Tuesday, May 31, 2016

A House Divided

You won’t find me making many, or any, political statements. Once I passed my younger youth, I no longer found sustenance in that arena, nor much deep wisdom in political discourse.  I’d go as far as to say that I watched good people become unkind and even senseless when they took to the barricades.
Unless you count love of country, you won’t get me clicking on likes or re-tweeting statements from politicos. They’ll have to have their revolutions without me.
But this is the season here in the U.S.A. So my one forage into the minefields is to suggest the absurdity of a statement I keep hearing variation of from many directions: “The country had never been more divided.”

HEHHH? We had a civil war, people!

In the Civil War of the 1860s-- 2% of Americans died. That would be the equivalent of six and a half million people today. That’s not counting the maimed, or the homes destroyed and the fields burned.
And the vitriol that is hurled with regularity every election cycle has, even in recent times, been more pungent. I suffer from many things, but amnesia isn’t one of them.

My only antidote is, in my personal and public conduct, to affect and maybe effect calm thoughtfulness.
We may have to wait until December for the next wave to pass.

Tuesday, May 24, 2016


Now, be Nice

In this election cycle, the word “win” and “lose” are ubiquitous. One of the candidates, in particular, is fond of framing the world in those terms.

This got me thinking about what feels like winning or losing to me.

In worldly terms it’s only a bit complicated. The only distinction that seems to require discernment has to do with relationships vs. material gains, and which brings the greater sense of achievement. Steve Jobs, nearing the end of his life, said this:

I have come to the pinnacle of success in business.
In the eyes of others, my life has been the symbol of success.
However, apart from work, I have little joy. Finally, my wealth is simply a fact to which I am accustomed.from work, I have little joy. Finally my wealth is simply a fact to which I am accustomed.
Please treasure your family love, love for your spouse, love for your friends...
Treat everyone well and stay friendly with your neighbours.
Please treasure your family love, love for your spouse, love for your friends…
Treat everyone well, and stay friendly with your neighbors.

At the end of his life, Aldous Huxley imparted this simple wisdom:
We should be nicer to one another.”

That does not take away the wish to win worldly prizes. But it puts it in some perspective.

It’s also empowering to sense that I can be a winner by my own choices, and what I can control.

Like I say to my cats when they swat at each other, “be nice.”

Tuesday, May 17, 2016

Success by Blitz?

The question comes up now and then on kid-lit chat boards— when is it right to follow-up on a reply from an agent or editor, when the reply was a rejection?
It’s simpler than simple: when the rejection included an invitation to submit again, either a revision or other work. And then, ONLY if you made the revision per the suggestions, or the other work is at least as (or even more) right for this house or agency.
All other follow-ups are not welcome.
My agent has had to close her doors to unsolicited subs because people "followed-up," when not specifically invited to, with a barrage of "more work from me, since you were so nice" variation.

I confess that I’ve been guilty of this, with some too-nice editors, when I was a newbie. My excuse was that I didn’t know what I didn’t know. Specifically, I’ve never seen a slush-pile in person. They are so high they could hold the second story up like pillars, pushing up against the ceiling. I’ve never opened my Email to have a thousand emails pour in.

But that was then, and I’ve learned. By the time I started approaching agents, I knew better. No one got a follow-up unless they asked.
There are stories of success, in the uber-competitive professions, that involve unbridled blitzing. But, for the most part, these are urban legends. Mostly such have succeeded in closing the gates to self and others.
I know it’s hard to get in the door. If it were easy, everyone would have their starring role in a movie and their published novel. It’s hard, and discouraging, and if only…

Here’s the deal: life is better spent perfecting the craft, and following the golden rule. Worldly success may or may not follow, but one’s contribution to the general pot would have been good, regardless.
Save your wits—do not blitz


Tuesday, May 10, 2016

Social Connectivity

Connecting with others over our lifespan is good for us, the Happiness Study from Harvard had found.

Being rich and famous won’t make you happy or healthy. Having love and giving love will. It’s advice scriptures and counselors and grandmas have given from time immemorial.

You may be saying, DUH. You may be wondering why they needed to spend $$ and sixty years of an ongoing study to find this out. You may be sulking that you did not get this wisdom from the previous generations in your family.

The thing is, it’s still the honest truth.

The other thing is that today is the first day of the rest of your life.

If you only have fifteen spare minutes today, watch this TED talk about this extraordinary study of The Good Life—

If you can’t spare fifteen, call a dear friend and make up a time to get together. 

The good life is possible as long as you live. Don’t spend another minute reading this blog, unless, of course, it makes you feel more connected.

That’s all I ever hoped for, writing it.

Monday, May 2, 2016

Don’t Over-protect Your Characters

The title of this post is also a post-it I have over my computer. Reminder to self.

In my first chapter book story, written with the hope to publish, the main character dealt with such challenging issues as wondering how to make others hear him, how to accept less than perfect days, and how to accept a new sibling. All this he did while his loving and supportive family was both nurturing and helpful. The boy had the childhood we all wished we had, and wish with all our might we have the wisdom to give to our children.

I think I wanted to wrap him in a warm and fluffy blanket and keep him from harm. No wonder this story was a non-starter as far as the publishing world goes.

You think I might have been over-protective?

It took me a while to allow my characters, a.k.a. my fictional children, to get into deep trouble. The kind of trouble I would hope my real-life children never will.

And then, of course, the characters find a way out of the bind. It could be they defeat some evil, solve an urgent practical problem, or accept a difficult aspect of life internally. But they had to be in deep doodoo to begin with. It was hard.

I’m still working on it. I know I’ve made progress because one beta reader asked me recently why the antagonists in my story had to be so awful. Couldn’t they be, well, more reasonable? I explained that they could, but then there isn’t any story to tell.

Editors sometimes refer to this as “raising the stakes.” Don’t fear it, face it, and the readers will have a chance to do the same.