Friday, February 28, 2014

Purple Crayon

28th February 2014

Ten days out from my book launch! My books are out for give-away in Aspen, and people have been bringing them to me to be signed, which is all very giddy and makes me feel as if I have almost arrived! The cynic in me says, enjoy it while it lasts, but that voice is not very loud these days, well not today anyway!
I have been getting requests from book bloggers for interviews, which is what I am spending most of my time filling out these days. Being a long-winded person, I probably give longer answers than needed, but it is sort of fun being in the spotlight. All of these requests have come from out of the ether, and I am not sure whether it is this blog or Twitter that has brought them to my door. All I can say to aspiring writers and those faithfully but seemingly unfruitfully slogging away at social media is, keep on going - somehow this machine works and people find you!
From interview to interview the questions are fairly similar: how did you come to write this book;  how much research did it entail; how long did it take to write it? But one interviewer asked the question, What would be the title of your biography and why? I had to think about that one, and this is what I said: There used to be a cartoon by the name of "Harold and the Purple Crayon," about a little boy who creates  his world as he goes along with a purple crayon. Cosy Sheridan turned this idea into a fantastic little song called Grand Design.
Someone once told me that the song reminded him of me, scribbling away at my life according to my notion of things. Let me say as a qualifier that when you are a doing this and sometimes running over into other people's pictures, people are not so kind about the notion. If they don't know you're going to be a writer or chronicler of things, then it is just plain annoying that this person with the crayon is always saying, "No, not like that, but like this!" You get into a lot of trouble and friends are hard to find when you live your life like this. I'm not going to take any credit for it, either, because it is just the way I came out. My own mother was fine with me until I developed enough grasp to hold the crayon and started doodling. In her world full of other kids, having one that insisted on making their own pictures was too draining. My father, on the other hand, being a bit of a doodler himself, was interested in the pictures, and for a while we were doodling together. My crayon was no good, though, when he bowed out of the picture. It might be a magic instrument but it can't bring back dead parents. Or maybe it can and I am not yet accomplished enough to draw that picture. It might take a different sort of crayon.
Anyway, all of this to say that my biography, nay my autobiography should be called "Grand Design." In the long run I hope my life turns out to have been that. One way or another, probably that's what everyone's life is in the end.

Friday, February 21, 2014

Me Love Cookies

21st February 2014

Things shifted into high gear this week when Simon&Schuster told me they were taking out a 12-day ad for my book in starting the day of publication! The same ad will appear on another site called Also, I was contacted by the historical novel society in Scotland who want to do a review of my book in May. So, you never know, do you, when you are wallowing in the depths of despair how the gears are somewhere changing and moving the story forward? I like that American expression, "Everything turns on a dime," because it really does seem to be so.
I received my forty free books in three boxes from the publisher this week, as stated in my contract.  The copies are beautiful! I was pleased that the cover had a matte finish instead of being shiny like the pre-edition copies. There is to be a fifty book give-away in Aspen starting now and spread out between the library, the Aspen Writer's Foundation office and the local community centre where my book launch is to be held. The venue is a cosy place with a fire that will make me feel more comfortable than I would in a book shop, and besides it holds more people. (Not that I have the remotest connection to Hunter S. Thompson, but this was an old haunt of his.) Woody Creek is also where Joe Henry, author of the much admired book "Lime Creek," lives. It is a the far flung Bohemian section of Aspen. No money, just art, as the story so often goes.
Two and a half weeks until the book launch! Now all I need to do is choose the parts of the book I am going to read for the event. I have already decided on the first chapter, which at eight pages is short, but sets the book and the voice up well, I think. The trouble is that my speaking voice is only good for about three pages,  and then I am reading my beautiful words but sounding like Cookie Monster. That will set me into a  panic, and people will begin to wonder if I really am an epileptic. And who said I was a catastrophiser? These types of things wander about my head around 3am in the dark amidst the sounds of dogs snoring on the bed and cats chasing each other down the hall.
I think I will talk a little about how I came to write the book at the book launch, but I don't want to be reading off notes, because I should be able to tell that story. I know it so well. I was just last night reading an old  journal which shows how this whole saga has unfolded, from my getting my agent in July of 2009 to securing a publisher in February 2011 and finally being published in March 2014. It has been a five-year trek, although the first two years were taken up with a different book that hasn't yet sold. I think it is a bit like giving birth - if you knew ahead of time how long it was going to take, you just would go down a different alley. But once you're on the path, all you can do is sort of squeeze your eyes shut and keep moving ahead to the next hour, the next day, the next month, the next year.
Some authors don't move with such glacial speed. My progress has been about as slow as it gets, I think. So I can hold myself up as inspiration to unpublished writers everywhere slogging away, feeling as though they are going nowhere. And I am not a patient person! I have been feeling like a racehorse stuck behind the starting gate for a very long time. People and horses like that, let me tell you,  are not easy to live with.

Friday, February 14, 2014


February 14th 2014

I wish I could be like Nora Ephron, with wise and witty things to hide my face behind. As she says, if you slip on a banana peel, people laugh at you, but if you tell someone you slipped on a banana peel, the laugh is yours. It's one way to stay in the game, to stay on the rolling log and not belly flop into the water. Robert Lupone (Broadway star and producer and brother to Patti Lupone) was here in Aspen last week, and he was talking about surviving in NYC as an up-and-coming performer. He said you have to do what it takes to protect the vital you, the creative centre, so that when you get rejected for the thousandth time, you can pick yourself up and go on to the next one. As the Chinese proverb goes: Fall down seven times, get up eight.
Still, I don't want to fall down anymore. I gave up skiing recently for that reason  - after thirty years of skiing and finally running into a tree and finally breaking my shoulder, I said enough. And I have paid my literary dues - by writing unpublished for twenty years, by writing in the goddamn cupboard under the stairs; by getting enough rejections to paper a good sized bathroom. I don't want to have to lay myself out before the reviewers. I might just not be tough enough.
I think I might have to become an American citizen just long enough to make like Woody Allen and just not listen; I will take the fifth amendment rights and remain silent. I have always known that reviewers were harsh and how a writer needs to grow an extra layer of skin to cope.  But I didn't take it seriously. After all, my work has been criticised before: I attended a local writer's group for ten years, where we were brutally honest. But this is something else. This is people commenting who don't have to look you in the eye, who, if they like, can rub you into the dirt and never look back. And the good reviews don't really make up for the bad. The wounds inflicted by a callous comment or two or three or, geez, a whole paragraph, are never outweighed by the same number of soothing whispers. They go right to the heart, and there's nothing you can do about them.
During the storm whipped up in Woody Allen's life by a vindictive ex-partner, he received a valentine's card from her with a knife and long pins stuck into a picture of their family. (Shades of Fatal Attraction!)  But that's how it feels, dear readers, who are in the blissful era of churning out art behind closed doors. You will eventually have to walk around with daggers sticking out of your chest, and that isn't something you can easily hide.
When the arrows started flying at Steinbeck from reviewers in this country under the consensus that he should never have been awarded the Nobel Prize, he never wrote another word. (How wrong they turned out to be!) Steinbeck had Grapes of Wrath and Cannery Row and Tortilla Flat and any number of masterpieces under his belt, but it hurts, by god. It wounds, and you bleed out.
So I think I am just not going to read reviews, good or bad. I am going to close the envelope and turn down the flap on the arrows.  I have failed the humour test and the tough skin test. Whether my book sinks or swims will depend on how many copies it sells over about a year. That's all. That will have to be all. A published friend of mine has figured out that the publisher only needs to sell about five thousand copies to recoup a small advance and their costs. To me that sounds like a lot of copies, but he tells me it's not. I have another published friend who has just passed the hundred thousand mark.
So, anyway, enough of that. There's a rabbit that sits on a bank of snow outside my window for about two hours every morning. Due to a large coyote population, rabbits don't last very long around here. But there she sits (let's say it's a she and let's hope she's a muse.) It snows, but she sits on until the two hours are up and then she is suddenly gone the next time I look up. The next morning she is back. Today I bought a bag of Timothy hay to keep her going over this endless Narnia of a winter. You need your muses and you should do everything it takes to nurture and protect them.
Coyotes be damned.

Friday, February 7, 2014

Just For the Record

February 7th 2014

It is very easy for an author to get lost in the publicity and promotion surrounding a book launch, so I want to state for the record now how I see my book Veil Of Time, aka Dunadd, just about five weeks out from publication.
I remember thinking last year about this time, when I found out the publication date had been postponed until February 2014 that it was too far in the future to even think about. I sat on my chair in my office, head in hands and cried. I lost sight of the big picture for a moment. But here we are. Time waits, as the proverb tells us, for no man nor woman nor anything here under the sun.

Before I proceed, though, I'm going to give a nod to a friend of mine who jumped off a bridge this last weekend. Whether you knew him or not, we should all take pause, because except for the smile of fate and the graces there go we. He was a fine journalist here in Aspen, someone who had given generous time and space in his writings to me and mine. In fact, the last article he wrote, which came out on the day of his death, was about me and mine. He had recently read my book, and he described it in the article as a dark family drama. It isn't, though. The darkness must have been in him. But I didn't recognise that darkness, and never pegged him for the kind of person who would go to such desperate measures. But, even though no man is an island (and I will stop with the clichés soon), individuals can often act like them. And I suppose feeling isolated like that with no hope of rescue, a person might opt out. I can't get there even conceptually myself, but I cannot judge him either. Stewart Oksenhorn, friendly, upbeat, handsome, driven, with a quiet presence. You leave it hard for me to breathe. 8am in the first break of sun on a world just buried in two feet of snow, you took off your jacket and left it with your backpack on the bridge. And I keep wondering, perhaps because my mind has nowhere else to go, why did you take off your jacket?

So Veil Of Time is not a dark family drama, though it has elements of that. It is not a Romance, though it has elements of that, too. It is not Time Travel Fantasy, though, of course, that is part of it. And it didn't even end up only being what I started out to try and write, which was just some kind of homage to this magical place called Dunadd in Argyll, Scotland, a place only a few miles from where I grew up. Dunadd was for me in those far-off days a school bus stop where a couple of boys got on. I was more interested at the time in the boys than in this ancient fort that loomed behind them. Like most teenagers, the ancient past was only a blur around the edges of my world. But, of course, Dunadd stuck with me. When I moved to America, all these remnants of the past that had been shouting out to me down the years suddenly came into sharp focus.
Dunadd is a hillock, like an elephant's back in a flattened-out valley studded with rings of standing stones and marks in the rocks too ancient for anyone to know anymore what they mean. If you climb up the path to the top of Dunadd, you walk through a narrow slit in the rock that you don't know was where the great oak gates were once hinged, but you begin to feel the presence of the people that erected them and even more so as you walk around the rubble of the once ten-feet thick walls that ringed the hill. There's the ornate Pictish boar carved into the rock and a stone footprint. On the very top is a partial wall of a once round shelter built into the side of the hill, and from up there, the wind rushing up from the sea makes you gasp. But on any clear night from Dunadd, just around sunset, you can see the islands set on a wash of brilliant reds and oranges. It is probably the most beautiful sight in the world. In my world it is. So, I wanted to write about it. That was the impetus for Veil of Time.
As I wrote the book, though, other things started to push their way in. The first was Sula the druidess. These people were matrilineal, and I don't believe just druids once ruled here. And I started to think about where that line of wise women was going to go - to the stake eventually. When I considered  why this was so, I had to think of the advent of Christianity in Scotland, eventually to John Knox and his Calvinism, which brought with it these insane periods of Scottish history when councils of men were out to eliminate any hint of women-once-in-control. Our evangelist John Knox wrote "The First Trumpet Blast against the Monstrosity of Women Leaders," and all hell broke loose.
So, druidesses, Christianity, the interface between the two, and time, of course. That's where I disagree with anyone nominating this fantasy. Time travel isn't fantasy to physicists these days. Time is smoke - who can say definitively what its direction? Newton and Kant thought time was a thing. But Einstein said, No, No. It's not. In the quantum world, it is just part of the soup.
So all of this crept in. By the time I was writing the sequel, these elements had pretty much taken over. I let them because they need a voice. In this material world, we need a new paradigm if we are to go on living. So, that's what I am about in this trilogy. That is my raison d'être.

Stewart lost his for a moment there.  But let's not forget. It's the crux we all struggle with, the allure  of a bridge on a sun sparkle morning in the snow.