Tuesday, August 14, 2018


A few months ago, someone close to me lamented about their life choices. “This was never supposed to be a professional direction,” loved one said. “This was only a hobby.”

Head scratch. (Me.)

I always thought that a hobby is what you want to do even if no one paid you.

A few weeks later, the thoughts keep swirling in my tinny head. Now I am clear.

The luckiest people make a living off their hobbies. Yes, sir.

This is every artist’s dilemma. We know what we love, and we’d do it for no compensation. (Shhh, don’t tell anybody.)

And the luckiest among us are paid to do what we love.

Tuesday, August 7, 2018

Gift from a Beggar

We’d arrived in Berkeley in the late fall of 1978. Little did we know this would be a historically significant time in the San Francisco Bay area. In only a week, the mass murder-suicide in Jonestown (of a cult whose roots were in the East Bay) would permeate the air. That foreshock lasted but nine days, when a supervisor in San Francisco’s city hall would shoot the mayor and the first openly gay supervisor, and the bay area ground would be rattled not by a physical, but an emotional quake.

My then boyfriend and I knew about the danger of earthquakes, and chose to move to the area anyway. We knew about San Francisco and Berkeley’s reputation as a social vanguard. If that included the sort of madness that engulfed and thickened the air everyone breathed, we had to take the good with the bad. We were new, and chucked it to The California Experience.

But that was not what we noticed most. From the very first day, what struck us  was how many people lived on the streets and how many were begging for spare change. We had lived in Ithaca, New York, for four years. We never saw street people there. The climate and the town’s people were inhospitable to such. I had seen beggars before, not only in movies but also in Jerusalem, where I grew up. These were blind, old, broken bodied people. They had their corner in downtown Jerusalem, and anyone could see they could not support themselves any other way. We never passed them without putting change into their tins. 

But Berkeley was full of young seemingly healthy and energetic beggars. This, more than the maddening news, struck us as peculiar. We assumed every one of them was in real need, for who in their right mind would spend their days asking for money if they could work?

And so we gave. And gave. And whenever asked, which was often, we gave again. If we didn’t have spare pocket change, we gave bills from our wallets.

A couple of months later, we had become jaded. New acquaintances informed us that most of the local beggars were drug addicts, and that our giving only perpetuated their habit. We stopped giving. In addition, our own funds were running low. It would be a few more months before we found jobs, and we had rent to pay.

Until one day, when a young beggar approached us on Telegraph Avenue, right by the intersection of Dwight Way, asking for spare change.
“Sorry, Man. We’re broke,” my boyfriend said. That was not literally true, but felt like it was in our near future.
The beggar stuck his hand into his deep pants’ pocket and doled a fistful of change. “Please take that,” he said. “You’re more broke. I had a good day.”
We tried to refuse, but he tried harder. He would not let us leave without taking some of his “spare.”

I don’t know what the answer is. But, forty years later, even as I continue to mostly pass local beggars by without giving, once in a while I see that beggar’s face and pull my pocket change out.

Tuesday, July 31, 2018

The Truth and Untruth of Statistics

"Figures often beguile me. Particularly when I have the arranging of them myself; in which case the remark attributed to Disraeli would often apply with justice and force: 'There are three kinds of lies: lies, damned lies, and statistics.'"

Mark Twain

Chapters from My Autobiography, published in the North American Review in 1906}

And so I find myself, having just finished the fifth draft of a new novel for middle grade readers, staring the stats WORD popped up.

Time was, I wrote long hand, then revised and typed a story, only to ignore the numbers. WORD insisted on telling me the word count, but I looked the other way. I was writing literature, not counting beans.

I remember the feeling of diminishment when I encountered writers who spoke about word counts for different age groups, chapter page counts, and output counts per writing day. Everyone, it seemed, was counting.

I honestly couldn’t figure out why, and determined not to write-by-numbers.

Only they are everywhere. And while they say nothing about the quality of the story or the art of the telling, turns out they do count.

In the business of publishing, they count quite a bit. To quote Agent Jennifer Laughran’s iconic post on the subject, outlier word-counts put her in the mode of  “...I am tying a noose.” I don’t want that responsibility. I also want my work to be considered for publication.

Innovative work should not count these counts. But the numbers will let us know how far off the expected norms we’ve ventured, and then choose to do so knowingly and deliberately.

These Stats still lie in the most fundamental sense of not telling that all’s well, or that I must take some drastic action. The readability statistics only sit there, telling their truth. It’s not an important truth. But it is one I  now look at , just as I look at the WORD program’s mechanical (and often wrong) grammar-check at which end these stats pop up.

For me it is about marching forward having looked at all I could know about what I wrote. It means that if a reader calls the story “too long,” this is not a matter of length but the feeling it drags. The strengths and faults lie in the art, not in the craft. The mechanical checks and algorithmic statistics deserve a glance, and then the option to dismiss or heed from a place of awareness.

Phew, these latest revision stats look okay. But who's counting?

Tuesday, July 24, 2018

It’s Always Spring

When my kids were at the junction of navigating college/conservatory applications, I found a site that helped me understand this process, so different now from the time when we were at that stage.

College Confidential has its trolls and plenty of mis-informants. But for the most part, it is tremendously helpful. Recommended!

One of the things that struck me when young participates wrote about their hopes and wishes for higher education was the criteria they listed. I related to top quality academics and seeking particular teachers. I resonated to the matters of costs, funding, and scholarship offers most of all. I was on the paying side, after all. I understood wanting a happy social life and nice living conditions. But from my dowdy perch, I found one particular mention that struck me as funny and a bit “off.”

They wrote about the weather. They wanted good weather. They wanted excellent weather. Weather trumped all. It loomed on the top of so many wish lists that I wondered if young’uns have totally lost their sense of purpose or maybe, as one parent on the site put it, imagined they were going to a resort to major in beer.

Until the other day, when it occurred to me that when I moved to the bay area one of the considerations, and the one that keeps me firmly anchored here to this day, was and is---

The weather.

Whether you believe in global warming, global change, or no change, it’s July, and as it is in January, here it’s always spring.

See why I’m smiling?

It’s the weather.

Tuesday, July 17, 2018

Walking Through Cement

The other day, I was waiting in line at the post office when a charming young woman started a conversation with me. She sounded erudite (well, she had an upper class British accent) and her voice had the pleasing quaver of one who was readily sharing vulnerability with a stranger.

As the line promised a long wait, (I was number 97 and “now serving” was number 58) we had a long talk.

Turned out my new conversationalist was a writer. She had just published with a small house a breezily amusing tongue-in-cheek guide to manners. To be precise, it fell squarely into a category called chick-lit. I can attest that the author was tailor-made to promote this book and the book had received-- get this-- an endorsement printed on the back cover of a female Supreme Court Justice.

“Wow,” I said. “So how is it going?”

“Nowhere. Promoting this book has been like talking and no one answers,” she said. “It’s like waking through cement.”

Sometimes life is like that. You do all the right things. Your offerings are good. You get help from the right places, and then...


Walking though cement. A powerful if painful image.

Keep walking.

Tuesday, July 10, 2018

Finding the Light in Revision Cave*

*With apologies to the heroic rescue of the trapped youngsters of the flooded cave in northern Thailand. No concrete comparison is appropriate. But to be honest, this real life wrenching drama inspired this post.

Dealing with revision suggestions can feel like trying to crawl in complete darkness. That is because after catching one’s breath from the gut-punch (akin to someone saying your perfect baby is not so lovely after all L) and then allowing the suggestions to sink in, many a time the writer still can’t see why these suggestions were made.

It's easy, even fun, to make changes when the suggestion make sense. These "Ah-Hah (!)" suggestions make the write's heart grow limbs and do an exhilarating Hopak, which is a Cossacks' leg-kicking dance, in joyous appreciation. It's just that these types of suggestions are the rare ones.

Most editorial suggestions fall into the other camp. Be it by a Beta reader, an Intern, an agent or an editor, the writer feels like telling them they just didn’t get it and the fault lies in their flawed reading, not her writing.

But feelings should have nothing to do with it. Feelings and intuition guided the first draft all the way. Revision is about returning reason to the equation and reminding oneself the feedback came from someone who, just for making the suggestions, is a helpful soul.

So now the writer moves to phase two. To implement the suggested changes, or not to? That is the question.

My answer is that I must try. Not because the reader was right. Not because the reader was wrong. But because it is good for me to try.

This is where it feels like I'm crawling in the dark. How to make changes that don’t resonate? Where, who, and with what?

Take a deeeeep breath. Trust in the muse. She is akin to a miner’s light.

She’ll get you there, and your humanity will be better for it.

Tuesday, July 3, 2018

Johnny Tremain

As a way to celebrate the miracle that is our country, one encompassing much of the continent from sea to shining sea where, let’s face it, many wish to come to and few wish to flee from, may I recommend a classic book?

Johnny Tremain, by Esther Forbes, was the first historical novel written for young readers, and a Newbery medal winner. My kid-lit reading group read it some months ago, and saved me with this assignment from missing one of the best ways to appreciate the effort and enterprise that was the founding of the union of states.

I felt I was there, with Johnny, as his focus shifted from his personal struggles to be somebody in a world that did not bless him with privilege to the honor and privilege of fighting for something greater.

And the next time anyone says something about how divided our country is, let them situate themselves in colonial times, where many of the English king’s subjects in the Americas were not the least bit supportive of the colonial rebels.

Because what we have now is a vibrant, imperfect, but astonishingly successful nation, where disagreements are settled by a system of state-by-state voting.

That is something great, and worth celebrating.

Happy July Fourth and happy reading.

Tuesday, June 26, 2018

Le Mot Juste

The Right Word

On this date in history, June 26 1963 to be exact, this faux pas registered:

US President John F. Kennedy gives his famous "Ich bin ein Berliner" (intended to mean "I am a Berliner", but may actually mean "I am a doughnut") speech in West Berlin.

There are many examples of how much the right word in the right place at the right time makes all the difference. This example is not a weighty one. Hey, it’s summer, the sun is shining and I want to keep light.

But speaking of shining, I have always found the writerly edict to make sure every word shines to be absurd. Impossible, for one, and subjective to boot. It makes writers work themselves into a tizzy, often messing up perfectly good narrations.

Searching for just the right words is part of the process. This, especially when something nags at the writer that it just “isn’t right.”

One well-known trick is to click on the word and look at the scroll-down menu for “synonyms.” Still not quite right? Replace with a closer one, and click on its synonyms. I’ve done this in quadruplets. At a certain point, either the right one shows on the menu or the wee brain has an epiphany. Maybe it’s not the word, maybe it’s the sentence. Or maybe the paragraph or, goodness, the whole story.

Usually the right word settles, and once resting comfortably among the others, it’s sweet. Doughnut-sweet.

Or as we now write in the former colonies, donut. The spelling has to be "juste" right as well.

Tuesday, June 19, 2018

Welcome, SUMMER*

{June 21st 9:07 AM, PDT}

So, we are just about to enter official summer.

I was never fond of Summer, until I moved to the SF bay area.

Growing up in Jerusalem, Summer was HOT. I mean, too hot.

Later, in upstate New York, it was hot and muggy, thank you very much.

Growing up, Summer meant a long school-break. It was also a long time of missing my classmates and my home-away-from-home, which is what school was for me. Not a happy thing.

Swimming pool weather meant sunburns. Later, in adolescence, it entailed being self-conscious about my figure and the growing attention it got. I never felt all right about having someone look at my body who didn't bother to look at my face first, or make conversation. This happened a lot more in summer.

So Summer and I were not friends.

Now we made peace, Summer and I. I’ve passed the point of others gawking and I live where the Summers are gentle. I've grown up, and Summer has definitely matured into a mellow fellow. 

©Shelagh Duffett

Welcome, Summer. Happy to be with you again. 

Tuesday, June 12, 2018

Favorite bit of Advice...

Don’t take anyone’s writing advice too seriously.
(Lev Grossman)

Yes, that.^
Including my advice. Including my advice to consider Lev Grossman’s advice. Seriously.

One of the tell-telling signs of an insecure professional is how they treat professional advice. They will typically heed it blindly, with reverence, swaying in contradictory breezes this way and that. Or they will reject advice willy-nilly.

Once a certain competence sets in, these extremes fade into the gray zone. Advice considered, not treated as holy writ, and then accepted/modified/rejected.

Lev Grossman is a writer and critic at the top of his game. His simple advice, to “not take too seriously,” is an efficient articulation of that gray zone. It isn’t a NO, it isn’t a YES, and it modifies the word “seriously” with a nifty qualifier.

I listen, consider, and move on. I wholeheartedly applaud you for doing the same with anything I ever wrote, or will write, in this blog.

Tuesday, June 5, 2018

How About NOT Killing Your Darlings?

Kill your darlings.”
William Faulkner paraphrasing Arthur Quiller-Couch’s ON THE ART OF WRITING, 1914

It’s a jaunty saying that has resonance, so it stuck. In writerly lingo this means that, upon revising, a writer should consider how her favorite lines/paragraphs may be a product of vanity and do not serve the story.

Okay. Sometimes it’s the case.

But good writers are made of very good readers, and very good readers who like a turn of phrase or an aside that’s clever/different/intriguing, are usually right on.

The cliché knee-jerk notion is now the very saying to “kill your darlings.”

Here’ a novel idea— let your darlings be. They are there for a reason. Your judgement is sound, and without trusting in your judgment, you’ve got bupkis. That’s another (now cliché) saying that means your writer’s soul is bankrupt.

Love your darlings, sweetheart, and let them live.

Tuesday, May 29, 2018



Or--- This Place is NOT a Site of Commerce

In late May, a writing friend wrote in a panicked state and asked if she should close her personal blog because of the new EU rules that went into full enforcement May 25.

I’ve never heard of the  EU GDPR compliancy regulations

So I took a crash course. Bottom line is that it doesn’t apply to blogs like mine, where I sell noting. Blogger (a Google product) may sell your data and certainly mine, but I have never made a cent, nor intend to monetize this blog.

Check this here, if you are worried:

Does GDPR apply to me?
It applies to you if you process personal information AND are processing it as part of an enterprise. Article 4(18) defines enterprise as ‘a natural or legal person engaged in an economic activity, irrespective of its legal form, including partnerships or associations regularly engaged in an economic activity’. So basically, it seems that if you aren’t making any money through your blog you are ok. If you are making any money, then you need to read on…

 I think these privacy protections may even help some who are worried about the selling of our data. But I’m not even sure about that.

This blog and my website are not monetized by me. In fact, my website is not monetized by anyone directly as it is not a “free” product to me.

Yes, I do know that if it’s “free,” we are the product. So I’m the product, not the merchant.

I add that I do use Statcounter for both my blog and website. Statcounter claims to be GDPR compliant. I personally cannot be sure who they share what data with, but I do not ever get anything identifying any individual IP address, nor sell such.

But let it be stated here that if you wish to unsubscribe because of concerns regarding your data, or avoid ever looking at my website, I will be sad but it is a personal choice, and it is your choice.

Call the preceding sentence my "privacy policy compliance," and a repeat that I don't sell anything, most especially my valued precious readers. Not now, not ever.

I write  about what I am doing and thinking, and if you buy my book(s) you pay someone who may or may not pay me indirectly. But data mining is not part of what I get or do. Same for my worried colleague.

Hey, I’m lucky if I get your attention for five minutes, and I’m grateful you care.

In addition, I have taken the steps to secure my website with encryption (SSL certificate) and both this Blogger blog and my personal website are now https compliant, something techies have been urging for a while.  I do care to be a good citizen of the Internet world, because I care not only for myself, but for anyone who interacts with me.

Be not afraid, people. Not everything is out to get us. The Internet is fraught with possibilities for abuse, but so many benefit, too.

Tuesday, May 22, 2018

May 22nd in History

I stay away from politics on the Internet, because I have found that is makes good people behave and talk like bad people. Sometimes very bad people.

If you have followed any of my posts for any length of time, you know my fascination with “this day in history.” Lots of things happened on May 22nd, this date in history. But the most interesting will bring out the venom of the politicos.

May 22nd 1799, Napoleon declared Jerusalem for the Jews. Anyone who knows anything knows that it is central to the Jewish ancestral tradition in a way it is to no other tradition. But, whoa, don’t start me on that one.

May 22nd 1942 The Steel Workers Organizing Committee disbands, and a new trade union, the United Steelworkers, is formed. Looky here; unions were both the best thing and what built the American middle class, or a cancer on our country— depending how your politics navigates your mind. Please don’t start.

May 22nd 2015, Ireland declared Gay Marriage legal by popular vote. I like that this was done by popular vote and not by judicial decree, because legal marriage is a “communal acknowledgement” of status rather than a personal feeling. But, please, don’t start me on that one. (Well, I was the one who started— so woe on me.)

So here are some I hope we can celebrate together without bringing out the trolls and poisons that hatch in the mud:

760 14th recorded perihelion passage of Halley's Comet
1819 1st steam propelled vessel to cross Atlantic (Savannah leaves Ga)
1842 Farmers Lester Howe and Henry Wetsel discover Howe Caverns in New York State when they stumble upon a large gaping hole in the ground

^All on May 22nd.

But I saved my favorite for last:

                 May 22nd, 1849 Abraham Lincoln receives a patent (only US President to do so) for a device to lift a boat over shoals and obstructions..

Oh, I forgot. There are some who are still mad about Lincoln. I’ll celebrate anyway.

Tuesday, May 15, 2018

The Little Ones’ Perspective

Bringing a new young kittenish feline into a home that already had two fully-grown self-possessed cats, we followed the careful guidelines for introduction.

It was fascinating to watch how all involved navigated the situation.
The new cat, Nougat, was eager to make friends. But she learned very quickly that she must go slowly and carefully. The sheer difference in size necessitated thoughtfulness, and she is one smart kitty.

I noted how, when she needed to reach her food bowl or navigate to the other side of the room past the others, she moved in impossibly slow motion as to not trigger the big ones’ hunter/prey chase response. One such chase and one large claw making contact with her fur taught her this lesson.

She also does her best to avoid passing below uninspectable surfaces, where someone can pounce on her. She appears calm and contented with the others present only if she has a good escape route and sees us, her human protectors, from the corner of her eye.

This got me thinking about how it feels to be little, which got me thinking about writing for newer, smaller people—i.e. children.

Because this is pretty much how children feel all the time.

There are many kid-characters in books who are spunky, powerful, save humanity, and speak up when others don’t. I think these are inauthentic kids. They may serve some fantasies of grownups who wished they had done something back when, but these stories reek of falseness.

When “keeping the child in view,” as Dickens wrote, a good refresher would be to watch a kitten making her way into an established group of bigger guys who know their way around.

Go, Nougat. You can do it, girl.

Tuesday, May 8, 2018

My Only Addiction

It’s too easy to look down on addicts. If you have never experienced such an affliction, you can feel smugly superior to the poor souls who allowed themselves to succumb. How pathetic they are, and how low they descend, risking everything for a fix.

I don’t seem to have the personality or misfortune to have had such challenges.

The first is a matter of propensity over which anyone can make decisions not to risk exposure. Long ago, at the age of five or six, I watched my nicotine-dependent father go out on a stormy, drenching rainy Friday night, hail a cab (expensive) to the outskirts of town, (Jerusalem) where the one and only small kiosk sold cigarettes on the Sabbath. He thought he had stashed an extra pack, but couldn’t find it.
It was a lesson in what not to do. No cigarettes, ever. Don’t want to have to haul that monkey on my back.

The second, the matter of luck, has to do with things that can happen and leave a person dependent. With two herniated discs in my lower back, I remember realizing how addiction to painkillers can start, and how understandable and insidious the process is.
That was two years plus ago. When my doctor prescribed narcotics, I never took them. I chose not to haul that monkey on my miserably aching back, either. But some folks don’t know what the doctor had given them before it’s too late, and the climb out of that hole is steep.

But I don’t feel superior, because I do have a sort of addiction, or maybe it’s closer to a dependence. Can you guess to what?

Yes, I can stop. I did without difficulty while pregnant. Twice.
And, NO, I don’t want to.

So there. Maybe this feeling of "I *need* my coffee" gives me a peek into addiction, and maybe what I really need is that insight and compassion in addition to the caffeine. Because smugness is unattractive and worse.

Oh, and one other thing--

Tuesday, May 1, 2018

A Sign of Our Times

A Sign for Our Times

Some folks put declarative signs on their lawns or windows. Signs in support of a political initiative/sentiment, or a candidate, or their aunt Ida.

Our public spaces are covered with signs, too. Those tell us what to buy and how much fun we’ll have when we do.

It’s a free country, so put ‘em up if that’s your thing. But it decidedly isn’t mine.

Frankly, I feel inundated. Flooded. Practically choked.

So you will forgive my delight when, while walking with a friend, I spotted this one—

Make of it what you will. That’s part of its beauty.

Tuesday, April 24, 2018


A good friend who is a thoughtful intelligent person let me know she considers all writers, actors, and artists to be too self-involved. She is not a writer or an artist but she is a good reader and as such she consumes a lot of our output.

Obviously, this took me aback. Then I let it sink and got to thinking.

I now see she has a point even as I insist on shying away from broad stroke generalizations. Modern artists in all media focus on personal and distinctive ways of seeing and revealing reality. The creatives of the modern age are not bound by communal standards and rigid rules. It is about individual insight aka “Me.”

This stands in clear contrast to religious art pre-renaissance, where an artist’s abilities were in the service of communal thought and artists were thus anonymous.

So once I licked the wound of what I took as a piercing indictment, I realized my friend had a valid point.

But here’s the counter point: yes, artistic creativity is now about the individual, and we like it that way. The ethos of our country and the modern west is the individual.

There’s a spiritual and emotional cost to the modern way. An honest look at artists will show this undeniable truth. The obsessiveness with self comes at the expense of the serenity that yielding to the communal can confer.

It’s a price we pay, and have insisted on paying, since the European Renaissance and later the so-called European Enlightenment. As mechanization in industry standardized everything we consume, artists play a counterpoint with ever-increasing obsession with differences. 

It has its extreme excesses as well as points of luminosity. It is where we’ve gone; always searching for why are we here.

Thank you for indulging my highfalutin musings this day.

Tuesday, April 17, 2018

No Cat or Dog Stories, Please...

When it comes to what picture book publishers are looking for, there are general please-don’ts some editors and agents have posted over the last few years.

One I have seen a few times is “no cute cats or dogs stories.”
Nothing wrong with the above, it’s just that the market is saturated.

And yet, I keep seeing more picture books that are new with feline or canine protagonists.

Another is no rhyming stories.

I keep seeing those, also. And I’m glad, because as rhyming has gone out of fashion in “serious” poetry, its last vestige is in picture books, and we all *love* rhyme when done well.

 Here’s a good example—

May I suggest we write the stories we most want to write and more-or-less ignore these please-don’ts?

& Tell great stories &

Tuesday, April 10, 2018

Looking for Mr. Monk

On the last day of the last year, noon-time December 31 2017, Mr. Monk vanished.
He left to go in the back yard, and I have not seen him since.

I took this photograph half an hour before he left that last day.

We have three cats, and I love them all. But Mr. Monk was, for me, the cat of a lifetime.

For eight weeks, I walked everywhere and looked, called, tapped on closed garages, rattled cat treats, and prayed. I posted with the microchip company, pasted Lost Cat posters nearby, and sent notices to all the shelters within thirty miles. I went in person to nearby shelters a few times. I let the neighbors know, posted on the neighborhood site, and spoke to people feeding feral colonies nearby.

Two different neighbors spotted a cat they thought could be Mr. Monk. We bolted immediately, both times, to check. Nope.

A kind neighbor thought she spotted a dead cat that could be him. Our car was in the garage, so she came in person with her car to take DH to check the body. Nope.

Another neighbor spotted a cat that looked like Mr. Monk on her security camera in the dead of night. She sent me the video. I looked at this lookalike and saw the makings were not the same. Nope.

Recently, through our listing on a website for lost/found animals, I got contacted by someone two neighborhoods away, asking if the enclosed photo is of our Monk. That lost kitty showed up in her backyard. His face came closest, and we spoke on the phone. The kind lady sent more photos. My heart was pounding.
Alas, another nope.

Yesterday, more than three months after we put Lost Cat posters nearby, (and the posters survived much rain and wind to still be hanging) we got contact from the chip registry that a neighbor saw our poster and may have seen our cat. We made contact with this neighbor, another photo exchange, and another nope.

I didn’t know any of these neighbors before, and felt so grateful to have their eyes and ears.

And my four-year-old soul-cat, my beloved Monk, is still missing.

While looking in person, the local animal shelter advised checking cats that are found and cats that are offered for adoption, because even microchips fail occasionally. I continue to do this every day.

In the course of looking at the cats online, I spotted one of the cats in a rescue, who needed a forever home. Something about her face and description just nagged at me. Day after day, and this kitty was still there. I did what I didn’t intend to. I made contact with the rescuer.

A few days later, this little one became our cat. DH named her Nougat, a play on “New Cat” and her coloring. He also said that should Mr. Monk miraculously return to us, well, “we’ll have four cats.”

Meet Nougat---

Little Nougat came to us with diarrhea, tapeworm, ear mites, cow-hocked hind legs, chin acne, (yup, cats can have that) a slight fever and a croupy cough. We have dealt with these, (minus her Charlie Chaplin legs, as "cow-hocked" is genetic and permanent) and with her adjustment. She’s doing beautifully, and our other cats have slowly been more accepting.

And I will never give up on Mr. Monk. I made my Instagram a one-topic site, where I can at least see him when I need to. I call it Looking for Mr. Monk.

Tuesday, April 3, 2018


At the SCBWI meeting I wrote about in the last post, I had an interesting discussion with the younger writers near me. It was about current social sensitivities and the classics of kid-lit and general literature. Do we read/teach/recommend books written only decades ago that convey notions about gender/race/faith no longer deemed acceptable to us?

Think of the N-word used liberally in Huckleberry Finn, one of the great American novels for any age. Think of the misuse of Native American terms in The Sign of the Beaver, another great book. For that matter, think of any of Jane Austen’s main characters whose sole goal in life was to marry, (preferably well$$) or Shakespeare’ Merchant of Venice whose Jewish character is villainously greedy in the classic anti-Semitic tradition.

And so on, and on, and on.
Some parents opt to keep the classics out of their kids’ library. Many school districts have similar policies. They mean well, I’ll give them that. They want their young’uns to feel safe at all times. They feel these currents can wait until the kids are grown and able to understand the context.

I’m on the other side of this debate. I think the classics should be taught, albeit with a contemporary forward by a knowledgeable historian. Because, if we wait until kids are “old enough,” they will be suspicious. If people are exposed to mindsets of another time only when they are adults, presuming they were carefully shielded until then, they are likely to feel incredulous.

“How come I never heard of it?”
“If this were so, I’m sure I would have seen/read about it before.”
“Yeah, they teach it in history class. But I never saw it in anything that was written in those days.”
And, finally— “This is fake news. Fake information from evil interests looking to take over our minds.”

Sounds familiar?

Great books should be taught, and taught unaltered, and to any age. With it, the historical context should also be explained.

Only those who know where we came from can be truly educated and prepared to make thoughtful judgements, which, I presume, is the purpose of education.

I made this pitch to the poor souls who happened to be sitting by me, and I am not sure I convinced anyone. They listened politely. But I got the feeling that reading The Classics was not a priority, and no one wants to stick his or her neck out where the politically sensitive might bite.

But I said my peace, just as I do here, uncensored. Teach the classics and don’t change a single period.

Seems to me particularly poignant at this time of Passover, when my people remember and remind and teach our young that were were once slaves in Egypt. Because not knowing, not remembering, and not teaching-- is a recipe for future disasters. 

Tuesday, March 27, 2018

Out of the COMFORT Zone~~~

There is a valid suggestion, not only for artistic creative folks but for all, to get out of one’s comfort zone now and then.

The thing about comfort, which has much to recommend it, is that it has a lulling affect. You don’t want to walk through life lulled all the time, do you? Certainly not if you want your muse to keep talking to you.

So this last Sunday I did something that took me out of my comfort zone. At least that’s what I told myself to get Self there. I went to an in-person meeting with lots of folks I don’t know, without a single person I do know. The last time I did that was before the invention of the wheel, or so it seems to me.

The meeting was of local SCBWI members, (Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators) and for the first time this chapter was meeting in a café practically in my neighborhood. It was too good not to go to. Sunday morning is a perfect time for me. I know the café and I like it. It stopped raining and the sun washed the streets with rays of positive vibrations. I had no excuse.

What’s the big deal, you say?

For a shy person it is a big deal.

Everyone there was lovely and many were lively. I pretended not to be shy, (that’s one of my specialties, developed of necessity) and tried to be helpful. It was nice.

But here’s the real deal— I got out of my comfort zone and the creative juices reconstituted into liquid flow. A good, good thing.

What would you do to get out of your comfort zone?

Tuesday, March 20, 2018


We frame our reality is stories. We remember life’s occurrences not in the continuous minute details of everyday, but as episodes, or chapters. Memories become the fictional story of life, a subjective interpretation of objective reality.

Thus, fiction and non-fiction tread a fine line. A writer who conjures imaginative stories may believe her telling has little to do with people who have crossed her path.

I always write about what I know. Let me put it here. Every character I’ve ever written (and I only write fiction) had a connection to someone or someoneS I know or knew.
But they always wound up so changed that they were no longer, factually, those people. That’s the beauty and the truth of fiction. It allows shaping people/characters in service of the greater story.

When my father read a very early draft of THE VOICE OF THUNDER, he bristled at the actions and sayings of Mira’s father.
“I would never say or think that way,” he said.
“But Mira’s father isn’t you,” I said.
“People would think he is,” he said.
“But he ISN’T,” I said.

My literate, poet father, who understood the power of fiction better than most, also understood how blurry the line would be for most readers. Even if the story were never published, some friends and beta readers would have read it. He was right, because many of them clearly did not make the distinction.

I then went into my frustrated mode and said the unthinkable. I quoted Anne Lamott (Bird by Bird)
     “A writer should write as if their parents are dead,” I said.
     “But I’m not dead,” my father said.

My father died some years later, and before the story had a publisher.

Herein lies the dilemma. You should write what you know. What you know are the people and stories you know. But you should not kill anyone real in the process.

The way I have managed telling the truth in my fiction is to begin from what I know and then let it be sufficiently different, let it sail away, to where only the unimaginative would insist it is a memoir. (And, by the way, everyone is entitled to write an honest memoir, also. I just never did.)

When it comes to non-fiction posts mentioning real life family members or friends, (such as this blog's posts, comments on social media, or articles) I follow the golden rule. I will not speak of others as I hope they will not speak of me. If I need to say something unflattering, I will disguise the person beyond recognition.

Fiction is liberating. I especially like magical realism, where the story can fully manifest and the theme can glow because listeners/readers are unlikely to confuse it with real life. There I get to tell it like it truly is, or at least as I understand it.

I welcome your thoughts on this, as a writer or a reader.