THANK YOU!

We are a day  out from the great and uniquely American holiday, Thanksgiving. We have traditionally gathered. These days it’s one daughter who does the family thing, being the place we all migrate to for limited conversations~ because who can discuss politics or just about anything~ complain about the fact that Christmas decorations are in the stores and  truly just enjoy the small ones!

Thanksgiving originated as a harvest festival. It  has been celebrated nationally on and off since 1789, after Congress requested a proclamation by George Washington. Now it is the fourth Thursday of the month when we gather around a huge roasted bird with side dishes ranging from from dressing-or stuffing, if you prefer, cranberry sauce [jelled or full of whole cranberries] potatoes, gravy, sweet potatoes! candied please. Yep. a very unique, great, stressed-filled one of a kind holiday. My favorite has always been cranberries with candied sweet potatoes coming in a very, very close second.

But no. What I want to talk about is ‘giving thanks’. Do you give thanks? ‘Thank you’ when someone holds the door for you? Or  ‘thank you’ when you are handed change? Or thank you when you are waved through a four-way stop? I do. It’s not a reflex. I mean it.

But do I get, ‘you’re welcome’ back? Usually, no. I don’t. What I get is ‘no problem.’ What exactly does that mean? It wasn’t a problem for you to hold the door? It wasn’t a problem for you to hand me my change? Lordy, it was your job! Maybe the person says ‘no problem’ when waving me through a four way stop.

The proper phrase is you are welcome. The no problem response seems sort of lost in translation. A bit casual. An off the cuff response. An over a shoulder comment that is more perfunctory than real.  It is more like I have not inconvenienced the person I thanked.  Again, for the most part it’s their job! 

Okay, a bit more cranky than I should. Time for the grateful list. T

  • Tom, while his health is good, he is facing challenges. I’m grateful that during the time he worked he made sure we were financially secure.
  • Meghan, Greg and, of course, Emmeline.
  • Bayley, Dan and, of course Mia.
    • Who would not be grateful for their children, their children marrying well and for their grand children. Seriously?  I mean. Look at them.

 

 

 

What else?

I am grateful daily for the peace, grace and prayers that help me make it through my day. 

 

What you know….

When I started writing, it was ‘write what you know’.  This has always been a trick question for me~ exactly what do I know? How to tie my shoes? How to get across LA at seven in the morning? [well, maybe not anymore] How to make great gravy?  How to buy Christmas gifts? I know a lot of things. I can be, if warranted, my own trivia course. Sometimes I am even amazed at what I remember, aka ‘know.’

Then it was ‘no stretch yourself’ what about what you would want to explore, about what you would like to do, where you would like to go. And I thought that was wonderful. And it seemed to me at that time we started to see a lot of, well, more and more world building. Whole universes designed to the greater good of what was essentially the same story–either boy loves girl, gets girl, girl becomes powerful, gets boy [lol] or man is ascendent to a throne but nobody, everybody wants to stop him. It didn’t matter if it was a love story, a thriller, an adventure, a mystery or a combination of all of them. Go ahead, stretch yourself!

Now if feels as if we are back to write what you know, with the added caveat of ‘how dare you!’ if you write outside what you know, and that means color and culture. A recent blog I visited spoke of all the white gatekeepers in publishing stoping the needed diversity. I was moderate, stating there are not new gatekeepers in the pipeline who are of a diverse background, i.e., people of color, marginalized voices, to take the place of those in position. I thought that maybe education, the opening of the mind, the possibility that there was a career in being a scrivener, that this is a hard slog for anyone wanting to publish.

First off I was told the author had a Ph.D., I am still unsure what that means, I have a masters. So? I was told it wasn’t education, because that was just another code word for system. And the system limits your interactions and holds you back from finding positions in an all white world.

I was told that I needed to ‘ponder’ the idea that marginalized voices are being held back purposefully by white gatekeepers, and I wonder at the self righteous anger, the victimization of their writing and the need to hold others accountable.

I wonder if these people know the editors and agents I do, the ones who continually go to conferences, SCBWI of course, who go through slush piles, who find those marginalized voices, hire sensitivity readers, and work to put out to the world stories that are important and necessary to everyone. I wonder if they ever saw Chimamanda Adichie in her ted talk on The Danger of A Single Story.

I come from the generation, while not me personally, walked the streets for equality, were chastised by fire hoses, jail, killings, and who were told “I have a dream that one day this nation will rise up and live out the true meaning of its creed: “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal.”  and “I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character.”

I believed him. My dad preached the same message to us, not in front of a huge crowd, just at the dinner table. I too thought we were all created equal, that is what I read in my Baltimore Catechism! there was no caveat for color or ethnicity. Not made, not kept, but created. I thought that it didn’t matter what color your skin, were you honest, generous, giving, truthful.  I believed. Yeah, this little white girl from the San Fernando Valley in Southern California with freckles across her nose and dark red hair. And so did my parents, a lovely white couple from Scranton Pennsylvania, of Irish heritage who understood what discrimination meant~ they were not that far removed from the time of ‘no Irish need apply’ and “no catholics hired’.

And, I thought we had made progress.  Here, I’ll say this true, true for me, because each person’s truth lies in their values, morals and ethics.  I don’t believe Donald Trump made us more racist. And I believe that  Mr. Obama, not made,  just took advantage.

I am pretty positive that when, under what ever administration it was, we moved from being a melting pot of immigrants who came to this country to be a part of the ‘the great American experiment,’ agreed, nay took an oath, to follow the laws,  learn the language, participate in the civil, cultural and political life of this country and leave behind what was their native culture moving to the reality that this was now their home, in the physical, political and, yeah, even metaphysical sense and they accepted this home as it was, bringing the richness of their former lives to enhance ours we lost. When we became a ‘salad bowl‘ with millions in our country without the benefit of that oath, that commitment, that willingness to be a part, well, we, Americans and America,  lost big time.

We have places that no longer follow our, yes OUR laws, who no longer believe that we were, are, that place where freedom rings. Still brings a swell to my heart to hear that. We are no longer that melting pot. We no longer believe in that truth~if you listen to the blogs, pundits, news, cable, even TV shows~ sigh and how they disappoint in presenting one side of a political discussion. It is a discussion, you know. A discussion we have had since the first words were penned on the US Constitution.

I think, believe that if those of you canting about equality and justice truly understood the meaning of the words, that we are created equal then perhaps you would not be so angry and so quick in seeking to blame others.

To paraphrase Eugen Rosenstock-Huessy, memory is tyrannical~~ This is what I know. This is what I write. 

Beta

So. Beta. The second (usually second-brightest) star in a constellation. Or, denoting the second of a series of items, categories, forms of a chemical compound, etc. Or, the 2nd letter of the Greek alphabet.

Nope, not never first. Beta is second. According to Literary Rambles, A beta reader is, essentially, someone who reads your work and offers input while it is in draft form but no I say, it is less than that and yet more.

 I have critique partners, you say.  Well, yes. And a critique is more than just an up or down ruling.

For me, my critique partners see the story first,  from the very beginning where it is just words on a page, a smidgen of an idea,  to the way it forms into story where we talk about the main character as if s/he exists in real time.

We worry about what is said, how it is said, what are the MC’s feelings or not, is s/he hurt or in trouble. We  want s/he to get out of that trouble, to solve the mystery, to change and grow, to be better than what they were at the beginning.

So all the ins and outs of the plot, the obstacles for the main character, the needs and wants, yes all, we want it all! And then you are done. You like what you wrote. Your critique partners like what you wrote. Now what.

Second reader. Yes. someone who is not familiar with the story, the way the MC first struggled with the mystery and now struggles with emotions. You want someone who can read the story without the weeks, months, probably year or so, of attachment to the character. Yep, just like an editor or agent. Someone who is coming to the story for the first time.

I have asked one other person out side my critique group to read one of my stories. But I have recently been a beta reader for another, a friend. It was a great opportunity to see the story without introduction, like I would pick off a library or bookstore shelf or on the digital library site. I enjoyed staying with the story but making comments on the character, the nuances, the plot. Why? because most often what you see in another’s story is also happening in your story. It do make you a better writer, a better storyteller.

Yay for Second!

Archie Goodwin

I have loved Archie, well, just forever! And so when I saw this book, I just had to read it. It had a nice classic feel. 1930-50s New York City.

The book introduces Archie Goodwin as a young, I’m guessing nineteen or twenty year old and a very competent and already well-known Nero Wolfe.  Yes, Inspector Cramer appears as well as Sergaent Stebbins. S’matter of fact, the whole gang was there, Saul, Fred, Orrie along with Fritz and Theodore, although in this one we don’t really get up to the Orchid room.

Yes, Archie drinks his milk. Although I was surprised that he had a scotch and water. And he is very savvy, lol, for someone just out of the rural areas of Ohio.

The mystery is a good one; who kidnapped the son of a rich New Yorker with a home out on Long Island and also killed two people, a chauffeur and a rag-tag homeless man.

It was an easy read, especially since I felt like I knew everyone and was just waiting to see how the mystery unfolded and how Nero and Archie came to work together.

I wonder if this is enough to get you into the Nero Wolfe books. I started them when I was young, and they were clever, urbane, witty.  And this was long before CGI or action sequences, when mind over matter counted. Still, I would recommend this to anyone who loves a good mystery, who is intrigued by how a mystery is solved and who enjoys the characters that take on these cases. Although Archie is young in this one, I do remember that neither Nero nor Archie ever aged, much like Nancy Drew or any of the ‘sleuths’ of the time.  They solved mysteries and were pretty much two dimensional characters. Yes, they had homes, families, likes, dislikes, but that never, every got in the way of a story.

A different time. Today you could not get away with a character who had no emotion, no wants, needs. In the days of Nero Wolfe the entire story was about the mystery and the way it was solved. Today it is about the mystery, but we want to identify with the character, feel for them, need them to succeed.

Sigh. For me, it will be all about the mystery!

Dreaded…

A pain in the neck, bent over your computer or tablet, typing or writing, it is the dreaded synopsis. DREADED, that is the adjective most often accompanying the word synopsis. And I do get it. It is hard to write, to think through your whole book. You must decide what is a main plot and what are the sub-plots. You must decide who are the main characters, when and how are they included. And whether it is 50K or 90K, it is a lot of thinking to do. But do it you must.

SCBWI Carolinas recently sponsored an online program, Wait! What? A Synopsis? not too long ago. The gist of the presentation was that the synopsis should represent not only the plot but the motivations of the main characters. And Yikes! all of this in under 600 words! One page!  And, at the same time you want to do two, maybe three things:

  1. show the uniqueness of the story
  2. show the believability of the characters
  3. show the ending

And that is not, as Stacy Whitman put on my synopsis, ‘spoilery’ [which may or may not include a dash].

There were multiple corrections on my synopsis for typos and I blame that on my learning to read by sight and not by phonetics and on a mild case of dyslexia which translates into poor mechanics. Sigh. Excuses done!

The most important addition to your writing and publishing according to Ms. Whitman is the synopsis shows that you have thought out your plot and can distinguish it-from beginning to end- along with the main characters in your story. Somehow that seems basic, but no. To me it’s like the pitch. How would I pitch this story?

In BECOMING THE ONLY, twelve-year-old EMILY POUVERAIN DELAQUA, living in the shadow of her successful grandma after whom she is named, struggles with death, intimidation, and deception. A contemporary middle grade novel of 54K words, BECOMING THE ONLY is a genre mash-up of Moon Over Manifest meets a middle grade The Brief History of Montmaray. 

The question I have to answer, I have come to realize, is does the synopsis augment or betray the pitch. Augment is far better, right? Therefore the synopsis should include good details, the
most telling details including the motivation of the main antagonist, whoa!

I like this image because I have come to realize it is true, motivations are the muscle of the story, the heft that brings the story from being a plot with a beginning, middle and end–a hundred pound weakling–to a robust and fulfilling story and it is for story we strive, amend, revise, and edit.

As pain in the neck as it is, a synopsis speaks to the truth of my story and for that I will work it and work it and work it so that I can do the exact same thing for the story itself.