Literary, or Light?As I Write I’m thinking about two articles I’ve read with regard to character and plot. One, from the New York Times on Monday, January 27, 2017, discusses a conversation between Lena Dunham and the actor who plays a sexual predator in Girls. https://www.nytimes.com/2017/02/24/arts/television/lena-dunham-and-matthew-rhys-on-the-latest-girls-provocation.html?_r=0 I haven’t seen the show they’re talking about, and rarely watch tv, truth be told. But I was fascinated by the fact that Lena, as the writer, had a conversation with the actor who plays a sexual predator in order to get a bead on the character of that episode. Dunham says that she could only express her own rage through the character of the predator, whose motivation for sexual predation was anger, not sexual need. I love that the two discussed the psychology of the character, and want to spend more time thinking and talking about the psychology of my characters, Charlotte and Theo. Like an actor, I need to get into character, to try to create, for myself, back story and motivation, for my fictional children. The second article I am pondering is from the New York Times Book Review of Sunday, February 26, 2017: What Happens Next or Doesn’t) by Marisa Silver. https://www.nytimes.com/2017/02/24/books/review/what-happens-next-or-doesnt.html Silver mentions a book, Plotto, published in 1928 by William Wallace Cook, which “purports to be an exhaustive breakdown of what might be every possible plot on earth.” Silver traces the evolution of the novel from a plot driven narrative told around an ancient hearth to the more ruminative modern novel in which a single consciousness carries the narrative. The plot driven books keep the pages turning, for most people. They are the bread and butter of the industry, the romance novels, the mysteries. They are looked down on as not “literary” by many. My own debut novel is a beach read, I’m told, which is not a bad thing. But I had wanted it to express my values, and I did strive to utilize my own background as a former English teacher. As I continue the saga of Ms. Murphy’s Makeover in my sequel, Charlotte’s Mess, I’m working out the psychological struggles of my characters, Charlotte, Theo, and Valerie, by plunging the depth of my own issues and those of the people I know well. If you’ve read and liked the book, I’d love to hear your thoughts about my “people.” Thanks! Jacqueline

Libraries

 

Libraries

 

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.

 

 

 

   

 

Covers

 

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.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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.

Ms. Jacqui’s Makeover

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.

 

 

Playing Red Light / Green Light … again

A visual aid helps this teacher and writer maintain her diet and her health.

Jane Started It!

Who knew that this childhood game would make a comeback for me? But it has, and this time there’s no getting out of it. See, I now have a nifty list of Green Light foods–those are the ones I can eat without concern–and Yellow and Red Light foods, too. The latter are what most of us eat all the time.

This is 10 milimeters. Yikes!This is 10 mm, almost the size of one of my kidney stones. Yikes!

But the kidney stones are back. Bah, humbug, right? Meaning that my moderate approach to lowering my oxalate consumption hasn’t worked so well. So it’s time to hunker down and play the Green Light game. The stakes are high. And I get to be “it” all the time.

You know what, I felt deprived when I (voluntarily) quit eating wheat three years ago. But I have proven to myself that I can do without foods I…

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Writing Advice From John Steinbeck

Great advice from John Steinbeck. Thank you!

The Politics of Writing

Whether a fan of his writing or not, John Steinbeck has been integrated into the American canon and shaped the way American literature has been perceived, moreso than any other writer has done. In 1962 he was awarded the Nobel prize in literature for “his realistic and imaginative writings, combining as they do sympathetic humour and keen social perception.” Not only have his works been frequently taught in schools around the country, his books have also been subject to numerous book-burnings  and demonstrations; which is the landmark of any great writer.

At times Steinbeck was hesitant towards interviews, but the Paris Review has recently compiled a mix of different conversations, interviews, and writings about his art. It’s broken up into different sections, such as “On Work Habits”, and “On Publishing” for ease of finding the best piece of advice. But there’s one section in particular that sums it all…

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A book I loved

Elizabeth Strout’s latest novel, “My Name is Lucy Barton” is the story of a mother and daughter, told by the daughter. It is a short, absorbing book. I inhaled it.

Lucy Barton grows up in almost Dickensian poverty, living with her family in a freezing garage, insulated with pretty pink fiberglass. She is told not to touch the stuff that gives this minimal warmth, because if she touches it, the fiberglass will cut her. The coldness of her home reflects the coldness of a family where the parents are abusive by most standards. For example, Lucy’s parents lock her in their truck for an entire day.  But Lucy’s mother sometimes gives her a hot water bottle to heat the bed at night.

Lucy stays late at school each day, doing homework and reading, just to be warm. She learns that “work gets done if you simply do it.” Books help her not to feel alone, and she decides to become a writer to help others not feel so alone. Doing homework and reading, she becomes an excellent student, wins a college scholarship, and escapes the poverty of her family. But she never stops missing them.

When the adult Lucy is hospitalized for nine weeks her mother comes to the hospital and never leaves Lucy’s side. Laughing and joking about the nurses, whom they have nicknamed Toothache, Cookie, and Serious Child, Lucy and her mother come to a kind of closeness.

Partly through the advice of another mother figure, a published author, Lucy achieves success as a writer, but, as her mother predicts, there are tough times in her future.

As a writer myself, and as a daughter and mother of daughters, I loved this book. Thank you, Elizabeth Strout.