“A biography of….”

Blending historical events and “real time” into and around the lives of my fictional characters is one of the enjoyable aspects of writing these novels. Naturally I hope readers become immersed in that melding too. I also love working in stealthy references to prominent people of those mid-1990s and before:

….While James walked ahead of her into the kitchen, Isabelle dawdled behind. She noted some of his possessions up close. He had lots of books and she lingered with them the longest.

His shelves were full of history. She saw that biographies of Thomas Jefferson and Theodore Roosevelt were especially numerous. There were also works on Alaska, ancient history and old textbooks. There were more World War Two books than she could count. She noticed he even had a book on France’s Algerian war.

She was surprised to find a biography of Charles de Gaulle. It was not decorating a shelf, but sat poised atop a pile of textbooks on a table next to the couch. Picking up the book, she saw a back cover blurb by a reviewer describing it as perhaps the best biography ever done on de Gaulle. As she read it, she called out to the kitchen, asking what she might do to help with dinner.

He replied that he planned to do a pasta dish. “It’s my grandmother’s recipe so it should be good. Would you cut some of the vegetables? That’ll speed things.”

“No problem.” She startled him also as she walked into the kitchen waving the book at him good-naturedly. “You say you don’t know much about France? I think you know more than you say. What are you reading, eh? I’m sure most Americans don’t know of this book,” she laughed….

The book she’s referring to? If you know something about World War II American journalism (and read on in the story), you may be able to figure out which book it is. If you aren’t all that familiar with it, don’t worry, I’ll let you know here: The Three Lives of Charles de Gaulle.

A WWII photo portrait of General Charles de Gaulle of the Free French Forces and first president of the Fifth Republic serving from 1959 to 1969. [Wikipedia.]

A WWII photo portrait of General Charles de Gaulle of the Free French Forces and first president of the Fifth Republic serving from 1959 to 1969. [Wikipedia.]

Its author, David Schoenbrun, was a remarkable journalist and author from the 1940s until his death in 1988. Although it is tough to get a copy of it today, his Three Lives (written while de Gaulle was French president, so it does not cover his resignation and death) remains superb reading.

I’d seen Mr. Schoenbrun at a student event a couple of years before his death. He made a such an impression on me I’ve never forgotten it. I thought I’d sneak in a small salute to him here.

Okay, So What’s On Your Playlist?

I suspect most of us don’t see eye to eye on everything in life with our significant other. How can we? It’s perfectly reasonable we have some differences.

Taste in music may be one. My wife and I don’t agree entirely on music and certain artists. So, she being 3,000 miles away in London currently, I feel a bit less guilty about using the speakers to listen to, uh, some Chris De Burgh.

Thinking on that also led me here. Right now, I’m writing, sitting alone outside at my parents’ house, in their screened-in rear porch. It overlooks, well, trees….

View from my parents' back deck, rural Pennsylvania. [Photo by me, 2014.]

View from my parents’ back deck, rural Pennsylvania. [Photo by me, 2014.]

At the risk of perhaps alienating some of you, I thought I’d share the artists on one of my mixed playlists:

Chris Cornell; Adele; Steve Winwood; Ivy; James Blunt; Sara Bareilles; The Wallflowers; Tina Arena; Peter Cetera; Amy Winehouse; The Goo Goo Dolls; Natalie Imbruglia; The Cars; Judith Bérard; Quarterflash; Pat Benatar; Survivor; Laura Branigan; Mr. Mister; Corynne Charby; Matchbox Twenty; Sophie Ellis-Bextor; Jean-Jacques Goldman; 10,000 Maniacs; Chicago; Patricia Kaas; Journey; The Bangles; Chris De Burgh.

Yeh, I know. I’m showing some, err, “age” there. ;-)

Dad is doing well again today. I’m taking some time to unwind this afternoon. We all hope a general recuperation period has begun.

I hope you’re having (or you had) a good weekend, wherever you are reading this….

Saturday In The Poconos (With The Patient)

With Dad now at home and feeling pretty good, we’re all settling into trying to help him recuperate from his heart “failure” last weekend. I’ve been trying to do what I can around the house – driving my mother here and there, running errands, changing smoke detector batteries, etc. Normally, my Dad’s been the one climbing on ladders and doing “guy stuff” in their home.

He’s also thrilled the English Premiership has restarted. It was on the television all morning. Memo to anyone in U.S. sports media who still believe men “over 50″ will never take to soccer/football: My 73 year old very American Dad – who grew up adoring baseball and American football – loves soccer now too.

Free Stock Photo: Illustration of men playing soccer.

Free Stock Photo: Illustration of men playing soccer.

If I had ever bet that he’d be immersed in a Leicester City v. Everton match, I’d have lost my shirt.

There is some downtime. So later, and in days to come, I may also have some time to write sneakily. They don’t know about my novels. ;-)

And my wife (back in London, from whom in 15 years’ married I’ve not been so long separated as we will be during this week, or more, apart), bless her, she decided this morning to have a laugh. She iMessaged me this Telegraph piece:

Marion Cotillard: ‘I felt I could lose myself’

My phone beeped at me at 4:30 am with just its link visible. Nothing else in her message. When I spoke to her a few hours later, she said she just couldn’t resist it: “I know she’s not Juliette Binoche, of course. But she’s second….”

8. You wholeheartedly agree with the phrase: “Mélanie Laurent is a goddess.”

…. everyone knows the correct phrasing there is not “Mélanie Laurent is….” At least, not yet.

Obviously, the most accurate statement is “Juliette Binoche is….”

“Marion Cotillard” being one is the other acceptable response.

All things considered, it’s wonderful to feel able to really smile for the first time in nearly a week. :-)

And Jenny Paints

We had headed to Bristol on Saturday for a barbecue, to watch the Balloon Fiesta fly by, and to stay with friends overnight. Unfortunately, the fly by was scrubbed due to heavy rain. “Ah, the English weather,” the host dryly (no pun intended) announced.

However, the barbecue did take place thanks to a small garden gazebo. So we still had a wonderful evening with them and friends of theirs whom we didn’t know previously. Twelve of us in total.

Our friends are an Anglo-Danish couple: he’s English; she’s Danish. And they have two absolutely gorgeous, friendly and hilarious cats:

A Devon Rex belonging to our friends. [Photo by me, 2014.]

A Devon Rex belonging to our friends. [Photo by me, 2014.]

Mingling, my wife mentioned my novel to one man. Trust her always to know how to work a room. (She’s much better at it than I am.) Moments later, he sought me out.

And he was keenly interested in the smallest of details. How do you write? What time do you start? Do you do it every day?

Others jumped in as we stood around the kitchen island, drinking and eating. Later, general conversation in the dining room drifted briefly to my novel, including the plot and my inspiration. “Why do you think I come to get togethers like this?” I joked. “I need new material!”

Grinning, our Danish girlfriend observed, “I was reading it on the Kindle, wondering, ‘Hmm, am I in here? Am I one of those French girls?'”

“Don’t worry. You’re not in this one,” I smiled. “Would you like to be in the next one?”

By the end of the evening, two of my Kindle books had been sold. “I just bought it,” one woman announced. “Click!”

We also discovered another woman at the gathering was a wonderful painter. I mean superb. She produced an incredible canvas work that our friends have mounted over their fireplace.

The man with whom I’d first been chatting about my book noted to the table, “Rob writes novels. Jenny paints. What’s my talent? I don’t do anything!”

Sunday night, we visited with other Bristol friends I’ve mentioned before: the Maidments. Stu is author of a WWII, Nazi scientists, IRA killers, action/adventure/thriller that’s rather, err, different than my expats/travel/romance tale. At one point, as I related the party to him, we discussed how you don’t just go up to someone and announce, “Hey, I wrote a book!”

I recall reading that Humphrey Bogart (my favorite actor) had once said he hated telling people he was an actor; that it was such a silly thing to be. I don’t feel exactly the same about being a new novelist, yet there is still a sense of awkwardness in saying you write novels. So when others show such enthusiasm about what you do, it is a huge confidence booster. :-)

“Passports” At The Ready

Hello! Made it! Feeling really jet-lagged this morning UK time, we’re back in London.

Some posts just write themselves – and this is one.

If you enter the United Kingdom by air and hold a non-EU passport, you must complete a short landing card to give to passport control. Among the standard name, address in the UK, etc., info that it requires, it asks for your occupation.

The last few times I’ve filled one out, I’ve written “Author.” (The first time, it had been at my wife’s urging: “You are one now.”) None of the previous border officers had showed the slightest interest in asking me about it. They had also all been men.

Yesterday’s officer, a pleasant woman, did. Friendly and efficient (but you knew she was doing her job thoroughly), after the entrance formalities, including, “How do you two know each other?” (My wife: “We’re married.”) and comparing my old passport’s (which has my UK visa stamp) photo to my current one – “Look at you!” (I was a bit younger in the older passport photo, obviously) – the officer glanced down again at my form and asked me, “What do you write?”

I smiled and replied, “I’d guess you’d call them travel romances.” I added a moment later, “Would you like to buy one?”

final-cover-2-december-2013.jpg

She appeared genuinely interested. Taking hold of a piece of scrap paper, she noted with a grin, “I might. You write under this [your real] name or another?”

When I shared my “R. J. Nello” pen name, she laughed, checking the spelling as she scribbled, “Let me get that right.”

Finished, she wished us a “Welcome back.”

As we made our way around the corner towards baggage reclaim, I chuckled to my wife, “Us authors will talk about our books just about anywhere.”

At that, she joked, “Wait until Carol and Stu hear about this. You may soon have fans in the UK Border Agency.”

Why You Hate Mom Being On Facebook

I had an, uh, “interesting” phone chat with my mother in Pennsylvania last night. It went generally like this….

Mother: “Have a good trip back to England. Say ‘Hi’ to everyone for us.”

Me: “I will of course. Helen spoke to her mother. Everyone seems okay. She always misses Helen when she comes over here for a while.”

Mother: “Her mother adores her. Oh, you know, I noticed that your friend Carol’s husband, in England, that Helen wrote on Facebook that he’s written a book?”

Me: [Uh, oh. Gather thoughts, Rob.] “Yes, he did. He worked on it for over a year. In his spare time. I bought a Kindle copy….” [Darn! Why did you say you bought a copy!?]

Mother: “Well, that’s great to get something like that published the first time you do it.”

Me: [Still wary.] “He didn’t. He self-published on Amazon. That’s become a big thing now. There are lots of best sellers by people who do. He hopes it’ll attract some interest. He’s not expecting millions.”

Mother: “Getting published used to be about who you knew. My brother managed to know the right people. Now you can do it yourself. Have you….”

Me: [Trying to shift the discussion quickly away from my friend's book, which has that potentially explosive ***Acknowledgement*** to me issue (I don't want my mother buying it!), and what I suspected was about to be a question from her about my writing something myself someday.] “You know that Fifty Shades book. The one they’re making the movie….”

Mother: “….Of course I’ve heard of it. I bought it for your sister. And I was thinking, ‘What is this?’ She said, ‘It’s erotica.'”

Me: “I get the impression ‘erotic’s’ not a strong enough word. [Am I discussing that book with my mother?] Anyway, I’ve read she started out with a blog, writing fan fiction of Twilight, I think. When she developed her own characters and published it on Kindle, she sold like a gazillion copies. I read someone who also said it sold so many that way because women could read it on Kindle sitting next to their husbands and kids and no one could see what they were reading because the cover wasn’t visible!”

Mother: [After a laugh.] “How things have changed. Hey, you know those people living behind us? They moved….”

Whew. That was a close one. Book discussion concluded – by mother.

I think it was de Gaulle who once said a politician should never lie, but he must be careful about how he tells the truth. Well, whether politico or not, definitely don’t lie to your mother! Just avoid mentioning what she doesn’t directly ask. Or get her off the subject – quick! ;-)

Free Stock Photo: Several British bank notes.

Free Stock Photo: Several British bank notes.

Yes, we’re flying back to London later today. I may be quiet for a day or two. See you on here next from “over there.” :-)

I May Soon Be “Discovered”

….although not in the way I had, uh, really wished. ;-)

First, please pardon a quick plug, which also provides necessary background. I’ve written before about an English friend who was working on what I had tongue-in-cheek termed a seriousguy book.” Along the way, when asked I offered him bits of independent publishing advice based on my own (pretty steep) learning curve.

Out of the blue, his wife messaged yesterday that it is now published. Far from being only for “guys”, it’s a thriller that’s stuffed with the likes of his uncanny ability to write well about living in the U.S. without ever having set foot in the U.S. Entitled The Bastard Reich, it’s on Amazon in U.K. paperback and Kindle, and U.S. paperback and Kindle, and, I suppose, on all the other Amazons around the world.

6242_wpm_lowres

Here are the opening lines in the book description:

In the final months of the Second World War a hospital deep in the heart of Bavaria performs vile experiments behind its sinister stone walls, but a cataclysmic event exposes the true nature of its evil work.

Meanwhile, downed American Pilot, Captain Jack Harrison, finds himself miles behind enemy lines and begins a deadly escape from capture by the Waffen SS, who are hunting him down….

Given that story, I’m sure new author S. Maidment will shortly be bombarded with those movie deal inquiries. Naturally, it’ll need a male lead. How about Tom Cruise? ;-)

I noticed also that he thanked me in his Acknowledgements. I’m genuinely flattered. I had not expected that.

However, I also saw that in “thanking” me he may have totally inadvertently opened the door to unmasking my “secret identity.” For without knowing I had gotten a mention in the Acknowledgements, my wife had already recommended it on Facebook. My uncle immediately jumped in saying he’s buying it.

See where this could be heading?

All my uncle needs to do is skim the Acknowledgements. He’ll see my wife’s name is there, but my real name is not. If he notices that same sentence opens with those “thanks” to an author named “R. J. Nello” whom he’s never heard of…. and if he “googles” that name?…. Voilà! I’m discovered!

My wife doesn’t think he’ll spot it. But I’m far less sure. He usually reads thoroughly, and I have to believe he would doubly so this time – including the Acknowledgements – given she recommended the book because it had been written by an English friend.

I was not planning on telling him, or anyone else in my American family. But if my uncle does at last find out by this back door what I’ve been up to, I’m prepared. I had always believed there was a reasonable chance he would stumble on my literary alter ego eventually. ;-)

So, as the cliché goes, watch this space. The days and weeks to come may be fun! I’ll keep you updated!

We All Love Free Stuff

Sandra Wheeler, whom I’ve mentioned several times recently, has been blogging her erotic novel, Falling In Cascades, for free. In a post yesterday, she tackles this question:

Why on earth are you blogging your novel?

Her answer’s worth a read. She addresses the issues anyone who writes finds familiar. “Confidence” is perhaps the biggest one: I don’t feel what I write is good enough to ask for money for it.

I dropped in my 2 cents (no pun intended) over at Sandra’s blog. You may click here to read it in full at her site. (Note: if this is your first visit to my blog, “my uncle” is a HarperCollins-published novelist.) I’ve reprinted my main points below:

….I had this same debate with my wife over a year ago. I had thought I would simply toss my “Passports” on the net. However, she – businesswoman she is – was adamant it warranted something back for all the effort I’d put into crafting it. “Don’t you dare give it away,” she assailed me. “There’s tons of junk out there that sells loads. Yours is much better. And it’s not just me saying that.”

The others who were saying that were its proofreaders – people we knew read it, and also passed it to several trusted friends or other family (who didn’t know me) who also read it. The gist of my wife’s argument was one I agreed with, but I needed her to reinforce it for me: if you work hard, you deserve to get paid for what you produce.

Giving away a novel for free is entirely a personal decision. Myself, I’ve sold more than I have expected so far. When I check and notice sales, it always spurs me forward as I work on the sequel. I am pleased I self-published. I control it all. Every word of it is mine and mine alone: I am intensely proud of it. No one tells me what should be in it, or what should be left out, or when there should be sex. (Would a painter have an editor?: “Oh, there needs to be a house in there, top right, among the trees.”) It won’t be “stolen.” Above all, who knows, at some point I might sell lots?

Just because your writing is imperfect does not mean it is not publishable. No one’s writing is perfect. Repeat: no ones. My uncle can’t spell. He’d be doomed without an editor. I’ve also read numerous books that had “professional editing” jobs, and which also still had obvious typos.

I took the view pre-publication (and which I maintain as my basic position) that I know I have not written “War and Peace,” but, by the same token, it’s more than a decent read. Several proofreaders absolutely loved it. So while my book(s) may not change the world, I believe they are worth something.

Writing is no different than being a plumber or a lawyer. You have a skill in storytelling and entertainment. It is like being “self-employed.” You really deserve to set yourself up so as to eventually perhaps see some (even just a tiny) return for your creative struggles.

Be confident about what you do! It is uniquely you! No one else writes exactly what you do!….

I believe that’s all pretty rational and reasonable. Come on….

Deer at the door. [Photo by me, 2010.]

Deer at the door. [Photo by me, 2010.]

….don’t look so surprised!

All kidding aside, I took that photograph of a deer looking in through our Catskills lounge sliding door a few years back. I’m not planning on ever publishing a book of cute, spontaneously taken, upstate New York wildlife photos. If I were, though, I probably wouldn’t have blogged that on here for free. ;-)

Have a good Saturday!

The Sequel’s Draft Cover

We’ve all heard the expression, “Never judge a book by its cover.” Yeh, well, as both readers and authors, we’re also aware that the cover is important. A novel could be wonderful, but if the cover is off-putting to readers? On the other hand, even the most spectacular cover cannot make up for a fundamentally weak book.

Drum roll, please….

Draft Cover. Front cover photo (r): Notre Dame de la Garde, overlooking Dahouët harbor, Brittany. Rear cover: A visitor snapping a photograph, Manhattan. [Copyright © 2014 by R. J. Nello]

Draft Cover. Front cover photo (r): Notre Dame de la Garde, overlooking Dahouët harbor, Brittany. Rear cover: A visitor snapping a photograph, Manhattan. [Copyright © 2014 by R. J. Nello]

That’s the sequel‘s draft cover. My own photos once more, this time with color enhancements and computer alterations. I’m still about 4-6 months from publication, so it may change again.

But I’m definitely liking this approach. After the perhaps blindingly “obvious” covers I thought were necessary for Passports as a series opener – national flags on the front cover, and shots of the Statue of Liberty/ World Trade Center/ Eiffel Tower on the back – there will be some “artsy” symbolism on this second one. As you see also, I reduced the Passports cover, and I’m thinking to slip it onto the sequel’s cover as well.

And, again, hopefully it’s a cover readers won’t be, uh, “embarrassed” to be seen with in public: ;-)

….When we sit on a train with a book open in front of us, how much has our choice of reading being influenced by our ideas of what a proper book should be like, and how a proper adult should appear in public?

A few other points. The title’s blanked out because I’d like to save sharing that with you until I’m nearer to publication. Also blocked out is a reference to how Passports concludes. (I don’t want an inadvertent “spoiler” here months before that sequel is available in “book world.”) That said, the back cover “blurb” you see is also, for now, otherwise mostly filler; although I really do like that Lena comment that appears in a chapter, so I may use it on here.

We all have to start somewhere. :-)

Hope you’re having a good day, wherever you’re reading this….

Wheels Within Wheels

I was so pleased that Sandra Wheeler commented twice yesterday on my “What Women Like (To Read)” post. In it, I’d made reference to her online erotic novel. And, by the way, if you read any of it, be forewarned: it’s definitely for adults.

Amidst my first comment in reply, I noted this:

As with you, I don’t pretend [my writing is] “high art,” but “art” is in the opinion of the reader. I do know I put a huge amount of effort into creating a barrage of characters, happenings and relationships because I believe the real world functions like that – as a mess of people interacting unpredictably on a variety of levels. “Wheels within wheels,” so to speak. And maybe that’s “art?” In the end, that’s always for someone else to decide.

I realized after I’d clicked “post” that one of the efforts in the sequel I am most proud of is in this draft chapter (click for larger version):

image

It is an example of “inspiration” taking me in a story direction I had never anticipated. If you are a recent follower, you may not know that I decided in that chapter to fashion a bit of “immortality” for a dear friend of ours who died back on February 2. You may (or may not) have seen the sidebar link to a “memorial” post I wrote about her shortly after her death.

Free Stock Photo: A burning candle.

Free Stock Photo: A burning candle.

I placed that now late friend, Kam, in a scene in her native London with fictional James and Isabelle. I also orchestrated it to have Kam talking about two other real life people: myself and my real life wife, Helen. Call it my little effort at being a bit “Hitchcock” – and then some – in slipping us into my own otherwise fictional tale.

In addition, unbeknownst to Kam on that page, I had James and Isabelle agree how Kam reminds them of fictional Valérie.

A bit of “wheels within wheels” there which you, and only you, a reader of this blog, would know about. Why? Because I have also explained previously how, in Passports – which was written entirely while Kam was alive, and published two months before her death – I partly based Valérie on real life Kam.

The other day, Book Quotes shared this on Twitter:

“You can love someone so much…But you can never love people as much as you can miss them” – John Green.

So painfully true. Kam is gone from our lives far too early and totally unexpectedly. In Valérie, she lives on for me somewhat “ghostlike” in these books – in small asides, in certain behaviors, in comments. But now, in having Kam walk on properly as herself, she will now make her presence felt forever as the lovely, real person she was – even if only briefly.

I think there’s probably at least a little bit of “art” in that. But when it comes to the living and “art,” we have to be careful. I commented separately to Sandra:

….I’ve noted on here that my uncle (my writing name is a pen name) is a HarperCollins police/crime author. He has been writing for over 30 years. He’s written for TV and film too. Growing up I couldn’t understand him very well – his world was not mine at all. Frankly, until I was in my early 20s, I thought he was “odd.” Now, a couple of decades on, I “get” him much better. But I always admired what he produced, even though it wasn’t what I really liked to read.

For years, we’ve been good friends. He told me recently that he believes I should have “a blog” and write about my experiences – traveling, living abroad, etc. When he wrote that (on Facebook) I had to control my laughter – especially because I fictionalize him in the books, and he has no idea my books exist.

This is my secret – known only to very trusted friends, and certain (all English, no American) family, and that’s fine for now. But when my uncle does discover it, I suspect he’ll laugh; yet I’m not entirely sure that will be the reaction and don’t want to cross that minefield until I have to. I am uber-cautious in that regard because we had an ugly family experience some years ago when he wrote a biographical piece for an anthology in which he discussed my grandfather using my grandpa’s real name. My mother went absolutely ballistic when she read how he had described their late father….

More “wheels within wheels.” Sometimes it’s hard to keep track. Being a writer is, uh, indeed at times, “odd.” ;-)