crushing cuties into potion…

January 6, 2013 § 3 Comments

They were left on the counter, having somehow escaped the holiday feasting madness…five little cuties…all alone…one of them was rather hard, it’s juice having gone somewhere, seeping through its skin maybe, I dunno. But it was rock hard and refused the juicing I was about to give the other four…because there’s magic in that juice…and writers can always use a little magic.
(photo by DCL)

DSC_0542Planning to jump into Laurie Colwin’s HOME COOKING this evening. Just a little taste of it. Have other books to finish but…just for a little taste.


“weather in a word…”

May 3, 2012 § 9 Comments

On the last day of our Gulf vacay, this sign was just outside a lunch cafe.

Funny how even a grey weather day on a vacay stint just doesn’t matter. 
You have, by now, relearned livingwithin Nature, embraced by it, wrapped up in the balm of walking around in the air, have learned how to be beyond the office walls, and you’ve rediscovered the relativity of time without a clock, including all the things you can do or not do within a day that doesn’t involve desks, meetings or email.

In fact, you’re likely to tilt your head skyward, close your eyes, open your mouth and taste the rain. 



Books read on vacay: 
Lucia, Lucia by Adriana Trigiani.  I like her books (see her THE SHOEMAKER’S WIFE on the bestseller list!) for their mix of Italian language, growing up Italian in NYC and the occasional inclusion of fictional relatives in Italy. It recalls hours and hours at my mother-in-law’s kitchen table in Brooklyn.
The Art of War for Writers by James Scott Bell  is a decent read with inspirational value, some strong recommendations and one or two esoteric exercises.  Yes, read it. Even if you’re not a writer. But if you’re reading this, you  probably are.
And then there are the magazines but much reading time was replaced by “friend” time because we holidayed with best friends and I cannot tell you how luxurious it is to drop in (a few floors down) for coffee with a BFF at the beginning of a day.

Do we not have something of the same luxury wtih our blog friends? Indeed!


October 22, 2011 § 17 Comments

There are not a whole lot of easy barefoot patio mornings left in this year.  We covered the flowers against the frost two nights ago. They live to creep and vine still along the brick fence columns.

But getting up to make coffee and sip outside now needs a sweater. And really, some shoes. The bricks are nearly cold despite the sun. The air has a wee bit of a snap.  I think about baking things that include apples.

And, the coffee in the press pot cools all the quicker. Thus, the thermal cups.
(Look closely in the lid of the pot to see the patio umbrella and HM’s reflection!)

And doesn’t it affect your reading choices as well? Anything with a beach or a summer cottage, deserts, Provence or South America (and even my fave Karen Russell (Florida swamps) goes on the guest room bookshelf. Anything on southern islands or in such climes is banished to a stack in the den.

It’s time for Thoreau, Dickens, Dillard, Joyce, McPhee, Proulx, Wolfe,  White (as in EB), and all of one’s favorite sit-in-the-wing-chair-and-read writers.
Do the seasons affect your reading choices? 


April 11, 2011 § 9 Comments

Last year at a writers’ conference, I chose not to pitch the book I was working on. It was partly out of respect because, you know your book should be finished before you pitch it, especially if you’re a first-time writer. But it was also partly because I was too shy. What? Too shy? Too shy to sit in front of an agent and “sell” my book, enough to pique his/her interest and get her to say “send it to me” ?  what? I couldn’t muster that?

But this year was different. Pitching to an agent, for five minutes, FIVE MINUTES!, was included with the conference price. I’d be crazy not to try. Further, serendipitously, I had, two weeks prior to the conference, discovered the presence of a local agent/publisher. She would be attending the conference, listening to pitches and was interested specifically in Missouri writers. I signed up. Nothing to lose, right? (still, if one could lose weight by being stressed, I would have lost about 5 pounds moments before I was to pitch!)

Here’s what I now know about pitching. 

1) Get your pitch down to one sentence.
2) Don’t waste any time disclaiming or explaining … about your book OR your writing!
3) Leave your business card (seriously) when you leave the table.

Once finished, there is a good chance you will hear “send it to me.” This does not mean your book is accepted; this means you showed up at the conference, you chose the right agent to pitch to, you care about the writing/publishing process,  you want to move your book forward and that the agent will take a look at it.   “Send it to me” is only the first of the many million steps in moving closer to publication.

Pitching, for its own sake, is darn good practice.  There you are with 5 minutes sitting across from an agent who is NOT scary (really) and there you are, listening to your own voice distill the book you are working on and wondering if it even sounds like something YOU want to read!
Following your pitch, you may make several of many different decisions.
(I have no idea if anyone else would read my book. A writer tends to work in solitary. I will look into buddying up with a “first reader”, though.)

Anyway, I recommend pitching.
It is preparation, it is distillation, it  is nerve and guts and belief. If you believe in your book, if you don’t hear any falseness in your own voice as you pitch it , if there are no niggling doubts in the back of your mind, then you are, at least, on  the right road.

Even if the book  gets a look, I know one thing for sure. It needs  tons of work. And that work is still (and always) part of the fun.
But yeah, I’m keeping my day job.

Shoutout to a green poet…AND, she wins!

March 15, 2011 § 7 Comments

Meet Juliet Wilson. She’s The Crafty Green Poet.
I’ve been reading her blog, her haikus, and tales of her traipses around her native Scotland and pictures of her “wilderness” for several years.

Juliet is one of those people in one of those places that catches your interest and writing-ness and is a reminder of all things good and green, along with ideas, without preachiness.

She’s a poet.
She’s published a chapbook.
She’s keeping it green.

And here’s the link to her winning one for everyone!

And here is what she won, in case you didn’t click on the article within the above link!

It’s not easy, being green. (I know, I know, Kermit said, er, sang that.) But it’s true. And in spite of the laptop and PCs, etc., I have a “thing” for paper, but trying, oh, trying so hard to make excellent use of it.
Here’s to “green” writing!

The write book at the write time…

November 21, 2010 § 8 Comments

Timing is everything.
And this book was there on my “library” stack just as I was about to flee the house rather than face down an impending deadline on a very short piece that’s giving me nothing but trouble.

HOW I WRITE   THE SECRET LIVES OF AUTHORS, edited by Dan Crowe with Philip Ottermann; Rizzoli, New York: copyright 2007  was just the bridge I needed.
It’s almost coffee-table size, but not. It fits upright on a standard book shelf.
The white cover has a giant bracket with a list of all the authors inside who will be divulging.
The paper stock is superior, holds the imprint perfectly and the photos and drawings within are so book-ish, colorful, sometimes b&w, hugely appealing. To a bookaholic little writer. 

There’s a Kafka quote just inside from his diary , 24 December 1910: “I had a close look at my desk just now and realized that it just wasn’t designed for quality writing.”

When you sit in a place long enough, you become very sensitive and particular about your tools – from the paper to the pen to the keyboard to the furniture you’re using.

Anyway, here’s the thing. The authors within this book are not dishing on how to write. They are talking in paragraphs about what one thing they keep around, what objects icons, totems, rituals, souvenirs or symbols they keep present as they write. And why. It’s all in their words, on one page, maybe two, with great fonts and graphics. And photos.
They’re funny, interesting, serious and sentimental.

The editors have compiled a fine work here, a glimpse into writing life. It could be a glimpse into any profession which might be equally as compelling. But on this morning when I’ve promised myself I’d snap this laptop shut by noon and be finished with my doggerel, this book is just the oomph I needed on my way to meeting a deadline.

And it would be nice on (my) coffee table. Along with some coffee, of course. (Are you listening, Santa?) 

Here’s a peak at some of the pages.
I am not familiar with the author (above) but after reading his entry, have decided he’s an excellent story-teller and character writer. The “stovchen” refers to the little stove under the cup in the picture; it keeps the tea in the cup warm while he writes. (You’re going to love his entry in this book.)

I don’t know Will Self, either (do I?), but love his writing method and his Post-its all put into “zones” and then it all turns into a book.

Jane Smiley might be a Pisces. I have to look that up (not that I’m zodiac-ally inclined) but the water thing could just be an indication. Her piece is so good.  You’ll hear her better in her books if you take a look at this entry.

Bourdain is brash, honest (tho’ I always feel he’s doing it for the camera, like Madonna) but this is a good piece. His “thing”, btw, is cigarettes. So ’50s.

Nothing like a shadowy pub full of characters to pump the “noir” in any crime… Ian Rankin is the UK’s no. 1 crime-writer/ seller. But oh, how we all love our English pubs!

There are plenty more, approximately 70 authors included in this book. But it’s not encyclopedic, nor is it even a tad boring. Love the format. Love the stories, true stories all.

Reading about Writing …

April 26, 2010 § 5 Comments

Intrigued as usual by the idea of a workshop, I danced around this particular book (pictured above) at B&N and jabbered about it enough, asking “Would it be great? why wouldn’t it be great? sure, it would be good, wouldn’t it?” and not long afterwards, it showed up as a  gift from HM after I’d  walked away from it several times. 

The book is composed of 17 chapters by writers writing about writing fiction. Their names, too, show on the cover. A good idea. While I didn’t recognize all of them, though I should have (who’s Oakley Hall?), authors Chabon, Lamott and Johnson caught my eye. I’ve read them. I feel comfortable knowing who they are having read them. I know they know what they’re doing and could quite possibly communicate some of that to me.

And Richard Ford wrote the introduction, slowed me down, asked me to pay attention to his words and all those that would follow.

The book is “workshoppy,”  like hanging out with that writer for a serious 15 – 20 minutes, listening, scribbling notes, dogearing! Some share their life as it “stories” with the point they’re making. Some are funny, several are downright serious. All are saying something essential but you need to listen harder to some than others.

For some reason, Diane Johnson (author of L’Affaire and Le Divorce and several others) resonated. (Results: many dogears  within her chapter, which surprised me as I wasn’t an absolute fan of the two aforementioned novels but read them in part “to see” what was going on, what she was all about, why reviewers touted her as the modern Jane Austen. Mmmmm…maybe. If you’ve read her, let me know what you think.) Anyway, her chapter made me laugh or nod my head “yes.”  Here are a few bits that brought a smile. 

“My impression is that writers in general, but especially fiction writers, are pleasant people. They like each other…”

“I’ve mentioned that a novelist is an odd thing to be. Many years ago I came up with an example based on experience from the fact that you’d think twice before telling someone sitting next to you no a plane that you were a novelist. To begin with, people don’t believe you. …I think it’s because each person feels in himself that unwritten novel trying to get out and knows he hasn’t actually sat down to let it out, hasn’t sat down at the computer and done his novel, and he suspects that you haven’t either. 

“If your seatmate learns you have, he finds it irritating and reproachful. He’s also equally suspicious if you are willing and if you aren’t willing to listen to his novel idea. If you listen you’ll steal it, and if you don’t, he’s insulted that you find it dull.”

“The person on the plane, and your relatives and friends too, are afraid you will put them in your novel, but also that you won’t.”

“When things are going well, you do have the feeling of pleasure and order that always rewards the artist….that the trick you’re pulling on the world is working, that the world is paying you to sit cozily in your room making up stories.”

It’s a good walk, this book, with excellent views along the way, and some sharp advice.

A boxing we will go…and there’s a bit about a book here, too

April 21, 2010 § 26 Comments

Oh, the darn mirrors!  I realize they help observe “form” but egads…

Nory won an opportunity to take ten friends to a boxing class and asked me and we didn’t know what to expect other than we might be out of our comfort zones (totally) and one of my great friends came along (so I wouldn’t be the sole middle-ager) and we got there and milled around a bit, asking questions and waiting for the second trainer to arrive and then there were real training gloves to don which was very cool and immediately transformed my attitude and energy and then the music came on and our trainer began demonstrating and shouting out directions and there we were jump roping and punching bags (as pictured above) and scooting around aerobically and kicking and punching and cardio-ing and weirdly, everything started to get easier as we went along except for the fatigue part where you think your arms will fall off and then we were “on the floor” doing crunches and crazy planks on our sides and then we were back up to punch and kick and starting to get the hang of it even though turning to rubber at the same time and glad I didn’t have to do 15 rounds in a ring which I still can’t imagine, and then we were up and down and up and down with tips and encouragement along the way and then suddenly, we were done.

Forty-five minutes went like this (insert snapping of fingers) and then there we were all pathetically drenched in sweat and no one minded and no one cared about their hair and everyone felt lighter, relaxed, and very worked out.
So thank you Nory for opening another door!

Denouement: We’re signing up for class once a week. “Once a week will change your life,” said the trainer. 

Me, Nory and friends, post-workout!

The Pugilist at Rest
by Thom Jones has been on my shelf for years. I read it as soon as  I purchased it, read it all the way through, searching for why he was considered a prize winning story-ist (he won an O Henry for his title short story). I don’t think I “got it” at the time. I think I need to go back and read him now. Though there was a lot of pain as well as boxing and also the Viet Nam war in his stories, I am curious again about his style and craft and overall what caught Updike’s eye when he included Jones in a Best Short Stories anthology.

Reading writers…

March 13, 2010 § 11 Comments

(Note that my pen in the above picture is NOT on fire, for safety, and also, symbolically)

I read books about writing. I love reading books about writing. I can’t help it. I am always looking for a truth, or a hint, or an eye opener of some un-designated sort, and support….and perhaps the Muse, sitting among the pages.

I have one huge over-stuffed shelf full of  books all aimed at writing:
   how to write novels, poems, stuff;
   what makes good writing;
   writing exercises;
   writers on writing;
   readers on writing;
   writing workshops; and,
   the craft of writing, including grammar like Strunk & White,  and Lynne Truss’s hilarious hit on grammer as well.
   And more.

As of the beginning of February, I am on a mission to actually read and write my way through all these books. I am also on a mission to use and fill some of the more than half dozen journals I have been given (or, purchased in a weak moment).   I have, ’til now, saved my journals, thinking each one should be dedicated to something particular. Pooh. They sit there looking pretty, artsy, fat (which is a good thing in paper world) and patient. I am now responding to their siren call. Same with all the writing books whose presence has, at least, been supportive if nothing else as they sit silently on the shelf near my writing table.
So, my mission began with a 6″x9″ journal (way too small, by the way) and with Pen on Fire by, um, well, you can see her name in the picture above, and while I enjoyed it, partly for the aesthetics because the book’s paper and font were both above average and the cover not so bad and the author’s tone nice and upbeat, still I found it a bit more for beginners. 

She writes well-named chapters and plenty of them with titles including “Writing Like There’s No Tomorrow,” “Stolen Moments,” “Celebrate Your Otherness,” “Plot or Not,” “That Black Hole: TV,” and “Marketplace Madness.”  That’s just a smattering.

Each chapter has a bit of her in there (sometimes too much for me yet not that compelling although assuredly her life IS full of writing and writing moments but it’s the way she tells it that leaves me a bit uninspired). Each chapter has some lessons of sorts which are good and supportive, which is a HUGE reason that writers read about reading.

And then each chapter is followed by writing exercises.  These I found far too general, not accenting the craft but more abstract -general-silly-organizational bits like “go out and gather pieces of nature and write about them.” Well, not those words exactly, but those kinds of things.

So having finished this first book on my mission, I can say that I prefer the challenging exercises that John Gardner and even Natalie Goldberg will present. (I read them voraciously several years ago and then wrote following their exercises.) More focused, more pointed, more expecting something out of you. More about craft. More about charging ahead and writing and then looking back to find something in one’s writing wake.

So, I recommend Pen On Fire for those who need a little support , a bit of a push, a very wee bit of an idea, and who are maybe just starting out with writing, whether in journaling or blogging. I didn’t find anything new here. No, I’m not jaded or negative. I’m just saying. Oh, and she did point me to yet another book about writing that I hadn’t heard of before – definitely a great thing.

Still, following some of her suggestions (cuz I skipped more than half of them), I am filling up that little 6×9 inch journal .  

Next: I will choose another journal and have already chosen the book which will be Goldberg’s Old Friend from Far Away (her most recent – maybe three years old?) iand will see how things roll or change or move following its exercises.

Stay tuned…

Real Life: book sales…

October 8, 2009 § 19 Comments

DSCN7170Several weeks ago, a writing friend suggested I attend the Strange Folk Festival in Illinois to be part of the “Writer’s Block.” Perhaps ill-named, it sounded like an opportunity nonetheless.  The Festival was reserving two pavilions covering two dozen picnic tables for “local” writers (any writers) to come and sign and sell their books. It was free; just sign up and show up and if you didn’t, you wouldn’t be invited back next year. Also, the Festival attracts approx 10,000 people during its two-day, weekend run.

Sounded like a good op, different.  I signed up. 

I contacted my publisher and bought some books at the author’s discount to mule over to the fair. I packed up a huge pink shiny tablecloth, also got tons of brochures and bookmarks (from the publisher), had all kinds of $$$ change, bought some clear bags (to make a nice little package – autographed book, bookmark in the bag, sealed with a cool pink sticker), you know, for the “presentation” factor.

I thought it might work out since one of the books is the PINK PRAYER book; the second one, newly released PRAYERS FOR COPING WITH CANCER ,would come along, too. After all, October is breast cancer month so, I thought, there might be some interest. And I just wanted to see what it was like, what it was about.

HM volunteered to come along with me. He knows his way around that part of Illinois. He was interested to see what was what. We would be there from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. , a nice little 6-hour gig. He brought along his guitar. He could sit and play a little, look around. Joked about putting his hat out, you know, to maybe make some money. Ha ha. Let’s just say that if he had done so, he likely would have made more than I did.

We arrived. The organizer had made wonderful table-size name tags for each of us – about 14 authors had signed up.

And here I must explain. I am Editor of the two books I’ve worked on with Liguori. I wrangled people across the country to submit prayers. Heart felt, heart-wrenching prayers that are actually tiny tales in and of themselves, tales of triumph in some way. I wrangled some really good writers to submit essays. I wrote the preface. I edited, organized and coordinated the book, got one or two “big” names to say something.

For that, my name went on the book. It’s not all my writing. Literally, I am not the author. Also, I’m not all “churchy,” I’m  not a church lady, nothing like that though my spirtiualism runs deep. I am the product of a Prebyterian upbringing, now married to a Roman Catholic who was educated through to graduation by the Jesuits. Still, had you asked, I  would never have thought to produce two such books.

Please note that sometimes a successful book project happens because of connections, because of who you know. I know a senior editor at Liguori Publications. Because she reads my journalistic stuff that’s out there, she knew I like/love writing and asked if I would do these projects for Liguori. She is an excellent editor with publishing savvy. I said yes.  The PINK PRAYER book has, as she promised, done amazingly well out there in the first year of its publication. The second book that just came out, will likely do the same thanks to  Liguori, its professionalism and its reach. 

All that aside, I stood there that beautiful fall day (and sometimes sat) two weeks ago, opting to sell the prayer books. It was interesting. It was hell.  I prefer not to do it.

Here’s what I learned:

Position is everything. On my left was “goth.” On my right was “sci fi.” There I was in the middle: “prayer.”

Choose your venue. Had I been at a breast cancer awareness conference or a religious convention, perhaps people would have been less shy to browse the book, ask questions, etc. As it was, several people stopped by my table, got tears in their eyes, told a little story about themselves or family member, and walked away. I wanted to pat their hand or hug them more than try to sell them a book.

Feel the book; trumpet your wares. Like the “goth” girl on my left who told people as they approached that she had “the book they were looking for, that the death count in each of her novels was more than 60 percent.” Meanwhile, she “dressed” the part of her book, in drapey red and black clothing, scary hair, table draped in skulls. She said she did tons of these fairs, selling a few books. The money was at the conferences.

Sell other stuff, too. Like the Sassy Scribes across from me. They had a raffle for a basket of books. And they had a big bowl of (free) candy. I thought of entering their raffle AND eating some of their candy. (but I didn’t!)

Pick your book price. Think carefully. Do you want to sell and make a profit per book above what you paid considering your discount? (I thought I did. Wrong!)  Do you want to price it under the internet prices on Amazon, etc.? Yes. (I did.) Do you want to get it into as many hands as possible regardless of price? Here you must give some weighty thought. In retrospect, I should have sold well under my discount price, just to get it into other people’s hands. But that would mean more people would have come to our “area” which was located at the far outskirts of the fair (unfortunately) and nowhere near the food (unfortunately!) Not to rationalize or anything, but like I said earlier “position is everything.” Very few people knew we were there. Um, no, I wasn’t going to run around the thick of the fair handing out brochures. I just couldn’t do that, say what you will about marketing.

Have someone do this sales/marketing thing for you.  I was uncomfortable from the moment I arrived. Don’t get me wrong. I love to address a crowd, will give a speech to 500 strangers, will sing in a bistro with the band now and then, will give corporate presentations, will hostess parties and organize events and talk to strangers about writing and publishing, will teach workshops about writing to newbies and semi-pros and will do it with a smile and not a second thought.  But this was not my thing, this picnic table in the wilderness where honestly, more people were interested in the ribbon fries than books and craft frippery. HM stepped up for me every time someone came to the table; he made them comfortable, chatted them up, did his sales thing which comes naturally. Further, it was great talking with other writers, what they were doing (all had full time jobs, too), how they whipped up bookmarks, what they had seen at other fairs, how much time they spent hawking, the profit from Amazon vs doing it this way on their own, etc.  Still…

Be realistic. Having talked with the other writers that day, all but two others were self published and were there, “just to see” how it might go. Two showed up with a box of books and nothing else. Two came with all the booth-y bells and whistles you can imagine. Several claimed that at such a 2-day event, they hoped to sell two books.

I gave two books away: One to one of the Sassy Scribes who mentioned that a family member had just been diagnosed with cancer. The other book, to the woman who had organized the Writers Block thing for us. She would put it on display at the O’Fallon library. Good. I was beginning to feel that my purpose was mainly to get the word out, that people knew the book existed in case they needed it.

When the rains came at 2 o’clock, complete with hellacious lightning and thunder and the floors of the pavilion were flooding, I looked at HM, he knew “the look,” we packed up in a NY minute and were out of the there, with cheery goodbyes and sincere thank yous to the others we had met and shared space with for four hours. Goth girl, now wrapped in a blanket with her son, and the writer who brought nothing but his book he had written 10 years ago,  waved cheerily and said “You’re not  really leaving now, are you?” Everyone was great. Each had a story.

I’m glad I went there.
I’m glad I left.
I’m glad I am now intent on writing my own book(s) and will find a way, traditional or not, to get them out there.


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