The Thrill of a 1st Review

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And here you have it, Folks. My First Review. Possibly only review, given how hard it is for an indie/self-published writer to get a newspaper to write a review. Lots of fun rejection there. But, in the immortal words of Captain Jason Nesmith: Never give up! Never surrender! Just keep swallowing your pride and keep asking!

Also – ALWAYS, in every situation, listen to your mother-in-law! Thank you Ruthie, for telling me about the (Mighty!) Kennebec Journal’s indomitable Dana Wilde, who apparently does his own thing and reviews whatever he wants. I am very grateful to the both of them.

OFF RADAR: ‘Leave a Crooked Path’

Book by Simone Paradis Hanson is a skillfully paced, warm, painful, good-humored story, writes Dana Wilde.

“Leave a Crooked Path”

By Simone Paradis Hanson Shadowlight Press, Roswell, Georgia, 2016

162 pages, paperback, $10

In Simone Paradis Hanson’s novel “Leave a Crooked Path,” Claire Au Clair recounts the events of the summer of her 14th year. She and her mom, dad and little sister, Grace, live in a coastal Maine town that sounds a lot like Brunswick or Topsham, in a pretty typical suburban neighborhood of largely Franco-American families.

It’s a happy, aggravating place to live. The first significant event occurs when the neighbor, Mr. Bergeron, loses yet another finger (now he’s down to seven) to a lawn mower blade. In a different social or literary milieu, this incident might be drawn with solemn attention to the pain and irony of Mr. Bergeron’s apparent inability to learn not to try to free stuck mower blades with his hands. But instead, Claire’s disposition — true to the place and people — is wryly good-humored. Mr. Bergeron bleeds and suffers, to be sure, but the real point of the incident is less his clumsiness, and more the predictable reaction of Mrs. Bergeron, who we learn in the first sentence suffers from “Jumping Frenchman of Maine Syndrome,” or as Claire’s father terms such behavior, “Exaggerated Startle Response.”

“‘Throw me a towel!’” Mr. Bergeron screams. “‘Duncan Hines!’ she screamed back, hurling the towel into the air in his general direction and turning to run back in the house.” Someone in the neighborhood shouts, “‘For God’s sake, call an ambulance, he’s done it again,’” and people come pouring out of their houses to see what’s happened now — “pretty much every household was represented at the accident site.”

“This was Maine after all,” Claire reflects. “A place that sometimes felt more like an extension of Canada than a part of New England, where dumb Frenchman jokes were tolerated since it’s OK to make fun of yourself. It could be a rough place to live, but a place where no one passed a stalled car or stray dog.”

And the picture we get, really, is of a large extended family bound by proximity, ethnicity and overall good feelings toward each other. Except when the feelings are bad.

Claire takes care of her sister during the day while their parents are at work, and she spends a lot of time with her friend Celeste, with whom she frequently skirts the rules and who “could be disgusting.” When Uncle Romeo wants to help Claire’s dad prune a tree branch that precariously overhangs the roof, everybody gets nervous about the prospect of Uncle Romeo on a roof with a chain saw. They humorously figure out a dodge to the well-intentioned offer, but feel compelled to do something about the branch before Romeo tries. So Claire’s father calls the neighborhood handymen, the Menards, to come take care of it. Not to put too fine a point on it, but from there, things go bad for the neighborhood.

And especially for Claire’s family. Because slowly, deftly, it is revealed that her father is what we refer to as a mean drunk. And the second half of the novel discloses, in what is often quite beautiful writing on an ugly subject, Claire’s efforts to deal with him, internally and externally. “There’s a kind of worry that eats at you if you have a father that drinks. It’s like boot camp for bomb diffusers. One wrong move, cut the wrong wire, get lazy for a split second and it’s all over. An explosion will rip you apart.”

The depictions of harrowing, pathetic and irrational scenes are extraordinarily accurate to realities many of us have experienced. At the same time, the emotional tenor of the writing does not get sidetracked by the inherent pain. Claire’s fear, anger and confusion, which are palpable, are yet strongly colored by her perceptive good humor and love. Or is it the other way around?

“Leave a Crooked Path” is a skillfully paced, warm, painful, good-humored story, which will channel a sense of comfort and compassion, I imagine, for most people with experiences similar to Claire’s in their pasts.

Simone Paradis Hanson, who now lives in Georgia, grew up in Brunswick and is a graduate of Bowdoin College and the Maine School of Law. “Leave a Crooked Path” is available through online book sellers such as Amazon and Barnes and Noble.

Tsundoku: The Art of Not Reading

Kristen Twardowski

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There is a word for not reading. Or rather, there is a term for collecting books and never opening their covers. That word is tsundoku.

The Japanese word tsundoku stands for a state in which many readers find themselves. The term is actually a combination of several words. Alone, doku means “to read”, tsunde represents stacking things, and oku means “to leave something for a while”. With all of this in mind, a very literal translation of tsundoku is “to stack reading materials and leave them for a while.”

The term brings to mind people who buy books with every intention of reading them, but instead their books simple sit on bedside tables and accumulate over time. There is something elegant about the way that the word captures a practice that is familiar to many of us, and I am tempted to begin a campaign to popularize its use.

But…

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10 Questions a Writer Might Get Asked At Christmas Family Gatherings #MondayBlogs #AmWriting

10 Questions a Writer Might Get Asked At Christmas Family Gatherings #MondayBlogs #AmWriting

I like this. Though I don’t wear a beret…

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Here are 10 questions a writer might get asked at Christmas Family gatherings:

  1. Are you still writing that book? Emphasis will be placed upon the word ‘still’ and you will either attempt to explain the amount of time it takes to write a book or you will simply nod (or grimace – depending on your project).
  2. When can weread your book? Emphasis will be placed upon the word ‘we’ and in your head you will picture the faces of all your relatives wading through your work. You might even shiver at the thought of some of them diving into the naughty scene at the end. You will change the subject by quickly commenting on the mild weather for December.
  3. I have always dreamed of writing a book – is it hard? You will smile, look away and mutter something about how the word ‘hard’ doesn’t come close to describing…

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Jingle Bells

Yes, it’s that time of year folks! Time to make your pets look stupid. All kinds of creativity comes out just about now, especially after the right amount of eggnog. Right, Jasper?

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Rockin’ the elf cap!

 

Nothing surprises this guy anymore. He’s seen a lot in his 12 years. He probably wonders where all the little kids went who used to play with him in the backyard. And wonders who this college kid is who visits occasionally. But he doesn’t dwell on it. He was happy then, and he’s happy now. He just goes with the flow. You want to put a stupid hat on my head? OK! Just please give me the elf one!

Disappointment doesn’t seem to infiltrate his psyche. He loves indiscriminately. He’ll eat what you feed him. He loves me even though I am terrible at brushing him and he constantly needs to be groomed. The last time I took him to the groomer, he fell getting out of the car and I thought he broke his leg. When we got home, he was too afraid to try jumping out again, so I hauled out his doggy gangplank, which he hates, and half carried him down. He’s so afraid of that gangplank he won’t go down it by himself, but now he’s more afraid of jumping.

But once his feet hit the ground, he forgot all about the whole ordeal. Pain and fear, poof! Gone!

How does he do that, manage life with such a good attitude? Sure, he has no worries. He doesn’t have to pay bills, figure out where the roof is leaking from, things like that. But there are definitely dogs out there with bad attitudes who have the same cushy life as Jasper.

For example, my other two dogs are brats. They totally make it obvious when they’re upset.

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Here they are in the car after what was apparently a too short car ride. They wouldn’t get out. See how the white one won’t make eye contact and the other is giving me a stink eye? This moment right here is the worst they have ever been treated and man, were they mad!

If I were to compare myself to my dogs, I’d have to admit that I’m more like these two. Way less like Jasper. I’m harsh and sometimes a little impatient, and I have pretty high expectations of other people. Which I’m sure is why I’m harsh and impatient. It’s not like people cross the street when they see me, but…I could possibly be calmer.

I know, I know, you’re probably thinking This is the part where she’s going to say we should all be more like Jasper. And then she’ll insert a smiley face emoji.  No, not at all. Well, maybe a little. I think it’s ok for us to show others our fears and to accept help. Where would goodness, as a virtue, be if no one accepted it. There’s no kindness if no one takes it.

But we should make demands on the world as well.

People who make demands are the ones who don’t give up. Because they are never satisfied and always want more. Like me. I’m never totally satisfied. I still haven’t hit the 200 mark on books sold. I still don’t have an agent. But so what? Trying all this time has had its rewards. I’ve made life-long friends. I keep meeting great writers, for example – Kimberly Brock and Emily Carpenter who were at our local Bookmiser on Small Business Saturday. Great time, great hot apple cider!

But there’s still a ton more I want to do, including starting a Writers Space here in Roswell. I will need credentials, like a traditionally published book, so I’ve got to keep plugging away.

To steal a phrase, life’s a journey. For some, it never quite ends – we just can’t seem to reach that final destination. Maybe we don’t read maps well. But don’t you just love the view out the car windows?

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Now this is a car ride!

Have a seat. What brings you to Hell?

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(M): Marketing. It’s marketing that brings me to this dark place. I can’t take it. Do you think I should pack it in and get an agent?

(S): Surely it can’t be that bad. Marketing can be fun. Personally, I love it!

(M): Well I don’t.

(S): But you get to talk to some nice people. They fawn all over you, I’m sure.

(M): No, no they do not.

(S): But didn’t you just go to the Decatur Book Festival? Lots of book lovers there. Surely you made some friends? Surely some people were interested?

(M): You mean the people who came to the Atlanta Writers Club table, helped themselves to the donut holes I brought and dribbled crumbs all over the copies of my book they did not buy? Those people?

(S): Errrr…

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(M): You mean any of the 12 billion who were there?

(S): My! That’s a lot of people. No takers?

(M): I sold one book.

(S): That’s a start.

(M): To my friend Emily.

(S): I can see why you’re frustrated. Did you have any luck getting anyone to give you a review of your book? Anyone, that is, whom you didn’t have to pay?

(M): Plenty of people willing to take my money…

(S): But no one willing to review a self-published book? A darned shame.

(M): Are you smiling?

(S): Me? Of course not!

(M): It looks like you’re smiling.

(S): Um, let’s see here. How about sending free copies of your book to bookstores? Perhaps that would drum up some business?

(M): Been there, done that. I’m hoping it pays off, that some sweet, kind bookstore owner will feature my book.

(S): I’m sure they will! Stay positive!

(M): Yesterday I ate a whole bag of Cheez Doodles. And not the snack bag size, either.

(S): Hmmm…I was thinking you look a little round.

(M): You’re not helping.

(S): Let’s stay on the bright side here. Surely you’ve sold some books? A few?

(M): I think I may have made about $42.

(S): Well, that’s something.

(M): Do you have any other suggestions for me? You’re an ideas guy.

(S): Oh look! Our time’s up. That will be $42…

 

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