IS BLOGGING STILL RELEVANT?

I have not posted on my blog for a long time. In fact, I’ve been considering whether to take this site down or not. The biggest reason I haven’t posted is that I had nothing that compelled me to share it with an audience. I’ve been writing. I’ve been editing. I’ve been to numerous writing workshops and conferences. I’ve been busy living my life. None of that is of great interest to the outside world.

The topic of blogging comes up at most writing conferences. There are workshops that tell you how important it is to have a presence “out there.” I’ve heard numerous times that it’s important to build an audience and have a platform and that a platform will help in securing an agent for your book. I even went to a workshop that talked about blogging a book. At all the workshops, I took notes furiously. Soon, though, most of what I’d written didn’t seem that important. It all simply slipped away from my consciousness and was filed somewhere in the recesses of my gray matter. And none of it was something I wanted to write a whole post about.

Since my last post, I’ve considered writing another one now and then, thinking I really should, but since no topic came to mind, I didn’t. After meditating on it, I realized there is no point to forcing a post just for the sake of being on a schedule or in fear that without the proper online platform I won’t win over that agent.

Recently, I heard that it isn’t so important to have a blog. The new thinking is the opposite of what was touted only months ago. The idea proposed is that the most important thing is your body of work. Do your writing, hone your craft and write some more. Your work is your platform. This came from a very well respected, huge New York agent. And I immediately liked that idea.

It’s one reason I’ve been thinking about the whole blogging thing so much. The huge question tugging at me has been – do I or don’t I keep this site? In other words, it’s a “to be or not to be” kind of question. I meditated some more. The bottom line is that I’d still like to have an Internet presence, one where I can share about me the writer.

Me the writer is a different creature from me the blogger. So this “blog” will be morphing into something more like an author page. I’m not saying I will never post a blog-like entry. Maybe I will post something now and again. If it is exciting enough or interesting enough to share. Right now that seems like a big if. But I have learned never to say never so am leaving the door open.

In the meantime, I will be adding some more pages of my writing, excerpts from novels, excerpts from memoir, maybe a short story, and definitely some more poetry.

To answer my own question about blogging, I have no idea if blogging is still relevant in general. But for me, personally, it is not. Writing is.

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Posted in agents, author, blogging, literature, poetry, published, rewriting, writer, writer's conferences, writer's rejections, writing | 5 Comments

WRITING WHAT I DON’T KNOW

This morning I did a Facebook search to see if my brother has joined since the last time I checked. No, he still hasn’t. At least not under the name on his birth certificate. That last name would be Ziedonis. Alas, that is not really our last name. My last name is not Ziedonis right now because I got married a long time ago when women were still taking their husband’s name upon marriage. But….. I use my maiden name as my middle name, so that is an error as well.

In doing family research a number of years ago, when it was first the craze and I was curious about my Latvian ancestry, I went to Latvia and met great-aunts and great-uncles and assorted other relatives. I spoke with the relatives here in the United States, too. Sadly, the USA aunts and uncles were not very forthcoming. I’m not sure what kind of secrets they’re hiding or why it matters all these years later. My grandparents died years ago, so there’s no way to ask them the answers to my questions.

I found out from a living-in-Latvia relative, namely my grandfather’s sister, who lived to a very old age, that my father’s father was born with the last name of Bulle. In other words her maiden name was Bulle. Furthermore, the Bulle great-grandfather wasn’t even Latvian. He came to work in Latvia at some German Baron’s estate because he was good with horses and the Baron needed a horseman. I don’t know if that means Johan Bulle was from Germany. He could have been. He could also have been from Finland or many other places. My grandfather’s sister didn’t know the answers to any of that.

Johan married a servant woman working on the estate who was Latvian and they had four children. Or five. I would have to look that up. My grandfather, Arvids Bulle, was one of them. He was born just before the twentieth century. He wandered off to Russia to attend a place of higher education when he was about eighteen. I couldn’t find out much about that, either. It could have been St. Petersburg. It could have been other places. But it was in Russia, that’s for sure. It’s where he met his future wife and my grandmother, Maria Kostukevich. I am very unsure about the spelling of her last name because none of my uncles/aunts seems to remember how to spell it. Memory lapse or more secrets? I don’t know.

I did get an interesting little tidbit of information once. One of my relatives told me that Maria grew up in Vitebsk in the same neighborhood, in fact three doors down, from Marc Chagall. Aha. I looked him up and Marc Chagall was Jewish and lived in a Jewish neighborhood. Does that mean Maria was Jewish and is that the secret? I don’t know. The rest of the story I heard was that Maria’s father supposedly owned a store, perhaps a small grocery store. She had brothers. And during the Russian revolution her brothers were killed on the street. I’m left wondering – were they a target or were they merely caught in the crossfire? So many questions, so few answers.

Okay, back to the name issue. My grandfather, Arvids Bulle, brought Maria back to Latvia to live. Latvia got its freedom after World War I and there was a huge swell of patriotism. At least that’s what my history sleuthing said. As a result of this patriotism, many people changed their last names to sound more Latvian and that’s apparently what my grandfather did. He picked the name Ziedonis so that’s what we were from then on. Maria and Arvids had eight children, all given the last name Ziedonis. Seven came to the USA after World War II and one went to Canada. At one point, I counted twenty-five cousins. So we’re passing on the wrong name all over the place. Were there other reasons and more secrets surrounding the name change? I’ve wondered but again, I don’t know.

You may wonder why I’m writing about this on my blog about writing. Here’s the answer. I recently realized that one reason I became a writer is that I don’t like unanswered questions or blanks in the stories. So I write stories to make up the answers.

My first novel is based on the life of Arvids and Maria and takes place during the Russian revolution and World War I. Of course I did take some things that I knew, like the date they got married and the story that they eloped, and used them in the book. Their personalities are based on the real people I knew with my own take on them. But since I wasn’t there, the conversations and most things that happened are my own made up story.

I’ve been reading recently that a writer should write what they know. And of course it is true that writing what you know is important. I would also add the idea that a writer writes both what she knows and what she doesn’t know. At least that is true for me. I have a story or a character running around in my head and am not satisfied until it is on paper.

When I wrote that first novel I had an idea of how it would start and how it would end and I even made an outline. Once I started writing, though, the characters took over and my story went in a totally different direction than I ever imagined. It was a huge surprise when that happened. And after I got over the characters making mashed potatoes out of my outline, I let them go where they wanted and say what they would. In other words, I let the characters drive the story and thereby the blanks were filled in and the story was completed. So in that sense I am writing what I don’t know as well as what I know. Unlike the real life story where there are a bunch of holes all over the place, in writing fiction, I have the freedom to fill in those holes and it’s damn satisfying.

Posted in author, Latvian, literature, Uncategorized, writer, writing | Tagged , | 6 Comments

Writing with Feeling

 Yesterday (October 9, 2012) I read a blog on blog.nathanbransford.com that hit home for me. The title is “Writing as Catharsis” and as a writer, I found a powerful message that clarified some of my own questions about writing. I won’t quote from it or even paraphrase anything in it. If you are interested, you can read it yourself and get what is meaningful for you out of it.

I try to write at least 3 pages in my personal journal (using a pen and notebook) every morning. This morning as I wrote, a lot of thoughts came up as a direct result of reading that blog. My own blog today jumps off from one sentence that I wrote: One needs to get in touch with one’s own feelings in order to write with feeling.

Sounds simple enough, but it’s not as easy as it sounds. And if one isn’t in touch with one’s own feelings, the writing will most likely be flat and boring.

John Cheever, whose book, The Stories of John Cheever, won the 1979 Pulitzer Prize, was certainly in touch with his. I still remember a short story he wrote about two couples that get together and start drinking, drink too much and the evening deteriorates badly. I wish I could remember the name of that story! If anyone knows it, please pass it on to me. I’d like to read it again. John Cheever was an alcoholic. If he didn’t have the experience of drinking to excess, I doubt very much that he could have written so compelling a story. Of course not all of his stories are about drinking. But all of his stories do convey feelings. And his stories are still read today, studied and considered classics.

Hemingway wrote about personal experiences including his war experiences, framing them in fictional stories and novels. He won the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1954. I don’t even have to mention his first name was Ernest, you know who I mean without it. And as most of you probably know, he was a tortured soul, with many personal struggles, who eventually committed suicide. In his writing, he was definitely in touch with his feelings and left a legacy of classics that testify to that.

That brings me to a question. Do all writers have to experience everything they write about? Of course not. There are many classics that are not based on a person’s personal experience. But (and this is a big BUT) I would bet there is some nugget or kernel of a personal nature in all successful writing. The bottom line is that without the feelings, I don’t think someone else’s writing will touch us.

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The Dreaded Research……

I write historical fiction. Mostly. That means I make up the story but the historical facts should be true. Sometimes I think I should turn my work into Fantasy so I don’t have to do the dreaded research. Or turn it into Science Fiction. Anything where I can use my imagination instead of the facts.

Facts can be hard to find, especially depending on the time period and place. For instance, I’m working on finishing my spy novel. It takes place in 1946, starting in Wurzburg, Germany, going to Rio de Janeiro, Brazil and ending in Miami, Florida.

If I don’t use a street name or bar that really existed at that point in time, it’s not acceptable. At least not to me. If I don’t use the proper type of transportation, also not acceptable. If I’ve got someone flying on a plane that doesn’t exist yet, oops, not acceptable. And the timetable for flying from Rio to Miami better not be substantially faster or slower than it was then. Lots of “nots”!!!!

Right now my spy is deep in an underground cave in Brazil. I’ve got to get him out. The way he entered is no longer available. An explosion at the opening by ex-Nazis closed it. The ex-Nazis used the cave system to hide in and build a bomb. I plan to get my spy out by water because I read about water entrances into caves in Brazil and it sounded like an exciting way to do it. Of course, this means underwater gear needs to show up somehow and I need to describe how it works properly. In 1946 they didn’t have the same kind of underwater gear they have now. It’s been pretty tricky finding out the information I need.

My main searching is done on the web. I did try using the library once or twice, which was tedious and pretty much a waste of time. On the one hand, it’s great to have the web to do searches because it’s a time saver and there’s so much information out there. On the other hand, how do I know that what I find is true? Just because you read it on the web doesn’t mean it’s a fact. There are so many ways to get into pitfalls!

When I spend time researching, I often feel like I’m wasting time or marking time. I suppose I could make red comments in my manuscript where I need to fill in with fact and wait until the first draft is finished. Oh wait, I tried that and it was uncomfortable to leave things hanging and when I went back I didn’t have the same passion for getting the facts as when I was writing it fresh. Perhaps I need to find a way to regain the passion when I go back because at the rate my research is going, it’s hindering my time line for finishing the book.

If anyone has thoughts or suggestions, feel free.

Posted in author, literature, rewriting, Uncategorized, writer, writing | Tagged | 2 Comments

How Do You Know Your Story (or Novel) Is Finished?

The question, really, is about revision. When do you know you’re finished revising and there is no more rewriting to do? I’ve heard authors answer that question in person and I’ve read about published authors answering that question. My favorite that I heard in person is “When it’s published, but even then………” I don’t remember who the author was, but I sure do remember the answer.

Here’s my favorite answer that I’ve read about:

Interviewer: How much rewriting do you do?

Hemingway: It depends. I rewrote the ending of Farewell to Arms, the last page of it, 39 times before I was satisfied.

Interviewer: Was there some technical problem there? What was it that had stumped you?

Hemingway: Getting the words right.

(Ernest Hemingway, “The Art of Fiction,” The Paris Review Interview, 1956)

When I read that, what I wanted to know right away is, how did he keep track of how many times he rewrote it? He lived in the days before computers. I don’t know if he wrote longhand or used a typewriter or both, but in either case it seems problematic to keep track of that many revisions. And then I kept thinking about the number of times – 39. I don’t keep track of how many times I rewrite things, but even so I don’t think I’ve rewritten anything that many times.

Another way to look at the question of revision is – when can I let go of a story or chapter and not try to tinker with it or change any more words? Is there some magic thing that happens at that point? Is there an inner voice that tells you, “Yes, it’s finished, you’ve done the best that you can do with this, all the words are the right words.”

The question of revision is one thing I’ve been grappling with lately. Knowing when to stop tinkering, when I can let go, when it’s really finished. How about the rest of you writers out there? How do you know it’s finished?

Posted in author, literature, published, rewriting, Uncategorized, writer, writing | 6 Comments

How Do You Determine Your Focus?

Focus is a concept I’ve looked at lately. I’ve asked myself a number of questions. Where should I put my focus? Why don’t I automatically know what it should be? Why do I change my focus? How do I keep my focus where it should be?

I’ve been writing for a number of years now but came to writing relatively late in life. There are many reasons for that, the major one being lack of self-esteem. Sounds cliché, I suppose, but that’s the truth. I got into writing tentatively at first, writing as a solitary person without any writing friends, no writing groups, no real training in writing fiction.

Actually, the impetus for getting into writing was when my father died unexpectedly in 1997. I was working in a cubicle with a computer screen in front of me, as a systems analyst. Good money and I was good at my job but it was SO unfulfilling. I sometimes wondered what the point of life was and couldn’t understand why I had a lack of enthusiasm about much of anything. I walked through my days busying myself with everything around me. My job, my husband, our two daughters. I focused on everything but myself. Hmmmm. Codependent much? Oh yes, but that’s a different blog for a different blogging venue. My focus for this blog is writing, so…..I’ll try to stick to that.

I always wanted to write and kept telling myself things that stopped me. A biggie was that I didn’t have a good enough imagination. When my father died, I was so devastated and depressed that I sought grief counseling. In those sessions, I finally opened up about wanting to write. After months of counseling, I started writing.

At the time, my husband thought I’d lost my mind. So did my boss at work. I handed in my resignation but she asked me to keep on working several days a week while she found a replacement. That was a ruse, I realized, when six months later no one had replaced me. I was working three days a week and writing two. It wasn’t enough and I gave my boss two weeks notice and stuck to it. In leaving the cubicle world, I felt like I’d been released from prison.

After months of solitary writing, one day it occurred to me to take a writing class. Just a little one at the local arts center, once a week for six weeks. That little class helped changed my focus in a huge way. I met someone in the class who attended the Philadelphia Writers Conference and they encouraged me to try it. I did. From there it was off to the races. I loved the conference and couldn’t believe there were so many other people like me out there. I then attended other conferences and started joining writer’s groups and critique groups.

It practically became a frenzy for a while, as I tried to make up the gap of all those years of not writing. I decided to get my MFA in Creative Writing and got accepted into the low residency program at Goddard College in Vermont. It’s a two year program and if you’re interested, you can find out more by searching the internet. If I could do it all over again, I would. It was a magical two years.

After several years of attending the Philadelphia Writers Conference and getting to know the people who ran it, I was asked to join the Board of Directors. Who me? Really? I was thrilled. That was in 2003. In the first few years I went from member to second vice-president to first vice-president to president.

My focus widened and I continued to write and grow. Two places where I got stuck, although I didn’t realize it and/or didn’t want to face it, is in the areas of knowing when a book is finished and in getting my work out there. I’ve been extremely tentative in looking for an agent and/or publisher. And the idea that a book is finished and I don’t need to edit it again, well, that hasn’t happened.

I try not to beat myself up over it and try to focus on the fact that it’s a process. And my process is not someone else’s. I’m not a failure because I haven’t had a book published yet. I’m not a failure because I’m not sure I’m finished with a novel.

In the past my areas of focus have not come from conscious decision-making. I’ve merely gone from step to step in a way that seemed logical. Focus wasn’t even a word I thought about much. But I do now.

I’ve completed three novels. I have two other novels that are close to completion. I’m not sure the three finished novels don’t need more editing and sometimes I think about scrapping them and starting from scratch. Once I heard a published author answer the question, “When do you know your novel is finished?” She said, “When it’s published, and even then…….”

If a published author doesn’t know when their work is finished, how am I supposed to know? I guess I’ll just have to focus and figure it out. And go with my gut, something that I’ve only recently learned to do.

Focus on the issue and then go with my gut.  This is my new mantra. The main issue for me right now is completion. The corollary is to get my work out there, one way or another. My plan is to make these two things my focus for at least the rest of this year.

Hopefully I’ve given you some food for thought. I’ll leave you with a question. Or three. What is your focus, how do you determine it and how do you stick to it?

Posted in agents, author, Goddard College, literature, Philadelphia Writers Conference, published, rewriting, writer's conferences, writing | Tagged , , , , , , , | 6 Comments

What’s a Logline?

I heard the word logline for the first time about a week ago. No, I don’t live in a cave or under a log. But somehow I missed it until now anyway. I was emailing with a fellow writer. I don’t know her, but my one cousin does and had introduced us by email. In the fellow writer’s email, she had written, “The logline for my novel is………….” I noted the new word and went about my business.

Yesterday I went to my writer’s group monthly meeting. A published novelist gave a talk on High Concept Fiction. At least I had heard that idea before, thank goodness. During the talk, the term logline came up! The definition of logline is, as I understood it, a one line sentence that explains your novel. It should tell who the protagonist is, what they are up against and what the stakes are.  And it should make anyone who hears it want to read the book.

I was left wondering why I never heard the term before and where it came from. So this morning I did a search on the internet. The first nine hits indicated that a logline has to do with a movie script or a television show. Hmmmm. The tenth hit was “What’s your novel’s logline?” And the first sentence of that article says that loglines are usually associated with movies but that the novelist would be wise to write one.

Somehow, without my realizing it, the elevator pitch, or hook, has turned into a logline. An elevator pitch is short enough, in my opinion. It is supposed to last no more than two minutes. You need one for attending writer’s conferences in case you run into an agent or editor on the elevator.

A logline would be how long, I wondered. So I went to the internet again and found sample loglines for novels and read some, timing myself. Good grief! We’re down to ten seconds. How do you boil down your 300+ page novel into ten seconds? It’s easy enough for me to understand the idea but I’m sure it’s difficult to write. Write well, I mean.

Apparently it’s what we need to do these days. Yikes. So if we only have one sentence to get an agent or editor’s attention, how short does the book have to be is what I wondered next. A novel now has to be described like a script. Does that mean our novels will soon need to resemble scripts, too, with only the bare bones of a story?

What is happening to the world, anyway? Communication, due to texting, has changed a lot. Kids today have shorthand for everything and use as few words as possible in their texts. And now we get one sentence to describe our novel.

I can’t even imagine what’s next. I guess this is why I don’t write science fiction. I can barely keep up with today.

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Tooting my Own Horn

We will open the book. Its pages are blank. We are going to put words on them ourselves. The book is called Opportunity and its first chapter is New Year’s Day. – Edith Lovejoy Pierce

It’s a couple days after New Year’s Day but I think the above quote still fits. And in this New Year I’m getting back to my blog. It’s been an unintentional long gap but I hope to be back on a more regular basis.

Recently three of my short stories were published in an anthology. Each story started as an excerpt from one of my novels that I revised so that it stands alone. The Reluctant Spy is based on stories my Dad Val used to tell me during my growing up years. War Revisited takes place at the beginning of World War II in Latvia. The third story, Decisions, takes place in St. Petersburg during World War I.

I also worked on the committee that spent more than a year working to put this book together. All the stories and poems come from members of the California Writers Club Tri-Valley Branch. In order to be considered for publication, everyone went through the same process of submitting work, even committee members. The committee carefully reviewed all submissions and even after acceptance, there was a long process of editing and review. I personally worked with seven of the writers.

The California Writers Club’s purpose is to foster professionalism in writing, promote networking of writers within the writing community, mentor new writers, and provide literary support for writers and the writing community. The Tri-Valley Branch supports all genres, writing styles and related professions such as editing, publishing, photographic journalism and agents. We provide an environment where members can obtain critique of their efforts, attend workshops, and share experiences. Founded in 1909, The California Writers Club is one of the oldest professional writers’ clubs in the United States. It started under the influences of Jack London, George Sterling, Herman Whitaker, and Austin Lewis.

I’m very proud of my work on the anthology and, if you want to buy it, you can find it on amazon.com. The title is Voices of the Valley First Press.

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How Do You Stay Motivated?

 That question can apply to writing and anything else in your life. Do you keep the focus on what you want and need or do you let the needs of others dictate your days? Do you need a deadline – real or self-imposed? If so, how does it help? If not, what is it that keeps you working at what you love in spite of life getting in the way?

You might have noticed that I haven’t posted for a while. Life got in the way. That’s the simple explanation. And, there’s always a longer story. But it’s personal and this is not a personal blog. So make something up. Anything you want. And write your own story around it. When has life gotten in the way of your own goals, writing or otherwise? And why did you let life get in the way? Explore it fully and in great detail.

If you understand yourself better, you will understand your characters better (for those of you who are writers). For all of us, when we understand ourselves better, we will accept ourselves as human beings, faults and all and be less hard on ourselves. We will also accept the people around us. We will go through our days with serenity instead of discord. And we will get back to writing. For non-writers, you will get back to that which makes you happy and leaves you feeling fulfilled.

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My Nemesis…..the re-write of Chapter One.

 I’m taking another look at the novel that three agents have all or part of  — again.  To be more specific, I’m looking at Chapter One, the most important one, and the one that has given me the most problems.  I know where my story starts but I’m not always happy with the way I’ve written it.  Part of my concern is that Chapter One holds all that weight.  If the reader isn’t grabbed right away, they won’t get to Chapter Two.  So, I’ve written and re-written, added to and deleted from, and still I’m not 100% happy with the results.  Don’t know if I’m putting too much pressure on myself or what, but Chapter One continues to haunt me.

 In the meantime, I’m reading some books on writing.  Perhaps something will strike me and I’ll have the answer for my particular Chapter One.  Chapter One is so clear and wonderful in my head but somehow I don’t think I’m moving what’s in my head onto the page the way I know that I need to.

 How will I know when I’m there?  On some level, I think I’ll just know.  In the meantime, I’m researching more agents that I want to query and making a list.  Checking it twice.  Maybe three times.  I’d like to reach the group of agents that will be the most interested in my genre.

 And in my spare time, which I don’t actually have much of, I’m working on my spy novel.  At some point soon, I’ll post a little piece of it for you to look at.

 If anyone out there has a bit of wisdom regarding the writing of Chapter One, I’d love to hear it.

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