Who’s Up Wednesday: A Chat with Arizona Writer Ronny Herman de Jong

Who’s up Wednesday? Arizona Writer Ronny Herman de Jong

I’m all about commemoratives and remembrances:  commemorative events, anniversary dates, special milestones, dates that honor a way to remember those we’ve lost and those we have in our lives.  I love that we are given a special day or timeframe to remember an event that was meaningful in some way, and this is no exception.  Today, I’ve chosen to post this interview in August because Ronny de Jong is a survivor of the Japanese concentration camps during WW II in the Pacific.  August 15, 2013 (tomorrow) the world will commemorate the 68th anniversary of the Japanese surrender and the en20130814_091043d of the War.  I know you’ll enjoy this interview and finding out more about Ronny when you read her book “Rising From the Shadow of The Sun.”  Let’s get started!

Ronny, you have published two books. When did you actually start writing?
I have been writing for as long as I can remember. I wrote stories and essays, and I guess I followed the example of my mother, who wrote weekly letters about our life in the Dutch East Indies to her parents in the Netherlands. When I went to the Netherlands for my college education, I exchanged weekly letters with Mamma back in Indonesia.

When you were a little girl in the Japanese concentration camps, were you aware that your Mom kept a secret diary?
No, not at all. She must have written when we were asleep, so that we could not accidentally spill the beans to other inmates or to the Japanese soldiers. Writing, and having paper and pencil were strictly forbidden. They would have killed Mamma if they had found the diary.

Other than Dutch and English, what other languages did you learn, and did you write anything in those languages?
Bahasa Indonesia (Malay) was my second language because I grew up on the island of Java in the Dutch East Indies, a colony of the Netherlands. For my college education I needed two years of Greek and Latin, and in high school I learned English, French and German. My writing, however, is limited to Dutch and English. I love to translate and edit in those languages.

When did you write your first book and why did you write it?
I translated Mamma’s camp diary – which I received in 1985 after my grandparents had died – from Dutch into English for my children. Nobody in California, where I lived, knew anything about women’s camps in Southeast Asia during WW II, and so, after I had moved to Hawai’i, my first book came to be. In the Shadow of the Sun, published in Canada in 1992 was one of the first accounts in the English language in North America about women and children’s camps during World War Two in the Pacific.

Why did you write your second book and how is it different from the first?
When I moved back from Hawai’i to the mainland in 2001, I found that people here still don’t know much about the civilian camps in Southeast Asia, andafter some research, I discovered the in 2000 declassified Japanese War Crimes Files, part of the NARA Files. The Japanese were planning to systematically exterminate all prisoners in all camps starting in September of 1945! The bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki were dropped only two weeks before the massacre would have begun. I had to share that with my readers. But also, looking at what I had achieved in my life after those gruesome years in captivity, I wanted to inspire younger generations with my example. So I wrote my memoir Rising from the Shadow of the Sun: A Story of Love, Survival and Joy.  

Will you write another book?
A fun, inspirational story for my grandchildren about their European family ties and two murder mysteries are embedded in my mind. If I live to be a centenarian, like my mother, I am sure I will accomplish all that. For now, promoting my new book is my first priority. I have to get that story out to the world! It is my mission in life.

Is there any special publicity we should know about?
Yes! My name is featured as a link on the largest, most visited website of POW research in the world, the website of the late RogerMansell.    (http://www.rogermansell.com/links.html).  My YouTube video is interesting to watch.  (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=01k6q9MvSpM&feature=youtu.be). And, I was recently interviewed by SBS (Special Broadcasting Service) in Australia for a radio show in June 2013.

What advice would you give to aspiring writers of a Memoir?                                                                                                                      Start with research and write, write, write whenever you have time. Editing comes later. Just write what comes to your mind.

Where is your book available?
Signed copies are available from the author’s website: http://www.ronnyhermandejong.com/.  Other purchase links are Amazon.comAmazon.co.uk, Amazon.ca, BarnesandNoble.com, Booklocker.com

Thanks, Ronny!  I look forward to more writing from you; be sure to keep me posted! (I’ve read this book, and I LOVED the way it was written.)

Are you a writer who would like to be featured on the “Who’s Up Wednesday” portion of my blog?  Email me, comment, or give me a call and we’ll set up a time to chat!  If you liked what you read here, be sure to check out other archives in my blog, subscribe so you receive updates, and share this post with your friends and fans. Thanks for stopping by!



Work on Your Personal Story in Just 15 Minutes a Day

Memoir Writing in 15 Minutes a Day

We’ve all heard it before: how to do this or that in 15 minutes a day.  How to tweet, keep up with Facebook, lose weight, eat better, stop smoking, write a book.  You might ask, “How can we do anything in minutes a day?” The bigger the project, the more daunting it sounds.  But, when you stop to think about it, particularly when writing your own personal history, family story or memoir, 15 minutes seems just about right.  Manageable.  Doable.  Realistic.  Why does this work?

The “15 minutes a day” concept hits the nail on the head.  Here’s why:

  • It’s manageable.  You can add that time into your daily schedule without too much of an upset or without rearranging the activities that are already there.  You might have to get up a little earlier, or turn off the TV for a half hour, or work on your list during commercials.  But it’s a short enough time frame that you can manage.
  • It’s doable.   Despite our feeling overwhelmed, once we set aside some time, we really can do just about anything for 15 minutes a day. Think of the workout you dread on Monday morning, even though you know you should hit the gym.  You jump on the treadmill and say, “For just 15 minutes I’ll walk on the treadmill.”  Chances are you’ll find yourself a half hour or an hour later still on the treadmill and feeling better for it.
  • It’s realistic.  The goal isn’t too small or too large. If you give yourself two minutes, you don’t get anything done.  If you give yourself a week, you don’t get anything done.  In just 15 minutes a day—which adds up quickly—you can accomplish what you’ve set out to do with your personal history or other writing project.  The small time frame has allowed your project to be broken down into chunks that make it eaaaaasssssy… and we all want easy… right?

Now that you know why the “15 minutes a day” concept works, here are some ways that you can get started without feeling overwhelmed when you are writing your story or working on a personal history or family project.

Start right now by making a loosely structured list of what you hope to accomplish in your project.  It might even include a checklist of the topics that you want to explore. Then, pick the first day that you’ll start chipping away at items on the list.  (I’m hoping it will be tomorrow, because now that it’s manageable, you don’t need to put it off any longer!).  When you start your 15 minute time period for that day, look at the first item on the list and do it for 15 minutes.  The next day,  pick up where you left off.  The next day, pick up where you left off or start a new item if you finished the one before it, and so forth.  This might seem really elementary, but it is so easy to get sidetracked and do just a little bit of everything or nothing at all, leaving you feeling unaccomplished at the end of the day.  Nothing says you have to accomplish the whole list or tackle each item on the list per increment.  Just spend some time each day and start moving forward.  Your list might look something like this:

  • Why I want to start my story – list the reasons why it’s important that you’re working on this project in the first place –those reasons may be the start of your own personal mission statement.
  • Look for photos of Grandma that she packed away.
  • Find the family tree that Aunt Joan created.
  • Write a list of topics that I’ll cover in my memoir.
  • Subscribe to Genealogy Gems (or other blog, newsfeed).
  • Learn RootsMagic.

Some of the items above might take several attempts to accomplish.  For instance, looking for photos or learning new software could span a few days.  You have to start somewhere.  If you give yourself too much time you’ll get nothing else done at work or at home and you might find yourself re-organizing the closet instead of taking care of what you originally set out to do!  Once you’ve come face to face with why it’s important, you’ll have a much easier time writing what you know and what you want to share.

There are many prompts you can find on the Internet that will help you unleash some of the stories and memoirs that make up your life.  For a free download of 30 Prompts to Start Your Memoir, email me at tarafort@cableone.net and mention how you heard about me.

What are you waiting for?  Have you scheduled your 15 minutes?

Free Friday Reading Recommendations

Free Friday Reading Recommendations:

My best recommendation for today is a fascinating, well-written article in today’s Arizona Republic about Sarah Polley Arizona_Republic_20130607_P01_4, a filmmaker who reveals family, legacy and complicated truth in her documentary “Stories We Tell,” in large part about her eccentric mother as told by family members.  I’ve always found it intriguing how members of the same family can have completely different versions of growing up—how they remember parents and certain events that took place.  Apparently, Polley agrees.  Says Polley in the article:  “I was amazed at how many of us were telling the story in totally different ways to people in our lives.  I think I wanted to tell a story about the way we tell stories and our need to tell stories and the way everyone has discrepancies in stories within their lifespan inexplicably within their families.”  So worth the read and, if you’re lucky enough to live in Phoenix, it’s playing at Harkins Camelview.  If you see it, let me know what you think.

Barnes and Nobel Nook features Free Friday downloads once a week. Today’s Free Friday download is A Blood Seduction by Pamela Palmer, and there are a bunch you can download for under $3.  I don’t know about you, but I’ll download anything for free or cheap!  Well… within reason, that is.  : )   Free downloads have opened up my reading to different genres and topics I might not otherwise have explored.  What have you read recently in your list of free downloads?


Memoir Monday: Writing What You Know

Memoir Monday: Writing What You Know

Someone asked me recently why I read so many memoirs about addiction.  I’ve found myself gravitating toward those stories ever since I worked in the marketing department for a Tucson treatment center in the 80s.  Everyone has a story to tell, and those who overcome hardships have some of the most compelling ones out there.

While we all know there was some embellishment in James Frey’s A Million Little Pieces (because he admitted to that), a point of view in memoir is exactly that – a personal point of view.  Have you ever heard about siblings growing up in the same household having completely different stories about what it was like to live with the same set of parents?  Their memories don’t even match up!  Who’s telling the truth when stories are shared?  Probably all of the siblings!  People write what they know, and they write about it in the way that they remember it.  We can’t dispute a story just because we haven’t experienced it.  You know that person who says, “I don’t remember it, so it couldn’t have happened.”  Maybe they just don’t remember!

Many people have trouble starting their memoir.  They think they need to write about everything from Point A (I was born here) to Point Z (what I’m doing now) and everything in between.  They become so overwhelmed with feeling like every detail needs to be included that they don’t accomplish anything!  While a memoir can be an expanded autobiography (depending these days in part by how the writer chooses to market it) it doesn’t have to be that complicated. Memoir is set apart, traditionally, because it covers a part of a person’s life that person wants to share with others, and in the middle of it all is some type of lesson.  Memoir topics can be:  the military life, overcoming an addiction, coming back after an injury, college years abroad, life as an educator, etc.

Make it easy on yourself and start with the event you want to share.  Then, just start writing.  Don’t worry about who is going to read it, or what that person will think, or if your family will call you a liar.  Just write.  After all, it’s your story.  These are your memories.  When you’re done writing, enroll in a memoir writing class so you can work on fine-tuning it to your audience.  Surprise:  different audiences will mean telling the story in different ways to appeal to that set of readers, depending on your lesson and your message.  Your memoir should differ from your diary or your journal.  The memoir isn’t the soapbox and dumping forum (which is how we sometimes use our diaries).  Diary and journal entries can be very helpful for recalling events and filling in the blanks.  The memoir is the story.

But first… start.  Just start.  And write what you know.

Who’s Up Wednesday: Arizona Writer Elaine Jordan

A few years ago I had the pleasure of serving on the board of a local writer’s group with Elaine Greensmith Jordan.  Last month, Elaine was the guest speaker of our group, where she continues to be an active member, writer and mentor.  At this meeting, she talked about her memoir, Mrs. Ogg Played the Harp: Memories of Church and Love in the High Desert.  

Here’s a mini Q&A session I had with Elaine:Eleaine Jordan Memoir

How long did it take you to write this book?

I worked on this memoir for ten years, steadily. It took a long time because I needed to learn to write along the way. That is, I’d write a section and then ask for input from smart people and then have to revise. At some points I had to do major revisions. Why I stayed with it, I have no idea.

What experiences made you most proud about this project?

I’m most proud of myself for going into publication despite my fears of inadequacy. I too often compared my work with that of others whom I respected and found my work wanting. Yet, I went ahead and let my story into the world even though I thought no one would like it—that it was a subject, a church, that no one would have the vaguest interest in, that my own struggles were not worthy, etc., etc.  If I’d given in to those fears, I’d never had the rewards I’m experiencing now. In fact, I’ve just been notified that I’ve won the grand prize in the Great Southwest Writers Festival contest.  Congratulations, Elaine!

What’s the one piece of advice you would give to someone who wants to write a memoir or personal story?

I’d advise writers to keep writing, of course, especially if it is satisfying on some level. Then, of course, to expose your work to people you can trust to give you good feedback.

You’ve chosen to give 100% of your proceeds from this book to the Women’s Shelter in Prescott, AZ. How did that organization become close to your heart? 

I chose the Prescott Area Women’s Shelter because it is one of the most important efforts in our area that serves women. I knew a wonderful woman who volunteered there, and on that basis I could trust that the shelter was a true organization that was reliable.

The book is available at Two Harbors Press, Amazon, Barnes & Nobles and Local Bookstores. The Author’s pElaine copywrite lighterroceeds go to Prescott Area Women’s Shelter.  Elaine will be teaching a class on memoir writing in April.  Visit her website for more information about her book, a schedule of appearances, and how to register for the class. www.elainejordan.com.

P.S.  I’m currently reading this book and loving every page. 

Memoir Monday

I’m getting closer and closer to another milestone birthday… well, in another 11 months or so anyway.  And, just like this year, I know I’ll be reflecting on what I’ve done and where I’ve been in my (still short!) life.  Birthdays always bring me back to my enjoyment of photo projects… scrapbooks, digital albums, and recording histories of what I hold close to my heart about certain special events.

This year’s celebration took us to Sedona, Arizona for some much-needed “r ‘n r” where we enjoyed the Sedona Golf Resort, strolled down Main Street, took in a wine tasting and met up with Doc Holliday.  Really!  I took a ton of pictures that are just waiting to be crafted into something great.FEb 2013 - bday and deb 034

Past celebrations have taken us on a Verde Canyon Railway trip from Williams, AZ to the Grand Canyon — spectacular, and one of my favorites; San Antonio, Texas where we visited some of our best pals for a few days; Tucson, AZ where my family used to live always gives us a chance to re-visit our favorite haunts like El Corral on River Road; Chicago last year to visit a very, very good friend and her family; and Flagstaff, AZ where I went to college and where I’ll never get tired of visiting.  Something about that cold, February, mountain air.

What do your birthdays mean to you, and what have you done to commemorate in special ways?

Blog Post: Three-Tip Thursday – Blogging!

Anyone can subscribe to newsletters and follow gurus who offer tips and classes on how to write a blog that will be well-read and generate business.  I read any snippets I come across all the time about how to build a better blog, and have purchased and downloaded a few reports offering information I know will increase my productivity and blog writing frequency.  But, no matter how much we read or learn about blogging, the true discipline is the writing of the blog itself.  Here’s what I’ve found:

  • Develop a template.  Have a beginning, middle, and an end to what you want to say.  Maybe you always open with an anecdote or an inspirational quote, followed by a case in point, and then your summary.  Keeping the format consistent will allow your readers to know what to expect, keep you on track and make it easy for you when it comes time to write.
  • Keep a “brainstorm list” handy.  Believe it or not, I usually set aside a few hours each week to brainstorm some ideas for blogging, whether they are ideas for my own blog, or the blogs of others for whom I write.  This saves me a ton of grief in the long run, especially if I panic and think I have nothing to write about.
  • Set aside regularly scheduled time to write, write, write.  Because I offer writing and admin support services, I have various tasks to juggle and writing can be put on the back burner if I’m not on top of it.  After learning the hard way and making myself crazy, I initiated what I now call “Writing Wednesdays” — a little part of my own marketing plan that makes me block out time on that day for writing. I don’t schedule anything else during that time.  It’s when I review the ideas I’ve brainstormed, add more content after research and, if I’m particularly productive, knock out several final posts.

There are a ton of other ways to write a blog, ways to stay disciplined and ways to engage readers.  What are your best tips for blogging?

Blog Post: Who’s Up Wednesday – Will You Be Next?

Back in June, when I seriously started blogging, I designated Wednesdays to be my Who’s Up Wednesday where I feature a guest blogger.  Here are some of the bloggers who have graciously allowed me to take excerpts from their blogs or interviews, or who have written original posts for me to share with my readers.  I hope I can feature these writers again next year,   in addition to a few new ones.

Are you interested in writing a guest blog post for me?  I’d love to hear from you!  (PS:  You don’t have to be a writer by profession! Id’ love to feature some great tips you have to share about what keeps you going.)

Talk to you soon!

Blog Post: Three Tip Thursday – Attending a Reading

I recently attended the monthly meeting of a local writers organization where I am a member. I love this group – writers of all types, current information, networking, catching up with old friends and clients.  This particular meeting featured readers who had entered and won a prize in the writing contest we sponsored earlier this year.  As a committee member, I was especially partial to supporting those who attended to read their winning pieces, and hoped that they would feel at ease.  Here are some things that came to mind during the course of this meeting.

  • Our presenter had just finished saying what a great response we received from those who joined the club as a result of entering the contest (19 new members to be exact!), and introduced one of the speakers.  The woman started to arrange herself at the podium and while doing so casually mentioned, “I’m one of the ones who joined when I entered,” just to establish some rapport with those in the front row, within earshot, including the person who introduced her.  A few members of the audience quickly yelled, “USE THE MIKE!”  She looked a little confused since she hadn’t officially started reading, and said, “Oh.”  You could tell it threw her a little off track.  My thought is she should have had the chance to officially begin before anyone determined whether or not they could hear her. (It’s like those who are quick to say “shhhh!” at the start of a movie as soon as someone breathes.)
  • It’s good setup to have a microphone stand on the podium so the reader doesn’t have to hold the mic.  We had a podium and a hand held mic for this meeting.  Readers generally hold their papers, might need to have some water handy, and need to stabilize their nerves (sometimes) by lightly holding on to the edge of a podium.  If they are holding the mic in one hand, and holding the papers with the other, it’s a little awkward for them to flip the pages while still holding the mic.  They should feel relaxed and maneuvering the mic is just one more thing to worry about.  (In all fairness to those who have presented at several readings and don’t find this an issue, maybe there is an art to this that I just haven’t mastered or witnessed.  Please share!)
  • If poetry’s not your thing, or you’re a non-fiction writer and have no interest in hearing fiction,  inappropriate laughter at parts where the reader isn’t laughing might not be the best way to show yourself as a supportive audience member.  Just sayin’.

Readings are great; they give you the opportunity to be exposed to types of literature that you might not otherwise have read or encountered.  Have you attended any readings?  What are your tips for speakers and audience?

Blog Post: Who’s Up Wednesday? My Pal Morgan Kearns on Subsidy Publishing

I’m really psyched to have my friend and colleague Morgan Kearns share some of her publishing tips and expereinces today.  She and I belong to the same writing organization and her energy in coordinating exciting networking discussions is contagious.  She’s a guru when it comes to branding and social media… AND she’s a bestselling author of romance who survived the intense and every-changing insanity of television news before retiring to enter the jungle of raising four children. Her Deadlines & Diamonds series is a favorite among fans. The newest release, Lucky 13, quickly joined the other titles on Kindle’s bestseller list. Morgan lives in Northern Arizona with her family and her English Bulldog, Gus.  Here’s what she has to say… and she provides a link on a upcoming workshop THIS WEEKEND!

Subsidy Publishing: Friend or Foe?

Let me be clear: Subsidy Publishing, no matter its name, is not Self-Publishing.

One of the worst mistakes any author considering self-publishing can make is to Google “self-publishing.”  Such a search will bring up options that are often not helpful.

Every author should ask, “What are my writing goals?”

If the answer is to publish a few copies of the work to distribute to family and friends, then a Subsidy Publisher might be a plausible option.

However, if the answer is to start a career as a legitimate author, Run! Do not walk away from any “publisher” who charges you to publish your book!

Don’t get me wrong, publishing a book costs money. If you’re not prepared to open your wallet for professional editors and cover artists, you’re not ready to do this for a career and so the rest of this article doesn’t pertain.

*waits for the door to close*

Great. Now let’s talk down and dirty.

What is a Subsidy Publisher (aka Vanity Press or Joint Venture Publishing)?

A SP’s goal is to make money off of the fabulous package they’re going to sell you, not on the royalties they don’t anticipate you’ll make. Packages commonly include: minimal editing services, a cover, a website (for the title of the book, not the author—a topic for another time), an ISBN (with their name attached to it) and the cherry-on-top, their amazing marketing services. All of this for the bargain price of…A LOT!

Much like those Big Six publishers in New York, most SPs require the author to sign a contract. This contract gives the SP rights to exclusively publish the book for a certain amount of time. Two years seems to be standard.

Horror story: A friend of mine used a SP to publish her children’s novel. They held the rights, both print and digital, but refused to publish to Kindle/Nook/etc. She was stuck because she didn’t own the rights to her own book.

After the contract has expired, the author can then request the manuscript back. That’s all the author owns. The manuscript. Not the cover. Not the formatting. Not the ISBN.

So, now there are two choices: One, leave the book where it is and let the “publisher” continue to “market” your book. Or, two, take your rights back and completely restart the process from scratch. The book has now lost two years (or more, depending on the contract length) and all of that money is GONE.

Self-publishing (aka Indie) is quickly gaining recognition from national organizations. In July, the Romance Writers of America voted to allow Indie authors into their coveted Published Author Network. Even some traditionally published authors don’t qualify for this prestigious club because of the financial criteria. Within these same new guidelines, SP is specifically listed as a disqualification.

That’s a lot of negative, I know. Let’s talk about the positives of SP. Maybe the author has more money than know-how? With an SP, said author can sign the contract, hand over their credit card, upload their manuscript and walk away. Easy Peasy!

If this sounds like the path you prefer, then please, please, please check Editors & Predators (http://pred-ed.com/) for the publisher’s reputation before doing anything else.

Interested in Self-Publishing?

Here are three great opportunities for more information:

Arizona Author’s Association – 7th Annual Writers Wkshop

*Free* – No registration required

November 10th, 2012 in Scottsdale, Arizona

Professional Writers of Prescott – All day Self-Publishing Wkshop

*Member benefit* – Dues are $15/year – Limit 50 people

February 23rd, 2013 in Prescott, Arizona

Buildin’ the Dream – 1st Annual Author’s Helping Authors Event

*$25* – Registration required

May 31st, 2013 in Chandler, Arizona


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