Wendy Brown-Báez is the author of the inspirational writers' guide Heart on the Page, a novel and two books of poetry. Her poetry and prose appear widely in literary journals and anthologies, such as Mizna, Wising Up Press, Poets & Writers, Talking Writing, Water~Stone Review, Peregrine and Tiferet. Wendy received McKnight and MN State Arts Board grants to teach creative writing in non-profits and she is the creator of Writing Circles for Healing.
1. Tell us about the featured book. What is it about, and why did you choose to write this story?
Heart on the Page: A Portable Writing Workshop is a writers’ guidebook, with writing exercises, advice, reflection questions, and resources for deepening your own writing or leading a writing group, in particular in community spaces such as a support group, a healing center, a shelter, the library, or a staff development meeting. In 2012, I started to teach creative writing in the state prisons with a group that eventually became the MN Prison Writing Workshop. I was looking for ideas to inspire both new and experienced writers. I also received a grant to bring writing into non-profits. Although my participants didn’t think of themselves as writers, they had a story to tell. The writing manuals I found were geared toward writers with freedom, motivation, and opportunity, such as strolling down to the corner café or joining a writing group or attending a retreat, things that my participants couldn’t do or might not know how to do or were not able to afford. When I complained to my colleague that I couldn’t find the right book, he said, “Why don’t you write your own?” and that’s what I did! I share advice and writing exercises used successfully in my workshops as well as my personal story of healing through my writing practice and why I chose those organizations.
2. Tell us a little about your writing process. What kind of research do you do, and how long do you spend researching before beginning a book?
I use poems as jumpstarts for spontaneous writing because they open us up to the subconscious, to emotion and imagination, and the poems I list can be found online (well, 99%, I printed a couple in the book) so you could say that all the years of collecting poems that arrived in my inbox were part of my research. I researched articles about the impact of writing on healing. I usually am researching while writing because I often begin with a memory, a character, or a story I need to tell.
When I am writing fiction, I make visuals such as drawing maps, creating character dossiers or family trees, and even floorplans. I look up specific facts about a town or country, but much of the research comes from my own life experiences. I lived in several countries and studied alternative healing. My fiction begins with a character that I can see in my head doing something specific. Then I have to do the research to make sure it is realistic.
3. What is the most difficult part of your artistic process?
Revision. When I first started getting feedback, it was emotionally hard for me to be vulnerable and listen to critique; now I appreciate how much it improves my writing. I used to dread revising because it is logical and orderly and I prefer the messiness and spontaneity of creativity, but I have learned to enjoy it. It gives me not only a chance to find the better word or phrase or sequence of events, it hones the theme and the message I want to convey. It helps me to claim the story as mine on a deeper level and I often have a surprise aha! moment.
4. How did publishing your first book change your process of writing?
My writing career began with submitting mostly poetry to literary journals. It was such a joy to receive that first acceptance! And that joy never lessens even after many acceptances. My first book was a book of poetry. Writing to me is a necessity. It helps me untangle emotional turmoil and process experiences. Publication made me feel that I had a voice and I could use it to connect with others. It impacted my process of revision because it lifted my standards, because you naturally want to keep getting better. It encouraged me to keep experimenting with how best to reach an audience. I would say that one of my lessons from publishing is that you never know when something will be the right story at the right time, so don’t give up, and you must edit carefully. These days I follow my instincts more than when I started but I also know my skill has improved. I always tell my student, the more you write, the better you will get.
5. Are there any writers or authors who have influenced your writing? If not, who are some of your favorite writers?
I don’t know that Alice Hoffman has influenced my writing, if only I could write as well as she does! but I love her work. I was influenced by Natalie Goldberg and Julia Cameron in terms of creative process. My favorite writers range from Anne Perry, Donna Leon, and Louise Penny (mysteries) to Ann Lamott, Carolyn Forché, Jeannette Walls, Elie Wiesel, and Amos Oz (memoir) to Joanne Harris, Sarah Durant, Jessie Burton, and Nancy Turner (historical fiction) and Lisa See, Julia Alvarez, Beatriz Williams, Amy Tan, Kate Morton, and Fredrick Bachman (fiction).
6. How many unpublished and half-finished books do you have?
A dozen! I am always working on something! Novels, memoir, essays, creative non-fiction, and poetry.
7. What does literary success look like to you?
The most satisfying result of writing is when someone says your work touched them or they learned something they didn’t know or were transported somewhere new. Invitations to book clubs is thrilling for me. Getting published in “Poets & Writers Magazine” is the accomplishment I am most proud of, not only because I had an article accepted by such a prestigious magazine but also because I received a number of letters thanking me. The article is in the book, by the way. To me, writing is all about making connections. I enjoy meeting my readers and answering questions. I can tell stories all day!
8. What inspired you to start writing?
I started as a kid. I loved books so I wrote my own, mostly really terrible imitations of Nancy Drew mysteries. But in 5th grade, I wrote a story called The Sun Comes Shining about teen-agers falling in love. Her boyfriend gets killed when he pushes her brother out of the way of a bus. At the end of the story, she climbs to their look-out point to watch the sunrise. All the girls in my classroom were bawling, and I thought, “This is what I want to do! I want to make people feel things!” Later it was teen-aged angst and I was very influenced by folk songs of the 60s. After living in Israel, I had incredible stories and adventures I needed to get down on paper before the memoires faded.
9. When you’re not writing, what do you like to do in your spare time?
Almost everything feeds my writing. I facilitate writing workshops, run a poetry group via Zoom, and have online courses. I am a voracious reader and love my library. I take writing workshops myself and attend readings, conferences, and book events. I do yoga. I spent time with 8-year-old my grandson until he went back to school this fall, playing games and going to the basketball court at the park. I love to travel and hope that I will be able to again someday. I had the great fortune to attend the San Miguel de Allende writers conference twice, once in 2014 and again this spring. Now it has gone virtual. I booked a retreat with Mirabai Starr in Hawaii that was postponed until 2021 so my fingers are crossed.
10. Do you have a website or social media channels (Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, etc.) where readers can learn more about your work?