Sunday, August 29, 2010

Invisible Embrace

Of late I've read the news, afterward feeling anguish rip its talons into my hide. People against anything Muslim near Ground Zero; hateful words against Obama; crazy people misinterpreting the First Amendment.

Of late I've read blogs on religion, politics and the crazy people "restoring honor" via gathering in D.C. on the hallowed date of Martin Luther King's infamous speech. Read the ensuing anguish filled comments.

I had to get away from it all. Get out of the house. Go for a ride before my head exploded.

To the mall I went, pair of jeans in a Gap bag for return; the need for new foundation; some wall frames for the cool art deco prints recently purchased. Shopping chores complete, I felt compelled to honor the sign - Borders Books. After passing through the front tables of memoirs and racing through the paperback aisles, I found myself in the heart of its Literary Fiction section.

And I had the book in mind, the one I so badly wanted, and stood before the "M's" searching, searching, suddenly realizing that many authors' last name begin with that letter. Book spines at eye level, I began pulling a few. Good, okay, oh, excellent! I heard myself say as I thumbed through the pages, yet, the one I looked for not present. I slowly turned to walk away when a faced-out book grabbed my attention. Bright yellow cover, a red and white sticker shouting $4.99, and then in navy blue, the title and author. I sighed.

Good Poems for Hard Times, Selected and Introduced by Garrison Keillor. As if the angel of stacks tapped me on the shoulder, or maybe she whispered in my ear, not really sure, there was the unplanned anecdote.

The inside cover says this, "Poetry is the last preserve of honest speech and the outspoken heart. It holds the cadence of common life. It has a passion for truth and justice and liberty - the spirit that has kept the American porch light lit through dark ages of history. And the meaning of poetry is to give courage."

Necessary words for my dire straits. Pages filled with 185 poems. Carver, Kenyon, Cummings, Keats, and my favorite, Billy Collins, to name a few. Poems for the ages. Meant to uplift the spirit when dwindling in the shadows, well received by this soul who unconsciously grasped for an invisible rope.

Live, laugh, love, my friends. Never underestimate the power of the pen, especially one that produces great poetry...

Never ignore the silent voices whispering in your head.

Sunday, August 22, 2010

Wonders of Time Slippage

Last week while at my bi-weekly nail appointment, the conversation at hand involved the passing of time. She remarked that she found her calendar from 1999 and was shocked to see that some days she booked appointments from 8:00 a.m to 8:00 p.m. "Can't believe I worked that many hours," she said. I reminded her that at the time she had only two kids.

She now has six, and not only works at her business four days a week, but home schools her children, takes care of a house, and, AND her children range in ages from one to thirteen, so there in itself a Herculean undertaking. Not to mention, she's begun this business, too. OY! She is fabulous! (She is So going to do my next profile picture.)

And I bemoaned, "Shoot, now that I'm not working you'd think I'd have scads of time to write."

She said, "Last year I thought to try something...I made a schedule. Stuck with it for a few months, and then slowly it shifted." But, she mentioned that it developed a habit that she maintains to this day.

Funny, when I worked full time I managed to keep the house clean, including laundry and raising a child. As the writing beast sang its teeth into my muse, I still managed to keep a clean house, raise a child and write each and every day for hours. HOURS. Like clock-work. Like I had a...

Schedule! Even back in my single-girl days my roommate and I had a set schedule. Monday nights, laundry; Tuesdays, vege-out; Wednesday, party night; Thursday, clean house; Friday through Sunday, party time.

Why can't I see the damn answer to my problem? Okay, I can, but it's going to take some major habit changes. Fall semester begins on August 30th; I'll be in classes Mondays and Wednesdays. This should be easy, right?

Not so easy. Discipline is a practice, one that eludes me but is an important cog in the scheduling wheel. I've had a reactive summer, putting out fires, starting house projects, the written word minimally squeezed in. Good intentions fallen as life controlled me.

It's time to take back control, but first it's necessary to picture the possible as well as entertain changes. And then there's the guilt to factor in. Many times before I've set out on a scheduled path, and when sidelined I'd waste time ruminating over it. This time I need to accept that life will intervene...

As well as the Evil Inner Critic, the EIC. EIC visits from time to time, either as a result of TMI, or my sudden lack of self confidence. I must accept that which I cannot change. (Apologies to the twelve step program for stealing their line. All things considered, I am trying to get rid of a habit.)

I follow others examples, writers I've met along this path who perpetually awe me, two in particular. This one has five children. FIVE! And still manages to meet writing deadlines, as well as help others along the way. Me for example. Five or six years ago as I struggled with a query letter, she offered a helping hand. Her words resonante still. "You can do it, Kath! You can!"

Kindness comes from those who brilliantly multi-task and pay it forward, I have found...

Especially with this author. I mention her often because she has offered insurmountable assistance as I march (sometimes sloth) down the writing path. Children, she has four, the youngest a wild child from another universe, I swear. Those who know her well also recognize her selfless determination to help people with non-writing problems. And through all her wild-child taming and the helping of others, she continues to meet her editor's deadlines.

There are so many other writers I know who juggle the seconds, minutes and hours, pledging time to write, such as this one, this one and this one (new mommy with a new book deal - yay!). I feel fortunate to personally know such talented and selfless writers who chronically inspire. Whenever I sit and wonder how I'm going to intermingle writing with school and household maintenance, the lifestyles of these writers first come to mind. They have mastered multitasking. Inspiring, indeed.

For me the major component in finishing a project is sculpting out the time to accomplish it. Habits form, good and bad, although the bad so much fun and evilly distracting. This upcoming week I shall make a concerted effort to create a schedule that will meet my needs. I can do it! But would love any and all advice offered in my quest.

Bring on the advice. Cheers!

Thursday, August 12, 2010

The Blessed Bovines of Blogging

"We all know things are bad -- worse than bad -- they're crazy." Howard Beale's "Mad as Hell" speech from the movie, Network.

This is how I feel about the chronic rhetoric attacking the blog waves regarding the face of today's publishing world. So many opinions, blame-pointing fingers, and the how's and why's publishing isn't like it used to be.

Enough already! Or in the words of Howard Beale, I'm mad as hell and I'm not going to take it anymore. Might I suggest the real reason publishing has gone the way of Kodak film? It's not because digital self-publishing is going to be the new trend and that soon all books will be self-published...

It's because more and more people are NOT READING books. There. I said it. Excuses as to why publishers are closing are like those that have affected any other business. If no one is buying your product, then changes have to be made. In America reading has taken a back seat to video games, texting and the watching of television.


Yet the part that angers me the most are those going "indie" (better known as self-publishing) bashing and putting down the publishing world as if it killed itself. More and more blogs are featuring the reasons why self-pubbing is so much better than traditional publishing. They'll say that writers can skip the heartache of rejection if they self-publish. True. It's a direct route to seeing your name in lights. It's also a slippery slope to the devaluation of good writing.

Point to consider: Through traditional publishing, a writer's work is given an unvarnished edit by an editor. Yet, I have recently learned that even some larger NYC publishers have had lousy editors. But I'm willing to wager that those editors aren't maintained on the payroll for very long. And I know there are writers who think they know more than editors do and therefore find them needless.

Another point to consider: Read this article. Just the first few paragraphs, it's about Harper Lee. After reading it you'll then perhaps see the importance of not only good editing, but having a good agent as well.

Something else to think about: The Godfather. If you've seen the unedited version you'll recognize the importance of an editor. They are the people behind the scenes that help take the film to Oscar winning levels. Same goes for music recordings. After the artist spends his/her time in the studio, a sound engineer goes to work, and long before the artist enters that recording studio, a music arranger has played a hand in making the product better. And sure, critics will have at it once the movie or CD is out, but that's their job, not the editors, sound engineers or music arrangers. Some of the biggest grossing movies have had the worst reviews, and vice versa.

And another thing. Editors aren't there to hold your hand and tell you that you are a genius after they read your manuscript. Their function is to make the manuscript a better read, one that readers will want to buy again and again. A really great editor has studied writing and possess writerly credentials. They don't have a day job at the local hospital, legal clinic or the elementary school down the street. Writing IS their living. They are the guardian angels that take the soul of your work and escalate it.

Recently I received my first experience with this editor. Long story short, she mentioned wanting to show an example of what an editor does for her blog. I said to myself, "Self, volunteer your pages," thinking what the hell, free editing, I'm in. Thus, off went two pages of my WIP. Many know this editor better as an author, but there are some who don't realize that she edits as well as ghost writes. She is an all-around writer. And let me just say that I was a bit taken back when I received her remarks on my two pages. She took me to school! Hit nearly every single line indicating ways they could improve. She offered no words of encouragement and none of discouragement. It was a "Just the facts,ma'am," experience. After reading her remarks, I'll be honest, I wanted to barf. And then I told myself to GROW UP, sat down and followed her lead. I returned the pages to her. That's when she wrote back and said, "You nailed it!" I viewed that as a compliment.

She not only lifted my writing skills to a new level, but broadened my understanding of the importance of an editor.

Yes, the many going the indie route will say that they don't need an editor because they have a crit-group.But for those who don't have a crit-partner, or perhaps realize that sometimes crit-partners don't always have the skills of an editor, the self-pubbing route might deplete the self-esteem worse than the standard rejection letter, just saying...

One final point and then I'm done: I'm good with digital publishing. It saves trees. But I'm not good with the bashing of the traditional publishing model (digital or press), by those who believe that in the future all books will be self-published.

Nothing personal. Nothing against self-publishing. I'm merely offering something to think about without degrading anyone or the genre of their choice. For me it's about understanding all sides and using sound critical thinking before drawing any conclusions.

Lastly, this is my last blog...Not! School begins in two weeks - things will slow down in my blogoshpere.


Chronic Happiness

What can one say about spending fifteen years with the same person,

day in and day out?

Never have I done anything for that amount of time continuously.


I'm a person who lives for change - hair, clothes, wall paint –

it never stays the same.

So how did this one person enter my life and stay in it for so many years?

Matter of trust.

My life in his hands, at the end of the day he's the solid one ready with open arms and kind words.

Voice explosions? Occasionally. Rarely.

He bites his tongue, perhaps.

But in this life it's rare to find anyone who will be there throughout my serial mood changes.



Days filled with laughter.

He's there to wipe away tears, hold my hand, offer the best advice.

Level headed.

The calm to my wild surf.

How often does anyone see that in one lifetime? In the disposable tendency of the current generation, he is an oddity.

The perfect fit for me.

How many can boast that about anything in their lives?

Yet, if I only have one life,

when I leave it I'm assured

that regrets don't exist.

Kath Calarco

August 12, 2010

Sunday, August 1, 2010

Puzzle Me This

Sudoku. Either you love it or can't wrap your brain around it.

I'm a former "Can't wrap your brain around it" person. I'd look at its grid each day a new puzzle appeared in the local morning rag. A box with nine boxes with nine boxes in each. Objective: "Complete the grid so that every row, column and 3x3 box contains the numbers 1 though nine (no repeats)." Did I mention that some of the boxes already have numbers? They do. It's the job of the masochist puzzle-doer to fill in the empties. Daunting task? It was for me, but one that kept my curiosity piqued at an all time high. I had to master this damn thing, or die trying. Thus, I started out slowly - luckily the puzzles came in varying degrees of difficulty. I began with the lowest level. Once I mastered those, I moved on up. Once I achieved the highest level I skipped the easier ones.

But I never gave up. Never let the easy ones, which at the time were akin to deciphering the Rosetta Stone, stop my perseverance. "Never say can't - tossing in the towel not an option," my motto, I kept up the struggle.

For the past six years I've actively sought publication, in fits and starts. Beginning with writing contests, I put my work into the hands of strangers. Was it difficult? Hell yeah. Did the "constructive criticisms" hurt? Of course, once I learned how to view them. Did they stop me? No.

Only I can stop me. And like mastering Sudoku, I've kept at it, learning the process along the way, seeing my failings as learning tools, and seeking out answers from qualified sources, such as this person and this person. I connect with example setters, such as this person, this person and this person, people who have forged their own path. Most of all, I continued to write even when a part of me said, "You will never see the publishing light of day."

And I can control whether I see that "light of day," by either choosing to listen to good advice, or choosing the path of least resistance - quitting. Is it a difficult path, this publishing road? For me, it hasn't been easy. I don't do easy simply because for me, cutting corners robs me of valuable lessons. Education. Learning the craft and continually polishing the product.

Perhaps my analogy to Sudoku appears to some a bit like comparing apples to oranges. Yet, it speaks of who I am. The thrill I felt in mastering a not-so-simple puzzle exemplified my character. I am not a "can't do it" person.

Success comes to those who try, the ones who never give up.