Tuesday, May 28, 2024

SPRING

 

Even the word in English, SPRING, brings to mind a hop~ and a skip~ and a jump~---an upward trajectory.

 

Enjoy the uplift with a spring in your step.

Life is reaffirming itself.



Blessing 



Tuesday, May 21, 2024

WHO TELLS THE STORY

 

History is written by the victors. So said Winston Churchill. Napoleon called it a fable agreed upon.

 

In my current WIP, a pre-teen learns that what she knows of history, even recent history, is but a version of it and not the most interesting version.

 

Young people learn from books and increasingly from games and other visual media, (such as movies) what passes for the “true” story of humanity’s past.

 

Even scientific truths are augmented by storytelling. Think of the visualization in school textbooks of what the dinosaurs looked like. These are hypothetical guesses, periodically revised. Yet these images are taken as true depictions of a world now gone.

 

The greatest achievement of winning in battle may not be the spoils of war or avoiding the pain of being ravaged. It may be that you and yours get to be the ones telling the story of who did what to whom.

 

Somehow, perhaps because I began my life in an embattled region, I felt the need to tackle this thorny matter.  Even more, it seems all the more important to make younger readers consider it.

 

Storytellers have an outsized responsibility, one few can begin to achieve, to have their audience made aware of what a vantage point does to perception.

 

Because perception is reality is more than a clichรฉ. It is what we carry forward and use to make decisions. “Knowing history as to not repeat it” misses the point. Whose history do we know? Because, Virginia, it seems to me we are repetitiously repeating the repeats.  


Tuesday, May 14, 2024

RIDING A WILD STALION

 

Having just completed the fourth draft of my work in progress (=WIP) and with two beta readers’ feedback to help navigate the last two drafts, I can now assess what an anomaly this current WIP has been.

 

I was never a true planner. I have a writing friend, a published novelist, who not only fully charts all the details, plot points and characters of her stories before she begins typing the first paragraph, but if she finds that her writing has so much as begun to stray off the planned course, she deletes those pages and gets back on the road she had marked.

 

I can’t imagine writing this way. Too much like the homework back in school days: I know I must do it, I have a feeling of satisfaction when it’s done, but the work itself is torture, if you find extreme tedium torturous.

 

I know two writers who are complete pansters, (=writing by the seat of their pants) no plan whatsoever. They sit down to a writing session with no idea what will appear on the screen/page. Stephen King claims to be one. He sits to write in order to find out what will happen next. This is successful only for those who have so ingrained story structure in their creative mind that it turns out brilliantly, or at least not a complete going-nowhere-mess.

Panstering is very much like a flying trapeze without a safety net.

 

I had attempted this once a few years back and gave up after the first chapter. I then sat down to make a rough chart and proceeded as I usually do. I follow the chart loosely, discovering some surprises along the way but basically staying the charted course. Some call this “discovery writing.” It’s a plan that is not detailed, and the details are spontaneous and immensely enjoyable parts of the process.

 

I started my current WIP this way. But this time, right after the first chapter, the story went its own way. I had so completely lost control of this galloping horse that I didn’t stop to glance at my charted plan. What was happening on the page bore little resemblance to my plan.

 

It was as if I attached the reigns of a trusted old workhorse to a carriage. Once we left the carriage house, the horse began to gallop. To my horror, I discovered it was not the horse I thought I had attached, but a wild stallion. I was driving a carriage that a young wild horse I'd never met before had taken over. I had no control.

 

I’d start every writing session dreading where it was going. I had no idea where it would end.

 

Well, it did end. A second draft surprised me, because it sort of held together.

 

What’s next? Who knows. But it’s been an experience.


Tuesday, May 7, 2024

THE (mostly) UNSUNG HEROS of PUBLISHING

 

A writing colleague who had beta-read for me (and I for her) and who, like me, had been on occasion paid to freelance edit, let me know one of the books she had edited had won an important award.

When she mentioned the title, I gasped. It’s one I had read because it came recommended and it is an exquisite literary novel for middle grades. Aside from the mentioned award, this novel had garnered accolades from all the sources that matter in publishing.

 

The glory, rightly, goes to the author. The financial gain goes to the publisher. But what goes to the editor who guided it to the mature version the world got to read?

 

No glory, or even a smidgen of recognition, will attach to this all-important arm of the publishing journey. Some writers will mention their editor’s name in the acknowledgement page. But the public at large only knows editors when the latter write their memoires, and this they get to publish only if they had edited well known writers, plural.


 

Try not to chuckle as I confess this reminded me of intelligence officers as part of national security. Few know what battles they fought so we won’t have to. Editors are like the CIA field agents whom the public will never know.

 

Unsung heroes are a special breed. They work for the job at hand and not for a pat on the back.

 

To the editors:


Tuesday, April 30, 2024

The LONE PERSON THEORY of HISTORY

 

We grasp the past in stories. We frame our understanding of history in the stories historians tell.

 

There’s a school of thought that human history is largely shaped by single individuals. Thus, some speak not of the perennial evil current that is antisemitism, or of the German people in the middle of the twentieth century, but of “Hitler.” Hitler did this, and Hitler did that, and it’s all because of Hitler.

 

I remember reading a book (wish I could remember the title) where someone was bent on inventing time travel so he could go back in time and kill baby Hitler in his crib, before this baby would grow up and wreak havoc. I can’t remember if in the story the protagonist succeeds (=alternative history) but another baby grows up to stand in Adolph Hitler’s stead, or if the attempt fails. It was one or the other, because we know what did in fact happen.

 

A similar theme is in a graphic novel, Bodies, by Si Spencer, now made into an eight-part filmed series.  It was interesting to watch, and as wrongheaded as can be.

The lone savior/lone villain who can either save the world or destroy it is the basis not only of every superhero comic, but of all stories going back to the Bible and before.

 

For this reason, the multitude accept politicians who state a variation of “I alone can fix it.” It sounds preposterous to most thinking people, but we have been conditioned to frame our understanding of reality in this way.

 

All this is a reminder to storytellers. Storytellers have a responsibility for the ages. Our protagonists struggle to overcome and do right. But as they do, is humanity saved?

 

Even in kidlit, there is a stream of “kid saves the world.” (Think Harry Potter)

Blimey if I never write such stories, despite publishing professionals constant urging to “up the stakes.” I’m a big proponent of stories where an individual changes their own perspective or helps a person near them.

A Messiah is one because their teaching lights a way of being to individuals.

 

Save me from the save-the-world ones. We keep telling their stories, and the world is clearly not saved.



Tuesday, April 23, 2024

WHO’S AN EXPERT?

 

In a world where complexity in all matters is the norm, we turn to experts to navigate what’s what.

 

But who are the experts?

 

To paraphrase Mark Twain, there are experts, “experts”, and know-little braggarts.

 

How are we to tell who’s who?

 

For that, Virginia, we need experts.

 

They are everywhere.

 

Over the interwebs, under the radar, over the airwaves, and under the table.

 

If almost everyone’s an expert, then hardly anyone is.

 

Which sends us back full circle and on an endless Mรถbius loop.

 




Go, figure. Better yet, know you’re unlikely to.

 

Me: an expert at diagnosing confusion.



Tuesday, April 16, 2024

THE PARADE THAT WASN’T

 

In Anne Lamott’s Bird by Bird (an alternate sort of Bible for writers) there is a poignant chapter on the bloated expectations authors have for “Publication Day.” [See page 208, “Publication”]

 

Publication day is a date set by traditional publishers, after which the book will be available in stores or for order online. It’s the TAH-DAH!!! Day and your book’s birthday and let’s have a party day, drum-roll, ready-set-go-- horns blowing and pop out of a cake: your book is out in the world. ๐ŸŽ†

 

As Ms. Lamott tells it, it is nothing of the above.  99.9% of published writers know she’s spot on.

 

On any given year, all the parades and woopteedoo are for ten or twenty titles in the whole country. These are from the uber commercially successful authors or debuts that somehow hit the nerve-de-jour, usually for political reasons. Fine fiction writers should know that publication day is meaningful to one person only, themselves.

 

You can give your book a launching party, and it will be attended mostly by supportive friends. You can do a blog tour exchanging favors with other author friends, and their readers will note your book was born. It’s fine, because it means something to you.

 

But no parade. Nope, not even a small one. The hard work of letting people you never met become aware your story is available has just. barely. begun.

 

A good glimpse into the realistic experience of almost all authors and what we can, in fact, do on publication day— is in this post.

 

I’d add that doing a private dance in front of the mirror is highly recommended, also.

๐ŸŽˆ๐ŸŽˆ๐ŸŽˆ



Tuesday, April 9, 2024

APRIL 9TH IN HISTORY

 

Lee Surrenders

“It would be useless and therefore cruel,” Robert E. Lee remarked on the morning of April 9, 1865, “to provoke the further effusion of blood, and I have arranged to meet with General Grant with a view to surrender.”

 

The two generals met shortly after noon on April 9, 1865, at the home of Wilmer McLean in the village of Appomattox Court House, Virginia. Lee’s surrender of the Army of Northern Virginia to Ulysses S. Grant, general-in-chief of all United States forces, hastened the conclusion of the Civil War.

 

Regardless of which side of history you side with in any specific conflict, it is something to celebrate when men of war call it quits in order to save lives.

 

I’m commemorating April the 9th today, with the hope that all who rejoice in raising arms will consider how much greater the alternative is.


Tuesday, April 2, 2024

SHARING FIVE TAKEAWAYS from a Webinar

 

A few months have passed since I attended a so-called “closed” webinar with a senior editor in one of the big-five publishing houses, and so I feel no shame in sharing the main takeaways for all who are knocking on publishers’ doors.

 

This sort of insider’s view should not be a secret. There are many misconceptions floating on the interwebs, and writers (who the editor remined us— are the bedrock of publishing) have it hard enough already.

 

Takeaway #1

For the big-five and their imprints, you need an agent. We knew this, but it was emphasized as in no real exceptions, period. Forget about special openings or contests.

This ties to the last takeaway, but bear with me.

 

Takeaway #2

For debut fiction*, whether kidlit or adult, your web-presence is not a consideration for acquisitions. Someone asked about the number of Facebook friends and the editor said that “Facebook isn’t a thing anymore.” Nor are any of the other digital town squares. Just make sure you haven’t made hordes of zany cuckoo comments, which if you’re agented is likely not an issue. (Agents weed for this before taking writers on.)

*Non-fiction is a different story

 

Takeaway #3

Yes, it is harder now to get traditionally published. It was never easy and it’s been hard forever. But since the pandemic closures it’s harder, as in much harder. If you had the fortitude to plow forward before, you must double down now. It’s the same trek only steeper.

 

Takeaway #4

The theme, plot, pace--- all must quicken the reading editor’s heart. But none of those matter as much as the quality of the prose. If the writing voice doesn’t “pop,” the big-five editor just moves on to the next submission to be rejected.

 

Takeaway #5

Who your agent is matters a whole lot. Editors remember agents who have sent them “yawners” and “un-sparkling” submissions before. They remember agents they didn’t like dealing with. Worse, they are aware of the bestselling writers the agent also represents or if they don’t have any A-list writers as clients. There is a definite hierarchy in consideration of submissions depending on the agent’s standing.

 

This last takeaway may be the hardest insider’s view to hear.  

 

All that said, I will focus on the only thing in my control: write better.



Tuesday, March 26, 2024

A CURIOUS ANIMAL CALLED “AUTOFICTION”

 

Some months ago, a post about Autofiction popped into my feed. Here it is, for reference.

 

Succinctly defined, it’s an autobiographical story that is then fictionalized. In many ways all fiction draws from the writer’s life, but in autofiction the connection is much tighter. Call it fictionalized autobiography.

 

(As an aside, much in published autobiographies is also fictionalized, as the author attempts to justify, obfuscate, and shape their past reality— whether as an act to deceive or an act of self-deception.)

 

In other words, the lines are blurry at best. Maybe this is why I was unfamiliar with the notion of “autofiction.”

 

My published novel, The Voice of Thunder, was called by one reviewer “fictionalized autobiography.” Fair enough. It began as a short non-fiction memoire and morphed way off course into fiction. All my work draws from my life, even talking animal stories.

 

But just a couple of years ago I had the true experience of writing autofiction.

 

An injurious event I had lived, while deep into the Covid pandemic when the world had shut down and many suffered more real existential hardships, was the inexplicable and abrupt end of a seventeen-year friendship. My former friend just informed me she never wanted to hear from me again, no further explanation.

 

If you’ve had this happen to you, you know how injurious this is. But it was a first for me and I was ill prepared. In a time where social contacts were already strained by governments everywhere, this was especially hurtful.

 

I had a lot of time to mull over how I had gotten myself into this predicament, and how my judgment regarding this friendship had been so off mark. I was eager to take responsibility in every way I could, because I have power only over what is up to me.

 

Still under various degrees of quarantine, I had the time and the impetus to try and solve this mystery by--- yup, writing a fictional story about a friendship that turned out to be an illusion. Or was it a delusion? That was but one of the many questions.

 

The writing itself would reveal and also serve to heal.

 

After many revisions, I’ve started querying this story, which turned out to be much more fictional on the surface, as they all do. It’s a good story and its setting befits the world I write about, that of much younger readers in middle school.

 

But the theme still holds strong. Who is a friend? How do you know a friendship is true? What do we make of friends who behave like frenemies?  

 

So, before I knew the term autofiction, I wrote it. Now I also have the writerly word for it.

Tuesday, March 19, 2024

CAT INDULGENCES

 

Once again, I’m allowing myself a post that celebrates my cats, with your indulgence. It helps that the goofy celebration of Purim is around the corner. ๐ŸŽ‰

 

A few years ago, a friend who is not a feline fancier, asked me if having my cats makes moments of defeat better tolerated.

 

I remember my answer, which stands to this day. “They make EVERYTHING better.” ๐Ÿ˜ป

{All right. Maybe first-drafting, with their playful paws trying to catch my typing fingers, is the exception}

 

So, I owe them. ๐Ÿ˜ผ๐Ÿ˜บ๐Ÿ˜ป

 

The curly font (sorry if it’s not fun to read) reflects their sensibilities. They insisted I use it here.




๐Ÿฑ๐Ÿฑ๐Ÿฑ

Tuesday, March 12, 2024

The THEME

 

I know I’ve posted on this before, though it’s been a while.

Good stories have an underlying theme, or themes.

We know the how-to advice, that strong stories are better born of strong characters, and the more generic/commercial stories are born of a plot arc.

 

For me, almost all stories are incepted from themes, and as I draft, I keep the theme front of mind.

 

Pivotal themes in picture books are family, the nature of nature and other man-made creations, feelings such as sadness or joy, and concepts such as numbers/colors/letters.

For middle grade readers (ages 8-12) central themes are friendship, family, school struggles and, as the perennial for all ages, the nature of our world, i.e., reality and our place in it.

 

I got to thinking about it again as I read this post here.

 

I know what themes I want to explore. Then, I choose the persons who would go on this exploration (protagonist and antagonist) and their side characters usually emerge as the plot unfolds. Mechanics of plot are so well researched in how-to books that this is the smaller, less demanding part of drafting.

 

Most storytellers don’t follow this order of construction, but I offer it as yet another way.


Tuesday, March 5, 2024

CONFLICTING ADVICE

 

Re-reading this post, I thought how hard it is to know, really know, which advise to follow when one opinionator differs from the other.

 

This is a perennial problem. It’s felt keenly when the less experienced ask for guidance from the more experienced. This is a universal dilemma which we encounter in every field and every matter.

 

Gone are the days when “father knew best” and adults were authorities on every issue under the sun. Besides, having grown up and now being one of those adults, means the final judgement is ours, and we own it.

 

The world of knowledge is complex, so we turn to experts. But, oh my, the experts don’t agree. Even if “most” (by whose measure?) say one thing, who’s to say the minority isn’t more correct? It’s happened before, countless times.

 

Here’s where I stand: I ask. I listen. I let feedback and information rest for a time and settle. Then I do what feels right to me.

 

Because, like the referenced post says, it often comes down to taste and sensibilities. We have to live with ours.


Tuesday, February 27, 2024

Do You LOVE What You Do?

 

In every line of work there are aspects that are less likable. Some of these “unlikables” are universal, but most are not. (You’d think that cleaning toilets, for example, would be one of the universally despised tasks, but I have known more than one person who didn’t feel this way.)

 

But then there are the things people love about their job. Perhaps it’s their co-workers, or the way they can look with satisfaction at what they have done/made/accomplished at the end of the week, or the challenge of the work itself.

 

No matter what, the closest way I find to gauging how much one loves what they do is, barring the need for money, if they do or don’t wish to retire.

 

I thought about it the other day, when one of my doctors (the internist I see for general checkups who is universally adored by her patients) told me she hopes to retire soon. She isn’t old, not by MDs standards, for they have no mandatory retirement age.

My dermatologist, who is at least twenty years older than my GP, told me he can’t imagine retiring. He loves his work.

 

I thought about it again when a writing colleague who’s a gifted and published writer said she was done writing. She’s now a retired writer. It has been a rewarding and enriching journey, but she was done.

Writers, like doctors, don’t have to retire. Writing is separate from publishing, because most writers are never published. This isn’t (for the vast majority) a matter of money.

 

It is all about how much you love what you do.

 

If money considerations were not in the mix, would you:

1.      Retire right now

2.      Never retire

3.      Not sure. Not retire now but can see retiring from your work in the future

 

I am guessing (it isn’t more than a guess, no statistics worth quoting here) that most people would retire yesterday if money were not an issue.

That is plumb sad.

Count yourself lucky if, like my dermatologist, retirement holds no charm for you.


Tuesday, February 20, 2024

February 20th in History

 

Or—

1872: NEW YORK'S METROPOLITAN MUSEUM OF ART OPENS

 


{^The Metropolitan Museum of art circa 1903}


If you love visiting museums, I promise the Metropolitan Museum on New York city’s upper East Side will not disappoint.

 

At its founding, it was a modest thing, conceived in Paris by a small group of Americans who wished the new world to hold some of the treasures Europe had.

 

It grew to be one of the best museums in the world.

 

What I have learned about museums of such scope is to not try to visit all their parts, not even as “a focus plus a quick run through.” A quick run-through, as some do so they can attest to having seen, is exactly how not to enjoy a museum.

 

At the Met, as the locals call it, I make sure to focus on what I love and leave the rest. For me, it’s the Islamic art section, and (sometimes) the furnished period rooms. For you it may be Renaissance art, or art of the Far East, or costumes (much better at the Smithsonian, in my opinion) and even Impressionist art (stronger at the Museum of Modern art, also IMO.) Perhaps you’re intrigued by art of the ancient world (Greek vases, anyone?) or medieval iconography. No matter. The point is to go for what you like or are most eager to learn about when you are fresh and keen on both seeing and reading.

 

Two hours at a time does it for me. This is not a school assignment. This is about pleasure.

The key is to leave before fatigue sets in.

๐Ÿ’Happy Birthday๐Ÿ’ 

๐Ÿ’dear MET๐Ÿ’

{^Damascus Room at the MET^}


Tuesday, February 13, 2024

Another Reason to Heart VALENTINE’S DAY

 

{Yes, it’s tomorrow}

 

The human heart doesn’t look much like the graphic known as “heart.” ๐Ÿ’“

No matter, because it is one of my favorite symbols, and not just because of the added spiritual/emotional meaning.

 

There is something intriguing about the side-to-side/left-to-right symmetry against the asymmetry of the up-and-down/north-to-south. 

 

It’s this dichotomy that makes the heart symbol. Thus, it’s never boring.

 

It’s also this seeming built-in contradiction that does in effect echo the human emotion, the contradictions those of us who are fortunate to reach maturity learn to accept and even embrace.

 

Heart ๐Ÿ’ to you. If you’re reading this, you are my valentines.

Tuesday, February 6, 2024

DIGITAL SECURITY & COMMON SENSE

 

By now, I would hope we all know not to click on any link provided in a business email, even as the email convincingly purports to come from a trusted company we have dealings with, such as our bank, website host, or our government. Close the email and log onto your account to check if this email or purported activity did indeed take place and requires an action from you.

 

Goodness, the same digital hygiene practice also applies to emails from friends when they don’t include clear text identifiers that could only come from your friend. Spoofing email addresses is an old scammer's trick. 

   

So, when we access the purported sender the safe way by looking their contact information ourselves and asking if the email was legit, we also educate our friends to not be sending links only. As to businesses, this means calling your bank with the contact number you have (not in the email) and speaking to security.

 

And so, this is what I did. My attempt to educate my bank went as follows:

 

Mirka’s Bank Security Specialist (MBSS for short): “Yes, indeed, you did well NOT TO click on the link. You are right to check with me.”

Mirka: “So was this email from you?”

MBSS: “Yes, we sent it.”

Mirka: “And it said to click on a link?”

MBSS: “Yes, I see that.”

Mirka: “And you say I should never do that?”

MBSS: “Yes, that’s correct. Never do that. Access your account from your own log-in, always.”

Mirka: “So why do you continue to send such emails with links that ask for log-in?”

MBSS: “It’s a courtesy. A convenience. But never access any sensitive account from an email. You are right.”

 

I also got such emails from my webhost and got a similar confirmation from their security specialist that I did right NOT to access the link in the email.

 

This reminded me of the chapter in The Little Prince, where the drunk explains that he drinks to forget his shame and his shame is that he drinks.



This madness of trusted companies’ emails continues, as well as occasional real friends sending links with nary a word that would distinguish them from phishing scams. I always check, and I continue to use the safe practice of never ever clicking on email links until verified.

Tuesday, January 30, 2024

THE little MATTER OF GIVING UP

 

I have writing friends who say they are giving up.

 

They’re giving up writing new stories, querying agents, submitting to small publishers, and even giving up on interacting with other writers on chat groups.

 

They are dismayed at the state of publishing. Some have had great publishing credits in the past. Others have had a modicum of success, and a few have had no publishing credits. All have no interest or means ($$$) to self-publish & promote.

 

It’s okay to give up. It’s okay to do so and later change your mind. It’s okay no matter what.

 

But if writing new stories is enriching, all the giving up talk makes no sense to me.

 

Why would you deprive yourself of the deep pleasure and stimulation that writing has given you? If it’s to spare the disappointment of rejection, then isn’t all of life full of setbacks and disappointments? These are in fact some of the most enriching aspects of life, even as emotional pain isn’t “fun.”


There will be eternity in the grave to rest life’s challenging turns. Until then, writers— tell your stories.


Tuesday, January 23, 2024

THE MONEY in WRITING

 

OR

WRITERS and MONEY

By some estimates there are hundreds of thousands of Americans who write full time. Some sources claim as many as one million. This last number includes those who write articles and writers of non-fiction.

 

I know, this is vague. But it’s sobering to look at the storytellers who write fiction, whose numbers are closer to three hundred thousand. (Who makes these estimates? How reliable are they? I plead confusion. But anyway…)

 

It’s sobering to realize only about three hundred fiction writers make a living solely from writing.

 

Cut that number by ninety percent to count the fiction writers who are seriously wealthy* from writing.

*Think Stephen King or J.K. Rowling

 

I received a decent advance only once, and royalties also only once, for two separate traditionally published books. This is my total fiction writing income to date.

{I was paid --nominally to decently-- for exactly four published articles, and a few times for editing work. This falls into the non-fiction category, which undoubtedly supports many more in the writing community.}

 

Here’s the kicker: I received (and continue to receive) nourishment from writing fiction, but money isn’t part of it.

 

If you’re to go down this road, it’s sobering and important to grasp how money fits or doesn't fit in. Many writers (many more than the likes of me) pay to be published. Some wind up paying substantial sums that they never recoup. Long ago, I was clear this pay-to-publish wasn’t going to be my way. Vanity or self-publishing didn’t interest me. Specifically, for kidlit-- it's a money-pit. ๐Ÿ™€

 

Go into it with awareness. Dreaming is fine. Your dreams may come true. But have your eyes open wide.

 

 Make sure you love writing for its own sake. That’s the bottom line.