Amy Winehouse Tribute

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Cassandra, the damaged singer in my new novel, "The Drummer’s Widow,” was drawn from the heart-wrenching life and tragic death of the irreplaceable Amy Winehouse who died three years ago today.

When I forget why I am a writer, she reminds me: “I’m not here to be famous, I just want to challenge myself. If all goes wrong, I'll have my music."

Thank you, Amy, for leaving us your music.

Amy Jade Winehouse, pop singer-songwriter, born 14 September 1983; died 23 July 2011 at the age of 27.

The Guardian obituary

The Story Behind The Drummer's Widow

It doesn’t matter what happens to us, it matters what we do with it.

This is a journalistic blog. A forum for me to express what is foremost in my mind—the launching of my new novel The Drummer’s Widow.

When I began writing The Drummer’s Widow, three years ago, my husband of thirty years was in remission. And though my overwhelming fear of becoming a widow had dissipated after his long remission, I was still compelled to write an “almost” story of how I imagined it would be for a widow to reinvent her life after her husband’s death.

Then, abruptly, one month ago, just before my book's release, to use a popular Virginia Woolf phrase, "life interrupted." My husband was diagnosed with a second cancer, lymphoma, and I slammed up against the realty that my fictional widowhood could actually become true.

Having sent out pre-announcements of "The Drummer's Widow," I received sympathy notes from people who knew my husband was a drummer but didn’t know the book was fiction. I suggested to my husband that we postpone the release until after his chemotherapy treatments or change the title. He insisted that I go ahead, in spite of what might happen. 

Alice Munro has said that some of her stories are “almost stories” because they are “autobiographical in feeling, though not, sometimes, entirely so in fact.” That’s how Marisa came into existence: she was the widow of my imagination but she was also my worse nightmare. The threat of my husband’s death has hovered over me for the past ten years and, no doubt, it influences my writing even now. It was the unrelenting fear of what might happen that urged me to move more deeply into my own heart and soul where I found Marisa’s story waiting to be told and shared it with my readers.

Nora Ephron learned from her mother, also a writer, how to make the best of what life offers. "No matter what happens,” her mother was fond of telling her, “It's all copy." My understanding of that is that It doesn’t matter what happens to us; what matters is what we do with it.

Fall harvest in la Drôme - With Enthusiasm!

"The Greeks understood the mysterious power of the hidden side of things," wrote Louis Pasteur. "They bequeathed to us one of the most beautiful words in our language––the word 'enthusiasm'--en theos--a god within. The grandeur of human actions is measured by the inspiration from which they spring. Happy is he who bears a god within, and obeys it."

I chose "harvest" as the ending title for “Summer in la Drôme,” because, during my stay there, I lived in the fields of my imagination, where I planted and nurtured what grew into 116,297 words of my new novel THE DRUMMER'S WIDOW. I’ve brought the results, my harvest, back to America to sell in the publishers marketplace.

I chose Louis Pasteur's quote on enthusiasm because I would never have finished MELISSA if I hadn't obeyed my “en theos” who supported me through the days when no words budded or worse they died on the vine, and who celebrated with me on the days when words burst forth into colorful and loquacious blooms.

I chose the butterfly and poppy images because the enthusiasm of nature is the source of our own and it's contagious. In a sliver of Brazilian forest only a few miles square, scientists have counted more than 1,500 species of butterfly. And the poppy when coupled with another poppy and given seven years and the right conditions will produce 820 thousand million million million descendants. That’s enthusiasm!!!

News to follow on Marisa's publication date. First I must complete the third draft come Spring. So from now on my blog will be about the writing life. Well, not entirely. I am pulling up my Manhattan roots, deeply grown down under for thirty years. It isn’t easy to get out of New York, it takes a lot of enthusiasm, but it’s something I’ve wanted to do for some time.

If you would like to learn more about enthusiasm I recommend "Exuberance: The Passion for Life" by Kay Redfield Jamison from whom I cite in the above text.

A Summer in la Drôme - La Saison des Tournesols

"Exaggerate the essential and leave the obvious vague."  Vincent van Gogh (1853-1890)
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And as the summer wanes these sun worshippers, which van Gogh painted, turn their heads toward the sun to catch the last of summer's light.

Outside my writing studio, in the fields, the lavender has been cut down by the local farmers and taken to the distillery to be condensed down into its essential oil.  The distillery is down the road and the balmy warm wind from Provence brings the essence of lavender to me in the early morning air.

I'm in the middle of my manuscript's second draft and, taking van Gogh's advice to heart, I am exaggerating the essential and leaving the obvious vague as I revise chapters and cut, cut, cut!

I expect my manuscript to be harvested by the autumnal equinox but time is going by damn fast!  And that is why I've had less and less time to blog.  My inconsistent blogs are accessible by e-mail if you click the RSS button found on the right column.

By the way if you ever want to read an awe-inspiring book on the life of an artist check out "Dear Theo: The Autobiography of Vincent van Gogh."  Not only was van Gogh an exceptional artist he was a really good writer.

"No Day Without A Line" - said Apelles, Beethoven and van Gogh

There is no bike lesson today.  As I am a practicing writer I also like to discuss writing. And today I was inspired by this quote and looked it up to find out its history:

The original quote came from Apelles, an ancient Greek painter in 4th Century B.C.:  "Nulla dies sine linea."

Then Beethoven (1770-1827) said, "No day without a line" in answer to how he accomplished so much work as a composer.

Then along comes van Gogh (1853-1890) who wrote in "Letters to Theo" (an extraordinary, intimate, and uplifting correspondence about the work of one of our greatest painters):

"Not a day without a line.  By writing, reading, working and practicing daily, perseverance will lead me to a good end."

That's it!  That's what you gotta do, whatever your creative expression is.  Now if I can just apply it to my own daily work I'll finish this mansucript before the end of summer in la Drôme and turn it into a novel!!!

Bicycle Lesson #1 - Rhône Alpes, France

Yes, I'm back on my BLOG and want to thank my sixteen loyal followers for not deserting me.  I'm really gonna get the hang of blogging this time around.  That is when I'm not working on the first draft of my new manuscript, a contemporary novel entitled MELISSA. For my blog content, besides continuing my articles on self-publishing and the writing life, I'm going to write about my life in La Drôme and am starting with the lesson I learned pedaling my bike today.

I have promised myself to ride a bicycle on Tuesday, Thursdays and Sunday mornings and BLOG on the same days.  It takes around 10 minutes to pedal on a one-lane road to the boulangerie, 2 minutes to buy the local newspaper, Le Dauphiné, and a still-warm-from-the-oven baguette, then 30 minutes to return home.  Why the difference?  Because I live in a canyon and it is downhill going and uphill coming back. 

This morning as I was pedaling up one of the many steep hills, I found it almost impossible to continue and I consider myself in good shape - elliptical three times a week in my Manhattan gym plus up and down subway stairs daily.  I remembered my daughter Amie, who is a physical trainer, telling me that I must "Push!" myself.  So I did.  I stood up off my bike seat and pushed as hard as I could.  But I hardly moved.  And then 'I got it!'.  I had accidentally down shifted into first gear.  Once I realized my error and shifted into fifth, I moved forward.  It takes a while to get the hang of riding a bike again.

My ride today reminded me so much of my writing life that I thought I'd share it with you:  It's thrilling to go downhill with the wind in your face and not a care, but it takes great effort to climb back up the hill later.  There are days when words come easy and it's lots of fun but there are those uphill days when no words show up on the blank page.  I just have to stay with it, knowing that if I practice writing everyday I'll push myself through those uphill days and finish my new manuscript by the end of the summer.

I'd like to share also that while I'm riding my bike past fields of just-harvested hay and fields of brilliant orange poppies and purple lavender (I'll take a picture on Thursday so you can see too) I am writing a thousand explosive words in my head.  That is the impetus to hurry home and write them down before I forget!

That's it for now as Melissa's story is waiting to enfold and I have to write a chapter before I can give myself permission to take an early evening walk.

The Making of KATHERINE MANSFIELD

Issue 7 Katherine Mansfield Society Newsletter - December 2010 issue

The Katherine Mansfield Story Retold

by Joanna Fitzpatrick

Summer of 2007

The genesis of In Pursuit . . . began in a used bookstore in a small village in southern France. I was looking for a book to read on my return flight to New York. There was one on a high dusty shelf crammed with English books. I read through the spine titles and author names. My discerning eye stopped on "The Garden Party and Other Short Stories" squeezed amongst the classics.

 

Katherine Mansfield? Why do I know that name? Oh yes, in Virginia Woolf’s journal she remarked that Katherine was the only writer she was ever jealous of. Why not find out why, I thought, and reached up and pulled down the thin tattered book that was just the right size for my purse. That brief moment led to my three and a half year odyssey in pursuit of Katherine Mansfield’s story.

Riveted to my airplane seat, I read her stories and discovered why Virginia Woolf was so jealous. What struggling young writer, like Virginia, wouldn’t be jealous of a contemporary writer who could put so much compassion, empathy and meaning into so few words?

But it wasn’t just Katherine’s stories that kept me riveted to my seat even as the jet landed at JFK Airport, it was reading the brief description of her life written by her husband, John Middleton Murry I knew right then that I wanted to recreate her story.

I had reached a difficult crossroad in my own writing. I had spent that summer working on an autobiographical novel that I wasn’t at all satisfied with. I had every intention of continuing with it when I could find the time, but as Virginia Woolf said, ‘life interrupts.’ And in this case it wasn’t my life but Katherine’s that interrupted. She could not be ignored.

I had to write her story – the story of a woman who managed to cut out a brilliant and creative life for herself with everything working against her; the story of an individual’s powerful determination to surmount the limitations forced upon her by illness. I wanted to tell her story so that others might be as inspired by it as I was.

Winter 2008

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I went to my annual one-week writer’s retreat on North Carolina’s OuterBank with a weighted-down suitcase containing books by or about Katherine Mansfield. By then I had read several of her biographies, more of her short stories, the fascinating chapter in Hermione Lee’s biography of Virginia Woolf about the relationship between Virginia and Katherine, and the equally fascinating book by her caregiver,

"The Memories of L.M."

Under the hot shower or before rising in the morning I was creating scenes with Katherine and Virginia, Katherine and LM, Katherine and Jack, Katherine alone. I was anxious to write it all down.

In the isolated beach house surrounded by the tapping keyboards of four other writers deter- mined to get much work done in one week, I faced the blank page on my laptop’s monitor screen. I sat ever so still. Then I too started to tap my fingers across the keys and Katherine and Ida Baker and Jack came into my interior vision.

By the end of the week I had an opening chapter that catapulted Katherine’s story into the 21st century. Tuberculosis became lung cancer. The Bloomsbury Group became the New York literary scene. Menton was transferred to Miami. The Alps to Teyssières.

But surprisingly it was Ida’s voice that spoke, not Katherine’s. It was the voice of the caregiver, not the one being cared for. 

I wrote the first draft, but neither Katherine nor Ida nor Jack were comfortable in the 21st century, and nor was I.

In the second draft I moved them back into the early 20th century where I thought they belonged. I worked on this draft when I could find the time, knowing that the bulk of the work would take place the next summer in France.

I’m a freelance editor in New York City. It pays for my writing habit. In the summers my husband and I retreat to a farmhouse in southern France to plant and harvest our creative work. We bring our harvest back to the States to sell in the marketplace.

Summer 2008

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In Teyssières, I settled down in my writing room and read the second draft. I wanted to love it but the writing was forced and worse it wasn’t the story I had envisioned tell- ing. The voice was wrong. The point of view was wrong. Katherine had to tell this story, no one else could do it justice. The story wasn’t about what Ida did for Katherine, as important as that was; it was about what Katherine did for Ida.

So what does a writer do when the story doesn’t work? Reams of printed pages went in the recycle bin. The only files I kept were the massive research notes I had written that included an old soapbox packed with 5 x 7 index cards.

I started a third draft, this time from Katherine’s point of view.

Katherine's arrival at Gudjieff's Institute

And that summer I visited Menton, Bandol and Fontainebleau to see Katherine’s writing haunts with my own eyes and continue my 

research.

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My daughter Amie came with me to Bandol. We stayed at a hotel literally overhanging the Mediterranean Sea and only a short walk from Villa Pauline – so close that before I went to sleep that night Katherine’s spirit slipped under my skin and has been with me ever since.

In the car, Amie read aloud the letters written back and forth between Jack and Katherine when they were separated, and when Katherine was very ill, scared and alone. We cried together over some of the passages and I had to pull over and take a deep breath to avoid driving off a cliff. We went hat shopping in Cassis to escape from Katherine’s grip on us.

By autumn I had planted the seeds of Katherine’s story but I knew it would take much more work before the harvest.

Summer 2009

I started to see the end of my quest as I approached the last pages of the manuscript.

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Some days I was exhausted but I had a time limit and I’d have to return to New York shortly where I wouldn’t have the time to write, particularly under such suitably quiet and isolated conditions, surrounded by nature and the blossoming yellow flowers whose essence, Genêt Fleuri, was Katherine’s favorite perfume, an essence that Virginia Woolf found too earthy. 

I had to finish soon.

And, like Virginia, I also had Katherine’s formidable presence to deal with. She would not leave me alone – no, really. She wanted me to finish "In Pursuit . . ." so she could sink into its pages or better still rise from them.

When I took breaks and rested in a hammock under a 100-year-old walnut tree, Katherine would come to me as a monarch butterfly and sit on my shoulder.

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Flapping her wings against my ear, she would whisper, ‘What are you doing? There’s work to be done. How much longer must I wait to be brought back to life?’

Winter 2010

I revised the last chapter of my manuscript at the writers’ retreat at Outer Banks and read it to a very supportive and enthusiastic writing group. They too had become fascinated by Katherine’s life and were often coming to me with quotes and pictures they’d found on the Internet, and they read her stories for the first time.

That evening after I read the final chapter, we went to see Avatar at a local movie theatre. I felt like an Avatar myself that evening and could hardly keep still in my seat as I cheered them on to victory in a battle against the dark and evil forces. (If you haven’t already guessed I’m an avid cheerleader for the underdog.)

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I returned to New York filled with anticipation and expectations. I printed my 330-page manuscript and held it in my hands for the first time.

I then wrote the perfect query letter and, after researching the most appropriate ones, sent it out to fifteen agents. All fifteen rejected me. The gatekeepers on guard at the pearly publishing houses told me it was impossible for an unpublished writer to get published in this recession-driven marketplace.

Summer 2010

My husband Jim Payne and my editor Steve Lewis never gave up on Katherine’s story and kept encouraging me to self-publish. I hesitated and then, because they’re smart guys, I took their advice and sacri- ficed a summer of reading and writing and reflecting (my favourite occupations) to get down to the business of self-publishing because Katherine wouldn’t rest in my desk drawer. In- stead, after choosing Createspace/Amazon for my printer/distributor, I spent the summer assembling a book. The details were endless and the full weight of what I had set myself up to do – produce a book from cover to cover – was overwhelming.

A cover! What would I use for the cover? In a despairing moment, a brown paper bag came to mind. Then I remembered a folder of my son Sam’s artwork in my photo library. There I found the perfect painting for the cover of "Katherine Mansfield".

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As the summer weeks turned into months I copyedited my own manuscript and then proofread it. I thought of Virginia and Leonard Woolf’s Hogarth press and how all their work had been self- published. The image of Virginia bending over the ink-stained printing press to hand set Katherine’s sixty-eight-page ‘Prelude’ made what I was doing seem less arduous. I finally came home with my harvest – a completed book ready to enter the marketplace.

Was it all worthwhile? Yes! Absolutely!

Okay, Katherine Mansfield, what do I do now?

What do I do now? I ask myself and Katherine. Yet I think I know what she would say. Move on. Yes, face the truth - face the blank page. Risk it all! Start your next book But what about "In Pursuit . . ."? Leave it. Let it have a life of its own.

Okay, I say again. Good plan. So tonight I will go hear my dear friends Fred Hersch, piano, Janis Siegel, vocals. Two people dear to my heart and who have shared part of my life. There is nothing like live music to make one feel very alive and grateful for it.

Happy Thanksgiving to all particularly those who are alone. As Katherine Mansfield would say this letter is my arms wrapping around you.

Katherine Mansfield Now On Sale at Amazon

Risk anything!  Care no more for the opinions of others, for those voices.  Do the hardest thing on earth for you.  Act for your self.  Face the truth.

-Katherine Mansfield

Katherine’s quote seems appropriate for today as I just completed what I consider “the hardest think for me to do on earth”  and let me tell you – I am celebrating!

Because after many brilliant moments and some arduous labor pains, Katherine Mansfield has come to life. And there is no denying that it is a thrill to hold it in my hands - a one pound, 8"x 5.2"x .08”, 130,000 words, and 348 pages – filled with my words.

But now I must “face the truth”! and acknowledge that I have done all that I can for this shiny, beautiful, colorful baby of mine.  I must let it go out into the world on its own so that I can move on to the next hardest and most joyous thing on earth for me to do––Write another book!!! 

The Katherine Mansfield Story has gone to print!!!

I'm treating you as a friend asking you to share my present minuses in the hope that I can ask you to share my future pluses.

—Katherine Mansfield


Today I got exciting news from CreateSpace:  “Katherine Mansfield” has been ordered and will be shipped to you within five days.  What that means is that I am about to actually, after all these arduous mounts, going to touch finished product.  Not the stack of manuscript sheets proudly displayed on my bookshelf or the PDF file but the book itself will be in my hands and I can open the cover and look between the sheets. That’s cool.


Next I will have to approve it.  And that will happen very quickly as my primary concern is the cover.  I have only seen the jacket on a monitor screen and I can only hope it looks as good.  Then I have to email my “design team” and somehow shout “Print it!”


Meanwhile what have I been doing and what will I be doing?  Internet Marketing 101 – what else!  Long tedious hours pursuing ways to make “Katherine Mansfield" available to the public thorugh my website.  Ah yes, speaking of websites, mine is still in constuction.  It has taken way longer than I could ever have imagined.


And the writer?  What has she been doing?  Not a word.  And there won’t be a word put to the blank page until I go on my retreat in January.  Until then I will continue to market “In Pursuit . . .“ in a responsible manner.  I owe it to Katherine Mansfield’s memory and to myself for she would haunt me to the end of my days if I left her hanging.


So though I can’t develop a character, or write dialog, or place a scene, I can still blog.  It’s not exactly the same as putting down words on a blank page but it’s better than no writing.


So with that thought I am going to make myself a vodka gimlet.  Then I am going lift my glass to all you writers who know the pain of not writing.  You who know that feeling when someone asks “what do you do?” and your immediate response is “I’m a writer” and then you immediately ask yourself if that is entirely true seeing you haven’t put ink to paper or fingers to keys in months!


Wait that is not entirely true. Today I spent condensing my 333-page biographical novel into a 500-word plot summary.  Not easy.  In the next few days I will put the plot summary up on my site so you can see how I did manage to compress “In Pursuit . . .” from 110,000 words to 500.


Katherine Mansfield was a mistress at condensing her stories.  And if you don’t know that I suggest you read one of her short story collections.  There is a reason for Virginia’s Woolf’s jealousy toward Katherine’s work.  And if I was tech-smart I would code a highlight here that would immediately link you to Amazon and Katherine Mansfield’s book collections.  I still have to work on that.  But I will in the future recommend several of Mansfield’s short stories.


Now before I go here is the shock of it all at least for me.  This is the second time I have written this blog tonight.  It took a lot of courage for me to start writing a blog again.  After the last blog crashed, I was blog-shy.  So tonight I started.  And guess what happened to my first copy?  It disappeared, swallowed up into internet infinity.  This second time I have backed-it up so that it won’t happen again.  But let me tell you I was ready to pack it in.  Instead I slammed my door and sat back down again and here are the results.  I liked the first version but at least I did it and I will be back.