Wednesday, December 26, 2012

Sometimes it just takes a good book.....

I am so often years behind in my reading.  For instance I just read Wallace Stegner's "Crossing to Safey," a novel about four friends, which is quiet, observant, with great depth, but little action.  His descriptions are infinite and beautiful, writing the way I'd like to, with details, metaphors, bringing you right into the scene.  It seems that so little occurs, but it's the lives of four people, their friendships, their dreams, their flaws.  Such beautiful writing.  To write a book which remains alive and vital years after it was written, for a reader to share, to be moved by - I'm sure that's the dream of every writer, certainly it's mine.

With the horrors of the past few weeks, I was grateful to read something quiet, smart and insightful, which took me away from the bloodshed of outside events.  It seemed that hatred and anger were everywhere, here and around the world.  We need to hold on and notice the beauty that still exists everyday, be grateful for the smiles that still shine, the children who can still play, the books that can still captivate, especially our next breath which gives us the chance for a new start with each inhalation.

I'm also grateful for the rave press reviews for my book, Sown in Tears, the loved ones in my life and the hope that the New Year will be filled with days of wonder for us all.

Monday, December 3, 2012

I'm not really a cruise person, but......

This Thanksgiving I joined friends on a week-long cruise.  We all started the conversation, by saying, "I'm not really a cruise person but...." Then we all agreed to go, seven adults and two kids. I believe it's the obligation of a writer to experience different cultures, taste new foods, see lots of places, not necessarily out of town, you can even in your own backyard, if you keep an open heart and wide-open eyes.

I think a big ship line homogenizes everything to fit the widest range of people.  But we decided to opt for excursions in Costa Maya, Belize City, Roatan and Cozamel, run and operated by locals, so we could at least get a little taste of the different places, from people who lived there.  And we started in New Orleans where the ship was docked.  Tennesee Williams' house, William Faulkner's house, great Creole food, authentic blues music, and beignets from Cafe du Monde, I give thanks just for that.

So, I'm still not a cruise person, was a great holiday.  Hope yours was too.

Friday, November 2, 2012

Who Me, Interviewing John Lennon?

I'm always amazed at the people who start out in life knowing what they want to do and where they're going.  Sometimes I've envied their focused passion while I was still all over the place, going from one career to another.  But lately I've been reflecting on the unexpected paths I've taken and begun to realize that I wouldn't have had some of the adventures if I had stuck to the tried, true and expected.

For instance, there I was in Philadelphia deciding if I should accept a nursing scholarship and instead opted to become an x-ray technician. Whoa!  Where did that all come from?  That's another story for another time.  But that decision led to going to New York and surprisingly discovering the world of acting.  A surprise which opened up all my creative juices.  Little off-off-off-off Broadway theaters where sometimes the cast outnumbered the audience.  But always learning to observe, to remember, to let the emotions flow.  Good practice for a writer as well as an actor.

When you're an aspiring actor, you need a flexible day-job and one that I had was working for a radio/records publication where I found myself ultimately interviewing and reviewing music and musicians.  My first byline, leading to a music industry magazine and Los Angeles.  Who would have expected the x-ray technician from Philadelphia to be doing one of the first interviews with John Lennon after he split from the Beatles?  Sitting in a garden, sipping orange juice and ruminating with The Beatle, about fame and music and the group's place in history.  Or laughing hysterically with the group Monty Python as they answered questions in their own inimitable style, which was rowdy and raucous. Or seeing the Golden Gate Bridge glowing at sunset with a member of Blood Sweat and Tears.   Or as a publicist helping to plan Paul McCartney's party on the Queen Mary for his fist solo group, Wings.  Or sitting in Venice, Italy, holding off the papparazzi from Rutger Hauer at the Venice Film Festival. Or juggling the media backstage at the Grammys after Barbra Streisand and Neil Diamond had just finished their amazing duet of "You Don't Bring Me Flowers Anymore."

And that was all before I had the rewarding, extraordinary experience of getting into writing fiction.  You just never know where life can take you if you're open to the adventure of new journeys.  I reccommend it, I never worry about kids who aren't sure of their life's path. Give it time I say. And stay open.

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

Giving Birth To A Book

Not being a mother, it's probably dangerous to equate anything with giving birth to a child.  Mothers around the world will gird up and unite in taking me down for my presumptuousness. But to a writer, a musician, a painter or any creative person, the time and pangs you go through in order to bring forth something that you have created certainly feels reminiscent of being pregnant and finally giving birth.

That's how I've been feeling about sending out a new novel, Sown In Tears, after working on it and mulling over it for several years.  Even an elephant has its baby sooner than that.  And of course, I want everyone to consider my "baby" to be beautiful and very, very smart.  And naturally, I hope that everyone will run out and greet my child by buying the book immediately. 

But a good friend who also happens to be a doctor once gave me some good advice when I lamented that I might never have millions of readers like perhaps the author of some blockbuster like Fifty Shades of Gray.  He said that when he helps or saves just one patient's life, he considers that better than winning the lottery and that if even one person loves my book or gets some insight from it, I, too, should feel that is reward enough. In Judaism it's said that if you save one person, it's as though you've saved the entire world.  It's true, that anytime a reader tells me that they have enjoyed either of my novels, I feel as good as if I've saved the universe.  I'm sure mothers all over the world would say the same thing.

Friday, September 21, 2012

How did you come up with that idea?

With my new book, SOWN IN TEARS, now out and available, I was asked what made me interested in the setting of Russia, 1905.  Before you focus on an idea for a novel, you have to be certain that you can live with that story for many months, for me, it's years.  Of course, if you get tired of the idea or it leads nowhere for you, you can always stop, put it away, throw it in the wastebasket.  I've known writers who do most or all of a book and then dump it in the nearest compost heap.  In my case, for this second novel, it was something my father said on a tape he made about growing up in Russia.  I didn't hear this tape until long after he had died. I learned about the conversation he had at his 65th birthday party, given by his nieces and nephews, when I was living on the west coast and unable to attend.
He talked about how during the influenza epidemic, which rocked the world in 1918, killing millions, his mother shuttled him from relative to relative in the area of Russia where they lived, trying to make sure he didn't catch the disease.  I had been lucky enough when I was growing up to know all four of my grandparents, so I was struck by the image of my Bubba protecting her youngest child from harm.  That was the seed that burrowed its way into my brain and would not go away.  At the time I had planned to write a more contemporary story since my first novel was also a bit historical, taking place during World War 2. But the time when Russian Jews lived in perpetual danger from both natural causes and the hatred of those in power kept haunting me.  All of us are the product of immigrant stories which brought our families to this country, looking for a better life.

SOWN IN TEARS is totally fiction and not a portrait of my grandmother, except for the strength and tenacity that I hope my protagonist, Leah, shows in protecting her own two children. Everything else is a product of my imagination, fed by facts that I researched and a trip I took to Russia and the Ukraine.

Friday, September 14, 2012

Even when we hate the speech, we have to protect its freedom

+As a writer and an American, free speech and access to that speech is of paramount importance.  That's why it's so hard when something like the offensive video that has caused all the trouble becomes the object of defense.  This is not the first time that ugly words meant to hurt and harm have arise and we are left to defend the freedom to speak even while we deplore the text of the speech.  Truly having freedom of speech means allowing words that we don't agree with, not censuring that speech, except of course for the yelling "fire" in a crowded room.  Some might believe that this vile video is equal to that scream of "fire," but others worry that any censorship is a step down the proverbial slippery slope.  Violence has no excuse, and certainly causing death or injury has no justification in this case.  As a writer I'm in the thrall of words, believe in their power, understand their effect, so as abhorrent as this video might be, there has to be a place for dissent, discourse and diversity.
But it appears that this video gave the extremists the very match to start their fires of hatred.  We must be sure that our speech is part of the discussion not the blowtorch to innite explosions.

Wednesday, September 5, 2012

Sometimes it takes a village to raise a writer

Everybody keeps talking about "who build it," "I did it alone," "many helped you along the way." Writers especially are very proprietary about how the work is their own. Well, of course we feel we did it alone, but I'm happy to say that without my mentors, the workshops I participated in, the writers' retreats I attended, I wouldn't be writing today. If Janet Fitch(White Oleander, Paint Black)hadn't told me about Kate Braverman's workshop, or invited me into her own private workshop and encouraged me, I'd still be trying to write short stories and never attempt a novel. If I hadn't had the scrutiny of my fellow-writers, I'd never have had the nerve to complete that first novel or get to the second one. Natalie Goldberg, Jack Grapes, or Ron Hansen at my week at Tin House as well as my sojourn at Squaw Valley all combined to give me insights that illuminated what was right and what wasn't working in my writing. And most recently the editing of Lynn Stegner alerted me to the strength and weaknesses in the draft. Some people worry that the presence of other writers would be hyper critical or too stifling for them to thrive, but while we writers need to be able to hone our own judgement, having an independent eye on our work can only add immeasurably. If we can find the right environment, we should treasure it.

Sunday, August 26, 2012

Choosing the right book cover

If you're self publishing, one of the tasks you will have is choosing the proper book cover. I looked at dozens of them and in a lot of cases I found myself underwhelmed by what I saw. Granted, I didn't know what the books were about, but unless I knew the author, I had no interest in buying, borrowing or browsing them. I shudder to think that others may pass by my book for the same reason. BUT, in the process of making a choice I realized something that I hadn't thought of before. I checked out photographic websites that Createspace was associated with, looking at dozens if not hundreds of photos that I could choose from. I came up with two very different photos, with two widely different tones. One, a melancholy winter's scene, the other, a hand in a dramatic pose which reeked "defiance" to me. My first thought was to go with drama, something I hoped would stop people in their tracks (or at least give them pause). I asked opinions of friends, and they were evenly divided. After going back and forth over a weekend, I realized that I had gotten tired of the dramatic version. That it wouldn't last the long haul of working with this book over a period of time and that it was important that I still liked the cover after many weeks or months. So melancholy won out and hopefully I'm right. Come Septemter, I'll know the answer.

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Why Can't I Proof What I Wrote?

If you've ever had to proofread anything that you've written, be sure that you hand the job over to someone else. Even that isn't foolproof (no pun intended). Get two people to do the job. With my first book, I actually thought I could read and pick up the typos, awkward sentences, printing mistakes. Ha! I missed multiple places that would have been obvious to anyone with any eyesight at all. But not to the person who wrote the words. You see what you meant to write, not actually what is on the page. If you don't follow any advice at all, follow this maxim. DON'T DO YOUR OWN PROOFREADING.

Monday, August 6, 2012

Too Easy to Send

So like everyone does, I forwarded an email which extolled the Italian athletes for holding a minute of silence last week in memory of the 11 murdered Israeli athletes at the 1972 Olympics, as well as a French athlete who showed his Hebrew tatoo which translated to "I am nothing without them." I assumed that both events honored the 1972 athletes, but in fact the Frenchman was honoring his grandmother who died at Auschwitz. I never read all the way to the very bottom of the text, in fact I only looked at the photo caption. No real harm done, but it was a red flag to me that even with the best intentions we can perpetuate inaccurate information onto the internet which then can live forever. I tease kids about their short attention span and lack of detail, but here I am doing the same. When people send me rumors I always check them out on, but still here I was sending out info which I thought meant one thing and instead it meant another. How many times are we doing this now? How much is out there that is wholly correct and can be traced to the source? Emails are too easy to send and too difficult to retract.

Wednesday, August 1, 2012

The fun of self-publishing?

The world has changed since I self-published my first book, Flying Out of Brooklyn. And that was only a few years ago. Then the word Kindle was new and who expected anyone to read their books online? Certainly not me. Then self-publishing was still a bit stigmatized, even though more and more authors were doing it. Like Cole Porter said, everybody is doing it (well maybe not birds or fish), but many mainstream successful -used-to-be-traditionally published authors. Using Creatspace has really been easy. Everything after writing the novel seems easy. Pick out your font, decide on your cover, proof the digital copy, check the hard copy, Oh yes, if you do it all by yourself it would be practically free. But if you're me and can't format or design there is a charge, but along with that is daily help. The hard part of course is the marketing, the getting the word out to the world process. If I learn that part, it will all be worth it. Actually, it's the writing which is the best part. The rest is all icing on the cake.