Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Get Ready for When the Dream Comes True or Have Faith!

Probably these were your Top 10 Resolutions for 2008, 2007, ...2000, 1991....

Top 10 New Year's Resolutions for Writers:

•Make time to write.

•Overcome writer's block.

•Complete an unfinished work.

•Read more.

•Keep a journal.

•Work on writing space.

•Write a novel.

•Submit work.

•Try a new genre or art form.

•Be easier on yourself.
Get out of the rut. Fantacize more. That should be your resolution!!!  Your only resolution. (Note photo of Michelle Pfeiffer and Rupert Friend in a movie based on a Collette short story.)
See yourself. Visualize yourself as this successful writer. The one you WANT TO BE! Then take three steps that brings you closer to that fantasy becoming a reality.
You know -- once upon a time I lived in an old falling down house that was a money pit and constantly needed fixing up. We worked on it, threw money into it, and dreamed of a new house with a pond and and all of the trimmings. The day came when we took the step and turned out dream house into a reality. We sold the money pit, hired a builder, settled on a plan, a budget, a pedestal sink, and a two-acre pond. The house went from fantasy to reality.
Why not with a writing career?

I had a dream the other day that I was traveling to book signings, tracking down research, calling my assistant to deliver more books to my signing, and was writing, really writing something I was proud of and a bit surprised that it came from my brain! My name was entering conversations of people I had never met but who felt they knew me from my writings. And our financial woes had come to an end. I even hired someone to repaint the house and get rid of that sickly green that covers every wall.
The morning I awoke from that dream I had to check the walls -- just to make sure it was a dream. Yep, still green. But the dream was that real.
At that point I realized that I had actually already begun taking steps toward making the dream come true. I've been pursuing my interest in fabric art by growing a blog. I named it after what I hope will be a title of one of my books. I'm actually putting together a platform for that first book. While I was enjoying the journey -- enjoying finding beautiful fabric art and talented artists to share with like minded fabric lovers -- I had found people who just might also promote my book or at least read it.
Look at what you did this year and see how it is going to help you reach your goal. And then put together that list of New Year's Resolutions with an eye to actually making something specific happen.
If your goal is to write for the New Yorker then submit something to them again, and again and again. Read the New Yorker or Ploughshares or Glimmer Train or Newsweek -- whatever is your target market. See what they publish and then give them something that you know they'll like. You know because you have read the market and know the market.
Take a class. If nothing else you'll know that you're better at this writing business than you thought you were!
Even if you are not setting words on a page, find a way to grow your dream. A blog that helps you build a platform. A group of essays that you can self publish if necessary that your family will love. It will teach you to complete a longer project.
Give yourself permission to fail. Seek failure. Try something so outrageous that you know you will never be able to pull it off. Then give it all you have. Play with it. You expect to fail so don't worry.
Learn a new language. It might open new doors, give you a different perspective, or help you broaden your horizons -- maybe if you learn French, you'll actually take that trip to Paris you've been dreaming about.
Read more nonfiction. Watch more movies. Netflix movies on demand and instant downloads. It may seem like escapism but it is also your chance to indulge your fantasies at the same time.
Play! Make time for play!

Change your name. Your writing name. Write under an alias and then fit your writer to that name. Dawn Goldsmith becomes Don Carlos or Emily Dickinson or Jane Austen or Anna Quinlan or Collette! (See photo of Collette)
Don't think of yourself as a 'writer' but as a WRITER or better yet -- an ARTIST!
Just give yourself permission to be that person that frequents your dreams. Well, unless it is a Jack the Ripper kind of guy -- then add "See psychiatrist" to your DO IMMEDIATELY list. But even then, take notes.

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

This, I believe, is the great Western truth: that each of us is a completely unique creature and that, if we are ever to give any gift to the world, it will have to come out of our own experience and fulfillment of our own potentialities, not someone else's." -- Joseph Campbell

If this isn't a call for memoir, I don't know what is. Recently I started a job writing for WoodenHorse Publishing which maintains a magazine database. I'm paying more attention to the magazine industry and watching them fold, fold, fold. Self destruct might be a better description. They say the reason for their demise is dwindling advertising revenue or Internet competition or FREE information via Internet. But I think it is plain old inertia.

Anais Nin puts it this way: "Life is a process of becoming, a combination of states we have to go through. Where people fail is that they wish to elect a state and remain in it. This is a kind of death."

And dying they are -- age old publications like I.D (International Design) magazine have been around since the 1950s -- but are closing. Of course there is Kirkus and Editor and Publisher and National Geographic Adventure Magazine and on the list goes.

The editors at I.D. contest that they could have survived. They could have embraced the Internet just as their competitors had done and with their respected brand, could have made a go of it. The magazine hosts an annual design event that brings in quite a hefty income, so their foundation in the design industry is stable. Sadly F&W Media who own I.D. Magazine do not invest any of the funds from the annual event directly back into the magazine. And the editors readily admit that they have not acknowledged the needs of their audience, advertisers nor changed with the times.

I also think the readership has changed and is demanding more. Magazines, particularly women's magazines, seem to think we are a superficial lot and if they just give us the same hash rehashed each season, it will keep readers happy. Lipstick, shoes, hairdos and makeup seem to be bread and butter for women's magazines. Would I read an article about what color of lipstick is in for the coming season? Not if it is longer than a paragraph or two. Would I read an article about the history of lipstick? About the inventor of the corset and its dynamic in the gender wars? You bet! Is it offered in any of the seven sister magazines? Nope.

As writers maybe we are not offering the magazines an opportunity to change and grow. I see that list articles are popular. Every magazine has a front cover sporting the term 'the top 5, 10, 50 ways to leave your lover or some kind of list that lures people inside. What about the top five most deadly professions or businesses or the top 10 ways to teach your child responsibility? Or maybe the five reasons prostitution is on the rise. Maybe the 5 things your mother never told you about marriage....

Maybe there's something you want to write about but don't think anyone would read it? If you don't put it out there, it won't get read, for sure! Maybe it is time that writers stop trying to figure out what editors want and give them what they need. They all live in their little ivory towers working 24-7 to put out a magazine and they don't get out in the real world and see what their readerships sees. Perhaps check out your favorite magazine and see what it is failing to provide for your needs and then write it.

If you look at the list of successful writers, they did not write evergreen pieces that were merely a rehash of last year's evergreen story. They introduced something new. Erma Bombeck and Elizabeth Berg offered magazines a new voice. It is time for a new generation of writers to step forward and add their voices to the printed page.

Redbook recently added six new columnists to their stable of writers. All but one were popular bloggers. One wrote edgy pieces for Salon. But all have their own voice. Their own approach to a topic that they now own. Most have written at least one book. All have reinforced Campbell's words: these bloggers/writers/columnists are all unique and are giving to the world based upon their experience and unique perspective. We need more writers who will be true to themselves and write what they NEED to write and not just try to give an editor what he or she thinks she needs. Most of the time editors don't know what they need until they see it.... Put more of yourself into your articles -- not I or me -- but your experiences, your needs, your perception, your knowledge, your spin.

Saturday, December 12, 2009

Tropes, symbols, and scenes written in three little words

A recent discussion about visual illusion and symbolism made me think, of course, about the writing equivalent. (Love this illusion -- face or hands?

After watching a video at Polywog Fiberart about what we see is not actually what is there, I began to believe that the Matrix might be based upon a true story. And that there is more to my senses than ummm meets the eye. 

I take alot for granted in this world. Which makes me a very lazy writer. I should strive to understand the why and wherefore of everything! I look at a picture of a train track disappearing into the horizon and get a sense of depth. I see a painting of a craggy mountain pass and see dimensions. I see a landscape and feel certain that some images are closer than others. But I also know that all of these images are on a flat surface. 

Isaac Newton with his prism showed that various colors bend at prescribed angles. He was able to bend the light into its various colors. And recently while surfing around, I found a website that declared: "Where distance angles focus nature to  advance and recede visually, color angles make picture planes appear to advance and recede visually,... because, in the eye and  brain, color angles mimic distance angles, and distance angles are three-dimensional!"

Color can produce depth and distance. We have been taught that some colors recede and others step forward. But I didn't fully grasp how useful this could be. 'Color' in a novel or in our writing can create illusions, too. Descriptions using words that convey more than the sky is up, the ground is down, can give a sense of emotion and depth to the scene. The 'stormy sky' the blood red sun, the shimmer on the horizon, the ozone in the air, all convey more than simple weather descriptions, they allude to something happening or expected to happen in the story. If it is spring -- then we can anticipate a new beginning. Winter and perhaps an end is in sight. A death. A suspension of life as in hibernation?

Introduced into the discussion was 'symbolism' that becomes cliched. A butterfly signifying new life perhaps or a ladybug representing latchkey kids? (Ladybug, ladybug fly away home, your house is on fire and your children, they will burn....) Or you watch the horror movie and the camera moves to the basement door and you want to stand up and yell, "Don't go down there!" 

Tropes. Visual symbols that tell a whole story. They work well in writing. An example that Elizabeth Strout taught in a class I took with her back in Iowa involved a white kitchen stove. The character sees a stove and she flashes back to the kitchen of her childhood home where she watched her father press her mother's hand or cheek or some part of her anatomy to the red hot electric burner on the white kitchen stove. The author needs to introduce this relationship between symbol and story once, just once. And ever after whenever the white stove is introduced into the story, it represents domestic abuse. It is a form of shorthand. Very effective. 

But when used, like the basement door, or the butterfly, it gets a bit cliched. So as with other cliches, it must be changed, stood on its ear. A trip down the basement stairs means freedom. It worked in the movie Patriot Games, based on a Tom Clancy novel. The characters waited in the dark of the basement to make their escape while the bad guys entered the upstairs and searched for them. But the understanding of basement and danger added an element of suspense to their sanctuary. 

Or, in the case of the Harry Potter movie where the bluebird, representing spring and good things and hope and second chances, lands in the whomping willow. The willow draws a branch back like a baseball bat and smacks the bird out of the picture. Feathers fly as the bird splatters. There's a moment when you first see this that your brain has to reorganize its preconception. Utter silence in the theater and then laughter and cringing and us Bambi lovers are aghast even as we laugh. My brain did such a great job of reorganizing this visual clue that I wince whenever I see a bluebird or any bird land in a tree during a movie.

The right word in the right place takes on new meaning when you think about all that stands hidden in a word. When my mother (born in 1912) was a girl 'gay' meant happy and cheerful and fun to be around. 'Queer' meant different or in some instances a change in health. She was 'taken queer.' Now the word holds a whole segment of the population in its verbs and consonants. 

Writing an entire scene in three words. "The white stove." 

You see it don't you?

Thursday, December 10, 2009

The Universe is Listening!

Be careful what you wish for! That's one of the many cliches/admonitions/old wives tales whatever you want to call it that I was raised with. Today I saw the universe come to bear on such a statement and it was amazing!

A friend emailed me lamenting her need for more income. Nothing unusual about that. Making money from writing has gotten more challenging and some of our favorite editors are looking for work and some of our favorite magazines have folded.

She wondered if maybe she could find a market for book reviews, in addition to the ones for which she already writes. Publishers Weekly maybe or Kirkus? And then I received a Google Alert that I had set for Magazine Publishing News. It said that Publishers and Editors has been axed (the magazine not the actual people). "The magazine, which has covered journalism and the media for more than a century, said on its Web site that industry support has been overwhelming in the wake of the news that E&P is to be shuttered."

And then I saw a discussion at Internet Writing Workshop that Kirkus had also been axed.

I sat in shock. Both of those magazines have been around forever. They were popular. Respected. Icons of trusted reporting and reviewing. The world is crashing around our ears!

I emailed the friend and told her to scratch Kirkus off her list. We were lamenting about review markets and were glad we worked for one that seemed to be fairly solid.

A few minutes later another email. This time from the editor at this solid review market saying that she needs help! Apparently with the sudden demise of Kirkus, several strings or should I say review contracts were left dangling and we would be picking up the slack.

I emailed my friend and she emailed me and we did this cyber happy dance as emails collided. We now have more books to review than we could imagine and some of them at higher pay because of the urgency involved. There's sadness at the loss of an old and venerable market and magazine. There's sadness over the loss of respected journalistic award winning publications.

But in the immediate future, I see a chance to actually pay off Christmas! I see work and a chance to feel productive and needed and all of that because I can read and write reasonable book reviews. Will it pay the mortgage? Probably not. But it will certainly close the gap between my budget and reality.

And I have come to realize that there really is a silver lining in those storm clouds and it is darkest before the dawn. I didn't want a magazine to fold just so I could write more reviews. But it makes me wonder if everything is truly connected in this universe. Needs are met in the strangest ways. And maybe, just maybe if all of these pieces fit together. Then maybe I'm wishing too small.

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Internet Alter Ego Takes on Perfectionist Procrastination

Have you ever conducted a Google search or any online search for your name? Turn up some interesting people? I discovered quite a number of Dawns doing amazing things and more Dawn Goldsmiths than I ever expected. Every now and then I am reminded of one in particular.

I have set up Google Alerts for my name. It is a good practice to see if anyone is using your work hopefully with byline intact. Also it shows if other sites such as Technorati or search engines are picking up my writings. It also picks up some of the OTHER Dawn Goldsmith's postings to her blog: Change Your Life (A Little Bit at a Time.) She has some good columns.

Today's blog speaks to imperfection and at least beginning or trying whether you are expert, perfect or not. I particularly liked her reminder in step number 2:

"Imperfect action is better than perfect action. You can sit around tinkering with your business plan or novel until its perfect, or refrain from participating in that 10K until you're a better runner, or not bother about pitching to customers until you've got your branding just right. But ultimately, how is being perfect working for you right now? Got any clients? Finished that novel? Don't strive for perfect first time round. Cut yourself some slack. Being creative needs a little nurturing - not nagging."

Seems like I want everything to be 'just right.' It really shows up in my fiction and in my fabric projects. Perfect stops me in my tracks every time. What if I don't create a character acting absolutely correctly according to the 'backstory' I have given them? What if someone who was bonked on the head couldn't react with anger and what if someone in a car accident wouldn't see the world slow down around them? But then again what if I'm right enough? Or what if it is perfect enough for this particular draft of my manuscript?

If I don't persevere past this need for perfection, nothing ever gets done.

Often I listen to other people talk about inviting the neighborhood women into their home for a cookie exchange. Or hosting the family holiday gathering or making handmade gifts for their mothers-in-law.... My house is never clean enough, decorated good enough, nor filled with the furniture that is good enough for guests -- so no one gets invited. Not to mention the chore of making cookies that might not be perfect! And making handmade gifts -- they'd laugh! If they didn't laugh they'd think I was too poor to buy 'real' gifts.... Well, that's my way of doing nothing.

Perhaps if you look at my litany of pathetic excuses (I really should perfect them!) you'll see that your reasoning for not doing things may be just as weak as mine. I hate to keep quoting a tennis shoe commercial, but they are right -- JUST DO IT!

Or, in the words of the OTHER Dawn Goldsmith:  "Just Start. Start working on your goal today. Forget the reasons why you shouldn't, needn't, can't... the longest journey begins with a single step!"

One thing that helps me relax into a project, especially something like sewing or cleaning or painting or laundry is listening to a delightful book on tape. Just having the voices in the background help. But getting lost in the story is so relaxing that I stop obsessing about perfection or not wanting to rip out that seam or whatever whine is bubbling up inside of me. Perhaps music does that for you, too.

Isn't it funny how two unrelated Dawns can think so alike? Although, I think I see a family resemblence.... (Photo: Dawn Goldsmith -- the OTHER)

Sunday, December 6, 2009

Tax Police Uncover an Art Stash and I See a Novel Idea!

"ROME (AP).- Italian tax police said Saturday that they had seized works by Van Gogh, Picasso, Cezanne and other giants of art in a crackdown on assets hidden by the disgraced founder of the collapsed dairy company Parmalat. Parma Prosecutor Gerardo Laguardia said that, based on wiretapped phone conversations, officials believed at least one of the paintings hidden by Calisto Tanzi, founder of the dairy company Parmalat was about to be sold. Authorities estimated the 19 masterpieces stashed away in attics and basements were valued at some euro100 million ($150 million). No arrests, as yet, were announced as part of the art seizure." (Photo and text from Art Knowledge News. Their newsletter is fantastic and the website a sure place you'll want to visit.)

Just when we think we've seen it all. No new treasures, no old treasures to surface, the Italian tax police clear out a dairyman's secret attic room and viola! A stash of Van Gogh, Picasso, Cezanne and other giants of art come to light. Interesting comment about 'no arrests as yet.... '

I just completed writing a review of Tracy Kidder's latest book "Strength in What Remains." It reminded me of a reoccuring topic -- reoccuring for me since the first time I read the word 'Holocaust' and saw the naked skeletons walking or piled like cord wood or staring sightlessly from a mass grave. This 'stash' brings back the Holocaust and makes me wonder if these works of art once belonged to Jewish families who ended up dying in gas chambers or concentration camps? Rochelle Krich wrote Blood Money about this; Lev Raphael won awards for his The German Money concerning this topic.  Leon Uris wrote Exodus and Armageddon and a whole string of best selling novels based upon Jews and the Holocaust. Exodus, I understand, is so strongly fact based that it could stand as nonfiction.

Funny how one thing leads to another. In Kidder's book, a young man Deogratias is happy in a pastoral life in Burundi. His family know hunger, but they have cattle, are respected and liked by others and are better off than many. He accidently hears the terms Tutsi and Hutu. His family will not discuss the words. They became angry and refused to discuss what it means to be Tutsi in a country whose majority is Hutu. They won't mention an uprising, a cleansing that happened before Deo's birth. When the 'next' genocidal civil war erupts in 1994, Deo is unprepared for the carnage, the hatred, the wild mob mentality and then the silence. You will see the entire review at Interent Review of Books with their next posting. But for now, let me say that man's inhumanity to man is alive and well and just as horrific as ever.

But back to the Italian Tax Police. Do we have United States Tax Police? I don't know. I suppose the local sheriff gets to take care of clearing out a person's possessions if they fail to pay taxes. Evict them from their homes. Foreclose -- oh that would be the banker. Where do the people go? What becomes of them? And What becomes of the growing anger and frustration and dispair?

Do you feel the story here? Do you wonder? Are you curious?

Do you think of Susan Vreeland's "Girl in Hyacinth Blue" and the linear stories of the people who owned an 'unknown' Vermeer painting? A novel, yes. And so delightful in these stories complete in a chapter/section, yet linked by the painting.

Is this synchronistic scene or word association considered layers? Even Deo's name conjurs up another popular book and author -- The Da Vinci Code by Dan Brown. Tom Hanks. Catholic Church. Eradications and excommunications and secret societies.

Is this why writers must be readers and scholars and above all curious? If I hadn't read these books, if I hadn't been curious about the art thieves during the Holocaust, if I hadn't thought about history and events not directly associated with a simple reporting of Tax Police finding a stash of paintings, this would be a very short and perhaps even more boring blog than it is! But then again, if I had read more extensively I could add more substance. More background, fact, reason, politics, psychological fallout, more depth.

I think this is the key to good writing. Knowledge and research and maybe most of all curiosity. Seek to connect things that are unrelated. Math and genocide? Is there a connection? Music and war? Cooking and freedom? The writer must see the connections between so many diverse and seemingly unrelated things.

As I write this I hear arguing on the television over the Afghanistan war. More man's inhumanity to man. I imagine this is more proof that this is a story that will not go away. Maybe it is up to writers to find a new perspective, a new way of reporting or seeing or characterizing this theme that engulfs our world -- whether we want to see it or not.

Thursday, December 3, 2009

Elizabeth Berg Writes Like I Write -- In My Dreams

Elizabeth Berg writes books I wish I had written. I've admired her honesty and the sense of depth of emotion and meaning and understanding that I get from reading her novels. Lately I've begun to think of her as my mentor, sister, alter-ego?

For some reason, when I was a page in the library, two women came in and struck up a conversation with me. While I shelved books they moved along with me, whispering and asking about books. I'm always willing to talk about books and of course that leads to writing and I admitted to having published a few items. They asked to see my work and I directed them to this blog.

A couple weeks later they were back in the library. I believe it was the last time I ever saw either woman. But a few days after that a package arrived in the mail and it was from one of the women. A book. What else!? But more than that. It was Elizabeth Berg's "Escaping Into the Open: The Art of Writing True."

The timing didn't seem right. I looked at the book, thanked the women, we emailed a few times and then they disappeared from my life.

A few days ago a dear friend, Lyn, sent me an email about her experience reading Elizabeth Berg's newest book "Home Safe." Lyn wrote:

"I don't know if her writing reminds me of your writing, or your writing reminds me of hers. You both have the knack of writing how I feel."

Those two sentences are all I needed to hold onto, enough to renew hope that 'some day.' Someday I will be able to fill a book that others will want to read.

Now I have resurrected Berg's book on writing. It wasn't hard to find. For some reason it has set atop my bookshelf where I glance at it everytime I enter my office. Perhaps now is the time. I see that Berg advises to have 'purpose -- a reason for writing --, a plan to do more than dream about writing and among other things: perseverance. She writes, "Don't let rejection of any kind stop you from writing. Period."

It is her next two 'P's' that seems to make me stumble: Priorities. "You've got to be insistent and consistent with yourself and others about making time for writing."  And maybe the hardest -- playground. "In your effort to take yourself seriously as a writer, don't forget your need to have fun, too."

There are more P's, more book to read, more words for me to write. And more of Berg's novels for me to read. But for now, I turn Lyn's words over and over, basking in their support and glow. Me and Elizabeth Berg in the same sentence. How cool is that?!

As I write this, I think of Ann Hite and her dance with a publisher. Will they dance the night away or will he turn away?

My money is on a long-term relationship! Stay tuned!

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Looking for the perfect book for a church-going friend? Hopefully one with a sense of humor?

Look no further than Mark Schweizer's liturgical mysteries series. Mark's 'primary' job is to run St. James Music Press. If you need a special anthem for your church -- Mark's got one just for you. And since the printing press is setting around, he publishes his own books.

Yes, he 'self-publishes' but then again he IS a publisher!

Anyway, back to the books. The titles alone tell you what kind of unbalanced half-wit, I mean funny man, the author is. First of the series: The Alto Wore Tweed, followed by The Baritone Wore Chiffon. Third in the series: The Tenor Wore Tap Shoes. Oh and one of my favorites: The Soprano Wore Falsettos. The Bass Wore Scales and The Mezzo Wore Mink rounds out the series.

The series features choir director (and the small town's lawman) Hayden Konig. He's a Raymond Chandler wannabe and part of the fun of the series is the main character's attempts to write a mystery. In addition to that the first book has the most hilarious set up for a death that I have ever ever ever read.

Maybe it is my perverse sense of humor but what kind of mind puts together blow-up sex dolls, a guy in a sheet, and a woman leaping from the sun roof of a speeding car -- and Christian beliefs? I don't know that I've ever laughed that hard at any book, let alone a mystery.

Yet beneath all of the hype and hilarity are characters (well, some of them) with a good heart, alot of truth about small town life, and a decently told mystery to unravel. Even some insight into the female gender. "The sniffling stopped almost immediately and I, once again, had to admire the female gender's ability to regulate the flow of tears in direct proportion to their chances of receiving a traffic summons."

What I like though, is the way the scene does not stop there, nor does the set-up. Suddenly the hapless female with the lead foot turns and asks, "Are you Hayden?" She sniffed, wiping the remaining tear from her cheek and catching me totally by surprise. "My mother said I should meet you."

And this is how he met his soon to be significant other. He's definitely met his match -- another perk of this series -- strong women. But be warned religion, the church, the practices and the idiosyncrasies of  all get called out for a bit of humor. Well deserved ribbing.

The praise for this book page is not to be missed -- and that's before you even begin the story. One example:  "...Wonderful use of quotation marks. Although he [Schweizer] uses words the way a demented dentist might use a dull and rusty drill, his punctuation is extraordinary! -- Sandy Cavanah, English Professor"

The humor is refreshing and it pokes fun at the book publishing biz as much as at religion and anything else that enters the mind of Mark Schweizer.

Monday, November 30, 2009

Visual Motivation to Write

Just a little visual aid to motivate you to put butt in chair and write that book or novel that you've been 'meaning to' write. This is a photo of Linda Swink, author of In Their Honor at her publisher's office during her first book signing.

I've known Linda for years and she's struggled just like the rest of us. But, when she finally settled down in her chair, turned on her Mac and got down to work -- she created a book that will greatly add to the military history of the United States. No small deal, but she did it one word, one day, one rewrite at a time. She might have had a bit more hair before starting this project. I received several emails from her saying "I'm pulling my hair out!" And a few others that said, "Why did I ever start this?" And here she sits in her classic camel tan suit signing her name to copies that people are buying and taking home and THANKING her for writing the book.

I know they say that writing a book is like childbirth, but in this respect I will say that the memory of the pain of the creation process fades quickly once you hold that new baby/book in your hands. I believe she'd do it all over again. But right now, she's devoted herself to the marketing aspects of the process.

This photo brings back memories of going to a reading by my dear friend Peggy Vincent in Iowa City and celebrating afterwards. Her book Baby Catcher: Chronicles of a Modern Midwife still gives me goosebumps. The euphoria!

And a few years later Gary Presley read from his Seven Wheelchairs at the same podium at Prairie Lights Bookstore in Iowa City. I could close my eyes and see the room, feel the enthusiasm even if I was a thousand miles away.

It does happen.

It does happen to people we know and respect.

And -- it can happen to us.

A new year is fast approaching -- it is the year for us to finish our projects and get them out there.

Forget all you hear about the doomed publishing industry. That has nothing to do with your book. Your job is to write whatever it is you are compelled to write. The book only YOU can write.

Write it and they will come.

Sunday, November 29, 2009

Publish Your Own Book

I have been very narrow in my focus about self-publishing. Vanity press. But I see so many opportunities right now that involve self-publishing. Especially if you have more than words to offer. Photographs, drawings, recipes, ephemera. Pictured here is the cover of a book, Wild at the Edges, that Virginia Spiegel put together with the help of Blurb Books software.

She is selling the book at a reasonable amount and 25 percent of the income will go to the American Cancer Society. A beautiful book in concept and execution. And it is self-published.

Blurb Books and I think Lulu also offers an easy and not so expensive way to craft a book. I don't advocate these books in place of selling your work with a respected publisher, but I do think making your own books can give you another tool to accomplish what you have set out to do.

1. A book to use/sell when you perform readings or lectures or inspirational talks. Linda Swink published a handbook with a small publisher to promote when she went on her speaking tour of Toastmasters. The book was about speaking!
2. A book to compile your work as in my case, personal essays.

3. A book to record family history or photos or ephemera that you don't want forgotten by your children, grandchildren. A way to document a life that may not gather the attention of New York publishers. Mona Vaneck has made books for her family. She has also compiled and written historic one-of-a-kind books that were not self-published. So there are small publishing houses and sponsors for books that may not have a wide appeal.

4. A message you feel passionate about. Recently I reviewed a self-published book by a man who thought 'character' should be put back into the business world. Beautiful book, by the way.

5. Motivation for you to look at. Something tangible and compact that reminds you where you've been and where you're going. Perhaps a more formal type of journal. If you're like I am, I have papers spread everywhere. Clippings from my years in the newspaper business. I'd love to compile some of that in a book or a series of books. My kids might actually save those and not throw them in the trash when they are forced to clean out all of the things I fail to get rid of.

6. A tool to offer to publishers or anyone interested in seeing what you can do. Something to thrust under the nose of a fellow writer or neighbor or mother-in-law who thinks you write for a hobby.

7. A fundraiser. Sell books with a percentage going to ALS or Cancer, such as Karna Converse has done and to document a life that should not be forgotten.

Do I think these will be a strong foundation for a writing business? Probably not.

But if you are compelled to write and want to see your work in book form, this may be just what a person needs to take them to the next level. If nothing else it is a learning tool and gets a writer into marketing which has become an important part of the book selling equation.

A blog is a form of open book where you can post your writings, add some illustrations, and offer it to the world. The problem with a blog can be that it will then be considered 'published' by any editor seeking to purchase your work.

If you have a body of work that you want to display -- there's no reason you should keep it in a drawer, not with the software technology and low cost book makers available today. Will it hurt your chances of getting with a big publisher? No. If you are the quality of writer they want, nothing will stop them.

But most important. Write what you want to write; what you're compelled to write. And then work on making it better!

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Memoir Writing: Part of the Collective Human Consciousness

A discussion has been going on about whose stories we should be allowed to tell. Is it right, fair, just, or despicable for someone to write a 'memoir' and write about other people who have no chance to speak up for themselves or have imput into what you write? Then the discussion, as most online discussions do, devolved into bashing memoirs.

What are we put on this earth for if not to learn something from the lives we live and share that information with others. Or at the very least, delve into the events of that life and find the truth hidden deep inside. I write personal essays -- a form of memoir in essay form. And being the kind of person who pays very little attention to myself, I've written the essays about my husband. After all, who have I observed any closer for the past 38 years than him? I have a whole series of 'real men' essays about him. Not bashing him, but starting with an anecdote and going from there. Like the time he left a tip at a small seafood restaurant in Central Florida and the waitress came running out after him. She stopped, hesitated, asked if he meant to leave that tip and when he nodded she thanked him.

I believe the moment frightened him. I know it did me because he's by necessity a very frugal man. Very. Our son was with us and just stared open mouthed. But the anecdote wasn't truly about a large tip, it was about a man who stepped out of his economic constraints and rewarded someone who worked hard to make our meal a pleasure. It was about being frugal in a generous way and making his family proud to know him. And it was an opportunity for a son to see his father with new eyes. Each essay may have started with a story about my husband, but it truly said more about me. My focus of my husband had narrowed and I had forgotten what a generous man he truly was.

So, when I finally had had enough of memoir bashing from this online discussion. This is what I wrote:
Memoir offers something that biography can't. If it didn't, then people wouldn't be compelled to write them. Or read them!

My brother and I grew up in the same house seven years apart. Obviously he a male, me female. We have the same parents and yet my brother and I are worlds apart in attitude and perception and just about everything else. So of course he will not see our childhood or parents or home the same way I do. And no one can see it the same way I do. It is MY STORY. Only I can tell it. Is it 'true' or 'factual'? I don't substitute things for effect. I don't exchange a cock fight when it was actually alley cats. But I do write it through my own eyes. Do I glamorize it? No. Is the focus narrow? Yes. Do I set it in the era drawing on what was going on in the world at that time -- yes. A personal essay and memoir too, work through things. The author begins at one point and is changed by the time he or she reaches the end. And the audience, if the piece is done well, get to see the change.

Do I censor it for fear of hurting someone's feelings? Sadly. Yes. But I do not advocate censoring 'self.'

We shouldn't worry about feelings especially someone else's when writing. It should all go on the page. Find the heart of your essay or memoir and then craft the story around that. But first you must be free to put it all down on paper. Ideally I write about my life. But most of the best essays I have written have actually centered on my husband. But it is me, looking at him and reaching conclusions. The conclusions are not about him though, they are about me and my perspective. Most of the times discovering things I never realized.

The best part about writing memoir is the treasure you uncover in the writing. I didn't know that the knitted potholder was about gender roles or that Snow Angels was about dying with dignity or that the scar on my thumb and washing dishes was about sisterhood and exchanging roles -- growing into my mother's hands. Yet, I think these kinds of stories about small things from one small insignificant perspective are vital in what makes us human.

Makes us connect. Makes us realize we aren't alone with these experiences and issues. A memoir starts discussions. Every time someone reads my personal essays there is a comment, "That reminds me of the time...."

Sometimes, often, the impact is so solid that it causes tears or laughing out loud or a phone call to someone they love but also hate. I'm not saying that my writing is all that good. I'm saying that things written from the heart touch other hearts.

And this whole argument about 'the good old days' were not so good. Well, it depends on what role you were playing during those good old days. Being a child with a sense of security, ignorance about economic class or hardships certainly is a different perspective than the father working in a steel mill and facing layoffs. A reader of memoir should be smart enough (it doesn't take much) to realize where the author/narrator is standing when looking out on this vista. And what is wrong with describing a perfect moment? For heaven sakes people these are memoirs and they are about memory and feeling and personal truth and growth and pain and society and relationships and perspective. No one else can ever write MY memoir.

What happens with memoir is when my memories and the readers touch and they can say, "Yes, yes, I get it. That's what it was. She put my pain into words...."

I'm involved with fabric artists through my blog Subversive Stitchers: Women Armed with Needles. They call themselves 'artists' which is a great word for freeing up self censorship. Perhaps we need to adopt that moniker and see what happens to our writings. Do we write for utilitarian reasons or for art? It is the same in fabric art. Are you making a beautiful quilt for the bed or to hang on the wall? Are you carefully following the rules with perfectly abutted corners and straight seams and precise quarter inch seams or are you working on transforming cloth into a butterfly or a face or a kaleidoscope? What is memoir but a use of words to take a life and find the meaning and significance and lessons learned to share with others....

Google memoir and see what you find. I found this site interesting in Columbia University News.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Find Yourself in Play

I'm being interviewed for a guest blog thingy and it has made me realize that I haven't lived my life for 'me' in a very long time. And I don't have a body of work to show that I'm creative or successful.

If anyone asks me my favorite color, favorite food, favorite movie -- I don't know. Now, ask me my husband's or my sons' or even my mother's favorites and I'd have a better chance to answer. I don't even know my favorite song -- Derrol's is anything Beatles and One Tin Soldier. And he knows the words to every song and he knows who wrote every song. Me? Not a clue.

The one thing I have maintained through the years is my own identity in books. I KNOW my favorite books and authors. I even know why! I even have a favorite poem. All of this to say that I'm getting old and don't know who I am. And we think teenagers are mixed up!

The good thing about reaching this age is that I can give up all pretense of being what everyone else wants. I can just be me -- as soon as I figure out who she is.

I thought I was a painter. I'm still looking for my creative outlet. Words are failing me these days. So I picked up a brush. A picture is worth a thousand words. Well, not this one. Unless they are explitives. Yet, I learned quite a bit while making this picture.

First of all, I used Latex satin wall paint as the background color. Then I brushed a layer of some metallic textile paint that I had leftover from my Playing with Paint class with Lyric Kinard. And then I used a Jacobean quilt design from Patricia B. Campbell and Mimi Ayars book "Jacobean Rhapsodies" as my design. I don't draw. I have difficulty tracing. But it came out okay.

Then I gathered up the acrylics that we had purchased way back when Derrol and I thought he could make painted wooden Christmas ornaments. I had red, green, blue, yellow, black, white, brown and a couple of glittering thingies. I started mixing colors and trying to achieve some of the 'fabric' look of the photo in the quilt book. Thanks to Lyric, I didn't hesitate after I thought, "I wonder...." I just started mixing. Did you know you can get a beautiful rose color by mixing brown and bright red? I also learned how to make Army green -- or the color of mud. Not my best experiment, but it did work as a base color for a leaf on which I over painted a few stripes and speckles. Acrylics dry really really fast so it is difficult to swirl colors into them like the textile paints.

I'm pleased with some of the things I tried on this painting. It turned out as I had hoped. Overall -- it looks like a paint by number gone badly wrong. Childish? Maybe Folk Artsy -- definitely. Not the look I was going for. Too bright. Too gawdy. And now I'm wondering why I have loved Jacobean prints and quilts for all of these years. It may have something to do with the black backgrounds traditionally used.

All of this to say -- I still think I might be a painter. But most of all I think I'm learning how to let go, experiment, and take away something from what I've done rather than beat myself up because it isn't working. OK, there was about six hours of that, too.

Another thing about any kind of art -- painted or fabric or painted fabric -- it is inspiring. And it makes words form in my brain. And for someone my age capturing the right word when you want it has gotten a bit trickier. So in all honesty, I present you with yesterday's work in order to inspire you to play! And, I've included Renoir to show how well his play time turned out!

Maybe I'll repaint this in a monotone -- navy blue? Well, off to experiment. The nice thing about paint -- just add another layer. Hey, that's good advice for a novel, too!

Friday, November 13, 2009

Blurb Books May be the Answer to Gift Giving Concerns

Instant gratification. Instant gifts.

Well, I'm not sure the time frame from start to finish, but I've heard from two fabric artist friends who have made the most beautiful books using Blurb free book software with the option of using their professional staff. Pictured here is a cover of a new release.

They can do it themselves as fancy or simple as they want. Photos seem to be the mainstay with fewer words.

One artist, Virginia Spiegel, included essays as well as photos and artist statements and whatever she felt like. It is her second book with Blurb and she's totally satisfied. Here's what she recently wrote in her newsletter:

"Wild on the Edges: Inspiration from a Creative Life by Virginia Spiegel. This book evolved by keeping in mind the kind of book I like to take to bed with me (maybe with a glass of wine or a mug of hot chocolate) and peruse as the spirit moves me.You will find encouragement for art and living, a sense of wonder, a little advice, closeup photos of art and nature and, last, but not least, a very personal view of the driving forces behind my creative life.Wild on the Edges will be available soon from Blurb books."

Virginia has taken more than a dozen trips into the wilderness with her sister and has kept journals and created an exquisite series of fabric art pieces based upon her experiences. This is not her first book with Blurb, she's made several for family and friends. But this is the first she's offering for sale.

Judy Coates Perez just blogged about making her first book and what I can see of it, it is quite tastefully done. I adore Judy's fabric art and was so pleased to see her win an award for her Moon Garden at Houston in October, 2009. Who says fabric art and books and words don't fit together like a hand and glove?

I look at Judy's fabric art and can see the world she has created and it is a place I'd enjoying visiting for an extended stay!

I wonder if this might not be a fascinating way to get an agent's or a publisher's attention. Make your own book and then present it to them to see if they'd like to feature your work? I don't suppose it would work for multiple submissions, but perhaps just one agent you want to love you -- maybe it would work. But it would definitely need to be really WELL DONE!

No failure, just results -- unless you don't try

There is no such thing as failure. There are only results. --Tony Robbins (Robbins in photo)

Well, there you have what I've been trying to say for several weeks now. This is what I learned in my Play with Paint class taught by Lyric Kinard. No failure, just results. Yep, that's the way it is.

Bums me out that Tony Robbins is the one who said what I wanted to say, but at least it is now said! 

No failure, just results. Unless you don't try.

Then there aren't even results. Then there is just the feeling that you could have, or should have or might have, but you'll never know. And for some that's much better than success. Live with a fantasy of what could have been may be better than discovering that it was in fact just a fantasy and it could never happen.

But then aren't you just a bit curious? Could your tinkering with words make you the next J.K.Rowling? Or even the next Lewis Grizzard or Dave Barry or Elizabeth Berg? Don't you have something to say that is eating at you and you just wish it was okay to write it?

Aren't you even the least bit curious about what happens when you chain up your censor and just write what feels good? I've often wondered if there are more Sue Monk Kidds out there who have limited themselves to good acceptable restrained, did I say 'censored' Christian writing. And like Sue Monk Kidd they break loose, embraced the Goddess and write their own Secret Life of Bees or Mermaid's Chair before slipping back behind the curtain of respectability and pious Christianity to once again pen how to be the perfect wife....

How many more lives did she touch with her Bees and Mermaids than with her When the Heart Waits: Spiritual Direction for Life's Sacred Questions -- I wonder?Writing for the saved and writing for the unsaved masses.... Which fulfills the Christian calling? But who am I to have such thoughts?

Certainly I am no Tony Robbins. Certainly not Sue Monk Kidd. So who am I and where do I belong in this world. I can enjoy my fantasy at night when the lights are out and I close my eyes and envision this successful, revered writer. Is that enough? Or do I need to see if that is in fact the life I should be leading?

How does one get from the here to the wow!?

One word at a time.

Friday, November 6, 2009

Flash-Fiction Addiction

Glen Binger, editor of 50 to 1, has a few words to offer about flash fiction and words of encouragement to all writers. Please welcome Glen to Observations. -- Dawn

The first time I referred to myself as a writer in conversation I shocked myself. I was probably a freshmen in college and still learning the ins and outs of how to gather an audience of some sort; whether it be my friends or people I didn't know. Then I discovered blogging. It seemed long-winded, but so did everything else. Blogging turned into Twitter. And thus, flash-fiction/nano-fiction/micro-fiction/whatever-you-want-to-call-it was born and evolved and grew tremendously in popularity. But now people's attention spams are limited. How does this affect the way writers write?

As the editor of 50 to 1, I try to keep this idea in mind. I know people want to read something short and still want to feel like they've accomplished something by doing so. It is the same for writing these micro pieces. It is definitely something that every writer should keep tucked away in the back of their brain.

I don't necessarily agree with the realm of flash-fiction storming literature the way it is, but I do see why it is gaining numbers. Don't get me wrong; I love reading a strong piece of flash-fiction. If you write something that short that is so strongly developed, then you have done a lot. That's what I look for as an editor. It is hard to write a 50-word story and still have it do something. When it works, its awesome. When it doesn't, its just a couple of words blotched together.

I just don't like to see the other forms of literature go unnoticed because of this. I want people to keep writing novels, poetry collections, short stories, etc. I want to keep reading them. As should everyone calling themselves a writer.

I guess what I'm getting at; don't let a good story or poem go unread because it is too long. And, in that same idea, don't shorten the length of your work because you want it to be published somewhere. Don't change your style to gain an audience; that's no fun. Most writers know they are readers first, writers second. So most writers understand the differences people have in style. Yes, there are writers who dedicate most of their work to flash fiction. And, vise versa, there are writers who dedicate their work to novels and lengthier fiction. But they understand the importance of the opposite category. Most writers I know dabble in just about any area they can; even though they'd like to call themselves a strict flash-fiction-ite or a strict novelist.

Maybe I'm not making any sense at all. I don't know. I'm certainly no expert on the area and I probably sound like an idiot. But hey, what the hell. I like all kinds of literature and, basically, I think that is what should be important to any writer. Just be open to anything and stay true to yourself. Have your favorites, write whatever you want, and read everything. Your audience will come to you and continue to grow if you just keep at it.

Glen can be contacted at:

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

What if you cannot fail?

Ahhhh the possibilities.

What would you do today if you knew you could not fail?

What a fun question. And where does it lead you? What do I avoid for fear of failing? What do I put off doing because I might not do it well? What is the one thing I most want to succeed at?

But if you couldn't fail -- would you fly? Would you step outside of who you are today and become that other person that seems to come to life only in your dreams?

Would you approach someone who intimidates you or someone you consider a legend or celebrity or out of your league? Would you search for a soulmate or search for an answer to an ancient secret? Maybe a cure for a rare disease. Or maybe you'll write that creative piece of writing that your censor keeps warning you away from,

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Conversations in Design Prove Inspiring

Writers keep lamenting and worrying and choosing up sides of the changes being seen in the book itself and the industry surrounding books and publishing. Here's a short video that quietly encourages writers and readers that the book is not disappearing nor going anywhere. It is not a sin to abandon paper and ink and the new Kindle is not a book, but it is about communication and networking.

The site Thirty Conversations on Design that houses the video by Ellen Lupton has taken on an interesting project. Described here in their own words:

We’ve collected the thoughts of 30 of the world’s most inspired creative professionals. Architects, designers, authors and leaders of iconic brands.

We asked them two questions: “What single example of design inspires you most?” and “What problem should design solve next?” Their answers might surprise you. But hopefully, they’ll all inspire you. Discover what they have to say. Then share your thoughts. After all, this is a conversation.
 I particularly enjoyed the video by Linda Tischler about New York's Central Park and its designer. Perhaps their words will also inspire you or comfort you or reach out to see things in a new and different way.

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

The best writing class I ever took had nothing to do with writing.

I signed up for a fabric painting class: Playing with Paint taught by Lyric Kinard. It taught me about textile paints, Shiva sticks, wet painting, dry painting, monopainting and stamping to name just a few of the exercises. But along the way, I learned to look at just about everything differently.

The cheese grater in the kitchen became a great vehicle for rubbings. Lay a piece of fabric over the grater, hold it in place and rub a Shiva stick over it and the pattern that appeared added texture and interest to the fabric. Same with bubble wrap, a piece of wood, buttons.... Lemons became stamps. Cut one in half, dry it a bit on a paper towel, apply a little paint and stamp it onto the fabric. Same with just about any fruit or vegetable -- who knew they were so interesting, let alone tasty. No, don't eat them after applying the paint.

Whatever we made in that class was a success even when it didn't turn out perfectly -- and that was most of the time for me. Each effort produced an effect that I could document and say, "this turned out well because ..." or "next time I'll dry the lemon a bit better and the results will be more clear." Then we would save the fabric to a book we were compiling of what works and what could work better. No failures. Some we liked better than others. Some we would try to replicate. But throughout the whole class no one felt like a failure. We all had a good time, laughed alot and got to know each other.

So, you're saying, what has that got to do with writing?

During Playing with Paint I realized how long it has been since I ventured to color outside of the lines. Too long I've looked at the same things in the same way. A cheese grater grates cheese. A lemon makes lemonade. But after the class the whole world became filled with possibilities. I saw stamps wherever I looked. I combined unlikely textures and colors and came up with something that looked different from what everyone else was making. As I looked at the world differently, I wrote about it using a different approach, a different perspective, a more playful 'what if' attitude. And I'm having fun.

I'm not failing at anything these days. I'm learning what I like better and how to achieve it by experimenting and discovering what I don't like quite so well and how to avoid it. Most of all I learned that adults must find their way back to play. As Thoreau said, "Any fool can make a rule; and any fool will mind it."

Sometimes 'telling' works better than 'showing.' Sometimes passive fits the need of the passage. If it works, it works. If it doesn't you know what you did, how you did it, and how not to do it again. You've made an example to put in your 'sample' book. You can refer to it, see the various examples and say, "no, definitely not that one.... Or yeah, I think I'll write like that today. That worked so well.

But whatever you do -- make time for play. There is no faster way to learn something than to play with it. Maybe its time you started hanging out with artists -- fabric artists definitely see the world in a different light. If you can't find an artist, kids can teach you alot.

The photo accompanying this is by Lyric Kinard and has much to say about inspiration, experimenting, and making something beautiful that is your unique offering to the world. Now, that's the way I want my writing described.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009


Are you joining the mob of writers participating in National Novel Writing Month? I am.

Anything that will encourage me to write, offer me a fixed and immovable deadline and I'm there. I seem to be helpless to move my writing forward alone. I'll be there as wordsogold -- if you want to sign up as my buddy. I need all of the support I can get!

This will be my third year. I finished last year, but it was a chaotic mess. This year, maybe I can get it in order and have an actual manuscript at the end of the month.

What is NANOWRIMO? The website describes themselves as "National Novel Writing Month is a fun, seat-of-your-pants approach to novel writing. Participants begin writing November 1. The goal is to write a 175-page (50,000-word) novel by midnight, November 30."

The only thing that matters is 'output.' Not quality just quantity. It helps free up that self censor and focus on getting that rough draft written.

So, as they have posted on their site, to recap:

So, to recap:

What: Writing one 50,000-word novel from scratch in a month's time.

Who: You! We can't do this unless we have some other people trying it as well. Let's write laughably awful yet lengthy prose together.

Why: The reasons are endless! To actively participate in one of our era's most enchanting art forms! To write without having to obsess over quality. To be able to make obscure references to passages from our novels at parties. To be able to mock real novelists who dawdle on and on, taking far longer than 30 days to produce their work.

When: You can sign up anytime to add your name to the roster and browse the forums. Writing begins November 1. To be added to the official list of winners, you must reach the 50,000-word mark by November 30 at midnight. Once your novel has been verified by our web-based team of robotic word counters, the partying begins.

Still confused? Just visit the How NaNoWriMo Works page!

Sunday, October 25, 2009

The War of Art by Steven Pressfield

Internet Review of Books is putting together a Christmas gift list for readers and their request for suggestions set me to thinking about what books I would like to receive as well as give. And then I thought, "What books do I wish my loved ones would read."
I want my sons to read The War of Art by Steven Pressfield.

Both sons have the hearts of artists and all of the frustrations and economic stresses that accompany such a leaning. I know what they feel, to some extent because they inherited this 'heart' from me. Where I got it we have no idea.

Most of my family are hard working people who can do the same job endlessly for decades. If I last four years at any one task (other than marriage and children) it is by a miracle. Traditional employment with bosses upon bosses treating me like a piece of the furniture and never wondering who I am or what I'm capable of wears me out -- heart and soul and sinew.

It is the time when I'm caught in a nine-to-five job when my mind dwells obsessively on the 'what ifs' and the unlived life that Pressfield depicts so well. "Late at night have you experienced a vision of the person you might become, the work you could accomplish, the realized being you were meant to be?"

He insists that the one thing that stands between the wannabe writer and the real writer is one thing: Resistance.

He writes: "Have you ever brought home a treadmill and let it gather dust int he attic? Ever quit a diet, a course of yoga, a meditation practice? ....Then you know what Resistance is."

And he speaks of various kinds of resistance, how to feed it and what it likes. There's a reason the Bible has the passage: "Fear is of the devil." Fear stops more people in their tracks than anything. Resistance feeds on fear, according to Pressfield. And explains the fear is of consequences that come from following one's heart.

"Fear of bankruptcy, fear of poverty, fear of insolvency.

Fear of groveling when we try to make it on our own, and of groveling when we give up and come crawling back to where we started.

Fear of being selfish, of being rotten wives or disloyal husands; fear of failing to support our families, of sacrificing their dreams for ours.

Fear of betraying our race, our 'hood, our homies.

Fear of failure.

Fear of being ridiculous.

Fear of throwing away the education, the training, the preparation that those we love have sacrificed so much for, that we ourselves have worked our butts off for...."


Fear that we will succeed. And with this success we will move out of the comfortable niche, cut the ties and connections that make us a member of the 'tribe' or family where we know what to expect, who to trust, and how to survive and who will help us in that survival. All will be new and strange and foreign in this world of success.

So for a writer. It isn't the writing that is so hard, it is overcoming the resistance and the fear so that we can sit down and actually write.

Yes, definitely, this is a book I want my sons to read. But yet, part of me fears that if they read, if they go after their dreams -- I will lose them. But the artist in me knows that a new connection will grow and maybe if they succeed, there's still hope that I can find the life unlived and still give it a try.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Free Download of Audio Recording of Edgar Allan Poe's Writings

This year marks the 200th anniversary of the birth of Edgar Allan Poe, whose stories are perennial classics on audio.

From old-time radio drama performances by actors such as Peter Lorre and Boris Karloff to modern-day unabridged recordings, Poe's chilling stories have engrossed and entertained generations of listeners. This Halloween, turn down the lights, turn up the volume on your iPod, and celebrate Poe's audio legacy.

Narrator William Roberts finds Edgar Allan Poe's work is "even more deliciously frightening" as an audio experience than in print. Listen to William Roberts read from THE FACTS IN THE CASE OF M. VALDEMAR, which he calls "a lovely story—and it still gives everyone the creeps." It has to do with hypnotism and dying.

Plus a free download of a collection of Edgar Allan Poe's stories available from AudioFile.

Sunday, October 18, 2009

House Cleaning Uncovers Inspiration

Welcome to Mal, my shadow kitty who takes pleasure in being hidden in plain sight. She's sitting in  my Craft (Crap) room. It is a room bursting at the seams, filled to the gills, whatever cliche about stuffed full of junk fits. I need to purge and organize. Mal likes it just the way it is. Everything is hidden in plain sight in this room!

This past week I tiptoed into the chaos. Books filled and overflowed the book cases. Boxes sat where I had dropped them in my rush to tidy up the 'public' areas of the house. And dust sparkled on every surface. Obviously my 'crap' room was a place I avoid.

With a deep sigh and resignation, I picked a couple of teetering piles of papers. Thinking that I would get rid of those piles and feel vindicated. Then I could tiptoe back out of the chaos into the relative cleanliness of the rest of the house.

I leafed through some notes that I had jotted on a sliver of paper. They made no sense. I tossed them. I sorted a few magazines out of the stack. A couple of still usable notebooks. The directions for a knitted baby blanket that I'd been searching for. And then, I discovered some old OLD writings. Some fiction ideas.

I leaned back in my chair and started reading. The story line brought back memories of my own life on which I had based the writings, but more than that.... I realized that this was good. Not even quite a rough draft. It was the nugget and details of a fiction novel that had some teeth and depth and details.

I set aside those 'notes' and finished going through the pile, finding several other beginnings of novels that stood the test of time. My mind was spinning with possibilities.

All it takes is an attempt to make sense out of chaos and suddenly the world is filled with possibilities and stories to tell.

My crap room now looks more like a treasure chest where I will go to find more gems. There's an upside to saving things....

Saturday, October 17, 2009

Short Stories Pack a Punch!

Do you read short story fiction? It seems to break all of the rules that apply to novels and nonfiction. Alot of telling. Not much action. Dark, dark, themes and topics. Little action or plot. Quirky, strange, over-the-top characters. And so stunningly intense that they stick in my mind seemingly forever.

Think of "A Good Man is Hard to Find" by Flannery O'Connor.

Who do you remember? Or maybe who can you forget? I suppose the main characters would be the Mother-in-Law and the Outlaw. Perhaps this story jumped into my mind as an example of 'memorable' because of the short story I just finished reading at Subtropics, a literary magazine offered by the University of Florida. It reminds me of Flannery O'Connor's style. 

"Give Me That" by Molly Giles is as much a character sketch as anything, yet there is plot and action and a surprise twist, yet all of it works because every action and reaction seems so in line with the characters and events described. I like the easy, informal tone of this story. The first line also ties in with the last line. But with so much MORE depth and meaning than I would have ever thought possible from simply reading the opening line: "Bess didn’t go to Chloe’s memorial just for the cake. She had loved Chloe, well, maybe not loved, Chloe was difficult to love, but Bess had admired her."

The short story is available to read at the Subtropics website.

What else do you remember and was it something you read for fun or because it was assigned? The Lottery by Shirley Jackson perhaps? What newer, non-assignment short story would you recommend as an excellent example of the genre? Or is short story a genre? Have you studied these short stories to understand what worked? What sucked you in? What repelled you, but kept you reading at the same time?

Short stories are short. But they pack an even bigger punch than a 100,000 word novel. How do they do that? We should know -- afterall, we're writers!

Have you noticed that women seem to be able to hold their own in the short story fiction arena?

Friday, October 16, 2009

Depend on your own judgment

Our dependency makes slaves out of us, especially if
this dependency is a dependency of our self-esteem.
If you need encouragement, praise, pats on the back
from everybody, then you make everybody your judge.
-- Fritz Perls

I'm a sucker for a good quote. I rarely remember them, but when I read them I have this 'ah-ha' moment. It is the chicken-brain syndrome. Each quote is like a seed and each one seems new and profound and I peck dilligently at it until I spy the next one and rush to it as if it were something new and delicious.

Although I don't remember quotes, they often act as catalysts to move me toward something better. Some days it doesn't pay to get out of bed. The universe conspires against us. Rejection comes from every direction. I feel invisible, nobody notices. Nobody cares. Days like these happen far too often, but I take heart in them because there is a balance in the universe as well as conspiracy. And just as awful as some days are -- others come along to balance it out. Instead of quotes, I've squirreled away a few memories of those exceptional days to keep me going. Much to my surprise many of them involve writing.

My first sale: I have this mind's snapshot of me dancing on the bed with my sleepy husband (who worked the night shift) gaping at me as I waved my first ever pay check for writing.

My first writing job: Another snapshot. This time of a paper flying out of the selectric typewriter and floating out into the newsroom after my timed writing test. It was the first time I had used a typewriter in several years. I forgot about the paper. I particularly liked the woman's face who was giving the typing test as she snatched up the page full of typing. I got the job. In a newsroom.

My first above the fold story
My first feature
My first AP award
My first $1.50 a word sale
My first anthology publication
My first acknowledgment in someone else's book
My first book review published on the back of someone else's book

And then there are the days when the words come together and no one sees or shares that moment. But I know. I KNOW how life affirming those moments are when you struggle to arrange the words, say in words what is swirling around inside of you. Find a way to communicate so others get it, really get it!

Writing has its perks -- not just in dollars and cents. But there is something especially rewarding to know that you've written something that someone else wants to purchase and share with their esteemed readers. Now, that's a good day. One to tuck into your memory bank to balance out that rejection letter coming your way.

If you're writing and sending out your work, there are bound to be rejections. Thank goodness for the balance in our universe!

But notice the photo accompanying these words -- a teeter totter requires two people or at least more than one. Writing may seem like a solitary business, but like the poet says, "No man is an island...." We need to be part of a community that will share our highs and lows and help us find our balance. A community that will make us think and grow. Laugh and groan. Share and mentor.