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Sunday, January 23, 2011

Who's That Girl?

by Tanya Yvonne

Gigi, JaeLynn and Tanya Yvonne
 Only a few patrons were inside the eatery, Café Gutenberg when my daughter, JaeLynn, and me entered. Breathlessly I asked to be pointed in the direction of the nearest bathroom. As we rushed over to it JaeLynn spotted something she hoped would be yummy, a chocolate chip cookie. While she and I waited for Gigi to arrive I ordered that cookie which was indeed as yummy as she had hoped it would be. While JaeLynn sipped on her grape soda spritzer and me, my tasty white mocha a soft ding sound bounced around the space just before the sound of a voice. Soon after I found myself face to face with writer Gigi Amateau. While JaeLynn chatted her up a bit I could not help looking her over. Everything about her that day resonated the term fresh. From head to toe Ms. Gigi was clad in winter white. A look I wish I could wear but have had to set aside for a future when my daughter is no longer enticed with such things as red Kool-Aid or sticky, sour gummies. As Gigi marveled at my most prized possession her genuine smile caused my nerves to melt away. After gently shifting JaeLynn’s focus back to her cookie I began what would turn out to be an enlightening conversation.

I started off with a basic question about how she made the transition from non-profit work to writing. It was with this inquiry that I first got the sense of how much her relationship with her now 17-year-old daughter had influenced her decision to get serious about her writing aspirations. I saw myself in Gigi as she spoke of how she wanted to be an example for her only child as to why when there is something you want to obtain you should actively go for it. And that is exactly what she did. Unlike myself and most writers I know Gigi sat down and charted out a path to publication. At her day job as a grant writer she approached each proposal as if it were a short story. With great enthusiasm she briefly explained to me how what she was doing at the time, drafting grant proposals for non-profit organizations, was indeed akin to story writing because she was telling someone’s tale. She also did something you all may already have done and I have thought about doing, freelance work. Even after all this time her eyes danced as she recalled the feelings upon learning that an article penned by her would be published in a local magazine.

From writing for the pure love of writing, to freelancing, to achieving the ultimate goal of novel publication, Claiming Georgia Tate (Candlewick Press) Gigi’s debut young adult novel garnered a golden review by none other than queen of children’s books Judy Blume who stated this about Claiming Georgia Tate, “I was hooked on the first page and couldn’t put it down until I finished. Then I read it again.” Hello:!) This little tidbit is something I discovered during the course of my research. Miss Modest Gigi did not bring it up at all during our conversation. If it were me, I would have found a way to interject it in to the discourse at least a half of dozen times: ) Having received a rejection letter or two during the course of my writing adventures I pounced on the chance to hear a former aspiring novelist’s tales of rejection woe. But my hopes were soon dashed as she sheepishly told me of how she “got lucky.” After letting a friend (who loved it) read the manuscript that friend (who also loved it) then handed it off to someone who (that’s right, loved it too) handed it off to someone who eventually helped her to find a publisher. Now before all of your eyes turn green with envy, as mine had threatened to do, read on please.

Prior to all that luckiness Gigi received a type of rejection I would not wish on my biggest rival. She applied to a Master of Fine Art (MFA) program and was turned down. Recently I have been pondering making such a move towards an even higher education so this bitter morsel of information drained all green eyed emotions from me. As she spoke of how the rejection made her feel the pleasant smile faded, replaced by a brief look of sadness then an expression of determination. “I cried over it. Stopped writing for years.” Eventually of course (and luckily for us) the lure of the written word pulled her back. Still in the pre-published stage myself I wanted to know what advice Gigi would give her pre-published self. The kind smile returned as she took a moment to mull this over, “Not to worry so much about what others think. Not to take it personally use that criticism to better yourself.”

And on that note -of bettering oneself- the conversation shifted to the James River Writers Organization of which she has served on the board of directors for the past three years. Whenever I hear the words writing organization I immediately envision a quiet group of people sitting around discussing books. Something I naïvely told to Gigi who attempted to suppress a laugh as she quickly dispelled this myth. “The goal of the JRW is to encourage and help writers get out in to the community.” The organization holds and judges contest. Each fall a writers conference (which I will be in attendance this year) is held in Richmond, Virginia. Basically organizations such as the JRW, “They’re good for writers.” Alright I’m convinced and will soon be a member.

Before we said our goodbyes I managed to snag a little known piece of information about Gigi, she is going for her yoga teacher certification. At first I thought this to be very odd, from writing great YA to yoga instructor yet once again it did not take long for Gigi to enlighten me, “I relate it to writing…very personal.” All wide eyed trying to ignore my daughter who is growing more restless by the second I poised this final question, “What’s next for Gigi?”   

“I’ll continue to write.”
So who was that girl? Gigi Amateau of course: )
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Happy reading, writing or whatever: )

Monday, January 3, 2011

Standing Out

This past weekend I was able to steal a few JaeLynn free hours.  You think I curled up with a good book right?  Wrong, I opted for the easy pleasure of television.  After popping in the Sex And The City 2 DVD I settled back with the yummy takeout my honey had gotten me and prepared to be entertained.  After all I knew today was coming and I simply was not ready to think about anything that had to do with writing.  But as with most plans mine got derailed.

Deep in to the first thirty minutes or so of the chick flick and I found myself thinking about story.  Just the word and what it means.  It was during the scenes in which the graduated “It” girls arrived in Abu Dhabi that my mind began to wander.  You see this is where I noticed the story that had pulled me in during the first half hour shifted its focus from story telling to showiness.  Somewhere, someone must have stated that the second installment of the movie must be bigger or needed more, I’ll use Ms. Bradshaw’s word, “sparkle” than its predecessor.  Yeah I get it, in a vast sea of sequels they had to dream up some way for theirs to standout, but along the way they forgot about story.  And how a well written, relatable tale can pull in and take hold of an audience every time.

In college, for one of my classes, I had to write a paper on any story or play found in my literature textbook.  Already bogged down with a heavy work load I flipped through the book simply looking for the shortest story I could find.  Yet as I scanned the many first paragraphs it was the opening of an absorbing play that drew me in and won the honor of being the subject of my essay.  The play was, Mother Courage and Her Children it is a story about a woman who makes her living off of a war that she does not want her offspring to participate in for fear of losing them.

At the time I was a new mother and the text spoke to me just like that scene in Sex And The City 2 when Charlotte sought refuge in a kitchen pantry while her toddler cried for the sake of crying and after her eldest daughter purposely put red paint on her white, designer label skirt.  As writers we do want our work to standout but at times we have to remind ourselves that although "sparkle" is eye catching, it should never be used as the sole means when trying to draw someone in when there is always the tried and true good story telling.
Contest alert: Amazon Breakthrough Novel Award
 You can submit Adult and Young Adult manuscripts from 1/24/11 to 2/6/11.  Good Luck!
Happy reading, writing or whatever:-)