Category: Writing

I’ve just finished a poetry workshop. Never considered writing poetry; never actually read much poetry (at least not voluntarily). Now I find myself enamored and inspired. Feeling liberated. I’m anxious to read more and, yes, write.

At the workshop, someone suggested I look up Sarah Kay, a spoken word poet. “Her piece on Ted ‘If I should Have a Daughter’ is amazing,” he assured me. He was right.

In the tradition of looking for the silver lining, I’ve decided to categorize the receipt of my first rejection agatha-christie-portraitfrom an agent I queried as a sign I’ve entered into the world of actual writers.F_Scott_Fitzgerald_1921 After all, apocryphal or not, tales of
F. Scott Fitzgerald papering his wall with rejection slips or Agatha Christie hanging in there for five years before selling her first mystery, indicate rejection is part and parcel of being a new writer.

I admit I’m praying I don’t receive a wall’s worth of rejections or have to wait five years (I’m way too old), but I’m proud this first negative response did not send me into a tailspin. Of course, it helped the agent in question was gentle and non-judgmental. “I couldn’t relate to your writing,” was her explanation. I took that to indicate my writing was not unacceptable. However unfortunately the one thing I can’t change is “my writing.” I can edit, restructure, or polish, but I doubt I can fundamentally alter the tone or character of how I write. It reflects who I am.

In the greater scheme of things, however, I am pleased to think my writing is individual. It means if I do find an agent, a publisher and an audience, they will have chosen my work. My ego will certainly appreciate that.

After countless revisions, edits and sleepless nights, I finally sent out queries for my maiden novel, Wild Echoes Flying. The act of submitting my creative baby to the unwavering scrutiny of industry professionals is both exhilarating and horrifying. I had successfully pitched this first round of agents, who’d all expressed some interest in the concept. I should be more hopeful, right? Instead, I realize I’ll now be judged solely on my writing, no way to soften the potential blows to my nascent creative confidence.

I’ve gone to conferences, participated in writing groups and classes, submitted pages for critiques, even hired a professional editor whose detailed, yet insightful, notes almost pushed me over the edge. I’m reviewing the business of writing, studying how to effectively promote my book if it’s published, and even explored the basics of publishing contracts.

Despite all this preparation, I find myself transported back to grade school desperately waiting for someone to pick me for a team, invite me to a party or include me in a game. The act of writing is so personal. Regardless of the topic, it is self-reflective.  All the research, editing, critiquing in the world doesn’t change my voice, my story, my idea. Even when I acquiesce to the suggestions of others, those are my decisions. It’s all on me.

But if writing is entirely subjective, so is reading. No book, novel, work of art — not even the classics — appeal to everyone. I know this. I should be mature enough to believe in my own creation. Still I crave the validation of my peers, of professionals, of others.

And, yet, despite the fear, dread and nail-biting suspense, I feel liberated, brave, powerful. After a lifetime of avoiding rejection, I’m now courting it. Good for me.

And so I wait.

Let the Story Lead You: Spain

I grew up traveling — lived in different countries, visited others. It’s a pattern I carried into my adult life.  And I was particularly lucky that I had parents who really knew how to travel.  They were adventurous, curious and open. That doesn’t mean they climbed the Himalayas or hitchhiked across Patagonia.  But they were readers. And through their reading they learned about new places, people and cultures. Often they would then venture forth and experience them in person.

They’d always have one real guidebook — given my father’s complete inability to get from point A to point B without visiting points D, K and L first.  But the books they used to guide them were memoirs, travelogues and novels.  I vividly remember the first time I became aware of their ingenious travel secret.  They were living in Spain and we had decided to do a cross-country trip from Barcelona to Madrid.

For that trip we used James Michner’s Iberia,  a memoir of his time in Spain during the nineteen-sixties. The writing is amazing. His images breathtaking.  Spain had changed enormously by the late seventies when we took our trip. But using him as our guide gave us so much appreciation of what was enduring and what was changing.

When we got to Granada,  I found an old copy of Rudyard Kipling’s Tales of the Alhambra.  It was a weekday and past tourist season, so I had time to roam or linger with little disruption. As I sat in the cool shade near of one of the courtyards reading “The Legend of the Three Beautiful Princesses,”  I was transported back in time. I could see the valley they gazed over. I had walked past the fountains of the gardens in their gilded cage. I could picture their escape. What a magical afternoon.

If you venture to Spain, I heartily recommend you consider reading Iberia and Tales of the Alhambra before or as you go. There are lots of other books, of course. Here are some of my personal recommendations:

Two classics set during the Spanish Civil War:
Homage to Catalonia  by George Orwell
For Whom the Bell Tolls  by Ernest Hemingway

And a couple more modern contributions:
Shadow of the Wind  by Carlos Ruiz Zafon (translated by Lucia Graves), again partially set during the Civil War. This is a rich, lyrical, mystical, very Spanish work — I personally enjoyed it most in the audio version.
Madrid Tales  — an anthology of Spanish short stories translated by Helen Constantine and Margaret Jull Costa. Not all the stories will appeal, but they are a great initiation into modern Madrid, and Spain.

Happy reading and bon voyage.




I’m a reader. I’m also an (unpublished) author. I find it disturbing to see how heated and angry the conversation gets about how to read a book. Apparently  the decision to read a physical book, a Kindle, a Nook, an e-book or listen to an audiobook is a reflection of your worth as a reader or perhaps even a person.

People, what’s the problem? Why does it matter as long as someone’s reading.

Personally I revel in those times when I curl up with a book in a comfy chair and can lose myself in another world. But I find it easier to snuggle in bed with my Kindle — books can be awkward to handle when you’re buried in pillows and dogs. And since getting my Kindle, I’ve been reading a lot more books. Because now I can read wherever I am and whatever I’m in the mood for.

As for audiobooks? On road-trips they’re a godsend. Plus I’ve found listening to an audiobook in the car is one way I can get through some of those books I find hard to stay focused on when I just sit and read. One of my favorites (long out of print) is The Vandal’s Crown,  which is about currency trading, of all things, something I’d normally never even try, but which I found fascinating as I drove from Pennsylvania to Washington, D.C.  I now deliberately choose the audio format for denser books just in the hopes I’ll actually manage to read them (unlike so many that sit on my shelves, pristine, dusty and unread).

Does this mean that I’m any less of a reader? I don’t think so. And frankly if and when I ever get published, please feel free to read me in whatever format you prefer.  Just please read me.

Pushing to Finish

Writing my first novel has been and continues to be a great adventure. One that excites, frustrates and challenges me.

I am now on my fifth major re-write (adding and deleting story elements) and am hopeful I can move to the copy/line editing mode soon.

When I started this journey I had no idea what I was really getting into. Oh, I had read about the query process, the need to be willing to promote your book, etc. etc. But these seemed like minor issues compared to actually getting the book written.

Now I see how rose-colored my glasses were. But instead of finding this complex process of taking my work from finished manuscript (assuming I actually ever finish editing) to published book intimidating or onerous, I’m actually a bit psyched. Who would have thought.

I like to think one reason for my unexpected reaction is that my father was a salesman (a good one at that), so those paternal genes are kicking in. Or maybe finding a strategy for selling, marketing and getting my work out there has reignited my problem-solving engine.

In any case, I’m now immersed in developing my blog, learning about queries and synopses, and developing my pitch. I even participated in my first pitch session (utterly terrifying, but exhilarating, too).

Of course, I continue to write, and edit, and write, and edit. Hopefully soon I’ll take all I’ve learned about queries, synopses, etc and actually send the manuscript out. Now there’s a terrifying thought. Keep your fingers crossed.

Exactly a year ago I wrote a post Why I Don’t Write.

Today I’ve finished a novel that is in it’s fifth rewrite and which I am preparing to send out to agents. So what’s changed? That’s as much a mystery to me as why I wasn’t writing was a year ago. But I’m going to try to pinpoint some key changes that seemed to have made a difference.

First, I decided I wanted to be published. I’m a story teller. I don’t write for myself, never have. Before deciding to make being published my goal, my writing was simply too much of an abstract exercise. This simple shift in focus helped me go from having written the first forty pages of my novel in the beginning of August last year to a finished first draft of three hundred thirty odd pages by the middle of December. I’d been writing those first forty pages for over fifteen years.

Second, I told people I was writing a novel. I went to conferences and participated as someone with a work in progress, not someone considering writing. I had my first ten pages critiqued by an agent and by fellow writers.

Third, I joined a writer’s group. I’m lucky because there’s a fantastic writer’s group here in Miami, the Friday Night Writers, where thirty or more local writers of a wide range of works — novels, memoirs, poetry, short stories — gave me invaluable feedback on what was working and what wasn’t.

Fourth, I began looking at my writing as a business, not just an artistic endeavor. That included the less “creative” aspects such as what it would take to be published, how to get an agent, what I would need to do now and later to get my book into the hands of readers. In this endeavor I’ve been enormously helped by tapping into the resources of The Writers Digest. Most recently I attended their conference in New York City where I not only participated in a Pitch Slam (words cannot describe the terror) and a series of presentations on all the ways a writer can find an agent, be published and become their own best advocate.

Finally, and perhaps most critically, I now consider myself a writer. Not “someone who writes,” not “I’m trying to write,” and NOT “I hope to become a writer someday.” Difficult as it is for me to say out loud (that inner voice keeps crying “fraud, fraud, fraud”), now I’m a writer and I’m doing what writer’s do. I write.

Why Don’t I Write?


Not WritingFor the last few days, weeks, months even, I have been struggling with the question of why I’m not writing.

I don’t have writer’s block. The truth is I have short stories, a novel, a couple of memoir pieces, some essays and even an idea for a play yammering at me to be written. So there are no blank pages staring at me waiting for inspiration.

And I find the act of writing enjoyable and, dare I say it, even easy. Easy the way a natural athlete runs or hits balls or swims. When I put pen to paper (or more precisely fingers to keyboard), words flow. They aren’t perfect but they get the job done. And I enjoy the process of revision and retooling.

I used to think it was fear of criticism. But I take classes and workshop those few pieces I have actually gotten past the cerebral stage. Even if my ego cringes a bit at the feedback, I find hearing how I can improve inspiring rather than discouraging.

So the questions remains: Why don’t I write? I may never know. But I do know what I can do about it.

I can write.

I can write posts, stories, exercises whatever it takes until whatever part of me that is playing the spoiler gives up and goes home.

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After all one good thing about being your own worst enemy is that at least you know your adversary’s best moves.