An Interview with Johanna Harness

April 24, 2014 in #AmWriting, Blog Tour / Blog Hop, Book Launch, Community Highlight, Interview, Thursday Writing by JM Strother

The cover of the paperback edition of Spillworthy, by Johanna Harness.Today we are very pleased to host an interview with Johanna Harness. You probably know Johanna as the creator of the #amwriting hashtag on Twitter and the founder of the #amwriting online community. Unfortunately the #amwriting site is no longer active, though a good bit of it remains available in archives. In its heyday there was a huge crossover of membership between our two sites, and many in #FridayFalsh community continue to use the #amwriting tag to this day. I’ve always felt a kindred spirit, not only with Johanna, but with all the fine writers I met through her site.

~~~

Hello, Johanna. It is an honor to have you here with us today on FFDO. I hope you fared well over this long cold winter and that springtime has actually arrived in your area.

Thanks so much for inviting me! And yes, spring is finally here in Idaho, which generally means the weather can’t make up its mind. Local wisdom is never to plant until the snow is gone from Shafer Butte–usually around Mothers’ Day.

I asked to have you here today for two reasons: one, to discuss the upcoming release of you new novel, Spillworthy; and two, to discuss this interesting concept you’ve come up with to introduce it to the world which you have dubbed Catch and Release. So let’s get right to it. Can you give us a short synopsis of Spillworthy, and perhaps tell us the origin of both the conception of the book and the title?

The story revolves around Ulysses, a bright kid who loves to write and who happens to be homeless. When a stranger intervenes and places Ulysses’ mom in detox, the 10-year-old finds himself bussed off to rural Idaho to stay with grandparents he’s never met. As readers, we see the action unfolding through Ulysses’ journals and sometimes through public notes he leaves for others to find. These public notes are ideas he deems too good to be kept to himself, the ideas that are worth spilling to the world. He calls these notes spillworthies.

The idea itself comes from teaching writing to kids. Too often we teach writing through assignments with very strict rules. Students learn to suss out what the teacher wants and write exactly that response. Very rarely do instructors ask students to write about the things they truly find important in life. In teaching writing, the biggest challenge is helping students connect to their own sense of purpose and power. When they make connections between ideas–when their responses are so important that they have to tell someone–when they really find something spillworthy that has to be written–they start to care about writing. You can see it in their eyes. They get hooked on it.

Can you give us a little character sketch of Ulysses – what makes him tick? What made him a compelling character for you to write about?

Ulysses is innately optimistic in any situation. I’ve noticed in my own life that challenging circumstances will lead some people to really dark places while others seem to radiate an inner light. I’ve always been intrigued with what sets those optimistic souls apart from everyone else. It doesn’t seem to be religious faith or economic resources or education. There are just some people who always see goodness in the world, no matter what happens to them. At first glance, these people seem slightly innocent, even to the point of being naive or gullible, but you get to know them and it’s evident that’s not the case. Generally they have a depth of understanding that amazes me. Ulysses is one of those people in childhood. Some of his innocence stems from his age, but we see his mind working through the complexities of his experience and we know there’s something more at work.

I must tell you that my ARC copy came in the mail today and the first chapter pulled me right in. Ulysses has a terrific voice and is quite compelling. Was it hard for you to get into his head, or the heads of the other characters, for that matter?

The kids in the book are all very real to me. Part of my difficulty in changing the book for an editor was this horrible sense that I was being unfaithful to them. I tried being rational, reminding myself that they were not real people. I made them up, so I could change them. Still, there’s always an aim for truth when writing fiction and the characters do put up a fight when we try to turn them into something they’re not. So I guess the answer is that I didn’t have trouble getting into their heads, but sometimes I did have trouble getting them out of mine.

You describe Spillworthy as a middle-grade novel, as opposed to children’s or young adult. While I’m sure both younger and older readers will enjoy it, how do you see the difference when it comes to categorizing a novel?

The distinction for me is really about appropriateness of topics presented. I suggest ages 9-12 as a starting age for reading, depending on how early parents are ready to talk to their kids about social issues. The book introduces topics of drug use, addiction, homelessness, social responsibility, abduction, corruption of authority figures, religious differences, abandonment. Sounds pretty heavy, I know. But all of those things really make up the setting. Those things are all part of the world those kids are living in. And, if we’re honest, those things are all part of the world our kids are living in, too.

Spillworthy is not didactic and it won’t provide answers, but hopefully it will provide a safe way to begin conversations with kids about serious issues that tend to scare parents to death. It gives parents a chance to say, “what would you do?” and “Do you think they handled that the right way?” And, at the same time, it allows kids the opportunity to say, “Yes. I feel like that too. Adults hardly ever listen to me.”

It’s a good story, but hopefully it’s also the beginning of a discussion.

Can you describe your own journey to publication and what guided you down that route?

I started out planning on traditional publishing. I submitted manuscripts, signed with an agent, went out on sub, and wrote book after book during the years I waited for replies. The replies really frustrated me. Invariably, I’d get comments about my unique voice and intriguing characters and then the advice would be to change it to be like everyone else. It was all about marketing and sales. I apparently had to pay my dues writing stories like everyone else’s, break into the market, and then bring out the unique voice after I’d proven I could fit in. I told myself it was like breaking grammar rules after you prove you can follow them. I’d change these stories into cookie-cutter designs and then I’d be free to do what I wanted later.

I hadn’t calculated the impact that experience would have on me as a writer. Rewriting my own spillworthy stories into teacher assignments–that’s what it really came down to for me. And it killed my will to write.

I went through a dark period. I used to worry about never getting published and suddenly I was worrying over the opposite–that I’d sell one of the stories I’d rewritten (and destroyed).

I didn’t know what I was going to do, only that I couldn’t do what I was doing any more. I admitted defeat and fired my agent.

I didn’t even admit to myself that I was planning on self-publishing, but I started doing things that betrayed my intentions–things like learning to use inDesign software and doodling ideas for book covers. Even after it was clear the path I was walking, I kept it very close, giving myself the option of changing my mind at any point.

That decision to go it alone, while probably scary, must have given you a tremendous sense of liberation, to be free of the constraints others were trying to place on you. So you had complete freedom on everything from layout to design, right?

Liberation is one of those double-edged swords. On the one hand, I can do anything I want! On the other hand, I have to take full responsibility for all those decisions. It is scary, but it’s also a relief.

Speaking of which, is the cover your own design? I really like it.

Thank you! Yes. The cover design is mine. I created several before this one, but they all ended up too even and polished. I finally found what I wanted when I gave myself permission to play, without worrying about the results.

Based on your own experience, do you have any advice for other aspiring authors?

In the process of writing your books, take time to care for the writer. We do a lot of foolish things to prove we’re good enough, but killing the writer behind the writing defeats the purpose. Write your spillworthy ideas and know your limits–both in your writing and in your life. Never feel like you’re less of a writer because you limit the things you will do to get published. Those limits give you strength.

Thanks, that’s very good advice.

Let’s talk a little about your catch and release promotion. First of all, with a moniker like that I have to ask, do you fish?

I grew up fishing and thought I was quite good at it. As an adult, I’ve discovered that my dad was really quite good at fishing and I just went along for the ride.

So how does catch and release work?

Early readers from all over are releasing copies of Spillworthy into the world during the first ten days of May. The books are left for others, with the request that they be set free again after being read. Each book is tagged and can be reported as found on the spillworthy.com website.

After books are released during those first days (and the participants are no longer there), the locations of the books will be revealed through social media. If someone nearby goes to get the book, that’s awesome. If not, we leave it up to fate to decide who finds it.

That sounds like fun, and a terrific way to spread the word.

Are you also physically hitting the road for the promotion? If so, what stops are you planning to make, and when?

I am going on a book release road trip in Idaho, Oregon, and maybe Washington. I’m playing more than working, releasing books myself during those first ten days, plus stopping in at libraries and bookstores. I have no schedule to keep, which is entirely by design. I’ll be posting photos during the week and telling people where I’m releasing my books into the wild.

Back home in Idaho, I will be doing some workshops for kids as well. Although they tie in with the idea of creating spillworthy poems and art, they’re entirely an excuse for me to get kids hooked on writing.

A worthy goal, indeed.

What was the hardest obstacle for you to overcome in the whole concept to publication process? What was the greatest joy?

The hardest thing is knowing that my mom died too soon to hold this book in her hands. She always believed this day would come and I wish I’d moved forward earlier, to share this experience with her. My greatest joy is opening a box of books and having my kids clamoring for copies of their own.

I am so sorry about the loss of your mother, I know you were close. I see you have dedicated the book to her. I’m sure she is very proud, not only of this book, but of all that you do.

Thank you. We had time to tie up loose ends before she died and she made sure I knew she was proud of me. She was good like that. And honestly, if I had put this book in her hands, I’d have been sad that she couldn’t hold the next one. There’s never a good time to lose the people we love.

Finally, I want to ask, do you have any other writing projects going that we can look forward to?

I wrote quite a few books while waiting for agents and editors to write back to me. My older daughter has already selected the next one she wants me to revisit. DisasterMinds is a young adult novel about a socially inept teen who believes he’s so smart he must have been genetically engineered in a secret lab. He convinces his childhood friend, a girl who happens to have been conceived in the same IVF program, to take a road trip with him, to either prove or disprove his theory.

Nice. I’m looking forward to reading it.

Thank you so much for taking the time to visit with us today, Johanna. I really enjoyed talking to you and learned a lot through your keen insights. Best of luck with the release.

~~~

Spillworthy will be available May 1, 2014
Print copies: Amazon, B&N, & other fine book sellers.
Ebook available only on Amazon Kindle.
Amazon Paperback ISBN: 978-0-9913810-2-9
Ebook ISBN: 978-0-9913810-3-6
Hardback ISBN: 978-0-9913810-0-5
Trade Paperback ISBN: 978-0-9913810-1-2

Picture of Johanna Harness.Johanna Harness has ten years experience teaching college English, and fifteen years experience homeschooling, writing, teaching workshops, and puttering around her big, red barn. Johanna loves exploring the natural world and enjoys trees in particular. She was born and raised in Idaho, where she and her husband went to kindergarten together. She now shares her love of books, science, and history with her kids, sheep, cats, and guinea pigs (but mostly with her kids).

NewsFlash – Vol. 5 #47

April 22, 2014 in Community News, News Flash by Angie Capozello

NewsFlash

Estrella Azul shared the announcement of the inaugural Lascaux Prize for Poetry. Poems may be previously published or unpublished, and simultaneous submissions are accepted. The winner receives one thousand dollars and publication in The Lascaux Review. The winner and all finalists will be published in The 2015 Lascaux Prize Anthology. Two copies of the anthology will be supplied to every poet appearing in it. Entry fee is $10. Poets may enter more than once, and as many as five poems may be submitted per entry. There are no length restrictions. All styles are welcome. Deadline for entries is 21 June.

Jodi Cleghorn had her first poem, “Ambrosia” published in Issue 10 of Vine Leaves Literary Journal. Adam Byatt also had his poem, “Elihu’s Meditation on Questions Unanswered” published in the same issue. Vine Leaves is a free publication, that can be read online or downloaded as a .pdf from Scribd.

Charlotte Comely shared the announcement of the Prolitzer Prize for Prose Writing 2014.  Prole Publishing’s mantra is engaging, challenging, accessible and high quality. Read more here on Charlotte’s blog.

FridayFlash Wants You!  We are looking for writers to submit articles for the website, and any writing-related topic is welcome. Feel free to browse through our Thursday articles for inspiration – Reader’s Review, Book Tour Blog Hop and Interviews are just a few of our goodies. For more info on guidelines and to contact our editor, Estrella Azulclick here.

 

Teaser Tuesday — Drop by FFDO on to read an interview with JoHanna Harness about a very new kind of book tour and publicizing way she thought of.

Congratulations to everyone!

- Angie

Keep the good news coming! You can send in your news items concerning the Friday Flash community through the News Hound form or by contacting me on FacebookGoogle Plus or Twitter. Or feel free to share your news by posting on the #fridayflash Facebook Group Page.

The #FridayFlash Report – Vol 5 Number 47

April 19, 2014 in FridayFlash Report by Tim VanSant

We had 32 stories in the Collector this week with 1 debut. Please welcome Rosemary Bird-Hawkins to the community.

FFDO Founder JM Strother invites you to Toot Your Own Horn in his post this week. Click on over and give it a read and then don’t blow your chance to share with the community.

It’s easier than ever to share your writing good news in our weekly News Flash with the form on our News Hound page.

As always, if your story is not in the listing below please go to the Collector and add the details. It will be in next week’s report. ~Tim

The Stories: Read the rest of this entry →

Toot Your Own Horn

April 17, 2014 in Blog Tour / Blog Hop, Book Launch, Community News, Promotions by JM Strother

A gnome blowing a hornWe here at FFDO are continually amazed at the accomplishments of our community members.
We also are dedicated to help you celebrate those publication achievements, be they flash fiction sales, stories included in an anthology, or book launches (self or traditionally published). Thus the News Hound, which many of you take advantage of.

Another way we try to help you succeed is by providing you space right here on FFDO for guest posts.

If in conjunction with your latest achievement you plan to hold some sort of blog hop remember to include us on your stops. We’ll help you blow your horn.
Simply contact Estrella or me with your idea, and we will make room in our editorial schedule for your post. The nature of the posts are up to you – you can provide us a “press release” type of write up, a personal narrative about what you are sharing, or we can do an interview.
Interviews require a bit more lead time in that we have to send you the questions, receive the answers, and then do any follow up the original exchange may have left wanting.

For an example of an interview be sure to drop by next week when we will have Johanna Harness, founder of the #amwriting community, to discuss her new middle grade novel, “Spillworthy”. It is a terrific interview, and Johanna provides some keen insights based on her own journey to publication.
We hope you’ll drop by and share your thoughts and impressions.

We also accept guest posts that are not specifically news related.
If you would like to share your thoughts on writing, the writing life, the road to publication, or other writing/publishing related topics just contact us. Chances are excellent we will welcome your input.

Together, we make a great community. Let’s keep it going.

Contact Jon Strother at jmstro AT gmail.com.
Contact Estrella Ezul at estrella.azul AT fridayflash.org
~jon

*Public Domain image from Creative Commons.

NewsFlash – Vol. 5 #46

April 15, 2014 in Community News, News Flash by Angie Capozello

NewsFlash

Michael J. Solender made it into another crime anthology – Check out “Black Male” in the John L. Thompson edited, “Hardboiled.”

Jodi Cleghorn has a guest post about Anthologies and Accidental Small Press Beginnings on the E-Book Revolution blog.

Estrella Azul took part in the #ArtiPeepsChat, a weekly chat hosted by Nicky Mortlock. It’s held every Wednesday with the creative folks involved with the ArtiPeeps site.

FridayFlash Wants You!  We are looking for writers to submit articles for the website, and any writing-related topic is welcome. Feel free to browse through our Thursday articles for inspiration – Reader’s Review, Book Tour Blog Hop and Interviews are just a few of our goodies. For more info on guidelines and to contact our editor, Estrella Azulclick here.

Teaser Tuesday — Drop by FFDO on Thursday to read an article where our own, Jon Strother details new types of articles we’ll be featuring starting at the end of this month.

Congratulations to everyone!

- Angie

Keep the good news coming! You can send in your news items concerning the Friday Flash community through the News Hound form or by contacting me on FacebookGoogle Plus or Twitter. Or feel free to share your news by posting on the #fridayflash Facebook Group Page.

The #FridayFlash Report – Vol 5 Number 46

April 12, 2014 in FridayFlash Report by Tim VanSant

We had 36 stories in the Collector this week with 0 debuts.

FFDO Editor Estrella Azul opens a vein in Writing away pieces of your soul for our Thursday Writing series this week. Click on over and give it a read and then put a little of your soul into the comments.

It’s easier than ever to share your writing good news in our weekly News Flash with the form on our News Hound page.

As always, if your story is not in the listing below please go to the Collector and add the details. It will be in next week’s report. ~Tim

The Stories: Read the rest of this entry →

Writing away pieces of your soul

April 10, 2014 in Editorial - of Sorts, Thursday Writing, Writers by Estrella Azul

Writing… We all do it. Bloggers do it. Writers do it. I’m a writer. Right?

I wrote my very first blog post when I was upset. Really upset. I cried all the way through.

I started my blog at a time when, after a health scare, after a life scare, everything around me seemed pitch black.
And it helped. The tiniest ray of light shined through from deep within. Things started brightening. Yet, somehow, it wasn’t enough.

I wrote my very first flash fiction when I was sad. Really sad. I cried all the way through.

Before I started creative writing, I’ve been reading a lot of it on my friends’ blogs. I kept wondering how they managed to write so well, to leave me speechless. To inspire me to such heights. I believe it was/is the personal touch. The fearlessness of imperfection.
The friend (and wonderful editor) who inspired me the most was the first person to read that very first piece I wrote. She loved it. She’s the reason I started writing. And I am the reason I’m still writing.

I transferred all my pain, all my sadness into the piece I wrote.
And it helped. The story couldn’t be further from the reality of my life, yet it absorbed everything I was working through.
In one sitting.
Most of what I write, I write in one sitting; I can’t really leave a story unfinished until I don’t have an at least very rough draft. I wrote several pieces like that one in the same manner. Yet, somehow, it wasn’t enough.

This year, I’ve mostly written poetry that bares a profound meaning to me. And come to think of it, almost all the poetry I’ve written is very personal, goes to a deep level, even when readers wouldn’t notice that no matter how many times they read said poem. I like that about free verse. I like that about poetry. Yet, somehow, it seems like it wasn’t enough.

Because the same goes for my blog posts. Especially lately. After that very first blog post I wrote, for a very long time my posts weren’t too personal. They all reflected what I love, hate, question, etc. They all reflected me. But they weren’t filled with as much emotion and meaning (again, even if only perceived by me alone) as my latest posts are.
This is something I noticed as I was searching for a poem I wrote, among my very first poems. I went back through my blog posts as I searched and noticed the shift through them.
Not from one extreme to the other. Not from one day to the next. But gradually. Steadily.
And the only writing there’s no shift in? The poems. They started out intricate and remain the same.

I wrote these imperfect thoughts you’re reading last night when I was supposed to be sleeping. When I was anxious. Really anxious. About most everything. With all the memories coming back to me. I cried all the way through.

What the conclusion was supposed to be when I started writing this I can’t recall. However, the conclusion now is this: it helped.

Yet, somehow, it isn’t enough. So I will keep writing away little pieces of my soul. And hope it will keep helping, hope it will teach me more about being fearless of imperfection.

I’m wondering: Why do you write? And are you, the same as I, writing away pieces of your Soul in the process? Have you noticed the kind of shift I described above, in your own writing ever since you published your very first post?

~Estrella Azul

*Originally published on my blog.

NewsFlash – Vol. 5 #45

April 8, 2014 in Community News, News Flash by Angie Capozello

NewsFlash

Marc Nash has been very busy, with a poem published in Brine Book’s Human Rights anthology “Stanzas And Clauses For The Causes.” He also had a collection of Flash Fiction accepted for publication by Gumbo Press, and there’s an interview and two of flash stories in Issue 3 of the Literary E-Magazine “Innovative.”  And finally, he had an experimental flash accepted for publication on the Newer York Journal site.

Alan Baxter’s story, “Realm Shift” has been reviewed by Dan Hanks on Fantasy Faction.

Avery Tingle introduced his epic fantasy series, “Universal Warrior.”  The first story, “Before Red Morning,” is available now for free on Smashwords.

Matthew Williams kicked off the second of his Whiskey Delta zombie series, “Papa Zulu” with a promotion on Amazon.

Laura Besley’s flash anthology, “Snippets” is free to download through Tuesday, April 8th on Amazon.

FridayFlash Wants You!  We are looking for writers to submit articles for the website, and any writing-related topic is welcome. Feel free to browse through our Thursday articles for inspiration – Reader’s Review, Book Tour Blog Hop and Interviews are just a few of our goodies. For more info on guidelines and to contact our editor, Estrella Azulclick here.

Teaser Tuesday — Drop by FFDO on to read an article about how much soul we pour into our writing.

Congratulations to everyone!

- Angie

Keep the good news coming! You can send in your news items concerning the Friday Flash community through the News Hound form or by contacting me on FacebookGoogle Plus or Twitter. Or feel free to share your news by posting on the #fridayflash Facebook Group Page.

The #FridayFlash Report – Vol 5 Number 45

April 5, 2014 in FridayFlash Report by Tim VanSant

We had 43 stories in the Collector this week with 0 debuts.

FFDO NewsFlash Editor Angie Capozello sqees with delight in From Scene To Screen – Much Ado About Nothing for our Thursday Writing series this week. Click on over and give it a read and then add a little ado of your own in the comments.

It’s easier than ever to share your writing good news in our weekly News Flash with the form on our News Hound page.

As always, if your story is not in the listing below please go to the Collector and add the details. It will be in next week’s report. ~Tim

The Stories: Read the rest of this entry →

From Scene To Screen – Much Ado About Nothing

April 3, 2014 in From Scene to Screen, Thursday Writing by Angie Capozello

muchadoHello dear readers! Thanks to a request from the lovely Catherine Russell, this month’s post will continue the study of Shakespearean adaptions.  We’ll be taking a look at modernizing his plays.

I recently watched Joss Whedon’s  “Much Ado About Nothing,” which was absolutely brilliant (and not just because I was the fan-girl squeeing over all my favorite TV and comic book movie actors being involved.)   It’s amazing what a small, but highly talented group of actors can do in their back yard.  If you are a fan of Shakespeare you really must watch this adaptation.

The original story is a comedy centered around young lovers who are about to get married. Tied in is the mischief caused by their friends who are scheming to get another pair, who both proclaim they will never marry, together.  Add to that some political intrigues and you’ve got a pressure cooker of a dinner party just waiting to erupt.  In the end though, it all works out and both sets of lovers come together (Shakespeare was a sucker for a happily ever after).

Joss Whedon sets his version in modern day, but decided to keep the original dialogue.  While I didn’t mind the juxtaposition, I can’t decide whether it was a good idea or not.  It’s difficult to speak these parts without sounding like you’re speaking a foreign language.  It never quite comes across as natural.  Now, I think the actors did a fabulous job of making me forget that fact most of the time, but there were always points where the dialogue seemed a little stilted. It’s a tough decision for the screenwriter – if they keep it as-is, they must gamble on the talents of the actors to pull it off. I’m sure Joss wasn’t worried, not with this crew, but it’s something other writers making modern adaptations have to keep in mind.

As for the change in setting, I didn’t mind that at all. I’m always impressed with how well Shakespeare translates into modern eras.  It doesn’t seem to matter whether the characters are in tunics and hose or tuxedos and bowties; they always seem to fit right in. Love, jealousy and mischief are timeless.  Which is a huge boon to any writer doing a modern take; it gives them a rather large sandbox to play in.

So, what is your favorite (or least favorite) modern version of Shakespeare?  Did you mind the dialogue?  What else about the adaption worked, or didn’t work for you?   I’ll look forward to reading your comments!

-Angie