The Curse of Vella

This is the time of year for curses. With Vella, it’s a mixed bag.

I picked this image for aesthetic reasons, i.e., I like it.

For those of you who may not know, Vella is Amazon’s Kindle Direct Publishing’s self-publishing serialization platform. It’s not a subscription service. The first few chapters are free to read. After the first three gratis e “episodes” (as Amazon calls chapters) readers “unlock” subsequent chapters with tokens. Amazon gives readers 200 (!) free tokens. The number of tokens it takes to read a chapter depends on how long it is. After that, if readers want to keep reading they buy tokens. This is the first of Vella’s curses. At least for writers.

Writers have to promote the heck out of their novels, hence this picture once again.

In my historical romance, A Home for an Exile’s Heart, readers can read nine chapters without paying anything. Of course, that means that neither Amazon nor I get our percentage. It’s a good thing for Amazon and me that my novel is long. I didn’t write Exile with Vella in mind. It didn’t even exist when I finished my manuscript. On the plus side, Amazon pays bonuses when people read and order more chapters that they pay for. The bonus amount varies from month to month. Amazon should give away fewer tokens. If readers haven’t been hooked by the first three chapters, are they likely to read the next six or more even if they’re free?

It’s good to have options.

It’s not necessary to have an e-reader in order to read stories published on Vella. Any electronic device will do, including smartphones, laptops, and even desktops. I learned this by trying it myself. The customer service rep I asked told me that Vella books can only be read with mobile devices. Either he didn’t know what he was talking about or Vella’s options have been updated since then.

Looks painless. It’s not.

One of the biggest curses of Vella, and every other self-publishing platform is DIY marketing.

Years ago when I was in San Francisco, walking in Union Square, I encountered a poet standing on a street corner peddling his poetry chapbook. I can’t remember how much I offered to pay for his anthology. Whatever the amount was, it wasn’t enough. He said, “Most people give me [X number of] dollars.” Talk about nerve. I’d have expected him to be grateful for any amount. It’s not the kind of gumption I have. I can’t remember if I gave him his asking price. Probably not. I’m not “most” people.

Thanks to the internet, writers don’t have to stand on street corners hawking their books. Nevertheless, I still hate marketing, as many writers do. I want to write, not to have to market. When I post links to A Home for an Exile’s Heart on social media, I feel like I’m not much different from that street corner huckster. I do it anyway but it’s pretty much the only thing I do in order to sell my book. That and write about Exile on my blog.

Something I strive for.

It’s a toss-up as to which is the biggest curse. Marketing? Or the fact that Vella allows writers to edit their published material any time they want as many times as they want. I must be a compulsive editor. I can’t seem to leave my novel alone and go on to something new. I love spending time with my characters so I sometimes reread a chapter or two. In doing so, I discovered that my story’s not nearly as complete as I thought. Reading an article in The Washington Post about what writers should look out for only made matters worse. I discovered a bunch of words that I’ve been unconsciously abusing that I had to get rid of or change. Once I finish editing the whole darn thing, I promise myself to stop and go on to something new. Even The Washington Post and other prestigious publications have typos and other glitches and people still read them.

Now that I’ve finished writing this post, I will let it sit for a while before reading it again to see if it needs more editing. Then I’ll do some more editing on Exile.

Published Book, Sad Writer

The story behind the story of a Latvian Exile

“A Home for an Exile’s Heart” is now available on Kindle Vella. I’m not sad that my novel has not been published by a traditional publishing company, although that would be great. I didn’t want to spend a year or more approaching agents only to have them reject me. That’s what happened to a talented writer friend who already has four traditionally published books under his belt. I have none.

The tentative cover for a paperback that may never come to be.

Of course, just because no agent wanted to represent my friend’s book doesn’t mean they wouldn’t be interested in mine. He and I write in different genres. His is a mystery set in a WW2 POW camp. Easily categorized. Mine? Not so much. Yes, it’s a historical romance but much more. Is it also women’s fiction. I guess, but that limits the audience. Is it up-market fiction? I’ve read the definition more than once but I’m still not sure what the term means. Maybe it’s mainstream fiction. Figuring out the genre is probably not what agents want to do. They want to be able to pigeonhole a book quickly so store owners know where to shelve them.

My novel may always stay on Vella unless some traditional publisher stumbles across it, serendipitously, and wants to buy the rights to publish it.

How can readers find what they want when there are no neat categories in which to organize the book? Forget about serendipitous browsing. Who has time for that?

The reason I’m sad is that I miss my characters.

Anyone who has read a book and felt sad because they miss characters they’ve grown fond of will understand. I’ve been there and felt that. But when you write a novel the characters live in your head in a way that they don’t when you only read about them. My characters are vivid in my mind; I know them intimately in more detail than is written in my book. I know them better than I ever knew my friends or family members. Latvians are a close-lipped bunch, especially those of my parents’ generation. It’s too painful for exiles to talk about their stolen homeland. Nevertheless, I’ve pieced together enough information from their experiences and those of friends and other relatives, as well as my own memories, to create as accurate a picture as possible of what they went through.

Līvija Galiņa is based in part on my mother’s cousin. Both women were widowed Latvian refugees who came to the United States with their mother and one child. Both found love here; unlike my relative, Līvija falls in love with an American. Both families lived communally in a big house on Capitol Hill in Seattle. Many Latvian families, including mine, did so as well.

Neither my family nor my relatives lived in this house but in similar ones.

Cameron Quinn is Līvija’s love interest. They meet on the snowy day after Thanksgiving, 1952, when a car skids on ice, jumps the curb and nearly hits Līvija as she’s walking home from work. Cameron pushes her out of the way, saving her life. He’s a daredevil, a dashing former fighter pilot, a passionate suitor, and a kind, tender would-be father to Līvija’s little girl. There was never anyone like Cameron in my life. I could have used someone like him in my life. Still could. Cameron’s a composite of male characteristics I know from experience. I read up on what it takes to be a fighter pilot and watched endless videos of flying and aerobatics. They can be addictive.

His war experiences, being shot down twice, did not dampen Cameron’s love of flying.

Of my three main characters, I am most like Līvija’s seven-year-old daughter, Dzintra. I, too, was born stateless in Germany. As with her one of my uncles and his family found refuge in Australia. We both went to Latvian school, in addition to a regular American school. Neither of us saw any reason to learn the Latvian language. Who needs to speak Latvian in America? But my father insisted, so I learned. Cameron gently encourages Dzintra to keep learning by telling her about his own boyish reluctance to learn French, his mother’s native language. As an adult, he was glad he’d learned to speak French and Dzintra would be glad to have learned to speak her native tongue. I’m glad I did.

Like Dzintra, I sang in the Latvian children’s choir.

Woven into the story of these three characters are the stories of Līvija’s housemates–obstacles on her road to happiness. Her mother-in-law and sister-in-law are two such considerations. Edgars Siliņš, a single father, who needs a mother for his six-year-old son, would like to win Līvija’s affection for himself. The housemates include an older, stiff-necked, childless, busybody Latvian couple who were inspired by people I once knew. Līvija’s entire Latvian community believes it would be a cultural betrayal if she marries anyone but a fellow Latvian.

In one way or another, everyone has been traumatized by the war, by the loss of family members killed in the war, or by Soviet murders and deportation. Every exile wants to preserve their Latvian culture and keep their small community from dying out. Will Līvija choose her heart or her community and culture?

About Vella: Books are serialized on the platform. It’s not a subscription service. Readers buy “tokens” in order to read chapters. The first two hundred tokens are free. You don’t need a Kindle in order to read my novel. Any mobile device your laptop or even your desktop will do. I just tried it myself with someone else’s book and it works just fine. Nothing to figure out. The link to Vella is at the top of Amazon’s home page on the right. Just click on the link and claim your free tokens. Hopefully, you’ll love the story and want to read all of it.

Bad Reviews

First bad words, now bad reviews. I’m not going to use any bad words about my bad reviews. A writer can learn from a well-thought-out bad review. The two bad reviews I got for the books I published on Amazon weren’t thought-out at all.

Whether a writer is traditionally published or self-published they’re bound to get bad reviews. A writer knows that any review is better than no review. Anything that will bring attention to your books.

“Bad” is in the mind of the reader.

Even better is for the book to be banned. Banning a book can be good for sales. There was a recent article in The Washington Post by an author who was highly indignant that his children’s book had not been banned. More than thirty years after it was first published Art Spiegelman’s graphic novel, Maus, hit the bestseller lists after it was banned in Tennessee. Chicago newspaper columnist Mike Royko humorously demanded that his book, Boss, about controversial mayor Richard J. Daley, be vilified and banned. These two writers understood the lure of forbidden fruit.

Books can be dangerous. They can open minds.

Dictators and wanna-be dictators understand the power of books. Russian novelist Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn was arrested and expelled from the Soviet Union in 1974 because his writing displeased the Politburo. He was allowed to return home only after the fall of the Soviet Union. Solzhenitsyn’s experience is almost the ultimate bad review. The ultimate bad review is getting executed for your writing as happened to Russian writer Isaac Babel.

This post wasn’t going to be about these writers, it was supposed to be about my experience with my own reviews. I’m nowhere near their class and the one-star reviews of two of the books I published on Amazon have done nothing to improve my sales. People have to know about a book before they buy it or demand that it be banned. I’ve done very little to publicize my books so poor sales are mostly my own fault.

The person who gave my books bad ratings is someone named Jennifer. She used the exact same words for both books: “I find it hard to understand why the author sympathizes with fascist leaders who spread baseless propaganda.” I copied her exact words from her one-star rating.

One of the books Jennifer rated is “The Dissident’s Wife” which is set in Leningrad (now St. Petersburg) during the mid-1980s. My story is about a dissident Russian poet who has been accused of sedition and anti-Soviet slander. Valery Mironov goes from being a respected and beloved people’s artist to a pariah who’s been diagnosed with “creeping schizophrenia” ( a mental illness recognized nowhere in the free world) and incarcerated in a psychiatric hospital. I don’t mention any leaders in my book, let alone defend them.

The Dissident’s Wife is no longer available on Amazon. I unpublished it because it is now under consideration by a traditional publisher.

It’s obvious that Jennifer never read the book. She saw the hammer and sickle and had a knee-jerk reaction. It’s also obvious that she is ignorant of the difference between communism and fascism.

For Pete’s sake! They’re Christmas stories for children.

Beats me who Jennifer thinks is the “fascist leader” in this book. Santa? The grandmother whom her family brings from Latvia to the United States? Or perhaps the mother who thinks a piano would be a fine Christmas gift for her family, a gift they could all use. I suspect that the word “Latvia” is what triggered Jennifer’s one-star rating. Darn it, she didn’t even demand that the book be banned. Rats!

Fortunately, not all my reviews are one-star.

Celebrating with Eau de Tap

0.0000704225353521126761 cents per word. More or less.

Amazon pays bonuses to authors who publish their books on Vella. The amount depends on the number of pages read. I just received a notice about my May 2022 bonus. Ten dollars! Woo-hoo! For a book that’s about 140k long.

How shall I spend this windfall? Go to Bali? Go to Capri? Buy an original Van Gogh?

Can’t even afford a glass.

This is not the first bonus I’ve received. It’s just the smallest one because someone read seventy-nine pages of my book. I received bigger monthly bonuses when my kind cousin-in-law, and maybe somebody else, was reading A Home for an Exile’s Heart. I think the highest bonus I got was sixty bucks.

Mostly, it’s my own fault. I haven’t done enough to publicize my novel. My efforts have been pretty sporadic at best. I don’t want to do PR. I want to write but when you self-publish, you don’t have much choice. Even traditionally published authors have to do a lot of their own book promotions. Fortunately, I just found out that one of my friends on Facebook publicizes books on her site. She urged me to send her a blurb and a link to A Home for an Exile’s Hearts Vella page. I did so but I don’t know what she will do or when. I’d love to leave it all in her hands but I’ll have to do my own PR, too.

When you self-publish, you also have to design your own cover. Even with millions of stock photos available for free, it’s hard to find exactly the right one. On a $0.00 budget, I had to settle for “close enough” images.

This was my first choice. My main character, Līvija (Lee-vee-ya) Galiņa (Guh-lyñ-ah) an exile from the Soviet invasion of Latvia in 1944, is walking home from work on the snowy evening the day after Thanksgiving, 1952. Even without houses, this scene could pass for a street on Seattle’s Capitol Hill. There’s a park on the hill so she could be walking past it. However, this image was too small and busy to look like anything but a vague mess in the cameo frame it has to fit into on Vella. I had to find a more simple image.

Courtship is a dance of love, intriguing and seductive. In one chapter my characters, Līvija and her hero, Cameron Quinn, a former fighter pilot who saves her from an out-of-control car on that snowy night, dance the tango.

Not a perfect match but it will have to do.

One of these days, I will have to turn my novel into a paperback. More nitpicky work I’d rather not do but I don’t have much choice. I have to wait for my book to have been available on Vella for thirty days before I can offer it as a paperback. When will that be? Who knows? I have yet to finish revising the last chapter in order to publish it. Since so few people have been reading Exile I haven’t been motivated to wrap up that final chapter.

The last chapter may not be ready to go, but I have a tentative design for the cover.

If only I were an artist, too.

It’s time to stop lollygagging and finish that chapter, publish it, and start publicizing my book. Writing it was a labor of love but it was hard work nevertheless. I can’t let it all go to waste.

WIPs: Too Much of a Good Thing.

& A Sneak Preview

Writing doldrums can show up for any number of reasons. Sometimes because I have no idea what to write next. Sometimes because I have too many ideas and it’s hard to decide which one to work on next. Sometimes because I can’t imagine anyone wanting to read anything I write, not even the people who follow my blog.

Sometimes the ideas pop up like popcorn. Too many at once. Tasty tidbits along with some old maids.

My current issue that’s stymying me is having too many works in progress (WIPs) I have a magpie mind. I like the next shiny new thing. The next story or essay idea that I want to work on at the cost of other projects that are waiting to be completed. Too often I love my stories too much to want to let them go. I get persnickety and no matter how many times I’ve been over a manuscript, I keep finding new errors. I could go on editing forever.

I have a lot in common with this bird.

My three weightiest WIPs are my novel, A Home for an Exile’s Heart; a collection of essays from Come, Follow My Blog, titled, Latvian Lore, and a second collection of blog essays titled, Latvia, Despite the Soviets.

Even though none of these books is finished, a friend, who is also my writing mentor, has been helping me design covers for them. Colleen loves designing covers and has experience creating designs for many of her own traditionally published books. She loves helping people. She hasn’t said so but perhaps she also eagerly helps design covers for my self-published books in hopes of inspiring me to finish the darn things.

A Home for an Exile’s Heart. An earlier version that needs a bit of editing.

I thought A Home for an Exile’s Heart, my novel about Līvija Galiņa, a Latvian refugee who, with her family, flees her homeland when the Soviet army invades in 1944 and finds a new home and a new love-interest, former fighter pilot, Cameron Quinn in Seattle in 1952 was finished. I re-read the last chapter and decided that I don’t like it. Re-writing it has proven to be more of a hassle than I expected. Too sweet. It needed a touch of tartness. Just because it’s Christmas Eve doesn’t mean characters can put aside such strong emotions as jealousy and resentment. Yet, I don’t want to be heavy-handed. It’s a sticky wicket.

Latvian Lore is a collection of Latvian myths and traditions. The problem with that one is not having enough essays published in my blog to make a decent-sized book. I need to write and research more. There’s so much information to include that it’s hard to know what to include and what to leave out. I might even include family recipes. All that is to be decided later.

This is the photo I picked for the cover of Latvia, Despite the Soviets.

After A Home for an Exile’s Heart, the project that’s closest to completion is Latvia, Despite the Soviets, a memoir about a trip I took to Latvia for a Song and Dance Festival when it was still part of the Soviet Union. Some of the chapters are essays from Come, Follow My Blog, the rest is new material. I’ve also included chapters

to give my memoir historical context that some people may not be familiar with. I need to read my manuscript from start to finish to decide what needs rewriting, revising, and if I need to add new material. It is emotionally difficult material to write about. I need a break from it before continuing. 

So what did I do? I started a new story. Flash fiction that I want to submit to a literary magazine. Caw! Caw! Shiny new object! Let me add it to my collection of WIPs.

Latvian Stuff: A Hiatus

Writing about Latvian culture, traditions, and eccentricities has been a great deal of fun. My posts have received lots of attention, comments on social media, and even a bit of money. It’s also been a lot of work writing my essays, editing, and illustrating them. It’s not that I’m out of ideas, I have plenty more but blogging isn’t the only writing I do. During my six-day streak (today’s day seven) I’ve neglected my other writing.

“Absence is to love what wind is to fire; it extinguishes the small, it inflames the great.”
― Roger de Bussy-Rabutin

My novel in progress that needs editing and rewriting. As Wind to Flame is a historical romance that is set during the mid-19th Century, so it requires a lot of research, which is also fun. My heroine, Thea Lowell starts out as a bumptious girl and ends up as a nurse during the Civil War. Along the way, Thea falls in love with a rancher’s son, Adam Hastings.

My exiled heroine’s Bārta’s folk costume which shows up at a critical junction in the story.

The first two-thirds of A Home for an Exile’s Heart is available on Amazon Vella. The next chapter is finished but needs more editing before I can publish it. Exile is also a historical romance but it’s set in Seattle, Washington in 1952. The heroine is a widowed Latvian World War II refugee. Līvija Galiņa’s leading man is dashing former fighter pilot Cameron Quinn. I’ve left my readers waiting too long for the next chapter.


Today I published a story for children called, A Pocketful of Kitten. Currently, it’s under review on Amazon Vella but should go live pretty soon.

“A Pocketful of Kitten.” A freebie read on Kindle Vella.

Did I mention that I also write short stories? I did. Not in this post, but in earlier ones. Anyone who’s interested can check under the category “fiction.” I’d like to write more short stories but my ideas have a way of growing like the magical beanstalk.

Then there are such minor annoyances as cooking and eating. I have the ingredients for borscht but who knows when I’ll get around to making the soup.

Oh,  look! I’ve managed to procrastinate on that pesky chapter of Exile. And I’ve been sitting at my computer so such a long time that it’s gotten painful. I need to break for chocolate.

A short story.

Does Writing Ruin Reading?

This is how reading fiction is supposed to make you feel as if Pegasus is carrying you aways on his back to some magical realm. And not just fantasy books. Any book.

Lately, I’ve been disappointed in the books I’ve been reading, even with books by favorite authors, people I’d always thought were very good writers. Is it because I’ve gotten more impatient as I’ve gotten older? Or is it because I’ve been writing more and editing my own material? Being a nit-picky writer has turned me into a nit-picky reader.

Now, I pay more attention to such cliches as “She kept her eyes on the floor.” (Be careful not to step on them) Worse yet, “She raked him with her eyes.” (I didn’t know eyes have claws) Eyes do all sorts of unlikely things in books. Substitute “gaze” for eyes to make the prosed less absurd.

“I hate it when people breathe dialogue,” she breathed. Period, after dialogue instead of a comma. But don’t people breathe all the time?

Even the best writers use the annoying, nonsensical description, “He felt, rather than saw.” “He felt, rather than heard.” Why not just, “he felt” without “saw” or “heard”?

I love books that have include a rich tapestry of details. It’s the sort of thing I write myself. I have to rein myself in so as not to overdo it. It’s hard to know when there is too much detail when charming becomes annoying. I recently read Ken Follett’s Pillars of the Earth for the second time. The first time I loved the book. It contained the sort of information that I loved in my class on Medieval and Renaissance art, which I thoroughly loved. Years later, not so much. A cast of thousands in Pillars, along with their detailed storylines, didn’t help

Thinking to find a book by someone who’s a graceful writer, whose other books I’ve enjoyed, I ordered Geraldine Brooks’s Year of Wonders, based on a true story about an English village that quarantined itself during the Black Plague. As expected, the book has some gruesome details. Considering the subject gruesome could be expected. But then she throws in a gratuitous murder, turns a saintly character into a sociopath, and writes a totally off-the-wall ending. This time the fault is in the writer, not an overly-critical reader.

My current aggravation is with a book by Philippa Gregory, another writer whose books I’ve enjoyed. Were her historical novels always this tedious or is it me? She has chosen an odd way to write The Constant Princess about Henry VIII’s first wife. Some scenes are written in first person, present tense from Katherine’s point of view. These scenes are printed in Italics. A couple of pages or even a paragraph later, Gregory switches to third-person, past tense, printed in regular font. Back and forth all through the book. ARGH! It does not make for immersive reading. If this book had been her first, instead of her ninth, I doubt that it would even have gotten published.

Editing is stressful, so is being edited, especially if you’re doing it yourself.

Maybe I should switch to reading books that were written when editors actually edited. Books by authors such as Hemingway and F. Scott Fitzgerald whose I manuscripts were edited by editor par excellence, Maxwell Perkins. I could use an editor like Perkins myself. The publishing world could use more editors like him.

Tweeting Agent Pitches

Is it for the birds?

This fellow’s much cuter than the well-known logo.

Today was #PitMad day, also known as Pitch Wars. These are quarterly events during which unagented writers are invited to pitch their finished, polished novels on Twitter using only 280 characters. Agents and publishers search the tweet pitches for something that interests them.

Adding to my stress today was losing my internet connection for a couple of hours. ARGH!!! It took me a while to figure out how to get it back. It was a simple fix if you know that modems have a reset button. I didn’t. Once I found it and pushed it my connection didn’t resume until maybe an hour later. ARGH!!! At least my modem hadn’t died.

I’ve pitched A Home for an Exile’s Heart for at least a year now without one nibble from an agent or publisher. Today I pitched my other novel, As Wind to Flame. The only folks who paid attention to that tweet were a few fellow writers who re-tweeted my pitch. I re-tweeted a few of theirs, too.

Let me tell you about my book. Telling a friend or two is not enough.

I’m terrible at promoting my writing but I’m trying to do better. So, before PitMad began and now that it’s over, I’ve posted a few tweets about As Wind to Flame. The story is set during the mid-Nineteenth Century. My main character is Theodora (Thea, Tay) Lowell. The inciting incident is the death of Thea’s mother when Thea is ten.

Since I’m promoting myself, I might as well include my tweets. The more exposure, the better, right? Who knows who might be reading my blog or my tweets? Just because the #PitMad pitch event is closed doesn’t mean agents and publishers aren’t still looking for stories.

This is how self-promotion should be done.

Promo Tweets

#As Wind to Flame, trilogy
1841- Boston
Adam age 6 meets Thea
She - 1 hr old

They’re parted, reunited, and parted again & again.

He never dreamed she’ll grow up to be a tough, resilient, beautiful woman who will save his life and steal his heart.
* * * * *
 #AsWindtoFlame, trilogy

Thea’s 10, her mom dies.
Dad is lost in grief. Thea is like a mom to her dad. Everything in Boston reminds Daniel of his wife.
He takes the family to CA to be close to his best friend, Adam’s dad.
With Adam as her minder, Thea can be a child again.

* * * * *

Thea age 15 kisses Adam
Adam age 22 Don’t do that
She I love you
He You’re just a child
She I know a girl of 13 who’s engaged.
He That’s so wrong
She You’re a prude
He I love you too. You’re not the sister of my blood, you’re the sister of my heart.

Thea could’ve wept

* * * * *

#AsWindtoFlame trilogy
1852, CA

He’s 18
She’s 11
He’s her minder
She’s his fierce defender
To him, she’s like a little sister
+11 yrs of love & adventure & heartbreak
He’s her only love
She’s an ex-Civil War nurse
He has a bullet wound & is engaged to her sister.
The nurse
 has a knife...

The next PitMad event will probably be during the first week of March.


Can’t Stop Editing

Yup. Fits me. No doubt there are others out there who are also insecure perfectionists. Or just insecure.

Probably one reason for my inability to stop editing is that I have a slight (?) case of dyslexia. Someone who is even more of a fussbudget informed me that what I have is dysgraphia–a writing disability. Because of it, my high school typing class was sheer misery. I couldn’t even type a mailing label correctly the first time or the second. Anxiety dos not help matters. Thank goodness for word-processing programs.

Printing out your material and reading it out loud, with red pen in hand can help.

E.B. White was the author of the children’s books, Charlotte’s Web, Stuart Little, and Trumpet of the Swan. He wrote for The New Yorker magazine and was one of their contributing editors. And he was the co-author of The Elements of Style, a book that was a must for English majors. I once had two copies, which I read, but never memorized.

I don’t remember where I read the two anecdotes I relate here; it’s been ages since I came across them. I don’t know if they’re apocryphal, but they’re sure memorable.

Not White’s post office, but it could have looked much like this one.

E.B. White is said to have mailed a manuscript to his editor and promptly went to the postmaster in the small Maine town where he lived and begged to get the ms. back. He’d thought of some edits he could make. I can identify with that. 

I remember these pre-wordprocessor deleters.

One thing about publishing your novel on Amazon’s Kindle Vella is both good and bad. You can take down a chapter any time and do some more work on it. That’s what I’ve been doing the past few weeks even thought I have other stories to write. A  friend and I signed up for the National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo) this November. I started writing a new novel, got about a quarter of the way through, and stalled. I didn’t care enough, I guess.  A Home for an Exile’s Heart called me back and I answered the call to edit it some more. I can’t believe I thought it was finished.

Writers aren’t the only ones who can’t stop editing. 

I have no idea which of his paintings he was touching up.

A shocked museum guard once came across a man who’d gotten behind the velvet rope and was touching up a painting handing on the wall.

“Sir. stop! You can’t do that!” The dismayed guard exclaimed. “Don’t you know that’s a painting by Picasso?”

Man with palette and brush, “I am Picasso and it’s not finished!”

Whether it’s true or not, and I hope it is, I love this anecdote. I don’t recall if the artist in question was Picasso, but it seems a Picasso-like thing to do.

Would White have been able to write more books if he hadn’t been such a fussbudget? We’ll probably never know. No unpublished manuscripts have turned up.

For Picasso, who was a ceramicist, sculptor, printmaker, and stage designer, as well as a painter, that episode in the museum must have been a one-off. During his lifetime he created fifty thousand (!) works of art. Obviously, he knew when to let go and go on to the next project. The fact that he started to paint in his childhood and lived until he was ninety-one surely made a difference, as did being a genius.

Those of us who lack the confidence of geniuses have a harder time stopping editing and submitting our work to a publisher, or taking our portfolio to a gallery have a harder time figuring out when something we created is good. Or, if we had the gumption of Snoopy and wrote to the publisher to come get our mansuscripts.

Stop correcting and mail that manuscript. Most of us use email, but I had to post this photo because the mailboxes are so cute.

Poem: Amy Lowell

American poet. 1874 – 1925

The Giver of Stars

Hold your soul open for my welcoming.
Let the quiet of your spirit bathe me
With its clear and rippled coolness,
That, loose-limbed and weary, I find rest,
Outstretched upon your peace, as on a bed of ivory.

Let the flickering flame of your soul play all about me,
That into my limbs may come the keenness of fire,
The life and joy of tongues of flame,
And, going out from you, tightly strung and in tune,
I may rouse the blear-eyed world,
And pour into it the beauty which you have begotten.

“The Giver of Stars” is also the title of a book by British author, Jojo Moyes. It’s in those pages that I found the first verse of this lovely poem.

Wiki describes Ms. Moyes as a romance writer. Since I’ve read only half of The Giver of Stars, and a summery of her first book, Me Before You, I can’t say for sure that I would agree with that description. Based on what I’ve read of “Stars” I can say that her books are most likely not what Americans would call romance novels even though she has twice won the Romance Novel of the Year award from the Romantic Novelists’ Association. The Giver of Stars seems more like women’s fiction, the story of friendship between five women.

The novel is based on the true stories of women who were traveling horseback librarians who, during the Depression, carried books to people who had no other access to reading materials.

The novel is set in rural Kentucky’s coal country. The main character is Alice Wright, a young English woman who marries a handsome American not just because she’s fallen in love with him, but in order to escape an unhappy home life. Her marriage proves to be a disappointment–a seemingly indifferent husband and an overbearing father-in-law with whom the young couple lives. Seeking escape from her suffocating new home, Alice volunteers to be one of four horseback librarians.

The Giver of Stars is an interesting book for its descriptions of life during the Thirties in rural Kentucky, the lives of the librarians, and the land they live in. Some of the details don’t seem all that believable to me. I’ve caught more than one anachronism. But, after all, this is fiction, not a textbook. The story is good enough for me to overlook minor mistakes. To me this seems like a gentle book. Yes, brutal things happen, but so far they are described innocuously.

Besides the inherent interest of the story, I’m also reading The Giver of Stars to learn why Ms. Moyes’ books have been translated into forty-six different languages and have sold eight million copies. I’m hoping to learn something from her that I can apply to my own writing.