Tuesday, December 11, 2018

Dream, and Dream Some More


My late father was a holocaust survivor who lost every member of his family. He lived this dark nightmare in his teens, and came out of it not only a physical survivor, but also a person capable of deep love for humanity.


When my stepmother asked him how he survived, she was not asking about factual practical details. She was asking about his psyche, which was exceptional in endurance and creativity.


“I dreamed,” he said. “I’m still a dreamer.” I imagine that wherever he is now, he's surely dreaming.


I realize that I’m his daughter in this sense. I have not had to endure the horrors of his youth, but I have had challenging times. From an early age, I, too, dreamed.


When I was in kindergarten, I imagined that I had a real Mickey Mouse for a special friend. My secret pet lived under my bed, where no one else ever saw him. When everyone went to bed, Mickey and I would talk for hours, and he even gave good advice, that mouse.


I continue to dream. Only now, it’s a focused engagement that winds up in the form of manuscripts for young readers. This is part of why first drafting a story is my mental and emotional salvation. The rest of the work is dues I pay for spending so many hours dreaming.


When friends tell me they can’t write fiction, I know they are not focused dreamers. Or perhaps they don’t realize that when they use their imagination to solve problems, there is focused dreaming going on, which they could use in serving a story.


To all you dreamers~~~



Tuesday, December 4, 2018

Broken Tradition


Third night of Hanukkah, and our yearly holiday party is still not on.


For many years we had a few families get together to light the Hanukkiya, the holiday menorah. I fried latkes and together we sang. Then we ate. The children played Pin the Candle on the Menorah, (yes, that Donkey’s tail had a Jewish version at our house) and spun the dreidel earning unshelled walnuts.





The children grew taller, we grew older, and the parties kept coming regularly on the first Saturday night of Hanukkah.


Ten year ago, my party supplies were ready. Invitations to the party sent, and we were all set. Less than a week before the party my mother died.

I just couldn’t have a party that year. The next year, on the very same date, my father died. No party.


It has stayed broken. Some traditions, once interrupted, just don’t make it back.
Mr. Monk, the feline guardian of the candles^, disappeared right after Hanukkah last year,

But we have the memories, and the stories are for as long as we remember to tell them. Like the story of that time long ago, when the Maccabees fought back and retook the temple and in the holy of holies the light of the Menorah shone again.


May your holiday lights shine bright


Tuesday, November 27, 2018

NaNoWriMo* Part 2


*I explained this in an old post, here

As the month of November comes to its inevitable conclusion, all across this land writers either pat their own backs because they made it or wail that they did not reach the goal of fifty-thousand words in thirty days. The latter is more common, as it turns out.


I hope that if you participated you made your goal. I hope that if you didn’t make it, it was worth doing anyway.

But I must say I don’t get it.


Writing by the word count is something I finally understood as helpful to pacing in a novel. Butt-in-chair is also something I understand. Sometimes it’s just like that. You have to sit and do it, muse missing. Writing every day is what many think is the only way to do it if you are serious.

But writing with the crowd?



For me, the very notion that I am part of millions doing the same thing at the same time is an anathema. I have no illusions that when I sit down and conjure a story I am doing something no one has ever done before. But, at the same time,I tell myself I’m doing something of singular value. If I don’t do it, it won’t be done.


I also found the value of the self-discipline. "Self" here stands for creating in a pace and a manner assigned to oneself. I struggled with this issue until my late twenties. I had no problem meeting others’ deadlines. But I rarely managed to finish anything that no one was waiting for and that was self-assigned.
Then I found a way, and I’ve been fortunate ever since. Thank you, the great guardian of creativity, for this gift.


If National Writing Month is your thing, I raise a toast to you for the fine effort. I hope the result is just as fine. But if you failed to meet this goal please consider that your way of creating may not fit with this painting party, and keep looking for how *you* work best to do your best work.


Tuesday, November 20, 2018

Remember to BRE---ATHE~~~


When I was a wee one, one of my teachers used to say, and often, “Remember to breathe.

This struck me as funny. Who forgets to breathe?

I grew up, and with more breathing lessons under my belt, I understood better what she meant.

Many eastern meditation techniques involve focus on one’s breath. But this expression in western context means do something that takes you off the treadmill and allows your mind to clear before you get on again.

Feeling creatively stuck?

Breathe.

Got bad news?

Breathe.

A dear one is in crisis?

Breathe. Help them. Then breathe again.


For some, to breathe means eating chocolate or sipping a glass of Merlot. (And I do mean sipping, not to be confused with gulping.) For others, to breathe means making contact with a close friend and talking.
For me, it has come to mean go for a walk. Not just a leisurely stroll, but one that involves some hill climbing, which necessitates deep breathing. Yup.

The air quality where I live has been seriously unhealthy for almost two weeks. Devastating fires burning almost two hundred miles away have ushered a layer of dense smoke that wouldn’t quit.


Folks are warned to stay indoors and whatever they do, not do anything that requires physical exertion. In other words: Do Not Breathe.


Under such cautions, I re-discovered my childhood “breathing” activity. I didn’t even know back then that it was a form of breathing.

I lie down and read a great book.

I’m getting some fantastic reading done, and my soul is full of oxygen. On this Thanksgiving week, I am thankful for all the wonderful writers who ever lived and the publishing professionals who had the insight to usher their works into the world so we can breathe.

Remember to breathe, everyone.

Tuesday, November 13, 2018

This Date in History


~November 13~

Indulge me as I reminisce, combining world history with personal.

The year was 2015, and it was Friday. DS had just moved to Paris, France, to attend graduate school. With the help of a Parisian friend, we found him a small studio on an eighth-floor walkup, something a twenty-year-old can manage even if we wouldn’t want to. It was in a central and hipsterish arrondissement #2, on the right bank of the Seine River, next door to a lovely park and a famous patisserie.




I had a weekly skyping “date” with him, which he had set, every Friday at six in the evening, (for him) nine in the morning. (For me.)
We had just spoken, and all was well.

And then it wasn’t.

In a matter of a few hours, terrorist attacked Paris in various locations and when it was over, more than a hundred and thirty people were dead and a hundred more left in critical condition. Two of the attacks were very close to DS’s location, one only blocks away.


Our Parisian friend was able to call him and find him at home. He was not following the news, so she was his source of warning to stay put and not go out to a café or a stroll, something most young folks living where he was would consider a most natural thing on a pleasant night.


I was reminded of my growing up years in Israel, with traumatized American relatives calling every time Jerusalem managed to make the news. Often these relatives were the ones to let us know what had happened before we knew.


I’d be tempted to say that Paris changed forever, but it’s my understanding that it hasn’t. Like Israel, or New York City after 9/11, the city rebounded, and thus the terrorists lost.


And something else came back to my consciousness. It takes very few people making bad choices to wreak havoc, and very many people making good choices to fix it.


When storytellers construct stories, we usually weigh the protagonists and antagonists evenly, at least numerically. My limited experience in real life reveals otherwise.


Which means we, the many, must work harder if we are to make up for destructive impulses of humankind.



Tuesday, November 6, 2018

Back to Writing with a Toddler...


...Only this one is feline.

When my kids were little, writing with them present was impossible. First drafting, at least, is something I must do without distractions.

To all who have done it with babies on their knee, my virtual hat is off to you.


When they got older and I was more experienced, I still wrote first drafts when they were at school. One of my kiddos, in particular, had the habit of bursting in with frequent non-emergencies, and for me— managing to stay in “the zone” was not doable.


The empty nest brought three new felines. I missed my kids’ interruptions most of the time, so the cats took over. But the cats respected writing time. They had their things to do, and we all got our work done.


Until now. Enter our newest resident, Miss Nougat.




It’s quieter than ever, with my kids off to peruse their lives far away, and I miss them terribly. But I should be relishing the freedom to first draft with guaranteed quiet.

Nougat has other ideas.


She talks all the time. Not typical meows of her species, but short and long sentences, punctuated with exclamations and question marks. I swear, her vocabulary is very rich.


She also insists I pay attention, resorting to performing tricks, playing ball games, attacking the furniture and if that doesn’t get me to stop what I’m doing and join her, she resorts to folding her ear back so I can gape incredulously.


How is one supposed to write a first draft that isn’t punctuated by #@!~*&^%.......?


G-d love her, every bit. And help me.
J

That’s about where we are. All suggestions welcome.

Tuesday, October 30, 2018

Personal Process


A few months ago a writer on a kid-lit chat board asked how others approach revising a novel. She’s written many picture book texts, but this was her first novel. After completing the first draft, she was stymied as to the next step. “What do you do?” she asked.


Some responded with links to sites that gave directions, while others made specific suggestions. I realized that I could only speak of the way I work. After all, practice helps, and by now I have some. I haven’t published a lot, but I have written and revised a few middle grade novels, and am now working on a new story.


I copy my response here, because it says all I have to offer and because, as I said, I’m busy first drafting. A good excuse for taking the easy way on this blog today.


So here is my process, which may be of some interest, even as every person must forge their own.


It is personal, and it takes some experience to find how you work best. If you are experienced in Picture Book writing and revising, you might take some of what you have learned about your process to a novel. The only difference is the time invested in each draft and thus, proportionally, the time between revisions.


Speaking for myself, the first draft is a plow forward. I'm a combination planner and a bit of a panster, too. (This means I have a very thin outline before I even start, but the fleshing out is done by the seat of my pants, as the saying goes.) First drafting is the reason I am a writer, and for me the rest is the necessary work to make it better. As others said, some love one part and not the other. It's a somewhat different set of problem solving.


I don't even go near a novel for a minimum of two weeks between drafts. Two months is better. By "drafts” I am not referring to tweaks and repairing an inconsistency here and there. I mean substantial changes and meeting the phrasing with fresh eyes, more like a reader than a writer.

The first two real drafts are done with me alone. No one even hears what it's about. I have a lot to work out before I feel "I've got something there." 

Third draft comes after my first beta reader reads and gives developmental comments, points out inconsistencies, (thank you, you know who you are!) and catches typos. I go over the feedback carefully. Sometimes other matters arise for me while doing this.

When done, a full re-read after another break, and then a second beta reader. I look for a reader who might be different from the first in many ways, (mostly in their taste in books and their sensitivities) and when their feedback returns I mull over it in a similar way.

Another break, another read-through, and then I have my own checklist to make sure I have asked myself  if I am clear about the theme, foreshadowing, character development/change, Main Character solving the problem (or coming to terms with it) and so on.
Another read-through, mysteriously catching *even more* typos...



...and then it goes  on submission. When I had an agent, this was the point where I shared it with her, and her feedback made me revise again.  Another revision, sometimes two, before it went out. Subsequent editor's interest means more revising, and the happiest of all are revisions after contract.


As to the mechanics of "how," you really only have your reading ways and your reading eyes. It will not be different from the way you have worked on shorter picture book texts. One writer mentioned she makes a hard copy printed like a book. This is a good technique for many. Not what I use, but I know it helps. Another mentioned reading the text aloud, or having someone else read it back to you. There are some techniques for line editing, also. 


But never feel you must write many drafts, (Stephen King does only three, but to say he's experienced is an understatement) or that what someone else says is a must really is for your way of working. Some writers are very clean grammatically and phasing-wise, and some (like me) can never get rid of all the typos no matter how many times we go over the words.



While first drafting, I refuse to think of all the work to come. I suppose that if I did I might not have the strength to start. I’m glad I wrote this^ months ago, before I put my writing vehicle back in gear.


What's your way?

Tuesday, October 23, 2018

The Egregious Agent Caper


A few months ago, the kid-lit writing community buzzed and booed when someone finally spilled the beans on the perfidy of one agent, who then abruptly quit the Internet and shut her agency. Her clients, an awesome list of talented writers and illustrators, were left hanging. If you missed that particular blowup, something of it can be glimpsed here.


On another thread, an animated discussion was ongoing. Was there a way to know this agent had gone off the rails of proper business practices? Could writers ever know before signing if no one dares to speak about such matters in public and name names?


One source, which does allow specific names, is an excellent writers’ virtual water cooler, called Absolute Write. Another is Querytracker.  Neither would have helped in this particular case. There were no warning signs, except for some former clients who knew something was off but did not speak up.


It’s a thorny matter— what to say and where. There are plenty of sensitive folks who take rejection poorly, and let’s face it—this is a field where rejections are the rule. We never want to mess with someone’s livelihood, and it is too easy to destroy anyone’s name. Negativity should be kept to a minimum in the public sphere, and so I fault none of those who knew something was off but made no public mention.


My way of saying this minefield is unavoidable. Most agents are hardworking, and most do good work. But you can’t know, and the proof ultimately is in the pudding.


Agents have become the sifters for the big publishers, culling the most commercially viable manuscripts. Time was, when having an agent was a choice if a writer wanted to be traditionally published. Having an agent meant you could focus on writing while your agent focused on getting publishing contacts. The doors for writers and illustrators to approach directly still exist but they have left nary a crack opening.


So time was, but is no more. We take a chance, we hope, we do research and enlist our ever-useful gut instinct. And still, bad things happen to good people.


Just like the rest of this worldly journey. Like the stories we write. It takes courage.


Tuesday, October 16, 2018

OLD(er)


Kids, skip this. It’s not for you. (Yet)


You know you’re getting older when a photograph of you from ten years ago that you thought was a bad one looks pretty good to you.


You know you are getting older when comments to a Facebook photo say something like, “Still looking good... you never age!”


You know you’re getting older when you are almost the age of the neighbor you once had who was “that old neighbor.”


You know you’re getting older when the next-door neighbor’s pre-teen sums up a long conversation with you saying, “Gee, talking to you is really not like talking to an old person.”


Yup, all from personal experience. Actually, that last one was downright neat.



And I’ll take ‘em all. What’s the alternative?


Feel free to complete--- You know you’re getting older when...


Tuesday, October 9, 2018

Blessed Are the Friends


You’ve heard the ubiquitous question, “where do your stories/ideas come from?”
Invariably the sweeping answer is, “everywhere.


But a truer answer is that different people tend to get ideas in idiosyncratic ways, specific to them.


I know writers who get a lot of stories for fiction novels from newspaper accounts of real life stories.


I know writers who get story ideas while walking and looking at houses, imagining the families who live there.


I know writers who get ideas for fiction from reading others’ fiction, and imagining how much more they’d have done with those stories.



About a year ago, I realized many of my longer stories got their themes or protagonists from a friend of mine. One specific friend. We have our regular walk & talk, and I’d be telling her something I had experienced way back, when she’d say, “why don’t you write your next story about it?”


She is not a writer, but an excellent reader. I owe the last five MG novel themes to her.



Tuesday, October 2, 2018

When Fiction is Unbelievable


Many moons ago a professional in the publishing world said one of my stories belied credulity. A fancy way of saying it had too much this-and-that to pass for a realistic tale, as it was realistic fiction.


My first reaction was to hyperventilate. This particular middle grade novel depicted real events from real life. Not necessarily mine, but the life of a trustworthy person close to me who had nothing whatsoever to gain from making it up.


To me, this criticism meant one of two things. Either the reader had a limited range of what they could absorb as realistic, or I had failed to tell this story in such a way that it could pass for what might, just possibly, be something that could have happened.


The first possibility, regarding the reader’s limited imagination, is something I could do nothing about. The second was completely up to me.


When there’s a choice between what I can do nothing about and what is up to me, I choose the second. Helplessness is depressing, and what I can fix is empowering.



I know, my first instinctive reaction was to push such onto other people and, well, not my fault is a mantra we learn from a young age. Not only does it spare us possible punishment, (“the dog ate my homework”) but the adults around us model such reaction every day. Just look at our elected officials and almost anyone accused of a crime.


But, as I told my kids when they were growing up, only you can undo the things that are your doing. This is powerful.


When DS was a toddler and going through the “mine” phase, I remember some unfortunate thing happening that resulted in my saying to him it was not his fault. I don’t recall what that something was, but I never forgot his response. “It is my fault! It’s all mine!”

It was funny, but also a teachable moment for both of us.


So, moving forward, I combed over the fictionalized biographical story and labored to make it stronger and more vivid. In the process, I discovered a writing technique that might work for you if you encounter this reservation from a reader.

It’s in the details.


If you write concrete and specific details into the story, it gains a dimension of reality that wasn’t there before. The more details the better. Go all out. Describe the shape of the doorknob and the sound it made when the protagonist twisted it slowly, or the smell of specific herbs cooking next door. Don’t think of the details as unnecessary, but as part of concertizing. Not only fantasy stories deserve world building.


The true story I refashioned into fiction came my way without details. I had to invent them. But the fiction I imagined made the bones of a true story more realistic.

Don’t despair, fix it.

Can you tell I’m in the throes of just such?



Tuesday, September 25, 2018

Why REALITY is All the Rage


When James Frey couldn’t sell his excellent story (A Million Little Pieces) as fiction, he presented it as nonfiction and it sold with an explosive marketing campaign. What followed was Oprah’s endorsement and NYT bestselling status until...

A website called The Smoking Gun exposed it as fictional, after all.



Every story has some of the writer’s reality in it. But if you label it non-fiction, you should stick very closely to documentable events. Where you take liberties, such as name changes to protect people or omissions for the sake of expediency, you must acknowledge this right off the bat.



Even when reading fiction, the reader wants it to be real. We secretly think that though the writer states this is a work of fiction, it’s *likely, mostly, basically, please-be* a true story.



This is why the how-to books admonish not to start a story with a dream sequence or a flashback. A reader invests in what is happening, only to find out it was just a dream or something that happened long before the main narrative. Na-ah. Not nice. Don’t do it to them.



Readers want that “happening now” feel, an exclamatory phrase CNN uses with abandon. It is much easier to sell a story if the storyteller prefaces it with BASED ON A TRUE STORY.



Long ago, the sight of an old Victorian house in an adjacent town inspired me to imagine a ghost story that could have occurred in it. Actually, I based the story on something a friend told me did happen to the family that lived there.

The next time I walked by with my kids, (then five and eight years old) I told them the story. Don’t be alarmed, it was a kid-friendly version. They were riveted.

{Full disclosure: photo is not that very house^ but one very similar looking J}



Then the question came. “This I a true story. Right, Mom?”

The way they phrased the question begged me to lie. But they were my kids, not some nameless unseen readers. I told the truth.

“Well, no. I made it up. But the house inspired it.”

The instant deflation of their spirits testified to how much it mattered.



There are ways to sort of get around this.
Think of the lines that precede the first chapter of The Da Vinci Code. It’s a list of two little-known things that are factual, investing the reader in what is a work of fiction.
The Movie (and made for TV series) Fargo begins with “this is a true story,” but phrased in an enigmatic way that works as a disclaimer, too.






Because if we are to follow a narrative we need to believe it. At the very least, we need to have our incredulous nature suspended for the duration.

Tuesday, September 18, 2018

WHAT IS WORTH HAVING AND KEEPING...


“Nothing worth having comes easily”
Theodore Roosevelt



Ever wonder about stories of worldly success that went something like...

 “I wrote it in an afternoon and knew a friend of a friend of an editor, so I passed it on to them never thinking about it amounting to anything and was surprised a week later to have an offer of publication. The rest is history.

From the writer of a children’s classic picture book.


"I was working selling shoes when I became an actor after a talent agent approached me one rainy afternoon, and a few months later I became a movie star never having imagined my life would go anywhere near such, and the rest is history."

 From a forty-year acting career veteran and much $$$ later.


 "I never thought of myself as an inventor. I accidentally mixed some ingredients in the kitchen while making a failed birthday cake for my dog, and wound up with something the whole world needed, and the rest is history."

From A Nobel Prize winner


If you don’t know these stories, you haven’t been to the movies in a very long time, and possibly avoid reading fiction, also.



I think we all secretly live with such fantastic hopes for ourselves, even as they are not the way it usually goes. (That's an understatement.)


I don’t think that if it came easily it isn’t worth having. That thinking is too puritanical, even for me.



But I think a creative worthwhile life begins when you can let go of this sort of narrative and make the assumption that it just ain’t so.


That’s when I get to work.


“The work praises the person”
An Irish saying



Tuesday, September 11, 2018

NINE / ELEVEN


This Day in History

Any day before a reader was born is history.


If you write stories for children, (which, to me, means young readers/listeners up to the age of fourteen) September the eleventh two-thousand and one is history.


There are already some good Kidlit books that either tell of that day, or have it in the background of a story. I wrote one such, and my agent wondered if it was too soon. Less than six months later, a whole slew of children’s books came out telling of that day. It was not too soon.



It was a seismic shock for the United States, one whose reverberations are operational today. We fear depicting the religion in whose name the perverted individuals chose to act, because many innocent adherents should not be implicated. But if we tippy-toe around that, we can’t tell the story of that day honestly.


And if we tell it honestly, how do we tell it to a child?


For my grandparents’ generation, there was another day that lived in infamy. It was the day where Pearl Harbor, where most of the United States navy was docked, another nation whom we did not provoke chose to decimate the American fleet in a few hours.  Listen to the then president of the United States speaking to the nation here. Franklin Roosevelt said it clearly: December seventh nineteen-forty-one, a date that shall live in infamy.


The country of Japan is an ally now, after we defeated it. Few kids know that date. But it would not be farfetched to say that the events of that day are still reverberating in all we think, feel and do today.


I don’t know what we should do about nine-eleven, except that I am sure we should write about it, and tell young readers what happened. Best to do it with riveting stories, preferably engrossing fiction where imagined characters live through real events, because these are the stories kids read out of school.


Someday, through the haze of the passing time, we will not fear naming the perpetrators. We’ll be breaking bread with their grandchildren, and together we’ll confront new challenges.



But for now, today, nine eleven is still a date that lives in infamy.



Tuesday, September 4, 2018

Remember to DO THE THINGS THAT MAKE YOU HAPPY*


*Note to self

Blogs are dying. Lack of visitors has made many bloggers become former bloggers.Not only this blog, but other personal blogs.  


The survivors are specific aggregators of useful information (think make-up tips, relationship advice, celebrity gossip, none of which I happen to be a user)—these blogs, when well done and their authors work hard at gathering followers, are doing well.


But not the sort of blog I so reluctantly launched seven years and three-hundred and fifty plus posts ago.


There are times I wonder if I should continue, or let it sit inactivated but not deleted, like so many still on my Reading List. There they sit and stare like the Egyptian Sphinges (plural of Sphinx) by the pyramids of Giza.



Only these mysterious beings get plenty of visitors who come daily to return their frozen gaze. Maybe the analogy isn’t the right one.



Some months ago, one of the personal blogs I really like and follow had the author state that one of her mood lifters is remembering to do things that make her happy, like writing in her not-much visited blog.


I, for one, am glad she does. But the key was that it makes her happy.


Works for me. So I’m still here.

Tuesday, August 28, 2018

Facebook Falsehoods




Just got another one. “A Facebook friend wants you to like...”


Facebook, in addition to being the unwitting conduit of fake news and falsehoods of other kinds, has been an affordable advertising tool for some and a connectivity tool for many. I always understood my data, such as Facebook thinks it has, is how they are able to provide this tool without a monthly charge.


The only controls explicitly given are the privacy layers that only innocent friends and colleagues (who are not hackers) are effectively blocked from causally seeing. Hackers see all, and Facebook certainly does. That’s okay with me. Everything on my timeline is fully public. This is how I use Facebook, as an ad.


Thus, most of my Facebook friends are not personal connections, but colleagues.


I’ve written before to say that on my social media pages (which very much includes this blog) I tell the truth and nothing but the truth. But I never considered telling the whole truth because many things of me and mine are private.


Which brings me to this pesky habit of some who think it is fine form to ask others to like this or that.


I like what I like, truthfully. All my likes are my own. If I didn’t “like,” it may be because I missed the post. I don’t spend many hours scrolling or I would have time for little else. But when I get one of those requests to like, it is an automatic forgetaboutit.


You may not think so, but it has a whiff of falsehood. Something related to paid reviews, which are malodorous to say the least. Actually, they stink.


Because, to me, even my Facebook public face can’t be a fake. If I liked yours, know that I really liked yours.



Tuesday, August 21, 2018

Loving What We Do


Back to doing what we love, and loving what we do, I am in deep doo-doo preliminary plotting my next novel.


Some writers are pansters. They write by the seat of their pants, and do not know where the story is going. It is as much a surprise to them as it will be for the readers.


Some writers are planners. They plot carefully before writing the first paragraph. They know every bone of the story, and only need to do the work and flesh out the details.


I’m a rough planner. I know the general outline of the beginning, middle, and end. I know little of the details, and the writing process offers many surprises for me. But I always felt I needed a general arc and direction before I so much as conjure the first sentence.


I considered doing it differently this time. I thought jumping in without the safety net of an outline would be a challenge that could revive the creative sprits. I wanted to leave the comfort zone of the tried and true, and who knows--- Maybe the results will be truer than ever.



But I chickened out.



So here I am again, beginning to fill in the boxes of a rough outline for what I hope would be a very good story. Only I feel somewhat defeated because, well, here I am again.


Maybe next time.

Tuesday, August 14, 2018

GETTING PAID TO DO WHAT WE LOVE


A few months ago, someone close to me lamented about their life choices. “This was never supposed to be a professional direction,” loved one said. “This was only a hobby.”


Head scratch. (Me.)


I always thought that a hobby is what you want to do even if no one paid you.


A few weeks later, the thoughts keep swirling in my tinny head. Now I am clear.


The luckiest people make a living off their hobbies. Yes, sir.


This is every artist’s dilemma. We know what we love, and we’d do it for no compensation. (Shhh, don’t tell anybody.)


And the luckiest among us are paid to do what we love.



Tuesday, August 7, 2018

Gift from a Beggar


We’d arrived in Berkeley in the late fall of 1978. Little did we know this would be a historically significant time in the San Francisco Bay area. In only a week, the mass murder-suicide in Jonestown (of a cult whose roots were in the East Bay) would permeate the air. That foreshock lasted but nine days, when a supervisor in San Francisco’s city hall would shoot the mayor and the first openly gay supervisor, and the bay area ground would be rattled not by a physical, but an emotional quake.


My then boyfriend and I knew about the danger of earthquakes, and chose to move to the area anyway. We knew about San Francisco and Berkeley’s reputation as a social vanguard. If that included the sort of madness that engulfed and thickened the air everyone breathed, we had to take the good with the bad. We were new, and chucked it to The California Experience.





But that was not what we noticed most. From the very first day, what struck us  was how many people lived on the streets and how many were begging for spare change. We had lived in Ithaca, New York, for four years. We never saw street people there. The climate and the town’s people were inhospitable to such. I had seen beggars before, not only in movies but also in Jerusalem, where I grew up. These were blind, old, broken bodied people. They had their corner in downtown Jerusalem, and anyone could see they could not support themselves any other way. We never passed them without putting change into their tins. 


But Berkeley was full of young seemingly healthy and energetic beggars. This, more than the maddening news, struck us as peculiar. We assumed every one of them was in real need, for who in their right mind would spend their days asking for money if they could work?


And so we gave. And gave. And whenever asked, which was often, we gave again. If we didn’t have spare pocket change, we gave bills from our wallets.


A couple of months later, we had become jaded. New acquaintances informed us that most of the local beggars were drug addicts, and that our giving only perpetuated their habit. We stopped giving. In addition, our own funds were running low. It would be a few more months before we found jobs, and we had rent to pay.


Until one day, when a young beggar approached us on Telegraph Avenue, right by the intersection of Dwight Way, asking for spare change.
“Sorry, Man. We’re broke,” my boyfriend said. That was not literally true, but felt like it was in our near future.
The beggar stuck his hand into his deep pants’ pocket and doled a fistful of change. “Please take that,” he said. “You’re more broke. I had a good day.”
We tried to refuse, but he tried harder. He would not let us leave without taking some of his “spare.”



I don’t know what the answer is. But, forty years later, even as I continue to mostly pass local beggars by without giving, once in a while I see that beggar’s face and pull my pocket change out.



Tuesday, July 31, 2018

The Truth and Untruth of Statistics


"Figures often beguile me. Particularly when I have the arranging of them myself; in which case the remark attributed to Disraeli would often apply with justice and force: 'There are three kinds of lies: lies, damned lies, and statistics.'"

Mark Twain

Chapters from My Autobiography, published in the North American Review in 1906}




And so I find myself, having just finished the fifth draft of a new novel for middle grade readers, staring the stats WORD popped up.




Time was, I wrote long hand, then revised and typed a story, only to ignore the numbers. WORD insisted on telling me the word count, but I looked the other way. I was writing literature, not counting beans.


I remember the feeling of diminishment when I encountered writers who spoke about word counts for different age groups, chapter page counts, and output counts per writing day. Everyone, it seemed, was counting.


I honestly couldn’t figure out why, and determined not to write-by-numbers.


Only they are everywhere. And while they say nothing about the quality of the story or the art of the telling, turns out they do count.


In the business of publishing, they count quite a bit. To quote Agent Jennifer Laughran’s iconic post on the subject, outlier word-counts put her in the mode of  “...I am tying a noose.” I don’t want that responsibility. I also want my work to be considered for publication.


Innovative work should not count these counts. But the numbers will let us know how far off the expected norms we’ve ventured, and then choose to do so knowingly and deliberately.


These Stats still lie in the most fundamental sense of not telling that all’s well, or that I must take some drastic action. The readability statistics only sit there, telling their truth. It’s not an important truth. But it is one I  now look at , just as I look at the WORD program’s mechanical (and often wrong) grammar-check at which end these stats pop up.


For me it is about marching forward having looked at all I could know about what I wrote. It means that if a reader calls the story “too long,” this is not a matter of length but the feeling it drags. The strengths and faults lie in the art, not in the craft. The mechanical checks and algorithmic statistics deserve a glance, and then the option to dismiss or heed from a place of awareness.



Phew, these latest revision stats look okay. But who's counting?


Tuesday, July 24, 2018

It’s Always Spring


When my kids were at the junction of navigating college/conservatory applications, I found a site that helped me understand this process, so different now from the time when we were at that stage.


College Confidential has its trolls and plenty of mis-informants. But for the most part, it is tremendously helpful. Recommended!


One of the things that struck me when young participates wrote about their hopes and wishes for higher education was the criteria they listed. I related to top quality academics and seeking particular teachers. I resonated to the matters of costs, funding, and scholarship offers most of all. I was on the paying side, after all. I understood wanting a happy social life and nice living conditions. But from my dowdy perch, I found one particular mention that struck me as funny and a bit “off.”


They wrote about the weather. They wanted good weather. They wanted excellent weather. Weather trumped all. It loomed on the top of so many wish lists that I wondered if young’uns have totally lost their sense of purpose or maybe, as one parent on the site put it, imagined they were going to a resort to major in beer.


Until the other day, when it occurred to me that when I moved to the bay area one of the considerations, and the one that keeps me firmly anchored here to this day, was and is---


The weather.


Whether you believe in global warming, global change, or no change, it’s July, and as it is in January, here it’s always spring.


See why I’m smiling?

It’s the weather.