Friday, December 27, 2013

What Goes Around Comes Around ?

Christmas comes around every year as do most holidays and Holy days. Many put their Christmas trees curbside before the New Year ushers in, but Twelfth Night is actually the close of the Christmas season. Originally an Elizabethan festival, the name Twelfth Night is also a reference to the 12th night after Christmas, called the Eve of the Feast of Epiphany. After Shakespear's play, Twelfth Night, adaptations eventually appeared in the twentieth century on stage, in radio, and in film. So yes, it continues to come around.
My French-Canadian grandparents celebrated Little Christmas every year on January sixth, The Feast of Epiphany. It also holds special meaning for me as my fourth child, a son, was born on that day. In keeping with the Epiphany feast I will be serving a Tourtier (meat Pie) on twelfth night. So, yes, customs do go around and come around.

Will trends in writing do the same? I have my doubts, but themes do keep reappearing in fiction: coming of age, redemption, healing, etc. to name a few, and authors do put a different spin on these themes.
I recently read Stella Bain , a new novel by Anita Shreve; an author I admire.The novel is the story of an American woman who is injured in Northern France during World War 1. She has lost her memory and doesn't know what has brought her to this foreign war. Eventually she reconstructs her life with the help of a British surgeon. To quote the fly leaf of the book,"Together they begin to unlock a disturbing history - of deception and thwarted love, violence and betrayal." The story line takes you from France to England to the US and back again.The author's omniscient point of view goes along fairly smoothly without author intrusion through the first half of the book, but interest wasn't  sparked for me  until  letters reveal the protagonist's life with her children in New Hampshire and a court trial begins. Then it became exciting , but I found the transitions at times a little choppy and confusing. The ending was a short summation that was disappointing. I was surprised about this book because so many of Anita Shreve's novels were enjoyable for their plots, style and memorable characters. I'm revealing  my reaction to her novel out of wonder if author's works lose their luster or do they continue to spin glorious stories with age old themes?

Caroline Gordon, a prominent literary figure in the nineteenth century, wrote a memorable quote: "A well-composed book is a magic carpet on which we are wafted to a world that we cannot enter in any other way."  That is certainly something we all strive for,isn't it? Both readers and writers.

Another author I can mention does not  fit the title of what goes around comes around, but, Norman Maclean began writing fiction after he retired from the University of Chicago. At age 73 his novel,
 A River Runs Through was published. I like his quote: "Eventually, all things merge into one, and a river runs through it." Coincidentally my writing life began after I retired from the State University of New York and my first novel was published  in my twilight years also. Kindred Spirits are not so scarce as I used to think!

In a few more days the New Year will begin. I wish all readers and writers a year filled with happiness, success and joy and I close with another quote by William Arthur Ward.
 "The pessimist complains about the wind;the optimist expects it to change; the realist adjusts the sails."
HAPPY NEW YEAR everyone.

Friday, December 20, 2013

Finding Perfect Holiday Presents by Jacqueline Seewald

The where and how of holiday shopping plagues most of us. Nothing can quite compare with the yearly ritual of holiday shopping, which theoretically begins on the day after Thanksgiving, Black Friday. However, in actuality it begins much earlier, of late right after Halloween. In fact, the way things are going, pretty soon the stores will start putting up tinsel on the 4th of July.
The frenetic pace of shopping madness increases unabated throughout December. The shopping itself takes on such dimensions that with many people the material supercedes the spiritual aspect of the holidays.
But before the shopping can even begin, there is the business of finding parking at The Mall. Holiday shoppers know when they are nearing this location because traffic becomes as thick as an ant colony, and jockeying for position starts in earnest. Inevitably, a type "A" personality loses patience and aggressively pulls out on the shoulder of the road, speeds ahead, then forces his/her way into the regular stream of traffic. This individual manages to gain perhaps four or five car lengths to ultimately beat the traffic light, forcing other drivers to slam on their brakes and come to an abrupt halt. A cacophony of horns proceeds to announce the general agitation.
     Arriving at the mall, one is treated to a breathtaking sight—an unending sea of automobiles. There is quite literally not a parking spot to spare. And so begins the art of cruising for a space. This can be compared to the choreography of a ballet. Automobiles pirouette and arabesque around the lot.
     Inevitably, there is a car waiting in each aisle for someone to pull out. Often there are two vehicles set to swoop down like vultures. The poor driver who must pull out of the spot has a serious dilemma: which way to go? One or the other of the waiting drivers must be disappointed, only to drive off angrily, perhaps offering the middle finger salute. Definitely not showing proper holiday spirit! (More like the gunfight at Okay Corral)
     Drivers keep cruising, ready to dive like kamikaze pilots when they find a likely target--barely avoiding fender benders--a holiday miracle in itself. No matter how many spaces exist, there are never enough.
     Another technique involves following those who are leaving. Sometimes these shoppers are merely putting away their packages and return to the Mall for further exploration. Then there is the individual, fully aware someone is waiting for his/her parking spot, who decides this is a good time to sit and light up a cigarette, fiddle with the car radio, or begin a philosophical discussion on the meaning of life with someone they've conjured on a cell phone.
     Most amazing of all are those who decide to grab the closest parking spot. I'm talking here about nabbing the spaces set aside for the handicapped. These artists fall into several categories. First are those who have no physical impediment whatsoever but park illegally because they don't want to continue cruising. We have no trouble spotting them as they run out when the police start ticketing. The second category: those who somehow obtained handicapped stickers yet can move like gazelles, either had some impediment but are over it and kept their stickers, or obtained them illegally in the first place. There seem to be a growing number of these talented artists who we may refer to as prima donnas.
     With so many people claiming the right to place handicapped stickers in their automobiles, I am waiting for the time when non-handicapped signs will be issued instead.
     After managing to obtain a parking spot and reaching the Promised Land of the Mall, we are greeted by a chorus of Hallelujah from the sound system. Unfortunately, by this time, we are almost too weary to shop.
     When Christmas and Chanukah come and all the gifts are finally handed out, matters are not in the least resolved, as a good portion of those gifts will end up being returned soon after. (The heaviest shopping day of the entire year is December 26th) So just when we think our holiday shopping is finally done, it's only just begun!
Then there's the matter of re-gifting. That's the most bizarre ritual of all. This refers to presents that don't come with any clue as to where they were purchased. Even Sherlock Holmes would scratch his head in perplexity.
 These are gifts that no one in their right mind would want to keep: purple plaid socks, perfume that would make a skunk turn up its tail in disgust. Well, you get the picture! So what does one do with such odious presents? Naturally, we save them and give them to those who have given us their re-gifts. You know you've gone full cycle when one of your re-gifts is gifted back to you.
So how do we avoid mall madness? More people than ever are turning to online shopping. I would like to suggest that e-books are excellent gifts to give. You don’t have to run around. You can make your selections in comfort. And you don’t have to spend your life savings. There’s a perfect book for everyone, whether nonfiction: perhaps a cookbook, a book on home repairs, or fiction such as romance, mystery, or thriller. Naturally I’m going to recommend my newly published prize-winning historical romance novel THE CHEVALIER available in all e-book formats:

My e-book of romantic short stories BEYOND THE BO TREE:
and my co-authored family mystery novel THE THIRD EYE:
All are e-books, inexpensively priced and easy to order.
And for those who prefer paperback novels, I’d like to suggest my mysteries from Harlequin Worldwide reprinted this year:
There is a book for every taste available for ordering online. What are your feelings regarding holiday shopping? Do you give books as gifts? Do you consider books good gifts? Thoughts and comments most welcome! Let’s exchange opinions.

Monday, December 16, 2013

What is the Writer's Life?

When I meet someone new and they ask me what I do my usual answer is that I am a project manager for a global company by day and an author by night. Unfortunately, by the time I get to the part about being an author, half of them have quit listening. The ones who catch that get stars in their eyes and say, "Oh, that must be wonderful." As if I'm a superhero, complete with cape and fire breathing pen.

I don't want to appear rude, but I have to ask, "What do you think a writer's life is like?" Evidently, it's a very romanticized profession. Some people think we spend a few hours writing and reading, and all the things that normal people do, like cleaning, cooking, paying bills - is done by the shoemaker's elves. Or paid services, like those authors that have made a mint.

The truth is we still have "lives," just like everyone else. Not many authors have made a mint, and out of the hundreds of thousands of authors, only a small percentage are making big bucks. The rest of us, if we're lucky, make enough to pay for our reading habits. And most of us have the dreaded "day job" to pay the living bills.

Writing is an art. And you've all heard the stories about "starving artists," right? Many of us would be starving if we didn't have some type of income to supplement to our writing paychecks, which are sparse. Although novelists "might" get an advance, the truth is we do a lot of waiting.  Most advances are small so you can't live on it. Your book won't come out for 18 months, and you won't see royalties until you've earned back your advance, so it could be more months before you ever see another "paycheck." Everyone get's a piece of the pie: the agent, the publisher, the distributor, the bookstore, and we might get 10% of the cover price - that's $2.50 on a $25.00 book, folks. Not a lot.

While we're waiting on the novel to come out, we're furiously writing a new manuscript, that may or may not be picked up by the current novel's publisher. If we're working another job full-time, our writing time is relegated to nights and weekends. And we've got to eat (feed your family), stay healthy with exercise, not to mention cleaning and maintaining your home. If we're lucky, we have family to help out, like a hubby who picks up groceries on his way home from work. Or kids who can run the vacuum and a dust rag around to get the big chunks. That is if we are lucky. Add a little reading time to stimulate the muse, time with the family and writing time is smaller and smaller.

Authors: "I don't know about you, but I've tried getting up before the sun (5:30 AM) and writing for a bit before anyone else is up. It was fun at first. An adventure. I got tons of writing done because I was fresh from sleep or the edge of a dream, BUT...I also found myself running out of gas about 8:30 PM. What I gained on one end of the day I lost on the other. We all have a finite amount of time and energy."

Am I complaining? A little, maybe. That won't stop me from finding time to write and read and muse about interesting characters. It's what we author's do. Our lives revolve around story telling, so... I hope those people who aren't writers will understand that what we do isn't always easy. Blank pages can be intimidating. Deadlines can be stressful. Money can be in short supply.

Then why do we do it? "Because we're writers and it is our life."

Friday, December 6, 2013

Zellie's Story (The Back of the Backstory) by Susan Oleksiw

I recently finished writing a novella that all but wrote itself. It was a great feeling, and I loved the story that emerged. It didn’t begin this way. The story began as a short mystery with an ending that was vividly clear to me. I knew who the main character was and how the story would evolve. But as I began writing, the character revealed quirks and surprises that I found interesting and sometimes endearing. Everything she said or did hinted at a deeper backstory. I gave an extra paragraph here and there, and before I realized it the original idea had transformed into something I didn’t expect.

At this point I could do one of two things—I could delete the supposedly extraneous material and get back onto the mystery track, or I could follow along the new developments and see where they went. I chose the latter. I finished the story, writing page after page even when I wasn’t sure where this was going to end, and then realized I had reached the moment of decision. As a poet once said to me, Something happens, people change, mysteries remain. The story found its ending.

Discovering a complex story as you write is a wonderful experience, but it is one that seems to happen less and less frequently to writers. Perhaps it’s because we write with a focus on publication, or a marketable story idea or an outline, or because we feel there are so few publishing options left for non-genre work.

I began with one genre in mind and ended up somewhere else. I don’t want to call it literary fiction because it is first and only a story about a woman whose life in the backwoods is upended unexpectedly. I think of it as just a good story.

If I hadn’t been able and willing to give the time to the story of Zellie’s life, regardless of the question of being able to find a publisher for it, the story might never have been written. I suppose what I’m really saying is that writers are more and more slotted into certain genres, and we can move from one genre to another, but those have to be specific genres—mystery, romance, science fiction, paranormal, historical. We are also expected to write more or less according to a single format that stresses plot, action, surface speed rather than depth. The freedom to write the story that comes, one that doesn’t fit into any specific genre, seems to have been lost. The options for self-publishing may seem to give us more opportunities to publish, but they are really the opportunities to publish more of the same, not something different.

The freedom to experiment and explore, to write something interesting even if it has no specific category, is decreasing, and this is too bad. This is where the best discoveries are made—about characters, story lines, insights into the way people behave—and where, I think, the individual has the greatest opportunity to grow as a writer.

I set aside my current mystery novel project to finish Zellie’s story, and I’m glad I did. If you’re curious about Zellie, you can find her life at the link below. If you’ve also set aside a more commercially viable project to explore another idea, I’d like to hear about it.

(And here let me give credit for the cover design to Kathleen Valentine.)