Archive | October 2014

Author Interviews: On Writing

Readers talk about books. Writers talk about writing them.

Martin Amis says, “Literature is a war against clichés,” and he expressed this belief in his book, The War Against Cliché.

Fran Lebowitz exclaims, “Nothing lives up to books!”

Zadie Smith states, “A book is your best self.”

Jonathan Franzen‘s goal is to “take his experiences and share them with people.”

In the video below, these authors elaborated on their statements. Very interesting!

Enjoy! 🙂

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Alan Brennert’s “Moloka’i”

Pix_Molokai_Rev_6.2011[1]We didn’t have the scare of Ebola last year yet, but as if by premonition, someone in my book club suggested that we discuss Alan Brennert’s Moloka’i this year. How timely, because as I was reading Brennert’s novel about people suffering and dying from leprosy, and the overall fright and panic at the possibility of being infected by the terrible disease, I couldn’t help but think about the fear of Ebola that the world is now experiencing.

Moloka’i is a riveting saga of the life of Rachel Kalama, a Honolulu native, from 1891 till her death in 1970. She is the daughter of a sailor who spends several months at a time in far-away countries, from where he brings her exotic dolls as gifts. A precocious child interested in geography, Rachel dreams about visiting those places someday, too. But this is not to be. In 1891, at the age of seven, she contracts leprosy. She is ripped out of her home and shipped to a quarantined colony for leprosy patients on the island of Moloka’i. Thus not only are her dreams crushed, but her very existence is now precarious: Will she be cured and leave this place someday, or will she share the fate of her unfortunate friends who are dying young from the disease?

But there is no cure, because “leprosy at present eludes doctors’ understanding.” Since it is contagious, there’s panic among the population. And stigma against the unlucky ones. But the sick aren’t the only victims. This horrible disease takes its toll on their families, too. Siblings of a sick child are shunned at school and in the neighborhood, parents and relatives lose their jobs and are ostracized.

Parents’ sacrifices! One mother chooses to give up on her sick child in order to save her other children, uprooting them from their home and moving to another town where the stigma won’t ruin their lives. Another mother leaves her children with their grandparents, practically abandoning them for good, so that she could tend to her sick husband in the colony, thus sacrificing herself. A father desperately wishes to be a leper so that he can join his daughter on the island.

Can you judge one or another? Not really. You understand each of them, for each one makes their decision out of love and out of despondency.

Alan Brennert describes in vivid detail the tragedy that has befallen the sick in the settlement—their deplorable living conditions, their meager provisions, their deteriorating health, their shattered lives, and worst of all, their isolation from the outside world. They feel even more disadvantaged than prisoners who are jailed for life, because they can’t have visitors.

If doctors are helpless in understanding the causes of leprosy, then how can the sick comprehend the reason why they’re stricken with it? They wonder if “the sickness comes from the soul, from a person’s past actions and state of mind.” 180 Yet, they cling to life, despite death staring into their faces, and their zest for life, perseverance, faith, and strength are admirable.

Alan Brennert is a very gifted writer. Moloka’i is rich in memorable characters, beautiful description of the scenery, and historical information based on extensive research.

Highly recommend.

Author Interview: Paulo Coelho

When I love a novel, I usually wonder what inspired the author to explore a certain theme. How does a writer find his topics, anyway?

Just like a tree grows from a tiny seed planted in soil, a 300-page book grows from an idea that pops into your head. I find it amazing.

Speaking about my books, the ideas for each of them came to me in different ways. The letter-game for romantic suspense Disengaged was suggested by a friend, who became my coauthor; the idea for romance Without Thinking Twice was born from my need to fight certain stereotypes; the subject of my mystery A Measure of Guilt was inspired by an actual event that shocked me so much that I wanted to fictionalize it; and the idea for the thriller that I’m working on now popped into my mind when I typed the last sentence of A Measure of Guilt—Why don’t I write a sequel?

What prompted Paulo Coelho to explore the subject of spousal infidelity in his latest novel Adultery?

He explains it in the video below.

By the way, Paulo Coelho calls for a discussion of Adultery. Well, I posted my opinion this week and I suspect that many readers may not agree with it. But I would love to discuss it here on my blog.

Enjoy! 🙂

 

Paulo Coelho’s “Adultery”

9781101874097.225x225-75[1]Paulo Coelho’s Adultery is a story of a woman in her thirties who has everything—head-turning looks, a good education, a successful career as a journalist, a loving husband and two children. Her husband is one of the richest people in Switzerland and, after ten years of marriage, he is still “madly in love with her.” They eat at expensive restaurants, they travel abroad, and they socialize with the crème de la crème of Geneva’s society. In short, Linda has everything any other woman would kill for. Yet she doesn’t want to get out of bed in the morning and get going. What’s the matter?

Linda is depressed.

However, she doesn’t understand the nature of her problem until she interviews a writer who admits that he prefers a life of passion and danger to a life of happiness and satisfaction. This admission makes Linda realize that the root of her dissatisfaction with her life is her boring routine—going through the same things every day over and over and over again. It occurs to her that she never takes risks; she always goes with the flow. That has to stop. She has to shake things up. Yes, she loves her husband, and he loves her, but is love alone enough? She needs a change. She wants a change. Desperately.

What happens next is obvious—even the novel’s title suggests the obvious.

Adultery.

For the first hundred pages you commiserate with Linda, because she’s suffering and she isn’t passively accepting her condition but trying to understand it and to find the cure. She makes appointments with one psychiatrist after another, explaining to them what is happening to her, “begging them to help her control the monster that is rising up and threatening to escape her control.” 139

You sympathize with her because her dissatisfaction with the sameness, her need to question her role in life, and her search for the meaning of life, resonate with many of us. Especially with those of us who are, or have been, depressed. We may condemn adultery, but we still try to understand the reason behind it. Especially if we find the person committing it sympathetic.

Well…

After a hundred pages, my attitude toward Linda changed drastically. I disliked her for her actions, and then, after I learned about a certain streak in her personality, I hated her.

Linda justifies her actions (other than adultery) by examples from history and literature, saying that “…good and evil coexist in all people….when we release our dark side, it will completely overshadow the best in us…. That is how dictators are born.” 136

“Everyone has a dark side. Everyone wants a taste of absolute power. I read stories of torture and war and see that those who inflict suffering are driven by an unknown monster when they’re able to exert power, but turn into docile fathers, servants of the homeland, and excellent husbands when they return home.” 130

She’s right about the inherent duality in all of us. But not all of us act on our dark side, especially those of us who are as educated and well-read as she is, and are capable of assessing the situation.

Practically all writers claim that if the reader doesn’t find the protagonist sympathetic, he won’t be interested in reading the story. I totally agree. Once I started to despise Linda, I stopped caring about her “suffering.”

I kept reading Adultery only because Paulo Coelho  is a fine writer, and I like his philosophical take on love, life, marriage, and values. And because I love his novels The Alchemist and The Zahir.

Favorite line: “Love isn’t just a feeling; it’s an art. And like any art, it takes not only inspiration, but also a lot of work.” 187

Author Karen Essex’s Invitation

Karen Essex, the author of the bestseller Leonardo’s Swans, is inviting us to Milan.  Awww….

Sounds so wonderful! I looooove Italy! I’ve been to Rome, but not to Milan. I just wish I could book a plane ticket and fly over there… I wish…

Thank you, Karen Essex for the invitation. 🙂

Karen Essex’s “Leonardo’s Swans”

leonardoswansbook[1]When I read the last paragraph of Leonardo’s Swans by Karen Essex, I said one word: Wow!

But when I first read the opening of the prologue, I thought, Huh? The ending is not just predictable, but revealed—in the first paragraph! So why should I read further?

Ah, but I’m a sucker for a beautiful language, and Karen Essex‘s  language shines—in the first lines!

So I kept reading.

The prologue describes a scene of mourning, taking place in the noble family’s crypt. Leaning over a marble figure of her sister, who died a few years ago at the age of twenty-one, Isabella is whispering to Beatrice about the things that she, Isabella, has endured and has yet to endure, calling herself “a figure on a chessboard of poison.” She reminds her deceased sister about the games they used to play and about their fierce rivalry both in games and in love. Isabella mentions Beatrice’s husband, Ludovico, rotting in a French prison, and the French now “tramping Italy,” and her own plan to attend King Louis’s ball tonight—thus telling me the reader not only about their personal problems but about the drama of their country. The fact that she’s whispering, afraid of being overheard and reported as a traitor, underscores the point that the danger is still present.

Isabella’s revelation grabbed my attention. I was intrigued by the sisters’ contradictory relationship. I wanted to learn about their lives and the events leading to this sad, tragic point. I wanted to know why Beatrice died so young, and why Isabella, while mourning her death, still considers it a blessing—for Beatrice. And of course, the Renaissance period in Italy, where the world greatest artists created, has always interested me, as well as the intrigues in kings’ courts.

I was hooked.

So I kept reading Leonardo’s Swans, this fascinating story of two incredible women, two sisters of the Renaissance, Isabella and Beatrice d’Este, both young, beautiful, bright, ambitious, well-educated, accomplished, strong-willed, and pretty famous and influential in Italy in the 15th-16th centuries.

The novel is filled with intrigue, suspense, love, lust, and verbal sparring. Karen Essex masterfully draws the image of Leonardo da Vinci—as a painter, a scientist, and as a person. I was lost in the 15th century Italy, which wasn’t a unified country as we know it now, but a numerous separate lands feuding with each other. But what fascinated me most, however, was the maturity of Isabel and Beatrice. With a short lifespan (40 years on the average), girls were betrothed at the age of 5 or 6, to be married ten years later. But young maidens from noble families were so accomplished by the time they became wives—speaking several languages, writing and reciting poetry, playing musical instruments, acquiring equestrian skills, as well as oratory ones, and whatnot–I thought that the level of education during the Renaissance, for nobility at least, was quite impressive.

Anyway, I enjoyed Leonardo’s Swans immensely and I’d like to add to my aforementioned word, Wow, this: If you like historical fiction, this novel will appeal to you; if you like historical fiction portraying a renowned Renaissance artist, this novel will certainly satisfy your interest; but if you like historical fiction portraying a renowned artist and strong-willed women (actual historical figures), you will absolutely love this novel!

Strongly recommend!