Someone made my day

The happiness of life is made up of minute fractions — the little, soon-forgotten charities of a smile, a kind look, a heart-felt compliment, and the countless infinitesimals of pleasurable and genial feeling.” – Samuel Taylor Coleridge

IMG_1787Every author I know enjoys getting mail from readers who found that his or her book “hit home” or touched them in some way.

But to wake up on New Year’s Day to discover such a note in your email — first thing in the morning — is just as sweet as finding a bouquet of spring blooms or a box of Gayle’s handmade truffles on your doorstep.

And so it was that I “met” Tina, a kindred spirit who happens to own the Paperback Book Exchange in Neenah, Wisconsin. Tina explained in her email that she’d purchased my book, Writing Home, while visiting Michigan a couple of years ago. She’d put it aside until she found time to read it, picking it up late last year. “I didn’t want it to end,” she wrote. “Many of your pieces touched home with me.”

As if that weren’t lovely enough, she also asked if I had any promotional bookmarks or materials she could share with readers who visit her shop.

If you’re an avid reader, you’ll want to “like” Tina’s Facebook page for the Paperback Book Exchange. As you’ll see from the shop’s cover photo, there’s even a resident cat — which made me wish I lived closer to Neenah, and could visit the place right away. For now, it’s on my Midwest Travel Bucket List.

All said and done, Tina’s email got me thinking — especially since I’m still composing my list of New Year’s resolutions. Maybe I could “pay it forward” and start writing notes to brighten someone else’s day.

I’m also reminded of Carloyn See’s Making a Literary Life, a book stuffed with great advice for writers. See suggests writing what she calls “charming notes” to poets, novelists, editors, or artists whose work you’ve enjoyed or admired. (We’re all too quick to criticize — and too slow to pay compliments — she explains.)

But the way I see it, there’s no reason to limit the practice to authors or artists. Why not write a note to anyone who’s sweetened or changed your life somehow? Maybe you could thank the mail carrier or the pet sitter or the waiter who serves your coffee at the local diner? All kinds of wonderful things will happen, Carolyn See promises. At the very least, you just might make someone’s day. — Cindy La Ferle

Artwork: Cindy La Ferle


Inspiration for writers

I believe, with a patriotic sincerity that would make a Legionnaire blush, that American literature is owned by everybody in America….and that we all get to have a say in it.” –Carolyn See

Preparing to coach my writing workshops is almost as fun as working with the students. This week I’ve been updating my lists of “required reading.” If you’re truly serious about writing, you need to stuff your bookshelves (and your mind) with top-notch material that inspires you.

It also helps to own a collection of practical guides that explain — in no uncertain terms — how to survive the ups and downs of the writing life. Among my favorites is Carolyn See’s Making A Literary Life: Advice for Writers and Other Dreamers.

Carolyn See happens to be the mother of novelist Lisa See (Snow Flower and the Secret Fan) — so it’s clear that her advice works. Best of all, she’s brutally frank about the whole business of writing and publishing. She’ll be the first to tell you, for instance, that while the literary life can be incredibly rewarding, it’s often fraught with rejection, stress, envy, and frustration. But she does so with such wit that you’ll want to give it a try anyway. To whet your appetite, I’m reprinting some favorite quotes from the book:

On finding people who support you:

“To find people who support your work, it’s best not even to think in literary terms but to look for easygoing and open-hearted human beings with a low threshold of embarrassment, who, generally speaking, aren’t beset by terror, fear, or what we, out here in California, call a ‘scarcity consciousness.’ These are people who think there might be enough of everything for everyone, who can consider popcorn for dinner if you’re busy working.”

On promoting yourself:

“Don’t assume that everyone has read whatever it is you’ve written. Nobody ever reads anything you’ve written! They’ve got their own lives to live. If you want someone to read it, send him a copy.”

On remaining calm after publication:

“When your first work is published — that story, article, or poem — nobody is going to care except your immediate family, your circle of friends, and maybe your editor. What they really care about, what they’re watching for, is whether or not you’re going to turn into an asshole. Because the only people harder to be around than failed writers are pretentious jerks.”

On learning how to accept compliments or criticism:

“If someone sidles up to you and says, ‘I read that thing you wrote in the Daily News a while ago,’ you must on no account say, ‘What did you think?’ Because you might get an answer you don’t like. In fact, it’s pretty certain you won’t get an answer you like unless that someone says, ‘It’s the greatest thing I’ve read since the New Testament!’ What you say is: ‘No kidding!’ Which very adroitly bats the ball over into their court and they almost always have to say, ‘I liked it.” Or, ‘It was good. I was surprised!’ In which case you say, ‘Thank you.’ Or if they are mean or competitive enough to say ‘I don’t know how you got started on such a loopy tangent,’ you give them a big amiable grin and say, ‘No kidding!‘”

Whether you’re toying with the idea of becoming a writer, or you’ve been toiling in literary fields for a long time, this book will make you laugh while it keeps you grounded and sane. No kidding. — Cindy La Ferle