Summer of Hope, Summer of Dreams

My Summer of Hope - Ebook Largelatest book, Summer of Hope, Summer of Dreams, was launched yesterday!  (see sidebar to the right to purchase–yes, a self-serving plug, there).  The book was just put out for public consumption, but it was a long time in the making–made even longer due to some delays beyond my control.  The title is a metaphor for the subject matter of the book, and is a play on a Springsteen song title, Land of Hope and Dreams–also in the book.

I grew up in a small steel town in West Virginia and was a rabid Bruce Springsteen fan (still am, of course).  A common theme running through almost every one of his songs is that of keeping hope and having faith.  Although confronted by what seems like a dead-end–in your hometown, or in your relationships, or in the despair of a post-9/11 America–Springsteen sings about the light at the end of the tunnel.  He reasons that in the most trying of times, even though despair threatens to overtake you,  keeping your dreams alive, and allowing yourself to hope and have faith that it will be so, will get you through your darkest of days.  As it is in Summer of Hope, Summer of Dreams.

Becoming an author is a dream come true for me.  Sheer blind faith led me to where I am in my writing today (see the connection?).   Summer of Hope, Summer of Dreams is my latest baby, and it was a true labor of love.  I hope you will read it.  I hope you will enjoy it.  And to that end, I hope that when you finish it, you will feel that sense, as I have since my childhood, that we can have faith in our dreams coming true.

“Once Upon a Time”

“Once upon a time, in a land far, far away …” Can you imagine opening a new book, turning to the first page, and reading those words?   Pick up any how-to book (do they still print those?) or go to any online forum, and you—the aspiring new author—are told to never, ever start a book with: “It was a dark and stormy night…” Or anything of that sort. Why not? Because any literary agent or publisher you are trying to woo won’t get past those first few words. Because, according to them, it’s wrong.

Someone needs to explain that to me. Isn’t writing a form of art? Since when was something artistic capable of being “wrong?” Was Monet wrong for breaking from tradition to help create impressionism? Was Picasso wrong for cubism? How about Tolstoy—War and Peace? Orwell? Kerouac? Salinger? Harper Lee? Tom Wolfe?

Art is like fashion: in today, out tomorrow. It is subject to the whims of society as it then exists. Van Gogh was hated in Arles and sold one painting during his life. Can you imagine if he listened to his critics and stopped painting his way? He may not have achieved fame and fortune during his lifetime, but his art is society’s treasure.

Not every budding author is going to find success or fame. In reality, very few will. But the problem in the literary world—the traditional literary world—is that it is all about the money and not enough about the art. Publishers and the literary agents who feed them their material are the traditional gatekeepers of the art. And they’re failing in that role. Who is to say there isn’t a brilliant author who purposely starts a story “once upon a time,” or “on a dark and stormy night,” who then spins a remarkable tale that is remarkable, in part, because the book began that way? Or is written in a unique voice, or with unique, convention-ignoring grammar? Is that wrong? Or is it art?


Hello, I must be . . . Writing

Hello, I must be . . . Writing

So, it’s been a while since I’ve written on this blog.  Without getting into the gory details, I was too busy dealing with family illnesses to be able to write.  Actually, it wasn’t that I was too busy–it was that I couldn’t.  I couldn’t write–an act that to me is a joyful exercise–while I was in the midst of some not-so-joyful stuff.

My wife kept telling me that I should be writing.  She said that writers do their best work when under emotional strain.  That their writing under such conditions brings out their best, most pure feelings.  That some of the most famous novels were written by authors who were suffering.

Well, if that concept applies generally to all writers, I guess I am the exception to the rule.   I just couldn’t do it.  Not one word, for a long while.  Not here, not on my new book project.  But, as with all things, time acts as a salve (any fans recall where they read that line before?), and I feel capable of writing again.  Thank goodness!

I am busy finishing up the new book, but not quite ready to give any spoilers.  Umm, ok, a little spoiler:  If you grew up at or around a small steel town in the late 70s, the scenery will be very familiar to you.  ‘Nuff said (for now).

The most common question I’ve been asked by my readers is how I come up with ideas for my books.   The truth is that every day ideas pop into my head for a new book, and they just come from my observations.  What I read, what I watch, what I see.  A person walking alongside of a country road — there are a whole slew of potential stories there.   A story in the paper or on the web might trigger an idea, or even standing in line at a grocery store.  I see something or somebody, and nuances frolic through my mind.  The ideas are always there.  But, to state the obvious, it’s what you do with the ideas that matter.  A quirky thing that I do though, is avoid reading any book that I think might involve the same situation or general story line as one I’m working on, because I don’t want to risk that something I’ve read is going to find its way into my writing.   When I was writing Sandy Cove, I was watching television one night and a promotion for Nicholas Sparks’ Nights in Rodanthe came on and I had a mini panic attack.  I didn’t even know what that story was about, but I knew that Rodanthe is in the Outer Banks and that Sparks’ books are love stories, which was exactly what I was writing.  I did the “lalalalalalala” and put my hands over my ears.  Ok, it’s weird, but I wanted to be sure that I didn’t taint my writing with his story line.

Writing is such a personal thing.  It’s about what’s going on upstairs, in the author’s head, at any given time.  I couldn’t write like Stephen King, because I don’t think like Stephen King  (Who does?).  I hear it in my head and I write it (okay, that is a little freaky–like Stephen King).  And it’s revealing bits of yourself to the world, which is in itself a leap of faith that the world won’t think badly of you.  It’s fun and scary and exhilarating to know that people are out there in the world, reading your words.   But that means you have to write.   Which reminds me–back to work!




Labor of Love, Or Fool’s Errand?

What do you call something that is years in the making, gives you no immediate tangible reward, and  ultimately opens you up to widespread criticism?   Torture?  Or nirvana?  I call it doing what you were meant to do.

I once read about a math wiz, a savant, who didn’t know how he was able to do what he did–it was just a part of him.  To him, it was normal.  To everyone else, it was remarkable.

I can’t sing or write songs or draw or paint, and I’m smart enough to know not to even try.  But I can write.  Don’t get me wrong:  I’m no savant–at anything.  But I’ve always been complimented on my writing.  Whether a short story, a letter or a simple (to me) email, I’ve received unsolicited praise, but I’ve never really understood what the big deal is–it’s just me and it’s just writing.  So, I thought, maybe that’s my calling, and maybe I should do something with it–I’ll write a book.  I just didn’t realize the time and effort and sacrifice that writing a book would entail.

In hindsight, mine was a thoughtless leap of faith.  Just because you can string a couple of sentences together doesn’t mean you can make up a compelling story or write good dialogue.  And maybe I can’t, at least not well.  But I did enjoy the process.  Even though it took me years, without reward, and that now, it may open me up to ridicule.

My words are my brush, my keyboard my canvas.  Time to paint.

Write or Wrong

Can I start calling myself a writer?  Or an author?  Have I earned it yet?

Some background:  A long time ago, on an uneventful day at work, in the days of the poingo poingo of internet connections (read  as the internet was not readily accessible), I sat at my desk pondering a scene that had popped into my brain with complete clarity.  I mean, every sensory nuance of the scene, sights and sounds and smells, was fully developed.  And I didn’t know what to do with it.  So I started writing, evicting from my brain this complete thought that was almost painful to ignore until it was purged.  And what appeared on the screen in front of me was that scene, final draft, no additions, changes or rewriting necessary.

It was the opening scene for a story–a book–but I didn’t know where to go from there.  So I showed it to my wife, and after she read it (and initially looked at me as if I was from another planet), she told me to write the book.  She might as well have told me to jump off a bridge.  But naive person that I was, I tried, and it went fairly well–at first.   Then I got to that certain point in the story that I now know as the line in the sand.  That point in time where you think it’s all garbage and a waste of time and oh my God, what was I thinking?  And at that point you can either push through and have faith in your ability, or you can punt.  I punted.  I put what I had printed into a drawer, and moved on with my life.

Fast forward ten years and endless entreaties by my wife to start writing again, to not push aside those scenes of clarity that kept popping into my head.  And one day, once again, I just had to purge one of those scenes from my brain.  But this time, I decided that good or bad, I was going to finish what I had started, and the surprising thing was that each day that I sat down to write, new thoughts did come into my head, and new scenes and characters and new story lines developed from thin air (i.e. the recesses of my brain).

Everybody writes differently.  Someone once told me that I had to have the whole story outlined and every character’s profile fully developed before I could write the first paragraph.  Wrong advice for me.  Some people, like me, just sit down and start writing and somehow, a story begins to flow forth.  I may have some mis-steps, I may go down a path that ends with the worst thing ever–the delete button.  But that’s how it works for me.

So I’ve completed book one and I’m well into book two.  Book one is getting published–my way, which is the subject for another day.

Have I earned the title Writer?  Author?  Have I?

And Another Thing . . .

Steven Recht's thoughts and musings about . . . well . . . everything

A Newbie's Guide to Publishing

Steven Recht's thoughts and musings about . . . well . . . everything

Reed Next's Next Read

Steven Recht's thoughts and musings about . . . well . . . everything