Tuesday, October 10, 2017

What’s Wrong?

a.k.a The Art of Diagnostics

Some months ago, I had an odd sensation of my throat swelling. I went to sleep thinking I was likely coming down with something. I woke up the next day with a swollen tongue to boot, and a vague unease in my digestive system. The swelling was mildly sore, nothing that would make me reach for medication.

I also felt peculiarly tired and, while all fit with a possible reaction to infection, I somehow felt there was something different about it.

Long story short (love this peculiar expression)— after trials and tribulations, and a wandering set of symptoms getting worse, better, then much worse, I found the culprit. The natural sugar alternative Stevia, otherwise revered by natural food folks, was causing a sort of allergic response from my immune system. Until then, my body was not known for reacting to anything that wasn’t attacking it. I don’t remember having verified allergies to anything, even as many around me did. There was the suspected reaction to Penicillin, never verified. There was a sort of reaction to mascara, also not clear. All go back to adolescence, and penciled in my medical records with a question mark.
But, really, not really.

So in my quest to solve this problem I didn’t make the right connection for a while.

This reminded me of the process of writing. There are times when a writer knows something is just not right, but all suggested feedback rings false. For myself, I will attempt the fixes anyhow, if only to try to be the humble and receptive person I aspire to be. Then, the fixes make the story need other fixes, and eventually nothing is working.

It’s a matter of accurate diagnostics.

When it comes to doctors, be they medical or book doctors, a good diagnostician is the most important quality. If you are one, or have such on your team, you’ve hit the jackpot.

Tuesday, October 3, 2017

Ye Shall Dwell in Booths...*

*Leviticus 23:42

The seven-day festival of Sukkot is an odd one if viewed without context. Jews are commanded to make insecure structures with porous roofs that allow us to see the stars and let precipitation seep in. We are to eat meals and spend nights in those “booths” (some translate it as “huts”) for seven days.

All this— to remember our ancestral forty-year journey to the Promised Land, dwelling in tents for two generations.

All over the observant Jewish world, these structures are erected according to specification, and then decorated to the hilt. I have warm memories of this from my childhood in Israel, where even the marginally observant just had to have a Sukkah, (=Booth) even if we mostly decorated and rarely dwelled.

In my current home, I tried to give my kids a taste of it. Our non-Kosher hut (because it was a section of our entry-porch, and the only solid part was, alas, the roof) was not a place to sleep. But we had a couple of lunches in it, and like in my secular upbringing in Israel, we spent more time on decorating than being in there. The neighbor’s cat, though, adopted it immediately and did the Mitzvah for us.

{{{I highly recommend the movie USHPIZIN, one of very few made by ultra-orthodox Jews, and telling a beautiful tale that stars the holiday of Sukkot.}}}

The point was to remember. To recall where you came from and pay homage to the struggles of those who went before.

I no longer attempt a sukkah, even for our cats. But, you see, the holiday starts tomorrow, and I remember.

Tuesday, September 26, 2017

What’s *NOT* Working?

I’ve received editorial feedback along the lines of—“I like the premise, but not the voice.”

This usually means the idea & setting were good. But “the voice” (the personality of the narration, i.e. my writing) didn’t appeal.

 I’ve received editorial feedback that said, “I like the voice, but the plot is full of holes.”

This generally means that my writing is appealing, but either the premise or the unfolding of it isn’t working.

I’ve received editorial feedback that the writing was skilled and the characters appealing, but this and that detail ultimately made this story commercially unviable.

This usually means it’s pretty good, but needs more fixing than editor has energy or passion for and, frankly, hotter properties are flowing in the transom with abandon.

And these were reactions to the same manuscript.

I’d like to learn from everyone. But this is confusing, confounding, and crazy making. (The three “C’s for short.)

What these reactions have in common is simple: we don’t want to pursue this to publication.

Where they differ also contains a shared a point. It tells me something is off, whether the feedback has labeled it or not.

What’s a storyteller to do? Let it sit. Let it sink. Then get back to work.
Don’t give up, because that’ll not even be a C. Giving up, while legal and legitimate, is also an automatic F. 

Thursday, September 21, 2017

It’s That Time Again

The thing about traditional holidays is that they come with a regularity. This reminds us of the unrelenting passage of time, and also of times past.

 In this way the repeat celebrations act to sort of stop time.
Because---- there they are.


Happy Jewish New Year

Tuesday, September 19, 2017

Who is a FRIEND?

The Internet and its lingo have created many new words, and also changed the meaning or use of established words. I have heard much lamentation on linguistic deflation, going back to the halcyon days of pre-electronic “interneting.” But what has been happening since the end of the last century is a snowball of changes, which will make this post outdated before it’s even out there.

Some of the new uses of old words are brilliant marketing and not much else. Getting congratulated on having to pay for something you could do without by EBay, telling you you’ve won the race to the top and will pay more than others were willing to, is an interesting way to frame it. Who doesn’t want to be a winner? Soon after, the seller’s feedback bursts apoplectic with feedback that says you’re an A+ and “recommended.” When was the last time you got such a grade and got to have a package of whatever show up in the mail to boot?

Some terms are imaginative and somewhat literary. Trolls, for example, are mischievous trouble-stirrers in Scandinavian mythology. Seems they’ve come back from the deep woods to flood the internet and cause more heartaches than their ancestors ever did. It also seems we’ve all become noisy birds in the Amazonian jungle, whether we are tweeting or making a purchase on the virtual river.

But possibly the most confusing is the use of the word friend on the social network to beat all others.

Confession: I am a participant in all the above, and while I entered reluctantly, I’m happily there now. I have more than a thousand Facebook-friends, and though most asked for my hand, I’ve asked for some and in the end it doesn’t’ matter who initiated.
 My Facebook friends are for the most part kid-lit writers and/or illustrators. We have loads of Facebook-friends in common. I enjoy the illustrators most of all, because it’s a visual medium and I get to see their work when they share it. I also appreciate the trials and triumphs of writers, and the relevant links they share. I look at these Facebook-friendships as a loose professional connection.

A few hundred of my Facebook-friends are people I know in real life. That means we’ve met, and I harbor the possibly illusory notion that they will recognize me on the street. An even smaller number are family or true-blue friends. {Some of my closest friends are not even on Facebook, but that’s another matter.} On that plane, Facebook has been a powerful tool to find people I used to know. I was surprised not only to re-establish some contact, but to discover how much I enjoy seeing their pictorial posts and have the “where are they now” question answered, at least as far a public sharing goes.

For that matter, it’s touching to see how open and vulnerable some are willing to be on this forum. It assumes that most people will not abuse this vulnerability, and this very assumption is a beautiful thing.

The thing is, I know the difference between friends and Facebook-friends. I noticed that when I link a more personal post from my blog to my timeline, any reaction I get comes from the true-blues.

This brings another case of word hijacking: Like or LIKES. I get many requests to like this or that, and you know what? I am a holdout for using these the old way. I will not “like” that way. If I like (or love or wow or L) it’s a spontaneous and real response. I have yet to like on request.

I mean, someone has to stand up for the old ways, ey?

On the soon-to-be eve of the (Jewish) New Year, I’m thinking about the new, and the old, and where I’ve been, where I am, and where I hope to be.

And if you’ve read all the way to this paragraph, I like you. I really LIKE you.

Tuesday, September 12, 2017

Try to Remember that Time in September...

My memory isn’t what it used to be, and never was.

But then, I remember the odd things.

Sitting with old friends, I remind them of the time some years back when they were renovating their bathroom and found their contractor sleeping off a hangover in the (dry and empty) bathtub.
“It’s amazing that you remember that,” they say.

Would anyone forget such a sight, even if relayed second hand?

Walking with a friend, I remind her how ten years ago she enlisted a city cop to drive us to her car, parked a few blocks away on an empty side street. We got out of a play and it was dark, and she decided it was unsafe. A policeman reluctantly gave us a ride in his marked-fully-lit-“cage,” And I told her that if any of my acquaintances would see us going by I would never forgive her.

“I forgot all about this,” she said. “You have an amazing memory.

Dah-ling, it was my one and only ride in a police car (so far.) Would you have forgotten that?

I remind my husband of the first time we met, when he walked into the textile gallery where I worked . It was September. He remembers it not at all.

Now, really!

I probably won’t remember your name unless you repeat it a few times, and then some. I often forget where I parked my car. I consistently manage to forget at least one essential item from my grocery-shopping list (and forget the list on the refrigerator.) 

But some things, dear September, I remember.  

Tuesday, September 5, 2017

The GIANT Experiment

Those of us who use the Window 10 operating system must have noticed the ever-changing screen photos that Microsoft so generously gifts us, always with the question at the right-hand corner of the screen asking whether we like their new selection. 

The choice of reply is couched in the gentle affirmation (“I like it”) or gentler negation, (“Not a fan”) with the promise to change the photograph if you clicked on the latter.

I noticed that the Microsoft deities change the ones I liked almost as fast. I also noticed they bring back some I decidedly was not a fan of before, and told them so. With the exception of two photographs in the many I have given feedback to, none were really what I wanted to have on my screen. But I found myself saying I liked the ones that were not too queasy-making after a whole series of truly unpleasant photos appeared as I feverishly clicked on the Not-a-fan option. I was ready to settle for the Not-as-awful ASAP.

Granted, all the photographs are technically brilliant. All would have their fans somewhere. But I tend to dislike close-up photos of  mechanical implements (think gears, tools, and such) or icy winter shots during a cold spell. I don’t care for the photos that give me vertigo, either. I’m not a fan of the desert or any arid landscape, having come from a land that has too much of that.

I want green and lush. I want to feel nourished. Once in awhile, the Micro-deities indulge me. I click on the positive, and get to “keep” the image for a wee bit. They have yet to offer what I really love— a cozy indoor space replete with rich traditional textiles and many books. I’d stay in such a space forever.

This whole thing got me thinking about the purpose of this operation. The Micro-deities do not do things without a purpose. So, Bill—what gives?

Until someone somewhere tell us the whole story, I have concluded this is some sort of experiment where the algorithms calculate not only who likes what, but also how fast they are at telling. This would explain the returning of rejected images. Maybe they were rejected on average at 1.2 seconds before, and on second round, they are rejected faster/slower. I wouldn’t be shocked if someone at one of the Ivy-leagues is compiling the data, paying the Micro-deities a handsome sum, and devising the cleverest way to market something.

It isn’t personal, and no one has to reply to the prompts. But you know what? I’d like to know what. That is— what’s up with that?

Tuesday, August 29, 2017

How NOT to Fall*

*...off the cliff, while hanging on by the fingernails

This blog post appeared a few months back, but I find it one to bookmark and return to.

The gist of it is that feedback on one’s work, while essential and helpful, is not to be treated as sacred and infallible.  I would say it even more strongly: it is, like we all are, biased and fallible.

What is left for creatives is to discern what helps them, and what is unhelpful or worse, i.e. toxic.
This is just as hard a process as the initial making something out of nothing, be it writing, painting, or composing. Just as hard, and much less enjoyable.

But discernment on how to use feedback is indispensable.

Early on, I took every single point to heart. Then I learned what worked for me. Here is the way I go about this stage—

A.    Feedback received, read, and with tears blurring my eyes  I type a Thank You  note.  I’m grateful for the time and thought they gave. This is not a fully digested reaction to the content.

B.     Letting the feedback rest for a time.

C.     Marking the points that make perfect sense with an exclamation. This part is actually enjoyable, not only because every fix is a clear improvement. What makes sense also makes me feel this reader understood my work. Then I make the suggested changes one by one. By now I feel I’m working, and things are looking up.

D.    Mark the points that maybe possibly sort of make sense to me with a question mark, to be addressed later.

E.     Mark the points that seem completely off with a red dot. I will return to them only after I digested all the rest, and have gotten more feedback from another beta reader.

F.      Keep the feedback as a printed or word file, because someday it will either resonate fully or be the funniest thing I ever read. But when fresh it’s not funny. 

I go through more or less all the above with all feedback. I continue to seek it. I do my best to give helpful feedback. It’s part of the writing life, and in a way, part of life, period.

Tuesday, August 22, 2017


I can hear the sighs. Is it the end of August? Already?

Yes, that. Already.

Got me thinking of how we’re continuously surprised at the passage of time. You’d think we’d have gotten it by now.

And this got me thinking about now, and about another “already”—

The things I’m all ready for right now.

I’m all ready to start drafting a new Middle Grade novel.

I’m all ready to let anxiety abate about dear ones and the world in general. Worrying hasn’t been helpful.

I’m all ready to make a positive contribution to the general pool, and accept feeling good about it. (Hint, I’m ever-so-very ready to have an acceptance or two in the pile of rejections in my inbox.)

Yup, I’m already ready. 

What are you ready for?
Let’s do it together—
Ready, set, GO!

Tuesday, August 15, 2017

Thank You, GOOD People

The other day someone snatched a laptop from a café close to my neighborhood, jumped into a car and drove off. The laptop owner, a talented local musician who had his work stored on it, pursued the thief by clinging to the fleeing car, with tragic consequences. He was dragged, and died of his injuries.

This was an exceptional result of something that has sadly become all too common. Laptops, cell phones and IPods taken in full view of others because someone thinks they need not work or pay for what they want.

Only two days later, DD had gone for a walk with a friend in a nearby town. While visiting the Berkeley Rose Garden, now fragrant and in full bloom thanks to a good rainy season, her IPod managed to evaporate. At first, she assumed she had possibly left it at home. But when she returned, the whole family scoured the house and, no IPod.

It seems very possible, in light of the oh-so many swipes and snatches, that someone may have helped themselves to her pocket when she was distracted, smelling the roses, so to speak. But it was also possible, just maybe please –let-it-be, that it fell out of her pocket, and was still somewhere on the ground.

But if so, what were the odds it wasn’t picked up and pocketed after that?

DD remembered that the Rose Garden closes after dark. But she and DH drove there, and with the help of flashlights, it took but a minute to see that although the garden gate was indeed locked, someone had left her IPod off the ground right next to the gate.

And there was more. When an IPod is locked, apparently there is no way to open it and see who the owner might be. But there is one thing you can do, and that is take photos with it. The people who found it and left it so thoughtfully where she could come back for it, also left their faces by way of saying Hello.

We don’t know this family, but we love them. If you know them, thank them for us. Small acts like this make up for a lot. I’m also thankful for the many passers-by in Berkeley who chose not to take the IPod as it sat, waiting for DD by the gate, for five hours.

I will make sure to pay it forward, somehow.

Tuesday, August 8, 2017


...a.k.a nom de plume

“...What is your name?”
The child hesitated for a moment.
“Will you please call me Cordelia?” she said eagerly.
Call you Cordelia! Is that you name?”
“No-o-o, it’s not exactly my name. But I would love to be called Cordelia. It’s such a perfectly elegant name.”

From ANNE OF GREEN GABLES by L. M. Montgomery ©1908

Ever since I read these lines, way back in the wee days of self-conscious awakening of middle childhood, I knew I had a bosom buddy in Anne Shirley who so desperately wanted to be called Cordelia.

I’d already named myself many times. I have a prescription my mother saved from when I was two, and told the doctor my name was Skippy. What two-year-old would want to be called Mirka if she could be Skippy?

For authors, the pen name (or pseudonym) is an old and venerable tradition. The French idiom for it, nom de plume,  literally means "name of feather," which harks back to the quill pen, a writing implement used since 600 AD. The nom de plume used to be a way to hide identity if the writing was too racy, too politically sensitive, or just plain not the sort of writing one wanted to be known for.

Nowadays, most of the above reasons don’t hold for long. It’s too easy for an interested party to trace the true identity of a writer, and we don’t worry about casual interest. Only the truly interested could pose a potential problem down the line.

Most authors who opt for a nom de plume do so for reasons of branding. They may want to publish under different names for different genres of writing, or re-invent themselves after a less than brilliantly successful debut. Or, like Anne-with-an-E, they may find their legal name uninspiring.

"Oh, I'm not ashamed of it," explained Anne, "only I like Cordelia better. I've always imagined that my name was Cordelia—at least, I always have of late years. When I was young I used to imagine it was Geraldine, but I like Cordelia better now. But if you call me Anne please call me Anne spelled with an E."
"What difference does it make how it's spelled?" asked Marilla with another rusty smile as she picked up the teapot.

"Oh, it makes SUCH a difference. It LOOKS so much nicer. When you hear a name pronounced can't you always see it in your mind, just as if it was printed out? I can; and A-n-n looks dreadful, but A-n-n-e looks so much more distinguished. If you'll only call me Anne spelled with an E I shall try to reconcile myself to not being called Cordelia." 

I have come a full circle from my days as Skippy. I have made peace with my legal name, and branding is something I still can’t wrap my head around.  I seek authenticity in what I read and what I write.

But every now and then, I wonder.
Dalilah Corazon?
Jo Bunkerville?
D. D. Durk?

Ah, the possibilities.

Who would you be?

A good article about the challenges of choosing a pen name is linked here.

Tuesday, August 1, 2017

The Art of the SELFIE

Well, I knew someday I would try my hand at this thing called selfie. After all, everyone is doing it—

Even if not everyone approves—
^^^Former President Obama, Former British Prime Minister Cameron, and the former Danish prime minister Thoring Schmidt taking a selfie at Nelson Mandela’s funeral. Michelle was not amused.
Sometimes I just want a photo of me with some iconic landmark in the background. It’s an I was there without asking others to take time and take the picture. Other times it’s Proof I’m still alive.

I see folks of all ages doing it. It’s not just for young’uns anymore. Something else I noted— no camera needed. The mobile phone has replaced it and few other things to boot.

My few attempts so far have been rather pathetic. It helps to have a good phone, and it helps even more to have the ability to pretend it is not a phone you are looking at. Maybe I should take acting classes.

But I can’t leave you there. Here’s a link to a post by someone who does know how to do it. I like this link, because it makes no pretense that selfies aren't show-offies. But if we are vain, might as well be successfully so.

Still working on it^

Tuesday, July 25, 2017

The Incidence of Coincidence

Still thinking of the passage of years, I wonder what are the odds that someone I knew for only a year in second grade (and haven't been in touch with at all) would pop back into my life fifty plus years later, and halfway around the globe, and we’d turn out to be living in the same neighborhood.

I know, this is “too improbable.”

Well, it happened to me.

Here we are in second grade. We were good friends living on a tree-lined street in a lovely neighborhood in west Jerusalem.

And here we are a short time ago having coffee two continents away in our lovely neighborhood café, on the west coast of the United States, and what-da-y’know, also on a tree-lined street.

If I get another rejection to my fiction novel where the editor says the coincidences in my story are improbable, I’d have to point to this blog-post and add a few even more striking “improbables” from my life. I can document them all.

Fiction has nothing on real life when it comes to the amazing weave that is the fabric of our lives.

I’d love to hear about your improbable incidences, and no need to call them coincidences.

Tuesday, July 18, 2017

This Is Called an ANNIVERSARY---

How do we count them?

By one plus one, by five plus five, by ten plus ten, and then...

If we’re lucky, we get old. If we’re very lucky, we get old together.
©1993 By Karen Shapiro
{Best wedding present you can get if your friend is a talented artist}

We get silver anniversaries, and then our hair tells the same. Hair color gives us gold at the golden anniversary.

Black & White photographs make all those colors timeless. They also fade less, and so once a year we can look at them and think---

We weren’t babies. But my, we were young(er). ^

Tuesday, July 11, 2017

Do You Have a Bucket-list?

The other day I realized my bucket-list is just about empty.

{Clarification: I count only the things I can significantly affect, not wishes like winning the lottery, publishing with a big-five house, or becoming the queen of England. I suppose I could take steps to make any of the above improbably possible, but my list had only the things I could do if I chose to do them.}

The few things that were left on my bucket-list just leaked out or evaporated, as in an open bucket left in the sun for days. A few I had actually accomplished, at least to my own satisfaction even if no one else knows it.

Among the wishes that turned to vapor were—

*Standing in Moscow’s Red Square as snow is falling in January. Think Doctor Zhivago.

{Somehow the romance of it has gone away, and I hear it is much nicer in summer, anyhow.}

*Staying at a five-star hotel or an English country estate for a week with nothing to do except have breakfast in bed and stroll by the river before afternoon high tea.

{The budget isn’t there for this, but neither is the charm. I’d rather watch Masterpiece Theatre with others doing it.}

*Spending a month in Kyoto, Japan, taking in the traditional aesthetic.

{Something of this remains in me, but it’s barely a whiff of a longing and I recognize it as wishing inner balance and peace, not a physical space.}

And so on.

Bit by bit my bucket has emptied. I don’t know if this is a good thing, or an ominous sign of folding it in.

Oh, and I did want to write a truly great novel. I’ve done that, and my agent is shopping it. So far no takers, but for myself that one got checked off: done.

Do you have a bucket-list? How have you gone about emptying it?

Tuesday, July 4, 2017


Achieving independence is not a little thing.
 Maintaining independence may even be a bigger thing.
Learning to balance independence with interdependence is the greatest thing of all. 

Countries, like individuals, families and clans, are not lone wolves. We’re at our best when we find and sustain the precious balance of autonomy and interconnectedness. 

This is what I resolve to continue to work on, and celebrate today.

Tuesday, June 27, 2017


Not complaining, mind you. I live in the land of eternal Spring. But it’s also the place where Mark Twain famously said, “the coldest winter I ever spent was Summer in San Francisco.”

So while we are not sweating away, nor sipping lemonade on the porch, some things are decidedly summery.

Days are longer…
Dinners are later…
            My kitties wake me up earlier…

And I continue the rhythm of not writing first drafts until the school year resumes.

I no longer have kids at home climbing on my knees as I try to concentrate. Well, DD is home, but she treats me more like a suite-mate than a padded chair. I don’t have the excuse of years past that I will wait until they are back in school during the day and I can count on uninterrupted time.

However, I discovered that re-charging the creative batteries is serious business. For years, I wrote original stories from September to late May, and only revised or polished in summer. I found this rhythm worked for me.  I’ve kept it.

The Gershwin song Summertime casts its spell, magical and wistful as ever.

And the livin' is easy
Fish are jumpin'
And the cotton is high
Your daddy's rich
And your mamma's good lookin'
So hush little baby
Don't you cry
One of these mornings
You're going to rise up singing
Then you'll spread your wings
And you'll take to the sky
But till that morning
There's a'nothing can harm you
With daddy and mamma standing by…

©Shelagh Duffett 

Yup, it’s summer.