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Archive for the ‘On Writing’ Category

Heather Goff Sketches of Bittersweet Farm

Posted on: January 21st, 2013 by Susan 1 Comment


My web designer isn’t just a brilliant web mistress, she’s a talented artist. These are her digital sketches of Bittersweet Farm where I keep our elderly Thoroughbred mare. Heather has caught the essence of this peaceful place that I think of as heaven on earth. She’s also caught the character of our dog Bonnie. Visit Heather at her website http://heathergoff.me/ to see more of her marvelous work.

Season of Hope and Reflection

Posted on: December 13th, 2012 by Susan No Comments

It’s that time again when we take stock of the past year and hold it up against the hopes and dreams that we had laden it with back twelve months ago.  We go into every new year with the same belief that this one, this year, will be the one when it all comes together.  When the toil of our hands and the dreams in our hearts somehow build to a resounding crescendo of success.  What is it about the turning of the year from one to another that imbues the human spirit with hope?  Did our ancestors sit around the communal fire late on a winter’s eve and say:  This is the year when that new fangled spear point is going to work.  Or, I’m going to try harder to get that mammoth, I just know we can do it.  This year we’ll eat better.  Is it the way the stars in a winter sky are like crystal drops, shimmering against a velvet backdrop, reminding us of the vastness of our universe, like the vastness of hope.  We are stars, shimmering with potential light.

If we look back and say, nope, didn’t fix it, didn’t do it, changed my mind, does that make us any less apt to look forward with the expectation that the upcoming year will be an improvement?  I’m not speaking of resolutions, those little lies we tell ourselves.  This is the singular human sense of possibility.  Because we understand the concept of future—unlike our animal companions, to the best of our knowledge—we get to anticipate, to hope.

When I look back at my year, I am just so grateful:  The publication of THE DOG WHO DANCED to such wonderful reviews.  The stalwart support of my blessed fans who read and share and write to me to let me know that they’ve enjoyed my books.  My beloved team of agents and editor who make it all possible.  My family.  My beasties.  Bookstores!  But this is about looking forward, to projecting hope into the next year.  If this one was so good, how can I expect to have another banner year?  Let’s be honest, am I being a little greedy?  No.  I’m a human being who believes that hope is the stuff of life and there is no limit to it.  May all your hopes and dreams for this new year be realized.

V  6320 223x300 Season of Hope and Reflection

Guest Blog Meet Bobbie Pyron – Author of A DOG’S WAY HOME

Posted on: March 5th, 2012 by Susan 3 Comments
me and the three 277x300 Guest Blog Meet Bobbie Pyron   Author of A DOGS WAY HOME

Photo courtesy of Bobbie Pyron

A DELIGHTFUL COINCIDENCE

A few months ago I got an email from Bobbie Pyron, a fellow author and Sheltie enthusiast.  Remarkably, she had written a Young Adult novel, A Dog’s Way Home, that also explored the loss of a Sheltie and his subsequent journey home.  She was kind enough to send me a copy and I fell in love with her work.  The lovely coincidence of writing about two lost Shelties has opened up a collegial relationship for me, and Bobbie was kind enough to invite me to guest on her blog (…..)  Turnabout is fair play, and here is Bobbie’s contribution to this newsletter musing on her love of Shelties.

 

Guest Essay

Bobbie Pyron

 For the Love of Shelties

Every writer reaches a point in their desperation to sell an agent or editor on their manuscript when their North Star, which guided the work, is challenged. My point of challenge came over the breed of dog in my book, A Dog’s Way Home. In my book, the dog who is the main (canine) character is a Shetland Sheepdog, also known as a sheltie and miniature collie. I had been submitting my manuscript for almost a year to agents and editors, trying so very hard to interest them in my story of the love between a girl and her dog.  And like most writers, I was amassing a thick file of rejection letters.  Some were “Dear Author” form letters and some were what we in this crazy business call “good rejection letters”. These are letters where they actually use our name in the salutation and sound a tiny bit sympathetic. These letters make us pathetically happy.

I had one such letter about eleven months into my quest. It was from an agent—a big New York City agent—who said she loved the story and thought I was a terrific writer, but she had just one tiny problem with the manuscript: the breed of the dog. Why, she wondered, had I chosen a breed not all that, well, popular? Why I hadn’t I, for instance, made the dog a Golden Retriever or a black Labrador? As a matter of fact, she continued, she’d never even seen a sheltie. And then came the crisis of faith, the Big Question: would I consider changing the breed of the dog? If so, she might be interested in representing me. 

I will confess that I did, for a nanosecond, consider what she said. And then I had to laugh. I mean, no offence to Golden Retrievers or Labs

(some of my best friends are Goldens and Labs), but I just couldn’t see either of these dogs struggling for months  during a brutal winter, trying to make their way over four hundred miles through the wilderness, just to get back home.  The lab or the golden would find the nearest person, win them over with their effusive charm, and snag a good, hot meal and warm bed. End of story.

Shelties are different. Known for their intelligence, steadfast loyalty (bordering on obsession), and undaunted courage, shelties are also known for their toughness and aloofness towards strangers. This is not a dog who will fling themselves at strangers and gift them with exuberant kisses. But it is a dog who will love you like no other, who will give their heart to Their Person wholly and completely.

I have two shelties—both adopted from Sheltie Rescue of Utah. Before I adopted my oldest sheltie, Teddy, I’d never had a purebred sheltie. I had, though, been lucky enough to share 16 years with a sheltie mix. She was a once-in-a-lifetime-dog. After she passed, I knew I wanted a purebred sheltie.  After meeting several perfectly wonderful shelties at Sheltie Rescue, Teddy sauntered into my life. He came over to where I was sitting, rested his chin on my knee, gazed up at me with his chocolate eyes. We both were utterly smitten with each other.  He is the one who inspired Tam, the sheltie in A Dogs Way Home. He taught me (and continues to teach me) about sheltie love.

 

Three years ago, I met a little blue merle Sheltie at Sheltie Rescue named Sherlock. Sherlock and several other shelties had been rescued from a terrible puppy mill. When we brought Sherlock home, he had no idea what grass was, was terrified of stairs, and bumped into furniture.  He would eventually need to have about half of his teeth pulled because they were so badly damaged from chewing on the wire cage he was confined to at the puppy mill. But never, ever has a dog been so happy to have someone to love in that passionate sheltie way!

Because of “my boys”, I have become a rabid advocate for the breed and for rescue. I have badgered and cajoled many of my friends into adopting shelties. We’ve even formed a club—Proud Moms of Shelties (otherwise known as the PMS Gang)—where we let our shelties play together, talk endlessly about the merits of the breed, and do whatever we can to help the rescue.

Needless to say, I didn’t change the breed of dog in my book. I continued my quest for another several months until I found my wonderful agent. She loved A Dog’s Way Home unconditionally, SheItie and all.

Which is, of course, exactly what my dogs have always given me. 

 

 

 

So, What’s Next?

Posted on: August 6th, 2011 by Susan No Comments

This piece appeared in the Martha’s Vineyard Times in April, 2011.

Just when I thought I had a little break coming, I get an email from my agent with that taunting, teasing, termagant of a question: so, what are you thinking of for ‘the next one?’

In the words of Snoopy: arrghhh. Here I was, enjoying a well-deserved (in my opinion) hiatus from writing. I’ve been avoiding all creative finger on keyboard activities including, but not limited to, this column and my blog. I’ve submitted and had blessed the next novel, the writing of which had not been an easy experience. The story got messy and the ending eluded me for more than a year. Issues resolved, tweaks tweaked and final words laid down on the electronic page, off it went and I raised my head to notice that the sun was shining and I suddenly had a couple of extra hours in my day. Oh, what to do with them? Taxes, ok. Clean house, maybe. Get my barn chores done in the morning? Oh, yes, please. Then, the Email of Darkness.
Hey, I’m not complaining. Not really. I am extraordinarily blessed to have another chance at doing what I really do love to do, I absolutely understand that. But even Mark Twain must have enjoyed the break between Tom Sawyer and A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court. I just thought I’d have longer to recharge the batteries.

The question is—what am I thinking about for the next one? Such a good question. One I’d like to answer fully. If I had an answer. Maybe what I need is a palate-cleansing of sorts (refer back to my last column which was devoted to the food/reading metaphor), a little mental sorbet to clean out the residue of the last manuscript.

Where are all you people who come up to me with ideas? This happens fairly regularly, someone says to me: I’ve got a great idea for your next book. My response is usually tepid, but polite; my belief is that, if you have a story idea, it’s your story. At least this far in my career as a novelist, I’m eschewing the role of hired gun in the belief that fiction really can’t be ghost-written, as memoir and autobiography can. It’s got to come from within. It’s a mystery how that happens, but it isn’t something that can be loaned like a pair of socks. Here, I like these, but you wear them. Nonetheless, sometimes a germinal idea comes from someone’s off-hand remark, or a newspaper article, or a glimpse of a stranger’s face.
This is a true story, and one of my favorites: My mother resides in what she calls the old folks home, but is actually apartments for seniors. Rent includes meals and, for reasons I cannot fathom, these mature adults have assigned seating. (I suppose so that the staff can discretely keep track of who’s coming down and who might need checking on.) My mother and her table mates have come up with, not a story, but a title. They cheerfully chirp to me: Chips, No Pickle? Apparently, that singular phrase is repeated daily by the wait staff, echoing the residents’ preference for potato chips and dislike of the pickle spear. And they think this phrase would make a good book. Some of these people are retired professors. If I were to write the book that would adhere to a title as quirky as Chips, No Pickle? I would have to live in the old folks home because what they are envisioning is their experience transformed into a story, sort of “Waiting for God” American version. I wish it was as simple as coming up with a good title. Most of the time, the title is chosen after most of the book is written because the book is what evokes the right title, not the other way around.
Story ideas come to me in mysterious ways. They arrive like lightning bolts, or fish. A phrase, a whimsical thought, a notion suddenly strikes and I get this little frisson of excitement. I have a fish on the line. Can I land it, or will it get off my hook and swim away into the pool of discarded ideas? Is it just a nibble, or is there a striper there that will be big enough to keep? (For the record, I don’t fish, so if this metaphor strikes you as weird, I apologize.)

So, what’s next? Stay tuned…I feel an idea coming on.

A Literary Feast

Posted on: March 25th, 2011 by Susan No Comments

 

This first appeared in The Last Word: 2-24-2011 Martha’s Vineyard Times

 

I woke up thinking of the nature of reading.  This is probably a result of over-indulging in reading over the past few weeks.  I have had a little open time while my editor reads the latest version of the new book.  During the hour that would normally be filled with writing, I got to consume the written word.  Even without the spare time, since the beginning of the year I’ve worked my way through a glut of reading material languishing on the coffee table, just waiting for me to pull them off the pile:  Room, The Irresistible Henry House, True Grit, Jim Harrison’s wonderful Returning to Earth; Ivan Doig’s The Whistling Season and Work Song.  (I love finding authors and feasting on their entire oeuvres as I am determined to do with Doig.)

But I speak of the nature of reading, that it is an appetite.  Just look at the words I used in that first paragraph:  over-indulging, glut(ton), consume, feasting.  We have an appetite for croissants, and another for activities.  I have no appetite for police procedurals, but relish a well-written historical novel.  We hunger for a good book.  We have our fill of one genre before sampling another.  The metaphor goes on and on.

Reading has another metaphorical association—love.  We all know someone who is described as a passionate reader; or, someone with a love of books.  There are bookstores and blogs that pair the words, ‘book’ and ‘lover’ in their names.  My favorite gets in both the appetite and the amour:  Book Lover’s Gourmet in Webster, MA.  Is it any surprise that bookstores have become cafes offering the physical appetite edible treats along with the intellectual holdings for the hungry mind?  I have a taste for the works of Jane Austen but no desire for those of Tom Clancy. 

We read for as many reasons as there are distinct genres.  For erudition, entertainment, experience; for information and opinion.  Who among us hasn’t admitted to reading the back of a cereal box when desperate?  It’s as if, once you learn how, you are compelled forever more to assign meaning to linked letters.  Obviously, this doesn’t hold true for everyone.  I certainly know folks who’d rather sit staring out the window at the opposite brick wall than read a book.  Reading is, perhaps, an acquired taste.  Once acquired, it can be teased into a craving satisfied only by the assurance that there is an unread book on the coffee table at all times.  For some people, this acquired taste blossoms almost without effort from earliest days; for others, it grows out of a gateway drug—like comic books read on the front porch on a summer Sunday afternoon. 

Whatever your taste, there are books out there to satisfy even the most particular of reading palates, and writers earning a living by cooking up plots and characters to serve their reading public.  Some, like the late Phil Craig, even combine the two, listing the recipes that show up in the story at the back of the book like edible end matter. 

Yum!

Happy New Year

Posted on: December 30th, 2010 by Susan 1 Comment

I’ve been very derelict in keeping up with this blog, and for that I will not apologize, simply because if I spend time on this, I’m not spending my limited work time on the new novel.  It’s always a balancing act, this need to work and the need to, well, self-promote.  Crass, isn’t it?  The good news is that the new novel, working title THE DOG WHO DANCED, is coming along apace.  Having had the good counsel of both agent(s) and editor, I am burrowed in, improving and explicating, editing and building up to a richer, more powerful conclusion in a book that has been very difficult to bring to heel.  Some books recommend their endings right from the start.  This one has defied me.  Still, I think it’ll be as satisfying an ending as I can create and I look forward to the day when I can announce the publication date and launch a stampede to the nearest book store. 

In the meantime, I hope that those of you who blanch at the idea of buying a hardcover book will flock to purchase the trade paperback edition of ONE GOOD DOG that comes out on February first. Personally, I love trade paperbacks…they fit in the hand so nicely and weigh less that a hardcover.

Cheers for now….Happy 2011!

Susan

Obligation Obla di Obla da

Posted on: November 2nd, 2010 by Susan No Comments

During the past few months I have been slowly dropping all but the most important obligation of my life: finishing the next novel.  One of those things dropped—I prefer to think of them as simply put aside—is this blog.  And balancing my checking account, writing my monthly column, singing in the local chorus, and being social.  This isn’t to say that all those unoccupied hours have been filled exclusively with writing, not at all.  But, what abandoning these obligations does is to free my mind.  By that I mean, if I don’t have to think of how to fulfill a commitment, I can use that time to think about what the main character is going to do next– instead of what I’m going to put in my next column.  Even pleasurable duties begin to strain the energy source until they are more duty than pleasure. 

I am a very regimented person.  I get up at a specific time, read for a specific amount of time, then focus on the writing.  If I have other writing assignments, I am immediately thrust into the position of having to rebalance my day.  How much time on the novel, how much on the column, or the blog, or even Facebook?  Given that I only have a small amount of writing time in any day, how to serve all these masters?  The simplest answer was, not to.  I dropped everything except the most daunting master of them all…and finally typed the figurative words “The End” to it last week.  Ah, but that’s not the end.  The end of the story isn’t the end of the work.  It’s the new beginning.  Now that the manuscript has been delivered—by the magic of email, a hard copy is no longer mailed to an editor who loves her e-reader—I await the next level of task, the revisions.  I’d like to think that, like writers in the movies, a finished manuscript is all but print ready.  Not so.  I sit here and expect that my editor will come back to me with a long list of observations and suggestions that will improve the story vastly.  (I’d really like to sit here and think that she’ll love it so much all that’s left is the line editing, but I’ve been in this business too long to believe that particular fantasy has a snowball’s chance in the netherworld.)  So, in the meantime, I will catch up with all the neglected obligations that don’t actually go away, but lie in wait for me.  Like this blog (fun).  And doing laundry (not so much fun.) Some I will keep off my plate until after the final, final, ultimate, ready for the covers, nothing left to do but read it, ‘the end.’  Things like balancing my check book. 

Lost in Translation

Posted on: June 5th, 2010 by Susan No Comments

This blog first appeared in the Martha’s Vineyard Times

I had the most interesting email conversation with the woman who is doing the Brazilian Portuguese translation of One Good Dog.  Professor Regina Lyra emailed me with a question about a reference to the actor Lawrence Olivier and we ‘got talking.’

As she writes:  “Translation is, sometimes, a sort of puzzle and maybe that’s why it’s such a fascinating craft. I’m also a professor of literary translation at the Catholic University in Rio and these are the kind of difficulties that surprise my students as well, although they have been reading translations all their lives. As a matter of fact, readers do not give translation any thought, unless it bothers them, preventing the illusion that the book has been originally written like that – in other words, when the translation is bad.”

One of her first problems was that there is a specific word for the term sister-in-law, which created difficulty as the difference between sister and sister-in-law is a key element in the plot and without it, a lot gets lost.

Lyra writes: “The solution that came to me, after a sleepless night, was:  ‘If only she’d been attentive enough with regard to that critical, essential, defining information when she listened to the message and then transferred it to the slip of paper… Sterling’s sister – and not his sister - had called suggesting a surprise party.’”

The Olivier reference that gave Prof. Lyra a little pause was, as she explains:  “There are also the cultural differences. For example, the name of Lawrence Olivier is familiar to people of my generation, but not for most of the younger generation, so I also changed that for: ‘my performance was worthy of an Oscar.’”

I had never given much thought to the challenges posed to the translators of American fiction into Portuguese, French, Spanish, Norwegian, or any of the other languages my books have been translated into.  I guess, being the poor language student that I was, I thought that it was a word for word process.  Not so.  This is an intellectual Suduko exercise.  Evidently, America idioms are not always comprehensible in other languages.  For Prof. Lyra, translating the sentence “on the other paw” was its own challenge.  Because the familiar, to Americans, idiom ‘on the other hand’ means something, substituting the word paw isn’t incomprehensible to the reader.  But, because the sentence didn’t actually have the word “hand” in it, not only was it hard to translate, but the joke is lost too. She writes: “The same goes for some alliterations, like ‘greasy wheat sheaves in a breeze,’ for which, as of this moment, I haven’t yet decided what to do.  That’s what the adage ‘lost in translation’ is all about.”

Good translation from English or into English requires more than an excellent comprehension of the language—the words— but the more instinctive quality of understanding the culture into which the words are being translated.  It’s not just language; it’s also customs, experience, national identity, and nuance.  As a reader of translated works, such as the outstanding Out Stealing Horses by Per Petterson (Ut og stjæle hester), a 2003 Norwegian novel that was translated into English in 2005 by Anne Born, I was unaware of the transition between the author’s language and the words on the translated page.  That’s good translation.  I even thought that at the time.  On the other hand, I have read British authors whose work has been ‘translated’ into American English that absolutely stunk because it was so obvious, and obviously unnecessary.  It’s why some books do well in some countries but not others. 

What’s really cool for me are the translations of the titles of those of my novels I was lucky enough to have sell in other countries.  Beauty became Passion Interdite (Forbidden Passion) in France.  Hawke’s Cove has become Salatut tunteet (Hidden Feelings) in Finnish, Verao na Enseada (Summer in the Cove) in Brazil and Jestrabi (Hawk) in Slovakia where I became Susan Wilsonova.  I kind of like that.  I can’t wait to see what One Good Dog becomes.

 

Reading: Alive and well in the 21st century

Posted on: June 5th, 2010 by Susan No Comments

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Huffington Post!

Posted on: April 21st, 2010 by Susan No Comments

It is quite a thrill to be invited to blog on the Huffington Post.  I wrote this little essay about becoming an accidental advocate of pit bulls.  See what you think. http://www.huffingtonpost.com/susan-wilson/how-in-writing-ione-good_b_544784.html