Wednesday, July 30, 2014

What is your PAST?

By Dallas Woodburn

By all rights, I should not be writing this. I should not even be here at all. I was born three months prematurely, weighing a mere two pounds, six ounces. For the first few months of my life, I was in the hospital, kept alive by feeding tubes and a respirator. My harrowing entrance into the world is a daily reminder for me of the fragility of life, and to pursue my dreams with both joy and urgency. Dreams are too important to "put off" till tomorrow!

I have loved to write for as long as I can remember. When I was in fifth grade, I self-published my first book, There's a Huge Pimple on My Nose: A Collection of Stories and Poems. It received a glowing review in the Los Angeles Times: “If you simply want to enjoy some remarkable writing, it would be hard to find a book more satisfying.” Now, more than twenty years later, it is still popular among young audiences and is even being adapted into a song-cycle by a composer at Carnegie Mellon University!

My second book, 3 a.m., also received high praise and was featured on the national book talk show “Between the Lines” on PBS. In addition to fiction, I have also written nonfiction for publications including Family Circle, Writer's Digest, The Los Angeles Times, and more than a dozen Chicken Soup for the Soul books.

Yet, along with the successes I have been fortunate enough to enjoy, there have been plenty of disappointments. I believe the most important component of being a writer is not artistic talent or creativity or storytelling ability (though all of those things are valuable!) However, I think the most crucial trait of a successful writer is perseverance.

The night I was born, a doctor who was caring for me told my father, “Your daughter is a fighter.” Still today, I draw strength from those words. My mantra has become “PAST – Preemies Are So Tough.”

Whenever I feel down or discouraged—whether it’s from writer’s block or a story that goes nowhere or yet another rejection letter—I remind myself of my PAST. Compared to being kept alive by a respirator and feeding tubes, nothing seems insurmountable. 

Dallas Woodburn is the author of two collections of short stories and a forthcoming novel. A 2013-14 John Steinbeck Fellow in Creative Writing, she has been nominated for the Pushcart Prize and her work is forthcoming in American Fiction 13: The Best Unpublished Short Stories by American Writers. Connect with her at and

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Interview with Martha Ramirez, Author of Broken Heart

Hi, Martha.  Would you tell us a little about yourself?

Let's see... I love to write, love to bake and did I mention I love to write? I'm a word nerd. What else? Oh, I'm a YA junkie and a gift basketing addict. And I absolutely love making jewelry. Pretty much anything that allows me to create, I'm there.

Could you describe your desk or workspace?

My workspace involves a kitchen table, my ever faithful laptop, and a candle. And yes, because I work literally in the kitchen it's an easy pantry escape but getting lost in words makes for a great distraction.

I also keep my two precious stones a few dear friends of mine gifted me (THANK YOU Liset & Melissa!) close to my side. One is a carnelian stone and the other a Happiness silver stone. Love my stones!

If you could have coffee with anyone (living or dead, real or fictional), who would it be and why?

My mother. I only had the honor of having her in my life for thirteen years, but I've been blessed by her spiritual presence immensely. It would mean the world to me to have her here today to share my memoir with her.

Do you have a favorite quote?

Inspirational quotes are another one of my addictions. :D

"Rejections are often gifts of direction."
―Paul Young

"When you get give, when you learn, teach." 
―Maya Angelou

What is the best advice you’ve ever received?

Follow your heart. 

When did you know you wanted to be a writer?

I've always loved to write. Always. Those who know me best know I'm addicted to writing by the long letters I used to write back in junior high and high school. However, it wasn't until seven years ago I realized writing for publication was an option. I have absolutely no idea why it never dawned on me until then. What I do know though is my journey, just the way it is, is definitely meant to be.

Do you write full time or part time?

Full time. Over time. All the time :D

Can you tell us what your latest book is about?

Inspired by my own heart story, my children's book, Broken Heart is about a brave girl who learns doctors have to mend her broken heart. Seven-year-old Julia goes on an unforgettable heart journey and takes her twin sister along for the ride. And because it's very close to my heart, its debut was on the 13th month of my open-heart surgery anniversary.

What inspired you to write it?

Broken Heart was inspired by my experience of open-heart surgery and having to stay strong and pray for the best.

Broken Heart has a really nice cover. How much input did you have in the cover art?

Thank you! I am very blessed to have had the amazing Mary Jo Prado work on the illustrations for Broken Heart. She was able to bring my story to life and add special touches such as the actual hospital doors at the children's hospital I was admitted. We brainstormed three cover options and when I saw this one, I knew it was the one.

Where can people find your book, Broken Heart?

You can find Broken Heart on Amazon here:

What would be the best way for readers to contact you?

Readers may reach me at my website
All my social media links are listed on my home page (come on over and connect!) and I also have a Contact page if they'd like to send me a note. I love hearing from readers so don't be shy.

Is there anything else you would like to share?

Yes, there is. So glad you asked. Life is truly an adventure and sometimes things don't always go as planned. To all of those who are facing their own heart journeys, stay heart strong. Always believe. Whether it be an unexpected diagnosis or a big bump in the journey of life. Every experience, good or bad, is never wasted.

And don't forget to count your blessings every day! It truly makes a difference. 

Martha, thank you for taking time out of your busy schedule to spend some time with my readers and me.

Broken Heart Blurb:
When seven-year-old Stephanie learns her twin, Julia, has a broken heart and the doctors have to mend it, she tries to make sense of things. Doing her best to stay strong, she helps Julia face her fears.

It's up to Stephanie to be Julia's biggest cheerleader. If she had only one wish, it'd be that doctors would fix Julia's heart and make it all better.

Will Stephanie get her heart's desire?

In addition to writing, Martha is a 2012 Genesis Semi-Finalist, a member of ACFW (American Christian Fiction Writers), YALITCHAT.ORG, the Muse Conference Board, CataNetwork Writers, and American Author's Association. Her articles have appeared in various places including the Hot Moms Club and For Her Information (FHI) magazine. In 2012, her blog was nominated website of the week by Writer's Digest.

She looks forward to expanding her career and is hard at work on her next young adult novel. She currently resides in Northern California where she enjoys gardening and kickboxing (not simultaneously).

Visit her blog at:

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Interview with Bish Denham and Anansi

Susanne: I'm honored to have Bish Denham and Anansi take time out of their day to visit Putting Words Down On Paper today. Hi, Bish. Hi, Anansi. Could you tell us a little about yourselves?

Anansi: I come from Africa and come to the Caribbean with the slaves. I am as old as the hills, as old as the ocean.

Bish: I was born in California, even though my mother’s side of the family has been in the Caribbean for over a hundred years. We moved to the U. S. Virgin Islands when I five where I grew up and went to school. I still have plenty of family there and get to visit almost every year.

Susanne: What is your favorite quote?

Anansi: I don’t have a favorite quote except maybe, “Where’s the beef?”

Bish: I think this one from Kahlil Gibran has to be it for me. Forget not that the earth delights to feel your bare feet and the winds long to play with your hair.

Susanne: If you could have coffee with anyone (living or dead, real or fictional), who would it be and why? Perhaps Anansi would prefer flies?

Anansi: I like all kind of food. And if I could visit with anyone, would be with my grandmother in her kitchen!

Bish: It would have to be my parents and grandparents. I still miss them and have so many questions to ask.

Susanne: What was your favorite book as a child and why?

Bish: Just one? There are so many, but I think I’ll go with The Cat in the Hat. I LOVE that book because it shows us we can be wild and crazy and have outrageous fun just as long as we take responsible for our actions and clean up after ourselves.

Susanne: What is the best advice you've received?

Bish: Words from my mother: “Follow the way.” She believed in my ability to write from my very first attempts at the age of eight. At one point she somehow knew that I was struggling and she sent the book THE ARTIST’S WAY, by Julia Cameron and she inscribed those words in the book. It was just what I needed to get the pump primed.

Susanne: What was your inspiration for writing Anansi and Company?

Bish: It began a long time ago, sometime before Hurricane Marilyn which hit the Virgin Islands in 1995 and ripped the roof off our family home. My sister gave me – for safe keeping – our old volume of Jamaican stories compiled by Martha Warren Beckwith. She went to Jamaica in the early 1920s and recorded the stories, then faithfully transcribed them in the original dialect, which makes them difficult to read and understand. Still, it seemed serendipitous that that particular the book was saved when the storm destroyed most of the others in the house. There must have been a reason I had it. That led to thinking about reading them and maybe retelling some of them.

My first effort was a story called, “Why Dogs Beg.” I had the wonderful opportunity of going on a week-end writing retreat with Jane Yolen as our teacher. I took a deep breath and read the story. She liked it and made a suggestion for the ending. I made the changes and submitted it to Children’s Writer when they had a Folktale and Fantasy writing contest. To my complete surprise I won first place. That was the real moment when I seriously thought I might be able to do something with the stories.

You can read, “Why Dogs Beg,’ at

Susanne: How long did it take to write Anansi and Company?

Bish: From the first reading of the stories, to deciding which ones to use, to the publication… about twelve years.

Susanne: Were there any challenges with bringing your book to completion?

Bish: There were a lot of challenges. Like the huge learning curve in figuring out Author Central and CreateSpace. The other challenge for me, probably the biggest one, was finally accepting the fact that I can write, that my stories were good enough, worthy enough, to be published.

Susanne: What are your marketing strategies for Anansi and Company?

Bish: I should probably have more strategies than I do. Mostly it’s through blogging, and emailing people. Because these are Caribbean stories I’ve been taking advantage of several Facebook sites that are specific for the area.

Susanne: What would be the best way for readers to contact you?

Bish: They can contact me through my email, or write me at:
Bish Denham
Box 293793
Kerrville, Texas  78029-3793

Susanne: Is there anything else you would like to share?

Bish: I pass on my mother’s words, follow the way. And while you’re at it, have fun!

Susanne: Bish, I've enjoyed the time I've spent with you and Anansi.  

Bish: Thanks so much for having Anansi and me visit your blog, Susanne. It’s been a pleasure to be here.

About Anansi and Company 
How do you escape a hungry tiger? Why do ram-goats smell? What happens if you get too greedy? In this collection of ten retold Jamaican stories, Anansi the spider tricks, sings, and dances his way into and out of trouble.

But who is Anansi? It was the Ashanti of West Africa who brought the spider into the Caribbean. He clung tight to the web he wove in the minds of those who had been captured, surviving not only the harrowing passage across the Atlantic Ocean, but hundreds of years of slavery.

As a trickster, Anansi has both good and bad traits, which makes him very human. Sometimes he wins, sometimes he loses. When he wins he dances and sings for joy. When he loses, he shakes it off and keeps on living, a lesson for us all.

About the Author
Bish Denham, whose mother's side of the family has been in the Caribbean for over hundred years, was raised in the U. S. Virgin Islands. She still has lots of family living there and visits them regularly.

She says, "Growing up in the islands was like living inside a history book. Columbus named them, Sir Francis Drake sailed through the area, and Alexander Hamilton was raised on St. Croix. Pirates plied the waters and hundred of years of slavery left its indelible mark. It was within this atmosphere of magic and wonder that I grew up. My hope is pass some of that magic and wonder on to my readers."

You can learn more about Bish by visiting her blog:

She can also be found on:


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