Tuesday, January 24, 2023

About TENSION *

 

*In storytelling and in life

In a manuscript, a writer pays attention to tension. Keeping a certain level, which even when reduced must never leave the narrative, is crucial.


It’s a curious thing that in daily life most of us want to reduce tension. We want things to go smoothly and without worries. When something stresses our veneer of peacefulness, we yearn to “get back our lives,” as if our real lives are a calm sea with a lovely sailboat gliding over sweet-smelling waters.


But when we pick up a book, or start a session of movie watching, we’d quickly drop that if the tension they exude doesn’t grip us by the back of the neck.


I watch my cats as they invent chases with nonexistent entities because their lives do not include the kind of stressors feral cats and wild animals must contend with. Their make-believe play hunt and chase is something akin to what we choose as stimulating entertainment.


I doubt people who are in the midst of real-life mega-stressors would do that. So called thrillers are for the fortunate among us. Tension-filled stories are what our domesticated species made to round up life.


Just musing here, as I contemplate amping up tension in my WIP.



Tuesday, January 17, 2023

COINCIDENCE?

 

Or, put another way—

DO YOU BELIEVE THE ARE NO COINCIDENCES?

 

There are those who think everything that happens (i.e. the plots of our lives) are tied together in (or by) a mysterious force operating beyond what we can see. They find proof of this everywhere.

That’s the school of No Coincidences.

 

Then, others believe everything is coincidental, and marvel at what would have been had they made the slightest different choice at any junction.

That’s the school of charting on tabula rasa with meaning coming out of choices combined with blind luck.

 

When we plot and tell stories, invariably our philosophical bias on this matter comes through.


It was beautifully explored in the movie Sliding Doors. The film alternates between two storylines, showing two paths the central character's life could take depending on whether she catches a train.

*Spoiler alert!—  In that story, the surprise ending shows that ultimately things turn out the same, though the road to that ending is different.

 

This is my personal bias as well. The grand scheme is not coincidental; the mini-turns along the way hold many different possibilities.

 

Writers are often reminded to tie the plot in a meaningful way and never allow it to be a list of unconnected actions. This makes the bias of a storyteller strongly leaning to the No Coincidences school.

Thus, writers tend to be the self-selected believers in ultimate destiny.

Suits me.



Tuesday, January 10, 2023

The Myth of BRUTAL Honesty

 

All right, another myth busting post that hits the spot. Check it out here.

 

I especially resonate to number five. I don’t believe in brutal honesty, because in my experience those who hide behind this, (“I’m just being brutally honest”) are among the less honest people I’ve known, and they can’t even be honest with themselves about their aggression.

 

If someone cuts you down or is in the habit of cutting others down when speaking about them, honesty is rarely what is fueling their motor.

 

Well-meaning helpers do not use brutality. They point out where improvement is needed. They admit their take is their take, and not a divine edict.

 

The only honest brutes are the ones who do not hide behind a façade of helpful righteousness. They aggress and know well this is what they do and who they are.

 

The rest of the points made in the  linked post are excellent as well.



Tuesday, January 3, 2023

What to Wear/What to WRITE?

 

This morning, just awakened by my orange furry feline, I lay in bed and tried to think of what to wear for the day. I went over the things I have set to do and the current weather requirements. I thought of the items hanging in my closet.

I drew a complete blank.

The orange feline continued to insist. It was time to get out of bed and start a day full of this and that, which to her means mostly entertaining her.

And then I knew. I conjured the perfect attire for this day’s planned tasks. I was out of the warm bed without hesitation, raring to go.

 

A writing analogy came to me right then.

I thought about how similar it is to the days of writing first drafts. Some days I know exactly what the next sentence, the next paragraph, the next chapter is about. Specific words swirl in my head, ready to come out and dance.

Other days, I know what I have to do but no idea how to do it. It’s a white page, a blank mind, and getting going feels like time in slow motion.

 

But either way, I get dressed and get to writing. One way or another.

 

Long ago, a close relative came to say goodbye before we embarked on a trip back home.

I never remember jokes, but he left us with one so lame that it managed to stick to the crevices of my mind.

Mississippi asked Missouri, “What will Delaware?”

Said Miss Ouri to Miss Issippi, “Idaho, Alaska!”


I didn’t know it would be the last time I will see this relative.

 

Wherever you are, seize the day you were given. Throw some clothes on and get to it.



Tuesday, December 27, 2022

MY CONSTANT FRIEND IS A COMPUTER SCREEN

 

Time was, I sniffed at folks who spent the majority of their non-working hours in front of screens.


I felt I was better than the potato couches (a.k.a couch-potatoes) planted in front of televisions.


I looked down at generation Z-ers who sat next to each other all the while staring at their phones.


Okay, I still bristle at that last one. If there’s a live human to look in the eye and talk to, the screen, no matter its size, is better left in the back pocket, and the device’s pingings are better ignored.


But as to the rest, I’ve joined the minions who start and end their days in front of a screen.


Even before the blasted pandemic, screen time kept growing exponentially. The lockdowns cemented it as the hangout place outside of which there’s a vast silent desert.


Writing is already a keyboard and screen activity. Add Zooming, Facetiming, virtual touring and video chatting, and the real world where barometric pressures manifest as actual breezes becomes downright exotic.


I have to do something about that. But where do I reach out to find new living breathing friends? Online, of course.


I couldn’t beat the screen-starers, so I joined them.

Tuesday, December 20, 2022

THE WEEK I GOT TO MOURN A DIGITAL DEATH...

 

Some friendships are digital only, never to exist in our everyday physical world.

So are places.

 

One such place is the SCBWI Blue Boards, established by Verla Kay and later taken over by the Society of Children Book Writers and Illustrators.

 

It is a safe place to get educated, informed, and make friends with others who write or illustrate for children. Safe, because it was always moderated to quell flare-ups, keep out partisan politics or religious and anti-religious preaching and rants.

 

But it never lacked in real content and support, and let me tell you— if you embark on a writing journey you will need support.

 

A few days ago, a public announcement told the virtual water-cooler will be shut with two weeks’ notice. No explanation given.

 

Maybe the SCBWI headquarters have felt the boards have outlived their usefulness, (they were wrong on that count) or the digital space was too expensive for the organization to support (I wouldn’t know, they never said, and the membership was never asked to contribute more toward that end) ~~~

 

Whatever the reason, I was in mourning. The Blue Boards are where I learned from others more than any how-to books or internet posts ever could teach, and where I made friends. It was a digital space where I got and gave support.

 

While I also felt grateful for the years I got to have this hangout space, and I knew I was fortunate in that, I was sorry for those coming in now who would not be.


Yesterday, after a lot of heartfelt cries from many (many) members, the SCBWI reversed course and the chat boards are safe, at least for now. It goes to show that protest can and does work when a body is truly made of its parts. It's a reminder that so-called final decisions don't have to be. When the parts cry out, the head listens.


The experience of mourning yet another digital death has transformed into experiencing a resurrection.

Call it a Hanukkah miracle, or a Christmas present. 

πŸ‘^Resurrected^☝


Tuesday, December 13, 2022

FAVORITE UNDER-APPRECIATED NOVEL

 

One of the oft-asked questions in the literary community is about novels that do not have the halo of The Greats, but should.

 

There are many, and despite the notion that a great novel would have deep but also universal appeal, in the end it is a personal connection that makes it one of the books that transformed you.

 

Today, I pick one that most would classify as a novella.

 

THE ALL OF IT by Jeannette Haien is one such story for me. I wouldn’t have known about it were it not for a local book store’s clerk’s recommendation. When she recommended this book, even her colleague, standing nearby, raised his eyebrows and admitted he hadn’t heard of it. I suspect I bought it because at the time my life was hectic and the book appeared short.

 

It was one of those pivotal moments in my reading life. This novella changed the way I think, which is something books have the power to, but rarely do.

 

I am not saying *you* should read it. But everyone has this sort of book in their bookbag, and this is one of mine. Obviously, there are many universally recognized GREATS that I carry with me. But this is one of the lesser-known treasures, and all the more precious for having come into my sphere with little attention from the usual sources.

 

Feel free to share underrated books that, for you, were transformative.


Tuesday, December 6, 2022

LITERARY?

 

 I see this question posted often in places where writers ask each other (or ask publishing professionals.)~~

Is my writing literary?

And, for that matter, what does “literary” mean?

 

I’ve seen agents and editors say that literary writing is both beautiful, rich in vocabulary, subtle, and layered.

Strictly speaking, any good book is all the above, and many good books aren’t classified as literary.

 

My understanding is that literary writing makes allusions to other literary writing. The layers are the reliance on literature that came before. If you have not read old literature, you will miss the allusions and the reading will not be as rich, but it would be satisfying, regardless.

 

A writer is literary because they have studied, read, absorbed much literature, and their writing can’t help but be grounded in past works. A literary writer inhabits the world of literature of yore.

 

 Good writers who may not be writing literary fiction tell stories in their own voice, which may be matter of fact even as the stories have distinct style. Good storytelling does not have to be literary, and literary fiction may at times not be great storytelling.

Regardless, it’s not something to worry about.

Tuesday, November 29, 2022

HOW TO DEAL WITH LIFE’S “NO”S

 

Life’s journey is full of rejections.


For writers and artists, the turn-downs are magnified. Some wonder why we put ourselves in this position, and how we deal with it.

I have come to a point where I discovered that there is no “dealing with it.” There is brushing it off, as if it never happened, and marching forward.

 

What does that mean?

 

For me, it means that unless there is constructive feedback, which allows for improvement, (thank you, those who offered such) the only way to continue to be creative is to act as if those “no”s never happened.

I don’t count them, I don’t put a numerical bar of no-passing, I don’t let them sink in.

 I. Just. Don’t.

 

This denial is essential. I would not be a published writer had I not had this strategy going way back.

 

And if at any point it is time to rest a work from Submission Road, never think of it as permanent. Rest stops are not only for truckers.

 

Keep trucking.


Tuesday, November 22, 2022

GIVING THANKS TIME

 

’Tis the week to give thanks.

 

Thanks for the people in our lives who are there.

Thanks for all they are, and for them choosing to be present.

Thanks for the ones gone, who left blessings.

 

Thanks for all the things we still have.

Thanks for all the things that aren’t broken.

Thanks for the things these things do for us.

 

Thanks for felines and canines who share our lives.

Thanks for their giving their trust and endless love.

Thanks for being the beauties they are.

 

And most of all, I thank the spirit that blew air into everything.

For returning my soul to me this day--


Tuesday, November 15, 2022

NOVEMBER 15 IN HISTORY

 

On November 15, 1777, the Second Continental Congress ratified the Articles of Confederation, which was the precursor to the United States Constitution. 

 

Maybe this should remind us why we banded together, and why we have been better for it.

 

Instead of the constant banter about having uniform ways for all people, and if they won’t do as we think is right, let them be banned, shunned, or let us call it a divorce*, consider the quiet ways of tolerance.

*(Divorce: In the context of the union of states, is the unspeakable abomination that are Civil Wars anywhere, the most tragic type of wars for what is already a tragic human impulse.)

Let’s consider living and let others live as they deem right.

 

Fighting is not glorious, regardless of some movies and their parlor tricks. Real heroes get along.

 

I’d like to see a lot more of these heroes in stories, especially for young readers; quiet get-along main characters. They seek not glory and thus are glorious.

Blessed are the peacemakers, especially the quiet ones who live what they say, and do not tell others how they must speak, think, or be.

 

The USA constitution strove for a balance. Let’s remember what it’s about.


Tuesday, November 8, 2022

QUERY LETTERS

 

And OTHER HORRORS

While on the train of last week’s post, I am deep into polishing and tightening my queries.

 

Writers obsess about the query, which is a four-second chance to make an impression. No, it isn’t fair. No, it will not represent writing powers to their fullest. No, there is no way to compress why a novel is worth an agent's or editor’s time and effort.

But it is the reality of submissions road.


Some writers are phenomenal query writers. I know a writer who does it so well she turned her talent into a business; she critiques and polishes other writers' query letters for a fee. In her case, this talent has not translated to publishing full novels. But there is no contradiction, as it is an advantage for many others. After all, if the query leads to many more manuscript requests, the odds that an agent would offer, and that the agent would later find a publishing house that would offer, are multiplied.

 

The query, like a good picture book text, must do a lot with few words. How many? See this post.


In addition to a sharp pitch, it must say enough about the story to intrigue, and also contain a bio of the writer. The usual way I’ve heard it put is—

1. THE HOOK (strong one-sentence pitch)

2. THE BOOK (Strong, pithy story setting exposing the main character and the stakes)

3. THE COOK (Author bio)

^In that order^


It’s a good idea to run a query by a reader who has not read the manuscript. The simple question to ask the reader is, “does this make you eager to read the story?”


This is where I am. Wishing luck to all riding the same train. 


Tuesday, November 1, 2022

Re-starting Agent Search

 

I’ve been agented before, and I’m going to be honest here— I loved having an agent.


What I didn’t love was the process of knocking on agents’ doors.


Reminder to self before embarking on this road:

A.     Queries need to be succinct

B.      Invest in every query, but not too much because…

C.     …Most will either be ignored or rejected with a form email

D.     Treasure the replies that ask for more materials, revision, or invite future queries, for…

E.     …Those are the only ones worth investing in and the only ones that count.

 

The query landscape has never been more crowded, and thus most voices are drowned by the multitude’s noise.

 

Got to have faith in my equanimity, my manuscripts, and my ability to weather this trek.

All experienced advice welcome πŸ‘

Here we go---



Tuesday, October 25, 2022

OTHER AUTHORS

 

FRIENDS AND INSPIRATIONS

My first website, now defunct, had different pages and somewhat different content.


When the platform I was using forced a change, I also let go of one of my favorite original pages, one that had links to writing friends’ sites. I originally called that page “The Writing Life.”


It’s gone from the innerwebs. But writing friends, thankfully, are not.


So this week, I choose to copy and paste the screenshot of  that old page, because it continues to anchor my writing life.




Tuesday, October 18, 2022

KEEP IT SHORT

 or

BRIEF


We know the saying, (some attribute to Mark Twain) “If I had more time, I would have written you a shorter letter.”

Another version of this notion tells about a US senator who was asked to address a high school and tell them about his job.

 

At question time, one of the students asked, “How long does it take you to prepare a speech?"

 

The senator replied, “It depends on time. If you want a fifteen-minute speech, I would need two weeks. If you want a five-minute speech, I would require four weeks, and if you want an hour's speech, I can start straight away.”

 

This is even more important in query letters. A few months back, a writing friend gave me feedback on the “Bio” paragraph in mine. I had two versions, one longer and more personal in tone, and one shorter and more businesslike.

 

I thought both were short and was happy with how I managed to succinctly distill my life and writing journey into a single brief paragraph.

 

My friend chopped away the branches, shaved off the bark, and left my shorter version with only the heartwood. Her edit is the one I will  now use in queries.

 

It takes time, reflection, and the help of a good writing friend to make it shorter.

©K. J. Lamb


Tuesday, October 11, 2022

SUKKOT was Supposed to be a REMINDER

 

The Sukkot holiday, now upon us, was meant to remind the Jewish people of our time as a homeless nation, living in tents, on the way to the promised land.

I have lived through many Sukkots, and it doesn’t seem to do any such thing.

 

During the Great Depression, large shantytowns popped up all over the land. They were nicknamed “Hoovervilles,” in reverse honor of the then president, Herbert Hoover (1929-1932) whose misfortune was to usher in the economic downturn.  Today, our cities have homeless encampments that don’t even get to be categorized as huts. They are tents stretching for miles.

 

 As such, the commandment to dwell in tents that have porous roof covers (“Sukkot” in Hebrew) could be a reminder of those who do not have solid roofs over their heads. But as I have witnessed all my life, these happy super decorated lovely sukkots are a place to party, leisurely sipping outsized drinks and hors d'oeuvres. They are nothing if not lovely excuses for garden parties.

It’s nice, but no longer serves as it was intended.

 

I’m honoring Sukkot by being grateful for the roof over my head. I’m skipping the party.


Tuesday, October 4, 2022

YOM KIPPUR, Day of ATONEMENT

 

This evening, the yearly Jewish Day of Atonement begins at sundown.


For reasons that are personal (and medical also) I do not fast. By the Jewish Orthodox principals, there’s no “half-fasting” or modifying of the commandment to do so. You either do, or don’t.


I disagree, but that’s because I am not orthodox.


There are ways to change the routines of the day and make it strongly felt, opening a wider door to genuine atonement. My way is also personal, and changing from year to year.


But regardless, it begins with asking for forgiveness to all you have knowingly offended. I’m stymied, because I make sure not to knowingly offend. This is distinct from being offensive just for being yourself and having others not like what you are and what you think. No apologies for that.


What I do regret, and whole heartedly apologize for, are misjudgments and not being a better more helpful person when I could have and should have been.


There is much wisdom of the ages in this yearly account. It’s a gift to us, not punishment.


I wish all a good passage through the doors of atonement.


Monday, September 26, 2022

THE JEWISH NEW YEAR ---

 ---Begins with Honey



Unless there are health reasons not to, go right ahead and dip.

Honey, Sweetie, think good thoughts for having made it to this day

Blessing for the year to come



Tuesday, September 20, 2022

CONTEMPLATIONS ON THE MEDIA

 

All last week, in our parched California, the news media (online, in print, and on the air) blared from every possible corner: RAIN IS COMING! (Triple exclamation, but I’ll stick with one.)

 

It’s a big deal, after two years of miserably low precipitation.

 

The day before many times a day the news stations wouldn’t stop talking about it. Even Queen Elizabeth’s funeral preparations made for small breaks in what really mattered—

RAIN IS COMING, and it’s going to be BIG RAIN.

Get your umbrellas out of the closet. Be careful on the roads. You’ll be awakened by possible thunderstorms. Stay inside and bake cookies on Sunday and be careful going to work on Monday.

 

I awoke early Sunday and looked outside. Not a drop. I checked in the back yard where I have a rain collector. Not a drop. It hadn’t so much as sprinkled overnight.

 

I went to the curb to put the garbage and recycling bins out for Monday’s collection. On the other side of the street, I saw a young man walking, holding an open umbrella over himself and wearing a raincoat. It was as dry as could be.

I wondered if it was just me or the world had lost its senses.

 

Many hours later, it did rain. It rained a little. Then the sun came out. Later, it rained once more. Also, just a little.

 

Monday came, and the sun was shining. The hourly news kept telling us not to be fooled. The sunshine could and would turn to showers at a moment’s notice.

It never did.

 

I was happy for the bit of rain. As I said, we needed it. It also meant I can skip a single yard watering, and every bit counts. But it made me think of how media lives to augment and distort reality. Not because they got a weather prediction wrong (this happens), but because even as reality outside said otherwise, the news kept insisting in real time that it was Noah’s flood.

 

I thought about the  raincoat-wearing man with the open umbrella who preferred to believe the news rather than his own eyes.

Many analogies, on the left and the right, popped into my mind. This is what occurred to me: it is immoral to live off intentional propelling of hysteria.

 

I made a note to self to always pay attention to what I am experiencing, and less to the hyperbolic tendencies of the media.

 

And when the next rain comes, I will say, “Welcome. Glad you’re here.” That, and no more.


Tuesday, September 13, 2022

DOES ANALYZING OTHERS’ WORK MAKE A YOU A BETTER WRITER?

 

One of the many gifts of being a beta reader is learning how a story hits the spot (or doesn’t) on the reader’s end. I have gained as much from being a Beta as from being the one who received feedback from another.

 

There is another form of reading, one cultivated in academia, that imposes analysis on renowned books. The philosophies behind different forms of analysis are super-imposed on the text. I’ve done my share in school, and have never found it to help my writing. For that matter, I haven’t found those who excelled in literary analysis to be strong writers of original fiction. I have personal friends I will never name who fit into this category: strong academic background, and their original fiction suffered from the indoctrination.

 

One may argue, reading this article, that any analysis of others’ work is beneficial when forging with your own story. I will not deny this can and does happen. But as a rule, effective original fiction is intuitive, and the analyzing mind needs to go into lower gear, like a barely audible background hum, in order to tell a story well.

 

Another pithy way of saying this, paraphrasing Dr. Seuss: try to forget what you learned in Rule-going School. Let the intuitive life force flow. Get on the boat, and let it sail down the river, only occasionally resorting to use the oars.

©Geraldine Aikman


Tuesday, September 6, 2022

MEMOIRES

 

Memoirists have a special challenge: tell a good story, driven by themes which must not overwhelm the plot.

My late father was urged to write a memoire/autobiography, because his life’s story encompassed the momentous events of Jewish history of the 20th century. He survived the Holocaust (ghetto and concentration camp) to go to what was then Palestine, and fight to establish the Jewish state of Israel. He was critically wounded in the battle for Jerusalem. He was part of a group that established a kibbutz. He went on the represent Israel in cultural aspects in France and Argentina.

 

Even one of these chapters would have made a poignant book. He was an academic historian, and wrote beautifully, having had poems published. He was the one to tell his story, right?

 

But he refused to write his memoires. He told me that people who write their life story inevitably lie, embellish, or seek justification.

“Fiction allows the writer to tell much deeper truths,” my father told me.

 

When I first wrote the story that would evolve into a published novel for middle grades, it was half biographical. By the time it took its final form, the details were more fiction than fact, and I submitted it as such. I was told by one editor who wanted to take it to acquisitions that it would be more likely to be acquired as a memoire. I, like my father, turned that down. The story had left the honest facts of my life’s story long before, in order (as my father would have put it) to tell the deeper truth and tell it as a better, tighter story.

One blurb I got referred to The Voice of Thunder as “fictionalized biography.” Fair enough.

 

Memoirists have the advantage that when submitting their story, they present it as true, and it is easier to sell it that way. But keeping it true while making it tight and compelling is a hard hill to climb.

See this post about the special challenges of seeking to traditionally  publish memoires.

Tuesday, August 30, 2022

COOKING and COUNTING CLICKS

 

i.e. “LIKES”

Ever since Blogger figured how to not count bots or any mechanical un-peopled viewers, the viewing counting on my posts went from over a thousand (most of the traffic back then was from Russia and I know no one there) to less than a hundred on most posts. Some posts are fewer than fifty. If you’re reading this, you’re in an exclusive rarified club.

 

 I noticed a curious pattern to the posts that get almost double the clicks. They either contain cat pictures (oh, my πŸ’“) or a recipe. I rarely do the latter, so it’s time, don’t you think? Not that I am motivated by clicks, but I feel like letting the summer leave with a bang.

 

And so I will share my favorite comfort food, which is good warm, (in winter) fabulous cold, (on a day like today) and for the most part is pretty good for you. It requires only one ingredient you’ll have to go hunting for, and trust me—you’ll be happy to have it on hand going forward. The rest are likely already in your refrigerator & pantry.

 

ROSE WATER PUDDING

2 cups whole milk

2 tablespoons cornstarch

1/3 cup sugar

¼ cup Rose water (or Orange-blossom water) *

Chopped pistachio meat or Almonds for topping

 

*The Rose water is found in middle eastern food stores, and if you must, Amazon also sells it. It’s wonderful in fruit salad and in rice pudding, and for the cocktail crowd there’s no end to where it adds wistful cheer.

 

On low heat, bring the milk with cornstarch and sugar whisked in to a soft simmer, using a whisk the whole time. The moment it begins to boil, it will also thicken. Take it off the stove and whisk in the rosewater. Fantastic for cold evenings right away. It’s very nice chilled in small bowls and eaten with a spoon, nut meats sprinkled on top.

 

Can’t be simpler, can’t be better. You’re welcome.



Tuesday, August 23, 2022

CLOTTING THE PLOT--

 

For a Whale of a tale

August is beginning to look at its end. For me, this is the time to wind up the initial charting/plotting of the bones to my next middle grade novel.


All over this land, some dive in during November National Novel Writing Month, a.k.a. NaNoWriMo. By November, I will be looking back on a rough first draft I hope to have finished, and take my between drafts break as the multitude are sweating it out. Early December, I will be on draft number two.


This has worked for me for the last ten (gulp) years. The point is to know yourself and do what works for you.


It began with gearing up to the quiet writing-time my kids’ school year afforded. It stayed even after their schooling continues away from home. I thought about the parents who were robbed of this time during the pandemic school closures, and was appreciative I no longer had little ones. It would certainly have broken a cycle that worked so well.


Here’s to hoping I can do it again. Here’s wishing us all a writing year without interruptions, where the surprises are on the page, not on the streets.



Tuesday, August 16, 2022

LOOKING TO THE BRIGHT SIDE OF SOCIAL MEDIA

 

Or

TRYING TO

 

It’s easy to note the negatives of this thing we group under “Social Media,” (SM for short 😈) because it’s plain to see: take-downs, foul language aimed at strangers from others who can hide under made-up identities, and so much more.

 

I decided to articulate here how my reluctance and negative impressions turned into positive aspects for the sites I have some presence on. I came to the Internet with trepidation, being told it was necessary if I considered approaching publishing professionals. That was some years ago. I stayed and even thrived on a couple of the SS.

So I am articulating my personal journey from trembling to sunbathing for the ones I have experienced. I know all SS harvest my data; they’re welcome to it for the service they provide. I am aware at all times that nothing on SS is truly private no matter how many “privacy protections” they claim.

This is my own journey in SM-land. It’s different for each person.

In the order of (my) preference:

 

PERSONAL WEBSITE: The very thought of it hurt my insides, and then I got used to it the way one gets used to a nose ring or a wristwatch. They become a part of self that is barely felt. Today I kind of like it, because I control what’s on it. It’s the virtual calling card of the 19th century and the business card of the 20th century. In the 21st century we deal with this and occasionally fiddle with the aesthetic to make ourselves feel better about it.

BLOGGER: Came to it with a heavy heart feeling that 1. It’s a burden to have to write posts regularly; 2. Who cares what I think; and 3. My publisher’s urging made it something I had to try. Turns out I like the discipline of posting and I like having a place to publish thoughts, mostly about publishing. Hey, if you’re reading this--we’re both here. My blogger is not for selling; it’s a small hangout that I actually wound up liking.

 

FACEBOOK: I joined because DD was on it and parenting advice said parents should know what their kids are up to. That part turned out to be moot, because kids are not sharing what they don’t want grownups to see and they have left this SS when parents joined. But it is the place to find long-lost friends and acquaintances, find fantastic groups of interest, and Messenger is a marvel for free chats both video and text with no upfront charge. It is where I have more “friends” (i.e., Facebook friends) and more virtual socializing than any other.

 

TWITTER: It feels like walking into a party where everyone knows everyone and you’re ignored, because they are the cool crowd. After so many years of nominal participation, it still feels like that. But I’m beginning to not dislike it when an occasional link is illuminating or an image elicits a faint smile. There’s hope.

 

INSTAGRAM: I set it up as a way to albumize photos of a beloved cat who upped and disappeared one day. I haven’t changed it since. It’s a story of one lost cat. When I’m ready to let go and make other uses, I will. Not quite there yet.

 

Then there’s Tumblr (I follow about five blogs on it now and then) and LinkedIn (on it, but no idea why) and jacketflap (Who remembers why I ever set that one?) and TikTok (where young’uns hang out, but oldies like me don’t).

 

And before this one posts, there will be many (MANY) more.

 

All useful, but proceed with awareness. It’s part of the world we inhabit.


Tuesday, August 9, 2022

Cliques and Clucks

 

or—

 

“Mean Girls” are often insecure

Ever walk into a room where others huddle together and, while not doing anything overtly hostile, do nothing to welcome you in? Then, when you awkwardly try to contribute, they change the subject and physically scoot away?

 

I haven’t had this experience for many years. It’s so very middle school. In fact, it is at the center of my WIP, a novel for middle grades. I suspect that when I was that age, I was sometimes the snooty offender, not the shy newcomer wishing someone would step forward and take them in. Perhaps this novel is my way of making amends.

 

I had an interesting experience a few months ago. I decided to give an online hangout a try, and RSVPed a virtual meeting of women who write. I’m a woman who writes, so it could be a fit.

 

Turned out this group all knew each other (virtually) from previous such Zooms. I was the lone newbie, and let me tell you, it brought back memories of the less than happy kind.

 

This time, while the official leader was welcoming (that’s why she’s the leader) no one else did. I stayed quiet, listening and learning, and was left with a big question mark pulsating inside me.

 

I had stepped into a clique. The women were nice (to each other) and interesting, (for the most part. Hey, writers, as a general rule, are articulate and interesting people.)— But there was this cluck-cluck of a hen-house hyperactivity that spoke of wanting to be noticed.

 

 I realized I was caught in their vibe while also pushed outside the circle, a juxtaposition that echoed the experience of the main character in the story I’m revising. It’s an unpleasant place to be, all the more because it exposes how our own vanity and pride are no virtue.

 

It also reminded me what cliques are about. Those who exclude are the insecure ones.

 

I did get one thing out of my attempt at this new connection; I revised the story to better express this situation for the main character. The universe had to send me back to middle school so I could better do my work.


Tuesday, August 2, 2022

OPENINGS

 

There's a lot in Writers Land about opening lines and opening paragraphs.

{For example, see this.}


Conventional wisdom states opening paragraphs must hook the reader at the start and bind them, so they have no choice but to go on reading. First readers may be agents reading queries, then editors reading submissions from agents, and ultimately readers browsing at book stores or “looking inside” virtually, a feature on Amazon.


Most writers know this can cheapen the story somewhat, because a great story builds up and leisurely luscious beginnings are the mark of many great novels of yore. The thing is, no one has that luxury of time anymore. What the Dickens are you thinking if you don’t realize there won’t be a soul looking at your second paragraph if the first doesn’t grab ‘em by the collar?

And speaking of Dickens, he was a master of first lines. His craft shows awareness of collar-grabbing mastery.


There are posts online where readers chime in with their favorite first lines.

{For example, see this.}

 

A first line or paragraph is the narrative voice in a nutshell. It makes one want to sit close by and continue to hang out and listen as long as the narrator cares to talk. Openings mustn’t be different from the rest of the story, or it’s a broken promise. Few things are as disappointing as broken promises.


To this day, one of my favorites is in Richard Peck’s The Teacher’s Funeral. The voice, so expressive, continues and delivers the promise of this opening in spades.

If your teacher has to die, August isn't a bad time of year for it. You know August. The corn is earring. The tomatoes are ripening on the vine. The clover's in full bloom. There's a little less evening now, and that's a warning. You want to live every day twice over because you'll be back in the jailhouse of school before the end of the month.


I gave this book to many of my kids’ teachers, making sure they knew it was an ode to teachers and teaching, all the more effective because it was never teachy-preachy. This opening gives that ironic feel. No matter how many times I re-read it, I’m newly awed. 


Oh, and it’s August, folks.


Tuesday, July 26, 2022

HOW MANY BOOKS DO YOU HAVE IN YOU?

 

The subject/title line is not frivolous. There are writers who feel they have one book in them, and after writing it (published or not) they have done the deed, had their say, and the bucket is empty.

 

I had that feeling with my first work intended for publication. A philosophical chapter book a la The Little Prince that I mistakenly thought was a picture book.

 

I couldn’t imagine ever writing another story. What more did I have to say?

 

No one offered to publish it, and I choose not to re-read it ever again. Mostly because I know now it was not ready for prime time by any measure, and I don’t want to be stuck in the mental space that made me write it in the first place. The state that asserted I have said it all.

 

It was a strange state lasting a few months, and once I got through it, the faucet just kept running. Sometimes it trickles and other times it gushes. But the game changer is that I know I will never run out of stories worth telling.

 

Even when I can’t think of any, I know they are there, just beyond the horizon, waiting for the rising sun to reveal their shape.

It’s called being alive.

Tuesday, July 19, 2022

RHYMING ZONE

 

There is a truth universally acknowledged that a picture book writer in pursuit of le mot juste, must not make it a rhyming one.


Picture books, the ones conceived for the youngest listeners who adore rhyme. Imagine that.


The reasons agents and editors give is that most of us think we can rhyme well, but most of us can’t. Add to that are commercial considerations with a long view to foreign languages editions. Translating rhyming texts is even harder than rhyming well in the original language.


All true. But still.


Rhyme has charm. Rhyme has beat. Rhyme tickles and tingles the bottom of feet.

Gotta get up. Gotta dance. Love to rhyme?

Take a chance.


So, as I just demonstrated, it is hard to do well.

But if you must, then do. Take a chance. Some texts just beg for it.

Tuesday, July 12, 2022

AGE? What’s that?

 

We do know that, up to a point, age does bring a certain kind of wisdom—

The reflective kind.


Which is why, especially in the thinking/writing arts, ageism has no place whatsoever.

We are not weightlifters or furniture movers, for heaven’s sake.


And so if you read one thing today, please read the article in this link.

[Debuting at the Age of 66 | Jane Friedman]


Can you tell I am ready, oh so-so very muchly ready, for my breakout novel?



Tuesday, July 5, 2022

WHEN CHARACTERS TEACH

 

Another writer, lamenting the steep odds to traditional publishing, told me she doesn’t need to write and will cease writing fiction if her journey doesn’t make an upward turn in the near future.

 

I was surprised. This writer is gifted, exceptionally so. She spends many hours at her craft. I assumed she, like me, writes for herself first. I told her that the writing process is a way of clarifying thoughts, and I couldn’t imagine not doing it regardless of what markets open (or don’t) for my stories.

 

She responded that Journaling, (=keeping a diary) serves that purpose for her. Fiction is a craft that is firstly labor, not a gift to self.

 

It’s different for me. Because, and this is a confession that could put me in the loony-bin in some folks’ eyes, my characters always surprise me with their insights. They say things I never knew, or never knew I knew. I grow and learn a lot from them.

 

Another way of putting it is the unconscious mind needed the conscious self to open a narrow portal and allow insights to slither out into the space that words inhabit.

 

 

Journaling has never served this for me, and I stopped keeping a diary many years ago. For me, the entries consisted of emotions of the moment that overwhelmed any chance for deep reflection.

 

In this blog I write of what I already know or hope to learn. In fiction, I learn what I didn’t know I knew.

 

So, to each their own. I am grateful for all that my fictional characters taught me, and while I’d love to share them with you, I will not abandon them regardless of who else chooses not to make their acquaintance.


Tuesday, June 28, 2022

!!! ALERT !!!

 

At 3:08 am I was jolted awake by the screechiest loudest most gosh-darn scream from my cell phone.


AMBER ALERT!!! AMBER ALERT!!! AMBER ALERT!!!


As the blasting continued, I looked at the text. Something about a child abduction in a brown Buick. The only option to stop the shrieking phone was to “erase.” No saving for later. I tapped it ASAP.


And then I laid awake until morning, heart beating fast, wondering how many bay area residents could possibly spot a brown Buick from their beds. I was fuming.


This is not the first time this happened, and I always lament the uselessness of these alerts to all cell phones. When you have one in our state, you cannot opt out of these alerts on a basic (not smart) phone.


It has happened while driving, and nearly caused me to crash. There is no way I would stop on the highway to look at my phone. I don’t answer normal calls while driving, either.


It has happened at various times of the day, and I don’t see zooming cars from my kitchen, either.


It happened when I was getting an ultrasound by a surgeon (that’s another story) and she nearly dropped her handheld device.


And that screech: I didn’t know my phone is capable of such volume.


A well-intentioned setting that in fact is largely useless.


If you are not acquainted with the Amber alert system, see this.


I am all for radios broadcasting (without upping the volume manifold, as they do now) and especially for the electronic signs on highways.


But how can I possibly help from my bed?


As I lay awake, I realized I was not really angry at the alert. I was angry that people do horrible things that made others invent such a system. I was angry that countries invade other countries without provocation. I was angry that a few bad apples inflict so much harm on the peaceful and helpful majority.


I learned this morning the details of the abduction,  The face of an angelic toddler taken from home by what is reported to be a stranger with out-of-state license plates is haunting. 


I’m mad that such happens. Now that I’ve had coffee I’d like to go out and look for that brown Buick.


But as an aside, don’t shoot me, I’m also grumpy because I was awakened hours ago in a violent way and am lacking sleep. Some of the best intentions lead to grumpiness.  


P.S. 
Update: Thankfully it's been resolved. Waking up residents in five counties was not the reason the abductor was caught and the child rescued. I'd wake up every other night if it helped, but it hardly ever does for all the reasons I noted. I wonder how many car crashes and heart attacks these alerts have caused, and if anyone is counting.

Tuesday, June 21, 2022

HOW OLD IS YOUR OLDEST?

 

Make New Friends but Keep the Old

Those are Silver but These are GOLD

John Parry (1841-1903)

 

Old friends remember details we’ve forgotten, and we do the same for them.

New friends allow one to reinvent oneself.

Both have important places in life’s journey.

My oldest continuing friendship is more than half a century and counting. A few months back, when I posted a photo of little me, (in the context of having been a cat lover from way back) she reminded me that I used to concoct, compose, and communicate stories about my cat’s nightly adventures when the rest of our immediate world was in dreamland.  

Oh, then I remembered. Seems I’ve been a storyteller longer than even I had recalled. Back then, as soon as I told the tale— it became a real tail. A few years more, and I knew what was fact and what was fiction. But the visceral memory of what it’s like to be an imaginative person of four and five came gushing in.

Because old friends sometimes know you better than you know yourself.

Keep the old.