I seem to be in a poetry writing phase, now my book has been published (here's the link again if you want to buy it on Amazon A Hippopotamus at the Table). I've written three new poems in a week and two more longer ones are started and being planned.
Today I went to a celebration of a wedding, a Jewish wedding, two people who have been together for fifteen years and are older than me (even). I met this couple - Glen and Sharon at the Buddhist retreat I was on for a month in December, in South Africa - although they are not Buddhists and only stayed for ten days, we bonded and became firm friends. They stayed in touch and were kind to me when I returned to Jo'burg some months later after travelling to Botswana, Bulawayo, Zimbabwe and various other places down the SE coast of the Cape (if you click the Travel Writing tag at the top of this blog/page you can read all about it.) They took me out for a lovely meal on my last day in S Africa (at the end of February) and drove me to the station to catch my plane. We've stayed in touch ever since. They often visit UK to see Sharon's daughters and grandchildren. It was such a pleasure to share their celebration and to hear songs in Hebrew and watch traditional dances).
I brought a couple of poems to the event and was asked to read them out - they're on the essential nature of relationships and the joy they can bring . Here's they are
An intake of breathe
starts our solo adventure,
and we discover we're alive.
If you’re there, waiting
on the shore,
the demons can't ever drag me down
into the cold watery deep.
I can bring the boat home
and tell of mad and plunging seas,
escapes from waves as big as houses....
But solo, without you waiting,
crowded thoughts will buck and kick,
corralled, no one to tell.
Tell me of your day -
the smallest details are
the music of our company.
Sharing my day, the who said what
to her or him or me,
we chase back the wild dark seas
and the rhythm of my voice
brings comfort and order
to your voyage.
Mattering is everything,
not just in general
but in particular.
To have a place to harbour,
to anchor our souls,
brings us safely to the quayside.
Writers I thought you might be interested in this article I found... it talks about keeping the genre simple, making it easy for publishers to see where it fits. Of course with memoir writing this isn't so easy. Your genre may not fit into a neat category. My book definitely was a hot potato as far as publishers were concerned - a memoir about white people living in South Africa under apartheid? How do we classify that? Who wants to read that? :
a writer, there are any number of factors you can't control. Don't neglect the
ones you can!
published isn't easy. Each day there are more aspiring writers competing to win
the attention of a finite number of publishers. And while every editor hopes to
discover the next big thing, limited budgets mean that even quality work isn't
guaranteed to sell.
But you're different. You're talented, focused, and hungry. You understand that
getting published takes more than just craft. It also requires market savvy,
professional networking, a little luck, and most of all, the commitment to keep
going through the rough times. All of which you have in spades.
Congratulations; that combination is all you need.
So long as you don't knock yourself out of the game.
Before I sold my novel, I joined critique groups and took MFA classes, attended
conferences and schmoozed with authors. Along the way, I met hundreds of
aspiring writers, many of them very talented, capable of illuminating raw human
truths, of crafting sentences that hit like a punch in the eye. Some of them
will make it.
The reason is simple: One way or another, many authors handicap themselves.
Swept up in the idea of writing, they make mistakes that limit or negate their
opportunities. Here are six ways to make sure you don't cripple your own
the beginning and write to "THE END" Imagine you paint houses for a living, and you love
it. You've got a terrific project coming up: great lines and multiple stories
that intersect to form an elegant structure. Do it right, and you'll get the
chance to paint another, and another, maybe for the rest of your life. Given that, what would you do? Would you begin with
the garage, stop mid-way, paint a patch around the chimney, then abandon that
to stain the deck? Would you split your attention between three separate
colors? Would you decide you'd rather paint a different house altogether? Or would you look at the whole, plan your attack,
then pick up your brush and work in steady measured strokes until you were
done? Writing a novel is much the same. One of the
worst-and most common-mistakes writers make is not focusing. It's fine to think
about the upcoming sex scene, or to daydream about the big finish. But start
writing on page one and keep going till you get there. While the glamorous
parts are more fun to write, focus solely on them and you'll neglect your
narrative. Likewise, it's dangerous to work on multiple
projects. Completing a single book can take years. Try to write three at once,
odds are you'll finish none. And while it's practically guaranteed that
somewhere in the midst of your novel you'll get an idea for a better one,
resist the temptation. New ideas are the lace lingerie of writing, but novels
aren't made of one-night stands. Like any relationship, commitment is key. Cherish
forward motion When I was working on my first novel, THE BLADE
ITSELF, I had a note taped to my monitor that read, "You are hereby
released from writing the perfect novel." It was a sentiment that helped
me navigate hourly crises of faith. Every time I began thinking that the book
would be better if I went back and reworked, I read that mantra and forced
myself to live it. The net result was that instead of constantly
revisiting my early chapters, I finished a first draft. It wasn't pretty. In
fact, it was snarled and awkward, with characters popping up unannounced,
significant timeline issues, and an internal geography that would drive a
cartographer off the ledge. But it was done. And everything else could be
fixed. Sure, sometimes you have a thunderbolt that
absolutely forces you to revisit what you've written. But for most cases, consider
maintaining a separate document of ideas and problems. Jot them down as they
occur, and don't worry about how daunting the list looks. Mine ended up
fourteen pages long, but once I had a completed story, fixing the flaws was
simple. And never forget: One complete rough draft trumps
ten polished-to-a-high-gleam first acts. Hate
yourself in the morning Everybody writes differently, and it's important to
find the time and method that works for you, whether that's doing two hours
every day or locking yourself away to churn out twenty Saturday pages. Which
method you use isn't important. What's important is that however you write, you
need to set specific goals: page count, word count, finishing a chapter. And
you need to feel badly when you don't meet those goals. There's a writer I regularly see at conferences
who's been writing the same book for six years. Every time I ask how it's
going, he tells me how busy he's been, how work gets in the way, how he's still
planning it in his head. That's fine, of course — it's his prerogative. But
no matter how good a writer he is, I'm not holding my breath to see his novel
on the shelves. The best way to complete any project is to break it
into small pieces and then steadily accomplish those goals. For me, the goal is
a thousand words a day, five days a week. Sometimes I get more, sometimes I
barely scrape by, but on the rare occasions I leave the chair without that word
count, I beat myself up badly enough that the next day I more than make up for
slacking. It seems harsh, I know, but the truth is that if
you don't put one word after the other, you simply won't get there. If you want
to be published, you have to treat this like a job. Worry
less about selling out and more about selling I once read a manuscript, a crime story about a cop
who had a passion for Hummel figurines. This was a side interest in an
otherwise tough guy, and the novel was beautifully written: lush prose, vivid
characters, a genuinely tense storyline that revolved around a well-researched
political scandal. But still, Hummel. The author had written himself into a niche without
meaning to. The sum total of Hummel aficionados in the world doesn't outweigh
the complete disinterest of the rest of us. And so despite having a great story
with plenty of suspense, what the author had seen as a quirky character trait
ended up labeling, and dooming, the book. Writing a book is art. Art
is personal. Your characters and story say something about who you are and what
you treasure. Selling a book is commerce. The rules of commerce
dictate that the more people interested in what you're writing, the likelier it
will sell, and the higher the price will be. The trick is to find a balance that lets your art
function as successful commerce. This isn't about hitting the least common
denominator; it's about avoiding niches. They may be comfortable, but they're
cramped, and you want room for as many people as possible. It's a
musical fantasy thriller, with lasers There's so much talk about having a "big idea"
or a "high concept" that aspiring authors often feel like it's not
enough to simply write a compelling book. Admirably enough, they want to do
something unique, something that breaks fresh ground. Unfortunately, many
attempt to do this by mixing genres. This is, by and large, a bad idea. It can be done. It can even be done brilliantly, as
in Joss Whedon's Firefly, a sci-fi television series about intergalactic
smugglers operating on border worlds similar to the American Old West. It was
an unexpected concept that worked. An audience will always respond to a
forcefully imagined world. The problem is that no one knows how to position the
finished product. Think of it this way: booksellers need to know
where to shelve you. If yours is a crime novel, they put you with Dennis Lehane
and Lee Child; if it's literary fiction, they put
it beside Michael
Chabon and David Mitchell.
If your book features blaster-wielding damsels tap dancing against the clock to
prevent a terrorist attack, they put it down. Genre is a marketing tool. It tells publishers how
to promote something, booksellers where to stock it, and fans where to find it.
So as temptingly fresh as cross-genre novels can be, they're risky. Firefly is
the perfect example: the writing was spectacular, the world vivid, the idea
original. Critics raved and fans swooned. The network canceled it halfway through the first
your book about?" is not a trick question Novels are like children — we obsess about them,
delighting in their successes and agonizing over their failures. So it's no
wonder that for many authors, condensing their story is a tougher battle than
writing the thing. However, it's worth the fight. Because sooner or
later the person asking the question will be an agent. When that happens, you don't want to have to make
up an answer on the spot. Instead, have a couple of "hip pocket"
versions in different lengths: a sentence, a paragraph, a two-minute pitch. For
example, my one-sentence pitch is "The Blade Itself is the story of a retired
thief who has to fight for his new life when his old one comes looking for
him." Did I leave out a lot? About 86,974 words. But I conveyed the
essence of the story, said the name of my book, and most importantly, respected
my listener's time. It's a difficult art, but a crucial one. The
ability to present the core of your novel in a few words shows an agent that
you're serious about the business and that you really understand your own
story. Plus, as a side benefit, you may find that boiling down your book helps
clarify the story in your own mind.
In conclusion... Getting published isn't easy. The best things you
can bring to the table are a terrific book and a willingness to work hard. But
beyond that, remember that a little forethought and some care can make a world
of difference. After all, in this business there are any number of factors you
can't control. Don't neglect the ones you can