Snowbound Reading through the Decades

snowWhen the snow is up past your knees and you can’t open the door, then all you can do is stay in and read. That’s why I love the snow.

I’ve been wandering through the decades with a chronological short story collection and I’m stuck in the 1950s for now. The collection begins with a story published in 1915 and goes up to the end of the century. I’ve seen farming communities replaced by city life. Writing styles have become more rushed. Now I’m stuck in suburbia surrounded by themes of society’s expectations and restrictions. I’m looking forward to the 60s.

My favorite story from the 1930-50 era is “Resurrection of a Life” by William Saroyan, published in 1935. The character remembers being a newspaper boy in 1917, roaming the streets, shouting disastrous headlines. It beautifully shows what that might do to a young boy. Not only does he see the coldness of the city, but he repeats and sells stories of war.

“There he is suddenly in the street, running, and it is 1917, shouting the most recent crimes of man, extra, extra, ten thousand huns killed, himself alive, inhaling, exhaling, ten thousand, ten thousand, all the ugly buildings solid, all the streets solid, the city unmoved by the crime, ten thousand, windows opening, doors opening, and the people of the city smiling about it, good, good, ten thousand, ten thousand of them killed. Johnny, get your gun, and another trainload of boys in uniforms, going away, torn from home, from the roots of life, their tragic smiling, and the broken hearts, all things in the world broken.”

DSC01831_2We see and feel the city, the people bustling by, and the boy there in the middle of it all. While others think of war as abstract, he breaks it down to individuals. He sees their faces caught up in something large and monstrous. Toward the end, he still manages to find beauty in it all:

“And all that I know is that we are somehow alive, all of us, in the light, making shadows, the sun overhead, space all around us, inhaling, exhaling, the face and form of man everywhere, pleasure and pain, sanity and madness, over and over again, war and no war, and peace and no peace, the earth solid and unaware of us, unaware of our cities, our dreams, unaware of this love I have for life.”

Sometimes I take a break to read The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry by Rachel Joyce. It’s a great one so far.

Are you snowbound or enjoying the sunshine? What have you been reading lately?

Author Interview: Charissa Stastny

CStastnyCharissa Stastny, author of the Bending Willow Trilogy, made it through the snow to visit from Idaho today. Charissa is a great friend and blogging buddy. Her third novel, Hands of Mercy, has just been released so she deserves lots of chocolate and cheers.

Thanks for visiting so we could talk about your novels and finding the time to write and market a trilogy.

The new book covers look great. What was it like working with your daughter on them? How did she go about creating them?

When she came to me and told me she wanted to update my covers, I was super surprised. She works for an architect, so I didn’t know she could do the graphic art type work, but she found an awesome model for Suvi that fit my specifications and showed me her idea and I was blown away with excitement! It’s been fun working together, although hard too because we live in different states and have to do things long distance or wait until we visit each other.

Suvi goes through a lot of internal and external struggles. As the mother of young daughters, was it difficult for you to put her in those situations?

Suvi is like my child, but I knew as an author I had to torture her in order for her to shine. Real life tortures us in unique ways as well. I tell my kids all the time that God doesn’t keep them safe from every harmful or hurtful thing in the world; but He’s there to help, comfort and guide us through hard times. How we react to our challenges reveals who we really are and what we can become. An easy life makes for boring, shallow people.

2-SecretKeepers_ebookRGB_2You mentioned the missionary character who travels to Guatemala is based on your brother. What did he think of the Eyes of Light novel?

I hope he liked it. I know he read it, but he’s as quiet as I am and we don’t gush out our dreams or compliments to each other. Since most of the missionary moments are from his letters, he better have liked it or I’m not giving him a birthday present this year.

I know you like to work on multiple WIPs at one time. How many are you working on now and how different are they?

3-HandsOfMercy_ebookRGB_2I’ve got about six stories started, but I’ve been focused on editing/revising this Bending Willow Trilogy lately. I go between books – either finishing Book 3, editing book 1, making a trailer for book 2, etc (depending on what I feel like doing each day). It’s fun.

How do you find the time to work on so many different novels? What’s your writing routine like?

My routine is very sporadic. I write every day, but depending on my day job or activities for my kids, doctor appointments, etc, my time at the computer changes. My goal is to become more regimented with my writing time, but so far I’ve been more like Doug from the movie Up. “Squirrel!” I’m easily sidetracked.

Any other writing or marketing advice you’d like to share?

At the last writing conference I attended, author Jennifer Nielsen who wrote the False Prince series, said “book writing is a mental illness.” I’m definitely insane. My advice (like so many other authors out there) is to write because you love it, not because you expect to make a six-digit salary. I love the process of writing and revising. I also love the process of designing my own books and making them marketable. Whether or not I ever become rich off my books, I’ll keep writing because, like I said above, I have the writing disease bad and can’t seem to stop myself. If you are okay with that upfront (being mentally diseased), then welcome to the writing world. Let me offer you a straitjacket.

You can connect with Charissa through her blog Joy in the Moments, Twitter, or Facebook.

Click each book cover for a description. The Bending Willow Trilogy is available through Amazon, Barnes and Noble, and Smashwords.

A Century of Voices

bookI started the new year off with voices from the last century. I know, I’m weird.

The voices are contained within this volume of short stories. They’re in chronological order starting with the year 1915 so reading through them is like reading through history. Not the kind of history you read in textbooks, but the kind that’s filled with people’s thoughts and feelings. There have been stories about immigration and racial issues, farming communities and mobsters. Poverty. Cruelty. Injustice. And yes, hope.

Famous voices can be found through the pages, including the familiar ones of Ernest Hemingway, F. Scott Fitzgerald, and William Faulkner. But I’ve enjoyed hearing the others, the ones I hadn’t heard until now.

One of my favorites so far, “A Jury of Her Peers” by Susan Glaspell, was published in 1917. It shows how often women were dismissed, even though they were always there farming, cooking, and cleaning. That attitude comes through as the normal way of things with passages like this:

“Oh well,” said Mrs. Hale’s husband, with good-natured superiority, “women are used to worrying over trifles.”

The two women moved a little closer together. Neither of them spoke.

“And yet,” said he, with the gallantry of a young politician, “for all their worries, what would we do without the ladies?”

The women did not speak, did not unbend.

Reading through this volume has reminded me why I love short stories. They give the reader so much in only a few words. The best short stories could easily be novels. They’re packed full of emotion. In these times with so little time (really the way it’s always been), it’s surprising that more people don’t read short stories.

It’ll be interesting to see how writing styles have changed over the last century. I’ll keep reading through time and will let you know how it goes in future posts.

What do you think of short stories? Do you have a favorite short story writer?

Gone Dreaming

gone clamminIt’s officially the offseason here on Cape Cod. Houses are boarded up and the beach is turning into a wasteland of blowing sand.

It must be liberating to put up a sign like this while going off to pursue a dream. I’ve never gone clamming so my sign would have to say something like “Gone Dreaming.”

There’s never enough time for writing or dreaming. In A Moveable Feast, Hemingway describes trying to write in cafés while ignoring anyone who interrupts him. He makes himself unpresentable by wearing old clothes and growing his hair out so that he won’t be tempted to visit friends. I’ve been doing that for years now and it hasn’t helped.

Sometimes we have to be hermits. We have to go off and dream, even while other people are around, so that we can come up with different ways of looking at the world.

The only drawback is that you end up missing everyone. I’ve missed you all. I kept thinking I’d reappear earlier, but then life would get in the way and I’d have to disappear before reappearing. And I’m not even a magician.

I’m still dreaming. After revising for most of the year, I’m in the querying stage. So we’ll see. My hope is that, like all of us, this book will only get better with age.

Whenever I start thinking it might be done or close to it, I’m reminded of this quote by Paul Gardner:

“A painting is never finished – it simply stops in interesting places.”

It’s the same for novels. Maybe they’re only done when they’re published, but even then, are they really? Each reader brings something different to a book. So then, it’s continually recreated with each reading. That’s part of the magic. As the winds pick up around here, I’m looking forward to the magic of books.

book magic

How’s everything going with you? Have you read any great books lately?

Climbing Up a Sleeping Bear

Sleeping Bear Dunes

Tackling the dune climb at Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore feels like mountain climbing. But these mountains made of sand are tricky. With every step up, climbers sink back down again by almost the same distance.

Sleeping Bear Dune ClimbersBecause of this, it takes a while to climb up the 100-foot bear but it’s worth it for the views of Lake Michigan and the surrounding sand dunes. When it’s time to go Sleeping Bear Dune Climbershome, another reward is to bounce or roll down the dune to the ground below.

The highest point in the park is 450 feet straight up from Lake Michigan. Anyone attempting to climb that dune might be forced into crawling, but that’s forgotten once the top is reached. From there, it’s easy to see why Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore was named the “Most Beautiful Place in America” on ABC’s Good Morning America.

According to the National Park Service, the Chippewa Indians once used the bear-shaped dune as a landmark. The bear rose about two thousand years ago and has seen its share of changes. It no longer looks like a bear. In the late 1800s, it was covered with trees and shrubs, giving it a dark shaggy appearance. For now, the bear has gone into hibernation and his sand dune looks more like a cave. With all the wind-swept changes, the bear may rise again or disappear.

Sleeping Bear Dune Lookout

Because these dunes feel so much like mountains, I was surprised to learn that Adelie from Artfully Aspiring had gone sledding there. I’ve been known for a few sledding feats, including barreling right into a raging polluted river, but I don’t think I’d be brave enough to sled down steep mountain dunes like these. Though you never know. If I find myself there again when there’s enough snow, I might be tempted.

Instead of sledding there, as a teenager I climbed up and bounced down the dunes while listening to Pink Floyd’s “The Dark Side of the Moon.”

Sleeping Bear Dunes View

Do you have a favorite National Park memory?

The Beauty of Lake Michigan

Lake Michigan

When I first heard of the most recent oil spill in Lake Michigan, my thoughts flashed back to the beauty that can be found there while hoping it won’t be destroyed.

Lake Michigan

Hundreds, possibly thousands, of gallons of crude oil discharged into Lake Michigan from an Indiana refinery last week. BP recently doubled its oil spill estimate to up to 1,638 gallons.

Lake Michigan

Every time something like this happens anywhere in the world, it feels like something has been lost. It’s not going to be the same. The environment has been altered again. And it’s our fault. And we keep doing it.

Lake Michigan

I visit my dad there often. The water along the Michigan side is crystal clear. I can see the sand at the bottom even when I’m out over my head. My dad worked on Lake Michigan freighters that hauled cars between cities in the early 1960s. He remembers when they would siphon water right from the lakes and use it as drinking water. It didn’t need to be purified.

Lake Michigan

Seven million people in and around Chicago still use Lake Michigan for drinking water. Although some parts of it look clean, I doubt if anyone would risk drinking right from the lake these days. But it wasn’t that long ago when people could do just that. Wouldn’t it be nice if we could turn everything around and go back to the days of a cleaner, healthier environment? If we could, would we take it for granted all over again?

Lake Michigan

Watching a Prompt and a Parrot Come to Life

parrotJust a quick note to let everyone know about Minuscule Moments of Inspiration. In a recent post, Kath Unsworth challenged readers to come up with a children’s book prompt. Her daughter chose my silly prompt of a parrot that gets into trouble for repeating things.

Take a look at the illustration and story

I love how this talented writer, artist, and friend came up with such a fun scenario while showing her daughter how true it is that stories are everywhere.

Melting Into Words

melting leaf

Frozen gray skies melt into blue. Signs of life appear: a singing stream, babbling birds, ducks visiting the birdfeeder.

visiting ducks

ducks in the woods

Ducks don’t usually visit a house in the woods. But somehow, these ducks sniffed out the birdseed from their lakeside home. Now the springtime sound of chirping combines with quacks, reminding me how funny life can be.

frozen pond

As the snow glaciers retreat, we smell the Earth again. It smells like life. We inhale it. Slices of green delight poke through the ground, waiting to bloom. Cranberry bogs that served as skating rinks over the winter are thawing out.

cranberry bog

I’ve been revising and tinkering with the novel through the winter, but it still seemed frozen into place while I knew it needed more. Lately though, whatever was frozen has been melting into words. Whether our words drip or flood in, it’s progress. Every word, every revision, brings us closer to a finished book. It takes time but that’s true for anything worth doing. If your words were frozen over the winter, I hope they’re melting.

stream

“Spring drew on…and a greenness grew over those brown beds, which, freshening daily, suggested the thought that Hope traversed them at night, and left each morning brighter traces of her steps.” – Charlotte Brontë, Jane Eyre

“As long as I live, I’ll hear waterfalls and birds and winds sing. I’ll interpret the rocks, learn the language of flood, storm, and the avalanche. I’ll acquaint myself with the glaciers and wild gardens, and get as near the heart of the world as I can.” – John Muir

Happy Spring! Have you ever had a pet duck? Does the weather affect your creativity?

Winter Ocean

winter ocean

There’s a certain beauty to a winter ocean. It’s a desolate beauty: one that makes you feel.

winter ocean

winter ocean

The wind is strong enough to push you along. Flying seems possible with open arms. Once the cold sucks all the air out of you, a warm numbness takes over. The sand blasts your face. No matter how tired you might be, a visit to a winter ocean will always wake you up.

snow art

It’s not the one sunbathers worship. It doesn’t comfort. As raw and brutal as nature can be, it challenges. In meeting that challenge to walk along its shores, you’re rewarded with a new appreciation for life. The beauty of a winter ocean leaves you breathless.

winter ocean walk

Have you ever walked along the ocean in freezing temperatures? What kind of beauty takes your breath away?

Author Interview: Kourtney Heintz

sixtraincoverJust in time for Valentine’s Day, Kourtney Heintz is stopping by to talk about her novel, The Six Train to Wisconsin.

Six Train is such a classic love story. Did you set out to write a novel like that or is that how it evolved?  

Thank you Sheila! It was very intentional. I wanted to write a love story I could relate to. No idealized hero and heroine who live happily ever after. For me finding someone isn’t the journey. Staying together, growing into each other, and dealing with the times you aren’t connecting – that’s what love is about. I wanted to write about people who have good intentions and sometimes make bad choices. I wanted to play with all the gray in relationships and capture what it’s really like to find love and to keep it.

Where did the idea for your novel come from?

The telepathy aspect came from thinking about how great it would be to read someone’s mind and realizing how much more complicated a relationship would become.

The central core of the story is about what you would do for the person you love. What a husband will do for his wife and what she will do for him. The book begins with Oliver as the caregiver and Kai as the care needer – this came from my experience with a back injury. I wanted to take all that pain and use it for something. To tell the story of what it is like to be on both sides of an injury – the caregiver and the care needer.

Do you think telepathy is possible?

Believing in the unbelievables is my tag line on my blog and my website. And I do. I think it’s all possible. I’ve had lots of woo-woo experiences and know people who also had them. I think there is so much beyond our five senses. I’ve never met a telepath, but I like to live in a world where that is possible.

I couldn’t help thinking that the colorful aunt in your novel sounded like Grandma H. What does she think of that character?

She is actually a bit from Grandma H’s sister, Julia, who always wore floral and paisley print dresses when I was a kid.

Unfortunately, we may never know. Grandma H is a niche reader. She only reads non-fiction. Specifically biographies or autobiographies. Usually of president’s wives or movie stars. So she hasn’t read the book. She did buy two copies though, so she is very supportive. :)

What made you decide to go the indie route?

I spent one and a half years pitching agents at conferences and sending out queries. I received a good amount of full manuscript requests and personalized rejections. Even got a revise and resubmit two-page editorial style letter from my dream agent at my dream agency. But we had a different vision for the opening and it didn’t work out.

Most of my feedback centered around great writing, but not sure how to sell it. That told me this was a book that might do best in the indie market. I also had a very specific vision for this book down to the cover and the formatting of the chapters. I felt like this was something I needed to bring to market myself.

IMG_0891Kourtney Heintz resides in Connecticut with her warrior lapdog, Emerson, her supportive parents and three quirky golden retrievers. She dreams of one day owning a log cabin on Butternut Lake. Years of working on Wall Street provided the perfect backdrop for her imagination to run amuck at night, imagining a world where out-of-control telepathy and buried secrets collide. 

Her debut novel, The Six Train to Wisconsin, is a 2014 EPIC Ebook Awards Finalist, a 2013 USA Best Book Awards Finalist and a 2012 Amazon Breakthrough Novel Award Semifinalist.

You can connect with Kourtney through her blog, Facebook, or Twitter.

Where to buy: The Six Train to Wisconsin can be purchased through Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Smashwords, or iTunes.

Loving Life and Visiting Friends

flowerThere are so many things to love about life that it can be overwhelming when we stop to think about it.

When Britt Skrabanek asked me to be a life enthusiast, my mind whirled with all the possibilities. Britt is one of those easy to love people and her Life Enthusiast series reminds us of all there is to love. If you’re up for an adventure, let’s hop on over to Britt’s site for my Life Enthusiast guest post. While you’re there, I highly recommend following Britt if you haven’t already. Her posts always make me smile. I’ll close comments here and will hope to see you there for some fun while we stop to inhale the flowers.

Collaboration: Pavement and Paint

Today I’m collaborating with a wonderful photographer from Ireland: Meticulous Mick. He sent this image along with the challenge of putting words to it. The photo is filled with so much feeling that I’m not sure I can do it justice but here are a few thoughts that came from staring at it:

photo by John Grant/Meticulous Mick

plodding pounding
searching
for something
other than
pavement
and paint

there are doors
that could lead
away
but they are always
closed
so I keep
plodding pounding
searching

I don’t even try
to open the doors
anymore
nothing can lead me away
nothing
but my own mind

For more Ireland scenes and photos filled with feeling, visit Meticulous Mick. If you’d like to collaborate with him, visit his collaborations page.

What does this photo make you think of?

Author Interview: Britt Skrabanek

Britt Skrabanek and Downtown MilwaukeeI’m excited to introduce Britt Skrabanek, author of Beneath the Satin Gloves and Everything’s Not Bigger. Thank you for trudging through the snow to visit and for bringing Aphrodite and Hazel, your cat editing team. I’m sure they’ll help keep us warm while we talk. 

I loved your descriptions of Berlin in Beneath the Satin Gloves. Have you lived there?

One summer in college I studied abroad in a sleepy town near Stuttgart, then my husband and I traveled to Berlin a few years after that. People were surprised we were only going to Berlin for ten days and blatantly encouraged us to do the usual tourist fail. You know the one – trying to squeeze in the entire continent of Europe, never stopping to absorb the experience. That’s not our thing at all, so we scooped up an apartment in former East Berlin and lived there for a bit. I had started Beneath the Satin Gloves right before we left, so being there fueled my creativity. Berlin is not a pretty city in the usual sense, but her scars and stories, the way she not only survived but evolved, is insanely beautiful to me.

Beneath the Satin Gloves coverYou also described a restless night and powerful dreams perfectly. Do you sleepwalk or wake up in strange locations like the closet often?

The intensity of my dreams has been a gift and a curse throughout my life. The gift being the creative inspiration. The curse being the bruises. Of course there are some memorable sleepwalking stories, like waking up in closets or the time I sprinted across our loft in Dallas, blanket in tow as my cape. My husband chucked a pillow at me, I woke up in a crouched fighting position, bewildered and buried underneath a blanket, then I laughed my ass off. Now I don’t really have any episodes. Yoga, meditation, and a tiny bedroom with nowhere to run are real lifesavers.

Using your blanket as a cape sounds like fun, but it would be scary to suddenly wake up like that. Beneath the Satin Gloves also mentions the possibility of past lives. Do you believe in past lives?

And, this is where I freak people out. That is, if they’re still reading after the sleepwalking reveal from earlier. To the outsider I’m a skeptical person, but I love the romanticism of past lives. To think that our natural tendencies, skills, and talents aren’t just learned but instilled from another life we once lead is a fascinating concept to chew on. For as long as I can remember I’ve been obsessed with spies, which is not a girly thing (so I’ve been told). In addition, I have these strange survival reflexes. One time I almost hit my husband over the head with a dinner tray when he came in through the front door and I thought he was on the balcony. I didn’t think twice about protecting us at all costs, even if that meant sacrificing a dinner tray. In other words, please don’t ever sneak up on me.

What do you love about the time period shown in your novel?

I’ve been a World War II junkie all of my life, since I first read The Diary of Anne Frank, a story that really resonated with me when I was a young girl about her age, and also a writer. Being a hippie at heart, my fascination with WWII often confuses people I meet. However my interest in this war doesn’t revolve around the militaristic aspect, but the human one. It was a turning point in history, when the world became a much smaller place, when atrocities and destruction almost overshadowed our existence. The stories of bravery and unity during this time continue to astound me. And on a lighter note, 1940s music and fashion are exquisite in my eyes. This was the final era before advertising and technology invaded, but somehow the world was in sync, looking dapper and swaying to jazzy tunes. Despite the war, I feel it was an eloquently sensual time.

It’s great that you were able to work that music into the novel with Alina as a lounge singer and a spy. One part that made me smile was your reference to “Who Framed Roger Rabbit?” What are some of your other favorite movies?

I was always a fan of Jessica Rabbit, which is why Alina takes after her so much. Looks and smarts…lethal combination. When she said: “I’m not bad. I’m just drawn that way.” Yeah, that’s a brilliant line. As much as I love books, I’ve equally been captivated by films. Perhaps it’s the Southern California girl in me or the passion my dad always had for films, but I just love them and feel they have impacted me greatly as a writer. In the WWII genre, and a big influence on Beneath the Satin Gloves, I would have to say Shining Through with Melanie Griffith and Michael Douglas. And on the foreign front, Black Book, a dutch film about a lounge singing spy. I can go on and on, but Lost in Translation is probably one of my favorite movies ever. I can watch it over and over without getting tired of it. Otherwise anything by Woody Allen, Quentin Tarantino, or Cameron Crowe. Also, Audrey Hepburn movies make me obscenely happy.

 Everything's Not Bigger coverYour second book, Everythings Not Bigger, takes place in Texas and Prague. What gave you the idea for that novel?

Um, my life. Just kidding, I was never in the witness protection…or was I? Everything’s Not Bigger is a huge departure from my first book, and possibly the only modern day novel I will ever write. My second book, rather than a form of entertainment, was more like therapy for me. Though I spent most of my life as a California girl, I was born in Texas and visited family there every year until eventually living in Dallas for seven years. I’m half Czech, my grandmother was from there, and that’s where my unpronounceable last name stems from. For Jaye in Everything’s Not Bigger, she is a young woman who gets caught up in a bad situation and ends up in the witness protection program. She struggles to find herself, to piece her life back together. Ditching the fabricated life she’s trying to lead by venturing off to Prague is how she returns to herself. No matter where our lives take us, I strongly believe it is important to remember where we came from. Our roots are vital during self-exploration and if we acknowledge our pasts instead of conveniently sweeping them under a rug, we can grow into better versions of ourselves.

What are you working on now?

The Bra Game, a throwback American romp which takes place in Chicago during 1954. I love buying vintage fashion and made an incredible discovery after purchasing a handbag here in Milwaukee a couple of years ago. Hidden in the folds of the interior were two baseball tickets from 1954 and a voting receipt with a shopping list on the back that read: chocolate, fly swatter, shoes, film, loan. For a history lover like myself, this was comparable to opening a treasure chest. My imagination went into overdrive, picturing three distinct women who might have owned the handbag during that time. Because of the baseball tickets, I decided these women would have played in the All American Girls Baseball League during WWII and the story would follow their lives after the league disintegrated, when the boys came home and the women were expected to return to making pies and babies. Call this one a deeper, sexier A League of Their Own. (Shameless plug…The Bra Game releases Spring 2014.)

I’m already excited to read it. What made you decide to go the indie route?

You know, I tried the traditional route for a bit with Beneath the Satin Gloves. I came close to landing a big-time agent in New York, but then he tossed me aside. After countless rejections I pretty much said…to hell with this! The indie author movement was on the rise and I felt like it was the right fit for me. Is it hard work to market yourself and pave your own way? You bet your ass it is. But to have complete artistic control, to provide an organic work of fiction, whether it be imperfect or swimming against the mainstream, is something I am proud to be a part of. Am I making a living as an indie? No, not yet. But I have hope that one day I will.

Any other advice for writers out there?

Do it for the love. Nobody else will ever feel the way that you do about your words. Not your best friend, not your spouse, not your mom. Know that you are a writer if you write, not just when you finish a book or get paid for it. And know that there is no pot of gold at the end of the writing rainbow, whether you put one book out there, or a hundred. As long as you stick with your true passion for writing, you’ll be just fine. I’ll say it again. Do it for the love.

Connect with Britt through her blog A Physical Perspective, Facebook, or Twitter.