Bravery

I gained a new follower a few days ago. Normally, this would be a cause for jubilation. But this time, I felt anxiety. The new follower is someone I know slightly. So what? I have lots of followers I know personally (and many lovely people I’ve met only online.) Why should knowing that this particular person will be reading what I write be any more daunting than any other reader? I haven’t figured it out yet. But I do realize it’s one of those cases of self-consciousness that results from self-doubt, self-criticism, and self-censorship: exactly those icky feelings that so often get in the way of our work. That ol’ debbil, our inner critic, has struck when I least expected it. My blog was the one place where I felt comfortable sharing experiences about the writing life, insights, new literary finds. What do I do now? The only answer, as with all my work, is bravery. We all know it takes guts to keep sending out our work to faceless editors, busy agents, even sharing it with our critique partners or groups. Yet, it’s as essential to our work as any other skill.

brave2Coincidentally, I picked up a book at Vroman’s the other day, Fortune Favors the Brave: 100 Courageous Quotations. Turns out there’re lots of quotes in here that apply. I like this one attributed to Stonewall Jackson: “Never take counsel of your fears.” I don’t know anyone who is so arrogant or naïve as to not worry about how his or her work will be received. Yet, we send out our work anyway. Because of that, we can all claim to be brave. Another quote in the book, from Mark Twain, states, “To believe yourself brave is to be brave; it is the one only essential thing.”

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It’s Not My Fault

boucherconI spent the last few days in Toronto at Bouchercon, the be-all and end-all of mystery writers and readers conventions in Toronto. I had vowed I would not bring back a suitcase full of books. Any of you who read this blog can guess how that turned out. But it wasn’t my fault. Honest. First, in our registration goody bags, there were three free novels. Then, the Simon and Schuster table was giving away three books if you signed up for their newsletter. Who is not going to take advantage of that? As I met new friends, I bought their books as a show of support. In the book room, stocked with a vast array of books from many booksellers, I found several volumes that were hard to find in other venues, so I had to snap them up when I had the opportunity. I need not go on.

But in addition to carting home books I arguably did not need, I met lovely people, many of whom I knew only from our online contacts. The authors on the panels were delightful, and so, so gracious in person. I was also happy to meet so many attendees who were librarians or library support staff. I’m ready to sign up for the next one. Now I just need to start pumping iron at the gym, to be in shape to drag home the next haul of books.

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You’re a Writer, So . . .

woe is me. . . you get the same reactions we have been getting since the creation of dirt. We get questions: where do you get your ideas? We get “help.” “Boy, we should team up and I’ll tell you my life story and you can write it up and it will be a guaranteed best seller.” We get misunderstood, especially on the nature of our work. “I guess you just sit at home all day typing and the money pours in.” We get the rather disheartening question, “what do you write?” which often means, “have I ever heard of you, and if not, I’ll go talk to someone else.” these reactions are usually from people we’ve just met or who don’t know us well. Friends we have gotten to know, or who have gotten to know us, at least have some understanding of what we do and how we do it and are much needed cheerleaders and supporters.

So, when a friend of mine confessed she had enough material for two non-fiction books already compiled, including photos, and hinted that she would like to “do something” with them, my reaction was to issue a caution. This is someone I take seriously, as I have a lot of respect for her business management skills. She’s no wannabe. If she says she has enough material, I know it’s true.

My caution was this: Be careful who you tell, at least at this point. She can tell me or another writer. Hesitate before mentioning her plans to anyone else. Then I told her one of the gentler incidents in my own writing life. I had published my first book of poems and was at an event where I knew quite a few people. One of them was a lady I’m very close to, to whom I wanted to give a copy of the book. When I did, the woman next to her, whom I knew slightly, got animated. But it wasn’t about me or my book. Her response was, “Oh, my granddaughter wants to write a children’s book. What should she do?” Sheesh. First of all, this moment was supposed to be about me and my work. Second, I don’t write for children. Third, there are no easy answers or advice to give. I probably mumbled something about The Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators, and left the scene. There’s a reason why cops socialize with other cops and physicians with other physicians, etc. There are lots of perfectly wonderful people who don’t “get” us. They make cherished friends and often are great supporters. Still, be careful. I’m just sayin’.

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Make it Stop! (Not Really)

nyreviewOnce again I’m overwhelmed by piles and shelves of unread books. I shouldn’t say, “once again,” because it’s actually a permanent condition. I could never live long enough to read them all, especially since I can’t resist adding to the pile, sometimes daily. In the past, I’ve periodically weeded the bunch, but that’s not near as much fun as finding new stuff to read. And like any addict, I have no problem locating the good stuff. I’m a big fan of The New York Review of Books. But with every new issue I find 5 or 6 books I just have to read. There’s Goodreads, of course, which sends out monthly lists of new releases. Then there are the displays at my local independent bookstore, plus their wall of “staff picks.” I see the best seller lists posted at the library, along with the book club selections, special exhibits (this month it’s “banned books”) and the new books shelves. I regularly visit favorite blogs and websites which have recommendations. Time and other magazines have their “summer reading” issues. All this, not to mention the books my friends are raving about. So far, I think it’s a harmless vice. Except. . . going cold turkey sounds unbearable. So I have no solution. But then, secretly, I don’t really want one.

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Re-Read Any Good Books Lately?

I was talking with an acquaintance yesterday. I’m not sure how this topic came up, but he mentioned that there were two books that he re-read at least once a year. One was Victor Frankl’s Man’s Search for Meaning.

The other was A River Runs Through It, by Norman Maclean. My friend read them to be reminded of principles he wants to live his life by. Believers in religious faiths, of course, re-read their sacred texts often. But there are other books that deserve to be re-read as well. As our life experiences change us, as our circumstances change, some books speak to us in a different way each time we read them.

 

For me, as I’ve mentioned before, it’s Antoine de St. Exupery’s Night Flight As I said in my last post, it’s hard enough to find time to fill in the gaps of unread books in the oeuvres of our favorite authors.

To find time to re-read meaningful works is also a challenge. But they don’t have to be long works. None of the three I’ve cited here are long. It can be a poem or story. It can be any work that re-focuses our attention on our values, our goals, our vision for ourselves, or what’s most important in life. If you, reader, have any book that does this for you, I’d love to know what it is.

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In Praise of Earlier Works

Never thought I’d see the day. An actual novelist on stage at the Emmy awards. And not in her role as screenwriter. Purely as a novelist. And that it was Margaret Atwood was utterly thrilling. Ms. Atwood was the original source, of course, of the multi-award winning Hulu streaming series based on her book The Handmaid’s Tale. Liane Moriarty also got full recognition for writing Big Little Lies, as the mini-series based on it also won lots of awards. Each of these two feminist video series won five awards.

 

 

There’s another earlier Atwood book that I loved when it came out, but which never seems to be mentioned these days. It’s called The Edible Woman. In fact, I often enjoy early works by writers who later go on to greater fame. Another example is A Slipping-Down Life, an early work by Anne Tyler. With new, wonderful books coming out every day, it can be hard to find time to go back and fill in blank spots in a beloved writer’s oeuvre. But I squeeze them in when I can. Very worthwhile.

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My Newest Hero

crosstalksmI hope you have time to read this long, but brilliant and lively interview with Connie Willis printed in Lightspeed Magazine. She has so much to say about writing, getting and developing ideas, researching, rejections, despair, hope, the unexpected aspects of being a writer as well as social media and mass communication. The personality of the interviewer also shines through. I rarely read science fiction, but I rushed right out to Vroman’s, my local independent bookstore, and bought Crosstalk. And thanks to Michael T. for alerting me to this interview.

(If you can’t get it at a library, here’s the link to buy it at Amazon.)

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