Saturday, June 9, 2018

The Quirky Story of Working for 30 Years to Make My American Dream Come True

Making My American Dream--A Successful Writing Career--Come True

By Norma Jaeger Hopcraft

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How hard is the journey of a writer?
It’s been extremely difficult—and extremely rewarding.
You need to take your work to a writer’s critique circle. Agents are looking for people who have been through the critique process, the more years of it the better. The writer’s circle hopefully is a supportive environment in which people help each other write better. There are guidelines for critique groups online.
But no matter how much you tell critiquers to find at least two positive things to say about a piece--and if you can't find two things you're not thinking hard enough--people are quirky. They adore the chance to criticize.
It was difficult for me to hear the criticisms. Painful much of the time. Often people are not careful about following critique guidelines--like saying at least two positive things. It can hurt lots when all they say is negative.
But if you’re a writer – and I define that as somebody who exhibits dogged perseverance in getting words on paper – you’ll want to get better. You’ll take each criticism seriously, examine it, accept or reject it according to your instincts, and use most of the criticisms to become a better writer.
It was also difficult to be rejected by literary magazines. I got two things published then nothing--for years. I don’t have a huge “platform” – Google that and get to work on building your own. Without one, agents won’t take your novel on.
It was frustrating to put in a 30-year apprenticeship and not see the results I wanted—fame, fortune, people fawning, the 3 Fs : )
But writing has been highly rewarding too. I’ve gotten to know amazing people in my writers’ circles. I've gotten to know them better as we shared our writing and our unique issues and perspectives came to the fore.
I wrote about the joys and sorrows of critique groups in my novel, The Paris Writers Circle (see the top of the right navigation column).
In it, I poke fun at the critiquers I've experienced. I laugh at the pain. I try to help writers see how--sometimes years later--you can use the junk in your life to make jokes for people to enjoy.
Writing has helped me sort through my bizarre baggage and use some of the anguishing or odd circumstances of my life as material in stories. This helps me to connect with readers.
Writing keeps me company when I’m alone and also connects me with other people better than not writing does.
For example, writing took me on a bus to circumnavigate the United States. I stayed in 20 cities over seven weeks. I’m working on the memoir about it. You can see quirky stories and pics from that trip if you go to 2011 in the right-hand navigation column.
Writing took me to New York University. I graduated magna cum laude not too long ago with a B.A. in creative writing and literature.
Writing took me on a creative writing sabbatical in Paris for one year. It took me to Barcelona to live for three months.
Writing makes me more alive as I seek, in Henry James’s words, to be someone on whom nothing is lost.
So it’s a hard journey but worth it.
Now for quirky photos. These are from a photography group that taught me to "glance" with my camera (my phone). You just walk along and take photos without putting the camera to your eye. You walk and shoot. People get caught on film not posing. I've put my favorites out of 50 photos here. Next week more. A few are a bit bizarre, but fun:

Quirky stories and photos while in search of the American Dream
For one second this patch of Times Square looked deserted.

Quirky stories and photos while in search of the American Dream
Times Square -- everybody's in motion.

Quirky stories and photos while in search of the American Dream
Flowers as architecture.

Quirky stories and photos while in search of the American Dream
Downtown and Brooklyn -- my direction home.

Quirky stories and photos while in search of the American Dream

Quirky stories and photos while in search of the American Dream
Snacks everywhere

Quirky stories and photos while in search of the American Dream
Playing to the door, not the crowd. Maybe he got reverberation from the recessed entryway.

Quirky stories and photos while in search of the American Dream
Caricatures for sale. How about you? Do you like NYC? Times Square in particular? Comment below!

Saturday, June 2, 2018

American Dream Come True: A Fab Wedding in Quirky Setting

Quirky Stories: A Wedding Overlooking a Green Pond

By Norma Jaeger Hopcraft

As a Brooklyn writer who craves greenery, I do my writing in Prospect Park from late April to early October, weather permitting. 

I sit under a tall quirky tree whose branches sweep downward. Its needles are blue. Never saw anything like it. I call it a weeping blue spruce.  

My father loved blue spruce trees more than any other tree. The year before he died, his kids gave him a dwarf Alberta blue spruce that was six-feet tall and as round as a butterball, We called it Fat Albert. 

After his house was sold, I went by it again. Fat Albert is gone, just like the man who loved him.

So I sit under a weeping blue spruce in Prospect Park, near the odd sparrow hotel I photographed for you here, and write what I have to write.

When I’m stiff and sore, I take a break to walk the park. Today there’s a saxophonist under the bridge, taking advantage of the acoustics. That’s what I do as a writer: go for resonance.

A few weeks ago I went under the bridge – no saxophone, just a small child on his father’s shoulders shouting “No!” and listening to his echo.

Just beyond, people picnicked on one side of the path while a bride and groom had their photos taken a few feet away. People are always less than a few feet away in New York City. Every patch of sidewalk is contested. The crowding oppresses me.

But there are upsides. Like Prospect Park. I walk here almost every day. I’m getting to know its quirks and secrets. 

I now know where to sit to hear red-winged blackbirds trill their summer song. I know where to go to watch turtles sun themselves or to swim lazily by the lake’s edge.

The bride and groom weren’t wandering around looking for idiosyncratic wildlife in the midst of a jam-packed city. No, they were looking forward to sitting on the terrace of The Boathouse and celebrating their happy day. Much of Brooklyn was looking on. That wouldn't be my style, but to each his own.

Quirky stories and photos
Picnickers on one side of the path...

Quirky stories and photos
...and wedding photography on the other.

Quirky stories and photos
The Boathouse set up nearby for an outdoor wedding.

Quirky stories and photos
The view of the waterfall, which you can see from The Boathouse terrace.

Quirky stories and photos
Another lovely feature of the park: the steps at Harry's Wall. How about you: going to the park today? Comment below! If you like this post, would you Tweet it? See the icons immediately below this post. Thank you!

Saturday, May 26, 2018

An American Writer's Dream: To Live and Write in Paris

Quirky Stories and Pics from my Search for the American Dream

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My life—which is my writing life—qualifies as a quirky story. It depended on a pot of carrots, my Higher Power, 3 heartbreaks in a year, finding a special book, terror, and courage.

Carrots Led Me to Paris 

by Norma Jaeger Hopcraft

(first appeared on writer Elaine Stock's blog)

I stood with a pot of carrots in my hand, looking at my small children’s shiny, blond heads as they ate dinner. I was divorced for one year, and hoped that the worst of the grief was over. What was I going to do with my time?

I relied on my Higher Power, so I was supposed to say, “God, what do you want me to do?” So I did.

But I knew he wasn’t going to write it on a wall in my apartment. He would write it on the wall of my heart. As long as it was moral, exciting, and developed my talents, that was his will for me.

I was working at the time as a reporter in Central Jersey. I had wanted to be a writer ever since I read my first sentence, “See Sally run.” It was magic that little black squiggles on a page made pictures in my mind. I wanted to do that for other people.

After many twists and turns in life, I stood divorced, contemplating carrots and what to do with all the time that no longer had to go into husband-care. From that carrot-scented moment on, I wrote while the kids did their homework. I got a corporate communications job writing business news. I wrote on the daily train to New York City and on the weekends that the children were with their father.

I took my work to critique groups. The group interplay was fascinating, but what fellow writers said about my work stung. I jotted down every criticism, prayed to use each one to get better, and persevered.

Eventually the kids grew up and left. In spite of a huge effort, I got laid off from the job. I used the small package they gave me to make a dream come true: I circumnavigated the United States! On a Greyhound bus! I visited 20 cities in seven weeks. You can see my posts from that trip in October, November and December 2011 in this blog (in the righthand column). I stayed in hostels and met people from all over the world. 

I found another job. I wrote. I listened carefully to critiques at writers groups. I weighed what was said against my instincts, I read the classics and the Pulitzer Prize winners. I prayed to develop my God-given gift for writing, such as it was, and to use it to the glory of God. 

For me, this did not mean writing “Christian fiction.” Instead, I wanted to write compelling fiction from a non-judgmental Christian worldview for the audience I wanted to reach—non-Christians. For me, writing to the glory of God meant seeking artistic freedom to portray a wide range of humanity, including the evil.

I sent work to agents and literary magazine editors. I had two successes and then nothing—for years on end.

I wondered if I should keep writing, but wrote down any encouraging thing people had ever said to me. One of the best was from my elderly Dad, who had been a huge criticizer as I grew up. This time he said, “You have what it takes.” 

It didn’t seem that he was right, with all the rejections that I had, stored in envelopes. But I tried to believe.

In spite of a heroic effort, I got laid off from the next job too. I watched in horror as my savings dwindled. I worked like a stevedore on the docks to look for a job. I prayed for God to open up a spot for me so I could stay in my little house. I loved it, and it loved me back. I wanted to keep living there just about as deeply as I had wanted to stay married.

I screamed and cried and cursed and bawled like a baby because the answer was “no.” Then my fiancĂ© and I broke up. I rented out my home and went to live with my widowed mother—almost as painful to accept as the divorce.

In a bookshop near my mother’s house I found a book, “A Writer’s Paris.” It said that, if you were an American writer, you really needed to spend time in Paris, a week, a month or better yet a year. “You can do it,” the book said. “Just go.” 

My mother died, I had a tiny windfall, and I was free to go. I was very scared. I didn’t know a soul and not a word of French. But courage is fear that has said its prayers. I rented a room over the internet and bought a one-way ticket to Paris. That was one of the great thrills of my life. A one-way ticket to a fabulous city!

Every time I crossed the Seine I rejoiced that God had turned, in just one year, what felt like three tragedies into a glorious opportunity. I lived on a shoestring, but I was living in Paris!

Three years later I live in Brooklyn and I’ve published The Paris Writers Circle.

Perseverance. Prayer. Read the best writing. Listen at critique groups. Sift through every criticism, go with your instincts, and use everything to write better. 

And see where writing takes you! Around the country. Around the world.

Just go on. 

You’ve got what it takes.

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Next is pics FROM me in NYC but OF PARIS. They are all riffs on the theme, "Every time I crossed the Seine, I thanked my Higher Power that things had turned out this way, that I was in Paris on a full-time creative writing sabbatical."

How about you? Are you an aspiring writer? Are you someone who, like me, is hoping for outcomes beyond your wildest dreams? Stick with HP! and comment below!

Saturday, May 19, 2018

An American Dream: Writing in Brooklyn, for Love (and Money)

Quirky Stories from a Brooklyn Writer Who Writes for Love – and, to be honest, money

By Norma Jaeger Hopcraft

I write, I'm afraid, with a double motive.

First, I write for the sake of writing. Being a writer who needs ideas for her texts forces me to stay awake to the world. It makes me more alive. Writing keeps me company during the hours that go into it. Writing gives me a chance to make art out of my life, which has quite its share of anguish, i.e., useful fodder.

I love to write something that I think will delight readers. There’s nothing I like better than knowing that I have a good book to read at home, to help me escape the harsh realities of life. I want to give that gift to people.

I love to find quirky, unexpected people, stories, pictures, and to share them with readers.

Do I wish that my writing’s sales helped me not to be a burden on my family someday, when I’m very old?

Yes, I wish it. So I write for money too.

But when the money disappoints, as it’s most likely to do in the writing business, it’s time to reset the button to “doing it for its own sake. Do it for the love of it.”

That’s where the walnut-sized bit of energy is – the same amount of mass and energy that our universe was born from. I believe it was held between God’s fingers. And then he let it go. For love. Scientists say all the laws of physics were in place within nanoseconds of that letting go. They say the laws are true in every spot in our ever-expanding universe. And God didn’t end his love for the world there. After creatures and humans populated the earth, he courted humankind, and when the time was right he came here and lived his life as an example of love.

So what is the walnut-sized bit of energy, inspiration, joy that can fuel this day’s writing.?

It’s doing it for the love of it. For the joy of connecting with readers. For knowing what my own thoughts are. For giving the world something good, made with love.

So here are some quirky pictures from my quirky life in Brooklyn. I live a 12-minute walk from Prospect Park and I’m there nearly every day, year round. I especially love the park in blizzards, which is bizarre but true. See a recent one here.

Come along and enjoy spring with me in Brooklyn!

There were whitecaps on Prospect Park's lake this day! 

A magnolia glorying in its glory.

The tree's trunk and branches are peculiar, quirky, and beautiful too. 
How about you? Do you do something creative for love, money or both? Comment below!

Friday, May 11, 2018

A Brooklyn Writer's Dream: Find Spring in a Chaotic City

An Oasis in the Midst of Brooklyn 

By Norma Jaeger Hopcraft

Spring has quickly sprung past these photos, taken a week ago. 

But they illustrate a timeless truth: With persistence you can find a place of beauty even in a gritty city like Brooklyn.

A Brooklyn writer's American Dream
Very grand, very old trees have survived in Brooklyn's Prospect Park despite generations of people encroaching on them constantly.

A Brooklyn writer's American Dream
A stand of white daffs (foreground) and a mystery beyond the top of the hill.

A Brooklyn writer's American Dream
A garden hut a la Brooklyn.

A Brooklyn writer's American Dream
The entrance at the corner of Flatbush, Empire and Ocean Avenues.

A Brooklyn writer's American Dream
Brooklyn trees love to bask in their glory, just like blooming trees everywhere.

A Brooklyn writer's American Dream
A quick visit to Bryant Park in Midtown Manhattan. Soak up spring wherever you might be!

Saturday, May 5, 2018

A Brooklyn Writer's Dream: To Live in Paris

By Norma Jaeger Hopcraft

Read a brief account of perseverance and how ashes got turned to the joy of a creative writing sabbatical in Paris!

I reveal the difficulties of a 30-year writing apprenticeship at my writing friend Elaine Stock's blog:

Please take encouragement from my story!

A Brooklyn Writer's American Dream
Every time I crossed the Seine, I thanked God for the way things turned out.

Tuesday, May 1, 2018

A Brooklyn Writer's Dream: To See Two Sides to Every Coin

Genteel Decay: Urban Animals Take Advantage

By Norma Jaeger Hopcraft

Prospect Park has many elegant buildings. This one, which I call the Dance Pavilion, is where I sit when I write in the park. It looks great from a distance, but get closer...

A Brooklyn Writer's American Dream

A Brooklyn Writer's American Dream
The elegant eaves are moldering into decay.

A Brooklyn Writer's American Dream
It's an opportunity for birds. There must be 25 sparrows making a nest in different spots along the eaves. You can see the twigs hanging down over the decorative corner.

A Brooklyn Writer's American Dream
Here's a guilty party, under the pavilion's vaulted roof.

A Brooklyn Writer's American Dream
Here's the evidence.

A Brooklyn Writer's American Dream
Where a light fixture used to be, more bits of straw and twigs hang down.

A Brooklyn Writer's American Dream
A close-up of the decay and the nesting opportunity it presents.

A Brooklyn Writer's American Dream
The sparrows were struggling with a great big paper napkin. So I shredded mine and left the pieces in a corner out of the wind.

A Brooklyn Writer's American Dream
There are other creatures nearby. This is a granddaddy, more than six inches long.

A Brooklyn Writer's American Dream
These are babies, a fraction of his size.

A Brooklyn Writer's American Dream
A family on a log.

A Brooklyn Writer's American Dream
A red-winged blackbird, singing in a London plane tree near the lake's edge. How about you? Do you want to see the pavilion, and places like it, conserved? Or do you prefer to see animals having safe and dry nests? Comment below!