A Little Art Exhibit

 

“Just finish it!” my ninth grade art instructor said with clenched teeth as he stood behind me breathing down my neck as I worked on a sketch of a chair. If only I had more time, I’d get the perspective right. There was no more time, my teacher was impatient, and a ninth grader is very sensitive. “Just finish it” meant I didn’t have a natural gift to draw and paint. I was already creating stories and poems to entertain my neighborhood with, for writing was a natural inclination and I dreamed of becoming a writer like Jo in Little Women. And that I did through years of rejection and perseverance! But as the years went by, the mere mention of an empty canvas and paint stirred something deep within me.

One of my favorite authors, Willa Cather, said simply, Every artist makes himself born! I knew the hard labor involved in writing, but was I willing to struggle with paint on canvas? No, I wasn’t. I was already engaged in losing and finding myself in the process of novel writing. And still, I dreamed of an empty canvas, colors, and Monet’s shimmering colors and light. The very least you can do in your life is to figure out what you hope for. The most you can do is live inside that hope, running down its hallways, touching the walls on both sides ~ Barbara Kingsolver

As an adult, I went to Vermont College to study with authors as mentors. It was there I was introduced to Charlotte Hastings, an installation artist and writer. She became one of my art midwives and I began to play with texture and expression in collage, expressing myself on canvas for the first time since ninth grade. Her favorite poet was Mary Oliver and after Charlotte left this earth much too early, in my estimation, she spoke to me one day as I was flipping through magazines at Barnes & Noble – Tell me, what is it you plan to do with your one wild and precious life? (The Summer Day, Mary Oliver)

I was already inside that hope Barbara Kingsolver spoke of, and as I ran down hope’s hallways to dig for the truth of the past, resurrecting history and putting flesh on the bones of my characters, I learned my great grandmother, Grace Matilda Stevens, was one of the first women to graduate from Mansfield State College in Pennsylvania. She rode her horse each day in the late 1800s to Mansfield State so she could study art. Tell me, what is it you plan to do with your one wild and precious life? My mentor, Charlotte, was with me, and so was my great-grandmother, cheering me on.

And the next woman to become an art midwife was Alyson Stoddard Thompson from Artist Proof Art Gallery in Hampstead, New Hampshire. Alyson’s extraordinary keen eye, patience, and belief in my ability guided me in creating the paintings exhibited here. No, I do not have the natural gift to draw and paint, but I have colors parading through my head that nature gives me and perhaps, as in my writing, I possess the courage to follow a little talent to the dark places in this hallway of hope, touching the walls on both sides.

A Little Art Exhibit is currently at Beantown Cafe in Hampstead, NH.

 

Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , | 1 Comment

Nature, Real or Fantasy?

I bought a new T-shirt because it’s April after a long, harsh winter and I need color.

20140408_084559

On the tag it says, “Nature is imagination itself” William Blake

I often think that someday I’ll take the time to read more fantasy books, but I’m not keen on the genre, except for a few, like the science fiction fantasy, A Wrinkle in Time by Madeleine L’engle and The Hobbit by J.R.R. Tolkien. I wonder at my inability to escape into this genre that is so popular. Maybe it’s because so much of my time is spent fleeing to the 19th-century and to the 18th-century to spend time with the dead so I can write historical fiction. If I have a good day of research and writing, it’s difficult to re-orient myself to the present. In a sense, it’s a fantasy to fall down this rabbit-hole into a world that once was and now isn’t.

But mostly, I don’t relish reading fantasy because nature nurtures my imagination and fantasy abounds, or is it not fantasy and very real?  The definition of fantasy is the activity of imagining things, esp. things that are impossible or improbable. I agree with John Muir who said, Come to the woods, for here is rest. There is no repose like that of the green deep woods. Here grow the wallflower and the violet. The squirrel will come and sit upon your knee, the logcock will wake you in the morning. Sleep in forgetfulness of all ill. Of all the upness accessible to mortals, there is no upness comparable to the mountains.

In January, just before my birthday with a big, fat zero O, I was diagnosed with squamous cell cancer. It was sudden and ugly, but treatable, and now I have a little gouge in my thigh after fourteen stitches. I’m grateful, but the timing of it, at first, felt mean-spirited. Hee…hee…how do you like this birthday gift, you vain redheaded creature, you! The day before my scheduled surgery, my husband suggested a walk in the woods on a favorite trail. It had been near zero all winter, but it was a balmy 34 degrees that day. I was reluctant. I just wanted to read all day in bed and not think about this cruel birthday gift. But I relented and just before sunset we went to the woods and the air and light wrapped its arms around me in a loving embrace. I tried to shake it off, Leave me alone. You don’t really mean it. I’m fine. Sometimes our only way to endure is to encase ourselves in our own strength. Who is to say this is wrong and who is to say our strength is not a gift of spirit? But my experience has been that nature, in all its beauty and fury, has a lover’s way with me. I am wooed and eventually surrender.

I volunteered as a bluebird monitor many years ago for the local Audubon Center. I cleaned boxes, recorded findings, but never saw a bluebird. I did this for two or three years. In the past two years, however, bluebirds have visited our backyard and we’ve seen them in the woods. They’re illusive and a bit hoighty toighty, never at the feeder or hanging out with others. Each time we go to the woods, we go with hope to see bluebirds. Mostly, we are surprised by them and our breaths are always taken away. Bluebirds will never lose their magic for me.

Cynthia Neale

Massabesic Audubon Center

Here I was in January trying to throw off nature’s hug around my neck and suddenly I hear the sweet melodies of bluebirds and look up to see flocks of them dancing in the air. At first, I thought it was hopefulness and that I was imagining it. Dozens of bluebirds sang and danced for me and then landed in two trees, becoming silent. I raised my hands and asked if they had come to bring hope and happiness. I went home and suffice it to say, I had given in to another lover’s embrace.

DSCN2689

In Native American lore, bluebirds symbolize transformation, creative power, and healing. A passage into the big fat O birthday, signing on with a new publisher, and healing for the surgery scheduled. Happy Birthday to me! Indeed, it was a very noteworthy birthday gift.

And just last week, as I walked on the same special trail, I had a reminder inscribed on a tree:

20140405_12443620140405_124420Real or Fantasy? Does it matter?

 

Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

The Prayer by Stephan J. Myers

Rolling through my Twitter feed one morning, I came upon a tweet by BookViral, a state of the art, sophisticated book review site. I went to their web site and read, At BookViral we focus our energy on discovering authors and illustrators because this is where we excel and we are passionate about the books that shape the minds of readers across the world. Okay. I was interested. I have three published books that need focused energy in the marketplace. As I read further on BookViral, I decided I would submit my novels to this site. And then I became mesmerized by a couple of books they had spotlighted. One was The Prayer by Stephan J. Myers. The cover of the book itself touched my heart and drew me in. It is an evocative illustration of a tattered, young boy with his head bowed over his knees. Has he given up? Is he praying? I had to read this book! An excerpt on the cover reads, Sometimes the children who need things the most, are lost to the night and a pale winter’s ghost… So I downloaded it on my e-reader and escaped into this child’s story to read over a few times to savor the lyrical and melancholy tale that reminded me just how much adults like me love children’s books.

On the inside page, there is an illustration of the boy holding a lantern with his back to the reader. The author writes, All I ask is a promise, that you will never forget the meaning in these words. Not the words themselves, but their meaning. Hmm…And then I was invited to follow the boy with his lantern into his world of sorrow and need.

The illustration of the tattered boy is beautiful. In his grief and poverty, there is a glow and light that surrounds him. It made me immediately think, perhaps due to the title, that he is not alone in his suffering. And if he is not alone, we are not alone. And because I’ve written about famine and hunger through the eyes of a child, I know this child is every child in the world who suffers want and need. And through the eyes of this child, I peek in windows with him where there are warm fires, holiday cheer, and ample food and love. The juxtaposition of the desperate orphan and the epitome of a happy home is powerfully rendered to illicit empathy, but also to question the quality of light – inner light, the light of the unseen as in God or angels, and the light of the lamp that the boy carries as he looks into windows. This lamp flickers and dies, as will the boy, but the light in the boy can never die. The pale winter’s ghost will come for him, but the ghost looks to us as our boat sails through the sky. Is this a challenge to many of us who, through the news, look down from our lofty lives to view the utter atrocities of children suffering deprivation in the world?  We hear and see, but do we really hear and see? Will we always have the poor with us?

This is a Dickensian parable that has clever and musical rhyme. The tale is meditative and wistful; and the illustrations are colorful, vivid, and reveal a light that makes the story bearable and not didactic with moral finger pointing. Because of the texture and symphony of color in the illustrations, it is a book to hold and keep on a bookshelf to read during the holidays. Don’t read this book to your children the night before Christmas! Start the season with this book to create discussion about poverty, humanitarianism, and how to look out our windows and see, but also to open the door to invite in. And the light! Please discuss the light.

http://www.bookviral.com/welcome-to-bookviral/4579818163

Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged | Leave a comment

I’m a Big Barnes & Noble Fan!

I try. Honestly, I try to support local bookstores when I travel and especially where I now live. But it ain’t easy sometimes because I have local bookstore tales to tell from the perspective of an author. Some are just absurd and have tainted my experience and thus I find myself rushing into the Barnes & Noble stores with fervor for that homecoming kind of feeling. Over the last ten years as a published author (independent presses), I’ve sought out local bookstores to do book events. There were two who were gracious and although I brought music, a reading, and even food to share, there was little done to publicize the events. And then there was the bookstore that took my books on commission. They sold all fifteen books, but have never given me my percentage of the sales although I called them and wrote to them numerous times. There are also the local bookstores who tell me that it wouldn’t be worth the effort and cost of having me come to their stores because even the celebrity authors don’t draw a crowd. I understand these are businesses trying to stay afloat and even alive in the Amazon big business world. Of course, there are the local bookstores who invite repeatedly the same coddled, local authors. These are the locally acclaimed and notable authors who should be honored and be asked to speak at the local bookstores, but again and again with no room for any others?

On the contrary, Barnes & Noble stores across the region I live in have repeatedly asked me to participate in book events. I’ve probably participated in over twenty book events over the years. I’ve worked closely with the community relations managers to create talks with music, dance, and art. I’ve been on panel discussions, participated in local author events, and one community relations manager is a friend I now socialize with. How wonderful! While the local bookstores were nay saying and pushing me away, Barnes & Noble stores were welcoming me with open arms. At some events, I would have just two people show up and at other events, there would be fifteen. It varied, but they’ve always supported me although my books weren’t the big sellers sitting on the front tables that are paid for by the big publishers.

Over the last couple of years, I’ve been traveling, selling at conferences, and festivals and haven’t been seeking out bookstores for book events, not even my favorite Barnes & Noble stores. A week ago, I was in a local bookstore and bought a few books, it being the second visit in a month and it occurred to me to ask if I could do an event. Alas, I queried late at night and to my chagrin did a copy and paste for publicity I had used for a blog tour I had been on. Oh dear, it included my Amazon page with all the reviews. Here is the response I received back:

Hello Cynthia,
Thank you for your email. Our events calendar is at capacity now through May (we book several months ahead of time and require 6+ weeks to effectively publicize an event).
Before we consider an event for a bookstore we like to know a few things:

As an editorial note, may I advise that you not suggest an independent bookstore order stock from their largest and most aggressive industry competitor (Amazon.com).

I wrote back apologizing profusely for my politically incorrect Amazon copy and paste and asked why they hadn’t finished telling me what they wanted to know to consider whether I was book event material for their store. Here is what the events coordinator said:

Before we consider an event for a bookstore we like to know a few things:
Does your publisher offer co-op or marketing support? Do you have a publicist?
For local authors, we find that author participation in the publicity process is key to getting a large crowd for an event. Are you willing to become an active partner in publicizing and marketing the event?
We often like to see if a book has a natural audience in our store before we contemplate an event. Do you have friends and family in the area that you might be able to steer here to buy the book? If so, would they come to an event?
What audience do you imagine for your event and books? What groups or organizations do you think should be reached out to for publicity?

By this time, I was missing my Barnes & Noble community relations’ managers and thinking that although I don’t get a stipend to speak at their stores, they oftentimes make me feel like a celebrity (free coffee, publicity, and so forth). I thought about the above events coordinator and with all the experiences I’ve had over the years with local bookstores and decided that it was akin to a dysfunctional relationship. You know – you give, ask, care, want friendship, but it isn’t reciprocal and the love is spurned. No more! I respect myself now as an author enough not to beg and display fawning behavior just to be selling me books in a local bookstore. But I just had to write the response to this events coordinator the way I’d like to have written it, and perhaps to all the local bookstores who have treated me like shite.

Dear Ms. Events Coordinator:

My God, how difficult you are making it for a local author to come to your grand store in Podunk_________! You’re not McNally Jackson or the Strand in Manhattan. You’re not the Coop or the Harvard Bookstore in Boston. I might expect this snobbish attitude with them, but oh no, you’re little with a new add on. So you think you can be persnickety just because you serve espresso. In response to your questions: No, I do not have friends and family in ________ (thank the Lord God Almighty!) but I have shopped at the high end boutique___________ for many years and could invite the earth-smelling, eat-local, yoga pampered employee ladies I’ve gotten to know over the years. Also, I’m really good at going out on the street corners and urging customers into stores and there are so many men who might find me utterly fascinating because of my red hair, although it’s fading. These are all those long gray beards I see in __________ wearing L.L. Bean clothes, a bit disheveled, as are their beards, but I know they probably do a lot of reading, especially on how to survive winters in a yurt in the White Mountains. And then, of course, I’m a pro at convincing the homeless derelicts sitting on the street corner across from the gleaming globe of the state house flashing the dream of gold into their eyes to come into a bookstore to hear me speak about how over a million people died while food was shipped out before their starving eyes. I really think they’d relate to my book talk about the Famine. There would be something for everyone, i.e. the boutique shop ladies would feel empathy and buy books because I donate to hunger organizations and the gray beards would buy books because they’d get it that I am smart and know about this period in Irish history, and then, of course, we’d all feel good abut the poor coming in off the streets to partake of my delicious Norah’s Dream Scones.

Wow, it felt good to write this and even better that now I publish it on my blog. Oh, don’t get me wrong. I’ll never stop visiting the local bookstores and probably this one again, but Barnes & Noble is looking pretty good right about now and I’ll support them, as well.

Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , | 1 Comment

Pavlova in a Hat Box, Sweet Memories and Recipes

Hemingway posed for beer ads, Walt Whitman self-published Leaves of Grass and wrote his own reviews under a pseudonym; In 1887, Guy de Maupassant sent up a hot-air balloon over the Seine with the name of his latest short story.

It never ends, this rabid self-promotion and the writer oftentimes feels like a cross between a Kirby vacuum cleaner salesperson and a Jehovah’s Witness. The act of creating can be an act as dark, dirty, and cold as a nascent flower bulb in March. But when the work emerges and you nourish it to full growth, you can’t help but want it to be seen and appreciated.

I struggle with balancing artful solitude and the noisy marketplace, and I swear I must be a descendant of an Irish apple woman hawking her rares in New York in the 19th-Century. Luc Sante writes in Low Life, “Irishwomen ( popularly identified as smoking pipes) sold apples, George Washington pie, St.-John’s bread, and flat-gingerbread cakes called bolivars.” You can imagine the Irish woman’s loud, boisterous voice over the noisy and raucous vendors on the streets. I can do it. I can entice a passer-by with my homemade scones and stories. But I prefer to be behind the scenes, sketching out characters in secret.

Pavlova in a Hat Box is a different kind of book, unlike my historical fiction novels. And rather than seek out a traditional publisher as I have done with my historical fiction novels, I am going to self-publish with a self-publishing company I respect here in New England. Pavlova is a book full of dessert recipes (I could easily hawk them on the streets and have no shame), art work, and essays. And it is a special tribute to my eighty-six year old mother. Here is just one luscious dessert to entice you -

lemon-lavender madeleines

lemon-lavender madeleines

Kickstarter fundraising failed and now I’m doing GoFund: http://www.gofundme.com/68rmyo

Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

I Have to be About My Art!

It’s a new year and I have a new publisher for Norah: The Making of an Irish-American Woman in 19th-Century New York. My previous publisher, Lucky Press, went out of business and for months after, I couldn’t query publishers. I had liked working with Lucky Press to prepare Norah for publication. And my book launch at Searles Castle was a once in a lifetime magical event. But there was no time for wallowing in self-pity and discouragement. I had to be about my art. Norah hadn’t reached a necessary flying altitude after the launch and never went on the trip that had been planned for her. However, she hadn’t crashed! It was only a delay for her journey and it had nothing to do with me. I had book talks and events planned and went ahead with them. And I had plenty of copies I had ordered from the publisher. I didn’t speak of not having a publisher, I tried not to compare myself to other writers, and I didn’t query for a long time. There was a certain liberation to trust my journey as a writer and I wasn’t going to beg to find a new publisher. Sure, I had moments of feeling sorry for myself, but only moments. I was busy listening to the next story Norah was telling me and I had two young adult books and other writing projects. Could I plaster the walls of my house (and not just my office walls) with rejection letters? Yes. But I could also plaster a room or two of my house with letters of praise from students who have read my young adult books and adults who have read Norah and other writings and given me affirmation. I will not make a big display of rejection or praise because both can detour me being about my art. Every life has disappointment and triumph, but who we really are as individuals shouldn’t be defined by either. It’s similar for this writing life. I have to be about my art. I have to listen to this call, this song only I can sing, and to do what the late artist, Annie Truitt, said, “Artists have no choice but to express their lives.”

When I was ready, I queried again. And when a couple of publishers said “it’s not right for us,” I countered the disappointment with a few more queries. And that’s how Fireship Press found Norah. Their niche is historical fiction and I’m thrilled. They have arranged a virtual book tour and I’ve been writing blog posts and doing interviews. I started getting anxious again about failing, but then I made a decision to just let Norah travel this journey and if there’s another delay, so be it. I’ve been true to her and to me. And that’s why I have printed in the front of the book, “I get up. I walk. I fall down. Meanwhile, I keep dancing.” (Rabbi Hillel).

http://www.fireshippress.com/fireship_authors/cynthia-neale.html

Read an interview, comment, and enter into the giveaway – http://www.bibliophilicbookblog.com/2014/01/book-feature-giveaway-norah-by-cynthia.html

Why have I written this book? http://thelittlereaderlibrary.blogspot.com/

Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , , | 3 Comments

Pavlova in a Hat Box

Hemingway posed for beer ads, Walt Whitman self-published Leaves of Grass and wrote his own reviews under a pseudonym; In 1887, Guy de Maupassant sent up a hot-air balloon over the Seine with the name of his latest short story.

It never ends, this rabid self-promotion and the writer oftentimes feels like a cross between a Kirby vacuum cleaner salesperson and a Jehovah’s Witness. The act of creating can be an act as dark, dirty, and cold as a nascent flower bulb in March. But when the work emerges and you nourish it to full growth, you can’t help but want it to be seen and appreciated.

I struggle with balancing artful solitude and the noisy marketplace, and I swear I must be a descendant of an Irish apple woman hawking her rares in New York in the 19th-Century. Luc Sante writes in Low Life, “Irishwomen ( popularly identified as smoking pipes) sold apples, George Washington pie, St.-John’s bread, and flat-gingerbread cakes called bolivars.” You can imagine the Irish woman’s loud, boisterous voice over the noisy and raucous vendors on the streets. I can do it. I can entice a passer-by with my homemade scones and stories. But I prefer to be behind the scenes, sketching out characters in secret.

Pavlova in a Hat Box is a different kind of book, unlike my historical fiction novels. And rather than seek out a traditional publisher as I have done with my historical fiction novels, I am going to self-publish with a self-publishing company I respect here in New England. Pavlova is a book full of dessert recipes (I could easily hawk them on the streets and have no shame), art work, and essays. And it is a special tribute to my eighty-six year old mother. Here is just one luscious dessert to entice you -

lemon-lavender madeleines

lemon-lavender madeleines

I’ve decided to do a Kickstarter project to obtain funding to self-publish this book and hope you will take the time to view it and perhaps back it. Please take a look: http://www.kickstarter.com/projects/359179069/pavlova-in-a-hat-box-memories-and-sweet-recipes here.

And perhaps if this works, I’ll try the hot-air balloons next!

Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment