Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Family Photos

Will this be the year we abandon the ‘family picture?’
So Christmas passed, and soon Hanukkah will too. For the first time in thirteen years, the Breens have not taken a family photo to send out and to keep as a record of our kids growing taller and their parents growing older.
Something in the equation of {December = this ‘n that} has been lost on us this year, and I have no explanation. We are still here, and we are still very much a family. DH still takes artful photograph, and my kids, in their mother’s opinion, are as fully worthy of being photographed.

Three years ago my mother passed away the day after Thanksgiving. We intended to take the photograph a week earlier, and I was going to bring the one we chose to show her. Something came up, and we postponed it by a week. My mother loved those photos, and the thought kept ringing in my ears: you should have taken it when you intended, so she would have seen one last Breen Team picture.
It took all the muster I didn’t know I had to get it done only a week later. I thought of it as a sort of act of defiance: Here Mom, better late than never. But we did it, and this one’s for you.
Note we are all wearing black except for my daughter who wore her grandma’s favorite color instead.

The next year my father died, also right after Thanksgiving. He was the one who scanned the printed card for me, so I could send some electronically.
All I could think, while smiling at the unmanned camera, was that he would have raised an eyebrow at the backdrop of an aircraft carrier behind us, seemingly abandoned on a rainy day, and his family looking oddly happy.
It was bitter sweet, thinking of the first time in ions that he would not have scanning duty, and would not see the card.

But we did take the picture, and we did send the card.

We barley managed last year, but we did not let December pass without.

Not this year.
What‘s our excuse? Could it be that I just can’t envision anymore who the audience for our photo is?

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Hanukkah isn’t the Jewish Christmas

We are Hanukkah People, and if I learned one thing, it’s that this charming but minor festival should not, in any way, ever, no-way-no-how, compete with Christmas.

I understood this well when I was growing up in Israel. My parents were not religious, and I often felt out-of-the-loop during major holidays. No special prayers at our home, no synagogue to go to and greet others all donning festive clothes, no respectful abstinences from the hustle-bustle of ordinary days, such as is done by religious Jews. A part of me accepted my parents’ definition of not being defined by ancestral tradition, and a part of me yearned for those traditions.

But during Hanukkah we were part of the crowd. It is more a historic commemoration, not so much a religious holiday, and my parents’ anti-religious sentiments did not interfere with my wish to be part of my people. My mother fried latkes and my friends came over to pass the cold evenings spinning a four sided top in a game of chance. We got eight days of vacation from school, and older neighbors shoved coins called Hanukkah Gelt into our pockets, to do with the money as we wished. Hanukkah was light, and fun, and I never felt like an outsider looking in, as I did during the high holidays or Passover.

This continued after I came to live in the United States. The signs and sounds of Christmas I saw all around were beautiful, exotic, (to me) - and had nothing to do with Hanukkah. I could not relate to the rumors that some of my people had something they called a Hanukkah Bush or that they gave presents to their relatives’ kids every night for eight nights, to outdo the ‘other’ holiday. What folly.

This lasted until I became a mother, and found myself worrying that my kids were deprived of Christmas, no doubt an echo of my own childhood sense of being an outsider at the holidays. During my kids’ early years something strange happened to my Hanukkahs: first, decorations with glitter and glitz began to mysteriously take over our living room. Then came the presents, eight for each night, and the coins too, for Hanukkah Gelt was transformed to Hanukkah guilt. Our intimate evenings with a few friends, frying latkes and singing songs, became super parties with hot-mulled wine thrown in, and too many people to have a chance to say ‘hello’ to.

And then I had an epiphany: my kids didn’t get Christmas, and I was depriving them of Hanukkah.

The last few years have been warm and quiet. The smell of frying latkes is still there, and we light a Hanukkah menorah every night for eight nights. We go for a walk on Christmas Eve looking at the beautiful light displays of our neighbors. But our own house is decidedly not glitzy. The competition has been called off.

Happy Hanukkah to my people, first candle tonight. And Merry Christmas to all who rejoice on that beautiful holiday, only a few days away.

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

The Gift Givers

No matter how curmudgeonly you might imagine you are, one way or another everyone finds themselves partaking in the grand gifting exchange that overtakes the country in December.

I happen to love giving gifts. In most instances I enjoy it much more than getting them. Years ago I found myself dividing humanity into two major kinds of gifters: those who give what they think you should have, and those who give what they think you’d like.

I knew I was firmly in the second group when I chose a gift for a relative who adored guns.   Now I admit they are sometimes (if rarely) necessary. But call me prissy- I find no charm whatsoever in guns. This relative adored them, collected them, displayed them, and collected books about them. (I should add that he never used any, and passed away peacefully in his bed a few years ago.) When I saw a beautifully produced coffee- table book on antique rifles, I bought it to give to him. I thought he’d like it, (he did) all the while knowing that it was not something I would want. This is, to date, my most extreme ‘I-honor-you-by-giving-you-what-you’d-like-even-if-I don’t.’ I continue to give in this way.

My mother was the other sort of giver. She adored bargains, and would pick up the oddest things she deemed others should have. She had become immune to the brow-raising her offerings caused. She did not need an occasion. If anything, she avoided December and birthdays, and would unload her finds at unexpected times. But I see that her gifts were, in the end, more hits than misses. We stared, puzzled, at the brush to clean dirty nails, the salt-shaker with giant holes, or the plastic straw-holder. She thought we could use them, and you guessed it, we do to this day. In many ways my mother’s choices were more enduringly successful.

Of course, like everyone else, I’d like to give you what we both like and what I also think you should have. But sometimes all the elements don’t come together. That is when you know which kind of gift-giver is the primary one in you.

So which is it? Do tell.

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Glamour and glitz

When I was a little girl reading movie magazines about beautiful people, I read about some who flew their lunch from Paris to Hollywood or even, gulp, flew to have lunch in Paris. Us mere mortals would plan months in advance, belaboring every detail, knowing it would be years before we could think of embarking on another trip.

How glamorous to hop over and hop right back.

Last weekend I got to be one of the beautiful hoppers. DD had two auditions in New York City, and the two of us hopped across the continent, stayed at a nice midtown hotel, walked about town a bit after her auditions, and hopped right back. Such zip-zapping may be part of any business person’s life these days, but it was never part of mine.

Passing some of the addresses I know so well from queries and submissions, I saw glorious marble-hall buildings, dapper doormen, and gold-embossed publishing houses names. I was happy that these well-known publishers got to inhabit palace-like quarters. Good for them.

Or is it? It occurred to me that the same houses have cut staff, closed their doors to unagented submissions, and have taken fewer risks when choosing new titles for their lists. They seem to take the bottom line seriously. But having their headquarters right in the middle of the most expensive real estate on the planet, were they cutting the right corners?

I’m not a publisher. But I did once work at a high-end business, where the right address mattered greatly. However, publishing houses are wholesalers, not retailers. Does a Fifth Avenue address really make for a better business?

I’m only asking questions, not giving answers. I wish someone who really knows would chime in. I wish ‘The Big Six’ would not layoff editors and first-readers, so they could keep their door open, if only a crack, to the unknown writers offering something different. I wonder if saving on rent wouldn’t make business sense.

Back to reality, I’m folding laundry again, and dreaming up my next story. Once typed-up, it may make its way in a white envelope across the country and into the middle of a fine pile in one of these Upper East Side Avenues. There it will sit a while, marveling at the beauty of the plush carpeting, before being turned around in my SASE, or being shredded.

At least our stories get to glimpse the glitz and glamour. I’m still thinking about how much of this is real, and of what value. In some ways I’m as baffled as I was when I read the movie magazines all these years ago.

Tuesday, November 29, 2011


I was asked when I started writing seriously. I have to confess it was long ago. I was six and had just learned how to form the letters. I wanted to be a poet, so I wrote:


The flower grows and grows

And so it goes.

Something like that, for it was in Hebrew, my native tongue. I think it’s improved a bit in translation.

My parents had a close friend who was a more or less famous poet. Well, at least he was published and we had his books. So when I heard he was coming for a visit, I sat with my notebook in front of the door, waiting for him, so I could show him my poetry.

The published poet gave my poems serious consideration. It exceeded the consideration I have gotten from most slush piles since. But the verdict was the same. In fact, he went one further. “I don’t think you should be a poet,” he said.

And this is my excuse for rarely writing poetry. But he didn’t say anything about writing stories, so I continued to write those for many years. I did this until I reached that strange age, the age where nothing you do seems good enough. Then I stopped.

But time didn’t stop, and finally I reached another age, where getting anything done seems miraculous. I started writing again, and this time I was thinking about sharing my writing with people I didn’t know personally.

Writing for publication is a much more disciplined sort for me. But in a way it connects all the way back to a six year old girl, sitting on a door step, waiting for her reader.

Monday, November 21, 2011

Losing a feline Friend

When our neighbors relocated six months ago, they moved about a mile away. With them went their adorable dog and two cats, all of whom had become an extension of our family. A few weeks later, one of the cats, Clyde, showed up at our back door. We called his family and they picked him up.

This was the beginning of a hundred such calls. Clyde was doing his best to move to our house. How he found his way here in the first place amazed me, but he was one of the smartest cats I have ever known.

Our former neighbors did not give up easily. They told us we best not let their cat in the house, never feed him, and return him as soon as we spot him. This started phase two of  ‘Operation Acclimate Clyde’. I think I drove him in my car back to them at least fifteen times. He didn’t mind the car at all, and almost like a dog, he would look out the side window. That’s when he didn’t sit on the dashboard looking out the windshield window, obstructing my drivers’ view. You can imagine a cop waving me over to tell me, “Ma’am, do you know you have a cat on your windshield?”

We adored this fellow, but he was not ours, so we kept returning him. Then two weeks ago it all stopped. I hoped he was finally at his new home for good. A week ago our old neighbors Emailed to ask if we had seen him, for they have not, for a week or so.

This morning I got this Email:

I write with very sad news about our Clyde. We found him dead under the lemon tree in our back garden two days ago. He was not cut, nor outwardly physically harmed. Just before he disappeared last week, he had stopped wolfing down his wet food as he did, and we remarked that he did not seem like himself. I'd say he was sick, and he ran away to die in peace and away from us all.

So Clyde has been dead for at least two days. Now here’s an odd bit: yesterday evening (about six or so) my daughter heard scratching at our living room window. When she turned around, she thought she saw Clyde. When he disappeared, she was convinced he had fallen into the ivy below, and she ran out with a flashlight and called him over and over.

DH suggested I write to our former neighbors and tell them our daughter had spotted Clyde. I didn’t, because I thought she could not have been right about it. He never ever came in through that window before, and I just didn’t think it even possible for him, or any cat, to reach it.

A bit of Wuthering Heights with a feline twist.

I’m posting this as a memorial to a special cat friend. Just seeing his name up here makes me feel good.

Tuesday, November 15, 2011


Most “How-to” books for picture book writers tell us that after our book is contracted, it is the editor’s job to find the illustrator. In most cases, these books say, the writer is not consulted.

            Harold Underdown’s Idiot’s Guide is my go-to reference book for every stage I have not yet been through. So when I got The Call after years of submitting, I read ahead.

            All right, it’s not my role. Let’s hope for the best. Regardless, I will respond in a professional manner.

            The editor sent samples from three artists. I had a strong preference. My preference turned out not to be available for some time. The editor sent links to six other illustrators. Again, I had a preference. Yet again, this artist was not available.

            But I kept reminding myself that I am being consulted, and this is more than I had the right to expect. I thanked my editor at every stage of consultation.

            One of the main characters in my story is a turkey. I was anxious that the artist be up to the task- a lovable turkey any kid would want to hang out with is not a simple matter. I shared my concern with the editor, who then informed me that an artist was working on a sample of the main characters right then. Niles, the boy, and the turkey, will soon enter the formal realm.

Only days later, the Email arrived. What do you think? It said. I could feel my temples throbbing as I opened the attachment. I stared, and Niles and his turkey stared back at me.

The turkey was likable enough, but Niles the kid looked like Niles the brat. The colors could have been done better, and the feeling of the illustration had the effect of deflating my balloon.

Breath, I thought. Let the editor know, using the most positive language you can muster, why this isn’t right. Remember this is not your decision.

The editor responded almost immediately, agreeing that we needed to look further. I felt that I have dodged a bullet, and again thanked him for caring about my opinion.

“We want you to like the illustrations,” he said. I thanked the powers that be for the umpteenth time for giving me this opportunity, and putting such a caring editor in charge.

So when the second illustrator’s sample of Niles and his turkey showed up, I was not quivering anymore. But I did take a deep breath before opening the Email. Reactions? The editor asked.

This one was a monumental letdown, making the first artist’s rendering shine. This Niles looked positively stupid, (I know, we’re not supposed to use this word) and his turkey was the stuff nightmares are made of. I longed for the first artist. At least there the turkey was all right. How can I use the sandwich method and reply to this? The ship was going down.

Once again I thanked my editor for consulting me, and I told him the first sample was better than the second. I tried to keep Underdown’s advice and sound professional, not emotional.

I shared my feelings, but not the illustrations, with my kids. “Mom,” my son said. “You’d better accept the third one no matter what, or the publisher will not like you anymore.” Don’t think that hadn’t occurred to me. I could just hear the publisher in my mind: “Go away, you ungrateful, picky, who-do-you-think-you-are.”

And then the third sample came. When I opened it, like in a movie, a symphony of harmonious sound burst from the page. Like in a good story, the third one was the climax. And the charm. And the answer to my prayers. I was in love.

I could not have done a better job of the illustration. It was, simply put, right.

Like a classic story there was one more obstacle to overcome.

“I hope we get this artist,” I wrote to the editor.

Less than a day later the Email came. Ms. Sonya Hallett agreed to take the project.

Of all the happy milestones of a first-time publication, it was not The Call, or getting the contract, or the first part of the advance. It was the match with the right illustrator that has made me the happiest.

When I shared my surprise at this with a multi-published picture book colleague, she had the perfect explanation. “It was the first time you no longer dreamed of, but could actually see your book.”

Sadly, the project was canceled on the eve of publication. The small publisher, feeling the squeeze of financial contraction, aborted all new titles. But I am not bitter. I feel fortunate to have had the amazing experience of seeing my scenes come alive with art. I am more wedded than ever to creating picture book stories.
And happily, my novel for middle grades, VOICE OF THUNDER, is slated for release in mid-2012.

Monday, November 7, 2011

Writing clichés

How many mystery writers does it take to screw in a light bulb?

Two. One to screw it almost all the way in, and the other to give it a surprising twist at the end.

Writers are told to have a ‘twist at the end.’ It’s almost dogma for picture books. Ever since Where the Wild Things Are, endings are supposed to make the listener/reader gasp. Whoa.

As a writer I find these easy to conjure, and they are satisfying to create. As a reader, I find that I long for the quieter, old fashioned, and more organic last paragraph.

The twist at the end has become cliché.

Light bulb now in. No light. Turns out the wiring was faulty.

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

The Shrinking Word Count

A few years ago, when I began writing story picture books, conventional wisdom in How-To books was that such stories must not exceed 2,000 words. No problem. None of mine were that long.

A bit later I ran into a new site that said picture book writers should never exceed 1,200 words per story. A writers’ conference in New York brought the news that 1,000 words was the new upper limit, and one agent claimed she has not sold a story longer than 800 words.

Fast forward a couple of years, and the busy bees were buzzing. A new chant was in the air, perfuming it and permeating the printer paper everywhere a picture book writer was at work. Our quaky-shaky typing hands trembled at the admonition: 500 words. That’s it.

Recently an agent told a writer friend that her 500 word stories were, well, iffy. Good, but possibly too long for today’s market. The new sweet-spot was closer to 300 words.

Why do I get the feeling that writers are being written out of picture books?


I took the challenge, and my last few picture book manuscripts come in at 221, 310 and (gulp) 124 words each.

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Connections and Disconnections

A few days ago our family DSL line was disconnected for no reason that we, or the Internet provider, could figure out. DH’s polite phone call to the service center was answered with an equally polite admission of some technical mishap, but sorry-can’t-fix-it. A technician will have to come to the house, and oh, so sorry, the earliest will be a week from now. By the time I’ll post this our connection would have been restored. But I wanted to record this moment. Besides, what else does a writer do?

The experience of a super-wired household losing connectivity is both stressful and illuminating. In the grand scheme this is not even a dot, no dot com either. But holding a flashlight and surveying the situation revealed this picture.
Us: two teenagers, one tech-savvy adult, one writer, and a temperamental fluffy cat.
Two teens- flailing, trying to figure out how to do their homework. This is not an excuse. Who knew that high-schools and colleges now assign homework online, and some of it can only be done on the Internet.
DH- feeling not only disconnected, but disrespected. Getting a ‘good deal’ from an Internet provider that turns out to mean lousy service can do this even to the most polite and accommodating. Muttering to self a lot.
Writer- I find myself wondering if there’s a story in this. At least a blog post (this!) for sure. Wondering how many people think I am mad at them or plain cold for not answering their Emails.
Fluffy Cat- she’s faring the worst, absorbing all those irritated-but-holding-it-in vibrations. That is a cat specialty- to sense her humans’ condition.
Something knocked on the door of my memory house. I recall my early childhood in Israel before anyone on our block had a telephone. I’m not that ancient. Most Israelis did not have private phones until the sixties, and even then, the country was wired slowly.
How did we do things then?
Earliest memory: We were the first to have our own telephone, and neighbors lined up at our door to use it. They brought coins to cover our cost, and my mother waved their offerings. What are neighbors for? Everyone wanted to make a call even though there were few who could receive their calls. For a couple of years there was an almost steady line at our apartment door. It was a neighborhood meeting. A block party that went on and on.
This memory, surely distorted by time and glossed over by a polishing cloth of sentimentality, made me wonder: were we less connected then?

Sunday, October 16, 2011


My son, taking a linguistics course in college, is enjoying it immensely. But as he shared tidbits from his professor’s wisdom, this old joke popped into my mind.

A linguistics professor was lecturing to his English class one day. "In English," he said, "a double negative forms a positive. In some languages, though, such as Russian, a double negative is still a negative. However, there is no language where a double positive can form a negative."

A voice from the back of the room piped up, "Yeah, right."

This made me think of the subtlety of voice. For writers it isn’t the every dotted ‘i’ which is the meat of writing. Editors were created for a reason. It is the elusive quality, that thing called ‘voice.’

The little story above^ jars me from the world of academic analysis to where real writing makes an appearance.

Yeah, right. Tell me about it.

Monday, October 10, 2011

Who's That?

I’ve heard that no one ever sees themselves as others see them. There’s no way to prove this, but is seems intuitive enough.
So when my then thirteen-year-old daughter looked at me intently, then at a piece of paper, scribbled and fussed and, finally, handed me what she thought was a portrait of me, I was baffled at the image.

Who’s that? ME?

The image hung on the inside of my closet. I didn’t recognize it as myself, but I loved the gesture.

On those days when my daughter was in a less than friendly mood, I would look at the smiling image she had made. I noticed that her mother is portrayed with intensely green eyes, (I wish) and wearing adorable earrings. I liked the person inside my closet, even if she was not me.

That red haired person cheered me up on many grey days. She’s neat one, her. Always smiling. And look at those teeth. They haven’t yellowed with age, or from too much coffee. In fact, I might like to have coffee and chat with her. Bet she’s got a fun story or two.

And now she’s out of the closet.

Sunday, October 2, 2011

The Rabbi and the Donkey

My father came to refer to my picture book texts as ‘Rabbi & Donkey’ stories. I have never written a picture book with a Rabbi in it, and while my father was alive and reading my stories, none had talking animals.

‘Rabbi  & Donkey’ was my father’s code-name for all picture books. He liked my longer books better. It was our inside joke.

So for Yom Kippur the year before he passed away, I wrote, just for him, my first and only Rabbi and Donkey story.

Yom Kippur this year is fast approaching. I want to share with you my gift to my father. It is as short as it is goofy, and he liked it.

The Rabbi and the Donkey

By Mirka M. G. Breen

   A Rabbi was walking on a beautiful sunny day to Yom Kippur services, when he saw a donkey on the side of the road. The donkey was looking decidedly gloomy.

“Why such a long face?” said the Rabbi to the donkey.

 “I’m a donkey, that’s the way my face is,” answered the donkey.

“Don’t be such a smart ass," said the Rabbi. “I’m just trying to help.”

“I can’t help being an ass,” said the donkey.

The rabbi scratched his beard, then his face lit up. “None of us can help being what we are. No atonement for that. But we can help what we do, and for that we must atone. Thank you, Donkey! You just gave the Yom Kippur sermon,” he said.

 “And you just gave me a reason to be gloomy,” said the donkey. “I always dreamt I would be a race horse when I grew up.”
{Written on Yom Kippur 5769, especially for Abraham Golek}

Sunday, September 18, 2011


With the Jewish High Holidays around the corner, I thought I'd throw some ponderings to the universe. I'm definitely not a Rabbi, but I play one in my mind while vacuuming or folding the laundry. My late father noted my tendency to be ‘teachy-preachy,’ and so I haven’t changed.

Warning: A sermon, or what we call a DRASHA, follows.

G-d bless anyone who steps in where needed.

 There’s a Jewish belief that the world depends on the constant existence of the thirty-six righteous ones- simple unknowns, who do the right thing where others don’t. There may be more than thirty-six, but the number must never be below for then the world as we know it would cease to exist.

Taking this symbolic notion not so literally (the Hassidim actually do) I would say that the fabric of humanity depends on at least a small number of righteous acts.

I have never been one of those uber-righteous. I am more focused on just doing what I consider my narrow responsibilities. I have a friend who has so exceeded hers, I think of her as possibly one of those LAMED-VAVNIKS, =The Thirty-Sixers.

May this day give us the opportunity to do a Mitzvah. And laundry, now folded, doesn’t count.

Sunday, September 11, 2011

Dreams and Gifts

While most night dreams are undigested odds n’ ends of the day, some dreams seem to have a different quality.

I think of these dreams as gifts, though I dare not name the giver.

I’ve had a few amazing dreams that let me resolve, emotionally, some earthly issues. I’ll tell you about the first. It helped me relate to my mother when she was declining. My mother had progressive dementia for seven years before she passed away.

Thirty years before, her mother, my grandmother, had an almost identical decline. When I was in ninth grade my mother flew to Florida to arrange a better nursing home for her mother. When I graduated from high school I came to the United States. After a coast to coast voyage with a friend, I joined my mother who was already in Florida.

I was shocked at the nursing home- it was an all right one, but I’d never been to one before. The state of the residents was heartbreaking. I couldn’t believe G-d could allow people to get to this stage and just linger on for years. I was eighteen, and knew of people who had died of cancer, were killed by war, or died of a heart attack. I knew of the Holocaust. But I had never seen corridors and gardens full of ‘the living dead.’

We visited my grandmother every day for the month we were there, and these visits did not get easier. Although I did not tear up uncontrollably like the first time, my head throbbed and my throat constricted on every visit.
My grandmother did not recognize us, but kept staring at me. “I could look at her all day,” she’d say. The other residents stared at me also. I was the only visitor younger than middle age.

I was haunted by the notion that her body was there, but where was she?


About two years after her death I had one of those gift-dreams. In it, I came to a great mansion, sort of like the gracious white-pillars and wrap-around porches one might have seen in the old south. In a flower filled lobby, kind-faced people told me my grandmother was ‘upstairs.’

Grandma Sarah came down, looking radiant. She was wearing one of those whole-garden-on-my-hat sort of hat. She told me she was fine and happy. She asked that I let my mother know she was in a very good place.

I told my grandmother I had been worrying about this for a long time, and when I saw her last, wondered if she was even aware.

My grandmother said, “I was always in there, I just lost the ability to let you know.”

I woke up from this dream feeling different.

Whenever I see someone whose awareness seems diminished, I remind myself that they are still there.

Wistful thoughts on this national memorial day. Like Scarlet, I’ll think of something funny tomorrow. Tomorrow is another day. 

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Writers writing about writing and about being a writer

After re-reading the eloquent Take Joy by Jane Yolen, and being reminded by a dear friend that it’s all been definitively said, ages ago,  by the poet Rilke in Letters to a Young Poet, I ask myself: “Hey, Self, does the world need yet another writer ruminating on being one?”

And Self answers: “Does the world need another story? Does the world need another book?”

 I found me answering, simply, NO. PROBABLY NOT. DON’T KNOW.

What the world needs is above my pay-grade. It’s challenging enough to understand what I need, and what those dear to me need.

And so once again, I resolve to continue and tell my stories. I wish all of you the same. Tell yours, while Ol’ Man River will just keep rolling along.

If happiness is spending your life your own way, I wish you much happiness.

Friday, September 2, 2011

Time Capsule

I’ve posted before about the artistic impulse to ‘leave something behind.’ (‘Why?’ August 16 2011) I think of it as creating time capsules.

I just opened an unexpected time capsule.

My father died on November 28th, 2009, in Jerusalem. His wife and life-partner, my step-mother (though she rejects the title) still grieves. Sorting through and making order in the home they had shared for forty-five years, she found a roll of never-developed black and white film.

Nothing on the outside told of the film’s age or content. But a specialist film developer brought it out.

From the many images of my siblings, it seems the photographs are from 1972. Nearly forty years after they were taken, and almost two years after his death, my father is peaking at me from behind a tree.

He was a gentle man and a gentleman, who chose to describe himself (tongue-in-cheek) as “an optimist and a guide for the perplexed.” He even had this printed on his name card.

I look at the tree, which forms a V.

I make the sign back to it with my hand.


Thursday, September 1, 2011

Publish or perish?

Another writer posted on a kid-lit chat board that she no longer cared if she got published. Her post made me reflect on my own journey. I’m either lazy or impressed with my post (possibly both) that I thought I would repeat it here.

When I began submitting, I gave myself an allowance: a number of rejections before I should give it up. (It was a ridiculously low number.)

When that number passed, I gave myself a time-frame by which I must have my first acceptance. (It too was absurdly short, in hindsight.)

Then I decided I must get my ‘break’ before I reach a certain age.

When that came and went, I took stock. I realized that I was happiest writing the first draft to a new story. The rest was justification for spending the time.

That settled it- I will throw in the towel when I no longer have these precious moments of happiness and can not see the point. No more numbers, dates, benchmarks.

That was when the first acceptance sneaked up on me. I’ve had many moments of happiness since, getting acquainted with parts of the process I hadn’t had a chance to before.

But no matter, I know THE WRITING IS THE THING.

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

A Rule for Writers

There is a lot of advice on how to be or not to be a writer. One bit I heard too many times to count is that a writer should write everyday.

It is a good idea to approach any endeavor in a disciplined way. But I wondered how a writer of primarily picture book texts, can write every single day.

Picture books are ideas, concepts, visions. The text is short. Can a writer sit down and pen a new picture book every day, day after day? Is mulling over the placement of one word considered ‘writing?’ Does revising count as writing? When the advice-givers say ‘write every day,’ do they mean any sort of writing? Letters to friends or even grocery lists?

Over time I came to understand my own writing rhythms, and assign myself quotas that made sense and worked for me.

I do not write a new paragraph of fiction everyday. I understand this advice in a way that keeps me productive.

So if I dare give advice now, I’d say- don’t be literal in understanding advice. (Though being literate is still a good thing, wink.)

Monday, August 22, 2011

Writerly Rules

Many how-to articles tell of rules for writers. I haven’t met a writerly-rule that hasn’t benefited from being broken now and then.

I just ^ did it. I made up a word, writerly. Using made up words is not a good habit for writers, the rule-makers say. James Joyce and Dr. Seuss were exempted, but they were brilliant.

And don’t use the passive voice, such as I just did. ‘Were exempted’ is passive, and passive construction is weak.

And what’s worse is that the made up word is one that ends with the dreaded ‘ly.’ Writers should not use adjectives and adverbs. Adverbs and adjectives weaken prose.

Beginning writers should follow the rules.


Dr. Seuss wasn’t always The Dr. Seuss.

Passive construction has a special place- to convey vagueness. To be a diffusing voice.

Adverbs and adjectives make good shortcuts in the right places.

I like knowing the rules, and I love breaking them.

Tuesday, August 16, 2011


I recall the thrill of walking on the beach in Israel. I was no older than four, kicking sand, when I found an ancient Roman coin.

The coin was brown with tarnish and had uneven edges. For a second I thought it was a pebble. But a closer look showed letters, and the head profile of some guy. The coin didn’t look like a treasure.

The thrill I felt was a realization that someone, a real Roman person, had been there.

Writers write for the same reasons artists create. We write because we have something to say, or we want to say something even when we don’t know what, and because we want to leave something behind. Something that says I was here.

Saturday, August 13, 2011


The key to writing is to have a beginning, middle and an end.

This is the beginning.
It’s also the beginning of my new blogging adventure. I had to start somewhere, because my kind publisher said blogging is helpful. It helps readers connect, it helps a writer keep the writing flow, and it helps to keep the writer out of trouble. Because idle hands… you know.

So here it begins.