My book presentation!

Me, presenting. (Photo courtesy of my sister.)

Since one of the anthologies I have a short story in, Dark Cheer: Cryptids Emerging, Volume Silver, happens to be all about cryptids—meaning supernatural creatures from folklore/mythology—my library asked if I would do a presentation about water-based cryptids. This went along with the theme of the library’s summer reading program, “Oceans of Possibilities,” as well as with my cryptid story, which is about an extremely tiny Leviathan (a Biblical cryptid!). So obviously I said yes.

To tie this talk into books and reading, along with explaining where these legends originated and how they likely got started, I offered book recommendations for each cryptid. Some were obvious (of course “The Little Mermaid,” although there are always people who’ve seen the movie but haven’t read the story) and some maybe less so (China Mieville’s Kraken, which is epically off the wall).

It was great fun to research and put together, and I think it went off pretty well. Plus I got to drag out one of my cute work dresses instead of my usual remote-work outfit: a non-logo T-shirt that shows up nicely on Zoom calls, jeans, and Crocs sandals.

I learned a couple of things that I’ll remember for next time:

• Bring a water bottle, so you don’t spend the entire talk worrying that your voice is going to die on you.

• Remember that everyone knows what the Loch Ness Monster and mermaids are, but not everyone knows the word cryptid. You might need to correct someone when they say, “… crypto?”

• Practice using the tech in advance, so you’re not staring at your Square reader thinking oh no please work when you try to sell copies of the anthology.

• Maybe make sure the library front desk knows about the event? That way when people call to confirm it’s happening, they don’t get a confused response.

• Make sure you have someone to advance the slides for you, because it makes your job easier, and that way you don’t have to get your kid to do it last-minute.

• Try not to have your event coincide with your kid’s troop doing an Eagle Scout project outside, because he’ll keep sneaking out to grab extra doughnuts from them.

But everyone seemed to enjoy the presentation and I got some nice support from family and friends, including some critique group members I haven’t seen in a long time or have never gotten to meet in person. Thank you all for coming!

And if any other groups would like to learn all about kelpies, selkies, and other watery magical creatures, I’ve got a fun slideshow for you.

Two years

Two years ago, the last in-public thing I did was volunteer at my kid’s Girl Scout troop cookie stand. (Those things sell themselves. It’s incredible. People ran across the parking lot, yelling, “THERE you are! I’ll take twelve boxes!”)

There were already COVID cases in New Jersey. Just a couple. Then a few more. And still more. Events started to get canceled (the troop never did take that trip to the Statue of Liberty). I was going to physical therapy for my recently diagnosed disembarkment syndrome, aka MdDS; I canceled my next appointment, because most of the other patients were older and I thought I might somehow endanger them, as though the virus were already everywhere around us. My neighbor and I, on the way back from the bus stop, spoke worriedly about rising case numbers. We were sure the schools were about to close. A day later, we were right. Friday the 13th.

But hey, we could handle this for a couple of weeks, right?

HAHAHAHAHA.

Two years. In New Jersey alone, over 30,000 dead. Hospitalizations keep dropping now, which is great, although the rate of transmission has been ticking back up (not sure how to read that anymore). Fewer and fewer people wearing masks in stores. People talking about “moving on” and “getting back to normal” when I’m not sure anyone understands what “normal” should look like anymore.

Meanwhile, there is a horror show in Ukraine, and people who are “different” (transgender kids and Asian-Americans, for instance) are under increased harassment and attack across the U.S. I hope that’s not what anyone meant by “normal.”

Side note: It’s increasingly frustrating to be querying a novel about a golem fighting antisemitism as actual cases of antisemitism keep rising.

It is totally fine, right now, to not be fine. Things are not fine. None of what’s happening is right, and there are millions of people dead worldwide because of a literal plague that isn’t *actually* over yet, although I hope we’re getting there.

I handle things by making donations to various advocacy/Ukraine aid groups, signing petitions, looking for ways to help people. Not sure it’s enough, but it’s something. When I can, I write. However you’re coping is fine, too.

Two years. But there’s still time to work for better things ahead.

All the new things

I hate to be one of those people who starts off a post with “This is why I haven’t been blogging lately,” but … this is why I haven’t been blogging lately: I recently switched from freelance back to full-time. I’m editing for a company that supplies web content to software development companies. It’s been a really nice adjustment, but it has been an adjustment.

In the meantime, my fiction is now featured in three anthologies! The current release, “Clearing the Field,” is in “Stories We Tell After Midnight Volume 3.” It’s about a young Jewish ballplayer who finds a way to fight back against the spectral Nazis haunting her baseball field—which was previously the site of an American Nazi camp. The anthology was released just in time for Halloween, but hey, horror is year-round.

Also out is “In His Name” in “Strange Fire: Jewish Voices from the Pandemic,” about a young woman’s attempt to outwit the Angel of Death and save her dying father, only to discover that you can save someone and lose them at the same time.

And preorders are up for “Dark Cheer: Cryptids Emerging”: Volume Blue is out in December, and my volume (Silver) is out in February. “Leviathan” is a modern-day retelling of the Biblical legend of the Leviathan—the king of the seas—mixed with a dash of “The Fisherman’s Wife.”

I also recently had the pleasure of attending the Rutgers University Council on Children’s Literature One-on-One Conference, which is application-only and competition is fierce. I got some great feedback on my MG girl-and-golem-fight-antisemitism novel, so I’m hopeful for the next round of queries.

(I will also be so much happier when events like this can be in person again. I miss my writer friends! I hate how I look on Zoom! The cat tries to break into my office!)

Everyone in this house is now vaccinated, and I hope you are too. Hoping you have a close-to-normal Thanksgiving, and if you also celebrate Hanukkah, hoping you squeeze in enough shopping time because argh, it’s early this year.

The waiting time

Maybe you haven’t heard back yet on agent queries.

Maybe you’ve sent short stories to publications, but you haven’t gotten responses yet.

Maybe you’ve applied for writing seminars, but you don’t know yet whether you’ll be accepted.

Maybe it’s … all of that at once?

(Yep, me too.)

Here’s the thing about the waiting time: Don’t take it personally. It’s not about you. Everyone is overloaded and stressed out, and the publishing industry is still playing catch-up over the pandemic. Reading periods and deadlines happen when they happen. This is the part of the process you have no control over, and worrying about it only feels like doing something.

You could keep productive to take your mind off the worry. Start another novel, write a poem, etc. But I also think it’s OK to do nothing. Acknowledge this is a bad time, step away from the computer, find a TV show you haven’t watched yet. Find a charity or nonprofit that needs you. (It goes without saying that there are a lot of charities that could use help right now.) Call somebody to see how they’re doing. Do something non-creative, or at least non-writing, until you’re ready to write again.

The world will catch up. You will get answers. Maybe some of those answers will be “yes.”

Assorted creative news

It’s been a good week, creatively speaking. I’ve just started a new content editing gig and it’s going well so far. And as of midnight, I’m competing in the second round of NYC Midnight’s 2nd Annual 100-word Microfiction Challenge. For NYC Midnight competitions (they also do short story, screenwriting, etc.), you get a genre, a type of action and an assigned word, and a deadline—which in this case, will be in 24 hours. Will I be scribbling in a hurry? Yes I will. Can you tell a whole story in 100 words? Actually, yes. And if you think that sounds hard, try writing a picture book, in which you have about 500 words to write a story that will work well with illustrations, even though those illustrations don’t yet exist. (Hat tip to my picture book author friends.)

And I’m looking forward to reading the other contributors in this anthology I’m in. Should be some fascinating work!

For more info, see:

Strange Fire

In the meantime, I’ve got another short story in revision and maybe a new way of thinking about my middle grade novel-in-progress. More research needed.

Hope you have a creative and peaceful weekend, or a creative and not-peaceful weekend, depending on your preference. Get vaccinated, be well, be safe, enjoy the Olympics.

Finally seeing the scenery

This is a scene from our Father’s Day hike. It was also a chance for me to see whether I’d gotten my research right.

I’d used this setting for a short story last year, but because of the pandemic/family stresses/deadlines/
virtual school (in other words, because of the everything), I hadn’t been able to get here in person to confirm that I was describing everything accurately. So how did I research the setting?

Fortunately, it’s a state park. I checked the official site, studied the maps, confirmed where the hiking trails were in relation to the campground. I poked around campground review sites to get a sense of what camping there would be like and what would be available (ground vs. platform for tents, fire pit vs. grill). And I checked YouTube. Sure enough, people had posted videos of their hike up the mountain and their view from the top. I got a sense of the layout, the terrain, what kind of trees you’d see, what the air would be like. And I got a pretty good idea of how creepy it could be to be lost in the woods at night.

Some of these details didn’t make it into the story, but that’s the thing about research — you won’t use all of it. That’s true whether you’re interviewing someone for a news article or gathering up sensory details for a piece of fiction. Better to be overprepared than underprepared, and to know all the answers to your questions. When you write from a place of authority, it shows.

On Sunday, I finally got to confirm that my descriptions were accurate and we got to enjoy the scenery. I’d call that a win.

Hope you also get to enjoy some beautiful scenery this week, for research or for fun.

Submitting to anthologies

Here’s how I see anthology calls for submissions: They’re cool writing prompts that could lead to publication. Sometimes this works out, sometimes it doesn’t. The story I submitted to “Strange Fire: Jewish Voices from the Pandemic” got accepted (and the anthology is out this month!). Stories I’ve written for consideration in other anthologies have gotten rejected, and I’ve been researching magazines/other publications to send them (some sources I like: The Submission Grinder, Erica Verrillo’s Publishing … and Other Forms of Insanity blog).

But sometimes the stars align and an already-written story fits what an anthology editor wants. For instance, my story that just got accepted for “Dark Cheer: Cryptids Emerging,” out in 2022 (preorder link to come when it’s available). So you never know. But I’m pretty happy about both of these acceptances.

The same goes for contest submissions. I didn’t advance in this year’s NYC Midnight Short Story Challenge, but I did end up with a fun sci-fi rom-com story that I hope to find a home for.

If you’re willing to accept the risk of your story getting rejected—which is kind of a requirement for being a writer—then writing for anthologies or contests can be a good part of an overall submission strategy. Good luck and have a creative week.

On revisions and assumptions

The right way to revise is … I’m just kidding. There isn’t one right way to revise.

I wanted to make some changes to one of my middle grade manuscripts, but the printout I already had was several versions ago and already scribbled-upon. I tried to use it anyway, with a different color pen so I wouldn’t confuse myself. It didn’t work. All the scenes I needed to change weren’t in this version. Especially annoying since I’d wasted precious car writing time on my first road trip in a year and a half.

I groaned internally and printed the whole thing again.

Some people can rewrite scenes right on the screen, and I thank those people for being eco-friendly. I can do it to an extent, but this particular revision was extensive and needed to be consistent throughout. I wanted the tactile feel of scribbling on pages. I wanted to cross things out and fill the margins. I wanted to minimize the time I spent staring at a screen, after a year and a half of too much staring at screens. You can argue with the way your brain works, or you can shrug and go along with it. I scribbled my way through the manuscript and I’m happy with the results.

The right way to revise is to figure out the right way for you, and then to do it. That’s all.

###

So, about Israel and Gaza.

I haven’t been talking publicly about the conflict, even though I’m horrified at all the devastation, because I think the discussion should be driven by people who live in the region, or have ever in their lives been *to* the region. I don’t have that expertise. But there’s been a huge spike in antisemitic incidents, here in the U.S. and elsewhere, over the actions of Israel’s government. To be clear: You can absolutely criticize a government’s actions. You can also do that without being antisemitic, or assuming that all Jews everywhere are somehow complicit in that government’s actions. That devolves into both the “Jews secretly control everything” trope and the “dual loyalty” trope, in which Jews are considered to be not true citizens of whatever country they happen to be living in. Jews have been getting harassed and murdered over tropes like this for centuries.

Please don’t assume you know where all Jews stand on this situation. You don’t. Please help look for a way forward instead.

If you’re also horrified by the devastation and the civilian loss of life, there are a number of organizations trying to help. The International Committee of the Red Cross provides humanitarian aid and assistance to local groups in Israel, Gaza and the West Bank. Check #BooksforPalestine on Twitter; they’re raising money for the Middle East Children’s Alliance and the Palestine Children’s Relief Fund. The ADL is a good source of information and tools to fight discrimination. This is just a sampling; there are plenty of other resources.

And it shouldn’t even need to be said, but comparing public health measures to the Holocaust is terrible and needs to stop.

Comments turned off. Have a good holiday weekend.

Little wins and big wins

I did the final proofread on a short story of mine that’s being published in an anthology. I lost a regular writing/editing gig, since the one remaining newspaper I freelanced for is shutting down. I sent out new queries to magazines on short stories and to agents on my novel, and got some encouraging rejection letters. It’s been an up-and-down couple of weeks.

But that’s the creative life, whether you’re writing for pay or writing for the love of it (ideally both?). Up, down, forward, back. Be happy at the good news, roll your eyes at the bad news, keep going.

Any success this past year is worth celebrating. Any ability to achieve anything close to normal is worth celebrating. Listen, I just got my first haircut in a year and a half. The little wins are big right now.

So I hope you’re achieving little and big wins, and you’re being as creative as you’re able to under the circumstances. And I hope you’re able to get vaccinated (I’m Team J&J, how about you?) so we can get past this thing once and for all. It’s getting warmer out, and I’d like to be someplace besides my back yard.

Congratulations on whatever wins you achieve this spring.

That future spring

Our second pandemic Seder went pretty well. We read the play I wrote telling the story of Moses (there are fights over who gets to be Moses, who gets to be Pharaoh; I never get any good parts in my own play anymore). The kids proved that they’re much better at finding Easter eggs than the Afikomen, repeatedly begging please one more hint while my husband and I shook our heads. And the cat proved he’s just as interested in swiping the bone off the Seder plate as he is in grabbing Santa’s cookies on Christmas Eve, making him an interfaith thief.

Outside, all the plants have gotten the invisible grow now signal and our irises are poking out of the ground. Inside, I trapped a ladybug and brought it out to the garden before the cat could try to eat it. Ladybug invasion season is generally in the fall, so either this lone intruder got its wires crossed or it did a great job of hiding in our house all winter.

And spring rolls on.

It’s nice to be able to mark the passage of time during the pandemic, when every day otherwise feels the same. It’s also frustrating, because we still can’t see our friends or families in person. We’re about Zoomed out. And every time I go to the supermarket, there’s another maskless shopper.

At some point we’ll get past this. In the meantime, I’m imagining a future spring: Passover and Easter with family, birthday parties with friends, stress-free shopping trips. Dressing up, going outside, leaving the masks at home. That’ll be good, right?

Happy Passover, Happy Easter, wear a mask, get vaccinated when you can. Here’s to next spring.