Posts Tagged Books

A book round-up

Life in Motion

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.

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Molding a short story – an example

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.

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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!

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And…. it’s coming, folks. Tomorrow!

Mosaic cover sidewaysOne last post on the process of compiling this book and marketing it, not that the last part is finished. I don’t want to bore you, but….

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

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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/

Christy Zigweid

https://i0.wp.com/thecartelcollaborative.com/home/wp-content/uploads/2015/01/Christy-Zigweid-e1421888862699.jpgLast, 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.

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Only two more days!

Mosaic-HR_author_namesOver the past three days, I’ve brought you to the point where the stories were finished. Margie Deeb took these and created a beautiful .pdf for us, which you’ll be able to download for free (yes, FREE!) on Wednesday. She chose an elegant style, with black and white graphics for each story, sort of a wood-block look, times new roman font for the text, and a modern font for the story titles. She also set up a table of contents, to ease moving around in the .pdf. We each wrote bios for the end of the book. I can’t even imagine all of the hours which she put into this. She caught typos, and sent our chapters to us for proof-reading, link-checking, etc. This was all volunteer, guys!

James Lee Schmidt, with our input (and a lot of that!) wrote an introduction. He helped Angie with the cover, and Margie put it all together into the document. Finally, we proofed it, and we had a product!!! Yippee! But we weren’t done, yet. I’ll talk about that tomorrow. Right now, though, it’s time for you to meet James.

James Lee Schmidt

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He looks awfully serious, doesn’t he? This photo could be a Rembrandt, or some other Dutch Master, like Vermeer, especially with that hat….

Anyway, Mosaic was James’ idea. We were all enrolled in The Story Cartel Course, sending stories back and forth, and chatting, when he asked if anyone wanted to put together a compilation. A few of us signed on, and the book was born. He took the lead in setting up ground rules and making decisions. He was also a great cheerleader and techie support.

James is the author of Strange Tales of the Oskaloosa Oddities Society. He wrote a story for Mosaic about re-finding one’s inner child and understanding that succeeding at work isn’t everything. The story centers around an uncle taking his niece to a theme park, when he doesn’t want to. You can find him at jamesleeschmidt.com

As James says “it takes a village to raise a writer.”

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Cover reveal

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.

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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 Mroczka

AngiePicAngie 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?

http://angiemroczka.com/

 

 

Brian Rella

https://i2.wp.com/thecartelcollaborative.com/home/wp-content/uploads/2015/01/Brian-Rella.jpg 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.

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Mosaic is coming!

Mosaic #1

Sometimes it seems like I have nothing to talk about. But now I have big news. Mosaic, a Compilation of  Creative Writing by the Cartel Collaborative will be released next Wednesday, March 25th. Less than a week to go! I’m excited, because this book of short stories and poems is the result of many months of hard work by the eight authors featured here.

A little history: we ‘met’ on the internet via Joe Bunting’s The Story Cartel Course, which emphasizes the importance of writers helping other writers. James Lee Schmidt came up with the idea of putting a book together – we’d shared and critiqued stories, so he figured we had the talent. Soon, Mosaic was birthed!

Each day for the next five days, I’ll tell you a little more about our process, and feature a couple of the authors.

Margie Deeb

Margie Deeb

 

Today (drum roll please) – Margie Deeb.

I don’t know what we would have done without Margie, who designed the book. We were incredibly lucky to have this talented visual artist, who has published five books about bead work and won an award for The Beader’s Color Pallet. Because of her, we ended up with a visually beautiful product. Even more, she wrote two short shorts, Leonardo, and Connecting Flight, which are humorous and sweet. It’s fantastic the way they add variety and contrast with some of the longer, heavier, stories.

This is a piece by Margie. See what I mean about talented visual artist?

Margiebead

To learn more about Margie, and see more of her incredible artwork, go to MargieDeeb.com. I think you’ll be amazed.

And, no, this is not our cover. Ours is amazing and I’m not revealing it yet. This is a photo by Ayla87 at freeimages.com.

 

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Book Review: In The Time of Butterflies

This novel by Julia Alvarez was a National Endowment for the Arts Big Read selection. From the book blurb:

It is November 25, 1960, and three beautiful sisters have been found near their wrecked Jeep at the bottom of a 150-foot cliff on the north coast of the Dominican Republic. The official state newspaper reports their death as accidental. It does not mention that a fourth sister lives. Nor does it explain that the sisters were among the leading opponents of Gen. Rafael Leonidas Trujillo’s dictatorship. It doesn’t have to. Everybody knows of Las Mariposas—the Butterflies.

This novel is based upon a real incident which happened four months after Alvarez’s family escaped to New York. The Mirabel sisters, known as Las Mariposas, were members of the underground resistance, along with Alvarez’s father. In her notes at the back of the novel, Alvarez says: “When as a young girl I heard about the “accident, I could not get the Mirabels out of my mind. On my frequent trips back to the Dominican Republic, I sought out whatever information I could about these brave sisters who had done what few men and only a handful of women—had been Julia-Alvarezwilling to do.” She took what she found and began to invent the characters which fill these pages.

Alvarez tells the story from the point of view of each of the four sisters, devoting alternating chapters to each. We start in 1994, with the surviving sister, Dedé, meeting a journalist who wishes to interview her about her sisters. Then we drop into the past. Dedé is a little girl living on a farm with her family. We meet the fierce middle sister, Minerva, who wants to be a lawyer, the religious oldest sister, Patria, and the shy youngest, María Teresa. Their lives seem peaceful, their father becoming prosperous. Like many girls, Minerva and Patria are sent to Catholic boarding school, where Minerva pushes the boundaries along with her girlfriends and Patria becomes ever more religious. Dedé stays home to help her papa with his store.

However, the brutal Trujillo’s dictatorship soon changes everything. Minerva and her friends, chosen to perform a skit for Trujillo, change it to make a political statement in front of him. Trujillo, known for taking pretty teenagers as mistresses, sets his sights on the beautiful Minerva. Inviting her family to a ball, he tries to claim her, but she manages to escape. From then on, the intrigue builds, yet in between the political, the sisters grow up, falling in love, having their children, and interacting with their aging parents. Their marriages have their very real ups and down.

I loved this novel. The language is rich, the descriptions beautiful, and the four sisters’ voices come across clear and distinct. I felt as if I was right there. I loved the way Alvarez combined the intimate with the political, reminding us that all warriors have parents, many have spouses and children, and every choice they make has to be weighed against the risk to those they love. I give it five stars out of five.

Note: A Wikipedia page about the Mirabel sisters states that the International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women is November 25 in honor of the three brave sisters who were assassinated Nov 25, 1960.

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