While Bombs Fall On the Start-Up Nation: How To Keep On Keepin’ On

children in israelWe interrupt this blog to report on the war that Hamas is waging against Israel. (Do not be deceived that it is the other way around.)

What other country warns people that they should leave their houses because a bomb will fall? None, except Israel. And what happens? Hamas uses their own people, including women and children, as human shields, prohibiting them from leaving so that they can use photos of the victims as proof that Israel is waging a war against the innocent.

As of now, more than 360 rockets have been fired into Israel in three days. If hundreds of rockets fell on Washington, DC and San Francisco, would the United States not respond?

rockets

 

OK. But this blog is about living and writing our best chapter. So, to keep with that theme, here is the question: How do you live well in the war zone, or in any zone not of your liking?

Here are 5 thoughts to inspire you, calm you down, and make you put your life into perspective:

“The world is not a wish-granting factory,” says the wonderful narrator, Hazel Grace Lancaster in The Fault in Our Stars. Wish it weren’t true, but alas, tis so.

“I arise in the morning torn between a desire to improve the world and a desire to enjoy the world. This makes it hard to plan the day.” E.B. White, author of one of my top-favorite books, Charlotte’s Web.

“There is no situation too difficult to be bettered and no unhappiness to great to be lessened.” We can find something to see, smell, touch or hear to make our day a bit brighter. Or someone else’s day. Is there someone you can visit to sprinkle a little joy?

Keep your head where your feet are. Stay in the present. Don’t jump ahead into that terribly frightening future void.

Worrying about terrible things that might come to pass won’t make it any easier. We can concentrate on feeling strong, centered and grateful so that if those terrible things do come to pass, we will be prayed up and ready.

Ask yourself, if they were making a movie about your life and you are the hero, how would you act? We can remind ourselves that we are each a hero in our own life story, and sometimes we have to slay our own dragons. (That idea is courtesy of Marian McConnell, author of Emergence.)

For further information on Israel, check out debka which has breaking news. Also, if you have been hearing about Israel and apartheid, read this booklet for the truth about who is sponsoring apartheid (gender and religious) around the world. (Spoiler: Islamic countries, not Israel).

And you would think that after all these centuries, humans would have figured out how to resolve conflicts without war. So every time we are in a potential conflict, let’s do our best to bring it down, instead of making things worse.

Posted in Thought For The Day, Your Best Chapter | Tagged , , , | 4 Comments

One Way to Get a Happy Ending? Write a Novel, Says Reuters Journalist Dan Williams.

I’m happy to welcome Reuters Journalist Dan Williams, based in Jerusalem, who has just self-published his novel, Strip Mine.

Diana Bletter: Strip Mine is your first published book starring an unflappable heroine, Jodie Moore, a Mossad agent, who tackles nothing less than global jihad. The novel is set in the Middle East, where you live and work. Can you tell us a little bit about how you got the idea for this book?

Dan Williams: Back in 2002, I was covering the Israeli siege of Palestinian gunmen holed up in the Nativity Church in Bethlehem. At one point, a group of foreign pro-Palestinian activists, in quite a dizzying show of solidarity, burst through the military cordon and managed to get into the sanctuary. One of my colleagues joked that there might be Israeli spies among them. That idea stayed with me, and provided the back-story for Jodie’s induction into the intelligence world. I later came upon the idea of Israel and Hamas, though locked in their own conflict, finding themselves aligned against the common threat of the nihilistic and catastrophic violence championed by Al Qaida. “My enemy’s enemy, etc.” has abiding appeal.

Diana Bletter: You are a journalist, now for Reuters. How do you think your career has helped you in your writing, and how did you take the leap into fiction?

Dan Williams: Journalism affords excellent opportunities for first-hand experience, be it in meeting decision-makers or witnessing major events. That’s obvious grist for fiction. But much of the mechanics of fiction involves contrivances that, in my experience, seldom occur in reality – conspiracies, coincidences, convenient story arcs and (dare I say it?) happy endings. So, over time, I’ve found that fiction was the right depository for the imaginings that might arise while I was reporting – the stuff that might otherwise have been left on the cutting-room floor of my mind, as it were.

Diana Bletter: You’ve self-published Strip Mine. Do you have any thoughts about self-publishing that you can share? Any suggestions for aspiring self-publishing writers? Are you pursuing traditional publishing as well?

Dan Williams: I’d be very happy to see Strip Mine picked up by a traditional publisher. But self-publishing has been satisfactory, so far. The Amazon Kindle service is exceptionally easy, and there’s a crucial advantage in terms of contemporaneity: The book’s out within minutes of you hitting the button. By contrast, even the best traditional publishing deal will means waiting long months until the book hits the market. That’s a problem when you’re writing about current events in a place as geopolitically changeable as the Middle East. 

Diana Bletter: You live in Jerusalem, where not a day goes by without something happening for you to report on. With a spouse and three children, everyone wants to know: how do you possibly find the time to write? Can you tell us a bit about your writing style? Did you know the end of your novel before you got there? Can you tell us about the next book in your Jodie Moore series?

Dan Williams: It’s all about plotting. Once the story is planned out, then the writing schedule should fall into place. With thrillers, I find that the structure works in reverse, as you must know the denouement in order to unspool it to toward the disparate beginnings of the story. Yes, finding the time is not easy when there are other obligations. But consider this: If you manage just a page a day, then by year’s end you should have a decent manuscript in hand. As for Jodie’s next adventure: Afghanistan, Iran, Kurdistan.

Diana Bletter: Finally, www.thebestchapter.com explores how to write your best chapter and also how to live your best chapter each day in the story of your life.   Is there something you do to take care of yourself each day?

Dan Williams: Jog, joke with my kids, and watch some quality television with my wife.

Thank you so much, Dan! You can follow him @DanWilliams for breaking news.

Dan Williams’ writer’s tip: “If you manage just a page a day, then by year’s end you should have a decent manuscript in hand.”

You can buy an e-copy of Dan Williams’ spy thriller, Strip Mine, at amazon. And while you’re at it, pick up your The Mom Who Took Off On Her Motorcycle, too!

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One Country Where Muslim and Christian Arab Women Are Free: Israel.

The Arab girls next to me looked like they were having fun. I was sitting one palm frond hut away, trying to understand what they were saying in Arabic, a language I’ve been casually studying for the past few months. They wore tee-shirts and shorts, laughed a lot, went to play soccer and dove for goals in the sand, and then jumped into the turquoise water. They were on the beach…having fun…without male guardians…in Israel.

Having Fun on the Beach in Northern Israel. This is in Response to Islamic Fundamentalists Who Threaten Women's Freedom Around the World.

Having Fun on the Beach in Northern Israel. This is in Response to Islamic Fundamentalists Who Threaten Women’s Freedom Around the World.

What were Arab girls in Islamic-ruled countries doing, I wondered? Girls in Iran, Iraq, Syria, Afghanistan, Nigeria, Egypt don’t have any kind of freedom to be on the beach with their friends…Islamic fundamentalists around the world have made women prisoners. In Iran, women who defend themselves against rapists are jailed, sometimes hung. In Darfur, Islamic fighters raped and slaughtered millions. Do not think that the genocide in Darfur was some vague African-African conflict. It is part of global jihad. Only in this small, democratic and Jewish country—Israel—that Muslim and Christian Arab women have any kind of freedom. Name any country headed by an Islamic regime, and you will find women hung (see Phyllis Chesler‘s bone-chilling article about women and children being hung in Iran here) are sequestered, enslaved, squandered, sold, secluded.

ISIS, a Sunni-offshoot of Al-Quaeda, has taken over one-tenth of Iraq; it is now reported here that there is a striking upsurge of violence against women there. Taliban is in power in Afghanistan, where girls are forbidden to even go to school. You can read about the Taliban against women in a report by the US State Department here.

There is no such thing in the world of Islam as civil discourse. The Sunnis and the Shiite, who are both Islamic, are killing one another in vast numbers. And if that is what they are doing to one another, just think of what they’ll do to Christians, Jews, and other non-believers. Islamic fundamentalists are the one single force threatening human civilization today. You can read Czech President Milos Zeman’s speech about this threat here.

Make no mistake, there is a reason to fear the rise of Islam around the world. There’s no “live and let live,” or let’s agree to disagree” in Shaaria law. If you look at Muslim countries, do you see advancement, openness, liberalism, democracy, arts, education, scientific research and contributions to the earth? No and no and no, again. Islamic fundamentalists are aiming to yank society back one thousand years, to a dark age.

You cannot make peace with totalitarians. Chamberlain tried to make concessions with Hitler thinking that it will appease Hitler, and soon thereafter Hitler annexed Czechoslovakia. Hitler squashed him completely. There is no compromise in Islam. Israel is not the problem. The settlements in the West Bank are not the thing standing in the way of the Palestinians and the Israelis reaching some kind of peace. The Islamic empire will not back down until there is no more Israel, period. (How come nobody says anything when Israelis are threatened with extinction?) Oh, and Islamic fundamentalists won’t stop here. They will continue until Jews and Christians are converted, killed or slaughtered.

So that was my relaxing day on the beach.

I was too busy thinking to really relax, however.

I was too busy thinking to really relax, however.

I took pictures with the girls. I want it on record that Israel, the country being boycotted by blinded, naïve people, is the only country in the Middle East where Arab girls are protected. (Though men are still killing their sisters in honor killings.) The world is under siege by Muslims and while it’s burning, the Metropolitan Opera in New York is putting on an anti-Semitic opera, “Klinghoffer,” glorifying the terrorism aboard the Achille Lauro Cruise Ship in 1985, and the murder of an elderly wheelchair-bound man, Leon Klinghoffer, whose only crime was that he was a Jew. The terrorists dumped his body overboard. And the terrorists are glorified. These are some of the lyrics: Wherever poor men / are gathered they can / find Jews getting fat / You know how to cheat / the simple, exploit / the virgin, pollute / Where you have exploited / Defame those you cheated / and break your own law / with idolatry.” Freedom of speech is one thing. Writing “Jews getting fat” is a typical anti-Semitic stereotype that is NOT art. It smacks of currying favor with the very same people who are threatening to take away society’s religious and civil liberties. Send protest letters to the Metropolitan Opera here.

Getting back to the beach, by the way, one of the girls had a tattoo on her arm, Only God Can Judge Me. That’s religious freedom. We have to do what we can to defend our religious liberties.  That means our freedom of expression and being allowed to write blogs like this. It is vital that we take a stand before it is too late.

 

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1 Tool For Tuesday: DIY. Publish? Write? Start a Business? Travel?

This is how I felt at my literary agent's office in New York City.

This is how I felt at my literary agent’s office in New York City.

One of the biggest literary agencies on the planet represented me for my memoir, The Mom Who Took Off On Her Motorcycle. After my agent—I’ll call her Francesca—finished editing it and I’d made the revisions, she invited me into her office to meet her as well as another agent she worked with.

The agency was in New York City. Despite all my years working on filling my own well, I was superdoodled-down with meeting these two New York agents and having them pour a few choice compliments down my thirsty throat. What to wear? It was springtime and the flowers were blossoming. I chose a bright pink shirt, white pants and sandals.

But it was not a balmy spring day. By the time I got to their office, I was shivering. I rode the elevator straight up into the drippy clouds.

In the reception area, I saw books by famous writers and thought, I made it. I am in. I even heard the receptionist tell someone on the other end of the line, “I’m sorry, but if you haven’t heard from the agent, that means they are not interested in representing you.”  I couldn’t help but glow inside. Not from schadenfreude (gloating over someone else’s misfortune) but from the idea that I had passed the bouncer at the door. I was no longer that sorry person on the other end of the phone.

Then Francesca came to meet me. I hadn’t yet taken off my scarf. I was still freezing. And frumpled. I saw the disappointment cross her face. Francesca brought me into a back office and introduced me to the other agent who glanced in my direction and then said almost dismissively, “Oh, so you’re the motorcycle woman.” Oh, I was so NOT the motorcycle woman. I just happened to be a woman who rode on a motorcycle and then wrote a book about it. Plus, I now knew that my spring outfit on this dreary, dismal day was as inappropriate as Elle Woods wearing her bunny costume to her Harvard Law School party in “Legally Blonde.”

And those two women who I’d hoped would pump me up brought me down. No compliments. And no book contract.

For a while, I sat around singing the blues and kvetching about the state of publishing. Then I realized that accepting the situation would do for me far more than complaining, grousing, moaning and criticizing could ever accomplish. It didn’t mean I liked it but I had to accept it.

Then I decided to DIY-it. Do it yourself. And I published The Mom Who Took Off On Her Motorcycle, (on sale for $2.99 here) which has garnered media attention and has sold more than I ever imagined. And after that, I got a new literary agent and a new contract for my novel, The Burial Circle. (Or, I just learned, it might be called, Burial Circle.)

I learned, first of all, that there’s no magical someone out there to say the right words to fill that hole in my soul. It’s a DIY job.

And that if I want to get something done, I can take the steps to accomplish it.

Tool for Tuesday: FYI, DIY. You can, you know. You can do it yourself. You can find a way. You can tell yourself the things you are waiting to hear from someone else.

If you are considering self-publishing, contact me for some fast and easy tips to navigate the self-publishing world.

Posted in Acceptance, Self-publishing | Tagged , , , | 10 Comments

Writers: What’s The Nicest Rejection Letter from A Literary Agent You Ever Received?

The New Yorker's Rejection Letter to Sylvia Plath

The New Yorker’s Rejection Letter to Sylvia Plath

Calling all writers: what’s the nicest rejection letter from a literary agent you ever received? Or, for that matter, from a journal or newspaper?

I’ve gotten hundreds of rejections. First, there’s the kind that most editors practice these days. The “Your writing is stinkier than Blue Cheese, I don’t even have the time to write no thank you and hit send.” That is, people who don’t bother to write back. Not even an automatic reply. OK, some newspapers like The New York Times can justify that. “Due to the volume of submissions we receive, we can’t respond to every submission.” I’m sure Madonna has the same problem with people wanting one minute of her time. But check out the rejection letter she got here.

Then there’s the standard rejection letter. “Thank you so much for letting us read your work.” One of my writing friends, Ruth, said that if you get a rejection letter that says something like, “Please let us consider your work again,” that’s one step up. Ruth also said that some literary magazines won’t publish writers until they’ve submitted to them six or seven times. “Every rejection I get, I count that as one story closer to being published,” Ruth said.

Back in the day, if I got a handwritten scribble on a rejection note, I took it as a heavenly sign to keep writing.

For this round of submissions for my novel, The Burial Circle, I got about ten rejection letters of one form or another until I found my agent, Steven Chudney. A few weeks after Steven sold The Burial Circle to William Morrow/HarperCollins to be published in July 2015, (get out your pom-poms!) I got a rejection letter from an agent whom I had queried in December. She wrote:

Dear Diana,

Thank you for giving me the chance to read and consider your work. I apologize for the time it’s taken me to get back to you, I’m mortified about that. I’ve finally had the chance to read your pages. On the whole, I found your writing to be very engaging and the premise of the story interesting. However, I just did not feel that love-spark necessary for me to take on a project. In that regard, I don’t think I’m the best person to represent your manuscript.

Please don’t be disheartened. This is a purely subjective decision based on my own personal taste. I’m positive that someone else out there will find (or will have already found) your manuscript to be the very thing they’re looking for. So push forward and I wish you the very best of luck on this journey.

Sincerely,

Pooja Menon

Pooja Menon is a literary agent at Kimberley Cameron & Associates. You can check out their site here. Now, maybe this is her standard rejection letter. Maybe it’s “no” couched in flourishing, flowery, euphemistic terms (to disguise the “Don’t you dare send me your crap again”). But it was still endearing. If I hadn’t found another agent, chances are, I would have read her words thinking, yeah, yeah, sure.

The worst rejection I ever received was from a literary agent who left a big fat coffee stain on my manuscript and she didn’t even apologize. Really? Hey, writers don’t write so that you use our work for coasters! It’s the same way I felt when I saw an article I wrote in a newspaper ripped up and thrown into a neighbor’s fireplace.

Sometimes I feel like there's no better place for my writing than an Alaskan outhouse

Sometimes I feel like there’s no better place for my writing than an Alaskan outhouse

What’s the nicest rejection you ever received? The worst? And what made you keep on writing?

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How to Stop Self-Pity: Tools From Helen Keller and Pope Francis

Even When Your Head is Deep Inside the Bowels of the Refrigerator, Rag in Hand, You can still find so many things to be grateful for.

Even When Your Head is Deep Inside the Bowels of the Refrigerator, Rag in Hand, You can still find so many things to be grateful for.

So there I was with my head in the refrigerator after spilling a bottle of homemade iced tea all over the place.

I went from feeling like a happygoluckyfella to Cinderella the moment I reached for a shmateh and started cleaning.

Went from feeling happy to the PLOM’s (Poor Little Old Me) faster than a Lamberghini can go from zero to 100 mph.

I shouldn’t be cleaning, I should be writing, I should have written more than I have, I should have done this…Done that. Ad infinitum. Actually, ad nauseum. (Whenever I throw in a Latin word or two, my IQ spikes five points.)

It’s the self-pity rush, and when it starts it’s hard to stop it. So here’s what we can do. Immediately.

The ABC Gratitude List. I start listing everything I have to be grateful for beginning with A and going to Z. Then I start focusing on everything that’s right in my life instead of what’s wrong.

How lucky am I to have a refrigerator? That got me thinking to women around the world who have no refrigeration or water. Then I thought of the girls in Nigeria who are being held hostage by Islamic extremists. Then I thought of the girls who were raped and hung in India. Pakistan. I’d send a protest letter to someone—anyone—who’d listen.

Then I thought of how to make my time spent in the refrigerator fun. I could turn it into something creative. I could laugh at myself. Thus, this blog’s message.

Set the egg-timer. You can have a pity party for five minutes. Then you can take action. There is no situation that can’t be bettered. When we think, why me? Well, why not you?

Self-pity is not sorrow. Grief is earned. You’ve been through terrible times. You are encouraged to fully feel sorrow. Self-pity is sorrow for ourselves and our lot in life. It is like holding a resentment. Helen Keller said it best:

Helen Keller on Self-Pity

Helen Keller on Self-Pity

Finally, I look for the spiritual lesson, and I found it: humility. I thought of Pope Francis who just visited Israel. He said that “it only through humility that the church can once again become a moral beacon in global affairs.” But we each can be a beacon just by being a power of example. Not complaining, getting the job done, and accepting and celebrating the overwhelmingly wonderful ordinary parts of life.

Pope Francis with Israeli President Shimon Peres

Pope Francis with Israeli President Shimon Peres

Here’s the message for Monday. Our minds can take us wherever we want to go. We can choose to sink in the darkness of self-pity or we can turn to face the sun.

What tools do you use?

 

Posted in Being a Hero In Your Life, Self-Talk, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , | 10 Comments

Positive Acts Build Self-Esteem: Do the Small Things Well

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAEven if all you’re doing today is hanging up four sad socks (like this photo, taken in China) cleaning up the mess, sweeping the floor (again), changing diapers or flipping burgers, do the small things well.

That goes for your writing, too. Write fast and hard. Set your egg timer and force yourself to sit at your desk for however many minutes you think you can take and write. Do not check your email or your FB page. Just write.

If you have to give a card for a birthday, anniversary or graduation, write it yourself. Don’t let someone else do it for you. And write it well.

If you have to write a grocery list, do it creatively. Make it funny for someone you love. Make it funny for yourself.

Do the small things well. Do the small things of today as well as you can. Don’t worry about tomorrow. Tomorrow will take care of itself. Just do everything you can today as well as you can and soon you’ll have a string of perfectly fine days.

I was watching this guy weighing his tea leaves in a small village in China, just waiting for the ash to fall into the tea leaves. How not to do a small thing.

I was watching this guy weighing his tea leaves in a small village in China, just waiting for the ash to fall into the tea leaves. How not to do a small thing.

Positive acts—whatever they are—build self-esteem. We grow with a job well done.

Just for today, do the small things well.

Henry Wadsworth Longfellow said it best:

Each morning sees some task begin,
Each evening sees it close;
Something attempted, something done,
Has earned a night’s repose.


Some uplifting, inspiring, kick-in-your-knickers quotes to get your wheels rolling while you write can be found here.

Posted in countering depression, Transformation, Writers, Writing, Your Best Chapter | Tagged , , , | 5 Comments

Writers, Got Novel? Here’s A Sample Query Letter to a Literary Agent That Might Help You Sell It.

Finished your novel? Wrote your best chapters? Anxious to get a literary agent? Here is a sample query letter to send to an agent. But waaay before you do that, make sure you:

Have the manuscript ready, and as good as it can be.

Your book might be eventually be here.

Your book might be eventually be here.

Don’t look for an agent before you’ve finished your novel. (You might be able to sell a non-fiction book after only writing the first three chapters, but you still need a detailed outline of the rest of it.)

Do your due diligence. If Lucy Literary Agent only likes romance novels, do not send her a mystery book. Even if your mystery is as good as Agatha Christie’s, Lucy will not make an exception.

Do NOT tell them that your book is the best children’s book since Harry Potter.

Print out your letter and have a good look at it on the page before you send it out. Read it out loud. You’ll find an unexpected mistake or two.

Follow the directions. Some agents want the first ten pages. Others want the first fifty. Some want you to contact them via email; others favor the post office. Respect their wishes.

Be professional. Once you sent the agent the email (or snail mail), do not call and nag. This is like dating. The guy will get back to you if he wants to see you. Otherwise, fuhgeddaboutit!

I’m posting the letter I wrote to Steven Chudney. You can find more information about him on his website. I am offering this to show you that there is a suggested format to a query letter.Follow the form. I had a friend who once bought a coffee table that a groovy carpenter made from a tree. It’s a nice coffee table, but it’s on a slant. You can’t put a cup of coffee on it without it sliding off. “But it’s made from a tree,” my friend said. Yeah, right, but the point is it’s supposed to hold things upright. Same goes with a query letter. Don’t say, “Yes, but.” Just follow the form.

Dear Steven Chudney [Make sure you spell the name rightAnd do not address the email Dear Sir/Madam. You might be sending your letter to twelve agents but each agent must have a personalized letter. I made the mistake of calling an agent Ms. instead of Mr. Moral? Just write the full name.]

I’m a recent first-prize winner of Family Circle Magazine’s Fiction Contest. My work appears in The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, and other publications. [If you don't yet have any publications under your belt, skip that introduction and begin with the next sentence.] I read that you lived for a while in Israel and are looking for books set in the Middle East [This is crucial. Since my book is set in Israel, I would not waste my time sending my book to an agent who is only interested in books set in Gardenerville, Nevada. Read about the kind of books the potential agents like, where they live, what hobbies they have or where they went to school. Find something that can hook them. Isn’t that your job, anyway, as a writer? For example, “I read that you enjoy playing miniature golf, so I thought you might be interested in my novel, The Miniature Golf Madam] so I thought you might be interested in The Women’s Burial Circle, [my future editor, Rachel Kahan at William Morrow/HarperCollins, dropped Women’s so now the title is just The Burial Circle. It doesn’t matter, just have some kind of title when you write your letter] which follows four American friends as they discover reach new understanding about themselves—and life itself—in the midst of war and death in northern Israel. [This is a sentence you might use when talking to a friend about a book you’re reading, “It’s about this guy who’s so ambitious that he commits murder.” (As in Macbeth.)]

Here’s the pitch: [Now you’re going into detail about the book, like the copy on a book’s back cover]

The Women’s Burial Circle opens on the lives of four American women who are part of a unique Jewish tradition: they prepare and dress women for burial in a  beach village in northern Israel. Lauren Uhlmann is a spoiled yet unflappable maternity nurse from a wealthy family in Boston who accidentally winds up in Israel. Emily Freulich, her artistic best friend, is determined to make a new life for herself after her first husband leaves her. Aviva Sereno is a sensuous, strong former Mossad agent struggling to come to terms with the death of her eldest son and husband. Rachel Schoenberger is a young optimistic woman from Wyoming who comes to Israel to try to help, only to find herself caught in the conflict. The novel asks: How do we come to accept life on life’s terms? And how, in the midst of sorrow, do we find beauty in the world? [Agents want to know what the book is really about so they can then pitch the book to publishing houses. Note that this is ALL in present tense, like in a synopsis, which I’ll talk about it another blog post.Note that this is ALL in present tense, like in a synopsis, which I’ll talk about it another blog post. And my tag questions at the end became part of the announcement about my book sale:“THE BURIAL CIRCLE, about the lives of four women who are part of a unique Jewish tradition: they prepare and dress women for burial in a coastal village in northern Israel as they learn to accept death, and to appreciate the sorrows and wonders of life.]

For your information, [add your information—where you studied writing, where you’ve been published, what your profession is and what your platform is] my first book, The Invisible Thread: A Portrait of Jewish American Women (Jewish Publication Society) was a finalist for a National Jewish Book Award. I host the blog, www.thebestchapter.com, which features interviews with Molly Antopol, Tatiana de Rosnay, Dara Horn, and others. [Publishers want authors who already have a platform—a way to help them market and sell the book. They want to know that you’ve got an online presence. And if you don’t yet have one, start it before you proceed!] The novel is based on a true story: I’m a member of the burial society in the small beach village where I live. [Why is this important? Because it adds color to the novel, and shows the agent that I know what I’m writing about. If you are writing a futuristic novel about the first woman to live on Mars, you might say that you are a member of an astronomy club.]

The novel runs 95,000 words. [How many words is your manuscript? For NaNoWriMo, you’re supposed to write a minimum of 50,000 words (the length of a novella). Anything more than 120,000 words is not recommended, unless you’re James Joyce.] If you’re interested in a read, please let me know. I have just started sending out the book to agents [let the agents know you are sending out multiple submissions] and I look forward to hearing from you! [Why the exclamation point? I like being enthusiastic, that’s why! A simple period would also do, like here.] Thank you so much for your consideration.

Sincerely,

Your Name

Kathy Temean’s blog has invaluable tips for children’s book writers and illustrators as well as information about agents here. She posts listings of agents who are actively seeking clients – which is a fabulous place to begin.

Feel free to use this form to write query letters to agents and fill in your own information. This is just a suggestion which I am passing on. Anyone got other suggestions? I am open to hearing what works for you!

And it is Tuesday, so here is my tool: No matter what you do today, follow the form.

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This Self-Published Writer’s Dream Comes True: A Publishing House Contract.

Itching to hear the story of what happens when a writer works hard, hard, hard and doesn’t give up, up, up? One day, she gets a letter in her Inbox from her agent, Steven Chudney, of Chudney Agency, saying that her novel, THE BURIAL CIRCLE, was accepted to be published by William Morrow/HarperCollins in the Summer of 2015! I can’t write these shout-out letters LARGE enough to express how happy I am.book

THE BURIAL CIRCLE follows four women who are part of a unique Jewish tradition: they prepare and dress women for burial in a coastal village in northern Israel as they learn to accept death, and to appreciate the wonders of life.

That is the novel in one run-on sentence. Doesn’t it sound like a novel you’d like to read?

What I want to share with you today is what I learned about writing and the publishing process:

Don’t give up before the miracle. We just don’t know what’s going to happen next. That’s the most important part of this message. Whatever you do, whatever you want to do, do not untie your shoelaces and put on your slippers and a nubby bathrobe and sit down in front of the television, telling yourself it was not going to ever happen. It might happen. I have countless messages all around my office. The one that’s most important to me is the one I wrote to myself: “If you give up, you will never forgive yourself.” So I made a promise to myself not to quit. Not ever.

Don't give up before the miracle.

Don’t give up before the miracle.

Keep writing. You are in it for the long haul. For every race you compete in, you have to run a lot of miles. Ernest Hemingway threw out hundreds of pages he’d written to get to the spare, very short The Old Man and the Sea. You have to be willing to write and write a lot and then willing to throw a lot of it away.

Allow yourself to write badly. This maxim freed me. I just wrote. I didn’t pay attention to whether it was good or bad. I saved the editing for later, when I could go back and be ruthless. But the first draft is the fast, creative, no-holding-back draft.

If you don’t get the book contract you want from a traditional publishing house, try something else. I didn’t just sit around singing the blues and kvetching about the state of publishing. Instead of waiting for The Mom Who Took Off On Her Motorcycle to be published according to my expectations, I decided to self-publish it. (You can order it here.) And I’m so glad I did. I learned a ton about marketing, social media, self-printing and advertising. (Oh, did I mention you can also buy it at Barnes & Noble here?) I realized that a dream might not happen the way you ordered it, but a dream can happen in an entirely new way. It is up to you to dream your dream in a different way.

Blob, blob, blob, as my mother used to say. Meaning, blog, blog, blog. My blog is my website. I created a platform for myself. I came up with the name, The Best Chapter, for writing and living my best chapter. This has become my motto. This has kept me going.

Get a platform. Publishing houses want that. They don’t have the money or the marketing teams to devote to every book. I am happy to promote my novel using the skills I learned promoting The Mom Who Took Off.

Have a concept. Maybe it’s trendy but it’s the truth. Editors say, “it’s important to have a good concept, and one that’s as unique as possible.” William Morrow’s big success now is Christina Baker Kline‘s Orphan Train. It is based on history: Between 1854 and 1929, so-called orphan trains ran regularly from the cities of the East Coast to the farmlands of the Midwest, carrying thousands of abandoned children. Often, people want to read a novel and learn something at the same time.

Image from the Children's Aid Society

Image from the Children’s Aid Society

 

Stick with your dreams. A long time ago, I decided that even if I would never be published, I would keep writing. I realized I wasn’t writing for the recognition but for the joy of it. In The Burial Circle, I created four women characters along with a host of other characters out of my imagination. Instead of focusing on the destination, I really, really enjoyed the journey. The act of writing. Whatever you do, do with your full heart and stay in the moment.

Be professional. Take yourself seriously. Make time for your work, even if the people around you think it’s wasted time. Even if you secretly think you’re just wasting your time. Creating any kind of art is never a waste of time.

My college roommate Mary Eldred made sure I sat down and wrote when I was supposed to write.

My college roommate Mary Eldred made sure I sat down and wrote when I was supposed to write.

Stick with the winners. Stick with people who support and encourage you. Drop the “friends” who begin sentences with, “I hate to be the one to tell you this but…” Avoid them like carriers of the Bubonic Plague. They are the kiss of death. They want to pull you down into their boat of misery, keep you their captives and sail away. Stick with the people who tell you, as one of my friends did, “Keep the faith about your writing, and when you feel it waning, lean on my belief in you.”

In the upcoming blog posts, I will share the query letter I wrote to my agent, to help you write your own query for the book you are still writing. I will also share some writing exercises I did, the debate on self-publishing versus traditional publishing houses, and my schedule until The Burial Circle comes out in 2015. Stay tuned and now get back to your own work!

Finally, I hope this post gives you encouragement. If it happened to me, it can happen to you. Let this push you on. Never feel you’re too old, too dumb, too untalented. Life is too short not to take a chance. Life is too short not to climb a tree.

I didn't shout from the rooftop about my novel. I shouted from the tree tops.

I didn’t shout from the rooftop about my novel. I shouted from the tree tops.

Today’s reminder: Make this day a page in the best chapter of your life by doing one small thing you’ve always wanted to do.

Here’s the announcement about THE BURIAL CIRCLE that appeared in The Publisher’s Marketplace

FICTION Debut

Michener Center for Writers fellow Karim Dimechkie’s LIFTED BY THE GREAT NOTHING, about a Lebanese-American young man coming of age under a loving roof and a devastating lie, to Lea Beresford at Bloomsbury, at auction, by Ryan Harbage at Fischer-Harbage Agency (World English).

Michigan MFA, Hopwood Award winner, and playwright Mo Daviau’s EVERY ANXIOUS WAVE, a love story interweaving time travel and rock music that spans from 980 AD Mannahatta to a waterlogged Seattle in 2031, to Brenda Copeland at St. Martin’s, in a pre-empt, by Jenni Ferrari-Adler at Union Literary (World English)

Operator of the blog Military Spouse Book Reviews, a resource and online book club for military spouses across the country, Andria Williams’ THE FALLS, set against the backdrop of America’s early nuclear ambitions and based on a little-known incident in American history: the only fatal nuclear accident to occur in the nation, which happened in 1961; where a young California woman is forced to move with her officer husband and struggles to assimilate to the claustrophobic culture of suburban military wives, realizing she is falling in love with another man at the same time her husband is trying to save both his family and the town from potential disaster, to Andrea Walker at Random House, in a pre-empt, by Sylvie Greenberg at Fletcher & Company (NA).

National Jewish Book Award finalist Diana Bletter’s debut THE BURIAL CIRCLE, about the lives of four women who are part of a unique Jewish tradition: they prepare and dress women for burial in a coastal village in northern Israel as they learn to accept death, and to appreciate the sorrows and wonders of life. The author herself is a member of the burial society in her village in Israel, to Rachel Kahan at William Morrow, by Steven Chudney from The Chudney Agency.

Operator of the blog Military Spouse Book Reviews, a resource and online book club for military spouses across the country, Andria Williams’ THE FALLS, set against the backdrop of America’s early nuclear ambitions and based on a little-known incident in American history: the only fatal nuclear accident to occur in the nation, which happened in 1961.

My original title was, The Women’s Burial Circle. Steven asked, “Are you wedded to the title?” I wrote, “I’m not wedded to anything except my husband, Jonny.” So, the tentative title is, The Burial Circle. What do you think? Will that attract more readers? Less women? More men?

Posted in Self-publishing, Writers, Writing, Your Best Chapter | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , | 20 Comments

Is It Happy or Unhappy Mothers Day For You Today?

It’s my first Mother’s Day without my mother. She died September 13, 2013. So this post is for all those readers who:

Have lost their mothers, never knew their mothers, fought with them, ran away from them, were embarrassed by them, or were hurt by them.

This post is for the broken mothers, the ones sitting in jail, the ones who are too sick to hug their kids, the ones who hit and yell and scream at their kids because they don’t know any better, and then are ashamed when Mother’s Day rolls around and wish they could do it differently.

This post honors all mothers, no matter where they are, or what they’ve done.

It’s a depressing holiday, come to think about it, because there’s so much pressure on children to find a way to thank their mothers, and so much pressure on mothers to be perfect in their children’s eyes.

So here’s to sloppy, ambivalent, trying, intense, imperfect love between mothers and their children. Here is to learning how to mother ourselves. Here is to finding some kind of way to fill the void. And transforming our loss into…what? Strength. Perseverance. Poetry.

Here’s to recognizing authentic, honest mothers who are only human, after all. Which means that they’re here on earth for a while, and then they’re gone.

If you have lost your mother, I hope today is a day you feel her presence, and not just her absence. I hope her memory gives you some kind of strength. I hope she’ll always be, as my mother used to tell my kids, that little bird flying over your shoulder. Flapping away before you even know it, waving its wing, good-bye.

My mother, Gladys Katcher Bletter, holding me.

My mother, Gladys Katcher Bletter, holding me.

Here are some fabulous New Yorker covers for Mother’s Day. And, a moving, beautiful piece, “The Unmothered,” by Ruth Margalit here.

Posted in Acceptance, Being a Hero In Your Life, Transformation | Tagged , , | 2 Comments