General, Upcoming Book

Resurrecting my rejected manuscript

Hippy Bus
“Keep some room in your heart for the unimaginable.”
                  — Mary Oliver, Pulitzer Prize Winning Poet
The button every writer should wear

If you, like me, have stories you are dying to tell, you can appreciate the irony of this button I keep on my desk. But irony is only part of it, right? The art of writing may also be suggested by the perfectly calibrated words of Mary Oliver reminding me every time I sit down to write that I am heading for that room  where I will be able to call up and name the unimaginable.

 

For example, years ago I started what became a 400 page novel manuscript called Pillow Prayers based on my horrified response when a friend committed suicide after her pillow stitchery business failed.

Summer of Love

How could she do that? The question tortured me.

After almost ten years of writing the manuscript, I decided it was finished and sent it out to agents, publishing houses, and  few published writers including a famous crime novelist who wrote back that he “didn’t know what to do with it”.

There was little interest and so, feeling despondent and rejected myself, I put Pillow Prayers away. Fast forward to 2015 when I had just finished and published Spiral. a novel of magic realism set in the ancient Southwest. Now what? I asked myself as I gritted my teeth and pulled the Pillow Prayers manuscript out of the closet. Yes, I expected those metaphorical drops of blood on the button to soon be dripping from my forehead.

But that doesn’t happen. Instead, to my own amazement, I plunge into a deep, dark tale of love ruined and love reborn. I am suddenly in a room I could not have imagined where I’m seeing how to resurrect my three main characters: Beth, the Stitchery owner; Ruth, the scholar turned hippy artist; and Lonnie, the naive psychology student. I eagerly begin rewriting.

Hippy Bus

Daily I enter the room of the unimaginable. I cut out Beth, Ruth and Lonnie’s least understandable traits, editing, pasting in, enhancing and creating new juicy ones. In the process I relive Ken Kesey’s psychedelic bus and experience the folk, rock and soul music emerging from the Summer of Love. I feel the excitement posing as a flower child, the menace of the Civil Rights backlash, the horror and fallout from the Vietnam War, the allure of drugs, and the call of what was for me an exotic Buddhism. Most of all I bask in the sunlight of that rare and short-lived freedom I felt when we all first came to San Francisco.

 

Events, General, Press Release, Readings

The Spirit of a Novel

How to begin writing a novel?

How to keep on writing?

I don’t often think about these questions while I write. Mainly I just keep on in my writing groove, inspired by the vision I had at eight when I read The Boxcar Children, by Gertrude Chandler Warner, a teacher turned children’s writer. Did you read that book too? I wanted to write just like Gertrude.

Many Rivers pic
Many Rivers Books & Tea

I started thinking about how I write a novel while waiting for my daughter at Many Rivers Books & Tea, a bookstore on the corner of Main Street in the Sebastopol, CA.  Though it was Sunday, my daughter was at school—she teaches 4th grade this year—preparing the next week’s lesson. We were going to celebrate Annemarie’s birthday by having tea together. But my daughter was late, so I browsed the aisles of books, teas and objects designed to further the bookstore’s mission “to provide customers with tools to support genuine spiritual practice.”

Soon I got into a conversation with Jim Wilson, one of three owners of Many Rivers Books & Tea, that continued until Annemarie arrived. Then we had tea and she bought two bags of rune stones for her class studying medieval England. I got a present too, because Jim invited me to read at the ongoing “Thursday at Many Rivers” event on April 9th, 2015.

So how does writing novels fit in with spiritual tools and spiritual practice anyway? Four words came to me as if displayed across a screen of a Powerpoint presentation: Earth, Sky, Spirit, Story.

I realized I begin a book starting with the earth and write from the ground up.  I write from the place where my characters are, seeing what they see. With them, I look upward to the sky, searching for—call it spirit, a vision—and from that cloud-spun, high unknown space, the story emerges. I do this again and again, beginning in the same way: earth, sky, spirit, story. It becomes a practice.

Decades ago I began writing Dreamers from the vantage point of the cobblestone streets of Pittsburgh during the civil rights upheaval of the 60s. As a streetcar turns the bend in a snowstorm, it smashes into Thomas’ brand new, borrowed Impala, upsetting baskets of newly-clean laundry. It is this seemingly innocuous accident that drives the love affair of Thomas and Annie.

Chaco Culture
Chaco Culture

In my novel of magic realism, Sundagger.net, I compare two deserts, chapter by chapter, matching the actual Anasazi ruins of the American Southwest with the spiritual desert I experienced working as a tech writer in Silicon Valley.

 

SPIRAL front cvr167px
Spiral Coming in April, 2015

 

Spiral, the prequel to Sundagger.net, begins with Willow, a girl coming of age, standing at a dry riverbed, searching Chaco Canyon for a famed hunter with whom she’s desperately in love. From the desert floor, Willow talks to lizards and to crows.

The ancient Anasazi of the Four Corners area, where Utah, Colorado, New Mexico and Arizona meet, knew the connection between Earth, Sky, Spirit and Story too. All you need to do is to look from their amazing Great Houses to the heavens to realize it; they designed their buildings and created rock drawings to align with the equinoxes and solstices.

Mesa Walls in Chaco Canyon
Mesa Walls in Chaco Canyon

I too followed the same migration route my characters take in Spiralbeginning from the Great North Road, sixty miles long, which you can only see with aerial photography. At my Reading on April 9th at Many Rivers Books & Tea, I’ll share selections from my novels as well as a short videos from my three trips to the Four Corners area, where I explored Chaco Canyon, NM and its furthest, northern outlier, Chimney Rock, CO.

At the top of Chimney Rock, Co
At the top of Chimney Rock, Co

NOVEL WRITING AND MY SPIRITUAL JOURNEYS TO FOUR CORNERS

Earth, Sky, Spirit, Story
with Margaret C. Murray
featuring her upcoming novel, Spiral

Thursday, April 9th, 2015
7:30 – 8:30 p.m.

Many Rivers Books & Tea
130 S. Main Street
Sebastopol, CA 95472
707-829-8871
www.manyriversbooks.com

                      

Events, General, Press Release

Teaming up with my son: Books & Music Bundle

Chris and I at the Authors' Booth, CA State Fair
Chris and I at the Authors’ Booth, CA State Fair

Recently my eldest son and music artist Chris Goslow and I talked about putting together a special gift bundle that is truly “all in the family.” We decided to offer a book/album package at a big savings. For a limited time,  you can purchase and enjoy my books, Sundagger.net and Dreamers, along with Chris’ albums, Waterfall and I Love You .

Click HERE to see more about the mother & son bundle.

In the short interview below, you can see how Chris and I share much in common creatively and are able to work well together.

1. What does this mother-son bundle mean to you?

Sundagger.net, One Family, Two Worlds, Many Lifetimes

Margaret: From as far back as I can remember, I have been writing away at my novels and my son has been playing music. The idea of presenting my fiction and my son’s music together in a fun way is just delightful, even magical.

Chris: Personally, it’s very satisfying for me to support my mom’s creative accomplishments while sharing my own.

Margaret: Three years ago Chris and I offered a Holiday Mother-Son Bundle for the first time, and I loved that experience. I was living up North in Sonoma County and would take the inscribed book and CD packages to a rural post office in Graton, CA driving along beside the apple orchards and vineyards in the green, winter mist. It was so fulfilling to me; I felt one with nature, the season, and my writing life. Back then we each had only one product, but now we both are offering two artistic works–four altogether.  That’s a real achievement!

2. Talk about your working relationship with each other.  Do you often help each other when it comes to creative projects, and if so, how?

Chris: I remember being in grade school and hearing my mom talk about wanting to publish her books. I also had my own creative dreams, so for both reasons it was an especially important issue to me.  Our creative paths have had a lot of parallels, even though obviously I have been focused on music, and she has been focused on writing.  Then again, I also am a writer, and she loves music.  In fact, the main character in Dreamers is also a musician.

Margaret: Yes, I made Annie in Dreamers the violinist I wished I was when I was taking violin in grade school! As for how Chris and I work together,  this year we started having a Monday work meeting via Skype. As usual with most of our collaborations, Chris came up with the idea. The original objective was to discuss our two different teaching careers since we are also both teachers, but we ended up talking about all the parts of our writing and music lives. For example, I’m typing my answers to this interview Q&A today during our Monday Morning Skype Meeting while at the same time talking and seeing Chris on my computer screen! Isn’t that magical!

Dreamers, A Coming of Age Love Story of the '60s

3. Do you find it surprising that you are both artists?  And did you always know you could work together this well?

Chris: It’s not surprising.  It’s just part of my life, always has been.  I always felt an affinity with my mom and a closeness with her as well as a desire to help her be happy.  So the seeds of our working together go back a long way.

Margaret: No, it’s not surprising to me that Chris and I are both artists. The surprising part–the amazing part– is how necessary, how life-changing Chris is to my writing life, and how much a difference he makes. Sharing my writing life with him a practice I don’t want to ever stop. Honestly, it’s astonishing to experience how all my children work together with me and each other.  Chris’ brother, Jonas, is a performing artist too as well as a consummate web designer. Jonas designed this website as well as my Sundagger.net website.  Their older sister is a singer and teacher; Annemarie, with her eagle reader’s eye, was my first copy editor.

4. It’s clear that family is important to both of you.   How does family influence your creativity? For example, do you write about your family, are any of your stories (or songs) based family experiences?

Waterfall, Original Piano Music by Chris Goslow

Chris: Family influences a lot of my art over the last few years.  In fact, my entire I Love You album came about from songs I wrote for my wife, Charr Crail, or about our relationship.  Even my first album Waterfall included mostly piano pieces I originally wrote the first year I met my wife, specifically after she asked me for music that she could use with photography slideshows she was making. So in a sense, both albums are an outgrowth of our relationship.

Margaret: Pretty much all my life I thought I would never write about my family because they were just too ordinary! Maybe that’s why I was so attracted to the ancient Anasazi of the Southwest, the characters in the “old world story” of Sundagger.net. But still I definitely drew from my own experience, using my own family as building blocks. And clearly, Dreamers is laid out against the backdrop of my life growing up in Pittsburgh, PA during the upheaval of the Civil Rights era. I stood on all the street corners the main characters, Thomas and Annie, did. Each contains a description, a voice, or an attitude of my own memories of my family, friends and lovers. Even the dog, Lucky, is based on my sister’s dog!  All the music mentioned in Dreamers are pieces I played or loved myself.

I LOVE YOU by Chris Goslow
I LOVE YOU by Chris Goslow

Buy Our Bundle!

 

 

 

 

 

Dear Diary, General, Journal

Dear Diary #5—Dying for Approval

Dear Diary,

The Scull of Persistence by Charr Crail
The Scull of Persistence by Charr Crail

 

It’s beyond imagining. You would never believe it. I just received an email from my favorite high school teacher praising my novel, Dreamers.

Sister Mary ___ (Alas, she hasn’t yet given me permission to use her actual name) is a nun in the Sisters of Charity religious order. She was only twenty five or so when she became my English teacher. She was funny, smart, and even prettier than the character Amy Adams played in that telling movie, Doubt.

Sister Mary loved literature like I did.  Once I found her after school sitting at her desk next to the window looking out on Sacred Heart Church. She was reading Shakespeare’s MacBeth, in another world, transfixed. I hated to interrupt her but of course I did. I remember she used to pound the floor with her little black shoe as she recited the poetry of Langston Hughes. Yes, Sr. Mary was both wonderful and frightening.

Her email of a week ago flows over me like honey. How thankful am I that she has had the persistence to stay in touch. What a different young woman I would have become back in 1962 if I had carried Sr. Mary’s words in my pocket. At seventeen I would have done anything for her approval. That small Irish-faced nun with twinkly eyes framed by her black Sisters of Charity bonnet held the keys to my fragile self-worth.

Writer with closed mouth
Stitched Mouth by Charr Crail

No, you won’t find anything about Sr. Mary in this diary. By the time I left high school, I had relegated her to the dustbin with all my other memories like old dolls turned ragged, ignored. I desperately wanted to leave everything connected with childhood behind.

Entering college, I put on a dark mask of disillusioned doom, the pose I thought I needed to become a serious author. I spent entire days attending classes without saying a word,  my mouth stitched tight with fear and resistance.  I remember the sensation of walking from class to the streetcar stop on a cold November day and not being able to breathe. By my sophomore year, I was literally dying for approval.

But things change. In my junior year, I signed up for Creative Writing, Playwriting, Poetry, English History and China & the Far East, classes that I found I loved.  Even better, I started to write. A September 1964 entry describes my first attempt at writing a novel.

“The excitement of writing is nerveless; my words are suspended. I have never felt so peace-like. Everything is warm and deeply comfortable to me.”

Hobbyhorse was the title of my first “book”, a florid stream-of-consciousness describing the up and downs of two young lovers told from alternating points of view, a style I just realize I duplicated in Dreamers. In Hobbyhorse, each chapter seesawed back and forth, the characters sifted like fool’s gold from the sluice box of my first experience falling in love.

Suddenly I felt joyful, happy to be alive. My diary for November 12, 1963 reads,  “I don’t even try to deaden my joy. It is slow-moving, calm.

The writer in me
Pondering by Charr Crail

And then another miracle! I found a teacher willing and eager to read my work. Dr. John Hart, English professor from Yale, was a small, thin man with a pronounced limp. Walking across the Tech campus, I’d stop to greet him, He’d be dragging his leg, his jacket blowing in the wind. He had a pale Irish face with a big squashy red nose. A few strands of light hair fell across his brow as he answered my questions in a quiet dreamy way. Each week I’d give him my chapters, typed double-spaced and folded lengthwise. He’d put them in his coat pocket. Oh! how eagerly I pondered his response.

__________________

Excerpt from Sr. Mary’s email:

Congratulations on your beautiful novel, Dreamers!  I love it!  You’ve caught so well the mood of the Sixties—the glories as well as the mistakes, the feelings, the actions, the many causes, and, yes, the dreams.  Your work is excellent, as you must know from the many descriptions on the book cover.  I especially like that by Vicki Weiland.  Your writing is indeed “taut, nuanced, sophisticated, and multi-layered.”  I’m sending your novel to my oldest niece, a psychologist who will understand well the beauty and the anguish of the sixties. I’ll let you know how she reacts.  Meanwhile, I just want you to know how proud I am of you and your work.  You’re in my prayers, now and always.  God bless you—and all those dear to you.

Artwork by Charr Crail
www.charrcrail.com

Dear Diary, General

Holding my violin, watching the movie

A character can haunt you without you even knowing it, even when the story is finished, even after you’ve written it off! That’s what happened to me with Annie, the main character of Dreamers, after I saw The Late Quartet, a masterpiece of a movie about a string ensemble.

I wish I still had my violin. I just want to hold it.

The “late quartet “of the movie title is Beethoven’s Opus 131, String Quartet No. 14 in C-sharp minor, composed in 1826, one year before he died. In the movie, it is being prepared for presentation by the world-renown (fictional) Fugue Quartet, now in their 25th year playing together.

If the first violin part is the heart of the piece, the second part is its nerves, its soul. Robert, the second violinist, played brilliantly by actor Phillip Seymour Hoffman, offhandedly explains to a woman he’s soon to seduce that it’s not a competition thing between him and the first violinist, Daniel, just different. But in fact Robert lusts after the First Chair. He’s tired of Daniel, played by Mark Ivanir, calling all the shots for the Fugue’s performances. I can understand that.

I too played the violin, taking lessons from 4th through 9th grade.  While pretending to practice diligently, I was actually reading novels. Up in my bedroom, my door closed tight, I sat on the edge of my bed mindlessly and repetitively sawing on my violin while reading books, looking over the moving bow, turning the pages one after the other between scales. I never was part of a string quartet, but after being stuck in the second violin section of the Wilkinsburg Junior Symphony for three years, I was thrilled to move over to the first violin section in 8th grade.

This all comes back to me now with Beethoven in the background. Watching the movie, I experience the grief of the cellist, Peter, the oldest Fugue member, played by Chris Walken, upon learning he has Parkinson’s Disease; the anger of Juliette, the violist, played by actress Catherine Keener, discovering Robert has betrayed her; the longing of Daniel for young love (who just happens to be Juliette and Robert’s daughter) and the passion of Robert for his marriage and his art. All together the quartet unleashes amazing, ferocious and yet gentle music in the high artscape of New York City, a place that Annie would have understood. After all she fled there like I did too.

But Annie would not have blown off her practice sessions. And she would surely not have remained with the second violins as long as I did. I loved the music, but honestly, it stayed in the background while I concentrated on fashion and style. Before each junior symphony concert, I spent hours getting ready, ironing my short, tight, black wool “orchestra” dress with the pearl buttons down the bodice, attaching my stockings to those cold metal clasps hanging from my new garter belt, slipping into my black, pointy high heels. I couldn’t wait for that moment when we all walked on stage holding our instruments, when the audience became silent and the conductor, Mr. Reichenfeld, put up his baton. Out came the elegant soloists, young musicians like myself, whom I envied for their inscrutable, focused faces and those perfect notes they played.

In his glowing review, the late, great movie critic Roger Ebert comments that A Late Quartet is a unique movie in that it actually shows professionals at work. And the way I imagine it, Juliette is the professional musician Annie would have become.

Forget Annie’s painful, confusing family, her star-crossed love affair with Thomas. Forget the fear and racial upheaval of the Civil Rights era in Pittsburgh and New York City. It’s her possibility for success as a professional violinist that excites me now, a possibility I gave up all thoughts of achieving myself.

I can see Annie playing Beethoven’s late quartet, Opus 131, on that grand stage. Annie does the work, stays the course. After all, she’s a graduate of Julliard, the same prestigious music school Daniel graduates from and where Peter teaches.

When you meet Annie in Dreamers, it’s during Christmas break. She’s practicing in her room when her father interrupts her to listen in. But who else listens?  Who hears her play other than her family through her closed bedroom door? These are the thoughts I was having in my bedroom while I read my books.

Who’s listening to Annie? Not her embittered, dissolute teacher in Dreamers. Not Thomas, the actor she falls so much in love with. Only rich, addicted, openhearted Lana, Thomas’ ex-girlfriend, befriends Annie and demands to hear her music.  I want to hear her music too.

Holding my violin, I will now open the door of my bedroom.

General, Readings

Dungeons & Dragons: Reading in My Old Hometown

Reading at Awesome Books

This was to be my first ever reading in my old hometown of Pittsburgh, PA and I was returning not only for this event but also for the reunion of Sacred Heart High School, Class of 1962. I’d be reading from my latest novel, Dreamers, A Coming of Age Love Story of the ‘60s, a story that echoes and frames my own childhood like an old family photo album.

The sky was a perfect blue, made bluer by the  white puffy clouds floating between skyscrapers.  My son, Jonas, also participating in the reading, led me down historic Liberty St toward Awesome Books. The light through the fall leaves on the tree-lined sidewalk radiated with pure possibility. A Columbus Day Parade was marching by as we walked into the bookstore for the first time.

Dan of Awesome Books and me

Awesome Book Store is a small, vintage, independent bookstore, classical in style. Every item–counter, cash register, bookshelves, tables, chairs, and the books themselves–was carefully placed for maximum artistic effect. There was an old typewriter casually positioned on a small wicker chair below a framed sign promoting future book events. Large, well-shined wood tables held all the latest titles of books I yearned to read.

Where would I be reading? The Awesome clerk, Dan, motioned me to a door, part way open, in the back where the event would be held. Inside I found a dark room, dreary, nearly empty too, cold and gray and windowless with a swath of scribbled brown paper on one wall, a bookshelf, a mirror and lots of boxes. It reminded me of the old coal cellar in the basement of my house on Foliage St. There was a small circle of green folding chairs set up surrounding a circular card table below one overhead light bulb.

The starkness emphatically spoke to the economic precariousness of independent bookstores working on a shoestring in this age of corporate, internet book aggregates.

This was not a medieval dungeon such as appears in any popular fantasy novel. It could have been Les MiserablesLa Boheme or another romantic musical. Yet it felt so familiar and spoke to those deep stark roots where Annie and Thomas, the main characters in Dreamers were born. Maybe it was that dungeon where I locked myself in all those years conjuring up Dreamers I thought.

But even so, a dungeon is a dungeon, but dragons are both different and personal. My dragons were spewing their usual fire, taunting me with gloomy predictions; you’ll have no audience, no books sold. You’ll fall flat on your face. You’ll get dizzy and confused. And so on. The flames were full of general, debilitating angst.

Still, looking around, I realized that this small room reminded me of something else–the dark, cold inner circle of the Native American sweat lodge that I write about in Sundagger.net. It would be empty too, barren and cold before the door was shut, before the hot stones were brought in, and before the singing and drumming began. Here appearances meant nothing.

Reaching to the Awesome Audience

This was a place of purification, where all distractions were eliminated, where all that mattered was the story.

I began my reading by saying, “You are my hardest audience.” Oh, I could feel those dragons hanging from my neck. Facing those classmates of long ago and my family from far away, you could say I had more to lose here than in any other place I had read.

But my dragons were just ghosts. The audience filled the room in a very big and inspiring way, like the sky outside on that beautiful October day. I had no doubt we were together again for a reason.  Listening to my son bring alive the powerful role of Thomas, I felt free of both dragons and dungeons too, transported into that space where I wrote the book. It was the ‘60s again, when the Civil Rights Movement was at its height, when all was romance, epic and life-changing, and dreaming was as common as breath. I had come home at last.

Events, General, Readings

Music of the ’60s to Read By

In my book readings, I’ll be calling up the power of  music as well as story. I’m having several book readings coming up and I’m including music I’m wild about. Great music from the ’60s, music I’ve been listening to with stars in my eyes still.  Yes, and the words too mean something still. Like this song.

This is the music the characters in my novel, Dreamers, listen to also. Like  “So Long, Marianne” by Leonard Cohen.

As I wrote Dreamers, I heard music all the time.  I put that music into the book. There’s 32 pieces of music mentioned, classical titles, pop and rock & roll, plus other genres. Think of Elvis, Arethra Franklin,the Beatles, Dylan, Joan Baez, Leonard Cohen, Judy Collins, Simon and Garfunkel and The Youngbloods.  Remember this one “House of the Rising Sun”?

Dreamers is full of music. My next reading  is June 21st, Thursday night, in Boulder Creek, CA a sixties town if I ever saw one. I’m reading from the first scene in the book which begins with Annie sitting in the Pittsburgh International Airport waiting for Thomas to arrive. It’s 2008 and she hasn’t seen him  in nearly forty years.  A song by folk artists Peter, Paul and Mary is playing over the airport loudspeakers. Here’s what it might have been. John Denver, the composer, is  singing along too.

Dreamers takes place in 1966 when Thomas arrives back home at Christmas after five years away in New York City, trying to make it as an actor. Returning to his family home, he hears his sisters and son listening to WAMO,  a radio station in Pittsburgh. Back in 1966, there wasn’t any hip hop just a lot of R&B, blues, jazz and pop too.

When Thomas’ Momma arrives home that evening from church choir practice, she laments that Thomas should have been there with her to sing “Amazing Grace”. Here’s a powerful version of that traditional spiritual. Amazing Grace by the Soweto Gospel Choir, South Africa

Also in Dreamers are Chopin, Mozart, Beethoven, Handel and other classical composers that Annie, majoring in violin, knows well. In one of the first scenes I read from, Annie’s coming out of the Pittsburgh Playhouse, having just seen an outrageous production of Shakespeare’s Midsummer Night’s Dream put on by the Negro Ensemble Company of New York. As in Shakespeare’s time, all the actors playing women are men–black men in this case, shocking casting in the volatile Civil Rights Era of America. Annie has the music of Mendelssohn gliding through her head as she steps out into the cold, Pittsburgh night.

No wonder  when Annie passes a tall, dark, handsome man on her way up a snowy Pittsburgh hill, she mistakes Thomas for the  actor playing the King of the Fairies, Oberon.

In my book readings this summer, I’ll be calling up the power of  music as well as story.  And just for this Thursday, we’ll be having our own Midsummer Night’s solstice ceremony. Here comes the sun! By you know who, The Beatles.

 

Check out all my upcoming events. There’s music in them!

 

General, Journal

The only review any author wants is a good review. True or False?

Wedding flower

Here I am at my son’s wedding, sitting at a table, listening to a friend across a centerpiece of lovely flowers review my book. “I don’t understand why Annie keeps coming back!” my friend says, gesturing for emphasis across the round table set with white china and brilliant bouquets–my favorite flowers, I muse. She’s an inveterate reader and we haven’t seen each other in months.

“Why does Annie keep coming back?” my friend keeps asking. She’s referring to the main character in my newly published novel, Dreamers, a coming of age love story of the ’60s. Annie’s a white girl who falls in love with Thomas, a black actor. It’s the height of the Civil Rights movement and they’re both in the wrong place at the wrong time.

I can think of many reasons of why Annie keeps coming back, but what does it matter if my friend doesn’t see them? The truth is I’m thrilled Dreamers is having such a powerful effect on her.
How wonderful that I get to acknowledge my characters at my son’s wedding! What an opportunity to hear her feedback. I gaze at the scarlet flowers in front of me thinking how fortunate I am to have such a discriminating, exceptional friend who loves to read. How real the story is for her! How deep her involvement is with the character of Annie! She understands how attractive Thomas must appear to Annie she says, but still–here’s the reality test–she herself would never stick around like that. I gaze at a single perfect petal before me and nod, recalling how my book begins with Annie reflecting, “I was in love with trouble.”
“I would love it if you’d write a review of Dreamers on Amazon or Goodreads or on my website,” I say. “Would you be willing to do that?” She agrees.

Later I think about our conversation. I ask myself if I really want her to write a review. After all, what she’s saying about Annie isn’t that positive. It’s not that good in fact. It could be a big flaw in the book. I might end up with a bad review.
Then I think of another book I have at home on my table. Last fall the author asked me to write a review of it and I readily agreed. For one thing, he had just bought my first novel, Sundagger.net, at a booksellers’ show we were both attending. I was very grateful. Plus I wanted to help out another small publisher and novelist like myself. But most of all I was excited at the thought of reading his coming of age story of the ’50s.

But I haven’t written the review. I wish he had given me his second to the last draft. As it stands, in my view, his published story cries out for attention, his dialog for editing, his characters for focus and direction. I’m not the person to criticize that publicly.

Another wedding flower

Every author knows what I’m talking about. Take the novel draft I am working on now, Spiral, a prequel to Sundagger.net. In Spiral, the characters from Sundagger.net live out their karma of years before. Daily I struggle with my many dubious, rock-hard sentences. Like weeds, I keep pulling them out and digging deeper for new ideas, scenes, and characters–in short, story-building words. How slowly they emerge from the grit and grind of my mind. But sooner or later the book begins to grow and bloom.

I glance across the room at tables covered with all those fragrant bouquets. Yes, I do hope my friend reviews Dreamers. Be rigorous I want to say. True, writing is a delicate matter, like flowers. So are writers. But still, the only review any author wants and needs is a good one, the one that makes the next book better.

Some Recent Reviews I Wrote:
Blood River, A Journey to Africa’s Broken Heart, by Tim Butcher
Someone Knows My Name, by Lawrence Hill
Sinister Pig, by Tony Hillerman

 

General

I Hate Romance Novels & Now I’ve Written One

It's a romance of the '60s.
Dreamers, a Dangerous Romance of the '60s

I hate romance novels and never buy them, never even look at them at the supermarket checkout counter. Why? The very first sentence turns me off. I feel angry. How stupid the writer of this must think me to expect I’ll believe this  preposterous story! The plots are stupid and embarrassing, the settings outlandish, the language trite, the characters cartoonish. “When you’ve read one, you’ve read them all,” as my dad would say. Another word he’d use is “trash”.  According to Wikipedia, “Despite the popularity and widespread sales of romance novels, the genre has attracted significant derision, skepticism and criticism.”

Given all that, why the hell did I subtitle my new novel, Dreamers, a dangerous romance of the ’60s?

Oh, don’t get me wrong. I liked historical romance novels once–when I was young, a pre-teen, maybe as old as thirteen. What I liked (though I didn’t realize it then) was the secret, forbidden, dangerous adventure of sex! Yes, I loved all the twisted longing in the historical romances about pirates, counts, renegades, swashbuckling commanders, deposed kings and would-be outlaws. And oh, how I longed to be their women–those princesses and countesses, those ladies-in-waiting, the half-naked milkmaids and abandoned orphans, so young, so innocent and so beautiful with wet, red lips and long, curling tresses. All those women destined for capture, for adventure in their rags, their voluminous silk dresses, who were seduced and Yes! seduced in turn. I wanted to be them! I reveled in the veiled sensuality, the heated embraces, the–sex.

What is romance anyway? Is it love? Is it illusion? Is it dreams? Is it reality? According to Wikipedia again, the bottom line is that, for a book to be a romance novel, the romantic relationship between the hero and the heroine must be at its core.

In many ways Dreamers is the opposite of romance. Neither the hero, Thomas, or the heroine, Annie, believes in romance nor has faith in the other to provide it.  When he meets Annie accidentally, Thomas, the black actor from Pittsburgh, is mired in a painful, impossible affair with Lana, a rich, self-absorbed WASP from Connecticut. When she meets Thomas, Annie, naive as she is, struggles in a bind of acute family tension, wrapped in a rope of self-criticism too tight to breathe in, much less prevail against.

What is worse, the fact that their relationship is interracial makes all thought of romance a forbidden secret played out in the prevailing strife of the civil rights showdown in ’60s America.

But, though in many ways Dreamers is the opposite of romance, Thomas’ and Annie’s relationship IS the core of the book. What they both believe in is the pursuit of their art; for Thomas, art is theatre. For Annie, art is music.  And they believe in each other.

As artists, we are all romantic dreamers. All art is romantic and allows, even demands, we fall in love with it. It’s we who are the romantics.We have to fall in love with a book in order to even want to turn the page.

I’m hoping you’ll fall in love with Dreamers,and that’s why I wrote it.