Thursday, November 29, 2007
Elemental magic requires the right elements. I cannot conjure water of fire. Over these many years, have you not seen my skill?...The Sorceress Nevara defending her ability to perform magic in The Last Troubadour - Song of the Montsegur.
The Tarot is often talked about as being a tool for creative writing. It certainly has inspired many writers in many ways, but I must start by saying I have never been so enlightened by a novel inspired by Tarot as The Last Troubadour - Song of the Montsegur by Derek Armstrong.
To read the full review, please go to The Tarot Channel.
Wednesday, November 28, 2007
Some connections may seem tenuous at best. But others appear from nowhere, like the fellow who emailed me out of the blue to ask if we were related. I believe we are all connected. We're connected by past, present and future, by nature, spirit and energy, by hopes and dreams, by fate and faith, by love and light...and caring.
And yesterday, I was reminded again that this world we live in may seem unbelievably large--infinite even--and yet, the smallest of actions can set into motion something that spreads across land and sea, from one country to another, from one heart to another.
It all started with a wish list I saw online. No, wait! Let's go back further.
It started with an organization in Newnan, Georgia. The Alliance for Children's Enrichment (ACE) is responsible for helping the less fortunate families and children of the Newnan-Coweta area. Every year, ACE makes a wish list, with names, ages and gift wishes of children who live at poverty level. The hardest category to fill is the teens. Their needs are sometimes more expensive and they are often overlooked as many people want to help the younger children first.
This saddens me. I have a 17 year old daughter. Christmas is just as important to her now as it was when she was a child. And every child deserves to have something beautiful and colorful to unwrap on Christmas morning. That is the excitement, the thrill of Christmas.
So how did I find out about this organization and their kids?
I picked up Kurt Vonnegut's Breakfast of Champions to re-read over the Veterans' Day weekend. It's one of those books I try to read every four or five years. I was a freshman in college when I read it the first time. I remembered it being a quick read. I didn't remember, though, that the story takes place over Veterans' Day weekend.
Here's what Vonnegut says in the book about Veterans' Day:
I will come to a time in my backwards trip when November eleventh, accidentally my birthday, was a sacred day called Armistice Day. When I was a boy…all the people of all the nations which had fought in the First World War were silent during the eleventh minute of the eleventh hour of Armistice Day, which was the eleventh day of the eleventh month.
It was during that minute in nineteen hundred and eighteen, that millions upon millions of human beings stopped butchering one another. I have talked to old men who were on battlefields during that minute. They have told me in one way or another that the sudden silence was the Voice of God. So we still have among us some men who can remember when God spoke clearly to mankind.
Armistice Day has become Veterans' Day. Armistice Day was sacred. Veterans' Day is not.
My grandmother remembered World War I well. She worked in an ammunition factory in Illinois during that war, having just graduated from high school. When I was very young, before America's involvement in Vietnam began, Grandma used to take me to visit her brother, my great uncle, who had fought in World War I. He was in a trench when the Germans attacked him and his buddies with mustard gas.
He got injured in that attack. I'm not sure if they called injuries from gas attacks "wounds" in World War I, since that wasn't the kind of injury that showed on the outside like a shrapnel wound or a missing arm or leg, or having part of your face or skull shot off.
My grandfather was too young to fight in World War I and too old to fight in World War II. About ten million men were just the right age to die fighting in World War I, and another ten million civilians of all ages died too. My grandmother and my great uncle said that they and everyone they knew thought World War I was the worst thing to ever happen in the history of mankind, and that they all thought that way until World War II came along. Almost 70 million people died in World War II, which made it roughly three and a half times more deadly than World War I.
Mr. Bush, the current president of the United States, says that if Iran gets the nuclear bomb, we'll have a World War III. Iran says it has no interest in getting a bomb, and Mr. Bush has yet to prove Iran is lying, which is more than we can say of Mr. Bush. I'd guess that Mr. Bush wants some of us to think that if there's a World War III, it will be 3.5 times as deadly as World War II, just like World War two was 3.5 times deadlier than World War I. Wow, that would mean almost 245 million people would die in World War III. I find that concept quite frightening. I wonder if Mr. Bush meant to scare me like that, with all that talk about World War III.
Fortunately for me, I'm too old to fight in World War III, just like I was too young to fight in Vietnam. The wars I fought in were against Iraq and Kosovo. Very few Americans died in those wars, and not all that many of our enemies died in those wars either, I mean, if you compare those wars to World War I and World War II. I'm also a decorated veteran of the war on drugs, I'll have you know. These days I take several drugs, but they're the kind doctors make you take to remind you you're no spring chicken any more.
My dad was just barely young enough so he didn't have to fight in Korea. He got drafted, and he and all his pals thought they were headed for war as soon as they finished boot camp, but both sides agreed to a cease-fire before that happened, so my dad got to spend two years with my mom in Germany instead. That's why I was born in Germany, instead of America where natural born Americans are supposed to be born. Because I was born of American parents in an American military hospital, I'm one of the very few citizens born overseas who can still become the president of the United States, but that privilege is pretty much wasted on me since I don't want the job. As an adult, I've tended to not think very highly of the people who've held it.
I'm a disabled veteran, though you wouldn't know it to look at me. My disability involves my back and my hip, conditions aggravated by many years of sitting in ejection-style seats while flying in Navy aircraft. So my injuries don't show, unless it’s a real bad day for me and I limp a little when I walk. Heh, my injuries, like my great uncle's, are on the inside.
A lot of present day veterans, veterans of Vietnam and the Gulf Wars, are suffering from wounds on the inside of the kind we now call post-traumatic stress syndrome, or PTSD. In World War I they called that sort of thing "shell shock," and it was around World War II time frame that they started calling it "combat fatigue." I know a lot of people these days who think veterans who say they have PTSD are sissies, or worse yet, that they're faking it.
And you know, the people who say that about veterans with PTSD are veterans themselves. Many of them are veterans of Vietnam, a war in which 50,000 American troops died.
Some of these veterans scoff when they hear the killed in action figures for the present war in Iraq. Heck, more people of that age group get killed in highway accidents at home, they'll say. What's the point of all the hand wringing over that few kids getting killed in Iraq?
I ask if they mean that it's okay about the kids killed in Iraq because they would have died in highway accidents anyway, is that how they're saying it works? Are they saying getting killed in a war doesn't count unless tens of millions of other people get killed in the war too?
No, they mutter, that's not what they're saying, I know what they mean, don't I? And I tell them that no, I don't know what they mean. After that they usually start talking to somebody else.
These war veterans and the people they talk to after they're uncomfortable talking with me any more are still big supporters of Mr. Bush and Dick Cheney, who both went quite a ways out of their ways to avoid being war veterans.
I have this little veterans' memorial along the edge of my yard. It's where I put in some new plants early in the fall, so they'd be established when winter came and then bloom when spring rolls around. Puttering around the garage while I was in the middle of this yard project, I found a miniature U.S. flag on a small stick, one of those things you see real estate agents plant a million of in everybody's yard on the Fourth of July. I'd saved this one from the Fourth, for some reason. Anyway, there it was on a shelf in my garage, and I picked it up and took it out where I'd just put all the new plants and stuck it in the ground, where it has stayed 24/7 ever since.
I think of this little plot as my memorial to everyone I personally knew who died in uniform. None of them died in combat. Most of them died in "training accidents," mainly aviation related, things like disappearing into the side of a mountain or flying to the bottom of the ocean.
I keep thinking someone who thinks he's really, really patriotic will come along someday when I'm in the yard playing with my dogs or something and tell me how I'm not treating the flag properly, that I should know better than to leave it outside day and night, rain or shine, what with me being a veteran and all.
I can't wait to see the look on that person's face when I say what I have to say in reply to that. It should be pretty comical, the look on the face of that person who thinks he's so all fired patriotic.
That person might look like he just heard the Voice of God.
Kurt Vonnegut, in case you didn't know, was a veteran of World War II, and saw his fair share of the 70 million people who died in that conflict. He was an infantry soldier who was taken prisoner by the Germans along with some of his buddies, and was in Dresden when the allies bombed the snot out of it and burned it to a crisp. He wrote about that experience in another novel of his called Slaughterhouse Five. If Kurt Vonnegut came down from heaven and pitched me a ration of guff about that little flag in my yard, I'd probably stay calm and listen to what he had to say, and even thank him for stopping by.
Anybody else who wants to give me a hard time about that flag, though…
Commander Jeff Huber, U.S. Navy (Retired) writes from Virginia Beach, Virginia. Read his commentaries at Pen and Sword, ePluribus and Military.com Jeff's novel Bathtub Admirals (Kunati Books, ISBN: 9781601640192) will be available March 1, 2008.
Post Script: Keep Writing.....dreams do come true....don't give up, don't give in, don't quit...
Besides the question really is: What will you do with this ONE mad, passionate life?
Feed your soul every day...from the soul comes the magic...your magic, your own ingredients
Have the best day everyday...
Tuesday, November 27, 2007
As I recover from another Thanksgiving filled with family, friends and stuffing myself - pun intended - with too much turkey and pumpkin pie, I thought I’d share a little time capsule that I came across in a packet of old letters recently unearthed from a junk pile in the attic. They helped me to recall another Thanksgiving over 40 years ago when I had no responsibilities and not much interest in Thanksgiving other than the fact that it would bring my hometown girlfriend and I together again for 5 whole days. A lifetime in teenage relationships.
I’m sure that you remember those days when you’d graduated from high school and had perhaps left the hometown and friends for the first time in your life. Way back then, in the ‘Stone Age’ of personal communications – long before anyone had ever heard of the internet – we used to communicate with these funny little things comprised of dark squiggles on flattened out, mashed up remains of trees. Paper and ink – called letters. And unlike today’s minimalist communications consisting of 1 syllable blocks of ‘code’ where ‘r’ stands for ‘are’ and ‘u’ stands for ‘you’ and none of it stands for very much, we used to think romantic, idealist and often ponderous thoughts and would commit them to paper.
Would the average teenager do that today? In fact would anyone do that today?
At any rate, I’ve taken a few snippets of that first Thanksgiving homecoming angst and the traumatic (at least it was at 17) events that took place over the subsequent weeks of the holiday season. In an attempt to faithfully illustrate the thoughts and feeling of the times, I’ve reproduced parts of some of the actual old letters that I found from that period of the early sixties when the entire fabric of society was poised right on the edge of change. Although no one at the time realized just how profound and widespread that change was going to be. And for those of us who remember those times and those who don’t but have only read about them, reading some of the thoughts expressed in these letters will probably provoke a reaction of: “Good grief! Were you really that sappy?”
Was it a unique time in a unique place filled with innocent idealistic dreams? Or was it just a bunch of kids with naive and unrealistic expectations who had to get their fingers burned on the hot stove of life?
I don’t know – you decide. The only thing I do know is that scorched fingers not withstanding, it sure was fun getting there.
By late October of 1964, my high school honey and I had decided that we couldn’t bear even one more weekend of separation. And despite the fact that the Thanksgiving holiday was only a few weeks away, we just had to see one another.
So I managed to bum a ride with a friend who was going past her school.
We went to some ancient Ivy League pub where the campus poets and English majors hung out. It was paneled with oak that had darkened over the years, to a mahogany like patina. And the tabletops were etched with 200 years of carved student names - like something out of Dickens.
I wore a Shetland sweater and her hair was long and flowed softly around her face. Her eyes were green and gold as they looked into mine and we both wanted me to be a year older when I could transfer to nearby Amherst. Right - and Angels were going to fly out of my butt. However at least I looked the part, even though with my grades I was lucky to have gotten into any college anywhere. But that golden afternoon in October, amidst the red and yellow leaves of a perfect New England collegiate fall Saturday, everything was possible. Yes, I would be there soon. I would get into a nearby Ivy League school and we would play folk music together in a North Hampton coffee house and drive a yellow (her favorite color) Sunbeam Alpine, drink Russian tea out of yellow mugs and no doubt if we got married, we would have 2.2 children and dress them in yellow blazers!
We walked down the perfect campus sidewalk, crunching through rust colored leaves that gave off that special fall smell when you swoosh through them and we held hands in that ‘going steady’ way that you never see any more. That peculiar inverted twining of the fingers that said, “Look – we’re in love!”
Her hair smelled of the perfume that she’d worn on our first date back in high school. And for years afterwards, I would give it to every girl I went steady with. A little gift on about the second or third date. “Oh perfume”, they’d squeal. “You’re so sweet!” Yeah, right.
You know they say that smells evoke some of the most powerful memories and it's true. That's why I finally stopped giving it. But then, the perfume mixed with the smell of the leaves and fall and love. You can love many times in your life and thank God do. But there's something about the intensity of 17 year-old-love that's special. It’s pre-cynicism and post puppy love - a deadly combination.
But there were no thoughts and no regrets that day. Not until our eight hour universe came to an end, and I went home.
October 31, 1964
My Dearest Ric
I feel so completely let down after Saturday. I was so rapturously happy for eight hours and I know that this is only a counter reaction. I am as infatuated as when I just met you, but it's different now because I know and love you at the same time that I'm being snowed. I'm didn't realize how much I’d missed you until I saw you standing in the front hall. We had a perfect day which of course could have been much better if it had lasted longer but it will be perfect when I come home and see you again. Please see about tickets for Bob Dylan. I've been studying all day and looking forward only to a week from Friday when we can really be together
I’m smoking much less and I've lost about four pounds already. The only thing that I miss here is you. If we could be at the same college together, I'd be completely happy. Let's work on that. I have to go to class. I want to tell you very much I love you and want to see you soon.
All my love
November wore on, along with our patience. What was it the ‘immortal bard’ said about parting being “such sweet sorrow?” Don’t you believe it.
She came to see me.
November 12, 1964
Dear Boy with whom I am in love,
Your picture is looking at me, actually sneering but an inviting sneer. If I didn't know you and love you so much, I'd think from the picture that you were cruel, but I'd still want to know you.
Didn’t we have a wonderful weekend! It passed so quickly. I slept all the way back in the car and when I got here I didn't want to be here, I wanted so badly to be with you. Remember the painting that you gave me? It's hanging here too. Everything I think of is related to you in some way. Sunday when we owned world was the best I think. Appropriately, it's raining now and I'm in a reflective subdued moved like when I was quiet Sunday afternoon. I'm not really depressed, I just want to be let alone and think about you.
Did anyone say anything about our appearance at the dance.
O’ West wind, when wilt thou blow
this small rain down on me
if my love were in my arms
and I in my bed again
O’ boy I love, where are you and your milk white steed to come and take me away…. please come.
Take care of yourself
I love you so, Jennifer
Then it was time. She came home for Thanksgiving and we went into Harvard Square and pretended to be the people that we wanted to be again.
And of course what freshman first semester of college would have been complete without a casually condescending ‘drop-by’ the high school dance to cast pitting smiles over the ‘Greasers’ and ‘Rahs’. The shallow, callow youths who were still entranced by the Twist, The Shimmy and The Boog-a-loo.
We knew better. The big world was changing. Our little world was changing. We were changing – we just didn’t know it then.
And then, like all of our dream factory time together, it was over and she was gone … again.
I miss you so. My English teacher told me today that my last paper was the best in the class, so good in fact that it rated a C +. I was sort of amazed. Maybe one has to be a genius to get a decent grade in this class. Oh well, I'll become a happy housewife. Guess whom I have in mind? But I won't be a housewife, I'm always going to be Your lover even if I'm not married to you. You know what I mean don't you. I was so worried when you growled at me over the phone last night. I didn't think you could be that cold and hard just because my letter was one day late. Are you really that way to other people? I did really want to see your play I'm going to come both nights and come back stage during the intermission and leave with you after the performance. It will be almost as good as carrying it your guitar case. Maybe I’m just not cut out for the scholarly life, it comes so hard. But I'm not going to let this school beat me. I'm intelligent and I'm going to prove. If I could only take courses I enjoy instead of the things like calculus and French.
that's all for now my darling, except to say
I love you,
Can you imagine today’s woman in college being concerned about a ‘growling’ (and probably pompous) boyfriend or graduating to become a “happy housewife?” But then the early '60s were really more like the '50s. And the standards and morays were really far more like those of the late 19th century, then what we think of today as being the liberated woman of the 20th and 21st century. We now think of the 60’s as the beginning of Women's liberation and the freedom of the sexual revolution of the late 60’s. But please remember, that in 1964, two of the biggest female stars and box office draws were Doris Day and Marilyn Monroe!
One of the few things that I did take an interest in that year as the fall turned towards Thanksgiving, was the play. In a conscious or subconscious empathy with my long distance love who was also minoring in Theatre Arts, I got a lead part in the fall play. It was Pygmalion and I played Alfred P. Doolittle - the only part I was interested in because it was a very heavy character part. So while I practiced my cockney, my love practiced her calculus and confessed she was happier with the arts than the sciences. A pattern of so many of our 60’s generation.
By the way, what have you done with that English or philosophy degree? Would you like to know what I've done with mine in and history and psychology? Yup, about that much.
The holiday clock ticked down to Christmas while we, with all the accumulated wisdom of our 17 years, pontificated and analyzed all that was wrong with society and how we were going to change things.
But what we couldn’t see, immersed as we were in our own little of our own little 1960’s sitcom, was that the times – both the world’s and our own - were already …”a-changing”.
And the next letter was a small tear in the fabric. She said she needed to stay at school and study rather than see me next weekend. I began to suspect that there was someone else. Another man? Boy? I mean after all, who in 1964 would give up cuddling and kissing for studying?
December 16th, 1964
Hi there. It's 12:15, and I'm just getting started. Ricky, I'm so stupid. I can't believe it. I always regarded myself as a prodigy, however that image was just a little false. I can't see you before Christmas. I'm going to call to and tell you before you get this. Last night I told you that I could and I stayed up until 3:00 a.m. and work all day to day but I just can't get everything done. I have a play Thursday and a major English paper of the semester is due on Monday and. I have to get a “B” on it and I will have to write it this weekend. I know you'll be hurt, but I can't help it. I have to do well here and please don't make it a million times worse by telling me that you will die if you don’t see me. I want to see you too, very, very badly. But I just can't leave. If I have to worry about you (which I do most of the time) as well as myself I’ll go out of my mind. I get close to that sometimes too.
So Saturday is just another day with classis and studying. I don't know if all this is going to do me any good but I've got to beat this place and prove something to myself and my parents if it kills me. Please my love, try to understand.
I love you so much,
She wrote about the pressures of final exams and blue books, while I was sitting in Algebra II for the second time and failing it again. Sounds like a setup for a bad comedy routine doesn't it. “Hey, I failed Algebra II - twice!
Well, I did - twice. And of course sitting next to my ner-do- well Buddy, Charlie, didn't help matters.
Upon getting our test papers, we immediately wrote F's on them. Then neatly folded them into paper airplanes that would have done an origami aficionado proud, and sailed them up to the professor’s desk. He said it was the most satisfying pair of F’s that he'd ever given.
On the other hand, as much as I was blowing off my Freshman year grades, I was sweating out finals, as it had penetrated even my rebellious brain, that they were my only hope of remaining into college - any college - and avoid having my ass (and other even more important parts) shot off in Vietnam.
Jennifer knew this only too well and she wrote " I really worry that you'll get into some kind of mess when your in one of your black moods " Mess was really an understatement. Like the rolling Stones sang, “It's not easy facing up when your whole world is black."
And so things limped along. Our letters were becoming stale. Our relationship was becoming stale. Our love was becoming stale.
Letters that had been every day, slowed to one or two a week, then one or two a month. We were losing each other. What else was there to say - or do?
Despite what the poets say, everything that has a beginning must also have an end. Hey, that's the first law of the universe... eventual entropy. Still, and I always believed in going out with style. What is it they say? " It's better to burn out, then fade away."
So I wrote her. It was good she said. My best. My farewell Opus
And she wrote me back.
January 24, 1965
My Dear Ric,
Your last letter was one of the most beautiful things I've ever read. I felt as if I were there watching you be so alone in the world. I feel as alone as you now, but that's necessary. We once wanted to hide together from the world and we made it for a while and had so much good and were surprisingly decent people. Yes without You I'm just a big prep and a pseudo something. And without me I know you feel you are not good or complete either.
You know how much I want you to be OK. We don't love the same way, we can't… but we do care what happens to one another. We are with a lot of other people now and it's bad in many ways, but good in some also, because somehow we have to be able to live in this world without letting it ruin us as I'm afraid it has started to.
I'll see you soon and then we’ll talk at all out.
my love and concern,
Her letter was good too. She spoke of our wanting to hide from the world together. We didn't so much hide from the world as chose to make it irrelevant. She said we still cared about what happened to one another and we did - for all the difference it made. She closed with " we have to be able to live in this world without letting it ruin us as I'm afraid it has started to." In many ways it succeeded, because ‘first love’ was already running through our fingers like the sand on last year's summer beach.
The last words she ever wrote me were " I’ll see you soon and then we'll talk it all out."
But it was already the end. The talking likewise ended for good on a night wet with ice pellets and a dismal freezing rain.
As we finally, for the first and last time, and ran out of things to say to one another, I stood close to her and inhaled the sweet scent of her perfume and Terrytons and asked her the one, now dreaded, questioned.
You see, almost a year before, I had read her an old medieval tale about a brave knight and a beautiful princess who was able to capture the fabled unicorn because they could only be caught by a "virgin, pure". So our secret code phrase while parted, was always, " hey, are you still catching unicorns? ". I have to admit that on occasion I had lied, but she'd never had. And she didn't this time either. So when I asked her, already knowing and dreading the answer, she looked up at me, her eyelashes wet with cold rain or tears, and in a very, very small voice said…
" No ".
It was over.
Ric Wasley – Author/Musician
· Shadow of Innocence - Kunati - April 2007
· Acid Test - 2004
And please check out my McCarthy Family Mysteries free sample chapters on Amazon and Google!
Baby Boomer article series: http://EzineArticles.com/?expert=Ric_Wasley
New from Kunati Publishing: SHADOW OF INNOCENCE - The Newport Folk Festival provides a groovy backdrop for this fun and exciting mystery set in the music and drug soaked sixties. The Baby Boomers and everyone else are sure to enjoy this appealing mystery featuring a pair of musician partners in love and danger. Don't miss Shadow of Innocence From Kunati Publishing.
Available now on; Amazon ,Borders, Barnes & Noble and at bookstores everywhere.
Ric Wasley has spent almost forty years wandering through corporate board rooms and honky-tonk bars. He now divides his time between writing mystery novels and observing the really ‘juicy parts’ of the human condition.
Monday, November 26, 2007
The answer to that is a definitive YES.
As of 9:45 pm this past Sunday, I completed the 2007 National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo) challenge. This challenge is aimed at writers attempting to write a novel of 50,000 words in the month of November. Coming in at just under 51,000 words, I have a first draft of No Teddy Bears, a young adult story about four foster children in peril. A first draft I am proud of because I crossed the finish line, I have a story with a beginning, middle and end. And unlike some of my NaNoWriMo colleagues, I think I have something worthy of the editing process. Now, if there’s a one-month editing challenge lurking about somewhere, count me out!
So do I have any lessons to share?
Nothing really revolutionary to the writing process. But this adventure did reinforce several basic writing habits that separate writers from wanna-be writers.
1. Write every day.
• This is a must just to build up one’s writing muscle. Just as a concert pianist must practice for a recital each day, so, too, a writer must practice her skills each day so that when the brilliant idea strikes, her metaphorical pencil is sharpened.
2. Write, don’t tell.
• You cannot talk about your story while you are writing it. Someone told me this years ago and it took a long time to understand why this is a good rule. Why? Because your enthusiasm for the story must flow from your fingers first. If it comes from your mouth first, you have just leached off some of the energy in the talking about it and your passion will want. Write it. Then talk about it. (Of course, I realize I broke this rule for NaNoWriMo somewhat. But I knew you would hold me accountable to the finish and that’s a pretty decent motivator.)
3. Begin with the seed of a scene that fascinates you.
• It’s almost imperative to begin any piece of writing with a scene or idea you cannot wait to write. It’s the imaginary carrot that you get to chase for a month, a year, whatever amount of time. For example, Michael Ondaatje, author of The English Patient, found the genesis of that story in an image of a plane falling from the sky. This was his original idea. The story of who was in the plane, why it was falling and onto what country it was falling all started from that first compelling image.
In much the same way, one seminal image fed my process throughout the NaNoWriMo challenge. It was a simple exchange of dialogue that I heard on an investigative news report between a reporter and a four year old little girl. I was pleased to find that story still exists in cyperspace. Here’s the link. http://abcnews.go.com/2020/story?id=1872132&page=1
Read to the end of this feature, and you’ll have some idea about why this was such a powerful inspiration.
Have you read it now? Good. Then there will be no spoilers as I share the following.
I wanted to know about those children. Who they were? What kind of spirit they had to weather such a horrible storm? I wanted to see what kind of moxie was within a little girl who boiled down her abusive foster home experience by saying, “There were no teddy bears.” It’s a cautionary tale about the ideals of childhood. Her foster parents had robbed her of part of her childhood. She interpreted this as an absence of her teddy bear – a symbol of childish innocence. Wonderful. That was my carrot. My quest to get to the end of my story, to be able to flesh out the scene where my fictional little girl, Claire Chaucer, gets to say that line on the cusp of her rescue.
So when NaNoWriMo cranks up again next November, I heartily encourage you to participate and see what you can do in 30 days. You'll be amazed.
Karen Harrington is the author of JANEOLOGY, Spring 2008 from Kunati Books.
‘So am I in it then?’
‘Nah, it’s a story mate. Pure fiction about suicide for profit. Not really our bag that was it?’
‘Well this sounds familiar Tilley. It’s my scooter isn’t it?’
Higgy read out the brief description of Kev’s scooter from the book and I had to agree; it was his scooter, something that really pissed Crabbers off. He snatched the novel, told Higgy to get more beer and began flicking through the pages. It didn’t take him too long to find a riposte.
‘Page 158. I did that. Ran off with your trousers that time in the night club.’
It was true, and Crabbers’ account of what had happened in the Tropicana that drunken, devastatingly embarrassing night opened the flood gates to another round of piss taking and, as we ploughed through our past experiences as Manchester student’s, on more than one occasion I found myself thinking, ‘hmmm, that’s in the book too.’
So here’s me thinking that I’ve consciously written a piece of dark, fictional comedy when it turns out that, in reality, a large amount of it appears to be based on flashbacks from nights best forgotten! But believe me, I am almost certain that we never dressed someone up as a rabbit and dropped them off a cliff.
Sunday, November 25, 2007
I always hated camping—the strange lurking noises in the woods, the bloodsucking mosquitoes that voraciously drilled for blood…the thin canvas of a tent that could be so easily slashed by a bear. Then there were the shadows, pervasive and malignant, hovering in every corner. Of course, peeing in the woods wasn’t my idea of a good time either.
When Justin, my husband, decided we were going on a camping trip with three other couples, I groaned and whined like an errant child. But I knew that I couldn’t escape fate. So reluctantly I packed up our tents, sleeping bags and Coleman coolers stoked with more beer than food. Then we headed for the mountains and Lac de Rëverie.
Justin told me that meant Lake of Dreaming.
During the monotonous drive our newest friends, Margie and Burton, were ensnared in a deadly lip-lock. After ten minutes I avoided glancing over my shoulder and decided that they just weren’t interested in the antique store we passed. Or the three elk grazing in the ditch. And Margie and Burton certainly didn’t give a hoot about the dead skunk lying in the middle of the road.
For a fraction of a second I thought about interrupting their spit-swapping contest.
Instead, I slept.
It was pitch black when we arrived at Lac de Rëverie...
Read the rest of the story HERE.
Cheryl Kaye Tardif,
bestselling author of Whale Song, The River and Divine Intervention
Friday, November 23, 2007
Thursday, November 22, 2007
I’m tired of reading comments on Self-Publishing as a potential threat to the industry. The writers always fasten on writers who produce chapbooks and offer that as the straw that will break the industries back. That's ridiculous.
As a published author of over 30 stories including Chicken Soup and Women's World Magazine as well as being published by (Key Porter Books), I consider myself a self-published author. I self-published 2 non-fiction, 1 children's, 1 anthology of short stories and 3 fiction novels, one of which was nominated for the Arthur Ellis Award (2002) and the another won the 2005 International BookAdz Award. Am I a threat? Hardly. But I am also a gnat whose success will be emulated by others.
I self-published 2,600 copies of my first book in 1997 (278 pages) (hard cover). The stories were priceless but the writing was amateurish. By year end the book had sold about 2,000 copies/Retail: $27.95 and in 1998, I published 2,300 soft covers. Retail: $21.95 and sold a further 1,000 copies until Key Porter Books bought the rights. They published over 3,000 more copies for $25.95. Three years later I obtained my rights back and subsequently went back into the market with my books. I've sold over 6,000 copies of my book to date. I don't know what they sold other than the 1,100 copies from the royalties I received. There are only a few of my books left. I presume they remaindered theirs because I refused to buy them. It looked ugly.
In 2000, I self-published 2,200 copies of a similar book (254 pages) Retail: $23.95 on the same subject. I hired an editor who worked with me so that the prose sang. I only have 600 left. On June 2004, I donated $20,000 of my profit from both books to charity. How did I sell them? I hired a publicist, undertook a mid-western book tour, appeared on television, radio and was interviewed in newspapers in 3 countries. It's called marketing.
I have since self-published 3 novels and earned enough profit to pay for the fourth which will be launched in 2008 and still leave me with a surplus. In fact, I've sold more than $100,000 worth of my books as of last September.
When critics focus on self-published chapbooks, they are making a mockery of those of us who are not challenging the system as much as have a desire to enter it. One time authors have to enter a lottery of slush piles in the hope of being discovered. Agents have too many clients and not enough time to undertake much more than they have already. The rejections are plentiful and the waiting agonizing.
Those like myself are forced to enter the gray area of self-publishing with its mediocrity, poor quality and uninspired writing for many reasons. Poor quality is not one of them. Lately, the legitimate publishing industry are releasing sub-standard writing and trying to pass them off as having been written by good writers of the past. They are closeing the gap themselves.
I am not a writer who has put himself into a self-imposed exile but one who has a passion to put words on paper that make people laugh or cry. I, too, would like to be published by any of the giants of the industry but I am resigned to be a niche writer. I am 71. My future is limited. I began to write when I was 58. Does age mean I'm impotent?
I am not alone. Though I may not know too many like me, our numbers can only grow. In 1978, I was one of the largest linotype houses in North York. I exchanged my machines for the primitive computers of that time. My peers laughed that I was destroying my business. For a while they were right. But I survived until I retired in 2000 and they, the giants of my industry went the way of the do-do bird.
How many remember the do-do bird?
My latest release, Dark Lullaby, is a supernatural thriller about a young astrophysicist who is lured into the Turkish countryside by a beautiful woman who ends up being not what she appears to be. It is a bizarre, atmospheric horror tale that deals with the controversial concept of a ‘higher good’.
I was lucky in that the book was released in September, so close to Halloween. Normally it had been scheduled to be released in the Spring of 2008, but my publisher saw the advantage of the horror-book/Halloween connection. I was thrilled by the news and immediately planned my virtual book tour for the month of October.
My promotional efforts began last year. Even before I was offered a publishing contract, I had already posted an excerpt of the novel on my website, blog, and newsletter. When I signed the contract, I announced it via my blog and newsletter as well. Then, as soon as I had the cover art this past summer, I began to post it and talk about it on different writing/marketing sites, forums and groups. Some of these are:
I also posted on the forums of organizations I belong to, like Broad Universe, as well as on my various publishers’ author forums.
Having a newsletter is very important and since I had been talking about Dark Lullaby for so long, my readers were expecting its publication by the time it came out. My virtual book tour, arranged by Dorothy Thompson at PumpUpYourBookPromotion started on October 1st and ended on the 30th, so it was a tough, hectic month and answering all the interviews in time was quite stressful. Advice: Don’t leave them for the last minute! They usually take a lot longer than you might think. In fact, they can be VERY exhausting, especially if you already have a busy schedule.
Of course, once I had the full virtual book schedule, I posted it on my website and blog and let my subscribers know via my October Halloween Special newsletter. But this doesn’t end here. You have to lure people into reading your guest posts and interviews, right? So I tried to announce my stops daily in as many places as time allowed me. It was tiring work but also rewarding. A promotional weapon I used to persuade people to follow me during the tour was a prize—in this case a free print copy of Dark Lullaby. A prize, which doesn’t necessarily have to be a book, serves as an incentive for people to read your posts and leave comments. (I later learned that giving a copy of your book isn’t a good idea—you may offer a copy, but not of the book you’re promoting on the tour. Why will people buy a copy when they think they might win it instead?)
Another thing I did before the release of my book was contacting reviewers and asking for reviews. As soon as I received a review, I made a big deal of it by posting it on my website, blogs, and all the venues I mentioned earlier. The more reviews, the better. I also asked reviewers to please post their reviews on Amazon.
One of the most powerful ways I know to bring traffic to my website—and therefore my books—is to write articles (these may be author interviews and reviews as well) and distribute them via various article sites like:
These are just a few; there are dozens of great article distributors online.
I also write regularly for http://www.blogcritics.org/ and http://www.ohmynewsinternational.com/. Never underestimate the power of a byline complete with all your important links! Traffic to my website has grown exponentially after I began distributing my articles early this year. This past month I got over 10,000 hits, and that’s not bad at all for an unknown author with only two books out by small presses.
The only downside so far has been that my book is available on Amazon but only via their “other sellers” and not via Amazon itself. In other words, my publisher, Whiskey Creek Press, is selling the book under Amazon’s ‘used and new’ section. The reason is that where Amazon to put a price on it, it would be over $20, and nobody will pay that much for a short paperback novel. The best, of course, is to buy the book from the publisher’s site, which means lower price for the customer and higher royalties for me. :-)
The other disadvantage I have is that, since I live in Belgium, I’m not able to attend conferences or do much in the case of book signings. I try to make up for this by being an aggressive online promoter.
Now that the tour passed, I’m trying to come up with new ways to market Dark Lullaby. One thing I am doing is putting together a mailing list of independent horror bookstores in the US and the UK. I plan to contact them individually and send them a postcard of the book. I also placed a 3-month ad on the Horror Writers of America monthly newsletter.
With so many books published each year, there’s so much competition these days, book promotion is a must if you want your book to be even minimally successful. Luckily, the Internet offers a wealth of information and opportunities to authors. The secret is to embrace them, not be afraid, and dive into them.
Mayra Calvani is a multi-genre author and book reviewer. Visit her website at http://www.mayracalvani.com/.
Blurb from Dark Lullaby:
Wednesday, November 21, 2007
Reviewer Christine Miserandino says, "I love books that are a quick read, but don't feel "short"...The story keeps you interested and turning pages."
Read the entire review at ButYouDontLookSick.com.
I love the fact that London is multicultural. I love the fact that people from every continent can feel confident enough to come here to live and work. But I would love it so much more if this didn’t mean that I couldn’t go to the shops unless I have a phrase book. Of course, there is another side to this. We are told time and time again that the immigrant communities are a drain on the British welfare system. Seems to me that they are the only ones doing any bloody work!
Tuesday, November 20, 2007
Current rules require a glass partition between bartenders and customers, but that may not be enough according to Coray.
The walls don't obscure the alcohol, Coray said, which makes the "atmosphere in a restaurant to more of a bar."(sic) She singled out a chain restaurant that opened on Nov. 1, because alcohol bottles are in plain view.
"We have a dual responsibility," the commissioner said. "We are to make alcohol available for those who want to consume it and at the same time not make anyone uncomfortable."
Of course, there are opportunities here. Enterprising Utahans will certainly come up with Bottle Burkhas in attractive designs that meet the requirements of the new regulation.
There is no word as yet on what other offensive matters may be subject to obligatiory covering in the state of Utah, but a delegation from Iran is expected to arrive in Salt Lake City shortly to begin consultation. Watch this site for further news.
(By the way, it’s also worth noting that, in spite of what your cardiologist and millions of grandmothers say, Utah law provides that publicity about wine “may not imply …..that consumption of the product will benefit the consumer's health…”)
--Lynn Hoffman, author of THE NEW SHORT COURSE IN WINE and
the novel bang BANG which appears in Utah wearing a conservative blue book cover.
For me, the sooner oil prices drive these people back into the pubs and slums of their home towns the better because frankly, travelling in Europe these days with an English passport makes you about as welcome as bird flu.
Monday, November 19, 2007
Sunday, November 18, 2007
First, adequate rest really is important. Staying up past your usual bed time to do more chores, TV-watching, or writing catches up with you over time. The studies are out there proving so, but nothing hits home more than trying to live with sleep deprivation.
Eat healthy. Have you ever tried eating a few raw veggies versus a bag of chips in the afternoon? What a difference. The energy boost from veggies was a surprise to me, and it works well. Though, I still grab those chips far too often.
Stay fit. This was a big problem for me. Once I started working full time, I had little energy left for writing. I was napping 3 to 4 times a week, which isn't necessarily a bad thing, but I wanted fewer naps and more writing time. So, I joined Curves because their thirty-minute workouts three times a week are fast and efficient. Best of all, I saw my energy return within a month. Pick your favourite form of exercise and go for it. Increased energy helps improve concentration and the amount of time you can spend at your keyboard.
Use a day planner. I write down what I need to accomplish each day, not just for writing, but for errands, chores, and appointments. Just don't create an impossibly long list, or you'll feel frustrated and disappointed if you don't get to cross everything off.
Adopt a set writing time if possible. Because my day job schedule changes from week to week, nothing is set in stone, however, on days when I work the afternoon shift, I write and do my heavy editing in the mornings. When I work the day shift, I type up changes, research markets, and do lighter editing in the evening. The point is to make the most of whatever time I do have. I also have my own space to write and while I like to use different rooms for writing, having one spot helps me get into a creative frame of mind quickly.
Break the big writing projects down into small portions. I've been writing long enough to know what's ahead when I start to write a book. The outline, research, writing, rewriting and editing, and ultimately more rewriting is so daunting I can feel worn out and intimidated before I start. But if I just one aspect at a time, it's not so bad. Sooner or later, I know I'll get there.
Learn to multi-task. Most moms and dads already do this out of necessity. So do professional writers. I find that working on more than one writing project makes my writing life more challenging and interesting. I'll choose one or two projects to work on any given day, taking breaks for chores, errands, exercise, or other tasks. These days I'm typesetting one book, editing a second, writing reviews, and working on a couple of stories. And of course there's this blog business. But I'm healthy and willing, so why not go for it while the going's good?
Friday, November 16, 2007
Prize package valued at approx. $70.00 CDN.
For contest rules, go to the Love of Reading.com Online Book Fair.
Thursday, November 15, 2007
For contest rules, please go to the
Love of Reading.com Online Book Fair.
~Cheryl Kaye Tardif, bestselling author
Tuesday, November 13, 2007
But there are 2 lovely ladies who love to blog and have a lot to say and share. I stumbled across Maria Amelia Lopez, who is 95, and Olive Riley, who just turned 108. These 2 gals put the rest of us to shame! :)
Maria's grandson set up her blog as a birthday present, and no one knew it would take off the way it did. In her first blog entry, she posted "Today it's my birthday and my grandson, who is very stingy, gave me a blog." Maria is billed as one of the world's oldest bloggers, with Olive Riley in the lead by 13 years. Maria's blog has seen over 340,00 hits since December 2006. Spain's "little grannie" has become a hit world-wide, although most of her blog is in Spanish. She talks about everything--life, children, war--and she does it with wisdom and often humor. She talks of the past and her youth, and of current affairs, and she does so bluntly. I wish I could read Spanish!
Olive Riley, fondly referred to as Ollie, at 108 is blogging with the assistance of Mike Rubbo. I'm not sure if he's family or a friend, but regardless, he has a great heart and is the film industry. In fact, he has put up some never before audition footage from his Canadian film Tommy Tricker and the Stamp Traveler. Mike is trying to track down some of these 'kids' who auditioned for the Tommy Tricker movie. Olive is from Australia, a great, great grandmother, and she also talks about a wide variety of topics, although for the most part, Mike does most of the talking. I have to laugh at some of Ollie's comments. She prefers to call her blog "my blob". This gal has got spunk!
This just goes to show that our senior seniors still have something to say. And they're gonna say it, by golly! And all the power to them. Gotta love 'em! :)
And for my not so seniorly friends and writer pals who haven't gotten up the nerve to start a blog, what the heck are you waiting for?
Visit Maria Amelia Lopez's blog.
Visit Olive (Ollie) Riley's blog.
~Cheryl Kaye Tardif,
bestselling author of Whale Song, The River and Divine Intervention
Monday, November 12, 2007
The strong Canadian dollar comes some huge savings for Canadians buying American goods or traveling to the States, but it also comes with a frightening down-side. With the Canadian dollar reaching $1.10 last week, some bookstores have seen enraged customers go above a few nasty words. As James Adams reported in the Globe and Mail last Saturday, "the Canadian bookshop has become a charged environment, perhaps even a dangerous one." There have been two reported incidents of customers throwing books.
Canadian book prices have always been absurdly high, compared with US prices. It's always been a common complaint, and believe me, as an author who puts herself out into the frontlines by doing book signings in bookstores, it isn't always easy to listen to customers complain, berate staff or even me, or walk out angry.
As a Canadian author in the middle of a 3 month book tour, I have to sadly agree with much of this article. I have witnessed angry customers taking their frustrations out on innocent bookstore staff--many of them teenagers who make $8.00/hour, if they're lucky. I've overheard loud conversations by disgruntled customers and have born the brunt of their anger as well.
Ironically, my publisher Kunati Books was the first publisher in Canada to lower prices to be closer to par. And they did this about 2 months ago.
What people don't seem to realize is that it isn't up to the bookstore, and it certainly isn't up to the author to lower prices. This is something the publisher must do, and the bigger the publisher, the bigger the financial loss. But I've heard rumors that some are coming onboard with Kunati. Since my publisher is smaller (and maybe a bit bolder), they won't have such a drastic loss. And don't forget, the author would make less as well.
People seem to forget that for every book, thousands of copies have already been printed, taking into consideration the original retail price. Many smaller publishers cannot take the hit. We have already lost too many Canadian publishers as it is.
So my advice to book lovers is: keep your cool and remember that these things take time. No one likes the high prices, not even me. But I certainly don't like customers yelling at me or my bookstore staff friends for something that is out of our hands.
Instead, I invite you to support those publishers or bookstores who have already lowered book prices. Kunati Books will be happy to sell Canadians their books (including my novel Whale Song) for near to par. Whale Song went from $16.95 to $13.95 for a trade paperback. By supporting the publishers who have already done this, you are then sending a strong message to other publishers.
~Cheryl Kaye Tardif,
bestselling author of Whale Song, The River and Divine Intervention
The airlines say in their commercials that they offer comfort, convenience and prompt service. If you are vertically challenged and you can actually move your legs in the seat without requiring knee replacement, you might be comfortable. Of course, you may have the misfortune to have a seatmate whose deodorant has crashed and whose armpits are closer to your nose than his/her own, in which case, comfort is of less importance than clean air.
I remember a flight in which the woman who sat next to me must have bathed in a vat of honeysuckle oil. By the time I got off the plane, I needed a respirator.
Security has been ratcheted to a level no one could have anticipated, but all of us reluctantly accepted. Travelers made concessions to the new stringent measures but no one else has, certainly not the airlines or other institutions. Since 9/11, flight delays, late arrivals and other inconveniences have multiplied, straining the patience of any traveler, even Jobe would have lost his patience if chariot travel was as bad.
My wife and I recently went to the Charleston, South Carolina Airport to retrieve my visiting brother arriving from Milwaukee on a flight scheduled to arrive at 12:16 pm. To allow time for my brother to collect his luggage, we were deliberately late by more than ten minutes. In the pick-up lane, there were two rent-a-cops in little white high-tech helmets sitting on bicycles looking like Rottweilers with pork knuckles. “Pull up right here,” I told my wife, and then glanced at my watch, “I’ll run in and check to be sure the plane is down.” With some concern, I noted that if the plane was down, there would be some activity on the sidewalk, but it looked as deserted as a scene in a sci-fi movie – nobody around but the biker Gestapo.
I naturally assumed that a thirty to forty second dash into the terminal for a glance at one of those screens located all over the terminal while my wife waited at the curb would not lead to gunfire. I was wrong, well, maybe it didn’t lead to gunfire, but one cop stroked his weapon while licking his lips.
I opened the car door, put one foot on the curb and was immediately confronted by a helmeted man no more than five feet four who met his vertical challenge by berating motorists who violated curb space for which he was responsible. Waving a billy club like a Chinese goon in Tiananmen Square, he snarled, “Move along there, no stopping!”
I said, “I’m just gonna check to see if a flight is on the ground. I won’t be but ...”
“You can’t park here,” he snapped, “move along, smartly now, smartly!”
“It won’t take but a few seconds.” I pleaded.
“I don’t care!” he said loudly, and for a second or so, I thought he was going to arrest me, “YOU CAN’T PARK HERE!”
Twenty yards back, I noticed the other Rottweiler also waving cars away from the curb. A third helmeted cop, probably the supervisor of the other two, rode by on his bicycle pedaling like Lance Armstrong in the Tour De France and zig-zagging in and out of the slow-moving traffic. Hurriedly, I turned to my wife and said, “You’ll have to go around, Barney Fife here is feeling his oats.”
My wife said, “Maybe we should park in short term ...”
“What’d you call me?” the cop demanded.
“Go around,” I urged again, “go, go!”
I ignored the cop’s question and hurried inside as my wife pulled away from the curb. I figured he was too young to know who Barney Fife was anyway.
Inside I found the schedule screen and let my eye travel down until I saw my brother’s flight. There it is, I thought, arrival time 12:16. My eye followed the little green dotted line to “On Time”. I looked at my watch, which read 12:30. I slowly looked around the cavernous terminal which looked like the railroad station scene in “The Untouchables”. It was almost empty, and particularly so at the baggage claim area. If the flight was on time, where were the deplaned passengers?
The counter where I could inquire was at the opposite end of the terminal, which, since, at 74 years young, it might as well have been in California, I went back outside to await my wife’s return. Five minutes later, she eyed the cop as she went by him and then suddenly snapped the van to the curb. Three Rottweilers began furiously pedaling toward us, little sci-fi helmets bobbing rhythmically.
I wondered if one of the specifications for bike riding helmets was that they must look foolish to be effective. I gestured at my wife to lower the electric window, but with the death squad bearing down on me, I didn’t wait and opened the door, “Keep going around!” I shouted, “I don’t think the plane is down yet.”
“Is it on time?” she shouted back.
“I don’t think so.”
I heard a whistle blow ominously.
“GO! GO!” I slammed the van door and ran inside. My wife pulled away. The bike squad panted to a stop but didn’t follow me inside.
It was now 12:40, almost thirty minutes after the arrival time and the screen still said “On Time”. I began to wonder that maybe the airlines consider on time as being the same day. Ten minutes later one of the baggage conveyors got underway, but it was for the arrival of another flight.
Almost an hour after we arrived at the airport, I noticed more activity at the gate area and spotted my brother threading his way toward me. After a hug, we went to the baggage conveyor to get his luggage. Luggage came up a conveyor belt one at a time separated by at least thirty feet of belt. I remarked to a woman standing next to us that the man handling the baggage must be too small to handle more than one bag at a time. She nodded knowingly and said, “It’s a woman. I saw her myself and she couldn’t weigh more than a hundred pounds soaking wet.” I noticed the schedule screen still had my brother’s flight listed as “On Time”.
We finally got his bags and started outside. I saw the screen changing from “On Time” to “Arrived” for my brother’s flight. Outside, we weathered the glares of the three stooges on bikes while we waited for my wife to come around again. I found out later that she cycled around five times, about ten miles at thirty miles an hour.
Here’s the rub: the air travel industry doesn’t give a hoot in hell about inconveniencing the traveling public and now has an excuse. Don’t look at us, it’s the terrorists fault.
Late arrivals and delayed flights have proliferated beyond all reason, creating a mess for passengers and those trying to collect them at terminals. It seems like a little thing that legend “On Time”, but if it had been changed to reflect the real situation, we would have used short-term parking.
Unreasonable attitudes by traffic police exacerbate the problem. Has it not entered those silly little helmets that some brief parking is necessary, and can’t they approach their responsibilities with at least some concern for people?
As we drove away from the airport, my brother said incredulously, “They took my toothpaste!”
“You’re kidding,” I said.
“No, the security agents took my dadgum toothpaste. Not only that, when they did, they berated me as if I was the control agent of a terrorist cell!”
Sunday, November 11, 2007
So today is a very Good Day, check out my DeadlyProse blog and find out why: http://www.deadlyprose.com/
Read every day....
Friday, November 09, 2007
The second annual fair celebrates and connects online book community with three days of non-stop events.
The second annual Love of Reading Online Book Fair will be held November 14-16 at:
http://www.loveofreading.com/ from the hours of 10 a.m. to 8 p.m. EST.
Drop by and check it out!
~Cheryl Kaye Tardif is the bestselling author of Whale Song, The River and Divine Intervention
Thursday, November 08, 2007
Aside from the fact that SIWC is close to home for me, the other great thing about this conference is that I'm always learning something. This was my fifth visit in the past decade, and although my main goal was to obtain an interview with an agent, which I did, I learned a great deal about plotting a mystery from presenter, Anne Perry. Hallie Ephron offered a fantastic workshop on POV, complete with worksheets, exercises and examples. I thought I knew this stuff, but she made me rethink things. Other presenters included Donald Maass, Diana Gabaldon, Jack Whyte and a long list of well known writers. The food was good, the conference well organized, and the opportunities to learn, network, and meet an agent/editor one-on-one, immense. If you need to jumpstart your writing, or just need a change of scene, give it a try.
Next year's conference will be from Oct. 24 - 26th. For more info. visit www.siwc.ca.
Thursday, November 01, 2007
I travel to these conferences not only to meet people, but also to sightsee and learn about the places I visit. One stroll down the Vegas strip and I could figure out what drives that city in ten minutes. Anchorage, though, took a deeper search.
Conference coordinators provided a CSI day where we learned about Alaskan crime and criminals, past and present. We were also treated to a search and rescue dog demonstration, and more interesting stories about the state. The local museum offered insights to the state's history, and just walking through downtown Anchorage gave me a sense of a more relaxed pace than I see in Vancouver. The six days I was there, I didn't hear one car horn blast, and rush-hour was practically nonexistent. Yet, there were two shootings near our hotel, a fatal beating, and a plane crash in the short time we were there. Coordinator, Dana Stabenow, and her colleagues put on a terrific confeence. Panels and guest speakers were interesting, the food great, and I even came away with pages of useful notes for writing novels. If you're looking for a beautiful vacation spot, I heartily recommend Alaska.
Next week, I'll talk about a entirely different type of conference, one I also recommend . . . the Surrey International Writers' Conference.
Infinity Publishing President Tom Gregory is the visionary behind AuthorNation.com. Gregory expanded upon the literary community concept first initiated by Ben Franklin in his early gatherings of writers, printers, readers, and business folks, who met weekly in a tavern to discuss timely publishing topics and exchange books of the day.
Free membership for everyone encourages writers at all levels, and readers of all interests, to participate through a considerable array of interactive tools. Writing hobbyists, emerging writers, and established authors can build a writing portfolio with short stories, poems, articles, book excerpts, and more, or simply use the space for a personal blog. Published authors wanting more book sales are partial to the profile bookstore, with a "Buy It!" button. Shameless promotion is encouraged.
*Reprinted with permission from "The Book Marketing Expert newsletter," a free ezine offering book promotion and publicity tips and techniques. http://www.amarketingexpert.com
September 30, 2007
What Ails the Short Story
By STEPHEN KING
The American short story is alive and well.
Do you like the sound of that? Me too. I only wish it were actually true. The art form is still alive — that I can testify to. As editor of “The Best American Short Stories 2007,” I read hundreds of them, and a great many were good stories. Some were very good. And some seemed to touch greatness. But “well”? That’s a different story.
I came by my hundreds — which now overflow several cardboard boxes known collectively as The Stash — in a number of different ways. A few were recommended by writers and personal friends. A few more I downloaded from the Internet. Large batches were sent to me on a regular basis by Heidi Pitlor, the series editor. But I’ve never been content to stay on the reservation, and so I also read a great many stories in magazines I bought myself, at bookstores and newsstands in Florida and Maine, the two places where I spend most of the year. I want to begin by telling you about a typical short-story-hunting expedition at my favorite Sarasota mega-bookstore. Bear with me; there’s a point to this.
I go in because it’s just about time for the new issues of Tin House and Zoetrope: All-Story. There will certainly be a new issue of The New Yorker and perhaps Glimmer Train and Harper’s. No need to check out The Atlantic Monthly; its editors now settle for publishing their own selections of fiction once a year in a special issue and criticizing everyone else’s the rest of the time. Jokes about eunuchs in the bordello come to mind, but I will suppress them.
So into the bookstore I go, and what do I see first? A table filled with best-selling hardcover fiction at prices ranging from 20 percent to 40 percent off. James Patterson is represented, as is Danielle Steel, as is your faithful correspondent. Most of this stuff is disposable, but it’s right up front, where it hits you in the eye as soon as you come in, and why? Because these are the moneymakers and rent payers; these are the glamour ponies.
I walk past the best sellers, past trade paperbacks with titles like “Who Stole My Chicken?,” “The Get-Rich Secret” and “Be a Big Cheese Now,” past the mysteries, past the auto-repair manuals, past the remaindered coffee-table books (looking sad and thumbed-through with their red discount stickers). I arrive at the Wall of Magazines, which is next door to the children’s section, where story time is in full swing. I stare at the racks of magazines, and the magazines stare eagerly back. Celebrities in gowns and tuxes, models in low-rise jeans, luxury stereo equipment, talk-show hosts with can’t-miss diet plans — they all scream Buy me, buy me! Take me home and I’ll change your life!+
I can grab The New Yorker and Harper’s while I’m still standing up, without going to my knees like a school janitor trying to scrape a particularly stubborn wad of gum off the gym floor. For the rest, I must assume exactly that position. I hope the young woman browsing Modern Bride won’t think I’m trying to look up her skirt. I hope the young man trying to decide between Starlog and Fangoria won’t step on me. I crawl along the lowest shelf, where neatness alone suggests few ever go. And here I find fresh treasure: not just Zoetrope and Tin House, but also Five Points and The Kenyon Review. No Glimmer Train, but there’s American Short Fiction, The Iowa Review, even an Alaska Quarterly Review. I stagger to my feet and limp toward the checkout. The total cost of my six magazines runs to over $80. There are no discounts in the magazine section.
So think of me crawling on the floor of this big chain store and ask yourself, What’s wrong with this picture?
We could argue all day about the reasons for fiction’s out-migration from the eye-level shelves — people have. We could marvel over the fact that Britney Spears is available at every checkout, while an American talent like William Gay or Randy DeVita or Eileen Pollack or Aryn Kyle (all of whom were among my final picks) labors in relative obscurity. We could, but let’s not. It’s almost beside the point, and besides — it hurts.
Instead, let us consider what the bottom shelf does to writers who still care, sometimes passionately, about the short story. What happens when he or she realizes that his or her audience is shrinking almost daily? Well, if the writer is worth his or her salt, he or she continues on nevertheless, because it’s what God or genetics (possibly they are the same) has decreed, or out of sheer stubbornness, or maybe because it’s such a kick to spin tales. Possibly a combination. And all that’s good.
What’s not so good is that writers write for whatever audience is left. In too many cases, that audience happens to consist of other writers and would-be writers who are reading the various literary magazines (and The New Yorker, of course, the holy grail of the young fiction writer) not to be entertained but to get an idea of what sells there. And this kind of reading isn’t real reading, the kind where you just can’t wait to find out what happens next (think “Youth,” by Joseph Conrad, or “Big Blonde,” by Dorothy Parker). It’s more like copping-a-feel reading. There’s something yucky about it.
Last year, I read scores of stories that felt ... not quite dead on the page, I won’t go that far, but airless, somehow, and self-referring. These stories felt show-offy rather than entertaining, self-important rather than interesting, guarded and self-conscious rather than gloriously open, and worst of all, written for editors and teachers rather than for readers. The chief reason for all this, I think, is that bottom shelf. It’s tough for writers to write (and editors to edit) when faced with a shrinking audience. Once, in the days of the old Saturday Evening Post, short fiction was a stadium act; now it can barely fill a coffeehouse and often performs in the company of nothing more than an acoustic guitar and a mouth organ. If the stories felt airless, why not? When circulation falters, the air in the room gets stale.
And yet. I read plenty of great stories this year. There isn’t a single one in this book that didn’t delight me, that didn’t make me want to crow, “Oh, man, you gotta read this!” I think of such disparate stories as Karen Russell’s “St. Lucy’s Home for Girls Raised by Wolves,” John Barth’s “Toga Party” and “Wake,” by Beverly Jensen, now deceased, and I think — marvel, really — they paid me to read these! Are you kiddin’ me???
Talent can’t help itself; it roars along in fair weather or foul, not sparing the fireworks. It gets emotional. It struts its stuff. If these stories have anything in common, it’s that sense of emotional involvement, of flipped-out amazement. I look for stories that care about my feelings as well as my intellect, and when I find one that is all-out emotionally assaultive — like “Sans Farine,” by Jim Shepard — I grab that baby and hold on tight. Do I want something that appeals to my critical nose? Maybe later (and, I admit it, maybe never). What I want to start with is something that comes at me full-bore, like a big, hot meteor screaming down from the Kansas sky. I want the ancient pleasure that probably goes back to the cave: to be blown clean out of myself for a while, as violently as a fighter pilot who pushes the eject button in his F-111. I certainly don’t want some fraidy-cat’s writing school imitation of Faulkner, or some stream-of-consciousness about what Bob Dylan once called “the true meaning of a pear.”
So — American short story alive? Check. American short story well? Sorry, no, can’t say so. Current condition stable, but apt to deteriorate in the years ahead. Measures to be taken? I would suggest you start by reading this year’s “Best American Short Stories.” They show how vital short stories can be when they are done with heart, mind and soul by people who care about them and think they still matter. They do still matter, and here they are, liberated from the bottom shelf.
Stephen King is the author of 60 books, as well as nearly 400 short stories, including “The Man in the Black Suit,” which won the O. Henry Prize in 1996.
Posted by Karen Harrington, author of JANEOLOGY, Spring 2008 from Kunati Books.