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!

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 Launched; Rabbi Mysteries Unveiled; Yuko Ready to Fly

Unmasked  contributors, from left, Renata Golden, editor Marcia Meier, Tania Pryputniewicz, Lisa Rizzo, and Barbara Rockman.

Unmasked contributors, from left, Renata Golden, editor Marcia Meier, Tania Pryputniewicz, Lisa Rizzo, and Barbara Rockman.

Marcia and Kathleen at Carr Winery.

Marcia and Kathleen at Carr Winery.

So much has happened in the month or so since I returned from Greece, both personally and professionally. Kathleen Barry and I launched our new anthology, Unmasked, Women Write About Sex and Intimacy After Fifty, at two events in October: A reading and signing at San Diego Writers, Ink, with four of the contributors to the book, and a reading and signing at Carr Winery in Santa Barbara. We had a wonderful turnout at both, and look forward to another reading at Tecolote Books in Montecito on Wednesday, Nov. 29, at 5 p.m. Also in the works are readings in Venice at Beyond Baroque (8 p.m. January 28), and an early February performance at Center Stage Theater of "Unmasked LIVE, Women Read About Sex and Intimacy After Fifty." Stay tuned for more details. 

Rabbi Arthur Gross Schaefer signs a book for a fan.

Rabbi Arthur Gross Schaefer signs a book for a fan.

A week ago, more than 60 people came out to Chaucer's Books in Santa Barbara to celebrate the publication of Rabbi Arthur Gross Schaefer's second mystery novel, The Rabbi Wore a Fedora, and the reprinting of his first, The Rabbi Wore Moccasins

Next Saturday, Nov. 11, at 3 p.m., Tecolote Books will help us bring out Dick Jorgensen's second memoir, Yuko, Friendship Between Nations, about his world tour as he traveled back to the States from Japan in 1957, and his subsequent work with The Asia Foundation in San Francisco, promoting improved ties between the two former World War II enemies. Come join us!

Keep all these Weeping Willow Books in mind as you make your holiday lists for the bookworms in your life!

On the Road to Kinsale

Charming Kinsale, on the southern coast of Ireland.

Charming Kinsale, on the southern coast of Ireland.

One tiny worry I had about going to Ireland was driving on the left (wrong) side of the road. Before we left, Rob and I watched videos of people driving around the Irish countryside and barreling through the roundabouts: They were absolutely hair-raising.

We spent three nights in London before flying to Dublin in late September. From there, we rented a car and drove south to Waterford and Kinsale and then west along the coast and up toward Connemara. Rob had driven in London before, so he was the first to take the wheel.

Merely getting out of Dublin was painful. We engaged the GPS unit, and soon the operative phrase was “recalculating!” We turned right when we should have turned left. We missed turns. We drove up and down streets looking for Starbucks, and Rob’s great-grandfather’s house, and, finally, the freeway so we could at last get out of Dublin. (We did find Rob’s great-grandfather’s house, which today is a preschool and the offices of a company called Torc Grain and Feed Ltd. I have video of Rob sprinkling some of his younger sister, Heather’s, ashes on the threshold.)

I learned a long time ago not to get freaked out about someone else’s driving. Honestly, Rob did a pretty good job of it, and once we got out of the city it was much smoother sailing. We drove south to Waterford that day, and stayed in a grand old hotel called The Granville Hotel on the waterfront. But it was dark when we arrived, and Rob, thinking he had plenty of time, turned in front of a poor motorcyclist and cut him off. I can’t print what the guy screamed at us as we mouthed, “I’m sorry,” through the car window. The next morning, Rob took out a couple of cones in front of the hotel as he drove up to get me and our luggage. The doorman just shook his head.

“Are you ready to try driving?” Rob asked me several times that day.

No way.

As we drove farther west and south to Kinsale, the roads got narrower and—it seemed to me—the drivers got crazier and the pace of traffic increased. We started to make fun of our female GPS, who certainly must have tired of saying, “Entering roundabout!”

Going into a roundabout while driving on the left side of the road is a special experience. Your natural tendency is to go right, but of course you have to turn left into the circle, and everyone just drives all over place. Here at home, our roundabouts mostly have implied lanes; not so in Ireland.

By the time we drove into Kinsale that afternoon, I realized I’d been holding my breath most of the day. The roads in Kinsale are all one-lane. So if you start down one street and a car comes from the other direction, one of you has to back down (or up) the street to let the other go by.

Kinsale is a beautiful harbor town on the southern tip of Ireland. When the RMS Lusitania was sunk by the Germans during World War I, many of the survivors were brought to Kinsale; a statue in the harbor commemorates the event.  

Our walking tour guide gave us a brief rundown on the rich history of this seaside town.

Our walking tour guide gave us a brief rundown on the rich history of this seaside town.

The Charles Fort, which guards Kinsale harbor, dates from the 1600s during the reign of King Charles I. James’s Fort, across the channel at the river’s mouth, also dates to the 1600s, and both were built to protect Kinsale from marauding Spanish and French forces. They strung a huge chain across the channel between the forts, which effectively tore the hulls off of invading ships.

Today, Kinsale is known more for its restaurants—and especially its delicious seafood. We stayed in a 300-year-old bed and breakfast inn called Desmond House, and fell in love with Michael, the proprietor. Sadly, Michael had just sold the inn to a couple from Dublin. We got to meet Paddy and Gordia one morning at breakfast, and came away feeling we had made some wonderful new friends. We know we’ll stay at Desmond House again should we return.

“Do you want to drive?” Rob asked the next morning.

We planned to drive the Ring of Kerry that day. I figured, what the heck.

“Sure.”

It was easier than I expected. Most of the rental cars in Ireland are manual shift, and I’ve owned two stick shift cars in the past. While sitting on the right side of the car was disconcerting, at least the pedals are the same: accelerator on the right, clutch on the left, brake in the middle. The stick shift was on the left, but it didn’t take long to get used to it. Now, Rob drove a little closer to the left side of the road, and that seemed a natural consequence of the change. I found myself gently reminding him he was a little too close to the hedges on the left. But I did not freak out.

Rob, on the other hand, could not stop reminding me that I was way too close to the left side of the road. “Look out!” he kept yelling. I may have gently grazed some bushes on the side of the road once or twice, but did that require wild gesturing and screaming?

Really?

He drove the rest of the trip.

Next: The Dingle Peninsula and the West Coast of Ireland

On the Move Again

I'll miss this view from our deck in Summerland, which we've called home for a little over a year.

I'll miss this view from our deck in Summerland, which we've called home for a little over a year.

Re-entry after coming home from Hedgebrook has been hectic and all-consuming. My week on Whidbey Island allowed for writing and reflection, thank goodness, especially after a two-week trip to France, during which I got news that my younger sister had died. It’s been an emotional time. Now I am in the middle of moving again, to a new home across town.

We have only about four more days to pack before the move. And it won’t be long after I'm settled in that Rob wants to begin renovation. I imagine I will be spending a lot of time in the relative peace and quiet of a coffee shop once that starts. It’s never a dull moment with Rob, for whom life is all about the journey.

As I wrote from Hedgebrook, I’m going to stop posting excerpts of my memoir while I revise it. Meanwhile, I’ll write more blog posts about our trips to Ireland last fall and France last month. Travel is a marvelous way to get to know oneself better—and of course your significant other. Both trips have been incredible learning experiences—for both of us. Our next “trip” will be a home renovation…stay tuned!