Stories have arcs. Characters have arcs. Writers have arcs. We write, we get better at our craft. We read, we get better at our craft. We interact with other writers and our readers, we get better at our craft. Whether you are a professional writer or just starting out. Hobby or career. We are all in this together. Welcome.

Contact: Elena Hartwell - elenahartwell@gmail.com and visit me on the web at www.elenahartwell.com

Honoring Drusilla Campbell

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I met Dru Campbell when I was just a kid, in the early 1980s. She was the first "real" author I ever knew. Holding her books in my hands, I had the realization  actual people wrote books. Flesh and blood, living, breathing, walk-down-the-street-like-the-rest-of-us, people.

She became my role model. The person I wanted to be like. The writer I aspired to be.

When I first launched my blog, she was one of the first writers I wanted to interview. And when I finally landed my book deal, she was one of the first people I wanted to tell. The last conversation we had in person, at a party at my parents' house two summers ago, I told her my fantasy was to have her blurb my first novel. She said, she'd be honored. She had faith I would succeed.

"Tenacity," she said. "That's what will make you successful. You are going to stick with it until you make it. I know you will."

Her faith meant more to me than I could ever say.

Drusilla Campbell died on October 24, 2014. One week after I signed my contract. I like to think she knows about it anyway. I like to think, she's smiling that 1000 watt smile. I like to think she's proud of me. Mostly, I like to think she knew just how much she meant to me. A marvelous author and teacher, Dru fostered countless writers over the years. Her passion for her work, her love of words and stories and characters, will stay with us in her books, always.

But the most important thing I learned from Dru, was commitment and trust. Because of her, I learned tenacity is the most important element I bring to the table. No matter what happens, remain unshakeable. She worked on her writing for decades. Sometimes up, sometimes down, she re-imagined herself and her writing over the years, finding her greatest success not long before she died. She persevered. For the example she set, I am forever grateful.

Check back each week throughout the month of December for more posts on Drusilla Campbell, 
her life, and her writing.

A Note From My Mother...

My mother met Drusilla first, before she became a family friend. 
Here are her thoughts
Thank you Sherry L. Hartwell

Dru came into my life with her very first novels. It was early 1980. We didn’t have computers then. I had a new IBM Selectric and was free-lance typing at home—psychological theses and dissertations. What a breath of fresh air to read her stories about strong women with minds of their own who could think and fight in clever ways. The settings were early civilization with images of Greek gods and goddesses fighting battles, their lives at stake. I could not type fast enough to see how it all came out. Those characters have stayed with me. Lots of action as well as thought-out intentions of what to do in critical moments of living.

As the years went by, I have been blessed with an ongoing connection with Dru and her family, being at the Labor Day parties to celebrate her life and the life of others and conversations over dinner at each other’s home.  She encouraged and supported Elena’s writing. Later on she shared her delight of children with our grandchildren. Charlotte, Kevin, Steven and I joined the Campbells for the 2000 New Year's celebration at their home. We sat in the back yard and watched the fireworks with her family and friends. Magical. Sometimes Dru and I met for coffee where we shared our lives, our worries, wishes. She brought complex thought and hope into life.

One of Dru’s practices: When she woke up in the morning, Art brought her tea. Before getting out of bed, she wrote for ten to fifteen minutes, anything that came to mind. She was open to what was there. Her own being was the source of her inspiration. I used to do that. Time for a restart.

Joy, complexity of thought, kind caring for others, exploration, only some of the gifts she brought to me. Dru and I are only six months apart in age. Her unexpected awful illness and her death reminds me not to take anyone’s life for granted. I miss her. Today, I will begin reading In Doubt and cherish her spirit.  

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The Interview...

Continuing with my honoring of Drusilla Campbell, here are a few of her responses to my interview of her not long after I launched this blog.

Describe a typical writing day
I don't really have a typical day. Over the years I've learned to write when I can which means on a day like today when I have two meetings, I will postpone work on LITTLE GIRL GONE until afternoon. Usually, I like to start around nine with email and facebook, a glance at the headlines. By ten I'm ready to work and I keep at it until I've finished "a chunk" which in some cases means a whole chapter, other times a scene. If I have no energy and am not feeling like a writer at all, I do revisions which almost always flips the switch to on. I write every day. It's a muscle that I have to exercise daily to keep fit and responsive.

What is your biggest challenge as a writer?
There is a committee in my head that tells me that my success is all a big accident, pure luck that has nothing to do with skill or talent. I find that the best way to deal with the committee is to acknowledge it (I will probably live with self doubt my whole life and think it's a waste of energy to try to eradicate it) and then get on with the day.

What do you know now you wish you had known when you first started out?
Craft is more important than talent.

Final words of wisdom:
Read as much as you can across all genres. Learn the craft because that is what will carry you through the first draft when you don't know what you're doing, what story you're telling. And it will carry you through countless revisions by helping you understand what's good about your book and what needs to be fixed. There is a mistake many underpublished writers make. They believe that because they aim high, to be a literary writer, they don't need to worry about craft and can just follow their inspiration. Beware of inspiration that is not guided by craft. It's like setting sail on the Titanic.

Check back for More Info on Dru….

Spotlight on Sarah L. Blum

Sarah L. Blum, is a decorated nurse Vietnam veteran who earned the Army Commendation Medal serving as an operating room nurse at the 12th Evacuation Hospital Cu Chi, Vietnam during the height of the fighting in 1967. Sarah was awarded the Certificate of Achievement for exemplary service as head nurse of the orthopedic ward at Madigan Army Hospital in 1968, where she was also the assistant director of nursing on evening and night shift in 1970. She received her Bachelor’s Degree in Nursing, Summa Cum Laude, from Seattle University and her Master’s in Psychosocial Nursing, Cum Laude, from U. W.. At age 74, Sarah is still a practicing nurse psychotherapist with over 29 years experience.


Read more about this amazing woman by clicking on her picture...

Sarah obtained her black belt in Aikido at age sixty-eight, continues to train and also teaches aikido. She is an African Drummer and African Balaphone player. At age sixty-nine she began sculling. Sarah is full of vitality and loves to dance, drum, sing, and bring people together. Sarah has two grown children, a daughter who is a well-respected and effective M.S.W., and a son who is a professional musician and college teacher, author, and owner of a “The Tuned in Music Academy,” and she has two granddaughters and one 15-month-old grandson.
You can also learn more through this link to an episode of 
The Veterans Hour, with Sarah as their guest.

The Interview -- Part II

Scroll Down To Read Part I

What do you believe people should most understand about the sexual violence taking place in the US Military?
I believe the public does not have a clue about what is really going on in our military between men and women. There has been so much propaganda, misinformation and image control in relation to the military, especially during the last Bush Administration, that it has given a totally false impression and had actually contributed to the level of violence against women by military men.
We know there are 26,000 sexual assaults each year or one every twenty minutes. 95% of the perpetrators are serial rapists and repeat offenders who have a target rich environment in which to rape and abuse women and they have the protection of their leaders who are more interested in their careers and the image of the corps than the well being of their soldiers. Any woman who has the audacity to report a rape/sexual assault is usually retaliated against severely including being denied appropriate medical care, denied food, isolated, ostracized, given a less than honorable discharge or labeled with a personality disorder and kicked out without benefits.
Our military also has a domestic violence issue that they have ignored for the last decade, as they have discounted sexual assaults for two or more decades. In 2002 there were several murders at Fort Bragg that the military tried desperately to cover up, in fact there was a systematic denial and cover up of rampant family abuse by soldiers returning home from combat, but the military dealt with it as a public relations issue and said it was just an anomaly when it was only the tip of the iceberg. Many wives were frightened and calling into hotlines and spilling out the gruesome details of beatings and abuse while the military continued to act as though it was not happening. To this day our military does not hold its soldiers accountable for domestic violence or sexual assault toward women serving.

You have worked extensively over the years with those who suffer from PTSD, and have worked with them towards trauma resolution. What should we, as a society, be doing for the men and women who continue to suffer with these kinds of wounds? How can we, as a society, better support our wounded warriors?
What our society can do for the men and women active duty personnel and veterans who have PTSD is multifaceted. Number one is never ever send them out to fight on behalf of politicians or millionaires. If they are sent out to fight in a war be willing to be responsible for what happens to them in that war. If a war is funded then fund the VA equally to deal with the effects of that war on our service-members. 

Create a way for soldiers in a war to write letters back to their communities telling about their experiences, make it personal, as though writing to their families. In that way the community cannot distance themselves from the realities on the ground. When those soldiers return home, have a community gathering to embrace, greet and thank them plus provide services for them. Depending on their needs, they might benefit from psychological debriefing and therapy, assistance with educational, employment and medical-benefits, and making the transition back to civilian life.

What are you working on now?
I am still working on speaking out about the culture of abuse toward women in our military and having our military hold offenders accountable, punish criminal behavior, remove the criminal element especially sexual predators from the military and take reporting sexual assault out of the chain of command. I am also hoping to get back to writing and finish the second book called: Women Under Fire: PTSD and Healing.

Final Words of Wisdom
Our military justice system is broken and change is imperative. We can no longer allow the military to investigate themselves. They are far too self-protective. It is time for independent unbiased investigations into sexual assault crimes and how our military mishandles them. Do a thorough evaluation at every level of how reports of abuse toward women are handled, how protective orders are managed, and how the system applies accountability and justice, if at all. It is time to fully investigate this abuse culture, clean house and begin anew with appropriate policies and actions that restore honor, integrity and accountability to our military and bring justice to women serving.

Please contact your senators and representatives and members of the Senate and House Armed Services Committees and tell them that and to hold offenders accountable, punish criminal behavior and remove reporting from the chain of command. If that last one is not done nothing will work.

BobHerbert writing in The New York Times March 2009 said and I quote: “The military could bring about a radical reduction in the number of rapes and other forms of sexual assault if it wanted to, and it could radically improve the overall treatment of women in the Armed Forces.  There is no real desire in the military to modify this aspect of its culture.  It is an ultra-macho environment in which the overwhelming tendency has been to see all women, civilian and military, young and old, American and foreign— solely as sexual objects.  Real change will have to be imposed from outside the military.  It will not come from within.  Rape and other forms of sexual assault against women is the great shame of the U. S. Armed Forces, and there is no evidence that this ghastly problem, kept out of sight as much as possible, is diminishing.”

The Interview -- Part I

You are a decorated Veteran of the Vietnam War, how did that experience most impact how you see the world?
The short answer is it changed everything. I sincerely mean that. My life has never been the same and it is truly the gift that goes on giving. Each time in my life I have delved deep into my experiences and emotions in therapy or therapeutic type opportunities I have thought—“OK now it is done and I won’t have to do that again.”  That thought was never true. There was always more.
I saw the war as very wrong and destructive. It was destructive to the land and people of Vietnam and to our soldiers, nurses, doctors, and it was such a waste. There was nothing redeeming about the war or what it wrought. We even left live landmines in the earth that to this day are killing children playing and farmers working the land.
I began to see everything through that prism and became a peace activist and never wanted our country to go to war again.
I also became a wounded healer in my work and was passionate about PTSD—learning about it and healing it. As a wounded healer I knew the experiences deeply my self as well as from the professional perspective. I could literally go into the foxhole with my clients and sit with them through the worst of their experiences and emotions. Most therapists cannot and do not do that—they stay professional and apart from the intense emotions that come up in PTSD. I had my own PTSD with flashbacks and nightmares, so I know. I also went though the reliving of my experiences, survived it again and came out more whole and healed. I came up with my own techniques to suit what I needed and it worked. That gave me tools to work with others that I know worked.
My greatest transformation from my Vietnam Experiences came in 1996 when I went back to Vietnam to plant peace trees. I returned to Cu Chi where I was stationed as an operating room nurse at the 12th Evacuation Hospital. The hospital was of course not there but I went to the tunnels. While there, a soldier with the communist military demonstrated all their booby traps that they used on our soldiers. They used a piece of wood to show what they did to a leg for example. It was excruciating for me to watch that and listen to him describe it. I started to take deep breaths and I went inside and asked God this question: “If we were at a fort in the U.S. and they were describing how they won a battle or war and were proud— what would that be like?” The answer was: “the same.” Then I asked: “What is the difference?” As soon as I asked that last question I was suddenly filled and surrounded by a bright Light and Love, and was fully aware that between that communist soldier and me there was no essential spiritual difference. That healing and transformation has never left me and to this day I am filled with that knowing that we are all ONE and there is no reason to attack or hurt anyone, because it will affect all of us. Whatever we do affects us all.

What led you to write Women Under Fire?
Writing Women Under Fire: Abuse in the Military was my soul’s mission to bring justice into that world. I had awareness of that mission for many years but never had a clue how to fulfill it. In 2006 while talking with a very intuitive woman, I was given guidance on how to fulfill that mission. Write about women in the military. I set out to do that without realizing the connection to justice. I turned to the Divine with a challenge. “It this is what you wish me to do I need a title I can get behind and that will inspire me, and I need to know I can write.”  I brainstormed titles and when I had them all written down I looked at the list and one of them lit up: Women Under Fire.

It did what I asked. I felt passionate about it and was inspired by it every time I looked at it or said it. Then I sat down at the computer and said: “OK show me that I can write. Let’s write an introduction.”
My fingers went flying across the keys and when I had written a few pages of an introduction I stopped to read it and was blown away by the power and intensity in the words. At that point I said to the Divine: “OK let’s do this thing.”

Describe your experience of working with these women's stories. 
I began a quest to find women veterans who would talk to me about their experiences. I was interested in any woman veteran from any branch of the military and any time period. I had no preconceived ideas. I wanted all their stories no matter what they were. I interviewed most of them over the phone but if they were local I went to them in person. The oldest was an 85 year-old WWII veteran who was a feisty little woman who had been a journalist after the war. I came to know these women and their stories. I had a set of questions that I asked each woman to be consistent. If they had some emotionally difficult situations to recall, I held them energetically as they shared and if they were triggered, I stopped the interview and helped them let it go, calm down and relax. If they were able to go on, we did, and if they could not, we rescheduled the rest of the interview. I also checked back with them to see how they were doing.
After a few interviews I began to get some that were horrific stories of rape and abuse. I was shocked by those and also impressed with the tenacity and courage of the women who went through the experiences and now were reliving them. In fact it was their courage and tenacity that kept me going with the book when I did not think I could go on. I would think of them and their stories and realized if they could get through the abuse, I can get through the stories of abuse. Their courage inspired me to keep going. There were times when I would stand up and yell out to the universe: “Who the hell is going to read these stories? Why am I doing this?”

I started with Women Under Fire: Their Stories, Their Words,  but when I turned over what I had written between 2006 and 2009 to an editor for feedback, he said: “Look at those stories of abuse. You need to focus more narrowly on the culture of abuse toward women in our military.” It took me several months to get through my own reaction to what he said before I could get on board with it and do it. Once I was shown that all the stories would be heard through the two different books and the website, I was able to follow the editor’s suggestion and write Women Under Fire: Abuse in the Military.

Check Back November 15 for Part II

Spotlight on Nicole J. and Terry Persun

October sees Part III and IV of my extended spotlight, highlighting two exceptional writers, Terry Persun and his daughter Nicole. I had the pleasure of meeting them both at the Pacific Northwest Writers Association Conference in July, when I attended one of Terry's workshops. Both excellent writers and teachers, I'm pleased to include them together for this interview. Scroll down for earlier installments.

Nicole J. Persun started her professional writing career at the age of sixteen with her young adult novel, A Kingdom’s Possession, which later became an Amazon Bestseller. Her second novel, Dead of Knight, was recently awarded Gold in Foreword Magazine’s 2013 Indiefab Book of the Year Award competition, and has also seen Amazon’s Bestseller rankings. 

Aside from novels, Nicole has had short stories, flash fiction, poetry, and essays published in a handful of literary journals. She often speaks at libraries, writer’s groups, and writer’s conferences across the country. Nicole has a degree in Creative Writing from Goddard College. For more information, visit Nicole’s website at www.nicolejpersun.com or visit her publisher’s website at www.booktrope.com.

  Nicole J Persun         
Terry Persun     

Terry Persun holds a Bachelor’s of Science as well as an MA in Creative Writing. He has worked as an engineer, has been the Editor-in-Chief of several technology journals, and is now marketing consultant for technical and manufacturing companies. Over a dozen of his novels, four of his poetry collections, and six of his poetry chapbooks have been published by small, independent publishers.

His novels Wolf’sRite and Cathedral of Dreams won ForeWord Reviews Book of the Year Finalist Awards, his historical novel, Sweet Song won a Silver IPPY Award, his fantasy novel Doublesight won a POW Best Unpublished Manuscript Award (it is now published). His latest science fiction space opera is Hear No Evil, which was a finalist for the International Book Awards (in science fiction), and novel Ten Months in Wonderland was also a finalist for the International Book Awards (in historical fiction). His poems and short stories have been published widely in both independent and university journals including Kansas Quarterly, Wisconsin Review, Hiram Poetry Review, and many others.

The Interview -- Part IV

Scroll Down for Parts I-III
Nicole, you recently finished a nonfiction book about Terry. That must have been a fascinating experience for the two of you. Nicole, what led you to writing that book?
NICOLE: I’ve always been fascinated with the relationship a fiction writer has to his or her characters. Writers use personal experiences all the time in order to bring life to their characters, but I wondered what parts of our lives we use unintentionally. How are the common themes in our books related to our lives? What is the connection? Of course, the obvious answer is: it depends on the writer. But still I wanted to explore this idea with more depth.
TERRY: I remember when Nicole came to me with this idea, and at first I wasn’t sure how to respond. It was flattering, but would also open up things that I might not want to talk about. Then, I reminded myself how important it is to be honest with ourselves and our kids, and agreed. We’ve always had an open relationship, so I just wanted to reiterate that whatever she asked I’d answer her as honestly as I could. And, whatever she took from the conversation, like always, was her own. It opened us to some very deep and rewarding conversations. 
NICOLE: I didn’t want to look at myself because I didn’t think I had the body of work necessary for such a large scoped question. I also wasn’t interested in the self-reflection that would require, especially because I feared I wouldn’t have enough distance from the work to think logically. So, I looked outward.
TERRY: I am ultimately glad she did this. It was an opportunity for me to see what others might see in my work, and to revisit my own life to possibly uncover some of my deeper life concerns.
NICOLE: In short, I figured Dad would be a good writer to focus on for a number of reasons: 1) he’s prolific and therefore had a large enough body of work for me to look for parallels in, 2) he was readily available to me for interviews, 3) as my father, I already knew a lot of information, which allowed me to delve deeper at a faster pace than, say, with an author I’d never met, 4) it gave me an excuse to read more of his work, something I’d been wanting to do for a while and never had the time.
TERRY: Yes, how cool it was to have Nicole read so many of my novels in such a short amount of time. I know, because of the writer and reader and thinker she was, that she’d bring more to the work than I could have done. Especially since she was reading them one after another—and since I write in multiple genres, I was eager to see if there were parallels in theme or story. I was poised to learn more about my own work, which is great.
NICOLE: Starting the project was the kicker. I’d never written a work of nonfiction to this scale before—let alone one that was a blend of literary criticism, biography, interview, writing-how-to, and childhood memoir (memoir because how could I not have my own experiences coming into play? He is my dad, after all). I struggled a lot at the beginning, especially with trying to figure out a smooth structure for the thing. So, for a while I somewhat blindly conducted interviews and read as many of Dad’s books as I could—which wasn’t easy, as he’s had a pretty crazy life and has written a lot of books. Once I did figure out how to structure the book, things moved pretty smoothly from there: writing the narrative itself, conducting more directed interviews, re-reading key bits and pieces of Dad’s work, etc.
TERRY: I was not disappointed in what Nicole was able to do. The way she pieced all of it together was just short of genius. And I say that as a writer, not as a father, something she and I have had in common from the beginning—we can be very objective. As with her other writing, I did nothing in way of helping her decide on a structure. Here instructors from college helped, but I didn’t. It was her project and I stood back and watched.
NICOLE: It’s funny, a lot of people expect that there would be lots of surprises to me, but there really wasn’t. Dad and I talk about everything and have a very honest relationship with each other, so most of the information wasn’t new—just new details and a better sense of chronology. I’d say the biggest surprise—and the most important part of this whole process I put us through—happened while I was interviewing Grammy, my dad’s mom. Dad never had a great relationship with his father, but something Grammy said I think really changed how Dad now views him, which was pretty cool.
TERRY: Yes, two things happened during this process: my understanding of my relationship with my dad did change, and my relationship with my mom changed. What’s more important to me, though, is that Nicole had a chance to talk with my mom on a deeper, more personal level. Mom died soon after Nicole interviewed her, and for lack of a better way of saying it, I think that interview and our subsequent conversations changed all our lives. What more could anyone ask?   
What are you working on now?
NICOLE: I’m currently working on a literary novel. It’s already putting me way outside my comfort zone—the new genre and nonlinear story structure are re-inventing my whole writing process—but I’m really excited about it! I’d say more, but you’ll just have to read it. J

TERRY: You’ve probably figured out by now that I’ve usually got several projects going at once. Technical articles are a regular for sure. That’s how I make the bulk of my income at the moment. But I’m also working on a short story, a few poems (or more than a few, I keep them around when I’m wanting to work on something short), and writing a new novel. I just finished one a month ago, and wrote a few short stories in between.

I guess I can be a bit more explicit here concerning what these pieces are about, or what genre they’re in. So, the short stories (three of them) are all science fiction in nature. Two of them are about characters that appear in my novel Hear No Evil. I enjoyed those characters and wanted to explore them more. Short stories provides a way to get to know them better through more back story.

The poems I’m presently working on are all over the place. I allow my creativity to be a bit more scattered when it comes to poems. I believe this allows my creativity to stay open and fresh when I turn to something else to write. I can say that I’ve written a few more poems in my sentences format, as well as some free verse. And I’ve made adjustments to poems I’ve written over the past few months.

Lastly, I’m working on a new novel at the moment. I’m about eight- or ten-thousand words into it so far. It’s a sequel to TheNSA Files. My shaman detective/agent and his son have gotten themselves into another caper, you might say. I love writing, so every time I start a new book, I’m excited to see what happens. That’s what keeps me going.

Final words of wisdom.

NICOLE: Wisdom? Oh, jeez. Talking to a new writer, I always say this: Write every day, read every day. That’s how you become an expert. As far as anything else goes, I’ll say what I like to live by, and it’s really quite simple: do what makes you happy. Every. Single. Day.

TERRY: My Final Words of Wisdom
I don’t think of myself as wise, by any means, but I do have opinions. They are all my own, no matter if someone else has said them sometime in the past or not. My grandmother always said to listen to everyone’s opinion and then make up your own mind. I live by that rule.

The first thing I might say to a new writer is: only do it if you love it. Lets face it, money, fame, girls, or anything else won’t last if you hate what you’re doing. Also, odds are that if you don’t like what you’re doing, you won’t do it well. There was a line from a movie recently that I remember (although, I don’t remember the movie), and it went like this: “Learn to distinguish between your skills and your interests.” I’m not saying to quit writing if you don’t have the skills, you can always learn the skills. But if you are “only” interested and not passionate about writing, why write? A novel takes a lot of time and energy to write the first time, then to edit or revise it. And if a large publisher wants it, they can edit the shit out of it, take two more years to do it, and you still don’t know if it’s going to sell or not. You better love doing the job in the first place.

Another thing I tell writers is to write what you want to write. I know, I know, everyone and their uncle says this. But it’s true. If you’re writing things you don’t want to write, even if you make a living at it, you’ll not be happy. You’ll pay the bills, feed your family, maybe even buy a vacation home, but you won’t be happy. I want you to be happy. So, write what turns you on.

I don’t know if I have any more wisdom than this, so I’m going to call it a day.