Old Moon

Saturday, January 31, 2009

How to...?

Have you noticed the upswing in the numbers of books on how to live well, richly, generously, spiritually, fulfillingly...and on and on? Understandable, given the parlous state of the world. I notice one thing, though, when reading their (usually rave) reviews. Most that come from what we like to think of as "ordinary" people (as opposed to clergy or gurus) appear to be intending their words as guides and handbooks to right behavior, and in particular, one writer wants her book to be lessons for her daughters.

These are laudable motives, I grant, but in the last case, since the author has white hair, one must assume that her daughters are no longer children. I have to wonder whether she's really a little too late.

When I was in graduate school, we had to write a paper on sex education in the public schools with emphases on morality and self-knowledge. At the time, my children were all in their teens, or just beyond. I tried to make the point that the schools can do a whole lot more with the teachers' obiter dicta, their unstated attitudes and implied directions than they could ever do in formal lessons. By the time adolescence is well underway or past, it's far too late to try to pass out instructions. The pupils will already have fallen into patterns, made choices (that they may or may not decide to change later), found their comfort zones.

My feeling about some of these instruction manuals intended to help people live with greater awareness and appreciation (as if each had already received a personal, finite time line) may be pretty ineffectual for nine readers out of ten. It has to take a certain degree of hubris to assume you can tell a stranger those things that are coming clear to you now, and a lot too late to instruct your children about them. You should have taken care of them before their ethics, loves, ambitions, attitudes have become set parts of their personalities.

I certainly wouldn't want to put such ideas of mine out for the public because I wouldn't dare to presume to know what would be useful for strangers, and I know it's too late for my children, and not my place for my grandchildren.

I'd make a terrible missionary.

Saturday, January 24, 2009

The Trouble with Writers' Conferences...

There are certainly times when it's hard to keep up. The last week was one of them. What I haven't figured out is how to balance my writerly concerns with what's of real consequence in so many other venues! Thank heaven for the promise that seems to glow from the White House. May it shine across all the dark places!

Yet, if any one of us expects to help out anywhere, maybe we have to be giving time and energy to whatever our abilities may be if we hope to develop them. So I try not to get discouraged by the advertisements for upcoming writers' conferences and the guidelines for those who hope to attend. Naturally you can't find one for free, and if you could and it was too far to go in a day or lasted longer than one day, you'd have to pay for food and lodging. Plus the conference fee. And then there's the insistent (and understandable) reminder that every seeker for an agent or editor or advice from an author should have a newly-purchased copy of their objective's book visible before making an approach. While I understand that nothing is available for nothing, that it costs money to persuade the experts to expose themselves to the hoards of wannabes, to provide venues and facilities, there seems to me to be something just slightly off kilter here.

Even the wonderful sponsors of these affairs might be able to offer some kind of discounts or "reduced rates," or other assistance to the people who are sweating it out every day just to get the validation even a tiny recompense might provide them if only they could sell something they've produced. I guess what gets to me is that so much of the time, it's necessary to stroke the egos and extol the reputations of the people who are supposed (by advertisement) to be there to help, seemingly with so little thought of the people who have come to receive that help.

One of the most stimulating, inspiring, exciting events of my life was a writers' conference I attended almost exactly 20 years ago. My husband figured I could have the car for the requisite 3-day weekend, and we'd manage the room and board somehow. Thank goodness there were "scholarships" offered in each classification. Being granted one on the basis of a story I submitted made it possible for me to go.

If I could, I'd go to a conference every year just for the incredible high of being among others with similar aspirations and to get the experts' help. Ironically, my scholarship story was critiqued (for perhaps ten minutes) by a then prestigious author, whose only comment I recall was that it was too sentimental. When I sold that story a few months later, I began the slow process of coming to the realization that you simply can't tell what will sell or to whom. What you can do, and it seems to be the only thing you can do unless you have plenty of disposable income, is to find somebody who will read it--your poem, your story or stories, your novel, your memoir. If only people could read it, there would almost certainly be somebody out there who would be glad they did.

Which brings me back to this: the blog, the network, the word-of-mouth and the sympathetic ear. My great regret is that I didn't figure this out 30 years ago, or try it 20 years sooner.

Friday, January 9, 2009

The writing life; professional editing; subsidy publishing; e-books

January already, and not only do I not have any resolutions (I refuse to make public anything I know I can't keep up), but I believe I've re-made an old resolution, which was never to pay to have something published. I turned down a deal that offered to put out my book--for a price.

Thanks to a friend who has adopted me and my faltering ambitions for quite some time now (thanks again, Glenda), I've been introduced to someone who might be able to help. So my third novel will get the attention the first two should have had. An experienced (and from her correspondence, I deduce a sympathetic) editor will see what can be done to help me find an agent. Twice before I've sought and used such help, but frankly, the assistance wasn't really what I knew I needed. Let's hope this time it will be different.

I also have a new contract from the publisher of my first book. The initial publication will be as an e-book, which is better than nothing without any question. It's just that I'm too old to appreciate it until I see it in print on paper. Even if I could afford a Kindle, I find it difficult to imagine I could enjoy reading that way--at least as much as I do with a book in my hand. We all need to get over that, of course.

So if the New Year can make us who feel we have to keep writing ready to face into the wind yet again, it's a good thing. Maybe someone's inspired word will help someone somewhere to weather even a few of the storms shaking our poor world just now.