Tuesday, August 23, 2016

Writing Trough the Hard & Dry Patches

There is a  of video showing Ellen DeGeneres crying at the intro to her (otherwise upbeat) talk show, saying that “today is a bad day.” She tells her audience that she’s been asked how she can go on when she’s sad.
Some days, some weeks, some months, are just like that. The show must go on.  Ellen did.

For us, functioning on a less glamourous plane, this state is still familiar. What to do when there is no contract, no deadline set, and no external reason to go on? Creative folks have all encountered this. I sure have.

I've heard writers tell others to go for a walk, or set a manuscript aside for a time, or do something nice for themselves. Some swear by chocolate. Coffee works better for me. But then, I start my good days with it anyway.

Some think talk therapy is part of the answer, and there are therapists who specialize in plowing through and out of creative dry spells. I never had the budget for such, but I wouldn’t hesitate if I had.

There’s a third way, and it’s the only one that has worked for me. I call it “write anyway.” I have also told progeny, when they hit a wall, that you only know how to get out of a ditch by actually climbing out, a.k.a. doing it.

Something about grinding the wheels and suspending the critic inside (and the sabotaging voices outside) while creating, has been therapeutic for me.
It doesn’t actually matter that the results are not golden, the process is.

You’re back in it, and the stalled engine is starting to rev up.
 Vroom--- vroom, go!

Tuesday, August 16, 2016

The Nest… Never Know What’s/Who’s in It

Allow me this frivolous empty-headed meditation on the empty nester in summer.


It is summer, and the heat makes me lose more than a few IQ points. Summer also means that my kids, not quite children but not quite adults, (though technically they can vote and sign documents, but that’s another thing) come and go. I frankly don’t know from one day to the next “who’s for dinner.”

When they were really kids, and really lived here, it was “what’s for dinner.” Things change. But only slightly.

One thing that hasn’t changed is the notion that Mom can be interrupted at any time, because she is, y’know, MOM.

Not conducive to meditation, drafting, or any task that requires earnest focus. Heat doesn’t help, either.

In other words, these days should be cherished and respected for what they are good for.

Like—



And taking a brain break.

Tuesday, August 9, 2016

Was I LUCKY?

In the middle of June, I was a victim of crime.
It happened like this:
Before eight, still in my nightgown, the doorbell rang. I peeked through the curtain in my room to see a tall, burly, African American man, wearing a dark hoodie and holding a brick in his hand. I realize it reads like a bad-dude cliche, but I tell it as it was. I went to get DH up from his downstairs office. Something about the doorbell ringer felt “wrong,” somehow. 

Before DH had a chance to even stand up, BOOM! —a loud thud, the house shook, and the door upstairs was kicked-in.

I, always leery of guns, said, “he’s IN,”  and then I added, “get the gun!”
 DH managed to get his gun and run upstairs as loudly as he could. I heard a scuttle. I called 911. I let them know it was ongoing.

I was too scared to go upstairs, but when DH came down they had run away. (I only saw one, but DH confronted two.) The first was in our bedroom, and ran out with “something.” Only after the police arrived (within minutes) I realized the burglar had taken my pocket book.

They escaped in a car that was waiting for them downstairs, a Subaru-like gold or gray SUV with a sunroof.

I have alerted the bank, and the credit bureaus, and something called ChexSystems. (This last one recommended by my bank.) All accounts were closed. As they took all my seeing glasses, (those were in my pocketbook) I couldn’t drive until I had an exam and glasses made. My address book with many addresses that I still wonder how to retrieve, was also in the robbers’ possession. Not that they can get much from it. Some of the people in it are not living anymore. It was that old.

Weeks later, we were notified by a check-cashing service that someone tried to cash one of my (by then canceled and account closed) checks. They provided a phone number where someone pretending to be me said she indeed wrote that check. They have the crook on camera. The police have a detective on the case.
These criminals are not just brutes, they’re not very smart. In the end they got nothing they could use.

I have had friends and neighbors tell me we were lucky. It could have been so much worse. That brick could have been used to bash my head. They could have gotten more stuff. They could have had a gun.

So why do I feel so unlucky?

Too many people are victims. As I shared the story with dear friends, they opened up about their brushes with brutality. We made jokes about the difference between outlaws and in-laws. You know, the first burst in and leave quickly, the second burst in and… you get it.

Suggestion: do not tell crime victims they were lucky. It is well-meant, but let time convey this, seeping in as all experiences that awaken us will do.


The physical damage is relatively light. The emotional will take time to absorb. It took me almost two months to write this post.

Tuesday, August 2, 2016

August Days

Nothing much happens in August.

August is when the Parisians leave Paris for calmer grounds.
August is when the well-heeled English go to the country to do little other than drink gin-fizz.
August is when school children sit by the lake and learn to throw stones that will skip the water’s surface. Any other learning will wait.


August is HOT.
I remember coming for a family visit to Israel in the summer of 2005. I was greeted by my sister at the airport, and her second sentence was, “you have a lot of courage to come in August.”


It was hot.


So, dear ones—let your minds rest, let your feet up, and keep the chocolate in the fridge. Don’t struggle; let August be August.


 It’s what it is, and then it’s over.




Tuesday, July 26, 2016

WHY Won’t They Publish…?

There are a lot of websites and blogs that offer nice checklists to go through and make certain a manuscript is ready for submission or publication. Just internet-search any variation of this post’s title, and you’ll be amazed. Help is there.

The thing is-- none of these checklists, handy-dandy though they be, really tells you if your offering will get published. You may go through these point by point and remain frustrated.

Here's a typical, and sensible, list to consider:

*Is the story properly classified? Have you submitted to the right publishers/agents? Check/Check

*Have you taken care of typos and other pesky technical things? Check

*Is the premise unique? Check

*Is the premise not so unique that no one knows what to make of it? Check

*Are the stakes high enough? The plot riveting enough? The characters engaging enough? Check/Check/Check

*Have you run it by good readers who would tell you the truth? Check

And so on, and so forth. Now what?
---


I don’t have the answer. But the single thing I find most helpful, inspiring and encouraging— is go to my local bookstore. (Yup, I’m lucky to still have many nearby.) There, I read recently published books aimed at the same readers I am working for.
© By Karla Gudeon

Inspiring, because the level is generally high and the examples push me to excel. Encouraging, because some of the books are not nearly as good as they could be, and I believe I can do as well or better. Helpful, because the best checklist is to simply read good books that made the bar, and try to understand why.


Tuesday, July 19, 2016

The Pesky Typo…

…and the Homophone that Snuck by L


Despite having been read and re-read by the author (me) too many times to count, and three beta readers, (one of them a retired editor) and three editors at the publishing house, there is a misspelling in one of my published books.  Nope, not telling where or what. But it served to remind me that only G-d is perfect.
I found a list of the most common typos, and you might recognize one or more as your recurrent oopsies. —
 https://www.onlinewritingjobs.com/writing-tips/the-most-common-typos-your-ultimate-guide/
My no. #1 is in there. Even if I tried to post anonymously, I’d be recognized by it. For reasons only G-d knows, my “from” always insists on appearing as a “form.” Is this a neurological hick-up? I can’t rightly say. But, fortunately, it’s one I catch in proofreading. Well, most of the time.

The excellent advice to read out loud when proofing does not help with homophones. If anything, it tends to push them deeper into the basket. It sounds all right, and, phew, it must be.
Na-ah.
Case in point: I scoured my current WIP. Then it was read by three beta readers, one of them an editor. It was the fourth reader who caught this one: BROACH and BROOCH are not the same thing. The first is a verb and the second, which is the one I intended, is an old-fashioned piece of jewelry often worn on a woman’s lapel.

OUCH. I just got stung by the pin of a brooch.
And I also witnessed, again, the elusiveness of perfection.

Tuesday, July 12, 2016

THE WAY WE WERE

memories…
light the corners of my mind…


A  few weeks ago, reunion fever spread amongst my classmates. I’m talking about my high school class, my youth-movement group, and my old scout troop. I don’t recall large get-togethers in previous decades. All at once, there was a “come-now-or-miss-this-once-in-a-lifetime-event” sentiment.




I grew up half a world away, and managing a trip was not to be. But this electronic and global age has a solution for this. Internet video-chat, sharing photos, and instant communication anytime/anywhere, bridge time-zone differences that turn night into day. Unlike me, some made the actual voyage back to Jerusalem, and the parties went on throughout the month of June.

But for all the merriment, there was a troubling aspect: familiar names I couldn’t quite place, and aged-faces that drew a blank. I am certain my name and face was a blank for some.

I started wondering about the corners of my mind.

Then I got a few urgent (if embarrassed) emails from old friends I have kept in touch with. They needed my help to remember others. I actually remembered at least as much as they had, maybe more.  

It wasn’t early dementia setting in, it was the ephemeral aspect of memory, that store-if-you-need-it-for-later, and then lose-it-if-you-didn’t-use-it.

Seeing images of the faces from our youth, all was restored. I just had to join names to the young faces, and then attach them to the faces of today.


This got me thinking about how I write characters and their memories. In fiction, people remember a whole lot. It’s a device necessary to convey back-story or make sense of a plot. But I now see how unrealistic it is.

What I once considered to be fantasy, The Bourne Identity, where a character with a partially-erased and fractured memory is globe-trotting in search of who he is, turns out to be closer to reality than the standard realistic stories I thought I was writing.



Misty water color memories of the way we were
Scattered pictures of the smiles we left behind…


Tuesday, July 5, 2016

Real Independence

Now that we have just marked our nation’s 240th year of independence, I got to thinking about what it means. Not only the national, but the personal. What does it take to rightfully call oneself independent?
 
There’s independence of thought. How influenced am I by the current winds?
There’s independence of action. Do I do what others think I should?
There’s independence of the sacred inner-self. Have I sold out?
 
I’m inclined to see myself as rather dependent on many things. Inter-dependent is probably the way to describe it. True independence requires clear vision and immense courage.
While I am too proud, too stubborn, and too quick to opine, all these negatives are remnants of what streak of independence has not been squashed.
We celebrate “independence,” but do we mean it? Do we really celebrate it?
I’ll think about it not only today, but the next time I witness real courage. This is what flying the flag will mean to me, and this is what the national anthem will stand for; after a long battle, our flag was still there.
May your flag still be there.

Tuesday, June 28, 2016

About Author Branding

The world of commerce pushes brands. Now, I hear, we must even brand ourselves if we want to make it in any arena.
If you haven’t heard of author branding— don’t believe me. Just internet-search these two words. We are no longer artistic vehicles for good literature; we must write and continue to write the same kind of stories. Or, put another way, we can write what we want, but being successful depends on writing the same sort of material.
We’ve heard of actors lamenting they are offered the same sort of role over and over. Some famous authors say they are deemed capable of one genre only, and we chuckle at these poor successful souls who have what many desire: success in an impossibly competitive field. But at the same time, we shudder at the rigid educational tracking of a child, or the stereotyping of a person by race, or the judging of an individual by nationality. Now that is just awful. Right?
Fact: In 1900, L. Frank Baum published two books: The Wonderful Wizard of Oz and The Art of Decorating Dry Goods Windows and Interiors. Yup, the very same L. Frank Baum. Good thing he didn’t know about branding.
 

Tuesday, June 21, 2016

This Way—NO—That Way

What to do when trusted critics give advice that contradicts your sense? Anyone who’s ever asked for opinion on their work has been there.
Early on in my writing for publication I turned down an offer to revise and re-submit from a small publisher. Reason? They wanted a different ending to the story. A perfect and happy hanky-dory ending didn’t suit the story, I thought. It wound up being published by another publisher who asked for revisions, but saw the merit of the ending as it was.
Although I don’t regret staying with my vision then, I would do it differently now. This is how I approach revision suggestions today: I try it.
It’s painful and even feels wrong at times. But I have learned that trying to re-fashion per others’ suggestions is never a waste.
Best case scenario: you love the results.
 
Worst case scenario: you, and maybe even the suggester, wind up agreeing the re-direction was a dud. I have learned a lot about my stories when revising, even with clenched teeth.
 
 
Most likely it will be some combination. But like the Green Eggs and Ham fellow, you will know a whole lot more if you try it.
 

 

Tuesday, June 14, 2016

Teach Our Children Well

On this day, June 14, in the year 1642, the first compulsory education law in America passed by Massachusetts.
There are some amongst us who believe the laws should not interfere with parental choices, or that our government should not be invested in general education of the young, but they are outliers. Most of us recognize that the difference to all our lives, and the future of our societies, lies in support of education. Some of it must be done communally.
Let’s put it this way: without compulsory public education, communally supported, we will find ourselves where some third world countries are: parents paying daily to send their young to be schooled, and if one week the family’s short of puls (Afghani pennies) or Tambalas (Malawi pennies) – children must stay home that week.
Private education should always be a choice, just as we strive to make the public education as good as we can. But leaving it to the whim and sometimes meager pocketbook of parents should not be an option.
Obviously we who write, and cannot imagine a full life that doesn’t include reading, want a society that values this.
So today calls for a celebration. This day three-hundred and seventy-four years ago, (let me think… that’s eighteen score and seven years ago. Now doesn’t that sound learned?) some of our nation’s founders, before there was even a notion of becoming a nation, started us on the road to something truly grand.

So as the summer vacation starts all over the land, we rejoice that there is what to have a vacation from.

Tuesday, June 7, 2016

Why We Write*

*--Otherwise known as the other Big W Question

I’m re-reading a lovely collection of successful writers’ accounts, called WHY WE WRITE. It serves as a nice break between revisions, and for some reason I believe I deserve a break.
 

I enjoy the take of these incredibly talented and phenomenally successful folks on why and how they do what they do. From my humble perch, I recognize the process, and feel closer to some than to others.

It was something Armistead Maupin said about the “why” that struck not only a nerve, but turned the light switch to illuminate, at least for me. I quote:

I write to explain myself to myself. It’s a way of processing my disasters, sorting out the messiness of life to lend symmetry and meaning to it.”

Life’s journey is understood in stories. In fiction we can organize the twists, and make the hairpin turns be more than pointless moments of extreme anxiety, but part of the whole. Everything fits, all for a reason, and endurance is heroic.

I also love that Maupin used the word symmetry. I’m a sucker for symmetry. I had spent many years working with traditional textiles, and getting comfort from their use of symmetry.


18th Century embroidery from Karabagh



I have a writing friend who is a master puzzle-maker. Puzzles work this way as well; everything fits, and one thing ties to another. The anxiety of solving a puzzle, persevering while mulling the clues, can be exasperating. But in the end every square is filled, everything in place, and, to use a famous quotation from Robert Browning—

God’s in his heaven, all’s right with the world.

Tuesday, May 31, 2016

A House Divided

You won’t find me making many, or any, political statements. Once I passed my younger youth, I no longer found sustenance in that arena, nor much deep wisdom in political discourse.  I’d go as far as to say that I watched good people become unkind and even senseless when they took to the barricades.
Unless you count love of country, you won’t get me clicking on likes or re-tweeting statements from politicos. They’ll have to have their revolutions without me.
But this is the season here in the U.S.A. So my one forage into the minefields is to suggest the absurdity of a statement I keep hearing variation of from many directions: “The country had never been more divided.”

HEHHH? We had a civil war, people!

In the Civil War of the 1860s-- 2% of Americans died. That would be the equivalent of six and a half million people today. That’s not counting the maimed, or the homes destroyed and the fields burned.
 
And the vitriol that is hurled with regularity every election cycle has, even in recent times, been more pungent. I suffer from many things, but amnesia isn’t one of them.

My only antidote is, in my personal and public conduct, to affect and maybe effect calm thoughtfulness.
We may have to wait until December for the next wave to pass.


Tuesday, May 24, 2016

WINNING and LOSING

Or—
Now, be Nice

In this election cycle, the word “win” and “lose” are ubiquitous. One of the candidates, in particular, is fond of framing the world in those terms.

This got me thinking about what feels like winning or losing to me.

In worldly terms it’s only a bit complicated. The only distinction that seems to require discernment has to do with relationships vs. material gains, and which brings the greater sense of achievement. Steve Jobs, nearing the end of his life, said this:

I have come to the pinnacle of success in business.
In the eyes of others, my life has been the symbol of success.
However, apart from work, I have little joy. Finally, my wealth is simply a fact to which I am accustomed.from work, I have little joy. Finally my wealth is simply a fact to which I am accustomed.
Please treasure your family love, love for your spouse, love for your friends...
Treat everyone well and stay friendly with your neighbours.
Please treasure your family love, love for your spouse, love for your friends…
Treat everyone well, and stay friendly with your neighbors.

At the end of his life, Aldous Huxley imparted this simple wisdom:
We should be nicer to one another.”

That does not take away the wish to win worldly prizes. But it puts it in some perspective.

It’s also empowering to sense that I can be a winner by my own choices, and what I can control.

Like I say to my cats when they swat at each other, “be nice.”
~NICE IS NO VICE~


Tuesday, May 17, 2016

Success by Blitz?

The question comes up now and then on kid-lit chat boards— when is it right to follow-up on a reply from an agent or editor, when the reply was a rejection?
 
It’s simpler than simple: when the rejection included an invitation to submit again, either a revision or other work. And then, ONLY if you made the revision per the suggestions, or the other work is at least as (or even more) right for this house or agency.
All other follow-ups are not welcome.
 
My agent has had to close her doors to unsolicited subs because people "followed-up," when not specifically invited to, with a barrage of "more work from me, since you were so nice" variation.
 

I confess that I’ve been guilty of this, with some too-nice editors, when I was a newbie. My excuse was that I didn’t know what I didn’t know. Specifically, I’ve never seen a slush-pile in person. They are so high they could hold the second story up like pillars, pushing up against the ceiling. I’ve never opened my Email to have a thousand emails pour in.

But that was then, and I’ve learned. By the time I started approaching agents, I knew better. No one got a follow-up unless they asked.
 
There are stories of success, in the uber-competitive professions, that involve unbridled blitzing. But, for the most part, these are urban legends. Mostly such have succeeded in closing the gates to self and others.
 
 
 
I know it’s hard to get in the door. If it were easy, everyone would have their starring role in a movie and their published novel. It’s hard, and discouraging, and if only…
 

 
Here’s the deal: life is better spent perfecting the craft, and following the golden rule. Worldly success may or may not follow, but one’s contribution to the general pot would have been good, regardless.
Save your wits—do not blitz
 

 

Tuesday, May 10, 2016

Social Connectivity

Connecting with others over our lifespan is good for us, the Happiness Study from Harvard had found.


Being rich and famous won’t make you happy or healthy. Having love and giving love will. It’s advice scriptures and counselors and grandmas have given from time immemorial.

You may be saying, DUH. You may be wondering why they needed to spend $$ and sixty years of an ongoing study to find this out. You may be sulking that you did not get this wisdom from the previous generations in your family.


The thing is, it’s still the honest truth.

The other thing is that today is the first day of the rest of your life.


If you only have fifteen spare minutes today, watch this TED talk about this extraordinary study of The Good Life—


If you can’t spare fifteen, call a dear friend and make up a time to get together. 

The good life is possible as long as you live. Don’t spend another minute reading this blog, unless, of course, it makes you feel more connected.

That’s all I ever hoped for, writing it.

Monday, May 2, 2016

Don’t Over-protect Your Characters



The title of this post is also a post-it I have over my computer. Reminder to self.


In my first chapter book story, written with the hope to publish, the main character dealt with such challenging issues as wondering how to make others hear him, how to accept less than perfect days, and how to accept a new sibling. All this he did while his loving and supportive family was both nurturing and helpful. The boy had the childhood we all wished we had, and wish with all our might we have the wisdom to give to our children.

I think I wanted to wrap him in a warm and fluffy blanket and keep him from harm. No wonder this story was a non-starter as far as the publishing world goes.

You think I might have been over-protective?


It took me a while to allow my characters, a.k.a. my fictional children, to get into deep trouble. The kind of trouble I would hope my real-life children never will.

And then, of course, the characters find a way out of the bind. It could be they defeat some evil, solve an urgent practical problem, or accept a difficult aspect of life internally. But they had to be in deep doodoo to begin with. It was hard.

I’m still working on it. I know I’ve made progress because one beta reader asked me recently why the antagonists in my story had to be so awful. Couldn’t they be, well, more reasonable? I explained that they could, but then there isn’t any story to tell.

Editors sometimes refer to this as “raising the stakes.” Don’t fear it, face it, and the readers will have a chance to do the same.

Tuesday, April 26, 2016

Kosher for Passover Lesson

This being Passover, or Pesach of the Jewish year 5776, I find myself munching on a matza while ruminating over my manuscript and the excellent feedback I got from a discerning Beta reader.
Working to polish and repair the gaping holes in a manuscript is painful. After all, this is a manuscript that only a short time ago seemed to be a glowing jewel. A good Beta will quickly tap that illusion out of it, and this is neither easy nor fun for a writer.
But here comes the good part. Once I overcome the denial (“Beta is wrong!”) and the crushing sense of defeat (“Beta is right, and it’s hopeless…”) comes the moment of glory.
It's the realization that I was given a map to a treasure.


I was thinking about this Passover joke, so apropos—

What, in your opinion, is the most reasonable explanation for the fact that Moses led the Israelites all over the place for forty years before they finally got to the Promised Land?
   a. He was being tested.
   b. He wanted them to really appreciate the Promised Land when they finally got there.
   c. He refused to ask directions.
 

 

Here is the good news: I asked for the directions. Now that I have them, I know I don’t have to wander in the dessert for forty years.


Back to work.

Tuesday, April 19, 2016

Harnessing Feelings for Creative Projects

Ever get the feeling that nothing you do, or can do, really matters?
I’m thinking of something different from futility. It’s not that anything anyone does will not make a substantial difference. Other people seem effective and even powerful. It’s the sense that your own endeavors don’t amount to “a hill of beans,” to quote an old colloquial expression, made famous by the movie Casablanca.
Another word for this feeling is helplessness.
 
It may be the primary feeling of childhood, and one of the major themes of children’s literature. It occurred to me that rather than wallow, I could use it when I write.
A younger voice is never more effective than when we harness these feelings and work them into a story.
While our protagonists solve their problems, we solve ours. A writer’s main problem often amounts to the lack of a compelling and authentic narrative voice.
From voice comes character, and from character comes a plot. That’s a lot of birds hit with one sling. Yes, I chose an expression that connotes power to end this post.
Now go get ‘em.