Monday, December 26, 2011

A Literary Christmas

 The beauty of reading a good anthology is in the opportunity they give me to come across interesting authors. I wrote a review of A Literary Christmas for GringoLandiaSantiago. Here is the link to it:
 http://www.gringolandiasantiago.com/2011/12/26/a-literary-christmas/

Saturday, December 24, 2011

My blog's birthday

 I started my literary blog on December 23 2010, so it turned one year old yesterday. It has been a special place where I dare to share my thoughts, review books, connect with other writers and share my writing experiences. It is a journey that encompasses creativity, passion, persistence, and so much more. I'm always looking forward to the next challenge and surprise.
   Thank you for reading me. Happy birthday to my blog, Merry Christmas and happy New Year. May 2012 be a year filled with inspiration, love and hope for everyone.

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

More on writers taking risks and a short story

 The other day I wrote about the fact that writers need to take risks when they write and, on that same day, I finished reading a short story by Ivan Klima from "A Literary Christmas", an anthology by Lilly Golden. The name of the story is "A Christmas Conspiracy tale".
  In this story, the narrator, Ivan, is a writer who is coaxed into selling carp and cheating his customers to make extra money. The main character lives in a society where cheating is the rule, even politicians do it. Honest people are the ones who are ostracized and can end up in prison for nothing.( Paradoxically, they are the ones considered the conspirators and jailed). In the end, the swindle does not work out well for Ivan.
  The meaning or epiphany of this interesting story is that in societies where rules are disregarded, honest people sometimes are influenced by the system, but, not surprisingly, Ivan is a misfit among the conspirators. He does not feel like one of them and ends up being betrayed by them.
    The story shines with social criticism. Ivan Klime was born In Czechoslovakia. In 1941 he and his family were sent to a concentration camp  after the invasion of his country by Germans in 1938. He was released in 1945 but he lost his family during the ordeal. Later in life, he had to endure the oppression of corruption in communist Czechoslovakia. I believe this story reflects on that. Ivan Klima's work was banned there for dealing with inconvenient truths.
  Here is an interesting interview done by the BBC to  Ivan Klima. I learned a lot from it and I look forward to reading more by him.
http://www.bbc.co.uk/radio3/johntusainterview/klima_transcript.shtml

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Writers take risks

   If we don't take risks, we may end up boring the readers. This is my opinion, of course, so don't take this statement to heart.
 From my own experience as a reader I can conclude that the stories that I like the most are the ones that take risks.
   What does taking risks mean?
    A way of taking risks, for example, is  by exposing issues that can spark controversy, or that are normally pushed aside because they may be inconvenient. When we take risks  we explore themes with refreshed eyes without being preachy. We let reality shine by itself as we show characters and events.
    Taking risks means writing about something with honesty, digging deeper into subjects we may fear. I believe most readers will appreciate this honesty and even fall in love with it, but we need to accept that some of them will despise it, dread it or even feel uncomfortable.
     Characters drive my stories, so I feel devoted to them. My characters are human beings, so they harbor contradictions. I am a keen observer of peoples' behaviors and attitudes and I pour much of this into my own writing.  Human beings are far from perfect. They can be the source of both good and bad actions. They can be kind, but their actions can also be the result of envy when they don't feel they've fulfilled their own lives. They can be carried away by greed, pride, or insane competition. Some critiquers occasionally like to point out "Oh, but this character is contradicting herself. Oh, but this character is making a mistake." If we want to create realistic characters in adult fiction we need to accept our characters' foibles and embrace them. Perfect heroes don't appeal to me.
        I appreciate unique realistic characters with both positive traits and weaknesses. In doing so, I'm taking the risk of annoying some of my readers. It is to be expected. We can't please all our readers, can we?
       Do you take risks when you write? What kinds of risks do you take?

Thursday, December 8, 2011

The artist at work

 Gilbert Jonas found his true passion: painting. He is an artist who believes in his star and acknowledges that he will be granted much without ever deserving anything. He becomes  very popular and is offered to live on a monthly remittance awarded to him by a picture dealer. His wife is devoted to him and their three kids, and even though they hardly manage to live on that remittance, they happily adjust to make it happen.
  Jonas is content with everything the way it is. He does not waste time trying to change anything because he believes deeply in his star.
  His popularity grows so much that his picture dealer increases his monthly remittance. Everyday his house is crammed with visitors and disciples who claim to want to learn from him. In reality, they want to be praised, and so he praises them. He is also solicited to take an active part in exposing revolting injustices and supporting protests. Jonas is always available and strives to meet everybody's expectations, but, eventually, he finds it difficult to satisfy everybody. Then criticism starts to strike him, no matter what he does. In the process of trying to meet everybody's expectations, his family is pushed aside, his art is left behind. He is no longer able to paint much. He does not find the time and the serenity to create.
 When his best friend asks him about the criticism he endures,Jonas says to him:  "My painter friends who criticize me are not sure of existing, so they look for proofs, they judge and condemn. That strengthens them, it's a beginning of existence. They're so lonely. You have to love them." Then Jonas confides that he is not sure of existing either.
  When his reputation declines, Jonas takes a distance from everybody and struggles to find the core of his own existence. He searches for his star.
  He ends up building  a flooring halfway up the walls, a loft, to hide away from people. The story is filled with irony and humor. It exposes the conflict between the artist and the society he lives in. The artist could be any person in search for his identity when the expectations of others pull his strings in different directions, as a result of their own motivations, fears and interests.
     There is a transformation in Jonas as he tries to reconnect with his own star which, to me, is his source of inspiration and conflict, his true self, his unique way of looking at the world.
    Thank you, Albert Camus, for this timeless story.

Sunday, December 4, 2011

A different kind of movie: Mary and Max.

 It is a clay-animated film about two strangers who meet through letters: Mary and Max.
Mary is an eight-year-old girl who lives in the suburbs of Melbourne, Australia. Max is a forty-four- year old man who lives in New York city. As their friendship thrives through their correspondence we learn about their lives, loneliness, questions and views with a touch of absurdity and a sense of humor. This interesting movie exposes different issues:
-Bullying
-Alcoholism
-Racism
-Conflicting relationships
-Mental disorders
-The challenges of being different
-The challenges of being oneself, and so much more.
  I think it goes a long way in showing that no matter what country you live in, how old you are or what your gender is, there are similar problems that can connect us. In this case, two strangers became friends through affection, acceptance and understanding.
  At some point,their friendship crumbles due to disappointment and a sense of betrayal. I appreciated the realistic side of it: who doesn't get upset with a friend? But the anger and sadness are followed by acceptance and forgiveness. Friends don't need to be perfect human beings to stay friends.
  I enjoyed everything about it: the music, the clay-animated characters, the scenes, the themes.
  The unexpected end of the story brought not just tears to my eyes but also the surprise that a clay-animated movie was able to connect so deeply with one's human emotions and sensitivity.

Thursday, November 24, 2011

Good mentors, positive vibes

  Have you noticed all the difference that encouraging people make in our lives? I'm referring to people who inspire us to move forward with our projects, those who bring a positive vibe to our day just by being around, by setting an example of persistence, creativity or enthusiasm. It may even be a person that we never met face-to-face but we can still connect with him/her through his/her writing. It may be a friend, a writing partner, or an author that we like reading.
  It may also be somebody who has passed away but whose legacy is still alive through his/her words. I appreciate writers whose stories or essays, even though written many years ago, have something meaningful to tell me today. The truths they share are as  alive as they were in the past, and I feel they understand my thoughts and concerns as if they were my own friends. Have you experienced this too?
   There are, on the other hand, people who are just the opposite. These people will take every opportunity to make us feel inadequate. They do this by underestimating our dreams or criticizing our choices because they don't understand them or don't care to understand them. I have encountered people like this lately-some of them are disguised as "friends"- and I think it is very healthy to  stay away from them. (Depending on the situation we may not be able to stay away if this person is a coworker, but minimizing contact can help). I wish them well, of course, but I know I can't meet their expectations... and I don't have to.
     The point of this ramble is to emphasize how positive people can have a great impact on our lives, how being surrounded by those who support our dreams and our choices can make a world of difference.  I would love to read about your thoughts on this.
 

Saturday, November 19, 2011

Do you let your inner voice come out?

 "Logic can take you from A to B. Imagination can take you everywhere." Albert Einstein's quote is inspiring. Whenever you are bombarded with advice on creative writing, remind yourself that the first stage of your writing needs to be like a release. I believe that letting everything out on paper (or the screen) is what matters. Editing comes later. Letting the inner voice come out without stifling it can get you somewhere you did not even expect or plan. We need to be brave. Why? Because we need to accept that creativity goes hand in hand with uncertainty. During that stage, I've learned  to silence my inner editor to let my imagination fly. I stay flexible to learn where my mind is willing to take me.
   Ken Robinson, creativity expert, said: " If you don't allow yourself to make mistakes, you will never come up with anything original."
    Creativity expands the mind, or I'd better say that the mind expands through creativity. It is not limited to music, art and/or writing. It thrives through them, but it is not limited by them.I believe that fostering creative minds since a very early age can help our future generations come up with new solutions to the problems that we encounter. It can help them view the same problems  with refreshed eyes and new perspectives. Hence, every single person can benefit from being creative.No matter their professions or jobs they do. Ken Robinson says that schools kill creativity. Listen to his speech. It is thought-provoking:
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=iG9CE55wbtY
Do you let your inner voice come out ? Or do you have an inner teacher/editor inside you who stifles it?

Sunday, November 6, 2011

The art of being subtle

 Do you ever find yourself struggling between being subtle and too straightforward when editing a story? When I am editing  I need to find the right balance between these two trends. If I explain too much I tend to overtell, so I find myself trimming sentences or paragraphs to counteract this. On the other hand, if I hint at the theme without being too straightforward I sometimes compromise clarity. The message becomes so subtle that many readers miss the point. However, I know that eliciting different interpretations is something to be expected. After all, each reader has a unique life, a background on which the writing will reflect and acquire specific qualities. Our story  creates a life of its own.
  Most of the readers who critique my stories do a great job in communicating their perception about them, how they feel about the characters, what they fathom about the theme and the emotions that the words awakened in them.
 Another common situation that I have encountered after I finish crafting a story is that there may be a  part when the pace becomes too fast and I feel that something must be done about it.
 The point of this rambling is to state that it is, at times, difficult to find a balance between being subtle and being straightforward when editing a story.
 Do you ever struggle to find this balance? Or do you achieve it naturally and feel content with it?
 

Saturday, October 22, 2011

What's in a rejection? Take it easy.

   A few days ago I got a rejection I did not expect. I thought the journal had an interest in publishing my story. Their website said that they took around two to three months to reply. A longer waiting period meant that the manuscript was most likely being considered for publication. Four months after submitting my story, they sent me a reply and it was... a rejection! To make matters worse, this journal did not accept simultaneous submissions so I wasted four precious months, and I ended up thinking they had a special interest in my manuscript. Around the time my story was rejected, however, they changed their rule and decided to accept simultaneous submissions.
    I normally take rejections in stride, but this one made me feel dejected and deeply disappointed considering the circumstances.
     Now let's put things in perspective. Rejections are very subjective, and they reflect the editor's opinion. Period. Now, let's move on and keep trying.  One editor may hate a story, whereas another one may appreciate it, and even love it.
    I will share with you some facts that support my statement on how subjective rejections are:
   - After reading one of his short stories, an  editor told Rudyard Kipling that he " didn't know how to use the English language".
   - The novel "A Wrinkle in Time" by Madeleine L'Engle was rejected 26 times before getting published. After publication it won the Newberry Medal in 1963.
-"Gone with the Wind" by Margaret Mitchell was rejected 38 times before finding a publisher.
- An editor told Louisa May Alcott that she "should stick to teaching".
-"The Eyre Affair" by Jasper Forde, a classical of the modern fantasy genre, underwent 76 rejections before getting published.
-"Dubliners", by James Joyce was rejected 22 times before finding a publisher.
-Joanathan Livingston Seagull, by Richard Bach was rejected 18 times. In 1972, the year it was finally published, more than a million copies were sold.
- Gertrude Stein spent 22 years trying to get a poem published.
-"Dune" by Frank Herbert was rejected 20 times before it was published.
-An editor told Irving Stone that his novel "Lust for Life" was "a long dull novel about an artist".
-An editor recommended Vladimir Nabokov that his novel "Lolita" be buried under a stone for a thousand years. Another editor said they would both end up in jail if he published that novel.
-William Saroyan was rejected 7,000 times before his first short story was published. His short story collection, "My name is Aram" is an International best seller.
 The list can go on but I will stop here.
   Every writer endures rejections. Feel free to let me know about your own experiences and how you deal with them, but, in the meantime, don't give up. Keep on submitting  your work to other journals and publishers. Keep on reading and writing!

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

On why I like these three short stories.

  A few weeks ago I finished reading the O' Henry Prize stories  2009. Out of the twenty stories I will mention three as my favorite ones, and I will explain why I have chosen them. "Kind," by L.E Miller. "Icebergs," by Alistair Morgan, and "The House Behind a Weeping Cherry," by Ha Jin.
    "Kind" is a story about a shy woman, Ann, who runs into Bianca, a neighbor from her past, on a flight from New York to Chicago. Bianca is the daughter of an artist she had been attracted to many years ago. The encounter with Bianca awakens many memories  and we get to know the artist's wife through them, Edith, who had always been very kind to Ann as way of taking control of the abiguous situation that arose from the magnetism between her husband and Ann. The reason why I enjoyed this short story is that I was so absorbed by the plot, characters and setting that I felt I had read a full novel by the time I finished it. I also appreciated the nostalgic touch of it. This story was published by the Missouri Review.
    "Icebergs" is about  a lonely man who, after losing his wife to cancer, moves to a beautiful house by the sea. The couple had worked together to get it ready and his wife had made him promise that he would move there because she could not bear the thought of "strangers living in the house of their dreams." The house is located in South Africa in a neighbourhood of holiday homes. The MC is struggling with a bout of loneliness when a mysterious man about his same age moves next door. Their lives will become entwined when the main character's daughter, who is an artist,  comes to visit her father. I enjoyed the suspense that moves the story forward and the well developed characters. Their loneliness, the realistic portray of the characters, the suprising twists were a great hook that kept me turning the pages. This story was published by The Paris Review.
      The other wonderful story is "The House Behind a Weeping Cherry".  It starts with Wanren, the main character, telling us that he is concerned about the landlady increasing his rent because his roommate has just moved out.  In this same house there are three girls who work as prostitutes. Mrs Chen, the landlady, has something else in mind. She tells Wanren that she will not increase his rent as long as he drives the girls in the evenings to see their customers. He would be tipped for doing so. Wanren feels uneasy about it, but he ends up accepting the offer. Wanren is a young man who works as a sewer in a sweatshop in New York. He is an Asian immigrant and so are the three girls who make a living as prostitutes. Wanren ends up falling in love with one of them and  wants to help her escape her dull existence. The complexity of  the characters and the plot grabbed my attention. I also liked the end of the story. It was uplifting despite the grim circumstances. This story was published by The New Yorker.
   
     

Sunday, July 24, 2011

Choosing a home for my short stories.

    As a writer and a  reader of short stories I'm always on the hunt for literary journals that I like. Every time I choose a literary journal, I make sure that their purpose resonates with mine. I have a preference for thought-provoking stories and memorable characters that leave me thinking long after I've finished reading them. I  even find myself longing to talk  with somebody about it because there is so much to discuss.
    I love stories when I  can connect with the characters in some way, when the theme is meaningful to me. (Not connecting with a story means I am not the right audience for it. That's all).
     I also tend to like characters who push boundaries, and I like them even more if they are touched by the world they live in . In other words, social and political matters add to it. Reading literature is not about living in a vacuum, so I appreciate stories that place the character in a specific social and cultural situation.
     Reading a good story is like going on a journey or visiting a city. I am eager to explore every corner, park, and secret. I don't want to be treated like an ordinary tourist. I'd rather become a resident during my short stay and be in the character's shoes.
    The best stories to me are the ones that carry me away not just to a certain emotional situation, but also to a specific location that becomes so vivid and colorful in my mind that it ends up leaving an imprint. Two days ago, for example, I read "Ice" by Lily Tuck. The story is about a married couple who takes a trip to Antarctica. It became so real to me that I could think of nothing but icebergs and ships; a nice relief to the heat wave we are going through, by the way.
     Let me know about your stories- or trips. Where have they been taking you lately?
  

Sunday, July 10, 2011

An endless love affair.

        I have to admit it. I have a love affair with words. I get easily enchanted by the way some of them sound, and I enjoy learning their different meanings. Choosing the right words is a pleasure, one of the many goals I try to accomplish whenever I write something. Words are the fascinating "bricks" of the buildings-stories- we build. They are like the colors of an artist's palette. They need to be chosen carefully, strung into the thread of sentences that will accomplish a rhythm and a meaning.
         Every time I find a word I am not familiar with, I look it up in the dictionary. I tend to do this even with words I do know, when I suspect they have a meaning I'm not aware of. Then I jot them down and even create a sentence in my  mind in order to apply the new word. I keep the lists of new words and then I read them carefully again a few days later. It is like creating a "bank account of words". I know they will come back to me when I am writing. Sometimes I even find myself saying, "This is just the word I needed yesterday when I was writing that scene."
        I will give you an example of words that have different meanings I did not know about.
You may know that the word "maul" as a verb means " to beat, bruise, to handle roughly." But it also means "to strongly criticize something, especially a new book, play, etc." It also means " to touch someone in a rough sexual way which they think is unpleasant." The word "throe" means "pang, spasm", but it also means "a hard or painful struggle." To chide is "to speak out in angry or displeased rebuke". It also means, as a transitive verb, "to reproach in a mild and constructive manner."
         I can't get enough of them. Learning new words is an ongoing challenge that will die the day my own life comes to an end.
         What's your relationship with words like?
         

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

The characters living in my head.

   Every day I wake up at 5:30 am to write. If I get enough writing done, I have a positive outlook on the rest of my day. This continuity fuels my craft  and turns on my inspiration. It is like a water fall connected to a river. It needs to flow, creating new paths, feeding on the rain at times, carrying whatever it finds on the way and making the most out of it.
   The interesting fact  is that even when I am not writing a story, during the rest of my day, the characters continue to exist within the boundaries of my mind, overshadowing my own existence. Sometimes they even enlighten my day, fueling it with new ideas and insights. So, in other words, while I am living my own life, there is an alternative universe, parallel to the real one, where my characters go on with their own daily lives in their own time and space.
   My characters may be imaginary or real ones. It doesn't matter because in both cases they are real to me. They are alive in my mind while a story is in progress, enhancing my own life and expanding it. Sometimes they even wake up during the night, and I have to get up to write a few lines about them.
    There is a dose of craziness in the art of creative writing, don't you think?

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Save the bookstores day on June 25, 2011

      
       Don't get me wrong. I love the internet, and I appreciate and enjoy all the possibilities and opportunities it offers. My connection with the internet, however, does not abate my love for books.
       My fascination for them may have begun very early in my childhood, when my parents made me become a member of the local library. And when that love for books is born so early, it is bound to blossom and continue growing for ever. I get surprised when I hear or read comments about the "possibility of books disappearing."
       I don't believe that books will cease to exist just because it is easier and/or cheaper to get them online. There is a unique magic sensation in the act of losing myself in a bookstore for hours, browsing them to come across something I don't expect expect I'd find, fingering the pages, dealing with the unpredictable.
    The feeling of touching a book and carrying it anywhere is also unique. Reading a book in bed is not the same as reading it from a computer. How can I not relish the experience of reading without the need of  battery or electricity?
     The charm that books can provide is always special, whether it happens in the woods, on a rock by the sea or in a library setting.
     I know I have passed on this fascination  to my daughter. She is two years old now, but I've read to her since she was born, and she already shares my passion.
      I agree with  Mario Vargas Llosa, winner of the  Nobel Prize for literature 2010, when he said:
  "I cannot accept the idea that a nonfunctional or nonpragmatic act of reading, one that seeks neither information nor a useful and immediate communication, can integrate on a computer screen the dreams and the pleasures of words with the same sensation of intimacy, the same mental concentration and spiritual isolation, that may be achieved by the act of reading a book."  These words were extracted from The Best American Essays, 2002 (Why literature?, by Mario Vargas Llosa). I must confess that I found this chapter a month ago in an old bookstore, when I was visiting  the city of La Crosse, Wisconsin. I fell in love with his essay and ended up buying the book.
    If you are a book lover, join the celebration  on Saturday, June 25, 2011, by buying one book (or four) from your local bookstore. Feel free  to find out more information about this viral event by googling it. And, of course, have fun with it!

Saturday, March 5, 2011

The survival of the short story.

   We all know that there is a world economic crisis unfolding, hitting every place to some degree. Many people are losing their jobs. There is a struggle of classes in which the ones who have more power try to make the ones who have less work for less. As a result of this, more people are now struggling to make ends meet... and there is less time to read.
   The world of literature is not untouched by the economic crisis. Borders is going bankrupt, some small presses closed, others are struggling to survive, and many people in the publishing industry are losing their jobs. It is also common to hear that the short story is dying, and that nobody is interested in reading short stories these days. I disagree.
   During these times of darkness, when we all feel somewhat dejected, frustrated and powerless, the short story may not fix our financial situation, but it can be an outlet, an uplifting way of searching for hope and focusing on the future from new perspectives. When time is a commodity, diving into a short story can become a source of solace, an opportunity to live in somebody else's shoes, albeit for a litte while, and  find the strength and insight that we need in our own lives to reframe our own reality.
  Socio-economic crises impose an emotional challenge on everyone, either directly or indirectly. We all need reassurance from knowing that we are not alone in the turmoil, and that we can still build up a shelter for our dreams.
   Another common myth is that the short story does not go deep into the characters. Again, I disagree. They may just delve into one or two characters, but length is not something that jeopardizes the complexity of a character.
   I admit that my favorite genre is the literary one. I love to lose myself in a story without knowing where it will take me, a story without labels, without preconceived ideas, one that will carry me away to a situation I can empathize with, digging deep into the characters and allowing me to live through them. Their conflict may even mirror my own conflicts... or not.
   My hope for the short story is not lost.There are lots of literary journals out there that give emerging writers the opportunity to start reaching an audience. For those who, like me,  enjoy reading the literary genre, there are anthologies that are worth checking,  like the annual O. Heny short stories, The Best American Short stories, the Pushcart Prize stories carefully selected from small presses. All these are annual collections that I devour.Through them I have discovered many interesting writers. (I don't end up liking every single story from these anthologies, but the read is worthwhile, and, as a writer, I learn a lot from them).
    Amidst these dark times, short stories are windows looking out to landscapes of light. Far from escaping from reality, we seek to reframe it, to open an array of possibilities, insights and perspectives. We all need to fly away through them to take a break.
   It is true that after reading a short story we are sometimes left with the desire to learn more about the characters and the plot, but those blank spots that intrigue me are the ones I can fill with my own imagination. I relish the challenge.

Thursday, February 24, 2011

An interview to Chrystalla Thoma

Today I have the honour to interview a gifted fantasy writer, Christalla Thoma. Christalla has published many short stories in different literary journals, and she is now going to tell us about her life and her latest fantasy novella, Dioscuri, published by Muse It Up. Thanks for your visit, Christalla!

Hi Chrystalla! Why don’t you tell us a few words about yourself first?
Sure. I am Greek Cypriot, so I was raised on Greek myths and souvlaki. I escaped Cyprus when I was 18, and went to study in France, then in England and Germany. By the time I started thinking about returning to Cyprus, I met my husband, Carlos, who is Costa Rican, so my next stop was Costa Rica for a few years. Now I am back in Cyprus, with Carlos, and am now famous for importing handsome men. :-) When not reading or writing, I work as the European countries officer and Magazine editor for the Thalassaemia International Federation.
What an interesting life! You have lived in different countries and have been exposed to different cultures. Why do you write?
I write because I must, because I need to rework all that happens to me, all I desire and cannot have, all I wish and hope for, into stories – so that I can explain the inevitable and the terrible, transform the nightmare into a happy ending.

What do you think is the most important
thing about writing fantasy?
As all stories, fantasy stories require strong characters, a motivation, and obstacles strewn in their way. But in fantasy, a vital element is the mystery of the symbols, the magic, the swift and unexpected transformation, the crossing between the worlds of the dead and the living, the power unleashed that equals no other, and the mythical structure of the fairytale.

What do you think is the attraction of the fantasy genre?
Fantasy allows us to dream and travel free where reality does not allow. Fantasy is religious, ritual and transcendental. From ancient times, around the fires in the caves, man explored the unknown through tales of magical power. Man has not changed. We still need these tales today.  

What inspired you to write Dioscuri?
Don’t you find twins fascinating? The fact that they are so similar and yet so different, like images distorted through a special mirror. The idea of writing the two point of views, so different, was exciting. I also love their myth – I love the idea that they were born from an egg when Zeus courted Leda in the form of a swan. It reminds me of the myth of Eros, born from an egg in the primordial chaos, from which he created order – making the egg parts into the earth and sky. Finally, I loved the idea that the brothers’ affection for each other defeated even death. How’s that for a happy ending! J

Dioscuri is a retelling of a myth – so is it set in the past?
No, Dioscuri is Urban Fantasy set in a contemporary Athens where the mortals have by mistake woken up the ancient gods. A Resistance group is barricaded in the secret passages inside the Acropolis rocky Hill, and squadrons are sent out to battle monsters as they emerge from the underground and the construction sites where the mortals have unwittingly tapped into the sleeping chambers of chimeras, lamias, echidnas – the stuff of nightmares. The ancient monsters can only be defeated through the use of ancient swords and ruses. On the side of the mortals are the griffins, the satyrs, the silenes and the nymphs. Meanwhile, the higher gods wage battle in the sky.

Are you planning to write most stories set in the world of Dioscuri?
Actually, yes, I am currently writing two more retellings of myths set in the same world: Theseus and the Minotaur, and Perseus and Andromeda. The stories explore the themes of family relations and conflicts, affection between siblings and parents, and our obligation to the gods and our own conscience.   

Can you give us any links to your blog, and to the story?
Of course! Here is the link to the story, and to the trailer:


Here is the link to my blog:


What advice do you have for other fantasy writers?
To read all that is fantastic – myths, folktales, riddles and religious texts. To set their mind free from all constraints. Theirs is the chance to truly escape from reality and into magic, and to help their readers along.





Saturday, February 19, 2011

Of Human Bondage, by Somerset Maugham.

   The characters in this novel were so vivid that I feel I have met them in person. Though labeled as fiction, this book is most likely about Somerset Maugham's childhood and youth.
    Philip, the main character, lost both parents when he was nine years old, and he was raised by his uncle, just like Somerset Maugham. A few years later, he was forced to attend a boarding-school in England where he was bullied by his classmates because of his club-foot.

  How exciting it was to travel back in time and place. This book allowed me to do that. I enjoyed the trip to the time of the impressionist painters, when Philip studied art for two years in Paris. I felt I was right there with him, witnessing the classes, the debates among the art students at the cafes, the philosophical discussions...
  After those enriching two years during which Philip learned to draw and  appreciate beauty from a different perspective, he decided to change careers, and  traveled to England to become a medical doctor. I enjoyed reading about his experiences during his medical studies. During this time, he fell madly in love with a  waitress who made his life miserable. The intensity of his love for her became absurd and drove him to do ridiculous things.  I found the story fell apart when that happened. but he did  get over it eventually. Life flows like a river and Philip's life was no exception.
  The war, the stock markets and the economic hardships led him to homelessness for a little while and even the most painful situations of his life became a reminder that hard times, far from being apocalyptic, are challenges that pass.
 
   Philip looked back at his life as a tapestry, with the good and the bad woven into it, the beautiful and the painful, all part of the same piece of meaningless artwork...

Thursday, January 27, 2011

The art of editing

   Editing is just as important as writing. I never send a manuscript to the writing group before polishing it.There are exceptions to this rule, though. But, overall, I do polish them before submitting them to be critiqued.
   Searching for strategies and ideas to make the most out of my editing experience,  I consulted literary journals and books that talked about editing. These are my conclusions. I hope you will find them useful:

  The first stage of the editing process is to grab the big picture (macro-editing):
-Characters: what are their motives? Are they clear? Are they credible?
- Intention: what is the purpose? What am I trying to convey?
-Structure: do scenes flow well? Do I give too much information at the beginning? Or do I give so little that the reader doesn't get hooked to it? Check tension and climax. Do all the parts hold well together? Sometimes it may be necessary to reorder scenes.
-Theme: during the editing process, I may work on making it more clear through a recurrent idea or imagery.

Then the second stage is the one that deals with all the details. Now I read very slowly:
-Language: I pay attention to word choice. I may change words if I find better ones to express the same thing. I reread carefully to get rid of cliches. I avoid language that sounds artificial. I pay attention to unnecessary repetition. (Sometimes, there is stylish repetition and that is o.k) or redundant ideas ( what I call over-telling).
-Clarity.
-Dialogues.
-Continuity
-Beginnings, endings and transitions.
 One more tip: if something doesn't sound right and I don't know why, I rewrite it.
  Finally, I read the text in a loud voice to know how it sounds. I change  whatever I need to change.
 
  Then I send it to the writing group. The next stage of editing happens after  I read  my fellow writers' feedback.
  Sometimes editing feels like a never-ending task. But I enjoy the reward of ending up with a polished manuscript that I 'm willing to submit for publication...

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Happy belated Martin Luther King's day!

 Every year I notice that when the media remembers Dr King, they only mention his leadership in the civil rights movement. Nothing is said about his non-violent means and his passive resistance through which he achieved his goals.
  The heart of his philosophy is almost always left out and ignored. I believe his philosophy should be embraced and acknowledged as much as the civil rights movement. It should be taken as an example and taught at schools in the USA and overseas. It is the seed for spiritual change that would help the world become a place where tolerance, compassion and love would prevail.
Here is an excellent article about what the media ignores.
http://community.seattletimes.nwsource.com/archive/?date=19930116&slug=1680317

Monday, January 10, 2011

The adventure of writing.

  I wrote about how I was able to overcome writer's block in my last entry. I mentioned that first stage during which I let my mind  blow out all the thoughts on paper. However, I did not write anything about my stage "zero" of the writing process. The stage "zero" is the one that grabs ideas that come to me in the most unpredictable ways. They can happen when I  wake up in the morning,  or when I take a shower, or read a story, drive, walk. It can happen when I overhear other people's conversations. A sentence, a word, a life situation can all lead to a complex character and, ultimately, a story.
    There are days when ideas seem to flow into my head with a special gravity. I relish those days. I need them! Then I play with those ideas in my head. If they hook me, I grab my copybook and write the outline for a story. This is all I need to start the stage one of this writing adventure, and give myself confidence to put the story into words.
    Outlines are to my writing what wings are to birds. As long as I have the outline, I can fly and go far away; I can discover new possibilities and create new adventures. In other words, the outline does not restrict me; it gives me some direction and inspires me to dig deeper into the complexity of my characters. 
    When I start writing I have a theme in mind, but once I look back at what I have written at a more advanced stage of the process, I find new themes. Writing becomes an adventure of discoveries, new insights, reflections, and interesting conclusions.
      There is a secret that I have not mentioned so far. The first stage of my writing process is hand-written. I do not get to the computer until I have a first rough draft. Once I get to the word processor, a new stage begins.
  
  
 

Friday, January 7, 2011

Writer's block: a problem of the past.

   Writing takes courage and patience. When we write we have to deal with the infinite possibilities of saying the same thing in different ways. It can get overwhelming. We also have to deal with the sight of the blank page when we struggle to write down that first challenging paragraph. It is for this reason that reading the book "Writing without teachers" a year ago, has been a turning point in my writing life.
   Peter Elbow's main piece of advice is to let yourself write everything without censoring yourself. I find myself writing the same idea in many different ways. I normally have a central idea of what I want to do, and everything revolves around my goal.
  When I let my mind expand, fly and play with the same scene or idea in different ways, it leads me to new thoughts, metaphors, and conclusions. Not only that, but I also end up accomplishing my task.
     It is right at the beginning when I silence my inner censor to let the thoughts flow profusely without restrictions. The mind needs that freedom to discover the "hidden material".
     It will be during a second stage that I  will work on the editing process. During this stage I may start by underlining the sentences that I like most. Then I rewrite the piece with some of those sentences. I may swap paragraphs, add sentences, delete words.
  During the editing process I become ruthless and thorough. I may discard a lot of the writing but the result of it is a meaningful manuscript. So as long as I have slept enough and ate well,  I  am ready to take a deep breath and set my mind free to write.
 
  How do you deal with writer's block?

Monday, January 3, 2011

A review about Bye-bye Natalia.

   Bye-bye Natalia is one of the O.Henry prize stories of 2008. It was written by Michel Faber, who was born in the Netherlands but was raised in Australia. Faber worked as a nurse, and he was inspired to write this story after he took part in the "Writers in the Frontline" project of Medecines Sans Frontieres (Doctors without borders), which sent authors to emergency zones all over the world.
  Bye-bye Natalia is the story of an Ukrainian woman in her twenties, who lives on the outskirts of Odessa in one of the old communist-era apartment buildings, where she shares kitchen, laundry and bathroom facilities with four other people she doesn't get along with.
   Through a website addressed to men searching for a "mail bride" Natalia meets a middle-aged man from Montana, Bob. The guy, who is divorced and has three teenage kids, leads a comfortable but rather lonely life in the United States of America.
    The story carries us to Odessa, where we are invited to learn every detail about Natalia's world: her workplace where she sells modern music CDs, the internet cafe where she exchanges e-mails with Bob, the streets, the buses, her home.
    Natalia is highly motivated to find a way  of leaving Ukraine. She dreams of a civilized country where hospitals work. She hopes that marrying Bob will set her free from her miserable existence in Odessa. She also harbours the illusion of being able to fall in love with this American guy.
     It's in their exchange of e-mails that we learn how their relationship unravels, and we continue to do so in Natalia's dreams, expectations and thoughts.
      What I really enjoyed about the story was the realistic settings, the complex nature of the characters, their motivations and their interactions. As I read the story I felt that I was right there, beside Natalia, at all times.
    I have to admit that the end left me starving for more information about Natalia's fate and the outcome of her relationship with Bob. It was not difficult to empathize with her, and to understand her motivations and disappointments.
 Odessa could be like any city in the developing capitalist countries, and Natalia's  challenges of dealing with disease and poverty, might as well belong to somebody living in the United States of America.