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Monthly Archives: February 2013

Words and Pictures… from the 2013 San Miguel Writers’ Conference

 
By Mark Saunders

Mark Saunders, Author of "Nobody Knows the Spanish I Speak"

Mark Saunders, Author of “Nobody Knows the Spanish I Speak”

This year I was privileged to be a presenter, aka a member of faculty, at the 2013 San Miguel Writers’Conference and Literary Festival. I was also a volunteer and managed the workshops, which for the first time were held in tents as well as conference rooms. In February of 2006, I attended the first-ever San Miguel Writers’ Conference.

What a difference seven years can make. In 2006, fewer than 30 people attended the initial conference; in fact, we had more volunteers than attendees that year. This year, the conference had in excess of 200 attendees—closer to 300 counting single-ticket purchases—and something in the neighborhood of 800 people attended each of the first two keynote addresses.

Full conference attendees could go to their choice of seven out of 56 workshops. I gave a humor workshop for writers, titled “Oedipus and Hamlet Walk into a Bar.” Forty enthusiastic writers were in my workshop and it was a great, interactive 90 minutes. (If you want a free pdf copy of my workshop workbook, please email me at: msaunderswriter@yahoo.com)
   
If you do not know the writer Luis Alberto Urrea, I urge you to check him out. He gave the best keynote address I’ve ever watched or listened to. He didn’t just knock it out of the park; he knocked it out of several parks. With great animation, he told funny and intimate stories about his parents, his loving but idiosyncratic aunts, and what it was like growing up first in Tijuana and then later in San Diego. Some of these family members and stories ended up in his novels. You might want to start with his novel Into the Beautiful North, which was selected as the Big Read book here in San Miguel this year. Coincidentally, the National Endowment for the Arts in the USA picked it as one of their Big Read books, as well (ahem, we picked it first).
There were three other keynote addresses. The opening keynote address was by Cheryl Strayed (Wild) and she opened on a strong note, setting a positive tone for the conference. Btw, look for the movie based on her book Wild, with Reese Witherspoon in the role of Cheryl.
As it turned out, a common but unplanned thread connecting both Strayed’s speech and Urrea’s speech was the influence of parents. Both authors expressed a regret that their parents had not lived long enough to share in their success.
The conference tagline is: The Creative Crossroads of the Americas. And it truly is a crossroads. Once a year in mid-February, the conference brings together Canadian, American, and Mexican writers and readers for a celebration of writing. There were so many highlights and bragging rights about the conference, that I’m going to give you taste with a few photos, all taken by professional photographer Charlotte Bell. Don’t forget to check out her many other photos of the conference, especially the Mexican Fiesta, which was probably the best party, bar none and hands down, I’ve ever attended. To see more conference photos, go to www.charlottebell.com

I hope to see you at next year’s conference (for more details on this year’s conference, don’t forget to visit www. http://sanmiguelwritersconference2013.org/

Luis Urrea (author of "Into the Beautiful North") delivered the best keynote address I’ve ever heard—and I’ve been to a lot of conferences.

Luis Urrea (author of “Into the Beautiful North”) delivered the best keynote address I’ve ever heard—and I’ve been to a lot of conferences.

Cheryl Strayed, author of the best-selling sensation "Wild," set the tone with an enthusiastic opening keynote address.

Cheryl Strayed, author of the best-selling sensation “Wild,” set the tone with an enthusiastic opening keynote address.

We had eight 90-minute workshops running simultaneously twice a day, in tents (for the first time) and conference rooms.

We had eight 90-minute workshops running simultaneously twice a day, in tents (for the first time) and conference rooms.

Audiences enjoyed the general sessions and keynote addresses.

Audiences enjoyed the general sessions and keynote addresses.

The book store was a popular site, busy from opening to closing.

The book store was a popular site, busy from opening to closing.

Perfect weather made it easy to enjoy the outdoors with friends.

Perfect weather made it easy to enjoy the outdoors with friends.

Many attendees took time out to read.

Many attendees took time out to read.

The Mexican Fiesta had it all. From indigenous dancers…

The Mexican Fiesta had it all. From indigenous dancers…

… to local cuisine, hot off the grill…

… to local cuisine, hot off the grill…

… to a closing fireworks display. See you at next year’s conference!

… to a closing fireworks display. See you at next year’s conference!

 
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Posted by on February 26, 2013 in Uncategorized

 

Richard III’s Bones, Found Under a Parking Lot?

 

Shakespeare’s Richard III describes the medieval king as “rudely stamp’d” and “deformed, unfinish’d,” because of an affliction today known as scoliosis.  In the tragedy, Richard’s “ugly” appearance parallels his actions as his jealousy compels him towards deceit and murder in order to win the kingship and his betrayed brother’s widow, Anne.  

Richard III, in real life as in the play, came to an untimely end at the hands of those who despised him.  According to the New York Times, experts recently confirmed the discovery of Richard III’s skeleton, seen at left, exhumed from beneath a parking lot.  According to excavators, his burial was plain and hasty, his body stuffed into a shallow grave by anxious friars who feared recrimination by his murderers, the avenging Tudors.  

The wonders of modern science and investigation–DNA testing of his close ancestors, bone analysis uncovering a privileged diet befitting a king, and, of course the giveaway twisted spine–reveal that the skeleton is a likely match to Richard III’s ravaged body.

The discovery unearthed both Richard’s skeleton and a hope held by select scholars that the renewed attention would help revitalize the crippled king’s reputation.  New York Times correspondent John F. Burns says these scholars see Richard as “a man with a strong sympathy for the rights of the common man, who was deeply wronged by his vengeful Tudor successors.”   Some in this group even want the misjudged king to have a proper burial, in Westminster Abbey–perhaps to make up, in some small way, for centuries of slander.

What do you think?  Leave your comments on the Fuze Facebook page.

Read the entire New York Times article.

 
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Posted by on February 23, 2013 in Uncategorized

 

Cologne Bursts with Favorable Reviews

“Anglotopia” describes the significant historical value of Cologne:  “The story of an unwilling German au pair joining a troubled family in London in 1960, this novel covers a point in England’s history that I have not given much thought to. So much is written about London during World War II, and London in the swinging sixties, but this is the first time I can recall reading about what it was like for people in between.”

“The writing is gorgeous”, “Anglotopia” continues, “and full of heartrending emotion. It was a pleasure to read, and a pleasure for me to recommend.”

Read the entire “Anglotopia” Review.

Southern Maryland’s The County Times on the imprint of WWII on the 60’s

 Alex Panos, Staff Writer for The County Times,interviewed Sarah Pleydell, author of Cologne.  “The story is seen through the eyes of two young sisters,” Panos says, “who play many war games, and even set up the Berlin Wall in their bedroom.”  Author Pleydell, who drew from her own experience growing up in London in the 60’s to write Cologne, says, “the lingering afterglow” impacted the next generation in London.

 Read the entire article in The County Times out of Southern Maryland.

 
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Posted by on February 23, 2013 in Uncategorized

 

Should Women be in Combat? Milestone Pentagon Decision

Whether you are a pacifist, anarchist, atheist, or militarist, you probably have an opinion about the Pentagon’s recent decision to dissolve all restrictions against women serving in combat.  The issue is layered, and began at least hundred years ago, when women first started serving as nurses in World War I.  Since then, women’s military roles have continued to expand, and along with it, their exposure to the dangers of warfare.  Although officially women have been barred from combat roles until now, Senator Jack Reed, member of the Armed Services Committee and supporter of the change, says, “The reality of today’s battlefield is that all who serve are in combat.

As a recent USA Today article points out, in Iraq and Afghanistan, women have been attachedto combat units, which doesn’t appear to be any different from being in a combat unit, except that once your tour is over, you cannot claim the combat experience for job advancement to upper-level military positions.   

While Marine Capt. Katie Petronio, who served in Iraq and Afghanistan, believes women are not physically suited for infantry roles, nor are they coveting such positions, Army Spc. Heather Wood, who was in Afghanistan in 2010 as a military police officer, counters, “Heck, there are males out there that can’t handle being shot at.”

In a  Businesswire newsreel, Carey Lohrenz, the first female F-14 Fighter Pilot in the U.S. Navy declares, “Women have already proven themselves on the battlefield. The same old banter about the negative effect on unit cohesion or mission effectiveness, lack of physical strength, or the inability to deal with the ‘stress’ of combat just doesn’t hold true.”

One of our authors, Kathleen Jabs, lived some of this history, in particular, as one of the first female cadets at The United States Naval Academy in the 80’s.  She drew from this experience as the background for her mystery novel, Black Wings, which features Audrey, an ambitious female fighter pilot who turns up dead.  Given her insider status, we asked Kathleen about her views on the recent Pentagon decision. What follows is her take on the turn of events:

 Women have been serving alongside men for decades. Lifting the ban on women in combat acknowledges that women have been in combat situations for the last 10 years. They’ve been deployed to Iraq and Afghanistan on the ground, flown combat missions in the air and patrolled the waters off the Gulf States. Removing the ban is an important recognition of the environments where women are serving. As long as women are qualified and meet the physical requirements, they should have the right to serve in any capacity in the military. It won’t be easy to fully integrate; it never is, but the changes I have seen during my time in the Navy have been remarkable.

Post your opinion on our Facebook page.

Purchase Black Wings today. 

 
 
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Posted by on February 23, 2013 in Uncategorized

 

The Next Big Thing Tags Mark Saunders

MarkSaunders_photo-for-web

Mark Saunders, Author of “Nobody Knows the Spanish I Speak”

The Next Big Thing is a cool sort of combination of chain letter and a “tag-you’re-it” interview game for writers. Mark was tagged by Sarah Pleydell (see February 12th blog) to interview himself about his most recent book with the following 9 designated questions, post it somewhere on the internet as soon as possible, and then tag five writers for the next week to do the same. Mark’s answers are below.

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What is the title/working title of the book?

Nobody Knows the Spanish I Speak, which is a chapter in the book. The previous working title was “We’ll Always Have Parasites,” but I ran that title by some friends and they thought it made the book sound like something only a gastroenterologist would enjoy.

Where did the idea come from for the book?

My wife and I were the last persons we ever thought would drop out and move to Mexico, especially when we did.  We were in our late 50s at the time, did not have much money to back us up, and were not the adventurous types. We were both working in high-tech, for different companies, and coincidently our jobs were going away around the same time.  At our age, we felt boxed in—or out.  So we sold just about everything, dropped out, and moved to the middle of Mexico. In violation of such mainstream media expectations, we didn’t get car-jacked, kidnapped, mistakenly shot at, or ripped off by a shady contractor hoping to live in Panama on our life savings.  We had, however, our share of mishaps, made some dreadful mistakes, got in and out of trouble, and learned a thing or two about life, Mexico, and each other. We also had our hubcaps stolen.

What genre does your book fall under?

Humor. However, parts of it could easily fall under a bus.

What actors would you choose to play the part of your characters in a movie rendition?

Since I’m in the running for Hobbit of the Year, I’d choose Liam Neeson to play my part. I’d like to be tall, even if it’s only on the big screen and for two hours. Arlene, my wife, sees Meryl Streep in her role. But, we disagree. I’m thinking maybe Jen Lawrence because Arlene is pretty handy with a kitchen knife, or perhaps Anne Hathaway, especially if they add a few singing numbers. I envision a Svenska Aeroplan Aktie-Bolaget playing the role of our Audi Quattro. If we can’t find one of those, I’d settle for a SAAB. We’re still negotiating with the dog and cat over their actors.

What is the one sentence synopsis of your book?

Nobody Knows the Spanish I Speak is about what happens when an American couple in their late-50s facing the loss of their high-tech jobs, choose to drop out, sell almost everything they own, and move to the middle of Mexico, where they don’t know a soul and can barely speak the language.

How long did it take you to write the first draft of the manuscript?

I finished writing most of the chapters during the two years we lived in Mexico. After returning to the US, I stopped working on the book. Once we decided to move back to Mexico, I continued working on it, because I felt I had an Act 3.

Who or what inspired you to write this book?

Funny things happened to us in Mexico almost immediately and I thought I should start writing about our experiences as clueless expats. My first effort was a letter to friends describing the different classes of dogs. That letter became the essay “Yes, We Have No Chihuahuas,” which was published in an anthology about living in San Miguel, and later became a chapter in my book.  I continued writing about our adventure. A second essay, “Say, How’s the Foot?” was published in a second San Miguel anthology.

Before I knew it I had an outline for a book, a proposal, and more than twenty chapters completed. An independent publisher, Fuze, offered to publish my manuscript. An amazing editor, Molly Tinsley, took my stand-alone essays and molded them into what I think is an interesting and funny narrative. Ray Rhamey, a talented book designer, understood my comic vision and exceeded my expectations. In short, with help from a lot of people, my humorous memoir, Nobody Knows the Spanish I Speak, was published.

What else about your book might pique the reader’s interest? When my wife and I lived in Mexico the first time, I created a cartoon panel, “Mas o Menos,” for the local bi-lingual weekly newspaper.  Some of the cartoons are included in the book as, dare I say, filler.  The book was voted the #2 book in San Miguel for 2012.

Was your book self-published or represented by an agency?

I sent my manuscript to Fuze Publishing, a boutique press committed to the belief that well-crafted storytelling has the power to educate and change. And, much to my delight, they published it. Vaya con nachos!

 
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Posted by on February 19, 2013 in Uncategorized

 

The Next Big Thing Blog Hop Features Addie Greene

Addie Greene, Author of "How the Winds Laughed"

Addie Greene, Author of “How the Winds Laughed”

The Next Big Thing is a cool sort of combination of chain letter and a “tag-you’re-it” interview game for writers. Addie was tagged by Sarah Pleydell (see previous blog) to interview  herself about her most recent book with the following 9 designated questions, post it somewhere on the internet as soon as possible, and then tag five writers for the next week to do the same. Addie’s answers are below.

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What is the title/working title of the book?

The title is How the Winds Laughed.

Where did the idea come from for the book?

Sea Magazine, for which I’d been writing, asked me for a full-length manuscript about my husband Pete’s and my trip around the world in a 28-foot sailboat.

What genre does your book fall under?

It is literary non-fiction—a memoir.

What actors would you choose to play the part of your characters in a movie rendition?

Andrew Garfield to play Pete and Ellen Page to play me (they’d both have to become blonds).

What is the one-sentence synopsis of your book?

How the Winds Laughed, a coming of age quest, sails on the wings of hope, fear, anger, and love across three oceans and more than 30,000 miles as a modern-day Don Quixote and his sidekick Sancho Panza tilt at windmills along the way.

How long did it take you to write the first draft of the manuscript?

The first draft took little more than a year. When Sea was purchased by Columbia, which wasn’t interested, I let the manuscript sit for more than 30 years. It went through my critique group twice, and then my editor, Molly Tinsley, and I worked on it for another 14 months.

Who or what inspired you to write this book?

I was writing stories about our trip for the Santa Barbara News-Press, for which I’d worked before we left. It seemed only natural to turn them into a book.

What else about your book might pique the reader’s interest?

How the Winds Laughed is an adventure story akin to Into Thin Air, although there is much more comedy than tragedy in my book.

Was your book self-published or represented by an agency?

Fuze Publishing invited me to join their list and, like Sarah Pleydell, I was thrilled.

My tagged writers for next Wednesday (who are asked to answer the same questions and post it somewhere on the internet) are:

Ellen Gardner, author of Veda

Delores DeLeon, author of Gypsy Flamenco

Gail Jenner, author of Black Bart: The Poet Bandit and State of Jefferson, Then and Now

Vella Munn, author of Snow, seven romances, and more than 50 other works of fiction

Dennis Powers, author of Taking the Sea: Perilous Waters, Sunken Ships, and the True Story of the Legendary Wrecker Captains, and four other books

ORDER ALL FUZE BOOKS AT HTTP://WWW.FUZEPUBLISHING.COM

 
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Posted by on February 14, 2013 in Uncategorized

 

Sarah Pleydell, Author of “Cologne,” Invited to Join the Next Big Thing Blog Hop

Sarah Pleydell, Author of "Cologne"

Sarah Pleydell, Author of “Cologne”

The Next Big Thing is a cool sort of combination of chain letter and a “tag-you’re-it” interview game for writers. I was tagged by Rose Solari (who was tagged by Nick Courtwright who was tagged by Kyle McCord who was Matt Guenette who was tagged by Mary Biddinger who was tagged by Jennifer Militell) to interview myself about my most recent book with the following 9 designated questions, post it somewhere on the internet today, and then tag five writers for the next week to do the same. My answers are below.

What is the title/working title of the book?

The title is Cologne

Where did the idea come from for the book?

I had been living in the United States for thirty years and my memories of my English childhood were knocking on the doors of my imagination and my writing life. Stories and characters from both the fifties and the World War II era began to emerge and with them came pre and post war dramas infused with love lost and found, betrayal, trauma, and ultimately hope.

What genre does your book fall under?

Cologne is literary but also historical fiction with a touch of a who-done-it in that the book opens with a death.

What actors would you choose to play the part of your characters in a movie rendition?

Ralph Fiennes would play the father, Jack Whitaker. That’s for sure. Helen Whitaker would be Michelle Dockery of Downton Abbey. The little girls, Maggie and Caroline would need to be carefully chosen. Renate? I like the idea of one of those “downstairs” girls from Downton, but she would need a touch of Lena Olin, of continental allure.

What is the one sentence synopsis of your book?

In Cologne childhood and history collide, blurring the distinctions between victim and victor, ruin and redemption; with delicate humor, it presents a portrait of a family on the cusp of great social change, while reminding us that the traumas of war revisit the children of the peace.

How long did it take you to write the first draft of the manuscript?  It took me two year to lay down a draft but ten plus to get it into the form it is now.

Who or what inspired you to write this book?

As I said, my English childhood was the inspiration for this novel. We did have au pairs in my family growing up, and some were German; in an earlier draft they were three characters, but I eventually rolled them into one with three distinct faces: ingénue, femme fatale and finally an all-knowing narrator.  This made Renate’s single character more complex and ultimately more engaging.

What else about your book might pique the reader’s interest? Kathy Keler, whose paintings I have admired for many years and who I had always imagined would create the cover for Cologne, made the cover art.  And I am very glad she did. It is so evocative of the period, the setting, and the novel’s poignant and lyrical rendition of childhood.

Was your book self-published or represented by an agency?

Fuze Publishing invited me to join their list, and I was thrilled. I was especially fortunate to have Molly Tinsley edit the final draft and tweak it into its current version.

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My tagged writers for next Wednesday (who are asked to answer the same questions on the Fuze blog) are:

Mark Saunders, author Nobody Knows the Spanish I Speak

Addie Greene, author of How the Winds Laughed

Kathleen Jabs, author of Black Wings

Molly Tinsley, author of Entering the Blue Stone

Walter Bennett, author of Leaving Tuscaloosa

 

 
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Posted by on February 12, 2013 in Uncategorized