Monday, February 19, 2018

Four Writers and Four Writing Stages--Part II

As I mentioned last week, this is the second post in a two-part series on the variety of stages writers go through when producing a book. Thanks to Jean Hall who said that she is "always in the middle of creation or revision of picture books." Julian Daventry said, "I'm about to start editing my trilogy, after getting all three books drafted. There's still much to be done, but reaching the 'all books are drafted' is a nice milestone. I'm ready for the next step!" Gray Marie contributed, "Sadly school has been detaining me, but I hope to speed up my progress this summer. I am currently outlining and writing out a few of the scenes in my attempt to piece together this puzzle of a story in my head." Sheri Levy wrote, "I am writing the my first draft of the third novel in the Trina Ryan series, For Keeps. My ideas are moving in the story, and I'm trying to write to the end before I start restructuring the plot. This part of writing is fun, but a long process."


JOYCE HOSTETTER


My book, DRIVE, (a story of twins, NASCAR, the Cold War, and competition) is in the design phase so it came back to me recently formatted by a typesetter.  At this point my task was to read through in search of typos, misplaced quotation marks, spacing issues, etc.  Of course, we writers are always tweaking so I slipped in quite a few requests for other small changes.

I began writing DRIVE in August 2016 at a Highlights workshop with my editor, Carolyn Yoder. Since it’s part of a series, I submitted a query and received a contract within a few months. I submitted it within seven months but should have allowed more time in my contract because writing two viewpoints is so hard!  I revised and resubmitted in July and it went through another round of revisions after that. All told – about a year and a half.

My first draft was a mess. Someone died who I decided not to kill after all. Also the twin protagonists weren’t attracted to the same boy and in the final version they are. Polio figures into the final version more than it did previously. The final version feels much more cohesive and I think the twins are more differentiated. Hopefully you still won’t know who to pull for.

After the latest changes have been applied by the typesetter I’ll be rereading again for nitpicky formatting issues. I’m quite certain if I ask for other changes my editor will disown me.

Here is the opening of DRIVE:
As terrible as it sounds, I wanted to rip the ribbons right off my twin sister’s drawing. First place in still life and grand prize! 
Ida stood beside me in the hallway at Mountain View School. She wasn’t saying much even if she was thrilled—which of course she was. But I knew she felt guilty about me only winning honorable mention in my category. For some reason I’d thought a portrait of Dwight D. Eisenhower would help me take first place. 
“I’m sorry, Ellie,” whispered Ida. 
“It’s okay,” I said. But I had to bite my lip to keep it from trembling. 
“Maybe you should’ve submitted that drawing of the red high heels. It was really good.” 
“No,” I said. “Because that would have been a still life and I wasn’t about to compete in the same category as you. But of course you beat me anyway.”

In her award winning BLUE, Joyce told the story of her hometown’s compassionate response to a polio epidemic. The characters of this quiet neighborhood took up residence in the hearts of readers so that now Bakers Mountain Stories include AIM, BLUECOMFORT and the forthcoming DRIVE. When Joyce isn’t writing, researching, or speaking about her books she is usually living the quiet friends-and-family lifestyle exemplified in her stories. She does, however, enjoy travel because the world is actually so much bigger than where she is from!  

CAROL BALDWIN 


Last June I switched over to writing Half-Truths from Kate's POV. That required digging deeper into Kate's backstory, re-thinking, moving chapters, writing new ones, and deleting a lot of material. I'm now close to the end of that draft. Next, I'll print the  manuscript and read it out loud. I'll fill in details that I hadn't taken time to research, check character arcs, hunt down cliche's, tighten, and polish. It will then go to a few beta readers, my two critique partners, and Rebecca Petruck, my wonderful writing coach. After that...I hope it'll be time to start querying agents! 

As some of you know, it has taken me over ten years to get to this point. Although the story takes place sixty years ago, I hope the themes of friendship, racism, and generational legacies will inspire introspection and communication among today's readers.

Here is a snippet from one of the ending chapters. This follows Kate's conversation with her grandmother about their family history:
I ache for my grandmother. For the little girl who was ripped away from her mother and grew up with half-truths fencing her in.  
Half-truths like long spindly fingers that reached out from the grave and strangled us all.



Monday, February 12, 2018

Four Writers and Four Writing Stages-- Part I

I recently hung out with three other writers for several days of writing, critiquing, eating chocolate and yummy food. (What is it about writers who must have the latter two to validate the first two?) Since each of us was at a different place in our manuscript, I thought it would be interesting to share a few of the stages writers go through when writing a novel. 

I asked each writer to describe the present draft, how long she has been working on her novel, what the previous draft looked like, and what she was expecting to do next. I'm sharing two writers' stories this week and two next week. 


BARBARA CHARLES




I would consider this to be my third draft. The first two drafts were different POV’s. I finally decided on John’s POV in the first person. It seems to be working better for the story.

I have been working on this book for about five years (off and on). My goal is to get John’s story about his pirating days out to the many adventurous readers out there.

I had two previous drafts that were just not working – the story was flat and the characters lacked motivation. When I switched to John’s first person POV, this breathed new life into an otherwise “blah” manuscript.

I continue to delve into John’s motivations and deepen his character. John and the runaway slave will set aside their differences later in the story.

Here is the pitch and a snippet from Barbara's book:

In "The Brotherhood of Pirates," young John King sets sail on a journey that will forever change his life. Set in 1716 and based on true events, when John's ship is attacked by pirates, he is compelled to run away with them and live the pirate's life.


Brotherhood of Pirates
November, 1716 

What ten year old boy wants to travel with his mother? Not me. But what did it matter now? I am already sailing on the Bonetta with her and have been for several weeks. This is the final leg of our journey as we head home to Antigua. 

“John King! Get down from there right this instant!” 

“Yes, Mother.” I jumped down from my perch, a rickety brown crate, and dutifully stood beside her. Her lips were moving but I paid her no mind. All I heard was endless chatter, the kind that could give a lad quite the headache. 

“Stand right here,” she said, pointing to an imaginary line on the deck. “I will return momentarily.” She adjusted her sunhat with one of her white-gloved hands and wagged the finger of her free hand in my direction as a warning. She walked away, her high heels clippety-clopping on the deck, like horse hooves on cobblestone.

Barbara lives in Hickory, NC and works with her husband in their two businesses. She enjoys writing in her spare time and is anxious to send Brotherhood of Pirates out into the world of readers looking for new adventures.

 MONICA ROE


I'm on the home stretch of what I call the first hard revision. I'm working to fill in the plot holes, timeline gaps, and overall inconsistencies that I try not to get too distracted by when I'm pushing to get a rough draft onto the page. The hard revision takes me awhile--I've been working on this one for almost three months and I still have about 38 pages to tackle. It's also a tougher draft, in many ways than the rough--because I have to go back and actually make all the big, creative leaps of the rough draft fit into a reasonable plot and narrative framework. But once this pass is complete, revisions become much more joyful and manageable. 

I let an idea roll around and compost in my brain for awhile before actually putting my fingers on the keyboard. So I'd say the initial idea occurred to me about a year and a half ago. I really got started on rough drafting almost exactly a year ago. The start-to-finish rough draft took me from September--late November of 2017 and I've been in revisions ever since. 

First drafts, in my opinion, are pretty much always awful--or at least mine are. This may not be the case for more skilled writers! The challenge, I think, is to give yourself the freedom to not get too distracted by first-draft crumminess. You're just laying the track at the point for better things to come in subsequent drafts. 

I hope to push through the rest of the hard revision in about 1-2 weeks. Then the manuscript will go out to 2-3 of my regular critique partners. Once I receive and incorporate their feedback into another 1-2 (much lighter) revision passes, I will seek out someone who hasn't read any of my early drafts or heard anything about the story. Fresh eyes are very important at this stage of the revision. I work with several trusted critique partners, who know my work well and have offered invaluable thoughts and feedback on all stages of the draft. When I (and they) feel like the manuscript is getting close, that's the time to find a reader who hasn't heard a thing about the story. 

Originally from upstate New York, Monica now lives in central South Carolina, where she, her family, and their honeybees own and operate Old Swamp Apiary. When she isn't beekeeping, Monica travels between the Alaskan bush and southern Belize as a physical therapist. Her first novel, Thaw, was published by Front Street Books and was a Cybils finalist. 

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Those of you who are writers know that it seems as if there are an infinite amount of drafts and revisions before reaching "The End." What stage are you in? Brainstorming? Outlining? A messy first draft or a final-before-I-send-it-out-into-the-world draft? Are you querying agents? I'd like to hear your comments--and maybe I'll incorporate your answers into a future blog!

Monday, February 5, 2018

You Heard it Here First: Cover Reveal for Linda Phillips Second Book!

Since Carol already covered the path to publication of my second book (Light Messages/July 2018), we thought it would be fun to go into detail about the cover development process. 

First, the title has been changed from Heart Behind These Hands to Behind These Hands.  Here is the blurb:  

Fourteen-year-old Claire Fairchild has always known music would be her life.  She enters a prestigious contest pitted against Juan, a close childhood friend.  It doesn’t help that her thoughts about him have turned romantic. But nothing compares to the devastating news that both younger brothers have Batten disease. 

While attending a conference about this rare neurodegenerative disorder, Claire receives word that she has won the contest. Her musical goals no longer seem relevant.  She can’t reconcile the joy that classical music would bring to her life while her brothers are succumbing to an early and ugly death.  

When Claire accompanies a friend on a school newspaper assignment, she meets a centenarian with a unique musical past and only one regret in life. Claire knows something in her life has to change before it’s too late, but what will it be?  

THE PROCESS


I am fortunate to have an editor, Elizabeth Turnbull, who has drawn me into the cover selection process from the beginning.  

When Elizabeth sent me this first cover proposal, she liked that it was bright, fit the Teen/YA motif, and that it illustrated the musical aspect without being too literal.  She acknowledged that while this book has a serious theme, the cover was playful enough not to scare readers away. 


My first reactions were positive but I had questions. At that point we were still uncertain about the title, so I wanted to know if Behind These Hands would work with this picture as well as Heart Behind These Hands. I wondered if the picture of the girl with the hand-heart signal shouldn’t be bigger. At first glance, I liked that the colors were youthful and bright. 

Elizabeth agreed that the hand-heart might be more prominent, and at that point, she was leaning towards the longer title, but she asked if I would like her to test the two options with young readers. I immediately said “YES” and thought how lucky I am to have an editor who values my opinion. Maybe that emboldened me because I confessed that pink had never been my favorite and could we try some other bold colors. I made another suggestion, accompanied by a picture of my granddaughter making the heart shape closer to her heart instead of her eyes. 

Enter Carol after I invited her into the conversation.  (remember:  joined at the hip writing buddies?)  She was unsure about the colors, but she asked if I wanted her to send out the picture to several teens, some of whom had taken her writing classes.  “YES!” I shouted again.

These teen readers responded with variations on the same reaction:  the cover implied this was a “cute, fluffy read” or a “light romance.” One indicated that the color combos weren’t her favorite either, and she suggested replacing the lavender font with a navy blue. When I passed this info on to Elizabeth, I began to worry about whether we had gone too far in the wrong direction.  I asked if we could try a girl at the piano.

Elizabeth was way ahead of me, and said they had already tried that and visually, it didn’t work.  She wanted to avoid getting too literal with the book and the characters.  She also said after testing the two titles broadly with young readers and on Twitter, they were running neck and neck.  She agreed the color scheme should be changed.  

At this point I felt both appreciative that my input had been sought, and confident that those who know more about cover art than me were hard at work. Then one day, while I was sufficiently occupied with revisions, this new image appeared in my inbox.


Elizabeth felt that the model covering her eyes reflected the protagonist’s desire to do the same.  She said the color scheme “popped” and had definitely moved away from “fluffy.”  She graciously said “I’m glad you pushed us to keep rethinking.”  She requested my input again. 

I loved the colors, but experienced a “disconnect” about the covered eyes.  I just didn’t relate to it—at first.

Elizabeth responded with solid reasoning. “I think the hands over the eyes also add movement and interest. They build curiosity. You want to allow the reader to picture the character in their own imagination. So that's why you'll see so many profile shots, back shots, or other obscured views of models.”

Sensing that I still had hesitations, she elaborated on the market research. “When we tested the idea of a piano image, your target readers indicated they'd be less likely to pick up the book because they'd be afraid it was ‘boring’ and only about ‘classical music.’ One of the things I love so much about Behind These Hands is that it IS about piano and classical music, and it's presented in such a fresh and youthful way that all kinds of readers will get into it. You make these themes cool and relatable, but first we have to draw the readers in with the cover.”

These words from Elizabeth turned the tide for me. She knows infinitely more than I do about cover appeal, and besides all that, she believes in my book!  

I was humbled and responded, “I appreciate your empathy for the teen market.  Another thing that just occurred to me is the tie in to the eyes and the ability to see. Blindness is a big part of Batten Disease.  And then there is Claire’s own evolving vision of how she sees herself in relation to her brothers.” 

Elizabeth and I went back and forth one more time about the title, and in the end, we both agreed Behind These Hands was the best fit.  She said, “It's a strong title that invites the reader to wonder ‘What is behind these hands?’  Nobody will mistake this for a teen romance!”



Elizabeth sealed the deal. “I'm so glad you like the cover! We'll start populating online sites with the book data and cover.  P.S. You might want to do a "cover reveal" with your readers!”

Enter Carol!!

And to that I say, “Thank you, Carol, for once again giving me entrée into the writing world.”


Linda Vigen Phillips has a passion for verse and realistic fiction that offers hope and encouragement to anyone facing mental or physical health challenges. Her debut book, Crazy, has led to mental health advocacy through NAMI and the development of a drop-in center for persons with mental illness in Charlotte. Visit her at www.lindavigenphillips.com 

Monday, January 29, 2018

My Family Four Floors Up- A Picture Book Review and Giveaway

Congratulations to Cat Michaels who won a customized indigo scarf from last week's blog. Stay tuned for more information about Pumpkintown Primitives!

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One of the benefits of being a book reviewer is receiving books that I can share with you. Today's giveaway is a brand new picture book, My Family Four Floors Up written by Caroline Stutson and illustrated by Celia Krampien (Sleeping Bear Press, 2018).


In simple verse--which Caroline admitted she was told never to do when she started her career as a writer--this lovely picture book takes readers through the day of a young city dweller. Readers will appreciate the diverse community in which the main character lives.

Although Caroline spent most of her life in Littleton, Colorado, she grew up in Brooklyn, New York. It is obvious that her formative years inspired My Family Four Floors Up.

Notice in these illustrations how colors are emphasized, a pattern that continues through the book.




This is my favorite spread because it shows such movement and activity:

A perfect book for bedtime, the book ends with: 

WRITING PICTURE BOOKS


Picture books--particularly those written in verse--appear deceptively simple to write. But that is far from the truth. Here is an article (in verse no less!) that author Margot Finke wrote on the subject. 

If you are an aspiring picture book writer, here's another article by Finke on The Purple Crayon website. She suggests:

Choose Adjectives and Verbs the Way a Jeweler Selects Gems

Verbs -- strong and powerful verbs are a picture book writer's best friend. Strong active verbs help you craft text that grabs the young reader, and keeps their interest.

Adjectives -- don't fall for the idea that if one adjective is good, two more will work wonders. Like a jeweler choosing the perfect gems for a necklace, unearth adjectives that are perfect gems.

Although I don't know if Caroline read that article, she demonstrated her ability to pick "perfect gems" in My Family Four Floors Up.


GIVEAWAY

To enter this giveaway, please leave me a comment by February 2. Make sure you leave your email address if you are new to my blog.


Monday, January 22, 2018

"What Do You Do Besides Write?" -- And a Fantastic Giveaway

If you're a writer, are you ever asked, "What do you do when you're not writing?" Of course, we have food to cook, houses to clean (more or less), a job to go to, children or elderly parents to care for...the list is unending.

But what do you do for fun? Do you feed your writing muse through any other activity?

In this first post in my new mini-series, I'm going to share how I spent a Saturday helping Renee and David Gillespie, professional living historians and owners of Pumpkintown Primitives, prepare for an historical marketplace. 



This was taken in Beaufort, NC in 2017. The Gillespies are standing in front of
Captain Sinbad's ship which he built by hand. Notice Renee's dress.
She dyed the fabric and the dress was made by Fort Downing.

Weeks before I volunteered to help, Renee (also known as my favorite Indigo Girl) died silk scarves.

Notice how when extracted from the vat, the cloth is first green,
then within 60 seconds after hitting the air, the cloth turns a nice shade of deep blue!

Sometimes Renee dies the fabric 6-8 times to get the color she wants.
After stirring the vat of indigo dye, she hung up the fabric and scarves to let them dry.



The fork which Renee uses to stir the vats
was owned by Jim Lyles, a "dyeing genius" who
taught at the University of Tennessee in Knoxville.



By the time I got there, she had already soaked the scarves in alum and set the color with mordant.

Renee demonstrated my job, which was a simple task compared to the hours she had already invested into each scarf.



Afterwards, we had a nice pile of scarves of many different shades of blue.



Renee is experimenting with men's ties and matching handkerchiefs.
Renee also marbleizes scarves.Wouldn't sets of these make
wonderful groomsmen gifts?

After I pressed them to make the color stick, Renee washed each piece again and then hung them out to dry.


Notice the bowties on the top left!
We were proud of our accomplishments!


I am holding a roll of scarves which
is how Renee transports them to a show.



David modeling one of Renee's
new creations--a marbleized bow tie
that I ironed!

I won't be able to attend their next event, but you can be sure that I'm going to try and attend one soon! 


Their booth at a previous show.


And who knows? Maybe in my spare time I'll become a reenactor too. You never know what I'll end up doing besides write!


Maybe I'll get to wear
an indigo scarf like this.

Renee and David take Pumpkintown Primitives on the road and have appearances in Florida, Georgia, North and South Carolina, Maryland, Virginia, and New Jersey. Contact them through their website and find out when they'll be in a town near you.

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NOW--for the fantastic giveaway!

Renee will make you a customized indigo scarf!  The winner will pick the shade of blue and the size of the scarf--square (33"x33") or rectangle (14" x 72").  Leave me a comment to enter this contest once. If you answer the question, "What do you do besides write?" OR share this on social media, OR become a new subscriber to my blog, your name will be entered twice. REMEMBER! Leave me your email address if you are new to this blog and how you shared it. Giveaway ends January 26. 

Monday, January 15, 2018

You Heard it Here First: Jean Hall's Dream Comes True!

Congratulations to Connie Saunders who won The Pursuit of Italy from last week's blog. She definitely is my all time highest winner! 

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This week I am happy to share publishing news from a dear and long-time friend, Jean Hall. Take it away Jean!

Jean and I at a writing retreat.
April, 2011

AGENT QUESTIONS

CAROL: How did you meet your agent, Cyle Young? Was he one of many agents you subbed to? 


JEAN: Six or eight years ago I tried sending proposals to several agents for my picture books. I received no responses and I was crushed. It’s a difficult truth to learn about the publishing business that agents and editors are too busy to respond to every proposal or submission. They receive hundreds, thousands of submissions and most of the time only respond to the best of the best and to those which fit into their philosophies, mission statements and current needs.

After that I continued to write and pray about my writing but didn’t have peace from the Lord to seek representation from any agency. Then, in 2016 I was introduced to Cyle by another author who is also his client. I eventually met Cyle face-to-face at another writer’s conference.

What you’ve heard is true. The best ways to make contact with agents and editors is either at writer’s conferences, or through personal introduction.

I emailed Cyle and asked if I could send him a sample manuscript. He agreed. Afterwards we arranged a phone call during which he explained how their representation works, then we agreed to pray about the decision. Later we agreed it was the Lord’s will to work together. I signed with him in June, 2016.

CAROL: Why do you think he signed you on?

JEAN: I think he decided my writing had reached a marketable level and because I was ready to make a commitment to work hard to get my stories published and to do a lot of work toward marketing them myself. He also believed it was God’s will.

And from Cyle's point of view: "Jean is an amazing writer with a great voice. I am honored to represent her." 

CAROLWas this the project you originally subbed to him, or were there others? 

JEAN: The first book of this set (of four) was the first thing I sent him. Cyle suggested that I make that book part of a series, so I redid the proposal for a set of four and worked on the second book. He's an extremely involved and innovative agent. He pushes me to stretch myself and try new things.

CAROL: How long did it take before you received an offer?

JEAN: One year later, Cyle and Little Lambs Books started discussing the contract. I actually signed with them in September, 2017.

BOOK QUESTIONS


CAROL:  What process did you go through in writing these four books? How long did you work on them? 

JEAN: I enjoy the changing seasons, especially fall. About ten years ago I was working on a lot of poetry. I was trying to improve my skill with using poetic devices. One such poem was about fall. On the twentieth or so revision I saw it could become a picture book. I polished it and sent it to a contest with ICL (I think). I got positive feedback from the person who critiqued it. But she insisted to be a story it needed a main character. So, after weeks of struggle I developed a boy six or seven years old to walk through the story scenes.

That isn’t the best way to do it, however. It’s a bit backwards. Most of my story ideas start with a strong main character.

CAROL: What was the inspiration behind the Four Seasons stories? 

JEAN: My inspiration was the beauty of every season of the year. The pastels of spring, the vibrant colors and sights of summer, the rapidly changing palate of fall, and the stark contrasts of winter are all beautiful to me. I wanted to share that beauty and the One who created it all with children and the adults who read to them. I wanted to show the love of God to children through the everyday scenes and events of their lives.

CAROL: What input did you receive from critique buddies? 

JEAN: Nothing I write would be worth publishing without my critique partners. I’ve learn to trust their various skills and areas of expertise. I have about twelve children’s writers whose suggestions and questions I trust. I weigh what they say, try the things that might work, and use those that make the stories better for my audience—children in preschool, kindergarten and first or second grade.

I tip my hat here to the amazing writing friends God has brought into my life the past fifteen years. They encourage me, teach me, reel me in, make me think in new ways and consider new possibilities. Here’s an example.

The editor at Little Lamb Books who liked my first two manuscripts in the Four Seasons series sent Cyle a message to ask me how soon I could finish all four. I asked, “When do you want them?” She replied, “By this weekend.” That was on a Tuesday. I prayed a 911 prayer, took a big breath and said I would give it my best. They had been floating around in my head for months, but I had nothing on paper or screen.

I immediately emailed the writing friends who have helped me for years, and a few that I had recently connected with. I explained my situation and asked for their prayers. All replied that would be praying! I also asked if anyone could be “on call” to respond to emails from me for critique and input. Six or seven replied that they could.

And they did. I sat at my computer for ten hours a day Wednesday through Saturday. With every change I’d send an email to these terrific friends. And they responded. Without them I could never have completed those manuscripts at all, much less in a few days.

Late Saturday night the manuscripts reached a point where I felt they were the best WE could make them at that time. So, I hit SEND. The editor liked all four stories.

Of course there will be edits. Some major. Some minute. I’m confident that just as God used my team of fellow writers, just as He used my agent, He will use the staff of my publishing house to make these four books the best they can be so they will bless children and their parents and caregivers.


I’m grateful and humbled by this opportunity.


Jean celebrating her publishing deal--
twelve years after learning to write for publication.
Look for the Four Seasons series in 2019. I'll plan to review at least one book and give it away on my blog. Meanwhile, Jean is continuing to revise the books and is working on a book about deserts and a picture book about a child inventor. 

Monday, January 8, 2018

The Pursuit of Italy: A History of a Land, Its Regions, and Their Peoples- An Audio Book Review and Giveaway. Part II


Please see last week’s blog for the first part of my review of the audio CD of The Pursuit of Italy: A History of a Land, its Regions, and the People. What follows is only a sampling of what Gilmour covers in this comprehensive history of a country he obviously loves. You have to read (or listen) to the book to glean all that I’ve left out.



The glorious revolution of 1848 marked a new beginning for Italy. General Giuseppe Garibaldi, a self-declared freedom fighter who is considered to be Italy’s George Washington, was one of Italy’s “father of the fatherland.” Along with Camillo Benso, Count of Cavour, Victor Emmanuel II and Giuseppe Mazzini, this generation of giants carried out the unification of the eleven states, kingdoms, and duchies. Although the revolution was lost and Italy continued to be divided with Austria dominating the north, the stage was set to build a nation. Under Garibaldi and Mazzini, attempts were made to improve the lives of the poor, provide secular education, and give freedom to the press. Interestingly, Garibaldi declined the invitation to fight for the Union when he realized he wouldn’t be made commander-in-chief and thus could not abolish slavery. 

Italian nationalism was not easily won and actually came about after the state was formed. In 1899 Giustino Fortunato declared that unification was “A sin against history and geography” because it ruined the south. “We are too long a country! The head and the tail will never touch each other. If made to do so, it would mean the head biting the tail.”

Verdi became a symbol of Italian aspirations. Although he was acclaimed as the great unifier, this was only a mystic fusion of his music with longed for unity of the nation. In fact, this was political revisionism: Verdi was not the great hoped-for unifier.

Gilmour is convinced that liberals, Catholics, and socialists underestimated fascist Mussolini. As prime minister, he ruled the country from 1922-1943 and didn’t need a revolution or coup to gain power. He took it constitutionally. No one seemed to take notice when he started taking over positions and squads began beating and killing political opponents. Fascism was like a religion which became equated with Mussolini. It was a technique to acquire power, and along the way, promote virility and maternity. Having just learned the word pastiche, I was interested in Gilmour’s description of Mussolini’s architecture as a pastiche of classism and fascism. 

No history of Italy is complete without the inclusion of the Mafioso. Begun in the mid-1800’s as a secret society in Sicily- an island that wanted autonomy for centuries--no one wanted to admit that the Mafia existed. Under Mussolini, he declared that the Mafiosi was destroyed. As a result, the press couldn’t report their rampant murders and robberies. Mussolini didn’t realize that the Mafia was a way of life, not just a sinister organization that could be extinguished through oppression.

During the latter part of the 20th century, the Mafioso grew stronger as their tentacles reached further into the government. Laws to criminalize the Mafioso were difficult to enforce. The Cammora rivaled the Mafia in its scale of violence. Between the two of them they were murdering on average over 500 people a year—lawmakers, journalists, and anyone who got in their way. “The Italian state had helped make its citizens prosperous, but it failed to provide security or to protect its officials. Politics, prosperity, and corruption seemed to mix very easily.”

Industrialization in the second part of the 20th century made Italy as prosperous as in the Middle Ages, exporting furniture, clothing, glass and ceramics. But it left scars of deforestation, cementing over olive and citrus groves, and damaging the landscape of the country which the author quite obviously deplored.

Silvio Berlusconi, who served as prime minister from 2008-2011, was a self-created politician. He did not help the economy as he promised, ignored Parliament, used his own television stations as his pulpit, and surrounded himself with a gaggle of young women. The Italian people forgave his sexual indiscretions because, after all, he was Italian. He advised women to marry someone as rich and seductive like him. He advised Italian men they could be like him if they tried. He routinely laughed off criticism and blamed everything that went wrong on the communists. He bowed to Rome although he was neither chaste or observant. Uneducated about Italian history or philosophy, he denied Mussolini’s terrorism. It was no surprise that the Mafia’s resurgence in the early 21st century coincided with Berlusconi’s ascendency as it became more invisible, but more invasive.

Gilmour often questions if Italy is truly a nation. As recently as 1994 the two main political parties- Communist and Christian Democracy--dissolved and in 1996 there was a short-lived attempt by northern Italy to secede. In recent years Spain’s GDP surpassed Italy. In 2010, China rivaled Italy in the production of spectacles, glass, shoes and clothing. Lethargy often predominates a country where, in 2008, only 16% of Italians trusted their politicians. In 2011, the 150st celebration of unification, the division between the poorer south and the rich north was still present. 

Despite bureaucracy and corruption, Gilmour admits that there is a distinct vibrancy to Italy. His last chapter, “Resilient Italy” discusses the ever-present importance of the family and the provincialism of small towns where Italians still enjoy their local piazzas and churches. 


Gilmour concludes that Italians have created some of the world’s greatest art, architecture, music, and one of its finest cuisines, but it has never been as good as the sum of all its parts.

The narrator, Napoleon Ryan, has an authentic British accent which fits the book, since David Gilmour was British and lived in Italy for many years. Ryan pronounced the Italian names perfectly which added authenticity to this audio book. Click here for an audio clip of the book.

Leave me a comment by January 12th (with your email address if you are new to my blog) to enter the giveaway. 

Tuesday, January 2, 2018

The Pursuit of Italy: A History of a Land, Its Regions, and Their Peoples- An Audio Book Review and Giveaway. Part I

Thanks to so many of you who visited last week's blog on Joyce Hostetter's cover reveal of DRIVE. The post had  1067 opens--which makes it the third most viewed post on my blog!

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If you are a secret Italophile or dream of touring Venice, Florence, and Pompeii like I do, then this book is for you. Although the talented author, Sir David Gilmour, says that this is not an academic work and is suitable for tourists and amateur historians, the depth and breath of this work is stellar. Almost 20 hours of audio (480 pages) provide the listener with everything you ever wanted to know about "the peninsula." As mentioned before when I review audio books, most of this material is paraphrased.


Audio book provided by Tantor Media

The author opens with the geography of the peninsula providing insight into the role the mountain ranges and rivers (which are less navigable then France or England) to the country’s agriculture and economy. 

From there he delves into mythology as well as ancient Italy including Cicero, Anthony, and other political leaders in the years before Christ. Immigration from other countries brought a variety of peoples to the peninsula including Greeks and Celts.

The Roman Empire was brutal in conquest but granted privileges of Roman citizenship, protection, tax advantages, and the right to stand for office. Around 91 BC the army was the chief agent of the process of Romanization of Italia with the hopes of creating a peaceful, united country. In fact, Italy was a land of city states, not a federation with a national ethnic identity. Empire building was the priority resulting in slavery, corruption, crucifixions, and commonplace murders.

The barbarian and Byzantine period which stretched from 330-1453, was colored by the presence of foreign rule, the memory of the pagan past, and the overwhelming force of the Catholic tradition. This era was marked by wars over territories, vying emperors, the territorial dominion of popes, and struggles for power and control between popes and emperors. Secular rulers who disobeyed the pope were commonly excommunicated. One example was Emperor Henry 4th who dismissed Pope Gregory and called him a false monk. In retaliation, the pope excommunicated the emperor and encouraged subjects to rebel. Although Gilmore didn’t spend much space on origins of papacy, he did comment that the papacy “didn’t care about religion until the reformation.” 

In Gilmour's opinion, Italy's system of city states was predestined to fall. Although the town centers were well preserved, small towns that were close together led to suspicion, anxiety about spies, and large predatory neighborhoods. Fears led to alliances and endless progression of little wars and "endemic factionalism." 

Conflicts with the Hapsburg Empire during the Middle Ages was a history of wars, conquests, divided republics and states. Italy tried to be a great nation and made alliances with France, Prussia, and Austria in attempts to be great.  

At the end of the 18th century, Napoleon led several campaigns to conquer Italy. Although Napoleon successfully carried off many works of art, he was  unsuccessful in conquering the country. Instead, Italy became more unified because the people were disillusioned with his unmet promises. 

Gilmour discusses the origins of words and organizations. The word ghetto was used in Venice to put Jews and other races in separate parts of the city for their protection. Jew wore particular clothing, but were bankers and doctors in a city known to be tolerant of various ethnicities. Caesar led to the Russian word Czar. The International Red Cross was founded because Henry Dunant’s reaction to a bloody battle in Solferino, Italy in 1859.

Gilmore incorporates Italy’s long history of love for written, visual, and musical arts. Virgil’s poetry had impact on Dante and Milton. In fact, Virgil’s description of the Italian countryside has had an enduring visual impact. Over time, art was often a window into politics. 1848, Italian operatic tradition gained a reputation no one would have predicted. The re-emergence of Italian opera was accomplished almost single handedly by Rossini.  


It is difficult to review a book of this length all in one post. Leave a comment this week as well as next when I post Part II and I'll enter your name twice. I'll pick a winner on January 12th. 

Four Writers and Four Writing Stages--Part II

As I mentioned last week , this is the second post in a two-part series on the variety of stages writers go through when producing a book. T...