Interview with Ina Zajac, author of Please, Pretty Lights

Please, Pretty Lights

 

 

It is my pleasure to welcome Ina Zajac, author of Gritty Contemporary Fiction, Please, Pretty Lights.

Several of Ina’s childhood math teachers had something in common. They all seemed to think she should be a writer. She followed their advice, but didn’t initially consider fiction writing. Instead, Ina earned a bachelor’s degree in journalism with a minor in psychology from Western Washington University. Later she earned a master’s degree in mass communication from Arizona State University.

Ina’s first gig out of college was as a newspaper reporter. She has a broad range of communications experience including media relations, event promotion, and crisis communications. A few years ago, she decided to pursue fiction writing full time.

Welcome, Ina!

What is your book’s genre/category?

Literary Fiction/Gritty Contemporary Fiction

Please describe what the story/book is about.

It’s September when good girl Via Sorenson stumbles into a Seattle strip club, drunk and alone on her twenty-first birthday. Matt and Nick—best friends, band mates, and bouncers—do their best to shield her from their sadistic cocaine-trafficking boss, Carlos. They don’t realize her daddy issues come with a forty-million-dollar trust fund and a legacy she would do anything to escape.

She is actually Violetta Rabbotino, who had been all over the news ten years earlier when her father, an acclaimed abstract artist, came home in a rage, murdered her mother, then turned the gun on himself. Young Violetta was spared, hidden behind the family Christmas tree, veiled by the mysticism of its pretty lights whose unadulterated love captivated and calmed her.

Now, desperate to shed her role as orphaned victim, Via stage dives into a one-hundred-day adventure with Matt and Nick, the bassist and drummer of popular nineties cover band Obliviot. The rock-and-roll lifestyle is the perfect distraction—until she is rattled by true love. As Christmas looms closer, her notorious past becomes undeniable. How will she ever untangle herself from her twisted string of pretty lights?

How did you come up with the title?

The main character Via says, “please, pretty lights” in the opening scene. For her, the pretty lights are charged with emotional and spiritual symbolism. Nick and Matt are musicians who perform on stage under their own kind of pretty lights. Nick gets off on the limelight, but Matt would rather hang back in the shadows.

What is the reason you wrote this book?

I have been a writer for many years. I started out as a newspaper reporter and then transitioned into public relations. I have always wanted to write a novel, but the timing never seemed right. Then a few years ago, I started obsessing about a character (Via). I would daydream about her. It may sound crazy, but it’s true. At the time I wasn’t working full time, and so I turned my attention toward fiction writing. It has been the most emotionally rewarding work of my life.

What is your favorite part of writing?

There are days when I’ll wake up, get a cup of coffee and sit down to write. I’ll start typing away, and all of a sudden I will look up and four or so hours have gone by. I describe it as “when time turns itself inside out” because that’s what it feels like. I’ll look down to find a cold cup of coffee. I’ll have written several thousand words. Of course, these words aren’t necessarily perfectly strung together. Tweaking and re-tweaking is a must. Still, it’s a rush.

What is the most challenging aspect of writing?

There are other times when I get outside of my head by stressing or doubting the process. That doesn’t feel good. Too much attention to social media can mess with my mind. Reading “You Must Do these 10 things Right Now” blogs, for example. Also, the revision process can be grueling. It’s work. It’s rewarding, uplifting even, but it is still work.

Who are some of your favorite authors?

I have so many. First, I want to say that I respect all writers. All musicians. All artists. It doesn’t matter whether I personally connect with their work or not. Being a creator can be emotionally, spiritually, financially and physically taxing. It can be a lonely business. It can be scary putting your heart into something not knowing what the world will think about it. Vulnerability can be terrifying. Sometimes I think we forget that.

Growing up I read everyone from Laura Ingalls Wilder and Judy Blume to C.S. Lewis and Frank Herbert. I admire the Bronte sisters, Jane Austen and Leo Tolstoy. I’ve read Anna Karenina a dozen times.

Since signing with Booktrope in January, I started reading more and more Booktrope authors. Wow, so many super talented writers. Some favorites include: Mary Rowen, Ruth Mancini, Arleen Williams and Tiffany Ems Pitts.

I recently read Marni Mann’s “Pulled Beneath” and just loved it. Mann’s vibe is dark and sultry, yet understated. I often talk about my love of “quirk and contrast” and her work offers both. As a reader, I connect with emotionally damaged characters. I want a hero who is more than a little messed up. I need the villain to have some soft spots.

Tess Thompson an exceptional storyteller. I get lost in her prose and forget myself. Last week I finished “Bill Purgatory: I Am the Devil Bird” by Jesse James Freeman. I had heard it was awesome. My expectations were high and it still wowed. It is wildly creative and clever. I haven’t read Jennifer Hotes yet, but she’s next on my list. Shari Ryan, Allie Burke and Eleanor Parker, as well. 

What authors or person(s) have influenced you?

I’d love to mention my late grandmother, Louise Daney Roberts. The woman radiated pure love, so much so that I still feel it today though she’s been gone almost 20 years. I was so lucky to have had her in my life. I have based a character (Grandma Daney) on her. My grandmother was – and still is — such a part of me that I couldn’t help but include her in the book.

Favorite place to write?

I work from home and have dedicated office space, but like to mix it up. Sometimes I’ll sit at the dining room table or on the couch. When the weather is decent, I’ll write from the deck. I also like to write at my neighborhood bookstore, Third Place Books.

Something personal about you people may be surprised to know?

I would write whether anyone paid me to or not. While I would love praise and piles of money, writing is ultimately something I do for myself. I love it that much. Also, I often read my work aloud so I can listen for cadence. My dog Leland comes over and flops down next to me and listens. Maybe he’s just worried about me. I talk to my dog way too much.

Any surprises or learning experiences with the publishing process?

I used to be a people pleaser. This is something I have dealt with my whole life. Be nice. Be a good girl. Make sure everyone around you is comfortable. It’s actually a theme I explore in Please, Pretty Lights. This past year I have become better at making myself happy first. Last year I sent an early out to seven beta readers. Two loved, four really liked. One did not. Initially, I was heartbroken. While I did consider her opinions, I didn’t change my story for her. I realized I could not keep all seven beta readers happy, so I revised as best I could. I stood my ground because it felt right at the time. Looking back, I’m so happy I did.

Looking back, what did you do right that helped you with this book?

I turned off my phone, got off Facebook, and wrote my story. Of course, it wasn’t that simplistic, but I made writing a priority. Social media can kill precious writing time. For me, posting and tweeting and liking are pointless pursuits unless I’m doing the real work of writing.

Any advice for writers looking to get published?

Don’t spend too much time getting advice from people who aren’t you. What works for one writer may not work for another. Learn to trust your instincts. It’s so easy to get caught up in what trends are sweeping the industry. Write what you want. What do you think about when you’re zoning out in traffic or standing in line at the grocery store? Write about that. Then revise and write some more. Make it the best it can possibly be. Take a break from it and read some books on craft. Attend a writing conference or a seminar. Connect with other writers. Read people who you think are better than you are. Pick and choose the techniques that speak to you. Then get back to your book and make it even better. Repeat this process several times. Then send it out and let the chips fall where they may.

Website?

www.inazajac.com

Where can we find your book?

I know you can bookshelf it now on Goodreads. It will be released mid July on amazon, b&n.com, nook, hobo and carried in indie bookstores.

What’s next for you?

I have a few writing conferences this summer that I am super excited about: The Chuckanut Writers Conference in Bellingham, Wash June 27-29th, and the Pacific Northwest Writers Conference July 17-20h.

The Please, Pretty Lights launch party is at 7 p.m. Aug. 27th at Third Place Books in Lake Forest Park, Wash. We’ll have food, live music and door prizes. It will be a good time. I am extremely fortunate to have a fabulous editorial team and an ultra supportive group of friends and family. I’m looking forward to thanking them all properly.

I am now working on the sequel to Please, Pretty Lights to be released by Booktrope in 2015.

https://www.facebook.com/InaZajacWrites

Follow me on twitter @InaZajac

Thanks, Ina! I enjoyed your interview, thanks for the mention, and best of luck with Please, Pretty Lights!

 

Interview with Mayra Calvani, author of ‘The Luthier’s Apprentice’

LuthiersApprentice_med

 

I am very pleased to introduce Mayra Calvani, author of “The Luthier’s Apprentice which comes out today! Congratulations!

We met through a mutual friend while living in Brussels, Belgium and bonded when Mayra joined a creativity group I facilitated based on the book, The Writing Life by Julia Cameron. We share Puerto Rican roots, a love of writing, classical music and great books. She is a good friend and over the years has become one of my writing mentors.

Award-winning author Mayra Calvani has penned over ten books for children and adults in genres ranging from picture books to nonfiction to paranormal fantasy novels. She’s had over 300 articles, short stories, interviews and reviews published in magazines such as The WriterWriter’s Journal and Bloomsbury Review, among others. A native of San Juan, Puerto Rico, she resides in Brussels, Belgium.

Welcome, Mayra!

 

What is your book’s genre/category?

Young adult fantasy.

Please describe what the story/book is about.

Here’s a blurb:

Niccolò Paganini (1782-1840), one of the greatest violinists who ever lived and rumored to have made a pact with the devil, has somehow transferred unique powers to another…

When violinists around the world mysteriously vanish, 16-year-old Emma Braun takes notice.  But when her beloved violin teacher disappears… Emma takes charge. With Sherlock Holmes fanatic, not to mention gorgeous Corey Fletcher, Emma discovers a parallel world ruled by an ex-violinist turned evil sorceress who wants to rule the music world on her own terms.

But why are only men violinists captured and not women? What is the connection between Emma’s family, the sorceress, and the infamous Niccolò Paganini?

Emma must unravel the mystery in order to save her teacher from the fatal destiny that awaits him.  And undo the curse that torments her family—before evil wins and she becomes the next luthier’s apprentice…

How did you come up with the title? 

It just came to me in a flash, the way titles sometimes do come. I knew the title before I started writing the story.

What is the reason you wrote this book?

I wrote this book for Nanowrimo back in 2007. At that time, it was an experiment. I hadn’t participated in Nanowrimo before. It was an exciting, exhilarating experience, but I knew the manuscript needed a lot of editing and polishing, so I put it aside for a long time. Then I worked on it on and off as I worked on other projects. That’s why it took so long to publish it.

As far as the inspiration behind it…

I studied/played the violin for 5 years, and my daughter has been playing it for 8 years, so violin music has been a big part of my life for a long time. There’s something darkly mysterious about the violin, and I’m in awe of soloists who have the skill to master it. The making of the violin itself is fascinating to me as well. And, of course, I also love listening to violin music whenever I can. Naturally, violin music has been very influential in my writing. I just find it immensely inspiring. Besides The Luthier’s Apprentice, I have also written several children’s picture books related to the violin. Readers can learn about them here: www.MayrasSecretBookcase.com.

What is your favorite part of writing?

Creating something out of nothing. Sharing my imagination with readers. Getting paid to daydream. And nothing beats being able to work in your pajamas.

What is the most challenging aspect of writing?

The greatest challenge: keeping focused and not procrastinate. Keeping confident throughout the process and, like Steven Pressfield says in his fantastic book, Do the Work, “trusting the soup.”

Every book that I’ve written has been hard to write. Though writing is my life and in a way, like breathing, I have a love & hate relationship with it. First of all, the mechanics of the craft are always a challenge: constructing the plot, creating the characters, balancing all the elements, i.e. description, dialogue, narrative, symbolic imagery, etc. Then there’s the word choice and the agonizing over verbs, adjectives, adverbs.

Besides this, there’s the emotional aspect of the journey: struggling with the inner critic, bouts of self-doubt, writer’s block, irritability over not writing, dealing with negative criticism, remorse due to sacrificing time with family and friends, spending hours, days, months, years sitting at the computer without any assurance that the book will be read by enough people or earn enough money to make all that time worthwhile.

But as writers, we are artists, and the artist’s soul is an interesting, compulsive animal. Writing is our vocation, our drug, and we must have a regular fix or go insane.

At the end, after a good writing day which may happen while still experiencing all of the above, I’m sweetly exhausted and at peace.

Who are some of your favorite authors?

Anne Rice, Tama Janowitz, Donna Tartt, Albert Camus, Kate Chopin.

What authors or person(s) have influenced you?

In my early teens, strong influences were Agatha Christie mysteries and Barbara Cartland romances. Also Harlequin contemporary romances.

In my twenties, strong influences were Tama Janowitz, Kate Chopin, and Albert Camus. Later on, Anne Rice and Donna Tartt.

Favorite place to write?

My little office, especially when I’m alone at home and everything is quiet. But, sometimes, when I have trouble concentrating, I go and work at a café.

Any surprises or learning experiences with the publishing process?

Oh boy. I could write a short book on the subject, but if I could narrow it down to two:

Be prepared to wait. A lot.

Having an agent does not guarantee a sale.

Looking back, what did you do right that helped you with this book?

Again, the same as with any other book: putting my big ego aside and “trusting the soup.”

Any advice for writers looking to get published?

Don’t let anyone interfere with your dreams or goals of becoming an author. No matter what anyone says. Do what you have to do to accomplish it. Learn the craft, take courses and/or workshops if you have to, join writer organizations and a critique group. Interact with like souls who actually understand the creative spirit. Above all, read a lot and write a lot, as often as you can. The longer you stay away from writing, the harder it is to get back to it. And the more you write, the better you get at it.

Website?

www.mayracalvani.com

Where can we find your book?

Amazon Kindle; Apple iBookstore; BN.com Nook; Kobo Books; OmniLit, and others.

Something personal about you people may be surprised to know?

I can speak Turkish.

Thanks, Mayra!

 

Puerto Rico, The Isle of Enchantment

The summer 2014 launch of my historical fiction novel, A Decent Woman, is right around the corner! With the book launch in mind, I’ve decided to share blog posts on topics that relate to my main characters, the midwife Ana Belén and young Serafina, and of course, the setting of the story-the colonial city of Ponce on the island of Puerto Rico. I am excited to introduce you to the Puerto Rico I know and love, and to share some of the reasons Puerto Rico is called la isla del encanto, meaning the island of enchantment.

A Decent Woman was birthed by family stories, old yarns and local lore told to me since I was a young girl. I interviewed my maternal grandmother, my mother, and my aunt (all born in Ponce) who, for hours, patiently retold the stories over family meals. I spoke with healers, a curandero (folk healer), a psychic in Puerto Rico and a medium in the Dominican Republic who helped me to better understand the fascinating and sometimes, difficult lives of healers, mystics and those who communicate with spirits in the spirit world.

My protagonist, the Afro-Cuban midwife Ana Belén, grew up as a slave in Cuba with the Yoruba traditions of her ancestors, so I paid good attention. From now until the book launch, I will share blog posts on the history of Puerto Rico, Ponce and midwifery practices at the turn of the century. I will also include posts on: healing practices and superstitions, women’s issues at the turn of the century, the sometimes blurred lines between spiritism, religion, and the Lukumí religion (also known as Santería) on the island. slavery in the sugar trade in the Caribbean, typical foods, flora and fauna of Puerto Rico, music and dance from the Barrios of San Antón and Bélgica in Ponce, and hurricanes that have affected the island which for me have become characters in A Decent Woman.

I hope you will join me on this journey and enjoy discovering the Puerto Rico I know and love. Thank you for your visit!

AUTHOR INTERVIEW FRIDAY

Our May line up of awesome authors includes:

Patricia Mann – May 2

Meredith Schorr – May 9

Mayra Calvani – May 15

I messed up in the scheduling of Author Interview Friday and now have a huge calendar to keep me organized!  So, I’ve decided to answer my own interview questions. I hope you enjoy the interview!

What is your book’s genre/category?

A Decent Woman is historical fiction.

Please describe what the story/book is about.

A Decent Woman is a story of catastrophe and survival, choices and betrayal, the story of the midwife Ana and the women she befriends who find themselves pitted one against the other in male-dominated Puerto Rico at the turn of the century. It is a story of the bonding power of unlikely friendships that carries them through tragedy and betrayal, and the cost of living with dark secrets.

How did you come up with the title?

When I finished the first draft of the manuscript, I realized that the main themes of the story were decency and indecency. During a conversation with my children about integrity and strength of character, we agreed that most people in the world are decent and have good intentions. We spoke about how decent people are sometimes forced into indecent situations for reasons such as poverty, trauma and catastrophic events. My title was born from that conversation and also from one of the amazing books I used for my research-Imposing Decency by Dr. Eileen J. Findlay Suarez. Her book changed the ending of my story, making it more realistic and historically accurate. I am eternally grateful to Dr. Findlay!

What is the reason you wrote this book?

My novel began as a very detailed tribute and gift to my maternal grandmother on her 90th birthday. My family and friends loved the tribute and my then-husband encouraged me to write an outline. When he read the outline, he told me I had a book to write. So I did.

What is your favorite part of writing?

All of it! I can’t imagine doing anything else and I am blessed to write full time. I love creating new stories that introduce readers to Latina(o) and Caribbean characters, history and perhaps, places that are new to them. When I am writing, the outside world disappears and I enter the internal and external worlds of my characters. There is nothing I enjoy more than writing. Painting is a close second, however.

What is the most challenging aspect of writing?

I enjoy both the writing and the editing which most writers dread. The most challenging aspect has been accepting that a story is finished. I have this issue with painting, as well. I tend to worry that the writing or brush stroke can be improved upon. Chapter One of A Decent Woman was rewritten more than times than you can imagine!  I’ll probably experience these challenges throughout my writing career as I’m tough on myself. I continue to learn to write better prose with each book I write and with every good book I read. 

Who are some of your favorite authors?

There are so many, but the authors whose books I will buy without hesitation are Barbara Kingsolver, Arundhati Roy, Jack Remick, Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni, Odilia Rivera Santos, Esmeralda Santiago, Gabriel Garcia Marquez and Milan Kundera. 

What authors or person(s) have influenced you?

The most influential people in my life have been my mother and maternal grandparents, all born in Puerto Rico. I was born on the island and spent every summer with my family in my grandparent’s home in Ponce, our hometown. Before I headed to the US for college, my grandfather told me never to forget where I came from. I took his wise words to heart. I am blessed to have a very close-knit family and in Puerto Rico, even the wife of a very distant cousin is always considered family!

Favorite place to write?

In the winter months, I write at my dining room table where I have a great view of my side garden. In the summer, I love to write under the ancient grape arbor that shades my patio and at my weekend get-away on the West Virginia side of the Potomac River.

Any surprises or learning experiences with the publishing process?

I began building my author platform in 2007 with writing a blog and joining social media sites. Social media is so important to the publishing process and it takes time. Every day, I learn of a new marketing angle or tips for selling books. I am learning to find a balance between keeping up social media and writing.

Looking back, what did you do right that helped you with this book?

Having an insane passion for the story and characters keeps me moving forward. You have to love your story because you could be reading and editing that manuscript for years! This might sound corny, but early on I visualized myself as a published author. I kept at it, made personal sacrifices and never gave up my dream.

Any advice for writers looking to get published?

If you don’t write a blog, start one today and remember to comment on other’s blogs. Join social media sites and query as many literary agents as you can. The Writer’s Digest was a huge help in locating agents who represented my genre. Devour books on writing and attend writers conferences. Don’t give up, keep writing. I hate the thought of an untold story.

Website?

http://www.elliesbookz.wordpress.com

Something personal about you people may be surprised to know?

Before I fell in love with writing books, I was an exhibiting artist for 20 years and facilitated many creativity groups using Julia Cameron’s seminal book, The Artist’s Way.

What’s next for you?

I’m thrilled to announce that Booktrope has accepted my second novel, Finding Gracia, for publication. I am currently writing the book that is based on the journey I took with my children on El Camino, the medieval pilgrimage route through Spain to Santiago de Compostela. I sure am glad I kept a journal on that trip!

AUTHOR INTERVIEW FRIDAY – JENNIFER HOTES

 

It is our pleasure to have writer/illustrator Jennifer Hotes, author of the YA suspense novel, Four Rubbings with us today.

Four Rubbings

What is your book’s genre/category?

Four Rubbings is a crossover novel. It’s YA/mystery/suspense/thriller and has been picked up by a number of book clubs.

Jennifer, please describe what the story/book is about.

On Halloween night, when the barrier between the living and the dead is as thin as muslin, fourteen-year-old Josie, haunted by the death of her mother, leads her best friends through an old cemetery to make tombstone rubbings. Convinced she will come away with proof of her mother’s spirit at long last, the evening takes a very different turns.

Four graves are rubbed that set off events that will shatter their mundane lives. As the teens struggle to resolve the mysteries left unfinished by the dead, they’re left wondering if the graves would’ve been better off left alone. 

How did you come up with the title?

There’s no creativity to it, (smile.) Four teens create four tombstone rubbings.

What is the reason you wrote this book?

Borne of a nightmare I had five years ago, the book was there in the images that clung to me when I woke up. I mentioned the dream to my sister-in-law, Stacy, and she encouraged me to write it down.

As the years went on and I had to table the project for lack of time, my teen daughter, Ellie, told me to finish the book. She said, “Only you can write this story.” And I think that’s great advice for all writers, actually.

What is your favorite part of writing?

Well, my favorite part is probably the thing that drives those around me most batty, but immersing into a fictional world – into the heads of my characters so completely that I lose myself. It’s tricky when I reemerge from the fiction world because often I carry the traits of the scene I’m working through. If it’s dark or tense, my husband will point upstairs where my art loft is and tell me to finish the chapter.

What is the most challenging aspect of writing?

I think that the attention it takes is along the lines of a newborn baby. You have to shut everything out to enter into this world. It’s a muscle that needs to be developed, and can be developed with consistent practice.

Who are some of your favorite authors?

Well, no surprise to you, I’m sure, but Stephen King. I ate him up as a young teen and on into my adulthood. I adore Kaye Gibbons and count her novel Ellen Foster as one of my favorite books of all time. Maya Angelou is another favorite author, and I’d lump her in with Anne Tyler because both of them have strong voices and wise words.

What authors or person(s) have influenced you?

I’m an illustrator by trade, so when I decided to write Four Rubbings, I needed to learn how to go about it. I read “Novel Writing for Dummies,” but that didn’t help. Then, my step-mom, Kate Erickson, recommended I read Stephen King’s On Writing.  It is amazing. I found out that I’m not strange to refuse to outline, in fact, King thinks outlining is a cardinal sin. His approach is to create rich, layered characters, then set them into a situation. Your job as a writer is to watch them react and “journal” the results. That’s what I do. Thank you, Mr. King.

 Favorite place to write?

My art loft. It sits above the front door to the house, has three floor-to-ceiling windows and no door. The no door part is aggravating at times, but it has been called the best space in the house by all my nieces and nephews. It’s full of color, crammed with art – some created by me – but mostly made by others. It’s a great writing space.

Any surprises or learning experiences with the publishing process?

My struggle is to balance social media with writing. It takes two very different sides of my personality to do each task. Social media means I need to be an extrovert – happy, cheerful, witty. And writing demands that I shut out the world, turn off the radio and dig internally for the characters, the world, the plot. So, that’s been my toughest challenge, learning to embrace my Jekyll and Hydeness and let one feed the other.

Looking back, what did you do right that helped you with this book?

I recognized that I’d gone as far as I could go with my book. I needed my editor to swoop in and slice at the words with a machete, demand more from me as a writer, and that’s just what Toddie Downs did.

Any advice for writers looking to get published?

Well, be aware of your internal dialogue. Are you beating yourself up? Telling yourself that this isn’t worth doing? Become aware of that toxic thinking and then work to stop it. Replace the down talk with something shiny and positive. Sure, it’ll feel fake at first, but repeat it, and repeat it. Change your thinking and you can make anything a reality.

Website?

www.jenniferlhotes.com and www.FourRubbings.com

Something personal about you people may be surprised to know?

People burned crosses in our lawn when I was a baby because my dad was trying to change the culture of a school district that had diversity but wasn’t yet embracing it. My father did amazing work, that resonates to this day in the district but at the time we were threatened and bullied

What’s next for you?

I’ve pitched a children’s book to an agent, so keep your fingers crossed. Also, pinch me, because I’m ghost writing a book for a Grammy-award winner. I am also hard at work on the second book in the stone witch series; Four Rubbings was book one, so it ends with a cliffhanger.

Four Rubbings Media Kit

Thank you, Jennifer! Good luck and happy writing!

Book Review – Jack Remick’s Gabriela and The Widow

The first questions posed by the book manager of my Booktrope publishing team, Mindy Halleck, were to name my favorite books and the authors I admire most. As it turns out, we share an affinity for Rumi, The Poisonwood Bible by Barbara Kingsolver, and the author Arundhati Roy. My list also includes Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni, Sandra Cisneros and Milan Kundera, whose books, even if I haven’t a clue what the new book is about, I will buy without hesitation. That’s the way it is when you love how a writer makes you feel when you read their books. We follow them hand in hand to exotic locales and revisit cities that, through the author’s words and glimpses into their mind’s eye, we experience in a new way. The exquisite novel, Gabriela and the Widow, masterfully written by award-winning author Jack Remick, is such a book. The author, who also teaches writing, about life and is a mentor to many, has become one of those writers for me.

From the day I ordered, Gabriela and the Widow, I wondered if the author could get inside a woman’s mind and make me believe. I pondered how the characters of Gabriela and the widow, would come across to me from a man’s perspective and how the author would write about women’s emotions, behaviors, longings, and their inner turmoil as most of the characters in this book are women of differing ages, backgrounds and life experiences.

When my book arrived, despite running late for a lunch engagement, I read the back cover and the first chapter and fell in love with Gabriela. The prose is beautiful and the author’s descriptions, such as the passage below, will cause you, perhaps like me, to go back for another taste.

“In the heat that day, the smells of the market rose up thick as mole-a feast of banana and papaya, a banquet of chirimoya and mango-juices flowing in the heat and, on the air, thick scents mingled with the chirp of parrots in cages and the whine of frightened monkeys on chains squatting in cast-off orange peels and pineapple husks, mixing with the brown shells of coconuts. By the fountain that day, the trickle of water lay like a snake skin on the roiling smells and in that cleft, at the corner of the church, Gabriela watched her elegant patrona in her short black dress, a jade necklace gleaming in the light, an elegance that brought happiness to Gabriella’s cheeks because she worked for that fancy woman.”

The story, at times heartbreaking and raw, opens with the nineteen-year-old Mixteca, Gabriela, fleeing the destruction of her Mexican village. Through a series of events, she ends up in Santa Cruz, California and seems to fall into less than desirable situations with people who take advantage of her.  She is naive, unworldly and hopes the next kindness a person shows her, will in some way, save her. While working in Santa Cruz, Gabriela is hired to look after an elderly widow but, in fact it is the widow who decides that the young woman can stay by testing her integrity and character.

La viuda, the widow, realizes that she is losing her memory and is desperate for a record of her life. Gabriela begins organizing the widow’s Lists, photographs and the contents of four special boxes that contain her patrona’s toenail and hair clippings. Gabriela makes it her mission to solve the puzzles of the widow’s Lists and in the process, discovers the strength to deal with the memories of her village’s destruction and the strength to exact revenge on the people who perpetrated the atrocities.

I loved how mirrors enabled Gabriela to look at her painful past. It is when she looks at her reflection that we discover what the young woman has gone through and begin to understand her better.

As a Spanish language speaker, I admire the seamless transitions of the author from English to Spanish and back again, without missing a beat. There is so much to learn about great writing from reading Jack Remick’s books. I don’t mind confessing that my copy of the book is full of highlighted passages and descriptions and on more than one page, there are my hand-written notes in the margins. At one point, I put down the highlighter and went back to the beginning of the book. I’m glad I did but, rest assured that I will return to this book, highlighter in hand.

The characters of Gabriela and la viuda have remained with me since I read the last line and closed the book. Jack Remick is a master storyteller, an intuitive man and a writer of the highest caliber. With Gabriela and The Widow, my first introduction to the author, he has gained a new fan. I highly recommend this book to you. I am excited to read his highly acclaimed book, Blood  next.

Jack Remick
Satori, poems–coming on May 1, 2014
Gabriela and The Widow–Montaigne Medal Finalist
Gabriela and The Widow–BOTYA Finalist.

 

Story Ideas and Where to Find Them

“I would love to write a book. I know I have one in me, but I don’t know what I would write about.” I heard this when friends learned that I wrote a book and it comes up when I’m introduced to a new friend who asks me what I do for a living. Could this be you? Are you dreaming of writing a book, but don’t yet have an idea, a story line or a clue what you’d write about?

First of all, congratulations! How exciting. Writing is a great job and if you’re dreaming of quitting your day job to write full-time, even better. That was my long-time dream, as well and with a few personal sacrifices, learning to live with less $$ and being disciplined, it worked. Seven years later, I’m still blogging, writing and my first book, an historical fiction novel, A Decent Woman, will be published Summer 2014.

Writing a book takes perseverance, tenacity, courage, a good dose of insanity, a boatload of coffee, and a good idea for a story. Still no idea? Here are some ideas for stories that I have come up that you may like:

Write about what you know.

Think about your hobby or passion in life. If you love photography, could you write about a photographer who witnesses a murder? An artist who buys a painting at a flea market and gets thrown into an international crime ring because the painting is stolen? Do you have love letters from your Swedish grandparents that would make a great romance story?

These days, many books are written from the point of view of a famous artist or writer’s maid, wife or younger sibling. This is my personal favorite, a different perspective on a famous artist or writer.

Scour the newspapers and local papers for interesting story lines.

There are endless possibilities here. The lottery winner who was murdered or committed suicide (this happens a lot). The kidnapping of a child and the reunion with her parents. You get the idea.

Do some people watching in public places.

Imagine the story of the woman sitting alone in the cafe or the story of the young woman and older man who has made her cry. The man who comes to your favorite coffee shop with his laptop open and never writes a word.

Look to your hometown or adopted city for ideas.

Is there a haunted building or home in your town that would make a great setting for a paranormal story or a thriller? Your story could come out of that location.

Listen and learn from your elders.

My historical fiction novel, A Decent Woman, started as a tribute to my maternal grandmother for her 90th birthday. There is much to learn from our elders and people who’ve been on this planet much longer than us. Visit with them and take notes. I believe this is a nice thing to do whether you write or not. They love talking and miss talking to friendly, warm people.

And, if you want to write books, short stories, poetry, fiction, or non-fiction…

READ. Read books and learn from the masters. Take a course or workshop in creative writing. Join a writing group and a writing critique group in your area. The library is a great place to find such groups and sites such as MeetUp.com. That is where I found the two writing groups that I’m a member of.

Just two days ago, something so totally unexpected and completely shocking happened on my quiet street. Right across the street from me. I took photos because I was flabbergasted and yes, it made the news. But, I can’t tell you about that because I’m saving that for a story 🙂

Happy writing to you.

Ellie