Riva’s Journey

The New Colossus

Not like the brazen giant of Greek fame,
With conquering limbs astride from land to land;
Here at our sea-washed, sunset gates shall stand
A mighty woman with a torch, whose flame
Is the imprisoned lightning, and her name
Mother of Exiles. From her beacon-hand
Glows world-wide welcome; her mild eyes command
The air-bridged harbor that twin cities frame.
“Keep, ancient lands, your storied pomp!” cries she
With silent lips. “Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me,
I lift my lamp beside the golden door!”

Emma Lazarus, November 2, 1883

I can only imagine what my grandmother felt when she first saw Lady Liberty as her ship entered New York Harbor on a spring day in1920. I don’t know if she ever read Emma Lazarus’ words; she couldn’t read English yet, although she was fluent in Yiddish, Polish, and German. But whether or not she ever read these words, she felt them every time she was confronted with anything marvelous and new in her adopted, much-loved, country. “Ay, America!” she’d exclaim, with wonder and appreciation.

Immigrants have very seldom been given the welcome promised by the words inscribed on the Statue of Liberty.  Each new wave of people has been greeted by prejudice and suspicion, admitted grudgingly. And each new wave of immigrants has contributed mightily to this country. Every person in the United States today is an immigrant, unless they’re descended from Native Americans. Yet as each group of people arrives, many of those who came earlier forget that their ancestors or they themselves were once in need of a safe harbor—safe from wars, poverty, tyranny. Lots of us remember, though, as we must. Maybe someday we can make Ms. Lazarus’ words a fact for everyone who still looks to America as a beacon of light to the future.

As I work on revising and polishing, Riva’s Journey, my Grandma’s story of leaving Europe to make a new life for herself and her children in America, I gain fresh appreciation of her incredible courage and determination. America didn’t exactly welcome her, but they let her in.

The Indie Author

As with most other aspects of life, there are both pros and cons to publishing your books independently. On the one hand, you have total control of your work, from start to finish. On the other hand, you have to take total control of your work, from start to finish. That means writing, editing, designing the cover, designing the content’s appearance, and–this is a big one–marketing. You can out-source some of these steps if you’re willing to pay for the services, but ultimately the trajectory of what happens to your book after you put it out there is totally up to you, the author.

I published my first novel in the Bella Sarver Mystery series, Painting Lessons, in in 2016. This was followed in subsequent years by Brush With Death, Paint a Murder, and Death on the Danube. Along the way, I’ve learned a lot about all aspects of writing and producing a novel, and I’ve been enjoying the process. It’s fun getting my sales reports from Amazon each quarter, and noting that my books have found readers around the world, including Japan. But it would be fun to see my books on the shelves of major booksellers around the country, too, and that won’t happen unless I go the traditional publisher route. So my plan for 2021 is to see if I can find an agent for the novel I’ve just completed to help me make that happen.

Researching agents is a tedious task and almost more work than actually writing the novel in the first place, but I’ve got my list ready and I’ll start querying everyone on it this coming week. We’ll see how it goes.

Happy New Year to all my readers. Stay safe and healthy. There’s help on the way.

Still Life

Still Life with Turkish Pot, acrylic, 20 x 16

I bought this Turkish coffee pot in Istanbul years ago, in a little bazaar filled with rugs and leather jackets and the aroma of exotic spices. Today seemed like a good day to put it into a painting, using autumn tones but hopeful little flowers to help us get through the winter that’s almost upon us. When Spring comes again, we can hope that most of us will have been vaccinated, and we can begin to emerge into the light again.

Finding Voices

Writing is an art as well as a craft and like all acts of creation, writing a novel is a process of discovery. I’m working on the third revision of my next novel, “A Wonderful Good Morning,” and it’s only with this revision that my characters are finding their voices, because it’s only now that I’m starting to understand who they are.

“A Wonderful Good Morning” began as a little short story, “Happy Travels,” which was published last year in an anthology of short stories titled: “Stranded – a Collection of Stories and Poems from the Writing Journey.” (Available on Amazon). It morphed from this early version into a novel about one man who found himself stuck in a time warp while on a river cruise that was supposed to have been a sort of pre-honeymoon. But even though it had a beginning, middle and end, and most of the loose ends were tied up, it didn’t feel finished. Hence, revision #3.

I’ve been letting it sit for a couple of months while I worked on my next novel, a fictionalized memoir of my grandmother’s life called “Riva’s Journey.” When I opened “A Wonderful Good Morning” about two weeks ago and began at page one, my protagonist, Tim, jumped out at me, and I could hear his voice. Now, all I have to do is write down what he tells me.

As my novel begins to shape itself into a finished work, my excitement builds and I can’t wait to find out how it ends!

A Woman of Valor

Rosy Glow

There’s a curse, erroneously attributed to an old Chinese proverb, that goes, “May you live in interesting times.” I find myself living now, in the last part of my life, in an interesting time, and wishing that things were a bit less interesting. Actually living history is nowhere near as much fun as reading about it. Times of political unrest and instability, pandemic, and economic collapse with their attendant tension and uncertainty is definitely not what I would have wished to experience in my old age. It occurs to me that my grandmother’s life was exactly the opposite of my own in that respect. Thankfully, her old age was peaceful and secure, but much of her life, well into late middle age, was conducted amid just such uncertainty. She lived in very interesting times.

I never quite realized how tumultuous my grandmother’s life was until I started writing her “memoir” a few months ago. Researching my book, Riva’s Journey, has been a fascinating journey of discovery for me. I always loved my grandmother but now I also admire the incredible courage and resilience that got her through her “interesting times” with all her love and humor and compassion intact. She would have said her life was unremarkable, no different from millions of other women who came from the same time and place. In a way, that’s true, but that’s also the point; that’s what makes her a hero in her own way. She just put one foot in front of the other, all the way through. Truly a Woman of Valor. Thanks, Grandma.

Art Fair Covid-19 Style

Obviously, arts and crafts fairs were very few, if any, this summer. I was very lucky to have been able to participate in one in my own community last month. It turned out to be pretty successful for me, since I sold a lot of my books. It was also a lot of fun.

I met some neighbors I hadn’t known before, and had a chance to chat with plenty of others, everyone appropriately masked and distance, of course. I think we’re all finding out just how creative we can be in meeting the challenges of new situations. They say that whatever doesn’t kill us makes us stronger, right?

Riva’s Journey: a Memoir

Exit visa from Poland, 1921–Bennie, Meyer, & Riva

I’ve been researching and writing the fictionalized memoir of my Grandmother Riva’s life since the beginning of this crazy year. Since I have scant documentation, there are enormous gaps in my knowledge, so I’ve resorted to extensively researching the history of the times and places she knew as a girl and young woman. While I can’t know many of the details of her actual experiences, at least I’m now able to put what I do know into an accurate context.

This experience is endlessly fascinating for me, especially since I’m old enough now to have a broader perspective on history and life than I would have had as a young woman. I’m telling myself the story I wish she could have told me when she had the chance, if only life and language barriers hadn’t intervened. I’m hoping the end result will be something my own adult grandchildren will be able to appreciate as the story of where they, themselves, began.

On the most basic level, my grandparents always said they came from Russia, but when I looked at a map, the towns they were born in are in present-day Ukraine. However, delving into the history of the area, I discovered that this was known as the Pale of Jewish Settlement, originally part of the Kingdom of Poland, which was partitioned by the great powers of the late eighteenth century between the Prussian (or German) Empire, the Austro-Hungarian Empire, and the Russian Empire. Suddenly, previously inexplicable aspects of my grandmother’s life, such as her education in an Austrian gymnazia, began to make sense. My grandmother lived in at least three different countries before she left home to come to America, even though she never moved from the Tarnopol Oblast! The borders of those countries remained in nearly constant flux for well over a hundred years.

So with this, my latest book, I’m on a journey of my own, only now, it’s personal. I know how the story ends, but it’s the in-between parts that are making this a journey of discovery for me. It’s challenging but it’s also an exciting adventure. I’m just going along for the ride!

Americans, mixed media on paper (Barbara Lipkin)

Art in the Time of Coronavirus, Part III

One thing good about being a painter and a writer is that I always work from home, anyway. So keeping busy has never been a problem. I’ve just sent A Wonderful Good Morning off to my Beta readers for comments and corrections, and then, one more final editing (I hope it will be final), and it will be ready for release.

Writing this book has been an interesting process, taking me a bit out of my comfort zone by venturing into the supernatural. Meteorologist Tim Pfeiffer and his girlfriend Natalie take off for a romantic river cruise on the Rhine, but Tim runs into a problem when the ship takes a detour into another dimension. The story is my take on what happens when we humans mess with Mother Nature.

On an entirely different tack, my next effort will be a fictionalized memoir told by my grandmother, who was born in what is now Ukraine in 1884 and died in Chicago in 1975. In between, she saw her world turned upside-down, not once but several times. I’m researching her life and times and finding it all fascinating. Can’t wait to see how it turns out! Working title: Riva’s Journey.

Stay safe, wear your masks.

Art in the Time of Coronavirus

Creating a painting and crafting a novel have a lot of similarities in common. First, you have an idea, a sort of vague concept you’d like to explore. So you do a sketch or write a little story, just to see if the process takes you anywhere. You doodle around a little and more ideas happen. Eventually, you figure out a rough composition, so you pencil that in. Then you begin to fill in the blanks with solid color. You add shading. You scratch out some parts, move other parts, throw in some new ones. More shading, soften some edges, sharpen others. You stand back and look at it, trying to see it with fresh eyes even though you’ve been looking at it for ages already. You decide to let it sit a while and move on to something else.

A week later, you look at your project again, and now you can see things you didn’t see before. You do all this again and again, as many times as it takes. You add the darks. You stroke in the highlights. You correct errors. Finally, finally—you sign it! It’s done! Somewhere from out of the depths of—your mind? your heart? previous experiences you didn’t even know you remembered?—you’ve created a masterpiece, ready to present itself to the world and face the music. The orchestra rises! Ta-da!

I’ve been working on three projects simultaneously recently, one minor, two major (Yes, a musical metaphor. There’s a reason all these things are group together under the category of “Arts.”). I’m nearly finished with a small floral painting, A Shadowed Spring. It just needs some more of the darks and lights I spoke of earlier. My new novel, A Wonderful Good Morning, is in its 5th or 6th iteration and is coming along very satisfactorily. And my newest novel, Riva’s Journey, will be a fictionalized memoir told in the voice of my paternal grandmother.

“A Wonderful Good Morning” has had a number of titles. At one point, I considered, “A Novel in Search of a Genre,” but I decided that would just confuse people. It’s a little bit of a mystery, but really fits somewhat better into the category of Science Fiction, although it’s a lot of fiction and not much science. There’s also some romance, because what’s a novel without romance?

Riva’s Journey is still in the R & D stage.  I’ve drafted an outline and an opening chapter, and gathered a lot of facts. I’m figuring it will take me a good year or so to turn this all into a novel of historical fiction. I’m finding the project fascinating and I hope to do my grandmother justice with it. I hope, if she’s watching from somewhere up above, she approves.

So—art in the time of coronavirus isn’t a lot different from ordinary life, even though in other respects, my life, like everyone else’s, is sort of on hold for the duration. Still, the experience of this pandemic is coloring my work, as I’m sure it’s coloring the work of all artists right now. The next several years will undoubtedly see an explosion of corona-inspired creations. It should be interesting.

So What Happens Now?

So What Happens Now?, acrylic, 20 x 16, $300

It doesn’t look as if this pandemic is going to end anytime soon, so we are all having to get used to a new reality. We’ve become familiar with words and terms we’d never heard until a couple of months ago, at least not in this context. Suddenly we’re knowledgeable about PPE, social distancing, Zoom and so forth. Spring has arrived, a season that normally brings new energy and spirit into our lives. But normal doesn’t exist anymore, does it? And who knows what it will look like going forward. So what happens now?