Saturday, January 26, 2008

Imagination and Will

Sometime around the middle of the time my daughter and I lived in Athens, the Greek television network broadcast the whole series of “Jewel in the Crown”, and like public broadcasting in many places--- strictly rationing their available funds--- they did as they usually did with many worthy imported programs. Which is to say, not dubbed into Greek--- which was expensive and time-consuming--- but with Greek subtitles merely supered over the scenes. My English neighbor, Kyria Penny and I very much wanted to watch this miniseries, which had been played up in the English and American entertainment media, and so she gave me a standing invitation to come over to hers and Georgios’ apartment every Tuesday evening, so we could all watch it, and extract the maximum enjoyment thereby. We could perhaps also make headway with our explanation to Kyrie Georgios on why Sergeant Perron was a gentleman, although an enlisted man, but Colonel Merrick emphatically was not.

On occasion, the Greek broadcasting network screwed up, and the next episode of “Jewel” didn’t air. Penny and I would talk for a while, and Georgios would encourage my daughter to all sorts of rough-housing; pillow fights, mostly. (Blessed with two sons, the Greek ideal, Georgios rather regretted that he and Penny didn’t have a daughter as well.) On those Tuesday nights when “Jewel in the Crown” didn’t air, the Greek network most often substituted something appropriately high-toned, classical and in English. Brought out from their library and dusted off, most likely--- the Royal Shakespeare Company, in all their thespian glory. And Penny and Georgios and all I noticed on one of those warm spring evenings, that Blondie was sitting on a cushion on the floor, totally absorbed, wrapped up in one of the Bard’s duller history plays. She was then about four years old--- but she was enchanted, bound by a spell of brocaded velvet words, swirling cloaks and slashing swords, glued to the television while we sat talking about other things, drawn in by a spell grown even more lightening-potent over the last 400 years.

And it happened, the next time that “Jewel” was pre-empted… it was the RSC again, and Blondie was glued to the television, her concentration adamantine and almost chillingly adult. I was quite sure she had never seen anything of the sort before, I wasn’t one of those frenetically over-achieving mothers, stuffing culture down the kidlets’ throat. I barely had time and energy enough to be an achieving mother: we hardly watched TV at home, VCRs were barely on the market and her favored bedtime reading was “Asterix and Obelix”, although we had branched out as far as the “Hobbit” and “Lord of the Rings”. No, it was not anything I had done… it must have been something innate in Shakespeare, a spell that has been cast, and drawn them in since Shakespeare himself was a working actor and playwright.
I have recently gotten this book--- it’s a book club bennie--- and gone as far as the first three or four chapters. It’s a good book, a speculative book by necessity, since we know so very, very little for certain of the real William Shakespeare. The author is dependent on speculation and imagination, much given to assuming that if such and such were happening in the neighborhood of Stratford-upon-Avon in the lifetime of the glove-maker’s son, then he possibly would have known about it, and might have reason to weave it into one of his spell-plays. Did he have a good education… or not? Might he have been a school-teacher? A soldier? A clerk? Might he have been a Catholic sympathizer? Might his marriage been unhappy, his father a drinker… we have no way to know for sure, in ways that would satisfy the strict accountants of history.

In fact, many have been the symposia, the experts, the finely honed intellectual authorities who have insisted over the years that the Shakespeare who was the actor, the manager and entrepreneur, the son of a provincial petty-bourgeois, simply could not have written the works attributed to him. Such expert knowledge of statecraft, of law, of international polity, of soldiering and the doings of kings and nobles… no, the tenured experts cry… this could not be the work of any less than an intellectual, highly placed and noble, gifted with the best education, and extensive mileage racked up in the corridors of power! Any number of candidates, better suited in the eyes of these experts to have written the works attributed to Wm. Shakespeare of Stratford are advanced, with any number of imaginative stratagems to account for it all… but every one of them I have read, leaves out the power of imagination itself.

Imagination, which takes us out of ourselves, and into someone else--- the common thing all these great experts disregard, as if it were something already cast into disrepute, something useless, of no regard…but it is the major part of the actors’ craft and entirely the part of the writers… that part that is not given up to intelligent research. All those great experts seemed to be saying, when they credit other than Shakespeare, the actor and bourgeois householder of Stratford and London… is that imagination is worthless, null, of no account or aid. It is impossible for a writer to imagine himself, or herself into anything other than what he or she is. One cannot imagine oneself convincingly into another time or place, gender or role in life. Imagination is dead… you are stuck with writing about what you are.

How sterile, and how horrible. How pointless and boring--- but that is what the highly-educated would have of us. We must not, under pain of what the academicians judge, imagine what it would be like that it is to be whatever we were born to be.When I was about 17, or so, I wrote a story for a high school English creative writing class, incorporating an account of a historic event which I couldn’t possibly have witnessed--- because I had been born fifteen years after the events I described. But I had done research, and even at 17 I was pretty good at writing description… and I had the imagination. It creeped the hell out of the creative writing teacher. He knew of the events that I had written about, and I had gotten it pretty well right.

So, imagining again; what would have prevented a young actor from sloping up to a friend of his, in a tavern someplace, a friend who was a soldier, or a law clerk, a priest or servant in the house of a noble, and saying “Say, I’ve got this thing I’m working on… what d’you say about it? What do you think, how would it work, really?”
Which was the creepy, magical part, the part that academicians and writing teachers cannot fathom… which is how far the intelligent and well-researched imagination can take us. To insist that Shakespeare couldn’t have written Shakespeare, is to deny the power and authority… and even the authenticity of imagination.
Which may explain the relative shittiness of novels written by all but the most deviant of academics. Education--- all very nice, but nothing will take a writer farther than imagination and some good contacts in other fields. Imagination… it’s what we have that separates us from the beasts. Never underestimate it, use it what you must. Especially when it’s necessary to get out of what you are, and see through the eyes of someone else.

(This entry originally posed here)

Sunday, January 20, 2008

IAG Authors to donate books to Brooke Army Medical Center in San

On February 1, Mary Simonsen and Celia Hayes will deliver about 35 books by IAG authors to the Brooke Army Medical Center in San Antonio where many of those wounded while serving in Afghanistan and Iraq go to receive treatment. We hope to duplicate this effort in military medical centers around the country—a small thank you for their service to our country.

Thursday, January 10, 2008

NEW LISTING: Pemberley Remembered at Amazon

Pemberley Remembered
by Mary Lydon Simonsen

The celebration of the life and works of Jane Austen continues with the publication of my first novel, Pemberley Remembered. It is the story of a young American, Maggie Joyce, who lives in London in the years immediately following the end of World War II. While visiting Montclair, an 18th Century Georgian country house located in Derbyshire, England, Maggie is told that the former residents of the mansion, William Lacey and Elizabeth Garrison, were the inspiration for the characters of Fitzwilliam Darcy and Elizabeth Bennet in Jane Austen's masterpiece, Pride & Prejudice, and that Montclair is the novel's Pemberley.

During her visit to the nearby Village of Crofton, Maggie meets Beth and Jack Crowell, both of whom have ties to the Lacey family and Montclair, and who know if the legends associated with the house and Fitzwilliam Darcy are true. While exploring the truth behind the romance of Darcy and Elizabeth, Maggie is drawn into the love story of the Crowells, who married in the midst of the horrors of World War I, as well as her own relationship with Rob McAllister, an American who flew on bombing missions over Germany during World War II, and who has returned to England for his own deeply personal reasons.

Pemberley Remembered is available at

Saturday, January 5, 2008

INTERVIEW: Julie Ann Shapiro

Julie Ann Shapiro

1) What is the flower on your website? Tulips?

2) Is Julie Ann Shapiro your real name?

A few questions about your novel: Jen-Zen and the One Shoe Diaries

3) suggests that it will take 226-317 minutes to read Jen-Zen and the One Shoe Diaries, do you agree? Are you a fast or slow reader?

I'm a fast reader. But if I love a book I may savor it and read favorite passages over a couple of times. I'd say it's a weekend trip kind of book or more of a leisurely mind vacation thing spread out over a week.

4) Most book covers just put the author's name, on your novel you add "Written by". What reason do you think a psychoanalyst would give for this?
"It's by....or shall I say bye bye reality...I'm in the world of the book now." No, just kidding. Oh, this is a really fun question. The ebook cover has "by" in it as the "shoe" photographer added that on there. I think of it in the ethereal sense of the book.

The trade paper back doesn't have the word on the cover. That's because it's in sync with the more traditional book climate. Here's the link to the review that did which has the paperback cover.

5) Is there a reason you haven't used Amazon's "search inside feature"?
I want to have that feature activated. My publisher, Synergebooks contacted them about adding the feature. My guess is that with the holidays and all it got put on the back burner at Amazon.

6) When Scott Barnes wrote: "Although they say that if you leave a million monkeys in a room full of typewriters long enough they will eventually write the entire works of Shakespeare, I can't imagine that they would come up with Jen-Zen and the One Shoe Diaries. This is a singular book, original in voice, thoughtful in tone." Was he saying you were better than Shakespeare, or just more original? :)

That's Scott's sense of humor.and his take on the whimsical, wacky lyrical world of my novel and style of writing. I mean who thinks up a novel about shoes left on the beach, adds a love struck photographer named, Brad who can't stop taking shots of the singular shoes he sees everywhere. It's his grief coping mechanism. And if that's not wacky enough...there's his love interest, Jen-Zen. She is a poet who is dead and still haunting Brad. He family thinks he's nut. A shaman tells him to look in the shadows and all the while Brad's listening to his heart which is saying..."I know why it's happening...there's a message in the shoes themselves."

I think my style in this novel is magic realism with Shakespeare and a barrel of monkeys along for the ride. It's a fun novel, give it a read.


Friday, January 4, 2008

COVER ART: January vote!

To get things started I collected nominations on other sites and pulled together a short list. Now all you need to do is vote for the best cover--to be featured on the blog sidebar during February and reviewed at POD People. Please vote for the cover you think has the best overall design! For a better look you can click the image, or check out the links. Please vote by reply to this post :) -- voting will be open until Jan 25th.

If this proves a popular idea, nominations will be taken for a second round in February.


Thursday, January 3, 2008

REVIEW: High Spirits: A Tale of Ghostly Rapping and Romance--Dianne K. Salerni

Little did I know when I set out to tell the story of the Fox sisters that I would be following a new trend in teen fiction towards protagonists with a less-than-steady moral compass. ForeWord Magazine recently published a feature article on the new YA anti-heroes: protagonists who lie, cheat, and find themselves mired in ethical ambiguity. My nineteenth century celebrities, Maggie and Kate Fox, fit right in!

Dianne K. Salerni

THE HERO STANDS ACCUSED: a ForeWord Magazine Feature

“The new teenaged hero doesn’t behave as expected, and he could have a criminal record. On the other hand, she might have a skeleton in the closet, a guilty secret, or questionable motivation. Failure at the central task is entirely possible, and success may come at the cost of disturbing self-knowledge …

High Spirits: A Tale of Ghostly Rapping and Romance by Dianne K. Salerni stars the Fox sisters of upstate New York, originators of the mid-nineteenth century Spiritualist phenomenon. The girls fake contact with spirits by posing questions aloud and tapping answers. But newspaperman Horace Greeley believes, as does proto-feminist Elizabeth Cady Stanton. Even First Lady Jane Pierce wants help contacting her deceased son. Celebrity Arctic explorer Elisha Kent Kane loves Maggie Fox, though occupations and a chasm between classes present towering hurdles. Both Maggie and the younger, less conflicted Kate are under the sway of much-older sister Leah, who lacks remorse for the skullduggery. Maggie’s a reluctant huckster who sees herself as a solace provider to the bereaved. “My sister may have been a trickster but my own purpose was pure.” The (anti)heroines confront threats, violence, and public humiliation.”

Read the entire article at here

Wednesday, January 2, 2008

IN THE MEDIA: The Little Publisher Who Could--Michael S. Katz

It's not exactly a Pulitzer Prize, but my book Shalom On The Range was mentioned in the December 28, 2007 issue of Entertainment Weekly (as the runner-up to the best book title of the year). Although they didn't list my name--just the book title--it's still no small feat to be mentioned on the same page as J.K. Rowling, J.R.R. Tolkien, and Stephen King, especially for a pocket-sized publishing company like Strider Nolan Publishing. Or for a Western, for that matter, the toughest genre to sell these days.

Hopefully my second book (due out in 2008) will have a decent chance of getting reviewed in the magazine. I don't know if the title will be as clever (I'm leaning toward either "Takeout At the O.K. Corral" or "With Six Shooter You Get Eggroll") but I'm sure the first sentence will be a kicker: "Two Jews walked into a bar."
Shalom, y'all!

Michael S. Katz

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