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Margaret Nevinski – An Interview about the Writing Life

I recently had the good fortune of interviewing middle grade author Margaret Nevinski about her recent publication of a short story, “The Eve of St. Agnes,” in the online literary journal, Hunger Mountain. Read her story here:

Margaret is an amazing teacher and presenter whom I have the great fortune of knowing as a Margaret Neviski The Eve of St. Agnesfellow Bainbridge Island author.  Her classes are highly sought by both young and not so young writers and creatives in the Pacific Northwest. Check out what she had to say about her writing life:

How did you get started as a writer?

MN: I started writing short stories for adults, which were published in small literary magazines. One day while I was jogging, I had a burst of adrenaline and an insight: my writing voice was most suited to young readers. That started my dream of writing for kids and teens.
I got lots of rejections, then personal notes from editors, then finally—a yes! I’ve written several children’s books for the school market, and now I’m working toward getting my
first middle-grade novel published.

I know that you often work with young authors. How young is too young to begin
learning about the craft of writing?

MN: I love teaching writing workshops for kids through the Bainbridge Island Metro Park & Rec
District. I always learn something from young writers! Though I think creativity has no age
limit, I start working with young writers when they’re eight. By eight they’ve learned the
basics about writing and they’re ready to unleash their imaginations—a great combination.

Do you mostly write YA lit or do you ever branch out into other genres?

MN: My real love is middle-grade fiction for ages 9 to 12. I’m fascinated by the years when
you’re still firmly in childhood but on the cusp of becoming a teen.

What is your writing life like? Do you spend hours every day writing?

MN: I’m a morning person. I drink my coffee and read before breakfast, then settle down to my
quiet, morning writing time. I strive to have creative time each day. My motto is from The
War of Art by Steven Pressfield: “The most important thing about art is to work. Nothing
else matters except sitting down each day and trying.”

What is your inspiration for your short story in Hunger Mountain Literary Magazine?

MN: I grew up Catholic and have always been fascinated by saints—their lives are filled with
quirky, odd details just waiting for fiction writers! When I discovered Keats’ poem, “The
Eve of St. Agnes,” I was intrigued. According to the myth about St. Agnes, a young woman
will dream of her future husband on the night of January 20th. I thought, how fun would it
be to give this story a contemporary, high school setting?

What is your favorite book you read as a young girl? Why?

MN: In grade school, a friend and I read a book called The Key House Mystery. The story details in my mind are vague, but the great thing about the book is that it inspired us to follow an elderly man in our neighborhood, spy notebooks in hand. One day his wife ordered us to
stop following him. For the first time, I realized that reading could have an impact on real
life. I’ve been searching for The Key House Mystery for years with no luck—if anyone finds
it, please let me know!

How do you deal with “passes” from publishers? Do you save the letters or do you toss

MN: Luckily my agent gets the rejections first, which she charmingly calls “passes,” so that
softens them a bit. Over the years, however, I’ve acquired a file full of “passes.” I’ve kept
every letter except one from an editor who said my writing was “competent.” Ouch! That

What book(s) are you currently reading or at least have on your nightstand waiting for

MN: I’m halfway through The Story of Edgar Sawtelle by David Wroblewski, which takes
place in Wisconsin where I grew up. I just finished Justin Case: School, Drool, and Other
Daily Disasters by Rachel Vail, a hilarious account of third grade. On my nightstand is a
wonderful collection of biographical essays that I dip into to get inspired: Joan Acocella’s
Twenty-Eight Artists and Two Saints. So you see, I never quite get away from saints!


Writing From the Source – Creating Believable Characters

What is the source of your writing? Is it your everyday environment? Is it your cultural influences? Is it creating believable charactersyour gut or is it imaginary voices in your head? I have often thought the source of my writing was my imagination. While that is partly true it comes from a much deeper more primal ingrained place in my head and my heart. Oh…that sounds a bit trite but let me explain:

I am a child of The South. My parents were born and bred in the hot steamy kudzu jungles of the Mississippi Delta’s loam hills. My father’s family has been there before the state was a state. My mother’s family trickled in some early some late but they all ended up in the same place…Little Yazoo…sort of maybe? You see Anding and Satartia are so small they don’t really appear on most maps so we all say Yazoo County and most folks from MS know what you mean.  When your ‘people’ are from a place with history as rich as the state of MS you can’t help but have a colorful family member or two tucked away in your family tree.  There was the auntie who went senile fairly young but was referred to as merely a “dear ole gal” and the cousin who preferred to live with his mother and never was able to hold down a job was merely eccentric. These are the glimmers behind the characters I populate my stories with and sprinkle through out the various scenes and chapters.

Recently I had a wonderful Facebook conversation with my cousin who is the Arts Department Chair at a Mississippi College. He was preparing a lecture on all things southern and the influences that our culture there has on the arts. We talked first about men’s fashion. It appears that every southern male must own a seersucker suit and either a bolo or bowtie to be used for court appearances and tea with the aunts. One never wears seersucker to church or to funerals and NEVER after Labor Day…much like a lady’s white shoes and handbags that is ‘just not done’!

William Faulkner It’s one of the few cultures where an older man can call a girl of any age “honey”, “sweetheart”, etc., and you KNOW that he doesn’t have any ulterior motives and isn’t trying to be a letch or a flirt. Adults are always known to kids as Ms. Jennifer or Ms. Shannon. That’s a thing that some of my Northern friends just don’t get.

We like to eat a lot in the South and any life or death event brings out big hair and big hearts. The more dire the circumstance the higher the hair gets piled (and the coke can rollers required to get that look get resurrected from  the back of the towel closet) the heavier the lacquer hairspray gets applied. Hell, I’ve seen my momma go through an entire can of hairspray just before heading over to St. Paul’s Episcopal Church for a ‘viewing.” This is serious stuff and there is a certain protocol and etiquette to be observed if you don’t want to be seen as low and crass.

One thing I’ve always noticed about Southern hosts is their willingness to cook massive amounts of food with a smile and make sure everyone is really well fed. Nowhere does this hold more true than a funeral. Home visits mean you take a ham or two pies or a mess of fresh snapped beans or some butter beans. You have not had a good funeral until you have a dining table that overflows and a deep freeze so full you tossed out all the bags of ice, freezer pops, and unidentifiable tupperware containers stuck in there last summer sometime.  That poor family suffering from their loss is just not going to feel like cooking for awhile and so the community works overtime to care for them. Nothing says community love like coconut creme pie and a slice of Grandma Shannon’s buttermilk cake at my house!

No matter what we do we seem to always do it with food as the backdrop. Southern fare is not for the weak of heart as everything is dipped, battered and deep fried or smothered in gravy.  We inhale our grits, black-eye peas, cornbread, crawfish, pickeled eggs and pickled pigs feet. Nothing is better on a hot summer day than an RC and a moonpie, unless it is a half frozen cane coke stuffed full of salted peanuts. Delish! Southern food is fried catfish and anything grown in your own garden. Yankees eat stuffing with their turkey but we eat dressing with gizzards and eggs and maybe even oysters or sage sausage cooked up in it. We pour pepper sauce on our vegetables and make comeback sauce to have on cream cheese for a fancy appetizer. Buttermilk’s for dipping your cornbread and biscuits are for sopping up sunny side up eggs and redeye gravy. We love our collard greens and turnups, chittlins, pecan pie and chocolate chess pie with a good cup of chicory coffee. We eat pimento cheese sandwiches and vienna sausages out of our lunch boxes at school and can’t wait to get home to a good crawfish and shrimp boil, cooked dressing cole slaw and chowder peas.

Funeral customs in the South are a bit strange too. As soon as the dead is hauled out we stop all the clocks, unplug the tv’s and the radios, collect all the bright colored cushions on the sofa and on the swing on the porch and hide them in a pillow. Then we cover all the mirrors in the house with black draping and put on dark clothes. No jewelry, no heels to speak of, just sensible and sedate. Somehow a guest login book shows up and is put on an end table or tv tray near the front door. If they told me to keep one on hand in cotillion lessons it must have been on one of the days I was out back pitching pennies with the old men behind the AP right off Catfish Alley. I wonder what other tidbits of good breeding I missed while playing hookie? Things like men opening doors for women, always say ‘yes ma’am’ and ‘no ma’am’, help your neighbors even though you can’t stand them and always say ‘bless your heart’ especially when you have don’t have anything nice to say? My cousin apparently never attended religiously too as he is never sure which  fork to use to pop open his PBR?

Women in the South do not chew gum or partake of alcohol in public. This was pretty much beat into my soul by my mother and my Aunt Jerrie.  Funny their mother while not a gum chewer did love her rough cut Tops Brand Snuff. I am sure the ‘aunts’ will shudder that I divulge this secret to the masses. But there, it is a piece of our turn of the century country folk culture. Grandmother always had a napkin wrapped soup can for her spittoon and would always have to “wash out” her mouth before leaving the house. Sometimes when Maw kissed you on the cheek she left a little remnant of the sweet stuff.  Everyytime they hand me a “sample” spoon at the ice cream shoppe it reminds me of her dip spoon! I miss her every day and I think of her and can still smell her hint of snuff mixed with White Shoulders dusting powder.

Daddy always said you never say anything hurtful about a person ..just not done and bad manners. Papaw always said manners are what you still have even when you are dirt poor. You can’t sell them or buy them, they are a gift to guard and tend to because even the polite homeless man down on Jackson Square is going to be ok as long as he has manners. For a poor relatively uneducated man my papaw was rich with manners! It would be ill mannered and down right mean spirited to point out anyone’s weaknesses or foibles. We never say anything unkind about another person no matter how ugly or how fat they might be. We still ‘bless her heart’ and talk about how she comes from ‘good people’ and how she is obviously a ‘great cook.’ Or croon, “Sugah, that girl! With a sweet smile like that she should never be saddled with a behind that looks like two pigs fighin’ under a poke sack…bless her heart!” If a woman is bold or wears clothing that is too revealing at Church or at work we would call her a hussy behind her back and discuss how she comes from good people and her momma ‘must be rollin’ over in her grave.’ And then we would make a hurried call to the church prayer circle hotline and immediately add her name to the special intentions list. The ladies of the altar guild would toss in “bless her heart, the child just cant help it” then whispers ” you know her momma” for good measure. A real Southern woman can toss out an insult with the lingering sweetness of a soft kiss.

We take our football seriously in the south. We love football so much that Ole Miss fans would never consider dating much less marrying a Mississippi State fan as that would be marrying outside our faith. We don’t celebrate years of marriage…we celebrate seasons! Why Larry and Kay Nell got married right after the Rebels beat Notre Dame directly in the Grove and Jerry Wayne and Mary Katherine got hitched with cowbell clanging in the press box at that egg bowl when it snowed!

We drink lots of soft drinks in the South and they are all cokes to us:

You want a drink?

Yeah, a coke, please.

What type of coke do you want?

What ‘cha got?

We have Seven up, Dr. Pepper, co-cola, and diet coke too.

If you ask for a ‘soda’ or a ‘pop’ they know you’re not from ‘around here.’ It is so damn hot we drink a lot there. If it isn’t coke or sweet tea its bourbon or whiskey in the cooler months and gin and tonics in the summer time. You need a good stiff drink to keep the mosquitoes and water moccasins from carrying you right off the veranda on a sultry summer night!

I wonder if painting houses a bright blue to keep snakes and ghosts and other evil things away is just a southern thing, too? We call it ‘haint’ blue. I don’t know if it works as good as chicken bones in a circle in your yard but heck, whatever works!creating believable characters from real people

And then there is Garden Club and Pilgrimage in places like Columbus and Natchez. Hoop skirts and pantaloons, little boys in miniature butternut grays, and plump middle aged women with decollete that pushes the limits of matronly propriety.

This is a place where the Mardi Gras societies and the Churches are still racially divided and the locals here (bless their hearts) worship their football teams on Saturday and their God on Sundays with equal fervor. It is an odd colloquial place but it is a rich character study of people and places and the source I go to when I need to add “real” characters with meat and bones on them in my writing.

Social Media Marketing an Hour a Day – Dave Evans

Title: Social Media Marketing an Hour a Day

Author: Dave Evans

Publisher: Sybex – Imprint of Wiley

Date: 2008

Price: 29.99

Anyone who has a product or service for sale needs to consider the impact of social media marketing on their marketing efforts. Dave Evans makes it easy to organize your time and energy on social media marketing with his new book, Social Media Marketing an Hour a Day. Highly practical and easily applied, this guidebook makes it easy for even the most reticent to tap into the synergy of the social web.

Evans’ book is a solid resource for understanding not only the individual social platforms but also how expansive the impact of each individual campaign can be. Regardless of the channel(s) chosen, Social Media Marketing an Hour a Day steps you from campaign development to results analysis. Regardless of where you are in social media marketing experience this book will have some strategies and metrics you can implement in your marketing efforts immediately.

Easily read and digested, Social Media Marketing an Hour a Day is a good investment for your business, non-profit, or organization.  It will help you not only make a plan and connect all the dots, it will also help you execute and evaluate their effectiveness. A good buy. This one is worth full price!

Confessions of a Mortgage Insider

Title: Confessions of a Mortgage Insider

Author: Denny Andrews

Publisher: Aviva Publishing

Date: 2008

Price: 24.95

Have you wondered why the mortgage and banking industry are in their current shape of disarray? Did you ever wonder how some people managed to get something for nothing and leave us the average tax payer footing the bill?  Are you curious why the once respectable mortgage industry became so corrupt and brought the US economy so quickly to its knees? Denny Andrew’s first book, Confessions of a Mortgage Insider, explores how the mortgage brokerage industry went into a spiraling failure that resulted in a complete meltdown of epidemic proportions. Confessions of a Mortgage Insider uncovers more than the excesses of the industry. It explores the people and personalities of those who worked in the industry through the personal stories of leaders, followers, slimy wheeler-dealers, and the victims. It tells the story through the eyes of mortgage broker Rick Agnew. Agnew goes from naïve freshman loan application agent to a diamond level broker whose life is filled with fast cars, fast women and fast parties. His up close and personal experiences with the industry open his eyes to the rampant fraud and chicanery of the industry.

Part story collection, part instruction, and part personal discovery, Andrew’s book is a fun and interesting book that makes you angry with the money lust of the brokers, makes you cry for those who are victimized, and laugh at the antics of Rick Agnew the half man/half naughty child protagonist.  Using illustrative stories and hilarious hi-jinx this book instructs even the most casual reader on the dangers of the current mortgage failure to the housing market.  This book can be that ‘tell all’ source the casual reader has been seeking to establish some sanity from the current economic crisis in the mortgage industry.

Confessions of a Mortgage Insider prompts the reader to really assess where they are currently in their mortgage and financial stability and then to make a specific plan to get where they want to be.  Living in the house of your dreams is not just a wish if you plan carefully and shop wisely for a mortgage and a mortgage broker, according to Andrews.  The American dream is not over…it has just become something that once again is only realized through hard work and a good savings plan.

The mortgage bubble has been broken and according to Denny Andrews, it is not a bad thing that the party is over.  His exposure of the ugly secrets of such a sleekly designed profiteering machine clearly illustrates the symptoms of our society’s pervasive illness: excess. This fast moving book encourages responsible lending and commanding the life choices that promotes accountability and fiduciary common sense.  Andrews captures the madness and mayhem through his original stories and then provides sound business advice that everyone can understand.

Breast Cancer Related Books

After reading and reviewing Hanging Out With Lab Coats I went to the local bookstore to peruse the shelf to find out what else is out there to support those in treatment, survivors, and caregivers. I found a few that looked well researched and informative:

  • The Breast Cancer Journey of Strength and Courage – Ernie Bodai
  • Just Get Me Through This! The Practical Guide to Breast Cancer – Deborah Cohen
  • Living Through Breast Cancer – Dr. C.M. Kaelin
  • What Your Doctor May Not Tell You About Breast Cancer: How Hormone Balance Can Help Save Your Life – Dr. J.R. Lee
  • Hanging Out With Lab Coats – Wendi Pedicone ( I had to list this again…it is such an excellent resource!)

This list is not exhaustive by any means. Information is available and accessible. Being informed is half the battle on your way to wellness.

Breast Cancer – Prevention at a Party?

Hanging Out with Lab Coats has me in a reflective mood today. I read the endorsements again today looking for a topic suitable to discuss in my blog about her book. Something she said about hats and scarves and son screen made me think of some Komen events I have attended and participated in over the years.

I attended a Dragon Boat Race in the Seattle Metro area two years ago. I actually was there for the second year in a row and participated as a paddler. I even broke a thumb for the team…but that is another story.

The event is part of the Komen Race for the Cure activities and is a blast! There are some serious dragon boat racers and then there are the odd misfits like our gang of geeky engineers, programmers, and marketing folks representing a corporate team. Unfortunately, Microsoft was there too so they beat us in geekdom but we kicked their yellow dragon butts in the water. Great fun!

Our team was Calypso Medical, a group of scientists, engineers, physicists, and software folks who are building great things for helping doctors battle prostate cancer.  While munching on an apple I met this really cool, incredibly vibrant young couple and their three little ones. Heike Malakoff and her husband had on matching ball caps that sported outlines of breasts on a field of pink.  Man, these people were passionate about those hats. They were showing them to everyone with great pride. So…what was it about these hats?

Apparently, Heike was a young survivor of breast cancer and also the founder of a wonderful foundation called Check Your Boobies. They host parties in your house much like house wares or candle parties but with a twist! They teach breast self-exam to you and your friends around your wine and your canapes!

Really! If you live in the Seattle area they will send trained professional volunteers to your women’s group, your sorority, or your book club to teach you how to perform this life saving technique.  So break out those cabernets and chardonnays. Slice some cheese and break out the bean dip…it is time to get in the Boobie Party mood.

Now…if Heike will just write a book that I can review and host on this site…

What I Learned from Hanging out with Wendi Pedicone in her Book

I learned a lot reading Wendi Pedicone’s book, Hanging Out With Lab Coats. I have learned how to move forward in the face of adversity.  I have learned why survivors have a different outlook on life then the rest of us. I have never had a serious life threatening disease but I have faced adversity. I don’t think I did it with the aplomb that Wendi and others I have known facing Cancer have.

Wendi states it so well in her book:

  • Forgive yourself for wrong doings
  • Pay love and encouragement forward
  • Advocate survival
  • Reflect on the need to appreciate life
  • Don’t worry about things beyond your control
  • Play with your children regardless of how you feel

While my response may sound so cliche, it does put things in perspective for me.