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Friday, December 21, 2012

Sorrow and Joy for the Season

Two weeks ago, I attended a memorial service for a friend whose daughter died in an accident while snorkling.  She was a lovely, active and engaged young lady, a senior at the University of Virginia and only 22 years old.   There were well over a thousand people there, some who knew her, some who did not but wanted to pay their respects.  The service was beautiful, both parents spoke concluding with the remark about how "thankful" they were - thankful to have had their daughter in their life, thankful for her life.  At the time, and sharing their grief, I thought "what could be worse than this pain?"  Now I know. Newtown was worse.

The only real comfort is seeing how good and decent  people have responded by the thousands, even tens of thousands to a horrible evil with an out-pouring of sympathy, condolences, prayer, peace and love. A poem quoted at the memorial service described the unconscionable in beautiful terms:
This is the Hour of Lead-
Remembered, if outlived,
As freezing persons,
recollect the Snow-
First-Chill-then Stupor-
then the letting go---” 
Emily Dickinson
And yet we go on.  I've taken comfort during all the grim news with Peter Matthiessen's "The Snow Leopard" published in 1978.  This is a beautiful description of his trek with biologist George Schaller to the Tibetan plateau to study the unique wildlife of that region. In addition to his breath-taking portrayal of the vast loveliness of that area, the emptiness and serenity as well as the harshness of it, he includes us in a spiritual voyage and that too is uplifting.  One quote in particular seems appropriate for today:
"The wildwood brings on mild nostalgia, not for home or place, but for lost innocence -- the paradise lost that, as Proust said, is the only paradise. Childhood is full of mystery and  promise, and perhaps the life fear comes when all the mysteries are laid open, when what we thought we wanted is attained.  It is just at the moment of seeming fulfillment that we sense irrevocable betrayal, like a great wave rising silently behind us...'All wordly pursuits have but one unavoidable and inevitable end, which is sorrow: acquisitions end in dispersion; buildings, in destruction; meetings, in separation; births, in death...' Confronted by the uncouth specter of old age, disease, and death, we are thrown back upon the present, on this moment, here, right now, for that is all there is. And surely this is the paradise of children, that they are at rest in the present..."
The Mayan prediction that the world will end today isn't all  wrong - it will end someday. So live and find joy in the present moment, forever!

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Scribd!

It seems the possibilities with technology and publishing are never-ending.  I happened to see an article in the Wall Street Journal last week describing a couple of online "libraries" where you could simply upload your publication and anyone could then read it digitally. Well, why not?  So I just uploaded One Fine Day to "Scribd" - so easy!  Costs nothing and with the "taglines" - fiction, love, coming of age - some who've joined this site may stumble across my novel and enjoy reading it. I hope so!

If it weren't for technology, my novel - sweated over for years - would be nothing more than pages gathering dust on my desk as agent after agent rejected it [annoying how this is the only profession where they can get away without responding to inquiries AT ALL if they are not interested; I mean, at least respond so I know you got my query.....grr].  I digress.

Between working with Fastpencil who worked step by step with me to design the book and put the novel into salable form, and Createspace who helped market it online at Amazon, there are fantastic new methods for seeing your work in print or up digitally.  Of course that doesn't gurantee sales but it's still a nice feeling to hold your own self-published work in your hands and/or see it out in the "cyberworld".

Monday, November 5, 2012

Soul Train

I am reading Cheryl Strayed's [is that her real name?!] account of walking the Pacific Coast Trail alone, Wild.  Though it's not great literature and I could have used a little less hour by hour detail, it is a feat, both the walk and the book, and she deserved enormous credit.  She did what many lost souls [me sometimes] long to do - set a goal, a physically near-to-impossible one, and achieve it through sheer force of will.  She was a sufferer and sought relief and self-understanding by taking this on.  Though I haven't finished it yet, I know she succeeds [I think she's been on Oprah...] so I hold her in awe.

Another author recently caught my eye and I'm surprised I'd never heard of him - and he certainly deserves far more recognition than he's received from the general public - George B. Schaller.  He is a naturalist whose latest book, Tibet Wild, is one in a long string of books chronicling his efforts to conserve and protect  endangered species. The list of his accomplishments is outstanding - gorillas in the Congo, lions in Tanzania, jaguars in Brazil, pandas in China and now the wildlife of the remote Tibetan Plateau.  He has worked with all manner of governments and in some of the most hostile places on earth and achieved amazing results. I can't wait to start in on this book and then his A Naturalist and Other Beasts [2007].
 In addition, Peter Matthiesen's The Snow Leopard, [National Book Award in 1978, I think] is an account of his trek with Schaller in 1973 to Nepal to study the rare blue sheep and  the beautiful snow leopard. It is also, in a way,  a journey of the soul, as Strayer's is.

  I admire all of them!

Monday, October 29, 2012

Thoughts During Hurricane Sandy


Hurricane Sandy has destroyed many homes and communities and certainly upended lives, but I have no doubt that people  will pull themselves together and rebuild.  The human spirit is too robust and will never acknowledge defeatism.  And, of course, this can't compare with the agonies suffered by so many others, in all  wars and on into today.  Courage and resolve are the cornerstones of survival in adversity.  And Americans have that in spades. So many others were never given the chance, erased from history. Even at this very moment, atrocity abounds.   But it's in our human nature to look forward not back when confronted by hardship. And that is as it should be.

I wrote about my visit to Poland last time and wanted to write a little too about Hungary which was part of that trip.  Both countries' histories are difficult - but most especially Poland's as I tried to indicate in my last post.   The second part of my August  trip after Poland [and Slovakia] was to Budapest and the areas around it and along the Danube.

Hungary was under Turkish domination and the Ottomans for many years, 1541-1718; she too, as Poland, suffered from being invaded and carved up through history but became a powerful entity as part of the Austro-Hungarian empire for the years 1867-1918.  Much of the beautiful building took place during this time in Budapest. Unfortunately, Hungary was on the wrong side in  World War I- her fear of Russia made her join forces with the Central Powers, essentially the German Empire. As a losing power in that war, her territorial losses were huge.

Hungary also suffered during World War II; she chose to be on the German side, so she chose wrong twice.  But at the beginning of the war, Nazi Germany promised she would regain the territories she had lost,  so she collaborated.  When she saw by 1944 that the Axis Powers would probably lose the war, she sought a separate peace with the Allies. The Nazis responded by occupying her.  After that, the Final Solution was put into effect in Hungary as it had been in Poland and all across Europe. Between 440,000 and 600,000  Hungarian Jews and others were deported to concentration camps, mostly Auschwitz, aided by the detested Hungarian police.

After the war, occupation by the Soviet Union [again with collaboration by Hungarian "secret police"] continued a reign of terror which is well documented at Budapest's House of Terror: en.wikipedia.org/wiki/House_of_Terror.



Budapest was bombed by the British and Americans and the city was severely damaged.  The misery didn't end then, however, as the Soviets occupied the country from 1947-1989, the "Communist times" as they are referred to. Thousands died, political prisoners and others, at the hands of the Soviets and the secret police in those years, especially after the 1956 uprising which was quashed.  The photo is of the Museum of Terror, the very spot on the elegant Andrassy Way where many interrogations, torture and hangings took place.
Today, as a member of the EU, Hungary's problems are mostly economic and Budapest is one of the most beautiful cities in Europe.  As with Poland, the human capacity for rebuilding, both the social fabric and culture as well as the physical  is incredible and admirable. One wonders if Syria and other Middle Eastern countries will be able to do the same in the years and decades to come.

But for me, visiting Poland and Hungary as well as Auschwitz [and later The Holocaust Museum in Washington D.C.] truly made me realize what the terrible numbers of lost lives during the 20th century's most horrible period means - the awful silence of 6,000,000 Jews and 6,000,000 others and the loss of their contributions to society.  It's hard to imagine how different the world might be today.

So Hurricane Sandy should not be a cause for despair when looked at in the scheme of things.  Everything is fixable! Except the dead.




Monday, September 24, 2012

No Discipline!!

I can't believe I've let my blog languish for over two months - I mean, if anyone is finding me through the book website and actually reading me, I should be consistently out here!  I guess I'm still afraid and more than a little unsure of what I'm doing here.  My main goal, as a writer, is to promote my novel through social media and it takes discipline to sit down here and think of something, anything, useful to say or report on. No excuse!  I appreciate the few people who have somehow found the book and posted a "like" on my book facebook page [from as far away as the UK and Australia! - who are you?!]  I take solace in knowing I DO have a book out there, it's not going away, Amazon's createspace has helped make the process incredibly "doable", and there's no real rush. Hey, it will be out there for a long time to come and slowly, even slowly is OK, someone here or there will find it and spend a few hours in their lifetime reading it and [hopefully] enjoying their time with it. That's enough to make me feel content.

On another note [not an excuse], I spent part of August in Poland and Hungary - two vastly different countries and peoples but both equally interesting.   Poland has a truly tortured past, ravaged through the centuries by Swedes, Turks, Hungarians, Teutonic Knights, Mongols, Russians - you name it - and, most devastatingly, by Nazi Germany. Lastly, she was occupied by the former Soviet Union until 1989.  Polish people are fiercely independent and proud of their country; the extraordinary combination of Lech Walesa and Pope John Paul secured the road to independence for that country. The resilience and human capacity for recovery in the Polish people is unrivaled - Warsaw, a city left in ruins by the Nazis, has been beautifully rebuilt and its Old Town is one of the loveliest areas in central Europe - incredible.  The Nazi death camps decimated Polish Jews but almost 3 million other Poles also perished in the camps. [No wonder Poland reacted so vehemently to Obama's stupid mistake in calling them "Polish" death camps!]  They have NOT forgotten a thing that happened in the sorry 20th century! A remarkable people - dour on the surface but profoundly humane on the inside.  I was fascinated and awed by the people.  So much to learn from their history and their tough spirit! Below is Market Square in Warsaw, rebuilt as it existed before the war.

Comments on Hungary next - a far different story!

Friday, July 13, 2012

A Little of This and That

I just know one day [ha ha] One Fine Day will find a wider readership and be enjoyed by many more people as time goes on.  I periodically see a new "like" on my book facebook page and it always makes my day!  I've tried to expand my facebook image a little in hopes that more people will take a look at the book.  Hey, it's practically free and [pardon me] it's a much better read  than "Shades of...".

I've also entered the twitter world a little more even though I'm not at all sure how or if it helps get the word out.  It's all great fun though.  I really want to work on a second novel but fear I can't really justify doing that if novel #1 doesn't get more readership.  I will say, I'm getting tiny royalty checks each quarter [imagine] and that's always a thrill.

My next big trip is to Poland and Hungary in August so I've bit the bullet and started  James Michener's "Poland".  If anyone has read him, you know what a slog he can be, but he certainly does his research and tries to bring history alive through his fictitious characters.  I still keep Churchill on hand [now on Volume III - "The Great Alliance" ] as he has such a wonderful way with words and a wry humor.  It's so inspiring to read how dire the situation was for Britain in 1940-41 as Germany not only bombed day and night but tried to cut off life-lines by mining ports and U-Boat attacks on shorelines.  This was before the Soviets turned against Hitler and before the US could commit much in terms of aid.  In spite of these dreadful times - and Churchill's passages bring the turmoil to light as fresh as today's news - the British never doubted they would prevail.  It remains an incredible story.  I can't wait to dig into it again.

Also reading Alan Furst's new novel, "Mission to Paris" about the same time period in Vichy France, but much will take place in Poland, so it's taking me there too.

Monday, July 2, 2012

Scattered



The ferocious storm that swept across the eastern US has all of us wondering if changes in our climate are starting to speed up – record breaking temperatures almost daily [104 degrees two days in a row where I live – unheard of].  Driving on 66 West on Friday just after dark, we saw the spectacular lightening show ahead of us, not a typical summer thunderstorm’s that pops up across the sky like strobe lights  in vertical flashes from the sky’s dome to earth, one after the other, intense. This storm produced non-stop horizontal  slashes, like a swordsman ripping  through black velvet. And oddly, no thunder. When the car began to shake and rock from side to side,  debris started to blow all around us, trash, small limbs, pebbles and dust, like a western squall with tumbleweeds flying. It was wind, we later heard, that at its peak had reached 90 miles an hour. Tiny pellets of hail followed, then a brief torrential downpour. And with that, maybe 20 minutes, the storm had passed. The devastation was terrible, all of which has been on the news.  Clean up was exhausting in the heat. We were spared major damage but others lost 100+ year old trees.

Related concerns,  I continue to worry about the paucity of bees in my flower and vegetable gardens and my missing bats.  I have an infestation of mini-centipedes in my basement that has never happened before. Troubling. Mother Nature has been putting us on notice for awhile now – I think she’s decided it’s time to speed things up.  Have we caught on yet? http://www.pbs.org/newshour/bb/weather/july-dec12/climate_07-02.html

Monday, June 25, 2012

Who's Your Daddy?

Everyone who has read One Fine Day thinks it's a memoir, or at least tells me they think it is a portrait of my family and all the characters are real people from my past.  This is not true!  If I'd been smarter, I would have thought to place a disclaimer on the front-piece, but now it's too late [unless I find a real publisher and it's relaunched!].  While it is true the story is based on some experiences I had, most of it is exaggerated and spiced up for dramatic effect.  Characters are combinations of people I knew and some never existed at all. My one main regret is that the parents in the novel do not come off as loving caring people; they had to be portrayed in the context of the novel's time period, i.e. victims of the 60's societal upheaval and subsequent "generation gap"  crises  which created the resentments and alienation of the era. It would not be fair to take for granted I've channeled my own parents into Bea and Karl Bruckner.  But that's the assumption.

My mother's girlhood home in Sullivan, Indiana
I have therefore decided to atone.  They are no longer alive, so  I have done this by reacquainting myself with my parents' roots which has renewed my appreciation of their life's journey.

My mother grew up on a farm in Indiana. I traveled to its location this spring, but, sadly, the farm had burned down a few years back [a charming farmhouse my grandfather had built with his own hands, see photo at right].  Surveying the vast flat, rural Indiana landscape, I can only imagine the loneliness and poverty my mother experienced  in the 1920's and 30's  growing up, though she always said her childhood was a happy one.  She was determined to make something of herself and worked her way to a job with the Tennessee Valley Authority. 


My father's boyhood home in Baltimore, Maryland

My father grew up in a row house in Baltimore. An only child, he lost his own father when he was 16 and had to quit school and go to work to support himself and his mother.  Those were hard times for him too; the Depression loomed and work was scarce.  Through a Depression-era  public electrification project, he won a job working on the Safe Harbor Dam in Pennsylvania and subsequently went on to TVA as well.


Both of my parents came from  hardscrabble backgrounds yet managed through work, hope and dreams of always better times around the bend to create a comfortable life for themselves and a privileged one for me.  I am grateful to them.  That a farm girl and a city boy met and built a life together is a wonderful and enduring story, of fate, of life-long devotion, and of, ultimately, thankful progeny. Me.











Monday, June 18, 2012

Shoulda coulda woulda

Well, another Indie author has hit the jackpot with a blog thanking Amazon's Kindle Direct Publishing
for helping her self-publish  and getting noticed by Jeff Bezos himself. Bingo!  Book promoted front and center on Amazon's main page. Wish I'd thought of that...  Will be interesting to see how the book actually does [Flat-Out Love by Jessica Park] but, regardless, nice to be pulled out of the chaos of self-published books floating around out there. Definitely must make the blood sweat and tears of novel-writing seem worth it!

I'm considering paying for an ad with Kirkus Review's online newsletter and/or magazine to see if that might get One Fine Day noticed.  I've been passing out my book/business cards to folks I think might enjoy it, have not as yet made the effort I know book promoting  needs. Ah for the days when an agent would take care of all this [for when there were agents who would take a gamble on a newbie..].

But it is glorious to rise out of the pack and I take my hat off to Ms. Park!

Monday, May 21, 2012

Books, Art and Gardening - then Blogging

I continue to dip into multiple books at the same time but had to quit both "The Hunger Games" and "Fifty Shades of Gray" - I just couldn't get involved in the dark tale of teens offing teens and the latter book is so poorly written, I tossed it after a few chapters.  More power to the author, however, who tops the best seller lists and is happily filling up her bank account.
I just finished "Escape from Camp 14" by Blaine Harden, a ghastly, harrowing tale of one young man's life in and escape from a North Korean prison camp.  It's hard to believe the world knows of the existence of this and other camps in NK, yet nothing is done and no outrage is expressed.  Thousands are tortured and murdered annually, children are born and raised there who know nothing of the outside world. It's sickening to read this book. As I plan a trip to Poland and Hungary for this summer, and read about the death camps that murdered millions, it is  galling that we apparently haven't learned the lessons of repressive murderous regimes. 
I am also beginning the multi-volume history of World War II by Churchill, a very readable account of those horrible years.  The first volume, "The Gathering Storm" shows in hindsight all the warning signs of what was to come when again, the world was unable or unwilling to act.
On a happier note, my power point Art Appreciation lectures are off to a fine start. My seniors really seem to enjoy them! So far, I have lectured on highlights from the National Gallery in Washington, notable landscapes, ditto portraits and up next are family portraits, then "what did people do back then?" and am currently working on "War, Danger and Adventure".  What follows will be architecture and sculpture, 2 on modern art and wrap with "The Christmas Story".  Loving getting back into the art world in this way!
Vegetable Garden grows great guns.
This is why writing the blog has been put off for too long but I'm still committed.

Monday, April 16, 2012

The Joy of an E-Book Shelf

Now that about 50% of my reading is on an e-book reader, I find myself reading several books at the same time because it's so easy to flip from one to the next.  At the moment, succumbing to  mass market enticements, I've got both "The Hunger Games" and "Fifty Shades of Grey" open as well as a second BarbaraVine book, "The Minotaur" since I enjoyed her "Fatal Inversion" so much.  More serious stuff awaits and I see their covers every time I open my IPAD, the Steve Jobs biography and what will surely be an incredible read, "Escape from Camp 14", the true story of a North Korean's escape from that country's  horrid work camp system.

  At the same time, the "hand-held" books are poked into at the same time, the "Fruitless Fall" book on the demise of the honeybee and a different kind of story by Peter Fleming [yes, Ian's brother] on his adventure on the Brazilian Amazon ["Brazilian Adventure"] as he went, on a lark, to search for the missing Percy Fawcett, the British adventurer who spent years searching for The Lost City of Z [wonderful book by David Grann] and on his last trip was never seen again.  This is in conjunction with my interest in the Amazon after our touristy foray into that region this year.  I also finished Candice Miller's excellent book on Theodore Roosevelt's journey down the Amazon after he lost his election to Wilson [this earlier than the Fawcett mystery] in "The River of Doubt" - Theodore Roosevelt's Darkest Journey".  Then of course I had to read Theodore Rex about his presidency. I mean one thing leads into another and somehow you never catch up!...

Monday, March 26, 2012

I Keep Discovering Great Reads

I just spent 24 hours straight reading "A Fatal Inversion" by Barbara Vine.  The Wall Street Journal occasionally has a noted author list a few books they recommend and this was in such a blurb last week.  It's a terrific story, classified as a mystery but much more than that, a psychological thriller, an historical, literary piece [the action is mostly in the 1970's, reflected upon ten years later - the book was originally published in 1987], a love story and a social commentary.  Now I'm finding out that this British writer [who also writes under the name Ruth Rendell] has dozens of books. How come she's barely known in this country?  Again, I marvel at how many good books are out there, but it takes some work to find them.  This author deserves much more attention - she writes beautifully and is certainly far more gifted than many of the authors currently on the market.  I shall probably follow the WSJ's advice more frequently now and I shall certainly be purchasing more of this author's books! Well done!

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Wacky Spring

Normally, it's still chilly and raw at this time of year where I live in rural Virginia. Not this spring! We've had scary 80+ degree days almost the whole month of March causing everything to pop out 2-3 weeks early.  Daffodils that usually aren't blooming until early April are already spent, blossoming trees are in full flower and gardeners are scrambling to do now what in a normal spring they'd be doing next month.  Everyone in my area is talking about it and worried this bodes badly for summer, too hot for too long.  In addition, we've had practically no rain on top of no snow to speak of through the winter. As a matter of fact, we didn't really have winter at all because I can count on my two hands the number of days we woke to frost...
Climate change worries and disturbing trends:  Bat colonies are being decimated by a fungal problem; sadly our bat house is empty and there was no sign last year of  the  bats we used to enjoy watching all summer at dusk as they looped and lunged after insects.
Most worrisome is the plight of the honeybee. Beekeepers out in my area are very concerned about what we are doing to the health and well-being of this crucial pollinator.  Two books I have just purchased upon a friend/beekeeper recommendation tell the story of the dangers we face if the honeybee colonies collapse: Fruitless Fall by Rowan Jacobsen [visit his website at  www.rowanjacobsen.com] and Robbing the Bees by Holley Bishop, both available from Amazon.

So as I prepare to plant my summer vegetable garden, I'll be thinking about the balance of nature and the wonderfully mysterious ways everything is supposed to work together. We humans have messed things up for too long, lacking respect for nature and this wonderful planet!!  Let's hope it isn't too late to set things right...

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Why Aren't These Books on the Best Seller Lists?

I continue to be baffled by seeing the same old books and authors on the fiction best seller lists.  If you're reading this, you know who I mean.  Two books I've read recently should be inching their way up the lists and getting the attention they deserve, but the stale stuff is entrenched and blocking the way!
The first one is The Sisters Brothers by Patrick deWitt which is a marvelous story set during the brutally lawless Gold Rush days in the American west.  It's got four stars on Amazon and this is what I wrote as a comment on that site:

I really enjoyed reading this very well-written book. What talent to be able to bring the West of the Gold Rush era to life the way deWitt has. In our somewhat sterile, digital age, we forget the brutality and lawlessness of parts of our American history and deWitt has pushed it to the surface in its rawest form - hapless gold panners, pitiless killers, abject whores. The brothers are no better nor are they worse than their peers as they try to scratch out a living in a menacing, unpredictable world. But this is not just a tale of two killers on a mission; there are many scenes of heart-breaking tenderness as Eli, the younger more sensitive of the brothers, seeks connections, understanding, and finally, really, the warm cocoon of love. The scenes where he discovers the joy of tooth powder to brush his teeth are unforgettable and there are many more such examples of his childlike efforts to connect with a higher level of human awareness. His flashes of deep-hearted remorse over his horse Tub or his shy generosity to 'low-life' women he meets show his repressed sensitivity even as he is capable of fiendish acts. The book ended just as it should. An outstanding story and very gratifying read. Thank you! 

The other book is Carol Birch's novel, Jamrach's Menagerie which is part The Life of Pi, part Moby Dick - one scene of whale hunting  is excruciating - how'd she write that sitting in her study somewhere in England?!

So many wonderful books out there, we should boycott the sales figures and make an effort to search out truly good reads!  Just my opinion...

Monday, March 12, 2012

Talkin' 'Bout My Generation

I've been thinking about the Kirkus Review I requested [and paid for].  The reviewer hints the appeal of my book is limited to "college-educated Baby Boomers" who want to take a nostalgic trip back to those crazy few years of the Viet Nam war protest era.  While I agree the time period is essential to my story,  periods of tumultuous history are often the backdrop to a novel and should or could appeal to people whether or not they lived through it.  A few non-boomers who have read my book said they liked it [at least that's what they said to my face!] and learned things about that era they didn't know.  And, on the other hand, lots of fellow boomers wouldn't choose to read about that time again if their life depended on it - too much bad karma, man [I've heard that one too].  But it was a time, an incredible time, of great change brought about by a restless, involved generation, working in some kind of chaotic solidarity for heart-felt causes before facebook brought us all together.  We shouldn't forget the influence that time period has on society even now, and I'm pretty happy my book brings it  to life. As the reviewer stated: "Schiffman’s colorful descriptions of hippie culture, living spaces and nature evoke images so vivid that the reader will easily see and feel them."  It was so much fun for me to let my imagination run wild with the memories, and present a story inextricably connected to that incredible period in MY generation's lifetime. Right on? Yeah, baby!

Tuesday, March 6, 2012

Tweeting?

I just read that Ricky Martin has over three million followers of his tweets, Steve Martin over five million. It's hard to believe that many people are into this but for celebs, it's obviously gold.  I neglected a twitter account  that some very good people set up for me when my book's web page was created - my webmaster designer and my wonderful daughter - and was surprised to find that I am following people [ten] and being followed  by, well, eight people, two of whom are related to me :).   Now I just need to work on following and getting followed by like-minded folks and understanding the medium and something about "plug-ins" where the blog [this one], twitter and facebook are all together. Yikes - would anyone really be interested in that much info? TMI, methinks but I have to give it a whirl if I want to promote this novel at all, yes?  And then I've heard something about "hashtags"...So much to learn - wish I were twenty again so I could absorb all this easily!  But it doesn't hurt anyone to dive on in and see what some of this produces.

Sunday, March 4, 2012

Post- Mardi Gras Trip to New Orleans




"San Francisco"

The beautiful gardens at Houmas Plantation
Yes, that's a limb, 500 year old live oak!


Yes, we just spent a few days in New Orleans, right after returning from Brazil.  Normally, we wouldn't plan back to back trips like this - we'd miss our cats too much! - but we were invited to a wedding in New Orleans and our beloved son Jeff lives there, so off we went. We always love spending time in the Big Easy even when weather is cold and gray as it was post-Gras.  We  tacked on three days to tool around plantation country and, as usual, found southern Louisiana to be an intriguing part of the state. First, the Mississippi River has got to be considered the heartbeat of America. We drove up one side and down the other of the "River Road" between New Orleans and Baton Rouge; it's completely industrialized - plants specializing in fertilizer, chemicals, oil, natural gas, gravel, grains - you name it - riverside and ready to be loaded onto barges or tankers and whisked to wherever. Trains come and go at all hours of the day and night and no sound is lonelier than the far off whistle of a train in the fog-shrouded night...It's a hub of constant activity.  Easy to see why Louisiana's unemployment rate is way below the national average. Who knew?
Our goal was, however, the plantations, and we were not disappointed. We saw four and stayed in two that are now B&B's. We learned so much - about Cajuns [Acadians], Creoles, the French presence, the Louisiana Purchase, slave life and hardships, especially disease, sugar cane [no, no cotton here] and the extraordinary local efforts to preserve and protect what is left of this bygone era.

Saturday, February 25, 2012

Kirkus Review of "One Fine Day"

Kirkus has reviewed my novel - for non-self-publishers, this is a  paid review request. It's not a bad review but it isn't great either: http://www.kirkusreviews.com/book-reviews/suzanne-schiffman/one-fine-day-PhEMQnHk/


The reviewer liked the writing but found the story "predictable" which is fine by me.  The only problem is, she told most of the story including the ending! So who's going to buy a book when they know what's going to happen? The other smaller issue is that the story is set during the Viet Nam war era and for the reviewer[who clearly wasn't alive then],  would probably only appeal to that generation, i.e. baby boomers. She's right, I suppose, yet love stories based in other eras still appeal to a general audience and not just those who lived at that time. But, whatever.  I'm reasonably happy with the review, whether the story line is predictable or not.  I like predictable, wouldn't want to fool a reader with too many gimmicks.

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Miracles Happen!

My husband throughout the writing of my book, the marketing and the snafus has been an unbelievable supporter.  How did I get so lucky?!  He has just pulled off a major [to me] miracle.  Long story short, my book was originally self-published by FastPencil and put up on Amazon.  The Kindle version at that point was priced at $9.59.  For months now, we have been trying to remove that version at that price in favor of the self-published version with createspace at $0.99 with NO LUCK. Neither FastPencil nor Amazon could apparently go through the necessary steps to do this. 
Yes, a pinprick in the cosmos, but my husband wanted everything to be "kosher" and at the same price so...he wrote an e-mail to Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos.  To the top! And guess what? He got a  phone call the next day from someone who said, "Jeff asked me to give you a call".  Within hours, the problem was taken care of and now all is the way we've wanted it.
I am SO impressed with this - my husband's perseverance and Amazon's response.  Miracles do happen and I'm very grateful to all parties even though this is a very minor thing in the scheme of things. 

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Everything's Connected

It's so satisfying to see my website [suzanneschiffman.com], this blog site, my "One Fine Day" business cards, the book facebook page [which I haven't posted on since the book was self published - my bad] and twitter account in place and all connected. The book site on Amazon still has some pricing issues, but at least the webpage connects to the proper pricing and that's all that should matter. I got help from so many, especially my very able tech-savvy daughter. Yay!
Now that the Brazilian interlude is over, I can start thinking about how to USE all this effectively - got to post on some sites and start tweeting, guide peeps to my blog maybe. Others do it, I'll get the hang of it. I'm sure.  My review from Kirkus should arrive any day.  If it's good, I'm going to splash it around as best I can.

Played a chess game on my Ipad that lasted 4 weeks! Happy to say I WON!

Final Stop - Rio

View south  from Tijuca Park

 February is high summer season in Rio - temperatures at 90 degrees and above, Carnavale anticipation rising. We opted for Hotel Santa Teresa located up in the hills overlooking the city [an area much like Fiesole outside Florence] and spent the entire first day hopping from one view over the city to the next [Corcovado where the Christ statue is, Tijuca National Park which is the largest urban park in the world, Sugar Loaf mountain]. Rio truly is a beautiful city to view from above- the blue blue sea, white sand beaches, skyscrapers and remnants of the Atlantic rain forest and rolling hills and rocky outposts.  We also drove through a favela, the so-called slums which are really independent villages within the city, with stores and restaurants, teeming street-life and, sadly, lots and lots of garbage.  Last stop was, of course, Ipanema and Copacabana beaches. Pretty yes, but looked hot and Brazilians don't seem to like the slightly chilly water... Best eating was on the Sofitel hotel second floor terrace overlooking Copacabana beach and at Aprazivel in Santa Teresa district overlooking the whole lovely city. Back home now nursing a horrible cough...
Ipanema Beach

Repair shop in favela

Sunday, February 12, 2012

Amazon II

Our guide takes us into the archipelago on Rio Negro

The mysterious Amazon

Defense mechanisms in the Amazon
Cruised around the archipelago near the lodge [hundreds of small uninhabited islands in the river]. During dry season, you can basically walk around them, now in the middle of rainy season, perfect for viewing flora, later beginning in April the rains come and push the water level up another 5 metres or so.  Afternoon a bit orchestrated as went up river to a village [actually 13,000 inhabitants so not minor] and watched "pink dolphins" being fed bits of fish- very cute.  Then visited several craft work places [salvaged wood for knick knacks, reeds from which baskets, trays etc fashioned, and finally a real shop with jewelry, shirts and [more interesting] arrows.  Saw true Amazon Indian family in the town [getting into a pick-up!].  Back to lodge where evening thunderstorm again prevented night boat trip.  Hot, but not unbearable.

The Amazon!

Deep in the Amazon jungle but hardly roughing it.  At the Anavilhanas Lodge on the Rio Negro which really is black water. Rio Negro flows down toward Manaus [east] becoming  the Amazon. So far have done a walk in the neighboring jungle with an indigenous guide who taught us about medicinal and toxic plants [it's a do or die complex environment!] and soon out to explore by boat the night sounds and sights.  A far cry from the struggles just a few short decades ago to map this incredible region.  [Water on river too rough for the night boat trip so will do another time before we leave, we hope]. Pictures to come later as wifi very slow here.

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

Iguacu Falls II

Another great day in Iguacu Falls area with early morning visit to Brazilian side of falls - better all-encompassing views but you can't get as close as on Argentine side. Morning was cool and quiet as hardly anyone was touring yet. Birds and monkeys were out to scare up breakfast, and a fascinating golden orb spider cleaned a wayward leaf out of her web. Next stop was the Bird Aviary located at the entrance to the park on the Brazilian side, a beautifully done conservation area for South American bird life. You walk through a tropical forest and are able to enter many of the enclosures and get up close and personal with toucans, macaws, flamingos, hummingbirds and butterflies and a vast array of  exotics as well as observe birds of prey . There's also a small area for monkeys and reptiles. A real treat to see so much tropical fauna.

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

Brazil! Iguacu Falls

It's far from home - an overnight flight - but worth the travel time. After a seamless transfer through Sao Paulo airport [Sao Paulo looked to be a massive, sprawling city with skyscrapers popping up all over for miles and miles as seen from the air], we arrived in Iguacu [or Iguassu] where one of the most spectacular falls in the world is located. Spent the day first viewing via cat walks on the Argentine side the several falls made up of 275 cataracts over a nearly two mile spread, including Garganta do Diablo. Summer here and the hordes were out but didn't detract from the view.  The whole area on both Argentine and Brazilian side is a UNESCO national park. Part two, after lunch, was a speedboat tour on the river right up to and then close enough for a substantial shower under the falls.  People happy. Drenched and tired, called it a day.

Saturday, February 4, 2012

Marketing Platforms

Life intervened and I had to miss the "Marketing Platforms" class I had signed up for today.  I hope to be able to go to it or a similar one down the pike because the subject encompasses everything a self-published author needs to think about to self -promote. [Is "Branding" passe?]
I found a terrific site though - WritersDigest.com - which  has  a good overview article on this subject as well as related topics:
There seems to be enough on the site so you don't have to subscribe to either the digital or print version of the publication.  I plan to look this stuff over, though, and perhaps it would be worth subscribing for a bit. Lots to think about. What I have in place is a good webpage with lots of info on my novel. It links to the Amazon site where the book can be purchased [either hard copy or e-book]. I have a Facebook page for the book and a twitter account, business cards and - oh yeah - this blog. Problem is - who is my audience and how do I find them and, more importantly, what exactly am I selling and to what target group? Should be fun, like a jigsaw puzzle as I unravel the complexities of this crazy digital age and this new world of self-published novel-dom.




Wednesday, February 1, 2012

Custom Business Cards!

Just got my business cards from createspace and I love 'em!  One side is the book cover, the other references my book webpage and contact information as well as a brief quote from a review of the book.  I plan on handing a few out - just for fun - in a "marketing platform" class I'm taking  in a couple of days.  Want to hear what the instructor thinks.  No harm in leaving them around here and there, methinks. Libraries probably wouldn't mind if I dropped off a few books along with the cards - after all, it doesn't cost them anything. Wonder if Barnes and Noble would consider same thing...Starbucks? Are bricks and mortar places touchy about this?  I guess I'll have to find out.  Will definitely leave in select places when I'm in Brazil [t-minus 4!] and see what happens. The father-daughter issues dealt with in the book might resonate there where a more paternalistic society has existed.

Monday, January 30, 2012

Another Avenue for Self Published Writers

 There's one more thing I might look at for some exposure for my novel - an audiobook recording.  Not sure how much it costs, but there's apparently a niche out there. Books are recorded all the time [and it doesn't have to be by expensive trained actors, I don't think] so that's one more door to knock on.  Now I just need to push myself and find some good [start with one or two] blogs to follow and delve into tweeting.  Fun stuff.  It's a little hard to buckle down right now as I leave for Brazil in a few days, first visit ever. I hope to  blog with pics from there, maybe see if there are any bookstores left in that country... It is rather shocking to realize Barnes and Noble will probably cease to exist in the next five years or so - look what's happened to the record industry . Is this good? I don't think so but it surely is what the future holds. Sigh

Friday, January 27, 2012

Steps Toward Selling a Book

Here's what I'm doing to get my book noticed: I have a very nice webpage for the book with lots of information about the characters and plot along with possible questions for book club discussion. This webpage is linked to its own Facebook and twitter pages which I haven't really done much with yet, though I have the accounts. Also on the webpage, visitors can link to Amazon and purchase the book. It is available in paperback for $12 and e-book for $0.99 [both published by createspace] . One caveat there - the original e-book was published by FastPencil and listed at $9.59. I am in the process of removing that version from Amazon.Why? Because self-published authors are learning the $0.99 price moves books! Goal is not to get rich but to offer a good read to folks.

I also decided to pay to have Kirkus review my book. A good review could ignite sales and it can be posted on the Amazon site. From createspace [what an amazing entity for self-publishers!], I ordered business cards with the book cover on one side and contact information on the other. Can't wait to get them and then will decide what to do with them. Shake hands with someone, and slip them card? Maybe... I thought I'd start by posting them on library bulletin boards. Work in progress...

I'm also working on the "elevator speech". I have not been good at succinctly telling people who ask what the book is about. Stuck in an elevator with someone for 6 floors, I should be able to pique someone's interest in those few seconds so they really want to buy the book!

Next is investigate sites [other blogs] where book lovers gather. Hello!

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

The Road to Finding Readers

It took me five years to complete my novel, One Fine Day, three months to get through the self-publishing process and six months to realize I wouldn't find a literary agent to help me market it to a "mainstream" publishing house. I think it's a good book that many would enjoy reading - it's got several themes woven together: family dysfunction, obsession, fate versus free will, coming-of-age, tragedy, love, all set amid the turmoil of the influential Sixties. Though I want to call it "literary fiction", some think it's a "romance"; others who have read it call it a page turner with enough suspense that you want to know what's gong to happen next. I think that's the sign of a good read!
I can't be modest because I want to sell my book and I'm looking to connect through networking to do it!