Archive for August 2009


August 28, 2009

I’ve just come from an hour-long meeting with the last official “reader” of a spiral-bound copy of the manuscript.  And I still have goosebumps.

After two years of feedback from regulars in a writers’ group, I decided to ask nine more to weigh in on the story as well:  family members who also are bona fide authors and/or editors, a friend who happens to be a professional psychic medium, someone with ties to the world of hip hop, and the like.

Thanks to the surprise-matchmaking of a pair of literary friends, I also had offers from a couple of teen readers.  Both are part of a teen advisory group, with a penchant for dissecting and appreciating YA literature.  We were strangers to each other, not meeting until each had read the manuscript.  The last and latest confided to the bookstore owner that my fictional story happened to be eerily similar to her own life experiences.

On Friday, when we met for the first time, I asked her what she’d meant.  She reported that her own Ukrainian grandmother taught her to paint pysanky when she was very young.  A lovely coincidence, I thought.  I joked that we could go on the road together – me selling my books and this almost-15-year-old selling her intricately-painted eggs!

But the girl was just getting started.  Over the course of an hour, she described one after another parallel to her own life.  They were, at times, the most specific of links:  her own background, like the character Claire’s, in ballet, jazz and tap; her self-consciousness as the oldest in a group of much younger breakdance students; the close friendship (in this case, with a boy) begun at her first series of breaking classes; this boy’s summer job caddying at the very country club where Nick gets a job as a caddy; a mother who is every bit the worrier that Claire’s is… the list goes on.

My friend, Suzanne, calls them “markers,” little signs of confirmation that one is on the right path.  For me, the amazing interweaving of imagined story and “true” story came as a cosmic nudge to keep moving.  Forward.

“Imagination is everything.  It is the preview of life’s coming attractions.” Albert Einstein


August 21, 2009

There have been all kinds of cosmic nudges to keep me going.  At a point of frustration, when I was struggling with the ending of my book, for instance,  a Facebook link showed up on a friend’s status report.  It took me to J.K. Rowling’s website.  I found biographical notes chronicling her early struggle, her singleness of purpose, the sense of only so much time to complete what she was “receiving” and writing, the rejections from agents, (the unremarkable two-line acceptance from the one who finally agreed to represent her) and then more rejections from editors.

Signs and wonders – that’s what comes to mind when something like this happens.   Carl Jung coined the term synchronicity, insisting that so-called coincidences are meaningfully related.  Each time it’s a call to pay attention.  Sure enough, this time, the universe whispered in my ear that if the now-famous Brit, who penned Harry Potter, could endure such a rocky road to eventual publication, writers of my ilk can bloody well stay the course as well!  (Sorry, channeling an Englishwoman there for a moment!  ;- 0 ).

“We all have the ability – we just don’t all have the courage to follow our dreams and to follow the signs.” Paul Coelho


August 20, 2009

In the past week I have climbed aboard the State Fair Midway ride called the X-TREME and lived to tell about it, decades older than anybody else who dared to ride.  Also played hide-and-seek with 6-year-old Ryder, the two of us hiding from our moms under the giant hosta leaves at the arboretum. (That’s me peeking from behind the tree to see if they had a clue as to our whereabouts; one obviously did.)

Hide-and-Seek 8:09

My point being:  I don’t feel so old.  This despite the fact that Ryder told me recently that I remind him of the Emperor in Star Wars which can’t be good.

It was the day, two years ago, that I visited the website of an agent who had phoned to ask me to send him my novel – this manuscript a work of historical fiction — that I first wondered if I might be at a disadvantage as a woman of a certain age.  I came across a collection of photos of his clients, with perhaps one person over thirty, and not by much.  It looked like a page out of a college yearbook.  Next, a comment he made in an interview confirmed my suspicions – he admitted that he wanted only young clients who had a long career ahead of them.  Otherwise, it wasn’t worth his time to groom them.

Given that wake-up call, I had to prove to myself that I had more than one book in me… and that I could write a first-rate, first-person, contemporary story as well as a novel set in the late 50s.  And, if I was able to pull this writing project off within a couple of years, I’d earn the right to believe that I could do so again.  And again.

So I began this second one, in part, because I resisted the notion that writers in their twenties and early thirties are bound to be more productive.  I’d written a manuscript when I was 25 and, on its first time out, a major publishing house accepted it for publication.  That first novel came out a week after my first baby.  We then moved eight times in ten years.  I taught in three states.  Had another baby.  I got a masters degree.  Wrote as a free-lancer for magazines, review journals.  Created two literacy programs, did workshops in Minnesota and around the country.  A lot of life happened, all of it pretty engaging, so I didn’t return to my first love until a handful of years ago.

Does it take more chutzpah to slip into a child’s or teenager’s head at this age than in one’s 20s?  Perhaps, but I’m not sure.  (Only last week, a 15-year-old told me –repeatedly! — that I got the passages about unrequited love in this book just right.)  At any rate, I’m not about to retreat down the proverbial mountain, even if some see it as an Everest.  Let’s hope there’s an agent perceptive enough to grasp that age is more about attitude than certain double digits.


August 17, 2009

“We must not be afraid of dreaming the seemingly impossible if we want the seemingly impossible to become a reality.” Vaclav Havel

I’m thinking about novelist Jose Saramago today.  He published his first few novels in his 20s and then stopped writing fiction for the next 30 years.  He said,  “That was maybe one of the wisest decisions of my life… I had nothing worthwhile to say.”

At 75 years of age, he wrote his breakthrough novel, Blindness, which became an international bestseller, and a year later, in 1998, he won the Nobel Prize in literature.

No apologies from Senor Saramago for losing focus or not being serious enough about writing to remain a fiction writer for every decade of his life.  He obviously didn’t feel that the three decade span between creating works of fiction compromised his gift or impaired his vision.  I’m reminded of Doreen Virtue’s words:  “Go to your destiny.  Never apologize for being yourself.”


August 12, 2009

09 @ 17

Tuck is my wonder dog.  Tuck is my honey dog.  He is also the inspiration for the dog of the same name in the novel.  At the moment, half the advance readers of the draft feel he needs to die for a number of reasons I won’t go into here.  The other half feel as strongly that he must live.  It’s the one and only chapter that people disagree over.  I am working on two versions this week, to discern what “feels” right in the end.

I don’t want the real Tuck to die.  Ever. In some weird way, I may have had him die in the book so that perhaps he wouldn’t have to die in real life. He’s been my best friend and constant writing companion for over 17 years now.  When this novel began, he could still see pretty well, limber enough to jump up into the armchair behind my own chair where I do most of my work.  Because his sight is gone now in one eye and very impaired in the other, he can’t gauge the depth of things, so, after several crashes into a door and onto the floor, he avoids the chair and lies near me in the doorway instead.

He’s also deaf, but his nose still works so he relishes our daily walks at noon, when he reacquaints himself with the wider world through his accomplished sniffer.  Most of each day, however, he naps.  Snoozes, that is, until I move to another room, any number of times per day.  Then, without so much as a whimper, and guessing at the placement of step after step of three flights of stairs, he shadows me as I move from floor to floor in our “treehouse.”

He was sleeping when I wrote the last pages of the book; I was up in a bedroom glider chair, bought for wooing babies to sleep, but used more often when I need to get a change of scenery.  I felt so happy to have finished, and here was Tuck, as always, waking, mystifyingly, the minute I made a move.  I went over to him on the bed and, with relief, announced that the draft was finished.  I realized I’d never told him that he’s in the story, so I did so now.  And I explained quietly that he would always have a kind of immortality.  He looked up into my eyes, but, of course, I figured the words were falling on deaf ears.   To my surprise, however, Tuck began wagging his tail,  perched at the very edge of the bed so that I’d lift him down. As soon as I did, he took off, running.

He raced at high speed up and down the hallway, just as he used to do as a pup after a bath or in games of tag years ago, a veritable speeding bullet.  I gaped in astonishment while he just ran and ran — every so often offering up a deliriously happy yip.

Obviously jubilant… over what, exactly?  News of the finished book?!  As he nuzzled into me and I returned the favor, kissing his velvety forehead and sweet nose, I understood more than ever how well he has read my every mood all these years — more partner than pooch.  And I like to think that my telling him he rated a role in the work-in-progress is what really put him over the moon.


August 9, 2009

I’m jazzed about Kai’s design for my book-related letterhead and second page. (The header for A Novel Idea is a variation of the letterhead.)  I love these worn sneakers —  not the shelltoes or Air Force Ones that b-girls and b-boys swear by — but  riders that have done their share of fancy footwork, nonetheless.  Poppin’ and lockin’, skimming over the floor in dizzying windmills with spins that go on forever, soles pointing skyward in this or that freeze.  Movers and shakers.  Let’s dance!


August 5, 2009

Kai says he finished reading the manuscript at 5 in the morning.  Liv says she picks it up every chance she gets and is almost done.  She tells me it is an important book.    My wonderful, wonderful grown kids.  Life partner, Pete, declares that this work will make a big difference in the world.

One of the teen readers delivers the spiral-bound copy with a gazillion pink and green post-it notes peeking from the pages.  The greens – thanks-be! – are tweaks (My friends and I say, “shiz” now, not “shizzle”) as well as questions.  The pinks  — glory-be! – are all the passages she loved… and why.  The other teen reader hopes for a sequel.

Gayle sends the ms. from California, her response laudatory; she predicts sequels, too.  Sooz validates all of the stuff on mediums and the Other Side, a great relief after all my reading and research.  Kai delivers his edit with something helpful on virtually every page — his unique bead on what’s appropriate psychologically, for example, and he adds a mock book cover.  Along the upper border he’s put NATIONAL BESTSELLER.  And all of these beautiful people are completely objective!

Every guidebook on publishing includes dire warnings about committing the unforgivable sin of telling a prospective agent or editor that your grandma loves the book.  Apparently, there is a writer left on the planet who is still unaware of what a faux pas it is to brag that according to your family or friends, “this ms. is the shiz.”  Makes sense to me.  Until last week, I’d never shared the final draft of a novel with any relatives or best buddies.  It just seemed like hubris to request so much time and attention on a project.

But I did myself a favor when I moved beyond the circle of regulars in writers group and dared to ask loved ones and a few locals to weigh in.  Their attention to and feedback about the fruits of my labor have turned out to be among the best gifts I’ve ever been given.  It’s great that each picked up on others’ oversights.  It’s even more important to have them at my back, fortifying me for the journey, whether it’s going to be carefree cruising or a bumpy road ahead.


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