Saturday, December 31, 2005

Keeping track, having fun

A writer who read my Writer's Digest article wrote to me with questions. I thought some of you might benefit, as well, from the answers.

How do you keep track of all the notes and pieces of paper and such? she asked.

Keeping track...well, I used to just have a box I threw everything in, all the notes and pieces of paper and cocktail napkins. Then I started carrying notebooks with me wherever I went—the Moleskines I so lovingly discuss and a reporter’s notebook—and now I make notes in them, instead of on shards of paper. That helps. I have filing systems I never refer to, that I really should purge (it being the new year, and all).

I'm paid to write, but it doesn't often feel like fun. How do you keep it fun?

Fun. Freewriting makes it fun for me, and if I have a bit of that in my life, then I’m okay. And writing fiction makes it fun. Something to look forward to. I love writing in my Moleskines (they cast a spell, I swear) and if I can mix up fun with work, I’m okay. I, too, labor over deadlines. I have two deadlines right now for articles for PAGES magazine. Freewriting in my Moleskines keeps the spark alive. In the past, when my interest has flagged, inspirational writing books helped get that spark going again.

How do you know when you have an idea that will sustain you for 200 pages and keep the reader turning the page?

As for ideas that keep nipping at your heels and how to make them long, well, some ideas are teensy and some aren’t. For me, I ponder: Will I be interested in this topic years from now? Since that’s how long it can take to write a book. There are some projects I began as book proposals that I thought I would stay with, and then didn’t. Others—like my book, PEN ON FIRE—kept me long after I thought they would. I've written novels that I later abandoned because I just wasn't interested enough in to revise and do what it takes to sell them. If you’re fascinated with your idea, that’s the main thing, and the main way to keep readers turning the page. The author Chris Bohjalian said when he's involved in a book project, he will abandon it even at page 150 if he's bored with it, because if he’s bored, his readers will be bored.

Platform: when do you know if your platform is big enough?

Good question! I can say that a regional platform can be appealing, and if you’re writing a book that connects to your regional platform, it may be enough. Yet, if your platform is, say, cooking, and you’re doing a book on connecting with adoptive parents, I would think your platform will mean little. If you know an agent, I’d ask her/him. If you don’t know any, I’d find a conference (of which there are a ton—the ASJA conference is in April in NYC—www.asja.org--and is great at making contacts with editors and agents. Take a meeting and ask them. They are great at being blunt and will tell you how it is.

....
Now, visuals help writing,help break up long blocks of text, yes? So here is what I saw one day high on the wall adjacent to where I work. The sun through the window created such gorgeous shadows.


Have a great New Year, full of creative energy, great ideas and lots of stamina to keep your butt in the chair!

Monday, December 26, 2005

Poetry

I'm writing my poetry lecture for my Gotham online class and came across this page on Pulitzer prize winning poet Gwendolyn Brooks. I admire Brooks so much.

Thursday, December 22, 2005

Pet peeves

Does anyone else have pet peeves and hate to discuss them? Right now I've got two, and I've just got to discuss them because They Are Everywhere.

The first is cell phones in cars. Now, okay, driving down the freeway or on a street not absolutely clogged with cars and people, and you're bored, and you gotta talk to someone, so you make a call. I try to avoid it, personally. If I'm alone, I'd rather listen to a book on tape or CD (right now I'm listening to The Namesake by Jhumpa Lahiri) than hang on the phone in the car. If my son is in the car, or my husband, hanging on the phone is just plain rude and I wouldn't do it.

But on the skinny streets of my town, when I see women and men in Mercedes and trucks or SUVs, especially, hogging up the street, turning corners, or backing up--yes! backing up or making u-eees--I want to scream. Sometimes I do, in fact, scream.

The other thing that's been driving me a little nuts is e-mailed Christmas cards. Now, sometimes, it's someone's birthday and you've forgotten to send them a card or you don't have their address and you e-mail a card. I've done it. Sure, why not? But when I receive an e-mailed Christmas card, I'm sorry but I tend to hit delete. (The exception this season was the one I received from Kim Dower, the sweetest book publicist ever. Her artist-husband created a cute cartoon and I printed it out.) And when I'm one on a list of about a million who've also been mailed said e-mailed card, I'm offended. It's almost worst than no card at all.

Technology can be a wonderful thing, but it can also bring out the obnoxiousness that we've all got buried within us, don't you think?

Thanks for letting me rant.

Tuesday, December 20, 2005

All you need is one yes to send you on your way

Here's the online link to my article in the January 2006 issue of Writer's Digest on getting Pen on Fire published.

Sunday, December 18, 2005

Lest anyone think they are too old to publish....

...this just in from Publisher's Lunch:

Fifty-nine-year-old Paul Torday's debut Salmon Fishing in the Yemen, the story of a middle-aged scientist and his involvement with what initially looks like an impossible project: to introduce salmon into the Yemen, to Helen Garnons-Williams at Weidenfeld & Nicolson, at auction, for publication in February 2007, in a two-book deal, by Mark Stanton at Jenny Brown Associates (world).
katie.white@orionbooks.co.uk

It is interesting why Torday's age was printed. Maybe meant as an encouraging word?

Visit www.publisherslunch.com

Thursday, December 08, 2005

In love with Anita Shreve

There are a few authors whose books I pretty much love, without question. Everything they write, I love. I'm promiscuous that way. Chris Bohjalian (not a surprise to anyone who has read my book. T. Jefferson Parker. Now I've a new one: Anita Shreve.

I just finished Fortune's Rocks, an astounding book with much complexity (sounds like something she'd say, or something the judges would say on Iron Chef).

Prior to that, I read Seaglass, which I also loved, and prior to that, The Pilot's Wife. Yes, I loved that too.

When I started Seaglass, I learned that Shreve intended it to be one of three books in a trilogy, but not your usual trilogy. What all three books have in common is the house the main character lives in, a wonderful, rambling beach cottage in New Hampshire. They were written out of order, too.

And now I'm reading A Wedding in December. I just love Shreve's writing.

Are there authors whose work you pretty much love, no matter what they write?

Wednesday, December 07, 2005

San Francisco in Jello

I don't eat Jello--haven't for 20-some years--but I love this use of Jello.

Sunday, December 04, 2005

Hooray for notebooks and candles

After I delivered Travis and Alex to their birthday party gig in Redondo Beach--yes, the Green Room, Trav's classic rock band, had their second paying gig yesterday; today they play at Gina's Pizza at the Corona del Mar Christmas walk (for tips)--and on the way home stopped at Pudgy Beads in Long Beach (a glorious vintage bead store with wonderful owners), bought a few things, then drove home, cleaned up a bit (always cleaning up a bit, it seems), lighted the candles I had bought at Ikea on the way to Redondo, and sat on the sofa with my Clairefontaine notebook and Waterman fountain pen (indigo ink).

My iBook G4, which I love, tends to make me a little too perfectionistic, when it comes to first drafts of fiction. It's so easy to delete. With the notebook, I just write. I don't care about being perfect. I can cross out, but I can't delete, and for me, this is a good thing. So I set the timer and sat and wrote and by the time I was done, the room was dark, lit only by candlelight.

This morning at 6:15, Rosie, our six-month-old cat, jumped on the bed and woke me. I tried, for a minute, to go back to sleep, but the house was quiet, bamboo wind chimes by the front door were clacking tastily, so I got up, straightened up a bit (see ... always straightening.....) and sat down with the notebook and pen and wrote a couple pages.

This got me thinking about tools, again. I still love sitting with paper and pen, getting comfortable, and writing. The laptop is good for nonfiction first drafts, though not fiction. Wish I'd remember that when I'm trying to write at the laptop and nothing's coming out.

Friday, December 02, 2005

Squid and the Whale

Debra and Michelle and I went to see this movie tonight. Jeff Daniels is a pompous, no longer successful novelist. His wife is more successful than he. It's downhill from there. An intense movie. And an anti-divorce film, if there ever was one. If you and your spouse are on the fence about splitting up and you have kids, see this film. You will decide you are being whiny and work a little harder to stay together, for the kids, anyway. Laura Linney was great; what else has she been in? I can't place her.

Thursday, December 01, 2005

Thursday

It's going to rain. The sky is overcast, damp. I like rain. But I want it to pour and then be done with--at least until after Sunday when my 11-year-old's band plays at Gina's Pizza at the Corona del Mar Christmas walk. That's the one day a year this town is like New York. The streets are packed. There's one long traffic jam. I'm a back East girl at heart, still, and I love it.

But I don't feel like writing.

Still, I work on The ASJA Monthly, which I edit. But I don't feel like writing--doing my own writing, that is. So I pull on my purple boots, wrap my clapotis around my shoulders and head out with the list for Mother's Market.

I go to the library and check out a book on CD (The Bean Trees by Barbara Kingsolver, which I read years and years ago, and loved). I am so addicted to books on tape or CD. You can listen when you walk, when you clean, when you knit. They help me have more patience with books. If the book starts slow, I don't mind so much. But I do find that certain readers are irritating. I checked out Don DeLillo's Underworld, which I only got to page 400 in (it's an 800-page book) and figured I'd listen to the rest on tape, but the narrator sounded like that digitalized voice you hear when the library calls you to leave a message that your book has come in and is on hold (my friend, Allison, does a perfect rendition of the voice), so I couldn't listen. And the narrator for Middlesex wasn't right either--not for me, so I turned the book in. I did love the narrator for Little Earthquakes, though, and loved the book, too.

Then I go to Mother's Market and down a wheatgrass juice and a Brain Power smoothie, figuring the combo should turbo charge my bloodstream, shop a little, and on the way home, stop at a little store, Paris to the Moon, where I read there was a section entirely devoted to Mother Mary, one of my idols. The store is all glittery and small. There's a pink area, a black and white area, a kids' nook with tin crowns from Mexico, and lots of vintage Christmas tree ornaments and snowglobes.

Onward to home, with goods and groceries. I clean up a little. Swiffer. Iron a red and white vintage tablecloth and spread it out on the table, in preparation for tonight, for Writers Block Party, my every other week group of talented students. Actually, all of people in my private groups, those current and departed, are talented, and it's a pleasure reading their work. My class at UC-Extension is a group of stellar women, bright and funny.

I still don't want to write, though, so I eat lunch: rice with soymilk and maple syrup. I know, I know... But I'm a vegetarian and Italian and like to eat a little differently.

I check in on my Gotham online class. Post a message on the blackboard.

Soon I will go pick Travis up at school. I have to prepare for my show, and my class. Maybe stop by Barnes & Noble and buy a new Moleskine notebook.

I don't think this will be a writing day for me.

Thursday, November 17, 2005

More on workshopping

Being a Libra, I of course see both sides of a situation and can see virtue in each side. (Actually, I tend to see more sides that are there.....!) I do feel people do the best they can and sometimes they just reach a limit.

Thing is, the teacher in me wants them to push beyond their limits, and becomes disappointed when they don't, or can't. The writer in me--which is a bigger part of me; it was there first, before the teacher--has little patience for the thinned skinned approach. I have been through a ton of workshopping and have brought stuff that stunk and have been the recipient of criticism that hurt. I guess I kept going because I made the commitment and am loyal to my commitments--to a fault, some would say. I used to think, some day I will come here and they will love what I bring. That day came.

I know this: That day would not have come had I quit because of my feelings that they just didn't get what I was trying to do.

Currently reading: Map of the World by Jane Hamilton.
I didn't pay much attention to this book when it became a bestseller a few years back. Partly it was because the book is difficult--a child drowns. When my son was smaller, children getting hurt in books was too too much. But what an incredible book. Such wonderful writing and character development. We can all learn a thing or three from this book.

Tuesday, November 15, 2005

Silencing the voices

“If you hear a voice within you say ‘you cannot paint,’ then by all means paint, and that voice will be silenced.” Van Gogh said this and one of my Gotham students posted it on our classroom board. I love it. It so applies to writing. Only by writing do all those voices that say you can't or shouldn't or why bother go away. At least for a time.

I received a bunch of emails referring to my blog post on workshopping. One person said I was unfair and unprofessional to have that sort of attitude, that maybe I didn't have all the details.

I knew it would be controversial, that blog.

But here's the thing--sometimes there are reasons someone withdraws from a workshop that have nothing to do with critiquing and being thin-skinned or fearful and have everything to do with income or family obligations or time. I'm not talking about those people. I was really talking about students who havetold me that others don't get their work and that's why they're leaving. There have been only a few over the years. But this happens in all workshops and so I was also talking in general, to also say, when you feel others are not getting what you're trying to do, to examine that response of yours. Sometimes our feelings are hurt. Sometimes we pour ourselves onto the page and when we get a ho-hum response, it's painful. So, to make sure you're not leaving a workshop because the response isn't what you'd hope.

Other times I've seen writers receive wonderful feedback, only the writer focuses on that bit of criticism that makes them feel bad and turns it all into sour stuff. Sometimes most others "got it," but maybe someone didn't and that's what the disgruntled writer is focused on.

I dunno.

What I do know is that writing silences all those voices.

Monday, November 14, 2005

TC Boyle in the Sacto Bee

TC Boyle in the Sacramento Bee talking about literature...that it's mostly entertaining.
Click here

You may have to register to see it (I did, but it only took a moment). Here's an excerpt:

"People are put off by me because I'm so productive and such a good performer," says Boyle, 53, who will appear Wednesday evening at the Crest Theatre in a talk sponsored by California Lectures. "They think it's not proper for a writer. But I don't agree. Anybody can do whatever he wants, as long as the work backs him up."

And this...

"That said, it takes work. If you have the ability and devote your entire life to it and you're very lucky, you may get an audience and be a productive artist. It's really difficult in our society to be an artist. There's a lot of competition and nobody really cares. So, why not enjoy it and have fun?"

Friday, November 11, 2005

workshopping your writing

A former student and current friend asked me to blog on something controversial, so he could comment. So I sat for a minute, took a bite of fettucine with chopped basil and tomatoes, and thought. This was a hard one. I've been so controversial at times that I've lost friends over that quality I have that allows me to say more than I intended (or maybe I did intend and just wanted to push and see what would happen? I do like to shake things up, it seems).

So, controversial means (to me) something that might lose a few friends for ya. I really don't want to lose more friends than I already have, but then it came to me. I had just the thing that would be controversial, at least in regards to this friend ( and former student) who wrote asking for controversy.

This is it. It has to do with writing workshops and having a thin skin and encountering a few workshop participants who either don't get your work or get it and are giving you a hard time about it. So you leave. You decide that you've gotten all you need from said workshop and it's time to strike out on your own. At least that's the excuse you give.

When in fact what has happened (most of the time) is that your ego has grown ungainly and is misleading you, as egos tend to do.

So many writers are too thin-skinned for their own good. And it's too bad because I've seen some talented writers decide what they really need is to go it alone, and then falter. They start doing crazy things--or continue to do crazy things that I (or another teacher) told them not to do: they write for no pay because it gives them a deadline (they say) or they decide their book (or story) only needs one more pass, if that, and they start sending it out (prematurely) and it gets rejected and then they badmouth the publishing industry (which, frankly, does deserve it, to a point).

You may be thinking: I have this opinion because I need paying students to help keep me afloat. Wrong. These writers that I see go astray are often the ones I've told I'd let stay in the workshop for free, because I see their need.

This brings me back to that old saw: Why do we think writing is different from learning another art form? That we only need to be writing seriously a year or two and then we're ready to go it alone? That is so wrong.

Most of us need workshops for a loooonnnnnggggg time. Years, actually. We need to hear what other writers--our chosen critiques--have to say. Because just get out there and start dealing with agents and publishers and if your skin is thin from years of seclusion, you will give up the whole dealybob of writing to publish.

Well, my dinner is finished now. I have a piece of basil stuck in my throat. I'm going to get up and pour some more pinot. And I'm going to wait for my friend (former student) to post to this very controversial post and tell me how I'm full of it.

Wednesday, November 09, 2005

Fear stinks

Is anyone else worrying about the avian flu? You read the papers and soon you're freaking out, looking for Tamiflu, thinking you will stock up.

I hate how the media does that.

Well, next Thursday, November 16 (is that a Thursday?), one of my guests will be Marc Siegel, M.D., author of False Alarm: The Truth About the Epidemic of Fear. Read more about him here. Of course his book is not about fear as concerns writers but writers are also immobilized by fear--fear of not succeeding, fear of discovering that their work stinks, fear that they will never ever write one decent paragraph or story or book.

Speaking of books, my other guest that night will be the new book editor at the Los Angeles Times, David Ulin. He was on before with his book, The Myth of Solid Ground. We'll talk about changes at the book review. I'm happy about David's new post and happy most of his writer friends are women. Maybe this means we'll start seeing more books by women covered by the Book Review--finally!

Thursday, October 27, 2005

More on blogging

In my January 29, 2005 blog on, well, blogging, I talked about whether blogging takes time away from your writing. One of my blog visitors wrote to me recently and asked me to go more into blogs, so here goes.

Now that I have had this blog for nine months, I have a few more things to say about blogs and why I think they are a good thing. And how I avoid having my blog take time away from writing.

First off, I blog irregularly--as you know, if you've been checking in here. Once, twice a week at most. I know some bloggers who post long blogs almost daily and while I like to read their blogs, I can't personally keep this up. It would take time away from writing, for sure.

But here's the thing....I have tracking software that allows me to see where most of the activity is, in regards to my web site and what I have seen is that this blog seems to generate the most hits.

I started my blog because my editor at Harcourt thought it would be a great way to keep my Web site fresh, without having to revise the web site itself. When you have a web site, you need to give folks a reason to return. This blog seems to do that. Of course now and then we add features to the web site--there's the TV show I did with Barry Kibrick, on my site, and I've begun archiving radio shows. And soon I will start posting chapters on my web site that didn't make it into Pen on Fire.

There you have it--my three cents on why to blog and how to not let it rob time from your writing. (Other things, frankly, have the ability to take time from my writing more than blogging does....!)

Hopefully this answers your questions....!

Why it's trouble posting comments

First I want to tell you why you cannot leave anonymous comments anymore: Because I was receiving so many frivolous comments--not rude, just Web site promos and, well, yukky spam.

So I decided to only accept comments from registered users. I apologize for the hassle, but, frankly, not a lot of people, I find, comment anyway, or they write to me personally, and I just grew tired of spending time tossing comments into the trash.

That said, I would love to hear your comments! I hope you'll take the time to register with Blogger.com if you haven't already.

More soon.....

Sunday, October 16, 2005

Archive is up--finally!

We finally have four radio shows archived on my Web site, thanks to Rob Roy and Dave Mosso. And more will be coming in the future. One is with literary agent John Ware, another is with narrative nonfiction author Judy Blunt and novelist Robert Stone, and the third is Ron Carlson, short story writer.

Go here and click on the right side of the screen where it says "audio archive."

Yay!

Wednesday, October 12, 2005

When you need to get your butt out of the chair

Usually it's a fight to make yourself sit long enough to get some writing done, but sometimes you just need to get up and shake out those muscles--something writers are lax about.

I don't know many writers who like to exercise. In my Southern California neighborhood, I certainly know a fair number of people who like to exercise, who go to the gym or work out with a trainer or run, and love it. I always look at these people with a bit of amazement. That anyone would love to exercise is beyond me. It's an admirable trait, one that I don't possess.

Maybe it's genetic. No one in my family has been an exerciser. My Aunt Teresa used to walk a ton (which may be why she lived to be in her late 80s, for the most part all healthy years).

But I went for my annual the other week and my doctor ran blood tests--the usual ones--and they came back pretty okay except for my cholesterol, which was a bit elevated. Not much, but enough for me to remember my mother had high cholesterol and my grandmother had some strokes, and maybe it was time to pay attention to such things.

I worked on my diet a bit, which is not all that bad; I gave up meat more than 20 years ago. So I cut out some butter, some cheese, ice cream. But exercise was the thing I really needed to work on. I walk now and then, but when I had a dog I walked a ton. No longer.

A friend told me about a Pilates DVD--Gaiam's Pilates for Weight Loss. The narrator doesn't baby talk to you and the beachy setting is gorgeous. So I started doing the 30 minute workout.

Then I made another discovery, something that is so motivating, to this writer, anyway: Books on tape (or CD). Now it's fun to go on Long Walks, because I get to listen to a book. It makes me want to walk longer, take the long route, circle the block to get to the end of a chapter. I listened to Anne Tyler's A Patchwork Planet and John LaCarre's The Constant Gardener this way, and now I'm listening to Ian McEwan's Saturday.

So if you have trouble getting out of the chair, stock up on some books on tape, lace on those tennis shoes, and take to the streets. Not only will you be healthier, you'll have more energy for writing. (I sound like a regular cheerleader, but I swear, I was never one in high school....)

Wednesday, October 05, 2005

I'm not ignoring you...

I really do mean to post more here but lately, I'm just about as busy as I can stand--all with things I choose to do and enjoy doing, but still. There are limits. I just haven't found mine.

Working to finish a book proposal (tweaking takes forever but is necessary) for my agent. Working on fiction. Teaching two online classes, one class at UC-Irvine extension, two private workshops--one weekly, one biweekly. My radio show. My job editing The ASJA Monthly.

Of course there's my son and my husband, the cats and the fish. There are the trips to Toyota to get maintenance for the car, trips to the acupunturist to get maintenance for me, the markets, the library and such. I can imagine if I watched TV, I'd really have no time at all.

And so my blog suffers. I'm sorry! I love blogs. Here is one I check out daily: click here to go there. And more I like: Aunt Violet's rant, The Tranquilo Traveler, and The Yarn Harlot. I could list a ton more blogs. Once you start, there's no end, seeing how there's a zillion blogs being published right this very second.

If you have a writing-related blog, post it in comments; I'd like to check it out.

Saturday, September 24, 2005

NYC literary agent Jeff Kleinman

I first learned of Jeff Kleinman at the 2005 ASJA annual conference, where he was a panelist. Then, a couple of months ago, he was a guest on my show. Last week I wrote to Jeff and asked him if he'd be interested in doing a Q&A and he was. Here you go:

BDB: I happen to care for my agent very much but agents, in general, it seems agents have a bad rap. Why?

JK: See how clueless I am--I didn't even know we have a bad rap. You probably shouldn't talk to me--I'm an agent and* a lawyer, so I guess my place is somewhere near the 8th or 9th Circle of Hell.

I can imagine, though, that we have a bad rap for a couple of reasons. First, writers have put us up on pedestals, so we (or some of us) believe that we're particularly special, so some of us are arrogant, difficult people to work with. Second, because there are a lot of unpublished (and not very good) writers in the world, they can't get an agent to represent them--but a lot of times, as I said, the projects aren't quite ready to go, yet. I don't know if there are other reasons that we're hated--it sure
would be intriguing to learn why!

BDB: What does being an agent do for you?

JK: Gets me free books, sometimes, from publishers.

BDB: You're funny. Okay, then, what sort of material do you handle?

JK: Nonfiction: especially narrative nonfiction with a historical bent, but also memoir, health, parenting, aging, nature, pets, how-to, nature, science, politics, military, espionage, equestrian, biography. Fiction: very well-written, character-driven novels; some suspense, thrillers; otherwise mainstream commercial and literary fiction. No: children's, romance, mysteries, westerns, poetry, or screenplays, novels about serial killers, suicide, or children in peril (kidnapped, killed, raped, etc.).

BDB: How do you think your clients would finish the following sentences: On a good day, Jeff __________

JK: ... wears a tie.

BDB: On a bad day, he _______

JK: ... wears a tie.

BDB: What is one myth writers entertain about agents?

JK: That *all* of us lead rich, glamorous, successful lives, jetsetting with all the Beautiful People and dining out hourly at impressive, fancy restaurants. I think only Kristen Nelson lives that life.

BDB: What do writers need to know about agents?

JK: Their favorite foods and home addresses. NO--I was joking. NOT home addresses.

BDB: What do you listen to, and when?

JK: NPR, pretty frequently. Otherwise lots and lots of audio books.

BDB: And what do you read on your own time?

JK: I don't have my "own" time, I guess--I read books that I've been wanting to read because the industry's been talking about them, for one reason or another.

BDB: How can people find you?

JK: www.GraybillandEnglish.com/jmk

Wednesday, September 21, 2005

Staying in the chair... Installment 2

Several things I've found: If you make yourself wait till a certain time, like at the top of the hour, to check your e-mail, this works--for a time...and especially first thing in the morning. As the day wears on, it's harder to do.

If you put off going online, or even turning on your computer, it's much easier to stay off line. Ha! It's like eating sugar...if I don't have any at all, I can stay away. But one sweet and the day is wrecked.

Freewriting helps. When I'm in the midst of freewriting, checking my e-mail is the last thing I want to do because I am caught up, in the midst of words swirling about and through me, out the tip of my pen. I'd be insane to want to think about e-mail when all that's happening.

When you're working on something you love, you don't tend to want to check e-mail, either, or surf around, checking out blogs. Today I worked on fiction in the morning, and a book proposal in the afternoon, and I must say, getting caught up in the work at hand makes e-mail less compelling. But you have to force yourself to dive into the work--at least I do.

It's like walking: I am reluctant to hit the pavement, and then when I do, I get caught up in the rhythm of moving down the sidewalk or street and there's nowhere else I'd rather be. But getting out there is the hard part.

Tuesday, September 13, 2005

Staying in the chair...and off the Internet

A comment by Patry to my last blog posting had to do with it's one thing to get your butt in the chair, it's another to stay off the Internet. Did I ever write about that? she asked.

I feel a little like Gandhi when he was asked by a concerned mother to tell her son to stop eating sugar. Gandhi said to give him two weeks. First he had to give up sugar, then he could tell her son not to eat it.

Dennis Palumbo (Writing from the Inside Out) said the Internet is death to writers and yes, uh-huh, for sure, it is. It is to me.

I seem to get work done anyway, despite the sucking action the Web has on me. I think I got more done before. Or did I just waste time differently??

I have, on occasion, used e-mail to get writing done. In Pen on Fire, I have a chapter on it. When you email, you tend to use your natural voice and so email can be a great way to find that voice. Of course once you find that voice, then what? Then you segue into a project or something you want to write, or you freewrite.

Everything in moderation, right? But it's hard to stay moderate when your computer is online, all the time.

I like going to cafes that don't work with my wireless because then I get work done without giving email or the Web another thought. And I swear I'm going to work that day every day--and then I don't.

I especially like going away without my computer. But how often do I go away?

Palumbo says that writers he works with in his practice will do that, work where they don't have internet access.

Let me say, right here and now, that I'm going to see about that, resisting the pull of the Internet. Then I can be true about how I did it.

Thursday, September 01, 2005

Starting a writers' group

In Pen on Fire there's a chapter on critique groups that's pretty lengthy and informative, but I just received an email regarding tips for running critique groups so here's a few things to get you started:

* Meet the same place, same time, every week or every other week. (Once a month just isn't enough.) If you change places and times, it will become so confusing and people will start showing up the wrong day and wrong time at the wrong place, and soon everyone will quit.

* Someone needs to be in charge. This is why critiquing classes are good, because there's someone in charge: the instructor. Someone has to be the bad guy or girl, set the rules, man (or wo-man) the timer.

* Speaking of the timer....generally you will have three readers a night. They should send their work out a few days in advance of the meeting so everyone can read their work before coming to workshop. If you have a group of seven to ten people, give everyone two minutes to critique and at the end, two minutes to the writer to respond. The writer should not talk during the critique, nor should anyone else talk while the person critiquing has the floor. When the timer goes off, the person speaking should wrap it up.

* Screen people who want to join. This might mean a committee of three or so people read their work and also know their personality and how they'll fit in the group. You know that cliche....one bad apple..... Writing you want to read is as important as personality, and personality is as important as the writing quality. A stellar writer with a lousy attitude will ruin the group.

* I wouldn't recommend just having an open group. You need the same people meeting regularly, which forms a bond and creates trust. If you meet at a bookstore, most likely you'll have to let anyone into the group who wants to be in. Better to meet at someone's house or find a room in a library or bank. Or get a restaurant to give you a room during the evening where you can buy food and hang out for two hours discussing and eating....

I hope this is helpful. I wrote a story for Poets & Writers some years back about the Fictionaires, a writers group I belonged to for a time. I'll see if I can find it and post it on my Web site.

Wednesday, August 31, 2005

Next week in Santa Monica, CA...

A comment to the last post was, "If only they'd just sit their butt in the chair and write...."

Well, next week, Wednesday, Sept. 7, at 7:30 p.m., I'll be at the Barnes & Noble in Santa Monica doing a talk called, "How to Keep Your Butt in the Chair When the Rest of You Wants to Get Up."

Yes, so much of writing is staying in the chair.

Wednesday, August 17, 2005

Sweet and sour smell of success

Check out this article by Dennis Palumbo, author of Writing from the Inside Out: "Psychotherapy in LA LA Land" in the Psychotherapy Networker, July/August 2005.

Monday, August 15, 2005

Trouble with querying

I've been meaning to answer Wendy's question of a couple weeks ago. She asked, "In early June, I sent to queries to parenting magazines and I haven't yet heard back from either magazine. How long should I wait before following up? Any advice for how to follow up?"

First off, I don't know how your query went, Wendy--e-mail or snail mail? If you're new to the parenting magazines, did you include clips? Often if you're a new writer or new to a magazine, they want clips. And how many queries went out? And did you include a SASE?

It's notoriously hard to break into the parenting magazines, or any major magazine. To answer your question, it's time to follow up. Send a postcard--unless they like to be contacted via e-mail, then email the editor you queried. Unfortunately, many editors feel no need to respond to writers with whom they have no relationship.

If you respond to the questions above, perhaps I will be more helpful.

Thursday, August 04, 2005

Kevin Smokler, author of Bookmark Now

Kevin Smoker, author of Bookmark Now: Writing in Unreaderly Times, was on my show a couple of years ago talking about blogs and Web sites. He'll be back on, on August 25. I recently asked him some questions:

BDB: What was the genesis for Bookmark Now: Writing in Unreaderly
Times
?

KS: Complete frustration with how books and reading were portrayed online, in the media and the world at large. I was 26, in the wrong graduate program and looking for something to dedicate my passions to. I loved books, reading, contemporary authors and fiction and was eager to find others my age who felt the same way, who were as addicted to Salon, NPR and This American Life as I was. I think it was a Sunday afternoon when I was doing searches online for "contemporary authors," "gen X. book lovers" or something like that and found a site called "Book Radio" (it's no longer around). I clicked on it excitedly and was met with yet another sweater-clad, tea-party discussion of books as if being a reader was the same as being a Limoge Box Collector. I remember jumping out of my chair and yelling, "Books are not stuffed animals! They are sexy, they are fun, they are relevant, godamn it!". I think it started there.

BDB: How did you go about choosing the essays/essayists included in the book?

KS: I had a dream list of authors before I began the project, some of whom came through and others who didn't. Others I had known and admired for some time. A few were recommended to me by authors who had already committed. A few more were repped by the same agency as me.

BDB: I don't have the book yet, so I'm speaking blindly, but from what I read about the book, it seems what you're saying is that all the hubbub about people not reading as much is just plain wrong, that people are reading more than ever. This true?

KS: I don't if people are reading more or not, but accepting that is the case, moaning about the evil effects of the Internet and television and that kids these days don't have any appreciation for intellectual rigor is not the solution. It's precisely this fear of cultural change that my grandparents laid into my parents about rock n' roll, that their grandparents laid on the younger generation about jazz. And it makes us all look like ostriches with our heads in the sand.

That said, 90 percent of the non-readers would like to but give two reasons why they don't: No time and they don't know what is good. That these folks want to read but feel lost, intimidated, too busy to, is a giant vault of wasted potential for all us us who depend on readers for our survival. That includes me.

BDB: Was it an easy book to sell?

KS: Fairly. I think it took my agent about three months. I don't know how that compares with other first-time authors.

BDB: Any discoveries along the way, things you learned by doing the book that surprised you?

KS: Editing an anthology requires more tack and diplomacy than this Jewish/Leo/eldest child was born with. But when you're dealing with 25 writers with their own styles, temperaments, and creative processes, you learn to be gentle. I didn't expect I would have to be but in retrospect I'm glad I did.

Second, I grew up real fast while on book tour this summer. I was pretty convinced of how glamorous and exciting it would be and kept saying "More! More!" to my publicist. I was completely unprepared for how exhausting it would feel visiting 10 cities in 8 weeks, in telling an events manager in Portland that it sure feels great to be in Seattle because I didn't remember where I woke up that morning. That isn't glamorous at all. The only way it feels even slightly manageable is to be as humble about the process as possible, to say that it is your job each evening to be of service to to your book, to those who publish and believe in you and to the readers who support you. I learned quickly that if my first thought each day was, "Give me what's mine!", I would spend the whole summer unappreciative of publishing a book. And really, how many first books do you get?

BDB: What are you reading right now?

KS: I just finished Bel Canto by Anne Patchett which I've been trying to get to for about two years, and Can't Stop Won't Stop by Jeff Change, an excellent political and cultural history of hip-hop music. Right now, I'm reading A Complicated Kindess by Mariam Toews, which was recommended to me while on tour, I May Not Get There With You, Michael Eric Dyson's biography of Martin Luther King and Nathaniel West's Day of the Locust for a classics book club I'm in.


BDB: I want to talk for a minute about blogs. When you last came on my show, you said it was never too early to create a web presence. Will you elaborate?

KS: Sure. for the generation of readers coming up now and pretty much all the ones afterward, they get most of their information online. So if you don't represent yourself and your work in that space, to future readers it doesn't exit. It's also a generation raised on high levels of access to information about creative people ("Inside the Actor's Studio," DVD commentaries). So for any writer looking to have a long career, they have prepare for this inevitability. And that means having the most complete information about you and your work available and nicely organized on the Internet. Your page at Amazon or your publisher's Web site is not enough because then someone else is controlling the information and can do with it as they see fit. Having your own Web site under its own domain name enables you not only to retain control of the essential information about you and your work but also lets your readers communicate with you and provides a place for their enthusiasm to land. What is your biggest fan to do if you don't have a Web site other than wait 3 years for next book to come out? Have a Web site and they can sign up for your mailing list, get info about when you'll be in their city, send their friends to it. It creates a fan culture around your work.

BDB: So creating a blog, and not a Web site, would be fine?

KS: A blog is a kind of Web site, one that is frequently updated with links and commentary in reverse chronological order. I don't think it's necessary for most authors to blog unless they have something to say that frequently. However some, like Gayle Brandeis, Nelson George and Danyel Smith just do it because they have fun blogging and they are interesting people. But the most important parts of an author's Web site are the bio, book information, links to online booksellers, events calendar and a mailing list. A blog is nice but not essential.

BDB: Are there too many blogs?

KS: No. There is too little education about how to find the good ones.

BDB: What should I have asked you but didn't?

KS: "What are you doing next?" I'm currently in the middle of the proposal for my second book which will be an oral history of ordinary people answering this question, "What Book Changed your Life?" and playing around with several article and radio ideas. I'm also looking forward to several weeks at home with my girlfriend, my cat and a stack of unread books.

Visit Kevin's Web site.

Monday, August 01, 2005

Marilyn Elise Powell Berns 1931-2005

This post isn't about writing. Not exactly.

I went to Marilyn Berns' funeral today. She was the mother of my good friend, the artist Leslie Berns Richman. I last saw Marilyn and her husband Norm when they came to my book launching party at Book Soup. I lived with Leslie in San Francisco in the late '70s and we've been friends ever since, though since '81, at least, we've lived in different locales.

Her mother Marilyn died last week. She had lung cancer that progressed into her liver. Her passing was rather quick. She had two daughters, Lisa and Leslie, and was married to Norm.

I was moved by the talks everyone gave in remembrance of Marilyn. Over and over people said how Marilyn was generous and loving, and quick to tell you if you weren't doing your best. Marilyn is the sister of Colin Powell, former secretary of state. While I was moved by everyone's talks, I was most moved by what Colin said.

He talked about how they grew up in a Bronx, New York, tenement with their parents, Luther and Ariel. Colin said Marilyn always pushed him to do his best and while she got into a good college--Buffalo State Teachers College--the one of her choice, he kept getting turned down by colleges. But he kept trying, and ended up going to City College. His sister went to college and so he had to, too. I found that moving--here was one of the most respected politicians in recent history, and he was saying it was his sister who made him want to do better, who prompted him to go to college and do all he could.

She was his sister, and she was a teacher. Marilyn was an effective teacher. That same quality, wanting the people she knew and loved to do their best, carried over to her students. Marilyn was charismatic and had an infectious laugh. She was self-assured and she wanted her students to have confidence in themselves, too. I've been thinking about that, about teaching and how you help a student believe in him or herself when that belief in self is lacking. Should a teacher never take no for an answer, when a student says, "I just can't do that," or does a good teacher persist?

I almost quit high school but there were a few teachers who wouldn't let me. Who knew I could do better, if only they could find the key. And they did.

I wish Marilyn were here to discuss teaching (too often it takes someone passing to remember what we meant to do with that person, what we meant to talk about) and if you ever take no for an answer. Yet, I imagine she would have said, No. You never take no for an answer. You always expect more and hope for more. And sometimes the best happens.

Thursday, July 28, 2005

I love Moleskine notebooks

I first corresponded with Armand Frasco, the founder of Moleskinerie.com, just after my Web site went live. I wrote about Moleskines in my book, and later linked my site to his Web site and then he linked to mine. I revisit Moleskinerie often and love it. It's so well done, as well as being a gathering place for Moleskine obsessed users. A few weeks ago there was a wonderful piece in The New York Times Magazine about him and his site.

I asked Armand some questions:

BDB: Can it be that your Moleskinerie site only a year old? In the NYT mag article, the writer (Rob Walker) said you started your blog last year.

AF: Yes, Moleskinerie.com went live on January 12, 2004.

BDB: Are you surprised at all by the attention to your blog?

AF: Yes, the attention constantly amuses me. I never dreamt of being in the New York Times Magazine, etc. With the attention came the expected rise of e-mails and other requests and running the blog has become an almost full-time occupation. Moleskine is a good product that I patronize, am satisfied with and happy to share the good news.

BDB: When did you discover Moleskines?

AF: I bought my first Moleskine about four years ago at a mall in suburban Chicago. I've used different journals before that and still do.

BDB: What do you love about Moleskines?

AF: I love Moleskine notebooks for their sturdy construction and unobtrusive, minimalist look. The paper is excellent for my own use, which is mostly writing and some drawings. As Louis Henri Sullivan said, "Form follows function". That is Moleskine.

BDB: Tell me more about your blog. What was the intention, when you began it?

AF: Honestly, Moleskinerie was started on a whim, on a bright but boring winter day. I searched for Moleskine users online and found hundreds. With a basically underutilized TypePad blogging account I opened Moleskinerie with the intention of connecting with other users from all over the globe.

BDB: What's your intention now? The same?

AF: Since then, Moleskinerie has evolved to become the premier gathering place for Moleskine enthusiasts worldwide. My basic intention of bringing people together remains with the added sense of responsibility for providing a forum of expression for our readers' amazingly diverse creative use of the notebook and the site's continuity.

BDB: Do you write?

AF: Yes I do, for Moleskinerie, of course and for other print publications and online sites. My major interest though is photo
documentaries which I do for organizations and families. I also struggle to keep a personal journal updated.

BDB: What are you reading right now?

AF: I received a copy of Drawing from Life by Jennifer New for my birthday (July 16). This very interesting book gave me a deeper understanding of why people keep journals. A snip: "Like old Shaker chairs grown smooth from supporting so many bodies, or a handmade quilt faded from decades of laundering and human contact, journals are utilitarian objects transformed by repeated and fond use. They hold life in them, which is why we cannot let them go. And yet they are
ubiquitous to the point of invisibility."

BDB: You're now seen as a sort of expert on Moleskines. How does that make you feel?

AF: To paraphrase the Dalai Lama, "I am a simple Moleskine user, nothing more, nothing less."

BDB: Anything else?

AF: Thank you Barbara for giving me this chance to share my thoughts with your many readers. Memories make us what we are and what we will become. Journals and diaries help keep those memories within ready reach (no batteries required) so get out, get a life and write about it!

Tuesday, July 26, 2005

Monday, July 18, 2005

Amy Krouse Rosenthal Q&A

I met Amy Krouse Rosenthal when she was a guest on "Writers on Writing" a couple of months ago to talk about her new book, Encyclopedia of an Ordinary Life.

Here she is, again:

BDB: Does a writer have an obligation to her readers?

AKR: I think the primary obligation a writer has is to herself. If she fulfills this obligation in the truest most thorough way she knows how, then she will have indirectly fulfilled any obligation she might have to her reader.

BDB: What is your writing routine?

AKR: I take the kids to school. Then I practice yoga. Then I come home and do house stuff, get things in order, tend to the business side of my work, you know, return e-mails, phone calls, things like that. And then around 2:00 I pack up my things, grab my laptop, and head over to my favorite coffeehouse to write for about three hours. If I can get three hours in, it’s a good day. That’s pretty much my routine Monday-Thursday. I am not a morning person so I never get up early to write, never. And while I am a night person and love staying up late, I never write at night either. Night is about couch hang time with my husband. When I’m really busy or in the midst of new book I will use the late evening hours to tackle e-mails and tasks like that, but never to write. I’d say 95 percent of my book was written between the hours of 2:00 and 5:00 p.m.—for whatever reason, that’s my "on" mode.

BDB: Do you think your next book will brand you as a certain type of writer?

AKR: Not at the moment, no. But my last two books were about being a mom, so in writing this book, Encyclopedia, I knew I was intentionally and distinctly NOT writing (soley) about motherhood. I love being a mom, and I do often enjoy writing about, but I did not want that to be something that was expected of me. I kinda like writing about a lot of different stuff, so I guess the short answer here is that I’d like to be able to stretch myself and explore all sorts of topics and arenas and generally be brandless.

BDB: Any myths you see new writers entertaining?

AKR: Maybe there's this assumption that someone, a writer, can sort of "whip something up real quick." Sometimes getting one sentence to feel how i want it to feel can take days, or weeks. There's the act of getting the words out, and there's the subsequent act of crafting them. Both are time consuming and demanding, at least for me. But the reality check is this: I love words. I love the alphabet. I even love typing. The act of typing is a happy, comfortable thing for me—my fingers feel at home on a keyboard. So I think that is a strength, feeling tenderly about the tools of this trade. Maybe it’s not so much a strength—because I think “strength” implies that I had some role in it, that I worked to achieve that, to make that happen. I think I was just born with a fondness for words and sentences, and was predisposed to enjoy playing with them. It’s like a toddler who just loves balls, loves holding them, bouncing them, throwing them, is basically obsessed by them. So when that toddler becomes a child, it’s likely that he will be drawn to sports that involve a ball. Wherever there’s a ball is where the child wants to be.

Tuesday, July 12, 2005

Roxana Robinson on writing

I've been a fan of Roxana Robinson's for some time. I think I first saw her short stories in the New Yorker and one of my favorite essays of all time, on the writing process, is in the New York Times essay collection, Writers on Writing, Volume I. I came in contact with Roxana when I joined Readerville last year. Then she came on my show last week to talk about her new book, A Perfect Stranger.

Here is Roxana, on writing, and her work:

BDB: A Perfect Stranger is a collection of short stories. Writers are often cautioned against writing short stories because they can be difficult to sell. What do you say to that?

RR: Unfortunately, it's true. They are harder to sell than novels. It's odd, because you'd think that nowadays, when we all seem to have Attention Deficit Disorder, and spend our time rushing around in a state of distraction, that short stories would have more appeal than novels, which are longer, more complex, and have more information to keep track of. But a friend pointed out recently to me that short stories are actually quite similar to poems, in that they are highly focused and highly compressed, and quite demanding for the reader. You can read a novel in small doses, before you go to sleep, and you can rely on the narrative to remind you of who the characters are, and what's going on. But a short story must be read in one sitting, and you must pay careful attention to it the whole time. So maybe the story is too demanding for the reader.

BDB: You also write essays and novels and narrative nonfiction books. Do you prefer one form over another?

RR: I like all the forms that I write in. I use them for different things. I write non-fiction about things that are more abstract and less personal, usually. If I want to write about something personal, I'll switch to fiction, where I have more privacy and more flexibility. People have the notion that the memoir is somehow truer than fiction, but usually in a memoir you must be careful about the facts. So why not use the fictive form, where everything can be subordinated to the emotional truth you are trying to present? When I wrote the biography of Georgia O'Keeffe, it ws a wonderful opportunity to combine all the forms, really. I loved writing about early modernist art, and the emergence of photography, and the world of American art, which satisfied all my art historical tendencies. The story of O'Keeffe herself was a marvelous one, rich and complex and full of action, so in one sense it was as though I was writing a novel in which the characters and the narrative line had already been given to me.

I love the short story form, obviously. It's a very demanding form, very exigent, but very powerful, and I like it for delivering a certain kind of emotional moment.

The novel--which I also enjoy--is a much looser form, much more forgiving, capacious and generous. It takes on your form as you write it. If you write a novel over too many years, you find yourself disagreeing with your earlier self, as your thoughts appear in the beginning. You can stuff anything into the form, anything you're thinking about right then, there's room for it.

BDB: What are you working on now?

RR: I've just finished writing the Foreword to a collection of early stories by F. Scott Fitzgerald, published by Modern Library, which I much enjoyed. It's always wonderful to reread work by a great writer, because each time you read it you're at a different stage of your own life, and your responses are new.

I've also written an essay for an anthology which will come out in the fall called "The Nuclear (as in Family) Bomb," published by Norton. I'm writing a couple of new essays for other anthologies, too - it seems to be a very popular form. And I'm going to write a blog for the Natural Resources Defense Council, for the last two weeks of this month. It will be about the natural world--about great blue herons, and fox cubs, and rogue storms, and climate change--anything that comes across my horizon. The natural world is a great passion of mine, and was one of the themes of my last novel, "Sweetwater."

And of course I'm working on a new novel, though I can't talk about that until it's finished.

BDB: Why don't you like talking about it till you're finished?

RR: Talking about a novel--or any fiction I'm working on--before it's finished is a dangerous move. Most novelists I know have found this to be true. If you talk about something before you've written it, somehow it vanishes from the arena where the two of you exist. Somehow its living presence dissipates, it seeps out and evaporates into the air, so that when you next try to work on it, this priceless, fascinating, vigorous presence it has become lifeless and empty, nothing you can make anything from at all. For a similar reason, I don't show my work until it's entirely finished. Until it's whole and complete, it's in a malleable state, and at that time anyone's comment has too much weight, too much power, to risk my learning it. I need to finish the work in my own mind, for myself, before I expose it to anyone else's gaze, or opinion.

BDB: When you write, are you looking to affect the reader in some way?

RR: Hmm. I don't really think about the reader--unless it's that I feel I am the reader, myself. What I'm trying to do is present something in a way that will be both clear and powerful for the reader to experience. I want to engage the reader both emotionally and intellectually, to lead them through some sort of questioning process, some exploration that I myself am going through. I don't usually write about something unless I feel very strongly about it myself, so I want it to mean something powerful to the reader as well.

BDB: Who do you read?

RR: I'm an omnivore. I like books about dogs and about nature. I read AliceMunro and Ann Beattie. The last book I read was The Gate, a memoir by Francois Bizot, a French anthropologist who was captured by the Khmer Rouge in Cambodia. Right now I'm reading Mary Gordon's new novel, Pearl, which I like very much. I'm working my way through Proust--I recently finished Sodom and Gomorrah, but it will take me some time to tackle the next volume.I read more books by women than by men, partly because our sympathies are often more in alignment, and partly out of solidarity. More books by men are published, reviewed and given prizes than books by women, despite the fact that more women read literary fiction than men. So I try to redress the balance a bit.

BDB: How do you know when an idea is to be a novel or an essay or a short story?

RR: The dynamics, for me, are very different. A short story presents itself to me as a very powerful moment. It can be
something I've experienced myself, something I've watched, or something I've heard about, but that moment is the core of the story. I write toward it, trying to create characters and a narrative that will make the moment as powerful for you, the reader, as it was for me. When the moment finally arrives, something else always happens--a shift occurs, a change. But the
moment is still the core of the story.

What happens with a novel, though, is completely different.

A novel appears, rather dimly and obscurely, as a set of characters and a conflict. Once I know the characters well enough, they carry out the narrative, working their way through the conflict. It means that, since I know the characters, I have some sense of what they'll do, but I don't have control of them. So I don't know exactly what's going to happen; I certainly
don't have a plot outline beforehand.

It means that I know less about what will happen in a novel than in a story.

BDB: Advice for writers?

RR: Oh, write, write, write. For yourself. Forget about publishers and agents and the market. Write about whatever you need to write about. Write about the things that trouble you, things that make you feel ashamed, things that make you weep with rage, or cry with laughter. Write about the things that are the most important in your own secret life. The reason to write is to try to explain the world to yourself, and if you do it well enough, you'll find that you explain it to other people too. But do it first for yourself. And good luck.

Roxana's Web site is here .

Thursday, July 07, 2005

A few things Shelby Foote said

I watched a three-hour interview with Shelby Foote on Book TV this weekend. The interview was shot a couple of years ago at Foote's home in Memphis, TN. I wrote down a few things he said and wanted to share them with you:

He writes with a fountain pen that he dips. Why? "Because it makes me take my time," he said. "I don't want anything mechanical coming between me and the page."

He was asked about his philosophy of the sentence. He said that using different lengths of sentences is more important than we know.

He also read Remembrance of Things Past by Marcel Proust nine times, which is what influenced the way he thinks about sentences.

And he quoted George Lucas: "Talent is always a writer's deviation."

Shelby Foote died last week. He was in his late 80s.

Monday, July 04, 2005

Warning: This is about nothing

It's been a couple of weeks since I posted anything, so lest you feel I've abandoned my blogging post, I wanted to post a little something, say hello, and tell you I've not gone anywhere. In the next couple of weeks, I'll be posting Q&As by authors, so there will be fun new stuff soon.

But it's the fourth of July and today will find us at my sister-in-law's home on a cul de sac in Costa Mesa, CA, where there will be a water slide, bounce house, cotton candy machine, and a dunking booth. Travis is looking forward to the dunking booth. He can't wait to be dunked. Ho-kay..... Me, I'll watch. Never been dunked, never want to be dunked.

First, though, I need to work on my novel. I will be thinking about it all day if I don't. It's 7:37 a.m. The house is quiet. Brian didn't get home from a gig in Temecula until one a.m. or so, so he'll be out for a while. Travis will be asleep for a while more, too; he was up watching the "Miami Animal Police" and the cooking channel until late (his two favorite stations are the Food Network--especially "Iron Chefs"--and Animal Planet).

So right now I'm going to leave you and go to my fictional world. Are y'all getting any writing done today?

Wednesday, June 22, 2005

Janet Evanovich in the NYT

There's a piece in today's New York Times about mystery author Janet Evanovich, and how she went from being a writer who once burned her rejection letters on the curb to a very successful author.

She's not just a writer--she's an industry. She hired a co-author and they turn out books often--too often in my view. Yes, she's found a way to be successful as an author and that is admirable. But what about the writing? She admits her writing is formulaic, but she says that's what readers want.

I suppose it all comes down to the standards we set for ourselves. My standards make me constantly trying to improve my writing (and constantly depressed about it).

Years and years ago, before I ever had anything published, my brother tried to talk me into writing romance novels--mostly because he thought they would sell. Of course romance is the hottest selling genre. But I couldn't do it. I didn't read romance and the thought of spending time on a genre that I wasn't personally invested in ... well, I couldn't.

That's not to say if you can, you shouldn't.

But the writing I'm interested in, that fascinates me, is writing that the author has crafted, spent time on--not just churned out.

I'd have more money and live in a better house if I was more commercially-minded. But money has never been my primary goal in life, in art, in anything, really.

What do you think?

Monday, June 20, 2005

Forget about MFAs and consider voice

Now, I don't have an MFA and so maybe that's why I especially like the article I'm about to talk about. MFAs are okay--especially if you want to teach or if you want to be in a writing environment for a couple of years--but they are just not necessary if you want to be a writer. I known so many writers who, when they don't get into the MFA program of choice, believe, if only for a little while, that they've failed, somehow, as a writer. What is necessary for a writer is not an MFA but the cultivation of that esoteric thing called voice.

In the July August issue of Poets & Writers, James Frey, author of My Friend Leonard, talks about voice.

Writer Daniel Nester says, "One thing that occurred to Frey was that most of the wriers he loves--Baudelaire, Rimbaud, Celine, Hemingway, Fitzgerald, Kerouac and Bukowski--taught themselves how to write. 'They didn't go to school for it, they didn't have mentors who explained to them how to do things or now,' he says. 'They just sat down and started working. They kept working until they were able to do what they wanted to do.'"

And...

"But Frey didn't want to be just a writer--he wanted to be unique. 'I read all these people and I started thinking about what they all had in common,' he says. 'And the most obvious thing was that, when their books came out, there was nothing like them that had preceded them'.... And so Frey reasoned, he needed to find a style of writing that was new, fresh, unlike anything that had come before. It took years to find that voice, he says."

Check out the entire article. It's a good one. I'd post the link to the piece if there was one, but it's only excerpted at www.pw.org. You gotta go out and buy the magazine, or stand in the bookstore and read it.

He's coming on my show on 6/30 at 5:30 p.m. PT. In my view, he's a writer's writer. You can listen online at www.kuci.org. (The side panel on this page has a link that connects to the KUCI-FM Web site.)

Monday, June 13, 2005

One more thing about Harriet Doerr

Here is the other thing about Harriet Doerr's work and why I'm a fan: As I read Consider This, Senora, I found myself appreciating life more--the things which might be considered the simple things. Laughing with my son at comedians--George Carlin, Henny Youngman, Joan Rivers--on vintage Johnny Carson tapes from the library. The sun on the magenta bougainvillea. The morning air filled with a misty rain. The Mexican seller of vegetable plants, flowers and cacti at the Farmer's Market down the street. The bamboo wind chimes hanging outside our front door. Loyal friends. A ball of violet yarn. The UPS man dropping a package--most likely a book--on my front stoop. My husband.

And the title, Stones for Ibarra, has always puzzled me. What could it mean? I love that I had to reach the end of the book to find out.

Yes, I am a major Harriet Doerr fan.

Curious who strikes y'all that way, what author(s) illuminate your life in some new way.

One dead author I'd like to have on my show: Harriet Doerr

I've been studying Spanish (I'm in a little private class with three others) and it's made me seek out novels that have to do with Mexico or something Spanish, and so I came across one author's books on tape whom I've known about for years and have even written about in my book, but never read.

Harriet Doerr didn't even get a BA till after she was 60 and she was around 73 when she won the National Book Award for Stones for Ibarra. In the library I found Consider This, Senora on tape, which came after Stones and I checked it out. Such beautiful writing, and with a third person, omnicient narrator, which I tend to find too distant. But Doerr pulls in close and has just the right touch.

The book is made up of several connected stories about American ex-pats living in Mexico. The book is worth her metaphors and similes alone. (It's so hard coming up with fresh ones...)

Then I picked up Stones for Ibarra, her first novel, and again, such great writing, and that close third person omnicient narrator. Which is another reason to check out this book: Omnicient can be done well, which Doerr proves in this book. No wonder she won a major award for this book.

She's also proof that, in the world of letters, age matters little, if any. In the end, it's the writing that counts. I love that.

Thursday, June 02, 2005

It's been so long

It's been so very long since I posted anything here, and lest you think I'm disinterested, I thought I had better. It's just that I have so very much on my platter (a plate no longer fits it all) and, on a daily basis, it seems, I try to imagine giving something up. But what? I'm saying that too much: But what?

Last night, as Travis warmed up with his soccer team before the game, I sat in the Sienna in the parking lot and I wrote in my Moleskine. Take your own advice! The words careened about my skull. So I wrote a couple of pages, then a minute before the game began, joined the other parents.

When I have too much to do, so much I'm committed to, it's hard to do any one thing well. I imagine I'd be a better_____ fill in the blank: parent, writer, teacher, blogger, deluxe gourmet veggie chef, knitter, artist, friend, if I didn't do so much. But I like it all, is my continual refrain.

What's a girl to do? If anyone out there has some good advice, send it my way. (And please, smart alecks...don't bother. I'll just hit "delete," anyhoo..... ; }

Coming up on this blog will be more Q&A's--soon by literary agent John Ware and author Amy Rosenthal Krouse, so do come back and visit often. I promise I won't be so lax and let my bloggie poo wither away.

Friday, May 20, 2005

Phil Doran, The Reluctant Tuscan

Phil Doran is the author of The Reluctant Tuscan (Gotham). He’s a former TV writer and producer (The Wonder Years, All in the Family, Sanford and Son) whom I met him when he first took my workshop a couple of years ago. His book was published in April. Last week I sent him some questions and here is what he said:

Moi: I know that The Reluctant Tuscan isn't the first book you completed. What happened to the others?

Phil: RT is actually the third. The first was one that everybody liked and nobody wanted to publish, the second was one that nobody liked, and the third was rather well accepted. I think it took some time for me to figure out the market place and to determine that yes, after years of doing TV, I did want to write what I wanted to say, but a bigger yes was, I did want to get published. It doesn’t take a genius to determine that they publish a lot more non-fiction than fiction, so then, in the non-fiction genre, what was going on in my life that I could write about? Well, I happened to be fortunate enough to have worked in show business and I was now living part-time in Tuscany. So I felt that if I could combine those two facets and do it with humor I would have something that publishers would be interested in.

Moi: Will you bring those other books back, now that you have one out?

Phil: Yes, I am in the process of dusting them off, re-reading them, and wondering what I was thinking to have written down what I did. On the plus side, I think those books were written when I still had my TV writing habits and if I may say so myself, my prose style is much more polished now than it was when I started.

Moi: Talk about the challenges in writing this book.

Phil: There are a lot of books about Tuscany--a lot of very good books--written by people who really know things. Since I don’t, I needed to be funny. Also, I needed to find a way not to have the reader think, “Wait a minute--you’re living in Tuscany and complaining? I live next to methane processing plant in Bayonne, New Jersey, and you don’t hear me complaining!”

So I had to find a way to keep the reader’s sympathy and I did that by going deep into the characters and revealing their needs and inner struggles. Also, I needed to make the drama more universal so that anybody who has faced a painful life change can relate to it and not just baby-boomers facing retirement.

Moi: How does writing dialogue for TV differ from writing dialogue for a narrative?

Phil: The visual element changes everything. The way an actor gestures or uses an expression both enhances and limits how the line is communicated. In a book, the reader is free to cast each character exactly as they imagine it and hear them say their dialogue in any voice imaginable. In either event, unless someone has stopped to make a speech, and that should be very well motivated, dialogue should be short, crisp, and entertaining. Ask yourself: Is there sufficient reason to do this in dialogue, or could it be better imparted by describing the action?

As for the differences between a book and a TV show, there are practical considerations galore. Say you have a scene where a group of people are having dinner ... on TV (or in a movie) the audience can see all the characters who are present, but on the page if someone doesn’t speak for a while, the reader can forget that they are there.
Moi: Advice for writers?

Phil: There are many fine books on the mechanics of writing (Pen on Fire being one of the best). My advice is more about the psychological armor one must don to pursue this profession. This is a very difficult way to make a living. If you are interested in making a lot of money, I would suggest you go into banking or real estate.

Writing is lonely, frustrating, and it will often seem like you are the only one in the world who believes in what you are doing. To this end, I will impart the greatest piece of wisdom I ever heard about either Hollywood or the publishing world. It was said by William Goldman in his book, Adventure in the Screen Trade, and he was talking about how your work is judged by those in control of your destiny, that is to say, agents, producers, and publishers.

Goldman said that he is governed by one unshakable law: WHEN IT COMES TO WHAT WILL WORK, NOBODY KNOWS SHIT.

The marketplace is a dynamic, quirky, mysterious place and as far as what will sell, one person’s guess is as good as another. If all the formulas and theories worked, every book would be a best seller and no TV show would ever get cancelled. We’re all guessing here, so why isn’t your guess as good and anybody else’s?

Tuesday, May 10, 2005

What is truth, anyhoo?

In the last comment of my last post on rejection, Valerie said, "We don't need truth, we need hope," and that got me to thinking, What is the truth, anyway, and what is hope, and what about when the two intersect?

Of course we do want the truth when we read reportage; at least I do. It is more and more difficult to believe what is written because more and more it comes out that a reporter embellished the truth or just made it up.

But here's where it gets foggy, as regards truth vs. hope. When we hear how very difficult it is to publish your work in a respected journal or get picked up by a major publisher, we believe it and we take it to heart and we let it destroy our hope. Yes, it's true; it's difficult to get published. Did anyone say it's impossible? No. No one's said that.

Many things worth doing are competitive and achieving that which we desire can be difficult. But do we stop, do we roll up and die because it's not easy? No, we don't. At least we shouldn't.

I was never a cheerleader in high school and still don't quite get it, why women would want to do that gig, but I am a cheerleader when it comes to creative ventures because I believe that everyone has a creative streak; everyone just employs it differently. I think women--and some men--are so into shopping because, for them, it's a way of being creative. We all have a drive to create; it's one of the human conditions.

I know a few artists who have no need to make their art public or make a living from it. These are people, though, who have quite enough money to live on and just do their art because they love it.

But for most of us, we want to make it because we have to make money one way or another and why not make it by doing that which we love?

So, difficult, yes. Impossible, no.

And you have to hold onto the hope that it can and will happen, because if you don't have hope, you've got little. Hope got me through a ton of obstacles.

So the truth is that hope brings with it energy--energy to continue to strive and achieve your starry eyed dreams. Does anyone out there know the book, Max Makes a Million ? I love this book. It's a kid's book by Maira Kalman, who does quite a bit of New Yorker covers, but I bought this book before I ever had kids, when I was working at what was then Rizzoli's bookstore at South Coast Plaza, back in '86 or so. Max is a dog who wants to be a poet and his dream is to go to Paris and write poetry there. Here's an excerpt:

But do you think it is easy for a dog to pack a small brown suitcase, put on a beret, and hop on a plane? Ha! Plane tickets cost money. Mazuma, shekels, semolians. I have none. Because no one wants to buy my book. I'm flat broke. But someday fat families and skinny families around the world will be reading my poems. And laughing, and crying. I feel it in my bones. I want to say, before anything, that dreams are very important.

I won't tell you what happens; read the book; it's one of my favorites.

But I will say this, before I go, that dreams are very important. Dreams fuel hope and hope makes it happen.

Sunday, May 01, 2005

Rejection is a drag

I thought I already wrote about this and even if I did, you can never say too much about rejection, because rejection is a way of life for a writer. It's something to be gotten used to because if you don't, you become paralyzed, never sending your work out, never entering contests that intrigue you or never going for writing jobs you desire.

I hate rejection. Everyone hates rejection.

Many of you know that Pen on Fire went through a couple of agents and a couple dozen rejections before I revised, revised, revised and found my current agent who then proceeded to sell my book. The magazine, Personal Writing, published by publisher that puts out Writer's Digest, just published my essay called "Lessons Learned," which recounts my book's path to publication.

I almost tossed my manuscript and gave up forever when I thought I'd give it one more try. That one more try was the clincher.

I've collected hundreds of rejection letters from magazines, literary journals, agents and publishers. I've tossed most of them out except for a few very detailed letters from the New Yorker in which they actually told me why they were rejecting my stories and to submit again.

Having a book published doesn't make you immune to the terror of rejection. I almost didn't submit my book for consideration in the American Society of Journalists and Authors annual contest, but I was able to talk myself into it. What if I lose? I thought. This time I got lucky and won. Doesn't mean I'll be so lucky next time. See? The fear of rejection doesn't go away and it doesn't grow smaller.

You just keep on keeping on, because what else is there to do? Fold in upon yourself and dissolve? No can do.

I have a chapter in Pen on Fire about rejection, and I'm doing a talk at the Willamette Writers Conference this August on dealing with rejection. Our fear of it stretches back to childhood, to when we were rejected for something else, something unrelated to writing.

You can deal with rejection a lot of different ways. Burn those rejection letters. Or wad them up and throw them away. Or write a charming note to the editor or agent who rejected you (so says Carolyn See).

But I think the best way of dealing with rejection is to write your way through it. In my book, actually in the chapter on fear, I excerpted a few sentences from Dune, by Frank Herbert:

Fear is the mind-killer. Fear is the little death that brings total obliteration. I will face my fear. I will permit it to pass over me and through me. And when it has gone past, I will turn the inner eye to see its path. Where the fear has gone there will be nothing. Only I will remain.

Those few lines have gotten me through, many a time.

Take heart and don't let rejection stop you. Learn from it. Learn to decipher what the rejection letters are really saying. And move on, allow yourself to progress and eventually you will be victorious.

Monday, April 25, 2005

Draining your energy?

Jordan posted a comment: Is there a danger that the immediate gratification will dilute the energy and drive to get on with the book?

He was talking about giving your energy over to writing shorter pieces when in fact your interest is with a longer work.

I'm sure there is that danger, Jordan. I have so many things going on in my life (continuing promotion of Pen on Fire; editing The ASJA Monthly; teaching two private workshops and an online class with Gotham, beginning tomorrow; my radio show; working on a new proposal; writing a novel; my family; article deadlines. I know there's more but I fear my brain is frying and I can't remember what it is.

I just don't know what to cut out--my ongoing lament. I enjoy everything I do. In an ideal world, what would I keep and what would I cut out? Would I quit my editing job, quit teaching? It's an ongoing puzzle; I don't know.

I think that's a continuing challenge among all writers. How to prioritize? What to move to the top of your list, what to kick off?

When you've written a book, it's to your advantage to continue to do promotion. One way is to do articles that keep your name before readers. It is more immediate gratification, and yes, it can be draining. But what is the alternative?

You can go on, write the next book and say screw it, let the publisher keep my book alive. But it just doesn't work that way. Those days are over. Writers have to help keep their books alive and if it means not only working on books but working on articles, too, so be it.

Tuesday, April 19, 2005

Thoughts on books vs. magazines

Home, now, from New York and Pennsylvania. I was away for a week, and at the beginning of that time and even in the middle of it, it seemed like I wouldn't be seeing my boy for such a long time. And then I was back home and it seemed as if I had never left.

The ASJA conference was great--such good panels with wonderful speakers. I met Andrea, the editor of Pen on Fire and she was just wonderful. Others, too, that I've only had contact with online or on the phone or via email--great to put a face to those people.

I want to respond to a comment Jordan made on a previous blog. He said, "I admit to being a snob, but having done so, where is your 'writer's mind' now that your book is in the stores. A book, it seems to me, is permanent. Magazine and newspaper articles are transient things. Do you have any thoughts on this?"

I do have thoughts on this, Jordan.

Some people are book people, others seem to be more into magazines. While I subscribe to, and read, magazines, I'm definitely a book person. And every day I'm grateful that I have added my own book to the book population of the world.

That said, books can take a very long time to write. Writing a magazine article--or an essay or a story or a poem--and getting it published is much more of a short-term venture. I like seeing my work in print and when you do shorter works, you get that more immediate gratification of sending your work out and seeing it in print and knowing others will see it in print, too. And it's always fun to deposit checks in your credit union account, too.

For an author, there's one more benefit to publishing magazine articles: You can usually mention your book in your bio at the end of the article, which will hopefully garner more book sales for you--always a good thing. Promoting your book is ongoing, much as I'm sure you hate hearing the "P" work, Jordan.

Friday, April 15, 2005

New York: ASJA Writers Conference

Here I am, in my room on the 24th floor of the Grand Hyatt, taking a break before I go back downstairs to meet an editor from Woman's Day. On Members Day, there are Personal Pitch sessions where you get to meet for seven minutes, maybe eight, with editors and agents. Woman's Day readers have said their favorite hobby is writing and I'm trying to figure out some way to do an article or something for them. I just met one editor at lunch, and will soon meet another.

The big wonderful news is I won the ASJA book award for PEN ON FIRE in the Service category. I'm so jazzed about this. So, so jazzed. So I gave a very short speech that was quick and probably not very good.

More about the conference is at www.asja.org.

I love this room. The Hyatt has renovated...modernized.

More later....

Thursday, April 14, 2005

Book tour tales: Pennsylvania, now

Right now it's Friday morning and I sit in my hotel room while a girlfriend, Carol (Polite) Sanford from high school, and just after, showers. She and I hadn't even talked since the late '70s and last week got in touch through classmates.com. She drove down from New York for my book event and we decided to room together. We picked up where we left off. Interesting how that is.

Last night I did my Borders appearance in Montgomeryville, PA, near where I went to junior high through high school. Lots of relatives came and so did a few high school friends. A few people I didn't know and one whom I met on Readerville.com. It was such a moving night, actually. My Uncle Jerry was there. Back in the late '80s, after I published my first major travel article, Uncle Jerry started telling everyone that I was one of the highest paid writers in Southern California. Which is when I began to believe it might be possible to even be a full time writer (at the time I was doing something else for $$, besides writing).

Today I'll drive to New Jersey to see my half-sister Sylvia, whom I write about in my book, the chapter that begins with the line, "Bigamy runs in my family." Then to Manhattan for the ASJA conference. First, though, this evening, I'll meet with my editor at Harcourt for dinner. We've had so much contact over the last 22 months since my book sold but we've never met. Sort of like dating someone, even marrying, without having ever been in the same room.

Monday, April 04, 2005

Writing about someone still living

A comment was posted in the Jan. 27 blog on fear that goes like this:

"Both you and Anne Lamott talk about writing as if your parents are dead. In my novel in progress, I write about my mother as if she’s dead. The problem is that she’s very much alive, we’re estranged, and the mother character in my novel is portrayed in a negative light. The fact that she’s a mother is an important aspect of the story, so I can’t just give her a sex change. If the book gets published at some point, I’m afraid of litigation. I’m not sure what to do. Any advice?"

Where to begin??!

So many authors who've written about dicey themes or based their fiction on someone still living have come on my show and when I asked how they did it, mostly they said, "I wrote it as if it would never be published."

I would say, just write it and worry about it later. By the time you reach the end, it may be a very different book, so don't censor yourself now. Wait. And write.

I don't know if you're writing it in the first person. If so, perhaps doing it in the third person would change it enough.

Some writers wait till the person is no longer living, if it's that dicey. I'm working on a project right now where I'm encountering the same worry, but the story is important enough to me that I'm writing and putting off worrying till later.

So again, I'd say, go for it. You need to write this book, so worry about it after you have a final draft.

Monday, March 28, 2005

Write what only you can write

Last night after Travis went to bed, Brian put on the movie, Cross Creek, with Mary Steenburgen, Peter Coyote and Rip Torn. Has anyone seen it? I bought it at a flea market some months back. Rarely do we buy movies, but I wanted this one. It's based on Rawlings' life. Steenburgen plays author Marjorie Rawlings, who wrote and won the Pulitzer in 1939 for The Yearling. She leaves New York for rural Florida where she's planning to write gothic romances, big at the time. But her editor, Max Perkins (played by Malcolm McDowell), keeps rejecting her novels He tells her he loves her letters about life in rural Florida and maybe that's where her story is, not in the gothics she's been trying to do.

This is how The Yearling comes about, a moving novel about a boy (not a girl, like in the movie) and his pet deer.

I'm trying to remember who said it and it's not coming to me--I've looked through quotes I collect and a favorite quote book--but the quote is about not writing what you can write but what only you can write. What is the story that only you can tell? In Pen on Fire, Barbara Seranella talks about this, how she had written a book about divorce and a book about World War II, both of which she put aside. And then she focused in on what she knew, experiences she'd had, that were unique to her. That's when her Munch Mancini character, a lady auto mechanic, was born and her novels started getting published (Barbara had been an auto mechanic for 20 years).

Rawlings' 1953 New York Times obituary says, "For more than ten years, Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings tried hard to become a fiction writer--with complete failure. She made up her mind to give up. "Then I thought, well, just one more," she told a New York Times reporter years later. That short story "sold like a shot, and I have had no trouble since," Mrs. Rawlings said.

Rawlings learned to write what moved her, and writing the stories only she could write gave her the success that had eluded her for so long.

Monday, March 21, 2005

The plumber's here: A prompt

The bathtub wasn't draining again--it's an old house, old plumbing--and so the plumber is here, using something in there that sounds like a dental drill. My teeth are tingling. There he goes again. I want Novacain.

What's going on where you are? If you haven't written today, begin with where you are right this very minute.

I wish he'd stop.

Easter is in a few days. Lent will be over. I hope the Easter Bunny brings a lot of chocolate--tiny Whopper eggs, especially. Then I'll be hearing the real dentist's drill.

If you haven't already, start writing. Set the timer for 15 minutes. And go to it. Distractions and all.

Tuesday, March 15, 2005

I am so rude

People know you work at home and yet they come over unannounced. You want to be polite and friendly and so you open the door, you let them in, yet your mind is awash in words, in what you were just writing, so you stand there a little spaced out but trying to be sociable so they don't feel totally uncomfortable. They talk on and on, you say little and begin to wonder why you opened the door at all, being all closed-mouth and rude as you are.

Writers tend to feel guilty over exhibiting this behavior. I do, and yet I don't. I mean, I hate being rude. But I work at home! Do I just not answer the door at all? What if they saw me sitting in here typing away as they walked up to the door? Wouldn't that be worse, and even ruder?

When I answered the door, my friend said, "What're you doing?"

"Working."

She sniffed. "You baking?"

"A pot of garbanzo beans is simmering."

She started chatting and I just wanted to get back to my work. I should have said, "Travis will be home from school very, very soon and I really need to go right now."

When she left--10 mintues later, at that--I thought, "You were so rude! You should have done it some other way!"

Maybe wearing a sandwich board as you walk up to the door that says, "I'm writing and rude today."

I dunno.

What's the right thing to do here, when someone already knows you work at home? Or do you just not even open the door?

Monday, March 14, 2005

What's hiding in your drawers?

Okay, get your minds out of the gutter. I'm talking about the drawers of your desk or file cabinet. Or maybe they're in a closet or in the garage in cardboard storage box. Do you know what I'm talking about yet?

I'm talking about stories, essays, articles, novels. It's an all-too-common scenario--you have something that's finished, or is close to being finished, and you think about sending it out to a magazine or agent, but instead, you file it away for some later date. Maybe somewhere in the back of your mind you think that an editor will come looking for you, that one day you'll get an e-mail or phone call from an editor asking you what you have hiding in your drawers, pleading with you to let him/her read it.

Wrong.

Until you become a well-published author, there's an almost 100 percent chance that no one at a paying magazine or respectable publisher will approach you to see what unpublished work you have hiding somewhere. It does happen, but generally you have to be published for that to happen. After I published my first major travel story in Morning Calm (Korean Air's inflight), I was approached by an Australian magazine to reprint that piece and then a local Southern California publication asked me to write for them, and to give them reprints. Other things have happened as well. But it's been published writing that has generated that--not just being me, hiding out, waiting.

Other authors I know who have published short pieces or novels or nonfiction books are approached to submit pieces to anthologies or write essays or review books for magazines. The key, though, is that they have something of note that's already out there.

Pen on Fire would probably still be sitting alone and ignored in my garage if I hadn't, on my own, taken it out and given it another look.

I'm thinking of that old joke that many of you know, the one where there's a flood and the town is evacuating all the residents and one guy says, "Nah, I'm not going. I'm waiting for God to rescue me," so he waits and the floodwaters rise. He goes upstairs and a rowboat comes by with a rescue team aboard, and they try to convince him to join them, but he says, "Nah, I'm waiting for God to rescue me," so the flood waters keep rising and he climbs up on his roof. A helicopter hovers above him, lowers a rope and he turns it down. "Nah, I'm waiting for God to rescue me." Of course the waters keep rising, the guy drowns and sometime later he's in heaven and runs into God, whom he berates. "God, I depended on you and you let me down!" God says, "Hey, I sent you an evacuation notice, I sent a rowboat, I sent a helicopter--what more do you want!"

Okay, publishing is a little different than that, but you get my point (hopefully). You have to take action yourself and it may take more energy and cleverness than you think yourself capable of. But your friends and teachers and mentors who encourage you, who give you ideas, who keep you going--those people are, in effect, performing God-like acts, and you can choose to pay attention to them, or not.