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The trials & tribulations of a writer

maltese-greenstreetAfter the unmitigated triumph of my novel STRANGLERS IN THE NIGHT some twenty plus years ago, I strode purposefully forward in my Bali Manic shoes and Chanel suit, inhaling the sweet smell (No.5) of success, sipping champagne en route to a glittering literary future. And then the cookie crumbled, as they say…
The head Judge in the competition which led to my book’s meteoric rise, was foolhardy enough to admit having bribed the other judge as he was hopelessly in love with me… Sales ceased, interest flagged, and talk of a film was out the window. I was totally flabbergasted and cast down; as was the overweight, aged Judge who managed to bankrupt himself. A deep abyss yawned before both of us. I was vaguely flattered, but how could he have done such a thing?!

If you believe that, you’ll believe anything! I don’t even know where it came from… Do us writers EVER know? There must be some mysterious conduit into our psyches. Who cares, as long as it happens and continues.

Now the semi-true bit…

I woke up at 4.30 am thinking about characterization, but obviously, lines were somehow crossed.

Having worked hard on a collection of short stories, I had five in the bag. All eclectic and a bit zany. One was titled TAKING TIME & OTHER THINGS (confessions of a kleptomaniac), another HARD FEELINGS (the intimate memoir of a concrete manufacturer). The sixth was proving a problem. I tapped my teeth with a pen, as writers do, and realised it was just limping along, (the story that is)…Why? That trusty light bulb then pinged on. Of course, it was my antagonist!. He had as much menace as a new-born baby. Totally unsuitable. There lay a teaser…What to do? I’d interviewed a few ‘baddies’ before he arrived and begged me for the role. In a weak moment, being a soft touch, I said yes. He was in my office awaiting further instructions and I felt deep dismay at what I was about to do. But it had to be done.

Morning, Kevin, I said. You okay? How’s your mother’s leg now?

Mornin;’ better. He replied, looking crestfallen as if anticipating the worst, took a pristine hanky from a pocket and blew his nose. Loudly. He then drew himself up to his full five two height, sniffed and said:

You’re gonna fire me, aren’t you?

Afraid so…

Was that a tear in the corner of his pale blue eye?

Fuck it! he said, mildly shocking me. He never swore… and continued…

I’ve played the role of Tiny Tim on the stage … been someone’s cowardly younger brother and died of tuberculosis in a film, but I’ve never been a hero or a villain. Thanks for nothing! And he marched out of the room, missing my pathetic Sorry, Kev!

willemdafoe_7_rgb-470x335There were two more hopeful candidates sitting outside my office, I invited the ugliest one in. He was chewing gum.

Morning! Please take a seat. Name?

Hank James

American?

Yeah, ma’am.

Any acting experience?

Yep, was in HOW RED WAS MY VALLEY and VAMPIRE LEADER, he told me, still chewing.

I took in his shifty, dark eyes, his tall, rangy, but wiry build, and his cauliflower ear and quickly said:

You’re hired!

 

 

Ciao for now.

Joy x

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Under the spotlight – author Don Massenzio

DON MASSENZIOToday, it gives me much pleasure to welcome seasoned author Don Massenzio to my humble patio. He has travelled from northern Florida, fortunately safe from the devastation and threat of the recent hurricane.

Don was born in Syracuse New York to first generation Italian/American parents, and wasn’t sorry to leave the cold winters behind!

 

Welcome to my corner of Spain, Don. At least I can offer you blue skies and sunshine! Now we’ve had our refreshments, you can sit back, relax and tell us more about yourself.

Thanks! It’s great to be here. That beer and the tapas were mighty welcome. So, fire away!

Did anyone inspire you to write?

I had a second grade teacher who helped me find my love for reading. I would say that authors of the books I read inspired me to write. Earlier on, there were Dickens, Harper Lee and Tolkien, and later Stephen King, Jonathan Kellerman and a great list of authors.

In what genre do you prefer to write?

I love to read detective stories and watch classic detective movies and television shows. This is the genre in which I feel most creative. I do, however, enjoy writing short stories in many genres.

Have you a strict routine?

Quite the opposite. I write when I have the time. I travel 45 weeks per year for my day job, so I write in airports, in planes, in hotel rooms, in cars and on trains. Whenever and wherever I have free time.

If you were shipwrecked, who would you take with you?

My wife and daughter for sure; I’d also like to take someone who would know where to find water and food!

What three objects would you take with you?

My Kindle, loaded with thousands of books and something I could use to write, along with a solar-powered generator.

Do you have any hobbies, Don?

I am a musician. I actually went to music school for a couple of years and played professionally. Now I play the piano at church.

Have you any quirks or foibles you’d like to tell us about?

I am clumsy. It might be because I’m left-handed, but it’s a bit of a family joke. The more Massenzios there are in a room, the more accidents happen!

Have you a pet hate?

Yes, if I’m at a performance, like a concert or play, I’m very sensitive to other noise and disturbance. I know what it’s like to be on a stage, and it’s my view that, if you paid for a ticket, you should be quiet and devote your attention to the performance. If you don’t, it shows a lack of respect.

If you could pass a law, what would it be?

Hmmm, great question. No cell phones at the dinner table would be great. I think we’re losing the art of conversation because of these devices. If I didn’t have to carry mine for work, I wouldn’t use it.

What is your hope for the future?

Another great question. I feel like the world has taken a step backwards and is becoming more divisive. I have a nine year old daughter and I don’t want her to grow up in a country where racism and hate are rampant as they seem to be now.

If you could invite two literary figures (alive or dead) to dinner, who would they be?

Ernest Hemingway and Stephen King. I would just sit back and listen to their stories and their interaction with each other.

How would you like to be remembered?

I would simply like to be remembered. By my daughter for being a good Dad, by my wife for being a good husband, and by everyone else to be remembered as someone who tried to be and do good.

Thanks, Don. It’s been a pleasure meeting you and putting you under the microscope! Have a safe journey back to Florida and give my best regards to your wife and daughter.

Some of Don’s published work:

BLOOD ORANGE

THE FRANK ROZZANI DETECTIVE STORIES 1-3

FRANKLY SPEAKING

LET ME BE FRANK

FRANK INCENSED

THE ULTIMATE GUIDE FOR INDEPENDENTLY PUBLISHED AUTHORS

LUCY’S CHRISTMAS MIRACLE

RAN DOM TALES ASSORTED SHORT STORIES

FRANK IMMERSED

AUGUST 1963

HEAL THYSELF

You can find Don at his blog: donmassenzio.wordpress.com

© Copyright Joy Lennick 2017

And now for something slightly different..

footThere’s so much heavy, disheartening and tragic news around, thought I’d lighten the load for a while.

For anyone fed up to their back teeth with either flippant/kinky, or boring romances/gory, twenty-toed monster killings or utter nonsense all depending on your particular taste of course – here are a few books which promise (dib dib dib) to, at the very least, offer something unusual/bizarre/original to titillate the jaded reader’s palate. (The fact that they could be a load of old codswallop is neither here nor there.)

Forget the proverbial ‘Englishman, Irishman and Scotsman’. ‘LAGOON’ by Nnedi Okanafor presents a rapper, a biologist and a rogue soldier, who walk into a bar…

SLAPSTICK, OR LONESOME NO MORE’ by Kurt Vonnegut. Apparently, it’s about the last President of the USA… (Written in 1976, but could be quite topical!)

THE PASSION’ by Jeanette Winterson –Napoleon! Venice! More web –footed people! And a woman who is trying to retrieve her heart from a locked box…

THE BEAR COMES HOME’ by Rafi Zabor – The protagonist is a walking, talking, saxophone-playing bear. What more could you ask for?

***

I imagine, if you’re a reader/writer, you are as fascinated by people as I am. Here are a few facts about some of our more famous ‘Pensmiths’.

CHARLES DICKENS was a stickler for order and routine and wrote most days from 9 am until 2 pm. He always slept facing north as he believed it better aligned him to the electrical currents of the earth. Despite no formal education, he wrote 15 novels, 5 novellas, hundreds of short stories and non-fiction; lectured and performed: all before he was 48 years old, when he tragically died of a stroke.

HARUKI MURAKAMI is working by 4 am – five or six hours – he then runs for ten kilometres and/or both swims 100 metres. Later, he reads, listens to music and is in bed by 9.00 pm. He says the discipline helps him reach a deeper state of mind.

JODI PICOULT says: ‘You can’t edit a blank page,’ so obviously gets on with it. She never suffers from writers’ block.

KURT VONNEGUT worked from 5.30 until 8.00, then again later. He swam, had ‘several belts of scotch and water,’ and did push-ups and sit-ups in between writing. (It must have helped, he lived to a respectable age of 84).

ERNEST HEMINGWAY wrote every morning, as soon as it was light, ‘Cool and quiet.’

HENRY MILLER advised not to work on more than one thing at a time; ‘to mix work with pleasure, go out and meet people and don’t be a draughthorse.’ He also said you should ‘not be nervous, work calmly, joyously and recklessly.’ And last, but ‘that cliché’…’

MAYA ANGELOU, poet and author, found the comfort of home too distracting, so rented a small, mean room in a hotel for months at a time, taking only her writing materials, a Bible, a bottle of sherry and a pack of cards. She had a calloused elbow from leaning on one side of her bed to write!

So, there you have it, for now. Just a few odds and ends for you to ponder.

 

© Copyright Joy Lennick 2017

 

Wake up at the back!

Steinbeck2The whole literary world seems awash with new writers: of all genres and capabilities. In their number – trust me I know – there are a handful who will make it big: and I mean BIG (genius among their ranks; some excellent writers but also moneyed writers WITH CONNECTIONS. It is not cynical to suggest this, just factual.) It was ever thus, but I’m not a party-pooper. Good luck to those who have reached the pinnacle of their profession, more particularly the authors who have worked hard to get there, for there is truth in the saying success takes more perspiration than inspiration… Although it is humbling to recall, and furthermore brings the egotists to heel, that Ernest Hemingway said ‘We are all apprentices in a craft where no one ever becomes a master.’

However, the “connected” and more savvy/wealthy/technical scribblers among us, don’t need as much help, while there are plenty who do! I count myself in the latter category as I hesitate when I am faced by a ‘Push’ sign…over-think (dangerous) and tend to under-estimate any suggestion of talent.

In this technical age, more than ever before, the actual writing itself seems easy-peasy when faced with the maze of problems in getting your work/book “out there.” Having experienced mainstream publishing in the 1970’s/80’s – to be applauded – I can categorically say there is no comparison with what’s on offer today. Yes, it’s easier to be published, but most authors like to see their books sell. Right? Plus they like to be paid for all their sweat and tears; more than two/three euro per book would be nice…(Don’t choke over your cornflakes if that’s a surprise!) And therein lies a difficulty. Amazon and Kindle are choked up with every conceivable book on every conceivable subject you can imagine, and nowadays the ‘big boys’ are greedier.

The writing part of your book really could be the easiest when compared to ‘putting it out there’ and selling it. If you’re very confident, can sell yourself and your book, AND you can write well, you are well on your way to becoming a household name, otherwise it’s a struggle. And, remember, wise authors put much store by the design of their book covers, and the back cover blurb is almost as important. It can make the difference between luke-warm sales and brisk ones.

Apart from the totally original/genius/moneyed writers in our midst, there are plenty of tentative, talented people aspiring to get into print, and I genuinely feel concern for them. So – including myself in this plea – let’s sit up and take note before it’s too late.

So, what can we do to improve our success? Well, common sense tells us to ensure the quality of our writing is as good as we can make it. We never finish learning…or improving, and shouldn’t. We should all read as much as we can and keep our curiosity honed at all times. Being original and spinning a good tale is another must, and cliches should be avoided but not ignored. Rules should be massaged, and sometimes turned on their heads… In Doris Lessing’s words: ‘There are no laws for the novel. There never have been, nor can there ever be.’ Optimism is key.

I will forever be intrigued by the fact that 26 letters of the alphabet can spell magic, mayhem, mystery, fear, titillation, happiness and every other emotion you can think of, and the mystique of muses and inspiration remains. Although, in my own, very modest, writing life, there was never a “”Eureka” moment, I was inspired to plod on by John Steinbeck’s writing, read after…I had written a sentence almost matching one of his about a sunset in a short story. Not exactly a difficult task, but I was thrilled to have chosen the same words as a writer of his calibre. (He was, by the way, rejected by many publishers before succeeding.) Of course, we should never compare ourselves with the greats, and remember, we are ALL UNIQUE. Every last one of us.

Sadly, none of the above sketches out HOW to ensure readers buy our books. If you are a good speaker/actor/promoter/technology wizard, it counts for a lot, for today’s writer has to do a heap more than just write. Making videos, giving interviews and courting coverage by way of Twitter and Facebook, etc., makes sense, as does setting up a website and interacting with like-minded people.

As for finishing the book itself, Larry L. King suggests you ‘Write, rewrite; when not writing or re-writing, read. I know of no short cuts!’ I heartily endorse his advice. Good luck!

© Copyright Joy Lennick 2017

Eat, drink and be Mary

“IF YOU CAN’T FEED A HUNDRED PEOPLE, THEN JUST FEED ONE”

Mother Theresa

I recently edited an exciting tale of a ‘one man marvel’ who was a cross between James Bond, Captain Scarlet, and Batman. It certainly moved apace, with plenty of car and bikes chases, shoot-outs and mayhem. Perfect Boy’s/Men’s Own stuff. Only one thing about the story bugged me. Our hero rarely ate.

He downed a few jars that I recall, but seemed on a starvation diet. I do, of course, appreciate that when one is pursuing dangerous criminals, intent on murder, or blowing up the Houses of Parliament, et al, indulging in coq au vin and chocolate mousse has to take a back seat, but as chapters passed like indulgent buses, the poor hero was, surely, losing weight?! I was mentally urging the author to serve him a quick pizza, hot dog or burger at the very least., but as there was a war on by then, the poor devil had to make do with stolen eggs and stale bread…Hey ho.

As individuals, and being unique, we all have our fancies, likes and dislikes, and there’s nothing I like more than to eat a good meal, and digest it curled up by the wood-burner with a good book. But it goes much deeper than that and I’m no detective on a case…As a wife and mother, I took to cooking early on in my marriage, and my husband and I liked entertaining so much, he caught the culinary bug and – at one time in our years together – we ran a modest, twelve-bedroomed hotel in Bournemouth. Hard work but great fun and it launched me on a writing path: Running Your Own Small Hotel and Jobs in Baking and Confectionery. Both published by Kogan Page Ltd, London.

Involved in research for the book, I came across some exciting revelations, such as Chilean-American writer, Isabel Allende’s love for and allusions to food in her books. One: Aphrodite, covered the aphrodisiac combinations of food and love, and actual recipes from the book are still used by readers today. “A cornucopia of spices…” and potent writing of rich, dark chocolate, oozing, seductively and sexily through the pages, with titillating aromas almost escaping from the words. Sadly, my personal flights of food fancy were rejected and I was commissioned to write an account of “The day to day running of a small hotel, with modest menu suggestions.” Disappointing, but the book went to a second printing and did very well, so I couldn’t complain.

Later, leading a more prosaic, while interesting and rewarding life, I read and wrote as much as I could in between cooking for four men, noting that Oscar Wilde once said: “After a good dinner, one can forgive anybody, even one’s own relations!”

Apparently, Alexander Dumas was also a cook and gourmet, and while his three musketeers were marinating in his imagination, he wrote Dictionnaire de Cuisine, but concocted over-fanciful tales about the Romans driving ducks over the Alps for their dinner.

Tragic, American-born poet Sylvia Plath loved to cook and it seems that some of her recipes “ghost the web;” one for “Tomato soup cake” sounds rather strange!

In A Moveable Feast, Ernest Hemingway, his pockets at the time, empty, wrote of his hunger while his stomach rumbled and the teasing aromas of baking bread and rolls drifted, torturously, from the open doorways of the Boulangeries.

As for the infamous Tom Jones, written by Henry Fielding in 1749 – marked as one of the “best ever 100 books” – although I admit to not having read it, I did see the film. And if ever food was linked to love and sex hilariously, it was in this epic. It is incredible to note that from a London population of only 700,000, 10,000 copies of the book were sold. One critic helped sales along beautifully, by calling it “A motley history of barstardism, fornication and adultery.” I never looked at food the same way again…

While I continued to scribble away and cook such basic temptations as Shepherd’s Pie, Toad in the Hole, Goulash and innumerable stir fries and roasts like most other mums, I still took time out to read – often in the kitchen. Joanne Harris’ book Chocolate captured me hook, line and sinker. I loved it, and although I haven’t written a “foodie” novel, yet, I did manage to get a few, culinary-based, stories published in an anthology: Food Glorious Food (QG Publishing) which, hopefully, sent a few taste buds salivating… and there are more due in a collection of fascinating, mixed stories by writer Jean Wilson and yours truly called Angels & Demons, also to be published shortly by QG Publishing.

Luckily, since publishing my memoir My Gentle War, I’ve been able to send modest donations to Mary’s Meals, a wonderful charity in Scotland who feed over One Million children per day and only keep a paltry seven pence in the pound for administration costs…

Website: www.marysmeals.org
Email: info@marysmeals.org

The Phrontistery revisited

Phrontistery – “a thinking place, from ‘phroneein’ to think.”

Now and then, you hear of writers’ “drying up” or “burning out,” but, for one reason or another, the older I get, the more ideas arrive…Take this morning – at the early hour of 5.15, damn… there was a wide awake queue of “subjects” (animated like an excitable group of Star Trek conference devotees) suggesting a variety of, mostly, serious topics. Keen to write something in a lighter vein, with maybe a humorous slant, I patiently listened to my babbling muses, but had to refuse their, more serious, offerings. So, what to write? Sometimes, too many ideas are worse than none! They can overwhelm and leave you confused.

The very name of “Trump” (can one word/person be a cliche?) and connections left me cold; “Literary Advice” sounded like preaching – how many more tips can one suggest without boring the pants off people? Eventually, I decided to visit “The Phrontistery.” Again. For newcomers to my – lately – rare posts, The Phrontistery is a haven for words which I enjoy visiting now and then.

A Facebook friend by the name of Aurora mentioned the word CODDICOMPLE :”To travel purposefully toward an.- as yet – unknown destination,” so was quite apt for the occasion, and led me to visit the above virtual learned ‘establishment.’ (Thanks Aurora!) If you enjoy words, it’s always fun.

Quite a few intrigued…AMORETTO: “A cherub or spirit of love” (thought it came in a bottle?!), ABBOZZO: “A preliminary sketch,” Really! ABRA: “A narrow mountain pass.”” (Not to be confused with ”A Bra”: (A feminine undergarment.). The decidedly odd ACERSECOMIC: “One whose hair has never been cut!” AFTERWIL: “Locking the barn after the cows have been let out…”.(always thought it was a horse) .And, my favourite for now: ALLEMAIN: “An enormous pudding, out of which acrobats leap!” So graphic and sounds such fun! Surely, a perfect prop for the amazing Cirque du Soleil.

As expected from such a comprehensive list of words, many are archaic: more at home in a Dickensian story: Words like BANTLING: “Brat, whelp, bastard child,” BASTINADE: “To beat with stick or baton, ESPECIALLY ON THE FEET?!” Then there’s DEBLUBBERED: “Disfigured from weeping.” BICACIOUS: “Fond of drinking,” (timeless!), and last, for now, BLETHERSKATE: “Garrulous talker of nonsense.” The latter group is perfect for including in a Victorian who-dunnit! Ummm, I have an idea…

 

© Joy Lennick 2017

On being an eclectic writer

If you find yourself in this category, it is unlikely, while not impossible, of course, you’ll be rich, or even partly-wealthy for starters, or – more pertinent – a household name…All that chopping and changing – a poem here, a serious article there, a travelogue and then a short story and some silly limericks… will only confuse a possible “readership,” if that’s the word. Keeping a diary, penning a funny piece and writing factual stuff in between, doesn’t help one iota. I can claim to be one, so I’m doomed to mediocrity, although I’ve written five books (which can, again, be termed “eclectic.”) Two are factual, one is a biography, another a memoir; a fifth is my only novel, and the sixth an “adaptation.” Entirely my own fault and choice, of course. Deep down, I know the real reason…I’m a “literary butterfly” more like a moth…and am fearful of fame; a typical extrovert/introvert, with an emphasis on the introvert All those photographers and all that money?! I imagine looking for the exit sign.…What a silly woman!

The secret to being a truly successful writer is – usually – sticking to one genre/ writing a series (or being a wealthy genius). Of course, there are some brilliant writers “out there” who are educated and talented people. Hard graft and tenacity are part of the equation, and in today’s literary climate, being technically minded is also of huge benefit, which leaves many more mature writers out on a limb. Including me! If a door states PULL, I hesitate…so that will give you a clue as to my technical abilities. A wing and a prayer come to mind, and I’m not religious…Hey ho.

51cuwiwnwcl-_sx331_bo1204203200_1However, did you feel a “But” coming on? Now and then, I step outside my “introverted self” and toot my own trumpet – something I have, grudgingly, learned to do these past few years…When asked to adapt an autobiography by a friend, Graham Knight, I read the manuscript – typed by his grandfather with a head device as he suffered from Parkinson’s disease and had lost his right arm due to wounds sustained in the First World War – I readily agreed. What a man, and what a story! Aptly published on the 11th of November, “From the Prairie to Passchendaele” is the life story of a poor boy, born at the end of the 1800s, in Kent, UK, in a family of twelve children, he borrowed the money to emigrate to Canada, dreaming of becoming a cowboy…Ending up as a hard-working farmer, tending bullocks and horses and countless acres of prairie-land, at seventeen, he soon became a man! Sadly, World War I intervened and put paid to his farming life. Part of the tenacious 10th Canadian Military Unit, he bravely fought in many battles and was awarded the Military Medal at the eventual cost of his right arm. He retrained as an accountant – by then married with four sons – returned to Kent and prospered, despite painful interludes. Fred’s simply but powerfully told story, highlights the sheer guts and courage it took to make your way in the world in those hard days. No wonder Graham Knight is so proud of him!

Note: 2017 is the 100th Anniversary of The Battle of Passchendaele in which Fred fought.

From the Prairie to Passchendaele is available now from amazon.com