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

Spotlight On: Elizabeth Day

Elizabeth Day is an award-winning editor. After graduating from Boston College, she joined Teach For America and taught English for five years. During that time, she earned her master's at DePaul University, developed a writing program for high-risk students that became a Model Program for Chicago's alternative public schools, and while teaching in Los Angeles, she was named Teacher of the Year. 

She went on to co-found a boutique publishing house where she helped launch the careers of highly successful authors, including Kaya McLaren and Jordan Sonnenblick, and received publishing and editing awards from the Northwest Book Publishers Association. After six years in the publishing industry, she closed the doors of the publishing house to become an independent editor (BlueRootEditing.com). In the past fourteen years, she has edited thousands of books, and her clients have included Amanda Turner, Donald Trump, Robert Kiyosaki, Master P, and Lil' Romeo.

As passionate about writing as she is about editing, Elizabeth composes inspirational postcards nearly every weekday for her website, PostcardsFromGusto.com Living with Gusto is her first novel.

She lives with her husband and two children in Todos Santos, Mexico, near the southern tip of Baja.

The Interview - Part II

Scroll Down to Read Part I

What are you doing to support/publicize your novel?
I ask everyone who’s read the book to post a review on Amazon. I love that readers have such important voices and that we listen to those voices. Beyond that, I’m following the directions of my husband, who’s a publicist. He’s pushed me way beyond my comfort zone, having me do radio interviews, magazine interviews, open readings, and book signings, and I have to admit that each time I push past the nervousness and just engage with people about the book, I’m so glad I did. It’s exhilarating. 

One of my favorite things to do, which surprised me, is doing public readings of a chapter from the book. It comes to life in a way it never did when the book was simply in my hands or, before that, on my computer. I’ve always pictured the readership of Living with Gusto growing by word of mouth, organically. That vision motivates me and excites me, and so I’m doing all I can to bring the book into people’s awareness. I’m a firm believer that if a book has merit, if it moves someone and touches them and speaks to them, they’ll talk about it and pass it on—but it’s my job to let them know it’s there in the first place. And by writing new postcards on PostcardsFromGusto.com, I keep the spirit of Gusto alive within me and engaged with readers on a daily basis.

How does where you live impact your writing, your publishing, and the promotional aspects of your work?
I live in Todos Santos, Mexico. Though it’s a tiny town on the Pacific coast of Baja, we have high-speed Internet, so there have been no challenges as far as publishing and online promotion go. If anything, the simplicity of this town keeps me focused and clear about what I want to do and how I want to do it. There are few messages or stimuli competing with that clarity. Todos Santos is known as a pueblo magico, so it’s no surprise that everything about this little town nurtures the writer in me and helps me stay in touch with all that I hope to convey in my writing—the importance of falling in love with who you are and living a life that you’re excited to wake up to every day. 

Timing most things from the morning until I go to bed by the position of the sun, watching the whales migrate south, listening to a cacophony of  birds sing their song every morning and lizards kissing at night, waving to handfuls of smiling people while driving the dirt road to town, shopping at four closet-sized grocery stores to find all (or at least most of) the ingredients for dinner, all of them fresh, some from people’s own backyard, deciding whether we need a flashlight when walking to a friend’s house based on how full the moon is, watching the waves build and lift and then make their statement, sometimes gentle, sometimes powerful … these are the things  that feed my spirit. And when I’m living in a place that feeds my spirit, I feel connected and in tune with who I truly am. That manifests itself in every aspect of my life, including my writing and how I go about the promotion of my book.

Here in Todos Santos, there’s a use for everything broken. Few things get thrown away. So when my writing doesn’t feel like it’s working or a promotional effort doesn’t at first look successful, I don’t worry. I keep doing the best I can, trusting the process. Here, shop owners stand outside in the sun and talk to neighbors and laugh often during their workday. Construction crews sing while they’re hammering nails and pouring cement and measuring. I’m constantly reminded to have fun writing and promoting my work, to enjoy it while giving it my all. Here, people do what they’re good at, and every skill is valued. It’s a constant reminder to write and edit until I love what I’ve written, to believe in my talent, and to be immensely proud of what I accomplish on any given day. Otherwise, no amount of positive feedback or success will matter. 

If you’ve created something you’re excited about—because you did it and because it expanded and pulled from who you are—then every bit of success that comes afterwards is fantastic, but your pleasure and satisfaction with the experience in no way hinge on it.

What are you working on now?
In addition to the daily postcards for my website, PosctardsFromGusto.com, I’m working on the idea of a workbook to go along with Living with Gusto and experimenting with how I want to continue the Gusto series of books.

Final Words of Wisdom
Most children have “imaginary” friends, and they have long, detailed conversations with them. As we grow older, that conversation begins to fade, and that kind of imagining is even deemed as problematic. 
What if we were to stop moving away from those “imaginary” conversations and instead brought ourselves back to them. 

Every single one of us has a version of Gusto within us—a wise, compassionate, nonjudgmental, honest voice that will readily and gladly answer any question we have, give us whatever advice we’re looking for, encourage us when that’s what we need and nudge us when it’s time. What if we not only started talking more to that part of us, telling our whole truth, but we also paused long enough to listen to the answers within us. What if our top priority got boiled down to one thing: to become more of who we really are. Not to change who we are or turn down the volume of any part of us. No … instead, for you to become even more of who you are. For me to become more of who I am. For the person walking down the street next to you to become even more of who he or she is. 

Just the thought of it gives me chills … because we’re lucky. So incredibly lucky. There’s so much talent and wisdom and compassion living on this earth right now. There are answers tucked within each of us, there are dreams to be manifested, there’s fun to be had, forgiving to be done, words to be expressed, obstacles to be overcome, personal and communal and worldwide songs to be sung. The more we each tap into who we truly are, the more we’ll see and do and say and create what we came here to experience, alone and together.

The Interview - Part I

Your book essentially goes back and forth between two “stories,” that of the photographer and her family, and the photographer and Gusto, how did that process work?
I first wrote the story of Ophelia and Gusto, their conversations and interaction on the island together. At the time, I had no intention of writing any part of the backstory, how Ophelia got to that point in her life when she was on the floor in the kitchen, among the pieces of broken glass, hearing Gusto’s faraway voice. When I completed those chapters detailing Ophelia and Gusto’s journey, I sat with it for a while—ready to celebrate the completion of the manuscript. I think it was a week or so. Something kept bothering me though, and finally I said to my husband, “I think the book is only halfway done.” Oh, the clarity that came from admitting that to myself—and then someone else. The more I thought about it, it was starting to feel like the manuscript needed something to balance the weight of the Gusto chapters and a backstory to anchor the book. Once I said it out loud, I knew I needed to do it; it resonated so strongly with me there was no turning back.

So began the writing about the six months that led up to Ophelia’s arrival on the island with Gusto. I knew Ophelia’s character well, but I didn’t know what exactly had led to the unraveling of her life and how much of it she had done purposely. I spent a lot of time dialoguing with the character of Ophelia before beginning those chapters, writing down questions to her and then “hearing” her answers. I felt like I saw a whole new side of Ophelia, and everything that happened on the island made that much more sense. I went ahead and wrote all the backstory chapters, in a row, not checking along the way to see how they would mix—timing and subject wise—with the island chapters. I immersed myself in Ophelia’s life before she went to the island … and wrote and wrote. When I finished and then intertwined the chapters, one after the other, it was such an exciting feeling … because it worked. It felt whole, and I loved the play of the chapters, the back-and-forth movement and the building, and how it all came full circle in the end. There wasn’t a doubt in my mind that the book was complete.

Tell us about your website and how that relates to your novel.
For the last six years, I’ve been writing postcards to myself, to you, to anyone and everyone, from the perspective of Gusto, and then I post them on the site, PostcardsFromGusto.com, each day. The idea for the book came from having created this character of Gusto and then getting into his head so often for so long …until he was constantly on my mind. Writing the postcards forces me to tap into that part of me that I believe each of us has—the passionate, ridiculously wise, unabashedly optimistic part that’s spilling over with a zest for life.

I started to think about what it would be like if we could separate that part of us out enough to almost create two people, the one who lives our everyday life, going through the routines, taking care of what needs our attention, and then the part of us that sees and exists in a much more expansive picture and recognizes our role in that larger space. I imagined what it would be like if we could sit and have an uninhibited, as long as necessary conversation with our gusto (the person of Gusto) about the dreams and kind of life we feel called to but don’t know if we’re worthy of, the mistakes we don’t know what to do with, the fears holding us back. I wondered what it would be like if we could step out of our lives for a moment and pause everything, using that bending of time to speak more honestly with ourselves than we ever have, to ask the questions that tend to get swept under the rug, to examine if we’re living our life according to our own rules or someone else’s. I imagined talking to that incredibly compassionate part of us that understands the power of forgiveness, that has wisdom that’s much greater than just the sum of our experiences, and that insists on the importance of fun and laughter and letting go. Living with Gusto was born from those wonderings and imaginings. When Ophelia goes to the island with Gusto (the personification of her gusto), she does all of those things that I imagined being able to do as I was writing the postcards for my website every day.

From people who have been getting the postcard for years (you can sign up to receive an email from Gusto that lets you know when a new postcard has been posted on the site), I’ve been told that the book takes the postcards to a whole new level. And on the flip side, readers of Living with Gusto, who then for the first time went to PostcardsFromGusto.com and started receiving the postcards, have said that they love how it keeps the spirit of Gusto and the book alive in their life on a daily basis. So, in a sense, the website and novel feed off of and build on each other.

What was your process for publication?
Years ago, I co-founded and ran a boutique publishing company, and I loved every aspect of it—from combing through potential manuscripts, to choosing which ones were in line with what we were publishing, to editing those, working one-one-one with the authors, and then going through the design phase with the author and everything that was necessary to get their book out into the world, into the hands of readers. I’m prefacing my answer with that because I have a lot of respect for traditional publishing. With that said, after closing the publishing company, my focus for the next ten years became editing (BlueRootEditing.com). There’s nothing like coming across a gem, that surge of energy and excitement when I’m working on someone’s manuscript, and I know—I just know this person was born to write, to express themselves on paper, to create characters and stories and places, to combine words in a way that no one else has, to make language dance and to create art with it. After years of seeing incredibly talented authors wait (and still waiting) to get an affirmative response from an agent—in the meantime, putting their writing career on hold—I decided that traditional publishing wasn’t a path I wanted to take.

Actually, the truth is, I was almost sure of that. When an esteemed author read Living with Gusto and suggested I send it to her agent, I did. But then I put a three-month limit on how long I would wait for a response from the agent. In those three months after sending my manuscript to the agent, I took every step necessary so I could feel proactive, so I would be ready to self-publish my book if I didn’t hear anything back. I set the deadline as October 1.

During that time, I hired a designer suggested to me by Amanda Turner, author of The Tales of Imperfection Series. I loved all the covers of her books, and Amanda had nothing but glowing compliments about working with Sarah Tregay at Pete Wilson Design Works, Inc. What a blast it was working with Sarah, and the final results—the interior design of the book and the cover—still make me smile every time I look at them. While Sarah was finalizing the cover and interior files, I signed up with CreateSpace (Amazon’s self-publishing branch) so I could offer a softcover version of the book, and Kindle Direct Publishing (KDP) so that it would be available on Kindle. It was a simple process with easy-to-follow instructions for getting an ISBN, setting the price for the book, etc. When I finished the setup (easily doable in one day), I gave the green light to Sarah, my designer, to load the files to Amazon and KDP. The next and final step was clicking the button that would “accept” the loaded files, thereby publishing the book on Amazon.

October 1 arrived. Having had fun with every step of the process, I had almost forgotten that I had set the date as the deadline for the agent response, not just the pub date. With no word back, I simply clicked “accept” on Amazon and then celebrated on the beach that inspired the island in the book, with a bottle of champagne.

Check Back Jan 15 for Part II