INTERVIEW: Why I Wrote THE DAYS OF MIRACLE AND WONDER, STORIES

Since the recent publication of my latest collection of short stories, THE DAYS OF MIRACLE AND WONDER, I’ve received many requests by readers to divulge why I wrote this book.

There are nine stories in this collection having to do with characters who are connected ethnically, historically, politically, and spiritually with Ukraine.

The e-book is currently available on all platforms, and the paperback will be out in late Spring.

You can read excerpts from three of the stories on this blog.

Meanwhile, here is the interview based on the most frequently asked questions regarding the origin story behind the stories I wrote for THE DAYS OF MIRACLE AND WONDER.

Q. The title THE DAYS OF MIRACLE AND WONDER is very interesting. How did you come up with it?

It’s a line from the great song “The Boy in the Bubble” by Paul Simon. I loved that line and it fit the stories which all have miraculous and even supernatural themes in historical settings and in specific locations. But the stories also include other themes—immigration, death and grief, depression, even mental illness and the basic good v. evil dilemma, and the choices the characters make that will lead them to redemption or perdition, gain or loss, happiness or desperation.

Q. Why short stories?

 I love short stories! My first love. I remember as a kid being introduced to great fiction writers because of short stories.

Writing short stories can also be more challenging than reading them. A writer has to be compact and get the story going in less time than a novel. The characters have to be active and developed quickly and the plot contained and moving ASAP.

Q. Tell us more about THE DAYS OF MIRACLE AND WONDER.

Initially, I wanted to write an updated version of Geoffrey Chaucer’s THE CANTERBURY TALES, in which a group of medieval pilgrims in England ride together and tell stories along the way, but time constraints and other commitments got in the way.

But I did have enough for a short story collection and the first-person narratives are from different timeframes and historical connections having to do with Ukraine in particular, and other places.

So, the story within a story framework is still there, and sometimes miracles are achieved or wished for, sometimes not.

Each narrative in each of the stories is distinctive—there are historical ties to real life events, including a Christian story set in Biblical times about the first midwife and two stories featuring the Devil too.

I also included a thriller and suspense story about a KGB guy and an Elvis impersonator. Others are fantasy and coming-of-age stories.

Q. Ukraine? Why?

That’s what I usually write about. I can’t seem to help it. My first novel, THE SKY UNWASHED had to do with the Chernobyl explosion in Ukraine, and my second book, WHEN LUBA LEAVES HOME: STORIES, are interrelated short stories based on my Ukrainian neighborhood in Chicago. You see what I mean? It’s in my blood about my blood.

PRAISE FOR THE DAYS OF MIRACLE AND WONDER

“Irene Zabytko has shown that a writer can tell great stories and still have a Ukrainian point of view.” —A. J. Motyl, Author The Jew Who Was Ukrainian

“Irene Zabytko’s work is very engaging. I always look forward to her writing as it is captivating, and her characters are empowered with grace and strength.”— Laurie Kuntz, Poet, Author, The Moon Over My Mother’s House (forthcoming)

“What a breezy but compelling read. I like it a lot. The momentum builds within a social framework that is both ominous and absurd. I hear a bit of Nabokov and of course Hohol.”—Lila Dlaboha, Poet, Past Editorial Board Member The Little Magazine.

Irene Zabytko is an award-winning fiction writer. She is the author of the highly acclaimed novel about Chornobyl (Chernobyl), THE SKY UNWASHED, and the short story collection WHEN LUBA LEAVES HOME. Irene is also the author of the ultimate fiction writing guidebook: THE FICTION PRESCRIPTION: HOW TO WRITE AND IMPROVE YOUR FICTION LIKE THE GREAT LITERARY MASTERS.

http://www.irenezabytko.com

hello@irenezabytko.com

ONE MORE SNEAK PEEK FROM: THE DAYS OF MIRACLE AND WONDER, STORIES

Here’s one more story from my latest collection, THE DAYS OF MIRACLE AND WONDER.

Two previous sneak peeks are available at irenezabytko.com/blog.

Enjoy. The Ebook is available on all platforms mentioned here: Books2read.com/miraclewonder and www.irenezabytko.com/new

And if you do purchase the E-book, please write a review. The paperback will be out in Spring, 2021.

Photo: Monica Silvestre

“LES KURBAS’ LAST ACT”

From: THE DAYS OF MIRACLE AND WONDER, STORIES

By Irene Zabytko

Ladies and gentlemen. Some of you might know me, or you observe me standing here before you, and you‘re thinking…where have I seen him before? I’ve traveled to many cities and villages all throughout this country and have lived the equivalent of ten lifetimes. I am an actor. Perhaps you heard of me or at least had seen my most famous movie role (now replayed on the television during sentimental Soviet holidays.)  Yes, I appeared in the 1958 Dovzhenko Studio production of Stalin’s life called as you know, History Misses Thee.

 Ah. Well. From the looks of your faces, I am astonished to comprehend that perhaps you’ve never heard of it after all. Let me assure you—it was very popular then. Everyone was supposed to have seen it at least once in their lives if you were alive then—or wanted to stay as much.

Anyway, I played the role of one of the pallbearers at his funeral. I was the peasant looking old man—front pallbearer right side, who was so overcome with grief that he bared open his sheepskin jacket in despair before falling on the floor, and of course there’s a tattoo of Stalin’s bushy mustache image on my chest.

My over-indulgent acting for that one scene did reward me with a close-up. And I have to say, as ridiculous as the movie was, I was quite good in the role. I played similar characters until the early 1960s but by then Khrushchev had denounced Stalin, and I had to find other roles such as the lead tractor driver in the musical, Daughter of the Steppes. And certainly you must have seen me as the brutal capitalist merchant in a highly bastardized version of Pygmalion. 

No? Well, no wonder. My best roles were in the theater. I love acting live and onstage above anything else. I began acting in the theater as a very young man. My parents were Shakespearian actors and sent me to Moscow to study with the great Stanislavsky because modern theater was mushrooming and blossoming after the Revolution. I was very young at the time, but it was such an honor to be away from home and in the presence of that great man—his method acting saved my life not only on stage and all those silly film roles, but so many times in my own personal life’s tragedies.

 While I was studying in Moscow, my parents found work with a traveling troupe in Estonia. I was to return home to Kyiv to wait for their return.  I much preferred Kyiv to Moscow at any rate—it was where I hoped to begin my acting career in earnest and surprise them with landing a role on the stage. Little did I know that I would never see them again. They disappeared, and so did I.

 In Kyiv, this was oh, in 1934 or so, in Kyiv I was lucky—or so I thought—to start my apprenticeship with a new theater company where I could at last put the Stanislavsky method to good talented use. The theater troupe was called “The Octoberites” (named after the Revolution of course), and it was a fledgling one in the Podil section—the oldest most historical and whimsical part of the city which I loved. We practiced and performed in a stuffy basement, and sometimes it was distracting to look out the lone window and see people’s feet pass by, like a metronome. But after a while I hardly noticed the outside world.

I was hired as the under-underling. Which meant I was the prop boy, lights manager, curtain puller, ticket seller. I set up the stage scenery and chairs for the audience, threw out the garbage, cooked eggs and salt pork on the illegal Bunsen burner in a corner during rehearsals, not to mention procuring the odd bottle for anyone who needed extra courage before a performance. Now and then, my acting talents were called upon, and I was ready to take on anything.  In truth, I was really nothing more than a stage hand who filled in the roles of the other actors when they were too ill or drunk to go on stage. I even acted the women’s roles because I was quite young and eager to memorize everyone’s parts just for a chance to act!

The longer I stayed with them, the more often I was called on to take on roles and always at the last minute. It happened that I was doing four to five costume changes a night before racing to the back of the theater to open the exit doors wearing whatever costume I had on at the moment—and never taking a bow with the others for the final curtain either I might add.

Still, it was a great little group. I learned much, but my greatest role was yet to come and it was my surviving the gulag.

Watch the trailer here: https://youtu.be/SQsb7eC2vI4

If you have the time, please do me the honor and indulge an old actor to recite his life’s story in four acts.

You just heard the Prologue and my paltry introduction. To quote Dickens, or rather misquote him, whether I shall turn out to be the hero of my own life has long been decided. For I am not. That station has been held by another and more worthy as you will hear. And now…

Act One—In Which I Make My Acting Debut, But Am Arrested Instead.

On one unlucky, unfortunate night—opening night 1935 at my troupe’s theater in Kyiv, I finally had my chance to act in a real role as “The Fool” (renamed “The Worker”) in a Soviet production of King Lear. The actor who was supposed to have played the part of the Fool was anything but—he purposely became sick because he knew beforehand that we would never get past the first act.

We always had a small audience, and typical of that night were those who came only because we “papered the walls” meaning that we handed out free tickets to anyone who wanted to come in from the street and out of the rain.

One of my myriad jobs was to count how many attended each performance. That night, I counted a drunk who fell asleep in the back row, three middle-aged women who were street cleaners and came because their shifts hadn’t begun, three couples of various ages, and six men all wearing black and looking as stern and ominous as cemetery ravens.

When I looked out into the audience that night, I didn’t think those six men in identical black leather coats were anything to be concerned about. We were used to having more empty seats than the motely people filling them. But there they were, in the third row, wearing the same coats, not taking off their caps and not even applauding when the curtain came up.

I was ready for my cue. I was about to shout out my first line which was rewritten to fit the political times. Instead of the original one Shakespeare wrote which if you recall was: “Let me hire him too. Here is my coxcomb.” I was to say: “Let me hire him too. Here is my worker’s cap.” And as soon as I thrusted my woolen newsboy cap up into the air, our sullen audience in the third row arose in unison holding out their pistols with one yelling out, “In the name of the people we arrest you for bourgeoisie capitalist propaganda.” Of all things—and right before my big speech and song. Ach!

Two of the men in black pointed their Lugers while coming up on stage where we were soon taken off it, and into a Black Maria. I kept counting the people in the van. It seems they arrested all our troupe and the others in the audience too except for that drunk who fell between the rows of seats and unwittingly was hidden from it all.

Act Two—In Which I Show Up at the Show Trial and Shipped to Solovki.

Well, we—that is my acting troupe and I did appear in a show trial—aptly called since it was an absolute lunatic farce.

We were huddled en masse on a stage inside a courtroom. For once, I was in the front row nearest our two lawyers who by the way, were also arrested even before the trial, and were forced to join us on the platform.

Then another lawyer, one appointed by the People’s Council appeared. I must admit that some of the very best acting was by that so called defense lawyer who did nothing to help us.

His lines were exquisite and I will recite his damning evidence of why we didn’t deserve to be defended:

“Ahem—Comrades of the Extraordinary Court of the People. I am ashamed to stand before you as part of this travesty. This travesty of defending this so called acting troupe of vagabonds, parasites, and hooligans before you. Should I try to persuade you of their innocence of not defaming the People in their decadence? For allowing a young guttersnipe (pointing in my direction) to dare assume the role of a traitor of the Revolution? Of defending these vile corrupters possessing the lowest morals by appearing before an audience of Tovarishi and insulting our patriotism and loyalty to the Cause with their insidious play that is devoid of any revolutionary zest and zeal? Nay! In good Soviet proletarian conscious I cannot!  I shall not! Therefore Comrades, do with them whatever you in good proletarian wisdom think must be done. I wash my hands—hands mind you that spent the morning digging in the collective farm alongside our brothers in the villages—I wash my wearied hands of these miscreants, these mockers of all that is good and just in our Soyuez.”

He was given a standing ovation. I must say he was quite good. I admired the way he wiped his proletarian hands and sweating brow with a red silk handkerchief. Actually, his hands looked very well-manicured and he wore a gold watch that glittered with each angry twitch of his hands when he very dramatically threw down the stack of papers that supposedly was the briefs of our case. When they took us away I noticed that the papers were pages from a dictionary…official looking even so.

He took mere seconds to denounce us and the judge took another second to sentence us. We then spent several awful days at the prison where I was separated from nearly all of my troupe. A few of us were released together, and then whisked away onto a ship headed over the monstrous waves of the White Sea and onward to the notorious gulags of the Solovki Islands. That was the worst trip of my life.

END OF SAMPLE

PRAISE FOR THE DAYS OF MIRACLE AND WONDER

“Irene Zabytko has shown that a writer can tell great stories and still have a Ukrainian point of view.” —A. J. Motyl, Author The Jew Who Was Ukrainian

“Irene Zabytko’s work is very engaging. I always look forward to her writing as it is captivating, and her characters are empowered with grace and strength.”— Laurie Kuntz, Poet, Author, The Moon Over My Mother’s House (forthcoming)

“What a breezy but compelling read. I like it a lot. The momentum builds within a social framework that is both ominous and absurd. I hear a bit of Nabokov and of course Hohol.”—Lila Dlaboha, Poet, Past Editorial Board Member The Little Magazine.

Irene Zabytko is an award-winning fiction writer. She is the author of the highly acclaimed novel about Chornobyl (Chernobyl), THE SKY UNWASHED, and the short story collection WHEN LUBA LEAVES HOME. Irene is also the author of the ultimate fiction writing guidebook: THE FICTION PRESCRIPTION: HOW TO WRITE AND IMPROVE YOUR FICTION LIKE THE GREAT LITERARY MASTERS.

http://www.irenezabytko.com

hello@irenezabytko.com

ANOTHER “MIRACLE” STORY (SNEAK PEEK #2)

I recently published a collection of short stories THE DAYS OF MIRACLE AND WONDER, now available on all major E-book platforms.

This collection features famous and infamous people with historical, political, spiritual, and even sinister ties to Ukraine.

Here is another excerpt from the book (the first sneak peek is available below at www.irenezabytko.com/blog)

And please write a review! A few sentences written by you on Amazon, Kobo, Nook, or Apple will make a big difference in reaching and growing a global readership. Thank you!

Hope you’ll enjoy this story, and to read the rest of this one and the others, the book can be found on these many platforms: Books2read.com/miraclewonder and www.irenezabytko.com/new

The paperback version will be out this spring.

Thanks again, and enjoy!

Photo: Daniel Perrig

“FLOAT”

From: THE DAYS OF MIRACLE AND WONDER, STORIES

By Irene Zabytko

From birth, I was primed to be a swimmer—even my left foot is webbed. Amazing, isn’t it?  My mother often joked about how I had to be yanked out of her before my formal appearance on the planet. Even then I had already known that it was safer to swim in the womb than out into the world.

My parents were both Olympic swim coaches for the Soviet team. I can recall the very first time they dropped me into the shallow end of a huge regulation sized pool. I must have been barely a year old. Nobody believes me, but that is the first memory I have of myself, as a baby kicking a furious dogpaddle, bobbing my head and splashing towards my parents like a blind baby seal. They held their hands out to me and yelled out their directions, but I already knew by instinct how to hold my breath and float without their help.

            During Soviet times, it was the custom for someone like me to be in training for swimming long before I even knew how to walk so as to qualify for the Olympics one day. My shoulders grew strong and wide and my calves and biceps became more powerful with each passing year. I was always taller than and almost as muscular as the boys in my classes, and in much better condition too. I swam at least six hours a day, even in the brutal winters. I didn’t care that the pool wasn’t properly heated whenever I got there so early in the mornings before the others. Shivering in the water only made me propel faster, and I generated my own heat by swimming the hard laps back and forth, back and forth. By the time the races began against my classmates, I was able to beat them without a worry.

            My dedication paid off. After years of winning small local competitions, followed by larger international ones, I was at last able to land a place in the 1976 summer Olympics in Montreal. My specialty was the 200-meter butterfly. I was sleek and fast and strong. But during my last practice before the big event, I suffered a horrible leg cramp that absolutely paralyzed me. It felt as though some demon had deliberately pushed in a hundred pins deep inside my leg muscles.

            I didn’t compete and was disqualified. That was the first of a series of heartbreaking bad luck that followed me throughout my life as a swimmer. Our team did badly that year too. We lost to the East Germans who grabbed all three medals. I felt I had let my team and country down. My parents tried to console me, but I could see the shattered hope in their eyes.

            I tried again for the 1980 Olympic Soviet swim team, and my poor father—who was my coach—was feeling the enormous stress from it all. He suffered a heart attack, and I could not help thinking that I was the culprit, the jinx. And when it was time for me to compete, I did so poorly at the trials so that of course I wasn’t selected for the team.

            I vowed I would pass the trials for the 1984 Olympics in Los Angeles, America. The U.S.A. Hah! Wouldn’t you know, the Soviet Union decided to boycott that year because the Americans had boycotted ours in Moscow. Bad luck again for me. The worst of it was that my father was punished but in another way. By then he was the coach for the men’s 100 and 200 breaststroke teams, and he made an offhanded and careless joke about how stupid our government was in its decision. A colleague overheard and reported him, and my father lost his job.

            What a horrible year that was for us! My parents returned to teaching physical education at secondary schools in Kyiv. That was considered quite a demotion and they lost their huge government subsidized apartment and salaries. Eventually, only my mother managed to keep us financially afloat by privately coaching children in addition to her other classes. My poor father’s heart conditioned worsened but his heart was long ago broken anyway and finally silenced from all the alcohol he drank.

WATCH THE BOOK TRAILER: THE DAYS OF MIRACLE AND WONDER

Through it all, I managed to go on to the university and become a physical education instructor like my parents. I was also married by the time I graduated and began my new career.  And religiously, I kept up with my swimming practices because always in the back of my mind, I hoped for another shot at another major competition.

            I suppose it was my body and not my naïve optimism that first attracted my husband. Sergei admired strong, firm bodies. He was a swimmer too, a favorite of my father’s who was also his coach. Sergei did quite well in many local swim competitions, but like me, he never made it as far as the Olympics. Actually, he was insane—too many steroids and other drugs made him that way, and he had a violent temper which the drugs never soothed.

            We had a son, Petro, and soon after I was offered a job as a swimming coach for a sports school near Odesa. That promising job disappeared after the Soviet Union broke up in 1991. I no longer had any teams to coach. All the best athletes were wooed away by other countries that had far better facilities and certainly real salaries. I was left behind to rot along with the other coaches who were part of a new country, but not remembered nor rewarded for having been part of the old.

            Most of all, I was upset and discouraged about losing my job because of my son’s abilities as a natural swimmer. Of course, with his pedigree, what else would he be? I thought that he of all people, would grow up to become a world class swimmer, but poor, poor boy, he also inherited my bad luck.

            The economy was horrible. Our teachers’ salaries shriveled to a measly paycheck every few months or so. That was also the time when my sour marriage turned to vinegar. Sergei drank and took drugs which he always managed to find money for and became more and more physically violent towards me. I hit him back, but he was always stronger, made more so by the insanity that came to the surface over the years. And he was seeing other women—girls really—the ones he pretended to coach.  By then, I had enough. I grabbed my son and finally left Sergei. It was simple. He had returned from another of his many binges and collapsed one morning on the living room rug without an explanation or apology. He never noticed how I stepped over him and slammed the door; nor did he ever try to find my son and me.

Petro and I moved into my mother’s apartment in Kyiv where I taught for a time at a new school some American Christians were running. The government wasn’t paying teachers anything—hadn’t been for a long time, and the Christians only gave me a portion of what they were able through donations from around the world. It was never enough.

            Before I continue, I’d like you all to please understand the typical situation women like me were trapped in. Those of you who live here know what I mean. My mother’s apartment was barely two rooms. My job was on borrowed time. I had my son to worry about. He was an excellent swimmer too. He deserved to have a life. Naturally, I did what so many women were doing—had to do—before my looks were gone.

            Let me explain. I was in my thirties. I’m not beautiful like so many of our girls, but I had to do something for my son and try to grab one more chance before my youth disappeared like soap bubbles. I may not be a beauty in my face, but my muscles are firm, and my soul is kind.

            Do you like that? That’s what I had originally composed for my advertisement for the newspapers and for that lonely-hearts radio program everyone here listens to. Yes, I was advertising for a husband. I’m sure everyone has read those ads and heard the “romantic news” on the radio. That’s our most popular program because of those ridiculous announcements like: “Men and women searching for someone sympatichne—sympathetic.” Everyone wants that sympathy. But by then, I wanted more. So, I rewrote my ad to read: “Seeking a kind man who understands the swimmer’s life. Looking for a swimmer or any sympathetic man who lives near water.”  That was it. I was searching for a way to both live and breathe on land and in the water.

            For many months, I didn’t get any takers, but I did get one phone call from a professional matchmaking service. They invited me to meet some nice traveling American men. Those were the sort of men who were not married or had unfortunate marriages or were simply too odd and obviously didn’t have much experience with women before. I saw who they were the moment I walked into the party the matchmakers were hosting at a hotel in Kyiv. There they were—a lot of unattractive, big-gutted men who obviously wanted a “traditional” and of course sympathetic woman. No feministki for them. I suppose we Slavic women have the image as the hard working, sexy, and yet fragile type who caters to her husband’s every single need without a complaint. I’m sure all of those Amerikanchi believed that, otherwise, why didn’t they marry American women?

My first instinct was to turn around and leave all those silly mini-skirted, high-heeled, giggling young women who flirted with those ugly pot-bellied foreigners. Not one of the men looked like any of the American movie stars. Not one even looked as though they could survive a lap around the shallow end of a pool without gasping for air.

            As for me, I knew that I wasn’t very glamorous looking either. I hardly wore make-up—chlorinated pools over the years had made me allergic to such things. But at least my hair was fluffed up and curly, not limp and pressed down from my swimming cap as usual. I tried to smile no matter how awful I felt.

The men looked me over. I felt their disapproving glances and their abrupt dismissal of me. They wanted someone younger and with a shorter skirt. I retreated and leaned towards a wall, edging my way to the exit when a man offered me a plastic cup of wine. He was pure American, but not as loud as the other men were. He seemed as afraid as I was, and his eyes were not as judgmental. No, his eyes were pleading with me to accept his sticky cup of bad wine that he offered in his thick hand.

            “Sank you,” I said. I knew so little English then, but it was enough for him to smile his white teeth (which were false, like him), and run his hand over his thick head of black hair (also false). I don’t remember what we tried to talk about, but after many awkward attempts, he finally signaled over one of the club organizers to have her tell me that I was, as he put it in his American: “damn sure pretty.”

            I learned he was visiting Ukraine on business—so many Americans were speculating on business partnerships then. For him, it was something to do with ships. He was a retired Navy nothing, a ship’s engineer he said. A glorified deckhand probably. He heard about the dating service so that he can find someone to marry again (for the fourth time I found out much later—all of his wives were foreigners like me—invisible dependent slaves).

            We dated. We courted. He took me to the most expensive restaurants in Kyiv, the fancy ones which offered more than the usual borscht and cucumbers. Yes, these are the sort of things you want to know more about of course. We went to the nightclubs too, and he gave me money to buy clothes from the Western shops in Kyiv where everyday people only stare in the windows and salivate over the exotic merchandise. Yes, yes, I shopped alongside famous people—the politicians, rock stars and gangsters. And I have to admit I enjoyed it. I persuaded my shallow soul to overlook his pushy manners and flabby skin and try to like him a little.

            Sooner or later it had to happen since we both had the same purpose—marriage. But, honestly, when it came down to my accepting his offer, it wasn’t because I was completely in awe of the clothes he bought me, or the restaurants he took me to, but for the simple fact that he lived in Florida in America. I knew that from our first meeting. He showed me pictures of his house in Florida which looked like a shed but had marvelous palm trees like the ones I saw in Crimea when I was a child on vacation with my parents so long ago.

            And in his back garden, there it was—the swimming pool! A large one too. And even better—down the road from the house was the vast blue of the ocean. Water! Deep water! That was what I wanted. Water.

END OF SAMPLE

 

PRAISE FOR THE DAYS OF MIRACLE AND WONDER

“Irene Zabytko has shown that a writer can tell great stories and still have a Ukrainian point of view.” —A. J. Motyl, Author The Jew Who Was Ukrainian

“Irene Zabytko’s work is very engaging. I always look forward to her writing as it is captivating, and her characters are empowered with grace and strength.”— Laurie Kuntz, Poet, Author, The Moon Over My Mother’s House (forthcoming)

“What a breezy but compelling read. I like it a lot. The momentum builds within a social framework that is both ominous and absurd. I hear a bit of Nabokov and of course Hohol.”—Lila Dlaboha, Poet, Past Editorial Board Member The Little Magazine.

Irene Zabytko is an award-winning fiction writer. She is the author of the highly acclaimed novel about Chornobyl (Chernobyl), THE SKY UNWASHED, and the short story collection WHEN LUBA LEAVES HOME. Irene is also the author of the ultimate fiction writing guidebook: THE FICTION PRESCRIPTION: HOW TO WRITE AND IMPROVE YOUR FICTION LIKE THE GREAT LITERARY MASTERS.

http://www.irenezabytko.com

hello@irenezabytko.com

BOOKING A BOOK REVIEW


Photo: Gerd Altmann

I used to be a free-lance book reviewer for a major newspaper many years
ago.

Meaning that newspapers were still read as genuine printed articles (pun!)
with the option of being delivered to subscribers’ doorsteps and often on
lawns or in bushes carelessly tossed by newspaper boys and girls.


In the newspaper I contributed to, there was a huge “features” section that
contained two or more pages of only book reviews


And in addition to seeing my byline appear with a book review now and then,
it was absolutely gratifying to read reviews of non-fiction and certainly
fiction books many of which are popular today.


Another perk as a free-lancer book reviewer was to receive the
hardcover books for free.

I still have them on my bookshelves and remember each first encounter with
them far better than the people I met at parties or on travels.

But with very few exceptions, book review pages in newspapers have
disappeared along with many, many newspapers and with them, professional
book reviewers.

Even the newspapers that migrated online have little or no space for book reviews anymore.

There are of course a few lingering places where book reviews can find a
home.

The New York Times with its own literary supplement is still the biggest and
grandest holdout, followed closely by the New York Review of Books and the
very prestigious magazines like The New Yorker, The Atlantic, and Harpers
that feature limited book review sections.

Small literary magazines are also a lifeline especially for small and university
press published books, and many will devote an issue to new fiction books
such as World Literature Today.

Scroll down and watch the book trailer for Irene Zabytko’s New Short Story Collection,

THE DAYS OF MIRACLE AND WONDER

But many books, especially in literary fiction, will not be mentioned or
reviewed. The marketplace is too small and the looming consensus (at least
it seems to me), is that no one really cares about literary fiction very much
anyway.

This is particularly problematic if you are an indie author published by a very
small press or are self-published.

Photo: congerdesign

There is no one outside of the author (unless you want to pay a publicity
agent thousands of dollars) to send multitudes of ARCs (Advanced Reading
Copies) to editors and reviewers with no guarantee they will read let alone
write a review in time for its publication.

What is a writer to do?

They can either ask friends or fans or anyone who bought their books to
write reviews which is the common acceptable practice especially for online
store platforms like Amazon.com.

These store platforms are actually more influential in selling books than the
book reviews in magazines or newspapers.

Writers can also send ARCs to willing bloggers who are very potent in
reviewing and influencing their subscribers.

Or writers can pay for reviews.

I was actually shocked to see that respected book review publications like Kirkus now offers an option for authors to send them money, often quite a lot, in exchange for a review.

Are review sources so in need of revenue that they have to solicit authors to pay to keep them alive?

With the advent so many, many e-books and self-published writers sending
their work out in the world, it’s no wonder that entire online book review
businesses were born to fill a void.

I’m not sure what the ethics are in submitting a book to one of these review
mills, but I will look further look into it.

From what I see so far, honest reviews are promised and if the author does not like the review, they can avoid having it posted to the world.

Meanwhile, if you are reading a book with a review request, please consider
writing a review for that author especially if you liked and enjoyed that book.

Book reviews not only provide credibility, but also tremendously will
help sales since reviews are also an algorithmic booster.

Alas, algorithms are the secret ingredient that will determine the life or
death of any product these days.

And no matter how much we love and cherish a book, it is still a mere
product in the cold, indifferent and global world of commerce….so easily lost, forgotten, or abandoned in the competition, but always in need of a bit of attention and appreciation.

Save a book. Write a review.

Writing Wisdom:

“Publishing is a very mysterious business. It is hard to predict what kind of
sale or reception a book will have, and advertising seems to do very little
good.”—Thomas Wolfe, American Novelist, Short Story Writer, Dramatist.

Cheers, Irene

P.S. Speaking of review requests, I would truly appreciate it very much if you can leave a review for my new collection of short stories, THE DAYS OF MIRACLE AND WONDER, available now on all E-book platforms.

Please check out the video below.

More information about it is at: http://www.irenezabytko.com/new and Books2read.com/miraclewonder

You can read excerpt here at http://www.irenezabytko.com/blog (scroll down).

Thank you!–Irene

SNEAK PEEK: AN EXCERPT FROM MY NEW SHORT STORY COLLECTION

My newest collection of short stories will be arriving very soon for the holidays–December 19th (fingers crossed)!

It’s called THE DAYS OF MIRACLE AND WONDER, and will feature mostly Ukrainian protagonists from Soviet, and post-Soviet times during the difficult early days of Independence.

The stories feature several famous historical figures including Yuri Gagarin, Les Kurbas, and even a well-known family from Bethlehem.

The stories take place in Ukraine of course, and in Siberia, Texas, Nazareth, Kazakhstan, Tuva, and Florida.

Here is an excerpt from one of the stories in the collection about a KGB agent in 1950s Kyiv who follows a co-worker who has taken on the persona of Elvis.

I hope you enjoy this sample. And if so, please look for the book on December 19, 2020 on all E-book platforms.

I would also appreciate it very much if you would consider writing a review which would be of enormous help in getting the word out.

Thank you, and all best wishes for a miraculous and wonder-filled holiday season.

Cheers, Irene

Elvis Hrycenko Has Left the Building

From: THE DAYS OF MIRACLE AND WONDER: STORIES

By Irene Zabytko

Do you remember how during the late fifties, Kyiv was a dark cloud shrouded behind its fabled golden gates, shut-off from the Western world behind the impenetrable hinges of the Iron Curtain. Do you recall? I still do. In those hard days, the Communist pride of the nation were the Komsomol members, the red-kerchiefed youth whose major duty was to strut in the May Day parades with banners hailing Sputnik and Lenin and promoting anti-capitalistic, anti-imperialistic fervor by whipping the cheering multitudes into a tightly binding obedience with their patriotic presence.

I was there watching, witnessing the masses lining the streets and how wildly they applauded and cheered the Komsomol youth marching past them alongside the floating tanks and missiles, followed by the grand Red Army orchestra and more and more troops carrying curved-butted rifles while goose-stepping their way down the Khreschatyk, the main street of Kyiv. It was glorious if a bit overdone.

I was also watching someone in particular in the crowds. His name was Ihor Ilych Hrycenko who stood waving and cheering along with the others. Perhaps not with much enthusiasm but then he was a quiet dreamy sort. You can tell from the far-away look behind his thick, black-rimmed glasses, and the distracted way he misbuttoned his thin tan overcoat that wasn’t properly protecting his lean body from the cold rain. I stood close enough to him to hear his mousy shouts of “Slava,” and “Glory to our Fatherland.”    

He stifled a yawn, then moved and liberated his way out of the crowds pressing against one another on the cracked pavement, passing me, and not seeing me because I am a chameleon, a changeling, a shapeshifter whose remarkable talent—if you can call it that—is to blend and camouflage myself when I need and choose to. We may have even met but you would not remember or noticed. I might have been the clerk behind the counter handing you your change for the bread you just bought. Or the person in line behind you in that same barren store waiting for that loaf myself. You see me, but you really don’t. But I always, always see you.

I pushed my way to follow Ihor walking down an empty and quieter street, partially hidden behind the tall Lenin statue guarding the city. Lenin—always frowning on timid couples who often stole a quick kiss beneath his unforgiving gaze. Like the couple I came upon who were doing just that before they quickly disengaged their arms from each other and scattered like the startled pigeons I scurried through in my haste to follow Ihor.

He was going to his office at the Patriotic House of Translators—it’s actually my office too since I work there with a desk near his. The oblivious Ihor had no idea that I was following him. He never looked back—well, only once when he stopped after he tripped on the curb crossing a busy street after a frantic bus nearly obliterated him into a flattened tan pancake. I almost wished for his sake that he was trampled, but he was not a lucky sort.

Ihor hurried onward. He knew he was late. I checked my watch. He was exactly 25 minutes late. He will explain to our office security supervisor Valentyn Hryhorovich that he went to the parade as was his patriotic duty—and that is true, but he omitted the other things he did en route like his languid eating of a vanilla ice cream cone at one of the kiosks (ten minutes), and then stopping to watch a group of boys kick a ball around in a school yard while shouting out inane advice (fifteen minutes) which the boys wisely ignored. 

A bit more about Ihor. He was an English linguist and a translator—a decadent illogical language, but necessary in those times. As his instructors used to remind him in his translation training classes: “We must be ready to yell and jeer them at them in English when they come to attack us.” “They” of course, meant the imperialists, Americans usually.

My desk is across from his, and like a cheating student during exams, he would place stacks of the chemistry textbooks he was translating in front and top of his desk as a protective barricade with only the top of his stringy hair visible and which always reminded me of unruly vines a negligent gardener forgot to cut. Sometimes he would peer over the top with his glasses fixed on something on the ceiling, sigh, and say things in an under breath such as, “What a dull job this is.” Then he would sigh louder and that is when I put down my pen and look up at him. “I wish these formulas would turn into musical notes,” he would then say to me directly. “Then I could hum along instead of wondering what in the world I was translating.” He said that often, and I never replied because he would then immediately bob and lower his head back behind those stacks of books as if in tempo to some insular rhythm only he heard.

As sometimes happens even in the dullest offices with the most mundane tasks, changes occur—glacially and with great resistance especially in our country, but they do occur. Ihor no longer had to translate those boring, useless, and outdated chemistry textbooks. This happened only because he demonstrated his profuse knowledge of colloquial English by swearing in a chain of exasperated and angry sentences for five full minutes when his barricade of books fell on the floor after he tried to balance them in pyramids instead of the usual flat horizontal stacks. The outburst could have been disastrous for Ihor but turned out to be the catalyst for his desirable and unexpected new task of translating the English language newspapers.

At first Ihor found this fascinating, but as he told me, he soon detested The Times of London, and as he put it, the smarmy stories about the Queen Mother and her toothy daughters riding in silly carriages. Soon after and only when Valentyn Hryhorovich wasn’t bothering him or staring at him in suspicion (he was naturally suspicious of anyone reading anything foreign), Ihor scowled openly and sighed as before.

Ihor was right. The British newspapers were dry and dull compared to the American ones. Even the reserved and grayish New York Times was surging with more life blood and vigor than anything the bourgeoisie imperialist Brits could reveal so it’s no wonder that Ihor became addicted to the American papers. However, in my observations, I noticed that he folded the papers in sly ways that allowed him to read the entertainment sections (I know English too and can read upside down) and all about the latest plays and films, the restaurants and art shows, and the other nonsense that was not at all newsworthy or important for our country’s security. But even so, they were more beguiling, forbidden and certainly more enticing than the front pages. I stared at them myself when he went to lunch or out for a smoke and found them just as fascinating. Who could not, really?

And then it became apparent how mesmerized Ihor was because of the one blazing item that stood out and reappeared over and over on those pages. It struck at Ihor’s encumbered soul and trapped his gaze whenever he came across an item about someone called Elvis.

END OF SAMPLE

© 2020 by Irene Zabytko, all rights reserved.

hello@irenezabytko.com

http://www.irenezabytko.com

INSTANT WRITER

If you zoom around the Internet, and identify yourself as a writer, no doubt you will see ads popping up that are targeted just for you.

Some ads may be useful especially for book promotions, or subscribing to writing magazines, or (very popular these days) Zoom events for author readings.

But there are many that are advertising classes or webinars or both on “how to write”–usually, novel writing.

It’s fine and maybe a very good idea to learn how to formally write fiction and one can even apply to M.F.A. (Master of Fine Arts) programs in America to get a degree in such things. 

These academic programs take much time, effort and perhaps after two years or more, you may have a salvageable and saleable novel or short story collection.  

However, the ads I mentioned are not advocates of the old fashion, old school ways of taking writing classes.

Rather, these ads are promising that with only a few proven shortcuts you, the customer (as opposed to the student),  you too can be a writer, and  can write your book in a month, sometimes over the weekend. 

Hours even!

Out of curiosity, I attended a few of these free webinars (which are all sales pitches), and I have to confess I was appalled.

The persons hosting the webinar generally admit they are not “real” writers, and even hate formal fiction writing, let alone have read or have any connection to the great classics or contemporary writers.

Some even gleefully admitted they flunked college English classes.

Instead, they are shoving out quick, easy ways to write a book so that you, the customer, can sell it online and make loads of money–even “while you sleep” (I always hear that refrain in the pitch).

Don’t worry about plot structure, or character development, or creative expressions  that reflect or feature any deep thinking, or artistic talents, or even originality.

Just sign up for a class and learn how to write in no time at all. Then sell, sell, sell.

Their classes are quite expensive and apparently, what is offered is not so much writing fiction as an art form or the basic craft elements to master, nor any mentions of great writers, but mostly templates where you, the customer, fill in the blanks and voila!, a novel is born.

And you can do it fast, easy and all for $99.99 per month (or thereabouts–read the fine print).

My second thought (the first is very insulting) after hearing and watching these hucksters is: what is the hurry? 

Why do people fear taking their time writing a great novel or a great short story?

Maybe this is appealing to genre writers who tend to use formulaic plots and the same characters to develop a series and the end product for them is not so much creating world class literature but a line of products to sell.

But these “classes” are so deceptive because it distils and cheapens the art and craft of writing fiction to mere simplistic patterns of prattle, and fluff.

No wonder there is so much bad writing on the Internet. 

Sometimes bad writing sells well, but overall propagating it through these types of courses only pollutes the well of good writing, or the readers’ abilities to discern good writing if they are continuously fed a diet of shlock and crap.

Another pernicious result is that people who shell out their money will believe that they are able to write in a matter of minutes.

There is no appreciation  or respect for the truly hard work and evolving growth in the writing process that fiction demands.

Nor is there a catalyst for the writer to challenge themselves to think and write with originality to go beyond the creative limitations when the end product is to sell and make money.

Of course I think writers should make money if that is their aim. We should be paid for our published works. 

But I also believe that a writer should write with the deliberate consciousness and respect that they are performing and expressing an art form as well as a craft. 

This takes time to develop and nurture. This takes reflection, and study mostly by reading other great writers, and then forming one’s own style into the story by shaping it over time and refinement.

In addition, it takes patience, commitment, and practice to master becoming a writer.

Doing it all in a weekend is a gross disservice to the writer, the reader, and ultimately, the world.

The only one that truly profits is the guy giving the webinar.

Writing Wisdom:

“I write entirely to find out what I’m thinking, what I’m looking at, what I see, and what it means.”— Joan Didion, American Novelist, Memoirist, Essayist.

Cheers, Irene

P.S. Need help and inspiration in writing GREAT fiction?

JPG of THE FICTION PRESCRIPTION (1)

Find both in my writing guidebook: THE FICTION PRESCRIPTION: HOW TO WRITE AND IMPROVE YOUR FICTION LIKE THE GREAT LITERARY MASTERS.

NEW! Now in paperback: https://amzn.to/2WwRXgE

E-Book: http://amzn.to/211kQhZ

PDF: www.irenezabytko.com P.S. Need help and inspiration in writing GREAT fiction?

Catch my new and public blog posts and AN AMERICAN WRITER IN UKRAINE BLOG SERIES at www.irenezabytko.com  and irenezabytko.wordpress

SUBSCRIBE to www.irenezabytko.com for weekly WRITING WISDOM advice.

AND THAT’S NOT ALL!

100 literary cliches to AVOID, SCORN, AND DELETE, (VOLUME i)JPG

New subscribers will get a free copy of 100 LITERARY CLICHES TO AVOID, SCORN AND DELETE (VOLUME 1). 

Humorous and helpful! Plus my report on “The 7 Deadly Sins of Rookie FictionWriters.” 

www.irenezabytko.com

© 2020 by Irene Zabytko, all rights reserved.

MY FUNK AND FIGHT WITH STRUNK AND WHITE


In every single English class I ever took in my life, inevitably that slim little volume of precise, concise, and corrective grammar rules will show up on the course’s bibliography list.


That little terror: THE ELEMENTS OF STYLE  by William Strunk Jr. and E.B. White.


This book was first published in 1919, and has never been out of print yet, although there are to date only four editions. 


It has remained pretty much intact throughout its continuous life as a monitoring, overbearing nanny for cowering students forced to write English term papers.


Strunk was a college professor at Cornell when he wrote the book. No doubt he garnered all of his students’ term paper gaffes and collected them into a quick reference guide for how not to write.

E. B White was his student at Cornell. Later, he became a highly celebrated author of such great children’s books as CHARLOTTE’S WEB, STUART LITTLE, and THE TRUMPET OF THE SWAN.

Photo: Joshua Miranda


White was also an editor, and in 1957 he revised THE ELEMENTS OF STYLE into a new edition long after Strunk had died.

White kept his mentor’s rules of grammar, but also added his own chapter at the end called “An Approach to Style.”

Book Cover, 1959 Edition.

I don’t think I have used this book much in my own college term paper years. And I have to admit–I don’t use it for the several times I have to look up a grammatical issue for my fiction writing.

I find the explanations too terse and unresolved and limiting to what I want to achieve for story writing.

I need far more examples and in-depth analysis of illogical things in English like uncountable nouns and irregular verbs and not naysaying rule barking from an admonishing curt English professor because that is exactly what the text sounds like.

Photo: Andrea Piacquadio

Recently, for a class I am currently teaching, I was sent the latest (4th) edition of THE ELEMENTS OF STYLE. I cringed but decided to give it another chance and perhaps make my peace with it since it’s been many years since I first had it in my possession.

Okay, I thought, there are some good rules like when to use commas and apostrophes. Fine, fine–all’s well (see, I learned something after all).

But the tone is such a turn-off: “Use the active voice.”  “Omit needless words.” “Do not break sentences in two.” 

Wow. Even White in his introduction mentioned how these rules are shouted out to the reader as “Sergeant Strunk snapping orders to his platoon.”

My beef with Sergeant Strunk’s orders has to do with the limitations he places on language and writing prose. In his army, there is no room for variation, invention, creativity.

Of course, we need basic rules of grammar. But language is an evolving creature and if only the active voice is the norm for instance, then we would never have the poetic acrobatics of the great literary masters like Marcel Proust or Vladimir Nabokov, or Virginia Woolf.

And what exactly are needless words? Sure, first year college students will often pad their compositions with fluff and verbosity to fill up a page. 


But in fiction, wordplay can be an artistic expression that invigorates the prose and elevates the story in unusual and fantastic ways. 
I shake my head and almost decide again that this is a book I will use very rarely if at all.

Before I placed ol’ ELEMENTS back on the shelf, I turned to the last section, the one written by White–the full title being, “An Approach to Style (With a List of Reminders).”

What a difference in tone! 

Instead of shouts and orders, White in his gentle manner, suggests (not demands) to the reader that achieving a writing style is a mysterious process, and the rules Strunk laid down are really reminders to “state what most of us know and at times forget.”

Photo: Gerd Altmann


Well, I certainly forgot how soothing and engaging this last part of the book was in comparison to the first.

There are no demands, no accusations. White is only suggesting certain things to be aware of when a writer–especially a creative writer and not someone merely churning out an essay for a class, or a grade, or a deadline.
For instance, he urges that a writer “write in a way that comes naturally.

I can agree with that, but he does caution that natural is not without its flaws. Okay. Not bad advice at all.

He stresses revision and rewrites. Of course! All writers should do that, and the best ones will do so willingly.

And I have just broken his suggestion of awkward adverbs. Well, sometimes those types of adverbs can be forgiven.

He mentions using dialect only “if your ear is good.” Damn straight!

Photo: Ketut Subiyanto

But he also says to avoid using foreign words as a way of showing exuberance (he means showing off).

There are other points about style-making that I cannot entirely agree with, but overall his offering to this well-touted book is welcome one, and really, the only reason why I will keep this book nearby and may even reread again.

At least White’s part. I don’t like being yelled at, even in print

It truly takes a  creative writer to fully comprehend the enigmatic art of  perfecting a writing style over the taskmaster grammarian. 

If only the grammarian wrote his rules with more style.


Writing Wisdom:

“The joy of any sort of writing is that you get to creatively explode. You go boom all over the page…You’re not quite sure what’s happening, you’re not quite sure where it’s going, but you write it in the certainty that you’ll know by the time you get there.”–Neil Gaiman, Graphic Novelist, Fiction Writer.

Cheers, Irene

P.S. Need help and inspiration in writing GREAT fiction?

JPG of THE FICTION PRESCRIPTION (1)

Find both in my writing guidebook: THE FICTION PRESCRIPTION: HOW TO WRITE AND IMPROVE YOUR FICTION LIKE THE GREAT LITERARY MASTERS.

NEW! Now in paperback: https://amzn.to/2WwRXgE

E-Book: http://amzn.to/211kQhZ

PDF: www.irenezabytko.com P.S. Need help and inspiration in writing GREAT fiction?

Catch my new and public blog posts and AN AMERICAN WRITER IN UKRAINE BLOG SERIES at www.irenezabytko.com  and irenezabytko.wordpress

SUBSCRIBE to www.irenezabytko.com for weekly WRITING WISDOM advice.

AND THAT’S NOT ALL!

100 literary cliches to AVOID, SCORN, AND DELETE, (VOLUME i)JPG

New subscribers will get a free copy of 100 LITERARY CLICHES TO AVOID, SCORN AND DELETE (VOLUME 1). 

Humorous and helpful! Plus my report on “The 7 Deadly Sins of Rookie FictionWriters.” 

www.irenezabytko.com

© 2020 by Irene Zabytko, all rights reserved.

STAYING SANE IN AN INSANE WORLD: A MESSAGE FOR WRITERS

corona-4983590_1920 by Engin Akyurt

Photo: Engin Akyurt

At the moment I am writing this to you, the world is confusing, chaotic, and inevitably catastrophic.

We are all globally facing a flummoxing, unyielding and dangerous pandemic unlike anything we have had to face before.

In spite of all of our technology, we are unable (at least right now) to halt it from spreading, or tame this menace with a vaccine.

It doesn’t help when world leaders minimize or simply lie about its horrible effects.

It doesn’t help when governments are not protecting their citizens and have failed us not only in this pandemic but as champions for our basic civil rights in other matters as well.

pexels-colin-lloyd-4635036

Photo: Colin Lloyd

Even in calmer and healthier times, wars appear, riots ensue, heroes are murdered, people suffer.

I was reading a diary of mine recently, written from another era altogether, and in it I wrote my lamentations of what was happening then. Not a pandemic, but other horrible catastrophic events pummeling our planet and people and which I felt powerless to do anything about.

Things really don’t change.

In the past few posts, I mentioned some things writers can do to bolster themselves as individuals during stressful times—the “interesting times” that we are facing, have faced, and will, no doubt face again.

Among them are taking naps and getting enough sleep, eating well, exercising and writing only if it’s not painful to do so.

Reading is good relaxing therapy, as is watching movies simply to mentally escape for the moments when we need an out.

But as writers, we can also find solace with each other.

people-2604834_1920

Most of us are solitary types, so finding a community is difficult, awkward, and frustrating especially when writer-oriented events like conferences or in person author readings have been limited or eliminated because of the pandemic.

The positive side is that whenever anything is happening for writers and by writers, it’s because it’s all online now.

If you are not connected to a writer’s Facebook page, or to one that is associated with a writing group or organization, why not join one?

Facebook and other platforms will advertise online events that you can join and meet other people–virtually.

man- by Jess Foami

Photo: Jess Foami

Recently, I attended a delightful online event featuring a new author being interviewed by a host celebrating a book party and happy hour. Several folks attended and we introduced ourselves and engaged in talking with the host and writer.

It was great fun since we all brought our own special beverages and everyone was friendly, engaged and the book in question was fascinating.

But if meeting and socializing with others even online is still as awkward and painful as it is for many of us shy types, then join online events where you are the audience and not the participants.

webinar- by Image by Wynn Pointaux from Pixabay

Photo: Wynn Pointaux 

There are many, many authors’ readings and interviews happening every day everywhere.

One such event was my attending an interview for a wonderful poet and photographer who also did a reading from her new book.

Another poet and friend, was featured on a reading with local writers and environmental activists taking turns reading and discussing their various works.

web conf by

These events are usually free and sometimes the hosts will share recordings with registered viewers who could not attend live.

Because so many libraries and writers’ centers are on lock-down, find out what they are offering online since this is now the “new normal” (a phrase that is quickly becoming a cliché) in which writers are in touch with their readers and with other writers.

And if you are simply in need to talk to other writers, why not start a group of your own?

Zoom is free and if you have a website or Facebook page, you can certainly advertise an invitation and shout out to so many, many writers who, like yourself, seek some sanity in these crazy times.

Here are some terrific online events for writers:

Brad King’s Happy Hour & Book Club (Brad also hosts the podcast, “THE DOWNTOWN WRITERS JAM PODCAST:): www.thewriterjam.com

Gotham Writer’s Workshop: Free Zoom events including interviews with writers and agents, plus “write-ins” and more: gotham@gothamwriters.com

The Mount (the American writer Edith Wharton’s home in Lenox, MA) offers many online events with writers: https://www.edithwharton.org/visit/calendar/?gclid=EAIaIQobChMI-KeF7u2v6wIVVtyGCh27PQqdEAAY ASACEgKItPD_BwE

The New York Times editors host conversations with writers on their Book Review Live events: https://timesevents.nytimes.com/

Writing guru Jane Friedman hosts a free bi-monthly “Sunday Business Sermon” on writing and publishing: https://www.janefriedman.com/sunday-business-sermons/ and https://www.janefriedman.com/online-classes/

Writing Wisdom:

“One doesn’t know, till one is a bit at odds with the world, how much one’s friends who believe in one rather generously, mean to one.”—D.H. Lawrence,” British Fiction Writer, Poet.

Cheers, Irene

P.S. Need help and inspiration in writing GREAT fiction?

JPG of THE FICTION PRESCRIPTION (1)Find both in my writing guidebook: THE FICTION PRESCRIPTION: HOW TO WRITE AND IMPROVE YOUR FICTION LIKE THE GREAT LITERARY MASTERS.

NEW! Now in paperback: https://amzn.to/2WwRXgE

E-Book: http://amzn.to/211kQhZ

PDF: www.irenezabytko.com P.S. Need help and inspiration in writing GREAT fiction?

Catch my new and public blog posts and AN AMERICAN WRITER IN UKRAINE BLOG SERIES at www.irenezabytko.com  and irenezabytko.wordpress

SUBSCRIBE to www.irenezabytko.com for weekly WRITING WISDOM advice.

AND THAT’S NOT ALL!

100 literary cliches to AVOID, SCORN, AND DELETE, (VOLUME i)JPG

New subscribers will get a free copy of 100 LITERARY  CLICHES TO AVOID , SCORN AND DELETE (VOLUME 1). Humorous and helpful! Plus my report on “The 7 Deadly Sins of Rookie Fiction Writers.” www.irenezabytko.com

© 2020 by Irene Zabytko, all rights reserved.

MANUSCRIPTS LOST AND FOUND

brown-cardboard-box-by cottonbro

Photo: cottonbro

I may have mentioned (perhaps too often), that I have been rehabbing my house.

New carpeting, floor tiles and kitchen cabinets were installed, and all the walls painted among other massive construction changes.

Before the contractors came with their measuring tapes and tools, I had to denude the house of all my household items—furniture, appliances and personal things such as my books, and artwork and of course my writings that I hid for years in the bowels of filing cabinets.

There was a major time constraint, so I shoved everything in boxes and bags and deposited it all in storage lockers.

Only now am I slowly returning things from storage to my newly (and unrecognizable) beautified house, and able to go through the many boxes I packed away months ago.

Recently, I explored a cache of boxes filled with my old manuscripts—the ones that were buried and forgotten.

I cringed.

person- by cottonbro

Photo: cottonbro

 

I was reluctant to go through them. I wanted to return the yellowed bundles of typed paper back to their cardboard coffins and forget about all of my, as I called them, “little failures.”

But after a while, my curiosity over took my reluctance.

What did I write and how bad was it really?

There were boxes of many, many early drafts of short stories and novels beginning from when I was a graduate student in creative writing.

Those were of course pretty bad.

And then there were the later years of working on more fiction that for one reason or another did not make it into print or even completion.

Then there was another box—the one I feared opening up the most.

All of my rejections!

papers-by Jerzy Górecki

Photo: Jerzy Górecki

And boy, there were plenty of those to seep through.

 

I won’t lie—it was depressing to go through the boxes filled with unsuccessful attempts at honing a very difficult art and craft.

It was disheartening to reread the usually terse, robotic responses to the work I had sent out to editors and agents with great hopes and optimism, only to be shattered and dismissed.

rejected- by Pete Linforth

Graphic: Pete Linforth

Rejections are never easy, and it doesn’t get easier even when time passes.

 

But once I got over the cringey feelings, I saw that some of the rejection letters were actually helpful in their criticisms and a few even encouraging.

I read them over with more emotional detachment.

Then I plowed on to the old manuscripts I was especially curious over. The ones I had worked on for a long time and nothing came of them.

What was wrong with these stories? Why were they rejected?

And more to the point—are they salvageable?

Many of the manuscripts were written when I was much younger and unrecognizable in the ways I write now.

At least with age comes more experience and I hope, wisdom. And so as I reread the lost manuscripts, I was able to quickly isolate the rookie mistakes in the crafting of the stories.

grayscale-photo-of-a-man-wearing-sweater- by mohamed Abdelgaffar

Photo: mohamed Abdelgaffar

I saw how some chapters were so dull that they should be edited out and the rest tightened up.

I zeroed in on the poor meandering dialogues and muddled characters.

I also acknowledged that I was writing in a style that was another writer’s and not really my own.

It actually felt good to face my failures and give it another try. Not all of my little failures will have another chance, but there was some good writing despite the amateurish attempts and I picked out the ones I wanted to rehash again.

dont-give-up- Image by Marta Kulesza

Image: Marta Kulesza

Maybe I shouldn’t call them failures at all. I should embrace the fact that all of the writing I did were stepping stones to improving and evolving my art.

 

Outliers_ The Story of Success by Malcolm Gladwell

Malcolm Gladwell in his enticing book, OUTLIERS, THE STORY OF SUCCESS mentions something called the “10,000-Hour Rule” which in order to achieve success in anything, that amount of time must be put into the work first.

I’m not sure that’s entirely true. Looking over my boxes of past works, I know I put in more than 10,000 hours.

But after resurrecting a few of the manuscripts and promoting them as possible projects again, I am eager to give it attention, time and maybe another life but with a different and more discerning eye.

And yes it may take another 10,000 hours, but then that’s what writers do, isn’t it?

We are magnetically drawn to our work and if there is a glimmer of possibility that we can once again mold it into something worthy for the world, then we will return like the prodigal souls we are, and give it another try.

Of course, we may be hurt and disillusioned again and again. That’s a given.

But we are also eternal optimists if we truly believe in our work especially when no one else cares.

And we try again.

Writing Wisdom:

“I work hard, I work very hard. All the books at least 30 revisions.”
― Ha Jin, Chinese-American Poet, Novelist

Cheers, Irene

P.S. Need help and inspiration in writing GREAT fiction?

JPG of THE FICTION PRESCRIPTION (1)Find both in my writing guidebook: THE FICTION PRESCRIPTION: HOW TO WRITE AND IMPROVE YOUR FICTION LIKE THE GREAT LITERARY MASTERS.

NEW! Now in paperback: https://amzn.to/2WwRXgE

E-Book: http://amzn.to/211kQhZ

PDF: www.irenezabytko.com P.S. Need help and inspiration in writing GREAT fiction?

Catch my new and public blog posts and AN AMERICAN WRITER IN UKRAINE BLOG SERIES at www.irenezabytko.com  and irenezabytko.wordpress

SUBSCRIBE to www.irenezabytko.com for weekly WRITING WISDOM advice.

AND THAT’S NOT ALL!

100 literary cliches to AVOID, SCORN, AND DELETE, (VOLUME i)JPG

New subscribers will get a free copy of 100 LITERARY  CLICHES TO AVOID , SCORN AND DELETE (VOLUME 1). Humorous and helpful! Plus my report on “The 7 Deadly Sins of Rookie Fiction Writers.” www.irenezabytko.com

 

© 2020 by Irene Zabytko, all rights reserved.

OKAY, BOOMER? YES! OKAY!

woman-in-black-shirt-wearing-black-framed-eyeglasses-3867093 by Retha Ferguson

Photo: Retha Ferguson

If you study the marketplace for publishing stories, there are anthologies and other opportunities for young writers.

Granta, the British publication, famously publishes its pick of 20 best novelists who are under the age of 40.

Many writing contests are also geared for even younger writers as are grants and applications to places at artists’ colonies.

Nearly all the major magazines including online ones are on the lookout for the next new thing and will entice young and so called “emerging” writers to submit their work.

Alas, if you happened to be a writer, and a fiction writer at that, over 40, the opportunities diminish.

In fact, the term “emerging writer” tends to mean someone who is a young’un and has yet to be discovered.

And yes, there are writers who have not been successful or haven’t gained fame until they reached their mature age—Frank McCourt, Vladimir Nabokov, Raymond Chandler, and of course the novelist Helen Hooven Santmyer, author of  “…AND LADIES OF THE CLUB” who published that blockbuster in her 80s!

sad-elderly-man-writing-on-brown-notebook by Andrea Piacquadio

Photo: Andrea Piacquadio

But unfortunately those mature writers are the very few who succeed as literary rock stars.

What it comes down to is that publishing is a business. A tough business.

And like a business that depends on customers and fans, it needs to entice readers and interest by showcasing the newest talents.

They are busily seeking out fresh voices in books and stories which they assume that only young writers (and young people) can write about.

They—the publishers, editors and gatekeepers of the literary world are not always right about that!

Most of the time, young writers, because they simply have not had the long view insight of being alive and experiencing much in their lives, cannot bring the same depth of characters and plots to their work.

portrait by Alex Wilcom

Photo: Alex Wilcom

Certainly, there are truly magnificent young writers on the scene today that show that artistic maturity. I could name many and I heartily endorse their work.

But I wager that the slush piles at publishers’ desks are strewed with manuscripts with scribbled half-baked themes and contrived characters with no real story behind them.

Older writers have the wealth of experiencing life in many of its usually difficult facets and unexpected twists which they can bring into their stories.

book reader Yerson Retamal

Photo: Yerson Retamal

I remember that I gave a reading to a college writing class, and afterwards, a student said that he had trouble writing a story that seemed realistic.

 

WRITERS BLOCK eyboard-909156_1920

I told him, that he alas, has not yet been challenged enough by life.

That may happen sooner for instance if someone has to go to war, or is uprooted by say, family circumstances at a young age.

But usually, even when something significant or catastrophic or shattering happened to a young person, it may take years for a perspective and insight to yield itself into a remarkable and deeply felt story.

monochrome-photo-of-old-person-by Matej

Photo: Matej

I’m not saying that all writers who take up writing in their later years automatically become great ones—not at all.

It takes enormous energy, time, and focus to forge a writing talent plus unwavering tenacity to learn how to craft and hone a great story no matter what age.

But I am saying that as with many businesses, older people will face discrimination when they try to sell their work.

It’s already ingrained into our American consciousness that old people are inept at things—technology, politics, fashion, life…

photo-of-woman-showing-her-cellphone-to-her-grandmother-3768140 by Andrea Piacquadio

Photo: Andrea Piacquadio

Listen to how often you hear late-night comedians mock old people in their monologues.

The older I get the more sensitive and less humorous I find these jokes.

Look at the ubiquitous advertisements online and in the streets, and you won’t see many older people at all featuring the products or brands.

And look at the book photos of newly published works by the rising stars—how old are they? Anybody over 40?

So if you are an older person who has been writing without much fanfare, or one who is about to write for the first time, be aware that the marketplace, like so much of our society, is an ageist one.

But don’t let that stop you!If you need to write, and if this is the best time in your life to do it, then do it!

Forget the naysayers.

Applaud the new talent. But also applaud yourself for emerging into your own amazing talent and unique voice which age, experience and wisdom has nurtured and revealed.

 

gray-scale-photo-of-two-men-wearing-coats by Tojo Tantely

Photo: Tojo Tantely

As we used to say: “you’ve come a long way, baby!”

For encouragement and inspiration here is a list of late blooming writers: https://www.mentalfloss.com/article/63112/11-writers-who-started-late

Writing Wisdom:

“You are never too old to set another goal or to dream a new dream.” —Aristotle, Greek Philosopher, Writer, Polymath

Cheers, Irene

P.S. Need help and inspiration in writing GREAT fiction?

JPG of THE FICTION PRESCRIPTION (1)Find both in my writing guidebook: THE FICTION PRESCRIPTION: HOW TO WRITE AND IMPROVE YOUR FICTION LIKE THE GREAT LITERARY MASTERS.

NEW! Now in paperback: https://amzn.to/2WwRXgE

E-Book: http://amzn.to/211kQhZ

PDF: www.irenezabytko.com P.S. Need help and inspiration in writing GREAT fiction?

Catch my new and public blog posts and AN AMERICAN WRITER IN UKRAINE BLOG SERIES at www.irenezabytko.com  and irenezabytko.wordpress

SUBSCRIBE to www.irenezabytko.com for weekly WRITING WISDOM advice.

AND THAT’S NOT ALL!

100 literary cliches to AVOID, SCORN, AND DELETE, (VOLUME i)JPG

New subscribers will get a free copy of 100 LITERARY  CLICHES TO AVOID , SCORN AND DELETE (VOLUME 1). Humorous and helpful! Plus my report on “The 7 Deadly Sins of Rookie Fiction Writers.” www.irenezabytko.com

 

© 2020 by Irene Zabytko, all rights reserved.