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 💓) 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.


Tuesday, June 14, 2022

What JUNE-Oh, It’s June!

 

In my yearly cycles, June is the epitome of loveliness and also loneliness. The latter, because there is nothing specific assigned to it.


June is not exactly summer, though it is.


It’s not (yet) my yearly first-drafting hiatus, but it isn’t a vacation from writing.


It’s hot, but not. Not really.


What June is: wrap-up time.


In June, I revise winter’s manuscripts. I summarize last winter’s productivity. Then, I make plans for the re-boot in Fall.


In June, the yearly mega-weeding project is complete. I sit in the backyard and marvel at how much work May was.


Pat-on-the-back, Girl.


June is like a lovely balloon that floats, but doesn’t fly away.

Sorry, June. You can’t stay.

© Shelagh Duffett

Tuesday, June 7, 2022

TYPOS and PROOFREADING

 Working on becoming a better writer is one thing. Then, we have to work on becoming better proofreaders.

 

Not proofreading well is a pesky problem of mine. It’s one of those I don’t  see what I don’t see. Of course, much more so for my own writing and ever more if the proofreading comes minutes after writing.

 

Standard advice is to put writing aside and look at it later, as in days/months later. This is not practical for posts responding to online forums or for emails.

.

Relying on Microsoft WORD or GRAMMARLY (insert any other spell/grammar check of your choice) is foolish. They catch some things, miss many, and misdirect often.

 

Let’s face it; some people are excellent proofreaders. Some of them become editors because of this advantage. But many superb writers confess they aren’t blessed with the proofreading brain. 

{Yup. I *just* had to correct "proofreading" above,👆 because I had typed "prrofreading." 😬 }

 

An excellent beta reader gave me a helpful suggestion, which I have found to reduce my rate of typos. In addition, it catches echoes; those repeat words coming too close together in a paragraph. 

{I like this egregious example of echo: "She looked at him. "Look at it," she said. "When I last looked it didn't look half as bad as it looks now." 😰 }

 

It’s the text-to-voice feature, where a mechanical voice reads highlighted text back to you. It’s better than my reading aloud, (something I also do) because when reading my own words, I often read what I thought I wrote and not what’s on the screen/page.

 

Here is what this feature looks like in WORD. Other writing platforms have similar functions, though you’d have to find them yourself because I only use WORD. I red-penciled it on the upper left:

In addition to catching echoes, this device is literally an echo. It, too, isn’t perfect. You won’t catch homonyms with it. But if you haven’t tried it, you will be pleasantly surprised at how helpful this editing feature is.


Tuesday, May 31, 2022

HOW LONG DOES IT TAKE TO WRITE A NOVEL?

 

Someone asked me yesterday how long it takes to write a novel. The National Novel Writing Month (=NaNoWriMo, November) makes folks who don't write novels think it takes a month to write a full-length novel for adults.


Articles such as this (from Writers Digest) give a wild range of two and a half days to sixteen years.


Seems to me the definition of what constitutes writing a novel is what needs clarifying, because these estimates are comparing apples to oranges, or more likely— watermelons to olives. Technically, both are fruits. But this is where the similarity ends.


It’s not only the size and scope, but what do they mean by “writing a novel in X number of days.”


If NaNoWriMo is the definer, we’re speaking about finishing a first draft. Writers know that is just the beginning. It has become a sort of fashion among genre writers to fast-draft a first draft. A month’s first draft will be followed by many more, but you could claim to have written the novel in a month.


When the claim is that it took many years, we are not speaking of working on the novel five days a week for years. These books had long stretches of sitting in a drawer, real or virtual, before the writer finished the umpteenth draft and called it done.


If we look for any kind of metric, those who do not write novels would do better to ask about the general rhythm or work discipline of different writers. Every day? Only on weekends? Now and again? How many hours at a writing session?


And there, too, are wild differences. No wrong and right, just long and write.

©Tom Gauld




Tuesday, May 24, 2022

KEEPING TRACK OF THE DAYS

 

©Brian Crane

 

One of my sanity-keeping strategies is to not let go of my old routines even when external forces no longer necessitate them.


When I became a full-time mom, I relegated my writing to the rhythm of my kids’ school year. That meant I took summers off. I began plotting a new Middle Grade in September, with a first draft start date no later than October first, and a second draft no later than February first.


My writing days were also set, with weekends relegated to critiquing other writers’ work and drafting blog posts, such as this one.


School vacations were my days off, too. The summer was re-charge time, with the creative engines beginning to rev up in August. I jotted notes for ideas, but stayed off the first drafting table while Camp Mama was active and I was running it.


I no longer have kids at home, and my cats don’t care that it’s summer. But I keep to my established routines because they have worked well for me. I never did NaNoWriMo* because I don’t need it. I have my own novel writing month(s), and I don’t let myself off the hook just because I can.

*National Novel Writing Month= November


In truth, I always could just not do it if I didn’t feel like it. But I understood this notion to be the enemy of the creative spirit. It’s not what do I feel like today, but rather— today’s Tuesday and so this is what I will feel.


Oddly, this isn’t confining; it’s liberating. There’s plenty of time for spontaneity and variety when the day’s work is done, and the work itself shapes a kind of internal liberation. 

It’s cutting off the chains of ennui and touching the light of yes, we can.


Tuesday, May 17, 2022

THE MOST IMPORTANT “W”

 

Of all the “W”s of a story, (Who/Where/What/When/Why) there’s another WHY that may be the most important. Another blogger, Jennie Nash, addressed it succinctly here.

 

It’s the why you must tell this story.

 

I see this more and more with critique exchanges, of which I have done too many to count, and maybe most of all for picture book manuscripts. I’ve read nicely constructed stories based on tried and true formulas that are spelled out in writing craft books and repeated in writerly conventions or blogs. “This is how you should do it,” is their essential message, which the writer then followed to a T.

 

Many use so-called mentor texts. Every bit of how-to advice is incorporated.

 

What’s missing, sorely utterly absent, is the passion for the story.

 

These painted by the numbers creations remind me of birds without wings. Nice colors, pleasant faces, point-on beaks.

But they don’t fly.




It’s far easier to comb the feathers of inspired stories that, even in an un-polished state, already soar.

I’ve seen feedback that try to blow air beneath these flightless stories by suggesting a stronger action, more tension, tighter phrasing, etc. What the person giving feedback is not saying (because we try to be polite and kind) is that the passion is missing.

 

If you ask: “Why did you write this story?” A likely answer is a version of “I read publishers/agents are looking for such.” Or, “my kids liked that other story so I used it as a mentor text.”

Better: “Why were you burning to write this story?”

 

Putting it this way, I find that with wingless stories there’s rarely an answer.

 

For myself,  I start with that WHY. Why must I write it?

Then it’s a GO.



Tuesday, May 10, 2022

Less is MORE

 

SO MUCH MORE

I just finished reading a novel whose author, in the Acknowledgements page, thanked so many people that the page turned into pages, plural.


I’m one of those readers who always reads authors’ Thank Yous. There, I encounter the good feel of gratefulness, and occasionally a deeper glimpse into the writer’s process. I rarely know any of the names being thanked, but it matters not. I like the ambiance; being in the presence of expansiveness and joy, something I feel deeply for my beta readers and anyone who ever helped me be a better person.


But here comes my pet peevishness: when the number of people mentioned goes over, say, ten— it’s diminishing returns multiplied exponentially with every addition.


Like everything else in writing, (and life), curtailing exuberance actually has the effect of giving a statement power. I lamented this in an old post about overuse of exclamation points, here.


I actually went on to count the number of people thanked by name in the above mentioned author’s river of gratitude. As I did so, I wondered if some dark part of me wasn’t envious that she not only had so many people to thank, but even knew this many people. (The number is two-hundred and thirty-six, but who’s counting.😮) I’m sure every one of them is diminished by the size of the crowd.


I don’t have an exact number not to exceed. I just wanted to remind myself (and anyone reading this) that less is more.

©Mark Anderson 2015




Tuesday, May 3, 2022

CinderElliot : A Scrumptious Fairytale

 There are many variations on the Cinderella story. This one is different. And yes, it's scrumptious.


The story of Elliot, the unrecognized master baker, outdoes the traditional tale by giving him a talent where he shines. More than the original Cinderella, who mostly charmed with her beauty, this hero is spectacularly gifted. Like her, CinderElliot works hard at home. But what he has to offer the prince, beyond his good nature, is his brilliant creativity. 

 

And the illustrations by Stephanie Laberis, do just that. They are scrumptious.

 

Written by Mark Ceilley and Rachel Smoka-Richardson, the text flows seamlessly. I've known one of the co-authors, Mark Ceilley, for fourteen years. We are in a picture book critique group and I have witnessed as he wrote, revised, polished, and continued to create despite the steep odds to publication. As far as I'm concerned, Mark’s own journey to this momentous day is a CinderElliot story in itself. His distinctive style of marvelous verb use is amply displayed in this luscious tasty tale. CinderElliot's  sweet concoctions guarantee they will indeed live happily ever after.

 

Happy Birthday to a wonderful book ðŸ’Ÿ


Tuesday, April 26, 2022

Oh, No. Not about them* RULES, Again

 

*Yup, I know the extra ‘m’ is not grammatical. I’m making a point

 

Some months ago in a writerly Facebook group, someone lamented at her discovery while editing her own work. “Turns out,” she wrote, “I’m a fan of passive writing and telling not showing.” 😰


While I’m paraphrasing and also omitting some of her original pulling-one’s-own-hair in-shame post, I will quote my response post in full because I don’t need my own permission to quote me:

 

“Passive construction and telling have their place. Just make sure they don't sit and stay where they are not serving their purpose. Passive is what you use when you want to fuzzy something and cover with fog. (Someone *was killed,* no idea by whom.)

Telling is an economical way to get through parts so the showing parts get to shine by contrast.

 

The first writerly mistake is not knowing the rules and why they’re there. The second is to treat writing advice as absolute. 

You can quote me on it. 👆

 

Getting off the preacher’s pedestal now.






Tuesday, April 19, 2022

Passover Brings Matzo* and a Recipe for You

 

*{Matzah in Hebrew pronunciation. Matzo is Yiddish}


The commandment to eat Matzo* to the exclusion of other bready/crackery/pastry thingies during the eight days of Passover divides the Jewish people into those who love it and those who suffer through it.

I’m decidedly on the side of the matzo lovers. In fact, I eat it all year round, which is actually a defiance of the original intended commandment. We are supposed to experience the difference that befell our ancestors during their exodos from Egypt. So if you eat matzo every day, how is Passover time different from all other times?

 

But I LOVE matzo, so sue me.

 

Matzo tastes like pure wheat. If you like wheat, you’ll appreciate the plainness of this subtle but fortifying taste. It isn’t mixed with any other ingredients like salt, sugar, fats or dairy. It’s a lot of flour and very little water mixed, pounded rolled and baked quickly into thin sheets. Glorious.

 

But here I am about to mix it with other things for those who want to do something with leftover matzo. The only reason you have any left over is because you didn’t eat the whole box plain. I take pity on you, and offer my mother’s Matzo Brei,(Yiddish for “fried matzo”) the savory version:

4 eggs, beaten

2 ½ cup milk, mixed into the eggs

A sprinkle of salt, a dash of pepper, a ½ t. of onion powder mixed in

4 matzo broken into small pieces

1 cup grated mild cheese

Mix all the above and let it soak together for about an hour.

In a large frying pan that has a lid, melt 2 T. butter, add the Matzo mixture and spread evenly. On the lowest possible flame let is cook slowly, covered, for 45 minutes.

 

That’s it. No turning, no fuss.

(Another version skips the cheese, pepper and onion powder and adds vanilla instead, then top with cinnamon sugar when serving. But I swear by the savory one as a full dinner in a pan, with a side of green salad.)

 

This serves two, and can be multiplied as needed, depending on the size of the pan. My favorite comfort food, not only on Passover.

(The photo👆 is one Matzo Brei that was flipped and browned on both sides. I prefer to have a custardy top and crisp bottom)

Tuesday, April 12, 2022

THE BEST MONEY I EVER SPENT AS A WRITER

The title of this post is misleading in my case, because technically the money was spent by DH, which technically isn’t me.

 Here goes:

Confession time: I’ve not spent much $ as a writer. I spent lots of time, thought, and effort. Money hasn’t been in the equation. I imagine for the self-published the money they spent and how they chose to prioritize is pivotal.

 

But there was some money spent, regardless. Count membership at SCBWI, a few conferences, paper & mailing (in the ancient days pre-all digital submissions) and a few books on the craft or business of writing. It adds up to something.

 

The latter brings me to the best money spent from my address. It was a birthday present from DH twelve years ago; a curiously titled The Complete idiot’s Guide to Publishing Children’s Books.

Note that the word “complete” refers to the idiotic reader. In reality, this book is more of a complete guide and the reader is no idiot but a smart person because they know they don’t know.

 

This basic book was the best investment, as it did cover almost anything a novice needed answered. As a tiny bonus, it also served as an acknowledgement of one’s status as a know-nothing, something to keep inflated egos in check for the barrage of inevitable rejections to come.

For the novice it’s $ well spent.



Tuesday, April 5, 2022

DESCRIPTION in MIDDLE-GRADE NOVELS

 

Those who write picture book texts know that descriptive passages are best left out for the art. But what about novels for middle grade readers? They are (usually) not illustrated. Surely, there’s room for descriptive passages telling of landscapes, indoor settings and physical details of characters.

Time was, there were ample spaces in the narration for such. Something happened to change this. Middle Grade books written today are better served keeping descriptions to a minimum.

In fact, the how-to mavens insist that these passages are too “telly," an anathema to the show-don’t-tell principle of strong writing.

Descriptions also slow the action, and if there’s anything more verboten, it’s slow-moving  plot.

Then, there’s the matter of descriptions tending to quiet the tone, and “too quiet” is another no-no.

 

But-but-but you say. How is a setting to come alive? How would a character be more than their dialogue words? Does the young reader ever gets to smell the roses?

It isn’t that novels for young readers are to be devoid of all description, say the mavens. Just be economical. Have setting or physical characteristics be inferred by actions of dialogue. By all means, insert a sentence here and there pertaining to a descriptive detail. What a writer should avoid is long, languid, lulling descriptions we all read if we read the classic books of yore. La-di-da and all that.

It’s a reminder that we’re competing for shorter attention spans conditioned by video games and motion pictures.

 

I know this is solid advice, but it makes me sad. Some of the best writing I’ve encountered in my life bore the vestments of detailed descriptions that went on for pages. But the world of literary commerce has moved on.

 

Some months back, I served as a beta reader to a talented writing friend’s middle grade story, whose descriptive paragraphs were beautifully done. In my humble opinion, her strongest writing lay in those paragraphs. It hurt to suggest she might consider cutting them out or changing the way the settings materialized on the page. But nineteenth-century writing does not work well in the twenty-first century.

 

A new era requires new skills. No use fuming or crying about it.




Tuesday, March 29, 2022

IF I WEREN’T WRITING...

 

Or—

What Would I Do Instead?

Our neighborhood trusted gas station/car repair shop has had the same sole owner for fifty years. I wasn’t here to verify this, but so I’ve been told. For at least twenty, we’ve brought all our cars to him and he has always been scrupulously honest. His loyal assistant has been there for as long as I remember. Bridgeway Service is venerated and loved by all who had experienced the decent way they conduct their business.

 

A few years ago, I got into a conversation with the owner, who told me he would love to retire. What he really wanted to do was experiment making homemade barbecue sauce and invite his neighbors to sample his ever-evolving creations on that front.

 

This stayed with me, and every time I drive in to get gas or inflate my tires, I think of a dream delayed when I see Steve, the owner, still at it.




At this stage of my life, I have the privilege to be able to dedicate myself to doing what I most want to. I write fictional stories for young readers almost every weekday. I try to imagine what I would do if writing fiction became impossible. A few notions float by on wispy clouds~~~~~

Run a cat rescue

      Write movie reviews

                  Make biscotti from a family recipe I improved

 

Those misty billows evaporate as quickly as they appear. I could do any of the above, but not every day or every week. This cements my feeling of gratitude. I’m lucky to be where I am.

 

It also seems unfair, as Steve from Bridgeway has worked harder all his life, and has earned his right to make barbecue sauce full time. Life, really, isn’t fair.

 

Do you have any dreams delayed you would be open to sharing? I wish you the vision to see clearly the way to fulfilling those.