Collaborating With Other Writers

Though I’ve only done it a few times, I enjoy collaborating with other writers. My largest collaborative writing effort is Project Keepsake, where I worked with writers of all skill levels to shape their short stories and publish them in a paperback collection.

In November, I collaborated on a blog with my dear friend and fellow writer, Renea Winchester. She and I are part of a sisterhood of writers who help and encourage one another. After exchanging a few emails, Renea pulled our story together and posted it on her blog at reneawinchester.wordpress.com.collaborationphoto

Today, I, too, am sharing our story (Buckeye Magic) with the world, but before I share our joint venture, I want to offer you a few reasons why you should consider collaborating with other writers.

  1. COLLABORATING IS FUN. Writing can be somewhat of a solitary journey, and so collaborating with someone you like transforms the writing process into a social endeavor.
  2. COLLABORATING HELPS YOU ENGAGE WITH NEW WRITERS. You have one set of readers, and your writing partner has another set of readers. At the end of the collaborative effort, a new audience will view your work. Simply put, working with another writer increases your readership reach.
  3. COLLABORATING ALLOWS YOU TO SHARE THE JOY. If your collaboration is a big success, you get to share the spotlight with someone you like, and that makes the moment even more special.
  4. COLLABORATION BREEDS CREATIVITY. The process of bumping thoughts and words off of one another helps generate new ideas and different approaches. You see the story in a different light, and that helps you grow as a writer.

“BUCKEYE MAGIC”
by Amber Nagle and Renea Winchester

Today’s post is a lesson in friendship—a reminder that we are all connected, even when we are miles apart. It’s also a window into the world of a writer and how book events aren’t glamorous. Sometimes they turn downright ugly.

Amber Nagle: I rose to a familiar nip in the autumn air and dug out a wrinkled sweater from the bottom of my closet. I followed the winding country roads to Goodlet Farm near Rock Spring, Georgia and admired the contrast between the rolling green fields and cerulean blue sky along the way.

I love fall festivals and country fairs, and I was looking forward to participating in the first-ever Goodlet Farm Festival—a fundraiser designed to raise awareness and funds for breast cancer research. Festival organizers directed me to the Author’s Barn, where other regional authors and poets had congregated behind tables showcasing their books and promotional items. I sat down at a table with an acquaintance I had not seen in a few years and started unpacking copies of Project Keepsake. I placed a large bowl of buckeyes in front, then settled into my chair and waited for potential readers to sashay by.

amberandbuckeyeProject Keepsake is a collection of stories by several different writers about the histories and memories associated with keepsakes—a quilt, a pocket knife, a cake pan, an heirloom sewing machine, etc. I coordinated the project, wrote two of the stories in the collection, and led the effort to find a publisher. The first story in the collection is “Herman’s Brown Buckeyes” — a story about my father and our relationship.

During my childhood, my dad gave me dozens of buckeyes he had retrieved from the woods. He always followed the gesture by saying, “Keep it. It’ll bring you good luck.” And so buckeyes remind me of my father and his lifelong love of the great outdoors—hunting, fishing, sitting by a glowing campfire, and roaming the backwoods of Georgia on foot.

During book events, I often bring a large bowl of buckeyes to give to passersby. The smooth brown nuggets tie into my book, but they also prompt interesting conversations. Many people respond to the buckeyes and share memories with me from their own lives, and I treasure that connection.

Renea Winchester: Many Southerners and hill-folk alike can recollect with great detail the moment a smooth buckeye was placed in their palm. For you see, a buckeye is just the right size for every hand, because it carries with it a bit of magic. Sometimes buckeye’s come on a whisper, a bent low-lips-to-the-ear moment when someone believes you are special enough to receive the gift. Other times buckeye’s come as a reminder that we all need a little bit of luck.

Buckeye’s trigger memories of special people which is why, upon receipt we are entrusted with the duty to share buckeyes with others. Buckeye’s slide effortlessly into pockets where your finger and thumb caress them for good luck and perhaps even remember that the One who created the Buckeye tree also created us.

Amber Nagle: And so it was on that beautiful fall morning at Goodlet Farm that I painted on a warm smile, handed out buckeyes, and sold three books in the first hour as the writing acquaintance seated next to me sat idle. I felt badly for her. During a lull, I reached into my cache and found the largest buckeye in the bowl. I handed it her way and said, “Here. Take a buckeye, my friend. It’ll bring you good luck.”

But instead of receiving my gift, she held her had upright and said, “No. No thanks.”

I offered again. “Come on. Take it. You never know—it may make all the difference.”

And that’s when she leaned toward me, looked me dead in the eye, and said, “I don’t need your good luck. Jesus is my good luck.”

She seemed agitated. No, she seemed kind of angry.

Stunned by her response, I sat motionless for about ten seconds, then finally uttered, “Jesus doesn’t care if you put a buckeye in your pocket. It’s just a fun Southern thing.”

She held firm in her rejection, and I realized she had misconstrued my gesture.

It had never occurred to me that someone might think I was pushing some sort of witchcraft on them through my offering of a buckeye. Indeed, I’ve never actually believed that good fortune is bound to a buckeye. I find them nostalgic, as do so many other folks.

Not having enough good sense that day to move on, I reached over and placed my buckeye on her stack of books. Yes, I realize that it was a juvenile response, but it seemed like a good idea at the time.

She wasn’t happy with me and promptly removed it.

Like moving a chess piece into a check mate position, I put it back over on her side of the table, allowing it to make a heavy striking sound.

She was fuming.

Renea Winchester: Dad and I have been building a goat fence. This little project, which should have taken a week, has lingered incomplete for almost three months. I’m not going to push him, but it is getting cold and the days are growing short. I’d like to look out my window and see a couple goats, before the snow is piled head high to a giraffe, but I digress.

buckeyefenceMy daughter decided to help which makes me smile. Grandparents are our most valuable treasure and time with them is time well spent. When Winchesters launch into project mode we do so in style. Jamie, Dad and I each tied an apron stitched by Rita, who made the apron from articles of my Mother’s clothing. We now carry a piece of Momma with us in our hearts, but we also keep her close. After filling the apron pockets with nails, wire, and tools we got to work.

Amber Nagle: A half and hour after the buckeye incident, civility returned to our table and we actually exchanged a few book publishing and promotion ideas with one another. I’m thankful for that.

Just after noon, each author was invited to read a few pages from his or her book at a lectern positioned in front of tables filled with people devouring barbecue. As my time slot approached, I flipped through the pages of Project Keepsake and landed on one of my favorite stories, “Uncle James’ Pocket Knife,” penned by my friend and fellow writer, Renea Winchester. Her story embodies the essence of the project—that the items we keep hold deep, powerful memories.

I stepped up to the mic and addressed the crowd. “Today, I’ve chosen to read a friend’s story, because I miss her, and I wish she were here with us today,” I said, and then I began reading.

“A memory keeper collects, gathers, plucks important items and hides them in safe places. Sometimes a memory keeper displays mementoes for all to see. Sometimes memory keepers listen, hoard and stack-up stories waiting for the right moment to share them with anyone who shows a hint of interest.”

As I read Renea’s words, I could see her life playing out in my mind—her selecting the knife that bore her uncle’s fingerprints. The audience clapped at the end, and I walked back to my table and my somewhat disgruntled table mate, all the while wondering where Renea Winchester was, how she was feeling, and what she was doing. I made a mental note to tell her I read her story to festival-goers and that another author had been mean to me—rejecting my kind offering of a buckeye. I knew Renea would understand my frustration and melancholy.

Renea Winchester: While Dad and Jamie worked on the fence, I eased into the woods and began picking up sticks. The place has become a haven for briars, brambles and fallen limbs. It is difficult to mourn the loss of a parent and keep up with property maintenance. I bent double and parted the saw-briars, then carefully made my way to the area where limbs were twisted in a pile. I’ve got plans for this place, grandiose ones that – like most of my plans- rarely end like I envision. All I need is time and a chainsaw.  By the way, I always need a chainsaw.

Angry at myself for letting the hayfield go to seed, I pulled and tugged, tossed, and flung, and began expressing my strong displeasure for briars and brambles. The more I tossed the more I missed my mom, my friends and my old life. Then something lovely caught my eye. . . a buckeye, half-buried in the forest floor.

buckeyeAll work stopped.

I picked up the nut and immediately looked heavenward. Now I don’t claim to be a botanist, but I do know that buckeye trees look like, well. . . buckeye trees. The nuts they drop are encapsulated in either prickly balls, or soft leathery balls. Scouring the forest floor, I could find neither. It appeared that this buckeye had been tossed down from heaven just for me. This wasn’t a small nut, this was the biggest buckeye in the whole wide world !!!  I snapped a photo and immediately thought of Amber. She’s the Amber Appleseed of the Buckeye family. If you’ve met her, odds are, she’s placed a buckeye in your hand. Many people know that I rescue flowers from development. That is who I am . . . it is what I do. Sharing buckeyes with folk is who Amber is . . . it’s what she does.

Amber Nagle: My table mate left early, and I continued to hand out free buckeyes to people who paused at my table. An elderly lady ambled by putting much of her weight on a walking stick. I held out a buckeye to her, and she automatically lifted her hand to receive it. She opened her shaky, wrinkled hand, smiled, and said, “Ha! My daddy used to give these to me.”

She paused as if she had slipped into a deep memory, then cleared her throat.

“He used to tell me they’d bring me good luck. I haven’t seen a buckeye in years. Did you find this in the woods?”

“No,” I said. “I ordered these from the Internet. But I’ve found a few buckeyes in my lifetime, and their discoveries are magical moments—like finding an arrowhead or a secret garden.”

The woman beamed and nodded. “Yes, it is, isn’t it? Magical.”

And just like that, I made a new friend. We connected over a buckeye—a buckeye—just as my father and I connected over buckeyes in all of the years preceding his death in 1992.

Renea Winchester: Exiting the bramble pile, I hid my find behind my back and said, “Guess what I found?” Presenting the prize to my dad, for a moment I was back on Bett’s Branch standing atop the mountain rolling timber down the holler. For one moment I was ten years old and my Mom was still alive.

As Dad and I smiled, my daughter didn’t quite understand, being from the newer generation that must Google Buckeyes to learn of their importance. Dad placed the shiny nut in his leathery hand and said, “You know what this means?”

I certainly did. It meant I was tasked with the responsibility of finding someone worthy of the buckeye’s magic.

Amber Nagle: I closed shop and drove home with my mind awhirl with the events of the day. After I returned home, I checked Facebook, and that’s when I saw it. Renea Winchester had placed a photo of a big, brilliant buckeye on my Facebook wall with a message—“I’m thinking of you and feeling like the luckiest girl in the world #lookwhatIfound #itsabigone.” It was glorious—simply glorious.

Coincidences amuse me. Even though Renea and I were in different states that day, I was thinking of her about the same time she was thinking of me. We must have a magical buckeye bond.

Renea Winchester: I helped Dad and Jamie position a couple goat-fence panels (the fence still isn’t finished), then Dad and I searched for another buckeye, or the tree from which it fell. Finding neither, we both smiled understanding the magic of the buckeye.

Amber Nagle and Renea Winchester: We would love to hear your magical buckeye stories. Please do share them with us.

Please check out Renea’s books and short stories. I’ve added links below:
Farming, Friends, and Fried Bologna Sandwiches
Walking in the Rain: A Short Story about a Secret Place
Mountain Memories: True Stories and Half-Truths from Appalachia
In the Garden with Billy: Lessons About Life, Love & Tomatoes
A Hardscrabble Christmas

And as always, if you want to read more of my work, check out:
Project Keepsake
Southern Exposure
Have a Seat 

WARNING: Author Under Attack

Late yesterday, I attended the July meeting of the Calhoun Area Writers group and listened to guest speaker, Sarah Rowan, discuss the development and launch of her first book titled, Authentic Happiness: Devotions for the Slumbering Believer (Westbow Press, 2014). With no experience in writing or publishing, she not only wrote a book, but she sold over 1,100 copies of her book in the first seven months—by hand. That got my attention because I know how difficult it is to sell books out of the trunk of the car.

But it was something else she discussed that resonated most with me. Her account of being under “spiritual attack” weeks before her book was published knocked my mind back to January of 2014, just a few short weeks before my book, Project Keepsake, was released.

Under AttackIn the eleventh hour, I had to ask all story contributors to sign a legal release form allowing me to print their stories in the book. It protected the publisher and me against future lawsuits—standard practice in the world of anthology publication. Three story contributors pulled out of the project.

One writer sent a rather spirited email my way accusing me of being selfish and greedy. She reprimanded me like a teacher scolds a devious little schoolgirl saying, “You stand to profit from my writing, and I will not allow that to happen.”

My character was under attack, and it stung. I lost sleep over the email.

Project Keepsake evolved from my love of storytelling, my passion for writing, and my interest in the objects people keep. I never thought about making a grand fortune from the book. I often joked, “If Project Keepsake becomes a New York Times bestseller, we’ll all be rich.” But I knew there was little to no chance of fame and fortune occurring, even though the book is delightful.

The following morning, I sat in my office in distress thinking about calling off the entire project. “What am I doing?” I thought to myself. “I’m no writer.”

Like Sarah Rowan referenced in her speech last night, I had allowed doubt to permeate my psyche. I was under spiritual attack, and I was going down like a wide receiver being tackled inches from the end zone. That’s when my husband appeared in the doorway.

I said, “My character means everything to me. If this person believes I am a horrible person, how many others are thinking it, too? And what if the book bombs?”

“Are you kidding me? Suck it up!” Gene said in a louder, firmer voice than he usually uses. “This is what you’ve wanted for three years. Don’t let that woman’s email get to you. That’s bullshit.”

He turned and walked away.

An hour later, friend and fellow-writer, Renea Winchester, called to check in on me. I often ponder the timing of her call that morning.

Renea is the award-winning author of In the Garden with Billy, Farming Friends, & Fried Bologna Sandwiches, and Stress-Free Marketing: Practical Advice for Newly Published Authors, so when she shares her wisdom, I listen.

Renea told me that she, too, had experienced a moment of weakness just before her first book was published. She urged me to push through it. She said, “Remember—it is always darkest before the dawn. It will be fine.”

My husband’s tough love and my friend’s gentle encouragement were what I needed to move forward that day.

The book was published, no one called me out for being a despicable person, and everything was—and is—fine, fine, fine.

Do all authors go through these deep trenches of doubt on their way to publication? Apparently most of us do.

I think the take away is this: We must talk about our experiences in writing and publishing with each other, we must reach down and lift up our fellow writers who have stumbled or fallen, we must be teachers and encouragers to upcoming authors, and most of all, we must be kind to one another. I certainly needed “a lift” that day, and two people I love and admire came to my rescue. I hope I can do the same for another writer one day.

Day 3—Farming, Friends, and Fried Bologna Sandwiches

In an effort to help my writer friends promote their books, I launched Seven Book Reviews in Seven Days. Today, I celebrate Renea Winchester and her book, Farming, Friends, and Fried Bologna Sandwiches.

Renea's BookI met Renea a few years ago at a writer’s conference in Calhoun, Georgia. She was kind and approachable, and I liked her instantly. The conference was one of my first outings as a self-proclaimed freelancer, and I still felt weird about introducing myself as a writer, but that doubt and discomfort didn’t last long. At lunch that day, I found myself dining and laughing with Renea, Wayne Minshew (writer extraordinaire and bonafide baseball man), Carmen Slaughter (who knew about The Moth), and the legendary Terry Kay (author of To Dance with the White Dog). It was as if I had been initiated into a very exclusive club of Georgia writers, and I loved it!

I loved reading her first book, In the Garden with Billy: Lessons About Life, Love, and Tomatoes. A few months later, Renea carved out some time in her crazy schedule and wrote “Uncle James’ Pocket Knife” for Project Keepsake.

I devour all of Renea’s writing, and so I knew that Farming, Friends, and Fried Bologna Sandwiches would be enriching and delightful, and it is. She shares more of her days spent with 82-year-old, Billy Albertson and the interesting parade of friends, family, and neighbors who frequent Billy’s urban farm.

“A bond forms during visits to Billy’s. Threads of just-made memories weave their way into a special place in the heart. Images captured on film, smiles shared, and that magical moment when a baby goat nibbled your pants or a chick hid beneath your hair: these experiences nestle deep inside a lonely place we all carry, a place we do not share with others. Visits to the farm are precious, priceless, and often recalled in unexpected moments during ordinary days. Sunlight pierces the cloud. A breeze kisses our face, and we recall that moment when old friends introduced us to new friends. In that moment, we became a family.” —Renea Winchester

She also fuses dozens of Southern-inspired recipes into her stories. Readers learn the magic of pouring a small bag of Lance peanuts into a bottle of ice-cold Coca-Cola—a delicacy that took me back in time to my own childhood. Cream-style corn. Microwaved Moon Pies. Buttermilk biscuits. She included so many Southern favorites and recipes and all are meticulously woven into her down-home narratives.

 
Farming, Friends, and Fried Bologna Sandwiches
Author: Renea Winchester
Genre: Essays/Recipes
Price: $17 + S/H on Amazon, but also available at lots of brick-and-mortar booksellers
Click HERE to buy it.