A Writer’s Life

There was a question that I heard many times from students: “How do I know if I have what it takes to really be a writer?”

There are two qualities you need to succeed as a writer – the first is talent, the second is determination. No, its more than determination, its compulsion. Writing must be such an integral part of your life that if you are breathing, you are writing.

Talent is a gift and you will know if you possess it. It enables you to share your eyes so that readers see what you are seeing. More than that, you share your other senses too, enabling them to hear, smell, taste and touch the world you have created for them. If your words speak to them and you can make them feel joy and pain, smile and weep, feel empathy and compassion, then you are a talented writer.

But it is no good being talented if your words don’t reach others. Thats where the determination comes in. All writers face rejection, often on a fairly regular basis. Don’t give in to despair and depression, you must search until you find the perfect match the idea you want to write and the correct medium in which to express it.

Writing is only half the job, selling is equally important. Craft magazines such as The Writer in U.S.A. or Writing Magazine in the U.K and of course Poets and Writers are invaluable tools to find markets for your work, as is reading (and studying) as many papers and magazines as you can. You should look for the age group they are aimed at, the income level (their ads. will tell you that) and the problems and special interests of their target audience. If you know, for example, of a problem shared by many in that group, and you have a solution for it, your article will be a sure winner, whether its on: How to make your salary stretch further or How to prevent your kids trying drugs.

When I undertake a major project such as a book (I have published thirteen ), I give myself periodic encouragement rewards. The length of time needed to complete a book can be awesome, so during its writing I submit short stories (if Im writing a novel) or magazine articles (if its non-fiction). These are much easier to sell and the temporary triumphs are confidence-boosters that provide the stamina to keep working on the much longer projects.

Even with submitting articles, I don’t invest time in writing and researching the whole piece until Ive sent out a few query letters. Only when an editor, without obligation, indicates that he/she is interested in my idea, do I complete the work. However, I do make my query letters as creative as I can and give the projected article a title as irresistible as I can make it.

As a teacher of Creative Writing for over 30 years, I tell my students that the only way they will never be rejected is never to submit anything. Then I remind them that every achievement in life begins with the two small words: I’ll try.

If I can help you with any of your problems , write to me at dwaysman@gmail.com or any of the contact addresses in About Me – just click on it at the top of the Blog on the right-hand side. My books are available also by contacting me and I’ll make sure you receive them. Happy writing!

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Writing About Nature

Most writers are very much in touch with Nature and all its nuances, I find, because to be a writer you need to be sensitive, observant and aware of the seasons as they change. If you look up nature magazines in the countries where you live, you will probably find quite a few who are open to freelancers. Although I live in Israel, I was able to sell the following to a bird-watching magazine in USA a few years ago. If you have an experience like mine, and can write it up in a caring way, you should also be able to place it.

BREAKFAST WITH THE BIRDS

by DVORA WAYSMAN

My morning rendez-vous with the birds on the balcony of my Jerusalem home began many years ago, when I first met my son-in-law’s mother, a Holocaust survivor. At the time, bread was highly subsidized in Israel, very cheap and many people threw it out when it became a day-old. She told me how a crust of bread often meant the difference between life and death in the Auschwitz concentration camp, and she would beg her neighbors to give her what they didn’t want. What she couldn’t transform into breadcrumbs, she would take down the street to a place near her home in Yavne, a small development town, where there were donkeys, and she’d feed it to them.

There are no donkeys in Beit Hakerem, the Jerusalem suburb where I live, but I never forgot her words and since then could never throw away a piece of bread. So I decided to feed the birds, putting out the crusts and stale slices every morning on my back balcony where I grow my herbs. For most of the year, when it’s sunny, that’s where we eat breakfast and now the birds come and breakfast with us every day. At 6 a.m., there are one or two sitting in the branches of a tree below our balcony. They know me now they twitter a few notes, and soon there are thirty or more different birds coming magically from surrounding trees, waiting to partake of their breakfast. For me, feeding God’s creatures is like a song of praise to the Creator, and they repay me with birdsong.

I have read that there are 470 species of birds that visit Israel through the seasons. Very few regions in the world can boast of so great a variety within such a small geographical area. The reason for this wealth of birdlife is that we are situated at the meeting-point of three continents: Europe, Asia and Africa. Israel is also located along one of the migration routes of Eurasian birds, forming almost the only land bridge between the Mediterranean and the Arabian deserts. Birds visit on their way south to Africa in the autumn and back north again to Europe and Asia in the spring.

I don’t think many of my birds are visitors, because they come back every day no matter what the weather is, so they must mostly be resident birds. The little brown birds that send a message to the other’s as they watch for me to open the door to my balcony every morning are wrens.

Each one takes a tiny portion sometimes just a few crumbs and either eats it on the ledge or flies back with a piece in its mouth to a nest hidden in some nearby tree. Then come a few sparrows, which seem to congregate in flocks and like each others company while they dine. If I’m lucky, a lark will come, and sing me a song of gratitude after his breakfast. The turtle doves should be arriving soon and will stay until the summer is over. I love to hear their deep-throated cooing. Last year they made a nest on the ledge outside my study. They laid three eggs. The mother sat on them, and her mate brought her food regularly in his beak (as a good husband should). I watched every day for the eggs to hatch and finally they did. I didn’t open my study window all summer for fear of frightening them away, but they soon learned to fly and were gone. I am hoping they will remember and come to nest again.

Near the bread, I also put out a container of water, and many of them appreciate this either to drink, or they land right in it and have a bath. The most unusual bird that has come to visit so far, I identified through a picture in a book as a Red-throated Pipit. It is about 15 cms long, a wingspan of 27 cms. The throat is russet brown and so is the breast. I found out it comes from northern Scandinavia, and it turned up one winter morning. Then it disappeared for a few months and came back in the spring. I don’t know if it was the same one, but I like to think it was, that it had enjoyed my hospitality and remembered my balcony.

It is very therapeutic to make a special place in your home where you can enjoy nature, whether it be birdlife, flowers, herbs or trees. No matter how elegant or comfortable the interior, make a spot on a balcony where you can overlook a garden or trees if you don’t have your own. There you will find beauty and stillness, free from noise and distractions. It is very calming to take time to meditate, watch a sunset or in autumn the leaves turning gold. And remember the lovely Chinese proverb: Keep a green tree in your heart and perhaps the singing bird will come.

If you would like to buy any of my books (The Pomegranate Pendant; Seeds of the Pomegranate; In A Good Pasture; My Long Journey Home; Woman of Jerusalem etc.) please be in touch with me and I will arrange it. I understand my e-book published by Prism “Autumn Blessing” is now available at sale price from Amazon.

I am always happy to receive your comments. Write on!

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The Beauty of Memory

There are more and more publications in USA and UK that are using nostalgia pieces – you can go to Google and find out which they are, and they are a wonderful market for freelancers, especially the older ones amongst us. This is a piece I had published a few months ago:

AMONG MY SOUVENIRS

By DVORA WAYSMAN

I never set out to be a collector. Whenever Ive read about millionaires with fabulous private collections

of art and sculpture, Ive thought why not just keep a few pieces you really love and give the rest on loan to a

museum or gallery so that others can share their beauty.

Yet I find now that I do have collections. Theyre not worth any money and probably no-one else would want

them. Most people in my age group have accumulated possessions they cant bear to part with, despite moving

homes and maybe even countries several times in their lives.

Who remembers that song of yesteryear: Among My Souvenirs? Part of the lyrics were:

Some letters tied with blue,

A photograph or two,

I find a rose from you

Among my souvenirs.

What we are really collecting are memories. There are times in our lives we want to hold on to forever and

when we handle these mementoes, they bring a smile to our lips, a tear to our eyes and a bittersweet wave of

nostalgia.

I have more than a thousand books, and nowhere to put them all. Those that overflow my bookshelves are

stowed in cardboard cartons. Many are paperbacks, yellowed pages and tattered covers. But to throw them out

would be like disposing of dear friends. Lots of poetry some by almost-forgotten writers like Alice Duer

Miller, Rupert Brooke, A. E.Housman, Dorothy Parker. Old novels by Somerset Maugham, Evelyn Waugh, Hemingway, Steinbeck. . Books on philosophy, psychology, the craft of writing. They all represent my youth,

when I discovered the world and the wonders it contained. No, I cant throw them away!

Then there are the photos. They started out in albums, but now there are too many and Im too lazy. Beloved

family no longer with us . Friends of my youth. Weddings. Babies bright-eyed and dimpled. Rites of passage

first day at kindergarten and school; graduations. Grandchildren. Holidays. They are all cherished, and

overflow in drawers and cabinets.

Bric a brac. One earring (the other lost) given by your first boyfriend. Small childrens awkward drawings.

Their clumsy efforts at making you strange things from wood or papier mache. A challah cloth with crooked

stitches. A letter on a torn page that proclaims in shaky letters: , I love you. How could you ever toss those?

And now I also have a collection of shells and rocks. Most were gifts from grandchildren who wanted to give

me something in return for the toys I gave them. There is a pine cone and a curiously-shaped rock. Shells you

can put to your ear and hear the sea. And stones I gathered at the Dead Sea on my sisters last visit here, when

we spent a perfect day of peace and tranquility together, exchanging memories of our parents and siblings,

our childhood, the dreams we realized and the ones we lost along the way. All precious. All irreplaceable.

Get rid of the clutter were told. Not me. I shall go on collecting mementoes and memories until I die.

And I hope my children, even then, will save a few of them. Because some things are worth more than money!

_____________

I have managed to get hold of some copies of my books that were out of print …”The Pomegranate Pendant” is

now available again ; also In A Good Pasture and my book of poems Woman of Jerusalem. My e-book

“Autumn Blessing” can also be purchased on line – my contact details are available above on About Me; if

you are in touch I will arrange for you to get them.

Keep writing!

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Writing a Book Proposal

Remember that kids’ joke. Q. How do you eat an elephant? A. One bite at a time. That’s a good rule for whatever project you undertake that seems to overwhelm you.

To make a daunting task seem more manageable, try breaking it down into small chunks. In the case of the book proposal, an overview; an analysis of the competition; how you could market or promote it; the chapter summaries and finally a brief bio.

Set some deadlines for yourself. A realistic one is 2 months, but if you are really enthusiastic about your book, you can do it in a week. Schedule an hour or two every day and treat it like you would any other responsibility. Meet those mini-deadlines for each section, and you’ll sail through it.

Nothing need overwhelm you – not even completing the book itself, if you make it into manageable pieces. It makes it easier to start, and to complete, a project and seems far less daunting.

A non-fiction book proposal just needs a brief summary of what the book will be about; why you are the person with the expertise to write it; what else is out there on the same or similar subject; and what you would be prepared to invest in it regarding book signings, lectures, promotions and travel.

Don’t swamp a potential publisher with too much to read. First see if he likes the idea and ask him would he like to read a sample chapter – give him the chapter headings and let him choose which one. If he is interested, he’ll ask to see more. Good luck.

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My novel into a movie

Possibly the most exciting thing to have happened to me in my long life was knowing that my historical novel, The Pomegranate Pendant, was to be made into a movie. Despite having written 13 books, I never expected one of them to be shown on the silver screen.

Writing is something I have always done out of love. My first poem was published in a children’s paper when I was seven years old in my native Australia. In my teens I wrote short stories for women’s magazines. Then, when I was 19, I spent a few years in London, and wrote a few radio scripts for the BBC. My real writing career took off when I came to live in Jerusalem with my husband and four children in 1971, and gradually fell in love with this holy city .

There are many reasons for this. The truth is that, until then, I had nothing meaningful to write about, certainly nothing unique. But, life is something that happens to you when you’re not looking and, when it touches you, often poems and stories appear like bruises. Maybe that’s how my book of poems, Woman of Jerusalem, came to be written.

However, the novel that became a movie was The Golden Pomegranate, which I first published in 1995 with Feldheim in New York & Israel. It was really a matter of incredible luck. Robert Bleiweiss of California came to Israel to attend an international media conference in 1996 and I had the good fortune to sit next to him and his wife at dinner at the Hilton. He said he would like to read my novel and, shortly afterwards, he said he wanted to make it into a movie. I was flattered, but didn’t really believe it would ever happen. However, he eventually became the scriptwriter of the movie, the major investor, and the producer.

It was a difficult birth – for many reasons. The first day of shooting was not until March 2009. The name was changed for the movie to “The Golden Pomegranate” and it was shot over 25 days at a beautiful site in Israel called Beit Jamal, a convent where there were some old, unused buildings dating back hundreds of years. They were transformed into ancient Yemen and also a Yemenite Jewellers in Jerusalem’s Old City in 1882. It was directed by Dan Turgeman, a famous Israeli movie star and director. To my great astonishment, I was given a cameo part, as a guest at a wedding but, if you blinked, you missed it.

The novel, and the movie (which mostly follows it faithfully), is the story of Mazal, a Jewish child bride from Yemen who escapes the hardships and oppression of her native land by coming to Jerusalem in 1882. She preserves her religion and culture, and raises a family while surviving the harsh, violent conditions in the Holy Land in the late 19th to mid–20th century. Her skills as a silversmith sustain the family after she is widowed and the book, and movie, span four generations of a family of Yemenite jewellers at the vortex of history in the Land of Israel.

While the movie has been a great success artistically, and played to standing ovations, sadly it has been far from a blockbuster financially. There were many private showings and, in 2010, it was shown at the Jerusalem International Film Festival and Cinema City in Israel was granted all-rights distribution. It was shown at the Cannes Festival to great enthusiasm; and premiered in Israel on Dec, 23rd, 2012, playing in 10 cities for 5 weeks. It has had many rave reviews but little commercial success.

To launch it in Israel, Cinema City paid for a lavish premiere , with Yemenite music and food/champagne for 400 guests. It was one of the most exciting nights of my life. One of the problems was that it was shown in the middle of winter – snow and blizzards here – so people stayed home. I feel that if it had been summer, it would have been a great financial success, as well as an artistic one.

It was exciting while it lasted and I have great admiration for Robert Bleiweiss, who never gave up on it. He fulfilled his original promise that he would make a movie out of it, raised the money, wrote the script, and eventually made the dream come true. It also helped with sales of the book, now published by Chaim Mazo Publishers in Jerusalem. It is still being sold after 19 years, with Book Clubs still inviting me to come and talk about it. I gave a talk at a book club a few days ago, for 65 women, and, although I took a selection of my 13 books with me, the one that everyone wanted and that I sold out of, was “The Pomegranate Pendant.”

(This is reprinted from a Writers’ Website, which asked me to write it for them last week, Dvora_

Dvora WAYSMAN was born in Melbourne, Australia and came to Israel in 1971 with her husband and four children, who are now parents themselves of 18 beautiful children. She lives in Jerusalem and is the author of 13 books including : MY LONG JOURNEY HOME, BACK OF BEYOND (Pitspopany), THE
POMEGRANATE PENDANT
(in English, Hebrew and French – and now released in paperback by Chaim Mazo Publishers, and made into a movie under the title The Golden Pomegranate, WOMAN OF JERUSALEM – poetry and essays (Gefen), lead story in Detective Stories for Kids (Pitspopany), ESTHER, a Jerusalem Love Story (published by HCI, Florida) and the sequel to The Pomegranate Pendant – Seeds of the Pomegranate, In A Good Pasture published by Chaim Mazo Publishers, and AUTUMN BLESSING, an e-book published by Prism Book Group, USA.

Writing is the love of her life, and a wonderful form of therapy. “Whatever I am working on, whether it’s fiction, poetry or factual pieces, I gain great fulfilment,” she says. Often fiction and poetry are combined, as in her novel, Esther. Her articles are syndicated in 28 newspapers around the world, and she is a teacher of Creative Writing and Journalism. She was the recipient of the ” For Jerusalem” citation for her fiction, poems and features about the city; and the Seeff Award for Best Foreign Correspondent. For 12 years, she worked as the English Press Officer of Shaare Zedek Medical Center, Jerusalem with which she still has a warm relationship. She was recently nominated by NA’AMAT in the U.S.A. as “a woman who has made a difference in literature” alongside other influential women in different fields such as sport, music, art, politics etc. Her novel, The Pomegranate Pendant, has been made into a movie by Praxis Films in Israel and Gershom Productions in U.S.A.

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Writing about Love

On this first day of a new year, I thought to write about love. Almost every story has love in it somewhere, even if not the love between a man and a woman. There are so many kinds of love without a sexual connotation – parental love; love of humanity; sibling love … the list is endless. I started thinking about a different aspect – there is love even without a human aspect. So I bring you -

THE GREAT LOVER

by DVORA WAYSMAN

One of the most beautiful poems ever written was penned by a British poet named Rupert Brooke, tragically

killed at a young age in the first World War. In his short life (1887 – 1915), he wrote prolifically, and his

poems are still quoted today. In one of the most memorable, “The Great Lover”, he detailed all the things

that were most dear to him – from “the strong crusts of friendly bread”, “the cool kindliness of sheets” to “the

benison of hot water.” It was his way of counting his blessings, and I think that is something we all need to do

now and then.

On re-reading his poetry recently, I was moved by the fact that although he died at 28, he lived each one of his brief years so intensely, almost as though he were aware that he would not be granted the time to savor and reflect. “The Great Lover” inspired me to make a list of things that I take for granted in Jerusalem, but which nevertheless enrich my life:

These I have loved:

The sound of the siren that ushers in the Sabbath, knowing that for the next 24 hours my life will be peaceful

and elevated above the mundane. The wind sighing in the pine trees outside my window, and the birds that nest

there so that each morning I awaken to birdsong. Dawn shyly creeping on my balcony when Jerusalem is

bathed in pearl as the city still sleeps.

I love the skyline of the Old City with its domes, minarets and turrets. Touching the stones of the Western

Wall and communing one-on-one with the Creator. The special quality of light in Jerusalem, especially sunset

when indigo shadows lengthen and the sky is strewn with stars.

I love the quiet street where I live, the feeling “I’m coming home!” as I turn the corner. Eating breakfast on

my white dishes with their big splashes of blue and yellow flowers, and pouring milk from a fat clay jug.

I love the knicknacks accumulated on holidays abroad and in the Jaffa fleamarket where I went with a dear

friend. A pottery vase of flowers picked from my own garden – a rose, a daisy, a simple geranium. And in

winter, the embrace of my thick, blue dressing-gown that hugs me in warmth. Old photos of people we loved

who are no longer with us.

So many things to love. But none more so than the company of family and friends; the laughter of

grandchildren and the trusting way they offer you their tiny hands. The things we love the most cannot be

bought with gold. They surround each of us each day waiting to be acknowledged and appreciated.

If we can take a few moments to pause and savour them, then – like the dead young poet – we can say

these things were lovely and – we loved!

________________

May the coming year be filled with many things – and people – to be loved and cherished. Happy writing.

To contact me or locate my books, click on Books or About Me at the top of the blog.

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Baring One’s Soul

Poetry is such a personal thing, it’s almost like a prayer. There is no other literary genre that enables the reader to look so closely into another person’s soul. I find it very sad that so many poets, unless they have established international reputations. are forced to self-publish their books. Publishers shy away from poetry because they know they will lose money on it , yet its resonating voice deserves to be heard because it can bring exquisite pleasure , and sometimes a stab of pain.

I have had many poems published over the years and count myself very lucky. Sometimes I include poems
in my novels, and one reader told me that it was like finding hidden jewels. Often I don’t plan it, it just seems to be the natural place for it, even in the midst of prose.

The new novel I am working on (my 14th) I hope to call “Searching for Sarah”. Although she is a modern young woman, my thoughts kept turning to the Biblical Sarah as I was writing. The agonising story of the binding of Isaac, when God commanded Abraham to sacrifice his son as a sign of his complete obedience.
Of course, the angel stayed his hand before he could slay him, and it was never really a loving God’s intention to do more than test Abraham. We learnt the happy ending to the story, but his wife Sarah is believed to have died before she could be told that her son was safe. She gave birth to him in her old age, after longing for a child for so many years. Because I found myself thinking of this matriarch so much, I decided as a preface to the novel, I would write a poem about ny heroine’s namesake. This is what came out:

SARAH

All my life I waited for this moment
When I would hold my son,
Recalling how Hagar would mock me
Triumphant
That she bore Ishmael
To my husband.

She is dark and comely
But there is evil in her heart.
She rejoiced as she lay with Abraham
And taunted me
That I was barren as the desert,
My womb as sand
That puts forth no fruit.

But God heard my anguish
And in my old age
He blessed me.
My sunken breasts
Filled with milk,
My body swelled with life.
And now I hold my son – Isaac.
No greater miracle than this!

To find out how to acquire my books, click on Books or About Me at the head of this blog. And I am always delighted when you leave a comment. If you have problems with your own writing, let me know and perhaps I can be of help.

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