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.

The lost year

What was the last thing you did?

A friend’s birthday party. She was born in the ’70s, so the party was ’70s-themed. We brought fondue. I wore bell bottoms. My husband dressed like Disco Stu. Another friend is a DJ, so they cleared the furniture out of one room of the house to be the “dance floor.” A bunch of us did the traditional lineup-dance to Meat Loaf’s “Paradise by the Dashboard Light.”

I helped my daughter’s Girl Scout troop during a cookie booth sale. (Those things sell themselves. Cars were pulling up out of nowhere as people yelled delightedly, “There you are! I’ve been looking for someone selling cookies! I’ll take 12 boxes!” Half the time it’s women who used to be Girl Scouts.) We were set up at a Tractor Supply store, so we let the girls take turns walking over to look at the chicks and ducklings in the fenced-in pens.

Meantime, I kept reading the news. The virus was bad. It was getting closer. It was in the U.S. It was in New Jersey.

The schools shut down, we stayed home. We thought it was temporary. We’re still home.

Three people we know lost loved ones. My father-in-law died of cancer and we never held a memorial service, because we were under lockdown.

A friend of ours got the virus and was in bed for nine days straight — and that’s probably considered a “mild” case. At least once a week, we get an email alert that someone at our kids’ school has tested positive. But our kids are home, not around other kids, whom we see running around the neighborhood unmasked.

Things are looking more hopeful now, I think. More people are getting vaccinated. The statewide rate of transmission is ticking down again. Outdoor events (and outdoor dining) are becoming more doable. We might have something like an actual summer.

But it’s okay to be sad today. It’s okay to remember everything we lost. Birthday parties. Graduations. Thanksgiving, Hanukkah and Christmas. Vacations. Jobs. People.

I’m sorry for whatever you lost.

Here’s hoping for a better year ahead.

Common rules of editing

As part of my day job, I edit everything from novel manuscripts to news stories to healthcare content to nonprofit papers. Yes, I do like the variety. But there are some common rules that I rely on, no matter what type of work I’m editing. Here are a few:

  1. It’s not my byline. My name won’t be appearing on top of the article, on the cover page of the book, etc. This isn’t my work, I don’t own it. Ultimately, my job is to best serve the writer. My ego has no place in the process.
  2. Use the writer’s voice. Everyone, if they’ve been writing long enough, has a “stable” of words and phrases they use regularly. They tend to use commas in a certain way, or love to throw in the occasional em dash. Their sentences are long and flowing, short and powerful, or somewhere in between. If I tweak or rewrite something, I make sure to use words the writer would use, or structure the sentence the way they would. I keep it in the writer’s voice.
  3. Add compliments. Creative people are a neurotic, insecure bunch and everyone has imposter syndrome. (Including me.) The tendency when editing is to focus only on what needs fixing, but that can come off as too negative. If a joke works, a line of description is especially lyrical, or there’s really good information shared in a clear way, I make sure to note that. People deserve to feel good about their work.
  4. Stay open to suggestions. The writer’s suggested rewrite might be better than mine. And that’s fine by me.
  5. Be prepared to explain myself. At various publications, I’ve worked with writers who shrugged at whatever changes I wanted to make, saying “I trust you.” I’ve also worked with writers who challenged everything I marked on their articles. Sometimes my explanation satisfied them; sometimes they asked for a different change instead. But if I couldn’t justify the changes I wanted to make, did I have any right to make them? The writers were trying to have some say in the final version of their work. (See rule #1.)
  6. Look everything up. I work with the Associated Press Stylebook, the Chicago Manual of Style, and whatever individual house styles different publications use. That’s a lot of different style guides, some of which contradict each other. (Do I use serial commas this time? Are there spaces around the em dashes or not?) It’s not possible to keep all of that in my head, so I don’t try. Editors and copy editors are more likely to get into trouble when they think, “I know this,” and don’t check to make sure they’re right.
  7. I don’t represent all readers everywhere. I might not be the target market for the work. That doesn’t mean the work should be written to appeal to me personally. That means I need to keep in mind who the target readers are, and edit accordingly. And if that means I need to look up something I don’t know, well, looking things up is my job.

It all comes down to the Golden Rule of editing: Treat the writer the way you would want to be treated as a writer. And that rule has worked well for me.

The hatred in plain sight

It is so deeply frustrating.

After all the horror of last week, watching the unthinkable happen, scared for the future of this democracy, I still feel like people aren’t willing to name the truth when they see it.

This article is an example of how news outlets generally describe Qanon: “a conspiracy theory that Satan-worshipping pedophiles control the government.”

Here’s how they should describe it, per the Anti-Defamation League:

“Several aspects of QAnon lore mirror longstanding antisemitic tropes. The belief that a global “cabal” is involved in rituals of child sacrifice has its roots in the antisemitic trope of blood libel, the theory that Jews murder Christian children for ritualistic purposes. In addition, QAnon has a deep-seated hatred for George Soros, a name that has become synonymous with perceived Jewish meddling in global affairs. And QAnon’s ongoing obsession with a global elite of bankers also has deeply antisemitic undertones.”

So the word missing from the first description is “anti-Semitic.”

I’m assuming you’ve seen the photos of the man in the “Camp Auschwitz” sweatshirt at the Capitol insurrection. I’m not sharing them here.

When I started writing my novel about a girl fighting anti-Semitism—pennies thrown at her, a fake bomb threat to her synagogue—some of the earliest feedback from people was “are you sure you’re not exaggerating?” Even after the synagogue shootings in Pittsburgh. Even though I based some incidents on my own childhood. (I didn’t include the names I was called in the novel. I’d sooner let them die than pass them on to a new generation.)

The interesting thing was when I started asking my family about *their* experiences with anti-Semitism. We’d never really talked about it. Here’s a sampling: a co-worker saying “d’Jew” all the time as a joke. Asking for time off to attend services and getting pushback. Being expected to work on Shabbos (Sabbath is on Saturday for Jews, remember). Prayers from the New Testament before school plays. Tests scheduled during the High Holidays. Jokes about money, jokes about being cheap. Being told “you don’t look Jewish!” like it’s a compliment. Losing friends when they found out you were Jewish. Comments about how “the Jews are taking over everything.” And the most unprovable part, the quiet exclusion: left out of gatherings, not invited to parties, not part of the social circle at work.

That’s just from my immediate family. Imagine how many other people have stories.

(Side note: There is no such thing as “looking Jewish.” There are Jewish communities all over the world, and we come in every single skin tone. And that doesn’t even factor in interfaith families or converts.)

You can draw a line between incidents like that, and the guy wearing the Auschwitz sweatshirt at the Capitol. The line is shorter than you think.

We can’t address these issues, we can’t fight ignorance and hatred unless we’re willing to be honest, with ourselves and each other, about what that hatred really is. And obviously, the same goes for all other types of hatred and bigotry.

Comments turned off for this post. If you agree, though, or you’d like to learn more, there are a lot of good resources at the ADL’s site. Read a book about someone different than you. Find a nonprofit that could use your help. Have those uncomfortable conversations with people who keep saying things that aren’t true, or making “jokes” that were never really jokes. You have more power than you think.

Thanks for reading.

What we’ve accomplished

President-elect Joe Biden has won the election for approximately the 473897328763287643th time, front-line workers are starting to get vaccinated, snowpocalypse is coming tomorrow. Already it’s quite the week.

For Hanukkah, we did a chilly outdoor get-together with my parents, chatting behind masks until the wind was too much. For Christmas, we’re doing nothing. My in-laws live too far away, outdoors isn’t an option, staying there isn’t safe. It would’ve been nice for the kids to see their grandmother since they lost their grandfather to cancer in April, but that would’ve required more people (not to mention our leaders) to follow virus restrictions this year, wear masks, care about other people instead of blah blah blah freedom, so here we are.

If I sound angry and frustrated, that’s because I am. Those “we’re all in this together” ads have never been true, not once.

Still, those of us who are still here have managed to survive the pandemic and the horrific political climate of the past few years, and that’s an accomplishment.

If you’ve managed to create anything during this year, that’s an accomplishment, too.

In between rounds of edits on my middle grade manuscript, I started writing short stories again. One was published in Daily Science Fiction. Another will be published in an anthology called “Strange Fire: Jewish Voices from the Pandemic,” out next year. A third is waiting in a submission queue (argh).

I haven’t found an agent yet for my kidlit work, but I’m ending the year with two middle grade manuscripts that are stronger than they were in January.

I worked with some wonderful author clients this year on their manuscripts, including one for the second time. My coaching client got another article posted. And I picked up some new freelance writing work.

What about you? Did you create something? Did you make a sourdough loaf? Did you keep your household going despite all odds? All successes. We’re still in the tunnel, but there’s a light at the end of it.

So whatever you celebrate, have a happy, safe, quiet holiday. If you need an editor in the coming year, please do reach out. And go easy on yourself. You’re surviving a pandemic. You’re doing fine.