Writer offers her life story, one gentle kvetch at a time

Former LA reporter puts 'mewsings' in three new e-books
by: CHRISTOPHER ONSTOTT Portland resident Greta Beigel is an accomplished writer who now plans to set out into social media world to promote her three e-books.

While Greta Beigel was working for the Los Angeles Times as an arts reporter and editor, she would sometimes go with a friend to an L.A. movie theater. As Beigel looked up at the huge billboard promoting a movie, she would point out the review to her friend.

'You see that sentence?' asked Beigel, who worked as an L.A. Times staffer and freelancer for 15 years and now lives in downtown Portland. 'I changed that sentence.'

Such moments are fleeting in a writer's life, though. Writing is a lonely occupation. A writer never gets to hear crowds cheer for them. Praise is something writers must learn to live without, or perish in their craft.

In today's world of book publishing, the art of writing is even lonelier as it becomes harder to see a book you have written stocked in bookstores.

This year, Beigel took matters into her own hands, publishing three e-books: 'Mewsings: My Life as a Jewish Cat,' 'A Jew from Riga,' and her autobiography, 'Kvetch: One Bitch of a Life.'

'The paradigm has changed,' Beigel says. 'There used to be a stigma (about e-books). But the stigma is out the window. Legitimate authors, mainstream authors, fabulous people, everybody is in on it now. It's the way to go.'

'Mewsings' is a study of Beigel's beliefs about Judaism, told through her alter ego, a cat named Ketzel. 'Riga' is a deeply personal essay about Beigel's trip to Riga, the capital of Latvia, where she tried to understand her father's early life.

'Kvetch,' a Yiddish term loosely meaning to complain, is the story that Beigel's 65 years of life have been leading to.

'I called the book that because maybe I thought it was funny,' Beigel says. 'Or maybe I thought it would apply, because some of it's complaining, some of it's not.'

In 'Kvetch,' Beigel is able to peel back layers of her experiences to reveal her soul. She chronicles her time living in the apartheid nation of South Africa in the 1950s and '60s and growing up as a childhood piano prodigy. She takes the reader through her move to America, the decade and a half she spent at the L.A. Times and the traveling she did that brought her to Portland.

Getting it out

Beigel also fearlessly looks at her family. She devotes chapters to her overbearing mother, her father who left the family to come to America when she was young, and a horrifying account of being molested by a relative.

'I had no trepidation,' Beigel says of writing about such personal subjects. 'I was very grateful that I knew how to write. I had to get it out one way.'

Beigel quickly found out that putting something on paper does not remove hurt and pain. 'I bought into many popular myths, one of them was that when you've done it, it's a great catharsis, you will feel like a million dollars,' Beigel says.

'Well, it's not true. The issues are in you, the feelings are in you, and if you haven't resolved them, you haven't resolved them.'

Now that her e-books are being distributed on the Kindle and the Nook, Beigel has had to shift her focus from author to marketer.

'I've now got to do a Facebook author page, start to blog, start to tweet, start to figure out how to get a strong online presence where everyone is linked to everyone else,' Beigel says.

Beigel understands that putting in hours of marketing is the only way the work she has done on her books will ever make an impact. It is especially important to Beigel that the story about what happened with her relative can help other women.

'I cannot be the only person that this has happened to,' Beigel says. 'Nowhere has this been addressed. Deep down, I'm hoping that one day there's a discussion and a solution.'

'Kvetch' is filled with both happiness and sorrow. During an hour-long interview, Beigel pauses just once: When asked whether she considers the book, and thus her life, a triumph or a tragedy, she falls silent for a long moment before taking a deep breath.

'Other people in my life see it as a triumph,' Beigel says. 'Apparently, I'm such a great spirit. And, maybe, one day I will be able to see that. But, no, I don't see it as a total triumph. I know no part of life is wasted, but this was a helluva way to go. And we all have a story. I just think it could have been better. It could have been different. Maybe I'm still too close to the story.'

Because of e-books, the rest of the world can be that close to Beigel's story, too.

'I came to the conclusion that I don't want anymore stories in the drawer,' Beigel says. 'They're very easy to hide. I didn't want this to die with me.'