Thursday, August 2, 2018

Friday Feedback: Endings and Beginnings . . . and Perspective.

Me, slightly filtered, last month
on my 54th birthday

Dearest Teachers Write campers,

< - - -  This is me. Here I am. The two -- or more -- of us together once again.

As I noted on my Friday Feedback facebook page, this will be the last Friday Feedback that is part of the #TeachersWrite program.

This was not my decision. In fact, I'm a rather loyal sort, and have loved every minute of Teachers Write, and so this particular ending has left me a tad bit heartbroken.

In my original draft of this post, I shared my version of what happened, but on second thought decided real life is the only proper place for these conversations.

Suffice it to say, that Friday Feedback existed before Teachers Write, and if I choose -- and you all beg accordingly ;) -- I could always continue it.

Meanwhile, I move forward with deep gratitude for the last six summers with Teachers Write. Being part of this endeavor that grew and grew, and meeting all of you, many IRL through the years, has been one of the greatest highlights of my published life.

And, now -- hooray!! -- on with FRIDAY FEEDBACK. If you haven't participated before, please make sure you read the RULES.

So, since today is sort of an ending, I thought, "Hmmm, what if I went back to the beginning. . ." So I went to the archives of my blog searching for my first Friday Feedback post from 2010 (!!!)

What I wrote back then about why I decided to start such a feature on my blog, still holds true for me today:

"Why am I so excited about this? Writers often write in a vacuum. As such, you’ll often hear us commenting that we have no idea if something we’ve written is great, or if it’s crap. I mean, you’d think we’d know, but sometimes, honestly, we just don’t. Sometimes, the chasm of doubt we stare down is that gaping and wide. 

If you don’t believe me, here’s a quote I love from an interview with one of my all-time favorite authors William Goldman . . . 

“One of the things I love to do when I work with young writers is to disabuse them of the notion that I know what I'm doing. I don't know what I'm doing. . . as we are speaking, I am looking at my computer, tearing out my hair, thinking, well, is this horrible, or is this going to work? I don't know. Storytelling is always tricky."

And guess what, folks, nearly eight years and three more books -- almost four -- later, and, yeah, I still don't know what I'm doing. I mean there's a gut thing, sure, and some skill honed, but in the end, for me, it's mostly the knowledge I can write, the understanding that I will have to dig down and revise over and over again, and one giant leap of faith.

Now for those who follow me on twitter or facebook, you may know I've been steeped in a pretty rough round of revisions for my next book JACK KEROUAC IS DEAD TO ME (St. Martins/Wednesday Books 2020).

So imagine my humor and delight when I opened that 8-year-old post to see that the very excerpt I had shared for feedback was none other than the then-opening of a manuscript I stated, "bears the working title, Jack Kerouac is Dead to Me."

And imagine my fading humor and delight as I read my old words and suddenly wondered if I liked them way better than the opening I've been working with for years now.**

Hilarious, right?


Here was that opening. YOU may be the judge when I share today's opening below:

"The butterflies arrived on a Saturday, but I waited till Sunday to open them since I needed Max’s help with the greenhouse. It was late April, and I had been dating Max Gordon a few weeks by then, but that particular day stuck with me because of how he built the greenhouse, and also because of what Aubrey had said. "

Here's the thing, the reasons I started Friday Feedback back then, still hold relevant today. We write in a vacuum. We overwrite. We over-revise. We get too close. We have no idea.

It helps to have someone chime in.

My beautiful, kind, talented friend, Nora
who I'd be lost without. . . 
When all of this unfolded, I did what we do. We look outside of the vacuum, and so I called Nora. I told her the story, then whimpered for help.

"I have no perspective anymore," I whined to her.

"It's this business," she said. "A writer friend once told me early on, 'Once you've been published, you never write the same again.' This always stuck with me. The trick is to write like you're never going to be published."

We both sighed. Of course we're both so grateful to be published, but for better or worse, it's a freedom neither of us has anymore. At least not without working hard to find our way back there. . .

But you do, friends. And so often it's viewed only as a hurdle, but not a freedom -- to write without constraints, perceived notions. To write within fear of the boxes you feel you must fit into. 

To simply explore your own voice.

To trust your instincts, and write forward.

And right now, you do.

So, enjoy the process and write forward.

Keep going.

All of those glorious things.

And now, my excerpt. The current opening of JACK KEROUAC:

Dearest Aubrey,

I’ve started this letter three times now, but each place I begin feels wrong. I get lost in the memories and my thoughts lose their way, and I have to start over again.

As hard as it is to find my way in, I know I need to try. I have to figure out why things happened the way they did between us, how we ended up hating each other so much. How we hurt each other the way we did.

Sometimes, I miss you so badly I can’t breathe, then I break down in tears, or get so mad at you I wonder why I even care if you hear me out, or understand. But, in my heart, I know why. It’s this simple: I need you to understand because you were the one person who always did.

So, maybe I’ll start a few months ago, in early spring, when the tropical butterflies arrived. That’s when everything changed, when things really went downhill.

I promise you this, Aubrey, everything I write is the truth, to the best of my ability to recount things. Both the good and the bad that led up to me leaving in the middle of the night. There’s so much you don’t know -- both the best parts, and the ugliest parts of what happened.

The last brutal part that nobody can ever know, except you, now, here.

Ugh, I was about to rip this up again and start over, or maybe scrap it altogether, but a butterfly just landed on the railing in front of me: Pontia Protodice, Common Checkered White, subtropical. We don’t get them there in New York.

It’s not that it’s such a special butterfly, rather just a small white thing with two black squares on the back of its wings. “False eyes,” they call them. They’re there to trick predators away. But, that’s the thing, Aubrey: think what you want, I don’t have false eyes. I did the best I could with Max, with Mom, with everything.

People think butterflies are solitary creatures by nature, because we see them so often on their own, flitting over a meadow, stopping to steal nectar from the throat of a flower, before moving on. Even this one, here, now, on this railing, is all alone.

But the truth is different. Butterflies are social by nature. They cluster when they are able to because they know there is safety in numbers.

You were always my best friend, Aubrey. My safety.

I hope you will understand.


With much love,


** p.s. In a panic, I wrote Nora with the blog post and the two beginnings. . . and I'll reveal what she wrote -- her "Friday Feedback" -- on Sunday in the comments. ;) 

***p.p.s. I have two different giveaways going on on my facebook author page for IN SIGHT OF STARS. Check them out HERE!

***p.p.p.s And on 8/12 Nora, Tom Rogers and I will be hosting a facebook event, called Teaching 9/11: Bringing Our Shared History to Young(er) Readers. Join us! There will be "Lit Circle" giveaways there, too! 


  1. This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

  2. Good morning Gae,
    I love the line about “each place I begin feels wrong” I can’t wait to read this book. And I think that line sums up so well what we as writers often feel. We start and stop, we analze and evaluate and we worry ourselves to death over a sentence. You’re right in saying that Friday Feedback was so great at helping with that. At giving perspective in a safe environment. Where direction was giving with care but not shied away from. Perhaps you will continue it. I for one would be there. It has been so helpful to me. Thank you for taking the time to do it and for your honesty, that has been the most helpful of all.

    Here’s my little snippet from the novel that I will be diving into next week and start writing. The main character’s mother is a hoarder.

    Mom hands me her fast food garbage.
    Smoothed out yellow food wrapper.
    Wiped out French fry container.
    Three ketchup packets, unopened.
    She hates ketchup but she still makes me ask for them because someone might need them when they come to our house, which no one ever does.
    When she falls asleep in her recliner, I step out on the back porch and stomp on the ketchup packets. The red goo splatters over the siding and drips down the cement steps. It looks like a murder was committed in this house.
    I laugh at how that’s not so far from the truth.

    Thanks again Gae.

  3. Oh, Martha... as I read this, I was thrilled to be reminded that you are working on a piece with hoarding. SO important.

    I love the rhythm of this moment, to the image of the ketchups splattering all over like a crime scene. I get it. I get it. I love this. Keep going!

    And, if I have enough people voicing interest, I will surely continue FF on my own blog next summer. <3 Thank you for always being here.

  4. Gae, First, I just want to thank you for doing this. Teachers Write provides me with much needed motivation in the summer, and I learn so much from you all that I can apply to my own writing, as well as pass on to my students. I am sorry to see it come to a close again.

    Regarding your opening- I loved how real this letter felt. The way the writer can't figure out how to word it and keeps rewriting it- that's something most of us can relate to. The image of the butterfly is so well done. Not only can I picture it, but the false eyes part really makes me curious about the story. I love the way you dangle tidbits of information to get us asking questions and wondering what happened to produce the emotions in this letter. That always makes me want to keep reading.

    Here's a snippet of one of my pieces. I'd appreciate any feedback.

    "JOEY!" Miss Trish screeched, startling me from where I was reading on the porch. The O'Dell's screen door slammed, and a blur scrambled up the pine by the porch. A hand poked through the branches, waving at me. Joey. What had he done this time? I was about to wave back, when Miss Trish barreled through the door, breathing hard. I pretended to be absorbed in my book.
    Miss Trish stood there, hands on her hips. "Joseph James O'Dell, come here right this minute!" There was a long pause when Miss Trish's eyes narrowed to slits, and then, with a rustle of branches, Joey scampered down, giving me my first good look at him.
    He was purple. His face, arms, and spiky hair were all purple, like a villain in a comic book. I put my book over my mouth, because I couldn't keep the grin off of my face. Give him one little task- drive his mom crazy today- and this was the result. He was amazing.

    1. Hi, Lisa,

      Thanks for the feedback on my excerpt. I'm breathing a little easier. :)

      As for your share, I really adore this little snippet, and smiled fully when I got to this line: "A hand poked through the branches, waving at me. Joey. "

      The minute you endear us to a character through humor like that, you're golden... followed by the purple description like a villain in a comic book which I could so totally picture. And that last line, now I'm hooked because I want to know why the task was assigned and their relationship! Great work! Keep going!


  5. Gae,
    I wish that I would have known about Teachers Write seven years ago, but you did say above that you could possibly be persuaded (beg accordingly) to continue. I will beg today. :) Teachers Write has been so rewarding for me the last two years. I am 56, and always wanted to write more. The daily writing challenges are so great. I really enjoyed reading your opening letter. I, too, want to keep reading. What happened in the middle of the night? What were the best parts and the ugliest parts that the person writing the letter wants to tell Aubrey? Your title is very unique, too. Jack Kerouac. "the one person who always did" understand him/her - I for sure want to know more about the conflict. Good stuff. I am sending an excerpt from a book I have wanted to write about the situations we went through with one of our children who we adopted at age 4. She suffers from Reactive Attachment disorder.

    "Grandma wanted you to have this."
    I opened the box and found one of her tea cups with a matching saucer. Flowers with acorns and berries. Yellow leaves, green leaves, brown acorns, and purple berries.
    "Bone china, 'Duchess,' England. Grandma always said that she only bought them if they were bone china."
    "I really miss her." My stomach worked itself into a knot. All this emotion, it was too much. I wanted to pull away. When I was younger, I couldn't figure out what this emotion was, and for years, I did pull away. Reactive Attachment disorder. There. I said it. All the good things that I had. A room, a sister, clean clothes, three meals a day. For years, I had felt my adopted family were temporary. I couldn't put my brain around it.
    Mom pulled me close, and I let her. I hugged her back, and it felt so calming, and good. I could finally let go of some of the hate, the jealousy, and of not feeling adequate to reciprocate love back. I didn't feel worthy of it. But today, I chose. I chose not to pull away.

  6. Kay B, thanks for the enthusiasm -- it's actually helpful! :)

    I think I know someone with that RA disorder... so I'm glad you're writing a piece that touches on it. I adore the intricate description of the teacup and can see the delicate berries. If anything, I want to FEEL even more how that teacup makes your protag feel. I get the knot and the missing, of the grandma, but what about this moment, this teacup, really brings the missing on? And what makes her (I assume since of the teacup) feel so strongly as to say RA disorder now in this scene. It feels climactic, so go there even the tiniest bit more? Of course, it's possible you're about to and in context I wouldnt have this longing. I LOVE all you have here and I just want a little more.

    Does that make sense?

    Keep going! Gae

    1. Gae,

      Your comments make sense. As I read it again, I definitely should have another paragraph about the tea cup. I actually got all of my teacups out of the cupboard this morning, passed down to me, and described it, picking the one that reminded me of my protagonist. Totally need more here.
      And again, this year and last year are the first times that I have shared any writing with anyone besides a creative writing class I had to take in my masters class. Very helpful, and encourages me that I need to find more avenues for this if I ever want to publish anything.

  7. OH! oh! I feel a little breathless in the best way about your NEW opening. The letter feels so intimate, and like a real letter, I want to be in on the intimacy, and I want to keep reading. This opening has the spirit of the first, the sheer skill and details I LOVE in writing (the false eyes!) the butterfly names! and the maturity of having, well, matured. keep going! and I hope to be a beta reading for it.....

    and if I go the rules right here-here's a little poem I wrote and it's raw:

    How can I see
    the smallest sparrow
    move a branch on the other side of the street

    and not divine

    what small flutter shook my heart?

    I think and think and think
    but nothing equals
    one small bird


    so many thoughts
    flying around

    One Robin alights
    and a whole branch shakes

    Why can't I be like tree itself?
    allowing bird to be bird

    stillness within motion

    1. So wonderful to have you here, Lor, to have that treasured feedback which has comforted me! And to see this lovely poem that feels, in the best way, like a poem from plath or browning, or something of an earlier time.

      what small flutter shook my heart?

      indeed. <3

      the center "i think, i think, i think" feels a bit different than the rest ...? Haven't quite figured out why.

      More LL poems on my blog, please.

  8. Loved reading what you wrote back then and not at all surprised to discover that you were wise even then. FF was such a great idea that actually worked great in practice. Glad I could be a small part of it over the years. xoxo

    1. Amy, you have been a HUGE part, and will be invaluable if i continue it in summers going forward. <3 RIGHT???!?!?!

  9. Pleeeeease continue Friday Feedback, Gae! ;) I've learned so much through the feedback on my work and on others' work over the years, but have so much farther to go! And I simply enjoy it; I look forward to each Friday's post. Your guest authors have been fabulous, too, and it would make me sad to see it end.

    Your opening to your new novel is striking. It manages to set up characters and conflict and intrigue, while giving a voice to your MC. I feel her pain at losing her best friend and her desperate but bewildered desire to fix it, to explain. I know the telling will be heartbreaking. I can't wait to read it.

    Thank you again for all you've done here. Your time and advice, your cheerleading and leading-by-example have been so valuable.

    1. Been a pleasure having you here writing with me, Jen. Keep on!!! I'll do my to continue FF on my own... if it garners enough followers, especially to make it worth my guest authors' time. When I had access to the facebook page, there were 3300 members. When it was archived, only 300 transferred over to my new page. I'm so crushed and frustrated at that loss, especially as I believe I was the one to build visitors to the facebook page via my constant communications there -- and trying to make it fun. <3

  10. Gae, I'm brainstorming a new novel so I didn't have anything ready for Friday Feedback. But I'm so sorry that it's ending! (Is it all of Teacher's Write that is ending or just Friday Feedback?) Since I discovered Teacher's Write a few years ago, I have really looked forward to it. Friday Feedback, especially, kept me going as I cared for my mom during radiation and chemo treatments, scribbling down bits of my novel when she was resting or hospitalized. Thank you so much for being here, and having faith in us, our ideas, our writing.

    1. As far as I know, TW is continuing.

      I've been so thrilled to have you here as a "regular" and hope you will continue to return to FF if I am hosting it on my own.

      Hope to see more of your writing soon!!!! <3

  11. So, I forgot to tell you all, if you're reading comments and were waiting with bated breath... Nora likes the new opening much, much better. Phew! :)

  12. Gae, I sent you a PM because I gushed!Thanks for everything.

  13. Hmmmm, did I ever get this Gloria? I'm on overload. Going to look and make sure I responded!

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