My Books

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Fabulous review of Love of a Stonemason

Crystal Fulcher reviewed my novel Love of a Stonemason on her blog My Reading Room.

About the book:
The young painter, Karla Bocelli, is no stranger to loss. When she was five years old, her mother died in a car crash in the south of Switzerland. Her Peruvian father lives at the other end of the world, and a year ago, her aunt and guardian passed away. Now, at age twenty-four, Karla almost gets hit by a speeding car. As if this wasn't fateful enough, Andreas, the driver, turns out to be a sculptor and carver of tombstones. In spite of his profession, Andreas is anything but morbid. Quick-tempered and intense, he exudes a rough-and-tumble energy. After a tumultuous start of their relationship, Karla comes to see in Andreas the "rock in her life," the perfect antidote to her fears of abandonment and bouts of depression. Andreas, however, wrestles with his own ghosts: an alcoholic father who abused him as a child and his own fits of anger. Together, the two artists must confront the demons that haunt them.

Love of a Stonemason is a story about the struggle of two artists with their past, their family, their creativity, and their love for each other. Told from the point of view of Karla, it depicts the world through her painter's sensibility. It takes the reader on a journey full of sights, smells, tastes, and sounds from the south of Switzerland to Italy and the Peruvian Andes.


And here is what the reviewer had to say:

The first thing that went through my mind when I finished this book on Friday night was simply "Wow". I felt like I had been told a full story and while I wanted more of Karla and Andreas at the end, the story really was complete. I don't know when was the last time I truly felt that when I finished a book. Ms. Polkinhorn did a magnificient job crafting this story and getting it on the page. The characters, scenery and happenings in the book really came alive for me and I felt like I was watching and feeling Karla and Andreas through the full book.

How to classify this book - I first thought it sounded like a romance, but after finishing it, I would say it is more general fiction. Romance is key, Karla and Andreas' relationship is very key to the book. But most romance novels stop after dating and marriage usually, sometimes with glimpses of family life if there are several books in a series. The beauty of Ms. Polkinhorn's novel is that it continues through the years after they marry and delves much deeper into the characters of Karla and Andreas as they tackle the new ups and downs of marriage, of their art and of family.

Love of a Stonemason never lags in plot. Whether you are looking into depression, the ups of a great art career, the separation (distance-wise) of Andreas and Karla, starting a family, all of this flowed together so well and made a great story. I was never bored and wondering when something good would happen. It was all interesting and attention getting. It's as edge-of-your-seat as a non-thriller work can get. I was always wondering what would happen next, what aspect of life would be shown.

The realism is beautiful too. Love of a Stonemason truly shows the ups and downs of life, love and family. No family or person is perfect, there are always problems and always two sides to a story and that is what this book really looks into. I love that every aspect is shown and I really enjoyed the growth of the characters. Andreas and Karla are not superficial, you really get to know them through the whole book. I felt as though I knew them personally. The foreign setting and descriptions of landscapes and cities is also well-done. I also enjoyed learning about the art world, something that never really interested me before, but the author does a great job of making it interesting.

I laughed, I cried, I was frustrated with the characters (in a good way). I think I ran through most every emotion with this book. And what I love most is the feeling of the complete story and it's a story that will stick with me for some time. I found myself thinking of Karla and Andreas and the other people in their lives through the weekend. Really letting the story settle over me and how I feel now is that this is a definite reread in my book and that is saying something since I don't really reread books. My true hope is Ms. Polkinhorn will have another book on the way so I have another one of her books to enjoy. She brings realism to the story without it depressing you and leaving you down for days and I really like that. I do not have any complaints about this book and I think those of you who enjoy general fiction with a foreign-flair and romance will really enjoy this book.

Thursday, December 9, 2010

A winter poem

Last night, in Wettswil, Switzerland, we had a rainstorm, followed by snow and mixed in with it a huge flash of lightning and thunder. Very odd combination.

Today, the sun is shining and the sparkling snow-covered trees all of a sudden reminded me of a poem I wrote long ago. It was published as part of a poetry volume, Path of Fire, by Finishing Line Press in 2002.

I am in the process of formatting it as an ebook for Kindle.

Winter in Castaneda
(To the memory of my sister)

Climbing the stairs
from the cellar to the room
with the tile floor,
eight months later,
after the pain has softened,
after the ashes have been scattered
on the rock, after driving past the
snowy fields of Saint Gotthard,
we feel your presence
fill the spaces between our bodies.

Not yet understanding the full meaning
of this merging, of your hands
entwined in the leaves of plants,
your scent lingering in the
cedar closet, your smile
in the candle flame,
your voice trailing the crackling
of logs in the fireplace,
a sound so delicate,
we dare not move
as not to disturb it.

With each breath we take
the silent words into our hearts
and choose to believe in the
here and now
of all that was, before you left us

(Path of Fire, 2002)

Friday, December 3, 2010

The Red Church by Scott Nicholson, 5 Stars

“For 13-year-old Ronnie Day, life is full of problems: Mom and Dad have separated, his brother Tim is a constant pest, Melanie Ward either loves him or hates him, and Jesus Christ won't stay in his heart. Plus he has to walk past the red church every day, where the Bell Monster hides with its wings and claws and livers for eyes. But the biggest problem is that Archer McFall is the new preacher at the church, and Mom wants Ronnie to attend midnight services with her.”



I am not exactly a “thriller” or “horror” fan, so when I came across The Red Church by Scott Nicholson I hesitated at first, thinking I probably wouldn’t like it. The above product description on Amazon sounded interesting though, so I thought I’d give it a try.

After the first few pages into the book, I realized how limiting and inaccurate labels such as “horror” or even “thriller” really are. To be sure, there is plenty of blood-curling and scary stuff in the novel. However, there is much more to the book than “blood and gore.”

The book is a real page turner. A tight, fast-moving plot propels you forward. Vivid and colorful characters jump off the page, so that you remember them long after you finish reading the book. You also get a very accurate depiction of the emotional and mental powers that religious fanatics or new-age gurus can yield over their trusting victims. And last but not least, you can’t help but love Ronnie Day and his brother Tim. You follow their path and feel with them, as they struggle with their fears, and you hope that those dark forces won’t be able to completely tear apart their family.

This is a great book with a lot of heart. I can only recommend it.

Sunday, November 28, 2010

Ordinary lives and everyday people: a rich source for authors of fiction

The Wrong Bus, An Urban Christmas Story by John Noel Hampton - 5 Stars

I have been exploring a lot of different literary genres lately and I noticed that paranormal thrillers and romance, mysteries, science-fiction, and fantasy seem to be among the most popular ones these days. Whether you walk into an ordinary brick-and-mortar bookstore or peruse the online blogs, trolls, vampires, and werewolves glare or growl at you from every corner. You can’t help but wonder if the lives of “normal,” everyday human beings are no longer fit topics for literature.


Don’t get me wrong, I enjoy those genres myself. I love a good mystery; I like a well-written fantasy and paranormal tale. But every once in a while, I long for an interesting book about Mr. Everyman and Mrs. Everywoman who deal with their everyday lives without interference by ghosts, witches, and paranormal happenings. And then I stumbled upon the story by John Noel Hampton, The Wrong Bus, An Urban Christmas Story.

The Wrong Bus takes place in Los Angeles, in both a middle-class environment and in the less well-to-do section of South Central. It depicts a few days in the lives of flawed but lovable characters. The middle-class, elderly white woman, Ida, is a good-hearted, somewhat naive person who doesn’t want to accept the fact that her only son was killed in Vietnam. Her African-American housekeeper and best friend, Madeline, has her own share of shattered dreams. Junior, a young black man, works hard and dreams of becoming a medical doctor in order to help his grandmother and escape the dreary environment of his upbringing and his dysfunctional mother. Maria, a Latin woman, who was fired from her job, turns to stealing in her desperation. Then there are neighbors, friends, cops, and criminals.

A series of coincidences, such as missing the right bus stop, brings these unlikely people together and sets in a motion a string of misunderstandings, wrong turns, false moves as well as lucky encounters. The story leads up to Christmas, but Christmas for the characters doesn’t mean a bunch of expensive presents or even an end to their problems. But it brings them closer to the true spirit of Christmas: love and compassion.

The Wrong Bus is a moving tale without being sentimental. The language is stark, interspersed with beautiful images and vivid descriptions. The magic is not conjured up by fairies, hobgoblins, witches, or trolls. It is created by the characters’ feelings, by moments of beauty in a rough environment. These people aren’t fantasy heroes; they struggle with their selfish desires, they are torn between wanting to take the easy way out of a situation and doing what is right. Yet they do find the courage to step outside their comfort zone, to take risks in order to help someone else.

The sign of a good story for me is one that I feel like reading over and over again and always discover something new. The Wrong Bus is such a story. I can only recommend it and I look forward to reading more by the same author.

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

A 5-star review of my novel "Love of a Stonemason"

A fortunate find:
"I am only one-quarter of the way through this big, beautiful novel, but am enjoying it so much that I wanted to post a review.

LOVE OF A STONEMASON gives readers Europe and South America. A few examples: the Nordfoehn, a dry northern wind; the turning of the seasons in Switzerland; the look and feel of Toro Muerto, a mysterious South American site containing hundreds of carved rocks. Descriptions are vivid without being overwritten. Christa Polkinhorn makes me feel as if I know these places where I have never been.

But my enthusiasm for the novel goes beyond its very considerable achievements in description. I like Karla and Andreas, the main characters. I can imagine having dinner with them, drinking wine with them, sharing conversation.

They are GOOD people. Not goody-goody types or one-dimensional caricatures of virtue, but decent people yearning for satisfaction in both love and vocation. These two artists are falling in love. I am glad to be sharing their journey."

Lindsay Edmunds, Pennsylvania

Saturday, November 6, 2010

Electronic AND Paper Books not Electronic VERSUS Paper Books

A few months ago, I bought a Kindle reader from Amazon and entered the brave new world of ebooks. One of the main reason for this was that I published my debut novel “Love of a Stonemason” as an independent author/publisher and tried it first as an ebook.

Now, I’m not one of those young electronic geeks. I don’t own an ipod or an iphone. I have an old-fashioned Pay-As-You-Go cell phone for emergencies. I have a background in computers but I am much more of a literature lover than a computer freak. However, I instantly fell in love with my Kindle reader. It’s light and small, has a great display, and room for a whole library of my favorite books. Since I fly back and forth between Europe and the United States quite a lot, I don’t have to worry anymore about packing the right kind of books, filling up my suitcase with paper- or hardbacks. I just grab my Kindle and take my library with me.

Aside from the convenience, I want to support ebooks because of all the new opportunities they offer both writers and readers. An author can now publish a book and make it available to readers in very convenient and easy way without having to bother with agents and publishers. This is not meant to discredit agents and/or publishers. They still provide a valuable service. However, with the recession and focus of large publishing houses almost exclusively on bestsellers, we midlist writers now have an opportunity as well.

Now, having sung the praise of ebooks, I am by no means ready to abandon paper versions. The other day, I went through my bookshelves and pulled out a few of my favorite hard covers and paper books, lovingly touching and smelling them, admiring the careful binding and the tasteful cover. As I was working on this blog post, I happened to watch a program on TV on the art of bookbinding, a craft, which has its origins in the fifteenth century with the invention of the printing press. What is amazing is the fact that the traditional craft has managed to survive the change from handmade to mechanized and mass-produced books. And I think it will survive, in small workshops, the onslaught of ebooks as well. Ebooks may have an impact on the mass-produced paper books but it probably won’t affect those specialized bookbinding workshops as much.

In fact, I think that the more ebooks there will be, the more popular they become, there will also be a renewed desire and yearning for the “old-fashioned” paper versions, not the cheaply produced ones so much as the special editions, the classic first editions, as well as art books. It will be a niche industry, focusing more on restoring old works than producing new ones, but it will be lovingly supported by people for whom books aren’t only content but also form, shape, color, paper, glue.

The electronic world is here to stay, but it will not replace or do away with the “stone-and-mortar” or “paper-and-paint” world. Those two realms of reality will co-exist. After all, so far computer art has not replaced paper drawings and paintings on canvas. Sure, some bookstores will disappear, book-binding and creation will become even more of a “niche”-craft. However, I do not think, human beings are ready (or will ever be ready) to live in a totally digital world. We are mental/emotional but also physical beings and we need to satisfy all our senses and abilities, or we impoverish and diminish ourselves.

http://www.artofbookbinding.com.au/htms/services.html

Friday, October 29, 2010

The Civil War in Literature: Academia versus Everyman

The other day, I read a post on one of the blogs I follow, which happened to be a very critical and quite negative review of one of my favorite novels, The Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man by James Joyce. I studied Joyce back at the University of Zurich and at the University of California in San Diego. I took seminars with a well-known Joyce scholar back in Zurich by the name of Friedrich Senn. His enthusiasm about Joyce as a writer was contagious and I began to like his admittedly difficult and often obscure writing. I thoroughly enjoyed his short stories The Dubliners and his early novel The Portrait of the Artist. At the same time, I have to admit that I didn’t make it past page 50 of Ulysses and kind of skipped Finnegan’s Wake. He lost me there but in spite of that, I admire his ingenuity and his challenging work.


So, when Stuart Allison of the blog “must mutter” (a wonderful blog by the way!) called his work “puerile, uninteresting drivel,” I had to protest and tell him he was full of youknowwhat (of course, I didn’t put it that way, after all, we are polite people). Anyway, this lead to an interesting exchange of ideas and although we didn’t agree on Joyce and art in general, we came to a point where we could agree to disagree. This discussion, however, raised a question which is really the point of my blog post.

There seem to be two major camps in literature: the group of the “academic” authors and the “contemporary genre” writers (for lack of a better expression). The academics are the ones we study in college, the ones that have received the stamp of approval by the scholars and professors of literature. They usually consist of the classics and of the writers which have been considered “experimental” but worthy of acceptance into the High Art of Literature. Interestingly enough, those radicals of the literary world were often condemned, banned, and ridiculed by the very “literary intelligentsia” which later touted them as geniuses (Joyce is just one good example).

I received my literary education in academia and went even on to the PhD program in comparative literature (English, German, and French). Halfway through my studies, events in my personal life and the realization that I wasn’t really made for academia, made me abandon the program. Many years later, after an extended detour from the study of literature via a degree in computer science (don’t ask me why, long story), to my own translation work, I began to write myself, first poetry and later novels. I published my debut novel this year as an independent author with my own micro publishing company, Bookworm Press, on Amazon and Smashwords.

My background in academia and my experience as a midlist independent author brought me in touch with both camps I mentioned earlier, the “traditional academics and experimental authors” and the “contemporary, genre-oriented authors,” and I noticed for the first time the hostile attitude that seemed to exist between those two groups. It’s almost as bad as the adversity between the traditional large publishing empires and the newly developing independent publishing ventures. Hatred galore. But why?

Why, in god’s name can’t we all get along? An author friend of mine once said we should burn the books of authors such as Joyce, Faulkner, and the likes, those who don’t have plot and a traditional sequence of events. On the other side of the isle is the professor or language poet who sneers at the “amateurs” out there who enjoy plot- and content- or character-driven literature or the so-called Trivialliteratur (trivial literature), the German word for entertaining, easily accessible prose.

There are times when I enjoy a difficult book from an author who experiments with language, one you have to read several times to get something out of it, one that doesn’t answer all the questions but asks questions (linguistic, social, political questions and questions of content), one that keeps language and literature alive and changing. It’s demanding, it makes you think and ponder, it may leave you dissatisfied and questioning in the end. What’s wrong with that? I just read an article in a Swiss newspaper (I’m in my original home country at the time) about a German author by the name of Reinhard Jirgl who received the Büchner prize, the coveted literary award for German literature. I have never read anything of his but he seems to be an extremely inventive author, one that people who love plot would probably hate. When the interviewer pointed out to him that his books are “difficult,” he shook his head and said: “Not difficult but TIME CONSUMING.”

That made me realize why many people shun such books. We don’t seem to have the time or the willingness to invest the time to dig into a difficult book, one that doesn’t slap us in the face on the first page, or even with the first sentence. We want instant gratification. By “we” I mean the everyday reader, the man or woman who comes home in the evening after a day of work, tired. We don’t want to think anymore but would rather watch TV or, if we read a book, then it should be one that doesn’t require a lot of “tiresome thinking,” or, even worse, one for which we have to grab a dictionary to make some kind of sense out of it. That’s understandable.

However, there are people who read and enjoy such stuff. They may be students or teachers of literature, professors, academics, or even everyday readers such as myself who once in a while like the challenge. So, why should we deprive those people of the books they like? Another friend who complained about some of the “plotless” garbage also mentioned that such books only serve to support jobs at the university level. Pray tell, what’s wrong with that? Not everybody studies literature at the university and goes on to teach it, but those who do provide a service. They support literature, they organize readings for authors, they help students enjoy a wide variety of books AND they pay taxes. That in defense of academia. And those among them, who categorically sneer at accessible literature, can sneer themselves into oblivion, as far as I am concerned. There are narrow-minded people in all walks of society.

I enjoy many types of literature. I devoured Harry Potter, I love a good mystery, I keep discovering interesting paranormal books, thrillers, even romances, if they are well written. But at the same time, I also love books by Virginia Woolf, Faulkner, Joyce, etc. etc. It depends on my mood and my state of mind.

I myself write books which have plot and are accessible because that’s what I naturally gravitate toward. When I first began to write, I tried to imitate the stream-of-consciousness novels written by Virginia Woolf, another one of my favorite authors. I failed miserably. Don’t think those books don’t have structure and order, they definitely do. And that kind of order is a lot more difficult to create than a general plot with a traditional beginning, a middle, and an end.

I’m in favor of democracy in literature, a buzz word of all those independent authors (including myself) who now toss their work into the world in form of ebooks and print-on-demand paperbacks and all that at a reasonable price. That’s great; I welcome it. But we don’t have to kill the other camp. They do their job. We can learn from each other. But that means we need to be a little less arrogant and a little more open-minded, on both sides of the isle, so to speak.

And I respect Stuart Allison, who tore Joyce apart, because he did it in an intelligent, thoughtful way. I don’t agree with him but the point is, it got a discussion started. The two camps (and I counted myself to the defending camp of Joyce in this instance) actually discussed opposing views rather than just ignore or sneer at each other. And, in addition, the discussion led me to a new author, a new blog, and it gave me the opportunity to be interviewed by him in December.

Democracy only works when people are sophisticated and open-minded enough to have their own point of view but still accept diversity. And by all means, defend what you believe in but don’t kill or burn the other side!

Happy Reading, Happy Halloween, and Happy End of the Year!

PS: In case you are interested in reading Stuart’s and my exchange about James Joyce, here is the link.

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

An Uncommon Family, chapter 3

Here is the last of the sample chapters of my new novel (work in progress). Now, all the three major characters are introduced. I hope this is enough to stir your curiosity.

Blurb and Chapter 1
Chapter 2

As mentioned, this is an as yet unedited work in progress. So any feeback is appreciated!
Have fun!

Chapter 3

Jonas

Jonas Bergman hugged the grocery bags to his chest, as the old elevator slowly lumbered up to the top of the four-story building. The elevator cabin was open, walled in only by a crisscross of iron bars. He lived in one of the heavy medieval stone houses in the old part of Zurich, called the Niederdorf or Low Village at the east side of the Limmat River.
     Upstairs, the old elevator stopped with a rattling sound and Jonas stepped out. One day, I’m going to be stuck in here, he thought, giving the old but so far reliable cabin a suspicious glance. He only used the elevator when he had heavy stuff to carry. Clutching the bags to his chest with one arm, he reached into his coat pocket with the other hand, searching for his keys. “Damn it,” he muttered as he dropped them. They made a metallic crunching sound on the hardwood floor.
     “Let me help you, Mr. Bergman.”
     Jonas turned around. A stout elderly lady with curly grey hair came out of the apartment next to his. She bent down and picked up the keys.
     “Oh, Mrs. Schatz, don’t bother. Well, thanks anyway and excuse my language.” Jonas watched as the woman was sliding his apartment key into the keyhole.
     “That’s okay, I’ve heard worse.” Mrs. Schatz chuckled.
     “Thanks again. What would I do without you?” Jonas winked at her.
     “Come on, Mr. Bergman. What you need is a woman of your own. I’ve told you many times.”
     Jonas shook his head and gave a slight grin. His neighbor had been trying to fix him up with someone for about a year without any success. Mrs. Schatz was married and believed that a single man, particularly a widower of Jonas’s age, was doomed.
     One day, when Mrs. Schatz was in Jonas’s kitchen, lending him a certain spice he didn’t have handy, she gave him a lecture on the very topic. “Men don’t feed themselves properly; they don’t keep their home clean. They need a woman to take care of them. Now, women, mind you,” Mrs. Schatz continued, raising a finger to emphasize her point. “Women do quite well on their own. They are much more independent. But men,” she shook her head, “they get lonely, they begin to drink.” She nodded in the direction of the whiskey bottle on Jonas’s kitchen table.
     Jonas tried to explain that he only had one drink a day and he used the whiskey mainly for cooking. She just gave him one of her “yeah, right”-looks.
     Mrs. Schatz would invite him for tea when a few of her widowed or divorced women friends were present. However, her matchmaking failed miserably with Jonas. He was friendly and attentive but that was all. None of Mrs. Schatz’s subtle or not so subtle hints made Jonas take the next step and invite any of the available ladies to dinner or even show them his paintings.
     “I’m sorry, Mrs. Schatz, these are very charming women, but I’m just not ready,” Jonas tried to explain. Mrs. Schatz rolled her eyes and, as Jonas suspected, began to think of the next batch of women friends she could introduce to the “lonely bachelor next door.”
     Jonas sighed with a smile and unpacked the groceries. He had gone shopping at the open air market at the Bürkliplatz, a large park at the end of the lake, where merchants and farmers from the surrounding villages sold their fresh produce every Friday. He put the lettuce, zucchini squash, tomatoes, basil, and a piece of mountain cheese into the refrigerator. He inhaled the sweet smell of an apricot before he bit into it, then stepped into the living room.
     As usual, when he came back from an errant or a trip, he stood a while in front the photo of his wife, Eva, on the bookshelf. A beautiful face with wavy shoulder-length blond hair, shiny blue eyes, and the touch of a cute snub-nose smiled at him. He smiled back and sighed. "Hi there," he whispered.
     His neighbor wasn’t the only person who tried to nudge him toward female companionship. His son in Denmark and his daughter, who spent a year in the United States, brought the topic up occasionally. “Dad, remember what Mom said before she died? You shouldn’t pine for her, you should live and have another woman in your life.”
     There is no other woman. Only you. He gently touched the frame of the photo, then stepped to the floor-length window and looked outside.
     Jonas’s apartment was on the top floor. It was light and airy and overlooked the rooftops, the river, and a small section of the lake. Across the river stood the Fraumünster Cathedral with its five stain glass windows designed by Marc Chagall. If the weather was good, Jonas could see the mountains in the distance.
     The apartment was tastefully furnished. His Danish background was visible in the uncluttered simple elegance, the light colors of the sofa, drapes, and the rustic but simple light-wood furniture. A few of Jonas’s and his students’ were hanging on the wall.
     Jonas poured himself a shot of whiskey, then went into the kitchen, opened the freezer, and dropped a few ice cubes into the glass. He shook the glass a little and watched the golden liquid swoosh around.
     When Eva was still healthy, they would have a drink in the evenings before dinner. Jonas had a whiskey on the rocks and Eva a glass of white wine. It was a ritual they both enjoyed and it gave them time to talk over the day’s events. Eva would give him the latest gossip from the theater rehearsals. She had been an actress at the Schauspielhaus, the main theater in Zurich. Jonas would tell her of an incident with one of his students or about a new painting he was working on.
     After Eva had died, Jonas kept up their ritual but the “happy hour” became an hour of grief. He slowly upped his alcohol intake from one glass to two and eventually to three or four. He hardly ate afterwards, being too full from the drinks. He went to bed, too numb to feel the pain of loneliness. The following morning, he would wake up with a hangover.
     One night, he dreamt of Eva. She was sitting on his bed, looking ill, the way she looked during her last struggle with cancer. Her large blue eyes in her now haggard face gleamed with tears. “Don’t, Jonas. Please, don’t.”
     The voice woke him. He sat up in bed, catching his breath. His head was throbbing. According to the illuminated face of the alarm clock, it was shortly after midnight. Jonas moaned and turned around but he was unable to fall back to sleep. He finally got up, put on his robe, and sat in a chair next to the window, staring into the night. In the distance, city lights refracted from the lake. The dream was still vivid and the message clear.
     The following evening, Jonas forced himself to prepare a decent meal. While the lamb stew was simmering, he poured himself half a shot of whiskey, plopped a few ice cubes in it, and put the bottle back into the liquor cabinet. He raised the glass to Eva’s photo, then stepped in front of the window and took a few sips. Joy and sadness overwhelmed him in equal measure. He grieved for Eva but he also had a new idea for a painting, something that hadn’t happened in a long time. He walked into the kitchen and filled the empty glass with Perrier, then stirred the stew. For the first time in quite a while, he enjoyed the smells of a good meal.

* * *

     The sun was setting behind the buildings, surrounding them with halos of gold. The strip of the lake Jonas could see from his apartment sparkled in the last light of the evening. Jonas was thinking of the little girl and her aunt. He sighed, remembering the look on the child’s face when he lifted her up. How well he could relate to that feeling of sadness and despair.
     Jonas loved children and now that his own kids were grown and his grandchildren lived in Denmark, he made due with the kids he taught privately. He enjoyed teaching children. It made him feel needed and their company helped him push away the loneliness for a few hours.
     The thought of working with Karla, however, filled him with excitement for another reason. In the two pictures he had seen of hers, he detected an unusual talent. Her drawings were still rough and unpolished, of course. But skill and craft could be taught. What was more important was the degree of passion and the level of personal expression, which was rare in a child so young.
     What Karla needed now was the willingness to learn and to practice, which Jonas believed she had. He had seen it in her eyes when she asked him if he would teach her. How long her endurance would last, that was another question. Children changed as they grew up, they developed other interests, they got bored. He had seen it happen many times. He remembered his own children, the years of paying for piano and violin lessons and just when they were getting good at it, they became interested in video games and dating.
     Jonas picked up his pipe and stuffed it with tobacco. He struck a match and lit the pipe, closing his eyes and enjoying the earthy taste. He had stopped smoking cigarettes years before, but he treated himself to an occasional pipe. He opened the balcony door and stepped outside, watching the last golden and orange hues of the setting sun fade into the approaching dark.
     “Well, Karla, what do you say? I think it’s worth a try.”

Monday, September 20, 2010

An Uncommon Family, chapter 2


Here is chapter 2 of my work progress, which introduces the second of the three main characters in "An Uncommon Family." Comments and feedback appreciated!


Chapter 2

Anna

It was quiet now, except for the chirping of crickets and the occasional hoot of the night owl in the forest near Anna’s home. It was still warm after the hot summer day. Anna had opened all the windows, hoping for a cooling breeze. It had been an unusually hot summer in a country, which wasn’t exactly known for its heat waves. The strong pungent scent of basil in between the tomatoe plants reminded Anna of her gardening chores she kept putting off because of the heat.
     After her turbulent day in the city, Karla had finally fallen asleep. Anna left the bedroom door open, in case the child had another one her nightmares.
     It was always the same: screaming for her mother, followed by desperate crying. When Anna woke her up, Karla was distraught. She mentioned fire, flames, red paint, which Anna assumed was blood. She asked for her mother, then remembered that she was gone. She cried herself to sleep in Anna’s arms. Long after Karla had fallen back to sleep, Anna sat in the living-room, weeping quietly into the night, mourning her dead mother and sister, grieving for Karla, whose happiness had been shattered within a few seconds.
     In the morning, Karla didn’t remember the nightmare. When Anna asked her about it, she just shook her head. She also couldn’t remember the actual accident.
     The day Anna received the ominous phone call was still etched into her mind. The solemn voice of the police officer telling her that her mother and sister had been killed during a frontal collision with a drunk driver. “A child was in the back-seat in her booster. She had a shock but she’s okay. We found your address in one of the women’s purses. We are so sorry but we need someone to identify them.”
     For days and nights afterwards, Anna saw the mangled bodies lying on the gurney and the pale face of her little niece, whose normally vivid large dark eyes now stared at her with an empty look.
     At first, Karla didn’t cry and refused to talk. Anna worried herself sick, thinking the accident had caused the child to become mute. After about a week, Karla woke up at night, screaming and calling for her mother for the first time. It was as if a glacier of frozen grief had thawed and a river of tears was flooding her. She cried for a long time. All Anna could do was hold her and let her empty herself. She was relieved though. The tears were a welcome change from the stoic, frozen silence.

* * *

     It was raining during the funeral. Anna’s sister and mother had lived in the Italian part of Switzerland and were buried in a small cemetery at the beginning of the Maggia Valley. Piles of dark clouds covered the tops of the mountains. Gusts of wind blew through the trees scattering the yellow leaves and hurling them across the street. It smelled of wet grass, of chrysanthemums, the sweet-rotten aroma of fall.
     Anna was shaking hands with the people attending the funeral, who murmured their condolences. A group of them had gathered in front of the church where the memorial service took place.
     Before the ceremony, Anna and Karla went inside the small chapel where the bodies were lying. They were standing in front of the open caskets paying their last respects. Anna’s mother and sister looked rosy and peaceful in the suffused light of the candles which were placed around the coffins. Nobody would have been able to tell that they had been injured. It was silent in the small cool room. The flames of the candles flickered in the occasional draft blowing in from the outside, creating an otherworldly feeling. A faint whiff of incense hovered in the room. Anna held Karla's small trembling hand. Don't leave me, the child’s eyes begged. Anna, flooded by love and pity, pressed Karla against her.
     “Don't they look peaceful,” Anna whispered.
     Karla nodded.
     Like porcelain dolls or empty shells, Anna thought.
     During the service, Anna, Karla, and Lena, a close friend of Karla’s mother, sat in the front row in the small local church. Flowers and candles on the altar gave the place an almost festive feeling. The minister, a young woman who had been a friend of the family, delivered a very personal sermon.
     After the ceremony, friends and the few relatives met at a restaurant nearby for lunch. The rain had stopped and the sun was penetrating the receding clouds. The ground was strewn with yellow and red leaves.
     “It's definitely fall,” Anna said. “Look at the colorful leaves.”
     Karla nodded. “I wish Mama could see them.” Her eyes welled up.
     “Oh, Karla, I know. She’d love the colors.”
     “Once, Mama is in Heaven, do you think she can see us?”
     “I bet she can.” Anna didn’t have the heart to disappoint Karla. “But, let’s go inside. The others are waiting. I bet you’re hungry.” Karla sighed and nodded.
     The mood in the restaurant was somber at first, but after a while, the food and wine began to warm the hearts of the grieving people. Stories about the past circulated. Friends offered their help. “Give us a call if you need anything.”
     “Thank you, I'll be alright,” Anna kept assuring them, not knowing if that was true or not. She was grateful for their concern but was getting tired and longed to be alone.
     “I need to leave. I have a three-hour drive to Zurich ahead of me.”
     She said goodbye to Karla, who was going to stay with Lena for a few days, so Anna had time to prepare before Karla moved in with her. Lena, who had babysat Karla many times and had taken care of her right after the accident, had offered to keep Karla for a while longer. When Anna bent down to kiss Karla goodbye, she saw fear in her eyes.
     Lena took the child into her arms. “Don't worry. Anna will be back soon. You have to finish kindergarten together with your friends. And Susie is waiting for you.” Lena was referring to her cat.
     “Can I take Susie with me?” Karla brushed a tear away.
     “Tell you what,” Lena said. “The next time Susie has kittens, you can have one . . . if Anna agrees. Sorry, Anna, I guess I should’ve asked you first.”
     “Yes, of course you can have a kitty.” Anna was relieved to see Karla’s face light up again.

* * *

     Driving back to Zurich, Anna was thinking of Karla, wondering if she should have taken her with her right away. She had thought that Karla would feel more comfortable with Lena in the familiar environment for a while longer. But that was only half the truth. Leaving her with Lena gave Anna a few days reprieve to get her strength back before she took on the responsibility of being Karla’s guardian.
     She was tired and had a hard time keeping her eyes open and her focus on the road. In Fluelen, a small town at the north end of St. Gotthard, she decided that it was too dangerous to keep on driving. She parked the car and got out. After getting a cup of coffee at the nearby restaurant, she crossed the street and walked the few steps to the lake.
     The surface of Lake Vierwaldstättersee shimmered in the late afternoon sun. A ship was gliding by. On the horizon, the mountains began to emerge from the receding dark clouds. Anna recognized the shape of Mount Urirotstock across the lake. During summer, Fluelen was normally full of tourists stopping for coffee or lunch on their way to the south of Switzerland and Italy. Now, however, the town felt abandoned and empty. Only a few seagulls landed on the boardwalk, then took off again. One of the birds stayed behind. It was sitting on the railing along the lake. Anna suddenly felt that the bird was watching her.
     “You have it easy,” she said. “You can just fly away.”
     As if in reaction to her words, the seagull opened its wings and flew off. Anna, alone again, was gazing at the lake in front of her. Whether it was because of the oppressive closeness of the mountains or just simply the pain of the past few weeks, a feeling of fear and loneliness threatened to overwhelm her. She was afraid of the future, of the enormity of the tasks awaiting her. Now that all the activities of the past weeks and the funeral were over, now, in the silence of the gloomy late afternoon, she realized, perhaps for the first time, that she was the head of a family. So far, she had only been responsible for herself.
     As a young woman, Anna had always wanted to have children, but her marriage to her former husband had remained childless. Now, from one day to the next, she was the guardian of a little girl. She still shied away from the term “mother.”
     With the death of Anna’s mother and sister, she had lost the last members of her immediate family. Her father, who had moved back to the United States after Anna’s parents divorced, had passed away and her grandparents had been dead a long time. She had many close friends who had given her a lot of support. There were a couple of aunts and one uncle, a brother of her father’s. He was a kind man and had offered to help Anna financially, should she need it.
     Anna was the head of the library in her home town and owner of the only independent bookstore. The bookstore wasn’t a big money-making enterprise, but together with her salary and her freelance writing, she would be able to support herself and Karla. Fortunately, the home she had inherited from her mother was paid off. No, it wasn’t the money she worried about. It was the responsibility. Her heart ached with the loss of her mother and sister.
     “Why? Why did you leave me like this? Don’t you realize how much I still need you?” Anna whispered, tears streaming down her face.

Friday, September 17, 2010

An Uncommon Family

My novel "An Uncommon Family" is now at the editing stage. One of the characters also appears in my published novel "Love of a Stonemason." Both books, however, are independent from each other and can be read in any order.

The following is a blurb and the first chapter. This is a work in progress and there will certainly be changes. Bur for now: enjoy and leave a comment, if you wish. Feedback highly appreciated!

The working title is:


An Uncommon Family
(Blurb)

A chance meeting between a single middle-aged woman, a widower, and a semi-orphaned child in the city of Zurich, Switzerland, brings together three people who grapple with a past of loss and betrayal. Six-year old Karla Bocelli, who lost her mother and grandmother in a car crash, has a hard time accepting the reality of death. Anna Frei, her aunt and guardian, struggles with the shocking deception by her former husband and her shattered confidence in men, and Jonas Bergman, artist and teacher, mourns the death of his wife.

Through their common concern for the welfare of the talented but troubled child, Anna and Jonas become close friends and eventually develop feelings for each other that go beyond friendship. However, when Anna discovers a sinister secret in Jonas’s past, which reminds her of the cowardly behavior of her former husband, her growing confidence in him is shattered. While the two adults have come to an impasse, young Karla, who wishes nothing more than having an intact family with Jonas and Anna as parents, decides to take matters into her own hands. With the help of her friend Maja, an experienced schemer, she develops a plan to bring the two uncooperative adults back together. The plan, however, has serious flaws and as it begins to unravel, Karla is forced to learn some difficult lessons.

An Uncommon Family is a story about loss and betrayal as well as the power of love and forgiveness.

Sounds interesting? Here is the first chapter, still in draft stage, so it will most likely encounter some changes.

Chapter 1
The raspberry ice cream was a dark purple, Karla’s favorite color. She licked the side of the crispy cone, catching the droplets before they slid to the ground. She wrinkled her nose, as she caught another whiff of exhaust from the busy street along the Limmat River in the city of Zurich. It was August and hot in Switzerland. The six-year old girl scanned the scenery in front of her with dreamy eyes.
     A longish canoe was sliding by a tourist-boat on the river. People with funny-looking sun hats and dark glasses sat on the benches of the boat, listening to the loudspeaker-voice of the tourist guide, explaining the sights. Along the river on the other side, the built-together stone houses looked like a row of uneven different-colored teeth, grey, yellow, white, and some with a tint of orange. Behind the houses, on top of the hill, the linden trees at the Lindenhof park shimmered in their clear green foliage and a curtain of dark-green ivy hid part of the gray granite wall.
     Karla took another lick from her ice-cream cone, then turned around and peered through the window of the art shop, where her aunt picked up two framed pictures. When she looked back at the sidewalk, her breath caught.
     “Mama?” she whispered.
     She saw the woman only from behind, but the bounce in her step, the long, reddish-blond hair flowing down her back, swaying left and right, the tall, slender figure--it must be her mother. She tossed the rest of the ice cream into the trashcan, got up, and ran after the woman.
     “Mama!” she called, as the woman got ready to cross the street. The light turned from blinking red to solid red, just as the woman reached the other side. Karla rushed after her, barely aware of the honking around her or of the shrill warning-bell of the blue-and-white street car. She heard someone yell at her but by then she had arrived at the other side. The woman was walking along the river toward the Lake of Zurich.
     “Mama, wait!” Karla bumped into someone.
     “Watch it, kiddo.” A man stepped aside.
     “Mama . . .”
     The woman finally turned around and looked back, scanning the people behind her, then walked on. Karla stopped dumb-founded. It was the face of a stranger.
     A wave of despair washed over her. Not believing that she could have been so wrong, she started to run again. She didn’t see the slight indentation in the pavement. As she fell, she barely noticed the searing pain in her knees; the disappointment hurt more. She covered her face with her hands and sobbed. Mama would have helped her. Mama would have picked her up, hugged her, even sang a little tune to her to make her feel better. But her mother was gone.
     “Are you hurt, honey?” a dark voice said. Karla felt a hand on her back. “Come on, let me see.”
     A pair of strong arms lifted her up. She looked into a face with a grey-white beard, and kind, blue eyes below thick tufts of eyebrows. The man was tall and sturdy, with wildish white hair. He reminded her of Saint Nicholas. But it was summer and Saint Nicholas only appeared in December.
     “Are you here alone?” he asked. “Where’s your mother?”
     The question brought a new flood of tears. “I thought it was Mama.” Karla managed to say, her chest heaving with sobs.
     “Karla, what happened? Why did you run away?” Aunt Anna came rushing toward her, clutching her purse and a large package. “I thought I’d lost you. Jesus, what happened to your knees?” She bent down, put the package on the concrete and examined Karla’s legs. Brushing a strand of wavy brown hair out of her face, she peered at the man with penetrating grey-blue eyes, the color of ice. “What’s going on here?”
     “I just happened to walk by when she fell,” he explained. “She said something about looking for her mother. Are you her mother?”
     Anna shook her head. “No, I’m her aunt. Her mother . . . died half a year ago.”
     “I’m so sorry.” The old man gently touched Karla’s cheek. “But she thought she saw her mother.”
     Anna sighed. “She still hasn’t accepted the truth.” She turned to Karla. “Tell me what happened, sweetie?”
     Karla told her in-between sobs that a woman had walked by who looked exactly like her mama.
     “But you know, that’s not possible, don’t you?” Aunt Anna hugged her. Karla leaned her face against Anna’s chest and poured her sorrow into her sweater. It was soft but didn’t smell like her mama’s. Anna waited for her to calm down. “We have to take care of your knees.”
     “There’s a pharmacy right over there? I’m sure they have something to clean the wound and some bandages. May I?” Saint Nicholas gave Anna an inquiring look.
     Anna nodded and the man lifted Karla up. His thick hair tickled her cheek. Karla wrinkled her nose. He gave off a whiff of smoke, which reminded her of Anna’s wood stove. It felt a little comforting.
     At the pharmacy, a friendly lady took care of Karla’s knees. She wiped them clean, trying not to hurt Karla, who flinched and gave an occasional sob. “Sorry, hon, but we don’t want it to get infected.”
     While the woman bandaged Karla’s legs, Anna unwrapped the package she had been carrying. She handed Karla one of the pictures and held the other one up for her to see. “Don’t they look great?”
     Karla nodded with a weak smile. They did look nice. She barely recognized them again behind the glass and surrounded by a fine wooden frame. One of them showed a woman, sitting on a chair and holding a little girl in her arm. The woman had long reddish-brown hair and the girl’s hair was black. They were sitting in front of a house. The stones in the wall had an irregular shape, they looked a little bit like cobble-stones. It had taken Karla a while to make them look right. The other picture showed a large tree with large purple and cream-colored blossoms. It was the chestnut tree in front of Karla’s old home. She had painted the pictures with her favorite pastel pens.
     “They’re gorgeous,” Saint Nicholas said in his deep voice. “Who painted those?”
     “Karla did,” Aunt Anna said.
     Saint Nicholas starred at her, then at the pictures, then at Karla. “How old is she?”
     “Six,” Karla said, brushing the last tears off her face. Anna handed her a Kleenex.
     “And she painted those by herself, without help?” The man squinted as he scanned the pictures. The wrinkles on his forehead and around his eyes deepened. He truly did look like Saint Nicholas.
     “Yes,” Anna said.
     “This child is very talented. Does she get any instruction?”
     “I’m actually looking for a teacher for her. She loves to draw and paint. If it was up to her, she’d do it all day long. And it seems to help her with . . . you know, the loss.”
     “Amazing.” Saint Nicholas shook his head and continued to scan the pictures. “Well, I happened to be a painter myself. I also teach a few children.” He looked at Karla and Anna with a serious face. “I’d love to have her as a student.”
     “I’ll think about it. That would be great,” Anna said.
     “Why don’t you check me out.” The man handed Anna a small card. “I have a website, too, with some links that give you a little more information. I finally broke down and tackled the internet with the help of a friend. I guess it’s almost a must in today’s world.” He laughed in his deep, sonorous voice. Then he became serious. “Whatever you decide, you don’t want a talent like this go to waste.”
     Anna studied his card. “Very interesting, Mr. Bergman.”
     “Call me Jonas,” the man said.
     “Anna,” Karla’s aunt said as the two shook hands.
     “You’re not Saint Nicholas?” Karla asked, surprised.
     Aunt Anna and the man laughed. “No, I’m sorry. You think I look like him?” He brushed through his wavy white hair.
     Karla nodded. “But you wouldn’t come in summer, would you?” She looked down at her neatly wrapped knees. The talk of drawing and painting had pulled her out of her deep misery. “Are you going to teach me?”
     The man smiled at her. “You talk this over with your aunt, all right?” Then he glanced at his watch. “Oops. I guess I missed my appointment.”
     “I’m so sorry,” Anna said. “We caused you all this trouble.”
     “Don’t worry. No problem at all.” He bent down and put a hand on Karla’s shoulder. “And, Karla, I know how much it hurts. I lost my dear wife a few years ago. We were together for over twenty years. I still miss her. But I can promise you, things will get better with time.”
     Karla took a deep breath and nodded. She had heard the words many times before. “Mejra lost her mother, too.”
     “Mejra is a friend of hers, a girl from Croatia,” Anna explained.
* * *
     At home, in their house in a small town near Zurich, Aunt Anna fixed lunch. She heated up the left-over bean and vegetable soup and made grilled cheese sandwiches with tomatoes. The smell of food awakened Karla’s appetite. She was quiet and thoughtful but no longer desperate.
     “He was a nice man,” she said, folding the colorful paper napkins she had made herself with potato stamps.
     “Would you like to take drawing and painting lessons from him?” Anna poured the soup into bowls and slid the toasted sandwiches onto the plates.
     Karla nodded. “Yeah, that’d be cool.”
     “Cool, huh?” Anna smiled and gave the girl a hug.

Monday, August 30, 2010

Why I write only 5- and 4-Star Book Reviews

People are beginning to wonder why I only write four- or five-star reviews. The answer is simple. No, it's not to flatter or placate authors. I only review books that I love and that inspire and excite me. I am not a professional literary critic. I am a writer and avid reader and I want to write about books I feel good about. I know how hard it is to write a book, how time-consuming, and how exciting.

The writing process is a lot of sweat, interspersed with moments of elation and deep satisfaction. Once a book is finished and you find out that someone else likes it as well, that readers are inspired by it, that it means something to them, then, somehow, everything comes together. You forget all the heartache, the ripped-out hair, the self-doubt, and you bask, for a moment, in that warm feeling of being understood by someone, accepted, you delight in the knowledge that you have touched someone. That, to me, is worth more than the sale of books (which I like too, of course. I'm not Mother Teresa - oh, by the way, did you know she just turned 100? Talk about inspiration! Happy Birthday!)

Anyway, because I know how good it feels to receive a positive review, I enjoy doing this for other authors as well. I don't write book reviews on demand, because then I would have to review books I may not like and would have to give a lower score. And I don't want to do that.

There are enough reviewers out there who give 1- or 2- or 3-star reviews and that's fine for them. A negative review as long as it is respectful and sensitive can be very helpful for an author. (I am not talking about those insulting diatribes that attack an author personally or make unreasonable assumptions. I'm not talking about reviewers who are failed writers and take it out on those who still have the courage to write. You know what I mean.)

But for me:
4-Stars: I love it and have perhaps a suggestion how it could be made even better.

5-Stars: I love it. It's well-crafted, language and content are in sync. It may not be absolutely perfect, but I'm excited, it gives me joy and means something to me.

Happy Writing!

Thursday, August 19, 2010

Author interviews

I was fortunate to be interviewed by two wonderful authors.

David Wisehart

Jess C. Scott

Click the links and find out!

Sunday, August 8, 2010

Some thoughts on book reviews

I have been reading a lot of book reviews lately, mainly because I’m looking for reviewers for my novel Love of a Stonemason and also because I have been reading a lot of new and independent authors, wrote some reviews myself, and like to get someone else’s opinion.

I came to realize that writing a successful review requires talent and effort just like writing the original novel, story, or poem. As readers we all have likes and dislikes and we often have a gut reaction to a book. We either love it or hate it or we like the beginning and not the end or vice versa. Reviewing a book, however, is not just expressing one’s likes or dislikes but the reviewer needs to approach a work with a certain impartiality and objectiveness, in order to write a fair review.

While reading reviews, I came to realize, this “rule” is not always adhered to. One thing the reviewer shouldn’t do is review apples, if he hates them and loves oranges instead. (Excuse my bastardization of the phrase.) If a reviewer for instance reviews a romance, when he really doesn’t like that genre and loves thrillers instead, he is likely to be unfair. That sounds like a no-brainer, but believe me, I read reviews that did exactly that. Now, there are of course certain elements of good writing that apply to all genres but there are differences, for instance in pace, between a romance and, let's say, a thriller.

I think the first thing a reviewer needs to ask himself or herself is: What is the intention of the author? What is the book about? And how well did the author fulfill his intention? If the book is a romance, the focus is on relationships and you won’t find a lot of blood and gore as in a thriller. It may proceed at a more leisurely pace and that’s okay for a romance. So if you are disappointed that there is no murder in the second paragraph of a romance, that’s your problem, not the author’s. Okay, I’m exaggerating of course.

Here is an example that may show what I mean. I read a review of a novel that I know well. It was a generally favorable review. The novel was what I would call a romantic psychological thriller (my own term). The main character was a troubled, insecure, young woman, who is the victim of a satanic cult and has severe psychological problems. She is confused about what’s real and what is merely in her imagination. She doesn’t trust herself or anybody else.

One of the reviewers was irritated by the fact that the woman came across as a helpless victim and it irked the reviewer that she didn’t have more backbone. The reviewer obviously likes strong, tough women characters. That’s fine but that’s not what this novel was about. The intent of the author was to show the young woman as extremely vulnerable and confused. In the course of her development, she did grow stronger but it was a long and arduous process.

Another example: A reader wrote a review of my own novel, Love of a Stonemason. The core of the novel is the relationship between a young painter and her boyfriend, a sculptor. The story takes place in three different countries. One of the complaints of the reviewer was that there wasn’t enough description of the different locations. The reviewer didn’t know those countries and didn’t feel he or she knew them after reading the novel. Now, that could be a valid complaint. It’s very important that the reader gets a sense of the environment.

However, what puzzled me was the fact that the very thing the reviewer criticized was the feature all other readers (at least until now) praised. They liked the vivid descriptions and the concrete, sensuous details of the environment, as seen through the eyes of the painter. One reader, who had never been outside of the United States, said she felt she was actually travelling to these places.

I tried to make the scenes as vivid as possible, but again, my intention was NOT to write a travelogue but to give enough information for the reader to get a feeling for the place. Of course, there is a lot more to these countries than is described in my novel. I hope I stirred up some curiosity and if anybody wants to get to know these places better, they can always read a Lonely Planet book or other travel guide or, what’s even better, take a trip there! (Okay, that may be too much of a strain on one’s budget.)

These are some thoughts on reviewing from the point of view of an author. I am not an expert on reviewing and I admire anybody who takes the time to read a book and then tries to write something intelligent about it. I believe there are as many different opinions about a book as there are readers.

If anybody is interested, one of my favorite novelists, Joanne Harris (author of Chocolat, Blackberry Wine, Coastliners, The Lollypop Shoes) has some excellent advice for reviewers in her article Everyone’s A Critic: an Idiot’s Guide to Reviewing. In fact, I believe it should be required reading for anyone attempting to write serious reviews (see item 4).

Comments and feedback appreciated!

Friday, July 30, 2010

Love of a Stonemason released as paperback

Great news: My novel just got published as paperback. It’s available at Amazon.

It turned out really great. I formatted and designed it myself with the help of my artist friend, Susan Deming, who also provided the photo and the design for the front cover. Those of you who were kind enough to write a review on Amazon, based on the Kindle version, will get a complementary, personally signed copy of the paperback book.

I think I’m now not only an Indie author but a micro Indie publisher. The company name is Bookworm Press (which fits me perfectly).

I am also featured on a new blog for independent authors. In addition, I was interviewed at Jess C Scott's author blog. Drop by and have a look. There are some very interesting authors and books there.

Oh, and don't forget to click the FOLLOW button on the right!

Sunday, July 18, 2010

Authors supporting other authors

Hello fellow Indie Authors!

August 12, 2010: This is an update to an earlier post (see below): There are 37 authors represented on Scott Nicholson's Indie Books Blog now. Great new stuff. Come by, sample the work, leave a comment once in a while, and don't forget to acknowledge a comment by someone else. If you like a book, write a review on Amazon or wherever it is sold. Remember: we are in this together.

My novel Love of a Stonemason is featured there as well.

You may have found your way here through my Twitter post about Scott Nicholson’s indie books blog. Scott was kind enough to set up a blog for independent authors like us. Now, it’s up to us to make it work to our advantage.

Since we are “independent,” we can’t depend on agents and publishers to represent us. We have to do it ourselves. So, we could start by supporting each other.

“What? Authors supporting other authors. Where have you been?!” someone said, tongue-in-cheek. Well, yes, of course. But this is not just about helping others - I don’t expect authors to be that altruistic - but by helping someone else, we also help ourselves. We draw attention to our own work and, perhaps, if we are lucky, someone else will read our book.

There are as of today, Sunday, July 18, twenty authors featured on the blog (if I counted correctly). If each one of us read one other book on the blog, left a comment, and wrote a brief review on Amazon or wherever the book is sold, that makes twenty reviews. If we pick two, that makes forty reviews, and so on. And slowly but surely, the reviews add up, we find new readers, and the rating will increase.

There is a wide variety of genres present, from the more traditional romance to paranormal romance, to books for the younger audience, to mysteries, thrillers and more. Most of us have a favorite genre and probably write in that genre as well. My own book, Love of a Stonemason, deals with love, art, and relationships, so it has romance elements. I decided to explore books from other genres. I came across Scott Nicholson’s works and loved them. I discovered Jess C. Scott’s “paranormal novella” The Devilin Fey (featured on the blog). I have never read a paranormal novella, but I figured why not? I wasn’t disappointed. I loved it. It’s an excellent work and I hope to read more from that author. I also put a review on Amazon.

Now, we can either let ourselves be featured, never come back to the blog, twiddle our thumbs, and hope for the best or we can make a little effort and, bingo, IT MAY WORK! It’s up to us.

HAPPY WRITING AND READING!

Sunday, July 11, 2010

Trina Polkinhorn at the Horn Camp in Los Angeles

I am a Polkinhorn by an earlier marriage and I am proud of my USA family. They are full of talented, great people. Trina Polkinhorn, my young niece, is an excellent French horn musician. She took part in a camp in Los Angeles and they made it into a You Tube video. Here is the link:

Beethoven Mass Horn Ensemble

Trina is the girl with the long dark hair in very left row, second from the front. She just graduated from UC Irvine.

Go, Trina!

"Baby It's You" by director John Sayles with Rosanna Arquette and Vincent Spano

I saw this film together with my movie buddies Ken and Karen. It was a fascinating "coming-of-age" movie with excellent actors:

Here is a short review by Ken Hense on Amazon.com

Title: Best Coming of Age Film
"For me, one of the top ten films ever made. I feel that I know Jill Rosen (Rosanna Arquette) better than most people I have known in real life. Jill is an A student. The streetwise boyfriend she discovers is not dumb. They are both very young. One wonders if either of them ever got it together. So many endearing lines from Jill! Her college room "It's small but it's ugly." The funky gold star on the door. And when she gets drunk! I think maybe this film says when we have the least we have the most." Ken Hense

Friday, July 9, 2010

Love of a Stonemason

My novel Love of a Stonemason is featured on Indie Blog. Come and have a look!.

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

Two excellent movies

Today, I would like to introduce the movies I mentioned in my last post. Both of them deal with young boys, who have a special gift and who try, each in his own way, to fulfill a dream.


Vitus is a Swiss film about a gifted young boy born into a middle-class family, who is not only the best student in his class with an extraordinary high IQ but a talented pianist. His proud parents do everything to further his talents. But Vitus, a lonely boy, wants nothing more than being a normal kid. Frederic and Mary Ann Brussat wrote an excellent review of the film. The young actors who play Vitus at different ages are wonderful. Bruno Ganz, one of my favorite Swiss actors, does a great job as grandfather.

Bruno Ganz started his career as actor in the theater. His stage background is visible in all his performances. He is an excellent character actor and one of his most famous roles is as Hitler in the movie Downfall (German: Der Untergang). What struck me most about his performance is the fact that he was able to portray Hitler as a human being, not an abstraction of Evil, as we tend to think of him. What we witness is the slow deterioration of a sick, misguided, and deeply troubled man.

Vitus is a wonderful mix of the real and the magical. It's a movie with a lot of heart. Available on DVD in German with English subtitles, at Amazon.com.

The second movie, Billy Elliot, takes place in a small coal mining town in the north of England, far away from the middle-class Swiss background of Vitus. The protagonist is again a young boy who has a dream that couldn’t be any more at odds with his working-class background and his macho environment.

Here is an editorial review by Philip Kemp at Amazon:
“Foursquare in the gritty-but-heartwarming tradition of Brassed Off and The Full Monty comes Billy Elliot, the first film from noted British theatrical director Stephen Daldry. The setting is County Durham in 1984, and things "up north" are even grimmer than usual: the miners' strike is in full rancorous swing, and 11-year-old Billy's dad and older brother, miners both, are on the picket lines. Billy's got problems of his own. His dad has scraped together the fees to send him to boxing lessons, but Billy has discovered a different aptitude: a genius for ballet dancing. Since admitting to such an activity is tantamount, in this fiercely macho culture, to holding up a sign reading "I Am Gay," Billy keeps it quiet. But his teacher, Mrs. Wilkinson (Julie Walters, wearily undaunted), thinks he should audition for ballet school in London. Family ructions are inevitable.

Daldry's film sidesteps some of the politics, both sexual and otherwise, but scores with its laconic dialogue (credit to screenwriter Lee Hall) and a cracking performance from newcomer Jamie Bell as Billy. His powerhouse dance routines, more Gene Kelly than Nureyev, carry an irresistible sense of exhilaration and self-discovery. Among a flawless supporting cast, Stuart Wells stands out as Billy's sweet gay friend Michael. And if the miners' strike serves largely as background color, the brief episode when visored and truncheon-wielding cops rampage through neat little terraced houses captures one of the most spiteful episodes in recent British history.” Philip Kemp

This is the kind of movie, you can watch many times. The very last scene always sends shivers down my back.

Sunday, July 4, 2010

Blog Revival

Welcome! Now that I lured you to my blog, I hope you’ll click the “Follow” button on the right side underneath my books. That way, I won’t feel so lonely out here in cyberspace. In order to “Follow” a blog, you have to have a Google account. If you have a blog of your own, chances are you already have an account. If not, you are prompted to create one. It’s simple and free and as far as I know, there are no privacy concerns. When it prompts you to create a Google account, you just enter the email address you already use and create a password. Easy.

I want to start with a short introduction to two books and two movies that are very different from each other but are related by a common theme: growing up as a young boy, who doesn’t really “fit in,” the struggle to be true to yourself and at the same time find a place in society.

The two books are The Red Church and Drummer Boy by Scott Nicholson. I found Scott Nicholson by pure chance on the internet when I was looking for an editor for my manuscript. His novels take place in the Appalachian Mountains and are full of mysterious happenings and Appalachian folklore. Here is the beginning of the description of The Red Church on Amazon.com:

“For 13-year-old Ronnie Day, life is full of problems: Mom and Dad have separated, his brother Tim is a constant pest, Melanie Ward either loves him or hates him, and Jesus Christ won't stay in his heart. Plus he has to walk past the red church every day, where the Bell Monster hides with its wings and claws and livers for eyes. But the biggest problem is that Archer McFall is the new preacher at the church, and Mom wants Ronnie to attend midnight services with her.”

The Red Church is great book and I wrote a review for it on Amazon. I just realized that my review is listed as one of the most helpful ones (don’t know how I got that honor). But here it is:
“I am not exactly a "thriller" or "horror" fan, so when I came across The Red Church by Scott Nicholson I hesitated at first, thinking I probably wouldn't like it. After the first few pages into the book, I realized how limiting and inaccurate such labels really are. To be sure, there is plenty of blood-curdling and scary stuff in the novel. However, there is much more to the book than "blood and gore." A tight, fast-moving plot, vivid, psychologically complex characters that jump off the page and are so real you remember them long after you finish reading the book, and a very accurate depiction of the emotional and mental powers that religious fanatics or new-age gurus can yield over their trusting victims make this book a truly fascinating read. I can only recommend it.”

Drummer Boy has similarities with The Red Church. The main characters are again young boys, a “misfit kid” and his friends, and some of the characters from The Red Church appear in this book as well. Here is a brief summary from Scott's website and from Amazon:

"One misfit kid is all that stands between an Appalachian Mountain town and a chilling supernatural force. On an Appalachian Mountain ridge, young Vernon Ray Davis hears the rattling of a snare drum deep inside a cave known as “The Jangling Hole,” and the wind carries a whispered name. According to legend, the Hole is home to a group of Civil War soldiers buried by a long-ago avalanche. Everyone, especially Vernon Ray's dad, laughs at him...because he's different.
On the eve of an annual Civil War re-enactment, the town of Titusville prepares for a mock battle. But inside the Hole, disturbed spirits are rising from their dark slumber, and one of them is heading home.
And Vernon Ray stands between the battle lines of the living and the dead, caught between a world where he doesn't a belong and world from which he can never return...”

Both books are available as Kindle and paperback versions. To find out more about those and other novels by Scott Nicholson, go to his website and/or to Amazon.com.

I am in the process of translating one of his latest novels, The Skull Ring (a real page turner!) into German.

And here finally a little self-promoting. Scott also edited my debut novel Love of a Stonemason, available as ebook for the Kindle on Amazon and soon to be available as paperback from CreateSpace (to be announced). It is also available in a lot of other ebook versions on Smashwords.

I mentioned in the beginning that I would talk about a couple of movies, which also deal with adolescent boys, but something came up, so I’ll save that for the next post. Instead, I want to announce another real treat. It's a play written by Jack Grapes, a former poetry teacher of mine. Jack is not only an excellent teacher but a great poet as well as fabulous actor and playwright. The play is called Circle of Will. I saw it many years ago and it’s hilarious!

That’s how it is described:
“Circle of Will is a bizarre metaphysical comedy about the lost years of Will Shakespeare.”
National Public Radio: “a spectacular tour-de-force.”
San Francisco Chronicle: “the cleverest original work seen in a long time.”
Jack says: “I wrote CIRCLE OF WILL while holed up in a cabin high in the Sierras in the dead of winter, wolves howling at my door. How a bizarre metaphysical comedy came out of that, I'll never know, but it did. Shakespeare as Jackie Gleason, Richard Burbage as Art Carney!
As one reviewer said, it's ‘a piece of metaphysical insanity, in which I was carried away on waves of sympathy and laughter. This play is a certified thought-provoking riot!’”


I’m definitely going to see it again. It’s playing at the Macha Theatre in West Hollywood, Los Angeles. It runs from July 16 to Aug 15 with a preview on July 15. If you’re interested you can get further information and order tickets at www.plays411.com/circleofwill.

Those of you who live in the area: you don’t want to miss this!

Have a wonderful week! And don't forget to click that "Follow" button up on the right side!

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Poem of the Day

In Memoriam
(From Path of Fire)


Back then, we tried once again
to cram a year’s worth of feelings
into one week,
letting our thoughts float
in the vast stillness.
Before us mountain peaks
drained away into the summer night.

Now your face is tucked in a frame
on the shrine next to the flowers
and the candle I light every night.
It looks my way with a warm
or mischievous smile,
depending on the way the light falls.

Your sanctuary lies in my heart
in little heaps of joy and sorrow.
I think of you often,
of the times we sat together
gazing at the lit church
on the hill above Santa Maria,
our bodies suffused in the evening glow,
you, leaning back into the
lime-green sofa pillow, and I
leaning into you.

Saturday, June 19, 2010

The criminal mind of a frustrated woman - dark and macabre humor

I am in the process of translating a, what could be called, "romantic suspense thriller" novel into German. (I hate genre labels, since they are limiting and often don't do the books justice). This encouraged me to reread a few of my German mystery novels. I came across the books by Ingrid Noll, a German author largely unknown in this country. One of them, "Der Hahn ist tot" (The rooster is Dead), tells the story of a frustrated, middle-aged woman with a difficult childhood, who lives a quite comfortable but boring, predictable life, devoid of passion and love. All of a sudden she meets an attractive writer/teacher and falls hopelessly in love. She is "on fire," as she says of herself. This "love," however, becomes an obsession and leads to a first death, for which Rosie, the heroine, is in part responsible. And now, she is on the path of destruction and no return. She feels she has a right to once be really happy, not just a bystander to other people's happiness, and to get what she wants for herself. And whoever stands in her way, watch out!

This isn't the kind of typical mystery novel, since we know from the beginning who commits the killings. But this knowledge doesn't kill the suspense, on the contrary. We witness and experience and even sympathize with the heroine, as she tries desperately to bend destiny to her advantage and another victim bites the dust.

The book is entertaining, funny, macabre, full of gallows humor. The German versions of her books can be found at Amazon.

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

How a novel is born: "Love of a Stonemason"

I want to give my prospective and current readers some background to the creative process behind my novel. I think it's always interesting to hear "the story behind the story."

In my case, it was a series of deaths in my family and among my friends a few years ago. Within three months, I lost my mother, my brother-in-law, and one of my closest friends. The death of my mother left me as the last survivor of our immediate family, my father and my only sister having passed on years before. After the funeral, I began the difficult task of cleaning out our family home in Switzerland, getting it ready for renovations. I shuffled through old documents, read letters my parents, my sister, and I exchanged, while I lived abroad. I even found a love letter my father had written to my mother while he served in the Swiss Army during the Second World War. I took down my father's paintings in the home--he was an artist as a young man--and wrapped them, so they wouldn't get damaged during the renovation. I met with a stonemason to talk about the tombstone on my parent's grave.

One evening, I was sitting in front of the fireplace in the only room in our house that wasn't full of boxes and bags, staring into the flames. It was a cold January night. Thick snowflakes were floating to the ground. I finally had time to reflect and to mourn and I did what I always do when I am in an intense period of my life. I began to write. I wrote about a young painter, who struggled with loss and loneliness, about a stonemason, who carved tombstones and who, interestingly enough, became the harbinger of new life for the young woman.

The novel is pure fiction, all the characters are made up, but the building blocks of the story can be found somewhere in my own life. Over the following few years and with the help and support of some very dear friends, the book took on shape. What began as a time of death and loss was transformed into something new, life-affirming, and uplifting. I offer it to you, dear Reader, and I hope you will enjoy it. If you feel like it, leave a comment and let me know your thoughts.

The novel is available as an ebook at Amazon.com for the Kindle.

If you prefer paperback, click here.

Thank you and Happy Reading.
Christa

Sunday, May 2, 2010

Love of a Stonemason - new ebook

My novel Love of a Stonemason  has just been published as an ebook on Amazon.com and Smashwords. Go check it out. You can download a free sample. In case you decide to buy it and like it, leave a brief comment/review on Amazon and/or Smashwords. It helps the book get more exposure. Happy Reading!

Friday, March 26, 2010

The "F Word" - Blame it on the Germans!

A little trivia before the weekend. I read this on MSN:

"The F word dates back centuries, according to an article on Discovery's website. Lexicographer Jesse Sheidlower told Discovery that the Germanic word's root meant, 'to move back and forth.' Sheidlower should know -- he wrote a book on it.

Its meaning changed over the centuries, eventually showing up in obscene contexts -- poems and other literary masterpieces, crisis situations, Tarantino movies, stand-up comedy shows and garden variety home repair mishaps."

(By Jonathan Lloyd NBCLosAngeles.com)

Friday, March 12, 2010

You (Only) Live Twice or Writers are Mini Gods

I don't know if the director of that James Bond movie had writers in mind when he created the title. But, boy, does it fit! Writers do live twice (or more than twice!), once in their everyday world and then in the worlds they create themselves. Their everyday world may be bland and boring but, if they are any good at all, their alternate worlds are not. No wonder then that writers often spend more time in the fantasy worlds they create than in their "real" life. That can lead to serious problems, such as unpaid bills, angry spouses, and desperate children. Well, let's hope writers are intelligent enough not to let it go that far (who are you kidding?).

Anyway, writers create worlds of their own. They design nature, cultures, characters, situations. They behave like gods, but unlike the Christian God, who gives his characters free will (supposedly), Writer Gods don't give away any power at all. Oh, no. They keep complete control over the destiny of their characters. Writer Gods are more like the power-hungry Greek gods. If they want their characters to have a happy love life, good sex, lots of money, that's what they get and no action on the characters' part can change that. If the writer feels that one of the characters has to die, the writer just kills him or her off. Easy. Then, the Writer God decides he wants a new character in his world, a gorgeous muscular hunk or a sexy woman with long blond or black hair, fantastic hips and tits, there she is, like Athena sprung from Zeus's head.

But that's not all writers want. Once their world is created, they expect others to participate in it, read about it, believe in their illusions, and, yes, PAY FOR IT.

What a bunch of selfish narcissists!
Oh, it's wonderful to be a writer.

Monday, March 8, 2010

Negative Snow by Miranda Owen

It's time for a poem. This one is by ten-year old Miranda, daughter of the brilliant author Scott Nicholson (see my blog entry about The Skull Ring, 3/3/2010). Miranda obviously walks in her father's footsteps. She is an aspiring writer, poet, and photographer. Anybody who has ever languished during the long winter months and longed for a sign of spring can relate to this beautifully crafted poem. Enjoy!

Negative Snow

By Miranda Owen

Snow is bad.
It makes me mad.
When there's no school,
It's not so cool.
Sitting at my mom's work place,
I'd really rather be in space.
Snow is cold.
The joke gets old.
It falls in your hair.
And everywhere.
Snow makes ice.
Ice brings mice.
In my house.
Traps for the mouse!
Positive I try to be.
But that job's really not for me!
Snow please give us a break.
There's not much more that I can take!

Saturday, March 6, 2010

How to get really old

The oldest woman in Switzerland died shortly before her 113th birthday. She fell asleep one night and didn't wake up. What a way to go! In an interview shortly before her death she said that hearing and eyesight weren't perfect anymore, but she was still able to walk. I wonder if it was genes, the daily hike, the mountain air? No, I think it was chocolate.

Thursday, March 4, 2010

The Book Thief

In his compelling and ambitious novel, The Book Thief, the young Australian author, Markus Zusak, breaks at lot of traditional "writing rules" and gets away with it big time. The narrator is Death himself and the time and place is Nazi Germany during the Second World War. The main character of the story is nine-year old Liesel Meminger, who is taken to live with foster parents in a small village. Besides trying to survive and mourning the loss of family and friends, Liesel has another problem--an overwhelming urge and desire to steal books. She steals her first book even before she knows how to read and continues to steal books in the face of great danger. What I found so fascinating about the book is the author's ability to present deeply disturbing, gloomy, tragic events with dark but comforting humor. You literally "cry with one eye and laugh with the other." The book is both a favorite with young as well as older adults.

A very different story about a "book thief" I read in the weekly Swiss newspaper I get to keep in touch with events in my second home country. A world-famous neurologist and professor at the University Hospital in Lausanne, Switzerland, was fired from his job and arrested for misappropriating approx. 5 million dollars to support his addiction to--BOOKS! Yep, not drugs or fancy cars or villas, but books. He collected books like a maniac. Fortunately (from my point of view), he wasn't sent to jail. He was contrite and paid back all the money, donated a large part of his collection to the university library and contributed a large amount to charitable organizations. Although the judge felt, he deserved time in the slammer, he gave him a very mild sentence. I bet the judge loved books!

The moral behind these stories: Books are valuable. So keep on writing, authors. If you're lucky enough, someone will even risk jail to read your stuff!