Josepina

Josepina (The Third Book in the trilogy of the Baretta family.)

America – I love the dream of what you could be and always believed I should play some small part in trying to shape you to keep the memory alive of justice, liberty and your immigrant history.

Great Nonna Josepina

Many have come to your shores with only a suitcase tied with string, a rosary, perhaps a favorite vase wrapped in newspaper, leaving a weeping mother behind.  Her tears are invisible to us, but I wonder, how did she let her children go to a strange new country, knowing she may never see them again?  Did she trust you would treat them tenderly – find comfort in knowing they would have enough to eat?

I imagine her heart continued to weep and the only prayer she had was to plead, over and over, bargaining with her God, down on her knees, pleading for her child’s safety.

Josepina, my great grandmother was just one of those mothers, standing on the shores of the Adriatic sea, watching her daughter, Constanza board the small boat that would take her to Bari to board a ship to America, never to see her again.  This is her story.

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The Unpublished Years; Part Two

The Re-Write

Two months ago I went to a writer’s pitch conference in New York. A pitch conference is where real editors from real publishing houses come and listen to you pitch your book to them.  They sit and stare at you with not a flicker of an eye as you talk and smile and lean into them, trying to catch their interest, trying to see if this word or that description will make them twitch in suppressed surprise. As you can see, it was one of the most difficult moments of my writing life, so far.  (outside of sitting at my desk and trying to write.)

The first day, no one, not one editor blinked or smiled or looked as if they were even slightly interested in what I was pitching.  I went back to my small room that night and told my self that was fine.  I didn’t really come here for myself, I came for my writing partner.  She’s the real writer.  She has the eye of a poet and a gift for language that tugs at my heart and makes me want to write like her.  But I can’t.  I am a writer with limits, I tell myself.

It was only when I fell asleep, around 2am, that I had a dream.  And in the dream I saw myself pitching my book again, but this time, I cared, this time I was at the conference for myself.  I really did want to be here.  I wanted to get an editor to notice my work.  In the dream, I didn’t worry if they would publish it, I just wanted to flutter an eye, raise an eyebrow, see a look that said something caught their interest.

But the next day, the only eye that fluttered was mine own.  I was so tired, I had to continually blink to stay awake.  So much for my dream.  But that night, after the conference was over, I went to bed early and this time my dream was more concrete.  I was working on re-writing my pitch.  I woke that morning early, determined I would get noticed today.  My writing partner had already gotten three editors asking to see her manuscript.  Oh, it wasn’t easy not to feel like a loser.  To be honest, I did feel like a loser.

So, the only cure for feeling like a loser was to find a Kinko’s and write and re-write my pitch until I found the formula that would tell an editor what the story was about, give them an idea of who the main character was, what the conflict was and what kind of things the character had to overcome to be changed, to be able to move on, or to remain unlucky.

Of course I want this story to have a happy ending.  Most often it doesn’t, but this time, it did.  Two editors asked to see my work.

For me, it was the lesson of re-writing.  Re-writing saved me from being a loser.  I’ll take that for now.

The Unpublished Years; Part One

Sometimes the older girl read to the younger one and their baby brother and sisters. … the way she turned the pages of a book while holding it up so the pictures could be shared was ever so gentle. The dry pages rustled only a little, a tiny window opened with each flip of a page, and a whole world unfolded.

— Kao Kalia Yang

The Years Before Being Published

Today, as I was bouncing off the walls of my living room, picking up pieces of paper from the floor, shaking out the throw rug at the front door, sitting at my desk, scanning chapter one of my new book over and over, getting up and dusting the floor, I thought about what my writing partner, Susan Hilt suggested and  I came up with these few ideas for when I am unable to focus.
Think about the characters.  It is about the characters.  Everything they do and why they do it must be attached to their personality and struggle not to me, the author’s idea of what they should do.  I can write the author version much more easily, but this month I have been struggling with getting closer to my characters and trying to keep the writing focused on what and why they may do or say something.  It is not as easy as it sounds and I think it’s because my focus is so often interrupted by my desire to procrastinate.  I don’t always have the energy to face my demons as I sit down to write and often find my desire to polish my boots, or run to the store to buy a gift for a friend’s birthday or clean the toilet far more compelling than re-writing a page I have re-written about twenty some times.
It is easy to think my writing has gone sour, when, in fact, I am only trying to go deeper into developing something new.  I don’t always recognize it and it is only this month that I have stopped berating myself with the mantra that my writing is awful, I don’t know what made me think I could write, I haven’t an original sentence or thought in my writing  – on and on I go until I wear myself out.  This month I have begun to see and hear my mantra and every once in a while I caught myself and was able to change it to I am a developing writer, learning the craft of writing.Dreaming
My strength is in my effort not to quit.  That is the only difference from a writer and anyone else.  I won’t quit writing, even when I think my writing is bad, even when I don’t think I can ever finish a book, even when I wish I could stop writing, even when each sentence is incredibly boring.  I think I learned this month that writing is like cooking a meal.  The only way you’ll be able to eat some days is to cook something.  The only way to become a writer is to keep writing.  This month I don’t quit.  I tell myself it is only when you quit that you will not be a writer.
How do you develop the craft of writing?  I once took writing classes at the Loft, but this month, after looking over the offered classes, I decided I wasn’t going to take any classes.   I needed the time to focus and integrate things I was learning into my writing.  This month I wanted to curb my my dependency on classes and learn to trust myself.  I wanted to fall in love with my characters, but as I sat, day after day with them, I began to resent their demands on my time and attention.  I went to bed thinking about them, woke worrying about them, ate lunch bored by them, by supper I hated them.  This month, I allowed myself to take a break, and this month I learned it was okay to take a break.  I always thought if I stopped writing for a day or week I would never finish my book, especially since I am often pulled from writing by the needs of daily living and relationships with children, family, friends.


Betty Herself

Betty LaSorella

was born into an Italian family in Cicero, Illinois. After a lot of rabble-rousing and kid-raising, she now writes books and cooks up mischief and good food in St. Paul, Minnesota.

Kenyan Journey

I spent a month in two small villages working in the schools in Kenya. To read more about my adventure and to see how you can help bring clean water to the schools, watch this space for stories and ways to help.
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