Ellie Laks will sign My Gentle Barn

Gentle Barn Cover-full sizeIf you’d like to meet Ellie and have her sign your copy of My Gentle Barn, she will be signing books at the following times and places in the L.A. area. I plan to be there too (at all but perhaps Valencia).

Saturday, March 29, 2014, at 1 pm — Barnes & Noble in Burbank

Sunday, March 30, 2014, 10am to 2pm  at the Gentle Barn!  — Barnes & Noble will be there selling books (Not only a chance to buy a signed book, but you can meet the animals!)  [Map to The Gentle Barn]

Saturday, April 5, 2014, at 1  pm at the Barnes & Noble in Valencia

Read more here for March 29 and April 5 signings:  Ellie at Barnes & Noble

You can also buy the book here.

Nomi Isak is the collaborative writer on My Gentle Barn

 

How to Write Your First Book

Check out this great interview with twenty-one successful authors about the experience of writing their first book—from how they made a living before they sold their first book to the nuts and bolts of getting the words onto the page.

How to Write Your First Book

Calling All Writers (read this article before you say yes to writing for free)

If you’re being asked to write—anything—for free, I just hope the person asking is your mother or your kid (or the person who shares your bed). Because if the asker doesn’t fit into one of these categories, he or she is no different from someone in a dental chair saying to the dentist: “Oh, and I just want to confirm that you’re not going to charge for this crown, right? I’ll show it to everyone; it’ll give you great exposure.”

Tim Kreider has published an exceptional essay in the New York Times that tells why it’s wrong to write for nothing: Slaves of the Internet, Unite!

You owe it to yourself (and to every writer who ever hopes to make a living writing) to read this article.

 

What Your Favorite Book Looks Like in Colors | Arts & Culture | Smithsonian Magazine

British artist Jaz Parkinson has created an image for each book based on the tally of times the author has mentioned various colors. Check out what some famous books look like in colors:

What Your Favorite Book Looks Like in Colors | Arts & Culture | Smithsonian Magazine.

Writing and Failure

Last month, I wrote a blog post on the writer and rejection (If You Get Rejected, Should You Quit Writing?).

Here are some further thoughts on rejection by several oft-published writers, including the likes of Margaret Atwood: Falling Short: Seven Writers Reflect on Failure.

Are You a Good (Enough) Writer?

I just read a lovely piece in the L.A. Times by writer and book reviewer Héctor Tobar. If you have doubts about whether you’re a good (or good enough) writer, read his article: In defense of ‘bad’ writers.

The Writer and Technology

My mom, Hindi Brooks, who was an amazing, prolific writer, was the first person I knew who had a personal computer. I’m talking early in the days of home computers. This thing was as big as an old TV (how appropriate that she was writing for television). It was such a dinosaur she had to insert the brain before she could start writing. (I’m serious.) She put the computer’s brain—an eight-inch floppy—into the A drive and locked it in, and then she put whatever she was working on—another eight-inch floppy—into the B drive. When everything was securely in place, she could go get a cup of coffee while the beast took forever to boot up.

Consider yourself lucky that you have such fast, efficient machines working for you. And they’re getting faster and more efficient every day. It probably won’t be long before you can simply have a thought and the machines take care of the rest. Oh, I have to email my agent. And poof! the email is sent—thanks to our trillion GHz natural language, wireless brain port.

Technology helps a busy writer take care of business more quickly and efficiently. Maybe it even helps you write more quickly and efficiently. But does it make you a better writer? According to my mom—who got to make the jump from typewriter to electric typewriter to computer to modern-day computer, and saw other writers do the same—the answer was this:  Computers make good writers better . . . and bad writers worse. Those who have a tendency to send their writing out before it’s cooked now can send it out completely raw. Those who tend to over-edit can now edit the poor text to death, changing things back and forth so many times the magic is simply edited out.

The moral here? If you want to create good writing, really good writing, you can’t skip over the stages of the process that writers have always had to do:

  • write
  • put aside
  • read fresh and rewrite (but don’t over-rewrite)
  • get feedback from a qualified individual (editor/coach/etc.) . . . and rewrite again (as many times as necessary . . . but don’t over-rewrite)
  • don’t forget to spellcheck

Also:

  • know your audience, know your market
  • do research as necessary to know your audience and market

In essence: Don’t be so dazzled by the shiny prize of being able to publish your work online in two seconds that you skip over the necessary stages of creating good work. If you take it slow, you may even get a surprise benefit:  you’ll enjoy the process.

Weathering Rejection

 

The first time I had a piece of writing rejected (which was the first time I sent a piece of writing out), I called the first writer I had ever met (my mom, Hindi Brooks) to deliver the bad news.

“I got my first rejection,” I said. “They’re not going to publish my story.”

“Congratulations,” my mom said to me. “Now you’re a real writer!”

A ray of sun broke through the dark cloud hanging over my head, and I stood a little taller.

I tucked that one into my belt and sent out another story.

Thanks, Mom. You helped me weather the storm of rejection that every writer must walk through on their way to getting published.

Union Maid: The Spirit of Hindi Brooks

 

When I was a child my mother, Hindi Brooks Kleinmuntz, used to get up and sing “Union Maid” at parties. Her lifelong friend Esther (“Essie”) Broner sometimes accompanied her, and the two would belt out this pro-labor folk song luminous-faced and full of spunk. . . . I was only a little embarrassed.

Years later, my mom wrote a musical about a woman union organizer set in the early 1900s. The finale of the show was, of course, “Union Maid.”

In early December 2011, as my mother lay in a hospital bed, robbed of speech by a massive stroke, I realized I should be singing to her. (The doctors had told us she probably understood only 30 – 40% of what we said to her. Yet the part of the brain responsible for music was on the opposite, unaffected side.) But what to sing? I’d spent much of my life phobic about singing in public, and although I’ve now largely shed this phobia, it had hindered my learning of lyrics. (If you don’t sing songs, you don’t learn the words!)

It didn’t take long for the answer to come. Union Maid, of course! I would sing Union Maid. But I only knew the first line: “There once was a union maid, she never was afraid.” It was a good start. I knew my mom was terrified; I could see it in her face. This song was perfect; it was about a fearless woman. I sang this line to her a couple of times, and with her good hand she kept time to the music. Halleluiah! The song touched just the spot in her spirit that needed touching.

About an hour later, my mother pointed to my mouth. “What?” I said. Not a good question to ask someone who’s just been robbed of speech. But she found my hand and tapped rhythmically into my palm. “The song?” I said. “You want me to sing again?” She nodded.

This was the time for action and the internet. But I had no access at the hospital. One call to my resourceful friend Craig, and we were on our way. (Craig found and faxed the full lyrics to the nurses’ station, identified the writer as Woody Guthrie, and played an internet recording into my voice mail so I’d have the melody right.) Now each time my mom indicated that she wanted to hear the song, I was able to sing the full song to her . . . twice. She always wanted to hear it twice.

Nine days later, my beautiful Union Maid mom passed away (to join the great Union). But I wasn’t done singing. I knew I needed to sing the song one more time . . . at her funeral. “Union Maid” had helped my mom because it embodies the essence of who she is (I’m claiming my right to present tense for a while longer). She recognized the fearless union maid as a reflection of who she, Hindi, is in her core. That was the place it touched in her spirit.

Perhaps some of you will see yourself (your core self) reflected in this song. (Oh, and by the way, everyone at the memorial service sang along with me!)

Union Maid
Words and Music by Woody Guthrie

There once was a union maid, she never was afraid
Of goons and ginks and company finks and the deputy sheriffs who made the raid.
She went to the union hall when a meeting it was called,
And when the Legion boys come ’round
She always stood her ground.

Oh, you can’t scare me, I’m sticking to the union,
I’m sticking to the union, I’m sticking to the union.
Oh, you can’t scare me, I’m sticking to the union,
I’m sticking to the union ’til the day I die.

(To read full song lyrics click here.)