What a Great Summer!

At the waterfalls above Squaw Valley

At the waterfalls above Squaw Valley

I was so lucky this month to spend a week at the Squaw Valley Community of Writers fiction workshop. I got a lot of encouragement and support for continuing work on a novel I’ve been toiling over for many years, in addition to a new memoir about living with a family member with mental illness.

My brother has suffered from paranoid schizophrenia since he was a teenager. He’s now sixty-one and lives by himself in a mobile home on a tiny supplemental security income stipend. His teeth are mostly gone, he’s rail-thin, and he still struggles with fear and delusions, though age has lessened his psychosis. This memoir recounts his descent into severe mental illness and looks at the state of our mental health care system nationwide. In a word, it’s abysmal. I’ve written about and followed the laws and conditions of mental health care for many years. It is my hope that this book will enlighten and prompt policy revisions to improve the lives of millions of our family members and neighbors, not to mention the thousands of homeless people on our streets and in our jails.

As for the novel, I am excited to get back to a project that has been percolating since I wrote the first scene in a fiction class in 1987. After seventeen years in a nursing home, on the eve of his thirtieth birthday, a paralyzed Matt asks his gathered friends to end his life. Fred, who feels responsible for Matt’s accident, is conflicted. He is the one who stayed in their hometown, who visits Matt every day, who stayed true. Whether it has been out of guilt or friendship, no one knows besides Fred. Jake, the ambitious African-American attorney up for partner in his Los Angeles firm, thinks the answer to Matt’s request is obvious. Jeremy, the sensitive architect in San Francisco, great-grandson of Asian Gold Rush immigrants, is certain it’s wrong. Fred turns to his confidant and friend, Fr. Michael Cherry, to understand and make up his own mind. Meanwhile, Matt, bedridden, waits for their collective decision over the course of his birthday weekend. This is a project that has gripped my heart for years; now is the time to let the story unfold.

All of which is to say it’s been a busy and exciting summer. And that followed a spring filled with travel through Italy and Spain and a ten-day writing and painting retreat I led with my colleague Helena Hill. We are already planning another retreat to Tuscany for October 2021.

Next fall, I will lead an intensive writing workshop to the south of Spain, from Sept. 26-Oct. 3, 2020, at Casa-Ana, a lovely villa an hour from Granada. We’ll spend most mornings writing and afternoons in intensive critique. Bring your memoir, novel, nonfiction work of any kind. We’ll focus on generating new work and considering how it fits into your overall work. On two of the days we’ll hike the beautiful Sierra Nevada and explore Granada with a local guide. Casa-Ana is a warm and inviting villa with private en suite rooms, enticing meals, and every amenity you can imagine. Lodging, instruction, meals and transportation to and from Granada are included in the $3,600 cost. The only additional expense you are responsible for is your travel to and from Spain. A $500 deposit holds your spot. The balance of the fees is due in equal amounts on January 1, 2020 ($1,550), and July 1, 2020 ($1,550). Limited to nine students.

Interested? Send me an email! marcia@marciameier.com.

Enjoy the coming dog days of summer!

Ciao from Lucca, Italia!

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Greetings from beautiful (and, today, rainy) Tuscany. My colleague, Helena Hill, and I arrived two days ago with one of the eleven women joining us on this writing and painting adventure for the next ten days. All but one of the rest of the group are expected within the hour. 

We are at a 400-year-old villa run by the inimitable Karolina Lenart, a fabulous chef, and her husband and family. We were welcomed warmly with a lovely pasta lunch and wine. 

Yesterday morning I walked down from our rented flat in Lucca (we came two days before the retreat) to the cafe below to be greeted by Boris the bulldog and the friendly, and, thankfully, English-speaking staff.  I gobbled a sticky and sweet rice pastry with my cappuccino as I wrote. Boris was friendly but not so much that you were assured he liked you. Coincidentally we encountered another bulldog this afternoon at the villa— Bonito. See if you can guess which is which.

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The overnight flight from LAX was uneventful and I even managed to sleep about five hours, though fitfully. I was pleasantly surprised to find I had the entire row of three seats to myself. I also watched two movies and listened to almost four hours of my audio books—Amor Towles’ A Gentleman in Moscow and Pam Houston’s new memoir, Deep Creek, Finding Hope in the High Country. I finished Pam’s book early this morning when I awoke at 2:30 a.m. and couldn’t go back to sleep.

Honestly, every human being who cares about the natural world—and perhaps more importantly those who don’t—needs to read this book. It is a lovely treatise on the value of hard work amid the reality of nature and death and grief and loss, humanity and animals and the environment, human folly and hope and despair. It’s funny how someone whose life experiences are so vastly different from your own nevertheless can feel like a deeply connected sister or best friend. 

Our flat in Lucca was vast by European standards—three bedrooms and two bathrooms in the heart of Lucca town. Lucca is a medieval walled city filled with colorful buildings, fine leather shops, boutique clothing and pottery shops, restaurants and gelateria. Oh, and churches, towers and cathedrals. 

Tomorrow—Casa Fiori, painting and writing, on our Call to Adventure.  

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Have You Heard About 'Girl Talk,' the Podcast?

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I started a podcast last fall called “Girl Talk, Women, Aging and Sexuality.” It’s a 20-minute romp through all things related to women, health, aging, and sexuality, not necessarily all at the same time or in that order.

What a wonderful learning curve this has been! And thank goodness for my awesome sound engineers, who make me sound halfway decent (and know how to delete those pesky “ums”). Give a listen to my latest, featuring NYT bestselling author Gail Hudson. And while you’re there, check out earlier episodes with such luminaries as philanthropist Eva Haller, psychologist (and my co-author of Unmasked) Kathleen Barry; professor and author of Becoming Clitorate Laurie Mintz, hormone expert Dr. Erika Thost, and others. I am having a blast getting to know them and also bringing these important topics to you. Please subscribe and consider sponsoring the podcast. (Here is the interview with Gail.) And do tell me what you think!

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.

How to Know When Your Book is Done

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One of the issues that comes up frequently with my clients and students, especially those who have been working on a particular project for a long time, is “How do I know when it’s done?”

1)    The most telling indication, I believe, is when you realize you are simply moving furniture around and not revising. You are no longer improving your work, but simply changing it. It’s not better, it’s just a different way of expressing what you want to express. When that happens, it’s time to put down the pencil (pen, cursor, etc.) and let it be.

2)    When you find yourself having trouble choosing between one word, one phrase, one sentence, one paragraph or another, it’s time to stop. You’re not improving, just changing things. (See above.)

3)    You spend inordinate amounts of time in indecisive revision. Despite the stories of famous authors spending days on one word, you’re not them. Hemingway is said to have rewritten the ending to A Farewell to Arms forty-seven times. Fine, he’s Hemingway, and he probably drove his editor to near suicide. Don’t be that crazy.

4)    Read your work out loud. How does it sound? If it flows, let it go. If not, fix those spots, but don’t agonize over the whole manuscript.

5)    Let it marinate for a while. Put the book (story, poem) in a drawer for a period of time. Advice varies on this—I would say at least a month, some say a year. Whatever it turns out to be, you will come back to your work with fresh eyes (and a fresh sensibility). Things will jump out needing work, or the whole manuscript will wow you. Either way you will know what to do.

6)    Go for a walk! Get away from the work. Put some space between you and the writing. This is similar to No. 5, but it’s more appropriate while you’re in active revision. I have always found a sojourn into the woods or to the beach opens up new approaches to the writing. Get away.

7)    Recognize when things aren’t working and likely never will. Sometimes the story just isn’t working. LET IT GO! At some point it may morph into something else. But sometimes you have to be brutally honest with yourself and realize some projects just aren’t ever going to work.

8)    There are writers who outline and writers who don’t. If you’re one who doesn’t, and find yourself stuck in a cul de sac, it’s time to go back to the drawing board. Consider an outline.

9)    Do you still care? If you have come to the place in your heart where you HATE this project, it’s time to step away. Perhaps not forever, but for now.

If any of these things are true for you, take stock. You may be ready to submit. Or perhaps not.

One final thought: I am assuming you are in a writing group or have been able to take advantage of writing workshops or the expertise of a good editor to get feedback along the way. If not, get yourself into a competent group or hire a good writing coach. You can’t learn how to write in a vacuum; it takes years of practice and mentoring. Take advantage of every opportunity to master writing. Then trust your gut and heart when deciding if your book is done. 

Unmasked Reading at Tecolote This Wednesday!

Marcia and co-editor Kathleen Barry

Marcia and co-editor Kathleen Barry

Come join us Wednesday, Nov. 29, from 5-7 p.m. at Tecolote Books in Montecito! Several of the women who contributed to Unmasked, Women Write About Sex and Intimacy After Fifty will be reading, and I hope some of you can come out to enjoy some titillating poetry and essays, as well as refreshments, of course. Kathleen Barry and I will be reading, as will Maya Shaw Gale, Perie Longo, Lori White and perhaps one or two other special guests.

We look forward to seeing you!