Tuesday, November 12, 2019

TO BE OR NOT— PROFESSIONAL YOU


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


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


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


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


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

It’s the tendency to hide in plain sight.


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


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

And that's pretty much all they say.

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


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


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



Tuesday, November 5, 2019

DO I HAVE TO?


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

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


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


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


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


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

©The New Yorker cartoons IB PG

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


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

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

Tuesday, October 29, 2019

There’s Ghosting and then there’s Ghastly


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


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


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


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


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


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


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

{With a nod to Halloween, round the corner}

Tuesday, October 22, 2019

Why should it be EASY when it can be HARD?


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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

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

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


Yes, write your story.



Tuesday, October 15, 2019

The Less Ordered Gardens

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



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


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


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

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

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

English Style garden^

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


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

© By Shelagh Duffett


Cultural Appropriation


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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

©Luis Rodriguez 2018

Tuesday, October 8, 2019

The WRITER’S BLOCK Thing



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


I refuse to have writer’s block.


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

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


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


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


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


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


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


 But even that is subjective.


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




Tuesday, October 1, 2019

Going to the Market


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


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


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


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


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


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




Tuesday, September 24, 2019

WRITE What You Love to READ


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


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


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


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


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

©Ofra Amit (from A Velocity of Being)



Tuesday, September 17, 2019

The Heroism of Getting Along


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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

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




Tuesday, September 10, 2019

Don’t Let Reality Get in the Way


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

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


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


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


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



Tuesday, September 3, 2019

PITCHING


Despite the season, this is not about baseball.




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


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


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


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


Have fun going to bat!



Tuesday, August 27, 2019

The Ebb and Flow of Life


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


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


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


The joy!


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



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


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





Tuesday, August 20, 2019

Does It Take a Village?


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

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


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




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


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

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


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


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



Tuesday, August 13, 2019

Literally Literary


I have a constitutional aversion to literalness.

In my teens, I discovered  the awesome power and wisdom of scriptures. I could only do that when I rejected the reading ways of those who interpret them literally. The same vertical growth happened, for me, as I began to understand words as allusion to the wordless.

This is why I would not become a lawyer, as my mother thought I was suited to be, but a writer, as my father encouraged.

The tools of storytellers are metaphors, similes, and language using words as building blocks to send the listeners minds out of their earthly sounds and onto places both wider, higher and deeper all at once.

But lest the above high falutin’ speechy paragraph makes me seem as one who thinkest herself above the rest, let me assure you I have cracks in my anti-literalism.
I was thinking the other day how literally I act on what should be a metaphor.


Touch wood”— as in may-it-not-befall-us: I literally look for anything that could pass for wood and touch it.


Stop and smell the roses”— as in take-a-moment-to-appreciate-the-moment: I try to never take a walk without stopping and smelling an actual rose.


Piece of cake”—as in easy: you betcha!





Tuesday, August 6, 2019

Writers as Marketers

{🙀The "you" in this post is mostly me waving a finger at myself 😼}
{😽You, the reader, are just fine 😻}


As one who gets inner-nourishment from creating stories, I understand other writers who say they are not marketers. The story’s the thing, right?


“I just want to write.” I’ve heard this often, and sometimes that came from inside my own head.


If you want readers, you want to publish. Whether it’s traditional  by a commercial publisher (i.e. be published) or self-publish, publishing means to make public.


“I don’t want to have to sell, I want to write.”
Yeah, right. Then write, baby, write. Keep it in the drawer, and then write some more. For the drawer.


But if you want to share your writing with anyone other than dutiful family and patient friends, you must market.


Let’s face it. If you want a crack at the door of the large and medium size publishers, you need an agent. You have to market your work to a legitimate agent, who will be compensates when your work sells.


That’s the least you must do. So no need denying you’re a marketer right there.


If you self-publish, you become a full time marketing team. No getting around that.


In other words, the notion that a writer is not a marketer needs bursting from the get-go. It’s a matter of how and how much.


Embrace it, and go forth.




Tuesday, July 30, 2019

The Silent Pulse


Ever have a day where nothing goes right? If you can relate to Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day by Judith Viorst, then you have and you know.


But what about the other kind of day? Imagine this: you wake up after a restful night’s sleep and the backache you had yesterday had vanished. Your cat greets you, and your dog wags his tail and they seem fine with each other, for a change. The coffee tastes delicious, and when you open your computer, an acceptance of an article you submitted eons ago comes in. You leave for a scheduled dental appointment, and where usually there are no parking spaces— the perfect one right in front of the dentist’s midtown office awaits you and, behold, the meter is already paid for the next ninety minutes. Your dentist is full of cheer and so are you, because, after she looks inside your mouth, she declares it looks marvelous and then she adds, “no cavities!”


And so it goes for the rest of the day.

Call it YOUR DELIGHTFULLY BRIGHTLY VERY GOOD DAY.


Many years ago, I attended a book launch where the author George Leonard spoke of his new book, THE SILENT PULSE. He explored this seeming perfection suggesting it can be created. It’s been on my mind ever since, though it remains mysterious. I experience these sorts of days as if I’m a character in someone else’s story, and I thank the author for this exquisite sweet very good narrative arc, even if it cannot last.



Tuesday, July 23, 2019

When Should You Give Up?


“NEVER!”

The answer we hear in professional conventions (yes, writers and artists have them too. Conferences are not just for scientists) is that you must never ever give up.


John Grisham likes to tell how he gave himself a year to succeed, but when a small publisher acquired A Time to Kill, Mr. Grisham bought all five-thousand copies himself. Only after his second book, The Firm, made the bestsellers chart, did his first book get re-printed and voila, another story about not giving up.


It’s a wonderful story from a terrific storyteller. But he did give himself a deadline, didn’t he.


My answer is that it is okay to give up. But you can always do it later. So what’s the rush?


“Never” is a daunting notion. By all means, give up but do it later. Much later. The creative life is full of possibilities, so keep living it.


Love what you do, and thus love who you are.


 Bit of summer musing as I plot my next novel.



Tuesday, July 16, 2019

What Creatives Crave---


An Audience!

In her excellent collection of essays about the writing life, (Bird by Bird) Anne Lamott tells of her experience teaching writing classes. She writes that her students do not so much want to learn how to write better, but how to get an agent and how to be published. Her answer, that they should learn to write better and even then, most will not be traditionally published, satisfies no one. They are hoping that by taking her class they will get an introduction to the main table or at least to her agent or editor.


This is less a quest for riches than a need to put one’s skills to use and connect.


Because a writer is seeking readers. An actor is seeking an audience. We know our stories well, but we want you to hear them. We also want to hear yours. We want to reach out beyond the confines of our own minds and bodies, and be connected to others out there.


And so we conjure and we laugh and we marvel and we bleed onto the page, or the stage, and are surprised anew at how unfazed the world is by our offerings.


This is the real story of creatives. Mind you, we’re also surprised when the world takes notice. We never know what to make of it.


I use the plural tense of “we” here not as the Royal We, but because I am fortunate to be connected to other creatives in my family and many friends, and we all share this.


We want to connect with you.



Tuesday, July 9, 2019

Is There a “Best” Time?


If you hang around social media groups or chat boards for writers & artists, you’d have run into mentions of the best and worst times to submit work for consideration, and the questioning of whether there is such a thing.


I’ve read that “the holidays,” any of them, are not a good time. I’ve heard that international book fairs (unless you or your agent are part of the fair) are not a good time. I’ve heard that while neither snow nor rain nor heat nor gloom of night will stop the postal service, these are not good times for agents, editors and art directors.

If you believe all that, you’d have a dim view of the publishing world. It would appear these folks never seem to work.




But we know they work all the time.


In my personal experience, there are no “bad times” to offer your creative output to the world. But my personal experience is too limited, so I turned to a few much-published friends, and they confirmed that my experience is just like theirs. Acceptances come during the winter holidays and in the middle of summer heat.


So if you are using the fact that it’s summer as an excuse, (because we know that August is around the corner and, well, New York City shuts down in August, doesn’t it)—Please don’t.


The best time is when the work is ready.

Tuesday, July 2, 2019

Summer... Seriously?


Where I live, the San Francisco bay area, we do not have real seasons. The comment attributed to Mark Twain about this is rather famous: “The coldest winter I ever saw was the summer I spent in San Francisco.” This hyperbolic sentence makes a good point.


But still, I know it’s summer, even if I can’t believe it. Not because it’s hot, (not!) or because I’m lounging at the pool, (I don’t have one and sunbathing isn’t good for the skin) or because the kids are off from school, (they graduated)— but because the passage of time seems unreal. Time seems to move ever faster, either as a function of aging or having fun. (The latter is a nicer way to think about it.)


Yes, it’s July. There’s no denying it. It’s summer, seriously.



Tuesday, June 25, 2019

The Writing Life is a Blessed One


The writing life is not the bleeding agony of the artist against the world. There is a strain in literature (and now in virtual reality) of commiseration at endless rejection, inner despair and desperation. That’s a romantic notion and, lets be honest, it is also what all writers experience at times.


But the reality, without a nod to Pollyanna, is that it is a privileged life. I get to do what I love, and think about how to do it and how to do it better. For homework, I get to read the best ever written. For more homework, I get to talk with others who are doing the same. So even without the struggles to publication, the very act of writing regularly is a blessing and a gift to me.


The angst comes mostly from rejection or feedback that reminds me I failed to reach someone the way I hoped.


But even on that front, the one that has to do with readers and feedback from industry professionals, I can vividly recall the blessed days. The first time I got an encouraging R & R from an editor I didn’t know and a fruitful association ensued, or the day I got my first acceptance from a small publisher.


And then there was the day my editor emailed that the illustrator had signed and was officially the one for my picture book. This editor included me in the process of selecting the artist, and I really hoped this particular illustrator would agree. I remember driving to get my kids from school just moments after getting the Email, and the road was singing.


And then there came the day when I got my first offer of representation. It was followed immediately by another (I chose the first) and little ol’ me was in the rejecter’s seat. A few months ago I went through the process again, this time having to turn down two offers that followed the first. (I accepted the first one, once more.) I didn’t love being in the seat of the one saying, "thanks but no thanks," and realized it was not fun for others, either. Publishing professionals instantly turned from the antagonists I feared they were into my collegial community.


And then... Yup.  More days like these. But all the while the writing itself remained the real thing. Always. Days when the words unfurled like a hallway carpet unrolled to reveal a gorgeous tapestry, making the hard ground under my feet feel soft and caring. The real deal.





Tuesday, June 18, 2019

Stories and Real Life


A writer friend lamented that she gets feedback from readers who complain that her stories are open ended. “Isn’t that what real life is?” she said.


Yes, sort of, maybe. But there are real differences between real life stories and stories about life, real or otherwise.


Stories have a beginning and an end. As we live, we experience many beginnings but few solid resolutions.


Stories may have an unreliable narrator. Think of the Books Shutter Island and Gone, Girl, (both made into good movies) or in kidlit— When You Reach Me. In real life we are all somewhat unreliable narrators, only we rarely get to figure this out like omniscient readers do.


Stories make sense. If they don’t, they fail. In real life, we leave that overall sense to the originator of all things. Hard as some try, making sense of everything all the time makes Johnny or Sally insufferable.


In stories, every detail must count. In real life, while the details that turn out to count are more memorable, they are also few.



We need stories to make sense and give meaning to experiences. This is why stories are organizers of experience.



Okay, back to organizing.



Tuesday, June 11, 2019

The Surprise Twist Ending


Yesterday, real-life micro-drama in my humble abode provided proof that the surprise twist ending, almost a cliché requirement in picture books these days, may echo reality.


One of my cats, the gloriously furry Mr. Sokolov, has been asserting his place as the alpha cat ever since our smallest youngest cat’s arrival a year and a half ago. Miss Nougat is half his size in weight and two-thirds in length. She’s skittish, hesitant, and most of all she’s the new one on this block.

Mr. Sokolov^

Miss Nougat^

In feline language, asserting dominance means chasing into a corner, taking over the food bowl, pawing and forcing another to vacate a desired sitting perch, and even using another’s dedicated litterbox and spraying its sides with  marking scent. Miss Nougat spent her first few months with us terrified at the sight of Mr. Sokolov, cowering and running to hide under a piece of furniture she rightly assessed could accommodate her girth but not his.



With our support and occasional intervention, Miss Nougat gained in confidence. The two can be in the same room, and even share a large bed in a relaxed mode. But Miss Nougat is ever watchful for the occasional re-awakening of the old pattern, which mistook her for prey. She's ready to bolt to her secure crawl space. I, their human, am also ready to intervene and let Mr. Sokolov know I expect lions to lay down with lambs in my house. I tell him it's a rehearsal for the end times.


Yesterday, Mr. Sokolov ran about the house as if he had ants in his pants, only he doesn’t wear pants. I kept checking on him and his mad dashes, but could not figure what irked him so. To be sure, I asked. But he just stared, and then bolted again. I should mention that all this was going on while I was attempting to focus on something else.


I then heard what sounded like two cats dashing about. Oh, no. Sokolov must be back to hunting poor Nougat. I sprang into action.


And then I saw them. Miss nougat standing with her tiny body over him, looking mighty pleased she had caught her prey.


It’s peaceful here again. My lecture that lambs, too, should not eat lions, must have done the trick.






Tuesday, June 4, 2019

Have We Got an Offer for You!


Or—
Ha! Yet another scummy scam L

We all know by now that the IRS doesn’t call us on the phone asking us for supposed owed cash, pronto. We know a Nigerian Prince or a Ukrainian billionaire is not in need of our urgent help to release his gazillion $$$ into our account if only we provide our bank account number, or whatever.


But recently I encountered a brand new one that required more sophisticated search algorithm on the part of the scammers. A message was left on my home phone telling me it was so-and-so from a literary agency who was so impressed with my published novel (perfectly named ) and whose agency wanted to promote in an upcoming literary mega-fairs, (also properly named real events) and turn into an international bestseller. If interested, could I please call (number and name) for further discussion?


I can imagine what further discussion would amount to. Invariably it would require some sort of financial information from me.



This operation was rather funny. I wrote a very good book. But to think it a potential international bestseller is a stretch to the point of a tear. In addition, I’m traditionally published, not self-published. Everyone who is anything like a literary maven knows to approach the publisher, not call an author at his or her home. But what made it creepy is that my home phone is not listed anywhere under my name. If fact, none of my phones are under my name. So somewhere, the connectors of cyberspace have gone to deeper lengths to tie personal information together.


Hopefully, writers know that fee-charging agents are schmagents. By now we know that publishers who charge us are vanity presses. This is a minefield, which is not hard to avoid if we hold firm to the principal that we don’t pay. Rather, we are paid.


But there seems to be no end to the crooks' inventiveness. I want to tell them they should use their ingenuity toward the betterment of humanity instead. But I know any engagement is futile and will only lead my information to the sucker-list of those who reply in the first place.


Stay safe, everyone. Stay vigilant and remember to laugh occasionally, which is what I did at this last offer to make me the next J. K. Rowling.




Tuesday, May 28, 2019

The Known Unknown


Or—
The Unknown Known

On writers’ chat boards, these questions and their variations come up a lot:


*How do you know the story is finished?
*How do you know if it is good, i.e. publishable?
*How do you know which revisions suggestions to take and which to pass?
*How do you know you have done the revision right?
*How do you know if a rejection is global (the manuscript is a hopeless mess) or just one person’s opinion?


Basically, all the above amount to how do you know if you should be writing with the hope to find readers who are not friends and family.

And the answer?

You don’t. You don’t know, but this sort of knowing is not the right goal.


The questions are a testament to the self-doubt that plagues artistic people right after the creative high wears off. It’s part of the process, and thinking some affirmation will settle it is part of the delusion.


I figured that as long as I use the doubting voices to create rather than paralyze, I am in the right place doing the right thing. That’s about all I know.



Tuesday, May 21, 2019

The Machinations of WORD


The title refers not to word machinations, but to the Microsoft writing program WORD.

Writers know not to count on its spellcheck to find every typo. We certainly know not to trust its grammar check, which while helpful, is flawed.


But recently I’ve encountered some new bugs. On an R & R, I agreed with the suggestion to change the name of a character. In the past, whenever I resolved to do so, I entrusted WORD to help.


So the first thing is to use the Find function, and then the Replace function. Say, for example, that you wish to change the name Amy to Lucia. Ask WORD to find Amy, and it will tell you it found, say, 237. Then ask it to replace all with Lucia. Next, ask the program to find all the possessive Amy’s, such as in “Amy’s hat” and replace with the possessive Lucia’s. It will find fewer, but some, and you will command WORD to replace all. Done.


Well, not really. You still have to go over every line in the novel's manuscript, because there may be references to the old name that would not fit the replacement. For example, if someone says, “I suppose you are named after Amy Adams,” the line would not work as “I suppose you are named after Lucia Adams.” Then there are the part-name mentions, such as someone calling out “Am...” when the change would require it to be “Lu...”---
Or if a character says, “Amie, do you spell it with an ‘ie’ or a ‘y’?” it would not make sense in the replacement.
Thus, while the WORD program has made it easier/faster. All changes still necessitate a read-through.


But the other day, working on a name change with a thorough read-through, I encountered something I have never seen before. The first mechanical hiccup was that half the replacements were followed by four blank spaces, not the standard one space between words. And worse, WORD didn’t flag these extra spaces. I figured I must have done something wrong. I mean, a mechanical machine can’t mechanically make capricious decisions. Maybe I pressed on something. Who knows?


But then I discovered that in two places, and only those two, WORD simply failed to replace the old name. There is was. What in the mechanical brain of this mechanical beast would make it come up with such mischievous machinations?


Bly me. But it was a good reminder that there is no find and replace for the human proofreader.


Tuesday, May 14, 2019

Listening to Books


Do you like Audio Books?


My experience is both limited and mixed.
I listened to a few books on long drives. I can firmly state that they helped me get through the long commutes. I have a friend who swears gardening and house cleaning are much improved with a good book in her ears.


But it is a different sort of experience. It is not reading, as the content and plot are absorbed, I suspect, by a different part of the brain.




For one thing, the complete focus that reading while not doing anything else is gone. Paying attention to the traffic or the weeds is not trivial. For another, the emotional flavor of the words is colored by the reading voice, and the reading voice is rarely the inner voice inside your head.


In other words, (pun intended) the reader makes all the difference.


Here is a link to a good post about writers who are tempted to produce/read their own audio books.


So far, my personal experience is that for less demanding commercial books, audio books are fine. Especially with a good reader. Exquisite literary fiction still needs my reading eyes.

Tuesday, May 7, 2019

Revise & Resubmit


Last week I posted about the sad writerly R. (Rejection L) This post is about the happy one, the Revise & Resubmit Request, known as R&R. J

R&R requests can come from agents, editors, or even critique-partners. For the purpose of this post I will refer to them as Publishing Professionals, or PP for short. Their suggestions can be detailed and clear, (which means specific) or brief and general. They culminate with an invitation to re-submit the revised manuscript.

R&R are happy ‘R’s, because they are another chance to improve. They may turn into a contract, but mostly they are a chance to make the work better, and maybe take a leap in the craft for years to come. A good thing.


I take these seriously, always, no exceptions. I also admit they cause trepidation. Can I manage a revision successfully? Do I understand what the issues are? Is there even a point to try to tackle this thorny thing?
Calm down, now. Take a deeeeep breath. Sleep on it. And then...


...And then I tackle the clearest most manageable suggestions first. I check the issues off as I go, though I will re-examine my checked-off points at the end, again.
One at a time, step by step. The fog clears, and the road is visible.


What if two R&R from two PP come at once, and they are contradictory? I don’t mean somewhat, or generally pointing to different things that need changing. I mean specifically.


Example: PP #1 says the main character’s name is spot-on, and part of why they were immediately drawn to the story and the allusion of the name to a notable cultural phenomenon is brilliant. PP #2 says the main character’s name must be changed, because the allusion to that same specific cultural phenomenon is undesirable.
I give this example, because it has happened to me.


You could choose to make the change and return the manuscript to the one who suggested it. You could choose not to. You could re-submit two different versions to two different PP. You could go and stand on your head for a while until enough blood rushes in and you see more clearly.
My point is these occurrences are reminders that as happy as R&R are, they are not created equally and there is more than one-way to milk a cow.


But please don’t take this as advice about milking, for which I only know one way. For storytelling, there are many ways and then there’s your way. So that’s my final piece of cheese for today: remember the story is yours. Take advice from PP who respect this and treat you as the good writer you are.