Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Birthing a book

The joy of bringing a new book into the world sets my blood swirling and my lips spreading into a big old grin. I love being privy to the back story, to the formation, to the creator's frustrations and triumphs when writing a book. I've been allowed to view this grand event several times and each time I get giddy with joy at their triumph. The fact that I may have contributed in some small way makes me content that I've not lived this life in vain.

Once again I've been watching a gifted writer put his words together into a new book. Today I read a piece he's compiling from his memoir to offer to literary magazines. He has the heart of a poet with a touch of bawdy humor here and there. My kind of writing.

And yet, the subject of his memoir, it could be so maudlin and oh woe is me or he could bluster his way through and say 'it ain't so tough.' But he does none of those things, he gives the reader total honesty. Sometimes more than perhaps you'd want because the subject does make us face our own mortality. The author was stricken with polio at the peak of his young life, as he was stepping from childhood sandals into adult dancing shoes. Well, he could say it better. But by the age of 20 he had spent time in an iron lung, gave up his hard fought, almost achieved independence, and became totally dependent, even more so than old Blanche Duboise, on the kindness of strangers. His memoir takes us into a world where he travels by wheelchair 'boob high' to the world. I think that should be his title, by the way.

He's been struggling with rewrites for the past few months. Next he will face marketing and book signings and all of the things in between that writers rarely think of when trying to get one book sold. I hope he sells tons of books, makes the best seller's list, and sits down to write several more books. He is a voice that will add greatly to those already shouting from the bookshelves.

Watch for the name: Gary Presley. He has several items available to read online, his website and his blog site and his offerings to the Internet Writing Workshop blog as well as their book review site. Here are a few urls to consider:

Gary isn't my first encounter up close and personal with the pains of birthing a book. I worked for a year with Peggy Vincent as she labored over her memoir Baby Catcher: Chronicles of a Modern Midwife. Another voice that needs to be heard. And her sense of humor. I snorted my way through that book. Spit coffee on my keyboard, laughed out loud and scared the cat. And then so poignant. A life well lived. But oh, the book she could write NOW about the life she's living AFTER Baby Catcher.

And Linda Swink, a dear friend, and lifelong member of Toastmaster's and the book "Speak With Power and Grace" that she wrote about public speaking. One of the best and most helpful books I've read on the subject. It would have been longer, but she allowed me to do a bit of editing for her. "She's currently finishing up a much needed reference on men who have had a military installation named in their honor, titled Lest We Forget: The Naming of Our Military Installations." It should be published in 2008. The heroes she uncovered in her research -- it is a litany of bravery that has for the most part been long forgotten. A must read even if you aren't into military history and research.

I've reviewed a number of books through the years for various venues from Publisher's Weekly and Kirkus to Crescent Blues E'magazine and Gumshoe Review. I like to think that my reviews may have contributed a bit to the authors successes. Well, there might have been a few that I might have been a bit detrimental.... But several quote my reviews on their websites and on the back cover of their books -- those help me feel, again, as if I'm contributing something good and worthwhile.

And maybe, just maybe, after having reached my Nanowrimo goal ahead of schedule, maybe someday I'll get to go through this process with my own book. Keep your fingers crossed.

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

More Obsessing over Outlander

I have taken the next step toward total obsession and joined a 'discussion' group of Diana Gabaldon's "Outlander" series.

Bandied about among the 'ladies' of the list are names for possible actors to play the male protagonist of the series: Jamie Frazer. Val Kilmer someone said. Noooo. I couldn't see it. I could see him as a member of the Doors, but not as Jamie Frazer, Scottish Highlander.

Then I heard the name Gerard Butler.

Who the heck is that? What has he done? Well at the time of the writing of this blog I only know that his face has been set to a lot of tunes and turned into videos on YouTube. One in particular is a fascinating video of Mr. Butler trying out for the part of Jamie Frazer. I understand he is Diana Gabaldon's first pick (thus far).

After watching the video a couple of times, I'm also captivated by the woman appearing with him. But I don't know her name.

The idea of this fantasy figure being played by a mere man and having to put his face to what I have up until now only imagined -- I resisted the idea. Said I didn't believe the series should be made into a movie.

And yet, having seen Mr. Butler, perhaps the idea of a movie with him as Jamie Fraser has certain merit.

Thursday, November 8, 2007

Chunky may be healthy

My family has known for generations that a little insulation against the cold and lean times is a good thing.

My 92 year old grandmother knew it, my 96 year old mother knew it and they didn't worry (much) about the extra pounds. They might have worried more about the extra inches or misplaced fat supplies that looked more like angel wings, thunder things, or padunkadunk butt. Don't you love that word? Padunkadunk?

The women in my family were expert pie bakers, fried and cooked with butter, lard, and bacon fat, and savored and enjoyed every bite of food. They equated love with food. They cooked for their families because they loved them. They spent extra hours in the kitchen because food was a gift of the heart.

Cooking was an art and they exchanged recipes and shared tips and then there were the few dishes they excelled in and neither shared tips nor recipes. But it was a friendly rivalry and usually after the cook passed away, an offspring would share the recipe, maybe.

For several years doctors have disagreed with Grandma. They said that food hurts the heart, or rather the extra pounds that come from Grandma's pound cake, pies and fritters cause diabetes, kidney disease, heart attacks and strokes....

Other diseases have been equated to obesity including Alzheimer's Disease, pancreatic and colon cancer and breast cancer.

But today I read that an extra 22 pounds can be healthy. Finally vindication for Grandma from the U.S. Center for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta, Georgia.

"Researchers found Americans who are overweight are less likely to die of heart disease and cancers - including those commonly associated with excess weight, such as breast, kidney, pancreatic and colon cancer."

The timing of the release of this study is perfect. We can sit down at Thanksgiving dinner, eat a little more potatoes and gravy, an extra serving of cranberry salad, maybe even a thicker slice of pumpkin pie and know that we're making a healthy choice, although perhaps more fresh veggies, salad and green bean casserole might make us feel better at the end of the day.

Yet, the feeling of well being that comes from a full tummy and sharing a gift of food certainly gives us something to be thankful for.

Have you finalized your Thanksgiving plans? After this report's release, you may need to prepare a bit more food.

Friday, November 2, 2007

Novel writing in November

Chris Baty and twenty friends from the San Francisco Bay area had an idea that would help them write their novels and actually enjoy the process. They set a month aside to write their novels. Just write, no editing, no worry about content so much as number of words. 50,000 words in 30 days became the mantra and the goal.

That was in 1999. Today on the first day of nanowrimo: National Novel Writing Month -- 139,000 visits were logged on to the site.

The popularity of this project has risen exponentially with each successive year. The first year, July, 1999, 21 people gathered in the San Francisco Bay area and competed. Year two saw an increase to 140 participants, a world wide web site and the need for rules and regulations. The competition was moved to November to best use the crappy weather situation in San Francisco. If there really is crappy weather in SF? Chris Baty, nanowrimo originator, expected 150 people the next year, but 5,000 showed up. At the end of this hellish year for the site managers, Baty requested some contributions.

Here's what he wrote about that experience.

This was the start of my education in running an event without a mandatory entry fee. The biggest lesson of which is this: When you make contributions voluntary, very few people volunteer to contribute. No matter how great a time they had or how much they believe in your cause, 90% of participants just won't find their way to clicking on the PayPal link or mailing in a couple dollars.

The karmic repercussions of it all were mind-boggling to me. Who were these monsters? I'd spent the last month staying up till 3 am every night patiently answering emails, offering encouragement, and giving up every ounce of love and support that the Red Bull hadn't leached from my body. And when I asked for one dollar in return, they turned a cold shoulder? Was this the definition of community?

I spent a week or so frozen in that bitter, martyred pose until a public radio fundraising drive brought me out of it. The baritone-voiced radio announcer was trying to interest me in yet another Newsweek-filled pledge package, and I was looking around to find something to throw at the stereo. Which was when I realized what was happening.

My god, I thought. I suckle at the teat of public radio all year, and I have never once sent them a dime. Never. And how often had I ever given anything to charities or organizations I believed in?

By 2002, nanowrimo had a fully automated site and Chris and cohorts no longer pulled all nighters trying to keep up. The cult of nanowrimo lasts all year and there are regional groups and activities organized to maintain interest in the project.

One of the early years, I logged on and quickly fell behind in the project, never reaching the 50,000 word goal. Today I seem to be more driven to finish at least one book before I die. Having lived past the half century mark, thoughts of death have surpassed thoughts of liposuction. I'm beginning to feel comfortable with love handles and thunder thighs. But still, I want to finish that novel.

So I'm signed up once again for the 50,000 words in 30 days goal. I'm happy to say I have surpassed the 1/5th mark and am headed around the bend toward 20,000 words -- all on the same topic so it is conceivable that these words could be formed into a reasonable facsimile of a novel. I hope, I hope.

And I owe it to Diana Gabaldon who intrigues me with her writing and the faceless daisypappa person on nanowrimo's historic fiction forum who put it all in perspective with her comment:
I think you're being too hard on yourself. Holding up Gabaldon as the standard is just too much pressure. Write from your heart.
So to all of the nanowrimo contestants I wish a hearty GOOOD LUCK! Keep writing. You can do it. And to Chris Baty. Just look what you've started! Congratulations. But Chris, did you ever write or publish your novel?