Today’s Featured Author – Karen Levy

Today, I welcome author Karen Levy to my blog. Her debut novel, My Father’s Garden, a memoir, was released in 2013.

Interview

Tell us a bit about yourself.

I am an Israeli-American writer who loves a well-told story, whether it’s in print or on the screen. My first book, My Father’s Gardens, was published in 2013 and I have enjoyed sharing it in various venues ever since.

Where were you born and where do you call home?

I was born in Jerusalem, Israel and after many years of traveling between my two countries (I am a dual-citizen), I realized that you can call more than one place home. Yet the more Americanized I become, the more comfortable I am in the United States.

What or who inspired you to start writing?

I’ve always loved language and the almost magical power it has to transform and inspire. I didn’t know what I wanted to write until I needed to figure out who I was and where I belonged, and writing has always helped me find order in chaos. Writing about my two worlds did just that. I also know what it is like not to have the power of words since English is not my first language. So finding my voice was crucial for me.

How much of yourself, your personality or your experiences, is in your books?

This first book, My Father’s Gardens, is a memoir, so everything I share in it is personal. I don’t know how to express myself in any way other than by being completely open and honest about my experiences. Audiences deserve, and hopefully appreciate authenticity. Of course this makes writing fiction a bit tricky, since I tend to bring myself into the picture more than I intended originally.

Have you started your next project? If so, can you share a little bit about your next book?

I have started my next book and once again, it takes place on two shores, starting in the United States and traveling to the Middle-East. The protagonist finds herself wondering about her purpose in life now that her children are older and need her less and less. While in this dark mood she finds herself thinking about her past and about one particular friend she has not thought about since the uprising that tore them apart. The friend is Arab while the protagonist is Israeli. She will eventually discover that those closest to her have kept a secret for years, a discovery that will cause her to question who it is we can trust in a world full of betrayal.

Do you write full-time? If so, what is your work day like? If not, what do you do other than write and how do you find time to write?

I spend part of my time teaching English at Sacramento State University, trying to convince students that language is a powerful tool that can help them navigate the world. When I’m not grading student essays I read my favorite authors for inspiration and keep plugging away at my own manuscript. I should, but don’t have a schedule for my own writing. When I get an idea, I sit down and write.

What is the best thing about being a writer? The worst?

The best thing is succeeding in taking those great ideas you think you have and effectively capturing them in words that impact readers. I love when someone has read my book and tells me that they could relate, or that it moved them. Of course, not everyone was pleased with what I shared. My own mother has not spoken to me since the memoir’s publication. The worst part about writing is self-doubt. Writing a full length novel is a daunting task and since I am so used to writing non-fiction, I question my decision to attempt fiction quite frequently.

If you could meet two authors, who would you pick and why?

One of my favorite authors is Julia Alvarez, a Dominican-American writer whose lyrical language and story-telling abilities astound me. I wrote to her years ago, just to thank her for the incredible books she has created, and surprisingly, she wrote back. I would love to continue our “conversation” in person, so I could learn more about this art of writing. The other writer I enjoy is Ann Patchett. She also weaves intricate stories that feel so real. I would love to learn from her as well.

Book Blurb

Levy_Cover_Blurb_TopMy Father’s Gardens is the story of a young girl who comes of age in two languages, and on two shores, between warring parents and rules that change depending on the landscape and the proximity of her mother. Struggling to find her voice and her place in the world as a result of her frequent travels between her native Israel and the United States, she feels that she must choose a place to call home. As her scenery alternates between warm Mediterranean and snow capped mountains, loud-mouthed Israelis and polite Americans, so do her loyalties: Is she more Israeli or American? How will she know when she has arrived? And while she chooses she is slowly transplanting bits of her father’s gardens on foreign soil.

About the Author 

DSC00594Karen Levy is an Israeli-American writer whose memoir, My Father’s Gardens, candidly shares her search for belonging and her coming of age between the shores of two worlds. Her work appears in journals such as, Welter, So To Speak, The Blue Moon, The Meadow, Davis Life Magazine, Jet Setter Magazine, among others.  My Father’s Gardens was a 2014 Pushcart Prize nominee.

You can follow Karen on Facebook or Twitter.

You can purchase My Father’s Gardens on Amazon.

 

 

 

 

Negative traits for your characters

Last week, I wrote about positive traits for your characters. But you don’t want a character who can do no wrong or is liked by everyone.

negative 2You need a balanced, well-rounded character. No one has only positive traits. There must be some negative traits in your protagonist (just like your antagonist needs positive traits).

Today I want to look at one of the ways flaws can cause friction between characters as well as go a little more into flaws for your villain.

Negative flaws and friction between characters

Internal Conflict – Self-doubt, bitterness, and jealousy (among others) can create conflict within our characters. Not only can they struggle internally with these feelings but these strong emotions change how our characters behave when interacting with others.

This can lead to sparks, fireworks and explosions in their relationships.

Sparks – Consider this the lowest level of tension or friction between characters. Your character is impatient, frustrated or disappointed or perhaps caused these feelings in one of the supporting cast. This leads to a verbal exchange which adds a strain to a friendship.

Fireworks – Consider this the intermediate level of tension or friction between characters. Emotions here have been kicked up a notch. Arguments ensue and have a lasting impact on the relationship. Healing the rift is possible, but it may take time and effort.

Explosions – Consider this the highest level of tension or friction between characters. This is where raw, uncontrolled anger, betrayal or humiliation come into play. Things may be broken, insults are flung, and secrets might be revealed. Trust is shattered, and relationships are broken. If reconciliation does occur, the relationship is never the same as it was before.

Just like in real life when you argue with your spouse or become annoyed with your brother, mother, or friend, these same things need to happen to your characters.

Villains and their flaws

As I said before, you should not create a villain with only negative flaws. You need to let the reader catch a glimpse of a redeeming quality or two.

The antagonist has dreams, needs and desires. In his eyes, his goals are just and reasonable. Often his negative traits are fuel for moving forward with his plan. Many negative traits are just positive ones taken too far.

You need to work just a hard on your antagonist as you do your protagonist. Delve into his past and find out what made him the way he is today. Remember no one is born evil or bad. Something (often many things) helped shaped who they are today.

negative 1If you need help on what negative traits to give your character – controlling, gullible, obsessive, temperamental or whiny – or perhaps you don’t know what types of behaviors would be associated with these traits, then I would recommend checking out The Negative Trait Thesaurus.

This guide discusses everything I mentioned above with more details and then lists 106 negative traits along with associated behaviors/thoughts as well as what type of positive and negative aspects this attribute can have on a character. It also lists examples and challenging scenario ideas for characters with these traits.

 

Working on our plans for the summer of 2016

Anyone who follows my blog knows I am a planner. So yes, I am already planning our vacation for this summer.

cruiseLast year, we had plans to go to Houston, Texas as a cheaper vacation than the previous year’s trip to Disney World. Those plans got derailed when my parents opted to take the family on a Caribbean cruise at their expense. (I know we suffered there, right?)

So for this summer we considered returning to Disney World as it is one of my favorite places to go and this summer is the last of Jase’s elementary where we can have him miss the last days of school. (Next year, he is in the fifth grade and has a graduation ceremony on the last day.)

But as anyone who has been there or priced going to Disney World knows, it is not a cheap vacation. As much as I would love to go back, we also have some home-improvement projects in mind such as replacing the kitchen counters or putting in new carpet upstairs, neither of which is an inexpensive project.

In order for us to cross one of our improvements off the list, we opted to do a shorter, cheaper vacation and return to our Houston plans. In case you are wondering why Houston is a cheaper trip for us, we are in San Antonio, and Houston is only a 3-hour drive. (Orlando is an 18-hour drive, but we usually fly to save on time.)

nasaIn Houston, we plan to take advantage of the City Pass that allows you to visit five area attractions for about $50 per person. We plan to hit the zoo, the aquarium, NASA, the natural history museum and Kemah Boardwalk. (They also offer the children’s museum and the fine arts museum as options.)

I think we will have a blast. Now we are just trying to decide when to go over the summer. June is out because we have another trip planned. The kids and I are accompanying my husband to his seminar in Bastrop, Texas. It is at a resort that offers a water park in addition to hiking, bike riding and horseback riding.

During the summer, I also have a Parent-Teacher Association Leadership conference. This year it is in San Antonio so no extra travel for me. (If I don’t take an officer position in the PTA next year, I might skip the conference since I have gone the past two years.)

In addition to the conferences and trips, we will have the usual plans to hit the water park and other area attractions. Both kids have expressed interest in taking swimming lessons again. Lexie will also probably go to camp for a week. She went to Mermaid camp last year and Frozen (based on the movie) camp the year before. Jase skipped camp last year but the previous year he went to Lego camp. He hasn’t decided if he wants to try camp this year.

Already the summer is looking busy, and it is still a little over four months away. There is plenty of time to keep planning.

 

 

 

Today’s Featured Author – Meera Klein

Today I welcome author Meera Klein to my blog. Her book, My Mother’s Kitchen, started out as a memoir about growing up in her mother’s kitchen before being turned into a fiction book that includes 25 recipes.

Guest Post – A Late Bloomer…I mean…Writer

I’ve always been enthralled by the power of words. I fell under the spell of the spoken word as I listened to my grandmother’s stories.  Her tales, told in our native language, had the ability to transport me to another world.  I fell in love with the written word when I learned to read. The beauty of the English language captivated me and I became addicted to reading. It was while reading that I realized deep in my bones that I wanted to be a writer.

But desire alone isn’t always enough. In my teens and 20s I wanted to write but I found I had nothing worthwhile to say. So I opted for a career as a newspaper reporter and for years journalism soothed my soul. But in my 30s I gave up newspaper reporting to become a full-time mother. The minutiae of daily life kept me busy and a good night’s sleep was more important than writing.

In my 40s I was restless and the need to write was a persistent itch, tantalizingly just beyond my reach. It was my mother’s death that finally gave me the impetus to write. I realized with a shock that I wasn’t going to live forever. So in my late 40s I finally found my writer’s voice.

It is a voice that is honed with experience. From comfortable middle age I can look back and write about my youth with compassion. Years have softened my memories like an old sepia photograph, yellowing with age.

The decades may have sharpened my powers of observation but this writer’s life I have chosen is not easy. It is fraught with rejection and loneliness. But writing has taught me to savor the simple things in life. The soft snores of my sleeping dog bring me comfort. A cold bright December day fills me with hope. I can appreciate the passing of each season and look forward to the heat of summer and crisp fall evenings with equal enjoyment. As my sons’ mature into young men, I appreciate the wonder of life and growth. Writing has taught me that each fleeting moment is meant to be nurtured and relished. I want the next few decades to be filled with joy, not regrets.

Book Blurb

9781938846700-frontcover_seal_smMy Mother’s Kitchen is an enchanting place filled with promise, change and good food.  If the weathered walls of this magical room could talk they would tell the story of Meena and her childhood life. Each chapter is a slice in her young life and depicts her spunk and youthful spirit. A visit to the local Fruit and Flower Show becomes an adventure as told by Meena. Her distress at finding out about her aunt’s dark secret or her joy of making a new friend are all told in her naïve, yet pure voice. Her mother is a central character in her life and it is no wonder that the kitchen is a special place of healing and rejuvenation, not only for Meena, but for other characters like Kashi and Ayah.

About the author

8274_Meera Klein_140624_D800_Meera Ekkanath Klein is the author of the award-winning debut novel, My Mother’s Kitchen: A novel with recipes.  For more information about her book, please visit her website.

You can purchase My Mother’s Kitchen on Amazon.

Positive traits for your characters

Last week, I wrote about the importance of having a well-rounded character and for you, the author, to have a complete understanding of the history and makeup of our characters.

positive 1To be well-rounded, a character needs both positive and negative traits and behaviors. No one wants to read about a character who never does anything wrong or fails. Without a few mistakes or failures, there will be no conflict in your story and conflict is what drives a story along.

Today, I want to look at positive traits and how they might have developed.

Genetics – Some things are out of our control. We are born with a certain body type or an aptitude for music. Some of us are extroverts while others are more calm-natured. Sometimes whether someone is always cheery or a down-and-out sour puss can just be the way they were born.

Upbringing – Some of our characteristics are brought about by the way we were raised. A child absorbs the traits and values of the one raising them. If order and structure are what they grew up with, they may follow in those same steps. Or they could rebel against those beliefs and go in the totally opposite direction.

Physical Environment – Where you grew up (as well as your current living conditions) play a big part in making you who you are. There is a difference in a character who grew up in the suburbs as opposed to someone who grew up in a poorer or perhaps tougher neighborhood. Growing up on a farm or in poverty or in one of the richest families will all have different effects on a person and the characteristics they develop.

Peers – Your friends and colleagues often greatly influence your life. Some characteristics may develop that are shared among peers as a way of fitting in and gaining acceptance.

Negative Experiences – While these often result in flaws, they can also make positive traits develop. Someone who grew up in an abusive family may strive to be a nurturing parent to their child.

All of these things help make your character who he or she is. This is why you need to know them inside and out. You need to know your character’s fears, needs, desires, like and dislikes. Basically, before you begin writing you need to develop the back story of your protagonist and your antagonist.

Yes – you do need to know just as much about your antagonist as you do your protagonist. You need to know what he wants and why he is so desperate to achieve it. Figuring out his internal motivations will help make him real. Your reader will be able to understand what drives him and why he will do anything necessary to succeed. And your villain won’t just be chock-full of negative attributes. They need some positive ones too.

positive 2If you need help on what positive attributes to give your character – adaptable, loyal, organized, trusting or whimsical – or perhaps you don’t know what types of behaviors would be associated with these traits, then I would recommend checking out The Positive Trait Thesaurus.

This guide discusses everything I mentioned above with more details and then lists 99 positive attributes along with associated behaviors/thoughts as well as what type of positive and negative aspects this attribute can have on a character. It also lists examples and challenging scenario ideas for characters with these traits.

Next week, I will post about the negative attributes your character might have.