Memorial Day

Memorial Day

Memorial Day

Memorial Day Writers Project

Thoughts and musings for Memorial Day on the bravery and value veterans bring to our lives! Thank you for your service!

From 2011 through 2014 I was involved in a Creative Writing MFA Program through the University of New Orleans. It was a low residency program, so it was online during the school year and then each summer we’d get together for a month-long residency abroad.

The flexibility of this program was one of the best things about it. As a result, it attracted a diverse student population. People of all ages, from all over the country, with entirely different life experiences were amongst my classmates.

It’s amazing how fast you get to know a person once you read their writing. Who needs small talk and ice breakers when you’re immediately reading a person’s inner-most thoughts and experiences? Fiction or not– there are always traces of the author’s real life and personality on that page.

Hurricane survival, divorces, medical issues, motherhood– we glimpsed it all through the words on the page. But the experiences that really stood out for me were the ones shared by military veteran classmates.

There were some of the expected heroic moments in action pieces and examinations of mortality. But there were other truly surprising reflective stories about human emotions, commonalities in cultures, and appreciation of the small things in life.

One of my favorite pieces was about the smell of rain in the air (petrichor, it is apparently called). The piece was absolutely beautiful and surprisingly peaceful for the haunting setting of a soldier on patrol in Afghanistan.

I was raised with two veteran grandfathers in my family. One who never spoke about his military experience, and one whose stories became family legend. I think this is a common classification amongst veterans– those who cope by burying and those who cope by sharing.

The Memorial Day Writers project originated from a group of the latter. A trio of Vietnam veterans created an annual assembly of veterans who wanted to create beauty from their catharsis. Every year they gather by the Vietnam monument and share song lyrics, poetry, and stories.

I admire the bravery of these men and women. Not only for their service, but also their willingness to lay themselves bare and create something beautiful from their pain.

So on this Memorial Day- I thank you veterans. I thank those who sacrificed their lives for us. I thank you all for your service. And for those who have returned, I thank you for the many ways you enrich us daily from your experiences.

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Plagiarism or Inspiration

Plagiarism or Inspiration?

Is there a fine line between them?

Plagiarism or Inspiration? How do we define the difference?

Did you read Grapes of Wrath  in school? What about Of Mice and Men? I know I even got to teach Of Mice and Men  to my 9th graders. And I have to say, as much as many of them complained, it was actually one of my favorite texts to teach.

Steinbeck has a complex reputation in our literary canon. His books continue to reign on assigned reading lists, but people also tend to have extremely strong love/hate reactions to him. Perhaps, this is because he truly was a very complicated and controversial figure in life.

One of the thornier topics he encountered during his popularity was the source of his inspiration for The Grapes of Wrath. Few will ever forget that scene where Rose Sharon uses the breast milk from her stillborn baby to save the life of a starving man. But was this profoundly moving scene the fruit of Steinbeck’s imagination?

Smithsonian Magazine  published an interesting piece a few years back about another author named Sanora Babb who published about the Dust Bowl. What was interesting about the piece was the mention of the copious notes Babb took during her firsthand interviews with migrant workers. These notes were shared with Steinbeck by the same editor who published both of their stories. In those notes- there was a scene with a stillborn baby and a mother sharing her breast milk.

This begs the question- what actually is considered plagiarism when it comes to authors’ inspiration?

I had a conversation about this recently with a book club I visited. We asked if any new story could ever entirely be new? Or ever told exactly the same way? Think on it- how many World War II historical fiction books are out there? How many authors inspired by the same chilling photograph or event in history?

Now think on eyewitness accounts in court. Do any two witnesses ever retell the same event exactly the same way or do each bring their own unique perspective to the retelling?

Kristin Hannah admits in interviews that the inspiration for her novel The Four Winds came from her love of Steinbeck. She wanted to write an updated version of his classic story. And although the books have similar themes and elements, I’d say she succeeded in telling her own unique story.

Perhaps there needs to be some grace given in storytelling. Although the word plagiarism is defined as taking of someone else’s words or ideas, I’d say it is very difficult to prove from where ideas originate or what happens after the same inspirational idea strikes.

I mean, if we were truly to take that definition at face value, couldn’t we potentially argue that every love triangle, natural disaster or genre-based trope is an idea born from someone else?

What are your thoughts on this topic?

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Author Highlight- Meet Bob Okowitz

Author of Dug IN: An Irish Family Searches For Justice

Joyana is excited to begin her new Author Highlight series to build a true Book Community between Authors and Readers.Today’s Author Highlight features Bob Okowitz, an Irish Historical Fiction Writer.

Author Highlight-Meet Bob Okowitz

Author Highlight-Meet Bob Okowitz:

Bob majored in English and History and worked in Social Work and Mental Health before finally returning to his roots and writing fiction. His novel was inspired by a trip to Ireland for a family reunion for his mother’s side of the family, the Duggans and McGraths. (He is 75% Irish.)

His book, Dug In, begins during the 1916 Irish Rebellion.

Ninety miles from Dublin, Joe Duggin and two friends are arrested to prevent them from getting involved in the fight for Independence. After being released when the rebellion is over, Joe and his wife, Mary, decide to move to New York to get away from the conflict and raise their children in peace. However, they find their share of persecution and injustice in America as well. What follows is their family’s struggle to find their place in what is supposed to be the Land of the Free.

Bob’s Writing Process:

The Moment He Knew He Wanted To Be an Author: After my family’s trip to Ireland.

Pen/Paper or Computer: Computer… I NEED SPELL CHECK!!!

His Favorite Place to Write: MY desk.

His Signature Writing Drink: Water

Bob’s Relationship with Books:

His Favorite Place to Read: Easy Chair in Living room.

Book Character He’d Love to Ride in an Elevator With: Robert Jordan from For Whom the Bell Tolls

Book Character He Thinks He’d be Best Friends With:Huckberry Finn

The Last Book He Read: Luis Rodriquez’s The Concrete River.

Bob’s Other Inspirations and Theories on Writing:

Favorite Period in History: 1776

Favorite Place to Travel: Ireland

“Writing is an amazing experience. Creating something. new, is wonderful.”

Thanks so much for joining us for this Author Highlight today! For more information about Bob Okowitz and his novel Dug IN: An Irish Family Searches for Justice, you can check out his Author Page on Amazon or find him at Twitter @DugIn.


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Is Self Publishing Worth It?

Is Self Publishing Worth It?

Why Self Publishing was Worth It for Me-

In December of 2020, I officially submitted my completed manuscript to an editor. One MFA, ten years, two kids and I finally turned my manuscript baby into my first published novel! I knew the next six months would be rough, going through rounds of edits, formatting, publishing, marketing, learning the ropes of everything myself as I went. All while still balancing real life with a day job and family and in the midst of a pandemic. But I knew it was going to happen, I was getting published! This knowledge and certainty is why self publishing is worth it. I have autonomy.

Understanding you HAVE a Choice-

As I begin my author blog, I’ve been thinking about what I want that to look like. One of the things I want is for this to be a place where I’m transparent about the indie author journey and what goes on behind the scenes. The reason for that is I’m publishing this way as a conscious choice and I want others to understand that choice. Both as readers and also as other writers contemplating self publishing for themselves. I’m aware there is still a stigma attached to self publishing. But, I’m hoping by lifting this curtain, I can help alleviate some of those negative associations and help others understand why self publishing is worth it.

Like most other English majors and MFA grads, I always assumed traditional publishing was the only route worthy of considering. Self published authors were sell outs who couldn’t hack it with the publishing industry, right? So, I put in my dues. I joined the Writer’s Guilds and attended conferences. I listened to the agent/editor panels and furiously took notes about what they were looking for, what it would take to get past the gatekeepers. I even paid to have my manuscript reviewed by agents and editors. But after awhile, I started to question why.

I knew plenty of writers. Extremely talented writers, sitting on amazing manuscripts, waiting for their chance to come. They sent out endless pitch letters just praying to be accepted. I even knew writers who HAD been picked up by agents only to have the process take years till publication. And then they were still responsible for all the marketing themselves and only claiming about 30% of each sale. I heard repeated over and over that writers don’t go in it for the money, it’s for the love of the art, right? But in this digital age where anyone with a voice and an internet connection can build a following should that really still be the case?

Making the Choice to Self Publish-

Yes, there are still self published authors who give credence to the hack stigmas. But there are also extremely talented, big name authors out there who either began their careers by self publishing or who are now leaving their traditional publishing houses to voluntarily self publish moving forward. Some examples include Andy Weir, Margaret Atwood, Kwame Alexander and even Stephen King. Why? Because it makes more financial sense! And gives an author complete independence and authority over their work.

As a society we applaud entrepreneurs and small business owners. So, I think it’s time that we encourage and support authorpreneurs as well. I look forward to sharing this journey with you and I hope I encourage others to share their own work as well!