A comment made online in the wake of the recent tragedy in Paris stated how very much the commenter wished to return to Paris—now more than ever. It made me stop and think. While surely nothing can take the place of a for-real trip to Paris—or Greece or the Himalayas or Fiji, or, closer to home, the Grand Canyon, L.A., New York, or wherever it is your heart yearns to wander, a book can “take us to Paris”—or, for that matter, 18th century London, a trip that isn’t even possible in real life, at least until someone invents a time machine.
I had originally intended this week’s blogpost to revolve around cursive (script) writing, and whether or not it’s a lost art or should be taught in the schools. I will still touch on that subject, but my blogpost, like Topsy, “just growed,” at least in my head, as I was formulating it.
Here is the dilemma:
My name will never go down next to Milton Berle’s in the annals of television, but I can honestly claim I was a sort of video pioneer. No, I’m not talking about the two TV shows I hosted and produced in very recent years on a regular broadcast TV station in South Florida. I’m going back now to the seventies, and the telecast medium wasn’t a regular broadcast channel. It was cable.
When New York City, where I lived at the time, got wired up for cable TV, part of the deal was that the two cable companies serving Manhattan would have to provide Public Access channels, which anyone could get time on. Anyone. Even me.
Back before Google and Siri, when we had a question we needed—or simply wanted—answered, where did we go? What did we do?
If we had an encyclopedia at home, we sometimes had to go no further. But not everyone owned a set of encyclopedias, and not every question was answerable by looking it up in that venerable collection of volumes.
In last week’s blogpost I told you I had written a play while still in elementary school. Let me tell you about it…and what followed thereafter.
I don’t have any idea what on earth inspired me to write a play when I was in sixth grade. By then I had co-opted my mother’s typewriter and set it up on a bridge table in my room semi-permanently. The writing bug had bitten and bitten hard. Yet, at that age, as I said in this space last week, my ambition when I was asked, “What do you want to be when you grow up?” was still to act on the Broadway stage. So I suppose it was only logical, loving both writing and the theatre, that I would write a play.
The play was in either four scenes or four acts. I wasn’t sure which. I still didn’t know the difference. It was rather short, and the title totally telegraphed the ending. So it certainly wasn’t a perfect piece of dramaturgy. But for an 11-year-old’s first effort, it was passable.
For no reason I can put my hand on, instead of telling my family that I had written a play, I buried the script under a pile of clothing on a closet shelf and thought my “secret” was safe. Summer came, and I was sent off for eight weeks of sleep-away camp.
What happened next I can only surmise.
I surmise that my mother found the script. I surmise she got in touch with the camp directors or even the drama counselor herself. As I say, though, that is only supposition.
What I know for a fact is that Gert, the drama counselor, asked our bunk if any of us campers had ever written a play. So far as I know, she didn’t ask any of the girls in any of the other bunks. That’s why I suspect my mother’s fine hand in this sequence of events.
At any rate, my hand shot up into the air, waving wildly. “Me! Me! Me!” I called out.
Gert asked for the script. I wrote home and told my mother where it was hidden. My mother sent it to me. The camp office mimeoed copies. And Gert chose campers among my bunkmates for the roles. I was very, very, did I mention very disappointed not to get the lead. As a wannabe actress who usually got the lead in other venues, like the arts foundation program I attended during the winter, I wanted…nay, expected…to get the lead. Gert informed me it was not customary for the playwright to also play the lead. I had to settle for a very minor part.
We rehearsed. We rehearsed again. We rehearsed some more. On the night we finally put the play on, it was well received by my fellow campers, and one of the camp directors called out, “Author! Author!” I proudly took a bow. Several of the counselors had gone up to the tennis courts, where wildflowers grew in abundance, and had fashioned a bouquet, which they now threw “over the footlights”—or where the footlights would have been had the Little Theatre (as the camp’s theatre was called) had any.
It remains one of the proudest moments of my life. (Even if I didn’t get to play the lead.)
Fast-forward. Fast-forward a lot, to a time just a couple of decades or so ago. Again I was seized with the notion to write a play. And again I have absolutely no idea what put that notion into my head. By then I had scads of published books to my name, including one that contained some poems for kids. I had written fiction and nonfiction, for adults and for kids, as well as the aforementioned poems, but the chances of my turning a play into a commercial success were somewhere between nil and zero.
Nonetheless, I wanted to write a play. And I decided that even if the play wouldn’t ever get produced on Broadway or published in a book of plays, and I never made a dime from it, it would still be fun and I would still go ahead and write it. After all, there is no rule that says writing can’t be both a career and a hobby.
But what to write about?
My mind drifted back to my previous play-writing experience, at age 11. The memory of that performance in the camp’s Little Theatre endures, glowing golden in my mind. I decided I would write a children’s play…and, I decided, I would base it on the concept of that play I had written in sixth grade.
This time I knew the difference between a scene and an act. And this time I wouldn’t give it a title that telegraphed the ending.
King Theo-What’s-His-Name and Joey was produced by a local theatre group I was instrumental in starting. (The old dream of acting had never quite gone away.)
But later, it was picked up by a theatre in New York! Not, of course, on Broadway. This was what is classified as an off-off-Broadway theatre (the classification has to do with the size of the “house,” not the proximity to the Great White Way), but it was still New York. The real deal. I flew up to the city to see the opening. (Born and raised in a New York suburb, I had lived in the city itself for over two decades before uprooting myself to move to South Florida.)
It was another proud moment in my life. The play whose idea I had stolen from myself, from that play I had written in sixth grade and seen put on in summer camp, was now actually being produced in New York.
The producers had shortened the title to King Theo, but they hadn’t meddled with the script. Seeing it put on on a New York stage was inarguably a thrill.
But it still couldn’t compare with the night in summer camp when one of the camp directors yelled, “Author! Author!” and some counselors threw a bouquet of wildflowers “over the footlights.”
Some thrills just can’t be equaled.
I hated my sixth grade teacher.
I loved school up till sixth grade. Mrs. Hewlett, the sixth grade tyrant, ruined it for me. The funny thing is, though, that today I can no longer remember what was so awful about her. The only thing I remember clearly now is the one good thing about her: She gave creative writing assignments. I loved writing even back then, and when the homework was creative writing—which came about just a few times during the school year—I couldn’t wait to work on my otherwise-dreaded homework.
Even in my time—and “my time” was a long time ago—the song “School Days” (from which the title of this blogpost is taken) reflected a time past. I don’t know about other people and other places, but when and where I was in elementary school, there was no corporal punishment allowed on the part of the teachers, no “hick’ry stick” or paddle applied to students’ behinds. But the line that preceded that line, “Reading and writing and ’rithmetic,” was certainly applicable to my elementary schooling.
I totally don’t comprehend the modern math methods, but I can still do long division on paper without the calculator on my computer, know my times tables, and keep my checkbook balanced the old-fashioned way. I was taught well and, through frequent use, have retained much of what I was taught in basic arithmetic—though don’t ask me about algebra or geometry. I wasn’t a stellar student when it came to math, but I usually got at least a B-. Reading? I was reading third-grade readers in first grade, sixth-grade readers in third grade. I was a voracious reader, surely one of the town library’s most devoted patrons, and had shelves full of books at home. But it was at writing where I really shone.
Except in Mrs. Oschwald’s class. She was either my fourth- or fifth-grade teacher. I forget which. And she marked me down for penmanship. Sure, my creativity and structure were excellent, but my penmanship, to put it bluntly, sucked. And so she gave me a low grade. This upset my mother no end, and she demanded a parent-teacher conference, one-on-one, to reason with Mrs. Oschwald. Without denying that my handwriting was atrocious, my mother nevertheless felt that I should not get a low grade in writing, at which I excelled. No other teacher had ever factored handwriting into the equation when grading for writing. Nonetheless, Mrs. Oschwald held firm and prevailed, much to my mother’s dismay and displeasure. Her only recourse was to intensify my handwriting practice at home, but that was a lost cause.
But we were talking about sixth grade….
Mrs. Hewlett—who gave me high marks for writing—required us to write something creative several times during the year. It could be a play, a poem, a short story…she didn’t want anything as mundane as a factual report on whatever holiday was usually the assigned topic. I think I mostly turned in poems, even though very little of my professional output as an adult has been in the poetry field, and those poems that I have penned professionally have mostly been for kids. I always got an A (or A+) on my creative writing assignments for Mrs. Hewlett, and I only wished she gave such assignments more often.
You could say that my success at creative writing in elementary school presaged my authorial career, but as a child I foresaw no such future. I was dead set on being an actress. (The reason I was forced to give up that dream is too long a story to go into here and too much of a digression besides.) Small wonder I wrote a play, then, while I was still in elementary school. (Perhaps I’ll tell you about that in next week’s blogpost.)
But if I hated my sixth-grade teacher, I sure loved those creative writing assignments.
Nobody ever needed the hick’ry stick the song told about to get me to sit down and write.
Writers write and readers read and authors gather—at least the authors and other writers of 4 Authors by Authors do. I have always wondered what the difference is between a writer and an author. We all write in some way or other, especially in today’s digital world, where texting and posting on Facebook and Twitter take up a part of our lives. The world of publishing and writing has changed and continues to change, so how do those who write keep up with the changes and achieve what they want to achieve?
Writing is a solitary activity, while reading is often shared, such as reading out loud to a child, and the fact that writing is so solitary is one of the reasons that becoming a published author is an arduous task. It is hardly the only reason, however. I am one of those that believe writing is the easy part and publishing is the harder part. I heard confirmation of that at last Saturday’s 4 Authors by Authors conference, whose overall title was You, The Successful Writer: Completing, Publishing, and Marketing Your Work.
I have always wanted to be a writer, although my journey started later in life. I did start writing in my early 20s. That, however, was not writing for publication. It was journaling my feelings after the sudden death of my father. I was writing for my own healing and was very busy with my career in corporate America. I did have a few things published in newsletters of organizations that I was involved in. It wasn’t until my 30s, however, that all changed. That was when a head-on snowmobile accident disabled me, and I had to leave my career behind me. My husband, since deceased, and I moved to South Florida. I had purchased a Commodore 64 computer, and I started to write and take classes in writing. My writing started to flourish, and I had quite a lot of articles published in many types of publications as well as having several columns in national magazines. Then life got in the way. There were lots of life challenges, and writing took a back burner. I did continue to write; I just didn’t do anything with it.
Anyone who is a writer knows there is that passion inside of them that won’t go away, and something will happen that will get the motion going. I had always wanted to write books and had written many of them, from inspirational books to children’s books, and called them my “Not Yet Published Books.” I used to ask my friends, “Which book should I publish?” as I listed the names of the titles sitting on my desk, and they would answer, “The one that is finished.” Well, so many of them are still waiting, but the one I did publish was the one that lit the spark. It’s about a girl superhero. I was inspired to write it by a student in one of my after-school programs.
It took 13 months from the time I got the idea until the book was published. I was 62 years young at that time. I still remember vividly the day I got the proof copy. The joy that surged through me is a sensation I will never forget. My book is in its second printing and it the first one I had printed in New York as that was the only place where I could find it printed at a reasonable price. Luckily with the connections that I made as a result of being the founder of 4 Authors by Authors, I was able to get it printed locally by Photographics USA.
After the book came out, so many people asked me how I had done it—written a book and gotten it published. I could have held a workshop and told people what I had done, yet I knew there were many ways, many paths to getting published. I also knew many other authors who had published different types of books and had followed different pathways to their goal. As they say, the rest is history. The first 4 Authors by Authors (read the “4” as “For”) event was held in November of 2014. I had planned on doing only one major event, thinking we would then have ongoing workshops through the year. However, the public wanted more major events, so more there was and more there will be.
We have an amazing team of supporters, presenters, and vendors within 4 Authors by Authors and are truly becoming a resource for writers in South Florida. We are pleased to have formed an alliance with the people at Photographics USA, the printing arm of Roundtable Publishing, and with Roundtable itself, both of which are great resources for writers, especially but not only writers in South Florida. Photographics USA can provide low-cost, quality on-demand printing for writers who wish to go the self-publishing route—and these days that is an ever-increasing number of writers. It’s a trend I don’t foresee slowing any time soon. Writers looking for a receptive publisher will find one in Roundtable Publishing, one of the new breed of hybrid publishers that offer à la carte publishing. There is no charge for the printing, but editing services are not included. They can recommend an editor, or you can find one on your own. It’s truly an exciting time to be a writer—or is it “author”?
That brings us back to where we started: Just what is the difference between a writer and an author anyhow? I guess the dictionary would give some sort of answer, but to me both are words that describe someone with a need to say something. I am simply glad that we have a place where authors can gather and get the tools they need to reach their goals and dreams.
Information on 4 Authors by Authors can be found at www.4AuthorsbyAuthors.com
Information on Janet Lifshin can be found at www.theHaHaLady.com
It’s Banned Books Week—let’s celebrate. Celebrate what? The freedom to read, and to read what we want, no matter if someone else disagrees with what the book is saying or the ideas it’s promoting.
I remember when I was a child hearing the expression “banned in Boston.” Boston was a prudish town then, and certain plays, books, and I suppose movies—although censorship within the movie industry itself was still pretty strong in those days—were not allowed to be read, viewed, sold, or otherwise purveyed in Boston.
But is not just the Boston of years gone by that saw censorship of books. There are towns even today that will not allow their libraries or schools to offer books they may find objectionable by their local standards.
The reasons vary: The books may put forth ideas deemed dangerous or simply politically unpalatable. The books may encourage kids in ways of thinking that the so-called “city fathers” (note that the expression is not and never has been “city mothers”) object to. One such that comes to mind is the groundbreaking Heather Has Two Mommies, about a girl growing up in a household headed by her lesbian mom and the mom’s domestic partner.
But it is not just kids’ books that have been banned. Libraries have banned Hitler’s treatise, Mein Kampf, because of the hatred it spews.
I revile Hitler and all he stood for—yet I will stand up for the right of the reading public to peruse his book if they so choose. Making the book unavaiable will not destroy anti-Semitism (or his hatred for the other groups he also tried to exterminate, including Gypsies and gays). You know what they say about forbidden fruit: It tastes the sweetest. Making Hitler’s treatise illegal or illicit only serves to make it seem more appealing to certain elements of the population.
But it is not just Mein Kampf or Heather Has Two Mommies that have been banned, or that various groups have tried to ban. Think back to the sixties, if you were around then, and the books that exalted the drug-fueled hippie culture. There were attempts—some of them successful, others not—to ban books that glorified said culture, especially but not only the books that promoted the use of drugs. It was not just the “turn on” part of the hippie mantra, “Turn on, tune in, drop out,” that offended or alarmed the more staid and more easily shocked members of the older generation.
The fact is, there are those of many persuasions and many political affiliations who feel—wrongly—that the best way to fight ideas and ideals that they oppose is to silence those who would promulgate them, whether to adults or to children and whether through factual books or fictional ones. They are the Big Brother whom Orwell wrote about. (If you’ve never read 1984, I recommend you do.) And inevitably banning books is high on their to-do list.
We must all and always fight such censorship. We must stand up for the right of books of any sort to be published, providing they are not slanderous. We can refuse to buy them or read them. That is certainly our right. I am among the minority who have not read Fifty Shades of Gray. I am not interested in reading about a woman who subjugates herself, however voluntarily, to another human in a slave/master relationship and endures whatever type of abuse, be it physical or mental. Yet I would challenge anyone who suggested removing the book from library shelves or, even worse, making its publication a criminal act.
It’s national Banned Books Week. Let us celebrate the freedom to read whatever we want, regardless of how odious or otherwise offensive someone else might find that particular book, magazine, treatise, or other reading matter might be.
This is America, the land of the free. And while the cost of the book may not be free (we authors, our publishers, and the others involved in the production of books need to eat), the books—all books—should be free of impediments to their availability.
For the most part, they are. Where that is not the case, we need to fight whatever individuals or entities are promulgating squashing their availability.
And Banned Books Week reminds us that as long as people or groups continue to try to ban books that offend their particular sensibilities, we need to keep up the fight.
Yes, you are free to disagree with the content or premise of a book, as you are free to disagree with the fellow or woman at the office, or on the next barstool, or in your social circle who puts forth ideas that you don’t agree with. But in a free country, he or she still has the right to express his/her feelings or beliefs. So do authors. Banning books is never the answer.
Are you a writer in search of the “next step” in your process, join us for a day of exploration dedicated in your success as a paid author.
We at 4 Authors by Authors are a collaboration of authors, editors, publishers, graphic designers, printers and more that help you through all the joys and struggles from your idea to your published product and beyond.
The event is Saturday October 3, 2015. 9am – 3:30pm. Hosted by Keiser University -2085 Vista Parkway, West Palm Beach, FL 33411
To register click the link – $75 includes light breakfast and lunch. Credit cards accepted. If you prefer to pay by check registration form is available at our website.
complete list of speakers and program will be available at
While I don’t believe that every cloud has a silver lining, many do…including my foot and leg issues, of which I have several. As a result of them, I have walked with a cane for over three years, now. And that is what this week’s blog post touches on.
As you may have gathered, I am not going to riff on writing, reading, or cooking this week.
Instead I am going to riff on human nature.
Seeing my cane seems to bring out the best in people. It’s nearly universal. Yesterday, as I was leaving the Post Office, a woman laden down with packages and speaking intently into her cellphone held between her ear and her shoulder, walked briskly ahead of me. She reached the door, walked through it, and was about to let it close behind her when something—probably the loud tapping of my cane—alerted her to my presence a goodly number of steps behind her. (Although my cane is rubber-tipped, it is far from silent. If I ever had pretensions to an occupation that requires stealth, I had better give them up now.)
At any rate, despite her armful of package and the fact that she was obviously in a hurry, she stopped, caught the door she had begun to let slip out of her grasp, pulled it wider open, and held it for me. She continued her cell convo as I tap-tap-tapped my slow way through the door and thanked her. She interrupted her conversation long enough to reply, “You’re welcome,” made sure I was safely through the doorway, then let the door go and hurried on her way.
I was impressed and pleased but not surprised. It happens all the time.
This past Sunday afternoon I attended a meeting in a restaurant. Returning to my car when the meeting had come to a close, I encountered a curb I had to step up onto. I couldn’t do it. Curbs and I are not friends. It’s not just the strength to step up that’s at issue but the balance thing. As I take a step up and put all my weight on one foot, I tend to lose my balance. Although I’m not great at climbing steep stairs such as the three steps up to the doorway of my church, at least there I have a handrail to hold onto. In this case I had nothing to cling to and, after three tries, I stood there buffaloed.
Just then a woman came hurrying up to me out of nowhere. She was short and slight, but I was more in need of something—or someone—to hold on to than I was of physical strength. “Need help?” she asked in a chipper, helpful voice.
Over three years ago, when I first found myself in this condition, I was embarrassed, even ashamed to accept help. Now I will go so far as to ask for it without a qualm. Had there been anyone around when I first encountered the curb in question on Sunday, I would have un-embarrassedly asked, “Can someone give me a hand?” But there had been no one around. I had looked.
I don’t know where this woman came from, out of nowhere. (Maybe God sent her to my rescue?)
“Yes! Thank you!” I exclaimed gratefully, without a trace of shame or embarrassment. She was all for being as helpful as she could. I assured her all I required was her hand to hold on to with one of my hands, for balance, as I pushed down on my cane for “lift” with the other hand. Once up on the curb, I thanked her profusely, but she wasn’t done with me yet, even though I knew I would be fine from there on my own. She insisted on seeing me to my car (which, although she didn’t know it, we were practically alongside at that point).
And she, like the woman at the Post Office, is far from unique. That is the most inspiring, most encouraging, most satisfying part. Wherever I go when I go out, there is someone who wants to help me. I get doors held regularly. I get people offering to carry packages that are in my arms. I get offers of help of other sorts.
If ever I were to start feeling down about the human race, I would need only to go out and make my way in public, cane and all, and there would be a healthy serving of humanity bustling to come to my aid and prove to me again that human nature is not beyond hope, that helpfulness is alive and well, and that people are, at heart, helpful and caring.
And so, to come back to where I started, even if not every cloud has a silver lining, this one surely does. Seeing my cane brings out the best in people and renews my faith in human nature. Indeed, a disability can truly be an asset.