by Garasamo Maccagnone
The easiest story ever to purge its way out of me was my latest release entitled, The Note Giver. After a long sabbatical away from daily Mass, I began attending a local rural parish four or five miles from my house. After a month or so, an older man began frequenting the early Mass, usually a few minutes late, and always partaking in a sort of odd ritual.
The man would splash holy water on the back of his ears three times before genuflecting and entering his pew. After watching his eccentric behavior over time, my interest sparked and I consciously became aware that the man might be a compelling character in a story at some time.
On a night in October, I received a call from an estranged in-law that my father was dying. Estranged from my father and my entire family, you can imagine the difficulty of arriving at the hospital to see your father hooked up to the various support systems, while your family members stare at you with antipathy. Though my father survived his surgery, an infection raged inside of him and his doctors thought that he would not survive the night.
Oddly, the next day at Church, when the Mass had ended, the story came to me in an instant as I prayed in the darkness for my father. As if it was meant to be, The Note Giver was written in a matter of hours when I returned home. The computer keys practically typed at their own accord as the words rushed out of me. Somehow, the sighting of the eccentric man at Church and my father’s bout with death all came together and forced a story out of me that, a few months earlier, I had not even a thought about composing. I suppose it was meant to be.
Garasamo Maccagnone studied creative writing and literature under noted American writers Sam Astrachan and Stuart Dybek at Wayne State University and Western Michigan University. A college baseball player as well, Maccagnone met his wife Vicki as a junior at WMU. The following year, after injuring his throwing arm, Maccagnone left school and his baseball ambitions to marry Vicki. After a two year stint at both W.B. Doner and BBDO advertising agencies, Maccagnone left the industry to apply his knowledge of marketing in a new venture in an up-and-coming industry. Maccagnone created a company called, “Crate and Fly,” and turned it from a store front in 1984 to a world-wide multi-million dollar shipping corporation by 1994.
In the mid 90’s Maccagnone decided to fulfill the promise of his writing career, by first penning the children’s book, The Suburban Dragon and then following up with a collection of short stories and poetry entitled, The Affliction of Dreams. His literary novel, St. John of the Midfield was published in 2007, followed by his For the Love of St. Nick, which was released in 2008. Maccagnone expanded the original version of For the Love of St. Nick and had the book illustrated for a new release in June 2009. My Dog Tim and Other Stories is a literary anthology of the author’s best work.
Garasamo “Gary” Maccagnone lives today in Shelby Township, Michigan, with his wife Vicki and three children. At this time, he is researching the location for his second novel, tentatively titled, He Lay Low.
You can visit Gary online at www.garasamomaccagnone.com
by Rebecca James
On reading my book, Beautiful Malice, several people have asked me why I wanted to write something so sad. Why would you want to even think about, let alone write about, such morbid stuff? And when asked such a question I always confidently answer:
‘Ah…oh…um. I don’t know?’
As much as I’ve pondered and wondered and strained my brain to work out why I enjoy writing about sad stuff I can’t come up with anything better than I like things that move me. Some of my favourite books have made me howl. I love nothing better than curling up on the sofa with a movie and a box of tissues. Lots of my favourite songs make my eyes well up – and I play them over and over and over.
I don’t think I’m some kind of freaky masochist. Lots of us enjoy a good weep. But I do wonder why. Psychologically healthy people don’t welcome real tragedy into their lives. We don’t usually want to cry about real life, because when we cry about real life we feel bad, deep-down-inside bad, through-to-the-bones bad. It’s not the same when we cry in response to a book or a movie. What exactly is it about fictional situations that make a good wallow so strangely enjoyable?
I even used Google to try and find an answer. (I Google everything, everything!) One article I found suggested that we like movies and books that make us cry because it helps to release some of the repressed pain that is already there within us — reading and watching as catharsis. A certain blog I happened upon suggested that sad movies and books allow us to imagine our own worst fears, face them, cry a little, and move safely back into our comfortable reality without being truly hurt.
Both ideas seem feasible to me — and I reckon the real answer would involve a mish-mash of both plus a whole lot of other stuff that I haven’t even covered. The truth is that I don’t really care enough to investigate further because the important thing to me is that when I cry over a book or a movie or a song, it means I care enough about the characters or situation to have an emotional response. And that, to me, means that the book or movie or song works as a piece of art.
I’m not a cruel person but I have to admit that when people tell me that my book made them cry it always makes me smile.
Rebecca James was born in Sydney and spent her twenties teaching English in Indonesia and Japan. She currently lives in Armidale, Australia, with her partner and their four sons.
You can visit Rebecca online at http://www.rebeccajamesbooks.com/
by Jean Hart Stewart
I’m starting a new book where one of the heroines is charming, but ruled by her superstitions. There are two heroines since the two heroes are twins. This one is going to be fun. And I’ve been thinking a lot about my grandmother.
My grandmother insisted her grandchildren call her Kate. It was surely the only modern thing about her. She so strict I hardly dared call her anything at all. Once I came home from the corner store with a carton of root beer. I had to take it back because it had ‘beer’ in the title. I hope she’s in heaven but hasn’t bothered to check my current life style! Oh, and if one gave you a purse you better find some money in it, although even a penny would do. If we went out the door, forget something and turned back, we had to circle a chair three times and then sit in it for a moment for being allowed back out. Oh yes, and you didn’t give anybody a knife because that would cut your friendship in two.
The one thing I remember with pleasure is that she had beautiful white hair which fell to her waist when she set it free from its tight bun. She occasionally let me brush it, and as a child I dearly loved doing that. She seemed a little fey at times. Once when we were on a visit she took my mother aside and told her to get me to a doctor, something was wrong with Jean. We laughed about it on the way home but a few days later I suffered an acute appendicitis attack which necessitated an emergency operation.
Mostly she was such an aloof figure I had little interaction with her. But I certainly remember that austere, aloof woman who somehow had my best interests at heart.
I’d love to know your superstitions. We all have some, even if we try to dismiss them as nonsense. Come on, tell me yours. Please?
I feel I’m very much a Californian although I was born in Ohio. California has been home for a good many years. Life changed drastically when I was six and my father died, incredibly from an errant golf ball. A dishonest insurance agent left us with little income and forced my sheltered mother to seek work, and she became a teacher. Her hours required me to be alone in the house most of the afternoon, and since I was forbidden to leave till my mother got home, I became an avid reader. The local library supplied most of the books and I fell in love with both Jane Austen and King Arthur.
Reading is still one of my favorite activities, although I often have to push it aside to make room for my compelling love of writing. My journalism degree wasn’t much use to me until recently. Marriage and raising two children pleasantly got in the way. After twenty years of being a real estate broker and with the kids raised I could finally devote my time to writing, my first love.
Few things in my life have been so satisfying, especially when all my books have a happy ending. Wonderful to make that happen. It only gets more interesting when a secondary character demands his very own book. Sometimes a new character is so noisy I just have to give in. Shouting inside my head gets my attention, believe me, and those guys usually turn out to be fun to write about.
When most people think of doing book research, they immediately think of historical research. Those who write historicals have my deepest admiration. But contemporary authors have to do research for their stories as well. That’s what I’d like to share with you today.
Every novelist must “jump” into their characters’ skins, and that often means we must learn things we don’t already know. How do we do this? The Internet is an invaluable tool, as is your local library or bookstore. Sometimes, though, your questions can’t be answered that way and you have to go to your “source.” Often that means interviewing someone by email, by phone, or in person. For an introvert writer who spends the majority of her time in front of a computer, this can be terrifying. Believe me, I know, as I still fight my fear of admitting to someone that I’m an author. After all, they might look at me like I’m an alien, or worse, they might try to bite off my nose, or laugh at me . . . or sneer.
Okay, so what sort of research might a contempory author need to do? Below are a few things I did for the books in the Seasons of the Tallgrass series, published by Zondervan.
In my first book, Snow Melts in Spring, the opening scene is one where a horse is terribly injured. Right off, I had to know technical terminology, and not only that, but I had to create a scene that was accurate and believable, not just something that looked good on paper. To get it right, I contacted a handful of veterinarians, asked them a bunch of detailed questions all the way down to possible accident scenarios, which would create the type of injuries needed for the story. I even shadowed one small animal vet for a day in order to get a feel for what a “day in the life” might look like for my character who was also a vet.
I also needed to know something about football. Again, not my specialty. For this research, I went to the children’s section of the library and checked out an armload of books. Here’s a good tip to know: Children’s books are easy to read and they are chock full of valuable information. I also watched a lot of football games on television and asked my football loving friends and family hundreds of questions–all so I could write two or three scenes with authenticity.
For my second book, Seeds of Summer, which releases the end of May, I needed to learn about the Miss Rodeo America competition because my main character, Natalie Adams is a former Miss Rodeo Kansas and first runner up Miss Rodeo America. My research for this story included visiting with those at the Miss Rodeo America headquarters, as well as interviewing and questioning the current MRA at that time, Miss Amy Wilson, Miss Rodeo America 2008.
The highlight of this research culminated when I met and visited Amy at her home in Colby, KS. Amy was a joy to work with and is such a lovely person. My visit to her home was an unexpected blessing, as she shared some special moments from her time as Miss Rodeo Kansas and then as Miss Rodeo America.
I learned that Miss Rodeo America has a host of sponsors who shower their queen with lovely gifts, some of which include: a wardrobe of Wrangler Jeans, Justin Boots, Bailey Hats , fully tooled Court’s Saddle with custom Miss Rodeo America conchos and an official Miss Rodeo America trophy buckle from Montana Silversmiths. Accompanying the perpetual Miss Rodeo America tiara made by Landstrom’s Original Black Hills Gold Creations, Amy was given a wardrobe of matching jewelry. These items, along with other prizes were presented to her throughout her reign. To see some pictures of these items, please visit my blog post here.
For my current project, book #3 – Blades of Autumn, I’m having to learn about running a cafe. So guess what? I’ve been visiting small town cafes and asking the owners lots of questions. Research such as this never ends, but taking the time to do this for your stories might mean the difference between someone loving your book or tossing it against the wall because it wasn’t accurate. Sure, you’ll never please everyone, but by doing the necessary groundwork, you’ll at least know you did everything within your means to bring accuracy to the story.
Again, it’s important. Your readers will thank you for it.
Blurb for Seeds of Summer: When opposites attract, sparks fly–like an electrical malfunction. That’s what happens when former rodeo queen Natalie Adams meets the new pastor in Diamond Falls.
A heart-warming contemporary romance set in the Flint Hills of Kansas where a former rodeo queen abandons her dreams in order to care for her deceased father’s ranch and her two half-siblings, only to realize with the help of a young new pastor that God can turn even the most dire circumstances into seeds of hope. Spanning the Seasons of the Tallgrass, each story in this series reveals the struggle of the people who live there and the dreams they have for the land until they come full-circle in a never-ending cycle, just as man comes full-circle in his understanding of God.
If you’d like to read a snippet from Seeds of Summer, I invite you to visit Country magazine, which recently did a feature interview with me for their April/May issue. While there, you may also enter your chance to win one of my books. This book giveaway ends May 31.
Deborah Vogts and her husband have three daughters and make their home in Southeast Kansas where they raise and train American Quarter Horses. As a student at Emporia State University studying English and journalism, Deborah developed a love for the Flint Hills that has never faded. In writing this series, she hopes to share her passion for one of the last tallgrass prairie regions in the world, showing that God’s great beauty rests on the prairie and in the hearts of those who live there.
The other day, I forgot to pull in my side view mirror before backing out of my garage. The edge of the mirror caught just so it popped out of the housing. Why is that door so narrow? Alright, I admit it. This is the third time I have made this same mistake. After the first time it happened, I made it a habit of folding in the mirrors when pulling in and out. I don’t know why I forget every once in a while. The annoying thing is, you can’t just replace the little mirror. Then entire housing needs to be replaced, too. $300 later, it’s as good as new. Ugh!
Okay, maybe I’m a space cadet, or as one dear friend once lovingly called me, “a brilliant air-head.” Maybe I’m careless. Maybe I’m so distracted by my happy chaos that I forget this one minor detail at the tune of three-hundred bucks a pop! Double-Ugh! (…or should that be Triple-Ugh!)
Okay, here’s the part where I can turn it all around and laugh at my stupid mistakes. Character’s telling details come in all shapes and sizes. Why not a character who repeatedly makes the same silly mistakes, is clumsy, always loses her keys – or breaks her side view mirror by hitting it on her way out of the garage – three or more times in the course of a story. This little foible could serve to identify a supporting character, could establish a pattern of obstacles for a protagonist, and could most definitely provide some comic relief.
Here’s my challenge. I dare you to share some of your most annoying hassles, mishaps, and blunders. Provide some fodder for fiction. Lay it on me!
This week at Fodder for Fiction, we’re celebrating the inspiring poet and author, Maya Angelou. I’m sharing a brief shout of happiness, as described by her. I thought it was a fitting jubilant statement of how happy I am that her work has touched my heart. Thank you Maya! Many happy returns of the day!
“After a few squeaky misses I overcame my reserve and tore my tonsils loose with a yell that would have been worthy of Zapata. I was happy, Dad was proud and my new friends were gracious. A woman brought chicharrones (in the South they’re called cracklings) in a greasy newspaper. I ate the fried pig skins, danced, screamed and drank the extra-sweet and sticky Coca-Cola with the nearest approach to abandonment I had ever experienced. As new revelers joined the celebration I was introduced as la nina de Baylee, and as quickly accepted.” Excerpt, I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings by Maya Angelou
Join me each week on Wednesdays for another Author Birthday Bash at Lisa Leibow’s Fodder for Fiction.
Best to you,
Lisa Lipkind Leibow
Author of Smart Women’s Fiction
What are you angry about in the world? What cause are you most passionate about?
What do you enjoy wearing most?
What would the ideal date or evening out be?
Where do you think the best place to be on a Saturday night is?
What does a typical weekend hold for you?
What is your favorite Sunday breakfast?
What product do you use that you will never give up?
What song do you never want to hear again? Why?
Where is the ultimate holiday destination and why?
Who would you most like to meet?
Where would you like to live?
What intrigues or fascinates you?
What is your most treasured possession and why?
What gives you hope and peace?
What destroys your hope and peace?
What symbol best represents you?
Post your results here, if you’d like! I’d love to see your “method writing” in action.
Best to you,
Lisa Lipkind Leibow
Author of Smart Women’s Fiction
I often joke that the most difficult part of writing fiction is whatever aspect I happen to be tackling at the moment – first draft, character development, crafting meaningful dialogue, or revealing setting through character interactions with it, and the list of writing challenges goes on. But today’s “most difficult” part of crafting fiction is pacing and rhythm. It’s a challenge to look at the big picture of a completed draft novel-length manuscript and see where the reader could use a break from the tension, or where the pace might be lagging and the reader is likely to start skimming pages. The author is too close the prose and may not be able to detect those nuances without a sixth sense for it. Even in a shorter passage, it may be a challenge to spot when the prose in a narrative description might benefit from an added “beat” to improve the rhythm of the voice.
One of the workshops I attended at the Silken Sands Writer Conference was called The Subliminal Writer with Laura Hayden. The focus of her presentation was on using music to train your mind to stay in the story – choosing a soundtrack of songs that fit the mood of your story. In a Pavlovian-style, train your behavior to get your head in the game each time you hear the music. She used soundtracks from movies for her examples, recognizing how much work goes into scoring films to set the proper mood as the plot unfolds.
This made my wheels start to turn—dangerous, I know! Soundtracks of movies are so carfully scored to set tone, build emotion, heighten tension, and build or break suspense. Ultimately, the score PACES the plot as it unfolds.
Here’s my idea. I think I’m going to play around with this concept. I’ll choose a movie soundtrack. Then I’ll analyze the pacing of the music from start to finish, taking note of the following: 1. sequence of sounds and music; 2. how much time the soundtrack hums along as white noise in the background; and 3. the placement and amount of time spent on the intense, enhanced, or exaggerated sound effects and musical accents.
From here, I’ll take this data and extrapolate a rhythm to write a story with the same pattern of emotional melodies—only in prose.
I’m in the early stages of exploring this idea. I’m curious about your reaction. More importantly, I’m open to suggestions for your favorite soundtracks, so I can narrow down what soundtrack I should use for this exercise!
Leave your soundtrack suggestions for me, please. It’s all Fodder for Fiction!
Lisa Lipkind Leibow
Author of Smart Women’s Fiction