29 April 2013

Besides my family and friends, there are only three more things that I love:  books, music and movies. 

So when I learned of film critic Roger Ebert's sudden passing a few days ago, I was really sad. I knew that he had been quite sick for many years but he was still working.  A fellow Chicagoan and Pulitzer Prize winning author, he was adored back in my hometown and considered a city treasure.

How Movies Made Me a Better Storyteller
Even though I hadn't been following his reviews nearly as much since moving abroad, I would still read an occasional post online.  To be sure I will miss his famous two thumbs up movie rating.  However, what I will miss more is the gift that he gave to me:  pure discovery, something I’ve always known could only be matched by books.

When I was a little girl, I started watching Roger’s review first on the local ABC news affiliate WLS-TV. Later, I moved on to his Sunday columns in the Chicago Sun-Times, long before “At the Movies with Siskel & Ebert” debuted in syndication.  I not only watched the show for popular releases but also for the independent and foreign films reviewed, those tiny little movies that may have only opened in some obscure art house on the other side of town.  Movies like, “Tie Me Up, Tie Me Down”, “Like Water for Chocolate”, and “Three Colors: Blue, White and Red.”  Roger introduced me equally to Martin Scorsese and Francois Truffaut, Spike Lee and Jim Jarmusch, Louis Malle and Luis Bunuel, Kasi Lemmons and Sophia Coppola, Ingmar Berman and Akira Kirowasawa and many more.

Roger made me want to travel the world, and for a little black girl like me growing up in a working-class neighborhood on the Southside of Chicago, my world should have halted in downtown at State and Lake Streets.  I was far too young to go anyplace, but movies and books provided other ways for me to travel without ever leaving my bedroom. 

Roger also made me want to write because the more he discussed important screenwriting mechanics—the nuts and bolts of good storytelling, the more I realized that those same principals applied to fiction writing in general.

Fast forward many years later, I now live overseas and have been doing so for over ten years.  I still haven’t been to the Cannes Film festival, but I have vacationed there.  I've been to nearly every place that I so admired on the silver screen.  Ironically, these global settings and how I experiences them personally often become critical component in the creation of my fictional characters and the world in which they live.

Film played a tremendous role in my need to become not just a writer but a storyteller. It is true that we are not always aware of where our influences come from, but here’s what I do know:  every experience (our childhood, lifestyles choices, hobbies, and yes, even movies, books and film) shapes us as storytellers.

God bless you, Roger.  Thank you for challenging me and countless others to see the world through film and incorporate those visions into our own work.  Rest in peace.

Posted on Monday, April 29, 2013 by Unknown

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24 April 2013

The TIE Mini Blog Tour rolls on!  Hanging out today with the fabulous blogger Angela Benson of Library Girl Reads!  

Since my oldest daughter is now a young woman and spends most of her weekends out with her friends, I find that it’s a perfect time for me to bond with my youngest daughter. One of the ways in which we do this is by watching a lot of movies on Friday nights. This week’s selection actually wasn’t my choice, but I’m happy that my daughter selected it anyway because it was a real treat. It was sweet little movie called Ruby Sparks and as a writer, I could not help but love it. Think Stranger than Fiction but instead from the author’s point of view.

If you haven’t seen it yet, here’s a little recap of the movie’s plot. A young writer finds unexpected literary fame as an adolescent. Years later, he still struggles to write a successful follow-up novel and the pressure from his agent and publishing house to do so sends him spiraling out of control and on to a psychologist’s sofa. Having broken up with his long-time girlfriend only complicates matters. At his therapist’s suggestion, the writer creates a character for whom he would consider to be his “ideal” woman and girlfriend. The more the writer learns about her (a character who reveals herself as “Ruby Sparks”), the more she not only becomes the central character in his new novel, but also in his own life. The fun begins the day Ruby becomes a real, functioning human being, demanding a life of her own. In light of this surprising discovery, the question becomes whether or not her creator will allow her this free will to grow and evolve, or will he try to guide her every movement to the point of extinction.

I could totally relate to Calvin Weir-Fields, the writer in the movie. Take for example, my character, Julien Roulet, who is featured in the novella found in 5 Reasons to Leave a Lover. I know him better than anyone else because I created him. He is an elusive lover; distant and slightly mysterious. Tall and slim with brown hair and sparkling green eyes, he’s handsome, intelligent, creative, quick witted and tad bit irreverent. A French man who refuses to pronounce the letter “h” when speaking in English, he’s also married and a devoted family man. He’s far from perfect though – an insecure, rakish, adulterer in fact. And yet at the same time, he’s a good guy who is still deeply in love with his wife. Unfortunately, he now finds himself in an impossible situation and saving him remains my toughest challenge. The only problem being, Julien really doesn’t want to be saved. Oh, the complexity!

As authors we experience a whole host of emotions while creating characters. Just like in real life, we take up their hobbies, research their professions, record their fickle likes and dislikes, all in an attempt to better understand them. When all is going well between us, we can’t wait to visit them in their imaginary world each day. One minute we’re laughing at all of their jokes and the things that they do. And the next, we’re infuriated and downright embarrassed by their behavior. When they abandon us because they yearn for independence and space, we become fearful because we never know which direction they will take our story.

The point to all of this is this. Creating characters for which there is genuine affection is what makes writing fun and rewarding. Whenever we are able to achieve that level of love for our character, our readers are the true beneficiaries. However, as writers we also have to know when to let our characters live. We cannot become obsessed with controlling their every movement or behavior in order to achieve a desired outcome for their lives. After all, it is their lives. Even if we could changeour characters's lives, as authors we would be doing so at our own peril because our characters would lose their essence -- the very “spark” that gives us permission to love (or hate) them in the first place. And, THAT would be such a shame.

Posted on Wednesday, April 24, 2013 by Unknown

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16 April 2013

The TIE Mini Blog Tour Continues at the Cabin Goddess!

When I was a child growing up in Chicago, my mother used to say, ‘I don’t HAVE to do anything in this world except die and pay taxes;’ a very appropriate statement since “Tax Day” in America is already upon us.  For those of us lucky, or better yet, wise enough to complete our tax forms early, April 15 is just another ordinary day.  However, for the rest of us, we always wait until the “last minute” in order to push the button. 

In preparing my own tax forms — unfortunately there is no immunity for us “regular folks” living here in Switzerland — I’ve been thinking a lot about one “imperative” in particular, this need to pay taxes and how it’s a lot like another one specific to authors — the need to write a fictional work, and what prevents us from performing such duties on time.  

To be fair, sometimes there are legitimate reasons for delays (missing 1099s or investment statements, for example). But, if we’re really, really honest with ourselves, most of the time our postponement of the “evitable”, this wait until the “eleventh hour” has more to do with procrastination than with anything else.  We work ourselves up into a frenzy, cursing ourselves for waiting to do something that we know we should have done months ago.  True relief only arrives after we’ve finished that dastardly deed for which we’ve been trying so hard to avoid. 

Writers know this uncomfortable feeling all too well – especially when it comes to trying to complete a fictional work. Most of us begin a new literary project with all the hopes and aspirations of completing at least a solid draft by a scheduled date.  We research our characters; carefully organizing the “receipts” of their lives into neatly tabbed accordion files or folders on our laptops.  Each day we add writing as a “to-do” task on our schedule.  We manage to record scores of pages – inspiration that we hope in the end will result in a satisfying work. 

Days turn into weeks, weeks into months.  The next thing we know, we’re reading online about the Kardashians or gossiping with our friends about some other television series instead of writing.  We're cleaning out the refrigerator or relining the kitchen cabinets.  We find a reason to do almost everything except write.  Then the panic sets in as our self-imposed deadline looms.  We have no choice but to scramble to get the writing done so that our editors or agents will not penalize us.  Once done, temporary relief is welcomed but we remain weary and cautious, knowing that we’ll have to do all over again very soon. 
The bottom line is this:  For authors writing, like taxes, is more than an imperative – it’s a certainty, just as sure as autumn follows summer.  There is absolutely no way around paying your dues so you might as well grin until you can bear it.

So I will close my post with this from the great author, Herman Wouk, “Income tax returns are the most imaginative fiction being written today."

Don’t you wish you’d thought of that wonderful quote first? I know that I do!   

Happy Tax Day!

Posted on Tuesday, April 16, 2013 by Unknown

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08 April 2013

The TIE Mini Book Tour Kicks off with a visit to author Malika Gandhi's Blog:

People often ask me to describe Paris.  Almost always, I provide the same reply: A beautiful place still full of mystery.  I moved there with my husband and two young daughters, and stayed for five years before moving to Lausanne, Switzerland in 2007.  Every time I return for a visit, I always find something new and view Paris in a completely different way.  For me, this is what makes setting my stories in Paris so interesting.

However, I must admit that this is my polite answer.  Describing the real Paris actually is a bit more complicated. In trying to capture the essence of the city from my own distinct vantage point, I still struggle because Paris is more than visiting the Eiffel Tower, Luxembourg Gardens, or eating at Les Deux Magots or strolling along the Seine or Avenue des Champs-Élysées.  

The real Paris is a contradiction, a Janus coin. It is a place that can propel you forward to meet your future yet compel you to confront your past; it can introduce you to love and heartache all in the same day; and it can teach you everything you need to know about life or nothing all. People (real or imagined) cannot help but be changed one way or another by the experience.
To be sure Paris is a very glamorous, romantic and sexy, and yes, a sexy city, but there is so much more.  As I considered the real Paris a bit more, it made me think about all the realistic stories I could tell about living there. In the beginning, I wasn’t always certain what stories I wanted to write specifically, but I knew which ones I didn’t want to tell.  For example, I knew wanted to avoid the common stereotypical stories.  I had no interest in writing stories about the single girl meeting her dream French guy in the City of Love. I hold nothing against these types of stories (I enjoyed reading them) but living in France as an expatriate provides a unique perspective on life in that you are always an outsider looking in. This is a perfect view for someone like me who really enjoys people watching and observing human behavior.  In Paris, one can do this all day while sitting in a park or nearby café.
Instead I wanted to explore common experiences in order to show that life in Paris is often times no different than living someplace else like Sydney, New York or Akron, or Ohio for that matter. The same problems and worries still find you – but in a prettier place.  So when Ellery Martin-Roulet (one of the main characters in the 5 Reasons to Leave a Lover novella) discovers that her husband of ten years, Julien Roulet, is having an affair with an illegal immigrant; or when Cinnamon Martin helplessly watches while her best friend’s marriage disintegrates; or when Herman Riley must figure out how to go on with life without his beloved wife of 70 years, their reactions to all of these experiences are real and universal.
So I guess at the end of the day, location as a setting is very important to me – they often become minor characters in their own right, but what happens to my principle characters and how they manage recovery is far more important.  C’est la vie.

Posted on Monday, April 08, 2013 by Unknown

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31 January 2013

The great Ray Bradbury advised authors to write a short story a day.

Don't have time? Then try a little Flash Fiction. Encounters in Paris is totally a collection of Flash. As I work to improve my own writing, here's what I've learned about FF so far!  Head over to the #NovelSpaces blog to find out more!

“…Write a short story in one day so it has a skin around it, its own intensity, its own life, its own reason for being.”Ray Bradbury

I couldn’t agree more with the venerable American science fiction author, Ray Bradbury.  Writing short stories is, indeed, its own art form. By writing one short story daily, a writer cannot help but become more skilled in his/her craft.  Short stories provide authors with opportunities to create thoughtful, introspective prose.  In that process of creation, authors develop characters, settings and plots with laser-like precision.

However, writing flash or micro fiction (a work between 500 to 2,500 words) is even more challenging because telling a complete story, utilizing few words means that each word must be carefully selected.  Every word must show and tell. And, isn't that what high school English teachers preach to students, anyway?  Stylistically, flash fiction allows an author to say their piece, get off the page and move on to another story. It's the perfect way to train and keep writing until inspiration for a longer work hits.

Sometimes getting started can be very difficult, so here are some tips to get the creative juices flowing:

  1. Start in the middle of the story.  There isn't a lot of time to set elaborate scenes or build characters.  Jump right into the center of the conflict and build the rest of the story from there. 
  2.  Limit your location and setting.  Make the reader feel as if they are stepping into a precise moment in time and participating with the characters in their own world. 
  3. Avoid becoming an interloper. Instead, act if you are eavesdropping on an illicit conversation and write your story as if this is the case.
  4. Don't use too many characters.  One or two characters are perfect for flash fiction because you don’t have time to describe your characters in intricate detail.  Sometimes even giving the character names is too much, so don’t – unless the name conveys additional story information or saves your word count.
  5. The last sentence is the ticket.  The last sentence of the story is an extraordinary opportunity to make the reader think.  It's not the end of the story, but instead the beginning.  This is the place where the reader starts to process what they have just read, and as a result, he or she may experience a wave of emotions (happiness, anger, sadness, confusion, etc.)  As writers this is our goal. 
So the next time you experience an intense desire to write a story -- especially a short one, follow Mr. Bradbury’s advice: “…Get it down…There’s a reason why the idea occurred to you at that hour anyway, so go with that and investigate it.”  

Posted on Thursday, January 31, 2013 by Unknown

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01 March 2012

Fictional Tales Examines Clandestine Meetings and Confessions

Author Carolyn Moncel Releases Railway Confessions – A Collection of Short Stories

LAUSANNE, SWITZERLAND, March 1, 2012 — Would you ever reveal a dark secret to a complete stranger – even if you knew you’d never meet that person again? This question is at the heart of author, Carolyn Moncel’s latest work, Railway Confessions – A Collection of Short Stories.  Currently available as an eBook only, readers can download a FREE copy on March 1 and March 8, 2012 from Amazon.com (http://amzn.to/zYc4od).
Railway Confessions - A Collection of Short Stories by Carolyn Moncel
As passengers traveling aboard a TGV train from Paris to Geneva one summer evening, three couples casually disclose very intimate, truthful details that could potentially transform their lives either for the better or for the worst.
“The stories fit perfectly into the advice my mother gave me during my childhood,” says Moncel, a Chicago native, whose stories are often set in Paris.  “‘Be careful what you say aloud because: a) you never really know who you are talking to; and b) you never really know who is listening to your conversation and what they may know about the people being discussed.’”
In the story, "My Brother's Keeper," a couple must come to terms with the murders that each of them had a hand in committing and their aftermaths; In "A Choice in the Matter," another couple must address the questions of wanted and unwanted pregnancies and the circumstances for which such requests are ever acceptable; and in the last story entitled, “Pretty Prisons,” a last couple must deal with love, infidelity and all of its complexities. Ellery Roulet and Lola Sanchez from 5 Reasons to Leave a Lover return, and along with four others, confront their deepest fears with unexpected results.

About Carolyn Moncel
Carolyn Davenport-Moncel currently resides in Lausanne, Switzerland with her husband and two daughters. Her previous work includes Encounters in Paris – A Collection of Short Stories and 5 Reasons to Leave a Lover – A Novella and Other Short Stories.  Visit Moncel’s website at:  www.carolynmoncel.com.  Follow her on Facebook:  http://www.facebook.com/carolyn.moncel; LinkedIn: http://www.linkedin.com/in/motiontemps; and on Twitter:  http://twitter.com/carolynmoncel.
About Railway Confessions – A Collection of Short Stories
Published in February 2012 by Mondavé Media, Railway Confessions – A Collection of Short Stories is only available as an eBook.  Amazon.com (http://amzn.to/zYc4od).The Kindle edition is $2.99.  The ASIN number is: B0076BLY42.  Ms. Moncel is available for appearances, book club discussions and interviews.
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Posted on Thursday, March 01, 2012 by Unknown

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15 February 2012

“Chérie, I must say that your people place way too much emphasis on affairs.” 

These words are uttered by a male French character in my upcoming collection of short stories called Railway Confessions. I think his response generally encapsulates well what the French, in particular, may think about Americans when it comes to at least one of the reasons highlighted in my book, 5 Reasons to Leave a Lover. 

To recap 5 Reasons to Leave a Lover is my second book, and it’s a collection containing a novella and two short stories focusing on love and lost. American Ellery Roulet and her French husband, Julien, from my first book, Encounters in Paris, return— this time involved in an emotionally-charged love triangle, and along with two other couples, explore how different types of love relationships splinter due to abuse,ambivalencedeceptioncheating and even death

It’s a very realistic collection. In addition to finding inspiration in Paul Simon’s song, “50 Ways to Leave a Lover,” other scandals including that of former South Carolina governor Mark Sanford and former International Monetary Fund (IMF) Director, Dominique Strauss-Kahn (DSK) were influential . But also on the other side of the spectrum, couples like Bill and Camille Cosby who have been married for over 45 years or the late Paul Newman and Joanne Woodward who were also married well over 40 years had an effect on the stories created as well. However, the most revealing insight came after interviewing ordinary people (both French and American) who were just trying to make it through their marriages each day. I came to realize that maintaining relationships is hard and downright complicated. 

Now cheating is an uneasy subject to be sure; fraught with complexity, but it is also one topic that I do like to discuss because it generates such a strong reaction among readers. It also perfectly illustrates some vast differences between French and American cultures. 

About five years ago American journalist and Parisian resident Pamela Druckerman wrote an intriguing book called Lust in Translation where she examined how cheating in general was viewed around the world. A lot of what she wrote about French culture and their reactions to infidelity was basically correct. Both the French and Americans cheat at relatively the same rate but how each culture deals with the problem itself is quite different. While Americans may view infidelity as both a personal and spiritual assault, the French tend to replace morality with rationality. For instance, an American may look at the situation of infidelity and conclude, “my spouse cheated and now my marriage and life are over.” 

Conversely, a French person may look at the same circumstances and come to a different conclusion: “my spouse cheated, but my marriage may not be over and my life certainly isn’t.” I think the French often view infidelity as an inevitable occurrence – especially over a long life span of a relationship). Whereas an American woman may confront her spouse, the French woman, by contrast, may not. She may not want to jeopardize her quality of life or status. Keeping quiet could give her a chance to win her husband back or select her moment and means of retaliation. 

Whether one is discussing cheating or any of the other four reasons, the perspectives are roughly the same: a person will leave (either literally or figuratively) a relationship if it becomes impossible to stay. Americans may find any one of these transgressions grounds for leaving a relationship. However, as one French friend revealed, priority is placed upon the deed, so deception would be at the top of their list of transgressions while cheating would be considered the least offensive act of all. 

Maybe the interview that I conducted with an elderly French woman explains it all. She told me that in the 60 years that they had been married, she and her husband had been through everything together and had weathered the storms. She said ‘When you get as old as we are and death is near, you are not thinking about who cheated on whom. It’s more about did you really enjoy one another while you still had the chance. Everything else is irrelevant.’ The bottom line here is this. A person can leave a relationship any time they want but that doesn’t make the decision to do so any easier. Honestly at the end of the day, people can say hypothetically what they would or wouldn’t do if presented with any of these five reasons, but no one really knows what path they would take until it happens to them. 

Posted on Wednesday, February 15, 2012 by Unknown

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