Tuesday, December 31, 2013


“I think in terms of the day’s resolutions, not the years’.”
Henry Moore

Because it took me a few years to realize how unhelpful New Year’s resolutions were for me, I thought I’d express my gratitude to any and all who happen to read this post by sharing Henry Moore’s hard-earned wisdom.

It’s so tempting, though, to make a resolution to mark the end of something, and the beginning of something else. Because others have said it better, I will sign with yet another quotation. It will have to be my only New Year’s resolution, so as to not betray the first quotation.

“Come, gentlemen, I hope we shall drink down all unkindness.”
William Shakespeare

Sunday, December 29, 2013

Letting Go

Yesterday morning, the youngest of our adopted kittens decided to sneak out and explore the great big world out there. Only four-months old and almost, but not quite, done with the vaccinations he’d need to be an outdoor feline fellow, his first outdoor adventure was scheduled for the beginning of March.

Little Sokolov had other ideas. A half-day later, with the sun going down and the temperature dropping, I notified the microchip company that he was officially lost. I notified the neighbors, and the original shelter he came from. I cried inside, stroked his brother and older sister who looked for him everywhere. DD and I walked the neighborhood, and I made a poster ready to be put up the nearby streets the next morning. 
As I was falling asleep, well past midnight, I thought about how I’d have to let go of this little guy. I thought about the work that kept me busy that day, revising (again, yup) my latest MG novel, and how I was not ready to let go of either and send them to the cold reality out there. I thought about DD, getting ready for auditions that will set her out into that same world of cold shoulders, indifference, and possible bruising encounters. I thought about DS, and how hard it was the first few weeks after he moved into his own place, only two miles away.

That’s a lot of letting go, and letting go- I must learn to do.
As the two kitties left behind snuggled up on top of me, they refused to give up the prime space on my chest and squeezed themselves against each other in a way I had never seen them do before. I made the conscious effort to breath as deeply as I could, (a real feat when you have fourteen pounds of cat on your chest) and said, repeatedly, “Thank you for the time we had together. Now go out and do wonderful things.”

I realized I was talking to little Sokolov, to DD, and to my novel, all at once.

I fell asleep as calm as a cucumber, if I could ever figure out this bizarre expression.

At three forty three in the morning, Sokolov marched in and plopped himself on top of the kitty-pile. Maybe he was not ready to let go. Maybe I am not, either. But if our time here is a journey worth having, I think I've seen a hint of a mile-post down the road.

And after posting here, I’m bouncing my fingers straight to the microchip company’s site to give the good news. He’s ba-a-a-ack!

Tuesday, December 24, 2013

The Night Before Christmas

didn't grow up in Christmas Country, or, as my grandmother put it, with Christmas-People. But I have no issue whatsoever with being wished a Merry Christmas, because if you want to include me in your holiday and wish me well, my heart is gladdened.

“Christmas, children, is not a date. It is a state of mind.”
Mary Ellen Chase

My wish to all is that on this Christmas Eve, and all the eves to follow, your children are tucked in a warm bed, and all feel safe and loved.

Tuesday, December 17, 2013

Full Moon

Full moon tonight.

Confession: I’m not one for astrology or star alignment studies. If these interest you, I mean no offense, nor do I know much about it. I just don’t get the attraction to explore and classify in this way.

But the phases of the moon are a different matter. The Jewish calendar is a modified lunar calendar, and our holidays revolves around it. The full moon and the new moon tell of what part of the month we’re in. The part of the month tells of the next holiday. Most Jewish holidays fall on a full moon.
Realizing it’s tonight, brought back the last full moon at our home, about a month ago, and the howling and powerful gusty night we had.

We lost power a bit after nine PM. In the pitch dark, it dawned on me that the only ones home, beside myself, were two new kittens and one older cat we had just adopted. DD was babysitting a few houses down, and DH had gone to a local board meeting. The challenge for me was not only to find candles, but to find places to put them where the cats would not knock them down. I managed three such places.

I called DD to see if she was alright with the two three-year-olds in her charge. They were more than fine. The little girls each own an IPad, and they were streaming a children’s movie. The little ones, just like my kittens, were anything but sleepy. Not the darkness, but the powerful gusts kept everyone enervated, for good (the kids) and for bad (me and the older of our cats, who mewed and ran all over the place for hours.)

When the grandparents returned, DH returned also because the meeting was canceled. He went with a flashlight to walk DD back. She promptly went to sleep, while her mother (me) couldn't sleep all night. Not only was the house rattling, but things were slamming against it, two widows popped open from the pressure, and our car alarm (as well as other alarms) kept going off because of things slamming against it.

But it was my husband who reminded me that we didn't need the candles after all. He opened all the curtains, and the light of the full moon came flooding in.

By the time the windstorm was over, there were a few deaths and a lot of debris all over town. Just one house-length up our street a tall pine tree was down, blocking most of the Avenue. As our utilities are underground, this had nothing to do with the outage we had. But driving around it was impossible. I had to walk to the other side of the street to retrieve our garbage containers. 

It’s nothing when compared to the disaster in the Philippines, but it was as strong a wind as I’d want to experience for a long time. I have been in one hurricane in New York, (turned out not to be much) and one in Florida, (they know how to handle those there) but this was the most whoosh-wow wind-storm I recall, even counting these.

Calmer full moon tonight, please.
© Shelagh Duffet

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

You Can’t Chew With Someone Else’s Teeth

Writers and actors always attempt this impossibility- chewing with someone else’s teeth. We know it as speaking for another character. But there was a poignant reason this Yiddish saying came to my mind yesterday afternoon.
I was running an errand and passed the large beggar-lady who is perennially parked, in her wheel chair, on the corner of College and Ashby Avenue.  I had dropped coins in her cup in the past, though I usually just walk on by. I pass that corner a lot, and I can become oblivious to the fixtures that are always there. Life’s busy-busy-busy, y’know?

The Beggar-lady is always carefully covered with a thick blanket, and while I can’t see her disability, she is clearly down on her luck. She isn't starving, because her abundant body testifies shortage of food is not  the most immediate problem. But her distorted features, her one permanently sewn-shut eye, suggest struggles few will know outside of fiction.

‘Tis the season, and more passers-by were dropping coins and bills in her cup. But I could hear she was trying to make them slow down, and was asking for something. No one stopped long enough to listen. Busy-Busy. The beggar-lady didn't help her cause by starting every approach with an “Excuse me Sir, Ma’am, can I trouble you for something?” and no one seemed to stay long enough to hear what that something was.

Not sure why I slowed down then. Maybe because our Hanukkah has passed, and the others’ Christmas is a couple of weeks away and, well, maybe I just didn't feel that busy. But when the beggar-lady put this to me, I stopped before plopping a quarter her way.

“Can I trouble you for some milk and stale bread?” she said. “I’ll pay you, it’s just that they won’t let me in the store.” She offered me a few dollars, but I waved them off.

I told her I would go to the grocery-store half a block away and be right back. The whole way there, I wondered why she asked for stale bread. I bought a pint of milk and the best fresh bread they had, and came right back. The beggar lady blessed me, and when she smiled I saw she was missing a few teeth.

I began walking away, pondering all the while what a person with missing teeth would have done with stale hard bread. It even occurred to me that the use of the word “stale” was kind of odd. Not “day-old,” or plain “old.” She said “stale.” Funny.

Then I looked back. From underneath her blanket, the beggar lady pulled out a miniature dog. She carefully tore the very fresh bread I had just bought, dipped a piece in the milk, and offered it to her dog.
You really, truly, can’t chew with someone else’s teeth. That’s what I've been thinking about.

Tuesday, December 3, 2013

On Miracles

To me every hour of the light and dark is a miracle,
Every cubic inch of space is a miracle.
~Walt Whitman, Leaves of Grass

This is what occurred to me the other day, when I thought about the oil that lasted eight times longer than the mavens said it would.

Our very being is miraculous. If the holiday lights remind us of the beauty of life, the miracle of existing, and having the awareness to marvel at it all- the celebration is on.
Happy Hanukkah, one and all!

Tuesday, November 26, 2013


We adopted three cats from a local shelter, and the quest for their names was in full swing. The shelter gave them perfectly good names, but we had to re-name them. It was as if they needed to be “re-born” at their new home, and heaven help them forget who they were before, and, please, may they remember who they are now.

You can tell from my tone that I would have left their shelter-names in place, though two were kittens who will likely accept their new identities. The older cat had a name before she was found, but no one knows what it was. So everyone gets a new start at the Breens.

The discussion for who should be called what was rather revealing of the humans who dwell here. Considering that the older female wound up as Clara Schumann and one of the youngsters is now Sokolov, named after the great pianist Grigory Sokolov, you get a pretty good idea about this musical home. The felines, by the way, show little attraction to the piano when it is played, which it is, for hours, every day. But one can always hope.

The third cat got away from the classical scene with the name Monk. Our favorite television show’s detective is nothing like his name’s sake. Kitten Monk is the most social and gregarious of the bunch.

I read that William E. Boeing, who founded United Airlines, named his pet Pekingese General Motors. I don’t do revenge-naming, but I applaud a good one. Our little Monk almost seems like a sarcastic naming, but it was shortened from his shelter name, Monkey, which was a far better fit for this guy.
I’m only glad my brood does not get to name my fictional characters. I follow the Old Testament and name for qualities or themes. The Hebrew Bible has the resonance of a fable because every single name is symbolically meaningful in the original. It’s lost in translation, where, for example, the name “Ruth” no longer sounds like “companion/friend,” an allusion to her being the first convert who expressed loyalty to her adoptive family. How many would name their girls Leah if they heard the meaning, “weary/tired?” The biblical matriarch was just that. With eleven kids and being almost blind, who can blame her?

I focus, and find my way to characters’ names. Names can be trendy, and accrue connotations over the years. I think and feel my way to a name, and know when I've got it. When the name is right, the character begins to speak.

Monk, Sokolov and Clara Schumann are too busy chasing a string to be talking much.

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Who Is Smart?

Where did I leave my favorite pen?

For as long as I can remember I had a tendency to put things someplace, then forget where. Having made this statement, you’d be smart to wonder if I can be trusted to remember whether I have always been this way, or it is a sign of my all-around feeble mind.

I also remember being thought of as smart. But why? Says who? My report card?

I read that squirrels can remember up to ten thousand hiding places where they squirreled away their nuts. Squirrels are more then smart. By this measure they are brilliant.
I pity the researchers who sat and counted ten thousand different nut-hiding places. I wonder how smart they had to be to know the places were all distinct. They had to be smart at counting, that’s for sure.

I’d settle for finding my pen.

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

And the Medal Goes to…

Medals are funny things.

I know, I know. You’re thinking medals can be many things: heavy, beautiful, or pointless. But funny?

Today they struck me as funny. I read that between 1928 and 1948 twelve Olympic medals were awarded for… Town Planning. I need to investigate that one. Did they run a race?

Maybe I’m a bit giddy because my novel for middle grades recently won a medal. No, not the Nobel or the Newbery. Here it is:
A Moonbeam Bronze medal is lovely. You can see my book, THE VOICE OF THUNDER, beaming back at it, can’t you?

Actually, the book doesn't care, and I can’t see its author walking around wearing a medal. It didn't make a good book better, nor is it likely to improve sales. But the day I got the notice was a nice day.

Bet those town planners liked getting theirs, too. I hope they thought it was a wee bit funny, too. If we can’t laugh at the way we make and give value, we’ll take ourselves entirely too seriously.

Tuesday, November 5, 2013

Giving Value

I must have inherited my parents’ dislike of “so what” purposeless or banal writing. A story, a blog post, heavens- even a comment on another’s blog post from me- must have some point. That hard-to-define thing called value.

It was easier for King Edward the VII, who was reputed to weigh his house guests after house parties at his Sandrigham estate. His majesty wanted to make sure they had eaten well. It also helped that he was a royal highness, because none of my house-guests would be so obliging.

But how to evaluate value? How do you know if what you put out there, whether a poem or a pie, has a point and a purpose? Is it entirely subjective? Completely personal?

I don’t know how to answer this in a way that won’t embarrass me tomorrow. I only know that I try to do it. And that value is, to me, some gained wisdom.

Edward the VII had one answer that could be literally weighed and measured. I’m always looking for mine.

Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Your Heroic Life

A dear friend, whom I've known since seventh grade, lamented at her lack of worldly achievements while her friends were reaping the rewards of lives dedicated to public service and career building.

I gasped inwardly, because this friend has led a heroic life, incomparable to anyone I know. I told her so, and she found the word heroic funny.

I told her I would make a list for her, and it would contain only a fraction of her real achievements, because there are many, and more that I don’t even know.

In the seventh grade she was plucked from her life, her country, her language, and her family moved to Israel. She was placed in a Hebrew-only regular school where we met. She managed to make friends (while limping linguistically) and graduate at the top of our class. If only this had been her achievement, it would have been enough. But there’s more.

Her senior year of high school her only brother, two years older and in the army, was killed on the first day of the Yom Kippur War. Her family was never the same; she became the best daughter her bereaved parents could have, filling the place of two when now there was only one. To this day she is the keeper of her brother’s memory, doing what their parents would if they could. If this were all, it would have been enough. But there’s more.

She married young and had three children. One of her children is autistic. Not “on the spectrum,” as many who are mildly socially impaired and receive this diagnosis, but think back a few years when the diagnosis was given to what we now think of as severe impairment. She kept her child at home and cared for her child. Beautifully, patiently, conscientiously. She does to this day. If this were all, it would have been enough. But there’s more.

Both her parents succumbed to senile dementia and for years before their death she cared for them as well, now that they had no other children. If that were all, it would have been more than enough.

And she did all this while building her marriage and filling it with love, devotion, and admiration for her husband. I know few couples who have the bond and mutual respect these two have. This, too, would have been enough.

But, no- there’s more. While at it, she completed advance degrees and went to work in a skilled and specialized field. She did this a bit later than others, for all the reasons I already listed. So now she is not the person running the place but the one who actually does the work…

This is for you, my dear friend.
The Congressional Medal of Honor is but a small token for your heroism. I’d give it to you in spades.

 The rest of us may choose to remember that, when we count our medals and trophies, we can choose not to look at the empty mantle. Let's not discount the real deal.

Monday, October 21, 2013

Call Me Irresistible

I've read that the author of Peter Pan, J. M. Barrie, kept ordering Brussels sprouts but never ate them. His explanation was that he found saying the words irresistible. 
The vegetable was eminently resistible, but the words were just too tempting not to say. Again and again. And again.

My late mother, a talented writer, lamented that she couldn't resist the word nifty. She found it not very nifty to have this nifty word in every other sentence.

My second editor for The Voice of Thunder noted that I have overused the word now. Now then, why now here and now there when we know this happened long ago and the tense is past? Now go and slash ‘em now-words wherever you can. She was right.

They’re known as tick words. Most of us mortals have them. You don’t have to be a writer to notice this in yourself.

But writers must pay heed. Resist, and order something else. Maybe something you’d like to eat.

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

Unsung Heroes in Publishing

When I look at a book cover, I see the author’s name. When they are not the same person, I see the author and the illustrator’s names. On the spine I glimpse the publishing house’s name. Somewhere inside the cover there may be a few more bits about the book.

Here’s what’s missing: the editors.
I've thought about this before. Unless authors choose to thank editors in the acknowledgment page, their names are never known, like ghost writers.

Anyone fortunate to work with a good editor, as I have been a few times, knows how important they are to the process. Anthologies give editors credit for choosing the pieces that make the book. Is the role of the editor any less when working with a single author?

I can just hear the sighs now. A reader doesn't care who edited, the sighers say. Only other writers may care. Well, this is probably so. Readers probably don’t care who wrote it, only if they like it. Readers may not care, but publishers could still make such acknowledgements de rigueor. This post by the writer Avi made me want to write today’s post here.

The slew of secret writer-props may include their secret agent, secret beta readers, secret critique partners and more. It’s gracious to thank them, but it is not part of the format. A writer may choose not to. Think about this- Tolstoy’s long suffering wife wrote out the drafts of War and Peace in longhand for him six or seven times, but who’s counting? That’s War and Peace, folks, not a short poem. I didn't call her l-o-n-g-suffering for nothing.
But did he thank her? I will here: thank you, Sophia Tolstaya. 
Whether or whom to thank is an author’s choice. But I wonder if it isn't time to make the editors names part of the copyright page.

Tuesday, October 8, 2013

Who For?

James Joyce’s wife, Nora Barnacle, once asked him, “Why don’t you write books people can read?”

Now if your name is Nora Barnacle, (can you beat that?) I suppose you can say anything.

But this brought up a question anyone who does anything will eventually post to self: who are you doing it for?

Clearly, James’ audience wasn't Nora.
My late father said to me, more than once, “why do you write for younger readers? When will you write for real people?”

I know. You’re shaking your head. Kids are real people, you’re thinking. My father knew that. But he wanted me, I’m guessing now, to write for older folks. Such as himself.

I don’t like to answer for others. But at some point it’s good to ask oneself who you are reaching out to when you imagine a reader.

It’s easy for me, almost too easy. I write for the child I was, and still am. 

Tuesday, October 1, 2013

Time and Social Media

Imagine having a full-time job reading tweets. Well, there are such jobs.

I read that the CIA reads five million tweets a day. By the time I’m done typing this, it’s probably a whole lot more.

Disclosure: I’m not a tweeter, or a twit, as DH likes to call it.

I blog here, and have a Facebook account I should be more attentive to. I have a homemade un-jazzy website, and adore Verla Kay’s BlueBoard, the best hangout place for us Kid-lit(t)ers, a.k.a. those who write for children.

I have “Internet presence” though not quite “a platform,” phrases bandied about in Marketing 101 courses. This is all good, and I should strive to make it better. Maybe join the tweeters, and give the CIA more work.
Here’s the sacred line I will not cross: the real communication work, for me, is writing stories. It comes before the rest. What’s more, real life is when I de-couple from the keyboard and make dinner for my family, or walk with a friend.

Real life and real work come first.

So if you are reading this to take a coffee break with me, I love you for stopping by, and I hope the coffee’s good, too. Just don’t, please, use it as a way to do less of the rest. 
And the CIA? I think they have enough to do.

Tuesday, September 24, 2013

The Greatest Awards

One of those odd facts that chimed my bells this morning was  that at the 1900 Paris Olympics winners were awarded paintings instead of medals.

This got me thinking of what award I would most like, were I to win one for, er, anything.

A box of chocolates for best dessert at a party? Hardly.

A gold necklace for best-dressed at a garden party? Nah. And I’m not a fashionista or someone you’d find at a garden without my weeding gloves.

A certificate of merit for a well-written book?

 Wait a minute- it’s called a fan letter. I just got one of these. They are *THE BEST.*

So enjoy the chocolates, paintings, and medals. A reader’s appreciation is the best award for me.

And if you don’t mind, I’ll borrow the necklace now and then.

Tuesday, September 17, 2013


I marvel at the persistence required to write. To complete a manuscript. To revise and revise. To submit and re-submit.

All this, against the odds it will be picked up for publication. Then the odds that if it is, the book will succeed in the market place.

 I think about dedication.

The most worthwhile moments of my life involved dedication. I am not speaking of the most fun moments, or the most memorable. I am speaking of what turned out to have long lasting value.

I read that J. S. Bach once walked four hundred and twenty miles to see a performance by a composer he idolized, Buxtehude. What dedication.
Was it a great performance? I don’t know. But the act of seeking it tells of the dedication that makes someone like Bach.

Tuesday, September 10, 2013

Kvetching about Kvetching

Years ago I gave my mother a hand-painted mug that said NO KVETCHING.
My mother is no longer with us, but the mug is on our kitchen counter.

No Kvetching. What was I thinking?!?

At a recent writerly event, a marketing-type admonished the audience not to be negative in public. Chin up, life is wonderful and I’m doing wonderfully wonderful. This is what you’re to put out. Save the complaining for private conversations not taped by the FBI, and the angst, for your dark fiction. If you don’t write dark fiction, put it in your diary. But make sure the diary is one of those with a lock on it.

And here I was, with my kvetchy and angsty BLOG. Really.

What agent will want to work with that girl? Which crazy editor will ever take on a back ‘n forth with this complaining camper? And where are the readers who will invest twelve minutes or twelve dollars on a negative nagging ninny?

Confession: at the end of the day, in the deep recesses of my soul, I am a “G-d’s in his heaven, all’s right with the world” person. But that’s at the end of the day, and at the end of my stories. During the day is kvetching-time.

My ancestors were not of the "if you can't say something nice, say nothing at all" school. Rather, my grandma told me that if someone only ever says nice things, their credibility should be suspect. With this legacy, you can understand the tradition of Kvetch.
If I can’t offer authenticity in my blog, I really don’t know why anyone would read it. Wait, is anyone out there?

Go ahead, kvetch to me, honey. You’ll feel better, I will feel better, and in the end it’ll work out just as it should.


Tuesday, September 3, 2013

VOICE, or- Why Can’t We Hear It?

There are many articles on Voice in writing. PhD and graduate theses written on this subject define and analyze. Editors often say they look for “strong and distinctive voice.” Voice trumps everything: misspelling, typos, even a plot that isn’t all there. These can be fixed in revision. Characters can be made deeper and more complex. Descriptions can be added. A writer can change all the passive construction this one just heaped on here.

But not a lack of this thing we call, here I’ll shout it, VOICE.

The other night I heard my late grandmother’s voice saying, in her distinct Yiddish accent, “Vat is dis ting they call voice? Vy dey fuss so much about it? Can you tell it to me plain?”
And still half asleep, I thought I had one of those perfect illuminative distillations. I heard myself answer her.
Voice is the personality of the narration.”
Nice going, I thought. Gotta write it down somewhere. Wake up and  find your pencil.
But grandmother was not so impressed. “Vat poisonality? You have poisonality, maydaleh. Dis narr—vat you call it, it is not a poisonality.”
So I’m still in search for a clear and simple way to say it. No highfaluting verbiage. Writing about writing can get fancy.
But at least I heard my grandma’s voice.

Tuesday, August 27, 2013


Our next-to last presidential campaign featured the winning slogan, CHANGE YOU CAN BELIEVE IN. I wasn’t sure then what it meant.  All I know is that while change is inevitable, I have a hard time with it.

Another cliché, change is the only thing you can count on, is the solace I give myself as I struggle with small changes to my routine.

The big ones seem to take care of themselves, maybe because others come to our aid as they recognize the challenges of loss, moving, and financial set-backs. Happy but monumental changes get celebrated with communal support, be they the birth of a child, marriage, or a new job. There is an expectation, from self and others, that these adjustments call for circling the wagons. There’s a self allowance for turbulence, and chocolate.

It’s the little changes that are the bane of my existential struggle.

Like when my favorite brand of cereal is no more. Who’s going to cry with me about that? Our next door neighbors, who haven’t lived in the house for years, finally sold it. New neighbors = change. So? Windows 8 isn’t behaving like windows 7; it’s supposed to be much better. So why, with every use, am I feeling worse?

Yup, it looks like summer is over. My least favorite season, but still, why did it have to change???


Tuesday, August 20, 2013

Dog Days of Summer? More Like Mad Dogs

From the middle of June and to the end of August, I take a break from first-drafting new stories. What starts out as a joyous way to re-charge the creative batteries, begins to feel downright depressing by the end of summer. I feel hollow, empty and positively lethargic.

Enter The Mad Baker.
 Mornings begin with muffins. Banana muffins make a nice breakfast, don’t you think? And such a clever way to use rotting fruit, too. So do buckwheat, or oatmeal or whole grain with soy grits muffins. A healthy breakfast never hurt anyone. It may have saved the world from a few over-grouchy nit-pickers, and it certainly saves the Mad Baker from feeling another pointless day has begun.

Mid-mornings call for a re-charge, so a nice batch of scones will do. Scones are always nice and easy to make, and the Mad Baker scours the pantry for imaginative add-ons to the basic and boring plain scone recipe. Chopped dried apricots make a nice addition. So do raisins, currants or prunes. So what if it’s past breakfast time. Prunes are good anytime. So what if they are really old, from three years ago. Old prunes are good anytime. Scones done. Come and get it while they’re hot!

Post-lunch doldrums bring the real breads out. Homemade egg bread?  Rye with corn? Middle Eastern Pita? Who can resist right-out-of-the-oven bread? Family, it’s now or never.
And pre-dinner calls for cake. Because five o’clock tea needs cake. It demands it. And it better have chocolate in it, somewhere.
Pots and pans clean now, drying on the dish rack. The Mad Baker feels productive and vindicated. Family is satiated. The freezer is a bit fuller, too. She made double of everything, because you never know.

And it all begins again, furiously, the very next day. Those Mad August Baker days.
Family members, at first delighted, begin to protest. Good is one thing. But a freezer with no room and expanding waistlines are another.

Family can hardly wait for September, when The Mad Writer returns.

Tuesday, August 13, 2013

Been Done Before?...

What should a writer do when they find published books a bit too much like their WIP? (=work in progress)
And then on a kid-lit chat board they find others whose WIP sounds eerily similar?

A writer has three choices. Probably more, but this is what occurs to my still shocked pea-brain.

The first is to surmise that others have a portal into writer’s brain, and are borrowing (polite for stealing) freely from said brain.

The second is to conclude that one’s brain is too limited to call itself a writer’s brain, only capable of derivative thinking and subliminal channeling of others. Quit now, before you do more damage.

The third is to soldier on and tell the story only this writer can tell. Because similar in some ways is not = the same. Because all stories have been told, but not in all ways. Because, dagnabbit, only you can do what you do the way you do it.
I’d opt for reason #3 every time.

When I worked with antique textiles, collectors valued and paid a premium for examples that, while following the norm for their type, had something unique about them. The use of an uncommon dye or insertion of an unusual design element made the example fetch many times the price of the more typical.
{Which is the rare one? White ground Yomud Asmalyks are less common}

This is how to think of creating stories: they have many things in common. It is our job to think of the few twists and turns that haven’t been set to print before. Just enough not to betray the classics, but to open other entrances to their domains.

Tuesday, August 6, 2013

On the Perils of Learning How to Use NT*…

…*NT= New Technology= new to me=my new cellphone.

DD & DS informed me that a text message is much preferred to that old fashioned thing, a voice phone call. If I wanted to get a prompt response from a progeny not in a state of annoyance, texting was key.

I learned to text. It was rough. It was tough. But I got it down, with all the annoyance on my end, not progenies’.

Problem was I learned on that now-ancient keyboard, the sort where letters are bunched in threes and fours, and too many back-erasing clicks will send the text to Draft, if I’m lucky. I learned and perfected my texting on an outmoded, passé, obsolete device. If I complained about their texting preference, the reply invariably referred me to getting a new full-keyboard phone. Really, Mom!

So I did. And pro-geniuses were right. The typing of texts is now a breeze.

But it isn't only a full keyboard. It’s also a touch-screen. Very slick, ey? But I’m not used to it. In the process of re-leaning, I have at times done the wrong thing with this over-eager screen. My mere whiff of a stroke executes a command before I even have a chance to think of what I would care to ask it to do.

That’s where I was yesterday, attempting a text to DD to come out of the house and help bring some groceries in from the car. {I was parked at the curb, rest assured. Driving and texting is a never, not-ever, won’t-do-it.}
 Instead of texting, it called, and her voice said, “What…” to which I hastily said, “I didn't mean to call you. Come out and help me.” Then I hung up.

She didn't.  I considered whether my faux-pas, calling instead of texting, was the reason. So I took the groceries in myself. I figured I’ll raise the issue with DD when I have sufficiently recovered my strength, and my frustration with her was reduced to a manageable level. Then, hours later, I asked her about it.

“Oh, I would have come, but you never called me,” she said. Uh-oh.

I checked my new and improved device, and lo, the phone call was made to a dear friend I have not spoken to in a few months. A big Oopsy, because all she heard was my statement that I did not mean to call, but was in dire straits. She was next on my Contact list, and that touch screen… you get it. My fingers are just too thick or dumb for it.


Tuesday, July 30, 2013

Is the Cuckoo Calling, or Was It the Kookiness of Us?

Apparently the book scans sale numbers for The Cuckoo’s Calling were all of five hundred sales in the U.S.A. despite very strong reviews. The international numbers were 1,500 total. It would not have even gone to paperback from this major publisher. A smaller publisher would have viewed the 1,500 number less critically, but this is one of the now Big Five.

 J. K. Rowling protested that she was in no way behind this revelation, exposing this Robert Galbraith debut as her own, admittedly a debut for her in the genre of detective novels. I have good reason to think her publisher, however, most likely was behind the revelation. She may not need the money, (though her ego is another factor) but Little Brown & Company would not, ever, pass an opportunity for mega-sales when it is just right there for the taking.

 I doubt that without the pen-name-then-revelation strategy the sales (now) or the reviews (then) would have been as good as they are. So it is very possible this was a plan from the get-go. Someone will no doubt write a book (or two or three) about this when some who colluded will talk about it. 
I find that in the kid-lit community, those who adore her Harry Potter books and idolize Rowling, believe her official pronouncements of innocence, and of seeking liberation from her brand name, while the rest find it depressing that it is so advantageous to be a brand-name when it comes to sales, even of a well-reviewed book.

 To end on an upbeat note, I’ll start with the bad news we garner from this affair:
 First, The thinking of a writer as a brand. (“They can only write XYZ)
Second, the holding a debut to a different standard when reviewing. (As if the debut author has not been writing for ions before they got a book accepted for publication; they are not new to writing, only publishing.)
Finally, the mega-sales, (it’s No #1 or close to now)  all because of the writer’s name and the story-behind-the-story.
Three times questionable thinking…. When will we ever learn? Never. 
But I find a bright spot in this sort of exposé.  I am chuckling, and dreaming up possibilities.  A talented author got to write what she wanted to write, and the world has one more good detective story. This is a two times cause for celebration.

Tuesday, July 23, 2013

Summer Visions

©Shelagh Duffett

Y’all know by now that I am a fan of Shelagh Duffett’s folk art. She was DS’s discovery on EBay,  and continues to set my mind and heart in the right place, years later.

Aside from her vibrant unequivocal use of color, Ms. Duffett likes symmetry, and her art has the feeling of life set straight. Things in place. Everything makes sense.

Real life is messy, and we try to arrange it to make sense. We do it when we read or write academic papers. We do it when we explain anything and everything. Some of us do it when we clean and tidy our homes, (“speak for yourself…” well, not me) and I do it in my fiction writing.

But it’s summer. I’m trying to relax a bit and allow some fraying. I put my feet up, and let a day set for paying the bills go by, without. I get dinner on the table somewhat behind schedule, and the pasta is more than a little Al Mushy. My family eats it anyway.

It’s summer. It’s OK.