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.


Tuesday, April 30, 2019

REJECTION?


We’re in good company J

There are articles on the process of digesting rejection, that badge of participation in the walk we walk.
Speaking for myself, I can only say that few of them affect me. The form rejections say nothing, (other than “not for us”) and the others are often too cryptic or contradictory of one another to be of help. The only personal rejections that still sting are those that follow an enthusiastic full manuscript request or a Revise & Resubmit request, (R&R) and giving feedback indicating a fatal flaw that resonates.

{I do, however, choose to take acceptances very personally. Thank you, you know who you are!}


But the point is that even the greatest greats have gotten rejections, and in hindsight, the specific reasons given suggest the flaw may lie with the rejecter, not the rejected. This article has been around for some years for a reason. It’s a compilation of just such.


Only here’s a new one for you, fellow veterans of the rejection battles. After seventy-three years, on February 7th 2019, the British Council issued an apology to the no-longer-able-to-receive-it George Orwell, regarding a rejection of a commissioned article.
I post the original rejection letter below. Keep in mind that, at the time, Mr. Orwell was already regarded as one of England’s greatest living men of letter.




Mr. Orwell didn’t live to get the apology. Not that we are owed a thing, but let’s not hold our breaths for any.
Instead---
Do your best work. Make it better.
Keep trucking. 




Tuesday, April 23, 2019

A Passover Confession

Passover, the holiday of eating Matzos and telling of the Jewish people's exodus from ancient Egypt and from slavery to being a free if roaming tribes, is in full swing. It began this year on April 19 and will culminate on the 26th.




We're supposed to eat only unleavened bread, the famous (some may say infamous) matzos, because our ancestors had to leave in a hurry and couldn't wait for the dough to rise. I somehow doubt that in their hurrying to bake unrisen dough they got such wonderful crispy results as the modern Matzo. But that's not the point. It serves us as a reminder. A visceral note for the body to acknowledge that this period of time is different.



But I eat matzo every single day of the year. It's part of my breakfast, (with cheese) and lunch, (with hummus or peanut butter) and just about anytime. I do this because I really (really, REALLY) like it. Just ask DH, who lives here. Mirka's matzo is a staple, always on the counter.


So sue me. I'm cheating Passover. I would probably note the difference more if I eat bread on passover, perish the thought.




Tuesday, April 16, 2019

Taking a Story from Picture Book to Novel


If you’ve been writing and submitting stories to editors or agents, eventually you might get a personal suggestion to take that short story you considered a picture book text and make it a novel for older readers, or take that chapter book and expand it to a novel for young adults.


This is what happened to The Voice of Thunder, which began as a short story I mistook for a potential picture book. This is also how many of the subsequent novels for middle grade readers I have written began their lives.


What does the suggestion to “expand” a story and re-fashion it for older readers mean?


Obviously, it must be longer. Not twice or thrice the word count, but ten to a hundred fold. A five-hundred-word story becomes a fifty-thousand-word story. But this tells of the size of the box, not its content.


Expanding means going both wider and deeper.


Wider pertains to the cast of characters, (more enter the scene) and plot, (many more twists and turns) and adding descriptive passages that the illustrations would have done in the picture book, even as the same arc is essentially already there. You already have the beginning, middle, and end. It’s all the stuff in and around the middle that the writer must conjure.


Deeper means extra layers of character exploration. This applies to all the characters, the ones who were there before and the new ones. They all have a past and wonder about the future. They all have layers of ambiguity where the various forces that drive a character operate, sometimes at cross-purposes.


Writers are advised to make sure the age of the protagonists match the intended readership. This, though a technical detail, also helps navigate the deepening of the characters.


Every time I undertook this challenge, I became ever more appreciative of the art of Picture Books writing. I marvel at how it was all in there in the short version. Longer takes more time, but shorter is harder, believe me.

©Chris Brecheens 2012



Tuesday, April 9, 2019

The In-Betweens


You've got to accentuate the positive
Eliminate the negative
Latch on to the affirmative
Don't mess with Mister In-Between
Copyright 1944 Johnny Mercer



Mr. InBetween turns up again in this Australian TV series. He’s big again, that Mister.


But I’m mulling over a different In-Between. I’m in between two projects. Different revisions, different stories, one done the other about to begin.
This is necessary In Between time.


I know writers who work on different manuscripts simultaneously. I know writers who jump from one to the other without any down time. I know writers who plan one, draft another, and revise a third and a forth in the same week.


I tried some limited version of this when I was in the midst of a first draft and a requested revision to a different novel manuscript came, with some time sensitive matter. I worked on the first draft (practically sacred time for me) during the week, and revision on the weekend. That sort of worked. Sort of, because it would have been better to separate the narrative voices by more than a day in each direction.




So, at least for me, In Between Time is part of the process. Call me Mrs. InBetween without worries about my taking it as messing. It’s the exact opposite. It’s a way of assuring clarity and creative purpose that is not messy.



Monday, April 1, 2019

Writers as Liars


April Fool’s, and it got me thinking about spy stories.

“Heh?” I imagine you’re saying. “Why?”


April Fool’s is a day of sanctioned pranking, deceiving, and let’s just say it, lying.

Spies, too, are sanctioned to lie by professional code. They lie to their loved ones about what they’re really doing. They lie to people they meet on assignment because they are spying on them. They even lie to their superiors about the small infractions they may have inadvertently committed on the job. They are trained to lie all the time. Don’t ask me how I know because I know it for a fact and I am not lying about that. But maybe I am.


I’ve only written one story (a novel for MG) with spies in its center. The theme of the story is lies, deception and betrayal. Not your usual glamorous depiction of brave action for a great cause, around which most spy novels are centered. Betraying people you know or meet is not noble.


Writers are constant liars also, even as we couch it as fibbing or stretching the truth. We conjure stories and insist none of the characters have relation to living or dead people. That’s a lie. We write memoirs and insist it is as it was, which is a lie because a good story needs to mute or enhance and also mainstream the telling.  We conjure and make believe and become so adept at it that we occasionally confuse ourselves.


It’s all in service of humans' endless fascination with other humans.


But one day a year, we do this openly and rejoice at this life art.

I hope your April Fools is worthy of its delightful possibilities.


Not even what I wrote here.

Tuesday, March 26, 2019

“Black & White” Thinking*


*No, this doesn’t refer to race, but to “all or nothing”

Children, some say, are basically black & white thinkers. A character or an action is either all good or all bad. This perception remains with some their whole lives, but most grow out of it to see others in shades of gray.


Developmental psychologists have written that the subtle and more nuanced understanding of history, story, and of other people— beings somewhere between the ages of ten and sixteen. Family guidance and environment, as well as individual temperament, make a difference as to whether this happens sooner or trickles in later.


Many storytellers do not realize the immense power they have to help this process along. The fairytales of yore have done nothing to help subtle understanding. But modern writing can.



As a decidedly gray thinker who sees humanity’s failures and triumphs as mixed bags, I am committed to showing this complexity even in the shortest of picture book texts. I don’t go so far as to assign no value to anything, but I will show that wicked is often closer to weak, and good is not to be confused with godly.


How do you like your characters? I love mine enough to let them be gray-ish.

Tuesday, March 19, 2019

Focus on WHAT’S UP TO YOU



Reminder to self: Goals that depend on others are not goals, but wishes.


Up to me:
*Write regularly
*Meet creative output goals
*Do not shortchange non-writerly cares
*Meet obligations to critique partners
*Meet professional communication goals
*Be kind and responsible to all souls in my sphere, human and feline
*Vacuum occasionally, mop often J


Not up to me:
*Get pat-on-back for writing
*Get pat-on-back for output
*Get appreciation for my cooking etc.                    
*Have critics like my output
*Get prompt responses
*Have kindnesses come back to me, human or feline
*Get a good housekeeping award 




Tuesday, March 12, 2019

THE TIMES THEY ARE A’ CHANGIN


Having *just* gone onto Daylight Savings Time, (after our country's ever decreasing sojourns on standard time) those who’ve read my posts of yore know that makes me cranky.


In November 2018 the citizens of the great state of California voted to stay on Daylight Savings Time permanently. The state that champions change doesn’t enjoy it as much as you’d think. I know I don’t.


Proposition 7 passed by sixty percent of the voters. But no matter, because the Federal Uniform Time Act prevents this from happening. Yup. We can stay on standard time year round, but not on Daylight Savings. So while I personally do not care which one we stay on, (staying is the operative word for me) seems we can’t stay on DST.


Kvetch, kvetch. There are worse things than twice a year adjustments. Get over it.


But then, how would I get to experience the ground shifting discomfort that my fictional characters endure? And what would I have to complain about on a beautiful California morning?


In the words of my grandmother, (and maybe yours) “You have to have clouds. Because if every day was sunshine, how would you know how good it is?”


Adjusting over here.



Tuesday, March 5, 2019

The Road to TITLE


Still ruminating on my post from two weeks back---

Because I just re-worked a R &R (writerly code for “revise & resubmit” request) which began with a suggestion for a change of title.


When querying agents or working with editors, some have asked if I was open to changing the title.
Goodness me. I am more than open. I welcome your suggestions.


Because, for me, the title is a working title and no more. It serves to remind me of the theme as I draft. Once done, it has performed its job.


A story’s title is its initial offering. It’s the bowstring center of a wrapped box. The title is not the wrapping paper, (that’s the cover design and the flap jacket text) or the present (the work) itself.



A good title is evocative without giving away the story. A great title is pithy and atmospheric at once. A working title is rarely that.



I know I am rather prosaic in my working title choices. This may explain why my first agent changed just about all my working titles. I still have the word documents of my offering alternative titles to these old submissions, and some are pages long.


The final title is the traditional publishing house's prerogative. Their job is to publish (i.e. make public) and to market. This is why in most cases writers have neither control nor the option to refuse a title change the publisher makes.


I’m not married to my working titles. Goodness, I couldn’t be if I wanted to. As titles can’t be copyrighted, it’s unhealthy to be wedded to them. No marriage license for us, Writer and Title.


So a revision request that includes a change of title is an automatic “absolutely yes” from me.




Tuesday, February 26, 2019

Galileo and the Scientific Truth


On this date, February 26, in the year of our Lord 1616, Galileo Galilei was formerly banned by the Roman Catholic Church from teaching or defending the view that the earth orbits the sun.


Now, I am not anti-Catholic (emphatically not) or anti-religious. The church had its reasons, with worry that challenging this dogma would lead to questioning all dogmas, an unstoppable process. Indeed, history showed this fear to be justified, and the loss of dogmatic faith that had already begun then, continues to this day. The church had reasons to fear that the baby will be thrown out with the bathwater, an expression so vivid I’m using it despite it being a cliché.


The thing is, four centuries later and a formal reversal of this ban by the church itself, we still ban thinking that we fear will lead to abuses of the social fabric and result in hurtful conduct. Only now, it is happening in the name of freethinking.



We haven’t changed. We’re still terrified of our own species propensity to abuse one another, and in the name of protecting us from ourselves we fire/take-down/ban/shun uncomfortable ideas.


I know real tolerance and considered debate when I see it. We’re not there yet.


Saluting the brave Galileos out there. You give humanity some hope.

Tuesday, February 19, 2019

TITLES and Working Titles


In one of the funniest episodes of the TV series Seinfeld, Elaine wants to impress a famous Russian novelist with her inside knowledge. “Did you know that War and Peace was not Tolstoy’s original title? The original was War—WHAT IS IT GOOD FOR?”

She was half-right. The working title was The Year 1805.


Stories abound, which I cannot vouch for, that many famous titles almost weren’t.
The Great Gatsby’s working title was The High Bouncing Lover.
To Kill a Mocking Bird’s working title was Atticus.
Of Mice and Men’s working title was Something that Happened.


Titles are an art all its own. If you ever marveled at a beautifully wrapped gift only to find that the content was less impressive, you got a glimpse as to what great titles can do. They are an enticing invitation to look inside without revealing the content. Fiction titles are evocative, not informative.

Titles cannot be copyrighted. They are often the brainchild of the publisher, not the author. Most publishing contracts don’t even give the author the right to veto a title they don’t care for.



For myself, I consider all my titles to be working-titles only. The title serves as a lamppost to remind me where or what or even why I’m telling this story, and sometimes whose story it is. But once the last line of the first draft materializes, all bets are off. I got to the finish line in one piece, and renaming the journey is wide open.

Tuesday, February 12, 2019

Writerly Routines


Most folks have routines that get them going no matter what sort of work they do.
Most writers I know, or know of, do their creative work in the morning. If writing is in addition to their day job, this means very early morning.


No matter when or what, routines help. It’s unglamorous. Admitting that you don’t write drunk into the wee hours of the night with existential despair as page after page is scrapped because you won’t give up until you have something--- doesn't sound arty.
(Oh-so very unlike Dashiell Hammett, at least as depicted in Lillian Hellman’s Pentimento.)

Most writers have a set routine and write no matter where inspiration chooses to dwell any given day. Most workers go to work no matter how enthusiastic they feel at a particular moment. Same thing.

© Luci Gutierrez for the New Yorker



My morning routine is as uninspiring as it is grounding. With small necessary adjustments, it generally goes something like this:


*Woken up by Nougat, one of my three cats. She thinks she’s an alarm clock.
*Thanking her, and thanking G-d for returning my soul to me. It’s a Jewish prayer that sets the day right.
*Making my bed. The other cats come in to help, with great merriment for all.
*Cleaning litter boxes, changing water bowls, filling the food bowls. Felines have priority because of all their help.
*Making strong tea with foamy milk. Drinking it, doing my best to keep cats off the foam.
*A short meditation. It’s supposed to be quiet time, but the cats determine this as well.
*Turn on the computer. Open WORD.
*I’m ON IT.


Two hours or so later, DH gets up and the rest of the day commences. That means coffee, breakfast, and the busy-busy stuff.


Do you have routines to get going?