Archive | September 2013

Sources of Inspiration

STA70792Inspiration. The word is so common in the literary world, so much talked about and so very much wished for. It is basically dependent on a muse, graciously calling on writers, inspiring them to create their stories. And when she doesn’t deign to visit, their creativity is dormant. Enter the notorious writer’s block.

As I stated before, I personally don’t believe in writer’s block. I know that if I sit at my desk, waiting for her Majesty the Muse to drop in on me, I may be waiting for a very, very long time—in vain. So I prefer having faith in a daily writing routine, which depends solely on my discipline. Unlike the ever ethereal muse, my routine is tangible and reliable, because when I stay at the computer for some time, my mind and imagination start complying with my fingers hitting the keys.

This is not to say that I don’t believe in the power of inspiration. I do! When it hits me, my head is spinning from the rush of images and ideas, my heart is bursting with joy, while my hands are flying over the keyboard. It’s the best time ever! So, of course, I’d rather be inspired than not.

Therefore, when I’m stuck, for whatever reason, I actively search for inspiration. I have plenty of sources. For instance, it can be a place that I visited and loved.

And that’s what happened today. I looked through my photos of Germany where I once lived with my husband and our dogs, Rudi and Gretchen. We resided in Hessen, but in the summers we made several car trips to Bavaria. We would climb the Alps, up and up and up until we reached the snow, and have picnics there, admiring the splendid view of Garmisch-Partenkirchen below us and the snowy peaks above us.

The city and the mountains were a great inspiration for my first novel, Disengaged. So today, while looking at those pictures, I was flooded with happy memories, and my creative energy returned. Woo-hoo! 🙂

Here’s I am with Rudi.

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Author Interview: Jesse Kellerman

Here’s an interview with Jesse Kellerman, the author of Potboiler. He is the first writer whose book I reviewed in this blog.

A talented offspring of the best-selling authors, Jonathan and Faye Kellerman, he has certainly learned work ethics from them. “Coming to the desk every day and type, whether they’re in the mood or not.” Yes! They teach by personal example, other than preaching. That’s what writers have to do if they want to get results.

No wonder their son, Jesse, has quite a few wonderful novels under his belt in such a short period of time.

Jesse Kellerman’s “Potboiler”

POTBOILER-cover-225x339Jesse Kellerman’s latest novel, Potboiler, is much different from his previous ones. The chapters are short (a la James Patterson) and replete with dialogue, plus there’s a lack of consistency as far as genre goes.

Although the book is divided into seven parts, to me, it’s only two, roughly split in the middle and significantly different from each other. The first half I found fascinating. It’s about the value and longevity of friendship, love and loss, artistic aspirations, success and failure, regrets and hopes. And it’s also a satire of the literary world, which can be interesting for writers—both aspiring and seasoned—because it’s insightful and funny. Writer’s block, a yo-yo relationship between an author and his agent, the euphoria of being a celebrity, you name it.

The opening of the novel immediately grabs your attention: “After one hundred twenty-one days, the search was called off. The Coast Guard had stopped looking after three weeks, but the presumptive widow had paid for a private company to drag the entire Pacific Ocean, or as much of it as they could. With all hope lost, funeral arrangements were now under way. It was front-page news.”

The man lost at sea is Bill de Vallee, an internationally bestselling author of thrillers. His widow sends an invitation to his funeral to their long-time friend, Arthur Pfefferkorn. Arthur, an adjunct instructor of creative writing at a small college, is a writer too. But unlike Bill, he published only one book—a mildly-acclaimed, poorly sold literary novel. However, he considers himself a true talent, sneering at “mass-market entertainment,” such as the blockbuster bestsellers, whipped up by Bill. In fact, Arthur “has defined himself as a writer unwilling to sacrifice art for the sake of material gain: the anti-Bill.” No wonder, he goes by Art among his friends. Hence, the title of the first part of the novel: ART. Which, I think, stands for striving to write high-caliber literary fiction, as well as the novel’s protagonist.

As it turns out, Art is not devoid of jealousy over Bill’s great professional success with its lucrative benefits. And when the opportunity to taste the life of a star-author presents itself, he grabs it.

In the second half of the novel, the narrative changes drastically from a psychological drama to an espionage thriller. Not to give away spoilers, I’ll just say that the events mainly take place in a fictional, very backward country named Zlabia, somewhere in Europe. There’s a lot happening in it. Kellerman threw in a whole slew of elements of a thriller.

And that’s the problem. I usually like this genre, but, unfortunately, I found this one not too thrilling. Quite the opposite, in fact. The monotony of certain events, the unsavory characters, the excessive use of foreign phrases (in Cyrillic!), chase and capture all over again…

Maybe it’s just me, but this half of the book left me unmoved and, frankly, disappointed. I even thought of the irony of the novel’s title, Potboiler, which Kellerman intended for his characters’ books. Hmm, what about this book?

But the author’s idea of what Bill’s bestsellers essentially mean is brilliant. It made me wonder if it could be true, rather than the fruit of his imagination.

I also love the contrast between the first and the last chapters. Whereas the beginning is terse in style, the ending is highly detailed, symbolic, and lyrical. But both are very good.

Author Interview: Jodi Picoult (part 3)

Here’s Part 3 of the interview with Jodi Picoult, where she gives a preview of Lone Wolf. As in all of her novels, she raises a big moral dilemma in this one. Which is one of the reasons her books are so popular and loved. She puts an ordinary person in an extraordinary situation, for the readers to watch and see how that person deals with it.

I was surprised to learn that this busy writer has so many domestic animals, among which are four dogs. Four! I have two, and I’m overwhelmed, especially with Greta, our ten-month-old golden retriever, who is constantly begging me to play with her. I have to hide from her, literally. Well, I guess that’s the answer to Ms. Picoult’s success–she hides from her dogs in her study! 🙂

Bonnie McKernan’s “Cliff of the Ruin”

CliffBonnie McKernan’s  Cliff of the Ruin is a real treat for fans of historical fiction and fantasy with elements of folklore.

The year is 1879, when women’s position in society is far from being enviable. McKernan uses an interesting analogy between Ireland’s subservient position towards England and wife’s submissive position towards her husband. “A woman ceases to exist as a separate entity in marriage, thus losing her voice…”

Yet, Mae Kendrick, a 25-year-old Irish beauty, defies the stereotype of an obedient woman without rights. Although she’s totally dependent on her aunt and uncle, her guardians, she strives to be self-sufficient. An accomplished artist, she thinks more about her art than catching a husband and settling down like all young women in her little town of New Jersey, where she’s been living since she was three. However, when she meets Kieran McCree, a strikingly handsome carpenter, he steals her heart and bewitches her—literally. Shortly thereafter, another gentleman comes into play. William Teague, a dashing war hero and a New York lawyer, visits Mae at her uncle’s request and falls for her, although not revealing his feelings to her.

Then May unexpectedly marries Kieran, but has no memory of the event. Her husband’s vanishing adds to her confusion. Her uncle hires Mr. Teague to help her locate Kieran. Together with her cousin, Aaron, and Mr. Teague, Mae embarks on a long journey to her native land, Ireland. Their voyage is filled with perilous adventures. And once they arrive, the plot thickens, the danger hanging over their heads like a guillotine, and their courage, wits and perseverance are the only weapons against evil and witchery.

As Mae tells William, “There’s a lot going on here, most of it screwy. I don’t know what is real or imagined, threatening or harmless…”

My thoughts exactly! The novel is a mixture of reality and fantasy, a border between the two blended so intricately and intoxicatingly well that you constantly wonder, just like the characters, if the events happening to them are real or dreamed about or the products of witchcraft and hallucination.

The novel is a modern fairy tale for adults, laced with Celtic poetry, Irish folklore, and humor. The characters are well-developed, interesting, and memorable. The plot is masterfully crafted. The suspense is nail-biting. The language is lyrical.

For its exquisite style and literary merit, Cliff of the Ruin is awarded Writer’s Digest “Mark of Quality” by its publisher Abbott Press. My heartfelt congratulations to Bonnie McKernan for her outstanding achievement! Read her interview on the Abbott Press blog.

Author Interview: Jodi Picoult (Part 2)

I enjoyed the TV interview with Jodi Picoult so much that I decided to post the other two parts of it.

In Part 2, she talks about her writing routine. She works from morning till 4 p.m. every day. So, yep, writing for her is just like any other job.

What surprises me is that she doesn’t have an assistant, like some other successful authors whose assistants do research for their books. (Elizabeth George, for instance, mentions the fact in her book Write Away.) So each morning Ms. Picoult personally answers about 200 letters from her fans. Incredible!

What impresses me is that she can write 50 pages a day. 50 pages! Or sometimes only 3 pages, but they’re highly emotional scenes, which she considers good work too. Awesome work, I would say.

Anyway, Jodi Picoult is amazing as an author and a person. And she’s such a great speaker, too!

Enjoy! 🙂

The Joy of Book Club Meetings

book club 2For several months now, I’ve been attending monthly book club gatherings at our local library. Meeting with a dozen women—avid readers appreciative of good literature—is not only fun for me, but a nourishment for my intellect and soul as well. One may argue that we as readers acquire enough of such nourishment from a fine book itself, so why want it from elsewhere?

Well, sometimes it’s true, since I read more books than I have time to discuss them with someone else. But I still enjoy talking about novels and authors because, apart from the aforementioned reason, I like sharing my opinions with other readers too.

Basically, we think of a story as good only if it stirs up our strong feelings, and if we can relate to the characters and their experiences in it—in some way. Maybe the dilemmas that those  characters try to solve feel too close to home for us, or the events described in a story evoke our memories, making us laugh or cry, or warn us against rash and unwise decisions.

In either way, that’s what book club members usually talk about, comparing the novel’s characters’ experiences with the similar ones of their own. Which is the most fascinating, and thus valuable, aspect of such gatherings. When someone becomes too emotional, we comfort her by “It’s okay, it’s just the fruit of the author’s imagination, it’s only a book…” But we know that it’s not “only a book”! It’s so damn well written that it feels real to us, and yes, things like that do happen in real life. Hence, our heartfelt response.

I usually go to these get-togethers with my neighbors, Catherine and Cindi. But when one of us misses it, we catch up later, at home.

Last night, I was hosting our little book club in my backyard—with snacks, wine, and fruit.  We started to discuss Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn, then switched to novels by Jodi PicoultJohn Grisham, Elizabeth George, Louise Erdrich, and others. And yes of course, we chatted about our personal incidents, similar to the ones in those stories, or just for the hell of it. 🙂

Three hours went by as quick as a wink, the candle lights on our table, flickering softly in the darkness, the only reminder of the late hour.

It was a lovely discussion and I’m looking forward to another one. 🙂