Monday, September 14, 2009

The Edits You Take Are Equal To The Edits You Make

I'm back to blogging after a bit of a hiatus. Things have been crazy between work, life, and my biggest writing/editing project yet, helping emerging author Jeannette Katzir get her memoir ready to go to print. We're almost there . . . just a quick meeting to tie up some loose ends tomorrow and we should be good. The next steps: query letter, book proposal, and the rest of her magical marketing package.

It's been such a pleasure to work with her, especially since it's been more of an editing/coaching situation than just a straight up "Here, I fixed your punctuation" type thing. Everyday I can see her writing get more solid, more fluid, more impactful. Be proud, JK. Be very, very proud.

I'm discovering that a couple months of serious editing work has really paid off in my own writing as well. It's true what they say--editing someone else's work can strengthen your own. I didn't even realize it was happening until I revisited an old story of mine tonight and recognized weaknesses in it that I had never been able to identify before. But now, with that editorial voice ringing in my head, shaking a scolding finger at passive voice and tsking at extraneous words, I am able to see the faults I often miss, blinded by the knowledge of my intentions.


Thursday, May 21, 2009

Sites That are Good for the Soul

I have recently started to collect good karma websites . . . the ones that promote sharing and creativity and all that wonderful junk. So if you're looking for a pick-me-up, I recommend investigating one of these jobbers:
This little gem is rising in popularity, but I continue to be floored by the number of people I meet who do not know this site. The beauty of Pandora is that you get to design your own radio station, based on artists or even specific songs that you love. Pandora will play music with a similar style, including music from artists you may never have heard of. So not only do you have control over your own radio station (you can tell Pandora when you don't like the song that's playing), you also get to discover music that doesn't make it on to conventional radio.

Good for the little-known artists, and thrilling for listeners, too.
Genius. BookCrossing is an exercise of free-love, hippie-meets-message-in-a-bottle book sharing. You register a book onto the web site, journal about it (your review, etc.), write a message on the inside cover explaining and giving that book's own specific ID number, and then you leave it in a public place. Just leave it. Just set it down any old place and walk away. Ideally, someone will pick it up, open the cover, and see the instructions guiding them to log onto BookCrossing using the ID number. They they read it, journal about it on the website, and release the book back into the wild to do it all over again.

All the while, you can track the book's journey . . . how far it goes, what lives it touches . . . I get a high from every book I abandon in the corner of a coffee shop.
This is another get-a-book-for-free site, only without the serendipity. On BookMooch you can actually search for a specific book, and if someone else has it available to you, they mail it wherever you ask them to, at the sender's expense.

The catch is that you can only request a book if you have book points, and the only way to get book points is to first send off a book. It's a community of book-lovers supporting one another's specific literature needs, all the while adhering to that old adage: In the end, the books you take are equal to the books you make. Or something.
Etsy is a marketplace for crafters/artists and the folks who love handmade goods. On Etsy anyone can sell his or her handmade goods, on the condition that the product is completely handmade or vintage. All Etsy asks in return is $0.20 for every item a seller posts and .35% of every sale. Not bad, huh?

There' s also a bidding option . . . if you want to give Great Aunt Nona a set of homemade napkin rings for her 80th birthday, you can log onto Etsy, put a request out for the item, and sellers will bid for the opportunity to make you some good old-fashioned napkin rings using nothing but their bare hands and a big bucket of love.
This is a site run by HarperCollins in an effort to find a few diamonds in the rough. Budding authors can upload the first chapter or so of their latest novel and open it up for comments and critique from fellow writers and readers. All the while, HarperCollins keeps an eye on the action, and periodically they select the pieces with the highest reader approval for review for possible publication. Nothing is guaranteed, of course, but the writer has nothing to lose, and a lot to gain from peer review. Even for the non-writer it's a treat . . . how often do readers get a say in what books deserve publication?

That's my list. Get online and get happy.

Monday, May 4, 2009


"Okay, we're going to the park!" my boss Nicole announced in her sing-songy way, ushering her two-year-old son Elie out of the bedroom.

"First attempt!" she called as she slipped out of my view, a reference to her habit of returning five or six times after she leaves to get yet another forgotten necessity for the day's outing.

I wished her luck and spread her big white bath towel out wide, folding it in two halves, then into thirds, just as she requires.

Working for Nicole is simple and warming most of the time, the work she gives me often enables my mind to wander, composing stories in my mind to be written down when I arrive home at the end of the day. And even when the work involves some mental energy . . . even when I'm arguing with tech support over a faulty computer or trying to explain to her son why you can't kick sand on little girls at the park, it's still work that's good for my mind. Working inside someone's personal life is in many ways an honor, and working within a family provides constant reminders of the tiny moments that define relationships and personal growth.

Only seconds after Nicole announced their departure, I heard Elie's rapid stomping footsteps returning to the bedroom. Naturally I assumed that Nicole had indeed forgotten something she needed and Elie came back to play, having grown bored with the extra two seconds it took his mother stop by another room of the house to retrieve a forgotten object.

He approached me and with a smile I greeted him as I often do,

"Well, Hello, Friend!"

He looked up at me, his tiny mouth set in a focused frown.

"Abi," he said. He waited for a response, which took me off guard. Usually he plunged into whatever he needed to say, letting his words run together to keep up with the speed of his shifting wants. "Abicomeplay." "Abihelpplease." "Abicomeeat." But this time, there was a pause. There was a need to know I heard him, a need to know he had my full attention.

"Yes, Elie?"

He took a deep breath, then spoke.

"Can you give me grape checker?"

I was baffled.

"I'm sorry, Elie, can you say that again?"

He took another deep breath.

"I need grape checkout, pweez."

I turned and gestured toward the toys nearby, assuming he was looking for something on a shelf out of his reach.

"Can you point?" I asked. "Can you show me?"

His eyes panned the shelves, his brow furrowing. He was reaching a level of serious I had never before encountered on him.

He tried again.

"Grape jacker, Abi. Abi I need grape jacker, pweez." This time his words were accompanied by his usual gesture of explanation, a quick twisting of the wrists which is really only effective if he's asking me to turn the dial on the radio or shake a bottle of Pepto Bismol.

"I'm sorry, Elie." I really was. "I don't know what you mean."

He sighed and looked at my feet. He looked defeated. I felt defeated. He was a man on a mission . . . a man governed by something greater than the impulse of the moment. A man asking for something he needed not only for the present, but for the future as well. Elie had a purpose. And I was entirely incapable of helping him fulfill it.

I was just about to suggest he ask his mommy for whatever he needed when he raised his round eyes back up to me, and said, "Abi, I would please like a gray jacket or a red jacket, if you would be so kind."

Okay, this may not have been his exact wording, but this was how it sounded to me when my brain finally wrapped itself around the sounds emerging from his mouth, and I know this was how it sounded to him when he realized I understood what he needed.

I hurried over to the bed, where a pile of his freshly-laundered hoodies lay and picked up a gray jacket and handed it to him.

"On, or just to carry?" I asked him, one adult to another.

"Carry," he told me with great confidence, tucking the prize under his arm. "And a red one."

"Oh, I see," I said, digging through the pile for a red jacket. "You want options."

He nodded and I fulfilled his request. He thanked me, smiling widely and rushed back to the entryway. I heard his tiny voice as he approached Nicole, calling out, "Mommy I got it! A grey one and a red one!"

It was wonderful how such a small victory seemed so big . . . to both of us. Elie was sent on an assignment, given a responsibility, and succeeded. And somehow I thought I was a super genius for helping him succeed. It was even a victory for Nicole who responded to Elie's cries of success with a message to me.

"See, Abi!" her voice rang out from the entry way. "I didn't come back!"

Then the front door closed and Nicole and Elie left . . . on the first attempt.

Bravo. Bravo for us all.

Monday, April 6, 2009

Also . . .

. . . Still in love with Justin Townes Earle. If he asked for me to marry him right this minute and run away to Dixieland, I'm not entirely certain I'd say "no."

The Coffee Stained Writer is Neat and Here's Why:

I just got high off of writing a message to friend and freelance writer, Nicole.

Why did I get high, you ask?

Because as I was writing to her, I realized how tremendously reassuring it is to have a friend in the same business, and especially to have one with more experience and wisdom to pass along. And even more importantly, one who checks in on me about my progress and keeps me updated on events and resources I might not know about.

Yay. Yay for Nicole. And yay for Nicole's blog:

In recognition of National Poetry Month, she's been posting a lot of poetry and poet information that has reignited my respect for an art form I've got no business trying to do myself. : )

Sunday, April 5, 2009

Clear It Out!

Today was a day of uncertain mood. There was something I did not particularly like about the world when I woke this morning, though I couldn't put my finger on what that was. This feeling of distaste for an unnamed force persisted throughout the day, redeemed on occasion by some good old fashion Spring cleaning.

My brother popped in with his almost-step-son to reinvent our garage as a rehearsal space for my almost-nephew's band. Oh yes. There is to be a garage band at my house. I am that hip.

Mostly, I let the strong menfolk do the work, standing by only to make sure that precious items like sewing patterns and boxes of unused fabric don't end up in the trash pile via the male mind. Before I ran off to the Apple store (bad battery on my PowerBook), Phil and Drew had created two equally enormous piles: keep and throw out. I was impressed. And refreshed. All the garbage that I used to trip over in the garage was about to be gone. All the stuff Phil and I still needed to live our lives would be carefully packed away, but at last accessible. And the space once occupied by broken CD cases and painty t-shirts would now house the instruments and ambitions of my step-nephew and his friends.

Next thing I knew I was clearing out the fridge, reorganizing my "office" area, responding to neglected emails, returning neglected calls, punching out work I'd been avoiding.

None of these things completely melted the sinking in my gut. But even so, I was moving forward, wasn't I?

Saturday, April 4, 2009

Justin Townes Earle

I haven't fallen hard for a new musician since my Fine Frenzy discovery a year ago.

I found Justin Townes Earle this past Tuesday when he opened for Jason Isbell at Spaceland. It was so unexpected . . . I was expecting decent background music at best, but this fellow is not a background performer. He draws in focus using nothing more aggressive than a warm introduction, his easy Tennessee accent bubbling like a creek bed.

It's impossible to not watch him: his impossibly long and lanky body, his floppy Colonel Sanders bow tie, his greased hair. He hunches over his guitar and tilts his head into the microphone. His voice, his lyrics, his eyes all communicate sincerity. I think that's what gets me: the sincerity. I love the music, but I'm a lyrics person, first and foremost, and the words of his songs are so beautiful and simple and honest. So genuinely honest.

Justin Townes Earle rocks my world.

Tuesday, March 31, 2009

The orange tree in my backyard is blossoming. It smells like peace.

O! Blessed Inspiration!

Last Saturday was Earth Hour. I observed it alone.

I did not know how this would go. The notion of an hour of darkness appealed to me as a notion. Such an hour would force creativity. Friends would connect over conversation instead of television. Lovers would have few options other than to get close. Clever games would be invented, secrets shared, candles lit. But all of these virtues required the presence of another person. And last Saturday, at 8:30 p.m., I was alone. What's more, it was my first evening alone since the break-up. I had not wanted to give myself too much solitude, out of fear that I would reflect too much and therefore analyze too much and therefore obsess too much. But now I had to be alone with myself in the dark for one full hour.

I lit the collection of candles gathered on my kitchen table, trying not to notice that the only matches I had were from the pub where I occasionally met the fellow (the one I just lost) for drinks. I stole my brother's yellow writing pad, found a pen with a nice glide, filled a wine glass with water, and--at exactly 8:30 p.m.--shut off the lights.

I thought I was going to write a story about a young woman facing a dark room after heartbreak. But as I poised my pen over the paper, I realized I was burned out on writing stories about young women like me. So at the last moment, I took the dark room with the shuttering candlelight and put someone else in it. Someone completely different. Someone who had never made so direct an appearance in anything I'd written before.

And in that hour of writing someone else's story, I managed to be honest with myself without obsessing. When my phone alarm went off at 9:30, I kept the lights off for another thirty minutes, not wanting to interrupt what had begun so unexpectedly. I had found something sacred and rare. It was one of those moments when the story rises up from some place within, some place I hadn't thought to look. The character spoke without my guidance, the action came and went without force. It was natural and it was necessary.

It was also poorly written. Which is why I am working on it still. Nevertheless, the story excites me. More importantly, the heart of the story excites me. Which brings me to my bit of gratitude for the day.

All day today, I thought about my story. I work as a personal assistant, and I had one of those days--as I occasionally do--where 90% of the work I was asked to do is fairly mindless . . . folding laundry, stuffing envelopes, etc . . . Last week, days like today threatened to turn my mind into a churning stew of what-if's and if-only's. Not so today!

Thank goodness gracious, not so today.

Sunday, March 29, 2009

Of Heartache And Pockets . . .

My heart broke last Monday night.

And that's all I'll say about it. I've outlined the breaking of my heart to too many people this week for it to be theraputic anymore, and anyway, the last thing I want is to create a blog that exists for the purpose of pressing my woes on to the world. This blog is not about heartbreak. This entry isn't even about heartbreak. It's about the healing of heartbreak. Or no, you know what? I'm going to go one step further and say that this entry is about the joy that results from heartbreak.

When I lost this fellow, I called on very nearly every friend I have. And very nearly every friend I have responded with massive, wide-open hearts.

My brother, with whom I have dissected and analyzed everything from the role of religion in politics to what it means when your ex changes his/her myspace profile song, sat with me to dissect and analyze the nature of heartache.

My friend Ryan allowed me to pull him away from his writing to watch nine episodes of Futurama. Nine.

Alo, whose schedule does not mesh well with mine, checked on me regularly until we could find a time to talk, at which point he gave me some of the best relationship advice of my life.

Angie talked to me on the phone for a good hour or so, promising prayers and support while I healed and then distracting me with conversation about how rare and remarkable our friendship is.

Frazzini called me immediately and offered to meet me somewhere to sit and listen to my ranting and wailing (never mind the fact that she lives half a land mass away.)

Bruce stayed up way past his bedtime to share what he's learned about love.

Nora carved time out of her Friday night (an evening usually spent with her boyfriend) to drink tea and listen to my story, carefully offering some advice, but generally just validating my feelings and sharing the occasional insight.

Drew didn't tell me much about any of it, only that he understood. Then he watched The Office with me.

Jill distracted me with funny stories about her weekend.

Jackie, who had not heard from me in a year or so, immediately called me back and listened to the whole story, responding--as she always has--with nothing but heart and understanding.

By the time the week was up, I felt so blessed. The hurt is still there, absolutely, but with each conversation, I feel a small bubble of peace, which gradually expands into a safe little pocket of joy. Now, all these little pockets of joy are crowding out the sacs of pity and regret. Heartache is confronted by Gratitude. I'm not expecting a pure victory for Gratitude and its Pockets, but I can't help but notice what a difference it makes.

I've been wanting to start a themed blog for a while, but I haven't been able to commit to a theme . . . until now. I'd like to make a practice of Gratitude. And this will be my practice. This little bloggy thing here. This is where I will come to be grateful.

Starting now.

So to everyone who came running when I called this week, thank you. It meant so much.