MY SUPERPOWER: PERSISTENCE by BONNIE SCHROEDER

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Bonnie Schroeder started telling stories in the Fifth Grade and never stopped. After escaping from the business world, she began writing full-time and has authored novels, short stories and screenplays, as well as non-fiction articles and a newsletter for an American Red Cross chapter.

 

I come from a family of quitters. Sort of.

Several generations ago, my family owned a farm in northern New Mexico, in the Four Corners area. Now, anyone who’s ever lived on a farm knows it’s hard work. There are no vacations, holidays, or sick leave. It’s dangerous work, and you’re always at the mercy of Mother Nature.

So it’s totally understandable that at some point they gave up, sold the farm, and moved on to something less overwhelming. However, the people who bought the family farm went on to discover oil there. And I’m sure my great-grandparents sometimes thought, “If only we hadn’t given up.”

I heard that story from the time I was a little kid, and it haunted me. So when I became a writer, I swore I would never give up or give in to discouragement. I would become a published writer.

Life intervened in unexpected ways, and I had to put my dreams on the back burner for a while, but I never abandoned them. I kept writing, if only in stolen moments on a commuter van traveling to and from my job.

Writing is hard work, and you often must sacrifice other pursuits, many of which are easier and more entertaining. Your friends look at you funny when you tell them you’re skipping the movie so you can work on your novel. Sometimes I’d wonder, “Is it worth it? Who will care about this book anyway?” The answer, of course, was “I will.”

I finally finished a novel, and I even found an agent. Yay! Mission accomplished!

Ooops, not really. My agent was very determined; she got me rejected by all the big publishing houses, until a junior editor at the now-defunct Zebra Books took a liking to the novel. We talked, she suggested a few changes, and I was almost done revising when my agent called. The junior editor’s boss overruled her. No publishing deal.

My agent briskly told me to write another novel— “a mystery this time.” I did. She read it and dismissed it, telling me “that theme isn’t selling right now.” And she gave up on me.

But I didn’t give up. I wrote another novel, and after years of workshops and revisions, I began sending it to agents and to publishers who took unagented work.

I sent 167 query letters over six years before luck landed me at Champlain Avenue Books (well, luck and my friend MM Gornell, a fellow member of this blog.) And after all that time and all that angst, before I could even catch my breath, Mending Dreams came into being—and into bookstores.mdfrontcover-web

I was tempted a lot of times to give up, but that family story stuck with me, and I didn’t want to be the one who walked away and let someone else reap the benefits.

You hear all kinds of slogans on this subject: “Winners never quit; quitters never win.” But in my case the slogan took tangible form, and I’m here to tell you that you CAN achieve your dreams, if only you keep trying. Sometimes just hanging on for that extra day, that extra mile, that extra page—it can make all the difference.mountaintop

I’m putting my words to the test again, working on a new novel—the most challenging one yet. But it’s easier to keep going now, because I know I can do it, and I know that I have to.

Have you ever been tempted to quit writing because it can be so hard and sometimes so discouraging? Did you persist? How did you motivate yourself to keep going?

 

What Is a “Book Club” Book? by Bonnie Schroeder

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Bonnie Schroeder started telling stories in the Fifth Grade and never stopped. After escaping from the business world, she began writing full-time and has authored novels, short stories and screenplays, as well as non-fiction articles and a newsletter for an American Red Cross chapter.

 

 

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In today’s publishing environment, with millions of books competing for a reader’s attention, having book clubs discuss your work is one sure way for recognition.

But how do you get on the book club universe’s radar?

I wish I knew.

Oh sure, there are websites out there offering to help connect you with book clubs—for a fee.

There must be a better way.

And what defines a “book club book?” Does anyone know? Some clubs go for the best-sellers and prize winners. Others seem to focus on genres, like mysteries.

One way to figure out what makes a book club tick is to join one, which is what I did.

Several years ago, I joined the Brown Bag Book Club at Flintridge Bookstore in La Canada, not as a sneaky way to find an audience—my first novel hadn’t even been published then—but as a means to gain insight into what readers like and don’t like in the books they read.Book Club

Being in that club has enriched my life in many ways. I’ve made good friends, and I’ve read books I’d never have chosen on my own—for example, The Help. A novel about Black maids in Mississippi in the 60’s? I figured it would be too depressing. I would have missed a wonderful, uplifting story if I’d gone with my first impression.

Our club uses a variety of criteria in picking our books: we do some best-sellers and prize winners, but only after they’ve been released in paperback (which is why we’re still waiting to read All the Light We Cannot See.) We also ask individual members to recommend books, but only books they’ve actually read and, preferably, loved.

We take turns “moderating” the hour-long monthly discussions and usually bring a list of Reader’s Guide-type questions to fuel the discussion, but sometimes just asking “How many of you liked this book? And why?” will fill up the hour with commentary. It’s fascinating to see how people’s minds work!

My novel Mending Dreams has been read by two different book clubs, and I sat in on both discussions. The first time it was still in draft form, and the feedback was very helpful in shaping the final version. The second time was with my own Brown Bag Book Club, and the members were ever so kind in their comments. But both times, I have to say it was almost an out-of-body experience to hear them talk about my characters and the story developments. I kept having to remind myself, “I wrote that.”

I’d do it again in a heartbeat, and I hope I get a chance.

Some advice if you are lucky enough to be invited to a book club discussion of your book:

  • Leave your ego at the door if you can. I found that some club members really personalized parts of the book, and I had to remind myself their reaction was colored by their own experiences. Focus on hearing what resonated for readers—and what didn’t—so you can build on that knowledge in the future.
  • Come prepared with a list of questions in case the discussion loses momentum—not just the Reader’s Guide type questions, but your own as well: things you’d like to know about how a certain part of the book plays out, how the members felt about a character, did they see a plot development coming?
  • Be sure to bring bookmarks and/or business cards to distribute, maybe an email signup sheet so you can build your contact base.

If you don’t belong to a book club already but are thinking it sounds pretty cool, where do you find them? All over the place! Many bookstores have them, and so do libraries. One member of my club also belongs to a neighborhood book club. Ask around. You can also find some in your area through the Meetup website (http://www.meetup.com/topics/bookclub/).

Besides getting to read some really interesting books, you might find an audience for your books, maybe even more than one audience. Book clubs often share information. Get in with one (or more), and your book might be chosen by others. Word of mouth is a powerful thing, and some book clubs can definitely affect a book’s success.

Happy reading!

CANNIBALIZING YOUR LIFE

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Bonnie Schroeder started telling stories in the Fifth Grade and never stopped. After escaping from the business world, she began writing full-time and has authored novels, short stories and screenplays, as well as non-fiction articles and a newsletter for an American Red Cross chapter.

CANNIBALIZING YOUR LIFE

One of my favorite quotes, attributed variously to writers Philip Roth and W. Somerset Maugham, is this: “Nothing bad can ever happen to a writer. It’s all material.”

I take comfort in that reminder when bad things happen in my life; at least I might someday squeeze a story out of the experience. I might think, “So this is what it’s like to be stuck in a hospital ER.” Or “So this is what it feels like to watch someone you love get sick and die.”

Do you ever find yourself taking notes, mental or otherwise, during some traumatic event?

Not to be morbid, but those moments of sheer pain or grief or terror, if captured when they’re fresh, can add depth and authenticity to your writing.

Many years ago, my mother was diagnosed with Stage 4 lung cancer. Inoperable. She was in her 70’s and knew she didn’t want chemotherapy, so she entered a hospice program. As I watched her fade away, sometimes in terrible pain, sometimes in a morphine fog, I didn’t jot notes in my journal as I sat by her bed. But when the dreadful process was over and she’d been laid to rest, I did journal the experience. The entries weren’t poetic or well thought out, but my raw emotions seeped onto the page so that years later I could pull out my journal and refresh my memory—from a safer distance.

I fictionalized my mother’s dying in my novel Mending Dreams—not to capitalize on her suffering but to try and redeem it, to acknowledge her courage. Many people who read the book have told me, “I could tell you’d been there. I have, too.” I like to think they derived some comfort from knowing they weren’t alone, from understanding “It’s not just me. Other people have felt this, too.”

Writing about life’s darkest moments gives me a slight sense of control and helps me get a handle on my pain or grief or anger or fear. And using personal experience, even if I disguise it, adds a layer of credibility to my writing.

Knowing I might eventually write about a painful incident, I try to be more observant. If I’m going to go through this experience, at least I can record it, do it justice, and convert it to something useful after my emotions have cooled.

I’m not the only writer to do this. Here’s another quote, from the late Nora Ephron, a writer I truly admire: “Everything is copy.”

She should know—she turned the failure of her marriage to Carl Bernstein into a very witty memoir, Heartburn, which went on to become a hit movie. And she was able to give her ex a little payback for the infidelity that wrecked their marriage.

So what about the flip side? Does this mean that nothing truly good can happen to a writer? I don’t think so. I journal many peak experiences too, and try to capture the good feelings before they dissipate. Those entries come a little easier.

Heck, you know life’s going to throw us some curves. We might as well use them to make ourselves stronger writers.