Marj Charlier http://www.marjcharlier.com Official Author Website Thu, 02 Nov 2017 02:29:45 +0000 en-US hourly 1 https://wordpress.org/?v=4.8.3 114055371 Are Computers the Novelists of the Future? http://www.marjcharlier.com/author-blog/computers-novelists-future/ http://www.marjcharlier.com/author-blog/computers-novelists-future/#comments Thu, 02 Nov 2017 02:29:45 +0000 http://www.marjcharlier.com/?p=12176 I fear that I will soon be replaced by a computer. One upon a time, I believed many jobs were endangered by robots and artificial intelligence (AI), but those that involved creative enterprises – literature, art, drama, music – would be immune. Of course, as AI has advanced and free (or nearly free) novels have […]

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I fear that I will soon be replaced by a computer.

One upon a time, I believed many jobs were endangered by robots and artificial intelligence (AI), but those that involved creative enterprises – literature, art, drama, music – would be immune. Of course, as AI has advanced and free (or nearly free) novels have proliferated, I slowly have been losing faith in the future of a career as a novelist.

But last weekend, the last vestiges of my confidence in the viability of human artistry as a holdout in the information age collapsed. It was smashed to bits at the Writers Digest Novel Writing Conference in Pasadena. This was my first writers’ conference in several years, and a decidedly different message came through than I heard a decade ago: “This isn’t art, folks; it’s science.”

And, as we all know, computers and robots are really good at science.

Of the many well-delivered presentations I attended, more than half of them described the path to a best-selling, high-concept, Nobel-prize-winning novel as a matter of following a formula. I’m not talking about the “three-act” structure the professors used to lecture about in creative writing courses I took in college. We’re talking about a step-by-step, paint-by-the numbers approach to constructing stories. With a (brief) nod to the less calculable ounce of inspiration that initiates many projects, the speakers I heard broke successful (that is, eventually made into movies) plots into repeatable and predictable sequences of “beats” — a term apparently borrowed from Hollywood (as I’m afraid much of the plot structures have been).

As I listened to the presentations—often they were illustrated with movie clips, not passages from novels—I began to feel that it isn’t much of a leap from this kind of prescription to the creation of algorithms that can do the writing job for us. Computers have access to Google. (Duh.) Any information about a geographic setting, a time period, a particular science-fiction theory, any theory of human emotion — it’s all available to a computer, which doesn’t even have to use fingers to type in a search query. Put all that data together with the “eight steps to creating a breakout novel,” and you’ve got a very efficient, incredibly cheap novelist on your hands. (Not that human novelists aren’t cheap. Inexpensive, I mean.)

Now I wake up to the lead story in the New York Times’ Arts section this morning: “Number-Crunching the Novel.”

Among the discoveries by the computer-wielding analysts of literature that the NYT profiles is this gem: “…what distinguishes the Gothic novel isn’t just castles and ghosts but more frequent use of certain verb tenses and prepositions.” If I am armed with this and similar data, plug it into a computer, do I really have to write another word, or will the computer be able to do it for me?

Recently, a friend dropped off a copy of The Hightower Lowdown, a newsletter written by Texan Jim Hightower (a politician I travelled with back in the 1980s and 1990s when I wrote an article about him for the Wall Street Journal). Although my friend didn’t know that Hightower was an old acquaintance, she does know that one of the issues I write about in my books is the disappearance of jobs.

Hightower’s main concern in his latest newsletter, “’Thinking’ robots will soon shake our definition of human worth,” is robots who will replace human physical labor. He points out that MIT and Boston University economists counted some 670,000 industrial jobs that were replaced by robots from 1990 to 2007, and predicts the number of roboticized jobs will quadruple in another eight years.

But, it’s not just physical labor that’s going away. Doctors make fewer diagnoses; computers make more. Your bank never lets you talk to a human on the phone. Hightower relates the story of a computer named VITAL that won a seat on the board of a Hong Kong financial corporation. Computers are writing earnings reports for some of the world’s major news organizations. And now, will our favorite novelists (or at least the best-selling ones) have names like HAL and VITAL?

Hightower is right to conclude his newsletter with the observation that the machine isn’t the enemy. The problem isn’t the disappearance of work (who doesn’t like vacations?), but it is the reality that we have devised no other system for distributing wealth and resources. “(W)e are not battling bots, but the grabbiness of a few moneyed corporations and investors intent on claiming all of the profits of AI — everyone else and every one of America’s democratic all-in-this-together values be damned.”

I’ve heard people argue that being freed from work will allow us all the opportunity to take up creative work. Apparently, we can do that. But what if everyone prefers to read HAL and VITAL? Human-written novels will be the equivalent of trees that fall in the woods with no one around.

I have many friends in technology industries who frequently post items on Facebook about how technology really isn’t taking any jobs; it’s just creating different ones. Apparently, someone will have to program that computer to write the novels. Frankly, I don’t believe it, and I don’t see it. Once the computer is programmed, the human work is over. Even Bill Gates has said about AI: “I don’t understand why some people are not concerned.”

PS: If you want to see an example of my treatment of these kinds of issues, you can read this excerpt from my upcoming novel, Marcia’s Revenge: A Johnson Station Novel.

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Book readings are fun! http://www.marjcharlier.com/author-blog/book-readings-fun/ http://www.marjcharlier.com/author-blog/book-readings-fun/#respond Fri, 13 Oct 2017 00:19:07 +0000 http://www.marjcharlier.com/?p=12121 Even when the audience isn’t large, book readings are fun. At Koffi last Sunday, October 8, my new friend David Roos and I had great fun talking about writing and book design in a lively conversation with our audience.  David showed us a trailer he created for his book, The Chameleon of Hong Kong, and […]

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Even when the audience isn’t large, book readings are fun. At Koffi last Sunday, October 8, my new friend David Roos and I had great fun talking about writing and book design in a lively conversation with our audience.  David showed us a trailer he created for his book, The Chameleon of Hong Kong, and I read a bit about robots from my new Johnson Station novel (due out in January), Marcia’s Revenge.  Rose Baldwin added some intelligence she gathered at a recent writers’ conference about natural and forced description, and Donna Fitzgerald talked about the writing habits of poets.

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Urgent, Urgent! I Have to Get This Published! http://www.marjcharlier.com/author-blog/urgent-urgent-get-published/ http://www.marjcharlier.com/author-blog/urgent-urgent-get-published/#comments Wed, 28 Jun 2017 14:28:38 +0000 http://www.marjcharlier.com/?p=12093 Many mornings, after I have spent a couple of hours at my computer and have finished my shower and breakfast, I check my e-mails one more time for a response to an e-mail I sent the night before. Nothing. I mutter: “Why hasn’t he/she gotten back to me?” Then, I look at the clock at […]

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Many mornings, after I have spent a couple of hours at my computer and have finished my shower and breakfast, I check my e-mails one more time for a response to an e-mail I sent the night before.

Nothing.

I mutter: “Why hasn’t he/she gotten back to me?”

Then, I look at the clock at the bottom of the screen, and I realize it’s not 8 o’clock yet.

I blame this in part due to an old person’s tendency to go to bed early and get up early. Of course, it is also a fact of life in a desert, where mornings are the only part of the day not singed in heat.

But I think there’s something else going on here.

It’s called urgency.

A few months ago, I launched a small publishing company to help writers in Southern California get their novel, memoir, short story collection or poetry book finally published. While self-publishing has made it easy for nearly anyone to become a “published” author in a few (okay, a lot of) keystrokes, it is still an intimidating process for many of the writers I know, especially those like me over 60.

As a member of several writing groups in the Coachella Valley, I heard this more times than I can count: “I’ve written a —– (fill in the blank: book, novel, memoir, poetry collection), but I don’t know what to do next.”

There was niche to be filled: helping those writers make their publishing dream come true–and I’ve been happy to fill it.

The Urgency of Others

What I’ve discovered working with my new clients is something I hadn’t expected, though. Here’s what they’ve told me:

  • “I need to get this done now. I’m not getting any younger.” Okay. That one I might have expected.
  • “My editor says I need to rewrite this novel, but I don’t want to. I have too many books I need to write before I die.” That one was a bit surprising.
  • “I’m so relieved that you’re helping me with this. I know that if something happens to me, you’ll finish it for me.” That one made me feel grateful for his confidence.

I believe this reflects the same urgency that gets me up early in the morning. There’s so much to do, so many things I still want to accomplish, that lying in bed in the morning is robbing myself of precious time.

One author who is not a client but who has become a friend told me that when he was diagnosed with prostate cancer 15 years ago, he’d been fooling around with a novel for years. Once he got the diagnosis, however, he finished the novel in three months and had a publisher in five months, and the book had been optioned for a film within the year. He’s gone on to write several more books. The cancer has been slower to act, thank goodness, and he’s still writing and leading critique groups ten years later.

You can point to the cost of health care and the financial insecurities wrought by the disastrous bank practices of the early 2000s as reasons why some people don’t retire. But I have seen that even those who do retire don’t quit working anymore. They finally find time to do that thing they’ve put off. For some it’s travel, or volunteer work, or building a complete brewpub in their basement. For some, it’s writing that book.

Publishing is gratifying

I started my little publishing company, Sunacumen Press, to help finance my own retirement. But I now see it as serving another purpose altogether: helping people get their book done and into print now.

And for me, the most gratifying thing that happens is once that first book is done, and my clients hold it in their hands and send it to their friends and relatives, they’re raring to go onto the next one. And it has nothing to do with fame, fortune or great reviews. It’s about finally finishing something they’ve thought about for a very long time. And having fun doing it.

I think that’s a good thing. We all need goals that wake us up in the morning and help us power through the slings and arrows and aches and pains of aging. If writing another book helps someone live longer and happier, what could be better than that?

(For information on Sunacumen Press, visit www.sunacumenpress.com or email info@sunacumenpress.com)

 

 

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45 Years Later, We’re Still Truckin’ http://www.marjcharlier.com/author-blog/45-years-later-still-truckin/ http://www.marjcharlier.com/author-blog/45-years-later-still-truckin/#comments Mon, 12 Jun 2017 18:50:12 +0000 http://www.marjcharlier.com/?p=12086 Surprises from a 45th class reunion.

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Is there an event in an over-60 person’s life more cliché than the high school reunion?

If the event isn’t cliché, the reactions to it certainly are. “I went to my high school reunion and a bunch of old people showed up” is probably the most repeated.

But, as with most clichés, it seems that one is a gross generalization. I just went to my 45th high school reunion in central Iowa and a bunch of young people showed up.

Seriously. Maybe our class motto was prescient: “Keep on truckin’.” If the thirty-some folks who showed up (out of our class of just over ninety) are any indication, we’re still truckin’ ‘n’ ‘shuckin’ ‘n’ jivin’.  And doing a lot of other adventurous and intrepid things. Starting new businesses, learning a new sport, traveling to places beyond where the grandkids live.

No one looked old, even though we’re all well over 60. No one looked unhealthy, although we’ve all had our share of bouts with cancer and other plagues. No one looked unhappy, although we’ve all suffered the loss of close ones — parents, siblings, children, spouses in some manner.

Perhaps that’s what people do when they come to class reunions: put on their best face, force a skip in their step, and tell the good stories of their lives, leaving out the bad. Maybe it was a ruse.

Life is Better for Us

That’s part of it, I’m sure. But I think not all of it. Instead, I think we are living healthier, happier lives than our parents did. For many of us, an education beyond high school was within reach and accomplished, when it wasn’t possible for our parents. We built careers on passion and commitment because we expected to. We built families and homes from love and humor, not just out of grit and necessity.

And, I think it’s not an exaggeration to say that sixty is the new forty. At the reunion, it really felt like it. Perhaps my current residence, where the cliché is “you are always young and beautiful in Palm Springs,” has something to do with it. Among the friends I hang out with here, a sixty-year-old is never old.

At the reunion, I handed out several copies of my books about a small town in Iowa: Gracie’s Revolution and Jackie’s Campaign, and asked for my classmates to post reviews on Amazon. I hope they do, because it matters to me what they think of them.(Hint, hint!) Even more than before, I have a great respect for them and what they’ve accomplished, and I’m glad I can share some of my work with them as well.

 

 

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Yes, Belinda’s Overweight and So Am I http://www.marjcharlier.com/author-blog/yes-belindas-overweight-and-so-am-i/ http://www.marjcharlier.com/author-blog/yes-belindas-overweight-and-so-am-i/#comments Fri, 31 Mar 2017 18:17:29 +0000 http://www.marjcharlier.com/?p=11990 There is a man my husband knows who never greets me without commenting on how much I weigh. “It looks like you’ve lost weight,” he often says. Or, “Have you lost weight?” he asks, encouragingly. I suppose he means well, but I find it judgmental and intrusive. I don’t care if he thinks I have […]

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There is a man my husband knows who never greets me without commenting on how much I weigh.

“It looks like you’ve lost weight,” he often says. Or, “Have you lost weight?” he asks, encouragingly.

I suppose he means well, but I find it judgmental and intrusive. I don’t care if he thinks I have lost weight, should lose weight, or should not lose weight. I don’t want it to be a constant topic of conversation, and I’d rather he keep his evaluations to himself.

The truth is probably that he thinks I should lose weight, and he thinks his comment is some kind of positive reinforcement that will encourage me to diet and exercise and get down to what he would consider an appropriate dress size for my short stature. The other truth is, every time I see him, I’ve probably gained a half-pound or so since I saw him the time before. In the past 28 years since I married Ben, I have gained about 56 pounds—or about two pounds a year. I now wear the same size shorts as my husband, who is fourteen inches taller than me.

Yes, I am overweight. If I weren’t so short, I’d probably be “plus-sized,” but because I am short, I just buy clothes in the ‘teens and hem them about eight inches. I’m not proud of my weight, I’m not pleased with it, but like most of us who are overweight, there’s not a whole lot I can do about it. I know all about set-points and the body’s near-miraculous ability to defy physics and chemistry to stay at the most weight it’s ever achieved, and I have accepted the near-impossibility of long-term weight loss.

All of this has come up because of a comment made by a reader of Gracie’s Revolution. Usually, it is best not to respond to comments on your book because it’s seen as petty. You write the book; you accept the criticism. But I’d like to share my thoughts about a particular character to whom the reader apparently took exception because I think it makes an important point about creating characters in novels.

First the comment: “For a book meant to be about open- mindedness and inclusiveness, this book was very disdainful toward plus- size women. Yes, I am one,” commented MeMeMe.50. She gave the book two stars, apparently for that reason, as she gave none other.

I knew when I created Belinda, a large woman who attends the women’s coffee klatch in my Johnson Station series, I was taking a risk. Overweight women are not unusual in Iowa or anywhere else in the United States, so I wasn’t conjuring up someone unbelievable. The risk I took is in deciding to avoid the trope that goes like this: “Overweight women are wonderful. They may be overweight, but they’re funny and the life of the party.” (See Shallow Hal and Hairspray.) I knew that many people – perhaps even some plus-sized ones – would be pissed that I didn’t adopt that stereotype when I included an overweight character in the book.

Well, guess what. We’re not all funny, and some of us aren’t even very nice. Some of us talk too much, argue too much, and frown too much. But it has nothing to do with our weight. The reason Belinda is obnoxious and argumentative isn’t because she’s overweight, it’s because she’s obnoxious and argumentative.

Nearly all the women characters of my Johnson Station novels are at least slightly overweight, and most of them are significantly so. (They are American and over 50, after all.) They all have come to terms with their dress size, like I have. The exception is Liz, who is obsessive-compulsive about her weight, significantly underweight, and paranoid about gaining an ounce. Her fixation on cookbooks is one manifestation of that.

Not one person in Gracie’s Revolution – there is no omniscient narrator – criticizes Belinda about her weight or talks about it behind her back. There is no disdain. A person’s appearance is part of what an author conjures up in creating a character. It certainly didn’t seem out of place to me to have a large woman at the coffee klatch. But it would be hackneyed to make her funny and the life of the party. Gracie doesn’t like Belinda, but it’s not because she’s overweight. And she doesn’t constantly ask her if she’s lost weight.

Creating real-life characters is a part of the challenge of writing fiction, and when you create one whose characteristics include a generally maligned feature, it’s risky if you don’t make them the darling of the novel. I accept that. But I think it’s important to fight against stereotypes. And I think it is important to accept ourselves for what and who we are.

So, yes, MeMeMe.50, I am “one,” too. Just a little shorter than most.

 

 

 

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What I Took Away from the Tucson Festival of Books http://www.marjcharlier.com/author-blog/what-i-took-away-from-the-tucson-festival-of-books/ http://www.marjcharlier.com/author-blog/what-i-took-away-from-the-tucson-festival-of-books/#comments Sat, 18 Mar 2017 18:55:21 +0000 http://www.marjcharlier.com/?p=11934 I recently returned from the Tucson Festival of Books a little poorer and with a little sunburn and heat exhaustion, but also relieved to know that books and authors are still relevant and respected enough to draw more than 100,000 people and 350 authors out into 98-degree heat for two days. My brain may be […]

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I recently returned from the Tucson Festival of Books a little poorer and with a little sunburn and heat exhaustion, but also relieved to know that books and authors are still relevant and respected enough to draw more than 100,000 people and 350 authors out into 98-degree heat for two days.

My brain may be a bit rattled from the heat, but here are my top observations from the event:

  • Tucson is full of Cubs fans.
  • Those of liberal inclinations are far more likely to attend the Tucson Festival than those of conservative politics. (Perhaps, they’re more likely to read, as well.)
  • A huge book festival is not a great place for a no-name literary novelist to get discovered.

More on each of these: 

1. It was indeed spring break and the middle of MLB spring training in Arizona, so perhaps I shouldn’t have been surprised at the number of Chicago Cubs fans wandering around. But the last time I saw that many Cubs hats in one place was at a game in Wrigley Field, back when the Cubs were still lovable,  perennial losers who played ball during the light of day. A World Series victory undoubtedly swells a fan base, so perhaps I should not have been surprised, but who knew so many book readers were baseball fans?

Maybe I should start writing baseball novels.

2. At each of the sessions I attended, Trump’s budget cuts to health, housing, medical research, the arts, NPR, and all manner of cultural- and life-sustaining programs were, if not the butt of jokes, the target of pointed, intelligent attacks. In one session on “Apocalypse 101: How to Destroy the World,” four novelists who have destroyed most of the population of Earth in one dystopian cataclysm or another more than once, bashed the GOP Congress and Trump administration for failing to recognize the apocalyptic disasters we’ve barely averted so far through medical research and peacemaking. They were uniformly pessimistic about our chances of continuing to do so going forward, and they didn’t mince words. Their concerns garnered what appeared to be unanimous agreement from the mostly Baby-Boom aged crowd. All of the panels of authors addressing racial and gender discrimination, immigration, automation and politics were packed with standing room only crowds.

If Arizona is a red state, the Festival of Books certainly didn’t show it.

3. As you might expect from the paragraph above, the 100,000 to 130,000 attendees at the festival were snatching up political, history, economics and science books at the University of Arizona Bookstore’s huge tent like they were bottles of water. I didn’t see the same enthusiasm for fiction, and maybe that speaks to the times. When the country is in the midst of a political crisis, it is heartening to know that readers reach for knowledge and understanding rather than escape and fantasy. However, the fiction authors that did seem to be drawing the best crowds were dystopian writers and writers of young adult fantasy.  Literary fiction, further, was far less popular than genre (mystery, romance, sci-fi) as it usually is, and while I solicited a few new names for my blogs and newsletter and made a few sales, I know now that a huge festival, staged outdoors in the heat of the day, isn’t the place to try to explain the subtleties of books about rural Midwest atrophy or build a fan base.

In the manner of an optimist, this I will say: Going to the festival was a learning experience. I enjoyed many great conversations with fellow festival-goers, including several who were staying at the same bed and breakfast.  And, it goes without saying, I suppose:

Any trip that involves Mexican cuisine and good margaritas is never a total loss.

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About Buen Dia and the Fun of Writing a Romance Series http://www.marjcharlier.com/author-blog/about-buen-dia-and-the-fun-of-writing-a-romance-series/ http://www.marjcharlier.com/author-blog/about-buen-dia-and-the-fun-of-writing-a-romance-series/#comments Thu, 02 Mar 2017 18:43:01 +0000 http://www.marjcharlier.com/?p=11928 I have just published my second romance novel, No Way to Win. It’s the second in a series of novels I plan to write about a small-hotel development company in Palm Springs, Casa de Buen Dia. I wrote about this series in a blog post last August ( http://www.marjcharlier.com/author-blog/now-for-something-completely-different-a-romance ), describing the novels as “smart girl” […]

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I have just published my second romance novel, No Way to Win. It’s the second in a series of novels I plan to write about a small-hotel development company in Palm Springs, Casa de Buen Dia. I wrote about this series in a blog post last August ( http://www.marjcharlier.com/author-blog/now-for-something-completely-different-a-romance ), describing the novels as “smart girl” romances about women looking for meaningful work as much as for meaningful love, but the love thing gets in the way.

The first novel in the series, One Way to Succeed, is about Amy, a 30-year-old woman who has let her TV-anchor boyfriend move on without her so that she can finally focus on building a career. She takes an admin job at Buen Dia, hoping it’ll give her a foot in the door to a real management position. She and Buen Dia owner, Rick, hit it off, but he won’t promote a woman because he thinks she’ll steal his company from him the same way his mother absconded with his father’s business. Meanwhile, Amy fights her attraction to Rick because she doesn’t want to succeed the “one way” her mother always predicted she would—and it isn’t by excelling at the job.

In No Way to Win, Sandra is ready to get back to her career in hospitality management. She’s been working as Buen Dia’s receptionist while nursing her mother, who was dying of cancer. Now she has a chance to get promoted within Buen Dia to the hotel management arm, but the immediate and mutual attraction between her and Brian, the man who’s supposed to make the hiring decision, complicates things. Making matters worse, his brother demands Brian pay him back for some past injustice by hiring his new girlfriend, Gloria, instead.

What is fun about writing a series like this is looking ahead and setting up new characters for the next novel. I’m always on the lookout for someone in the current novel who will step up to the challenge of looking for love in all the wrong places (that’s what romances are really about, after all) in the next one.

While you’re reading No Way to Win, watch for Sandra’s best friend, Caitlin. Caitlin (who suggests you call her Bruce, thank you) is saddled with more restaurants to her name than she can manage, all left behind by a husband who disappeared with one or another of his concubines while she was doing all his work. The restaurants are community property, so she can’t abandon them, but unless he shows up, she can’t sell them either. Caught between the reality of being married and being alone—as well as overworked—Caitlin becomes romantically entangled with another of the Buen Dia employees, threatening both her sanity and her livelihood.

I hope you like No Way to Win, and I hope you’re looking forward to Caitlin’s story. Meanwhile, I’ll take suggestions for the title for Caitlin’s novel.  Send them to info@marjcharlier.com.

Happy reading!

(I am publishing these romances under the pen name, Marjorie Pinkerton Miller. The name is a combination of my full first name, my grandmother Charlier’s maiden name, Pinkerton, and my other grandmother’s married name, Miller.)

 

 

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Ready for advance readers: Jackie’s Campaign http://www.marjcharlier.com/author-blog/ready-for-advance-readers-jackies-campaign/ http://www.marjcharlier.com/author-blog/ready-for-advance-readers-jackies-campaign/#respond Mon, 06 Feb 2017 19:58:06 +0000 http://www.marjcharlier.com/?p=11910 Finally, I have waded through the metadata set-up and publishing steps to get it ready.  Now, the sequel to Gracie’s Revolution is available to advance readers willing to write a review upon the novel’s release in mid-March.  If you would like to receive an advance copy (ARC), please let me know by sending me an […]

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Finally, I have waded through the metadata set-up and publishing steps to get it ready.  Now, the sequel to Gracie’s Revolution is available to advance readers willing to write a review upon the novel’s release in mid-March.  If you would like to receive an advance copy (ARC), please let me know by sending me an e-mail at info@marjcharlier.com or info@sunacumenpress.com. You may request a pdf to read on your computer, a Word document sent to your Kindle account (I will need your Kindle e-mail address), or a paperback copy.

Here’s a synopsis of the continuation of the Johnson Station story:

The Sequel to Gracie’s Revolution:  Jackie’s Campaign

The battle for the soul of Johnson Station, Iowa, is far from over. The old guard thought that Gracie’s departure from the library meant their power over the town was once again secure. But then Jackie joins the revolution Gracie started, signing on as campaign manager for historian and old flame, Armand, in his race for mayor. Now change appears inevitable. A talented English teacher looking for meaningful activities after retiring, Jackie and Armand have a chance to help forge a brighter future for the town, but it will mean postponing the inevitable end to her marriage, keeping her sons’ troubles out of the public eye, and hiding her identity as the town blogger. And, she and Armand must tamp down their renewed attraction to each other until the election is over. An FBI raid on city hall, a drug arrest, and a negative newspaper article threaten their success and make Jackie question whether she is the brave heroine she was once declared to be. Can she regain her confidence in time to help Johnson Station survive, or will the forces lined up against her finally prove she’s been overestimated all this time?

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Self-loathing in Palm Springs http://www.marjcharlier.com/author-blog/self-loathing-in-palm-springs/ http://www.marjcharlier.com/author-blog/self-loathing-in-palm-springs/#comments Mon, 16 Jan 2017 22:13:44 +0000 http://www.marjcharlier.com/?p=11866 I finished writing Gracie’s Revolution in October 2015. The manuscript was edited thirteen months ago, and yet, I didn’t publish it until this past weekend. What took so long? There were some good reasons for the delay. My beta readers suggested some changes in the manuscript. I had a lot of marketing tasks I needed to […]

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I finished writing Gracie’s Revolution in October 2015. The manuscript was edited thirteen months ago, and yet, I didn’t publish it until this past weekend.

What took so long?

There were some good reasons for the delay. My beta readers suggested some changes in the manuscript. I had a lot of marketing tasks I needed to finish before publishing. And the cover design went through several iterations. Those were all fine excuses to put off publishing. But, also, a personal tragedy in May knocked me off my feet for a long time. And another good month of the delay was due to a nasty case of acute bronchitis that kept me unable to work.

But too much of it was because I started doubting myself.

Self-doubt, I believe, is a good thing in moderation. It can encourage humility, which in turn is a catalyst for empathy and compassion. I can think of many men in Congress and the incoming administration who could use some of that.

And coupled with realistic expectations, a little bit of self-doubt can keep you striving to do better, while not setting your goals out of reach. I don’t need to reach the New York Times Bestseller list; I just need to make enough money to pay for the $15 iStock photo I bought to put on the cover!

But self-doubt also leads to inertia, procrastination, and immobility. At times last year, that’s where I was: unable to talk myself out of self-loathing and lethargy.

I came out of it by the end of December when I decided I still had something I wanted to say through my writing, and that is: rural America doesn’t have to be a sinkhole of self-pity and hatred. There are good people all over Iowa and other rural states who could take their communities back from cynics and the sanctimonious bigots that sit around café tables and call themselves a “Table of Knowledge.” Many of them are women. They are smart people who still read books, read newspapers, and aren’t brainwashed by the “journalists” on Fox News.

They want their towns to be diverse and vibrant and to integrate their communities into a changing world, not retreat from it.

My bout with self-doubt and inertia happened before the election. It continued through the fall when I started looking at how well my other books have sold. In a word, poorly. Why, I asked myself, was I spending eight hours a day, seven hours a week at my computer, designing covers, formatting books, and writing, writing, writing, rewriting and rewriting, all to provide reading material for a few dozen people and losing money at it?

The answer seemed obvious: I had a totally unrealistic idea of what I could do. I began to believe I couldn’t write, I couldn’t tell stories, I couldn’t produce books that people wanted to read, but I had kept doing it anyway.

Two things helped me get over the fear of moving forward and finally publishing Gracie: one, some tremendously positive comments from my beta readers, and two, a realization that no one else was writing the stories I was imagining. Maybe Gracie’s Revolution, Jackie’s Campaign, and Marcia’s Choice won’t sell either. But until I find another way to express my hope for this country and its rural areas, I will keep writing.

I’m still not out of the woods. I continue to struggle with a fear of the keyboard that I’ve never had before in my life. But I’m working on it.

Meanwhile, if you’re interested in checking it out, you can find Gracie’s Revolution at http://tinyurl.com/zur3n8a.

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What I read in 2016 – Now it’s your turn! http://www.marjcharlier.com/author-blog/what-i-read-in-2016-now-its-your-turn/ http://www.marjcharlier.com/author-blog/what-i-read-in-2016-now-its-your-turn/#respond Tue, 10 Jan 2017 20:53:58 +0000 http://www.marjcharlier.com/?p=11858 The NYT’s Book Review two Sundays ago included a list of books that famous authors read this past year, and the ones they recommended for the rest of us. As I was reading it, I wondered what my friends read last year, and what they’d recommend to me. Why should we listen only to famous […]

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The NYT’s Book Review two Sundays ago included a list of books that famous authors read this past year, and the ones they recommended for the rest of us.

As I was reading it, I wondered what my friends read last year, and what they’d recommend to me. Why should we listen only to famous authors, whose tastes often run a little too much toward the experimental and post-modern for me, anyway? I decided to start a New Year’s tradition of wrapping up each year’s reading by sharing it on my blog. It’s a kind of a weak version of Nick Hornby’s Polysyllabic Spree column, which I get a big kick out of.

As I start the New Year’s reading with a book that won critical acclaim last year, The Existential Café, I realize that even though I write fiction, I mostly read non-fiction. Last year was somewhat of an exception, and I read a great deal more fiction than usual. Among the novels that I read (or partly read) were:

  • My friend Lynne Spreen’s new novel, Key West Blues, which I enjoyed as a sequel to Dakota Blues; and my friend Rose Baldwin’s delightful collection of short stories, The Claire Stories.
  • Geraldine Brooks’ A Secret Chord, which I loved for both its insights into a period of time we really know little about, even if we’ve read the Old Testament all the way through.
  • Jane Smiley’s Early Warning, which I’ll have to admit I never finished. I found trying to keep track of all those protagonists with all their problems and neuroses neurosis-inducing, and quit.
  • Elaine Ferrante’s My Brilliant Friend, which left me wondering what all the hoopla was about. I won’t be reading any more of the series.
  • All Our Names, by Dinaw Mengestu, which I didn’t like nearly as much as the critics did, as it read to me like a male fantasy about how easy it is to get a white woman in bed. That’s not to say I didn’t appreciate the parts of the narrative that described the violence in his native Uganda, which were evocative and eye-opening.
  • The Revenge of the Radioactive Lady, by Elizabeth Stuckey-French. I read it because she was the instructor in Iowa City for the Iowa Writer’s Workshop summer two-week seminar on fiction writing. The novel was great, by the way, and provided a great example, as well, of how to construct a novel.
  • Let Him Go, by Larry Watson, which was assigned by the aforementioned instructor for our seminar. It was well-written; almost as if by formula, though. I didn’t like it as much as I respected it.
  • A Spool of Blue Thread, by Anne Tyler, which was the first of hers that disappointed me. I just didn’t care in the end.
  • Unbecoming, by Rebecca Scherm, which I found powerful in the way that I found Roxanna Slade, Reynolds Price’s novel about a very unlikable woman that tested our tolerance of women who don’t fit into the mold our society expects us all to morph into.
  • I also read Truly Madly Guilty, Losing the Light, Home (the Harlan Coben one, not the Marilynne Robinson one that I tried to read in 2015 but gave up on), and The Girl from the Savoy, all of which were fine and entertaining, but that I don’t need to pontificate about.

I also tried to read Avenue of Mysteries by John Irving, but couldn’t. It was too male-centric to me. I couldn’t relate to the protagonist. Same went for Purity by Jonathan Franzen, which I tolerated for about three chapters before bailing. Oddly, I quit reading that one because I didn’t like any of the characters, not just the first female protagonist. Perhaps this proves that in every book of fiction, I need to find someone I like and care about or I can’t keep reading. That’s a good lesson for me to remember as I write fiction, as well.

As usual, most of my reading last year was of the non-fiction kind. Reading non-fiction gives me ideas about themes to explore in my novels without tempting me to copy someone else’s fiction writing style. In general, I’d say I found more to like about the non-fiction I read than I did about the fiction, and I thought I’d mention some of my favorites.

At the top of the list has to be The Swerve: How the World Became Modern by Stephen Greenblatt. Not only did he give credit for intellectual progress to libraries and librarians, two of my favorite “things,” but the writing was so addictive that I couldn’t put it down.

Next, I’d have to say, was Deep South, by Paul Theroux. I have a tendency to not think or read much literature or non-fiction about the South, as it’s a place I neither like nor care to visit. But Theroux opened my eyes to the tough reality that lives on 150 years after the Emancipation Proclamation, even though I don’t think he helped me understand why the Southern states all voted for Trump. It seems like that was voting against their interests. I read Hillbilly Elegy to get to that conundrum, and I thought it served a good purpose, but I also didn’t think it told me much that I didn’t already know (having grown up in a rural area), whereas Theroux’s book did.

Also among my favorites was a little volume, The Neanderthals Rediscovered: How Modern Science is Rewriting Their Story. I’ve always been fascinated with human evolution and our species’ natural history, and have considered writing a novel about the interaction between the Neanderthal and the Sapiens who moved into their European homelands back some dozens of millennia ago. (But not in the Jean Auel way.) The Neanderthal book led me to buy and read Sapiens, by Yuval Noah Harari, which disappointed me because I thought it did a less impressive job of explaining our distant and recent past than three other books I have read: Guns Germs and Steel, The Better Angels of Our Nature, and The Tangled Wing (the book that probably had the greatest impact on how I view the world as an adult). I felt the same way about Too Much of a Good Thing by Lee Goldman. I thought it didn’t add anything that The Paleolithic Prescription hadn’t already covered back in the early-90s.

Under the heading of Catching Up with the Rest of the World, I finally read Mother Tongue by Bill Bryson, and thought it was too bad I hadn’t read it years ago. It was written in the ‘90s, long before A Short History of Nearly Everything, which I also loved, but I had missed Mother Tongue. Perhaps that’s because I was busy in that decade with “my career.” (Yeah, so much for that.) Also in the catching up category, I finally read the only dog book I picked up this year (a rarity—I usually read a lot of dog books): Dogs by Coppinger and Coppinger, which was written way back in 2001 but which I didn’t discover until it was mentioned in an article in the NYT’s Science Times one Tuesday. I didn’t like it much. I think the authors have too little respect for the human-canine bond and its contribution to our both humans’ and dogs’ lives, and they stuck to the position that the only good dog is one that’s out working in the field.

I also finally finished Nick Hornby’s Ten Years in the Tub, which is a collection of ten years’ worth of his Polysyllabic Spree columns. I found it hard to read all the way through it in consecutive sittings, as each column gives birth to too many ideas for other books to read, and I get a little distracted by it all. But I enjoyed it immensely, and if you’re not familiar with his “book reviews”—they’re really something beyond that—I’d recommend checking it out. I laughed out loud a lot.

I was enjoying American Amnesia, a book about how government investments and spending put America on its path to prosperity, but unfortunately, I was in the middle of it when the election results came in, and from that point on, I lost all interest in reading about politics, and I quit. I’m still having great difficulty reading the news sections of the New York Times.

I hope I can get over that severe reaction to politics, as I have a number of books that I do want to read this year that I can’t jump into until I do. Meanwhile, there are plenty of books on the end table by my comfy chair that I intend to start on after the existentialists are done with me: Evicted, White Trash, Thank You for Being Late, Men Without Work, and Thinking Fast and Slow. And to assuage my science-hungry inner-nerd, I have lined up Black Hole Blues and Reality Is Not What It Seems: The Journey to Quantum Gravity.

I’m still collecting ideas, so now it’s your turn. Share with me and my readers what you read this past year, and what’s on your reading list for 2017, besides Gracie’s Revolution, of course. Post your comments on my Facebook Author page or find this blog on my website (www.marjcharlier.com) and post your comment there.

I wish you a pleasant and thought-provoking reading year in 2017.

 

 

 

 

 

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