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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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. 

Poem—Ice Water

Photo by borchee/iStock / Getty Images
Photo by borchee/iStock / Getty Images

I grew up in Michigan, and wrote this poem remembering the cold winters and walking on Lake Michigan icebergs.

Ice Water

Walking on Lake Michigan icebergs

water flowing through fissures beneath our feet

Tenuous footfalls on ice that heaves,

cracks, then holds as your arms flail

My grandmother clucking from the shoreline,

bundled into woolen hat and coat,

her gloved hands fluttering

as my brother and I step onto

the ice, tempting God, or fate

or the universe

falling through, boots filling

with the shock of ice water

snowsuit ballooning, sucking

us down, arms reaching to pull us free

And my grandmother pacing, weaving

consternation on shore, a frustrated hen

Like that first step into another’s space

entering hopeful, knowing the well

will be deep

and perhaps a little murky

A Post Thanksgiving Poem

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Origins

 

My maternal grandmother’s grandfather

was a butcher—he was Fleischman.

 

I am a poet

who knows the dreams

of my mother dwell in my sister

 

My paternal grandfather’s grandfather

was a farmer—he was Meier.

 

I am a poet

whose song is sung in

graphite and ink

 

They left Europe

for a similar place of cold and

want. Where gray covers the earth

for months on end, and frozen air

sears the lungs.

 

I am a poet

whose truth rises on

ice-bound floes

 

I am the voice of my mother

a rock of disbelief, her

hope a crumbling house, my

birth her bitter denial. My chilled

moment of delusion lasts a year,

or a lifetime.

 

I am a poet

my sea-weapons

incantations of change

 

I am like and unlike my grandmother.

She certain of her place and lineage, her

favors and grievances, my grandfather’s

acquiescence validating her at every turn,

every slight, every diminishment. Ice

infusing our lungs, our breath.

 

I am a poet

who dreams of snow

gracing a Michigan hillside

 

My mother, her daughter, adoptive

stranger. She who fled the snow

for the warming coast.

An insult my grandma never forgave.

 

I am a poet

whose voice courses through

the blood of German strangers

 

I am the scribe, recording the reasons we hold

ourselves to impossible expectations.

Retelling the tales—ghost stories

that reside in our bones.

 

I am a poet

whose words infuse mitten state

apples hawked from a rusting truck

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!

Thanks for a Great Signing! Plus New Website for Weeping Willow Books

With Haydee Perez

With Haydee Perez

(Haydee Perez photo)

(Haydee Perez photo)

Shout out to Mary Sheldon and Penny at Tecolote Books in Montecito, and to all the folks who came out for my book signing on Saturday, July 22. It was a lovely afternoon, and I appreciate your support so much.

And hop on over to the new Weeping Willow Books website and check out our books and forthcoming titles, including our anthology, Unmasked, Women Write About Sex and Intimacy After Fifty. You can sign up to receive our monthly newsletter here.