July 23, 2012

Cheap Appliances

Posted in Uncategorized at 1:27 pm by elizabethcaulfieldfelt

I don’t write a lot of poetry, but sometimes something occurs to me that will only work in poetry form.  So, here’s my most recent poem.  I hope you like it.

Cheap Appliances

My husband is the kind of man who buys cheap appliances

and then tinkers and charms to keep them running.

 

When our car stereo started eating tapes,

he stuck a red and white plastic drinking straw

into its mouth

and it stopped eating

 

When our dishwasher wasn’t cleaning dishes,

he ran it with the door open,

studying its mechanics as

hot water sprayed clean the floor,

then he removed the filter, cut off a layer,

and twelve years later our dishes are sparkling clean

 

When our clothes dryer would not dry,

He took off the top,

rolled the large metal drum this way and that,

played with a giant rubber band,

ordered a part

and dry it does again.

 

I am only forty-six,

but my warranty period must have passed.

My body is failing me; things don’t work as they should:

my eyes

my bladder

my back

my teeth

my memory

but my heart is kept strong by a man I know will not give up on me.

July 15, 2012

Interview with Monette Bebow-Reinhard

Posted in author, books, interview, reading, writing at 12:08 pm by elizabethcaulfieldfelt

 

 

Today I’m welcoming Monette Bebow-Reinhard to my series of author interviews. Monette is the author of two Bonanza books, Felling of the Sons and Mystic Fire; is marketing a major nonfiction, Civil War and Bloody Peace and a fiction series about a Greek vampire, a Vrykolakas; has just been offered a contract for Dancing with Cannibals; and is in final edit with Saving Boone: Legend of a Half-Breed.

Q: Can you give us a brief description of your most recent novel ?

A: Dancing with Cannibals is set in 1906 Africa to show the Belgium conquest of the Congo, when two Belgian prisoners are released to become colonists of African villages, to bring them Christianity and claim their resources. Simon sees the wrong in what he’s doing but enjoys the power, while Jean sees the wrong and becomes enamored of the cannibal culture, eventually marrying into it. Inevitably, however, neither man can control the destiny of a country when a more powerful one is determined to conquer it. I think the novel holds great lessons for the world today.

Q: What made you interested in this story?

A: Dicho did, actually. He’s my partner on the book and the instigator of the story and its history. He lives in South Africa but was born in the Congo. He is a French speaker with story ideas who was looking for help and contacted me and others through the website Authors Den to edit his stories and get them ready to market. He had six stories to offer, and I chose the one on cannibals because I’ve done a lot of research on the practice in this country and am interested in removing the stigma, from the point of view of the cannibal, as to the reason one would eat another human. Attitude, to me, is the most important thing in history, and something that’s often overlooked. We’re often judging other cultures through our own eyes. This book tries to change that.

Q: How much historical fact is woven into your story?

A: It’s amazing what he had when he sent the book to me to edit. He didn’t have a fiction novel. He had a series of historical events, two fiction scenes, and a number of fiction characters. I had to take what he had and turn it into a novel. First I asked him – do you want this as fiction or nonfiction? We went from there. I took his characters, and with a lot of back and forth asking him questions about their motives, the plot began to emerge. He had specific ideas of how this would go. But I told him, I don’t want to make this from the point of view that Christianity was a good thing to happen to them. Let’s go for a more balanced approach. I wanted to see us portray the culture as it was, and I depended on him to get the history and the culture right. I bought a number of books of Africa in this period, however, so that I could familiarize myself with it, and I also watched some videos—because Dicho wanted me to add the descriptive material. Even though I’ve never been there! He says he’s not good at it. So you will see more plot than description. But we did what we could. He gave me a lot of history I had to try and incorporate so that readers wouldn’t get lost or bored. It was a challenge to make this kind of book not preachy or what they call “an info dump.”

Q: How hard was marketing something like this?

A: Very hard. We couldn’t tell if publishers were turned off by the title, but didn’t see any reason to change it. We also didn’t know if publishers wanted to work with two authors. I have no experience with a co-authored submission and really didn’t know how to address these concerns. But we just kept at it. And really, we never received any kind of feedback from anyone about why they would reject it. We followed the right format, we found publishers who wanted historical, who wanted cultural, and who wanted controversial. But no luck. We did several rewrites, thinking that might help. I think adding the viewpoint of Betu, one of the cannibal women who eventually marries Jean, was the perfect move.

Now with Spartan, I saw the opportunity to try a new history publisher, and they scooped it up as though the best thing they’d ever seen. It’s exciting working with someone raw and eager, and we’ve already gotten comments on how to improve the material. So Dicho and I really appreciate having Dancing with Cannibals recognized for what it has to offer. Dicho has turned all the edits over to me, because I was mostly responsible for putting it in its current readable format.

But sometimes I wondered if I wasn’t more of a hindrance to him, than a help. I was reassured recently when a publisher who rejected Dancing (the only one who told us why) asked me to help Dicho get one of his other novels ready for her. She says she loves his story but it’s way too long, and needs to be edited before she can consider it. So Dicho’s hired me, not as a partner here, but as an editor. I charge a meager $1 a page, because I enjoy helping other writers. He’s very excited about this second opportunity, and this same publisher is willing to look at my Greek Vampire as well. She’s into romance and it’s called Adventures in Death and Romance.

I would love to see something out there about partnering on a fiction novel – the ins and outs. I still don’t feel I’ve learned enough to write this commentary myself. I wish more publishers and agents were more direct about why they won’t look at something. I know they’re busy, but they don’t realize the disservice they do to projects like this.

Q: Your novels Felling of the Sons and Mystic Fire are Bonanza fan fiction. Can you talk about your “obsession” with Bonanza and how you came to write these stories?

A: Oh, that would take too long! Seriously, I have an article at my website, “Becoming an authorized Bonanza novelist” on the Bonanza page there. In brief, I can say that I was in the right time at the right place, and got David Dortort’s attention as a fan who said all the right things. I finally got to meet him, and we worked on a couple of scripts together for television. With that association, retaining the friendship was easy enough as well as getting permission to sell Felling of the Sons, which I’d written first and used to begin the initial contact. I felt it was too good to get thrown into the fanfic pile. A few years later we talked Civil War together and David was impressed enough with my knowledge to give me permission for the second novel. He’s since died, and I miss him like crazy. No one else has managed to go through Bonanza Ventures with a novel for authorization, but I hear people are trying.

Back in 1992, after I began to see the series on the air again, and while also writing other historical material, I thought I’d try my hand at Bonanza fanfic. I couldn’t believe how easily these stories just poured out of me. For some reason—maybe the death of my sister during the show’s first season in 1959—the show just captivated me and even at the tender age of seven I began rewriting the stories on I saw on TV to make them ‘better.’ Pretty crazy, I know, but one of those episodes I rewrote was”The Crucible” with guest star Lee Marvin, an episode so intense it still frightens fans. My rewrite was so vivid to me, even years later, that I thought it was an actual episode. Imagine my surprise finding out that I wrote the whole story myself, because it wasn’t an episode. “Fork in the Road” is now one of the short stories in Cartwright Saga, which is a complete anthology novel I offer free to people who purchase both of these novels.

I think the best part about Bonanza was its use of history with fictional characters. I can still remember my surprise finding out Mark Twain really did work in Virginia City and Philip Deidesheimer really did create a series of honeycomb safety timbering for the mines. I did some follow-up research on this and learned that he never patented it and died a poor man. Things like this spurred my interest in history—oddly enough, my worst subject in high school was history. I now hold a master’s in history.

Q: Did you get your master’s in history to teach?

A: Nope – just to write. I have a major nonfiction, Civil War & Bloody Peace: following a soldier’s orders, that I’m desperate to get published. Well, maybe not desperate enough, I recently canceled a contract with Sunbury Press because they kept dragging their feet on it—after six months I still didn’t have an editor and then they said, well, maybe we could put it out in two volumes after assuring me it would make a good 450-page book. Well, yes, that’s the way it needs to be, which is why I signed with them. In its submission format it’s about 750 pages with maps and photos. And I think it’s a really good way to look at the pivotal period in our nation’s history, following the orders of one soldier to find out why he was sent where he was sent. The soldier is my grandfather’s great uncle, and he had the unique experience of being in the army for 22 years, as a private, non-com.

But my BA in history didn’t teach me enough about research to finish this book. So I went back to become a better historian. And I think the book will speak for itself, once I find a decent contract. I had Potomac interested but they weren’t sure how to market it. I’ve since created a marketing query letter and hope I addressed some of their concerns.

While getting the master’s and researching the Civil War I created the second Bonanza novel, Mystic Fire. Using the Cartwrights, and having the Civil War tear them apart with an understanding of who Lincoln was in 1862, I created what I call an ‘epic saga.’ It’s a bit more of a challenge to read than my first Bonanza novel because I tear the four Cartwrights into separate storylines—a fire, ghosts, Lincoln, cattle rustling, runaway slaves, the Civil War and an unusual assassination attempt—all combined to help assure me that I had the right title. Sadly, it hasn’t done as well as Felling of the Sons. I don’t feel I’ve yet found its market. The goal in part is to demonstrate what Lincoln was like in 1862, and I really enjoyed giving him a voice in this novel.

Q: Enough of your books—tell us about yourself.

A: Not much to tell. Normal life in Green Bay, Wisconsin. Two brothers and two sisters. My sister Diane died when I was six, and then my parents had two more girls. Diane probably would have been my best friend. We were two years apart. I was my father’s favorite, or so I’m told. He died when I was 14. My mother moved away when I was 18, taking everyone but me to Phoenix in 1971. I stayed in Wisconsin, where all I wanted was my own family. Married my husband Joe in 1975, and have three kids – Carrielynn, Adam and Bennett. All grown and into their own lives. My youngest has made me a grandmother, but sadly they live over in Seattle. I run the Green Bay Reading Writers Guild, and we have a Facebook page. I post a lot of writing related topics there and encourage writers to find readers before they seek publication. I worked in offices as secretary nearly all my life, while helping on my husband’s family’s golf course as manager (for a little while) and bartender. Going back to college was a dream that finally came true when my kids were older. I had one year of college in back in 1972, majoring in theater, and went back in 1994. I’ve been an actress practically all my life in local community groups, even helped form one. I was curator of a museum for three years until I got tired of no pay, no time and no appreciation. But I now run the Archaic Copper Newsletter in conjunction with that experience. I’m one of these persons who doesn’t sit still well! I like being busy. And I have a lot in my head that needs to come out.

Q: How difficult do you find balancing your writing career and your other jobs?

A: Very very. I remember back when all I had was a typewriter. I typed my first novel, and sure wish I’d kept it. It was every night, typing for an hour after the kids went to bed, with my peppermint schnapps (yeah, I’m German). I had to drink before bed because my husband snores! Then my mother sent me her old computer, and though I resisted at first, became very fond of the idea of changing the material before I printed it. I’ve been updating my computers ever since, giving my kids my old ones (Bennett now works for Microsoft). But always my writing took place late at night, and then once I started school, I’d write a couple of pages between classes or between assignments. I got little sleep in those days, and often credit my great kid with raising themselves. Plus doing theater? I sure hope they don’t look back on growing up and wonder where their mother was! I also put myself through my BA with jobs, part-time, temporary. One semester I worked three at the same time. Crazy stuff. I was fortunate that my first successes are Bonanza novels because they were so easy for me to write. Much harder has been my conception of a Greek vampire. I created him as my own original, but, through inspiration of Bonanza, put him into historical events.

We’ve now reached the time in our interview for the let’s-get-to-know-the-author-better, nearly-pointless, sort-of-silly, rapid-fire questions:

Q: Coffee or tea?

A: Coffee! Actually both, but coffee first.

Q: Ocean or mountain?

A: I’d have to say ocean, but doggoneit, I like them both! I think we need water more than rocks, though.

Q: Hiking or shopping?

A: Hiking! Although shopping is a good substitute, especially on hot days.

Q: Violin or piano?

A: Piano. I wouldn’t know which end of a violin to hold, and the sound kind of irritates me.

Q: Mystery or fantasy?

A: Fantasy. I love to plot, but have never tried sheer mystery. On the other hand, in fantasy we can let our imagination run wild.

Q: Darcy or Heathcliff?

A: Darcy – to be honest, I don’t know Heathcliff. Maybe if I did, I’d like him better?

Q; Love scene or death scene?

A: Death – because it’s so final, or so some people think. And it’s so real, where love scenes can be phony. I’ve been criticized for having so much death in my writing, but I am fascinated by it.

Thanks to Monette for joining me today.  To learn more about Monette, her writing and to order her stories, visit her websites:

www.monettebebow-reinhard.com

www.bonanza-legacy.com

www.writewordsinc.com

www.spartan-publishing.com

Thanks, Monette!

July 7, 2012

The Hunger Games series: A Study in Novel Construction

Posted in books, reading, teaching, writing at 1:23 pm by elizabethcaulfieldfelt

I’m re-reading The Hunger Games. I know, I know, I’ve read it half a dozen times, but I’m doing it this time as WORK. How can that be work? You ask.

Well, I’m a writer studying The Hunger Games because I think it is one of the most well-written books in recent history, and I’m trying to figure out how Suzanne Collins did it.

Of course, lots of books have fast-paced plots and/or well-developed main characters with fully developed side characters and/or extensive world building and/or thought-provoking themes and/or clever symbolism and/or brilliant style. But how many books are at the top of the craft in all of these areas? The Hunger Games is the only one that comes to my mind. In the comments below I’d love to hear what other books you see as being similarly successful.

So, how does Suzanne Collins do it?

Point of View

First, I think her choice of first-person by Katniss Everdeen has many positive ramifications. We don’t see her world, Panem, as a passive outsider, we see it and feel it and understand it in the way Katniss does. We get her thoughts—what she understands to be normal, what she finds to be cruel, how she is able to survive.

Obviously, the first-person perspective allows for a thorough development of Katniss’s character. We understand her decisions and where she waivers. She is a character who has to make choices when there are no good options. She is always trying to do what is right, but is thwarted by her circumstances. She’s likable and admirable but by no means perfect.

Characterization

One of the things I enjoyed most in this novel is the development of the minor characters, and part of this happens because of the first-person point of view. When we meet people for the first time, we get Katniss’s take on them, which is usually limited and often biased by her own prejudices.

For example, Haymitch Abernathy is first shown to the reader at the reaping where he is drunk, causes a scene and falls off the stage. Katniss explains what an embarrassment he is to their district. And we see him like she sees him. When he first acts as her mentor, we see him as cruel and uncaring because that’s how Katniss sees him. But over the course of the novels, Katniss learns more about Haymitch’s sad history. Hunger Games survivors have nightmares that never go away.  And what is it like to mentor two children every year for 23 years and watch them die in the games? Is it pathetic that he drinks?  Or is it human?

This minor character development happens all over The Hunger Games trilogy. There are no stereotypes or flat side characters. Every single character has a history—even if you never learn what it is, you can feel it in their aliveness. Cripes, even the cat has surprising depth.

Every time I re-read these stories I’m trying to figure out how Suzanne Collins manages to bring to life such a vast army of characters.

Plot

This is what has made the trilogy a bestseller; your average reader doesn’t notice the clever manipulation of the POV or the depth of the characterization, but they know whether or not the plot works. The Hunger Games‘ plot is fabulously constructed, page-turning, and jam-packed with action. How does she do it? Constant conflict. Suzanne Collins covers all types of conflict: person vs society, person vs person, person vs environment, person vs self. Some conflicts last the whole series, others are solved quickly but replaced by others. Poor Katniss. She must handle conflict after conflict after conflict. Her methods for solving problems are diverse, mostly successful, but she is human enough to sometimes solve small problems without  realizing the ramifications and/or their long-term effects.

Plot is the main reason these books are so popular.

Setting/World Building

This is another aspect I’m studying, and I have to admit this is one area I struggle with. The Hunger Games takes place in a dystopian future, and Suzanne Collins creates this world in such depth and detail, that having read the series several times, I know Panem like I know my own world. Yet Collins never “info dumps.” Info dumping is when an author spends a whole lot of time describing the world without anything else happening.  Frowned upon in the literary community.  Boring to the average reader.

Suzanne Collins is able to have her action rolling along at a fast clip, while still thoroughly detailing the world of Panem (and deeply exploring every single character). How does she do it? The explanations of her world are subtle and thorough and wrapped up in the plot and characters, and I may have to read this series several more times before I can learn from her.

Themes

Collins takes on the theme of war and handles it with great adeptness and without any trace of didactism. Again, the first-person point of view helps here. Katniss does not have the answers, but asks good questions. At one point, Katniss ponders (and I’m paraphrasing here): Are there no rules for how badly a human can treat another? She doesn’t like the idea of killing innocent people, and yet she has been forced to do that very thing. And, like a real person, she waivers in what she thinks–especially in the heat of battle or when emotionally frayed.

Another theme Collins hits hard is the superficiality of popular culture and the harm that can come from it.

Symbolism

Wow! Symbolism is so much fun in this story. The most obvious is Fire. Katniss is The Girl on Fire, and that idea is played with throughout the whole series: by Katniss, by the Capitol, by the rebellion, by Suzanne Collins. But there are other symbols, both obvious and subtle: the mockingjay, the smell of roses, Buttercup, the pearl…. Can you think of others?

Style

Collins’ writing is superb. My set of books nearly reeks with the cloying smell of roses. Could you feel the heaviness of the jungle air in the Quarter Quell? Did your heart stick in your throat when the second parachutes went off? Did you laugh when Johanna stepped out of her tree costume? or when Boggs said, “Sorry if we’re not impressed, but we just saw Finnick Odair in his underwear.” Your reactions are the result of superb writing.

And most amazing? These books are short. So much happens, so much is accomplished, with so few words. My head spins just thinking of it.

So, I should get back to work—the rebels are underground and the mutts are calling Katniss’s name.

 

July 1, 2012

Interview with Susan Higginbotham

Posted in author, books, interview, reading, Uncategorized, writing at 7:01 pm by elizabethcaulfieldfelt

Today I’m welcoming Susan Higginbotham to my series of author interviews.

Susan is the author of five historical novels: The Traitor’s Wife, about Eleanor de Clare, favorite niece of King Edward II, wife of Hugh le Despenser, and lady-in-waiting to Queen Isabella; Hugh and Bess, about Bess de Montacute, who King Edward III chooses to marry Hugh le Despenser, the son and grandson of disgraced traitors; The Stolen Crown, about Kate Woodville, sister-in-law to King Edward IV and wife to Harry Stafford who must decide where he stands when the country is torn apart by the Wars of the Roses; The Queen of Last Hopes, about King Henry VI’s wife, Margaret of Anjou, who must hold her family and her country together when her husband goes mad.

Susan’s most recent novel is Her Highness, the Traitor.

Q: Can you give us a brief description of your most recent book ?

A: Her Highness, the Traitor is narrated by Frances Grey, Duchess of Suffolk, the mother of Lady Jane Grey, and by Jane Dudley, Duchess of Northumberland, the mother of Guildford Dudley, Jane’s future husband. It’s the story of Jane Grey’s crowning and tragic end, but it’s chiefly the story of Frances Grey and Jane Dudley, whose lives are changed drastically when Edward VI decides to change the royal succession laid out by his father.

Q: What is different about Frances and Jane when compared to some of your other heroines?

A: What drew me to Frances was the enormous difference between the historical Frances and the dreadful Frances that we usually see in historical fiction and popular nonfiction; I wanted to tell her story in a way that freed Frances from all of the myths that have grown up around her. As for Jane Dudley, when I read her will and a letter she wrote I was impressed immensely by her tenacity, her dignity of spirit, and her devotion to her husband. She hadn’t originally been slated to play a major part in the novel, but I came to admire her so much, I knew that she deserved a leading role.

Q: How much historical fact is woven into Her Highness, the Traitor?

A: There’s a great deal of historical fact in Her Highness, the Traitor. All of the characters are based on real people—even Jane Dudley’s green parrot existed, as it’s mentioned in her will. Many of the letters, and all but one of the scaffold speeches, are based on contemporary documents or accounts.

Q: How do you go about researching your novels?

A: I usually start out researching my novels with secondary sources and then use the references in those sources to find as many primary sources—wills, letters, inventories of household goods, diplomatic correspondence, and so forth—that I can. The wonderful thing about the Tudor period is that so much of this material has been put online, I can do much of my research without ever leaving my computer. I still have plenty of opportunity to buy Tudor books, though!

Q: Although your novels cover different time periods, they all focus on English royalty. Why are you drawn to this topic?

A: I’m mainly drawn to stories about English royalty and nobles because they lived such dramatic lives—or at least the ones I choose to write about did! There are characters from other periods and countries that interest me as well, however. For instance, there are a couple of stories from the American Civil War I would like to tell. I won’t say whose, because I may well get to them one day! There are a couple of French women whose stories I would like to tell also, but they’re women who aren’t well known outside of France, and I think I would have to be able to read French sources in order to do them justice. So I’ll stick with England for now! My late mother always wanted me to write about Regency England, but it’s a period I prefer to read about rather than to write about.

Q: Enough of your books—tell us about yourself.

A: In a moment of insanity, I chose to major in political science in college. Fortunately, I spent a great deal of time hanging out at the student newspaper, which was far more beneficial to me as a writer than anything else I did in college. I later got a master’s degree in English literature and a law degree. Both have helped me in my career as a novelist. My English literature courses helped me learn to read critically, while my legal training helped me develop my research skills.

In preparing us to conduct a mock criminal trial, one of my law school professors told us about the defendants who we had been assigned to defend, “All of these people have some good qualities. It’s your job as their attorney to make the jury aware of them.” I think that’s excellent advice for a novelist too—all of our characters have something in them that can appeal to our readers. We just need to show them what it is.

Q: How difficult do you find balancing your writing career and your full-time job?

A: I’m very lucky, because I have a home office and a fairly flexible work schedule, so if the Muse comes calling while I’m at my day job, I can drop everything and go to my own computer and start writing! But the fact that I do have a full-time job means that I can’t write as quickly as some full-time novelists do.

My day job involves writing summaries of legal cases, so by the time I finish for the day, writing my novels is sometimes the very last thing I want to do. It’s all too easy to start surfing online, and before I know it, the time’s gone. Disciplining myself is something with which I still struggle.

We’ve now reached the time in our interview for the let’s-get-to-know-the-author-better, nearly-pointless, sort-of-silly, rapid-fire questions:

Coffee or tea?

Iced tea, but for me, it’s really Coca-Cola!

Ocean or mountain?

Ocean.

Hiking or shopping?

Shopping.

Violin or piano?

Violin.

Mystery or fantasy?

Mystery.

Darcy or Heathcliff?

Darcy.

Love scene or death scene?

Death scene.

To learn more about Susan Higginbotham, visit her website, her History Refreshed blog,  her Facebook page  and/or her Amazon author page.

Thanks to Susan for visiting today!

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