Marriage And Writing

The other day, Kate Colby shared another great post – this one on how being married has assisted and improved her writing:

Before marrying Daniel, I was a “writer” with big dreams and little action. Now, I am a writer (no quotation marks necessary) with big dreams, big actions, and big plans. Can I give him 100% credit for my success? No. I think I deserve I good chunk of it. However, I can say, having him in my life has been a huge help and momentum builder.

Naturally, everyone has different experiences in that regard. I have certainly been much encouraged in my novel-writing by my wife. She reads what I write closely, critiques it, and keeps me generally grounded.

* * *

Yet my chosen subject matter has also proven at times problematic precisely because I’m married. An example from a June post:

….the iPad packed away, the two of us reclining in the shade (good grief, the sun here is hot!) on loungers [next to] …. the pool, my wife asked me, “Did you get a lot [of writing] done today?”

Lowering a paperback I was reading, I replied, “I did. I woke up this morning thinking, ‘God, how could I have forgotten to include that!?’ I definitely wouldn’t have been happy if I didn’t.”

From behind her sunglasses, deadpan “Englishly” my [English] wife smiled and needled me, “Okay, so, what was her name?”

She’s convinced I’m writing a version of an early-mid 20s autobiography (long before I ever knew her) re-packaged as fiction, names changed, and carefully altered here and there in time and place. I admit there is a degree of truth in her charge. I’ve never pretended to assert the tales and characters are conjured up out of thin air.

Yes, there is a great deal of me in “James.” Yes, there is lots of reality in the women and their families. (Unsurprisingly an especial point of amusing interest to Mrs. Nello now.) And “James’s” family – including “Uncle Bill” – and his friends, and the fictionalized Long Island university he attends, all came from somewhere.

Free Stock Photo: Illustration of a couple on a date.

Free Stock Photo: Illustration of a couple on a date.

As my wife has read the novels, she has relished playing “detective” – looking to “unmask” characters and life references she thinks she recognizes. However, I’ve also cautioned Mrs. Nello repeatedly that doing that is not nearly as straightforward as she may think. The books are not a journal or a diary.

* * *

That said, we know novelists do rummage through their own lives and experiences to some extent. We know Scott Fitzgerald did. Certainly Hemingway. Jane Austen wrote about what she knew. Alan Paton admitted one of his main characters was outright based on himself decades earlier – and he didn’t like the character! My real-life novelist uncle has sourced much from his own life.

A novel utterly detached from the real world is simply fantasy. But utilizing memories for source material doesn’t necessarily mean it happened precisely as written either of course. Well, okay, not much of the time anyway. ;-)

All kidding aside, reality gives fiction, well, reality. For example, in my own personal code, I have fictionally woven into the books a couple of sharp “slaps” at people I despise. Yes, that’s a bit nasty of me, I know; but only I know who they are.

Free Stock Photo:	3D illustration of a person being crushed in a vice.

Free Stock Photo: 3D illustration of a person being crushed in a vice.

More importantly, like Paton, I’ll admit as well that there are times I don’t like my “James” all that much. I suspect I’ll feel the same about him as I write the third book too. But I’ll leave it to others to attempt to probe what it might mean regarding the psyche when an author writes critically about a fictional “oneself”:

Now Mark blasted him. “You what? You told her you wanted to kiss her? What are you, twelve? ‘Gee, now it’s my turn! Yeh, I get to kiss Valérie!’ This isn’t goddamn ‘Spin the Bottle.’”

“I had too much to drink,” James stressed. “A brandy too much at dinner. My mouth got out ahead of my brain.”

“Oh, that’s so f-ing original,” Mark replied scathingly.

Composing these tales has led me much better to appreciate that what we see in most novels is probably indeed just the tip of the iceberg. Much more has likely gone on beneath those words we devour than we as readers ever fully realize. When it comes to my books, that is certainly the case.

It’s all so layered and complicated. Maybe I should’ve written about elves. Or space princesses. ;-)

Hope you’re having a good Sunday, wherever you are in the world. :-)

Our English Pre-Christmas Miracle

One of CNN’s “Top 12″ places to spend Christmas, is just up the road from us:

BathChristmas

CNN opens its explanation about Bath this way:

There are few cities in the world where you can celebrate the birth of Jesus and the birth of Jane Austen with the same amount of fanfare, but Bath happens to be one of them.

The Theatre Royal, which Austen mentions in “Northanger Abbey” and “Persuasion,” is home to a musical celebration accompanied by mince pies and mulled wine in honor of the literary doyenne….

Indeed. Just yesterday we decided to have a wander around downtown on Monday or Tuesday. Clearly we’re in a good general Christmas location this year. ;-)

If you’re curious, here is the link to the Bath “Jane Austen Centre” site.

* * *

We also had something of a Christmas moment last night. We decided to splash out and buy a real tree for the first time in years. We needed some new Christmas decorations too: some are packed away here, but most are in America.

So last night we went shopping. At a B&Q, we bought the decorations (many on discount because it’s so close to Christmas now) and a tree (there were still a few nice live ones). We were feeling really good.

Then we abruptly discovered getting a live tree stand was going to be quite a challenge 5 days before Christmas.

Had we stumbled on “The Great English Live Christmas Tree Stand Shortage?”

It sure seemed so. B&Q still had live trees, but no stands at all. “It’s the end of the season for us,” the cashier said. “I think we sold the last one earlier today.” She recommended Tesco. First, we tried three nearer places, and struck out at all those too. Finally, even Tesco failed us.

By now, it was approaching 8pm. There was nowhere else in the immediate vicinity. We figured ordering via Amazon would be the last resort.

On the drive home, though, Mrs. Nello noted, “We had a live tree stand years ago. We must have it. Where is it?”

“I know. I’m thinking,” I mumbled, as we drove, our tree in the back of our small SUV, but with nothing to put it in yet. “Give me a sec. We had real trees when we first got married. Godmanchester. Then in London. Never Christchurch. Remember when I threw the dead tree out the Juliette balcony window after Christmas in Enfield one year after it dropped its needles early? We were so annoyed, we went to fake trees after that.”

“Oh, yeh,” she agreed.

“That must’ve been around 2003 or 4,” I continued. “The fake tree is in America. The live tree stand didn’t go to the Catskills. I didn’t give it away to anyone. It must be upstairs in an attic box. I didn’t throw it out. I never throw stuff like that out.”

“Don’t look at me,” she replied. “Christmas storage has always been your department.”

When we got home, I plunged into a small bedroom we use for storage. At the edge of a floor to ceiling pile of moving boxes full of “unnecessary” items, I found an unopened loft box that was taped shut. It hadn’t been touched in years.

I opened it, and found a few more lights, decorations, garlands and …. there it was! First go. First box. There it sat, looking up at me: our live tree stand, unused for over a decade!

I felt like I’d hit the lottery. I rushed to the top of the staircase and shouted down to Mrs. Nello, “Got it! I found it! It took me ten seconds!”

“A Christmas miracle!” my wife laughed and yelled up to me.

Have a good Saturday. Andy Williams goes on later, and the LIVE tree gets decorated. :-)

“Viewed You Today”

As you may recall, I signed up for About.me a few weeks ago. Based on my initial impressions, I like it. It strikes me as a kinda Linked-in that’s more entertaining, artistic, and driven by “people” and “interests” – including, but not overwhelmingly, career interests. I certainly see where it could prove useful in a networking sense.

In just these first couple of weeks, I’ve had something around 4,000 visits to “view me.” I suppose that’s flattering. But I have no idea yet what those “views” really mean.

I have also spotted certain careers and “interests” predominating among those who are stopping by to “view” me, “add” me to a list, or even to “compliment” me. There are lots of IT, marketing, and other business professionals. Some have extraordinary educations and skills sets. For instance, one who “viewed me” the other day was a Turkish graduate of MIT, and she also plays classical piano. (Good grief. When I discovered that, talk about suddenly feeling yourself inadequate!)

There are journalists. There are entertainers. There are regular international travelers. There are quite a few academics and students. Some people don’t display “amazing” bios, but seem merely friendly and interested in following others as on other social media. All appear to be something of a cross-section of our world; it’s astonishing how diverse the site is. And thankfully, so far, weirdoes and – insofar as I can tell – sp@mmers mercifully seem at a minimum.

A screen capture from within my About.me yesterday.

A screen capture from within my About.me yesterday.

Now something of a downer. I’m also seeing quite a few authors – certainly enough to have caught my attention – have a book cover as their photograph. Meaning literally they have a cover of their latest novel as “their picture.”

My gut reaction: that’s misunderstanding the site. Why? Even as an author myself, my take is the site’s used as a platform to present oneself as a unique individual. It’s about getting to know each other as people. Ultimately, it is about building relationships - business and otherwise.

For example, a market research specialist doesn’t usually represent her/himself with a photograph of the cover of a recent research report. It’s far more likely to be a Hi-Res photograph of her/himself climbing a mountain, or snorkeling, or gardening, or standing on the Great Wall of China. He/she aims to make him/herself “memorable” and – above all – “human” to you, thus leading you to want to know more about them.

Hence the site’s name?: “About.me?”

As an author, it seems fine to note one’s book titles and why you write. A writer’s works and motivations are part of what being a writer is. In that regard, they are no different from anyone else in terms of explaining their occupation, career aspirations, and listing former employers on their CV.

But to me you must never lose sight of the fact that it’s supposed to be about you as “a person.” It’s not first and foremost about your novel(s). Social media – to me, anyway – is about sharing yourself.

Too many authors appear to think “building relationships” and “interacting” on social media is about pushing their book(s). That, to me, is exactly backwards. On social media, your works flow from you as the person who created them.

If upon discovering you someone wants to read your book(s), he/she certainly will. However the “bells and whistles” approach we often see employed by authors on social media is close to “sp@mmer-like” and, frankly, just annoying. It has never led me once – not ever, not anywhere, not anytime – to want to buy a book.

But, then again, maybe I’m the one who has it all wrong? Well, even if I do, I don’t care. Just my take.

Have a good FRIDAY…. wherever you are in the world. :-)

Oh, I just thought of this. I’ve never played piano. However, I think I may have to pull out my old guitar from the closet, practice a bit, and add that to my About.me bio. Hey, don’t laugh: as a teenager, I used to play lots of Beatles’ songs fairly well. ;-)

To The Ski Slopes… And, More Importantly, After

We’re having some necessary electrical work done. The power’s switched off in the house (here in Wiltshire); I’m “tethered” to my phone for some internet. Nothing to do now but wait as the electrician – a nice guy – gets on with things.

Earlier, I was having a look around at some of my “web presence,” and noticed my Gravatar:

My Gravatar.

My Gravatar.

I know lots of people use Gravatar. However, there’s a tendency we all have, I think, to spread ourselves out “too much” over the net. I know there are sites I’ve long ago “abandoned,” but I’ve probably still got something up there, someplace. (A couple of weeks ago, out of the blue I got an automated email from Classmates.com that someone “remembered me.” I didn’t know “Classmates” even still existed? And how many of you had a My Space page you’d forgotten about?)

Anyway, here’s a bit of insider info about my Gravatar. The background photo is of a ski slope in La Clusaz, France. I took that picture about a decade ago.

Mrs. Nello has always been an excellent skier; she’s done it from childhood. I learned in my early thirties, when, I suppose, we all become a bit more physically risk-averse. I can do it, but I never fell in love with skiing the way she has.

Too often, I just fell. Come to think of it, I’ve fallen down in some of the most gorgeous ski resorts in the world. In western Canada. In Italy. In France. Uh, and in the Catskills too. ;-)

I never really hurt more than my pride, thankfully.

We’re going back to La Clusaz for a short stay in January. I always wanted to glide down a slope rather like David Niven in The Pink Panther, but I never managed it. Trying to do so is made all the tougher by so many around you whooshing by and taking it all so seriously that you’d think they were looking to World Cup qualify or something.

Regardless, as there was for Mr. Niven, for me there absolutely needs to be a brandy at the end. Or maybe just forget the skiing entirely, enjoy the views, work on “Book Number 3,” and have a brandy? The latter sounds like a great idea!

Have a good day, wherever you are in the world. :-)

Rule #1 For Any Author

I just discovered, by email notification, that a blogger I follow on WordPress has apparently read my first novel, Passports. The blogger evidently devoted a post to it. Understand that (as of this writing) I have no idea what that blogger thinks of the book because I have not read the post.

And I probably will not read it. Why not? When I saw the notification, I instantly thought of my uncle, who has told me he studiously avoids reading reviews of his novels.

It’s a quandary. Think about it. It’s inappropriate, and even tacky, for an author to bask in a positive review’s sunshine, and perhaps even to “like” it.

On the other hand, if a reviewer doesn’t like a book, well, what’s to do? Do a Chris De Burgh? Probably not.

Back in 2009, the Irish singer fired off a scathing retort to The Irish Times, berating a concert reviewer. In it, De Burgh launched some real zingers. He was furious at the reviewer’s negative take on a recent Dublin show:

image

That strikes me as almost never the way to deal with even vicious criticism. Almost no one even days later would have really remembered that review, but they will long remember it courtesy of De Burgh’s angry response. One would’ve thought someone like De Burgh would’ve known that.

If someone directly approaches you (with an email, say), you are entitled to respond if you wish. That’s now a personal conversation: a correspondent is seeking you out, either positively or negatively. However, I feel the best way to react to public reviews is with silence, mixed with unseen appreciation people out there think enough of your books to buy them, read them, and discuss them.

First rule for every published author: Once your book is released, it ceases to be “yours.” It now belongs to each and every reader separately, and every one of them approaches your work from his/her own intensely personal perspective. In the end, as with music, how the book is interpreted is out of your control, and you won’t please everyone.

Have good day, wherever you are in the world. Me? Uh, time for more cold medication. Ugh. :-(

_____

UPDATE: For more on this issue, from (by pure coincidence) today as well:

image

Enjoy!

World War II: “What does it say about us?”

If you visit my modest site here regularly, you know I write novels revolving around young Americans abroad in the 1990s – in France in particular. Unsurprisingly, I have many French characters, one of whom is a Second World War veteran. Before heading down that literary path, as an academic I’d studied the war and its impacts on post-war Europe.

So please pardon an extremely serious – even depressing – post. For whenever American WWII involvement is cited non-chalantly in present political debates, I take notice. In this case, a former comedian (who now has a chatter show on HBO) tweeted breezily the other day that the U.S. had won WWII without resorting to torture:

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We’ll leave aside his Cold War reference. We don’t know much that happened “quietly” in “black spots” and out of sight during the Cold War. But his raising it in that manner merely demonstrates he probably has only cursory knowledge about how the West and the Soviet bloc intelligence services went at each other viciously during those years, including resorting to umbrella poisonings, and in involving themselves (and sometimes succeeding) in overthrowing unfriendly governments, and then supporting torturers within the new governments.

Let’s focus instead on asking about “us” during the Second World War, which is a conflict that in U.S. lore today is now the last “good war.” Yes, millions of Americans served honorably. Yes, they helped liberate Nazi-occupied Europe. Yes, they helped end Japanese militarism. Freedom and democracy in Europe and much of the Pacific today owes a great deal to their sacrifices and accomplishments.

However, all of that did not come about without misery and death on what is now an incomprehensible scale. Two thousand years ago the Roman Tacitus famously wrote of his countrymen, “They make a desert, and they call it peace.” It could well be said that, between 1941-1945, America helped do much the same…. to “win” that former comedian’s version of the Second World War. Just a few examples:

  • U.S. soldiers raping Frenchwomen was not nearly as rare as we all might like to think it was.
  • After entering Dachau concentration camp near war’s end, U.S. soldiers herded captured guards together and shot them:
29 April 1945. Dachau, Bavaria, Germany: This picture shows an execution of SS troops in a coalyard in the area of Dachau concentration camp during the liberation of the camp. (Public domain.)

29 April 1945. Dachau, Bavaria, Germany: This picture shows an execution of SS troops in a coalyard in the area of Dachau concentration camp during the liberation of the camp. (Public domain.)

  • There were other occasions U.S. soldiers murdered captured PoWs, as in Sicily in 1943.
  • Following the D-Day battle, U.S. Rangers at Pointe du Hoc reportedly shot dead in cold blood French civilians they believed had fought alongside, or had artillery spotted for, the Germans.
  • In the several months’ long pre-D-Day air campaign that sought to hamper German movement by bombing roads and railways in German-occupied France, it is believed “we” may have also killed some 14,000 French civilians.
  • President Roosevelt oversaw years of carpet-bombings of Germany and Japan, killing hundreds of thousands of civilians – including children.
  • President Truman ordered two atomic bombs dropped on cities full of Japanese non-combatants – including children.

Some of us either want us to think, or actually vaguely believe that, the U.S. fought WWII without engaging in “dirty” behavior – as if it were, say, a John Wayne movie. But the problem is even a “John Wayne” movie isn’t even always a “John Wayne” movie. In The Longest Day, the 1962 blockbuster about D-Day starring Wayne among a “cast of thousands,” note that in a brief scene a soldier behind Omaha Beach guns down a group of surrendering Germans…. at least one of whom clearly has his hands up.

“Private” Exchanges

You may have seen something on the massive Sony Pictures hack. Films, emails and all sorts of data have been dropped into the “public space.” Buzzfeed shares some “juicy” bits of several emails, including how, in one, a prominent producer wrote a Sony executive what he thought about actor Angelina Jolie:

Buzzfeed screen capture [by me].

Buzzfeed screen capture [by me].

Reading the piece, my reaction is those film people spout privately like many of us do of course. They certainly also write like my crime novelist uncle has emailed, and speaks privately with me – “God, she’s younger than my daughter!” Even his semi-public posts on Facebook can include choice harsh words, as several did the other day when he was debating U.S. policing and got into a dust up with a film guy he knows well: he called him, among other things, essentially, a “space cadet.”

So is it actually any shock that those execs “rant” too? Do you? I admit I have at times, because to me emails and private exchanges are often simply chatter – “informal conversation.”

What those Sony execs and producers were doing was “thinking out loud” privately while working in an environment in which hundreds of millions of dollars may be at stake in any given project, and they need to be sure those they green light are going to make the company a profit, not bankrupt it. They likely don’t see each other face to face across a table often, and phone calls are not always convenient. They do their jobs often by “firing off” emails to each other.

Gee, that said, I’d hate to think what some people may have written privately about, uh, me? (“You see that recent book he wrote? Who the hell does he think he is? God, he’s so tiresome.”) ;-)

On that optimistic note, have a good day, wherever you happen to be reading this in the world. :-)

About.Me

I’m not sure anyone really craves “a big picture” of me, but otherwise this looks interesting. If you use About.me, let me know. I’m now on it as – yes, as shocking as this may sound – R. J. Nello:

image

In the set-up’s “find friends” auto-search, I stumbled on a small horde of Twitter friends on it, nearly all of whom I’d had no idea were on it.

We can all never have enough social media, no? ;-)

Have a good Sunday.

Author Cool

When only Passports was available, I hadn’t bothered much with the Amazon Author Central pages on .com and .co.uk. But now, with Frontiers out there too, I decided I should do them up somewhat. (I’m now trying to get Amazon to combine the paperback and Kindle pages for Frontiers, which they will hopefully manage shortly.) This is a grab yesterday of my Amazon.com page:

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Not bad with those sunglasses, eh? You may remember them from the summer – when we were visiting Charleston; that’s Fort Sumter in the background. Hey, clearly I can do “cool.” ;-) (But, wow, that day was also seriously “hot.”)

Doing the pages reminded me to have a check of the Kindle Frontiers, “Look Inside,” free sample. I see it begins at, uh, naturally the beginning, which is Chapter 61. (Passports is chapters 1-60.) The sample runs well into Chapter 65. It stops here, at what makes for an inadvertent “cliffhanger”. Thanks Amazon guys!:

She felt herself shaking. Fear was too strong a word, but she did feel increasingly uneasy about this situation. The hall was empty, and she hoped that someone – anyone – would emerge from a room.

“How will you get to know me if you, you don’t let me talk with you?” he stammered and kept at her….

Of course I’m not gonna say here who “she” is. Or let on who “he” is. Or explain where they are. You could find out from reading more of the sample.

However, ahem, if you want to know what happens after that blurb above, well, umm…. ;-)

Have a good Saturday, wherever you are in the world. :-)

The “Power” Of Fiction: A Clarification

Yesterday, in my latest engrossing interview with myself, I had noted to myself:

….I told you in September that no one in the books is a real person. They are drawn from people I’ve known over the years, but none are any one individual. These books are FICTION!

That’s not 100 percent accurate. It applies firmly to the first book, Passports. However, there is one real-life walk-on in its sequel, Frontiers:

“No, thank you. I’m fiiiiiine,” [Kam] smiled as she spoke into his ear and stretched out the word “fine” as well. “I was thinking we could have one drink here, and then walk up the road. There’s a new restaurant there I’ve been hoping to try. It’s too loud here to talk!”

I mentioned this previously. Several months after Kam passed away in February, I wrote a scene that places her in a fictionalized version of a club we had been with her in London. I also deliberately incorporated her into the story at the age 27 she had been in 1995.

Free Stock Photo: Morning sun with a tree in the foreground

Free Stock Photo: Morning sun with a tree in the foreground

She’d known about my writing Passports. We had a single conversation about it in the summer of 2013, and I will always remember her huge grin as she urged me on. She thought the idea for the book was fantastic.

Thus the “power” of fiction. Kam died before she ever saw the finished Passports. But I’ve kept her with us in Frontiers. :-)

Hope you’re having a good Friday….