Josephine's Dream Reading

Josephine's Dream Reading
Trying to look like Josephine Baker - and failing miserably!

Niagara Falls

Niagara Falls
Conquering the Beast

Friday, January 30, 2009

Writing and Housework Both Need (Self) Discipline. 'Oh, No - Not That!'

No doubt I've mentioned before that I'm not a tidy person. My apartment is a mess (my husband and son seem to take their cue from me), and my mind is also a bit of a shambles. Some people have tidiness in their genes. A place for everything and everything in its place. That was one of my late mother's favourite sayings. Of course, nine years ago, when I had to sort through her belongings and empty the house, before she moved to Donisthorpe Hall (it sounds like a girls' jolly boarding school, but it's actually just a very nice old people's home) I was reminded of my mother's other favourite saying: 'Never throw anything out. One day it might come in handy.'
But I digress.
Now and then I frown at my boxes of papers, photos and manuscripts, the piles of stuff, and - when the sun is shining too brightly - the coating of dust that shrouds every surface, and I despair. Sometimes, if I have lots of energy, I galvanize myself into a short-lived cleaning and throwing-out frenzy. If I'm not feeling too energetic, the sight of all this mess will paralyze me, and I throw myself onto the sofa and close my eyes. I imagine a team of pixies flying in through the window with dusters, brooms and garbage bags. They fling some fairy dust and floor wax around, and when my eyes finally open ... House Almost Beautiful! Perhaps one of them will have even finished writing my novel for me.
Ah yes, imagination is a wonderful thing. It won't scrub out the bathtub or vacuum under the bed, but it will help me write a story. Which brings me back to the shambles that is my mind. Some of you can identify with this problem. The notes are beside the computer. The half-completed re-write is in the document file. The plot ideas for my novel tumble around in my brain like clothes in the dryer. The characters jostle for attention. But other plots and characters also try to attact my attention. What a mess (a creative mess, but still a mess). If only I could re-boot myself.
It took me years to recognize that I have a disability. Just as I have difficulty sorting things out and throwing away what isn't needed in my apartment, I also have that problem with my writing. 'Put it aside,' I say to myself, or 'Throw it away' and 'Don't listen to that other plot that keeps nagging at you.'
Easier said than done. Sometimes the writing and housework problems overlap. Those bits of paper, those notebooks lying around, make most of the mess. Alright, so the dustballs don't help.
Those of you who can focus on the task in hand have my undying admiration. The rest of us get frustrated and overwhelmed. So let's use strategies. We untidies will never have tidy minds, so everything will always take an extra effort. The first thing we have to do is stand up and say, 'My name is -------(say your name) and I am an untidy person.' Acknowledging the problem is half the battle. Self awareness. Most problems can be solved in some way. If you are very young you could ask a parent or a teacher to help you get on track organizing your work, your thoughts, your locker.
A good strategy is to set a goal.
I'm flying off to Los Angeles tomorrow morning, and I'll be back on Wednesday, the day before my birthday. On the Jewish calendar it's also a couple of days before Tu Bishevat - the birthday of trees. A celebration of newness and growth. How appropriate! As soon as I get back I am going to start, one box and one pile of papers at a time. I'll begin with the living room - that's the room that most people see - and I'm going to do one hour of cleaning a day. I am also going to spend one hour every night finishing my work-in-progress. I will ignore all the other stories demanding my attention until the first project is finished. It will take nerves of steel and the strength of ten, but we untidies have to work just that bit harder. It is always worth the effort.
And let's face it, those pixies are never going to do it for us.

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Chocolate Lily Nomination!

My short novel 'Honey Cake' has been nominated for this year's Chocolate Lily award. It's up against some stiff competition, but I'm proud to be listed alongside such remarkable books and authors.
Check out the link below if you want to see the full list of books. Maybe you've read some of them.

Saturday, January 24, 2009


For those interested in hiring me for an author visit - check out the Cwill BC website (first link below) and the CCBC TD Book Week 2008 site (second link). That's where you'll find out more about me and what I do.

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Dark Humour Coming up. Don't Say I Didn't Warn You.

Every week the Cwill BC Blog has a Tuesday Tell-All. Questions are asked such as, Who inspired you to write, and What advice would you give a beginning writer. This week's question is, How would you finish this sentence, if you were writing the opening scene of a novel?
"I had just slammed the door, when ..."
Well, I just couldn't resist. It was an inspired moment, and I want to share it with you. I confess that I have made a couple of punctuation changes and subsituted and added a word or two. Otherwise it is pristine.

I had just slammed the door, when I noticed Norris's head rolling towards the television set. Further proof that our floors are uneven.
Too late I recalled Norris's frequent admonishment. "If you keep slamming that door without paying attention, one day something terrible will happen." He was right - or is it 'he was correct?' I'm always confused about that, and it irks me. Grammar is so important, don't you think? As is paying attention when slamming doors.
I must admit Norris's expression right now is not as pensive as it was when his head was attached to his body - which, I suppose, must be on the other side of the door. It reminds me of those open casket funerals where everyone says, "Ooh, doesn't he look peaceful?" I always want to say, "Well of course he does. He's dead. How much more peaceful can you get?" But you can't really do that at funerals, can you? Make a scene, I mean. It's hardly tactful.
Well, I suppose I'd better get a mop and bucket. Make a nice, hot cup of tea. And then call the police. They'll be very cross with me.

If you are still with me, get someone to give you a rather benign sentence, and see to what heights you can take it.

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Miss Rafferty and Other things ...

I wrote something on the Cwill website today, but thought it belonged here too. When I was very young I had one - only one - teacher who encouraged my writing. Her name was Miss Rafferty, and I hope she had a great life. She might still be around. That would be nice.
Miss Rafferty praised my eleven year old efforts to write poetry, and read out to the class a fairy tale I'd written for an assignment. Anyway, on the strength of this I told my mother that I was going to be a poet when I grew up. She turned very pale and broke the news that poets don't make much of a living. She wanted me to become a nurse.
I would have made a terrible nurse.
Thousands of people are alive today because I didn't become a nurse.
What my mother didn't tell me was that you can actually be a poet, or writer of fairy tales, or painter, or sculptor, and have a day job to pay the rent. I figured that out for myself, so I have a day job and I write stories. If your mother wants you to be a brain surgeon or a lawyer or a fisherman, make sure you want to be those things. Of course, there are stories in all those jobs.
Though here's a tip. If you happen to be in the middle of operating on someone's brain, and you get a sudden inspiration, don't break off what you are doing to write it down. Wait until the patient is all sewn up again.

Dov Turns 18!

This doesn't have anything directly to do with writing (everything is indirectly to do with writing). My son turned 18 today (don't let anyone tell you time doesn't fly - it does). Yesterday he pretended that he'd got an electric shock from the t.v. Yes, as usual I'd set myself up for it by telling him to be careful. I can't claim to be much of a traditional mother, but there are some things I do that are normal mother things, and one of them is saying, "Be careful, be careful be careful!" Anyway, I clutched my recently attacked heart and he realized that maybe he shouldn't have tried the amusing gag after all. As he hugged me - he's about a foot taller than I - we happened to be close to a mirror. I said, "I look like an old hag." And my son, who inherits a way with words from both his parents, said, "Oh Mom, you just look like a twelve year old who needs more sleep."
How sweet (I think).

Thursday, January 8, 2009

A Book Award for 'Honey Cake.'

Pass the champagne - well, no, maybe not champagne. It'll give me a headache. Better pass a cup of hot, strong sweet tea, because my book, "Honey Cake," (see reproductions of cover on the right hand side) is a Sydney Taylor Book Award winner in the Notable Books of Jewish Content catagory. It's a big thrill for me and I feel honoured and humbled.

So raise your cups of tea,
And drink a toast to me.

It's not like the Oscars. I don't get to wear a black, sequined gown and borrowed diamonds. Nor do I get to stand up in front of millions and make a speech - which is a shame, because I've been working on that speech since I was about seven. But if I did get to make a speech I'd thank my parents for sending me to ballet and tap class, for taking me to the library every week, for buying me books and for telling me stories. I'd also thank my publishers, Tradewind and Random House, and my editor Cindy and my illustrator Cynthia and my U.S. cover artist Joanne.
Okay everyone, enough celebrating. Let's all get back to those re-writes!

Saturday, January 3, 2009

Maybe it Has Been Done Before (but not by you)

I just received an email from a friend in England. She's an amazingly witty and articulate writer, but seems to have a difficult time just getting down to it. Anyway, she told me that she'd had a wonderful idea for a story while she was doing the washing up, but thought the idea might have been used before. Then she thought she heard my voice telling her to get on with it anyway!
Yes, just about every idea has been used before. But you, dear writers, have your own way of telling a story that hasn't been done before. Do you know how many Cinderella stories there are? Hundreds I believe. They come from France, Germany, China, England, America, The African Continent, and many other places too numerous to list.
So yes, there are tons of stories about mischievous children (and please - it's pronounced MISS CHEE VUS'), even more stories about naughty dogs (I'm writing one now, even though a friend of mine wrote the BEST series of books about a naughty dog named Stanley. The writer is Linda Bailey. Be warned though, her books are so funny you'll laugh until you hurt). There are tons of books about a kid on a quest in an alternate universe. But guess what? Each one is told in a different voice, and each quest follows a different path.
So if you think of a story that might have been written before, remember that it hasn't been written by you. My friend in England - the one doing dishes instead of writing - is correct. She did hear my voice telling her to "Get on with it!"
p.s. Actually, it reminded me that maybe I should be doing some dishes!

Friday, January 2, 2009

It's 2009. Time to Join a Writing 'Family.'

I belong to Children's Writers and Illustrators of British Columbia (Cwill BC). In fact, I'm the treasurer. That's not the sort of job they should have given someone who does math by connecting dots, but I'm thrilled to say that so far we've remained 'in the black.' That means we don't have to file for bankruptcy, so I'm doing okay.
Cwill is a big family (well over a hundred members). We talk to each other at meetings and through e mails. We ask each other for advice that relates to writing, illustrating and publishing.
'How much did a pint of milk cost in 1884?'
'Were any of the roads in Paris paved by 1322?'
'Where can I find a medieval Spanish lullaby?'
'Does anyone know a good literary agent?'
Questions like that come up all the time.
It helps to have a writing family. There are at least two writers I know that I 'talk' to regularly by e mail. We give each other advice, tips, suggestions and encouragement. Now and then I cry on their shoulders ("Boo hoo. How can I make this plot believable? Why won't this character work?") Once in a while they cry on my shoulder. Every writer needs that kind of support.
Do you have friends who write? Maybe you could get together sometimes and discuss the problems you have as writers, or the things that work for you. Help each other out. Everyone knows something that other people don't know. Share. That's what families do.