I’m a reader of all genres of books and post reviews at Goodreads.com, however, I wanted to try an author interview for a book I recently read. (Something new for the new year).
As a long time reader of the blog Eat Less Water and a believer in water scarcity and our impact on the environment, I asked Ms. Ramirez for an interview. She graciously accepted the request.
EAT LESS WATER: The solution to worldwide water shortages is in our kitchens.
1. How did you come up with the title of your book?
Before I began writing Eat Less Water, I had a small distribution business of water conservation products for the shower. As I got deeper into the world of water conservation, I sought more information and research on the topic of water scarcity. One of those books was When the Rivers Run Dry. The book introduced me the concept of water footprint and virtual water.
Once I learned food was the most significant user of freshwater in the world, I instantaneously knew if I was to impact greater change, I needed to change my focus from the bathroom to the kitchen.
The idea for the book came in the form of the title. I remember the moment distinctly. My husband was sitting next to me at the time. I said to him, “I am going to write a book about water and food, and it will be called Eat Less Water.” When I said the title out loud, I knew it was to be. Seven years later, I held the completed book in my hands.
2. What, if any, literary pilgrimages have you gone on?
One year into writing Eat Less Water, I came across, A Room of Her Own (AROHO), week-long writers retreat for women at Ghost Ranch in New Mexico. I immediately completed the application and sent it in before the idea was forgotten. A month later, I learned I was accepted to participate.
The retreat was a turning point. It was not until that literary pilgrimage in the shadow of the Pedernal mountain that I embodied my identity as a writer. During the retreat, Pulitzer Prize-winning novelist, Marilynne Robinson spoke of the role of writers. She said,
writers must tell the truth as we see it.
She continued that it is the truth that pushes back against fascism. Her words bore deep. I responded with tears. I knew at that moment with absolute certainty that I am a writer. Writing for change is what I was designed to do. I returned on this pilgrimage two more times, to re-inspire and re-charge amongst other creative women.
3. What do your plans for future projects include?
My next book project is called, “In Search of Real Food in American Public Schools.” I found my first public school while on my book tour in NYC. This book, like Eat Less Water, will require, travel, interviews and lots of research.
My hope is to create a blueprint for parents, educators, and students to improve our current food programs within the current school funding and regulations.
And to reimagine a food system that supports small-scale farmers working to grow clean, nutritious food that’s good for our children and the planet. In many ways, it is a continuation of what I started in Eat Less Water.
I’m also working on a smaller project; an “Eating Less Water” coloring book for young children. Each chapter of the “Eat Less Water” book begins with beautiful drawings of the plants and animals featured in the book. The coloring book will contain these drawings accompanied by a short introduction to water footprints, water conservation of the connection between our food and water.
4. What has been one of your most rewarding experiences as an author?
The process of writing a book is a private act. I form sentences and construct ideas in my mind. During the writing process, I was selective about who I invited in to critique and discuss my pages. The moment the book was published, the ideas no longer belonged to me alone, they now exist in the public realm, that is expanding on a daily basis. This expansion is both exhilarating and uncomfortable.
The book has stretched me to unknown territories, has put me in contact with new people, and tests my willingness to say “yes” to new opportunities. The experience can be uncomfortable at times because it is outside the safety of my solitary writing cocoon. And it requires me to surrender myself to the expansion of my world experience.
What has helped me to embrace this natural transition from writer to author, is the sage advice from a mentor.
“The work is not complete until it is received,”
she told me. I say this in my mind before I set out into a new situation to expand the reach of Eat Less Water.
5. What is the main thing you want readers to take away from your book?
I want readers to feel empowered, and to realize the solution to water shortages is in each of our kitchens. Our food pantries represent rivers, aquifers, lakes from every part of the planet. In my pantry, I have rice from Vietnam, chocolate from Ghana, coffee from Guatemala, flour from Kansas, eggs from Ojai, California and lettuce from Oxnard. Each country, state, region deals with water scarcity issues ranging from not having enough-supply, or not having enough “clean” water quality.
Food is the most significant user and polluter of water.
If we are to be part of the solution of global water solutions, we must begin with our food choices, supporting farming methods that save water. We are connected to the world’s water with each meal.
I hope Eat Less Water to be like a pebble tossed into the stillness of water that grows ever-widening circles. More specifically my vision for the book is the following:
to reveal the connection between what we eat and the impact on rivers and lakes,
to generate more business for farmers dedicated to growing food using farming methods that save our water resources,
to inspire policy change at the individual, farm, corporate, and government policy level.
I’m back from the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrator’s (SCWBI) Conference in L.A and A Room of Her Own (AROHO) writing retreat at Ghost Ranch, Abiquiú, New Mexico.
Both conferences were packed with information. I loved my time in Abiqui, New Mexico, it’s a gorgeous place for writer workshops. SCBWI had approximately 1,100 people in attendance and AROHO had 130.
The best thing about attending these conferences is the people: writers, poets, illustrator’s and those who live and breathe their art.
It felt good to be in community with fellow writers, both pre-published and published. I believe we need each other and have the opportunity for personal engagement with some of our favorite writers.
The Write Life has a list of annual conferences, but this list isn’t complete. Do a search for your state to come up for more localized conferences.
There is an expense to conferences, and if the budget can’t afford the cost, most have fellowships or scholarships. If you remotely qualify, submit your work. It’s worth a try.
After the conference, I waved goodbye to new friends and three days later I feel a little lonely without them around for “writerly” support.
After digesting my notes, I thought I’d share a post about conference attendance and implore you to seek out conferences, seminars, and workshops during this or next year. (The conference folks have strict rules about blogging/recording seminars so I can’t give you specific info on classes-so sorry).
Some bits of wisdom for you:
Wisdom Bit #1: If you can’t attend a conference, find out what their Twitter handle will be and follow the hashtag for some interesting information. If you wait until after the conference the info is usually removed.
Wisdom Bit #2: Usually writers work in isolation, so a conference is your opportunity to attend at least one social function. While at the function, meet at least two people, ask questions about their writing, what’s their story? Your writing community just expanded.
At the SCWBI conference, there was a big party where most people dressed up to the theme of Glitter. The chapter I belong to, Central Coast-Calif. were dressed as the “Bling, Bling Book Queens.” I like music and I like to dance, so I was there. (We found our gowns at thrift shops).
Wisdom Bit #3: Take notes in one journal or pad. When you get home you can easily refer to your notes and type them up. I’m having a hard time finding my notes since I took three journals.
Wisdom Bit #4: Use your business cards. If your pre-published (like me) make some cards up listing your name, website, and social media. Here’s mine. On the back is my name, Twitter name, and website. I only give out a card if a person asks for one or mentions they’d like to keep in touch. I now have 25 more Twitter followers, several more FB requests, and following back those same interesting writers and agents. Your writing community is expanded and so are your potential resources.
Wisdom Bit#5: If you were invited to send in a manuscript (and this often happens in conference seminars) jot down the agents name and pay attention when she/he tells you what to put in the email subject line. If she tells you to send a month after the conference, follow up on the request in a month. Draw a large block around your agent notes and star it so you can find it when you get home.
Wisdom Bit #6: Organize your notes and make a “Must Do Now,” “To Do,” and a “Nice to Do,” list.
Must Do: Send out my manuscript on xx date to Agent xx; Revise first five pages with the info learned in First Five Pages workshop.
To Do: Set up one social media avenue if you don’t already have one; Read a recommended book on revising or editing; Set up a calendar reflecting your new goals and timelines.
Nice to Do: Follow the new person you just met on Twitter or other social media. Stay in contact.
Bonus Wisdom Bit: Please don’t be that guy or gal who overtakes a conference session. They usually sit in the first row, speak without raising their hand, and try to monopolize the speaker. You will be remembered, by fellow writers and the speaker.
Hemingway’s quote settles the debate over whether people are born writers or if writing can be taught. Whether you’re a natural at writing or not, everyone has to work to improve their ability.
Three years ago, I participated in the Platform Challenge, given by Robert Lee Brewer, from Writer’s Digest who described himself as a poet, editor, and happy smack talker. The latter captured my interest and I joined.
Our challenge was to try a different tool, process or form of social media every day in order to build an online platform. Over 300 writers formed around that challenge and when it was over, most of the group banded together and founded Wordsmith Studio, a community of writers, of which I’m a founding member.
Many of the members are now published authors, poets, editors, book reviewers, and all around lovely writers. I’ve met so many writers who have brought me stories and poems that delighted, inspired or gave me a new perspective on a subject.
To commemorate our three-year anniversary, we are catching up with group members who are spread all over the nation by using writing prompts as a means of checking in with one another and celebrating our three-year anniversary with a blog hop.
This week’s prompt is to share our challenges and successes, to reflect on skills, tools or resources that helped us find success. And by success, I don’t mean I’m a published author with thousands of sales. Success means I’m improving, still writing stories, and sending out queries.
Now, on to the questions:
1) What are you currently working on? One of my YA manuscript’s (ms) is out in query stage after too many to count revisions and two editors (hey, it was my first novel). I’m having the hardest time with finding an agent to take on a ‘girl in prison’ story.
The second one, Women’s Fiction, was given the once-over by an editor I met online who did a wonderful job. The third ms is on a hard drive. The fourth work in progress, a New Adult, is halfway completed.
2) For past work, what was your greatest joy or greatest challenge?
The best things that I’ve enjoyed is receiving a fellowship, twice, to A Room Of Her Own (AROHO) Foundation for their biannual writers retreat and accepted as a ‘mentee’ into the Association of Writers and Writing Programs (AWP) Mentorship three month program. My mentor is an author and creative writing professor at a university.
The other best thing is when people say great things about your writing. My AWP mentor’s encouraging words, “There are remarkable revisions in this ms…Juana’s story continues to grow with drama and emotion, with compelling lives and stories, …what strikes me from the very beginning are the beautiful and powerful images that (she) remembers, imagines, andculls from her life; images you compose with beauty and power.”
From my recent editor on the second ms: “Your (ms) opens with some of the most brilliant writing I have seen for some time. There is an air of literary style, coupled with a control of sentence structure that creates an atmosphere thick with emotion. Helpless, vulnerable, deeply hurt, but with a bit of hope and denial…”
3) For current work, what challenge are you working through now?
My goal is to revise the Women’s Fiction ms during May. Although my editor had great comments about the novel, there are many other not so good areas to fix.
4) What have successes or challenges in your work (recently) taught you?
Utilize all the help you can get. By that I mean go to at least one workshop or conference a year on writing craft. Participate in an going critique group. Online you can use Critique Circle. Be persistent, disciplined, and believe in what you’re doing. Writer’s have to be in it for the long haul-years, decades, not months.
Being a pantser did not work out for me. My first novel has taken years and numerous revisions because I did not know story structure. I will never be a plotter, but I have found that a loose outline helps tremendously. Study story structure. I like Larry Brooks’ blog from Storyfix.
I use too many commas, use the words ‘just,’ ‘even’ and ‘was.’ To help me with grammar, redundant words, and passives I bought a month of AutoCrit. I needed it so much that I ended up buying the editing service for a year. I also use Grammarly.
6) What obstacles or challenges have you not been able to overcome, or still frustrate you?
Writing query and synopsis letters is still the most frustrating and non-fun thing to do. I would like to outsource this work.
7) How would you describe a great writing day (or week)?
Writing in my pajamas, with fresh hot coffee at my side, glancing at the flowers on my patio once in a while, and finishing what I set out to do that morning makes me feel satisfied. Taking a walk in the late afternoon and reading an absorbing book tops off a great writing day.
And in the words of Winston Churchill:
If you are from the Wordsmith community, stop by and click a ‘Like,’ subscribe, or say hello in the comments. Thanks for reading and have a fun weekend.
This morning I have bunches of pale yellow roses that are the last of the season from a bush I just pruned-a month late.
My rosebush was transplanted, to my backyard fifteen years ago, from someone who tore up their garden to put in kid friendly landscaping.
I also have a dwarf lemon tree.
Which made me think of that platitude, “When life gives you lemons, make lemonade.” That cliché sucks-big time.
Lemons = Lemonade
This phrase makes a euphemism for disappointment, a sorrow, or a hurt seem so cheerily remedied.
Life doesn’t give you lemonade.
Life gives you lemons. You give you lemonade.
Making the lemonade is not an easy process. There is a knife involved. Cutting, twisting, squeezing, and getting a sting from the lemon juice that found the microscopic cut on the side of your fingernail.
After that, you strain the pulp and seeds and pour the result into a pitcher. You’re still not done. Some people don’t want to go through these steps. You have to stick with it, be strong.
You have to stay with the process, feel the pain, deal with the sting, the squeezing, the separating, look for the honey, the sugar, something to sweeten the tart acidic taste.
It’s a series of steps, it’s not a Lemon=Lemonade instant drink.
And when you stick with it, you have fantastic lemonade which you garnish, with berries or mint.
I was mulling over all this when I came upon an email from a friend, Michelle Wing.
Michelle is the inaugural featured writer of a new website, Off The Margins, dedicated to women writers.
Her artist statement captivated me. Her poetry, this one in particular, blew me away.
Body on the Wall
They send me a slip of paper Anger Management – Certificate of Completion
And his name.
As if twelve weeks of one-hour sessions,
of talking about his feelings,
of tips on counting to ten,
could make him into a new man –
could undo the damage.
I know too well he can con anyone:
Police. Lawyers. Landlords.
And this piece of paper is the last slap
I am ever going to feel.
I walk to my closet, and get my dancing dress,
the little black one that twirls when I move,
that reminds me of freedom and the time before.
Do you want to know what he is like?
I’ll need some tools.
Scissors to slash the hemline.
Blades to rip open sleeves.
A lighter to torch the fluttering strips.
Dirty boots to grind out the flames.
Then a razor, to nick my forearm
so I can smear blood across his name
and pin that piece of paper to my ruined dress.
I bandage my arm, find a hanger –
It is my body on the wall, bruised and battered,
and nobody, nobody, can say they don’t see.
After reading, my lips formed the word “Wow,” my head nodded. I thought of the lemons in my past.
Lemons didn’t only make lemonade, they made poetry.