Except for the Dead Guy and Minus a Few Cousins

I’ve been re-editing a book I wrote and published via Booktrope a few years before they went out of business, The Graduation Present. Of the plot, Colm Herron wrote:

A hapless hopeless romantic American girl called Riley O’Tannen heads for Europe to get a taste of the old world and instead encounters her drunken uncle who keeps a mistress, her randy aunt who keeps a gigolo and a dead CIA man whose boss is a raving homosexual.

Which is what happened decades ago except for the dead guy and minus a few cousins.  Such is the dilemma when your write a “semi-autobiographical” piece.

I did travel to Germany unprepared for the realities of life in an occupied country.  I did have to pry my uncle from the bar every night and listen to my aunt sing the praises of her lover’s magical tongue “oh what it could do …”  My uncle’s boss was rumored to be a CIA operative, and he was a dead ringer in looks and manner for Truman Capote.  But, as to the rest, well, I could say time has warped my memory but the truth is, a bit of imagination was applied.  Perhaps too much.

When you write a book with at least one character recognizable to family and friends, be prepared.  

“You made me out to be quite the putz,” my uncle complained shortly after the book was published. Ironically if he’d read through to the end and not just the first couple of chapters he would have realized that Riley O’Tannen was the putz and not him. Still it gave me pause.  I know writers who will not base a character on someone they know until that person was dead and gone. Even then, it’s difficult.  

“And how about that evil burgermeister. I don’t remember him,” my uncle continued.

“I made him up.”

“Then that other story about me pimping you out for dinner…”

“The truth.  You said ‘look at all those lonely officers. They’d love to take a pretty girl to dinner. Why should I have to feed you all the time?'”

Number one travel book when I first went to Europe.

“I don’t remember.” Sadly he didn’t mention the people who were missing from the story, my young cousins neither of whom survived unscathed from that time. When you tell a semi-autobiographical story those are the choices you face.  Who to spare and who to expose.  Uncle Bob, who now preaches the gospel of Trump in a Walmart parking lot down in Tampa, has repented and been saved. He’s never without an eight ounce glass of gin and makes gross jokes about women’s body parts, but in the church of the almighty Trump all you need to do is speak in tongues and all is forgiven.  Plus, he was born with a teflon hide.

Happy Hour at the Officer’s Club, Worms Germany 1970

And the dead man?  He’s here with me now. He sits with eyes tunneling into the night sky as we ride through Switzerland time and time again and see no stars, just a cold and apathetic landscape. Toward the end, he’d been relegated to a seat at the table reserved for those with frozen boots who couldn’t move on. They are the best people for a writer to know.

I relieved him of his misery.  I killed him.  I let him die in a place where he’d known happy times and not in a Veteran’s hospital. And that’s what writers do. But should we?

What a Miserable, Mother-Swiving Profession

“What a miserable, mother-swiving profession it is…”

“. . . to be a writer.” Christopher Marlowe

I’d rather be pussy grabbed by Trump than re-publish a book of mine ever again. Flipka, my first book, has had four editors over the stretch of four years.  As a result, I’ve been hornswoggled into a flummoxed higgledy-piggledy, lolly-gagging pusillanimous puke.  It’s not the editors’ fault.  They just didn’t agree with each other which always puts the writer on a ride down the Iron Maiden.

Coincidentally I’ve also been watching the miniseries “Will” which focuses on the so-called “lost years” of William Shakespeare, in this case, the years during which he made a name for himself in London.  Since not much is known about those years, the writers took a few liberties based on events of the day. The first season focused on the dangers he would have faced in London because he was Catholic in a society dominated by blood-thirsty Protestants. This is not something I remember coming up when studying Shakespeare in college but perhaps it did and age has dulled my mind.  I do remember endless discussions about his sexuality which brings me to that other great playwright of the time: Christopher Marlowe.

In this series, Marlowe is the “writer,” agonizing over the meaning of life and the futility of it all, whereas Shakespeare just wants to make a buck to support his family.  He’s the story teller.  I know people who consider it a personal effrontery to be called a story teller. They are “writers.” Their work does not rely on a plot or characters but journeys to the soul of the reader through the divinity of their prose.  Well, that’s cool. But few people can actually do that and I’m not one of them.

Anyway, if I wanted to spend my days intellectualizing over a process no one really understands, I would have made my father a very happy man and gone on to graduate school.  So, my question for you all is, are you a story-teller or a miserable mother-swiving writer?

By the way, I’ve been reposting a lot of “cuttings” from Duke Miller’s soon to be re-released (hopefully) Living and Dying with Dogs, Turbo Edition.  In his over twenty years traveling the world working with refugees he’s seen things most of us only run into in sweaty nightmares of the Apocalypse. It’s a remarkable report from the wreckage of Planet Earth: the Human Edition.  Quite timely.

Onward Methuselah, Part 2

IMG_2056I didn’t get a chance to read this book until this morning and then, I did not read the whole thing.  It’s almost 500 pages long.  However, just skipping through the chapters I could tell it is an exceedingly comprehensive book on publishing. I wish I’d read it twenty years ago because as they say in Chapter 2, A World Wide Wonderland,  “. . .these days it’s imperative to start assembling an audience long before you’ve written a word.” To someone who’s been writing as long as she can remember that’s like saying “assemble an audience before you’re born.” Sheesh. My first book Flipka was in final edits before I even knew about twitter accounts.

IMG_2057

Too late chicka. No audience, no book deal. Mom and Dad don’t count.

The chapter on blogging contains some interesting factoids I did not know, for example, you’re supposed to post pictures of yourself at various stages of life.  Readers love family pictures. Really, what do you think?

I was always a little odd.

I was always a little odd.

If you’re going the traditional route, there’s gobs of information on dealing with agents, how to get a larger advance from a publisher, and how to conduct yourself on television interviews. Ah, not my big worry right now.

th-2

Ah, Miss Twissel, did you get the memo about being youthful, attractive and scintillating for your TV debut? You look a bit like Methuselah.

The chapter I spent most of my time reading was Publish Thyself which, as the title suggests, focuses on self-publishing. Here are some things I learnt:

  1. It’s not uncommon for writers to spend up to $50,000 to self-publish if they avail themselves of all the so-called “writer services” available. (so word to the wise)
  2. Upgrade to off-white paper instead of white. It looks more professional and is easier on the eyes.
  3. If you’re listing yourself as the publisher, get a PO box and use it for contact information on the copyright page. (amazing to think people would actually list their home address as contact info but apparently it’s been done.)

Regarding item 1, writer’s services include editing, proofing, layout, cover design formatting, ISBNs, website design, bio help (professionally done head shots), marketing, distribution, etc., etc. The book contains many stories of writers who’ve gone the whole hog versus those who’ve flown by the seat of their pants. In the end success generally came down to perseverance on the part of the author, no matter how much money was spent.

Regarding item 3, to list yourself as a publisher all you need to do (in the US) is register your name as a business with the county clerk.  For about $50 JT Twissel became a business with me, Jan, as the President.  Now if I could only afford an admin.

I want to thank Krista over at  Krista at the Heart of It All, for the recommendation of Silverwood Books.  I did check them out (even saw your book listed!) and they seem exceedingly professional. Their packages seem competitively priced and a good deal but I’ve already gotten fairly far along in the process thanks to my previous publisher.  I will probably go with CreateSpace. Now thanks to Cinda I have a good idea what to look out for and which services to spurge on.  Maybe I’ll actually get started tomorrow. Ya think?

The End (or not)

Finally, finally you type “The End.” 

Photo by

Lord have mercy, it’s done!!! I thought I’d never make it. All those many long years, weekends and nights spent writing while my friends went to the theatre, gave dinner parties, traveled to all parts of the world, in other words, lived their lives while I was stuck in someone else’s or in a version of my own past. And now, I’m free!

Elated you shutdown the computer and take a walk around the neighborhood. The fresh air, the sun, the birds singing, even the neighbors you pass, no one knows the elation within you.  How can they?  They’re not crazy like you. 

CrazyWriterThen you send your draft off to early readers.You know, those folks who’ve stuck with you through the years of shitty first drafts, unrelenting self-doubt and abject paranoia. It’s unkind, of course, to expect them to suffer through yet another draft but they asked for it.  Or maybe they didn’t and you just imagined their glee at finally being able to read the completed masterpiece.  (By the way, the technical term for what you’re going through is “Euphoric Self-Delusion” or ESD.)

Days go by and your email only contains offers to prepay for your funeral (appropriate). But because you’re afflicted with ESD you begin to think your masterpiece is ready for the editor. 

And then it comes. The first bullet over the deck.  “Just finished your book,” your early reader says. Blah, blah, blah (the nice things).  You can now relax but only for a second. “However,” she concludes, “that’s it?”

“What do you mean ‘that’s it’?”  You type back.

“The ending is too abrupt.  What happened to the character after the trial?”

elephantYou’re now standing on a high dive thirty feet above a pool that looks shallow, teetering on one toe while an elephant decides whether to bounce along side of you.

“I’m not done?  How can that be?  You want more?’

The answer “yes.”

You have no more.  For you the story ended where it ended and yet you’re a writer with low sales and a publisher constantly telling you “write what the readers want” therefore you will cave.

quote

… until the reviews roll in and you realize you should have trusted your own instincts.

How about you? Has lack of self-confidence ever forced you to make a decision you later regretted?

Graphics from Bing Images

Tell Me WHY

I have a hard time answering the question “why do you write.” whyThis, I’ve been assured, is a disaster. Being able to articulate your WHY is a key element to “building your platform,” “branding yourself” or “finding a niche.”  People who succeed in the WHY will sell books and those who don’t, won’t.

The WHY, being so important, must be answered before we set pen to paper or slop enchiladas over our keyboards in the middle of the night. However, being that I’m a half-ass backwards kind of person, I started writing long before I knew about the WHY.  I just sat down and words came out.

Philomena

The God moment

However lately I’ve had a revelation.

Revelations are strange things, aren’t they?  You see the face of Jesus in beer foam and suddenly boom/ bang you know your WHY. I wish I could say this revelation came to me while meditating on the top of the mountain or deep in the forest but it didn’t.  It came to while sitting on my butt, eating peanuts and watching Philomena, which, for those of you who haven’t seen it, is a full box of Kleenex movie about an Irish girl forced to give up her baby by evil nuns. When she goes in search of him many years later those same nuns lie about not knowing his whereabouts and so she turns to a journalist for help.  The journalist takes on the assignment not out of the goodness of his heart.  He intends to turn her story into a “human interest story,” one which will tug at the hearts of readers and reestablish his drowning career.  His WHY is money and fame.

Several times during their search Philomena balks at the idea of her story being publicized. Does she really want to expose things long unseen or forgotten?  Painful things, the revelation of which may alienate family, friends or even God?

Philomena1Would you?  That is often the dilemma facing writers. In telling a story will we incur the censor of family and community, maybe even God?

I’m sure once Philomena’s story did get published (and turned into a movie) it irked the Church to which she’d remained faithful, despite their treatment of her (where is Jesus – lost in the beer foam?). But it also brought to light an abomination and maybe even helped other poor Irish women to find their stolen sons.

So my WHY is a slippery little devil.  Sometimes I write for fun and sometimes it’s a slide down the Iron Maiden.  But if I write with the intent of not stepping on anyone’s toes (even my own), it doesn’t feel genuine.

Here are more articulate writers on the topic of why they write.

  • “Those of us who write do it because there are stories inside us burning to get out. Writing is essential to our well-being.” Judy Blume
  • “My aim is to put down on paper what I see and what I feel in the best and simplest way.” Ernest Hemingway
  •  “Writing is a dog’s life, but the only life worth living.” Flaubert
  • “I write entirely to find out what I’m thinking, what I’m looking at, what I see and what it means.” Joan Didion
  • “If I don’t write to empty my mind, I go mad.” Lord Byron
  • “Writing is the only thing that, when I do it, I don’t feel I should be doing something else.” Gloria Steinem
  • “To me, the greatest pleasure of writing is not what it’s about, but the inner music that words make.” Truman Capote 

Of these esteemed writers I think Lord Byron’s WHY makes the most sense to me.  How about you?

Let’s go fly a kite!

The other day I watched Saving Mr. Banks, a fictionalized account of banksthe filming of Mary Poppins, which I have to admit was not my favorite Disney film.  Apparently, PL Travers, the author of the book, had an even stronger reaction.  She gave ole Uncle Waltie such gas that at first she wasn’t even invited to the premiere.  The reasons she gave for her disapproval were: the nanny wasn’t strict enough and Disney insisted on adding animation.  After her experience, she refused to allow him to film any of her other books. (Watch the trailer from Saving Mr. Banks.)

The movie Saving Mr. Banks implies that Travers’ hatred of the movie went far deeper than a dislike of dancing penguins.  Apparently the filming brought back memories of her delightfully fanciful

Penguins

The “loathsome” penguins.

but totally irresponsible father and the stern aunt who arrived after his premature death to pull the grieving family together.  In the Mary Poppins’ books, the nanny is able to save the whole family whereas in real life, help arrived too late. So you could say PL Travers used fiction to save a father she’d tragically lost and for that reason, seeing him and her beloved aunt portrayed as Disney caricatures must have mortified her. I can understand this feeling well. The other day someone commented that the Captain Wug character in FLIPKA was a “crazed geezer.” 

From Bing images

From Bing images

Since that character was based on a decorated war hero, I freaked.  What have I done, I thought.  Turning the beloved people in my life into caricatures? The person who made the comment was surprised by my reaction.  Many memorable characters in fiction began their lives in the impressions of children, he pointed out, and thus are often capable of the improbable, the fanciful, and the heroic. They are also subject to caricature.  Every book we publish is like a kite we launch into the sky.  Everyone who sees the kite will see it differently and about this fact we can do nothing except be happy the kite is flying. 

By the way, PK Travers was not the first nor will she probably be the last author to hate the film version of their baby:

Farewell

I don’t know about Papa, but this book cover implies a little hanky-panky might be going on.

About the movie adaptation of The Shining, Stephen King complained the hotel was not sufficiently “evil” and Jack Nicholson acted “too psychotic.” Having read the book and seen the movie,  King’s comments made me think he doesn’t know what he wrote!  I could say the same thing about Ernest Hemingway’s response to the first adaptation of A Farewell to Arms.  He felt it was “too romantic.”  Okay.  Here’s what I think. The heroine was based on his first wife and by the time the movie came out he was probably on his third.  Sounds like the rascal was just trying to save a marriage!

The list goes on to include so many authors that I decided if anything I write is ever made into a movie or play, I’ll try to keep this in mind – it’s only a kite I launched which once airborne belongs to the world.

Let’s go fly a kite (click for video)
Up to the highest height!
Let’s go fly a kite and send it soaring
Up through the atmosphere
Up where the air is clear
Let’s go fly a kite! – Robert B. Sherman
 

Click here to read about other authors who hated the movie adaptations of their books.

Feed Your Hypos Well

IMG_2003

View on a morning in November

Generally depression is not a problem for me, however, I just finished the edits on a third book and, after reviewing the sales of my last two, the gales of November have come early.  Is writing really worth it?  Low sales, too few reviews, a body none the better from lack of exercise. Last night I announced to my hubby, I was over. Done.  I’d written my last word, blogged my last blog, tweeted my last tweet. Then, to ramp up said depression to a fever pitch, I picked up Moby Dick:

Moby1“Whenever I find myself growing grim about the mouth; whenever it is a damp, drizzly November in my soul; whenever I find myself involuntarily pausing before coffin warehouses, and bringing up the rear of every funeral I meet; and especially whenever my hypos get such an upper hand of me, that it requires a strong moral principle to prevent me from deliberately stepping into the street, and methodically knocking people’s hats off – then, I account it high time to get to sea as soon as I can.” -Herman Melville

While listening to The Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald:

The legend lives on from the Chippewa on down
Of the big lake they call Gitche Gumee
Superior, they said, never gives up her dead
When the gales of November come early – Gordon Lightfoot
babyshower1

One of my hungry hypos!

It’s not exactly what a shrink would prescribe.  I should be taking a walk on this fine crisp day, making myself a pan of brownies or volunteering to help people who are truly misfortunate instead of selfishly indulging my “hypos.” (love that word, don’t you?  Can’t have sex right now love, my hypos are acting up.)

Hubby just stopped by on his way to the market with this bit of snideness: “I see you’ve really given up writing this time.” The cad.  Just because I’m on the computer doesn’t mean I’m ever going to write again.  I’m not, truly, no way!

IMG_0976

 

When the gales of November come early, what do you feed your hypos?