My 1st Fellowship Award! The Catamaran Writing Conference

 

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On Tuesday I was awarded a Fellowship to study Creative Nonfiction and Memoir with Frances Lefkowitz at the 2015 Catamaran Writing Conference. 

I still can’t believe it!

A little backstory: in 2012 I read about the new, local Catamaran Literary Reader. Each issue was filled with first-rate writers. Many of them had received the highest writing accolades possible. I never dreamed of submitting my writing to the editors, especially since my unrelenting bipolar depression got in the way.

In 2013 after a seven-year-long search, I finally found a medication combination that alleviated my paralyzing depression: lithium and an MAOI. I started this blog and returned to work on my partially written memoir Birth of a New Brain.

Fast forward to last month. I wanted to attend a writing workshop that could help me improve my first draft. Through a Google search I found the Catamaran Writing Conference. This annual event is held at a beautiful Pebble Beach campus complete with field trips. It sounded like a glorious summer camp for writers!

I looked at the cost and gulped. No way, I thought. Ain’t gonna happen. 

However, I couldn’t get the conference out of my mind. After three cups of Steve’s Smooth French coffee (for the record, the coffee mug was small!) I wondered if scholarships were available  I emailed an inquiry to the Catamaran office and got on with my day. Within hours the conference coordinator emailed me,”Yes, we offer several fellowships, and here’s the link to apply.” 

Why the hell not? I thought.

Some of you know I’ve been through plenty of literary rejection that brought up slight 😉 anger and insecurity issues. See this link for the gory details: https://dyaneharwood.wordpress.com/2015/03/06/lets-play-the-schadenfreude-game-a-writers-1st-rejection/

 

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To get fired up to write my application, I re-read the description of the Nonfiction Workshop I wanted to take. The teacher, renowned writer Frances Lefkowitz (author of To Have Not, a highly acclaimed memoir about growing up poor in San Francisco), seemed like she’d be an ideal guide. Lefkowitz has led numerous memoir workshops. She won a grant to teach free memoir workshops at libraries – how cool is that? (I’ve worked for the Santa Cruz Libraries and Friends of the Santa Cruz Libraries; I’m a bit of a library fan.) Participating in her workshop would be a unique opportunity, bar none.

Moreover, Frances Lefkowitz has the same first name as my beloved Granny who was also a gifted teacher. I blogged about my remarkable grandmother for the first time last week. The name coincidence and timing seemed like a good omen that tickled me in the face.

Still, I knew that it was highly unlikely I’d be awarded a fellowship. Surely the staff received a gazillion entries from outstanding writers with talents far superior to mine – writers who were destined to win oodles of Pushcart Prizes and PEN Literary Awards. 

On Tuesday morning I sat in front of my laptop, perplexed. The past month I’ve gone through an awful writing block. I’ve worked on my book here and there instead of during every precious child-free opportunity that I’ve had. (I suspect that my Seroquel withdrawal has had something to do with my struggle.)

My dog Lucy sat on my foot, her warm, furry flank reassuring me of her affection. I began to sob with frustration. Lucy immediately jumped up in alarm and licked my face. As soon as I dried my tears, I noticed a new email had popped up in my in-box.

It was from the Catamaran Literary Reader.

I stared at my in-box. I felt slightly sick to my stomach. I wanted this fellowship. Ever since I emailed my application I wrote nightly affirmations stating I’d receive the award. I furtively placed these slips of paper under my pillow. (This is hippie-dippie Santa Cruz after all, and in twenty-seven years of living here, I’ve never written positive affirmations!)

Despite my pillow plea to the Universe, I knew that the email was likely to be a rejection. Before opening it I braced myself. I took a deep breath. I opened the email and read, ” The editors have chosen you to receive a Fellowship Award to study Creative Nonfiction and Memoir with Frances Lefkowitz during the 2015 conference.”

I let out an enormous, happy scream. Poor Lucy. She barked madly while I danced around in circles like a freak. I’m so grateful for this beautiful award, and I’m honored that the Catamaran editors were “impressed” with my submission!

Since then, I’ve been absorbed with reading my teacher’s memoir; it’s not required, but after reading its rave reviews and spotting its $2.99 cost on Kindle, I was compelled to buy it. I’ve read the first few chapters and it’s incredible. My good friend/blogger Kitt O’Malley (http://kittomalley.com) noticed my enthusiastic tweet about this book and she also bought it. I know she’ll find it a riveting read as well. 

I’ve checked out Lufkowitz’s blog Paper in My Shoe and some of her interviews to get a sense of her teaching style and philosophy. All of these interviews contained excellent writing advice.

Here’s one piece of wisdom she shared on the Fictionaut blog that many of us bloggers/writers can utilize. 

http://fictionaut.com/blog/2012/04/11/fictionaut-five-frances-lefkowitz/

What’s the best writer’s advice you ever got?

Frances Lefkowitz: When submitting stories to publications, always keep several pieces in circulation, so when one comes back rejected, you still have the others keeping hope alive. Also, for the same reason, send that rejected one out immediately to another journal. This advice came from the wonderful Pamela Painter, who taught me fiction at Harvard’s night school.

It’s not too late to sign up for the conference! Details are posted below. 

I’ll be back next week with an update on the Seroquel withdrawal blues, which was meant to be today’s original topic until I got this lovely conference news. 🙂 

take care, and have a wonderful weekend!

love, Dyane

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To buy To Have Not go to :http://www.amazon.com/gp/product/B003GDIA32/ref=s9_simh_gw_p351_d0_i1?pf_rd_m=ATVPDKIKX0DER&pf_rd_s=desktop-1&pf_rd_r=0434WR0JN7PNWSVJ7ACW&pf_rd_t=36701&pf_rd_p=2079475242&pf_rd_i=desktop

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@YesFrances
Frances Lufkowtiz’s cool website/blog Paper In My Shoe 

http://www.franceslefkowitz.net/blog/

 

For information about the 2015 Catamaran Conference in Pebble Beach this August, visit:

http://catamaranliteraryreader.com/conference-2015/

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Dyane’s memoir Birth of a New Brain – Healing from Postpartum Bipolar Disorder with a foreword by Dr. Walker Karraa (Transformed by Postpartum Depression: Women’s Stories of Trauma and Growth) will be published by Post Hill Press in Fall, 2016. 

Readers, I adore you! (Yep, another thank you.)

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This week I was way more isolated than usual since I’ve been holed up at home caring for my two sick little girls.  Thankfully, today they are doing much better, and I’m surprised and grateful that I haven’t picked up their nasty bug yet.  (I pray that I don’t!)

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Last week my blogging served as a verrrry welcome break from wiping runny noses, administering cough medicine, and mediating fights.  (Two cranky girls with misery-inducing colds do not make for a peaceful household!)

Ever since I started blogging, I’ve loved reading comments submitted by readers expressing how they’ve appreciated my sharing my experience with bipolar disorder.  When someone writes that he has been inspired by my post, or that she feels less alone with her struggles, I eat up these words as if they were a double chocolate brownie.

I don’t require loads of appreciative remarks – one juicy line or two will keep me floating for a while.  Sometimes I get such a thrill that I practically morph into Julie Andrews singing as Maria in “The Sound of Music”.

 

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Last fall, I thought the ultimate blogging prize would be having a huge readership, getting forty comments a post, and making money from blogging.  Then I realized as fabulous as those things may sound, if it all happened to me, I’d feel completely overwhelmed.  I enjoy responding to comments, and if my blog became uber-popular, I wouldn’t be able to keep up with the unique give-and-take between blogger and reader that I find so gratifying.  From this point on, I’ll be happy to gain a few followers a month, but there’s no need for me to be greedy by aggressively seeking more followers.  Fixating on numbers would rob the fun out of blogging – at least it would for me.

To make a blog into a job has never been my goal, but  I’ve been tempted by the allure of making money from blogging.  I live close to Silicon Valley where the first BlogHer conference occurred ten years ago.  I’ve watched the blog craze take off over the past decade, and I can see why the blogging phenomenon took off the way it did.  I’ve read some of the success stories.

Out of curiosity, I visited the BlogHer website.  A full conference pass for the July 2014 BlogHer conference costs $400. Wow!  I’m sure that BlogHer will offer its attendees a wonderful,valuable experience, but even if I did have that kind of money to spare, I’d rather invest it into a writer’s workshop or a perinatal conference.  My top priority is completing my book about postpartum bipolar disorder, not (sniff, sniff) my beloved blog.

It’s not late November, but I’m in a thankful mood this month.  Also spring has cheered me up, although it hasn’t propelled me into hypomania or mania like it does for some people with bipolar disorder.  Recently I wrote another post of thanks containing a few of the topics that I discuss in this post; if you want to take a peek, here’s the link:

https://dyaneharwood.wordpress.com/2014/04/10/a-heartfelt-thanks-a-writers-retrospective/

I’m being a bit repetitive today, but it’s all sincere, and it’s all good.

Thanks for reading this, and have a wonderful weekend!

Dyane 🙂

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Great Blogs by Writers with Bipolar: L.E. Henderson’s “Passionate Reason”

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photo51ZAAgPzzOL._BO2,204,203,200_PIsitb-sticker-v3-big,TopRight,0,-55_SX278_SY278_PIkin4,BottomRight,1,22_AA300_SH20_OU01_Now that I have added a big chunk of daily writing time to my life, I have less time to search for new blogs and keep up with old favorites.  I’ll remain on the lookout, however, for extraordinary, compelling blogs that catch my interest.  I guess I can always get up earlier in the day to read them! 😉

I discovered a blog which met my stringent requirements through purchasing an e-book.  The blog is L.E Henderson’s “Passionate Reason”, and I bought Henderson’s book A Trail of Crumbs to Creative Freedom: One Author’s Journey Through Writer’s Block and Beyond a few weeks ago for just 99 cents.  I’m finding her book fascinating and relevant to my own writing “trail”, especially since Henderson addresses how her bipolar disorder has affected her creativity and writing output.  (Note to L.H. Henderson: I would have paid $9.99 for this book in a heartbeat!)

I’ve only reblogged one or two posts over the past few months.  You could say I’m picky about what I select – I don’t just reblog anyone! 😉 I found it interesting how Henderson writes below about the intriguing dilemma of writers who find writing a tortuous process.  Her comments reminded me of a book I splurged on a few months ago, You’ve Got a Book In You! A Stress-Free Guide to Writing the Book of Your Dreams by Elizabeth Sims.  Sims asserts that writing a book is “fun and easy”!   While writing my book has felt gratifying, due to much of the subject matter, it hasn’t been exactly fun nor easy.  In all fairness, I’m still reading Sims’ book, but at this point I think I’ll  reach a happy medium between fun/easy and tortuous, and that’s acceptable to me for the time being.  Who knows, though?  We’ll see.  I better finish Sims’ book soon!

Visit L.E. Henderson’s blog to read her other entries, and to learn about her published novel Thief of Hades based on the Greek myth.  Without further adieu, here’s L.E. Henderson’s post about the unearthing of her book Trail of Crumbs – enjoy!

From Creative Block to Creative Freedom: “Trail of Crumbs” UnearthedPosted: 15 Mar 2014 05:01 AM PDT

It has been about a year since I published my e-book A Trail of Crumbs to Creative Freedom. Though I consider myself primarily a fiction writer, its content was important to me. It was a record of my transition from depression and block to recovering creatively, which led to finishing my newest fantasy novel, The Ghosts of Chimera.During the time of publishing “Trail,” I was going through some monumental upheavals, which led to my move from SC to Florida, where I live now. It was not until I had a chance to settle down that I even thought to be bothered that my book, dropped into a lonely corner of cyberspace, had found few readers outside my family.And I literally mean a few. Writers, which were my target audience, were silent.No one was buying. No one was reading. No one was reviewing. But the book meant a lot to me. The lack of feedback was upsetting.I was used to getting feedback because of my blog articles, in which I reiterated many of the same points I had made in “Trail.” Whenever I submitted these articles to Reddit, the response was always overwhelming, with readers telling me that the posts inspired or helped them.I had written the book to be read. I considered that the price tag of 3.99 might have been the wall that was keeping people from buying. I actually considered giving the book away from free so that I could at least get responses, but I did not want to send the message that I thought it had no value when, in fact, the opposite is true.

At one time, when I was blocked and depressed, a book like “Trail” would have made a big difference to me. Recently I went back and looked at my book, and realized that I had changed a lot since the time of publication.

I went back and re-edited it to incorporate insights I had since first publication. I also thinned out some of my dashes.

During the time I wrote “Trail” I was a bit manic and cycling through punctuation obsessions. (See earlier post: “My Great Manic Comma Blizzard.”)

When I looked at my first edition, I could see that I had way overdone the dashes, overriding my poor editor, who had done me a great favor by thinning out all my commas, little prepared for the dash fiend I was about to become.

In the new version, my dash explosion is safely contained.

Since I released my updated version with a 99 cent price tag, a few copies have actually sold and I have gotten a response from a fellow blogger.

Dyane Harwood at https://dyaneharwood.wordpress.com/ had some kind things to say:

Henderson released this relatively short book (88 pages) for only 99 cents on Kindle. In Trail of Crumbs she analyzes the creative writing process and how her bipolar disorder adversely affected her writing. She ends the book on a high note in sharing how she was able to let her creative juices flow again. I just started reading it, and I’m finding it interesting and well-written, so it was quite a deal for less than a cup of coffee!

Harwood ran across my book while researching bipolar disorder for her work-in-progress called Birth of a New Brain. I was happy to have captured the attention of a bipolar blogger because the audience I originally envisioned were bipolar writers who were blocked and depressed the way I was.

But since writing is known for being a bipolar process, I thought my book would appeal to a more general audience of writers as well.

Bipolar or not, many writers speak cynically about their profession, describing writing as torture or a type of insanity. While these things are often said tongue-in-cheek, a grim reality underlies them. Writers are not known for being happy but are instead known for alcoholism, mental illness, drug addiction, and suicidal urges.

To make matters worse, the world of writing advice is ridden with guilt, fear, and self-punishment.  Typical messages, which I see in many writing blogs, are: Stop being so lazy and selfish. Put the reader first. Write what you think others want to read. Do not be narcissistic, preachy, affected, or self-indulgent.

By all means do not offend the reader. Do not use the words “very” or “then.” Do not use adverbs. Or talk about yourself. Just who do you think you are anyway?

In the popular understanding of what it means to write, writing is all about being careful. The true object of writing, which is to build, is side-lined. You would think that the arbiter of “good” writing was Miss Manners, when in fact the best writing is about honesty, not politeness; creating, not tearing down.

In writing my book, I wondered why so many professional writers hate writing and why we view writing as something we have to make ourselves do.

But it could be different. When I was in college, the writers I desperately envied were the ones who loved writing so much that they had to do it every day, like Isaac Asimov and Ray Bradbury. They defied the stereotypes. They viewed writing as a way to be happy.

At the time I had no idea how they had achieved this. I speculated that they were such geniuses that their minds and emotions were just better wired.

But after my experience of learning to enjoy writing again, I suspect not. More likely, they were people who were able to ignore cultural messages about how writing should be done and retain a sense of wonder that, for most people, burns bright in childhood and then fizzles out in adolescence.

So far I have avoided trying to sell anything in my blog. That is not its purpose. I much prefer to talk about other issues that interest me. But today I am making an exception.

My book costs the same as a dollar store spatula, less in fact. And although spatulas are wonderfully useful, I feel confident in saying that my book is worth more.

Not that my book is a “system” or a promise of magical results after 30 days, nor does it claim to be the only way that writers can work. It is a personal experience that mapped my transition from thinking I could never write again to my discovery that I could love and enjoy it more than I ever had before.

But for that to happen, I had to let go of conventional ideas about the writing process that I had absorbed over many years.

But back on point: If you are thinking about purchasing a spatula, restrain the impulse a little longer and buy my book instead. Your old one can hold out a little longer, until you are able to recoup your investment.

Then read my book, get back to me, and tell me what you think. I am eager to hear what you have to say. To any of you who have already bought my book, thank you!! And please tell the others that it is feasible to have spatulas and creative freedom, too.

With patience, Young One, all things are possible.

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Visit L.E. Henderson’s blog at :  

http://www.passionatereason.com/

To purchase the e-book on Amazon, visit:

http://www.amazon.com/Trail-Crumbs-Creative-Freedom-Authors-ebook/dp/B00IR002D0/ref=sr_1_2?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1395061396&sr=1-2&keywords=A+Trail+of+Crumbs

Back to My Book Today & “You’re Just Like Me: Dyane”

Today is the day!  

After I drop my girls off at school, if I make it back home alive (it’s always a risk driving in the school’s parking lot from hell!) I’m planting myself in my freshly organized office.  It’s once again time to work on my book  Birth of a New Brain – Healing from Postpartum Bipolar Disorder.  I’ll be praying that I won’t relapse before this project is completed.  (I relapsed last year, and I cancelled my long-awaited book contract because of that setback…ugh.)

In short, I’m scared.

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I have a hundred pages that I wrote well over a year ago.  I plan to sit my ass down and review them, but since a lot of that material was written when I was hypomanic or manic, I doubt much of it will be salvageable.  At least it’s a starting point.

Since I don’t have much time today to work on my usual, overly long blog post, I thought I’d share a recent Q&A from the popular blog “Bipolar, Unemployed and Lost – The Real Thoughts of a Bipolar Mind”.  It’s about, ahem, me.

Check it out, and take a look at Oh Temp’s other compelling posts – you may even want to participate in this Q&A yourself.  “You’re Just Like Me” is a weekly feature.  You just need to email your answers to the questions you see in my submission to bipolarunemployedlost@gmail.com. Oh Temp writes in the blog, “We will feature your Q&A!  I’d love to hear your experience and motivation to fight this horrible disease.”

http://insideabipolarhead.wordpress.com/2014/02/21/youre-just-like-me-dyane/

I’ll be posting here later this week, and I hope you will check back.

Thanks for visiting my blog – it really means a great deal to me that you’re reading this, and now I’m getting all verklempt but really, I feel honored to have my diatribes read by someone besides me!  😉

Take care.

Dyane

p.s. If you are a mom living with mental illness, please visit the brand-new blog/Facebook page “Stigmama”.  This resource has been created by Dr. Walker Karraa, a perinatal mental health advocate, author and researcher.  To learn about her work visit http://www.walkerkarraa.com.

Stigmama is a “community blog dedicated to women’s experiences of stigma regarding mental illness and motherhood.”

Stigmama is seeking blog submissions and you can find contact info. at the link below.

https://www.facebook.com/pages/Stigmamacom/436581233140467

Facing challenges with writing books when you have bipolar

That’s what’s on my sleepy mind this rainy morning – how authors with brain challenges have the ability to complete an entire book.  I wish there was a magic potion I could drink that would get me to sit down and finish the piece I’ve been working on (and mostly off) the past several years.  I’ve been thinking books-books-books all stormy weekend long.  I selected some of my longtime “friends” (I know it sounds schmaltzy, but I consider books to be friends) for my blog hit lists that I wrote over the weekend.

If you search Amazon listings you’ll find that a brand-new bipolar memoir is being published almost every day.  Many of these books are self-published, and they usually run the price of a small double mocha instead of twenty-five dollars.  As much as I’d love the author to make more of a profit, I love that affordability.

It’s getting easier and easier to get your work out into the world, which is wonderful.  I’ve noticed that more authors are using self-publishing companies such as CreateSpace and Author House.  While it’s a blessing that these organizations give writers the opportunity to share their stories with a worldwide audience, it’s also easier for mediocre or downright awful books to emerge.

Even if a new book is lousy, I still have so much admiration for the author; I’m also envious because I want to complete a project too.  Anyone who can focus enough to finish  a two-hundred page manuscript has made a remarkable achievement.  I’ve been wondering why I want to finish my book so badly.  The reasons are simple: I want all my suffering to help other moms with bipolar feel less alone, I want to feel productive, and I want to be able to tell people (and myself) that I’m a bona fide author.  It’s true am a writer – the fact that I’ve made a couple thousand dollars off my articles tells me that, but it’s different to have a book published.  A book is (usually) a true labor of love.  Writing a book was a labor of love for my husband Craig Harwood, who took seven years to write his book Quest for Flight: John J. Montgomery and the Dawn of Aviation in the West in his free time.

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(shameless plug!)

Yesterday I was working out on my NordicTrack elliptical.  While I’ve had phases where I’ve been an exercise purist eschewing magazines, lately I’ve been reading my Kindle on the machine.  The workout time flies by while I surf Facebook and read books on my Kindle and I still break a decent sweat.  I also blast the Pandora Disco channel.  There’s nothing like hearing the Bee Gees’ “More Than a Woman” or Michael Jackson’s “Don’t Stop ‘Til You Get Enough” while on an elliptical.

A couple days ago I was working out and Kindle surfing.  I spotted a book announced on Amazon that very day: Deborah Kaminski’s Bipolar and Me for just $2.99.  What caught my eye was the book cover – it was hard to miss, even with sweat dripping into my eyes:

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(There’s nothing quite like an eye-catching cover.)

The author describes her book simply on Amazon: “This book talks about my journey with Bipolar Disorder and has information for both those suffering and those who have loved ones who suffer with bipolar.”  Her self-publishing company is BookRix.  I had never heard of them, and their recent press release sounds too good to be true .  They “will no longer charge for their eBook-distribution-services, allowing authors to publish eBooks for free via BookRix and distribute them to all major eBook stores such as Amazon.”  When I observe books being published so frequently by these types of companies, I am reminded that I can just go for it.  I’ve seen books that are only fifteen or twenty pages long for sale on Amazon – to me that’s more of a chunky brochure, but I admire the writer’s resolve in getting her work out into the world.

Many people with bipolar have attention challenges and/or struggle with sedation due to medication side effects.  I have both of those issues, but I won’t let them stop me.  If others can do it, I can too.  I also realized that I won’t become a career blogger or a fly-by-night sensation who gains thousands of followers.  It’s a hard to give up the idea of hitting it big via a blog, but I can’t blog regularly and work on a book – at least not now.  I have two little girls who are my priority, and at this point I am not able to do everything I want to do.

However, I can still set out to accomplish my dream to complete a book project.  One of my favorite authors Madeleine L’Engle had her infamous A Wrinkle In Time manuscript rejected by at least 26 publishers, because it was, in L’Engle’s words, “too different”, and “because it deals overtly with the problem of evil.”   She also went through an entire decade of getting rejection slips, which is hard for me to believe.  She describes that tortuous decade in her own writing in the book Two Part Invention – the Story of A Marriage. (It’s one of my favorite books.)

I’ll boast about this until the day I die, but none other than Madeleine L’Engle liked my writing, even though it was just a measly fourteen line sonnet I wrote with sweaty palms about dolphins.  L’Engle had me recite it at her writing workshop.  Take my word for it, she was not the type to lie about liking anyone’s writing.  She made that astoundingly clear at the two workshops I was lucky enough to attend.

There’s the famous saying that to be truly excellent at anything, one must practice for 10,000 hours.  I’ve been using this blog to get into the daily practice of writing, and I’m hoping it won’t take me another 9,995 hours to get where I want to be.  At least I have the aforesaid hope, and if I have hope, I can write a book – I really think I can.  I’m going to finish reading this:

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and hop to it!

I’ve selected March 1st as my start date to return to writing/editing my Birth of a New Brain manuscript.  (I have one hundred pages so far.)  I will devote at least a half an hour each day to writing.  My husband told me he spent twenty minutes every morning to write his book Quest for Flight.   He woke up before the rest of us each day to do it, which I can’t realistically do yet.  The three medications I take (lithium, Seroquel and the MAOI Parnate) make it so that I need to sleep as long as I can in the morning.  Then my girls get up, and we all scramble to get ready for the bumper-to-bumper schlep to school.

I’ll stick to blogging for the next couple weeks and try to shorten my posts.  I never thought I’d write overly long blog posts, but I figure you can skim it or maybe you’re hopefully a fast (and tolerant) reader!  Thanks for reading this from the bottom of my sleepy heart!