Guest Author J. Gavin Allan … talks love and counter Intel

I’m thrilled to have author J. Gavin Allan as my guest today. Not only is he a new author, but he’s my critiquing partner! So, I’m doubly honored.

Oh, and check out his bio. It reads like a novel! 🙂

J Gavin Allan’s tales profess one agenda. Love is the most powerful force in the universe.

Homebound as a child due to illness, loneliness liberated imagination. Poe’s influence can be felt in his work. Trained as a Counter-Intelligent Agent by the US Army, J Gavin used his unusual mind’s eye developing strategies protecting Americans abroad. The only non-Vietnam Veteran in his airborne unit, he memorized accounts of special operations in Southeast Asia. Coupled with interviews of North Vietnamese veterans and Bru Montagnards his expertise increased.

While in Asia, J Gavin developed valuable friendships. A submitted screenplay in China, and a Vietnam War novel thought too controversial for publication showed his versatility.

A retired New York City teacher, J Gavin instructs language at the University level. The author writes in all genres, always with a besieged romance battling to survive. Membership in RWA and NJRW sharpened the sometimes-disturbing imagery in his work. An active member in veterans’ organizations, J Gavin still finds time to relax on the rifle range.

NR: Jaye thanks for stopping by and hanging out on my blog. Just move the balloons to the side and have a seat. As you probably guessed from all the decorations, it’s my 100th post and I couldn’t think of a better way to celebrate than to invite my critiquing partner and new author over for a chat. So, talk to me. 🙂 When and how did you discover your love for writing?

JGA: It became an escape as a child. I spent two years understanding what it meant to be isolated.

NR: And what about your work? What drives your stories?

JGA: My work concentrates on one agenda. Love is the most powerful force in the universe. It is greater than any person or belief.

NR: I know you’ve been writing for a long time, more than 16 years, right? How did you persevere?

JGA: Membership in NJRW…plain and simple…

NR: I’ve blogged about New Jersey Romance Writers (NJRW), and the benefits of belonging to a writer’s group or organization. NJRW is definitely an organization that supports and cheers on its members. Shout out to all NJRW members!

NR: Okay, I digress, again. Jaye, you recently secured a literary agent, which is a big moment in many an aspiring writer’s life. What was your initial reaction when you received “the call?”

JGA: The call from Nicole R. of the Seymour Agency led to a professional conversation. We talked strategies of marketing. All the while I was pinching myself and waiting to wake up.

NR: I bet. So, tell us about your upcoming book, “Family of Heroes”, which is a historical work set in war-torn Burma. Also, are there any takeaways you want readers to experience after they’d read it.

JGA: “Heroes” is the best example for putting forth my “agenda.” I realize many life-styles will embrace or detest the book when told of the plot, but it is not something to dispute their beliefs. It is to show…love for someone is greater that national, economic, religious, political, and racial differences…and…differences in sexual orientation. If you need love or to be loved…does it matter?

NR: I have to say, that because I’m your critiquing partner I was honored to see it from beginning to end. It’s the type of book that leaves you emotionally spent. You feel drained, but at the same time satisfied for having read it. So, are there any new projects on the horizon?

JGA: Next project is the sequel to “Heroes…The story of Bo Bo” and finishing a graphic and psychological war drama about the Vietnam War…”The Last Lieutenant”…There is romance in all my work.

NR: Writing is tough. It takes patience and dedication. What advice would you offer to aspiring writers or writers in general?

JGA: You must write and then write some more. When you do not feel like writing or feel empty of ideas…watch people and imagine them in a story. Plus…listen to all critiques…do not be a snob about where they come from. Even members of the Great Unwashed, as myself, might see something you need to include or delete.

NR: So true. Jaye, I can’t thank you enough for stopping by, especially on my 100th post. J Gavin Allan is an amazing writer, not because he’s my critiquing partner, but because it’s true! Visit his website and get hooked.


‘Tis the privilege of friendship …

“Tis the privilege of friendship to talk nonsense, and to have her nonsense respected.”
― Charles Lamb

I’m fast approaching my 100th blog post (tomorrow, exactly) and despite pictures of the best gang of friends around–the “Little Rascals,” I’m feeling a bit philosophical.

It has been quite a journey since I started this blog three years ago. If I’d been consistent in my blogging, I might have tripled the number of hits, comments and posts. However, I’m not going to think about the would haves, could haves or should haves. Life jumped behind the wheel—as did my mission to finish my first book—and I had to let them drive.

This year, in between writing, I found my way back to my blog, self-expression and to friends, near and far, who matter. Whether we realize it or not, we’re making friends—through our shared interests, thoughts, lives, and our willingness to help others.

I’ve been fortunate to meet artists whose greatest joy is to hold a paintbrush between their fingers. I’ve chatted with photographers who rather hear the sound of their camera’s shutter first, and get laid later. (No joke, they said that!)

I’ve met mothers who love being a mom, but everyday yearn for the opportunity to pick up where they left off with their dance or art lessons. And that desire doesn’t make them a bad mother. If anything, it makes them better, fully faceted individuals.

And with each encounter, I realize that it is oftentimes the people furthest from you, who understand you without reservation.

At times, I feel that way about my writing. Although my family is super supportive, they don’t understand that I can sit in the house all weekend at the computer and be quite content. At times, they shake their heads at the thought that I’d rather revise a chapter or agonize over the correct word usage, than go bowling or go to a show. It’s not that I don’t enjoy doing those things, or get the chance to do them. I do.

But I live a writer’s life.

    A writer’s life consists of more nouns and strong verbs than endless chit-chat over the phone.
    It consists of countless hours of trying to reason with characters who believe they’re in control.
    It consists of destroying the dangling modifiers and adverbs that threaten to weaken our prose.
    It consists of sacrificing all you hold dear, so that your baby—your manuscript—will be so endearing that an editor or agent will want to take it home and keep it. (When that happens, drinks are on me.)

I look back over my blog and I see how far I’ve come not only as a blogger, but as an individual. I’ve opened up and invited others in, and it’s so exhilarating when they accept.

Speaking of accepting …On the my 100th post, a dear friend and new author has accepted my invitation to stop by and chat. Can’t wait!

Thank you for listening to my thoughts, my attempts to be helpful and my nonsense (because I KNOW I have moments of insanity).

“Tis the privilege of friendship …”

Is your writing in need of strength training?

Are your stories packing a punch? Are people clamoring for more? If not, maybe you need to hit the gym—figuratively, that is!

One of my favorite places to work out is at the  “Writer’s Digest” “gym.” I’ve shared this resource a few times because it’s an invaluable source of information. As I mentioned, I keep a notebook filled with articles on the craft of writing.

Oh, and by the way, never let anyone tell you otherwise, writing, and doing it well IS a craft. Humph! I recently heard someone say, “oh anyone can be a writer nowadays. It’s not difficult.” After I offered a few concise words and told them that it takes hard work to be even a GOOD writer, they recanted that silly notion. 🙂

Pardon me, I digress.

One of my favorite Writer’s Digest articles, “Follow These Rules for Stronger Writing,” is a must-read. It offers 13 strength-training rules that will definitely result in the impact you’re looking for which is to hook your reader and keep them reading.

The first rule:

1. NEVER LET THE TRUTH GET IN THE WAY OF YOUR STORY. Creative writing is just that: creative. If the truth prevents you from telling your fictional story effectively, get rid of the facts and invent something that makes the story work.

This is why it’s call fiction! Granted, it has to believable and if your writing is strong enough you can convince your reader of anything. Just ask J.K. Rowling. By the way, I’ve never been into paranormal, but thanks to Christine Feehan’s “Dark” series I’m a big fan. Sexy as all get out vampires, who seduce their woman (and men) into submission? Oh yeah, count me in!

::::fanning:::: Anyone else, warm?

Okay, here’s rule two:

2. NEVER USE TWO WORDS WHEN ONE WILL DO. Less is more. Usually one powerful word will do the same job as two weaker ones.

Instead of:
Andrea stared at the horrible, slithering mass of snakes.
Andrea stared at the writhing mass of snakes.

I’m a big believer that less is more.  I’m not particulary fond of reading something that goes on and on, when it could have been said in a quick, powerful way.  I wouldn’t want to do that to my readers.

That said, I’m ending my blog with this: please read the rest of the rules. Although you’ve probably seen them before, they’re always a good list to revisit. And remember, no matter where we are in our writing careers, our work can always use a little strength training.

Need a good kick in the butt?

A couple of this week’s blogs had a few messages of inspiration, and overcoming obstacles, which I hope helped the writer, the poet, the artist, the mother, the accountant and anyone who needed a dose of “can do.”

“Encouragement, keep plugging away, keep on keeping on, never give up, and perseverance” were a few of the affirmations that were offered in comments throughout the blog and I thank you for sharing.

Even when we’re scared or doubtful in our work, or trying to ignore the naysayers, we should remember that there will be bumps along the way. However, we need to harness our strength (because we know it’s inside us) to get over the hurdles and go after our dreams.

Writer Amy Tan did.

I wanted to share an article that I found about Ms.Tan, and the beginning of her illustrious writing career.

The Manager Who Couldn’t Write
By Gary Sledge
from Reader’s Digest | July 2005

What launched Amy Tan’s career was not a big break, but a kick in the butt.

Before the million-copy sales of The Joy Luck Club, The Kitchen God’s Wife and The Hundred Secret Senses, Amy Tan was a writer. A business writer. She and a partner ran a technical-writing business with lawyer-like “billable hours.”

Her role with clients was largely that of account management — but this daughter of immigrants wanted to do something more creative with words, English words.

So she made her pitch to her partner: “I want to do more writing.” He declared her strength was doing estimates, going after contractors and collecting bills. “It was horrible stuff.” The very stuff Tan hated and knew she wasn’t really good at. But her partner insisted that writing was her weakest skill.

“I thought, I can believe him and just keep doing this or make my demands.” So she argued and stood up for her rights.

He would not give in.

Shocked, Tan said, “I quit.”

And he said: “You can’t quit. You’re fired!” And added, “You’ll never make a dime writing.”

Tan set out to prove him wrong, taking on as many assignments as she could. Sometimes she worked 90 hours a week as a freelance technical writer. Being on her own was tough. But not letting others limit her or define her talents made it worthwhile. And on her own, she felt free to try fiction. And so The Joy Luck Club, featuring the bright, lonely daughter of Chinese immigrants, was born. And the manager who couldn’t write became one of America’s bestselling, best-loved authors.

I’ve been dragging my feet about finishing a current story. I owe my critiquing partner a 1,000 words. And trust me, he won’t let me get away with not handing it in. But after reading the short story on Amy Tan, I have a different frame of mind. I can hand in my words. I just got my kick in the butt.

It was a tough go for Ms.Tan, but she held on, preserved and didn’t run away from her dream. In fact, she ran toward it without fear and with dedication. We can too.

TGIF! Have a good weekend and run toward your dream.

Rejection: So, does that REALLY mean it’s over?

No one wants to receive a Dear John, Dear Jane, or Dear Writer letter. Whether it’s from an ex-lover, an agent or an editor, rejection is rejection and it’s painful.

There are varying degrees of rejection. Some can actually inspire you, while others can be downright hurtful. Yet no matter how good or bad they are, our egos and confidence take a beating. Initially, we may want to:

• Scream and rip the manuscript to shreds
• Start revising the book–at that moment–from chapter one.
• Burn the rejection letter along with the other 50 stuffed in the desk drawer
• Become BFFs with Jose, Jack or the Captain.
• All of the above or a few of your own creative choices

Yes, I know. It hurts like hell.

But the next day, after the hangover and putting out the fire we started in the trashcan, we grab our manuscript, and tape it back together. Then we try to behave like the professionals we are, and take this rejection as a sign of getting closer to our dream. And remember, the most successful authors were rejected. I might add, some none too nicely.

I ran across an interesting blog, “One Hundred Famous Rejections,” complete with the blogger’s editorial comment(at the end in italics) that I thought could make any aspiring writer struggling with rejection, hopeful. (I only saw 78, listed. However, I’m sure they’ll have a complete list in no time.)

Here are a few from their list. I urge you to look at the rest.

Famous Rejection #1: F. Scott Fitzgerald

F. Scott Fitzgerald, considered to be one of the best American writers, wrote The Great Gatsby in 1922. While the book is now ranked #2 in Modern Library’s 100 Best Novels of the 20th Century, he once received a rejection letter that read: “You’d have a decent book if you’d get rid of that Gatsby character.” I believe history would beg to differ.”

Famous Rejection #43: Nora Roberts

Bestselling romance novelist Nora Roberts has written over 209 novels! We think that deserves repeating. Two hundred and nine novels, which spent a combined 861 weeks on the New York Times Bestseller List. But, before all that, there was rejection.

[Nora Roberts] submitted her manuscripts to Harlequin, the leading publisher of romance novels, but was repeatedly rejected. Roberts says, “I got the standard rejection for the first couple of tries, then my favorite rejection of all time. I received my manuscript back with a nice little note which said that my work showed promise, and the story had been very entertaining and well done. But that they already had their American writer. That would have been Janet Dailey.” Nora found a home with Silhouette books, and since then romance has never been the same.

Famous Rejection #69: Louisa May Alcott

“Little Women” would never have seen the light of day if Louisa May Alcott let rejection hold her back.The editor of Boston’s The Atlantic magazine, James T. Fields, told Alcott’s father, “Tell Louisa to stick to her teaching; she can never succeed as a writer.” As far as rejection goes, that one is pretty harsh! Fortunately, Louisa May Alcott never took it to heart. Instead, she told her father: “Tell him I will succeed as a writer, and some day I shall write for the Atlantic!” Not long after, she did!”

Rejection #72: Jacqueline Susann

“Novelist Jacqueline Susann is famous for her book Valley of the Dolls, which sold over 30 million copies. She’s also known for a particularly nasty rejection letter. Editor Don Preston initially wrote this about Susann’s initial manuscript:

“…she is a painfully dull, inept, clumsy, undisciplined, rambling and thoroughly amateurish writer whose every sentence, paragraph and scene cries for the hand of a pro. She wastes endless pages on utter trivia, writes wide-eyed romantic scenes that would not make the pages of True Confessions, hauls out every terrible show biz cliché in all the books, lets every good scene fall apart in endless talk and allows her book to ramble aimlessly…. most of the first 200 pages are virtually worthless and dreadfully dull and practically every scene is dragged out flat and stomped on by her endless talk… I really don’t think there is a page of this manuscript that can stand in its present form. And after it is done, we will be left with a faster, slicker, more readable mediocrity.” Wow. Now that’s a rejection!”

Famous Rejection #76: Chinua Achebe

“Chinua Achebe’s “Things Fall Apart” has been considered a milestone in modern African literature written in English, and is one of the first to receive global acclaim. It has sold over 8 million copies worldwide, been translated into over 50 languages, and was selected as Time Magazine’s 100 Best English-language Novels from 1923 to 2005. And, it too, was rejected: It was sent to several publishing houses; some rejected it immediately, claiming that fiction from African writers had no market potential. Finally it reached the office of Heinemann, where executives hesitated until an educational adviser, Donald MacRae – just back in England after a trip through west Africa read the book and forced the company’s hand with his succinct report: “This is the best novel I have read since the war”. In 1958, the publisher published 2,000 hardcover copies, and the rest is history.”

Lesson in all this?

If and when you get another disappointing ”Dear Writer” letter, take another glance at some of the most famous authors who had their work handed back to them. And remember, they prevailed. We will too.

And one more reminder. Stay true to you and your book. F. Scott Fitzgerald didn’t take out Jay Gatsby, did he? If he had, we would have been reading “The Great Whathisname.”

Chin up and keep writing because it only takes one YES.

Are their eyes still watching God?

“Those that don’t got it, can’t show it. Those that got it, can’t hide it.” Zora Neale Hurston

I’ve always been fascinated with the Harlem Renaissance, and the geniuses who embodied a time of artistic expression. I gobbled up any and all literature about the eclectic, cultural period, and the players like poets Langston Hughes, Countee Cullen,writer Jessie Redmon Fauset, artist Romare Bearden, and historian and scholar W.E.B DuBois.

In 1980, it was by sheer stubbornness that I discovered the work of writer, anthropologist, and folklorist Zora Neale Hurston. I was writing poetry, a few short stories and had begun to think about a novel. I was pleased to learn that Mrs. Redmon Fauset was a leading female writer during the Harlem Renaissance.

But then I became agitated. Why weren’t there more female writers during that time? I started digging–again, and then ran across an article about a woman on the verge of becoming one of the greatest literary figures of our time. Zora.

I began devouring her books, short stories, and her life. Born in 1891, Ms. Hurston and her seven siblings lived with their parents, who were prominent leaders in their middle-class community. Although she had a pleasant childhood, she was astute enough to recognize the often fragile imperfections of life, especially after losing her mother at a young age.

I was mesmerized by her work, “Mules and Men” and ultimately, her most famous book, “Their eyes were watching God,” a spiritual journey of a middle-aged woman, Janie Crawford, toward love and self-awareness in rural Florida in the 1930s.

I remember dreaming of what it would be like to bounce ideas off Ms. Hurston or have her critique my short stories, much like Owen Wilson’s character in “Midnight in Paris,” a writer who travels back in time and becomes friends with greats Gertrude Stein, Pablo Picasso, and Ernest Hemingway.

Hurston was such an inspiration to me, which makes the fact that $943.75 was the highest royalty she ever earned from any of her books, heartbreaking. She never received the financial rewards that we as writers hope to achieve. Not so far-fetched, it was still hard for me to fathom that this eminent figure of the Harlem Renaissance died in 1960, penniless.

However, thanks to the unrelenting efforts of Alice Walker, author of the “Color Purple,” and a few others who have taken an active interest in the power of Hurston’s work, her ideologies and words live on, much like another hero of mine, Edgar Allan Poe.

In 2005, Oprah Winfrey produced a television adaptation of “Their eyes were watching God,” which starred Halle Berry as Janie Crawford. It received mixed reviews, often citing that the movie left out important concepts found in the book. One thing is clear, it thrust Ms. Hurston’s book back into the literary world–after being out of print for almost 30 years–and took it by storm. Again.

August 2012 marked the 75th anniversary of, “Their eyes were watching God.” Since its original publication, it has been lifted from years of obscurity and now appears as required reading on many college syllabus.

Harper Perennial, (an imprint of Harper Collins Publishing) sponsors The Zora Neale Hurston Award, which honors librarians who demonstrate leadership in promoting African-American literature. A fitting tribute.

Finally, Ms. Hurston’s grave in Florida is no longer unmarked, and is clearly identified with the epitaph: Zora Neale Hurston: A Genius of the South.” I hope to visit in the near future.

Are their eyes still watching God?

I believe so. Just read the books of Toni Morrison, Ralph Ellison,
and Alice Walker. Listen to the voices of emerging writers, who use the 1920s and 30s as the setting for their WIPs. There’s an undertone, an echo of Ms. Hurston’s voice, and often with the gritty, primitive dialog once criticized by many—particularly Renaissance elites.

Good versus evil, man vs. nature, man vs. man, search for love, the meaning of life, and the fight against societal dictates are still prevalent themes that keep readers reading, teachers teaching, and literary scholars and critics debating.

And in that place where literary greats like Hemingway, F. Scott Fitzgerald, and Langston Hughes gather in heaven, Ms. Zora Neale Hurston is there too, watching us.

Thursday’s Toss: E-book settlement has publishing world in turmoil

Interesting article on the e-book settlement worth sharing.

E-book settlement has publishing world in turmoil.

The case, which alleges that three major publishers, Hachette Book Group, HarperCollins Publishers and Simon & Schuster conspired to limit competition in the e-book market, and fix the retail price, is enough to make my head spin.

Was it the “in desperate times you must take desperate measures” philosophy that made them think they would achieve their goal? I’m still trying to figure that one out.

And with all this “turmoil,” I can’t help but wonder where authors and pre-published authors, particularly those traditionally published, should take cover. Or should we seek refuge in the e-embrace of Amazon and Barnes and Noble?

Just tossing it out there.