Tuesday, October 27, 2015

Ersula K. Leguin: A Beautiful Reward

Ersula K. Leguin's Acceptance Speech
The 2014 Medalist For Distinguished Contribution To American Letters 

“To the givers of this beautiful reward, my thanks, from the heart. My family, my agents, my editors, know that my being here is their doing as well as my own, and that the beautiful reward is theirs as much as mine. And I rejoice in accepting it for, and sharing it with, all the writers who’ve been excluded from literature for so long – my fellow authors of fantasy and science fiction, writers of the imagination, who for 50 years have watched the beautiful rewards go to the so-called realists. 

                                                               Photograph: Robin Marchant/Getty Images

Hard times are coming, when we’ll be wanting the voices of writers who can see alternatives to how we live now, can see through our fear-stricken society and its obsessive technologies to other ways of being, and even imagine real grounds for hope. We’ll need writers who can remember freedom – poets, visionaries – realists of a larger reality. 

Right now, we need writers who know the difference between production of a market commodity and the practice of an art. Developing written material to suit sales strategies in order to maximise corporate profit and advertising revenue is not the same thing as responsible book publishing or authorship. 

Yet I see sales departments given control over editorial. I see my own publishers, in a silly panic of ignorance and greed, charging public libraries for an e-book six or seven times more than they charge customers. We just saw a profiteer try to punish a publisher for disobedience, and writers threatened by corporate fatwa. And I see a lot of us, the producers, who write the books and make the books, accepting this – letting commodity profiteers sell us like deodorant, and tell us what to publish, what to write. 

Books aren’t just commodities; the profit motive is often in conflict with the aims of art. We live in capitalism, its power seems inescapable – but then, so did the divine right of kings. Any human power can be resisted and changed by human beings. Resistance and change often begin in art. Very often in our art, the art of words. 

I’ve had a long career as a writer, and a good one, in good company. Here at the end of it, I don’t want to watch American literature get sold down the river. We who live by writing and publishing want and should demand our fair share of the proceeds; but the name of our beautiful reward isn’t profit. Its name is freedom." 

Monday, October 19, 2015

Romance Writer, Judy Baker: Beating The Odds

Judy Baker and I met at a writers conference in Orlando, Florida in October 2002. And we beat the odds that the keynote speaker quoted (source unknown). He said, "For everyone who wants to write a novel only 1% will. Of those, just 1% will complete a novel, and out of those who complete a novel only 1% will receive a contract from a (royalty) publisher." (Back then Kindle, Create Space, Smashwords, and Kobo, etc. didn't exist.) On the last afternoon of the conference, both Judy and I were given publishing contracts by Gardenia Press...and we were sitting side-by-side when the announcement was made!

After Judy's first novel, NO COMPARISON, was published she went on to publish 10 more books and she's still writing!

Judy Baker 

BETTER SHE DIE: With her half-breed son and her abdomen growing with child, returning to the white man's society is a struggle even with the Ranger's help.

BETTER SHE LIVE: A saloon woman, alone, unloved, yet, surrounded by love.

BETTER SHE LOVE: How can she compare the Comanche half-breed's kisses to the man she's going to marry, when he had only kissed her on the cheek?

(The boxed set is just 99 cents until the end of the month)

SECRET PAST: A grandmother's secret past leads to a Tommy gun, a rare gold coin, and love.

GHOST THUNDER: Single, alone, and pregnant she's haunted by the pain in the her ghost horse's eyes until she takes matters into her own hands.

SPIRIT CATCHER: Unexplained visions. An old Cherokee Indian. A dog. And human bones from the past. 


Get ready for the holidays with Santa romances! 
Click HERE for the boxed set of 3 of The Santa Series. 
This set is on Amazon's Best Selling Holiday List!

Judy's favorite holiday is Christmas. She loves the cold and snow but after Christmas she's ready for the heat of summer! I think there's a little heat in The Santa Series as well!

All of Judy and Anna Sugg's novels are available on Amazon, Smashwords, Kobo, & B&N 

Here we are holding each other's first book at Judy's home in Utah, 2003. Thank goodness for the smal Wisconsin publishing company, Gardenia Press, and Elizabeth Collins (Editor-in-Chief) for believing in us!

Monday, October 12, 2015

Arnie, the Darling Starling

I've never met a starling and from what most people tell me I should be happy about it. This book (by Margarete Sigl Corbo and Diane Marie Barras and illustrated by Leslie Morrill) caught my eye while I was searching for information on the fall migration of birds. Published in 1983 by Houghton Mifflin Company Boston, this story brings together people, an endearing baby bird, and three cats. Since there are so many stories recently of dogs who are best friends with elephants and cats that snuggle with owls I knew I had to give this book a chance. It's a true story that is certain to charm and entertain.

Margarete, a live-alone grandmother set out one morning to weed her daisy patch. Before she pulled one weed, she found a tiny baby bird nestled beneath a daisy. She returned the baby to his nest in her rafters three times but each time he jumped out and landed at her feet with a thud. So she brought him inside and made him a nest of a cardboard box. She pondered what to feed him and decided he needed grain, protein, and fruit so she opened a can of creamed corn, minced a piece of raw steak, and poured orange juice into a dish. 

Margarete and Arnie

"Despite the fact that he must certainly be starving, he seemed more interested in making friends with the cats than in the feast I was offering." (Pg.9)

He ate finally, Margarete dropping one piece of meat and corn into his mouth at a time and then doling out drops of orange juice from an eyedropper. He ate and drank and ate and drank, blinked once then tucked his head into his shoulders, and fell asleep. He would live, but Margarete was determined to return him to the wild as soon as possible. 

When the bird was three months old he shouted his name, "Arnold!" That was his first sound. He'd never let out so much of a peep or a chirp, but he could talk.

"I had planned to set him free all along. I'd sheltered and nourished him with that goal in mind. Taught him to fly. Taught him to perch. Taught him to love, I think. And now, it seemed, taught him to talk. I imagined him flying from branch to branch, seeking the companionship of his own kind, calling after them, 'Arnold, Arnold, Arnold.' He'd be a freak, a certain misfit now. Some wild bird he'd turned out to be. Wild birds simply did not talk." (Pg. 51)

"Arnold had woven himself into my little family until he'd become the fabric of our daily lives. I should have realized that when the cats began to ignore him; they only ignored what they accepted as belonging among us. Trusting cats and humans as he did, he'd never survive in the wild. Besides, I had fallen in love with him. Despite all my resolve." (Pg. 52)

That's about when Arnold became, Arnie the Darling Starling. Arnie is full of life, laughter, and love. The book is completely irresistible and heartwarming for anyone who even remotely likes animals and birds. 

If you think I've told too much of the story, I haven't. This story delves deeper than an old woman making a pet of one of the most despised and unwelcome immigrants to the United States. Yes, it's about relationships, but it's also about history, ecology, and to my surprise--gun control. In chapter nine, Margarete remembers the day her husband came home from the Korean War. They had a dog then named Rex.

"Rex had a nose that would have made any bloodhound drool with envy. When my husband returned from the Korean War on a troop ship, Hanna (her daughter), Rex, and I went together to meet him. Thousands of men poured off the ships that day, and countless families were there waiting for them. The returning soldiers were one vast, khaki-colored sea topped by bobbing infantry caps. 'We'll never find him,' I said to Hanna. 'Yes we will,' she replied. 'Rex, find Daddy. Find Daddy and bring him here, Rexie.' The dog was off by a shot before I could say anything. 'Hanna, he was less than a year old when your father left for Korea,' I reminded her gently. 'That was two years ago. He'll never find Frank.' 'Yes he will, Mumma,' she stated adamantly. Less than ten minutes later Rex raced up to us, his tail wagging mightily, his paws dancing, his teeth clenched firmly about an infantry cap. And before I knew what was happening, I was locked in an embrace of my grinning, hatless husband. 'I see Rex hasn't forgotten any of his old tricks,' Frank said. 'He always welcomed me home by stealing my hat.'

"Rex died with a .22 bullet in his heart. It was the first bullet fired from the barrel of a rifle our twelve-year-old paper boy had receiver for his birthday. The boy had loved Rex, but no one had bothered to teach him enough about guns before turning him loose with one."

Arnie was so popular in the 80s that Margarete and Diane wrote a sequel, Arnie & a House Full of Company. It's next on my reading list. 

This isn't Arnie, but I think he probably sounded like this:

Okay, here's a little something extra--a little show and tell, well, mostly show, about unlikely animal friends. So much for "wild animals"!

Christian the Lion is a wonderful story about the relationship between tow men and their pet lion. Their overwhelmingly emotional reunion a year after that returned him to the wild in Africa is a YouTube video I have watched at least a zillion times...and cried every time! I hope you'll watch it (just click the blue link above).

Monday, October 5, 2015

DARK BOOKS: A Darker World

Another school shooting and plans and threats for two more all in the past few days. Articles, discussions, debates, and arguments arise once more over the government’s control of guns and the funding, or lack thereof, for mental health. I’m not going to blog about that. I’m going to blog about “DARK BOOKS,” as one reviewer titled her 5 Star review of Wally Lamb’s 2007 novel The Hour I First Believed, a story about Columbine.

THE HOUR I FIRST BELIEVED: When forty-seven-year-old high school teacher Caelum Quirk and his younger wife, Maureen, a school nurse, move to Littleton, Colorado, they both get jobs at Columbine High School. In April 1999, Caelum returns home to Three Rivers, Connecticut, to be with his aunt who has just had a stroke. But Maureen finds herself in the school library at Columbine, cowering in a cabinet and expecting to be killed, as two vengeful students go on a carefully premediated, murderous rampage. Miraculously she survives, but at a cost: she is unable to recover from the trauma. Caelum and Maureen flee Colorado and return to an illusion of safety at the Quirk family farm in Three Rivers. But the effects of chaos are not so easily put right, and further tragedy ensues.

While Maureen fights to regain her sanity, Caelum discovers a cache of old diaries, letters, and newspaper clippings in an upstairs bedroom of his family’s house. The colorful and intriguing story they recount spans five generations of the Quirk family ancestors, from the Civil War ere to Caelum’s own troubled childhood. Piece by piece, Caelum reconstructs the lives of the women and men whose legacy he bears. Unimaginable secrets emerge; long-buried fear, anger, guilt, and grief rise to the surface.
As Caelum grapples with unexpected and confounding revelations from the past, he also struggles to fashion a future out of the ashes of tragedy. His personal quest for meaning and faith becomes a mythic journey that is at the same time quintessentially contemporary—and American.

I’ve enjoyed, if one can call it that, Wally Lamb’s novels for some time. I guess you could call me a fan of his gut-wrenching stories that so beautifully capture the human experience. Lamb has said of his fiction, “Although my characters’ lives don’t much resemble my own, what we share is that we are imperfect people seeking to become better people. I write fiction so that I can move beyond the boundaries and limitations of my own experiences and better understand the lives of others. As challenging as it sometimes is to balance the two vocations, writing and teaching are, for me, intertwined.”

You can read Wally Lamb’s impressive biography HERE.

Here’s a portion of that 5 Star review on Amazon:
By Adriana on November 17, 2008 (slightly edited)
“If you allow it, this book will affect your mood. The story ties in actual events that took place at Columbine High with the people, places, and evidence tied into a fictional account of the protagonist’s life before, during, and after this most compelling, dark period of his life and the affect it takes on himself and his wife and the world around him. This is truly dark stuff, because you KNOW that someone, somewhere is experiencing exactly what you are reading in this book.”

What I liked about this review is the last statement: “…you KNOW that someone, somewhere is experiencing exactly what you are reading in this book.” And, this, I believe was Wally Lamb’s plan— to enable his readers to feel someone’s pain. And when we read DARK BOOKS that’s exactly what we do.

The shock and horror of Columbine repeats itself over and again and what can we do to stop it? Most of the mainstream, mass murder shooters are dead, most of their victims are dead but there are survivors and nobody speaks of them—parents of the shooters and victims, brothers, sisters, aunts, uncles, grandparents, children, nieces and nephews, teachers, counselors, neighbors and friends. One report out of Oregon stated that many of the school’s students were veterans with PTSD. I can only imagine what suffering is going on. In The Hour I First Believed we can catch a glimpse of the transparent suffers, thanks to the imagination of Wally Lamb.

Most literary fiction “dark books” reveal an even darker world. The stories don’t make us laugh out loud. We don’t joyfully swoon over them. We squirm in the prevailing darkness. And when they are well written we celebrate them as great literature that makes us think.

Maybe we read “dark books” so that we can “move beyond the boundaries and limitations of our own experiences and better understand the lives of others” as Mr. Lamb so eloquently stated. And maybe when we identify with the survivors of mass murder we might be inspired to do something more about it.