A Post For Memorial Day

Dad was a radio guy
Notice backwards flag. They were so happy!!!
I always miss my father a little bit more on Memorial Day. He was a WWII vet and fought in every major European battle from Normandy to The Battle of The Bulge. Dad carried a little Brownie camera with him throughout his entire tour of duty and pretty much documented his Army career. One of my favorite snaps is of a Belgium family taken shortly after the Allies liberated Belgium. This family was so thrilled to see the Americans march through their town that the wife hurried into her home and retrieved an American Flag she had secretly sewn during the Nazi occupation. She rushed out of the house waving the flag and shouting her hoorahs as the allies marched past. My father stopped and gathered her family proudly displaying this small American flag. Unfortunately and rather sweetly the woman had sewn the flag backwards! But that was okay, she waved it proudly, my father kissed her cheek, snapped the photo and marched on. Years and years later I did an editing job for a woman near my home. She was a poet and had written some poems about her experiences as a little girl in Belgium during WWII and the Nazi occupation. She told me how the Nazis would come into her home and take their blankets and food. She also told me how her family hid people from the Germans until the Allies came and set them free. When I told her my father was in that battle she looked at me with tears in her eyes and said, "he was my liberator." He probably was.
Thank a soldier today!

Getting Back to Business

Bette Davis--Editorial Eyes
Here's the thing, without going into a lot of detail I've been on a kind of blog hiatus the last several weeks--lots of life changes that needed my attention. But anyhoo, things are finally starting to settle into a routine again (or at least my version of a routine) and I am back to the old blog. Not that I ever had anything amazing, earth-shattering or life-changing to tell anyone. It was a just a place to yak, brag, vent and inform. And speaking of informing I have something to tout. No, not a new book contract contract--although things are in the works. No, I am once again hanging out the old Mentoring/Editing /Critiquing Shingle. The one that lets you all know that I am available to read your words and make comments, do some pretty serious developmental editing or even take you under my paw for a while to help bring your book ideas to life and hopefully into the hands of an agent or editor. I know the process--I've been through it a dozen or so times.
So, with spring and summer and soon the big fall conferences coming up, now might be a good time to have a professional look at your work and help you along the treacherous path of publishing. And hey, if you are planning on self-publishing then a professional look see is a must.
I love to work with writers and I think I'm a pretty good teacher. I've worked with lots of folks.
If you are thinking your baby might need some TLC, get in touch and we'll talk.
Email is the best--jmagnin56 (at) gmail dot com. I check email every thirty or forty nano seconds.
So if you've been submitting and getting rejections or haven't gotten the nerve to submit just yet, get in touch. I can help.

Today I Was Ripped Off

Here's the thing, I am very PO'd right now. As many of you know I enjoy playing video games. And i also enjoy visiting game websites including Game Spot, IGN, which I think is the same company. Well, two years ago I accidentally made a purchase on this site and ended up subscribing to something I didn't want to subscribe. I tried for hours to cancel and clear the error. But it was impossible. IGN has no live customer support and their navigational tools lead you through a frustrating labyrinth of options which in the end only allows you to email someone. Two years ago I sent an email to this unknown force and begged them to cancel this mistaken account and refund me. Never heard back. Finally a year later I found a way to cancel this recurring subscription. Though I did. Well, apparently the scam goes on because this morning my back account was charged $79.95 for something I don't want. I tried again to cancel the subscription and finally I made it to the Holy land of account killing and hopefully I was successful. But, unfortunately IGN still has my money and I really need it. I cannot speak with anyone. I tried to leave a post on their FB page and they delete it immediately. I emailed this unknown force again--no reply.
It seems to me a company this huge should have a way in which to inform their customers that they are about to charge their account for something subscribed to two years ago!
I want my money back, IGN.

Setting Matters

Here’s the thing, one of the perks of being an author is that I get to work with so many aspiring writers. Folks ask me to read their words frequently and pretty much across the board one of the biggest issues I see is that there is often little or no sense of place in the writing. I find this disturbing because emotion and feeling is inextricably bound up with place.
We just celebrated Christmas and so many folks traveled home or to loved ones to gather with family and friends to exchange gifts and food and share love and stories. Think about how important the setting was for this exchange. Setting is circumference. It both bounds and brings expanse to our experience. We decorate our houses, and bring in greenery and light candles and burn fires—all things meant to create a mood, to entice warm feelings and joy.
Well, here’s the thing, what would Christmas be without setting, without place? Oh, please I know there are some of you who will argue that Christmas is not about all the pantukas and snozwinkles and gift giving and twinkling lights. Yes, I get that, but still we decorate and strive to re-create our everyday homes into a setting of joy and good will. Setting becomes important. Actually I could make an argument that setting was important on the first Christmas.
The same is true for fiction. Building a strong sense of place in your story is an excellent tool for character exposition. Allowing your character to interact with setting is one of the best ways to show your character’s personality. Is she drawn to the fancy antique cigarette lighter on the book shelf or is it the elegant statue of a race horse that draws her attention. Perhaps it’s neither. Perhaps your character notices the smell of an old library or the luscious cooking going on in the kitchen. All these choices expose without telling.
Unfortunately I think we treat setting like the forgotten younger sibling of fiction technique.
Place matters.
I like what one of my favorite writers Eudora Welty has to say:
"Every story would be another story, and unrecognizable if it took up its characters and plot and happened somewhere else.”
For an excellent lesson in setting I suggest you read Eudora’s amazing sort story, A Well Worn Path. The full text is available online.
So what’s going on in your setting.

My Trouble With Thirds

Here’s the thing, I suppose my problems with thirds and fractions in general began in the third grade. I think that was when we were first exposed to this concept that numbers were not always whole and that parts of things were still things but only partly. Fractions eluded me the way Quantum Physics eludes me. I am just on the fringe of understanding but I just don’t quite get it.
            Adding, subtracting, multiplying and dividing fractions was and still is a nightmare for me, although thankfully I have seldom needed to divide fractions in my adult life. Something simply goes haywire, short circuits when I try to compute what for many people is a simple mathematical equation. And I don’t know why. I am a reasonably intelligent woman. I’ve written ten novels for heaven’s sake and to this day I struggle with knowing whether one third is larger or smaller than one half.
            If a recipe calls for one third of an ingredient it brings tears to my eyes—especially if I cannot locate the one-third measuring cup. I simply cannot make a guess because I don’t know where one third would fall in a one half measuring cup. And so I will not continue on with whatever it was I was attempting to cook or bake. That’s right, a whole day taken down by a third.
            As a writer thirds are even more scary and confusing. Most instructors of writing will agree that plot can be divided into three neat parts. The beginning, the middle and the end. Heck, even Alice in Wonderland got this concept. But here’s the thing, in my mind I see that the novel has been fractioned off into thirds. However, unlike in the third grade, one-third of a novel is not equal in length to the other two thirds. WTH?  
            Check it out, the beginning might be a chapter long, nine or so pages the middle could be two hundred pages while the end comes in at around thirty or less. From my desk, thirds in writing are not equal but they are proportionate. Uhm.
            Proportionate to the story, that is. The length of the beginning has to be just so, not too much, not too little, while the middle third is always much longer and more difficult to sustain and then of course after the climax it is a race to the finish. It seems people are comfortable with threes, not thirds, perhaps but threes. Bad news comes in threes, not thirds. When writing a novel it's best to have three bad things happens because any more will make your reader go insane, etc, etc. You cannot divide a dollar into three equal parts except in a virtual way because there is no such thing as a one-third penny coin. This unsettles me. Why do we even need thirds anyway. Who decided all of this. One-fourth I get. It's neat and equal. Thirds are not equal except to each other third.
            So, what does all this mean? Well, I’m not sure. I was just thinking about my trouble with thirds this morning because I am fractionally disabled, an area of shame. Although as I was thinking about it and trying to separate the mathematical and the writerly realities of thirds it dawned on me that I was born to write. It was how I was wired and perhaps in the third grade (interesting my trouble with thirds began in third grade which is not one –third of the way through school) when I was crying over fractions I was really hard at work defending my creative life to come. Defending the notion that creativity, story, art, cannot be equally or easily divvied out and divided, that my one third was not equal to anyone else’s one-third. Art is messy. It’s hard to quantify and why would you want too.
            Can you imagine writing a novel in three equal parts? I can’t. And so for all you creative types out there that struggle with fractions and numbers and perhaps how to tie your shoe laces (there’s a great TED talk about this very issue btw-shoe tying that is), I say press on. Let your thirds fall where they want to fall.As I tell my students--WRITE YOUR STORY THE WAY IT WANTS TO BE WRITTEN. Rules are for people who get thirds and quantum physics.

Got Book? Need Help?

And so we begin. Another year that is. 2014. I don’t know about you but I was pretty much convinced we’d all have flying cars by now and robot maids named Rosie. Oh well, maybe next year.
Still, it is a new year and many people tend to reflect and think about the future, start new projects, make resolutions and such. I’ve never been one to make resolutions. It seems to me that I resolve to do one thing or another several times through the year so why make a thing of it?
That being said, I am starting something new this year.
As most of you know I love to work with new writers. I enjoy teaching and editing and coaching and offering what advice I can. Well I’ve decided to add something new for the New Year.
Drum Roll?
The Joyce Magnin Mentoring Program
Writing is hard. It’s lonely. Having a writing partner, someone to walk with you can often make the difference between giving up and pressing on. I’d like to be that for you.   
If  you are planning to go straight to E-Book then having someone along side who can read and edit and help you make your book the best it can be is really important. Don’t publish a book that’s only half finished. Every book needs fresh eyes.
So, if you are working through a completed draft or just starting out I have a program designed for your needs. Of course I can tailor anything to fit.
Click on the Editing/Mentoring tab above for all the details.
And let’s do this. It could be your year.

Frosty Visits the Holy Family

This is my favorite time of the year. Christmas. I love everything about it, the shopping the giving the decorations. Oh my, the decorations and displays! Especially lawn displays. I love to watch otherwise lovely suburban properties transform into festive, winter wonderlands. Oh, the joy of watching homeowners string lights all over their houses. We see white lights, bright lights, multicolor lights, houses draped with only single- or two-color lights. To be honest I never liked purple for Christmas. Just seems wrong somehow. It might have something to do with the year my father decided to go purple for Christmas. That’s right, every light and every decoration on the tree had to be purple. It was a giant eggplant from outer space landed in our living room. Nah, traditional colors are best. When I was a girl lights and a few wooden or plastic characters could be seen gracing the neighborhood lawns. There were a few homeowners that went bonkers. There was even one display complete with a mechanical Santa on a sleigh pulled by reindeer. People would come for miles to see this display. It was a tradition.

Over the years I’ve noticed a change when those large characters began to appear, usually Santa and reindeer, gingerbread men and their gingerbread houses, snowmen, elves, angels, and, of course, the plastic holy family, sometimes lit from behind to give it that oh, so heavenly appearance. You’ve seen them: Mary and Joseph and the baby Jesus, who always looks like he’s got a full diaper and for some reason is rarely swaddled properly. This disturbs me. It’s cold out there on the lawn. Often an angel is lurking around the nativity. Sometimes this angel is huge and no longer matches the holy family. It stands behind them with large spreading wings—sometimes blinking, sometimes not.

I prefer non-blinking angels. But I suppose if you need an angel, a giant one is the way to go. And the wise men are most of the time present and situated off to the left as though they are still arriving. Balthazar, it seems, is nearly always face-down on the lawn. Am I right? He always falls down. Strong winds in Bethlehem.

What I find especially interesting is how the homeowners combine not only the religious aspects of the holiday but also the secular. Notice, however, as you are making your holiday wanderings this month that almost without fail the religious icons are placed on the one side of the lawn, while the secular are on
the other. Except, of course, for one house I like to visit that has Santa in his sleigh being pulled by three reindeer flying over Mary and Joseph and Jesus. He’s actually hanging from a tree limb, but the effect works. I used to wonder what could possibly be going through the homeowner’s mind. “Oh look, Joseph, it’s Santa. I told you he was real. And look, he left me an Easy-Bake Oven.”

Now we have these giant inflatable figures popping up or blowing up on lawns everywhere. Great big Frosty the Snowmen, oversized penguins, gigantic Santas, and even incredibly large inflatable nativities. My favorite is the one with the holy family inside a snow globe complete with mini blizzards every three minutes—swirling pieces of plastic in a tiny vortex. I mean, wouldn’t you just love to have been a fly on the wall at the research and development meeting that created that one. “Oh, oh, I know, let’s put them inside a snow globe with swirling snow bits. People love that.”

And during the day when the blow-ups are turned off. Geeze, it’s Christmas carnage all over the lawns. Melted Frostys everywhere. And some of those Frostys leave huge puddle. Paul Bunyun huge.

My father loved Christmas and always decorated the house . . . and not with those tiny sissy lights. He used only the large, manly bulbs that exploded when you stepped on them or threw them against the street. He never put any blatant religious symbols on the lawn, though.

No, our nativity had a special, sacred place—on the HiFi. That’s right, the HiFi! That large chunk of furniture with the sliding door on top—the forerunner of the Ipod? For you young people, that’s where we hid the record player. Uhm, I could almost see Mary and Joseph swaying in time with Bing Crosby and Nat King Cole. Actually, they were vibrating from the beat of the woofer inside the cabinet. Nice, except there was that one time when someone stuck an elf inside the crèche setting off a Christmas tradition that will never die.  Now no crèche is safe from a little visitor. It could be Barbie, GI Joe, various Lego people, a lama, a zebra or two. The year the chipmunks visited the holy family—Alvin, Simon and Theodore was especially nice.

Perhaps this memory is why I am so affected by Christmas lawn décor. I can still hear my father hollering that elves and Zebras have no business in the manger. Just between us, I think it was my mom who committed the petty nativity crimes because that little tiny elf continued to appear and reappear throughout the year in the strangest places, and when discovered, Flossie would crack just the tiniest grin and her eyes would sparkle like tinsel.

But then one day, just a few years ago, as I was traveling I saw that someone had put Frosty the Snowman in line with the three kings. And it struck me: This is the gospel. So what if there’s an elf in your nativity? Or a Frosty in your three kings procession. Go ahead, invite the gingerbread men to see the baby Jesus, move Santa closer, put those snowmen right in there. All are welcome to visit with Jesus. So this year, if you are tempted to get upset when someone puts an elf in your nativity, don’t. It’s all right. Everyone is welcome to visit the baby Jesus.