There “we” are, The Angry Woman Suite and me, right above Bill O’Reilly. October, 2013. Lovely.
“One Book, One San Diego” is a community reading program (partnered by KPBS and the San Diego Library) wherein San Diego readers select, read and critique one book en masse.
This year’s selection is Geraldine Brook’s Crossing Caleb, ostensibly the story of Caleb, the first Native American to graduate from Harvard University, in 1665. I say ostensibly, because we know Caleb solely through the eyes and voice of Bethia Mayfield, daughter of a Calvinist minister, so Crossing Caleb is really Bethia’s story, in my opinion—which is fine. What’s really interesting is that Bethia tells her story (and, ergo, Caleb’s) in archaic, but gorgeously lyrical, 17th century language (and you can forget about finding the Kindle definitions for many of these now obsolete words, because our smart Kindles know they’re obsolete … I figured most of them out, though, to my satisfaction at least, by context).
I found the history fascinating, especially how hard Puritan life was—and I mean hard— and the clash between Calvinist and Native American cultures, and the—ugh—oppression of women in a patriarchal society. What I didn’t experience (and I think I was supposed to) was the depth and breadth of a twin-soul relationship between Bethia and Caleb. While the author discloses that information on the historical Caleb is thin, she had license, by virtue of this being fictionalized history, to depict a fully fleshed-out character. But what I got was a cipher. Bethia told me what Caleb looked like, and relayed words he spoke, but I never felt him, his essence, his draw, and so, while I knew and appreciated many other things in Bethia’s life—her yearning for education and her resentment toward her brother, for two—I rarely experienced Bethia’s Caleb. He remained elusive for me.
In light of the awe I have for Ms. Brook’s ambition and talent, and the fact that I was more than satisfied on so many other levels, I almost feel as if this is a niggling criticism—but, on the other hand, if this is to be a true review about the larger story of a woman touched by a man who defied the convention of his time and culture and voluntarily left his tribe for immersion in English education and religion, then that man had to have been super-extraordinary … I missed out on that oh-so-close opportunity to see and know him. I rated “Caleb’s Crossing” 4.0 out of 5.0 stars on Amazon.
I’d almost forgotten I’d answered Readers’ Favorite’s call for submissions for the RF’s annual international competition. It seems a hundred years ago that I’d submitted my novel, The Angry Woman Suite, though somewhere in the back of my brain, I more or less remembered it was September that winners would be notified.
Yesterday was September 1. I sat down to my computer first thing, like always, and there it was, a big congratulatory announcement: The Angry Woman Suite had been awarded the Gold in the Historical Mystery category. Wow! The award ceremony is next month in Miami. Thank you, Readers’ Favorite!
Following is the lead judge’s critique (I’m amazed how s/he summed this book up—great job!):
“The Angry Woman Suite is quite a ride. Set in the early 1900s, it is a story of family conflict, mystery, drama, and love. Young Francis Grayson grows up with a slew of women referred to merely as “the women,” consisting of two aunts and a grandmother. Unfortunately, Francis is subjected to abuse at their hands. Young Francis does not know much about his history and even the true identity of his father is kept from him. Elyse, Francis’ stepdaughter, tells the story from her point of view in a rather compelling manner. A third narrator is history buff and schoolmaster, Aiden Madsen, who also plays the roles of music teacher and friend to young Francis. Francis is talented, something that runs in the family, but he lets his desire for fame get the best of him.
Filled with deceit, outright lies, anger and resentment, this book is very cleverly written, with different points of view bringing unique perspectives to the story. The characters are fully developed and easy to understand, and as the story comes together one finds oneself empathizing, loving and sometimes even hating them. The novel is quite a trip through time as the characters tell history as they see it. It seems that each character is on a quest for truth. It is hard to decipher whose version is correct, but this adds to the flavour of this outstanding novel.”
The above header is a San Diego U-T headline, and I’m the “debut novelist.” The Angry Woman Suite (also a Discovery Award winner and Kirkus Critics’ Pick) is my baby—and I am still walking on air after winning the 2013 San Diego Book Award for Best Mystery last weekend AND then the Geisel Award for “best of the best.”
I’m still saying to myself, Really?
I went to the awards ceremony intending only to show my appreciation to the San Diego Book Awards Association for moving my historical-psychological mystery novel forward to finalist status—and was SURE I’d be home in bed with dog and book by 9 PM—in fact, couldn’t wait to get home to bed, book, and dog. I didn’t even prepare comments (and preparing for every eventuality (tsunamis, malaria outbreaks, stock market plunges) is part of my job—er, makeup; Felix Unger has nothing on me), but that’s how sure I was about the TEN hours of reading and shut-eye I’d scheduled for later that night.
Well, goes to show … let down your guard for one minute and the universe pounces—this time, though, in the best way imaginable—although the mind picture of me walking down to that stage twice with no comments prepared—a wordless writer!—makes me cringe (and laugh—gotta laugh, because, oh, the lovely irony).
What I ended up saying (I think) when I was “crowned” with that familiar red and white Cat in the Hat chapeau (San Diego’s Geisel Award, which is awarded to each year’s judges’ pick for “best in show,” is named for our city’s own Theodore Geisel aka Dr. Seuss, the world’s most beloved children’s author), was of course “thank you” (a million times) and then I told a little story (I think) about DDF (my husband who passed last year), and how supportive he’d always been, and how thrilled he’d have been seeing this, and that I intended placing my two trophies alongside the very first print copy of The Angry Woman Suite, which became DDF’s, the book I’d presented to him shortly before he died (and he’d been ecstatic—seriously ecstatic).
But not quite yet.
Yep, you caught me: I’m still carrying them around with me everywhere.
AWARDS SEASON RIGHT AROUND THE CORNER:
Author: Lee Fullbright
Judge Number: 73
Books are evaluated on a scale of 1 to 5. This scale is strictly to provide a point of reference, it is not a cumulative score and does not reflect ranking.
Structure and Organization: 5
Plot (if applicable): 5
Character Development (if applicable): 5
What did you like best about this book?
“THE ANGRY WOMAN SUITE will stay with me for a long time. You created extraordinary characters, a compelling plot and original settings. I liked the background of history into which you invited the reader: Washington’s Headquarters, the museum, Grayson House, etc. However, I think the outstanding thing about the novel is the characterization. I liked that you opened with Elyse, an extraordinary child in an unusual family. But then, if you consider the family long enough, it might not be as unusual as we think, but it is Elyse with her insight and understanding who makes it seem that way. It is the three sisters, Magdalene in particular, who drive the plot of the book. For me Lothian is the least understood of the three. Then there is Francis, the abused little boy trying to make it big as an adult musician, and he does despite his unfortunate childhood. I admire the way you took all these unique characters and wove them into a story that captures and hold the reader’s attention throughout the book. I also wonder, as a novelist myself, how you balanced all of them in your mind. Wonderful read … I loved it.” –Judge 73
It seems everyone has watched Masterpiece Theater’s Downton Abbey, which means we all know who Sarah O’Brien is—but if you don’t, here’s the in-your-face “thumbnail”: she’s a snotty, meddling, opportunistic lady’s maid at Downtown—and of course we all pretty much dislike and distrust her, because what’s there to cozy up to?
I’m working on a new novel; specifically, the development of characters (character development is my favorite part of novel-writing, which, if you’ve read The Angry Woman Suite, you’ve probably already guessed)—and I just realized I’ve created a character who’s very much like O’Brien (though she wasn’t inspired by O’Brien, but by someone I used to know). Because the worlds my characters inhabit are never black and white, rarely are my characters either (an exception is Lothian in The Angry Woman Suite). So when I start fleshing out a character, I list her or his not-so-shining qualities on one side of a page and on the other side those characteristics that are attractive—the ones that can make us doubt our own assessments, as in it’s just an eccentricity we might tell ourselves (about a “difficult one”), and we should maybe cut her or him some slack.
Because even O’Brien herself has a soft spot (for her nephew), so she can’t really be all bad.
And O’Brien has no clue she’s a meddler; she actually can be helpful, so she can’t be purposely cruel, right? Right?
She also doesn’t know that almost every time she opens her mouth she pretty much alienates everybody, because of a naturally critical nature—but she can be friendly and approachable as well.
Just as she doesn’t see she’s overbearing and judgmental, because she can be charitable and self-deprecating, too.
She doesn’t see herself as scheming or controlling, because what she also is, is quite bright, and intelligent people are often forward-thinking (we tell ourselves).
However, despite a sturdy IQ, her EQ (emotional intelligence quotient) is quite low and so she lacks perspective and empathy, as in how her words come across as demeaning to others. Ironically, she is an overly sensitive individual always on the lookout for slights. She is easily hurt, often feels misunderstood, and would be crushed if she knew how many people go out of their way to avoid her.
One can actually get on with difficult people for some time. Years, actually. How? Well, for one, it’s a good idea to not let a difficult person “in” too close. Tread carefully. Sharing feelings can become ammo for O’Briens at some point in time, against a sharer. O’Briens often want to “fix,” which is not helping or supporting; it’s taking over instead, running roughshod, stepping on boundaries and telling others what to do. And know ahead of time you will always be offending them in ways you can never possibly see coming. The O’Briens are seemingly wired to be offended. It’s the first thing they consider in the morning, as in why did so-and-so get me this present? Or not come to my retirement party? Or (if they did attend) leave so early? To their prickly minds, there are no mitigating circumstances.
And I think this must be the aspect of the world’s O’Briens—how easily offended they can be—that is the foundation of their most unpleasant qualities, those cutting remarks and undermining ways.
O’Briens likely have less than optimum beginnings, maybe even got kicked down the road early on, and unfortunately they’re not resilient, though they can be ambitious. They love an imaginary glory, and see themselves racing against “competitors,” elbowing them aside, tripping them up in their mad quests for long-denied recognition, and turning a screw or two before it’s turned on them—which obviously begs the question: With profiling like that, who among the O’Briens of the world wouldn’t be on the lookout for “offenders”?
Does it help knowing this about the difficult ones? That they probably had tough starts they could never put in perspective? Because … ahem … remember, perspective is something they completely lack.
Depends. On how much distance you can keep. Or how much you want to punish yourself. Because that’s what it feels like after a time of interacting with or having befriended one. It feels like you’re slapping yourself in the face.
Stories are always about overcoming conflict or giving into it. One way or another, a story must have conflict, or it’s just words. Which is why all O’Briens make for great characters—despite a “stiffness” they all, strangely, seem to have, they are conflict in motion. They thrive on it—but unless some upward momentum, some change, occurs, these characters are doomed to predictability. Their snottiness begins to outweigh their positive attributes, and once a balance is that tipped, the weight of an O’Brien becomes a pain-in-the-ass burden.
And so there’s the answer. At some point, when burdens become static, they morph from boring to heavy, to hurtful, and even sometimes dangerous (as in worse than slapping your own face). The difficult people of the world need to be cut loose when they become static, whether they are real-life PIA’s bad for anybody’s mental health, or (safer) characters in novels—or, yes, even fixtures like Sarah O’Brien of Downton Abbey.
The other day a friend told me about the number of indie books she’s been reading lately (mainly via Goodreads giveaways—love that site), and how appalling (and really, really sad) the oh-so-apparent lack of copyediting is in some of these books.
And yesterday I had lunch with a reviewer who told me she’d been given an indie non-fiction book to look at, and that she filled two pages of notes about what needed fixing, and that was the first chapter only!
I’ve also been doing my fair share of indie fiction reading—and so before I get into ripping into those writers who are NOT securing copyediting for their “babies,” thinking they don’t need it (really? and now define “arrogance,” please), I have read three really great indie novels this year, and recently started another that is so excellent it’s keeping me awake nights.
Now, for the (gentle) ripping:
I have been in your shoes, thinking I know it all, because I DO know the rules; I can punctuate and spell like nobody’s business, till the cows come home—BUT it oftentimes takes a pair of professional eyes to point out that I just stacked a cliché on top of five others—and the reason I didn’t already know this? Because I get so close to my projects and the elements therein—plot threads, characterization, dialogue—I oftentimes can’t see a cliché for the life of me (and, okay, before you consider banging your heads against your ipads here, enough already with the clichés—though that WAS kind of fun).
When I finished the first draft of The Angry Woman Suite, and polished it and then polished it some more, I took a section to my writers group, heart pounding, fearful of all the things they could say, like maybe go home and set your laptop on fire.
But that didn’t happen; my story had them. Something else happened instead. I had typos! I had misspellings! (And, yes, I do know where spellcheck is, too—and it’s NOT to be 100% trusted); I sometimes had too many spaces between words, inconsistent formatting —and, ugh, way too many adverbs. How could any of this have happened, after all the hours I’d put into my baby, checking and rechecking?
Well, get this: After my writers group finished poring over the entire book, and after I polished some more, I gave my manuscript to a copyeditor who found even more boo-boos—and then another copyeditor after that, and she found stuff, too!
Moral of this story:
If you’re a writer and you want your projects to play in the big leagues, indie OR traditional, you absolutely CANNOT get there without a professional copyeditor—trust me on this. Not just a proofreader, but a professional copyeditor who will do everything a proofreader does PLUS inspect for style and consistency and formatting and a million other things that can get by anybody—but not necessarily by your audience!
As for who I trust, and know to be the absolute best, I know a few. Here’s a resource I can personally vouch for: http://www.hjseditingservices.com/#
You might also message your favorite indie authors via Goodreads and ask who they recommend—and successful indie authors WILL thank you for asking, because the better you are, the better the whole here-to-stay indie movement will be. And then we’ll all look good.
I’ve been a MIA blogger of late (bad life got in the way; the kind that makes everything besides breathing almost impossible), BUT THEN fellow author Kerry Dwyer tagged me for The Next Big Thing, and here I am, breathing and typing at the same time, mind you (and who was it who sneered I’m genetically incapable of more than one task at a time? Thwack! Take that!).
The Next Best Thing is about authors helping authors, and its premise is simple: Authors answer questions about their current works-in-progress. But before I answer mine, more about the intrepid author who tagged me: Kerry Dwyer:
Kerry Dwyer is a British ex-pat living in France and author of Ramblings in Ireland, an engaging read about, well, rambling about Ireland and the musings it inspired.
Her current work-in-progress is titled The Book Exchange.
Now my questions and answers:
What is the working title of your next book?
A Woman of Commitment
Where did the idea come from for the book?
It came about via a murder that occurred in my hometown a few years back. Actually, just the actual site of the murder—a water’s edge—inspired the premise. I moved the time frame back to mid-century. The point of view is a veterinarian’s (Annie), twenty years after the murder, and the conflict is her long-held suspicion that the wrong person was convicted of her best friend’s murder. And, yes, of course there’s intrigue and suspense, a love story and all the rest.
The opening paragraph reads:
“The summer morning of 1963 that my boyfriend Benny Radisch told me he’d fallen in love with someone else was the same day that seventeen-year-old Katie Plowright’s body was found in a shallow grave near the river’s shoreline.”
What genre does your book fall under?
Pretty much the same as my novel, The Angry Woman Suite. Psychological mystery (minus the historical tag this time—I think).
What actors would you choose to play the part of you characters in a movie rendition?
This is a funny one (to me), considering I’m still “shaping” these characters (and will be all the way to the end). Hmmmm, I have no clue … but I’m seeing Silver Linings Playbook this next week, so I pick Jennifer Lawrence and Bradley Cooper!
How long did it take to write the first draft of the manuscript?
I’ll let you know when I finish.
What other books would you compare this story to within your genre?
Oh dear, I’m not very good at comparisons to other writers! Let’s go with this: I hope it will be compared (favorably!) to The Angry Woman Suite, how’s that?
Who or what inspired you to write this book?
Other than the aforementioned real-life murder, my inspiration for almost everything has been DDF, my husband (who passed last year). He was the most remarkable person. Unduplicatable (and, yes, I know that’s not a word … yet). He was brilliant and had verve (love that word), and to be around him was to feel can-do, too. But this second novel has been meant, from its start many months ago, for my sister who passed last month.
What else about the book might pique the reader’s interest?
Other than unsolved murder? And love gone oh-so-wrong? And characters who aren’t what they seem?
Well, for all you dog lovers, there’s a dog in it….
As part of The Next Best Thing, I’m to tag five other authors, and they are:
Paulette Mahurin, amazing human being, friend, and award-winning author of The Persecution of Mildred Dunlap http://www.goodreads.com/book/show/14061559-the-persecution-of-mildred-dunlap
Leonore Skomal, author of Bluff /http://www.goodreads.com/book/show/15852327-bluff
Leslie A. Gordon, author of the must-read, Cheer: A Novel http://www.goodreads.com/book/show/15822672-cheer
Sean Keefer, attorney and award-winning author of The Trust (and back cover blurb provider for The Angry Woman Suite) http://www.goodreads.com/book/show/10316920-the-trust
Martha Rodriguez, author of the children’s book, A Reel Cool Summer http://www.goodreads.com/book/show/12062453-a-reel-cool-summer
and fellow member of RABMAD (Read a book, Make a difference), a group of authors who give back.
Here it is: This morning (day after Thanksgiving), The Angry Woman Suite, a Discovery Award winner and Kirkus Critics’ pick, is sitting on a #1 spot at Amazon … check it out here: http://www.amazon.com/The-Angry-Woman-Suite-ebook/dp/B007CLHQU2
And here, pasted and copied from you-know-who:
Amazon Best Sellers Rank:
Didja see the #1, didja? Baby Rae and I are dancing…. The Angry Woman Suite is currently #1 in Historical Fiction and #3 in Mystery.
Here’s Laurie Fuller’s amazing Wuthering Heights-ish cover again (’cause I like it so much):
… and that link again: http://www.amazon.com/The-Angry-Woman-Suite-ebook/dp/B007CLHQU2
Um … is there such a thing as old beginnings? I always wonder about things like that, like when I see “Live band” advertised (or live anything) … as opposed to what? Dead band? Or, “fresh fruit” on the menu, as opposed to—well, you get my drift….
At any rate, The Angry Woman Suite (award-winning psychological mystery)has a new beginning: a new cover and a new back cover text, and two whole pages of awesome editorial reviews added to it (and, yes, I’m showing it off here)—and check out this too, just for today: http://fire.kindlenationdaily.com/2012/11/10/check-out-todays-kfknd-book-of-the-day-on-your-kindle-fire-the-angry-woman-suite-by-lee-fullbright/
It’s a whole new edition, soon to hit distribution, and here is that very cool new cover (larger) by amazing artist, Laurie Fuller. It so captures the “Hitchcockian” vibe of The Angry Woman Suite:
The new back cover is still in development, layout-wise, but here’s a first peek at the new text:
And that’s it for today’s new beginning … hope you’re having a good weekend (how many times d’you think I used the word new in this post? And I write?
I’m in an Elizabeth Berg state of mind.
I recently finished my third Elizabeth Berg novel of the summer (okay, it’s almost November, I get it. I’m having trouble letting go of summer; I have trouble letting go of things, period), all given to me by the same friend. Now, if I’ve ever read anything Elizabeth Berg-ish before this past summer, I don’t remember—and you’d think I would, she’s quite prolific. I looked at Berg’s list of titles this morning, but nothing set off bells (though I wouldn’t set any great store by this).
I often think things are given to us, or arrive, or are placed in our path when they can serve or enlighten or comfort us most. When we are ready.
Without realizing, I’d been ready for the summer of Berg.
The title of this latest Berg foray is Home Safe, and the blurb on the front cover, by Booklist, reads, “Berg is a tender and enchanting storyteller … A keen and funny observer, she is the poet of kindness.”
All three of the Berg novels I’ve read are about loss of a spouse; or more specifically, a way of life, a state of being; in a way, a slice of identity—or, another way of putting it, a loss of “home” in the metaphorical sense—that safe place—we all know what our safe place is (hopefully), whether it be that lost spouse, or friend, or our dog, where we’re so completely known and accepted and valued, all pretenses and defenses and drama and airs checked at the door, please, only authenticity wanted and allowed here. That’s it, that’s the safe place. That’s home.
Berg’s books are not sad books. Her characters are not tedious. They are interesting, human and real, and Booklist is right: Berg is the poet of kindness. An incisive poet of kindness, to be more exact. She is not sappy or pithy, and she doesn’t hurry healing along. Doesn’t even tell you that healing is on the guest list. But she invites this unnamed thing in, in the guise of opportunity and new challenge (and, yes, even risk), and she sits it down, makes it feel at home. She wants it to stay a while, get to know it, not fight or challenge it, and so she sets up a conducive environment for it, surrounding herself and her characters with the right (healthy) people, and humor and gentle insight and compassion. No lectures are allowed. Only windbags lecture, anyway (something Berg’s probably already written about).
There are no easy answers in Berg’s books; no homegrown recipe for healing, no pie-in-the-sky how-to manual—but there’s unlimited acceptance and there is the unspoken awareness that we are all, at one time or another, feeling our way home, safe.
And there is comfort in that; in that we’re in this life together. And we’re in it to mend (and, yes, we can mend); to rebuild, to keep moving, to thrive, not by burying loss and hurt or nurturing it, or distracting it by inciting drama, but by inviting healing in (and by showing all dismissive, lecturing, moralizing, whiny, self-aggrandizing know-it-all loser windbags the door—okay, those were my words, not Berg’s).
I typed up the following passage from Home Safe, and put it on the fridge:
“She sits down and puts her hand to her chest and rocks. Thinks of all she has lost and will lose. All she has had and will have. It seems to her that life is like gathering berries in an apron with a hole. Why do we keep on? Because the berries are beautiful, and we must eat to survive. We catch what we can. We walk past what we lose for the promise of more, just ahead.”
Dancing on Broken Glass is book club majesty, a novel readers can chew on and then talk up one side and down another, like a good, thought-provoking episode of The Big C (for those who don’t know Showtime’s stellar series, The Big C, it’s about a woman with cancer—brilliantly portrayed by Laura Linney—who finally, and hysterically, begins living with gusto after getting her terminal diagnosis).
Dancing on Broken Glass (so put your combat boots on) by the very capable author, Ka Hancock (a psychiatric nurse in her non-writing life), is like that in a way—and yet it’s not. First off, it’s not hysterically funny, and there’s no suspense or mystery, and it’s overlong. About a marriage between a bi-polar man (Mickey) and a woman (Lucy) with a long history of breast cancer in her family, it’s not even a little bit funny. Still, I started the book falling in love, even knowing the premise couldn’t possibly end well (yet hoping otherwise), because I was enamored with Lucy’s voice. Hancock’s set-ups and characterizations are flawless. I loved Lucy’s grit, gusto, and her commitment. I wanted to hang with her. I wanted a good life for her.
But here’s where the many lovers of this soap opera will begin wanting to throw their e-readers at me:
After Mickey’s first psychotic break (cringingly rendered by Hancock), before his marriage to Lucy, I wanted to hustle Lucy aside and say, “Sweetie, don’t do it! Run! If you marry Mickey, your entire life, the breadth and the scope of it, will be defined by this illness. Broken glass is nothing! Your life will be about picking your way through land mines!”
Of course, Lucy didn’t listen to me. The young never do.
I commend Hancock for wanting to show mental illness as something that can be dealt with instead of run away from—I’d like to think we can face down all the monsters living under our beds. And I agree with the premise that mental illness shouldn’t be stepped around.
Unless psychotic states are involved—and then step lively and out the front door.
Despite the argument that real committed love is often messy, were I Lucy, I’d have had to love Mickey from afar, for my sanity. Saturday night dates maybe, but only IF Mickey’s meds were humming along. Because psychotic breaks can make “regular messy” look like Christmas in Paris.
It’s for this reason I wish Hancock had depicted Mickey’s bi-polar disorder as less severe, so we’d have had the opportunity to learn how this currently almost-ubiquitous diagnosis is successfully managed.
But see why Dancing on Broken Glass is ideal book club fodder? I’m still yakking it up.
Image credit: kostrez / 123RF Stock Photo
This month marks the one-year anniversary for Rooms of Our Own, the webbed site of three “rooms” housing me (writer) at LeeFullbight.com, and photographer Geri Wilson in her own “room”—and right now we have a vacancy (interested parties can contact firstname.lastname@example.org for a room of your own, “almost” ready for move-in and, naturally, no rent here in Blogland. Our only requirement, if you can even call it that—we’re pretty loosey-goosey, and our “rooms” are autonomous—is that you have a passion you want to write about and know where spell check is, and that you attempt a blog post every couple weeks—or more!—and, yes, I know I just said “autonomous,” but we live in the same “triplex,” a click away, and gotta keep the ‘hood up).
So when Geri and I started this blog, we were so neophyte-ish we didn’t know about brevity (I still have trouble with this; I’m used to a big canvas!), or what we might look like a year down the road. I had a novel to introduce (The Angry Woman Suite, which wasn’t even out then), and uber-photographer Geri Wilson had a line of greeting cards (featuring her amazing photography) to debut.
Where are we now, a year later, and what do we think of blogging in general?
Well, Geri is just returned from a photography expedition to Bryce Canyon, so expect those photographs to go up in her room anytime now—I’ve had a preview and they are awesome.
And The Angry Woman Suite (Goodreads link here: http://www.goodreads.com/book/show/13555924-the-angry-woman-suite) is now the 2012 Discovery Award winner for Literary Fiction.
(One thing, though is unchanged: Baby Rae and I still dance to Gregory Page every night.)
I have another novel in the works, but I also have an idea for something else (based on the truism that we can only talk about our stuff so much and so long without risking emptying a room and/or triggering our own gag reflex—both pathetic)—and it’s this:
I want to write about other writers, and about other books in particular—btw, I just started Dancing on Broken Glass last night, and I think it’s going to be love.
So, I will begin reviewing occasionally, starting with Dancing on Broken Glass (next post).
However, reviewing isn’t a permanent thing (what is?). I don’t read as many novels when I’m actually writing one, for two reasons: It’s too easy to subconsciously pick up another writer’s voice, and reading is passive (as in I’d get lazy and never finish my own work). But, until I pick up my own manuscript again (a few more months), I’m enjoying reading novels again!
As for blogging itself, I do think it’s kept my brain limber, plus I’ve discovered I am totally capable of shorter sentences and paragraphs (and shorter posts!!)—however, I don’t think blogging has yet revealed how funny I am (and yes, I am funny in real life—everybody knows).
Crime writer Patricia Cornwell (of the best-selling Scarpetta series) said in a recent interview that writing is hard work; that “it isn’t just sitting around fantasizing, or having a drink with somebody and talking about how cool it would be if you write a story. It’s work.”(italics mine, because of course I agree)
Cornwell also said, “And research isn’t easy. But if you’re going to have a character who’s a musician, you should learn everything about that you possibly can.”
As an aside, The Angry Woman Suite (see sidebar), does have a musician; a pivotal character—and guess what? I don’t play an instrument or even sing (at least you wouldn’t want me to), and I don’t remember how to read music … everything this character (Francis) does in the way of music was researched.
But what really, really struck me about the Cornwell interview is when she said this:
“You don’t become a writer—you are one. And if you really are a writer, it’s like telling a songbird to shut up—you can’t … (and) you have to be willing to be bad at something to be good at it.”
So this is what I thought (and not for the first time): What kind of person is willing to really suck at something and feel like a total failure, and yet still get up in the morning and go back to her or his personal challenge?
A freakin’ masochist, that’s what.
My brother is a self-described non-athlete. He also just summited Mt. Whitney, the highest peak in the contiguous United States. He said it was the hardest thing he’s ever done. The first time he tried climbing Whitney, he lost part of his gear. Back down the mountain he went, crestfallen. The following year he tried Whitney again, but his hiking partner got altitude sickness, so back down the mountain he went with his partner, because that’s the kind of guy my brother is.
This year, like the two years before, he trained for months, hiking and climbing in San Diego’s backcountry, and the Sierras. He and his partner agreed that if one became ill, the other would continue to the top.
Why’d my brother keep plugging away at this mountain?
Because that mountain was calling for my brother’s personal best, and my brother heeded the call.
It’s the call that goes out to each of us; to all athletes, professional or aspiring, and to all writers, seasoned or fledgling. You name the job or challenge, the call’s there. It’s the call that makes every morning a promise, and each day an opportunity to go a little farther and a little higher than the day before.
Patricia Cornwell also said this (about being sucky before you’re proficient):
“You are going to trip over your own feet … (and) you will never be good at writing the first time you try, any more than Nadal hit a tennis ball the way he does now the first time he picked up a racket…. The only way you get better is to just do it all the time. And if this is the inevitability of how you express yourself, you’re still going to get up after failures.”
And you will climb mountains.
Image credit: kamchatka / 123RF Stock Photo
I am big-time in love, and it’s been a while since I’ve felt this way.
For the longest time (since even before The Angry Woman Suite came out in March, and my husband’s death in May), I’ve been reading only magazines before falling asleep at night—no time for the commitments books require (and this from someone who at one point routinely read 4-5 books a week—geez, did I have no other life back then?).
And then a friend handed me a copy of Elizabeth Berg’s The Year of Pleasures (pub. 2005), and I’ve been head over heels ever since. That I actually starting reading it is a bit of a miracle, since I try not to read novels when I’m working on my own stuff (I don’t want to subconsciously pick up another author’s voice).
It’s a little book—but I actually do think most “miracles” are small, overlooked things—about a youngish woman—Betta—whose husband has just died. Okay, connection right away. But instead of being a pedantic, tear-your-heart-out story, this one is about renewal; about a woman moving to a small town with the goal of finding pleasure in “simple daily routines.”
It’s about reclaiming life—without claiming to have answers for anyone else. It’s about choice, as in it’s up to each of to choose contentment (over misery), and how we get from miserable to content is highly individualized. (Perfect for me. I hate when a book—or person!—thinks it’s the oracle of all things for everyone—it’s just way too dang condescending, not to mention boring as all get out.)
The prose is gorgeously simple. It had me about seven pages in (about Betta’s husband’s terminal cancer), at this:
“Near the end, I started looking for signs that the inevitable would not be inevitable … I watched the few leaves that refused to give up their greens to the demands of the season. I took comfort in the way the sun shone brightly on a day they predicted rain—not a cloud in the sky! I even tried to formulate messages of hope in arrangements of coins on the dresser top—look how they had landed all heads up, what were the odds?”
“Oh, I know, I know!” I wanted to comfort Betta, an instant sister of my heart.
But I couldn’t of course, and my comfort wasn’t needed anyway, as this sister of mine was already miles ahead of me. Instead I (and Baby Rae) curled up together on our new-to-us antique bed (a simple pleasure), cradled by plump lavender and green pillows (more pleasures), and we let Elizabeth Berg’s Betta show us the rest of her path and her new relationships, and we watched her revive old ones; and I cheered Betta on when she opened a new shop in her new town—c’mon, didn’t we all love playing “store” when we were kids?—and at the end of this deceptively simple and lovely book I was fulfilled and grateful when Berg wrapped these final comforting words around me, about contradictions:
“I thought of rich men who were poor; poor men who were rich; ascetics who lived with nothing so as to have everything. I thought of how ‘lost love’ is a misnomer, for love is never lost at all but only different in appearance, conforming with that well-known law of physics. John used to tell me that there was grace in mathematics and romance in physics. In this, as in so many things, he was exactly right.”
I hugged Berg’s book when I finished—literally. And considered that this is why many of us read.
I thought back on all the novels—okay, not all—that have given me something, starting with Alcott’s Eight Cousins, when I was nineish, about family—Oh, so that’s how it’s supposed to work! I remember thinking—to Mitchell’s Gone With The Wind when I was eleven, about war and love at odds and never giving up, and Lee’s To Kill A Mockingbird of course, and … well, the list is endless, all the books that have formed me; taught me, and got me to thinking, and even, sometimes, brought me community. Berg’s small book, The Year of Pleasures, has been added to my list.
And it’s a new day.