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On Telling Your Story: An Interview with Sue Silverman {Inspiration Café}

inspiration-cafe.jpgWhen I first started blogging over 10 years ago, it was primarily due to the overwhelming feeling that I had about wishing to write and to share my story. Or rather, my stories. I guess, that's why I believe that bloggers are also somewhat memoir writers.

So, for this blog's anniversary, I thought I'd feature memoir author and teacher, Sue Silverman, for our Inspiration Café series. This is part of the wonderful WOW Blog Tours -

In true social web media fashion, can you please give us a brief bio/description in 140 characters or less?

Tweet to my peeps: I’m an incest survivor. Grew up silent. Never told a soul. Through writing, found my true voice.

Fearless Confessions, for web.jpgCongratulations on your book on memoir writing, "Fearless Confessions: A Writer's Guide to Memoir". What inspired you to write this book - and who is it for?

Thank you!

I teach at the low-residency MFA in Writing program at Vermont College of Fine Arts and, in many ways, my students inspired me to write it! It’s amazing to watch students grow—for their craft to become more professional—for them to feel more confident. So I thought I’d love to try to encourage even more writers, or would-be writers, to each find their voice.

This book, then, is for anyone who has a story to tell!

How did you get in to memoir writing?

Actually, I began as a fiction writer. Scared to reveal my true story, I kept trying to tell it in a fictional voice. All my unpublished novels are, on some level, about incest or sexual addiction.

But the novels didn’t work. For me, to fictionalize my story (trying to tell the truth—but not), made the voice sound emotionally inauthentic. After about ten or so years of this, I finally, at the urging of my therapist, switched to memoir, or creative nonfiction.

What do your friends/family say when they read your memoirs/writing? Do you encounter any difficulties?

I’ve been lucky. My older sister, on the whole, has been rather supportive—though she hasn’t read either of my memoirs. But she does tell her friends about them! And my parents had both died before I wrote my first book—the one about growing up in an incestuous family.

In terms of my extended family, I initially never even told them about that book. Over time, of course, they found out about it. And, amazingly, I began receiving phone calls and e-mails of support, saying they felt badly that they hadn’t known about the incest. So you sometimes find support even when it’s least expected!

What are the biggest challenges for memoir writers? And, what do you think are the best ways to overcome them?

The fear of telling family secrets! As I mentioned, I was lucky in that my family and friends mainly supported me. But this fear of hurting feelings, or revealing family secrets, is one that prevents many from writing.

If this is true for you, then you might try pretending that you’re writing just for yourself. Ignore, as much as possible, the fact that others might one day read your story.

"In order to be creative and fully engage in the process, writers must give themselves permission to set aside the fear about what the outside world might think. Remember, we own our own stories!"
For me, while writing, I always pretend no one else will ever see my work. And, in any event, it’s my choice whether I’ll ultimately share it with anyone or not.

Focus on the words, themselves, during the creation process. Worry about the outside world later.

In order to be creative and fully engage in the process, writers must give themselves permission to set aside the fear about what the outside world might think. Remember, we own our own stories! Our stories belong to us. As writers, they are ours to write.

How will you encourage/inspire people who wish to write memoirs?

In Fearless Confessions, I encourage writers to believe in their stories, to know that, whatever their background, they do have a story to tell.

I emphasize the redemptive power of memoir, that the best way to understand the past—to come to terms with it—is through writing. Through memoir, we heal both ourselves as well as others.

We discover our own life force. There is only one of you. Your voice is unique. If you don’t express yourself, if you don’t fully explore who you are, that essence of you will be lost.

Do you have any favourite memoir writers/memoirs by other people? Can you please name some examples?

I always find it extremely difficult to suggest just a few memoirs—especially given the wide range of the genre. Therefore, I’d like to invite you to review my creative nonfiction reading list, divided into categories by subject matter. It can be found in the appendix of Fearless Confessions, or, you can also find this reading list on my website, at www.suewilliamsilverman.com.

Apart from writing, can you tell us a little bit more about yourself? Hobbies? Family? Education? Others?

Oh, I’m such a workaholic that I don’t really have hobbies. Nor do I have kids. I live in Michigan with my partner, the poet Marc Sheehan. And we have two cats, Bijou and Siobahn. But I also love teaching! I love hanging out with other writers.

Anything else that you'd like to share with us?

Your story, your voice, is important. I look forward to reading your memoir one day.

SUE SILVERMAN'S BIO:

Sue Silverman

Sue William Silverman’s new book is Fearless Confessions: A Writer’s Guide to Memoir. She is a faculty advisor at the Vermont College of Fine Arts and associate editor of the journal Fourth Genre: Explorations in Nonfiction. Her first book, Because I Remember Terror, Father, I Remember You, received the AWP Award in Creative Nonfiction. She is also the author of Love Sick: One Woman's Journey through Sexual Addiction (made into a Lifetime TV movie) and Hieroglyphics in Neon, a poetry collection. She has appeared on such TV shows as The View and Anderson Cooper-360. To watch a video book trailer, please visit http://tinyurl.com/csekan , or go to http://www.suewilliamsilverman.com/ for more information.

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Inspiration Café: Interview with Chynna Laird, Author and Special Needs Advocate

inspiration-cafe.jpgWhat can be more inspiring than getting to know people who live passionate lives that are dedicated to helping to make our world a better place?

That's why when I came across Chynna Laird through the WOW! Blog Tours, mother of four, psych student, and author of the children's book, "I'm not weird, I have SPD" - I knew that I had to chat with her and get to know her better.

And, I'm really happy to have been able to interview Chynna and share our online conversation with you -

In our current microblogging trend, can you please share with us a short bio/description of yourself in 140 characters or less?

I’m a freelance writer and author living in Edmonton, Alberta. My passion is helping children and families living with Sensory Processing Disorder and other special needs.

chynna lairdWhere can we find more about your work?

My work can be found in many online and in-print parenting, inspirational, Christian and writing publications in Canada, United States, Australia, and Britain. I’m most proud of my children’s picture book, I’m Not Weird, I Have SPD, which I wrote for Jaimie. My memoir Not Just Spirited: Living With Sensory Processing Disorder (SPD) comes out in late August 2009. I’ll also have a reference book about the Sensory Diet coming out some time in 2010.

Can you tell us about your book, "I'm not weird, I have SID/SPD"? What is it about it? Who is it for?

The book is about a four-year-old girl, named Alexandra, who struggles with something but doesn’t understand what it is or how to explain it to others. She describes how the world around her makes her feel and how hard it is to interact with people and objects around her. She doesn’t know how to tell people that she’s interested in them but something about them makes her body feel scary—so she screams. Finally someone helps Alexandra learn the right tools to cope in her world and she finds the words to tell people, “I’m not weird. I’m Alexandra and I have SPD.”

chynna-laird-book.jpgWhat/who inspired you to write your book?

I wrote the book after a bad experience we had at the park when a small group of children Jaimie’s age made fun of her reactions to them and other things going on around her. I didn’t blame them, honestly. Their behavior stemmed from not understanding Jaimie or what she was going through. So I wrote it to validate Jaimie’s feelings and to, hopefully, give her the words to tell others how she feels inside. What’s funny is that I never intended it to be a book for the world—just Jaimie, our family and close friends so they too could understand. Then I met other families going through the same struggles and offered the book as a tool… it sort of snowballed from there.

Now it’s in several libraries, local SPD therapy centers and community intervention clinics…even in Jaimie’s school library. Jaimie definitely inspired me to write the story as well as to get it out to other families.

Can you help explain SID/SPD a bit more to our readers?

Absolutely! Sensory Processing Disorder (SPD)—also known as Sensory Integration Dysfunction (SID)—is considered a neurological disorder because it can interfere with the brain’s ability to process the sensory information taken in from the sensory organs. Essentially, the sensory messages are taken in and sent to the brain but for some reason these messages get “scrambled” along the way. Since the brain can’t read these messages, it isn’t able to tell the body how to properly react to sensory stimulation and this can result in either an overreation or underreaction to the stimuli. Jaimie swings between both but more often she is sensory defensive, which means she feels things about 100x more than the rest of us do.

What a lot of people don’t understand is that it isn’t just about what these kids see, hear, smell, taste or feel, it’s also affects their balance, coordination and even how they gauge themselves in relation to objects and people in their environment. It can be a scary and even debilitating disorder—imagine how scary it would be to never know how your body will react to something it may come in contact with! But the good news is that with the proper ongoing treatment, these children can learn the tools to help them function in the world around them and enjoy just being a kid.

"... knowledge is a very powerful thing. If we arm ourselves with knowledge it breeds understanding and that’s all I want for Jaimie and children like her."

What's the one most important message that you wish to share in your writing?

I think that if there’s one message I’d like to leave readers with it’s that knowledge is a very powerful thing. If we arm ourselves with knowledge it breeds understanding and that’s all I want for Jaimie and children like her.

Can you share with us a bit more about yourself? Your personal interests? Your family?

I’d love to! Let’s see… I live in Edmonton, Alberta in Canada with my partner, Steve and our four children: three girls Jaimie (six ½), Jordhan (4 ½ ), and baby Sophie (1) and our gorgeous boy Xander (2 ½). Aside from freelance writing, I’m finishing up a BA in Psychology. Eventually, I’d like to go to graduate school to become a Developmental Neuropsychologist so I can study the brains of children with SPD, Autism and other neurological disorders in order to help with diagnosis and treatment options. I think I’ll wait on that until my kids are bigger though—it’s tough studying at home with young ones.

In my “free time,” I like to read, listen to music and craft with my kiddos. I also play the piano but haven’t had a piano in the house for quite some time. I miss it.

How long have you been writing and how did you get started?

I’ve always kept diaries and loved writing letters/notes to my friends. I think what got me really interested in writing was when in Grade Four a publisher came to our school and taught us about how books come to be. We got to create our own stories—complete with illustrations—then the publisher helped us bind them, laminate them and “publish” them. (My book was called, “The Adventures of Super Bug” where our hero narrowly escaped the fate of someone’s shoe.) Okay so the books were only distributed to the school library but it was still cool! About ten years later, my younger sister came home from school one day with a book she’d taken out of the library: my book from Grade Four! I guessed they’d forgotten to take the book off the shelf but I took it as a sign it was what I was supposed to do.

I’d written many stories—mostly narratives and nonfiction article-type pieces—but never sent them out. Then I entered a contest in a writing magazine and won first prize. The editor of the magazine told me to “Get out there and get this story published!” That winning story was accepted by Angels On Earth magazine and it sort of snowballed from there.

Being an author was never one of my goals but… here I am! I’m very blessed.

Do you have any advice for anyone who might have a similar message to share? How can you encourage them to share their message?

I think anyone with something to say should be brave enough to speak out. All of us have experiences unique to us and, maybe, those experiences would help someone else in a similar situation. I remember once when I’d gone through an upsetting experience where a psychiatrist “strongly suggested” we put Jaimie on medication—she was only three! That psychiatrist continued to “strongly suggest” the medication and we kept strong refusing. When I shared our story with the Founder of SPD Canada, she told me to share my story with the Head of the governmental department in charge of community early intervention services. I was scared—I didn’t want to rock the boat, you know?

So she said, “So many parents out there may be going through what you and Steve did but aren’t as informed as you. They may think, wrongly, that medication is the only way to treat SPD. By sharing your story, you can help make the department Head realize that therapists need to be taught about different ways to treat SPD holistically so that parents can make informed decisions for their children. Your knowledge and experience can help others.”

In the end, I decided to talk to the Head and the point has now been raised that therapists need to be more empathetic to parents with sensory issues and all options for treatment must be raised. I guess what I’m saying is that never be scared or intimidated to stand up and speak for those who can’t or are scared to. Someone will listen and you may be helping.

The greatest expression I’ve heard lately says it all: “We all feel like islands in the middle of nowhere wondering if there’s anyone out there going through what we are or who even understands. By reaching out and speaking out, we’re building bridges among those islands. We aren’t alone any longer.”

Anything else you wish to share?

Well, I have a memoir coming out at the end of August 2009 called, “Not Just Spirited: Living With Sensory Processing Disorder (SPD).” It’s our personal experience from knowing something was wrong with Jaimie to getting the help she needed to thrive. It took a long time and there were many hurdles but we’re there. I hope it helps other parents to tell their own stories.

I have also just signed on with Sunrise River Press to write a reference book about The Sensory Diet, which is the holistic approach to treating SPD through nutrition, exercise and specialized activities based on the child’s specific needs and abilities.

Your readers are more than welcome to check out my website at www.lilywolfwords.ca if they’d like to learn more about me or SPD. I have information, resources and a wonderful newsletter. I also have a blog and would love contributions/comments/suggestions: http://lilywolfwords.blogspot.com.

Other than that, I continue to write articles and have a couple of fiction pieces I’m working on but it may be awhile before I can give those my 100% attention.

Thank you very much for this wonderful interview, Chynna. It's always very inspiring to get to know people like you. And, I wish you all the best with your work and your family.

Thank you, Shai (and I love your name, by the way…) for having me on your blog.

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Inspiration Café: Ann Whitford Paul, author of “Writing Picture Books”

inspiration-cafe.jpg

Ever since I heard about the Author Blog Tours of WOW-Women on Writing, I've been wanting to host one here at the Studio. So, when I finally got the opportunity, I became really excited about hosting one of the interesting featured authors.

And, as a writer, mother, and now, a pre-service teacher, I knew I just had to host Ann Whitford Paul when I came across her new book, "Writing Picture Books: A Hands-On Guide from Story Creation to Publication". Since I love children's books and I have a special fondness for picture books, I couldn't wait to get the chance to chat with Ann. Here's how our interview went -

In true online social media fashion, can you tell us something about yourself in 140 characters or less (a brief bio/description)?

Ann Whitford PaulAnn Whitford Paul writes picture books, poetry, early readers and this year a book for adults WRITING PICTURE BOOKS: A Hands-on Guide from Story Creation to Publication.

I'm always interested in people's beginnings. Can you please share with us how you got started as a picture book author?

That’s easy. I became inspired to write picture books after years of reading them to my four children. I loved the closeness, the quiet, and the focus together on a book. It was such a pleasure I decided to try and write books that other adults and children could share together.

How many picture books have you authored/published - and can you tell us a bit about one or two of them?

I’ve authored hundreds of picture book manuscripts and have sold 20. However two of them were cancelled because an editor left and because an editor “lost enthusiasm over the project.” Many of our stories no matter how we work on them, don’t turn out. I’ve also sold one adult book. A new book TORTUGA (the Spanish word for Tortoise) IN TROUBLE published just this year is a retelling of Little Red Riding Hood with a Spanish twist. This is part of a series I’ve written that introduces children to some Spanish vocabulary with the hopes that they will be inspired to learn Spanish. Another new book titled IF ANIMALS KISSED GOOD NIGHT is a rhymed picture book about how animals might kiss good night. It grew out of a game my third child, Alan, and I used to play guessing how Snakes and Elephants and other animals would kiss.

Do you have any favourite characters/stories from your own books? Why/why not?

I love all the characters in my series that splatters a handful of Spanish words in each story. The first book was MAÑANA IGUANA. Iguana loves to party, but her friends who love it also, don’t want to help. In FIESTA FIASCO, Conejo (the Spanish word for Rabbit) talks his friends into buying birthday presents for another friend that he wants for himself. How many times do we buy a gift that we wish for? COUNT ON CULEBRA was especially fun to write because Culebra (the Spanish word for Snake) pretends to be a doctor and is very bossy. I’m married to a doctor and my daughter is a doctor so I could use some characteristics of both.

What inspires you to write these picture books?

About five years ago, I was in Africa on an airplane next to a 9 year old boy from Afghanistan. He spoke English perfectly. In response to my question, he said he’d been studying English for just one year. Then, and this is the embarrassing part, he asked, “How many languages do you speak?” I must admit I told a fib. I said, “one and one half,” hoping that my two years of college French counted for something, even though I would be hard pressed to carry on a conversation.

While we now have many immigrants in our country we speak more than one language, many still persist in thinking that just speaking English is enough. With the shrinking of our world through travel, television and internet, we all should learn another language. . . maybe two.

I now study Spanish and thrilled to be able to speak not only in the present, but also in the past and future.

Do you have any favourite picture books written by other authors? What are they? And, what do you like about them?

I absolutely adore this new rhymed picture book I CAN DO IT MYSELF by Diane Adams and illustrated by my friend Nancy Hayashi. THANK YOU, SARAH: The Woman Who Saved Thanksgiving by Laurie Halse Anderson is also a favorite. It's amazing how lively she made a history book. Helen Ketteman in BUBBA THE COWBOY PRINCE and other retellings uses fabulous fun language. Check them out.

Other than writing picture books, what other interests and passions do you have?

I’m an avid reader going through at least one and most often two books a week. Besides that I quilt and knit and needlepoint and take long walks. I love listening to cats purr, watching spiders spin their webs and following silvery snail trails.

Writing Picture BooksWhat's the best advice you have for people who wish to get started in writing picture books?

Spend a lot of time with your young audience. Pay attention to what are big issues for them . . . being left with a babysitter, dealing with a bully at school, a favorite shirt is too dirty to wear. Write about what matters to them, not to you. Another bit of advice is to read picture books . . . lots and lots of them. I also type them up and even make a dummy book to see which page the print falls on. Do this and you’ll learn lots about pacing and page turns and language. I would not be a good promoter if I didn’t give a plug to my WRITING PICTURE BOOKS which I wish I’d had when I first started out.

Do you have another advice for anyone who might need the encouragement to do the things that they love to do in general?

Don’t let others divert you from your dream. Keep on trying. Keep on working. I can’t guarantee you’ll achieve your goal, but I do guarantee that you’ll never get what you want if you give up.

I wrote for five years and received 118 rejections before I sold my first book. This is not meant to be discouraging, it’s meant to be encouraging. Don’t let others divert you from your dream. Keep on trying. Keep on working. I can’t guarantee you’ll achieve your goal, but I do guarantee that you’ll never get what you want if you give up. Usually you do get what you want or you discover something equally wonderful to pursue along the way.

Is there anything else that you wish to share?

My 94 year old mother is quite ill now and that makes me super aware of the fact that we only have one life to live and that each day is precious. Don’t wait! Follow through on your dreams NOW!

Thanks, Shai for your wonderful questions. And to all of your readers, check out my web-site at www.annwhitfordpaul.com for more info and if you’re interested sign up for my e-mail newsletter.

Thanks so much, Ann! And, congratulations again on your new book, "Writing Picture Books".

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Debbie Ridpath Ohi: Inspirational People Series

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If I were to design and own a café, I'd love for it to be something like an Inspiration Café. It will be a place to sit down and be surrounded by beautiful art, amazing music, reading materials... while sipping one's favourite beverage. A place to gather and chat - to hold workshops and performances. Somewhere to be inspired every day.

My Inspiration Café, however, has to stay fictitious at the moment. Or, virtual - as the closest I have to it is this place - my blog. And, when I shared the 52WoC Task, Interview Time, I knew that I wanted it to serve as my impetus to start a series of interviews here. Interviews with people who I'd love to invite for a cuppa in my imaginary Inspiration Café.

You see, I've been meaning to approach people who inspire me and to ask them some of the questions that I've been itching to ask them. To reach out and to let them know that they've influenced some of the things that I do. And, to thank them for being who they are!

As I started to prepare for the interview series, I knew immediately that one of the first people that I'd like to feature is Debbie Ridpath Ohi.


Debbie Ridpath Ohi

Debbie is one of the first people that I've come across when I first went online over ten years ago. I became an immediate fan when I found her then-project - a popular website/newsletter for writers called Inkspot. And, even after she sold it and moved on to other things, I continued to follow her work on her personal site, Blatherings. I read about her camping trips, her hikes, her experimentation with photography and painting and sewing... her stories about playing the harp, canoeing, composing music... of families and friendships... love and loss... her ventures in to illustration and comics... her love of Macs...

We've never met - and yet, I've been inspired by how she lives her life with such passion over the last decade. I knew I just had to interview her one day. And, I'm so happy that she said yes.

So, here's how our virtual meeting went...

Debbie Ridpath OhiHi, Debbie. Thank you so much for taking the time to take part in this interview. If you don't mind, I'd like to start this off by asking: In recent micro-blogging fashion, can you please share 140-character bio/description of yourself (or thereabouts)?

140 characters, hm? Let's see...how about this: "Was a computer programmer/analyst, once upon a time. Now I'm a Toronto-based freelance writer and illustrator. Married, with no kids. Abysmal at writing bios." That's 135 characters not including spaces, 158 including spaces.

You're someone who's very much in to different things - can you tell us some of your current interests/jobs/occupations?

I consider myself mainly a writer. It's something I could never give up. In addition to writing a daily publishing news column for Writersmarket.com and some other nonfiction endeavours, I'm trying to get a fantasy novel for young people published. My fiction works-in-progress include a graphic novel for young people and a new sf/fantasy novel for young people.

I also draw. I'm not formally trained so I don't pretend to be an expert, but I do earn money with my cartoons and illustrations. I used to draw just for fun, but then more and more people started offering me money for my drawings so I figured heck, why not do that as well? I also have several webcomics online, and have recently started to sell paintings done in acrylics. All my other artwork is digital, however.

Musician and songwriter - I write songs for and perform with my music group, Urban Tapestry. We're friends as well as music partners, which makes everything much more fun. We have some CDs out there, and have been flown to Germany, England, Winnipeg, California and other places to give concerts and be guests at conventions. Some of the songs I've written have aired on national radio, which was pretty exciting for me. I play a number of instruments (I used to teach piano and flute) and have done studio musician work on various recordings.

Photographer - I've always been an avid photographer, originally with film but now completely digital. My work has appeared in The National Post, some textbooks, among other places. I love doing portrait work.

So, when people ask you what you do for a living, what do you usually say? Do you find it tough to explain your varied talents? Why or why not?

When people ask what I do for a living, I say I'm a freelance writer and illustrator. I don't mention my other interests unless it's relevant. The music stuff's just for fun, though in an alternate life I think I'd enjoy being a fulltime songwriter. I also don't tend to put emphasis on my photography because I don't have professional equipment or the experience.

How do you balance your many interests/talents? And, how do you nurture them?

The balance is tough, especially between my writing and illustrating. The illustrating tends to bring in quicker money because of the number of short-term assignments, but my passion is in fiction writing. I try to set aside regular time for the fiction writing but sometimes it's difficult, especially when cash is tight.


Debbie Ohi's Works
Debbie's Sample Illustrations/Artwork

Who inspires/encourages you? Do you have someone that you consider your mentor? Who are the people that you look up to?

I'm inspired by anyone who is passionate about what they do. I tend to be drawn to people who have multiple creative interests, and especially those who are both technogeeky and artistic at the same time (like you!), and who embrace life wholeheartedly.

My husband Jeff has been encouraging and supportive throughout all my creative endeavours.

My sister Ruth is also a huge inspiration. Not only is she an active mom who devotes a great deal of time to her young daughters, but she also works VERY hard at her children's book illustrating and writing. I feel lazy compared to her.

For my writing, I lean heavily on my online writing critique group (MiG Writers). We all encourage and support each other. I also find that reading some of my favourite books always inspires me, including:

  • Goose Girl by Shannon Hale
  • The Diamond Age by Neal Stephenson
  • Neverwhere by Neil Gaiman
  • The Blue Sword by Robin McKinley

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