Friday, March 29, 2013

Why Are We Obsessed by Aristocrats in Literature and Film? By Jacqueline Seewald

The March 11, 2013 issue of Time Magazine featured an interview with Tom Stoppard regarding “Parade’s End.” Oscar and Tony winning Stoppard wrote a recent film version of “Anna Karenina” for the screen as well as the five part wonderfully complex series adaptation of “Parade’s End,” the novel by Ford Madox Ford—in actuality a series of four novels combined into one unit. It’s considered one of the greatest novels of the 20th century.

In the Time interview, Stoppard is asked if he was surprised by the affection people have for “Downton Abbey,” set in the same era. His answer is interesting. Apparently, “Downton Abbey” didn’t exist when he started writing his adaptation of “Parade’s End.” He simply loved the novel.

Brits adore reading and writing about aristocracy. But they are not alone--so do Americans and other nationalities. The fascination is with a code of honor and ethics that is antiquated but absorbing all the same because it is part of the traditions of a larger than life culture in a unique sociological context.

I confess to being quite taken by stories of British aristocrats myself. My one published historical novel is a Regency for which I enjoyed doing a great deal of research. It combines history and sensual romance. I considered Jayne Ann Krentz’s endorsement/blurb for TEA LEAVES AND TAROT CARDS a great honor--a book now available in all e-book formats as well as print.

Let’s hope Tom Stoppard continues adapting great novels for the media because he does it so well. It’s not surprising that he deconstructed Shakespeare’s “Hamlet” into “Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead.”

As to “Downton Abby,” I have watched every episode with the utmost interest and attention as well, but there are serious flaws. Perhaps this series suffers from not being adapted from a quality novel as was
“Parades’s End.” However, the “Upstairs Downstairs” style of drama makes for absorbing entertainment because character is key. The traditional aristocratic household still captures the interest and imagination of the common man.

We are not just interested in the aristocratic past either. How many people are following Kate Middleton’s pregnancy? The Duchess of Cambridge, a former commoner, is married to Prince William and considered one of the most influential people in the world.

What’s your thinking? As readers and writers should we be interested in the aristocracy?

Friday, March 22, 2013

Patience, Practice and Persistance

At the beginning of my writing career I wrote a story fictionalizing the life of a thirteen year old boy, Joseph Onderdonk, an ancestor who lived through real events during the American Revolution. Joseph witnessed British soldiers occupying Long Island  and was forced to serve as a carter for the British barracks. Joseph's father wouldn't allow him to fight with the Continentals because he was needed on the farm. His story gets to the heart of what it felt like to be a boy struggling between liberty and loyalty. His  father was imprisoned on New York Island for tyranny against the crown, and I fitionalized Joseph's part in his rescue from prison. I created many other fictional adventures for him during the first year of the revoulution, but at the end of the war Joseph was an actual witness of  George Washington and his army's triumphant return to New York; authenticated by true accounts found in letters and family books.

This book, entitled The Red Cockade, won First Award at a Southeastern Writers conference and was chosen by a small publisher as a component of a History Project proposal for an NEH grant. Discouraged when the grant was not received  I put The Red Cockade on a shelf and began to write adult fiction. Though I have been successful with historical fiction and a contemporary series, the book of my heart, The Red Cockade never left my  mind.

I applied for and  received a partial grant to attend a four day Highlights Foundation Workshop in Honesdale Pennsylvania.  The workshop was Editing For Writers taught by Stephen Roxburgh. It was a writer's dream come true. Only six participants in an intensive retreat, meeting for meals, sharing in group activities and each having four one-on-one meetings with Stephen about the material we sent in our application( mine was The Red Cockade). The exercises provided help with clarity, concision and impact of our writing. I learned much from our teacher and the group discussions. I was fortunate to be housed in the beautifull Boyd's Mills Press farmhouse  where all meals and meetings took place. The gourmet meals, friendly staff and ambiance were long remembered.

Back home I tried revising The Red Cockade in first person. I submitted my polished edition to four children's publishers, with no takers.  I came to the realization that it probably was the wrong time for a historical about the Revolution.  The market was flooded with fantasies, witches and vampire stories. However, one thing bout editing stayed with me from the workshop, "your writing requires patience, practice and commitment." Even though I put my effort on the shelf again, I have not given up. I know I will add persistance sometime in the future for The Red Cockade. . . maybe when the time is right.

Monday, March 18, 2013

"The Complete Writer" KWA Scene Conference Experience

Saturday, March 16, 2013 I attended the Kansas Writers Association Scene conference in Wichita. The theme: "The Complete Writer." Our speakers were Midwest writers who have had varying levels of success, proving once again that you can find wonderful writers EVERYWHERE.

The first workshop, "The Heart of the Writer" was given by seasoned Wichita Eagle journalist and a Pulitzer Prize nominee, Stan Finger. He spoke about some of his experiences and the book he co-authored with Robert Rogers who lost his family in a flash flood in Kansas in 2003 called, "Into the Deep: One Man's Story of How Tragedy Took His Family but Could Not Take His Faith."  The novel is currently in it's eighth printing with more than 40,000 copies sold. This remarkable story helped Mr. Rogers to heal from the loss of his wife and four children at Jacob Creek, in the Flint Hills. It was an inspiring journey for Finger as well, who told the story with honesty and integrity.

"The Vision of the Writer" workshop brought local poet, Esper to the audience of writers in various stages of their journey. He shared his work, and marketing tips for developing a visual representation of your words through You Tube videos. He also spoke about the You Tube community that may share your passion with what you create. Music and art are great content to help share the emotion and feeling of your words, and video is a valuable way to keep your audience engaged. His caution, give attribution for art or music you use, as well as continually update your videos to keep the audience engaged. But most important are "the words."

"The Soul of the Writer" given by Jenna Blum, New York Times and international best selling author of "Those Who Save Us" and "The Stormcatchers," was terrific. Both her stories are about people whose lives were rearranged by destructive forces beyond their control, how they survived and the hope they found along the way. If you ever get a chance to hear her speak I recommend you take the time, she's funny and very honest.  She shared that "there are moments of grace when ideas come from the either. Our words help reader's feel they are not alone. We are all connected," Jenna said. I think all authors feel the same. Belief in our story is the enabler for grace to come. (Personally, I felt like the kids saying "I believe" so Tinker Bell would come back from the brink.) The fact is we humans make sense with the world through stories.

"The Eyes of the Writer" presented by Roy Wenzel, a journalist and co-author of the "Bind, Torture, Kill: The Inside Story of BTK, the Serial Killer Next Door." He's currently working on a book about "The Miracle of Father Kapaun," which is coming out in 2013. His compelling stories about the nature of research and how sometimes you just don't know where or how far a story will lead you hit home for me. "Humans are hardwired for story telling. We love gossip," Wenzel said. His warning: "writers should write for readers, to enrich their lives, give them adventure to ponder, and something to learn. The author must disappear so the reader "experiences" the story...let the soul speak the truth."

"The Voice of the Writer" came to us in the poetry and song writing of John Jenkinson. "The writer's voice must work on the page. The words must be real, visceral, specific and not abstract, using all of the senses." He reminded us that the sound of vowels is musical, they carry the tone and we should use them all, making conscious choices with line and rhythm. "Voices take a long time to develop, if it's easy, it's probably not complete," Jenkinson said.

Writer's workshops are a great way to not only learn, but to network with other writers and industry professionals. Shawguides is a good place to find conferences in your area. Enjoy!

Friday, March 15, 2013

Interview with Author J. Michael Major by Jacqueline Seewald

Five Star/Gale currently provides opportunities to a number of debut mystery writers. Today I am interviewing one of them who will have his first novel published this month.

J. Michael Major is a member of the Mystery Writers of America and the Horror Writers Association. His three dozen stories have been published in such anthologies as DeathGrip 3: It Came From the Cinema and New Traditions in Terror, and such magazines as Hardboiled, Bare Bone, Pirate Writings, Into the Darkness, Outer Darkness, Crossroads, and The Sterling Web. He lives with his family outside of Chicago.

Question: What is the title and genre of your novel?  Why did you select them?

Answer:  The title of my novel is One Man’s Castle, because a man’s home is his castle, and the story is what happens in one man’s castle. It is a suspense thriller, and I chose this genre because I find stories are more exciting when ordinary people are thrust into extraordinary circumstances.

Question:   What inspired this novel? How did it come about?

Answer:  The initial inspiration came from reading a quote about Robert Bloch’s Psycho and how it took the obvious villain and showed how a killer could be a friend or neighbor instead. So I took it one step further and wondered: “What could make me a serial killer?” When I realized I could never be one, I wondered what could make me appear as one, and then the possibilities started to open up. Meanwhile I noticed a lot of stories on the news about how people were more concerned about the rights of criminals without seeming to care about what happened to the victims and their families – and out of that combination grew the main storyline of the novel.

Question:  Could you tell us a little bit about the heroine and/or hero of your latest novel?

Answer:  Walter Buczyo is an angry man. Eight years earlier, a burglar, Harris, killed his wife and a high profile attorney got Harris’s sentence severely reduced on a technicality, and Walter lost his belief in the justice system. After that, Walter kills subsequent burglars, but after Harris returns and tries to murder him, Walter kills Harris instead. While Walter is away from the house, the bodies of all the burglars are discovered in Walter’s crawlspace, and Walter is on the run. Meanwhile, Detective Kevin Riehle has to find and capture this supposed serial killer for his very first case as senior partner, while he deals with a new partner and watching a family friend descend into madness. I wanted to create a situation where the reader roots for both Walter and the detective, all the while asking: “What is justice?”

Question:   Can you tell us about some of your other published novels or work?

Answer:  One Man’s Castle is my first novel. Short stories and one novella (in the anthology New Traditions in Terror) comprise the remainder of my published work, with horror dominating most of them. The Horror Writers Association has monthly market report listings, and often the odd themes, combined with something I’ve seen on the news, inspires me to write something. Or I turn an old theme inside out. That’s fun too.

Question:   What are you working on now?

Answer:  I am working on the next Riehle and Capparelli novel, the detectives from One Man’s Castle. I have also written a number of short stories and submitted them to various anthologies. Writer’s Digest also asked me to write an online blog, which I did, and hopefully that will be appearing at the beginning of April.

Question:   What made you start writing?

Answer:   Mostly, it was the work of other writers that inspired me. Reading Joe R. Lansdale, James Lee Burke, Ian Rankin, Lawrence Block and Robert Crais made me say: “I want to do that!”

Question:   What advice would you offer to those who are currently writing novels?

Answer:  Don’t wait for the muse to strike or spend all your time reading “How To” books. Inspiration comes from sitting your butt in a chair on a regular basis. Though rewarding, writing is hard work. Just do it.

Question:  Where and when will readers be able to obtain your novel?

Answer:  Though being released by Five Star /Cengage in late March, the book will be readily available April 10, 2013 and can be purchased from many places, the most obvious being Amazon and Barnes & Noble. But the best place to check is my website It lists the numerous bookstores, libraries and festivals I will be attending, as well as direct links for One Man’s Castle to Amazon, B&N, and IndieBound books. There is also a very special link to Brain Snacks Bookstore, where anyone can purchase signed copies of One Man’s Castle and the amazing Sue Petersen will ship it anywhere worldwide!

Comments and questions are appreciated from readers and fellow authors. We look forward to hearing from you!

Monday, March 11, 2013

If You Love History

For any of our blog readers who may love historical fiction of any genre (romance, mystery, time-travel, etc.) the way I do, you may want to consider attending an upcoming conference. The 5th North American conference of the Historical Novel Society will be held in June of this year. We have an awesome lineup of agents and editors, all looking for historical fiction. Attendees and Guests of Honor will include Anne Perry (if you like mysteries you’ve probably read some of hers), Steve Berry, Diana Gabaldon, and others. Attendees' books can be bought and sold at the conference and during the special book signing. We have a special pre-conference seminar by Charlotte Cook, where an editor works one-on-one to whip that first five pages into shape.
This year the conference will be held in St. Petersburg, Florida, at the historic Vinoy hotel, known for hosting visiting presidents back before St. Petersburg became the sprawling city it is. For more information and to register, click here.
Hope to see some of you there in June.

Friday, March 1, 2013

Comparison is the thief of joy, unless . . .

The usual misery of February was ameliorated this year with the riveting tale of Patricia Cornwell taking on her financial manager in a case of financial mismanagement, and winning a $50 million settlement. I don't know how this story played out in your home, but it became the undercurrent in the swells of dinner conversation and the rogue wave that crashed during a quiet evening of reading.

The first, and really the only, question was, How many books do you have to sell to make $15 million a year? My answer? How would I know? I can barely figure out how much money I need to get half a tank of gas in the car. Fifteen million dollars for books? I look at that lowly plural "books" and think it needs more oomph to match that amount of money. The word looks so puny by comparison.

The story of a writer who makes huge sums of money will make life much more difficult for the rest of us. Now, every time someone asks me what I do and I admit that I'm a writer, their eyes light up, they stand a little taller, and they ask about my books. I know (and you do too) that they're thinking I'm so rich that I must shed gold dust. As I disabuse them of this notion, their eyes fade to the usual dullness of strangers when I explain the term "mid-list" writer.

The Cornwell saga of loss and triumph has brought a certain glamour to writing once again--for writers. We know our work is mostly drudgery, but now others think we are "almost" important. Anyone who makes that kind of money certainly must be important. Even if other writers don't come close to making what Cornwell makes, we can see the potential is there. It's a heady moment.

Or it would be if I could relate to the court award. But I can't. Cornwell is so far off in another universe that if someone told me she had been awarded $50 billion I would have thought it bizarre but equally irrelevant to me and my life. Furthermore, I don't wade in the mainstream, or swim in the ocean of popular culture. I would never expect any book of mine to sell millions of copies, and if it did, well, my thought processes don't stretch into that realm.

My inability to connect with Patricia Cornwell's circumstances, beyond wishing her a heart-felt congratulations, is perhaps one of the best things that could happen to me or any other writer. Theodore Roosevelt was right when he said, "Comparison is the thief of joy." I love to write, I love hearing the stories that come to me, I love watching human beings act out their dreams and fantasies. If I start watching other writers develop their work and careers, I'm sure to start seeing flaws and emptiness in my own. Even worse, I'll take time away from my own work and what gives me satisfaction.

Writers are celebrating the success of one writer who triumphed in court. But in the quiet of the early morning, or the end of the night, during the time F. Scott Fitzgerald called "the dark night of the soul," writers are also thinking about all those books people are buying. $15 million, which is what Cornwell gave as her annual income, is a lot of royalties for a lot of books. And she's not the only one selling in big numbers. Somewhere out there millions of people are buying books--books, books, books. That little one-syllable word, "books," still has the power to fill a universe.

A few writers in this world will look at Cornwell's court judgment and think they make almost as much, but all writers can look at the news story and know in comparison they live in the same world with her. They write books that go out into the world and someone, somewhere, buys them and loves them. The real news in the Cornwell story, for writers, is how big the world is for their work.

So, to Patricia Cornwell, a brief message, Hearty congratulations, and Thank you.