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.