Joanne Fedler Media Spotlight: Jess Zlotnick

Joanne Fedler Media Spotlight: Jess Zlotnick

‘The purpose of freedom is to free someone else.’
-Toni Morrison

 

I started mentoring writers ten years ago to save myself from starvation as an author in a climate of declining advances and book sales.

But something happened in the teaching that saved me from another form of hunger – attachment to ego. The more I taught writers to find their voices, the more meaningful my life felt.

I began to understand that my journey as a successful author had simply been the way for me to pave a path for others. The purpose of my ‘success’ was to help others be successful, to paraphrase Toni Morrison.

I told my writers, ‘If you finish your books, I will do whatever it takes to help you get published.’ I intended to lean on all my international contacts with agents and publishers. But what nagged at me was that I couldn’t guarantee they would find an interested publisher.

In the middle of 2017, while mentoring 18 writers who had committed to their writing for years, it suddenly struck me – the only way I could ensure certainty of outcome for them was to become a publisher myself.

And so I did. Joanne Fedler Media was born to honour my writers, to bring their work into the world in the event that they are unable to secure a traditional publisher (if that is their first choice).

In the coming years, many of the writers I have mentored will be ready to publish.

Joanne Fedler Media will be there – either as Plan A or Plan B to ensure their success. We will publish memoir, inspiring fiction, poetry and self-help books – many of the genres in which first-time authors struggle to find traditional publishers. All our books will embody our values of using our words to inspire, nourish and grow the spirit.

Little Wings Books is our children’s books imprint in partnership with Karen McDermott, an experienced and heart-centred book publisher in Perth who has mentored me through the publication of our first few books.

I will use my platform as an internationally bestselling author to launch these new voices.

But authors need readers, which is where YOU come in.

I so hope you will become part of our community and support our authors by buying and reviewing their books so they can share their message with a wider audience. Thank you in advance for being part of our mission to light the world with books that make a difference by first-time authors traditional publishers sometimes overlook.

In upcoming newsletters, we will shine a light on one of our emergent or emerging authors. This month, our spotlight is on debut author Jess Zlotnick.

 

A children’s book for adults as well as little people.

 

What kind of sad are you?

It’s the sort of question that brings to mind John Koenig’s Dictionary of Obscure Sorrows, a treasury of invented words for uncommon sadnesses.

And it’s the question at the heart of What Mouse Knew, an exquisitely illustrated children’s book by debut author and artist Jess Zlotnick.

Rat is sad and doesn’t know why, so his friend Mouse sends him on a journey of self-discovery. He returns knowing that he is ‘lonely-sad.’ And right then, his friendship with Mouse becomes a refuge.

What Mouse Knew by Jess Zlotnick

The book began as a high school art project when Jess was just 16. She made and bound the book on black paper and executed it with simple white line drawings.

I fell in love with this story and its sparse, delicate illustrations.

What Mouse Knew by Jess Zlotnick

But here’s the snag: Jess is my daughter, and as such, I had to exercise extreme vigilance that I wasn’t just being a Jewish mother.

I showed it to a friend, an award winning children’s book author. She encouraged me to try find a publisher and gave me the name of an editor at Penguin. ‘Send it to her,’ she said. So I did.

The editor loved it enough to take it to an acquisitions meeting. But she wanted to bring another illustrator on board to replace the line drawings.

‘But the illustrations are what make the book,’ Jess huffed. ‘I don’t want to compromise my artistic integrity.’

‘Integrity, Shmetegrity,’ I advised. ‘This is Penguin.’

In the end, Penguin passed on it.

I didn’t get the feeling Jess was sorry.

What Mouse Knew by Jess Zlotnick

But I have always wanted to see this little book in the world.

I was just waiting for the right moment.

Today, Jess turns 21. And today, my gift to her (it’s a surprise and it’s been hell, I tell you, keeping it a secret for six months) is to launch What Mouse Knew: a little story of friendship as the first children’s book published by Joanne Fedler Media. I know it is also a gift to readers everywhere.

Five years ago, Jess wrote this for Penguin about the story behind the book:

I’m not a stranger to loneliness.

I’m sure everyone’s felt alone at some point in their lives.

This started as an art assignment for school: to create a children’s book which worked on an artistic as well as a narrative level.

Once I started, I felt as if I didn’t control the story, but that it wrote itself. I wanted to write a story that everyone could relate to, so I wrote about something we all know: loneliness; and try to show that we might not be as alone as we think.

I was bullied. A lot. Primary school was torture for me, so much so that I’ve blocked out most of those memories. What I do remember is that feeling of isolation: that there was no-one on my side, that the world was against me.

What I’ve come to realise is that there are people there for me, even when it’s not that obvious. Mouse is my mum, the friends I’ve made since the bullying, the friends I’ve been able to keep, anyone who’s told me I am worth something, anyone who’s put a smile on my face.

I just hope that this book will help other kids see that even when they don’t understand why they feel so bad, that it will pass, and that there are people they can count on. I hope those kids will be reminded that it’s okay to place faith in others, and that when you feel alone, you also have to make the effort to reach out.

What Mouse Knew by Jess Zlotnick

What kind of sad are you?

 

A story about loneliness and the gift of friendship.

If you loved The Giving Tree by Shel Silverstein, this book is for you.

Please celebrate this launch with us today by purchasing a copy (or two or three) for a child in your life (or for the lonely child in your own heart) here:

 

Get Your Copy Here

 

Thank you so much for supporting a brand new author and Joanne Fedler Media.

It’s the first of many beautiful children’s books we will publish to inspire, uplift and nourish young readers.

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Make Sure Your Story Is a Story

The biggest mistake I made with the first draft of my first novel is that my main character Mia was passive. She did nothing – lots of shitty stuff happened to her. The problem is that characters who do nothing make us feel nothing. And if your reader doesn’t care about your character, you um, don’t have a reader because there is no incentive to turn the page.

In a story, something has to happen (sometimes called the inciting event) – there has to be action, usually something pretty horrible, which backs our character into a corner. That’s when they have to become active and do something revealing their complex, flawed personhood so we can watch them make mistakes, try, fail and try again.

When we write memoir, this is particularly challenging. We tend to write about all the things that happened to us without ever engaging ourselves as an active player in the story. When we are the protagonist in our own story, we have to make storytelling decision about where to start the story and how to engage the reader in all the ways that keep readers’ connected. The fact that your father died when you were seven is obviously relevant to your life, but it may or may not be relevant to the story you’re telling. There’s a difference.

Ultimately a story has to move us from point A to point B – and something has to change either in the character or in the reader.

 

Joanne Fedler

Joanne Fedler

Author, writing mentor, retreat leader. I’m an internationally bestselling author of nine books, inspirational speaker and writing mentor. I’ve had books published in just about every genre- fiction, non-fiction, self-help, memoir – by some of the top publishing houses in the world. My books have sold over 650 000 copies and have been translated in a range of languages. Two of my books have been #1 Amazon bestsellers, and at one point the German edition of Secret Mothers’ Business outsold Harry Potter- crazy, right?

Over the years, I’ve seen a lot of writing that lacks ‘story.’ The characters are passive or  uninteresting and I find myself not caring one way or the other whether they survive or die a horrible death. The story is suspended in a timeless place, unanchored and without context so I don’t know where the story takes place or why. The character doesn’t transform, is exactly the same at the end and so… why did I bother?

A story is not a collection of beautiful descriptions. Or a series of internal ruminations, even if you have 100 000 words. A story is shaped by a series of decisions the author makes around a few key factors.

Generally, every story needs a WHO (character/s), a WHAT (theme), a WHEN (setting in time and space); a WHY (plot) and a HOW (structure that supports the story).

Without this internal invisible architecture holding the narrative up, what you have is some writing, but you do not have a story.

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What Every Writer Needs on Her Shelf

What Every Writer Needs on Her Shelf

Finding the right word may take more than just a click of a mouse…

I inherited a Roget’s Thesaurus from my late grandfather. It has one of those hard-covers made from cloth. My grandfather’s signature is on the front page with the date 10-3-36. A few pages in is a replication of ‘the facsimile of the first page of the MS. Classified catalogue of words completed by Dr. P. M. Roget in 1805, which was the germ of the Thesaurus.’ It shows the word Existence written in fountain pen with Dr. Roget’s enumerations of the meaning beneath.

I love this old book despite the fact that I hardly ever use it. Most of my writing takes place on my computer, so all I have to do is right click for synonyms. This function saves me heaps of time – no more paging through the index of the thesaurus, finding the corresponding meaning and number and then turning to the right page and wading through long lists of words.

There’s no doubt that being able to look up Serbian for ‘We have run out of pickled onions,’ if one happens to be writing a story about Serbian cocktail waitresses in under three minutes saves us writers a lot of time. But sometimes speed isn’t what a writer needs.

 

The 7 Day Writing Challenge

WINGS: Words Inspire, Nourish and Grow the Spirit

In Steve Tolt’z new book Quicksand (2015), the character Aldo says, ‘… in our lifetimes we’ll see the actual end of patience.’ Not that I had a whole heap to begin with, but I’ve noticed the erosion of the smidgeon of patience I had for working things out manually, or researching a topic by actually going to a library or doing field work. When something isn’t instant (like internet speed), I get annoyed, it’s not working properly. Even opening the thesaurus these days feels like too
much of an effort. Sometimes I scramble around in my brain, but can’t quite grab the phrase I’m feeling for. Right click and Microsoft Office fails me with it’s shortlist of synonyms.

And there it is – the sign I’m waiting for to stop. Reach for the thesaurus. Pause into the word territory. Take my time. Sometimes I get lost in the pages sniffing out the perfect word, being drawn down new word paths and language lanes.

On those ‘can’t-write-a-thing’ days, a stroll through through its pages squares me back to my true north – to why I write – because I love words, their tiny tweaks and their fragile nuances. So I keep mine on my desk, a talisman to hold me to my joy, a patient friend who has the answers to all my writing questions if only I slow down enough to ask.

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Girlfriends

Girlfriends

Men are good for a great number of jobs, I’m thinking specifically of killing spiders and changing tyres, but they are useless when it comes to a second opinion when shopping for a new outfit and repeating the conversation they just had on the phone which you know contained important gossip. Which is where girlfriends come in. What women are looking for in friendship, seem to be the very things men are doing their best to avoid: conversation, intimacy and emotion. Most men want out of their friendships what women want from their pets: quiet loyal company.

I cannot imagine life without the sisterhood, having grown up with sisters and worked in women’s issues all my life. I am a Thelma and Louise and Fried Green Tomatoes gal, a woman who runs with the wolves. While I repeatedly need convincing of why marriage is a good idea, along with monogamy and heterosexuality, the value of female friendships (connections with no social or economic value in our society) is absurdly obvious.

Girlfriends offer a love immune to the perils of romance, which is over-valued, hyped-up and fickle as fashion. When we gather, we giggle, eat each other’s home-made cooking and explore emotional truths. We share our stories, adoring the minutiae of each others lives, liberated from the fear of sharing ‘too much’ information: What did you wear? What exactly did he say when you confronted him? How much cumin did you use? In these spaces I’ve learned I’m not the only mother who has flunked motherhood and that my husband is getting a lot more sex than he appreciates.

 

The 7 Day Writing Challenge

WINGS: Words Inspire, Nourish and Grow the Spirit

On my daughter’s twelfth birthday, I organized a girls-only ritual, and asked everyone to bring a gift which cost no money. One friend who loves to bake, made her a rose out of icing, which broke that morning. She had thought to remake it, but then realised that broken, it more truly spoke of the nature of life and love – of their imperfection and fragility. Some gave plants from their gardens, others hand-wrote their wisdom and passed on recipes handed down in their families. More than one offered my daughter this: the greatest gift of being a woman is that you get to have girlfriends.

Girlfriends accompany you when you’re scared because men just make things worse. I’ve been with friends when they’ve gone for Brazilians, had girlfriends come with me to get the results of a bad pap smear, have a pelvic ultrasound and a mammogram (my friend was late and kept knocking on the door saying, ‘Let me in, I’m here, I’m here,’ even though the doctor refused). I have sat with friends waiting for children to come out of operating theatres and had girlfriends come over (always with food, usually chocolate) to sit on my bed or give me a foot rub when I’ve put my back out or had pneumonia. I stood beside a girlfriend during her Jewish divorce and silently blessed her and her ex-husband as they severed their bond and then took her out for sushi and to shop for a gift for her to give herself. I have counted down days with friends waiting for medical results, received flowers after operations, and made more lasagnes than I can remember when friends have moved house or lost a parent.

My girlfriends keep me silly, keep me places in line and take from my loneliness. They sing me alive beyond my role of wife and mother. They are the helium in the balloon of life. They laugh at my jokes, celebrate my triumphs and nod when I ask, ‘Tell me the truth, do I look fat in this?’

Published by O Magazine

Joanne Fedler

Joanne Fedler

Author, writing mentor, retreat leader. I’m an internationally bestselling author of nine books, inspirational speaker and writing mentor. I’ve had books published in just about every genre- fiction, non-fiction, self-help, memoir – by some of the top publishing houses in the world. My books have sold over 650 000 copies and have been translated in a range of languages. Two of my books have been #1 Amazon bestsellers, and at one point the German edition of Secret Mothers’ Business outsold Harry Potter- crazy, right?

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Meeting Dylan

Meeting Dylan

To begin at the beginning.

No – let’s go back, back to before then.

It is an apricot day in the big whirly world, spring-sprung and parchment-pink. Dylan fills the doorway of his china-tiny writing room, buffalo-tired, refusing to budge to the write or the left, because the effort needed to activate motion in the huge steaming hulk of his frame is too much, too much to ask of a poet on an apple-dappled morning when the fags and potted-Scotch Bell’s ‘n Walker breathe (tell-tale talkers of last night’s lurid hours with who-knows-whose-whore or wife) still dulls the medulla-dogged dourness of our Dylan.

Now me. Standing blunted before him. Virginal in my poetry. The gigolo of juxtapositions, the seducer of sounds – Dylan, ‘Mr Thomas’ to him, drunkardly-dirty, hung over in the small doorway, is now looking at me.

His ugliness strikes me as hilarious, for a moment, like the sober regrets of the morning after. Unprepared I came for the confrontation with the physical form through which the beauty of all things is magically wrought into webs of wordy wonder. I am stunned by the size of his nose, which, if it had not been for this thing, might have left a gap for Nature to try again – this time, more lovingly. But he is unaware of my observations, and I am grateful, for I have not come here to find fault.

Now I am conscious of my mirror-studied assemblage, the mascara-ed lilt of my lashes, the dusky damasked shimmer highlighting reticent cheekbones. I feel heat bellowing from my bust. I should have worn pants, I think. I crush the iron-pressed fringe of my skirt. This is no way to meet Dylan after all this time.

‘When the October wind blows…’ I thought would be his first words, when those piggy eyes fall to the crabbed hand that clutches my skirt tight. I had hoped for such a beginning so that I might memorize, not fictionalize.

Dylan: ‘Yes?’

I reserve my wishes, in case they are numbered by the parsimony of genies, but I hope that wasn’t irritation in his voice.

Me: ’Remember, Mr Thomas? I’m the girl who wrote to you about writing…. You said I could….’

Dylan (interrupting): ‘Oh yes.’

The morning yawns in a wide-mouthed gape. Dylan moves into the small room, breaking the silence of the sunlight which fills up the spaces like the liquidity of a bath freshly-plugged. In that room, the morning is already stale, and longs to be allowed out to frolic in the October air. There are rumors in the scattering of shriveled paper wastes, of a strewn-strenuous frustrated night before.

Time passes.

Dylan has already shrunk into his writing chair, without inviting me in. His fat fingers drum lightly on its arms. The rhythm of Morning Mass. I notice, though wish I hadn’t, that his fingernails are dirty.

‘Come closer now….’ I thought he’d say. But instead, from the grave of his ashtray, he lifts the still burning stub of an already-the-eighth-today cigarette and eases it in between two huge liver-spotted lips. Its mouth-piece disappears like a suppository up a rectum.

I step inside the milkwood of his window-silled cabin. From where I am, I can smell the sweat of a poet’s craft and sullen art. He coughs like an orchestra tuning up and spits out his tobaccoed phlegm into a handkerchief with his initials DT embroidered on the corner in the periwinklest-blue cotton by a loving hand. No doubt Catlain’s in better days.

The day sidles into the room, and once-blue shadows blush at my gaze, seeping into pink and scuttle around the room like a mouse pursued. He motions to the only other chair. I am grateful for its hospitality and sit quickly.

Me: ‘Mr Thomas, I….’

He looks at me pityingly.

Dylan (interrupting): ‘Please call me Dylan…’

Me (embarrassed): ‘Dylan….. I have wanted to meet you for as long as I can remember. And that is from when I was old enough to read your poems. You have been a great inspiration to me.’

My own gushing has left me feeling naked.

Dylan: ‘Would you like some tea?’

My verbal offering so carefully rehearsed shakes the foundations of this god less than the juices of Earl Grey’s leaves.

Me: ‘Yes, thank you. That would be nice.’

The 7 Day Writing Challenge

WINGS: Words Inspire, Nourish and Grow the Spirit

He motions to the tray on a sideboard confettied with papers. ‘Help yourself.’

Dutifully, I get up from my chair and approach the collection of dirty teacups, some with flotsam of cigarette ash scumming the rims. I feel nausea rise in me. I suppress it and pour myself some lukewarm tea from the pot. There is no milk. I spoon in some sugar. There is no teaspoon to stir with. I watch the crystals cluster at the bottom of my cup and pretend it does not matter. I have, after all, not come here to drink tea.

I return with a handful of warm china to my seat.

Me: ‘Mr….. Dylan, thank you so much for your time. I have written a play. It’s just an idea….’

I watch for his reaction. To no avail. I continue.

Me: ‘It’s a play….. for voices…’

He unravels his expression, a flasher unbuttoning, enjoying my unease. His tongue protrudes to lick his lips in collaboration.

Dylan: ‘So you think you’re a playwrite?’

I do not know the answer to that question. I nod.

Me: ‘I’d like to be…’

Dylan: ‘And what do you think I can do for you?’

He winks at me. A pig with conjunctivitis. His breathlessness unnerves me. I laugh predictably. I regret it as soon as I let it go. I long to take it back, to Jack-in-the-box it down again. Dylan does it for me.

Dylan: ‘What’s it about?’

Me: ‘It’s about you and I…. and our first meeting….’

He laughs, bemused. But he does not correct me. He does not say, ‘you and me,’ not ‘you and I.’

My gratitude betrays me in a smile that does not mean ‘Put your hand on my thigh,’ but he does anyway.

The corpulence of his yellowed fingers thumbs my flesh. Dismay rises in me. My teacup rattles in its saucer even though I am holding it tight. I want to say, ‘Take your filthy hands off me.’ I don’t say it. ‘Filthy’ has six letters, just like ‘poetry.’ And the force that moves the hand to the thigh, too moves the hand to the fountain pen. And I am dumb to mouth ‘filthy’, when ‘poetry’ fits just as well.

Dylan: ‘Our first meeting…?’ His interest is kindled by the bareness of young limbs. ‘Well, let’s see what you’ve got.’

He holds out his hand for my manuscript. I become afraid. It is too soon. What if he laughs? What if he says ‘Unless you’ve got talent – Mozart had it, Salieri didn’t, then don’t waste my time or yours. Anyway, what’s a pretty girl like you doing writing plays, when she should be out finding out about what life’s really about?’

I know not what to do. My courage fails me.

Dylan is not a patient man.

He snatches the papers from my hand. And I am all a-tremble. The terror of my poetic innocence gurgles from my guts to my groin. I shiver with expectancy.

Dylan moves to the light as if he cares.

The sunlight lingers longer than his attention. He flicks through the leaves of my document as if he were in the counting house counting out the money. He strokes his chin.

My belly turns and burns in kinks and curls. When will Dylan speak?

I notice the cat. She winks at me, and puts her paw to her lips as if to say, ‘Shhh, I won’t tell…’ She licks her furry fingertips and yawns to show me the pale peach ridges of her kitty throat.

I reach out in sympathy to stroke this discreet feline. She moves to avoid my touch.

I look at Dylan’s feet. His shoes are old. His socks are older. I wonder if he has ingrown toenails.

My mouth is agape, as if trying to catch the sounds that ought to scramble from his lips. Dylan looks up at last. The burning bush in his trousers is risen from the dead.

‘Drink your tea,’ Dylan says, ‘It will get cold.’

I sip my tea. It is just right, so I drink it all up.

‘Go back to the beginning,’ he says. ‘Make each word count.’ That is all he says.

My cup is empty and Dylan is dismissing me.

‘Unless you want something else….’ He smiles. The heaps of my papers scuttle untidily on his lap, rising with the tide. The billow of his bullying art, elevates my work.

Dylan sits lower in his chair. My papers subside to the ground, drizzling a papery silence. I shake my head. Gather my discarded efforts. As I bend down to collect them, he sneeks a peek up my raised skirt.

But I am out the door, breathless in my shame, before he has a chance to say a word, make absurd my pantiless crotch.

Joanne Fedler

Joanne Fedler

Author, writing mentor, retreat leader. I’m an internationally bestselling author of nine books, inspirational speaker and writing mentor. I’ve had books published in just about every genre- fiction, non-fiction, self-help, memoir – by some of the top publishing houses in the world. My books have sold over 650 000 copies and have been translated in a range of languages. Two of my books have been #1 Amazon bestsellers, and at one point the German edition of Secret Mothers’ Business outsold Harry Potter- crazy, right?

Signs You Could Be a Writer

Signs You Could Be a Writer (No Matter What Your Day Job Is) ‘I’m not a writer,’ people often tell me. ‘But I’ve always wanted to write…’ You know, there was a time I also wasn't a writer. But I always knew I wanted to write. This longing then, could be, as Rilke put...

Bedrock

Virginia can’t say if she is claustrophobic herself. She’s never been this far inside a cave before. The little spelunking she did as a child along the coast of the Western Cape was hide-and-seek with bare-footed cousins, in sea-carved rocky alcoves.

Make Sure Your Story Is a Story

The biggest mistake I made with the first draft of my first novel is that my main character Mia was passive. She did nothing - lots of shitty stuff happened to her. The problem is that characters who do nothing make us feel nothing. And if your reader doesn't care...

What Every Writer Needs on Her Shelf

Finding the right word may take more than just a click of a mouse... I inherited a Roget’s Thesaurus from my late grandfather. It has one of those hard-covers made from cloth. My grandfather’s signature is on the front page with the date 10-3-36. A few pages in is a...

What Would Happen If You Just Stopped?

Yep, you know what I mean. Just stopped. Did nothing. If you'd asked me this question during the past 18 months while I worked 14 hour days, 7 days a week, it would have baffled me. I love hard work. I've got what we call 'zeitzvleis' - 'sitting-flesh' - I can do...

Who Are You to Write Your Story?

Over the past years, I’ve been working with ordinary women who are writing the ordinary stories of their lives. 'Why would anyone care about my story?' each one asks in her way. 'Who am I to write my story?' 'What does my life matter? I’ve done nothing special. I’m...