James Fenimore Cooper, Last of the Mohicans, & Angie’s Distant Cousin
Fenimores are writers. We are inventors, artists, designers, and dreamers. And we are bipolar. Not all of us, of course, but certainly a disproportionate swathe of us caught those genes. Like all creators, we are compelled. We can do nothing about it. Like all writers, there is an itch in our fingers that drives prose from our heads to the page. I spent my summers as a little girl tinkering with my father in the garage, either working on his bike or in my teen years working gold and silver making lost-cast jewelry. He actually invented a way to make toupees so that the hairline disappeared. Not his most practical project, in my opinion. He even invented vice-grips. When he wasn’t forging jet engine, he was brooding, and trimming lyric, or fashioning literary genius. When my father passed and my sister and I sifted through our family’s treasures, we discovered a satchel filled with his poetry and patents. Why I’m not a trust-fund baby, I have no idea.
It was the natural thing then for me to scribe the details of my near-death experience when I survived a suicide attempt in 1991. That was quite a how-do-you-do to the world of publishing. Instead of going on my book tour, I hid out, took my kids to soccer and washed dishes–until I got my first piece of fan mail. What I learned in short order is that we’re all just doing life. My father hid out in the garage with his demons, dumped their ramblings into yellow notepads. Some of us just dress up our trials, paint on our masks with better precision than others. I also learned to view my life and my experience of life in third-person omniscient. “This too shall pass” became more than a trite remedy, but rather a powerful place to stand in midst of depressive episodes. My written words could then be carried on the current of those hard times. It wasn’t until I was a successful author that I stopped resisting and succumbed to the call to write.
Angie, her father Jerry K. Fenimore, his bike, and his toupee
Thus began my introduction to writers’ conferences and the disempowering context that writers dwell in, fraught words like “rejection” and “critique.” I would inevitably wind up in the wrong classes, filled with information that I could find at my local bookstore, too embarrassed to stand up and find a class that might be a better fit. Doing it backward, finding success and then developing my craft served me well.
For me, menopause brought relief from bipolar episodes. Menopause also brought a hefty dose of unflappability. And, do not be mistaken, the kind of Hakuna Matada that I now enjoy is a super-power. You could say I have a wealth of organizational, teaching, hospitality, and making-$#*!-happen-on-a-dime skills. Nothing really gets under my skin for long. If you are going to divorce the boss and venture out on your own, you’ve must master the patience factor. I’ve also been divorced (from husbands) enough times to have finally seen that I’m the common denominator. What does all of this have to do with writing, in particular, with submitting work to agents and publishers? After a couple rejections, it really doesn’t work to say, “It’s you, not me.” More about that later.
What does all of this have to do with writing, in particular, with submitting work to agents and publishers? After a couple rejections, it really doesn’t work to say, “It’s you, not me.” More about that later.
Beyond the Darkness, Anniversary Edition
When my 4th marriage crumbled several years ago, I still hadn’t done the math. I had uprooted my brood and moved them all to Utah to marry this guy. I’d left a secure job doing night audit with a promotion in the works; a job that provided plenty of writing time. I lost my house, my car, had pre-schoolers at home and had to figure out life–again–from rock bottom. The kids and I moved into one bedroom in the tiny home of my writing partner. Even though we had a roof over our head, I felt like the rug had been ripped out from beneath us. One question pricked at me, settled in and kept me awake: Why is life so unfair? And not just my life, but why is life unfair for billions of people. Even as a near-death experiencer, that life is inequitable for so many didn’t make sense to me. I couldn’t get my head around the state of my life, and the state of the world. In that space of despair, I was struck by a thought, one that changed everything.
Beyond the Darkness, by Angie Fenimore; Bantam, Simon & Schuster UK, & Pocket Books
Being upset that life isn’t fair is like being upset that apples aren’t blue. Apples aren’t blue, and life isn’t fair. Fairness isn’t a condition of this life. The epiphany gave rise to a new question: What difference can I make while my heart still beats? Who am I going to be in the face of “life isn’t fair.” For every inequity, there is also an opportunity to serve.
I was able to dedicate seven months to writing my writing partner’s powerful story of healing, of becoming powerful in the face of impossible circumstances.
When I could finally see that I was choosing the same man in different skin and that I was the source of my unhappy world, I also saw the source of my unfortunate choices. The ugly truth was that I wanted to avoid responsibility. I always ended up with men with some kind of unforgivable character flaw lurking beneath the surface so that if he decided he was doing the decorating, I could conjure the demon within him and check out of that marriage, end it, all with the approval of friends, family, clergy, God, Himself. In my skewed equation, that meant that I was not responsible: he was. Every time.
Years after that divorce, I was able to finally acknowledge that I saw the red flags and I said “I do” anyway. I grew weary of all the drama and stayed single for almost 10 years. I also grew weary of dropping a wad of dough to fly out to NYC or LA for 10 minutes of value; connecting with agents, publishers, and other writers. When the restaurant group I worked for was going under, I also saw that writing on the wall. I was tired; sick and tired of spending my life on other people’s problems instead of dedicating my time and energy to the love of my life; writing. I might be able to write ten more books in my lifetime that forward change on our planet. Or I could empower thousands of others to write ten books in their lifetime that inspire us to end war, end poverty, hunger, violence and every other depravity. I ran the HR department, I laid myself off and pooled my skills, my commitment, and my hope for our world to create Calliope Writing Coach.
Angie’s husband & business partner Michael Sheen at the SLC “Compel, Polish, Pitch & Sign” WRITERS’ CONFERENCE
It was only then that the man of my dreams walked into my life…well, walked back into my life. I’d known Michael for 10 years. But we were both married to different people at the time. And we didn’t know each other well enough to see that we were both dedicated to the same vision of a planet that works for everyone. We became business partners before we fell in love. Now, writing takes second only to the true love of my life. Now that I take responsibility for my life, including traffic and weather, I can be responsible for whether I have a sad or exquisite marriage. Michael can be nothing less than amazing. And I can be responsible for all kinds of things. Like, does this book premise work? Did I do my job to engage my audience? I can be responsible for agent and publisher feedback. Responsibility isn’t a matter of fault or blame to be divvied out in fractions of a whole. Responsibility is a matter of POV.
Ciao for now,
Welcome to Calliope Writes. I’m Angie Fenimore, international bestselling author, the creator behind Calliope Writing Coach, and the co-host of the Calliope Writing Coach Podcast with my extraordinary husband, Michael.
Before I retired from doing the 9-to-5, and other soul-ripping unpleasantness to finally write full time, I ran HR departments and organized large events in the high-end restaurant and hospitality industries. While that sounds pretty official, I’ve also sculpted bins of gelato into frozen roses, and waves, and rather generic flourishes, and peddled the stuff in a faux Italian sandwich shop. As a hotel night auditor, I’ve been known to clean other people’s cigarette butts out of ash cans, shew badgers out of the lobby, and cut new room keys for sleepwalking, naked guests. And as an Uber driver, I’ve shuttled some of Salt Lake’s most interesting, and most drunk folks around our fair city. I once provided a 2 a.m. ride to a man who thanked me (and gave me a $5 tip) because I smelled like a Mexican brothel. True story. More about that in a future post.
On a more official, and inspiring note, I’ve programmed film festivals and served on the organizational ground floor of worldwide events to forward conversations for peace, social justice, and environmental responsibility. I excelled in leading transformational trainings for Landmark Worldwide, the global leader in personal and professional development and I’m proud to have contributed to the success of TV show creators, NYT bestselling authors and political leaders committed to integrity.
Photo Credit: Emily London Portraits www.EmilyLondonPotraits.com
As a self-proclaimed writers’ conference junkie of 20+ years, I finally forged my wealth of experience, (having landed 6-figure book deals with the Big-5 and having signed with top literary agents) with my writing talent, to create the highly successful Calliope Writing Coach writers’ conferences, live and online courses, private coaching and the Calliope Inner Circle, mastermind writing coaching. I train participants and clients to wake up their natural ability to hear compelling story structure, to craft effective pitches and to dismantle their barriers to writing and publishing success. I provide tools that transform every writer’s experience of self-promotion, writer’s block, and the creative process. Literary agents, managing editors for publishing houses and best-selling authors rave about my talent for simplifying the art and science behind writing and publishing success.
Calliope Writing Coach is for writers of every genre, at every skill level and at every stage of manuscript completion. Better than 95% of our participants receive manuscript submission requests out of the conferences. In short, I have the sacred privilege of serving as midwife to important books and inspiring new voices.
I like my science. I’ve always been as fascinated by the underpinnings as I am dazzled by the shiny coat. Naturally, I would reverse engineer the creative process like I have every other facet of compelling storytelling so that it can be scaled, mass produced by every writer, and so the formula disappears like Michelangelo’s perfect composition in the Sistine Chapel. Even so, I must also run out into the rain with my bucket when there is a downpour of inspiration just like every other writer.
Michael Sheen, Author Brand & Platform Designer, & Podcast Host Extraordinaire
For me, that happens at about 2 a.m. when my husband is stroking my hair in the dark, patiently trying to coax me to sleep. Tonight, he made me say it out loud, “My ideas will not disappear. They’ll be better in the morning.” He’s probably right. He’s usually right. Still, those fireflies zinging through my brain wouldn’t sleep even if I could. I finally slipped out from beneath his arm and left him snoring in bed so I could write my About Page content in the witching hour.
That said, here’s my promise for when I’ll turn out a new post. You can expect a bleary-eyed rant about the writing world or a brilliant, empowering composition at least once in a week. Along with my promise, I’m extending an invitation. Think wedding invitation. You know, like a real invitation. I think we often hear an invitation like a sales pitch. Since I’m not selling you anything here, and since it’s going to be a party, this is clearly an invitation.
Jill Fenimore, Angie’s badass mom
So, maybe not like a wedding invite since I don’t expect you to go out and buy me a blender. More like a gathering of amateur (which roughly defined means born of love rather than work) acoustic guitarists at a Beverly Hills “hoot,” (what amateur acoustic guitarists in L.A. call their open mic, play-a-long potlucks. I only know that because this is my mother’s passion. And you should know, she’s been playing my whole life and always places at the Topanga Folk Festival.) I digress. Please accept my invitation to subscribe. Okay, maybe not like a wedding invite, or an invite to a posh Bev Hills hoot, but more like “think-tank meets slumber party.” Join me. And hang on for the ride.
You can find out more about Calliope Writing Coach and upcoming courses on my website. You can also join the Calliope Writing Coach Facebook Group for all kinds of writing inspiration and to interact with other writers. If you want to follow my posts you can like my Facebook Page and follow me on Twitter. My husband Michael, who is an author brand and platform designer, and I co-host The Calliope Writing Coach Podcast where we interview best-selling authors, acquisitions editors, entrepreneurial giants, social media gone-viral wizards, and other experts in the world of writing and publishing. We aim to educate, empower, and entertain.
Superstars like Chris Brogan, author of 9 books, NYT Best Selling Author, granddaddy of blogging; John Lee Dumas, EOFire podcaster, creator of The Freedom Journal and The Mastery Journal, and Kickstarter King; and Dan Clark, author of 34 books, NYT Best Selling Author, author of Chicken Soup for the Soul books, Speaker’s Hall of Fame, have interviewed with us. We address the issues that seasoned and aspiring authors face in this raucous show.
And lastly, here’s the blog post where I explain why I blog, or more accurately, why it took me so long to get on this horse. Hint: It’s not my fear of horses. Click here to subscribe to Calliope Writes Blog. I look forward to supporting you in your writing and publishing success.
Ciao for now,
Daughter of Zeus, Muse of Epic Poetry
Firstly, you need to know; why Calliope? Truth be told it all began with a branding fiasco. I felt inspired as if God Himself spilled lighting inspiration upon me and blessed me with the name: The Writing Whisperer. Apparently, I wasn’t the first to have that stroke of genius. And she had for the foresight to trademark the name.
After graciously removing all references to myself as such, I received a kind note from the original Writing Whisperer. Never before had she delivered a cease and desist to a nicer, more respectful thief. She didn’t actually call me names. I just felt like a cad. Even if just through email, we parted friends. Still, I had already run my first writing workshop under the name. I had landed spots on TV and radio shows, and in newspapers. I pecked away on my Mac trying to conjure a new name; one bad idea after another. And my next workshop was already underway. I needed a new name. And if the writing Gods weren’t going to provide, I knew who would.
My sister has been my official editor for a couple of decades. As a respected L.A. court reporter, she knows correct grammar like nobody else. Of course, Toni’s been my unofficial editor since early elementary school when it became apparent that she got the book smarts and I got the whimsy. She’s also my unofficial therapist since every writer needs emotional support. It is somewhat dichotomous since I usually need a good therapy session after an editing session.
I recall one particularly hellish editing episode. Toni is as committed to impeccability as am I. We’d been red-lining and arguing between the creative and the correct for hours when I burst into tears. “Ah, honey. What’s the matter?” she asked.
Angie & Toni, The Fenimore Girls
“It’s the commas,” I sobbed into the phone. “I just don’t know where they go anymore.”
The thing about Toni is that she also has a great ear for story structure, development, great dialogue, tension, pacing, voice–all of it. She also knows a great hook. I called Toni. We brainstormed for hours, little morsels of genius hidden just behind our tongues. Finally, I asked her: what exactly is it that I provide? If it isn’t downright genius whispered into the anxious hearts of aspiring authors, what is it? I actually don’t remember the thread we followed that led us to Calliope, but like all genius, we knew we’d arrived.
I looked it up. Calliope: a keyboard instrument resembling an organ but with the notes produced by steam whistles, used chiefly on showboats and in traveling fairs. From Wikipedia: Daughter of Zeus, the muse who presided over eloquence and epic poetry; so called from the ecstatic harmony of her voice and is believed to be Homer’s muse for the Iliad and the Odyssey. She is spoken of by Ovid, as the “Chief of all Muses.” Oh, yeah. That was it.
The more we massaged the name, the more clear it all became. I don’t actually feed my own words to writers as whispering implies; quite the opposite. I show them the mirror. They find their own genius rather than relying upon mine, or anybody else’s, for that matter. My writers don’t just gasp with delight looking on from audience the when they see the magic, like the magician, they master the coin with their own nimble fingers. Thus was born The Calliope Writing Coach–and yet another branding fiasco. More about that in a future blog post.
Ciao for now,
There’s what’s true, like really true, and then there’s the right answer. I should probably tell you that I started the Calliope Writes Blog because I’ve designed tools and dialed-in hacks that any aspiring writer can use to elevate performance at the speed of light. Which is true. And I should tell you that I’m all about empowering and educating writers to find writing and publishing success. Which is also true. And those are the right answers. Here’s the thing. While they may be my true north, my why, it’s not why I got off the fence and actually put up a blog.
When my husband Michael said, “Hey, Ang. You should blog,”
I said, “Yeah, I should do that.” Then I didn’t. And I hoped he would forget all about that blogging idea thing. As an author brand and platform designer, Michael is full of excellent ideas for creating free content. Thank the heavens. It wasn’t terribly long before he presented me with another idea.
When he said, “Hey, we should create a podcast,”
I said, “I’m so down with that. Then I don’t have to blog,” which is a really weird thing for a writer, let alone a writing coach to say. That I had a strange aversion to blogging wasn’t like some terrible secret I was hiding from him. I simply could not for the life of me produce a reasonable explanation for my disdain.
It was like my fear of eating shrimp and chicken. I can’t tell you why I love crab cakes and lobster, but I can’t eat chicken unless someone else cooks it, and nobody talks about meat of any kind at the dinner table…or anywhere, ever. And shrimp? Forget it. It’s a texture thing. And that vein that runs down the middle of the little creatures. I do know why I have issues with chicken and meat, I just don’t know why I can eat crab cakes and lobster, the two crustaceans that should most scare the daylights out of me given the wires that got crossed in my brain when I was four years old.
I was biting my nails. Actually, I had chewed my fingernails down to nothing and was working away at a hangnail when my mother said, “You know, Ang,” pointing to the meaty part of her thumb, “there are cannibal colonies that consider this part of the thumb to be a delicacy.” I was cooked. Chicken legs, baby arms, it all looks the same to me. Since crabs and lobsters are basically gigantic spiders, you’d think I’d have a problem putting them in my mouth too.
Josh Rossi, Insanely Talented Commercial Photographer
When Josh Rossi, the commercial photographer who did the shoots with his 3-year-old daughter Nellie as Wonder Woman and re-enacting Beauty and The Beast that were picked up by People, Huffington Post, Business Insider, and dozens of other news outlets, and racked up over 100 million views, who is my marketing coach said, “Hey, Ang. You need to blog. Really.”
I said, “How ‘bout I video blog instead?” I could almost see Josh scratching his head…through the phone…all the way in Puerto Rico. I’m Josh’s writing coach. He’d tell you that I’m brilliant. Enlightened. That when it comes to writing coaching, I’ve dialed it in. Why wouldn’t I use that medium to share my vision, share the wealth?
Nellee, Josh Rossi’s Super-Daughter
Stay with me here. I promise I come all the way back around.
Michael says I have two modes when it comes to cleaning. Crazy OCD and complete slob. I have little tolerance for the in-between. When it comes to housekeeping, this little disorder of mine serves me since I have eight kids and grandkids at home. My oldest son is in the nursing program at the University of Utah and his entire brood moved in so he could finish school. Popsicles melted into the couch, raisins mashed into the carpet, no big deal. In fact, when I introduce myself when I speak, after I roll out my cred, I say, “And, I’m a mom and a grandmama. Let me tell you the difference between the two. I’d run into a burning building to save any one of them. But my grandbabies? They can smear poo on the wall and it’s just cute. Look she’s an artist…just like her grandmama!”
There are plenty of things that we can all agree are completely disgusting that I don’t have a problem with. Popping zits, for instance. On my 40th birthday, my teenagers and all of their friends, 40 of them to be exact, took me out for hamburgers, (which I ate without any revulsion
Josh & Nellee Re-enacting Beauty & the Beast
whatsoever,) and took turns sitting next to me so I could squeeze their pimples. I recently watched hours of blackheads being pinched from noses and cheeks and chins on YouTube instead of sleeping. Seriously. I did that.
So why can I chew living flesh from my own cuticles, or pop pimples on loved ones and yet the idea of eating a chicken leg repulses me to the degree that after writing this article I won’t be able to eat chicken for a month? How come carrying a baby in my womb occurs to me like a miracle and chicken in my stomach occurs to me as nauseating? What’s the difference?
And why do I seek out crab cakes on every menu and yet one scrawny shrimp on my plate will ignite a mini PTSD episode? Why do I move a lamp a quarter of an inch or carefully pick one hair out of the carpet when the house is clean, and I can ignore piles of dishes when the house is a wreck. And why can I pound out a 120K narrative nonfiction words for a manuscript, or co-host a podcast, or record a Facebook Live, or speak to thousands and just the thought of blogging sends me reeling?
Chris Brogan, Very Cool Human Being
Photo Credit: Vendela Media
When Michael and I interviewed Chris Brogan, the granddaddy of blogging, author of something like nine books, NYT Best Selling Author on our podcast and he said, “Hey, Ang. You should blog. Really,” I finally came out. I’m Dyslexic. And I’m terrified.
I know it sounds crazy, but it’s not. The context in which an idea, a thought, or a fear exists is everything. And we all do it. We all resist that which does not exist for us inside of an empowering context. The same baseball being pitched at 100 miles per hour can occur for one person like something to swing at, to smack across a packed stadium, to sail it into the stands, and it can occur for another person, like me, for example, as something that would likely put me in a coma, if not end my life. If that ball was headed toward me in the stands? I would run the other way. It’s all about how the thing occurs, for the individual, what it means to that person.
Blogging, and shrimp, and chicken are not the problem for me. My fears lie in how those things occur for me. Shrimp occurs as low tide crap, something to throw back into the ocean. Chicken legs occur like baby arms, or a delicacy in some cannibal colonies. And blogging occurs as a supreme opportunity to screw up.
Dyslexia wasn’t even the real reason I resisted blogging. That was the surface excuse, the trump card I could pull out that everyone else would buy. They’d let me off the hook. Dyslexia is actually my brilliance. The ability to see writing, story structure, plotting, characters in 3-D, to walk all the way around a story and reverse engineer that masterpiece is my gift. Einstein said he would fly with the atoms. He was also Dyslexic. Many of our visionaries are.
It was really the immediacy of blogging that scared me. There wouldn’t be twenty revisions, or an editor checking for mistakes. I’d be writing naked. (Well, in my pajamas.) Without a net. What if I do that thing I do where I write ridiculously long, esoteric sentences full of non-sequiturs and nobody understands what I’m trying to say? What if I run out of things to say? What if nobody reads it? What if they don’t like me? Surface excuses to hide my real fear.
The real reason I would rather eat a shrimp or a chicken leg than blog? What if there’s a typo?
You can even listen to that interview with Chris and hear that moment when all the tumblers clicked into place and I saw the absurdity. So, I could say that I blog because Michael, and Josh Rossi, and Chris Brogan said I should, but the true reason that I blog is this: why on Earth would I let a fear of typos, and all that a writing mistake means to me, get in the way of serving writers who have important stories to share?
Like I tell my students; be afraid. Be very afraid. And do it anyway.
Ciao for now,