Wednesday, April 29, 2015

Today We Say Farewell

Six years ago we started this blog as a way to share our writing journeys with others. Armed with humor, anguish and a lot of hope, we’ve posted numerous essays on craft and the publishing business, interviewed countless rock-star authors, and visited with editors and agents. Developing and thriving in this community has been so rewarding and we have each grown as writers and humans, developed life-long relationships amongst ourselves and with others we’ve met along the way.

We are not alone in finding the commitment of regular blogging as both a reward and hindrance to our real writing time. We are primarily novelists here – published and as-yet. And as with many time commitments, we had to weigh the joys of writing for this blog and (hopefully) helping others as we’ve been helped along the way. 

We’re sad to say goodbye to this page, but we are not saying goodbye to each other, our critiques, our community, definitely not our annual retreats.

We are ever grateful for your reading our words, for sharing your stories and comments, for traveling with us as we celebrated the joys of personal and professional milestones, comforted us in our rejections and tragedies.

Our posts will be there for you to peruse – a list of authors we’ve interviewed is on the right panel. And if you want to see what we’re up to, please visit us on our individual websites or pages. (links below)

Elizabeth Lynd

Farewell, all.

Tuesday, April 7, 2015

Three Boxes of Stories (originally posted July 5, 2010)

by Joan

This past weekend, I spent three days with family I haven't seen in years. We watched a slideshow of scanned photos, chatted about family trees and plucked our matriarch's memory for the family scoop. I haven't had time to reflect and write any of it down, so I found a previous post about my continued fascination with our ancestors.

Last week we spent a week in Maryland with my family. One of the highlights of the week was a whirlwind Sunday where we hosted a family brunch and then dinner for friends we don’t see often enough.

For the morning shift, I dug out three boxes of old family photographs. As we munched on bagels, quiche, and Costco granola (we swear it’s laced with crack), I sat next to one of my cousins, whose mind holds three generations of our family tree. With a pencil I jotted the names of great grandparents, aunts and uncles on the back of thick sepia photos, some so old the corners had disintegrated. Many remained unmarked as we debated to which side of the family the stern-faced, bustled ladies belonged.

Maybe one of the men is the artist of the Falmouth sailboat watercolor hanging above my desk and between the pages of The Cemetery Garden. Maybe the guy with the beard is Leo Tolstoy or Fyodor Dostoevsky. (Actually, he’s my paternal great-grandfather Zachary Levinson!)

In some faces we saw the shape of my face and eyes. In others we saw three generations of full lips and wavy hair. We’re fairly sure a few pictures were shot in Russia, before our relatives journeyed to Ellis Island. Others were taken in Brooklyn studios. Still others captured their daily life: three familiar faces posing proprietarily in front of a grocery/delicatessen, others in a confectionery, a young married couple standing tenuously side-by-side, my father (as a child) demurely atop a horse.

How will we ever identify those faces shamefully abandoned in the past, like elementary school friends who once pricked fingers and blended blood? Will our great-grandchildren forget us in the same way?

It got me thinking about the layers of our lives, how our ancestors’ actions and decisions affected not only our looks, but where and who we are now. Had they stayed in Russia, they might have lived in an isolated frozen community or been arrested and sent to Siberia. Maybe I wouldn’t be here now. Maybe I’d work in a government job and walk to work in knee-high boots and a parka. I wish my ancestors had written some of it down, like Kim’s great-grandmother. I have bags of WWII letters from my father, but nothing from the previous generation.

Is that why we write? So years from now, a descendant will find our words and understand us a little more clearly? When we write, we capture a mood or a setting in much the same way a photograph does. With just the right shading and lightening, cropping the boring parts. Posing our characters on a backdrop of plot.

Seeing these pictures also got my creative mind lassoing ideas for a future novel. Like Julie, I need to finish my WIP first, but I’m already excited about where these pictures will lead me. I’ve got about 500 more treasures to scan and, with that, a lifetime of stories to tell.

What about you? Have you found crumbling family photos? Do you know who they are?

Wednesday, April 1, 2015

Don't Jaywalk Your Query (repost from 2009!)

by Elizabeth

(This was first published back in 2009. Now that I'm querying again, and thus aware of what's going on out there, I'm struck by the fact that in six years, things are still the same. Wow, or not. As for me? Still following the rules.)

I'm a pretty law-abiding citizen. If you overlook my occasional indifference to speed limits on long stretches of open highway, you could really call me squeaky. I really don't understand disregard for the law, especially when the law simply codifies common sense and protects the vulnerable.

It drives me nuts seeing parents at my kids' school jaywalking their kids across the fairly busy street. (Worse in the rain. Trust me, don't get me started there.) I realize the parents are watching cars, waiting for tolerant drivers to stop in the flow of traffic to let them cross, rendering the practice more or less safe, but it still irks me. There are crosswalks at either end of the school, and sure, it would add two minutes to the twice-daily routine--but at what cost are they buying those 240 seconds? As I see it, those parents are teaching their kids that their time is more important than other people's; that the rules don't matter; and that taking a shortcut is okay if you don't get caught.

There are times to break the rules. I get that. Civil disobedience has its place; our country wouldn't exist without it. But I don't agree that a busy street with frazzled drivers, a situation in which a moment's inattention can transform those saved two minutes into a lifetime of regret, is the place to introduce the concept to a seven-year-old. Not that I think these parents consider they're teaching those kids anything. They're simply focused on getting them to school on time. Even so, the thing about breaking rules is that you have to know the rule and have followed it before it's meaningful to break it. (Or safe, for that matter--and in the case of the Founding Fathers, at least worth the considerable risk.)

For writers on the cusp, it's not time to break the rules, either. I'm equally amused and amazed reading accounts of queries stuffed with glitter, or packaged with trinkets, or accompanied by not-funny joke death threats. I'll admit that when I first learned about the system, my mind flickered to what pretty paper on which I'd print my queries. Luckily for me, information is plentiful to anyone who exerts themselves even mildly, and I'm pleased to report I never sent out a query on anything but plain white bond, SASE included.

The query system isn't perfect. We all know that. Laws aren't perfect. But both work pretty well almost all of the time, and if you follow both, chances are your sparkling manuscript will find representation, and you'll remain ticket-free (and un-maimed). Querying is not the time to flaunt the rules. That's not what gets noticed. Shining within the guidelines is the way to catch an agent's attention. And since your manuscript has one shot with that agent, play it safe. Play it smart. Cross your T's, dot your I's, stay inside the crosswalk. Allow your project to provide the glamour.

And teach your kids to follow the rules instead of how to get around them. They'll figure that out on their own when they're teenagers.
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