Weekend Writing Prompt #156 – Home

Word Count: 114 words

I was drafted on a Wednesday, so I was sure that they’d give us the weekend free. We talked about it, all the girls in the induction center, that the army never keeps you for the first weekend if you’re drafted on a Wednesday. We joked about it, our speech free of constraints, our mind still used to graciousness, as we shed our civilian clothes and dressed in the ugly olive-green, polyester pants and shirt we were issued. We were wrong. Basic training lasted for a full, interminable, grueling, humiliating, unremitting, did I say never-ending? Ten days. They allowed us out on Friday at noon. Precisely. I barely made it home before Sabbath started.

Sammi Cox

This weekend’s prompt is the last prompt of Year Three!

I can’t believe how long we have been doing these prompts, and how the little community around it has grown!  I wish both returning participants and new, a big, warm heartfelt welcome! Thank you all for your support, even when I have been a pretty terrible prompt hostess!  In the next few days I will be putting together all the prompts for Year Four, so if you have any thoughts on what you would like to see (such as, if you prefer the longer or shorter word limits), please let me know in a comment or via the Contact Me page.

I hope you enjoy this week’s prompt and challenge.

Stay well and keep safe,

Sammi


A word prompt to get your creativity flowing this weekend.  How you use the prompt is up to you.  Write a piece of…

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Two Books to read when going to – Prague

Karlštejn Castle, a short train ride from Prague

A continuation of the series of blogs about books to read as a tourist. I don’t mean travel guides, but fiction books. I have no idea when ‘normal’ air travel will resume. I can’t help but wonder whether I’ll ever be as nonchalant about using it as before.  But writing is a great way to re-visit beloved books and to reminisce about past travels.

This entry is about Prague (Czechia). The capital of the Czech Republic is a beautiful city with the best (and possibly) cheapest beer in the world. My advice is, start drinking when you get there and don’t stop until you leave. Don’t limit yourselves to the well-known brands (my favorite has to be Kozel) but try and taste local breweries as well. One that I recommend, which also has an excellent restaurant serving a selection of the brews is U Tri Rozi (the Three Roses).  undefined


But I got carried away, enough about beer. I’m here to discuss books. The two books I cover today were written by French men. Both can be categorized as historical fiction, as they rely on true events and depict real people. I discuss here the English translations but since I read both books in Hebrew, my comments will not touch on the quality of the translation.

The second-best book to read before going to Prague is the 2009 Running. A Novel by Jean Echenoz, translated to English by Linda Coverdale.

Running is a very short book, a Prix Goncourt winner, that follows the life and career of the great Czech runner Emil Zatopek. This book characterizes itself as a biographical novel and as such allows fiction and facts to mix freely. This approach can be irksome to purists and sticklers to historical accuracy. The book was heavily critiqued for not portraying the facts correctly and for poor understanding of running. Still, the descriptions of Zatopek’s early running sessions in difficult terrain and wrong shoes are riveting. He is depicted as a reluctant runner, finding joy in the pain of the exercise more than anything. It was an early era of sports when one didn’t need to be reared by coaches from a young age, have access to enhanced diet and strict regime, in order to win an Olympic medal.  Read about Zatopek’s small apartment in one of the communist’s state drab blocks, then walk around Prague and remember he was living in one while winning the Olympics. It made for a stark contrast to his great achievements and worldwide fame.

The best book to read while in Prague is HHhH by Laurent Binet. (published in France in 2010, translated to English by Sam Taylor).

HHhH won the Prix Goncourt for a debut novel in 2010. The book follows the planning and execution of the assassination of Reinhard Heydrich by the Czech resistance in an operation called Operation Anthropoid. Many historians regard Heydrich as the darkest figure within the Nazi regime. HHhH is short for: Himmlers Hirn hiest Heydrich, Himmler’s brain is called Heydrich.

Binet has an ars-poetic approach in his writing i.e, he shares with the reader his feelings and misgivings whilst writing this novel. He writes about his modern-day anxieties. Again, as in the former book about Zatopek, this approach can be off-putting, but it can also be refreshing. It’s up to the reader. I for one, was ensnared in Binet’s prose and accepted his style.

Binet gets more serious as the book progresses. He sheds light on horrors like the butchering of the entire village of Lidice as retaliation for the assassination attempt. His writing as he follows the anticipated convergence between the would-be assassins and their target is masterful. Then he follows their escape attempt all over Prague. Binet evokes a brutal Prague occupied by the Nazi Third Reich which was supposed to last for a thousand years (and lasted 12).

Walking around the beautiful ancient stone paved streets of a modern democratic Prague which is no longer occupied nor communist gives one hope for the future.  

Weekend Writing Prompt #153 – Obsolete

“Obsolete”, quietly to his friend but she heard. She looked at her arms and thighs, “he meant obese” she thought. She felt like both.

Word Count: 24

Sammi Cox

A word prompt to get your creativity flowing this weekend.  How you use the prompt is up to you.  Write a piece of flash fiction, a poem, a chapter for your novel…anything you like.  Or take the challenge below – there are no prizes – it’s not a competition but rather a fun writing exercise.  If you want to share what you come up with, please leave a link to it in the comments.

Word Prompt

Obsolete

Challenge

The challenge is simple: each week you will be given an exact number of words you can use to write a poem or piece of prose.  You can use any format or style you like; go wherever your inspiration takes you.  The only rules are these:

  • your poem / prose must contain this week’s word.  The word does not have to count towards the exact word count total – it can be…

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Best book/s to read before going to – Porto

Prologue

So, I’m starting a series about books to read as a tourist. I don’t mean travel guides, but fiction books. I have no idea when ‘normal’ air travel will resume. I can’t help but wonder whether I’ll ever be as nonchalant about using it as before.  But writing is a great way to re-visit beloved books and to reminisce about past travels.

I’m starting off easy, not with London or Paris that have loads and loads of books written about them. I start with Porto. Situated on the banks of the Duomo it is well worth a visit, (check the photo above).

 Book/s to read when in Porto (Portugal).

I think that the second-best book to read before or during visiting Porto is : The Philosopher’s Stone, otherwise known as the first Harry Potter book.  Yes, you read it correctly. Porto turned out to be a surprisingly Potteresque city.

I arrived to Porto in the beginning of September, just at the time when schools and universities resumed. I was standing outside the ostentatious building of the bolsa (the old Porto stock and commodities market) looking onto the plaza when I noticed a bizarre ritual performed by young people wearing orange capes and brandishing brooms, i.e, broomsticks. I watched fascinated as they performed a ritual that is quite prevalent in Portuguese universities. Later, we strolled in the busy streets and were surrounded by Tunas- groups of students playing and singing, all were wearing black capes (Trajes).

António de Oliveira Salazar was the dominant ruler of Portugal for close to 50 years, running it as a dictatorship. It’s quite obvious that Salazar Slytherin’s name derives from him.  Too many coincidences made me research and find out that J.k. Rowling lived in Porto with her first husband. It’s very clear that Porto and Portugal feature in the Harry Potter books.


But that was just a discussion of the second-best book to read while in Portugal. A more apparent choice and one that is certainly infused with much more local flavor : The missing head of Damasceno Monteiro by Antonio Tabucchi.

This was the book I read while I was there. It was a real treat to read about the fat lawyer who lives in the Rua das Flores (The Flowers street) and then be able to walk up the Rua on that same day. It was fun to salivate over a caldo verde which is served in the book in a traditional restaurant, and hey presto to be able to order green soup my for lunch. The book also features the city of Lisbon which I visited later. It is a murder mystery, and has a political background that is both unique and universal (treatment of the Gypsy, i.e, minorities and refugees).

I’m not saying it’s a better book than Harry Potter. I’m saying that it’s a very Portuguese book. If you ever go to Portugal or just want a book that’s not your usual run-of-the-mill murder mystery- grab this one.

Interview with Kristen Morgen

Kristen has just launched the second edition of her book Behind the Glass. We sat together (don’t worry , each at her own desk, thousands of miles apart) and exchanged questions and answers:

On Inspiration:

undefinedSylvana: Where do you draw your inspiration from ? For me, inspiration comes at first from my own life and experiences, but once I start writing the story usually takes a life of its own.

undefined Kristen: I get inspiration from so many different places, but a lot of my characters are in some way at least, based on elements of different people I’ve known throughout my life. I also will sometimes read a character in a book or connect with one in a movie and it will give me ideas for characters in my own books. Sometimes the story also dictates a type of character that is needed for the story line, so it really depends. I really enjoy getting into the heads of so many characters and perspectives. I want my readers to connect with my characters and maybe find some of themselves in them as well.

undefined Sylvana: Who do you read right now? Who are your favorite fiction writers and do you typically read nonfiction as well? For instance I am reading now a marvelous book by Guy Duetcher (http://a.co/9sGvB4H), about language. It is written beautifully and evokes thought. Regarding fiction, I recently finished  Helen Huang’s The kiss Quotient and loved it.

undefined Kristen: Back before I even entertained the thought of becoming an author, I loved reading (and learning from) John Grisham. I think I’ve read every book he’s ever written. He’s an amazing storyteller. Once I began my path as an author, I became a Nicholas Sparks fan, not only because he writes romance novels, but because he has such a great ability to create very distinct characters in his writing. There are about a dozen more authors I could name, but I try to learn from all of them. As of right now, I tend to support the indie authors in my community and also authors that support my book. It’s a wonderful give and take.

On Background:

undefined Sylvana: Do you like to write about people that are similar to you: in education, beliefs, set of values?

undefined Kristen: I get this question a lot actually (from friends mainly) wondering if it’s semi-autobiographical and the answer is actually no. I may have a scene or two in my book that comes from something in real life, but for the most part, I have a VERY active imagination and I’m always coming up with new ideas. I’m hoping that people come away from my books happy and fulfilled, first and foremost, but I also hope that they understand that every person, fictional or in real life, is who they are because of their life experiences, and that those experiences don’t have to define who they are or dictate the decisions they make in life. We are all ultimately in control of our own destinies.

undefined Sylvana: How much research do you typically do on a story? For instance, the heroine of my upcoming book (temporary title: A Leaf From Her Book) is about a book conservator. I took the time to research the profession, watch videos of actual book mending and techniques and even met with one.

undefined Kristen: It depends on the subject matter and if I have knowledge in that subject. If I don’t, I definitely do a lot of research, but I also write about what I know. The horse ranch in my book was based on one from my childhood (all I did was change the name), I’ve always been heavily into art and photography my whole life and I actually used to have my own dark room and I spent many years developing my own black and white photographs. Behind the Glass, the bookstore café in the book, was based partly on a fun boutique from my college days and a combination of cool bookstores I’ve been to in my life.

On being an Indie Writer:

undefined Sylvana: Were you encouraged to write by your close circle, discouraged, were you inspired by a family member or a friend to write?

undefined Kristen: My father is also a writer (more technical than creative) and he has been my writing coach my whole life. He always pushed me to be a better writer and could be quite tough on me at times (something I’m still thankful for). My family is extremely supportive and understands the madness that is balancing two careers simultaneously. Both of my teenage daughters are writers, so we can all relate to each other when inspiration for a story suddenly strikes! If I’m at my computer, blasting away at the keyboard, everyone leaves me be so I can get the ideas from my brain onto paper. I appreciate their support more than anything! I had the best editor when I self-published in 2014 and she gave me so much confidence as a writer. My friends and family who gave me my first reviews were nothing short of amazing in those early years. My publisher, Tamarind Hill Press, and my editor Kemone, have been absolutely wonderful and welcoming. They have supported me and my book and I’m thrilled to finally have a home there!

undefined Sylvana: What is it like to be an Indie writer? How do you deal with marketing, social media, etc. How much time do you typically spend on promoting your work?

undefined Kristen: Whether you’re an indie author or traditionally published, it’s crucial to do your own marketing. I was an indie author for 6 years before being picked up by a small press and virtually noting has changed in terms of my marketing. I spend at least an hour every day, usually more. I’m very active on social media and try to keep up with it every single day. It’s so important to be present and keep that connection with my readers and with my literary community. As far as conversion to sales, it really depends on your following. Also, the more books you write, the greater your sales and readers. It’s definitely an evolving thing!

Is Everything Copy?

I watched the excellent HBO documentary “everything is copy” that portrays the life and work of Nora Ephron.

Nora maintained that “everything is copy,” meaning that anything and everything that happens to you is fair game to write about. Life is a supermarket of raw material for the author. For instance, in Nora’s case, a messy divorce: Nora’s ‘heartburn’ is the perfect revenge novel. How sweet her payback must have been, getting back at an erring husband like that. Not only writing a best seller but getting a movie adaptation as well, with Meryl streep and Jack Nicholson. I remember being totally jealous after a bad breakup, and fantasizing of writing my own payback novel.

However, after watching the documentary I realized the price that was paid by her family, her ex and her children.

Carrie Fisher, who never shied from exposing her own weaknesses and trials on paper, found out the hard way that maybe not ‘everything is copy’. In her 2016 memoir ‘The Princess Diarist’, Carrie told of the affair she had with Harrison Ford while they were filming the first Star Wars movie. He, by the way, was married at the time. Even though more than 40 years have elapsed, and Harrison Ford is married to a different woman now, he was deeply hurt. Carrie Fisher found herself apologizing profusely for her indiscretion.

One can, and should use sufferings, pains and tribulations in one’s writing. There is nothing very innovative in that, but the moral and ethical problems arise when we include other people’s experiences in our books.

Where do we draw the line?

Cassandra Austen, Jane Austen’s sister, famously burnt and censured (by cutting out with scissors ‘offending’ paragraphs), many of her sister’s letters. Having lived a far longer life than Jane, Cassandra witnessed firsthand the rising popularity and fame of her sister. She watched the avid interest in her sister’s personal life. Cassandra mercilessly destroyed anything and everything she thought might shed too much light, or throw the wrong light on her beloved, private sister. A stark contrast to our own Instagram Age Sharing wasn’t an option. For Cassandra Austen – Nothing was copy.

A famous example from our own times is that of Elena Ferrante who chooses to remain anonymous. She is clearly an Italian, probably from Napoli. But are the people she portrays real? Are Lila and Elena real? Maybe she chooses to remain incognito so that she will have greater freedom to do as Nora ephron did. Maybe for Ferrante everything is copy but she is the only one who knows what is true and what is false. What really happened and what is merely creative writing.

It remains for each of us writers to decide what is or isn’t copy. What may cause harm to our loved ones and what will not. Maybe that’s why so many writers choose to write under a pen name – for that greater freedom that comes with anonymity.