March 21, 2024

Surprising a Sister After Not Seeing Each Other for Seven Years


This is me showing up at my sister's apartment after not seeing each other for almost seven years.


November 25, 2023

To Reject or Not to Reject, That is the Question

In July I wrote a post making a big (for me) announcement that I was sending my manuscript out into the world. I know authors do this every day but it felt scary to tell the world. There was bound to be rejection at the end of that, and then everyone would know. And make their judgement.

I could just not post anything more about this process but I guess since I started it I feel a little obliged to continue, so this is an update.
The first person I sent my manuscript to was my agent who I call my agent tho he's not really my agent but who is the CEO of the agency that represented me for my first book What More Could You Wish For. Did you follow all that?

Anyway, this CEO and literary agent read my manuscript and sent me a very thoughtful email beginning with, "There is a lot to recommend it but it's such a tricky subject that a writer has very little room to maneuver if it doesn't exactly nail it. And my problem is I think this is a great effort, and the writing is good, but it's overplotted and its tone is somehow "off" to be honest."

Is it my ego that made that sound positive to me? I understood, tho, that he doesn't think he can sell it. He kindly spent a lot of time writing several paragraphs with suggestions on how to improve it. Which I so appreciate. The thing is I've worked on this book for so long that I don't think I have the energy for a(nother) rewrite. And (here's my ego again), it's only one opinion. One I trust, but still...

As I continue to send it out and search for representation a dear friend who is a prolific and successful author with more than twenty NY Times best sellers, was generous enough to give me an introduction to his agent. How great is that? He spoke to this agent on my behalf and I’m sure he said glowing things about me, not because I’m so wonderful but because that’s the kind of man my friend is.

I had a very pleasant phone conversation with said agent. We have a mutual admiration and respect for the author so it was nice to have that in common. The agent said my concept is interesting but that he doesn’t represent fiction. Still, he asked me to send him the manuscript and said he would pass it along to his colleagues who handle fiction. 

Such a nice thing.

I sent the manuscript. Here is his reply: "I forwarded The Laundry Room to a couple of agents who handle fiction for [this literary agency]. One of my colleagues will contact you only if they are interested in your work.”

Only if they are interested. Well.

That means I will not even get a rejection. Not even a form letter. Is that a good thing or bad? Rejection letters of any kind can certainly be disheartening, but at least you know where you stand, right? 

Is this is a new trend in an already challenging industry? I know it’s not something they are all practicing yet because I’ve received other rejection letters. Some form letters, a few personal notes (which is a big bonus). For the record, the personal comments I've received have told me basically the same thing that my-agent-who-is-not-really-my-agent told me, that "it's such a tricky subject." Which is curious to me. Doesn't it seem that would make it more attractive? Apparently, tho, in today's world people don't want to make waves or risk alienating a segment of the reading population.

I will continue on this journey and if this doesn't work out I have a Plan B.  I'll reveal that another time.

All that said I would like to ask agents/small presses to please reject me. At least send a form letter. Let me know you read some part of what I sent you. Let me know I exist in your world.

July 12, 2023

I Have News

I have news. I’ve told a few people this news already but only a few - I’ve been revealing it kind of the way I venture into swimming; walking gingerly into the water, up to my knees maybe, standing there like an old lady for a bit then dipping my butt in, then screaming like a toddler and running out. Because it’s scary; the water’s cold, it’s a shock to my body, I might step in a hole or get stung by a jellyfish or run over by a boat or get my hair wet. 

Do you hate this metaphor?

Now though, with my news, I'm through wading, I'm plunging in. 

Here goes: A couple months ago I sent the manuscript of my new book, The Laundry Room, to my agent and I’m waiting for his response. 

Hmmm…I thought that would generate more angst than it does.

You know this writing business: it’s full of rejection. What if no one likes it? What if they hate the characters? What if they think my writing is pedestrian? What if they think no publisher will want it?

The few people who already know this news have occasionally asked me what’s happening and I’m happy that so far I can report that my agent hasn’t had time to read it yet. So far, then, I haven’t had to admit failure. 

Oh, let's not use that f-word. Let's call it un-success.

But now I’m telling the social media universe because I feel like I’ve lived too long to be ashamed of rejection, if that’s what happens. And maybe it won't. Or maybe it will for a while and then it won't.

Overall, I’m pleased that I finally finished the damn thing; I think it’s well-written and it’s a good story with tension and authentic, relatable characters who grow and change. 

Of course I think that, I wrote it.

Now the manuscript is out there in the world for others to judge. 

I can take it…I’m a big girl now. 

Read the first chapter of The Laundry Room here

Comments welcome.

March 12, 2021

Life Lessons from Watercolor Painting

I began drawing and painting when I was young. Art was my first love, even before writing (but only by about a year). My parents were mystified that I could do this - neither of them had an artistic bent, nor did my sister. No one knew where it came from. 

In 4th grade Patty Klenk and I were picked to take part in a citywide program where students from various schools would study at the art museum. I was proud to have been chosen, tho I have no memory of the classes.

Painting at the kitchen table as a teenager.
I knew I had some talent, though I could see there were other students more talented: Patty Klenk, for one, and Janice Wilhem, in grammar school, Judy Norris in high school. In 8th grade we sculpted with clay in art class, and Janice Wilhelm created an incredible woman's head that I can see to this day. Everything about it was remarkable; the hair pulled back in a bun, the nostrils, the lips...I don't remember what I created but it was likely a vase. I know it wasn't close to what Janice created.

In high school Judy Norris did an oil painting of a woman in a wheat field that was remarkable. I realize now that Monet was her inspiration, and she did it in a way that dazzled me. I did a vase with flowers. It didn't dazzle me.

I was always better at oils, acrylics and sketching than watercolor because I liked the preciseness of those mediums. But I have always loved the looseness of watercolor, the elusiveness of it. I love that it's the opposite of precise. I've taken some classes over the years but exactly a month ago I developed a (pandemic) passion for learning watercolor. I've taken Zoom classes, I've watched a gazillion YouTube demos, attended live demos online where you paint along with the artist, I've bought hundreds of dollars worth of supplies, I've bored my Facebook friends with some of my paintings. I felt proud of my early efforts because I was conquering something that eluded me for years. But I knew they weren't my best, not if I kept learning. And I was right.

Watercolor has taught me so much, not just about the medium but about life. Here are the lessons I've learned from watercolor painting:

    Worth another attempt.
  • Patience. I like to start something and finish it in one sitting. You can't do that with watercolor - you have to apply the paint in layers and let it dry in between. 
  • Don't take shortcuts. You can speed up the drying with a hairdryer but it can bake the paper and it will change the result. I learned to let it dry on its own.
  • What I did today won't be what I see tomorrow. When a painting is thoroughly dry it will look very different from how you left it. I have done some work that I thought I would throw away but the next day it had transformed into something beautiful. Watercolor is like that - it surprises you if you give it time.
  • Thoughtfulness. You have to plan your image. You have to decide in what order to add the various values. You have to leave some open spaces and take your time with the rest of it before you add those pieces, so they don't get muddy or contaminate the rest of the color.
  • Look at the world. I find myself studying the world around me more than usual, looking for subjects to paint, studying trees and shrubbery, noticing all the varying shades of color in everything we look at, examining how shadows fall and what color they are. And more. I find I do this with photography as well, seeing things through the camera lens and how it will be perceived. Now, I look to see how I can interpret it in watercolor. The world is presented in a new light because I am painting.
  • Maybe I will try again, maybe not.
    Once is not enough. When it's not, it's okay to do it again. Sometimes it takes 2 or 3 or more
    attempts to create a painting that reflects what's in my head. I may not like everything in my first attempt , tho as I said earlier it often looks better the next day. If it doesn't match my vision of it I can do it again. And again. I
    kind of like to see the progression of those paintings.
  • Be brave. When I start a new painting I mostly sketch it out in pencil first. Sometimes I might go over it again in ink, if ink and watercolor is the technique I'm using. Regardless, when I'm happy with the sketch I often find myself waiting a day or two before beginning to fill it in with watercolor and I realized it's because I'm afraid I'm going to ruin it. But then I sit down and begin. Sometimes I do ruin it, and that's too bad, but often it can be fixed. Or it becomes something I wasn't planning but something I still like.
    And my favorite so far,
    yet I'm still making another attempt.
So many lessons. Isn't it interesting how applicable these lessons are to writing (to any creative endeavor really) and to life? 

It's unfortunate I didn't develop this passion earlier. Better late than never, right?

February 22, 2021

Movie Review: Nomadland *****

is a quiet, gracefully-told story of Fern (Frances McDormand in what's sure to be an award-winning performance) whose husband has died and the town they lived in for 30 years no longer exists because the major employer folded, (the zip code was actually retired). 

Fern has lost everything. She buys a van, packs up some meager belongings and takes to the road, working various jobs in various places and finding a community of others who live this nomadic lifestyle. These are not people traveling in tricked-out 30 ft. Winebagos, they travel and live in rundown vans or trucks, one woman in a Prius. A Prius

Director ChloĆ© Zhao loves to use real people in her movies and this one is no exception. A number of the nomads play themselves but you would not know they're not professional actors. What a wonderful cast it is. 

Because of that, and because of McDormand's subtle, authentic performance (also David Straithairn's), the film has a wonderful documentary feel to it. You get to know these people and their motivation for this lifestyle, and gave me a glimmer of understanding for a lifestyle I have no comprehension of. 

It's a film with much empathy and respect, a beautiful piece of work.

5 out of 5 stars for Nomadland.

February 9, 2020

Hoping for an Oscar Upset

I'm hoping for two Oscar upsets tonight, one in the Best Actor category and one for Best Picture.
First, I'm hoping for Adam Driver to win Best Actor because his performance in Marriage Story is so raw and powerful and authentic. It's so real it feels as though we're watching a documentary.
Joaquin Phoenix, they say, is a shoe-in, and his performance in Joker is excellently creepy, something he does better than anyone, but it's not as good as Adam Driver's performance, in my humble opinion.
Scarlett Johannson, by the way, is also really good in Marriage Story, but her performance feels more uneven to me.
Now here's the strange part: I saw Marriage Story when it was first released in November and was in theaters for about 10 minutes, and when I told people about it later I said that Adam Driver was phenomenal but the movie was long and boring, just two people talking. I was definitely a thumbs down. But it haunted me and for some reason I thought I'd like it more on a second viewing. So I watched it on Netflix. It was amazing. Yes, it's long, yes it's two people talking (actually a few more than two - I also love Laura Dern's performance and Azhy Robertson's as the child of this failing marriage), but it's a gorgeously-written story. I love how it begins, and how it circles back to that in the end, I love how real it feels, I love how we get to see each character's perspective and how you go back and forth in your sympathies. I love how it ends...
How did I miss all this the first time? Who knows; sometimes it's your mood, sometimes it's who you're with, what's going on that day...whatever.
I'm glad I watched it again and I encourage you to as well.
It's not likely to win tonight, not in either category, but my fingers are crossed.

January 31, 2020

The Hole My Father Left

Today, January 31, 2020, I'm remembering my dad who I lost 20 years ago. He left a big hole in my life, one that will never be filled but one I've learned to live with. Into that hole I've put his smile and his pride in me, along with his kindness, generosity and honor, his corny sense of humor, all his bowling trophies (whew! those are heavy!), his warmth and love of family. I put his wisdom in there, and his advice, even the advice I poo-poo'd and ignored. What's taking up the most room in that hole, though, is his unconditional love.