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Always a Mother

May 14, 2014

Tags: handwriting, mother, knot

When you come to the end of your rope, make a knot and hang on
Some months ago, I was engaged in clearing out my mother's apartment. Sitting gloomily in a semi-empty apartment on the best chair I could find, my back to the bookcases, where the sight of the empty shelves was like a knife to the soul, I had a thick pile of papers on my lap and a large garbage bag open at my feet. I had been working for a few hours and was feeling exhausted.
My brother and sister-in-law came by, and began sifting through some piles of their own. I rubbed my temples to clear out the incipient headache that was taking up residence there, and I muttered with a huge sigh, "I'm so exhausted. I'm at the end of my rope." My brother and sister-in-law made sympathetic noises and continued their work, and I glanced down again at the papers on my lap. Another for the garbage. I slid the sheet of paper expertly into the bag yawning at my feet and went to lift the next one, a small sheet of yellowing paper, torn at the top, with my mother's handwriting on it and what looked like a squiggle below. I read it, gasped, jumped to my feet, waving it in the air, unable to speak. When I got their attention, I showed it to my brother and sister-in-law, who both exclaimed in disbelief. In my mother's distinctive hand the paper read:
When you come to the end of your rope, make a knot and hang on!"
The squiggle below was a quick sketch of a piece of knotted rope.
My sister-in-law whispered in awe, "She answered you. She's here with us."
My mother had died a month earlier.
In my mind, I heard her voice clearly, as I stared at the piece of paper shaking in my shaking hand, and I knew these were the words she would have said. She had little patience for the faint of heart. I stretched, straightened my back, and went on with the sorting, glad that I had witnesses to such an unfathomable moment.
The piece of paper with her message sits on my desk and urges me forward with my life.
She is gone, but I know she will always manage somehow to tell me what I need to hear.


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The BLOG HOP

May 12, 2014

Tags: Blog Hop; writer; novel; Alison Gardiner, Helen Shankman, Iza Trapani

the book addict

My good friend, the writer, Alison Gardiner, tagged me for a Blog Hop, which sounded like a fun way for writers to reach out to each other's blog-worlds, so I urge my own visitors to be sure to visit her at her blog, Alison Gardiner
She's a terrific writer with a wonderful sense of humor. You won't want to miss this.
So here goes, plunging into the Blog Hop!
This May blog post will answer the four questions that make up the Blog Hop and recommend other blogs for you to check out:
What am I working on?
For the past two years I have been struggling to produce the novel I always thought I would write. By the age of nine, I knew that words were my passion. I read voraciously and wanted to grow up to become one of the writers whose books I so admired - the rock stars of my youth!
In the past two years, I actually produced 90,000 words and some characters and scenes I was really proud to have written, but somewhere in all the writing and revising and the long pauses in between, I lost the thread and tension of my story. The 90,000 words read like short episodes that failed dismally to build to a climax.
Perhaps this flawed creation is that first novel that every writer writes – the one that gets hidden away and never gets published?
My first published book, SIPPING FROM THE NILE, My Exodus from Egypt [Encore, 2012] is a memoir of my unusual childhood growing up in an Egypt that vanished after the Suez crisis of 1956. It was written in fits and starts in hours stolen from my busy life as a wife, daughter, mother, grandmother and literary agent. It is, of course, nonfiction (although I had wanted its subtitle to be “an impressionistic memoir”) My many years of advising writers reminds me that nonfiction writers are often unable to cross the Great Divide from nonfiction into fiction. Then I remind myself that many reviewers remarked that my memoir “reads like fiction,” so I vacillate between mourning the death of my dream of writing a novel, to hope that all is perhaps not lost.
After months of focusing on my guest blogs and monthly blog posts as well as various other articles and nonfiction pieces with some poems and essays thrown in, I plan soon to attack my fiction block, head on. I plan to take those 90,000 words apart and rework some of those characters and scenes into short stories, hoping they will keep my “fans” interested enough to hang around waiting for the novel that may indeed be hovering somewhere in the middle distance, refusing for the moment to come into clear focus.
And I do intend to write it.
Lately, vivid inspirations have laced my insomnia with insight, but each time, a heavy lassitude and the sloth of sleep deprivation made me delay writing anything down, planning to commit my deathless prose to paper or computer "in the morning.". Sadly, when I really woke up and reached for a pen, no words had survived the surprise of the sudden sweet early morning sleep that snatched me from my musings and plunged me into oblivion.
How does my work differ from others of its genre?
Such a difficult question, since I do not usually write to genre. My hope is that the novel I write will defy pigeon-holing and take its place somewhere as an absorbing read, with memorable characters and a story that enthralls: a very tall order I know, particularly since we know that my earlier effort is flawed beyond redemption, but I live in hope. At least I have no ambitions to write The Great American Novel. I suppose that somewhere in the soul of this dreamer, lives a realist.
Why do I write what I write?
I wrote my memoir because I wanted to preserve my memories of childhood in a vanished world for my grandchildren to discover. I now know that the book has traveled far beyond my family. It has reached over 30,000 readers, and I have been amazed and delighted to hear from so many strangers who found, in my life story, echoes of their own feelings and experiences in very different life-contexts, seeing it as a universal tale of reversals and survival. That is a true thrill.
As for the novel-in-progress, I love words and the ways in which words can free my consciousness to explore lives and stories other than my own. I write, because defining thoughts and defining the life I observe in words is my love and my craft, my hope, and my dream.
How does my writing process work?
I don't actually have a regular writing process. Whenever I can find a few hours, I sit in front of my computer and immerse myself in writing. Like reading a good book, I can work for hours if left to it, without feeling the need to interrupt, which is why it is so hard to find the right block of time. I write, read it aloud to myself, re-read next day or a few days later, edit, re-write, and go through the whole process again and again. I like to write everything down as it comes to me, and then sculpt and weed until I feel really pleased with the result. I am a firm believer that self-editing is the hidden key to success, and I try to follow my own advice to others.
Now for the tagging. Let us spread our wings outward into the ether and help each other.
I strongly urge you to visit these authors and enjoy their blogs and websites. I have so much enjoyed their writing. I hope that you will find the same pleasure in discovering them for yourselves. I also hope you will scroll down my own earlier posts and click on some of the links on the left:
Alison Gardner
Alison's writing is vibrant with energy and humor. As well as the shorter pieces, she is working on fantasy and mystery novels for middle grade readers and her delight in the craft and the limitless world of writing makes her work a real pleasure and fun to read. Her quirky sense of humor is addictive and her blogs make me laugh out loud. Take a look at the Haggis!
Helen Shankman
Helen is both a fine artist and a superb writer. She has written a rich multi-faceted novel, THE COLOR OF LIGHT, recently published, that takes place within the vivid background of the art world she knows so well. It is a vampire novel, a love story, elegantly written, that surprises and delights. Her short stories are deeply moving and have their roots in the Holocaust, where her parents lost most of their extended families. She designed her own beautiful book jacket.
Iza Trapani
Iza writes and illustrates the most delightful picture books for young children and their attached adults, as well as any adult who has not lost their inner child. Take a look at her website (you can click to it from her blog), as it displays her many wonderful published books. I also strongly recommend scrolling down her blog to last Valentine's Day love-poem. It's a charmer!



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