Lucky Seven and Writers

I’d never seen the word shichifukujin until I read author Dan Brown’s thriller Digital Fortress. Granted, there are many words I haven’t seen or read, but this one intrigued me. Brown simply revealed the shichifukujin were the seven deities of good luck, although perhaps not for one of his characters named Numataka. Curious, I wanted to find out about the seven deities. I looked them up at this site: www.ancient.eu. They seem pretty happy in the picture below. Good luck is evidently good for the soul.

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Shichifukujin image courtesy of ancient.eu

Just what kind of luck do these gods oversee? If these happy fellows are on your horizon, here’s what you can expect, by name:

Ebisu will bring you luck in your work. He’s depicted with a fish, suggesting bounty in the fisherman’s work. Let’s add success in a writer’s work.

Daikoku will bring you wealth and prosperity. He’s a patron of farmers, sitting atop bags of bountiful rice. Works for me.

Benten, playing a lute and the only female, is the goddess of love and reasoning.

Bishamon is the god of happiness and war, an odd combination. You can identify him easily.

Hotei is the patron of thrift and philanthropy although his big belly and laid back look are deceiving. I guess the moral is save and share.

Fukurokuju is the god of wisdom and longevity as signified by his very high forehead.

Jurojin is also a god of wisdom and longevity. He has a long white beard and wears a scholarly hat.

Having two gods of wisdom and longevity, suggesting both common sense and scholarly learning, hints at the idea that the longer we live, the wiser we become and that we can’t have or be blessed with too much wisdom. I’ll take a double dose of wisdom on any day of the week and consider myself very lucky. And I hope it carries over into my ability as a writer.

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Image courtesy of Reference.com

And then we have the seven dwarfs from the fairy tale Snow White. When the Grimm Brothers wrote this story, they didn’t give the dwarfs names. It wasn’t until 1912 and a Broadway play of Snow White by Winthrop Ames that the little fellas were given names: Blick, Flick, Glick, Plick, Snick, Whick and Quee. Oxford Dictionaries.

Clever, yes, but it took Disney with his film Snow White to immortalize them with the names Doc, Grumpy, Happy, Sleepy, Dopey, Bashful, and Sneezy. The number seven coming to life as seven little characters brought great luck to a couple of authors, a playwright, and a filmmaker.

Let’s give these seven deities a chance to usher in good luck in the writing department as we put story on the page, and let these seven little people remind us to create characters that readers enjoy, love (or maybe hate), remember, and care about.

As a final touch, let’s add a rainbow, a classic symbol of good luck and hope, which happens to have seven colors: red, orange, yellow, green, blue,  indigo, and violet. A pot of gold at the end certainly helps.

It’s up to us to add the work and perseverance we know it takes. Happy writing!

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Marketing Your Book

The marketing of a book is an ever evolving, actually, never ending process. As writers, we’re always looking for more and different ways to present our work. My associate and I, after creating All Ways A Woman, explored locations, organizations, retail settings, and gatherings like Girlfriend Afternoons and book groups. We kept our eyes and ears open for new venues, trying always to think beyond the usual.

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The ongoing process took (takes) contacting organizations, talking to people, visiting sites, texting, emails, letter writing, and … talking to people. (Did I already mention that?) And after presenting our work a few times, we received invitations and referrals. There are no guarantees in this process. Some events will be highly successful, some moderately successful, and others, not so much. But always your work is out there.

It’s wise to be affiliated with a local writers’ organization, always a source for networking, referrals, contacts, ideas, education, and events. The Desert Writers Expo, sponsored by the Palm Springs Writers Guild, happens to be the next event on the itinerary for All Ways A Woman.

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In our constant quest for venues, we’ve compiled this list of places where we’ve presented and sold our work:

  1. Champagne book signings in private homes

  2. Book talks and readings at book clubs

  3. Book talks and readings at museums

  4. Book talks and readings at libraries

  5. Book talks and readings at local organizations and women’s clubs

  6. Book tables in retail settings e.g. Pottery Barn and The Wine Emporium

  7. Book Expos

  8. Art Shows (In its tribute to women, the book combines art and poetry.)

  9. Book talks and readings at galleries

  10. Book stocked in retail stores e.g. The La Quinta Museum Store

  11. Online on Amazon

  12. Facebook All Ways A Woman page

The important idea is to keep putting your book out into the public flow of events. We’re always open to and looking for new ideas. Maybe you’ve found one or two here you can use. If you’d like to share what you’ve found successful with your work, we’d love to hear about it! And as always, happy writing and happy marketing.

 

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When Your Story Setting Chooses You

You may have visited or lived in a place you knew would become a setting for a story you had yet to write. A place that spoke to you in not only a visceral, emotional way, but also in an intellectual, reflective way, causing you to look deeper into yourself and the world around you.

As opposed to a story setting which acts merely as background music and a place for your characters to interact, I had a place like the one referred to above, a place I felt could reverberate through the action and characters like a symphony reverberates through an audience and concert hall. A setting to become almost a character, the elephant in the room. I had a location just waiting for its moment.

As an intern teacher, my first assignment, after a semester at the Campus School at Buffalo College SUNY, was to an elementary school in the city of Niagara Falls, New York. (I lived midway between the cities of Niagara Falls and Buffalo, a commuter student.) Each day of the week, I drove to Niagara Falls for my assignment, each day of the week I experienced “the Falls.”

I never tired in the course of my drive of seeing the wide, serene Niagara River turn to rapids then divide and drop over a precipice of about 180 feet known as the American Falls and the nearby larger Canadian Falls named the Horseshoe Falls. The majesty and power of the scene burned into my memory. Whenever I had a moment, I’d park and, with the many tourists, stand at the rails to look, becoming both awed and introspective.

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The American Falls courtesy of nydailynews.com

During that time, I saw the Falls not only from behind a safety rail, but from the Cave of the Winds, where clad in yellow slickers curious people like myself could walk behind the tons of dropping water and experience the natural wonder up close.

I also saw the Falls years later from the air. One memorable flight occurred on a chartered plane with the Northern Illinois University football team. My husband and I flew with them from the Chicago area to Buffalo International for a game with the University of Buffalo. When the female pilot announced we would soon be flying over the Falls, an air of expectancy filled the plane followed by expressions of awe from the players when the sight came into view. For a special moment I witnessed the effect on these young men. Everyone seemed struck by the wonder of it all, the beauty, the power.

Time passed. Then a few years ago a character by the name of Nick Ferrelli popped into my head. (My husband’s Italian.) As a gelatinous plot wriggled into my thoughts, I knew Nick, a good guy, would be pulled into a torrent of events bigger than himself. I knew just where I wanted the action to take place. Yep. Niagara Falls. The story became “Ferrelli’s Fall.”

Niagara Falls has been the setting for many a book (e.g. The Falls by Joyce Carol Oates) and film (e.g. Niagara starring Joseph Cotton and Marilyn Monroe), but now they were Nick’s to experience for the first time. Nick, on seeing the Horseshoe Falls …

            Nick lowered the car window. The roar of fast moving water thundering over the precipice of the Canadian Falls and crashing onto the rocks below exploded in his ears. Fine mist rose into the sunlit air, falling like gossamer rain back into the Falls, onto the road, onto the adjacent park. Tourists held jackets or umbrellas over their heads or, bareheaded, allowed the mist to shower down on them. A fragile rainbow hung in the fine spray.

            In a crowded parking lot, he jockeyed his car into a spot just vacated by a jeep with Quebec plates. He hurried across the highway toward an iron safety rail where sightseers crowded along the fence, a cacophony of water hurling onto the fallen rocks below, deafening him. He edged between a tattooed biker and a blond man with a backpack slung over his shoulder.

            The biker turned to Nick, his voice a shout. “Folks used to go over them falls in a barrel. That’s some kinda crazy.”

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The Canadian or Horseshoe Falls courtesy of wild.com

In another scene in a local bar called The Falls Inn, Nick experiences the Falls in another way. He meets a character by the name of Captain Jack MacGregor, a former captain of a vessel known as The Maid of the Mist which plies the water below the Falls, enabling tourists to be close to the tumult. Nick asks,

“Tell me, Captain, what’s it like to be in those waters?”

            “It’s a roiling cauldron, son. Never dull. Gotta know where the rocks are. They’re tumblin’ all the time.” Captain Jack finished his drink, smacked his lips, waved to the bartender for another. “Always somethin’, like when I was all set to perform a weddin’. The groom suddenly went missin’. My mate found ‘im in the galley. Hidin’, he was. Said he’d changed his mind. The bride-to-be tossed her bouquet overboard and told the guy to get lost. A sturdy little lass she was.”

            Nick gave a short laugh. “I’ve been a little commitment shy myself, or so I’ve been told.”

            “Take your time, mate. Take your time.” The Captain wiped his mouth with the back of his hand. “Also had a pretty little lass, in her twenties she was, try to jump over the rail. Kept yellin’, ‘Get away! Let me go!’ My mate and I pulled her back.”

            “Poor kid.” Nick thought about Maggie, the night she stormed out of the condo. For good. He knew all about life’s unexpected turns, all about its sad turns.

            “Yep, these waters, these falls draw ‘em all, more than just honeymooners or jilted lovers. The suicides and loonies flock here like gulls to dead fish.” Captain Jack scratched his chest, peering at Nick with watery eyes. “Ever want to kill yourself, son?”

Through the course of writing the story, I not only drew from Niagara Falls and its considerable imprint on me, but I also had a challenge – exploring characters and moral codes set against that backdrop. The whole piece, on the cusp of a novelette of about 7,000 words, will be in a collection of short stories, slowly coming together. The present working titles for the book are Racing from the Dark or Racing from the Night. Which do you like? Members of my critique group want more of Nick. We’ll see.

 

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When Your Book Gives Back …

It’s always gratifying as an author to receive feedback and validation about your book. I’m speaking of a compliment, an award, a good review, a referral, a speaking engagement, a book signing, recognition by your peers. These are definitely “feel goods.” Recently, my associate Lynn Centeno and I received a different kind of feedback – a most unusual and heartfelt kind – as a result of our book All Ways A Woman. 

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A book to celebrate and inspire women.

By way of background: Our purpose in doing the book was to honor, celebrate, and inspire women by depicting a woman’s journey, universal yet personal, via original story poems and watercolors. A few weeks ago, a social media post and an email came across my computer screen that made me think, our book is right on. Let me explain.

We’ve all heard of the human response “fight or flight.” A Facebook post which I highlight below came into my feed – a quote from Rebecca Solnit’s book The Mother of All Questions. It states that women won’t necessarily choose the above response but instead will seek the support of other women, particularly in times of stress. It reinforced parts of our book’s content. Quote:

For a century, the human response to stress and danger has been defined as “fight or flight.” A 2000 UCLA study by several psychologists noted that this research was based largely on studies of male rats and male human beings. But studying women led them to a third, often deployed option: gather for solidarity, support, advice. They noted that “behaviorally, females’ responses are more marked by a pattern of ‘tend-and-befriend.'” (Thank you to Iris Anderson for sharing Anne Hathaway’s FB post.)

Then I received this email from nybookeditors.com titled “Your Guide to Writing Women.” This post was addressed to authors on how to create a strong woman character without her simply being “a dude wearing a skirt.” Their first premise? Women like to feel safe and will seek or create a place of safety. Their second premise? Women desire to serve in strong roles, not in a subservient way, but from a place of power: mothers, teachers, doctors, leadership roles, volunteerism. For women, ego does not seem to be the driving force.

Our book depicts a woman’s journey and culminates with ideas mentioned above. The second last poem in the book speaks to the desire to serve in a non-subservient way. The piece is called “A Woman’s Hands.” The last poem in the book, “The Gift of the Gathering,” speaks to the female response of  ‘tend-and-befriend.’ It addresses how women gather together and gift each other with support.

It was gratifying to know we had done this work by instinct and intuition only to have these two sources – one scientific and one literary – reinforce our thoughts. A serendipitous happening. And validating.

But a final reward was yet in the offing. A friend who had recently lost her husband and was in the throes of this very deep loss, came to one of our events held last year on Valentine’s Day. She purchased several books, one of which was given to a special girlfriend of hers. A year later, my friend called to tell me she had something she wanted me to see. I stopped by her home full of curiosity and was stunned. She had been gifted with the beautiful quilt shown below created by the friend to whom she had given our book. The quilt had been inspired by their friendship and our creative work.

The quilt celebrates a lovely woman, a supportive friendship, and a true love. This is “tend-and-befriend” at its best, at its most inspiring. It’s also our book giving back to us in a way never imagined. We’re humbled.

Thank you to my friend Eleanor for sharing this beautiful gift. And thank you to her friend Lydia for her quilting artistry and heartfelt way of supporting her friend.

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The images are in the tone and feeling of those in All Ways A Woman. A true fabric find!

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A lovely woman.

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A true love.

When your book gives back … it’s truly special.

***

And if you’re in the desert on March 14, we will be presenting at the Palm Springs Library at 6:30 pm. Thanks for stopping by.

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A Valentine’s Day List

It’s the month of February with Valentine’s Day on its way. What comes to mind? Hearts, flowers, and the iconic god Cupid. Our winged friend arrives with some impressive credentials of which we need to take note.

“In classical mythology, Cupid is the god of desire, erotic love, attraction and affection. He is often portrayed as the son of the love goddess Venus and the war god Mars. He is known in Latin as Amor. His Greek counterpart is Eros.” ( Wikipedia)

Obviously, this god is to be treated with respect. With that in mind, I’ll give him his full due with a comprehensive list of what is needed to celebrate Valentine’s Day.

Let’s begin …

Flowers

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Red Roses courtesy of creativemarket.com

You can’t miss with a bouquet of roses. Simply choose the color to match your state of mind. As found in The Old Farmer’s Almanac:

  • Dark red rose: unconscious beauty.
  • White rose: purity, innocence, reverence, silence.
  • Pink rose: grace, happiness, gentleness.
  • Yellow rose: joy, friendship, the promise of a new beginning.
  • Orange rose: desire and enthusiasm.
  • Lavender rose: love at first sight.
  • Coral rose: friendship, modesty, sympathy.

Chocolates

There’s nothing like a heart-shaped box of chocolates or any box of chocolates from an admirer or a true love. After all, the botanical name for the chocolate plant is “Theobrama Cacao,” which means “food of the gods.” Plus, chocolate contains a natural substance reputed to stimulate the same reaction in the body as falling in love. No further words are necessary!

Champagne or Wine

Here’s a tidbit I picked up along the way. I don’t remember the source:

“Champagne and sparkling wines do not pair well with milk or dark chocolate       because of their acidity, which reacts with chocolate and causes a tart taste to occur. Instead, pair white chocolate with champagne and dark chocolate with red wine.”

Depending on the amount of chocolates you receive, you may need several trips to Total Wine or Trader Joe’s.

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Courtesy of Toronto Star.com

Traditional Valentine’s Day Candy

Of course, you need to pick up a bag of these timeless beauties and read each one before you pop it in your mouth.

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Courtesy of oldtimecandy.com


Valentine’s Day Cards

You’ll want to find or receive just the right one. There’s no limit to the sentiment.

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Courtesy of wonderwoman .com

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Courtesy of Pinterest

Poetry

Now, to be a little more serious, let’s add words to reveal the heart and speak to the soul.

The Poet’s Love-Song
By Sarojini Naidu   Indo-Anglian poet, scholar, feminist

In noon-tide hours, O Love, secure and strong,
I need thee not; mad dreams are mine to bind
the world to my desire, and hold the wind
a voiceless captive to my conquering song.
I need thee not, I am content with these:
Keep silence in thy soul, beyond the seas!

But in the desolate hour of midnight, when
an ecstasy of starry silence sleeps
and my soul hungers for thy voice, O then,
Love, like the magic of wild melodies,
let thy soul answer mine across the seas.
***

The Mesh
by Kwesi Brew – Ghanaian poet

We have come to the cross-roads
And I must either leave or come with you.
I lingered over the choice
But in the darkness of my doubts
You lifted the lamp of love
And I saw in your face
The road that I should take.
***

Music

Valentine’s Day is the time to channel your favorite love song. Here’s an old favorite:

My Funny Valentine
by Chet Baker

My funny Valentine,
sweet comic Valentine,
you make me smile with my heart.
You’re looks are laughable,
unphotographable,
yet you’re my favorite work of art.
Is your figure less than Greek?
Is your mouth a little weak?
When you open it to speak
are you smart?
Don’t change a hair for me,
not if you care for me,
stay little Valentine stay,
each day is Valentine’s Day.
***

Art

What’s your favorite work of art? This is one of mine. Art definitely can add to the mood.

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The Kiss by Gustav Klimt – courtesy of amazon.co.uk

***

A Romantic Dinner for Two

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(Courtesy of CBSBoston.com)

Simply choose your favorite place.

***

There you have it. Flowers. Chocolate. Champagne/Wine. Candy. Cards. Poetry. Music. Art. Dinner for Two.

I wish you a Happy Valentine’s Day. Mostly, I wish you a life filled with a true love, at least once. I leave you with a haiku from the book All Ways A Woman:

Love Haiku
by Carol Mann

leaves turn in color
fall to the ground, fade away
constant is our love

0 front cover

And why not add the gift of a keepsake book? Just sayin’…

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Thank you, Anthony Bourdain

I’ll repeat. Thank you, Anthony Bourdain. I’m rather a neutral fan of this TV host, but I occasionally catch snippets of his show on CNN called Anthony Bourdain: Parts Unknown. The show explores other cuisines, cultures, and politics of a particular area. While channel surfing one evening, I caught and watched his show on Africa; his journey into the country of South Africa and then into the Republic of the Congo. In light of today’s current political climate, stirrings of overt racism, and unsavory remarks from national leadership, I followed him willingly on this journey.

Most of all I was struck by a remark made by a local man Bourdain visited with as they ate in a small South African eatery.

Put something in your mouth to get your ears open.

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Gardening by Lazarus Ramontseng

Bourdain’s purpose is to explore a culture and its politics through conversations held over a meal of local food. In this particular exchange, the talk was about the South African nation, its history, and ongoing recovery from apartheid. The eatery was one of several small house cafes with five or six tables he visited in the township of Soweto, south of Johannesburg. Soweto is where Africans once were forced to live. He also ate in the cafes of Johannesburg. One thing the eateries seemed to have in common? They bustled with multicultural people, with blends of language and attire. They also had one other thing in common. The people, while eating, were all engaged in civil discourse – people with different backgrounds and experiences and ethnic heritages. They enjoyed good food, made with pride, and each other.

Put something in your mouth to get your ears open.

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Bus Leaving Town by Peter Kwangware

From there Bourdain journeyed into the Congo. Viewers were shown a complex map of the areas occupied by various warring groups. We learned of the ineptness of its President and government. Bourdain continued to eat in cafes and homes, talking and listening. Then he and his guide rented a boat and explored the Congo River, at once becoming a curiosity to locals who gathered along the riverbank. We were shown the remains of the railroad system, the research facilities, and cities hurriedly abandoned by the Belgians in the 1960’s. The railroad and research facilities are still manned by skeletal crews of African workers waiting for the government to make things operational again.

Put something in your mouth to get your ears open.

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Collage by South African artist Benon Lutaaya

During his narration, Bourdain made several references to Joseph Conrad’s Heart of Darkness. The title has several meanings. One refers to a journey into the heart of the  then dark continent of Africa. The other refers to the base nature man can keep in his heart. As in the rape of Africa. As in racism.

Let’s see … civil discourse and listening to each other … done enjoyably over delicious food of the area … an opportunity to appreciate, understand, and learn about each other. I’m in.

Currently, in our national discussions, we are talking about immigration, other ethnicities, cultures, and religions. We are uniting behind the repugnance of racism which has raised its ugly head. While such a complex issue cannot be solved by this one simple and civilized act, the positive subtext is obvious. It’s time to diffuse tension, and enlighten and expand the national consciousness. And listen. I’m looking for an equitable legal immigration policy, national policies that embrace diversity, and moral leadership, based on civil discourse and respect.

Put something in your mouth to get your ears open.

I’ll leave you with a quote by Dr. Martin Luther King which has resonated with me for many years:

“Darkness cannot drive out darkness, only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate, only love can do that.” From Dr. King’s Strength of Love, 1963.

Progress is slow. But, as I recall, the tortoise eventually won. It didn’t quit.

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Curious about your DNA story?

I finally did it. I succumbed to the lure of Ancestry.com and the siren call of its TV advertising. Unable to resist its special holiday pricing, I sent for my kit.

The compact box arrived with instructions on how to deposit saliva into a small tube, secure its integrity with a preservative, seal it, and return the contents, which I did. Several weeks later I received the results. Drum roll, please.

The results summary turned out like this:

Western Europe                                                                           42%
Great Britain (Northern England and the Midlands)           33%
Scandinavia                                                                                    6%
Eastern Europe                                                                              6%
Ireland/Scotland/Wales                                                               5%

How surprised was I? Not very, to be honest. Family lore had always taught that our ancestors were from Germany and France on my father’s side, and England and Scotland on my mother’s side.

Scandinavia at 6% was the only bit of surprise until I remembered the escapades of the Vikings as they explored in England and Europe with a brief jog over to the New World. For the Eastern Europe segment – migration within Europe was not a surprise.

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Explorations of The Vikings courtesy of BBC – Primary History

But wait a minute. The above stats only accounted for 92% of my ancestry. Where was the rest of it? Then I spotted a subheading called Low Confidence Regions. I read further to find out what that meant.

Per Ancestry.com: In a DNA estimate, low confidence regions are areas for which there’s a small amount of DNA evidence found in a sample. All ethnicities with predicted percentages of less than 4.5% appear as low confidence regions.

I clicked on the subheading and up popped the rest of my DNA answer. I found two very intriguing.

Southern Europe                                       3%
Iberian Peninsula                                      2%
Caucasus                                                      2%
Finland/NW Russia                                    1%

A little side research revealed the Iberian Peninsula is occupied by Portugal and Spain plus an additional area called Andorra and Gibraltar. The Caucasus is the region situated between the Black Sea and the Caspian Sea at the border of Europe and Asia and is a little more complicated than the Iberian Peninsula in its make-up. The most recent map I could find was 2008.

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Courtesy of Wikipedia

As a writer, all sorts of story paths popped up. First, I realized how using a person’s DNA could inspire a fictional historical saga, played out over several books a la authors Ken Follett or Philippa Gregory. Or how you could create a character based on your history, a location and events of the time, and build a solo novel around him or her.

I’m especially intrigued by my results about the Iberian peninsula and the Caucasus. Many short story/novella/novel possibilities exist, whether anchored in history or playing out in the present geo-political world. Going to a mysterious or less familiar locale for a story always adds interest.

Other genres could be inspired like memoir, personal essay, and poetry.

All of this would involve research which is exciting and bound to reveal more.

I haven’t delved into my personal history yet. There are other avenues to pursue on Ancestry.com. The results so far reach as far as eighth cousins. Perhaps I have greatness in my past … or not. Perhaps I have relatives close by of which I am unaware.

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Separation by Shelby McQuilkin

I enjoy the genealogy documentary TV show Who Do You Think You Are. A recent segment revealed that Larry David, co-creator of Seinfeld, and Senator Bernie Sanders of Vermont are distant cousins. They didn’t know.

Whatever I will find and perhaps choose to write about, so be it. I found this journey satisfying as far as I’ve gone. It made me remember, “We stand on the shoulders of those who have come before us. On their struggles and achievements.” I’ll take this opportunity to say, “Thank you.” And fire up the computer.

 

 

Posted in blogging, Creativity, fiction writing, Finding Ideas: The Creative Process, Inspiration, Looking for Inspiration, memoir, personal essay, poetry, Reading, short story, Writing | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , | 7 Comments