Category Archives: Uncategorized
Rusalka all started when I stumbled across the haunting work of Russian artist Ivan Bilibin. This particular image was included in the 1964 edition of Man and His Symbols, by Carl Jung, which is where I came across it. Isn’t it just fantastic?
I just had to know more about this creature. Look at those eyes! In working with Jenni Saarenkyla, I kept telling her about those eyes. I think her cover art captures the essence of Bilibin’s rusalka, don’t you?
The creative process is a fascinating thing to me. I love the spectrum of ideas that the human family has produced, and I value the origins of those ideas. Inspiration comes in unlikely forms, doesn’t it?
I’ve received a lot of questions about the cover art for Rusalka. Truth is, I looked through hundreds of images searching for one that conveyed the right mood for my book. When I ran across the work of Finnish artist Jenni Saarenkyla, I knew I’d found what I was looking for.
Isn’t her work just spectacular? I love the haunting starkness of the lines, and you can’t help but be struck by the visual creepiness! Luckily, for those with gentler temperaments, she is a diverse artist; not all of her subject are so chilling, but all are whimsical and fantastic. Check her out at her old website jennidraws.wordpress.com, or her new one, yenniannika.blogspot.co.uk.
If you’re looking for a little inspiration, try listening to the Machinarium soundtrack by Tomáš Dvořák. Yes, he’s Czech — is everything that comes from that country gorgeous?
I often wonder how and why inspiration comes. I’ll definitely be devoting other posts to that, but for today, check out these tips on how to foster the creative process in the beginning hours of the day:
Annie Murphy Paul of Time argues that a less focused morning routine is actually better for our creativity. She suggests that we should let ourselves wake up slowly, instead of jumping out of bed to the shower immediately. Take a long shower, and refrain from thinking about specific work tasks. Even watching youtube videos instead of reading the news is listed as a good morning decision.
This idea goes against what many of us consider a productive morning, but I guess that depends on what qualifies as “productive”. If we knew it would lead to ideas for our writing projects, I bet we’d all be willing to give it a try!
Check out the full article here:
Someone recently asked me how to start the infamous querying process. I have a full, more in-depth post coming dedicated to this topic, but I wanted to offer a quick tip for today. One tool that I recommend for keeping your queries organized is QueryTracker.net. Before I found this site, I kept track of my queries in a big spreadsheet that I kept on my laptop. I like the site better, because not only does it store the information I need, but it’s also a resource for researching other agents. Here’s a peek at what you’ll find on QueryTracker:
It’s free to sign up (although there is an option to sign up for a premium membership, which comes with a monthly fee attached), so if you think this works for you, head to their site and check it out.
I have a two-year old. (I could probably end this explanation there.)
I didn’t used to. When I was writing Rusalka, I had hours upon hours of quiet free time with which to brainstorm, research, or scribble out a few sentences. As I’ve mentioned before, I made [what I feel was] the mistake of writing and plotting my novel organically, and then backtracking to restructure and tighten the storyline. It worked out alright for me. Really, it did.
But things are different now, with my toddler. When all is said and done, I have about an hour to myself at the end of the day. One hour of quiet. I don’t have the luxury I used to have–of being able to snuggle into an armchair, put on music and relax for 30 minutes, think, warm up my brain a bit, type out a sentence or two, erase them, pour myself a cup of cocoa, walk around my apartment a few times, grab a blanket, type out another sentence, stare at it, erase half of it and rewrite it…
Now, if I’m going to write a scene, I need to know beforehand where it is going, what it’s use to the storyline is, and what character traits it is going to reveal. I need to know that I’m not wasting my time and effort.
Maybe that doesn’t sound very artistic, but in all honesty, I prefer it this way. It is forcing me to write a better novel. I had a hard time parting with a bunch of “fluff” scenes the first time around, simply because I’d put a lot of heart into them, or because they were fun, or because I liked my writing. Now, the fluff is gone before it starts, making me put my heart and talent into the meaningful parts of the plot–the parts that are going to take my plot somewhere. I’m not sure I’m enjoying the writing process more, but it sure is making me a better writer.
Plus, I have a cute little toddler to keep me company this time around.
I’ve been using Scrivener since 1.0, and am happy to report that 2.0 is even better. For those of you who haven’t heard about Scrivener before, it is a fantastic tool for writers. And yes, I speak from personal experience. I’ve recently begun work on my second novel, and I am excited about what a different experience it’s been so far.
With Rusalka, I just…jumped in. If you want the honest truth, I needed a break from my graduate thesis, and thought writing a YA novel would be fun and relaxing. Ha! While it started out super fun, things turned ugly when I started trying to revise. I had many loose ends I hadn’t really thought out, and lots of inconsistencies. The problem is that once the thing is written, changing a character or (heaven forbid) messing with the order of key events represents an onerous overhaul of the entire novel. I’ve done it more times than I can count. It took a long time before I finally got to a place where I could look at my manuscript without a sense of dread or despair.
Enter Scrivener. This is an excellent program writers can use to research, organize, outline, and then write, a novel. I would highly recommend the brief tutorial.
I want to point out just a couple of my favorite things.
1. The Draft outline. While I stumbled upon Scrivener 1.0 a but too late for it to help me with my first novel, it has been a dream to use for my second. It has taken all of the confusion out of drafting. If I wake up in the night thinking, “No, that part should be toward the beginning,” I can rest easy knowing that it will simply involve switching two digital notecards in the morning, not restructuring pages of handwritten chicken scratch. I can’t emphasize enough how the program lends itself to the organization of thoughts.
I appreciate that I can switch between a linear and non-linear corkboard. Sometimes, an idea flies into my brain, but I don’t know where it goes in the book just yet. Fortunately, Scrivener has thought of that, and offers writers the free-form corkboard.
I also love that I can organize my research in Scrivener. I reference countless works of art, music, literature and architecture in my novels, and it helps to be able to pull up photos and sound recordings instantly, with or without a web connection.
If you end up trying the product, I hope you find it as helpful as I have. Happy writing!
Ever since beginning my research for Rusalka, I have been trying to make sense of this man:
Havel became president of Czechoslovakia in 1989, at the very end of the Velvet Revolution, and led his nation out of communism.
I was four years old. I didn’t even know what communism was. Sometimes, it is tempting as a member of a “younger generation” to leave recent history untouched. I have tried to figure out why this is the case. I’m obsessed with history. So why should the late 80s/early 90s be such a mystery to me? I’m not kidding, I blame social studies textbooks that ended with a chapter entitled, “Windows to tomorrow: 1970″. Inevitably, “current” events from the 1980s get to feeling like a bunch of stuff my parents talked about — stuff I didn’t understand. “Mom, why are those people standing on that broken, concrete wall?” “Where’s Kuwait?” “What’s a Valdez?”
Nevermind things that would have taken a natural backseat to the news I did understand: which is a four-year-old more likely to care about–a distant political figure or a bird covered in black goop? You get the idea.
I loved history in high school, and studied it further in college and grad school, but there always seems to be a blurry area on the timeline of my understanding that runs from about 1970 (the window to tomorrow!) and 2000, when I was old enough to actually start caring about politics and reading the news.
Watching the processions that follow his casket, hearing the laudatory remarks about Havel’s life resounding among world leaders–it is easy to see that we’ve lost someone important. Adding to the mystery is the fact that some people can’t seem to agree about him.
Even Havel, when talking about his life, reasserts a sense of enigma:
“[M]y life, my work, my position, everything I’ve done, seems intertwined with a suspiciously large number of paradoxes. [...] Over the years, for example, I’ve become known as a political activist, but I’ve never been a politician, never wanted to be one; I don’t have any of the necessary qualities for it. Both my opponents and my supporters see me as a political phenomenon, though nothing I do can be considered real politics.”
“I could make a long list of such paradoxes, but…I’ll conclude with some questions that I sometimes ask myself: How does it all fit together? Why don’t these paradoxical qualities cancel each other out instead of coexisting and cooperating with each other? What does all this mean? What should I think about it all? How can I—this odd mix of the most curious opposites—get through life, and by all reports successfully?” [from DISTURBING THE PEACE, Václav Havel, A Conversation with Karel Hvίžďala. translated by Paul Wilson. Knopf, 1990]
I have loved and hated trying to get to know this man. But we all must try to understand our history, including our most recent history, or in my case, the blurriest history. Connecting with people is one of the most meaningful purposes of our existence, and that includes connecting with the people who have come and gone before us, especially when they have, like Havel, dedicated their life to us, the people who will come and go afterward.
As an author who is about to self-publish, I think’s it’s clear that I’ve made my peace with not going the traditional route. Interestingly enough, though, it feels like the rest of the world hasn’t–even some other indie authors. Take a look at any article or blog post touching on the traditional vs. indie debate, and you’ll find it’s just that: a debate. And a very nasty one at that!
“Here’s the thing I want everyone to hear: WE ARE ON THE SAME TEAM…Writers are writers. Day to day we do the same things. And unless you’re one of the BIG TIME multi-million dollar deal writers, we’re ALL underdogs.”
If you’re an aspiring author (whether you’re going the indie or traditionally publishing route), I think you’ll enjoy her wise words. Check out her full article on Anne’s blog.
In light of my interest in letter-writing, this BBC article was just too awesome not to post:
At home with Schlamowitz: Gaddafi’s Jewish pen pal
By Laura Trevelyan
BBC News, New York
An elderly Jewish man from Brooklyn has spent decades as a pen pal to world leaders as diverse and unlikely as JFK, Ayatollah Khomeini and the recently deceased Col Gaddafi.
In Louis Schlamowitz’s cramped Brooklyn flat, a signed photograph from President John F Kennedy sits above an action shot of Gen Manuel Noriega of Panama, signed with best wishes.
And there is Mr Schlamowitz, wearing sideburns, meeting President Richard Nixon at the White House, just as the Watergate scandal gained momentum.
The Queen is one who got away – she has not personally responded to the indefatigable 81-year-old autograph hunter from Brooklyn’s Canarsie neighbourhood. At least not yet.
“The Queen only writes to people she’s met,” explains Mr Schlamowitz, a former florist and veteran of the Korean War.
He still treasures the three-decade-old photograph of the Queen and Prince Philip sent by Buckingham Palace.
Mr Schlamowitz has 60 albums packed with correspondence and signed pictures of world leaders, movie stars and sporting heroes of yesteryear.
It all began when he was deployed to Korea with the US Army in 1953 and a friend suggested he use a spare Christmas card to write to President Harry Truman, on the off chance the American leader would write back.
When the response arrived from the White House, Mr Schlamowitz found his calling.
He began scanning the newspapers, writing down the names of public figures, noting the dates of their birthdays and anniversaries.
“Not everybody replies to me, but most people do,” he says. “I write nice things to them, but it doesn’t mean I’m sincere.”
Mr Schlamowitz, an observant Jew, has corresponded avidly with Middle East leaders who do not recognise the state of Israel. He acknowledges that has earned him more than the occasional rebuke from rabbis.
“It doesn’t mean I agree with them,” he says. “I just want to add them to my collection.”
Mr Schlamowitz corresponded frequently with the late Libyan leader Col Muammar Gaddafi, for instance congratulating him on the anniversary of his revolution. In response he received lengthy letters railing against US and Israeli policy.
“I stopped writing to him in 2000,” Mr Schlamowitz says. “I got fed up with all the propaganda.”
His practice of writing to leaders hostile to the US has earned Mr Schlamowitz visits from the CIA, the FBI and the Department of Homeland Security over the years, he says.
Mr Gaddafi was a particular cause for concern: CIA agents wondered why Mr Schlamowitz was the pen pal of the leader of a government suspected of being behind the Lockerbie bombing.
“It’s just a hobby,” Mr Schlamowitz says he explained to the suspicious CIA officer.
“Hell of a hobby, Schlamowitz,” came the reply, he says.
Despite these interrogations by officialdom, Mr Schlamowitz remains particularly proud of his Middle East albums. They feature Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini of Iran, former PLO leader Yasser Arafat, and Egyptian President Anwar Sadat, assassinated in 1981.
The Arab uprising has swept away leaders to whom Mr Schlamowitz wrote, like Hosni Mubarak of Egypt, who sent Christmas wishes from Cairo to Canarsie.
“I think Mubarak did the right thing, stepping down,” Mr Schlamowitz reflects. “Gaddafi should have done the same. Politics is a brutal game.”
This treasure trove of autographs and memorabilia has led dealers and collectors to make the pilgrimage to Canarsie over the years.
Mr Schlamowitz has sold a few items from his JFK and Marilyn Monroe collections, but most of his albums remain intact, ultimately intended as gifts for his family.
He says he plans to write “again” to US President Barack Obama and First Lady Michelle Obama, and says he will pen a note to the governor of New York, Andrew Cuomo.
Mr Schlamowitz complains he cannot hold the pen as well as he once did, but he says the writing keeps him occupied.
“I feel good when they write back. I’m nothing special, just an ordinary guy, and now I’m part of history.”