In Awe

I am in awe of Anthony Horowitz. This man writes some of the most varied and interesting works, from a teenage spy (Alex Rider) to a historical drama (“Foyle’s War”) to modern murder mysteries (“Midsomer Murders”). But it’s not just the variety, it’s what he includes in each of these. It’s the side stories that make me marvel.

For example, in the latest “Foyle’s War,” which, if you haven’t watched them, I highly recommend you add them to your must-see list, the story is about a young man accused of treason during WWII. All well and good, but he is accused of treason for having joined other British soldiers who accepted Hitler’s offer to get out of a prison camp, don the German uniform, and fight against the Russians in the British Free Corps.

There isn’t a great deal said about the British Free Corps, but that is Horowitz’s way. He whets the appetite and it is up to us to read more, to do the research that he has done but which he chooses only to allude to in his story. This isn’t the first time he has done this to me, either. I am forever researching something after I watch one of his shows. That’s what I love about his writing.

Now I am researching the Special Operations Executive and the women spies of WWII. That started because of something Horowitz mentioned about cryptography in one of the shows, which led me to the first digital telephone, used during WWII between Whitehall and the Pentagon, which then led me to the SOE.

My style is to write about what I know. Horowitz’s style is to leak a little about what he knows and then drive us to further research.

If you don’t know his work, I highly recommend him. He has written several children’s books (Alex Rider mysteries among them, written for a woefully under-represented age group), about 50 novels, and numerous television shows. But I warn you, you can’t just read his work and walk away. He WILL challenge you to read more.

The People You Meet

I had an amazing interview with a liturgical artist yesterday, George Hoelzeman. I’d introduced myself to him via email a month ago and arranged to interview him for an article for Via Lucis Press, and what an interview. George is an amazing font of knowledge. He can talk knowledgeably about almost any topic for minutes on end, and leave you wanting more.

We spoke about sacred space and about mankind’s search for beauty, about the theology of light and the transformational power of light, and about how a church should call a person to a physical encounter with Christ. All of this is hard to comprehend in this rational society in which we live, but for the people of the Middle Ages, this encounter with Christ would have been physical, sensual, and natural. They understood the physical aspect of faith and religion, and built their churches accordingly.

George and I spoke for almost an hour and a half and eventually I had to end the call because  too much was swirling in my head. I asked if he would be willing to speak again later, after I’d written the first article. He graciously agreed and I look forward to our next encounter.

An amazing artist, a Renaissance thinker, and a nice fellow from Arkansas. I would never have met him on the street, but through the delight that is my chosen career, I had the opportunity to speak with him in an interview. Such are the perks of being a freelance writer.

Express Yourself, and Sell

In this new age of publishing, whether an author is published by a publishing house or goes the route of print-on-demand self-publishing, the author will be responsible for a great deal of the marketing of each new book. Authors must blog, tweet, chat on FaceBook, and travel to conferences and street corners to sell their books.

But here’s a neat new twist that just occurred in London. Crime thriller writer Meg Gardiner was dashing to catch the Tube when she happened to glance at a poster on the tunnel wall and discovered that the poster was advertising her latest book. She hadn’t even known that the poster was in the works! Of course, dignified and collected as ever, she skidded to a stop and had her husband preserve the moment. Be proud! That’s your book!

Now that is a great way to market a book. Think of the millions of people who ride mass transit every day in the world’s metropolitan centers. Ride and stare out windows vacantly, hoping for something to distract their minds from the routine and mundane.

Ta-da! How about a book ad! We’ve grown accustomed to seeing movie posters, but book posters! What a great idea!

Now, how to turn that into self-marketing? That’s the challenge.

With new publishing horizons come new opportunities to market. Use the Internet, Twitter, YouTube, and perhaps even posters. It’s a brave new world for those who have the courage to seek new horizons.

Vile Villains Cancel Class

Archvillain Snidely Whiplash

Well, my Vile, Evil Villains class at UCSD Extension was scheduled to begin today, but it was canceled, due to a dearth of students. I was afraid it was too soon to offer it again, and this time as a five-week course (versus three-week last July). So, it’s been postponed until the Winter session. My next classes begin in July: writing memorable characters and overcoming writer’s block. In the fall, I will teach my Writing with the Senses class again. That was a big hit last year.

It’s too bad the Villain class was postponed. I’ve been developing some great new exercises for developing evil villains and the heroes who will oppose them. I got a lot of great insight from Christopher Booker’s tome “The Seven Basic Plots.” If you’re a writer, you have to get this book. It’s joined Sol Stein’s “On Writing” as one of my favorite resources.

But no effort is ever wasted, so I can use much of what I’ve been developing in my Character class.

Meanwhile, I continue with my Memoir Writing workshops every Wednesday. My current students are on their four series of workshops. Some great writing resulting, and, as to be expected, some much-needed therapy. Writing heals.

Hey, that’s a great idea for a new course! Think I’ll go pitch it right now!

The Writer’s Life

As I meet one deadline, writing for St. Mary’s Press, Catholic textbook publishers, I turn now to several other projects that I have lined up. I’m currently editing two academic books, one on Iranian Jewish women immigrants in Los Angeles, and another concerning the women’s plight during the Holocaust, both of which are riveting topics. I am also editing a series of mysteries that take place in the fashion industry of New York City. How’s that for diversity?

Cover for "Elder Care"

I am also delighted to announce two new publications. Dr. Alex Kodiath’s just-released “Elder Care: Precious Presence,” a book about the healing power of presence in dealing with the elderly and the dying. I edited the book for him. Maria Csanadi, a Hungarian immigrant, just published her memoirs of the family’s escape from Hungary in 1956, in a book entitled “Precious Legacy.” I worked with Maria for several years to help her write the book, and then edited it for her. She is delighted to have finished the book and have it to pass along to family, other immigrants, and any university departments that might be interested in first-hand history of that time.

Cover for "Precious Legacy"

Both books are available online, simply by searching for the titles or the authors in Google.

I enjoy the projects and cannot believe how fortunate I am to earn my living as a writer and editor. The long hours are easy to accept when the work is so diverse and entertaining.

Christian Writers Conference

I just spent Friday night and Saturday at the Orange Country Christian Writers Conference. I have to say, what a great group of people. And, as at the other writer conferences I’ve gone to, the majority of attendees were women, though there were men, as well. I was there in the guise of Editor for Restorative Press, a publishing company I am helping to get started for a dear friend, the Rev. Carmen Warner-Robbins. She is the Publisher, I am the Editor, and Leslie Emmanuel is the Marketing Guru. We will publish books about people who have suffered trauma and successfully overcome it, as a means of encouraging others to work for healing in their lives.

It’s an offshoot of Carmen’s Welcome Home Ministries, which works with women in jail and prison and gives them a hand when they get out, so that they don’t fall into the same spiral that landed them in jail or prison in the first place. When these women successfully turn their lives around, they become peer mentors and reach out to other women whose lives have landed them behind bars. For the majority of these women, prison is simply the last step in a life of abuse, degradation, and hopelessness. Welcome Home Ministries offers these women something they’ve never had before: hope and a helping hand.
We have high hopes for Restorative Press as an avenue for publication of books of hope and healing. I’m proud to be part of the enterprise.

Heroes and Villains

In May, I will be teaching my “Vile, Evil Villains” class again at UCSD Extension. I taught this class last summer for the first time and the course proved so successful that the students rallied to extend it from a three-week class to a five-week class.

The gist of the course is “What makes a hero a hero and a villain a villain?” It’s my belief that villainy follows Newton’s Third Law of Motion: for every action, there is an opposite and equal reaction. A truly evil villain must face off against a truly heroic hero. But both must be flawed, for therein lies the tension. Think how boring Superman would have been without the threat of Kryptonite. Or how evil Snidely Whiplash would be without his love for Pauline. These fundamental, inherent flaws of body or nature are what provide the looming uncertainty: success or failure?

Of course, then there’s the triangle of tension between the hero, the villain, and the Loved One. Oh, so much more to talk about. But we’ll rest here with the fatal flaws.