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

xP%Ei5xRRIGsNU0ALr5UqA.jpg

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

Pen Writing for Marcia's blog.jpg

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!

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!

What Feels Dangerous in Your Writing?

I recently completed an online poetry workshop with Kim Addonizio. She is a perceptive and skilled poet and teacher who was both fun to work with and discerning in her critiques. I highly recommend her. As part of the workshop, each participant was asked to pose a question for discussion on the group blog. One of the questions was, What feels dangerous in your writing?

Interesting, yes? Here’s what I wrote: Everything. The fear of not getting it right, of not being able to express exactly what I want to express in the way I want others to receive it (ridiculous control issue there). The fear of being rejected (especially by the “people who matter”—I'll come back to that in a minute). The venturing into a way of writing that I haven’t done before, whether it be poetry or something experimentally genre-bending.

Vulnerability is scary. We open ourselves up in our writing, more than most artists do. There is arguably greater risk, it seems to me, in writing something that has potential to bring on condemnation—if not death, as in the case of dissident poets in totalitarian regimes—than in painting or musical composition or dance. And if we assume the persona of another, whether in fiction or poetry or even nonfiction (as in the case of trying to understand someone else’s motivations), we are inevitably being dishonest. But sometimes it takes that to get to a larger truth.

I was intrigued by the Lionel Shriver controversy last year, because I think novelists particularly have the right to and should write what is true for them, and if it means assuming the persona of another gender or ethnicity or race, then I’m okay with that. Memoirs of a Geisha was written by a man. But I also see the other side. Sherman Alexie writes a lot about what it’s like to be a Native American in a white world, and I, too, found the problem of choosing work based on the ethnicity of a name pretty provocative. At AWP in 2012, Claudia Rankine took Tony Hoagland to task for writing in the voice of a racist narrator in his poem, “Changes.” And Kate Gale added to the fray last year by suggesting that the organization didn’t have a diversity problem, when it clearly did. All of this is to say that we, the writing community, perhaps has as far to go in communicating and understanding our diverse voices as our divided country does today. Okay, I veered off into politics, so let me get back to voice and vulnerability and risk-taking.
 
I think any time you pick up a pen or pencil and write something from the deepest places inside you with the intention to share, you step into a place of risk. There have been many times when I’ve read something I’ve written to an audience, and had people come up later and tell me what they got from it—and frequently it’s not at all what I intended. So, yes, it’s scary and risky and makes us vulnerable, but in the end we write for ourselves, because we have no control over how others will respond to it.

Now, as to writing for recognition from the groups we aspire to be a part of. There is inherent risk to sending out work and seeking approval from the “legitimate” literary community. I sought approval for a long time, then decided I would learn as much as I could and apply it the best I know how.  If something is accepted for publication, I’m thrilled, of course. But I don’t stake my self-worth on it. Sadly, I have some writer friends who do. What I’ve learned is that if you do in fact write outside the expectations of others, you’re less likely to win the approval of editors (especially younger MFA-trained ones) who follow the latest trends. And that’s okay. The only critic you really have to satisfy is yourself, and sometimes that’s the toughest one.