My Books

Saturday, December 29, 2012

A tribute to my mother, Anna Umiker-Güntert




On December 30, 2005, my mother passed away in Switzerland at the ripe old age of 102. I was fortunate to be able to spend the last four months of her life with her in my home country. She had been able to live at home almost until the very end thanks to the help of some wonderful caretakers, some friends of hers, and, above all, my nephew, Rico.

Although I lived in California, I spent several months each year with her. It was sometimes difficult to spend that much time away from my home in California but now, I am grateful for every minute I was able to be with her.
I wrote this poem many years ago when she was still alive, but it foreshadows what I knew would eventually happen:

Mother

nearing ninety winds the old clock
pulling the chains dangling
from the wooden case.
Time stored in her flesh and bones
seeps through her hands.

I listen to each shallow breath,
feel the faint trembling of her arm
tucked into the curve of mine,
as we climb the last steep hill to the store
on those muted winter days
which follow each other like dull pearls
strung on the thread of life.
The late afternoon sun casts
our thin shapes among the
shadows of birches and pines
coated with hoarfrost.

In the coffee shop she softens bites of
crusty bread and dips them into hot chocolate.
A drop falls on the face of Madonna
staring blue-eyed and beige from the
cover of Mademoiselle.

At dusk the waitress switches on the light.
My mother’s face,
white as a moon,
refracts from the window-pane.
I peer past her into the growing
darkness outside.
It’s not death I fear,
I am afraid of being the last one alive.

(From Path of Fire)

Friday, November 16, 2012

Author in Training: The Pesky Point of View (POV)



I usually use third person limited point of view in my novels—at least I thought I did. In Love of a Stonemason, for instance, I tell the story through the mind and the eyes of Karla, the main heroine.

In An Uncommon Family, book two of the Family Portrait series, it gets more complicated. Here, there are three points of view, Anna, Jonas, and little Karla. Again, I thought I used third person limited POV. One reviewer, however, a student of literature, described it as “third person omniscient narrator.” I was startled and couldn’t understand why she called it “omniscient.”

In Emilia, part three of series, there are four different POVs. I asked Linda Cassidy Lewis, author of one of my favorite novels, The Brevity of Roses, if she would consider being a beta reader of my manuscript, since I admire her command of and feeling for language. And I’m glad I did. She gave me a lot of feedback and a few of her remarks had to do with narrative voice or point of view.

One thing she mentioned was the fact that the different POV characters weren’t distinct enough. She said—and I agree with her—that a reader should be able to recognize who the narrator is, even in the more descriptive parts, in other words those parts of text where the characters are not engaged in dialog but where they notice something and in those places the description should reflect the character’s way of thinking, use of language, etc. and not the author’s.

For example: in my novel, Andreas, the father, is someone who hates dressing up, has no interest in fashion or clothes. So when his son, Tonio, who loves fashion and studies to become a fashion designer, walks in the door, Andreas notices his somewhat outlandish outfit. He describes his son’s clothes, using expressions that only a person interested in and familiar with fashion would use. That of course would be unnatural and unrealistic.  He would certainly notice Tonio’s colorful outfit but would describe it in layman’s terms.

It made me aware how easy it is to slip into the more “omniscient” voice, telling the story from the point of view of the author rather than from one of the character’s POVs. Of course, there is nothing wrong with omniscient narration and there are places where this is done consciously by the author. But that’s not what I was trying to do. In fact, I didn’t realize I was doing it.

Keeping my beta reader’s remarks in mind, I began to reread my manuscript and I did so aloud. And boy, that sure made a difference. It was much easier for me to slip into the POV character’s mind and notice the places where the author intruded too much. I was also able to cut out a bunch of unnecessary “filler words,” for instance—here Laura, the daughter, is the POV: “Laura felt her family was in serious trouble.” We don’t really need “felt” since it’s obvious who does the feeling here. Why not simply: “Her family was in serious trouble?”

Thank you, Linda; you helped me make my book a better one. I am a little hoarse now from reading out loud, but it was worth it!

Saturday, October 20, 2012

New book covers

My designer friend and I are in the process of creating new covers for the books of my Family Portrait series. Here are some preliminary samples of the first two books. There will be minor changes (such as my name needs to be a little bigger) but I'm really excited about them. 

Enjoy!


















 

 


Comments appreciated!

Okay, here are new versions with the larger name:












Sunday, October 14, 2012

Creativity is everywhere. Keep looking!


The other day, a friend of mine sent me an article he wrote and a video about an elderly couple in Clovis, California. The husband, who loved to ride bikes but didn’t want to do it alone, came up with a wonderful idea. He built a special bicycle so that both he and his wife could ride side by side together. Here is the link to the article by Shawn Gadberry as well as the video. Have fun with the senior couple on their ride “into their sunset years.”

http://clovisindependent.com/2012/10/12/a-bicycle-re-built-for-two/


Monday, August 27, 2012

Mike Henderson - a look at a talented artist and Blues musician

Mike Henderson is a wonderful artist and Blues musician and the husband of my artist friend and teacher, Susan Deming. They live and work in the San Francisco Bay area with their son, Isaac. The other day, I came across this video of Mike Henderson, which I love and wanted to share with you. To me, this is not just a story about an artist, but about a man who made his way against many odds and succeeded.

I hope you enjoy this video as much as I did.





For more about Mike Henderson and Spark, click here:

http://www.kqed.org/arts/programs/spark/profile.jsp?essid=17526

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

A picture journey through my novels

I live in two countries on two continents and I love to travel and so the different places I lived in or visited infiltrated my creative writing. Both my novels, An Uncommon Family and Love of a Stonemason take place in several different countries.

When I first visited these places, I wasn’t planning on using them in my writing. I was just seeing them as a tourist. Once I started to create my stories, I wanted to go back to explore the different locals more closely. It was important to get the details right, and, above all, I wanted to portray them through the eyes and nose and ears of my protagonists. What are the scents, the colors, and the sounds like in Zurich, Switzerland, or Guadalajara, Mexico, or in the exciting metropolis, New York City for Anna and Jonas in An Uncommon Family? How does Karla, the artist, see her beloved Ticino in the south of Switzerland? What did the colors and shapes of stones in the Peruvian Andes trigger in Andreas, the stonemason, in Love of a Stonemason?

In the process of my research, I took quite a few pictures. An author friend of mine suggested I put some of them on my website. This gave me the idea to create a kind of picture tour of my novels. Readers who are familiar with my books may enjoy seeing some of the places they read about. Others who don’t know my books may get inspired to give them a try.

I’m starting with the first book in the Family Portrait series, An Uncommon Family. This novel takes place in Zurich, Switzerland, New York City, and Guadalajara, Mexico. For those who don’t know the book, here is a blurb:

A chance meeting between a 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, whose mother died in a car crash, has a hard time accepting the loss. Anna, her aunt and guardian, struggles with her former husband’s deception and her shattered confidence in men, and Jonas, artist and teacher, mourns the death of his wife.

While trying to help Karla, a talented but troubled child, Anna and Jonas develop feelings for each other that go beyond friendship. The budding romance, however, hits a snag when Anna discovers a sinister secret in Jonas’s past. While the two adults have come to an impasse, young Karla takes matters into her own hands. Together with a friend, she develops a plan to bring the two uncooperative adults back together. The plan, however, creates havoc and as it begins to unravel, Karla is forced to learn some difficult lessons.

And now, click on the following link, fasten your seatbelts, put on your walking boots, or hop on a virtual train and enjoy!

An Uncommon Family - A Journey in Pictures

If you enjoyed the tour and want to continue the journey through part two of the "Family Portrait" series, click on the following link:

Love of a Stonemason - A Journey in Pictures

Sunday, August 12, 2012

Protecting the Cittern by John Cammalleri

Gritty and moving


                                                                                                                                                                              
PROTECTING THE CITTERN is a heart-wrenching story about a dysfunctional family, a manipulative and abusive father, a submissive mother, and children who try to carve a life for themselves in spite of it all. Tony, the son, hates his father and for good reasons. From childhood on, he and his family were the target of his negativity, his taunts, and his cruelty. Even from his hospital and nursing home bed, Sammy still finds ways to interfere with and control his next of kin. In the first part of the book, you ask yourself if there is anything redeeming about this man. Yet soon, we get glimpses of Sammy’s past, dating back to his own childhood in Italy and his role as soldier in the World War Two. And after his father’s death, Tony uncovers by accident a deeply painful secrete in Sammy’s past, which makes him understand why this seemingly loveless man projected all his feelings onto a musical instrument, which he caressed and protected more than he ever did his wife and children. Sammy’s own suffering doesn’t exactly absolve him but makes him just a little more human. And Tony—and with him the reader—feels pity rather than hate and anger. This is a very human tale, dark but also full of life and hope. Beautifully told and highly recommended.

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

I got mail - Granite Hearts by Elizabeth Egerton Wilder

Today, I got an eagerly awaiting package in the mail: the paperback version of Granite Hearts, Elizabether Egerton Wilder's great historical novel and the sequel to The Spruce Gum Box. The paperback version came out beautifully. But the book is of course also available as ebook.






After reading the first part of this sequel, The Spruce Gum Box, my only regret was that I had arrived at the last page. I had fallen in love with the book, the characters, and the marvelous descriptions of the Maine landscape in the early 1800's. So, I was very happy when I received the sequel.

Granite Hearts is a perfect title for this historical novel. It brings to mind two major themes: life in Maine in the early 1800’s was often as hard and rough as granite and the way to soften the harsh existence was through the human heart, the seat of love and compassion.

We meet many of the familiar characters from The Spruce Gum Box again: Ben and his friends from childhood, Hettie, his wife and their new baby, JJ. Uncle Jacob, the Micmac sagomore, Frank, Hanna and others from the Wabanaki tribes. The focus of the novel, however, is on Ben’s childhood friend, Sean, who is part Irish and part Micmac Indian, and on Gert, his wife.

After the wedding, Sean and Gert move away from their native Smytheville on the Aroostook in the northern Maine wilderness. Hoping to escape some of the prejudices of the white settlers toward “half-breeds” and “savages,” Sean wants to live and work somewhere where nobody knows them and so the young couple settles near Sean’s brother, Joseph, in a little town called Prospect near Bangor, Maine. Sean and Gert work hard to carve a life for themselves and their growing family of four boys. The harsh life and the prejudices, however, follow them across the state. Accidents, the danger of alcohol, and the threat of the upcoming civil war threaten to destroy their dreams of a peaceful and prosperous life. However, the support of close friends and, above all, their family members back home in Smytheville help them overcome and keep the love alive. And not all of life is hard; there is plenty to be thankful for: the joy of children, the gorgeous landscape, and the celebrations with wonderful food and the company of loved ones.

As in the first part, the author uses her skill in language to paint a loving picture of the characters and the environment they live in. By means of vivid descriptions, she lets us take part in their lives, enjoy their successes and mourn their losses. We enjoy their adventures, taste the delicious homemade food, see the colors and smell the scents of nature. A lot of research must have gone into this book and the historical events are seamlessly woven into this heart-warming story of love and family. A truly wonderful work of literature!

Thursday, July 5, 2012

One of those days . . .

Sunday Morning in Santa Monica


(From Path of Fire, 2002)

A bus stops,                                                             
doors open and close,
then roars on, trailing
a cloud of black smoke.
A young man leans his head
against the window pane.

Next to a shopping cart
stuffed with plastic bags, a woman
sits on the park bench
hunched over
her head almost touching her knees.

I feel the moist air float by my cheeks.

An old man with a
green lopping hat stops in front of
Callahan’s coffee shop.
He sucks on his cigar
and puffs smoke rings
delicately
toward the sky.

Years ago,
I buried my father’s ashes
in a cemetery near  Zurich.
Today, I bless
my beautiful lonely life.