The Battle with Perfectionism

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A Writer’s Log

Amazingly, I am hitting some kind of a stride in my novel about art forgery in 1914.  I am traipsing around in the world of Monet’s garden, Paris art supply shops, New York Auction Galleries and the Manhattan homes of some very rich people who have more money than taste. Finally the writing is flowing. It is a most satisfying feeling, and I will only take a minute to post this, then indulge in another 8 minutes on social media distraction before I get down to work again.

Writing fiction is freeing when it is not torture. Writing is easier when one resists the siren pull of all things around writing that are not writing: research, building an author platform, and reading great books.  It is so easy to justify getting lost, especially in social media. And then, once a writer musters the necessary commitment to advance the manuscript, there is the ever looming fear of looking like a fool.

Perfectionism lurks over our heads, polluting the landscape, filling us with doubt and driving us back to the time wasters, or the fridge. If you think too much about the quality of what is being written, your confidence withers and your writing session crumbles away.  What is a writer to do? In my case help came from trolling Twitter where I found a link to the inspiring and wise words of Anne Lamott, a writer who has much to say about writing and life in her book Bird by Bird.  Lamott advises us to remember that you can’t get to the third and fourth drafts until that first lousy one is down, and the first one is just for you.

So just write.

“Perfectionism is the voice of the oppressor, the enemy of the people. It will keep you cramped and insane your whole life, and it is the main obstacle between you and a shitty first draft.” Anne Lamott

Now back to writing.  I am having lunch with Claude Monet today. Can’t wait.

 

p.s.  A note about the picture: This is Flora Miller at her typewriter, taken in 1919, and found in the online collection of the Library of Congress.

Storytellers: Author Mary Glickman on Marching to Zion

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Mary Glickman, author of Marching to Zion

Every once in a while you come across a writer whose stories continue to reside in your imagination long after the final words of the characters have been spoken and weeks after the novel has been moved from your night table to your bookshelf.

Such is the talent of Mary Glickman, a very fine storyteller with an exceptional gift for bringing us into the struggles, passions and challenges that must be faced by the vibrant souls who inhabit her novels. Her use of language and depth of spirit resonates truth in all that she has to tell.

3Glickman_MarchingToZionwebMary Glickman’s newest book, Marching to Zion, published by Open Road Integrated  Media, presents a complicated love story but gives the reader so much more.

The novel opens in St. Louis in 1916 as Mags Preacher, a young black woman, arrives in the city to make her future in the beauty business. Circumstances lead her to a job not in a hair salon but in a funeral parlor, owned by a Jewish immigrant. What follows is a broken road of dreams bringing us into the forbidden love between a beautiful young Jewess with a tragic past and a black man who fights his own demons.

Marching to Zion is being launched today to critical acclaim:

“Mary Glickman’s novels embrace complexity of the Jewish South.” -Southern Jewish Life

“This moving novel . . . handled with credibility by the talented Glickman . . . is sustained by the rich period detail and by strong and fully realized characters.” —Booklist

“Coincidence or not, the publication of Marching to Zion on the occasion of the fiftieth anniversary of The March on Washington is a powerful reminder of the discrimination and unspeakable hardships African Americans suffered. . . . Marching to Zion is a memorable story, with a very clear message that the journey is not over.” —Jewish Book Council

“Readers who are interested in Southern historical novels examining black-white relationships and those who enjoy good storytelling are the natural audience here.” —Library Journal

homeinthemorning_coverMary’s themes in all three of her novels are broadly concerned with how people manage in the face of adversity, loss and discrimination. She writes of the American South in times gone by, and shines a light on the experience of Jews, of blacks, of tolerance and of intolerance, all the while taking us into places and conflicts and sometimes even into the heart of shame in a way that is as complex as it is direct.

Her first novel, Home in the Morning is being made into a film. Open Road president/co-founder JeffreySharp will executive produce Home In The Morning for Open Road with Luke Parker Bowles and Peter Riva.

What I like most about Mary’s writing is that she carries a delicate touch and deep sense of humanity as she explores the troublesome parts of life that don’t fit into neat and moral solutions.

Mary has had her own complicated journey which she discusses in this video.

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I first discovered Mary at the Jewish Book Council. I had traveled to New York to present my novel Ravenscraig the same year Mary was listed with her second novel, One More River,  a follow up to her outstanding debut novel, Home in the Morning.  As I read through the catalogue searching for appealing summer reads, I decided that Mary Glickman would be the most interesting person to meet during my visit to New York. Unfortunately we were not scheduled to present on the same day, but social media later took care of all necessary introductions and we began a regular correspondence as a friendship naturally took hold.

I was greatly pleased when Mary asked some months ago if I would like to receive an advance copy of Marching to Zion.

The story immediately captivated me and it is a pleasure to share my thoughts in a five-star review:

Marching to Zion by Mary Glickman is a literary triumph, and easily the best novel I have read this year. Starting in 1916 in racially tense St. Louis, the story twines the lives and heartaches of a beautiful Jewish immigrant and a forbidden black “fancy man”.  The complexity of their love is wrought with a depth of understanding of human frailty that lingers long after the back cover is closed. 

As with all of Glickman’s novels, a quiet truth flows with strength and beauty through elegantly written passages that beg to be marked, re-read and quoted aloud. Marching to Zion is an excellent choice for book clubs that crave rich discussion material and an opportunity to learn about America’s less than shiny past. Mary Glickman’s story of hope burns brightly through the darkness, driven by characters fighting to maintain dignity above all else.

Sandi Altner, author of Ravenscraig (Amazon 5 star review)

Mary was kind enough to agree to an interview, facilitated by email

What inspired you to write Marching to Zion?

I don’t know if inspiration is ever one thing entirely and of course, Marching to Zion started out as something very different from the story that emerged. Its working title was “Women Alone”. I’d intended to focus on women from the first two novels, Home in the Morning and One More River, each of whom spent considerable time on their own without the support of a male at various decades of the 20th century. I thought it’d be interesting to investigate the different ways women coped according to their decade, age, class, and race. As a device, I thought I’d use the money-lender, bail bondsman Magnus Bailey as the thread that knit their stories together.

Then one of my readers observed that the earlier novels provided a view of African American and Jewish relations throughout the 20th century and this perception interested me. I considered what I’d left out and realized I’d not included the Eastern European immigrant experience. I came up with Mr. Fishbein and his daughter Minerva. Once I put those two together with Magnus, sparks flew. The whole novel changed. In the end, though, when I look at the characters of Mags, Minerva, and Aurora Mae, there’s a portrait imbedded in Marching to Zion of different kinds of women handling differently the challenges of being alone. The original intent bled through.

Glickman Alternate Author PhotoThere is so much depth and credibility in your characters in all of your novels that I cannot help thinking that you are writing from personal experience.  Do you know the people you are writing about?

Only in the sense that they live, fully fleshed, in my mind. I’ve always been interested in people. I like talking to people. I’m the woman that sits next to you in the bus or the train that you find yourself telling your life story to. I’ll probably tell you mine, too. It took me decades to achieve publication. I had a small freelance career. But I was married all the while to a very smart attorney and when we were out together, people I’m afraid treated me as an ornament or an appendage of my husband. It was irritating sometimes. But it also gave me a chance to observe, to investigate, to listen to what made the people around me tick. Sort of like being an undercover psychologist. Maybe that’s where the qualities you describe come from. But all my characters are very definitely fictional. Even when events occur that are inspired by what’s happened to people I’ve known, I go to great efforts to change biographies, down to such defining aspects as gender and race, out of respect for their privacy. Along the way of that process, the characters’ responses will vary from the original persons’ accordingly, sometimes quite radically.

Can you tell us something about your writing habits?  Do you outline your story before you start writing?

Oh! I never outline! I think that would cramp my style! Often I have an idea of what I’m starting with and a direction I’d like to go in. But I leave the story lots of space to develop in its own way, to allow the imagination to breathe. I believe character drives plot and, as Heraclites said, character is fate. No character springs from the creator’s mind fully formed like Athena from the head of Zeus. How then can anyone see ahead and outline what a character is going to do?

Uncertainty gets my juices going, I suppose. I want the story I’m telling to engage me even as I’m designing it. If you can’t feel empathy or suspense for your characters, you’re unlikely to inspire the reader’s empathy or suspense either. The process of discovery enlivens language.

Everyone writes differently. I’m not saying my way is the right way. It’s just the one I’ve got.

Glickman_OneMoreRiver-lowres (1)What is your writing routine?  Do you set word goals? Do you have a specific time of day you like to write?

I like getting up early in the morning and after I’ve caught up on my online newspaper and such, jumping right in. I’ll work three hours or so and then, in the afternoon, the banalities of life interfere. If I’m lucky, I’ll find time to re-read what I’ve done in the morning and refine, refine, refine in the afternoon. Sometimes, I go back to work in the early evening for a while. If I’m on a roll, you can’t stop me. I plow away all day and night long. This doesn’t happen too often, but usually at the end of the story the pressure to complete builds up so forcefully the endgame is like a dam burst. I love that part!

Do you ever get writer’s block? If so, how do you get unblocked?

I don’t believe in torturing myself with the very idea of writer’s block! It’s a word with power, that one. I prefer to think I have periods when I’m writing and periods when I’m not. Usually, those periods of not writing occur when I’m between projects, so they might be simply periods of resting the brain circuitry. Eventually, I’ll feel restless and cast about for something new to do. Re-reading my favorite books helps. Music. Films. Walks or bike rides around my island. Then, as Woody Allen says, it’s all just a question of showing up.

How did you become a full-time novelist?

Practice. Practice. And a little help from my friends. I never seriously considered any other career. I did have a small freelance career in educational writing and public relations, fundraising for a time, but I involved myself in that only to (a) make money and (b) to validate myself as a writer. My best friend, i.e. my husband, Stephen, encouraged me to do so. The first writing job I was offered was writing copy for a museum exhibit, I think it was, and I thought: what do I know about that kind of writing? Stephen told me a good writer can write anything and that I should try. So, I did. It went pretty well, and afterwards, I tried every other kind of writing job I could chase down. I never made a mozza of money, but every word I wrote advanced my ability to write novels, simply by teaching me that each writing arena has its own rules and once you learn them, the rest comes.

Eventually, marital life and economics progressed, my husband offered me the opportunity to “just” work on my novels – I was probably on number four by then – and that’s what I did. Success came a few more novels down the line. But I do believe working on seven novels over 35 years without publication had its benefits. It enabled me to discover a unique voice and develop it without interference. And it grounded my identity as an author. I knew I would continue to write with or without success because that’s who I am, that’s what I do. I fully expected to write without reward until I died and I was ready to do so.

Your publisher, Open Road Integrated Media, is a relatively new company that is embracing e-book trends with a heavy focus on bringing out-of-print gems to a new reading audience.  At the same time you have become an “e-star” in the company, as a new author with a strong voice, and we see you frequently mentioned in articles about Open Road. How does their business model help new authors?

Unknown (6)Where to start? When former CEO of Harper Collins worldwide, Jane Friedman, launched Open Road Media, it was in response to the crisis in publishing that began in 2008. Publishing was in a mess, losing buckets of money, laying off a third of its work force. Jane identified endemic problems in the industry, where it was overspending, what it was neglecting, among them, the high cost of warehousing, returns, distribution, enormous advances for books which basically amounts to casino style gambling. So Jane came up with a new model. She’d focus on ebooks, which require none of the above, with print issues on demand. Instead of grand advances, she’d dedicate power and resources to full-court press marketing, something largely absent in traditional publishing today. And, she’d offer the author a 50/50 split on royalties.

When my agent, Peter Riva, first put Home in the Morning out there, there was interest from traditional publishers and Open Road both. Peter advised me to take the Open Road offer for many reasons but what attracted me most was the marketing budget because that marketing expertise is exactly what a debut author most needs. These days, new authors are required to spend $25,000 or more out of their own pockets on a freelance marketer to make up for what their traditional publisher will not or cannot provide. Or they have to learn how to do it themselves. That’s a full time job plus overtime I wasn’t prepared to take on.

I’ve not been disappointed. ORM’s marketing efforts on my behalf have been stellar and the results remarkable. My sales were ten times that expected from a new author! And that 50-50 royalty split didn’t hurt either!

What advice do you have for authors who dream of being published?

Develop your own voice. Listen to the rhythms and music inside you and let it be reflected on the page. You can have the most fabulous concept in the universe, but unless you tell your story in a powerful voice, it will be neglected. And that takes work.

But most importantly, no matter how many rejections you receive, no matter how great and deserving those novels are, and how depressed you get at continued rejection, don’t let that stop you. Keep going. Never, never give up.

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About Mary Glickman:

Born on the south shore of Boston, Mary Glickman studied at the Université de Lyon and Boston University. While she was raised in a strict Irish-Polish Catholic family, from an early age Glickman felt an affinity toward Judaism and converted to the faith when she married. After living in Boston for twenty years, she and her husband traveled to South Carolina and discovered a love for all things Southern. Glickman now lives in Seabrook Island, South Carolina, with her husband, cat, and until recently, her beloved horse, King of Harts, of blessed memory. Home in the Morning is her first novel. Her second novel, One More River, was a 2011 Jewish Book Award Finalist in Fiction. Her third novel, Marching to Zion, is the tempestuous, tragic love story of a beautiful Jewish immigrant and a charismatic black man during the early twentieth century.

Storytellers: Kevin Fitzpatrick Honors Dorothy Parker

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Dorothy Parker

One of the highlights of my recent visit to New York was meeting with Kevin Fitzpatrick, author, tour guide and the founder of the Dorothy Parker Society.

I have long been a fan of the writings of Dorothy Parker and have a true fascination with Prohibition in America especially in how it gave rise to nightclubs, the Jazz age, and women drinking in bars for the first time.

Dorothy Parker, witty, depressed, alcoholic, and ever so bold and talented, stands as an icon of the age known as the Roaring Twenties, and makes for fascinating research for a novelist writing about this time period in New York.  So it is that I found Kevin Fitzpatrick.

KevinCFitzpatrick1His name is among the first you will find in a google search on Dorothy Parker.  Kevin has a clear passion for his subject matter and stands among the foremost experts on the Algonquin Round Table. His website, DorothyParker.com, provides a great deal of information about Mrs. Parker’s life in addition to her most famous quotes, audio files, and links for more information. You can sign up for his newsletter and become one of more than 3,000 people who are counted as members of the Dorothy Parker Society.

under_cover01Kevin Fitzpatrick is the author of the very popular guide: A Journey into Dorothy Parker’s New York, and has just released a catchy new book, that will provide you with all of the recipes and information you need to dazzle your friends this holiday season with a Speakeasy Cocktail Party. With the cheeky title, Under the Table: a Dorothy Parker Cocktail Guide, it will certainly be a hot gift item this year. He explained that it was one of her poems that inspired the title:

I love a martini
two at the most
three I’m under the table
Four I’m under the host

I was delighted that Kevin accepted my request for an interview. Naturally, we arranged to meet at the wonderful Algonquin Hotel, New York’s most significant literary landmark, according to Kevin. Though polished and modernized in a recent extensive renovation, the Algonquin still holds the charm and glamour of an earlier era.  It was here that Dorothy Parker and a cadre of literary luminaries gathered in the 1920s for a daily exchange of wit and gossip. Here they laughed, and lunched, and supported each other and their talents. They formed friendships and collaborations that resulted in novels, plays, a seemingly endless source of material for newspapers, and even the inspiration to launch The New Yorker magazine. All of this without the benefit of a cocktail at the Algonquin. This was in the height of Prohibition, and while The Algonquin followed the law, the Round Tablers who liked a drink or three, as Mrs. Parker certainly did, became intimately acquainted with many secret and illegal nightclubs of  New York.

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Ninety odd years later, Kevin Fitzpatrick strides into the lobby at the Algonquin, dapper and energetic in a dark suit, white button down shirt and sporty red tie, appearing quite ready to sit down to a discussion of my financial portfolio. He quickly assures me that his attire was chosen to suit his speaking engagement that evening, and that this was quite out of custom with the usual style of dress at MTV where he works as a special projects director.

Our conversation is transcribed below.

1383306_618873468164079_997700405_nI was terribly sorry that my visit did not coincide with an opportunity to take a walking tour with Kevin.  What an interesting way to see this part of  New York and learn about the vibrant night life of the writers we continue to quote today.

He is tremendously knowledgeable and engaging and struck me as someone who would have comfortably fit in to the Round Table, and would have been quite at home in a top hat, spats, and an evening suit in 1919.

If you are interested in his tour, contact Kevin through the Dorothy Parker Society Website.

To prepare for such an adventure I recommend you first view the award winning documentary about the Algonquin Round Table, The Ten Year Lunch, which you can see here.

Kevin FitzpatrickKevin Fitzpatrick interviewed by Sandi Altner, October, 2013, at the Algonquin Hotel, New York City

What led you to become founder of the Dorothy Parker Society?

Well, my friends and I started the Dorothy Parker Society in 1999 after a walking tour that was at the Algonquin and a speakeasy that was around the corner called Flute. So we went there and people said this is so much fun let’s do it again so we started having get togethers.  Now we don’t call them meetings, we call them parties, so the Dorothy Parker Society doesn’t have meetings we only have parties.  We have a monthly speakeasy party where everyone dresses up in vintage clothes and we have vintage cocktails and dance to live jazz  music from the 1920s and 30s.

(We hear the sound of fire engine racing by) And as you can tell we are in New York.
It sounds like the ladder company is going right down the street on 44th. I hope it’s not here.

the-algonquinWe are meeting this afternoon at the Algonquin Hotel which of course is very much a part of the Dorothy Parker story.  What can you tell me about the Algonquin?

Well, I like to tell people I think it is New York’s best literary landmark and here’s why. Other places might have a claim to fame for a fictional character going there like the Plaza or the Chelsea Hotel where different ner do wells lived but the Algonquin then as now is a place where writers and editors come to meet and when they come to meet they come to collaborate and work and what comes out of that are books and novels and plays and movies and tv shows.  Then as now, for more than 90 years it has been a literary hangout.  Dorothy Parker and her friends got together in June, 1919, as a welcome home to New York luncheon or roast for Alexander Woollcott who was a drama critic for the New York Times. So almost daily for ten years the group was coming here right where you are sitting to have lunch together.  And out of those came fantastic stories, shows, plays books, comedies and a lot of ink was spilled.

And it fostered the inspiration for a major magazine.

Original_New_Yorker_coverYes. The New Yorker would not be around if it were not for the Algonquin Round Table because the founders Harold Ross and Jane Grant tapped their friendships at the Algonquin Hotel to get their magazine off the ground. If it wasn’t for the use of the name of people like Dorothy Parker and Robert Benchley and Marc Connelly, Harold Ross and Jane Grant probably wouldn’t have had the success they did in getting the magazine launched.

How did you become interested in Dorothy Parker?

In the late ’90s a friend had given me the fantastic Dorothy Parker biography by Marion Meade, What Fresh Hell is This?  and I learned that we both lived on the same street 72nd Street on the upper west side and I was looking for a research project at the time to do something on line about New York City history and books and just reading about Parker’s life and then reading her poems and her fiction, I thought, I really like this person a lot. I saw a lot of things in me in her, bad relationships, bad bosses, bad jobs, you know, a freelance writer, so I really identified a lot with her and she really spoke to me. So that really kicked off the research phase that became DorothyParker.com and that led to doing a walking tour of the places on the site which led to the Dorothy Parker society and the book and everything else.

item3.rendition.slideshowWideHorizontal.algonquin-ss04Tell me about the Algonquin Hotel.

Well, it’s between 5th and 6th Avenues, and at the time there was an elevated train going up 6th Avenue and across the street was the Hippodrome  Theatre which was Broadway’s biggest ever theatre. The Hippodrome was on 6th Avenue between 43rd and 44th Street. It ran an entire city block. You could have a thousand actors on stage. It was enormous. So that was 6th Avenue. It was kind of a circus with the elevated train going up it.  And 5th Avenue, then as now, was always nice. High society people lived there. Great shopping, great retail and if you keep walking east you run right into Grand Central Terminal.  So it’s a fantastic location because this block is called Club Row. On this block is The Harvard Club, the Cornell Club, The New York Yacht Club, the Bar Association and down the street you have Yale and around the corner is the Princeton Club and Williams, so this whole street has always had a really nice cozy atmosphere of where to go to meet people.

In the research you did was there anything that changed your view of the Algonquin Round Table? Was there anything that was surprising to you?

What a lot of people don’t know is the group was very political and they were in the era of Sacco and Vinzetti and there was a lot of anarchists in the country and there was the coming change and the rising fascism in Europe and what not and it was at that time that Parker became very political, partly sitting with Donald Ogden Stewart who was very liberal and Robert Benchley who was from Harvard and was also very forward thinking. Parker’s FBI file, which I got from a freedom of information request is three inches thick and parts of it are still redacted almost 50 years after her death. J. Edgar Hoover was following her around for many many years because of all of the left wing causes she was giving her name to. The only time she was ever arrested was in Boston for protesting Vinzetti’s planned execution. So what a lot of people might think is “oh, the Algonquin,” they are going there for a good time and jokes and laughing.  They are also talking about very serious issues of the day that later after the stock market crash and the rise of the American depression and so on, that played into what they were working on and really helped color their careers at that time.

Edna Ferber
Edna Ferber

Edna Ferber was in this group as well as George Kaufman and many of the group ended up writing in Hollywood. How would you describe the impact of the Round Table not just on New York, but on the nation?

Well, Kaufman and Ferber were a fantastic playwriting team that did meet here at the Algonquin, you are correct.  They were at an out of town tryout for one of their shows in Conneticut and the producer said to them: “Well, if it doesn’t work, we can take it on a showboat”. And Edna Ferber was sitting on the floor dejected and she said, “What’s a showboat?” And he told her and within six months she was going up and down the North Carolina Coast looking for the very last showboat.  Within a year she had a novel out. And out of that novel came probably the greatest American musical of the era, “Showboat”. It was all because a collaboration was happening here at the hotel.  It was a spark of an inspiration to get things going.  You know even some of the secondary Round Table members that people don’t talk about

George Kaufman
George Kaufman

much like Herman Mankiewicz who won an academy Award for Citizen Kane he was a round table member, but all of the experience he got working on New York newspapers and being around William Randolph Hearst, that also was the inspiration  that gave him the idea for the screenplay with Orson Welles twenty years later. There were a lot of these little kernels of thought, or networking if you will, with their friends or people sitting next to them at a table and they would then go on to write a show together or collaborate on  a script or the forward to a book or things like that. I mean it was here that Dorothy Parker met James Thurber. They both had a shared love of dogs and drinking. Parker wrote all of the forwards to his books because she just thought he was a great cartoonist and a great dog lover and that’s how that came to be, too.

photo-sample-dorothyparkerAnd Dorothy Parker lived here at the Algonquin.

Yes. At different times, she lived in the hotel. She didn’t always pay her bills.  There was a joke that she was staying here around Christmas time and they asked her if she was going to hang up a Christmas stocking and she said, “No. but I’m going to hang up Frank Case.”  He was the manager of the hotel.

In that time, people would often stay in hotels for long periods of time. They didn’t have kitchens and all of that but they lived in hotels. Is that correct?

Yes. And it was perfect for someone like Parker who had absolutely no domestic skills. I mean she would put her dirty clothes back in the drawer and just expect that the maid would sort through her clothes and take out the dirty and put back the clean.

And did she?

I would hope so. You know someone was around to cook for you and clean for you and take care of your messes and take care of your messages and your telephone calls. That was the real benefit of living in a residential hotel like this.

Kevin, was this strictly a residential hotel at the time, or was this a hotel that took all kinds of visitors?

It had a lot of long term visitors, but the turnover was great because of it’s great location, but no it was never a residential hotel, 100%. It always was open to the public along with having people living here for extended periods.

Do you know what room Dorothy Parker would have stayed in?

I have heard it was on the second or third floor but you know as much as we have looked over the last 15 years you can’t find any kind of records. There is no guest book where she signed in and out of and things like that.  And room numbers have changed and the layouts on different floors have changed and there is a beautiful Dorothy Parker Suite here which I would encourage all to try and check into that has some of her letters on the wall and pictures and what not. So , we think that was probably the room she was in but who is to say?

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The hotel has been renovated over the years.  Are the floor plans thought somewhat similar to what would have been here prior to World War One?

There are less rooms now, because they did change some rooms around but it is very similar. I was here last year. They did a gut renovation of the hotel. It was closed for five months. They did a multi million dollar renovation where they took everything down to the bare bones and the general manager, Gary Budge, took me to the top and we walked all the way down and you got to peer into the actual skeleton of the building. It’s a hundred and ten years old. So they replaced all the pipes, all the heating and air conditioning, because you know if you are staying in a hotel it has to be historic but you really don’t want to be cold or hot in your room so they upgraded everything and they kept their traditions, but it is very very modern at the same time.

You have such a passion for this era, this research. What drives you Kevin?

Well it is just like someone who is a Yankees fan and loves Yankee stadium. I really like New York City history. I like the traditions. And just like you are a baseball fan and follow different players in different generations, it’s the same way here.  If you are an Edna Ferber fan you can go out and get Edna Ferber’s books.  If you like George S. Kaufman, you can go and see his plays, the Marx Brothers, and you know all of those have a tie in to this building, which is still open for business and you can come and take your friends to tonight, which I think is amazing.

I was told it is the oldest hotel in New York still running in the same location.

I don’t know if it is exactly the longest running. Definiteluy one of the oldest in the neighbourhood but definitely New York’s best literary landmark and I don’t think anything else can take that away from it. And one of the things I like and  I tell people is you can come here tonight and there is an editor meeting with a writer. You don’t know who they are because who knows what an author looks like or an editor looks like, but you know that they are plotting something or doing something over that drink which I think is amazing and really nice to do because you are going to honor the tradition of all those other authors who have come before you.  Everyone from Dorothy Parker and Robert Benchley and William Faulkner and all of the other greats who have come through here and you keep on the tradition because this is the place you want to go to meet.

Dorothy Parker's NY_0Tell me first about your books. Let’s start with A Journey into Dorothy Parker’s New York.

This book is 100 locations tied to Mrs. Parker’s New York, so it is all of the homes, haunts, hangouts, offices. She was born and raised on the upper west side so all the locations of her apartments and houses with her family and later in life places she lived, but also a lot of speakeasies, a lot of theatres.  She was a Broadway critic for 6 years so all those theatres, where they were, or if they are long gone, or if they are still in business today.  and then places associated with the Round Table. some of the hangouts they would go to and the former offices of the New Yorker, Vanity Fair, and Vogue and all the places that she and her friends worked at. The new book called Under the Table, A Dorothy Parker Cocktail Guide comes out in November from Lyons Press.

A fabulous title, I must say.

Thank you, thank you. This was a very fun book to work on.  It’s 75 recipes for cocktails, 65 from the prohibition era.  These are the drinks people would have been having in 1919 to 1933.  The other ten are from some of the best places around the country that make speakeasy style drinks and these are from New York, Las Vegas, Boston, LA, San Fransisco.  Really amazing drinks. and with every drink you find out the story behind it. You learn about the Manhattan, Rob Roy, a side car, horses neck and a bad romance, all these drinks people used to drink back in the day that we don’t really know about so much anymore, so there is a lot of interesting stories about people in that day, like Flo Zigfeld and Jack Dempsey, who was the heavy weight champion of the world and had a drink named after him.

What’s your next book?

In 2014 we are going to release a book of Mrs. Parker’s Broadway reviews. All of her short fiction has been collected, all of her poetry has been collected,  but not her drama reviews. She started writing Broadway reviews when she was 24 for Vanity Fair, so this is 150,000 words that never have been collected of Dorothy Parker’s work. And it is just some fantastic stuff.  She saw some of the greats in theatre history: the very first shows by W.C. Fields and the Marx Brothers and Eugene O’Neill’s early shows, so she was in the aisle seat for a lot of fantastic shows. A lot of people have never read any of this work, so it’s really fun to get that out. So that will be out in 2014.

A final word from Sandi: To my readers, please know that I will be giving away a copy of Dorothy Parker’s New York.  It will go to one of the readers of this post who will be chosen randomly, so please do add your name to my list of subscribers, or email me at sandikaltner@aol.com to enter the draw. The draw will be made on December 1st, 2013.

And I heartily recommend a stay at the Algonquin hotel!  I will be writing about the hotel in an upcoming blog post.

Algonquin-Lobby-1

Storytellers: Jacob Colgan and Oceanna Colgan: Letter from Fred

Jacob Colgan, Green Shoe Studio
Jacob Colgan, Green Shoe Studio

Every once in a while you come across a story that brims with grace, true love, and proof that there is much good in the world.

So it is that I am sharing the story about a very talented creative team led by music producer Jacob Colgan, the owner of Green Shoe Studio in Peoria, Illinois.  He held a contest to find a great new song. The rules asked singer songwriters to put a video up on Youtube of a performance and to send the link to Green Shoe Studio.  Along with the many email entries came one thick manila envelope in the mail.  No video, no youtube link, no email address.  But in the package was the story of a love of 75 years.  It was a letter from 96-year-old Fred Stobaugh paying tribute to his Sweet Lorraine.  Here’s the story, beautifully produced by Oceanna Colgan.

Screen shot 2013-08-25 at 6.42.29 PM

A Letter From Fred from Green Shoe Studio on Vimeo.

You can find “Oh Sweet Lorraine” on Itunes featuring Jacob Colgan and Fred Stobaugh.

By the way….Oceanna has a fantastic collection of images on Pinterest. Click on the image below to link to her boards.

Screen shot 2013-08-25 at 6.50.21 PM

Storytellers: The Next Big Thing Blog Hop

I’ve been tagged in the Next Big Thing by fellow writer Mary Glickman. Mary is author of novels Home in the Morning and One More River, a 2011 National Jewish Book Award Fiction Finalist.

You can read Mary’ s Next Big Thing post here: www.maryglickman.com to learn more about her work.

I have been invited by Mary to answer questions about my current book and then to tag five other authors about their Next Big Thing.

What is the title of your book and what is it about?

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Ravenscraig, is an historical novel that pitches rich against poor as two families from different worlds become inextricably tied together.

Rupert Willows buries his cruel past and schemes his way to wealth and power. Zev Zigman, a devout Jew, mounts a desperate struggle to bring his family out of czarist Russia.

At the center is the feisty Maisie, who hides her Jewish roots to enter the world of “The English” and a better paying future at the opulent mansion, Ravenscraig Hall. Love, anger and determination fuel the treacherous journey ahead.

4366943480_83e8c25e9f_oWhere did the idea come from for the book?


Winnipeg, my home town, has a fantastically interesting history. It was a fur trading post that quickly evolved into a western saloon town and ultimately became one of the fastest growing cities on the continent.  A century ago at the height of the immigration boom, the city was divided with a strong wealthy class clashing against a burgeoning “foreign born” population.  My fascination with the social history of Winnipeg together with my background as a journalist ignited a passion for telling a fictitious story about real events in those interesting times.

What genre does your book fall under?
 


Ravenscraig is categorized as historical fiction, Jewish fiction and family saga.

Daniel Craig
Daniel Craig

Which actors would you choose to play your characters in a movie rendition?

What a fun question.  Rupert Willows has been described by some of my readers as “the man you love to hate.”  He is very handsome, powerful and manipulative, and utterly charming.

I have most often heard suggestions of Daniel Craig who does such a great job as Bond, and Jon Hamm who is a favorite

Jon Hamm
Jon Hamm

among those who love the Mad Men series.

Josh Holloway
Josh Holloway

Personally, well, I am rather partial to Josh Holloway.  I was watching Lost while I was writing a significant scene in the book and somehow Josh Holloway’s character, Sawyer, became an influence in Rupert’s allure.  I think it was the southern accent that really got me.  Josh

Holloway is to be directly blamed (or credited) with Rupert’s stay in Atlanta during his youth.

For Chadwick the butler, I see Michael Caine.

As for the women, this is more difficult.

Someone special with the guts and grace would be needed to play Maisie.

The image I had of Beth Willows is Billie Burke, a fantastic actress of years ago.

I welcome suggestions from Ravenscraig readers!  Please voice your opinion in the comments below.

Is your book self-published or represented by an agency?


I am not represented by an agency.  Ravenscraig was published by Heartland Associates in Canada, and by Franklin and Gallagher in the USA.

How long did it take you to write the first draft of your manuscript?
 


About 7 years of researching and writing, followed by almost three years of rewrites.

What other books would you compare this story to within your genre?
 


Because this is historical fiction and a family saga,  Ravenscraig is appealing to fans of stories like Downton Abbey, the mini-sieris, and to books like Gone with the Wind by Margaret Mitchell, and the Thorn Birds by Colleen McCullough.  Younger readers tell me it fits their appeal for books like Anne of Green Gables, by Lucie Maud Montgomery.

Nykola Strumbicky and Aksana (Shmigelsky) Strumbicky, Vita, 1936
Nykola Strumbicky and Aksana (Shmigelsky) Strumbicky, Vita, 1936

Who or what inspired you to write this book?


I have a deep appreciation for the stories in my own family history.  My ancestors came to Manitoba to farm in 1896. I am very grateful for the many sacrifice they made and the great hardships they endured so that their children and grandchildren would have a better life.

I became interested in learning about the early days of Winnipeg and a fascination grew that led to creating story based on true events.

What else about your book might pique the reader’s interest?

Old_Titanic_28If you happen to be a Titanic fanatic, you might enjoy this novel. The story about the Fortune Family in Ravenscraig is based on the true account of this wealthy family traveling on the Titanic. I spent a great deal of time learning about this disastrous shipwreck and continue to read about it.

Links to other authors I recommend:

Here are some of my favorite authors.  Please see their work and find your own next best read!

Sally J. Ling is author of The Cloak, the recently released Shea Baker biblical mystery, which is set in Florida and gives the reader a fast paced and inviting read about a likeable writer, and accidental sleuth. I thoroughly enjoyed The Cloak and look forward to other upcoming adventures in the series.  In the meantime, Sally’s latest book is a non fiction book that will be released this month.  Out of Mind, Out of Sight: A Revealing History of the Florida State Hospital at Chattahoochee and Mental Health Care in Florida.

Sidura Ludwig is the author of the novel Holding My Breath (2007), a wonderful book about The book has been published in Canada (Key Porter Books), the US (Shaye Areheart Books) and the United Kingdom (Tindal Street Press). Sidura was born and raised in Winnipeg, Manitoba, and has lived in Toronto, Ottawa and Birmingham, UK.

Martin Crosbie is a Canadian Indie author who has created quite a sensation with embracing the Kindle Select Program on Amazon that led to more than a hundred thousand downloads of his first novel, My Temporary Life.  You can read about Martin’s new novel My Name is Hardly, here.  Martin already participated in the Next Best Thing Blog Hop, but because I am a fan of his work I could not possibly leave him off of this list.

And finally, two of the books I enjoyed reading most in 2012 were the first two novels written by Terry Fallis.  The Best Laid Plans, and The High Road.

Terry is a PR professional with a gift for humorous storytelling.  His first two novels are a delightful behind the scenes look at Canada’s Parliament Hill.  Wonderful and highly recommended.  His new novel, Up and Down, is on on my “to read” list.

Happy New Year to all!

Storytellers: Nirvan Mullick, Filmmaker of “Caine’s Arcade”.

Nirvan Mullick stopped in at a car parts store in East Los Angeles and stumbled across a story for his next film.  Toiling away in the back of the shop he found a genius.  Not the car parts guy (who happens to be a very likable guy named George), but his nine-year-old son, Caine.

Caine was spending his summer vacation coming to work with his dad to keep him company.  In short order, Caine began building a business of his own. With cardboard boxes, tape and a powerful imagination, the boy created Caine’s Arcade and opened for customers.

Nirvan had to play.  And then the filmmaker had to tell the story of this terrific father and son team.

Fabulous.

The 11-minute film has been a huge success and has helped to raise money for Caine to go to college and also to help other imaginative young entrepreneurs fund their dreams.  Learn more by clicking here to get to Caine’s Arcade.

Caine’s tips for entrepreneurs.

By the way, if you have dreams of opening your own business, here are 5 suggestions from Caine.

Nirvan tells us these were written on an Air France barf bag as the two returned from a trip to Paris.

1. Be nice to customers.
2. Do a business that is fun.
3. Do not give up.
4. Start with what you have.
5. Use recycled stuff.

I’m going to print this out and stick it up on my desk.

Thanks, Caine.

Storytellers: Deborah Feldman, author of Unorthodox

Deborah Feldman, author of Unorthodox

Deborah Feldman was one of the most impressive authors I was privileged to hear speak at the Jewish Book Council Network Author’s event earlier this month.

I was in New York to talk about Ravenscraig, my novel about an immigrant family fighting to maintain their Jewish identity  against pressure to assimilate a hundred years ago.  Deborah was there to talk about Unorthodox,  her memoire of breaking away from a Hasidic Jewish life rooted in restrictions she could no longer tolerate. The contrast in our subject matter could not have been more pronounced.

Married at 17, a mother at nineteen, Deborah found her courage and purpose in sneaking to the library to read books that she was not allowed to read; books like Matilda by children’s writer, Roald Dahl.

Unorthodox, the Scandalous Rejection of my Hasidic Roots, is a book that many communities and Jewish Book Festivals may shy away from, for being “too hot” a topic for their reader groups. I am very pleased that I first learned of the book when the sisterhood at my own synagogue chose it for our summer reading event.

My heart goes out to Deborah Feldman, a talented writer and gifted storyteller who has given us an inside view of a very difficult emotional journey.  There is much to learn and much to discuss in this  work.  It’s one of the most interesting books I’ve read this year. The strength of the book is in the frank telling of details of her life.

Learn more at Deborah’s website and from the interview in the video below.

Celebrating Winnipeg’s Past

Ravenscraig,  The Blog

This blog celebrates the history of Winnipeg, my hometown, and occasionally allows me to indulge in some wider observations of the world that catch my interest.

Here you will find stories about Winnipeg at the turn of the 20th century when the Manitoba capital declared her glory as one of the fastest growing cities in North America.  The research behind the stories you will find on this site was done over many years and became the basis for the storyline for my novel, Ravenscraig.  I welcome your comments, questions, and suggestions.  Email me at:  sandi.altner@gmail.com

Boomtown Winnipeg:

The early years in Manitoba were very exciting, with Winnipeg recognized as the gateway city for people and goods traveling west to the new frontier. From these years of rapid growth in Winnipeg, 1874-1914, there developed a large group of millionaires and the crop of mansions they built to impress each other.

Historian, Dr. Alan Artibise, referred to these captains of industry as “the commercial elite” and truly Winnipeg was seen by those “down east” in Ontario, as the place to be for those seeking to make or increase their fortunes at the dawn of the 20th century.

Dufferin, corner of King c. 1904 N7962 Courtesy Manitoba Archives

But not everyone had a shot at the big money in Winnipeg.

On the other side of the tracks, newly arrived immigrants struggled to overcome the horrors of poverty, disease and anti-foreigner sentiments as they fought to put down roots in the New Country. It is from this determination of the newcomers to survive and prosper that the famed Winnipeg North End came to be.

To help understand the rich mosaic in this colourful history, I’ve included a selection of films, featuring such topics as Jews in Winnipeg, life in a Ted Baryluk’s store in the North End, and a terrific NFB film about a man whose job was to keep the tracks clean for the Winnipeg street cars.

You will also find that I indulge in some nostalgic remembrances of my childhood  on Gallagher Avenue and at Principal Sparling School, and share stories about my family history.  I am very proud to have descended from the first group of Ukrainian settlers in Manitoba.  The first 27 families  arrived in the summer of 1896 and settled in the southeastern corner of the province.  My family farmed near Vita.

Titanic, I must say, is my true love in research topics so you will find a number of postings about Winnipeg’s Titanic connection, and Titanic in general. In all there were more than thirty passengers on the ship who were on their way to Winnipeg to return home, stay for a visit, or like survivor Eva Hart’s family, to settle in Manitoba as immigrants.

I was a child when I first learned about the Titanic. My dad took us for a drive to point out Mark Fortune’s house on Wellington Crescent and told us about the six people from the Fortune family who were on their way home to Winnipeg when the great ship struck an iceberg and sank.  I was horrified, and instantly hooked.

Years later, the Fortune family and Winnipeg’s connection to the Titanic came to occupy a significant part of my imagination, and the Fortunes found their way into my novel, Ravenscraig, which has recently been published in Canada by Heartland Associates.

Thanks for visiting.

About the name Ravenscraig:

Ravenscraig, the blog, (and title of my novel) is taken from the name of a fictitious home, Ravenscraig Hall, in Winnipeg’s Armstrong’s Point and owned by Rupert Willows, the lead character in the book.

About the novel:

Ravenscraig is about two families: the Willows—wealthy, powerful and anti-Semitic, and the Zigmans—newly arrived Jews, struggling to put down roots in Winnipeg’s North End.

Click on the image below to see the book trailer for Ravenscraig.

Next up, New York!

I am very excited to announce that I will be participating in the Jewish Book Council Network.  What a fantastic organization.  The Network program supports authors who write books that are of appeal to a Jewish audience.

From the JBC website: For authors, this is an opportunity to go on an all-expenses-paid book tour around North America. For program directors, it is the source of a wide selection of interesting authors who will speak in your community without an honorarium.

In June they will bring together a couple of hundred people from all over Canada and the US who are looking to book authors for events and speaking engagements.  Authors, like me, will have a two minute opportunity to make an impression that will hopefully lead to invitations to speak.  It has been described by one participant as a combination of the Gong Show and Speed Dating. Can’t wait.  Here’s a little video about the event.

More to come.  I will update you on all of the details of my trip.  I am set to present on June 3rd.  It happens that my daughter, Katiana Krawchenko, will also be in New York, so I am looking forward to memories that will be made.  Katiana is a journalism senior at the University of Florida and has been granted a ten week internship at CBS News in New York. How proud are the parents?

Ravenscraig Wins Carol Shields Winnipeg Book Award

What an incredible honour it is that Ravenscraig has been recognized as the winner of the  Carol Shields Winnipeg Book Award.  I am at a loss to describe how deeply moved I am that this has happened.

Carol Shields was born and raised in Chicago, but lived in Canada from 1957 until her death in 2003.  She wrote ten novels and two collections of short stories in addition to poetry.  She won the Pulitzer Prize for The Stone Diaries, which was also shortlisted for the Booker Prize, and she won the Orange Prize for Larry’s Party.

The Carol Shields Winnipeg Book Award  is presented by the City of Winnipeg and this is how it is described on the city’s website.

In 1999 the City of Winnipeg established its first book award. The first Carol Shields Winnipeg Book Award was presented in 2000 at Brave New Words, the Manitoba Literary Awards. The Award is a juried annual prize honouring books which evoke the special character, and contribute to the appreciation and understanding of Winnipeg. All genres are eligible. The Call for Submissions is issued in late fall. The Award and its $5000 prize are presented at Brave New Words, the Manitoba Writing and Publishing Awards Gala.

Some years ago, I had the privilege of interviewing Mrs. Shields when  her novel, Larry’s Party, was released, and I was working in television news.

Warm, quiet and dignified, is how I remember her.  She was a small and  gentle woman who seemed somewhat overwhelmed by all of the attention that was paid her at a rather large and boisterous book launch party.

That gentleness shone through in every interview I’ve heard with Carol Shields, including this one, in a biography produced by the CBC in 1982.

Carol Shields was not only wonderfully gifted as a storyteller, she was an inspiring force who shined a light on Winnipeg through her writing about streets that were familiar to her and home to her characters.

In 1992, she was interviewed about her new novel, The Republic of Love. The interview took place in Vancouver and Mrs. Shields found herself being questioned about her choice of Winnipeg for the setting. I love her answer.

INT: It warmed my heart considerably in reading this novel to see Winnipeg portrayed so affectionately because so many people seem to have had the experience – so many Canadians seem to have had the experience – of passing through Winnipeg. It’s a place they’ve been when they’re on the train, it’s a place they’ve flown over and I don’t know that it has ever been done quite this way before.

Carol Shields:  Of course I am very fond of Winnipeg. I’ve lived there now eleven years. It somehow seemed right, now, to write about it. The time had come but I’ve wanted to do a couple of things a little differently. I wanted to talk about Winnipeg in the spring, summer and fall and not just in the winter because that is, of course, the stereotypical picture that we all have of it. I also wanted to talk about it as a cosmopolitan centre. It does have more than 0.5 million people and I think that always surprises people that it does function in this big city way as well. So those were a couple of things. But I have to tell you that I did worry quite a bit about setting this book in Winnipeg because I know Canadians are familiar with Winnipeg or at least with the mythology of the city. But this book was being published inNew York and in London as well and I expected at any minute to get a phone call from these people and say “Look, we cannot publish a novel set in what is this place? Winnipeg?” And I had prepared a defense. I was going to say that if Anne Tyler can write about Baltimore, I can write about Winnipeg. But you know? No one even raised this issue so I certainly didn’t raise it.
  

How fitting that the City of Winnipeg has chosen to honour her memory with the annual literary prize that celebrates Winnipeg.