Jennifer Neri's Blog

Back of every creation, supporting it like an arch, is faith. Enthusiasm is nothing: it comes and goes. But if one believes, then miracles occur. Henry Miller


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A lucky coin

I’ll share a little story I found unexpectedly in a book that Santa delivered to my daughter this year:

 

Our story began over a century ago when seventeen-year-old Egmont Harald Peterson found a coin in the street. 

coin

 

He was on his way to buy a flyswatter, a small hand-operated printing machine that he then set up in his tiny apartment.

The coin brought him such good luck that today Egmont has offices in over 30 countries around the world. And that lucky coin in still kept at the company’s head office in Denmark.

 

This little success story was stuck in among the publication credits of a gorgeous children’s book entitled, A Flower in the Snow, a story about the joys of discovery, its loss, and re-discovery.

 

Sometimes it pays to read publication credits :).a flower in the snow

 

A flower in the snow.

A lucky coin.

I wish you each find your own in the New Year, and always.


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A full circle

I’ve been re-writing, re-plotting, and re-drafting, the majority of a novel I wrote eight years ago. Shocking when I think it was that long ago that this project came into my thoughts and I began to write it. It took me one year to write that first draft. It was the first idea that spurred me into being a writer.

My grandmother’s death at the time was the inspiration for the premise. While that hasn’t changed at all, the story line has a lot. As have some characters. And motivations. And arcs. When I returned to this particular work last October, I thought it was an easy fix, and I thought it was basically done. Silly me. But once I’d ripped it apart, I realized I’d gone to far in to turn back or give up on it.

But, that didn’t mean I didn’t want to. Especially as I have another novel I put on hold to whip this one into perfection (ya right! lol), and as I have ideas aplenty, I often wondered why I’m trying to fix something so broken when I can just start fresh. Well, the thing is, I think I just want to prove to myself that I can do my very best with it rather than dump it, and another part of me thinks it’s a great novel, one that many people can relate to. It’s a novel about death, or rather about how the living cope with death. And it’s a novel about stories, and how we each have one, and the choices we make as we travel down the road of that story.

I’m never steady in my belief in my own work. Sometimes I think it’s terrific, other moment I think it really sucks. The last few weeks I’d been thinking, okay, I’d better give up on this novel, the premise stinks, there’s too many characters, and it’s not plausible. Normally, I push through these moments, but this time I came very close to throwing in the towel.

And then three weeks ago my family and I buried my paternal grandmother. I was very close with her, all of my childhood, and even much of my adult life was in a shared residence with her. We even shared the same house during the pregnancy and birth of my first two children. The topic of my novel became too close, not something I was able to revisit during her illness and death.

About two weeks ago I sat down to work, and still, I questioned the story. This was a first–normally distance gave perspective, it allowed me to see flaws and solutions, not just garbage as I was seeing this time.

Yesterday, we buried my maternal grandfather. It was a swift death for him, a quick service. In three weeks, my two last living grandparents died, and I saw vast reactions to death. I saw my own different reactions to their deaths. Those around me responded differently. My parents come from different backgrounds, and I witnessed traditions that were quite different in each of the services and funerals. And it made me reflect on my grandmother’s death all those years ago, and how I felt at the time, and the story my mind created to cope with it. And I thought, “here I am again.”

I’ve come full circle, and yet, I’m a different person I was then. A lot has happened in these eight years, a heck of a lot, some wonderful, some terrible, and I’ve been thinking about this novel on and off during these last forty-eight hours since my grandfather’s death. Maybe this too is a coping mechanism, an avoidance technique. But it doesn’t feel like it. Because in thinking about these deaths, I’m thinking about my emotions, and I’m thinking that I really want to finish this novel after all. Right now there’s a sureness in me I haven’t felt since its creation. A sureness that I know the story I have to tell, and that I’ll be able to do it just right. Maybe I just had to live a little more before I was able to figure it.

As a side, this blog has been a little quieter than usual, a little more down than usual. Here’s hoping for a steady gait over the next while. And I hope all is well with all of you.


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When the birds fly

Just outside our front door, in a pot with a dead plant in it, we found a bird’s nest.

After seeing a few nests ravaged on our property I assumed this one was destined with the same fate.

The children watched for the mother bird, she was a rare sight, always in her nest and only every so often would she venture out. It took time to find out what type of bird she was because she was such a recluse. She’s a long-billed wren.

Finally, one morning we heard the faintest of chirping coming from the nest. I began to hold my breath. Would the raccoons or squirrels get to the new birds? Would the crow that tore the nest in our cedar tree to pieces last week find this one as well? My son wanted to move the nest, bring it somewhere safer, but of course all we can do is stand idly by and watch how it plays out.

The next morning we were amazed at how much stronger the voices were coming out of the nest. They had grown so much overnight. Still, no matter which way we twisted ourselves we couldn’t see inside the nest–they are amazing builders!

Two days later I found a dead baby bird on our walkway. The nest was silent. I was certain they were all gone. How wonderful when later that afternoon the nest came to life with sound! They were alive!

For days we watched the mother bird fly non-stop gathering food. The moment she took a breather they began screaming for her. I was exhausted watching her. And I was shocked to see she had a partner. There were two birds flying from the nest. My research tells me these birds mate for life. The male stays during the whole incubation process bringing the mother food, and then helping to feed the new ones.

For some you a sight like this is commonplace, but for a city girl like me this was all new and very exciting! Once, as a child, we had found a pigeon (perhaps a robin–I can’t quite recall) with a broken wing on the sidewalk of a busy underpass. We brough the bird home and my dad patched him up (he was studying animal behavior at the time). We kept him on our back porch in a box until he was able to fly on his own. I had name the bird Gigi.

The mother and father wren were very diligent parents. The moment one of us approached they would perch on the brick wall and wait for us to leave before either re-entering the nest or flying away. We waited and waited for a glimpse of these baby birds.

Last weekend, I came out to throw something in the recycling bin. There were seven baby birds all over our front porch. Some were on the walls, on the ground, in the potted plants. They were scuttling around, trying out their feathers, stretching their wings, finding flight. The parents went into an uproar at my approach, and I quickly backed away.

The whole process took about an hour and half and then they were gone. I snuck back for glimpses of them, bringing one child at a time with me.

We saw them for forty-eight hours around our yard, in trees and bushes, getting stronger and stronger. Now we’re left with an empty nest. It’s gotten so quiet around here, I had become accustomed to constant shrill.

My neighbor, who has shared the experience with us, insists that this must find a way into one of my stories. Perhaps it will. Or maybe the only story I needed to tell was this one here. Only time will tell.

How about you: Do your every day experiences find way into your writing? How often do you use nature in your stories, if at all?

 

 

 


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A memory

When I began writing I had no idea how to find other writers. None of my friends or family wrote, and I had studied science in school. I went on-line and I looked up writing groups in my area. I found one that met once a month in a library close to my home.

I was the youngest person there, by far. They were retired men and women who gathered to write and read to each other. I remember feeling so awkward, so out-of-place. I was young, in my twenties, what had I lived through to tell to these people? But, I returned again and again for almost a good year.

There was one older lady in her late seventies or early eighties that I remember in particular who always patted the seat next to hers if there was one, or gestured me into the room with a big wave of the arm. I think of her periodically, her effort to make me feel welcome. And how the little interaction I had with her inspired me not only in writing but in life.

Her name was Susan Romvary. The first time I entered the large conference room in the library, she sat near the doorway in a large cushioned chair separated from the group. She didn’t look up when I came in the room, in fact for a time I thought maybe she slept, or was incoherent; her head dangled forward and I was never able to see her face. People were reading, and I thought didn’t she heard them.

“Susan, will you read?” the organizer said.

She looked up, and I was shocked. She was stunning, her eyes dancing, her expression one that inhaled and released energy in a profound way. I could tell in an instant that she loved life and she lived it fully.

Some time after I met her a short story came to me, a sort of vignette that brought three people into one person’s life. It is fiction, but it is inspired by her and the words she spoke that night. She passed away in late December, and when I received the news I immediately thought that our little planet lost one terrific person, even though I hadn’t seen her in years, and only knew her through a few meetings. I remembered this story I wrote, and found it on a stick drive. Here is a portion of it, just the way it was written, because to edit it now would change it to who I am now, and not what I saw then. Perhaps you’ll see a little of her in it.

Vera sat across from me. Her name was scrawled in nearly illegible handwriting on a name tag stuck just above her left breast. Her vest was red, vivid in the dim room. Her head was bowed; she had not raised it, not even when I entered. Her hair was thinning, and dyed auburn. I wondered at her presence. Had she heard the others speak? Was she coherent? Suddenly, she lifted her head, and I realized it was her turn to read. Her eyes dazzled, and met each of ours in turn.

“I love humour,” Vera said. Her voice was inflected with life, and thickly accented. “I grew up in Hungary, escaped to France when I was a girl, and now, I live in a nursing home. Humour has saved me. I have had one published novel. It is, of course, humoresque. It was featured on CBC radio. Nothing more. I’m writing my second. It’s about my new residence.”

 I realized I was part of something. Would I be accepted, or would I be judged for my youth, as I had judged them for their age?

“I write in English,” Vera said. “But, it is not my first language. Nor is it my second. French is. I came to Canada as an adult, so naturally, I chose Quebec. I write in English because it is a simple language. If I can teach myself to speak it, I can teach myself to write it.”

 I listened to Vera, as I had not to the others. I had been too self-absorbed, worried about how my own work would be received. It was my first time in a writing circle.

“I had a husband, two children. My husband is gone. My children are gone. I tell you this not so that you will feel sad, or pity me, but so that you will know humour is healing. I have survived the holocaust, I have survived famine. I have lived alone in foreign countries, not understanding a word of the people around me. I struggle to retain the images of my family. Yet, I am glad to have gone through it. Otherwise, I would not be alive. I will read you an excerpt. I hope you will laugh. I expect you will laugh.”

And we did laugh.



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Nail polish, yoga, and laundry.

I’ve been writing for more consecutive hours in the past few weeks than I think I ever have. I’ve been training myself to extend my concentration span and  my productivity. But, I’ve noticed that I need breaks. If I start to fidget, I know it’s time to pause a few minutes. Sometimes I fight this need for a breather, but when I give in, I come back still, and with a great focus.

I haven’t come up with great breaks when I work out of the house yet, I can’t go for a walk when I’m at Starbucks, can I? I suppose I could, but then I’d have to pack everything up, and come back. I usually just stare out the window, so any suggestions would be great.

At home though I have endless possibilities for a break. One of the things I’ll do for a break is a short burst of exercise. Some muscle strengthening, or cardio, or yoga. I have these workout DVD that give 10 minute segments, so sometimes I’ll throw one of those on. Sometimes I’ll have a snack. Or, I’ll blog a few minutes, but I’ve noticed this doesn’t work that well, I need to step away from the computer. I’ll fold laundry. Unload the dishwasher. I love painting my nails – the colour is inspiring when I come back to the computer.

How about you, what do you do for a break during a writing session?


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do you ever self-sabotage?

I do. Sometimes. There are days when I wonder why I struggle so much to gain writing time, when it’s so difficult? When I’m exhausted and nothing is going my way, I make excuses of why I should just give up. And some of these excuses are even valid, and need to be worked through, but on certain days, I want to give in to them.

On one such day not so long ago, I was ranting and raving: How can expect to learn my craft when I’m constantly interrupted? It’s like athletics, it requires practice, and more practice! Since I can’t have this steadiness why should I bother at all? That’s it, I’m not writing anymore!

On that day, this appeared in my inbox. And my cheeks flamed up, as I flushed in shame!

The
Difference
Between a good artist
And a great one
Is:
The novice
Will often lay down his tool
Or brush
Then pick up an invisible club
On the mind’s table
And helplessly smash the easels and
Jade.
Whereas the vintage man
No longer hurts himself or anyone
And keeps on
Sculpting
Light.
~ Hafiz ~


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ode to the voices in my head

We’re all writers here. I can say this without scaring anyone away.

If you’re anything like me, you’ll begin hundreds of stories that never make it to paper, and very often not even past the first few sentences. This is not a conscious thing, it’s not something I decide to do. All day (and sometimes all night too) my mind creates, unless I force it to stop. It spends a lot time thinking about my WIP, but it also swerves, going into other lives.

Coffee shops (where I stereotypically do most of my writing) are one place that provide endless characters, stages, situations. So much fodder in sitting, writing, and having pieces of conversation drift into my subconscious. But, if I were to sit, and write, and do nothing else I still would not be able to write each of these down.

Sometimes I like what I see, and I think I really have to write this down, but I don’t. And I then I think that’s it’s unfortunate, something great might have gotten away from me there. Until a few nights back, I decided to jot down what I had created in the middle of the night (when I should have been sleeping, because you know, as a sleep deprived mom who gets woken many times each night I like spending precious sleep time creating prose in my head).

I thought by writing it down I would get more satisfaction, gratification in having captured it. I didn’t. Instead I thought, ehhh, not bad, yeah there’s a novel here. One I most likely won’t write. Not now anyway – I’m deep in my WIP.

I thought about buying a little notepad and jotting these ideas as they come to me. I imagined looking at them one day and deciding which story to write. But, I realized that for me, these stories will never stop being created. And one that came months or years ago will not likely inspire me in the same way. So, I’m letting them go when they come. Knowing that the right story for me to write, when it comes, will stick on its own. That’s what happened with my current WIP. I was still the editing throes of novel # 1, when this one came, and I had no choice but to write it.

What do you do with all those inspirations? Do you write it down and keep it?

 


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The Book Thief

Not that long ago we talked about how certain books about the craft of writing make us want to write. Right now I am reading a novel that is making we want to write. These moments of inspiration are not only fuel for future dull moments, but reminders of the elements of writing that when combined, is the reason I am a writer.

The Book Thief, by Markus Zusak, is a wonderful story all on its own, but what touches me as a writer is its homage to the story, writing, language, and words.

Last night I read a passage and wanted to share it with you. Maybe it’ll have a similar affect on you, and maybe not:

The sound of the turning page carved them in half.

Liesel read on.

For at least twenty minutes, she handed out the story. The youngest kids were soothed by her voice, and everyone else saw visions of the whistler running from the crime scene. Liesel did not. The book thief saw only the mechanics of the words – their bodies stranded on the paper, beaten down for her to walk on.

I love it when I read a novel that makes me want to write.

How about you: What novels or writers inspire you to write?


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Teresa Frohock talks about traditional publishing

Today Teresa Frohock is here talking about the path to publication of her debut fantasy novel, Miserere: An Autumn Tale. Last week, Cathryn Grant spoke about how Indie publishing has led to wonderful things for her. Two weeks ago Andre K. Baby spoke about his debut thriller, a story which shows that there are possibilites we never even imagined.

Raised in a small town, Teresa Frohock learned to escape to other worlds through the fiction collection of her local library. She eventually moved away from Reidsville and lived in Virginia and South Carolina before returning to North Carolina, where she currently resides with her husband and daughter.

Teresa has long been accused of telling stories, which is a southern colloquialism for lying. Miserere: An Autumn Tale is her debut novel and is scheduled for publication by Night Shade Books on July 1, 2011.

Welcome, Teresa!

I would like to thank Jennifer for her gracious invitation to me to write this post. I think Jennifer and I began blogging at approximately the same time, and it’s wonderful to see how both of our blogs have grown over the years.

Of course, after the invitation comes the hard part of deciding what to write about. Jennifer shot some ideas my way, and in a brainstorming e-mail session, we touched on why some writers choose to self-publish and why others seek a more traditional route to publication.

I thought since Cathryn talked about why she chose to self-publish, I would tell you why I chose to go the traditional route.

I’m a masochist.

Well, there is more to it than that; otherwise, this would be the world’s shortest blog post.

Going the traditional route to publication was very comfortable for me. One thing not many people know about me is that Miserere: An Autumn Tale is not my first novel nor is this my first time through the traditional route to publication. When I was in my early twenties I wrote a novel that interested James Allen of the Virginia Kidd Literary Agency. (There is a cool blog post about the agency here and yes, Jim really did smoke that much.) Jim knew I was unpolished as a writ-at.htmler, but he believed in my writing enough that he offered me representation. Unfortunately, I was too smart to listen to his advice, so my first novel never sold.

We eventually parted ways and I stopped writing fiction for many years. A few years ago, I saw an online class for writing fiction, and I wanted to see if I had what it took to become published. I signed up for the class and learned a lot about constructing a story. It was all the same things Jim had tried to tell me, but this time I was older and more teachable. I used what I learned in those writing classes to construct Miserere.

Once Miserere was polished and ready to submit, I examined my options. I thought about self-publishing, and although some people might not like what I’m about to say, anything less would be a lie. When I looked at self-publishing, I examined several self-published novels. In other words, I wanted to see the company I would be keeping. I wasn’t impressed.

The self-published books I found were riddled with spelling and grammatical issues, dialogue and setting were poorly executed, and each book would have greatly benefited from editorial oversight. The cover art was downright atrocious, which made the whole product look cheap and unprofessional.

That was two years ago. I’ve recently noticed that the cover art is getting better for self-published novels, and more and more self-published authors are turning to editors to get their books in shape prior to publication. I think that speaks well for all indie authors.

However, based on the works I was seeing a year or so ago, I decided I wanted to attempt to acquire an agent. I figured that if I could not interest an agent or a publisher in my writing, then it was possible that I didn’t have what it took to be a professional writer. If that was the case, I was perfectly willing to work on helluo librorum as a fan blog and let those who were more qualified tell the stories.

I submitted four queries and two agents asked for my manuscript. Of the two agents, I went with Weronika Janczuk of the D4EO Literary Agency, and I’m delighted with her as my agent. Weronika immediately saw the concepts I was trying to get across with Miserere, and she showed me ways to strengthen Miserere to make the story more marketable.

Within five weeks of Weronika sending Miserere out on submission, Jeremy Lassen of Night Shade Books made an offer. I was ecstatic, because I’ve loved Night Shade Books for some time. Jeremy picks the dark, edgy kind of fiction that I love to read, and the award-winning quality of Night Shade’s fiction speaks for itself. I am really honored to be associated with all of Night Shade’s authors.

Two things are going to rock a novel off the shelf, and those are the cover art and the story. Cover art is the most vital part of selling a novel. The art draws the reader’s eye and the story holds them there.

Night Shade is known for producing excellent cover art for their novels, but I was astounded by Michael C. Hayes’ interpretation of Miserere. He took the time to read the novel and he captured the entire story in their faces. He totally got the themes in Miserere.

So now we are moving into the final phases of constructing the finished work. I love being part of a team effort, which is exactly what traditional publication is all about—several talented people pulling together to create and produce a piece of art.

Have there been long waits? Yes.

Doesn’t it make you feel powerless while other people judge your work? Absolutely, but even if you self-publish, there will be readers judging the viability of your work.

Should everyone try and acquire an agent, then a publisher? Hey, everybody’s journey is different. Mine worked out great for me. My only advice is for you is this: examine the pros and cons of both options then roll with the option that best fits your lifestyle.

Thanks again to Jennifer for giving me this time! If you want to hang out with me, I’m in quite a few places. You can visit my blog and website follow me on Twitter or friend me on Facebook and I have an author page at Goodreads where I post reviews of books that I read and enjoy. I run mostly guest posts at helluo librorum, but I do pop in to give my two cents worth from time to time. Join us there where we talk about dark fiction and writing.

I hope to catch you all somewhere online or at a convention soon!


Thank you, Teresa, for the great post!!

We all look forward to this summer’s launch for you – a most exciting time, and can’t wait to hear all about it on your blog! And, I’m very excited to read Miserere: An Autumn Tale. From the bits I’ve read on your blog I’m certain it’s amazing!

Much success to you!!


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what books mean to me.

My son’s elementary school is holding a bookmark designing contest. One child in each cycle will win a 10$ gift certificate from our local Babar Books.

There are two rules: 1. the design can only be in black and white. 2. That the design be somehow related to books, libraries, reading, etc.

My 7-year-old was lost. Seeing he was just getting frustrated, I decided to draw my own, hoping to inspire. Here’s what came:

An open book, with wiggles that looked like waves across the page for text. Out of the book was a creature jumping. Under the open book was a bed, and under the bed at the very bottom of the page was a setting sun with rays penetrating upwards. On top of the book I drew a heart, a cloud, and some sort of mythical creature. Then I drew a moon and some stars. At the very top corner in the left I drew a swing with a stick child swinging through the cloud and heart and creature. Then I added branches that descended and falling leaves that landed under the bed. The leaves turned into music notes and floated away.

It’s all about the imagination, I told my kids, the imagination books draw out of us. When we read a story, we each see it differently.

What this? I asked pointing to the creature jumping out of the book / water.

A mermaid, said the 4-year-old.

A dolphin, said the 7-year-old.

The baby did not answer :)

That is why I drew things that can look like one thing, or another, depending on who’s looking, I said. And it can change each time we look at it as well.

My 7-year-old drew monsters and people, of all sorts and shapes and sizes. He didn’t use this as his final product, he went with something much more cautious (the word BOOKS, and stick figures around it). My 4 year old drew exactly what I drew.

Books give imagination life, and let it loose. Writing, to me, is just and extension of that. When I am editing, I can get caught up in the logistics of things. I can forget that a line is perfect when it ignites one of our 5 (or 6) senses, not when everything is in it’s place. Sometimes everything has to be out of place to turn an idea into something tangible. Something that we can each hold in our own unique way.

Note: Cathryn Grant, will be visiting this blog Friday January 18th, followed by Teresa Frohock on Friday January 25th.

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