Tuesday, December 4, 2012

Daddy's Christmas Tree

This bust of Santa Claus is the creation of my sister, Cathy Casey Berger. She sculpted the face in clay, then added a lamb's wool beard, a toy bag over his shoulder and a hood trimmed in mink fur taken from an old shawl purchased in a used clothing store.  She also creates full bodied Santas that stand 3-4 feet tall.  

A few weeks ago Andrea Downing asked me to participate in her Christmas Memory blog. She selected four or five writers who have an affinity for the American West and asked us to write about a Western Christmas Memory. I was honored to do so. Check it out: Memories of a Western Christmas. 

I submitted my childhood memory about selecting a Christmas tree to Andrea which she posted along with essays posted by Amy Hale Auker, Paty Jager, Rionna Morgan, and Eunice Boeve.

Christmas in South Central Texas, where I live, is rarely picture book perfect. Today it is near 80 degrees, overcast and so damp I can smell wet dirt from my high-up window. The trees are still green and wild lantana is blooming with total abandon. Christmas songs make me so sad that any joy I might have spills out the souls of my feet. (I'll save the explanation for that fact for my memoir.)

So I have to look beyond TV commercials featuring snowy countrysides and roaring fireplaces, fully decorated Christmas trees surrounded by laughing children and instead "listen" for happiness and joy in my network of women friends. They are my touchstones, my anchor to all these essential. My women friends in turn, listen to me without judgement, offer a different view of what I might be experiencing, belly laugh at my corny jokes, understand my short comings and like me in spite of them. "Women friends" includes my two sisters, who survived impossible childhood circumstances with me. My sisters and I realize that by sharing what we saw, heard and experienced "way back then," we can have a more accurate answer to why things were the way they were. I have long since known that my view was tinted by my age and birth order.

Now, it is as if I have the wisdom of three sisters and the insight of hundreds of women I call Friend.

All this is to say that Christmases past were sometimes painful and that has carried over into my adult life. Still, through the generous love and acceptance of my friends and sisters, I appreciate what Christmas represents. It is love and hope that endure through understanding. It is the offer of a kind shoulder to lean on every now and then. Both are gift enough for me any day.

Blessing to all of you and may you have the happiest of all holiday seasons this year - no matter where your journey takes you.


http://andidowning.files.wordpress.com/2012/03/loveland_w6692_3003.jpg PS: Be sure to look up Andrea's book, Loveland. It is a historical western romance, now available in paperback from the Wild Rose Press and Amazon.

Besos all.

Monday, November 19, 2012

The Next Big Thing Blogarama

Today I'm taking a trek down a Back Road that leads to the Next Big Thing Blogarama. Helen Ginger, author of Angel Sometimes and the soon to be published, Dismembering the Past invited me to participate by answering ten questions about my Next Big Thing novel.

Question 1: What is the working title of your book?
The title of my work in progress is Forgiving Effie Beck. I’ve always known that would be the title which is unusual for me. My last book didn’t have a title, other than a way for me to identify it in my computer files, until the day I hit the launch button.

Question 2: Where did the idea come from for the book?
A woman was reported missing from her ranch in a very small central Texas town many years ago. I had just moved to the area and felt like a fly on the wall as I watched the town’s reaction to her disappearance. I have several file folders of newspaper clippings of actual events like that. Some day I’d like to turn each into a work of fiction, let my imagination run away with "what ifs."

Question 3: What genre does your book fall under?
Forgiving Effie Beck is definitely historical fiction because the story takes place during the mid 1930s. However, there are elements of suspense and mystery but without a murder or gore. There are love interests too, but again, that is not the driving force of the story.

Question 4: Which actors would you choose to play your characters in a movie rendition?
Wow. That’s a hard one. The main character, Mike, is a down and out fellow who finally lands a job as an FWP interviewer assigned to a small town in the southwest. He is thin as a rail, has hitch-hiked across the country to report in to his job. Leonardo DeCaprio would be a good "Mike." Anne Hathaway or Amanda Seyfried would be great as Jodean, the central female character. And, without a doubt, Kathy Bates as Cora Mae Travis, Jodean’s mother.

Question 5: What is a one-sentence synopsis of your book?
Effie Beck, who has moved through the lives of a small town’s populace “like brown smoke,” walks out of her house and disappears with dark secrets that elude town officials.

Question 6: Will your book be self-published or represented by an agency?
WKMA Publishing will launch Forgiving Effie Beck in mid to late March 2013.

Question 7: How long did it take to write the first draft of the manuscript?
One year. However, I work and re-work a novel until I think it is right then set it aside for about 6 months and read it through for clarity again. I change and edit myself right up to the last possible minute. I drive myself nuts that way!

Question 8: What other books would you compare this story to within your genre?
This is a harder question to answer than the movie characters. My story is more a compilation of themes similar to many other books. For example: Cider House Rules, Some Days There’s Pie, A River Runs Through It. But that sounds so lofty. I’m not at all sure how to answer that question.

Question 9: Who or what inspired you to write this book?
I think the answer to the second question pretty much covers this one. Shortly after I moved to a small community in Central Texas an elderly woman was reported missing. I was fortunate to actually be a "fly on the wall" and could observe the town's response to her disappearance. While everything about the story (except the reported disappearance) is fiction, the reactions, emotions, intentions of the those involved are what I saw, heard, read and deduced from my vantage point.

Question 10: What else about your book might pique a reader’s interest?
The over all themes in Forgiving Effie Beck are universal. All of us tend to misjudge others at one time or another to fit our own misguided needs. We deal with feelings of guilt, dread, and hopelessness everyday like the characters in the book. Effie Beck’s story shows how some people - fictitious though they may be - gained valuable insight from the string of events in the story.

And that's it. My answers to the Next Big Thing Blogarama's ten questions. I send out a special thanks to Helen Ginger for inviting me to participate and to Morgan Mandel - the brain behind  Blogarama. Be sure to skip over to these ladies' links to see what they're up to.

Wednesday, August 8, 2012

Guest Alice Trego

I first met Alice Trego (photo right) through Women Writing the West, an organization of women and men whose writing interest primarily focuses on the American West, both contemporary and historical. The first lap of Alice's writing career had been in newspaper journalism. But, when her attention turned toward writing book-length fiction and nonfiction, she volunteered to work various positions in writing organizations to learn the ropes. Alice "retired" her many volunteer positions in 2011, dusted her manuscripts and is in the process of polishing them for publication. 

So without further delay, I introduce Alice Trego who will tell us how:

“He leaned casually against the cabin’s door frame. As he puffed on his cigar, he admired the way the girl had stolen into his corral and galloped away on one of his best mares. Once she cleared the fence rail, she looked back to make sure he hadn’t followed, causing his counterfeit smile to materialize on his pocked face. He knew they’d meet again.” (© Alice Trego)

The above passage in my work-in-progress came as the result of a quiet scrutiny I had from a window seat in the middle of an airplane. I took note of people around me, but a man’s strange appearance a few rows ahead grabbed my attention. Most of all, he intrigued me with his quirky mannerisms.

I found myself drawn to him as a possible character profile for one of my stories. My sense of observation that harkened back to my days as a journalist kicked in immediately. I brought out my trusty notebook from my carry-on bag, and began to document his appearance and his actions. From the details I was penning, I could readily envision him as one of my story villains.

His brown, greasy, shoulder-length hair streaked with gray had an unruly appearance that gave him a look of having naturally wavy hair. When the tall man with the bony torso rose to go to the lavatory, I glimpsed an extraordinary strength in his swagger. I noticed cataract-clouded blue eyes that watched me as I watched him retake his seat. He had a prominent hooked nose, and he wore a sullenness on his countenance that perhaps he had carried with him all his adult life.

Shortly after my close encounter on the plane, I spotted a photo of a popular person in a magazine. Right away I knew that this person fit the profile I discovered on that flight. That’s when I knew I had a fully-developed, three-dimensional reprobate for my story.

On another occasion, I had the opportunity to converse with a young man and an older man, albeit a little secretive.

While waiting at the checkout counter at the grocery store, I noticed the older skinny-legged man carrying two packages of strawberries under one arm and a small backpack in the other. He appeared somewhat in a fidgety state, no doubt in a hurry to check out.

The young man with two nutrition bars and an orange stepped up behind me. As the line   in front of me moved, the man with the strawberries hurriedly secured his place as the next customer to check out. He kept looking around as if he had secrets to hide.

Meanwhile, I looked at my full-to-overflowing basket of fruits and vegetables and decided to let the young man with the two nutrition bars and the orange take my place in line.
I spoke up. “You can go ahead of me.”
“Well, thank you very much. Are you sure?”
“Positive. I can tell you’re just dying to eat that orange so you may as well check out first.”
“Yes, I am. I’ve been picking at it a little, actually.” His smile was infectious and I returned a smile.

All of a sudden, the man with the strawberries directed his eyes at me and said with a slight accent, “Would you hold my place in line? I forgot something and will be right back.”

While I gave a quick response of, “Sure,” he had already stacked his two packages of strawberries off to the side, placed his sunglasses on his nose and walked out of the store.

He took a long time to cross the parking lot and then “disappeared” behind a large SUV. All sorts of scenarios went through my mind -- did he come into the store and “pretend” to make a purchase? Was he a vagrant who decided he’d better leave because of all the people now around him? Will he come back and pay for his strawberries?

By my observations, this chance meeting, including the dialogue, could be fodder for one of my stories. I made sure I memorized that informal exchange so I could write it down when I returned home and place that bit of dialogue in my notes. I have yet to decide if these two men will fit in as villains or secondary characters in one, or more, of my stories.

Nonetheless, whether there are silent observances or short conversations with strangers, I believe slices of life that occur in a writer’s world could very well become references to slivers of fiction.

Thank you, Alice. I'll probably never again eat an orange without thinking of my characters! I can imagine you sitting in your photo of a Utah sunset (right) contemplating your next line of dialogue. 

While Alice's website is under construction you can follow her on Facebook or over at LinkedIn.

Friday, July 6, 2012

Me?.....A Work In Progress

I recently spent a short week in Albuquerque, New Mexico where I attended the Western Writers of America Convention. It was a first time experience for me. I've been a member for a long time but haven't been able to squeeze the convention dates onto my calendar until this year.

WWA has a warm down-home outlook on the business of writing while encouraging old timers and newbies alike to polish and publish excellent work and to follow it up with a stellar marketing plan. Humor filled every corner of every room and panel. It was a refreshing change from the rigors of setting up a website, wrangling with print companies and picking at my right brain for that unique twist in plot. 

In the photo below, left to right, Paul Colt (aka Paul Schmelzer), 2009 Spur Finalist for Grasshoppers in Summer, Tammy Hinton, 2012 Spur Finalist for Unbridled and Alice Trego share a good laugh.

Day one of the convention about 50 attendees took an hour long bus ride to the New Mexico History Museum and the Fray Angelico Chavez History Library in Santa Fe where an extensive collection of documents, maps and books are housed. Downstairs from the Library is the largest photo archive I've ever visited. The Library and Museum proved to be my favorite take-away experience. 

Well, maybe meeting film star Wes Studi topped the museum visit but don't tell anyone. You will remember Studi's roles in Dances With Wolves and The Last of the Mohicans. He was Master of Ceremonies for the Spur Award banquet and like everyone else, mixed his own brand of humor into the venue.

In the photo above, left to right, Alice Trego, former President of Women Writing the West, Wes Studi and yours truly pause after the award ceremony for a photo-op. 

Conferences are a fantastic way to connect with other writers who would otherwise remain obscure blocked text on my computer screen. Most of us enjoy the advantages of email and blogging year round but sometimes it makes more sense to sit with a group of like-minded people to share and compare experiences. As far as I'm concerned, the value of networking eyeball to eyeball can not be over rated.

Alice Trego lives three, or is it four, states away from me and confirmed that she too found it helpful to meet personally with writers who'd had different experiences or who were at a similar career crossroad. We talked about the colossal changes taking place in the writing/publishing world and agree that change is good, but often requires a shift in attitude if we want to see our goals come to fruition. 

We all ask ourselves: How will our writing projects fit into the new system? How and where should we market our work? How deep do we dig to pay for advertising? There are no clear answers. A few writers in attendance were big-house, over-the-top successful novelists. Others had tip-toed over into the, as yet, mostly untapped reserve of self and e-book publishing opportunities. 

The WWA convention gave me the energy boost needed to renew enthusiasm for my writing journey. However, what has surprised me most is that I came home feeling validated as a work in progress 
- - - just like my next novel.    

Friday, June 22, 2012

Special Guest: S.B. Lerner

It is a privilege to have as my guest today, S.B. (Susan) Lerner. I met Susan through the online writing organization, Blog Book Tour Cafe. BBT recently published an e-book for Kindle titled The Corner Cafe: A Tasty Collection of Short Stories.

Susan and I have stories included in the collection along with about a dozen other writers. It has been an interesting undertaking to pull our works of short fiction together into a Collection that offers stories to a wide range of reader interests.

Susan grew up in and around NYC and has worked in law, business, and teaching, but all the while studied writing at night. After publishing her short stories in literary magazines, she assembled them into a collection, titled In the Middle of Almost and Other Stories.

 A daughter of European immigrants, S.B. has read extensively about World War Two and the prewar period, both in fiction and non-fiction. Her first novel, A Suitable Husband, explores the political youth groups in prewar Poland, through the eyes of a young Jewish woman caught between the pressures of her traditional parents and those of her radical political group. It is available in print and the ebook version will soon be published by HEARTS DIARY.

Here's what Susan has to share today:  
Life is a Story

I've been working on a novel for the past few years, but when a call for submissions to The Corner Cafe: A Tasty Collection of Short Stories went out, it gave me the impetus to return to my first fiction love: short stories.

Inspired by Anais Nin, I'd kept journals since high school. In the days before email I wrote long letters to distant boyfriends (in which we shared greater intimacies than we did in person). But I didn't begin writing short stories until I got a job in Manhattan, a city of writers that offered courses and workshops at top universities, a mere subway ride away.

At the time, I was single and working at a high pressure job as an attorney, finding it all a bit overwhelming and somewhat lonely─ despite the throngs of people I encountered daily. I was dating but not in a steady relationship, and had a great group of girlfriends in the same situation. We would meet for coffee and talk about our dates and the conversations were often more entertaining than the actual dates we dissected in minute detail. But it wasn’t until I began writing stories that I was able to explore the truths underlying those conversations.

I wrote my first story in a fit of inspiration; the teacher loved it, and I was hooked. Not only because I can’t resist a compliment, but because the process of zeroing in on an emotional state and revealing it through a story was liberating. Often I didn’t even know what I was writing about until I finished. Even then, other people would see things in my stories that I hadn’t realized were there. It was all very heady.

I wrote because I loved to write—no dreams of fame or fortune. I was busy with work and my fellow classmates and workshop participants were audience enough for me. It was only when I decided to write a novel and thought I might want to actually get it published someday, that I realized that publishing the short stories would give me some credibility in the writing world. I doubted that my work as an attorney and businessperson would impress any of the literary types. If anything, it would turn them off.

It wasn't until after I was married, settled in the suburbs, and working part-time, that I began work on a novel. Initially I thought it would be like writing a longer version of a short story. It wasn’t until I got to around page 70 that I realized that a novel relies on plot, whereas a short story is an expression of a something more intangible—a feeling or a snapshot of a moment in time. They are very different genres, and though some scenes in my novel have the feeling of a short story, the novel itself evolved into a much more complex, plot-driven beast.

Assembling the stories, and memoir (which came from books I wrote about the lives of my parents, but that’s another story) into a collection and publishing it, was both fun and challenging. It was the impetus to launch a website and blog, which led to the blogging course run by Dani Greer, and then to the Corner Cafe Collection, and ultimately landed me here, on Karen's blog.

It has been fun getting to know her, here in cyberspace. The internet can be overwhelming, suck all your time, and be otherwise problematic. But there is a side to it that I like to think of as its “better angel” in that it gives people the chance to connect and form friendships who may never have otherwise found each other. I hope, through my novel and collection of short stories, it will connect me to you.

Be sure to visit S.B. Lerner at her website for more information about her and her books.