Oh boy: Alice Kaltman’s essay below comes at the perfect time for me. We hear many messages about perseverance (and it certainly is an important trait) but she really has me thinking about how I view my “limitations,” my “I can’t do thats” in combination with stick-to-it-tiveness. Once again, I’m in awe of a writer friend’s insights and I cannot wait to read Alice Kaltman’s novel, The Tantalizing Tale of Grace Minnaugh (Fitzroy Books).
Writing books is not as easy as it seems. And publishing them is even harder. It took fifteen years for The Tantalizing Tale of Grace Minnaugh (Fitzroy Books) to be out in the world. Now, thanks to the fine folks at Fitzroy Books, it ‘exists’.
Grace’s journey to publication mirrors a theme in the book I’ve reflected on even more recently: the theme of perseverance. Most readers see Grace’s story as a tale about friendship, family, secrecy, and danger. But it is also about how a girl once deathly afraid of water, turns into an ocean-loving mermaid. At first Grace can barely dog paddle. Then, she takes something she’s not good at and through hard work, and lots of practice, turns it into a super power. Grace’s perseverance and determination pay off, big time.
And then, of course, there’s COVID. In these pandemic times, when it is so easy to nearly drown in pools of resistance and defeat, it is more important than ever to float messages of resilience and perseverance. Especially with kids.
Now during school visits I start off sharing how I wasn’t much of a reader or writer as a child. I was too restless; more of a tree climbing, cartwheel practicing whirling dervish type of kid. It wasn’t until I was in my early forties that I began to write. I talk to students about how most people shy away from pursuing things they’re not naturally talented at. How it feels excruciating for most everyone to be forced into activities they have no interest or talent in. Why bother practicing the piano if you’ll never be a concert pianist? Why go to ballet class when you can barely point your toes? If someone had forced me to write as a kid, I’d probably never have discovered the joys of scribbling stories later in life.
I ask the kids to turn that idea of perfection on its head, to think of something they’re not naturally gifted at. Then I ask them to imagine their mediocrity transformed into a super power, like Grace’s subpar swimming turned into mega-mermaid mojo. And lo and behold: A kid who claims he can’t carry a tune becomes a super-singer who can sing songs that heal pain and suffering. A ‘klutzy’ skateboarder can turn her skateboard into a flying saucer and zoom around space making friends with extra-terrestial beings. A frustrated whistler can blow so loud and sharply he can paralyze bad guys with his super tones.
After they’ve flexed their imaginative muscles, the kids re-think their limitations; they might give that singing/skateboarding/whistling another try. They’ll persevere, like Grace, because who knows what might happen?
I try and remember this lesson myself. As a writer, I’ll tell myself all sorts of diminishing things; I’m no good at that genre, I have no real understanding of ‘craft’, I can’t write that kind of story. In real life the same limiting perspective tries to take me down: I don’t bake, I can’t sew, the belief hounding me since fourth grade: I’m no good at math. Enough with the negative self-talk, I tell myself. Then, I imagine any of these weaknesses as strengths and while they may not transform into super powers, at least this exercise gives me much needed perspective and gets me to move a bit outside my comfort zone.
On that note, I leave you to go embroider my super hero cape, bake a magical cake, and do my own bookkeeping without a calculator. After which, I will be writing the Next Great American Novel.
How about you?
The daughter of a Merchant Marine and a Rockaway beach babe, Alice Kaltman’s life has always been ocean-centric. Now when she’s not in the water she writes about surfers, mermaids, and other odd balls. In addition to The Tantalizing Tale of Grace Minnaugh, Alice is the author of the young adult novel Wavehouse, also from Fitzroy Books, the literary short fiction collection Staggerwing and the soon-to-be released novel Dawg Towne. Alice’s work can also be read in numerous journals, magazines and fiction anthologies. She splits her time between Brooklyn and Montauk, New York where she swims, surfs, and writes; weather and waves permitting. To learn more visit Alice on Twitter@ AliceKaltman, Instagram @alicekaltman, or Goodreads.