Monday, December 19, 2016

Chanukah Miracles

The sunlight is reflecting off of the metallic Chanukah decorations hanging from my windows, creating jewel-toned prisms on my walls. Every dreidel we’ve ever owned is piled into the ceramic dreidel bowl, waiting to be spun. The electric menorah, which I hate, sits in the window ready to be lit, where it will compete with the blue and white Jewish star lights our neighbor down the street has already lit. Chanukah snow globes and music boxes and candles—who decided we needed decorative candles for this holiday and why do I have them—are placed on display strategically around the house. Decorative plates are stacked, waiting for the homemade gelt, latkes and fried Oreos to be made. The only thing left to do is to put out our personal menorahs and candles when Chanukah actually arrives.


There is a fine line between decorating for this holiday and making my house look like the Chanukah fairy threw up in it. No, there’s no Chanukah fairy. Chanukah’s miracle is the oil that lasted eight days, rather than one. It’s the victory of the Maccabeas over the Greeks. And for me, it’s the fact that no matter how much people have inflated the holiday in an attempt to compete with Christmas, it still remains a non-commercialized fairly minor holiday.


That’s not to say I won’t insist on celebrating it with my family. This year, it falls over winter break and we’ve already had the discussion about whether or not the Princess can go out with her friends at night during Chanukah. My response? Of course, as long as you’re home to light the candles first. Because there’s a difference between a minor holiday and an unimportant holiday. And if we let the celebration slide, the miracles disappear.


I think we’ve taught that lesson well. It was the Princess who asked me last week when we were going to decorate for Chanukah. Sure, the “we” really meant “Mom,” but even she wants the decorations up. The wish lists were made, but it’s the traditions we’ve established that the kids talk about: making latkes from scratch, making fried Oreos, decorating, inviting friends over to celebrate with us—this year, the Princess even wants to invite her non-Jewish friends.



So I’m going to add to that list of Chanukah miracles. I’m going to add my children’s desire to celebrate the holiday, when so many other things have fallen by the wayside. That even though there aren’t a lot of gifts being opened, they’ve separated out the gift-giving from the holiday-celebrating, and they still want to participate. They’re growing up, but not out-growing, this holiday. And that’s what I will be thankful for these upcoming eight days of Chanukah.

Monday, December 12, 2016

My Amazing Critique Partners

As a writer, I tend to live in my own private bubble. It’s a lovely bubble, where chocolate and coffee and tea flow freely, the people I create in my head are as close to perfect as I can get (even when they are completely imperfect with flaws), and there are no negative influences from the outside world.

But in order to make sure my books are readable (and sellable), at some point in the process, I have to step out of my bubble and show people what I’ve written.

Gulp.

That means letting people into the scary world that exists inside my head and hoping they come out unscathed.

Luckily for me, I’ve been fortunate enough to have several amazing critique partners along the way. And from what I understand, that’s not a normal thing.

My first critique partners, Jan and Paula, were absolutely amazing. They pointed out errors in timing, showed me where things didn’t make sense and most importantly, taught me that opening myself up to others and allowing them to read what I’ve written wasn’t nearly as horrible as I thought it would be. Beyond the benefits of being able to improve my writing, I learned that there is community to be found when sharing with other writers. I will forever be grateful to them.

My critique partner, Laurie, is a plotting genius. I tend to have a vision for one character—since I write romance, I need at least two, though. I usually have some idea of what psychological motivation the character has, but she helps me flesh out the rest of it, as well as external motivation as well. I’m geographically challenged, which apparently also carries over to writing, so I depend on her to help me get my characters from Point A to Point B, without getting lost in the weeds or forgetting about something I mentioned in chapter five. Usually a discussion over a strong cup of coffee or a thirty-minute phone conversation solves all my problems. I don’t know what I’d do without her.

Then there is my critique group. When I received a call from Miriam to join her, Lisa and Nancy as a member of her critique group, I looked at the phone, convinced she’d dialed the wrong number. These women are GOOD and I couldn’t figure out what I could possibly bring to the table. But all four of us have unique ways of looking at the same story and our critiques add dimension. Additionally, being part of a group that meets in person helps me develop a thick skin. Trust me, there is NOTHING more embarrassing than hearing parts of your sex scene read out loud and realizing they rhyme (if you can think of something more embarrassing, PLEASE tell me). Or worse, you’ve created a Gumby-like contortionist.

I still like living in my bubble and disappearing into my world that I create. But there’s nothing like writer friends who take our craft seriously, who lift each other up and who truly understand how crazy this whole process is.


Thank you to all!

Monday, December 5, 2016

Gratitude

I love Thanksgiving, but I’m not a big fan of going around the table and announcing what you’re thankful for. It seems a bit contrived to me, and I hate having the spotlight on me. No matter how grateful for things and people I might be, when it’s my turn, my mind goes blank.

I tried for a while to make it into a group craft project—everyone got a turkey feather and a pen, they wrote what they were grateful for, we tried to guess who said what and afterwards, I put the feathers on the turkey and had a holiday keepsake (thank you, Donna, for the idea). But this year we didn’t do it and the holiday passed without any gratefulness ritual.


However, now that Thanksgiving is past, I’d like to say what I’m grateful for (in no particular order, other than the first, I swear!)—blogging it is so much easier because no one is staring me down. J

  • I’m grateful for my husband and kids—for driving me crazy in all the best ways and never failing to make me laugh.
  • I’m grateful for a stainless-steel teapot I can’t melt (yet) and a Keurig the Princess thinks she bought for herself—both of these items keep me caffeinated, calm, warm and functioning.
  • I’m grateful for family and friends (and friends who are like family)—for the support and love they provide, even when I don’t expect it.
  • I’m grateful for beautiful sunsets—for giving me something to be grateful for when I’m convinced (temporarily) there’s nothing else.
  • I’m grateful for my writer buddies and critique partners—for never letting me give up and for completely understanding why hearing voices in my head does not necessarily mean I’m insane.
  • I’m grateful for moments of silence in the car and Monday mornings—for allowing me to rejuvenate temporarily so I can be personable and back “on” when needed.
  • I’m grateful for Twitter—for keeping me entertained during the political ruckus.
  • I’m grateful for the words of Maya Angelou, Cory Booker and Madeleine L’Engle—for always seeming to say the exact right thing at the right time.


Here’s hoping we remember to be grateful now and always, not just around the Thanksgiving table.


Monday, November 21, 2016

It's The Little Things

Writing is hard. It’s frustrating and it’s isolating. There are no guarantees that your manuscript will get published, and even if you do publish, there are no guarantees that people will buy your book.

Then there are the reviews. In order to sell your book and get visibility as an author, you need readers to review what you’ve written. But reviews are subjective and after pouring your heart and soul into something, when someone hates what you’ve written, it stings.

Pushing past all of those obstacles is tough. Trying not to let it get you down is even more difficult. Add in regular life and it can seem almost impossible to persevere.

I was just about ready to give up. Seriously. It’s been so long since I’ve felt good about anything having to do with my writing that I wanted to just stop.

And then over the past couple of months, I’ve gotten breadcrumbs of good news. An editor might be interested in one of my manuscripts. Another editor might be interested in a different manuscript, one which I thought was dead in the water.

And I finaled in a contest. Now, to clarify, I DID NOT WIN. Someone else did. Yay for them! But I was a finalist. And they didn’t let everyone be a finalist because I entered three books and only one of them finaled (that actually makes me feel better). So it’s something. Not a lot, because there are lots of contests. But in this one, I did well.

Those breadcrumbs are enough for me to keep going, for me to convince myself to persevere just a little longer. It put a smile on my face for a day.

So I’m not giving up. I’m meeting my self-set daily word counts. I’m finishing manuscripts and I’m giving them to my critique partners to tear apart so I can put them back together better, stronger and sellable. I’m hoping the publicity from the contest—because apparently it comes with publicity—will get more people to read and review my books. And every time self-doubt creeps in, I’m reminding myself that I can do this.


It’s the little things.

Monday, November 14, 2016

The Aftermath

I don’t know about you, but I’ve had it with the election. I’m done with reading everyone’s posts on Facebook for or against the results, prophesizing doom and gloom or a new dawn. That’s not to say I don’t have my own opinions, because I do. I’m not hiding my head in the sand, I’m looking forward with realism and making sure I’m prepared. And if you’re reading this blog, I’m sure you have an inkling of where I stand. But the last thing I want is a lot of political comments on my blog. Therefore, I’m remaining silent here.

So…I am grateful for one thing that resulted from this election. It’s personal, it’s within my own insular bubble, but it’s what has gotten me through this past week (in addition to looking forward to the chocolate expo, which was yummy!) and it’s what is going to carry me through the next four years.

Kindness.

No, I’m not oblivious to the hatred that has been spewed since the election cycle has started, or has risen up on both sides since the results were tallied. I’m not na├»ve enough to think I, or my friends, won’t experience it personally. The kindness I’m talking about, though, is different.

It’s in the deep breath I take before responding to someone, the extra care I’m taking with my words and the smile and manners I’m trying extra hard to use when talking to people.

It’s in the defense of a teacher my daughter provided when said teacher was questioned in the classroom about her vote—and the conversation at home is created about the necessity of standing up and speaking out whenever you see unjust behavior.

It’s in the silence of normally outspoken people who realize that now might not be the best time to gloat, when emotions are still so raw.

It’s in the donations I’ve made to organizations and political groups to continue their work, and the concrete suggestions made my friends about how to help.


Hatred is easy to find. It feeds off of fear, and right now, everyone is afraid. But kindness is just as easy to find and can feed just as easily. While kindness alone isn’t enough to accomplish anything, it’s a good start.