It actually sounds like the name of a song David Bowie would write, but no; this isn't a song, and the writer is not David Bowie--but he is a funky little demon! Read on to get into AJ Beamish's mind. I guarantee it can be a scary place! And no, AJ's not one of those frigging clowns that are running around the world right now scaring young and old.
SM: Welcome to Sylvia Says, AJ. It’s great to have you as a guest on this blog. I see you’re originally from one of my favourite cities—NYC. So what are you doing in Georgia now, and why do you want to move to the land down under?
AJ: I was born in NYC to a couple of Scousers from Liverpool. So I grew up in England and NYC, probably why I have a better grasp of the English language than most Americans (*cough*TrumpSupporters*cough*). Funny thing, when we first moved to Georgia, I really wanted to move to Australia. Might have had something to do with smoking pot while watching the Paul Hogan show... Can't remember.
Alas, my wife loves her comfort zone too much and she has family here. She also hits harder than Bruce Lee. So we ended up in Southern Hell. At the time, I just wanted to get out of NYC. I thought it was because I hated it there. Now I realise I've always had severe social anxieties; I get very anxious in crowded settings. I miss NYC, but it's too expensive for working class folk now. That's a little disappointing.
SM: I see none of your facebook friends are David Bowie fans except for me. Do you think they were replaced by extraterrestrials, but still look like their human selves? Except for Author Nicole Chardenet of course; we all know she’s an extraterrestrial chick through and through!
AJ: I have Facebook friends? *looking genuinely surprised* Most of them are young-adult gamers, or they were until I started pissing them off. They're great folk, solid gaming friends with whom I've developed great personal relationships over the years. Alas, I need more writer friends on my Facebook. Writers are far more contemplative, especially regarding important social issues older generations are more concerned about. My gamer friends suffer from the vestiges and arrogance of youth, as I did at their age. Facebook is where you go to realise you have very little in common with the people you actually know--or--the people you know can't find a middle ground with you. For the most part, Facebook is a place for acquaintances, not friends. At least, that's been my experience.
SM: Another thing I noticed is that you have a dog looking at a computer on your Facebook feature pic (see below). This explains many things.... LOL. Care to comment on this and tell us who is really writing your novel?
AJ: That's Stanley. He's an only child and needs a friend, and thus is a spoiled brat. We've always had two dogs, but we lost 3 in row a few years back within a 4-year period (one to cancer, one to a rare genetic blood disease, and one to old age) and have been reluctant to adopt more (please always adopt, people!) Besides my wife, he's my best friend. Rain or shine, Stanley never leaves my side. When friends and family abandon me, he is there.
My wife says 'he's just like you', and he is. I've learned more about myself through Stanley than all my life experiences put together. He has all my fears, mania, and anxieties. He hates going outside, doesn't trust anyone, but my wife and me. When depression gets the best of me, he's sulking right next to me. When the mania hits, he's destroying his multitude of toys while I frantically pace. He looks out the window and growls at the world he has no control over. I sit on the internet and growl at the world I have no control over. We both binge-watched the entirety of "Outrageous Fortune" on Netflix like 3 times... He's a total freak, just like me.
I am most definitely writing my novel, but I'm pretty sure Stanley takes over my Facebook and Twitter feeds late at night. Oh, I should copyright that one before Trump does!
SM: Okay, enough humour. Aussies like messing about with people and taking the piss out of them (in a nice way, of course). Now, tell me about the premise of your novel, which seems to be a long labour of love.
AJ: Marley Wright is close to my heart. The bugger's been tormenting me a long time. Though I fear the story may have fermented too long. He's a simple kid, from a broken family, who gets these powers and starts seeing tiny demons all around him. The demons guide him in strange ways. He develops these precognitive magical powers through the demons and rather than doing the whole Peter Parker responsibility thing, Marley goes off on a wild tangent, gets lost, gets hunted, finds purpose, and tries to start doing what he believes he was meant to do. But is it too late by then? I'd allude more to what that purpose is, but it's a major plot twist that doesn't come about till late in the second novel.
It's a ballad, a trilogy with a couple of short stories thrown in for good measure. The ballad is a journey of discovery and the search for something to believe in. The first novel is about the loss of innocence and the bitter sting of betrayal.
I'm working on a short story for the holidays. A sort of Funky Little Demons Christmas Carol that jumps ahead quite a few years, and that will help flesh out the main character for the readers a bit more. Be sure to look out for it.
SM: What inspired you to write it?
AJ: That question from XTC's "Dear God" clearly comes to mind--Did you make mankind after we made you? And a quote from Homer's "The Odyssey": Ah how shameless--the way these mortals blame the gods. From us alone, they say, come all their miseries, yes, but they themselves, with their own reckless ways, compound their pains beyond their proper share. Along with my own search for something to believe in. Roman Catholic, born and raised. Dabbled in Buddhism. Now a devout atheist. Parts of it are loosely based off my own experiences growing up in Spanish Harlem, NYC. Write what you know, right?
SM: As novelists, we always reflect something within ourselves through our characters. What do you feel you reflect through your characters?
AJ: There's definitely a lot of my childhood in Marley in the first novel. But it probably stops there. There's only so much of yourself you can put in your characters. There are parts of yourself that just need to remain yours. I feel writers are solitary creatures. We sit back. We observe. We write what we see, what we think we see, what we know. In our minds we are many things, but those things are just reflections of the world around us. So while there's some of myself in Marley, the other characters probably reflect people I've known in life. I suppose we have to insert that legal caveat here regarding all characters being fictional and any similarities are merely a product of one's over-inflated ego. LOL.
SM: Where can readers get a glimpse of your novel? And are you planning on a formal release for it?
AJ: They can find the first few chapters at ajbeamish.com; and as of this moment, I don't have a release date planned. My diseased mind constantly finds ways to screw with me so I feel the same way Douglas Adams felt about deadlines--I simply love the whooshing sound they make as they whizz on by.
SM: AJ, I’d like to close off by saying that, unlike in other careers, being an older person gives an author an edge and more insight because of the life experience we go through: the lessons learned and the wisdom we acquire (at least, for most of us). This is something that a younger person may have trouble portraying in their writing unless they are exceptionally wise or they’ve suffered greatly. What are your thoughts on this?
AJ: All artists suffer. It's what we do. Mostly in melodramatic ways. Though our suffering can be somewhat selfish at times and wear down those close to us. My own introverted nature, anxieties and depression have pushed many people away, including family. So we have to find balance there, especially in our writing. Insert too much personal suffering and your narrative will come off as more whiny than entertaining.
Worldliness plays a huge part in a writer's ability to draw upon vivid experiences to infuse their narrative with. Someone who has never travelled ten feet beyond their white picket fence will be writing a lot of one dimensional characters and places until they get out there, start travelling, and start experiencing life.
It's also a "know thyself thing". In my youth I wasn't very introspective. Most humans are the same deep down; once you start figuring yourself out you've pretty much figured everyone else out. At least their base needs, wants, and fears. Everything else is just layer upon layer of internal reactions to personal experiences that warp, jade, or inspire us.
SM: It’s not always easy to open up and tell the world what we think and feel through our stories. But I think we’re blessed if we can do this, even if it makes us feel vulnerable at times. Some people may not take away anything from our writing; others will go on to criticise us and bring us down. But if we can touch one heart or one soul with the stories we write, in my estimation I think we’ve done a good job. What do you think?
AJ: When I first started writing they had this saying, if you have a message call Western Union. I suppose it would be nice if someone came up to me and told me my writing got them through a difficult time or inspired them, but I don't believe you can write a good story if you're focused on that. I think you have to write for yourself first and foremost. If something wonderful, like touching another's soul comes out of it, great. I try not to think about it too much because when I do it ends up in mental images of someone throwing one of my novels at me and screaming YOU SUCK! And then there's that whole Stephen King's Misery paradigm... My mind is a very dangerous place.
SM: And my house is your house, especially the one pictured above. Hehehehehe. Well, I think we'll stop here and ponder on this--the mind boggles--and the meaning of life, etc, etc. We all know the answer is "42", right?
AJ, it was great having you on Sylvia Says. And I hope you make it to the land down under one day so we can continue the "42" discussion, among other things. Best of luck with Funky Little Demons, and thank you for using UK/Aussie spelling in your answers to my questions. Nice touch!
AJ: Thanks, Sylvia. And I'll hold you to your invite to visit Australia.
SM: You're on :)
Today I woke up feeling melancholy and questioning the meaning of life--like for the 10 millionth time! I then came across a journal of short poems and stories that I started in 1981 (when I was 19 years of age), and I discovered that not much has changed in respect to my views regarding life, the injustice of it all, suffering, death, unrequited love, dreaming about make it big, nature, animals, our planet, and on and on... The thing is, I still feel the same about all those issues, and I still carry within me the love I had for the heroes of my youth, namely Bruce Lee (yes, I was into martial arts) and David Bowie (the man who influenced many areas of my life).
And then I found this short poem written in October, 1984, when I was 22 years old, preparing to go off to the UK and Europe in search of the man himself! In those days, my whole life was full of Ziggy Stardust even though David Bowie had killed him off in 1973 with his last concert at the Hammersmith Odeon.
This is what I wrote:
The Man that Was
Watch the man that was.
Who was he?
Where was he?
In a mind of his own illusion;
In a world of his own mind.
The world, a kaleidoscope of colour and smell.
A champion crusader;
An invincible success.
Watch that man that was.
Oh, it's so so sad!
The hero with feet of clay;
Not so invincible; only spaced out.
In truth the man that was
Could not live this lie.
One day he work up;
He said, "Who was the man that was?"
The man that was--
Ziggy Stardust was his name.
It is a well-known fact that most authors live vicariously through their characters. I’m not sure if this is true for all of them, but I believe authors need to live “in character” at some stage if their work is to be of quality.
In fact, I’ll take this a step further and propose that many of us (author or not) live between three worlds:
2. In character
Let’s take a closer look:
What’s reality, anyway? What if we’re figments of someone else’s imagination, and we’re fooling ourselves that our lives are real? After all, as Mr William Shakespeare suggests in his play “As You Like It”:
All the world's a stage,
And all the men and women merely players;
They have their exits and their entrances,
And one man in his time plays many parts...
Therefore, what you perceive to be real may not be real. But no matter how you perceive your reality, certain things are inescapable: birth, death, taxes, paying bills, making a living, illness, the whole myriad of human emotions, and whatever else fits into what we perceive as living "the human condition".
Now, this is where things begin to get interesting for authors (and for anyone with an imagination). As with “method actors”, we also have “method writers”. So we often find ourselves coming across to others as the characters we write about and those we identify with. This often puzzles the people who think they know us, but it’s a fact that many of us “step into character” at some stage or other in our lives in order to take a break from our reality.
So people who interact with us may think we’re simply “just another creative soul” or an absolute fruitcake.
For me, I step in and out of character at a moment’s notice between my many protagonists; and this always crosses into my reality so that people are not sure who they’re dealing with. I could be Mia Ferrari one minute, a smartarse-doesn’t-suffer-fools-gladly chick with a liking for younger men and solving mysteries, only to turn into Cat Ryan the next minute, an online-dating blogger with a love of antiques (not antique men, but antique furniture and art); then, on to Sarah Jamison, a Bridget Jones-type that comes up with madcap ideas to get a real man; and finally, to Carla Fiori, who is the love interest of David Bowie (while he’s in character as Rhys Lewis) in my latest novel, The Stranger, a sci-fi romance.
And this is where it starts to get really spooky! Not only do some writers live in character at times, but often we simply decide to take off from reality for a major part of our time, and we live vicariously through all our characters and the situations in which they find themselves.
For me, this is addictive, and I often find myself in this world. This can happen to me while I’m writing (or "in the zone" as I call it) or while I'm watching a movie, or reading a book. And oftentimes, I simply switch from reality and immerse myself in this particular world because this is where I like to be best of all.
In this world, I can be anybody, and I can interact with any character. This is the world where I’m the superhero and save the day; or I have a ton of younger men as lovers; or a young version of David Bowie and I are an item and we compose and perform music, among other things; or I solve all sorts of crimes and bring the bad guys to justice. In this world, I’m invincible, fit and healthy, and a gorgeous femme fatale; and the list goes on.
So whether you’re a creative type, or you have a love of films and books, or you can simply daydream at will—you, too, live between three worlds. The question is: Which world do you mostly want to live in?
Yes, you got it, baby! Mia Ferrari is coming back in her 4th mystery adventure. But not yet. Her creator, Sylvia Massara, is only just getting over writing the sci-fi romance "The Stranger", which she dedicated to the loving memory of her hero, David Bowie; and now, she's finally getting down to planning what is going to happen with Mia's next adventure.
There are also big changes coming up for Mia in her new mystery. First of all, she's going to be transferred to manage a hotel outside of Sydney city; so she's going to have to move. Second, she's going to have to deal with her adversary cop friend, Phil Smythe. Mia has a feeling he's not going to like her moving away from the "big smoke" even though she knows he secretly admires her investigative skills, among other things. Lastly, Mia is going to meet a new adversary to contend with. But more about him later.
In the meantime, in order to celebrate Mia's comeback, and to remind you of the day Mia's creator launched the first Mia Ferrari mystery, below is a short blog to commemorate Mia, getting in touch with her roots--you know, all things Italian, including art.
Mia's "first release" blog post: Hi all, Mia Ferrari has a lot to celebrate this month. First and foremost, her creator, multi-genre novelist, Sylvia Massara, has unleashed her smartass, wise-talking, older-chick, wannabe investigator protagonist out into the world. To celebrate, Sylvia then took over as Mia's alter-ego and went off to our country's capital city, Canberra, to catch the Renaissance Exhibition that was showing for a limited time, all the way from Bergamo, Italy.
Mia Ferrari and friend, Marie Giovenco, both super-cool chicks (pictured above) went off on a propeller plane (of all things) and flew from Sydney to Canberra, just a 30-minute flight, to go back to their roots and see some "hot" paintings by some "hot" Renaissance artists (not stolen hot, but hot as in fantastic). Poor Marie wasn't sure whether to call her friend Sylvia or Mia. So she made the best of it and didn't call her by name; she simply enjoyed the day!
In raptures over paintings from Raphael, Botticelli, Perugino and others, the girls loved this one (left), painted by Giovanni Bellini, circa 1488. It felt so wonderful to be standing in front of something that was so perfect, and which was painted some 525 years ago. With their love of Renaissance, both Sylvia and Mia were in raptures, as was friend, Marie.
Below is another gorgeous painting to whet your appetite. This one by Lorenzo Lotto. Ah, la bella Italia! What more can I say? We're all about creativity, pasta, pizza, coffee, Vespas, and Ferraris!
The day was great. The celebratory outing was perfect, but what was even greater was that Sylvia's novel was first reviewed by none other than the queen of mystery/suspense from Florida, USA--author Darcia Helle.
Sylvia was terrified when she asked Darcia to be brutally honest (no matter what), and this is what Darcia came back with:
"Mia Ferrari is a fun and adventurous woman in her late forties. In this first book in the series, she leads us through a tangled web as she plods along in her quest for answers. I really enjoyed Mia's character, as well as her supporting cast. At times, this book made me laugh. Other times, I'd find myself nodding in understanding. The pace is quick, the mystery a bit of a whodunit that allows readers to figure things out along with Mia."
Sylvia immediately wrote back and told Darcia that getting this kind of review from her, an author she highly esteems, is akin to getting a blessing from the Pope. LOL. Thank God we're not living in the Renaissance period; otherwise, if Sylvia said something like this back then she would have been burned at the stake for being a heretic!
THE STRANGER - A novel inspired by my muse, Ziggy Stardust: For more details on where to obtain a copy click HERE.
IN LOVING MEMORY OF DAVID BOWIE
8 JAN 1947 - 10 JAN 2016
PROLOGUE TO BLOG POST: In the late hours of Sunday, 10 January, 2016 (New York time) a star that had been shining bright for so long dimmed rapidly and then became a "Blackstar". The star's name was David Bowie. Not only did this star bring wonderful music to our planet, but he changed the life of many people, myself included.
David Bowie inspired me through life and will go on inspiring me through death; my only regret is I never got the chance to finish my latest novel in time for him to read--which was all arranged. When I rang his management company just before Christmas I was told my book would be put directly in his hands. I was over the moon. David Bowie, my hero, was going to read my novel, the one I dedicated to him as my muse Ziggy Stardust.
Rewind back a few months now to when I started writing this novel, The Stranger, and read my comment below, which I shared with friends once I heard of David's passing:
"During the last few months I've been feeling a sense of urgency about him. Like I had to hurry and finish my novel and get it to him before something happened. When the news came today I was spooked but not shocked. I'd been expecting this sad moment for some time now. Even so, it's so awful."
I will miss you, David, but you will still continue to be my muse for this and future novels. When I heard the sad news yesterday afternoon (Sydney time) I lit a candle for you and played "Heroes" really loudly. I chose to celebrate your life. You no longer suffer. You will never die in the hearts and minds of the millions who love you. You are now young and healthy again (and hopefully giving a fantastic concert in heaven).
You are BOWIE-- immortal because of us who will always remember you. You will never be forgotten.
For me, David Bowie "just is" and always will be. You really are my "Hero" and I hope you'll be waiting for me when my time comes--standing by the wall.
MY ORIGINAL BLOG POST BELOW FROM A FEW MONTHS PRIOR TO HIS PASSING:
Is it possible to spend the best part of your life with someone whom you haven't met? I'm living proof of it; so read on.
I can’t quite remember the exact year when my life with David Bowie began; but it was sometime around 37 years ago--and he never left me.
Creatives are very sensitive people who usually go around with hundreds, if not thousands, of characters, plot lines and/or song lyrics in their heads. We live and breathe this energy we call creativity; and we’re at our best when we are, as we authors call it, “in the zone”.
So why am I writing about David Bowie now? Well, as mentioned earlier, David Bowie--in one of his best known personas, Ziggy Stardust--somehow made his way into my mind, heart and soul back in the late 70s—and since then I was toast. Ziggy took over and commanded my life (sometimes much to the horror of my parents), but that's another story. In any case, I got into guitar playing and song writing to feel closer to Ziggy and explore the musical side in me. I was already a writer from the age of 12 or so; therefore, it wasn’t a problem for me to write songs. I even had my own band when I was 16 and we performed in a few places.
Then, in my early 20s, I did the “Europe” thing most Aussies like to do. By this time, I was intoxicated with Ziggy; and as soon as I arrived in London I had my hair cut and dyed bright orange, a-la-Ziggy. I went hunting for a Ziggy T-shirt in Soho along with black lipstick and nail polish, and I was reborn.
My desire to meet this man, Ziggy (or I should say David Bowie) was so great I couldn’t eat or breathe without thinking of him. In fact, I was in raptures when I drove past the Hammersmith Odeon where Ziggy Stardust performed his last concert in 1973.
By the time I got into the whole Ziggy thing (around 1976); Ziggy Stardust had unfortunately been killed off by his fans (probably along with the Spiders from Mars) and another character was born—Aladdin Sane—although I’d like to think of him as “a lad insane”--like me (although I'm a girl). Creatives can be whimsical; have many personas in which they reinvent themselves; up one minute, down the next; moody; on top of the world and planning their suicides in the space of 5 minutes, and the list goes on.
Back to Ziggy--he was no more after 1973, but this didn’t stop his spirit from influencing and inspiring me to this day. By the way, when I was in Torquay in 1985 I could have sworn I came face to face with the man himself. I was rushing up the road and this guy comes out of a shop. The shock was so great I stood rooted to the spot. Meanwhile, he walked on... Damn! Talk about those “what if” moments. To this day, I still don’t know if that was David Bowie; and I will never be able to find out unless I meet the man and ask him where he was in June, 1985.
In 1983, Bowie toured Australia with the Serious Moonlight Tour and I saw him in Sydney. I was right up the front of the crowd but couldn’t get to him. Damn, yet again! And the worst part is that I recently found out David Bowie lived in Sydney for a number of years (between 1982 - 1992), and only a few streets away from where I used to live. Aaarrggghhhhh!!!! Is fate cruel or what? If I’d known this back then, I would have tracked him down and had a long talk with him about life, the universe and everything. Yes, I really feel I’m in his head space at times and whatever he says through his lyrics or at interviews resonates with me so much that it sometimes gets spooky.
After Bowie released the Let's Dance album, I kind of quashed down my zeal for Ziggy (and David) as reality set in (you know; working, paying bills, marrying the wrong man, etc); but he (Ziggy) never left me. As I said at the beginning of this blog post, authors and other creatives live with many characters/words/lyrics in their heads. So when I recently started to look for a plot line for my 7th novel, guess who screamed the loudest to get out of my head and become my muse? Yep. You guessed it. It was Ziggy. To think he had been inside my head all this time, waiting for the right moment to make an appearance. It was like greeting an old friend--someone I missed for a long time; someone who totally understood me; someone on the same wavelength.
So now I find myself writing an apocalyptic sci-fi novel entitled “The Stranger” and my muse is, of course, Ziggy. I’m not usually a fan of sci-fi, but in Ziggy’s case I made an exception as nothing short of sci-fi can encapsulate his personality and immense charisma (this applies to all of Bowie's personas).
I am dedicating the novel to Ziggy Stardust; and when the book is released I will be sending a copy to the man who has had such an impact on my life. Ziggy may be no more, but David Bowie is alive and well. Besides, Ziggy will never die for me as long as I’m around.
For more details on where to obtain a copy click HERE.
I have blogged about this most of unsavoury subjects in the past, but it seems cyberbullying is reaching epidemic proportions these days.
Most of us follow social etiquette in real life if we want to fit in with the culture in our environment, but there are those that turn into little monsters when it comes to dealing with people through social media. These sick, pathetic individuals have a tendency to use social media to really let it rip, no matter what the consequences. I could understand this if they were provoked and they wanted to somehow defend themselves (although this doesn't really work too well either); but to tear someone to shreds when there is no provocation--well, that's another thing entirely.
Bullying, whether in real life or through social media should carry ZERO tolerance. Coming from a corporate background involving employee relations I've fired many people for bullying behaviour in the workplace. Abuse is abuse, no matter what you call it.
So how do you deal with a cyberbully who chooses to hide behind their computer or Smartphone because they don't have the balls to show you their real face? This type is the most coward bully of them all--an individual that hides behind avatars and secrecy for their own ends--mainly to bully others on social media. I call these people trolls.
Wikipedia defines a troll as a person who sows discord on the Internet by starting arguments or upsetting people by posting inflammatory, extraneous or off-topic messages in an online community with the deliberate intent of provoking readers into an emotional response or of otherwise disrupting normal on-topic discussions.
In my opinion, a troll is a cyberbully without a life of their own. And if you're wondering what a troll looks like, the answer is: Like anybody. They come in all shapes and sizes. But I'd like to think of them as per the pics below:
Why am I re-posting about trolls? Well, it all started with a few tweets I read from actor James Woods. Mr Woods, like many of us, is an interactive tweeter and he expresses an opinion on many topics. Nothing wrong with that, right? I follow his tweets because I like what he's got to say. He tweets a lot about politics and even though I don't live in the US--hence I don't understand much about American politics--I still have an interest in many of the things Mr Woods has to say.
Unfortunately, my enjoyment of Mr Woods' tweets are usually marred by these cowardly creatures that dedicate their energy to wasting other people's time and enjoyment in using social media.
Let's face it, trolls are tedious, terrible and tormenting creatures with little minds and no imagination that should really get out there and do something constructive with their lives for a change instead of making ours a misery.
My opinions are my own, just as Mr Woods' opinions are his--and you, the reader, also have an opinion that you may wish to express. Now, you may or may not agree with what I say, what Mr Woods says or what someone else says, but there is absolutely no need to start acting like an exorcist-type entity--one that often uses words that half the time they cannot even spell.
I quite enjoy the way Mr Woods deals with cyberbullies or trolls; he simply shakes them like water off a duck's back and blocks them with a witty comment and the hashtag #INSTABLOCK.
I recently joined discussions on Twitter about a common topic the people in this thread share, but in the short time I've been tweeting in this thread I've had the misfortune to come across a few very strange individuals; two of which have abused me for no good reason. And by the way, trolls should understand that if they tweet or post something on a public forum they should expect other people to interact with their tweets/posts. Therefore, if your tweet/post is for a particular person you, the troll, should message them privately and not on an open forum. Duh!
Well, since these most unfortunate incidents of bullying occurred I've taken a page from Mr Woods' effective way of dealing with trolls and I used the #INSTABLOCK hashtag to get rid of them and their rubbish and bullying comments.
My final message to all trolls (cyberbullies) out there is clearly depicted in the cartoon below.
On a last note, I'd like to thank Mr Woods for inspiring such a great way to get rid of these waste of cyberspace individuals.
On "Sylvia Says" today, I go all the way to NYC (on a virtual trip) to interview author Steven Jay Griffel about his successful David Grossman series.
SM: Welcome to Sylvia Says, Steven. It’s great to have you as a guest on my blog, and all the way from one of my favourite cities—New York City! Today, I decided to start this interview with the last question first and ask you: “Are you David Grossman?”
SJG: Great to be in the land down under, Sylvia. And the answer to your question is no, I’m not David Grossman, though he and I are often mistaken for each other. David Grossman is my best-known fictional character and appears in all of my novels, serving me as a sort of fictional alter-ego. Through David’s decisions I get to imagine other life choices, which tend to be more imaginative and daring than my own.
SM: Looking at the novel blurb in each of your David Grossman books, I see there are many life lessons learned; what would you say is one of the most important lessons of all and why?
SJG: My greatest advice to readers: Do not live a life stunted by regret. Regret is a self-inflicted poison that slowly degrades a person’s courage and self-esteem. People are generally happier when they are able to articulate their greatest regrets in order to render them null and void.
SM: The other thing I noticed is that your novels include aspects of what I might call the “paranormal.” What prompted you to do this?
SJG: Like many people, I am fascinated by experience beyond normal human understanding. In Grand View there is the mystery of the Potato Cave and communication with the dead via the Ouija board; in Grossman’s Castle there are the strange phenomena in the Castle and the appearance of ghosts; in The Deadline there is an Amazonian High Priestess who practices the dark arts of Candomblè. These examples of the paranormal add a sense of exotica and suspense to the plots.
SM: No paranormal in Forty Years Later?
SJG: There is someone who may (or may not) be a knife-wielding murderess. But I think she’s abnormal, not paranormal.
SM: Where did David Grossman come from? The idea of him, that is. I know he “speaks” to you and tells you he has more to say and this is why you wrote your fourth novel in the series. Care to elaborate a bit more on this?
SJG: About twenty-five years ago I wrote a novel called Grand View. The story takes place in a Jewish bungalow colony in the Catskill Mountains during one summer in the 1960s; the main protagonist is a young teen named David Grossman. Many years later, I reconnected with someone I knew when we were both teens. This woman is a screenwriter who had a big hit movie modelled on the bungalow colony where the two of us had once lived. My relationship with this woman inspired me to write Forty Years Later, which became my first published novel and featured David Grossman as a middle-aged man. A year later I wrote The Deadline, another novel featuring David Grossman as a Baby Boomer. Following the success of these novels, my publisher released Grand View and came up with the idea of marketing the books as the David Grossman Series. In March, Grossman’s Castle was published, my fourth David Grossman book. I never planned to write a series. I started with one book about a boy named David Grossman--and the series took on a successful life of its own.
SM: Do you ever feel locked in or limited as the author of a series?
SJG: In Grand View, Forty Years Later, and The Deadline, David Grossman is the first-person narrator. In a sense, each narrative is “limited” to David Grossman’s purview and perceptions. But In Grossman’s Castle I needed direct access into the minds of three other main characters, so I moved to a third-person narration. This point of view gives me limitless flexibility.
SM: Do readers have to read your novels in a certain order?
SJG: The novels are independent and can be read in any order, though most readers like to read them chronologically, following the sequence of David Grossman’s life: Grand View, Grossman’s Castle, The Deadline, and Forty Years Later.
SM: As novelists, we always reflect something within ourselves through our characters. What do you feel you reflect through David and your other major characters?
SJG: Emotionally speaking, I reflect my essential insecurity and my desire for a greater, more accomplished life. Practically speaking, I think I reflect my Baby Boomer culture: dying parents, failing health, unemployment, adulterous affairs, revised careers, paranormal events—all that is mundane and miraculous in life. My Boomer novels show that life after sixty is just as dramatic, sexy, and entertaining as any other time of life.
SM: Your novels are available exclusively as e-books on Amazon. Was that your decision? What are your feelings about this?
SJG: I signed with an indie publisher when the digital revolution was just beginning to transform the publishing industry. I had to come to grips with the idea that my books would not appear in a traditional paperbound format. As it happened, my first published novel, Forty Years Later, was a pretty big hit—an Amazon #1 best-seller. Almost immediately I had a sizable readership, which has continued to buy and read my books. I love the fact that my novels are inexpensive and available around the world. I’m told that my books have sold in more than thirty countries and on six continents. This is all very gratifying to me. I no longer have any regrets about my novels being available only as e-books.
SM: It seems to me that being an older author can be a distinct advantage. The lessons learned and the wisdom acquired are not things that most 20-, 30- or even 40-year-olds could write about successfully. My belief is that it’s not until we get into our 50s that we are truly “rounded off” as feeling and empathetic beings. What are your thoughts on this?
SJG: I agree with your thoughts. Being a novelist is not like a being a chess prodigy or a teen gymnast. Although there are exceptions, most successful novelists draw on their experiences hard-won over many years.
SM: Lastly, is there anything else you’d like to add?
SJG: I am working on a new novel. Yes, it is a David Grossman novel. And it may be the strangest, most exciting one yet. Suffice to say, David Grossman is involved with a cast of colorful crazies that include a gambler, a wilderness expert, Stone Age Indians, and an old friend just released from Bellevue Psychiatric Hospital.
SM: Sounds great, and I wish you every success with it! Steven, I’d like to thank you for sharing your views with us today. It’s not always easy to open ourselves up and tell the world what we think and feel, but I think we are blessed if we can do this. Many people may not learn anything, but if we can touch one heart or one soul with the novels we write, then in my estimation we’ve done a good job.
It was great having you on Sylvia Says, and at the risk of sounding like a romantic fool I’m going to confess that every time I listen to Harry Connick, Jr., I think of you and NYC!
SJG: It was great being here, Sylvia. And when next in NYC, I owe you dinner.
SM: And I'll hold you to that, too!
For more information on Steven and his books, please click HERE.
I’m a nice person—idealistic and philanthropic, you might say—but I recently learned a hard lesson when I made some donations to certain charities:
THE MORE YOU DONATE TO A CHARITY THE MORE ANNOYING PHONE CALLS YOU WILL RECEIVE IN FUTURE
Now, let’s start with the main culprit responsible for ruining your dinner, relaxation time, and even work time (especially if you work from home).
It’s not enough that the DO NOT CALL REGISTER gives your number to any of these organisations: charities, research companies, political parties & educational institutions. Even if you have an unlisted number, like I have, you're not safe. And by giving out your number, they are also indirectly responsible for people becoming stressed, annoyed, feeling stalked, and sometimes turning into bullies.
What happens then? We end up blasting the poor customer service employee who has to make all these annoying calls. Not only that, but with all the work health and safety legislation floating about, charities can expect to get a high increase in stress claims from their employees (but hopefully no suicides); AND let’s not even go into the high turnover of burnt-out employees that throw in the towel.
The point here is that charities are not being very charitable about their own people or call centre people they engage to annoy the rest of the population, plus in my opinion the DO NOT CALL REGISTER is vicariously responsible for unleashing this chain of events.
Since I started to get more and more calls to my unlisted number, I registered my land line with the DO NOT CALL REGISTER. I even listed my mobile (cell) number for good measure. Once I did this, I naively thought if I had to take the odd call from a charity, this would be okay. My estimation at the time was that I’d get maybe one call a month or so. But never in my wildest nightmares did I think I would be stalked with an average of 30 to 40 calls per month!
Once this happened, I went into forums on the Internet to see what others had to say about this subject, and I found that most of these poor people were getting up to 50 calls per month from charities alone, and they didn’t know how to make it stop. Of course, people in the forum also discussed how useless the DO NOT CALL REGISTER is. I mean, whatever happened to PRIVACY laws? AND why the hell am I paying for an unlisted number if every man and his dog can find me, and tries to wheedle yet another donation from me?
Personally, I have nothing against charities. In fact, I sponsored two children through World Vision until they were age 18 and 20 years respectively—and I would sponsor more if I had a full time job, but being a freelancer my income fluctuates, and it’s difficult for me to commit for the long term.
Despite this, over the many years I sponsored these kids, I was sometimes unemployed but still kept up with my donations as I didn’t want to let them down. I also give to the Cat Protection Society, the World Society for the Protection of Animals (WSPA), and the World Wildlife Fund (WWF).
Why do I keep giving to these charities? Because none of them have made the gross error of constantly ringing me at home when I’m cooking, eating or about to watch the next episode of Midsomer Murders. Nor do they call me at lunch, morning coffee break, or on my mobile. In fact, they don’t call me at all. They market themselves by sending the odd card or letter, and I can also subscribe to their online newsletters. This way, I don’t feel annoyed, stalked or harassed--and under no pressure to donate.
The charities I no longer donate to are the ones that break all the rules and simply don’t get it that the more they telephone the more they alienate me.
The very last phone call I ever took from a charity started like all the others (while I felt my blood pressure rise to dangerous levels):
And being the softie that I am, I ended up pledging $30 just to get them off the phone so I could get on with my day! Then I berated myself for being so stupid. I already have my favourite charities I give to, and when I have a bit of spare cash I don’t mind giving to a new charity here and there. Unfortunately, by giving to charities that telephone me, I am constantly encouraging them to keep on ringing me again and again and again—which is what they do.
The DO NOT CALL REGISTER is obviously not going to do anything about this “monster” problem they created, although I have to thank them for having controlled the number of calls I used to get from telemarketers. I still get the odd call from them, but nothing like in the past. Other than this, the DO NOT CALL REGISTER is giving away my unlisted number to all sorts of organisations despite the privacy laws and the fact that I specifically pay extra for my unlisted number (as I mentioned earlier) so I won’t be bothered by all these people.
Some steps I took to minimise annoying calls
The downside of all this
While taking the above measures will help, it’s annoying that I have to screen my calls all the time—not so much when family and friends call, as their number shows on my phone display (caller ID). Of course, if any of them, such as my brother, has an unlisted number, then they’ll have to leave a message on my answering machine before I will pick up. This is ludicrous!
The other very annoying thing for me is that because I mainly work from home and represent a nationwide company, I get lots of calls from all over Australia—and oftentimes I’m not sure who is calling. So the odd “charity” call will still slip through.
In closing, I’d like to say to the DO NOT CALL REGISTER: “Thanks for nothing, people! I hope you get as many annoying calls as I do!”
To the charities that call incessantly and don’t get the hint I don’t want to talk to them, I say: “The more you call, the less you will get donations for your charity. You annoy people like the telemarketers used to do, so you should know better.”
I like to be pleasant on the phone to my callers and not add to their stress levels. So my message to the person who actually makes the call on behalf of a charity is this: “I don’t hold you responsible for annoying me—you’re only doing a job that pays the bills.”
The power of friendship is important at any age. Friendship can transcend the sometimes conditional love of families and relationships. True friendship doesn't judge; true friendship doesn't place conditions on people--your friends will love you as you are; true friendships encourage you to grow and be the best you can be; true friendship is there when your whole life falls apart and you need someone to help you pick up the pieces.
No matter how old one is, friends will be with us from the moment we start interacting with the world, and if we're lucky our friends will walk alongside of us through life's bumpy journey, and until death. This is more than we can expect from some families and most romantic relationships.
So we established that friendship is extremely important in one's life--but have you ever asked yourself when friendship seems to become the most important of all? For me, and millions of people the world over, friendship is most important when we reach middle age and start sliding very quickly toward old age. For women, this is doubly important--women being the nurturing creatures they are (most of them, anyway); they bring special love to those whom they love whether it be a family member, a spouse or a friend. But why is middle-age friendship so important?
Well, let's take the case of the average female at age 50. Unless she's extremely lucky, she's probably been divorced at least twice, perhaps dumped for a younger model. Her work/career is no longer as important besides which, she's probably getting passed over for promotion by younger work colleagues and more satisfying work is difficult to find due to ageism in the workplace.
If she's had children, she's possibly an empty nester by now; and if she's divorced, her middled-aged ex is involved with a chick half his age and driving the proverbial Porsche. On top of this, the average 50-something female is going through menopause, and all those fluctuating hormones do not help at all! She's suddenly flushing every few minutes, she gets ectopic heartbeats, her moods suddenly feel like they're on a pendulum, anxiety might hit too, and she experiences panic attacks or she simply ends up getting depressed. Then, if one or both of her parents are alive, she might end up having to care for them as they are ill and need someone around.
This woman is dividing herself in 100 different directions in the treadmill of middle age, only to be spat out at the other end (if she survives) feeling lonely, without a support system, her dreams for life as yet unrealised, and she's stuck in a nightmare of a life, especially if she's also trying to deal with her own health problems. And let's not even go to her poor looks, some of which might include: frumpy, faded, overweight, grey hair overnight, wrinkles, cellulite, a pot belly and/or that dreaded middle age tyre around the middle!
Okay, so I think by now you'll agree with me that friendship's quite important, especially at this time of life, when we think living through another day is torture. Oh, and let's not forget we've also become invisible to the world, especially to men. Is the picture getting darker and darker by the minute?
But don't despair. Life has a way of making things possible if only we remain open-minded and maintain our resilience. Enter "The Power of Three".
You might ask: "Who are these women?" Well, they're women like you and me, only they got together and became a force to be reckoned with. "Yeah, right," you say. "I bet it's just a movie!" And yes, you're right, it is a movie, but it's a movie that's based on the lives of three amazing, true-life, 50-something women who decided to make things happen. So read on!
Ann Cameron, the writer of the Indie film "The Power of Three" read one of my blogs about Baby Boomers and the challenges faced particularly by women, and she contacted me to share her experience in this time of her life. Have a look at this short video regarding the film and the real women behind the film.
Ann shared this press release with me to further drive the point of what the three friends were trying to achieve: We generally think of film-makers as big budget studios or even faceless business organisations. Just coming together to make a film seems so difficult...and so expensive in today’s climate that it’s easier to just confine ideas like that to a pipe dream.
But that’s not what happened to Yvonne Deutschman , Thereza Snyman and Ann Cameron. Ann and Yvonne met at University in Canada. 30 years later (and having never seen each other during that time), Yvonne invited Ann to London. Ann was at a bleak point in her life - her mother was ill (she died later that year), her legal work was boring. In short, there was no fun.
One evening, while bitching about life in general, Ann, Yvonne and their friend, Thereza, were bemoaning how women were portrayed on film. Chick flick movies were so disappointing: it was obvious that even the ones written by women (few and far between) showed the influence of male producers. Women could have fun… but not too much fun.
They fantasised about a chick flick that breaks all the rules. Women working together instead of backstabbing each other. No script line that starts with "but I saw him FIRST". No singing into household appliances and definitely no "let's go shopping” sequences.
And breaking the biggest rule of them all - having women over age 50 driving the action!
Using Ann’s writing expertise, Yvonne’s knowledge of the film industry and Thereza’s business acumen, they went out and found their three leads: British actress Toyah Willcox, South African Brümilda Van Rensburg and Canadian, Robin Craig. Veteran performers Shirley Anne Field, Margaret Nolan, Richard Bremmer and Hilton McRae joined the cast.
Each woman invested £5,000 and found others to do the same until they had £50,000 – enough to do the shoot. Everyone came on board as a profit share and they were in business.
Michelle (Toyah Wilcox), once a promising film director, now finds her career slowly sliding backwards. Olivia (Brümilda van Rensburg), once a strong and elegant activist who makes a great marriage, now lives in the shadows of the same failed marriage that is stopping her moving forward. Lizzie (Robin Craig) has morphed from wild child into a slobby, middle-aged lawyer with nothing but her work to keep her going.
Events are set into motion when Michelle turns 50 and she is reunited with her two oldest University friends at her party. At first everyone is keen to keep up appearances and live up to their previous glory days...but inevitably the truth comes out ...and there’s no going back...only forward, and together the three women help each other achieve the dreams they had almost given up on.
The Power of Three is for anyone who has ever felt stuck or stalled. It’s a heart-warming reminder that sometimes you just need help to make something happen.
The Power of Three was released on 10th November 2011 with a DVD release that followed in January 2012. If you wish to find out more about the film, visit this site.
So where are the real life friends now? The three friends are planning another film; this one is about turning 60! Meanwhile, The Power of Three was invited to major film festivals in the U.S. and Canada: the Women's International Film Festival (Miami), the Brooklyn Girls Film Festival (New York) and the Toronto Indie Film Festival. It also secured a distributor in South Africa where the film has been shown on TV and is selling briskly.
Ann Cameron reports: The real life story for the three filmmakers is also heartening. England has now become my second home-- I just returned from a visit with Thereza Snyman. I went there in 2003 to visit Yvonne.. after not seeing her for 30 years. My mother was very ill and would die on Christmas Eve of that year. I was trying to look after my parents, look after my aunt and uncle, and working non-stop. My cousin Bill asked me what I was doing and I rattled off a litany of obligations and duties. He looked at me and said: "No, Ann. I meant what are you doing for fun?" I had no answer and it was this conversation that propelled me to visit London. It changed my life for the better.
Our director Yvonne has gone on to more projects focusing on her first love, the Caribbean. She recently completed a documentary about life in the 50s and 60s for Caribbean immigrants in the UK. http://www.hangingout.org.uk/film_project.htm
Thereza has found her dream job as head of IT at a London law firm.
As for me, although I'm still struggling with health problems stemming from an accident where I was hit by a car in 2012 plus the aftermath of my father's death, I am rejuvenated every time I visit my friends in London.
Heart-warming, funny (sometimes wacky), but mostly depicting the real life issues of ageism, growing older, and the power of friendship, this film is a must-see for anyone at any age. After all, when things start happening, and the friends become a force to be reckoned with, the most beautiful thing we see is that people of all ages, and both genders, come together to work on a great project for the greater good. Inspiring and empowering: that's The Power of Three!
Author Nancy Lynn Jarvis decided to step out of plotting murder for a while and to dabble into what drives all authors (besides coffee, that is): FOOD! Yes, creativity must be fed and not only with murder mystery plots. So Nancy did the next best thing, she brought together 128 mystery authors (including yours truly) and everyone contributed a recipe toward Nancy's new book "Cozy Food".
As a foodie, I couldn't resist but invite Nancy for an interview regarding her latest culinary creation put together with contributions from some hungry murder-and-mayhem-plotting authors.
So, here we go ...
SM: I was really impressed with your idea to publish a cookbook with recipes from 128 mystery authors. How did this idea come about?
NLJ: My Regan McHenry Real Estate Mysteries fall under the category of cozy mysteries, but their book covers and titles are a bit harsh for the category. I was looking for graphics I might use for the next book with a softer feel and happened on the cover graphic for Cozy Food. I absolutely fell in love with it and thought if ever there was a perfect graphic for a cozy cookbook, I was looking at it. So that’s what first got me thinking about a cookbook.
SM: Tell us how you compiled the book. I mean, is it in sections such as starters, mains and desserts? Are there any graphics in it?
NLJ: The cookbook is in sections, each introduced by a cozy mystery writer graphic. The categories cover everything from starters to desserts and all meals from breakfast thru dinner with a Quick, Easy, Quirky, Saucy & Even Pet Treats section for everything else. The final third of the cookbook is devoted to contributing author biographies. In many ways that’s my favourite part of the book because what some of the writers have to say is so interesting and there are a couple of pages of humorous outtakes. I say almost, because there’s that big bulge in the middle of the book for sweet things, which is where my heart is.
SM: I hope none of the mystery authors got carried away and decided to throw in a pinch or a few drops of arsenic in their recipe. Hehehe. We don't want the cops to come sniffing around.
NLJ: Nothing lethal has been reported by any readers...but then, how would we know if eating a recipe killed them?
SM: Exactly! Let's hope the coppers don't catch on. LOL
SM: Did you get any “strange” recipes like bugs on rice or something equally weird?
NLJ: Just a few (can you hear me laughing?) My favourite recipe title hands down is “Mammoth Meat Jerky Adapted for Cro Magnons and Modern Humans.” Some other great titles are: Pimento Cheese For Dummies, Murder on the Orient Espresso Martini, Dispatcho Gazpacho, The Poet’s Recipe for Salad, (which came with an original recipe in verse), Hot Grudge Sundae Cake, and (Don’t Let Lady Macbeth Near The) Lemon Posset.
SM: Wow, there are some excellent names here. I now wish I'd called my recipe for Hazelnut Pesto Tagliatelle something like "The Hazel Nut Scissor Killer Pesto". After all, tagliatelle comes from the Italian word "tagliare", meaning to cut. So my killer would have used scissors to kill his victims--hazelnut scissors! Might as well keep it tasty, right?
SM cont'd: I read Murder House, one of your Regan McHenry mysteries. Would you say Regan is food oriented in the novels? I noticed she likes a fine wine.
NLJ: Regan is definitely a foodie. She has an original recipe for Mysterious Chocolate Chip Cookies (in the book) and keeps dough frozen ready to bake at open houses and to take to friends and clients accused of murder. She has an herb garden and citrus trees in pots so she can pick items for food. Mostly, though, she likes to experiment with recipes. Sometimes she creates great meals, and sometimes they don’t work out well. Fortunately her husband Tom is almost a saint and doesn’t complain; he just drinks more wine with dinner if there’s a flop served.
SM: Well, I was tickled pink when you asked me to submit a recipe. So I did a quick one with an Italian origin as befits my protagonist, Mia Ferrari. She loves Italian food and coffee. But she doesn’t have too much time to cook when she’s out there solving murders. My question here is, did you identify any trends among the recipes submitted by all the authors? You know, like going for pastas and other starchy foods (as these things feed the soul of creative people), or did they go for the healthier trends with loads of salads and vegetables?
NLJ: More writers submitted dessert-type recipes than anything else. I thought that said a lot about cozy writers until I looked through “The Joy of Cooking” and discovered it was heavily weighted there, too. I had to ask for salads and veggie recipes, but I don’t know if cozy writers avoid them personally or worried that readers would because there are many other “healthy” recipes.
SM: I think without coffee and sugar of all kinds we probably wouldn't be as creative. Mind you, I still love my pasta and pizza!
SM: So we established a trend of dessert-type recipes contributed for the book, and we can safely acknowledge authors usually favour coffee, coffee and more coffee, plus chocolate or other sugars for creativity. I definitely fall into this category. But what is your “poison”?
NLJ: My poison is anything salty and spicy. While I love chocolate, if I had to chose between a plate of brownies and a bowl of corn chips and salsa, I’d reach for the chips every time. As for beverages, for me it’s good black tea brewed like my grandfather taught me to make it, which is almost as dark as coffee.
SM: Where is the cookbook available and in what formats?
NLJ: The cookbook is available on Amazon in print, for people like me who want to write in the margins of my cookbooks, and for eReaders like Kindle and iPad. The e-version is priced at only $3.99 U.S. We want to get readers to discover new cozy writers while they cook so it’s priced very reasonably.
SM: Anything else you’d like our readers to know?
NLJ: Writers who contributed recipes have writing histories that are all over the board from multiple-time New York Times Bestsellers to writers doing their first book. There are recipes from writers with big traditional publishers, small presses, and indie authors. I love that everyone contributed and that this is a cookbook full of more than 220 great recipes from all sorts of cozy writers. Oh, and while doing this cookbook, I learned that cozy writers are some of the nicest, most supportive people out there.
SM: Nancy, a big thank you for putting this yummy book together and for being a guest on Sylvia Says--the blog. It's wonderful when so many authors come together and contribute to such a great idea. Those of you who have contributed, you know who you are--but if you've eaten too much chocolate and are in a frenzied state of writing, you will find your name below in this list of contributors.
Buon appetito everyone!
Author Sylvia Massara's: