Category Archives: Opinion

ROAD TRIP FOR THE IMAGINATION

Leaving home on October 12, I had some thoughts about what I might encounter along the way. Home is Northern California and my destinations were many.: Santa Barbara to pick up my writing friend and traveling companion, Penny; getting out of CA as fast as possible; the south rim of the Grand Canyon.;  the Northern AZ Museum for its display of founder Mary-Russell Ferrell Colton’s wondrous paintings; ACOMA pueblo 

atop its great mesa where I’d wanted to go for more than 50 years; Ghost Ranch and Abiqui, Georgia O’Keefe’s incredible territory; family in Santa Fe, Rogers, Las Cruces, Alamogordo, Tucson only to miss those in other areas; the Women Writing the West conference in Albuquerque and the much longed-for return to the Sky Islands of Arizona’s Huachuca Mountains           

of which I write and where I now am…so many miles, adventures, unexpected twists and turns in the pathway!

I’ve met and shared with amazing people on this journey but the most amazing was to finally meet Cheri Saunders. It was Cheri and her husband, in the 1960’s, who first found and mined the Blue Opals here. Despite several visits to her Gallery, I’d never connected with her. After her husband’s early death, Mike Anderson assumed a very important and big part in her life. It was Mike whom I’d met and conferred with over the years as the concept of  BY GRACE took hold of me. Mike was incredibly generous with his time, his knowledge and his support. .I only knew of Cheri as the elusive designer of magnificent jewelry, including the few pieces I accumulated over the years. When I last visited in 2008, I bought presents for my women and children in our family and a beautiful hunk of blue opal with its white and tawny streaks marking its uniqueness. As BY GRACE came close to publication, friendly jewelers wrapped the piece in silver coils and swirls and hung it on a leather cord. The necklace is worn by Grace on the cover of her book and has captured the attention of all who view it when I wear it.

I went in search of Mike, my consultant, to thank him and give him copies of my books. The Gallery was closed up and had the appearance of a long silence. I approached the adjacent home and shop, calling out for him. I have no hesitation or qualms about knocking on strange doors, a pattern left from my social work career.  But this wasn’t a strange door; I wanted to find my special friend. A silver haired, petite woman, in jeans and a lovely blue sweat shirt responded and I had no doubt who she was. As I told her of my mission, I knew what she would tell me…Mike was gone. I was two years too late and the sadness hung between us. We sat in the patio and talked of many parts of our lives. These are not feelings and details for you to read of. They are special, private and treasured.

In the final minutes of our visit, Penny joined us and we were the beneficiaries of Cheri’s generosity. She no longer sells her work nor does she design. Instead she offered us the bounty of her talents and we left deeply touched and thankful.

How does travel affect you?

Is it the scenery, the people you meet along the way,

or simply leaving your everyday life behind?

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Filed under Arizona Territory, BY GRACE, Historical Fiction, Reflection, Travel, Writing

WHAT’S IN A REVIEW? WORDS! WORDS! WORDS! (and stars…)

“Words! Words! Words! I am so sick of words! I get words all day through…Never do I ever want to hear another word. There isn’t one word I haven’t heard…Say one more word and I’ll scream.”

Audrey Hepburn in MY FAIR LADY

Well, not really, but I can understand what Eliza felt and what Alan Jay Lerner had her sing in MY FAIR LADY. Writers spend long hours, days and years putting forth words. In their heads, on paper,  in print, and in the ether. Then, it is the readers and the critics who pour over those strenuously wrought words to offer review, critique, criticism, praise, doubt, confusion, benevolence or, possibly, total rejection.

How often do you write reviews of the books you read? Is it your job? Your hobby? A courtesy to a writer friend? Or only when you can offer a four or five star rating? Are you of the breed that loves to hack away with stingy one or two star reviews? Holds to stringent rules, measurements or other ways to quantify a book’s worth?

Personally, I’d love to do away with the stars. Too subjective for my taste and with too many variables and meanings. If your words can’t convey your thoughts about the pacing, plotting, characterization, themes, research or lyricism of the writer, how can the stars say it?

So, I decided to take a look at the reviews I’ve written on Amazon to analyze my own process and see what I could make of it.  In the last six years I have ponied up forty reviews. I gave 37  five stars and to three, I gave four stars.  What does it mean, if anything?

I recently had an email discussion with an eminent western writer who reserves her “5’s” for books of significant value that are likely to stand the test of time. I used to do that, too, and only wrote reviews of such books. More recently, I’ve switched gears and have given many “5’s” for work that might not reach those earlier standards but were very good books. With most of these I tried to describe their impact on me to get across my sense of their value. I have not given lower numbers in instances where friendship got in the way of my ability to do so; I still don’t feel good about those books (think fraudulent) for it misleads anyone who might look to the review in making their decision to buy and/or read them. On three occasions I gave “4’s” where I felt very clear about their ranking.

Increasingly, I read nearly exclusively what I write: historical fiction, mostly about the American West.  In the past, I read much more in crime and thriller series, general historical (including romances,) bestsellers, and non-fiction. My interest would be peaked by San Francisco Chronicle or NY Times reviews (now the same thing,) the “new books” shelved at the library or booksellers recommendations. Now, I look to the resources and writers of organizations I belong to: Women Writing the West, the Historical Novel Society, Squaw Valley Community of Writers and Redwood Writers, a branch of the California Writers Club.

I took a look at the stats from those 40 reviews to see where they came from: 17 were by WWW writers, 7 by RW authors, 5 from HNS, 10 from other sources and 0 specifically from Squaw.  I think I read about 60 books a year so this sampling of 40 books in 6 years is miniscule compared to what I actually read.

.

Vincent van Gogh   “WOMAN READING”

The result of all this self-analysis: I need to write more reviews and improve my star designation by being more honest when I find myself between a rock and a hardplace.

Have you anguished over reviewing a friend’s book?

How did you handle it?

Were you “too busy?” Say you didn’t feel comfortable, couldn’t rank it high?

Do something else?

 

P.S.  HUACHUCA  WOMAN  has received 10  “5’s” and 1  “4.”  Thank you!

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Filed under Historical Fiction, HUACHUCA WOMAN, Publishing and Promotion, Reflection

HUACHUCA WOMAN sees the light of day!

In the last month wondrous things have happened as HUACHUCA WOMAN emerged from the darkness of my computer to the Kindle, onto Amazon’s paperback racks and into the hands, hearts and minds of readers.

I have graduated to the rank of published novelist and I couldn’t be happier.

Photo by Kent Sorensen

Please go to Amazon.com to  “LOOK INSIDE.” Hit on my name to visit my Author Page; hit the “Like” button if inclined. My new blog is up at www.arlettadawdy.com with lead-ins to story poems, blog and bio. There’s more to construct there and I’m moving as fast as I can…to catch up to Goodreads, LinkedIn, and Facebook.

I’m on a learning curve and often feel myself slipping off, only to catch my breath and hold on again as tightly as I can. It is all about marketing, almost every writer’s least favorite part of the book industry. It has increasingly fallen on the writer’s shoulders to “get out the vote” as it were. Whether self-published or with a big press, the author carries most of the responsibility for promotion of her work unless, of course, she is a best-seller.

So, I read everything I can in the how to arena: how to build a platform, a following, a blog, a website, and SEO (Search Engine Optimization.)  Then, there are the lists: 49 things to do and sites to contact before putting the book up for free on Kindle; 12 reasons why you (who, me?) should be on Twitter, Pinterest, and all that is to come in social media; and 5-20 reasons to do readings, place your books in odd and unusual places, attend conferences, sell (or NOT) out of your car’s trunk, lead tutorials.

What have I done with those lists?  Gotten overwhelmed, listened to writer friends, attended workshops on reading in public (outstanding with Amanda McTigue), given readings, signed on with a local book distributor (thanks, Jeane Slone)…and run out of steam.

Meanwhile, a certain relative skipped over the “Love on the beach scene”—unable to forget who wrote it. I’ve given copies to my closest supporters. HUACHUCA WOMAN has found her way into charitable giveaways.Plans are firming up for a road trip to the Women Writing the West conference in Albuquerque in October that will find me coming home by way of Cochise County Arizona where the book is set and doing what?  More readings, giveaways, places to see and people to meet.

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Filed under Arizona Territory, Historical Fiction, Publishing and Promotion, Reflection

WHERE AM I AND HOW DID I GET HERE?

The proofs are in the mail…”Oh, my goodness,” said Little Orphan Annie and me.

I began to work on Huachuca Woman over twenty years ago and it will now, finally, see the light of day on paper and epub smaller than 8.5″x11.” Early on and for too long, I took the high road, looking for the power people (read:NYC publishers) and not getting past the gatekeepers (read: agents.) After the first seventy passes, rejections and no replies (a form of rejection,) I began to look at vanity publishing. For a mere $2-5000, I could fill my garage or spare bedroom (assuming I have one) with hundreds of my books to sell at book fairs, conferences, writers’ club meetings, beauty shops, medical offices and captive audiences (read: family and friends.) Did I REALLY want to do this, even if I could afford to? NOPE.

And so, I kept up the search for independent publishers where I passed on them or they passed on me.  And agents, at conferences, classes, forums or wherever I came across their paths. It seemed the personal connection would strengthen my chances and so I kept at it.  Last Fall, I thought I’d found the perfect match…only to have her reader pass. Whether on purpose or by design the reader’s notes were included in the returned manuscript, I was dumfounded. She couldn’t identify with the protagonist “despite the two deaths” in the pages she’d read; I wrote her off as a “22 year old with no life experience” and gave up my search for another agent’s reader.

Sometime ago, a guardian angel tried to convince me to epub and offered to cover the costs. I dithered with the same old fears: inadequate editing, wanting great quality, success/failure and a certain techno phobia. “Get on with it, find someone to do the technical work,” said Angel. And I did.

This was still a complicated process and I can’t imagine doing it all on my own. Writer friends my age have persisted in stretching their minds and joining the 21st century. I’m still very much in the 19th century with occasional adaptations to the 20th. Fortunately, I came upon a gifted man (Blake Webster: www.mediadesignpublishing.com) to upload my manuscript to CreateSpace and the Kindle and yet another to do my cover design (Kent Sorensen: www.kentwsorensen.com.) I feel very fortunate in being able to entrust my dreams to these men.

Where are you in your dream to publish?

What is/was your plan to get there?

What would you suggest to others?

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Filed under Reflection, Writing

FROM THE LAND OF SKY-BLUE-PINK

At sunset tonight, a special treat of sky-blue-pink skies lasted brief moments before turning to candle-orange and magenta and the dark of daylight-murdering skies. So many things in life go fleet-footed away from us in moments, hours and even years that can be too short. A whispered endearment. A smile on granddaughter’s face on receiving balloons.  A breeze sending autumn’s leaves scurrying to the ground.

Today had many such moments for me. Several came as my friend Robin Moore (aka Robin Cleary) read from her NANOWRIMO piece. You know, the 50,000 words in thirty days that leaves writers exhausted, perhaps frustrated and definitely brain-irrigated. Her words leapt about with emotional tension as horse and, then, man, fought to overcome nature’s fierce destructive path. I was there in the eye of the storm, wanting to make things right for the animal and horrified when the man intervenes to the detriment of both. This was very powerful writing: descriptive, bold and energetic. I didn’t gasp for breath but could have easily if the writer had gone on reading her work.

Returning Light: After the Storm by Sandra Merwin

Such is the power of words. To terrify,to entertain, to challenge. To make us laugh, cry,  frown in consternation. To cause us to argue, sympathize or become confused. And to do so much more.

When Mom’s car wouldn’t start this morning, Allie pronounced that it was out of gas…not so with this Hybrid  but how clever of the five-year-old to come up with those words to explain the problem…another function of words.

Swimming through words of confusion later, I finally understood what was being asked of me…a simple request for help. With my globetrotting daughter, briefly back in Chicago, we caught up on our mutual happenings over her glass of good wine as I did so vicariously. Our words mixed, flowed and sometimes had to be spelled out for the lousy connection we had. But, we waded through the morass of clicks, rattlings, and electronic buzzes until we reached clarity and understanding.

Words, words and more words. They make us, berate us and hammer sense out of us. Floating as sounds through the brain. Visual images to our closed eyes, landing on page or computer site until they finally evolve into sentences, paragraphs, letters, chapters, books and we think we are communicating. We speechify, narrate, listen and contemplate.

About then, a sky-blue-pink sky happens on the horizon and we are at a loss for words, It is too magnificent, transitory and there is no way for us to hold onto the magic. Except in words when we try to share the impact with others. When the poet combines images with emotions and finds the words to capture the essence of the event. The poet records it, we read it and recognize the import of his words.

And so, Robin captured moments from her experience or her imagination, fit them together with words and enticed us along for the ride, actually and figuratively. This is the epitome of the writer’s gift: to bridge reality and imagination with sparkling, emotion-ridden and exquisite language.

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Filed under Family, Poetry, Reflection, Writing

TO REVIEW OR NOT TO REVIEW

The more I read the more sensitive I become to writer style, voice, use of words and phrases, pacing, use of tension, story development, characterizations, etc, etc. This sentence reads like the table of contents in a writing primer, perhaps Creative Writing 101. I never took the course but had an excellent, even unparalleled, liberal arts education at Occidental College.

 I haven’t always been comfortable with pen and paper…or my mother’s old (1930’s) Royal portable typewriter. The science teacher pushed his words on me for my valedictory speech in high school: stodgy, 19th century prose that was an embarrassment. A few months later, I sat before my first “Blue Book” essay exam, froze up, wrote a tiny page and a half and got a C+. By the time I got to grad school, I could do the first and last draft of term papers on that old Royal the night before they were due. Research, of course, was sought before that date and incubated much as it still does.

While I devoured books all my life, I’d never been trained to analyze what I was reading or how the writer wrote. I escaped into the stories, their imaginary characters and settings and wished I could write, too, but knew I wasn’t worthy.

Writing was something that special people way above me did. Not something I could aspire to.

Instead, I became a social worker and learned to observe setting, behavior, character structure, family and group dynamics and write of these in case notes and other documents. Thirty years of writing court reports and occasional ventures into writing poetry and short stories gradually led me to storytelling and getting it all down on paper. Now, I am immersed in the doing of it.

So what led me to take up the topic of  REVIEW? If you’ve read my last three blogs, you know I’ve been out and about in the Great Northwest…collecting new books. Okay, that wasn’t the primary goal but it was an accomplishment. And I fulfilled it to the brim of my car trunk.

So far, in the week I’ve been home, I have read two books by Women Writing the West writers: THE GOOD TIMES ARE ALL GONE NOW by Julie Whitesel Weston, a memoir, and THE BARGAIN by Irene Bennet Brown, an historical romance. Both are exceptional writers and I decided I needed to return to reviewing books I especially like. You can find both books reviewed by me and others on Amazon and on Goodreads.

I decided that I owed it to these writers, sitting in their writing rooms with just the computer between them and their readers, to acknowledge their work with words of my own. Okay, they got a measly bit in royalties of what I spent on their book but I doubt that is reward enough. Both are prize-winners and may not need my endorsement but I’m giving it to themanyway.  Do you know what?  They each graciously thanked me and praised my use of words; one joined Goodreads and is now a follower of my blog. The other says she will use my review in her next series of readings.

For me, this is the ultimate in paying it forward among writers: to buy(or win) the book, render an honest opinion and keep at it.

When did you last write a review? 

What did you
want to share with the world about the book and its impact on you?
 

Will you do it now?

 

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Filed under Opinion, Writing

ON THE ROAD AGAIN

Before there were blogs, FaceBook and sundry other electronic ways to communicate there was email. In years gone by, I used to labor over journal entries, sometimes transferring them into longish emails accounting for TRAVELS WITH MOSES. Moses was our Basenji, rescued from the  local pound. He was more cat than dog, short haired, pointy eared, silent–a barkless dog breed from Africa who travel on the shoulders of a hunter to find lions! Independent, obstinate and a runner, our Moses stole our hearts and then broke them when he disappeared near Tyler, Texas.

A life time later, I’m on the road again with writer friend Anne Schroeder and we’re in Medford, Oregon for the night. Do you like driving in fog, rain and sunshine? From the flats and rice fields of Sacramento through the wide open spaces of Highway 5’s lonesome hinterlands we sped, slowed, stayed close to the speed limit or not. All depended on the amount of rainfall from minute to minute, how heavy a foot hit the pedal and getting lost in writerly conversation. Then, there were the rivers, streams and arched bridges to drool over.

Passing through towns, villages and hamlets with names like Corning, Red Bluff, Cottonwood, Sweetbriar, we met up with Shasta. A heavy cloud layer sat on Mt. Shasta, the 14,000’ lovely volcanic home of Big Foot (mythic or real?) The mountain, its top half cut-off by clouds,  looked more like Acoma or
another New Mexican mesa…stately, impressive and a bit intimidating. Coffee and blackberry cobbler and pumpkin spice cake at the Hi-Lo Cafe,  in the same family for 60 years, nurtured  us well and we went on our way.

If I had taken the picture I should have, you wouldn’t be seeing so much of Mt. Shasta. ENJOY!

Now what do writers talk about as they skim mountain roads and passes at 55-75 MPH? They talk about anything that strikes their fancy. In our case, we covered family, writing and writers, books we’ve read or are reading, have written or plan on writing. Sharing horror stories about self-centered, non-reciprocating published authors kept us busy for a good little while.  As our stories grew, so did the mountains, trees and hills along our way. The sky cleared and threw out the sun from time to time, warming the cockles of our hearts and lighting our spirits. The trees came taller, wider in the colorful hues of pine, redwood, and cedar with a few autumnal oaks in changing cloaks.

When two friends venture out on the road together for the first time, there are lessons to be learned, communication problems to work through, decisions to make. Finding each other’s style is part of the process…one I last experienced when my son and family moved in with me. It is all about negotiating time, space, feelings and expectations. In the latter, I have too often lapsed in expressing myself, operating instead on assumptions. At this point, all is smooth sailing/traveling  and I fully expect it will continue to be as we head to Oregon’s Aurora Colony which Jane Kirkpatrick has written of so well and wisely.

ANNE’S TRAVEL TIP: when you’ve looked high and low for your telephone charger and it is no where to be found, check with the front desk for lost and left behind chargers. She did and is now a much happier camper.

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Filed under Family, Reflection, Travel, Writing