Monday Musings: My Bright Idea—Stocking Stuffers


by Kathleen Valentine

Back in October I had this sudden realization that the holidays were fast approaching. This is nothing new for me—I tend to spend most holiday seasons in total denial and look forward with unbelievable longing for December 26th. It’s not really that I am terribly Scroogy, it’s just that, like many writers, I resent demands on my time when I’d rather be writing. We are selfish people.

2014 was not the best year I’ve ever had. I took on too many projects that turned into long, drawn-out, complex ones that ate up far too much of my time. I hope I learned from that and will know better in the future. So, as I contemplated the coming holiday season and idea came to me. Like every writer, what I longed to do was annoy the heck out of all my friends by continuously reminding them that books make excellent gifts—especially my books, but I know that is bad form. And then I had this bright idea—what would happen if I made a book specifically designed to be a “stocking stuffer” and priced it low enough that people would actually buy it? This would mean I wouldn’t make a profit on it, but it would be a good way to get my work out there in a cheery, holiday way.

I have a few series of books one of which is called Secrets of Marienstadt. All the tales in this series are loosely based in legends and folklore from the Pennsylvania Dutch community I grew up in. In 2011 I released the first Marienstadt story, The Reluctant Belsnickel of Opelt’s Wood, based on the custom of Belsnickel practiced in my hometown. In 2012, I published another Marienstadt story, a novel, called The Christmas Daughter, about a big, tough biker guy who suddenly finds himself the father of a shy, fragile, and vulnerable little girl. Recently I wrote another Marienstadt story called Treeing, which I was saving for a possible future collection. Since all three stories have a Christmas theme, I thought about combining them in one volume. I called it A Very Marienstadt Christmas and it would only be available in paperback—not digital, simply because the purpose is to encourage people to give it as a gift. Would it be a good idea? It was worth a try.

As I startedAVMCpromo2 the design of the book I had another brain-storm. Throughout the Marienstadt stories, much of the action takes place in Lola’s Strudel Shop and descriptions of the delicious pastries Lola serves are often remarked on by readers. What, I thought, would happen if I “spoke” to Lola and requeste that she write a chapter for the book telling about strudel and her recipes. It seemed like a good idea.

By the end of November the paperback was ready and I uploaded it to CreateSpace. Within days it had sold enough copies to make me feel encouraged that this was a worthwhile effort. Plus, I bought a couple cartons of them myself to give as my Christmas gifts.

I don’t know how long I will keep the book available but I think at some point I will withdraw it from distribution—it remains to be seen. And it also remains to be seen what, if anything might come of it. But one thing being an indie writer has taught me is that we can be as creative as we like and that is half the fun. Merry Christmas, Happy Holidays, Happy Belsnickel, etc. I’ll keep you posted.


Monday Musings: Not Black, White or Arab


By Mohanalakshmi Rajakumar


bannedI was less thrilled but potential readers kept assuring me the news was the best kind a writer could hope for.

“I wish I could get my book banned,” an independent author said when the news reached her.

“Your book’s been banned? Congratulations! Now I want to read it. Must be really good,” someone posted on the Facebook wall of our local writers’ group.

Their reactions were celebratory and meant to be supportive.

I, however, was busy writing to everyone on my Facebook author page who had been photographed, smiling, holding a copy of said banned book.

You should know the book has been banned for sale in Qatar. I hoped the email struck the right note of informative without alarming. If you would like me to remove your photo I will.

No one asked me to; rather in their replies, they cheered me on. One among them, a woman with a legal background did ask: what personal liability does holding a copy of the book in a photograph present?

I don’t know, I replied honestly. A few days later, I still don’t.

But the ban didn’t stop someone else from sending her driver over, with cash, to purchase three copies. Nor did it hinder a colleague from asking me to set aside three paperbacks for her.

Another friend suggested I raise the price.

“I’m paying 35 riyals for this cup of coffee,” she said (about ten dollars). “You should definitely charge more than $14.”

Love Comes Later. I sat across a 4 foot table from women of various ages, who nodded their heads at my 30 second elevator pitch at writers’ conference in New York City.

Abdulla’s grandfather is dying and his family wants him to produce a child for Jassim to hold. No one knows his unborn child died with his wife. He never wants to marry again. They’re drawing up the marriage contract to his cousin.

One 12 hour flight back to Doha, and several emails to agents later, the pragmatic rejections trickled back to my inbox.

Your writing is lovely but this isn’t for me, another wrote, giving me the literary backhand of having a nice personality.

Overseas setting? Male main character? I don’t know how to sell something like this. Consider changing the point of view said another.

Declinations by night while during the day, working at an international publisher who had set up shop in Doha, ostensibly to give a platform to new voices.

As far as they and their backers were concerned, I had another problem, far worse than point of view or setting. I wasn’t writing in Arabic. Or even Arab. Not even half.

Growing up in America, I was familiar with being the wrong color. I wasn’t white but I wasn’t black. Brown was not a category people understood in North Florida in the 1980s.

As a writer living in the Middle East, I’m still the wrong color. I’m not white but I’m not Arab either.

Perhaps it makes complete sense that my book features no Anglo characters, another limitation a freelance editor pointed out in passing.

And maybe this book was destined to be banned in Qatar, the very country that inspires the setting, culture, and characters. Because its writer has never completely belonged anywhere either.  


Monday Musings: How a Book Springs to Life


Art © Dreamstime

Ask a beginning novelist how she writes a book and you’ll get an explanation about process. She’ll tell you about the sequentially numbered index cards denoting scenes and chapters, and the way she strings them together. Perhaps she’ll regale you with the latest tricks she learned at a writer’s conference, something about goal, motivation and conflict, or how use of the hero’s journey makes the step-by-step creation of her book all the more easy.

Or instead, she may give a careless shrug then explain about her daily dash to Starbucks and the leather chair she always chooses because it overlooks the bay. The breaking whitecaps on the sea swept beach mingle with the scents of the coffeehouse to provide a catalyst sure to send her fingers flying across her iPad.

Process, all of it.

What our fresh-faced scribe doesn’t know yet is that each novel is as different as each child in the brood you might raise. Some works are built from the architecture of a hundred visits to the library for research and a dozen interviews conducted with painstaking precision. Other stories strike in a thunderbolt of inspiration that carry the writer from one chapter to the next without a clear understanding of how it will all pan out.

I can’t tell you how many novels I’ve written. I wrote my first in college and, like most of those early attempts, it sits dusty and unloved in the corner of a forgotten closet. The novels I now publish gain sinew and muscle from those years of practice, yet each arrives in its own unique way. Treasure Me is the book I think of as the thunderbolt.

In 2007, I had just come through the twin tragedies of divorce and my mother’s death after her long battle with cancer. One night I thought, “If I don’t write something to make myself laugh, I’ll never stop crying.” The next morning Birdie appeared, dangling from a window, trying to escape from the man whose pocket she’d picked. That first scene in Treasure Me wasn’t plotted out. It rose from my subconscious in a mad flurry of typing.

As the book progressed, I enjoyed the challenge of making Birdie sympathetic to readers. Why should any of us care about a thief? By mid-story, it becomes clear why she’s led her chosen life, and why she wants to change. I’m an adoptive mother of four children, and some of Birdie’s characterization undoubtedly arises from the experience. Whether you’re talking about my kids or a character like Birdie, the facts are clear: children who have suffered abuse and neglect do not always reach adulthood as model citizens. It takes time to heal their wounds and get them to trust in a mother’s forever-love—something Birdie experiences when she meets Liberty’s town matriarch, the fiery Theodora.

Here’s a secret, or two: When I penned Treasure Me, I had no idea I’d end up living in Charleston, South Carolina. And Birdie’s ancestors, the Postells, are also drawn from fact: my French ancestors arrived in Charleston in 1681. Folks here may think of me as just another Northerner invading their beautiful city, but I’m probably related to half the Postells in the proud state of South Carolina.



What Readers Have In Common, by Christine Nolfi



TheDreamYouMakeShadedTo my mind, the lot of humanity is separated into distinct camps. In the first, you’ll find most people, the busy bees and the slackers, the viciously ambitious and the sadly confused. Your employer resides in this camp with her irritating habit of texting her lover while you try to conduct a conversation. So does the gap-toothed cashier at the drugstore, the neighbor with his fixation on golf and the acquaintance who drinks too much. The ranks are filled out with politicians, pastry chefs, gang members, and churchgoers. You’ll also find doctors, college students, dog lovers and pencil pushers.

In the other, much smaller camp sit the readers of fiction, those obsessive souls with nightstands crammed with books. They read on the bus, while dining, on the beach and in the john. They arrive late for parties because “just one more chapter” beckoned.

Why, you may ask, does anyone pick up the habit?

Sure, reading is pleasurable—but not merely for the reasons you assume. Immerse yourself in a story and you shuck off responsibility, choose your companions, avoid everyday tasks and explore an inner world most people never visit. A favorite novel takes the reader on a journey into distant lands and unusual lives. The experience is more compelling than a day-to-day life with its dull predictability and frustrating demands. The process allows the analysis of hundreds of motives and the passage through experiences we’d never otherwise know.

A novel promises two stories—a surface plot, and a deeper exposition of what really happened. A character’s motives are revealed in chapter twelve, or a plot twist arrives to rip away the veil and display the true happenings in a heartfelt or hideous way. Avid readers learn to hunt for meaning, and they carry this lesson into the other world, the one of 9-to-5 tedium. They live richly because they enjoy many lives and embark on adventures in the most unlikely places—on lunch breaks and while sitting on the sidelines of a child’s soccer practice, in the elevator and late at night curled up in bed.

The rest of the world exists in a surface life. Not you. Open a book, and dive deep.

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ChristNolfi Author Photo1ine Nolfi’s contemporary novels provide readers with heartwarming and inspiring fiction. Her debut Treasure Me is a 2012 Next Generation Indie Awards finalist. Midwest Book Review lists Treasure Me, Second Chance Grill and The Tree of Everlasting Knowledge as “highly recommended.” Look for her next release, The Dream You Make.