Wednesday, 23 November 2011

Carpe diem - again

Raymond on the peak of 
El Tucuche, Nov. 2010   
My first piano teacher was a short, rotund, elderly nun. Sister Lucy was so ravaged with what I now believe to be osteoporosis that her upper back was U-shaped and her chin rested on her chest. She could barely manage to show me the proper placement of fingers on keys, but her keystrokes as she demonstrated the movements were strong and sure. She had clear grey eyes magnified by her glasses and was a gentle soul. I think she came from Ireland like the other foreign nuns at St. Joseph's Convent and it was under her tutelage, in one of the tiny music rooms that barely managed to fit a piano, two stools and a metronome, that I discovered the joy of playing something that at least approximated music. I distinguished myself under her guidance - far more so than under her successor, a chain-smoking, gentlemanly English lady who terrified me.

I graduated from high school and went out into the not-so-wide world of work in the same town where I had gone to school, and every once in awhile I'd remember sweet Sister Lucy and resolve to go and visit her. I never got around to it, and when I heard that she had died, along with remorse at my procrastination, I began to understand that for most young people, the reality and inevitability of death is not a concept that can readily be grasped. I realized then that putting off a visit to an elderly person means that when you're ready to make the effort, the person might be gone - forever.

Which brings me to November 2010 and an e-mail I received from an elderly gentleman here in Trinidad. I had written a blog post about hiking my favourite mountain, El Tucuche. He told me he had discovered the post and enjoyed it tremendously because that was also his favourite hike and he had scaled the peak more than 100 times in his ninety years. In fact, he had celebrated his ninetieth birthday just weeks before by climbing El Tucuche once again, a feat that attracted quite a bit of media coverage.

When I finally wrapped my head around what my new friend, Raymond, had achieved, I told him he had become my inspiration: I could think of nothing I'd love more than to be able to repeat his feat if I lived to his age. We began corresponding, found each other on Facebook, and he invited me to join him on his next hike in early 2011. This one would be to Paria Waterfall, a lovely trek along the north coast and into the forest that I had undertaken several times in my earlier hiking years. I decided to work on improving my fitness so that when Raymond and his group next hiked El Tucuche I'd be ready.

The hike to Paria was postponed four times. We had an unseasonably rainy dry season and the weather simply refused to cooperate with our plans. When the hike finally came off I didn't go; Raymond had probably tired of having to call and tell me about postponements and didn't want to disappoint me again. The next time we communicated was in July when my niece graduated and he left a gracious comment on her photo on my Facebook page. By this time the true rainy season was in full pour and hiking was out of the question. The months flew by imperceptibly.

Three weeks ago Raymond contacted me on Facebook and told me he had suffered a heart attack three months before, but was on the mend and spending several days a week in his store. I was assailed by a sense of urgency; I told my friend I'd visit him at his store that week. He said he was looking forward to finally meeting me face to face. I asked if he would be at the store on Thursday or Friday. When two days passed and I did not hear from him I felt a deep foreboding. That Friday night I left a message on his page: "Well, maybe another week. Thinking of you and hoping you're okay, Raymond." The next time I visited his Facebook page I learned he had died on November 10, three days after his ninety-first birthday.

It felt like Sister Lucy all over again. I will never be able to hike and not think of Raymond pounding those trails in his nineties. He is indeed my inspiration to seize the day and to understand that living fully has no correlation with the number of birthdays accumulated..

Write that book. Sail that ocean. Climb those mountains; Raymond climbed them at 90.

In memory of Raymond "Don Ramos" Banfield, hiker, former Spanish teacher and vice-principal, mentor of many, practitioner of healthy living. I will climb El Tucuche again, and I know he'll be walking right there beside me.

Friday, 4 November 2011

My favourite things: The creations of perfumer Sophia Grojsman

There are women who love clothes. There are those who go shoe-crazy. There are the jewellery whores. Don't get me wrong; I love all of the above. A masterfully constructed leather sandal, a fine Irish linen shirt or a classic gold hoop earring can bring out the acquisitive demon in me just like any other gal. The product that really transports me, though, the commodity I'd spend countless thousands of dollars on if I had the means to do so, is perfume.

Perfume is not just about smelling pretty. I have an extraordinarily keen sense of smell and of all the senses this is the most associative, the one that best transports me to places, people and occasions in my past, creates a mood, makes me deliriously happy just by sniffing my wrist or catching a whiff of something delicious on my pillow, or on a man.

If the sense of smell is the road to wherever I travel, perfume is the powerful, high-performance vehicle that takes me there. It can be capricious or whimsical, lighthearted or deep-blue-twilight nostalgic, indulgently melancholic, quietly joyful or emphatically euphoric. It can conjure elegance, discreet sex, or the powerful animalic kind. It can even conjure... money. Perfume is smoke and mirrors, mystery and mania, quiet and noise, control and obsession. It can attract; it often repels. It can heal or nauseate.

Six months ago the name Sophia Grojsman meant nothing to me - then I discovered she was the 'nose' behind Eternity, a 90s signature fragrance and one of my favourites ever. Since I'm constantly updating my perfume wish list and reading excellent perfume blogs (Now Smell This, Perfume Smellin' Things, Bois de Jasmin) to get an idea of whether or not I might like to experiment with a scent, I've stumbled across Ms. Grojsman's name again and again. Finally, I read an interview with her on Bois de Jasmin and discovered that she has created not two, not three, but EIGHT of my top 10 fragrances.

This has reinforced for me once again that there's no such thing as
coincidence. I've chosen these perfumes out of hundreds over a 30 year period. Of the scores I've owned I've loved only about 10 - and Sophia Grojsman created very nearly all of them. Take Estee Lauder, for example: the only three scents from this line that I've been able to wear are the three she created: Beautiful, Spellbound and White Linen. Did I know back then that she had created them all? No. All I knew was that I liked these - and none of the others.

Don't assume that the smells are similar, because they're not. What do they have in common? Their beauty, their quality - a Grojsman fragrance can never be mistaken for a cheap scent - and that she usually incorporates rose accords. She also creates perfumes from the base up, whereas other perfumers start with the top notes and work from there in to the mid and base notes. Perfumery is a science - Ms. Grojsman has a Bachelor of Science degree in analytical inorganic chemistry - but at the high end it's also very much an art. Sophia Grojsman creates masterpieces.

Among her best-selling fragrances are:

* Bill Blass Nude
* Boucheron Jaipur (1994)
* Bvlgari Bvlgari Pour Femme (1994)
* Calvin Klein Eternity (1988)
* Calvin Klein Eternity Purple Orchid
* Celine Magic (1996)
* Christian Lacroix Christian Lacroix (1999)
* Elizabeth Taylor Diamonds and Rubies (1993)
* Elizabeth Taylor White Diamonds (1991)
* Estée Lauder Beautiful (1985)
* Estée Lauder Spellbound (1992)
* Estée Lauder White Linen (1978)
* Frederic Malle Outrageous! (2007)
* Gloria Vanderbilt Vanderbilt (1982)
* HRH Princess Elizabeth E
* HRH Princess Elizabeth Jelisaveta
* Karl Lagerfeld Sun Moon Stars (1994)
* Kenzo Kashaya (1994)
* Lalique Lalique (2002)
* Lancôme Trésor (1990)
* Lancôme Trésor Sparkling
* Laura Biagiotti Sotto Voce (1996)
* Paloma Picasso Tentations (1996)
* Perry Ellis 360°
* Prescriptives Calyx (1987)
* sexual - Michel Germain (1994)
* S-Perfume 100% Love
* Yves Saint Laurent Paris (1983)
* Yves Saint Laurent Paris Premieres Roses (2003)
* Yves Saint Laurent Parisienne (2009)
* Yves Saint Laurent Yvresse (1993)

Friday, 7 October 2011

Free fiction on Novel Spaces

Over on Novel Spaces we have dedicated the following dates for free fiction giveaways. These dates are open to group members, guest authors, visiting authors and publishers who would like to increase their reach, visibility and goodwill among readers.

October 30, 2011
December 30, 2011
January 30, 2012
March 30, 2012
April 30, 2012
May 30, 2012
June 30, 2012

Several authors may book on the same day: the bigger the giveaway, the bigger the buzz! To participate, leave a comment on this article stating:

Your preferred date
The title, author and genre of the novel(s)
Hard copy or digital

The featured titles will be displayed in the sidebar on the Novel Spaces blog for the month of the giveaway.

Please note that although Novel Spaces will host the giveaways, individual authors whose books are featured on free fiction days will be responsible for contacting winners and either mailing paper books to them or providing guidelines / coupon codes for downloading e-books. Let the giveaways begin!

Monday, 12 September 2011

Shameful little secrets

I don't think I'm the only writer who admits only under extreme duress that she writes... [looks around furtively] ...romance. The few times I foolishly admitted to the fact that, yeah, I do a bit of scribbling, I was bombarded with 'Oprah' comments, and talk about 'the great West Indian novel'. Romance was nowhere to be spotted amid the thronging expectations of literary outpourings.

In my circle, few admit to even reading romance; writing it is beyond the pale. Those who read it don't do so openly, and if caught in the act mumble some shame-faced excuse about having 'confiscated' the book from a student. (Borrowed, more likely!) I've seen that scenario played out countless times.

And what about the overwhelming response to romance novels from the male half of the population? Dismissal, snickers, 'girl porn' comments, and the general opinion that no woman with half a brain would read (or write) the stuff. According to the popular mythology, romance novels are the preserve of:
  • The girl behind the counter at the drugstore, twirling a lock of purple hair and snapping her chewing gum, maybe.
  • Gauche schoolgirls, definitely.
  • The old spinster librarian with parchment skin and wattles, glaring over her glasses at the boys and girls flirting instead of doing their research, and hiding a lurid bodice-ripper under her copy of Dostoevsky.
  • The downtrodden wife trapped in a miserable marriage.
  • The anti-feminists.
But mature, smart, professional women? Never. They - we - don't stoop to such lows.

Well, surprise, surprise. We do. And after decades, or centuries rather, of being treated with scorn and ridicule by the literary establishment, the romance genre seems to finally, finally be coming into its own. It's becoming so respectable, in fact, that men are jostling to join the ranks of romance writers and many popular authors, formerly hidden behind their pseudonyms, are coming forward and revealing that they're smart, professional women. Some are young. Some are happily married, and feminist to the core. Some are college professors. Some are all of the above. They read romance - and they write it too.

You don't believe me, do you. Well, take a gander at this USA Today article: Scholarly writers empower the romance genre. It's all about college professors working undercover as romance authors and attending Princeton University conferences on the genre. Smart women have always read and written great stories, including romances. The difference now is that, more and more, they're not ashamed to admit it.

Liane Spicer

Monday, 5 September 2011

What I learned from books on writing

I sometimes miss that blissful time when I wrote my first novel, unaware that there were dozens of books out there presenting countless rules and recommendations for what I was attempting to do. I've picked up a few things since then, and the advice that has resonated often had little to do with the actual writing and everything to do with the attitudes that might make the difference between being a productive writer or a frustrated one.

On Writing by Stephen King:
I learned from King's recounting of his years spent collecting rejection slips that those little forms are not symbols for "Failed Writer". You place the slip in the appropriate file and move on.

The War of Art by Steven Pressfield:
Mr. Pressfield wrote this book for me. He turns a spotlight on writers' block in all its manifestations: fear, resistance, procrastination, obsessiveness, self-dramatization, self-medication, victimhood, self-doubt, toxic relationships, support (yes, you read that right), and rationalization. Then he tells you how to combat it all, and his recommendation is simple: You turn pro. How does a professional approach his work? Apply the same principles to your writing and see the difference.

"A professional shows up every day."
"A professional demystifies."
"A professional acts in the face of fear."
"A professional does not show off."
"A professional self-validates."

There's lots more, and it's all written with the authority that comes only from first-hand experience, aka the school of hard knocks.

Page After Page by Heather Sellers:
Here's another writer who demystifies. She knows that declarations like 'waiting for my muse' are nothing but lame excuses. "It's a matter of sitting down, conjuring a state of complete dedication and complete openness, and writing. Putting pen to paper." No hocus-pocus there.

What else did she teach me? To talk less about writing, and write more. That except for a very few lucky souls, being published (finally!) does not change your life. You won't be rich and famous, loved and admired by everyone, rail-thin and immune to chocolate binges. You'll still have to deal with all your bumps and warts; those don't disappear once you get published.

The Elements of Style by William Strunk Jr. & E.B. White:
This book gives great advice on the fine points of usage, common errors, and style. There was little in there I didn't already know after having taught the language for 22 years, but that slim book clarified something vital I had hitherto understood only superficially: the US version of my mother tongue is a very different beast from the UK version I was taught.

I've got two more books on writing lined up: Zen in the Art of Writing by Ray Bradbury, the title of which has just the sort of new-agey tone I'm a sucker for. (Did someone mention the word demystify?) Next to it on my bedhead bookshelf is The Artist's Way by Julia Cameron. I'll be sure to let you know what I learn from those in a later post.

Liane Spicer

Monday, 29 August 2011

Micromanaging, overediting and knowing when to stop

When the Novel Spaces group blog went live two years ago I watched over it like a fussy mama. As co-coordinator, I wanted everything to be purrrrfect. I checked the list of posts already written and scheduled, and noticed that one author had not pre-scheduled his first post. No problem, I told myself. People have different approaches: some will prepare weeks ahead while others will create and post at the very moment they're supposed to go live...

But there I was anyway, minutes to midnight, just before my friend's post was to appear, and there was no sign of his article in the lineup. Sheesh, I wondered. Maybe he forgot, it being a holiday weekend and all. I trotted over to Amazon, did some window shopping, then returned to the blog and checked the list of posts again. Nothing. I shot off an apologetic e-mail to the guy, something along the lines of: Sorry to be a nuisance - but did you forget today's your day to post? Then I clicked over to check the blog once more before I went to bed - and there it was! My friend's post! Right on time, too.

Needless to say, I felt like an idiot. I don't like anyone looking over my shoulder, sniffing at my heels, or whatever analogy there might be for just being ANNOYING! So why was I doing that to other people? Couldn't I have waited at least until the next morning before I started firing off nagging e-mails?

I made a resolution that night: Don't be a bloody pest. Leave grown people alone to do what they have to.

This obsessiveness carries over to my writing, sad to say. I know writers who never rewrite, who edit as they go, submit their product when they get to the end and then move on to the next project. I'm at the other end of the spectrum: when I get to 'The End' my work is just beginning. If I re-read my manuscript 50 times I find things to change each of those times. I delete, add, modify, shift around, rename, reword, rephrase, restore to the original, shift back again and generally edit until I reach a point where I have to say: Hands off. Leave it alone. Didn't you hear me? Step away from that @#$%*! manuscript!

Overediting is a real danger to writers, just like micromanaging is to organizers. You run the risk of running past the point where your nit-picking is beneficial and you begin doing real damage. Instead of growing stronger, the work grows weaker as you focus more and more on minutiae and begin to lose sight of the big picture. Recognizing that point is vital, and truly difficult for micromanaging, perfectionist, anal-retentive writers - like me.

Monday, 22 August 2011

View from the Caribbean

Maracas Beach, one of my favorite places

Okay, so I live in paradise. I admit it. Can we get past the sun, surf and sand for a moment and look at how location, and this location specifically, impacts on this writer?

When I started the writing gig years ago there were built-in handicaps. Queries were sent by snail mail and the intervals between sending out and getting a response were epochal - if a response were indeed forthcoming. I used to imagine agents looking askance at my stamps, opening the envelope gingerly and thinking: Trinidad? And what are these? International mailing coupons? How... quaint! just before throwing my stuff into the recycle bin. I didn't send out much and I'm eternally grateful to the editors and authors who responded to my neophyte approaches. Debbie Macomber was one. Karen Thomas another.

A breakthrough came when I signed with a local courier company. They provided a US mailing address and, for a reasonable fee, delivered mail to my door. That first company even took my letters and packages and mailed them from within the US. There was a lag, of course, but it was still a huge improvement. The problem was not the courier but the pace at which anything happens in the publishing industry. Months, sometimes many months, would elapse before I got any response from agents and editors.

Four months after I sent out the first round of queries via my courier, I discovered a website that listed agents who accepted e-queries. I sent out a batch and most agents responded, some within days, others within minutes. Not only did they respond, they were lovely and encouraging. That first week I got five requests for submissions, and two months later received an offer of representation. About twenty minutes into our first telephone conversation I pointed out to the agent that she was calling Trinidad. "Oh, that's all right," she responded cheerfully. "We have clients all over the world!" This, dear reader, was my kind of agent.

Over the past few years my location has been of little consequence. Not only do I conduct most of my business over the Internet, but I also discovered a great network of writers and friends across the globe, a network that I can access with a few clicks and keystrokes. I don't even have to put on makeup and leave the house! Right now, I believe, is the best time ever to be a writer stuck on a little rock thousands of miles away from, well, everything.

Liane Spicer

Sunday, 7 August 2011

Novel Spaces: Authors, clean up your act.

I've got a bit of news for authors of all stripes: 'Indie' publishing is not a free pass.

The new technologies make it possible for writers to bypass the gate-keeping functions of literary agents, acquiring editors, copy/line editors and proofreaders. Writers/authors can now offer their products directly to the customer in digital form. Say what you will about the traditional publishing model, the fact is there was some measure of quality control. The absence of these standards in the new model is proving disastrous to, if not the viability, then the integrity of self-published or "indie" e-books.

According to Rich Adin in The Digital Reader:
"I have to admit that part of the problem is the poor quality of so many ebook offerings ... of every 10 ebooks I acquire, I am certain that 8 or 9 will be trashcanned within the first 30 pages of reading."

Wednesday, 8 June 2011

Novel Spaces: The Novelist and his Work: Degrees of Separation

Who else found VS Naipaul's assertion that no women writers are his equal amusing? Join me on Novel Spaces for another view on the controversy.

Novel Spaces: The Novelist and his Work: Degrees of Separation: "The furor is at least a week old and has seemingly given way to newer feeding frenzies such as Weinergate . Yet, the uproar over VS Naipaul'..."

Sunday, 15 May 2011

Bet you don't know who wrote Jumping the Broom

Anyone who has been reading this blog from its start in 2007 will remember nyc/caribbean ragazza, a friend to wordtryst and a blogger herself. She hails from LA and has blogged her own journey from Hollywood film producer to her move to Italy to follow her dream of writing screenplays. I'm a great believer in following one's passion so I've read her blog with much interest over the years and felt vindicated when she sold her first screenplay. See? I told you it would happen! Following your dreams might not make you rich and famous in the short term (or ever) but it's the very best thing you can do for your soul.

Nyc/caribbean ragazza's soul must be doing cartwheels across the psychic universe right now because that screenplay was made into a lovely film starring the beautiful Angela Bassett. It's Jumping the Broom which opened in theatres last week and came in at #3, grossing $15.3 million on its debut weekend. The reviews are spectacular. This all reiterates pretty much the same thing that nyc/caribbean ragazza, otherwise known as Arlene Gibbs, has been insisting all along: that there's a lucrative market for films like these, films written by, featuring and starring women, and Black women in particular, a demographic that's terribly underrepresented in Hollywood. Take note, studio honchos: we're not all young males, there are oodles of us out here, and we spend money on movies we enjoy.

I take it personally when blog friends score wonderful things, whether it's a new writing shed, a literary agent, a book contract - or a winning screenplay. The icing on this cake is that Arlene comes from Caribbean stock: her parents are from the island of St. Martin.

Congratulations, ragazza. Wishing you a long, fruitful career doing what you love.

Note to fellow Trinis here at home! You can catch Jumping the Broom at Movietowne right now. See you there!

Saturday, 7 May 2011

Novel Spaces: Movie or book?

What happens when you see a movie version of your favourite novel? Utter disappointment, that's what. Here are the rules for keeping Hollywood from driving you crazy.

Novel Spaces: Movie or book?

Thursday, 7 April 2011

Novel Spaces: A Week of Firsts

Novel Spaces: A Week of Firsts: "I've been wondering when my charmed publishing life of the last two and a half years would come to an end. The truth is I'd never seen a bad review of..."

Ever seen your book being stolen in front of your very eyes? Or had it trashed by a 'reviewer' who probably never even read it? Join me on Novel Spaces for my Week of Firsts.

Wednesday, 23 March 2011

Novel Spaces: Why I write

Novel Spaces: Why I write: "I know you think I feed my Internet addiction with Amazon wish lists chock full of delectable perfumes and femme fatale shoes. Well, you're right, but that's not the half of it..."

What do we do when, to quote poet William Wordsworth, "The world is too much with us"? You've invited to join me on NOVEL SPACES today as I share my motivation for writing.

Novel Spaces: Why I write

Tuesday, 15 March 2011

Fair warning

Dear Diary,

I've neglected you of late, haven't I? The odd article here, the pointer to my posts over on Novel Spaces there, and not much else in between. Well, that's life for you: it ebbs and it flows; the focus changes; other interests usurp.

Much has been happening off the page: additions to the family, crises, sickness (not me, thank God), achievements and disappointments, publisher woes, changing landscapes and people-scapes, the soap opera that passes for local politics...

Some things don't change, though, like the beauty of this here island, the supporting rock that is my family, the comfort of close friendships, the ongoing challenges of living life, growing up and growing older. My part-time day job is now half of a part-time job. The silver lining is that I now have more time to repair to my psychic bamboo grove to be quiet, to listen to the rustle of the leaves and the song of the birds, to think, to read, and very importantly, to write. My languishing WIPs must languish no more.

I'm giving you fair warning that I'll be visiting regularly, Dear Diary, my cyber-bamboo-grove in this blogosphere-jungle. There are books to be read and reviewed, authors to be interviewed, tales to be told, issues to be explored. Today I'm sharing one of my favourite things: Blue Nude by Pablo Picasso, a painting from his blue period. Of all his masterpieces I love this one best; I used to have a print on my bedroom wall years ago. It's all in the lines, and blue is my colour - cool, to balance the tropical and ancestral heat in my blood. Enjoy!


Monday, 7 March 2011

Novel Spaces: What's in a Name?

Novel Spaces: What's in a Name?: "Last week I discovered the power of a mere name to energize, galvanize, motivate and eradicate the heebie jeebies. I've been stuck in a rut..."

Today on the Novel Spaces author blog I discover the difference a name can make.

Thursday, 24 February 2011

Novel Spaces: Out of the closet

Novel Spaces: Out of the closet: "To channel Diana Ross's popular song of yesteryear: 'I'm! Coming! Out!' — of the wish-list closet. (Ha. I know what you were thinking!)"

Today on Novel Spaces I discuss my wish list addiction. Come on over!

Sunday, 23 January 2011

Novel Spaces: The real deal

Novel Spaces: The real deal: "I'd be appalled by all the misconceptions about the writing life proliferating out there if I hadn't harboured a few myself in the not-too-distant past..."

Come join me on Novel Spaces as I take aim at some of those myths about living the writing life!

Wednesday, 12 January 2011

The Goodreads interview

DeeDee Scott, moderator of the Goodreads group African American Books, has posted her interview with me on the group's page and on her blog Authors on the Rise. If you've always wanted to find a word for having shapely buttocks, (and I don't mean bootilicious!) - you'll find it in this interview!

Goodreads group African American Books interviews Liane Spicer

Authors on the Rise - interview with Liane Spicer