Archive for July, 2010

The Big Fat Lie…

Thursday, July 29th, 2010

Ellen Potter is, as usual, being brilliant. She’s decided to out all of us authors, for the half-truths we call “author bios.” She’s suggested we should all write honest author bios!

For contrast, my “professional” bio sounds something like this:

Laurel Snyder is the author of five books for children, two collections of poetry, and she edited an anthology of essays about the Jewish interfaith experience.  A graduate of the Iowa Writers Workshop and a regular commentator for National Public Radio’s All Things Considered, Laurel now lives in Atlanta, in a little brick house full of wild beasts.

You see what we all do there?  Ellen’s right. We talk about how productive/smart/esteemed we are, and then we give it a punchy/silly/personal twist that suggests we’re human, but not too human!

Here’s an honest bio:

Laurel Snyder graduated from high school with a 2.4 GPA and was shocked when the University of TN at Chattanooga offered her a scholarship anyway. She will be forever grateful for that chance to live/learn/write poems/wait tables in such a lovely place, despite the lack of  heat or air conditioning in her apartment. It was a formative time, full of big new ideas, malt liquor, and ramen noodles.

Upon graduation, Laurel was accepted into the esteemed Iowa Writers Workshop, where she became fairly depressed–in part due to Midwestern winters, and in part due to her very esteemed classmates who made her feel like she knew very little about anything.  Though really, that was her fault and not theirs, and she accepts responsibility for that. In any case, she spent a few years after graduation NOT writing or publishing. Instead she dated recklessly and hung around in smoky bars with fun musicians.

Laurel’s  sole attempt to move to Manhattan and become a “real writer” lasted about four months.  Since giving up on becoming a “real writer” (and having an academic career too) she has worked a variety of waitress/Jewish non-profit jobs, gotten married, moved to Atlanta, and become a much happier person.

After her first child was born in 2005, Laurel was forced to quit her job, because she made less than a babysitter. At that time–crazed by spending 24 hours a day trapped in a house with a mewling (if  adorable) baby–she began to sort through old manuscripts and book ideas, and was shocked to discover that people were actually interested in publishing her books. In an attemept to become even more succesful, she had another child!

Laurel does not make much money, and her life isn’t very glamorous. She has a very part-time childcare situation, and she shares her office with her husband, a washer/dryer, and a pile of toys and dirty clothes.  She rarely has time to shower more than every other day, never shaves her legs, forgets about the cat-box until it becomes problematic for everyone,  and she clips a lot of coupons.  She lives in a sprawling huge city, far from her own family, and that makes her a little sad. But she has amazing kids, a great husband, and wonderful friends, so she is, in fact, terribly grateful for everything.

Except the lice! Laurel wishes she could go back in time and NOT have head lice as a kid.  That was just awful!


Monday, July 26th, 2010

Book is in the mail!

I do not know if it is good or bad or smart or stupid or original or magical or depressing or lame or what… but it’s DONE! (at least for this go-around)

So today I’m bill-paying, dog-sitter-finding, mechanic-visiting, post-office-going, meal-making, house-cleaning, and generally running around like a chicken with my head at least partially cut off.

Because later this week, I leave for the BEACH!  The Folliest Beach.  Whch will be, hopefully, the jolliest beach too.

And then, after that, I will be winging to Iowa, IOWA!


This book…

Friday, July 23rd, 2010

This book…

This book…

It is killing me.

I’ve never gotten so emotionally connected to a novel before, never made myself cry before. I don’t like it, and I’m not sure it bodes well for the book, because I’m so attached I’m afraid I can’t be objective.  I feel like every nerve ending in my body is exposed. Last night I went to bed at 4 am. I don’t know exactly what it is I’ve written.

I feel like I did in grad school, when I lived and breathed poems, and holed up alone in a tiny apartment, and fought about language in bars with other poets,  and drank too much and cared too much and wandered the streets late at night too much, thinking too much.

Back then it was fun.  But you see,  those were poems and I was single and young.  I was supposed to be like that.

Now I’m a mom. Now I’m not supposed to wander around in my nightgown at 4 am, feeling melancholy.  I’m supposed to be asleep at 4 am, so I can get up and pack the  lunchboxes in the morning.


I will put this away until tomorrow. I will go and hug my awesome kids.

Be a critic of critics…

Tuesday, July 20th, 2010

I’ve heard a lot of people say, “You have to be open to criticism if you want to write.”   By this they sometimes mean, “Please, please, just tell me what to do so I can get published.”

I’ve also heard people say, “You really just have to listen to yourself if you want to write.”  By this they sometimes mean, “Nobody tells me what to do. They just don’t understand my genius.”

And here’s the thing.  In my lifetime (and I do mean lifetime) of workshops and conferences and editorial letters and so on… I  have been on both ends of the spectrum.  I’m a firm believer in input, in objective (or as close as you can get) readers. I think mentorship is great, and that a crit group can realy work wonders.

But here’s what people miss a lot of the time. BOTH statements are true, simultaneously, You need to be sure to listen to yourself, to keep track of what you mean to write.  You need to check in with yourself, not follow others blindly.  You should trust nobody more than yourself.  At the same time, you need to be able to bear the most brutal comments a reader will do you the favor of offering. And it is a favor.

Because the alchemy, the magic, is in the combined effect of what they think, and what you think about what they think.

You are not listening to the comments . You are not listening to your inner voice. You are listening to what your inner voice says to the comments of others.  You are listening to see if the comments resonate, or if they do battle, with what you feel inside.

Often it takes days to work through the process.

Just recently, my agent read my WIP, and offered some notes. And for the first time (I think) since we started working together, I resisted strongly.  I felt about fifteen years old, like I was back in my high school poetry workshop. “No,” I wanted to say, “You just don’t get it. You just aren’t reading it right. See!  Listen!”

And when I felt myself pushing like that. When I felt my anger, my frustration, and could not figure out an easy fix to the problem–something logistical– a way to clear up her confusion… I knew she was probably right.  Two days later I was back at work.

So that’s what I mean. That you have to keep track of your compass. You don’t want to try and please every idiot who offers a stray comment.  But when someone says something, and your compass goes haywire, or points immediately to true north, you should probably listen.

At the end of the day, it’s MY book.  But first, it’s a long damn day.

Screw you, Maurice Sendak…

Monday, July 19th, 2010

The other day I was monkeying around in the lists on Goodreads, and I found NO list of good Jewish picture books.  Nary a one!  There are about 4 trillion lists with the word “Twilight” in the title. But evidently there aren’t enough good Jewish picture books (though as I’ve complained before, we need more) to merit a little list.

Poor  Zlateh the Goat!

So then of course I made my own dang list!

But what do I know?

Won’t you click the link above and add your own favorite Jewish picture books to the list? Or vote for your favorites among ones I’ve included?  And if you blog or tweet or FB, maybe you’ll post to the list?


What’s Next for Baxter???

Sunday, July 18th, 2010

Now that he has experienced the joys of Shabbat, what should Baxter do with his little porcine self?

If you were to write a sequel, what would it be called?

Baxter’s Big Bris?

Baxter Goes to Camp Ramah and Kisses Three Rachels?

Baxter Investigates Birthright Israel?

Baxter Makes Brisket (and nearly has a cow)?

Seriously, what are your most meaningful Jewish memories?

Now what???

Sunday, July 18th, 2010

Now what?  Huge emotional things happen. And then… life.

Life keeps going.

It rained today.  A wonderful friend turned 40. At the party I drank  scotch and made new friends. Mose and I took a loooooong walk. I’m reading a great book. There are dishes to do.

There are always dishes to do.

What a friend is…

Tuesday, July 13th, 2010

Maybe you have 1,752 Facebook friends and 2,162 followers on Twitter, and you like them ALL, ALL (okay, except a few). But  you engage with them all. Because they are fine people and they are there when you feel the sudden urge  to “talk” to someone at 2 am, or  when you want someone to pay attention to you for no particularly good reason other than having attention paid, or perhaps when you need to know where to get a good sandwich in Toledo, or whatever…

But then someone you really love dies.  Someone you should have called more often. Someone you should have gone to visit. Someone who isn’t just  someone.  They die suddenly, without warning. And you feel terrible.  And lost. You feel like if you’d known this was coming… you’d have made different choices, been a better friend.

And you have to admit, if you are being honest, that you feel sorry for yourself that you didn’t see them more the last ten years.  Because they were a huge force of nature, an amazing person and a brilliant mind and a wide sky of laughing and humor. They were irreplaceable, larger than life. They really were.

But mostly you feel sorry for not having made the time, the effort. Because you’re pretty sure  you let them down. You feel badly.

So you try to rationalize. You argue with yourself that you’re busy. You have kids and work and there’s only so much money and you can’t be there for everybody.

But then you call triple bullshit on yourself.  Because that’s exactly what you are, in a way. There for everybody. And knowing this, you find yourself deeply aware of the economy of time, of care, of attention.  Aware of the choices you’ve made.

Love might be endless, infinite.  You can love in a boundless way. You can love 2, 162 people.  But you can’t care for 2,162 people.  attend to them all.  Attention is not infinite.  There are only so many hours.

In terms of time.  In terms of weeks-off-per-year.  Hours free to chat.  Emotional/mental focus… perhaps it is possible to have too many friends.

I miss my friend. I miss Bob.  I miss him terribly tonight.  I should have gone to Oregon this year.  Or last year.  Or the year before.  I should have called.  I loved him, but I didn’t attend.

I want to learn from this, tonight.  I hope I can.

(And I want to add that this is not intended as a rant against Facebook or Twitter. I don’t mean to set this up that way.  I love the big wide buzzing world I live in online. I just need to do a better job of making space for what matters.  Why must we forever learn the same lessons over and over? Only slightly different and more complicated each time?)

And then, one day…

Sunday, July 11th, 2010

… I woke up!  And my life made sense again.

We’ve moved to our little new house, and unpacked all the boxes. And Chris has started his new job, and tomorrow, childcare resumes.  So I can get back to work.  I’m tweaking/slicing/chopping up my new book, and I have 2 weeks to  play with it, before I need to send this draft to my editor.  I’m also dreaming up a slightly insane picture book.

But that’s not the most important thing.  The most important thing is that…

Each day we walk somewhere. We take the dog down to the urban farm, or we get ice cream around the corner, or grab some dinner, or we visit with friends.  We slip and slide with the kids across the street.  Having a pedestrian life again is every bit as wonderful as I expected it would be.

Last night, we went to our Havurah, and that was so good.  And today, Chris is playing music in the afternoon, down at the EARL.  Our lives are full, but settling, at last.

And so… maybe I’m ready to blog again.