Thursday, September 5, 2013

J.K. Rowling Finds an Angel

I was outside helping my husband with yard work earlier in the year when my neighbor, Barbara, called, "Peggy."

I gladly abandoned my chore to have a nice chat.

"I just read the most moving book. You have to read it," Barbara said.

"What is it?" I asked.

"Wait, I'll get it for you." Barbara ran into her house and quickly returned with the book, I Wouldn't Change a Thing by Gina Peca.

"Oh yeah," I said. "I've been meaning to buy that."



Gina M. Peca


Gina is an amazing woman who took writing classes at East Line Books and Literary Center in Clifton Park, NY, just like me. Gina attended in the morning and I went in the evening. She was writing a memoir and I was writing a novel. Word about Gina's inspirational story of how she dealt with her daughter, Caitie's cancer and eventual death spread through the bookstore and our community. You see, it's not a tale of misery and hopelessness. It's a story of how Catie turned her cancer diagnosis into an unexpected adventure and took her mom along for the ride.

One of Catie's adventures involved an email she sent to J. K. Rowling. Gina explains in I Wouldn't Change a Thing, "Catie wanted the author to know how much Harry Potter meant to her, how much his antics amused her and kept her mind off her battle with cancer." Together, they searched the Internet for J.K. Rowling's email address. They couldn't find it, but sent the letter to her publishing company anyway. To their surprise, Ms. Rowling received the message and replied. Here is the first email Catie received from the beloved author:

Dear Catie...Your friend Paul Steinberg has written to tell me how much you like Harry Potter books and I can't tell you how much it meant to me. I am working very hard on book four at the moment—on a bit that involves some new creatures Hagrid has bought along for the Care of Magical Creatures classes. This is TOP SECRET, so you are allowed to tell Paul, Simon and your mom and nobody else, or you'll be getting an owl from the Ministry of Magic for giving secrets away to Muggles. With lots of love, J.K. Rowling (Jo to anybody in Gryffindor).

That began an email correspondence between Catie and J.K. Rowling that continued until Catie's death in 2000. The author was so captivated by the nine-year-old's charm and courage, that she called Catie when the end was near and read from the unfinished Book 4 of the Harry Potter series. Here's what Gina says about their relationship, "No matter what was happening during Catie's treatment, Jo made everything better. Her kindness and willingness to take the time to write to Catie show that J.K. Rowling is more than an author. She is a sorceress who brought joy and excitement to a very sick child."
   
J.K. Rowling was certainly the most famous person in Catie's short life, but she also embarked on plenty of other escapades that would make Harry Potter proud. Attending a prom with her special friend, Kevin, cheering at a Yankee game, and convincing her parents to buy a husky puppy—all while she was going through chemotherapy, extensive tests, and hospital stays.

There is a warning if you decide to read  I Wouldn't Change a Thing. You will cry, but it will be a mixed kind of cry. One of sadness about how a wonderful family lost their treasure of a child. But stronger...one of inspiration on how to live joyfully, to take chances, to stay positive, and to embrace each moment.

Of course, Gina was devastated when Caitie passed, but she didn't wallow in her sorrow. She took action. Gina and her husband, Larry, founded the Catie Hoch Foundation to help families of children with cancer. Guess who one of the first donors was?

 J.K. Rowling. She made a donation of $100,000 along with this message:

 "Catie left footprints on my heart."


It's impossible to summarize all of the heartwarming moments in this book. You'll just have to read it. All proceeds from this book benefit the Catie Hoch Foundation. You can learn more about the foundation and buy your copy of I Wouldn't Change A Thing at  http://www.catiehochfoundation.org/  


"The stories we love best do live in us forever. So, whether you come back by page or by big screen, Hogwarts will always be there to welcome you home."—J.K. Rowling









J.K. Rowling &
Catie Hoch

A Special Friendship





Gina Peca will be signing copies of  I Wouldn't Change a Thing
at Northshire Books, Broadway, Saratoga Springs, NY on Friday, September 13 from 6:00-8:00 p.m.







Friday, August 16, 2013

Coffee Shops: A Writer's Studio


Writers have been taking their pens, notepads, typewriters, and computers to coffee shops to work on their stories for years. In fact, some of the most famous novels and literary moments of all time were inspired and written in cafes. For example:
 
    
J.K. Rowling sat writing Harry Potter in the back room of the elephant house
in Edinburgh, Scotland

 
 
La Rontonde in Paris hosted authors like Ernest Hemingway, F. Scott Fitzgerald,
and T.S. Eliot
 

 

 I guess I'm in good company because I often leave the distractions of home, pack up my laptop, and drive into town to work on my day's writing.
 
Why do I find inspiration in a coffee shop?
 
Maybe I'm enthused by the energy of other writers. Maybe there's nothing else to do but write until my large cup of coffee is finished. Maybe the scents of cinnamon scones and a nutty Arabic dark blend stimulates creative power. Maybe its because they bake better blueberry muffins than me...  
 
...and maybe there are similarities between writing a novel and ordering a cup of coffee. They have both become more complex in the 21st century. Just like tall, dark, and handsome is considered cliche when describing a male character, coffee with only cream and sugar is on the dull side. Look at some of the choices I have at one of my favorite writing studios, Coffee Traders in Saratoga Springs, NY.       
 
 
 
 
 
Once you select the kind of coffee to add ambiance to your writing session, you must decide what to put in it:



Choosing your coffee du jour is just as difficult as choosing how to describe that handsome man in your story. Should he be a musician with a crooked smile, shoulder-length black silky hair, and electric blue eyes; a baseball player with tousled sandy brown hair, a lanky physique, and mocha eyes behind wire-rimmed glasses; a polished red-headed businessman with an Irish brogue whose wild eyes scream to escape from the confines of his three-piece suit. I guess I'll have to head to my favorite cafe and see who emerges on the page.
 
"My ideal writing space is a large cafe with a small corner table near a window overlooking an interesting street."—J. K. Rowling 
 
 
Where do you go when you want a different milieu to write, work, read, etc.?   
 
 
BOOK OF THE WEEK:
 
The You Code by Judi James  & James Moore delineates what coffee choices say about your personality (among other unique personality indicators). A great tool for matching coffee and characters. Examples are:
 
The espresso drinker - "The unfiltered cigarette of the coffee drinking world." Espresso drinkers tend to be moody, hard-bitten, and hard working.
 
The black coffee drinker - This type is all about minimalism and take a no-frills, direct approach to life.
 
The latte drinker - Typically metrosexuals or cuddly-toy collectors, latte drinkers are pleasers with an overwhelming compulsion to be liked.
 
A Fun Book!
 
 
 
 
 
 
 Cafes
Another joy along the novel journey! 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

Saturday, July 27, 2013

Start Your Novel Like a Country Song




 

Why is Snoopy working so hard on the first line of his book? Is it really that important?

Here's how literary agent, Michelle L. Johnson answers in an interview on Chasing the Crazies blog. "I can’t stress enough how important it is to give a great first line. A good first line should catch the reader off guard and set up the tone of the book."

Like Snoopy, writers trying to break into the publishing industry are acutely aware about the significance of a extraordinary beginning for their story. It is rumored that literary agents receive between 100-to-200 query letters per week from debut authors seeking their representation. Most agents sign-on  between two to ten new clients each year, and the vast majority of publishers won't look at an author's book without that agent.

Yup! It's competitive in  the book world. That's why a writer has to grab an agent's attention with the first line. Talk about pressure. You could have written the next Gone with the Wind, but without a sizzling opening a potential bestseller could be tossed in a slush pile.




What make a great first line? Lucy told Snoopy to use, "Once upon a time."

What does Michelle Johnson say? "The most important thing to me is to connect with the main character. If I care about the character quickly and deeply and that character feels real to me, I will want to read the entire book. If the character is intriguing but the writing not polished, it will quickly eliminate my desire to read on."

Let's see how some recent bestsellers from my bookshelf start:

Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn:   "When I think of my wife, I always think of her head."

Wild by Cheryl Strayed:   "My solo three month hike on the Pacific Crest Trail had many beginnings."

The Orphan Train by Christina Baker Kline:   "Through her bedroom wall Molly can hear her foster parents talking about her in the living room."

The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry by Rachel Joyce:   "The letter that would change everything arrived on a Tuesday."

The first thing that came to mind about these beginnings is originality. I haven't read lines like this before, so I'm assuming the author is creative. The second thing is I find myself asking why. Why does the man (Nick) in Gone Girl think of his wife's head; Why did Cheryl Stray's trek have many beginnings?; Why is Molly in foster care and what are her temporary parents saying?; Why did the letter change everything? The authors have enticed me to move on to line two. Hopefully, the intrigue will continue (and it did in all of the above books).

Some of the best beginnings I've ever heard haven't been in books, however. They're hiding in country songs. Check out these opening lines:

"In a bar in Toledo, across from the depot, on a bar stool she took off her ring." from Lucille by Kenny Rogers

"Fifteen minutes left to throw me together for Mr. Right Now, not Mr. Forever." from Settlin' by Surgarland

"I'm on the side of the road with a car that won't go and the night won't even give me a moon." Brokedown Cadillac by Brokedown Cadillac

If those lines were written at the start of a book, I'd be instantly hooked. Instead of Lucy telling Snoopy to begin with Once upon a time, she should have advised him to turn on the radio. Lots of powerful examples are just a song away.
   
What are some of your favorite opening lines from either a book or a song? Did the remainder of the story live up to the expectation?

A LITTLE SOMETHING EXTRA:

Here's the entire version of Settlin' by SurgarlandA winner from beginning to end:



              

Sunday, July 21, 2013

Writing Wisdom From Author Carol Fragale Brill

Several years ago I took a creative writing course at a local college. The instructor asked me how I chose the books I read. I honestly replied, "I'm a front of the book store kind of buyer." She gaped at me in horror. I forgot exactly what she said, but I remember receiving a polite, but irritated lecture about mid list authors who create brilliant works.

I mulled over the instructor's point and decided to broaden my literary experiences. After all, reading only bestsellers is liking only going to arena concerts featuring superstar musicians while some of the best talent is performing at coffee houses, pubs, and intimate theaters.

Changing my habit was challenging. It's not easy finding an "I can't put it down" relatively unknown book. Right now there are over 8.5 million books offered on Amazon.com. Hmmm. Which one should I pick?


Amazon Warehouse
No wonder they're pushing the Kindle!

That is why I'm a frequent user of the online book club, Goodreads. It makes the task of finding that perfect book so much easier.  One author I discovered on Goodreads is Carol Fragale Brill. She wrote a provocative debut women's fiction novel called Peace by Piece
 
 


 
Here's are the first four sentences from the back cover description:
 
Six years after Thomas's unfaithfulness in college, Maggie has nearly given up on love. Enter Izzie, a motherless eight-year-old, and every maternal instinct kicks in. With Izzie's dad, Maggie waits for the magic: a spark, a quiver racing up her spine. The thrill never comes, but the ordinariness of his kisses and marriage proposal make her feel safe.
 
You can just imagine the rest!
 
Who is Carol Fragale Brill and how did she embark on a novel journey? Read on...
 
 

 Carol Fragale Brill
 
Carol's fiction received recognition from Poets and Writers and was a readers' favorite for The Best of Philadelphia Stories. Her work has also appeared in Wide Array, New York Journal of Books, the Press of Atlantic City, and various e-zines and business journals. She earned a MFA in Creative Writing from Fairleigh Dickson University. In her "day job" in Leadership Coaching and Organizational Development she frequently uses stories in training.  
 
Carol answers to few questions about her novel quest:
 
1. Your novel, Peace by Piece, explores many facets of love. Where did you get the idea for your story?
 
I’ve been a sucker for love stories ever since my parents read me bedtime fairytales when I was five or six—my favorites where always the ones where the girl overcame obstacles and got the prince.
 
I read a lot of women’s fiction, and rarely see realistically portrayed characters with anorexia and bulimia. I felt women were ready for a character like Maggie, but didn’t want her to be simply a character with an eating disorder. I wanted women to recognize themselves in Maggie’s desires and relationships and to identify with her daily struggles. We all have loves, relationships, and challenges. For Maggie, one of those challenges just happens to be an eating disorder.
 
2. Do you have a favorite character? If so, who and why?
 
 
As the point of view character, Maggie is the character I know the best. We lived in each other’s heads for years trying to tell this story just right. I guess that makes her my favorite. But Lilly—for her unwavering friendship, Nan—for her spirit, and Rose—for her sense of humor, are all women I’d pick as friends.
 
3. Have you always wanted to be a writer? What helped you the most when studying creative writing? 
 
 
I look back now and realize there were signs when I was pretty young that I wanted to be    a writer, but I misread them. As a child, I spent hours browsing in the library, and by age ten had joined my first reading club, kept a diary, and acquired a pen pal. Maybe the biggest hint of my desire to write was that more than anything, I wanted a typewriter for Christmas when I was twelve. At the time, I thought it meant I wanted to be a secretary! Now I know my heart knew I wanted to write even though my head hadn’t gotten the message yet.
 
What helped me most on my writing journey is absolutely the support of other writers. Like you, Peggy.
 
4. Writing a novel is a major undertaking. What made you sit down the first day and begin your book? How long did it take from first word to finished product?
 
Sometime in my twenties, I began saying I wanted to write a book. I had no idea whether it would be fiction or non-fiction. It took me another twenty years to finally join a creative writing group. Empty-handed at my first meeting, the other writers urged me to draft something to read at the next meeting. Two weeks later, I timidly read the three handwritten pages it had taken me hours to write. Our meeting host, Herb asked, “Where do you want to go with that?”
 
I blurted out, “I want to write a book!”
 
Now mind you, I had just read three dreadfully over-written, scribbly pages—if they had been typed, they would barely have filled one double-spaced page.  Yet, Herb didn’t laugh, or say you must be kidding, or (and this would have been warranted) your writing stinks. He smiled reassuringly and said, “Good, you’ve got a start. Now, one page at a time, write your book.”
 
That was fifteen years ago. Since then, I’ve written countless drafts of Peace by Piece, earned an MFA, and written a second novel, Cape Maybe which will be published later this year.
 
Developing as a writer, completing my novels, and facing down the publishing process has been daunting at times.  More than once, I have asked myself, “If I knew then what I know now, would I have even tried?”
 
I will always be grateful for Herb’s simple words of encouragement, inspiring me to page by page write Peace by Pieceand nudging me, word by word, to become the best writer I can be.
 
5. What is one of the most rewarding factors of having a book in print?
Over the years of my marriage, I caved in to pressure at work to keep my name simple and reluctantly dropped my maiden name. I don’t have children, nor do my brothers or male Fragale cousins, so our branch of the Fragale family ends with our generation. I am thrilled to see my full name, Carol Fragale Brill in print and know that in a small way, Peace by Piece will carry on our family legacy.
 
6. What advice do you have for people who want to write/publish a novel or memoir?
 
When I started writing creatively, I had no idea there were so many elements to writing craft. Put in the time to study craft—characterization, plotting, show don’t tell, creating a sense of time and place. Once you start to understand craft, grab a few books in your genre and read them like a writer, dissecting how the author uses craft to create emotion and drama. Also, the support of other writers has been so valuable to me. Find critique partners, join a writing group, and open yourself up to feedback.
 
Perhaps the most important lesson is learning that writing is just the beginning, rewriting is where the story becomes what it is meant to be.
 
Thank you Carol! I know I'm inspired. Feel free to leave a comment or question for Carol. Also, please share the name of a book/author that you loved, but hasn't made it onto the NY Times Bestseller List--YET!
Check out Peace by Piece by Carol Fragale Brill at:   http://www.amazon.com/Peace-Piece-Carol-Fragale-Brill/dp/0615741010
 

 
 
 



Saturday, July 13, 2013

An Almost Ghost Experience

A ghost is featured in my next novel. It/she (Does a ghost have a gender? Hmmm) isn't the main character, but it/she does have a significant influence on the decisions my protagonist makes. That creates a small problem. Even in fiction, a riveting story needs to be believable. A popular example of this is Harry Potter. Magical trains really don't appear in stations and boys don't turn into wizards, but J.K. Rowling made millions imagine that these scenarios were possible, if only for a moment. What a wonderful magical escape!

Creating a realistic ghost character may not be too difficult. After all, there are hundreds, if not thousands, of reports of actual sightings.




I'm not sure where this photo was taken, but I wouldn't want to see that image on my staircase when I wander into the kitchen at night for a glass of water. Are there actual facts about ghosts? Things they all have in common?

Almost as soon as I pondered that question, a friend told me about Lily Dale, NY, a place of pilgrimage for many Spiritualists and others interested in the paranormal. A large population of mediums and Spiritualist healers reside here and they host numerous events for visitors. I Googled it and saw that Lisa Williams was holding a two day workshop at Lily Dale. Here's her bio from the site, "Lisa  has been able to communicate with the dead from a very young age.  But it was Merv Griffin who launched her extraordinary career with her own show, Life Among the Dead.  Two hit series, Voices from the Other Side and Lisa Williams Live followed, and all three are now airing around the world. Lisa has enjoyed sell-out international tours of her live show.  She has also appeared on Oprah, Good Morning America, Larry King Live, and Jimmy Kimmel Live.  Lisa is the author of two bestselling books, Life Among the Dead and Survival of the Soul. Her workshop was entitled, Connecting Beyond.


From the HBO series 


I figured I could get some good material for my novel, and I love an adventure, so decided to go.  Like I always say, the joy is in the journey.

When I told my husband about it he said, "Don't go weird on me."

I said, "Too late."

When I told my girlfriends, they pleaded to come along. I would have loved the company, but it was the weekend after July 4th and most had plans. They sent me out as the guinea pig and made me promise that we'd all venture to this spiritual hot spot another time.

I've never even been to a psychic so was a bit nervous about making a trip to the unknown by myself, but my curiosity ruled. I rose at five o'clock the Friday morning of the event and was on the road by six. My GPS suggested a travel itinerary, but as usual I disagreed. I chose a slightly longer route, but with fewer traffic lights. Before I drove onto to the interstate, I stopped for a cup of coffee and selected a summer music playlist on my iPod. I was off to explore the world of ghosts.

The cruise control was set at sixty-five miles per hour and Kenny Chesney was singing about having a beer in Mexico when the unexpected happened. An adult deer leaped in front of my car. Before I had a chance to react, we collided.

No human was hurt, but the poor deer, and my car is in the body shop for at least two weeks. Instinctively, I pulled over to the side of the road and glanced at the dying animal. I thought I would be sick. I must have been in a bit of shock because I didn't even check the car. When I was on the road again, I realized that was a mistake. Fortunately, a rest area was only a mile away so I stopped, inspected the damage, and reported the incident to the state police.

I never made it to Lily Dale. Although my car was still drivable, the passenger door wouldn't open and the headlight was smashed. The obvious next step was to head home to deal with my grief and take care of business.

When a freak accident happens, it makes me wonder about time. How a mere thirty seconds can change everything. If I had made my coffee at home, if I had followed the GPS directions, if I had driven in silence instead of connecting my iPod, I would not have hit that deer. I would have gone to Lily Dale and who knows what would have happened. Something is telling me that my trip wasn't meant to be.

Will I try to go again?

Maybe with friends. It has the potential to be a fun trip. Then again, there are a lot of books written about ghosts, and really, can't a ghost be anything you want it to be. Like John Grisham said when he was questioned about inaccuracies in The Broker, "It's all fiction, folks."

Warning:    Motorists hit over 80,000 deer on New York roadways between last July 1 and June 30 2012, according to estimates from the nation’s leading automobile insurance company.
State Farm used its own claims data and state licensed driver figures to compile the statistics.
New York drivers struck an estimated 80,262 whitetails during that period – the third highest figure in the country, behind only Pennsylvania (115,571) and Michigan (97,856).

Be Careful Out There!
BOOK OF THE WEEK
One of my all time favorites, Practical Magic by one of my favorite authors, Alice Hoffman. If you feel like a getaway into a magical world, this is the novel for you.


      “There are some things, after all, that Sally Owens knows for certain: Always throw spilled salt over your left shoulder. Keep rosemary by your garden gate. Add pepper to your mashed potatoes. Plant roses and lavender, for luck. Fall in love whenever you can.”
—Alice Hoffman, Practical Magic




  

Friday, July 5, 2013

To Tweet or not to Tweet?

Around this time last year, I was thrilled to learn that Northshire Bookstore of Manchester, Vermont was going to build a second store on Broadway in my hometown of Saratoga Springs. Besides their shelves of eclectic books, a knowledgeable staff, and cozy cafe, Northshire hosts events featuring authors like Chris Bohjalian and Jodi Picoult. They also support debut and less known writers with signings, offer print on demand services, and stock critically acclaimed self-published books. Clearly, this shop will be a welcome addition to our literary starved main street.

To kick off their move to Saratoga Springs, Northshire celebrated by having Neil Gaiman, author of numerous bestsellers, his latest being The Ocean at the End of the Lane. Although I had heard of Neil Gaiman, I hadn't read any of his books. Still, I wanted to attend the interview, reading, and signing to help support Northshire and encourage more events like this. I bought two tickets for $45.00, which included a signed copy of Gaiman's new book. Wow, I thought. An author who actually can charge money for an appearance. Most simply hope that someone shows up when they do a signing.


Neil Gaiman (right) being interviewed
at the Saratoga Springs City Center


I suggested to my husband, Keith that we arrive at the City Center early to get a good seat. He wasn't convinced that was necessary and was quite surprised when a ballroom-sized hall was half-full an hour before Gaiman was scheduled to appear. At show time it was filled to capacity. Fifteen hundred fans gathered to hear words read by the author, then many waited hours for Gaiman's up close and personal book signature.

Capacity Crowd for a
Meet & Greet with Neil Gaiman


As a new author, I couldn't help but wonder how a writer goes from creating comic books to bestsellers. Of course, outstanding writing is part of the formula. I just finished reading, The Ocean at the End of the Lane. Gaiman's engaging story and clear, vivid prose kept the pages turning. He truly is a master of his craft. But there are so many outstanding novels that never see the top one hundred on any reading list. What's his secret?

Talent, persistence, and luck?

Absolutely, but what else?

Ask a question then count on Poets and Writers Magazine to provide the answer. When I received my copy, none other than Neil Gaiman was on the cover. The article was entitled:  Locked in the Sweetshop: Seven Questions for Neil Gaiman. The one that really caught my attention was:

You're engaged with your fans on social media in a way that not many best-selling authors are. Do you think every writer should be on Twitter?

I was intrigued by this question, because new authors are pressured to be active not only on Twitter, but Facebook, Linkedin, Goodreads, the blogosphere, etc. In fact, it is rumored that literary agents and traditional publishers consider a potential client's social media activity before signing them on. So between a day job, family, and creating an online presence, when does a writer have time to compose stories? How does Gaiman answer: Should every writer be on Twitter:

"No. Absolutely not. I do it because it's fun. People who are interested are going to sign up and stick around because I'm obviously enjoying it. If you are not enjoying it, for God's sake don't do it." He continues by saying that writers should not tweet just to promote their books. "If you want to do it, you join Twitter. Talk to people. Talk to friends. Talk to famous people. Talk with anybody you like. If you want to get something read: Establish, be there first, and then say to people who are interested and like you, 'By the way I've got a book coming out,' and people will go, 'Oh, we'll go check it out then.' As opposed to coming on and going, 'The book, the book, the book, I hate this. Are we done.'"

Gaiman has a point. How often do people go shopping for a book on Twitter or Facebook? They go there to connect with people. If someone they're communicating with and like happens to be selling a book, they just might take a look.

For me, I'm not a big fan of Twitter, but I do enjoy Facebook, blogging and Goodreads, so I'll stick with those forums, not because I'm a writer, but because it's fun for me. If selling a book happens because of it, so be it.

Some recent Tweets by Neil Gaiman on Twitter:

"Took my Clarion Class to see a preview of Pacific Rim. We stumbled out happy from the adrenaline rush of a perfect monsters v robots film."

"Happy Independence Day. Buy a book to read this summer. It's like getting a whole world as a present, only somewhat more portable."

"I have just learned that drunk frat boys group-shouting "SWEET CAROLINE AH-AH-AH" is worse than Born in the USA, in case you were wondering."

Book of the Week:


“Grown-ups don't look like grown-ups on the inside either. Outside, they're big and thoughtless and they always know what they're doing. Inside, they look just like they always have. Like they did when they were your age. Truth is, there aren't any grown-ups. Not one, in the whole wide world.”
― Neil Gaiman, The Ocean at the End of the Lane   
Question:
What's your favorite social media forum? Your least? Have you ever bought a book because you saw it on Facebook or Twitter?  
   

Friday, June 28, 2013

Change is Good!

It's been a few weeks since I last posted. There are reasons for that. First, I'm a speech-language pathologist working at a public school and June is one of the busiest months of the year. Second, I'm almost finished with the first draft of my second novel, and that's been consuming all of my writing time. Third, I need a change from Kick Back Moments. It certainly has been fun searching for spontaneous occurrences that settle the nerves, like seeing a spectacular sunrise while stuck in traffic. When I sit down to blog however, I find myself wanting to write about the book world, so why not go for it. Something fresh to start the summer. The new name for Kick Back Moments will be:

A Novel Journey 
 
It will be at the same place with the same address, but the content will be slightly different. What will you find?
 
  • A variety of posts about the often crazy writing and publication process. 



 
 
  • The joys and frustrations of being a writer. For example, a joy are the places you go when writing a novel. In July, I'll be traveling to the spiritual center in Lily Dale, NY to visit with a medium. The main character in my book attempts to contact someone who has died in order to fulfill a wish, so I need to experience it. I can't wait to see what happens and you'll hear all about it. In August, I'm visiting a coffee plantation on the Big Island in Hawaii because that's the setting for my story. I'll be sure to post plenty of photos. One of the frustrations of being a writer is the paycheck. In most cases, it doesn't exist. Thankfully, I have a great day job! It is true however, that artists create because the soul demands it, not for the money.    

 
 
 
 
  • Great books I've read. No bad reviews here. If I don't like a book, you'll never know about it. One person's idea of a good read, may put someone else to sleep. It's all so subjective. I'd never want to dissuade anyone from trying a book just because I didn't like it.
 
Loved it!
 
 
  • Authors and more authors. Most authors have such interesting stories about how they started writing and how they became published. Many world class authors such as Neil Gaiman and Jodi Picoult visit the Saratoga Springs area when they do book tours. They will frequently be featured here. You'll also meet writers who may not be on the New York Times Best Sellers List yet, but are on the rise. 



 
                                                          Garth Stein signing his novel,
The Art of Racing in the Rain
 
 

  • I'll also post a kick back moment every now and then along with other cool stuff like this eagle I spotted while I was kayaking last Sunday on Kaydeross Creek in Saratoga Springs, NY. After all, a novel journey can be about writing/reading a book or discoveries.   



 Bald eagle spotted on Kaydeross Creek
Saratoga Springs, NY
 
 
I sincerely have appreciated you stopping by Kick Back Moments and hope you continue to do so under it's new name. I started blogging because everything I read about becoming a successful writer said it was a must. In the beginning, it felt like I was talking to myself. Probably because I was, but I kept at it. Now, I get about 3,000 hits a month from all over the world. It has been fun and rewarding so I will continue with a slight twist. Please come back and visit A Novel Journey. After all:

    
     
  
     
  

Sunday, June 2, 2013

Stephen King Goes for Print, not Pixels

Shortly after I get out of bed in the morning, I check my email on my laptop, desktop or tablet.

After a cup of coffee, a shower, and finding something in my closet to wear that I don't have to iron, I turn on the TV to watch a few minutes of the news, primarily for the traffic report.

Then off to work in my Toyota Corolla where I spend my commute listening to a book on CD, music from my iPod, or perhaps catching up on phone calls with my handy car blue tooth.

When I settle in at the office, I check my e-mail and Outlook calendar. If I don't have any appointments scheduled, I click into Microsoft Word and write a report then head over to IEP Direct, my school district's electronic student data base. The work world certainly has become computer dependent. In fact, when systems are down, people emerge into the hallway in a bit of a panic because at least eighty percent of their workload requires digital cooperation. 
   


In this day and age of machines, it really is hard to avoid to technological overload. Isn't it?

When my day finally winds down and it's time to snuggle up on the couch with a novel, I don't want to have to turn on another electronic device. I know e-readers are popular and they have their advantages, but for me they just can't replace the 3-D sensory experience of reading a print book. I love the fact that books don't come with a manual of instructions or a battery, you don't have to plug them in, and they always work. For those reasons, I feel uneasy when I hear about another brick and mortar bookstore closing or that paper books will soon be obsolete.


Yikes!

That's why I was so pleased to learn that Stephen King will only be offering his new novel, Joyland, as a trade paperback with some hard copies available.




Mr. King wants to do his part to help save paper books and bookstores. Here's what King's publisher Chrales Ardai says, "Readers are going to have to read it the old way, as ink on paper, not pixels on a screen. You’ve got your paperback and you’ve got your hardcover, the same two choices you had for books when Steve was growing up and when I was. Part of the decision is the desire to support traditional booksellers, something Steve and I both care a great deal about—it’s frightening to see the decline in the fortunes of bookstores over the last handful of years."
You can read the entire article at: http://boingboing.net/2013/05/29/why-cling-to-the-past-exclusi.html

Joyland will be released on June 4. If you want to make a statement that there still is a place for traditional books in a technologically dominant world, here's your chance. I know I'll be stopping by my favorite independent bookstore on that day to pick up a copy. Let's make June 4 Black Tuesday for independent bookstores!

KICK BACK SONG OF THE WEEK:
A beautiful song that celebrates Main Street merchants, Good Morning Morgantown by Joni Mitchell accompanied by art work from a first grade class somewhere in the U.S.A.





A LITTLE SOMETHING EXTRA:

Finally, some good news for bookstores. Let's keep it going!

According to a report in the Christian Science Monitor, sales at independent bookstores are up: "Sales at independent bookstores rose about 8 percent in 2012 over 2011, according to a survey by the American Booksellers Association (ABA). This growth was all the more remarkable since the sales of the national chain Barnes & Noble were so tepid. “I think the worst days of the independents are behind them,” says Jim Milliot, coeditorial director for Publishers Weekly magazine. “The demise of traditional print books has been a bit overblown. Everybody is a little anxious, but they are starting to think they’ve figured it out for the time being.”

Saturday, May 25, 2013

Just Rest! Ok...But How?

"Just rest, Greg," I said to my teenage son as he stood in the family room one Friday evening texting his friends about plans for the night."

He shrugged, sat on the edge of the couch, picked up the remote control, and began flipping through the twelve hundred digital cable channels.
  
I continued with my cleaning compulsion of bending over and picking things up like socks that didn't find their way to the laundry basket and papers that didn't find their way to the World Lit. homework bin at school. I choose to save my responsibility lecture for when my son, Max, returned from wherever. No sense hearing myself rant twice. (I am so glad those days are over!!!)

"I don't like resting," Greg said before he reached channel seventy-something.

I looked at him in disbelief. "You left for school at 6:45 in the morning and worked at the Y after that. Aren't you tired?"

"Nope," he said as he switched off the TV and headed for the shower.

"Do you want another tour of the bathroom? I think you forgot where the laundry basket is." I said.

Greg smiled. (I'm glad one of us did.)

I was reminded of this conversation last Saturday when my doctor came into my hospital room and told me I'd need two weeks of rest before resuming my normal activities. At the time it sounded good. My neck and throat were sore from the thyroidectomy he performed on the previous day and I felt groggy from the feel better drugs dripping into me from the IV. However, by Tuesday I found myself repeating Greg's words, 'I don't like resting.'

If I had the choice of spending a Saturday in a chair at the beach or one kayaking along the coast, I'd choose kayaking. The number one thing on my list of things to do when I travel to the Big Island of Hawaii is to climb Mauna Kea, the tallest sea mountain in the world. I enjoy resting for short periods of time, but two full weeks of no driving, working, physical activity, etc. seemed like too much.

I do, however, believe in allowing the body time to heal, so I adhered to my doctor's advice. What did I do?


I took naps whenever I felt a bit tired, even if they only lasted five minutes.



   I made time to remember my dreams when I woke up!



I contemplated about important issues while I looked out my living room window. Things like why do leaves flutter in different directions when the wind blows and why do leaves from the same branch fly in various directions when they are released from the tree? I knew I should have taken physics.



I read Gone Girl in 48-hours—the ultimate woman scorned revenge book. Wow! I will also be buying Gillian Flynn's other two novels, Sharp Edges & Dark Places. I love finding new authors who really know how to tell a story.



I traveled to the Hawaii on the Internet and made plans for when I go for real.


I nearly completed draft one of novel two.



I watched Doctor Zhivago from start to finish. 
Surprisingly, I never had watched this movie before in its entirety. 
Wow!


I watched bits and pieces of the Today Show and learned why they've gone down in ratings. 

Opinions on this are welcome.



 I turned off the Today Show and welcomed the quiet.



    I cooked.
Maybe that doesn't count as resting,
but it certainly was relaxing.



 I watched Life of Pi for the second time.
I definitely prefer the tiger story.
How about you?
This question will reappear on Kick Back Moments within
a few weeks, so watch the movie or read the book,
if you haven't already.



Resting is a lot more fun than I thought.
By the time my two weeks of healing are over, 
I have a feeling I will have mastered the art.
 
 
How about you?
Do you prefer resting or moving?
 
In other word, when you first step foot on the beach, do you head for the chair or the water?    





Wednesday, May 15, 2013

Take Care of Your Body!

Hi Kick Back Friends,

I'm taking a bit of a break from posting. I am having my thyroid removed on Friday and will need a little time to rest and recover. Just so you know, a nodule was found on my thyroid during a routine physical examination. That led to an ultrasound which led to a biopsy, and suspicious cells were found. I was also told that my thyroid was not functioning properly, which is why I was feeling exhausted, cranky, and gaining weight. I thought it was part of passing the 50-year-old mark.

The good news is thyroid cancer has a high cure rate and I should be back to my energetic self again within two or three weeks post-surgery.

The kick back advice for you is to make routine physical examinations a priority. I am the first one to put them on the back burner. When my husband asked me when was the last time I had a physical, I couldn't remember. He insisted I make an appointment, which not only may have saved my life, but will make me feel so much better once my dysfunctional, diseased thyroid is out of my body and my medication is regulated. So, if you're not able to find the time to visit your doctor, try harder. You are the most important person in your world. It's time to take care. I'm glad I did!!!

I'll check in next week to let you know how I'm doing. Then...back to finding those kick back moments that make our world a little brighter.

Fondly,

Peggy     


Sunday, May 5, 2013

The Fog Will Clear

Addiction is hard. One day we try a substance whether it be caffeine, junk food, alcohol, or cocaine. Maybe a week later we try it again. A few days later, again. Soon our body craves the substance and before too long it demands it. We're officially addicted.

 Simple things like a stroll through the park, reading at the beach, spending time with a friend no longer provide pleasure. A monster has taken control of our life. It numbs our senses. Sadness is anesthetized with the a bag of chips; happiness is delivered by a scotch on the rocks; bliss is contained in a chemical. More than 24 million US residents aged 12 or older are currently suffering from drug addiction, and that does not include compulsive eating.

According to the website www.rehabinfo.net, "One of the biggest mistakes made about addiction is the assumption that those who are struggling under its control are weak or somehow lacking in willpower and moral integrity. On the contrary, drug addiction is a deadly disease, one that changes the chemistry of the brain and is characterized by relapse and compulsivity. Drugs work by either over-stimulating the pleasure and reward system or by mimicking neurotransmitters in the brain and altering the body’s ability to effectively communicate between systems.

If you or a loved one is addicted to drugs, is it hopeless?

No.

There are over 13,000 drug rehabilitation facilities in the U.S. and families can provide support to loved ones as they go through recovery. There are many success stories and I'm going to share one with you. A friend's nephew, Kyle, just took a major step in his battle to break an addiction. He realized that he could experience joy without his drug. I was so moved when I read the words and saw the drawing that emerged from him at the moment he realized how wonderful life could be. I am honored to share this with you:


THE FOG WILL CLEAR

By: Kyle Kindlon

 
            The road of life has twists and turns ups and downs at the end is so real so pure. My life has been covered with a fog that I was unable to see the light through the thick wet smoke damp fog. As the fog clears it represents my mind state clearing making me able to have a slight view of life with the light shining through the fog showing me how real and pure it really is. Seeing a beautiful view of mountains as the bright sky has the sun rising over the mountains, reflecting off a clear blue body of water seems to make two suns as the cattails blow in the wind. All these different sights represent a feeling of love emotion passion excitement distress the care others have for me so deep so real is mesmerizing as staring into a fire for hours days wanting it to stay this way forever. My whole life I spent thinking this was all a fairytale but it’s real as my mind clears more and more I can see how real it all really is. Not ever wanting that dark fog to mask this again, that fog is the depressing darkness of death that taste of the first sight of light seeing there is more to life.

 



 Kyle has been drug free for more than thirty days!

For anyone struggling with an addiction, Heart of Life by John Mayer:
 

"I know the heart of life is good."

Sunday, April 28, 2013

The Magic of a Signature Giveaway

One of my favorite characters from a novel is Mr. Jensen in A Tree Grows in Brooklyn by Betty Smith. He doesn't have a big part, but his role has made a lasting impression on me. He was the janitor in protagonist Francie's school. He taught the students to be compassionate by his own actions and to exhibit good character, about “good citizenship and about a good world where everyone did the best he could for the common good of all” (p. 175). When he signs the student's autograph books, he does not briskly and sloppily make a mark, but he signs it with purpose and precision. This in itself is a lesson, that even the simplest things can be worthy of great care.

I've watched several artists sign their creations over the past few months. I've noticed that when they autograph their work, a sense of pride and reflection appears on their face—like their a piece of their soul is being scrolled on the page. When they hand their product over, most smile and express their gratitude because you've taken the time to appreciate their efforts. For me, it's like their work comes alive with a dash of the pen.



Garth Stien signing his novel,The Art of Racing in the Rain
Schenectady Public Library
 
As Pat Riley says, "Each Warrior wants to leave the mark of his will, his signature, on important acts he touches. This is not the voice of ego but of the human spirit, rising up and declaring that it has something to contribute to the solution of the hardest problems, no matter how vexing."

 
I think a signature is so special I'm offering a giveaway of signed art I've collected. Don't worry about me. I made sure to get two copies—one for you and one for me!
 
Here are the items I'm giving away to one lucky winner. Signed copies of:
 
The Art of Racing in the Rain a novel by Garth Stein
 
The Poe Shadow  a novel by Matthew Pearl
 
Under an Indigo Sky a CD by guitarist, Laurence Juber
 
The Adirondacks a book of photos by photographer, Carl Heilman
 
Tai Chi Cookies by baker, Linda Kinlon, at Bake for You (She'll sign the box!)
 
Head on over to my Facebook Page and click "like" on the giveaway post and your entered. Check back on May 6 to see if you're the lucky winner.  Facebook Address:  http://www.facebook.com/peggystrack  
 
Have a great week and make sure your signature reflects your true character!
 
 


 

 
             
 


  

Sunday, April 21, 2013

Random Acts of Violence—The New Normal?

I've cheered at many marathons as my husband, Keith, crossed the finish line. The culmination of hundreds of training hours, nutritional eating, and sacrificing other activities to take the challenge of pushing his body to an ultimate physical level. Crossing the finish line represents keeping an individualized commitment that would be so easy to break because of sore hip joints, early morning jaunts after parties that went past midnight, running through wind, rain, and snow (It's true!) and a wife that sometimes says, "Do you really have to do that eighteen mile run this Saturday? I was hoping we could take a walk in the park?" (Yes, I am guilty). Those runners who finish a marathon keep going through all this and when the race day finally arrives it's time for triumph and celebration.

Tragically, two individuals turned the great Boston Marathon into a horror show on April 15. We all know the details and I'm not reiterating any of them. What I want to focus on is the quote by Fred Rogers that has been showing up all over Facebook and other social media sites:




The truth of Fred Roger's mother's words rang out loud and clear following the explosion in the Back Bay area of Boston. I'm giving myself five minutes to think of as many as I can. Here goes:

First Responders — Those individuals who ran toward the victims instead of away from the explosion—Here's to the helpers!

Police—Quick, smart, brave, action only begins to describe your heroism. Here's to the helpers!

Medical Personnel—You saved hundreds of lives and never missed a beat. Here's to the helpers!

FBI & Other Investigators—You scrutinized thousands of photos and videos until you identified the perpetrators. Here's to the helpers!

Boston Citizens—You stayed strong and partnered with the police in the expeditious capture of the two men responsible for crippling so many lives. I was amazed as I watched your city come together to solve this crime. Here's to the helpers!

People—There is no doubt in my mind that the outpouring of love and prayers traveling to Boston from around the world contributed to the spirit and healing of those involved with this tragedy. Here's to the helpers!

My five minutes is up, but the list of helpers continues in my mind. It is evident that there is so much more good in the world than bad, and the good must continue to stand together. As New York State Governor Andrew Cuomo says, "It's a terrible situation in Boston. And, unfortunately, ... one gets the sense that this is more reflective of the 'new normal,' if you will," he explained. "So much of society is changing so rapidly. We talk about a 'new normal' when it comes to climate change and adjusting to a change in the weather patterns. 'New normal' when it comes to public security in a post-9/11 world. Where these random acts of violence, which at one time were implausible, now seem all-too-frequent."

Random acts of violence—the new normal? As hard as it is for me to admit it, I have to agree with Governor Cuomo. Outside of the Boston incident this week, I watched parents of the Sandy Hill victims in Washington D.C. lobby for background checks before gun purchases. On my way to work, I saw Albany, NY police barricade a street with yellow tape because of a shooting where one man was killed. I received an e-mail from our home owner's association that reported three home break-ins in my quiet, "safe" neighborhood. I clicked onto AOL News and saw that there was another shooting where two were killed at a Colorado rally on April 21.

What do we do about this "new normal" of increasing violence?

Be a helper!

Be patient and cooperative with security checks in public places. Compromise some of your privacy  as increased surveillance is implemented at shopping centers, college campuses, sporting events and on and on. Boston proved pictures and videos do work in capturing the bad guys. Like the Boston citizens, let's be part of the solution. Don't be paranoid, but be aware when stepping out into the world. If someone or something looks suspicious, report it. Better safe than sorry. If the helpers band together and prove, no one gets away with anything, the "new normal" may eventually turn into peace and security.

My thoughts and love to all the victims of the Boston Marathon tragedy. May the helpers in your life be there for you as you grieve and recover.