Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Where the Light Is

So I ran into Frank who was standing under a street lamp frantically looking for something.

“Did you lose something, Frank?”

“Something? Not just ‘something.’ I lost a gold coin my great grandma left me,” said Frank. “I heard it drop.”

“Where exactly did you hear it drop?” I asked.

“Way back a couple of blocks on Miner’s Lane,” said Frank.

I was puzzled. “So why aren’t you looking over there?” I asked.

“Because the light is better over here,” Frank answered.

It’s an old story, and it got me thinking how we look not where the treasure is, but where the light is.

For writers and artists the real treasure is the gift of creating something new, looking at what you’ve made, and seeing that it is good. For one brief moment you get a hint of a whiff of the way we are made in our creator’s image.

The light may be worldly recognition. Not knocking it, but not confusing it with the real treasure either.

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

The Power of THE Word

“In the beginning was the word…”

In this case, the word is “THE.” Yup, I know. I sound like that ‘who’s-on-first’ Vaudeville sketch. This is a different story, and it’s the story of the title for my upcoming book, a historic novel for middle grades. (And all ages, she said.)

This is a story of impending war, and two girls who listen, clandestinely, to a radio station broadcast by the enemy. The name of this station is The Voice of Thunder from Cairo. This part is not only historic, it’s true. In Israel just before the Six-Day War there was such a station and I did listen to it, much to my mother’s chagrin.

When I submitted my novel to the publisher, I titled it The Voice of Thunder. After the initial joy of acceptance, I noted that the editor referred to it as Voice of Thunder, minus one ‘the.’ There was nothing official about the change of title, the first word,‘the,’ just wasn’t there.

I know publishers often change titles. I was happy to have three-quarters of my title still there. I was happy, period.

Working with the editors has been eye-opening and mind-expanding. I’ve loved it. (I also shed a few tears, and produced some sweat, but no blood. It is called ‘work’ for a reason.) I did notice that my book got listed on the publisher’s site first as Voice of Thunder, then, inexplicably, as The Voice of Thunder, and back to Voice of Thunder.

Looking over the final line-edits, the first ‘THE’ was back. I mentioned to my editor that I still liked the original, and she concurred. The web-site still has the three-word title, the typeset book has the four-word title.

One poor THE is dangling. It knows not where its place is, or if it is.

This saga has got me thinking about writers’ tools. Paragraphs made of sentences made of words. Every word counts. Even a lowly ‘the.’

Because in all deference to John 1:1- not only the beginning, but the middle, the end and the title is the word.

Monday, March 12, 2012

Daylight Savings Dilemma

A neighbor’s kid explained Daylight Savings Time to me this way: “They can’t decide, and they keep changing the time.”

Now I get it. These ‘they’ are confused, and so they are determined to confuse everyone else.

I do my best to be prepared. I start a day early. I begin changing all the clocks that let me. This is a habit I have from the time in 1983 when I left my visiting father & step-mother in front of the movie theatre to see the movie Gandhi.

My father joked that he needed to see it while visiting California so that he can causally drop an ‘Oh, Gandhi, I saw that when I was in the United States,’ when one of their many friends in Israel mentions having seen something in Paris, or in Stockholm. I had seen Gandhi the movie, so I just dropped them off. It was April, and yes, it was Sunday when Daylight Savings Time began.

You can guess the rest- I was clueless, and when I came to pick them up, I was told the second showing had started an hour before. The theatre let my father & his wife stay to see what they missed when they came in for the matinee, an hour after it started.

Gandhi, for your information, is a 191 minutes. Long enough to teach me a lesson.

But my neighbor’s kid is right. Because while in 1983 the time-change took place in April and November, it now seems to get closer and closer. This year we got a measly four-months taste of standard time. Just as I was getting on top of how to manage the change in an elegant way, ‘they’ are at it. They can’t make up their mind as to when it starts or ends. A moving target.

Keep the masses confused and disoriented. From the mouth of babes.

Can you tell I’m suffering adjustment pains? Got to get some coffee.

Tuesday, March 6, 2012


To slightly paraphrase an old joke-

How many critique-group members does it take to screw in a light bulb?

Why does it *have* to be changed?

I have a few beta readers I adore. They offer to read and give feedback, asking for nothing in return. [I haven’t checked my bill box today yet. ;)] One of them referred to the tireless work he has done to improve my stories as ‘something worthwhile to do.’ I know there’s a special place in heaven for those who read pre-published manuscripts.

Critique groups are different. Writers helping each other improve, with the understanding that as much as you get, you will also give. I belong to one such group, and eight of us take turns each week giving feedback to one member’s story.

I do well with my beta readers, because I get each as a single review. I have time to think about it, and consider what to accept and what to pass on. I set it aside and get back to the reader’s suggestions again and again, until I feel I have gotten the last drop of help. I can also return to the reader and ask questions and re-visit the story after implementing some of the changes. To be honest, I rarely do this. I almost always ‘see’ what they suggest or I don’t ‘see’ it. But knowing I can come back sets me into relaxed openness, and makes a fruitful revision.

It is different with a critique group. My experience with mine, getting seven sets of suggestions all in one week, can be overwhelming. “Why,” I find myself asking, “is it this particular critique is the only one to see it?” Sniff-sniff. “Why do two think this is a strong sentence, their favorite, and two others think it should be deleted?” Humph.

Never one to ‘just go by the majority,’ I have to consider each on its own. That’s a lot to look at all at once.

So I developed a strategy, which works for me. I read each quickly as it comes in. I highlight what strikes me as entirely valid. Then I set it aside. All of them. Seven hard copies of critiques sit in a folder, quietly waiting.

A week later I will re-visit them one at a time, with at least a day between visits. I will copy the suggestions I want to consider onto a fresh document. When the visiting round is over, I will look at the copied suggestions and work from there. I will not look back at all I have chosen not to implement for now. There is such a thing as ‘too many cooks.’
And I remind myself I am the master chef. It has to taste good to me.