Love at First Sight. For Real?

Love at first sight, followed by happily ever after, is a popular trope in romance novels but is it something that can only happen in fiction?

The two main characters, a World War II Latvian refugee and an American fighter pilot, in my novel, A Home for an Exile’s Heart fall in love at the first touch of their hands as they gaze into each other’s eyes and sparks fly. My Latvian beta reader thought that was unrealistic. In fiction, it happens all the time but can it happen in real life? I told my reader my favorite anecdote about a true life love at first sight story. This is how I remember hearing it so my words may not be exact but the facts are.

They made beautiful music together may be a cliche but it can happen.

Internationally famous Russian cellist Mstislav Rostropovich was being interviewed on a radio show about his marriage to opera singer Galina Vishnevskaya.

Host: “Mr. Rostropovich, I understand that you and your wife married a week after you first met.”

Rostropovich: “Yes. It was a big mistake.”

Host, taken aback, stammers, “A m-mistake?”

Rostropovich: “Yes. We wasted a whole week.”

I love this story. Rostropovich and Vishnevskaya were married for fifty-two years, until his death. Though it may be rare, love at first sight, followed by a happily ever after does happen in real life.

The flowers may fade but not the love.

Most of the time, it seems to me, a declaration of love can be premature. Some guy I once dated said that he loved me way too soon. I was not enchanted or bowled over. I said that he hardly knew me so how could he possibly love me? We hadn’t had any deep discussions or revelations of the secrets of our hearts. But he kept on declaring his love. Ove and over and over. Bleh. Maybe if he’d been the right guy I’d have been more receptive, even delighted. My advice, don’t date someone just because you’re lonely, bored, or depressed. Under such circumstances a “happily ever after” ain’t likely. If you meet a gem like Rostropovich or Vishnevskaya, go for it. Don’t settle for a rhinestone.

Life’s a bowl of cherry pits but at least the beer’s not flat.

How do the love birds in my novel know they’ve found someone they can love forever? There’s an immediate sense of familiarity as if they’ve known each other forever. During their first evening together, they spend hours just talking. They open their hearts, tell each other things they’ve never told anyone else, things that reveal character.

As Shakespeare said, “The course of true love never did run smooth.” It certainly can’t in a novel, so it doesn’t in A Home for an Exile’s Heart.

A toast to love.

Vella: 132K Words=$1

Yep. One buck.

To clarify, Vella does not buy anything. It’s a free platform for writers to self-publish their books in serial form. Amazon takes a cut of royalties.

This is a depressing piece to write.

Of course, my chapters have been “live” only since July 14. It takes time to build an audience. It also takes promoting, promoting, promoting. It takes readers who are willing to buy 200 tokens for $1.99 and up to $14.99 for 1700 tokens. 

Marketing is not much fun. I hate it.

I’ve published only twenty-two chapters of my novel, A Home for an Exile’s Heart. I have more chapters I could publish, but why should I bother if no one but one of my relatives is willing to spend a few bucks to read more chapters? He’s the one responsible for that one buck, for which I thank him.

 Amazon is offering 200 free tokens, which in the case of my novel takes readers through chapter nine. It might help if they went back to their original plan of offering three free episodes to entice readers. Because of those two hundred fee tokens, they’re not getting their cut and I’m not getting mine.

As far as I can tell, Amazon is doing little to promote Vella stories. The Vella banner does not automatically show up whenever someone visits their site. Readers have to know to click on the drop-down menu and scroll to Kindle Store; not everyone knows Vella books can be found in the Kindle store. If potential readers are not looking for a particular author or title, they need to just hit “enter” and thumbnail cover illustrations in their little circles will pops up. Some of the stories have star ratings, others do not. On the far right side, “see more” shows in a tiny font. You can get a list view or a grid view of titles Big deal. Writers have to educate their readers. One person on Facebook wanted to read my story; he couldn’t find it, so I sent him the link.

A screen shot of Vella instructions for readers. I couldn’t find it again. The site’s not exactly user friendly.

I have the Vella page bookmarked. It shows favorite stories and trending stories. I don’t remember how I got there. That’s why I bookmarked it; I knew I wouldn’t remember. 

Self-publishing on any platform requires the writer to promote like mad or to pay retail juggernaut Amazon to do it for them. That goes for KDP, too. I don’t know if Amzon expects payments in order to promote Vella books. I could also create a Facebook page for A Home for an Exile’s Heart. The page would be free, but people would only find it if they happened to stumble on it. Facebook would be glad to “boost” the page for me, but since Zuekcerberg must be broke, I’d have to pay to get my page “boosted.” I think it’s thirty dollars to boost a page, but don’t know if that’s monthly or for a year or what.

I’ve done only a little promoting. Writing about my novel here is one way to publicize it. My Word Press account is linked to Twitter, Tumblr, and LinkedIn. I can click on the “F” icon on my Word Press page to share my post on Facebook. I haven’t succeed in linking it.

 Because my heroine is a Latvian World War II refugee, I’ve also posted links in several Latvian Facebook groups. People have congratulated me and clicked on “like” but seemingly no one cares enough to read even free chapters. Those who’ve read my chapters haven’t given Exile a thumbs up. I may have to post the link again with the screenshot.

I’m not sure it would be worth the money to pay Facebook to boost a page dedicated to my novel.

Maybe Exile doesn’t belong on Vella in the first place. There are no categories for women’s fiction or mainstream fiction. None of my characters are billionaires, Highlanders, or werewolves. Exile’s not paranormal, a fantasy, or a mystery. The Latvian refugee and the dashing fighter pilot live in non-dystopian Seattle in 1952. It didn’t even have the Space Needle back then.

What next? I guess I’ll leave A Home for an Exile’s Heart on Vella for the time being, but I will not publish any more chapters. I have no reason to. And I’ll go back to querying agents.

BUT, depressing as it was to report this stuff about Vella, it was writing. Writing is what I do. I feel better for having written.

“Sculptor’s Block,” A Short Story

         The block of red granite loomed in his mind the way it loomed in his studio. It even showed up in his dreams. He admired the thing, which glittered subtly with inclusions of quartz and mica. It frightened him a little, too. No doubt he should have chosen a smaller chunk of stone for his first project in granite. It was an unforgiving material, dulling chisels, and even diamond-bladed saws. However, once he’d seen it, he was consumed with the lust to possess, with dreams of grandeur. He’d carve it into his magnum opus.

For days after the delivery, he’d spent hours with the stone, studying it, patting its rough surface. How would he transform it? The stone demanded a worthy subject. He thought of the sculptors who’d come before him: Praxiteles, Michelangelo, Rodin. And he started to sweat. He knew that he could never be the genius those men had been. He comforted himself with the thought that he didn’t have to be a genius; he didn’t even want to be a genius. He’d be content to be a damned good sculptor of his own time. Make a name for himself that his son could be proud of.

Michelangelo had seen an angel inside a block of marble and carved until he set it free. Much as the sculptor looked, he couldn’t see anything trapped in his block of granite. Zeus wasn’t there. Neither was Thor. Not even Sitting Bull.

Then on a divorced-dad Saturday, with his son at the zoo, they’d stood at the rail of the bear enclosure and both stared open-mouthed at a Kodiak. He’d found his subject. Carving it like that, sitting on its haunches, immense paws dangling on a vast furry belly, he could make it almost life-sized.

Back at the studio he sawed, hammered, ground. Splinters of granite flew like drops of sweat. He forgot to eat. He forgot to sleep. Only the stone mattered.

It wasn’t like working with marble, alabaster or soapstone. Somehow he couldn’t get the details right. The ears didn’t look right. The snout was all wrong. Worst of all was the fur. How could you make such a hard stone look like soft fur?

He sawed. He hammered. He ground. More dust and granite splinters flew. When at last he stepped back, he realized that the block of stone was no longer large enough to make a life-size adult bear. Well, all right, maybe he’d sculpt a half-grown cub. Cubs were cute. People liked cubs. A cub would probably sell better than an adult bear.

There was always something to change, something to improve. As the stone shrank, his ambition shrank with it. He chipped away. A wolf was a noble animal. He’d carve a wolf. No. A fox. No. A rabbit with droopy ears.

In the end, all his labors brought forth was a mouse. By no means perfect. Of course not. But, Japanese netsuke artists notwithstanding, he’d be damned if he’d carve a bug.

The Magic of Writing: Fact vs. Fiction

Leningrad, now St. Petersburg, Russia.

Years ago when I mentioned to one of my relatives that I was writing a story set in Leningrad (now St. Petersburg) she indignantly informed me: “Just because you briefly stuck your nose into the city, doesn’t mean you can write about it.” 

I don’t remember my reply. I did not say, “Oh, yes, I can.” I know I did not remind her that Margaret Mitchell (my relative loved Gone With the Wind) did not live in Georgia during the Civil War. I may have said, “I am not writing a travelogue or a history of the city. I’m writing a novel.” Fiction.

Writers cast a magic spell with their words in even the most realistic of fiction. A spell that can make even the most improbable things seem real. Contrary to what Franz Kafka wrote, in The Metamorphosis, there never was a man named Gregor Samsa who woke up one morning to discover that he’d turned into a cockroach. Nor did a nose (The Nose, by Nikolai Gogol) take leave of a man’s face and run (!) around St. Petersburg being very officious.

Sometime later, the same relative recommended The Dogs of Riga. Henning Mankell, she said, had done an excellent job of portraying Riga. Of course, I had to read the book, if for no other reason than to see just how accurately Mankell had depicted Riga, Latvia,which I’d also visited. There was almost no detail. He might have mentioned a famous clock and one or two other well-known landmarks in the city, but that was it. Mankell even admitted in an interview that he’d never set foot in Riga.

Then how was it that my relative was convinced that the author knew Riga well? She grew up in the city, naturally, she knew it well. That was Mankell’s trick. When he wrote about the Laima clock, in my relative’s mind it conjured up memories of her hometown. She could visualize the tree-lined boulevard on which the clock stands, the blue hotel, and the Freedom Monument in the background. So it seemed as if Mankell had actually been on that very street corner. This writer did not cast a spell. He knew the right details to include to make the reader create her own spell. To those who don’t know the city, the details don’t matter much anyway. They’re interested in the plot.

Louis L’Amour, author of many best-selling Western novels did not rely on his word power to make his settings seem real. He was a stickler for detail. It is said that if in one of his novels he wrote that a lamppost was on a particular corner, in a particular town, you could go to that town and find that very lamppost. Provided it hadn’t been knocked down by some drunk driver in a truck. That last sentence is my addition. Reality changes.

Does it matter if the lamppost was ever actually where L’Amour said it was? To me, it does not. Nor does it matter that a man never turned into a cockroach nor that a nose never deserted its face. What matters is the story–the magic spell that the writer casts.

John Grisham once cheerfully admitted that a prison he’d depicted in one of his novels did not actually exist. I did not read this in his acknowledgments until after I’d finished reading his book.  It did not matter. It was still a good book that I’d enjoyed and would read again. Anyone who did not read the acknowledgments wouldn’t know the difference.

Authors who are not writing fantasy or science-fiction must try to strike a balance between what’s real and what’s fiction. If someone writes a novel set in Seattle and puts Mt. Rainier in the wrong place, I’ll be highly irked, but if the author’s books are engaging enough, I will read them again and again. It’s the story that matters and the spell the writer casts.

Mentioning Riga’s distinctive architectural details can make the city come alive in fiction. Make it seem like the author has been there.

Cameron’s Cat

Free on Amazon

Have I mentioned before that sometimes writing is the only thing that keeps me going? Depression catches up with me all too often, making it almost impossible to function.

But just because I haven’t been posting on my blog, doesn’t mean I haven’t been writing. I’m almost finished with my romance novel, Bittersweet Christmas and will soon be looking for a publisher. Depending on who wants my book, it might be published under the title, A Daddy for Christmas.

My novel, set in Seattle in 1952. Even through I like my Latvian refugee protagonist very much, the character who engages me most is the leading man, Cameron Quinn. He’s a decorated former fighter pilot, a private pilot, and works as an aeronautical engineer and test pilot and Boeing. He’s also a dare devil. The substance he abuses is adrenaline. I admit–I’m in love with the guy. I wish I could wave a magic wand and make him come alive. I’ve had a great time writing this book, even though there were times I wanted to pound my head on my keyboard.

Cameron is owned by a big Maine coon cat; a gorgeous fellow named Leo, who is the star of my children’s book, Cameron’s Cat. The story is about how Cameron found and rescued Leo when he was just a kitten, abandoned at the airport. Starting tomorrow, August 8 and for the next twenty-four hours, Cameron’s Cat will be available for free on Amazon. Give it a try. Save a little money. Tell your friends. Please.

Thank you for reading my blog.