Extraordinary praise of the Ordinary

I’ve seen movies that deliver more satisfaction in their first ten minutes than others do in their entirety. I’ll never forget my first viewing of “Raiders of the Lost Ark”. (Note placement of period and quote there.) When Jock flies that plane carrying Indy (and Jock’s pet snake Reggie) into the sunset, I was ready to get up and leave the theater. I’d already gotten my money’s worth. There was more action, excitement, and fun in that segment than most films carry in their first two hours and three sequels.

Pixar’s “Up” is another perfect example. The opening is a brilliant, poignant short film in its own right that outshines (IMHO) the rest of a good movie.

You probably have a list of such favorite openers. (Feel free to mention some in the comments.) In a few of those, the rest of the movie goes nowhere. You wish you actually had gotten up and left or turned off the DVD or stopped the streaming. More often, the beginning is just a foretaste of a great cinematic experience.

That’s a whole ‘nother post. This one isn’t about movies.

There are books like that, too. In fact, there are paragraphs buried in the middle some books that are so wonderful, you could read just those words, close the book, and savor the experience. I’m reading one of those books. To be more precise, I’m rereading one.

I’ve said before in various places (here is just one such instance) that Mark Helprin is my favorite writer. I have to reread some of his prose on a regular basis. (Unfortunately, he doesn’t write books often enough to satisfy my needs. The good news is that, in researching this post, I discovered he has a new novel!) There have been days when I picked up one of his books and read a page or even a paragraph or two to be reminded what great prose sounds like. The following excerpt from his 1995 novel, “Memoir from Antproof Case”, demonstrates well his ability to capture profound truths in prose that is both poetic and humorous.

So many people spend so much time protecting themselves from the ordinary and the worn that it seems as if half the world runs on a defensive principle that robs it of the tested and the true. But if the truth is common, must it be rejected? If the ordinary is beautiful, must it be scorned? They needn’t be, and are not, by those who are free enough to see anew. The human soul itself is quite ordinary, existing by the billion, and on a crowded street you pass souls a thousand times a minute. And yet within the soul is a graceful shining song more wonderful than the stunning cathedrals that stand over the countryside unique and alone. The simple songs are the best. They last into time as inviolably as the light.

I find that passage simply stunning. It’s only a single paragraph, but the truths expressed therein are worth hours or days of meditation.

For a variety of reasons, this kind of writing is comforting, challenging, thrilling, enlightening, and depressing.

And aren’t those the reasons we read—to think and to feel?

Book reading at Creaticity

I’ll be doing a book reading (my first!) at…

I’ll be at Gallery Z in Lowell, MA, as part of the Creaticity Art and Maker Festival. My reading will happen on Saturday 9/16 at 3:15 in the Writer’s Corner in the gallery. Click on the image above for details.

I’m excited about this because it will be a stretch for me reading my words in public, although I’ve acted my (and other writers’) words on stage a hundred times or more. Strangely, playing myself as author is a role I’m not all that comfortable with. It’s different when you’re playing another person. That pretense of anonymity makes all the difference.

So it’s a risk. But as Brennan Manning used to say, “To live without risk is to risk not living.”

Bring it on.

If you have chance, come by and say hello.

What a character!

It’s not a revolutionary statement to say everyone is different. It’s made patently obvious simply by looking around. I believe one difference is how we approach our reading. Some concentrate on plot, some on prose, and others on message, with lots of other facets in between and plenty of combinations thereof.

I’m starting to think I’m a character guy. (It’s not just the fact that so many people have said I’m a character. That’s a coincidence. Maybe.) In every novel I read, I seem to be drawn first to its characters. As I wrote before, though I can’t explain why, I care deeply about what happens to these fictional people. It makes no sense, but there it is. If a book’s characters annoy me, there’s a better than even chance I won’t care for it, no matter how well regarded it might be.

It turns out that maybe that characteristic has carried over to my writing. More than one reader has commented on my protagonists, Fania in A Slippery Land and Calandra in A Song in the Storm. (Both are young women. Go figure.) I expect myself to be obsessed with my characters, but it’s a supreme compliment when I hear things like:

I can’t stop thinking about Fania.

Fania is a great role model for my daughter.

I agree, but I have a different perspective. Hopefully, Calandra will have a similar effect on readers.

It’s not just the leads, but even the minor characters get under my skin. That makes the writing and reading so much more fun. And since of necessity I read my own books many, many times in the revision and proofing processes, it’s good to know I’ll be spending time with people, er, characters I care about.

I hope you care as much as I do. But maybe you’re a plot person. Hopefully I’ll have you covered, too.

“A Song in the Storm” is here!

As threatened, er, I mean, promised, my new book is finally available.

The story follows a young woman living in Lucca, Italy, in 1924. Gifted with a magnificent singing voice, she is on the verge of fulfilling her dream of becoming a professional singer. Her dream is crushed when her father tells her she must go to America to marry a man she’s never met. Her odyssey takes her from an ocean crossing, through Ellis Island, to Boston’s North End, with a lot of twists and surprises along the way.

While the story is fictional, it is inspired by the true experience of my grandmother, who was from Italy and lived through a similar situation. It also realistically represents the difficult road traveled by Italian immigrants in the early 20th century, a reality not much different from other ethnic groups before and since.

Click on any of the following links to buy a copy of the paperback or Kindle version:

Amazon

My Amazon author page

CreateSpace store

Kindle version

For some reason, the Kindle version hasn’t been linked to the paperback version. That kind of thing sometimes takes a few days and it might be fixed by the time you read this. In any case, you can get any version you want.

Like my last book, A Slippery Land, this one started as a screenplay. Like that screenplay, this one had received some good notice. One of the most highly respected screenwriting instructors in the world had the following comments about the movie script:

There is so much to like about A SONG IN THE STORM it is hard to know where to begin.

Calandra is exactly who you want your hero to be. She is in a world she is unfamiliar with, searching for her dream while fighting off a life forced upon her.

And the endearing ending you provide just tops the great story off so well. Super job!

I hope you have a chance to read the book and have the same reaction. If you do, let me know what you think. Also, if you read the book, I would greatly appreciate it if you would add a review to Amazon and/or Goodreads.

Thank you for your support of independent authors!

Coming soon!

A girl with a gift…
…a forced marriage…
…and a favor that will change a family’s history forever.

Coming soon:

A Song in the Storm

Watch this blog for details and availability.

Haiti seven years after

Does the seventh anniversary of the earthquake that ravaged Haiti mean so much to me because I wrote a book about it? Or did I write a book about the Haiti earthquake because it meant so much to me? One can never be 100% sure of one’s own motives but I’d be dreadfully disappointed in myself if there were even a hint of truth in the former.

Rather, I hope I wrote a book about Haiti because of my love for the nation and its people. Exposing others to the truth about a place so badly misunderstood is one of my missions in life. Thus, it’s appropriate to keep the nation and its plight in the forefront of peoples’ consciousnesses, whether through a blog or a photo or a book.

Never forget.

proudhaitian

[This is important enough that I wrote a much longer post in my other blog. You can read it here.]

Hurricane Matthew fundraising

This is a one-off emergency post to announce the following:

From 10/31/16 until 12/31/16, I will donate 50% of all gross sales (not just profits) of “A Slippery Land” to a reputable organization doing Hurricane Matthew relief efforts. (I can’t say which one, but you’ll get a clue on this page.) That’s $6.00 for every paperback and $2.00 for every Kindle sale through the end of 2016 or until the amount reaches $2,000.00, whichever comes first. (I’m betting on the former, though I’d be perfectly happy with the latter.)

Local Authors presentation

Shameless self-(and-town-library-)promotion:

FLYER Local Authors 2016

That’s me in the upper left hand corner (in Cité Soleil, Port-au-Prince, Haiti). I’ll be hanging out with my fellow local authors talking about our books. My book, A Slippery Land, will be available for sale. As part of my presentation, I’ll be showing photos of some of the settings in the book. Click on the poster above for more details about the event.

Come on out if you have a chance. Support local authors! (Such as me. :-))

“A Slippery Land”

It’s finally done. My first book, a novel about Haiti, is available for sale in paperback or Kindle edition. Here’s the cover:

ASLcoverFor the sake of completeness, here’s the back cover:

ASLback

I’ve been working on this book in one form or another for more than four years. It started out as a screenplay, one that finished in the top 5% in the world’s most prestigious screenplay competition. Some of the judges’ comments included: “Strongly, clearly, confidently, and dramatically written… Settings are vividly brought to life… There is a heartbreaking authenticity to this.”

The story follows the life of a Haitian girl over six years, beginning with the nightmare of the 2010 earthquake. Her life becomes a series of trials common to many Haitians. How she faces those difficulties reflects on the resilience and strength of the Haitian people.

The book’s title comes from a painfully appropriate Haitian Creole proverb: “Lavi se tè glise“, which translates to the English: “Life is a slippery land.”

While a fictional tale, “A Slippery Land” carries a lot of truth. It incorporates many actual events I’ve seen or experienced and observations I’ve made while visiting the country and getting to know its people over the last 15 years.

Please consider buying a copy and letting me know what you think. The book is suitable for a wide audience, including Young Adult – even though it has no vampires, zombies, or mean girls, though Haiti could qualify as a dystopian society – or anyone who enjoys reading and learning about other cultures. It should be particularly good for book clubs because there’s plenty to discuss about our perceptions of Haiti and the third world.

You can see and purchase the paperback or Kindle edition through my Amazon author page here.

Thank you for reading.

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Coming soon!

My first novel is on the verge of being self-published. Sorry. That’s a misleading statement. The book isn’t publishing itself. My self is publishing it.

The good news is, it’s absurdly easy to publish one’s own book today.

The bad news is, it’s absurdly easy to publish one’s own book today.

Thus, my book will be out there soon, fighting for attention amidst an overwhelming onslaught of similarly hopeful creations by similarly hopeful creators. My hope is that its quality rises above that of the average tome available. But who am I to judge?

I’ve already given a teaser in a previous post. Since then I’ve finished the book, changed the title (twice), and had a terrific designer create some fantastic cover art.  Come back in a month or so and I’ll shamelessly and relentlessly plug it.

One agent told me that it’s a hard sell because it’s about Haiti and no one is interested in reading about Haiti. I hope that’s not true for many reasons, not just because it means no one will buy my book. More importantly, it saddens me to think that people might no longer have any concern for that sad and beautiful nation.

Six years ago this week Haiti was all anyone was talking about. This past Tuesday (January 12) marks the sixth anniversary of the horrific earthquake that killed tens of thousands of people, injured countless more – no one will ever know exactly how many of each – and put millions out of their homes.

Now, they tell me, no one cares.

I hope you do.