Writing Life

New Beginnings Update

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It’s been a while since I’ve updated this site. Too long.

With spring approaching, I’ve renewed my commitment to writing, because it’s a commitment to ME.  It’s okay to step back and it can recharge you-even when all hope is lost.

It’s not always that way.

Sometimes life changes, work and family pull us in so many directions that we never realize. We put writing off for a day, a week and then the guilt. We tell ourselves that we don’t have time, we’re tired. It’s too much effort. We drop CPers, stop taking classes, let the writer association lapse.

Stop thinking of ourselves as a writer.

That’s okay, fine.

It’s when we listen to those insidious voices-I’ll never make it-the competition is stiff-I took this as far as I could-its just too HARD.

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That’s when the damage is done. The damage that we may never push through, the block.

And this is a block, make no mistake.

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It may not be a block of ideas, a true “Writer’s Block”, but it’s a block and one that is terrifying. Unexpected. Writing is solitary but this can make us feel isolated.

Sometimes it is the WIP. Sometimes. Just stayed too long. Usually, the rx is to put that aside and start something fresh.

Usually.

Because what I’m talking about, goes way beyond hating the WIP, characters etc. And it’s emotional, raw,  in the gut-like being in a marriage you want out of. You just can’t do it anymore.

Sound familiar? So you crawl out of the hole, it’s scary. It’s not pretty, but you climb.

During hiatus stay in touch with CPers. Keep one toe in.

Write on Sundays-sometimes if you felt like it.

One day, when the world comes crashing down turn to the oldest friend you know; writing.

You won’t even have to apologize. No excuses to make, let it take you in, like it has so many times. Renew old connections, take classes, jump into a contest or two and it will be like you never left.

I promise.

Writing is how I process the world, and my life. That’s just it.

Open up the WIP; write. And edit and believe.

And it’s HARD. Remember, yes the market is crowded, the slush is bursting but most people still don’t do this. Most people you know, won’t ever write a book, or finish a project. Yes, this is brass ring stuff. It’s HARD.

Even after the darkest winter, the cherry blossoms will always come out again, my writing will always welcome me back. Let it welcome you. I won’t stop being a writer. I’m old enough now to know I’ve been writing longer than not.

 

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Blog Tour and Review The Dance of The Spirits

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Please join Catherine Aerie as she tours the blogosphere with HF Virtual Book Tours for The Dance of the Spirits from August 11-22, and enter to win your very own copy!

02_The Dance of the SpiritsPublication Date: November 16, 2013
Aurora
Formats: eBook, Paperback

Genre: Historical Fiction

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Spring 1951: it is the fiery zenith of the Korean War, a war that the youthful US Army lieutenant Wesley Palm and his men thought that they had won… until the Chinese swept across the Yalu River.

Traveling with the million-man army bent on driving back the march of “American imperialism” is Jasmine Young, a Chinese surgeon who has volunteered herself into the war for unspoken, grave reasons. Through a chronicle of merciless battles, freezing winters, and the brutality and hypocrisy of human nature, the two will find themselves weaving through the twists and turns of fate and destiny. Though their love is forbidden, their passion and pursuit of liberty cannot be quenched.

Praise for The Dance of the Spirits

“…On the surface, The Dance of the Spirits is a story of love and of war, but on a deeper level, it is a story of the misery that the communist ideology brought to millions of souls in the twentieth century. Whether that philosophy is related to nationalism, internationalism or faith, Catherine Aerie reminds readers that when a system that will entertain no contradiction in thought or deed comes to power, no one is safe — and no one is free. Aerie draws a vivid picture of war and its price, and a tender image of love…” – Readers’ Favorite (5 Stars)

“…a love that is stronger than all the horrors that war can throw at them… compelling…poignant… sensitive and beautiful…” – San Francisco Book Reviews (4.5/ Stars)

“Adversaries in the Korean War find love in Aerie’s debut novel. The story starts in the middle of a firefight… Out of the rubble, two characters emerge: an American officer… and a Chinese military doctor… Their paths cross again and again… In the intimacy of the war, these coincidences don’t feel forced, nor even particularly fated–it’s just the way things went… Readers will likely find Palm a decent, very human person, but Young has more complexity and vibrancy… As the war rages around them, Palm and Young fall in love… but their romance is ill-starred and open to tragedy. Aerie keeps readers on their toes with the twists…fleeting but intense…
An often engaging tale of a flickering moment of love during a forgotten war.” – Kirkus Reviews

Buy the Book

Amazon (Kindle)
Amazon (Paperback)
Barnes & Noble

About the Author

Catherine Aerie, a graduate from the University of California, Irvine with a master degree in finance, grew up in China as the daughter of a Shanghai architect. She was inspired to write The Dance of the Spirits while researching a family member’s role in the Korean War, deciding to revive an often neglected and overlooked setting in fiction and heighten the universality of resilient pursuit of love and liberty. Her debut novel was finished after about two years of research. She currently resides in southern California.

For more information please visit Catherine Aerie’s website. You can also find her on Facebook and Goodreads.

The Dance of the Spirits Blog Tour Schedule

Monday, August 11
Review at A Bibliotaph’s Reviews
Spotlight at Mina’s Bookshelf
Interview at Library Educated

Tuesday, August 12
Spotlight at CelticLady’s Reviews

Wednesday, August 13
Review at Book Nerd

Thursday, August 14
Review at Queen of All She Reads

Friday, August 15
Review at JM Ledwell
Review at Based on a True Story
Spotlight at Passages to the Past

Monday, August 18
Interview at Caroline Wilson Writes

Tuesday, August 19
Review at Book Babe

Wednesday, August 20
Review at Unshelfish
Spotlight at Princess of Eboli

Thursday, August 21
Review & Interview Back Porchervations

Friday, August 22
Spotlight at Just One More Chapter

Giveaway

To win a copy of The Dance of the Spirits please complete the Rafflecopter giveaway form below. Giveaway is open to US & UK residents only.

Giveaway ends at 11:59pm on August 22nd. You must be 18 or older to enter.
Winner will be chosen via Rafflecopter on August 23rd and notified via email.
Winner have 48 hours to claim prize or new winner is chosen.

a Rafflecopter giveaway

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My Review of The Dance of the Spirits

As a writer of Asian fiction and Historical novels with a sweep-this one sounded close to my heart.

I’ve read some reviews which warned of heavy combat action and gruesome details of a little-known, not much discussed war. As war epics go, certainly this one-set against the sweep of the Korean War-stands out. Yes, it has combat scenes and all the vivid details one would expect in a novel set against the battlefield. But this is not an “Asian Band of Brothers”, and if that’s the take-away, it misses the mark.

One could make comparisons to Pasternak’s Doctor Zhivago, with a bit of Joy Luck Club thrown in. As the main character, Jasmine Young holds up the whole book. The novel opens with a window on the hero and the heroine as we are thrown into their lives mid-combat. Then, we are whisked away to Jasmine’s past, her idyllic and pampered childhood in Shanghai on the eve of Revolution. Aerie pulls us closer, to see the inner workings of a family in torment, Jasmine’s loving, though recalcitrant father who refuses to stay faithful, and brings a series of children he fathered by concubines into the house. This has disastrous effects on Jasmine’s mother’s self-esteem and will spin the family into far greater disaster and poignancy. I really felt for the mother here. She was not easy to love, or like for that matter. She’s tough. She’s not soft but there is a tragic sense of pity I felt with each one of the father’s infidelities. Aerie makes me care about the mother, and without giving too much away, really feel for Jasmine’s plight as she tries to cope with dark changes within the family. This is my favorite part of the book.

When Jasmine goes off to war to save her family from further disgrace in the post-Communist takeover of South China, we start getting the Zhivago feel again. From the homes taken over and sectioned off, to the hopelessness and dazed way Jasmine’s father sleepwalks through his ruined world to the romance that blossoms mid-war between Jasmine and Wesley, an American officer at the Korean front. They grab hold of what they have, brief and shining, yet intensely real, perhaps felt all the more because of circumstances. Wesley offers Jasmine his whole soul, but “can make her no promises”. And while there is a passionate, brief and heart-breaking love story, overall, the book ultimately makes the case for the life of the inner self versus the greater good sacrifice of Communism. The joys of having dreams, hopes and fears kept alive when the rest of the crazy world outside-the war and the Communist rigmarole is telling you not to; to get rid of your thinking problem as Jasmine is reprimanded again and again. This only serves to steel her heart and her spirit, to grab what is hers and hold true in a difficult, shifting landscape.

We need more books like this. We need to get back to the meaning in fiction. Luckily, this book has a great love story, and interesting time period and a beloved heroine. I loved it.

The Dance of the Spirits

Historical Research Tips For the Writer

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If you’re writing Historical Fiction you’re most likely in love with the past. While writers adore research and taking notes, diving into costume templates and other delights, it’s important to remember that unless you’re writing a text book there’s Story and there’s History. Don’t confuse the two.

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Historical facts are like backstory. Their there to enhance, not overwhelm. A delicate hand is needed to spice up stories if we’re going to transport readers to the world we are recreating. It’s rich details, the little bit of this, and little bit of that we can use to enliven stories without dumping a lot of unnecessary, dry facts on top of readers who will turn away.

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Because history to me is so enjoyable, when I approach a project in the early stages, I give myself a time limit to do research. It helps keep me centered on story, and prevents a trip far off field that will prevent me from actually writing the story and over-researching. In fact, I under-research. In the beginning. When I get into the draft, I leave blanks if I haven’t read deeply enough and go back after my first draft is done to read more on the topic so I can flesh out the scene first. Always remember, story first. I typically limit my initial research to two weeks to a month, depending on scope and familiarity with subject matter. I watch documentaries, read primary and secondary sources and research costumes. I do not research technical aspects yet, such as weaponry and language. Once I start writing the draft, I review notes and let the story guide me. If something needs more research, I’ll note and go back. The old Stephen King Cleveland trick. These things are usually things I want also to see in person. I’ll watch a YouTube video first, then schedule an appointment with a local expert. That’s it.

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It’s crucial not to get overwhelmed with details. If you’ve loaded your draft with too much detail or find your characters speechifying-teaching history-you’ve gone too far. History like backstory is a spice. While I want readers who enjoy that time period to be charmed and delighted, I know I’ve done my job when I’ve transported a reader who knew nothing about the era. Those are the ones you should be aiming at. Don’t be afraid to use foreign words with elan, these are the things that bring your world to life.

If you don’t know how to do it, try something like, “I wrapped the rich uchikake around my shoulders for warmth. It was always welcome to have padded kimono on a night like this.” You’ve defined the item once, now be free to use the word again without having to define and the effect is seamless. The reader gets it.

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How do you like to research? Do you dive in or do you do just enough to sprinkle the story?

Building The Perfect Book is a Temple

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As a writer of Asian fiction, I am drawn to Cambodia’s famed Angkor Wat temple. I can’t get enough of it. It’s so mysterious and incredibly beautiful that I have multiple pictures in my home, writing space and office. It uplifts me. It makes me chillax and it reminds me how something great can be brought forth from ideas and stone.

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But first, there was the jungle.

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Angkor Wat is a Buddhist temple complex. The largest ever built in the word. It’s a 12th century Khmer king’s dream come to life. It’s still standing. The temple broke from Shavism tradition and instead celebrated Vishnu, and there is a legend that holds construction happned in a single night by divine help.

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The temple’s gradual focus shifted from Hindu to Buddhism. This amazing place was abandoned over the years, as regimes came and went but never completely. And it had protection. The jungle prevented destructive encroachments. The vines and the snakes actually preserved the jewel inside.

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Our drafts. Just like this magnificent temple, they are laid out scene by scene, page by page from nothing. They age. They take shape and they become overgrown. Time to prune.

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The writing process can feel as if we are enveloping our beautiful words in a morass of vines. So we put the book away. The proverbial shut the drawer moment. Maybe we write something else because we grow bored. Can’t sell it. Can’t fix another scene. Can’t face it.

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But it’s when the vines are at their worst tangle that we know some hidden jewel awaits us. Some books can’t be fixed, and some are meant to teach.

Here come the Ifs.

If you can’t get that story out of your head, if you followed a linear path, if each scene flows from outward progression, if you follow goal-motivation-conflict, it’s all there. You just need to edit. Cut back. Combine scenes that don’t work. Try cutting anything that’s boring. Odds are cutting will save that book.

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So, if you’re still haunted by the book in the drawer, there is hope. Think of the temple in the jungle, because it’s true. Greatness comes from drawing out the bits that excite and entertain us. Nothing great came from the easy path, if that were true we’d all be living in log cabins.

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I’ll take the temple and the jungle, please.

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Blogging A-Z Highlights

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So I actually committed and made it through the Blog A-Z Challenge. To pat myself on the back, I’ve written two books but this was different. Blogging is different.

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I had a lot of fun. I loved the camaraderie, meeting new peeps taking the challenge and seeing how they came up with inspiring content. I hope they’ll still come around. I hope when the excitement wanes, they won’t too. I will visit my new friends, and often.

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The numbers shot up too. Nice. There were moments. After a few in the restaurant, I had to really pull myself to the Surface to get it done. Tax night? Yah, reason why the Ikebana Post was not getting much love, I was literally doing turbotax and the post at the same time. It wasn’t my best, but I didn’t want to quit. And hey, it was “I”.

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Some posts were surprisingly popular.

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Cherry Blossom C. Kyoto K. Good eye candy. Everyone loves cherry blossoms.

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Life of Oharu, okay that was X but it got good comments and it’s a fantastic film.

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This one was close to my heart.

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The Real Madame Butterfly M.

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I can see the value of blogging often. I feel energized. Great challenge with like-minded people. Wouldn’t have missed it.

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Zelda in the Shadow

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I’ve always thought a duel biography of Zelda and Nora would be interesting. Both married literary giants, Fitzgerald and Joyce. Both were incredibly unhappy. But since this is the last night of the A-Z Blog Challenge, Zelda gets the honors. After all she was the original flapper.

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Zelda goes down in history for being the model of Daisy Buchanan, in Great Gatsby. But she was a frustrated writer, largely misunderstood who suffered in the shadow of her husband. It’s ironic that she was the quintessential It Girl, rebellious, hip and bohemian enough to break the rules of society yet she struggled with identity. It nearly destroyed her.

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She seems not to have much confidence in her own abilities, but much of her witticisms made their way into her husband’s books. As a product of post-War America, she was the embodiment of woman who turned away from traditional roles of wife and mother. She was not domestic in the least. She contributed to a column of favorite recipes, this is what she wrote, and I quote:

“See if there is any bacon, and if there is, ask the cook which pan to fry it in. Then ask if there are any eggs, and if so try and persuade the cook to poach two of them. It is better not to attempt toast, as it burns very easily. Also, in the case of bacon, do not turn the fire too high, or you will have to get out of the house for a week. Serve preferably on china plates, though gold or wood will do if handy.”

Love that.

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They had a difficult marriage. Unconventional, he, raging alcoholic who expected her to bask in greatness, she who suffered bouts of depression, commitment and suicide attempts. Hemingway did not like her. It was mutual. He thought she was crazy. She detested his “faux machismo”. The marriage issues stemmed largely when Zelda was left at loose ends while Fitzgerald was deep in his manuscripts. She wanted what he had, but on her own terms.

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One of the more bizarre attempts at carving her own way was her obsession to become a ballerina. At 27. She practiced all hours of the day. It’s a bit like deciding to become an Olympic skier at age 32. She had a minor talent, and was invited to study in an Italian school. But she never went. She dropped the whole idea, just as it seemed she had got what she wanted. Or did she?

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Zelda wanted to write. Can you imagine being married Fitzgerald, yet he never encouraged her, one suspects he was jealous and fearful of sharing the limelight. She was hospitalized in 1932, yet in that time she was able to complete an entire novel, Save Me The Last Waltz She sent it to her husband’s editor, the great Maxwell Perkins. Fitzgerald exploded. He accused her of using intimate details of their marriage, yet he was more angry because she had beaten him to the punch; he was planning on using the same martial for Tender Is The Night, a novel that took him years while she banged Waltz out in six weeks. There was no pride, no encouragement. Her efforts, met with suspicion.

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Fitzgerald forced her to edit out the scenes, though the novel was published by Scribner. Ah, connections. It wasn’t a success, though today her writing has been described as more sensual and verbally rich. It is best remembered, as one woman’s attempt to stop being a “backseat driver” in her husband’s life. Fitzgerald called her a Third-Rate writer. This broke her heart and she was never the same. She made about $120. And that’s why no pictures of him appear in this post.

This is about Zelda. Not F, or S. Those letters have been done. And I dedicate the blogs in this A-Z Challenge to her memory. Over and out. It’s been fantastic.

ZELDA

You and You Alone

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I remember in college a professor suggested I work on a paper with another student. I knew the subject matter like the back of my hand, in fact I was passionate about it and could write it cold. 35 pages. I knew the other student didn’t know half as much as I did. To prove it, she went to the library and checked out all the books. It didn’t matter. I wasn’t going to collaborate. I owned half of them anyway. I would go it alone. I got an A, while she got in the lower end of the alphabet I recall.

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Writing is an intensely personal experience and sometimes we feel me vs. the rest. The way we see life is just so different. We need refuge away to make sense of the world around us. We need to write. Even if we don’t enjoy it, it’s just who we are.

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That’s why it’s important to understand the journey we take is a long, lonely one and to most of our non-writer friends and family, it seems masochistic. A waste of time. Incomprehensible. But they don’t see the inner flame inside that keeps shoveling coal into the furnace of despair and insecurity. They never had a dream. Some don’t, you know. They’ve told me. Many people just never had a dream, and I don’t mean to get all MLK but think about it, as hard as it is, and as windy and twisty and bumpy as this road is, you can say, you’re living your dream. And you did it by yourself, because no one but you is going to sit down when the ice cream man rolls around, to tempt you with his treats. You’re going to keep sitting down and getting the writing done. You’re going to edit the work over and over. Because if it was easy you wouldn’t do it. Because it’s a dream. It’s all yours and you did it alone.

Now go hit the keys.

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It’s just sometimes, I know that’s the way I’m supposed to go….I say someday I will.