Wishing You a Wondrous Holiday Season

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Haven’t written much on this blog this year. My only excuse is work and life have taken more of my attention. But I didn’t want to let this season of love and peace go by without expressing my gratitude for all of you who are (or have been) clients, family and friends. You sustain me throughout the year.

I will be taking on new projects in the new year, and I’m excited about what will come into my life. I am so grateful for the clients I have had over the years, and especially those who have become friends, as well. If you have a book you’ve been working on that’s ready for an experienced development editor, or you would like the little nudge that comes from working with a writing coach, I would love to hear from you. May the peace and promise of this season settle upon you. May the love of family and friends surround you. May the abundance of the natural world visit upon you the nurture of nature. May you feel the love of the people who hold you in their hearts. Happy Holidays.

On Writing Badly

"Every worthwhile book contains many faults, and every worthwhile writer commits them."—Eric Partridge

Do you see the bird's claw prints? They are interspersed with those made by some human who trod along the sand at the headwaters of the slough at Avila Beach recently. They are so large I assume they are probably those of a great blue heron, but I can't be sure. What I love about them is their size—nearly half the size of a (wo)man's foot. The other thing is I was frustrated that I couldn't find a spot where the heron's footprints weren't "marred" by the human prints. I wanted the image to be perfect, to reflect a perfection that doesn't exist in nature, or, really, anywhere. 

We all try to make things perfect. Mostly we fail. Writers strive to create the perfect story, essay, novel, memoir, and what we end up with (most times) is flawed prose. Still, we persist.

John Steinbeck, who is one of my favorite writers, struggled (as most of us do) with his early writing. In fact, his first book, Cup of Gold, was a flop that never earned back his $250 advance, according to the Writer's Almanac. Steinbeck wrote to a friend: "The book was an immature experiment written for the purpose of getting all the wise cracks (known by sophomores as epigrams) and all the autobiographical material (which hounds us until we get it said) out of my system [...] I think that I shall write some very good books indeed. The next one won't be good nor the next one, but about the fifth, I think will be above average."

That was 1929. In 1935 he started work on his masterpiece Of Mice and Men (one of my all-time favorite books), which he didn't finish until 1937. During that time he and his wife, Carol, lived in his family's vacation cottage near Monterey Bay. She worked as a secretary and his family gave him a monthly stipend of $25. In spring 1936, he wrote to a friend that the work was going well and he was excited about its prospects. Then his new puppy chewed up the manuscript. He wrote to a friend: "Minor tragedy stalked. My setter pup, left alone one night, made confetti of about half of my ms. book. Two months work to do over again. It sets me back. There was no other draft. I was pretty mad but the poor little fellow may have been acting critically. I didn't want to ruin a good dog on a ms. I'm not sure it is good at all. He only got an ordinary spanking with his punishment flyswatter."

Steinbeck's good humor shines here, but so does the sense of inevitability so many writers know: It can always be rewritten—and improved. In my experience, the result is usually better. In Steinbeck's case, the final version of Of Mice and Men was chosen as a Book-of-the-Month Club pick before it came out and got rave reviews. It soon became a successful Broadway play.

What is the lesson here? Trust that the work will become what it's meant to be, get out of the way, and don't be afraid to revise.

"The Journey is the Destination"—a Life Lived Out Loud

Our good friends Eva and Yoel Haller invited Rob and me to a special Santa Barbara International Film Festival luncheon last week to celebrate a new film about an extraordinary young man named Dan Eldon. "The Journey is the Destination" tells the compelling story of how Dan, in his brief lifetime, inspired people to work for peace and social justice in parts of the world where both are in short supply.

Dan was born in London in 1970, and the family moved to Kenya in 1977, where his British father headed the east Africa division of a European computer company and his American mother, Kathy Eldon, was a freelance journalist. He attended the International School of Kenya, where he met students from around the world and developed his insatiable appetite for travel and adventure. While Kenya remained his home, he traveled widely, and, following in his mother's footsteps, became a journalist.

From an early age, Dan worked to help others. When he was 14, he raised money to pay for open-heart surgery for a young Kenyan girl. At 15, he helped support a Maasai family by buying their hand-made jewelry and selling it to fellow students and friends.

After graduating high school in 1988, Dan attended college in California and Iowa, but ultimately returned to Africa to pursue a career as a freelance photographer. His work caught the attention of Reuters' editors, and Dan was hired as a staff photographer covering Somalia's terrible famine in the early 1990s. As the situation worsened, violence drew American intercession and the attention of the international community. Despite the danger, Dan continued to work in Mogadishu, hoping his images would bring attention to the unfolding tragedy in Somalia. In July 1993, American forces mistakenly bombed what they thought was a meeting of warlords, and many innocent civilians were killed. Dan and three of his Reuters colleagues were killed when a gathering mob turned on them. He was 23.

Dan's mom, Kathy, founded a nonprofit organization—Creative Visions—to honor Dan's legacy. "The Journey is the Destination" is the realization of Kathy's long-held dream of telling Dan's story. A book of the same name features the drawings and artwork he jotted in his journal.

We met Kathy at the luncheon last week, as well as Maria Bello, the actor who portrayed Kathy in the film. It is a deeply moving and ultimately uplifting film, which also screened at the Toronto Film Fest and opened the DC Independent Film Festival this week.

Creative Visions continues to honor Dan's memory, supporting individual artists working to effect positive social change. You can find out more about Creative Visions here, and read more about Dan's story here. Kathy has also written several books about her own journey, which is just as inspiring. See her story here.

Dan's extraordinary life reminds us that all of us, each of us, has the power to bring about positive change in our world. If you have a chance, see the film. And support Creative Visions.

A Poem for the New Year

Liberty

 

buttermilk scones, hot and dry

fruit compote of raspberry

and peach

 

NPR’s soft jazz sings

me through dawn’s edge

 

at the kitchen table I look out to the orchard

that bears

the breath of sweetness

 

out onto the grasses beyond

where moles till the ground

in spring

 

when it seems the days

will never

grow short and dark

 

when my company will be more

than imagined

homecomings

 

with hot scones, warm jam,

and Darjeeling

you sent from India

A New Year's Reflection

Things I am grateful for:

·      my love

·      my friends and family, especially my precious daughter

·      writers who share their lives, loves and words

·      my work and the people who entrust me with their books and dreams

·      my sweet dog, Chevella, who turns 14 next summer

·      the ability to read and think and appreciate ideas

·      meaningful conversation with interesting people

·      the wonder and blessings of travel

·      my home and the ability to share it with clients and friends

·      the possibilities of the future

·      my own writing projects, which feed my soul

·      wise women friends who provide support and succor when I need it (and you know who you are!)

·      the opportunity to live in a beautiful corner of the world

·      walking on the beach with my dog

·      mentors who guide and encourage me

·      good health

·      deep, intimate relationships with people I love and care about

For these things and many more, I am profoundly grateful.

May your 2017 be filled with meaningful work and relationships, may you experience all good things, and may your loftiest dreams come true.

Happy New Year.