Writing and Menopause

By Laura Lee Carter

Becoming a writer is made so much more interesting by menopause. Since I’m going through “the change”and changing everything else in my life (hair colors, houses, husbands, etc.), I decided to change careers too. Ask my new and unbelievably patient husband, Mike, who listens regularly to my sobbing fits in the midst of a career crisis turned career change at age 50. I continually rail against the injustice of it all: “How could those mean old editors ignore my valiant efforts to become a writer?”

I started out in libraries at 24, always with the understanding that I would change careers as soon as I discovered my true calling. I went through one husband and two master’s programs searching for the perfect fit. Then writing chose me. Soon after being laid off from my 25 years as an academic librarian, starting my own dating service and meeting Mike, I hired a career counselor to reveal to me my heart’s desire. She suggested writing a local column to market my dating service. The writing freed my soul. I now had no doubt. Writing was my passion. It came to me as easily as tracking down my soul mate, which is to say agonizingly slow! But, lucky me, I began working at my dream job, sleeping with my dream husband, and living the life I always dreamed of, the year I turned 50.

It seems I am cursed by the fact my father, a college professor, always loved his work. I now know that most people don’t love what they do for a living, but this very early propaganda raised my expectations of employment. I knew I didn’t love being a librarian, but I could never seriously consider becoming a writer. It all sounded so risky and irresponsible. Turning 50 and hearing on public radio that one of my writing heroes, Laura Ingalls Wilder never published anything until she was 60 convinced me it’s now or never.

Perhaps unconsciously I was waiting for life to bring me the proper “material” to write about. Yes, divorce, job layoffs, menopause, and all the other illustrious revelations of midlife do give one pause to think. And if you’re fortunate, even pause to write. So now I’m busily learning about clips, query letters, writer’s guidelines, and waiting impatiently for someone to buy my work, while suffering through hot flashes, memory lapses, crying jags, and various other forms of irrational emoting.

One element of the professional writing experience caught me by surprise. I had no idea how obsessive I could become with my work. Once I got the hang of it: latching on to a great story idea, researching it, finding a couple likely suspects to interview and writing the query letter, I couldn’t stop.  I just counted up more than 20 queries I’ve sent out in the past two weeks! At three in the morning, I wake up and immediately start ruminating:  “Am I taking the right approach in that story? Have I offended the editor? Am I crazy to even try to get into this business?”  I had to cut back cold turkey; it was starting to take over my life! This left me wondering if there are 12 step programs for new writers.

The good news is that I now finally know the excitement of “working in the zone.”  I sometimes get so wrapped up in my research, I actually forget to eat! Up until now, no job could distract me enough to miss lunch, or any other meal for that matter!

The bad news is the insufferable wait for responses. You would think that after 50 years of waiting to become a writer, I could wait a few more months for an editor’s opinion. Not so. I thrill in the process of getting excited about the story, the build up to writing the query, and sending it out. Then the serious waiting begins. In agitated anticipation, I wear a path to my mailbox and e-mail account everyday, trying to imagine the wording of that next illusive acceptance note.

I suppose the truth is, regardless of all those mean, thoughtless editors, I will continue to sweat and cry and write because I love the process of creating an entirely new story and sending it out into the world. In the midst of so much change, I feel fortunate to have finally found the two loves of my life, writing and Mike.

Laura Lee Carter has found some success as a writer after only one year of almost perpetual rejection notes from many editors!  You can find her books at Amazon. She blogs at Adventures of The New Old Farts.

Writing A Great Blurb

By Mayra Calvani

A great blurb can make the difference between a customer taking out his/her wallet to buy your book or putting the book back on the shelf. Great blurbs sell books.

But what is a blurb, exactly?

A blurb is the copy on the back cover of your book. After the cover, the blurb is the first thing a customer will check when considering to buy a book. It should hook, intrigue, and grab the reader right away.

“Book blurbs are eye candy to the consumer,” says publicist Penny Sansevieri, founder of Author Marketing Experts.

Not only to customers. A great blurb can help you find a publisher or an agent, too.

Last year I sent dozens of query letters in my search for an agent. As you probably know, most query letters are composed of a blurb of the book (the hook), some info about the book (genre, word count, etc.), and a short author bio or list of qualifications. The agents who responded said “No, thanks.” I’m not surprised. The blurb was as flat as a French crêpe. One of these agents wrote to say she wasn’t particularly excited about my book, but asked if I had something else to show her. By this time I had improved my blurb and had a completely new version. I mentioned this to her and asked her to consider my edited blurb, which she did. Her response was “Well, I have to admit this is a pretty convincing blurb.” She requested the first three chapters. To make a long story short, she took me in based on the strength of those three chapters. In this case, my blurb was the key factor in getting the agent’s attention.

This is the blurb I first included in my query letter:

Can a good man be persuaded into committing murder and still retain his goodness?

Lullaby is about the restless soul of an aborted infant who, in order to become powerful enough to be reborn, must tempt humans into committing evil acts. Having temporarily acquired the form of a beautiful woman, this being plays mind games with the protagonist, bringing back memories of his tragic childhood. As deeply buried feelings of hate and revenge spring to the surface, the protagonist must struggle with his conscience to do the right thing. But will he, when his own ideas about justice and the higher good tell him it is right to kill?

Now compare it to the second one which got the agent’s attention:

At a trendy Turkish tavern one Friday night, astrophysicist Gabriel Diaz meets a mysterious young woman. Captivated out of his senses by her physical perfection as well as her views on good and evil, he spends the next several days with her. After a while, however, he begins to notice a strangeness in her—her skin’s abnormally high temperature, her obsession with milk products, her child-like and bizarre behavior as she seems to take pleasure in toying with his conscience.

The young woman, Kamilah, invites him to Rize, Turkey, where she claims her family owns a cottage in the woods. In spite of his heavy workload and the disturbing visions and nightmares about his sister’s baby that is due to be born soon, Gabriel agrees to go with her.

But nothing, not even the stunning beauty of the Black Sea, can disguise the horror of her nature. In a place where death dwells and illusion and reality seem as one, Gabriel must now come to terms with his own demons in order to save his sister’s unborn child, and ultimately, his own soul . . .

Here are some guidelines to help you create great blurbs:

Guidelines for Creating A Great Blurb

  • Keep it short (100-250 words). The aim is to convey what makes the book unique in a small amount of space.
  • In it set the mood, the scene, and the conflict or enigma.
  • It should have mounting tension. The beginning should  hint at the conflict or threat, yet remain pretty innocuous (look at my blurb number two: boy meets girl in a tavern). By the end of the blurb, the conflict or threat should be imminent (protagonist must save his sister’s unborn child and his own soul).
  • Think of the best angle to approach your story. Both of my blurbs describe what happens in my novel, yet the second one sounds much more exciting.
  • As with a good book review, never put “spoilers” in the blurb. You can do this in a book summary or synopsis, but never in a blurb. (Look again at my blurb number one. In it I make the big mistake of revealing the nature of my “evil” female protagonist—she is the soul of an aborted infant. In blurb number two, you suspect there’s something wrong with her, but you don’t know what. You’re left wondering).
  • Think about what makes your book different.
  • Question marks can be used to leave the reader intrigued.
  • Often ellipses are used at the end to leave reader asking questions.
  • Keep adverbs and adjectives to a minimum and use action verbs.
  • Needless to say, make sure there are no spelling or grammatical errors.
  • If your book is nonfiction, does it have special features like pictures or diagrams? What is the aim of the book? What are you trying to accomplish? Does it teach anything? How is this book different from others in the field?
  • Remember that blurbs are not summaries! Don’t tell the whole story—only the exciting part of it so that the reader will want to know more.
  • Don’t exaggerate or sugarcoat it. Be professional.
  • Study the blurbs from your bookshelves, paying special attention to their style, language, and content.
  • Write and rewrite, rewrite, rewrite. Then show it to people who can offer honest feedback.

One last tip:

Do you know that powerful, dramatic voice that you hear in the cinemas during movie trailers? That alluring voice, often exaggerated, that describes the movies? Well, read your own blurb with this voice in your mind, matching its tone and pitch. You’ll be surprised to find out how much that helps!

Copyright ©2005, 2007 by Mayra Calvani / All Rights Reserved.

Mayra Calvani writes fiction and nonfiction for children and adults and has authored over a dozen books, some of which have won awards. Her stories, reviews, interviews and articles have appeared on numerous publications such as The WriterWriter’s JournalMulticultural Review, andBloomsbury Review, among many others. Mayra Calvani has a Website.

Dry Dock: When Real Life Takes Writers Ashore

By Sarojni Mehta-Lissak

To set things straight, I am not a writer who suffers from writer’s block. Yes, the occasional lull passes through me and I feel stymied, but writer’s block is not my issue — real life is. Since becoming a writer, I have seen patterns emerge that interfere with my writing life; those life events that fall into our paths regardless of our professions, circumstances we must tend to which take us away from writing.  Yet, I have come to see these periods not as fallow, empty or unproductive, but as quiet times, absorbing times, periods when we come out of the water — as a ship in dry dock — while we take care of life’s responsibilities.

All of us experience low points in life and make the necessary adjustments to cope with these challenges. Writers are no different. When crises hit, we too, must take time away from our work to find solutions or tend to issues that hopefully are short-lived, but can be chronic and ongoing. We’re lucky if it’s simply a plumbing problem, but often it is taking care of an aging parent or tending to a sick child.  What’s important to realize is that these times away from our writing are not really “lost” times, they are simply periods that are dormant, because they must be, as we turn our attentions off the page and to the problems at hand. Though we are not actively writing, we are collecting images, documenting events, and absorbing our life circumstances to use in future writing.

Being in dry dock allows us to take in life, deal with the concrete nuts and bolts of it, and then get back into the water — the writing life — with a renewed depth and a broader range of material from which to draw upon. I have come to resist these quiet times less, as I realize that almost on a daily basis something happens which takes me away from my writing, whether it’s a family concern, a load of laundry or even a phone call from a friend.

As all writers know, our need to produce constantly and regularly is almost obsessive — perhaps even uncontrollable — yet we must allow ourselves to be freed from this strong need in order to attend to the practical aspects of daily living. We must believe in ourselves and in our capabilities. We must know that we can indeed, retrieve our words and thoughts at a future time to write about them when life is not pulling at us so vehemently. If we wrestle with this dilemma, then we are wrestling with ourselves, for life will continue to happen, regardless of our being writers.

I recently had an illness and found myself in bed for three days — nowhere near my computer.  I actually didn’t miss being in my office because my focus was on getting better; writing was simply at the bottom of my list. Yes, I was conjuring stories and articles in my feverish delirium, but I didn’t have a compulsion to get up and write. I tried to have trust in myself that these inspirations would reappear at a later time if I were meant to write about them. I think this is why writers are at times so tormented; perhaps we feel that if we don’t write, right now, it will all evaporate and be lost forever. Though pens and notebooks are great companions, we must trust in our ability to retrieve our words.

We are the captains of our own ships and we can choose to remain at the helm when in water, or when in dry dock. Life will continue to infiltrate our writing time and we can continue to resist it, unless we look at these breaks as times of gathering. Even though our fingers are not at the keyboard, if we are open to the experiences falling into our paths then we can use what we have learned for better writing in the days ahead. This is when we can incorporate the range of emotions and circumstances we have collected . . . until we sail once again to the open seas, as writers filled with bounty.

Sarojni Mehta-Lissak is a poet, fiction and freelance writer.  Her work has appeared in Wild Violet, The Birthkit Newsletter, Midwifery Today, FamilyTravelFun.com and Moondance.org. She has a website

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