Author of 'Sendero' and 'Who Sings to the Dead?'

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Behind the Page – Author Tess Collins

tess_collinsBack in the old days, when all books were still printed on paper, I was fortunate enough to be a member of a writers’ workshop in Berkeley run by the infamous Jim Frey, who pulled zero punches when it came to manuscript critique. I, along with others, got ‘Freyed’ on more than one occasion and although it was painful and traumatic and I still wake up weeping from time to time, if I am a better writer today, much of it is due to Jim’s workshop and the enthusiasm of the other members who not only took their writing seriously and wrote well, but also gave excellent feedback.

One of those members is this month’s guest on Behind the Page.

While the rest of us were struggling to put in paragraph breaks and trying to cut the nine pages of description we thought essential to the beginning of every scene, Tess Collins was already publishing mysteries, writing plays and managing a theater in San Francisco. Plus she looked fabulous so you might have thought we all hated her. But she was just too nice and her feedback was top notch and thoughtful to boot.

Her latest novel – NOTOWN – has just won the ‘Crime Fiction and Regional’ categories in the Beverly Hills Book Awards.

Tess Collins, welcome to our humble forum.

  • Middlesboro, Kentucky … all the way to the People’s Republic of San Francisco?

I stopped in San Francisco thinking that a boyfriend would be following me out here, and we’d have a fantastical and charmed life living in the city by the bay. He never showed up, and for a while, I shivered, broken-hearted, on a street corner. His not showing up was the best thing that ever happened to me. I put all that angst to work in novels and such. The rest is history—or should I say her-story.

  •  A little bit country or a little bit Rock’n’Roll? I know you had a thing at one time for Davy Jones of the Monkees.

davyjonesOMG, I am out-ed! I not only thought I was going to marry Davy Jones, but also Mark Lindsay, Sajid Kahn, Bobby Sherman—the list goes on. Not sure how I would marry all of them, but somehow it was going to work out. Today, I am still single. Music—anything ballad, from Madonna to Garth Brooks. I think because ballads tell a story. Started with Billie Joe McAllister. What’d they throw off that that darn bridge anyway? And why’d he jump? Had my butt swaying in that southern fried kind of way. But the story questions nagged in my mind, maybe encouraged a storyteller’s perception.

  • The Slanted Door restaurant or Drive-Thru?

I’m big on popcorn and watching a movie. The trick is coconut oil and lots of pink salt. I’ve become a better cook as I’ve gotten older, and my perfect date is to make dinner together at home and watch the MMA fights. 

  • You work, write AND run BearCat Press, an Indie publishing company you founded. Are you just showing off?

BearCatPressLogofile(Web)Showing off—pfffff. If I want to show off, I put on a tight pair of jeans and sashay through a lobby of my hated enemies. I have a nice ass in my old age. But on to the stuff you really want to know about—I’d always thought I might like to start a small press when I retired. Something to keep the ole brain cells from deteriorating. I knew so many people that had good books molding on their computers, including me, and one day I woke up and said to meself, “What in piss’s name are you waiting for?”  So, even though I’m overworked, I added ‘starting a small press’ to the list of things to do that day. I try to keep it manageable by only doing a couple books now and then, but probably will grow the company once I retire from my day job. 

  • What made you realize you were a writer? When?

700dpiHOT-cover-NookCan’t say that I really think of myself as a writer as much as I do a storyteller. I come from a long line of kin who could sit out on the front porch and tell you the life story of every ancestor they ever had—the rousers, the lovers, the misunderstood, and the ambitious. No boring people in my ancestry! My mother tells me that when I was a toddler, I’d make up stories about being a fairy princess and that I had to protect my brother from an evil witch—a part she kindly played. When I was cornered, I put a magical circle around us so she couldn’t get us. I’ve always had an imagination.

  • Author(s) who inspire you? One who doesn’t?

Grimm’s fairytales, anything by Thomas Hardy, who inspired me as a young author; I think John Irving spins a good tale; Dennis Lehane gives his stories depth beyond the typical crime drama.  The BearCat authors are fantastic—Yves Fey, Richard Anderson, Beth Tashery Shannon; AND I was able to twist James N. Frey’s arm to give me a book of short stories that he did with his mentor Lester Gorn called ‘The Art of the Traditional Short Story’. I was so thrilled to be able to publish that book that I nearly fainted. While I don’t think it’s helpful to dish writers who you don’t get because let’s face it, writing is subjective and even the worse written novel in the world took a lot of work, I tend to put down any book that bores me in the first five chapters. 

tessIphone

  • What makes it worth eleven and a half US dollars to sit in a movie theater behind someone who is texting?

Geesh, you got me admitting all this stuff I’d never say out loud. I’ve watched the Harry Potter movies so many times I’ve got certain scenes memorized. Now, I’d never write anything like Harry Potter, maybe that’s why I like watching the movies. I don’t like to think too much when I watch a movie, maybe because I live so dangerously inside my head. So movies for me tend to be the ones that take me out of the mundane world and throw me in with hobbits and wizards and witches and all manner of magical creatures. I can stand some time in history too. I’m obsessed with the Tudors, the Rivers/Woodville family (that might have included a few witches on the mother’s side), and any time period that changed the tempo of the world. 

  • The hardest part of writing a novel is …  ?

The middle. Let’s face it, the middle sucks. I know A. I know Z. I just have to make sure getting to Z makes sense. Sometimes when the middle changes Z, the only thing you can do is bang your head against the nearest wall. Head bruises, that’s the hardest part of writing—the head bruises. 

  • ‘Writing is a mental disorder’ says one of my (and your) writing mentors (Jim Frey). What say you?

Jim Frey – “Writing is a mental disorder”.

I don’t know who said, “if you don’t have to write, then don’t,” but no truer words have ever been spoken. So many people have come up to me with their idea for a novel and they’ve never taken a writing class, but they’re really sure they can write a novel. Well, we all know the ending to that story. I spent eight years in James N. Frey’s workshops before my first novel was published, not to mention the mentorship with Kentucky Poets laureate, James Baker Hall and Gurney Norman; and classes with novelist and essayist, Ed McClanahan while in college. You have to more than want to be a writer, you have to know that storytelling is in your soul, and to not give expression to those tales will send you to hell faster than a newbie on the Hogwarts Express. Then, once you know that, you have to learn the craft of making a story work: how to plot a scene, raise a conflict, exploit an objective correlative.

  • Have you jumped to anything more than a conclusion?

If I’m stressed I like floating in an isolation tank. It takes away the sense of responsibility for that one hour. I keep trying to think of what I do for fun, and nothing is popping into my head. Mostly I feel like I’m just behind in writing all the books that are piling up on my ‘to do’ list. Finishing off my growing list of books is a responsibility I take seriously, even if it is pisses me off that I’m so far behind.

  • Your brush with greatness?

I got my photo taken once with Hugh Jackman—take that femme-enemies. See his arm around my shoulder? Jealous much?

TessCollinsHughJackman

Tess Collins and one of her fans

  • You’re a busy person. How do you find time to write? How much do you write?

I’m an organized alpha female. Need I say more. Sigh. Get out of my way.

  •  ‘Notown’? Like, why? Latest work in progress?

I grew up in a neighborhood called Noetown. It was known as the rough part of town. My granny, whom I lived with, slept with a .38 caliber Smith and Wesson under her pillow. Now growing up in a place like that, you know there were stories to tell. I knew I had to give voice to that place, and once the decision was made, Noetown spoke to me like a goddess telling her tale of the heroic and the tragic. NOTOWN is the first of a quartet of books that take place in Midnight Valley. I’m working on the second one now that I think will come out in 2015.

  • William Morris just bought BearCat Press for one million dollars. Now what?

Dude, I’m gonna sleep. Have to say the administrative work is more than I like to do, so a great company buying me out whom I know will support the BCP books the way they should be supported—that would be great! Gives me more time to write.  Here’s the thing—I often hear best-selling writers say they’d be destitute if they didn’t write because it’s the only thing they know how to do. I always think—losers.  I’m good at a lot of stuff, including operating businesses, adding numbers, keeping track of things. Not gonna scare me with a P&L. Hey, where’s my list of things to do?

  • Sorry, William Morris changed their mind but they did send you a ten dollar gift certificate because they felt bad. What happens next?

I call up Mr. Morris and say ‘thank you’ because my mother taught me to be polite when plotting vengeance.

  • The rest of us got old and married. Not you. Care to comment on that, even though it’s really none of our business?

NotownI guess if I really wanted to get married, I would have found a way to do it. I think at some point in my youth, I decided that I’d rather have a lot of lovers then one husband. As for “Old”—I prefer “Wise”. Women in my family don’t wrinkle, so as I age, I plan to be the wise crone whose magic you wished you had a piece of back in the day.

  • Ever wanted to just quit and watch TV and eat bonbons?

Quit, no, but I do watch TV between writing chapters. My current favorites are: Revenge, Once Upon a Time, The Good Wife, Justified, The Walking Dead and I’ve watched The Young and Restless and The Bold and the Beautiful for over thirty years. I watch a lot of TV between chapters. It’s a weakness, I know, but there are worse addictions.

  • If you could only do one thing, what would it be?

Live with snow leopards.

Tess, I and my of readers want to thank you for taking this time to let us get to know you better when you could have been accepting another book award, or opening a film studio or an orphanage.

Visit Tess Collins’ website.

¡viven los escritores!

-Check out last month’s guest: Indie Author Anne-Rae Vasquez

Be Kind – Don’t Rewind (or ‘Don’t go back to page 1 every time you edit your draft’)

keep-calm-and-edit-laterOK, so it’s an analogy that dates me. But in olden times, when you took your rental tapes[*] back to the video store[*], the clerk with the nose ring would get annoyed if you didn’t rewind them. That was because the next renter would have to rewind the VHS[*] tape and this could take several minutes and wear out his/her VCR[*]. Sometimes you were charged a five dollar fee if you didn’t rewind. Hence the phrase: Be Kind-Rewind.


([*]: younger readers may have to Google these terms.)


This rule happens to be the reverse when it comes to writing a long piece, however – particularly an early draft of a novel.

So you’ve got thirty gifted—but rough—pages and you’ve submitted them to your critique group. They love your quirky Southern novel with its ensemble cast but there are clarity errors (it’s a first draft). And they bring up stuff that simply doesn’t work. And they have a few suggestions for improvements. Great! With their feedback, you’ve even got a few new ideas of your own. So back you go to page 1, to get it all right before you move on. It makes sense. You need a good foundation[**].

Before you know it, revision becomes rewrite.
But you get it all down and resubmit to your workgroup. Or your friends. If you have any left.

And so it goes.

Six months later you find yourself still working your first thirty pages. You need to get them right. It’s important (and it is—eventually). But for some reason you never reach the end of the first draft. The members of your critique group display forced smiles when you resubmit.

What happens when you rewind you manuscript too often.

What happens when you ‘rewind’ your manuscript too often.

If this sounds familiar, you are in good company.

The risks of over-editing the beginning of an early draft are many:

1. You never get to page thirty-one. Or it takes you forever (and you end up changing the first thirty pages anyway, once you finally complete the drafts, now that you’ve driven the entire journey).

2. Your work suffers from ‘workshop’ bloat. Each subsequent submission adds a layer of earnest explanation to your fiery prose and loses power with the reader, even trained readers like your stalwart writer friends.

3. Suggestions for improvement are sometimes not as valid as they could be as a result of seeing the work too often.

4. Key elements get left out because you cut them. But they are still locked in the minds of you and your critiquers. I had a pair of earrings in a work-in–progress that are essential to the plot yet they somehow disappeared from a scene and a new reader was confused. Previous readers had no issue–the earrings were still on camera because they had been seen before. They were in the first draft. But now they’re gone, thanks to my over-zealous rewriting.

5. The vibrancy fades. The Thrill is Gone, as BB King so bluntly put it. That’s because it suffocated due to premature over-editing, which sounds like something you might take little blue pills for. Remember that Southern novel? I was referring to a dear friend whose book opened with a terrific, wonderful, quirky scene set in a small town square. But there were a lot of characters and it was a little confusing. (It was a first draft.) But subsequent rapid edits without moving forward completely diminished this scene and it got chopped and buried in a lot of narrative that tried to clarify. The magic was gone, unbeknownst to the author.

“I honestly believe that the first draft—your instinctive, heartfelt product—is the best.” Lee Child said this, and he has sold a few (million) books. Make that tens of millions.

You MUST edit—like mad—eventually.

Under-edited books are the bane of the self-publishing world. IMO Indie authors must work even harder to combat the stigma of sloppy self-pubbers. As number two, we have to try harder.
James M. Cain said anyone who wasn’t prepared to rewrite a book fourteen times had no business writing it in the first place, but he was talking about an entire (i.e. completed) book. If the manuscript isn’t finished, don’t do it.

Don’t do it.

writers_blockSuggestions:

I view submissions like gold and try not to resubmit a section more than twice to my group, and twice only after a period of time has passed.

If you leave off at page thirty, start the next writing session on page twenty-nine (no earlier) and press on, until the draft is finished. If I have group feedback on earlier sections I leave myself a bullet list of notes before the offending section and forge ahead without any immediate revision until I am done and ready for the next draft.

Baby steps. In my other life I am a software engineer. People think I’m crazy when I say this but there are many similarities to writing a novel and writing a computer program. In software engineering there is the concept of ‘iterative development’, which boils down to ‘don’t try to do it all at once’. Write small improvements to the program with each successive iteration, making sure each ‘draft’ works until it all functions efficiently. Try to do it in one or two passes and most mortals will fail–or write a crappy program. I apply the same methodology to my fiction writing after my first drafts—(usually two). Sometimes I do temporal adjustment, getting all the dates and times in sync. Sometimes I just do dialog tags. A draft like that can take mere hours. Sometimes I flesh out a single character’s POV over a specific topic in a single draft and not bother with other themes or characters just yet. I do a lot of drafts but they feel manageable.

Be prepared to fail. Be prepared to write an entire novel that isn’t worth a second draft. I’ve done it, more than once, I’m sorry to say. But so have many successful authors. I once wrote a horror novel (I thought I wanted to write a horror novel and thought I could) but it simply didn’t work. It’s sitting somewhere on my hard drive collecting digital dust. But I don’t regret it (too much) and I didn’t spend a year on the first thirty pages. Henning Mankell said you have to write a lot of crap if you want to write something good. The Rolling Stones used to spend months in the studio just to come up with one three-minute gem. Be prepared to fail.

You’re not the first author to have the OCD early editing problem. The temptation to go back and revise is huge. It’s natural.

Back on p1 - again.

Back on P1 – again.

Page 31.

I finished my first draft first and P31 was a breeze.

“The first draft is just you telling yourself the story,” said Terry Pratchett. They made him a knight so I guess he knows what he’s talking about. There’s no need to get your story right for everyone until you tell it to yourself. That can take a draft. Or even two.


In the age of word processors it’s too easy to over-revise, and risk not finishing, or wind up with some brown sludge that doesn’t do anything for anyone. Shakespeare and Hemingway did not have the physical capability to rewrite that you and I do. I’m going to bet they probably didn’t keep going back to page one as often as we did because they didn’t have the technology. Seems like they didn’t need it.

¡viven los escritores!

** – not always – see my post first draft jitters and driving at night

Behind the Page – Interview with Author Anne-Rae Vasquez

This month I am beginning a new series called “Behind the Page” where I interview up-and-coming authors who deserve attention.

arv

Anne-Rae Vasquez is an Indie author and filmmaker from Vancouver, BC. She has published half a dozen books and novels which include YA fiction, poetry, web design and cooking. She wrote AND directed Almost a Turkish Soap Opera, which won a slew of Indie film awards. She also blogs, reviews books, cooks, raises a family and … well, you get the idea – she generally puts most people’s work schedules to shame. I had the pleasure to first make Anne-Rae’s acquaintance on fiverr.com when she graciously agreed to put together a very cool book trailer for my latest novel (which, if you feel so inclined, you can see here). When I suggested that perhaps she might not have charged me sufficiently for all the terrific work she did, she replied ‘Oh no, you paid me enough’. She obviously has talent to spare and is generous to a fault with her fellow Indie authors. Let’s find out more about Anne-Rae Vasquez.

1. What’s it like to live in a communist country?

Actually Canada is a democracy although the political structure is quite different than the United States. Canada has far too many political parties, which makes the election process somewhat ineffectual. We do have a government administered health care system but it is NOT free, with the exception, I think, of a handful of provinces.

Your question highlights what many people don’t understand: the differences between Communism, Socialism, and what-have-you, thus labeling all of this under Communism.

2. Beatles or Rolling Stones? Or is it more like Partridge Family vs. Monkees?

Beatles. Can’t believe you had to ask! Although for a brief period of my youth, I did have a thing for The Monkees, probably because they were on TV every day.

3. Almost a Turkish Soap Opera? You raised money to write and film this fascinating movie (which readers can watch on Anne-Rae’s site here), and filmed the dang thing yourself. You’re a ‘regular’ person, meaning you don’t own a film company and you work for a living and raise a family. What drove you to undertake such an effort?

Anne-Rae directing

Directing with a smile

I did not film “Almost a Turkish Soap Opera” by myself. I wrote the screenplay and directed but the production was handled by Joseph Khalil (Sababa Productions) and the wonderful cast and crew made the film something I’m proud of. I have been working behind the scenes in film production since high school and always dreamed of one day making and directing my own movie. The experience was a springboard to other creative projects.

4. Cupcakes or Cheetos?

Oatmeal chocolate chip, big top cupcakes. Love baking and eating them!

5. Doubt. Cristal. Resist. All are single word titles of yours that pack a punch. What’s in a title? How important is title to you as a writer? Do you agonize over them?

A good title that people can remember is essential. It needs to be catchy but also reflective of the story. It’s easier for people to search “Doubt” on Goodreads than “Doubting the Reality of It All”, don’t you think?

6. What made you realize you were a writer? And when?

I knew I was a writer in grade school, when my teacher asked the class to submit one paragraph to describe what we did on the weekend. I submitted a novella.

7. Author(s) who inspire you? One who doesn’t?

Anita Daimant, author of the “Red Tent” (a story told in the eyes of the women of Biblical times). Malka Marom, who wrote “Sulha” (which means “forgiveness” in both Hebrew and Arabic) and Khaled Hosseini (“The Kite Runner”). These writers craft culturally rich stories that show the reality of life from the perspective of people the mainstream media tends to ignore.

8. What makes it worth eleven dollars (US) for you to sit in a theater (theatre to you) with your shoes cemented to the floor with nacho cheese?

What doesn’t, you mean? ZERO movies in a theatre (theater:)). I prefer to watch at home on my 55″ flat screen TV with my family, eating popcorn I pop with real butter. Actually I’d rather watch an entire TV series in a marathon sitting, which you can do now. Stories told in an hour or two just don’t do anything for me anymore. There is so much more creativity in many TV shows these days and they are visually equal to what you’d see in the theatre.

9. The hardest part of writing a novel is … [fill in the blank]

Marketing it.

10. ‘Writing is a mental disorder’ says one of my writing mentors (Jim Frey). What say you?

Writing is where my nightmares and dreams find immortality.

11. Do you water ski much?

For me water and ski don’t mix. For fun and relaxation, I go on film shoots.

12. Social media? How important in promoting your work? How much is too much?

I actually hate promoting anything. I prefer to share with others as much as I can which is why I did the fiverr gig. My editor (who doubles as my promotional manager) advised me to raise money for Doubt via kickstarter but I balked at the idea of begging people to fund my book. So I decided to leverage my film making experience to assist others and finance projects that way. An author acquaintance paid over $700 for her book trailer! When I saw the video, I couldn’t believe it. It looked like a high school student put it together. My fiverr gig costs a fraction of what my friend could have paid and provides an affordable alternative for authors.

13. You’re a techie by day. It’s no coincidence how many successful Indie authors are technically savvy. How important is this? Or does your day job just get in the way of creative stuff, like watching cat videos?

Techie means I can produce all my own work from A to Z. I don’t need to outsource book formatting or worry about who is going to make my promo videos. I often create my own book covers and it means more power to me and less expense.

14. How do you find time to write? How much do you write?

I only have a few hours a week but still manage to write two to three chapters. Then I meet with my editor and we do a rewrite together. She’s a tough Latina and sometimes we butt heads. But in the end the process feels great – magical.
Doubt
15. ‘Doubt’ and the ‘Among Us’ series has just been picked up by Knopf Doubleday and you are now a multi-millionaire. What happens next?

I go and make a bunch of movies and at least one TV series, that’s what!

16. Sorry, I lied — trick question. But you have just won just *ten dollars* in a scratcher that you bought at a gas (petrol) station. What happens next?

I buy gas.

17. Most thrilling moment as a writer?

Every time a new fan writes a review. They don’t have to like everything about the book but knowing that they immersed themselves in my world and then took the time to write a review, well … that makes it worthwhile.

18. Least thrilling?

The final editing …

19. If you were put in charge of Canada, what’s the first thing you would change?

People in charge are frequently puppets of the rich and powerful. The world of politics is not a place I want to be.

20. I’m enjoying “Doubt”, even though I have to move my lips when I read. What inspired you to write a YA book about video gamers?

One day one of my kids came up and asked me: “Mom, why do you write books that we can’t read?” That’s when I decided to write a book that my kids could share with their friends. They all love playing video games. Personally I wondered about the benefits of being a gamer. Were there any? But after sitting with my kids and their friends and watching them play, I saw a LOT of skills that can be used for the greater good. Then I asked myself: could gamers save the world? And the answer was … well, you’ll just have to read the book.

Anne-Rae, I and my millions of readers want to thank you for taking this time to let us get to know you a little better when you could have been baking baklava.

Thank you for inviting me … I actually made some baklava this morning … enjoy! baklava

Rafflecopter Giveaway!

click to enter the rafflecopter giveaway


This month I’m participating in a promotional book giveaway with some excellent fellow authors …

If you like edgy YA fiction check it out – there are quite a few cool books to win (including mine!) and you’ll be helping feed my dog, who is (always) hungry.

So enter the giveaway and win a book! What could be easier? Besides doing nothing. But then you won’t win a book.

Check out these featured books …





plagueofangels


LETHAL DISPATCH



smokescreen


the exile


cristal


Click here to enter the Rafflecopter giveaway …

Who was Maria Maggi? The long unsettled interment of Eva (Evita) Perón

Eva Perón travelled to Italy twice: once in life and once in death.

The first time was in 1947 when, as Argentina’s first lady, Eva Perón (Evita to much of the world) embarked on a European tour as ambassador for a country hoping to preserve goodwill and pave the way for badly needed foreign loans. Eva’s husband, the infamous General Juan Perón, was persona non grata in a post-war world reeling from war and weary of fascism. But his wife had the celebrity status and glamor credentials of an international film star. Coined the Eleanor Roosevelt of Latin America she travelled with a separate DC3 just for her luggage.

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In Spain, plazas were mobbed as people fought to catch a glimpse of Eva waving magnanimously from balconies. She handed out coins to children in flower-strewn streets. On one occasion she removed the hood ornament from the limo she was riding in and gave it to a little boy. She snubbed the UK for a visit at the last minute when informed that the Royal family would have her to the palace for tea but not let her stay over. In Rome Pope Pius XII granted her a private audience.

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The world just couldn’t get enough of Evita in 1947.

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But no one saw Eva when she returned to Italy ten years later, as the fictitious Maria Maggi.

Maria was dead you see.

Maria Maggi’s body arrived in Milan on May 17, 1957, some five years after Eva’s death from cervical cancer in Buenos Aires. Escorted by a nun, the coffin was believed to contain the body of an Italian woman who had died in Argentina. “Maria Maggi” was buried in Lot 86, Garden 41, in Milan’s Monumentale Cemetery.

Upon her death in 1952, Eva Perón’s body attracted millions of mourners paying their respects, lining up for days to kiss the glass-topped coffin. After two weeks, authorities ended the public viewing and the Argentine government spent $100,000 (in 1952 dollars) and more than one year embalming Eva, pumping her full of chemicals and sealing her skin. Even in death, Eva commanded considerable respect.

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Post-Peronists lurking in the wings didn’t want that.

After General Juan Perón’s overthrow in 1955, Eva’s body disappeared from where it had been on display in her former office. It is generally believed that the new government couldn’t just get rid of Eva (this was Latin America after all, where death carries the utmost deference, even when it concerns ones enemies) so the body was moved to Italy, where it would receive a proper burial but be well removed from any cult level worship. A ban was issued on Peronism.

In 1971 a man named Carlos Maggi submitted papers for the exhumation of Maria Maggi’s remains in Milan. Underneath the damaged plain wooden coffin was one of silver with a glass window revealing a preserved Eva Perón “so natural it looked like Evita was asleep”. “Carlos Maggi” escorted his “sister’s” remains to a house in Madrid owned by Juan Perón. The coffin was then sent on to Buenos Aires where Eva was finally laid to rest in the family tomb in La Recoleta Cemetery, reportedly the most exclusive neighborhood in South America.

Despite  claims that it was anti-Peronists who had initially moved Eva to Italy, one can’t help but wonder if Juan Perón, fearing the worst, had a hand in having his wife’s remains sent to Milan for safe-keeping, to be returned to Argentina when she could be securely interred forever. Although Perón was in exile until 1973, he spent much of his time in Spain. He was planning a return to power in Argentina, which he succeeded at in 1973. Did he play a part in returning Eva to what he would surely have considered her former rightful place among her people? Why were Eva’s remains brought to his house in Madrid prior to their departure back to Buenos Aires in 1971?

Today a steady stream of admirers continue to line up in La Recoleta to pay their respects to a woman born the humble, illegitimate daughter of a cattle rancher who, despite a controversial life, inspired millions, and would have been the first female president of Argentina.

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Winter’s Bone – Love and Meth – Book Review

Rae Dolly struggles to keep her family together after her father disappears, in the film adaptation of Winter's Bone.

Sixteen-year-old Rae Dolly is in a serious bind: her meth-dealing father has disappeared and missed an important court date. If Jessup Dolly isn’t located soon, then the family that Rae holds together through sheer will-power will lose their humble Ozark cabin. Although a mountain code binds the Dolly clan in some ways, a brutal undercurrent of reprisal makes it near impossible for Rae to learn the whereabouts of her father. There are some things people just don’t talk about in a community where speed has replaced moonshine as the economic engine and drug of choice. Rae’s father is one of them.

After sustaining a ferocious beating, Rae finally sways her criminal uncle Teardrop over to her side and the novel takes an even darker turn as we head into the mountains in the middle of winter to learn the truth about Rae’s father.

The plot of Winter’s Bone is straightforward and economic, with all the tension of a thriller, as Rae goes from one grim haunt to another asking questions no one wants to answer. In less than two hundred pages Daniel Woodrell’s rich yet gritty prose builds a momentum that is part suspense, part parable. The writing is stripped down and minimalist in places but also functions on a literary level, leaving powerful images rippling in the reader’s mind without getting in the way of Woodrell’s noir narrative. This is no run-of-the-mill page turner. The characters are tough but tender, sympathetic without being sentimental. Rae’s two little brothers and emotionally damaged mother are only two examples of people confined to a world who aren’t stereotypes.

If there’s any criticism of this book, it’s that the storyline is possibly too direct in places, almost predictable, like a mystery where the protagonist is taken through required confrontations and scenes, and readers of the genre might see this as somewhat underdeveloped. But the originality of the writing, authenticity of setting, and the story questions raised more than make up for that. In Winter’s Bone, less is more. Life is unforgiving in Rae’s world but love for family is just as strong, if not stronger.

Lethal Dispatch – Nine Days in the City of Fury

Nine Days in the City of Fury
When the soldiers shoot her father, a sixteen-year-old girl takes an oath – along with the name the rebels give her.

‘Inez’ avenges her father. Then she’s ready to move on.

But it’s not that simple. They say she can’t just walk away.

‘Inez’ has one final mission: to deliver a package to a mysterious contact in the City of Fury – Buenos Aires.

What can possibly go wrong?

Murder. Kidnapping. Betrayal.

Everything.
 

This all ages mystery/suspense/thriller takes the reader on a treacherous journey across a continent to the end of the world, with twists and turns to keep anyone guessing.  Read the first chapters at Amazon.

Waiting for the Man – Goodbye Lou Reed

lou-reedThis is my second post in a row dealing with the passing of one of my heroes. I must be getting to that age. But I remember when I first heard the Velvet Underground churning their way through ‘Waiting for the Man’, a song about scoring heroin on the streets of New York. Nothing romantic about it, just waiting for a dealer who was never early, always late, in a place where you didn’t belong. I loved the low-fi attack, the monotone vocal, the simple, chunking chords, the lack of a guitar solo. It was dark and powerful and refreshing because it was so counter to the psychedelic confection the record companies were putting out, the dishonest fluff we were listening to. While we thought we might be part of something that didn’t exist.

The Velvet Underground weren’t pretending at peace and love.

‘Waiting for the Man’ came right after ‘Sunday Morning’, a pretty, sad little song, on an album that dealt with drugs, taboo sexuality, loneliness, the other side of life. The Velvets had more than one way of saying the things our parents didn’t want us to hear. Their thumping dirges drove a battered poetry deep into our ears, words we would take with us until we found our own voices. More than hypnotic, the Velvets put into words the thoughts that were brewing in our heads. Even if we didn’t quite understand them at the time. And because we didn’t quite understand them.

Lou Reed was the voice we heard on that record, whose world-weary snarl emanated from the electroshock his parents subjected him to in order to ‘cure’ him of his bisexuality. Yes, there was Nico as well, channeling a damaged Marlene Dietrich, but the Velvet Underground was really about Lou Reed. He wrote almost all of that album, a lot of it when he was fifteen. He didn’t run scared like he was supposed to; he came back and yelled—well, droned—about how it was for a lot of kids in the 60s and 70s.

More than a few us of us went on our own dark journeys in those days. Some of us didn’t make it.

But Lou Reed made it. Long enough to put a stamp on our sullen rebellion.

Long enough to be called a survivor.

And don’t his songs stand the test of time?

Somewhere, right now, there’s a bunch of kids doing things they shouldn’t be doing and screwing things up royally, but they have a voice. They just don’t know it yet.

Maybe they’ll find it before it’s too late.

Like Lou Reed helped me find mine.

I suspect Lou Reed lived longer than he deserved to.

But he still seemed to leave too soon.

Maybe he just slipped off somewhere, and is waiting for the man.

Farewell Elmore

elmore

The man who pioneered the modern crime novel has passed on to that great Detroit in the sky.

Many good things are going to be said about Elmore Leonard in the days and weeks to come. And they’re all true.

So I’m just going to post a modest word of thanks to the author who influenced me the most. If I’m a better writer today, it’s in part because I discovered a copy of Killshot in a secondhand bookstore many years ago and was immediately carried away by the tough and tender prose and gritty, quirky, terrifying characters. Twenty years ago I didn’t know that fiction could be as original and literary as what Mr. Leonard made look so easy. His use of close third person is only one of his many masterful techniques in creating a world where the reader finds him or herself rooting for killers and drug dealers. Elmore Leonard once said that his bad guys get up in the morning, go to the closet, and decide what pants to wear.

When I was starting out, I had the very good luck to meet Elmore Leonard at a book signing. It was a Kidney Foundation thing that I’m sure he got roped into by his publisher and, unbelievably, no one else was lining up to talk to the man who brought us Hombre and Chili Palmer. They were all too busy hovering around Amy Tan (who has three kidneys as it turns out). So I got to spend a good twenty minutes chatting with ‘Dutch’ Leonard and, as banal as it sounds, he was the nicest guy. I told him, sheepishly (I’m sure he would have edited out the ‘sheepishly’) that I was writing a crime novel and looking for an agent. What advice did he have?

“Don’t send it out until you think it can be published as it stands,” I remember him saying.

Good advice.

I still have the book he signed for me that day, along with his other fine, funny, chilling works.

Here then, are ten rules for good writing from the Dostoevsky of Detroit. My favorite is to “leave out the parts readers tend to skip”. Follow any one of Elmore’s rules, or even a few, and watch your writing improve.

Farewell, Elmore.

elmoreleonard10rules