Who knows what inspires someone to write a novel? Even authors don’t always truly until much later. My own literary-novel-in-progress, “Flamenco & the Sitting Cat,” seemed merely an experiment, a dive into fiction. Only as it progressed did I see it’s really a love letter to all who believe they’re too old, young, broken, lost, too whatever for love…
So when it comes to producing a novel, there’s deciding to write, then comes writing, and then it’s published. At that point, the author releases their words into the world for book lovers to make of them what they will. Every reader brings themself into the act of sitting with a story.
Here blogger/author Mark Bierman (click here for his site, to get his book, and to contact him) reveals what he’s learned about him writing process and his readers. Born and raised on a farm in Ontario, he merges country life with his adult experiences as a correctional officer and a story teller. You can find more of his guest posts for Happiness Between Tails here and here.
A few weeks ago, I was reading over some of the newer reviews and comments of my novel Vanished. I noticed some understandable trepidation among a few of those who hadn’t read the book. In response, I’ve decided to write this post, explaining the origins of the book, and why I wrote it.
First, though, I wish to thank all of those who took a chance on me, readers who cracked the pages, in spite of the subject matter. I really appreciate you, and I know it couldn’t have been easy to start.
Here’s a quick synopsis
Driven to despair by a shared loss, Americans John Webster and Tyler Montgomery try to self-medicate by embarking on a mission of goodwill to earthquake-ravaged Haiti. The reconstruction of an orphanage transforms into a nightmarish hunt after a young girl is kidnapped.
Unequipped, culturally illiterate, and alone, the pair are forced into alliances with shifty characters, as they delve deeper into the treacherous underbelly of the human trafficking world. Can they survive long enough to keep their promise to the child’s mother?
I want to clarify what is NOT in this book; rape, gore, excessive violence (yes, there is violence, but no more than any other action/thriller), injury or death to animals, pedophilia. You only need to ask someone who’s read the book, I’m confident they will attest to this.
If you asked me, ten years ago, to write a book about human trafficking, I would have declared you insane. Times, and people, change.
The truth is, initially, there was no intention of broaching the subject. I wanted to write about Haiti.
You see, my father, upon whom one of the main characters, John Webster, is loosely based, would volunteer to help build homes, churches, and other projects. I remember well, the photos showing the difficult living conditions. There were also the stories, none of which included human trafficking. There are bits and pieces in the novel that were gleaned from his experiences.
The second main character, Tyler Montgomery, is loosely based on my brother-in-law. The pair actually did make a trip to post-earthquake Haiti, back in October of 2010. I asked if they’d be willing to make a journal of their experiences.
So, here we come to the reasons behind Vanished. Over the years, I’ve been understandably and justifiably questioned as to my choice of topic. In the early days, I always delivered a simple and pat answer about a desire to promote awareness. If a problem is ignored, what hope is there to solve it? At the time, I truly believed my answer to be complete. Cut and dried, no further explanation needed.
I often mention that 50% of the proceeds are donated to help victims of human trafficking, which they are, and I hope I don’t sound like I’m touting my own horn. That is not my intent.
Yes, all of this is true. However, and this may sound strange, I’ve only recently come to realize it’s not the whole truth. Please let me explain.
Those who are familiar with me, know that I’ve spent the last twenty-plus years working as a Correctional Officer in maximum and medium security prisons.
The last max. was Kingston Penitentiary, which opened in 1835 and closed in 2013. It’s now a tourist attraction. I was one of the last to work there. Shortly afterwards, I was transferred to a medium level prison.
This blog is not evolving into a prison tale. My career was mentioned because I want to help you understand where I’m coming from. I also want to emphasize that Hollywood and the news are entities that thrive on sensationalism, because it sells.
I’ve encountered many traumatic experiences and looked into the midnight eyes of those who looked through, rather than at you. We called them dead eyes.
Fortunately, these are not the majority of inmates. There are some who’ve led normal lives until something triggered them to act in uncharacteristic ways. What you also had were many cases of psychological and drug addiction issues. Oh, and yes, plenty of the inhabitants had committed unspeakable acts of evil. I’ll spare you the details.
Of course, it wasn’t all bad. I’ve worked with some great staff and have had my share of laughs. I appreciated the strong bonds that developed between my peers. It’s inevitable when you place your life in someone’s hands, and they put theirs in yours.
I apologize if I’m rambling, but it was necessary to give some background into what made my brain tick when I wrote this book.
It took a diagnosis of PTSD, months of treatment, support, and deep reflection, to unravel the ‘other’ reasons for the birth of Vanished.
I have come to grasp the fact that it was also a product of a mind that sought to survive and heal. To find a state of homeostasis and make sense of the tragic and unfathomable.
The famous line from the movie, Saving Private Ryan, often comes to mind. Captain Millar and the Sergeant are discussing the personal cost of getting Ryan home. One of them says: “Someday, we might look back on this, and decide that saving Private Ryan was the once decent thing we were able to pull out of this whole Godawful, shitty mess.”
I’m not comparing myself to these brave warriors, but these are my sentiments, exactly.
The brain is extremely powerful, and I believe that it sensed something was wrong all those years ago, though my conscious mind was oblivious. It’s the frog in a boiling pot analogy. I was being cooked alive, and I didn’t even realize.
The characters do represent, superficially, my family members. At a deeper level, they are avatars of my hope. Hope for something better, for this world, myself, and my loved ones.
Spoiler alert, Tyler struggles with mental health issues. The issue was approached from a Stephen King angle because I grew up reading his work.
At the time, I thought it was just a nod to the famous writer, but it’s become clear that my subconscious had put out a 911 call for help. In some ways, I’m Tyler.
Right now, more than ever, the world is hurting. I don’t know your personal stories, but I can sense from many of the comments, that anxiety and a sense of hopelessness rule the day.
Let me tell, there is always hope. I want to assure you that you are not alone. I, along with many others, have been where you are. I’m on the mend, and my family is getting there, too. I cannot reiterate this enough: there is always hope.
Whenever a crisis arises, there are always those who step up and perform selfless acts. I refer to those as helpers. Look around, you’ll find them everywhere. You know what? Look in the mirror and you’ll see one up close.
Don’t believe me? Listen, if you’ve ever retweeted a post, shared a kind word on a blog, shared a blog, hosted, bought a book, read, and reviewed, made someone laugh or provided information, beta read… you get the picture, then you are a helper.
Yes, those dedicated people who work in the healthcare industry certainly fall into this category. There are so many others, unsung, and unnoticed. They go about the business of helping.
John and Tyler are much more than characters in a book, and the plot is deeper and broader than human trafficking. There is an ugly side to it, just as there is in life, but there is also a positive message. It’s about becoming a helper, doing whatever is within your capacity to make a positive impact, even if it’s just one person.
Thrills — and reading and writing — have always been important to Ontario blogger/author Mark Bierman. Read on for how he describes his favorite sorts of adventures! He’s also been a guest at Happiness Between Tails here and here.
Time has a way of slipping by way too quickly. It seems that only yesterday I held my oldest daughter, Amanda, in my arms when she was a seven-pound, ten-ounce newborn. I was both overwhelmed and overjoyed at the same time. That was back in February of 2007! Two years later, our second, Isabel, was born. Today they are a pair of beautiful, smart, and fun-loving girls with whom I’ve had many adventures. This fits well with both my lifestyle and writing style. I love to write action/adventure, and you can go to my website to find out more about it.
I won’t take up too much of your time here. I know we all have busy lives, so I’ve compiled three of my favorite photos that show the type of activities we do to bond. Thanks for reading! Thank you, Da-Al for opening up your blog today and allowing me the privilege of being a guest!
We were at a waterfall, and the rocks were slippery. I “wisely” cautioned the kids about the slippery algae, but then decided to jump a small puddle, yup, I slipped. Amanda must have been feeling empathetic because she slipped soon after.
In this photo, we are proudly displaying our slimed pants.
On a recent trip, the writer in me was annoyed by this sign. Rather than spray paint “for” between the words, I had Isabel pretend to be a ‘Watch Child.’
She watches and reports ALL to Mom!
I think most parents will agree that spending time with your kids is worth more than anything you can give them.
What’s your favorite way to spend time?…
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Guest Blog Post: Master of Light, Joaquín Sorolla by Katheryne Gatehouse…
When you think of the greatest Impressionist painters, you might think that because the movement was founded in Paris, all the best were French, right? If that’s the case, you’ll have missed one of the forgotten giants, Spain’s Joaquín Sorolla y Bastida (1863–1923). It was Claude Monet who named him, “The Master of Light.” Growing up in the harsh bright sunlight of Valencia, he mastered the play of light on buildings, on gardens, on flesh, and on the sea. No other artist depicts shadows and dappled sunlight better!
I first came across Sorolla as part of a large exhibition on impressionist gardens. Many of the paintings were charming or beautiful, yet entering the gallery from a cool misty grey London day outdoors, and then standing in front of a luminous Sorolla painting, I felt as if I was on holiday. Some weeks later, I visited Giverny, where I was delighted to find an exhibition of his works. It was love at first sight. I have been besotted with him ever since!
As a young man, he studied in Paris and won a 4-year term to study painting in Rome. He returned to Valencia in 1888 to marry Clotilde Garcia del Castillo, whom he met in 1879 while working in her father’s studio. She is the subject of many of his portraits, including one in the style of Diego Velázquez’s Rokeby Venus lying naked on silk sheets and is as sensual as his painting of Clotilde lying next to their newborn daughter is tender. All of the Clotilde portraits clearly show his undying love and admiration for her. Later still, he painted her in a traditional black Spanish dress, looking every inch the supermodel with an impossibly tiny waist, though a photograph of this sitting shows that it was indeed a true likeness. The couple went on to have 3 children Joaquin, Mary, & Elena who feature in many of his works, including “My family” also in the style of Velasquez’s Las Meninas. Despite his talent and recognition above all he was a devoted husband and family man.
Although he was based in Madrid, each year he returned to Valencia. There he painted glorious beach scenes of children playing in the water and running along the shoreline, as well as proud working class people that included fishermen and women.
An exceptional portraitist, his repertoire includes Spain’s King Alphonso XIII, artist/designer Louis Comfort Tiffany, and U.S. 27th President William Howard Taft. Social themes were important to Sorolla. “Another Marguerite” (1892), which depicts a woman who was arrested for murdering her young child, was awarded the gold medal at the National Exhibition in Madrid. “Sad Inheritance” (1899) portrays children with polio bathing in the sea while supervised by a monk. The title refers to how the youngsters were innocent victims of hereditary syphilis.
Despite great acclaim elsewhere in Europe, a 1908 London exhibition was not a great success. However, it led to important introductions. A wealthy American friend of the arts, Archer Milton Huntington, made Sorolla a member of the Hispanic Society of America. In addition, he invited Sorolla to exhibit, with great success (195 of 365 paintings being sold) and subsequently commissioned Sorolla for a series of monumental paintings to be installed in their building in Manhattan. The murals total 227’ wide by about 14′ high. “Visions of Spain” depicts regions of the Iberian peninsula. All but one was painted en plein air with life-sized figures, some in traditional regional dress.
In 1920, Sorolla was painting a portrait of Mrs. Ramon Perez de Ayala when he suffered a major stroke that left him paralyzed. He died three years later and is buried in the Cementeri de Valencia. The last house he and Clotilde shared in Madrid is now the Museo Sorolla. It is a must-see for all fans of impressionist art. If you are visiting London, there is currently an excellent collection of sixty Sorolla paintings at The National Gallery until 7th July 2019.
What do you think of impressionism?
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What’s a Chinese Lantern Festival? It took visiting a good friend in North Carolina for me to discover. Theories vary about its origins, but always it’s tied to the Chinese New Year. This one was an eye-popping expanse of light sculptures beautiful enough to make all ages brave the cold outdoors …
Books allow me to transcend my own experience of the world. In reading, I can assume the skin of people, places, times, and events that I’ll never otherwise inhabit. They make me feel more part of the world and more human.
How has reading shaped you? Blogger/teacher/parent Pernille Ripp why she believes children should be exposed to all kinds of books…
I get asked for a lot of book recommendations, I think it comes with the territory when you share the love of books. And while I love pairing books with potential readers, I have also noticed a pattern that causes me to pause, that should cause all of us to pause.
I get asked for a lot of books featuring male lead characters for male readers.
When I ask why the need for a male lead, I am often told that “they” just don’t think a boy will read a “girl book.” That a boy will not like a book about feelings. That a boy only wants books that have action. That have other boys in it. That feature characters that look just like them or at the very least think like them.
Does the threat of a book being banned ensure that it’s among the finest books written? Check out the fantastic examples cited by the smart folks in this 29-second video (and pat yourself on the back if you smile when “To Kill a Mockingbird” by Harper Lee is discussed — *see end of this post for why)…
The story of how author Geoffrey Simpson, who just released “The Three Hares,” got his first book published — in his own words…
On a gloomy January morning, the air was heavy and uninspired. I read an article about ancient symbols—a distraction from those about politics, rife with propaganda. One symbol, with three rabbits chasing one another in an infinite circle, struck a chord. A whirlwind flooded my conscience.
Although I’ve never written before, a few story ideas were tucked away for a rainy day. That same morning, I began to plot. That same gloomy day was the beginning of an adventurous journey to becoming an author.
Three months later, manuscript in hand and an intent to self-publish, an author friend of the family strongly encouraged me to find an editor. I hadn’t planned on investing in this project, but I also never expected to write a novel.
As an author, I’ve transitioned through two distinct phases. There was pre-Janet, and post-Janet. As you probably assumed, Janet Fix, owner of thewordverve inc., agreed to become my editor, mentor, and inspirer.
With a polished manuscript and newfound confidence, I changed course from self-publishing and sought an agent. A thrilling adventure began, but as the queries went out, the feedback was unanimous. “Unfortunately, I’m not the right agent for this project.” Not a single manuscript request came forth.
Discouraged and circling back toward self-publishing, I spoke to Janet the Inspirer. She, who wasn’t just an editor, was transitioning her business from hybrid to traditional publishing, asked me to join Team Verve.
Twelve months after that gloomy January morning, Janet became my publisher, and there’s no looking back. Today, Janet is editing the sequel to The Three Hares, and I am writing the third installment of this five-book YA adventure/mystery series. It is this partnership/friendship which has made all the difference.
I’ve got two novels I’m writing. What are your experiences with traditional publishing vs. self-publishing?
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If you were hanging out in the Kitchen’s Garden Lounge of Comments yesterday you would have read that a piglet was lost in that first cold night. I found him dead on Poppy’s side of their quarters. Being the Lady Pig Farmer is not always easy. All our focus these first few days is keeping the babies safe and well fed. This task feels mutually exclusive at times.