Mon. Nov. 26, 2018: Can Writers Have Friends? #UpbeatAuthors

Monday, November 26, 2018
Waning Moon
Neptune DIRECT (as of Saturday)
Uranus Retrograde
Mercury Retrograde

On the surface, that looks like a ridiculous question. Of course writers have friends! There are famous (and infamous) literary friendships throughout the known canon of literature. Writers need friends — people they can trust, people who will tell them when they’ve gone off the rails.

But it’s difficult to be friends with a writer.

It’s difficult for writers to be friends with each other.

I’m not talking about competition. As far as I’m concerned, when one of us succeeds, it’s good for everyone. Agents, publishers, and those who make money off our work want us to feel competitive, because it helps THEIR bottom line. But really, the toughest competition is ourselves, meeting our own expectations.

So why is it difficult to be friends with a writer?

Because everything is material.

If you know a writer, something you inspired will turn up in their work.

Unless it’s a roman-à-clef, it won’t be you in a literal sense. When an individual inspires a character, when I do my job properly, that character evolves away from the inspiration into a distinct individuality of its own, even if they still share characteristics.

Strangely enough, some people who swear that this character or that character is “based” on them in my work were never part of the equation, as far as I was concerned, and certainly not for the characters in which they saw themselves reflected.

I do my best to “do no harm.” I don’t always succeed, but that is my objective. Unless you hurt someone I care about, and then I’ll hunt you to hell and back if that’s what’s needed. I am fully in touch with my Shadow Self, and know how to use it.

But if you know me, whether it’s virtually or in person, something or someone you inspired will eventually show up in the work. It might be twenty years after we’ve lost touch, but it will happen.

Because I’ve spent my working life in the arts, and, except for the years since I left New York, my circle was entirely artists in different disciplines, athletes (when I was a sports reporter), and either veterans (met through the arts) or soldiers (who found my letters nattering about life in the arts an interesting distraction), it wasn’t a big deal. Now that I live away from an art-centric, urban environment, where fewer people understand the process, it’s a trickier. People are quicker to hunt for offense.

Artists use each other creatively all the time. It’s usually healthy. Sometimes it’s not. I was part of a cabal of writers in the UK for awhile, when I was early in the writing part of my career, where we used each other in our books, often without much disguise. Sometimes it was flattering, sometimes it was painful. Now, I re-read it, shake my head and laugh at how we tried to impress each other and communicate what we really thought and felt by Mary-Sue-ing instead of just talking to each other. In many cases, the work suffered. So did our relationships.

Non-writers often make assumptions, especially when it comes to my characters’ romantic lives or sex lives, especially if the book is dedicated to a man. They assume I’ve either had sex with the man mentioned in the dedication, or I want to have sex with him. In either case, it’s assumed the male protagonist stands in for him. The former may be true (I’ve certainly dedicated books to current or ex lovers), the latter unlikely. I’m not Anaïs Nin and he’s not Henry Miller; we’re not dashing to the page, still naked and sweaty after our encounters, to write them down.

Okay, I admit it: I went through that phase, but I was in my early twenties. I outgrew it. My writing is better now than it was then for many reasons, and, most important of all, I write FICTION.

I used to write erotica, back when it paid well. People who knew I did (and knew the names under which it appeared) often assumed and commented on how I must go about my “research.” It served us both not to dissuade them, although I made some flippant comments that I realize were unfair to actual lovers in my life, and that I now regret. I have apologized to several people, all of whom were puzzled because they didn’t remember and/or hadn’t been hurt.

When I’m writing and revising, I can pinpoint where the real-world inspiration diverges from the fictional character; but often, after several years, drafts, and a good editor, I can’t any more. I know who it was, but the character stands firmly on its own.

Writers used to worry, before the age of over-sharing on social media, about hurting others in their writing. It’s less of an issue now that it was fifteen or twenty years ago, and it’s always been more of an issue in memoir than in fiction.

There’s the position of “write whatever you need to write, your own truth, and to hell with anyone who gets hurt” and “change enough so they can’t recognize themselves.”

As I mentioned above, I evolve the characters away from the inspiration, when I do my job properly, so I embody neither AND both of the above.

On the opposite side of protecting people in your life you care about, there’s dealing with hurt. Hurt is inevitable. We cause it, even when we don’t want to; we feel it.

I make a lot of jokes about killing off people who annoy me in my novels. But they’re not really jokes, and it’s a great way to blow off steam. And by the time I write it, and the piece is ready to go out into the world, again — the character has evolved away from the original inspiration into its unique identity.

But the process eases the hurt and gets it into perspective. I’m often less hurt after the process because I understand the other individual more. I could wallow in the hurt if I kept that person as a two-dimensional cipher of my pain and rage. But, again, if I do my job as a writer, and make it a fully developed character, there will be more to the person and the situation than my pain.

Yes, writers can and must have friends. But non-writers need to realize that everything, and every ONE — is material.

Published in: on November 26, 2018 at 6:39 am  Comments Off on Mon. Nov. 26, 2018: Can Writers Have Friends? #UpbeatAuthors  
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Tues. Feb. 28, 2012: The Universe Steps In

Tuesday, February 28, 2012
Waxing Moon
Mars Retrograde
Saturn Retrograde
Partly cloudy and cold

Yesterday was an interesting day, and a good example of how the universe provides. I worked in the morning, and, late morning, had to go run a few errands, in one direction. Returning, on the spur of the moment, I drove in the other direction in search of a bakery I’d heard about near the airport. Since I arrived, I’ve been on the hunt for a good chocolate croissant. They are plentiful in NY; rare out here.

I FOUND the bakery, and was all excited. Especially since they have HUGE chocolate croissants. The counter person made a comment and I responded flippantly, and nearly a half a dozen people responded to my response. Turns out they were all either writers who teach, writers who don’t teach, or teachers. We wound up doing an impromptu bitch session about our work. I discussed current frustrations I’m having with some of my own teaching set-ups now, which is more about the business side of it than the students, quite frankly.

One of the other writer/teachers nodded and said, “These online-only places have to be less of a garden party and more of a university system. There aren’t any consequences for the student to quit; the only person who suffers, especially financially, is the teacher. Taking a class online is supposed to be about giving a student flexibility within that individual’s workday, not giving the individual an excuse not to do the work.”

Which is true. Any long-time class structure moving forward must have a steady financial commitment from the institution, so that I’m not penalized if someone quits. I’m still putting in the same amount of work. AND it needs to be a structure that doesn’t retain 50% of the course fee. I could see 20%, or even 30%, but 50% is out of balance. Administration and providing the board don’t take up 50% of the time put into a course. I understand they are in business and need to make a profit, and this model works well for them. At the outset, it worked for me, too. Now, it no longer does.

One of the other people at the table argued that they don’t get a certificate for completing an online class. I pointed out that the hardy few who survive my year long WILL get one — I’ve got it all designed and everything. I used to do it for the Nano mentees — make them certificates at the end of the session. Sure, it’s not a degree, but it is kind of fun to get something like that. I also pointed out, in the case of writing, those who successfully navigate the course and collect and apply the techniques we work on tend to get published, and regularly so. It may not be a diploma — but it shows that putting in the work pays of, both figuratively and literally.

I found it very interesting that ALL of them think I’m far too lenient with the students anyway. They think 1K/day and a short story every few months is too light a load. I think it’s a sane, steady pace, and I’m certainly not going to change it at this stage of the game! The writers all felt the bar HAS to be set high, to cull the herd of wanna-bes, and keep in the ones who really have the commitment and the talent.

One of them, who used to be an editor in both NY and London before she chucked it all to move here said, “They’re so busy pretending they’re ‘artists’ that they can’t be bothered with craft. Their job, as writers, is to tell great stories. Part of telling a great story is loving language and knowing how to manipulate language, how to pick the perfect word with the perfect shade of meaning for a sentence, how to order those words and sentences and paragraphs in a way that transports the reader. The craft means knowing that if I read a sentence with a sem-colon, I get a completely different image and have a completely different response than I do if there’s a period or a comma. I used to get a huge number of submissions where you couldn’t find the story because the rest of it was such a mess. To me, that indicates an enormous ego. It’s a slap in the face to the people receiving the submission. ‘I’m so important I don’t have to learn craft. You’re the servant — fix it.’ I’m NOT the servant — I’m the business partner. Anyone who’s made it past primary school should know basic grammar; if you’ve somehow slipped through due to a poor education system, or you quit school to take care of the family or go live your life and now found your passion is writing, it’s now YOUR job to learn it. The days of gentleman agents babysitting angsty, self-indulgent, self-styled geniuses is over, and good riddance to them. That’s the upside of the current dismal trend in publishing — no agent or publisher has the time to tutor would-be writers in the classroom basics they were given when they were ten. I wouldn’t hire a plumber who didn’t know the difference between a snake and a crescent wrench; why would I hire a writer who doesn’t know the difference between a semi-colon and a comma?” (Yes, she’d lived in England for a long time, too, hence “primary school”).

Later on, I had a phone conversation with one of my closest friends from NY. Her life is going in many exciting new directions; I’ll be travelling down there later this year to do her Croning ceremony. We discussed some of the elements from the above, and she said, “Look, you had to try this business model to see if it would work. It’s not in your best interest. Now you know. Now you can either find or create something better. Saturn Retrograde — you won’t be in the same place when it next rolls around. You’re good at that.”

Considering right now I don’t feel good at much of anything, it was nice to hear that.

It gave me a lot to think about. And they gave me some organizations to check out who work more along those university models with solid financial commitments. So I’ll send out some proposals and juggle those with the requests I’m getting in to present at other places, and figure out what kind of time/money ratio works out for me moving forward, and also what portion of time I want it to take of the day, so it doesn’t interfere with the writing. The writing is the most important thing, and I have to go back to being ruthless in that regard.

I feel like I’ve hit a plateau which is quickly turning into a wall, and therefore I have to change it. I’ll finish out my commitments this year, but next year will be about fewer classes with higher fees, and classes that are more difficult to get into. I don’t want to tell anyone that they can’t play — but they also have to keep up their end of the deal, which is showing up, doing the work, and learning the craft.

In the meantime, I have to go back to researching Master Herbal certification programs — I’ll probably find someone to discuss it with at the horticulture show next month. I had to give it up this year, because of the fluctuating income due to students leaving and me being penalized for it, and having to scramble to fill those financial holes. Being smarter in how I set up my regular gigs will help — I don’t cause someone else’s health problems or roof to cave in or whatever excuse people come up with not to fulfill their commitments, and I should not bear ANY of that financial burden, while still expected to put in excessive hours. It was my own stupidity for agreeing to a business model like that in the first place, because, silly me, I thought that if people actually had to apply to get in, it meant they really wanted to be there and had what it took to see it through. Lesson learned.

I’m sure Saturn’s next go-round will have something else to teach me! 😉

Hey, it took THREE rounds of Saturn returns kicking me in the butt before I had the guts to completely leave Broadway.

But the paths are opening. As challenging as this is, it’s also good, in many ways, and I have to appreciate what’s good about it. I just have to do some more exploration, find some new paths, see what makes the most sense moving forward, and what supports my own work best. Teaching, again, focuses too much of my energy on other people’s work, and I have to get it in balance with my own. Writing along with the classes helps, but there are other, gentle ways to adjust my day while still giving the students what they signed up for, and giving me the emotional space in which to write, which is just as important as the financial. The emotional demands of some of the individuals is just as draining (especially when they’re inappropriate) as the physical time spent on the work. A lot of the work is great and a joy to comment on — but the elements that aren’t working in the whole process need to be cut or changed.

Got a lovely letter from an old college friend. I’d written to him a few weeks ago, since all we’d done the past few years was exchange cards, and it was time to write more in depth. On my way to meditation, which, no doubt, will help even more in perspective. Then, it’s getting some client work done for tonight’s meeting, and back to the class and the page.


Published in: on February 28, 2012 at 7:23 am  Comments (2)  
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Mon. Dec. 5: Bad Day Out, Good Days In

Monday, December 5, 2011
Waxing Moon
Pluto Retrograde
Neptune Retrograde
Uranus Retrograde
Jupiter Retrograde
Mercury Retrograde
Cloudy and cool
St. Nicholas Eve

Friday simply sucked, six ways from Sunday, as they say. A piece I was sure I’d uploaded before I left for Thanksgiving was supposed to go live on Writers Vineyard on Thursday. I didn’t get a chance to check it until Friday, and nothing. Not in the queue mis-dated, nothing. Somehow, I managed to lose it. I apologized to the blog coordinator. It was MY responsibility to check the night before and make sure it was ready to go live. And I didn’t. I feel badly about it, and promised to be more careful moving forward. Then, I got shortchanged at the bank, but, because I didn’t realize it until I was home, setting up the cashbox for the press fair, I was SOL. It wasn’t much money, but I’m still kicking myself around the block for not paying closer attention. Again, that was on ME. And then a bunch of other things that were out of my control, typical Mercury Retrograde stuff.

The good thing about a bad day is that, once it’s over, you never have to live it exactly the same way again.

And I have a piece up called “Rhythm” on the Savvy Author’s Den, about finding and keeping a rhythm when writing your book.

Up early Saturday. Tried to write; didn’t get much done. Loaded up the car, made a pit stop at Michael’s for a few things and headed for Plymouth. I was sure I’d be late, but I was there on time. We arrived, picked our tables in the conference room, and set up. The Indie Press Book Fair was an interesting experience. Not a lot of traffic and not a lot of sales. But I’m glad I brought flyers about workshops and postcards for everything — most of those went. The people who did come by, stayed, even though they didn’t buy. And talked. Not necessarily about writing. It was interesting. People tend to be more conversation-oriented here than elsewhere anyway, but it was interesting that they’d wander in and talk about things that have nothing to do with one’s books. It was a little odd, but it was also nice to put away the marketing sound bytes one always memorizes for public appearances, and really LISTEN to them, and respond to what they were saying, rather than angling everything towards a sale. Someone better at marketing than I am could have done both, simultaneously, but my purpose was to see what something like this was all about from the other side of the table — not as someone who wanders a fair, but as someone with something to sell. It was interesting.

I got lots of compliments about my table — I’ll post photos later this week. As I joked, “I may not know what I’m doing here, but at least it’ll look pretty.”

Got to chat with other writers, which was fun, and swap books with a few. Always great to enlarge one’s circle of writers. My “table neighbor” and I spent a lot of the down time chatting about life, the universe, and everything, which was fun. Definitely someone with whom I want to keep in touch, and she’ll probably be a guest on A Biblio Paradise at some point.

Came home, exhausted. Unpacked. I’ve got my next assignment for Confidential Job #1, so I’ll get to work on that.

Yesterday, my internet was down. So all the intentions I had of working with student went out the window. Comcast messing with me — again. We need more internet options on the Cape.

No internet, and giving myself a day off writing, I decorated. And the house still isn’t done! It used to take me eight hours to decorate the apartment. Now it takes days to do the house. But, what’s getting done looks really good! This year, the mantel holds the Santas instead of the Nutcrackers, with the deer (a whole herd of ‘em) grazing on the hearth below. The Nutcrackers are still lined up across the front, until I figure out where to put them. Polished a lot of silver so everything gleams. Got the lights on the tree inside AND on the two small trees outside. And that took the whole day. I’ve got all the bits and bobs to put together the cookie platters, too — the plates, the bags, the organza ribbon I like to use on them. Baking will start later this week, or early next. The overseas cards and packages have to go out this week, and I want to get a solid start on all the cards. I want everything out by the end of next week. My list has changed a bit, because of the people I’ve met and activities in which I’ve participated this year, so I have to make sure it’s updated.

Today, it’s back to the page and back to the students. I’ve got to catch up on being away from them, and put together the details of a webinar I’m doing in the middle of January. I’ve also got some errands to run. I have a sneaking suspicion the first few chapters in what I’m working on now as Book 2 of the trilogy will wind up back in Book 1. They feel wrong here. It will mean more cutting and rearranging in Book 1, but that needs to be done anyway.

Tonight is St. Nicholas Eve — always celebrated in our house. We put out a shoe, and tomorrow morning it will be filled with treats — provided the kitten doesn’t empty it first and start playing with them!

Have a lovely start to your week!


Published in: on December 5, 2011 at 7:45 am  Comments (3)  
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Thursday, September 17, 2009: Guest Blogger Colin Galbraith

Colin’s one of my favorite writers and my favorite people. He kindly agreed to guest today, with some opinions on why literary festivals are so important.

Publishers and Literary Festivals: Why We All Benefit
by Colin Galbraith

Literary Festivals in Britain were once a very sparse commodity. In 1983 when the Edinburgh International Book Festival began, there were only around 30 literary festivals in the whole of the UK. Now there are over 300 and their burgeoning popularity can be attributed to several important elements, not all of them what you might assume.

Despite the mistaken belief that the sale of books is in decline brought on by the worldwide recession, more books are now being sold in the UK then ever before. Some economists commented that the public’s drop in disposable income might lead to a decrease in sales, yet with more people looking for new and cheaper forms of entertainment within their homes, the good old book seems to be benefiting greatly from the credit crunch.

This increase in book sales is often attributed to the popular market for of so-called celebrity biographies. A girl/boy band member or popular sports personality that sells their story before Christmas will usually be guaranteed a best seller with massively hyped royalties. However, scan your eyes down the best seller lists on any given week and it’s clear to see that celebrity tell-alls are not the only thing people are buying in numbers. As I write this article, the UK fiction chart lists such writers as Gregory Philippa, Kathy Reichs, Mark Billingham and Danielle Steele. Score the celebrity entries out with a pen and it becomes clear to the naked eye that something great is happening in this country—mainstream and literary fiction are in huge demand.

The publishing industry has come under much scrutiny for the manner in which it has cashed in on celebrity non-fiction books, and while I can personally think of nothing worse I’d like to read, I think there is a side benefit to having these books on the shelves.

Put simply, the money generated from them allows publishers to bankroll new writers. It gives publishers the confidence to bring in new and fresh talent, and to take risks where otherwise they might not have.

It’s also a way into reading for many readers who may have forgotten the pleasure that can be gained from reading a book. Maybe they’ve begun by reading a personality biography, found they liked the act of reading and so end up walking over to the fiction shelves in their nearest book shop.

And as the interest swells and the money flows, publishers over the last few years have realised the benefit in bringing everyone together under the one roof, and thus the dramatic explosion we have seen in the literary festival.

Literary festivals are a great way of increasing the interest and keeping readers and publishers in touch, and by doing so, the cycle of publication is strengthened allowing more good books to find their way into the market place, and therefore, new writers.

Without readers there can be no publishing industry, and literary festivals take full advantage in exploiting this to everyone’s gain. When the Edinburgh Book Festival first set out it had small dreams but it is now widely regarded as the biggest in the world, laying claim to almost a quarter of a million people attending during the two weeks in August it runs. This year’s festival saw 1.8 million ticket sales and a running capacity of 80%. When one considers these phenomenal statistics, it becomes clear that something great is happening again in book-world, and everyone is benefiting.

At literary festivals, established authors get the chance to talk about themselves and their books, they get the opportunity to meet their fans, receive adulation, and feel gloriously important. They get to show off! Considering they spend most of the year with imaginary people in solitary conditions, who can blame them for wanting to get out and socialise with their industry colleagues?

And for those writers who have not hit the top 5% of writers that don’t have to worry about how the mortgage will be paid, they are able to gain the reassurance that there are other writers out there in the same boat. They get to brush shoulders with agents and publishers, promote themselves, and of course, learn from their contemporaries. Sometimes, as in the case of my own feelings towards the Edinburgh Book Festival, for example, just being around other readers and writers is enough to motivate me.

But it’s not just readers, publishers and writers that benefit from literary festivals, so too does the surrounding area and the economy. With the arrival of all these different literary groupings, hotels, bars, restaurants and book shops fill up rapidly. Everyone’s a winner!

So when you see Katie Price’s next novel on the book shelf and hear yourself moan about the decline of standards in British publishing, think about the roll on effect that her book will have. Writers, readers, agents, publishers, book shop owners, coffee shop managers, hoteliers, bar owners and everyone else who has a vested interest in ensuring that the publishing industry gets stronger and stronger, and everybody gets a fair share.

Reading fiction or poetry may not be seen as fashionable or trendy, but tell that to the millions of people who enjoy it, and the thousands that earn a living from it. You certainly couldn’t tell if you had joined me in Charlotte Square in Edinburgh this August. An underground movement perhaps, but the people are speaking, the people are shouting: “let’s celebrate the book!”

Colin Galbraith has published two books of fiction and two books of poetry. He writes the occasional article, and is the News of the World’s “man in the east” for music reviews. He can be found at

Copyright © Colin Galbraith 2009

Published in: on September 17, 2009 at 1:49 am  Comments (4)  
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