Archive for the 'General Information' Category

Writing about Family

As it turns out, May 16th is National Biographer’s Day and May 18th is National Relatives Day. I thought combining these two holidays would make a good subject for today’s blog.Ironically, tomorrow I will be visiting my family in New York to celebrate my son’s 21st birthday – so I’m doing exactly what Wikipedia says I should do—visiting relatives!

As a memoirist, the challenges of writing about family are constantly present. Many of my students who write memoir often express their fear of being sued. According to Judith Barrington in her book, Writing the Memoir, the chances of being sued are extremely low. For the most part, suing someone is extremely expensive.  Plus most people w considering the process might not want to bring any further attention to a potentially-embarrassing situation.

The dilemma for the writer is having the desire to do justice to their families, but also wanting to write a compelling story. The fact is, drama sells. A humor columnist friend of mine who frequently writes anecdotes about his wife or married life, clears his short pieces with her first. He is both wise and sensible to do this. It’s good to allow family members to review your writing prior to publication. Not only does it allow you to face your family with peace of mind, but it can also solicit an additional perspective which might also even strengthen your story.

No doubt, the most interesting characters are those who are spirited and who are willing and able to create conflict, the essential element that keeps a story compelling.  There are three types of conflict—conflict within the individual, conflict between individuals and conflict between an individual and society. The odds are that if your story doesn’t contain some type of conflict, either you don’t yet have a story or it will be a boring one.

If you are driven to write about family and fiction is not an option for you, then you must know your limits and boundaries within the world of nonfiction. There are three important things to remember: be as honest as you can, fact check, and preserve other people’s privacy. In any event, here are some terms you should be familiar with:

Defamation: This is damage to someone’s reputation, which includes damaging statements that are either slander (spoken) or libel (written).

Libel: This is being accused that a published statement is untrue. This can only be done by a living person. One way to avoid this charge is to alter character name, especially if you are saying something which can embarrass or invade a person’s sense of privacy.

Invasion of privacy: This is writing something about someone which they don’t want published and then sharing it publicly. This can include embarrassing, personal or misleading facts about a person which you might be obtained from a third party.

Copyright: Most writers are familiar with this infringement, but one thing I recently learned was that letters are copyrighted the second they are written, and that you cannot publish a letter without their permission.

Indeed, there are rewards when writing about family. You might have access to fascinating stories and details which could really sell and might not otherwise make their way out into the world. But, it’s important to be cautious and keep the following in mind:

Set boundaries for yourself; allow anyone mentioned in your writing to review the material and honor the fact that people are entitled to their privacy.

AWP Recap

Dear Readers:

I recently attended the annual AWP conference which this year was held in Denver, Colorado. As usual, it was a stimulating conference, highlighted by the huge book fair and exhibit. Last Thursday I moderated a panel called, “Writing Biographies: Making Someone Else’s Story Your Own,” (panelists: Phillip Lopate, Honor Moore, Robert Root, Kim Stafford and Joy Castro). I was thrilled that the conference room we were given was filled to its capacity of 350 persons. I was also delighted that there were two Santa Barbara attendees – Paul Willis and Glenna Luschei. I thought the panel went as well as it could have gone.  I bow to my stellar panelists – you all shined and I thank you!

There were many highlights at this years’ event – Michael Chabon was a keynote speaker and he was hysterical. Although I have not read any of his books, he has inspired me to do so. On Saturday, writers from THE SUN Magazine gave a great reading featuring editor Sy Safransky and writers Steve Almond, Alison Luterman, Ellen Bass and Frances Lefkowitz. The stories made us laugh and cry—just what we want our readers to do. There were quite a few panels discussing the role and future of small presses, and others addressing the future of book publishing. Here’s a summary of one panel I attended which was moderated by Mary Gannon, the editorial director of Poets & Writers. The panelists included agents, editors and publishers. Mary did a fabulous moderating job and she and the panelists left me with many issues to They all gave me many thing to ponder, such as:

1)    The new technology (ebooks) will make readers out of those who are not readers.

2)    There will no longer be professional book reviewers, but the readers or actual buyers of the books will do the reviewing. Book promotion will be done via word of mouth, in the same way people spoke about books in the past—passed on to friends during lunch, coffee and in the same way independent store owners suggest books to their regular customers and book clubs.

3)    Nielsen’s BookScan which has been in place since late 2009, is a monitoring and analysis service which monitors English-language books by providing weekly point-of-sale data. It tracks about 75% of retail sales which includes chains, independent stores, discount stores and  internet retailers. This service now gives publishers the chance to see how many books of a particular title were sold, so if a big publisher is thinking of taking on an author who was published by a small press, they can tell exactly how many books were sold and if sales were low, they might decide not to take them on.

The way I look at it, this is good and bad news for authors, but either way, we are entering a new era in the book industry where not much is predictable except one thing and that is  that our  children’s children may not even know what a paperback novel is. In many ways I feel sorry for them, but in other ways I’m excited for them because the technology might inspire more people to read. I’m not sure this affects those in their 50s like me who has not yet used my Kindle which has been sitting on my desk now for two months. I thought it a good idea to get ‘with the program,’ and buy one, but somehow, I just cannot bring myself to use it. I grew up in libraries and the paper books are a part of my blood.

I’d love to hear how you feel about the book publishing industry—where you think it’s headed and how you feel about it. Please write into my comment section here.

Until next time,

Happy Reading!

Diana

Happy National Poetry Month!

In honor of National Poetry Month, on Saturday I read at the Santa Barbara Library, along with six other poets who also had a new poetry collections published in 2009. It’s really nice to see that people are still coming out for readings and that poetry is still alive and well.

Even if you are not a poet or avid reader of poetry, this might be a good time to bring poetry into your life. Here are some ideas you might want to consider:

1)    Select a poem you love. Copy it and put it in your pocket. For the month of April, share it with co-workers, family, and friends. This is called the “Poem in Your Pocket,” program.

2)    Receive a poem a day. Here’s where you can sign up: http://www.poets.org/poemADay.php. Each morning in your mailbox, you will receive a new poem to celebrate National Poetry Month. Incidentally, the poems have been selected from new books published this spring.

3)    Attend a poetry reading.

4)    Organize a poetry reading.

5)    Subscribe to a literary magazine.

6)    Revisit an old favorite poem.

7)    Memorize a poem.

8)    Write a poem.

9)    Send a poem to a loved one.

10) Start a poetry notebook where you copy and save favorite quotations and poems.

11) Put a poem in your child or loved one’s lunch box.

12) Buy a poetry book.

Although I have done a number of things on this list, the most recent undertaking was to buy a copy of Billy Collins’ latest poetry collection which was just released in paperback. It’s called, Ballistics: Poems (Random House, 2010). As usual, it’s never easy for me to choose a favorite poem of Billy’s because I love them all, but here’s one to whet your appetite and maybe send you to the bookstore to buy the entire collection:

A DOG ON HIS MASTER

As young as I look,

I am growing older faster than he,

seven to one

is the ratio they tend to say.

Whatever the number,

I will pass him one day

and take the lead

the way I do on our walks in the woods.

And if this ever manages

to cross his mind,

it would be the sweetest

shadow I have ever cast on snow or grass.

Typewriters, Then and Now …

Ever since childhood, I have had this deep adoration and affection for typewriters.  Perhaps I owe this to my maternal grandmother who taught me to type on her Remington typewriter perched on the vanity in her room. Twenty years later, my first book was typed on a Smith Corona which sat on a homemade desk my husband built for me during my bed-ridden pregnancy. I can still feel the residue on my fingers from the little white out sheets used to correct my inevitable typos.

Those of you who have visited my website, know my splash page features a typewriter and if you’ve visited my writing studio, you cannot help but notice the assorted collection of retired typewriters. At a recent meeting with a colleague in New York  I learned that there are others with this deep-seated affection. My colleague directed me to a website called, “The Classic Typewriter Page,” http://bit.ly/9rKFR3. The site states that typewriters in their original form date back to 1714, however, the actual concept of the writing ball dates back to 1870 when the pin-cushion-resembling ball was released by Malling Hansen.  In 1873, the Sholes & Glidden typewriter was launched  resulting in capital letter typing and the introduction of the QWERTY keyboard which we are still familiar with today.

As a writer, it’s fascinating to hear about other writers and their typewriters. I recently learned that Mark Twain claims to have been the first well-known writer to have submitted a completed typed manuscript to a publisher. Hunter S. Thompson used a typewriter until his death in 2005. Some writers, such as Cormac McCarthy still use a typewriter. In fact, he’s written all of his novels on an Olivetti , which he has been using since 1963. Supposedly in 2009, his original typewriter was auctioned at Christie’s for $254,500. He ended up buying a new one for a mere $20 to continue his writing. David Sedaris is another author who still uses a typewriter, up until the release of his essay collection, Me Talk Pretty One Day (2000).  Isn’t it interesting that my research has revealed only male writers? If anyone has any insight into this phenomenon, I would love to hear it!

Happy International Women’s Day !

Today, we celebrate the economic, political and social achievements of women and  indeed, we have so much to celebrate.

First and foremost, how wonderful it was to see Kathryn Bigelow make history last night by being the first female director in the 82-year history to win the Academy Awards and on top of that it was for a war movie. Bravo Bigelow! Yesterday also marked the death of the oldest living person in the United States, Mary Josephine Roy, who was a sports-loving, card-playing woman and if you can imagine, was born before Henry Ford built his first car. In the end, she outlived her husband by forty years, had two sons, eight grandchildren, thirteen great grandchildren and five great-great children. Now that is quite a legacy, don’t you think?

International Women’s Day has been celebrated since 1911—even  before women were allowed to vote.

Today, in my journal I am going to take some time to reflect on the most influential women in my own life, both alive and dead.

TO ALL YOU MALE READERS– I just read that in Great Britain, male cosmetic sales are growing at twice the rate of those in the female market. There has been talk about males wanting to keep up and keep young. Perhaps you are all getting ready for your big day – International Men’s Day to be celebrated November 19 — so don’t fret, you will have your turn!

Namaste!

Boomers Become Elders

This past week my dearest uncle Lou [cousin Jed’s father], suddenly passed away. Lou was a dynamic, vibrant, enthusiastic, loving 91-year old whose presence brought a smile on the face of whoever’s path he crossed. He had this indescribable lightness of being and he was a gentleman in every sense of the word. He was a man who right until the end, continued to give back to his community by helping to care for the less fortunate. Lou was from my father’s generation of men and women who I greatly admire. This was the generation I called upon for doses of wisdom and a sense of perspective when life had a tendency to go astray or when there were no answers to unexplainable problems or concerns.

As I sat on the airplane on the way home from his funeral in Florida, my eyes stretched out towards the heavens trying to grasp onto his spirit and keep it close to my heart. I hoped that wherever he might be, he was peaceful and would continue to watch over us.

After twelve hours of travel, I returned home, unpacked my suitcase and sat down at the vanity in my bathroom. For some reason the gray hairs encircling my face were a little brighter and more obvious. I suddenly realized that for my children’s generation,  I am the generation they will look to for their wisdom, in the way that I looked to Lou’s generation for my solace. I stood up from my chair, pulled back my shoulders and walked to the liquor cabinet for some Armagnac [special brandy from France], something I learned from the previous generation to do at the end of the day. My father-in-law swears by its healing powers to help with everything from sore throats to depression. I also learned from my father to be kind, non-judgmental and to treat people with respect. Habits like these are ones I’ve learned after years of standing on the shoulders of giants. I now realize that every snippet of wisdom they shared is now cherished more than ever. Today, there are only a few remaining who were born in the early 20th century. For me, it’s Uncle Bob, my father’s brother who voiced his somber sentiments at Lou’s funeral by saying, “It’s so sad, it’s as if our generation is all standing in line waiting to die, and we never know who will be next.”

Uncle Bob’s words stopped me in my tracks as I tried to imagine what it must be like not having anyone to look up to, or to glance  around the room at family gatherings to see that there is no one older. Also, there was a sense of the end of the road, a sense that there is nothing to look forward to and that everything that generation has seen has been seen many times over. My response  to Uncle Bob got lodged in my throat and all I could say was, “Uncle Bob you’re fine; you look great.” I really did not know what else to say but I did start some serious thinking. I thought about how my generation needs to prepare for the role of being the seniors and bestowing wisdom onto the next generation. We are soon to be the pillars holding everything together, but the big question is are we ready? Are us baby boomers ready to walk in those shoes and share the wisdom of our predecessors?

This New Year brings so many things to think about!

Writing and Tooting Your Horn

Publishers used to be involved in both the editorial and marketing aspect of  most (if not every) books they  launched. These days, unless you are a New York Times bestselling author, publishers do little in the way of aggressive marketing, regardless of the size of the publishing house.

It has been said that authors must do their fair share of marketing. Most authors, myself included, would prefer to spend their time writing rather than promoting their books, but the truth of the matter is if we don’t do some marketing, our nearest and dearest friends, family and colleagues, may never know about our book.

I am lucky because years ago I had a small publishing company and therefore I understand some basic marketing techniques which over the years have become second nature to me. I have learned to do something much against my grain, which is to ‘toot my own horn.’

In the November 16th issue of Publisher’s Weekly there was an article called, “Blame it On The Rep: When An Author Has to Sell His Own Book.” The content of the article really hit home with me. I love the opening line, “Along with developing a patent for a cordless extension cord, being a writer was one of my life’s goals.” This is in alignment with my belief that most of us are writers not because we want to be one, but because we have to be one. It’s a passion that pulls us. Michael Spradlin, the author of the article, began his career as a publishing rep and then began writing his own books, a similar track to my own.

The biggest difference is that when I wrote my first book in the 1980s, The Internet was not a vital part of modern living like  it is today – but selling and reselling postal mailing lists was the best option for reaching an audience. I licked one too many stamps for envelopes announcing my latest book. These days, authors do not have any excuse not to market themselves. When Penny Sansevieri’s book, Red Hot Internet Publicity was released a couple of years ago – I devoured all her tips and ideas – something an author can do in the privacy of her home, without the risk of having doors slammed in her face. This new dimension to our profession is here to stay – whether our books are in book or kindle formSo all you writers out there, promise me when you finish reading this entry, you will change screens and announce to at least one person what you are working on or what is your next release! Don’t rely on others to do what is now your work.


Quote of the Week


"A writer uses a journal to try out the new step in front of the mirror."

~Mary Gordon

About Me


I am a memoirist, essayist, poet and teacher whose passion is keeping a notebook. My notebook is my muse and my alter ego. It contains personal snippets of my life and observations from the world around me. Diarist Anaïs Nin has been a great source of inspiration for me. My hobbies include writing, writing and more writing, but when I have extra time, I enjoy reading, walking, hiking, yoga, working out, cooking and hanging out with my family and Maltese Poodle, Spunky. In order not to become ensconced by the glare of my computer screen, I also teach in the UCLA Extension Writers' Program and in various conferences and festivals around the country. My pleasure comes from sharing my joy of journaling with professional writers and anyone interested in writing.

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