Introducing Theresa Milstein

I’ve known Theresa for ages now – although I can’t remember how or when we met. That’s usually how writers appear in my life, surreptitiously, hanging around my blog or Facebook when I’m lost in a series of scenes and popping up with useful advice. I’m delighted to have her on my blog to help celebrate the launch of her new book, Time & Circumstance, which I reviewed on Goodreads recently. Take it away, Theresa…

 

When Vine Leaves Literary Journal began to give a platform for the vignette, the first question I asked was, “What’s a vignette?” At that point, I’d written a few manuscripts and short stories for children and teens, and I’d taken several poetry workshops. My heart was in the novel. I’d only started submitting short stories because I’d heard it was a good way to gain writing experience and it gave me a few publishing credits. The poetry workshops became a creative outlet, but I hadn’t taken it seriously.

Vine Leaves rejected my first submission, which was all telling and not at all a vignette. I read their first issue. There, I truly got the idea that a vignette is a moment in time captured. Vine Leaves accepted my second, a prose piece. The third time I submitted a poem, and it was accepted.

I became a regular vignette writer. I’d write because something impacted me, and the only way to come to terms with it was to say something about it in a small space. I’ve found that vignettes fill the void when I’m letting a full-length manuscript sit. There was one blog I turned to regularly for inspiration. It no longer posts, and I miss it. I’ve learned that I’m a competitive person: give me a picture prompt and a phrase of some sort, and I’m typing away. Several years later, I’d accumulated enough vignettes to make a collection.

I’ve been asked what determines if a piece of writing becomes poetry or prose. Often the first line directs me. If it’s lyrical, and I sense a rhythm in the next line, it becomes a poem. I wind up with many more poems than prose. But if the subject needs more freedom than the space a poem will take, prose works better for me. I know there are people who write poetry with long lines or that go on for many pages. I recently went to a poetry reading, and the woman recited her poem for about fifteen minutes. That’s not my style.

When editing my vignette collection with Vine Leaves Press, I appreciated the editor’s perspective. Several of my poems became prose poems, which is a poem that appears as prose. So, sometimes what works best for my writing is a compromise between the two forms!

 

photoTheresa Milstein writes middle grade and YA, but poetry is her secret passion. Her vignette collection, TIME & CIRCUMSTANCE, will be published by Vine Leaves Press in March 21, 2017. She lives near Boston Massachusetts with her husband, two children, a dog-like cat, and a cat-like dog. For her day job, she works as a special education teacher in a public school, which gives her ample opportunity to observe teens and tweens in their natural habitat.

 

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TIME & CIRCUMSTANCE is available for preorder.

$3.99 AUD (eBook)
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$12.99 AUD (paperback)
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Leave a comment, and you’re eligible to win a prize during my blog tour!

 1 $25 Amazon gift card

1 signed paperback copy

1 ebook

 

Answer the question:

“If you could relive any moment in time, what would it be?”

 

Extra entries if you share on Facebook or Twitter and link it to me.

@TheresaMilstein on Twitter.

@Theresa Milstein on Facebook

#ReliveMoment or #TimeandCircumstance

 

Winners will be announced on April 5, 2017

 

 

 

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My rules for writers

A couple of days ago, I stumbled upon Zadie Smith’s Rules for Writers, and, coupled with a conversation I had on Twitter last night, I thought I’d give my own list a go.

For those of you still new to me, here are my credentials: I’ve been seriously writing for publication since I was about fifteen (which is 27 years and pre-internet!), have received at least 300 rejections, had two major writing breaks, and suffer writers block every time I finish a project.

4-book-web-site-picI’ve also had 12 short stories published in small press journals; 19 short stories long-listed, short-listed and placed 3rd, 2nd or 1st in competitions; and three books published by small/indie publishers and one book self-published.

  1. Don’t aspire be the next [insert best-selling author in your genre], be the first you. By the time you’ve read that author’s latest book, and been inspired to write something similar, the industry has moved on to the next big thing. Don’t you want to lead rather than follow?
  2. Don’t expect your first draft to be perfect. Most books go through at least several drafts before they are published. Mine go through many
  3. Don’t be afraid of rejection. I wrote a post about that…
  4. Read, a lot – in your genre, outside of your genre, non-fiction
  5. Don’t force yourself to write if you don’t feel like it. I’ve read a lot of advice that says you should write every day, but it doesn’t work for me, so I don’t do it
  6. In fact, ignore any advice you don’t think will work for you
  7. Know the rules of good grammar, and then break them, if it works in your story
  8. Know the rules of submission etiquette and stick to them. Agents and editors have a preference, for their ease, on how they want to be approached. Don’t give them a reason to reject you before they’ve even read your manuscript. Janet Reid has a lot of advice. Personally, I learnt from Writing Magazine.
  9. Take regular breaks, preferably outside. You don’t want to look pasty in your promotional material
  10. Don’t give up if things don’t go exactly to plan. Think of plans more as a guideline.

Bonus tip: Enjoy it. If you don’t enjoy writing, if it causes you misery or heartache or depression more than it brings you joy, consider whether it’s really the path you want to take.

 

What would you add to this list?

 

#ThrowbackThursday – Right hand/left hand

It’s Thursday, which means I’ve looked into the archives of my old blog to bring you something I think might interest you. This week, I’ve been playing around with my new novel, but the beginning isn’t right – I think I’ve started it in the wrong place, and I’m not sure how to fix it. Then I remembered a technique I’ve used in the past that might help. 


 

This is my attempt at a useful post. I’ve moaned about mentioned my tendency towards writers block since this blog was born. And today I thought I’d talk about a method that really helped me with one story in particular. The story Omelette won third place in the inaugural Words with Jam short story competition a couple of years ago, so I feel confident in sharing this method with you. (And is now free to read on WattPad!)

What you do is swap the hand you normally write with!

That’s it. How easy!

This isn’t my invention – I read about it, but I can’t remember where.

The theory behind it is that writing with the wrong hand makes you concentrate much harder on the actual mechanics of forming the words on the page, which leaves your subconscious mind free to be creative.

Try this:

Start with the sentence When I was younger my favourite toy was…

Remember to write it with the wrong hand, and don’t analyse the content – that’s very important: don’t censor yourself!

When I tried it myself, I managed to pull out a long forgotten incident involving my mum, which actually had nothing to do with my favourite toy. It’s a great way to stop writers block in its tracks.

Part of Omelette written normally…
… and with my left/wrong hand

This technique helped me past a particularly difficult part of the story. Don’t be fooled by how neat my writing looks – I remember having to concentrate very hard!

 

Have you tried something like this before? Or even, just now? How did you get on?
 
 

#ThrowbackThursday – Curious Incidents with Mirrors

Because this is a brand new blog, I’ve decided to start a #ThrowbackThursday feature, where I will be re-posting some of my older blog posts from my previous blog. 

How often do you look in the mirror and think: my long blond hair flows over my shoulders, a little straggly at the ends but nothing a good brushing won’t sort out. My eyes are wide and bright and eager, the colour of the sea on a summer’s day. My skin is porcelain, beautifully clear on account of the full skin regime my mother insisted on since I was fifteen; my neck is long and elegant… etc etc

My guess is not often, if ever. So why do authors invent such peculiar ways to describe their characters?

wp_20161214_15_13_39_proAs a writer, I rarely describe what my first person point of view character looks like unless it is vital to the plot. It doesn’t seem important, because as a reader it jars. I’ve been reading Light on Snow by Anita Shreve, which has inspired these thoughts. On the whole the book was enjoyable and seemed only to have the degree of description needed to convey the plot… until she had her twelve year old narrator look at herself in a mirror in a police station staff room and describe what she saw, in much the same awkward way I did at the start of this post. It was unnecessary to the plot at that point and totally jarred with the rest of the scene, which was quite tense and serious.

I much prefer to visualise for myself what the characters look like; I think that the personality is more important. If, for example, my character was very vain, yes I would definitely have her look in every single mirror and describe what she saw – because it would be relevant. If a character was obsessed by another, I’d probably use that to compare every insignificant detail because that’s what the obsessed person would be doing.

Perhaps I should try to describe my characters more fully: I could have people checking out their features in a turned off mobile phone, the concave of a desert spoon, the highly polished surface of a High Def flat screen TV…. oh, the possibilities 🙂

How do you describe your characters? Do you use strange and unique devices? How do you respond when you read something that jars with the rest of the scene?