Tuesday, October 25, 2016

Reflections on Clueless Notions

I’m still clueless about many things. But I’ve learned a few things about the world of publishing, and specifically-- kidlit publishing.
Cleaning and clearing some old Emails from way back in ancient times of ten years ago, I found some amusing testaments to clueless thinking.

Clueless evidence #1: my first beta reader asks why proofreading is necessary as, surely, editors at publishing houses do that after a book is acquired. He’s seen it in many movies. (By then I knew a manuscript needs to be pretty much typo-free, and my response was educational.)
Clueless evidence #2: same beta, bless him for he was fantastic with spot-on feedback, congratulating me on my first acceptance and advising I copyright all the characters as they can become major commodities. (He’s seen that in movies, also.)
Clueless evidence #3: my response to another beta who suggested some how-to books, was to say I didn’t want to read anything that would make my writing formulaic. Of course, not long after, I did read a few of the suggested books and more. Re-inventing the wheel is for geniuses, and I’m not one.
Clueless evidence #4: writing friends who suggested we writers wait too long for cursory responses, no responses, and otherwise unacceptable behavior from business professionals. We don’t put up with such in the rest of our lives, do we? I already understood this is apples and lemons. There are more of us knocking on doors and fewer of them to answer the doors. It’s called reality, and yes, we do put up with it.
There's so much more, but you get the point. There are a lot of misconceptions, and the school of hard knocks hammers us into shapes that fit the indentations.

But here’s the kicker: it hurts sometimes, but we don’t have to do it alone. These old Emails are the evidence I had beautiful walking partners, and occasionally even been one.

I’m still clueless about so many things I glibly talk about. What do I confidently really know about global warming? Preventing lung cancer? Personality disorders? It if am honest, I would have to say that I know close to nothing, and mostly echo what I’ve heard, or think I may have heard, or maybe I, too, saw it in a movie. But I still jabber about it.

Occasionally I get a peek into my cluelessness. Even more mercifully, I am not alone. Everyone of you who’s reading this is walking along, and I hope you can hear my footsteps as I’m trying to catch up with you.

Tuesday, October 18, 2016


Many say that you should only write about what you know, and others say you should write about what you want to know. I’m in the latter group.  I do stick with what I know, and know intimately, when it comes to the main character. This is essential for me even more when the story is written in first person, and the narrator is the main character.

But there are other characters, and they often come from other places, other faiths, even other times. Seen through the main character’s eyes-- the narrative voice remains an authentic observation of their “otherness.” But as readers are diverse, I always felt I should run a story with such characters by Beta Readers who would have known them intimately. 

One of my novels, set in the South, has a narrator. The narrator is an outsider, lands in the American South, and marvels at the difference of her northern California mind-set and the people and place she finds herself in. I ran many of the southern dialogue lines by a native of the specific area, and, once the second draft was done, I had the whole story read by my first Beta reader, a native of the American South.
This turned out to be insufficient. Another reader objected to the way a character spoke and acted. I revised, again. This time with a reader who was not quite from the same place in the south, but of the same race as the secondary character.

I have done similar things with other stories. I did not know there was a name for such readers, but I’ve learned. They are now called Sensitivity Readers. They will check the authenticity of voices and manners, because they know from the inside. At the same time, they will point out anything that strikes them as pointlessly offensive.

A simple internet search using this term will show not only that it’s established, but there are sites that hire such readers, vet them, and for a fee will connect writers to a specific need. I was ignorant that this was recognized and monetized, and had turned to friends or other writers with an exchange of reading their work-in-progress. I know what I don’t know, which is plenty, and I know feedback is invaluable.

In search of authenticity, I try to remember not to sanitize what real life sounds like. This is not about the PC police waving their badges.  At the very least, it is a good idea to run work by people of a different background and weigh their feedback. In the end the process is enriching well beyond the mining of my own mind.

Tuesday, October 11, 2016


Tomorrow is the Day of Atonement, YOM KIPPUR, of the Jewish calendar.
Some mistakenly think it the holiest day of the year. The Torah is explicit that the Sabbat is holier, and is one of the ten commandments. But the Sabbath comes every seven days, and it’s easier to try to breath in holiness once a year rather than every week.

I do not fast on Yom Kippur, and haven’t since the last time I tried, too many years to count. That’s another story which I managed to insert into my WIP in fictional form. 
But I do attempt a form of atonement.

If I offended you in any way, I’m sorry.
If I failed to help you when I could have, I’m sorrier.
If I caused you harm*, I’m sorriest.

*Unless you are the gang that broke into our home in mid-June. I hope you are caught and arrested, and I will gladly testify to make sure you don’t walk away with a slap on the wrist.
I am clearly not ready for sainthood.

Wishing all who observe a calm and reflective day, and may you be signed and sealed in the book of life for the year to come.

Sunday, October 2, 2016

Favorite Old Rosh Hashanah Posts, Again

My favorite Jewish New Year story is one I already posted two years ago on the eve of Rosh Hashanah. I suppose that just as we repeat the ritual of dipping apples in honey, saying the same annual blessings and making the same honey cake in more or less the same way, I feel it is not wholly inappropriate to post part of it here, again. (The complete version is in the link under the first sentence^.)
My mother was a permanent guest at our home every Friday and holiday.
In 2001, friends of my father and stepmother were visiting the bay area from Israel.
I didn’t know them well, and when they called, I asked them to come for Rosh Hashanah dinner. I figured that they could use a taste of home.
My mother was a Kugel fan. If you haven’t heard of kugel, let’s just say that it is a casserole of cooked-anything-at-all mixed with beaten eggs and seasonings. I had promised her a round kugel for Rosh Hashanah. Round, like all New Year dishes that symbolize the closing of circles.
I didn't make kugel often, so I set out to make the best. I had a mother to honor, Israeli guests, and an urgent need to respond to the disaster that had just struck our nation-- with the perennial Jewish celebration motto: They tried to kill us, we survived, LET’S EAT!
My mother dreamed of potato-kugel. So I grated and seasoned and mixed and mashed, pouring the mixture into a greased round dish and into a 375 degree oven. 
Then it occurred to me- the last time I made carrot-kugel, DH mentioned not once, but twice, how much he liked it. So I grated and mixed and added the cinnamon and brown sugar and to another round dish it went, also into the same oven.
DD came in and asked what I was making.
 “Kugel, for the New Year,” I said.
“Yum. I love noodle-kugel,” she said. Oops. I wasn’t thinking of her favorite. So I boiled egg noodles and mixed in the eggs, apple sauce and the raisins, and into the oven in yet another round baking dish went kugel number three.
It crossed my mind that having something green for the New Year was sort of mandatory. Think harvest, re-growth, life. Zucchini-kugel would have to serve that role. More grating, beating, mixing, pouring. The oven was almost at full capacity.
DS came in. With the resolute expression six-year-olds are so good at, he informed me that he doesn’t eat any of these kugels. In desperation I made the only kind I knew he would: chocolate-kugel. Not very traditional, but it was round and it was going to be irresistible. Think dark-chocolate not too sweet soufflĂ©, only this one stabilized with matzo meal so it doesn’t collapse.
 By then I was ready to collapse. 

Our guests arrived right after my mother. Introductions were made, and they complimented our table. I lit the holiday candles, and DD blessed the round challah. DS said the blessing over the fruit of the vine, (ours-wine, his and DD’s grape juice) and we said SHE-HEH-CHEH-YANU, the prayer of gratefulness for having arrived to this day. It had never meant more.
I opened the oven door and brought out the first. 
“Wow, kugel!” our guests exclaimed.
I went back and brought the second. 
“How nice, a kugel!” the wife said.
I was feeling positively giddy when I brought the third. 
“Ah, kugel,” I heard. It sounded a bit like a sigh.
Not done, I came in with the fourth. 
Another kugel?” said the husband.
I felt positively sheepish bringing in kugel number five. But it was chocolate; the only one DS would eat.
I suspect our guests from Israel thought they really had landed in Oz.
All right, folks— Let’s eat!