Wednesday, December 31, 2008

The End

I came up with five thousand things to write about in this, the last day of 2008, but am keeping the status-quo of what everyone does New Year's Eve: Make resolutions for the upcoming year, all to be broken by January 31, 2009. This year, however, I'm keeping it simple as well as realistic, and not going the "resolution" route. Rules rule, therefore, I give you

"Kath's Simple, Realistic Rules For A Happier Next Year"

  1. If it's easy then it's not worth my time. I've been down the beaten path enough to know that not only is it not fun, but breeds frustration.
  2. Take the path less traveled. See number 1 for explanation.
  3. Promote my writing friends' successes because frankly, nothing makes me happier than seeing their hard work pay off.
  4. Not let any more health issues stop me, unless, off course, they kill me first.
  5. Face each day with complete abandon.
  6. Take nothing for granted.
  7. Believe that I'm always doing the best I can.
  8. Rely on the universe for guidance 24/7.
  9. Remember that life really is too short.
  10. Take more naps.
There you have it. Simple and fail-safe. May you all have a happy, ambiguous, New Year.

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

The Write Gift

Another Poem

by Grayson Czarnecki

lost for a few
frantic fleeting seconds

suspended in stasis
withholding the flow
ideas that dangle above cohesion

sudden comprehension
my pen, found anew

How many times, as writers, do we sit before the blank screen, or let our pens hover over lined paper, and as we do so we dig deep into the brain looking for that first word? And that small, invisible voice screeches, "You're no good! Don't quit your day job.”

Maybe I'm just speaking for myself, but somehow, I don't believe I'm alone.

In late summer of 2007 I decided it was time to enroll in college. Fifty-three years old, it seemed like it was time, and I was feeling a "what the hell" moment. Several hours after that major revelation, I was a fully enrolled part-time student.

Long story short, I was placed in Honors English. I had no idea what that meant, except that after the registrant asked me what I'd been doing lately, I told her I had written three novels, and she crossed something off my schedule and said while she wrote, "You belong in Honors English." I said, "Well, okay."

The one and only place where I never felt at a loss to write. The crazy, taunting inner critic went mum every time Professor Curt said, "Okay, let's start the day with a free write...write anything that comes to one's gonna read it. This is just moving your pen and getting the flow going." And then one day he decided that, yeah, let's all read what we wrote... out loud. This he mentioned after we finished writing. Curt's nothing if not a seat-of-your-pants kind of professor. He says, "Who wants to go first?"

A couple of hands went up, or maybe someone just said, "Uh, I'll go?" Anyway, that's when I knew I was at the right place in my life. Mind you, I was THE oldest student, as in, all the others were fresh out of high school. Fresh. Their words as they merged into sentences and onward to paragraphs, were fresh. Like that first footstep on the moon, fresh.

The effect was virulent. No room for envy - each writer unique yet equal in talent. Yet there was one who stood out. I think what grabbed me was one of his free writes about a fly sipping from a can of Red Bull that he had seen earlier in the student lounge. A simple, empty can left by some slob who thought that maybe his mother would be by later to clean up after him.

The story was off-the-cuff brilliant. Just a few sentences that had the effect of an atomic bomb, without the nasty fall-out. Recently this student friended me on Facebook, which is where I snared the above poem (with permission, of course).

It affected me on impact. At Facebook I commented, "Subtle description of writing angst and how it's never-ending, but never forever." And he replied, "It started out as a poem about actually losing my pen for a couple minutes. When I found it, I wrote this poem. Afterwords (sic) I read it, and realized what it was actually about."

Completely off. The. Cuff.

Brilliance deserves its place in the Universe, or at least a featured spot at my blog. There are no further words I can say to describe Grayson’s talent, except that I hope to live long enough to see its fruition, maybe in the form of U.S. Poet Laureate.

Just a hunch.

Enjoy the holiday! Merry Christmas to all and to all, well, you know...

Monday, December 15, 2008

Dead People On the Move!

Well, she went and did it again. The talented Ms. Edie Ramer, through her brilliant writing, made it to the next round of Romantic Times' American Title Five contest.

From today, December 15, to December 29, the voting will be open. And it's so simple that you and all your alter-egos can handle it. Merely send an email to, with the title, "Dead People" in the subject line. Oh, and you can read hers and all the other entries at the Romantic Times web site, but I'm telling you, Edie's is the best one. All my alter-egos think so. Soon we'll be referring to her as La Edie. That's my prediction. This contest will launch her career and next thing she'll know, she'll be sitting on a best sellers' list, and remember:

A vote for Dead People is a vote to keep Edie's dream alive.

Just DO IT!

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Can't Take The Heat?

How do you take your truth? Sugar-coated, sweet through and through, or like a shot of freezing water, not what you want, but getting your attention?

My beautiful daughter came home one day, her once striking blonde hair dyed black. Before I could open my mouth, she asks, "How do you like my hair? Isn't it cool?" Her smile beamed as she flipped her hair over one shoulder. Well, what could I say? Obviously, she loved it. I knew I had only a few seconds to answer, and in that time I debated between honesty or telling her what she wanted to hear.

I went with diplomacy. I said something like, "Looks good," and she said, "You don't like it, do you?" She pushed for more, right? I said, "It's not that I don't like it, it's just that I'm used to seeing you with blonde hair, yada-yada..."

She expected raves. "Everyone at work LOVED it!" she said. So I guess that meant that I didn't know what the hell I was talking about, or, maybe the people at work realized that hey, they had to work with her everyday, so they just kept it unreal. Better to hide true thoughts than upset the work place.

I suppose it's always easier to tell a person what you think they want to hear. But, on the other hand, when asked "What do you think?" I take it as a person looking for an honest opinion.

Or are they just fishing for compliments?

As a writer who thinks her work is Nobel worthy, I, too, like to hear accolades. However, over the years I've developed a thick skin. I had to because not everyone thought I deserved a Nobel. What I've learned over the years is that whenever you seek out opinions, be prepared to accept them all. ALL OF THEM.

The first time I entered a writing contest I received some "in my face" comments. At the time I was flabbergasted. Crushed. How dare that person say such a thing?

Did I want to smack that person up the side of her head? Yep. Did her comments stall my writing? Only for a day, and then I got back on my bike and decided to view it as a challenge. I worked harder. I had something to prove, not to the contest judge, but to myself.

As time went on and after several contest entries, I learned that if you want to play in the big leagues, you have no choice but to take the harsh with the good. Contests were a great lesson in developing a thick skin. They prepared me for the next step: being viewed by agents and/or editors.

I believe that to achieve greatness you have to take the bumpy path. The pain of it all. Small steps first; one toe in testing the waters. Little by little the writing improves until you hear more nice things than bad. And with every step the skin gets thicker in preparation for the day your book ends up in the hands of a reviewer.

Thick skin is a by product of honesty. Criticism can be a harsh mistress, but it's the nasty tasting medicine that makes you better. It's all part of the process. As writers, we know this.

Then why is it when asked for our opinion, we take a step back and worry about hurting feelings? Shouldn't the writer asking for the opinion expect honesty? Maybe not. Perhaps the writer just needs their ego stroked. But does that do him/her any favors? It's only human to want to be great and to think your work is the next Nobel winner. But if the story you've been requested to read barks, what favor are we doing the writer by saying, "Oh this story is fabulous! Pick out a new dress, honey, because I hear Oprah's people calling your name."

No favor at all in my opinion. Just speaking for myself, but if the story I want to submit to agents or editors has some in-your-face issues, I want to know about it. I'm not turning my work over for opinion just so my ego gets a stroke. Hell no. I can handle it.

In fact, I recently was subject to scrutiny in the form of a writing contest. One of the judges first pointed out what she loved, and then she got down to the nitty-gritty, pointing out the flaws. And she was spot-on with her observation. Valuable advice that I'll always adhere to.

That particular judge was akin to Randy Jackson of the American Idol judging panel. You know the types. They'll give you props for the good, but not hold back on telling you what needs work.

Yet, in my experience over the years, I've found many writers can't handle the truth. One writer once told me that she quit writing for ten years as a result of bad comments from a contest judge. Said judge indicated that in her opinion, the story wasn't any good. Maybe that writer would rather have a Paula Abdul on her side. You know Paula. She always slurs some sweetness, never saying anything critical because she's afraid of destroying "The Dream."

Ten years of no writing only tells me that the person wasn't serious about it in the first place. Tell me my story is bad, and I'll first ask for another opinion, and then rip it apart to make it better, not toss my entire dream out the window. Only the weak do that.

And in the writing business, weakness has no business.

Sure, criticism's effect has a lot to do with its delivery. But I'll say this, and I've given it plenty-o-thought, if someone credentialed in the business tells me my story sucks ass, I'll take it.

But I'd be kidding myself if I said harsh words don't bother me. They do, but if coming from a reliable source, I can take it. And like I said, harsh hurts and it used to really hurt, but I started getting over it when I began studying Simon Cowell closely on American Idol. His words, that is. Okay, I sort of like looking at him, and I hear his girlfriend dumped him. Hello, Simon...if you're free I got a manuscript needing some ripping apart, maybe over cocktails...?

Back to my point. American Idol's three judges' opinions differ in every degree. Each has a different way of pointing out flaws, and no one does is with as much zeal as Simon Cowell.

Simon Cowell. The man is a mega-mogul in the music industry. The credits to his resume could fill a ream of paper, maybe two. His comments are, at times, caustic. He makes artists cry. But the ones who never shed a tear, took his comments, sour as they were, and learned from them. Maybe at times he forced some to want to quit all together, and if his words had that sort of power, then maybe the artist was in the wrong business all together.

Because if you can't take the heat from someone who knows what they're talking about, it's time to re-think your profession. That's the nature of the beast - taking the bad with the good and knowing the difference. Cowell is harsh, but he also gives props where due. His sincerity is as strong as his digs.

I like that in a person. But then again, I'm a person who prefer honesty over omitting the truth. If I know my potential, I'll most likely agree. But I'll only take harsh truth from a person who has been in the business, has more knowledge and credits to back up their claims, than I do.

And I'll take any other opinion, thoughts, criticisms, etc., that are given by people whose opinions I value. I want to succeed. And I want do it with eyes wide open, taking the harsh with the good. It's a valuable part of reaching my dream, and I want to get there based on hearing the utter truth from whomever happens to view my work.

It's essential.

Thoughts? How do you take your truth?

Monday, December 8, 2008

Back At Ya!

My blogging friend, Robin Bielman, has come up with a provocative and heartwarming idea in order to bolster the so called "floundering" publishing industry. That Robin is full of it - ideas that is. ;)

So, with the best interests of our industry at heart, visit Robin's blog today!

Thursday, December 4, 2008

Got Lemons?

Is happiness really a choice, or is it just all relative?

Today I read Mark Terry's blog wherein he cut to the chase on publishing cuts, slicing every writers' creative aorta with the bleak news of today's publishing picture. It was an icy blast fit to peel the skin right off your face, painful but necessary.

Earlier I read a piece in my local news rag that ABC Daytime is cutting actors' salaries. They (ABC) could have just axed the characters, because you know in soaps, that happens every so often. An actor gets the itch to rush out to Cali during pilot season and try his/her luck, and next thing you know, they're Lazurus back from the dead. But is ABC killing off Erica Kane, or maybe sending her off to an exotic spa for a face lift? Hell no. They know what their viewers want, and that's to see sixty-one-year-old Erica Kane try to look thirty.

And the actress accepted a cut in pay as opposed to standing in a casting call line.

Still earlier as I brewed my coffee, I listened to my morning radio talk show where in the news portion it was announced that a sportswriter for the local rag just got the ax. The guy had been with the paper maybe twenty or more years (I'm guessing). Offered a pay cut? I don't know. I sort of doubt it. I'd have to say that given the local market, which is small, the reporter might have jumped at the chance to keep a job since it'd be hard to find work locally as a sportswriter.

We hear it everywhere. Job loss is nothing new, but recently virulent. But still, job cuts, cutbacks, etc., aren't new. It's just harder to find a new job because, well, there aren't many out there to be had.

Unless, of course, you're willing to do what it takes to stay solvent as opposed to doing what you love, or what you thought was best suited for your talents. McDonald's perhaps? A greeter at Wal-Mart? Here's the rub: Jobs don't define who you are. That's something people seem to lose sight of. Basically we work to put food on the table and keep a roof over our head. Maybe it's just me who thinks this way because I never got paid to do what I love. I worked to live, taking jobs that picked me, as in, I could type therefore I got to be a secretary. That led to more specific secretarial jobs such as a slave to lawyers. Next thing I knew I worked in a mediation program via Family Court.

You do what you gotta do.

It sucked. I burned out. People sucked. It was them or me. I picked me. I'm lucky enough to have survived the thirty plus years doing what I didn't like, but it kept me out of hock and fed my kid. Luckier still, I was able to self-retire.

And now I try to write, which I love, but the publishing world is a nasty mother-hucker even when things are good. Not so much now. Am I thinking of jumping out my raised ranch second story window because my chances of getting published have gone from slim to none to fat chance in hell? Hell no.

I still have a roof over my head, food on the table and a solid marriage. We can survive on one income. That's lucky in more ways than one because if I need to re-enter the work force, I'll need to find a job that accepts partial eyesighted secretaries. Oh, and let's not forget my age. I have that against me no matter what I try and do - even getting published for the first time, or so I've been told.

So, hell yeah, life can suck. I could make mine even suckier by fretting over the economy and how it's ruining Christmas, yada yada, but let's not forget the Wal-Mart employee killed in the line of duty because shoppers didn't want their Christmas ruined by not getting a deal on that 42" flat-screen for their teenage meth-head kid.

I'm just saying that we need to embrace the beauty where we feel it. Things could be worse - we could have Grandpa Munster as our president-elect, right? What could be worse than that? If president-elect Grandpa Munster croaked, that's what. Think about that scenario, and then get back to me about how horrible life is.

Meanwhile, remember to stoop over and sniff a rose, or indulge in whatever simple pleasure strikes your fancy. Life is good when we view it from the simplest vantage point.

Monday, December 1, 2008

I'm Not In the Mood!

So what it's the first of the month, the beginning of a week and I have time on my hands to get back into my wonderful next best-selling novel. I blew the doors off my writing barn last week (just before turkey day), and said to myself yesterday, "Self, tomorrow you got to get back in that groove because, you know, if you don't, they'll be no first contract, let alone the next best-selling novel."

Did I listen to myself? Hell to the no I did not. Instead I slept in (8:05 a.m.), made coffee, read the paper, thought about exercising, and then remembered that the Maytag repair guy was coming. I have a dryer on the fritz and ten loads of wash to do, so at 9:30 a.m. Maytag guy shows up. He says after examining the dryer, "Yep, it's broken. Gonna cost you an arm and leg to fix..." OK! He didn't say that, but did say it was broken and would cost close to $300.00 to fix it, so next thing I know, I'm on my way to buy a new dryer. (And by the way, does anyone know the origin of "on the fritz." Did some guy named Fritz break a lot of stuff?)

Six hundred dollars and change later, I get back home. Dryer gets delivered tomorrow afternoon, so now that I don't have to do wash until then, I have the afternoon to write. No problem. I can get right back into it. Wrong! I turn on the laptop and see I have emails. After deleting the ads, I answer a few and decide, since I'm on the Internet, to look at blogs. Wouldn't you know it, today all my blog haunts interested me, thus, writing comments was next on my agenda.

Yada yada. Phone rings, daughter calling. More yada yada. I look at email again, receive one from announcing 20% off on all shoes. SHOES! Other than dark chocolate, shoes are my crack. Of course, I have to check out each and every pair on their goddamn website.

Give me a heavy sigh, because now it's closing on 4:00 p.m. and I am no longer IN THE MOOD. Don't bother lighting the candles, chilling champagne, or massaging my feet. I'm done for the day.

But, I did get me a really cool pair of shoes. What do you think? And while you're marveling over my hot find, care to share how you force yourself back into writing when not in the mood?