Wednesday, September 28, 2016

Alberto's Lost Birthday - My Favorite Authonomy Book

In 2010, I joined an online writing community run by HarperCollins called Authonomy. Those who know my story know this is eventually how my first novel came to be published. The community was special because so many of us formed lasting friendships and grew as writers through our interactions. Here was a place where we could commiserate about the writing life and share our work with like-minded readers. Throughout the next several years, I read and enjoyed many parts of novels and occasionally, agreed to read a full manuscript. There were so many that deserved publication, so many talented writers in that virtual room, but my very favorite novel was by a writer named Diana. The story was about an elderly Spanish man who, along with his young grandson, goes in search of his birthday. Diana’s writing style is simple yet elegant, and her novel, which I read in full twice, felt like a complete, finished work of art. During the long process of my novel’s publication, Diana’s story was the only one I lobbied for to the higher-ups at HarperCollins, who did not take my advice to have a closer look, for whatever reason.

Diana and I stayed in contact for a while but haven’t been in touch for at least a couple of years. This summer, during a trip to Europe, I was browsing in a book shop in the Barcelona airport and a bright, simple cover caught my eye. The title had changed slightly—I remembered her telling me that might happen—and her pen name was not quite how I remembered it, but I knew, in an instant, here was Diana’s novel. Finally. It was such a happy discovery!

I encourage you to have a look at this lovely book, many years in the making. I’m so pleased for the author, and not only because I feel a certain satisfaction myself, but because it’s always rewarding to see hard work and talent recognized.

About the story:

Alberto has no memories prior to his arrival at an orphanage during the Spanish Civil War. When his young grandson discovers that Alberto doesn’t know the date of his birthday, the two set out on a journey to find it. As they search, they find connections to Alberto’s past and discover truths about Spain’s troubled history, and Alberto slowly realizes that his birthday may not be the only thing he’s lost through the many decades of his life. This beautifully written, touching novel will inspire and educate, and have you pondering your own connections to the past and family.

You can purchase the book in the US here, and much more widely, I believe, in the UK, but here’s the Amazon link. Also, here’s an interview with Diana in which she explains her childhood inspiration for the novel.

Wednesday, September 7, 2016

Things About Grief

Grief is the worst party guest ever.  First of all, nobody invited him. It was supposed to be a fun evening, a chance to relax and God forbid—have fun. And everyone else is having fun, and speaking of things unrelated to Grief’s preoccupation, which only you know about because he whispers it in your ear any time he finds you alone in the kitchen, or the bathroom, or having a thought unrelated to the party. He’s always more than happy to remind you, when you forget.

Grief isn’t rational, not ever. No matter how many times you point out to him that his presence isn’t quantifiable or reasonable, not in any way that relates to time or space or influence in your actual, day-to-day life; no matter how many ways you try to explain him away, he doesn’t care. He stands there, defiantly, staring you down.

Grief has magical, infiltrating ways. Say, for instance, you’re out enjoying a very nice concert. Grief can travel in the strains of a piano, or the lyrics of a song, even one that’s not meant to be particularly sad. Grief can hijack a perfectly nice scent—like cologne, for example—and attack your senses before you even realize what has happened.

Grief loves company. Nothing recharges his batteries more than having a roomful of people to feed on. It’s where he lives, like a virus. 

Grief also loves to be alone. With you, anyway. Because that’s when he can really focus and gets things done. Much like a poet or artist who needs solitude to concentrate and create, Grief does his best work in a quiet room, with no distractions.

Grief is like a friend you can always confide in, but he’s also like the friend who sometimes has several drinks and talks too much. You can forgive Grief, because everyone needs an outlet once in a while, only you wish he wouldn’t have dumped on you this time (again).

Grief is a dark, gray evening and a bright, sparkling morning. He is high noon sunshine and the blackest part of night. He is rain, and snow, and everything that absorbs back into the earth.

Grief accepts no apologies, doesn’t need them. He’s good like that.

Grief stays away from very small children, mostly, and they are the only true antidote against him. Sometimes, he can be deterred by great beauty, such as you find in art or nature, but often he uses it as a shield and weasels his way right in.

You can move to a new house, or travel, or change your habits or job, and I’m pretty sure Grief will find you no matter what. He’s his own GPS. It’s almost a comfort at times, knowing he’s there, although you hope he'll keep his distance. He doesn’t always have good manners or social skills; he can’t read cues.

Once in a while, Grief takes a vacation. I imagine him, lying on a beach chair, pink umbrella in his drink, drifting off to the sound of endless waves. Come Monday morning, however, he’s back and ready for business.
"As soon as we express something, we devalue it strangely. We believe ourselves to have dived down into the depths of the abyss, and when we once again reach the surface, the drops of water on our pale fingertips no longer resemble the ocean from which they came...Nevertheless, the treasure shimmers in the darkness unchanged." ---Franz Kafka