Madeline Sharples worked in the aerospace business (TRW and Northrop Grumman) as a technical writer and editor, web content writer, and proposal manager for almost thirty years – hiring in five times and retiring twice. She also worked for non-profits, producing fund raising events, managing capital campaigns, and writing grant proposals.
Sharples finally fulfilled her dream to work as a creative writer and journalist late in life. Her memoir, Leaving the Hall Light On: A Mother’s Memoir of Living with Her Son’s Bipolar Disorder and Surviving His Suicide, originally released in 2011, was rereleased by Dream of Things, in 2012.
She co-authored Blue-Collar Women: Trailblazing Women Take on Men-Only Jobs (New Horizon Press, 1994), co-edited the poetry anthology, The Great American Poetry Show, Volumes 1, 2 and 3, and wrote the poems for two photography books, The Emerging Goddess and Intimacy (Paul Blieden, photographer). Her poems have also appeared online and in print magazines, most recently in the 2016 Porter Gulch Review, Yellow Chair’s In the Words of Womyn 2016 anthology, and Story Circle Network’s journals and anthologies in 2017 and 2018. Sharples’ articles have appeared in the Huffington Post, Naturally Savvy, Aging Bodies, and PsychAlive. She also posts at her blog, Choices, and Story Circle Network’s HerStories and One Woman’s Day blogs.
ALC: What have you found to be the biggest challenge of reinventing yourself as an author and poet after the age of 70? What are you doing to overcome this obstacle?
MS: Actually I haven’t found that being over 70 is a challenge. And a lot of other woman in their seventies are also doing well in their careers as they age – Nancy Pelosi, Glenn Close, Judy Dench, Dolly Parton, Cher – think about Ruth Bader Ginsberg. The list goes on. We are all fit and well put together, so I don’t think age should be a challenge.
I think the biggest challenge was reinventing myself from a technical writer and proposal manager into a creative writer. That took a lot of work and training. I think writing every day and still taking courses and workshops have enabled me to overcome that obstacle.
ALC: Defining a memoir’s theme or focus can be overwhelming – how can aspiring memoirists choose which events, memories, or moments to include, and which to leave out?
MS: Don’t write a complete autobiography. Pick a subject that’s timely and universal. For example, my memoir is about our son’s mental illness and suicide and how our family survived it. And right now mental illness and suicide are in the forefront. Suicide of young men especially is an epidemic though women are more and more completing the act as well. Pick a subject like that or others such as conflicts of intermarriage, sexual orientation, addiction and overdose, raising children with disabilities. All stuff we read about in the news and what people are interested in.
ALC: What is your process for writing poetry, and does that process differ when writing poetry that you plan to pair with prose?
MS: I like to write from prompts. I have a go to guy who is the poetry editor of Writer’s Digest who provides a prompt every Wednesday and a prompt a day during the months of November and April. I’ve been responding to those prompts for years. I also like to write Haiku and other short poems – I used to write Twitter length poems when the character count was 180. Vacations are other times I write a lot of poetry. I have a series of poems about our Africa trip called a Travel Story in Poems, in a new anthology. And I once gave myself the project of writing about people I don’t know – but what I imagine them to be.
Since my memoir came out I haven’t thought about pairing my poems with prose. The memoir started out as a memoir in poems and when it turned into a prose book, I was adamant I wanted to have poems in it as well, but I didn’t write them specifically for the memoir in prose. Luckily, I found a publisher who agreed. But even though I’ve inserted a few poems into my new memoir, I don’t know if they’ll stay. And I certainly didn’t write them for the memoir.
ALC: Where do you go to find opportunities to publish your poetry? Are there certain types of poetry that are more popular with readers?
MS: CRWROPPS, notices I get from poetry publishers, leads from places I’ve published before – for example Story Circle Network puts out a call for writing in their monthly journals and Ted Badger is always asking me to submit to his newsletter-style poetry anthology. I also get contest and poetry calls from my writers’ magazines, my writing groups, and from people I meet at poetry workshops.
I like a lot of poetry forms but I mostly write free verse. I really can’t comment on what forms other people like – there are so many.
"Don’t write a complete autobiography. Pick a subject that’s timely and universal."
ALC: What did you learn through writing and publishing your first memoir that you are applying to the second memoir you currently have in the works?
MS: Here are a few things I’ve learned to apply to writing my second memoir:
• Make an outline• Keep my ass in the chair• Write straight for at least an hour – that will give me about one thousand words• Work every day – except the weekends• Don’t go back and read until the first draft is done
I expect to finish this memoir’s first draft and immediately begin editing and revising it – and after the second draft is finished start asking beta readers to take a look. That will take a long time, so the publishing part is way out in the future
ALC: If an author has limited time and money to put toward marketing online, what are the top 3 initiatives where they should be focusing their efforts?
MS: I think the top three initiatives are:
• Get to speak in front of live groups – at book stores, local libraries, and book clubs• Start a blog and keep that up. I try to post four to six times a month. And the posts don’t all have to be about my book or about writing. Keep it eclectic.• Spend time on social media – Facebook timeline and author page, LinkedIn, Instagram, Goodreads, Also tie all your networks together – e.g., when I post on my blog the post automatically posts on my Facebook author page, my Amazon home page, and Goodreads.
ALC: What are the key benefits of guest blogging, and how can authors that are new to blogging make connections and find opportunities for guest blogging?
MS: I hired an organization called WOW! Women on Writing to organize a virtual book tour when my memoir first came out. That gave me great connections with other bloggers so much so that when I arranged my own tour a year or so later, many of the same bloggers participated. Also, now WOW! asks me to host their virtual blog tour clients on my bloggers. I host one their clients at least once a month. I’ve also hosted a lot of my writing friends – people I’ve met mostly on social media. So even with a small initial investment, it has really paid off in the long run. I’m never at a loss for guests, which I think makes my blog more interesting.
ALC: You are very active on your own blog - What are 3 to 5 tips for authors when it comes to setting up a blog and creating content that will engage their followers? How can they maintain a consistent release schedule?
MS: I originally set up my blog on Blogspot – and it was very easy to implement my design. When I wanted to improve it, I hired a young woman to transfer it over to WordPress and I’m very happy with that.
When I first started blogging I didn’t even have a book in mind. My idea for blog content had to do with what I was going to do with the rest of my life. I think my first post was about my bucket list; hence the name “Choices.” However, once a book was on the horizon, I gravitated to more posts about what I was writing, what my book was about and how it was doing, and information about my guests who are mostly writers.
But I still like that my content is varied. Sometimes I’ll write about a movie I’ve seen and especially liked, sometimes it will be about a vacation I’ve taken – I did six posts about our trip to Africa. I‘ve even posted recipes. I guess the main message is “mix it up.”
And the important part – keeping a consistent release schedule – is really up to the blogger. I’m a bit obsessive so that keeps me on track. We really have to take responsibility and do all the hard work it takes to get our blog known out there.
For more on author, poet, and blogger Madeline Sharples, visit http://madelinesharples.com/
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