My Wall of Hope

My Wall of Fame














Our move to Chicago is in Medias Res, as we have not “closed” yet, awaiting for all the necessary paperwork to be completed and for the house to become ours.  So we are basically homeless–yet loved and taken care of, staying with my husband’s generous sister.

In the flurry of “packing” my office, I pulled from my “wall of hope” various quotes that I had printed and tacked up–most applying to the writing life. Today  I am sharing them with you. Some may already be familiar to you.

#1  We make things and seed them into the world, never fully knowing –often never knowing at all–whom they will reach and how they will blossom in other hearts, how their meaning will unfold in contexts we never imagined. W.S. Merwin

Bio: Merwin is an American poet who wrote more than fifty books of poetry and prose. During the 1960s and the anti-war movement, his work was thematically characterized by indirect, unpunctuated narration. In the 1980s and 1990s, his writing derived from an interest in Buddhist philosophy and ecology. Residing in a rural part of Maui Hawaii, he was dedicated to the restoration of the island’s rainforests.

This next quote was given to me by a fellow fiction writer who understands what it means to live with your words and your characters every day of life your life.

#2  ...because writing literary fiction allows me to live with my imagination, and that is the greatest gift you can have.  John Leggett 1917-2015  University of Iowa Writer’s Workshop 1970-1987

Bio: John Leggett attended Yale, then served in the US Navy in WW II. Back home after collecting a “fat swatch of rejection slips” he did editorial work for Houghton Mifflin Publishing and Harper Collins. In 1969, he joined the English department of the  University of Iowa where he became the director of the famous Writer’s Workshop. During his tenure, he worked with amazing writers: Ethan Canin, Gail Godwin, Jane Smiley, John Irving, Raymond Carver. In 1987 he moved to Napa to help run the Napa Valley Writers’ Conference. Leggett died of pneumonia in 2015.

#3  Vanishing twin? Never heard that phrase before but it gives me chills. Today I am truly feeling your story. Meaty emotional stuff. How strange that we call lost kids “missing.” They are anything but. They haunt us every day. I remember Etan Patz. Have you been following recent developments in that case? The perp was found and confessed. (He has a low IQ and mental illness, worked in a bodega in SoHo, killed Etan within minutes of him leaving for school on his own for the first time. ) …What an unending torment for Ethan’s parents. Your notes today have me stirred up..which means, good work.   Donald Maass

Bio:  Donald Maass (New York, NY) heads the Donald Maass Literary Agency in New York City, which represents more than 150 novelists and sells more than 150 novels every year to publishers in America and overseas. He is a past president of the Association of Authors Representatives, Inc., and is the author of several books.

#4  Conversation with Pulitzer Prize author, Elizabeth Strout: …fiction is more true than just about anything else…the terrible details of marital strife, the big holes in us that we pretend aren’t there, all our contradictions, only some of which we can see, our sex lives, our odd attractions and repulsions. …I’ve wondered my whole life why fiction exists and persists across time and culture. And now I feel like I know: because we can be honest there, we can reveal ourselves, see one another fully and finally. Meredith, The Falmouth Book Baristas 

Bio Meredith: I am an avid reader of new fiction (especially historical fiction, literary fiction, women’s fiction and mysteries) memoirs, and the occasional non-fiction book.  I work in Circulation at the Falmouth Memorial Library, and look forward to hearing about what you read.

#5 Springing a point on readers isn’t artless, it’s artful. It’s welcome. When the point is the truth, we don’t turn away. We are inspired to become better and are glad of it. So, go ahead and think like Aesop. He revealed human nature and delivered moral truths. He wasn’t stoned to death. You won’t be either. 

Probably, Donald Maass again. Sure sounds like him.

#6 The most beautiful experience we can have is the mysterious–the fundamental emotion which stands at the cradle of true art and true science. Whoever does not know it and can no longer wonder, no longer marvel, is as good as dead, and his eyes are dimmed.” Albert Einstein (no bio needed) My comment: YOU CAN KEEP THE DREAMS IN YOUR NOVEL. 

#7 When faced with a challenge, we might find that very challenge was everything we needed to discover what we’re made of. A quiet, meaningful moment might be followed by disorder and confusion. Still, it could be that very moment that shifts something–the one that opened the dirty, muted window and changed the view. And so I dive in… 

I cannot find the source. If anyone else knows it, please let me know. And as always…THANKS FOR READING, Beth


Writing, Creating with Compassion

Writing, Creating with Compassion

Being a writer in today’s contentious climate can change your vision. It can make you either hop on the current bandwagon of anger and hurt, or make you want to think only happy thoughts, create a new world as you go, or simply focus on topics that have escaped contention. We need both.


I follow the blogs of other writers. I tend to be more serious while some fellow writers can knock out a light-hearted piece over and over. We need those. It’s like watching a great comedy where laughter is a gift. Because reading a newspaper every day and listening to news can really drag you down. Writers must create with variety. But also with compassion.


I follow a blog for writers that is blessed occasionally with a piece by New York literary agent and author for writers, Donald Maass. He offers incredible insights into the writing process, but he also lives in the real world and in answer to another writer’s post recently wrote: (Note: I have altered his response slightly)

Stories do not require a consensus.They do not legislate.Their purpose is to persuade. But persuade us of what? And how? 

In a novel, (or screen play, script that becomes a film) to prove others wrong, it is first necessary to acknowledge that they may be right. So…

  • create characters who represent divergent ways of thinking and doing–actually opposing ideas are represented by opposing characters. (Brilliant and basic. Every television drama presents tension–because people with differing points of view are interacting.)
  • But to be strong, each character must face their weaknesses. (As writers,  our characters face what we are afraid of). As readers and viewers we will not be moved unless we see humanity first. The character must fail. And then to persuade us to change, the character must change because of the failure. They see the light, in other words. 

Maass states: 

  • Writers must create antagonists whose case is excellent and heroes who are flawed. 
  • But in order to truly be a hero, those characters must learn and then change. 
  • Thus the power of storytelling to change us (the reader) lies in the courage writers summon to see things as others do. It depends on creating heroes who are flawed and must learn. Most of all, it requires that authors humble themselves, writing not out of resentment but out of twined compassion and conviction about what is right.

Maass asks: What is the bell you will ring in your writing today? What clear and simple truth does it sound? Words are strong when you know their purpose. Stories speak loudest when the storyteller first listens.


Writers speak through their characters. They use their so-flawed-ideas and their closer-to-perfect ideas. Both are on the page. My novel-in-progress. presents a crack in the foundation of a marriage: one of the partners decides to forget an initial pledge to be compassionate in life and help others. He is turning away. She is not. But that doesn’t make her an angel. Maybe she is overboard and thus wrong in her belief that she can change people through empathy and compassion. It helps me day to day to grapple with my own fears and insecurities while getting into the skin of my characters.


This week Erin Aubry Kaplan published a piece in the LA TIMES, entitled A New Reckoning for Whiteness. And I found a connection between the hero of any novel or story wrestling with his or her flawed-ness, before becoming a hero-again. And myself wrestling with my own lived life. Kaplan writes that our current president’s “both-sides” problem just might make some citizens grapple with a crucial question: What does it mean to be white? Or, what does it really mean?

For me, it was a hard piece to read. But necessary–that’s why I am sharing it. Kaplan asks: “It (the question) requires individual answers to intimate questions: How do I feel as a white person? What advantages do I take for granted based on my skin color? How do I see nonwhites? Or do I see them at all?”

Kaplan writes that if white people struggle with these questions, she has struggled with similar ones all her life: “What sort of black person are you? Middle class or ghetto, articulate or down-home, educated or irrational, bourgeoisie or radical?”

She writes that currently, “no one can indulge in the illusion of togetherness. He’s (POTUS 45) disrupting a surface that needs to be disrupted, for good.”

She’s saying that in order to write the best American story, each of us “characters” has to look and acknowledge our flaws before we can go back to believing in the “prefect union” we so desire and thus become the heroes of our story. Please read the entire article to see the whole of her argument. It might be disruptive — but then we are becoming used to that EVERY SINGLE DAY.

In conclusion, I have been examining my whiteness. Yes, I benefited from living in a middle class Chicago neighborhood and attending private schools. I knew few black people growing up. My high school was integrated, but barely. Did I make an attempt to befriend my fellow black students? No. Maybe I felt myself absolved by the literature I was reading and getting A’s analyzing. CRY THE BELOVED COUNTRY. Big deal. In college, Martin Luther King was assassinated and the black students printed a piece in our newspaper with a photo of them gathered. They called themselves the “worms in our apple.” By the time I was teaching high school in an integrated school that pulled from neighborhoods of poor whites, middleclass whites and poor blacks–I was more awake than ever. And I fought to stay awake. But even now, I wouldn’t give myself an A plus, that’s for sure.


I want to be open to the world and all its colors and brightness, all it’s variety and hopes, dreams and pains. I want that to flow through my fiction and encourage you to comment on this post. We are family–all of us. Time to work on our flaws and become the best people we can be. Compassion, anyone?