Archive for category Books
Anyone who knows me has to be aware that I read voraciously. My partner sometimes calls me ‘Wormie,’ since I’m such a bookworm. So, while it is always my intention to review the books I read, sometimes I’m plowing through them so rapidly that I just can’t take the time. I thought, instead of lengthy reviews, that I’d list some of the books I’ve read in the past few months, with a few comments about each of them, and why I picked them up.
I was wandering around our local Barnes and Noble and found myself drawn to the three for the price of two table. Well, okay, I’m always drawn to that table, but I don’t usually buy anything because I can never find three I want to read. But this time, I did. I’m already through the two memoirs:
I picked up Life in Motion: an unlikely Ballerina, by Misty Copeland, largely because my niece, Audrey Rachelle Stanley, started out in ballet. Audrey danced for two years with the Nashville Ballet’s second company, before switching to Contemporary Dance. She now lives in New York City, and dances with Teresa Fellion, among others. I was curious about the ballet world, and about the way a black woman has made it in what I know to be an extremely competitive and demanding profession. This inspiring book is partly about that, and partly about Ms. Copeland’s crazy childhood, and the wonderful people who inspired and helped her along the way. I could hardly put it down. Certainly, the chapters where she talks about dancing on injuries because she was afraid she’d lose her position confirmed my suspicions about the ballet world, but much of the book says that if we have enough passion, and we work hard enough (and maybe have that extra something special?), we can achieve greatness.
I also picked up What the Dog Knows: Scent, Science, and the Amazing Way Dogs Perceive the World, by Cat Warren. I enjoyed this book, even though it wasn’t quite what I expected: I thought there’d be a lot more science about how dogs and humans smells things, but it’s more about the training of dogs to become cadaver dogs, and testing of other species for that purpose. There’s enough of her personal story with her dog Solo to keep the story moving, and I learned some things about the use of dog-generated evidence, but my main take-away was that I shouldn’t feel bad that my two corgis don’t listen to my commands when they feel that they know better than I do.
I also picked up Freud’s Mistress, by Karen Mack and Jennifer Kaufman, off the sale table while I was at B&N. This book is based upon what is known about Minna Bernays, the sister of Freud’s wife, and Freud’s relationship. I imagine that this book would be very interesting, since Freud himself has been so influential, and I have enjoyed novels about Hemingway’s wife and Frank Lloyd Wright’s mistress. Also, Freud’s Mistress has received a fair amount of press. I’m sure that the authors did their research well, as they include many details about life in that time. For my taste, they are too caught up in the details, and the guilt that Minna feels, and the prose is stiff. Freud comes across as a horrible man, and I wonder why Minna would find him attractive. Perhaps he was awful, but it seems over-done. I plan to finish the book, but I keep picking up others instead. I think a lot more could have been done with this material to bring it to life.
With a sigh, Josephine dropped her head on the chest, hoping to catch a little of the jasmine scent Grandmother Rose used to wear, and feel again her grandmother’s kindness and love. She imagined burying herself in the old woman’s arms. If she could only bring her back to life, she would stop being so lonely and upset. But that, of course, was impossible.
The lid lifted easily, its leather hinges still intact. Velvet skirts covered in beads and mirrors filled the top tray. Again, she was a child. Her mother walked in the front door at Grandmother Rose’s in one of these outfits, her arms loaded with presents. Josephine ran to her, and she swung her around and around. Then Josephine ripped the paper off one of the presents to reveal a baby doll in a pink dress with a matching hair bow, exactly liked she’d wanted. She squealed and hugged her mother.
Her mother hadn’t stayed long, maybe a few days. After her mother left, Grandmother Rose held her while she cried herself to sleep. How many times had that happened before she’d learned not to get excited when her mother visited? The last time, the day of Rose’s funeral, she’d seen her mother park in front of the house, and she’d gone into her room and closed the door.
That’s an excerpt from my short story, Heritage. The full story can be read by downloading Mosaic, a Compilation of Creative Writing, by the Cartel Collaborative. The book is free, and you can get it on Amazon by clicking the link below. Or go here to find other formats.
If you’re curious about the story behind the story, here’s a little bit about how I wrote Heritage.
This story was born out of a writing prompt in my local writing group. I no longer remember what the prompt was, but I remember what I free-wrote in our twenty minutes; Josephine took a necklace she’d found in her mother’s home to her aunt. I opened with Josephine driving up to her aunt’s home in a downpour.
With this, I had two themes: cleaning out the home of a mother from whom she had been estranged; and a beautiful old necklace found there, which belonged to her aunt.
The rewriting started immediately. At first, I attempted a very short story, which I took to my writing group. They found it too complex for something that short. It must be a novel, they urged. I went home and tried expanding it, adding a father, two brothers, and a host of relatives. It grew into a childhood of gypsy wanderings, with all kinds of complexities, but I couldn’t make it work. I researched old necklaces, trying to build a story around the one Josephine finds. Eventually, I abandoned the enterprise, but my subconscious kept the ideas alive, and the files stayed on my computer.
Along came James Lee Schmidt, with his suggestion to compile a book of stories. With a short deadline, I scanned back through my computer and found my abandoned novella. Why not pare it back to its origins? Goodbye brothers. Goodbye wandering childhood, and so many other unnecessary bits and pieces. Josephine, though, needed expansion. She was a cardboard character in my original story; she had to come to life. With more years of writing experience since the initial version, I knew this was key. Who was she – not just what she looked like, and what she did for a living, but what was her character like? What made her that way? I don’t want to give too much away, but I made her a high school physics/math teacher. To match that, she’s introverted, a bit intimidating, a bitter loner who takes refuge in numbers, yet she’s sweet underneath the hard crust.
This may sound like an awful lot of modification, but I think of a story as a wad of wet clay. So long as you keep it wet, you can create a bunny rabbit, wad it back into an amorphous form, make a horse, add a saddle, then change it into a donkey. Until it’s dried, it can become anything, and that’s half the fun.
Once I liked my story, I sent it my co-authors for critiquing. There were a few comments which were along the lines of “what are you talking about?” If a reader says that, I know something needs fixing, even if it isn’t the spot they marked, so I made a few more significant modifications — adding cousins, for one—and sent it back to them. There were far fewer instances of “huh?” this time. After that, it went to a professional editor. By now, I was pretty tired of this wad of clay, and it was getting dry, at least in my mind. Mirel Abeles, my wonderful editor, suggested brown eyes, longer ears, and a larger saddle. I saw the wisdom of most of her words, so I dug in hard one last time. Finally, came the day when she gave me a thumbs up and it seemed I had a nice tale, free of extraneous commas and other bloopers.
Now comes the hard part, at least for me, which is asking for your feedback. Please read it and leave a review on your favorite retailer (or all of them). Reviews are the only way we, as independent authors, get found. Thank you so much!
I hope everyone had a wonderful weekend, and you’ve gotten your free copy of Mosaic, A Compilation of Creative Writing by The Cartel Collaborative. If not, I set up a permanent page over the weekend where you can get it off my site, just by clicking the above link. For those who want paper, sorry, we couldn’t do a paper book without charging you, and we couldn’t decide how to we split our twenty cent profit between our eight wonderful authors, so we decided to be all electronic. 😉 That said, you can get it in just about any electronic format you can imagine.
I’m proud and excited about this professionally edited, professionally designed, book of short stories, short short stories, and poems. I enjoyed re-reading my collaborators’ stories when I proofed them, and we’re getting great comments from others who’ve read them. Please take the time to leave us a review (at least click some stars!).
Now for another plug. If you live in New York City, I am so jealous, because you can go see my wonderful nieces perform this Wednesday, at Gibney Dance. I don’t know if this fundraiser is open to the public, but here’s the Fb page. If I could, I’d fly out to see it. Audrey’s been dancing since she was four, and every adjective I see about her is in the category of amazing. I’ve only seen her live once, and she was still in middle school ( 😦 ). I’ve seen videos and she deserves the praise. Theresa is doing a reading – she’s published a series of short stories in literary journals. They’ve banded with other artists, to put together a creative evening of live music, dance, and more. I so want to go! Oh, I said that already, but it bears repeating.
In other news, I spent the weekend getting cold weather veggies (parsnips, beets, spinach, …) in the ground and beginning the task of setting up an author WEB site. It’ll be awhile before that site is ready….. Oh, and go on over to shortfictionbreak.com to read my short story, Columns.
Here it is, guys, in all its glory! I feel as if I’ve talked about it enough. You’ll find the links below to get it FREE. Here’s Christy’s synopsis:
Mosaic is a collection of short stories and poetry ranging from serious to light-hearted. Follow Leonardo as he learns what his inventions have inspired. Wyatt finds hope in a time of darkness. One man learns that even in death his loved ones aren’t really gone. Josephine learns about a mother she hardly knew. Jane attempts to heal from the loss of her father during 9-11. Griffin learns about life on his journey to become a leader. Tracy learns something about the past that leads her to the future. Daniel’s magic pencil makes his drawings come to life. A child is haunted by the thoughts in his head. Zac finds exactly what he needs during an afternoon at a theme park. Sprinkled throughout is a collection of poetry sure to stir up emotions. Inspired by The Story Cartel class, each author brings their own unique style, offering something for everyone.
To find out more about us and the project, go to our WEB site: http://thecartelcollaborative.com
You can get it in just about any electronic format you want – .pdf, kindle, ibook (sorry, I don’t have the ibook link), nook, whatever your heart desires. It should be free on all of these sites (please let me know if it isn’t so I can fix the issue). Click your favorite link below:
To get the .pdf, click the book cover. Otherwise, click on the logo for the site.
After Margie created the 146 page .pdf, which you can download for free tomorrow here, or from my fellow author’s pages, if you prefer pdfs over kindle, nook, etc. (links will be up here), someone had to transform it into a .doc and get it onto all of those places. I took on this task, following the Smashword style guide to create a .doc file and run it through the lovely program called Meatgrinder (can you think of a worse name?). I tired to make it look as much like Margie’s lovely book as I possibly could (please, please don’t download the .pdf off of Smashwords. It’s not nearly as pretty as Margie’s version, for some reason). Smashwords distributes almost everywhere, except Amazon, so I uploaded it there as well. Christy Zigwied, the last author profiled, below, composed a description.
So the book was ready, but then came marketing. So let me introduce Lee, our main marketing guru (it really does take a village), who has given us all kinds of advice (most of which, we’ve probably ignored, being, you know, introverted writer types who wish the marketing part would magically happen on its own). But a little bit sunk in, I hope. (Sorry, Lee. Maybe as the weeks pass we’ll use more of it. I sure hope so).
Lee J. Tyler
Lee apparently loves to surf the WEB for advice about writing and marketing. So, as we went along, she kept putting up helpful links about these topics, and jumping in and suggesting this and that to smooth our way. As I said above, lately she’s been really great, just at the point where most of the rest of us began to freak out (at least, speaking for myself. Maybe everyone else totally has marketing under their belts, but it scares me no end). I’ve been getting about ten emails a day from her.
This brilliant woman contributed a story about a woman who lost her father on 9-11 to Mosaic. She has a novel in progress, as well as a mystery series. You can find her at www.thepointofthequill.com and www.leejtyler.com/about-me/
Last, but not least, we have Christy, who not only contributed a short story to Mosaic, but wrote the book blurb. Christy’s story focuses upon people helping others. There’s of course a dog who brings them together.
Christy was often the first one to jump in with suggestions when anyone raised a question (again that village thingy). She’s working on two novels. You can find her at www.christyzigweid.com.
Since it’s Sunday, I thought I’d reveal our cover. Also, because I’ll say a few words below about Angie, who designed the cover.
Isn’t it beautiful! And you can get our book for free, starting Wednesday, March 25th.
Yesterday, I mentioned the first drafts, then the critiques. After getting their first critiques, each author rewrote their pieces, using the critiques to improve the plot lines and flow. Some added more tension, some made their characters more interesting, all kinds of things. My one story expanded from a short thousand or so words to about two thousand, as I recall. We critiqued all the pieces again (round 2, but it was a good idea). After that, everyone went their own way for a while, as we edited and then each hired our own professional editor.
I was surprised and delighted that I liked working with my editor. I’d never really done this, but she nailed the issues with my stories (and two thousand words became 4600 in the original short-short). Without her, they wouldn’t have been so delightful (at least I sure hope you’ll like them). I’ll write more about what came next, but today I want to introduce our cover artist, Angelique Mroczka, and our fourth writer, Brian Rella.
Angie is a visual artist, as well as a writer, and the owner of a small publishing company. She creates amazing covers for books, as you can see, runs workshops for writers, does one-on-one coaching, blogs, runs a podcast, and seems to do a million other things. If you go to her WEB site, you can snag her short story book. We’d hoped she would contribute a story for Mosaic, but all of those zillion other things kept her too busy. I have to say that her Web site is stunningly beautiful, but what else would you expect from this amazing woman?
I don’t know if I’m making the book seem easy, but there was lots going on behind the scenes. Brian would step in and offer wisdom, encouragement (and oh, do writers need that!), and help any time it was needed. He contributed one of the longer stories in Mosiac, an intriguing tale of coming of age, human conflict and wise beings. When we started the book, Brian had never published anything, but he had a wonderful short story, Scarlach, appear at strangerviews.com. It’s available for free, along with another entertaining story, The Bathroom Incident at Dunmaster Academy, at his WEB site, www.brianrella.com.
Again, I’ve got to say, this project couldn’t have happened without every single author jumping in and doing their part. We all learned so much from each other.
Putting together a book like Mosaic: a collection of creative writing (to be released on March 25th!) is a lengthy process. I certainly had no idea how much work would be involved when I raised my virtual hand and said, ‘yes! I’ll do it.’
To start with, we had to do two things: write a draft of our stories, and come up with a plan.
The first part was pure fun for me. I love inventing stories. The second part was a little more tedious, but, between our more experienced writers, and the congeniality of the group, we decided that each story would go through two rounds of critiques, and then everyone would hire their own editors. We also decided not to charge for the book (which means that you’ll be able to get it for free!) Angelique Mroczka offered us a cover design – wait until you see the gorgeous job she did. Oh, and we came up with deadlines and the other details of getting something truly professional into print.
Our first deadline arrived. Ten people submitted works. So far so good. It was time to critique. Critiquing is an art, similar, but different from editing. One of the things which I find difficult is noting what’s good about a piece, especially when they’re a little raw, as some these were. What’s good might be the concept, the plot, the characters, or all of it. Then there’s what’s not working and some suggestions for how to fix it. Some critiques were almost as good as any professional edit, while others were pretty casual. Anyway, we (mostly) all read every piece and posted our critiques.
Then we had to read all of those critiques. Some of mine were pretty tough to take. It was clear that one of my two stories didn’t work at all. What a bummer. I’d written a short short (less than a thousand words), and it had to be completely rethought, re-plotted, etc. I remember tearing my hair out. I wanted to remove it, and I wasn’t the only author who had that reaction.
More about the process tomorrow! But now, I want to introduce two more of our amazing contributors, Stef Gonzaga and S. J. Henderson.
Stef has five poems in Mosaic. Initially, we’d planned on a book of short stories, but she wanted to write poems, and I’m so glad she did. They’re lively short pieces, which completely change the flavor of the book. There’s one about a snake (my personal favorite?), and one about love, and – well you’ll just have to read them, won’t you?
Besides being our only poet, she’s the only contributor who doesn’t live in the United States. Lots of onlies! She’s a writer and editorial manager for DesignGood, and has several books available on her WEB site (another collaborative project, a workbook on creativity, and more). Her techie skills were invaluable in allowing us to finish this project, and she set up our WEB site (yes, we have one!!!). Head over to learn more: stefgonzaga.com
S. J. Henderson:
The most important thing you need to know about S. J. is that she loves to ride horses (can you tell from the photo?). I’m kidding, but they do seem to play a very important role in her life. Actually, the most important thing you should know is that she has published two wonderful, funny, children’s books for the 6-12 age group, Daniel the Draw-er, and Daniel the Camp-er, and is working on a YA fantasy/horror novel (it’s fantastic, guys, really. I was a beta reader for her. I just wish she had published it already, so I could give you the link and you could buy it). Another important fact is her love of coffee. She has one not-at-all funny piece about autism and one hilarious piece about Daniel in Mosaic.
S. J., as the only one of us who’d self-published novels, provided lots of wisdom and advice as we stumbled along towards publication. She’s been a fount of information, and a steady head throughout, as well as a damn good critique-er who can see plot holes everyone else misses. I deliberately didn’t link to her novels up above, because you simply have to go to her WEB site, where you can get autographed copies. sjhenderson.net
Are you starting to get the idea that collaboration can be amazing?
Thanks to Naurich at freeimages.com for the photo of balloons.