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.