History Stuffed In A Drawer

Yesterday, at my in-laws, my wife and I went through old family photos and letters. We did so at the request of a distant relation. She believed some snaps of her close relatives might have been scattered in among them.

She thought so because the stash had been held by my father-in-law’s aunt. That aunt had been kind of a “family historian.” She died without children about 10 years ago, and my father-in-law had inherited most of her possessions – including all these photographs.

Well, the historian in me salivated as we thumbed through them. I couldn’t get over them. There are just a few samples. [All photos reproduced, Copyright © 2014 by R. J. Nello.]

The first two below look like they could’ve worked for Harry Selfridge:

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Very serious:

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Not as serious:

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Posturing (the man on the left has a cigarette hanging from his mouth; the one of the right, a pipe):

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“1941”: that year, and the photographer’s name, are all it says on this photo:

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This last is of my wife’s future great-uncle and great-aunt on their wedding day in 1943 – he in RAF uniform:

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That one immediately above is a rarity: few of the pictures have names, dates and locations written on the back. Arrgh! Don’t you just hate that!

They were taken, we estimate, mostly between about 1900-1950.

My father-in-law was going to throw those photos (and others like them) out because there’s no need to keep them any longer. But just because few, or no one, now living remember these people any longer is beside the point. The photos are amazing and take us back to another era.

Needless to say, none of them will end up in the trash if I have anything to say about it! :-)
_____

Today is September 1. Coincidentally, Nazi Germany invaded Poland on this date on in 1939. Britain and France would declare war on Germany on September 3, and World War II had begun.

Bearly Around

Look who decided to stroll nonchalantly through my parents’ backyard during (our) dinner:

Bear emerging from the woods. Pennsylvania. [Photo by me, 2014]

Bear emerging from the woods, Pennsylvania. [Photo by me, 2014.]

At the table, my mother immediately announced: “I’m outta here! Back to Long Island!”

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….

Why I’d Never Be President

My wife once asked me, “Why don’t you stand (meaning run) for office sometime?” No way. Not when stuff like this is floating around out there:

University of Alaska, late 1980s. Dorm photo. [Copyright, Me.]

University of Alaska, late 1980s. Dorm photo. [Copyright, Me.]

I’ll stick to writing books. I’d (mercifully) forgotten about that picture. Yep, that is me, on the right side of the photo, wearing the white cap.

It’s an informal floor photo we’d taken at our dorm at the University of Alaska-Fairbanks in the late 1980s. An old floor-mate (now a very responsible, mature resident of that august and beautiful state) emailed me a copy the other day.

Seeing it on Facebook, my uncle wrote that I was so “cute.” Apparently struck by the long hair, beards, and what she considered a generally “hippie” appearance, a friend in England kidded that she thought it looked like we were doing a production of “Jesus Christ Superstar.”

Everyone’s a flippin’ comedian nowadays.

I hope you’re having a good weekend. That post is perfect for a Sunday morning. I know so few of you will probably see it. ;-)

The Independent Extols The Catskills, But….

….in its “quest” for “Catskills style,” the U.K. newspaper in my humble opinion omits some very “stylish” places:

Searching for style in the Catskills

I understand it seems to be a narrowly focused piece that showcases certain businesses. Still, it gives an unbalanced impression of the region. There is lots of “style” out there beyond hugging Route 28 towards Roxbury.

Places that Indy article plugs, such as Woodstock and Phoenicia, are definitely worth visiting. Head north as well. Windham and adjoining towns – Hunter, Jewett, Ashland and Prattsville* – should not be missed.

Windham has the prettiest Main Street in the Catskills. It also boasts a large ski resort. (There’s also another in Hunter.) It has the wonderful Bistro Brie & Bordeaux. (One wouldn’t have thought the Independent could’ve possibly overlooked something like, uh, that.) There’s also the well-regarded Windham Vineyards and Winery. And you haven’t eaten in a diner until you’ve tried (cash only) Michael’s. (My English brother-in-law – who visited last summer – still talks about how much he enjoyed it.) I could go on….

Next door Ashland – one of the smallest towns in New York state – even has a replica Partridge Family bus. (It’s on private property.) Does anything get more “stylish” than that?

The area has state forests and fantastic hiking trails. It’s also somewhere you can drive for tens of miles before bumping into a traffic light. (The hamlet of Tannersville – there’s “style” there too – in the town of Hunter, has the STOP light.) The vistas and serenity are second to none for the Catskills.

Rainbow over the Catskills. [Photo by me, 2012.]

Rainbow over the Catskills, looking toward Hunter Mountain. (Notice the deer accidentally in frame.) [Photo by me, 2012.]

Yes, I’m biased. Our house is outside of Windham. However, if you drive up from New York City and confine yourself only to what’s along Route 28 and don’t continue up from Phoenicia to Route 23, you haven’t really seen the Catskills.

Anyway, time to get back to work. Writing, writing, writing. Woodstock isn’t the only place in the Catskills with authors. ;-)

Have a good day, wherever you are reading this….
__________

NOTE: *For me, one of the few “lighthearted” moments of Tropical Storm Irene and the lousy late summer of 2011 was hearing CNN’s Anderson Cooper repeatedly say “Prattsville” to an audience of global viewers. The town and area have rebounded from the flooding. Prattsville still has a few ruined private dwellings marked for demolition, but most business locations have recovered, rebuilt, and, indeed, often been refurbished.

Soooouper Geeeeenius

We’ve had three mice infestations during the last year. They love the inside of our boiler, which is down in our crawl space. Typical Catskills. Typically rural.

They slip inside it through the outside fresh air intake, which is about 12 inches off the ground and only a few inches above a naked pipe, from which we suspect they can easily reach up to get to the intake. After the first time, I put a window screen mesh over the intake; but they nibbled through that. After the second, I jammed steel mesh into the intake opening; and they wiggled around that.

After the third, the other day, the propane company technician who cleared them out suggested dryly, “Ya need a cat.”

The in-laws' cat, caught making himself comfortable on the cooker top. London. [Photo by me, 2013.]

The in-laws’ cat, caught making himself comfortable on the cooker top. London. [Photo by me, 2013.]

Now there’s a high-tech solution for you. Except we can’t have a cat. We are in the U.K. a lot, and my mother detests cats and would never visit us.

“Maybe we should get a cat,” my wife joked.

The mice have done no major damage thus far, but we suspect it’s only a matter of time. So I’ve finally had enough. No mice are going outsmart Wile E. Nello.

I’ve constructed a multilayer defensive system. Please don’t call it my personal Maginot Line. Just don’t:

My anti-mice effort. [Photo by me, 2014.]

My anti-mice effort. [Photo by me, 2014.]

Its basis is two layers of 1/4 inch gap steel mesh tacked to the house around the entire intake/out vent. (The opening you see is the out vent; the fresh air intake opens on the reverse side.) I jammed layers of gorilla tape into all gaps (no matter how small) between the mesh and the house siding (which is not flat of course). A board below blocks a horizontal pipe that the critters may use as a “step up.” I even placed a blocking piece of metal next to another pipe, to the left, from which they might be able to jump across.

When my wife saw the finished product – which took me a couple of hours to construct – she declared, “You’re wasted writing books!”

“Oh, yeh,” I replied, “and at some point an anvil will probably come down on my head.” 😏

Sense Of Place

Yesterday I received a Facebook message from my wife’s friend in Bristol; her husband is writing a novel. He had a question for me about New York City. Specifically he wanted to know something about Brooklyn.

You remember him? I wrote about him a few months ago. He’s the guy who’ll probably get a film deal after selling like, urr, a gazillion books…. and I’ll sell, uh, quite a few less. ;-)

I was startled he had a question about anywhere in the U.S. I say that because he has managed, without ever having even once set a foot in the U.S., to write vividly about life, people and places in the country. Everything he knows about the U.S. he has picked up from books, TV, films…. and, uh, me.

Amazing how some manage that. But I find there is also nothing more satisfying and useful than having walked the ground in the places you are using – or even just think may use – as story background. Doing that imbues a tale with a much more rooted “sense of place.”

Pope Francis passing by at an audience in St. Peter's Square, the Vatican, September 2013. [Photo by me.]

Pope Francis passing by at an audience in St. Peter’s Square, the Vatican, September 2013. [Photo by me.]

I was unsurprisingly pleased (to be honest, ecstatic is a better word) when one of my readers wrote me that she enjoyed my detailing a Paris neighborhood where she had lived. She said it brought back happy memories. That I had been there myself definitely made a difference: I don’t know if I would have been able to write about it quite as I had if I had never been there in person.

Yep, umm, just like our pal Ernest Hemingway. ;-)

Upstate New York’s Guillotine

July 14 is “Bastille Day.” Saturday, the Rockland County village of Piermont commemorated it. A photo gallery from LoHud newspaper captures some of the event, including its display of the French Revolution’s most enduring and infamous symbol:

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In stumbling on that photo while clicking through, I found it jarring and somewhat off-putting to see even a fake guillotine on a street amidst a party atmosphere. I suppose sticking your head into one is now considered a lot like allowing yourself to be locked into “the stocks” or “the pillory.” The real guillotine, though, was assuredly a heckuva lot more final than those.

The article led me to recall this I’d written back in March:

….when it comes to the Revolution, non-French are best advised to be cautious before shooting off their non-French mouth about it among French new acquaintances. Probe a little first, and make sure of where everyone stands, before you take to proclaiming how the Revolution was “fantastic” and that Robespierre is sadly misunderstood.

Years ago, a French inspiration for one of my characters told me, point blank, that she was never pleased when Bastille Day rolled around. To be clearer: she despised it. And why did she feel that way?

“They cut off my ancestors’ heads,” she seethed.

In 1789, the Revolution had begun seeming to be much like the American Revolution, causing Americans there at that time, such as Thomas Jefferson, to applaud it. However, he departed for home within a year, and other Americans in France looked on in horror as the Revolution descended into a chaotic, bloodthirsty mess. It did not produce many “heroes.”

Indeed, another French character inspiration pulled me up squarely on this suggestion of one perhaps vaguely arguable “hero”:

“Napoleon was a butcher, like Hitler,” she decreed.

Okay, I’ll be quiet now. And there were absolutely no George Washingtons. So while it has become France’s “national day,” underneath it all a disquiet remains: “Bastille Day” is not quite the “unifying” holiday in France that the “4th of July” is in the U.S.

After U.S. independence was recognized by Britain in 1783, those Americans who had opposed it often emigrated to Canada or other British territories, or even to Britain itself. (For example, one of Wellington’s officers killed at Waterloo in 1815 was a New York-born DeLancey, whose prominent family had opposed U.S. independence.) Or they simply stayed in the new U.S. and reconciled themselves to it – and they were allowed to do so. There were not thousands of executions of American “counterrevolutionary” loyalists who had supported remaining part of the British Empire.

The guillotine strikes me as similar to the electric chair. Or maybe I’m just too sensitive? I suppose 220 years since the Terror is deemed enough time to have passed for the guillotine to be confined safely to the realm of Renaissance fair-style history.

After A Working Vacation

Noticing Mr. Scott off-duty reading what appears to Captain Kirk to be still more work-related materials, he smilingly confronts the Enterprise’s chief engineer:

Capt. Kirk: Another technical journal, Scotty?
Scott: Aye.
Capt. Kirk: Don’t you ever relax?
Scott: I am relaxing.

How many of us do that? I’m sure I’m not alone. What did I bring along as “light reading” for the beach and poolside while on vacation?:

Florida vacation “light reading.” [Photo by me, 2014.]

Hey, don’t laugh. You have your preferences too. And when she saw what went into the bag as we packed, my wife voiced surprise: “What? No Jefferson biography?”

Err, nope. Not this holiday anyway. Ah, but I knew there is always also what’s on the Kindle! ;-)

* * *

That said, I did not read or, naturally, write – other than a bit on Twitter and Facebook, a couple of emails and, of course, this blog – too much that wasn’t my manuscript. As a result, I made more manuscript progress than I had expected before we started the long trek down I-95 to the Florida Keys.

Yesterday, I assessed the full manuscript. I have enough of it now that I can pull up the in-progress sequel in .pdf and compare it to the final .pdf of Passports. Its internal format and layout will be the same as Passports. Given the books are a series, I want them to fit nicely side by side.

I even have cover photo ideas – both for front and back. I’m still unhappy with “stock model” photography I’ve seen (apologies to photographers; I do know you have to eat too), so the back cover may – may – include a photo of a “non-identifiable person” that I snapped a long time ago. I’m still wrestling with using it or not: it looks agonizingly good, though – thus my dilemma. (I could still be persuaded on “stock photos” if I saw any I really liked.)

Most importantly, it appears splitting the sequel into halves, as I had been thinking I might, won’t be necessary. I have plowed through so much since mid-June that if I can keep it up I may be able to get the whole “400 page” sequel published in one shot during the late autumn as I had hoped. Almost time again for the proofreaders….

* * *

You do learn lots, storyline, and storytelling-wise, one book to the next: what sorta works v. and what is a home run. I am immensely proud of Passports. But I promised Kam’s sister I would dedicate the second volume to Kam, so I’m determined (obsessed is probably a more accurate description) to make the second volume “better” than the first one.

Overall while the sequel is still far from finished, I’m happy about where I am now compared to where I was at this point in mid-2013 with the Passports manuscript…. long before this blog appeared in the endless internet universe and most of you knew I even existed. And, of course, before I knew most of you existed either! ;-)

What a world we live in now, isn’t it?

I hope you’re having a good weekend….