Tuesday, January 15, 2019

Heroes— Faux or Fearless

Courage is not the towering oak 
that sees storms come and go;
It is the fragile blossom 
that opens in the snow.
Alice Mackenzie Swaim

Not only the news, but also all fiction (save some literary strains) focuses on active heroism. Rescue someone from a fire, face a serial killer, stand up to a bully and punch ‘em back, and a story worth the readers’ time is also deemed worth telling.

Thus, we lose the heroes of everyday that are all around us. Those who carry on while others give them nary a glance, those who continue to think independently in times and places where pressure to conform is overwhelming. As they remain authentic, they do not convert this independence to a ruckus riot.

And most of all, those who retain their creativity and humanity while humbly considering others’ feedback, but not breaking under the weight of negation.

So many of the people in my life are heroes. I salute them. Maybe we should write more stories about them. The quiet blossoms in the snow.

Tuesday, January 8, 2019

Placebo as the Real Deal


Noun: placebo; plural noun: placebos
1.     A harmless pill, medicine, or procedure prescribed more for the psychological benefit to the patient than for any physiological effect.
"His Aunt Beatrice had been kept alive on sympathy and placebos for thirty years"
2.     A substance that has no therapeutic effect, used as a control in testing new drugs.
3.     A measure designed merely to calm or please someone.
 {{From the Latin meaning "I shall please"}

I have a friend who is a retired physician. She insists that most doctors don’t know much most of the time. But she also says that appearing to be in the know and having a Ms./Mr. Fix-it demeanor is half of the treatment right there.

This didn’t make me happy to hear. We pay a lot of good money for what might be a fifty percent pretend.

In an article in the New York Times Magazine (November 10, 2018) the question as to whether placebo is part of the cure seems to be settled. The power of the mind was scientifically vindicated, sending the western scientific method into uncharted territory.

Seems to me this pertains to the rest of our endeavors. It tells me that if I think I can, I am already halfway there. In certain instances, I am all the way there.

So marching on, and encouraging ‘y’all to believe. Not in fairies, but in the power of the tales they tell.

Tuesday, January 1, 2019

Greeting a NEW YEAR

To the purely rational mind, January first is just another day. This year it is a Tuesday. Another Tuesday.

But the change of a digit on the year-counter has an almost magical effect on the parts of us that are not purely rational.

A new year, and a parade of new hopes and dreams.

Some take stock in the year that just ended, achievements and regrets. I find myself doing that on the Jewish New Year, (Rosh Hashanah) as the ten days that follow it are meant to be days of reflection culminating in atonement. The secular New Year (Gregorian counter) is a time for renewed oomph and hope. No resolutions, just a vow to march on with stars in my eyes.

On January first, the verses of Thomas Hardy’s (1840-1928) Song of Hope are singing in my ears:

O sweet To-morrow! - 
After to-day 
There will away 
This sense of sorrow. 
Then let us borrow 
Hope, for a gleaming 
Soon will be streaming, 
Dimmed by no gray - 
No gray! 

While the winds wing us 
Sighs from The Gone, 
Nearer to dawn 
Minute-beats bring us; 
When there will sing us 
Larks of a glory 
Waiting our story 
Further anon - 

Doff the black token, 
Don the red shoon, 
Right and retune 
Viol-strings broken; 
Null the words spoken 
In speeches of rueing, 
The night cloud is hueing, 
To-morrow shines soon - 
Shines soon!

Happy New Year!

Tuesday, December 25, 2018

Christmas Weather

In some places it is---

In some it is---

{Hello, Down under^}

And where I am it is always---

{Even the lights dolphin ^ agrees it's springing spring}

I feel thankful for my Christian friends for sharing their lights with us

Merry Christmas

Tuesday, December 18, 2018


There are words that have changed meaning over the generations. Think how cool went from “of or at fairly low temperature” to an expression of admiration and approval, sometime in the 1950s, and to this day. Think of how bad became someone who is super cool in the 1980s.

Words are the writers’ basic tools. So we have to know them and their ever-evolving meaning. Some are obvious when they morph, such as the above. A teen’s comment to another that “you’re so bad” is a statement of praise. Got it. But then there are the super subtle nuanced meanings that require a good ear.

One of these that have perplexed me is the evolution of the word interesting.

When I was growing up, and in the circles I inhabited, this was as high a praise you can bestow on a person or a thing. Aside from the obvious virtues of a principled character, intelligence and a good heart, being interesting is as good as it gets. But when DD became a tween, I discovered it has another meaning.

“Interesting,” she’d say, when she meant, “I don’t care for it but I won’t say that outright.” It is said in a different tone, one that suggests ambivalence. It got so I would follow these statements with a question, “do you mean it’s riveting or that it’s odd in a way you don’t really care for?”

Eventually I just asked,” do you mean ‘interesting!’ or ‘interesting... L’?”
I thought it was a generational thing, or possibly a cultural difference, as I grew up in another country. But recently I got some feedback on a manuscript that began with “Interesting.” After the period came a qualifying sentence that suggested the critic didn’t want to make an outright negative statement, but they were not favorably inclined.

So this other meaning of interesting has crossed over to my generation.

I find the subtleties of language, well, interesting.

Tuesday, December 11, 2018

Dream, and Dream Some More

My late father was a holocaust survivor who lost every member of his family. He lived this dark nightmare in his teens, and came out of it not only a physical survivor, but also a person capable of deep love for humanity.

When my stepmother asked him how he survived, she was not asking about factual practical details. She was asking about his psyche, which was exceptional in endurance and creativity.

“I dreamed,” he said. “I’m still a dreamer.” I imagine that wherever he is now, he's surely dreaming.

I realize that I’m his daughter in this sense. I have not had to endure the horrors of his youth, but I have had challenging times. From an early age, I, too, dreamed.

When I was in kindergarten, I imagined that I had a real Mickey Mouse for a special friend. My secret pet lived under my bed, where no one else ever saw him. When everyone went to bed, Mickey and I would talk for hours, and he even gave good advice, that mouse.

I continue to dream. Only now, it’s a focused engagement that winds up in the form of manuscripts for young readers. This is part of why first drafting a story is my mental and emotional salvation. The rest of the work is dues I pay for spending so many hours dreaming.

When friends tell me they can’t write fiction, I know they are not focused dreamers. Or perhaps they don’t realize that when they use their imagination to solve problems, there is focused dreaming going on, which they could use in serving a story.

To all you dreamers~~~

Tuesday, December 4, 2018

Broken Tradition

Third night of Hanukkah, and our yearly holiday party is still not on.

For many years we had a few families get together to light the Hanukkiya, the holiday menorah. I fried latkes and together we sang. Then we ate. The children played Pin the Candle on the Menorah, (yes, that Donkey’s tail had a Jewish version at our house) and spun the dreidel earning unshelled walnuts.

The children grew taller, we grew older, and the parties kept coming regularly on the first Saturday night of Hanukkah.

Ten year ago, my party supplies were ready. Invitations to the party sent, and we were all set. Less than a week before the party my mother died.

I just couldn’t have a party that year. The next year, on the very same date, my father died. No party.

It has stayed broken. Some traditions, once interrupted, just don’t make it back.
Mr. Monk, the feline guardian of the candles^, disappeared right after Hanukkah last year,

But we have the memories, and the stories are for as long as we remember to tell them. Like the story of that time long ago, when the Maccabees fought back and retook the temple and in the holy of holies the light of the Menorah shone again.

May your holiday lights shine bright

Tuesday, November 27, 2018

NaNoWriMo* Part 2

*I explained this in an old post, here

As the month of November comes to its inevitable conclusion, all across this land writers either pat their own backs because they made it or wail that they did not reach the goal of fifty-thousand words in thirty days. The latter is more common, as it turns out.

I hope that if you participated you made your goal. I hope that if you didn’t make it, it was worth doing anyway.

But I must say I don’t get it.

Writing by the word count is something I finally understood as helpful to pacing in a novel. Butt-in-chair is also something I understand. Sometimes it’s just like that. You have to sit and do it, muse missing. Writing every day is what many think is the only way to do it if you are serious.

But writing with the crowd?

For me, the very notion that I am part of millions doing the same thing at the same time is an anathema. I have no illusions that when I sit down and conjure a story I am doing something no one has ever done before. But, at the same time,I tell myself I’m doing something of singular value. If I don’t do it, it won’t be done.

I also found the value of the self-discipline. "Self" here stands for creating in a pace and a manner assigned to oneself. I struggled with this issue until my late twenties. I had no problem meeting others’ deadlines. But I rarely managed to finish anything that no one was waiting for and that was self-assigned.
Then I found a way, and I’ve been fortunate ever since. Thank you, the great guardian of creativity, for this gift.

If National Writing Month is your thing, I raise a toast to you for the fine effort. I hope the result is just as fine. But if you failed to meet this goal please consider that your way of creating may not fit with this painting party, and keep looking for how *you* work best to do your best work.

Tuesday, November 20, 2018

Remember to BRE---ATHE~~~

When I was a wee one, one of my teachers used to say, and often, “Remember to breathe.

This struck me as funny. Who forgets to breathe?

I grew up, and with more breathing lessons under my belt, I understood better what she meant.

Many eastern meditation techniques involve focus on one’s breath. But this expression in western context means do something that takes you off the treadmill and allows your mind to clear before you get on again.

Feeling creatively stuck?


Got bad news?


A dear one is in crisis?

Breathe. Help them. Then breathe again.

For some, to breathe means eating chocolate or sipping a glass of Merlot. (And I do mean sipping, not to be confused with gulping.) For others, to breathe means making contact with a close friend and talking.
For me, it has come to mean go for a walk. Not just a leisurely stroll, but one that involves some hill climbing, which necessitates deep breathing. Yup.

The air quality where I live has been seriously unhealthy for almost two weeks. Devastating fires burning almost two hundred miles away have ushered a layer of dense smoke that wouldn’t quit.

Folks are warned to stay indoors and whatever they do, not do anything that requires physical exertion. In other words: Do Not Breathe.

Under such cautions, I re-discovered my childhood “breathing” activity. I didn’t even know back then that it was a form of breathing.

I lie down and read a great book.

I’m getting some fantastic reading done, and my soul is full of oxygen. On this Thanksgiving week, I am thankful for all the wonderful writers who ever lived and the publishing professionals who had the insight to usher their works into the world so we can breathe.

Remember to breathe, everyone.

Tuesday, November 13, 2018

This Date in History

~November 13~

Indulge me as I reminisce, combining world history with personal.

The year was 2015, and it was Friday. DS had just moved to Paris, France, to attend graduate school. With the help of a Parisian friend, we found him a small studio on an eighth-floor walkup, something a twenty-year-old can manage even if we wouldn’t want to. It was in a central and hipsterish arrondissement #2, on the right bank of the Seine River, next door to a lovely park and a famous patisserie.

I had a weekly skyping “date” with him, which he had set, every Friday at six in the evening, (for him) nine in the morning. (For me.)
We had just spoken, and all was well.

And then it wasn’t.

In a matter of a few hours, terrorist attacked Paris in various locations and when it was over, more than a hundred and thirty people were dead and a hundred more left in critical condition. Two of the attacks were very close to DS’s location, one only blocks away.

Our Parisian friend was able to call him and find him at home. He was not following the news, so she was his source of warning to stay put and not go out to a café or a stroll, something most young folks living where he was would consider a most natural thing on a pleasant night.

I was reminded of my growing up years in Israel, with traumatized American relatives calling every time Jerusalem managed to make the news. Often these relatives were the ones to let us know what had happened before we knew.

I’d be tempted to say that Paris changed forever, but it’s my understanding that it hasn’t. Like Israel, or New York City after 9/11, the city rebounded, and thus the terrorists lost.

And something else came back to my consciousness. It takes very few people making bad choices to wreak havoc, and very many people making good choices to fix it.

When storytellers construct stories, we usually weigh the protagonists and antagonists evenly, at least numerically. My limited experience in real life reveals otherwise.

Which means we, the many, must work harder if we are to make up for destructive impulses of humankind.

Tuesday, November 6, 2018

Back to Writing with a Toddler...

...Only this one is feline.

When my kids were little, writing with them present was impossible. First drafting, at least, is something I must do without distractions.

To all who have done it with babies on their knee, my virtual hat is off to you.

When they got older and I was more experienced, I still wrote first drafts when they were at school. One of my kiddos, in particular, had the habit of bursting in with frequent non-emergencies, and for me— managing to stay in “the zone” was not doable.

The empty nest brought three new felines. I missed my kids’ interruptions most of the time, so the cats took over. But the cats respected writing time. They had their things to do, and we all got our work done.

Until now. Enter our newest resident, Miss Nougat.

It’s quieter than ever, with my kids off to peruse their lives far away, and I miss them terribly. But I should be relishing the freedom to first draft with guaranteed quiet.

Nougat has other ideas.

She talks all the time. Not typical meows of her species, but short and long sentences, punctuated with exclamations and question marks. I swear, her vocabulary is very rich.

She also insists I pay attention, resorting to performing tricks, playing ball games, attacking the furniture and if that doesn’t get me to stop what I’m doing and join her, she resorts to folding her ear back so I can gape incredulously.

How is one supposed to write a first draft that isn’t punctuated by #@!~*&^%.......?

G-d love her, every bit. And help me.

That’s about where we are. All suggestions welcome.

Tuesday, October 30, 2018

Personal Process

A few months ago a writer on a kid-lit chat board asked how others approach revising a novel. She’s written many picture book texts, but this was her first novel. After completing the first draft, she was stymied as to the next step. “What do you do?” she asked.

Some responded with links to sites that gave directions, while others made specific suggestions. I realized that I could only speak of the way I work. After all, practice helps, and by now I have some. I haven’t published a lot, but I have written and revised a few middle grade novels, and am now working on a new story.

I copy my response here, because it says all I have to offer and because, as I said, I’m busy first drafting. A good excuse for taking the easy way on this blog today.

So here is my process, which may be of some interest, even as every person must forge their own.

It is personal, and it takes some experience to find how you work best. If you are experienced in Picture Book writing and revising, you might take some of what you have learned about your process to a novel. The only difference is the time invested in each draft and thus, proportionally, the time between revisions.

Speaking for myself, the first draft is a plow forward. I'm a combination planner and a bit of a panster, too. (This means I have a very thin outline before I even start, but the fleshing out is done by the seat of my pants, as the saying goes.) First drafting is the reason I am a writer, and for me the rest is the necessary work to make it better. As others said, some love one part and not the other. It's a somewhat different set of problem solving.

I don't even go near a novel for a minimum of two weeks between drafts. Two months is better. By "drafts” I am not referring to tweaks and repairing an inconsistency here and there. I mean substantial changes and meeting the phrasing with fresh eyes, more like a reader than a writer.

The first two real drafts are done with me alone. No one even hears what it's about. I have a lot to work out before I feel "I've got something there." 

Third draft comes after my first beta reader reads and gives developmental comments, points out inconsistencies, (thank you, you know who you are!) and catches typos. I go over the feedback carefully. Sometimes other matters arise for me while doing this.

When done, a full re-read after another break, and then a second beta reader. I look for a reader who might be different from the first in many ways, (mostly in their taste in books and their sensitivities) and when their feedback returns I mull over it in a similar way.

Another break, another read-through, and then I have my own checklist to make sure I have asked myself  if I am clear about the theme, foreshadowing, character development/change, Main Character solving the problem (or coming to terms with it) and so on.
Another read-through, mysteriously catching *even more* typos...

...and then it goes  on submission. When I had an agent, this was the point where I shared it with her, and her feedback made me revise again.  Another revision, sometimes two, before it went out. Subsequent editor's interest means more revising, and the happiest of all are revisions after contract.

As to the mechanics of "how," you really only have your reading ways and your reading eyes. It will not be different from the way you have worked on shorter picture book texts. One writer mentioned she makes a hard copy printed like a book. This is a good technique for many. Not what I use, but I know it helps. Another mentioned reading the text aloud, or having someone else read it back to you. There are some techniques for line editing, also. 

But never feel you must write many drafts, (Stephen King does only three, but to say he's experienced is an understatement) or that what someone else says is a must really is for your way of working. Some writers are very clean grammatically and phasing-wise, and some (like me) can never get rid of all the typos no matter how many times we go over the words.

While first drafting, I refuse to think of all the work to come. I suppose that if I did I might not have the strength to start. I’m glad I wrote this^ months ago, before I put my writing vehicle back in gear.

What's your way?

Tuesday, October 23, 2018

The Egregious Agent Caper

A few months ago, the kid-lit writing community buzzed and booed when someone finally spilled the beans on the perfidy of one agent, who then abruptly quit the Internet and shut her agency. Her clients, an awesome list of talented writers and illustrators, were left hanging. If you missed that particular blowup, something of it can be glimpsed here.

On another thread, an animated discussion was ongoing. Was there a way to know this agent had gone off the rails of proper business practices? Could writers ever know before signing if no one dares to speak about such matters in public and name names?

One source, which does allow specific names, is an excellent writers’ virtual water cooler, called Absolute Write. Another is Querytracker.  Neither would have helped in this particular case. There were no warning signs, except for some former clients who knew something was off but did not speak up.

It’s a thorny matter— what to say and where. There are plenty of sensitive folks who take rejection poorly, and let’s face it—this is a field where rejections are the rule. We never want to mess with someone’s livelihood, and it is too easy to destroy anyone’s name. Negativity should be kept to a minimum in the public sphere, and so I fault none of those who knew something was off but made no public mention.

My way of saying this minefield is unavoidable. Most agents are hardworking, and most do good work. But you can’t know, and the proof ultimately is in the pudding.

Agents have become the sifters for the big publishers, culling the most commercially viable manuscripts. Time was, when having an agent was a choice if a writer wanted to be traditionally published. Having an agent meant you could focus on writing while your agent focused on getting publishing contacts. The doors for writers and illustrators to approach directly still exist but they have left nary a crack opening.

So time was, but is no more. We take a chance, we hope, we do research and enlist our ever-useful gut instinct. And still, bad things happen to good people.

Just like the rest of this worldly journey. Like the stories we write. It takes courage.

Tuesday, October 16, 2018


Kids, skip this. It’s not for you. (Yet)

You know you’re getting older when a photograph of you from ten years ago that you thought was a bad one looks pretty good to you.

You know you are getting older when comments to a Facebook photo say something like, “Still looking good... you never age!”

You know you’re getting older when you are almost the age of the neighbor you once had who was “that old neighbor.”

You know you’re getting older when the next-door neighbor’s pre-teen sums up a long conversation with you saying, “Gee, talking to you is really not like talking to an old person.”

Yup, all from personal experience. Actually, that last one was downright neat.

And I’ll take ‘em all. What’s the alternative?

Feel free to complete--- You know you’re getting older when...

Tuesday, October 9, 2018

Blessed Are the Friends

You’ve heard the ubiquitous question, “where do your stories/ideas come from?”
Invariably the sweeping answer is, “everywhere.

But a truer answer is that different people tend to get ideas in idiosyncratic ways, specific to them.

I know writers who get a lot of stories for fiction novels from newspaper accounts of real life stories.

I know writers who get story ideas while walking and looking at houses, imagining the families who live there.

I know writers who get ideas for fiction from reading others’ fiction, and imagining how much more they’d have done with those stories.

About a year ago, I realized many of my longer stories got their themes or protagonists from a friend of mine. One specific friend. We have our regular walk & talk, and I’d be telling her something I had experienced way back, when she’d say, “why don’t you write your next story about it?”

She is not a writer, but an excellent reader. I owe the last five MG novel themes to her.

Tuesday, October 2, 2018

When Fiction is Unbelievable

Many moons ago a professional in the publishing world said one of my stories belied credulity. A fancy way of saying it had too much this-and-that to pass for a realistic tale, as it was realistic fiction.

My first reaction was to hyperventilate. This particular middle grade novel depicted real events from real life. Not necessarily mine, but the life of a trustworthy person close to me who had nothing whatsoever to gain from making it up.

To me, this criticism meant one of two things. Either the reader had a limited range of what they could absorb as realistic, or I had failed to tell this story in such a way that it could pass for what might, just possibly, be something that could have happened.

The first possibility, regarding the reader’s limited imagination, is something I could do nothing about. The second was completely up to me.

When there’s a choice between what I can do nothing about and what is up to me, I choose the second. Helplessness is depressing, and what I can fix is empowering.

I know, my first instinctive reaction was to push such onto other people and, well, not my fault is a mantra we learn from a young age. Not only does it spare us possible punishment, (“the dog ate my homework”) but the adults around us model such reaction every day. Just look at our elected officials and almost anyone accused of a crime.

But, as I told my kids when they were growing up, only you can undo the things that are your doing. This is powerful.

When DS was a toddler and going through the “mine” phase, I remember some unfortunate thing happening that resulted in my saying to him it was not his fault. I don’t recall what that something was, but I never forgot his response. “It is my fault! It’s all mine!”

It was funny, but also a teachable moment for both of us.

So, moving forward, I combed over the fictionalized biographical story and labored to make it stronger and more vivid. In the process, I discovered a writing technique that might work for you if you encounter this reservation from a reader.

It’s in the details.

If you write concrete and specific details into the story, it gains a dimension of reality that wasn’t there before. The more details the better. Go all out. Describe the shape of the doorknob and the sound it made when the protagonist twisted it slowly, or the smell of specific herbs cooking next door. Don’t think of the details as unnecessary, but as part of concertizing. Not only fantasy stories deserve world building.

The true story I refashioned into fiction came my way without details. I had to invent them. But the fiction I imagined made the bones of a true story more realistic.

Don’t despair, fix it.

Can you tell I’m in the throes of just such?

Tuesday, September 25, 2018

Why REALITY is All the Rage

When James Frey couldn’t sell his excellent story (A Million Little Pieces) as fiction, he presented it as nonfiction and it sold with an explosive marketing campaign. What followed was Oprah’s endorsement and NYT bestselling status until...

A website called The Smoking Gun exposed it as fictional, after all.

Every story has some of the writer’s reality in it. But if you label it non-fiction, you should stick very closely to documentable events. Where you take liberties, such as name changes to protect people or omissions for the sake of expediency, you must acknowledge this right off the bat.

Even when reading fiction, the reader wants it to be real. We secretly think that though the writer states this is a work of fiction, it’s *likely, mostly, basically, please-be* a true story.

This is why the how-to books admonish not to start a story with a dream sequence or a flashback. A reader invests in what is happening, only to find out it was just a dream or something that happened long before the main narrative. Na-ah. Not nice. Don’t do it to them.

Readers want that “happening now” feel, an exclamatory phrase CNN uses with abandon. It is much easier to sell a story if the storyteller prefaces it with BASED ON A TRUE STORY.

Long ago, the sight of an old Victorian house in an adjacent town inspired me to imagine a ghost story that could have occurred in it. Actually, I based the story on something a friend told me did happen to the family that lived there.

The next time I walked by with my kids, (then five and eight years old) I told them the story. Don’t be alarmed, it was a kid-friendly version. They were riveted.

{Full disclosure: photo is not that very house^ but one very similar looking J}

Then the question came. “This I a true story. Right, Mom?”

The way they phrased the question begged me to lie. But they were my kids, not some nameless unseen readers. I told the truth.

“Well, no. I made it up. But the house inspired it.”

The instant deflation of their spirits testified to how much it mattered.

There are ways to sort of get around this.
Think of the lines that precede the first chapter of The Da Vinci Code. It’s a list of two little-known things that are factual, investing the reader in what is a work of fiction.
The Movie (and made for TV series) Fargo begins with “this is a true story,” but phrased in an enigmatic way that works as a disclaimer, too.

Because if we are to follow a narrative we need to believe it. At the very least, we need to have our incredulous nature suspended for the duration.

Tuesday, September 18, 2018


“Nothing worth having comes easily”
Theodore Roosevelt

Ever wonder about stories of worldly success that went something like...

 “I wrote it in an afternoon and knew a friend of a friend of an editor, so I passed it on to them never thinking about it amounting to anything and was surprised a week later to have an offer of publication. The rest is history.

From the writer of a children’s classic picture book.

"I was working selling shoes when I became an actor after a talent agent approached me one rainy afternoon, and a few months later I became a movie star never having imagined my life would go anywhere near such, and the rest is history."

 From a forty-year acting career veteran and much $$$ later.

 "I never thought of myself as an inventor. I accidentally mixed some ingredients in the kitchen while making a failed birthday cake for my dog, and wound up with something the whole world needed, and the rest is history."

From A Nobel Prize winner

If you don’t know these stories, you haven’t been to the movies in a very long time, and possibly avoid reading fiction, also.

I think we all secretly live with such fantastic hopes for ourselves, even as they are not the way it usually goes. (That's an understatement.)

I don’t think that if it came easily it isn’t worth having. That thinking is too puritanical, even for me.

But I think a creative worthwhile life begins when you can let go of this sort of narrative and make the assumption that it just ain’t so.

That’s when I get to work.

“The work praises the person”
An Irish saying