Annie, the piglet who left too soon.

Sometimes student writers wring teachers’ hearts with true tales of love. My student Melina sent me a touching story which she agreed I could share:

Annie the baby.

“I hate to miss assignments or have excuses but I do not have the heart or mental strength today to work on the two assignments and for that I am sorry.

About a week ago or more we got a baby pig who was the sweetest thing. She was my baby. I fed her every night and morning. I played with her and snuggled her all day and night as she slept with me every night. I hated being apart from her.

Annie is loved.

Last night, I took my brother to the movies and when I came home I grabbed her food bowl to make her happy cause I knew she hated the cage and would be excited to get out and eat. The second I walked in, I knew something was wrong as she didn’t grunt or squeal as she usually does when I walk in and she is in the cage. I found her lying on her side.  I tried to touch her and she did not respond and she had seizures. I picked her up and held her, trying to warm her up but she kept seizing. We took her to the vet and [he said the problem] was something she was born with and no matter what it was, her outcome was very poor so we made the decision to put her down so she did not suffer. [The Veterinarian told us that] pigs can stay like that for up to three days. My heart is completely broken and I have cried since I found her.

I understand if I cannot make up the assignments and have to accept zeroes as it is my responsibility to do my work. Thank you for your time and understanding. I hope you have a good rest of your week. Once again, I apologize.”


8 Myths Embraced by Writers

Some myths will function in the life of a writer, even past 18 years of age. For instance, Santa Claus with his sleigh and Shakespeare being a regular guy with a regular education are two that, embraced or not, won’t change writing careers. Writers may hold onto those or discard them, with little discernable effect.

But writers who believe in other myths are going to have to invest heavily in Tylenol and Kleenex tissues. Once these myths are uprooted, writers may hope to achieve contentment and reason:

1. Getting an agent is a perfect reason to buy champagne. (Sure, Moet et Chandon would like you to think so.)

2. An agent will get your work published. (Apparently, you do not know many other serious writers.)

3. Getting a well-known established agent will get your work published by a bonafide mainstream publisher. (See #2, please.)

4. There is a magic number of queries that, if you can just hold out until you reach it, will guarantee that the agent or editor meant for you by your fairy godmothers will say yes. (I have the numbers locked in my office safe. They correspond with your birth date and genre. Send me a $39.00 Paypal transfer along with your birth date and the genre you write in, and I will get that right to you. Maybe.)

5. If you know someone important, that person will help you get published. (Considering that children helped Tolkien and J.K. Rowling, I would cultivate those immature ties. Friendship with children is the road to a healthy mind and creativity!)

6. Placing first in a literary contest will help you get noticed by agents and editors, leading to a lucrative book deal. (Perhaps. Perhaps not. Take it as praise and don’t pin all your hopes on this.)

7. If you do not get a contract with a well-known publisher, then you should quit writing. (Ah . . . . maybe for a week? If you are meant to be writing, you will come back to it. Despite the Tylenol and Kleenex, there is hardly anything more health-giving than the catharsis of writing!)

8. If you self-publish a really good book, readers will find it and write reviews. (Readers will not find it unless you learn to market. As people are generally distracted and thinking of themselves, most will not leave reviews. You will have to figure out a way to get reviews!)

A Different Kind of Nazi in Paris

517b-t7n-jL._SR600,315_PIWhiteStrip,BottomLeft,0,35_SCLZZZZZZZ_ Junger was a well-known German author and officer during World War II who “met intellectuals and artists across the political spectrum” while living in occupied Paris. As such, he can be considered part of a Franco-German dialogue, if not “alliance.” I personally was interested in this book because I wanted to know the atmosphere of Paris under German domination. Apparently “Junger frequented the Thursday salon of Paris editor for Harper’s Bazaar, Marie Louise Bousquet,” wife of the playwright Jacques Bousquet. Pablo Picasso and Aldous Huxley also attended those meetings. I am just getting into the book and realizing that nothing is black and white–life is always varying shades of gray. Junger, for instance, judged the brutality of fascist sympathizer Ferdinand Celine’s vicious character harshly. It is amazing to see who dallied at these “salons.” In visiting the George V hotel, he would have been conversing with Cocteau and the publisher Gaston Gallimard. This may help you keep reading: “When Junger saw an opportunity to help save Jews at an acceptable level of risk, he did act.” His help proves he had a conscience despite Cocteau’s comment that he had no hands. I think it is wonderful of Columbia University Press to publish Junger’s journal. It will help scores of researching writers and anyone interested in what German officers were doing while in Nazi-controlled Paris. #NetGalley #ColumbiaUniversityPress. arr de triomphe


Who are the real cut-throats?

16Hemley-jumboClaire Prentice, author of The Lost Tribe of Coney Island (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt 2014) made me CARE about a tribe of headhunters called the Igorottes from the Philippine Islands, sweet-talked by an American named Truman Hunt, who saw some financial promise in displaying the 50-odd tribespeople to the American public for profit. I do not blame him for wanting to display them since that was a trend at the beginning of the early 20th century. The tribe was at Dreamland, one of the three big amusement parks at Coney Island, where freak shows displayed any willing people who were “different,” either by birth or culture. (I imagine the lives of all those who were engaged in a circus fashion, to amaze or horrify the public, were as difficult as those of struggling actors in Hollywood today.)

Everything I might have found repellant in the traditions of the tribespeople, who after all, were headhunters, and their primitive way of life (eating dogs for celebrations, for instance) slowly but surely shifted to an abhorrence of their jailor, Truman Hunt. Hunt was a prime example of selfishness, a man who left two wives without a penny and who forced a people whose tradition it was to eat dog perhaps twice a year to eat it every day. If not, they starved, while he made 20 thousand dollars a WEEK and blew it all on women, clothes, hotels and gambling. He made up lies about them frequently to draw in the public

Who are the real vermin? The pages of this book turned so fast for me! I was enthralled by Prentice’s research skills and her ability to write the story with carefully considered human interest, the same that is decried by a few finicky reviewers who say that she could not possibly know what anyone else is feeling. Thus say the potential Truman Hunts of the world! #Claire Prentice #Coney Island #Houghton-Mifflin Harcourt


A Woman’s Stroke Made Me Laugh!

Kimberly In I’m A Little Brain Dead, Los Angeles writer Kimberly Davis Basso describes her experience of having a stroke and its scary consequences.

It was one of the funniest books I have ever enjoyed—and one of the most courageous.

Decades of professional writing experience combine with over 25 years as a theatrical director and producer to demonstrate her understanding of audience:

We are held by fear.
We are held by laughter.

Oh, how well Basso wields this double-edged sword!

I'm a Little Brain Dead

Basso is very approachable via Goodreads, where she patiently answered my numerous questions: Did she describe events truthfully? Did she and her husband really obsess over zombies?

Basso replies:

–We have always enjoyed ridiculous little games and jokes, so the escapism is real. And of course that’s what it is – so much easier to side step into a zombie apocalypse than to play the “what if” game – which is dangerous, scary, and entirely unproductive unless you’re trying to raise your stress level. The chapter called Scared? is my true, honest view of life. Panicking never helps. The bigger the problem, in fact, the less panicking helps. Of course, in day to day life, this is harder to remember. Which is why I backed up that chapter with the also true story of my panic over a medical issue that turned out to be nothing.

“Did your daughter really call you ‘Stroke Woman’?” I ask.

–Yes, she really did. She gets her irony from me, I’m going to say, because I have the caustic wit. I was born in New England, where sarcasm is an art form.

My biggest question, as for anyone writing about a life event, is whether she took notes! Basso replies:

–Oh, the actual notes/writing. I write, I’ve always been a writer. I asked my husband to bring my laptop to me in the hospital, so I had it with me on day two. Hospitals are boring, after all. And I wanted to be able to Skype with my folks who live out of state. I type very fast, I’ve been accused of faking it actually, but I was writing the experience from day two. So that immediacy and honesty is all because it was all still happening.

I think aspiring writers who want to cultivate humor need to know how you did it so well.

——– My best advice is to watch comedians and read how they do it. Read David Sedaris, Read and watch Steve Martin. And read Erma Bombeck.

Have you ever written for stand-up comedians?

—— I haven’t, but I did coach a stand up a long time ago, so I went to all these open mics with him and was able to watch as his stuff evolved. And I’ve written a bunch of comedies (plays). I also had a student (high school) who started off freshman year doing standup. Talented from the get go. His name is Eric Gil. He is still working it- so if you ever come across his name.

What else would you say to writers trying to be funny?

–The rules apply. Write what you know, just write it with unflinching honesty. I’m pleasantly surprised that people think it’s funny. That probably sounds odd, but it’s true. Originally I kept categorizing it as memoir then I realized that nope, this is straight up humor, because that is how all the readers are responding. I mean, I didn’t think it was a tear jerker. But you know, first book, reader reactions are so different from theater audience reactions. OH OH OH and the cursing – don’t do it. I know that sounds odd considering that every other word is an F-bomb – but unless it’s naturally there, don’t do it. The curses in this book were all exactly what I was thinking at the time. And I swear a lot – so yeah. But if I didn’t swear in real life, I wouldn’t be cursing in the book. None were added in for effect. That would be fucking cheap. And EDIT. Ruthlessly. I took paragraphs down to a sentence or removed them altogether if they didn’t work.



The 2018 Etiquette of Book Reviewing

DSCN7023.JPGA lot has changed in book reviewing in my lifetime. Nowadays, professional book reviews still appear in published magazines, both online and in print, but more book reviews appear on Amazon, B & N, Goodreads, varied social media like blogs and on/through NetGalley, a site to which publishers pay money for the right to display the titles they would most like to promote to readers.

What is expected from reviewers? Readers of Goodreads know that many reviewers are hard to please. If a book does not sink its teeth into these reviewers by Chapter 3, an author may expect less than five stars, even if he is Tolstoy. The reviews are sincere, if harsh.

If you read reviews by people who get their books through NetGalley, then “I got this book for free” is the amateurish first line–one of the drawbacks of handing books out for free.

Professional writers know that the first sentence is worth $58. Or close.

Then there are reciprocated reviews. Those are tricky. Authors who review for other authors do not know what they are getting. If they write nice things about bad books, no one will believe them as time goes on.

Still, etiquette dictates a certain amount of grace. If someone is kind enough to give your book a good review–or let us go a step further–if someone is kind enough to give you a great review (without being asked) on a blog and on Amazon and/or Goodreads, that person deserves more than a message of thanks. That person deserves some investigation. Is he or she an author? Might you investigate that person’s writing to repay the favor? (Since you have already received the great review, the discovery of the author being a horrible writer simply means you don’t have to do anything. Be grateful and do not send the reviewer your latest work, hoping for more freebies.)

That is the etiquette of book reviewing in 2018.

You are welcome!