Friday, April 22, 2016

3 books to get you ready for insightful travels

When I am not reading or writing, I travel intensively and travel writing is one of my passions. Not too much into travel guides, I am always looking for insightful writings, helping me to understand the spirit of the places and its people. With summer on its way in the rainy Europe, I am  up for new adventures. These three books are a happy meeting between unique places and good writing.
lived in Japan for one year, in the countryside, without speaking any Japanese at all. I worked and made Japanese friends and went all over the country, but still not grasped too much about the soul and culture. Michael Pronko is living there for years, in the big capital city of Tokyo and speaks the language. His essays are studies into the Japanese psyche, written with attention to details and curiosity towards this world that still remains a big secret even for someone so close to it. 
I want so much to return to Corsica...I wild world with its own rules and a nature that reminded me of some dramatic existential texts by Sartre. It is one of the places that it is hard to read at first and second sight. Dorothy Carrington moved there at the end of the 1940s and had dedicated her life to learning about this small and curious space. Her stories are anthropological journeys, opening the eyes on historical aspects and cultural habits still practiced after so many years.
I never been to Argentina but after reading this collection of stories written with journalistic precision and deep understanding of the invisible nets that connects the individual with historical occurences, I know what to expect. I especially appreciated the references to the dictatorship which brings a complex reflection about humanity or rather lack thereof. 

Disclaimer: Books obtained from publishers via NetGalley.co, opinions, as usual, my own.

Baby (horror) talk

Horror books are not on my top reading list, but as I am doing my best to browse different literary genres, and was looking like an easy, short reading, this baby horror book was looking appealing. I had read previously something else by Mike Wells, a book about Iranian spies and atomic programs, but despite some well written scenes, I found many inadequacies that cut my interest to continue the series.
This book is more organised and focused, with a great opening and very well written scenes. There is suspense and unexpected things apparently done by a kind of diabolique 5-month old baby Natasha. From driving cars to placing a tennis trophy dirtied with feces and, the most terrible of all...talking articulately. 
Ironically, Neal, the 21-year old father who had to give up his college to marry the pregnant against his will Annie, epitomizes man's usual fears of babies, either married or not, teenagers or late in adulthood. And this fear is so overwhelming that it makes the mind create things and put the mechanism of evil into full motion. 
Rating: 3 stars

Wednesday, April 20, 2016

Writers secrets: Becky Andersen about dating stories

Online dating for seniors? Why not? And if the answer is yes, why? I am quite out of the dating game now - online or not - but the phenomenon as such is interesting, regardless of the age limit so I approached this debut book by Becky Andersen - to be released this June - with curiosity. 
My expectations were more than rewarded because besides the very practical tips about profiles and how to approach online matches and how to get ready for the first, second and thirds date, it is so well written and shares so many hilarious experiences that was impossible to put it down until the end.
The end is happy, followed by a marriage, but this is maybe less important. In a way, you maybe want to read more stories for couple of good hours. 
This is Becky's first book and I was curious to find out more about the writing process, her experience with the publishing industry and maybe some tips for the writers in the making. Her experiences are the subject of the interview published part of the Writers Secrets series. 

Disclaimer: The book was offered by the publisher via NetGalley.com. 

What was the most difficult part of starting to write?
Photo courtesy Becky Andersen
For me, it was trying to determine how to immediately capture a reader’s attention. I think if this had been fiction, it might have been easier.  But to put down in words just what happened to me that resulted in this book, there were almost too many options!  Do I start with my background, with the death of my husband, or do I lay groundwork on being a baby boomer?  I think the paper industry benefited from my confusion, because I would type page after page, print them off, then lay them aside and read a few days later.  I filled up my recycling basket several times, and bought several reams of paper over the course of several weeks.  I have to admit that while I kept telling myself “I’m retired,”  There’s no hurry,”  “This is just a hobby,” I also kept thinking, “You’re not getting any younger,” “Better get this stuff written before I develop dementia,” “I need to get a life!”

My tips for the first-time writer:
I have discovered, after the fact, that there are “clubs,” or groups of writers who get together and critique each other’s on-going work.  I wish I had known about that at the beginning. I struggled being my own worst critic, and sometimes spent a lot of time writing something, only to have the editor suggest something else.  It would have been nice to give a chapter or two to some others to get their feedback on which way the story was headed: is it too weak, too “talky,” should I write as though I was telling my story directly as it happened or use past tense, would the story be stronger if I started at the “end” and flashed back to the beginning, or just what?
Also, ideas or phrases that are PERFECT for the story may wake you up at night, or pop into your head during a shower, or in the middle of a movie – so always be able to write them down or record them vocally. I would have Hollywood after me to make my book into a movie by now if I’d done that!
How easy was it to find a publisher?
I had worked for 23 years at a liberal arts college where reading and writing are as common as promises during an election year.  For me, it was easy to ask one of my friends who has published books before just what I should do.  She advised going to an “indie” publisher – (I LOVE being able to speak “author-talk” by calling things indie instead of independent) – but cautioned that doing so would not guarantee that my book would be automatically accepted. I went with WriteLife/BQB Publishing, after researching it and several other companies.

What is your writing inspiration?
When I first started dating, I would put little snippets onto my Facebook account, mainly because I normally don’t have anything of interest to say.  For example, the first time I wrote something was Went on my first "date" as a Match.com-er. He was four years younger than me. Guess it's official: I'm a COUGAR!!! meow. 
p.s. nice guy, but no chemistry. Next!
Well, I got more likes and comments than I’d ever had in the several years I’d been on FB.  And when I had two more dates later in the week, each with a different guy, and posted a little more detail each time, I found out my friends loved my “love” life (or loveless life). I write with a self-deprecating humor, and every post I made there were many words of encouragement and pleas to write a book.  After I married Dave, he encouraged me – and the funny thing is my first husband always told me I should write a book, so I figured if the two most wonderful men in my life wanted me to, then I should definitely do it!

Do you have a special writing ritual?  
No, sorry.  Unless turning on the computer and trying to keep from checking out Etsy, FB and Gmail count as one.

What is your lesson learned from online dating?
I learned several things from online dating:  I learned that I was shallow.  At the beginning, I would scroll only through the photos of the men, and choose to open the profile of whomever I thought was attractive.  While that was okay when I was shopping for clothes, I realized (thank heaven) that there is more to each human being than mere looks, and that realization caused me to choose dates based on much more than their appearance.  (And I’m thankful the men did the same!!)
I learned that there are a lot more lonely people in the world than I ever imagined – and that there are a lot of people in the world with the same likes, dislikes, dreams and plans as I had.
And finally I learned that I could – and did – do something for once that was out of my normal comfort zone, and that made me a stronger person, I think.
Oh – and of course the MAJOR lesson learned is that these online dating sites can really work!!!  

What is your next step?  Do you think about your next book already?
Oh, Ilana!  NEXT book?  HA!  Although, I’ve had people come up to me and tell me their stories about online dating, so perhaps – emphasis on PERHAPS – that would be a next book.  
But my next step is to continue doing things outside my comfort zone that I need to do to market the book.  I’m trying to screw up my courage, walk into a book store, and say “Hi,  I’m a new author.  Would you like to host a book signing for me?” Just kidding – but I am hesitant to “toot my own horn” so to speak.

Saturday, April 9, 2016

Reading around the world: Yasmina Khadra Qu'attendent les singes

Many pages into this book I was not sure what attracted me to keep reading more (I finished the book in less than 24 hours): the intricacies of a system corrupt to the bones which I am familiar with or the crime story which takes place. After more pages with deadly crimes with a clear author, despite the presence of some investigators, including a woman lesbian who is the chief investigator, but will be also killed at the orders of a pervert tyran, I realized that the politically and humanly corrupt ambiance is what made me curious. It was the curiosity of checking if things stays how I remember to be in a corrupt country or it is maybe something different. Sadly, the stories told in the book are authentic, especially regarding the media part. 
This political background is overwhelming and predominant in the story. The crime details become somehow additional, without too much classical investigation done, their role being apparently to complete and add more content to it, which is almost killing the rest of the narrative. Most probably you can create interesting stories on this background but this was not the choice of the author - himself knowledgeable quite well of the Algerian realities, as a former member of the military bureaucracy. 
The overall feeling was frustration because I was expecting much more but there is worth giving a try to this book as a weekend lecture. I've read the French version and I recommend it for some interesting dialogues and the author's choice of integrating daily politics into the novel narrative. Not the best example, but at least three stars worth.

Rating: 3 stars

Book review: The Japanese lover, by Isabel Allende

I waited a lot to read this book. More than the reference to Japan and Japanese culture and the Jewish family story, I wanted back into my life the wonderful story telling by Isabel Allende.
And for one thing, I was not disappointed: there is a story told well and this is why I kept reading the book till the end. More than being a book about an old love story, it is a book about getting old and how past can keep being part of our present indefinitely. 
The story is made of different little stories that do not go smoothly together. In fact, it made me more curious to find out more about: Irina/Elisabeta story, the child victim of sexual aggression, with an alcoholic mother from Moldova ending up together - platonically until the end of the story - with the grandson of Alma; the love story between Alma and Ichimei; the story of Alma and Nathaniel, her gay husband she married when she got pregnant with Ichimei, the son of the Japanese garden; Alma's brother story during and after the war. Strangely, it is not too much to say about the story of Alma's parents who died in Poland during the war and this make the story at least clumsy, compared to the usual stories with such an element. We found a lot in exchange about the Japanese internment camps during the War in America that, however, cannot be compared with the ghettos and camps anwhere in Europe. 
When it comes to the Jewish background of Alma or the Bellasco family in general, there is nothing to say and the story file is almost empty. 
Overall, I was a bit disappointed but will still wait for reading new books by Allende, an author with an addictive storytelling strength.

Rating: 3 stars

Friday, April 1, 2016

Reading around the world: Romain Puertolas - The Girl who Swallowed a Cloud as Big as the Eiffel Tower

This is my first encounter with this very interesting new French author and I did not start with his most famous first book but with his second work. True is also that in the last years I neglected a bit French literature and reading in French in general - but at least this month I will come up with more than two reviews of French books. Puertolas is considered as a literary phenomenon: he writes very fast and not long ago used to be a police officer in charge with reports about irregular immigration. 
His first book, The Extraordinary Journey of the Fakir who got trapped in an IKEA Wardrobe, was written in between the work breaks and ended up with a good publishing contract that ended his bureaucratic career and opened the doors to the full time literary life. 
Bureaucracy can inspire great works of art if you are a sensitive soul. The settled routine can be the best frame to give you that freedom of mind for creating. 
The book about The little Girl who swallowed a Cloud as Big as the Eiffel Tower is a combination of Boris Vian and Magritte, with ironical traces of Obama and Hollande. Plus Chinese monks and a Province Dupois who is learning to fly in one hour in order to save her adopted daughter Zahera lying in a hospital bed from the day she was born. Stories within the stories, with faits divers adorned to the dream reality, the story does not have an end. Because imagination is a gift we forget easily we have. 
I recommended reading the book in French, especially for some funny words game that cannot be translated without missing the original point.  
Rating: 4 stars

Publishers Secrets: Cow Eye Press reveals its secrets

Today, I start my new series on the blog: Publishers Secrets is dedicated to introduce interesting edition houses. The first guest is Cow Eye Press, that you can find online at www.coweyepress.com and on Twitter as #coweyepress

1. What is the history of Cow Eye?
It all began with the Cow Eye Ranch, which spawned the town of Cow Eye Junction, then Cow Eye Community College, and eventually our publishing house, which we chose to call Cow Eye Press for sentimental reasons. We had honestly never intended to become publishers - in fact, we come from a long line of apothecaries and mystics - but once we came to experience firsthand the fetid condition of mainstream publishing, how the literary establishment overlooks innovative writing in favor of the familiar cant produced by agented professionals, we really had no other choice: it was either look the other way while the New York literature industry continued to pursue its ends at the expense of an ingenuous reading public, or take matters into our own hands. In a moment of profound optimism, we chose the latter path, organizing our imprint in 2014 as a response to all that is regrettable in the world - not just in the area of book publishing but also as it pertains to the deepest recesses of our collective soul.
2. What do you offer different compared to other edition houses?
Most publishers pride themselves on being "professional" in their approach to publishing. We do not. We delight in being amateurs ill-suited to the rigors and conventions of commercial publishing. We also take pride in inhabiting that territory between the real and the imagined, between what is merely known....and what is conjured up exclusively in the mind's shadows. Certain perceptive observers have even questioned whether Cow Eye Press really exists at all - whether it's not some kind of fiction itself - and this misconception suits us just fine: a publisher should be judged by its books, not a book by its publisher. Ultimately, we intend to exploit our platform as an independent publisher, and our status as an extreme outlier in both geography and persuasion, as a vehicle to expose and comment on society's numerous injustices. We'll start first with the grave inequities within the literary world - its incestuousness, its vacuity, its vile habit of rewarding convention over ambition and reputation over merit - then proceed slowly outward from there.
In terms of the titles we offer, we only have one in print right now (the wonderful Cow Country by Adrian Jones Pearson - Review coming up soon!) though we do have plans to release two more titles within the next 18 months or so. Editorially, we look for works that challenge the status quo - both artistically and ideologically - and that are intelligent, counter-intuitive and unconventional. We want books that will be interesting beyond the narrow window of their initial release and concomitant promotional campaign - those that will still be meaningful to intelligent readers in 10, 20, even 25 years. Beyond that, we simply ask that each work contain at least one direct mention of cows or cattle.
3. Where do you see yourself in 5 years from now, on a very diverse and highly competitive publishing market?
In five years it is our expectation that we will have conquered the publishing landscape and that our books will be seen as the model of editorial and artistic excellence. We also expect that in due time the New York publishers themselves will be looking at us with a mixture of envy and alarm. At present our plans are to release no more than four titles per year - though that number will likely be fewer given our limited resources. Fortunately, we do have the luxury of discretion in this because, unlike traditional publishers, we are not slaves to a marketing department or to some business plan constructed in the name of maximizing profits. We will publish exactly those books - and that quantity of books - that we feel best serves the interests of literature itself as a viable and vital aspect of our humanity.
4. What does it stands for 'intercultural discovery' from your website for?
In the broadest sense, culture can be defined as that experience that we share with other human beings; it is the essence of what distinguishes us as individuals and that unites us as members of a greater ideal. As editors, we look for books that exist at those intersecting points where competing experiences and perspectives come together to create an atmosphere of discomfort, awkwardness and hesitation. Uncertainty as an emotional state is a highly desirable condition to aspire to - and its literary purposes are transcendent: for it's here that meaningful discovery can occur. In short, we see our role as bringing as much confusion and hesitation as possible to an increasingly unequivocal world.
5. What are your publishing plans for the next months?
In the next few months we are going to take some time to appreciate the coming of spring, the sudden emergence of life out of the gray of harshest winter. When that's done, we'll jump back in to our work as an independent publisher of idiosyncratic fiction. Our first novel, which has achieved modest success despite being essentially ignored by the major review outlets, has just come out in audiobook format and is also being translated into Italian (by the Milan independent publisher Baldini & Castoldi) and into Russian (by Eksmo Publishers in Moscow.) So over the next few months we'll be looking to sell rights to that novel for publication in other languages - in particular French, Spanish, German and Telugu. We're also in the process of producing our second title, a collection of essays on literary criticism. We're really looking forward to that book as it argues for an approach to criticism that supports innovative fiction - something that is sorely needed at this most inauspicious of moments in the history of literature. That book is slated for release in late 2016.