" A wildly inventive, consistently engaging, and amusing comic novel, but under its bright exterior lurk darker undertones and truths.... "
" A wildly inventive, consistently engaging, and amusing comic novel, but under its bright exterior lurk darker undertones and truths.... "
" Indicative of the title, the poems in All This range from the conventional lyric/narrative that captures an intense moment of emotion, an epiphany glimpsed briefly out of the corner of the eye, to the more experimental. "
The Ripening: A Canadian Girl Grows Upis a sequel to my novel Freefall: A Divine Comedy (published in 2019). The print copy will be released on October 15 2021. The ebook comes out on November 14, 2021.
Tillie, a zany installation artist, is the main character in Freefall. I so enjoyed interacting with her while I wrote that book that I wanted to better understand her origins. In the follow up, then, I went back to the ‘50s, to a world that flashed green and red lights at women, the era that produced Tillie. Some had begun to challenge the dead ends their futures seemed to hold, and Tillie will end up being one of those girls. Continue reading “Monday Motivation: Tillie takes readers on a wild ride. Join her if you dare!”→
Though I already had experienced what it was like to publish a book when my poetry collectionAll This came out in 2011, each work offers its own peculiarities. Partly it’s the difference in publisher, so when Pen-L Publishing wanted to release my first published novel Fling!, I had to learn what that house wanted of me. But the difference in genre also created a new situation.
Though I live in the San Francisco Bay Area, I recently did readings while spending a week at Sea Ranch, a coastal community in Mendocino about three hours from my home. The conventional wisdom is that readings are more productive in areas where we have family, friends, or acquaintances. That might be true in some instances, usually at bookstores. But there are exceptions. And that’s what this post is about.
I thought that while I was in the Sea Ranch area, I would try to book events so I could get a broader readership for my novel Fling! I first contacted the only bookstore in Gualala, a tiny town just a few miles from where we were renting a house. I was surprised at how enthusiastic the owner was about reserving a late Saturday afternoon slot during our week in the area. He told me that the venue has a healthy clientele of mostly regulars but also of those visiting the coast. Since there isn’t much entertainment locally, many residents are eager to attend something out of the ordinary. The owner also recommended that I contact the Point Arena library, a half hour drive further up the coast. And he put me in touch with Peggy, the host of one of the local radio stations so she could interview me.
I followed up and was delighted when Julia at the library signed me up for the Sunday afternoon at the library series. She was also eager to offer her usual visitors an inspiring talk and/or reading. I had planned to frame my discussion of Fling! with a talk on “The Magic in Magical Realism.” Again, Point Arena is another small town whose inhabitants are hungry for enriching programs.
Each of these venues did a great job of advertising its event with flyers, notices on their websites, and postings in the local papers. I happened to pick up the Coastal Observer when I was there, eager to read the local news, and was amazed to find a quarter page write up about myself, something I didn’t expect.
While I was at Sea Ranch, KGUA, the public radio station, did a 25-minute interview with me that featured my upcoming readings and allowed me to give extensive info on myself and my work. I later learned there is another station in Gualala, KTDE, a commercial one, that also would have interviewed me if I’d contacted them, which I will do in the future. In addition, I discovered that authors should submit some sample questions beforehand to the station so the interviewer has material to work with.
This experience helped me to broaden my horizon for doing readings and giving talks. Intimate rural towns can be great resources. They often are hungry for the kind of events that big city residents take for granted.
What has your experience been in booking readings outside of the mainstream?
In his wonderful novel, Billy in the Lowground, Sumner Wilson snagged me in his opening lines, and narrator Scotlin, an aspiring fisherman, kept me dangling on his pole until the end.
Sumner Wilson is a writer’s writer. Why do I say that? If you love metaphor, compelling sentence rhythms, a sensitivity to language, and an author who captures regional vernacular, in this case southern, then you’ll understand what I mean.
I could give examples of original comparisons from every page of the book, but here are a couple. On page 10, the narrator says, “The owl across the river carried on with its laughter. Suddenly it broke off in the middle of a laugh, barked loud, and coughed like a hound in a desperate attempt to dislodge a chicken bone lodged deep in its throat.” When I read this passage, I not only was placed directly in this scene, but I also could visualize exactly what the narrator was experiencing.
Here is another brilliant moment: “The weight and feel of the power and vitality of a hooked fish thrilled me to the bottoms of my bare feet. A fish fought its imprisonment in a life struggle, which was tragedy in its purest form. The water roiled up in a pale white mist in the special soft pastel light that comes with early morning, the likes of which you never see at any other time during the day. Those jewels of beaded water burst from the taught fishing line like birdshot, with the line itself nearly at the breaking point, during the barefaced heat of battle” (52). Wilson could have been describing the struggles that any of us experience at some point in our lives. We don’t have to be a fish caught on some fisherman’s hook to know this. But the awareness and intensity that we bring to each moment is what makes the struggle worthwhile.
What I loved most about Wilson’s work is the world he reconstitutes. The young people don’t have smart phones or computers to distract them. Their pleasures come from direct interaction with nature and each other. Having spent several essential years as a child on a farm, I fully resonated with the environment that Wilson recreates here. All of the values about work, community, life, and death, I learned on the farm. But most young people today have never had this experience. Nor have many adults.
But you can if you read this book. Billy in the Lowground is a novel that not only transcends the current technology traps we’re all mired in, but returns us to some of the basic values that define us not only as Americans but also as humans.
What kind of recurring themes tie your first and second book of the series together?
The supernatural is a recurring theme. Angela, the uncanny baby of Sacred Choices comes of age in Sacred Gift. Kissed by the divine and grazed by the ungodly, Angela’s proof there’s “more in heaven and earth than is dreamt of” when she opens herself to communication with the afterlife. She uses her sacred gift to resolve the deep-rooted pain of those around her and spur them to recognize their potential.
The divine ties together Sacred Choices and Sacred Gift. The main characters are each on a sacred journey, and the divine subtly intervenes to guide them along their paths.
In Sacred Gift, many of the characters complete the journeys they began in Sacred Choices. Now grown, Angela Maria becomes the catalyst, the mediator. Because of her, Judith tears off her defensive ‘Band-Aid’ of busyness to forgive herself, come to terms with her aborted child, and reconcile with the child’s father. The timely topics of abortion and adoption infuse Sacred Gift.
Ceren comes ‘full circle’ with her past, ties in with Develyn’s future, and releases Esteban’s earthbound spirit. Sister Pastora recognizes her concealed gift and its potential. Jarek meets his daughter and his ‘karma.’
What do you think your readers will like or respond to the most about this story?
The sequel to Sacred Choices, Sacred Gift blends the Tex-Mex nationalities. It crosses the generations and includes multiple ethnic and cultural groups. In Sacred Gift, north meets south, and the ‘twain’ do meet. Many of the characters of the first book complete their stories in Sacred Gift, yet new characters steep the sequel with unique trials, novel missions, and fresh approaches to life’s challenges.
Though the main characters range in age from eighteen to ninety-two, from early reviews, twenty-something Develyn seems to resonate with readers. A botched-abortion survivor, whose mother died trying to abort her, she hears God’s call and slowly transitions from Goth girl to Religious.
What would a story be without romance, both for the young and young-at-heart? Astronomy-student Kio introduces Angela to moonlit river cruises, horse-drawn carriage rides, and puppy love. After eighteen years of marriage, Ceren and Justin rekindle their passion with a paranormal nudge.
Most of all, I believe readers will respond to the astro-archaeological secrets at Missions Concepción and Espada in San Antonio. Apparently, the Franciscan friars knew quite a bit about sacred geometry in the seventeen hundreds. You might say their knowledge is ‘illuminating.’
How do you incorporate the central TX area into your story? What will be familiar to people from the area?
San Antonio and the Texas Hill Country make up ninety percent of Sacred Gift’s setting. Primarily Angela travels San Antonio’s Riverwalk and Mission Trail, where she encounters the eerie apparitions and wraiths. Readers will recognize local restaurants and other venues, but Hill Country areas, such as the Devil’s Backbone, Purgatory Road, Wimberley, San Marcos, New Braunfels, and Austin should also be familiar ‘haunts’ to readers in central Texas.
Roughly ten percent of Sacred Gift’s action occurs in Mexico at Mexico City’s Our Lady of Guadalupe Basilica, Puebla, and the pyramids of Cholula and Teotihuacan. I dovetail Mexican locations into the central Texan story using flashbacks and recollections.
Were there any particular challenges writing this novel? And if so, how did you overcome them?
Over forty years ago, I terminated my only pregnancy in abortion. That still weighs on my mind. Writing Sacred Gift, the sequel to Sacred Choices has not only been personally cathartic, it’s been the key to helping others who’ve traveled similar paths. Everyone has a different story, rationale, and history, but there are so many walking wounded. It’s my privilege to address these women who’ve been scarred by abortion or adoption and offer help.
How did I overcome my challenges in writing this novel? I presented both sides of the pro-life/pro-choice decision – and let each reader make their own choice. Sacred Gift explores the series of decisions that ultimately leads to that choice.
How do I continue to overcome these challenges? I make myself available to speak to women’s groups. After I give a presentation, it’s rare that one or two women don’t approach me to share their stories. I want these women to know there are ways to release their pent-up grief and move on. I want to encourage them to open their ‘gift.’ Everyone’s gifted, but some never open their package.
Karen Hulene Bartell is available for speaking engagements and can be contacted via email: info@KarenHuleneBartell.com. Check online: www.KarenHuleneBartell.com
Though I already experienced what it was like to publish a book when my poetry collection All This came out in 2011, each work offers its own peculiarities. Partly it’s the difference in publisher, so I have to learn what Fling’s producer wants of me. But it’s also the difference in genre. Fiction is another animal. While poetry has a more limited audience base, fiction appeals to a wide range of readers. Consequently, in some ways, the novel has to be packaged differently. What ends up on the cover needs to stimulate a potential reader’s imagination and to seduce him/her into buying the book.
Preparing a manuscript to be launched is a little like getting ready for trip into outer space. We don’t know till we take the journey what to expect. So much is out of our control and dependent on who is driving the process—the publisher/editor. In a way, the actual writing is the easiest part. We’re left alone in our solitude to create a world that never existed before. But it’s the second birth midwifed by the publisher that marks it as a bona fide book.
Kimberly Pennell of Pen-L Publishing has been shepherding me through this process. She sent me a mock up for a cover this week. I expressed my reservations about it and created one of my own, trying to convey in mine that it needed to be as colorful as the characters and the settings. I also wanted it to suggest a fling, something in motion, even an odyssey. I included some text that gives a little insight into the narrative: “a madcap journey of an aging mother and her adult daughter from cold protestant Canada into the hallucinogenic heart of Mexico’s magic.” These words come from a blurb that Lewis Buzbee wrote for the back of the book.
Kimberly picked up immediately on what I was hoping for to represent my novel’s contents and returned two possible covers, each of which I loved. I had to make the difficult choice of one, but I’m hoping I might be able to use the second one at some point for another novel. With a little tweaking the cover quickly was resolved.
Next was the “teaser” for the back of the book, a brief synopsis that will intrigue someone enough that s/he will buy it. This process took several emails back and forth until we were both satisfied with the results.
And so it goes on, this birthing of a creation that depends on so many variables for it to have a successful launch.