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Today I’m talking writing with Sharon Zink at The Book Diner. Check it out.

This week’s Book Diner interviewee is the wonderful Bonnie Dodge. Bonnie is a veteran writer, with a stack of books under her belt. I first became aware of her work since I am friends with her author son, Trevor Dodge, who I interviewed recently. Literary talent clearly is part of the Dodge family gene and Bonnie has such amazing insights from her long experience as an author that I found myself pretty much agreeing with everything she said! Her books also sound right up my alley, so I can’t wait to start reading them all! Enjoy!





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Words of encouragement are flooding social media this month. Words like hope, peace, love, respect, patience, and even no. As a writer, I’d like to offer another. Self-sabotage. That thing many writers do to avoid moving forward.

I’m not the queen of sabotage, but I know how to procrastinate. Take this book I’ve been working on for almost twenty years. Ten years ago I shopped this book around thinking it was finished. But clearly it wasn’t or I’d be collecting royalties instead of avoiding revisions.

Why isn’t it finished? It isn’t because I don’t know how to write or deliver a product. It isn’t that I don’t love the idea of this book, I do. The only reason I can offer is that I’ve gotten in the habit of avoiding this project. Every time I set out to finish this book something gets in the way. Here are some of the ways I’ve sabotaged the completion of this book.

1) I can’t work on this book until I finish xxx. Insert clean the house, take the dogs for a walk, or do the laundry.

Life is messy and has a way of getting in the way of writing. There will always be something else that needs attention. Pretending I can’t write until the dishwasher is loaded only prolongs the project. Instead of waiting until everything is done, I need to make working on this project a priority. First thing in the morning I need to sit down and revise a chapter. Before anything else. Waiting until I have a big chunk of time to work isn’t the answer and is just a lazy excuse.

2) I need to do more research.

After twenty years I should have more than enough information to finish this book. And if I don’t I can make it up. After all, it’s fiction, not non-fiction.

3) I don’t have the skills to write this story.

Recently I listened to Alice Hoffman discuss writing. She said a writer needs to write every day. Only by writing every day do you become a better writer. So stop waiting until you have the skill level you seek. Start writing and it will come.

4) It’s not perfect, so why bother.

Good writing is revisions, lots of them. Anne Lamott says write a messy first draft. Get the story down and then do the work of revisions. That’s where skill and magic happen, in the honing of words.

5) I need feedback on this chapter before I continue.

Maybe, but probably not. Even if you are lucky enough to have friends and family who offer to read your work and comment, this can be a big way to sabotage your writing. Reading is subjective and you will get good comments and bad comments. The time for constructive feedback is after the book is done. When you know the ending of your story, you’re better equipped to identify weak plot points and motivation. Too much advice while you’re being creative and writing can stop your story dead. Rely on your gut and trust the process.

6) I’m not smart enough to write this story.

If that is true, than put it away and work on something else. Just because you don’t feel adequate to complete this story doesn’t mean you can’t produce a sexier, better story. Learn to let go. Not everything you write is golden.

7) I need to turn off the internal editor.

Often the fear of failing, or even the fear of succeeding, can prevent me from finishing a project. Yes, criticism is scary. But it’s part of the process. Don’t let fear prevent you from achieving your goal. Writing can be scary, learn to work through the fear.

8) I can’t write until I get in the mood.

The longer you work as a writer the more it becomes a job and there are days you won’t want to go to work. Waiting for the mood to strike could mean days without writing, a sure way to shoot yourself in the foot. Many times I sit down to write, in a bad mood because I don’t want to write that day, and like magic my muse shows up and I produce some pretty amazing stuff. If you want to be a good writer, write even when you don’t want to. You’ll be surprised at what you can accomplish.

9) Illness gets in the way.

My goal for 2017 is to finish this book. I had a good start, with four chapters revised before I ended up in the hospital with a nasty gallbladder. See, I told my son, this book doesn’t want to be finished. And, yes, sometimes I feel like that. But the book isn’t the writer, I am the writer, and no one else is going to finish this book but me.

Self-sabotage diminishes passion and energy. It’s just an excuse to keep you from moving forward. If you’re in the habit of self-sabotaging yourself, try to identify why. Then work toward reaching your goal. You’re in control. Only you can do it.

Meet Kathleen Irene Paterka

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Kathleen Irene Paterka by Anora O'Connor, 300 dpiKathleenIrenePaterka_TheOtherWife_1400

Kathy and I met years ago on an on-line writers’ group called GIAM. The writers in this group are my go-to pals when I get stumped or need writing advice. It is my pleasure to introduce Kathleen Irene Paterka, a prolific writer, even with a day job.

1) Why did you become a Writer? How did you get started?

I can’t remember a time that I didn’t want to be a writer. My mother got me my own library card when I was six years old. I remember being fascinated with having all those books available to me, and I couldn’t imagine a better world than being surrounded by books. When I was about 8 years old, I fell in love with the Trixie Belden series. I decided then and there that I would grow up and write more Trixie Belden books. My parents got me a typewriter for Christmas, and I was hooked.

2) What is your writing routine? How do you discipline yourself to keep at it?

 I’m up early every morning, at 5 am. By 6:30 am, I’m at the computer and my timer is set. For the next two hours, I concentrate on my current work-in-progress. Marketing and social media also take a considerable amount of time, but I prefer to do that in the evening hours. I do have a day job, just as most writers do (95%, in fact). Mine is rather unique: I’m staff writer at a real American castle where I’m surrounded by romance and royalty. It’s a wonderful life.

3) How many drafts before you feel the book is finished?

My rough draft is where the story magic happens. I am a pantster. When I start writing the rough draft, I’ve done research on my characters, but plot-wise, I usually only know the beginning, the ending, and ‘something-that-happens-in-the-middle’. The rough draft normally takes me 8-12 months (for a 400 page novel), and it’s very complete. I’ll end up with perhaps another 3 drafts, normally done to edit and polish.

4) What was the best thing that happened with regard to your writing career? The worst?

The best AND the worst thing are actually the same thing; it was a rejection letter I received from a well-known editor at a highly respected publishing company. She told me that while she and her assistant editor loved my novel For I Have Sinned, she had to turn me down; the company’s marketing department had informed her that they couldn’t figure out ‘how to sell the book’ because it crossed genres (women’s fiction, inspirational, romance, Christian fiction). When I initially received the rejection letter, I was devastated… but only for a few moments. I realized that the editor had actually given me some very good advice. She told me that many novels which were excellent works had crossed her desk, but ultimately had to be turned down for one reason or another. The editor urged me to find a home for the novel; she felt it was that good, and she suggested that I think seriously about indie-publishing the book. That was the beginning of my career as an indie-author, and I have never looked back. My novel For I Have Sinned went on to final in a few prestigious writing contests, and has received numerous five star reviews on Amazon and Goodreads. For I Have Sinned is the book of my heart and I am very proud of it.

5) What part of your job do you love the most? Hate or dislike the most?

I love the rough draft, getting to know the characters, and falling in love with the story line. Being a pantster, I don’t have things plotted on a story board (that would bore me to tears!). So when I’m writing and something exciting or unexpected happens on the page, I’m as thrilled as the reader who’s seeing it for the first time. The thing I hate the most about writing is the editing process. I subscribe to the theory of ‘more is better’, which means I usually end up having to cut lots of words (read: ‘redundant’) from my latest work. I hate seeing words, phrases, paragraphs, and sometimes whole scenes that I worried over eventually end up deleted from the final draft.

6) What do you like to read? Do you read while working on a novel? Favorite authors?

I love a good, emotional read. When searching for a new book, I turn to women’s fiction authors such as Jodi Picoult, Jennifer Weiner, Elizabeth Berg, and Eileen Goudge. All of them are superb storytellers. I also love anything by Stephen King. He is, without doubt, a living literary icon. His masterpiece 11/22/63 is one of my favorite books of all time. When I’m writing a rough draft, I’m careful not to read the type of work that I’m writing (I don’t want to fall under the influence of my favorite writers, and be accused of plagiarism). I often turn to biographies instead.

7) What was the best advice you received as a writer? The worst?

The best advice? “Never, never never quit” (from an author friend, who was quoting Winston Churchill). This is a devastatingly hard business, and you have to find the courage deep inside to keep going, even when those around you are urging you to give it up. The worst advice I ever got came from an editor at a publishing company who told me that I should quit writing… that while I had considerable talent, my voice was ‘scattered’ and unmarketable, and that I should give up and quit wasting my time. Her words served to inspire me to be even more determined to prove her wrong.

8) Who has influenced you the most in terms of developing your personal writing style?

The author Stephen King, because he is not afraid to take chances. He writes for himself; he tells himself a story, and then sets it free in the world for readers to embrace (or not). I like the idea of telling myself a story. I’m writing for myself. If I’m not interested in what’s happening on the page, why should I expect that my readers would be?

9) Do you have a good luck charm or superstition?

The bottom of my computer monitor is lined with scribbled sticky-notes and quotes clipped from inspirational books. They keep me going when my spirits flag. My favorite quote: “Do your work well. Write the stories you were meant to tell.

10) If you weren’t a writer, what would you be?

People fascinate me. I always wanted to be a talk show hostess. When I was growing up, I used to practice by interviewing myself.

11) What quote or personal saying do you live by?

“Hope and keep busy.” I don’t think we can do more than that. The quote is from Marme, of Little Women (by Louise May Alcott), which is one of my all-time favorite books.

12) What’s next up for you, writing-wise?

I’m currently researching for my next book, which will be a return to James Bay, the fictional resort community, which is the setting for my first four books (Fatty Patty, Home Fires, Lotto Lucy and For I Have Sinned). The book is about Chuck’s Tavern and Grill, and centers on the restaurant owner, Chuck, who was featured in the other James Bay novels. Each chapter in the new book will feature its own recipe. I’m excited about being able to play with the customers who frequent the restaurant, and involving characters from my earlier James Bay novels.

13) If you could do anything over again, would you and what would it be?

Nothing. I don’t believe in do-overs. I think that we all are given one chance, at each particular moment of our lives, and everything we are, everything we become, hinges on the choices we have made in the past. I am very content with the woman that I am, and the life that I lead. I surround myself with positive people, and I love my life. If I’d had a do-over, I wouldn’t be the same ‘Kathleen Irene Paterka’ that I am today…. But I love who I am. I wouldn’t want it any different.

14) What advice would you give beginning writers?

Don’t give up. Work hard, work smart, work tirelessly. Be tough, be brave and be persistent. All clichés… but when they apply to you and how much you want to realize your dream, they are very appropriate.

15) Something we don’t know about you?

I have a newsletter which hosts a monthly contest (a free giveaway) for subscribers. Sign up for my newsletter (I promise not to flood your In-box with emails!), and you could win a print copy of any of my books.

And: what’d you like us to know about your latest release:

The Other Wife is a women’s fiction novel that deals with issues of death, grief, resentment and revenge. It tells the story of Eleanor and Claire, two women who are horrified to find themselves both married to the same man. The novel begins in Eleanor’s point of view who wakes to find her husband Richard dead in bed beside her. Eleanor, married to Richard for 38 years, is devastated by the discovery. She’s even more horrified to discover, at the end of Chapter One, that Richard was keeping a deep dark secret, and has left all his money to another woman. In Chapter Two, we meet Claire, a 30ish professor of psychology at the University of Chicago. It’s not long into the book before Claire learns that her husband Richard has died… and not only is he dead, he left behind an earlier wife… a valid marriage to another woman. The discovery that her marriage is a sham is a horrible blow to Claire. While Richard has left her all his money, Eleanor is the one who has the title of Richard’s wife, something Claire thought was hers alone. How these two women come to terms with ‘the other wife’ is the basis for the story.

Website:                             http://kathleenirenepaterka.com/

Blog:                                   http://kathleenirenepaterka.com/blog/

Newsletter:                        http://kathleenirenepaterka.com/for-readers/

Facebook:                          https://www.facebook.com/KathleenIrenePaterka

Twitter:                               https://twitter.com/KPaterka

Pinterest:                            https://www.pinterest.com/kathleenpaterka/

Amazon Author Page:      http://www.amazon.com/Kathleen-Irene-Paterka/e/B0081KP1YQ/ref=ntt_athr_dp_pel_1

Goodreads:                        https://www.goodreads.com/author/show/5826393.Kathleen_Irene_Paterka

Find Kathleen’s latest novel here.

Cheryl Strayed appearing tonight in Boise

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This blog might fall under the topic of why you should attend writing conferences because that’s where I met Cheryl Strayed, at a writing workshop in Oregon. That was before Wild: From Lost to Found on the Pacific Crest Trail took off, before Cheryl appeared on Oprah, and before Cheryl revealed her identity as the author of the “Dear Sugar” columns in The Rumpus. Soft-spoken with a captivating smile, Cheryl looked anything but wild the day I met her.

That was a couple of years ago and today Cheryl’s coming to Idaho. For some of you lucky ticket holders, you’ll get to spend part of today and tonight with Cheryl, and I’m betting you’ll go home supercharged and eager to write. I know I was after hearing her speak about writing from a fearless place. She was inspiring, saying the best writers dare to tell the whole, complicated, beautiful and ugly truth. Write, even if you never get published. Write what’s in your heart. Stay true and stay genuine. Do what you can to support other writers.

Today Cheryl will be in Boise, Idaho. Tomorrow she’ll be in Helena, Montana. And then it’s on to Washington before she returns to her home in Portland. Since her memoir Wild took off, Cheryl’s been on the go talking with writers about writing and taking risks. If, like me, you can’t attend Cheryl’s reading today in Boise, go out and buy her books. Or make a trip to the library. She’s an author you don’t want to miss.


Say Hello to the funny A. K. Turner

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I write a lot ofCORNDOG_Cover_onTemp_220pgsOLF things, but humor isn’t one of them. Writing “funny” is hard work, but A. K. Turner makes it look so easy. Her latest book, Hair of the Corn Dog, releases today. Both members of the Idaho Writers Guild, we love to talk writing. Here’s something about Amanda you may not know:

15 things you may not know about A. K. Turner

 1) Why did you become a Writer? How did you get started?

I don’t feel like I had much choice in the matter. My route may have at times been circuitous, but I think this is where I was always headed. My father is a writer, so I had a sense early on of the realities of the writing life. I still had to come to writing in my own way and in my own time, though, which meant a solid decade of the starving artist gig. I waited tables and cleaned houses for years before I found my genre and really started moving forward in my writing career.

2) What is your writing routine? How do you discipline yourself to keep at it?

I don’t work on a book every day, but when I do, it is regimented. I map out my progress on a calendar and I stick to it. When I’m writing a first draft, I write 5,000 words per work day. I don’t write on weekends. I have kids and they deserve my full attention during that time, though chances are I might write a little something, even if just an email to a friend or idea for a blog post. If it’s a day when I have a word goal, I don’t allow myself to do much else until that goal is met. The fact that I take breaks in between projects and take my weekends off helps me stay disciplined during my work days.

3) How many drafts before you feel the book is finished? 

It varies for each book. I write my first draft very fast, then rewrite two or three times before sending it to my editor. She sends back what is by then a fourth draft. We volley it back and forth. It’s usually on its sixth draft when I send it to my beta readers. I incorporate their comments for an eighth draft that goes back to the editor. Hell, let’s just call it an even ten.

4) What was the best thing that happened with regard to your writing career? The worst?

The best thing for my writing career was impending motherhood. When pregnant with my first child, I felt terrified that I’d missed my chance, that now that I was going to be a mother, I’d never be a writer. That was the kick in the pants that I needed. I’m not sure I can think of the worst thing for my writing career. Even things that seem like they were negative (rejections, disappointments, typos) all help shape the present and future. There is no worst thing.

5) What part of your job do you love the most? Hate or dislike the most?

I love the excitement of beginning a new project, the sense of accomplishment at completing something, the space in the middle when you realize your project has legs. I also love that it no longer costs me money to be a writer, which is how it felt for the longest time. I hate horrible reviews and try not to read them. That’s a learned skill.

6) What do you like to read? Do you read while working on a novel? Favorite authors?

I like to read almost anything I can get my hands on. If you looked at my nightstand (but please, stay out of my bedroom) you’d see a collection of short stories, a book of essays, a nature narrative, an epic historical novel, and a lesson on craft. I recently finished books in sci-fi, mystery/thriller, a few that I’d consider literary fiction, and another book on craft. I hate assigning these labels, because most books fit more than one category. I always read, whether I’m working on a book or not. That said, I don’t usually read another female humorist while working on a humor project of my own. Favorite authors: Flannery O’Connor, John Irving, Wally Lamb, Jeffrey Eugenides. Other books I adore: Stephen King’s On Writing, Ann-Marie MacDonald’s Fall on Your Knees, Gillian Flynn’s Gone Girl, Angela Carter’s The Magic Toyshop.

7) What was the best advice you received as a writer? The worst?

Best advice: “Time is going to march on no matter what. In five years, you’ll be five years older. You can be five years older having written a book, or not having written a book, but you’re going to be five years older, either way.” Sometimes I think of this but play with the number. I make it one year or ten and think of what I want to accomplish in that time. Not that writing should be rushed, but life is short. 

Worst advice: “You must write every day.” People take this too seriously. So what if someone else writes 2,000 words every day of the year? Every writer is different, so it makes no sense to latch on to rules that work for someone else. There are no rules, this isn’t football. Every writer whose habits you try to emulate had major faults of their own. Hemingway shot himself in the head. Instead of trying to be Hemingway, find your own path. It’ll likely be less messy.

8) Who has influenced you the most in terms of developing your personal writing style?

When I realized that there were people who actually made a living writing humor essays, I knew I’d found my genre. I read David Sedaris, Sloane Crosley, Bill Bryson, and Laurie Notaro, among others. In terms of developing my own style, my husband Mike and my editor Elizabeth Day have been and continue to be extremely helpful in identifying the strengths and weaknesses in my writing. Identifying those aspects and using that knowledge going forward is, in my mind, one way a writer develops her personal style.

9) Do you have a good luck charm or superstition?

I’m not superstitious at all, though I do believe I’ve been very lucky in life. Every writer needs talent, tenacity, and a little bit of luck.

10) If you weren’t a writer, what would you be?

I’d like to say Federal Agent or Homicide Detective. But if we’re talking about reality, I’d clean houses, something I did a lot of before writing full time. I can clean a toilet like nobody’s business.

11) What quote or personal saying do you live by?

Every day in which I read, write, laugh, and move is a good day.

12) What’s next up for you, writing-wise?

I want to continue writing humor, but replace the element of alcohol with travel. Don’t get me wrong, I still love a drink at the end of the day, but in terms of genre, the drinking mommy thing has been done, and I’m ready to move on to something else. We have a trip planned to Australia later this year and I’m working on some preliminary research. The working title is Tasmania with Children and Other Devils.

13) If you could do anything over again, would you and what would it be?

I’d write more and read more. Other than that, I think dwelling on what I could have done or should have done is a big waste of time. I’m always looking forward.

14) What advice would you give beginning writers?

Everything takes practice. A person practicing the piano doesn’t view that practice time as wasted music notes. Writers need to give themselves permission to write things that never go anywhere, pieces they’ll never show to anyone else. You need that practice and those are not wasted words. We battle this a lot when others ask us about our work. We feel compelled to answer that we’re working on something that is ultimately marketable: a book, magazine article, short story. There’s nothing wrong with working on the writing itself without an end goal in mind. When an athlete exercises, that’s as much a part of their job as playing in the big game. The same is true for writers, whether or not your friends, family, and acquaintances understand that.

15) Something we don’t know about you?

I took flying lessons in a Piper J-3 Cub for about a year when I was a teenager, but never got my license. I worked on two seasons of the television show Survivor. I also worked on a movie, during which I met a shirtless Matthew McConaughey, but who hasn’t?

And: what’d you like us to know about your latest release:

Hair of the Corn Dog is the third book in my “Tales of Imperfection” series. It’s a collection of essays that center on the adventures of family and motherhood, like going to a drag show with your in-laws. But again, who hasn’t? Fans of the first two books, This Little Piggy Went to the Liquor Store and Mommy Had a Little Flask, will enjoy it. Those offended by raw honesty and four-letter words will not. I’ll be reading and signing on Thursday, March 20th at 6:30 pm at Rediscovered Books in Boise.

Are you transparent?

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A couple of years ago I was attending a writer’s retreat and our assignment was to write a Christmas vignette. When it came time to share, I was frustrated–to cop a cliche–to tears. I had no Christmas memories, no stories to share, and that left me feeling empty inside.

Since then, I’ve tried to be more present in my life, to pay more attention, and here’s what I’ve discovered. I am an observer, rarely a participant. People fascinate me and I love to watch them. I am transparent. Joyce Carol Oates explains it beautifully in this interview. http://www.newyorker.com/online/blogs/books/2013/06/video-joyce-carol-oates.html?mbid=social_retweet

Phew, for a writer, I’m normal.

Combating self-doubt

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Everything I write sucks. My characters talk like robots. No one’s going to read this crap. I need more coffee, something to eat. I could be hanging out with friends, but, no, here I sit in this chair and stare at this stupid blank screen. I’m never going to be a writer. 

Sound familiar? If you’ve been writing as long as I have, I’m sure you’ve struggled with the same feelings. Self-doubt is a killer. It will eat you up and squash your creativity. Instead of feeling like a failure, I should be walking in the clouds. I should be dancing, laughing and singing. The book I’ve been working on forever is finished. I did it. An editor is looking at it now. But instead of celebrating, I’m second-guessing. What if my plot stinks? What if my characters lack depth? What if she hates it?

I’ve been writing for years. I’ve even had some of my work published, and yet, I still haven’t found a way to combat self-doubt. This week I discovered two things that help.


First, I finally made time to read Carolyn See’s Making a Literary Life: Advice for Writers and Other Dreamers. Carolyn’s book has been on my to read list for more than ten years. Over the weekend I picked up a copy and as I turn the pages, I find myself cursing. Why did I wait so long?

“Pretend to be a writer,” Carolyn urges. “Do Some Magic.” A writer and a teacher, Carolyn believes in practicing affirmations: I can. I am a good writer. This is going to be a great day. She got me thinking. What kind of magic could I create if just for once I believed I could instead of insisting that I can’t?

I have a picture on my desk a writing buddy gave me years ago. It says IMAGINE, and I have pasted a page from the New York Times Book Review of Best Sellers there, penciling my name in as number one. What a joke. I’m never going to hit the New York best sellers list.

No, I’m not. Not if I don’t try. Not if I believe I can’t. But what if I believed I could? Just today one of my friends hit #1 in free Kindle books. It can happen.

My other tool to combat self-doubt is Owen Egerton’s uplifting article in The Huffington Post, Type So Hard You Bruise The Screen”, which you can read here: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/owen-egerton/type-so-hard-you-bruise-t_b_3052750.html. He begins his article, Write. Now. Go. In Jack Kerouac style, he offers a list of points for prose. Several of them speak to me including No. 16, which says: Do not write from answers. Write from questions. Discover more questions. Our work is not to explain the mystery, but to expand it. His No. 28 made me laugh because several years ago I quit my “day job” believing I could make a living as a writer. Owen says: If you write because you believe the world needs you, you’ll soon discover we don’t. If you write because you are so naturally talented you must, you’ll soon discover you are not. If you write for money… I’m chuckling at you. None of these reasons will sustain you. Listen. Are you called to write? Then write.

I particularly like No. 30: Writing is both holy and meaningless. That’s all the pressure and freedom you need.

Writing is so much harder than it looks. It’s exhilarating to create new worlds and characters, but it’s also exhausting. Are the commas in the right place? Who or whom? Am I showing and not telling? So many rules to follow, so many mistakes to make. But at the end of the day, I can’t fall asleep until I’ve faced the blank screen and did my best, because, in my heart, I’m a writer.

I’ve pasted Owen’s article to my monitor, and my copy of Carolyn’s book rests between my dictionary and thesaurus. I have a fresh cup of coffee, my butt’s in the chair and I’m looking at the screen. I’m ready to Write. Now. Go. This is a bright new morning. I’ve looked in the mirror and recited: I am a writer. I will have a productive day. I say it again. I am a writer. I will have a productive day.


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