Friday, August 26, 2011

And another wonderful woman author: Marisel Vera

I recently wrote and wanted to share this review of Marisel's book If I Bring You Roses published by Grand Central Publishing  ISBN 978-0-446-57153-1

If I Bring You Roses is more than a love story powerfully and insightfully told. It is also a story about how class and ethnic discrimination impact relationships between men and women.  The message is important; the writing is masterful. The entire novel is written in third person narrative but the narrative voice changes with the perspective of the completely believable and engaging characters.  In Part One, the author uses exquisitely poetic and rythmnic language to tell the story of a simple Puerto Rican country girl, Felicidad Hidalgo and leads the reader into the growing girl’s pure and loving heart so we not only observe but experience the anxieties, and the yearnings in her life.  In the next part she tells the story from the perspective of the more psychologically complex Anibal Acevedo, a young Puerto Rican man who has come to the U.S mainland with big dreams only to be disappointed, exploited and disrespected in the workplace. The author then moves into an authentic male voice that allows the reader to understand the conflicts in the heart and mind of a man who uses sexual conquest to assuage the pain he feels over his inability to become the man he dreamed of being. Subsidiary characters are rendered with the same authenticity and detail as the two primary characters so every interaction rings true.  Using vivid descriptions of places and events and very real dialogue, the author immerses the reader in the Puerto Rican culture both on the island and in the Chicago neighborhood where Felicidad moves to be with Anibal. We see these two within the contexts of their families and communities and we see how these families and communities sometimes guide, sometimes complicate and sometimes assist the two young people who must learn to navigate not only the cold, unfamiliar terrain of Chicago but the frighteningly unfamiliar terrain of a constantly changing future. In the end both of them are guided by their essentially good hearts into a future that the reader has hope will be a rewarding one.

I highly recommend this book to readers interested in  romance grounded in reality, in Latina culture, in civil and human rights for all people regardless of gender, race or ethnicity and to readers who are just interested in reading a really good, engrossing book. I also think it would make an excellent addition to reading lists for college classes in Womens’ Studies, Latina studies and classes in Latin American literature.  

Thursday, August 25, 2011


I love this piece by Gloria DeVidas Kirchheimer, a writer who lives on the upper west side of NYC who discovered our Wessex table at the Small Press Book Fair in NY one December a few years ago (in fact I shared a table  there with Linda LeBlanc). Gloria submitted the first couple of chapters of Amalie in Orbit and I was impatient to receive the rest of this wonderfully witty novel about a 40something newly widowed woman entering the workforce and reshaping her life. Anyway, here is Gloria talking about her process: why and how she writes her wonderful stories:

When I’m not writing I feel half alive. I go through every-day motions like a zombie. Something is missing.

Nothing equals the excitement of plunging into a story and not knowing where it’s going. I write in order to find out what’s happening, what the story all about. It’s a process of discovery.

There’s fear as well as exhilaration. Will I be able to solve the problems?  Will I measure up? I’m my own judge. Not yet my own dispassionate critic. That comes later. What is this fear? Performance anxiety? But no one is looking over my shoulder except me. Each time I begin a new story it’s as though I’ve never written anything before. My confidence is zero.

Writing has to be fun. And in order to have fun you have to squelch the fear and jump in, take risks joyfully. You can always revise the piece later—you must revise. Knowing that, you have the freedom to make mistakes,  to digress all you want. Later is the time for cleaning up.

How to start? My work is almost always based on real people. I may know them well or maybe I just spotted them on the street and something struck me in passing. A little spark goes off in my head, the spark of possibility. The notion of “what if . . .?” Taking what I see and know and moving  into an imagined—but plausible-- situation.

Sometimes, before I’ve actually begun to write, a line will pop into my head. My first impulse is to reject it. No, this is crazy, what a wild notion. But that’s how I wrote my story, “Goodbye, Evil Eye” (in Goodbye, Evil Eye: Short Stories). The line was:  “It is not common knowledge that a woman sailed with Christopher Columbus.”  And that was the start button for me. Don’t ask me where that line came from. If we’re lucky and receptive, these charmed moments come to us.

You never know what is going to show up in your story. Before you realize it, you’ve written a scene based on an event that occurred ten years ago in the workplace, a scene you haven’t thought about consciously. Who would have imagined that my job in a nonprofit organization would have yielded so much fodder for a story, “First, Do No Harm” (Antioch Review, Fall 2010).
Writers are ruthless and I’m no exception. I have little compunction about using my parents, sibling, husband, and children in my fiction even though sometimes I feel guilty. The parents are dead, the spouse supremely understanding, the children—there I have tread lightly. And with friends, you hope they either won’t recognize themselves or better yet, won’t read your work. I once wrote a story about my mother (“Food of Love,” in Goodbye, Evil Eye: Short Stories.)  It was first published in an obscure California literary magazine called Shmate, literally, “rag” in Yiddish. Who could have imagined that a distant cousin living there, a continent away, would find the magazine, read it and call my mother to say she read a story in it that was all about her. My mother called me to ask about it saying she wanted to read it. Uh oh!  It’s true that it was fiction but very thinly disguised. There was my mom with all her quirks and exasperating behavior, the friction between us in print for all to see. I told her I didn’t think she would be interested. A feeble excuse. I was truly terrified. I gave her the magazine and agonized for a couple of days. She would be so hurt, so angry at me that she would disown me, her own daughter. How could I do such a thing to her, etc. etc. Her reaction? Sheer delight. “It’s all about me,” she said happily. Then she suggested that I write her biography. But that’s a whole other story.
Nothing equals the joy of being in the middle of writing fiction—nothing, except maybe a swim in the ocean. I want to immerse myself, play, splash around. That’s how I’ll find out what I’m doing.

So, why do you write? and how do you approach your characters and create their stories?

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

And speaking of Colorado Women Authors

I am privileged to know several of our state's finest. I'm listing their names and links below. Meanwhile ladies your websites are far superior to what I've put together here so I am simply going to introduce you to each other and to any readers who might stumble into my quirky little corner of cyberspace and I invite you to use the comment section below to say more about yourselves and your work. For my part, I admire all of you!

PAT BERTRAM: I have not actually met Pat in person but we've corresponded since I reviewed her book Light Bringer for and at my request she and I exchanged books. As much as I enjoyed Light Bringer,   I liked  Daughter Am I   even more (what's not to love about a young woman driving a car full of geriatric mobsters in search of information about the grandparents she never knew?). Her quirky mountain characters also share some of my own political views so that was cool. Check out Pat's site @

MARGARET GUTHRIE: I had the pleasure of meeting Margaret in Estes Park a few years ago when the library bookclub invited me to come discuss my book Stillbird. She asked me to look at her mss. & I was much impressed with a beautifully written book about forgiveness, a subject that very much interests me. I recommended it to my partner in this business of publishing independence, Peter agreed and we published The Return shortly thereafter. Now I'm excited to report that a literary agency in Prague is interested in it.  You can read about her and The Return on our site:

LINDA LeBLANC: After reviewing Beyond the Summit for the Boulder Daily Camera I was curious to meet the author, find out how she came to write so well about climbing Everest. Had she done it? Turns out Linda was a guide to groups going as far as base camp and established a series of huts along the way. She took an interest in the lives of the Sherpas who earned their scant livings doing very tough work and her book delves into the culture, and the changes caused by tourism with insight and sensitivity. Check out her sites: 
and about a new work in progress:

MARY SARACINO: I met Mary when we were both invited to participate in the Englewood Library "Meet the Author" event (which Linda told me about).  I was there with Three Novellas and Mary was there with her exquisite novel, The Singing of Swans. I don't think I sold any books but the event was worthwhile because of this rewarding friendship. Check out these links: , ,,

JACKIE ST. JOAN: I first met Jackie St. Joan when I represented Russell Means in her courtroom after the first of several Columbus Day protests. We were delighted to get a good judge! St. Joan is not only a good judge but a dedicated advocate for women's rights and a leader in the movement to help victims of domestic violence. Her novel My Sisters Made of Light is a poetically written novel about honor crimes against women in Pakistan and when you buy this book you do two things: get yourself a good book and contribute to a good cause as she donates 50% of all proceeds to an organization building a shelter for women and children in Pakistan. Check out these links:  and
&U can find my review of Sisters on  (scroll down a LOT).

ITA WILLEN:  last but by no means least,  I met Ita in the 9th grade where I gravitated toward the new student with a violin case in one hand and a pile of books in the crook of her arm. Ita was the person who inspired me to start writing in the first place although I knew I'd never be as good as she was and is. Years later, she was the inspiration for me to suggest starting The Wessex Collective to Peter Burnham back in 2005.  Although her first book, The Grubbag was published by Random House in 1972, she didn't follow the path her editor wished to dictate and was later turned down when she offered her memoir The Gift for publication. Yes I wanted to publish my novel Stillbird and Peter wanted to publish his novel Envious Shadows both of which were scheduled for publication in Mumbai (in both English and Marathi) before Pushpa Prakashan, Ltd. went under, but he also wanted to publish the works of his mentor Wm. Davey (deceased in 1999) and I wanted to publish the works of  my role model, Ita Willen and without the inspiration of these two fine authors we would not have gone to all the trouble of starting and maintaining the collective. She continues to be a role model to me in all aspects of life today. Ita is also on our wessex site.  Look for her collection of short stories, Triple Vision, later this year.

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

And speaking of . . .

Speaking of Paul Johnson, he was the writer who introduced me to the work of
Sonora Babb. Sonora Babb wrote a fine novel, Whose Names Are Unknown, about migrant farm workers during the depression. In fact she worked for the Farm Security Administration and had first hand knowledge of the plight of her characters. She wrote the novel in the 1930s but Random House who paid her to come to NY to finish it for them decided against publishing it after the huge success of John Steinbeck's Grapes of Wrath . .  they didn't want to "flood the market" with the two books on the same theme. It should be noted that Ms. Babb had shared her notes with Mr. Steinbeck when he came out to California as a reporter.  Whose Names Are Unknown was finally published by University of Oklahoma Press in 2003 (so she just had to wait sixty some years). She did publish other work but considered this one her best. She died in 2006 at the age of 98 after seeing what she considered her best book finally  published. I reviewed Names for the Boulder Daily Camera and the book editor at the time planned to write an article about the author (who grew up in Eastern Colorado) but he left before this plan materialized and the new book editor didn't see fit to run the review of Ms. Babb's extraordinary book. I recommend it whenever and wherever I can. If you liked Tillie Olson's Yonnondio you will certainly like Whose Names Are Unknown.

Train of Thought that begins with Cancer, works through disappointment and ends with the memory of a priceless reward

We got the news that a cousin and dear friend was going to have surgery for colon cancer. Then we got the news that the colon tumor was removed but they found spots on the liver and chemo would be necessary. When I went to the PO the next day, worried about our cousin, I found one of those glossy brochures that usually advertise something I don't need or can't afford and end up in the PO recycling bin but this time my eye caught the word "cancer" in the upper left hand corner and I figured a donation to cancer research would be a way to garner some good karma for our cousin. When I opened the brochure I came face to face with the man who was my oncologist back in the mid nineties and a friend of my Dad's. He had died at the age of 92 and the brochure was a tribute to his life.  Although I knew he worked with the a cancer research center I didn't realize he had founded it. I wrote my check in his memory to the research center with a little prayer asking my old Doc to inspire my cousin's doctors with all the knowledge they'd need to save our cousin's life as he had saved mine all those years ago.

Thinking about cancer reminded me of one of the priceless rewards of starting and working with The Wessex Collective.  Shortly after Peter Burnham and I had decided to get this indie publishing endeavor going we heard from poet Laurel Speer, a friend of Peter's, asking if we'd take a look at a mss. by another friend, Paul Johnson.  Paul  was dying of an aggressive cancer detected too late and wanted to see his last novel published before he died. I was really relieved that The Marble Orchard was a really good book, a book we'd've been proud to publish regardless of the author's circumstances.  We worked hard to get Marble Orchard out in time for Paul to hold it in his hand.  We were pleased that he was pleased and I had the memorable pleasure of visiting Paul and his wonderful wife Fran in Las Vegas, NM. You have to admire a man who faces imminent death with such courage and humor. . . . and creative determination.  Paul was so pleased to see Marble Orchard out there he decided to add one more novel to the opus he'd leave behind.  City of Kings is a suspense novel but also a love song to his wife. Paul lived about a year longer than anyone including his doctors expected while he finished City of Kings and after he was satisfied with the editing he informed his Doctor he was ready to go, stop the treatments and about a week later he passed on content with what he'd accomplished.

I have often felt discouraged about my failure to garner sufficient recognition for the extremely worthy authors we've been privileged to publish and after such high hopes for this endeavor I have often felt I've let them down. But then I remember that Paul bravely faced painful chemo treatments (so painful it hurt his fingers to type) to finish one last book, a labor of love for his wife and he could do this with the faith that the book would be published by Wessex.   The contribution Peter and I made to this last effort is a source of satisfaction and I am thinking I should have some faith also and not give up yet. Even as I write this a copy of City of Kings along with Night Voices by Helen Hudson, Envious Shadows by Peter Burnham, The Return by Margaret Guthrie and Little Bluestem by Brian Backstrand has been delivered to the A.R.T Dialog Literary Agency in Prague and we look forward to seeing these works translated and made available to readers in the Czech Republic.

As I've mentioned in earlier blogs, proceeds from the sales of our ebooks availble at:  will be donated to various causes. You can guess where proceeds from sales of City of Kings and/or The Marble Orchard will be sent.