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.