Wisdom All Around Us

gladys taberI was glad to see that Gladys Taber is still a popular author on Goodreads almost 30 years after her death I remember her long-running column in Woman’s Day Magazine called “Butternut Wisdom.” Looking back, I admire that the photo that accompanied the column was an honest portrait of a genial-looking, but rather dumpy woman. No air-brushing or Photo shopping employed. Okay, if I’m honest, I never actually read those columns, or any of her books or other work. But just the title “Butternut Wisdom” was evocative. On the other hand, most of us are captive audiences for another source of wisdom: car license plate holders. I saw one a few days ago that was meant for me, and perhaps for all writers. “Never Tell Me The Odds.”  Not that I want to be in denial, but I think in order to do what I do, it’s better for me not to know the odds against getting published, landing a book deal, becoming known as a writer outside my own circle of friends, and of course, making any money at all from my work. Writing is hard enough. Why open myself up to disheartening statistics? After all, somewhere out there, people are still getting book deals, reviews in major outlets and speaking gigs. As long as that’s still happening, there’s hope for me–and you.

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A Slower Pace Has It’s Place

A lot of inexperienced performers, especially me, have a tendency to hurry through their performance. This is due to nerves or anxiety. I do this even during my lessons. My teacher, Abram, is constantly urging me to “slow down.” I guess our minds subconsciously think, “get in, get out, before something bad happens.” Or, “hurry up and get it over with, so this uncomfortable feeling will go away.” But it more often leads to mistakes.


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More importantly, it spoils the composer’s, speechwriter’s, lyricist’s, or playwright’s vision and message. There’s a reason, after all, why composer’s add indications such as “legato” or “andantino” to their scores. They have a tempo in mind that is an integral part of the musical work they are composing. Any work in the performing arts has a mood or tone it’s trying to convey, and the pacing of the notes, scenes, or speeches contributes to the desired effect. The same is true of writing. There’s a difference between the delivery of a snappy one-liner and the delight of a stately, but deeply satisfying book like Amor Towles’ A Gentleman In Moscow.” A lot of stories need time to build, to develop, to lead the reader to the desired reaction. Charles Reade famously said, ” Make ’em laugh, make ’em cry, make ’em wait.” I think we writers too often, in this era of breaking news, quick takes and fast cuts, of over-whelming and constant grabs for the consumer’s attention, tend to forget that our goal is to serve the story we’re writing, even if that means taking more time than we’re initially comfortable with. And I mean that in both senses: giving the story whatever time it needs to gel in our minds, and also taking longer to tell the story when we finally sit down to write, if that’s what is right for this particular work. Towles’ book is still selling briskly in hardcover, so even in the age of shortened attention spans, there’s a place for, even a yearning for, something of a more measured pace, which has room for depth of ideas, exploration of character, the building of an entire world, and a leisurely unfolding of events. I, myself, love flash fiction. But I also loved Towles’ book. Lucky us, we can have it all.

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And Then This Happened

perf anxAs I wrote in my last post, here I was, chugging merrily along, learning a new piece on the piano. And making progress. Then, suddenly, it all went haywire. Passages I had gotten “down” suddenly became impossible to play. Phrases that I had been playing unfailingly suddenly became a mishmash of mistakes. I couldn’t get it right, not at home, not during my lesson. It was still my fingers. Still the standard keyboard. After thinking it over, I realized what had changed. I had committed to performing in the music school’s upcoming adult recital. Just making that commitment had triggered performance anxiety, that, paradoxically, wrecked my performance–months ahead of the actual event!

As far as I can tell, all performers (including sports figures and those in any testing situation) go through this. I’ve read or heard tales of actors throwing up before going onstage each time. In BBC Music Magazine, Soviet pianist Emil Gilels is quoted as calling the walk onto stage the “journey to Golgotha.” Part of training is finding ways of combating the crippling effects of stage fright, or, even better, finding ways to make it work to one’s advantage.

My wonderful piano teacher and coach, Abram, had a few suggestions. “Think of yourself as “sharing” this wonderful music with others, rather than performing.” And, “focus on the music, not on yourself.”

Writers can also suffer from “performance anxiety” which sometimes takes the form of “writer’s block.” We writers at least get to make our mistakes in private. They’re called first (or sometimes, tenth) drafts. When we finally send out work out to our audience (reader, editor, whoever) we’ve had time to polish all the mistakes out of the “performance” that we now present to others. Yet, just as even the best musicians, despite hours and hours of practice, will occasionally make glaring errors on stage, sometimes the instant we hit “send” we discover previously unnoticed and egregious faults in our manuscript. The well-schooled musician will recover and carry on, just as the champion tennis player will immediately forget the last misplaced shot and focus on making the next shot a winner. So, instead of wallowing in chagrin, we just chalk it up to “oops” and get on with our next masterpiece. As the saying goes, we don’t let perfect be the enemy of the good, or stop us from continuing on our chosen path. At least I don’t, and I hope you don’t either.

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No Secrets

pianoI had my weekly piano lesson yesterday. My teacher and I are preparing a piece for the music school’s recital in April. Abram is a perfect teacher. He knows just when to push, when to correct, when to praise. Yesterday we worked out the best fingering for several passages. He also suggested learning the last passage first, then, working backwards, adding each passage in turn until I get to the beginning. These techniques help. But after the lesson is over, it’s up to me to practice the fingering endlessly, until the muscle memory for that phrase has been fixed in my brain. It’s up to me to practice each passage until they flow smoothly from one to another. His suggestions can give me a boost, but in the end it’s up to me to do the necessary work.

We writers also are always looking for ways to find an advantage–for tricks, tips, information that will help open a door. And so we band together to share them: a new agent, reviews of editing software, the best place to get head shots. We also swap manuscripts. support and encouragement. But in the end, it’s up to each of us, on our own, to come up with ideas, flesh them out, find our own voice, see it through to the end, revise it until it’s the best we can do, and have the guts to put it out there. Sometimes it’s hard to face that fact. So we join more groups, workshop the same fifty pages over and over, read one more writing manual. There is a third way, however. You write only for yourself, for your own satisfaction, or self-illumination, with no other audience in mind. It’s sort of the equivalent of playing the piano pieces you already know and love, with never a thought of performing them for someone else. Either choice is perfectly okay. There’s a lot to be said for just doing what you love, whether or not it’s aimed at anything other than self-expression in the moment. For me, though, it’s always about getting better, about the next challenge. Committing to a recital, like committing to submit, is one more way to keep me focused on that goal.

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Different Strokes

lightbulbI saw a call for submissions from one of the newer short mystery fiction magazines. I had recently bought an issue and wanted to read it to determine if I had anything in inventory that might be suitable for them. Turns out I didn’t. The general tone, style and subject matter were quite dissimilar to what I write. But what tumbled my writer’s emotions into the cellar was the high quality of the pieces. While the stories may not have been what I like to read, the writing was undoubtedly top notch. “Who can compete with that?” I thought. “I should just give up.” I didn’t sleep much that night. But in the morning, I realized I had gotten the wrong end of the stick. I don’t have to be those guys to be a good writer or to find a home for my work. I just needed to be my own best writerly self. I can also work to be better than I already am. Plus, I have to remember all the truly bad writing I’ve seen in print. In fact, I’ve read more than one interview with successful writers who said they got started by reading something awful and thinking, “I can do better than that.” This actually happened to me years ago. I was in a writing class and a woman read a poem about a cat. It was a real clunker. I immediately thought, “I can write a better cat poem,” and sitting right there in class, I did! And sold it to one of the old confession magazines, back when they published poetry. So now I remind myself that I have been published, there are many markets out there that are more open to my style, and that nobody ever said the writer’s path was easy. My job is to research more markets, keep submitting and meanwhile, beef up that inventory.

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Thoughts From the Editor

thumbnail_Trishabiopic3Today I’m interviewing Trisha Faye, the editor of the newly released anthology In Celebration of Sisters.

Me: How did you come up with the idea for In Celebration of Sisters?

Trisha: This newest anthology, In Celebration of Sisters, is a follow-up – or companion – anthology to In Celebration of Mothers: Reflections Celebrating Motherhood, which I published last year. Last year, my mother was turning 80 and I was searching for something different and unique for a special birthday present. She certainly didn’t need any more knick-knacks or blankets. I thought of writing a book, but was looking at a fairly short time frame and didn’t think I could write an entire book by myself. So I put out a call for submissions to other authors and produced an anthology. My mom loved having a book dedicated to her, with an early picture of her and me on the cover. A year later, I think she’s still floating on air. A book honoring sisters seemed to be the perfect second anthology.

Me: What was the biggest or most unexpected challenge you had when putting together the anthology?

Trisha: By far the biggest challenge is narrowing down the submissions! There were so many excellent stories and poems submitted, I wish I could have accepted far more than I did. Unfortunately, I had a set budget I had to stay within, which limited the number of tales I could purchase first rights for.

Me: Any ideas for future anthologies that you’re ready to share?

A third anthology is underway for release in March 2018. Mothers of Angels is a collection of stories and poems about the grief of losing children. Stories have already been submitted for that and we’re in the midst of the selection process. I thought that was going to be the last anthology…but then, yours truly (Lida, the blog host here) threw out an idea that got the wheels spinning again…

Me: I look forward to seeing what you come up with next! All the best for your future projects, Trisha.

Visit Trisha’s website at http://trishafaye.com

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It’s Here!!

Hi, everybody. I’m delighted to announce that In Celebration of Sisters, the anthology that includes my essay about my sister, Mary, is now available. If you have a sister you love, or know someone who does, it will make a unique gift. I got a real kick out of writing the essay, and I’m glad the editor, Trisha Faye, liked it as well. Next week, she’ll be visiting this blog for an interview. So, I’ve started the New Year with a bang. I also sent off my first submission of the year on Jan. 2. While I don’t necessarily believe the rest of the year will be as stellar, I’m happy with a job well-done so far. All the best to all of you as the new year unfolds.

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The Artist In All Of Us

martha grahamAt the end of the year, many people take stock. Artists do, too. For us, this self-assessment can take various forms. Did I create new work this year? Did I have any successes? Did I keep my vision for my work in sight? Are my skills better than they were a year ago? Do I have more confidence? Am I any good at all? In response to my own questions and to others, I can do no better than to quote Martha Graham.

“There is a vitality, a life force, an energy, a quickening that is translated through you into action, and because there is only one of you in all of time, this expression is unique. And if you block it, it will never exist through any other medium and it will be lost. The world will not have it. It is not your business to determine how good it is nor how valuable nor how it compares with other expressions. It is your business to keep it yours clearly and directly, to keep the channel open. You do not even have to believe in yourself or your work. You have to keep yourself open and aware to the urges that motivate you. Keep the channel open. … No artist is pleased. [There is] no satisfaction whatever at any time. There is only a queer divine dissatisfaction, a blessed unrest that keeps us marching . . .”

My own tally for the year looks like this: 3 poems and one essay accepted. 45 blog posts published. 32 submissions to a variety of publications. Attendance at one local author’s fair. Attendance at Bouchercon in Toronto. Those are the visible examples. There’s also a draft of a memoir, along with drafts of poems, essays and stories. A presentation in the works. With the new year only a few days away, I look forward to a continuation of the “blessed unrest” that keeps me marching.



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The Other Thing . . .

sphere binary. . . that I’m most grateful for, in addition to the writers groups that offer so much substantive help is: electronic submissions. I remember looong ago, at writer’s conferences, you always could tell a raw beginner when they would ask, “What’s an SASE?” Now that acronym is once again becoming mysterious. And thank goodness. During this time of year, when standing in line at the post office is an accepted, but wearying necessity, I remember the old days of trudging to the post office to mail manuscripts. I was constantly juggling multiple sizes of envelopes, getting them weighed for correct postage, taking extreme care that they were postmarked by the rigid deadline. Then worrying that they got delivered and that the usual rejection also didn’t go astray. And yes, there were cases where manuscripts got lost behind some editor’s radiator. If you wanted to submit to a foreign market, you had to buy IRCs in the correct amount for that country’s postage. (IRC=International Reply Coupon.)

It’s true that online submissions have their own headaches. Back in the day, we had pretty much one format for all submissions. Now, each market has it own unique requirements as to spacing, font, paragraphs, contact information, cover letters, bios, and whether to strip the file of identifying information.  But, as long as one is careful, these can be met. The other potential drawback is that if your internet connection goes down at the last minute, it can stop your submission in its tracks. But those issues are far outweighed, in my opinion, by the standard practice of getting an immediate acknowledgement that your piece has been received; that you can often check for updates on its progress through the editorial maze; and that, if you get turned down, you can send the manuscript to some other market without re-typing those old, crumpled pages. If an editor likes your piece, but wants a few changes, that, too, can be accomplished without a long back and forth through the mail.

Yeah, there are still a few markets that either require or accept paper submissions. These days it seems rather quaint. Even some of them are now answering via email, instead of return envelope. So, thanks to all the programmers and visionaries who’ve made it all possible. My writing life is better because of you.

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Talk About Grateful. . .

gratitude (2)I didn’t write a post about being grateful at Thanksgiving, but now’s the time. I had coffee a few days ago with a friend who has her own business in a different field from mine. She had mentioned she was planning taking a course in “social media” for her particular field. It sounded interesting, as we writers often have our websites, blogs, Twitter feeds, etc. But when I asked her about it, she said she had bailed out. She found out it cost $2000.00!!! Sheesh. So now I’m super grateful for all the groups I belong to, both online and IRL. These include Sisters In Crime, the Guppies sub-chapter of SinC, my local chapter SinCLA, and Short Mystery Fiction Society. Guppies and both the national SinC and my local chapter often offer wonderful classes for what I now realize is a super bargain price. While some are about craft, many deal with social media. Plus, I get newsletters which include how-to’s about social media platforms. On top of all that, the online forums, which are free for paid members, often have threads that provide knowledgeable and thorough tips for handling social media issues. (Not to mention that the memberships include a wealth of other benefits.) I can’t imagine any of us has $2000.00 to spend on instruction, no matter how excellent it may be. So, for all my groups, for all the volunteers that work so hard to keep them running, for all people who step up with articles, advice, support and help, THANKS.


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