Saturday, August 29, 2009

Anthologies: The Literary Equivalent of a Wine Tasting

I love anthologies. For me, they’re the literary equivalent of a wine tasting. I get to sample lots of different authors’ work to see what pleases my palate. I don’t have to make a major commitment to a particular author—I can try a little bit at a time, exploring myriad styles, themes, moods, characters, etc. If a story piques my interest, I can delve deeper into the author’s repertoire. If I don’t connect with a particular story or writer, I can move on to the next one. If variety is the spice of life, anthologies offer cinnamon, sage, paprika, tarragon, cumin, and more.
Over the years, many of my stories have been selected for publication in anthologies of various genres—mystery, romance, erotica, sports, supernatural, and literary. Some stories have even been translated into foreign languages, which got to be really amusing at times—try explaining baseball to Germans!
I’ve also been privileged to edit a number of anthologies. Recently I had fun editing a collection of erotic romance stories with environmental themes. I loved working with so many talented authors whose unique perspectives blended the unlike combination of sex and ecology––who knew so many intriguing possibilities existed?

Prior to that, I was a partner in the New England publishing company Level Best Books which each fall brings out an annual anthology of crime stories (some have won national awards). Working collaboratively with other authors and editors to create a cohesive, diverse, and enticing collection of stories is both a challenge and a pleasure. It’s like being part of an extended family of like-minded individuals who share a common goal. And the end result is a smorgasbord of literary delights––something for everyone.

Saturday, August 22, 2009

All You Need Is Love

The ancient Greek playwright Sophocles wrote, “One word frees us of all the weight and pain in life. That word is love.”
Admittedly, love is a pretty broad subject, and one that authors wiser and more gifted than I have addressed ad infinitum since the advent of the written word. Yet despite all that’s been said by poets and philosophers, mystics and musicians, in many ways love remains a complete mystery.

Perhaps that’s why I feel compelled to write about love in romance novels, suspense stories and mysteries, and even in nonfiction books (including a WIP titled Love Is the Answer to Every Question). Maybe that’s also why year after year romance novels outsell other literary forms.
Especially during these uncertain times, romance novels give us hope. The guy gets the girl and everyone lives happily ever after. But I think their appeal is more than that. Romances––even jalapeƱo-hot erotic ones––espouse old-fashioned values including loyalty, honor, courage, compassion, and perseverance in the face of challenges. Like the eighteenth-century French fairytale “Beauty and the Beast,” romance novels are about the transformative power of love and its ability to make us better people.
There’s some Beauty and some Beast in all of us, and in every relationship. Each close encounter provides an opportunity to love, not just the other person but ourselves as well. It could even be said that we unconsciously seek relationships so that we might transform our “beasts.” According to C. G. Jung, “The meeting of two personalities is like the contact of two chemical substances: if there is any reaction, both are transformed.”
I’m not talking about infatuation––that dizzying rush of euphoria that takes your breath away and makes your heart pound like a jackhammer. Infatuation isn’t about the other person, it’s about you––the projected image of yourself that you see mirrored in your partner. Infatuation is love in drag. And I don’t mean passion either. The word passion originally meant “to suffer.” From Camelot to Casablanca, storytellers have portrayed love as pleasure mixed with suffering. Literary fiction, contemporary dramas, and poetry often depict the all-too-familiar suffering that taints our real-life relationships.
In our jaded, self-absorbed, thrill-seeking society we put more emphasis on falling in love than on staying in love. As a result, nearly half of all marriages end in divorce. Romance novels, however, show us what’s possible if we make a commitment to love and realize that, as Marianne Williamson writes in A Return to Love, “to experience love in ourselves and others is the meaning of life.” Of course, infatuation and passion enliven the pages of “bodice-rippers” of every ilk––historical, paranormal, erotic, etc. But in the end, love prevails.
In The Phenomenon of Man, Pierre Teilhard de Chardin stated that “Love alone is capable of uniting living beings in such a way as to complete and fulfill them, for it alone takes them and joins them by what is deepest in themselves.” The Sufi poets tell us that divine love reveals itself to us through human love, and human love lights the path to divine love. Here’s one of my favorite poems, from the 14th-century Sufi master Hafiz:
All this time
The sun never says to the earth,
“You owe
What happens
With a love like that,
It lights the
That’s why I keep writing about love, keep believing in it, and daily make it the centerpiece of my life. I think John Lennon was right when he sang, “All you need is love.”
(The picture above is the Love card from my deck of original "Dream Divination" cards, copyright 2009 by Skye Alexander.)

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Where Do Characters Come From?

A few years ago, I was doing a live radio call-in show when a listener phoned in and insisted I’d used him as a character in my book. I told him I was flattered that he saw himself in one of my characters, but all my characters are fictitious. I dare say that’s true for most novelists and short story writers.
Of course, characters can be inspired by flesh-and-blood people. But they’re rarely carbon copies. Often they’re amalgams. A character might combine the traits of several people––your sister’s hair, your boss’s feisty temper, your best friend’s interest in archery. It’s not uncommon to give a character a few of your own attributes as well––or to endow him/her with qualities you wish you had. You can make your character taller, prettier, smarter, braver, richer––whatever you please––then send him/her out into the world to do all the things you’d like to do. How cool is that? We writers get to play God/dess.
Some characters seem to emerge “out of the blue.” Even the writer doesn’t know where they came from. They may turn up at your desk fully formed and demand a role in your story, or slip in the door quietly and begin sharing bits and pieces of themselves until you’re hooked. Characters have minds of their own and they can be quite insistent. They keep you awake nights talking. They distract you when you’re supposed to be busy doing your day job. If you let them, they’ll take over your book and try to run the show.
Writers have lots of imaginary friends. We never go anywhere without a few of them tagging along. Being a writer gives you license not only to talk to yourself, but to your characters as well. My characters like to ride in the car with me. When I started writing my first mystery novel Hidden Agenda, I didn’t know whodunit until I was halfway through the book. One day I was driving down the highway when the villain slid into the seat beside me and said, “We’ve all gotten together (meaning the characters in my book) and decided it’s time you knew. I’m here to tell you I did it.” Well, then I had to go back and rewrite the first half of the book.
Most readers I know say they must care about the characters in order to enjoy the book. Most writers I know believe that characters drive a book––if you really know and trust them, they’ll guide your story and when you get stuck they’ll bail you out. The problem for writers is, once you’ve finished the book, what do you do with the characters who’ve been an integral part of your daily life for months or maybe years? After all you’ve been through together, how can you just say “nice knowing you” and send them packing? For many of us, letting go is hard, maybe impossible. We don’t want to sever our ties, say goodbye to dear friends when the curtain falls. The answer? Write a sequel!

Saturday, August 15, 2009

Everything You Ever Wanted to Know About...

One of my publishers (Adams Media) has just launched a terrific new content-rich website to rival and other information sites. It features excerpts from books on subjects ranging from cooking to finance to tarot––including many from my books. I invite you to take a look––just click the link Everything New Age. Enjoy!

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Thanks to My Writer Friends

Today I'd like to thank my fellow writer friends for giving me space to speak out on the blog Un:Bound, and for sharing so many witty and wise comments. Special thanks to host extraordinaire Dana Fredsti (see Zhadi's Den). If you follow the links to their sites, you won't be disappointed.

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Reading and Writing in a Bad Economy

Turn on the TV, peruse a newspaper, and all you see is doom and gloom. Rising unemployment, falling stocks, crime, war, and disease. But read a romance novel and the protagonist lives happily ever after (or at least happily for now). Pick up a mystery novel and the bad guys get punished. Everything turns out the way it should.
That’s why, despite a dismal economy and declining book sales nationwide, “genre” books––especially romances and mysteries––continue to hold their own in the marketplace. Fantasy and sci-fi are doing okay, too. The truth is, we’re looking for an escape. We want to get away from the frustrations, the drudgery, and the uncertainty of our everyday lives. In a recent interview about her new book The Story Sisters, bestselling author Alice Hoffman says she began “reading to escape reality; now I’m writing to escape reality.”
We writers are charged with an awesome responsibility: to entertain our readers. Especially during these trying times, it’s our job to whisk readers away on a magic carpet ride to a place where dreams come true. To give you a thrill, to make you laugh, to help you forget (for a little while at least) the unpaid bills, the unappreciative boss, or the inattentive spouse.
Recently I read that movie attendance goes up during a bad economy because movies provide inexpensive entertainment and escape. If you do a cost-per-hour analysis, however, books offer one of the highest entertainment values around. An e-book that will keep you enthralled for several evenings costs about the same as a cup of fancy coffee at Starbucks or a large box of movie popcorn (and no calories).
I’m going out on a limb now, but I believe that reading “feel-good” books can actually make the world a better place. There’s a lot of talk among motivational speakers these days about how our thinking influences our realities. The more we focus on positive things, they say, the more positive things will come our way. Like attracts like. If they’re right, the first step toward a happier life is thinking happier thoughts. So instead of watching the news on TV, I’m going to read a book that puts a smile on my face. Maybe it really is that simple.
Here’s to happy endings!

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

Write What You Know

The best way to break into today’s highly competitive writing world is to follow an old axiom: write what you know. Are you an expert on fly fishing? Quilt making? Restoring antique cars? If so, you already have a niche market of fellow enthusiasts and potential readers. My neighbor Jim Stanley, a master naturalist and land management specialist, compiled his extensive knowledge into a soon-to-be-published book Hill Country Landowner’s Guide.
Your area of expertise might be your business––after all, no one knows more about your business than you. Writing a book sets you up as an authority in your field and can generate extra income. According to a study called “The Business Impact of Writing a Book,” 97 percent of the 200 authors surveyed said publishing a book benefited their businesses.
Maybe you want to write a memoir to preserve your family history for future generations. Or perhaps you’d like to share an abiding passion with readers. Photographer E. Joe Deering (who took my pictures for this blog) has a fascination with the Texas flag and colorfully conveys this in his new book Lovin’ That Lone Star Flag.
According to John Baker, editorial director of Publishers Weekly magazine, 85 percent of all books published annually are nonfiction. However, fiction titles generate more revenue. When you consider the recent growth of independent and online publishers, today more options exist for writers than ever before.
What’s your area of expertise? What’s your passion? If you write about something you know and love, your enthusiasm will shine through––to editors, agents, and readers.

Sunday, August 2, 2009

Getting Your Book to Readers

Your book is finally done! Once you’re over the thrill of seeing your name in print, you’re ready to start getting the book to your readers.
If you wrote your memoirs mainly for your children and grandchildren, this part of the job is simple. However, you may discover that people outside your family circle will want to read your book as well. Take copies to your high school or college reunion––former classmates might be eager to read about the good old days. Your pals at the VFW may be interested in your wartime experiences. Members of your church, country club, or social organization might be curious to see if you mentioned them in your book. People who share your love of bird watching, woodworking, or gardening are potential readers, too.
If your book serves as an adjunct to your business, you already have an established audience: your customers, clients, colleagues, and coworkers. Notify them that your new book is now available. Display a copy in your office and/or waiting room. Companies you do business with might also be willing to showcase your book. Take books to Chamber of Commerce meetings, business engagements, conferences, corporate functions––anyplace you’re likely to encounter people who might be interested in your services. Remember, having a book in print enhances your image as an authority in your field.
Always keep a few copies of your book in your car––you never know when you’ll run into somebody who wants to buy one.