Sunday, June 24, 2012

The Elusive Muse

Eight Places to Find Inspiration When Your Mind Goes Blank

The Inspiration of Saint Matthew (1602) by Caravaggio
More often than not, you start writing a novel because you’ve had an idea brewing for a long time. For months or years, strangers full of problems and interesting situations visit you at all hours of the day and night. Putting them down on paper is the next logical step. At this point “writer’s block” is not a part of your lexicon. But once you’ve completed your first novel (or several drafts of it) and maybe penned down a second one (with its own tail of drafts) you may start running out of ink. Particularly if you’ve been unsuccessful at finding representation or a contract. Perhaps you’ve been lucky enough to sell your work and must produce something new—quickly. How do you go about finding a fresh new idea that engages you enough to invest the time and effort a novel demands? Where is your muse when you need her?

Here are the eight places where I’ve found inspiration when confronted with this dilemma (and some of them are currently helping with my third novel):

1. Family stories

I have yet to meet a family where there are no secrets or conflict. I wrote an entire novel inspired by my mom’s stories growing up in South America in the fifties/early sixties. The perfect setting for my novel came from my dad’s hometown and the music and traditions he loved. Like Stephanie said recently in her Bradbury Chronicles post, writers are natural observers and have an innate curiosity in others people’s lives (please don’t call me a gossiper! I’m just doing research!) I think this curiosity translates to others because, very often, people confide in me their problems with their families and spouses. I happily lend an ear and store this information for future use in my fiction.

2. Talk shows

I know. You’re smirking and rolling your eyes as you read this. But don’t be so quick to brand all TV shows as trash. That apparently trivial and sensationalistic venue sometimes offers hidden jewels for writers. Just recently, the solution for a writing dilemma came to me through my favorite Spanish talk show Quien Tiene la Razon (Who is Right?), a show hosted by Dr. Nancy Alvarez, a charming Dominican psychologist and sexologist who helps people fix their marriages and family feuds with well thought-out advice and humor.

3. Cop stories

Being married to a cop, I have a fresh supply of dramatic stories and conflict. I also have a free advisor when it comes to realistic action scenes, police procedures and trials. My advice? Befriend a cop or detective and invite him for dinner and drinks!

4. Dreams

We are fascinated by our dreams. Surely everyone has been intrigued by a dream at some point and even wished it were real. The opposite is true, too. Sometimes waking up from a nightmare is a relief. I don’t know about the rest of you, but many times I’ve dreamt of strangers in intriguing situations (or myself in an alternative life) and I’m frustrated when I wake up. I want to know what happens next! Sometimes it’s just a scene or an image. Other times it’s a sequence of scenes. Ever experienced this? Well, I recommend you write them down as quickly as possible (dreams are more elusive than muses and fade away pretty quickly!) Don’t be surprised, though, if when reading these ideas years later, you don’t remember what was so compelling about that dream in the first place. However, you never know when a seed may germinate.

5. Other works of fiction

Your favorite works of literature can inspire you. (“I’d love to write a story like that!”) The fiction that you despise can also help you. (“That book sucked. If it was up to me, I would change this and that.”) The more you think about ways to fix a book, the more it becomes independent from its original source and before you know it, voila! You’ve created a new story. Song lyrics (especially the ones that tell a story) can also be stimulating. When uninspired, look for books and films of genres you enjoy for inspiration. How would you make that story better?

6. Earlier ideas

Recycling is not limited to plastic and paper. All the darlings you’ve killed on previous novels, all the images and bits of information (ok, you can call it gossip) you’ve collected throughout the years can come in handy when you need an idea. Perhaps you had a great concept years ago, but you hadn’t developed the skills to execute it properly. Maybe the time has come to tell that story and it’s just waiting for you to find it.

7. History

History is filled with extraordinary people and dramatic events. If you’re fond of historical fiction, I recommend you to pick a favorite setting and/or time in history and read about it as much as you can. You may be able to find an obscure yet fascinating fact that may get your idea started. This is exactly how I found inspiration for my second novel. I knew I wanted to set it on the Galapagos Islands (I’m from Ecuador and have always been fascinated with the mysteries surrounding the islands). I read as much as I could about the place until I came across a little-known historical fact (or fabrication?) From that tiny bit of information (one paragraph to be precise), an entire plot was born.

8. Fantasies

Do you ever wonder what would have happened if you had studied at a different university, accepted another job or never broken up with your high school sweetheart? What if you had gathered the courage to study abroad? Or what if, like Stephanie proposed in her post, a rash action or failure in your past had produced terrible consequences? Fantasies don’t necessary mean that you must be unhappy with your current life. They can just be mental exercises to get you started, so don’t feel guilty or bad about exploring the “what ifs” in your own life.

What do you do when you run out of steam? Can you share your favorite sources of inspiration?

Sunday, June 17, 2012

“It all really happened”: Romans à clef and fact-based tales

It may sound contradictory but readers demand two things from their reading material: to be taken away from their harsh realities and to be exposed to things that seem realistic and identifiable to them.  Whether it is an autobiographical novel, historical fiction or roman á clef writers like to go for fact-based plots. But does an author have the right to hoax the public into believing that fictional accounts actually happened? Or to exaggerate literary license to smear public figures and distort reality?

Writers are advised to stick to what they know, to write about their environment and to base their characters on real people.  But what are the limits when it comes to dealing with historical facts or depicting well-known public figures and notorious crimes?  The reader may have a field day trying to guess who is who in a roman à clef (literally “a novel with clues”) but the writer could be asking for a law suit.

Part of historical fiction’s charm is that its characters actually existed and went through the joys and ordeals portrayed in the novel. When Robert Graves tackled the subject of Imperial Rome in I Claudius, he adhered to the truth by following the lead of classical historians like Tacitus and Suetonius. Precisely what the producers of HBO’s “Rome” chose not to do, so they could have a free hand reinventing Roman history.  Lucky for them no emperor was around to sue them.

On a smaller scale, Philippa Gregory does the same in her so-called historical novels, yet the licenses she takes in The Other Boleyn Girl makes it more fictional than factual as any historians could easily prove. The peak of historical distortion appears in works like Abraham Lincoln, Vampire Hunter in which the future president´s mother is slain by a blood-sucking creature aided by plantation owners. So what is Honest Abe to do but chase after vampires, becoming an abolitionist in the process?  Should the real Lincoln, a revered historical figure, be subject to such disrespect?

The autobiographical novel is another misleading genre. Unlike a memoir, autobiographical fiction will only touch the most transcendental aspects of the protagonist´s life, will still have a central conflict that must be solved at the end, and does not have to be entirely based on fact. Louisa May Alcott modeled The March Family after her own family but in real life she never married a German school teacher. Ernest Hemingway was in the Italian Army during the Great War and had an affair with a nurse, but he didn´t get her pregnant and run off with her to Switzerland as his alter ego Fredrik Henry does in A Farewell to Arms.

When Nancy Mitford published The Pursuit of Love in 1945, her sister phoned her and said: “You have no imagination so you must be having an affair with a Frenchman.” Indeed, Nancy was having a romance that would last until her death with Colonel Gaston Palewski, De Gaulle´s aid in London. She also turned Palewski into a literary character in her novels, the grand Fabrice de Sauveterre. Nancy Mitford’s books were loved in England, since most of her characters were inspired by real members of the British high society, including her own relatives who are the models for the delightfully dysfunctional Radletts. But in real-life, the Mitford were darker and more dysfunctional than the author would tell us.
Gaston Palewski, or "The Colonel" as Nancy Mitford called him.

The roman à clef (was invented by Mademoiselle de Scudery, one of the earliest novelists in history and was part of social circle centered at La Marquise de Rambouillet´s salon. The people that gathered at the Hotel de Rambouillet included writers, philosophers and even royalty. De Scudery wanted to write about their affairs, but in the days of the Sun King, offending royalty or aristocracy meant a ticket to La Bastille. Therefore, in her novels, Mademoiselle turned important acquaintances into characters of Greek mythology.

Madeleine de Scudery

That  was the birth of he Roman à clef, a novel that deals with real events  but changes characters’ names  in order to protect the innocent, the guilty and, foremost, the writer.  After all William Randolph Hearts did threaten Orson Welles with a libel suit after recognizing himself in “Citizen Kane”, Welles opus magna and film à clef. When Lauren Weisberger published The Devil Wears Prada, everybody assumed it was an autobiographical account of her days in Vogue, and the heroine´s ruthless boss Miranda Priestly was obviously based on Anna Wintour, Vogue´s editor-in-chief.

Despite the author´s denials, everybody in the designing world (and the media) rallied in defense of the real “dragon lady.” The novel got  mean critics from the Times Book Review that bordered in ad hominem reproaches targeting the author; Conde Nast publications did not bother to review the book, and designers  refused  to appear in the film afraid it would upset Wintour (who did show up at the premiere …wearing Prada!) Writing about real people is a dangerous affair.

Another hook for reality lovers is a story “straight from the headlines,” one that is based on a recent scandal or crime. In 1827, Antoine Berthet shot Madame Michoud, his former employee, at a Grenoble church. Bethet blamed Madame Michoud, who had been his mistress, for interfering with his romance with Mademoiselle de Cordon, daughter of his new employer. Berthet was convicted of murder and guillotined. Stendhal would take this red chronicle tidbit and turned it into his masterpiece Le Rouge et le Noir.

Ewan McGregor an Rachel Weisz in the TV adaptation of Le Rouge et Le Noir.

Crime stories are excellent basis for stories to please a public hungry for sensationalism. Patrick Hamilton based his play “Rope” on the Leopold-Loeb murders; Norman Mailer used Gary Gilmore’s execution for his The Executioners’ Song and the homicide of Jonny Stompanato, perpetrated by Lana Turner´s daughter motivated Harold Robbins to write Where Love Has Gone.

Before my bodice-ripper years, I was hooked on Harold Robbins’ romans a clef.  Next to Jacqueline Susann, he was the most prolific chronicler of scandals involving global jet set members and Hollywood stars. It was incredible fun to guess who was behind his characters.  Soon I knew that Nora in Where Love Has Gone was Lana Turner; Jonas Cord in The Carpetbaggers was Howard Hughes, Dax in The Adventurers was inspired by Dominican playboy Porfirio Rubirosa and The Lonely Lady was a thinly disguised portrait of Jacqueline Susann.

Lana Turner, her daughter Cheryl, and Stompanato

Prior to Jackie Collins, Jacqueline Susann was the expert in the business of Hollywood romans a clef. So good was she at turning movie stars into fictional characters that sometimes not only the readers were confused. In Once is not Enough, Susann tells the tragic story behind a reclusive Hollywood diva named Karla. After her retirement, the Polish actress just “vants to be alone”, but several lovers of either sex are bent in discovering her secrets. One of those secrets is the mentally-challenged daughter she keeps hidden in London.

A couple for years after the novel hit the bestseller’s list, a Swedish magazine leaked the news that they had discovered that Greta Garbo had a hidden daughter named Liv Gustaffson.  The rumor soon died out because, aside from wishful thinking, there were no facts supporting their claim. Greta Garbo, unlike her fictional clone, never had a child, and the disturbed daughter was a reflection of Susann’s own autistic son that she always kept away from the public eye.

Sometimes authors purposely play with their readers. In 1967, Lady Joan Lindsay published Picnic at Hanging Rock the enigmatic story of the vanishing of three schoolgirls in the Australian Outback. Following her publisher´s advice, and to boost the suspense, Lindsay hacked off the last chapter where the mystery was explained.

The novel became an instant hit in Australia and abroad, originating a fandom that despaired over finding solutions to the great enigma of what really happened at that St. Valentine picnic.   Readers believed the novel was based on actual facts. After Lady Joan´s passing the end chapter was published, but people preferred to continue on conjecturing and I have read books (and Internet sites) on UFO’s abductions where the events at Hanging Rock are described as factual.

Humans love to find supernatural solutions to the unexplained. Even in this skeptical age there is nothing as titillating as the idea of real mysteries dressed as fiction. The most terrifying aspect behind “The Blair Witch Project” was its reality show aura, the concept that it was a real project about a real dangerous sorceress. Dan Brown’s novels might, according to its followers, debunked “ancient myths”, but he has also created new legends. I know many Dan Brown fans who truly believe in the existence of The Illuminati and The Priory of Zion or that Jesus fathered a daughter named Sara.

How legitimate is to present fiction as facts? Is there a limit for literary or historical licenses when it comes to real people? How autobiographical are your novels? Do you include real characters and historical events in your books? How do you deal with them?

Monday, June 11, 2012

The Bradbury Chronicles

On June 6, 2012, the writing world suffered a loss: Ray Bradbury died. This was not exactly a tragedy — the man was ninety-one, after all — but many of us felt a pang nonetheless, because Bradbury was such a writer’s writer: He was a writer other writers loved. And he had a lot to say on the craft. To honor him, I’m going to cobble together some of his writing wisdom here for you, along with my thoughts. (The italicized quotes are from Bradbury's Zen and the Art of Writing.)

I know you've heard it a thousand times before. But it's true — hard work pays off. If you want to be good, you have to practice, practice, practice. If you don't love something, then don't do it. 

There's a myth out there that you're either born with the Writing Gene or not. As Bradbury indicates here, this is simply not true. While there are personality traits that lend themselves to the writing lifestyle (more on this below), good writers are made, not born. Behind every bit of beautiful prose is a sweating author. This is a good news/bad news scenario: the good news is that the art is accessible to anyone who’s willing to put in the sweat equity. The bad news is that you are not an exception, and you will have to work just as hard as everyone else.

To the question “what does writing teach us?” Bradbury answers: First and foremost, it reminds us that we are alive and that it is a gift and a privilege, not a right. We must earn life once it has been awarded us. Life asks for rewards back because it has favored us with animation. So while our art cannot, as we wish it could, save from wars, privation, envy, greed, old age, or death, it can revitalize us amidst it all.

The highly autobiographical "Dandelion Wine"
I read Bradbury’s Dandelion Wine to my son last year, and it was clear that Bradbury had some mortality issues — a common affliction for writers. Writing, for him, clearly was a comfort in this way: perhaps not an attempt to achieve immortality, precisely; but a way to milk every drop out of life he could, by living it and then reflecting on it.

How long has it been since you wrote a story where your real love or your real hatred somehow got onto the paper? When was the last time you dared release a cherished prejudice so it slammed the page like a lightning bolt? What are the best things and the worst things in your life and when are you going to get around to whispering or shouting them?

Print that out and tape it to your computer monitor. Read it every day. Act on it.

Another story about me and my dog took more than fifty years to surface. In "Bless Me, Father, for I Have Sinned," I went back in time to relive the beating I had given my dog when I was twelve, and for which I had never forgiven myself. I wrote the story to at last examine that cruel, sad boy and put his ghost, and the ghost of my much-loved dog, to rest forever.

What a writing prompt. Try it now: Recall some personal failure, something for which you've never forgiven yourself, and write it down. Make it a story. What was that person-who-was-you, but whom you hardly recognize for the appalling way she behaved, thinking?

Does this Muse look hungry to you?

It is my contention that in order to Keep a Muse you must first offer food.  ... Through a lifetime, by ingesting food and water, we build cells, we grow, we become larger and more substantial. That which was not, is. The process is undetectable. It can be viewed only at intervals along the way. We know it is happening, but we don't know quite how or why. Similarly, in a lifetime, we stuff ourselves with sounds, sights, smells, tastes, and textures of people, animals, landscapes, events, large and small. We stuff ourselves with these impressions and experiences and our reaction to them. Into our subconscious go not only factual data but reactive data, our movement toward or away from the sensed events. These are the stuffs, the foods, on which The Muse grows. This is the storehouse, the file, to which we must return every waking hour to check reality against memory, and in sleep to check memory against memory, which means ghost against ghost, in order to exorcise them, if necessary.

This fits my view that the curious person, the observant person, the self-aware person, is a natural writer. These are the personality traits I referred to above: Natural writers are observers: of others, of themselves, of the world. Writers find everything a little bit quirky, and feel compelled to examine those quirks a bit more closely. When we do this, we feed the muse. 

Another quote from Bradbury's, along those lines: We are cups, constantly and quietly being filled. The trick is, knowing how to tip ourselves over and let the beautiful stuff out.

The Martian Chronicles
Bradbury on the merits of speculative fiction: The children guessed, if they did not whisper it, that all science fiction is an attempt to solve problems by pretending to look the other way. ... There will always be problems. Thank God for that. And solutions. Thank God for that. And tomorrow mornings in which to seek them. Praise Allah and fill the libraries and art galleries of the world with Martians, elves, goblins, astronauts, and librarians and teachers on Alpha Centauri who are busy telling kids not to read science fiction or fantasy: "It'll turn your brains to mush!" 
And then from the halls of my Museum of Robots, in the long dusk, let Plato have the last word from the midst of his electro-machine-computerized Republic: 
"Go, children. Run and read. Read and run. Show and tell. Spin another pyramid on its nose. Turn another world upside down. Knock the soot off my brain. Repaint the Sistine Chapel inside my skull. Laugh and think. Dream and run and build." 
"Run boys! Run, girls! Run!" 
And with such good advice, the kids will run. And the Republic will be saved.

When I was a child, sci-fi and fantasy were still considered not-real-fiction, something kids and slightly-embarrassed adults read. A few books snuck into the classroom, if their authors had achieved enough gravitas: Orwell's Animal Farm and 1984, for example. 

Slowly, slowly, speculative fiction titles are finding their way onto assigned-reading lists: Lois Lowry's The Giver is standard, for example, as is L'Engle's A Wrinkle in Time. My daughter was assigned Asimov's I, Robot, and her classmates were assigned Bradbury's own Fahrenheit 451. They key seems to be "old." If a book has stuck around for long enough, it attains "real book" status and teachers will assign it.

But where, I ask you, is Harry Potter? Why is The Hunger Games not assigned reading? How about Margaret Atwood's The Handmaid's Tale, a cautionary dystopian at least as relevant as anything Orwell wrote? Speculative fiction is not only much more fun to read than high-lit (in many cases, anyway), it explores Big Themes with more gusto, and in a clearer way, than often overly-subtle literary fiction. Especially for young people, speculative fiction should occupy a good percentage of their shelf space and their reading time: that's how we'll raise enthusiastic readers and, dare I say, better thinkers.

I will let Bradbury have the last word:

Sunday, June 3, 2012

The Story of a Navajo Code Talker: Interview with Nonfiction Author Judy Avila

The Sisterhood would like to welcome Judy Avila, author of 
Code Talker: The first and only memoir by one of the original Navajo code talkers of WWII.

Judy Avila grew up in New York and New Hampshire, before graduating from Duke University in North Carolina. After Duke, she moved to New Mexico and wandered through a number of careers: artist, social worker, air traffic controller, computer consultant. Then she discovered writing, and was hooked. She quit working for someone else, lived off her savings, and threw herself at her writing. She has written four unpublished novels and Code Talker: The first and only memoir by one of the original Navajo code talkers of WWII, which is published by Berkley/Caliber (a division of Penguin). Judy is thrilled with the glowing reviews of Code Talker. The memoir has maintained a first-percentile rating on Amazon and bestseller status at Costco.

Her husband, Jim, died in 2004. Judy now lives in a cottage among the evergreens near Albuquerque with her two dogs, Blue and Red. New Mexico is a land of rich, diverse cultures. It is the perfect retreat for a writer.

  • How did you get started in the writing industry? Was it something you always wanted to do or did it come later in life?

I have always been a voracious reader, but I viewed writers as Gods and Goddesses, knowing I was not one of them. However, I always enjoyed writing assignments at work. (I worked as a computer consultant.) Then once, when I was in my late forties, I sat down at my home computer and wrote about an issue that was upsetting me. I dashed off 50 pages without stopping and thought, “Wow!  Maybe I can do this.” 

  • Which do you find more challenging -- writing fiction or nonfiction?
I can’t make a clean call on that one. Both are challenging, but in different ways.
Non-fiction challenges because it must hold the readers’ interest without straying from the truth.  Tension and a thread of continuity must be developed and maintained without breaking the veracity of the narrative.  Also, in the case of “Code Talker” I felt personal pressure to present Chester as the fine man he is, but not to be gushy or overdone.
Fiction is challenging because – of course – it must all come from the writer’s imagination. And some days my imagination goes on strike.  In writing fiction I feel more personally accountable for its value or lack thereof, since it all comes out of my head. The characters, their passions, and the dilemmas they face must be manufactured – an often daunting task.

  • When it comes to Chester Nez's memoir, what prompted you to take on such a story? 
I had the extreme good luck to meet Chester through a friend.  Once I heard a small portion of his story, I was hooked.  Although I had never before written non-fiction, I had to write his book. The story was compelling from all angles – the history, the many things I learned about Navajo culture, and the mystery of the code.

  • In the book you state that Chester Nez is the only surviving Code Talker of the original twenty-nine. Articles in the past year or two claim that seventy Code Talkers are still alive today. Could you clarify what makes Chester Nez’s position in the Code Talkers different from others still alive today?
The original 29 Navajo code talkers were the men who first volunteered for the Marines’ “secret project.”  They developed the doubly-encrypted code based on English and Navajo.  They proved to the Marines that the code would work, then took it into battle in the Pacific Arena of WWII. They are special because they were the pioneers of this code that saved our butts in the Pacific. The code developed by those 29 men (or 32 men in Chester’s opinion as expressed in the book) was the only code in modern warfare never to be broken.

The approximately 400 code talkers who followed in the footsteps of the original 29 learned the code and then enhanced it, making it more complex. Of those men, between 40 and 70 are thought to be alive today.

  • Is this why you choose Chester Nez’s story? During your writing of his memoir was there something in particular that either surprised you or really intrigued you concerning either Nez’s story or Code Talkers in general?
I think I would have been compelled to tell Chester’s story whether or not he had been an original code talker. After meeting him, I couldn’t get his story or his voice out of my head!
Chester always shrugs off the slights he endures at the hands of whites. His equanimity is both surprising and inspiring. His attitude has taught me a lot.

Chester and Judy

  • When it comes to writing someone else’s memoir, are there times when it’s challenging to either collect the information or put it on the page in a great storytelling fashion?
I felt a tremendous sense of responsibility to Chester and to his Navajo people.  I struggled to represent him accurately as a man, and to represent his culture accurately.  Expressing someone else’s most private thoughts is a unique challenge. Chester and I reviewed every paragraph of the memoir together, probably four or five times.   

  • Can you tell us a little bit about your road to getting published? What are some roadblocks you've encountered along the way?
Initially, I tried unsuccessfully to find an agent to represent Chester and me.  Then, a university press said they were interested in publishing “Code Talker.”  After I waded through their review process for a year, they informed me that publication was unlikely.  That was devastating! 

At that time, the book was a biography of Chester. But Chester is still alive, and I realized that our book would have more clout if it were a memoir. We rewrote it as a memoir. After that, it took only two days to get an agent. He sold the memoir to Penguin in four days for a six-figure advance.  In the space of less than a month I traveled through abject misery to elation!!!

  • Do you believe you've developed a "thick skin" from the process?
I have learned a lot about the publishing industry along the way, and I realize that even though I consider something to be fascinating, not everyone will agree. I try to be brave, but find I am still pathetically thin-skinned.  I take every criticism (good or bad) to heart.

  • You've written four novels. Is there one you're particularly partial to, perhaps one you would consider your favorite?
None of the four is published.  My favorite is “Love, Murder and Mama’s Tortillas.”  It’s the story of America Davila, who graduates from Columbia thinking she has escaped the clutches of her over-protective Hispanic family. Then 98-pound Mama pulls her back to New Mexico by pretending to be sick.

  • When it comes to writing fiction, what inspires you to choose the characters and settings you use in your novels? Do you go through a certain process before sitting down and writing the story (for instance, do you create an outline, do initial research, interviews of any kind, etc.)?
In general, I am first attracted to a hypothetical situation that involves a dilemma and invokes characters who are embroiled in that dilemma.  One I’m tossing around in my head now is an elderly lady who realizes she is losing her ability to think clearly.  She is responsible for caring for her granddaughter, and the two of them get into a lot of scrapes because of her challenged faculties.

I never create an outline before beginning a novel, but I have occasionally created one when I’m already deeply involved in the story. That helps to keep all of the complexities sorted out.

  • Do you have any tips for writers trying to break into nonfiction (or fiction) that you believe are important for them to know?
Code Talker
by Chester Nez with
Judith Avila
The creative process is different for everyone, but here’s what works for me.  My non-fiction work, “Code Talker,” is a subject that completely fascinates me. That all-consuming interest is essential. I was so enthused about my topic that others caught my enthusiasm.

In writing fiction, I must first know my characters inside and out. I live with them in my head for at least a few months before beginning to write their story. After that, large sections of the story pour out as though the characters are telling me the events.  Of course, I still hit snags that I have to plow through, but really knowing my characters expedites a lot of the process.

The most important thing, however, is to never, never, never give up.  If you persevere, you will succeed.

  • If a writer who is interested in writing both fiction and nonfiction had to choose between which one to work with, which would you encourage them to pursue and why?
From my own experience (and from extensive reading I’ve done on the topic), I believe that non-fiction is a much easier sell than fiction.  For a writer who is interested in publication, I suggest non-fiction.  However, any type of writing can be cathartic.  If it’s the catharsis you want, and if publication is not an immediate issue, then write what speaks to you, whether it’s fiction or non-fiction.

  • If you could give one final word of advice to many of the aspiring writers out there, what would it be?
Never, never, never give up.  Listen to criticism, evaluate it, implement changes when warranted. But NEVER give up.

Thank you, Judy, for your wonderful insight into the world of Code Talkers and getting published. Feel free to visit her author's website at