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The Meaning of Life by Debra H. Goldstein

Debra HeadshotThe Meaning of Life by Debra H. Goldstein

Recently I’ve been giving a lot of thought to the meaning of life and its other alternative. This isn’t a new topic for me to explore. I first started thinking about it shortly after my fiftieth birthday when I woke one morning to find my arms had turned to flab and I had become my mother. The thoughts were generated by a discussion with a friend who was in the last stages of cancer. She was questioning what purpose living in her debilitated state had and whether after we die, we are remembered or the life we lived fades away.

I couldn’t answer her questions. I was too focused on reaching outside my comfort zone to find ways to ease her journey. When she died, I decided her purpose was the seed of herself planted in others through charitable doing, mentoring, and touching people at the right time. Her nourishment of others left ideas, feelings, and values to reseed the next generation.

Time went on and I didn’t spend much time dwelling on the meaning of life. I was too busy enjoying the life cycle events that constantly were occurring in the lives of my friends and my own family. Trips to visit and cuddle new babies, writing events, the coming of age Bar Mitzvah ceremony of a nephew, graduations from pre-school through professional school, and the joy of watching my daughter walk down the aisle to be with the man she has chosen to spend the rest of her life with consumed my waking hours. Why dwell on life and death when so many things were going on?

I was attending a writer’s conference being held on a property in Disneyworld when I glanced down at my smartphone and noticed an email entitled “OMG.” Above “OMG” was an endless string of responding e-mails. A friend who was a wife, mother, respected professional, devoted kayaker, and person who was taking me out for a birthday lunch the next week had had a cerebral bleed and died within minutes the night before. Everyone, including me, was in shock that this young and healthy vibrant woman was gone. No “why” made sense.

My other friends and I went on living. At one of the other planned lunch celebrations for my birthday, one of our lunch bunch mentioned she was celebrating her 25th wedding anniversary. Knowing she had married a much older man and that part of his proposal had been he would be hers for at least twenty-five years, we asked what he had given her for their special anniversary. The answer: the promise of trying for another twenty-five years as wonderful as the first. Last week, our lunch bunch held our breath when this man who never gets sick was hospitalized with pneumonia and a low blood count. We all feared he wouldn’t be able to keep his promise. Happily, his positive response to medical treatment has given them the opportunity to share many more years together.

In Jewish tradition, between Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, it is decided who shall live and who shall die. At the time of Yom Kippur, one’s fate hopefully is inscribed in the book of life. I don’t know how or why the final decision is made. I cannot venture a guess as to our true purpose in living or if there is an existential meaning of life, but I do know I value every moment of it that I share with my family, friends, and those individuals I will meet in the future.

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Volunteering and Writing Conferences – Why Do I Bother?

juggling womanVolunteering and Writing Conferences – Why Do I Bother? by Debra H. Goldstein

I hate wasting time sitting in meetings where people talk to hear themselves heard, fail to stick to agenda topics, or where programs are repetitive of what I’ve heard before. So, why do I serve on civic committees and why do I attend Writing Conferences? I volunteer hoping to make a difference for people and things I care about. My attendance at Writing Conferences is prompted by my secret hope each will make a difference in fulfilling my passion by teaching me things I don’t now and introducing me to people I wouldn’t meet under any other circumstances.

My volunteering can take the form of doing something hands on, writing a check, or brainstorming to put the right people together to accomplish our goals. The writing conferences I attend are equally varied. Some are purely technical or skill oriented while others offer fan interaction or personal networking opportunities. I recently attended my third Malice Domestic Conference.

Although Malice Domestic tends to be one of the largest fan oriented conferences, each time I have come away impressed by the authors I have met there. My first year, Maze in Blue, my mystery set on the University of Michigan’s campus, had just been published so I was invited to speak at the New Author’s Breakfast and assigned to the Academic Mystery Panel. There were five of us on the academic panel – all at different stages in our careers. I came away from that panel with two things that are still with me today: I learned I should listen and stick to the topic without worrying about self promotion (which being nervous and new I certainly overdid) and having made two good friends Linda Rodriguez and Judy Hogan. To this day, I look forward to reading whatever they write. BTW, I already have read Linda’s new book, Every Hidden Fear, and Judy’s Farm Fresh and Fatal and enjoyed both.

By the time I attended my second Malice Domestic, I had developed a real respect for the excellent balancing act of the entire conference, especially Barb Goffman’s programming skills. Not only did volunteers pull things off smoothly, but I truly understood the complexity and delicate maneuvering involved in scheduling programming that fans and authors both appreciated. That year, I was assigned to be an individual speaker on Author’s Alley. Again, I came home from the conference with new friends and a suitcase of books written by writers I continue to follow.

Malice Social Issues Panel-Linda O. Johnston, John Clement, Debra H. Goldstein, Nancy Cohen, & Judy Hogan

Malice Social Issues Panel-Linda O. Johnston, John Clement, Debra H. Goldstein, Nancy Cohen, & Judy Hogan

This year, I moderated the Social Issues panel. Although I knew the social issue contained in my book, my preparation for our panel included reading the newest books written by Nancy Cohen, Linda O. Johnston, John Clement and Judy Hogan. Each book integrated different social issues either as primary or subplots, but what they all had in common was being fun and interesting reads. Once again, I left the programming portion of Malice with new friends.

But at Malice or any conference, it isn’t only the time one spends with people on panels that creates long lasting respectful relationships. It is exchanges that occur at casual Guppy lunches, pick-up breakfasts, informal dinners, formal banquets, Sisters in Crime or MWA functions, visiting in the bar, talking to people one happens to sit next to in the audience at a panel, or by striking up a conversation in the elevator and following-up through emails, Facebook, and seeing each other at subsequent conferences.

New Friends Dining at Malice

New Friends Dining at Malice

The importance of these contacts was best brought out by the relationship between the three 2014 Malice Lifetime Achievement honorees: Margaret Maron, Joan Hess, and Dorothy Cannell. As they gave their remarks and paid tribute to their late friend Barbara Mertz aka Elizabeth Peters and Barbara Michaels and mentioned other friends, it became clear that from meeting at various conferences and building friendships outside of the confines of the structured meetings, the three of them and a group of other talented writers built support networks of respect and trust that endured for decades and helped the three be the writers and people they are today.

I may never achieve even a portion of the acclaim of these honorees, but I already feel that I have been blessed with the type of friendships they spoke of. The same holds true from the work I have done with others on civic committees to accomplish an organization’s or personal mission. That is why I bother volunteering and attending Writing Conferences.

Guest Blogger: Carol Robbins – Enticing the Muse

March 10, 2014 6 comments
Author Carol Robbins

Author Carol Robbins

Enticing the Muse by Carol Robbins

I envy writers who say “It just came to me, the whole book. All I had to do was write it down.” From what I hear, that doesn’t happen for many of us. The muse is illusive, sometimes staying away no matter how desperately we long for a visit. So how might we attract the muse?

When I was an art student, a professor teaching a class in drawing urged me to be ready through disciplined practice, reminding me that the production of outstanding work would not happen without the basic skills. On the days when the muse didn’t show up, rather than doing nothing I was to practice, to hone my skills. Clay fascinated me. Although not my main medium, I may have learned my most important lesson from it. One day at the wheel I felt like I was truly “in the flow,” one with the clay, with everything. It was an exhilarating experience that I’ve rarely been able to duplicate. I’ve tried to analyze what happened that day. I’d prepared following what I’d learned, from arranging my tools, preparing the clay, to throwing the pot. The sequence of steps that I had done over and over, almost like a ritual, made it possible not just to create the piece, but to feel that flow.

So how does any of this apply to writing? I think the process is much the same. We have to learn the basics whether it be through classes, workshops, reading, or other methods. Then we must establish a routine for writing, preferably daily or at least several times a week, putting in the time that leads us to the outpouring of words.

Perhaps you noticed, when relating the experience with the clay, I stopped at the forming of the vessel. Simply forming a lump of clay into a vessel was not the end of the process. The pot had to be dried, trimmed, bisque fired, glazed, and fired again before it was finished. Likewise, even if the muse visits us with divine inspiration, we’re expected to edit and polish. The muse can be fickle, and rarely visits if we don’t do our part in preparation or if, once given the gift, we won’t finish the job.

So how do we entice a visit from the muse? Remember, the muses were sisters. Whether asking how to attract the muse for our expression in music, visual art, or writing, the answer is the same as the punch line to the old joke “How do you get to Carnegie Hall?” Practice, practice.

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Carol Robbins Hull writes as Carol Robbins from her home in Montgomery, Alabama. The author of a yet-to-be-published cozy mystery, Catalpa Worm Wettin’ and Caterpillar Crawl, her current project is the completion of My Mother’s Story, a memoir begun by her mother. Previous work may be found in on-line volumes of the Alabama Writers’ Conclave yearly publication, Alalitcom. Her blog site is http://www.carolrobbins.blogspot.com.

Revision – A Personal Story by Debra H. Goldstein

January 6, 2014 11 comments

dhg-photo.jpgRevision –A Personal Story by Debra H. Goldstein

When I stepped down from the bench, I fully intended to treat writing as a business. I was going to schedule a specific time of day for writing and not stop until I had completed a mandatory word count. Once I wrote first drafts of stories and perhaps another book, I would begin the process of revision – making a change or set of changes to improve my work.

It didn’t happen. I traveled, threw a wedding, played with grandchildren (not from the child who got married), went to lunch, accepted more civic responsibilities, occasionally was a Mah jongg substitute, and watched almost every re-run episode of NCIS, How I Met Your Mother, and The Big Bang Theory. There was always a distraction or thing to prevent me from giving my full attention to writing.

Things that had to be written like my obligated blog postings got done, but the muse for creative writing eluded me. I actually began to doubt my stated goal of being a full time writer. My doubts scared me.

I weighed whether I should return to the practice of law, accept appointment as a senior judge or turn off the TV and give myself a good kick in the rump. With New Year’s coming, I decided to make a resolution about my writing, but doubts crept in again. After all, how many times in the past had I made resolutions like “I’m going to lose weight,” “I’m going to exercise more,” or “I’m going to be nicer and kinder to other people?”
So, no resolutions or future promises. Just an attempt at revision.

Revision is defined as “a change or set of changes that improves something. Something, such as a piece of writing or song, that has been corrected or changed.” Considering my recent state of activities, it isn’t going to require too much revision of my attitude and writing schedule to result in numerous pieces of writings that will need to be corrected or changed.

Many retirees claim they needed a break before finally settling into a productive schedule. I swore, especially being so much younger than normal retirement age, I would not be part of that group. Yet, despite my best intentions, I was. It is only in the last few weeks that the wind has changing. Now, I’m excited to imagine the work product my revised efforts will bring.

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Debra H. Goldstein’s short story, “A Political Cornucopia” was the Bethlehem Writers Roundtable featured November 2013 story.  Her debut novel, A Maze in Blue, received a 2012 IPPY award and will be reissued by Harlequin Worldwide Mystery in May 2014.

Using Words – A Not So Subtle Message by Debra H. Goldstein

December 23, 2013 17 comments
Debra H. Goldstein

Author Debra H. Goldstein

Using Words – A Not So Subtle Message by Debra H. Goldstein

Communicating through words is what sets us apart from other species. Certainly gorillas, puppy dogs, and other animals communicate between themselves or with humans through looks, movements, and sounds, but the use of words to convey meaning distinguishes us.

Words can be spoken, signed, or written. They can be in English, French, or even Pig Latin. The key is that we use words to define and make others understand our thoughts, feelings, and ideas.

Sometimes though, we are silent. We may have a thought, but we don’t express it. How many times have we read about people who wish they said “I love you” before the opportunity passed them by? Ever wonder if a kind word or an offer of help would have made a difference in a life?

I can’t answer these philosophical questions, but I can suggest that during this holiday season you take a moment to use words. Write a card or e-mail, pull someone aside for a chat, make a call or send a text. Use words to show you care. That’s what I’m doing now:

Happy Holidays!  May 2014 be a year of health, happiness and prosperity for you and yours!!

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Debra H. Goldstein’s short story, “A Political Cornucopia” was the Bethlehem Writers Roundtable featured November 2013 story.  Her debut novel, A Maze in Blue, received a 2012 IPPY award and will be reissued by Harlequin Worldwide Mystery in May 2014.

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Guest Blog: Jackie Romine Walburn – First Fiction for this Reporter: Finding the Truth Inside the Story

December 9, 2013 2 comments

post it walburn post 2First fiction for this reporter:Finding the truth inside the story

by Jackie Romine Walburn

Until starting my first and still-to-be-published novel, this lifelong professional writer- reporter-turned-corporate communications manager had never written a word of fiction. So, how did a reporter switch from journalistic rules of “just the facts” and “accuracy, accuracy, accuracy” to making things up?

It took a downsizing and layoff from that corporate communications job amid the 2008 economic crisis, multiple rereads of Stephen King’s On Writing, a kernel of a news story I covered as a reporter, and lots of days with the door shut writing one word at a time and finding the truth inside the story — just like the Post-it note says.

The yellow curled Post-it still hangs on my computer. In 2009, I gleaned the red-inked advice from King’s opus on writing and taped it to my computer screen, where it still clings. The advice urged this reporter to make up people, places and situations in my first novel, Mojo Jones and the Black Cat Bone. “Mojo” is in its sixth revision with the help of priceless early readers and my fiction writing teacher and editor Carolynne Scott and our weekly fiction writers group.

This constant revision is another leap for a writer who earned her living in the fast-paced business of reporting and corporate communications (which, believe it or not, IS all nonfiction).

As a reporter, you write a news story or feature; it is edited by an editor, printed and that’s it. You’re on to the next story. Fiction, however, means revisions and more revisions.

Writing fiction also means decisions about point of view; I started with four characters telling the story in first person and now am converting-revising to a third person narrative. Right now, I am also trying to decide if the original but revised prologue is in or out.

A successful reporter-turned-novelist warned me about this revision thing when I first started and I asked how to get an agent, how to get published. He said to worry about all that after your sixth or seventh draft. He spoke the harsh truth, but it took early readers and query rejections to bring the revision reality home to me.

Harper Lee spent several years of full-time revising of her original manuscript “Atticus” with a New York editor to create To Kill a Mockingbird, my favorite and oft-reread work of Southern fiction. I’m just saying….

So, I revise, chapter by chapter, trying to make sure I write what is seen, heard, smelled and touched, telling the truth behind the story and omitting needless words – a reporter rule not on my Post-it (and No. 17 in Strunk and White’s “The Elements of Style”) that is true for all writing.

I continue to refine Mojo Jones and the Black Cat Bone, a story that starts with the sheriff being tied to a tree by an escaping suspect with rumored voodoo powers (the kernel of the real news story) and explores how a magic spell and a killing affect characters in a fictional community in the Alabama Black Belt.

Still a reporter at heart, I am learning the fiction biz, including how difficult it is to get published in today’s e-book world, and, as Mississippi author Tom Franklin told us at the last Alabama Writers Conclave meeting, “if you’re not revising, you’re not writing.”

It’s all writing, you know. It’s what I do, be it fiction or nonfiction, and I am always grateful and challenged.

King, a pro who writes every day, gives good advice in the 1999 book that helped spur this reporter to fiction, including “If you don’t have the time to read, you don’t have the time or the tools to write.”

He encourages all his Constant Readers who are writers or wanna-be writers: “Writing is magic, as much the water of life as any other creative art. The water is free. So drink. Drink and be filled up.”

I keep drinking, Stephen. Thanks.

Jackie Romine Walburn and Debra H. Goldstein at 2013 Alabama Writers Conclave

Jackie Romine Walburn and Debra H. Goldstein at the 2013 Alabama Writers Conclave

Jackie Romine Walburn is a career writer, former corporate communications manager, editor and award-winning reporter – having reported for The Birmingham Post-Herald, The Auburn Plainsman, The Auburn Bulletin, The Selma Times-Journal and The Birmingham News. Most recently, she’s been published in The Birmingham Arts Journal and the Alabama Writer’s Conclave’s http://www.alalit.com. She is polishing the sixth draft of her first novel, a story of good and evil set in the Alabama Black Belt. She lives in Birmingham and writes the blog http://jackierwalburnwrites.blogspot.com.

Dickens Knew How to Say It or It Has Been One of Those Weeks by Debra H. Goldstein

November 3, 2013 5 comments

Abby as cowDickens Knew How to Say It or It Has Been One of Those Weeks by Debra H. Goldstein

“It was the best of times. It was the worst of times” is how Charles Dickens began a A Tale of Two Cities. His words definitely describe my past few weeks. Some of the high points included everyone being together to celebrate Jennifer’s wedding, having brunch with Stephen and sixteen of his closest friends in Chicago, watching Joel salivate while sitting in the second row when the Chicago Bulls played the Indiana Pacers, and seeing Abby in her first Halloween costume.

Rejection bums me out so you can imagine what receiving two rejections did to me. Happily, one was accompanied by a suggestion that the story needed a rewrite, but they would be happy to read it again in the future. The writer was right – there is something lacking in the story. I would have worked on it more immediately, but I had some minor things removed near my eyes and the ointment and drops have kept me in a state of blurred vision for the past few days. Being slowed down is not easy for a Type A person – it makes for the worst of times.

I would be lying if I told you the moment I turned into a sludge Type D person I found time to smell the roses. The reality is I lay around feeling bored and sorry for myself until I decided to play mental games. Perhaps listening to a TV show and seeing if I could come up with the line before the character said it (amusing game with a certain poorly written police procedural), making lists of things I wanted/needed to do in the future, inventing plot lines in my head (I think I feel a new series in the back of my brain) were acts of desperation, but I appreciated telephone calls and friends who came bringing dinner and conversation to distract me.BULL

These things made the time pass, albeit perhaps not as quickly as I normally would have liked, but at a pace that gave me time to relish the pendulum swinging back to the good times. In the space of two days my vision is clearer, my short story “Early Frost” received a Mobile Pensters award, the November Bethlehem Writers Roundtable is featuring my story “A Political Cornucopia” and “Suggestions for a Top Ten List” at http://bwgwritersroundtable.com, and I drafted my first blog as a member of The Stiletto Gang.

The Stiletto Gang is an established blog, written by a group of women mystery writers (http://thestilettogang.blogspot.com ). I hope you will check out my Stiletto Gang posts on the 2nd and 4th Fridays of each month and continue to read my personal and guest blogs on “It’s Not Always a Mystery” every other Monday. The fact that guests already have signed on through mid-2014 for “It’s Not Always a Mystery” is a pendulum high point for me – and for you. I’m looking forward to us continuing to share the best and worst of times. — Debra