Inch by inch

My first book, Drinking From the Well, had its merits. However I realized that to become a better writer, I needed to find either a magic wand or some sound, practical advice. With that in mind I attended writers’ conferences and workshops. And I devoured books on writing.

Now, eight years later, I have writing students struggling in the same way. I cut to the chase and get them past the magic wand fantasy. Then I give them a sampling of what I have learned about good writing.

Start Strong     What is this story about? I have to let my readers know ASAP. No deep secrets are necessary.

Write One Inch at a Time     Anne Lamott’s book, Bird by Bird has sage advice for writers. But the most golden of all her golden nuggets is: write just one inch at a time. To complete an inch of writing isn’t too daunting. I figure we can all manage that. Then another, and another.

Get Over It     Keep it simple. Simple writing is persuasive – and simple means getting rid of extra words. My worst enemy is: very. I used to think that very added emphasis – but it doesn’t – we all need to keep our sentences free of clutter.

Cut off the right arm     Strive for simplicity and clarity in writing. Does exceptional writing have to be more? More metaphorical? More lyrical? I have written some  lines that I loved, but when they do not support the story, I have to banish them and it feels like I am cutting off my right arm.

Write With Authority     Everyone has heard the maxim: Write what you know. If I want to come across as an authority on the topic of my book, I have to research, research, and research some more.

 Be Authentic     But no matter how much I learn about any given topic, if I can’t sound like myself when people read me, my story will be as ho-hum as a beige wall.

Keep it Palatable     Even the most serious topic must have some levity or readers will just give up.

Finish the First Draft    Even if I write it wrong, I need to finish my first draft. Only then, do I know what I have to fix. When I wrote my novel, The Woman Who Wanted the Moon, I was close to the finish line, yet I knew I would have to rewrite the ending. Nonetheless, I finished the first draft so that I could see when, why and how my protagonist started demanding the change.

Show Up      I have learned that consistency is king. Writers have to do the work – every day –even when we know we will probably end up rewriting everything we are grinding out. We still have to show up, put in the time.

Finish. Period.     Remember the first nugget mined from Bird by Bird– write an inch at a time – you’ll get there! The book I have recently finished reading, Without Reservations, by Alice Steinbach is 295 pages long. Each page has about 5 inches of close-to-perfect prose – that’s 1,475 inches – roughly 123 feet or 41 yards. Keep in mind that the font and spacing are miniscule. How did she finish?

*** PS     If you read this post earlier and are wondering about the name change??? Well, another tip is: never post anything you write in the wee hours of the morning. Often times parts of it will not make any sense in the cold light of day!

Bad taste, Bashing and Bullying

I do not pretend there are no problems in Mexico – there certainly are – as there are in every country.

But I am fed up with all the Mexico bashing. To me, the mudslinging and lumping blame on Mexico – for what ails our northern neighbor – is in bad taste and it is bullying.

Bullies in the schoolyard pick on kids who are smaller and less able to defend themselves. They push them down, hit them, steal their lunches and insult them. This is devastating for the victims.

On the international political scene we see rampant bullying. In fact, the most in-the-news bully actually has U.S. presidential aspirations.

In a recent speech, Donald Trump said that Mexico exports drug dealers, rapists, and others who have an adverse impact to the United States. He said that – clear as a bell.

In Mexico and all of Latin America, his statements have been received with outrage. So much outrage that last Thursday Univision said that because of the offensive comments Trump made about Mexico and Mexicans when he launched his campaign, it was breaking off with the pageant organization – of which Trump is an owner.

“We have seen the work ethic, love for family, strong religious values and the important role Mexican immigrants and Mexican-Americans have had and will continue to have in building the future of our country. We will not be airing the Miss USA pageant on July 12th or working on any other projects tied to the Trump Organization.”

Bullies get furious when their victims fight back. Like other bullies, mogul Donald Trump does not like the fact that his target has defenders and they are kicking back where it hurts – in his case – the money belt.

Trump would not back down from the statements he made about Mexico, but now says his comments were twisted. He wants to take legal action against Univision for breach of contract. Whine, whine, whine!

The mayor of Doral, Fla., the most recent location to host the Miss Universe Pageant, said Univision is right not to air the event. In an interview with Fox News Latino, Mayor Luigi Boria said, “What he said about Mexicans was wrong, it was rude. The whole Latino community should care about what he said about Mexicans. We are all part of the Hispanic community. I agree with the Mexican community, they deserve respect.”

Boria said Trump must apologize. “He better retract what he said before this grows even bigger.”

Trump warns that terrorists can swarm through an “insecure” USA –Mexico border. He suggested that Mexico should build (and pay for) a second wall to keep terrorists from harming “Americans.”

Ahem… Mr. Trump, those living on either side of the USA –Mexico border are all Americans.

Terrorism is commonly defined as: violent acts (or the threat of violent acts) intended to create fear perpetrated for an economic, religious, political, or ideological goal, and which deliberately target or disregard the safety of non-combatant ethnic, political or religious groups.

If you ask me, the definition of bad taste and terrorism has been Trump-ed.

Such a friendly-looking fellow...
Such a friendly-looking fellow…

 

Curve Balls, Dreams and Sandy Koufax

On a hot, humid summer night in Merida, it is most enjoyable to sit in the stands of the breezy Kukulkan Stadium and watch the home team play. The hot dogs are tasty and the drinks are cold… and that is about all I can tell you about baseball. I have never been very interested in watching any kind of sports.

But last night I dreamed that Sandy Koufax would be playing this season with Los Leones, and because I am an English-Spanish language writer, the Diario de Yucatán sent me to interview him. I don’t even remember ever talking about him with anyone. His is just one of the random names I have heard in my lifetime. So where the dream came from, I have no idea.

Pondering that question when I woke up at 6 am, I scurried over to my trusty HP, and once it had also woken up, I checked out “the man of my dreams”.

Born in 1930, it seems that he is still alive, and at 85 lives in Vero Beach Florida.

He made his debut for the Dodgers in 1955. Despite his amazing pitching ability, as one of the few Jewish players in baseball, he encountered bigotry from opposing players and even within his own clubhouse.

His bio says he had the ability to throw an “overpowering fastball and knee-buckling curveball.” In the early 1960s, he had one of the most prevailing pitching runs in baseball history, and he won three Cy Young Awards and one Most Valuable Player trophy. He dazzled in the national spotlight when he set a World Series single-game record with 15 strikeouts in 1963, and again when he threw a perfect game to wrap up a record fourth no-hitter in 1965.

And 50 years ago, Koufax made headlines for adhering to his faith and sitting out Game 1 of the 1965 World Series because it fell on the Jewish holy day of Yom Kippur. He returned and lost the following day, but won Games 5 and 7 to clinch the championship for his team, further cementing his status as an icon to both his religious community and Dodgers fans. To pull a Koufax – meaning to do the right thing when faced with a dilemma – entered the American lexicon.

Despite his string of amazing performances, Sandy Koufax pitched in pain due to arthritis in his left elbow. Tired of constantly taking medication and concerned about his future health, he stunned the baseball world by announcing his retirement on November 18, 1966. He was just 30 years old.

Koufax had a short career but in 1972, he easily earned enough votes from the Baseball Writers Association of America, and became the youngest player inducted into the Hall of Fame.

“I can’t picture people talking about me 50 years from now,” he said in a 1965 Sports Illustrated interview. That has proved untrue; the same magazine has declared him number one on their list of “Favorite Athletes of the Century.”

I truly believe that “everything happens for a reason”, and I can’t wait to find out why I dreamed about Sandy Koufax.

Talk about being thrown a curve ball!

sandy koufax 2

Coming to a book store – I mean – website near you

Every day I aim to post something new on this terribly neglected blog. But finishing my latest book, CIRCLES, has completely absorbed me. From what I remember about having a baby, there are some real parallels to be drawn.

When she first learns about the happy event, the expectant mother considers the nine month gestation period ab-so-lute-ly doable Especially if this is not the first pregnancy – after all, she’s been through the drill before – how hard can it be?

An author figures that the rewriting, editing and formatting will be a breeze. Especially if she has published before – hm-m-m-m-m

How we remember what we WANT to remember.

About half way through the pregnancy, Mama-to-be is starting to feel pretty crummy. Her figure has gone (literally) to pot, and she is overwhelmed with trying to finish all she has on her plate every day. Even bathing is hard to fit in – let alone a mani-pedi or hair color & styling. Who’s looking at her hands and hair – anyway?

The author’s figure has also gone to pot. After so many hours sitting in front of the computer, her derriere has assumed roughly the same proportions as the office chair. Personal hygiene is touch-and-go. She figures, I’ll go on a diet and get back to the gym before the book tour. She doesn’t worry about hair coloring because she’s been working on the book for so long, her hair has turned completely gray – anyway!

As the months fall away and just a few weeks are left, the-very-soon-to-be mother gets a burst of energy. The nursery must be readied, the hospital visit made – all other responsibilities must be faced – head on.

Publishing looms on the horizon for the author and she too has to make so many decisions – the cover, the images, the font, the paper – her picture for the back cover. Yea gads!

When the birth is just days away, Mama calms down. She knows that somehow, she will get through this. After all, nothing is more amazing than a new life – a whole new little person will come into the world because of her. Wow! Her bundle of joy might be president of the country one day – or a doctor, or a famous actor! But there will be a lot of competition for those lofty spots – Mom knows that raising her son or daughter to be an upstanding citizen who can stand on his or her own two feet will be her first priority.

Thinking about her book’s debut, the author is filled with awe – yes indeed – her profession should be spelled a-w-e / t-h-o-r. Her book is so great – how could readers not enjoy it? However, she does not allow herself to get too carried away. She knows there are (give-or-take a few 100,000) about two million other fledgling books floating along on the “Amazon” – keeping hers afloat will be her first priority.

cover

 

A traveler’s tale with a twist

I‘ve been back from Canada for just over a week. I enjoyed seeing so much family and reconnecting with people I hadn’t seen in a long while. I didn’t do the usual shopping, sightseeing or even eating out – I spent almost all of the time with my sisters.

But as my return date approached, I started missing home and felt glad that I’d soon be on my way. However I got fussed about the logistics. I’d be lugging a large box with the doll house inside and I had a six hour, overnight layover.

What if I can’t send my luggage right through? How will I get from Terminal I to Terminal II carrying all that stuff? I hope I don’t fall asleep and miss my connection!

Thankfully, my worrying turned out to be a waste of time, because the way home morphed into a traveler’s tale with a twist.

Most airline experiences these days entail one discomfort and irritation after another, but I lucked out on the Vancouver to Mexico City segment. The Air Canada plane was only about a third full so I had a row to myself and could stretch out for the whole duration of the five hour flight.

I landed at Benito Juárez International at midnight and zipped through Immigration. By the luggage carousel, I spied the cardboard container with my doll house inside. When I got closer, I could see that a thoughtful Air Canada employee had plastered FRAGILE stickers on every side of the box and had wrapped it in sturdy plastic. When I passed through Customs, I got the green light, and then sent my cumbersome belongings away on the connecting baggage conveyer belt.

Because most of the passengers had their own row, I didn’t talk with the young woman I’d met in the Vancouver airport waiting room, but in Mexico City, I found out that she too had a six hour wait for her flight to Aguas Calientes. We decided to go together and find some dinner. We settled into a booth at the WINGS open-all-night café, and I felt surprised when we saw dawn breaking over the tarmac. We had talked the night away!

Oh how Samantha reminded me of myself at her age. Newly married and adjusting to a different way of life, she made lots of comments that took me back to my early years in Mexico. She spoke of her husband and their hopes for the future. She understands they will have their challenges but she seems to feel they’ll find their way through the maze that lays spread out before them. She says she loves reading and that books teach her so much. We hugged goodbye, and she gave me a big smile when I predicted that she’d do well. I hope I get to see her again one day, and that I find out my intuition was right.

The long night caught up with me on the last leg of my journey. I am not usually able to sleep on planes, but I conked out most of the way. Half-dazed, I followed the other passengers off the plane, collected my treasured doll house, and found Jorge waiting on the other side of the frosted glass door.

When I looked at him, I felt like Samantha – in love with Mexico and the man who I’d married from there. And that sweet sensation has stayed with me.

It does us good to talk with our trusted friends. They “get us” and their counsel is valuable. But it is also wonderful to meet new people – of different ages and backgrounds. They see our situations with different eyes. Young people’s perspective keeps us spontaneous, and elders’ points of view help us make wise decisions.

Many times in an airport waiting room or a bus station, I have been a bit standoffish when someone has tried to strike up a conversation. Sometimes I like being alone with my thoughts and I don’t want interruptions. I wonder how many times I have missed the chance to meet a new friend? Who knows – but by keeping myself open to unexpected opportunities – I just might learn another thing or two.

How about you?

Writing and Intercultural Living…

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