FINDING SOLUTIONS TO COMMON PROBLEMS

One of the best pieces of advice I received early in my career as a freelance journalist was this:  If you can think of a problem that worries a lot of people, and you have a good idea how to solve it, then you will have no trouble selling the article.  Lots of magazines want these articles, and usually feature them on the cover, such as how to lose weight easily without dieting;  how to stretch your wages to cover all your expenses;  how to choose the clothes that will flatter your figure … the list is endless.

I have a number of friends that have never been successful as gardeners … one tells me she gets gifts of house plants, and they always die on her very quickly.  I thought about this and came up with the plant that it’s almost impossible to kill – and sure enough I sold it to a gardening magazine.  You can think of other problems and if you can come up with a good solution,  send the idea to a suitable magazine and smile when your idea is accepted.  Here’s one solution that resulted in a sale:

 

 

 

 

THE MOST CARE-FREE PLANT OF ALL

 

by DVORA WAYSMAN

 

What plant can you own for a lifetime, neglect for weeks at a time, have in dozens of different varieties, is green but has no leaves, and you can  propagate just by breaking off a piece and sticking it into the ground?  You don’t need to be a genius to come up with the answer.  The cactus plant is the one plant that needs no pampering, and will make a great gift for friends who have never been successful in keeping any other plant alive.

 

Not every gardener loves cacti, but those who criticise it the most, often don’t know all the varieties available, some of which are very decorative and have beautiful blossoms,  even fragrant ones.  I have had one particular cactus for twenty years, which began with tiny thorny balls.  Now ten times its original size, it has adorned itself with a wreath of carmine, yellow and pink blossoms.  There is a beautiful cactus known as “Queen of the Night” which is a snake-like climber and in a single Summer night will produce several big pink or white fragrant flowers. Sadly they fade late the next morning, hence its name.

 

Cacti belong to a large family of succulents, which are fleshy, juicy plants. Their water-storing cells are a reservoir of food and moisture and in arid regions enable them to survive long droughts.  They evolved from related plants that adapted to changing climactic conditions. Once they were probably ordinary leaf-bearing plants, but as their environment changed, they either had to disappear or develop a storage system for emergencies.  They are nearly all natives of the Americas, and can be traced from Canada down through all of Latin America, from sea-level to the highest mountains.  They are capable of growing 15 meters high and a meter in diameter, and some have been known to last for several hundred years.

 

The Incas and Aztecs of ancient Latin America had many uses for cacti.  The large spiked varieties were used for sacrificial altars.  Agave plants gave sisal fiber to make ropes and jute (and still do!)  The spikes made arrow-heads.  From the stem comes a juice used in alcoholic drinks,  The Mayas prepared medicine against fever from cacti, and the Indians used crushed cactus to heal bone fractures.  Aloe vera is a well-known remedy for burns. Some cacti are the source of narcotic substances such as tranquillizers.  Today there are 200 known cactus families with 1,000 different species.  Many public gardens have a cactus corner, and I remember a spectacular cactus garden of unusual varieties at Kibbutz Yavne in Israel.

During the Winter in Israel, cacti in the garden need no watering as they are dormant . If you have them in indoor pots, a light watering or misting every three weeks is enough, and you don’t need any compost or fertilizer until Spring . The only help they need is an occasional “airing” with a fork, and maybe a spray with tepid water to refresh and remove dust from the foliage.  The only real sin in raising cacti is to overwater … they will turn yellow, grey or brown and droop.  If they grow too big for their containers, you can re-pot them in April, using  4 parts red soil, 1 part pulverized brick or broken clay, and 1 part powdered charcoal. That’s what is recommended, but I’ve found cacti to thrive in almost any soil.

 

The Latin names are hard to pronounce and remember, but they are easily identifiable as “snake cactus”, “globe”, “bishop’s mitre”, “hedgehog”, “sea urchin” which is really “echino” and of course our very own “sabra” found growing wild all over Israel.

The “Sabra” (Opuntia) first immigrated to Israel 150 years ago.  Agave, often found in Moslem cemeteries, was used as a symbol of longevity, fertility and decoration. It is an easy to grow, useful plant with its delicious edible fruit.  It was shipped to Spain from the New World and from there jumped via Gibralter to Morocco, Libya, Egypt and Palestine.

 

Although anyone can grow cacti successfully, there are a few hints. They need adequate light and will never produce flowers in full shade. They need direct sunlight several hours a day.  Water them every 3 days in Summer; once a week in Autumn and Spring. From December to February, don’t water them at all.  They don’t need any special fertilizers and grow well without any artificial nourishment.  You can propagate them very easily from cuttings or side shoots.  Species with long stems can be cut  into several parts, and each will take root.  They are a gift that goes on giving, because you can start new plants every Spring and Autumn, and plant them in hanging baskets or colorful pots, knowing that they should last a lifetime.  They are also ideal for a rockery.

 

They say that if you want to be happy for a lifetime, become a gardener.  And to make  a cactus collection or a special cactus garden, you don’t need a green thumb … anyone can do it.  Look for unusual varieties and you’ll find that they become not only a source of pleasure, but a great topic of conversation.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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WRITING PERSONAL EXPERIENCE ARTICLES

These are very rewarding, and in most cases easy because you don’t have to do much research.  Isaac Bashevis Singer once said: ” If you write about the things and the people  you know best, you discover your roots. ”   What better form to write about the events in your life than in a personal experience article.

We have all experienced things that can interest others. The events don’t have to be world-shattering, just incidents that readers can relate to and find meaningful.  If you learned something from it, maybe others will too.  Given the right spin and structure, you can turn it into a saleable article.

 

Magasines like Redbook and Ladies’ Home Journal;  some men’s magazines and religious magazines like Guideposts all use true personal experience articles, as do Reader’s Digest, and confession magazines that want fictionalized versions.

You need a tight structure, with a strong focus.  Always start on the day something different happens to you. This incident becomes the hook on which you capture the reader’s interest.  Try to make it provocative, and a shocking statement works well – e.g. “I didn’t think it would feel so good to pull the trigger”  or “snooping through my mother’s dresser drawer , I found out that she was transgender”. These are a bit extreme, but a dark moment or turning point that forces you to make a sacrifice or a choice that teaches a lesson can make a successful article.Your hook is the problem or conflict.  Then comes your reaction .  Finally, the motivation – why you made that choice.  That is often done by way of flashback, or it can be woven in by means of introspection – your inner thoughts – as long as this doesn’t break the flow of the narrative.

 

Build your story towards a satisfactory ending.  This doesn’t have to be a happy ending, because the conclusion doesn’t have to be happy.  After you’ve drafted it, go back to see if you have developed the theme you set out to tackle. Eliminate any tangents or digressions.  Only one theme should dominate.

F. Scott Fitzgerald said: “A writer wastes nothing”.  Don’t waste your personal experiences.  Look into your own life  and find the experiences that changed you and made such an impression you still remember them vividly.  Then write them down.

If I can help you with your writing problems, be in touch.  If you are interested in any of my published books, contact me for special prices. You can reach  me by e-mail at dwaysman@gmail.com or ways@netvision.net.il.

Write on!

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HOW TO BECOME A PUBLISHED WRITER

 

It is a very exciting profession to be a published writer. People respect you, you have the chance to influence their opinions; you can create beauty with words. But of course writing is not enough. No-one is going to read your work unless it gets published. You may believe you have written a master-piece, but when you send it out to the market-place, it will face a lot of competition.

 

To be a successful writer, you need an enormous commitment in time and energy, and also the ability to face rejection. The only writers who have never been rejected (even those famous today) are those who have never submitted anything.

 

Getting published is a big achievement and you need to go about it in a business-like way. The difference between a professional and an amateur is in the way they try to market their work. An amateur writes something and then tries to find an editor who will be interested in it. A professional studies the writers’ guidelines of whatever publication they want to write for, and sends query letters to the editor before they invest all their time and effort into the work. If a particular editor indicates that he likes the idea, then write your piece according to the magazine – the preferred length, written in the first or third person, seriously or with humor, for the age group that buys the publication. Read the magazine like a text-book, and study several issues so that your submission meets their requirements. That way you greatly increase your chances of acceptance.

 

You may even be ambitious enough to want to write a book, perhaps for children or young adults. You need to tell a story that rouses the reader’s curiosity, creating a fictional world that they want to explore. A reader wants an adventure – an escape from danger; or being rich and famous. Take them away from the city to where there are blue skies and high mountains. Maybe away from the 21st century – living in the past or the future. Tell them a secret. Solve a mystery.

 

Start with characters and let a plot evolve from them. Something dramatic is happening in their lives. Give them interesting things to say. They must grow, not remain static. Characters bring the plot to life, and dialogue brings the characters to life.

 

Whatever it is you want to write, there are four steps. First a compelling plot and there are ideas by the hundred in just reading the daily paper. Then you need a hook opening that grabs the reader’s attention (and the editor’s!) A successful ending that ties up all the loose ends. And the middle must keep the reader hoping, guessing and involved. Plot is “what if?” Page turners are curiosity and suspense.

 

The first sale of anything is the hardest to make. But if an editor or publisher does accept something you have written, immediately send off a brief “thank you” note, and at the same time, suggest another three stories you would like to write. Chances are at least one of the ideas will be of interest, and you’ll establish a relationship with the editor and be on the way to regular assignments.

 

You are lucky to be living in the internet age, because you can find markets for your work all over the world.  A new U.S. Jewish magazine is AMI in New York. They have a youth section called AIM, and it is a paying market. Look them up on Google – they like hearing from religious young people. Search engines like Google, Yahoo or Ask Jeeves in the U.K. are your best friends because on them you can locate all kinds of publications on every conceivable subject that interests you, many of them geared towards readers in your age group. The same goes for book publishers of children’s literature and young adult novels. Either e-mail them with your idea, or if you write by regular mail, make sure you enclose either a stamped-addressed envelope for their reply, or an international reply coupon (obtainable at main post offices) to cover the cost of their airmail reply to you.

 

Read everything you can, think up ideas, send query letters to editors – and you’ve taken the important first steps in realizing your dream of becoming a published writer.

 

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WHEN LIFE TOUCHES YOU…… Emotions into Fiction

I once read a quotation that when life touches you, poems appear like bruises.  It always stayed with me, and I often found that sometimes I needed to write a poem, rather than prose, when I was deeply affected.  I have written a book of poems, called “Woman of Jerusalem”; and also have mixed poetry in with my prose in various novels I have written (such as “Esther” published by HCI in Florida, USA).

When you are writing a novel, emotion is the heartbeat, the pulse and soul of all fiction. It creates tension and suspense and provides the reader with a luxurious, therapeutic outlet which life usually denies him.  When I am writing, I aim for the heart!

 

The primary/major emotions are almost instinctive – Fear.  Hope.  Hate.  Love. Anger. Joy. . Grief. Pity.  The secondary ones can be categorised as jealousy; self-pity; loneliness; ambition; greed; vanity, courage; humility; despair; loyalty; gratitude; disappointment; inferiority; envy; pride; suspicion; revenge; shame; guilt.

 

Because emotions are abstract, they can be made more understandable if you compare them to concrete objects, using similes, metap;hors and symbolism.  For exsample, you can describe Hope as a beacon of light in a storm-blackened night; or a crocus poking its head through the snow; or the budding of a long-dormant seemingly dead tree.  The art of writing is all about the inspiration of the moment and the excitement of riding the wave of an idea.  We can induce emotion through a character’s viewpoint; through dialogue; action or a physical description.  Give all your characters a voice and imagine you are listening to them talking to each other – their accents, tone of voice when anxious or angry. Register how voices change in conversation.

 

Readers like to be touched by a story.  Writers and readers know that fictional events aren’t real, but the emotions can be.  They can feel fear or joy, be excited, know grief or show a character’s emotions through his actions.  Your hero/heroine must be believable, so that the reader wants to be that character.  Don’t hold back. Let go of your inhibitions and write emotion-evoking scenes.  That way, the memory of your book will linger long after the final page is closed.

 

I enjoy your comments.  If you want any of my books, contact me directly –

dwaysman@gmail.com  I’ll also be happy to help you if you are having any writing problems with your own work.  Happy writing!

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AMONG MY SOUVENIRS

One of the very human foibles that writers have, along with everyone else, is collecting things that may not monetary value,  but are important because of the memories they evoke.  We should remember this when we are creating characters for our fiction, because it makes them realistic to share the same sentiments we all do when it comes to holding on to things from the past.

I never set out to be a collector.  Whenever I’ve read about millionaires with fabulous private collections of art and sculpture, I’ve 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.  They’re not worth any money and probably no-one else would want them. Most people in my age group have accumulated possessions they can’t 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.  Wonderful books of Jewish essays.   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 can’t throw them away!

 

Then there are the photos. They started out in albums, but now there are too many and I’m 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; barmitzvahs; 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 children’s awkward drawings. Their clumsy efforts at making you strange things from wood or papier mache.   A letter on a torn page that proclaims in shaky letters: “Grandma, 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 sister’s 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.

So when you are creating characters, remember to give them a few things to hold on to, that you can refer to and reveal the sentimental side of their lives.

 

“Get rid of the clutter” we’re 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!

For any Israeli readers of my Blog, I will be giving a talk in Rehovot on April 27th at 10.30 a.m. where my books will also be available.  The topic is “When Life Touches You – turning emotions into memorable fiction.  The address is Swiss Hayavot Community “Center, 52 Sireni Street, Rehovot 76249.  Would love to see you there.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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ANNUAL CELEBRATIONS

There are anniversaries and celebrations that come round every year, making it easy for freelancers to plan in advance. It is important to realise that papers and magazines prepare special issues for these holidays very early for issues such as Christmas, Easter, Passover, national holidays etc.-  send in your proposal at least 2 months in advance.  Mother’s Day is a bit tricky because it’s celebrated on different days in various countries,  but in Australia it’s always the first Sunday in May, in England I think it was in March, for other countries find out on Google.  Below is the story I wrote that was published last year for this endearing and enduring holiday.

MOTHER’S  DAY

by DVORA WAYSMAN

We only have one mother in our life-time.  This unique person is the greatest influence on our lives from the moment we take our first breath – perhaps even before, while we are still in the womb.  She protects us when we are small, disciplines us when we need it, and is there for us through every single rite of passage.  Inevitably, one day in our lives we lose her.  Perhaps that is the saddest part of growing older – the losses we sustain along the way.  And she is irreplaceable – we can make new friends, even marry another spouse, but we can never replace a mother.

She stays with us throughout our lives, even when we are mothers, or even grandmothers, ourselves.  How do we remember her?  Perhaps we give her name to a grandchild.  Perhaps we make dishes that we loved as children, and for which  she once gave us the recipe.  Perhaps we wear a piece of jewelry that came to us after her death, and while it may not be valuable, it gives off wonderful vibrations simply because she used to wear it.

I have some earrings that were my mother’s.  They’re only made of coloured glass, but whenever I wear them, I find myself smiling.  She had so little in her lifetime.  Her old-fashioned kitchen in Melbourne’s seaside  suburb of St. Kilda  sported none of the appliances we take for granted today.  No refrigerator, but an old ice-chest.  A man in a horse and cart used to deliver the ice twice a week.  No washing machine, but a big copper and a mangle and scrubbing board. Monday was always washing-day, and I can still smell the wonderful fragrance of clean sheets billowing on the line in the sun and wind.  The clothes lines were held up by a wooden prop.  The big event in our lives was when we got a telephone, just in time for my teenage years, but I was strictly limited to how often I could use it, and for how long I could talk.  There was no television, of course, but we had a wireless and the whole family would gather around it each night for our favourite serial, “Dad and Dave.” Then late at night there was that scary program “The Witches’ Hour.”

There was not a lot of entertainment when I was a child, but the big treat was when my mother would take me to the local town hall, for Community Singing.  All the words of the songs were up on a screen, and everyone would sing along.  I felt so close to my mother then, and thought she was the most wonderful woman in the world.

Born at a time when schooling for girls was not considered a priority, she probably had only eight years of education.  But she was wise, from the lessons of life.  Mother of five, with little in the way of worldly possessions, she nevertheless created a haven for us, where we all felt safe.  She taught us honesty and decency, morality and ambition. She never laughed at our dreams, but tried to help us make them come true.

In some way, I think of my mother almost every day.  I teach my grandchildren the songs she taught me, and the nursery rhymes.  In the food I cook from her recipes, I can still taste the flavor of love.  I find myself using expressions that were hers. Now I see her image reflected back when I look in the mirror.

Life moves on.  Everything changes.  We travel around the world, achieve things that she never dreamt of.  Yet what always remains constant is a mother’s love, whether she is still here or long departed.

It’s sentimental, I know, but at least once a year – on Mother’s Day – we can celebrate or just take some time to remember.

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WHEN THE MEMORIES COME

Maybe it’s something to do with growing older, but it’s amazing how a few words, a casual incident, an unexpected phone call, can trigger memories that take us back decades, sometimes across oceans, to a life we have almost forgotten.

My parents both passed away a very long time ago and yet I often find myself quoting maxims or proverbs they once used to educate me.  One of Dad’s favorite sayings was: “A place for everything, and everything in its place.”  He was a model of tidiness, and I can’t ever recall him mislaying even trivial objects.  My mother had the sweetest nature, and often trotted out the cliché:  “You catch more flies with honey than with vinegar.”  When she died at 88, she had friends from every walk of life and in every age group, who loved her sense of fun, her kindness and her caring for others.  Another truism she taught me was:  “People may forget your words, but they will never forget the way you made them feel!

Back in 1971, when we first came to live in Israel, we were sent to an Absorption Center (Mercaz Klita) in Upper Nazareth.  The best friends we made there were a couple from South Africa named Edna and Bert (we were from Australia).  Sadly, Bert  passed away and because we settled in Jerusalem and they went to Haifa, the connection gradually weakened.    But a year ago I called Edna to tell her I was writing a new novel based in the Absorption Center where we had studied Hebrew together 40 years ago.

As we talked on the phone, powerful images came back to me of how it felt to move to a new country, leaving behind beloved family and friends, your culture, your language.  In my mind’s eye, I saw again the bare mountains outside our window, ;with a lone Beduin shepherd leading his flock of black goats.  I heard the Winter wind screeching at night; the church bells ringing and the muezzin calling from the Arab city of Nazareth below.  I also experienced again the warmth that came from finding a friend in this new country where everyone was a stranger and the future a big question mark.

All of these feelings I was able to write more vividly in my novel “In a Good Pasture”, which tells the story of 7 new immigrants trying to come to terms with their Judaism and their Zionism.  Just a short phone call brought them all rushing back.

I remember reading Daphne du Maurier’s novel “Rebecca” when I was young.  I have never forgotten her words: “How wonderful it would be if we could bottle memories like perfume; and whenever we wished, we could just remove the cork and live them all over again.”  Well, I think we can.  We just need to close our eyes, relax and let the memories we want to hold on to come flooding in.  If pain comes with them, because of loved ones we have lost, remember the words: “Don’t cry because it’s over.  Smile because it happened.


Dvora Waysman is the author of 13 books, including “The Pomegranate Pendant” (now a movie and which recently won the Shabazi Prize for Literature), “Seeds of the Pomegranate”; “Woman of Jerusalem” ;  “Esther – a Jerusalem Love Story” and her novel “In a Good Pasture”  Contact her if you are interested in any of her books.


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