Category Archives: writing

Shuffling Confidently in the Direction of my Dreams

Wade Rouse and Rima Tessman

Remember what I said about bed and breakfasts?

I take it back.

I spent last weekend at a writing workshop hosted by best-selling author Wade Rouse, who is just as genuine and approachable as he is talented. All eleven of the assembled writers (that’s what I’m calling myself now) stayed at the historic Twin Gables Inn overlooking Lake Kalamazoo in beautiful Saugatuck, Michigan, and it was one of the most productive and relaxing weekends I’ve ever spent.

Wade is one of those authors who did not forget the little people once he achieved success in his writing career. Let’s say for example you sidled up to him with hands trembling and voice shaking after reading your work out loud and said, “I just wanted to let you know that I totally misunderstood the assignment. You probably won’t believe this, but I write very differently in real life. And I am a good mother, too. Just so you know.”

Instead of looking down his nose at you, Wade would cut his lunch hour short by twenty minutes to talk with you about your craft, provide constructive criticism, and share specifics about how to sell an idea, land an agent, publish a book. And later he would conference you and your peers in to a phone call with his agent, who would spend thirty minutes answering your newbie questions from her busy office in New York. In other words, he’s one of those rare people who genuinely want to see others succeed.

Writing, Writing, Writing

Besides gleaning useful advice at this workshop, I had the pleasure of befriending a fabulous group of fellow writers who I hope to stay in contact with for many years to come. After sitting around that beautifully set table overlooking the misty lake for three solid days, we forged a bond that only people who’ve laid their innermost fears and emotions bare can achieve in such a short space of time.

I slept soundly in my glorious pillow-topped king sized bed, ate like a queen, and was even treated to a personal tour of Saugatuck by Wade’s delightful partner, Gary. And on the last night of the workshop, after drinking one glass of wine and a chocolate martini, I even performed a few freestyle folk dance moves in the lobby of the Inn accompanied by my new friend Laura’s husband on the baby grand.

If you have been thinking seriously about writing for publication and are ready to take the next step, I would highly recommend attending one of Wade’s workshops. You’ll leave with a bag full of Michigan apple butter and wine, solid real world advice, and the belief that your dream is possible to achieve.

No Writers' Workshop Is Complete Without a Trip to the Local Winery

The View from the Inn

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La-La-La-Language

When my brothers and I were little, our family spoke only Lithuanian at home. We still do.

But as the hour approached for me to begin kindergarten, my parents made a concerted effort to ensure that I’d be able to communicate in the language of their adopted land. To this end, I was allowed to watch one hour of educational programming on PBS every day and had occasional play dates with Jeffrey from across the street. And based on how well my first day of school went, I’m guessing they launched this campaign about two minutes before I got on the bus.

Still, on the first day of kindergarten, I was feeling pretty good. I had a respectable arsenal of words at my disposal and a pair of scissors in my back pack that I was not afraid to use. The whole world was my oyster! Though I couldn’t have told you what that meant.

To mark the momentous occasion, I wore my favorite outfit of red polyester bell bottoms, goldenrod yellow turtleneck, and a forest green vest with a amber broach on the lapel. Coincidentally, these are the colors of the Lithuanian flag. Also, I may or may not have carried a handkerchief with hand embroidered mushrooms on it. In other words, I was just your typical five-year old girl.

When I arrived in my new classroom, I approached a cluster of kindergarteners who we chatting among themselves.

“Hello!” I said to one of them. “I call myself, ‘Rima.’ What do you call yourself?”

She called herself, “Kim.” And she followed it up with a string of words and phrases that, when entered into my central processing system, did not match any I’d learned from Jeffrey or Kaptain Kangaroo.

I politely asked Kim to repeat herself, but when she did I still couldn’t quite make out what she was saying. It was as though she was speaking in a foreign tongue. We went back and forth a couple times, but eventually my classmate gave up and walked away, leaving me standing there beside myself and radiating shame.

PBS, Jeffrey, and the backs of cereal boxes had all failed me. I didn’t know my ass from my elbow when it came to communicating in the language of the country of my birth.

It wasn’t all bad. Our teacher, Ms Rogers, spoke slowly and articulated. Often I picked up on context clues. But still there were times when she sounded like one of Charles M. Schulz’s adults. For the first few weeks of the school year, I drifted in and out of clouds. There would be chunks of time when the world was clear and in focus and then, without warning, I’d find myself paddling though a murky and unintelligible fog.

It wasn’t that I didn’t understand any English, more that there were large gaps in my vocabulary. I had trouble interpreting sentences when they were spoken quickly, and I wouldn’t have recognized an idiom if it came up and punched me in the mouth.

I don’t know when it happened, exactly, but one day the veil simply lifted and I recognized myself as a full fledged member of the English speaking world. In fact, I couldn’t get enough. I read voraciously, wrote copiously and all of a sudden I could talk the hind legs off a donkey (though I still can’t tell you what that means.)

My story is not unique. Almost every Lithuanian-American of my generation whose parents emigrated because of World War II experienced the same language transition as I did. But what I find fascinating is the fact that we all assimilated into American culture fairly seamlessly and today we own and love English in a way that even some native speakers don’t.

Though I still speak Lithuanian with my family and children, it no longer flows as naturally as English does. In fact, there is almost nothing I love more than crafting English prose, weighing each word carefully and arranging it like a pebble in its place. And I wonder sometimes, if my history had been different, would this be the case?

English was not always with me. It’s a gift I remember receiving, so I polish and display it proudly, like a trophy in a case.

"I call myself 'Rima'. What do you call yourself?"

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The Plot Thickens and Congeals. Pretty Soon You Can’t Even Stir It With a Spoon. Then a Bigger Plot Comes Along and Kicks It.

I’m going to let you in on a little secret: writing a novel is hard.

Three days into NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month), I have discovered that aiming for 1,667 words a day produces about 1,000 words of total crap. And that is very difficult for a self editing perfectionist like me to bear. There’s no time to research, reflect, or craft sparkling prose. You just slap words down on the page and resolve to deal with them later.

Adding insult to injury, my plot is mocking me. The characters that were so vibrant and lovable while still in my head are acting like a pack of cardboard cutouts, and dumb ones at that. Also, just between you and me, I’m not sure how to fill up the pages of space between the time our heroine arrives at the plantation with her monkeys and when she’s finally taken back up into the spaceship. (Note: This is not my real plot line, but a foil to keep plagiarists from stealing my work. I’m writing the spaceship/monkey/plantation novel using a secret alphabet, which, when transposed, will reveal the true, Pulitzer Prize worthy piece of badass fiction. Could this be why the going is so slow?)

To make matters worse, when I announced that I would be doing NaNoWriMo, my husband up and decided he would also go ahead and write that novel that’s been burning him up for years. On the first evening of NaNoWriMoRama, I was in the family room, pecking away at my laptop. I had been working for two hours and had a walloping 600 words when the P-Dawg came in and sat down on the couch opposite me. He stretched, cracked his knuckles, rolled up his sleeves and started typing.

The P-Dawg typed loudly and without ceasing for forty-five minutes straight. It was enough to drive a person with no ideas and a sporadic typing speed of ten words per minute using a secret alphabet certifiably insane.  At the end of those forty-five minutes, my husband set his laptop down and announced that he had written ONE THOUSAND WORDS.

“Did you write one thousand different words?” I wanted to know.

With much coaxing and wheedling, and after promising him a sneak peek at my own efforts in exchange, the P-Dawg agreed to let me read what he had so far.

It wasn’t half bad. He hadn’t bothered to swap his own name out for that of the protagonist (a brilliant Cleveland-based physician), but his main character was quite likable and the plot moved along quickly, unlike mine which was having a smoke out back.

“You think this is good? Just wait ’till they turn it into a movie,” my amazing husband said.

My only solace is the fact that the P-Dawg counted his plot summary and character descriptions toward his 1,000 words and is in dire need of a spell checker. But he is so confident in his progress that yesterday he decided to take a few days off from novel writing and pick up where he left off next week. Right now he’s eating popcorn and playing poker online.

At least once he’s churned out a couple of bestsellers, I can afford to hire a ghostwriter to write my novel for me. Or maybe I’ll just ask the P-Dawg.

Note: Despite my hemming and hawing, I am really glad I signed up for this. Because though masochistic, writing a novel is also exhilirating and I know there is no way I would have attempted one if not for this.  Also, I can’t give up because I already broadcast my intentions to my family, Facebook friends, and the Internet at large.

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I Have a Percolator. I Have Beans. Can I Make a Pot of Coffee?

Once upon a time, I signed up to be in charge of coffee at a Christmas potluck. It was brilliant.  All I had to do was show up with a couple bags of beans and set them down in the kitchen. No slaving like a fool over warm entrees for me!

So that is what I did. I arrived at the annual choir holiday potluck with a bag of regular and a bag of decaf, plopped them down on the counter, and went off to get a plate of food.

After dinner the hostess hunted me down.

“Rima? I think it’s time for coffee” she said, “Do you need help bringing the percolators down?”

What is a percolator? I thought to myself. And why would I need one?

As it happened, “signing up for coffee” meant you had to make it. And serve it. In a percolator. For forty plus guests.

I did the best I could, where “best I could” equals emptying a bag-o-beans in into the vat, adding water to taste, pressing “on,” and hoping for the best.  The coffee was like turpentine and the next year I brought a dessert.

But I never learned my lesson about signing up for things without reading the fine print.  I have been sitting on Part Deux of my France story for the past month because I realized that it potentially had a Part Trois, Quatre, Cinq, Six, Sept, and so on. Which is like a string of chapters, yes? And then I thought, “By God, I should write a book! Anyone can do it!

Soon enough, I remembered about NaNoWriMO (National Novel Writing Month), during which kamikaze writers pledge to write 50,000 words during the month of November.  And I signed up!

Then, I read the rules. (“We define a novel as a lengthy work of fiction . . .”)

And suddenly I was standing at a Christmas party with a bag of coffee beans and a percolator, but no idea how to make coffee.

Again.

I can make tea. Tea is easy, you just take what you already have, (a tea bag?), dip it in boiling water, add a little honey and voila! Non-fiction.

But coffee? Coffee is a different beast. You have to plan, measure, brew.

I’m not sure if I can do it, but I’m going to try.

P.S. Who’s with me? WHO’S WITH ME??

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