Tuesday, December 30, 2008

A Dubious Year for Memoirs

For authors, publishers, agents, and readers 2008 will go down as a dubious year. In March, the memoir Love and Consequences, a story of foster care, sexual abuse, drugs, and gangs by Margaret B. Jones, turned out to be fiction. So did Misha: A Memoire of the Holocaust Years by Misha Defonseca, who pretended to be a Jewish girl living with wolves during World War II. Now the revelation that Angel at the Fence authored by Herman Rosenblat and recounting meeting his wife of 50 years while imprisoned at the Buchenwald camp is also a fabrication.

What makes these memoirs different from Jonathan Frey’s A Million Little Pieces is that these memoirs aren’t simply an exaggeration of real events, but complete and total fiction. Rosenblat has rationalized why he chose to write a memoir that was a lie by saying, “I wanted to bring happiness to people. I brought hope to a lot of people. My motivation was to make good in the world.” His former publisher, Berkley Books failed to see his logic, cancelling publication of the memoir slated for February.

Holocaust scholars and other survivors fear that fabricated stories such as Rosenblat’s will only encourage doubts about the Holocaust. They also argue that the Holocaust experience was by no means “heartwarming” but “heart rending” and that books such as Angel at the Fence trivialize the horror.

But there is also the issue of why the publishing industry continues to be so trusting of authors after being burned publicly so many times. In the case of each of these books, fact checking might have prevented such fabrications. However, the literary industry seems to be a willing sucker for stories of suffering and redemption. I’ve said this before - publishers appear to feel the more outlandish a true story or memoir the better, and the hell with checking the facts.

Occasionally, a reviewer will question whether Shades of Darkness, Shades of Grace is indeed inspired by a true story, however; I possess the evidence to back up that claim with court documents, newspaper accounts, correspondence, and other materials. Each of these “memoirs” told outlandish stories, yet by the time someone questioned the authenticity or blew the whistle on the author, it was too late. As 2008 draws to a close, publishers may want to put fact checking at the top of their New Year’s Resolutions.

Sunday, December 28, 2008

What's In A Title?

In a recent review of Shades of Darkness, Shade of Grace, a reviewer noted she never figured out what the title referred to. It actually references two things, which most anyone can relate to.

First, it makes reference to the internal struggles we all face, recognizing there are shades of darkness (sin) and shades of grace (goodness) within each of us. In other words, we experience degrees of grace as well as degrees of sin. What we do with that sin and grace is up to us. As Kay notes towards the end of the book, “Goodness and evil each present us with choices, and they are never as simple as they might appear”. In those choices we make through our own free will, some will contain the darkness of moral ambiguity and sin, while others move us closer to the beauty and goodness of grace.

Second, the Shades of Grace in the title is a reference to the saving grace of sobriety that both Kay and Paul experience and any addict can relate to. It is after all, sobriety that saves us from destroying ourselves and those closest to us. Again, there is the idea of the degrees of goodness the clean and sober existence in reclaiming our lives and making amends with those we have harmed.

In a nutshell, that’s what Shades of Grace, Shades of Darkness means, at least to me. There is no right or wrong answer, and because meanings are subjective, I invite readers of the novel who have different interpretation to e-mail me with their thoughts at: catherinejohns58@yahoo.com.

Friday, December 19, 2008

December Drunks

It’s the Holiday Season – presents, parties, and an uptick in drunken driving arrests. For law-enforcement officials and impaired drivers, December is National Drunk and Drugged Prevention Driving Month. In many states December is also the month law-enforcement officials crack down on DUI’s through a heavier presence of officers on the roads, sobriety checkpoints, and tougher Minimum legal drinking age (MLDA) laws.

Sobering Statistics
Every day, 36 people in the United States die and approximately 700 more are injured in motor vehicle accidents involving an impaired driver.

In 2006, 13,470 people died in alcohol-related crashes, accounting for nearly one-third (32%) of all traffic-related deaths in the U.S.

In one year, 1.4 million Americans were arrested for driving under the influence of alcohol or narcotics. This accounts for less than 1% of the 159 million self-reported incidents of driving under the influence reported each year.

Alcohol-related crashes in the U.S. cost approximately $51 billion a year.

In Shades of Darkness, Shades of Grace, a key scene occurs at the Pierson Companies employee Christmas party, where Paul’s wife Pamela flies into a drunken rage. Attending parties this holiday season, make sure you’ve made arrangements for getting home safely.

Plan ahead. Always designate a non-drinking driver before any holiday party or celebration begins.

Take the keys. Do not let a friend drive drunk.

Be a responsible host. If you’re hosting a holiday party, remind your guests to plan ahead and designate a sober driver. Provide non-alcoholic refreshments, and make sure all of your guests leave with a sober driver.

If you’re attending a holiday gathering in a hotel and you plan to drink, make arrangements to spend the night.
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Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Books: The Best Holiday Gift Value for 2008

In listing his favorite books of 2008, Stephen King pointed out that books “are still the best bang for your entertainment buck, and 2008 was a great year for reading”. King estimated the average cost of a movie for two (babysitter not included) averaged $24. I can attest to this. I saw Juno in the theater, and a single ticket, bag of popcorn, plus a Coke was $15. For a matinee.

King is onto something. In these tough economic times, we want every dollar to go further and that includes those carefully spent entertainment dollars. Taking King’s lead, here are my top choices for books to give this holiday season. However, unlike Uncle Stevie, my picks aren’t the best of 2008, only books read (and in one case written) this year.

Shadow Divers, Robert Kurson
The true story of two American weekend scuba divers who discovered a World War II German U-boat 60 miles off the New Jersey coast. All the records agreed there simply could not be a sunken U-boat at that location. Heart-pounding suspense and an amazing journey of self-discovery.

Seabiscuit, Laura Hillenbrand
One of the best sports biographies ever written. The book spins its marvelous narrative of nonfiction and history that reads like a beautifully written novel.

Moo, Jane Smiley
The brilliant satire of university life on a Midwestern campus. Rich, memorable characters populate the campus of Moo University.

No Country for Old Men, Cormac McCarthy
There’s a reason No Country took best picture honors for 2007. A spare crime novel that encompasses themes as ancient as the Bible and as bloody as any news headlines. It will haunt long after the last page is turned.

A Thousand Acres, Jane Smiley
Smiley’s modern re-telling of King Lear. A classic story of contemporary life among the American plains, of the human cost and heartbreak accrued over lifetimes spent trying to subdue the vast land.

Shades of Darkness, Shades of Grace, Catherine Johnson
Inspired by a true story, and encompassing the universal themes of love, family, loyalty, betrayal, and moral responsibility. The Pierson’s could be could be anyone’s family, ordinary lives upended by the darkest of malice.

Another great thing about books is that you can pass them onto friends and family or read them again at your leisure. Or you can donate books to organizations such as the National Institute for Literacy. Books are truly the gift that keeps on giving.

Sunday, December 14, 2008

A Great Year for Writing

I’m part a of number of social networking sites, most notable Author Nation dedicated to authors and the art of writing. This fall Author Nation sponsored an anthology contest. The rules were simple – any member of AN could enter the contest by posting a story which would be read and judged by other AN members. The top 25 stories would be part of the Anthology.

I posted a piece, Snap Judgment, a short story on our willingness to judge people based on their appearances only to realize those ‘snap judgments’ can often be so very wrong. There were close to 65 entries and during the Anthology Contest I read as many posted stories as I could, finding the caliber of writing to be superb. In early December the results were posted on the Author Nation site.

I was surprised and thrilled to discover that Snap Judgment finished in 10th place. What is particularly exciting is being critiqued by one’s peers and writing a work those peers found worthy enough to vote for. It’s truly gratifying to obtain positive reviews for my first novel and have a winning entry in a contest all in the same year.

Thursday, December 11, 2008

A Word of Thanks

In this season of goodwill, I want to take this opportunity to thank all the reviewers who have read Shades of Darkness, Shades of Grace and given the novel such outstanding reviews. Many of those same reviewers have conducted interviews with me, for which I am very grateful. They are:

Simon Barrett of the Blogger News Network
Norm Goldman of Bookpleasures
Front Street Reviews
Midwest Reviews
Joyce Collins at Nothing Binding Reviews
Rebecca’s Reads
Sabrina Sumsion of Sabrina’s Reviews
Lauren Smith of Virtual Book Review Network

Some of the reviews can be linked to here. The process has been both gratifying and surprising. Excellent reviews have obviously been gratifying. The aspect that has been so surprising is the number of male reviewers who completely understood Shades of Darkness, Shades of Grace, and easily related to the book’s honest portrayal of a family torn by divorce, and a child at the center of a custody battle. Women have loved the story too, but the male perspective has been particularly striking.

The reviews posted here don't include numerous other great reviews on Amazon. Thanks to all who have worked diligently spread the word about my first major writing endeavor.

Monday, November 24, 2008

Thankful For Family and Sobriety

What are the Pierson’s thankful for this Thanksgiving? In Shades of Darkness, Shades of Grace two key scenes take place over the Thanksgiving weekend. One concerns the difficulty many families experience in bringing everyone together long enough for a family photograph, and the other focuses on mounting concerns that all is not what it seems.

Even with Pamela causing mischief at seemingly every turn, the Pierson’s are thankful for two things – family and sobriety.

There’s no doubt family and the drama that is often part of “family” can make the sanest individual nuts. But it’s the common blood that binds us and makes us understand our willingness to fight to protect loved ones from harm. We may not always like one another, but there is an undeniable connection in family that blood does indeed run thick. But family is also something to be thankful for.

Kay and Paul’s struggles with alcohol are a key subplot of the novel, but so is the quest for sobriety. The devastation of drug abuse shows no prejudice, regardless of sex, age, income, education, class, race, or religion. In 2003, the last year for which figures were available, 21.6 million U.S. adults abused alcohol or were alcohol dependent. Those are staggering numbers and just one of the reasons the Pierson’s, like other Americans, are thankful for the gift of sobriety.

Saturday, November 8, 2008

One Fifth of the Way to a Novel

Okay, this is going to harder than I thought. Today I reached 10,421 words in the National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo) annual push, but I'm worried. What if I don't have enough story to get me to the end of this? Fifty-thousand words is a lot, and while I initially thought I was okay, um, this is going to be hard.

According the NaNoWriMo e-mail, I will get stuck and/or frustrated about now. By week four, I should feel like yodeling. Right. And originally, I was giddy enough to believe I might actually write more than 50,000 words. Silly me. It's not running out of gas that worries me, but the story sensibly coming to an end well before that 50,000 word finish. And they warn you that some of what you write will, in fact, be crap.

What I'm aiming for is a completed manuscript, from which I can cull ideas for my next book. NaNoWriMo also claims that Stephen King does this, and I'm wondering - does he worry about crap? Probably not.

It would be more than great to commiserate with an author of King's status and success, just to know he gets frustrated, stuck, bored, or all of the above. Or not. Forty thousand words to go, but who's counting?

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

43,129 Words To Go!

It's day five of National Novel Writing Month, and I'm 6,871 words into writing a 50,000 word novel in 30 days. Much better than I'd thought, especially after those first two days.

The first e-mail you get upon registering for NaNoWriMo is that you MUST ignore your Inner Editor, that innate urge to spend hours editing your work instead of writng. That led me to post, Someone Please Kill My Inner Editor! by Day 2. I did not think it was even remotely possible for me to complete this process. Now, in day 5 I've written 6,871 words and the story actually is making sense.

I'll be posting exerpts on the NaNoWriMo site in the near future. So there is a story (titled Francis Street), there is a plot, and there is even organization. What worries me more than even procrastinating is (1) the Thanksgiving holiday when we'll be traveling, and (2) running out of story, words, and orgnization WELL BEFORE November 30, 2008.

The plan is to front load my word count (read: write like hell well before November 30) so if I can't write over the holidays I'm still okay. So far the process has been thrilling, scary, exhausting, and frustrating. Twenty-five days and some odd hours to go!

Monday, November 3, 2008

Somebody Please Kill My Inner Editor!

One of the first things writer's are warned about who sign up for National Novel Writing Month is that on your way to your goal of writing a 50,000 word novel by November 30, this is no time to edit. Forget the urge, just write, write, write.

Yesterday, day two of writing, I was about ready to beg somebody, ANYBODY to kill my inner editor. I just could not stop myself. Today, the progress is much better, but this won't be easy. Fifty-thousand words is a lot of words in 30 days, and I have a need to have the story make sense.

What I am finding beneficial is to not write the story in sequence. Think of it as shooting a movie out of sequence, something that happens all the time. When I get stuck (which is a lot) I write one of the scenes that's already formed in my head, no matter where it appears in the story. What I'll need to do, is make sure all the scenes are in the correct order on November 30th.

Friday, October 31, 2008

Why Women Should Vote

Voting is a sub-plot of my novel, Shades of Darkness, Shades of Grace. The Minnesota family depicted in the story, the Pierson's, understand that the ability to cast a vote of one's choosing is a privlege not to be taken lightly. If you are a woman contemplating voting November 4, here's a reminder of why that act is so important.

This is the story of our Grandmothers, and Great-grandmothers, as they lived only 90 years ago. It was not until 1920 that women were granted the right to go to the polls and vote. The women were innocent and defenseless. And by the end of the night, they were barely alive. Forty prison guards wielding clubs and their warden’s blessing went on a rampage against the 33 women wrongly convicted of ‘obstructing sidewalk traffic.’

They beat Lucy Burn, chained her hands to the cell bars above her head and left her hanging for the night, bleeding and gasping for air. They hurled Dora Lewis into a dark cell, smashed her head against an iron bed and knocked her out cold. Her cellmate, Alice Cosu, thought Lewis was dead and suffered a heart attack. Additional affidavits describe the guards grabbing, dragging, beating, choking, slamming, pinching, twisting and kicking the women.

Thus unfolded the ‘Night of Terror’ on Nov. 15, 1917, when the warden at the Occoquan Workhouse in Virginia ordered his guards to teach a lesson to the suffragists imprisoned there because they dared to picket Woodrow Wilson’s White House for the right to vote.

For weeks, the women’s only water came from an open pail. Their food–all of it colorless slop–was infested with worms. When one of the leaders, Alice Paul, embarked on a hunger strike, they tied her to a chair, forced a tube down her throat and poured liquid into her until she vomited. She was tortured like this for weeks until word was smuggled out to the press.

So, refresh my memory. Some women won’t vote this year because–why, exactly? We have carpool duties? We have to get to work? Our vote doesn’t matter? It’s raining?
Read Deloris Wright’s complete essay on the difficulties and brutality our foremothers faced in fighting for the right to vote, by clicking here.

This election day, remember how lucky we are and how far we have come. More so than any other election year history is being made and you can be a part of it by exercising your right to vote for the candidate of your choosing.
Labels: politics, voting, women's issues
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Thursday, October 30, 2008

Google Book Search Settles Lawsuit

On Tuesday, Google Book Search Partners announced the company and authors and publishers who were plaintiffs in the U.S. Google Book Search lawsuits have reached a tentative settlement.

The proposed settlement covers the issue of copyright infringement for those authors and publishers whose books were digitalized as part of the Google Book Search Library project.

Google is looking at the settlement as a very positive thing. If you are an author holding an affected copyright check the copyright settlement site at: Books Google Booksrightsholders. Authors are also encouraged to contact either the Settlement Administrator or Class Counsel, both listed on the site. Authors and publishers can also check out Google’s Official blog dedicated to the lawsuit.

Although different than the issue of Amazon facing an anti-trust suit by threatening to remove print-on-demand books from their site unless said books are printed through the Amazon-owned BookSurge, what is similar is authors, publishers, and others taking on industry giants in an effort to protect their works. From the looks of things, it appears to be working.
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