Archive for July, 2010|Monthly archive page

Building a Web of Light

In General, Mothers and Writing, Musings on July 30, 2010 at 7:36 pm

Before I was a mother there was nary a subject I was afraid to tackle in my fiction. Fiction is, after all, a safer realm to explore those dark realities and questions that we often can’t in our daily lives. I wrote with almost cavalier freedom about a child who’d lost her arm, a teen mother who cracked under the burden of sudden motherhood, about drug addicted parents and their adult children and the vast gray areas in the human experience that have always fascinated me.

And then my son was born two years ago. And it physically hurt to see tv shows in which children were going hungry, much less a movie or book featuring abuse or worse.

Today, my friend Alegra Clarke and family have to do one of the worst things I can imagine: attend a service for the death of a baby. A baby who was abused (not her own). A family member. She has blogged about it so eloquently already, as has our friend Nina.  And I am not even capable of coming up with the beauty these two have put into words about this subject. I’m merely trying to add to the  support around her and her family, to help build a web of light, so to speak, around something so unbearably dark, to prop them up, help them know they aren’t alone, and though I honestly don’t know have the strategy, to tell them that they will get through this.

 I think some of you out there have already been through this kind of thing, and worse. And it is my hope that some of you might have a story or word to share that softens the terrible blow of this all–because it can’t take away the sharp agony, the stink of what-if and regret–but like Alegra says in her own post, sometimes we can only do what we know. Write. Tell Stories. Love the people in our lives. And like Nina says, be good to him. To all of them. To each other.

Telling Stories

In General, Musings on July 26, 2010 at 9:12 pm

It’s been a tough week for people I care a lot about in some very heavy ways. Life and death stuff. Stuff that makes one’s soul shrink in at the edges. And it makes me think about the power of story. How, when there are no easy platitudes to express one’s deepest sympathy or horror, story is often the only thing we have. Sharing our own. Turning to others’ stories to find ourselves and our way back from terrible things. Remembering the joyful times. Weaving new stories.

It also makes me think about the stories we tell ourselves to get through difficult times, when we’re too afraid to shine the light into certain depths, and the ones that wrongly limit us.

Human experience seems indelibly linked to the creating and expressing of stories. Children do it almost as soon as they can talk, and adults sometimes never stop.

This week, share with me your thoughts on how stories have saved you, or caused you trouble.

Here’s a snippet of one of my stories, Endarkenment, which will appear in the forthcoming Milk & Ink Anthology: A Mosaic of Motherhood

“I knew it was dangerous, but I thought of her thin body pressed against mine, sobbing, how frail she felt in my arms. I thought of her mother, who had never done right by her and I knew that I would break policy as sure as I knew her mother was a kidnapper.”


I Discovered the Internet

In Business of Writing, Musings on July 22, 2010 at 3:55 pm

There are days where I feel like I am the last person to the party. By the time I joined Myspace, everyone had moved on to Facebook. By the time I joined Facebook, well, thankfully everyone was still there, but they were also tweeting. And I was like, “hey, there’s this really cool place where you can connect with old high school friends called…”

No, seriously…The point of today’s post is to express my awe and gratitude for what the internet has done for me and my writing, even if I am the last person to realize it.

I don’t think we can hold up the “technology isolates people” banner for too much longer at this rate. It may change how we interact, but it’s made me feel more connected and more supported than I ever felt before it. I was always lucky to have a wonderful community of writing friends. Now I have one that is several hundred people large. And what amazes me, on a daily basis, is how generous and willing people are to support each other. I’ve met lifelong friends this way, some of my best critique partners, and writers whose work I admire.

So this is just me saying, WOW, this is cool. Thank you. Thanks to all of you who read this blog, take my classes, hire me to edit your work, support my literary endeavors, spread word of mouth via one of a gazillion social networks, email me to tell me you read my books, share your stories, or just generally become my friend.

Thank you.

To Convince you…

In Business of Writing, Classes, Publishing on July 21, 2010 at 4:29 pm

Next week, July 30, is the last date to get the early registration discount of $30 for my class, Revise for Publication, which begins August 16th for 6 weeks. In case you’re uncertain about this class, here are some recent testimonials:

“I was so overwhelmed I contemplating throwing all 400 pages [of my novel] into a locked trunk and burying the key. REVISE FOR PUBLICATION is Jordan Rosenfeld’s answer — and my salvation…. Jordan’s “Story Matrix” tool beats index cards, storyboarding, complex excel tables, and other methods I’ve used to keep my story, characters, and timelines straight, and was what made me recognize all the holes in my story — and how to plug them in. Best of all, Jordan provides real and honest feedback on the weekly assignments — no sugar-coating from her. If you have a heap of words waiting for better than a spit-shine polish, take Jordan’s REVISE FOR PUBLICATION course. I ended up with a vastly improved novel and an indispensible set of writing tools to apply to every story I write.”
–Linda Wastila-Simoni

“I highly recommend Revise for Publication for writers of any level who want to refine their work. The course lessons and individualized feedback helped me identify areas of improvement within my manuscript, challenged my writing skills, and encouraged me to think outside the box. Jordan Rosenfeld’s editorial advice is honest, constructive and insightful–and she makes the editing process FUN! Revise for Publication has helped transform my manuscript and I’m certain I will continue to use the tools I’ve learned in this course throughout my writing career.”
–Jeanette Marie (

Mothers and Writing…Milk and Ink.

In Mothers and Writing, Musings, Publishing on July 18, 2010 at 10:37 pm

I don’t know who Jane Friedman was quoting when she said this week that all one needs to be a writer is a “bad mother,” but it made me laugh knowingly. Not because I had a bad mother, nor because I hope to be one, but because there does seem to be a firm link between writers and their mothers, or their own mothering. And it makes sense. Is there a bond more primal than mother and child? (Not discounting fathers here by a long shot). I see it in my adult friends who are grappling with issues about their mothers wondering why they “still” have these needs/longings/frustrations.

Even if you never speak to your mother, or fight with her regularly, it stands to reason that you’d have a spectacularly complex connection to the person whose body you grew inside of, or who raised you, with a promise of unconditional love, even if she did not birth you.

This connection and its very complexity, its beauty and its darkness, is the thesis around a magnificent new project I’m honored to be involved in. Milk & Ink: A Mosaic of Motherhood, is an anthology, the brainchild of Eros-Alegra Clarke, which will be published in December by Outskirts Press and features such a spectacular line-up of mother writers it makes me want to dance: Eros-Alegra Clarke; Tinesha Davis; Tanya Egan Gibson; Kemari Howell; Marilyn Kallet; Rebecca Lawton; Caroline Leavitt; Ellen Meister, Justine Musk; Nina Perez; Jordan E. Rosenfeld; Marge Bloom; Christina Rosalie Sbarro; Tracey Slaughter; Tomi L. Wiley; and Michael Lee West. POW.

All proceeds will be going to Mama Hope, a charity sponsoring women and children in Africa. The charity was founded by Nyla Rodgers, daughter of one of my former writing teachers, Stephanie Moore, who passed away several years ago from cancer, and to whom my book Make a Scene is dedicated.

The writing is stellar and we will be blogging at: Please check us out! Please also “like” our Facebook page and follow us on twitter. More to come!

Reasons to Write (that have nothing to do with publishing)

In Craft, General, Musings, Publishing on July 15, 2010 at 3:21 pm

Lately several of my editing clients/students have asked me the questions that always make me cringe: “Should I continue my pursuit of writing? Do you think I have a chance to be published?”

The first question: Should I continue? Always gets linked to the second: Do I have a chance to be published? And as much as I understand the need to link them, I feel it’s a mistake.

Why? Well let me first say that of course every writer wants to have an audience, earn big advances, achieve some level of fame or notoreity, and feel as though he or she has “arrived.” But if that is the ONLY reason you write, if there is no joy, sense of discovery, larger purpose, creative outlet, then frankly, I think that you are writing for the wrong reasons. UNLESS you are one of those wonderful quick study types who can pick up a craft, produce a commercial product, and therefore make a living at this thing called writing.

 My clients and students are the dreamers, hopers, and wishers (cue a little Kermit singing here), and I am among them. And if I can do one other thing beyond teaching a writer about the craft, it is to say this: Write because it gives your life meaning. Write because you need to express yourself. Write because you like the challenge of getting better at something. Write to be creative. Write to share with a small, but selective audience. Write to know yourself and the world better. Write for the sheer, primal, age-old joy of telling stories, a most basic human impulse if ever there was one.

And don’t let one person (or many, for that matter) ever make the decision for you about whether or not you should give up.

Trust Your Gut to Cut

In Classes, Craft, Musings, Publishing on July 12, 2010 at 3:15 pm

Here’s a tidbit from my six-week online course, Revise for Publication. Next session: August 16 through October 14. Get your manuscript in shape! Register:

Trust Your Gut to Cut

I like this mantra not only because it rhymes, but because it has so often proved true. Recently, in my novel, there was a phrase I loved to the point of obsession even though it seemed florid. The first comment I chalked up to personal opinion, cradling my words to my breast like infants. Yet reader after reader after reader lined it out every time saying it jarred them out of the fictional dream. Only after about 10 readers had done this, did I accept what I knew all along: It was over the top and needed to go.

Often you’ll have an inner knowing that something isn’t right, is too much, or just doesn’t fit, be it a sentence, a scene, or a character note that rings false. The problem is, you don’t really know how to fix it, so you ignore it. Then, either feedback rolls in, or in your own revision process you finally face facts: this should go. It may be hard to let go but trust your instincts. Those little niggling doubts about something not working are almost always right.

Revision is a little bit like emerging from a deep denial. And only when you truly embrace that a lot will have to go, in service of it becoming a better book,  does revision become fun. It happens, I swear.

To get support in the revision process, register for Revise for Publication: Before July 30, get a $30 discount. (Regular: $169. Early reg: $139).

My Friday Four

In Business of Writing, Craft, General, Musings, Publishing on July 9, 2010 at 4:58 pm

I like this whole week in review concept. I’m often late to pick up on a strategy, so no surprise here. With half  of my face numb from the dentist (Dr. Root Canal), here are my thoughts and insights about writing and reading, et al from the week:

1. I am embracing the digital reading revolution with more gusto, have reconnected with my kindle for those “gotta have ’em now” books, while at the same time I bought three print books from my local independent bookseller, two of them BIG, meaning I spent over $14 on them (Tana French’s The Likeness, Mr three-first-names’ Shantaram, and and I’ve pre-paid for French’s new hardcover Faithful Place which goes on sale next week). I want the privelege of doing both forever. If for no other reason that there is no replacement in the digital form for children’s books. Kids are tactile–want to feel, heck, even eat, the pages of good books. You just can’t chew on an ipad with the same delight. For the same reason I want my son to experience nature rather than see it on TV, I want him to hold real books in his hands. I want him to experience reality.

2. Storytelling IS the story. To ME, as both a writer and a teacher of writing, I will never be satisfied by a book that takes shortcuts to telling its story. I hold myself to the same high standard I do my students and clients, and when I read a masterful book, I thank the author for caring so much about me, the unknown reader. I do not deny anyone their entertainment–I watch trashy shows, I read People magazine, for goodness sake–but I have no shame about demanding excellence in my reading.

3. Despite all my snobbery, it occurred to me this week that the need to create exists in all of us and it is a magnificent impulse that should be foster. And for some of us that means writing a story with a lot of pimples, no matter the outcome. The need to create is beautiful, it helps us be better people and we should all tend to it in our lives no matter the form it takes. Therefore, I have greater appreciation for even the roughest of drafts that may fall upon my desk from that standpoint.

4. Finally, the most significant insight of my week is that every writer needs to find that loyal and perfect cache of readers who know how to give constructive criticism in a way that doesn’t make you want to slit your throat. I’m lucky to have a solid little core of these people. They don’t coddle me or pretend my work is perfect, but they get my work, and they help me make it better. Big smooches to you folks: you know who you are.


A dangerous book for writers

In Business of Writing, Craft, Musings on July 6, 2010 at 4:04 pm

When it comes to books I can be a total snob. It took me years to realize that the NYT bestseller list often contained books that really are worth every bit of hype. I rejected my small-minded notion that if “the masses” loved something it must be dumbed down. (I said snob, right?)

But every once in awhile a book hits that list that makes the writing teacher in me quake in fear. These books have a compelling story buried beneath pages of dull exposition, obvious plot devices and cliched dialogue (Cough*The Da Vinci Code* Cough). They break all the rules and not necessarily in a good way. For whatever reason, in these cases, the story is so compelling to readers that they put aside their need for good storytelling, fumble and hack their way through vine-like prose, and cling to those few good bits.

I don’t really understand it. A story is only as good as its storytelling, to me. The craft of the story IS the story. If the writing doesn’t open its lovely fingers enough to let me fall into the dream, then I won’t find it.

The dangerous book  TO WRITERS (let me make that clear!) right now–or rather, a series of them–begins with Stiegg Larson’s Girl With the Dragon Tattoo. Three times I have tried to get to the end of this book and still, I can’t do it. Because books like Tana French’s The Likeness, full of immacuately built characters with living, breathing plot-lines and intelligent, well-described conflicts offer themselves to me.

Now let me be clear: I think these books are dangerous for aspiring writers, not readers. A reader may find pleasure in anything. When I don’t have my writing cap on, I can read some pretty pulpy stuff for the sheer joy of following a certain character, or even just escape.

But a client’s book has landed in my lap for editing services that follows such a similar style to GWTDT, that I can already hear the author’s defense in advance: But THAT book made it to the NYT bestseller list. Why should I listen to you?

Why? And the truth is, that’s an individual question, but for me it comes down to pride. I believe in working as hard as is necessary to shape your work, to honor the pact between writer and reader that says: I do this, I sweat and I bleed and I go into deep dark places inside myself to find the right story and tell it to you in the right way so that you will care as much about these people, their world and their story, as I do.