Thoughts and Inspiration for Creative Writers

-from Chrysalis Editorial

Marketing Tip #3 – Guest Blogs

Posted on | October 28, 2017 | No Comments

 

Cyberbullying PreventionThis series of marketing tips will conclude with the “guest blog.” Bloggers often want and need content so they turn to others to provide it for them. Some ask you to pay for this, but often it’s free. They see the advantage of having fresh and interesting content without taking the time and effort of writing it themselves, and you as the guest blogger can draw attention to yourself or something you’re trying to promote.

Because October is National Bullying Prevention Month in the US, and my novel, Saving Phoebe Murrow, (released last fall in the US and UK), revolves around a cyberbullying incident, it was a natural for me to reach out to parent or “mommy” bloggers. I sent out an email to numerous such bloggers and sparked the interest of a couple, including Bekah, of Motherhood Moment.

I wrote a guest blog about cyberbullying and made some suggestions for parents about steps to take to protect their children relative to cyberbullying and social media. The guest blog is reprinted in full here. It was published on Motherhood Moment on September 25, 2017.

Parenting Pointers: Cyberbullying Prevention

Cyber-bullying is no joke. Join the author of Saving Phoebe Murrow during National Bullying Prevention Month to protect your children from online/social media (cyber-)bullying:

Let’s say this at the outset: I would suggest that with the advent of the Internet and social media, the job of parenting has grown exponentially more difficult, and you are not alone. It was hard enough navigating children through those tricky teen years, dealing with teens’ raging hormones, peer pressure, and shaky self-image, but adding the Internet and social media to the mix has compounded teen problems and therefore your job as a parent. With the Internet, access to every form of information has expanded (in ways good and bad), and with social media the potential dangers and risks to teens have grown as well.

When tackling the issue of children and social media, we’re really dealing with a nine-tentacled octopus, so to speak. By that I mean there are so many forms of social media these days, and different ones target children of various ages. For example, teens are using everything from SnapChat and Kik Messenger to Instagram and Tinder (a dating site). Younger kids might use Facebook, SnapChat and video game sites. So is it actually possible to protect them?

A few tips:

  • It’s essential to educate yourself about what social media platforms exist, and which age group they target. Here’s a great online article that will get you started. (apps examined in detail: https://www.commonsensemedia.org/blog/16-apps-and-websites-kids-are-heading-to-after-facebook )
  • You have the right to know what platforms your children are using. Know their passwords, etcetera. You are the parent and you pay for the phone. With responsible use rules can become more lenient.
  • Invite your teen to teach you how to use various forms of social media. This can bring you into their world. For younger children who are just starting to venture into this world, teach them responsible use of social media. (i.e.: Kind messages only. Remember everyone in the world may see this, including your grandma, so don’t write anything you wouldn’t want her to see!)
  • Limit time on phones and computers. Take all technology away at a reasonable time each night. While teen anxiety and depression have many causes, overuse of social media is adding to such problems.

 

Current statistics suggest that a large percentage of teens have suffered one or more cyber-bullying incidents. Two excellent sources of information on cyber-bullying and prevention: www.cyberbullying.org and www.meganmeierfoundation.org and online safety: Family Online Safety Institute: www.fosi.org

 

My novel, Saving Phoebe Murrow, was inspired by a cyber-bullying event in Missouri which sent a teen to suicide. Feel free to contact me if you’re interested in learning more or having me appear at your book group. www.hertafeely.com

 

To see the blog post on Motherhood Moment:

https://motherhood-moment.blogspot.com/2017/09/parenting-pointers-cyberbullying.html

 

Marketing Tip 2: Advertising Can Pay Dividends

Posted on | October 23, 2017 | No Comments

Marketing Tip 2Advertising can be expensive, but at times it can also be an effective way to promote your book, especially if it reaches your target audience, and what is better than either a magazine (online or print) that reviews and focuses on new books. Advertising can be especially effective if your novel or book has just won an award or there’s something new to announce. So it’s definitely something to consider.

Shelf Unbound is such an online magazine, which caters primarily to independent and hybrid presses, and also to self-published authors. Shelf Awareness for Readers is another such “magazine” you might want to explore. Publishers Weekly and Poets & Writers are another two. If you search online you’ll find lots of online magazines that promote books. Check out this post on www.bustle.comBut you’ll find ad pricing varies tremendously. Ideally, some of these magazines will review your book (at no cost), and your publisher will advertise it, but if not, you ought to consider investing some of your own money in advertising.

In my case, after I placed an ad in two issues of Shelf Unbound at relatively low cost, the publisher invited me to answer 7 questions, which constitutes the author interview they published in their Aug-Sept 2017 issue (page 28). They also included a small ad in the magazine, both at no cost to me.

Excerpt from Shelf Unbound Aug-Sept 2017 Issue, p. 28:

 

  • What interested you in writing a story about cyberbullying?

 

On January 10, 2008, I read a feature article in the Washington Post about a 13-year-old girl who was cyberbullied (on MySpace) and then committed suicide. Her name was Megan Meier. The boy who appeared to be leading the cyberbullying was 16-year-old Josh Evans, who Megan had a crush on but had never met. It turned out, though, that Josh Evans was actually a 47-year-old woman, named Lori Drew, who also was Megan’s neighbor and the mother of one of Megan’s friends, though they’d had a falling out. I simply couldn’t believe a woman – a mother at that – could be so cruel to a young, vulnerable girl. I was also intrigued by social media as the forum for such bullying, and decided I wanted to write a story exploring this new Internet era and how a woman, a mother no less, could do such a thing. I should add here that my novel bears little resemblance to the Megan Meier story, though it was inspired by that event.

 

  • How did you go about creating the character of teenage Phoebe?

 

Perhaps what surprised me most in the writing of Saving Phoebe Murrow was how easily her character came to me. Having had sons, I was afraid it would be difficult, but Phoebe’s character just flowed. In every scene it seemed as if someone else was writing her character. I am grateful to the Muse! One more thing though. It wasn’t until after I’d written and revised the novel several times that one of my readers asked me if I’d ever been bullied. Only then did I recall how I had been teased and ostracized in grade school. I believe I drew on this experience, and also on the difficulty I had with my own mother growing up.  In many ways, she was like Isabel Winthrop. Just as with the bullying, it was only in hindsight that I realized this, not during the course of writing the novel.  Perhaps it was because from the outside there were so few similarities between Isabel and my mother, who was a homemaker, not an accomplished, powerful attorney.

Read the complete interview here.

Also see: www.hertafeely.com. The novel is available at bookstores throughout the US and UK, on Amazon and other online booksellers. For a two-week period beginning on October 30th, 2017, the ebook (of Saving Phoebe Murrow) will be available in the US for 99 cents in recognition of National Bullying Prevention Month. The audiobook has also recently been released and is available for free and/or for the relatively low price of $14.99.

Marketing Tip #1: Book Reviews & Author Interviews

Posted on | October 18, 2017 | No Comments

Marketing Tip #1

 

 

 

 

 

 

Book reviews are critical to your book’s success! I’m sure you’ve heard that, but it’s true for a number of reasons. Not only does your publisher want them to use as blurbs on the cover or for inside, but also for book promotion purposes.

You’ll want to get traditional book reviews (in magazines and newspapers), but also online book reviews, which then translate into promoting the book through social media. Essentially, it’s “free” advertising. And with good reviews, your book is being promoted by a neutral party. Much more powerful than if you were to say: “My book is fabulous; it’s awesome. Just read it!”

Often, a couple of months before your book is released, your publisher will attempt to get book reviews for your novel or memoir or work of non-fiction. But sometimes, especially if your publisher is a small independent press or you’ve used a hybrid publisher or you’ve self-published, you’ll need to assist your publisher in getting book reviews. (It’s never too late to get a book review, by the way.) My UK publisher approached numerous reviewers last year, including Sophie Hedley, a prolific UK book blogger, and she agreed to do a review of my novel, Saving Phoebe Murrow, which you can find on her book review blog, called Book Drunk.

Over the next several months, Sophie and I got to know one another and she approached me in August 2017 for another project she was undertaking: to interview a series of authors about their novels, which she’d reviewed previously. I readily agreed, recognizing that the interview would be another opportunity to promote my novel nearly a year after it had been released. Once she published the interview on her blog (link at end of this post), we both used social media to promote her blog and my novel.

An excerpt from my interview on her blog “Social Media Stories”:

Sophie Hedley: Are there any particular authors that inspired you to write?

Herta Feely: “I wish I could tell you that, absolutely, it was Margaret Atwood or Ernest Hemingway or Isaac Asimov that inspired me because of their fine writing and prolific output, but honestly, if anything, reading Nancy Drew stories by Carolyn Keene growing up were as inspirational as the many literary and thriller novelists that I read later.”

SH: Saving Phoebe Murrow is Herta Feely’s debut novel. I asked Herta if she had always dreamed of being an author.

HF: “Not always. I did write stories and plays, even as a child, but I didn’t think in terms of wanting to be an author, not until my late twenties. Then writing became a way of life, and I worked in jobs that required writing of some sort or another.

“I studied journalism, which didn’t quite suit me. I was too prone to wanting to make up information, and that doesn’t do in that line of work. Eventually, in my 40s I left my job as executive director of Safe Kids Worldwide to stay at home with my two young sons, Max and Jack. It was then that I began pecking away at a novel and the fever to become an author struck me. So here we are!”

Read more of the interview…

Review of The Bricks That Built the Houses by Kate Tempest

Posted on | August 23, 2016 | No Comments

Molasses-slow backstories trip up an otherwise entertaining tale of love, ambition, and millennials in modern-day London.

The Bricks that Built the HousesI love Kate Tempest’s name. I love her look, too, for its Joplin-esque qualities. And I especially love some of Tempest’s craftsmanship in her debut novel, The Bricks That Built the Houses. Tempest’s work is worth reading if only for the poetry of her writing and its so-called urban edginess. It’s also worth experiencing for a peek into the lives of England’s twenty-somethings, many of them as misguided and uncertain as America’s millennials.

In the first seven pages, we meet Harry (female), Leon, and Becky, who are leaving town — perhaps running away? “They’re driving past the streets, the shops, the corners where they made themselves. Every ghost is out there, staring. Bad skin and sunken eyes, grinning madly at them from the past. It’s in their bones. Bread and booze and concrete. The beauty of it. All the tiny moments blazing. Preachers, parents, workers. Empty-eyed romantics going nowhere. Street lights and traffic and bodies to bury and babies to make. A job. Just a job…People are killing for gods again. Money is killing us all. They live under a loneliness so total it has become the fabric of their friendships. Their days are spent staring at things. They exist in the mass and feel part of the picture. They trust nothing but trends.”

This dark, unflinching look at life — presented from an omniscient point-of-view — here and elsewhere often feels as if the reader is encountering the author’s perspective.

The next chapter takes readers back one year. We discover how Becky and Harry, the two characters who captivate the reader most, were drawn to each other at a party. This chapter is also filled with Tempest’s keen observations of characters, who, judging from Tempest’s age, might be considered her peers. They appear to be filled with an overly self-confident swagger one minute, and defeatist, confused self-loathing the next. Nor does she hesitate to poke fun at them.

Main character Becky, an aspiring dancer, finds herself in a “part of town full of professional creatives with dreams of simpler living — radical, secret aspirations for cottages and nuclear families.” On entering a party in a “fashionable bar,” she describes it this way: “Everybody’s talking about themselves. I’m doing this…It’s going great. And have you heard about this that I do, and this other thing as well…Questioning postures and emphatic responses. The air is heavy with cocaine sweat, hidden fragility and the prospect of good PR.”

Meanwhile, Harry, a local drug dealer, is making her way to the same party, but encounters a friend from the past, Reggie, a somewhat pitiful petty criminal (dealer of various popular drugs). The two are contrasted this way: “[Harry] moves in confident strides…She is all London: cocksure, alert to danger, charming, and it flows through her. Reggie’s face repeats on all the strangers she passes and her eyes prickle and she blinks hard. She sees a homeless woman sat with her head on her knees.” Harry has a heart, but she’s also tough.

And then there’s Harry’s partner in crime, Leon: “The agreement is that Harry handles (drug) sales, Leon handles everything else. Both partners know their roles and respect each other’s talents. For the most part, they love their jobs.”

And so, after the initial encounter between Becky and Harry, we are drawn into Becky’s love affair with Pete, who, in this novel’s maze of relationships, turns out to be Harry’s brother. The story moves from Pete’s aimless, unhappy life (and difficulties with Becky) to Harry and Leon’s drug deals.

Here, the author skillfully delves into the underbelly of drug dealing and criminals in London. Eventually, over a dinner where the central characters come together both accidentally and explosively, Becky and Harry meet again. And fall in love. Love and loyalty of various sorts abounds in this novel. Betrayal and disappointment are also around every corner.

Unfortunately, the book is divided between the present-day story of the main characters (in their 20s) and the backstories of their parents and grandparents. This is where I had trouble. I loved the present-day story but felt ambivalent at best about the lengthy, lecture-like backstories of the main characters’ families, most of whom seemed doomed to an impoverished, down-trodden existence. The “system” was to blame in each case, and while often I felt sympathetic to what appears to be Tempest’s perspective, at times it seemed a little too predictable and too pessimistic.

This reader had to re-read these pages in an attempt to remember who was who, who was connected to whom, and how they figured into the story. These grinding, packed-with-fact mini-biographies are in such contrast to the magnificent prose littering the rest of Tempest’s dramatic pages that I kept wondering: Where’s the editor in all this? Why didn’t he or she advise Tempest to cut these, or properly weave them in, or use dramatic storytelling for these boring backstories if, in fact, their entirety is so important?

If you can skim these lengthy passages and get to the more compelling pages of The Bricks That Built the Houses, I think you’ll be glad you read this debut novel from a woman who is described as having “gained acclaim as a poet, playwright, rapper, and recording artist.” I hope we haven’t read the last from Kate Tempest. I’m sure we haven’t.

Novel Listicles: What do you think about them?

Posted on | August 9, 2016 | No Comments

First, I supposFullSizeRender (3)e I should ask, have you heard of the word listicles? I had not until I read Ann Leary’s The Children, a novel in which one of the characters refers to articles that include lists, which seems to be an increasingly popular trend, a way to entice people to read on. Like: 10 Cutest Puppies…Ever, 15 Ways to Improve Sex (tell me more!), 12 Ways to Calm Down When Your Children Are Doing Crazy Things. I imagine you are now sufficiently familiar with the term listicles…

So, to the topic at hand. I frequently receive emails with lists of books: 100 Novels to Read Before You Die. Top 10 All-Time Favorites. 25 Classic Novels for Your Bookshelf. Then there are the lists of finalists for various literary prizes, as in the PEN/Faulkner, Pulitzer, Man Booker, Nobel Prize for literature, and so on. You catch my drift.

The other day I received a list titled: “12 Contemporary British Novels We Can’t Live Without” (by Caitlin Kleinschmidt, published in the Huffington Post). This caught my eye. Why? Because I have always loved British writers and their novels, have at times (dare I put this in print?) even considered them superior to us American novelists, a tribe I can now include myself in, though even as I write this, I do so humbly and in lower case. Back to the subject. On seeing the title of this particular list, I wondered which 12 contemporary British novels would they include and are they the same ones that I cannot live without?

The author of the piece suggests that her choices are “some of the most exciting contemporary novelists across the pond that every self-respecting Anglophile should read.” Hmm, I thought, really? But with considerable hope and enthusiasm I scanned the list quickly.

Here it is:
White Teeth by Zadie Smith
The Paying Guests by Sarah Waters
The Ocean at the End of the Lane by Neil Gaiman
Cloud Atlas by David Mitchell
Life After Life by Kate Atkinson
Wolf Hall by Hilary Mantel
In a Dark, Dark Wood by Ruth Ware
The Girl Next Door by Ruth Rendell
Me Before You by Jojo Moyes
Atonement by Ian McEwan
The Sense of an Ending by Julian Barnes
Little Bee by Chris Cleave

Since this doesn’t appear to be an alphabetical list, I will assume the author meant the list to be in order of her favorite first, and so on. I won’t address this, because I would most certainly disagree, but rather will divide the list of books into several categories:
1) novels I’ve read;
2) authors I’ve read, but not the listed novel;
3) novels I’ve never heard of;
4) authors I’ve heard of but have not read; and
5) novels based on the brief description offered by the author that will go on my Goodreads’ “want to read” shelf.

So, for category 1 (books I’ve read): I’ve read one-third of the books on this list. For those of you who are not math whizzes, that’s four. These include the ones by Zadie Smith (White Teeth), Hilary Mantel (Wolf Hall), Ian McEwan (Atonement) and Julian Barnes (The Sense of an Ending). Of those, I would definitely include The Sense of an Ending in my top 20 British novels, and possibly also Atonement. I enjoyed the novel by Zadie Smith, but didn’t love it, and I imagine I am in a smallish group of people who did not like/was not able to appreciate Wolf Hall. (There’s so much more I could say about this, but that’s not what this blog post is about…though I would love to hear from those of you who either loved or hated this novel.)

Okay, category 2 (authors I’ve read, but not the listed novel): this includes David Mitchell and Kate Atkinson. I enjoyed immensely both authors’ novels (including David Mitchell’s The Thousand Autumns of Jacob De Zoet and The Bone Clocks; and an earlier novel of Atkinson’s, titled Case Histories). Hence, I would willingly add the two listed titles to my “ want to read” shelf.

Category 3: novels I’ve never heard of includes In a Dark, Dark Wood, The Girl Next Door, and Me Before You. Quite frankly, this shocks me. I consider myself well read and tuned in to the latest authors. I read tons of books, frequently get pinged by Amazon (if you liked XX, you’ll love XX), read book reviews quite frequently, etc. Apparently, I’m not as well read as I thought! So of these novels, based on their brief descriptions:
Dark, Dark Wood: “this gripping, suspenseful, and darkly twisted literary debut” (this one sounds fantastic and is right up my alley);
Me Before You: “opposites-attract love” story … that will make you laugh and weep and want to re-read it… is enough to make me want to read this by Jojo Moyes;
The Girl Next Door: “discovery of human remains in a long-forgotten tin box sends shockwaves across a group of longtime friends in a psychologically explosive story” definitely appeals to me.

So, oh, dear I’ve just added five (!) novels to my “want to read” shelf.

Category 4: authors/novels I’ve heard of, but haven’t read: The Paying Guests by Sarah Waters, The Ocean at the End of the Lane by Neil Gaiman and Little Bee by Chris Cleave. The first one I believe I tried but wasn’t drawn into, though possibly I’d try it again; the second doesn’t appeal to me at all, and the third is at the top of my “must read” list. The reason for this centers around the fact that in my own next novel (the one I’m currently writing) there is a Nigerian whose family fled their country and moved to England and faced the usual immigrant hardships. I would be reading it as a form of research for background on my own character.

Category 5: (see above description) turns out I didn’t need this category after all since I’ve now added 6, possibly 7, novels to my bookshelf!

Note to self: must read more. Must find way of extending the day. (Sleep less?)

Update: Already bought Little Bee and reading it! Totally into it. If I didn’t have to write my novel now, I’d be reading it instead!

Final update: At the bottom of the article there were several more listicles! The audacity! Here’s one:
“10 Cross-Cultural Novels that Illuminate the World We Live In”
Really? Really!

Wow! A Two-Book Deal…And Then…

Posted on | July 28, 2016 | No Comments

IMG_3182When you first receive word that you have a two-book deal with a publisher, you feel elated. Wow, not just one but two novels will be published. Then you realize you have to sit down and write the second one! When you signed that deal, you had no idea what the second novel would be about, you just knew it could NOT be a sequel to the first, something you’d considered and had already begun writing. So, set that one aside.

The pressure is on. On two fronts: 1) what’s this one going to be about? And 2) can I finish it on deadline? Okay, #2 first: Not only did I agree to have the second novel done during the same month as the release date of my first – yikes! – but what was I thinking since it took me three or four years to finish the first? True, the draft had only taken nine months, but then several re-writes took lots more time. True, I’d also been doing lots of other paid work. But now only a couple of months before the release date, and I’ve got less than half of novel #2 finished.

The good news: Answer to the first question: I have a solid handle on the plot trajectory of this novel. My characters are pretty firmly in place and the story seems to be flowing. What’s it about, you may ask. All Fall Down (working title) is about a woman (i.e., strong female character) who reaches the pinnacle of her career – well, almost – only to have it turn to dust, after someone accuses her of having been complicit in a murder.  Not only that, but her husband goes to Syria to find a missing grad student at a dig in Syria. Charlotte is a human rights activist and Russ is an archaeologist. Not long after he arrives in the Middle East, he disappears too. Without that high level job, the one that suddenly became elusive – Charlotte has time to chase down her husband. Of course, in the meantime we’ve gotten caught up in her past, a highly adventurous past, which includes falling in love with a Nigerian artist during her year abroad at Oxford, and then a Sandinista commander in Nicaragua. The latter being the one she’s accused of having been involved in murdering. That’s all the plot I’ll reveal for now!

Some tips for coming up with ideas for your next novel:

  • Read newspapers and magazines (my inspiration for writing Saving Phoebe Murrow came from a magazine and newspaper article) and keep a file with news clips that you can peruse when the ink runs dry.
  • Eavesdrop on people in restaurants, on the subway, in an airport.
  • Keep a story ideas folder on your computer’s desktop.
  • Other people’s crazy messed up lives…juicy possibilities I’m sure.
  • Check online about how to generate story ideas.
  • Last but definitely not least, think about your own life, it’s rich with possibility. If only you’d done this or that; well, in a novel you can—or perhaps you can create an alternate reality or change the ending to an event that you wish had happened differently.

Review of Wool 1, 2, and 3 by Hugh Howey

Posted on | February 18, 2016 | No Comments

20877555By far this novel is the best self-published sci-fi I’ve ever read. Oh, wait, it’s actually one of the best sci-fi/dystopian novels I’ve ever read (self-published or not), and I’ve read quite a few: Everything from Isaac Asimov’s Foundation series and his Robot series, Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World, Robert Heinlein’s Stranger in a Strange Land, Orson Scott Card’s Ender’s Game and the two sequels, Dan Simmon’s Hyperion and sequels – the latter author introduced to me by a fellow subway traveler, thank you very much! – and many more. So I think I’m a pretty good judge. Wool reminds me most, perhaps, of Cormac McCarthy’s bestseller The Road (2006).

 

But don’t believe me. There are thousands of people who have purchased Hugh Howey’s novel to the point that he’s making a killing off of his Wool ebooks, the rights to which he refused to cede to Simon & Schuster (Way to go, Hugh!), though he did give them the print version rights. (Their distribution channels are bit better than his.) Anyway, if you haven’t read Wool (1, 2, or 3)*, and you like dystopian fiction, or sci-fi, then start reading. You won’t be able to put it down. Howey creates an amazing and unforgettable world, most of it underground, where the air is cleansed of toxins that have poisoned earth’s air. Need I say more? His characters will draw you in, though be warned, you’ll lose a few of your favorites. Or at least I did. I just bought Wool 4, also known as The Unraveling. I can hardly wait. I am taking it with me to Hawaii and will report back.

 

P.S.*The title…or rather the 1,2,3 part…refers to the fact that as an ebook you can purchase each one separately…there are three parts that constitute one finished novel. That’s how I bought them, individually. Not sure if they are now available as one purchase or not, but in any case they are very affordable. And even in paperback, you can buy the complete book for as little as $9.51 new and even less used. I know you can purchase it from Amazon, but don’t forget your indie book sellers. Give them your business and tell them I sent you!

The Song of Hartgrove Hall

Posted on | February 2, 2016 | No Comments

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A complicated tale of sibling rivalry set against the backdrop of a once-grand English manor.

This novel is the perfect mid-winter read, especially if you’re a “Downton Abbey” fan. Curled up in front of a fire, you won’t want to stop turning the pages once you begin, so time your read carefully.

Bestselling author Natasha Solomons has delivered yet another enthralling tale that takes place in the English countryside, this time in and around Hartgrove Hall, a manor once beautiful and stately. After World War II, however, when the family reconvenes, the place is falling apart. The three brothers — the eldest being the presumed heir — vow to save and restore it while their rather cantankerous father, the General, is adamantly opposed to the idea but gives them a limited period of time to prove him wrong.

However, even among the brothers all does not proceed without conflict, internal and external. The Song of Hartgrove Hall is a complicated story of sibling rivalry, not the least of which is a triangular romance that’s anything but predictable. Solomons seems to have a wealth of knowledge when it comes to music, because this story is also about the art in a variety of forms, including a man in search of unrecorded English folk songs, a child piano prodigy and a woman who was England’s musical muse during the war.

Read Herta’s full review on the Washington Independent Review of Books.

The Truth About Setting

Posted on | March 30, 2015 | No Comments

Herta in Snow By Herta Feely
This winter has taught us Easterners, especially New Englanders, a lot about snow and about the very pleasurable peaceful feeling one gets as we watch the “snow falling on cedars,” barren trees and the landscape in general. For me, at least, it replaces the drab and dreary with a kind of heavenly beauty. And then when the blue sky and sun emerge, it’s like being kissed by your favorite grandparent and told to go play outside – sledding, skating, etc.

But describing those feelings, which is at the heart of settings, can be a more complicated thing. How do you translate the peacefulness of snowfall into the scene of a novel or memoir? You want to avoid being overly sentimental, and yet true to the emotion and beauty of it.

This brings to mind two novels in which snow played a significant role and from which we can learn a lot about setting: Snow Falling on Cedars by David Guterson and Snow by Orhan Pamuk. I highly recommend reading them, not just for setting but other reasons too. These two authors, one in the state of Washington and the other in Turkey, use snow to great effect. Pamuk’s character contemplates the snowfall and gets the same sense of peacefulness that I do when watching it. And in Guterson’s novel snow casts a veil of mystery around events. Of course! Snow is a veil, isn’t it? In reality, but also metaphorically.

Obviously, not everyone greets snow with the same enthusiasm (as me!), for some it’s a curse. I imagine that many people in large cities see it in exactly the opposite way. For them, snow signifies hardship: everything from the difficulty of finding parking, to having to shovel or plow the snow from sidewalks and streets, to the layers of clothing required to stay warm. (Have you ever tried to push a baby buggy down an icy, snow-covered sidewalk or street?)

In any case, experiencing what you want to describe can assist you in your writing of settings. Sitting quietly and letting the experience wash over you might help when you face the computer and begin composing the scene in which your character exists. Close your eyes and remember. Better yet, as the snow falls write down your impressions. Don’t worry about making your prose perfect or beautiful or flowing. Just write down the visuals, the feelings, a few metaphors, and then when it’s time to write that scene turn back to your journal and crib a few lines.

And if you’ve recorded the event with some photos, pull them up on your computer or smart phone or out of your drawer and experience that moment again by closing your eyes and remembering…

Staff Picks: Feminist Books

Posted on | November 4, 2014 | No Comments

THE BELL JAR BY SYLVIA PLATH 

Favorite Line: “I knew that’s what marriage was like, because cook and clean and wash was just what Buddy Willard’s mother did from morning till night…and I knew in spite of all the roses and kisses and restaurant dinners a man showered on a woman before he married her, what he secretly wanted when the wedding service ended was for her to flatten out  underneath his feet like Mrs. Willard’s kitchen mat”(85).

the-bell-jar-by-sylvia-plath

The Bell Jar is something everyone, and especially every woman, needs to read. While Plath’s semi-autobiographical novel touches upon mental illness, it is truly the story of a young woman struggling to find her place in 1950’s America. Esther Greenwood is disenchanted with the confining expectations for women, yet simultaneously, she’s dangerously unsure of what path she wants her life to take. Women from any generation can empathize with Esther’s uncertainty, as well as the pressure she feels to succumb to the cult of domesticity. —Rachel Ehrenberg

THE HANDMAID’S TALE BY MARGARET ATWOOD

Favorite Line: “Don’t let the bastards grind you down.”

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While dystopian fiction is very much “in vogue” at the moment, Atwood pushes the genre past the more-recent post-apocalyptic plot lines, drawing on extreme religious beliefs to create a strange, misogynistic environment. In the world of Atwood’s dystopia, written in 19XX, women cannot read, write, or do much else aside from bearing children. Their value comes from the quality of their ovaries. Births are experienced by all and insubordination is combatted with public hangings. It’s horrifying in a way that The Hunger Games could never be because it doesn’t seem that far-fetched. —Emily Holland

THE WOMAN DESTROYED BY SIMONE DE BEAUVOIR

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Favorite Line: “…me so vital alive a burning flame and him stuffy middle-class cold hearted prick like limp macaroni.”

Simone’s narrative draws upon the feminist theories in her famous philosophical text, The Second SexThe Woman Destroyed is divided into three parts, each from the perspective of a woman experiencing troubles relating to age, her husband’s mistress, the loss of passion, and other intertwined mostly female issues. The book not only depicts the lives of the three women, but also reveals their deepest thoughts with an honesty that, at times, is brutal to read.  —Morgan Day

WASHINGTON SQUARE BY HENRY JAMES

Favorite Line: “Poor Catherine’s dignity was not aggressive; it never sat in state; but if you pushed far enough you could find it. Her father had pushed very far.”

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While Washington Square is certainly not a feel-good, warm fuzzy read, it does leave the reader incredibly satisfied and vindicated. Catherine Sloper, initially the epitome of a Plain-Jane, is viewed as undesirable for marriage with the exception of her sizable trust fund. Morris Townsend, a slimy, opportunistic man views Catherine as a vulnerable target and begins to court her, much to the chagrin of her equally repugnant father. Both men attempt to use Catherine for their own ends, however they vastly underestimate her. Catherine is the most unlikely heroine, yet her small victories over the manipulative men in her life make her one of the most endearing protagonists. —Cherylann Pasha

 

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