When Your Book Gives Back …

It’s always gratifying as an author to receive feedback and validation about your book. I’m speaking of a compliment, an award, a good review, a referral, a speaking engagement, a book signing, recognition by your peers. These are definitely “feel goods.” Recently, my associate Lynn Centeno and I received a different kind of feedback – a most unusual and heartfelt kind – as a result of our book All Ways A Woman. 

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A book to celebrate and inspire women.

By way of background: Our purpose in doing the book was to honor, celebrate, and inspire women by depicting a woman’s journey, universal yet personal, via original story poems and watercolors. A few weeks ago, a social media post and an email came across my computer screen that made me think, our book is right on. Let me explain.

We’ve all heard of the human response “fight or flight.” A Facebook post which I highlight below came into my feed – a quote from Rebecca Solnit’s book The Mother of All Questions. It states that women won’t necessarily choose the above response but instead will seek the support of other women, particularly in times of stress. It reinforced parts of our book’s content. Quote:

For a century, the human response to stress and danger has been defined as “fight or flight.” A 2000 UCLA study by several psychologists noted that this research was based largely on studies of male rats and male human beings. But studying women led them to a third, often deployed option: gather for solidarity, support, advice. They noted that “behaviorally, females’ responses are more marked by a pattern of ‘tend-and-befriend.'” (Thank you to Iris Anderson for sharing Anne Hathaway’s FB post.)

Then I received this email from nybookeditors.com titled “Your Guide to Writing Women.” This post was addressed to authors on how to create a strong woman character without her simply being “a dude wearing a skirt.” Their first premise? Women like to feel safe and will seek or create a place of safety. Their second premise? Women desire to serve in strong roles, not in a subservient way, but from a place of power: mothers, teachers, doctors, leadership roles, volunteerism. For women, ego does not seem to be the driving force.

Our book depicts a woman’s journey and culminates with ideas mentioned above. The second last poem in the book speaks to the desire to serve in a non-subservient way. The piece is called “A Woman’s Hands.” The last poem in the book, “The Gift of the Gathering,” speaks to the female response of  ‘tend-and-befriend.’ It addresses how women gather together and gift each other with support.

It was gratifying to know we had done this work by instinct and intuition only to have these two sources – one scientific and one literary – reinforce our thoughts. A serendipitous happening. And validating.

But a final reward was yet in the offing. A friend who had recently lost her husband and was in the throes of this very deep loss, came to one of our events held last year on Valentine’s Day. She purchased several books, one of which was given to a special girlfriend of hers. A year later, my friend called to tell me she had something she wanted me to see. I stopped by her home full of curiosity and was stunned. She had been gifted with the beautiful quilt shown below created by the friend to whom she had given our book. The quilt had been inspired by their friendship and our creative work.

The quilt celebrates a lovely woman, a supportive friendship, and a true love. This is “tend-and-befriend” at its best, at its most inspiring. It’s also our book giving back to us in a way never imagined. We’re humbled.

Thank you to my friend Eleanor for sharing this beautiful gift. And thank you to her friend Lydia for her quilting artistry and heartfelt way of supporting her friend.

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The images are in the tone and feeling of those in All Ways A Woman. A true fabric find!

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A lovely woman.

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A true love.

When your book gives back … it’s truly special.

***

And if you’re in the desert on March 14, we will be presenting at the Palm Springs Library at 6:30 pm. Thanks for stopping by.

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A Valentine’s Day List

It’s the month of February with Valentine’s Day on its way. What comes to mind? Hearts, flowers, and the iconic god Cupid. Our winged friend arrives with some impressive credentials of which we need to take note.

“In classical mythology, Cupid is the god of desire, erotic love, attraction and affection. He is often portrayed as the son of the love goddess Venus and the war god Mars. He is known in Latin as Amor. His Greek counterpart is Eros.” ( Wikipedia)

Obviously, this god is to be treated with respect. With that in mind, I’ll give him his full due with a comprehensive list of what is needed to celebrate Valentine’s Day.

Let’s begin …

Flowers

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Red Roses courtesy of creativemarket.com

You can’t miss with a bouquet of roses. Simply choose the color to match your state of mind. As found in The Old Farmer’s Almanac:

  • Dark red rose: unconscious beauty.
  • White rose: purity, innocence, reverence, silence.
  • Pink rose: grace, happiness, gentleness.
  • Yellow rose: joy, friendship, the promise of a new beginning.
  • Orange rose: desire and enthusiasm.
  • Lavender rose: love at first sight.
  • Coral rose: friendship, modesty, sympathy.

Chocolates

There’s nothing like a heart-shaped box of chocolates or any box of chocolates from an admirer or a true love. After all, the botanical name for the chocolate plant is “Theobrama Cacao,” which means “food of the gods.” Plus, chocolate contains a natural substance reputed to stimulate the same reaction in the body as falling in love. No further words are necessary!

Champagne or Wine

Here’s a tidbit I picked up along the way. I don’t remember the source:

“Champagne and sparkling wines do not pair well with milk or dark chocolate       because of their acidity, which reacts with chocolate and causes a tart taste to occur. Instead, pair white chocolate with champagne and dark chocolate with red wine.”

Depending on the amount of chocolates you receive, you may need several trips to Total Wine or Trader Joe’s.

chocolate and red wine

Courtesy of Toronto Star.com

Traditional Valentine’s Day Candy

Of course, you need to pick up a bag of these timeless beauties and read each one before you pop it in your mouth.

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Courtesy of oldtimecandy.com


Valentine’s Day Cards

You’ll want to find or receive just the right one. There’s no limit to the sentiment.

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Courtesy of wonderwoman .com

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Courtesy of Pinterest

Poetry

Now, to be a little more serious, let’s add words to reveal the heart and speak to the soul.

The Poet’s Love-Song
By Sarojini Naidu   Indo-Anglian poet, scholar, feminist

In noon-tide hours, O Love, secure and strong,
I need thee not; mad dreams are mine to bind
the world to my desire, and hold the wind
a voiceless captive to my conquering song.
I need thee not, I am content with these:
Keep silence in thy soul, beyond the seas!

But in the desolate hour of midnight, when
an ecstasy of starry silence sleeps
and my soul hungers for thy voice, O then,
Love, like the magic of wild melodies,
let thy soul answer mine across the seas.
***

The Mesh
by Kwesi Brew – Ghanaian poet

We have come to the cross-roads
And I must either leave or come with you.
I lingered over the choice
But in the darkness of my doubts
You lifted the lamp of love
And I saw in your face
The road that I should take.
***

Music

Valentine’s Day is the time to channel your favorite love song. Here’s an old favorite:

My Funny Valentine
by Chet Baker

My funny Valentine,
sweet comic Valentine,
you make me smile with my heart.
You’re looks are laughable,
unphotographable,
yet you’re my favorite work of art.
Is your figure less than Greek?
Is your mouth a little weak?
When you open it to speak
are you smart?
Don’t change a hair for me,
not if you care for me,
stay little Valentine stay,
each day is Valentine’s Day.
***

Art

What’s your favorite work of art? This is one of mine. Art definitely can add to the mood.

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The Kiss by Gustav Klimt – courtesy of amazon.co.uk

***

A Romantic Dinner for Two

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(Courtesy of CBSBoston.com)

Simply choose your favorite place.

***

There you have it. Flowers. Chocolate. Champagne/Wine. Candy. Cards. Poetry. Music. Art. Dinner for Two.

I wish you a Happy Valentine’s Day. Mostly, I wish you a life filled with a true love, at least once. I leave you with a haiku from the book All Ways A Woman:

Love Haiku
by Carol Mann

leaves turn in color
fall to the ground, fade away
constant is our love

0 front cover

And why not add the gift of a keepsake book? Just sayin’…

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Thank you, Anthony Bourdain

I’ll repeat. Thank you, Anthony Bourdain. I’m rather a neutral fan of this TV host, but I occasionally catch snippets of his show on CNN called Anthony Bourdain: Parts Unknown. The show explores other cuisines, cultures, and politics of a particular area. While channel surfing one evening, I caught and watched his show on Africa; his journey into the country of South Africa and then into the Republic of the Congo. In light of today’s current political climate, stirrings of overt racism, and unsavory remarks from national leadership, I followed him willingly on this journey.

Most of all I was struck by a remark made by a local man Bourdain visited with as they ate in a small South African eatery.

Put something in your mouth to get your ears open.

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Gardening by Lazarus Ramontseng

Bourdain’s purpose is to explore a culture and its politics through conversations held over a meal of local food. In this particular exchange, the talk was about the South African nation, its history, and ongoing recovery from apartheid. The eatery was one of several small house cafes with five or six tables he visited in the township of Soweto, south of Johannesburg. Soweto is where Africans once were forced to live. He also ate in the cafes of Johannesburg. One thing the eateries seemed to have in common? They bustled with multicultural people, with blends of language and attire. They also had one other thing in common. The people, while eating, were all engaged in civil discourse – people with different backgrounds and experiences and ethnic heritages. They enjoyed good food, made with pride, and each other.

Put something in your mouth to get your ears open.

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Bus Leaving Town by Peter Kwangware

From there Bourdain journeyed into the Congo. Viewers were shown a complex map of the areas occupied by various warring groups. We learned of the ineptness of its President and government. Bourdain continued to eat in cafes and homes, talking and listening. Then he and his guide rented a boat and explored the Congo River, at once becoming a curiosity to locals who gathered along the riverbank. We were shown the remains of the railroad system, the research facilities, and cities hurriedly abandoned by the Belgians in the 1960’s. The railroad and research facilities are still manned by skeletal crews of African workers waiting for the government to make things operational again.

Put something in your mouth to get your ears open.

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Collage by South African artist Benon Lutaaya

During his narration, Bourdain made several references to Joseph Conrad’s Heart of Darkness. The title has several meanings. One refers to a journey into the heart of the  then dark continent of Africa. The other refers to the base nature man can keep in his heart. As in the rape of Africa. As in racism.

Let’s see … civil discourse and listening to each other … done enjoyably over delicious food of the area … an opportunity to appreciate, understand, and learn about each other. I’m in.

Currently, in our national discussions, we are talking about immigration, other ethnicities, cultures, and religions. We are uniting behind the repugnance of racism which has raised its ugly head. While such a complex issue cannot be solved by this one simple and civilized act, the positive subtext is obvious. It’s time to diffuse tension, and enlighten and expand the national consciousness. And listen. I’m looking for an equitable legal immigration policy, national policies that embrace diversity, and moral leadership, based on civil discourse and respect.

Put something in your mouth to get your ears open.

I’ll leave you with a quote by Dr. Martin Luther King which has resonated with me for many years:

“Darkness cannot drive out darkness, only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate, only love can do that.” From Dr. King’s Strength of Love, 1963.

Progress is slow. But, as I recall, the tortoise eventually won. It didn’t quit.

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Curious about your DNA story?

I finally did it. I succumbed to the lure of Ancestry.com and the siren call of its TV advertising. Unable to resist its special holiday pricing, I sent for my kit.

The compact box arrived with instructions on how to deposit saliva into a small tube, secure its integrity with a preservative, seal it, and return the contents, which I did. Several weeks later I received the results. Drum roll, please.

The results summary turned out like this:

Western Europe                                                                           42%
Great Britain (Northern England and the Midlands)           33%
Scandinavia                                                                                    6%
Eastern Europe                                                                              6%
Ireland/Scotland/Wales                                                               5%

How surprised was I? Not very, to be honest. Family lore had always taught that our ancestors were from Germany and France on my father’s side, and England and Scotland on my mother’s side.

Scandinavia at 6% was the only bit of surprise until I remembered the escapades of the Vikings as they explored in England and Europe with a brief jog over to the New World. For the Eastern Europe segment – migration within Europe was not a surprise.

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Explorations of The Vikings courtesy of BBC – Primary History

But wait a minute. The above stats only accounted for 92% of my ancestry. Where was the rest of it? Then I spotted a subheading called Low Confidence Regions. I read further to find out what that meant.

Per Ancestry.com: In a DNA estimate, low confidence regions are areas for which there’s a small amount of DNA evidence found in a sample. All ethnicities with predicted percentages of less than 4.5% appear as low confidence regions.

I clicked on the subheading and up popped the rest of my DNA answer. I found two very intriguing.

Southern Europe                                       3%
Iberian Peninsula                                      2%
Caucasus                                                      2%
Finland/NW Russia                                    1%

A little side research revealed the Iberian Peninsula is occupied by Portugal and Spain plus an additional area called Andorra and Gibraltar. The Caucasus is the region situated between the Black Sea and the Caspian Sea at the border of Europe and Asia and is a little more complicated than the Iberian Peninsula in its make-up. The most recent map I could find was 2008.

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Courtesy of Wikipedia

As a writer, all sorts of story paths popped up. First, I realized how using a person’s DNA could inspire a fictional historical saga, played out over several books a la authors Ken Follett or Philippa Gregory. Or how you could create a character based on your history, a location and events of the time, and build a solo novel around him or her.

I’m especially intrigued by my results about the Iberian peninsula and the Caucasus. Many short story/novella/novel possibilities exist, whether anchored in history or playing out in the present geo-political world. Going to a mysterious or less familiar locale for a story always adds interest.

Other genres could be inspired like memoir, personal essay, and poetry.

All of this would involve research which is exciting and bound to reveal more.

I haven’t delved into my personal history yet. There are other avenues to pursue on Ancestry.com. The results so far reach as far as eighth cousins. Perhaps I have greatness in my past … or not. Perhaps I have relatives close by of which I am unaware.

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Separation by Shelby McQuilkin

I enjoy the genealogy documentary TV show Who Do You Think You Are. A recent segment revealed that Larry David, co-creator of Seinfeld, and Senator Bernie Sanders of Vermont are distant cousins. They didn’t know.

Whatever I will find and perhaps choose to write about, so be it. I found this journey satisfying as far as I’ve gone. It made me remember, “We stand on the shoulders of those who have come before us. On their struggles and achievements.” I’ll take this opportunity to say, “Thank you.” And fire up the computer.

 

 

Posted in blogging, Creativity, fiction writing, Finding Ideas: The Creative Process, Inspiration, Looking for Inspiration, memoir, personal essay, poetry, Reading, short story, Writing | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , | 6 Comments

Rewriting and Revising a Story …

My mother was a fabulous seamstress. She made all of her own clothes, all my sister’s clothes, and all of mine. Dresses, blouses, skirts, coats, jackets, hats – nothing was out of her reach. In fact, I didn’t have a store-bought dress until I was 21. She didn’t design or make up her own patterns from scratch but she did have a predilection for high style. The result? She used only Vogue patterns. They were more stylish and more difficult to make.

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Vogue Pattern Book for April-May 1969

She also had a predilection for fine fabrics. To buy these goods, we would make a trip into downtown Buffalo to go to a store I only knew as “the rabbi’s.” The store was in an older section of Buffalo in a red brick building, the brick discolored by soot from Buffalo’s heavy industry. The interior of the store, one of several in the building, had a high ceiling, was rather narrow, and extended deep into the structure. Fabric was wrapped around stiff cardboard cylinders much like small rolls of carpeting which were stacked along the side and rear walls plus on tables extending down the length of the store .

The rabbi knew his goods. If my mother wanted fine woolens, he led her to one table. If she wanted Egyptian cotton, he led her to another. Sometimes he had to go up on a ladder or use a hook to get the fabric roll down from where it was stored along the wall. The rabbi was from Poland, spoke Yiddish to his wife and daughter who often assisted him, and wore the traditional clothes of his belief. I never knew any more about him. But he always made sure my mother was happy with her fabric and that it had been measured carefully.

One of my mother’s proud moments was to make all the dresses for my wedding including my gown. Of course we went to the rabbi’s. We found raw silk for my mother’s dress, cotton sateen for the bridesmaids. He helped us decide on an eggshell colored satin for my gown and fine Belgian lace for its trim. The gown turned out to be beautiful and just what I wanted.

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Young Mother Sewing by Mary Cassatt

Sometimes one of us needed a seam let out or taken in, or wanted to adjust the style, or raise or lower a hem.  In other words, the dress needed to be altered. She would take her seam ripper, remove the old stitches, and resew the garment. Often the garment needed to be tried on several times during the process. But when the person tried on the altered garment, and that person’s face lit up because the dress looked and felt better, my mother’s face would light up, too.

She always said she would rather make a garment from scratch than alter an existing one. It was more work after you thought your creation was finished.

What does all of the above have to do with rewriting and revising a story? It’s the way I feel about the current story I’m working on right now. It was compelling to get the story written down. A flurry of excitement, a rush. But now I have to start revising, as in ripping out the seams, loosening here, tightening, cutting.

In keeping with this sewing analogy, my current story needs some alterations. Here’s what I have to do …

  1. Remove and relocate or cut too much exposition front-loaded at the story’s beginning.
  2. Expand two paragraphs to increase tension
  3. Make sure the point of view is clear. I did not stay close enough to my protagonist to assure I was revealing only what she saw and thought.
  4. Incorporate the senses in two scenes.
  5. Cut some detail that does not push the story forward.
  6. Look at a section where I can do more showing and less telling.

My work is cut out for me, so to speak. I know I’m going to be happier with the revised product. In the end, it will “fit” better.

I never developed my mother’s love for sewing. I knew how. I took Home Ec in high school and made a gathered skirt. I made three dresses for my trousseau, and worked as a costumer on the musical Guys and Dolls making, among other garments, fake mink stoles. Other than that, I must say my “sewing” has been exclusively with writing.

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Giving Input to Another Writer

Being in a critique group is one way to add dimension to your writing process. As a participant, you receive or give critiques on ways to improve the story under discussion. But giving input in a positive, productive way is tricky.  Even the gentlest of critique can rub the receiver the wrong way. And the harshest kind of critique can send a writer into a rampage or a self-esteem downward spiral.

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Static Cling by Thomas C.

Of course, the best thing for writers to do in a group is put on their rhinoceros skin coats and deal with the input. I call it “taking the hits” ’cause you’re not always going to like what you hear. Keeping that in mind, good critiquing isn’t personal but deals with the words on the page. The writer being critiqued is free to use or disregard the input.

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from commons.wikimedia.com

I’ve just joined a group and wanted a method to assess someone else’s writing by which I didn’t rewrite their work or mess with their voice. I looked at my own thinking process. How did I want to go about the business of evaluating? It’s not like judging a contest. A judge receives a finished product. The piece works or it doesn’t. The critique group process is dealing with a piece of writing which is being born and refined and deepened. The story is growing in some places and shrinking in others.

I decided to look at a piece in three ways:

Kudos
What do I like? A phrase, a description, a detail. The mood. The tension. The title. A unique character, a set-up, a turn of events.  A good story. A fresh, original approach. Use of language. Flow. Pace. Story arc. In other words, I’m looking for strengths. For good stuff. For writing that works.

Thoughts
This is the place I ask questions designed to have a writer dig deeper. What does the character want? What are the obstacles standing in the way? I look for ways to strengthen a scene, use details, use the senses. I try asking the “What if” question. This is the place I suggest a writer clarify or cut or add. Etc.

Nuts and Bolts
This is housekeeping. Tightening the writing. Glaring mechanical problems. Action verbs, active voice. Use of attributions. Use of tags or stage business. Use of transitions. Word repetition. Etc.

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Think Again by Tom Fedro

A critiquer, whether working in spoken or written form, needs to by mindful of word choice, tone, and the way things are said. It’s easy to let the critique rip or just say “how it is” in that writer’s view. That’s one philosophy. It’s not mine. The long term goal is to improve writing. It’s an ongoing, open-ended process. A critique group is a place where we are all works in progress, helping each other grow.

My process? I read the selection for overall feel, making margin or mental notes. On a sheet with the three categories I mentioned above I enter my ideas. I find this process keeps me focused on the overall story, keeps me working toward that author’s big picture, and I don’t become a nit-picker or a rambler. I don’t speak in generalities but can give specifics. Hopefully, I’m offering something of substance, something particular, something of use.

I’m currently processing the critiques I received on my own story during the last meeting of my group. The story, among other things, has a POV (point of view) problem. So now I’m going into revision mode.

Finally, the critique group also offers a strange phenomenon. While assessing other people’s writing you discover strengths and weaknesses about your own. What’s not to like? A good two way street.

And a closing word. Whether you choose to write solo or be in a group, keep writing!

 

 

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A Writers’ Critique Group at Last

I pulled into the parking lot of the local library a little before 10 a.m., feeling a bit excited. After many years, a writers’ critique group was forming in my locale under the auspices of the Palm Springs Writers Guild and the leadership of two guild members. I’d been in another critique group sponsored by the organization (a perk of membership), but the drive from the far La Quinta outskirts where I live had been a long one. Sadly, I eventually left it. I was delighted to have a group so much closer.

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I parked my SUV, grabbed my gear, and walked toward the entrance where people waited for the library to open. During the wait I met a few members of the group. When the doors opened promptly at ten, we made our way to our meeting room. Other members arrived until we were seven.

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What followed was a round of self-introductions. We told about ourselves and our writing goals. Next we discussed how the group would function. We shared ideas. Then we each passed out our work – short stories, chapters from novels, personal essays – to be critiqued before the next group meeting in two weeks.

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The room was comfortable, the air filled with expectancy. I realized how much I missed the exchange by writers about their work and aspirations. How much I missed writerly input. Being in a critique group isn’t a necessity for a writer. I’ve worked solo for a number of years. I grew as a writer, experimented, took classes, and continued to submit and be accepted by literary journals. I do have an out-of-area Beta reader I treasure who tells me how it is. However, there were times I wanted an exchange of thoughts and ideas, live and immediate. A place to be inspired. Or encouraged. Or aided with a writing conundrum. A place. A writer’s voice.

This new group is composed of experienced writers, male and female. I look forward to good, professional input allowing us all to grow.

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At the next meeting we begin the nuts and bolts of working with our craft and art. And the art of working with each other. Good stuff. Thank you, Danielle Cook and Hani Angelos, for bringing this group together.

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