Tag Archives: writing

Young Female Writers Club

The Lyrical Side of Writing

Written by K.L. Kranes

The first time I read the name “Odessa Hott” I think it sounds like the name of a feisty, no nonsense protagonist in a YA detective novel. When I tell the real Odessa Hott this she laughs. You can tell a lot about a person by a laugh. Odessa’s is quick and soft, but sonorous. It’s my first clue Odessa’s much more than a 16-year-old girl from Mechanicsville, VA.

As Odessa and I continue to talk, I quickly realize I’m right. Odessa plays the Taiko (Japanese drums) and reels off opinions on Emily Dickinson with ease. When she discusses the writing process, effortlessly weaving metaphors and similes, I have to remind myself I’m not interviewing a seasoned English professor, but a young teenage girl. 

“Writing is a gateway into a multitude of new and used ideas. It’s similar to an enormous thrift shop!” Odessa explains, her enthusiasm palpable. Although Odessa and I speak over the phone or communicate via email, it feels as if there is a bright smile of excitement hiding behind her every word. “There are so many unexplored concepts. Even the ideas that have been used over and over can always be twisted into something never before seen. I don’t believe that any idea has been completely wrung dry. There is always a way to reinvent what has already been invented.”

Odessa has been inventing and reinventing stories since she was just 6-years-old when she began writing blogs on WordPress. Soon after, she discovered Storybird, a website where young authors can self-publish online using assorted work from global illustrators. In her teenage years, Odessa moved to new platforms, but continued writing, publishing over 30 works on the writing and fanfiction sites Quotev and Wattpad where she accumulated thousands of readers. 

“To this day, I get daily notifications of people leaving comments on my old stories, although I have since taken a break from online publishing,” Odessa says. 

As part of her creative growth, Odessa also participated in writing workshops with the Richmond Young Writers (RYW), based out of Chop Suey Books. Through the RYW, Odessa published her first picture book called Melting Tears, collaborating with local artist Sarah Hand. The story, along with stories from fellow RYW writers, is available on the RYW website. 

“Seeing not only my own book but everyone else’s in print was surreal,” Odessa says when discussing the project. 

Melting Tears is a fairytale about an imaginative rice paper girl and a morose king. Odessa explained her love for Japanese language and culture, which she has been studying for 4 years, inspired the story. 

The international influence of Melting Tears highlights the breadth of Odessa’s background. From K-Pop to Sherlock Holmes, it’s clear Odessa’s unique interests have continually influenced her life and creative process. If she were a song, Odessa would have a passionate drumbeat, a complex guitar riff and a dreamy harmony melding seamlessly with the melody of youthful optimism. I think Odessa would like this metaphor given writing isn’t her only passion. 

“For a long time, I thought writing was my calling,” Odessa says. However, as she got older, Odessa felt herself increasingly drawn to music. 

Although music had always been a large part of her life, Odessa’s father and mother are both musicians, it wasn’t until recently Odessa realized music is her true dream. And, if Odessa believes in anything, it’s the importance of following your dreams.

“I am a firm believer that you should chase your dreams for your own sense of fulfillment. Otherwise, it will leave you feeling exhausted trying to be what someone else wants you to be,” Odessa explains.

That doesn’t mean Odessa plans to abandon the writing side of her creative spirit. Even when speaking about her favorite artists, Odessa describes them with a literary undercurrent. 

“In 2017, my mother introduced me to Solange,” she says. “And ever since, I have been enthralled by her aesthetics, genre and voice. Her lyrics convey a powerful, poetic message.”

Odessa admits combining her two passions can be difficult. “My lyrics are mediocre,” she admits humbly when speaking about her attempts at songwriting. “I write poetry, but usually my lyrics sounds nothing like my poetry. I try to write a song but the lyrics don’t capture the real emotion I’m trying to find.” 

Even if Odessa hasn’t yet figured out how to merge her talent for writing with her talent for music, she certainly already understands how writing can influence music as much as music can influence writers.

“I think that having an understanding of different forms of writing can give you a powerful insight into lyrics you hear that you may have never considered before,” Odessa opines. 

It’s likely one day soon Odessa will turn that powerful insight into a beautiful music. I, for one, can’t wait to hear the combination of Odessa’s musical voice with her distinctive literary voice.

K.L. Kranes is a blogger and author of young adult novels. Her debut novel, The Travelers, was published in 2016 by Saguaro Books, LLC. See more from K.L. at www.klkranes.com/blog.

Meet Maryam Durrani

Young Female Writers Club: Fan Girl Dreaming

Written by K.L. Kranes

It sounds like the plot of a book. 13-year-old Maryam turns fanfiction success into successful book series and finds her true self in the journey.

This isn’t fiction. Maryam Durrani, fanfiction writer, novelist, self-published author of three books, has accomplished more in her 18 years than many writers twice her age. Maryam’s book dreams likely started far before fanfiction readers discovered her stories of the Last Airbender. In fact, it really started with a shampoo bottle.

“I always loved reading,” Maryam explains. “When I was little, in the bathtub I’d read the back of shampoo bottles.”

As a child growing up in Ashburn, VA, Maryam would read anything. If it had letters strung together to make sentences, she devoured it. She spent hours daydreaming, building worlds and characters in her mind.

Soon she picked up a pencil and strung together sentences of her own. Family, friends, and teachers encouraged her to write. Maryam completed her first book in the back of an English classroom, filling 350 pages of a spiral-bound notebook. It still sits on her bookshelf in her room, a token of her passion and talent.

Winning first place in an international writing competition gave Maryam the courage to aim for something bigger. At 13-years-old Maryam stood in front of her parents and told them she wanted to publish a book.

Many parents would pat their young daughter on the head, smile, and forget about the idea five minutes later. Most 13-year-olds would forget five minutes later too and move on to another whim. Not Maryam. Writing was not a whim. She was ready to write and publish her novel even if no one supported her. She expected a lecture on the difficulties of publishing a book. Instead, her parents gave her the kind of advice Dumbledore might give Harry Potter. “You have to do it because you never know where it’s going to go until you reach the end,” they told her.

And so she did. Maryam was only 14 years old when she self-published her first novel, Assassin.

By its name alone one might expect Assassin to be a story of an innocent boy trained to be a deadly assassin. It might conjure an image of him with swords crisscrossed behind his back and a scar from his temple to his neck. But Maryam had read enough books about boys battling for the fate of their souls. She wanted to write something different.

A determined, intelligent girl, Maryam didn’t always connect with the characters in young adult books. She gravitated toward strong female characters and they were hard to find. Even Hermione Granger, one of Maryam’s literary idols, didn’t star in her own story. She was a sidekick.

Maryam longed to read books about smart, independent female characters who took control of their own destinies. Since she couldn’t find any, she decided to create one. Adalia, the main character of Assassin, became the character Maryam had always wanted to read. Instead of a boy with swords crisscrossed on his back, it was a girl battling for the fate of her soul.

“Adalia doesn’t let anyone slow her down. Her confidence, perseverance, and determination always shine through even in the darkest of times,” Maryam explains of her main character.

Like her main character, Maryam oozes confidence and determination.

“If I had a catchphrase would be, “Prove ‘em wrong!” Maryam explains.

Although there’s little reason to doubt Maryam’s ability to accomplish her goals. By the time she turned 18, Maryam’s young adult, science fiction novel had grown into a trilogy, Assassin, Ascendant, and Apprentice and Maryam had grown as a person and a writer.

She’d fought to write and publish her work. She’d fought against self-doubt, spending many nights wondering if editing, revising, and the painful process of story creation were all worth it. Now, at 18, Maryam speaks of herself and her writing with the kind of maturity usually found over three or four decades, not less than two.

“Don’t be afraid of what people think, because, at the end of the day, your writing is yours,” she says.

Maryam also looks to the future with a practical determination. Although filled with dreams, she understands the difficulty of becoming a professional novelist. It’s time for her to leave behind writing in the back of high school English classes. She is considering a career in the sciences. That doesn’t mean she won’t continue to write. Maryam has already figured out the writer’s secret. If you’re a real writer, then you’ll write. It doesn’t matter whether or not it’s your job.

“Wherever I am with whatever I have and how much I’ve achieved,” she says. “I see myself content, curled up in a warm blanket with a hot cup of coffee and an exciting new book to read.”

Books are a part of Maryam’s soul and she could never leave them behind. It is only a matter of time before the story of another strong female character stirs Maryam’s pen to start writing again. Until then, there are plenty of chances to enjoy her writing.

Maryam’s work is available on Amazon and on Wattpad (www.watpad.com/user/draninator).

 

 

Rising Appalachia at FloydFest

Rising Appalachia began years ago as the front porch project of sisters Leah Song and Chloe Smith to pay homage to their family. However, the dedication the sisters share to social activism started many years before through their involvement in community justice work and local food movements. Using their talent as a way to both share stories and encourage introspection, the sisters combined their interests to create an experience that is unique and inspiring. Joined by their beloved band, percussionist Biko Casini and bassist/guitarist David Brown, they share their colorful sound all over the world. Born and raised in the concrete jungle of Atlanta, Georgia, Leah and Chloe sharpened their instincts in the mountains of Appalachia, and fine-tuned their soul on the streets of New Orleans. This has resulted in a 6-album career that showcases a melting pot of folk music simplicity, textured songwriting, and “those bloodline harmonies that only siblings can pull off.”

Though it is not without challenges, Leah and Chloe stay true to their passions in the face of a fast-paced environment that has a tendency to push talented musicians into egocentric rockstars. They call their approach the Slow Music Movement.

“We’ve always explored sustainable touring ideas and options. We do everything from alternative travel methods like touring by train, to making sure as much local food as possible is brought to the green rooms and encouraging festivals to have a relationship with farm-to-table food. We don’t use plastic water bottles, and we avoid single-use plastic, encouraging the venue to take that on themselves as well,” explains Leah.

Fans will not find the band at strip malls or in hotel parking lots either. They make a point to seek out lodging near national parks, cabins, or stay with friends in farm homes. Additionally, they often visit urban gardens in the cities, and try to put their time and energy into neighborhoods, communities, and land-based projects.

“We are constantly trying to steal away moments for introspection, writing, and mindfulness. I walk every day, all over the place, wherever I am,” says Leah. “That’s kind of my movement meditation.”

Staying so close to the community keeps their desire to help others and be present as focal points in their journey. The band makes time during their performance to share the power of the stage and introduce audiences to those doing important ground work in social justice and equality efforts. Their tour schedule does not allow them to remain and nurture the impact in any one community, so it is important to Leah and Chloe to make sure the seeds they plant of emotional and environmental sustainability can grow even in their absence. Shifting the power to local faces helps ensure that will happen.

“Music is the tool with which we wield political prowess. We are building community and tackling social injustice through melody, making the stage reach out with wide arms to gather this great family. It has taken on its own personality, carrying us all along the journey,” says Leah.

“I’m really inspired by the beautiful, radical creative folks that show up in our audiences, “she adds. “Night after night, there are so many creative bright lights. We are inspired by our fan base. They have always been powerful, productive, and proactive folks in their communities. I think for our band and interpersonally, it has given us more purpose. We hope [our purpose] is reaching wider than us, and we are all grateful to have this vehicle to express ourselves.”

Rising Appalachia is touring all over Europe this summer, but FloydFest has a special place in their hearts, and is one of few festivals they will play in the United States in 2017. Catch them on stage both Saturday and Sunday, and follow up by learning how to support local farmers, seeking out sustainable resource options, and finding a quiet place to meditate on personal growth.

The best way to keep the feeling of a good show alive is to carry the inspiration from it with you and learn from it long after the audience dissipates. From Leah’s perspective, Rising Appalachia is going to do everything they can to put on a show that feeds your soul and lights that spark.

“At it’s best, [being on stage] is magical,” she explains. “We spend concerted effort trying to make sure we create a radical setting for the audience. We want to a take them on as much of a journey as possible.”

If you can’t make it to FloydFest this year, be sure to check out their new live album, Alive, this fall. Do yourself a favor when you do, and make it a truly immersive experience. Turn off the notifications on your phone, meditate, and enjoy the tapestry of stories woven into song by this talented band.

For more information about Rising Appalachia, visit www.risingappalachia.com.

Meet Dr. Almeder

(Photo Credit: Megan Cole)

“I have a love/hate relationship with poetry, but I keep writing it.” 

Dr. Melanie Almeder is a professor at Roanoke College who participated in a program called, “Art by Bus”, which is sponsored by the City of Roanoke Arts Commission, Ride Solutions, and the Greater Roanoke Transit Authority. Dr. Almeder rode public transportation regularly over the course of a month in order to create a unique work of literature. She published a collection of poems that she created during her participation in this program entitled In Transit.

What do you want people to take away from these pieces?
I guess the most important thing is that we live in this very diverse and dynamic landscape and that riding [the bus] can help us all participate more. It can also help us celebrate what’s beautiful about it and name what we would like to see grow. Poetry can do that and everyone can participate in that act. Poetry is not just an academically-owned process, but an opening to allow others to write.”

Do you think you have to understand poetry to appreciate it?
I think that there are different modes of understanding and I think it’s important to stretch our minds to understand it so that we can praise the world. Many run from poetry because its difficult, but the difficulty pays off. It’s important to give poetry a chance and understanding comes in different forms. We can understand things emotionally, structurally, or musically. Any of those modes are valuable and I think it’s worth trying to understand.”

What do you see in the future for you? Any other works we should expect to see soon?
I’m working on finishing a second book of poems and I’m also working on a website with one of my research students. The website is a tool kit for anyone that wants to run a writing group in a women’s halfway-house prison and rehab. Anyone in the nation who is working in a women’s prison will be able to download this tool kit, which contains exercises, ways to run the group, and how to print work. Lastly, I’m running a writing circle at the Trust House downtown to reach out to the homeless. I’m looking forward to publishing some of their writings soon.”

Any advice for other artists?
I would say read, read, read, don’t quit writing, and never stop learning. Let the world and people teach you. Stay open and pay attention.”

Written by Kathleen Duffy