October 31, 2012

Spooky Guest Post: William Shepard

Filed under: The Writing Life — jenny @ 1:33 pm

Sunsets In Singapore

We all know about the rise and crest of the vampire trend. Starting with Bram Stoker, moving onto Anne Rice and Stephanie Meyer, and I’m probably missing oh, a few hundred or so. Today as a Halloween treat, I have a genuine tale from the land of Dracula, from a writer who used his diplomacy background to begin a whole new genre. Nope, it’s not a vampire spinoff. But I think you will be intrigued by his books…

Happy Halloween! And if for you as for us, Storm Sandy postponed the candy collection, please let me know in a comment what you’ll be doing instead.

William Shepard

It was Halloween, October 31, 1970, and there I was, driving with my family from Budapest to Transylvania, Romania. We associated that wild land with horror movies from the 1930s, starring Bela Lugosi and perhaps Peter Lorre (both Hungarians from that region). My wife  had thoughtfully stocked up on “real” Halloween candy at the nearest US Army PX in Germany before our trip. Our daughter Stephanie was 8, her sister Robin was 7, and Warren, their brother, was four years old. We were assigned to the American Embassy in Budapest, and I had obtained Romanian visas for our weekend Halloween visit to the land of Dracula!

On the way, we all told stories. Just before the Romanian border we noticed a large cemetery, just right for inducing that Halloween feeling. We drove across the border, and through storied towns such as Kolozsvar (Cluj to Romanians). As we passed into this wildly scenic region, I remembered the opening of The Wolf Man, as a haunted Lon Chaney, tending an ox cart, wondered at the full moon and its career implications for him. Eventually we arrived at Timişoara, the main city in the western Romanian Banat region. It was also the location of Huniade (Hunjadi) Castle, a royal Hungarian residence that served as an inspiration, along with Bran and Oradea castles, to writer Bram Stoker when he wrote Dracula.

We checked into our hotel. There was just time enough to visit the castle before closing time. To show us how different our cultures were, on Halloween as the darkness loomed there were no children in costume, and no other visitors to the famous, forbidding castle, a fifteenth century gloomy pile with the spookiest squeaky swinging gates I’ve ever heard. Our family was the last group for the day, and we saw the tower, the great hall, the courtyard and the dungeon. The dungeon created the greatest impression, with massive walls and hopeless aspect, and a massive oaken door leading below that creaked in a solemn drone that I can still hear.

As we left the castle to rerun to our hotel, I asked the guide if there was anything to the Dracula legend. He  looked at our children, smiled and said as he closed the door, that of course there was nothing to it, provided one was safely back in the hotel room before the darkness fell. We all raced across the streets back to our hotel. The children woke up the next morning to Halloween candies and decorations, and rich stories to tell their classmates on Monday.

And as we passed the Hungarian frontier on Sunday afternoon I glanced at the cemetery we had seen earlier. There were many people there, and every grave had flowers. It was traditional All Souls Day and the people were remembering their loved ones, communist government or not. The weekend became part of my recent Ebook, “Sunsets In Singapore: A Foreign Service Memoir,” for we had all experienced in Transylvania the power and lure of storytelling…

Prize winning mystery writer William S. Shepard is the creator of a new genre, the diplomatic mystery, whose plots are set in American Embassies overseas. This mirrors Shepard’s own career in the Foreign Service of the United States.

His diplomatic mystery books explore the insider look into the world of high stakes diplomacy and government. The first four books in the series are available as Ebooks. Shepard evokes his last Foreign Service post, Consul General in Bordeaux, in Vintage Murder, the first of the series of four “diplomatic mysteries.” The second, Murder On The Danube, mines his knowledge of Hungary and the 1956 Revolution. In Murder In Dordogne Robbie Cutler and his bride Sylvie are just married, but their honeymoon in the scenic southwest of France is interrupted by murders.

October 26, 2012

It Takes a Village

Filed under: Frontstory — jenny @ 4:46 pm

I don’t do this on the blog very often, but I think I have to talk a little about the mechanics behind my upcoming book release. Something happened the other day that really stood out in my mind.

I think I am a slow-on-the-uptake writer. I have my process, and insofar as it works, it works very well–at least, I am deeply immersed in the bliss of it all. But I had a *lot* to learn and it took me a long time to learn it. I wrote seven novels before one was acquired. I struggle with the question, even with all those books in various drawers around the house, of whether I know much of anything about this at all.

And for the novel that was finally bought, there were 18 drafts beforehand. Then 3 more rewrites for my brilliantly amazing/amazingly brilliant editor, plus another superb editor at the house who seemingly magically became part of this road, then a copy edit using track changes, before the hard copy manuscript was FedEx-ed so I could go over page proofs, and then a final minute review of remaining things, until I finally, FINALLY finished editing COVER OF SNOW.  I couldn’t have done it without any of the above-named people, not to mention the army in the production department who have a truly unbelievable eye for spelling, syntax, grammar, logic, and details.  To give but one example, I got an email from the production editor with the following:

P. 186
“A river moves sluggishly through the center of town”
Proofer asks if okay to change “through” to “past”
“A river moves sluggishly past the center of town”
As Troy is all on one side of the Hudson, and Watervliet is across from it.

And they are correct:

Troy, NY

We have a dish at my house called Mommy’s Famous Couscous. I think, in reality, this may not be famous. (I mean, have you heard of it?) It’s pretty simple: slivered onions in olive oil, toast the couscous, then finish it all in chicken stock. Anyway, if you try it you may find as I do that it’s a hit with the kids. Even when my son was too little to say couscous, he would ask for it. He called it: tiny things. As in, Can I have more tiny things?

The eye for accuracy, combined with the sense of language, the editorial passion someone has to have to read a sentence like that and know (or think to look up) that the Hudson river, strictly speaking, does not go through Troy, but past it, amazes me.

The investment in making one single book the best it can possibly be is humbling. And to that genius proofer, whose name I haven’t even yet learned, thank you so much.

For caring about the tiny things.

October 24, 2012

Made It Moment: Chris Lynch

Filed under: Made It Moments — jenny @ 12:08 pm

One Eyed Jack

I dare you to read Chris Lynch’s Moment and not get chills. Go on–I dare you. What Chris says is just so true. And yet I never would’ve thought of it myself, at least not in these words. And if that, plus the meaty facts in Chris’ bio–hint: mountains are summited–weren’t enough, here’s a link to an amazing book trailer.  This one’s like watching a super, super short movie–it needs a new Oscar category. Thank you, as always, dear blog readers for coming by. Here’s to all of our linked Moments, every day.

Chris Lynch

I wrote for twenty years before I really discovered writing. By that, I mean that I was so focused on “making it” by getting a sale and being published, that I left my passion for what I was writing about on the shelf. It was a huge mistake that costs me two decades of work.

It was only after I realized that I needed to write about what I was truly interested in, that I finally made that first sale. And then, it was another sale, and then another one. A year later, I had racked up five sales, all because I finally understood that selling was not what I should be focused on – loving what I wrote was.

Along the way, there were many firsts that could be considered an easy fit in the “Made it Moment” category. But I felt then, as I still do today, that writing is a journey that never really ends. The best book a writer ever wrote is the one that they are going to write.

But there were some high points along the way, such as:

  • My first “By” line. To see one’s name in print for the first time is definitely a rush.
  • The first check or royalty payment. Now we’re talking validation! You mean I even get paid for this?
  • The first time I held my novel in my hand. Yep, that was very special.
  • Praise from a peer, author Kathy Bennet. She was crazy busy trying to get ready for two writer’s conferences as well as her own daughter’s wedding. She told me that she should have never picked up my novel, because when she did, she was hooked from the first three sentences, and could not put it down until she was finished.

While these were all obviously memorable moments, one really stands out. A woman that I met at a party had heard that I published my first novel. She asked me if there was any way I could talk to her son, an aspiring writer. I said that I would, and she called him up and he raced over to the party.

We sat talking for close to an hour, with me telling him about my journey and how a person needed to love writing in order to really be a writer. He hung on every word, and at the end of the day thanked me profusely, pumping my hand. That was when I realized that if I could help someone else achieve his or her own “Made it Moment,” then I had actually made it myself.

Christopher Lynch is a Southern California native and a freelance writer living in Los Angeles. Besides fiction, he enjoys writing on a variety of subjects and has written screenplays, magazine and newspaper articles, a Mystery Dinner Play, and will soon publish a children’s picture book, “Wally the Water Drop in: I am also a Cloud and a Snowflake.”

He is also an avid cyclist and a mountain climber with successful summits of Mount Whitney, Mount Shasta, Mount Kilimanjaro in Africa, Mount Kalapatar in Nepal, and has recently completed a trek to Mount Everest Base Camp.

October 17, 2012

Made It Moment: Roy Stolworthy

Filed under: Made It Moments — jenny @ 8:26 am

Coming Home

Oh, how I chuckled reading Roy Stolworthy’s Moment. You know the kind of chuckle I mean? It hurts in the pit of your stomach? You kind of wince and shut your eyes to avoid seeing the mirror held up? I was right there with Roy when I began life as a writer. In fact, we even sent out the exact same number of queries in our first two rounds. How strange that Roy expected to be the first writer ever to strike gold instantly–that was supposed to be me, and there could hardly be two of us. The writing life smacks you in the face with reality like a cold, clammy dishtowel. But read on to see how Roy finally struck something even richer than gold…a true sense of making it.

Roy Stolworthy

It was done; what had started out as 90,000 words was now 140,000. ‘Going Home to Ruby’, set during the First World War, was my baby, mine to love and cherish along with my characters. They were my family, and after all, it was me who breathed life into them. I happily paid out almost £1,000 to an editor, cocooned in the knowledge I’d get that back triple tenfold.

I purchased the Writers’ & Artists’ Yearbook; I was, after all, a writer, and shortly publishers and agents would be hammering non-stop on my door. Three chapters were duly printed into hard copy, along with a covering letter, and posted. Six weeks later, a letter arrived with a rejection note. They were crazy; what was their problem? So I printed out five more hard copies and sent off all six at once to different agents. Eventually I would simply deal with the highest bidder. Six weeks later, six rejection letters fell through my letter box. My world collapsed; I was distraught.

Depressed, I skulked around for a month. Then I decided to enter the first three chapters in a competition run by the Brit Awards 2010 for unpublished work. Over the following six months, the work was selected into the final 140 from 26,000 entries. I sat unwashed and starving by the computer waiting for the e-mail telling me I had won the £10,000 prize and a publishing contract. Again, the gods had deserted me and it never came.

Weeks later, I received an e-mail from my editor enquiring whether I’d had any luck. I told her I wasn’t much bothered, which was a big lie. She gave me the number of a publisher to call; they asked for three chapters. Two weeks later, I received an e-mail asking for the whole book. I drifted up to the stars.

Three weeks later, I was invited to their offices close to London to discuss a contract with a view to publication; my head swirled. A young assistant editor waxed lyrical over my book. She said there wasn’t a single word out of place. I made my own deal and was informed a contract would be sent to me within the next three weeks. I don’t remember driving home. Four months later, after repeated phone calls, it finally arrived. Twelve months later, they missed the first publication date and I couldn’t contact them. I wanted to die.

So I contacted the Writers’ Guild, which I had joined as a form of insurance, and they took up my case. One month later, the director of the publishing company came to my house and apologised. They still wanted my book, but couldn’t afford to pay the advance. I said fine, it isn’t a crime to be short of money, and anyhow, I was desperate to see my name in print. They missed the next deadline, and I told them I was pulling out and they could do with me as they wished. I heard no more.

I was down, shattered. Eventually, I entered the book on Amazon as an e-book. Then another publisher showed an interest, and twelve months ago contracts were signed. After another nerve-wracking twelve months, the book is to be released on 18th October 2012 under the new title ‘Coming Home’ – it was their suggestion and I wasn’t about to argue. A second book is in the offing, in which they are taking a keen interest.

It was here at long last, that special moment.

Roy Stolworthy lives in Northampton, England. At the age of seventeen he joined the RAF as ground-crew. On completion of his term of service he worked in the Middle East as a lecturer in Welding Science & Processes. On return to the UK he formed his own magazine distribution company. Later, he formed a short loan company, which proved to be very successful and led to his early retirement. Coming Home is his first book and he has since written a further two books entitled All In, and The Dancing Boy.

October 3, 2012

We women who write

Filed under: The Writing Life — jenny @ 1:25 pm

I was asked to give the keynote address at the fabulous WomenWhoWrite conference in Madison, NJ this fall. Readers of this blog will know what a crazy honor that felt like to me. I mean, I’m the writer–but was I? really? a writer?–who for eleven years couldn’t reach the starting gate. Who kept seeking out other writers–real authors, I mean–and saying, like the orangutan in the Disney movie of The Jungle Book, “I want to be like you.”

Now here I was about to speak to a roomful of inspiring women who were walking/trudging/crawling along the same winding road and hoping to glean some hint of where to twist or turn. Here’s a transcript of the talk, in which I explained the landscape as I see it at this stage of the game. I hope you might find this helpful…please write and keep the conversation going!

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