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 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.

The Writer’s Life

Painting Lessons
Painting Lessons

I’ve spent a lot of time these past couple of weeks getting ready for my book signing at The Frugal Muse and Music bookstore, which is a week from today! In case you haven’t already marked it on your calendars, it’s: Wednesday, Jan. 29th, 7 to 9 pm, at the Frugal Muse, 75th & Lemont Rd., Darien, southeast corner, in a small shopping center. There are 5 authors: Kate Gingold, Dennis Baritzal, myself, Angela Holtz, and Karen Sjoblom, who between us have published books in a variety of genres. We’ll each be speaking briefly about our writing, and Joe Eddy Brown will entertain us with his music. There’ll be plenty of opportunity to speak with each of us individually, and don’t forget–refreshments! So do plan on coming for a fun evening.

When I first began publishing, I had no idea how much work it would be to get out in front and let people know about it. Except for a fortunate few, the days of turning over a manuscript to a publisher and letting them take it from there while you brush off your hands and get to work on your next opus are over. But on the plus side, it’s a lot of fun participating in these events, finding new author friends as well as new readers. A whole new career emerges! Who knew?

Turning the Page

I’ve just been working on a sketch of one of my granddaughters from a photo that’s about 18 years old. She was a baby then, bright and smiling and totally gorgeous. She’s still bright and smiling and totally gorgeous, but now she’s a college freshman, looking to the future with confidence, ready to make a difference in her world.

All five of my grandchildren were born at the turn of the century, this new century now entering its third decade. Yet when I think of that term, it conveys an image to me of the turn of the prior century, the period that began more than 100 years ago. For my grandparents, the turn of that century began in Europe and their journeys took them to a world unrecognizable from the one in which they’d started.

I remember my grandmother, Riva. I think of how she came to America in 1921, with two little boys and a teen-age niece, to meet her husband who’d arrived seven years earlier, just as the First World War broke out in Europe. I imagine how terrified and lonely she must have been on that journey, leaving the only home she’d ever known, understanding she could never go back and would never see her loved ones again. Yet she must also have been full of courage in the hope that she could make a new and better life for herself and for her children. She never tired of marveling at her new country. I often heard her exclaim in wonder, “Oy, America!”

I don’t know much of her story. She dropped a few hints here and there, yet basically, the past remained in the past. But I’m the grandmother now, and I remember her with love and I wish I knew more about her life. So I’ve been reading and researching and I’ve decided to fill in the gaps for myself as best I can. In this new year of 2020, I plan to write “Riva’s Journey,” a memoir for someone who’s no longer around to write it for herself.

So as we turn the page into this new decade, may we all be blessed with health and joy, and look forward to the future, while remembering where we came from. Happy New Year!

So What is NANOWRIMO?

Well, I’ll tell you. NANOWRIMO is National Novel Writing Month, which is November of each year. It’s a national challenge for people who write to draft a novel of 50,000 words in 30 days. The first time I participated was about 5 years ago, and the effort resulted in my first published mystery novel, Painting Lessons: a Bella Sarver Mystery (available on Amazon in both paperback and Kindle editions). I had a great time, and the experience reminded me just how much I love to write. Although I didn’t participate in subsequent years, I did keep on writing, and produced 3 additional books in the Bella Sarver Mystery series: Brush With Death, Paint a Murder, and Death on the Danube (all of which are also available on Amazon).

My good friend Elaine convinced me to give NANOWRIMO another try, so I rejoined the local group this year and have very much enjoyed the preparatory workshops, speakers, and exercises that I’ve attended. I even presented one myself, on How to Write a Mystery Novel. But now November is here, and it’s time to try to meet the challenge again.

So–the working title is Time Warp: a Love Story. It’s an outgrowth of a short story I wrote that will soon be published in an anthology. (More about that in another post.) Like Death on the Danube, the story takes place on a river cruise, this time on the Rhine. I’m not exactly sure what genre it’s going to be, but so far it’s a sort of a combination of paranormal/romance/mystery. (Is that an entirely new genre?) I’ve spent the past 10 days coming up with an outline, doing some research, doing time-line maps and –oh, yes. Writing. Will I make the 50K? Watch this space to find out. About 12000 words so far!