Saturday, November 24, 2007


I hope everyone had a good Thanksgiving. Mine was quiet. My kids were with my ex at his family’s Thanksgiving and I’m glad. I want them to feel connected to their relatives and know they are part of an extended family.

It was strange hearing that it was warmer in New York City than here in Texas but that’s the kind of odd weather it’s been this year.

I found myself thinking how grateful I am for all the good things in my life. I found myself thinking how even on our worst days, most of us able to be online have it better than most people throughout most of history.

I found myself thinking how grateful I am that I will never again be as hungry as I was as a child when it was only on holidays such as Thanksgiving that I was allowed to eat until I was full.

I found myself thinking how grateful I am for friends and for the internet that allows me to stay in touch with friends even though I may live far away from them.

I hope each of you had a good Thanksgiving and that despite whatever challenges you may have in your life, you also had things to be grateful for.

If you're interested, there's a "Gratitude Project" going on at: 21 Days of Gratitude

Saturday, November 17, 2007

In Defense of Newspapers

The Writers League of Texas consistently has good speakers for their programs. This month was no exception. Fred Zipp, managing editor of the Austin American Statesman, talked about what’s been happening with newspapers and the impact of the internet. I kept thinking of the parallels with book publishing: consolidation of distributors, fewer buyers, rising costs, the issue of credibility when anyone with a computer can put content on the web.

As I listened, I found myself thinking how much I love newspapers. I love reading the different sections. I love reading about realities that are not my own. When I do, I feel a sense of connection with people I might otherwise never meet or know about. I am reminded that my vision of the world can only be as valid as the information on which it is based. If I do not expose myself to ideas and viewpoints different from my own, how can I possibly believe that I have anything even remotely approaching a clear picture of the world?

I’m fascinated, too, by information that lets me project ahead to changes that might be part of my life in a year or two. I feel empowered by information that lets me make decisions that prepare me for trouble ahead that I might not otherwise know about.

I adore newspapers. I love to read them when I travel because it’s one of the surest ways to get a sense of a community. I love to read odd stories about things I would never have thought to look into if it wasn’t in the paper in front of me.

I’m not sure there is a substitute for newspapers. We can get headlines and short videos on the internet. We can watch news on television. But those are visual and auditory mediums. And I believe we process information differently when we see it written than when we hear or see it instead. (Mind you, I also believe newspapers can’t entirely replace videos on the internet or news on television either.)

Newspapers, by their nature, present a lot of information because they have the space to do so. And seeing information in a variety of areas allows one to grasp the bigger picture emerging—one that is affected by technology and social interests and politics and economics. In today’s world, we can’t afford to just stick to information regarding our own niche. If we do, we’re likely to be blindsided in our lives and/or our careers.

It’s not always comfortable to read the newspaper. We may have to think about things we’d rather not or in new ways or about areas that aren’t easy for us to process. But that’s what lets us grow—as individuals and as a society. How can we build and maintain a society that works for ALL its citizens unless we are exposed to realities that are not our own?

I hope newspapers last forever. They are the watchdogs for our society. They bring us news in a unique way that enriches our lives—if we allow them to. They are one of our greatest resources—both capturing snapshots of our society and helping to shape it by showing us possibilities we might otherwise never think about.

Technology will continue to change newspapers as it changes everything else. Maybe in a few years I’ll be reading mine on an electronic device that looks like a sheet of paper. I don’t know. What I am sure of is that as long as there are newspapers, I’ll be reading them. How about you?

Friday, November 09, 2007

How We Communicate

For various reasons, communication has been on my mind this week. I’ve been looking at material that needed to be directed at very different audiences. I also attended a workshop that talked about NLP techniques and the ways people communicate.

Which of these do you find yourself saying:

I see what you mean.
That sounds about right to me.
That feels right to me.
That’s logical.

The interesting thing is that while people may have a distinct preference for one or two of these, they may tune out completely or not see or grasp the others at all.

Add to that the fact that some careers have distinct jargon of their own and it’s not surprising people often miscommunicate—the wonder is that we ever communicate effectively at all!

What it means if we’re writers is that we need to think about what our target audience, our readers prefer. What kinds of metaphors? What style grabs their interest best? With what kinds of characters will they be able to identify? What images will they see? What sounds do they want to hear? What will allow us to connect with them?

If we’re writers, we’re in the business of communication. We want our readers to see and hear and feel and make sense of what we’re writing.

Ultimately, communication is always about creating a connection with the other person and giving them a reason to care about what we’re saying. That’s true if we’re writing and it’s true in every day life as well.

As the workshop I attended pointed out, when it matters most to us, we’re least likely to instinctively connect with someone else because we’re likely to be using the approach that works best and feels, sounds or looks right to us. The key, in any situation that really matters, is to pay attention to how the other person communicates and go from there.

I'm curious to know what YOU think.

Friday, November 02, 2007


A friend sent me an article from the New York Times that got me thinking about censorship. Not other people censoring us as writers but a tendency we may have to censor ourselves.

When I thought about it, I realized how often I’ve heard authors worry about what others will think of their work. I know that when I first started writing I thought in terms of: What will so and so think if I write that? These days I’m more likely to think: I hope so and so isn’t too upset when he/she sees what I wrote!

In other words, I no longer let those fears stop me from writing what I think a given story needs but I am still conscious of the impact it may have.

This isn’t an issue that only applies to writers. One can easily extrapolate it to life itself. How often do we do or not do something because of what someone else might think? How often do we do something and hope so and so won’t be too upset when he/she finds out?

Whether in writing or life, it’s a kind of dance we go through: balancing our place in a community and/or family vs. what our hearts and souls call us to do. Too worried and we never truly write or live. Too unconcerned and we may alienate those we care about.

The key, I think, is to do what we must. To follow our hearts and souls and the path that is uniquely ours—whether in our writing or in our lives. And at the same time to be sure that we express our love to those we care about. We need to be certain we do not disconnect. We can also encourage those we love to do what matters most to them—even if it sometimes makes us uncomfortable. There are ways to say: This matters to me AND I care how you feel. What could we do to work this out? At least then there’s a chance we can all be happier than if we never try.

The longer I live the more I’ve come to believe that none of us can know what the right path is for someone else—not in their writing or in how they live their lives. For each of us, the greatest likelihood of success comes when we follow our dreams and our passions. The stories that come alive are the ones the writer cared about. The people who seem to have doors open for them in their careers are the ones who are doing what they love.

I see that clearly with my daughter. Every time she made an unorthodox choice, it ended up working to her advantage precisely because she made the choice based on what she truly cared about. It paid off getting into Stanford, it paid off with job interviews, and I expect it will continue to do so all her life.

I believe that one reason I was able to have 28 Regencies published is because it’s a genre I loved writing. I always had fun with the stories I created.

So...censorship. It’s a problem when it’s imposed from without; it’s even more devastating when we impose it on ourselves. If we’re writers, we need, at least in that first draft, to write from the deepest core of our own truth. We can go back later and look at it from a more impartial perspective and there may be times we choose to soften or take something out. But if we don’t risk putting it in, in the first place, we won’t have a chance to discover what it is we can truly say. And in our lives, if we don’t risk at least dreaming about the things that could truly make us happy we may never have a chance to find out if they would and perhaps discover a way to keep the people we care about in our lives AND do what matters most to us.