Wednesday, November 9, 2016

If my leaders and institutions won't model tolerance, compassion, kindness, thoughtfulness, open-mindedness, common decency, dignity and respect for others, what am I to do? Flee my country? Turn bitter? Not my choices. I have to find a way to heal my heart this morning with my work, my friends and my family (that's you Bettah Dottah) and practice the virtues I hold dear in my own life when and where I can, as best I can. And when smallness and intolerance creep into my thoughts, I hope someone will remind me of this morning, and where those seductive impulses can lead.

Sunday, April 27, 2014

How To Learn Storytelling From The Movies

Photo courtesy of Mike Licht

I am going through the Oscar-nominated best films of 2013 on Netflix, having missed most of them in my neighborhood theaters. Yesterday Fruitvale Station was up. I confess that I brought with me to the screening a bucket load of pre-conceived notions of how this story would be told. I live in the San Francisco Bay Area where the real life event took place and remember all the press, demonstrations and riots concerning Oscar Grant's death.

I assumed it would be a polemic, pure and simple. How could any filmmaker avoid that temptation with such a fevered story. How could anyone blame him. But how wrong I was.

For those of you who don't know the story, Oscar Grant was 22 years old when he was shot by a police officer on New Year's morning on a BART train platform. The subsequent rioting occurred when it was revealed that Mr. Grant was shot in the back, while lying face down, handcuffed and restrained by an officer. It seemed like target practice. The altercation was filmed by passengers on the train, which provided important evidence that lead to the firing of the officers involved and prison term for the shooter.

So you can see how a good guy vs. bad guy story could be told, whether you did it from the point of view of the officers who claimed to be under siege, or the innocent victim of racial profiling.

Ryan Coogler, writer and director, took a better, more powerful approach. He followed the dictum of one of my writing teachers, Tom Jenks. If you want your readers to care about a death, you have to make them care about the life.

Coogler shows what happens when you come in close and show his bright smile, the love for his daughter, his very bad decisions, his prison experience, his short temper, his character weaknesses alongside his love for his mother, his desire to do right for his family, his tender fathering of his child. Done without sentimentality or one sensational headline, he makes you hope against hope that, even though you know the outcome, you hope Oscar Grant will rise off his ICU bed and return to his family and have another crack at fulfilling his dreams. You weep at the end because you have lived his relationship with his mother, his girlfriend and his daughter and you feel their pain.

There is no other way to tell a story in my opinion.

Interestingly (for me), last night I also watched Amber, the four-episode Irish mystery that told a similar story. A young life taken (we assume) and a family left to grieve.  As with many stories, it had strengths and flaws. I happen to like a story told from several points of view, and Amber did this well. The one character we did not get to know was Amber herself, a fictional 14-year old who just disappeared one day. The ending was frustrating for many reasons, but largely because it left us hanging as to her ultimate fate. Yes, in real life, very few children who disappear are found.  But this was television. The nature of the genre required something else. It got this viewer too involved in the mystery, rather than the life, so that I did not weep at the end, but figuratively threw my shoe at the TV. Apparently, so did the viewers in Ireland. The writers (it seemed to me) relied on the tugging of heartstrings typical of a missing child story to carry a big piece of the series. But if you are going to write in a genre, you must follow the rules. In a mystery you nail the perp. In a human interest/literary piece, you go deep into the characters that matter, even if the ending is not an alls well that ends well. With all its great production values and actors, Amber did neither.

Lesson: no matter what you're writing, show don't tell. What does that mean? Watch these two films for the answer.

Friday, April 25, 2014

You never know who's watching

Since I'm still recovering from surgery and saving my energy to finish editing Dying For Diamonds, I will just say that it is always good to put yourself out there. You never know who is watching.

Last week a friend of mine emailed me that she had picked up a copy of Women's World Magazine at the grocery store.  In it was an article about cozy mysteries, one of my Kindle ebook genres (The Darling Valley Cozy Mystery series, A Corpse In A Tea Cup). And in it the author featured one of my books, Armoires and Arsenic. It was a wonderful surprise that I'm sure has helped me heal, or at least feel much better while I'm hobbling around.

But the Daily Writing Coach message here, for anyone sitting on their creative work, is put it out there. You never know who's watch who might give you a big boost. And, yes, sales of Armoires soared that week (relatively speaking. After all, I'm not Stephen King!)

And if you are curious about Dying For Diamonds, I hope to launch it next week. Here's the cover:

Happy weekend, all.

Sunday, April 20, 2014

Writer's Process Blog Tour

I have been invited to participate in a project with global reach, The Writers Process Blog Tour. I thought chain letters went out with floppy disks, but this tour revamps it into something new and painless for the reader. I was invited to participate by Andrew Hill, author of Crowed, a novel in linked stories that follows generations of a family from the 1800s to present day living under the continuing scourge of Jim Crow. The characters are unforgettable, the writing is superb, the story is universal. I urge you to check him out, not only his books on Amazon but his insightful blog.

Last week Andrew answered four questions about his work and process and nominated three other writers to continue the chain. I was one of them and today it is my turn to address my own writing conundrums and introduce you to three talented writers you may not know. Yet.

Ask a writer to jot down a few words about his or her process and youll likely get an encyclopedia. It is not a subject we can capture in a few words or four questions. Many writers write for the same reason they breathe. Because they have to. Im one of them. These questions help us, the writers, crystallize what that means. Please circulate this post on your social media, Twitter, FaceBook and so on and keep the blog tour going. Now to my questions.

1) What am I working on?

When people ask me what I write I say, anything youll pay me for. Its pretty much true. I am a food writer, medical/health writer, mystery writer, novelist, childrens writer and have dipped my toe into the paranormal waters recently. At the moment, I am working on all of the above except medical/health pieces.

Under my pen name, Cassie Page, I am putting the finishing touches on the third book in my Darling Valley Cozy Mystery series, Dying For Diamonds. I hope to publish it next week. Ive also written a spinoff of that series, Tuesdays Tea Leaves Cozy Mystery Series, A Corpse In A Tea Cup, and a second one is starting to emerge. I am starting the second in the Mikey series, novels aimed at the 8-10 year old reader. I also have outlined seven in the Farty Arty series and they await illustrations. I have outlined three new series in the mystery/romance genre with five short novels in each series. Ive published seven cookbooks but except for a zombie cookbook with a knockout cover that is half written. I dont plan any others.

The book I consider my lifes work, if I may be forgiven such grandiosity, is The Equal of God. This novel has been seventeen years in the writing. It follows the Gavagan family from the early 1800s through the great famine and illustrates how that disaster afflicted not just the starving farmers but the Ascendency as well, the wealthy Irish and English landowners whose way of life changed as radically after the famine as did that of the survivors.  Following Andrew Hills lead, I intend to publish it in segments beginning this spring.

I hope to finish these projects by the end of the year, and then start a new list.

2) How does my work differ from others of its genre?

Im not sure mine does, except for my Irish stories.  Genre writing, such as cozy mysteries and childrens books, is much like Japanese theater arts. The aim is not to create something new but to follow the formula as perfectly as you can. Please dont think Im comparing my mysteries to Noh plays, but the idea is the same. Meet the readers expectations: heavily plotted stories that stay within certain boundaries. No blood and gore, no sex, no bad words, small town settings, an amateur sleuth and a story that keeps them guessing and amused to the end. Light on description and inner dialogue. And readers want you to turn them out quickly, so they must be fast reads. I would never take a year to write a cozy, much less seventeen. Dying For Diamonds is my fourth since August, so approximately two months for an 80,000 word book. They are more challenging than I expected when I attempted the first one, and keep me guessing until the end, much like the reader. I was reading Dying for the last time this morning and discovered an important theme I have to go back and include.

Cookbooks also have rules. They must have a theme, really good recipes, well-written and easy to follow. They must be extremely well organized.  I think mine fit that bill.

Children’s books and literary novels, such as The Equal of God give you more latitude in terms of innovation. What sets any literary work apart is the voice and perspective of the writer. No two of us are alike. I hope mine have a distinctive voice and unique perspective on the human experience, both for young readers and adults.

3) Why do I write what I do?

All but my Irish stories are written for money. In that, I write them because I think/hope they will sell. I want to earn my living as a writer. That is not to say I dont enjoy them, love the characters and stories, as well as learn from them. And, try to write them as well as I can. Those stories just come to me as I explore the genre. Whats a cozy mystery, what are kids interested in reading? But I write them to meet the readers expectations.

My Irish stories are written for me. They come from wherever stories come from. I can no more answer this question than tell you where the universe came from. It just is. I just do. I go into a sort of trance when I write. Im often surprised by what I see come out on the page. It often isnt anything I think up. I read what Ive written and think, where did that come from?

I think the stories are buried inside of me and that trance-state helps me pull them out. Who knows? My job is to write down what comes to me.

I do know that when this book got started and I began the research I realized there was so much about my heritage that I didnt know, my family didnt know and the world had forgotten. It gave a purpose to this book. To tell that story. I care about it more than anything Ive done. But I didnt start out to tell the world about the famine. I just started writing about the Gavagans and it turned into an epic.

4) How does my writing process work?

This question is easy for me to answer, as I am a fanatic about daily writing. I used to be a stop and start writer. Pages would stream out of my typewriter and later my computer until my inspiration would run out. Then it could be months before Id start up again. The exception was if I had a contract of some kind. That was usually for a food-related project and that was easier to outline and finish. I meet my deadlines.

Twenty years ago I realized it was as hard to keep writing when you didnt know what happens next as it is to put it aside and wait for inspiration to return, and then go through the agony of getting a project started again. It is hard to build and maintain your confidence in yourself, in your story and once you let it got it is murder to get it back. I decided to put an end to that merry-go-round and write fifteen minutes a day no matter what. And I have ever since then, though writing fifteen minutes a day leads to hours a day. The genius of starting small. I discourage people from setting out to write three and four hours a day if you dont have that muscle. Build up to, and then it will be yours for life.

I have learned so much from my daily writing discipline, and not just what happens next. Ive learned about myself. It is like a spiritual discipline for me. Much of it I detail in this blog.

These days, I usually start about 8 am and go until noon. Take a break and go until Im dry. Can be anywhere between 5 to 8 pm. Or if I take a long break, Ill get more work in after dinner. Im not rigid about that. I aim for 4,000 words a day. Sometimes I make it, sometimes I exceed it, sometimes Im short. But because Ive been writing every day for so long I discovered I could crank out my mysteries much faster than I ever expected. I can write on demand. I can break into genres Id never considered before. I believe this is because Ive trained myself to become a disciplined writer.

Usually I get the first 20,000 words done in a few days and then I hit the wall. I cant figure out the next plot turn. Sometimes it takes me two weeks before it materializes. But I still work on the book, or something else, every day. Then bingo, the story opens up again and usually I can keep going until its finished.

I dont outline per se. I start writing from an idea, a character, a book title, a clever approach to a perfect crime. When Im stuck, I outline until the writing starts up again. I start at the beginning of the book and write to the end. I may make notes about later chapters but dont write them until what comes before is done. That might be my way of outlining. I rarely cut anything out, though I do occasionally move scenes around.

I am an obsessive reviser. It is something I have to curb in genre writing. There isnt enough time. So I have to be better the first time out. But I usually do three drafts anyway. For The Equal of God the number of drafts are into the 10th power.

In cozies, my main focus right now, I make everything in the story lead to the killer. Little things I put in and dont know where they came from, I make them work. Nothing is extraneous. Thats my rule for mysteries. No filler. What seems like a throwaway to a reader, is a piece of the puzzle. There is always a subplot, so sometimes the little things are part of the subplot but it all comes together at the end. I dont know if I learned that anyplace, it just was my rule from the get go.

My Irish book, my literary writing, is entirely different. I look at photographs of old Ireland, listen to traditional music, recall my fathers brogue, recall my trips to Ireland and the sound of the voices. And then I pray something will come to me. It has for over 700 pages. Now to get it published.

The secret to a writers life: write every day. No. Matter. What.

Now I would like to introduce you to three writers I have met over the past year. I admire their work and dedication tremendously. I am happy to promote them here because if you give them a look, I think youll become fans.

Pamela M. Kelly,

Pamela M. Kelley lives in the historic seaside town of Plymouth, MA, near Cape Cod and just south of Boston. She has always been a book worm and still reads often and widely, romance, mysteries, thrillers and cook books. She writes cozy mysteries and romances and you'll probably see food featured along with a recipe or two in her work. She is owned by a cute little Maine Coon Cat, Kelley.

Phyllis Zimbler Miller, www.PhyllisZimblerMiller.Com

Phyllis Zimbler Miller is a digital marketer and online content creator as well as a fiction and nonfiction author. Her novel MRS. LIEUTENANT was a 2008 Amazon Breakthrough Novel Award semifinalist and her Cold War memoir TALES OF AN AMERICAN OCCUPYING GERMANY is a work-in-progress on Wattpad. She is also a member of the Department of Defense's Bloggers Roundtable and the Military Writers Society of America.

Anita is a professional photographer who decided to combine her love of photography with her love of a good story. Her writing shows the influence of her three favorite genres: Romance, Mystery and Fantasy. Writing under the pen name of Lorraine Adair, Anita published her first novel--Ambient Light--in 2013. She's hard at work on her next book, a contemporary romance. 

Friday, January 31, 2014

Part Three Go Kindle

Photo By kennymatic

Give me a K
Give me a I
Give me an N

In honor of the Superbowl this Sunday, I'm going to give Kindle a shoutout. Not that it needs any help from me. More than two million ebooks have been published, with a boatload coming in every day.

As I've detailed in the last two posts, I've come in from the cold. The hard world of mainstream, or legacy as it is now called, publishing broke my heart, and into the warm, cozy (literally for me) world of online publishing. I have to say, at least I did get my books into bookstores and listed in the Library of Congress. No mean feat considering the number of manuscripts languishing in desk drawers with rejection slips stapled to them. So I'm down with gratitude for the luck I've had. Luck, I said. Not love. No, I haven't had much publishing love, a la, Stephen King and Dan Brown.

On Kindle you create your own luck and love. That's the hard part. More about that in posts to come. But I'm going to finish up this three part writing memoir about my experience with Kindle and why I am going to urge you to publish an ebook, if you haven't already.

In my infrequent posts, I have been pushing a daily writing practice. At the time I started the blog I was still looking to the mainstream publishing world to give my work a home. I assume you were as well, if you were interested in publishing at all.  But the universe has changed. With the press of a button, anyone can be a published author. You can google your name, pull up your book page on Amazon and, if you are lucky and persistent, get sales.

In this and future posts I am going to continue to praise daily writing, but also teach you how to publish on Kindle. Now I can recommend a home for your work.

For those of you who are dead serious about earning a comfortable living from writing, look to Hugh Howy, Amanda Knox, the Fifty Shades lady, and many more for encouragement. These writers hit the bullseye and are ebook gods and goddesses. But there are many other writers who don't sell books in the millions, but who make very, VERY comfortable livings from their books. I urge you to go follow them.  Continue following my posts and I will give you all the help I can to succeed.

But if you are a new writer, a timid writer, someone afraid of harsh reviews with enormous self doubt, then I want you to publish on Kindle as well.

The beauty of publishing an ebook is, for most writers, total anonymity. So if you write a clunker or fear you have, you can hide your book among the millions, safe from critical eyes, yet with the knowledge that, after all, you are a published writer. This putting your toe in the water aspect of Kindle is a godsend, I believe, for building confidence. There is always someone who has written a worse book. But seriously, you have begun the process. You can keep going, You can take yourself seriously as a writer (after all, Amazon will). You can get better and write more books. You can and will find someone out there who appreciates your take on the world, your story, your way with words. This can be very motivating for someone starting out.

Another reason for going Kindle (or iBooks, Barnes & Noble, Smashwords, etc.) is for the community. You will get more support for your efforts, learn more, make more friends around the world and just have more fun than writing your heart out in a garret would lead you to believe. You still have to spend time in that garret, but with the knowledge that there really is a world out there waiting for your masterpiece.

Ebooks, their ease of writing and publishing--a 2,500 word story is a book in Amazonspeak, allows you to sample genres and forms you might never try. Hey, you poets. How about a zombie story?Because there is so much on Kindle to learn from, I read one cozy mystery having never even heard of them before, and made connections that led me to publishing three and am on my fourth. I adore my literary writing group, but that was never gonna happen with that bunch. We didn't know from cozies much less write them. And they will tell you so. And now, I'm going to show them how to publish their beautifully crafted literary writing.

A whole new world opened up for me when I took the plunge. I thought I knew all about writing, but I have learned more in this past year than I ever could have imagined.

And so here I am, starting with that first sentence in my first cookbook that opened up the world of writing to me (see part one of this trilogy of posts), going from publishing two books in the next thirty some years, to twenty titles published in the past year.

If an old lady with a bad heart can do it, so can you.  I wish you lots of luck and love. The Kindle kind.

Sunday, January 26, 2014

The Story of My Writing Life in Three Part Harmony, part two

Photo courtesy of Quim Gil


A little more than a year ago it was inconceivable to me that I could write a book in a month. My great Irish novel has been underway for fourteen years and counting, give or take. Yet, I published my first ebook on December 17, 2012, and today, January 23, 2014, I published my twelfth, Groundbreaking Murder. I also put seven of those books into paperbacks, and while I had already written the text so they don't qualify as new work, the struggle and hair-pulling to figure out how to format them and produce a cover qualifies as one book, in my book. So, let's say I've written a book a month, give or take. Five cookbooks, four children's stories, three of which I illustrated, and as of today, three cozy mysteries.

In the interest of honest disclosure, one "book," Liftoff, Amazon calls anything it puts between covers a book, would be considered in any quality writing program a short story. But since Amazon calls the shots, I'll call it a book, too. I had written this story approximately four years earlier, polished the heck out of it, sent it to a writing competition and didn't even receive the courtesy of a rejection letter.

I considered Liftoff one of my best short stories, which is not saying much since I don't consider myself a master of the form. However, I believe it tells a strong story and I am proud of it. It is a landmark story for me in one other respect. I wrote it three days. It was one of those pieces that just came pouring out. I keep trying to figure out what I did differently that day to become, for 72 hours, unnaturally prolific and I don't have the answer. Was it a new brand of soap, writing in front of a fireplace instead of at my computer, or are the 6th, 7th, and 8th of January particularly fertile days for me. Or perhaps I had some premonition that my marriage was going to end on January 9th, and not wanting to face that ugly fact, I allowed my creative self to take over. Not a clue.

About three years ago I had a brainstorm, an idea for a children's story. I'd never written one before but this one came to me whole and I couldn't get half of it down on paper fast enough. Then I took a break and never went back to it. In part, the boy I wrote the story for was outgrowing it and I didn't know what I'd do with the story if I finished it. If I couldn't publish the kind of fiction I'd worked at honing for 35 years, what hope did I have a publishing a children's book, which I knew at the outset was flawed anyway.

I number those two books among my first dozen. This month, out of the blue I sold two copies of Liftoff. I think that makes five copies all together since April. I have no idea where those two readers came from but they gave me hope in this crazy indie writers' world I've found myself in.

When Mikey Made the Rules came out on Christmas eve, motivated by my desire to finally give it to the Michael who inspired it for Christmas. It is currently my best seller.

There are many far more interesting publishing stories out there, of people on the edge, facing bankruptcy, not able to work because of illness, having five children to support and no means of earning money in a very bad economy, then taking a chance. They wrote a book of some kind, it took and today they are millionaires. I'm in Facebook groups with some of them so I know these stories to be true.

For the most part they wrote these books in a few months. They produce 12-20 books a year. They write in genres I never heard of or paid attention to a year ago. They write erotica, young adult, zombies, Regency Romance, cozy mysteries (my current genre)  and old fashioned romance. Are the books well written? Some are, most are not by my standards. But since I am so far from producing a million dollars a year that I feel I'm on a distant planet, I don't think my opinion counts for much anymore. People are buying those books, being entertained by them.  They have the same access that I have to Shakespeare and Alice Munro, yet they buy books they can read on their lunch hour and get lost in a made up world where people live some piece of dream they wish they they could share.

I was once scornful of those readers and writers. I have set the bar for my own "serious" writing very high. But why should they? According to the publishing records, most people are bored by what I choose to read for pleasure. If the publishing business depended on my taste, there wouldn't be any books left in the world, neither paper bound nor ebooks.

If I depended on my preferred writing genre, literary fiction, I would never sell a book. Well, maybe five. There is Liftoff. That is the writing, though, that is my passion, my art.

I took up writing as a business this last year because I needed the money and I'm too old and saddled with some health issues to work at a day job, which I did for most of my life. I started writing these books five weeks after open heart surgery when I could only sit in front of my computer for half an hour tops, before collapsing back in bed. Heart surgery is no walk in the park, let me tell you.

Yet, each day, I did it. I pecked away at a cookbook following the instructions of a internet guru whose course promised I would have a book on Amazon in four weeks. Due to my feeble condition at the time, it took me six weeks.

I earned twenty dollars the first month, eight-hundred the next and then sales started to slide. I wrote another book and another book. With each one the sales of all my books would peak, and then slide again until I wrote another book. I was averaging 600 to 700 dollars a month.

In June I heard about cozy mysteries from a wonderful woman and successful writer who was generous enough to share her secrets with me. Through a marketing Skype call for ebook writers I heard her tell the story of writing her first cozy mystery the year before. She wrote a thousand words a day and was producing a book a month, 30,000 words each. She was at that time selling 5,000 books a month. I almost dropped the phone. I'd never heard of a cozy mystery. How could she be selling so many books?

At the end of the call I googled cozy mysteries, bought one and knew I could write one. I knew that because I had been writing since 1973, sometimes consistently, mostly sporadically, until I found my writing practice when I began to write every day. It's now twenty years and counting. During that time, I studied what made a story work, how to write dialogue, characters, manage description and do everything in my meager powers to pull a decent, meaningful story out of an idea in my head.

Since I've been writing cozies my income has doubled, rising each time I put out a new book. My success is small compared to people in my Facebook groups, grand compared to many people I come across who are still trying to sell their first book.

I work long, hard hours, sometime from 7 am to 9 pm. I exhaust myself, I live a secluded life. That is the writer's lot. My eye is on the next sentence and the next page. I am lucky that when I found these mysteries, I knew how to write a story. I didn't know how to write the genre, however, and I am still learning. In the most recent book, for example, the reader only has to wait three pages for the body to appear instead of thirty.

Why am I telling you this story? Because I believe I am the poster child for a daily writing practice. I had no idea that my hours upon hours of writing, reading, class taking and writing group discussions would lead me to popular fiction. But because of my discipline, I can at least do this much.  I can write for hours at a time, every single day, weekends and holidays included. I have trained my attention span, my concentration, my commitment to my writing so that above all else, I write. It is why I have a dozen books in a year. Are they good books? Some are. A ten year-old boy in Australia left a review on The Adventures of Farty Arty that it was the best book he ever read. That ain't nothin.

I preach a daily writing practice and have for two decades now. When I started writing fifteen minutes every morning no matter what, I did it for myself. I vowed I would never show my work to anyone else anymore after a heartbreaking publishing experience. A tale for another time. At the time I didn't need my writing to support me, though I wanted it to, because I had a day job. Now I will write for food.

We never know where life will take us. Twenty years ago, having known for the previous twenty that I wanted to be a writer, I let go of all my doubts about my gifts, the interest the world had in hearing my stories and just sat down every morning and did it. Now, when I need my writing to be financially successful as well as personally fulfilling, I have that discipline to fall back on.

The moral of the story: If you want to be a writer, write. Every fareeking day!

Like all of the writers on Amazon, people love my books or hate them (only a few). But I am finding my readers, slowly, but consistently, giving the world a slice of a life they would love to live as they eat their lunch. I wonder if they know, I create the life I, too, would like to live. I hope they like my books. When they do, it makes the effort I've put into my writing practice that much more worth while.

Thursday, December 19, 2013

My Writing Makeover (In Three Part Harmony)

Photo courtesy of Ritesh Nayak

Who doesn’t love those makeover shows? All over TV land you see people making over their bodies, their wardrobes, their businesses, their homes, their obstinate children. At the end of the show comes “the big reveal.”

We get to see the once overweight, ramshackle, bankrupt, mousey, insecure, temper prone protagonist, the ninety-pound weakling transformed into a ninety-pound giant as my late beloved brother used to say.

The hero rides off into the sunset and the viewer thinks well, if that bozo can do it, so can I.
And now along comes The Daily Writing Coach jumping on the bandwagon. I’m going to tell you the story of my writing makeover.

Writing is one of the great passions of my life, second only to the love I have for my daughter. I am, however, an unlikely writer, I think. I am of the generation where young girls were taught that their ambitions should center in the home. As a Cancer, domesticity came naturally to me. But after a while, I found it wasn’t enough. Something ate at me, a desire that eventually framed itself as a need to do something significant. That was the phrase that beat upon my psyche. I wanted to do “something significant.”

For a long while, that significant thing was cooking.  I love food and anything related to it, even grocery shopping. But this was a generation before the Food Channel. Other than Julia Child on public television or the Cordon Bleu in Paris, I couldn’t find anyone to give me hands on cooking lessons. I wanted to go beyond Hamburger Helper and The Joy of Cooking. I wanted to know what Julia Child knew. I lived in the San Francisco Bay area, now one of the major hubs of masterful cooking in the world. Yet in the ‘70’s, nobody was giving cooking classes.

So I cooked my way through Julia Child (that movie was the story of my life, minus the blogging), and one day, for the fun of it, offered cooking classes in my kitchen. I had six takers and it changed my life.

Because teaching cooking was so unique, I was featured in a local newspaper, got more students, offered more classes at night, after my day job. I thought I had found my “something significant.” But deep down I knew that, while I loved teaching cooking, it wasn’t it.

My fifteen minutes of fame in the Palo Alto Times caught the attention of a cardiologist friend at Stanford University where I worked as a medical secretary. He asked me if I would write a low cholesterol cookbook with him. I said, “Sure. What’s low cholesterol?” No joke, my exact words. Remember, I worshipped at the altar of butter and cream a la Julia Child. The notion of a low fat, healthy diet was almost as unique as cooking classes.

I thought it was a lark, the idea of writing a cookbook, not really believing we would pull it off. But such is the power of a book proposal on Stanford University letterhead that we got a book contract with some actual money attached to it. Off we went, John Schroeder back to saving lives in the hospital, me to figure out how to write the book.

John had more of a role than merely flaunting his considerable credentials at the publishing world, but the actual writing fell mainly on my shoulders. And that is why I am here today telling my story.

I remember it as though it were yesterday. Sitting in my kitchen in front of a new electric typewriter that I bought with my share of the advance, staring at a blank sheet of paper and finally typing the first sentence.

I think of it as the moment of my rebirth. In my mind, angels sang, trumpets blared and a deep, throaty voice announced, “She found it, folks. This is her significant something.”

The feeling of astonishment, pleasure and discovery I felt as I sat down to write that day has never left me. I did not know the trials that lay ahead, however. I had to learn how to write, an expedition as arduous, soul wrenching but rewarding as any taken by any explorer. My readers who write will understand this.

So there I was, a writer who had to learn how to write. Traveling along this narrative of discovery was another important facet of my life. Though I had no formal training or education in anything, somewhere I have tucked away my single diploma, the one from high school, I have always loved to read and listen to stories. I was raised before television. I spent my childhood with my ear glued to the big console radio in our living room listening to Let’s Pretend and The Lone Ranger.  As I look back on it, radio was excellent training for the imagination, for which I am grateful.  But reader that I was, I lost myself in books starting with Little Red Riding Hood, up through the Russians that I devoured in high school and anything else I could get my hands on after that. Before I began writing my first book, I’d read a novel and think, I don’t like that sentence. It should be this way. I didn’t know it, but that is what writer’s do. We edit everything we read, even our grocery lists. I guess I had the soul of a writer, if not the talent.

Fast forward through the next several decades, during which I discovered I loved writing fiction, took many, many writing classes, imagined myself on the cover of the New York Times Book Review as author of the Great American Novel. I was enthralled with the literary masters, the winners of the big prizes. I was deeply moved by language and words beautifully wrought, complex characters that helped me understand my own life. I practiced, practiced, wrote and wrote. I sold very little, until another cookbook project came along.

By then I knew how to write. I knew that a good cookbook contains good writing as much as a novel does. I was and am enormously proud of that book, but by then my desire to do something significant had shifted from food writing to fiction. I began my life’s work, my great Irish novel.

At this point, some twenty years ago, I had developed a hard won daily writing practice, hence this blog. I taught classes, worked with other writers on their manuscripts, had been accepted in the world’s greatest writing group. We gave public readings and I received praise for my story and my writing. I knew that being a good writer, and I believed by then that I was, did not automatically lead to a publishing contract.

In one hand you had the art and craft of writing and in the other, the business of writing, the publishing world. I had no idea how to crack that code. I knew that for most writers, never the twain shall meet.

I had to satisfy myself with the knowledge that I had transformed myself into a literary writer and hoped the publishing gods would smile upon me when I finished my novel. That I could call myself a writer was not only a great source of pride and satisfaction, I had worked very hard at this craft, but it was my identity as well. I might not be setting world on fire as a 9 to 5’er or as a published author. But by god I could write a ringingly beautiful sentence. I knew that because a writing teacher told me so. I was all about the art of writing. At times, this self- image was accompanied by a great deal of hubris, though I would not admit that to myself. I was too modest! I sneered at romance writers, paranormal writers, mystery writers. Those were genre writers. They didn't produce "art." 

Two years ago I experienced a sea change in my circumstances. I needed to earn money and I was no longer able to work at a day job. I didn’t realize that in a short year, I would also undergo life-threatening health challenges, as well.

I didn’t know it, but, in addition, I was about to be knocked off my literary high horse. It was the beginning of my writing makeover.

To be continued.