Giveaway Alert! A chance to win both my books!

Help me out, and you will have more to read!

This Giveaway is hosted by TravelByBook. Click the link, and you could win a copy of The Baby on the Back Porch and The Charm of Lost Chances (ebook only). All you have to do is come up with a name for a character in my next book…easy enough right?

Go check it out!

(Unfortunately, you can’t leave names in a comment here, since it it hosted through Travel by Book.)

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Changing The World—A Book at a Time

“You never really understand a person until you consider things from his point of view… Until you climb inside of his skin and walk around in it.”
Harper Lee – To Kill a Mockingbird

Recently, it was Banned Books Week. Books get banned for many reasons: religious concerns, too much sex, the wrong kind of sex, too much violence, or just the language the writer uses.

As a parent, I don’t let my children read every book that is out there for them. They are still young, so I can control what they read—for now. Some books may be age appropriate, but just not “my child appropriate.” If I deem a story too scary, or think they may not fully grasp the content, I will put it aside for another time. Obviously, this is not the same as “banning,” where I would make the decision for my child that a certain book is not appropriate, ever.

I believe that fictional stories will help children to better understand the world we live in. Our (global) society, has a broad variety of people, with many differences in backgrounds, lifestyles, and convictions. But without exposure, how are we to understand one another and find common ground?

Books can do so much more than just take the reader along to faraway place, a beautiful romance or heartbreaking tale. Books can increase knowledge, stimulate the imagination, and transport the reader into another person’s mind. Reading can force us to walk in the protagonist’s—or for that matter, the antagonist’s—shoes, albeit for a limited time. This can make us love the book, or resent it, but whatever the outcome, it will hopefully stimulate some understanding or empathy, and perhaps help us form more nuanced opinions. A book can unveil and challenge our prejudices, and make us reconsider them.

Obviously, books can have the opposite message as well, like one of hatred, or intolerance. History has shown us the power of propaganda. Nevertheless, I believe reading stimulates the ability of critical thinking—that is, if we dare to reach outside our own bubble.

As a writer, I must confess I write mostly to entertain. That by itself is hard enough, without having to aspire to more lofty goals. But the notion that books can change the world is a powerful one.

Writing can be difficult—even frustrating— demanding a lot of effort, and sometimes offering little in return. But, despite all this, keep on writing. Your story can do so much more than you realize. It can break down barriers.

Our Basque Experience (with kids)

I have a great passion for traveling. Nothing is as fun and exciting as discovering new places, food, people and, yes, stories. Every place has its own stories, some from the past, some from current events, and some from imagination. I love going places, seeing places, and reading or hearing about them.

A while ago, I visited Basque Country, in Northern Spain (and Southern France). With vistas that are beyond stunningly beautiful, friendly people, wonderful food, it was a fantastic experience, both for us and the kids. And the stories, ah, the stories, were plentiful!

Basque Country has a turbulent history, and I do not presume to know the place well, or to fully understand its struggles or know its people. The Basques have their own language and culture, despite being part of Spain (and France). And in case you forgot while being there, the Basque flag is visible in so many places it will quickly remind you that first and foremost, you are in their territory.

Basque Country has so many things to offer—too many for this blog post.  The Camino de Santiago, of course, is famous, and something that is still high on my list of things to do. But for now, my children are too young, so we had to find different entertainment. A beach is always a great place to start. And Basque Country has plenty.

Its northern Atlantic coastline is breathtaking, with sandy beaches, steep rocky cliffs, lush vegetation and scattered old villages and towns waiting to be discovered. One of my favorite trips was to the chapel of San Juan de Gaztelugatxe, and old chapel on a small peninsula connected to the mainland by a walkway with ~240 steps. The site goes back many centuries, but the chapel has been demolished few times. According to tradition,  when you get to the chapel and ring the bell three times, you can make a wish and it will ward off evil spirits. Let’s face it, we can all use some of that while traveling.

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Fun fact on the walkway: if you are a Game of Thrones fan, you may recognize the walkway to Dragonstone, where Daenerys Targaryen walked up to the mighty castle. Even though there is no castle, and no dragons either, the walkway is very real!

While exploring some of the villages in the rolling foothills of the Pyrenees, we came across Zugarramurdi, a pretty village tucked in between the hills, where time appears to slow down to a snail’s pace as you wander through the streets. It’s very peaceful now, but has a tragic history. The village was the site of the ruthless persecution of witches, during the time of the Inquisition. There is a small museum dedicated to the women who were taken away, some of them never returning. My kids thought the museum was a little scary, but they did like the witch cave, which is also near the village—presumably the site where the women came together to do whatever it is that witches do. There was a short but appealing hike to the cave itself (many steps, wet slippery rocks and a bridge over a stream), with the cave having plenty of opportunity for them to explore and let their imagination run wild.

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Zugarramurdi

More inland we visited the charming town of Oñati, which means “place with many hills.” The city sports many frog images as logos, and one of the stories in our guide book explaining this referred back to a count from long-ago, who apparently had a black and white checkered tile floor in the entrance of his estate. Annoyed at the villagers, who were muddying up his white tiles when visiting his castle, he ordered them to only stand on the black tiles. Thus, the villagers hopped from black tile to black tile, after which he mocked them and called them frogs. Even so, the town has adopted the frog with pride.

Oñati also has an ancient, extensive and beautiful cave system (the Arrikrutz caves), albeit a very chilly one. An English-speaking guide took us on a tour deep down in the earth, escaping the sweltering heat outside. The caves with all its stalagmites and stalactites, as well as the prehistoric finds, were telling their own fascinating story. Nothing makes a vacation as precious like a good reminder of your own short life-span.

For me, when I travel, it’s the stories that make a place come alive, give it that little extra, and paint my memories more vividly. When I think back of Basque Country, I think of all these places, and many more. But mostly, I think of sitting at the sea-side with my family, eating an unidentified fish-dish with a name I can’t pronounce, drinking a bottle of txacoli, and telling stories to my children. And I hope they will remember.

The Lost Ones (Part 3)

This is the final post on The Lost Ones: Writers we lost in 2016. After all, we are about half-way through 2017.

I had not heard of Helen Bailey before, but if you live in the UK you may have. She was a YA writer (the Electra Brown series), but wrote one book for adults: When Bad Things Happen in Good Bikinis.

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In 2011, she and her husband went on vacation to Barbados, where her husband drowned while swimming in the ocean. She witnessed his death. “A wife at breakfast, a widow before lunch.”

Trying to deal with the loss of her husband, she started up a blog, Planet Grief, in which she reached out to other people who had lost loved ones. The book When Bad Things Happen in Good Bikinis is a memoir of her journey through the process of grief, based on that blog. She tells about life without her husband, of the simple things that would make her break down in tears, and of her dog, Boris, her loyal companion.

Her stories are filled with raw emotion—especially in the first half of the book—her writing poignant, and sometimes funny. Reading about her experience of loss, of which she writes in a very honest and open way, is heart wrenching.

Her tone gradually changes in the second half of the book. Maybe, there is a way through the hurt, a way toward accepting. Eventually, she meets another man with whom she starts a new relationship.

The book probably had a different effect on me than on people who have experienced a similar loss. For me, it was humbling. The devastation of the loss of a partner, her grief and pain, are almost palpable. She talks about friends being there for her, friends not being there for her, and people being awkward, or even inappropriate. In our society, I feel as if we often try to ignore death. Like many, I have been afraid to say the wrong thing to people who have gone through loss, or I just don’t know what to say or how to be there for them. This book may not have solved that, but at least it has given me plenty to think about.

In her last entry, she has sold her old house and bought a new one with her new partner. She closes the book with “It will all be OK in the end. We promise you.” She, and many of the widows and widowers she had been in touch with, had found new purpose, new joy in life, and some, new love.

We all like happy endings. But for Helen things turned out differently. She disappeared in April 2016. Three months later, her body, and that of her dog Boris, were found hidden in her house. She was 51. In February 2017, her partner was convicted of her murder.

Reading the book made me sad, but reading the book knowing how it all ended for her made it infinitely sadder. Her voice was so personal, almost like you are getting to know her while reading.

One story in the book especially stuck with me. Helen’s best friend gave Helen and her husband a bottle of champagne, which Helen wanted to save for a special occasion. All of a sudden, the best friend dies. The champagne is now symbolic, and no occasion is ever special enough. But then Helen’s husband drowns, and the opportunity for sharing the champagne was gone forever. She writes:

Why couldn’t I have seen that just being alive and with [my husband] was the only reason I ever needed to open it? I had been waiting for some big flashy occasion to come along, when in fact life with him was the big occasion.”

Finally, Helen takes the champagne to a party. But, as irony has it, when they open the bottle, the champagne has gone bad.

There are many things I will take away from the book, but most of all it will be that. Cherish the times you have with your loved-ones. Make every moment special. And when life offers you champagne, drink it.

Don’t Wake the Bear

It’s that time of year again. Schools are out and summer has started. I am all for long holidays—since I love traveling—I just wish adults would get the same amount of time off as the kids…

Summer holidays are a great time to get away, but here I find myself in a bit of a dilemma. You see, Michigan is so pretty in summer that I don’t want to go anywhere. This time of year, the weather is finally gorgeous, everything is green, flowers are blooming and Lake Michigan and its beaches are beckoning. Why leave?

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One of my favorite spots in Michigan is Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore. We have been there a number of times, because, well, it is beautiful. Lakes, nature, small towns, islands…and of course, the dunes. The dunes are an impressive sight, sitting on top of glacial moraines, they tower 400 feet over Lake Michigan. A sign on top of one of the dunes warns you that, if you feel bold enough to bound, roll or slide down to the lake, you had better be able to make it back up.

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Down, down, down…Those tiny specks on the far left near the water, those are people…

I love to tell my kids the origin of the name “Sleeping Bear Dune”—after all, I do like a good story with a bear in it. Sleeping Bear Dune is named after a legend from the Ojibwe (Chippewa), a Native American tribe that lived in this area. “Michigan” comes from the Chippewa word Mishigamaa—which means “large water.”

The legend goes as follows:

Across Lake Michigan, on the Wisconsin shore, a raging wildfire broke out, trapping a mother bear and her two cubs. To escape, they plunged into the water and started swimming east. They swam and swam, until finally, they could see the Michigan shore. The cubs were getting tired and started lagging behind. The mother bear made it to the beach and walked up a high bluff to look out for her cubs. In sight of the shoreline, the exhaustion on the cubs took its toll. One cub drowned, and soon after, the other as well. Grieving, the mother bear lay down, refusing to leave, waiting for her cubs to return. The Great Spirit Manitou, who witnessed the cubs’ courage, commemorated them by raising an island on the location where each one went under. Then, he placed a slumber over the waiting mother bear and covered her with sand.

The islands from the legend are North and South Manitou Island, which you can see from the shore. Apparently, Sleeping Bear Dune used to have a vegetation-covered knoll on top, that resembled a sleeping bear. It has much eroded since. A beautiful version of the legend, with wonderful illustrations, has been published by Kathy-jo Wargin. It’s called The Legend of Sleeping Bear Dune and was named The Official Children’s Book of Michigan.

This legend has been retold over many generations, preserving the story and the landmarks, even though the actual “bear” may not be recognizable anymore. Hopefully, parks like these will endure as well, and continue to amaze our future generations.

If you find yourself in Michigan this summer, do visit this beautiful area. It’s worth it.

The Lost Ones (Part 2)

This is the second part of Writers we lost in 2016, in which I highlight a book written by a writer who passed away last year, but was unknown to me.

This time I read a book from Cory Taylor, an Australian writer, who initially started out writing children’s books. I read her first novel, Me and Mr. Booker, written in 2011, which received the Commonwealth Book Prize for the Pacific Region.

me-and-mr-bookerThis was an interesting read. The person telling the story is Martha, a 16-year old girl, living in a sleepy, small town in Australia.

I thought Martha’s voice was authentic and well captured: A mixture of boredom, immaturity, and self-absorption, just “waiting for something to happen.” But, Martha is also witty, quite astute in her observations of the people around her, and of course, a teenager caught in her teenage years. Therefore, I couldn’t find myself disliking her, even more so since the adults in her life are—well—sad, filled with self-loathing and disappointment.

Martha describes her father as a bully as well as a loser, and faults her mother for having a hard time banning him from her life, even though they’ve split up. When Martha meets the Bookers, who just arrived in town from England, they are a welcome diversion, and—as the title suggests— she gets involved with Mr. Booker, who is twice her age. For me, there was nothing likable about Mr. Booker. It was very difficult and uncomfortable to read through the parts of their sexual affair, since their age difference made it such an obviously unequal relationship.

Most of the adults in the book appear to live a life of pretense and just going through the motions, while drinking too much. Yet, their disillusion with life is heart-breaking, because they all seem so trapped, without seeing, or perhaps, wanting a way out.

I read it in one afternoon. Truthfully, I am still not sure I enjoyed it; I like books that make me feel better, and this book does not provide many “feel-good moments,” as the people in it come across as mostly unhappy. Nevertheless, it was very well written, and the voices in the book felt real, resulting in a captivating story. More importantly, it kept lingering in my mind afterwards. The book made me feel conflicted; on the one hand I caught myself being judgmental about the characters while reading it, but then also feeling for them for being incapable of finding a way out. In the end, I was desperately rooting for Martha to escape this life and find something better.

Cory Taylor was diagnosed with melanoma in 2005. After Me and Mr. Booker, she wrote My Beautiful Enemy in 2013. Her last book, Dying, a memoir, was published just before her death. She was 61 years old.

Meet Lucia Davis and her Paranormal Mystery! #AuthorInterview #TuesdayBookBlog #books

My Author Interview by Princess of the Light…

POTL: All Things Books, Reading and Publishing

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I love discovering new-to-me authors. I’m always on the lookout for fresh voices in publishing and when I first heard about Lucia Davis, I was intrigued. Her paranormal short story, The Baby on the Back Porch, is on my to-be-read bookshelf and when I asked for an interview, she agreed. So, please give a warm welcome to Lucia to the POTL blog and be sure to check out her debut novella. Take it away, Lucia:

 

What book do you wish you could have written?

The Alchemist by Paulo Coelho, I love how he tells a beautiful story, but it has such a deeper meaning.

Just as your books inspire authors, what authors have inspired you?

Gosh, I hope my books inspire authors. 🙂

 I think for me, women like Jane Austen or the Brontë sisters, who wrote in a time when women were not empowered within society, or even…

View original post 1,525 more words

Women in Literature

Last month was Women’s History Month. I am a woman, so I wanted to give some thought to the status of women in literature. And their struggles.

In the past, a female author faced serious obstacles. Women’s rights were practically non-existent in the 18th-19th century, the time of Jane Austen and the Brontë sisters. A woman belonged to her husband, and so did her property or inheritance, as well as their children.

Back then, it was generally frowned upon that women wrote books. Jane Austen published anonymously, under the name “A Lady.” The Brontë Sisters—Charlotte, Emily and Anne—wrote under their masculine pen names Currer, Ellis, and Acton Bell. Charlotte Brontë explained this as follows:

“Averse to personal publicity, we veiled our own names under those of Currer, Ellis and Acton Bell; the ambiguous choice being dictated by a sort of conscientious scruple at assuming Christian names positively masculine, while we did not like to declare ourselves women, because — without at that time suspecting that our mode of writing and thinking was not what is called “feminine” – we had a vague impression that authoresses are liable to be looked on with prejudice…” (from Wikipedia)

Taking a male pen name was not unusual. Mary Anne Evans published under George Elliot, because she wanted to be taken seriously. George Sand, was in fact Amantine Lucile Aurore Dupin. Louisa May Alcott from Little Women wrote under A. M. Barnard.

Times do change, albeit slowly. Women voting rights here in the U.S were only granted in 1920. And what about that gender pay gap…?

There are still plenty of places around the world where women’s voices are repressed and should be heard. At least, here in the western world, the situation for women has improved over time. Nonetheless, when taking a closer look at how women authors here are appreciated, we are still not equal to men.

For instance, when it comes to big awards, women are lagging—for some awards more than others. The Pulitzer prize in Fiction was awarded to six women in the last twenty years. The Nobel Prize in Literature in the same time frame yields the same number. That’s only 30%. More interestingly even, as Nicola Griffith pointed out, of the women who won the Pulitzer Prize from 2000-2014, three had written a book from a predominantly male character’s perspective. As did the male writers who won the Pulitzer in the same period. And none of the books had a predominantly female perspective.

J.K. Rowling was told by her publisher to use her initials instead of her name, because it would do better with the boys, since Harry Potter is—well—a boy. It would be interesting to see if the Harry Potter series did less well with girls; I for one doubt it.

In 2015, Catherine Nichols, an American author, sent out six queries for her new novel under a male name; the result was five answers within 24 hours: three requests for the manuscript and two rejections. The previous fifty queries she had sent out under her real name, had received only two requests for the manuscript. She increased her queries under the male name to fifty, and the manuscript was requested seventeen times. Now, this may not be a completely valid scientific experiment, since she probably sent her queries to different agents, but taken together with the above, it’s not exactly encouraging either. Her male counterpart was received better, even though the book was the same.

I wonder though, if all this has less to do with the quality of writing or more with the persistent, though silent, perception within our culture—still—that men write better. Or for that matter, that a book written from a male perspective sells better—to both men and women. I caught myself in the library the other day, picking out books for my kids, actually debating whether the book I was holding would be too girly for my son, the main character in the book being a girl. But, and this is the crux, would I have asked myself that question if I’d picked out a book for my daughter and the main character was a boy? I doubt it. Now, I try to raise my children without gender bias, so why would I make that distinction?

Maybe it would be good for men to immerse themselves more in the female world, and read books from a female perspective. We, as women, seem to have no problem with reading books from theirs.

Next time I go to the library, I’ll keep that one in mind.

Spring Book Festival

Spring Book Festival Starts March 27-29!

Celebrate Spring and find your next favorite book!
Visit http://navigatingindieworld.com and click on “The Spring Book Festival”.
From there you can scroll through our genres and discover the books as well as the authors who wrote them! Several books will have great discounts.

My personal books are listed under “Mystery”. The Charm of Lost Chances will have a promo running in the U.S. for $0.99 on March 27, and $1.99 on March 28-April 1st. Please take full advantage!

There is also a giveaway for $150 dollars worth of prizes so there’s nothing to lose! Come join us!

And please tell all your friends. Share and like!!

Why I Still Read to My 8 Year Old…

I have always read to my children. This made much sense when they both were younger, since they had trouble reading on their own. But my oldest is eight now, and reads like a maniac. His bedroom floor is covered with books, animal encyclopedias, and magazines. I have to hide “The Economist” from him, otherwise he’d read that too. Believe me, he has tried.

Of course, reading to your child from an early age on is beneficial. It builds vocabulary, communication and reading skills, and hopefully creates a love for reading, which, in this digital age, is something I fear may get lost.

But when is the moment to stop and let them go at it alone? Despite my son’s great reading skills, I still read to him at night on a frequent basis. I don’t have to—obviously—and sometimes I wonder for how long I should continue it, but for now, I still think it’s important.

For one thing, the books I pick to read are different. These are the books that he could read, but maybe not quite fully understand. These are the books with bigger words that he can read, but does not necessarily know what they all mean. These are the books through which I can gage his emotional readiness for other books. So, reading to him offers me a great understanding of where he is at, emotionally, and cognitively, and it gives me an opportunity to explain things if needed.

But it goes beyond that. Reading to my son (or my daughter) is a wonderful way to connect with them. This is our moment of the day. The moment he does not have to vie for my attention with anyone else. The moment he gets to cuddle up with me and we share the same experience. It is a special moment of bonding we both look forward to. He will actually ask me to read to him.

This year, we have read many Roald Dahl books—because we’re both fans—and others of course, and I look forward to tackle some of the classics we haven’t covered. In my “Books I enjoyed reading” section I have highlighted a wonderful book we just finished, which we both very much enjoyed reading.

So, how long will I continue to read to my son? The answer is, I don’t know. I guess at some point he will give me the signals that he doesn’t need or want it anymore. It’s a day I know will come and I already dread. But, for now, I will keep reading to him, for as long as I can.