Tuesday, May 30, 2023

FOMO = the FEAR OF MISSING OUT

 

I missed the heyday of an ice-cream chain that became famous for having twenty-eight flavors. By the time I came to the US, it had only a few years to exist before yielding to ice-cream parlors that offered fewer flavors, and frankly were wise to do so.

 

The experience of marching into a Howard Johnson’s was exhilarating. Twenty-eight flavors! Even if you would dismiss ten of the flavors as less appealing, you still had eighteen to choose from.

 

There was Banana, Black Raspberry, Burgundy Cherry, Butter Pecan, Buttercrunch, Butterscotch, Caramel Fudge, Chocolate, Chocolate Chip, Coconut, Coffee, Frozen Pudding, Fruit Salad, Fudge Ripple, Lemon Stick, Macaroon, Maple Walnut, Mocha Chip, Orange-Pineapple, Peach, Peanut Brittle, Pecan Brittle, Peppermint Stick, Pineapple, Pistachio, Strawberry, Strawberry Ripple and Vanilla. Which would you order?

 

For one who came from then-modest Israel, this was like going to an amusement park with so many rides that you would be paralyzed not knowing which way to turn.

 

The thing is, invariably after making the choice and sitting down, one fills with regrets about the flavors not chosen. Especially for a kid who doesn’t get to decide when a re-do (that would be another trip to the ice-cream parlor) will be, if it ever will be.

 

Don’t laugh, but this is a real thing.

 

Here’s what is empowering about storytelling: you can always revise, re-tell, change the trajectory, and (at least until the final version is fixed in print) feel the power of never having to worry about the road not taken.

But once published, you must let go. FOMO is not good for writing or life.

 

Good ice-cream is even better than it was in the Howard Johnson days. Premium parlors have switched to offering fewer flavors (some rotating, some fixed) and better quality.

 

Life isn’t as good as it used to be, and never was.



Tuesday, May 23, 2023

THE THREE QUESTIONS, or MAKE IT FOUR

 

As I’m about to embark on the sixth draft of my current work-in-progress, (=WIP) I’m mulling over this post that highlights three questions one should ask about the story while drafting:

Is there a character arc?

Does the plot hold casual progression?

Are characters’ motivations convincing?

 

While this is important to do when evaluating a novel and also when giving feedback to others, it is just as valid for a picture book text if the picture book isn’t a concept text  (i.e. lists of shapes, or ABC and such)—Any story of any length will be compelling if a writer can strongly sign on as having checked these three marks.

But I’d add a fourth, which is a duh sort of pillar:

Is it entertaining? It’s best to enlist another’s eyes for this, but even the writer can tell if they themselves are yawning. If you are snoozing at your own writing, others would have been snoring by that point.

Great storytelling is both an innate talent and also a craft mastered with care.

Tuesday, May 16, 2023

MAY 16th IN HISTORY

 

Many events happened on May 16th. Some tragic, (the quelling of the Warsaw ghetto uprising in 1943) and some that revolutionized our world, (Theodore Maiman made the first laser operate at the Hughes Research Laboratory in California, by shining a high-power flash lamp on a ruby rod with silver-coated surfaces, 1960) and so many more.

 

But my focus landed today on another event that happened May 16th. The first Academy Awards were presented. (1929)

 

Why would my mind focus on such a nothing thing? You’d be just to wonder about my brain’s degree of feebleness. Could the current Hollywood writers' strike be ringing my bell? Not really, though there's a tenuous connection. Hear me out.

 

The OSCARS, as we have come to call these yearly bashes, are a strange thing when you bother to think and really contemplate them. Displays of vanity and self-congratulations of an industry most of us consume but are not part of. They are also too long and much of these evenings are clunkily not entertaining. And yet---

And yet, many millions the world over watch them live.

 

What started as a fifteen-minute presentation and dinner at a Los Angeles hotel (the Hollywood Roosevelt) with nicely dressed people, has grown into a global event that testifies to one thing: The American cultural power grip. It’s monumental, actually.


Love it or not, it is what it is. We didn’t need to wear T-shirts that screamed “America First.” The Oscars said it for us.

 

It’s also significant that they are losing their audience in recent years. Maybe this is another testament that our cultural dominance is waning.

 

History is like that. Mileposts to mark rises, falls, and the long road keeps on keeping on.




Tuesday, May 9, 2023

ABOUT CLIFFHANGERS

 

A dear writing friend, herself a writer who is also a super Beta reader for me, put this to me some months ago:

Maybe you should write a blog post about the pros and cons of cliff hanger chapter endings.”

 

 My response:

 

That’s a *good idea*, thank you.

Books must now compete with other attention-grabbing media, and the young reader has some degree of ADD by the time they are reading because of the oh-so many changes in ways one occupies oneself from toddlerhood on. This is one of the reasons cliff-hangers became the norm and not the exception.

It’s also a reason why so-called episodic stories, like the Anne with an E books, likely can’t be acquired today. My kids always liked these, such as ALL-OFF-A-KIND-FAMILY volumes in which every chapter is a contained story, while there is an over-arching progression in the characters as well. If you aren’t familiar with them, you’d love them.

 

Cliffhangers are an extension of the need to grab the readers by the collar. The same reason first sentences/paragraphs must make a heart race. It’s a new modality that really doesn’t have to be, except that if you want your stories to be acquired, this practice of never letting the reader’s attention waver increases the odds to traditional publishing.

 

I’ve always loved Anne Shirly. New readers love her also. Would publishers give the likes of such stories a renewed chance to reach the coming generations?


Tuesday, May 2, 2023

DRAFTING DRAFTS

 

I was mulling over the strange creatures called Second Drafts.

(Full disclosure, my WIP is now on its fifth draft, which is not nearly as interesting)

 

So, if first drafts are the first-time words typed onto a document (or penned on a page) and subsequent drafts are re-visioning aspects of the story to a neater, shinier polish, what in the plumb-cake is worth noting about draft number two?

 

To me, it turns out to be the very first time I meet the story, as in, “Pleased to make your acquaintance, Story.”

 

Yeah, I wrote it. But while first drafting I was not fully conscious, and I was not “other.” I lived it, suffered it, rejoiced with it, and finally collapsed on my bed to rest when the whole adventure ended, hopefully in a fine resolution.

 

I try to neither look nor think of the story for a month after first drafting. I am catching my breath the way one does after a race, waiting for the steady pace of ordinary breathing and life to return. Only after that happens, will I embark on the next stage, where I meet the story.

 

It’s an interesting experience. In the best case, I have to force myself to stop after a daily portion of polish/add/strike out, usually not exceeding two thousand words or so. When the story (which I had written, so you’d think I should know how it goes) is riveting, it means that it’s working.

When it isn’t, I mull over why. Both happen even in the same manuscript.

 

It’s a heady thing to be surprised by one’s own creative choices. Think of it as a rare opportunity to make one’s own acquaintance. Friends who are not writers have described something like it when remembering something they had done or said which they long forgot. A friend to whom I quoted a letter she had sent long ago put it this way: “Did I say this? That was very insightful of me.”

 

Yes, second drafts are interesting. It’s worth first drafting just to have the second draft experience.

Tuesday, April 25, 2023

The GREAT Spring Cleaning & Clearing on my FACEBOOK

 

This last week I began tackling something I have been meaning to do for a couple of years.

 

My Facebook account told me I had over fifteen hundred friends, or, to be accurate, Facebook Friends, which includes friends and also “friends.”

 

Eons ago, when I first joined Facebook, I saw it as an ad for professional connectivity, with some personal connections as a side bonus. Over the years, it became clear to me this was reversed.  Facebook turned out to be a powerful tool to find old friends, while it was a weak way to professional discourse or exposure.

 

Outside of some excellent Facebook groups, other social sites do a better job on the professional front. It was time to trim, slim, and prim my Facebook presence and have it make sense to me.

 

It’s spring, and the scent of spring cleaning took on a digital aspect.

 

In one day, I trimmed more than five hundred Facebook friendships, ones that frankly have had zero interaction with me or I with them— over many years. I never saw their posts in my feed, and they probably never saw mine.

 

It was an interesting experience. Many of these ghost "friends” have become ghosts on my friends' list: no photo (I never would have accepted a friend request in the first place without a photo) or their accounts went through a name change and would no longer have passed muster with even my previous promiscuous friending practices.

 

After I-don’t-know-how many, my bleary eyes began glazing over as I clicked the two buttons to finalize each unfriending. The echo of the Queen of Hearts of Alice in Wonderland saying, “off with their heads!” chimed as I clicked. I was almost in a trance when…

 

Facebook stopped me.

 

A box appeared telling me I am “going too fast” and this function will be temporarily blocked. My first ever Facebook blockage had made its debut appearance, no doubt due to their algorithm detecting what could be a hack or some malicious interference. Because, honestly, who unfriends hundreds in a row?

 

No point in assuring the Facebook that it was me and I intended this massacre. Facebook is, ironically, faceless. There is no one behind the curtain but mechanical algorithms.

 

What the blockage didn’t say was what the word “temporarily” meant. Turned out that for me and my great spring clearing it was twenty-four hours. My project resumed a day later, and I now think I’m done. Phew.

 

A curious aspect for me was to find that I was not willing to unfriend the handful of friends who have died in real life. I would remain friends with them on Facebook just as they remain in my heart. Don’t ask why, it’s just the way it works for me. This was the point all along: to make Facebook work for me.

 

You know what? It feels better, lighter and more meaningful. I’ve put it off, and now it’s done.

 

If I know you in real life and have accidentally unfriended you, blame the sheer size of the project. I’m still a friendly person, only more discerning when it comes to digital hygiene.


Tuesday, April 18, 2023

REFLECTIONS ON THE UMPTEENTH DRAFT

 

There is a truth universally proclaimed, that artists are never happy with their own work.


For writers, this means feelings of loathsomeness when reading their own writing.


So, what is one supposed to think if when revising draft number (take your pick: three, thirteen, thirty-three) you find yourself liking your own writing?


There is no place to put such a feeling. You feel like a freak. But there it is.

Me likey!

Wishes of joy to all who make things. It’s allowed. Even the greatest creator of all gave themselves this permission:

God saw all that he had made, and it was very good.” Genesis 1:31



*For more on how not to buy into the myth of the self-immolating creative and how to enjoy the writing journey, I wholeheartedly recommend Jane Yolen’s TAKE JOY

Tuesday, April 11, 2023

APRIL 11th IN HISTORY

 

April 11th 1961 - Israel began the trial of Adolf Eichmann, accused of World War II war crimes.

I could claim to remember it well, because the whole country (then a very young one thirteen years old) listened to nothing else every weekday on the Voice of Israel, the national radio channel.

 

But I was even younger, and although the child of a Holocaust survivor who always knew something terrible had left my father without a single birth family member, I knew little of the details and don’t recall hearing the revelations of the trial.

 

To this day, Adolph Eichmann is the only person ever executed in the state of Israel. The death penalty is still legal there, but only for Crimes Against Humanity. The state used the gallows left from British Mandate years (1918-1948) and had to have a mock-execution to make sure the hanging apparatus still functioned.

 

One of my first memories was related to this. I was standing by the yard of our apartment building when two girls (they seemed like young women to little me then, but they were likely highschoolers) were discussing whether Eichmann should be put to death. I didn’t absorb the details of their positions, only that they differed on the matter.

 

I was too young to know any of the details of survivors’ testimony, or Eichmann’s retort that he was “just following orders.” Oddly, my only memory was of a civil and cogent discussion between two young people about the rightness or wrongness of the death penalty.

 

It’s a good memory, which serves me to this day. It’s the only way to address matters of importance— soberly, respectfully, and with a sense that another person who understands things differently is also trying their best, and that we might be wrong.



Tuesday, April 4, 2023

PASS-OVER the FLOUR


GO STRAIGHT to the CHOCOLATE


Put another way, as Passover begins tomorrow evening, it’s time for another of Passover’s glories, the kind shared with all the world’s people.

No, it’s not the notions of becoming a free people, though that’s a grand thing.

No, it isn’t even the act of gathering for a great long meal, though no one should sniff at that.

No, it isn’t the celebration of Spring, which deserves a whole other blog post.


What is this universal glory that had attached itself to Passover? It’s baking without flour. Cakes that don’t cheat (by using matzo meal) and make no pretense to have your ground wheat and be kosher for Passover too, are the crown jewels of Passover cuisine.


Let’s go straight to the chocolate, then.


Ingredients

Cake

  • 1 cup (170g) semisweet chocolate chips or bittersweet chocolate chips
  • 8 tablespoons (113g) unsalted butter, room temperature
  • 3/4 cup (149g) granulated sugar
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1 to 2 teaspoons espresso powder, optional
  • 1 teaspoon Vanilla Extract, optional
  • 3 large eggs
  • 1/2 cup (43g) Dutch-process cocoa

Glaze

  • 1 cup (170g) semisweet chocolate chips or bittersweet chocolate chips
  • 1/2 cup (113g) heavy cream

1.      Preheat the oven to 375°F. Lightly grease a metal 8" round cake pan; cut a piece of parchment to fit, grease it, and lay it in the bottom of the pan. 

        2.      To make the cake: Put the chocolate and butter in a microwave-safe bowl, and heat until the butter is melted and the chips are soft. Stir until the chips melt, reheating briefly if necessary. You can also do this over a burner set at very low heat. Transfer the melted chocolate/butter to a mixing bowl.

   3.      Stir in the sugar, salt, espresso powder, and vanilla. Espresso enhances chocolate's flavor much as vanilla does; using 1 teaspoon will simply enhance the flavor, while 2 teaspoons will lend a hint of mocha to the cake.

        4.      Add the eggs, beating briefly until smooth. Add the cocoa powder, and mix just to combine.

    5.      Spoon the batter into the prepared pan.

        6.      Bake the cake for 25 minutes; the top will have formed a thin crust, and it should register at least 200°F on an instant-read thermometer inserted into its center.

        7.      Remove it from the oven, and cool it in the pan for 5 minutes.

        8.      Loosen the edges of the pan with a table knife or nylon spreader, and turn it out onto a serving plate. The top will now be on the bottom; that's fine. Also, the edges will crumble a bit, which is also fine. Allow the cake to cool completely before glazing.

        9.      To make the glaze: Place the chocolate in a heatproof bowl. Heat the cream until it's not quite at a simmer, but showing fine bubbles around the edge. Pour the cream over the chocolate, stir very briefly to combine, and let rest for 5 minutes. Stir again — at first slowly, then more vigorously — until the chocolate is completely melted and the glaze is smooth. If any bits of chocolate remain, reheat briefly in the microwave or over a burner, then stir until smooth.

        10.  Spoon the glaze over the cake, spreading it to drip over the sides a bit. Allow the glaze to set for several hours before serving the cake.

 

Joyous Passover

Tuesday, March 28, 2023

MACHINES AND (their) MACHINATIONS

 

March 28th : many things happened on this day in history, but one less dramatic event caught my mind’s eye.

March 28, 1797 – Nathaniel Briggs patented a washing machine.

 

So what, you say. So many machines before and a whole lot more after, it’s a big yawn,

 

Evermore, we are not the drivers of machines but their slaves. If you ride public transportation or fly on planes, (machines) you will note that almost everyone is glued to their phones, (machines) and while we transport, it’s the machines that own us all the way.

We are located there, but we are not there. We are in our machines, increasingly serving their agendas, born largely of the greed or interests of other users.

 

Granted, this is an enslavement at will. The forced uses notwithstanding, (services and connections that don’t exist outside the world of the machines) we signed onto these dependencies ourselves.

I like my computer and especially email and WORD for my daily work. I like listening to recorded music, even if live music is often better. I’m as slavish to the mechanical world as anyone.

 

But something about it continues to cause me a low-level itch. What, I wonder, would it be like to cut all but the natural world out of my days if only for a few days?

 

I think about it, but short of taking rare Internet breaks I don’t do it.


Got to go and “do” the laundry now. I mean, my washing machine will do the doing, and I will sit here watching a concert given long ago and recorded on a machine.

©By Ken Benner




Tuesday, March 21, 2023

MINI-MILES

 

In life, there are major celebratory milestones. The day you got engaged, married, realized you were expecting a child, the day your child was born, and more.

Anyone can recognize these, and everyone you share it with gets it. These are monumental moments.

Then, there are the mini monuments. These are just as meaningful, but in a private way. The day you first realized you were in love with a pimply classmate, the day you first got your period, or the day your child told you they loved you more than ice-cream. Even if shared, these moments would not feel monumental to most others.

 

It is the same for the writing journey.

 

The big milestones everyone recognizes—

*The day you get a reputable literary agent (Been there 😊)

*The day your manuscript goes to acquisitions (Been there πŸ˜…)

* The day you have a traditional paying offer to publication (Been there 😲)

*The day your book comes out (Been there πŸ˜€)

*The day you get your first unsolicited good review (Been there πŸ˜„)

*The day you get the first advance check (Been there πŸ˜‰)

*The day one of your books hits the best sellers list (Never been there and can’t manage to imagine 😜)

 

And then, there are the mini-milestones, ones that only another writer can understand. They are also grand, but only a few could possibly “get it”—

*The day you finish a first draft to a novel πŸ™Œ

*The day you manage to fix a serious plot hole that seemed fatal only a day earlier πŸ‘

*The day you overcame a state of ennui as you drafted, because you realized what the story is really about πŸ‘ˆ

*Any of the days you managed to pen a nifty (though dreaded) synopsis of your work πŸ˜‡

 

Been there, to all the mini milestones above, many times. It never gets old.

 

 

All of the above are felt deeply, but the celebration goes on with you and only your writing friends, if you choose to share.



Tuesday, March 14, 2023

CREATIVE WRITING THROUGH HARD LIFE-PATCHES

 

A few months back, I read a post about writing through the impossible. You can read it here.

I thought about the very first project I had scheduled to pen, a chapter book that I thought could be my magnum opus. (It wasn’t. It would be three more years before I began to know what I was doing.)

 

My youngest was about to start kindergarten, and for the first time in years I would have mornings to myself. I had dreamt of writing in a disciplined way for many years, but it never seemed possible.

 

It felt like it was a now-or-never sort of deal.

 

I got all the equipment I thought I needed. A year or two later, much of it became irrelevant as I learned how and what works for me, and the computer replaced most of these supplies/tools. But in late August of 2001 I thought I needed special paper, colored pencils, and a fine notebook with removable pages that would make the re-arranging (think cut-and-paste) and, what else—a quiet workspace in the corner of our bedroom.

Most important was the dedication to spending two solid hours every weekday morning at my desk. No ifs, ends, or buts. Only a personal medical emergency would override this solemn vow from me to me.

 

One week into it came a fateful Tuesday morning when our world came to a standstill. Yup, September 11, 2001. My husband was glued to CNN, and I, seeing the old pattern of excuses for why I couldn’t do what I had vowed to, made the intelligent decision to not give in this time. My two daily hours with the work I had assigned myself to complete were first, no matter that the world seemed on fire.


I recited the saying, if the world is going to end tomorrow, plant a tree.

 

It was one of the best decisions I ever made. To this day, I keep this vow. I will not allow anything to interfere with self-assigned writing work, be it feeling a bit sick, difficult chapters in personal relations, world crises, or just loss of motivating thread for a story.

I plow through. It’s a “just do it,” allowing myself to exceed the minimum but never do less.

 

Because what I have realized is that it isn’t the product or the quality of the writing experience. For me it’s the very work discipline that has been my salvation through the thick and the thin of life’s ever undulating thread weaving the fabric of time.


Tuesday, March 7, 2023

PURIM, LONG AGO---

 

Purim is celebrated today all over the Jewish world. This holiday of dressing in costumes, reading the scroll of Esther, and drinking to oblivion (by religious commandment to drink to a state where one can’t tell the difference between a Haman, the arch villain, and a Mordechai, the righteous hero) is a hoot.

 

I only celebrated it as a child, and drinking was not part of our allotment, thank you very much. But costumes certainly were.

 

I had the great fortune to have a best friend whose mother was a genius seamstress. Thus, in grades 2-4 I got to pair with my friend as her mother made us into Mini and Mickey (the Disney mice) and into a she and he sailors. In fifth grade I wore a costume my mother had bought for me while we were briefly in the Netherlands. I was a Dutch girl, and I only remember how uncomfortable the wooden shoes were. I didn’t dance that Purim.

 

In sixth grade, I was on my own. My mother said I was old enough to make my own costume, and for some reason, I agreed. I had to think fast, because the party and the yearly competition for best costume were only a day away, and my original idea for dressing as my favorite magazine failed miserably in my attempted execution.

 

I had never won first prize, and I wasn’t thinking of any prize. I just didn’t want to be that kid, the one who showed up wearing plastic glasses and calling it “a costume.”

 

We had a song we sang back then. To the American melody of She’ll be Coming ’round the Mountain we sang the Hebrew words, “Madman in Pajamas.” Trust me, it works. That ditty never made any sense. But less than a day before the Great Purim Costume Party & Competition, it suddenly made sense to me.

 

And so, I was. I was a Madman (mad person?) in Pajamas. I danced and sang the song and waved an old flashlight my mother had inherited, and wada-ye-know, I won first prize.



Which goes to show that life can be senseless. It also shows that spontaneity and desperation are underrated, and should be given more respect.


Tuesday, February 28, 2023

HOW MANY NAMES IS TOO MANY?

 Some years back, a publishing professional suggested I not introduce so many characters by name in the first chapter.


I counted the names in chapter one of the manuscript. There were six fully named, plus three who were mentioned by function, not a name. (Think “her uncle” or “his teacher.”)


Was this too many? She was a publishing professional, so I revised. I found another way to introduce the named operators of the story. A technique I borrowed from a book I read when I was ten served its purpose. After all, the publishing professional specifically said young readers couldn’t hold that many names right off the bat, and bringing up Tolstoy’s War and Peace with his propensity to name hundreds of characters would not be a proper defense. Anyway, I was not writing an epic novel. This was a spy story for middle grade readers.

 

I remembered this advice, and have counted the number of characters introduced by name in the first chapter(s) ever since. No matter that an award-winning writer of middle grade novels ignores this advice, (not naming him. I like his books) and that less than lauded books I have read and respected don’t follow it. I’m not in their league, and so I heed this generally good guidance.

 

How many is too many? I try to name four or less. General advice is not to exceed ten to fifteen in the story as a whole. There will be time for other names to come in and go out. First chapters should focus on attachment to the main character. Many names will only serve to distance, and even not so young readers might close the book before they reach the second chapter.



Tuesday, February 21, 2023

SUBPLOT VS. SUBTEXT

 

The prefix “sub” (when not a colloquial for substitute, or the famed sandwich-making chain) means below or underneath.

 

In this way, a sub-plot is a secondary story plot interwoven with the primary plot.

 

Sub-text is what is meant by dialogue, when a character says one thing but means another.

 

Good stories can have a few subplots, which serve to enhance, foreshadow, and augment the main story. They can become the readers’ more entertaining chain of events to follow, in which case they technically fail to be “sub” and in a way take over the story.

 

Subtext serves many of the same functions. This post elaborates on subtext.

 

Subtext can never take over. It only hits the spot for sophisticated readers who are experienced in life’s many unsaid sayings. In stories for young readers, subtext may go over the reader’s head, but they serve to expose them to this phenomenon in life. When a character says “you never looked better,” they may be saying you rarely look good. The second character knows full well what is meant, and responds with "Your words are always beyond kind." They mean the first speaker's cruelty has been registered. 

It takes life experience to understand layered meaning.

 

I never worry if a reader will understand. They will or they won’t, or they may upon re-reading sometimes many years later. A story must hold their attention just as it is. Layers woven will communicate at the reader’s pace.

 

If I heard it once, I heard it many times. “Will kids get this?”

 

I suggest not to be concerned about such. The only question is, will kids find the story enjoyable and worth reading to the end.




Tuesday, February 14, 2023

A Giant Valentine

 




What the world needs now

is LOVE, sweet LOVE

It's the only thing that there's just too little of What the world needs now is love, sweet love No not just for some, but for everyone

 

Songwriters: Burt F. Bacharach / Hal David

 

Burt Bacharach passed away last week. 

The world continues to need love as much as ever.


Tuesday, February 7, 2023

M is for MOTIVATION

 

Motivation—the kind that propels our actions (such as my writing this post) is key to a good story.


As a Beta reader, I have read manuscripts that had the plot move in just the right pace with all the arc points reached as a good story requires, and with the bonus of some surprises. “Save the Cat” and other how-to books on storytelling have done their job, and writers know what are the considered “must-haves.”


I’ve read some stories where the setting was interesting, the main character fully fleshed, and the descriptions added color in just the right amount. These are the craft aspects of good writerly executions.


But what is often not fully attended to is the motivation. Specifically, all the major characters’ motivations. This is most true with the so-called “quiet” stories, the ones that are reflective and capture a moment in time. Lyrical, lovely, just stop and smell the lilacs. All good. But what happens if the main character doesn’t?


Some refer to this aspect as “the stakes.” In stories where the stakes are not what drives them, there should still be a reason for characters to act the way they do, and the reasons should be compelling.


So, motivation. Reminder to self: a strong motivation drives the vehicle. Step on the internal gas pedal.



Tuesday, January 31, 2023

How Much Sleep?

 

I woke up this morning after an uninterrupted eight-hours sleep.

That may not impress anyone, but I am grateful. This doesn’t happen very often.


The somnologists, (these are doctors who specialize in sleep disorders and study optimal sleep) tell us we need eight hours and, contrary to common belief, this need does not decrease with age. What does decrease with age, or life stressors, is the actual number of hours real people get to rebuild their bodies and ready their minds for the next day.


Most nights, I manage about six and a half hours. This has become my new normal, and it never feels quite all right. On bad nights, it’s much less.


I function on four hours’ sleep. But at what cost?


When looking over first drafts, I can see where my sleep was markedly decreased. Chapters that contain many more typos or clunky articulation almost always correspond to days that followed poor sleep. Even my once-over read after that day’s work didn’t catch these sagging patches. After all, I did these reads on the same rickety days.


Too little sleep, or fitful sleep, also corresponds to burning myself over the stove and not finding my keys. Honestly, when I reflect on my chronic sleep deprivation in the months of my kids' infanthood, I wonder how I managed to keep them alive.


So, for today, I’m grateful. Wishing y’all a good night’s sleep.


Tuesday, January 24, 2023

About TENSION *

 

*In storytelling and in life

In a manuscript, a writer pays attention to tension. Keeping a certain level, which even when reduced must never leave the narrative, is crucial.


It’s a curious thing that in daily life most of us want to reduce tension. We want things to go smoothly and without worries. When something stresses our veneer of peacefulness, we yearn to “get back our lives,” as if our real lives are a calm sea with a lovely sailboat gliding over sweet-smelling waters.


But when we pick up a book, or start a session of movie watching, we’d quickly drop that if the tension they exude doesn’t grip us by the back of the neck.


I watch my cats as they invent chases with nonexistent entities because their lives do not include the kind of stressors feral cats and wild animals must contend with. Their make-believe play hunt and chase is something akin to what we choose as stimulating entertainment.


I doubt people who are in the midst of real-life mega-stressors would do that. So called thrillers are for the fortunate among us. Tension-filled stories are what our domesticated species made to round up life.


Just musing here, as I contemplate amping up tension in my WIP.



Tuesday, January 17, 2023

COINCIDENCE?

 

Or, put another way—

DO YOU BELIEVE THE ARE NO COINCIDENCES?

 

There are those who think everything that happens (i.e. the plots of our lives) are tied together in (or by) a mysterious force operating beyond what we can see. They find proof of this everywhere.

That’s the school of No Coincidences.

 

Then, others believe everything is coincidental, and marvel at what would have been had they made the slightest different choice at any junction.

That’s the school of charting on tabula rasa with meaning coming out of choices combined with blind luck.

 

When we plot and tell stories, invariably our philosophical bias on this matter comes through.


It was beautifully explored in the movie Sliding Doors. The film alternates between two storylines, showing two paths the central character's life could take depending on whether she catches a train.

*Spoiler alert!—  In that story, the surprise ending shows that ultimately things turn out the same, though the road to that ending is different.

 

This is my personal bias as well. The grand scheme is not coincidental; the mini-turns along the way hold many different possibilities.

 

Writers are often reminded to tie the plot in a meaningful way and never allow it to be a list of unconnected actions. This makes the bias of a storyteller strongly leaning to the No Coincidences school.

Thus, writers tend to be the self-selected believers in ultimate destiny.

Suits me.



Tuesday, January 10, 2023

The Myth of BRUTAL Honesty

 

All right, another myth busting post that hits the spot. Check it out here.

 

I especially resonate to number five. I don’t believe in brutal honesty, because in my experience those who hide behind this, (“I’m just being brutally honest”) are among the less honest people I’ve known, and they can’t even be honest with themselves about their aggression.

 

If someone cuts you down or is in the habit of cutting others down when speaking about them, honesty is rarely what is fueling their motor.

 

Well-meaning helpers do not use brutality. They point out where improvement is needed. They admit their take is their take, and not a divine edict.

 

The only honest brutes are the ones who do not hide behind a façade of helpful righteousness. They aggress and know well this is what they do and who they are.

 

The rest of the points made in the  linked post are excellent as well.



Tuesday, January 3, 2023

What to Wear/What to WRITE?

 

This morning, just awakened by my orange furry feline, I lay in bed and tried to think of what to wear for the day. I went over the things I have set to do and the current weather requirements. I thought of the items hanging in my closet.

I drew a complete blank.

The orange feline continued to insist. It was time to get out of bed and start a day full of this and that, which to her means mostly entertaining her.

And then I knew. I conjured the perfect attire for this day’s planned tasks. I was out of the warm bed without hesitation, raring to go.

 

A writing analogy came to me right then.

I thought about how similar it is to the days of writing first drafts. Some days I know exactly what the next sentence, the next paragraph, the next chapter is about. Specific words swirl in my head, ready to come out and dance.

Other days, I know what I have to do but no idea how to do it. It’s a white page, a blank mind, and getting going feels like time in slow motion.

 

But either way, I get dressed and get to writing. One way or another.

 

Long ago, a close relative came to say goodbye before we embarked on a trip back home.

I never remember jokes, but he left us with one so lame that it managed to stick to the crevices of my mind.

Mississippi asked Missouri, “What will Delaware?”

Said Miss Ouri to Miss Issippi, “Idaho, Alaska!”


I didn’t know it would be the last time I will see this relative.

 

Wherever you are, seize the day you were given. Throw some clothes on and get to it.



Tuesday, December 27, 2022

MY CONSTANT FRIEND IS A COMPUTER SCREEN

 

Time was, I sniffed at folks who spent the majority of their non-working hours in front of screens.


I felt I was better than the potato couches (a.k.a couch-potatoes) planted in front of televisions.


I looked down at generation Z-ers who sat next to each other all the while staring at their phones.


Okay, I still bristle at that last one. If there’s a live human to look in the eye and talk to, the screen, no matter its size, is better left in the back pocket, and the device’s pingings are better ignored.


But as to the rest, I’ve joined the minions who start and end their days in front of a screen.


Even before the blasted pandemic, screen time kept growing exponentially. The lockdowns cemented it as the hangout place outside of which there’s a vast silent desert.


Writing is already a keyboard and screen activity. Add Zooming, Facetiming, virtual touring and video chatting, and the real world where barometric pressures manifest as actual breezes becomes downright exotic.


I have to do something about that. But where do I reach out to find new living breathing friends? Online, of course.


I couldn’t beat the screen-starers, so I joined them.

Tuesday, December 20, 2022

THE WEEK I GOT TO MOURN A DIGITAL DEATH...

 

Some friendships are digital only, never to exist in our everyday physical world.

So are places.

 

One such place is the SCBWI Blue Boards, established by Verla Kay and later taken over by the Society of Children Book Writers and Illustrators.

 

It is a safe place to get educated, informed, and make friends with others who write or illustrate for children. Safe, because it was always moderated to quell flare-ups, keep out partisan politics or religious and anti-religious preaching and rants.

 

But it never lacked in real content and support, and let me tell you— if you embark on a writing journey you will need support.

 

A few days ago, a public announcement told the virtual water-cooler will be shut with two weeks’ notice. No explanation given.

 

Maybe the SCBWI headquarters have felt the boards have outlived their usefulness, (they were wrong on that count) or the digital space was too expensive for the organization to support (I wouldn’t know, they never said, and the membership was never asked to contribute more toward that end) ~~~

 

Whatever the reason, I was in mourning. The Blue Boards are where I learned from others more than any how-to books or internet posts ever could teach, and where I made friends. It was a digital space where I got and gave support.

 

While I also felt grateful for the years I got to have this hangout space, and I knew I was fortunate in that, I was sorry for those coming in now who would not be.


Yesterday, after a lot of heartfelt cries from many (many) members, the SCBWI reversed course and the chat boards are safe, at least for now. It goes to show that protest can and does work when a body is truly made of its parts. It's a reminder that so-called final decisions don't have to be. When the parts cry out, the head listens.


The experience of mourning yet another digital death has transformed into experiencing a resurrection.

Call it a Hanukkah miracle, or a Christmas present. 

πŸ‘^Resurrected^☝


Tuesday, December 13, 2022

FAVORITE UNDER-APPRECIATED NOVEL

 

One of the oft-asked questions in the literary community is about novels that do not have the halo of The Greats, but should.

 

There are many, and despite the notion that a great novel would have deep but also universal appeal, in the end it is a personal connection that makes it one of the books that transformed you.

 

Today, I pick one that most would classify as a novella.

 

THE ALL OF IT by Jeannette Haien is one such story for me. I wouldn’t have known about it were it not for a local book store’s clerk’s recommendation. When she recommended this book, even her colleague, standing nearby, raised his eyebrows and admitted he hadn’t heard of it. I suspect I bought it because at the time my life was hectic and the book appeared short.

 

It was one of those pivotal moments in my reading life. This novella changed the way I think, which is something books have the power to, but rarely do.

 

I am not saying *you* should read it. But everyone has this sort of book in their bookbag, and this is one of mine. Obviously, there are many universally recognized GREATS that I carry with me. But this is one of the lesser-known treasures, and all the more precious for having come into my sphere with little attention from the usual sources.

 

Feel free to share underrated books that, for you, were transformative.


Tuesday, December 6, 2022

LITERARY?

 

 I see this question posted often in places where writers ask each other (or ask publishing professionals.)~~

Is my writing literary?

And, for that matter, what does “literary” mean?

 

I’ve seen agents and editors say that literary writing is both beautiful, rich in vocabulary, subtle, and layered.

Strictly speaking, any good book is all the above, and many good books aren’t classified as literary.

 

My understanding is that literary writing makes allusions to other literary writing. The layers are the reliance on literature that came before. If you have not read old literature, you will miss the allusions and the reading will not be as rich, but it would be satisfying, regardless.

 

A writer is literary because they have studied, read, absorbed much literature, and their writing can’t help but be grounded in past works. A literary writer inhabits the world of literature of yore.

 

 Good writers who may not be writing literary fiction tell stories in their own voice, which may be matter of fact even as the stories have distinct style. Good storytelling does not have to be literary, and literary fiction may at times not be great storytelling.

Regardless, it’s not something to worry about.

Tuesday, November 29, 2022

HOW TO DEAL WITH LIFE’S “NO”S

 

Life’s journey is full of rejections.


For writers and artists, the turn-downs are magnified. Some wonder why we put ourselves in this position, and how we deal with it.

I have come to a point where I discovered that there is no “dealing with it.” There is brushing it off, as if it never happened, and marching forward.

 

What does that mean?

 

For me, it means that unless there is constructive feedback, which allows for improvement, (thank you, those who offered such) the only way to continue to be creative is to act as if those “no”s never happened.

I don’t count them, I don’t put a numerical bar of no-passing, I don’t let them sink in.

 I. Just. Don’t.

 

This denial is essential. I would not be a published writer had I not had this strategy going way back.

 

And if at any point it is time to rest a work from Submission Road, never think of it as permanent. Rest stops are not only for truckers.

 

Keep trucking.