The Growing Mind

Writing My Memoir & Emotional Growth


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The Weather and the Wall

Well said! Please echo.

Longreads

Will Meyer | Longreads | January 2019 | 15 minutes (4,073 words)

“At the museum steps
Didn’t we establish
That all this blood is not a dream
This is progress
And we are not that high
We could almost be redeemed”

 — unreleased song by The Lentils

*

For years, changes in butterfly populations and migrations have been considered an “early warning indicator” of global warming. In 2006, a British butterfly specialist told The New Yorker’s Elizabeth Kolbert that of 10 species living in Southern England at the time, “Every single one has moved northward since 1982.”

Now, several years and many missed early warning indicators later, the National Butterfly Center in Mission, Texas, that has received a letter from Customs and Border Protection announcing the government’s intent to build a border wall through critical habitat for 240 species of butterflies and 300 types of birds. The letter…

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My Persian Paradox

My Persian Paradox

Coming Soon!

February 20th – Pre-order

March 20th – Publication Date

On a cold night in 1978, seven-year-old Shabnam Shahmohammad clung to her mother in a Tehran apartment while the sounds of gunshots rang out in the street: The Iranian Revolution was at hand. She and her family survived that night, but as the Islamic fundamentalists took the power over, she grew up watching her father take his beloved books away to burn, his friends be arrested and disappear, and women like her mother grow ever more marginalized. Confused by her father’s communist ideology, her mother’s conservative religious beliefs, and the regime’s oppressive rules, she developed a deep longing to live a different life.

Finding herself being married at nineteen, she naively dreamed to team up and discover an adventurous life. When she gave birth to a daughter whose future, she realized, mattered more to her than her own, she had to find a way to unlock her little girl’s possibilities. She longed to emigrate, but with Western countries’ embassies mostly absent from Tehran, options for escaping Iran were limited.

My Persian Paradox: Memories of an Iranian Girl is a tale of resilience facing oppression and dictatorship along with fighting with narrow traditional and restrictive cultural rules. This memoir is a journey of self-discovery, mother-daughter relationship obstacles, forbidden love, and the universal desire for freedom.


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2018 Report Card

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Photo by Artem Saranin on Pexels.com

(716 words – 5 minutes read)

Reviewing my first blog post in June 2016, I felt very proud that my plans were realistic enough and were completed on-time. I had scheduled to finish final editing and begin the publishing process in 2018 which is exactly what I have done in 2018. I have a complete manuscript in my hand ready to be sent for the first print test.

2018 was a very vigorous and dynamic year for my book. During the first 6 months of the year my editor Mathina Calliope and I worked on the developmental and line edit chapter by chapter. Her inquiries on developmental edits were so thought provoking that it created a complete re-write on some chapters. The least of the changes were adding more memories and removing the non-related ones. Mathina and I went to retreats and writing conferences together. I attended her workshops and other writing workshops to write personal essays and practice more writing.

I read so many great books (fiction and nonfiction) with a writer’s eye. I fell in love with James Baldwin’s words and enjoyed Isabel Allende’s engaging stories. Memoirs such as Disoriental by Negar Djavadi, Elsewhere by Richard Russo, Life from Scratch by Sasha Martin, A Fractured Life by Shabnam Samuel, and so many other beautiful stories will never leave my memory. What I read taught me more humanity and made me more compassionate, added to my wisdom, and connected me to life and others at a deeper level. I learned more about diversity and how enriching it is in human life (if we understand it correctly).

Conferences I attended were good for different reasons. Hippocampus was great for networking, the Abu Dhabi International Book Fair was eye opening to what’s going on in other parts of the world, and AWP 2018 Florida offered helpful writing workshops as well as publishing skills. I came to the conclusion that writing conferences are great for networking but writing workshops are the main place to learn more about writing.

Also, a few great blogs and podcasts are out there that offer valuable information about both writing and book publishing/promoting.

The Creative Penn blog and podcast is managed by Joanna Penn, a cheerful positive lady who authentically provides a wealth of information to Indie authors. The spectrum of the information starts from basic writing skills to interior and cover design of a book, marketing, and book promoting. Jane Friedman’s blog provides the best of the industry of publishing as well as great articles about the craft of writing. I purchased a very easy to use Microsoft Word interior formatting file from Joel Friedland’s website Book Design Templates. You can learn the detail by watching the one hour video that Joel has on his website.

And, the GREAT news is that I decided to become an Indie Author and will publish my memoir “My Persian Paradox: Memories of an Iranian Girl” myself. The launch date is set for March 20th (the Persian New Year). The pre-order will start on February 20th. I will post another article to tell the story of me becoming an Indie author soon.

And here is the list of my writing goals in 2019 (A list of goals: so very cliché. I know! But it’s simple and it works for me. 😊)

Goals:

  • Self-publishing my books – February 20th pre-sale & March 20th sale
  • Starting my second book in January – This is very important since I want to be a “writer” first
  • Attending writing workshops throughout the year
  • Creating a crowdfunding project through a Kickstarter campaign in February
  • Creating my book website mypersianparadox.com (Under construction) in January
  • Writing and submitting more personal essays throughout the year
  • Attending reading events throughout the year (Scheduled for two readings at two events in Washington DC in January)
  • Offering a memoir writing workshop – January workshop at the Sterling, VA library was successful
  • Working on my book publicity
    • Submitting applications for Literary festivals across North America and other parts of the English speaking world
    • Submitting applications for providing a talk at colleges and cultural institutes
    • Submitting applications for providing a talk at high schools, libraries, book stores, and other public places such as breweries and wineries.
    • Being more strategically active in social media, following the rule of building a community: give 80% and advertise 20%.

Let’s celebrate life. To a great 2019!

Editing credit: Mike Curtis


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My Book Marketing Plan Is Coming Together

blur bookcase books bookstore

(1050 words – 8 minutes read)

Being creative isn’t limited to writing even though writing is an artistic creative being. Writing is a never ending learning process. It can always improve and go deeper. But the most improvement happens when the writer shares her work with others, exposes herself vulnerably, and asks others to read her writing. Finding the right  audience interested in reading the writing, connecting with the writer, and providing feedback is not an easy job or at least it is a lot of work and needs marketing skills.

I have done many other things in my life but I never considered my personality suitable for marketing positions. I was a quality system analyst, then became a project performance analyst working with Excel sheets and databases all day. Then when I was 43, I started writing a book. I know I can learn new skills but learning many at the same time is a tall order. Needless to say, after I had my finished manuscript in hand, I started searching for opportunities to publish it. No matter what route of publishing I take, traditional or self publishing, I need a marketing plan. A marketing plan is an important part of a book proposal to send to agents. It becomes even more important when you decide to self-publish.

The first article I read about creating a book marketing plan sounded like gibberish. The second and third ones didn’t add more to my understanding. I attended workshops and read more about it. After a while it started hitting me and my understanding level of book marketing started to climb. I know there is still a long way to go and although I have a draft of a plan, it will be modified daily as I learn more about it. I am enjoying the process as overwhelming as it is, and trying to constructively use my previous skills to get a hang of this part of life.

The most important question a writer needs to answer is who is her target audience. The million dollar question!

So here is where my journey led me after tons of research.

The most reliable website about publishing and book marketing I found is Jane Friedman website and the ones she recommends. I bought her book The Business of Being a Writer too. It is a good source book for me.

I had a preliminary answer to the most important question, as I was working on the draft. My memoir is about me growing up in Iran dealing with dictatorship of the Islamic regime and the authoritative, male-dominant culture. My target audience was people who liked similar books about Iran and the Middle East especially focused on women’s lives. But this is as vague as it sounds. There are thousands of Iranian-Americans who left after the revolution and lived abroad and are now curious to know how life was for those who stayed in Iran longer. This group is easier to reach out to. My marketing plan needs to address the tasks of getting to know these people and getting their attention to my story.

After reading many articles, listening to many podcasts, and watching YouTube videos, based on a suggestion Jane Friedman has in several useful articles, here is a rough draft of my marketing plan. Bear with me. It still needs a lot more work as I learn more.

  1. Do I need a Website? Yes. I am going to use www.wix.com.
  2. What social media do I want to use to build followers? I am going with Facebook, Twitter, Goodreads, and will create an Instagram account later.
    1. In Goodreads I try to connect with people who read similar books.
    2. I am also creating my Goodreads Author webpage.
  3. What is an efficient way of using the social media? Using associated hashtags in my story and work, following my potential readers, offering what I can (more than marketing), and having an honest and earnest presence.
  4. How do I build credentials? I will apply for book prizes that I am qualified for.  I have written personal essays and submitted them to magazines and popular related blogs. I will write more and will submit more.
  5. What is my target number for sale? I am targeting 1000 books in the first year.
  6. Do I have a robust budget for publicity? No, I will try to do my best. I hear publicity including hiring a publicist can cost up to $25K. Jane Friedman suggests “For $1,500, you could hire a skilled publicist, with an excellent network of contacts, for probably one month to help garner mainstream media attention.”
  7. What publicity strategies will I use?
    1. I will reach out to indie bookstores and will plan a book tour starting with the Washington DC area and then the rest of the East Coast. Indie Bound provides information about the location and information of indie bookstores in the U.S.
    2. I will ask some authors whose writing I connect with if they would be willing to read my book and provide a review.
    3. I will reach out to my Goodreads friends (1300 now) and will ask if they would be willing to read my book and provide a review.
    4. I am thinking about using some online marketing tools such as Facebook and Instagram ads as well as websites like New in Books and Written Word Media. These websites are recommended by Joanna Penn. Joanna offers great advice for indie authors.
    5. I will reach out to podcasts and radio channels to apply for an interview.
    6. I will pitch to journalists to try to get my words to the press. I have not used www.helpareporter.com but will give it a try.
    7. Last but not least, I will reach out to libraries and colleges to see if I can have any events for book reading. There are different student organizations in each college that might like to open an event for an author to talk about her book.

Seems like A LOT of work! I will try to do my best to make it fun and learn from this process. The most exciting part of it is connecting with other people and sharing my story. May sharing my story encourage others to share their stories. We will understand each other and our differences better when we know about each other’s stories. Everyone has many untold stories.

Celebrate life!

Shabnam

Editing Credit: Mike Curtis

Photo Credit: Clem Onojeghuo on Pexel.com


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Finishing It Brought Me Down, I Needed to Dance It Out

Salsa Dancing

517 words  (5 minutes read)

The bitter-sweet feeling of sending the last chapter of my memoir to my wonderful editor Mathina Calliope and then go dance with her was an interesting experience.  Mike and I got to the dance club earlier. When Mathina got there, I ran to her and we hugged tightly.

“I will be sad too. I miss it. I loved reading and editing your story.” She said looking at my gloomy face.

“Oh, I am not going to stop writing. I already started working on editing the first draft of my second book. But finishing the FIRST book is a different feeling. You know you will be my forever coach.”

Since it was our second attempt at Salsa dancing with no previous training, Mike and I felt self-conscious. Due to the mood of the day, I felt weird and was not even enjoying my own made up Persian-Salsa fusion either. We gave up on dancing and started watching people dancing skillfully.

“Salsa is a sexy and technical dance. The dancer feels sexy and creative.” Mathina’s boyfriend Inti explained to us.

I thought, awesome combination. I wish I could experience it.

After Inti explained some of the techniques to me, I started watching the dancers carefully. In the beginning everyone danced differently to me but learning about different techniques, I started realizing the moves and then the dancers’ facial expression. It felt they were in high spirit. I started understanding why they dance and why they want to dance skillfully. Developing skills and using them is such a joy.

Writing doesn’t make me feel sexy but the joy of writing (including learning about writing) lifts my soul and makes me feel my being. Developing creativity and practicing it through writing over the past three years has taught me similarly rhythmic moves. It is just that my soul dances with words and the more skillful, the deeper the joy it brings.

The fact that I have become brave enough to write reviews for books I read in Goodreads is an accomplishment for me. The fact that I have something to say about the writing style of the author, the structure of the book, the wisdom that the story offers, and even about the crafting helps me see how writing created more consciousness in me. Learning to write was my way of soul-searching, making me capable of putting stories and people in perspective, accepting people for who they are, looking at them through their rhythmic moves throughout their lives and helped me become more compassionate. In short, taking steps towards living life fully.

It’s time to start looking for publishers and promoting my book. As nervous as I am, I believe this part of the process will be complementary to the writing. It will help me develop other skills such as standing my ground and speaking my mind to the level that I can even voice the unvoiced people.

Publishing processes here we come. I am nervous but ready!

P.S to feel sexy, Mike and I are thinking about learning Salsa dancing… 😊

 

Celebrate Life!

Shabnam

Editing Credit: Mike Curtis

Photo Credit: https://www.pexels.com/


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The Journey of Writing Took Me to Tampa for AWP 2018

29027392_10215455600284568_7833725541348802560_o1312 words (10 minutes read)

Excited, nervous, and prepared, I was sitting on the sofa in our hotel room waiting for Mike to get ready and take me to Tampa Convention Center. Going to my first AWP (Association of Writers and Writing Program), I felt like a little girl going to a new school wondering who her new friends will be. I got there a little late and also found out I had gone to the wrong building for the panel I wanted to listen to. But soon I figured it out and the marathon started. I ran from one panel to another and found my way to the book fair too. It was so much fun. My Fitbit celebrated thousands of steps I had taken by the end of the day. I was so tired that I had to skip the evening parties provided by AWP. Mike picked me up around 7:15. We had a nice dinner in downtown Tampa, enjoyed the atmosphere of the downtown with so many of local and conference people hanging around enjoying the chilly but not cold night by the ocean. Despite how tired I was, I was chattering the whole time telling Mike how much I enjoyed my day. At the end of the night, I don’t remember when my head touched the pillow.

The second day, Mike was ready earlier than me to get me there as soon as possible. This time, going to AWP felt like going to an amusement park for me. Listening to the smooth beautiful literary pieces written and read by academic professors took me up the roller coaster causing excess release of dopamine and Oxytocin in my body. Learning how network building could be easier when you are in touch academically and how far I am from it took me down the roller coaster releasing a lot of cortisol. The overall outcome was excitement and thrill.

I went to Tampa with no intention of going back to school and came back thinking about attending an MFA program. The academic panel talks were so inspiring. I have learned a lot about writing and literature during the past two and a half years, but attending these panels made me think I have no direction in my learning process. I am determined to improve my literary writing skills, but self-teaching is not as easy as I thought. I have been walking a zig-zag path, and found lots of gaps in my learning process. It’s time to give a frame to my learning process under the monitor of experts. The joy of being a student again and learning more, this time about a subject I love – literature and literary writing – felt so strong. Will I do it?

AWP offers a vast range of panels, talks, and discussions. I had two major categories for my personal pursuit in mind, non-fiction writing skills and the business of selling a book. I tried to carefully pick a few panels and lectures among the hundreds that were offered. I did end up leaving a few talks after 10 minutes to run to another one. Overall, I had a great first experience. At the end I felt overwhelmed and it felt good. I had reached my goal. Exhausted but with a big smile, I walked out. Mike was waiting for me to give me a big supportive, congratulating hug.

Here is a summary of my take away from AWP 2018:

Writing Skill Development (focused on non-fiction/memoir/personal essay)

  • To write a memoir the writer needs to write a story rather than explaining the situation (recommended Vivian Gornick, The Situation and The Story). To do this we need:
    • To add dimensions to the basic story that explains the situation. Reflections and lessons learned make the story readable.
    • To focus on memories, we remember. As Philip Graham mentioned, stories in our minds cast a shadow. That is what needs to be revealed in a memoir.
    • And, by researching and adding the history, we bring a broader approach to our story.
  • The writer needs to be able to answer this question: why should anyone but me want to read my book? To write a good memoir is to have a good answer to SO WHAT?
  • There are many selves in a personal essay or a memoir. The main ones are the remembering self (the now narrator self), and the remembered self.
    • The remembering self is the wiser one that adds the reflections and answers the SO WHAT question. It is the one who finds the patterns of the memories.
    • The remembered self is the one who talks about the memories, the main ingredient of the story.
  • There are parts of a memoir we hesitate to write. Those parts might make us face a negativity about ourselves (a shadow) that we don’t want to know. Those are the parts that need to be written carefully and non-judgmentally.

My Picks @ Business of Selling a Book

Jeffrey Lependorf brought up the highlight for marketing. He emphasized to make sure you don’t market at, instead you need to share what you are doing and what you have to offer.

Before publishing the book

  • Even if you are not ready to send query letters out, try to write one. It helps you find the main theme of your story and will keep you focused. Jane Friedman offers good advice in her blog.
  • Submit short pieces to literary magazines
  • Open an account in goodreads.com
  • Write literary reviews for books in goodreads.com
  • Seek Blog Hosts who will accept your blogs
  • Host others in your blog, if you have one
  • Every author needs a website, even a very simple one.
  • Multimedia such as Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram are not required for everyone.
  • Try to build your literary network by reaching out and focusing on small groups, not everyone. Be specific when choosing your audience!
  • One way to ask for blurbs for your book is writing an honest fan letter to your favorite author and ask them to return the favor. Explain to them why they are among your favorite authors. Some publishers help with this as well.
  • The panel offered by Pitch Wars organization was very helpful to understand what really needs to be in a query letter. This organization has a contest and reviews the entire manuscript for the winners of the contest in two and half months. The dates are in their website.
    • They expect to see these items in the query letter:
      • The theme of the story
      • Establishing your main character
      • What are the stakes for your character
      • Why you are the right person to write this book
      • Comparative titles (not the best sellers and not too old)
      • In a query letter to an agent, you can also mention why you selected that agent.

Marketing After Publishing the Book

  • The marketing responsibilities vary from publisher to publisher, but at the end the author has the responsibility for reaching out to the right communities to find the most interested audience.
  • Finding organizations related to your book subject. Cooking? Disabilities? Exotic Cultures? Illnesses? Religions?
  • Find out if you can get an opportunity for a NPR interview related to your story or related to other interesting subjects of your life.
  • Take the Author Questionnaire (provided by your publisher) seriously and fill it out with clear and thorough explanations about yourself.
    • The information you provide in the Author Questionnaire helps your publisher find the right audience for you.
    • In the application don’t leave out your birth date since it is very important when appling for different prizes. Your publisher needs it.
    • Jane Friedman offers a sample of an Author Questionnaire in her website.

List of a Few Magazines for Non-Fiction submission in the U.S

BER

Minerva Rising Press

Hippocappus Magazine

Yorick

BatCat Press

Orion Magazine

The Southampton Review

 

Celebrate life!

Shabnam

Editing Credit: Mike Curtis

Picture Credit: Shabnam Curtis


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Writing Retreat

the porches

(671 words – 5 minutes reading)

Sitting at a porch of a writing house called “The Porches” right by the James River in Virginia far from the crowded cities, listening to birds singing and cows mooing, watching the clouds moving on top of the mountains, and writing, feels so relaxing, exciting, and fulfilling at the same time.

I am here with three other wonderful writers for four days. We are having a great time separately and together. “The Porches” is a three story house with five guest rooms. Staying in our rooms or using the beautiful porches and other parts of the house, we write during the day and whenever we run into each other, we exchange encouraging words.

“How is your writing going?”

“Fantastic! I’ve been writing for two hours non-stop. Isn’t it so great to be here?”

“It is great! I feel so happy. However, I am working on a new blog post. It is about a philosophical subject and the progress is very slow. I feel stuck.”

“Maybe you should switch to something else and get back to this later. Have you written about this writing retreat in your blog?”

“That is a great idea. I had started writing about the retreat last time I was here but never finished it. Thanks for reminding me. I’ll go back and work on it and take a break from the philosophical blog post.”

“Good luck!”

“Thank you! Enjoy your writing!”

There is no sense of superiority here. In our group, new writers and professional writers all help each other.

Dinner is our social event in the evening followed by a workshop to talk about a writing topic or have a critique session on each other’s writings. Listening to a webinar or sitting in a class trying to absorb all I can to learn more about writing, I feel exhausted after 45 minutes. Here, I can sit and talk about a writing topic until late at night after a day full of writing, and I feel my brain absorbs every word passionately and doesn’t want the session end. Wine and the background music performed by frogs we can hear through the windows help too.

I love writing and learning about writing. At home, I work on it almost every day. But the writing experience here is different. The connection to nature and the encouraging, like-minded people make me happy and my brain a lot more productive.

A while back, I was searching about human connection (heart to heart) and came across the impact of the hormone oxytocin (also called the love hormone) on our behavior. I learned how important this hormone is for human connection. The release of oxytocin makes us more compassionate, happy, and creative. Unlike the myth and old belief that only sex releases this hormone, research shows there are other ways to increase this hormone in the human body. Compassionate behavior, hugging, acts of kindness, and spending time in nature are among many other activities that increase the release of this hormone in our body. My writing retreat is a true example of this. Being among other writers and spending time in this house surrounded by pure nature, far away from the city with no cellphone signal makes me happier and therefore more creative.

The writing retreat is an amazing experience of solitude and socializing together. During the day, being alone while so close to nature and its quietness connects me to my core and helps me quiet the noise of worries and self-doubts in my brain and get access to what Eckhart Tole calls true intelligence. I don’t know the relationship between oxytocin and true intelligence, but my personal experience draws a direct correlation between these two. The connection to my core makes me more creative and focused and that helps me to create better quality writing which is very fulfilling. During the evening discussions, I learn more writing skills from other writers and apply them in my writing the day after. It is a circle of happiness. I need more writing retreats!

Editing Credit: Mike Curtis

Picture Credit: Shabnam Curtis