Thursday, December 19, 2013

Leaving Limbo

Imagine this: from my teens on, all the way until I walked into my first class at age 41, I was trying to write my book, Looking Up. By trying, I mean that I was trying to write an entire book the minute I sat down to write, like with a beginning, a middle and an end, all at once and, perhaps, chronologically.

The problem with this, of course, was that books aren't really written this way, especially memoirs. I would start writing with this tremendous surge of exuberance, start stumbling immediately, because nothing ever looked as good on the page as it did in my brain, and then would crash and burn at about page 5. Well, one time I did make it to page 18 but it was written as fiction.

Can you imagine what it's like to walk around your entire life knowing you've got a book inside of you that must come out, must be born, and not only will you lose your mind if you don't start writing, but the book will probably kill you? Maybe you do.

I walked into Dr. Lois Roma-Deeley's Creative Writing class at Paradise Valley Community College in the fall of 2001 and I was immediately given a hall pass out of that limbo, out of purgatory. This piece of advice only consisted of a couple words, so simple really, but I'd never heard them before in my life. Of course, I'd never taken a writing class before in my life.

She said, "Start in the middle." Any part of it: start the book in the middle, start each piece in the middle, start each scene in the middle. Jump into the middle of what's happening in a particular memory.

Oh. Start in the middle! It was like my jailer suddenly threw the jail cell wide open and I was able to lope out to freedom. Start in the middle! Why hadn't I thought of that during all my years of not taking classes and pretending I could do it on my own with no instruction at all, or at least that some day the book, bored with its host body, would just pop out of me fully formed?

So from then on, whenever I got an idea about a particular memory, I started in the middle, saw it in my mind's eye, saw the people, heard the conversations, and wrote it. Then I wrote another, and another, and another, until I basically had hundreds of pages worth of scenes, of stories, all starting in the middle. And in each one of those was my story - the DNA of my story. Hooked together into a chain, this was my story. And it was there that I found my book, Looking Up.

Saturday, September 24, 2011

The Journey of my Journals

As a kid, I was always a natural diary-keeper. Someone, I think my oldest sister, bought me a red diary with a lock when I was eight and I proceeded to record events of my fascinating life. Anyone who's read my book knows what this entailed: my daily crush reports on Larry Aronson. Right before our move to Arizona I got a little more sophisticated and got a paisley journal with no lock (a big reading risk in a house with seven snoopy sisters), and then, as a teen, I used gigantic spiral notebooks. Great material for writing book two, right? After all, original source material! Historical fact! A reference! The historian in me loves this. Why even write? Why not just transcribe?

Well, it turns out that diaries don't make a book. I opened my diaries looking for things that I forgot in the numerous stories I've already written of our first five years in Arizona and what did I find? As the mother of a teen and a tween, I should have known the answer to this. Anyone should. I found a bunch of whining blather. I found a lot of teen anguish and misery and unrequited crushes and false reporting going on between my alleged friends and the guys involved. Also, when I start taking French my Junior year I, annoyingly, start writing a lot of the entries in French.

Is this a book? No. Will this even help me write a book? No.

Turns out the parts I remember and the themes I remember are the most interesting parts anyway. The miserable crushes that end in a rolling make out session on top of a cactus in the desert; the way my life parallels my mother's in a carnival mirror kind of way; the way that the seven of us descend upon Scottsdale like some sort of bomb. That's not in my diaries. That's something you need time to see. A diary's about a day's events. A book is like a panorama.

What is left is exactly what I started off with and what I was writing anyway: a book about a Jewish girl from Skokie showing up in the Horse-riding Cowboy Scottsdale of 1973, not exactly a time traveller but, in many ways, a creature from another place and time.

Has anyone else saved their diaries or journals from high school and found them less than intriguing?  Do you find that your memories are a more accurate reporter of fact than the teenage you?

Author of Looking Up: A Memoir of Sisters, Survivors and Skokie
I've been unable to log my own comments in on Blogger for months! So please excuse me if you put a comment here and it goes without a response. Please know that I'm reading and would like to comment but am having technical difficulties with the site.

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

How to Alienate Your Worldwide Audience

As a Jewish writer, I had always thought that any book I wrote could possibly have a worldwide audience - anywhere there were Jews there should be readers for me, right? Or, at the very least, in Israel, right? Ignoring my obvious concerns of whether anyone anywhere would ever want to read my book, I thought optimistically that it could always be translated into Hebrew.


Well, wrong. The first, absolute sinking feeling of my wrongness in this came during my recent trip to Israel. First let me explain: my book makes a bit of merciless fun of my parents for stuffing a family of nine in a three-bedroom house, for most likely potty-training their children under a tree, and for my mother always refusing to utilize dressing rooms when she could just as easily strip our clothes off in the middle of a store. 

So there I was in Israel with sudden culture shock.

First we were in H&M in Tel Aviv and I'm kind of moseying through the men's department with my son when I notice that all around me are men in various stages of deshabille. They're undressing at the sales racks and putting on clothes, in their boxers, completely absorbed, like they're in a Loehmann's dresssing room and I'm invisible. But really we're in the middle of the store near the window.

Next, the tinyness of the spaces there - the beds, the apartments, the streets. It turns out that families of nine readily live in three-bedroom apartments. Maybe even families of fourteen, fifteen.

I'll spare the nitty gritty details of how I found out that my speculation about being potty trained under a tree would fall flat in Israel, but suffice it to say that I had eyewitness evidence that it would.

So I was wrong. And I'm wondering, could this be handled by a translator? Instead of simply a language to language translation, is it possible? A culture to culture one?  

Have you ever traveled and found yourself not only out of your natural element with language, but with cultural rules that you thought were a given? 

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Looking Up, Letting Go

There's a lot I've discovered the last four months since my book was published. Really, enough to fill up many, many blogs posts, which I'm determined to write. But here's my topic for today: people buy books and don't read them. Even I do this.

There's, of course, the absolute wonder and amazing fact of people buying a book you've written at all. That I want to express gratitude for. To labor and struggle, buried like a hermit in my office year after year, agonizing over the structure, the stories, the right balance of humor and tragedy, and then to press that awful "publish" button and to have my book find its way into people's homes? That's been amazing.

The vast majority of people buy the book, read the book and finish the book, as far as I can tell. A lot of amazing people have even contacted me about the book. But what I've learned is that some people just own the book, they don't read it. They put it in a pile that's teetering somewhere near their ceiling, blocking out the sun, and every once in a while they reshuffle this great pile, reprioritzing it, or, like me, moving some out of that pile and into the "I'm never going to read this" pile in my actual bookshelves.

And, believe it or not, it's not personal. They have a plan and it involves finishing certain books that have been started or projects that have been started and then dealing with the towering stack of books. Believe me, I understand. I have several piles myself.  

There's this horrible fear I had before my book was published: that no one would ever read my book. Then, little did I know, but there was this horrible fear I had the second it was published: that someone would read it.

My book came out in paperback about a month before its Kindle edition so no one could get it instantly, they had to wait for delivery. Immediately, my most loyal fans ordered it: my blogging buddies, my personal friends, my grown nieces, friends on Facebook. Then I sat in my house on pins and needles wondering what they thought of it. I hoped no one had gotten overnight shipping. I was actually hoping they all had ordered the "covered wagon" shipping option from Amazon, so that it would take months to get to them. I counted off the days for mail time and reading time. I wondered if there was going to be that awful dead silence when people don't want to say anything bad and so say nothing at all? 

Then a nice comment came in. Okay, it was from someone who's related to me by blood, but still. Honestly, it was a relief just to breath again.  

Please visit Kristen over at Motherese this week as she's giving away a copy of Looking Up this week. She posted her review of the book on Monday and will be posting an interview with me on Thursday!


You can buy Looking Up: A Memoir of Sisters, Survivors and Skokie on in Kindle or paperback versions, on Barnes &, in many libraries and in Changing Hands Book Store in the Phoenix area. 

Sunday, February 6, 2011

Frozen Here in Bookland

Oh my gosh, am I sick of this book. I am so sick of spending every day hiding from it, procrastinating working on it, finding a zillion things to do instead of it, and then, at like midnight, wandering in here and then still figuring out something else to do.

There are so many problems. I'm sitting here changing names but the more I change the names the more I worry that I'm turning it into a work of fiction. I worry about the names I'm using - which is true to the person, true to the time period. I have my Jewish book of baby names open to the Bubbe and Zayde names for the people of my mother's generation and the aging baby boomer section for people who were kids when I was. Then there's the Dictionary of Jewish Names from which I'm getting surnames. What a nightmarish hassle. And I can't just use the search option to find and replace the names when I am changing them because my computer is like a comedian: if I'm replacing the name Gale it will also replace the word "regale" and then I'll have a big problem. So what do I have to do after I'm done with this name stuff? Another read through!

Then I started looking up the PDF conversion process again tonight and can't remember how and so I went on the Amazon discussion boards and it's like, guess what Linda? You're never going to be able to figure this out! Really I just need to choose one of the midline pricey options they offer and let someone do it for me. I have to accept my stupidness. I'll end up with pages half printed and a book numbered from the highest number to the lowest, from beginning to end backwards!

So I'm frozen here in book land. I can't blog (this one's a diary, right? Right?) I can't write for salon right now. I can barely write an email. I'm keeping up with Poetica. I'm managing to cruise Facebook at all hours of the day and night and, I have to say, my desk and workspace area looks wonderful since I procrastinated writing all day today and reorganized it!

Onto tomorrow. A committment then: I will finish these name changes. Monday read through the entirety. Tuesday reset the margins and chapter spacing and write the back of book blurb. I will not think of anything but the task before me.

Thursday, January 27, 2011

Beware the Procrastinator

I'm not going to go into all the reasons I'm self-publishing my book, and soon. I won't bore anyone who actually might read this with the blah blah blah of the breakdown of the publishing industry, the control over my book, the fact that it just needs to get its butt out into the world. Oh yeah, and I guess I had some pretty well-timed psychotherapy that convinced me that what I was seeing as a pile of negatives maybe was actually all good. I have a book. Agents wanted it. It's still mine.

So I'm doing a once-over to check that the whole thing complies with my "do no harm" motto. I've heard before that I should always try to judge my words by whether they are kind and necessary and true. Also, since there won't be a major publisher behind me, guess who would get sued if I didn't? Right.

So I'm doing that, right? Well, it's 12:08, like midnight, here right now and I haven't done it yet today. And I'm tired. And it's just sitting, minimized on my computer IN FRONT OF ME waiting for me to click on it. But what am I doing instead? Blogging (on a blog I haven't been on for nearly 11 months), measuring the chair I'm sitting on because I'm sure that if I got a better chair I'd be able to write more comfortably, I'm on Facebook, I'm on hotmail, I'm googling stuff. I'm not doing my edit. And I think I know why. After the last pages I have to go through, I have no idea how to self-publish!

I mean, I'm on CreateSpace and everything and so far, so good, but still. I have to embed images and "make them flat." I have to make a firm decision about the book cover, not to mention the subtitle. I have to write the back cover blurb. How can someone like me, who wants to fly into every possible brain that could read the book and anticipate their reaction, do this?

I'll tell you, or tell me, how I'm going to do it. I'll remember that I have two main goals in publishing my book: first to get it the hell out of my head so I don't have to think about it anymore and have it following me around and tormenting every minute of my life and, second, so that I can print off one single copy of it and hand it to my mother and tell her, "Here is your story." My Holocaust Survivor mother, who asked all the days of her life for someone, anyone, to write her story, will finally have her wish.

And when those two things are accomplished, I will, indeed, be accomplished too.

Saturday, April 3, 2010

Work Well Done

I can't believe I haven't written a post since March 13th. Well, at least I've been writing.

Here's what I did: I printed out my whole book, all 300 pages in hard copy, and I did two hard edits on it. The first one I just went through and added dialogue and scenes but the second one I actually cut and pasted things in different order. I really started looking at the book as a integrated whole and physically cut - like with scissors - sections to move them around. I think it's work well done.

Now I'm ready to input this mess into the word document version of the manuscript, which is fine, except that the minute I make the first change my page numbers will be off and the only way I'll find any sections will be by searching for words or phrases. It's going to be tough but I know I'll end up with a better book.

As far as submissions, I haven't done any since those two that I mentioned on the 13th. I know I was supposed to submit the other More query and the Lilith Churches piece, but I have to say that somehow that church piece is too rough to do anything with, and I haven't gotten around to writing a proper query for the More piece.

The real problem is that my other blog takes up all my time. And not just the blog either. It's the commenting on everyone else's blogs, then commenting on my comments, then writing new posts, then finding new art. It's exhausting. I have to remember why I'm doing all this because sometimes, for the life of me, I can't remember. I believe it was connected to writing, right? Something like creating a Internet presence and an audience for my work? Eh. I don't even know if that's happening. I do know that I have what I consider to be some genuine friendships here among my fellow bloggers but that my real life marriage is suffering.

I can't afford to grow the other blog is growing it means that I have to follow and comment on more and more other blogs. There just is no time for that. As a matter of fact, I've decided that I have exactly 5 minutes each per day to devote to the blogs I read. I can't read other peoples' comments. And then I can get 20 done in an hour. Sick, scheduling that like this.

Anyway, to do list. Input all changes to manuscript into the word document for the ms. See how it reads. Does it have an arc, themes, characters, villains, heroes, a plot, a climax, dialogue and scenes? If it looks good, then we'll move onto the next step: querying agents and see what happens from there.

Is blogging working for you? Is it enhancing your life or destroying it? Can you handle becoming a popular blogger or will the responsibilities of being a good blogger buddy kill off your own work?