Thanks to Kathryn Curto, a wonderful teacher at Sarah Lawrence Writing Institute, for this interview. via *Interview with Kathryn Curto
I’ve always suspected that my characters are real. Thanks for this helpful advice!
by Lauren Sapala
For the longest time I had major problems doing revisions on my writing. It seemed so easy for everyone else. Why was it so hard for me? Of course, I also had trouble writing. I hardly ever experienced that state of “effortless flow” everyone talked about, in which the words just magically spewed out of me down onto the page. For years—a lot of years—I felt like something was wrong with me. I felt like I was a failure as a writer.
Then, I discovered something.
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It is easy to find fault, to tear down, what others have built up. My mother in law, of blessed memory, taught me an expression in Yiddish, which roughly translated, means, “The bride is too pretty,” to illustrate that some people can find fault even with the very best things – the pretty bride, the excellent meal, the first class, first rate tour of Europe. And so it is with the consciousness that my criticisms here noted are miniscule, nitpicking, negatives, worthy of the ugliest of ugly Americans, that I catalogue my various “problems” with a tour my husband and I recently took of Versailles, the Loire Valley, Brittany, Normandy, and Paris.
And yes, it was a beautiful tour, one which, in my younger days, would have surpassed my wildest dreams. In Versailles, we visited the Hall of Mirrors, of course, witnessing the incredible excess of France’s rulers just before the Revolution, strolling the lavish rooms and gardens, marveling at the luxury enjoyed by Marie Antoinette before she lost everything. And we enjoyed a taste of that luxury, staying in the palatial hotel where the treaty which ended World War 1 and, some say, caused World War II, was developed, eating dinner in the very room where Woodrow Wilson spoke. Dinner at the hotel was a Michelin starred affair – wonderful champagne, exquisitely fresh fish, desserts rich with chocolate and cream. Dare I say that the dessert was too chocolaty? I couldn’t finish it.
What a terrible thing, to her this critical voice echoing in my fortunate head. But how can a person feel lucky when she can’t operate the shower? The wish for a quick shower after dinner became an extended exploration of unfamiliar plumbing – buttons and knobs and unexpected deluges of cold water, or worse, scalding hot water. All this exasperated by the fact that when I removed my glasses I couldn’t see the damn buttons. A tub bath was an alternative I didn’t want to pursue. The tub was deep, with high sides, a challenge to my short legs and precarious sense of balance. It was a stretch for me just to reach the grab bar. I imagined myself stretched out cold on the beautiful marble floor, and tried for the shower again. I figured it out, got clean, and sank into bed, too tired to care that the mattress was too soft and the pillows too fluffy.
We met our tour guide that first night, and she begged us for one favor- always to be on time. I’ll call her “Fifi.” Fifi was a good-humored, talkative, and rather tall woman, and she spoke French fluently and badly. Even I, with a mere two years of French, was appalled at her accent, and our bus driver constantly corrected her. She was unflappable about his criticism. But in another way, she was very flappable – choosing to wear long skirts, drape-like fringed scarves and other loose garment, hanging off her like curtains on a sales rack. Her long earrings also dangled precariously. Fifi also accessorized with enormous cloth bags hanging from her arms and around her neck, bags filled with extra batteries for our little voice box receivers and lots and lots of emergency supplies like scissors, snacks, and handouts. Each night she stayed up late preparing handouts, but she sometimes gave them to us on the wrong day, perhaps a day or two after we’d seen the sights described. She was more than a trip, as the saying goes. She was a whole journey. Dear, friendly Fifi – a guide so knowledgeable and diligent she once fell asleep during her own lecture. I mean it. She literally fell asleep mid- word on the bus. We sent a cardiologist who happened to be on tour with us to check her out, and he proclaimed that she was just a little sleep-deprived. She got almost no sleep, typing those handouts and researching the answers to our most random questions. On the plus side, when a member of the group became ill, Fifi sprang into efficient action, arranging for a local doctor to visit the hotel. Her swift action allowed the ailing individual to obtain needed medication and continue touring. Perhaps this was why other members of the tour were unusually tolerant – no one complained to the management about poor Fifi. Even when she was late to join the group the very first morning.
Back to the pretty bride. Breakfast each morning was a feast – the normal American bacon and eggs, fruits, salads, the cold cuts and smoked fish other travelers seemed to prefer, plus pain au chocolate, croissants, and local French breads. I wanted all of it. Hard to resist piling my plate. But I knew that protein was needed for the trip ahead to the Loire Valley, so I ordered scrambled eggs and bacon. Ugh! The French method of preparing the eggs was not what I expected – soft, runny, an unpleasant texture to my unaccustomed palate. And the bacon was undercooked and very smoky. Again, not what I expected, and not what I wanted. I determined to concentrate on the pain au chocolate, which was, alas, too chocolatey. The croissant was delicious, I must confess, but so fresh that crumbs spilled all over the spotless table cloth, causing a supercilious waiter to clear the crumbs.
Never mind, I told myself, brushing off the croissant crumbs. My husband and I rode, with 11 other couples, Fifi, and the unflappable bus driver, from Versailles to the Loire Valley, where we were to stay at an honest to goodness chateau. But problems persisted. The chateau where we stayed, a gorgeous structure of the sixteenth century, boasted a large room, antique furniture, and a musty smell. Perhaps this was only because it was raining outside, so opening the windows was not an option. Turn on the AC, you might suggest. Not here, in the sixteenth century you don’t. Never mind. An excellent dinner, prepared, unbelievably, by the owners of the chateau – an appetizer of Asian style spring rolls filled to bursting with freshly cooked langoustine, fresh local fish, garden fresh vegetables, and a spectacular crème caramel, took attention away from musty smells. And since this was France, wine. Lots of wine. It was awful. My waistline was disappearing, and the trip had barely started.
The next day we set out for the winery in cold pouring rain. I layered against the cold, wearing a long-sleeved blouse, a sweater, an anorak with a hood, etc. Not bothering with sunscreen, of course. The sun began to shine brightly just as we reached the muddy vineyard. I stood in the mud weighed down by my heavy clothing, I tried to listen as the vintner explained all about the different kinds of grapes, and terroir, but I wondered why the sun had to shine quite so brightly. As pigs, goats, and a donkey emitted their respective barnyard noises from an adjacent yard I felt the sun burn my nose, my cheeks, even the part in my hair. I could have raised my hood, of course, but I was much too warm to keep the anorak on. I had to keep the sweater, though, to conceal the perspiration already soaking my long sleeved blouse. There would be no way to change the blouse – we were heading on to the next attraction right after lunch. There’d be no time to launder the blouse later. I only hoped there’d be time to launder me – what would the next shower be like?
Our tour took us to the seaside town of St. Malo, complete with a harbor dotted with sailboats and other pleasure vessels. The day was warm and sunny, perfect, it seemed for spending time near the beach. Our hotel room was magnificent, a king-sized bed with an exquisite coverlet, views facing the sea, and a gorgeous little terrace with which to enjoy them. The windows were wide open when we entered the room, and I was entranced. My husband was not. “There is no air vent,” he hissed.
“What are you talking about,” I asked.
“That means no air-conditioning,”
“There must be,” I said, looking at the rack rate posted. “At these prices?”
There was not. As the sun climbed higher in the sky we closed the window to the terrace, drew the curtains, and pulled back the exquisite coverlet to reveal a duvet⸺ no sheet. A duvet guaranteed to lock in heat. The shower was easy to operate⸺ for anyone familiar with solving a rubric’s cube, say.
The sunny weather held up, alas. We went to the beautiful gardens of Giverney, where Monet painted his fabulous water lilies. The problem was that we were joined by scores of other tourists. The gardens were impossible to photograph without including lots of strangers in our shots. What a terrible pity. The weather was too beautiful. Cafes in Paris, where we finished, were similarly crowded, with scores and scores of French citizens enjoying the sidewalk parade, and nary a ringside seat for these weary tourists. What a shame it wasn’t raining!
Yes, it was a glorious tour, worthy of praise, a beautiful country, deserving of many many pictures. But the showers were too high tech, the food was too delicious, the weather was too sunny. In short, the bride was too pretty.
Thanks Andrea Lundgren for this post. Source: The Secret Schedules of Great Authors
I’ve been in love with libraries since fourth grade, when a librarian from the Bathgate Avenue and Fordham Road Bronx branch of the NY Public Library came into our classroom and signed us all up for library cards. We could go any time, she explained, and take books home for free! Then she read us a story that we all loved and wanted to borrow and I was hooked. My friend Susan and I walked the half mile from our homes on Hughes Avenue several times a week, and came back with piles and piles of books
Can you remember the books of your childhood? Mine included a series by Laura Ingalls Wilder, starting with Little House in the Big Woods, and ending with These Happy Golden Years. Little did I imagine that the characters would have another life, in the popular television series Little House on the Prairie. Another favorite series for me was about the friendship of two little girls called Betsy and Tacy, by Maud Hart Lovelace. Later a third child joined them, and the triumvirate, Betsy, Tacy, and Tib depicted incredibly joyous childhood friendships at the turn of the twentieth century. Little Women, by Louisa May Alcott, recounted life during the Civil War. I read through all of the Alcott books, some several times over, and began to realize that although customs change, human nature does not. A few years later, Susan discovered books geared toward older girls, books such as Boy Trouble and Class Ring, by Rosamond du Jardin. These books were about adolescence in the 1940’s and 50’s. Still a little girl in sixth grade, I read them too, and wondered about what high school would be like. Just a little while later, I discovered Jane Austen, who wrote about England in the early nineteenth centuries. I realized that pride and prejudice were timeless qualities, and I copied Austen shamelessly in plotting Ms. Murphy’s Makeover, a Bronx tale.
Libraries have changed a great deal since I was a child. Now the children’s room is filled with educational toys and computers, a fun place to take a toddler on a rainy day, or any day. Along with programs for kids, book discussions, technology help, and other programs abound. I’m especially grateful for an informal writing workshop I attend, as well as for the technology help I’ve received. But most of all there are the books, and the librarians, a resource beyond compare. One of the highlights of my life has been to enter a library and see my own novel on the shelf. Thank you to all of the librarians who helped make this possible.
Nothing in my life can ever compare to the thrill of meeting my newborn daughters for the first time. However, seeing my manuscript become an actual book, with a cover that proclaimed me as its author, came pretty close. Like Anne Bradstreet, who called her book the child of her brain, I feel a tenderness akin to that of motherhood for my novel, Ms. Murphy’s Makeover.
I remember the morning that Jack, an artist for Black Opal Books, sent me some possible cover designs. I had told him I wanted to explore the daffodil image in the book. These golden perennials, a symbol of hope and rebirth, and the subject of a beautiful poem by Wordsworth, seemed a perfect way to convey my story of a woman who blossoms into a new life. Following my suggestions, Jack produced a single open daffodil, pointing heavenward against a sky-blue background. Underneath the title, Ms. Murphy’s Makeover, my name appeared. I was an author! My first name was misspelled, but Jack said that was easily corrected. Once the correction was done, I was over the moon.
My family was not. My husband absolutely hated it. My daughter said the skyward- pointing flower suggested a religious experience, not a women’s journey. But in the end, it was my sister Rosalie who cast the deciding vote. She was scathing in her disapproval. “Jacqueline. That cover tells me nothing, nothing, about your book,” she complained. “It doesn’t make me want to read it at all.”
As always, I listened to my sister. I sent Jack back to his drawing board. “This is a book about sexual awakening, among other things,” I explained. “A collapsing marriage. A difficult work environment. And then, a cosmetic makeover. Perhaps an image of a woman’s hands with red nail polish, removing a ring?
A woman in a plunging neckline, wearing a dress as scarlet as Hester’s letter, was the next option Jack sent! I was crazed at the sight. This cover proclaimed soft porn, or maybe not so soft porn. My character, Charlotte Murphy, would never wear such a dress.
To my surprise and delight, Jack had read the book, and he agreed with me. In one scene Charlotte wears a black dress, over the objections of her husband.
A black dress silhouetted against a champagne background, Jack suggested, would be sexy, yet classy. Much better, my husband said. Daughter and sister agreed. And so, the cover was born.
Recently, seeing that familiar image in a stranger’s hand almost was a religious experience. A perfect stranger had selected my book in a public library! Rosalie was right. Perhaps, you can judge a book by its cover.
by Mindy Halleck In 2011,I embarked on one of the harshest undertakings; I placed what I thought was the final draft of my novel in a drawer for one year. Why? Because, as I told others in …
Source: How Objects Tell Your Story
Ms. Jacqui’s Makeover
I was made over.
Old friends may notice a difference in appearance between my former self and my current look on social media. This is the reason why.
When my debut novel, Ms. Murphy’s Makeover, was accepted for publication I had to submit an author photo. I was advised to seek professional help. Immediately. My generous friends, Nan and Marlena, two talented and stylish writers, offered to take me in hand. I accepted gratefully. I am sadly challenged when it comes to fashion and make-up.
This is my husband’s fault, of course. He says likes me without lipstick or mascara or anything at all on my face. Lucky for me.
But this has made me complacent, or let’s face it, lazy, about my appearance. My make-up consists of a smear of lipstick I put on in the morning and forget to re-apply. When I get my hair cut I stick to the basic bob, all one length. My stylist always looks a little sad, and asks why I let it go so long between visits.
Anyway, on to the project. My friends had their work cut out for them.
The first step was eyeglasses. Mine were fairly attractive, I thought, wire framed progressive lenses. I had let the helpful receptionist for my eye doctor choose them. Eight years ago. My vision had not changed. But Nan and Marlena explained that the frames were passé.
They went with me to Lens Crafters early one morning and together we examined every possible option available for my prescription. They discussed each pair I tried on at great length, photographed me in each, and drove the sales associate crazy. We were in the store for two hours. At last I ordered the designer tortoise shell frames they’d selected. Designer frames at a designer price. I pulled out my credit card and signed.
On to wardrobe. Marlena, who is an artist as well as a writer, told me that the pastel color palette I’d preferred all my life was wrong wrong wrong. Jewel colors, she told me. Pale pinks and blues washed me out.
I went shopping with this in mind, and explained my predicament to the helpful saleswomen. They loved the idea of a project, and selected a cashmere sweater in burgundy and a blouse in teal blue. You can see my jewel-toned threads on my facebook author page, Jacqueline Goldstein Author, and on my soon to be published website.
Next came hair. My stylist, Cherry, gave me a pile of magazines to go through. Together with her assistant, Laura, we chose a layered style with flipped up ends, guaranteed to take time out of my mornings. And then Cherry gave me the best haircut I’ve ever had, layering my hair to frame my face and even flip up impishly. It was a great success, although I’d never be able to replicate it myself.
The make-up person at Cathy’s loved my haircut. When I told her that I was about to be photographed she gently patted layers of stuff on my face, making my nose look smaller and my mouth seem bigger. Suddenly I had eyebrows and eyelashes. False eyelashes. My small blue eyes became bigger and bluer behind my brand new glasses.
Finally it was time for my close-up. The photographer, Noelle Marie, chatted me up about my life and my book, posed me this way and that, smiling, serious, pensive, and mischievous. I had a great time. Being with her was like meeting a new friend.
The pictures turned out great. But then Noelle re-touched the photos, removing my wrinkles, adding whitener to my teeth and heaven knows what else. I emerged, glamorous, and cover ready.
Ironically, Ms. Murphy’s Makeover, is about a teacher who hates the way a cosmetic makeover turns out. She washes her face, and moves on to a more honest life. Unlike my character, I loved the way my makeover, and the photos, turned out. But it takes a village, a lot of time, and deep pockets to look your best. At the end of the photo session I was happy to wash my face, put on my old pastel sweater, and be just me again.