Dianna Graveman

Flashback to 2012 with Dellani’s Tea Time and Dianna Graveman

Dianna GravemanDianna Graveman is busy moving, so I thought I’d post a little something on her official day, here at Cereal Authors. This takes us back to July 9, 2012 for a lovely chat with Dianna Graveman and Linda O’Connell. So, kick back with your favorite beverage and have a listen. Be sure to bring your laughter!

Listen here!

 

Dianna Graveman
Dianna Graveman
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Dianna Graveman, Fiction, Uncategorized, Writing Process

Veering Off Course

My daughter and her boyfriend are Wyoming musicians, and they are traveling along the West Coast this week. Earlier in August they performed at an Oregon music festival, after which they texted a travel update. They were either going to head north to Portland or south toward northern California before heading back home.

“Which direction will you go?” I texted back.

“We’ll know when we get on the road,” came the reply.

It occurred to me that fiction writing is kind of like that, at least for me. I may have an outline and a general idea which way to go, but I’m never entirely sure what will happen until I get on the road.

About six months ago, a good friend who had just purchased a new home posted this on Facebook: “I just looked up Providence. It means ‘the protective care of God.’ This is the name of the street we will live on. Call me silly . . . but it gave me peace of mind.”

As soon as I read that line I knew it was the beginning of a story. My revision (and the first line of my short story) reads: “My new house is on a road named Providence. Call me silly, but I take comfort in that.”

At first I didn’t know which direction that story would go, but I knew my narrator was going to lose both her home and her job before ending up on Providence Road. What I did not know—until the words hit the page—is that my narrator would become one of a couple and that she would head west. I didn’t know she would marvel at the alpenglow of the Sangre de Cristo Mountains or that her new home on Providence Road would be in New Mexico. I didn’t even know she was going to have a dog, and I certainly didn’t know his name would be Simon.

I spent several months on that story. Every time I read it, the narrator nudged me a little bit off the path I had intended her to follow. I let her. I hoped I wasn’t giving in too easily. Eventually, the story had completely derailed, jumped ship, gone off course (pick your travel cliché), but in a good way. Because in its derailing, it finally became a journey, for both the characters and for me. Is it any good? Well, it sold. So we’ll see.

And now I can’t wait to get started on a new story, one I hope will again take me places I never intended to go.

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pixabay.com

 

 

 

 

 

 

Dianna Graveman, writer's life

A Writer’s Dilemma: Finding the Perfect Fit

quill-1382670_640Lately I’ve seen a lot of online discussion about writing groups and critique groups. Most folks seem to be of the mind that every writer should belong to one or the other—preferably both—if he or she wants to continue to “grow.”

When I first started attending writing groups, I knew nothing about getting published, so I was anxious to learn from folks who were successful freelance writers and published authors. But after several years of attending workshops and lectures, they became repetitive—like taking the same college courses over and over.

Some of the groups hosted interactive workshops. I am an introvert, and nowhere was it more painfully evident than in sessions where I was expected to write on demand, using assigned prompts, after which I’d be expected to immediately “share” what I’d written. Not for me.

Still I craved the social interaction the groups provided. Writers like to hang out with other writers, after all.

So I tried critique groups, but I couldn’t make the commitment to attend every week (family demands) or produce pages every few weeks (work demands). I felt guilty for not “pulling my weight” in the group, and the last thing I needed in my life was more guilt—and more impossible deadlines.

Eventually I realized what I really wanted to do was just hang out with like-minded writing friends, talk about the publishing industry, discuss books we’ve read, compare notes on (but not necessarily critique) our latest works-in-progress, vent about rejections, and celebrate successes. Inspire and be inspired.

Voilà: a writers’ dinner group was born. I found my “fit.”

The four of us meet once a month. We share personal and professional news—both good and not so good. We toast our successes and offer each other encouragement for the journey ahead. When one of us needs input on a WIP, we ask for it (and sometimes that conversation spills over into an exchange of emails the following day), but it is not the focus of our evening. Rather, we are there to support, exchange ideas, and re-energize. Rarely does one of us miss a meeting, although it happens occasionally. More often, we try to adjust the schedule to accommodate a conflict. We’ve been meeting for so many years now, I’ve lost track of how many.

As my friend Donna (who is one of our members) wrote, “When writers are in the company of other writers, be it a dozen or only two, they too sharpen their writing skills and become better writers.” I still believe this to be true. For some the answer might be a writing group or critique group, but every writer should find her “fit”—and like most everything else in life, one size does not fit all.

Dianna Graveman, Fiction, Life

Starting Over with Baby Steps

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Image courtesy of atibody at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

For some of us, life is a series of “next steps”: new career, new job, new hobby, new challenges, maybe even a new family member in the form of a spouse, child, or grandchild.

For others of us, life sometimes becomes a series of backward steps. Lately, I’ve been stepping backward a lot. I’ve stepped backward to a quieter pre-children household, now that my kids are grown and have moved away (two of them to opposite sides of the country!).

I’ve stepped back to the idea of returning to a former career. I’ve stepped back to a simpler, less-cluttered life—through the donation and selling of unneeded belongings.

And now I’m trying to step back and once again find my identity as a writer. For many years, I felt unworthy of claiming that title, but as my work began to be published, I finally embraced it. Then I relished in it. Then I let it slip away.

I’ve done a lot of copywriting and a whole lot of corporate editing over the past several years. I compiled a few anthologies, created a book of meditations, even coauthored five regional histories. But my opportunity cost was the simple indulgence of writing creatively for pleasure. So when the last few history books were released and I did a few interviews and signings, I was asked more than once: “Have you ever considered writing anything else?”

Yes, I have. And yes, I did.

It isn’t easy, this giant step backward to who I once was. I started a short fiction piece last fall and tweaked it for months, afraid to put it out there. What if nobody likes it? What if it’s really awful and gets rejected a hundred times? What if I just can’t write anymore?

I spent six months on that story before finally picking my market and sending it off. In my defense (because you know I have to insert some excuses here), I was also dealing with a ridiculous amount of work deadlines during that time.

After six weeks—during which I ignored the advice of other freelancers to start something new while waiting, so sure was I that I had lost the knack and that the magazine’s editors were rolling on the floor of their offices having a good laugh at the absurdity of my submission—I received word that a contract was on the way.

It’s almost like getting published for the first time all over again, sixteen years later.

Will I be able to keep the deadlines at bay and once again embrace my writer identity? I’m not betting myself any money. Sometimes it’s all about baby steps. But hopefully, they will be baby steps forward.

books, Dianna Graveman, interviews, Nonfiction, Uncategorized

Serving Up a Recipe for Freelance Writing Success: Beef Up Your Chicken Soup!

For writers who wish to learn more about penning and publishing personal essays for Chicken Soup for the Soul and other anthologies, classes are now forming at Coffee House for Writers (coffeehouseforwriters.com). Author Linda O’Connell is the instructor.

vvvvv 195Linda is a former teacher and a multi-published freelance writer who has contributed to 24 Chicken Soup for the Soul books and many other anthologies. She also created an anthology, Not Your Mother’s Book on Family (along with the editors and publishers of Publishing Syndicate). Linda’s inspirational essays and prose have been widely published in regional, national, and international markets. One of her heartfelt personal essays was published in singer Gloria Gaynor’s anthology, We Will Survive, which is based on her #1 hit song, “I Will Survive.”

Here’s what other writers have to say about Linda’s brand of writing instruction:

“Linda, aka the Queen of Chicken Soup for the Soul Books, will be teaching the fine art of essay writing and I can’t think of anyone better suited for the task. If you’ve been trying and trying and trying to get your essays published, try taking this class. I promise you’ll improve with Linda leading the way to publication.” ~ Cathy C. Hall

“I’ve seen Linda―in a matter of minutes―deftly rearrange someone’s essay, along with giving suggestions on how to rework the beginning and end. And it’s all doled out as suggestions and padded with praise.” ~ Sioux Roslawski

I caught up with Linda to ask a few questions about her upcoming course. Here’s what she had to say:

1) You’ve been a teacher for a long time. Why did you decide to also become an online writing instructor?

Jennifer Brown Banks contacted me and invited me to join her team of professionals. Years ago I read her article in a writing magazine about breaking the rules. I took her advice and became a successful freelance writer. We have followed each other’s blogs ever since. I find it rewarding and fulfilling to help others find a way to publication. This is an ideal position for me.

2) Information at Coffee House for Writers states that students will submit one piece of writing to you for feedback and guidance. Can you provide a few more details about the class?

Students will submit one personal essay which we will work on together. Enrollment began May 1st, and classes are forming now. I look forward to having a full class of 15 students. My class interaction will be on an as-needed basis, so we will work around schedules.

4) How fast can students expect to receive feedback on their rough drafts after they’ve submitted them to you?

I enjoy editing, critiquing, and revising, so the turnaround should be fairly quick. I co-created an anthology, Not Your Mother’s Book on Family, and I found working with contributors enjoyable.  

5) Will you make other suggestions not related to Chicken Soup for the Soul if an author has a different market in mind for his or her personal essay?

I intend to help students develop essays that are publishable. A Chicken Soup-type story has a certain formula and is marketable elsewhere. I do intend to suggest other personal essay markets. Everyone is always seeking more markets. 

6) Do you have a story coming up soon in a Chicken Soup for the Soul book?

My latest story is about the horrific 9/11 event, which happened when I was in school.chicken-soup-for-the-soul-the-spirit-of-america-9781611599602_lg When no one knew what to say or do, I provided a way for the students to express their emotions. My story, “The Feelings Flag,” will be released June 7th in Chicken Soup for the Soul: The Spirit of America. I have stories in 24 Chicken Soup for the Soul books. I submit regularly.

 Thank you for this interview. I look forward to helping other writers develop marketable stories.

Readers: If you would like to learn more about Linda, read her blog, Write From the Heart. For more information about her class, “Beef Up Your Chicken Soup,” see the “Our Courses” tab at  Coffee House for Writers.

Dianna Graveman, History, Life, Musings, Nonfiction

The more things change . . .

Well, I was off the (Cereal Authors) grid for a while . . . about three and a half years. In that time, a lot has changed: my youngest moved to Jackson, Wyoming; my oldest moved to Tampa, Florida; two of my kids got married; and lots of other business-related and life-related stuff happened.

More changes are in the works for 2016. I don’t mean to sound like a politician here (God knows, we all get enough of that during the election season!), but change is good. It is life-affirming. It keeps me young(ish).

Recently, my coauthor/husband and I completed our fifth regional history for Arcadia Publishing: Legendary Locals of St. Charles. DurLegendary Localsing our research, we encountered the stories of many notable locals who weren’t afraid of change or of trying new things. For example, Sophie Hupe became a well-respected midwife after she was widowed at age fifty-one. Previously, she had worked as clerk, run a millinery shop, and partnered in the hotel business. Not bad for a woman born in 1848!

Kathryn Linnemann, another “mover and shaker,” started a library with donated books in her own home, later moving it to a small room at a local school as the library grew. In 1918 a fire destroyed the little library and several of its books, but Linnemann didn’t give up—she salvaged what she could and continued to operate in a small shed until a library board formed and a tax was passed to construct a new building in 1930. Talk about a woman who wasn’t afraid of change! Of course, she also embraced diligence, because she remained head librarian of that facility for forty years.

Spring is a great season for change: new wardrobe, new buds on the trees, new sprouts in the garden, new life. It’s a wonderful time to try a new hobby or pursue a long-neglected passion, like blogging! So here I am back with the wonderful group at Cereal Authors, wishing everyone a season full of jubilant changes and joyful happenstances.

To Spring!

Update: Legendary Locals of St. Charles was the #2 bestseller at area independent bookstores for the week ending March 27, according to the St. Louis Post-Dispatch.

 

 

 

Dianna Graveman

When Life Mimics Fiction

My heart is heavy, as are the hearts of many this day, December 15, 2012.

When I awoke this morning and realized it is my day to post at Cereal Authors, my first thought was, “What in the heck does one blog about on a day like this?” There is nothing new to say, really. The news sites have the facts, the Facebook pages have the prayers.

Which, by the way, is where you can also find the debates.

Even on a day like today, when our country mourns the loss of so many innocent school children, Facebook posters are bickering. Gun control laws should be strengthened; government doesn’t have the right to take my guns. Why would God allow this to happen?;  this happened because God is no longer allowed in public schools.  And on and on.

I can’t read it anymore.

So I loaded a stack of library books I’d been meaning to return (yes, I still read print books) and headed for the car. When I glanced down, I gasped. I’d forgotten. Just a month ago, I had checked out and read One Breath Away, by Heather Gudenkauf. I remember thinking the book was suspenseful; I read it quickly. I remember briefly thinking—based on our country’s recent violent history with Columbine, Virginia Tech, and other events—that this too could happen. Innocent elementary school children could become targets within their own classrooms. Yet when I finished the book, I put it down and walked away. I dismissed it as fiction.

Yesterday, it became reality.

Did the book give the shooter ideas? Probably not. I can’t imagine he would have read it, and anyway, while the premise is similar, the plot unfolds much differently than did yesterday’s real events, and yesterday’s outcome was much more tragic.

For me, the horror comes in knowing that I’d read this book, briefly considered the devastating possibilities, and then just as quickly dismissed them. Because that’s what we’ve begun to do in the U.S., I think, is dismiss the possibilities. When we hear of these tragedies, the tendency is to say, “How horrible!” and in the next breath say, “Again?”

How many innocent lives will be lost before our country demands change? Must my adult children quarantine their kids in order to keep them safe?

One Breath Away’s premise should have remained forever a fictional concept. Instead, it is now similar to the setting of one of the blackest days in recent United States history.

I offer my prayers to the families and the entire community of Newtown, Connecticut.

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Dianna Graveman owns and manages 2 Rivers Communications & Design, LLC, which provides writing, editing, marketing and design services to small businesses, publishers, and authors. Her writing portfolio includes over 200 publishing credits, 22 writing awards, and coauthorship of four regional histories. She teaches in the University of Missouri-St. Louis “Write Stuff” program and will be a contributor to the 2014 Writer’s Market Guide to Indie Publishing.

Dianna Graveman, Fiction

Photographs

The following excerpt comprises the first two pages or so of a story called “Photographs,” which was published in New Love Stories Magazine in 2009 and which won 1st place for best short story at the 2010 Missouri Writers’ Guild Conference in St. Louis.The entire story is included in a collection of short fiction I am currently developing for potential publication.

Photographs

An array of photographs checkers Karen’s kitchen tabletop. She has shoved the children’s cereal bowls, sticky with milk and residue from sugary breakfast fare, to the outer edges of the table to make room for her impromptu photo display. Now she hovers over the collection and frowns, scanning the images for some clue to the mystery.

Here is one she took of an oxeye daisy, and here is some alpine clover and purple waterleaf. Karen likes to photograph flowers and plants close up, capturing with film the petals and pistons and hints of inner workings. Here are images of rock primrose and bushy, blue beardtongue. There are mountain landscapes and a couple of clear shots of a mule deer that had wandered near camp.

But there are pictures of Karen, too: photos of her sleeping in the tent at twilight; emerging, sleepy-eyed and disheveled, from her tent at dawn; crouching beside the fire, heating water for her instant coffee. In these photographs lies the mystery, both startling and frightening for this simple fact:

Karen had gone camping alone.

It had seemed like a brave and daring thing to do, announcing to Jack and the kids that she needed to get away for a while.

“Get away from what?” Jack had asked.

Karen’s heard all the platitudes, the advice to young married couples, the admonitions to “stick it out, because marriage is hard work.” She could conduct her own marriage seminar based on the reams of newspaper articles, magazine stories, and advice columns she has read. “How to Keep the Fire Burning When the Spark’s Gone Out!” screamed one recent headline from the front of a woman’s periodical at the supermarket.

Karen didn’t tell Jack what she had up her sleeve right away. She is sure he thought she would go to a day spa or something, have a massage, get her nails done. Instead, she went online and looked for secluded campsites. She knew just where she wanted to go. From their suburb in western Kansas, the Rockies would be a short trip.

In Jack’s defense, Karen will say that he took things rather well after he saw that she had purchased a sleeping bag and supplies and packed the trunk of her Volvo. Jack likes to joke that Karen could get lost backing out of her driveway, so he made sure she had the proper maps and directions and a fully charged cell phone. She did appreciate this.

And it wasn’t without a good measure of guilt that she left her two children behind for the weekend to set out on her own, although neither is fond of the rugged outdoors. But Karen knew they would get along fine without her for a few days, and she needed a break. Jack would probably say he could use a break from her, too.

Karen crawled from her little tent that first morning, stretching and gulping the cool air as if she’d been imprisoned for some time and was now allowed finally to venture in the open. Just as the ranger had promised, she was far removed from family campsites and well-traveled trails. “You most likely will not even see a ranger, unless you can get cell service and call for one,” he had promised.

After breakfast, Karen found a little mountain stream rimmed with White Spruce and Ponderosa Pine. Recent spring rains had left the ground wet and sticky, but the air smelled clean and sweet. All through the shady, cool hours, she hiked along muddy paths and marveled at rocks green with lichen. She strung Forget-me-Nots into necklaces that she wore until they wilted and fell away. Her eye once caught a flash of white tail, and turning quickly, she spotted a doe who was startled into stunned stillness. They watched each other for a long time, eyes wide, until the doe bounded behind a green leafy curtain. Only then did Karen allow herself the relief of movement, a breath of new air.

She wound her way between trees in an aspen grove, sliding her hands over long white trunks, fingering the green leaves as she envisioned the flashing gold of autumn aspens that she had seen only on postcards and in magazine pictures. The largest living thing in the world, Karen read once, is an aspen tree in the Wasatch Mountains. Forty-one thousand trees grow from one rootstock, making the forest really just one tree with many branches. Forty-one thousand!  It was amazing to contemplate.

Karen moved through that day and into the next, growing more comfortable in her own skin, becoming more serene in her solitude. This total aloneness was a delicious feeling—sensuous—and so that evening after dinner and just before dark, she did something she would never have done under other circumstances: she slipped from her clothes and slid into the cool bath of that blue mountain stream. Karen felt wicked as she paddled around, flipping from stomach to back, her pale skin flashing in the glow of a moon that was just beginning to make itself known.

By the time the weekend had ended, Karen had taken dozens of pictures, never keeping track of how many she’d taken and never, ever considering the idea that somebody else was using her camera for an entirely different and possibly sinister purpose.

Dianna Graveman, Literary, YA

No excuses…

…okay, just one.

I was supposed to post in Cereal Authors yesterday, but I’ve been on the road. I love traveling, even for business. Sometimes I think I enjoy traveling for business even more than I enjoy traveling for pleasure, because you have so many more opportunities to engage with others and learn from their stories.

I’d only been home a few days from a trip across the state of Colorado and back (more on that trip next post) when I had to repack and head for the Ozark Creative Writers conference in Eureka Springs, Arkansas. I had been invited to speak about marketing, and I already knew some of the folks who would be there, including some of the OCW board members like publisher Lou Turner and western writer Dusty Richards. It was great fun to renew old friendships and make new ones.

I had a blast presenting two breakout sessions on marketing, but I also had a lot of fun learning from others with more experience than I in the world of publishing. Just as I was about to put together my notes from the conference for a blog post, another conference attendee beat me to it, and I liked her post so much, I’m going to link to it here and let her tell the story. (Besides, I was rather tickled she referred to me as a “marketing guru.” I’m just learning like everyone else, but I do spend a ridiculous number of hours educating myself about marketing and passing that knowledge on to others. So if that makes me a guru, so be it!)

I can’t add a lot to Staci’s great post except to share with you tidbits from a couple of my favorite speakers. During her talk, Dr. Susan Swartwout of Southeast Missouri University Press shared some intriguing first lines that “hook” the reader. Here are a few:

“I come from a family with a lot of dead people.” (Each Little Bird That Sings, by Deborah Wiles)

“Yesterday afternoon the six o’clock bus ran over Miss Bobbit.” (“Children on Their Birthdays,” a short story by Truman Capote)

“There was once a boy named Eustace Clarence Scrubb, and he almost deserved it.” (The Voyage of the Dawn Treader, by C. S. Lewis)

Another of my favorite speakers at the OCW conference was western writer Johnny D. Boggs. Johnny describes himself as a “hack writer,” which he explains by saying he writes everything, because he writes to earn a living. “Everyone says, ‘Write for yourself,'” he said. “But when you write for yourself, you write for an audience of one.”

Johnny does write a little bit of everything, including book reviews and magazine articles. He once wrote a Civil Rights story, “Rites of Autumn,” for Boys Life Magazine. Several months later, he received an email from a 5th-grade teacher who said her students had found the magazine in the school library and loved the story. They had some questions for Johnny, and the teacher wondered if Johnny would mind if the students emailed him.

Johnny said their emails were full of really good questions and even some suggestions. He responded to all of them, and then he asked the teacher if she thought the students would enjoy receiving autographed copies of one of his books that was age-appropriate for 5th-graders. She was delighted.

After the package arrived, the teacher wrote Johnny and told him the kids were really excited about those books, and once they realized the books were autographed to each of them individually, they were so excited you would have thought Justin Bieber had walked into the room!

The moral to Johnny’s story was that it is incredibly rewarding to encourage kids to read—and writing books that engage young readers is one way to do that.

I have not given much thought to writing YA, but maybe some day I will. As a former elementary school teacher, I do know Johnny’s story will stick with me for a long time.

 

Dianna Graveman, Literary, Musings

Teller of Other People’s Tales

 

For my first Cereal Authors post, it was suggested I introduce myself. I did that in my bio, which represents the sum total of all I really want to say about me. I’m not such an interesting person. Trust me on this.

I am a teller of tales—other people’s tales—although I include in that my own reactions to people and the events that surround them. Great stories are everywhere—so much so that if we allow it we will drown in them, be overwhelmed by them, be smacked right in the face by them at every turn.

I will never be short of story ideas, only short of time to write them all down.

I watch the great ones, too. There is much to be learned. William Least Heat-Moon, author of the American classic Blue Highways (1983), is always listening, asking, jotting notes. I’ve watched him coax more than one restaurant server into spilling the most unique details of her life—all her hopes and dreams—simply by asking the right questions as she refills our water glasses. And he listens. Really listens.

Amazingly, when you tell people you’re a writer, doors open. People will tell you anything (usually). Colorful characters who persevere amid the controversy and extremes of our world offer endless plot possibilities if you’re a fiction writer, and suggest many opportunities to tell tales that are real and honest if you are not.

I once met two bikers from northern Colorado while traveling through the San Juans. They spoke of the time they had passed through Eureka Springs, Arkansas, and spotted blackberries “the size of your thumb” alongside the road. (They held up their thumbs as a point of reference.) The two stopped and ate their fill and, later that night, were mystified by the little red welts that freckled their bodies. They had never heard of chiggers before, those tiny mites of the Midwest whose bites cause a mighty itch. It’s hard to imagine characters more colorful than these.

Or how about the lady I met who broke the law and watered a treasured tomato plant during a drought when water was being rationed in her Colorado town? Although she used dirty dish water to nurture the plant on her front porch, a neighbor—once her good friend—reported her to the police. The plot twists that could grow out of that feud!

Then there is the old guy from Tucumcari who euthanized scorpions and sold them to tourists for souvenirs. He strung several together beneath the wooden slats of his porch and shined a UV light on them at night to frighten visitors. What would Stephen King do with that?

All real people, all true stories—just waiting to be plopped down in the middle of a book.

So I am a teller of other people’s stories, and bits and pieces of some of those stories are what I hope to share with you here.

www.diannagraveman.com