Trust Yourself, Trust Good Friends

3-21-2021

I got lucky yesterday, no not in that way, I really got lucky. Jon lives out of state much of the year, and it’s a rare occasion when we have the opportunity to spend a couple of hours talking. Yesterday we met, had a cup of coffee, and chatted. The usual stuff at first, how’s the family, COVID sucks, glad the election is over. Then we got down to what I wanted and needed, our talk about writing. Jon is a poet, not a guy who dabbles in poetry, he is a POET. He is also an open book in sharing his knowledge, his thoughts, and his support. I had a list of questions and he did his best to answer each of them.

          That discussion brings me to three points I want to share in this posting. The first is being a generous writer and friend. During the morning, I’d met on Zoom with the folks in my writing critique group. We routinely meet to share our writing efforts, offer suggestions, help, and support each other. The critical word is support. Critiquing others can take on a negative or frightening connotation, there is nothing negative about our group. There are also no pansies in our little gathering; we tell each other what we honestly feel, what we believe to be good in the writing and what we feel needs improvement. We trust each other and therefore take no offense when we get a poke in the ribs. If a critique group is to be successful, that is how it has to be.

          Later, when Jon and I were meeting, he told me about what he calls the “Sandwich’ method of helping in critiquing someone’s writing efforts. It went something like this – The top of the sandwich is bread, “That’s good, I like how you opened the story, it’s  intriguing.” Then it goes on, the bottom slice of bread – “I like the ending, it is a good surprise, it made me smile.” A person might then add, “The meat of the story is well laid out, it gave me a better understanding of the main character.” Then comes the next part. “I think it might add to the sandwich (story) if you added more detail about how the character was raised.” The point is, a person needs to feel good about what is good in the writing, and needs to listen to ideas that might make the work, or the sandwich, more tasty. Never attacking the writing or the writer, but again constructive help.

          The above might sound common sense, but often it doesn’t work that way for either side. Jon told me when he first started writing, a professor agreed to read some of his work. Jon reluctantly gave five poems to him. A week later he met with the professor. “This is rubbish!” That was the professor’s feedback. My friend said he didn’t pick up a pen to write for five years.  Thankfully he did start writing again, he was the winner of the 2013 Utah State Poetry Society Manuscript Contest. My friend is a talented and knowledgeable poet and when he speaks, I listen.

          My second point to this post is the value of having a strong ego and being willing to not compare yourself to the “Greats.” It could be a mantra, “I am what I yam, and that’s all that I yam.” Wait, I think that’s Popeye’s mantra. Let’s try this, “I can do my best and it’s enough.” Write your own mantra, it might be fun.

          During the last critique group, my friends pointed out something about me and about my writing. The “about me,” issue was they see I spend a lot of time in comparison of my efforts and those of other writers (Steinbeck, Urrea, Woodson etc.). Obviously I always fall short of those men and women. It serves no purpose in making me a better writer and only adds to insecurity in my writing. The second thing which was pointed out to me is the need for me to trust myself and to use my voice, my own words.

I was thinking about that last advice. It is common to hear someone say, find your own voice. In my case, it better not be my singing voice. My dogs come and shut the bathroom door and run into another room when they hear me singing in the shower. Finding our own voices as writers is a different matter. Writing as David never seems as worthy, smart, or skillful as trying to write like John Steinbeck. The real issue is I’m not Steinbeck and trying to imitate him is a pitiful practice. After the conversation with my critiquing friends, I’ve decided I will either write in my voice and try to improve or I will forever be only someone attempting to copy someone else. No one wants a copy of Picasso; they want the real Picasso or nothing. Therefore note to self – Find your own voice or start being honest and say I use my computer to try to copy someone I’m not.

Now to my last point. I recently finished reading How to Read Literature Like a Professor by Thomas C. Foster. I highly recommend the book for anyone who is a reader or a writer. Near the end of the book, he said something I desperately need to heed. He said, “There is an old tradition in poetry of writing a short stanza at the end of a poem ( an Envoi). A brief summation or conclusion. One said  – “Well little book, you’re not that much but you’re the best I could make you. Now you’ll have to make your way in the world the best you can. Fare thee well.”

Anyone who has ever attempted to write something they hope to have published has struggled with when is enough, enough? No matter how many times you edit, rewrite, edit again, rewrite again, there will always be something else to find, to fix, to improve. I believe there never comes a point where we say, “It is perfect now.” We must find a point when we can say, you’re the best I could make you, now you have to find your own way.” Your retort may sound something like this, “But what if I get it rejected by a prospective publisher because it has an error, or needs a little more work?” I say, if you know it’s the best you could do, then believe that, let it be and start a new project. It will never be perfect.

I wish you nothing but the best success in finding good friends to critique your work, in finding your own voice and in knowing when enough is enough.

Go well, David.

My friend Jon Sebba wrote Yossi, Yasser, & Other Soldiers. It is beautiful and powerful poetry about being a soldier during war. Jon writes from experience and from the heart. It is available only as an e-Book on Amazon. Do yourself a favor and get acquainted with Jon.

“If you look for perfection, you’ll never be content.” Leo Tolstoy.

“Don’t try to figure out what other people want to hear from you; figure out what you have to say.”  Barbara Kingsolver.

Losing a friend, finding a friend

3-9-2021

On February 25, I posted a blog and wrote about not putting off doing those things we want to do in this life. I repeated something we all realize and all too often disregard. “We never know when our last day on this earth will come.” A few days later I received notice that a dear friend and valued member of the Oro Valley Writers Forum had died of COVID. Helmut’s death came as a shock to all who knew him. He was a talker and always had something to add to any conversation. He was funny, smart, and sometimes a little over-bearing, but also always a kind and generous man. Helmut was a man of deep faith who was never hesitant to share his belief that there was something greater awaiting us after we leave this life. I hope my dear friend was right.

Helmut published his book Nobody’s Coming under the name of HJ Seifert in 2019 and was rightfully proud of his work. It had been what I think, a long-standing item on his bucket list. Something he’d accomplished with some pride. His plans for a second book were set aside in order to assist his elderly parents and to be a husband, father, and grandfather. I feel confident that he would tell us it was a good use of his life. I’d agree.

We will miss Helmut.

While I already miss my friend, I have also taken comfort in considering those gifts that others bring to us. Another writing friend loaned me a book that has brought great joy. A new friend in my life. Brown Girl Dreaming by Jacqueline Woodson is a force to be reckoned with. 349 pages of beautiful, approachable, honest, and beautiful verse. The reader is taken on a wonderful journey of a young African American girl caught between two lives. One in the deep South, the other Brooklyn, New York. Woodson who was named the Young People’s Poet Laureate has won more literary honors than would fit in a museum.

You could do far worse than spending some time on a warm Spring afternoon getting to know this remarkable woman.

I have a bookmark that contains a simple message – “So many books, so little time.” I am grateful that I have met some of the greatest humans that have ever lived. John Steinbeck, Upton Sinclair, Barbara Kingsolver, Fyodor Dostoevsky, Mary Oliver, Langston Hughes, and the list could go on forever. What I wouldn’t give to buy them a beer or a cup of tea and try to express my gratitude for the gifts they have given me. I may not have heard their spoken voice, but the voices I have heard in their writing are clear and beautiful.

Many years ago I had an acquaintance who told me something like this, “Reading kills brain cells, so I don’t read.” The man was serious, and I believe faithfully followed his belief. He did offer that there was one exception, he’d occasionally read hunting and fishing magazines. I guess there are some things that are worth losing a few IQ points.  I suspect it is with some hyperbole that I say I can’t imagine life without reading. I would manage, I would find other things to fill my time, but my life would be far less enjoyable and far less full.

Writing and reading are for me a great joy. I fumble with words when I write, I hesitate in my effort to put together a sentence, but in the end, I always find fun and reward in those efforts. I firmly believe that everyone has a story to tell. Sometimes that story is told verbally, sometimes it is told in the written word, and sometimes it is kept silent. It is in this silence that the tragedy occurs. I hope everyone finds their story and lets the people of this world share in it. They deserve to hear it, and you deserve to tell it.

Now I’m off to buy another book. I wish my friend Helmut peace and I wish you good reading. Be kind and go well, David.

“Even the silence has a story to tell you. Just listen. Listen.”

                                         Jacqueline Woodson.

“Time comes to us softly, slowly. It sits beside us for a while. Then, long before

we are ready, it moves on.”  Jacqueline Woodson.

Don’t “When-Then” Life

02-25-2021

          Why do you write, and why do I write? These are questions which seem to be asked frequently. I once heard someone answer by saying, “I have to write.” I can’t in any good conscience argue or question that response, yet it does not fit for me. I breathe because I have to. I eat Häggen Dazs butter pecan ice cream because I have to. I write because I like to and because I feel a need to create something tangible. It is not something I must do.

          I was at a party some years back and a person was explaining in great detail how she was in an art museum and had seen a painting that changed her life. I’ve can’t recall having ever had that experience. I’ve seen beautiful women that dazzled me, I’ve seen a $1,900,000 Bugatti Veyron sports car that awed me, and I’ve heard K. D. Lang sing notes that were songbird perfect. But nothing in those realms ever changed my life. I’ve read sentences that made me stop and reread them again. I didn’t reread them because they were difficult to understand, but because they were beautiful written works of art and worthy of my taking a few moments to try and fully appreciate them.

          Perhaps I write because I long to know that I will someday write a sentence that is uniquely beautiful. Maybe I write because I hope to make another person smile, think, or question. Perhaps my vanity is in play and I hope to leave behind some lasting written legacy. There is no question that I write because I love hanging around with my lovely writing friends. I am sure of one thing, those people, Karen, Deb, Devi, Wes, Brad, Mark, Carol, the list goes on and on, are among the best people I know. Writing gives me a legitimate reason to call them and say let’s get some coffee and talk about writing.

          Yesterday on NPR, I heard an interview with the brilliant writer, Tim O’Brien, author of The Things They Carried. He is 74 years old and a Vietnam War veteran. The interviewer noted O’Brien has had several serious bouts with pneumonia and wondered if he continues to smoke cigarettes. There was a pause, and he answered he does. He was asked why, given that he’d made a statement about forfeiting all his books for more years with his children. His response was startling. He said, “Because I’m afraid if I quit, I couldn’t write, and I have to keep writing.” As a non-smoker, I couldn’t understand the apparent direct connection he made between smoking and writing, but he was clear that he feared he could no longer write if he stopped smoking. We can all do our arm-chair analysis of that, yet O’Brien’s drive to continue writing was clear.

          My career as a social worker and therapist was one that showed little tangible result. I didn’t lay bricks so that I could eventually see a completed structure I’d built. I didn’t overhaul car engines and see the auto run smoothly after my work. I talked some, listened a lot and sometimes I heard someone say, thanks, that helped. There were many days when I did not know if I’d accomplished anything. Writing, although not a career, provides something I can hold and say, “I did this, I created this story, or this book.”

          I follow some online social media platforms that discuss and post thoughts about writing and publishing. I read of dreams of New York Times best sellers, I read of the frustrations of months of agent and publisher rejection letters and the exasperation of completing a self-published book and after months of effort, selling only eight copies. The old Field of Dreams comment about “Build it and they will come,” does not prove to always be true.

          So I ask others, why do you write? Most answers sound similar, and I try to accept them for what they are. Everyone has their own motivations and reasons for putting word to paper. I think all answers are legitimate if answered honestly. Mickey Mantle would never have been in the MLB Hall of Fame, had he not tried. We might still believe the moon is made of green cheese had humanity not put forth the effort to travel that distance. Of Human Bondage or War and Peace would not have been read by millions had Somerset Maugham or Leo Tolstoy believed they had nothing to offer and simply waited until the right time.

          So we come full circle. It doesn’t matter why you write, or why I write, except that it matters to us. I have many privileges in life, one of the most freeing being that I’m retired from a day-to-day job. But the therapist side of me says don’t be a “When-Then” person. Don’t say when I get my degree, then I’ll have enjoyable work. Don’t say when I move to Seattle, then I’ll be happy. Don’t put off playing golf, or writing, or building castles in the air until THEN. That day may never come. If you dream of writing and only have ten minutes a day to write, write for ten minutes. If you dream of being the next J. K. Rowling, sit down now and start writing, “There was this unique boy…”

          Find what’s important to you, do it. This is the only life you have. Make the best use of it.

Go well, David.

“Without ambition, one starts nothing. Without work, one finishes nothing. The prize will not be sent to you. You have to win it.” Ralph Waldo Emerson.

“That’s when I first learned that it wasn’t enough to just do your job, have an interest in it, even a passion for it.” Charles Bukowski.

Haiku 2 U 2

summer sky darkens

a prayer from those who know

monsoon rains bring life

Trust or Overstuffed Ego

2-10-2021

Yesterday at coffee, a friend and I discussed writing. During that conversation, we talked about the worth and/or worthiness of what we have written. Obviously those two terms – worth and worthiness, are objective and subjective. What is a smile worth? What makes a gesture of kindness, worthy? Is a book worthy only if it sells 100,000 copies? Does a poem only have merit if it is recited at a Presidential Inauguration? The answers to those questions must be answered privately and based upon our individual way of measuring worth and worthiness.

To date, I have submitted thirty-nine short stories and poems for publication. Eight are still under consideration by magazines and on-line publications. Two have been accepted. One short story was submitted fifteen times before it was taken. That is a 6.4% acceptance rate. That batting average would not get me into the Baseball Hall of Fame.

This small account of my publication progress is given because I think it touches on the issues of worth and worthiness. Do I think any of my tales are worthy of the Pulitzer Prize? Of course not. Do I think any of the poems or stories should earn a Pushcart Prize nomination? No. Are any of them perfect? No. Are any of my stories, my poems, worthy? Yes, I believe they are. Do they have value? Yes, I believe they do. Is my Ego out of balance for thinking this? I hope not. 

Now I return to the idea that worth and worthiness are individual concepts. The notion of what I or you think is worthy does not eliminate the need for some realistic manner of determining value. A crust of week-old bread has great worth to a starving man, while a 2018 Honda Civic may have little to no value to a billionaire. And then there is the painting completed by an amateur artist that may appear to be the work of a 3rd grader to some, while it is beautiful to the husband of the painter. It has enormous worth to that singular man and therefore is worthy.

Still, I believe there must at some point be an objective assessment of value. I would not attempt to defend one of my doodles as having the same economical value of a Monet painting. I may like my cartoon character, but I’m not so foolish as to put a $1,000,000 price tag on it and hold my breath until the check clears. The same holds true with our writing efforts. Jack Kerouac may have been able to write On the Road with little to no editing, (which I think to be more myth than reality) but I’m not that skilled. I still occasionally write set instead of sat and spell your when it should have been, you’re.

I’m no different from my writing friends, no different from the millions of women and men who have put pen to paper. I suggest we all have occasional doubts about our abilities and labors. We want others to appreciate our efforts. I believe writers want to know the work they’ve completed, the time they’ve devoted to writing, has some worthwhile meaning. We want to matter, and we want what we do to matter.

So where does mattering begin? – It begins with us.

Two weeks ago, a writing friend sent me information about the Writer’s Digest Competitions–Self-Published Book Awards. For the winners, this is a big deal. $8000.00 as a grand prize. A featured article in Writer’s Digest and a paid trip to next year’s Writer’s Digest Annual Conference. Placing first in several categories is also significant. What jump-started my ego boost was my friend’s suggestion that I enter my novel, The Unusual Man in the competition. My first reaction was, yeah right. It costs $99.00 to enter. A price far greater than I’ve ever spent submitting any of my work for publication. Not only is it expensive, it’s also Writer’s Digest we’re talking about. There will probably be hundreds if not thousands of entries. So no thanks.

Flash forward to today. I’m proud of my book. Far more so than my first novel. It’s a good story, and a different tale than mainstream. Like most other serious writers, I poured my heart and soul into it. Would I expect it to win? No. Then why would I on second thought, consider entering the competition? Because sometimes we need to believe in something. Sometimes we need to believe in ourselves and in our efforts. We have to put our faith on the line and set aside all the negative answers we can present. My overstuffed ego? Maybe. But it may also be what is needed to keep trying. Maybe our success or failure to be worthy, to have our work have worthiness, is to simply try. I don’t have a great deal of regard for cliches, but in this case I’m going to use one. “One way of ensuring failure, is not trying.”  

Every day presents each of us with an opportunity to try or not try. To risk or not risk something, and to make an effort or to walk away. I have taken the easy path many times in my life. I can’t remember an example where that has ever made me proud. Sometimes it is the sensible or reasonable thing to do. But it still evokes no pride.

There is a line in the movie Dumb and Dumber where Jim Carey’s character asks the girl he loves if he has a chance with her. She answers, “I’d say the odds are about one in a million.” Jim Carey beams his great toothy smile and responds, “So you’re saying I have a chance.” You gotta love that optimism.

So I’m going to ship off my book to Writer’s digest and pay my entry fee. I’ll wait several months looking for that e-mail notice that says “Thanks for your submission, but…” And then again there is that one in a million chance it may say something else.

Is it my faulty ego working overtime, or is it some blind faith that I should try? I’m not sure. But I am going to try. I have failed when I’ve tried and when I haven’t. I’ve never succeeded when I didn’t try.

When in my 30s, I played many tennis tournaments. I was a solid player, but never a great player. I saw humility as being a positive trait on the tennis court, still I entered tournaments with a desire to win. This is what I said to myself… “I am not predicting that I will win, but I am saying I can win.” I won a few tournaments, and I lost in many. Still, I never had to say to myself, “I wonder if I’d won had I tried.”

I believe that you, whoever you are, also need to find something to trust in yourself. To try. I wish you nothing but the best in your efforts.

P.S.—I’m looking forward to seeing you at the next Writer’s Digest Annual Conference.

Go well, David.

“Maybe the hardest part of life is just having the courage to try.” Rachel Hollis.

“Not only try, but try your best.” Mehmet Murat Ildan.

Denni’s Wise Words

“I always try my best to be a good Princess. Louie, my brother, is a good lizard hunter because he tries his best. That’s just one of the many reasons I love him.”

How to Remain Calm While While Querying

1-27-2021

This is a guest blog post by Darlene P. Campos

She is the author of young adult novels – Behind Mount Rushmore, Heaven Isn’t Me and Summer Camp is Canceled. Check out her website and blogs at http://www.darlenepcampos.com

Querying is a long, strenuous journey along the publishing road. Rejections, full requests that turn into rejections, and reading each agent’s submission guidelines can certainly feel overwhelming. Sometimes, after several rejections, giving up might seem like an option. The good news is there are ways to remain calm while trekking on the querying mountain. Here are a few helpful practices I used that worked for me and can also work for you:

  1. Go for a walk or complete another physical activity

I love to walk. Ever since COVID lockdowns started, my gym closed temporarily and then sadly permanently closed, so every day, except when it rains, I walk 4-5 miles after work to de-stress myself. But when I was querying, I would go to the gym and go for a long swim, take a Zumba class, run on a treadmill, or do some DDP Yoga. When your mind is focused on a physical activity, you can forget about the querying process, even if it’s just for a half an hour.

  • Pursue a favorite hobby

Writing, in my opinion, can be a hobby, but it’s also work, and work can burn anyone out. Drafting, revising, line-editing, and of course, sending out query emails are part of the publishing process, but eventually, you will need a break. Spending your leisure time with a fun hobby also helps to distract your mind. I’ve heard of writers who make quilts when they’re not writing, so if you can make a quilt, why not? Whether it’s quilting, cooking, home renovations, or learning another language, go for it!

  • Read

Reading is part of the writing process as well. When we read books, especially books in the genre or age group we’re writing in, we can get ideas on how to strengthen our own manuscripts. For example, when I was querying, I had an agent tell me that I needed to cut down on some dialogue in the opening pages. I did, and I additionally read the opening pages of several books within my genre. I noticed that dialogue didn’t really show up until page 3 or 4, so it made me rethink my opening pages and in turn, my draft became stronger. Reading is so much fun already and the fact that it can help improve your writing is a big bonus.

  • Talk to people you trust

Life can be stressful indeed and sooner or later, all of us need to vent about what’s going on. Querying definitely adds to the stress. You’re thinking “Wow! A full request? What if the agent doesn’t like the rest of my book?” or “Why am I not getting any full requests?” These internal questions plus the long wait times can become overwhelming. That’s why it’s important to talk to a trusted person about the process. The trusted person can be anyone from a best friend or spouse to a professional counselor. The #WritingCommunity on Twitter is a great place to network with other writers who understand how frustrating querying can be. Remember that accomplishments don’t necessarily need to be done 100% on your own. Having a support system makes a huge difference. If you watch any award show, the winner will make a speech about the people who supported them, such as their spouse, children, parents, etc. Think about your trusted community and talk to them about your querying process — I promise that they’re rooting for you!

  • Find Time to Relax

This one sounds easier said than done. When life is ultra busy, can anyone really find time to relax? Maybe you can’t relax every day, but try to take five minutes about twice a week to sit back in a comfortable chair and just breathe deeply, in and out. There are YouTube videos available called 5 minute meditation or 10 minute meditation if you’ve got a little extra time. Put on some earbuds and listen to one of these videos or listen to a favorite song or two. When you’re relaxed, you can focus on tasks much better than when you’re extra stressed.

These tips worked wonders for me, and I hope they are helpful for you. Feel free to try these out or modify them into something that works for you. Querying is tough, but think about it this way: if getting an agent was truly impossible, there would not be any books, not even one, being published in our current times. Finding an agent for your manuscript is difficult, but it’s not impossible. Keep going!

Great advice Darlene, and thanks for this helpful information. David

Making Small Moments Count

01-20-2021

          I once read research shows six months after an event, large or small, positive, or negative, a person is generally about as happy as they were before the event occurred. That would suggest that six months after winning a million dollars in a lottery or after going through a divorce, my overall happiness would be about the same as it was before either event. Although I’ve never won a million dollars, I did once win five thousand. My level of happiness (define the word happiness as you see fit) was no greater or lesser after a week. I’ve also been divorced, and although it was painful to accept, I admit after six months, I was pretty much back to my old curmudgeonly self.

          My younger son played high school tennis. He was a decent player who made the varsity team three years. I was forever urging him to practice more in order to be a better player. He often said he wanted to be better. One day he announced, “Why should I try if I’m never going to be a professional tennis player?” I was somewhat dumbfounded by his question. I gave some half well thought through answer about tennis being fun, his good friends, that it could be a lifelong sport, and he might feel a genuine sense of accomplishment. To the best of my knowledge, he has never played another match after his high school graduation.

Now that you’ve waded through those first two paragraphs, I’ll get to my point. You don’t have to be a rocket surgeon to know life is made up of successes, large and small, and of failures, large and small. I have a writing friend who has queried her writing efforts to agents for years. She acknowledges she has sent out 500–700 query letters to agents. I could never in five lifetimes follow her lead. I’m not that patient, and my ego-strength is not strong enough to accept that much rejection. The kinder word is declined. As in, “Your poem was delightful, but we have declined its publication in next month’s edition. Please know we appreciate your efforts.” I admire my friend’s tenacity, but it’s not for me.

On a far lessor scale, I have submitted 34 short stories and poems for publication in various magazines and books. To date, two have been accepted. Even with my limited math skills, I know that is roughly a 6% acceptance rate. If that was my baseball batting average, I might get a job sweeping up sunflower seed shells in the visitor’s dugout at Yankee Stadium. If your interest runs more towards the academic side, my grade would be somewhere between a F— and a F—-. Yet I have strutted like a peacock (my apology for the lame cliché) over those two accepted submissions. My less than 6% success is plenty to keep me submitting more.

It seems to me that we need to keep our victories and losses in some reasonable perspective. If I were a major league baseball player with a lifetime batting average of .300, I’d be considered a good hitter. With a 30% hitting success rate, I might be nominated for the Hall of Fame. In music, very few people can name any song other than Louie Louie recorded by The Kingsmen. Yet that one hit record has lasted for nearly six decades. Not a bad one-hit wonder.

So I pose the question – Why do we write? Yes, this is about writing. But it is no different from why do we play tennis, record dirty lyrics in a rock-and-roll song or play tiddlywinks? It is a rhetorical question. We all have our own personal reasons why we do many things, and mostly, they are all valid.

Tomorrow, in a writing group, we will discuss publishing something we’ve written. Although it will be something of a how-to session, I think it should also be something of a why-to discussion. I don’t need to hear everyone’s personal reasons, but what I hope is that people consider their “why” as much as their “how.” It requires a lot of energy, expense, time, and frustration to complete the process of publishing (traditional or self-publishing.) Once answered, I wish nothing but the best for my writing friends.

I find joy in the effort, in the writing, in the work to get it ready for publishing and certainly holding the final published story, poem or book in my hands. I also like the money. On the 15th. of this month, I received a royalty payment of $26.31for the previous three months’ sales. A princely sum to not ignore.

So now back to the beginning. My level of happiness is most likely to remain consistent no matter if I write or publish. My son is now well into his adult years and I doubt he spends much time saying, “what if I’d tried harder to be a better tennis player?” It’s just not the way life works. So my self-advice is to keep enjoying the process, accept the successes, large or small, and accept the failures with equanimity. We are not all going to be the next Stephen King, Roger Federer, or Adele. But we can find some happiness in the efforts of writing a short story, hitting a tennis ball against a wall, or trying to see if Louie Louie was really as naughty as we all thought it was.

“We are all failures – at least the best of us are.” J. M. Barrie.

Denni’s Wise Words

“When I can’t jump up on the bed by myself, I call my dad and he lifts me on the escalator. You have to keep trying, or you need to whine.”

When is Good Enough, Good Enough?

01-07-2021

This is my first blog post in 2021. Like everyone I know, I too hope that this year is better than 2020.

This morning I read a tweet posting from an author I don’t know. He was writing about being finished with his book and being aware that it still had some editing errors. I found nothing particularly novel about the fact that he was speaking of some lingering problems. What struck me was this statement, “I suppose I’m a lazy writer, my mind is totally focused on getting my story written and I ignore correct punctuation.” He went on to say, “There seems to be a massive amount of published books available with typos and simple errors of all types throughout the story.” It sounded like a justification for not fixing known problems in his writing.

I keep turning over these words in my mind. I rushed through completing my first novel. I really wanted to see it in print, to hold it and know I’d done it. I wanted to say not only that I’d written a book, but that it was also published. You’d think my vanity would have drained away when I got fatter and my hair got thinner. No such luck. It lingered then, and it lingers now.

I’ve regretted my rush to “get it finished” attitude for nearly three years. I still think it’s a good story, and I’ve received some kind words and reviews for the book. But I was also told once by a person who’d read it, “I almost stopped reading it because all the punctuation errors.” You can believe those words have remained tightly glued to my brain. I also recall reading once in Writer’s Digest, “In writing, perfection is not the goal, it’s progress.” For me, they are also powerful words. I have never been perfect with anything in my life. I have made progress, perfect, no. My second book is also a good story, and it is better written and better edited. Perfect no, good yes. There seems to be a space between it’s good enough and I want progress in making it better.

So what are we to think about an attitude of “It’s good enough,” vs. “I want to make it as good as possible.” Many of us cannot afford or choose not to pay a large amount of money to have our writing professionally edited. John Grisham has sold 300,000,000 books. He and his publisher can pay editors whatever is required to make his books near perfect. I say near because I continue to believe perfect is not possible. Okay, perfect is possible. A red-tailed hawk in flight is perfect. I have elected to try to self-edit and to use my writing friends to assist me.

My writing friends and those others in the writing group in which I belong, talk about several writing issues. “Why do I write?” is among the most common. Often, I hear, “I write because I have to.”  Maybe I’m a bit envious of that answer, but it often sounds like one of the clichés we are supposed to avoid using. My answer is simpler. I write because I enjoy it and because I like how it feels to accomplish something tangible. Being only 299,999,890 books away from sales equal to John Grisham, I have to hold onto some reasonable answer. Yet there is still something missing in my short response.

Today, on our Zoom writing group meeting, we are going to discuss our 2021 writing goals. As most know, goals are supposed to be reachable, somewhat difficult to make them a challenge, and tangible. This year I want to complete a book I started about three years ago. I also want to have enough good stories to consider publishing them in a book. I also want to write  “poemoir.” More about that later.

But (Don’t you love sentences that start with – But) I will set aside one or two of those goals if I can’t make them good. At some point I will need to define for myself what that g word means. I do know I want whatever comes next to be better than what came before. I think if I can figure that out, I can have a more accurate answer to why I write.

A last tag on thought.

I asked a skilled and successful author friend of mine if she had an outline or resource to help me understand how to better self-edit my work. She provided helpful information, but it was not what I really wanted. What I was seeking was a recipe to tell me how to fully bake a book. To tell me to add a teaspoon of this and add a dash of that and out of the oven comes the next Of Mice and Men.

What I wanted was akin to asking Roger Federer to show me how to hit a backhand, and then believing I’d be ready to play at Wimbledon. Or maybe I should ask Eric Clapton to teach me a C chord and I can be the half time act at the next Super Bowl.

The simple answer is – Nope, it doesn’t work that way. Thanks for playing, try again next week.

Note to self.  David, pull up your big boy pants, set your ass down in the chair and do the work you need to do.

“If you’re going to do something, strive to do it better than anyone else. Do it all the way. If you’re going to half-ass it, why bother?”       Ashly Lorenzana

Louie’s Book Bark

Conley Bottom – A Poemoir by Benjamin B White. White is a retired Coast Guard officer, and currently an editor at Running Wild Press. This brief offering is thirty-four poems about White’s childhood and adult years. He calls it a poemoir because it lays out his life in a very revealing and approachable manner through his poetry. This is a joy to read. In addition, do yourself a favor and consider his book The Recon Trilogy + 1. It is epic length poetry about the Vietnam War.

Louie gives it a five-star rating.

Writing Something Important

12/27/20

On Twitter this morning I saw a post that said, “We’re running out of ideas of what to do in lockdown… any ideas?” Being the helpful one, I quickly responded, ‘Learn something new. Find something that fascinates you, study it and then write a story about it.’

Rather good advice if you ask me. It would be even better advice if I followed it myself. There are many things that fascinate me: the Sonoran Desert, jazz, blues music, animals, books, and writing, lots of things. Still, there are many times I sit in front of a blank computer screen or at the coffee shop and ask myself over and over, “what should I write?”

A gifted and successful writing friend of mine once said she wanted to write an important book. A statement I glommed onto like liquid cement. Yeah, me too, I thought. I want to write an important book, maybe something a little less bold, an important story. Some days I’d settle for one good sentence. Although I’m filled with sage guidance for others, I often get stuck when trying to follow my advice.

The question arises, “What is an important book?” Is it a book that sells a million copies? Does an important book bring pleasure and sometimes tears to a reader? If so, is one teary-eyed pleasure filled reader enough to justify the designation of important? Does a five-star review move a book from ho-hum to wow?

Why do I look at Submittable two times a day to see if one of my stories or poems has been accepted for publication? Am I vain, shallow, or insecure because I check my KDP account to see if another book or two has been sold, or if a few more pages of The Unusual Man have been read by an Amazon Unlimited reader? In full disclosure, yes, I am vain, shallow, and insecure.

Still, I believe we all want or perhaps need personal validation. Writing is one way to attempt to achieve this validation.

Ernest Hemingway has been reported to have once said, “There is nothing to writing. All you do is sit down at a typewriter and bleed.” There are several variants to this quote, but they all say basically the same thing. Yet, who among us wants to bleed? Who among us is willing to bleed? I once unkindly said about a book I’d just read, “I don’t care that it’s not a good book, I mind that the author apparently didn’t care that it wasn’t a good book.” I openly admit that was a very mean thing to say.

If writing a book is an item to be completed and checked off a bucket list, most anything will do. There is nothing wrong with that. If one wants to write “something important,” then it’s a lot of work. It starts with coming to an acceptable answer to what does important mean. Writing well, writing skillfully, is damn hard. It comes from effort, from learning, from failing and from trying again. Maybe Hemingway was correct. Maybe it requires bleeding.

 I ask the question I read earlier this morning, “I’m running out of ideas of what to do during the lockdown, any ideas?” If you do, please pass them on, I’d very much appreciate reading them.

“Everybody walks past a thousand story ideas every day. The good writers are the ones who see five or six of them. Most people don’t see any.” Orson Scott.

“Write what should not be forgotten.” Isabel Allende.

Louie’s Book Bark

Desert Wife by Hilda Faunce is an old and beautiful book. Faunce and her husband Ken moved from Oregon to Arizona to operate a trading post for Navajo people. They spent four hard years and, in the writing, Faunce skillfully tells how she came to know, respect and like the people. There is no question life was a day-by-day struggle. The four-year adventure occurred between 1914 and 1918. To get a sense of the time, the location, and the adventure, read this book.

Louie gives it a 4.5-star rating.

Passion and Friends

12-18-2020

I’ve had two passions in my life. The first started when I was fourteen. Music. Music took over my existence for nearly four years. It remains an important part of my life; although I no longer play music, I listen each day. Tommy and I became friends because we were new in town, had few friends, and wanted something to fill the void in our lives. We started a band, The Avengers which later morphed into a last version called EKOS. A Panhandle surfing band eight hundred miles from the nearest beach. Tommy, Tim, Jimmy (Whom we still call Jock), Bill and me. We practiced four or five nights a week, three or four hours each session. We eventually became a good band. Later bands – The Eddie Haskell Band, Second Exit and Layton Park Station. All fun times with talented friends.

Today I take my musical journey on Pandora or YouTube. I can listen for hours as Clapton, Natalie Merchant, John Coltrane, Hound Dog Taylor, Bare Naked Ladies, and Mark Knopfler take me to places I love to go. The beauty of music never fades, Beethoven remains as fresh as Taylor Swift and Buddy Holly still rocks like Larkin Poe.

My second passion came many decades after my music playing days faded. Somewhere along the side of the road, I decided I wanted to become a writer. I was the adult who could never remember reading a single book in high school. I remember reading Hemingway’s short story – Hills Like White Elephants. That was it, period, full stop.

I started putting words on paper, most of which read like a stoned sixth grader trying to impress his English teacher. Some of my first attempts are as embarrassing as admitting I still like John Denver. But I kept at it and gradually advanced to the level of a C+ ninth grader. Typing is easy (I still type using only two fingers) but writing is a skill learned over time. A skill that does not sneak into your brain while you are sleeping. It does not come from saying, “I wish.” Writing well comes from work. Disclaimer: I am not yet a competent writer, I have yet to learn how to move from skill to art. I have yet to write a sentence that blows me away. But I love writing.

What I love as much as writing are my writing friends. One can never have too many friends, and the same applies to writing friends. I define a REAL writing friend in this manner. “A good writing friend tells me what they just read of my efforts sucks. That it reads like an airplane three seconds from crashing. That they’ve read more interesting words on the side of a cereal box. Then, they tell me ‘it wasn’t bad.’ They tell me they see improvement. They give some gentle nudges to get rid of the clichés, the overuse of that, and I need to learn when and how to use semicolons. And the last thing they tell me is , keep at it, you’re doing pretty damn good.”

I have many friends like that. My writing group likes me, and I like them. We are friends in the truest sense of the word. We help each other, we support each other, and we give each other a hard time. I wouldn’t trade them for a million copy best seller. OK, maybe I’d have to think about that. My critique group lifts me up, holds me accountable and makes me think. They improve my writing, and I honestly believe they improve me as a human.

Here is my point. Find some passion for your life. Music, art, writing, sewing, counting backwards from ten million. Find something to get excited about. Something that makes you think, makes you smile, frustrates you, makes you patient and humble. Something that turns on the light when the room is dark.

Thank you to all my old music buddies. Thank you to those wonderful musicians I listen to now. Thank you to the authors of the hundreds of books I’ve read since high school. And mostly thank you to my writing friends. I couldn’t ask for a more gracious group of talented and loyal comrades.

I hope everyone finds their passion in life.

Go well, David.

“Every great dream begins with a dreamer. Always remember, you have

within you the strength, the patience, and the passion to reach for the

stars, to change the world.”          Harriet Tubman.

“There is no passion to be found playing small – in settling for a life

that is less than the one you are capable of living.”  Nelson Mandela.

Dennis’ Wise Words

“If you dream of being a princess, be a princess.”

Life – Up & Down

12-10-2020

          The range of human emotions is wide, and they seem to shift in seconds. Yesterday was a wild ride for me. My son teaches English at a high school in Idaho. My grandson and granddaughter both attend that school. Like all schools, this year has been greatly disrupted by COVID. Half the kids are in school two days a week, the other half two other days, and a fifth day is on-line for all students.

          After waking up to read and hear that there is good and bad news about COVID, I attempted to do some writing. It was sometime after 9:00 a.m. when I got the first text from my son. He was letting me know there had been threats made towards the school. The kid had a gun, and the school was on lockdown. As the morning passed, he sent pics of a SWAT sniper on the roof of the school, and pics of his classroom door barricaded by a desk stacked with books. He sent a pic of the threat note and pics sent by the boy. The boy was holding a Glock pistol with an extended ammunition clip. After almost two hours, it was over. The boy (minus the gun) was found in a classroom three doors away from my son’s classroom.

This is the second threat of violence by a student with a gun in this school in less than two years. It was not LA, Detroit, or Washington DC where this occurred. It was small Twin Falls, Idaho. A town we have always called Twinkie Falls because it was so safe and quiet.

Children should not fear being in school. This is not what teachers should have to focus upon. This is not what parents and grandparents should worry about. And yet, it is now such a common occurrence that it only makes news when several people are wounded or killed.

Later, in the evening, Suzanne and I watched a Lisa Ling documentary. It was the story of boys from a prestigious California prep school who started visiting convicts in a penitentiary. They read and discussed Hamlet, and then they talked about life. The convicts shared their sorrows about what they’d done and the people they’d hurt. The boys shared their dreams and difficulties.

One student had transferred to the prep school from the public school system. His mother had an accident and was blinded in one eye. His father then had heart surgery and couldn’t work. Their son was going to have to leave the prep school, and then something beautiful happened. One prisoner started asking other convicts if they wanted to assist the boy by donating money. These were men who earned in most cases less than a dollar a day. One man donated a month’s wages (in his case, $100.00) to the boy. The men gave nearly $30,000 to the boy over three years. These were men who had been convicted and in some cases sentenced to life, having committed horrible and brutal crimes.

One prisoner highlighted in the film earned a bachelor’s degree and two master’s degrees while in prison. After serving twenty years, his sentence was commuted because of his exemplary behavior. He is the convict that started the goal of helping the student stay in school.

I freely admit to crying through half of the documentary. After my morning’s fear, I desperately needed to know there is still good in this country and in this world.

Daily I see cartoons, jokes, postings that 2020 has been a year from hell. And without question, it has been. Every person has been affected by the pandemic. My youngest son and ex-wife both tested positive for COVID. Both seem to be doing OK, but it is terrifying and anyone who thinks for more than a minute knows it is real. I trust we as a country and the others in the world will eventually get past this. I hope that we will have learned something about how fragile our lives and the planet are. I hope we have learned something about compassion, unity, and the need to help each other. I hope this country is as good as I have always believed it is.

I wish nothing but the best for all. Go well, David.

“My religion is very simple. My religion is kindness.” The Dalai Lama.

Louie’s Book Bark

          If you are a writer or aspire to be a writer, read How to Write Short Stories and Use Them to Further Your Writing Career. By James Scott Bell. This is a concise book that gives very pragmatic information about how to write short stories. It is a quick read from a knowledgeable writer. He provides examples of well-written stories that help to explain and show the differences in ways of storytelling. Louie gives it a 4-star rating.