World-changing Stories

“I write to find out what I’m thinking. I write to find out who I am.
I write to understand things.”

“The world changed for me through the power of storytelling.”

“Are our stories only little products of entertainment to escape reality — or
are they calls to action?”
Julia Alvarez

The “Big Read” — what a fabulous idea! All around the country, communities of people young and old join together to read the same book and to share their feelings and insights about it. This year’s choice was the tragic and inspiring novel, In the Time of the Butterflies, by Julia Alvarez. In her story, Julia captures the lives of the three Mirabel sisters — Minerva, Patria, and Maria Teresa — who fought oppression in the Dominican Republic of Trujillo and died on November 25, 1960 under mysterious circumstances.

Known as the “butterflies,” the three sisters have become a global symbol of heroic defiance and of the ongoing fight to end domestic violence against women. But until Julia told their story, few people outside of the Dominican Republic knew of their courage or their tragic end. Julia spent years researching their lives and shaping her tale, which began as a nonfiction account and ended up as a novel. She was aided by the memories and determination of Dede, the sole surviving sister in the family, who kept telling her, “Write it down, Julia. Write it down!”

And write she did — and gave the Mirabel sisters’ story to the world. Julia talked about how Butterflies came to be in a lively Skype interview in our local library. She talked about researching the book, her decision to capture the character and personalities of the three sisters novelistically, and how she came to writing through family storytelling and reading.

But most of all, she talked about how “the life and the writing flow out of each other” — and how she came to realize the power of storytelling in the world. As she said so well: “Think about it. Think about the power of a story spreading across the world, mobilizing people to want to end violence against women”…”At some point as a writer, you have to ask yourself, ‘Am I just going to create these beautiful objects in the gated community of my imagination — or am I going to do something?’ That’s the power of story — to remind us that we’re all connected and that there’s a bigger world than the world of the self.” “One candle lights another. You read a book, you feel inspired, you do a little something. I have to believe that we can change things. It’s my debt to the Mirabel sisters.” Bravo, Julia! Write on!

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Thirty Days

“Thirty days and nights of literary abandon! No plot? No problem!”

As we head into November, I thought I’d give anyone who has been noodling around a novel project a heads up: National Novel Writing Month (also known as NaNoWriMo) is almost upon us. That’s right: November isn’t all voting, turkey, stuffing, and pumpkin pie. It’s also the month when tens of thousands of both authors and aspiring writers will take on the awesome challenge of writing 50,000 words of a new novel from November 1 until the deadline of 11:59 on November 30.

The goal of all this is to get people writing every day for thirty days and to keep them motivated enough to work their way through a rough draft. Now all this might sound a little crazy, but at least eight best sellers were launched as NaNoWriMo projects.

Among them: Water for Elephants by Sara Gruen, which spent a year on best-seller lists and was made into a movie; Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern, which began in November of 2004 and was published seven years later to wide acclaim; and Wool by Hugh Howey, a dystopian series which made a huge splash in the self-publishing industry and ultimately netted Hugh a contract with a major publisher.

So, if you’ve been longing to strengthen your novel-writing muscles, you might consider jumping on board the NaNoWriMo train before it leaves the station. If you decide to dive in, you can register on the project’s website before November 1st, check out its tools and tips, including “NaNo Prep.” You can also post profiles and information about your novel. Word counts are validated on the site at the end of the 30-day marathon — and if you meet the 50,000 word goal, you’ll receive “official” recognition for it.

The idea isn’t to compete with anyone or write the great American novel in a month: the focus is on completion, not perfection. The goal is to get a rough draft down on paper without self-editing — and then step back and see what you have (see Fast Drafting). NaNoWriMo also provides ongoing support, which we all know is hugely important.

To find tips on getting started, local places where participating writers are meeting, and other support, visit the nonprofit’s official website: Write on!

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Painted Moon

“If I Could Paint the Moon Black is a gripping and illuminating story from the first page, when Soviet cattle cars roll into Vaivara, a town in Estonia without cows. It is a story of childhood, but no ordinary childhood, a nine-year-old and her mother caught in the nowhere land between Hitler and Stalin. It is a childhood under occupation, a childhood in hiding and ultimately in flight to freedom. Imbi Peebo Truumees seems to have remembered everything, and Nancy Burke had the great sense to recognize a great storyteller and a great story the moment she encountered them. Burke has translated memory into memoir, giving it an unforgettable shape and form…”
Dr. James Goodman

What a wonderful review and what an exciting event! This evening, we celebrated the publication of my dear friend and writing buddy Nancy Burke’s beautiful book, If I Could Paint the Moon Black, at a festive book party hosted by the warm and wonderful Watchung Booksellers. With members of our writing critique group proudly looking on, Nancy and Imbi described their collaboration and the deep satisfaction that writing the book together gave them both.

For Imbi, who is now in her 80s, it was a chance to revisit her war-torn childhood and share her story of survival and triumph with both her family and the world. And for Nancy, helping Imbi tell her story offered the opportunity to shape a first-person account from a child’s point of view using the techniques of narrative fiction. The result is a memoir that reads like a novel — what a wonderful achievement!

As Imbi says so well, “This gives a small overview of the Second World War: You will see how people are struggling for freedom. We are so blessed in this country and we refugees really treasure the freedom we have here.” Nancy echoed Imbi’s hope for the book: “All over the world, people just want to live, to be free, and to enjoy their lives. I want people to relish their freedom, but to understand the impact war has on ordinary people.”

Having read some of the chapters in our critique group and seen them taking shape, it was exciting and gratifying to hold a copy of the newly minted book in my hands. Once again, I am reminded what a treasure a book is: Between its covers we enter hearts, minds, and worlds — not as strangers, but as voyagers.

To find out more about If I could Paint the World Black, visit: Bravo, Imbi! Bravo, Nancy — write on!

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Of Service

“Kind words can be short and easy to speak, but their echoes are truly endless.”
Mother Teresa

“There is no better exercise for your heart than reaching down and helping to lift someone up.”
Bernard Meltzer

One of the deeply satisfying gifts of creating karinwritesdangerously is finding out that my posts have inspired and encouraged someone in some way. It’s such a thrill when someone writes and let’s me know I’ve helped them. Writing is a joyous adventure, but it can also be lonely: That’s why supporting each other can make such a difference — and why using our gifts as writers to be of service can be so satisfying.

No one knows this better than KWD reader, writer, and “joyous bookoholic” Cathy Trementozzi. Over the past year, she’s blossomed as a writer in ways she herself couldn’t even have imagined: Building on her work experience, she’s penned articles and how-to tips to support and encourage job seekers.

And just recently, Cathy really embraced the spirit of writing dangerously when she leaped into a whole new area of communications by helping to create a video and craft the text for a project that’s close to her heart: “Abolutely Abby’s Job Search Success Tour 2015.”

This is an Indiegogo campaign launched by Abby Kohut, a human resources recruiter, who’s seeking crowdfunding support to “inspire and educate one million job seekers” across the country by giving them free expert advice on resume writing, interviewing, and job-finding techniques.

As the mission statement that Cathy helped create says so well, Abby’s “goal is to leave everyone with a sense of hope. I want them to feel more confident than before they met me. I want them to believe that they can achieve their goals because they finally understand how to confidently promote themselves.”

What a bold, uplifting endeavor! Abby’s already spoken to 200,000 job seekers at churches, schools, libraries and other venues. And now, she’s expanding her efforts — and Cathy’s writing skills are helping her. What a gift! At a time when so many people are struggling to find work, Abby and Cathy are teaming up to give them fresh hope and new tools. To find out more, just Google: Indiegogo + Absolutely Abby. Bravo, Cathy and Abby, write on — and ride on!

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Something Wonderful

As we refresh and recompose ourselves, a gift of words:

He Wishes for the Cloths Of Heaven

Had I the heavens’ embroidered cloths,
Enwrought with golden and silver light,
The blue and the dim and the dark cloths
Of night and light and the half-light,
I would spread the cloths under your feet:
But I, being poor, have only my dreams;
I have spread my dreams under your feet;
Tread softly because you tread on my dreams.

W.B. Yeats

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Upcoming Opportunities

This roundup offers lots to choose from, whether you focus on poetry, screenwriting, mysteries, fiction, creative nonfiction or screenplays. So check your drawers and shelves and step out your stories!

Writer’s Digest Poetry Awards: Winner receives $1,000.00 in cash and publication in Writer’s Digest magazine. Cash prizes for second and third place and prizes for anyone in the Top 25. Deadline: October 31.

William F. Deeck Malice Domestic Grants: Offered annually for unpublished work in the mystery writing field. Malice Domestic provides two $1,500 grants that include access to its annual convention and two nights of lodging at the convention hotel. The genre is loosely described as mystery stories of the Agatha Christie type: “traditional mysteries.” These works usually feature no excessive gore, gratuitous violence, or explicit sex. Writers must not have published a book, short story, or dramatic work in the mystery field, either in print, electronic, or audio form. Deadline: November 15.

North Carolina Writers’ Fellowships: $10,000.00 fellowships offered by the North Carolina Arts Council. Open to North Carolina residents: poets, fiction writers, creative nonfiction writers, and literary translators. Applicants must have lived in North Carolina for at least one year prior to the application deadline and may not be enrolled in an academic or degree-granting program during the fellowship year. Fellows must maintain their residency throughout the grant period. There is no application fee. Deadline: November 3.

2015 BlueCat Screenplay Competition: Every year, BlueCat gives unknown screenwriters the opportunity to develop their work. BlueCat accepts both feature length and short screenplays, and in keeping with its longstanding tradition, every screenplay will receive a written analysis with the best screenplays selected receiving over $40,000 in cash prizes. Final deadline: November 15.

Write on!

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Pubslush Empowers

Amazing how the universe seems to drop juicy nuggets of writerly and publishing gold into my lap so I can pass them on. Just today, I was attending a panel on entrepreneurship when lo and behold, one of the speakers turned out to be Amanda Barbara, the vice president and co-founder (with her mom, Hellen — love this mother-daughter duo!), of a powerful new crowdfunding resource for authors and publishers called Pubslush.

The site’s name is an ironic play on the “slush pile” and the site itself was inspired by the fact that J.K. Rowling, surely the most successful writer in modern history, was actually rejected by a dozen publishers. Amanda and Hellen set out to create an Internet tool specifically for books. The result: Pubslush, a global crowdfunding and analytics platform that focuses on books and related projects.

What’s it all about? In a nutshell, crowdfunding is a way for artists, entrepreneurs, authors, and other creative souls to raise funds from people who believe in their projects, from family and friends to enthusiastic fans. Writers who want to publish their projects may choose to use crowdfunding for a variety of reasons: to raise money to self-publish or fund independent publication, to raise money for marketing and promotion, and to build an audience.

Pubslush operates like many other crowdfunding sites: to set up a book page featuring your project, you need a summary, an excerpt, a video, and a rewards program. However, because Pubslush’s platform is geared to authors, it offers special features, such as flex funding (as long as the amount raised exceeds $500, you can keep the funds you raise, even it you don’t reach your goal) and analytics that help you identify and understand the audience you’ve connected with.

Pubslush is rated among the top 10 crowdfunding sources based on its customer support, funding strategy, and ease of use. The site welcomes a range of projects, from books and screenplays to philanthropic and educational ventures. One of the features that users seem to appreciate most is the range and quality of information about publishing and fundraising that Pubslush features on its site.

Crowdfunding can an effective route to publishing, but launching a campaign and sustaining it takes a lot of work. Most successes depend on attracting small donors beyond family and friends — and this generally requires social media savvy and a major time commitment. Pubslush explores the ins and outs of crowdfunding in a realistic, supportive way. For more information, visit: And write on!

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