Tuesday, February 25, 2020

My Favorite Meal

Do you have a favorite meal? Mine is, hands down, breakfast.

Breakfast means, literally, break the fast. You’ve not eaten since maybe eight the night before.*
*(Unless you are the midnight by-the-fridge sort, which is an image I’ve only experienced watching movies/sitcoms. In real life, middle of the night is a time when the last thing I want to do is stand by an open refrigerator or even think about food.)

So now it’s eight in the morning. You’ve “fasted” for twelve hours, and you should be ravenous.

For me, this is the mystery of breakfast: I’m not hungry in the least. I don’t know why, I just don’t get that peckish sensation that precedes lunch or dinner. This makes breakfast a meal of complete non-urgent food choice.  
A long time ago I vowed to never eat something I don’t enjoy, (with the exception of social circumstances when someone else is in charge and I want to be polite) so breakfast is pure pleasure food.

It so happens that American food conventions also include my favorites as breakfast food. Pancakes, scrambled eggs, hot cereal, and...
coffee, blessed coffee.

I liken it to reading for pleasure. Not assigned books (whether for school, work, or a book club) or books that are “good for you,” as in must-read-because-it-won-the-Pulitzer-prize. But pure pleasure reading.
At the same time I abandoned “good for you” breakfasts, (bye-bye bran flakes and cold milk) I also vowed to never finish a book that didn’t resonate.

Life is too short.
So eat when you don’t have to, and read when you don’t have to. Life will be good.

Tuesday, February 18, 2020

Ruminations on Winter in California

The dead of winter where I live, is the time the gates of heaven open and water comes down every few days to bring life and green the land. There is nothing dead about winter here.

Only a few hours’ drive, the deepest snow in the United States can strand travelers even today, just as it did the Donner Party over a hundred and seventy years ago. You can certainly think of that swatch of California as being in the dead of winter. The story of the Breen and Donner families is taught in fourth grade of every California school. DH was told he’s descended from the same Breens, and so we’ve earned the right to reside over those lethal hills and past the freezer zone, on the beautiful always spring-like coast.

I don’t write this to make you jealous. ‘All y’all,’ seized by cabin fever and thinking just about now that you’ve had enough winter, take heart and some hot chocolate. Sunny is not all it seems.

“A sunny place for some shady people.” This saying by a clever writer, made me think how vivid writing works. It’s about delineating. It’s about marking contradictions, pointing differences, making a line that pops.

California is all about lines. It’s a land of extreme if adjacent climates. A state that shines in exploration even as it cultivates a shady subculture of folks running away from this that and the other, including norms of decency held onto by older cultures in older states. It’s a tantalizing contradiction from which great human dramas are born, told, written, filmed,  and like all life— eventually evaporate.

Reminding the creative self to cherish these lines, and raising a glass of soymilk to the sunshine.

Tuesday, February 11, 2020

That Loving Smell...

Valentine's Day around the corner, and the stores are saturated with the sweet smells of roses and chocolate.
If you’re a chocoholic, you are happy already. You also won’t be sympathetic to this post.

Although I make a point to stop and smell the roses as I go about life, I haven’t been caught by the seduction of chocolate. Call me Ms. Vanilla.

I got to thinking about why so many confuse chocolate with that loving feeling. I read about the studies that supposedly prove a certain chemical in chocolate is identical to what our bodies secrete when we’re in love. The chemical, phenethylamine, causes the release of endorphins or some such.
Allow me to be skeptical. No doubt, the chocolate business loved it.

Long ago, red ripe tomatoes were viewed as love offerings, the way roses are now. As I examine this dispassionately, (pun intended) I think tomatoes are a far better choice. A good tomato is colorful (unlike chocolate) and beautiful, and we now know it’s good for you. Medieval Europeans, apparently, thought tomatoes were poisonous. Think of how much good eating they missed.

This bring me to (what else?) writing conventions. We hear that editors are hungry for “different,” but much of what is published is a slight variation on the same. What if we really thought outside the box?

Think picture books that are one hundred pages long. Think middle grade stories that consist of links only, each telling their POV of the same event. Think novels that are wordless. Just think.

Okay, the smell of love in the air has my brain floating on a misty wave. In a week, I’ll be back on earth, and working on my next (very grounded) revision of a tried, true and conventionally acceptable manuscript.
With love.

Tuesday, February 4, 2020

More CAT Tales

Allow me to indulge is some wee cat tales, and also tails. This links to writing in a roundabout way, I promise.

All three of our cats are, well, cats. This they have in common. They have whiskers and pointy ears and fur and, yes, tails. But here is where they differ.

^Clara, the oldest, has never done a bad thing in her life. She never sharpens her claws on anything but the cardboard we provide for such purpose; never nudges anyone off their food bowl; never attacks the others, and has never met a person she doesn’t like. She does not assume you want her on your lap, so she looks to your invitation and will leave with the slightest sign you’ve had enough. She’s the best (and only, actually) real mouser, and has kept us rodent-free as fee for her care.
She is the cat you want if you need one working feline.

^Sokolov, our only male, was of feral stock. To this day, he only accepts five humans, us plus a friend. When I say, “accepts,” I mean he runs to greet us at the sound of our footsteps, the way a loving dog would. No other human will ever see him, as he zooms to hide long before they are at the door. Visitors have to believe me Sokolov exists, because no one gets as much as a glimpse of his black furry tail. He constantly challenges the others (and us) for our food, and proceeds to leave vomited hairballs everywhere. You’ll have to take my word that he’s more than worth all that trouble. Sokolov is the most intelligent and, at least towards us, the most affectionate.

^Our youngest, Nougat, is a senseless goof. She gets herself into spaces she can’t get out of, considers everything a batting toy, and talks all the time. She can hold a continuous conversation for half an hour, as long as you keep responding. Her sentences are as varied as they are entertaining. She prefers your company and play to a tasty morsel every time. Folks who think cats are just food motivated, haven’t met Nougat. “Food? What food? Play with me, I tell you. Meow-meow, I’m talking to you!”

This brings me to writing. Yes, they’re all cats, of the Felis Catus species. But they are individuals. A good reminder not to have generic characters when telling a story. 

Tuesday, January 28, 2020

A Conversation with a Four-year-old

This morning I had this conversation with a four-year-old who lives next door.

            4YO: “What are you doing?”
Me: “Cleaning my backyard.”
4YO: “Why you’re not cleaning my backyard?”
Me: “Because it’s yours. You could clean your backyard, and I will clean mine.”
4YO: “I think that’s funny.”

We both laughed. Me, because his conclusion was funny to me.

When writing for young’uns, it’s good to remember they see things from a different perch. 
Bless my neighbors for sharing their kids, when mine are no longer the age I write for.

Tuesday, January 21, 2020

Opening Paragraphs

Every writer knows how important a strong, engaging, punch ‘em in the gut opening is to selling a story.

It’s the antithesis to the way we teach schoolchildren to write letters, beginning with “dear so-and-so” and proceeding with “I am writing to you...”

The first paragraph is a rude thing. With it, we must break ingrained habits of polite address, which build methodically and leisurely to the point of why we are writing in the first place. None of that pitter-patter to the entrance, folks.

But I find the first paragraph serves not only to engage a reader, but to set me, the writer, on the right course. It is a reminder of who, (the voice, i.e. the personality of the narration) the why, (why is writing the whole thing worth my while) the what, (the theme is embedded right there) the where, (at least in terms of how it's emotionally situated if not physically as well) and the when.

If, along the winding way of first drafting, I find myself unsure of any of the above^, I re-read and reorient with the help of that first paragraph. In the event that it doesn’t serve to correct my writerly meandering, it’s a failure.

It’s not only for the reader or the marketing department. Great first paragraphs are the writer’s lighthouse to get back home. 

©Shelagh Duffett

Tuesday, January 14, 2020

This Date in Personal History

Ever wake up, note the date, and think there is something about this date that is meaningful, something you should remember, do, or register. Something important...
But nothing pops into your conscious mind. Nothing even crawls in. Nothing.

I have that feeling every few months. I wonder if the birthday of a friend from long ago (like elementary school) or some appointment or work deadline I was supposed to meet is causing this sensation. Maybe. Probably. Who knows?

And this is when I go to this date in history. When all else fails, I feel a need to connect with the collective consciousness.

So on this date in history, the fourteenth of January, in the year 1601, church authorities in Rome burned Hebrew books. Oy vey. Sadly, not the last time this would happen.
On a positive note, in 1878 the U.S.A. Supreme court ruled race separation on trains unconstitutional. It would take eighty-five years for this to sink in some states, but it’s progress.
And on this very date in 1979, President Carter proposed Martin Luther King Jr. Day.  

I still can’t connect to the date’s personal thingamajig, but I’m satisfied.

{Last year’s, ^ but I love it}

Have a wonderful day!

Tuesday, January 7, 2020

Going for a Hike

When I read that a writer revised a novel sixty-four or a hundred-and-eleven times, I am not awed. I'm baffled.

Tackling a revision is like going for a hike.

First draft, for those of us who are planners, is like going for a hike to an unknown place but using a map. Pantsters (those who write by the seat of their pants, no outline) are hiking to unknown places without a map. Pantsters have only a vague sense of where they must end, which is some variation of home, be it a mental or emotional state for the main character or the plot coming to a place of equilibrium.

I always work on the first and second draft alone, and it’s the closest I come to hiking without a map. By the second draft I already know the trail (=first draft) but now I must see if this was a good, satisfying hike. Before anyone else’s feedback, I’m not clear how to asses. So I made some standard questions I ask myself as I go.
Consistent voice?
End that echoes the beginning?

Now it’s time to have others join me; Beta readers, whose feedback is invaluable. Their specific comments become the trail map for the next outing= the third draft. I find it much easier to revise to specific feedback. It is like hiking with specific places to pass on the way.

Revising is also akin to hiking in that after many rounds you stop seeing much of the road. It just goes by with nary a single detail noted. This is why my process stops at the fifth or sixth draft. For me, there's a point where I no longer see what a reader would, and that's where I'm done. I’m always ready to go back after some time has passed, or an acquired manuscript gets new eyes to guide it. But on my own, it’s a five-six times trek.

Because writing, like hiking, is an effort that should reveal and enhance, not suck the life out of the traveler. 

Tuesday, December 31, 2019

Happy New Year!

The number twenty-twenty is bound to bring a lot of writerly merriment. You know, twenty-twenty vision/hindsight to us all, and all that.

I'll keep it simple, for once. Complexity will return in January. So today---

Happy 2020 everyone!

Tuesday, December 24, 2019

Tuesday, December 17, 2019

As Another Year Draws to a Close...

...A reminder to recharge the batteries

Some months ago, I read this article about writerly/creative doldrums. I wasn’t in the depths of such right then, but I recognized the feeling and loved the way Mathina Calliope worded this universal experience.

I’m doing fine, thanks be to G-d. But I also remember that the end of each calendar year brings a sort of self-assessment of all I have done and all I didn’t manage to do. So by way of preparation, I made sure to find this post again so I can repeat the six true affirmations Ms. Calliope listed, beginning with honoring the Muse.

In fact, I begin each day with just such. Each and every one of the affirmations resonates with me. No matter what you do, I bet there’s a version of this just for you.

And so, I wanted to share it. With gratitude to Ms. Calliope, Jane Friedman who published the post on her blog, and most of all the Great Spirit that so generously gifts us our days.


Tuesday, December 10, 2019

A Facebook Group for EVERYTHING

In an ever-changing world, living half a world away from where I grew up, I found myself thinking about one particular restaurant my parents took me to with some regularity. It disappeared long ago, and we stopped going there long before it vaporized.

It was such an oddity that there were times I wondered if I had really been there, or it was something I dreamt.
The name my parents used was “The Cooperative Restaurant.” It had only two entrees to choose from— meatballs or boiled chicken. If you didn't want either, then no food for you. The servers were burly grumpy folks, who hurled the plates on the tables with such force that the meaty juices sometimes sprayed the customers. The servers either yelled at you or yelled at each other. The sounds of crashing dishes and blood-curdling cursing that echoed from the kitchen behind the swinging doors, were part of the ambience.
It was cheap, and the food was rib-sticking good, in a homey sort of way.

It was so peculiar, and didn’t fit the rest of my memories. Did we really go there? Was there ever such a place?

Turns out there are others who remember, and I found them in a closed Facebook group for folks who grew up in west Jerusalem. More than a hundred commentators in the group waxed nostalgic over the place, first called “The Workers Restaurant,” then “The Cooperative,” and finally “Sovah,” before it met its inevitable demise. I, who was four and five years old when I ate there, knew little of its history, and the older commentators input surpassed the riches of my memory.

Which takes me to this final thought for today's post. Anything and everything that interests you is likely to have a group of others who share your interest. I already belong to a few writerly groups. There really is a Facebook group for everything.

Tuesday, December 3, 2019


Yup, another ISM for you

When I was twelve years old, I had a friend who naturally waxes philosophical. Her utterances made her the perfect friend for me, because I had an unquenched thirst for meaning, and still do.

And so, when she sighed and said, “From the moment we’re born we start aging,” I gasped and realized I was on a march to old age, and it wasn’t thrilling to my then self.

Many years later, this process has gained concreteness but lost the darkness I felt then. This is because of unexpected peace I gained over the years, (something no twelve-year-old imagination contained) and the recognition that what I love to do best I am doing better all the time.

Which brings me to the matter of ageism in the writing world.

A year ago, another writer, wise and talented a storyteller as you'll ever find, wrote to me about her experience of ageism: “...Each book I write is better than the last, and everything I write now is better than anything I got published then. But none of it matters, except to the extent that growing craft is good for its own sake. God sees, and that matters most.
But in spite of all that — yes, I wish writing and publishing goodness still ahead for us both.”

Older writers are better writers. But let’s not go the other way and hold it against the young’uns, either.

ISMs are not good for our souls, ever yearning for meaning.

Tuesday, November 26, 2019


Here's a happy prescription to get in the holiday mood.

First, steam some lactose-free milk.

Second, use a whipping foamer and make it light and airy.

Third, share it with an eager feline---😻

Who will be filled with foam and thankfulness.

You're welcome!

💝Happy Thanksgiving 💝

Tuesday, November 19, 2019

Clara Schumann’s Diet

No, not that Clara Schumann

This one

We took her out of a kill shelter only hours before she was scheduled to be euthanized. She’d been there over two months, and while all the other cats who kept her company were adopted, she was passed over. A volunteer texted me that “they can’t keep her any longer.” I got in my car and raced over, and this majestic lady, all eight pounds of her, graced us.

Three years later, Clara Schumann became even more substantial. Yearly vet records show an eleven-pound feline, generally in good health.

But in 2018, the year we lost another rescue who originally came with Clara, we gained a new cat, aptly named Nougat. Our new addition had serious digestive problems, and we finally solved those with a special rich if bland diet. The vet said this diet was fine for all our cats.

Clara Schumann thought so, too. In one year, her weight went from eleven to sixteen pounds.

The vet said to keep the same food, but restrict Clara to only half a cup a day. Three months later, she had gained 0.8 of a pound on this restrictive diet.

It was time for a blood test and a thorough checkup. The vet called, saying she had good news and bad news.

“The good news is there’s nothing wrong with Clara,” she said. “And the bad news is there’s nothing wrong with Clara.”

This meant Clara was going on a stricter diet. New diet food, and still, only half a cup a day. We are to feed her four times a day an eighth of a cup of diet food each time. The rest of the time, we are to manage our emotions as she begs for food.

Trust me, Clara Schumann’s diet is the hardest diet I’ve ever been on. Meow!

But there is good news. Seven and a half months later, she is losing her girth gradually and is gaining her pert. All eleven point six pounds of her.

Tuesday, November 12, 2019


Most writers I have known, or read interviews with, would rather keep their private lives private. Publishing, i.e. making public, is for the work, not their bios or beeswax.

But today’s publishing demands some personal exposure. It’s a weird and uncomfortable transition, and in the process, some get confused as to how personal to be in the virtual social space.

To the rescue comes a polished and experienced professional, literary agent Janet Reid. See her blog post here, about how to (and mostly how NOT to) present oneself as you head to the field of publishing.

It’s solid advice from one who knows. Not arguing, and also breathing a sigh of relief that I have nothing in my digital past that needs fixing. (Actually, almost nothing, but I’ll leave it there.)

However, I have one more to add to this list of please-don’t-do-that, and it’s a personal one that has bothered me for years, mostly because it is so ubiquitous on writers’ sites.

It’s the tendency to hide in plain sight.

I took care to include in my About Me/bio all true things that are germane and pertinent to why I do what I do. I omitted plenty that I don’t want to share and don’t think has relevance to my writing life. But even as I use some humor, I wrote central and deep truths.

I understand how some do not want to say anything that goes beneath the surface. Thus, we get “fun facts” such as “I like green jelly beans, have a fear of spiders, and once climbed a mountain with a plate on my head.”

And that's pretty much all they say.

This sort of disclosure is not much fun, and serves to masquerade as personal sharing while hiding.

Maybe having a factual bio would be better. It’s not humorous, but I’ll get to know you just a wee bit. Janet Reid mentions that you should have a photo of yourself, not of a typewriter. I think a bio should also expose something.

Just my take on this tricky road. I know it isn’t easy.

Tuesday, November 5, 2019


If you’ve read this blog before, you know how I rail against the standard/daylight savings time change. You must be saying “’nuff already,” and “there she goes again,” and “there are much worse things, so grow up.”

Only this time I am not pleading for me. Take pity on my cats.

You see, they don’t read digital clocks, (though one of them, I swear, can read the analogue kind. She will stare at it for hours until it’s feeding time) so just pointing at the clock and saying “not yet” has no effect.

Try telling Ms. Nougat that I have one more hour to sleep. She’ll pretend to be polite for a few minutes, and then graduate to jumping and attacking the quilt and finally-- me.

Try telling Miss Clara her seven/thirteen/seventeen/twenty O’clock (think army times) feedings are not yet/not yet/not yet/not yet, and see how far that gets you.

I know, change is good. Change is a mini-vacation. In fact, why would anyone who lives in a nice place and a beautiful location schlep to a vacation? For the change, of course.
As hard as I try to convince myself these forced time changes are vacations, I can’t convince my cats.

©The New Yorker cartoons IB PG

And then, when I finally succeed, we have to do it all over again in spring.

Take pity. If not on me, then on the cats.

Ms. Nougat: “Sorry, the old seven just doesn’t feel like itself. Glad you’re up even if you prefer to still be tucked in. See how nice it is to be up an hour early? I’m on top of it, literally.”

Tuesday, October 29, 2019

There’s Ghosting and then there’s Ghastly

In early July, a post made the rounds in writers groups online and caused some consternation. You can read the original post here.

Most people know by now that professional writers (who rarely get public credit) often write books authored by people who are not writers. Thus, such writers are called ghostwriters.

But ghostwriting fiction for rich teens so they can claim literary novels on their resume? This is a different ballgame. After all, part of the buzz these mis-credited novels get is because their “authors” (not!) are teens. Think “WOW-only-sixteen-and-already-a-traditionally-published-novelist.”

There is plenty of puffery in the public sphere, so why do I find this a different order of offense?

Maybe because as one who writes, I know the joy of seeing my name on a published cover is the least of it. That part lasts but five minutes. I know the real deep spiritual satisfaction of writing itself, and to think young persons so completely miss that boat makes me sad.

It isn’t very different from a rich person hiring a well-coiffed escort and thinking it is the same as real loving companionship with an equal. The ways of the world are rife with examples of thinking you can buy what is priceless. But what makes this especially sad is that parents are buying it for their children.

You have to inhabit real writing, struggle with your story and come out alive, published or not. 
That’s the real deal, kids.

{With a nod to Halloween, round the corner}

Tuesday, October 22, 2019

Why should it be EASY when it can be HARD?

Some weeks ago, at a meeting of writers, I overheard an experienced published writer (I’ll call her Ms. Author) explain the journey to a young hopeful just embarking on the path to publication. (I’ll call her Ms. Newbie.)

“The first thing is to finish writing the book,” Ms. Author said. “But you know, statistically speaking most people who start writing a novel never finish a single one.”

“And then what’s my next step?” Ms. Newbie asked.

“The next step is to find a legitimate literary agent,” Ms. Author said. “But you know, statistically speaking, most writers never get a legitimate agent.”

“And once I get a legitimate, non-fee charging agent, what do I do next?” Ms. Newbie asked, unperturbed.

“The next step is for your agent to sell the book. But you know, statistically speaking most agents don’t sell most books they represent.”

“So if my agent does sell the book, what’s next?”

“Next the book must be a commercial success if you want to sell another. But you know, statistically speaking...”

By this point, Ms. Newbie’s eyes were twice their original size and her mouth was agape.
“It’s hopeless,” she mumbled.

Listening, I had to say something. But another writer (I’ll call her Ms. Wise) chimed in and saved me from a reflexive mumbling attempt at reassurance.

“All true, statistically speaking, “Ms. Wise said. “ Just like life, it’s hard and none of us is getting out of this thing alive. However, it’s a magnificent journey that few wish they’d never started.”

Yes, write your story.

Tuesday, October 15, 2019

The Less Ordered Gardens

Mary, Mary, quite contrary,
How does your garden grow?
With silver bells, and cockle shells,
And pretty maids all in a row.
Olde English Nursery Rhyme

My late father had two sayings he repeated. The first was, “I’m always right,” said in jest, sort of. The second was, “you should write in a less ordered way.” The latter he said in all seriousness, but with affection and the intent to help my writing.

I could blame my structured writing on reading and incorporating too much writing conventions and advice. But, in truth, I am a person who fears disorder. My living space has everything in place, and I spent much time putting it just so.

I thought about it the other day when I walked by two homes one next to the other. The first had gardening of tight orderliness, and the second resisted it.

As I looked at them side by side, (photographs of the actual gardens below) I could hear my father's voice telling me to loosen some of my ordered ways.

The cultivated wild look is known as an English-style garden. I much prefer them to the French gardens, so manicured and carved to perfect symmetry. English gardens take as much work to control and sustain, but they look as if nature could have sprung them forth.
French Style Garden^

English Style garden^

Great stories are the same. They have bones, (for coherent meaning, which comes from internal symmetry) but feel organic, as if one unexpected thing led to another to make a living thing.

I’m in the midst of first drafting a less ordered story. Yes, my father was right.

© By Shelagh Duffett

Cultural Appropriation

The other day I ran into Rona.*
*(name changed)
Rona was a girl I knew in one of my children’s classes. Rona has changed a lot. Rona is now going by Ron. They are transitioning.

I wish them well. People seek their authentic selves all their lives, and there are many ways to that. But something occurred to me right then and there. There is nothing inside my being that has insight into this particular transition.

Oh, sure. Like most humans, there were parts of my physic that I wished were different at various times, though this has lessened greatly as I gained in years. Who hasn’t wanted a different nose/eye color/height or whatever? But the feeling of being in the wrong body was never one I had.

Which brought another insight: I could never write such a fictional character from the inside. I could and would write characters who are very different from me, but only as secondary characters, the way a main character whose inner world is one I know intimately, experiences them. We encounter and appreciate many people as we live, and my main characters will also. But it is the inner world, or point of view, (POV) that will remain someone I can vouch for.

This means that a black/Asian/Muslim/Trans character will not be the POV (first person or third person personal) for a story I will write. I’m guessing this is what the cry about cultural appropriation in fiction is about, and to that extent, I understand it.

But I do not begrudge any writer of fiction who does attempt this, because here also we must allow others to tackle what they feel strongly about. If they do so convincingly, that’s just fine with me.

And, in the end, there is no end to appropriation in fiction: main characters who are male written by female writers, (and vice versa) or a story taking place at a time so long ago the writer couldn’t have lived it except in their mind. It’s fiction.

I just don’t think I could do it well, so I will strive to appreciate but not appropriate.

©Luis Rodriguez 2018

Tuesday, October 8, 2019


I have periods of high creativity and low creativity. But writer’s block isn’t invited to any of my days.

I refuse to have writer’s block.

I connect that feeling of “I’ve got nothing to offer” some writers experience to perfectionism. I haven’t been cursed with perfectionism.

*{Perfectionism as a block is not to be confused with depression, which may block most every activity. I'm blessed not to be prone to that, either. I think Writer's Block, specifically, is caused by aiming at pristine results right off the bat.}

Writing anything, regardless of how well it’s coming out, has to do sometimes.

 I’m okay with that. In fact, I give a self-pat-on-the-back for plowing through the barren patches even more than the fertile ones.

It’s the perfectionist who crumbles half-typed pieces of paper in disgust, or deletes whole Word files in exasperation. Not good enough! Bad! I can’t write!
Which is another way of saying it isn’t perfect.

Perfect, as far as I’m concerned, is an illusion. Going for perfect is a delusion. But keeping going is the real deal.

I’ve discovered this long ago, when I realized that some of the chapters I’ve written under feelings of drought actually read better than what I experienced as inspired writing at the time.

 But even that is subjective.

Letting go of the search for perfection also brings the blessing of knocking down that thing, the writer’s block.
Knocking it off block by block.

Tuesday, October 1, 2019

Going to the Market

I know how to choose a good avocado at the supermarket, or a melon at the farmer’s market. But blimey if I know how best to market a book, and books are what I read, write and live.

Other than self-publishers, authors have little to no say about marketing. The title, the cover, the rest--- are the provenance of marketing, and there are specialists for these in the publishing world. This is what they do. Many of my published writer friends roll their eyes when asked, “How did you choose the cover?” 
They didn’t.

I have written about letting others change the title, (mine are too prosaic) and the covers, (my tendency is to the too-precious and not fitting for market) but I think this article in Publishers Weekly by the amazing Jane Friedman-- gives the whole story as authors experience it.
{In case the inserted link doesn’t work, here it is again:
Because this is how much I like it}

Marketing folks make mistakes, too. But what they know is different enough from what writers know that it's a good idea to accept their input, even though it can sting. If our stories are our children, a title/cover suggestion is akin to having to accept a teacher’s plan for your child that feels oh-so-wrong. But is it?

To quote Winnie the Pooh: “Think, think, think.

And then let it go. Because unlike your flesh and blood child, you have to. And the marketers are often right, anyway. It’s a long road to market, and we need all the friends our books can have.

Tuesday, September 24, 2019

WRITE What You Love to READ

Steven Spielberg said he makes the movies he’d like to see. It’s that simple.

So it is for me. I write the stories I’d like to read. Good thing, because read them I will, over and over, before I move on to writing the next story I’d like to read.

This is my answer to the question of why I write for kids, why I write what I write, and why I write, period. I like to read. That is the why and the what.

There are writers who wouldn’t write commercial books if asked, because they don’t read them. Others wouldn’t write literary fiction because-- ditto. If you love reading who-done-its, Science Fiction, or romance, you could try writing one. Writing is a thorough engagement, and such is rewarding in a deep way when it’s what you like.

All the rest are the dues we pay for this privileged existence.

©Ofra Amit (from A Velocity of Being)

Tuesday, September 17, 2019

The Heroism of Getting Along

Okay, I’ll put it right here. My heroes are the get-along people.

Outside of literary fiction, you won’t find them much in stories. But in real life, they are the ones who don’t scream and shout, (these days mostly online) or “unfriend” or cut off family as they imagine this is what taking a stand sounds like.

To me, such a stand, while some find it glamorous and most think heroic, often amounts to spite and vilification. A rather lazy thing.

Real heroes don’t forget that people are complex. They love real diversity, as in folks who don’t think or act as they do. They love them because variety is what the creator intended.
{And as an aside, maybe especially those who don't think there is a creator might admit they'd be bored stiff without the magnificent assortment that is our species.}

Real heroes don’t dream of kudos from the tribe. They’re okay with not having a tribe.

We’re about to re-enter that fractious zone called national elections, and what incivility we’ve fostered is about to get wilder. I hope I can remind myself of the above, and try to be that kind of hero.

But I may have to take some breaks from the online world. I won’t leave it; that’s not heroic IMO. Just take breaks now and then to remember my values so I can recharge and come back to living with, and listening to, differences.

I re-quote my grandma’s Yiddish saying: If everyone pulled in the same direction, the world would tip over.

She was not the most tolerant person. But she did leave me this gem. Just sayin’.

Tuesday, September 10, 2019

Don’t Let Reality Get in the Way

“You must stay drunk on writing so reality cannot destroy you.”
–Zen in the Art of Writing
©Ray Bradbury

Why do I love this line so much? Because it keeps my reality right smack in front of me, lest I forget.

This pretty much encapsulates the writing life, the artistic life, the gardening life and really— life. Period.  

Like all Zen sayings, if you explain or elaborate much, you invade and destroy the ephemeral space they inhabit. I’ve already written posts about life as story and how we organize our understanding as stories. 

I’ll leave it, then, before I get high-falutin’ again.

Tuesday, September 3, 2019


Despite the season, this is not about baseball.

Pitching is also what writers do. Writers pitch to agents and agents then pitch to editors. Editors pitch to acquisition committees. Once acquired, publishers pitch to booksellers. Lots of pitching goes on in the world of literature.

A pitch must be pithy and strong. Think of it as a strategic punch. It’s a craft all its own, and many a  good writer feels like a cow in a strange barn leaning to do it. But as wordsmiths who must use evocative language, it isn’t as far from our skillset as it feels.

Although I have a twitter account, I must confess I haven’t enjoyed it much. But it occurred to me that the site has prepared much of tweeting humanity for pitching. There are also pitching wars that go on regularly.
Check out #PitMad (next coming live 9/5/19, and also 12/5/19) for examples of energetic pitching. Read about it here https://pitchwars.org/pitmad/
[Disclosure: I’ve never done that^, but I have successfully pitched to editors and later to agents.]

 I now come up with a pitch for every story I write. I do it for my own clarity and because I’ve gotten to like it.

Have fun going to bat!

Tuesday, August 27, 2019

The Ebb and Flow of Life

From the time my kids were little, summer was the time to recharge. A scheduled ebb to the flow of new creativity. The end of August was the time to grease the wheels and test the gears before turning the engine on in fall.

This rhythm hasn’t failed me yet, but there is always that twinge of anxiety as to whether my vehicle’s engine will in fact turn on.

The other day, while feeling particularly twingy, I thought about a couple we know. They married in their thirties and by the time they got down to having children, pregnancy just wasn’t happening. It was not for lack of trying, they say. When they were just about resigned to starting complicated medical regiments in the hope for a baby (while preparing mentally to remain childless, as adoptions are not an easy route for the over-forty) the woman became pregnant.

The joy!

And this one daughter was followed by three more children less than two years apart. In their late forties, they found themselves the parents of four healthy, lovely children, and no extraordinary medical intervention needed.

I thought how this is what all creativity is like. We plan, we try, and sometimes we feel arid and dry. Then the gates open and the river rolls in.

Intentional pacing is the part we do. Without it, the river has no groove to flow into. Writers call it butt-in-chair. But some humility is needed, as there is a mysterious part that comes when it comes.

Tuesday, August 20, 2019

Does It Take a Village?

Some months ago, a neighbor posted on the neighborhood board (called NextDoor) that a mother deer had two fawns in her back yard. But only a few days later, the mother and one of the fawns disappeared, likely moved themselves to a more discreet grazing area.

The thing was, they left one fawn behind. Despite not approaching it and waiting for the mother to return for it, the newborn fawn was still there and still alone.

The neighbors mobilized with advice. Call animal control. Don’t call animal control. Call a vet. Follow what the vet says. Get bottles and formula and feed it. Don’t feed it. Do. Don’t. Do.

The neighbor began feeding the fawn. The fawn seemed to gain strength. The neighbor posted pictures. Who doesn’t melt at the sight of Bambi? Turned out Bambi was a she, and we collectively named her Bambina. We looked for daily updates and photos, and cheered for every new morning light that showed Bambina was still there. Donations of blankets and formula and money poured, but mostly it was a steady stream of advice that flowed and made us a village.

And then she began to fail. She was clearly sick. More advice, prayers and tears.

Then one day, Bambina passed away to the great grazing field in the sky, and a whole neighborhood cried.

Only weeks ago, this happened again. Only this was an abandoned newborn feral kitten. This time, it was a he, and the rescuer named him Alfie. Many adoption offers and donations later, and the rescuer has made Alfie, now an energetic love-bug of a cat, part of her household.

There’s a saying that it takes a village to raise a child. These real neighborhood stories made me think of how these children made us a village, but it took one compassionate neighbor to do the work.