Posts Tagged inspiration

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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taking on too much

Are you someone who tries to do too much? I sure am. Lately I feel like one of those clowns who is trying to juggle so many objects that she can’t keep track of all of them. The balls, pins, and whatever other objects fly out into the audience, where they are forever lost.

I should know better, right? Years ago, I worked with a life coach who had me put an elephant on my desk. I forget exactly why an elephant, but it was supposed to remind me to do less. The elephant is still on my desk – 20150503_213823but to be honest I hardly ever look at it. It’s lovely and even has colorful pinwheels in it, but I ignore it! I just keep taking on as much, no more, than I can handle.

A discussion on facebook about signing up for an online writing course sparked this post and made me wonder if there’s a cure. More than likely, I won’t have time to finish this course. I’m already behind and we’re just finishing the first week. I have excuses, but I’m also realizing that I didn’t need to add anything else to my to-do list. It looked so delicious and it’s FREE! How can I resist, except that I have deadlines coming up quickly, and I’m trying to write and edit stories for an anthology of my own short stories, help market Mosaic, get in shape for the summer bicycling season, and then there’s the day job. Oh, and I’m trying to design a WEB site for my author stuff, and well, I think I’m seriously becoming embarrassed, so I’ll stop listing the huge amount of things I’ve taken on, all of which were derailed this weekend by social commitments.

The only defense I have is that every single one of these things is important to me. Very important. Life-giving and exciting and interesting and many other wonderful adjectives. I want to do it all. And I would, if only there were twice as many hours in each day. Unfortunately, something will fall through the cracks, and it’s up to me to decide what that will be. In my opinion, though, prioritize is a dirty word.

What about you? Leave me a comment, and I promise to respond.

 

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Bicycling with the Bend Bellas

KONICA MINOLTA DIGITAL CAMERAI tried something new yesterday – a local women’s cycling group. I’ve bicycled for years, from the time my father taught me how when I was six (and oh how I remember that first lesson. No training wheels in our family meant Dad had to hold up the bike while I wobbled around and figured out how to push the pedals and keep my balance). At times, I’ve been pretty serious about it. I’ve even done two centuries, although I’ve never raced. But I’ve usually ridden by myself, or with one or two other people.

Still, there’s a great group of women cyclists here in town, so I finally gave it a shot. There were ten of us of varying abilities on a short, rather level ride. We stopped frequently to let the slower ones catch up, which is a really sweet feature of this organization. No one gets left behind. If you have a flat, someone helps you out. What a concept!  We had one pretty inexperienced rider, so the rest of us spent quite a bit of time waiting for her (she made the whole ride and was smiling at the end!). While we waited, we chatted about our favorite rides and how often we go out, getting to know each other a little. Instead of being competitive, it was low-key and fun.

Putting together Mosaic was a bit like that: sharing common interests with a group of people, and making sure no one got left behind, while we all learned something. Plus we were smiling at the end (this time because it’s such a well-written book).

But that isn’t really what I want to talk about in this post. I was thinking a little bit tonight about who I write for, as in who do I have in mind when I write. I went to a talk by Ruth Ozeki this afternoon, and she said that she writes for herself. That doesn’t sound very collaborative, does it? Yet it works for her, as she’s won numerous awards for her novels, and the auditorium was packed with people who seemed to have all read her most recent book (it was the Bend Community Read this spring). And if I think about who I write for, it’s people like myself. People like the women I rode with today. How can I do otherwise?

I admire someone who can write a book for children, or for teenagers, when they’re no longer one themselves. But I’m not like that. I write what I want to read. I write to explore issues which concern me. Things such as what it means to be a woman with a career, how to find a calling in life, how to move past childhood wounds and find self-worth, or deal with a difficult relationship. Sometimes I explore larger issues such as poverty, cruelty, or environmental destruction. And occasionally, I just have some fun and play around with the world of magic and adventure while throwing in a dash of these other issues. Ruth Ozeki did say something interesting: she strives for a balance between tragedy and comedy. I like that concept. I hope I manage to do that.

How about you? When have you collaborated on something, or made sure no one got left behind? How did that work out? If you write, do you write for people like yourself, or for a different group? Please leave a comment and let me know.

And don’t forget that Mosaic, A Compilation of Creative Writing is still free. Click here to get your copy. And don’t forget to leave us an honest review!

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Monday Morning Coffee

Mosaic-HR_author_namesI 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.

 

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A tale of creating a collaborative book

balloons

Almost time to celebrate!

 

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 Gonzaga:

Stef GonzagaStef 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:

Sunny 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.

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Short Story – Robotics

working girl on ballThe few months have been busy with writing projects. First of all, there’s ShortFictionBreak.com, where you can read my latest short story, Robotics, in two parts, or catch up on the four other stories I’ve posted there. And then, there’s a new project, Mosaic, which should be published in January. I can’t provide a link yet, because we’re still putting together our WEB site, but I can tell you a little bit about it.

Mosaic is a spin-off of Joe Bunting’s wonderful Story Cartel Course, which he offers every once in a while. One of the lovely things about this course is that, once you’ve taken it, you can keep taking it for free, which I’ve done since I always seem to punt once the course gets to the nitty-gritty part of using Twitter and social media to connect with people. I keep thinking that I’ll actually do the exercises in those parts, but, well, I hate Twitter. Or perhaps I should say that I haven’t yet been able to manage the onslaught of information constantly flowing at me via that mad medium. Either I tune it all out, or I chase down every interesting link, and, well, there goes the day. Or … RABBIT!

Damn, it got away.

Oh, was I writing something? So, that’s all neither here nor there. What has come out of this course has been lovely connections with other writers, and by lovely connection, I mean critique partners. Really good ones. I have learned so much from them! I continue to connect with many of them, sharing writing, and writing tips. That’s how I connected with Jeff Elkins, who started shortfictionbreak.com. It’s also how I ended up in the Facebook group, Skywriters, which has turned into a bi-weekly critique group par excellence. And now, there’s Mosaic, a book of short stories, short shorts, and poems by the most recent graduates of the story cartel course, where two of my short stories will appear. And, no, you haven’t already read them on this site or anywhere else.

Mosaic is professionally edited, professionally designed and, best of all, Mosaic will be completely free. I’m really excited about it. It’s been a lot of work getting to this point, and a big growth opportunity for me, not just working with an editor to create great stories, but also helping the other writers, and coordinating it all. I’m not done, yet, either, as I promised to take the final product, replicate it as a .doc file, and put it on Smashwords (which I understand isn’t easy!), but at least I’m not the one doing the WEB site, or the book design.

I’ll tell you more about this exciting project as we get closer to publication. In the meantime, why not jump over to shortfictionbreak.com and enjoy a short story or two?

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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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