Sunday, February 17, 2019

Good News on a Bad Day

Good news is always good unless it's a bad day, in which case it becomes great news. Some of the worst days I've ever had ended with good news. On the day that I failed a major math test, one which had studied hours for, I found out I was accepted to my first choice university. On the worst date of my life, so bad that I swore off dating- my (now) husband called to ask me out.  And on the day when I felt like giving up on writing, I won a flash fiction writing contest.

Earlier that same week I had received a bad review of my completed manuscript from a beta reader. She called my writing "unpolished" and "dull." I was ready to throw the entire book in the garbage. The two years I'd spent writing, what I thought was my best work, appeared to not even achieve adequate results. I figured I may as well stop while I'm behind. Then I saw a post for a flash fiction writing contest on a Facebook group I belong to, The Fabulists, run by Julie Gray. My mind screamed at me that I can't write and I should just move on. I entered anyway figuring I have nothing more to lose. And then, I won.

That's not the only time good news had found me on a bad day. I received not one, but three rejection letters for my manuscript on the same day that I also received a notification that a short story I wrote was going to be published in an international Jewish Magazine. The story that I had written was on a day where I felt like I was the worst mother in the world because of a fight I had with my daughter. I told myself,  the only good to come out of the fight with my daughter is the lesson I learned. So I put the story in writing to share the experience of that day with others. It turned out the editors of the magazine I submitted it to thought it was a story worth sharing too.

Bad days happen to everyone, no one can escape hard times. I still have days where I feel like there is a wall between me and the publishing world. Sometimes my prose doesn't flow and adverbs populate the pages instead. Sometimes my kids think they live in a barn, and no amount of cleaning can turn their sties into habitable rooms. Sometimes my learning disability gets the best of me. Sometimes I watch YouTube videos by authors who tell me I'm doing it all wrong. And then I receive a notification that my Blog reached over one hundred views and that my story is being reprinted in another magazine. Then I wonder what I was so worried about in the first place.

Sunday, February 10, 2019

Are you a Writer?

Many people often ask me, how do I know I'm a writer? The answer is simple. You write.  Wait, you say, many people write and they are not writers. Actually, they are. What they are not, is published.

This is a topic I have grappled with since I wrote my first manuscript. What makes me a writer? Or more importantly, what makes me worth reading? I went looking for answers on the internet. I found ways to structure my novel and how to make my dialogue snap. I found articles advising me to switch my adverbs promptly to verbs and to leave cliches on the shelf; to vary my sentence structure and leave out generic phrases such as could, maybe, and whatever. My writing contained all these infractions and more. So I began to ask myself, am I a real writer?
As they say, when you go looking for trouble, you'll find it. I found many websites written by accomplished authors on what exactly makes a writer good at their craft. One had me take a quiz. If I scored less then twenty percent, that meant that I wasn't a real writer.  I scored in the tenth percentile. Then another website was an angry rant from an author who no longer wanted to see "dribble" from want-to-be writers on his shelves. He had a list of twelve descriptions that make a manuscript not worth reading... or writing.  As you can guess, I was his top choice of authors whose work he would send straight to the trash.

I was devastated.  I love writing, it gives me purpose, fulfillment and more joy than any past time I could replace it with. But who was I kidding? The great sages of the internet had spoken. I was not qualified to be a writer. Old doubts of stupidity and worthlessness awoke in my mind and I gave into them. I placed my laptop in a corner and focused on any task that could keep me away from writing.  But stories and ideas kept swirling and forming in my head.  Finally, I couldn't fight the urge to write any longer.  I pulled down my laptop and began to write again. I knew that some might consider my work "dribble." I knew that my words didn't flow like cream from a carton.  Yet, I found I had to share my words with a page, even if I'm the only one who reads them.

That's when I discovered that I am a writer.  A person who can't keep their words inside. One day my words may be bound together in a book and I hope others will get to read what I have written.  Until then, I won't go looking for validation. I'm a writer simply because that is what I do. I write.

Sunday, February 3, 2019

The Cat That Came to Dinner

Sometimes you choose your pets and sometimes they choose you. Rosmand chose us. We were eating Friday night dinner when an orange cat scratched at our door. We ignored him and kept eating. He came again the next Friday night and the Friday after that.

A few weeks later my youngest daughter held a tea party on our back porch. The guest list included her dolls, stuffed animals and the orange cat. He sat right on the stool next to her, purring and sniffing the "tea" she would hold up to his mouth.

At the time my daughter didn't say much. She had a language delay caused by hearing loss. My husband and I engaged her in as much conversation as possible, but she would resist. Most of our conversations were one-sided, we spoke, she listened and then ran away.  Yet at this tea party, she was full of things to say. "Kitty... tea? Kitty... nice? Kitty...stay."

Rosmand has been a mixed blessing. He is cute, orange, furry, not always cuddly, and sometimes bites.  But he does attend tea parties, dinners and other occasions where food is served. He joins me for writing sessions and walks with my family on the way to synagogue on Saturday.  My daughter still has lots to say to him and he purs and listens.

Pets become family. Rosmand has become a full-fledged member of ours. He teaches kindness and responsibility. The children fill his water bowl and leave him their leftover chicken scraps. In the winter, I find him tucked into my eldest daughters bed with blankets. The girls have learned to respect his boundaries and heed his signals to stop petting him when he asks.  I never asked for Rosmand, but I'm sure glad he came and scratched at our door.

*I'd love to hear your pet stories. Feel free to comment and add pictures of your favorite furry friends.

Sunday, January 27, 2019

Persistence is Spelled Permeance

No this is not a metaphor,  although I'm sure we can come up with something about permeating barriers. This is a normal dyslexic mistake I often make when perusing the spell check choices. I remember how to spell part of the word, and if it looks similar to the word offered, I pick it. Often this leads to hilarious results.

My first great spell check exchange was when I was thirteen and had written a story about a student having to say goodbye to his teacher before being deported. There was nothing funny about this goodbye scene, or at least nothing funny that I had intended. So you can imagine my surprise when my teacher burst out laughing.  She laughed for a good whole minute before being able to tell me what she was laughing at. She read out loud a line from my paper: "I didn't know people could cry tires." You all know what I meant, but when I saw 'tires' it processed as 'tears' in my brain.

Another mistake I made happens to be on the cruder side, but is too funny not to share. I was writing my first draft for an article in my high school newspaper. I was comparing teaching styles of two English teachers whom I had great respect for. I submitted my first draft to the editor who couldn't control her laughter. The students crowded around her wondering what was so hilarious. She had trouble catching her breath before reading out the words, "he likes to get down to perverted arguments on a regular basis in the classroom".  I meant to say 'persuasive', but we all had a good laugh.

Since I have trouble constructing and deconstructing phoneme ( like Pat vs. Pad) it makes spelling almost impossible for me to master. Throw in silent letters, and difficulty in memorizing sequences and I'm sunk. Spell check is a dyslexic's best friend and has been mine for many years. But like most friends, we have our quarrels. As my English teacher used to love to say, "spelling a word correctly is simply the beginning, the word must be spelled correctly and have a proper place in the sentence."

Take this sentence for example. "There are tows in the closet," said Eva. Can you guess what I was trying to write?  Hint-they are big and fluffy and you can't take a shower without one. Yes, it's towels. Grammer check didn't even catch that one. What did?  My second favorite writing tool. Microsoft Word has a feature where the text can be read back to you aloud. I can't tell you how many mistakes I catch when I hear what I've actually written. Once I finish writing a page or chapter I have Word read it back to me. You can choose the speed and voice. Sometimes I have an American male narrator, or sometimes I go for a female from Britain. Both voices reveal my errors without the least bit of judgment. 

I want to make people laugh with me, not at me, but I've come to the conclusion that humor is humor.  Mistakes happen, I can cry about the fact that I make so many or laugh along with the people who catch them.  Learning to laugh at yourself is important. Luckily, I get the chance to do it often. 

Sunday, January 20, 2019

Don’t Say That!

To offend or not to offend, that is the question. I have spent my whole life trying to avoid upsetting people, my inclination is to shy away from controversy. However, as a writer, I feel it is part of my job to delve into what makes people feel uncomfortable, to provocate and challenge the norm. If I really wanted to be sure I never ever offended anyone, I would stick to writing about rocks and daisies. Fear of offending has blocked more of my writing than illness and fear of rejection combined. I can get over illness, I can recover from rejection, but the idea that I may have caused another being pain is shattering.

Some examples of questions I struggle with daily include:

  • Should a character swear when the scene calls for it? And believe me, there are plenty of scenes which call for swearing.
  • What about including a romantic scene and how far should I take it?
  • How do I add diverse characters in a way that is respectful of their culture without veering into stereotypes?
I once had a beta reader give feedback that my joke about communism was offensive to socialists. I told her that the joke was a reference to the former USSR and had nothing to do with socialism.  No good, she still thought I should remove it.

Then there was the scene where my main character’s love interest teaches her about gun safety. He also opens up to her about his experience in the military. There is no politics spoken, no sides are taken, no one was hurt, everything was legal. Yet I was told this scene is offensive because guns are offensive.

I haven’t even come to the stories which include people of faith.  No one wants to see their laws and customs broken. I can scream at the top of my lungs- characters misbehave! It’s how the story grows and evolves. I’m not targeting religion, I’m simply writing about characters that happen to be religious and human. No matter, it rubs some people the wrong way and so it must go.

All these scenes and more have kept me up at night and away from my computer for days; wondering if I should change them or not.  I have done research on this topic and it seems I have three options when dealing with someone who may be offended by my writing; concede, ignore or fight.

I personally would not want my shelves filled with books echoing all the same messages. I read to understand other’s perspectives, even if it differs from my own. What happened to the art of civil debate? Can we ever discuss ideas without descending into a mudslinging, head bashing brawl?  I’ve encountered many scrapes along the road to the middle ground, but I’m determined to get there. I must let fear go. Not because I wish to offend others, but because you can’t learn from characters that are perfect, not to mention how boring the story would be. I will continue to listen to others in the effort to gain a perspective beyond myself.  I believe we must show each other grace, kindness, and respect, even when our opinions differ.  And when we don’t’ see eye to eye, I hope we can put down our pitchforks and pick up generosity and agree to disagree. 

Sunday, January 13, 2019

I Have a Secret

I have a secret.  I am a writer.  I know that doesn’t sound like much of a secret, lots of people write. But writing is a conversation. I am asking readers to listen, which means I think I must have something worthy to say.

I began writing when I was eight years old. Plots and characters would appear in my mind during chores and my free time. But when I put pen to paper, I struggled. My dyslexia always getting in the way.  I had my first success when I was thirteen, winning a national writing contest. I won honorable mention the year later in the same competition.  My second achievement was an article I wrote for the school newspaper which was reprinted in two local newspapers, one in Georgia and the other in Charleston SC. 

Then I had my first major failure in college when I took the writing placement exams. The exam’s main purpose was to evaluate if a student could read and write English on a basic level. I failed the writing exam, twice. I found out later it was due to my spelling and grammar errors. The failure knocked any hope I had of being a career writer out of my mind. I thought writers don’t fail elementary placement exams, ever.

So, I shelved my dreams, instead choosing to go for something for practical; social work. I forgot all about writing until about five years ago when it saved my life. I had just moved to Israel and was struggling.  I was told to just learn Hebrew, and all would be well. I went to Ulpan for three years; a course for new immigrants to study the language. I also tried Rosetta Stone, tutors and Duolingo. My Hebrew level stayed the same, basic. I felt confused and stupid every single day.  I thought about returning to America, but my family was so happy here. I’d be selfish to make them go back.  Life became lifeless. Rosh Hashana and Yom Kipper came around and I didn’t ask for good health or long life, in fact, I didn’t ask for life at all. I began saying goodbye. That’s when a small voice whispered, “write.”

I hushed it at first, telling it that I’m dyslexic and can’t even pass a straightforward writing exam. I was afraid of people’s judgment, reproval, and rejection.  The voice made me a deal, however. Write for a year, just one year and see what happens. So, I sat down to my computer and I wrote. Words became pages and soon pages became chapters and then chapters became books.
Now that you know my secret, I hope you will share my journey as my first manuscript makes its way into the world.


In my next post, I will explore censorship and overcoming my need for approval.