don’t often remember a writer’s name when I read an online article, but the piece she wrote that I remembered clearly describes the time a troll created an e-mail address and Twitter account using West’s recently deceased father’s name to humiliate and torment her. And then he later came out and apologized to her, which never, ever happens. The main themes of Shrill are fat shaming, rape culture, comedy, abortion, and trolls, and they’re all examined through a feminist lens.

Anytime I read about feminism, I instantly compare the work to Roxane Gay’s Bad Feminist. Gay is probably the most notable feminist of our generation. After reading Bad Feminist, I didn’t feel great. I was mostly confused and disappointed. It seemed like she was either telling personal stories, talking about how she likes things that most feminists feel oppress women (like Robin Thicke’s “Blurred Lines”), and listing what she likes and hates (movies, books, etc.). I felt like Bad Feminist started as a listicle and ended up a book. Thesis statements? Not really. Organization? More like meandering. A call to action? I have no idea what Gay thinks feminists can do to move forward. I do not write to demean Gay’s book. But I do know that many other readers, according to Goodreads, found the same issues and are perhaps seeking a different contemporary feminist voice.

bad feminist

Yes, West is a white woman and Roxane Gay is Haitian-American, but both women talk about intersectional feminism, so West is a good alternative if you are also an intersectional feminist. Both women included personal essays that appeared to have little to do with feminism. Both are hugely into pop culture (especially Twitter). But I felt West’s writing was clearer, more rhetorically sound, and presented solutions to problems feminists encounter.

Some examples of West’s intersection feminism include the socioeconomic. She talks openly about her abortion (and created #shoutyourabortion to de-stigmatize abortion rights) and how she discovered, “It didn’t occur to me, at the time, that there was anything complicated about obtaining an abortion. This is a trapping of privilege: I grew up middle-class and white in Seattle, I had always had insurance, and, besides, abortion was legal.” Later in the essay, West states what privilege is, referring to the abortion clinic making her promise to pay her bill instead of charging her up front like they’re supposed to: “Privilege means that it’s easy for white women to do each other favors. Privilege means that those of us who need it the least often get the most help.”

West again touches on intersectional feminism when she discusses fat-shaming, which makes fat women feel like they don’t deserve anything. She argues, “Denying people access to value is an incredibly insidious form of emotional violence, one that our culture wields aggressively and liberally to keep marginalized groups small and quiet.” Throughout Shrill, West considers feminism that benefit her more than women of color, with disabilities, etc.


The best part of Shirll is that West helped me “figure out” my own feminism. While I feel that rape jokes are never, ever funny, I would not have an answer that appeased the folks who shout about freedom of speech, say “you’re just not funny,” or call you “too sensitive” for your claims. But West breaks it down. When she was younger, West constantly went to comedy clubs and saw rising stars (who are now super famous), like Patton Oswalt, Mitch Hedberg, Marc Maron, and Maria Bamford.

One night, a comedian was telling a joke about herpes, and everyone was laughing. Except West. She analyzes why she didn’t laugh. Because the comic wasn’t making fun of his herpes, the joke was designed to shame people who have herpes. Statistically, West points out, many people in the room have herpes. So why are they laughing? They laugh, she argues, because if they don’t, they will be outed for having herpes. The joke works “brilliantly”because there is no chance that people won’t laugh, essentially, because the comic was lazy enough to embarrass everyone into laughing. Those who don’t have herpes are now vindicated in their feelings that people with herpes are gross. This moment changed the way West felt about comedy, which led her into arguing publicly that rape jokes are not funny.

Rape jokes are not funny, West points out, because they come from a person of power profiting on the traumas of people with no power. She compares it to the CEO of a company getting up at the Christmas party and roasting the janitor for barely making enough money to feed his family. Similarly, a white man will most likely never be raped, nor will he fear being raped, nor does he have a game plan for how to avoid being raped and what to do if raped (women like me know these plans in detail). Therefore, the joke is funny to men. West was invited to debate Jim Norton on a TV show over the issue. If you know Norton, you know he’s a bit if a dark comic, and I’m not surprised he’s pro-rape jokes.

west norton.png

What’s interesting is that West’s rhetoric was sound, but she didn’t change Norton’s mind. Off camera, he said he agreed that it’s wrong to take advantage of victims, but he was more concerned about free speech for comics. Norton felt that comedy didn’t translate into real life — that people who believe rape jokes are funny won’t go rape people. West disagreed, and then something happened…

Jim Norton fans bombarded West’s Twitter feed, e-mail, the comment section sof her articles — all over the internet. They wrote things about raping her, thinking she’s too fat to rape, cutting her up with an electric saw, etc. Norton had to admit that his fans were being aggressive and translating the “right” to tell rape jokes into real-life rape threats. He even wrote an article asking his fans to cool it. This was in 2010. West notes that since then, the comedy scene has changed; comedians are changing their tune. Thinking about how speaking up helped, and how using the rape threats to make a point helped, changed the way I thought about treading the internet, and about the maxim “Don’t Feed the Trolls,” with which West disagrees. Why should women be silent?

West also argues that fat is a feminist issue. She notes, “You have to swallow, every day, that you are a secondary being whose worth is measured by an arbitrary, impossible standard, administered by men.” West also describes how as a fat child, she was so ashamed of her body that it kept her silent. Women, both online and in life, are silenced constantly. Heartbreakingly, West explains that as a child, “[she] got good at being early on — socially, if not physically. In public, until [she] was eight, [she] would speak only to [her] mother, and even then, only in whispers, pressing [her] face into her [mother’s] leg.” West doesn’t have these earth-shattering traumas to report (if I compare her to Jessica Valenti, for example, whose new memoir catalogs all the sexual trauma she’s experienced). Yet, she is affected for most of her life by fat-shaming and the way it shuts her down as a woman, helping me to think more about my own silences — and the voices we’re missing from other fat people. There’s no need to compare traumas (sexual, emotional, physical) and decide whose is worse by some made-up standard. Traumas that shut women down are all appalling.

No matter what she’s writing about, West is ridiculously funny. She starts Shrill by describing all the fat female role models from her childhood, a list that included Auntie Shrew, Lady Cluck, The Trunchbull, and Ursula the Sea Witch. There are almost none, is the point. But did you ever wonder why King Triton is so ripped? West writes, “History is written by the victors, so forgive me if I don’t trust some P90X sea king’s smear campaign against the radical fatty in the next grotto.” Oh, man! I almost died!

auntie shrew      lady kluck3      the trunchbull      ursula2

In a nutrition class West signs up for, back when she felt like she needed to lose weight to be somebody, the teacher tells the students that if they get hungry after breakfast at 7Am and before lunch at 1PM, they should have 6 almonds. If they’ve gone over their “almond allotment, try an apple. So crisp. So filling.” West remembers, “Then everyone in nutrition class would nod about how fresh and satisfying it is to just eat an apple.” Lindy West labels this scene…wait for it… “the Apple Appreciation Circle-Jerk Jamboree.” I laughed so hard about this I called my mom and read her the scene! My mom, too had experienced such a class years ago.

Here’s one more great line: West compares her first experience in first-class flying and compares her seat to the ones in coach: “It has succeeded at being a chair instead of a flying social experiment about the limits of human endurance.” I read this passage at work and started cackling, despite the dead silence of the building.

Sometimes I wondered if I found Shrill so terribly funny and relevant because I am a fat woman. I tried reading passages to my husband, who didn’t laugh as much as I did, but he’s also a thoughtful person who may dismiss the humor and feel bad, wondering instead if I’m feeling bad for having read about fat-shaming and rape. My verdict is you must read this book. Lindy West is a feminist who’s doing something; she fought –with results — the fat-shaming that became acceptable around 2005, rape jokes in 2010, and internet trolls who make the internet unsafe for women.



Recently, the hashtag #DiverseBookBloggers has been uniting book bloggers across Twitter who want to see not only more diversity in books, but in those who read and review books. The hashtag was started by Naz, a Texan book blogger who identifies as a male Latino. Read the story of how and why Naz started #DiverseBookBloggers.

Since most of the book blogging world consists of straight white women, I was sure that I didn’t count as diverse. Later, book blogger Darkowaa from African Book Addict tagged me on Twitter as an “awesome” diverse book blogger, and I wondered how that label held up. Yes, I only review books written by folks who identify as women. No, I don’t really limit what people send me (though I don’t take Young Adult lit; I am not the reviewer for this genre). Yes, I prefer to review books by women of color and who fall on the LGBT spectrum.

Yet, when I have submissions open, it’s almost always straight white women who are self-published. These authors’ requests flooded my inbox. I thought I could include diversity by accepting people who were too “edgy” or marginalized to be published through traditional means, but I soon learned that “self-published” can mean anything — from an author who wanted full control of her book, to those who have grown impatient with editing, submitting, and revising and put the book out into the world far too soon (editors do serve a purpose).

I promptly closed my submissions and started asking authors or publishers for books that sounded bold or diverse. Or, I would seek out books by marginalized authors from my library. I started Grab the Lapels because I wasn’t reviewing diverse books when I worked for magazines. If a book by an author who identifies as male grabs my interest, I publish that review on another fantastic blog — the blogger is great about letting me review what I want, so long as it’s from a small press.


What does Naz from Read Diverse Books blog consider “diverse”? Do I live up to the label? Here’s what he says:

What do we mean by “diverse”? Who qualifies as #DiverseBookBloggers?

#DiverseBookBloggers are not white, straight, cisgendered, able-bodied bloggers who write predominantly about authors of that same description.

They ideally blog about #ownvoices authors and advocate diverse reading habits for all. This includes white bloggers who write about diverse literature regularly.

They find themselves in the LGBTQ+ spectrum or are people with disabilities and blog about books that represent them when possible

The hashtag more generally includes any person who is LGBT, a person of color, or a person with a disability who also is a book blogger. But diverse reading is preferred.

Well…I’m pretty sure I don’t fit. I’m a straight, married, able-bodied (though a bit lazy and totally out of shape), middle class women. However, an examination of my Goodreads “read” pile for 2016 shows that 12 out of 27 books I’ve read are from diverse voices! I include books from victims, people of color, those on the LGBT spectrum, non-Christian religious, and authors who are not from the United States. Here are some of those books:

The Rabbi’s Cat and The Rabbi’s Cat 2

  • Graphic novels by French author Joann Sfar
  • Explore Judaism and Islam in Africa
  • Comments on colonialism
  • Translated from French
  • Wicked funny

The Rabbis Cat 2 - Gator go Boom (Optimized).png

Lois Lenz, Lesbian Secretary and Bogeywoman and Blue is the Warmest Color

  • Star lesbians as the main character
  • Have strong women as secondary characters who help the main character
  • Explore coming out as lesbians

best lois lenzBogeywoman Covermaroh book cover

Powerful Days and Between the World and Me

  • Examine racial tension in the United States between black and white communities
  • Give anecdotal evidence of how violence against black bodies happens insidiously.


Missoula and PHD to PhD

  • Both books examine sexual assault and what it’s like (as a result, both books can be very upsetting).
  • Describe how sexual assault victims are not taken serious because of the context of the assault, such as the victim was drinking, a prostitute, a drug addict, or friends with the perpetrator.
  • Explore how victims are ignored or not believed when facing their perpetrators due to their gender or race.

missoulaPo Ho on Dope

Explosion and A Decent Ride and The Normal State of Mind

  • These books are by individuals from countries that are not the United States (Russia, Scotland, and India, respectively).
  • Examine contexts that affect the characters, such Soviet Russia and the lack of human rights, the drug and HIV epidemic aftermath in Scotland, and the rights of women in India
  • Each book taught me something new about a country and culture I did not learn from reading books by authors born in American.
  • Note that Zabrisky and Welsh both live in the U.S. at this point in time.

zabrisky explosiondecentTNSOMfinal

I want to thank Naz for starting the conversation about diverse bloggers! I made the comment on his site that I often try to avoid book bloggers who only seek out characters with whom they can relate. To me, “relate” is another way of saying “just like me.” If you are a blogger and you feel that you sympathize or empathize with a character, make sure you aren’t accidentally saying “relate” — empathy and sympathy shows growth in a reader and helps your audience know that you are open to and accepting of new ideas and different cultures.

Meet the Writer: Heather Dorn

Meet the Writer: Heather Dorn

I want to thank Heather for answering my questions. You can read more about her on her blog. Heather is also one of the contributors to the new anthology TOO MUCH: TALES OF EXCESS. You can find a story from yours truly called “Fat Women Socializing” and SEVENTEEN awesome poems from Heather!

Could you describe the first poem you remember writing?

When I was very young I would get into trouble and my mom would make me go to my room and close my door. I couldn’t stand being left in there, alone, to think about how wrong I’d been for asking for something in the grocery when I’d promised not to ask for anything in the grocery. I would sit on the floor by my door and yell “Mom” over and over again. Just “Mom Mom Mom Mom Mom Mom Mom Mom Mom Mom Mom Mom Mom Mom Mom Mom Mom Mom Mom Mom Mom…”

After a while, I simply couldn’t stop. I knew she was going to spank me. I could sometimes hear her coming up the stairs, but it was beyond my control. My mouth persisted. And the more I said the word, the stranger it became to me.

“Mom Mom Mom Mom Mom Mom Mom Mom Mom Mom Mom Mom…”

It didn’t even sound like the same word anymore or any word. It was something between word and music. It was completely new to me. That was my first poem.

Do you tend to work with a certain form or forms in your poetry, or you are freestyle? Why?

My style tends to be narrative free verse but I have written a range. I also do a lot of prose poems, collage, and creative non-fiction. I’d say that the poem (or writing) dictates the form. I don’t think it’s productive or easy to shove, say, a narrative poem into a different form. That’s just my opinion. I have nothing but a felt sense in my own work to support this though.

Unlike some other writing in the world, creative writing allows me the chance to figure out what I need (or want) to say and then find the form that does that best. Generally I have to send an email to co-workers, even if I want to make them happy, which is a shame because I’d much rather surprise them with a song: “The meeting has been changed to one! What fun, I say what fun! You can go for your run!!”


Do you feel it’s important that the meaning of the poem be accessible to the reader? Why or why not?

I don’t want to read poems that I don’t understand. What’s the point? It’s frustrating and I could have been learning more about bees! Time is precious when you have every channel in the world and 31 flavors of ice cream!

The thing is, I truly believe in writing to heal. Writing has primarily been therapy for me. I love publishing, and I love reading, and connecting with others is the strongest high, but I wrote before any of that and I would write without it. However, I don’t send my journal writings to be published. Nobody knows who Aunt Kendra is and why I want her to get the house with the porch that has windows (because she never had anything her own that wasn’t a man’s as well) and nobody will care unless I craft it into a poem so they will.

And this is where I see the difference between personal and private. Private is something we can’t understand.

There are other styles of poetry that are not too private, but are still inaccessible to the common reader or to most readers. If someone felt they were that kind of poet, I guess I would say you have to be really good and most of you aren’t. I guess I’m bitchy today. Oh well. If you can get someone else to buy it – good for you! I’ll buy ya a beer to celebrate.

In what ways did an academic environment shape the way you write poems?

(Heather did not provide an answer)too much anthology

In what ways did non-academic environments shape the way you write poems?

These answers are intertwined. I grew up really poor. Not only has this shaped the topics I write about but I believe how I write. This also shaped my desire to get an education and all the shit that entails. When I was an undergraduate, my mentor pulled me aside after a few workshop rounds and showed me the subtext in my poems, the enjambment, and the way my words worked tone. He showed me what I had been using. I didn’t go to the best schools. I barely knew anything, but this was something I had learned — maybe from reading, maybe from movies or TV, maybe from watching life spend our last food stamp again and I was using it, without realizing. Once I knew it was there, I set to learning how to use it.

Tools are obviously more powerful when you know how to use them. My son can tell you this is true because I just crouch down and wait for the shooting to stop when we play Halo together.

That’s kind of how I got through undergrad too: crouching and waiting. Workshops were hell. I hated them. Even when I knew someone’s feedback was shit and I didn’t respect it, I knew I would be nursing a jug of wine later that night. But I started to figure out who I trusted. And then who I trusted who could give me the bad news as gently as possible. My mentor’s wife and a few other students started meeting to workshop our pieces. Working with other poets during my PhD has also been immeasurably helpful in my development as a poet. They all write poems I am jealous to have not written.

Being in academe versus my upbringing brings with it a fair amount of tension as well. I sometimes feel a bit left out. I vacillate between not knowing what to say and being all too loud for anyone’s tastes. Everyone knows many things I don’t. They know how to pronounce “Foucault” and “duvet cover.” I say it wrong at first and so everyone knows I’m a fraud. I make too much money to say “I’m poor” now, but I don’t understand any of the people who live on my block.

How do your friends and family tend to respond to your poetry?

I think they like it? I’m very critical of myself, so all of my failures are my own fault and all of the successes came from luck and the kindness of others. I tend to think they are being kind.


Meet the Writer: Fiona Mitchell

Meet the Writer: Fiona Mitchell


Fiona Mitchell is an author and journalist. She is the winner of the 2015 Frome Short Story Competition and has work published in the Bristol Short Story Prize Anthology for the second year running. She is the author of the blog Writing Mad. All links below take you to various posts on Writing Mad. You can also socialize with Fiona on Twitter and Facebook.

In one of your blog posts you mention writing many drafts—five, in fact—as the result of input from others. Do you ever get to the point when you feel like the novel isn’t even yours anymore?

Now I’ve gotten to the stage where I feel my book The Maid’s Room is the very best it can be. I recently opened up my first draft and took a look. There is a hell of a lot of waffle in it and the plot goes off on tangents, so people’s input has only helped me to improve it.

My story is told from three points of view, and the first useful piece of advice from a literary agent was that one of those characters wasn’t the right person to tell it. I chose another character, and she has been the trickiest of the three. Readers felt she was the weakest, so I kept rewriting her until I discovered exactly who she is. Editors, agents, other writers, and readers can make suggestions, but often they can’t tell you exactly how to make a story leap off the page. It’s up to you to find your own magic. So no, I still feel like the novel is my own; I couldn’t make the story or the characters sing if it wasn’t.

Do you ever feel like, “Hey, my draft is terrible and needs lots of help,” or is it more like trying to appease the suggestions of others when you revise? What’s the difference between needing validation and needing advice, basically?

The ultimate validation is a reader being moved by your writing. Let’s face it, that’s what we’re all aiming to achieve. In the early stages of writing, validation might come from friends or family, but when you’ve got your book to a stage where it’s pretty good, you’ll take it to the next level and seek out validation from the professionals—possibly an editor if you can afford it, if not, a writing group.

At this point I think validation and advice are interconnected. Sure, you want to hear that the entire manuscript is perfect, but what you’re more likely to learn is that certain things work, and others don’t. If an editor makes a comment, they are usually right. And, when more than one person says something doesn’t work, I’d take note and rewrite.

Every writer needs advice from other people because writing a book for months, maybe years, brings a certain amount of blindness, faults you just can’t see.

How can you tell if one of your books is just another draft away from good vs. something you should just quit?

That is a brilliant question, and one I wish I knew the answer to! Every time I rewrote The Maid’s Room I was that convinced it was ready that I’d fire it off to literary agents who’d requested the full MS. I’d then feel utterly dejected when they turned it down.

I haven’t given up because I’ve had a lot of encouragement from editors and agents along the way, so I know I have a marketable book.

I have quit things before, though—a book, short stories—but it’s funny how certain characters you’ve created start cropping up in your thoughts and won’t leave you alone; you just have to return to them.

I was lucky enough to win the Frome Short Story Competition last year.

But that story didn’t just happen. I wrote it, and my husband said it didn’t work, confirming what I thought too. I knew there was a grain of something special in the story, though, so a few months later, I went back to it. I rewrote it a few times then one night read it again and came up with the last line in one of those Eureka moments.

Quitting isn’t always the end of something. You might put the character you created into another story. If you have really strong characters they don’t just die.

Your husband reads your drafts. What’s that like? What happens if he doesn’t like your writing? What happens if he does?

I know loads of people say it’s a bad idea to let your family read your work, but for me, it’s a great starting point. My husband, Mike, is honest about my work and is brave enough to say when something’s rubbish. He’s liked The Maid’s Room from the beginning, and although it’s taken an editor to really shape it, he’s given me useful advice on dialogue, chronology, and humour.

It’s nail-biting when he’s reading something new. I want to magnetise my reader, draw them in, and hit them where it hurts, so when my husband, says, ‘I don’t think it really works,’ I haven’t done my job.

I do feel a bit grumpy afterwards, I must admit. But then the flame of the idea takes hold again, and I end up recreating it.

When Mike likes something, I feel pleased. It feels as if the work is complete in some way.

I read that you love Trainspotting (oh, god, me too!) and love writing that is in dialect. For those that don’t know, Trainspotting is by Irvine Welsh and written mostly how Scottish folks sound. Here’s an example: 

“People think it’s all about misery and desperation and death and all that shite, which is not to be ignored, but what they forget is the pleasure of it. Otherwise we wouldn’t do it. After all, we’re not fucking stupid. At least, we’re not that fucking stupid.” 

I’m also in the middle of reviewing a book written entirely in Black English and love the language. But, in the advice you received from an editor about writing, authors shouldn’t do dialect to such a large extent. Any opinions on why editors feel that way? What makes dialect so magical?

I am a big fan of dialect in fiction. It probably has something to do with the fact that I adore hearing the way that people speak, the nuances of their language, the unconscious repetitions. I particularly love the way kids jumble words too—aromatic rice becomes ‘romantic rice’, that type of thing. I think dialect helps you get into a character and imagine their voice in your head. It works particularly well in short stories.

In The Maid’s Room, some of my characters speak Tagalog. Having them think in broken English didn’t work because they would be thinking in their mother tongue. It was an error to write them that way.

Some early readers loved this; most hated it. When a literary agent took the trouble to explain how this type of language kept her at a distance from the characters, I sat up and listened. The characters still have quirks to the way they speak, and certain phrases they use, so even though they now think fluently, they each still have a unique voice.

What do you personally get out of maintaining a blog about writing?

Sometimes writing a post helps solidify something in my mind like my recent post about How to Start Writing a Novel.

Do you start with a plot or a character, for instance? I came to the conclusion that it’s a bit of both.

I love hearing opinions and ideas from other writers. Through my blog, I’ve connected with lots of other writers, who seem to be at a similar stage to me—having agent interest, but still holding out for representation.

It’s so encouraging when other writers get representation, a publishing deal, or decide to go it alone and self-publish. It’s inspirational.

Writing a blog helps me to stay positive. And of course, it’s writing, which I love doing in most forms, from freelance journalism to fiction.

For more information about Fiona Mitchell’s work, visit her blog!

Meet the Writer: Barb Taub

Meet the Writer: Barb Taub

Barb TaubI’m very excited to have Barb Taub, a writer and blogger, stop by Grab the Lapels today for a “Meet the Writer” feature. I’ve been following Barb’s blog all summer, reading how “Life Begins When the Kids Leave Home and the Dog Dies,” the top ten reasons to not have kids from a serial kid producer, and Barb’s summer work/vacation in Europe that involves a lot of chaos–death in Paris, and torturing foreign drivers, for example.

What is your writing process like? Which do you favor, starting or revising?

I’m a plotter wannabe. Before I start any new project, I draw up character sheets, take the characters on practice outings, and make an outline. Then I start writing and all of that just floats off into the ether, never to surface again. Yup. I’m a total pantser. Once I’ve got most of a first draft, I like to work with one or perhaps two trusted critique partners, exchanging chapters and revising as I go. Then (and only because I’m incredibly lucky enough to have a publisher with extremely gifted editors) I send it off to Hartwood Publishing, and work with their editorial staff to do the final revise and polish. I might send shorter works and novellas to a round of beta readers before submitting to the publisher. When it comes to revising, the only way I can strike the superfluous passages (the bane of pantsers) is to very soothingly assure the deleted bits that I’m going to put them in a wonderful, safe little file (called Dead Kittens) so I can use them in my next book, but I still love them very, very much. Then I kill the little darlings and never look back.

If you could change places for a day with any one of your characters, who would it be, and why? 

You couldn’t pay me to be one of my characters. I make their lives a living hell, and if I was one of my poor abused characters…one of them might be me. The revenge potential is staggering. But if I could visit with one character, it would be dont_touch3_600x960Lette’s mom from Don’t Touch. (Lette has a little problem where anything her fingers touch is turned into something else. Every day it’s a different thing, from bunnies to bubbles to bombs, and everything in between.) I like to think Lette’s mom would invite me to her house for dinner—she makes a mean pot roast—and we’d commiserate with each other about our lack of grandchildren. In the face of the completely impossible, her mom is just so normal and practical. When Lette complains that she can’t ever touch a lover because her touch will turn them into something different each day, Mom replies,

“First of all, you can touch anything you want. I read that there are more nerve endings in the lips than in the fingertips.” She pursed her own lips. “And actually, more in the clitoris than either of them.”

Why did you start a blog? 

This one is easy. The absolutely amazing miracle-working editor/mentor Mary Rosenblum, the literary midwife at New Writers Interface, told me I had to get rid of the said-tags in my first book, and I had to start a blog. (I bitched, as I recall, about both. Then I bitched about her being right about both…)

In what ways has academia shaped your writing? 

My parents sent us to a Catholic grammar school where the nuns had a fixation with diagramming sentences. In fifth grade, Sister Mary Latin took over and we dissected every possible speech part. For punishment of any student infraction from Original Sin to breathing on days ending in “Y”, she assigned Latin verb conjugation. Sadly, the only Latin I remember is canis meus id comedit (the dog ate it). I probably couldn’t diagram a sentence if the fate of the universe hung in the balance.  But the framework of how language is put together has stayed with me. During my first year at the University of Chicago, I met a passionate young professor named Frank Kinahan. He was teaching some required first year course I was assigned to, but he managed to work in a few lectures on his specialty, the Anglo Irish Literary Renaissance. I was absolutely hooked, and took every class he offered over the next few years. Sadly, he died tragically young, or I’m sure he would have inspired a generation of writers with his appreciation for the poetry and history of Irish mythology. Certainly he inspired me to become a writer.Tales_from_Null_City-Barb_Taub-1563x2500

What was your least favorite class at any point in your education? Why? 

Calculus, my first year at university. It was taught by a Mr. Ng, who coupled a lack of vowels in his name with a lack, as far as I could tell, of any knowledge of English in any form. I only passed—barely—by calling my mother to give her the gist of each assigned homework problem. She would explain it to my engineer father, who would explain the answer. She would then translate from engineer-speak to English-lit major, and we’d be on to the next problem. Nobody involved in this process—with the possible exception of Mr. Ng, who remained incomprehensible—could speak of it again without shuddering. Finally, I met a math professor who assured me, “There’s no such thing as calculus in the real world.” Words for English majors to live by.

In what ways has life outside of academia shaped your writing? 

I was supposed to be a writer, ended up a journalist, and did have a humor column that ran in local and some national newspapers back in the nineties. But a little difficulty (food, shelter, and college degrees for four offspring) steered me over to the Dark Side and a career in Human Resources. A lucky foreign acquisition of our company accompanied by an astonishingly generous golden handshake set me free just as Child #4 was finishing high school. In fabulous coincidence, my husband was offered a position at a university in England, friends rented us one tower of their medieval castle, and all of a sudden, I was a writer. I just had to write something.

What are your current writing projects? 

I’ve got a new book, Round Trip Fare, coming out in early 2016, plus print reissues of the earlier books in the series. I’m now working on the fifth (and final) Null City story, an urban fantasy where I’ll get my last shot at torturing all my favorite characters. Can’t wait!

barb_taub_null_city_500x800-1Are there aspects of your writing that readers might find challenging to them?

I suppose that would depend on the reader. The heat level isn’t at the erotic-romance sizzle, but each story has a strong romantic thread, plus I try to balance humor and snark. Maya Angelou said, “If there’s a book that you want to read, but it hasn’t been written yet, then you must write it.” So I try to think of myself as one of my readers, and write the book I want to read. But at the end of the day, I think Chuck Wendig put it best on his terribleminds blog:

What matters is, knowing that your time on this Hurtling Space Sphere is limited, you should make an effort to live your life — and your art — the way you damn well want to. Do you really want someone to chisel the words MADE MEDIOCRE ART SHE DIDN’T MUCH LIKE BECAUSE SHE THOUGHT THAT’S WHAT SOMEONE ELSE WANTED HER TO DO on your gravestone?”

Meet the Writer: Problems With Infinity


 I am so pleased to have Sarah, creator of the blog Problems With Infinity, at Grab the Lapels. Sarah is a web comic and story teller who invites you into her life to read “tales of a delusional maniac.” Please be sure to follow Sarah’s blog to get great content about children watching scary movies, stupid buttons, crawling out of windows to escape parties, and becoming a dinosaur!




Why did you start a blog?

Normally I’m a pretty reserved person. A lot of people who have met me probably don’t know the real me that well. I kind of have a copycat personality until I know someone well enough, and only then will I let them know how weird I really am!

This past year has been a hard year for me, and I hit my personal rock bottom. At the time I had also been reading a lot of memoir style books and thought, ‘Hey I’m just as fucked up as these writers, why can’t the world know about how fucked up I am?’

So I started my blog, Problems With Infinity, to kind of liberate myself from being so afraid to let people in. I’ve been overjoyed at the amount of positive feedback I’ve received; it’s been really wonderful.

What was the first comic you ever created about?

I was pretty young, maybe 5 or 6, and there was this Garfield comic game my aunt had on her computer. I made a couple of comics that I thought were the greatest things ever created. When I showed them to my family they all laughed so hard; I was very proud.

Later I found out that they had been cracking up because of how many words I misspelled! Thank god I have spellcheck now.

What did you want to be when you grew up, and does this choice influence your writing today?

Hmm, I never really wanted to be something for a long period of time. I mean of course there was the bird phase, the songwriter phase, the queen of everything phase…For a while I wanted to be the god of the wind, and at some other point I wanted to be the kind of vet that could bring pets back from the dead…(I should not have been allowed to watch Pet Sematary).

I’m still not quite sure what I want to be when I grow up, but I’d like to think it will be something related to sloths or spider monkeys. Or else, maybe I could start a goat sanctuary and write comics about my goats… you know, the typical dream job.

I think all of that stuff influences my writing in some way, maybe? Not sure…

What happens when you’re not happy with your writing/drawings?

I get really excited about my writing and drawings in the beginning, but once I’ve worked on them for a while I start to suspect they might be terrible.

I tend to get really depressed and pitiful and basically beg my boyfriend to let me know that they are funny and okay to post. Once I post them and get some positive feedback, I recover enough to start the process again.  It’s quite pathetic really, but that’s honestly how it goes with me.

How do your friends and family respond to your writing?

I haven’t told many people about it, because I worry it will affect what I can confidently post about. But most of the people I’ve told have been very supportive, and that is pretty amazing considering when I decide to do something I get kind of obsessed with it. Which is really unfortunate if you happen to be someone I’m close to.

Are you reading anything right now? 

Most recently I finished the Liveship Traders Trilogy by Robin Hobb, which was amazing. And tonight I’m planning on re-reading Alison Bechdel’s Fun Home: A Family Tragicomic for inspiration.

Are you writing or drawing anything right now?

I just finished up writing a piece about dressing up in weird costumes as a kid and the fallout from that.

I’ll probably start drawing pictures for it at the coffee shop on Monday, and then get depressed about it all on Tuesday. I’ll seek all types of reassurance on Wednesday, and post it courageously on Thursday. On Friday I’ll be in a state of drunken regret, but by Saturday I’ll be pretty sure I’m awesome and I’ll start on my next piece.