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Never Give Up (aka the rejection letter that made me cry tears of joy)

12 Mar

OHI0122-PitchQueryTo blog or not to blog? That isn’t the question.

Honestly, I haven’t blogged in so long because a) I didn’t feel I had anything inspiring to say and b) I made a decision to spend more time writing, and that’s what I’ve been doing. I’ve reworked and rehoned (I know not a real word but I’ve decided to employ it anyway), my first novel and am deep into writing my second.

But I digress.

I’m now about to discuss the title of this blog post (tsk tsk I’m a journalist and I just buried the lede). So back at RWA 2014 Nationals in San Antonio I pitched my book to several agents and editors. There was one in particular who was genuinely excited about my book. I felt a rapport with her. You know that feeling, right? You sit down in the 10-minute merry go round that is pitching appointments and hope your tongue doesn’t swell and you don’t break out in hives as you pitch your darling, your baby, your brilliant story you’ve slaved over to the people who can launch your career.

And this particular agent was wonderful. She not only asked for my partial manuscript she asked me what else I was working on. When I told her she said she was excited about the concept. She said she’d never seen a book about the issue I was writing about. I felt good.

When I got home I sent my partial off two weeks later. And waited… And waited… And waited… You know the drill. Four months went by. Nothing. Not a blip. I was too wimpy to send a follow up. I figured if she hadn’t responded by this point it was probably a “no” anyway. I figured the book gods were laughing at me for wishing she was the one who I most wanted to want my story. Oh well.

As the months dragged on  I was deep into my second novel and also reworking the first one after taking lots more workshops, classes, working with critique partners and continuing to learn. All hail the Women’s Fiction Writers Association and my RWA Chapter LARA, and the Women’s Fiction chapter of RWA and the Pro Org of RWA. I have learned and gleaned and honed and battled and slaved over a hot keyboard with input from amazing minds from Donald Maas, Margie Lawson and the brilliant blog Writers in the Storm and Writer Unboxed  to following the ups and downs of colleagues on their Facebook pages and Twitter feeds. I am inspired byLiana LeFey’s work ethic, Laura Drake’s sense of humour, Barbara Claypole White’s gin-infused, Doc Martin wearing, garden tending tales, Kathryn Craft’s emotional bravery, Amy Sue Nathan’s generosity, Maggie Marr’s prolific output, Lynne Marshall’s world domination of medical romances, Robena Grant’s determination to carve her own path and her dry Aussie wit, Robin Bielman’s joie de vivre, Betty Bolte’s sumptuous descriptions, Sarah Vance Tompkins and Christine Ashworth’s can-do attitude, Pamela Dumond’s quirky tales (and even quirkier neighbours), Dee J Adams‘ take no prisoners attitude, Claire McEwen – whose success story is my daily inspiration –   and countless other writers who help me sit down and bash out (sometimes awful) words on a page every day.

So when month five rolled around I saw someone had “followed” me on Twitter and said they were working at an (undisclosed ) big agency and I could pitch my story in 140 characters to them. I tweeted. He tweeted back. He was an assistant at the agency of – you guessed it – the person I had now been waiting five months to hear from. He requested a partial. I told him my submission was in fact still with one of his agents and I hadn’t heard back yet. He said he’d look into it and get back to me. He told me he reminded the agent and she said she’d get back to me.

Another month rolled by and I heard nothing. Until today. Firstly, she apologised profusely for taking so long to get back to me. Apparently my submission landed on her desk just days before she gave birth (timing has never been my strong suit) and it’s taken her a while to get back on track.

And then she wrote this:

I jumped eagerly into [title of book], it’s a unique premise and you have a very entertaining voice. Unfortunately I didn’t connect with this story the way I had hoped I would. While there were elements I loved, i.e. the dog, the clean writing, the relatable heroine, in the end I just  didn’t love the execution. This is an entirely subjective opinion. As I’m sure you know this is a business based on personal tastes, and this is purely indicative of that fact. I wish you the best in finding a better suited match for this project.

As I mentioned I think you are quite talented and do hope you’ll keep me in mind for future projects. Please feel free to query me directly in the future should the opportunity present itself.

The first thing I did after reading this was cry. Tears of joy, because it was such a beautiful rejection letter. Weird, I know. But it was so specific and encouraging and everything that many of us wish a rejection letter would be.  And she’d said she would be happy to look at anything else I wrote. So I sent her an email back thanking her for her kind words. I told her I was halfway through my second book and it was the one she had expressed interest in at our meeting when I pitched the first one, and that I would definitely send it to her when it was ready. I also mentioned that in the six months that had passed since I had first submitted to her, I’d done some extensive rewrites on the first book and that as a result I hoped to find a home for it soon.

She emailed me back and said she was thrilled to hear I’d made progress, asked what changes I’d made and that she would be more than happy to have me resubmit it to her.

So there you have it. A wonderful rejection and  an opportunity to reread the new, improved, updated version of my manuscript.  Six months later, the connection I felt with this agent back in San Antonio was still there in these email exchanges. I have no idea whether she’ll take me on when I submit my revamped manuscript. But whatever happens, it’s all part of the journey. I feel I’m one step closer to representation. In the meantime I’ll keep working on my craft and pushing myself to be a better writer.

I know that there are paths to publication that don’t require agents; that there are publishers out there that will take you on without one; that there are a myriad of self-publishing opportunities; that there are lesser known agents at smaller agencies all of whom are hungry and eager to take on first time novelists. I love that there are so many paths and that we have so many choices. Right now, though, for whatever reasons that make me me, I’m still pursuing an agent and the traditional publishing channels.

Hold on to your publishing dreams, whatever form they may take and whatever roads they take you down. But have a solid writing community to back you up whether you’re crying tears of joy or frustration at yet another rejection letter. And keep learning, keep taking classes, keep putting your words on the page and never give up.

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25 Memorable Moments from RWA National Conference. #RWA14.

30 Jul

In what has now become an annual tradition – if I did it last year and I’m now doing it this year – that makes it a tradition? No? Well, then I’m compiling once again my top 25 memorable moments from RWA14, in San Antonio, Texas.

 

  1. Two hotels means 2000 exhausted writers trying to remember if their sessions are in the Rivercenter or the Riverwalk hotel.
  2. Two hotels divided by a crosswalk with the disembodied voice of a particularly stern man declaring, “WAIT, WAIT, WAIT, ad infinitum until the walk sign turns green. I wasn’t about to try and cross without his say so. Visions of a SWAT team accosting me and throwing me to the ground if I even dipped a toe in the road kept my feet firmly planted on the pavement.
  3. Nora Roberts’ three pieces of advice for writers: Stop whining and write. Stop fucking around and write. Stop making excuses and write.BtjtMIeCUAAFRAr.png-large
  4. Two agent and two editor requests for my manuscript.
  5. An additional agent request at the San Antonio airport in the departure lounge!
  6. Great agent story: Agent in #5 requested my manuscript after we spent four days bumping into each other in the elevator. We were on the same floor and seemed to be constantly running into each other to the point that we both declared we weren’t sure we could get on the elevator if the other wasn’t around. During those four days we chatted – especially about one of her clients whom I know. We both gushed about what an amazing writer she is. And so, at the airport she asked me who I had pitched to and who had requested my work. Then she said, “Why haven’t you pitched me?” I told her I was shy and wasn’t prepared to bombard agents in an elevator even though I had my “elevator pitch” prepared. Not my style. So she said well given that I knew not one but two of her clients and that we’d spent four days sharing an elevator, I should pitch her right there, in the departure lounge. So I did!
  7. Laura Drake winning the RITA for best new book. She’s the poster child for perseverance. It took her 15 years and 400 rejections to get published. How fast can you say her award was SO well deserved!

    Me and Laura Drake. RITA winner!

    Me and Laura Drake. RITA winner!

  8. Laura Drake working in a session on my tagline line for pitching that helped me land the above five manuscript requests. Where can I get my I LOVE LAURA DRAKE T-shirt. Please?
  9. LARA members Robin Bielman, Samanthe Beck and Jennifer Haymore nominated for RITAS!

    Robin Bielman and Samanthe Beck - RITA nominees!

    Robin Bielman and Samanthe Beck – RITA nominees!

  10. Their awesome RITA outfits and their fantabulous shoes that went with said outfits.
  11. Meeting the incredible Claire McEwen on the plane to San Antonio. Her publication success story – having a manuscript requested after entering a contest that she neither won nor placed in – is the stuff dreams are made of. She’s an inspiration. And an absolute sweetheart, too.
  12. Making friends with LARA members I didn’t know that well at all: Tonya Plank, Chandra Years and Cami Brite. Funny you have to go all the way to Texas to meet your neighbours.
  13. Gwendolynn Thomas. WHAT an inspiration! If you didn’t meet her, well, seek her out on Twitter. Now! @GwendolynTweets

    Gwendolynn.

    Gwendolynn.

  14. Having a major celebrity meeting freak out running into Scrivener For Dummies author and fantabulous author Gwen Hernandez.
  15. LARA’s cool headed Maggie Marr talking me off a ledge after going into a panic over a weird request from an editor.
  16. Chilling with LARA-ite Robena Grant. Definition of extreme grace and generosity. Classy too. And a fellow antipodean.
  17. LARA-ite Sarah Vance-Tompkins WINNING the Imajinn writing contest and now getting work with the incomparable Brenda Chin. Sarah, remember I knew you when… And LARA-ite Christine Ashworth placing fourth in the same contest.
  18. The new RWA breakfast policy. LOVE IT. Please keep it for next year. Thank you.
  19. Catching up with the Austin gals from last year.
  20. Hanging with Liana LeFey – the hardest working author I know. 11 books and proposals ALL of which were requested at pitches this year. When do you sleep, Liana?
  21. The entire crew who all met on the roommate seeking board earlier this year and went out for dinner and took a Riverwalk cruise together. That was oodles of fun.
  22. Author Laura Florand crammed in the elevator on a luggage cart.

    Laura Forland trapped on a luggage cart.

    Laura Florand trapped on a luggage cart.

  23. Crying at all the speakers’ speeches that reminded us why we write: to touch lives. And telling us to quell our inner voices that say we’re crap and to never give up.
  24. Coping with the 99 degree heat and 99 percent humidity outdoors while rugging up in a shawl in the air conditioned hotels indoors.
  25. Counting the days and the pennies in the hopes of attending RWA National Conference in 2015 in New York City!

What do you get when you win a contest?

10 Sep

charter oak B-1… a fantastic picture to put on your blog page, that’s what!

See? Isn’t it pretty?

I still cannot believe I just won The Golden Acorn RWA contest in the Mainstream with Romantic Elements Category. Wow! I’m so excited. Not the least because there’s never been anything remotely mainstream about me and most people would say I’m a cynic… not a romantic. And that, my dears, is why G-d invented fiction. Phew.

Along with this winner’s picture, I also get bragging rights. So, no, no big cash prize in this contest but I”ll take my picture and run, thank you.

I’m also thrilled that I’m a finalist in The Catherine RWA contest and posted the highest preliminary round score.

There’s a lot of discussion amongst writers about entering contests: the good, the bad, the ugly (the East German judge – writers you KNOW what I’m talking about!). At the end of the day we all have different reasons for wanting to enter contests. For me, it was about getting people who I didn’t know to give me honest feedback on my work. And that’s excellent. Contests have also galvanized me into being more focused on my process – always a good thing, no?

To this end, I’m also so happy to have found three like-minded writers to form a critique group with (Thank you RWA-PRO loop. So please do go and check out my new critiquers-in-crime – the wonderful Betty Bolte, Shelly Alexander (Shelly, time to get a website/blog or twitter handle, methinks!) and Tereasa Bellew.

I’m also SOOOO excited to announce the official launch of the Women’s Fiction Writer’s Association. Just signed up, paid my dues et al. Kudos to the entire team that pulled this fantabulous group together and worked their arses off over the past year to make it a reality.  It’s a much-needed resource/support group for all us WF writers. I’m so proud to be a member.  I believe chocolate, alcohol and high heels are allowed too.

If you write women’s fiction then be sure to join. Not sure what that is – then JOIN and enter into the discussion about what it truly is. The conversations are fascinating. Just know women’s fiction does indeed have women in it. Hey, it’s a jumping off point, right?

Special shout outs to the board – all wonderful writers – the incredible Orly Koenig Lopez, Kerry Lonsdale, Laura Drake, Linda Avellar, Marilyn Brant, Annette Gallant, Steena Holmes and Maggie Marr. Don’t know how brilliant they truly are? Then click here and read each of their bios. 

And on an entirely different note for those of you, like me, in the deep bowels of the High Holy Days, wishing you all a Shanah Tovah, G’mar Chatimah Tovah and may 5774 be a year where your writing soars.

 

 

 

25 Highlights from #RWA13 in Hot/Wetlanta

22 Jul

I still have RWA conference brain even though I’m back at work today. What an amazing, whirlwind four days of fun, workshops, lessons, schmoozing, drinking, learning, pitching, book buying, book receiving and crazy moments. Who needs sleep when you’re at RWA?

I know EVERYONE is posting on their blogs about what a fantastic time they had at RWA13, so instead of a long post I’m just going to make a list of 25 highlights and make them as short as possible – the mark of a good editor, correct? So, here goes.

  1. So grateful I was only on the 7th floor of the 47 floor Marriott Marquis. Those glass elevators were terrifying!

    View of the 47 floors. Frightening...

    View of the 47 floors. Frightening…

  2. Kristan Higgins is all kinds of awesome: a keynote speech that made us laugh and cry; a public announcement that she was wearing Spanx; and a fantastic session where she couldn’t stop giggling about “balls.”
  3. I received  full manuscript requests from two editors (one of whom was not through a pitch session but whom I just happened to be sitting next to in the lobby (writing naturally) and we started chatting and lo and behold she asked me to send my ms to her.)
  4. I received a 50 page request from a big NY agent. Yikes. Terrified. Now polishing those 50 pages like a madwoman.
  5. Won a seat at lunch with Rebecca Zanetti – OMG she’s incredible. Loved that personal time with her. I think it helped that I ran into her in the Starbucks line  the day before and I was so brilliantly eloquent saying “Oh my gosh I’m having lunch with you tomorrow!”
  6. Discovered that while I am a pantser not a  plotter Jessica Brody’s “Save the Cat” session showed me that I’m following the cat rules – albeit organically.
  7.  The Austin women are amazing! Had so much fun hanging out with Tracie Stewart, Kristin Fischer (amazing Golden Heart finalist), Liana LeFey, Mindy Miller et al. Thanks for making me an honorary Texan and see you all in San Antonio next year.
  8. The LARA women are amazing too! Was great to finally spend time with the wonderful Samanthe Beck (so sweet you’d never imagine she writes steamy romance); Dee J Adams (I think one of the hardest working women I’ve ever met. And I discovered she’s incredibly funny too and is soon to be the proud owner of a new kitchen!); Robin Bielman (my next heroine looks EXACTLY like you. I’m taping your photo on my computer – but promise not to stalk you); Linda O Johnston (how can you not love a woman who writes pet detective stories – among others )
  9. Speaking of dogs – if you have a picture of a dog on your book cover or a dog in your book  I’m reading it! I got a book at one of the signings because it had a dog on the cover. Yes. I’m shallow. What of it?
  10. Starbucks in the hotel made a KILLING because 2,000 women writers (and about 10 male writers) needed their morning (and afternoon and evening and every hour in between) caffeine fix.
  11. Librarians are NOT boring, stuffy people. My roommate at conference, the wonderful Jennifer Lohmann is not only a librarian in Durham, NC, she’s also writer for Harlequin, owns the cutest LBD I’ve seen in a long time and knows how to par-tee. She also thanked me for being a “normal” roommate. I say “Back at you, Jennifer!”
  12. Only at a romance writer’s conference could a conversation about the cover of a book involving a violin lead to a discussion as to whether the book was in fact erotica. “Maybe it’s about 101 things you can do with a violin bow?” someone suggested. Oy!
  13. Met a woman from Asheville, NC. When I told her the greatest creative writing teacher I know lives, works and teaches in Asheville and told her who he was -the brilliant Rick Chess –  she said “He goes to my synagogue!” Small world indeed.
  14. Heartbreaking that  one of our chapter members who was a Golden Heart finalists last year was too sick to even attend her own book signing, let alone the conference. She shlepped all the way from LA to Atlanta and spent the entire conference in her hotel room with food poisoning. I hope you feel better soon, Robena Grant. Maybe you can get a refund.
  15. Posh frocks at the Gala (see pic)

    Posh frocks!

    Posh frocks (that’s me in the pale green number)!

  16. Lost count of how many free Kindles and iPads were given away at sessions and no, I didn’t win one.
  17. Barbara Samuel is a god. This is not open to negotiation.
  18. Agent Laura Bradford found herself in an elevator trying to explain to some Microsoft guys (they were at a different conference but in our hotel) why she was walking around with a bondage whip (Passionate Ink party). I got to witness that moment. Pretty funny.
  19. Learned that Courtney Milan kicks arse and takes no prisoners. And she’s funny to boot.
  20. Many, many romance writers are former lawyers. Hmmm….
  21. When I come back in my next life I want to be Deb Dixon
  22. Romance writers know how to drink!
  23. Buzzwords this year were “SELF PUBLISHING” And Kudos to OC Chapter member Debra Holland for self publishing and THEN landing a deal with Amazon. She’s now a NYTimes Bestseller. Proof that dreams do come true.
  24. No idea how I’m ever going to read ALL the books I collected at conference.
  25. RWA rocks.

RWA National Conference, Finalist in Contest and More…

15 Jul

923443_526716034036846_847899424_n-2

Yes, I know. I NEVER post on this blog. Yes, I’m busy all the time. Yes, my day job keeps me working round the clock, but yes, I’m here today with some EXCITING news…

As promised, I entered SIX writing competitions (I know I mentioned seven but then I realised my novel didn’t fit into the categories offered in the final competition. Of the six, I received feedback on three to date. Did not place in the first two, but last night I discovered I am a FINALIST in the Golden Acorn contest in the Mainstream fiction category. I’m SOOO excited!

This means that my entry (along with the four other finalists’ will be judged by Susan Litman, the special editions editor at Harlequin. Oh my gosh! I’m so excited about THAT! I was asked what do I get if I win the contest? I have NO idea (is that bad? should I go check what the site says?), but I so do NOT care. The purpose of my entering competitions was exactly this – to have my work read by agents and editors and avoid the “slush pile.” No matter the outcome of the contest Susan will read my entry no matter what. And THAT makes me sooo happy.

This couldn’t have come at a better time because I’m heading to RWA National Conference tomorrow morning in Atlanta. I can’t wait! Last year I was overwhelmed with the 2000 writers under one roof. This year I plan to be a little less gobsmacked (hopefully) and get to attend the Women’s Fiction retreat (go RWA-WF!) and the PRO retreat (Yay PRO!). And no, PRO is not some smutty salacious group – you become a member of PRO when you have completed a novel and submitted to to an agent (I have a rejection letter to prove it!). So I’m excited to not be a newbie at RWA13 this year and thrilled to head to Atlanta where I’ve never been before.

First, though I must pack, and finish my “day job” work. Sigh.

Also, I received so much great feedback from the A-Z blogging challenge I had THREE people nominate me for blogger awards and I finally picked them up today. Whoa, I need to stay on top of this stuff. But I’m glad to say that my slacking off blogging has been because I’ve been busy working (day job) AND entering competitions and working on my novel.

So a very belated thank you to Tonette de la Luna – tonettedelaluna.wordpress.com – D.L. Shackleford  – dlshackleford.com  – and Expat Brazil – expatbrazil.co.uk – for nominating me  for the Liebster Blogging Award. Be sure to check out their fantastic sites, too. I’ll be putting up another blog post today about those awards. Very exciting.

And that is that for now. I will be live tweeting #RWA13 from Atlanta and will try to blog each night – if I’m not in the hotel pool, at the bar or schmoozing with other conference attendees. Watch this space…

I Survived the A-Z Blogging Challenge: Did You?

1 May

survivor_[2013]I’m so excited to post my “I survived” badge here. Can’t believe how tough – and how fun – it was to post every day. But it’s wonderful because:

a) It will motivate me to blog more regularly

b) I met some great bloggers and made great friends through this and will now visit their blogs regularly

c) I made a commitment and stuck to it!

Huge congrats to fellow bloggers who had the guts to officially sign up and have their feet (or fingertips) held to the fire and who stayed the distance. And kudos to those of you who signed up and did their utmost but “life” got in the way of completing the challenge.

It’s been a thrill and I had a blast but am also grateful it’s over. There’s plenty more to write about both here and as I slog away at my novel. But once again, congrats to EVERYONE who survived this challenge and who shared their amazing stories and insights. I believe we all deserve to celebrate!

Onwards!

 

W is for Writing Contests

26 Apr

a-to-z-letters-wFinally, I have bitten the bullet and actually decided to write about what I actually do for a living… writing. It seemed a “case of the bleeding obvious” to write about writing so I thought I’d write about something specific to writing: ie/ writing contests.

Up until now I really didn’t feel my novel was in good enough shape to submit to writing contests, but the month of May is going to change all that. These contests don’t require you to submit your entire manuscript. How would the judges get ANYTHING done? No. Each contest is very specific about word count and submission guidelines. Some just want the first X amount of words; some want chapters: some want specific scenes.

And so, on my magnetic board on my office wall I have 7 contests I will enter for the month of May.  The entry fees aren’t that exorbitant (and yay, they are tax deductible anyway), but I feel it’s time to put my toe in the water and see how my bits and pieces of work will be received.

Now, I have heard all sorts of horror stories about contests. You can get awful judges who rip you to shreds while others praise you to the skies. I’ve heard of great stories too, where it’s helped people land an agent or a publishing deal. Either way, in order to tell my own stories of  joy or horror, it’s time I take the plunge.

 

2012-06wwfc-lettinggo-v2-600

The truth is, I’m excited to enter the competition world with this novel. At the end of the day, like most things in life, you have to be willing to put yourself out there. For me this is really about taking that step and entering. I’m tough enough to handle critiques. I’m also seasoned enough to know that these things are subjective up to a point and to be able to stand by my own work.

Also, by stating it here, on this blog, that I am entering SEVEN (gulp) competitions in the month of May, I’m now beholden to my word. Please kick my arse if I don’t stick to it.

N is for Nutella

16 Apr

a-to-z-letters-nMy recent posts have been so heavy I think they’ve sent me into a downward spiral. As I mentioned when I started the A-Z blogging challenge, I was willing to just see where my thoughts took me each day. I have not planned a single post in advance, so I wasn’t aware how intense my posts would become.

That’s why today I decided to do something a little more lighthearted. The idea for writing on Nutella (yes, riveting subject I’m sure) came after seeing a commercial touting the fantastic benefits of this hazelnut spread. It was your typical American family packing the kids off to school and getting them to eat their “healthy” breakfast by slathering Nutella on their toast before sending them off for the day.

Really? Is that super sickly sweet spread REALLY healthy? Or this is another advertising ploy? Well, according to the ingredients (thank you Google), Nutella contains the following:

Over 50 Hazelnuts per 13 oz. Jar
• Contains No Artificial Colors
• Contains No Artificial Preservatives

Ingredients: sugar, palm oil, hazelnuts, cocoa, skim milk, reduced minerals whey (milk), lecithin as emulsifier (soy), vanillin: an artificial flavor.

I guess it doesn’t contain an artificial preservative, but it contains an artificial flavour. Oh well. I’m not really a big fan of the stuff. I seem to remember in Australia you could get it in two different colours – it was a swirly effect with dark and light hazelnuts, I think. Don’t know if you can get it in the states.

images-3

Nutella, I guess is a better substitute than chocolate spread that appears to be a great staple in many homes. It looks the same too (same colour I guess). In fact chocolate spread is ubiquitous in Israel, with many parents sending their kids off to school with chocolate spread sandwiches. Now that stuff (especially the Israeli version) is indeed awful.

Israeli chocolate spread vs. Nutella

Israeli chocolate spread vs. Nutella

But, it does remind me of a story my sister told me when her twins were very little and in pre-school. They had been learning all about healthy foods and had filled in their worksheets perfectly, touting the benefits of excellent doses of fruits and vegetables. When my sister went to pick them up, the teacher praised her kids for doing so wonderfully on their homework, but then she said to my sister, “I don’t understand why then, you would send your kids to school with chocolate spread sandwiches.”

My sister was horrified. She said “I would NEVER give my kids chocolate spread. Those sandwiches are filled with Marmite!”

marmite-404_685611c

NOT something Israelis know too much about, but a huge Brit/Aussie staple (Marmite, Promite, Vegemite). Looks like chocolate spread I guess, but of course isn’t.

M is for Mombasa

15 Apr

a-to-z-letters-mOkay. Well, this is weird. Creepy even. I was seriously still tossing up this morning whether or not to write about Mombasa, Kenya. Specifically that I survived an Al Qaeda suicide bombing at the Paradise Hotel on Nov. 28, 2002 in Mombasa, when 12 other people didn’t. Of course, it’s a major event in my life. Were it not for that event, it’s highly unlikely I’d be sitting here typing into a computer from a home in Los Angeles. I’d probably still be living  in Israel.

And so I thought, this morning – do I really want to write about this AGAIN? Believe me, as a journalist I’ve written about this horrific experience more times than I care to think. I’ve written about it from both a personal and a professional level. I’ve wept tears; I lived through PTSD counselling – the whole nine yards. And I’ve even mentioned it on this blog before – when the operative who masterminded this horrific event was finally taken out by an air strike. You can read that here.

And this morning I was wondering do people really want to read about this? I don’t know. And of course, a couple of hours later, we hear about the bombings in Boston at the Boston Marathon, and while work has kept me busy all day tracking down locals who were there, in the back of my mind I guess I saw it as a sign that I was indeed supposed to write about Mombasa – one of the most painful experiences of my life. Because the images seen on the television today in Boston are not dissimilar than those I witnessed first hand in Mombasa (only mine were naturally much more up close and gruesome), or what I and thousands of other Israelis witnessed during the height of the second intifada in Israel when bombings – suicide bombings in particular -were a regular occurrence.

My heart goes out to those wounded and traumatised in Boston today along with the families of those killed. Believe me, I know what they’re feeling.  But rather than try and write yet another piece about Mombasa, I’m just reposting a piece I published not long after that event.

images-2

The final line of  my article from all those years ago echoes what happened today in Boston – when people ran TOWARD the blast, to try and help. You have to believe in good being greater than evil because I believe it’s true. And I believe it’s what allows us to carry on at that exact moment when it seems impossible.

A statistic no longer silent
By Kelly Hartog
IsraelInsider.com
August 1, 2003

Over a year ago, I wrote two pieces for this
publication, one entitled “The ripple effect,” the
other “Hats off to the journalists.” Two major events
have occurred since then, compelling me to write once
more.

Firstly, “The ripple effect” dealt with the emotional
fallout in the aftermath of the murder of my brother’s
boss – Yigal Goldstein – on September 9, 2001 in a
suicide bombing. On July 1, 2003, my brother and
sister-in-law celebrated the birth of their new son.
He is named, unsurprisingly, Yigal.

And so, life goes on.

“Hats off to the journalists” was my tribute to every
reporter who has been forced into the front lines of
this bloody conflict. My praise was high, as I, an
editor, safely shielded behind my desk, would not,
indeed feared to, go out and tackle the terror scene
head on.

Not until fate and G-d had other plans for me and
placed me in the midst of the terror attack in
Mombasa, Kenya on November 28, 2002.

What was supposed to be a relaxing foreign assignment
— a week-long junket to write about a Kenyan safari
— never happened. Within minutes of arriving at the
Paradise Hotel, that idyllic world was blown apart
forever.

The events of what happened there have been written
about enough. As the only English-speaking journalist
there, indeed possibly the only English-speaker, you
can find my reportage of that horrific day on the
websites of scores of radio, television, and newspaper
sites around the globe.

But they are the stories of a journalist. A reporter
going into automatic pilot and just doing her job in
the worst conditions imaginable. They are not the
stories of a woman who lived through the death of her
guide, two angelic Israeli children, 10 Kenyans, and
witnessed scores of physically wounded people.

And no article will ever be written by this woman in
either a professional or a personal capacity about
what she truly witnessed there, if for no other reason
than no one should ever have to know the horrors of
such an event.

Indeed, it is has taken seven months to even
contemplate writing on this matter in anything but a
professional capacity.

After five months of intensive trauma counseling I was
presented by my therapist with a chart that over
months clearly delineated my (thank goodness)
ever-decreasing depression levels, Post Traumatic
Stress Disorder levels, and my cognitive capacities
concerning the entire event.

And I was shocked. Shocked at how traumatized I was,
particularly when I realized that I was lucky enough
to escape the attack physically unscathed.

And once again I find myself reflecting on how
traumatized our entire nation must be. It’s hard
enough to comprehend the sheer numbers involved when
we think about the families of all the dead, the
physically wounded, and the ongoing traumas they all
face every day.

And then there are the silent statistics. The ones who
were there but walked away physically intact. I know
what they know because I’m one of them. And there are
thousands of us walking the streets of Israel.

I know what it’s like to be scared, truly scared. To
jump every time you hear a car door slam. To wake up
in the middle of the night sweat-soaked and crying
uncontrollably. To fear that every time you walk out
the front door it might be the last time you do so. To
rail against G-d. To be wracked with guilt; with
questions of having lived when others died; to feel
you must justify why you still have the privilege –
and yes, it is a privilege – to walk the streets every
day.

And I know what evil looks like. And believe me, evil
does have a face. I’ve seen it up close and personal.

But I also know, just as those charts showed me, those
fears do subside. They never disappear, but most of
the time they become controllable. You learn to live
with the terrible, heartbreaking memory of it all. You
learn to live with the horror, rather than relive it
every single moment of every single day.

There are still so many, many lessons to learn from
being in a terror attack. And I’m learning new ones
every day.

Here’s what I’ve learned so far.

I’ve learned that I’m stronger than I think. That,
despite what I wrote in “Hats off to the journalists,”
I was wrong about myself.

Prior to Kenya, if anyone had told me, that I, who
passes out at the sight of my own blood, would take
the shirt off my back to bandage a gaping hole in the
arm of a wounded teenager, because there were no
paramedics on the scene for three or four hours, or
that I would wipe ash, blood, and flesh off shaken
children, or do a live radio interview moments after
being informed my guide had been killed, I would have
said, “Sorry, you’ve got the wrong person.”

So yes, I’m tougher than I realized, perhaps even more
so than I want to be. I’ve also learned that no matter
how much compassion and caring we all feel when those
we know, and even those we don’t know, are killed or
maimed in a terror attack, that level of compassion
and caring in me has increased at least ten-fold.

In “The ripple effect” I thought my emotions had been
bled dry in the wake of Yigal’s death and what that
did to our family. Again, I was wrong.

For every terror attack that has occurred since Kenya,
I realize that it hurts so much more because I know,
profoundly, what everyone associated with that attack
is going through.

I also know I have a level of empathy that others
don’t have. I don’t relish how I got there. But I do
embrace it.

In the same vein, I have also learned this: when pure,
unadulterated evil reaches out its insidious fingers
and threatens to choke you, pure, unadulterated good
stands tall alongside it.

The selfess acts of scores of people in Kenya whose
names I never learned, and may never see again, have
overwhelmed me. I witnessed complete strangers support
each other in ways I would never have thought
imaginable. I know that as a result of one
24-hour-period, my life will be inexorably linked to
those people whose names I don’t know, and whom I
could feasibly bump into in the street and not even
recognize.

I don’t even know the names of the couple who so
kindly donated me a clean t-shirt after my suitcase
was blown up. What I do know though, is that I am only
one of those silent statistics. But we are everywhere.

One of us may be sitting next to you right now.

We are a traumatized nation. That is inescapable. But
we are also extraordinarily resilient. Had I been
given the choice, I would never have chosen to be in a
terror attack. But given that that choice was not mine
to make, I can say that while I have been permanently
scarred by the whole experience, I have also been
blessed.

Blessed with being granted the opportunity to live
another day when so many, many, others haven’t.
Blessed with the knowledge that I can face so much
more than I thought was possible. And blessed with a
level of empathy and compassion that can only help
make our lives stronger.

Because these are the traits that are required to
fight terrorism, and evil, wherever it may rear its
ugly head:

To stand upright, alongside our greatest fears and
greatest enemies, and to risk the chance of being
bloodied, and broken.

But never bowed.

L is for Labanotation

13 Apr

a-to-z-letters-l… or a version thereof.

If you’re a ballet dancer you’ll know exactly what Labanotation is. It was created by Rudolph Laban to physically document human movement, based on the belief that you can physically record every single human emotion. In its simplest form, Laban created musical notes for dancers – and it’s complex and complicated.

I never studied Labanotation but I did study Movement Psychology when I was in drama school. This was the brainchild of two men – Yat Malmgren and William Carpenter – who basically took Laban’s techniques and adapted them to apply specifically to actors. At my drama school, the class was simply called “Yat” – an homage to Malmgren.

So our Yat (Movement Psychology) classes were extremely complex. They were both physical exercise classes as well as psychological classes, that required a lot of lessons written into our “Yat” books. The physical classes strip you of all individuality. You lie on the ground (and when your spine is strong enough you advance to standing Yat classes  – NOTHING was worse than an early morning Yat standing class. You’d feel like you’d been dragged through a mill after 90 minutes). Everything focused on the spine and the notion that all emotion emanated from the spine. If you had a strong spine you could withstand the toughest of acting exercises. Hence both the physical classes followed by the psychological classes. Yat classes made Method classes (which we also studied) seem like a walk in the park!

It’s kind of hard to explain Yat classes, which is why Malmgren never published his work. He believed it was too open to misinterpretation. It’s also why we were told (no idea if it’s true) that other drama schools would “kill” to get their hands on our books, with their six “inner attitudes” and cube drawings and weird gobbledygook that we carefully wrote in each week until we had compiled our own Movement Psychology book.  It’s passed down to those lucky students who studied under Yat himself at The Drama Centre in London. I went to drama school in Australia – called The Drama Studio – and ALL the teachers were graduates of The Drama Centre and devoted Yat students.

Yat Malmgren

Yat Malmgren

So, given that daily Yat classes and years of studying still made it difficult to wrap our heads around this technique, I don’t expect to be able to explain Yat in any comprehensible form, here. BUT, I still have my Yat book and I still know that I unlocked the key to many characters I played via these classes. I’ll never forget the day when a student went ‘Wow, how did Shakespeare know Yat (technique?).’

Only at The Drama Studio could we run around saying that a character was one of these six inner attitudes: Near, Mobile, Awake, Stable Adream or Remote. (And of course like all students we’d often take the piss out of the whole thing, creating our own attitudes; “Asleep” was one of our favourites).  But on a serious note, if  you could unlock that key and discover which inner attitude (and sometimes there were fusions – even more complex) your character was you could start breaking down which “factors” they possessed: motion, mental, inner participations, inner quests, elements and characteristics.

Yes, it sounds complicated. And on some level it was. But when you could connect the physical classes with the psychological classes, when it all melded together, when you understood each inner attitude clearly, when your body no longer felt it had been stretched on a torture rack, you were finally allowed to create an entire character based on these inner attitudes. They were some of the most powerful creations to walk a drama studio stage and are what led many graduating students to land an agent based on their “Yat” character creations alone. I will never forget the exhilaration of creating my Awake character – a character that is not bound by time or space (sounds crazy I know). Unlocking the psychology of what makes a person tick through this combined method of physical movement and psychological motivation  was truly an incredible learning experience.

Hats off to Rudolph Laban and to Yat Malmgren, who took an 18-year-old drama school student and turned her into a true practitioner of the genuine human experience. Stuck in a a large, empty room, flat on the floor in a black leotard, black tights, white socks and black ballet flats (standard school issue Yat class uniform), strips you both physically and psychologically bare. When you can perform certain Yat exercises without the fear that our teacher warned us of  – ‘Do this incorrectly and you’ll land up paralyzed’ – when the central five discs of your spine hit the floor without having to force them there, and you can FINALLY understand after months and months what it really means to “see without watching” and to “hear without listening” you can start to scratch the surface of the extraordinary work that you can produce with Yat’s technique.

Some of the greatest British actors of our time are graduates of the Drama Centre in London including Simon Callow, Anthony Hopkins and Colin Firth. Trust me, they have been through the wringer and are better actors for their Movement Psychology classes, taught by the great Yat Malmgren himself.  I think Firth summed up Yat best in this interview when he said:

Yat took Laban’s notation into acting. We studied movement psychology and its notation. We didn’t use the notation particularly, but the notation is based on principles of putting psychological concepts into space, into action, into the physical world. It all sounds terribly alienating and full of shit, really, to people who don’t subscribe to it,” he continued. “I found that after a couple of years of it, it started to make an enormous amount of sense; it came as close as anything anybody really can to teaching acting. I think it’s very hard to teach acting. You certainly can’t teach talent. It made sense to me, and I still use it.

Kind of nice to know that Colin and I studied the same technique. Wonder how much Yat he used in his walk out of the lake scene in Pride and Prejudice?

I still have my Yat book – handwritten, with its crazy notes and utter gobbledygook to anyone who has not studied the technique. Malmgren passed away in 2002, never having published a book on his techniques. I wonder how much my book would be worth to a desperate drama student? I could sell it on eBay possibly. But you know what? I don’t think I would ever sell it. Not for anything. It’s quite an extraordinary work and it’s only now that I’ve come to realise how lucky I am to possess this.

Still, if you ARE a drama student desperate to get their hands on his work, show me you can get your central five flat on the floor without sucking your stomach in; prove that you can hear without listening; and then  tell me what the motion factors are for the Adream state. Maybe we can strike a deal.