Friday, October 26, 2012

Books and Life Stages

by Margaret Dilloway          

Books are miraculous creatures. Returning to them at different stages in your life yields different results. I think the best books provide multiple layers to many people, at various points of being.
            For example, my book club recently re-read The Great Gatsby. Many of the women hadn't read it since high school. “All I remembered,” said one reader, “was the big, awesome party.” Some who had thought Gatsby a romantic figure now wanted to slap him. More details were noted and discussed. We all agreed that our high school reading was much different than our adult reading.
            Reading Little Women as an adult versus a child was different, too. As a child, I remember how I couldn’t believe Jo refused Laurie. They were best friends, and he was rich and handsome. What more could she want? How ungrateful, I thought. Plus, Christian Bale played him in the movie! Who in her right mind could turn down a mooning, gentle Christian Bale? As an adult (but seriously, not until I was at least thirty, I think), I better saw how they were unsuited for each other, how young they were, and how Jo actually made the more difficult, mature decision to break it off, recognizing that ultimately they'd both be unhappy, and that she needed to pursue her dreams. What wisdom! Which proves my mother-in-law’s creed that a person should not get married until age thirty—or, perhaps, not until you understand Jo’s decision.
            Even “light” kids’ books can be extremely affecting. We are listening to Tales of a Fourth Grade Nothing, by Judy Blume, in the car. If you don’t remember, it’s about Peter Hatcher, whose two-year-old brother, Fudge, is a holy terror. I remember reading it when I was in third grade or so and thinking how crazy and bratty Fudge was. Everything horrified me. I cried when Fudge ate Peter’s turtle. Yes, his parents bought him a dog, but still. That turtle was gone, washed away by Milk of Magnesia and prune juice (Blume does not shy away from gory details).
            As a parent, I recognize that Fudge’s antics are mostly just regular toddler stuff. Some of them were just what my son had done, like the mega tantrum Fudge throws in the shoe store. My son nearly kicked the poor shoe saleswoman in the face when she was trying to measure his feet. Like Fudge, he was crazy and completely unreasonable at age two. My kids and I were laughing our heads off.
            When Peter’s mom goes away for the weekend and leaves them at home with their dad, Dad decides to make a mushroom omelet. It’s a huge omelet and Peter asks how many eggs Dad used. “Twelve,” Peter’s Dad replies. What’s funny is that my husband did almost the same thing for me when we first got together, except he used thirteen eggs and no mushrooms. My kids know the story of my husband’s cooking and laughed along with it. I remember reading that passage as a kid and thinking nothing of it. Maybe I remembered it on some level and it endeared my husband to me. 
            This time, I still cried a little when Fudge ate the turtle.
            It’s easy to see, just from a cursory glance at reviews, how dissimilar readers are. Your life experience affects how you read a novel. I hope that people will return to one of my books later, too, and get something new out of them. It’s something to aspire to.

Friday, October 19, 2012

The Walking Home Challenge

by Susan McBeth
Friday, October 19, 2012

Walking Home.  It's a simple phrase that
generally conjures up a physical destination and, as such, it is likely we do not put much thought into any other context. Whether we are walking home from school, walking home from the park, walking home from work, walking home from a friend's house, or walking home after a neighborly visit, we all understand the meaning conveyed by those two words.  Yet, recently, I felt compelled to ponder the significance beyond returning to the dwelling in which I sleep, eat, and live.

First, let me explain why this recently provoked my intrigue and, for those who know me, you won’t be surprised to know there was a book involved.  Lynn Schooler, an award-winning author and photographer, penned his most recent book, Walking Home, after a difficult period in which he lost a close friend and felt his marriage nearing an end. To clear his head and put his life in perspective, he decided to undertake a lengthy “walk” through the Alaskan wilderness, during which time he struggled with multiple physical as well as emotional challenges
Throughout his beautifully written memoir, Lynn shares not only his expertise in Alaskan culture, history, wildlife, and geography, which is extensive given his forty years as an internationally-renowned wilderness tour guide, but he also shares his innermost thoughts and fears of where his life is heading at this crucial crossroads.  And the keen powers of observation he possesses allows him to eventually reconcile his place in the intricate web of life so that he really can begin Walking Home.
As I finished his book and started processing my vision of what Walking Home really represented to me, I was interested in (okay maybe slightly obsessed with) trying to capture that image in a photograph.  Of course it was important to me that the book Walking Home be included in the photo since it was, after all,  the impetus for this challenge.  I recently spent a week in the Alaskan wilderness outside of Juneau with Lynn Schooler, where every day, I looked for an opportunity to capture Lynn’s spirit and my vision of “Walking Home” in the perfect photograph.
I didn’t know what such a photo would look like, only that I would know it when I saw it.  About four days into the trip, we were hiking through a stunning rain forest in which we had to cross a bridge over a creek. We stopped to marvel at some chum salmon spawning at the end of their miraculous journey in the creek bed below.  I confess I was initially traumatized by the sight of their struggling, deformed, end-of-life bodies, until we were distracted by nearby bear tracks in the mud, and it quickly became evident why these salmon were hell-bent on their aquatic version of Walking Home.
Once I understood that these perseverant creatures were merely playing their own small role in the intricate web of life that Lynn set out to understand as he was Walking Home, I felt free to leave them in peace to complete their journey.  It was at that precise moment that I looked over the bridge ahead and saw it, a serpentine path leading into the forest beyond.  In a few minutes, we would head down that path and could speculate, but never know for certain, what was to follow until we ourselves started Walking Home. 
I stopped there to capture the photo that matched the image in my head.  This is what Walking Home means to me, but I am intrigued to know what it means to you, so I challenge you, dear reader to really put some thought into this and let me know what Walking Home means to you. Bonus points if you go out and read a copy of Walking Home by Lynn Schooler, create your own image in your head, and then include the book in a photographic representation and email it to me at 

Monday, October 15, 2012

Your Book Promotes You!

By: Zoe Ghahremani

People ask me, “How did you promote your book?” Which is often a polite way to say, “How did the first English novel of an unknown writer with an unpronounceable name make it this far?” They are not alone as I continue to ask myself the same question. I’ve thought about this for some time and think I may have found the answer.

What most writers underestimate is the readers’ power. We think we know what they need to read. But readers are on to us as they see right through what is written for “the market.” Such writing may see a fleeting success, but it will not last long on the shelf. You can try to sell what you think will sell, but in this day of bad economy and little time, people are more selective about what they read. Also, weary of false advertisements and book pushers, most people seek advise from friends or their friendly bookstore. And thanks to the Internet, satisfied readers can broadcast their finds to the entire world.

Writers are readers first. We read more than anyone in any other profession. I try to read a book a week – though I don’t always succeed – and know of colleagues who read even more. So I write what I can imagine spending money and time on. It’s important to sit back, wipe all other ideas from your mind and read your manuscript as a book you imagine you just bought. Does the content hook you? Do you have a hard time putting it down? Does it present a fresh voice? The questions are many and you’ll need to answer them with honesty. Don’t forget, you’re now a reader and not the writer in need of positive feedback!

San Diego is a literary rich city. Most people may not know it, but there are hundreds of writers, poets, and capable editors right here. We also enjoy multiple literary organizations and benefit from each other’s support. I have been a fortunate member of a few and served on the board of two major ones. In addition, having attended over 120 local book clubs this year alone, I am overwhelmed by the number of readers and the high level of public interest in books. But the amazing fact is that I did not find my readers, they found me!

Here I was, a writer living in my little computer cave, typing away. It was the reader who found my book and brought it to the table when a committee gathered to nominate a book for the city to read. And in the end, it was the readers who voted for it. In fact, I later learned that not just one, but that two other committee members had also presented my book on that fateful day! I still have no idea who the committee members are. Yes, I had the pleasure of meeting a couple of them after the selection of my book, but know nothing about the other members and/or the details of the selection process.

The year has been a fantastic journey to Cloud Nine, but as my tennis coach used to say, “You’re only as good as your next shot!” While I prepare for the imminent publication of my next novel – The Moon Daughter – I ask myself three major questions. “Is this book as strong as my last one, or am I letting down my readers?” Then I wonder, “Would I enjoy reading this book if I wasn’t the writer?” and, “Would I pay $15.00 to purchase it?” Readers have set the bar so high that I must answer these important questions with utmost honesty.

Last year, as I prepared to send the manuscript to print, I realized my answer to the first question was not entirely positive. I recalled the many times that an author’s second book had not met my expectation. I didn’t want to be such an author. So I took the manuscript out of its box and worked at it another entire year. Now with three strong ‘yes’s, I proceed with its publication and hope to have it out soon. How soon? Only after I see that the galley looks perfect and that it is absolutely worthy of the readers who deserve nothing but the best. Will San Diegans enjoy The Moon Daughter? I don’t have the answer. My novel does.