Nothing Else Will Give You That!

It’s a beautiful day outside. A bit breezy but really beautiful. 

Last night I had trouble sleeping. I woke up from a bad dream in the middle of the night. In my dream I was being chased and attacked and I was screaming for help but there was no one around me. My screams woke me and afterwards try as hard as I could sleep wouldn’t come. I felt so vulnerable and lay awake wishing and praying that the night would pass quickly. 

On nights like last night I wonder if I shall ever get over this feeling of blank hopelessness. And on such nights a strong feeling of loss overwhelms me.

Night

It’s a beautiful day outside. It’s the first week of autumn and it’s cold. I look out my window and see the evergreen tree standing tall and alone but triumphant. The different shades of green, with the sun shining on some branches. Such a lovely sight. I think of all the winters and summers, all the seasons that it has stood there throughout the years, against all odds, growing taller and looking simply beautiful.

I realize that I have also lived my dream life intensely while it lasted, though it didn’t have to end this way. I realize that I had gotten farther in life than most people are lucky enough to get. It’s been almost four years now since my husband passed away, sometimes I still get upset and angry, and think that whatever happened was not fair, not right. Not for him, not for me, not for us. But who am I to question? Who am I to judge?

This past year has been kind of dark, nightmarish and confusing for me. Each time I faced a challenge, I became aware of how vulnerable I was, of how vulnerable we each are. Afterwards I felt this emptiness inside of me that never left me. And that hurts.

Looking back, I cannot believe I made it so far especially when on some days my courage left me. And I have to admit at some point I even considered accepting defeat. And on those days there was nothing I wished for than to have him around. To have him walk through the door and tell me that “everything is going to be okay.” But I pulled through thanks to my kids and my family. 

I realize now how important family is. How important it is to be loved and have people around me to support me. Even on days when I want to be left alone but they won’t let me, because they care. I realize how lucky and blessed I am to have them in my life. And for that alone I am forever grateful. 

Mitch Albom writes:

“This is part of what a family is about, not just love. It’s knowing that your family will be there watching out for you. Nothing else will give you that. Not money. Not fame. Not work.”

ChK

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To All Those Who Dream Of Writing

While going through my emails the other day in an attempt to clean my mailbox of the junk mail I receive on a daily basis, I came across a “rejection” letter from a publisher. It was dated decades ago when I still lived in Dubai and was for my book The Lost I. I don’t remember what I did to go that far back in my inbox but knowing me I must have pressed the wrong button or icon.

Now I know I have an unusual name that people find hard to pronounce. So when I email editors, agents, and publishers I always go the extra mile and try to explain in my letter that I am a mother of two, etc. What was weird about this particular rejection email was that not only had they addressed me as Mr. but they didn’t even have the title of the book right.

I had a cover letter, a synopsis, and title page included in my email. And in all of these documents I had the title mentioned not once, not twice, but several times. Could it be a typo then? How could they have missed it? There was one answer to all of my questions. No one bothered to read anything I sent them. Period. 

Over the years and following the advice of other experienced writers I have learned to accept rejections with an open mind and not take them personally. But this one still hurt. And I thought, would it have made any difference if I had sent a letter instead of an email (not that they are accepting letters anymore)? Would it have been easier to accept had the publisher addressed me as “Dear Author, sorry not for us …” instead of Dear Mr.? So I did what I do at times like this. I grabbed my book and started reading success stories of other writers. Here’s one I would like to share with you.

When Linda Stafford was 15 she announced to her English teacher that she was going to write and illustrate her own books. Her classmates laughed at her and her teacher said: “Don’t be silly. Only geniuses can become writers. And you are getting a D this semester.” 
She was so humiliated that she burst into tears. That night she wrote a short poem about broken dreams and mailed it to the Capper’s Weekly magazine. They published it and sent her $2. The next day she showed her teacher and class, they still laughed.
“Just plain dumb luck.” her teacher said. But this time she didn’t cry because she had sold the first thing she’d ever written.
During the next two years she wrote and sold dozens of poems, and by the time she graduated from high school she had a scrapbook filled with her published work and a C-average. But she didn’t mention her writing to anyone.Then years later she met a new friend and here’s what happened:
“It’s easy to write a book,” that new friend told me. “You can do it.”
“I don’t know if I am smart enough,” I said suddenly feeling 15 again and hearing echoes.
“Nonsense!” she said. “Anyone can write a book if they want to.”
I had four children- the oldest only four. We lived on a goat farm in Oklahoma, miles from anyone. While the children napped, I typed on my ancient typewriter. I wrote what I felt. It took nine months, just like a baby.
I chose a publisher at random, put the manuscript in an empty Pampers diapers package, which was the only box I could find (I’d never heard of manuscript boxes). I enclosed a letter that read: “I wrote this book myself, I hope you like it. I also drew the illustrations. Chapters 6 and 12 are my favorites. Thank you.”
A month later I received a contract, an advance on royalties, and a request to start working on another book.(Crying Wind became a bestseller)
People ask what college I attended, what degrees I have and what qualifications I have to be a writer.
The answer is none. I just write.
I’m not a genius, I’m not gifted and I don’t write right. But I have beaten the odds because I tried and I didn’t give up. I wrote what I loved and had the guts to mail it. If it was rejected (many were), I put it back in the mail the next day.
To all those who dream of writing, I’m shouting at you. “Yes, you can! Yes you can! Don’t listen to them.”

Hear

ChK

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One Year And Seven Months!

“Dear Author,
Thanks so much for letting us take a look at your materials, and please forgive me for responding with a form letter. The volume of submissions we receive, however, makes it impossible to correspond with everyone personally. Unfortunately, the project you describe does not suit our list at this time. We wish you the best of luck in finding an agent and publisher for your work, and we thank you, once again, for letting us consider your materials.” 

I received this email on the 29th of April 2016 and it completely took me by surprise. How could I receive a rejection letter from an agent for a query I didn’t remember submitting this year? 

I went through my sent emails and found out that on the 12th of September 2014 I did send a query to this particular agent for my first novel The Lost I.

I was having issues with my publisher Raider International. My contract with them had ended on May 2011 and they (up to now) have my book listed for sale on Amazon. So I tried to find another publisher for it.

The agent I applied to showed interest in stories about the Middle East and the agency had no problem dealing with books that were already published. I didn’t hear from them until the end of April this year. And that just a formal letter.

I find this strange. It took the agent one year and seven months to just send me not an individual, personal letter but just a formal rejection letter?

Donna Bucian Currie wrote that when she sent a story to a now-defunct literary magazine here’s what happened.

“I waited the required time for a reply, then added a month before I sent my first letter (with appropriate SASE) asking about the status of my piece. I waited, then sent a second letter a month after the first.
Just as I was about to launch a third query, my manila envelope returned with my manuscript nestled safely inside. I looked for a cover letter or form of rejection, but found nothing. I riffled through the pages, thinking there might be some communication stuck inside my manuscript. Nothing.

REJECTION

Jokingly, I turned the empty manila envelope upside down, opened it wide and shook it vigorously. A small piece of paper no bigger than the slips found in fortune cookies, came wafting out of the envelope and settled on my lap. On it was typed “sorry not for us” and nothing more. No signature, no initials. And no punctuation or capitals, either, for Pete’s sake.
I wanted to cry. Thinking about what a heartless response I’d gotten, I began to wonder:
Did someone type this and cut it out just for me, wasting a whole, larger sheet of paper, or did they have so many rejections they couldn’t afford anything bigger?
When I pictured how many of these tiny rejections they could cut from an 8.5 x 11 sheet, the rejection felt much less personal.”
 
One year and seven months! Luckily I had forgotten all about it! 

ChK  

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What Makes Us Writers Write?

I was attending a talk on writing last week when the writer who was giving the talk said something like: “Writers lie. We lie. We tell lies. When we write about something it is our version that we tell, as we see it. We each tell the story as we believe it to be. While there may be only one truth, there are numerous different ways of saying it.”

That got me thinking. Isn’t our fascination with the written word what makes us readers fall in love with the story? The way the writer writes, the way some words sound. What is fiction after all? 

One of the definitions of fiction in Reader’s Digest Universal dictionary is: a feigning – a lie- a literary work whose content is produced by the imagination and is not necessarily based on fact. 

Aristotle wrote that Homer “first taught the rest of us the art of framing lies in the right way.”

People told stories since the beginning of time. Didn’t Scheherazade’s tyrant husband in One Thousand and One Nights anxiously wait for her story? In fact Scheherazade avoided her fate because she knew how to keep her intolerable husband in suspense- the only literary tool that had any effect upon him. 

Shehrazade

“Well I have to find a way of saying the truth without saying it; that is exactly what is literature, after all: clever lies which secretly say the truth.” Simone de Beauvoir

It’s the specific details in which the writers frame their lies that distinguishes them from each other. The way they each tell their stories is what gives them their unique voice, their style. That’s why we like some writers more than others, and some we don’t like at all.

Lajos Egri writes: “If Balzac, De Maupassant, O. Henry, hadn’t learned to write, they might have become inveterate liars, instead of great writers.”
 
What makes us writers write to begin with?

Words? Our love of words and how they sound? How they can associate us with our senses, our feelings? How they provoke our memories or experiences?
 
Or we feel we have something to say and we think it to be so important that we want to share it with the world. Or maybe we even want to make a statement- leave our mark- make our point heard. And why not one day also be remembered for our stories and writings.

Personally I feel I am a richer person when I write. I love it when people talk to me about my writings or my book even if it is in the negative. It means that I have an audience, I have readers and that makes me feel confident and kind of important. 

On the importance of being important, Lajos Egri writes:
During the classic time of Greece a terrible thing happened in one of the temples. One night the statue of Zeus was mysteriously smashed and desecrated.
A tremendous uproar arose among the inhabitants. They feared the vengeance of the gods.
The town criers walked the city streets commanding the criminal to appear without delay before the Elders to receive his just punishment.
The perpetrator naturally had no desire to give himself up. In fact, a week later another statue of a god was destroyed.
Now the people suspected that at madman was loose. Guards were posted and at last their vigilance was rewarded; the culprit was caught.
He was asked,
“Do you know what fate awaits you?”
“Yes,” he answered, almost cheerfully. “Death.”
“Aren’t you afraid to die?”
“Yes, I am.”
“Then why did you commit a crime which you knew was punishable by death?”
The man swallowed hard and then answered.
“I am a nobody. All my life I’ve been a nobody. I’ve never done anything to distinguish myself and I knew I never would. I wanted to do something to make people notice me… and remember me.”
After a moment’s silence he added, “Only those people die who are forgotten. I feel death is a small price to pay for immortality!” 

What makes us writers write then?

ChK

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Three Times In My Lifetime

In the book I am currently reading there is this question, “In a perfect world what would you like to be?”

I close the book and think. If the world is perfect do we really need to dream?

Our world is anything but perfect. Look around you. People terrorizing and killing people, committing atrocities against each other. How many innocent civilians have to die for the world to interfere and stop this madness?

There was a time not that long ago when I was living in Beirut during the civil war. Death and destruction were everywhere. People lived in constant fear. I lived in constant fear. I was afraid to lose my home, my loved ones, and my life. 

lost i

Many were the times then when I wished I was born in a different part of the world. Many were the times when I wished my parents and grandparents hadn’t been displaced. Sometimes I still wish that I can somehow play with and change the script of my life like I do with my stories. Sometimes I wish I can change the way I feel about things. Oh the things that I wish.

I personally do not believe in wars no matter what their cause. We are human beings and as such we have the ability to reason and communicate with each other. I strongly believe that all conflicts could be resolved with dialogue. As I strongly believe that no one wins in a war.

I am not an extremist nor am I fond of fanaticism in any religion, social or political belief. I believe that human beings must have the right to a free and dignified existence regardless of their religion or political beliefs, regardless of nationality. I do believe however, that change is necessary, but not at the cost of human lives. It is so disturbing to see people in some parts of the world go through the same thing over and over again. 

Three times in my lifetime I have changed cities and countries and even continents. Each time I have left behind family, friends, and loved ones as well as many possessions and belongings, with so much heartache and regret. Because I had to.
 
My heart aches when I think of how hard it was for me, for us to work and acquire all that we did, and then leave them behind and go through the same thing yet again, this time in another city, in another country.

My heart aches to see people killed and displaced. Homes destroyed beyond repair. My heart aches to witness children, teenagers, and innocent people lose their lives for reasons beyond my comprehension. My heart aches to see militias doing the unimaginable to women and young girls in the name of God or Allah. My heart aches to hear of children being abused and assaulted by people they trust most. There is no God who supports abuse, killing, rape and other atrocities. 

How can we live in this madness and be part of this world and sit still? 

Molière once wrote:
“It’s not only for what we do that we are held responsible, but also for what we don’t.”

ChK

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Too Busy Being A “Writer”

I have come across so many articles lately with titles like 15 Steps to Writing A Bestseller, 7 Steps Guide to Becoming a Writer, etc. both on the internet and in magazines. 

I don’t for a second believe that writing a novel, an article, a memoir or a play, is simply a matter of arranging words into a set formula which instantly turns one into a writer.

Will these articles turn a clueless person into a literary star in seven, or maybe fifteen, simple steps? I think not. Even though Julia Cameron, in her book The Artist’s Way, claims that we are all equally creative and we are all artists, I believe that raw talent is a gift. It’s this unique voice that only belongs to you. And if in any way you are passionate about it and committed to make the most of it, then you have all it takes to create. 

Talent isn’t something anyone can teach you. No one can teach you how to write. What these articles can do perhaps is provide a little structure and guidance based on certain writing perceptions and views that have proven successful for countless authors. The same goes for writing schools and workshops. They can teach grammar, and rules on how to correctly use words to form sentences. 

There was a phase in my life when I used to be enrolled in numerous writing courses all simultaneously. I don’t do that anymore. While it’s true that these courses provide some kind of support, at the same time they unconsciously hinder the hard work of actually writing and putting words on paper.

What has helped me most, however, is reading about famous writers and learning how they have done it. Tips for improving and bits of wisdom from them gained over the course of their writing career. Tips for writing and submitting and writing again. Because they were all beginners once. 

Reading their biographies I have learned a lot about new possibilities. Sometimes I have come across a sentence or a comment that has stirred my imagination. At other times I have found their advice contradictory. For example, some say to plan or write a detailed outline of your story and characters before starting to write while others say just start writing the story.

To Write

But such differences only prove yet again that there is no “one right way” to literary success. And the one and only thing that all these writers agree on is that you must write.

I don’t remember who said that if you want to learn how to write a novel, read the classics.

I reread East Lynne by Ellen Wood this week. It was published 1860-1, and it had everything a successful novel should have even nowadays. The characters, the setting, the plot, the surprise element, the suspense and the ending. Every single character in the book changed with the story, the events moved in such a way and I found the book more readable and interesting than most of the novels published recently. (Some of which I started but unfortunately couldn’t finish because there was nothing in the story to keep me hooked and reading.)

A tutor once told me, don’t waste valuable time and energy talking about writing, studying writing, attending writers’ meetings, at the expense of actual writing. And whatever you do don’t make a habit of moving from one writer’s circle to another, from one writing course to another, too busy being a “writer” that you have no time to write. Instead read and write.
 
I took his advice to heart and I learned by reading and writing more than from workshops and courses. And any day spent reading and writing even for an hour is a happy day for me.

Henry Ford once said: 
“You can’t build a reputation on what you’re going to do.” 

Hope you have happy days doing whatever it is you like to do!

ChK

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I’ll Get Through This

The statistics on my blog indicate that between December 2015 and March 2016 I have posted two articles per month, and from April 2016 onwards I have but one blog post each month. I find that so sad. There was a time when I used to post four to five articles a week.

My productivity has been at its lowest these past months. When friends asked what’s wrong I reply, “I can’t write. I am too stressed.” 

I have read enough stories about other writers who have stopped writing during crises. I didn’t want that to happen to me. But at the same time I was in no position to write, both physically and mentally.

Julia Cameron writes in one of her books that if you have suffered a loss like the death of a loved one you need to grieve. You need to give yourself time and space to do so.

When my husband passed away I put on a brave face. First for my kids and then for the whole world to see. If I ever felt like crying which was almost always, I did it in the privacy of my bedroom and particularly at night when they went to bed. They needed me to be strong. I needed me to be strong. So I kept reading and writing. 

A year then two more went by and when other crises hit, they affected me really badly. That’s when I couldn’t write. What’s more, when I forced myself to do so, I became angry, frustrated and blocked. So I did what I usually do when I am blocked. I cleaned my desk for the millionth time, I rearranged my library, I leafed through my files and went through my blogs. My self esteem was at its lowest and I needed to remind myself of my good times and my old writings, and I became nostalgic. I missed me, the writer, and I wanted to come home. 

I couldn’t write but I could read. I reread Julia’s books which I keep on my night-table. According to her if you are experiencing lots of stress due to a crisis the last thing you need is more pressure. You have to slow down. Allowing yourself downtime doesn’t mean giving up on writing. 

Then I started writing my morning pages. I wrote about my frustration, my sadness, my worries and my fears. I wrote about everything that came to my mind and I wrote every day. Until eventually I found myself writing again. I could feel the transformation in my heart because at some point I stopped reacting to what was going on in my life and I accepted the sad reality. To quote Julia:

“In times of pain, when the future is too terrifying to contemplate and the past too painful to remember, I have learned to pay attention to right now. The precise moment I was in was always the only safe place for me.” 

And now I feel I am in transition, sort of in between phases. I am at a phase in my life where I want to leave the past behind and start a new life, build a community here in this new place where I also feel vulnerable, since I don’t have my family and circle of friends.

Traveler
 
But as long as I have my books, my kids and my extended family abroad and I can reach out for help, I’ll get through this and keep on writing.

Have a blessed day everyone!

ChK 

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