Writing for Fun

5-19-2021

It was a dark and stormy night. Not to your taste, how about it wasn’t the best of times and it wasn’t the worst of times. OK, so maybe I better leave that sort of writing to others. My writing friends and I often talk about what works and what doesn’t, and about what’s fun to write and what isn’t. I’ve written and self-published two novels and looking back, I can’t say either was a great deal of fun. Flash fiction has been a new thing to try, but in the end, it hasn’t grabbed my interest. It is in writing  short stories that seem to give me the space to tell a story, to be creative without requiring the time commitment of penning an 80,000-word novel. Commercially, I’m not sure short stories ever get to the top of any best-selling lists. But then again, I’m not getting calls to do NPR or Oprah interviews for my novels.

I’ve been thinking a lot about what I want to write and why. I just finished reading a book that has helped move me along in this process. The book title is First Person Singular by the Japanese author Haruki Murakami. He is a novelist who has also published a great deal of short stories. The book I just mentioned was a collection of eight of the most quirky stories I’ve ever read. One was about a monkey that could speak to and understand humans. To add to the story, the primate stole parts of the names of females he found attractive and, made them forget who they were. Yep, it not only sounds quirky (a technical term) but maybe sounds so off beat and bizarre that you might wonder why anyone would like it. But I loved the stories. Murakami is a very skilled writer, but I liked his work mostly because it was so entertaining. The stories were simply fun to read. And as a result, I couldn’t help but think they must have been fun to write. Emphasis on the word FUN.

This last thought leads me to how Murakami’s book has helped me come to some decisions on what I want to write. Confession time. Whenever I’ve turned my nose up a bit and allowed myself to think that I try and write for something more than entertainment, I end up realizing all I’m doing is being snooty and my nose is in the air. I like books with some “moral” element to them and I think consciously or unconsciously I’ve also tried to write with some moral or ethical bent. I realize that far more often than I’d like to believe, it comes off sounding more like an old Bible thumping preacher, who goes on far too long and offers far too many “shoulds” and “should nots.”  What can happen is little fun for the reader and little fun for me as the writer. I have no desire to be a preacher or a moralist. Although it’s often said, “find your own voice,” I believe we all to some extent try and emulate those writers we admire. As my friend Wes says about himself, “I’m no Hemingway,” I can add to the choir that “I’m no Steinbeck.” I do strive to move closer to my voice, although I admit it often sounds more like a rooster with  laryngitis than a rock star.

I’ve also dipped my toe in the water writing poetry. Again the effort of writing something new puts me in a category of a novice writer of poorly written limericks than it does in the category of Langston Hughes, Mary Oliver, or Nikki Giovanni. Still, it is fun and gives me something new to learn. The learning curve is steep, but it’s keeping my brain active. Did you notice I again used the word fun?

Lastly, I’ve come upon the activity of making and reading chapbooks. If you are unfamiliar with them, they are generally only 20-to-40-page booklets that are most often books of poetry or short stories and are often handcrafted or produced by small publishers that specialize in this type of writing or printing. They are inexpensive and date back hundreds of years. Mostly they are fun to write and make. Three funs in a row and they become a winner for me. So now I’m focusing my efforts on improving my short story and poetry writing skills and creating chapbooks. To this point it is a blast.

If you ‘re interested in finding chapbooks, look on the ETSY website and then search for chapbooks. Shameless plug – my two chapbooks, Finding Home and Common Ground can be found there. There are many to locate on Etsy, or you can simply google chapbook publishers to find more.

So now I want to spend a bit of time finishing up a new story I’ve been working on. The Reverend David says you “should” find what brings you pleasure and do that thing. Writing, reading, climbing Mount  Kilimanjaro, or counting ants crawl across your kitchen counter. It really doesn’t matter if you enjoy it. I’m now going to spend some time doing just that. I wish you great luck and success.

Do yourself a favor – read First Person Singular

Denni’s Wise Words

“Too many of us are not living our dreams because we are living our fears.”

                                                                                                         Les Brown

“The most powerful weapon on earth is the soul on fire.”

                                                                 Ferdinand Foch

Barbie’s blog and other tidbits

5-5-2021

While driving home from the coffee shop, I listened to a story on NPR. The discussion was about the recent decline and again rise of the Barbie doll. As a seventy plus old man, I gave up playing with dolls many years ago, but the story caught my attention. There was one part of the discussion that made me take notice. In the reshaping (no pun intended) of the Barbie, it was noted that Barbie now writes a blog. She not only writes a blog, but she also has 10,000,000 followers. Yep, 10,000,000 – that’s with seven zeroes. I have xagbugmgfdmbfkl followers of my blog. Am I jealous? Intrigued? Hopeful? Amazed? All the above and more.

To the point of this factoid, it made me stop and once again think about why writers write. As is often stated, fame and fortune await in all would-be author’s dreams. In my novel The Unusual Man, this desire for literary fame and fortune didn’t turn out well for one of the characters.

More modestly, I think many of us write with the hope that others will read our work. It usually does not take long, especially for self-published authors to realize they may not want to order that new Porsche based on expected royalty payments. Still, I believe that any author would be lying if they didn’t get a thrill when reading a review that someone liked their work or identified with a character. As Dr. Hook once sang, there’s no thrill like the thrill you get when you get your picture in the cover of the Rolling Stone. Not the same, but it is a thrill to read – “I really enjoyed your story.”

The human species has been designed or has evolved to create; some of us create by writing. Putting words to paper, revising, editing, adding, reducing, changing, moving and at some point, being satisfied is a thrill. I recently visited with a friend who is an artist. She creates beautiful work on a canvas, some several feet in width and height. When asked about it, she said, “It’s the creation of something beautiful.” She was not bragging, (although she has every right to) she was being honest. I believe most writers wish to fulfill that same goal, to create beauty.

Another part of that discussion was about doing the best we can. Not just showing up but showing up and giving our all. As my good friend Wes says, “”I’m no Hemingway,”  but he is Wes, and he writes well and gives his best effort when he does. I think that’s enough.

I have recently experienced an event of nature that somehow seems to fit into this discussion. A young mama dove giving birth to two hatchlings. She laid the eggs, she sat patiently for nearly two weeks until they hatched and now sits and lets them grow. Soon they will leave their nest, they will make lives of their own. A bit like the human species. But carefully watching this event has moved something inside my soul. Maybe learning, accepting this ‘something,” is the essence of being human. Observing carefully and watching something beautiful and natural take form. It may sound like hyperbole but in some way, it has had a profound effect on my life.

Another event, seemingly no more important recently occurred. I watched a PBS special of the late John Prine in concert. I’ve liked his music for decades, but this brief program conveyed his musical genius in a simple manner. He stood and simply played his songs. I suspect he knew at some level that he was not long for this life. For some unexplained reason I found myself crying. I think, and hope it is in part because I’m taking a bit more time to see what I see, to hear what I hear and to feel what I feel.

So I will continue to go about putting words to paper, watching baby doves hatch and listening to John Prine sing about Muhlenberg County and telling me to Come On Home.

“In nature nothing is perfect, and everything is perfect.” Alice Walker

“Nature does not hurry, yet everything is accomplished.” Lao Tzu

Louie’s Book Bark  

Dear Edward by Ann Napolitano is a wonderfully written novel. A commercial airline crashes and 13-year-old Edward is the only survivor. Napolitano tells a masterful story of his life and his attempt at understanding after the death of his brother and parents while at the same time bringing to life several of the victims of the crash. A worthy book.

Go well, David.

Writing With Joy and Angst

4-18-2021

         Like most writers, there are times when the words come easily. Then, out of the proverbial nowhere, they seem to hide around the corner, mocking my ineptitude. During the past week it has been the second situation in which I find myself. Words in my native language have become as indecipherable as Egyptian hieroglyphics.

         It is in part; I’ve determined because of finding myself in a state of great joy while also being in a state of immense angst.

         This joy comes from my recent observation of a small wonder of nature. Although I risk sounding hyperbolic with my previous words, I find them to be accurate. I am watching daily a wonder of nature. She is a small and young gray dove nested outside my bedroom window. I watched her carefully as she went about with great skill building her nest in a planter box. With expertise she began placing each twig and piece of string until she was satisfied. Now she waits with absolute calm as she sits upon the two-nut sized white eggs that will become her babies. I’ve named this mother to be, Patience. A moniker completely appropriate to this small bird. I watch her small black dot like eyes blink away the time, hour by hour, day by day. If it is possible to put a human emotion to an animal, this small creature has the absolute look of peace and contentment.

         In my awkward attempts to speak about this to others, the same response occurs. The response a single word, “Instinct.” Although I in the most basic sense agree that the word is true, in a deeper way it is far too inadequate to explain what is happening. Who or perhaps What forces allow her to sit without movement for countless hours when her nature is to fly? In my seventy plus years of life, I have never witnessed such patient resolve in any human. I look into her beautiful tiny eyes and see nothing but a calm acceptance of the moment and an understanding of her role.

         I not only have a lack of understanding, but also an inadequacy of words to express my awe.

         And then I leave Patience for a while and turn on my TV. There is little hope or expectation that I will watch something new. And faithful to my prediction, there is little I’ve not before seen. What there is to see, to hear, is another story of death, another story of hatred. Mass shootings and the continued deaths of our brothers and sisters have become our daily diet of Dante’s Hell. The name of George Floyd and Christina Taylor-Green will not leave my mind even long after the newest report has ended. Christina, a beautiful nine-year-old child was gunned down ten years ago in Tucson. She, along with eighteen others, were shot outside a Safeway grocery store. Christina and five others died at the hand of a crazed killer.

         George Floyd was tortured over nine minutes until all life was wrenched from his body nearly a decade later. Perhaps it could be dismissed as two unfortunate incidents had these two episodes been the only senseless deaths in ten years. We all know they were not. There have been so many incidents of wanton murder that we no longer remember where or when they occurred. So many hundreds of deaths that we can no longer count them. And yet the cowards, and yes, they are cowards in elected positions, sit and offer nothing more than hollow prayers for the families of the dead. Empty promises that things will change, that this is not who we are as a country. And yes, it is who we are as a country. The politicians strut away from the slaughter, smug in their words of comfort to mothers, father, brother, sisters, and children of the slain.

         And like trying to unearth adequate words regarding Patience, I cannot find the words to describe my emotions about our national slaughter. Feelings of rage, sorrow, and the fearful knowledge that nothing will ever change. What else can we believe except that this country loves guns more than humans? That this country loves power more than life.

         I turn off the television and return to the window and watch my beautiful little bird. She continues to sit and blink her eyes and I want to ask her, “How?” And I know it is unanswerable question.

         I will continue to write; I will continue to try to find words. When I see a dove flying, I know I shall never see them as I once did. I will see Patience sitting, I will see two tiny white eggs and a mother’s love for what will become. I will also continue to walk in the Christina Taylor-Green Park and weep. As one witness testified in the George Floyd murder trial, she apologizes to George for not saving him. I too feel a need to say that I’m sorry. I’m sorry, Christina. I’m sorry, George. Yet I know those words are not enough.

Go well, David.

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.